Friday, August 29, 2014

Daytime in the City

It is becoming hot and I am ready to end my walking journey through the streets of Accra.  What to eat?  Humm.  As I study the vendor selection of fried yams being cooked in a coal pot, what appears to be salt fish, although I’m uncertain, rice and packaged candies and crackers, I am reminded that I did buy peanut butter and saltines.  Ah, Peanut Butter, the nutrition that sustained me in Saint Lucia for two years!

I stumble across a small permanent plywood building.  A walk up “restaurant” if you will.  The sign is clear.  It is fast food.  They offer three types of rice and I can also get a wedding cake here.  I have no plans to marry anytime soon.  Uh, no I think I’ll pass.


Today was the first day I actually woke without a hangover.  No, I haven’t been drinking – except for the beer drunk at Jam Part One. 

Myself, Carolyn, another visiting faculty member, and her husband Dwight and Ken who is Webster’s recruiter all live in the Faculty House. Jam Part One is a stone throw, just down the dirt road.  We had a great conversation while sitting on plastic chairs in the dirt, drinking beer.  People who know me – stop laughing!  A dominant part of the conversation was around the establishment itself.  Is there a Jam Part Two? Is there a chain of these bars?  Anyway, that and conversation around who had been to the most countries kept the conversation lively and made for an extremely unproductive evening. 

Carolyn and Dwight live in Brussels, come from the United States and have lived abroad for 16 years.  Ken comes from Canada and now lives in Ghana.  I couldn’t win the countries competition.

Alright, this blog post has drifted, so let me get back to where we should be.  No, the reason for the hangover is not liquid spirits; it is the time difference.  I think I have finally acclimated.  I am not sure what time zone I identified with but it surely was somewhere between Los Angeles and Washington DC and Ghana.


It’s early in the morning and time to explore the streets of Accra.  There are many similarities between Accra and Saint Lucia.  English is spoken, but Twi as is Kewyol, is used more frequently.  TroTros as is the Bus are used for public transportation.

Cocoa Trees can be found most anywhere here or in Saint Lucia.  Lush greenery is more likely seen when passing an ex-pat housing development, the United Nations building or other places that might budget for expensive regular gardening.  Amongst the abundance, it is easy to see a small shanty development with women bending over to stir the contents of an occasional hot pot set up in the dirt containing their afternoon lunch.

There is an upscale Mall featuring familiar and expensive foods and Apple Computers. Just outside I find the ever-present vendors knocking on car windows and people sleeping on the streets.  

Men can be seen pushing handmade wooden carts with tools, ready for a hard day at work.

It would be difficult to miss the prevalence of people missing limbs, in wheelchairs if they are lucky; others who are not so lucky are sitting along the footpath.  It appears that Diabetes has taken a toll on the population as it has in Saint Lucia.  The diet is similar: fried food and an abundance of carbs.  However, Diabetes is difficult to quantify, as most people are undiagnosed because there is more focus on infectious disease such as AIDS and currently Ebola.

There is a focus on mobile phones.  Topping off in Saint Lucia was a priority.  It is no different here other than it is not “topping off” it is “topping up”.  Street vendors offering a topping up card are in abundance.

I walk through the streets in a familiar way – always looking down and sometimes stopping to look behind me for on-coming traffic.  If there are footpaths, they are likely uneven and there are enormous ditches that were built to funnel rainwater to prevent flooding, but many times end up as a resting place for paper, plastic, bottles and anything else discarded along the way.  This makes walking on the edges of the street more favorable to prevent tripping, but more adventuresome as vehicles have the right-of-way.  I have never taken our sidewalks in California for granted since my return from Saint Lucia in 2010. 

As I begin the trek home through the changing neighborhoods, I notice that the quality of the footpath also changes.  While passing a rather wealthy looking cluster of new homes, I find I no longer must look down, but can skip across the bricks in wonderment!  But, alas, just as the skipping begins – it abruptly is interrupted with more uneven bricks and large ditches.  Once again, I am relegated to the street.


Nearing the completion of the walk I find a sandwich shop.  A place where I can sit, if just for a moment, reflect on what I’d seen, eat somewhat familiar food and have my guilty pleasure – A “Light” Coke.  This is difficult, but so nice to be back.  Cheers!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I’m Back

“Taxi!”  A sound that is frequent in the dark night.  It is a warm and humid night.  There is a strong sense of familiarity.  My hair is in a ponytail, my feet fitted with sandals and a backpack filled with mosquito repellant.  I hear a low and very loud sound – a night creature.  I find it curious as the sound is different and takes me away from familiarity for a moment – I would guess it must be some sort of frog.

There are few other cars around. The road, at times, is lit – sometimes by the light of the American Embassy or the occasional streetlight but it is mostly dark.   It is quiet, no barking dogs or roosters protecting their hens – only an occasional ruckus bar and that ever present creature croaking in the darkness. 

The Faculty House is about a mile from the campus.  Teaching is high energy.  The brisk walk home burns the excess energy and gives pause to reflect. 

The classrooms are bright, clean and well equipped.  The students, mostly Ghanaian (I have one Israeli student), are engaging, energetic and serious about learning. During discussion, they ask more questions about the material rather than giving an opinion about a concept; a difference from teaching in the United States.  They are there to learn but not to show me what they know.  I like that but realize they must formulate opinions to strengthen the depth of the concept and their knowledge.

I come to an area of near complete darkness.  There are few footpaths and those that do exist are uneven bricks reminiscent of my days in Saint Lucia.  There are also the familiar wide and deep drainage ditches on the side of the road.  My eyes adjust and the walk continues. 

A man rides past on a bike; another is repairing his car.  Unlike Saint Lucia, there are no greetings of “Good night” or any other sort. I wonder how he sees while laying on the ground beneath the car and holding a wrench.

After a few days of serious adjustment and stress I begin to feel the complete peace I felt as a volunteer.  Living in a developing country with few possessions and none of the cares of the life left behind is liberating.  I had forgotten how the clutter in life could be a disturbance.  It’s nice to be back.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ghanaian Music Time

I wandered out yesterday and inquired about Ghanaian music.  This was something I heard which is quite nice.  When I was listening to another song someone asked if I understood it.  I told him no and asked him to explain.  He wouldn't.  I suppose the words were less than polite.  But then I came across someone listening to Kwabena Kwabena (obviously born on a Tuesday).

I was a little taken back - it reminds me of the Cuban Music my son Jay brought from Honduras.

He is talking about his girlfriend - yes, you guessed it, she cheated on him with HIS BEST FRIEND! He left for vacation and she and his friend cleaned everything out of the house.  He is singing in the Twi language spoken here in Ghana.  Twi is pronounced with more like "Chi" but a softer Ch sound.

The Rain

The rain simply does not stop.  Coming from California I can say that's a good thing.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Washington D.C. Breaks Up the LONG flight to Ghana

When I boarded the plane from Los Angeles and headed for Washington D.C., it was on time and ready to travel the five hour flight over the United States – well, sort of on time and ready to go.  We boarded on time and it appeared that we were ready to go…but not quite.  Something was wrong with the plane, a mechanical failure of some sort so we hurried up to wait.  Thirty minutes late and we were in the air, the pilot promising to make up the time.

My sister and Gilles, her boyfriend, were at Reagan National to pick me up.  Actually, I walked by myself – they “picked up” the overweight pounds of luggage I brought…books, lots of textbooks.  I not only had books in my luggage, but I had one in my backpack and one in my computer carrier.  I never realized how heavy a 600 page hardbound book is until now.  It seemed like a good idea when I volunteered to bring them.

I landed on Tuesday night and planned to stay until Thursday night when my plane left for the ten hour flight to Ghana.  The problem is the plane left without me.  But we will get to that in the next post.

Wednesday was a packed day.  Janyn and Gilles live on Capitol Hill – walking distance to almost everything.  It’s nice leave the car behind although it is hot and humid and the air conditioning would have been nice.  We set out for the Peace Corps Office on the other side of the White House.  Don’t ask me which other side, I just know that we walked around it so the side we walked around is the other side. 

Anyway, the reason we went to the Peace Corps Office was to meet a good friend of mine – who actually, I’ve never met.  She came across my blog maybe three or four years ago.  She was throwing the idea of Peace Corps around.  She told me she was living in Charleston, SC.  “Great!  I have a friend, Elaine, who served with me, happens to live in Charleston and would love to meet you Amy.”  The two of them met and before you know it Amy was headed for her Peace Corps Volunteer Philippines assignment. She accomplished some amazing things for her village some of which can be viewed on this short YouTube Video  

She has since completed her service, we’ve stayed in e-contact, she got a job at Peace Corps in Washington DC and so – to make a very long story understandable in one sentence:  Janyn and I walked to the Peace Corps Office in Washington DC to meet Amy for lunch.  

Then on to see an African Exhibit at the Smithsonian and the MLK Memorial.  The long-over-due memorial is thoughtfully crafted with many inspirational quotes on the walls, most are still relevant today.

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."

Stay tuned for my next post which I believe explains how I got to where I am now - Accra, Ghana.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

And I go again

This time, it’s a short two months vs. the rather long two-year Peace Corps adventure. 

It seems long ago that I saw the Webster University Email announcing openings in Ghana to teach.  But then the date to leave came so suddenly that I wondered if I could get packed on time.  It seemed easier to leave for two years – if I forget something, it could be shipped.  After all, it only took 6 months to get one of my packages to Saint Lucia!

So, a bit frazzled and tired from less sleep than I’d like and I’m on my way.  Now I have the time to reflect.  WTF?  And, why am I doing this?  I left my volunteer work, my granddaughters, my family, my car, my spa tub, and my dog – OMG Barkley! 

Will my family remember to secure the dog door at night so he doesn’t go out and become raccoon food!  And Ava – is she really mature enough to remind dad that she shouldn’t have sugar before math tutoring?  Mia?  She’s just started sounding out words.  She needs practice!  

What about the kids at the shelter that I tutor?  Will there be enough tutors when school begins?  It isn’t easy to leave a life behind.

This is certainly a life I had never envisioned.  I wasn’t supposed to be riding in an airplane.  I was to be in a RV.  I was to be seated alongside John – seeing the United States and all the incredible nature it holds.  But it just wasn’t meant to be.  

Oh, how I love nature!  And flying above the clouds in the sky!

I was so young when John and I talked about what life would be like when our children were raised.  As I look back, I realize I didn’t really know how to dream.  I let others dream for me. When I was just a couple of years from retirement I realized I needed to dream MY plan.  I have a plan – however loose that it is.  That plan includes looking down at the clouds.

As I settle into the flight the OMG feeling fades.  Frankly, I’m just not satisfied unless I’m stretching myself.  The discomfort of cultural difference is somehow comforting.  So I suppose the better question is, “will I ever be satisfied to really retire?”  Let the fun begin - a couple of days in Washington D.C. to rest up – and then on to Accra, Ghana.  Yup, life is sweet!