Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ghana images and video wrap-up

As some of you have noticed, I am back in the United States. Southeastern Michigan, to be exact. The last entry on the blog is completely fake; I had to keep up appearances so I could surprise my family on Christmas Eve. It went swimmingly; they were SHOCKED! The previous three entries are legitimate but delayed; most of them happened about three weeks prior to when I actually posted them.

A "few" wrap-up photos and videos are in order now that I'm somewhere I'm not paying for internet or computer access. Some are things I've posted about in the past but didn't have a chance to put up the photos and some of them are things I forgot to mention earlier.

Mary's son, Chris, is a rapper in Ghana. He likes to talk about how famous he is and how difficult it is for him to leave the house because people will always be pointing and trying to talk to him. He has a blond Austrian wife and a 1-year old son. He lives in a longhouse behind his mother's house that he likes to tell you he built with his very own hands, but actually did not. He drives a blue convertible with no muffler and a DIY splatter paint job. He also splatter-painted some clothes to match for nights he performs at a club. The interior of his house is decorated with graffiti. One day, he told me "Americans are so selfish. You make your cell phones so that no other country can use them. My brother in Columbus used to send me phones to sell here and I had to lie to the people and tell them they took the [SIM] cards!"

He and his friends started freestyling for Marrie, Natalie and me.

Labadi beach:

Locals trying to make a living, waiting for tourists under the unexpected-hike-from-hell umbrella rock. Two of the young men had built those ladders for people to go on the top; charge of 10 cents.

Home security in Dzorwulu, my neighborhood=broken glass in newly poured concrete walls to prevent burglary. Though the house next door was actually, according to Chris, a stolen guns warehouse. It's a possibility; I only saw two people there once in two months. Barbed wire is also popular.

Government school kids at the end of the schoolday:

Vibe FM, "The soul of the capital". Known as "the station with the couch" around town. The computer in the foreground was only available for the accountant, who skims money from the station to finance his restaurant. The computer in the background is only a monitor and does not actually have a computer, keyboard or mouse. Note the complete lack of telephones. The owner/boss/CEO is on the right.

View on the way to work everyday, after arriving at Circle:

I took a picture into a dark room at the Elmina slave castle. It was not part of the tour. The flash revealed all these bats; I squealed like a little girl and ran.

Elmina courtyard. The incline with a pole on each side to the left is where male slaves were forced to climb to the top using only their arms in order to keep up their strength:

View of the coastal village from the castle:

Slaves who caused trouble were sent into this room to die. None of them were cleared out until every person inside was dead.

Male dungeon at Cape Coast slave castle. Between 800 and 1000 slaves were put into three rooms of this size.

Accra coast as viewed from Eddie's car during one of my first tours of Accra:

Field in Dzorwulu:

Dorm at the University of Ghana; the best school, by far, in the country. No washing machines so everyone puts their clothes on the balcony to dry:

Circle, one of the trotro parks and stations and crossroads and markets and black markets and everything:

Trotro change table at Pig Farm. She thought it was very funny I wanted to take her photo:

AIDS is Real and do not urinate here!

Pounding fufu (most popular food in Ghana) in the backyard in preparation for the wedding reception:

Flower girls:

Breakdancers at the wedding reception at Mary's house. This is not a usual thing; they were just cool guests.

All the babies are carried like this:

Two of a group of six or so kids who were totally into the digital camera concept at the wedding. Some famous news anchor was making a speech while I took this picture:

Tiaraing ceremony with the bride's mother and aunts, pre-ceremony. The outfits the aunts are wearing are very typical church garb, though the weekly Sunday outfits aren't usually quite so shiny:

At the orphanage in Kasoa at dusk. The boy on my left is 11; the one who gave me a tour and grabbed my hand to prevent himself from getting hit. The girl is the daughter of one of the orphanage workers and the other boy was playing with her.

Fun toy:

The younger kids attended school at the orphanage. There was a row of four classrooms; this is one of them:

Deborah and me in the front yard, four days before she left:

Typical dinner: redred, fried plantain and water in a pouch

Mary, the former Muslim, Christian-convert, daughter of northern chief with 22 siblings and homeowner:

Van, practically the only trustworthy and productive guy at Vibe:

Typical street at Buduburam, the Liberian refugee camp:

Sonnie and her aunt in the room they share with four others at Buduburam. Sonnie is the 18-year old nursing student:

Wheelbarrow boys at Buduburam. They rent the wheelbarrows for $3ish a day then sit out front all day, hoping to be hired to carry some loads around for people. They charge $1 to do this so they often lose money or only break even.

At the meeting called by the UN to tell the Liberians the plan was to integrate into Ghanaian society. No new news, big meeting.

Some video of the trotro preacher. Marrie is sitting next to me.

Deborah standing in front of the new place:

The school where Julie works is pretty rural. These kids all go there; they followed me around in a huddle like this the entire time we were there.

Julie's daughter, Julie and Deborah seeing me off at the airport. This is the same day Deborah left the house forever. She got her hair done and all dressed up and looked really nice. Julie is wearing a Bike & Build T-shirt!:

I flew through Milan on my way to Boston. The Alps from the plane:

The rest of the pictures from Ghana are now up here.

Visiting the Teddy Exports primary school in India:

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas plans

Christmastime in Ghana is significantly less in-your-face than America. Because the economy is less developed and less diverse, there are fewer people with money enough to make it profitable for businesses to institute gigantic advertising campaigns and sales for the holiday season. My Christmas will be relatively low-key; I got some little candies for Mary and am planning to walk around the neighborhood while she's at church. I will visit other churches to hear the singing and the wild preaching but I don't want to go with her because when she goes on normal days, she's there for five hours so I imagine Christmas will be like seven hours. I am also planning to go back out to Achimota to visit Deborah and her friend Julie, and bring them some food that they don't have to cook and clothes for the little girl. I got her a dress and a couple T-shirts.

The weather remains extra hot, of course. I finally figured out that I'm about five degrees away from the equator. Christmas in flipflops.

Someone at work got busted for stealing a Muslim's iPod and selling it for $50 last week. Now the guy keeps coming to the station and waiting for the DJ, but the DJ keeps avoiding him and it's creating a problem for the office because he's sullied the Vibe name. Not that it's so full of integrity to begin with after all the shady business dealings and money laundering to begin with but it certainly doesn't help.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Deborah's escape

Deborah and I took the majority of her things to Achimota today.  I skipped work in order to help her because we had to do it on a day Mary would not be coming home early.  I was the bank behind this move; paying for our trotro fares and one taxi ride.  When we got to the house, her friend was there in the room with her daughter who looked about eight.  It will be the three of them in that room, squatting in a single room in a rich-man-from-America's mansion.  She told me something else because she thought I would disapprove, but I'm actually quite happy about their squatting situation.  It's far better than all the other options and the police in Ghana are so corrupt that they'll never be found out.  I sat with her while she got her hair done as a celebratory gesture.  It was $2 for a wash and style.

I am so happy she escaped.  I gave her "War and Peace" as a housewarming gift because she told me she wants to read it.  I was interested to see what Mary's reaction would be when I got home, but she pretended nothing was wrong, as usual, aside from hearing her screaming on her phone in the backyard.  Now, one of the workers from her shop is here slaving away in Deborah's position.  I knew this would be the outcome of Deborah's escape; simply someone else in her spot, but I'm still super glad it happened.  It's just strange to act so straight around Mary when I know exactly what happened.  Kind of funny, actually.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Waterfalls and machetes

I became interested in waterfalls when I saw some photos of rural West Virginia four years ago. Now I love them and want to see them as often as possible so yesterday I went to the eastern region (like going to another state) to see waterfalls with Vision. Leaving Circle at 9:30am meant getting to the top of a mountain at 2pm after an hourlong wait for the trotro in Accra to fill up followed by a 3-hour ride and transfer to a local trotro and, finally, a line taxi. We traveled through a lot of rural mountain villages. This was what you see on the documentaries and National Geographic channel about Africa—naked children and homes made out of sticks and clay dirt bricks.

Led by a local man wearing a red polo shirt that said “Anderson’s Candies” where a nametag would usually go, and blue plastic flipflops, we embarked on the most difficult hike of my life. It was far more difficult than the Great Wall; it was more like straight-up mountain climbing at some parts. Good thing I wore a skirt!

Half an hour in, we were deep into a path in the half-forest, half-rainforest. The mosquitoes were as big as dragonflies and I was sweating like I had just run ten miles at the beginning of August in Michigan. “It’s all worth it,” I told myself. “Waterfalls!” brain continued giddily.

10 minutes and one more straight vertical climb later, we were there. It was a big rock shaped like an umbrella shading about twenty locals who apparently have their best chance for income by sitting underneath this giant rock and waiting for the tourists who come through once a week. There were literally two tourists who had signed in before us in the guidebook, one on Tuesday and another five days earlier. The location isn’t in any of the Lonely Planet/Fodor’s type guidebooks so they don’t get many visitors because no one knows about it.

So, a big rock. Cool, whatever. “Are the waterfalls nearby?” I asked, dreading another 40-minute hike.

“Oh no,” said Anderson’s Candies. “The waterfall is back by the office.”

Death. Death glare. Sweaty death glare resignation.

Back we went, via the same route. It was slightly better this time because I knew what we were in for and was planning to swim in the cool, fresh waterfall and get clean for the first time since I was in the river in India. (Bucket showers are not really cutting it.)

We arrived back at the office’s main grounds and descended down 250 steps to the falls. They were huge, coming down from four or five stories up with a rainbow bridging them down near the water.

NO SWIMMING signs greeted us everywhere. By this point, it figured. I consoled myself by convincing myself that the water was crocodile and piranha-infested. We hovered for awhile but there’s only so long you can look at something so we headed back up to the exit to wait for a line taxi to take back to the town. We waited and waited and waited. Village children wearing only T-shirts gathered to gape at me and hand me empty film canisters.

“It’s market day a few villages up so everyone is going home now,” Anderson’s Candies said helpfully as trotro after taxi passed us once every twenty minutes, packed to the gills with humans. One taxi even had a man lying across the trunk, hanging on for dear life as it rounded the corners at forty kilometers pre hour. The driver seemed quite unconcerned.

A group of five walking men passed us, swinging machetes haphazardly and vaguely menacingly. Machetes are extremely common in Ghana. They’re used for everything from cutting pineapples and sugarcane by street vendors to destroying overgrown foliage and cutting grass manually, but I always think of the genocide depicted in the Hotel Rwanda movie because that was the weapon of choice.

Finally, 90 minutes later, a taxi stopped and we rode seven adults and one three-year old in the five-person car down the mountain. By the time I got home, I had been gone for 13 ½ hours, seen one rock shaped like an umbrella and sweated the most I have ever sweated in my life and got misted on by some giant waterfalls.

Things that have been said to me in the last three days from complete strangers:
- “Obroni?! Give me thousand [cedis, the equivalent of ten cents].” – 12-year old girl.
- “I am looking for a white lady to marry.” – Yelled by a man sitting on the side of the street while another man sat ten feet away saying, “Obroni. Obroni!”

Monday, December 10, 2007

A strange house

I had a conversation with Mary's 25-year old former house boy who lived here for five years before getting fed up about not getting paid and only comes on Sundays to make the fufu with Deborah (most popular Ghanaian food that involves pounding the crap out of some flour) yesterday. He initiated a lengthy conversation about America but was particularly excited when I told him he has the same name as Detroit's mayor. Kwame is a name for males born on a Saturday here. My name as a Thursday woman is Yaa though most people on the street call me Akosua, which is for Sunday ladies, because Ghana gained its freedom from the white colonizers on a Sunday. Occasionally, I am also referred to as Nkosua, which means egg. They sound the same to me.

The questions went all over the place.
"What does a mayor do? Arnold Schwarzenegger is the mayor of California, right? What does a governor do? I know some US states like California, LA, Chicago, New York... British people speak different English from Americans, right? How did you and Marrie understand each other? Have you heard of gold diggers? I think more black ladies than white ladies are gold diggers. What do you think? Do you think America will have a black president? Who's Obama? They had that one a long time ago but he was killed. He wasn't president? Are you sure? Is it true some US states are only for white people? Where do you live? Why don't you live with your parents? Are you going to live alone when you get back? Are there really poor people in the US? Why are the musicians so rich? Does Lil' Bowwow really have such a big house and cars worth $100,000 like I saw on Cribs? Why don't people like him and Tupac ever come to Africa? It's like they have no interest in their own people. How many political parties do you have in America?"

and like that until Mary got home from Kumasi unexpectedly early and Kwame, Deborah and I scattered away from the living room. As soon as she got in the door, she yelled at Deborah, wondering why Deborah didn't answer the phone earlier when she called. The reason was that we had snuck out to take most of her stuff to her new place. Oops.

Goods That Mary Keeps Locked In Her Bedroom
1. Individual packets of crackers, cookies and peanuts that she feeds us for lunch.
2. Toilet paper.
3. Bread.
4. The bathroom rug.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Economics and preaching

I went back to the refugee camp yesterday. I took two T-shirts and some anti-malarial medication with me to give them and they were totally psyched about everything. I bought a sack of safe drinking water for the newspaper's office for 50Gp ($0.50). The second most common cause of death at the camp is cholera, which is a result of unsafe drinking water. The first is malaria.

In the morning, I went with Marrie, Abednego and Leon to interview the neighborhood watch chief and arbitration council head for her article, then met with the principal of one of the schools there to discuss what they need for supplies. The most important thing is food. Since the UN cut off their food aid supply, many of the children have gone with one meal a day and find it difficult to concentrate. Other things on the list are textbooks in English, math, social studies, environmental studies, reading books, science and pre-tech (vocational); pens and pencils; notebooks; coloring books; chalk (white and colored). The "reach for the sky" wish was a typewriter.

I was taken on a small tour, interrupting classes taking tests. It wasn't quite like my elementary school test-taking experience where the more diligent and anal among us created visually impenetrable forts by surrounding the perimeter of our desks with upright folders, nor like my middle school experience where everyone rushed to sit behind or beside the smartest kids on test days. Instead, the Liberians were sprawled most anywhere in the room. Many of the teachers stood at the back and seemed very unconcerned about talking during the test. In some rooms, the children were about the same age. In others, it looked like they ranged rom 11 to 20.

By the time I was done interrupting, it had been agreed that we would come back later for a group shot of the students. I returned after a long conversation with Leon, but it was too late; most of the students had gone for the day (12:15pm).

The chat with Leon outside the Vision office was enlightening. I had tried to show him and Jimmy the video I took of the CNN special on UN Indian women peacekeepers in Liberia but the volume was too quiet because my recording technique was to record the TV using my digital camera so we ended up chatting about what might make for economically viable solutions for refugees returning to Liberia. I tried to explain about the factory I visited in India and the concept companies with a sense of social responsibility in the developed world and how they might get them to invest in Liberia but it didn't really work. It is hard to speak in each other's terms when one person is from the richest nation on Earth and the other's country doesn't even have electricity. He kept highlighting how rich America is but didn't quite grasp my explanation that most of the wealth is in the private sector or wrapped up in the military.

The whole thing was sparked off when Leon asked me why the failure of the banks in America a few months ago had such wide-reaching effects to other nations. I had told them on a previous visit that I majored in economics and history so it wasn't really an out-of-the-blue inquiry. After correcting that the banks had not actually failed, I made it very obvious to myself that I am not good at giving clear explanations on complex subjects when I started off with the formerly overheated real estate market, drifted into interest rates and investment; by the time I got to the decreasing value of the dollar, both Jimmy and Leon's eyes had glazed over and I could tell they were thinking I had not answered the question at all. And now that I think about it, I didn't even mention the war spending. Anyway.

The interesting thing is that everyone looks up to China. They see what the Chinese have accomplished in the last 30 years and are desperate to imitate even a fraction of its success. Exactly zero thoughts are expressed as to the government there.

Leon wanted to know why a rich nation like America would import so many goods from elsewhere instead of producing them within the country. A mini-lecture on low production costs and low wages translating into lower prices, American unionism and cost effectiveness went slightly better, though his conclusion was "Why would America let other nations get so strong by giving away all its money?" Just what everyone else is worried about, especially with China.

I got into trouble on the trotro on the way home. I know I have mentioned it before, but Ghana is an extremely Christian nation. Sometimes, on longer or large capacity trotro rides, a preacher will "sneak" on and start gonig wild about five minutes after it starts moving. This is generally awesome because they sound just like the Baptist preachers in the 1930s south but also particularly amusing when the rest of the passengers don't respond because he'll be really into it; emotional and waving his hands around, almost hitting people in the face while everyone else is sitting there stonefaced, tired and hot. Yesterday, the mate (tells the driver when to stop the car and collects the money) asked the preacher for his fare in the middle of his sermon and I thought it was hilarious. People turned around to look at me and the preacher starts screaming, "Young girls may enjoy their laughing now! Oh yes, Lord, life is very funny! But you won't be laughing when He comes for you! You will not be laughing when you realize your soul has not been saved!" I was delighted to have been included in the sermon.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Secret friendship

On Wednesday, I took Deborah to the beach. It was fantastic; she had a great time and that made me happy. I bought her a swimsuit for $3.50 and she went in the ocean for the first time in her life. She also finished out writing her life story in summary fashion for me. She is really ambitious and great; I'm so happy she did that because I think it will make it easier to find assistance for her. Some man hit on her at the beach. Generally, they are disgusting and creepy but this was a big event for her because so many people completely disregard her because of her disability and since she is in the house all the time, she rarely meets anyone.

Our "secret" meetings have been occurring more frequently because she is getting ready to run away from the house. I am aiding her as much as possible while trying not to encourage her one way or the other because while I am so glad she is doing it, she has to live the rest of her life here while I go back to the US. She has a local pastor who found her the job and has taken an interest in her so he is going to provide her with a place to stay for now. I am going to meet him on Wednesday so we can all make a support plan together.

I think our friendship must seem ridiculous from the US but it's no exaggeration... we talk in secret, I act like I have no further interest in her other than her ability to serve me when Mary (owner of the house) is around, pretend not to hear when she's getting screamed at and let her clean the room I'm staying in because it's easier for her to do that than get yelled at some more. For a long time, I thought about stepping in but it would make things worse.

This morning, I visited another orphanage; this one is just north of Accra. There were like 300 kids there; they were all very active, except for the scattered ones who were crying and being completely ignored by everyone unless another child came up to hit them. I took those ones on and, as predicted, all they wanted was a little attention. Pat pat.

I was holding one boy who was dirty and about two for a long time. I think he had malaria because when he fell asleep, he started sweating profusely. But before he fell asleep, one of the women who works at the orphanage full-time came over to us and started speaking to him in Twi, one of the local languages. He looked at her silently with big eyes, nodding his head very slightly every so often. When I asked her what she said, she told me, "I asked him if he wanted you to take him back to London!" then roared with laughter. I was horrified!

Tomorrow is December 1 but nothing's looking Christmas-y here. Despite the fact that almost everyone in Accra is Christian (with a large Muslim minority), Christmas is exceedingly less commercial here. I could count on one hand the number of Christmas decorations or advertisements I've seen. In one way, it's nice. In another way, it's confusing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Visit to the Liberian refugee camp and an orphanage

Marrie and I went to the Liberian civil war refugee camp yesterday and today. We stayed at an orphanage a few miles away with 74 kids. Yesterday morning was spent touring the grounds of the settlement and speaking with the editor of the camp's newspaper, "The Vision." Liberia has only recently recovered from the throes of a civil war seemingly instigated by Americans, or at the very least, influenced. 35,000 Liberian and 200 Sierra Leonian refugees reside at Buduburam and try to eke out a living via trading, renting wheelbarrows to hire themselves out and the like. They are unceasingly positive, even after seventeen years in Ghana. Many of them have witnessed unspeakable horrors and I didn't talk to a single person who wasn't missing a family member or more. They have to buy water for drinking, cooking and bathing, as well as food, but practically nobody has gainful employment due to the fact that they are foreigners in Ghana and that even many Ghanaians are unemployed. I believe the unemployment rate here is around 18%. Everyone told me that they survive by sharing what little they have with their neighbors and if someone gets something from America, it goes to everyone.

The editor is exceedingly helpful and smart and agreed to our proposed articles right away. He also wants us to give a lecture on economics and law, respectively.

The people who work at the newspaper all arrived in Ghana in different ways. One came via foot (Liberia is on the other side of Cote d'Ivore, just to the west of Ghana), another on a UN refugee boat and one via a different refugee camp in the Ivory Coast. They all want to go home to a strong and united Liberia eventually but many dont' seem to believe the present peace will last nor do they have the means to get home.

The lucky ones have one-room family accommodation. The unlucky ones, which includes many orphans, sleep on the street. There are vast sanitation, education and HIV/AIDS problems in the camp.

I am going to attempt to write an article on one young woman I met; the only female working at the newspaper. Her father was killed in the civil war, she lost her mother, entered a convent and was encouraged to become a Catholic nun, decided she would like to be married in the future and is now in nursing school. She was at the refugee camp in Cote d'Ivore for six years before coming to Buduburam where she is now pursuing medicine. She told me she would love to be a doctor someday if she can get that far but is going to nursing school for now while volunteering (they are all volunteers) at the newspaper because she also really wants to be a writer. They are all remarkably open about their experiences.

This morning, we had two pieces of bread each for breakfast. The kids had porridge with milk. They all wander around in their various school uniforms. some of them stay on site for class in open-air classrooms and sit on folding chairs or benches in front of a propped up blackboard. The electricity in our room didn't work so we went to bed quite early last night. It was super hot because there was no fan either but by the time we were awakened at 5am by the incessantly crowing roosters and the boy ringing a bell outside of every window to wake up the kids, I had cooled off considerably. Both Marrie and I were exceedingly dirty by this point.

Last night, I hung out with Isaac, the 12-year old who was the size of a 9-year old. I don't think they feed the kids enough there; I was constantly surprised by the ages they told me they were. He showed me the kids doing their prayers at the other orphanage that was just a little ways closer to the road. I asked which one was better and he said "Ours is." we stopped outside the director's house where a few kids were watching football from outside the window and eating fufu. Then more came to get in on the food action and one of the managers came around to yell at them. They scattered super quickly with sincere fear and I walked on with one of them hiding behind me, using me as a human shield. It worked, because he didn't get hit. He grabed my hand and said, "Let's go watch the telly. They let all the orphans watch television at night sometimes." they call each other orphans instead of children. It seems strange and dehumanizing to me; they must have picked it up from the staff.

We came upon a small house on the other side of the grounds with a television displaying a grainy football match and about twenty children crowded around it. A 13-year old or so girl latched on to me right away and hardly let go. A 6-year old boy was on the other side. When I detached myself and headed back to our hut/room (we stayed in a two-room house- Marrie and I in one room and twelve 6 to 15 year old boys in the other), I encountered a 3 or 4-year old standing alone in the dark in the middle of an open dirt space. When I stopped to say hello, he latched onto my legs in a giant hug. When I stooped to pick him up, he instantly relaxed in my arms, laid his head on my shoulder and said, "I want to go to bed." I felt bad because I don't know where he sleeps but even worse because all of the kids there are so starved for affection.

This morning at the Liberian refugee camp was an interesting one. It has been there for 17 years, practically as long as the civil war, so it's quite settled. There was a big meeting with about 2000 people in attendance at the settlement's Catholic church because the UN was going to share the next step with people. Often at refugee camps, the people on the ground have no idea what's going on with decisions being made on their behalf or even the present situation in their home country. This one is better than most in that regard.

We attended the meeting with the guys from the newspaper. There were a few speakers before the "big news" who went on about why there has been no electricity in the camp for the last two months (blaming the refugees for taxing the system by routing wiring from paying customers to their neighbors, along with a black market for electricity). The two news items which received the most reaction was the news that "The laws of Ghana do not prevent refugees from paying tax" and the ban on the use of firecrackers in the camp. Both came from the head of the camp's welfare council who is a Ghanaian appointed by the Ghanaian government. The rest of his council is appointed by him. In other words, the refugees have no direct representation. The tax news is just utterly ridiculous considering these people literally have no money, no means of making money and, in many cases, no education. If they don't pay the taxes, the government in Ghana doesn't have the means to throw them in jail, nor the gall to make an internationally unpopular move like kicking them out of the country. The firecrackers ban got a lot of reaction because people were angry they were being sold to them by the Ghanaians if they were now being delegalized. The reason behind their ban was that it was too reminiscent of the war and it was scaring people. Most of them found this laughable.

When the woman from the UN came on, all she said was "We are now at the stage of local integration," which everyone present knew already. This means that of the 15-20,000 or so refugees left in the camp from its peak population, most will be integrated into Ghana. This is better for a few and worse for most considering most of them want to look for family and friends in Liberia, but after 17 years (for some) in refugee camps, they are eager to do anything to get a real life back. If they are repatriated to Liberia, they get $5 and a pot from the United Nations and are dropped off in Liberia's capital with a "Good luck!" This is what happens when someone has a good idea and it goes through the pillars of bureaucracy. Many of the refugees hope to be eligible for refugee-status entry into Europe, the US or Canada. Providence has a large population of Liberian refugees.

I'm going back next week to get my work done for the articles and give an economics lecture. Today wasn't good for interviews because everyone who was busy with the meeting. It's difficult to know what to talk about because everything we covered at Brown was either theory or applicable only to already developed nations. I can't give a lecture on Smith, Marx or Keynes and supply and demand when what they really need is practical advice. So, I guess I'm going to discuss the factory I saw in India and how the same thing may be able to happen for them with some sort of rubber product (not tires, bad history) in Liberia.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Home troubles

Things keep getting weirder at home. The new Swiss girl gave her laundry to Mary (host mother) because she asked for it, but didn't realize that everyone washes their own underwear in Ghana. (There are no washing machines here; you wash it in a bucket in the bathroom). Mary gave it to Deborah (house help) and forced her to wash it. This is a big insult and a continuance of Mary treating Deborah like crap and not paying her. I've been paying Deborah on the side to do my laundry because she really needs the extra $3; otherwise I would do it myself so I kind of shared that with the new girl and now it's morphed into a big problem. Mary has also informed Deborah that she now gets NO time off starting in December because Mary will be "so busy." In reality, she watches TV approximately eight hours a day and goes to her shop twice a week, if that.

Mary is afraid that we are going to tell the placement company that she is unfit to host if she disagrees or corrects our cultural faux pas in any way, so she turns around and unleashes anger on Deborah and her driver/gardener. Deborah will now be working 24/7 for $40 a month. What she doesn't realize is that we are telling the company how poorly she treats others if she thinks she doesn't have anything to gain from them. This is representative of the common attitude in Ghana. The "rich" people skoff at anyone who takes trotros or wants to help the poor or starts a school to village kids or wants a job that only rich people do (like being a DJ on Vibe). Also representative in the way that people think you are judging them for one thing and so go to great lengths to cover it up, when in actuality, you are appalled by both behaviors.

I'm also feeling really bad because last week, Deborah asked me for some anti-malaria pills. I have a lot of extras, so I gave twenty to her. I thought she wanted them for herself because she said, "The bugs have been biting me so bad!" Eight days later, she told me her uncle died of malaria so now I am afraid she thought the pills were going to save him. It's hard to know what to explain and what not to explain. They deal with malaria so much here but the information is not disseminated very well, since she obviously thought the pills got rid of malaria. That's not the case; you have to get two shots if you actually get the disease. The pills just lessen the effects of it. I was chatting to her about a rug that is in the house of planets and stars and she thought the planets (Saturn-like) were fish and that it represented the ocean. Then, "But I don't know why there are all the stars." I just said, "Maybe it's reflected from the sky." Deborah is a smart woman but when there is no access to information and those with disabilities are deliberately kept in the dark, it's next to impossible for them to get anywhere.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I met some interesting people yesterday

1. When I arrived at work, a former Vibe guy was deep in conversation with my boss about the level of corruption in the government and police force here, how much cocaine goes through the country and who it hurts, how politicians are stupidly and excessively venerated for doing things like meeting the queen of England (or whatever high profile figure) when she generally couldn't care less, and so on. He was dropping the f-word everywhere then lit up a cigarette in the middle of the office. I was enraptured as he was both passionate AND educated; traits I haven't encountered in the same person since I left the US. He had the most objective viewpoint on the situation in Ghana that I have come across by far. As it turns out, he works for the United Nations radio in Liberia.

2. George. George is an older man who does a lot of voiceover work for the station. He is also an actor and jazz drummer. He wears a lot of snazzy clothes and always tells me that I'm too kind. He studied at university in England and did a significant amount of traveling in Europe prior to Ghanaian independence in 1957. He grew up in Cape Coast. He told me stories about when Louis Armstrong came to Ghana and how they demonstrated outside of the American Embassy to make it happen. We share similar outlooks on life and I think he's fantastic. The best thing about old people is that they see life very clearly. Young people are always hung up on things that don't really matter.

3. Zak. I had my first conversation with the afternoon rush hour DJ. He's about 45 and grew up in London but his parents from Ghana. He lived in Miami, Atlanta and NYC in the 1980s and had some wild story about how he was involved in the music industry there. He was sitting in a hotel room with all the other industry folks when two girls with AK-47s came in and left. Next thing he knew, a man came in and shot the guy sitting next to him. And that's why he doesn't like New York.

4. Nname. Nname is Zak's female friend. Finally, my first Ghanaian female friend who I am allowed to talk to. She's a single mom with a 3-year old named Angel. I chatted with her while Zak was doing his show.

A girl from Switzerland moved in last night. She looks like Brandi Chastain.

I've been meaning to share for a long time that lizards are like rats here. They are everywhere, would hide under dumpsters if there was any sort of organized refuse collection and scamper away when you get nearer, but are completely still until you're within a 4-ft radius so that you have a mild heart attack. They also like to hide behind the toilet, like cockroaches. There are really tiny ones that are translucent (cockroach-esque) and big medium-sized ones that are like rats. It is also dragonfly mating season so not only are the bugs three times the size of the ones at home, it's like a pterodactyl-sized double mutant freak dragonfly coming down on you since you rarely see them flying singly now.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Broken internet and not being rude

MIA for the last week because the internet in the whole of Accra has been down. Heard many excuses, most of them relating to Ghana Telecom which apparently supplies internet for the entire country, but the best one has been that it's the Nigerians' fault. People here trust the Nigerians even less than in the US, where all they're known for is e-mail scams.

So, I meant to post this on Monday but wasn't able to until today (Saturday):

It is continually difficult for me to remember that part of the reason why I’m so “popular” here is because your average joe on the street has not had much, if any, interaction with “obronis” (whites). Coming from a country where there is every race, religion and nationality imaginable, it seems very odd for someone to get super excited about meeting someone different from them in any of those ways. Actually, coming from China and India, it just seems odd in general because the populations in both of those countries are also quite homogeneous but I guess the attitudes of the people there are not as open as here.

On Sunday, I went to Labadi beach, a beautiful beach on Accra’s southern coast. It faces the Gulf of Guinea, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean. I went with one of the other DJs at the radio station who doesn’t like to swim. I went in the water a couple times and was informed when I got back that the men at the next table wanted to talk to me because I was white and from the United States. I thought it was going to be the usual “I want to marry a white woman because they’re more loyal and honest” spiel (yes, this is the reason almost every single Ghanaian man gives when you ask them why) but it turned out these guys just wanted to meet me because I am white!! Generally, the actual reason is because they think we’re going to get married, move to the US and live the fantastic swinging lifestyle that everyone there leads while driving down the streets paved with gold in our Hummer. It’s so strange…

On the other hand, I was walking to work after the beach on Sunday and a man with a little boy said hello to me. I said hi back because he had a kid so I stupidly assumed he was just being friendly. He was being friendly… in that he then dragged this little 3-year old boy (his brother’s son) behind him for the mile he walked with me to the office, chatting and telling me his background (Muslim from the north who comes to Accra to buy TVs and other electronic equipment to take back to the north and resell) and how his brother got money from a German woman and why he wants to marry a “white lady” and I’m the one! Since we’re so loyal and honest, you know. I keep telling myself I’m going to pretend I’m deaf or only speak German but it never works. These people are truly impossible to shake.

At the same time, you have can’t really be rude. He told me I was the first white person he’d ever spoken to! In his entire life. Which is probably false but also feasible. So, sometimes they have never spoken to a white person before and sometimes they just want to tell their friends they’re friends with a white person and sometimes they want to get married. In short, being famous is actually not that fun because it’s about one in every 200 people you meet that are actually cool and want to know you for you, not for what you symbolize or might do for their own lives.

The beach was beautiful and very easy to access. You take a trotro from home to Circle ($0.32) then from Circle to Labadi ($0.40). Admission to the beach is $2 and there are deck chairs and tables and shade and palm trees and white sand and acrobats and really good soccer players and tide surveyors who move two flags which all the swimmers have to stay between so they lessen their chances of getting sucked out to sea. The water is SUPER WARM, even warmer than the Indian Ocean was because it’s so shallow. I went out about 200 feet and was still only up to my chest. It’s also extremely salty so it’s very easy to float, though the waves are pretty big so you can’t float for long before you’ve gotten a pint of saltwater up your nose. The current was nothing compared to Varkala in India, though, so it was fine.

Saturday was a trip to the National Museum and a market. The museum was a history lesson in and of itself, as most of the labels and explanations looked as though they hadn’t been updated since 1947. There are a lot of Stone Age tools there—such a trip because they’re labeled like “Stone Age ca. B.C. 3000” as though it might as well say “Bronze Age ca. 850” (or whenever the Bronze Age was). A trip anywhere where goods are sold in Ghana is always difficult and maddening. Nothing has a fixed price so you have to haggle for everything but the starting price is always four times more than normal because you’re white, and walking down the rows of an African market as an obroni means you’re very conspicuous and obviously rich so the vendors stop you literally every five feet. “You are invited, please look, please look, looking is free!, see pretty lady earrings for you, take a look, take a look, oh, you like bracelet?, I give you a good price, very good price, see, this one means unity and this one means love and this one means peace, no, no, please look! I have kente, also necklace, see beautiful necklaces, dress, you like dress?” and there might be three or four different vendors yelling all this at you at the same time. In the US, I boycott Victoria’s Secret because the saleswomen are so pushy because they work on commission but that’s a dream compared to shops here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Frenchman with no resources

On my way home from work today, I was accosted by an African man speaking French. He was sweating like mad, hadn't eaten and started telling me in broken English about how he was robbed last night by a taxi driver and a boy; they took all his money and cut his wrist. He went to the police station and all they said was to give them the license plate number. He asks Ghanaians for help and they ignore him. He's trying to get back to Togo but has zero money for the trotro to the border, which costs $3.40. He was really in terrible shape. Of course, this was the one day I decide to take $1.50 with me to work. I will remember him for a long time. I've only met one beggar as desperate as him before; a man with AIDS on College Hill in Providence.

Here, my most fascinating skill is typing. Literally EVERYONE watches me type. Today at the internet cafe, ten or so 9-year old boys in government school uniform (brown shorts and orange button-down shirts) came in and stared at me typing. At work, my most commonly received compliment is, "I like how you type." Uh.. thanks?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hate for no reason

Yesterday morning at the radio school, the class clown, who is normally just silly, was making some very unfunny remarks about how white people are only in Ghana to keep Africans down and kill them and then he said, "But I'll kill you first. I'm going to shoot you after class today." There were three white people in the class and none of us knew what to do so I just said, "So you think Ghana should be a military government?" to break the suddenly tense silence. I knew they would agree because there are a lot of pro-militarists here.

Clown said, "Oh yeah, definitely. Military is the best. way." The only Muslim in the class sat behind Clown and said "Yes. Definitely yes. No question," with no trace of a smile at all. He was looking right into my eyes. I am used to the pro-militarism attitude from Eddie but this went even farther as he then got into a long and passionate discussion with the clown about why he is a believer in Osama bin Laden, the greatest man alive. I didn't want to listen to this for obvious reasons but had to because they were so near. I knew he hated me then, just because I am from the US, the country which supposedly keeps both of "his" people-- Africans and Muslims -- impoverished and powerless. He said he loves bin Laden because he fought back against this imperialism. I had nothing to say because I was so shocked over the statement of faithfulness to al-Qaeda.

Only other significant news of late is that I have a column in a local newspaper (did I already say this?) in addition to working at the radio station. And that there was a FISTFIGHT between two of the DJs in the lobby yesterday after I left!!! I don't know what it was over but no one has been fired as the CEO just seemed to think it was kind of funny and not a big problem.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Worthwhileness! Glee!; slave castles and un-Christianity

I've been feeling exceedingly bored/homesick lately and after the arrival of the station's general manager back to the office today (I wasn't aware she existed), I realized that my feelings were a result of worthlessness. Ghanaians are generally extremely laid back, to the point of a fault, particularly where a business is involved. The GM is from Atlanta and is a really pro-active sort of person who asked me to list my skills and background right away. Now I'm doing exactly what I did at BSR for Vibe, on top of audio editing and the soul show-- creating a commercial sales packet. I have relatively little experience in sales and marketing but, somehow, this little is even more than the marketing team at the station. People here are very into Image in terms of how an individual projects himself (i.e. keen on dressing in suits in the constant 90 degrees and sunny weather) but have little concept of what a professional presentation or pitch looks like. This is my new mission. The business opportunities in Ghana are great but there are very few people here with a high level of education or computer literacy so it is difficult to attract foreign investment for those who don't understand how already developed nations operate.

On Sunday, I was set to do my radio show but was unable to because the transmitter got disconnected from the studio. I went in anyway, though, because I didn't know that until I got there. By 6:30pm, three of the office workers had shown up to sit with me during my show. It was exceedingly awkward, as they all looked surprised to see each other. It's becoming clear to me that as the only woman (and from the US-- this is really the big draw) who works at the station, I'm gathering some devotees. I'm not sure what to do about it because I already told a few of them that I'm not married so I can't really go back on it now. On Thursday of last week, a man followed me down the street to the trotro I was taking home. I didn't notice because it's a really crowded street. I got in and he reached in the window to hand me a note that said, "I love you, ok? I'm a musician. Call me," with his phone number.

On the plus side, it's a weird self-esteem booster. While I'm not one of those people who work really hard on their looks in the US, I put exactly zero effort into it here. My clothes rarely match, I am chronically underdressed, I brush my hair about once every two weeks and never wear makeup. Very few of them are actually interested in ME ... just because I am white and different. And might be able to get them out of Ghana. I was not expecting this here, it's very strange. You can't even use the lesbian excuse here because the society is extremely homophobic.

Marrie and I went to Cape Coast over the weekend, where the slave castles are. This is where they kept the Africans before shipping them to the Americas or Europe. As expected, the two castles were very depressing, creepy and disturbing. The slaves were kept thousands to a room with no ventilation or sanitation. Disease was common, as was rape. The only thing that surprised me was that if the women the governor raped bore a child, the child was treated very well-- educated and well-fed. In the US, if a master raped a slave, the child was usually treated as a slave by its own father. The whole place smelled like death, even 150 years later.

Never in my life did I think I would make so many people uncomfortable by simply NOT being a Christian. Yesterday, a man I've never met spent an hour trying to open my heart to Jesus and told me at the end that he's going to pray for me. Very sincerely. It made me very angry because he insinuated that I'm selfish because I don't try to convert others to Christianity and that religion=morals, therefore I must have no morals at all. He touched on many points that are close to my heart and suggested that I wouldn't try to stop someone from committing suicide. It is this kind of occurrence that makes me feel there is zero logic in religion. My own assessment of the "discussion" was that the only major point we differ on, aside from the whole Heaven/Hell/Jesus thing, is that it is one's duty to force their beliefs on others.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Yesterday, I went back to the radio school and talked with the students there after their exam. Their third question of me was (as always), "Are you a Christian?" When I told them I didn't believe in Jesus, they got super disturbed, which led to how things are "different" in Africa-- things happen here that don't happen anywhere else and they began a list of occurrences which the ENTIRE class believed in. There was one girl from Britain there and we were both the odd ones out because we thought it was untrue. Stories include:

- The Ashantis (a big tribe in Ghana) have slaves whose forearms have been cutoff from their wrist to halfway up their arm, all the way down to the bone so that they can play special drums and beats for the king. While this is feasible and probably true, it is also claimed that the slaves retain full function of their hands. This isn't just pro-Ashantism as Accra is a Ga area (another big tribe).

- Last week, a tortoise gave birth to a human baby. He said, "I saw it! With my own eyes!" Becky-the-British said, "With your own eyes or on a video?" "It saw a video that I saw with my own eyes!"

- In the Eastern region, there is a tree that bleeds if cut. Anyone who tries to cut it dies. It also does not show up in photos. Yesterday, it was in the headlines because it killed someone new. They call it the Witch Tree.

- In the southern region, there is a sword in the ground, only tip-deep. No one can pull it out, it's completely stuck and has been there for about 200 years.

- Unicorns. They totally exist.

- There's a 6 month old baby who lives submerged in a river. It doesn't drown but just stares up at anyone who comes near it.

Tomorrow, we are going to Cape Coast to see the slave castle. The latest Ghanaian treat obsession is "Pebbles," the gigantic M & M's ripoff. It's like a gumball made of chocolate, without the gum, with a groundnut in the middle. What's a groundnut, you ask? Nutty, like a peanut, not gross, like an almond.

Halloween here was extremely uneventful. They don't celebrate it. The grocery store that is frequented by foreigners had some decorations up and that was all there was to be said for that. I celebrated privately by watching two Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors then listening to Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of "Dracula."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ghana's economy and a request for help

Working in Ghana is much, much different than working in the US. The economy is so much slower here that everything goes more slowly. I go out with the marketing pair about half the week. We do work half the time, and the other half, they give me tours of Accra and neighboring cities and explain the Ghanaian culture. Tribes are still exceedingly important; everyone you see on the street claims one tribe or another and they said they can tell who belongs to what based on the person's face! Today, we went to a Teshie area on the outskirts of Accra, near the beach on the southern coast; it is severely economically depressed. The people want to work but there is no work. Though I still consider China to be the most economically diverse place I've ever been, Ghana is definitely second. In China, there are small chances for migrants to escape from poverty. In Ghana, there is almost nothing. There is education, of course, and school is free for kids ages 1-10 but after that, they have to pay $100/term for even the government schools. Additionally, the schools don't have computers and from afar it looks like the kids are sitting on the floor in giant rooms. The country is never going to rise up if its youth can't join the technological revolution.

The marketing guys are keen to make as much money as they can, so they also sell advertising for a couple of newspapers and are starting a tour business. I have been wondering for the last two weeks why they take me on these little trips everyday and today I found out. I'm effectively acting as their consultant in all aspects of the business-- destinations, website and what appeals to foreigners... all of which they really need help with and I'll be doing more formally now that I know what's going on. They are currently operating in terms of what is interesting to Ghanaians: industrial areas, big trucks and old train tunnels. If I'm keen on what happens, I may become the US director/marketing/representative/PR/whatever. This seems like a reasonable addition to my plans upon return so it might happen. I don't know how I've already gotten sucked into something when I've only been here for two weeks, but that's ok. I'm still riding high on the fact that I can speak English to almost every single person I see on the street.

The Ghanaian economy is very strange. The politicians here are so crooked that almost any money the government gets goes straight into their pockets, yet they still get elected because the others are the same. The rich people are those who have been able to go abroad to make some money and come back to Ghana to live. You can get a home here that would cost $1 or $2 million in southern California/Phoenix area for $40-50,000. Real estate is location, location, location, of course, but Accra is prime real estate in Ghana; it's the capital city. Expensive items like homes and refrigerators are significantly less than the United States but basic consumer goods are up to eight times more! I am shocked every time I go to the grocery store. Shampoo I get at home for $0.97 is $6.50 here. Ghana revalued its currency starting July 1, so what was formerly 10,000 is now 1 and the effect has been an increase in prices of everyday items. The government continues to deny that anything of the sort has happened but if Ghana had a CPI, I think it would have gone up about 50% in the last six months alone. I don't know how normal families are managing.

Which brings me to my next point-- I was talking to Deborah, the woman who works at the house, yesterday. Mary (owner of the house) does not like for her to talk to me or Marie, so we never talk if Mary is home. Which is almost always because she is scared to go out. Mary is the kind of person who goes to church three times a week and watches Christian television for four hours a day while screaming at her maid and denying her food for taking a rest after eight straight hours of labor.

Information I found out yesterday: Deborah's mother died of malaria six years ago. People here either don't take malaria seriously or don't have the money to afford the drugs (like $5). Deborah has a business degree but can't find a better job than working as a maid because the Ghanaian economy has so much structural unemployment. Her only source of income is the $40/months she makes from Mary at this job where her only time off is 9pm Tuesdays till 9pm Wednesdays. She's saving to get a laptop and to take a computer class because no one wants to hire her without computer skills. SO, please ask your family and friends if they have an extra laptop around that no one uses!! I know some of you do because there are so many computers in the US. Even if it's from 1997, that's ok; all the computers here are from the mid-90s. Or if you want to contribute to sending her through the computer class, that would be great. If I am able to find her a laptop before I leave, I'll just teach her (if we can get away from Mary) but if not, she'll have to take the class because it's more cost effective than coming to the internet cafe and teaching herself (it is $0.60/hour here).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mafia, AIDS, wedding, reggae

On Friday, I got a ride home from two coworkers after talking with one of them about how the African people are still economic slaves. He is very black power/African power kind of guy, of the Ga tribe (second biggest after the Ashanti). We were also talking a lot about HIV/AIDS in Africa-- everyone talks about it here, it is a really big deal. I was talking to one of my coworkers who used to work in an orphanage in Ethiopia. She had all of the 162 children tested for HIV earlier this year; 70 of them tested positive. In the general population of Ghana it is not as common but they treat the people who have it very differently, they are effectively outcasts.

We were stuck in traffic in the slums where all the Muslims from the North reside and run their scams and centralize their burglary (at least, that's what they said). One of their friends ran up and they were all slamming each other and whatnot, very friendly-like and I found out afterwards that he is the head of the Accra mafia. They got to know him because they are the ones who put together publicity events for Vibe and they need him for their security. The police here are extremely corrupt and ineffective; whenever there is a private event, private security is hired. They had security guards for the wedding reception at the house on Saturday.

There was a benefit concert with John Legend and reggae star Luciano, from Jamaica, on Saturday. I didn't go, but Luciano came to the studio on Friday with his whole reggaed-out crew. They were all wearing dreadlocks, tie-dye, Bob Marley, weed leaf parphernalia and greeted you with an explosive, "Rastafaaaaaaaaaaarrr!!" I have no idea who he is but it was fun anyway, he was quite nice and the rest of the staff was all in a tizzy about his appearance, including the CEO, which was great because then he was very happy for the rest of the day and chatted with everyone. Usually he is very stone-faced and silent.

The wedding reception was very nice. The bride spent the night at the house so we saw her get ready in the morning. I also saw them preparing some of the food. There were ten or so people behind the house beating out fufu (popular Ghanaian dish) with giant sticks in a bucket and cooking rice, fried chicken, fried fish (whole fish), spaghetti and blood stew over fires. The wedding was all purple, so the two flower girls looked very cute. About 200 people came back from the church for the reception. The women were all decked out in African garb, it was awesome. They looked so good. The bride was wearing the "traditional" white dress and the groom was in a fancy suit with a violet tie and handkerchief. The reception was less crazy than I anticipated; I helped to serve food to the lines of people who filed past. There was music and some dancing but mostly men danced and women watched. I guess Ghanaian women also find the men here a little overwhelming. By the end of the night (actually 6:30pm), the hiphop group who had performed two songs earlier started breakdancing on the porch; they were really good. Marie (also staying at the house) and I were the only white people at the wedding; the children (and some men) thought we were pretty interesting, especially once the digital cameras came out. Yesterday was the first day I invented my fictional fiancee. Everyone wanted us to take photos of the wedding because no one else had a digital camera and a lot of people wanted to have their picture taken with us on the real photographer's "old" style film camera. The bride and groom also wanted to have their photos taken with us, even though we didn't know them at all until the day of the wedding.

"Obroni! Obroni!" I have a lot of photos but I can't put them online because the computer situation here is so iffy... I think I'm going to have to wait until I get home for everything, which sucks because the blog is going to be so much less interesting now!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A lot of random cultural information

Trotros are the mini-buses/vans that run on fixed routes around Ghana. Two guys will decide to get a van and hop on a route; one will drive and one will "conduct," meaning take the money and open and close the door, look out for passengers, yell the route out the window over and over (mine sounds like "Say-say-say-say-say-circle" and "dzorwulu") and tell the driver when to stop (when a passenger says "bus stop"). A tro carries about fifteen passengers and they wait until they're full to leave. It doesn't take very long, fifteen minutes at most. I am usually the only white person in the car though there are quite a few in Accra (at least, relative to Sivakasi). My journey to work costs $0.23 and the journey home costs $0.32; it's about 3 or 4 miles. It takes a long time, though, usually about an hour because the traffic is so bad. I have no idea why the cost is different because the route is usually the same. Yesterday morning I got lost because the tro decided we weren't picking up another passengers and kicked us into another tro which was on a different route and dropped us off at a different part of the central terminal (Circle) than usual so I had to walk around for half an hour before I knew where I was. Normally, I walk about half a mile from Circle to the office. Doesn't seem too far but it's quite humid here and it's along one of the busiest roads/trafficky times in town so I feel all dirty by the time I get there because the Sahara blows around a little bit and it's sandy and the cars and tros spew all the exhaust.

Speaking of white people, they call us "obrunis." Many Ghanaians feel compelled to display their astute powers of observation by saying "obruni" or "white lady" as I walk by. Yes, I am. Very good. Actually, it is only men or children who do this. When it is children, it's great because they want to chat or will act coy. When it's men, they either think it's funny, which is harmless enough, or want to get into a conversation about where you're from and when are you leaving and how they will visit you in the US. Oh, and are you married? Ghanaians are extremely keen to come to the US; almost everyone you meet has a friend or family member or both in the US. So, all of the above is leading me to actually believe traveling as a woman brings its own special set of difficulties that men never encounter. I like meeting Ghanaians but the ones who initiate conversations most often are men who see white skin as a ticket to another country. I'm really unclear as to why they want to go somewhere else. There's some sort of utopic vision of what the US is like and I think a lot of them must be disappointed when they actually get there. There are signs all over the place advertising some sort of US visa lottery; they're already queuing for the 2009 pull. I've already met a lot of people who are separates from their spouses not because of disagreements, but because one of them is in Europe or North America. Seems perfectly normal and fine to them.

Ghanaians have a reputation for being extremely friendly and it is true to some extent. If they are eating and you walk up, they always say, "You are welcome [to share]," or upon arrival at the house "Welcome!" You always receive or give things with your right hand, never your left (the whole toilet thing again). There are women balancing goods on their head to sell all over the place. Anything you can imagine-- watermelon, water satchels, shoes, food.. it's not only women, too, often it is young girls (9-14ish). They sweat then come up to the cars/tros while they wait at the light. Handwashing rules here; I haven't seen a washing machine or laundromat yet. Additionally, I take my shower from a bucket that is filled at the tap in the bathroom and stand in the tub. It's actually pretty ok and conserves a lot of water. The most common local language is called "Twi" and another is called "Ga" and that's all I know so far.

There is one guy at work who I have really interesting conversations with. My new routine is to arrive at 9am, discuss Ghanaian politics with him between 9:30 and 11, at which point he begs off and says, "I have to go to town now to make some money off politicians!" I'm not sure what he's really doing but I hope it's not under-the-table advertising at the station. He's really smart and a business-minded Jehovah's Witness. He said he finds it shocking that his friends from the UK don't believe in god. He always wants to talk about China with me. A lot of the goods here come direct from Chinese cast-offs and even have characters printed on them (pens, crackers, cookies, etc). I hope he is successful but there's so much that just doesn't make it through the culture barrier for some reason. Ex., he told me his friend went to purchase from an American company but was told upon arrival that their factory is in China. Expensive mistake, how could that happen..
He told me today that a lot of the clothes and shoes and computers and all sorts of goods that come into Ghana to be sold are secondhand from the UK. They're sold at "obroni-woawu" markets which translates as "dead white man" market! I thought that was hilarious.
The biggest 2008 presidential election issues here are the economy and the energy crisis. Earlier this year, the lights flickered incessantly for months, apparently. Things are good now, for the most part. Also learned that the presidential candidates always pick a running mate from the north because then he will be Muslim and they can also get the northern Muslim vote. Here in Accra/the south, most people are Christian.

There are about 80 billion internet cafes in Accra but our office only has one internet connection, and it's dial-up. So if someone is on, no one else can be on. But usually, no one is on. It's a really mysterious way of operating.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All aboard... the Night Train!

I am now the sole conveyor of 1950s and 60s soul music to the people of Ghana, every Sunday from 6 to 9pm. Initially, they suggested weekdays 9am-12pm but I'm not even sure I have enough with me for a weekly 3-hour so now I am on Sundays and I am very happy about it. Commercial radio in Ghana is so superior to American, it's not even funny. What I am doing here is positively unheard of in the ClearChannel dominated US market. This is going to be a bit difficult for me, given that it's not my specialty and there is no effectively no internet at the station so I can't do any research or download more music. I have already been missing my records, but now I really miss my records, and am kicking myself for not having the complete Fire/Fury Records Story with me (aka, the best boxset ever). Nonetheless, what an awesome job! On the plus side, I can now play everything I overplayed on my old show because they've never had it from me here. In Providence, I could practically hear the programming board moaning, "Fingertips, Part 2, AGAIN?! Seriously?" every three months or so.

I think they were a little shocked when I brought my suggestions to the table ("I'd like to program a 1960s soul show and a one-time special feature show, post-extensive audio editing learning, about the influence of slave music on today's popular music" [what I mean by this, for example, is like Kanye West's "Gold Digger" song-- in it, he samples a song from the 1950s that was lifted from a 1920s bluesman who adapted it from a song that has its origins in the 1850s). My boss says, "Wow.. well... that's certainly different. Yes, let me think about this.. uh.. ok." As said the boss in China... and India... I think we stream online so you can listen if you figure out your time difference. I won't be talking, so don't get your hopes up... I know that is what most people like to hear when they listen to me but I am more concerned about the content than hearing myself babble, so this is ideal for me all around!

The power went out for about 20 minutes this morning and we had dead air for the whole time. There is only one tech person who works there but things get done so much more quickly than anything ever happened at BSR. On top of that, the CEO about chewed his head off. It's remarkable what being paid will do towards people's consciences and sense of duty.

My life here is pretty much unrecognizable other than radio. I eat three square meals a day, feel accomplished if I am still awake at 9:30pm and get up at 6:45am. I'm fully engaged in the drifter lifestyle... I just do what they tell me and watch until I grasp the appropriate social behavior, unless it comes to something I really hate (i.e., drinking Coke, sounding like a MTV VJ, celebrating corporate television) and no longer find it strange to see a guy peeing into the drain water in direct view of 800 people which is being used 200m down to wash another family's clothes (Ghana), or a mother holding her baby up to poop onto the sidewalk (China).

Africa is reality TV crazy, for real. My host mother watches Big Brother Africa for hours on end; she has one TV set to Big Brother and another one, right next to it, for the Christian channel (shows range from Joyce Mayer, ever-present American Christian fleecer, to gospel choirs). The Ghanaian was just kicked out of the Big Brother house and as it turns out, he is the one who was at the airport that everyone started screaming for when I was sitting there for 2 hours waiting for my ride to arrive, wondering who the hell it was. So, I saw myself on Big Brother last night because they showed his homecoming, which means I was briefly seen looking bored and angry by the whole continent.

This weekend there is a wedding reception at the house! Excellent. I've started to figure out the tros and the money (move the decimal four places to the left to get the new value), so I am feeling somewhat less frustrated than when I arrived. I had a nice discussion with a co-worker today about China and the US. He really loves the US.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ghana: Land of Toast

Two days of travel from India to Ghana and then no one picked me up at the airport. And I had a wicked sick bacterial eyelid skin infection which spread to the rest of my head, underneath my hair, en route. So awesome. I slept on the floor of the Dubai airport for 3 hours then got on an 8-hour flight to Accra and had to figure out how to call someone at the office and ask where the hell they were. Of course, Ghana was the only country for which I didn't write down the contact phone numbers. I was ready to just fall on the ground and let everyone leaving the airport trample over me at that point. I was really nice and dirty for all of it, too, because the first leg of the trip was a 7-hour car ride through the dusty roads of India from Sivakasi to Thiravanathapuram. Dubai was like a return to modernity with all of its shops and people, really quite a shock. No wonder they call it the crossroads, though... I brushed my teeth in the bathroom between a Chinese chick decked out in booty shorts/Louis Vuitton everything and a woman in a black burqa.

Ghana is much cooler than India, so far. I'm wearing a sleeveless dress that goes down to my knees and feel practically naked compared to the Indian attire. Even better, EVERYONE speaks English.

I had my first day of work today at the radio station-- Vibe FM. It reminds me of WJLB in Detroit circa 2000. They blast what's airing in the office 24/7, so I always feel like I'm back at a Pioneer cross country sleepover watching the girls dance the Britney Spears "Crazy" video dance. Other than popular 1999 rap, they play Donna Summer ripoffs. The Marvin Gaye tune that came around 9am was my one beacon of light. They tried to get me to read the entertainment news but typically-- "Slow down. Be more emphatic." I hope to have a chat about my skills and what I can bring to the station with the supervisor tomorrow, because I am well aware my strength does not lie in bringing the people of Africa their hourly Britney Spears custody battle update. I really hope to convince the programming director that I have enough knowledge about 1960s soul to host a weekly hourlong program during my time here. I don't really care if it's at 3am.

For the radio geeks: the equipment they use is so surprising. There is no mixing board, there is one dial-up internet connection that can only be used by one computer at a time, there are no record or cassette players. Automation comes from WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER or QuickTime. They don't use ProTools, or even Audacity, to edit anything.

The host family I'm staying with is actually just one woman. She lives in a big house and has two maids and a personal driver. She also has deep purple velvet couches and a lot of Jesus art. The House houses here are surrounded by high walls, I always feel like they're preparing for a coup when I see another one. I was reading a bit about the history of Ghana today. It is one of the most politically stable nations in Africa. And then I found out that the latest political upheaval was seven years ago! Ages... I eat on the front porch, looking at the wall and the garden. I haven't eaten much Ghanaian food because it almost all involves meat. Breakfast is the best because she serves the best toast I've ever had in my life. Lunch is thin, sweet pancakes that I take to work.

Ghana revalued its currency in July so there are new notes and old notes floating around. If it were only new, it would be quite easy for me as the value is almost exactly the same as American dollars. The old notes are about c10,000=$1, though, which makes it very confusing, particularly when you get change in new and old currency.

There are a lot of Chinese restaurants here.

Ghana's most common sign is "PLEASE DO NOT URINATE HERE." I've already seen about ten guys letting loose on the sides of the road, or into the drainage ditch, or into the grass...

Transport is done via trotros, privately owned vans that go along fixed routes. They're relatively cheap, it costs me about $0.35 to get to work. There's a driver and a conductor, a guy who leans out the window saying the route and doing that route's hand motion. I don't have the routes down at all yet and still find it very confusing. I get out at Circle, which is a main exchange area. There are about 3-400 tros waiting there at any time. I considered it a mystery of India that people knew which bus was going where and when and that's now carrying over to Ghana in terms of the tros.

Photos soonish..

Monday, October 15, 2007

End of India

I stumbled upon the Muslim neighborhood yesterday. Ramadan just ended so there were green and white flags everywhere. I got even more stares and laughs than in most areas but still plenty of "Hi!"s. Other than that, it was a very uneventful last weekend in India aside from the fact that Laura and I went swimming on Saturday at the Bell Hotel pool for Rs. 50, and greatly impressed five 11-year old boys with our handstand and underwater somersault abilities, and that it rained on Sunday. That was very exciting and made me very happy because it was cloudy all day and the rain cooled things off for almost 36 hours. So happy that I had an ice cream cone and visited with the neighbor's little boy afterwards.

Kindly do not use the swimming pool during your menstrual period.

Today is my last full day in India and therefore time for broad generalizations. Indians, as a whole, are the most generous, polite, helpful and friendliest people I've ever met. And the women are the most subservient, which is really what it was most difficult for me to grasp and adjust to. Women's #3 accessory here (after bangles and gold earrings) is a child on their hip. I, and the other foreigner women I live with, receive behavioral byes almost every hour of the day. The most notable to me have been:
-bicycling alone at any hour of the day
-coming home at 10pm
-speaking freely at work
-not adding "sir" to the end of every sentence
-lounging in shorts and tank tops in the privacy of our home

My only other great impression is in regards to the spirituality of the Indians. There are many religions here. Hindu is the most prominent; there are Hindu temples of every size in every town. I live in a Christian area and there are also a lot of Muslims who became more visible this last week since the end of Ramadan and eid-Al-fitr. No matter what the religion is, its followers believe wholeheartedly. There are a lot of religious zealots in the US, and a lot of people who think of themselves as religious but I have yet to meet or hear of anyone there, outside of perhaps the Mormons, the Quakers and Flanders', who even come remotely close to the Indians' dedication to their religions. In my own host family, they wake up between 3 and 5am to pray before starting the day. (We blew each other's minds when Shakena asked me what time I get up at home. They get up before I go to bed).

In short, do you ever: drink alcohol? smoke? listen to the devil's music? wear short pants? wear shirts without sleeves? engage in pre-marital kissing? have close friends of the opposite sex? do drugs? find yourself out after dark as a female? befriend anyone who engages in these activities? You're a dirty sinner who doesn't respect your parents. [Please note this is my own to-be humorous assessment. Sivakasians would never be in-your-face about religion.]

I start two days of travel tomorrow at 7:30am. 7-hour drive to Trivandrum, pay for and pick up my airline ticket, go to the airport, fly to Dubai, 7-hour layover from 12:30am to 7:30am then an 8-hour flight to Accra, Ghana.

Amma adjusts Laura's sari last night:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Completely unobjective

Today, I am very angry at many things but mostly at how they refuse to let us write about "controversial" subjects-- i.e., anything that will attract the attention of the government, i.e., anything that matters. Sivakasi is the former child labor capital of the world and while great hurrah is made about the decrease in child labor since the 1980s (true), there are still many in the town, working at tiny fireworks factories for Rs. 5 or 10 a day ($0.12 to $0.25).

Earlier this afternoon, Laura and I played Token White People at the local orphanage for the mentally disabled kids. As it was explained to us, it is National Breadgiving Day so the local Rotary club was giving bread to the children and we were photographed handing it to them. Basically, I have no idea what was going on but, as usual, the kids were all awesome.

Also, I think that guy from the Libertines' new band sucks.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More cowbell

One of the good things about being an adult is that you have plenty of experience in knowing when you are going to throw up and can give yourself ample time to get to an appropriate vomiting location. I only threw up once in my childhood-era-of-being-able-to-talk age and that was all over my parents' comforter.

Additionally, the only way to make a fever even more awesome is to have a fever in 90-degree weather during a power outage (meaning no ceiling fan) without a CVS within 8,000 miles. Oh, unless you also have sheets like this:

in which case you can start to imagine the little creatures coming alive and dancing on your body while you sleep. Actually, just kidding, it wasn't the fever, I knew that was happening a good four days before I even started to feel sick.

So, in short, I spent Wednesday barfing once in the morning, then sleeping 18 hours, eating a banana and a half and two chipotis.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sneak preview

Because the magazine is not online and I'm sick of working on this, you're now privy to a sneak preview of next month's cover story. I am writing more about the business side of things and Malte is writing more about the humanitarian aspects of the company.

“Business with social responsibility”
“Making money to make sense for the society”

When Teddy Exports began with these two slogans in 1990, it was a five-employee company producing timber products out of a mud hut in a small village about one hour away from Sivakasi. By 1991, the company had already turned enough of a profit to begin the Teddy Trust, a humanitarian non-profit organization and by 1993, had moved to their current spacious campus. From the beginning, the company’s mission was not just to turn a profit, but also to provide a socially responsible entrepreneurial solution to regional problems. This unusually progressive attitude has resulted in high revenues for the whole of the company’s existence. Now a major exporter, Teddy Exports employs over five hundred people and does millions of dollars worth of business each year. The socially conscious aspect of the company is what draws in many of its business partners from outside India. Teddy Exports’ first client was The Body Shop, a Western chain store which carries various high-end bath and body products in fifty-five countries throughout the world. The Body Shop is still the company’s biggest client, though they now also provides screen-printed cloth bags, textiles, wooden toys and furniture to about nine other international companies.

Though the Body Shop’s original order was only for rolling wooden massagers, demand for Teddy Exports’ goods has grown steadily since its inception. Pleased with the results of the massagers, the Body Shop began requesting more and more products, requiring Teddy Exports to outsource to local tailors and printers. However, it soon became clear that it would be more cost effective to vertically integrate and hire tradesmen for use within the company. Practical business moves with great respect to morality and humanity is what has made Teddy Exports successful. Head products manager, Baskar, has been employed at Teddy Exports since the beginning and feels confident in relaying that their “success [is] due to the quality and dedication of the employees.” Teddy Exports’ leadership has managed to successfully combine social awareness with a self-sustainable business; a rare tale in today’s money-hungry world.

Working conditions at Teddy Exports are tops in the region. Employees receive medical care, free primary school for their children, on-site child care, high quality and safe working conditions, pension plans, subsidized lunch and tea at the company canteen, three-month maternity leave, annual excursions and, perhaps most importantly, fair wages. Minimum wage at Teddy Exports is Rs. 3,000 per month. In speaking with them, it becomes clear that employee satisfaction is extremely high. “Working here, I can support myself; no one else has to take care of me,” said seamstress Naga Rathinam, who has been with the company for eight years. “I like this job because it provides me with continuous living,” says another quality control worker. “I have worked here for the last three years. My standard of living remains the same as long as I am here.”

In addition to its humanitarian efforts, Teddy Exports also is also an environmentally conscious organization. Its timber products are all made from a sustainable and controlled local resource, mostly Acacia Nilotica wood, which is also used for firewood by the locals. Though constantly replenishing the wood source raises the cost of operations, both the factory manager and the head products manager agree that the cost is well worth the increased social benefit.

Although it may seem as though the company is more concerned with philanthropy than sound business practices, profits have not suffered. Teddy Exports maintains a strong commitment to quality products and impeccable customer service as their business model maintains that fairly treated workers and a valued community are assets which feed directly back into the business. Prices are internationally competitive and the array of products grows every year. Today, their most popular product is screen-printed tote bags; upwards of ten thousand are produced in a single day.

Teddy Exports’ high standards have not gone unnoticed by the international community. In 1999, the business won the World Aware small business award just one year after founder Amanda Murphy was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE), a royal honor. In a country that is often more concerned with just making ends meet than providing extraneous benefits to employees, Teddy Exports has set a high standard for the future.

I think it's too wordy. Writing simply about something I have had to do research about is not my forte.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bike accident, the effects of fair trade, playing cricket, elephant, waterfalls

Today, I was in a T-bone bicycle accident. Turned right out of the street the house is on and an old guy on a bike with his friend on the back were coming right towards me and I was already too far out to stop and he didn't swerve so they ran right into me and we all fell down. Nothing too bad happened (scraped elbow) and it was probably my fault for not ringing my bell when I turned. The bikes made quite a noise, though, because they're huge and heavy and may have been made in 1944. The most difficult part was getting out from under two bikes while wearing such a long skirt. I listened to Bike Talk today (BSR's Car Talk variation) and was reminded of how rare and dangerous it is to bicycle in America. In both China and India, bikes are way more common than cars (but no one wears helmets).

On Friday, we went to Teddy Exports, a company outside of Madurai, to meet with the head products manager and get shown the grounds. Malte and I are writing the November issue cover story on the company. They manufacture those wooden massage things that the Body Shop carries, along with a lot of tote bags and some wooden furniture. Teddy Exports is unique in the fact that they pay fair wages (in terms of amount and equality between the sexes), employ about 500 people, are environmentally aware and friendly, provide schooling for their children, provide special schooling for special needs kids, do not utilize child labor, provide a safe working environment, medical care for workers' families, HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness training, have established a trust to give even more back to the community, employ mentally and physically handicapped people and run a clinic in town which keeps tabs on all the local prostitutes (weekly checks). We visited the factories and the school. All the workers I spoke with were very happy with their job. The women all wear the same uniforms: beautiful pink-patterned saris. The schoolchildren were endlessly charming. Every time we entered a new classroom, they all stood up and did their little hello thing then recited a long rhyme in Tamil. They were very happy to see us and some of the older kids could talk with us. When we left, they all clamored around to shake our hands. People here don't shake hands so the kids think they're quite novel/western/cool and sophisticated when they do it with us.

Wheelchair bicycle parked outside a factory:

The 6-year olds:

One of the factories (quality control area):

Saturday was the office cricket game. Cricket is immensely popular here. It is vaguely like baseball in that there is a batter and a pitcher (bowler) and you run if you get a hit but other than that, no similarities. We played behind a local secondary school. The kids go to school on Saturday, so all the boys gathered to watch the spectacle of women playing cricket. Or foreigners. Or foreign women. I enjoyed it, aside from the relentless sun that hit hard during fielding. I was very bad at bowling (pitching); I throw like a girl now. Shame. I was ok at batting. I could hear my dad's voice from like 14 years ago, pitching to me in the backyard-- "Keep Your Eye On The Ball." Cricket bats are quite a bit wider and heavier than baseball bats but it still worked. My team lost by about 80 points. When I was not batting or fielding, I explored the village of abandoned houses that was near by. There were about 50 of them. They used to house small fireworks factories or house fireworks factory workers, I'm not clear which, but the company lost money and the owners stopped paying and employing, so it all went downhill and everyone moved and the garbage pickers came around to get what was salvageable from the homes which includes the piping and roofs, apparently. Just like Detroit copper pickers.

This is all that's left now.

I'm playing cricket.

On Sunday, we went to a remote, small river in the mountains and swam. The bus went through all sorts of small villages. When we got there, there were three men bathing in their underwear and drinking beer. They moved upriver quickly; it was easy to embarrass them because, as everyone knows, western girls have no shame. We swam in long pants or skirts and T-shirts and sat on the rocks and let the white water hit us. Natural jacuzzi. I got cold for the first time in two months. After the river, we went back down a ways and swam in the dam, which was 132' deep. I tried not to think about that part; deep water is scary, what with its crocodiles and humpback whales and everything. After the river, we got back on the bus to go into Kerala (different state). The border guards checked the bus' pass and we got off and trekked through the woods to a waterfall. It was completely excellent. I've never seen a waterfall before, let alone swam in one. Waterfalls were the main reason that West Virginia is my #1 Want To Visit state but now I've been to one in Kerala which is a little better! I still feel so clean from it even though I discovered about a cup and a half's worth of sand in my underwear once we were back on the bus. And a leech on my calf. It was still little so I retained almost all of my blood. The water comes down so hard on your shoulders!

In the waterfall

Swimming in the dam:


The bus

On the way there, the bus was cut off by an elephant turning a corner. A guy was on its back and it had a lot of hay in its mouth.

The excellent news of the day is that my passport came back with the Ghanaian visa! I had to send away to Delhi for it.

I have one week left in Sivakasi.