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).