Monday, August 30, 2010


Before heading to Ankaase last week, we stopped by the beach for a couple of days.

My vision of relaxing on the sunny beach while Coy and Townes built sandcastles wasn't meant to be. It's rainy season here so it was mostly cool and overcast. And the bigger obstacle was Townes's inexplicable reluctance to play or even walk in the sand. He liked sand enough in the sandboxes in Zurich playgrounds so I'm not sure what the hold-up was here.

Regardless, we spent a lot of time hanging out here

and here

A highlight of our walks was the fishing boats.

We also toured the old fort at Cape Coast that was used in the slave trade. President Obama visited last summer and the people we met who were selling snacks nearby were still talking about it. Two years ago when we toured the bigger fort nearby at Elmina, I was quite emotional about the experience. This time, Townes kept me rather busy and I did not want him to distract the other people on the tour. But it was still chilling to consider the history of this place.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

We respond to reader comments

One of our faithful readers, who endearingly posts as "Anonymous", has asked:

"What's the deal with Ghanains getting up so early? A revival starting at 4AM? That sounds crazy... Please elaborate."

Very good question.

Needless to say, a 4am wake up call is a fair bit earlier than we're accustomed.

In case there is any doubt about whether Ghanaians are early risers, we can provide the following anecdote:

Kacey was discussing the Revival in Ejuretia with Julie (local librarian and one of the village matriarchs), complaining that it was too loud and too early. She remembers the conversation thusly,

Kacey: "So did the 4AM revival wake you up this morning?"
Julie: "No, I was able to sleep right through it."
Kacey: "Really?!"
Julie: "I even slept in a little bit this morning"
Kacey: "Wow, that must be nice. Did you sleep until 7 or 8?"
Julie: "No, no. I slept until about a quarter to five."

This has been seconded by Rocksin (the scorpion remover, see "Not One of Townes' Friends") that many of the Ghanaians who work in Kumasi will hit the road by 4am to get there. If you don't, you're likely stuck in a crowded tro-tro and in traffic for several hours.

As for broader theories about why Ghanaians wake up so early? Here are some of our conjectures:

1) Roosters - There may have been a part of me that thought roosters were a quaint fixture of the pastoral life. They greet the sun around 6.30 or 7am as someone is preparing bacon and eggs for me, the smell of Folgers in my cup wafts up the stairwell... no longer.

Roosters start crowing sometime around dawn, often times long before the sun actually breaks through my window. It's tough to sleep through.

2) Communal Living - We met a Peace Corps volunteer who had lived for 2 years in Ntonso, a village near here. For the first year or so, she lived in a compound with other Ghanaians. She had no privacy, and noted that the day started early, particularly with the sounds of small children. There was no sleeping "late" with kids crying, needing to be fed, washed, etc.

Plus who wants to be the last to roll out of bed in the morning?

3) Nothing to do at night - While there are numerous "Spots" around the village where one can procure the local drink, a beer, some gin, etc., there aren't many other options - especially if you don't want to hang out at a bar. Once it gets dark, things rapidly start slowing down in the village.

Plus, add mosquitoes into the mix - they often come out after dark - then there are other incentives to be tucked away inside early in the evening.

4) Squeak-toy bird: A bird that has yet to be identified but sounds exactly like a horrible squeak toy. This bird appears outside of our window sometime around 3am and its squeaks pick up by 4:30. Just thinking about it makes me want to cut down all of the bushes and trees near our house.

5) There's stuff to be doin' - In the morning, lots of people are lighting fires, getting the pots out and cooking breakfast. That takes time. There are no Hot Pockets, or gas ovens for lots of people. If you want to be eating by 7, somebody's got to get up early.

Walking to Town

All young children are carried on people's backs in Ghana, but with a piece of local cloth wrapped tightly around their waist.

I suppose the backpack can look a bit...over-engineered.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How to Add an Hour to Your Child’s Sleep

That’s the sort of subheading that I’ve sought out in baby manuals in order to help our early riser be a bit more Buckley about his schedule. Suggestions usually include blackout shades, sound machines, adjusting bedtime. But I’ve never read the tip that worked for us here: ask the DJ in the neighboring village to consider turning down the volume on the show that he broadcasts at 5am over the loudspeakers in your backyard.

Each radio day begins with an ascending 3-part tone, Bum, Bahm, Bum! Whenever we talk about the mornings, Townes now turns to us and says "Bum Bahm Bum!". It would be cute, if it wasn't at 5am.

Not to be defeated by the DJ in Ejuretia, Coy and Maggie went on a mission this week to find the DJ and ask him to turn his music down.

It began with a late evening trek with Maggie through the bush from our village, Ankaase, to the neighboring village of Ejuretia.

The village of Ejuretia. We had to talk to a few people in the village to find out where the DJ lived.

Once we found the offending loudspeaker, we traced the wire back to his house.

After successfully tracing the wire back to the DJ's home, Maggie pounded on the door. Sadly, he wasn't home.

However, he had conveniently painted his mobile number on his house, so we gave him a call.

Once we found the DJ, we were quickly sidetracked to other topics - the radio business, whether America has any fetish priests, his views on the Ghanaian history (specifically, how the Ashanti people migrated from present-day Mali, how the Ewe people in the Volta region were formerly Togolese, but ended up in Ghana solely because of the arbitrary borders drawn by the British, etc.) All of it was quite interesting, but still not to the point. Before I could get to his external loudspeaker and the volume, his buddy came by who was the founder/inventor/chief marketer for Boakye Educational Products.

The founder of Boakye Educational Products had made a mock traffic light as a pedagogical tool. After ranting for several minutes about the inadequacies of existing pedagogical tools, then singing a song about "Green Light Go, Red Light Stop" he proceeded to try to convince Maggie that she should buy this product for 35 Ghana Cedis. She haggled for a better price (she is opening a preschool and it could conceivably come in handy). In response to the haggling, the founder of Boakye Educational Products complained for about 10 minutes about her haggling, insisted that the price was a good price, and that the she should be willing to pay for such a top-quality pedagogical tool. He then proceeded to prove the aforementioned quality, only to find that the yellow light did not work.

Seemingly unphased by this, he proceeded to share all of his knowledge about other educational products. About how rocking horses should only be approximately "crotch-high" and that many rocking horses are much higher than they ought to be, which can result in very dangerous rocking horses. This discussion was repeated ad nauseum for about 15 minutes.

Finally, we were able to get to the point with the DJ: your radio is too loud and too early. My son wakes up. Please turn it down.

Not surprisingly, this was not the first complaint he had heard, the DJ told me, but that he had already responded by beginning at 5am - 1 hour later than he had previously started (his broadcast license apparently allows him to begin at 4am!) and that only 1 of the 4 loudspeakers was actually working. I suppose the implication being that the music couldn't be that loud (mind you that the radio station is a 20 minute walk from our house and we can hear it perfectly).

I feigned sympathy, and re-engaged him on Ghanaian history and his desire to travel to the US and Israel. After another 15 minutes - we were approaching 2 hours with the DJ - he agreed that he would turn it down in the morning and perhaps begin a little later.


Here is a very happy me with the Ejuretia DJ.

If you can see the collection of records above us, one of them is an old Kenny Rogers LP. So sweet.

The next morning, the music did not begin until 5.30, and it was much quieter. Townes slept until 6.30, and his parents were quite happy.

Postscript -

Sadly, this morning was the beginning of a 7th Day Adventist Revival at the radio station. The singing is louder and began at 4am. I've also heard that the revival will last until Sunday.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kontomire Stew

Kontomire Stew (ponounced Con-too-me-rey) perhaps one of the most fantastic things I have had in a while.

It's basically tomato sauce, fish and coco yam leaf, plus some other stuff.

In case you want to try your own...

Laundry Day

Our laundry room would have made the blog if I had listed things that I will not miss about Zurich. Tucked down in the scary basement (ok, the basement wasn’t so scary except for the fact that it was a basement which automatically makes it a place you don’t want to go at night), it brought me to tears of frustration once or twice. Just typing that makes me realize how ridiculous it is that I could lose my cool over laundry but, trust me, those machines had something against me.

With the boy-o out of shorts and his daddy-o out of skivvies, it was time to figure out the Ankaase washing machine. With four hands-on steps, it was a fairly involved process. Step one: fill drum with hose, add soap and clothes, wash. Step two: drain out water. Step three: Repeat step one, omitting the soap. Step four: Put the a third of the clothes into the spinner and repeat until all clothes are spun.

Drying was much easier:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not one of Townes' New Friends

We've been posting a lot about the friends Townes has been making over the past couple of weeks.

This was not one of them.

Yep, the largest scorpion I have ever seen. We thought maybe he'd been flown in from Maine. Townes had the warm butter waiting back in the kitchen.

Remember Ray Harryhausen's scorpions from the Clash of the Titans - you know, the ones that spawned from Medusa's blood? I think this one was their little brother.

The Ray Harryhausen Creature List: Scorpions from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

The guard, Rocksin, found this scorpion in the bush outside of our gates. I've included a Ghanaian 50 cedi piece for reference - it's about the size of a quarter.

Safely disposed of back to the bush...after chopping off his stinger of course.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Saturday with Neighbors

This is Michael, one of Dorothy's kids:

On Saturday, our friend Dorothy came over with her kids. Maggie, Emma and Nevin were also there - so Townes had plenty of playmates.

We begin working with the hospital on Monday. I'll be working with Richard Tweneboah, the Hospital General Manager, on setting the strategic direction for the hospital, in addition to working with their operational/accounting processes. We've also connected with the Country Director from the Millenium Cities Initiative in Kumasi. Overall, we're excited about the projects.

Kacey will also be working with Maggie as she sets up the preschool in the neighboring village. We'll both be busy!

We'll post more on the work soon...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Our House

Here are some pictures of our house in Ankaase. It is the United Methodist Missions House, and was formerly occupied with the Dr. Gongwer and his family.

The garden was improved 10 years ago (I actually helped to make the bricks and place them on the drive) and the results have been stunning!

Right now it is the rainy season. The weather has been much cooler than in Accra, with much less pollution. Our lungs are thanking us!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dinner and friends

One of the more interesting foods in Ghana is FuoFuo (pronounced FooFoo).

It takes quite a bit of time to prepare - not to mention shoulder strength. Our friends Maggie and Emma came by on Wednesday to help us to prepare it.

Maggie's son, Nevin, is one of Townes' new friends!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Off to village life...

On Tuesday, we left Accra for Ankaase on the VIP bus line. The VIP is, actually, quite VIP. It's airconditioned, not overcrowded and has a movie feature on the way up. And for 15 Ghana Cedis (USD 10), you can't beat the price.

Both movies were produced in Ghana. The first, called "The Game" was a multi-story drama filled with intrigue, assassinations and love trysts. The second one was about an arrogant son who murders his father, the chief, to try to take over the throne. Lots of blood and fighting! The volume was ear splitting, so the fighting was hard to ignore.

Luckily, Townes napped most of the time and so wasn't too worried with the angry people on screen.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Street Refreshment

Fresh coconut milk.

Digital Sabbatical

In addition to supporting people, ideas and places that we care about, this sabbatical is also about thinking about our values and trying to see how best to align our actions to those values going forward.

For the last 3 days we were on a circumstantially-imposed "digital sabbatical". The hotel had no internet access, and the closest internet cafe was 20-30 minutes away. It was fantastic. Over the past few years, the blinking red dot on the blackberry had become an increasing irritation. Sunday morning. Blink. Saturday afternoon. Blink. Blink.

Those who know me will attest that I am not the most connected person on the planet, but taking a disciplined break from the internet and constant stream of information makes sense to me. We'll have plenty of time to experience it first hand during the coming months while we are living in the village of Ankaase. Hopefully, that lifestyle will help us to establish an internet practice that fits our family.

As for the photo - I guess locking a small child outside a screen porch could be a metaphor for restricting internet access, but to be honest, I just liked the photo.

This blog also had some ideas...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Your World is About to Change

We noticed this sign on our first day in Accra, “Your World is About to Change”. It seemed appropriate not only for us, given our move from Europe and move to Africa, but for Ghana, as well.

Accra has changed quite a bit in 10 years. There are modern grocery stores, new hotels and offices complexes being constructed, and rising prices. Other than the construction, the most striking changes in Accra have been the cost, some of which can even equal the prices we’ve seen in Zurich.

As the Ghanaians decide how to deal with the wealth that will be created by the discovery of the Jubilee oil fields in 2007, life here will continue to rapidly change. To avoid the “resource curse” and to use the oil in a way that benefits all Ghanaians will be a big test for the country.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Long Way Gone

This is your first reading assignment. We have been ready a lot in preparation for our sabbatical- notably, White Man's Burden which examines the failure of traditional models of charity in Africa. Maybe we'll report in later or at least update our sidebar.

I also stocked up some books in the Kindle that my folks gave me. Though I love the smell and feel of books, I don't really like packing and hauling them and the Kindle was an awesome gift for this trip. I've uploaded some books on African history and the couple written by Ghanaians that were available to be downloaded. I was eager to begin reading but was automatically drawn to the Gongwer's bookshelves while staying with them in Accra. And that's where I found A Long Way Gone. This memoir was written by Ishmael Beah as the heartbreaking story of his life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. I cried many times along the way at the horrors of war and Ishmael's tender manner of describing the loss of his family.

Here he quotes his father: "If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen." A comment that mirrors much of what our friends say about the hope that resides in Africans.

It is not an easy read, but an illuminating story of one of the estimated 300,000 AK-47 wielding - and often drug-addicted - child soliders in different conflicts around the world.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A visit to Trashy Bags

The Trashy Bags headquarters is not too far from where we are living in Accra, so we decided to drop in for a visit.

The showroom had quite a few items and was relatively busy with American tourists and a German, Bernard, who was buying for his retail shops in Germany.

Elvis gave us a tour of the facility. He knew of the Elvis in Memphis, but said that for him Elvis had three meanings, one of them was "Creative Leader". We think he found a good outlet for his creativity!

Elvis explained the processes to us as we took the tour. Trashy Bags pays the locals to pick up and bring the water sachets and Fan Ice packets to their facility for "recycling". As the colorful Fan Ice packets are less plentiful, people are paid more for each of the Fan Ice packets they bring. The amount of the collections are seasonal, but according to Elvis they collect approximately 200kg of sachets per week.

Once collected, the used sachets are cut open for ease of cleaning,

dropped into a cleaning solution and then laid out in the sun to dry.

After the cleaning process, the sachets are brought into the stitching area where they are pieced together and turned into bags. All employees brainstorm on new ideas, some of them, such as umbrellas, are currently being engineered for production.

After 3 years in operation, Trashy Bags is barely breaking even. The company hires about 60 employees, not including those that are paid to pick up the sachets in town. We're not sure what the future will bring for Trashy Bags, but were encouraged to experience some of the people behind this innovative idea!

If you want us to pick up one for you, leave us a comment and we'll collect our 5 Cedis (USD 3) when we see you!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Trashy Bags

Another interesting way to creatively address problems in Africa. The problem is the pollution created by the number of plastic water sachets left on the road after use. Water from the faucet is not clean enough to drink without the risk of getting sick. The water sachets provide purified, cold water, but the byproduct is lots of plastic bags everywhere.

We bought a few of the grocery bags in a shop in Accra for 5 Ghana Cedis (about USD 3).

Here is another one I saw a while back...

Travelling Down the Road

On our way home today we decided to hop out of the truck and walk. Usually, we are travelling with our friends Dr. Gongwer and Agyeman in his Nissan Patrol. Here is Kacey with Agyeman.

We decided to stop and take a photo of some of the massive termite hills along the road to the University of Ghana.

Then Agyeman offered to walk home with us, kindly pushing Townes in his stroller!

It was a wonderful Sunday.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Townes's New Friends

Townes has already made a few new friends in Ghana:

the cat, Toulouse

and dog, Max

Townes likes to play ball outside the house

But sometimes Max is a bit of a ball hog...

...and quite too big for Townes to play a credible defense!