Sunday, October 31, 2010

Me oh my how the time does fly




3 months - already gone. It's hard to believe, but we are making our preparations to head back to Accra on Friday. Ghana has treated us very well - we've seen Richie and Maggie's school mature into a well-functioning preschool, full of happy kids. We've had the chance to reconnect with some friends from 10 years ago, and make a few new ones along the way. Kacey is now a full-fledged Ghanaian chef, with a few new recipes to spice up the Buckley kitchen for years to come, not to mention Townes' tolerance for hot food.

School kids in Ghana have a great way of sharing praise. The teacher will ask the kids to clap for Townes, for instance, and so all the kids will perform a modified clap: [CLAP], [CLAP] FOOOOR TOWNES! The "for Townes" bit being reflected by the kids pushing their palms outward and sending the praise his way. It's a great way to share the love.

For those who have kept up with us in the blog for these last few months, we appreciate your continued interest and look forward to sharing more adventures from Tanzania!

But for now, we'd like to say,

[CLAP], [CLAP] FOOOR GHANA!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me




Yes, my very own ball - safe enough so that even Jesus could play with it.





Jealous?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What happens when I let a kid borrow my camera

These were taken at the beach several weeks ago. A kid asked if he could borrow my camera - here are 5 of the 150 pictures he took.





Monday, October 25, 2010

Candlelit Dinner for Four

Rainy season has lasted longer than expected and we've had some impressive thunderstorms in the past week. Our electricity has held up pretty well and usually only blinks out for about a half an hour at a time. Except on Monday evening we lost it for about twenty hours.



Not much to do but pull out the candles and enjoy the ambience with our friend who was visiting. Coy offered to make the pepe sauce with a mortar and pestle in lieu of a blender. It turned out quite nicely.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Different Perspectives



One Ghanaian imagining how it would look to fly over a city.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thanks, Goat.





Drums - another one in a long list of captivating things about Ghana. Years back, I visited James, one of the premier drum makers in Ghana, who makes drums for the Ashanti Chief, visiting dignitaries, etc. He's a talented guy and makes beautiful drums of various shapes and sizes. James and I talked for a while about drum making: the Tweneboah wood used for the drum body, how to tune the drums by adjusting the depth of the pegs, and getting the right goat skin for the drum head.

The leopard drum is one of the more interesting. The leopard drum wasn't designed for playing, but for scaring off the enemy during battle. When the drumstick is moved in a circular motion around the drum head it actually sounds like a leopard's roar. Tradition has it that the Ashanti warriors would hide in the bushes, making leopard noises with their drums and successfully fend off larger armies.

James made one of the leopard drums for my brother 10 years ago. After Marshall tired of making the leopard drum noise every morning after he brushed his teeth, it quietly sat in the corner mostly untouched. I suppose dried goat skin could smell a bit like goat jerky, which caught the attention of a bored dog and led to the consumption of half the drum head.

I'm not sure how well it digested, probably like an old shoe.

A new drum head is on the way. I suppose we must only feel sorry for the goat.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Coming Soon to Comedy Central

Townes’s sense of humor has been developing and we think his first attempts at jokes are pretty hilarious. Usually he hooks you with talking about animals. “Doggie tail,” he might say or “Cat tail.” Once he has you agreeing that, “Yes, a doggie has a tail” then he gives a little grin and tries out “Daddy tail.” When that gets a laugh, he’ll go back to listing some things that have tails before inserting “Emma/momma/Townes tail.”

His other big joke uses the same approach but with a slightly different punchline. For this one he names things that fly...”Airplane/Bird/Butterfly/Bubbles/Helicopter fly” before tossing in “Daddy fly” followed by a wry little grin and a “Nooooo!”.

His third joke involves a prop. Duck Hat:



Get it?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reflections...

Living in a village, you realize that you took some of the small things for granted; like purchasing a bottle of bubbles, which is almost impossible outside of a 6 hour drive. As we approach the end of our bubble supply, we'd like to look back on the good times - and valuable distractions - that bubbles have given us.

Bubbles, we thank you.





Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Street Food, III (or Nice Chop!*)








Quite possibly the best street food experience so far: RedRed (spicy beans, palm oil, spicy tomato sauce and onions with fried ripe red plantain) for 1 cede right outside of Adum in Kumasi. The name RedRed comes from the color of the spicy beans and the fried, ripe plantain - both of which are red. The powder atop this delightful dish is called Gari, which is dried, pulverized cassava.

The lady serving it up is a bit saucy herself, laughing at the obruni's who come by to eat her food. I don't think she gets many other non-Ghanaian visitors. All I have to say is that is that the RedRed is piping hot, the Ghanaians line up to eat it and, so far, it's 99.44% risk free.


* Chop is a slang word for "Eat" in Ghana. Examples include, restaurant street vendors, which are called "Chop Shops". Good food can be called "Nice Chop". Definitely the most memorable example: when I was here 10 years ago, a student volunteer was told by a Ghanaian after his supposed sloppy eating, "You chop like pig!".

Monday, October 11, 2010

His second love



Likes and dislikes can change quickly for this kid, but there appear to be a few constants for his stay in Ghana: Emma and drums.

When he sees drums, he calls them by name and says "Ba Booom Boom", usually hitting his stomach-turned drum.

Luckily, we are drum-rich here in Ghana. He's played them atop rooftops hotels, at the church, at the Kente cloth village (pictured) and just about anywhere else he can find them.

I think he's got pretty good rhythm - we'll keep working on it!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Tro-Tro Travel

Tro-Tros, or the packed mini-buses that transport the majority of Ghanaians, are one of the more interesting experiences in Ghana. Comprised of the driver and the mate (the guy who collects the money, announces the destinations to potential travelers, and generally takes care of everything so the driver can -mostly- focus on the road), the tro tros are at once exhilarating and terrifying. A tro-tro ride drops you in the middle of the sites and sounds of Ghanaian society. As you drive through the congested roads, you experience at once the smells of the food vendors, the music on the streets, the funerals, the pollution, the muddy roads and ingenuity of Ghanians to make most anything work. There is an area around Kumasi called "The Magazine" where it has been reported that you can see any trashed-out European vehicle picked apart, re-combined and reassembled into the tro-tros that are driving down the road today.

That's the exhilarating part.

Terrifying because, well, there are not many official rules to the road. In some sense, that makes driving paradoxically safer because no one assumes that they can predict what any other driver will do. Hence, the constant horn "tooting" to tell everyone, "Hey, I'm here, don't pull over into the lane". The game extends to passing, where I have seen tro-tros pass directly into oncoming traffic without blinking an eye. True to form, the oncoming tro-tro simply nudges over a bit and the two pass by, seamlessly.

The tro-tros also give a good opportunity to brush up on German - many of the mini-buses formerly belonged to German tradesmen, so former mini-buses owned by the local Schreinerei, Elektriker, and Klimaanlage repairman are the order of the day.

It must be said - the price can't be beat: the 45 minute trip from our village of Ankaase to Kumasi costs 70 peswas, about 50 cents. It's also an experience in community. Being bunched up with a bunch of people for an hour requires patience, restraint and an acknowledgment that you are enduring some unpleasantness along with your fellow Ghanaians!


Above: One of the bigger tro-tros at Kejetia Station.



The mate (in yellow shirt) working out the payments and change in a tro-tro on the way to Kumasi. All in his head, he takes all of the payments first, then makes change for each of the passengers.


Selling dried plantain in Aboaso




(For those concerned for the health and well-being of Kacey and Townes - they are always safely tucked away in a taxi. Tro Tro's are only for me on my solo trips!)

Thank goodness

Monday, October 04, 2010

Pancakes and so much more




The mostly world-famous home of Dan the Pancake Man. A local hero in Busua beach and one of the few places I have been where you can order 4 lobsters, rice and "sauce" for 15 cedes.

How did Townes like it? "Spicy!"





As for me, we're heading back tomorrow.

nB: Freshly squeezed juice courtesy of Frank the Juice Man. Yes, seriously.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hey to you, too.


I suppose a cramped, hot tro-tro complete with flashing camera does sort of remind me of my limited Zurich clubbing experiences...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Another Zoological Find...



This guy was crossing the street the other day.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Abesua Prayer Mountain

On Sunday, we decided that the Buckley family needed to get out and see more of the countryside. We had heard stories of a mountain in Ghana that, for those who climbed her, would receive answers to any prayers the hiker made en route. Just the possibility of their being a mountain in Ghana, much less the chance of having our prayers answered, warranted further investigation.

We started off around 1pm from the town center in Ankaase. The first taxi driver we solicited for the journey had no idea where we wanted to go - and had a very low command of the English language - but wanted to charge us 30 cedes regardless. I chuckled and responded, “Hey, I can get to Kumasi for 10 cedes!” and moved on. The taxi driver hurried over to ask another driver, who said that he wasn’t sure where we wanted to go, but knew that the roads in that region were quite bad, i.e., washed out and unpaved, but that he could take us to Ntonso for 5 cedes. From there, we could take public transport to get to Abesua. It seemed mostly reasonable, so we agreed and hopped in the car.

Once we got on the road, we realized that this driver was from the Volta Region and not only spoke English quite well, but was friends with Dickson, another Ghanaian from Volta I had met 10 years ago. After talking for a bit, Wonder (our taxi drivers name, or “Wahndah” in Ghanaian English) decided to give us a hand and call someone who knew the area of Abesua. According to Wonder’s source, the roads to Abesua were, in fact, very bad and that public transport was infrequent on the weekends. With this new set of facts we decided it was best to employ Wonder to take us to the mountain. After a bit of haggling, extrapolating an estimated fare using posted prices from Ankaase to Aboaso with a full load, the number of trips a day, etc., we settled on an amount not too far off from our previous offer: 25 Cedes.

The first half hour of the trip was easy going. Nice open, paved roads, no traffic and the promise of a nice day ahead. Soon after, the situation changed. It looked as though we had dropped off the map and there was nothing but washed out, dirt roads ahead:




For about an hour, Wonder adeptly navigated the ditches and crevasses, but it was obvious that his car was taking a beating. The stock Fiat radio he had rigged into his ’97 Hyundai was twice as big as the hole designed to fit it and was continuously falling out of the dash as we took jarring bump after jarring bump. We continued along at a snail’s pace for about 45 minutes, bucking up and down the road, until the car ground to a halt.




The excessive jarring and bobbing for the past 45 minutes resulted in Wonder’s brake calipers overheating and then seizing up. The front wheel breaks were locked down. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was the hottest day since we had arrived in Africa, and we seemed to be stuck.

Wonder had a plan. He asked for Townes’s bottle, and began pouring it over the front wheels, which resulted in a loud hiss and horrific, steamy smell of brake caliper smoke permeating the air. I had always heard *never* to pour water on a hot brake caliper - something about warping it - but apparently, such lessons were not part of the father-son talks in Ghana.

We waited. Wonder seemed slightly concerned, but not overly so. We sat tight.

About 15 minutes later, a few walks around the car, some contemplative looking and not-so-delicate kicking of the tires, we gave the car a go and surprisingly, it moved along. Not quickly, mind you, but the Hyundai seemed to be slowly warming up to motion again. We continued along.

Finally, after another 20 minutes or so. The road stopped. We were in Abesua, and at the foot of the Prayer Mountain:




So it wasn’t much of a mountain - I think the technical term is an "escarpment" - but it was a quite a bit higher than our current location and promised nice views of the jungle, so we ventured forth.

We walked a bit outside the village and came across a wooden bridge. One of the guys we had picked up on our way into town, who also claimed to be a local rap artist, offered to take us to the top of the mountain. We accepted his offer and after checking the sturdiness of the wooden plank that covered the stream, we started up the mountain.



After another twenty minutes of walking, we ran across a staircase that had been built into the mountain. There aren’t many times in Ghana that I think to myself, “This feels like I’m living in an Indiana Jones movie”, but was one of those times.



There were lots of stairs. I didn't count them, but wouldn't be ashamed to estimate around 400 of them. They were of varying height and often interrupted by areas that were completely washed out.

After about 30 minutes of climbing the steps, our destination broke through the canopy. We took a short break, and continued up the trail.

As if the stairs carved into the mountain weren't enough to set the appropriate Temple of Doom imagery, we ran across this:




Yes, there were thousands of millipedes squirming and maneuvering across the stairs. They made a quiet, scurrying sound as their millions of legs marched over our path. We carefully stepped over the river of millipedes, which, quite literally, ran the width of the stair case and spilled over into a squirming millipede pile on either side of us, and then I dropped my fedora deep into the pile of millipedes. I reached into the pile to grab it, scraping millipedes off my hands when a cobra raised its head and hissed... wait, ok, so it wasn't that much like Indiana Jones...

After another half hour, I was starting to appreciate that carrying Townes on my back was a bit tougher than I had imagined. I prepared to sit down and take a break, when a gentlemen from the village below breezed past me carrying what must have been the weight equivalent of Townes and a backpack on his head.




We decided to continue on.

An hour later, we made it to the peak.



The view from the peak was pleasant. The rains were coming in, there was a cool breeze and the accompanying rustle of leaves below us. We drank some water, rested our legs and took some time to contemplate.

There has been a lot to consider in the past 5 months. Instead of focusing on the exhaustion of getting up the mountain, there were times when it was better to think on other things, like, why we are in Ghana, where we will go after our time here and how best to spend the sabbatical.

We haven’t received any clear answers, yet, but Prayer Mountain lived up to the hype.

On the way home, the perfect snack from the perfect vendor.