Sunday, January 29, 2012

From High Low Budget.

Everyone here has agreed that you must carry your camera with you every minute or you will miss a once in a lifetime photo. So far, I missed taking a picture of the goat in the trunk of a car, which stopped mid-lane on a 4-lane road; I missed taking the picture of 10 guys stacked every which way, riding untethered in the back of pickup truck; I also missed the twin, 2-day-old baby goats feeding on the side of the road. No more. I have my camera out and ready - snapping quickly as we drive on busy roads.

My theme for the last few days has been unusual buildings. The XGI Tower was built by a Nigerian company for an investment Group. It stands out. Concave sides, reflective windows, a rotating restaurant on top make it a landmark of innovative techniques in a country that is still trying to make driving rules uniform.

I love this apartment building. If you look very closely, you can see a person standing against the railing taking in the view. I have a goal of going to the top of this building sometime during our stay.

The colors are just fun, and it is the only orange building in the area. They win. And, no one else has thought of putting a garden on top.

Moving down in the rankings a the Legon Police Station. It looks sturdy and official enough. It resides on a fairly main road, so easy to find. Very few places waste money on landscape features, and the Police Station need not impress anyone: you either need them or you don't. I just find it interesting as we are driving along, to spot a police station where there aren't any other city businesses.

The entry way announces: The Institute of Professional Studies. Several of our PEF students attend here, but even it has a dirt driveway. It is a mixture of modern and practical architecture. It would seem that Ghana would be lacking in higher education, but actually there are many universities in Accra. I don't know how they become certified, licensed, or accredited, and yet, many have outstanding reputations.

Still looking at the same university, but this stairway is attached to the student housing.

This place was a delight to find. The outside is a patio-style African restaurant, but inside are 3 main (yet short) aisles of Costco products! Yessss. There are a few Kirkland items (really wish they carried Kirkland chocolate drink), Campbells soups, chocolate chips,pickles, cereals, jams, etc. It is like seeing an old friend when you see a product made in America.

We've not yet found the restaurant that goes with this billboard, but it is entertaining to think of a Red Lobster. Their menu undoubtedly is NOT the same, but someone has capitalized on the name.

There are a few department-type stores here, but the prices are horrible. Most people just shop at the street vendors. Love the bags.

For the longest time I couldn't find where women bought make-up, but there are a million hair boutiques with hair products. I also liked this "California" sign out front.

Just about everything is for sale at a street vendor's. Headboards and foam "toppers" seem to be a hot property to sell as well.

A nearby school. I took this on a Sunday, and I wish I could get a picture with all the school children in attendance. Depending on the school, the students dress in the uniform colors, in various styles, and they are so colorful. The range of ages is much like home; we see elementary ages up to high school, all dressed in the same colors. Schools all have the very smallish windows, dirt surroundings, and open-air classrooms. I really hope, at some point, I can volunteer to help out in a classroom.
And, this is Africa.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Harmattan Season

The Harmattan Season is a phenomenon that occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. Not the prime tourist attraction, it actually is caused by the African Trade Wind that blows south across the Sahara towards the Gulf of Guinea. It absolutely fills the air with dust, and is much like our May-gray season at home. The down side is -- the air is filled with dust; but the up side is --that it blocks the sun and cools the temperature. What would normally be gorgeous drive in the African country, is now a drive though the beautiful African country with the views of the valleys obscured. Undaunted, we headed out to see an area that we haven't had the chance to see yet.

Tuesday, David and I needed to drive 3 hours inland to Koforidua to meet with 6 of our PEF students and deliver their tuition checks to them. We met them at the Registrar's Office, and the school looked like an older version of Phoenix University or National, maybe. The school was surrounded by traffic and things were a little hectic as we found our kids, but the drive to the university was quite beautiful. Although the dust prevented any appreciation of the view, we could see lush and tropical vegetation, villages, and schools alongside the road.

School was just letting out in the late afternoon, so we saw dozens of children walking home. Each school has a particular color and uniform, and the children's clothes are particularly clean; the white shirts are really WHITE, and they are all carefully pressed. After looking at the houses from which the children come, I can't figure out how they manage to keep the clothes so nice. I love how so many of the children hold hands and walk with their arms around each other. These uniforms had variations of blue and yellow.

We traveled a really nice road, that had none of the potholes that are typical. There were several "villages," groupings of family houses along the road, all with dirt passageways between building, with adobe-type walls. There are road-side "markets" in these areas that sell household needs and some packaged food.

Faustina promised Susan Warner and me an adventure...and it was a cultural event. She took us into the middle of town to the Open Market, where a shopper could find anything. She had a main purpose: fish. There were fresh fish, smoked fish, parts of fish, and the biggest curiosity to me was --- major snails. It was too crowded to get a good picture of them, but they were the size of huge grapefruit and still moving. Besides the animal venture, there were vegetables, plastic dishes, material, jewelry -- much like a central farmer's market. The smells were a mixture of all of the above, not to be found ever in a spray bottle, but really an event to experience.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Work and Play

The last month has been horrendous: hot, humid, hectic, and NO air-conditioning. The temperature has been in the high 80's, with the humidity in matching numbers. It has tested everyone's normally good attitudes, but really, no one whined, no one got upset, they just kept doing good things. It has been kind of learning lesson to watch. TODAY, however, the new a/c parts fit, worked, and relieved us all. Our work involves a lot of time spent with students coming in to pick up their school loans - and here are two of the best: Edwin, standing, is an intern in the building and often comes to our technical rescue, with "I'll be right there to help you, Sistah." Jehosaphat, seated, is a serious student who has a great sideline as a composer. He had just pulled up some of his awesome African music on my computer, and we couldn't help ourselves...we're dancin'! People from down the hall came down to join us, saying, "Who started the party?"

While I was listening to Jehosaphat's awesome African music, David was counseling little Abby, who was intent on securing her necessary funds before she left for her internship as a midwife/nurse.

We love what we are doing. It is a blend of working with students and working with adults, training them about available loans for eager young adults who want to better their lives through education. The best quote I heard was from one young mother in her 20's who had just received her first check: "I am so happy!" she said. "I am going to pay this money back so someone else can feel as happy as I do now." She just glowed - and floated out of our office. Here, David is training other leaders about the PEF program and answering their questions; we do this in different areas every other Saturday.

We have really enjoyed the pineapple, mangoes, papas (papayas), and bananas. Yet, the colors on these freshly washed common fruits make them seem just as appealing as exotic varieties.

We had the chance to combine business with fun, and headed for Elmina and Cape Coast, three hours away. It's a gorgeous resort area next to the ocean, and even though it was for just one night, we were excited for the chance to travel a little.
En route,we actually passed this fresh meat vendor once, and I had David turn around and go by him again for the photo opp. He is holding a delicacy -- the Grass Cutter. I couldn't quite get the head, which looks kind of like a large gopher face, and many local Ghanaians say the meat is very good. We have tried a few authentic dishes, but this makes it easier to go vegetarian.

We had just done some PEF instructing at a small city called Mankessin, which was half-way to Cape Coast and arrived at our hotel. Before dinner, we went for a swim, but had to pass by Mark, the local jeweler. He also had some large, polished sea shells -- which was a fun way to do some shopping.

We ate our dinner over-looking the waves. David had two beef kababs, seasoned with hot, peppery spices and onions --- delicious! I had the curried chicken - again well-seasoned. Loved the flavor -and loved having a huge glass of water nearby.

The next day, Monday, we toured the Elmina Castle which was first operated by the Portuguese in the mid-1400's. Although called a castle, it was more of a fort built for the purpose of the slave trade. Later the Dutch took possession of it in 1637, then the British took it over in 1814. Interesting - yes; historic- yes; sad statement on the depravity of man - definitely. The governor's quarters looked over the bottom floor where he could over-see the new slaves coming in. Surrounding the bottom floor are smaller rooms used as punishment dungeons, and one is still marked with the original skull and crossbones.

The "Door of No Return." The slaves would exit the castle through this grated opening into the awaiting boats, which would take them to the larger ships.

The slave boats would come up through this bay area, and collect the slaves right from the castle. Interestingly, the water at that time came all the way up to the castle walls, but since then some sea walls have been built, which have decreased the level of the water, allowing local ship-builders to use the area for hollowing out fishing boats.

Our guide for the Elmina Castle was Seth, a volunteer, and such a nice young man. He is a student at the University of Ghana, and we had him all to ourselves. Well-spoken and informed, he gave us a very professional tour.