Saturday, December 27, 2008

Catch up

Burkina summary:
Sorry this is so dated, but....Burkina was awesome. Mo and I loved the SIAO Festival (West Africa craft fair basically) and Ouga in general. Burkina is full of baguettes, home made yogurt, ice cream, pizza, and all the culinary influences of France (which compared to the British influenced Ghana was a terrific treat). Best of all was the yogurt. You can buy it everywhere and it comes in little hand tied baggies. Everyone brews their own...and it was all so delicious! After Ouga we went north to the Sahel and saw mini sand dunes and the mini dessert (the Sahel that is) from Gorom Gorom. We took a 12km camel ride out to the desert at sunset, cooked-ate-and slept out there (which, PS, was very cold!) and then rode back in the morning. Now, I don’t know how many of you have ridden a camel outside of say the little mini rides at the Bronx Zoo, but...they are not the most comfortable animals to travel upon. For one thing, the saddle was not like a saddle at all, it was like a bar stool--wooden with no cushion. Now, picture just bouncing up and down on a bar stool for about 2 hours...not too nice, do that same thing again the following morning. Ouch!!! Thankfully Mo and I did not opt for the 4 day camel hike out to the city I really wanted to see, my poor little butt would not have handled it.

Back to Ghana: that was for the Germans again. Since my work is not really going any where just yet (we are going to start sampling after the holiday season, in January), and I needed to go to Accra to meet someone who was bringing me pH Buffer because it is unavailable in the country (go figure), Mo and I decided to travel with the German boys and see some of Ghana. But first, we had a much needed “Junk food night” at Rie and Ai’s was delicious.

We left the day after Thanksgiving and went to Mole National Park to see wildlife. We saw warthogs, baboons, monkeys, antelope, and two elephants (but from a distance because most are off mating). And the Mole Hotel has a pool and so we went swimming, and just lounged poolside, overlooking the watering hole and the wildlife. The baboons are a trip though. The staff just refers to them as “thieves” and during our short stay we could see why. First, one just walked right up to these people who were eating bread for breakfast and just stole it right out of their hands (plus baboons are very vicious, so I am guessing that is why they did not put up a fight). Later, one couple told us, the baboons came back and started after these other people’s bags that were left on the table. They started to leave with the person’s wallet when this guy said he got up to chase them away, well, the baboon growled or something because he said him and his whole group of friends just jumped into the pool to escape it’s fury. Scary.
Then, after Mole, we went to Tamale for two nights, Kumasi for a few days and then to the coast. In Kumasi we went to another Kotoko futbol game, which was fun except that we got poured on! It was actually kinda refreshing since we had not seen rain for 2 months, but a bit chilly afterwards (also a welcomed feeling). We also went to a forest reserve outside of Kumasi, Bobiri, except the first time Mo, Robert and I attempted it we were not happy. We walked the 3-4 km to get to the park only to hear loud booming music when we were 1 km away and only to discover a huge party in full swing at 11am on a Friday morning, I was not happy. So, Robert, Andreas, and I tried it again over the weekend and it was very nice. We took the guided hike (were forced to) and learned that mahogany is a natural Viagra (and tastes very bitter).
At the coast, we went East to Ada which is where the Volta River empties into the Atlantic. It was so beautiful. To get there you have to take like 3 tro-tros from Accra and then a canoe, but it was worth it. We were maybe 40 feet from the ocean staying right on the river in these little huts (no electricity, no water, no floor—just sand). It was a private paradise because the four of us were the only ones staying there. The ocean was extremely rough, though, and extremely saltly, but we still swam in it all day long. After two nights there we stopped off in Accra again before heading to the West.
First we went to Cape Coast and visited the main slave trading castle there. We did not partake in any of the beach activities in Cape Coast since the whole place smelled like doodoo. Seriously. While standing at the castle we watched no fewer than 4 people drop some turds on the rocks right by the surf...and that was on uncomfortable rock....just imagine what the beach looked like! The next day in Cape Coast, Mo, Robert and I (not Andreas...he’s afraid of heights) went to the nearby Kakum rainforest where there is a canopy walk. We loved it so much. I think most of our love had to do with the fact that we were not only the first ones there, but also the only ones there for at least an hour. So we got to just relax, 150ft up in the air over the trees listening to birds and watching the butterflies. It was so beautiful. Incidentally, I have discovered that I am slightly afraid of heights myself. The canopy walk would sway and bounce causing me to white knuckle the ropes as I crossed, but I would still do it again, so I was not that scared I guess. After the canopy we took another guided hike and learned some more about local flora and about 3 other trees whose bark can be used as a natural Viagra (they seemed obsessed with this point).  

Then, to Busua, a beach about 100km west of Cape Coast. Now Busua looks like paradise. The ocean is relatively calm because of an island that stands at the mouth to cove that is the beach. The people were friendly and most importantly, there was an amazing restaurant there that served vegetarian food. The restaurant was attached to the Black Star Surf Shop owned by an American, so they had a heavy hand in the tastes of the food---which was a good thing. There was this huge burrito with a homemade tortilla, brownies with ice cream, curried delicious!!! Plus, Andreas and Robert got to eat fresh caught lobster (which was their goal).

And now, back to Bongo:
We were very sad to see the Germans leave and we returned to Bongo only to see Rie leave as well (she has been transferred out of Bongo). Since returning we have moved in with Ai and are now living in a house with some more comforts and privacy (some much needed privacy). We miss having all the children around, but enjoy not having to worry about cultural taboos while trying to relax at home (the home stay was slightly stressful). Christmas here is a weird thing, for one thing it is hot and for another nothing looks or feels like Christmas. I cooked some curried lentils (purchased in Accra for the price of gold) and we had some beers with Ai, merry Christmas? The 26th was Boxing Day. “What is boxing day?” you ask, well, not really sure yet. Here, apparently, it is a day of picnics. For us, it was a day to watch the entire season two of “The Wire.”

Friday, November 21, 2008


We haven't had the time or energy to post at length about the second part of our trip in Burkina, but we're working on it (perhaps we should take a position in city management with the type of response we give you folks). So, to sate your imagination's appetite, here's a teaser

(Pictures to come.....internet sucks today!)

A vignette

This happened to me. . .

Being surmesi, Katie and I tend to garner a lot of attraction in Bongo. No matter what time of day, or how many other times we may have seen the same people, they always want to stop us and ask us how we've been. The more time we spend here, the less and less interested certain people seem to be in us, but for the most part, we are always new and fascinating and exotic. And then market day happens.

For the uninitiated, there aren't supermarkets here like there are in the States, and the things people call "supermarkets" are nothing more than wooden shacks that can be locked up at night so that you can leave your wares behind instead of lugging them to and from your house on a daily basis. Being that they are more secure, they also tend to have a larger variety and bigger quantities of various consumables, which also bring a larger margin (a can of coca cola is nearly one dollar). These supermarkets aren't frequented as much as the open-air market, where people get their produce and other everyday items, and neither are as popular as the open-air market is on Market Day.

In Bongo, Bolgatanga, and the surrounding area vendors come to hawk their wares every three days. I've been told that they travel as bands to different regions across the northern parts of Ghana and into Burkina to exploit the fact that not every region observes Market Day on the same day, but I don't know enough Fra-fra to ask for verification, nor do they know enough english to answer me (though you'll come to find that they feel their english is better than mine). Along with the assorted produce, Chinese-made goods and animals, these caravans of traveling vendors also seem to bring in a fair amount of crazy. If it isn't sold, then it is given away for free, because it always seems to be more concentrated every three days.

My first encounter with "Market-Day Crazy" was probably two months or so ago. As I entered the area, I happened across a group of men between the ages of 20 and 25. I was sighted, signified by a wave of chatter among the 10 of them. The one in the lead greeted me in the typical way: "Good evening! How are you?" but before I could respond he asked if I would like to join in him a game of chinese. Before I could answer, which was delayed since I was waiting for the word "checkers" to come out of his mouth, he began to mimic, in his stance and vocalization, the most generalized martial arts film imaginable. I declined, and heard only their laughter as I walked away.

Last Sunday was the most recent Market Day (as of writing this), and on my way to buy eggs and bread I was stopped by two men whom I had never seen. One was about five feet tall, bearded, and built like he would have made a fine tree trunk. The other man spoke like he had a permanent case of laryngitis coupled with the apparent need to force the air through his voice box before any sound would be formed. He would have been as tall as me if he had both his legs and didn't have to rely on his crutches. They both had the worn faces of men who worked long and hard in the field, and when they made me shake their hands it was easy to verify my assumption.

"Hello! Welcome to Bongo! How are you liking our village?" the man with the crutches says as he extends his hand toward me. I take it. We shake. He moves closer to me, entering the zone in which I start feeling uncomfortable. I'm not sure whether to attribute this to the fact that he seems uncomfortable on his crutches, or that he wants me to smell what he has had for breakfast (beer). Unfortunately, there is nowhere to back into.

While the road that leads to the market from Faustina's house is wide enough to accommodate motorcycles and pedestrians at the same time, the entrance to the marketplace bottlenecks sharply, the two offending houses create a narrow alley. It's evident enough from looking at it, but this doesn't stop the motorcycles from zooming into and out of it, the elderly from walking in the middle of it with arms outstretched, or the unbelievably drunk from approaching the innocent and hapless surmesi.

Before I could answer, the shorter man, whom I will affectionately call "Tree Trunk," decided to also give his welcome. "Hello! Welcome to Bongo! How are you liking our village?" to which a third man responds "Hello! Welcome to Bongo! How are you liking our village?". It would be understandable if they had said it in unison, or if they were filming for Candid Camera: Bongo, but they were only drunk.

The conversation went on and on like this, the only departure from their cyclical and mirrored questions being when Tree Trunk told me, after trying to get a response in, said
I am sorry. I do not understand what you are saying. There is nothing wrong with Korean. It is a fine language, but if you could please speak Enlglish, or maybe speak your Korean a little slower, it would be fine. Very fine. You look like a strong man, so please, try to understand our language, or our English, but Korean is also fine, but not for us.
I'm sure he would have continued along this path had it not been for the man on crutches and his interjection to explain that I was indeed speaking english. At this they began to argue, and the focus, for the time being, was off of me and onto themselves. I slipped away unscathed.

Ze Germans

As of Halloween (I know we're late, but we're pretty busy despite the impression we try to give) we have new flat mates at Hotel Faustina. Have a look!

(Picture to come soon....internet sucks today!)

From left to right they are Robert and Andreas. I'm not sure how common a name "Andreas" is in Germany, but he is the third one Katie and I have heard about from Faustina alone. The both are here as volunteers from one of the local primary schools, the former for Social Studies and the latter for English Literature (though I'm not sure how much literature is taught in primary school). They have related to us that teaching in Ghana isn't quite as straightforward as one would think. The lack of books, teaching materials, and teachers make schooling quite a chore, even more so than they expected. But they seem to be weathering the storm just fine, however beat up they feel during the day.

A little history on them: they are Germans, but seem to identify themselve more as Bavarians than Germans. They tell us the differences between them and the Northern Germans are quite clear. The techno-loving nihilists from The Big Lebowski (their reference, not mine) are more the stereotype of northern Germans. Also they are more serious and fun to fuck with when they decide to vacation in Bavaria. It is, perhaps, a regional pastime since they have been doing it since they were young boys. If there were an oversimplified idea of a Bavarian, it would be this (note: the following information represents what has been culled from many conversations from the two of them):
The modern Bavarian is never serious, except when it is required, but it is mostly never required among friends. They all have nicknames, ranging from "Baby" to "Steamy" (drunk) to things that should not be repeated. Ever. They like their Traditional music (the likes of which can be heard at the nearest Oktoberfest), and loathe the bullshit music they play on the radio. Also, they loathe techno. Also, they loathe any music from Germans since most modern music sucks. They are technology-loving people, and they are intrinsically tied to their tradition. If they smell a northern German in Bavaria, that person will be fucked with. They are stubborn. They are happy.

I think that should sum it up. They pretty friggin' awesome.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burkina, Part the First

It’s been a long time, and it’s a good thing that we didn’t promise to write from Burkina because we would have had to break it given a few things: 1) Burkinabé food is awesome and we only wanted to eat when we got into the country (though we really only sampled a few of the local specialties, namely baguettes, brick-oven pizza, homemade ice cream, couscous, yogurt, and second-hand smoke), 2) internet connections in Burkina are spotty at best, even in the high-class 5-star hotels we frequented, 3) we usually try to get to the internet in part ecause we had no clue how the election was going, but since there was no escaping the fervor over the president elect we actually welcomed a break from the news.

But let us start the story with a basic tutorial of how not to travel to Ouaga from Bolga. First, don’t ask the local Ghanaians how to get there. I think everyone told us “It’s easy, just take a shared taxi from Bolga.” Let me rephrase: never trust a Ghanaian when they start a set of instructions with “it’s easy”. I still have no idea if this “shared taxi” they spoke of exists. We had a Ghanaian from town in Bongo who was going to be in Bolga the morning we left arrange the taxi. Well, he chose one that did not want to go to Burkina, who haggled the price with us, and then when we got to the border and he could not continue did not look all that surprised...I think he even said he expected as much (maybe this is the reason why he filled up his gas tank before we got there, a tank we ended up paying for). What were all the price negotiations about then, I have no f-ing idea!

Second: it would be advisable to have some local currency on you or, if you are going to negotiate with the black market traders, to have some knowledge of what the going rates are. I kinda knew, but was unaware that no one else did, and I was not involved in the negotiations at that point. So, in all honesty, I have no idea how much the trotro from the boarder to Ouga actually cost because Matt took responsibility for the whole transaction (way to take one for the team).

Third: If you are changing money at the boarder anyway, it is usually advisable to change a little extra so that one would have some money in their pocket...we of course did not do this. So, we arrive in Ouga, hire a taxi and then have him take us to the banks to withdraw money or in Mo and mine’s case, exchange cedis. So, of course it is a Friday, 30 minutes before the bank is supposed to close, so naturally it is closed already, right? Now all four of us are relying on Andrea to get some money using her bank card, which is repeatedly denied. Crap! Then, at a small Western Union I was able to exchange the only American dollars I had, all 30 of them, so that we could have some money in our pocket and at least pay for the cab. By the way, we totally got a shit deal on that exchange.

Fourth: Generally, upon arriving to a big city, one should know where they are staying, but we did not. Andrea had arranged for us all to stay with a Ghanaian (T.K.) she knew who would be selling at SIAO, but, she did not know where said residence was. So, now with no money, we had to bribe the ticket lady to give us two tickets so that Andrea and Matt could go find T.K. while Mo and I sat outside as collateral. Only after an hour had passed did they return. Of course, we had not paid for the taxi yet because we wanted to hold onto him (since he was nice) just in case we needed to find a hotel.

The first day ended a lot better than it started since we were able to borrow money and found the lady who would be hosting us, so all in all we couldn’t really get too upset since the best time to be had in all of West Africa was about to begin. . . but more on that in another post! (Don’t you like how we’re serializing the Burkina Chronicles? It’s like, we need to have these R. Kelly-esque “cliffhangers” to keep you enticed, so stay tuned for the midget! And if you have no clue at all what the hell we’re talking about, you’d better rent Trapped in the Closet before I pull out my 9).

Meanwhile, back in Ghana . . . Katie and I had our first successful test using some of the homemade devices we plan to using for water sampling . . . we’ll post a detailed list as soon as we know everything works as well as we want it to, so don’t feel like we’re leaving you in the dark . . . we’re just not ready for the world premiere. We’ll be conducting field tests for the rest of this week and into next so expect that to come soon.

And in other news, it looks like we’ll be moving back to Austin since Mr. Obama won the presidency . . . 
Texas – 1, Iceland – 0.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ouaga and Politics

Part 1
At the end of this week, Katie and I will be heading for Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a few hours north of where we are right now, and, according to the travel guides, a veritable shopper’s dream (that’s what we’re supposed to do in times of economic turmoil, right . . . shop?) The biggest Arts and Crafts (SIAO) event on the continent will convene during our time there, and will be the sole purpose for our visit, but it seems we will also bear witness to the end of the Tour du Faso, the African baby of the Tour de France given that ASO actively supports this race with personnel, money, and advertising. I wonder what the Burkinabè Champs Èlyseè will look like. . . perhaps something like this. Of the things I am most excited about are the Women’s weaving, sewing, and paper recycling cooperatives, the apparent plethora of good food (which at this point would include anything that doesn’t use tomatoes, onions, cabbage, or green peppers, or at least sprinkles a better variety to include any of the aforementioned), and the market which sells locally-made and native musical instruments. I plan on buying a guitar. We are also hoping to travel to Gorom Gorom to spend a night in the desert. Above all, it will be welcome respite from the daily grind of Bongo.

KA—Speaking of the daily grind. . . Yesterday some people from the embassy were in Bolga and came to visit us in Bongo. Apparently they are really impressed at how we are managing to live here. I believe they might have been horrified by how we take showers and the fact that there is no running water (I did not tell them that that we are unable to find/purchase shampoo and conditioner up here...maybe next time). But then again, these are people who can play basketball every Tuesday (it’s true! Some Fulbrighter’s and embassy people play every Tuesday. Upon hearing this we officially felt totally isolated from reality). One of the women brought us a bag of Chex Mix and a small box of Smore’s Granola bars (our faces must have looked like it was Christmas morning). . .I’m sure they were small thoughts to her, but Mo and I loved every bite of them (yes, we are just about finished with both). Oh yea, and today, at 9:30am, the thermometer read 41ºC (105ºF) in the sun (and just think, it doesn’t get hot here until March!!!).

Part 2
It appears there is an election going on in the States right now, and since we will be out of the international communication hub that is Bongo we won’t be able to report to you our reactions until we get back. Since our faithful readers may not agree with the decision to voluntarily take ourselves further away from the internet, we shall post our reactions now, but ask that you do not read until November 5, 2008, that is if the riots that may commence don’t interrupt regular internet activity.

Should McCain win.

Wow. For the people who know the kind of people we are, I’m sure you’re expecting us to be totally dejected at this news, but I can’t help but be wholly ecstatic about it. Who would have thought, really? Not us, that’s for damn sure. But let’s looks at the facts (by which I mean the broad ones, because his victory means details really don’t matter at all anymore, do they?).
McCain ‘08 is definitely not McCain ’00 (a year in which I probably would have voted for him if I cared enough to pay attention), and I have to say a lot of what he did to garner the support of his party in the last 8 years defines him more as a pushover than a maverick. On top of that, he picks an Alaskan Governor who feels, at least from reading the VP debate transcript, that she is an energy authority by virtue of governing a state through which an oil pipeline runs (by the way, since living in Ghana I have earned my PhD in Holyshitthesunisfuckinghot, yay me!), not to mention the presumption that she was picked to garner support of the dejected Clinton supporters (KA---gimme a B -‘B’ gimme a S -‘S’), only to be polling strongly in the “Men who are really horny about women who speak professionally in colloquialisms and happen to be the Vice Presidential Candidate but offer no real threat to the importance of their penis” demographic, and then seek to support the latter by treating her like the vacuous doll she is more than willing to be. And yet, he won (KA—at least that makeover that cost hundreds of thousands—$150,000 to be exact—went to something good like promoting feminism...right? I mean that shows good fiscal responsibility during a financial crisis. Now did you take the money from Social Security or from those taxes you are not going to raise?). That says a lot about a person, doesn’t it? To portray your campaign as McCain did (devoid of any substance and willing to latch onto whatever may work despite the possibility that your doing so would only further the distance between said campaign and reality) and still win, well, that’s the fella I want, and we all need, in the White House. Not only the underdog in the waning moments of the campaign (and who doesn’t love an underdog, or Underdog for that matter). Maybe calling Obama a socialist gave McCain the push he needed (not mentioning that the proposed governmental buyout of the banks is a socialist move and one he supports!), or maybe Palin’s supporters came out in record numbers to prolong what will be their unrequited (perhaps?) sexual desire for her since heads of state and national dignitaries are quantum leaps hotter than governors (i.e.: G.W. Bush 1998, or G.W. Bush 2004? And for the boys: Margaret Thatcher 1989, or Margaret Thatcher 1991? Yeah, I thought so.), or maybe people found out Obama fathered a black child. Whatever the case, he won.

I distinctly remember a London periodical, after the results of the 2004 election were finalized, asking all who happened to read their headline how ‘x’ number of people could be so dumb (where ‘x’ represents the amount of people who voted for Bush). I was dumfounded, but not really crestfallen since both popular candidates weren’t really great, and their differences, at least in the areas I thought I cared about, were not so profound; in fact, I scarcely remember any. I was much more hurt by the insolence of our friends across the Atlantic, so much so that I wanted to pen a letter to remind them who helped whom in WWII and that the Queen didn’t star in any movies like our beloved Ronald Reagan (may he rest in peace). And anyway, wasn’t that the same paper that shows nudie girls on the third page or something? Before I could turn on the computer I changed the television set to Nickelodeon and forgot all about why I was so upset. Spongebob was on.

What I didn’t know then was that those people aren’t dumb. In fact, they are so much smarter than me that it took another election cycle for me to realize just how smart they are. What we need in the White House are the people who will win at any cost, and can do so in any given circumstance. (KA—because, we can’t have American morale hurt by not achieving victory, at any cost). We need people who are willing to take the tattered reins of the American Political Machine and not repair them, because they were made in America by Americans with dead American cow and stamped “Made in Taiwan” with American Stamps and American Ink. America. (KA—Freedom aint free!)

Seriously though, now that McCain has won (is anyone looking into those reports of voting malfeasance?) I find I am no longer able to return to the United States. Katie and I will live out the rest of our days in Iceland since land should be relatively less expensive there in the near future. I’m not sure how he did it since all signs pointed to Obama, but them be the facts, and you should now consider yourselves reading the blog of one of the first ex-pats of the McCain/Palin era.

Should Obama win:

Well, that was a no-shitter, eh? I mean, he was gaining major points in states that were considered Republican as little as a few months ago, he’s extremely likeable, and he was the Democratic nominee during what could be the worst time in for the Republican Party in recent history. Hell, more white males like this guy than they liked Gore or Kerry. He had to win, right? How much of his victory can be attributed to the general population’s (note: hopefully “general” will be more than 50.00000001%) estimation of him as someone who will be a good president, or at least the general population of the electoral college thinking him so, I cannot be sure, but I am thankful that the Republican party took a major dump in this one.

Should Nader win:

Holy shit.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Hello all! It’s Mo, and I’m back due to an overwhelming demand of my return from some of our more faithful readers. Okay, that may be all in my head, but whatever, two people noticed (and commented) I hadn’t been contributing, and to me that represents 100% of the people who subscribe to our blog. As for my absence, well, I guess I just really didn’t have much at all to say, at least at the time, but a few things have happened that you may want to know about like . . .

The world is coming to an end (for some reason, word wants me to end this sentence with a question mark). Please don’t all run for the exits at once. As that blind wanderer in the music video for Black Hole Sun and many more seemingly crazy people throughout the history of the English language have more poetically put it: The End is Nigh. My declaration is not meant to place my personhood alongside those who society wished to deem non compos mentis, but instead to make you aware of the impending termination of the world as we know it . . . maybe. It seems the only people who can lead us out of these darkest of times are the great men and women of our nation’s Congress. I haven’t seen any meaningful images on Ghanaian television (most of their archive consists of George W. Bush’s photoshopped head atop what looks like Jesse Ventura’s body during a Summer Slam from ages ago provided to them by the US State Department) but I’m wiling to bet their newly mandated hero-capes look marvelous, especially Barbara Boxer’s! MEEOOOW! Anyway, I do know that they were going to pass a bailout plan, but it didn’t pass the first time around due to the absence of the demand for a time machine, the creation of which is paramount to fixing this dilemma. Since I receive news about two weeks too late, I’m sure that everything went swimmingly since I am still alive and this blog still exists, though someone should tell . . .

Bank of America, since they haven’t gotten the news that the world is still in one piece (physical if not monetarily) and Katie and I are still alive, and as such are still waiting for the ATM cards that were supposed to be in our hands so many yesterdays ago. We haven’t yet told many of you our circumstances, so please sit in for the first act of our play, tentatively titled Fuck You Bank of America. We went to BoA at the end of August to start a bank account with them so that we would have unfettered access to our money via an agreement they had with Barclay’s. This agreement allows for innumerable ATM-only withdrawals with no fees, both non-bank and exchange rate. We were given temporary cards and were told they would not expire until our permanent cards were activated, which would arrive in no less than 7 to 10 business days. Cool right? Well, when they said our cards would be valid until we activated our permanent ones, what they really meant was (the following is the actual fine print from the agreement we signed when we opened our account: “On the 30th day after the issuance of your temporary card, the day you will go shopping at one of the only supermarkets in Ghana and have an urgent need to access the funds you so willingly gave to our aegis, we will confiscate your card. When you call us to ask what exactly happened, we will disavow any and all information given to you by our Staten Island branch manager (though we will acknowledge her authentic demeanor by virtue of her pant suit) and come up with no meaningful explanation as to the whereabouts of your permanent cards and only say that they were mailed to the address given to us the day after you opened your account. To make this up to you, we will “EXPRESS MAIL” to you in Ghana a newly minted permanent card without explaining that the quoted term means “regular mail” and only seems important. We use it only so that you will leave our operators to the institution-wide “Minesweeper Challenge” that only happens every other half hour at BoA. Furthermore, when you realize this, we will put you on hold for an hour and then promise to FedEx your card to the US Embassy in Ghana. . . I think you get the idea so please sign below.” Apparently the Greatest Depression has left BoA either so drunk with power from buying Merril Lynch (is that the one with the bull?), or broke for the same reason. Either way, it’s evident that their new mascot should be the outwardly-facing bird, telling their customers what they can do with their time . . .

Which goes by so slow and so fast here. The daily things we do (run, eat, poop, etc.) are done at the same time and at the same pace since we arrived in bongo, lending a sense of a slow passage. Yet, when we look at the calendar we realize that we have been here nearly 1/5th of the total time we will spend in-country. Somewhere, off in the distance, someone is playing Tracy Chapman, who is unbelievably and surprisingly popular here, but I digress. Work on Katie’s project is going well, and we are just waiting for the dry season so that we may have more predictable travel accommodations when going out to the more remote boreholes. In the meantime, Katie is calibrating her gadgets and familiarizing herself with those that need not be calibrated so that when it’s time to shine she looks like a star and not a turd. I’m dong what I can to help, but since strength is not yet needed (which I have in spades, mind you), I sit prettily in the back, filing my nails and reading my books. And now, a picture.

Friday, October 10, 2008

October already!

Wow, it’s October already...where to start. I guess the last post was venting some frustrations over our passports, boxes, and ATM cards. Well, we still have no ATM cards, my last box of equipment is MIA, and our passports are still not ready. So, moving on. On our way back up from Accra we stopped in Kumasi again and saw an amazing display of bats. Now, having seen the bats in Austin, one might wonder how that display might be topped, well take the same number of bats but make them as large as house cats and you have your answer!
I want to answer some questions as to where we live, what we eat etc. On a typical day we meet at the District Assembly (DA) around 9am and then walk to the water lab with Ai and Rie. Well, on the day I wanted to capture a typical day, we had either a baby alligator or a VERY large lizard in the wall of our water lab moving around making noise. So, those of you at UT, you think finding a mouse or bugs around the lab is bad, I now have rats, lizards, and alligators to share the lab with! Of course, this now took center stage for the day. When we reported our new friend to the DA, they wanted to kill it, but we said no so I traveled back with someone to help release the little fella, but he was gone already. I have not been back to the lab this week because I have been observing a workshop, but Ai and Rie have both reported hearing the sounds in the wall again, so I think he is back! Since the millet is very high, Mo and I constantly lose our way when walking to and from the lab unguided, we always exit the path at a different place.
As for our life at Faustina’s compound, it is different. The kitchen is outside and all kitchen activities as a result happen outside: cutting, washing, etc. For Ghanaians, eating also occurs outside, but the mosquitoes like me too much to partake. The shower room is a mud stall without a roof. The water is brought to the room in a large bucket and we use a smaller cup to pour water over ourselves. It is one of my favorite parts of the day. The days have been so hot and sticky that I would wish to shower at least twice a day, but I fear that will be seen as wasteful by the family, so I take my half-a-bucket per day shower after my run in the morning. Of course, the things you don’t think about when you say “no running water” is brushing your teeth in the millet outside the house with a cup of water, walking outside the compound to the latrine to go to the bathroom (which at night you find yourself in the company of two very large spiders and some large ants). Of course, that also means that washing dishes occurs by bucket method as does washing clothing.
This past week I have been attending the Phase II workshop for Health and Hygiene teachers in Bongo central (22 total were chosen) on how to improve the water and sanitation issues at the schools. To describe the workshop as “frustrating” is being extremely polite!!! The workshop lasted four days, all day long when everything could have been covered in about 5 hours time. The head facilitator was somewhat of an a**hole. The first time I met him he asked me where I was from, so I told him I grew up in NYC but live in Texas. So he said he has family members in the states, someone in Idaho. So I say, “Oh, I hear Idaho is very beautiful” at which point he starts telling me that as an American I should know my own country and how do I not know Idaho. At this point I do a polite laugh and tell him America is very large and that I am very familiar with many parts. So he asks me if I know the west coast, so I say, “yes, I have been to the California Bay Area as well as Portland, Oregon. But, I am most familiar with the east coast since that is where I grew up.” So here is my mistake: trying to make polite conversation. He then starts to tell me how San Francisco is a bigger city than NYC and how, and I quote, “if you remove the government from New York City it is really very small.” So, again, trying to be polite, I say, “I think you are confusing NY with DC because NYC is not even the capital of NY State and, you are mistaken about its size.” “Oh no” he tells me. “Well” I say “I grew up there, I think I know” to which he replies “Oh no, you are wrong. I read it in a book, I know how it is.” So those of you who are familiar with my pet peeve of “stupid people” (let me clarify: stupid people as in those who just chose to be ignorant or insist that they know things that they obviously do not) know that it took ALL of my energy not to lose my mind at this man and tell him off right there. So, at this point I had completely lost my temper so I plastered my face with my plastic smile and walked away. This is the man who ran the workshop. Needless to say, he was not very receptive to the opinions of the teachers. I could write a book about how horrible this man was, but horrible in a way that you could say “but I guess he is nice” because he would insult you with a smile, which aggravated me even more. The thought of his face is now aggravating. Every day he found a way to refer to his penis, but “Ghanaians do not use the word penis” so I got to hear about his “friendly weapon”, “third leg”, and his “Kofi”. Plus, he asked me to contribute one day...well, put me on the spot to tell a story about a similar situation in the states relating to our discussion. So I tell my story, making sure I spoke slowly and without my NY accent and he started laughing in the middle saying that no one could understand me because of how I speak. I smile politely and start again, slower, louder, clearer and he interrupts me saying that he should tell everyone what I mean which at this point he tells a different story than the one I told. He would solicit responses from myself, Rie and Ai to ridicule us. I will force myself to stop here, but I took good notes, so you can ask me about it more when I return. It was a lesson in Ghanaian workshops and how to tolerate an impossible person. But, be assured I will find the proper person to voice my opinion to. But, what was good about the experience is that I met many really nice teachers and my new best friend, Kate. This was the most well behaved baby I have ever met. Over the four days, I never once heard her cry! She laughed, coo’d, and allowed everyone (even me) to hold her.
It's pouring in Bolga right now....good time to hide out in the internet cafe.  Later.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We have been in Accra the past few days to attend an embassy orientation briefing for Fulbrighters and to collect a few items (half of which failed).  So, Monday we arrived and we are staying at Deron's place, a Fulbright lecturer in Accra, with his wife (Lori) and two children (Jasper-8, and Dashiel-4).  It was Jasper's birthday on Monday and guess what he got?  A chicken!  Yep.  It was really nice, Lori and Deron invited us to all the family events: cake and dinner.  It was a treat!  Then Tuesday was the embassy---lot's of don't do this, don't do that...most of which we have been doing.  It was definitely caution city!  Then that night was a Jazz performance--African Jazz--which was, interesting (?). was put on by a Fulbrighter who is finishing his research--preservation of recordings of traditional music--and the performer, the Divine Drummer, was very strange to say the least.  It was him telling the story of how modern African Jazz came to be, that was interesting.  Lot's of American's stole our music stuff and Cubans did something stuff, but I thought it was unique mixture of story and samples of the music changing.  Then he gets to "this is African Jazz," plays one tune, and says goodnight.  Then, his last comments were "and if you illegally pirated this performance, see me up here to pay me my royalty to save your bones."  So, I did tape a piece of it, but like hell I was going to ask for my bones to be saved.  (There is a small clip below as an example of what "African Jazz" is according to the Divine Drummer, but we seem to be having difficulties uploading it. . . maybe another post though).

Then, last night, Mo, Andrea, and I stayed up gabbing about infections and weird illnesses and such that exist in Ghana. We all own this book "Where there is no doctor" and I read parts of it, so did Mo, and it is SCARY sh*t!. I mean, worms entering and coming out all parts of your body, meningitis, malaria, etc etc etc. And we were just laughing at how squimish we were about these things. Then, this morning, we talk with Lori, who is a licensed nurse, and she told us the worst. If you leave your laundry out to dry and it is not totally dry when you collect it, or you collect it in the evening, there are chances of tumba fly larva crawling into your skin. The prevention, ironing your clothes. So today, we all bought an iron! So no worries about this happening.

Well, no pictures, no video. . . I think you'll survive though. . . Sorry about not being able to take care of your A/V needs, but we'll make it up to you, we promise.  If you need someone to blame, try a certain US delegate appointed to "take care" of us and yo's lack of any ability to do so.  It's been frustrating to say the least, but since we would both like our blog not to be deemed an instrument of seditious and libelous sentiment, we will refrain. . . for now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rural living and pit latrines.

Why does it seem that even though I have been here once before, I still packed all the wrong things? My clothes all feel too big, too hot, too ugly. My first aid kit lacks alcohol, peroxide, enough gauze, Tylenol and such. The three or four phrases Mo and I have since learned in Frafra are still not enough to talk to either the children or Faustina’s parents, all of whom do not speak that much English. The children have learned from us a few phrases in English “Kate” and “M-O, Mo” which they greet us with and shout outside our window when they want us to open the curtain so they can stare at us. We go outside to try to play with them and they tease each other in Frafra about wanting to be my husband or Mo’s wife (at least I think this is what they are saying since all I can understand is “poka,” wife and “saylor,” husband (spelt phonetically)) and outside of that we stare at each other and use the most basic phrases in our respective languages only to get no where. We need to learn more Frafra! I did learn two new useful and thank you (mposia).

Mo and I have made two exceptional little friends, Hoondy, the dog, and Akeenya, the little four year old. Akeenya just wants to sit near us and walk near us, much like Hoondy does (who I suspect only speaks Frafra as well). Oh yea...and Akeenya places everything he finds in his mouth. I spent the other afternoon taking rocks and pebbles and dirty gross plastic out of his mouth, fingers though (as you can see from the picture) were out of my control.

This past Friday it rained all day long, or at least all working day long, meaning that the rain stopped at about 2:30pm, long enough for Mo and I to run to the market (“da”) and purchase some lunch ingredients: tomatoes, onion, bread....mmmm...lunch of champions. I guess really do not understand how long dry beans take to cook without my pressure cooker, and so for lunch we had crunchy curry bean stew over rice (back off boys...I’m taken!). Next time I will try soaking them overnight.

But some things are still the same. I was just outside checking my laundry and one of the little boys put a dead moth on Helen and she ran around screaming. Even with all the bugs and sleeping outdoors, it’s somewhat comforting to see a dry moth get the standard reaction! It’s strange being so completely cut off from the news of the world. Mo and I tried to read the NYtimesn website for some news when we last used the internet, but four stories were about all we could open in a half an hour (Palin and her pipeline, Bush allowing raids in Pakistan, Iraq canceling six no bid contracts, and the scandals of the interior department). There is only one TV station that does largely play the news, but no longer receives BBC broadcasting, and is often broadcast in Twi. The news is still reporting stories that happened three weeks ago, the latest football scores, and calling for a peaceful election.

Mo and I talked about how we missed the little things like toast, and food without meat and/or fish. I miss green leafy vegetables, or let’s just say all vegetables in general minus tomatoes, onions, and okra. I am excited to get my boxes and start working. We go to the embassy on the 23rd of this month, so October should be nice and busy. I can’t say that I did not expect’s pretty much on par with the pace I expected...but expecting and experiencing are different. While my reading all day has now come to include one of the four chemistry textbooks I brought...I still feel lazy. I know back at home people are going to work and to class....and I am laying under the fan trying not to sweat too much so I can wear the same shirt tomorrow and not smell too bad.

Our two Japanese friends here (Rie and Ai...pronounced “Lee-aa” and “Eye”) are great. They are JICA volunteers, which is the Japanese equivalent to the Peace Corp. They cooked us a Japanese meal this past weekend, it was awesome. Ai is in her last 6 months of her assignment and Rie is in the firs 6 of hers. Typically, Jico spend 2 years on assignment. It’s nice having other foreigners to talk with...somehow they can better relate.

I guess it’s my turn now. . . I’m kinda rushing because I didn’t do this beforehand and we’re now paying for internet time as I type. I promise that next time I will be better prepared. I think Katie pretty much covered everything new under the sun. It has been raining at least once a day for the entire time we have been in Bongo, which doesn’t really put a damper on anything because we, like the Ghanaians, have decided to cease all activities that can be construed as constructive during times of precipitation. Seriously, it rained on a Friday morning and no one went to work. NICE!! Also, I am apparently the husband of two 12-year-old twins and a 40-year-old-drunk lady. DOUBLY NICE! Okay. . . now
go read this book. . . it’s pretty amazing. Later.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Set phasers to FUN!

It’s Friday, and our last day in Kumasi before we go north to Bolgatanga (which, by the way, is probably akin to Texas, since every time we say that we will be heading there people look at us as if to ask “what the hell for,” but I digress) and Katie and I want to take advantage of the readily available internet – which hasn’t been as readily available as we first thought.  Hmm, I’m looking back at that first sentence and I can’t help but think that it’s a long sentence, but certainly not Proustian.  Okay, on Wednesday we went with Joe (the smiling man in the pictures) who just recently bought a plot of land so that he could be a farmer.  Everyday but Tuesday he goes to supervise the men he hired to weed the plot.  When we arrived, he told us this, but it was like nothing I could have imagined.  First off, these weeds are tropical weeds, meaning that they can be found in the tropical regions of Earth as well as a few places on Venus; needless to say, they are very, very hearty.  So what does one bring to a weeding party in Ghana?  For those of you who think a regular weed-wacker will do, slap yourself.  Upon our arrival, one of the men asked if I had brought my cutlass (no, not like this. . . like this. . . for those who thought the former, slap yourself).  I said no.  They laughed.  A lot.  Then they began to work.  Like pirates (cutlass. . . come on , that’s a super-pirate word) they swash-buckled (yes it is a verb because I just made it a verb) their way through the 5ft. tropical weeds and brush, and came out with booty consisting of crabs, snails, and corn  Yum.  While they were fighting the good fight, like Soho children in the wilderness, Katie and I began snapping photos of the local fauna (in the pictures).  It was a pretty exciting way to end a trip that began with Joe leading us around the swamp so that we may see the vast swath of land will soon become his farm.  Good times.

Ok…so I feel I need to say more about this fauna Mo talks about.  First, thankfully, Joe hooked us up with a pair of mid-shin high wading boots, which were priceless for the adventure (meanwhile, most of the men weeding were in sandals. . . but they are way more hardcore than me…just wait!).  So we went sloshing around the farm with Joe only to see a different type of spider with every step.  When we settled in to watch the men weed, Mo and I couldn’t help but stare at the ground that was alive with movement.  Think of a bug. . . go ahead. . . yup. . . we saw it!  We saw an ant that was an inch long killing a worm (!), centipedes, millipedes, spiders, spiders, spiders, beetles, and more ants.  The spiders were quite cute in how if you stood still for too long they would climb up your leg and start spinning webs attached to you.  But the best were the crabs!  As the men were weeding Mo and I spot a hole in the ground and ask “snake?”. . . snakes. . . Ha!  Try crabs.  Joe of course told us that we were free to stick our hands down the hold to catch them.  Respectfully, we declined and let the experts have a try.  [Let me say that it was at this point that everyone put down their cutlasses and mocked us by fishing out more than half a dozen of them while laughing and weeding with their feet.  It is my understanding that crabbing, in this instance, resembles noodling in North America.  Fun. – Mo.]  These men would shove their arms down hole about 6 inches across up to their shoulders and come up with a crab (and sometimes two).  Yea. . . needless to say I did not try that one.  I was more concerned with the hole in the knee of my pants and all the bugs trying to make a new home out of it.  All in all it was pretty amazing.  Lesson learned: farming in Kumasi is nothing less than taming a plot of the jungle.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kumasi. . . 7 days away from Bongo

Let's see. . . it's September 1st and our first full day in Kumasi.  We arrived yesterday and Joe, a friend of Katie's that she made on her previous visit, helped us get out of the bus station with all of our luggage.  We have a ton of shit.  It's pretty ridiculous.  Anyway, we got our stuff back to the Steven Paris Hostel (and I have come to find out that the term "hostel" in Ghana is more along the lines of a US dormitory than anything else. . . ) and were promptly taken back out again to Joe's house.  His mother fed us, we watched Kotoko beat El Merrikh (from Sudan) and were given a tour of the neighborhood.  For the most part, Katie knew her way around since she had been here before, but it's always nice to have someone else hold your hand.  

The next day we woke up and Joe escorted us to the largest open market in West Africa.  In the picture in the link, all you see is tin roofs, but underneath those roofs are any and everything you can possibly imagine buying anywhere.  Shoes, sandals, dresses, goat heads (click the link, don't worry, it's not a goat's head). . . and most of the items are made right there.  Katie bought some cloth for a dress; not much, but we mostly went to see that I wouldn't die of excitement.  It's like Akihabara in Japan, but not much light, mostly people.  Right now we're stealing internet access in the hostel, and will be doing so until Saturday, when we hire a car to get to Bolgatanga.

Katie's washing the clothes right now, so when she's done with that I'm sure she'll have something to say. . . now she's cooking me dinner. . . now she's rubbing my feet. . . she forgot she has to wash the dishes as well. . . okay here she is.  OH WAIT!  Before I go, I have to let you know something.  As most of you already know, I'm a pretty good looking individual.  Well, it seems that the fine folks in Ghana feel the same way.  Before we left for the market this morning, one of the hostel porters called me over to the desk because my beauty compelled him to do so.  He said to me, "Sir, I must say, you are very handsome.  There have been other obruni who have come here, and other Americans as well, but you are very, very handsome [emphasis his, links mine]."  It's funny because I was getting the feeling that people in Ghana didn't like me, but when I asked Joe, he told me its was a) because I had large earring, and earrings aren't common at all for men in Ghana, and b) because I was "pleasing to look at."  So there you have it, when Katie leaves me I will come to Ghana so people can look at me.

Now it's my turn I guess.   Mo forgot to say some of the other things we purchased at the market.  Well first, yesterday I had my first taste of Kenkey in 3 years....oh how I love it!  It was our first real chop-shop experience.  A tin shack that inside has benches and several buckets of water for hand washing.  While I'm pretty sure the palm nut soup was cooked with meat in it (not much we can do about that) we at least did not have to eat any whole pieces.  We also took (in Ghana it is "took" not eat) the kenkey with the spicy peppers and tomatoes...that is my favorite way.  So back to the market...we also purchased two dvds for Faustina...but these are not any ordinary dvd...oh no.  One has 12 brad pit movies on it and the other is 12 action hero movies on one vcd. the quality is not exactly "high-def", in fact it is pretty grainy, but they were only 2.50 each! We also had coconut juice from the coconut (see pics above).

One other thing, again the pictures are above, before we left Accra we traveled with Andrea (another Fulbrighter, the one in the picture) to the bead making village she will be living in (Krobo).  We met with a bead maker, Emanuel (I believe) and saw how the beads are made.  It's so crazy.  So those of you who have seen the beads I brought back last time, they are made from crushed glass powder, that is why they are opaque.  He was making some from larger pieces of glass from a blue champaign bottle, and so the new beads I purchased are clear.  It was so crazy.  That large mud object is his kiln.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Hello all! Well, we made it and are safe (just in case you are wondering). Let's see. The first day we arrived at 5:30 GMT t and proceeded to our hotel outside of Accra in Medina Estates and spent about an hour in stop and go traffic, but we have come to learn that this is just what it is like to get around at any time in Accra. The next day we went to the Embassy, met up with Andrea's (another fulbrighter) friend Yaw (pronounced Ya-ow). He is AWESOME. He runs this SIT program for american/international art students to spend a semester in Ghana. He knows everyone! Andrea did that program and that is how she knows him as well. Anyway...we met Yaw and went to a football game (aka soccer game) of Kumasi's Kotoko team versus the local Accra team. Unfortunately, Kotoko lost (it's our new favorite team!). Then we drove back in a taxi in, you guessed it, traffic. Yesterday (Thursday) we slept all morning (soooo nice) and then ran errands all afternoon in the pouring rain! But we got plug converters, washcloths, and malaria pills (in case we get malaria). then, oh my, the tro-tro ride back to Medina was CRAZY. It took over an hour...maybe two, in the pouring rain. We were off-roading in this was nuts. The rain finally stopped this morning and we are out running errands again, but this time without Yaw, but we know the area we are going to so it is ok. He has been like our babysitter!

We have tried several times to get PLAIN Jolof rice...only to be told ok and to find pieces of chicken in it....I think they are worried about us so they throw it in....silly obruni, you could not possibly want NO meat!!!

But all in far so good. Just trying to catch a ride out of Accra. More updates to come.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

one last visit with good friends...

Visiting with Chris and Elizabeth only reminds us how un-adult our lives (and former apartment) are.  
Relaxing on the beach at coney island with street scenes lurking in the background.  Oddly, there was this small shark washed up on the shore.   

Sadly, Chris had to work (boooo) and so only Elizabeth went to Coney Island with us.  Before we set out from their place in Bensonhurst, Mo and I made the guy at the Italian deli's head explode by asking for a sandwich with no meat, no cheese, just vegetables.  (What self-respecting Italian could want a meatless hero?) 

Now you may ask yourself: how could one possibly see NYC in two days...well...just ask Ellison.  In two and a half days we went to the MOMA, walked from 59th and 5th to Union Square (that means St. Pat's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Macy's and Herald Square, the Flatiron, and Union Square)....oh yea, and we saw that blonde chick from Popular (if you don't know who we up!).  The next day we shopped in the Village, ate lunch at Curly's Vegetarian Lunch (can you say buffalo sandwiches and cubanos!), coffee at Mud, and a BBQ with relatives in Queens.  The last day we hit the saturday green streets again to check off the S.I. Ferry, the Brooklyn bridge, Park Ave, and a lap in Central Park only to be topped off with another loud, family BBQ.  Then a sad ride to Newark.  BTW, we've become snooty name-droppers.

August 9th continues....Tom's wedding!

Tom's wedding was great but open bars always stress me out.  Not being a big drinker anymore, I never know what to order (or the names of any good drinks).  Mo foolishly allowed George to talk him into a dry martini...two sips later and he was eyeing my drink.  But...I think we now know our drink: cosmo in a high ball no ice. . . extra high and extra 'mo!

August 9th...NYC green streets

For three Saturdays in August, NYC closed a corridor of streets to vehicular traffic that lead from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd street and Park and left it open to cyclist and pedestrians.  Mo and I took many pictures of us, our bikes, people running, people riding bikes and smiling....but the best are of our lunch at Curly's Vegetarian Lunch on 14th Street!

How much Tofu?????

This is what 7 pounds of tofu looks like...well, in a tub, neatly packaged and presented by Global Protein Food of NJ and their adorable bengali mascot, Tanay (in no way related to any other mascot you may be able to think of...especially not this one).

Austin....a BBQ at Kris Kross's

Kris's (with a K) BBQ in Austin:
A night of fun, beer, and BBQ avocados (that's right...avocados).  We have more photos, but these are the prettiest.  Everyone else needs to get some beauty sleep!

Dinner with Ellison and Chris:
The last picture is of Mo and an entire vegan Belgium chocolate cake from an unmentionable location (thank you Ellison).