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.