Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home!

Back home in NYC right now. . . as of a few hours ago I guess. Expect a call from one of us in the next few days if we like you; if you don't get a call, please please take the hint and don't embarass yoursleves grovelling for us to take you back into our fold. You're DONE! Later.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The trip north, south, north, and then south for good.

May was, well, interesting. We left the comforts of Accra behind, endured the 12 hour bus ride from Accra to Tamale, stayed in Tamale a night to recuperate, and then trotro'd it to Bolga and then on to Bongo. BUT, before we left Accra we bought a portable DVD player since, as many of you know, our laptop, may it rest in peace, is no longer fully with us but our "The Wire" and "Weeds" addiction would need feeding. But, as things go here in jolly ol' Ghana, the plug to the player "spoiled" after one charge (the night before we were leaving for Tamale). "No worries," we assured ourselves "it is only a 12V DC plug, how hard could it be to find one here?" Ah, 10 months in the country and yet still so naive! We scoured Tamale. Then we scoured Bolga. "Oh, they are finished," which does not necessarily mean that there were any to begin with and some guy bought the last one only minutes ago, for all we know they have been "finished" since the beginning of time. When we returned to our house in Bongo it was full of surprises (but still locked and safe, so none too horrible). First, our front porch looked like a goat latrine, piss and poop EVERYWHERE. I mean piles in some places. Then, we discover that someone used the plug that exists on the outside of our house and blew the fuse so now half of the house has no usable sockets (no more sleeping in the bedroom). The water was not running and, thankfully Mo spared me actually having to see it, but big red ants (we call them "latrine" ants because they hang around bathrooms and latrines) had made our toilet their new home. Mo said that the toilet was FULL of eggs and larvae. I was outside and all I heard was Mo going "Oh my god, oh my...I'm gonna puke this is so disgusting!...oh NO. WHERE IS THE RAID?!?!"

So, there we were up in Bongo with no work to do (the maps were not arriving in country for another 5 days) and suffering severe cases of Wire-withdrawal. After 3 days and both of us completing a book each, we decided to take a 10 hour bus ride down to Kumasi to meet the maps and the person bringing the maps there and say all of our Kumasi goodbyes so that we would not have to stop with all of our luggage when we make the last trip south.

The meetings in Kumasi went really well. I met with the Provost ("Dean") of engineering who was/is one of my "research contacts" here in Ghana and he was very impressed with all that we were able to accomplish in our 10 months here (yay us!). We met Deron, Lori and the boys in Kumasi as they were heading north to Burkina on vacation and then circling back south to stay with us one night in Bongo. It was nice, gave us that extra motivation to do some more touristy things in Kumasi. And (this is my bragging point) I was able to lead Lori through the 10% of the Kejeta market that I knew AND find the section/stalls that I was looking for (even though Mo says it was by mistake)! (I was impressed with myself even if you all aren't). Then, back on the bus for 8 hours followed by a 3 hour trotro ride all in one day back to Bolga, but this time with a variable voltage/plug converter box thing that was just about as large as our portable DVD player and a good pound heavier.... defeated the whole "portable" part, but it worked!!!

Handing out the maps to all of our contacts was extremely rewarding, it was the main purpose of the research. Some were neutral on the whole affair, but the majority were very thankful and, even more importantly, interested in my explaining the significance of what was represented. I had maps to go around (thanks to my mom and her laminating skillz) and most were enthusiastic to bring the results to their chiefs and local assemblymen. I also had a final meeting with the District Assembly Director where he actually called other employees to come hear what I had to say (which meant I had to explain my maps several times), which just made me feel amazing.

Then there was this one night while in the main room lying on my stomach with my feet dangling off the edge of our mattress on the floor watching The Wire, the sun had just set and since we can't turn on the overhead lights in the house at night because sooo many bugs find their way in as a result, we were in the dark, but had not yet placed the mosquito net around us. We were actually thinking that maybe we won't use the mosquito net anymore since it is really hot out. All of a sudden I feel something tickle my foot, but I just tap it and I don't feel it anymore. "Must be the mosquito net dangling over my leg, it must have brushed up against me," I tell myself. It happens again and again I bang my foot on the ground and again it goes away. The third time I feel it on my foot, then on my calf, then on my thigh before I jump up and knock it off. Now remember, it is dark, so all I see is a big shape scurrying across the mattress. I was figuring it was going to be a lizard, but now it is so big and moving like a bug that I am thinking a giant roach, but Mo finds the flashlight and it turns out to be the relative of the giant hairy orange spider that we trapped and threw outside! Now, completely creeped out, I go into what Mo describes as "flash dance" mode (but I could tell he was equally as creeped out since he promptly picked up the DVD player and we moved the operation into the room with a working overhead light. Not 15 minutes later, we see it (or another?) scurrying INTO the room and under the bed. After much noise making and strategic "flushing of the enemy", we get it out from under the bed (and spiders everywhere forgive us) slap a shoe on it. After careful inspection of the corpse, we see past the hairy legs to the large fangs and decide that mosquito nets are a necessity! (We actually have figured out what it is....here).

Then, after selling and giving away all that we could, we boarded our last bus "south" and settled in for a long ride. As luck has it, though, two hours into what amounted to a 15 hour ride, I fall ill (chills, headache, stomach ache, nausea) and start my "I will not vomit or poop myself" meditation. When we pulled into Kumasi (9 hours into the ride) (the first place with a "toilet" instead of just a "urinal" (yes, in the other stops there are only women "urinals" as well as men's)) I jump off the bus a roll of tp in one hand and my toilet fee in the other and run in the direction of the toilet wanting to make the most of this 5 minute stop...but...what?....the toilets are locked? Why? Because it is RAINING! "Yes."

Long story less long, eating solid food again, hanging out at Deron and Lori's and just relaxing our final days in Ghana in good company.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

One of our last posts...

We have received many emails asking why we haven't updated the blog in so long given that we are now in a position to be doing so daily (those emails are in my head, mind you. . . no real person gives two dookies about us updating this blog or not). Well, upon arriving in Accra, and the day before Katie was ready to hunker down for a 36hour work session, the OSX side of our computer froze. Then it beeped, then it exploded and now it lies somewhere in the MacBook shell, its remnants still smoldering. It was truly a sad few days in the House of Kdmoghana. Not only had our computer left us in the most serious of lurches, but our self worth was relegated to close to nil since our consumer culture dictates that what we buy is the quickest way to social acceptance. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that it has taken a while to come to terms with the fact that we had a Mac that burned to the ground and are now using its shell to run Windows XP (not even some obscure Linux distro!). We bought a Mac for its reliability, ruggedness (as much as a laptop can actually be rugged), and what it says when we're emailing at the coffee shop but ended up doing some of our most important work on the four-eyed, bug- and booger-eating Windows side. It's a good thing that no one really reads this blog for I'm sure if news of this gets out our hipster cards will surely be revoked and we'll have to learn all those damn programming languages to get into the defiant-to-a-fault open-source crowd. ANYWAY, most of our Mac stuff should be backed up on our hard drive, and if we don't have ALL of our photos, we should have most of them.

The good news is that despite having to put a suit on just to check our e-mail (Get it? Because we're using Windows just like all the other cubi-dorks in the world? No? Tough crowd.) Katie was able to finish her work. Since we can't upload any of our photos we'll post some maps in just a bit. But know this: while I am at most times as useless as a plate of hog jowls at a vegan pot luck, my extensive background in internetting (yes, it's a verb) proved much more useful than one would think (insert your own pornography joke here:_____). I saved the day on more than one occasion while Katie "Queen of Flipping Out at Everything" Alfredo sat quietly in the corner and allowed me to work my magic and DID NOT look over my shoulder for the entire time, soaking my shirt in tears. Um, yeah. Here's Katie.

Well, wouldn't you freak out if you worked really hard inputting data and such just to see it all beep and explode in front of your eye??? (M: No.) Right!?!?! (M: Wrong!) It's not like I can bring in our machine to the nearest Apple store and have my data recovered (or even access the data on our external hard drive since it is formatted for our Mac....hmmmm). But, despite all this, I have succeeded in processing just the necessary data now and will go through (or back through) the rest when I have a more reliable machine to work on. But....here is one of the maps





As you can see, Bongo has a lot of fluoride! Way more than was expected. The shading is just an interpolation of the data points. I sampled eight of the capped wells, none of which produced unusually high numbers, and so it is safe to say they are not tapping into any separate aquifer. So, this is just scratching the surface of all the information and data that we gathered, but I thought it would be nice to show you all (if anyone is still reading our blog that is) the fruits of our labor. In total we tested 286 wells (but visited more including the capped and newly drilled ones), all by bicycle, over the area. Now the difficulty is to bring these maps (I made one for each governance in the district) to the community members and try to explain why they have capped wells when other areas have higher levels of fluoride but still have access to their water. It should be interesting!

But, in case any of you are wondering when we are getting back, we now have our plane tickets and are leaving Ghana on June 11th! So soon! Our time is rapidly ending and we are dreaming of salads and fresh herbs! Yum. Being in Accra for April has been really fun and Deron and Lori (the other Fulbrighter family we are staying with) and their two boys Jasper and Dashiel are AWESOME. We went and visited the big dam on the Volta river in Akosombo, went bead shopping, and have eaten our weight in bananas and avocados and pineapples. It's been relaxing, well except for the whole computer failing part. We head back north to Bongo in a couple of days for the last stretch of work, and then we are done! It really has gone by quickly! We miss you all and hope to see everyone soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So first I should start with an apology to our fans: sorry we have been delinquent with our posts. But here is a recap.

After Ai left, Mo and I headed back to Burkina Faso for a mini vacation, but I guess we needed a reminder about how tiring vacation can often be. In Ouaga we just hung out in the luxury (TV and half-working A/C) of our hotel and ate some great food. In the picture below (bottom center photo) you can see that we feasted on french bread, strawberries (yes, Burkina has a strawberry season!), olives, mangos, pears, local yogurt (our favorite), goat cheese (also locally made), and a huge bag each of cashews and sugar coated peanuts. We were in heaven. We went back to the good brick oven pizza place and had goat cheese pizza and beer (the SoBBra pic). Then, we decided to take the train from Ouga to Bobo since it was described as a "pleasant"ride and we thought it sounded all romantic and such. . . well, I guess we forgot the whole "it is still in West Africa" part because I can’t say it was all that "pleasant"!  If we had taken a trotro it would have been around a 5 hour ride; the train took 11!  Plus add people chomping on chicken bones all around us, the battle of music being played loudly on several people's phones and the general inconsiderate pushing nature of west african transit. That all being said, it was not "pleasant" as the book said but rather long and arduous (Mo: much like a Monty Python anything). Then when we arrived in the Bobo station we had to fight to get off the train because people mobbed it trying to get on (the train continues to Ivory Coast).  I had to punch and push my way through the crowd to get free (good thing dad taught me how to throw them elbows in soccer!).  It was actually kinda scary, I was on the steps debarking when a flood of people was released and they all came running at me.  I went to take the last step to reach the ground and they pushed me back on my butt and started to trample over me (Mo was still on the train trying to get our bag) so I threw ‘bows and started to punch people in order to free myself and stand up. I waited a good five minutes for Mo to get free of the train and apparently he had a similar experience in the cab of the train (one guy who was also trying to leave was attempted to crawl through him while the flood entering was pushing him from the other direction as well).  I would not recommend train travel in West Africa!

That being said we ate some veggie pizza when we arrived at our hotel and watched 90210 and Dawson's Creek dubbed in French(two shows I wouldn’t normally watch in the US, I think I actually used the word "excited" when I saw what was on!). Bobo had a couple of supermarkets nearby our hotel and so we had (top left pic) hummus and baba in a can (not too bad when you are craving them), Kracks (aka non Frito-Lay approved Pringles), and sachet milk (you can get anything in a sachet here!).

Bobo was really cool and we did “touristy” things there like go to a museum which was described as being full of masks and information on local tribes, but had a visiting “special” exhibition that was more about Switzerland than anything else (did you know they use masks in celebrations in Switerland?). But they did have permanent examples of different housing styles (below the top left photo is of me and Mo sitting in a Fulani hut). We also went to a woman’s cooperative where they turn gross plastic bags (which are off-puttingly referred to as “rubbers” here. “Yes, Madame, I would like a rubber for my food,” or “Please put your bananas in this rubber,”) into fabric which is then sewn into handbags. Pretty cool.

So now back to Ghana. For my mom, I have included some pics of our house (complete with goats and everything!), but let me explain. Working clockwise from the top left, our beautiful pink house. Next is the sink and stove set up where the ants decided to move their home that time. Next (bottom right) is the hallway. Bottom center is the bathroom/toilet rooms and the big green container is full so that when the water “is finished” (aka, our connection is cut) we can still flush the toilet and wash our pretty faces. Finally, Bottom left is our living room with is currently functioning also as an office, lab, and bedroom (it has become so hot at night that we now sleep on the living room floor).  

The next pics are of Mo with a goat (no surprise), a stall in Bongo market, and the bats that apparently live in the trees shading the market (makes me want to wash my produce a little more carefully now that I have noticed them living up there).

Below are some of my favorite Bongo moments. I have started to take weaving lessons (as you can see) and my teacher (Apuko, pictured with me) is really nice. I love being in their workspace and just listening to the chatter of women (even though I don’t know what is being said). There is something about the rhythm and tone of a group of women hanging out that is just so comforting! Then, I was able to help some women out in Feo plaster one of the local houses and, I guess as a result, was challenged to a dance off (and yes, I was “served”)

The day of plastering ended with drinking pito with the cheif (no surprise there) and listening to this “small boy” play the local guitar with such awe-inspiring skill. Two strings, a few bottle caps, half a calabash and a dead goat are all he requires for a 45 minute show. He’s making ours as we speak.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

As you read this, Katie and I will have passed three whole days since our last official day of fieldwork. After meeting with the many helpful community members who directed us to the functioning boreholes, we set out by ourselves to what Katie believed would be a representative sampling of the non-functioning boreholes. It was on these excursions that we realized a few things: GPS-enabled knowledge of these sites and your relative location to them means nothing and will never supplant local knowledge; we were smart not to have done these samples on the days when we were led around by our guides since they would have tired of our existence and left, or killed us out of boredom; that we have spent way too much time together without taking a break. In reference to that last bit of wisdom, let it be known that if ever you decide to have a public argument (inasmuch as these things are actually “decided” upon), do not do it when 50+ people with a meager grasp of English are tending to your every word. Thanks to us, many a Ghanaian were blessed with the knowledge of words I am too sheepish to mention at this juncture (though I’m not at all sheepish about typing them, as you all well know).

So yes, we are finished collecting the samples (YAY!), and now comes time to relax. This Saturday we will plod the weary route toward Ouagadougou (which in Mossi means “forget about Ghana, the only food worth eating is in Burkina, bitches”) for another much-needed break from the travails of our stay in Ghana. And as weary as I’m sure we are sounding fleshed out on computer screens the world over (all five of them), let it be known that there is still much work to be done, mostly on Katie’s part.

As for me, I was able meet one of three lifetime goals , the first of which was realized almost ten years ago when I made someone puke out of pure exhaustion (okay, maybe the carton of milk consumed a few minutes beforehand played a crucial role, but so too did the calisthenic torture I doled out, dammit). A few days ago, as Katie was choosing from a book loaded with all the available patterns for this one local weaver, a bunch of kids decided to come over and play a game favored among the youth (the older ones love, with all their heart, “Bicycle Chase”): “Stand Around and Look at the White People Until One of Them Moves at Which Point You Should Run Away and Not Let Them Touch You Because if You Do They Will Rip Your Face Off and Eat Your Insides.” That’s a rough translation from Fra Fra, and one based solely on the children’s reactions to our presence, but I will say that while enjoying a beer one time with one of our guides, some children who gathered to watch us drink were told that if they didn’t leave us alone we would come out and chop off their heads. No lie. After that, we never really wondered why kids were somewhat terrified of us.
Anyway, having had a good day, I was willing to play the aforementioned game with these kids, and I hid behind the corner of the building and chased them across the street. Everyone got away except one, who tripped trying climb out of a shallow ditch. It was like something out of the movies: she looked back at me over her shoulder, began trembling, and the tears commenced. Now, most of you who know me will agree that I hate children, especially since they poop and pee all over the place and can’t earn a living and all, but I would never hurt one, and so I dropped the monster fa├žade, stooped down to pick her up, and told her, in english, that I would never hurt her. It did no good. As soon as she was in my arms, she stiffened up, looked me straight in the eye, and yelled “BLAH BLAH BLAH,” which I took to mean either “my dad will kill you if you hurt me,” or “you’d better put me down,” or “I’m gonna fuck you up, asshole,” and given that she was no older than 5 or 6, I was undeterred in my placation of her anger. Until she peed on me.

I didn’t know what was happening until I was soaked from my hand to my elbow, and for those of you who have handled babies before, that’s about 10 gallons of piss. It was all over my shorts and looked as if I were the one who peed, but all I could do was laugh, and all Katie could do was laugh at me and call me a moron. “I’ve been peed on,” I said as I returned the girl back on the ground. I stepped over her as she lay there supine from the fright, and not until I got back across the road from her did she get up and run away. I never even got to thank her, for how many of you can actually say that you’ve scared the piss out of someone.

Some pictures:


Friday, February 27, 2009

This post goes out to all the animals in our life.

First, the chickens.
So, the first time someone gave us a chicken, it was at the end of a painful day. The day was not hard, it was just long because our local contact had not ridden a bike in 9 years (so he says) and so after sprinting to the first two boreholes of the day, he pretty much died. I’m serious, he walked his bike for long periods of time and that was not much slower than his riding pace! Plus, he is an assembly man (I guess kind of like a Representative) and so had to stop to talk to ev-ry-one. Man, it took all day, but he was very nice so it was all good. Anyway, at the last borehole of the day, while he was panting (a.k.a. slowly begging death to come and rip the life from his body) under a tree, he told us to “wait small” because his friend was coming. All of a sudden we see this guy walking towards us with a chicken in his hands at which point Mo leaned over to whisper “Oh man, please don’t let that be for us.” But, of course it was. So our contact is tying the legs of the chicken together telling us how they want us to have this chicken and Mo is trying to explain “But we don’t eat meat, please you keep it” to which the reply was, “Oh! Don’t worry, it’s a chicken, just make soup with it!” Hmmm. So first they wanted to just “hang” it off my handlebars, but I blackballed that idea real quick, so we tied him to the back of Mo’s bike (on the rack) and every time he hit a bump the thing squawked and we would apologize to her. We brought her home, untied her in the house because we wanted to feed her and give her water, because then she would be our friend, before we set her loose behind our house. Of course, as soon as we placed her on the floor, she produced one huge shit on the floor, did not like our food or water, and was put outside. She still hangs around the house, but does not come when we try to feed her. Then, just this week we received a rooster and the story repeated itself. The rooster actually hangs around and lets us feed him, but the guinea fowls of the area are like a major gang or something because they attacked our poor rooster one day. Of course, Mo and I went running out of the house to chase the guinea fowls away---I’m sure our neighbors are having a good laugh at us.
Now the insects.
Not pictured are the ants that I have been battling in the kitchen (and let me tell you, I am losing big time). The other morning Mo and I got up for a day of work and I lifted my coffee cup off of the counter where it was set to dry overnight and there were hundreds of ants and their little larvae underneath it. I quickly put it back down on top of them all and shouted for Mo. Thousands and thousands of ants had moved in underneath our dishes overnight---it was gross AND since they were underneath our coffee mugs, we were forced to deal with the situation before our morning cup of Nescafe. The whole thing was repulsive---we poured boiling water over all the dishes afterwards.

Now the creature in the picture, but first the backstory. So these little weird flying ant type bugs come in through the ceiling at night if we put the light on and, honestly, I find them so gross. They are like little ant larvae but with wings (termites maybe?), so I force Mo to turn off the light while we watch or read off the computer at night. Soooo, this one night I convinced him to leave the light off while we watched some Soprano’s and afterwards I was off to bed so I flipped the light back on for him and on the wall was the biggest, hairiest spider I ever saw outside of the zoo. Of course the first thing I say is, “I’m going to go get Ai!” I run off to her room and drag her into the living room to show her but she will not get closer than 10 feet and she starts scratching like she has fleas and all she can say is “oooooh. . . nooooo!” over and over and over again. Now it is time for a house vote: I say I don’t care, but don’t kill it, Mo says leave it and Ai just shakes her head, scratches her arm and says “oooooh. . . nooooo!” She does not have a mosquito net anymore, and so says she will not sleep knowing that it could crawl across her at night and goes outside to find a young boy to get rid of it---but Mo and I tell her he is just going to kill it. So she runs to her room and comes back with a box that we (by “we” I mean Mo, of course) manage to get the spider into and throw outside. The hand next to the spider—yep, it’s mine (I’m brave).

Finally the baby animals.
There was a baby goat on our porch the other day that seemed to be a loner without a mama (the mothers usually stay very close to the newborns and if you pick one up, they just kind of stare at you and will follow you until you put their baby back down, it’s how Ghanaians catch some of the adults for slaughter—using the babies as bait.). So, Mo picked up the baby to snuggle and no mama came to his rescue. Now we are convinced that it has no mama (or mama was last night’s dinner?) because every goat it tries to follow butts it away. It was so painful because little goat cries sound like small children crying and this goat would just walk around our house crying all day long. . .almost made us cry. At this point we decide we cannot let him starve (although feeding him is just fattening him up for someone else’s belly. . .it was a real moral dilemma). We tried to feed it (I guess baby goats don’t like cabbage) and follow it around. Finally, 3 days later, we see it feeding at some mama, so we are no longer worried. I know we have mentioned Mo’s obsession with handling other people’s livestock, well, he now has dragged me into that club. Those two lovely baby goats in our arms are two new twins born only a few days ago (I think they like us).

The tree is a picture of a perfect looking mango tree---it’s almost mango time and I cannot wait! A few more weeks and my mango addiction will start again!

Today (Feb 26th) was our last day in the last zone, and so unofficially we are done, but we are not ready to call it yet. We have a bunch of gaps that I want to try and fill in and then we have to sample the capped wells in some areas to compare values. Friday and Saturday I am spending in Feo with Ai doing another borehole usage count.

M: One thing I’d like to mention to those of you who regularly pedal a bike is that, unfortunately, half-wheeling faster-than-thou masochists exist in Ghana as well. The first time it happened, or at least the first day we noticed it, was not long after the day I was mistaken for a woman twenty times or so. On our way back from Bolga, Katie and I, riding at what we would consider a leisurely pace, came up to a man who was dressed like a waiter for one of the local restaurants. He was either on his way to or from work when we greeted and passed him. Not five seconds after he returned the greeting he was passing us back up. While I was content with chalking that up to his being late for something, when he got a 10-second gap on us, he began slowing again. We passed him, again. He sped up and passed us, again. I think you know how this plays out for, oh, a mile. Pissed, Katie and I looked to each other, authorizing the ensuing onslaught of well-developed muscle groups intent on one thing: putting this chauvinist (male, Ghanaian, or otherwise) in his place.
While at the time I deeply regretted having to rip his legs off, I have come to peace with our ego-driven exploit since each and every time we’re on our bike we come across some bozo pedaling a dinky little singlespeed step-though shitpile of a bike picked from the bottom of the last container from China who has something to prove. Frankly, it’s annoying, especially since they only do it because we’re foreign women passing him (and here I use the gendered pronoun because women never participate in this type of behavior). We’ve come a long way, baby (but please don’t start smoking).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gotta goat.
Up next: calf. . .look at those heifers run.
More soon.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another successful week!

Ok, well I will talk about the photos (the videos will not post with the given internet service. . .will try in Bolga when we are there next. Sorry.).

Toby from Cooper Union visited to check on arrangements for when the students come this summer. It was really nice to see him, but unfortunately he only spent one full day in Bongo, and much of that time he was caught up in meetings that I was not privileged to attend. BUT, we did go to the lab and wash some containers for him to bring some water back to KNUST in Kumasi. The normal band of children showed up at the borehole to watch, plus some extras since there were sooo many white people there (four of us) and there was water being splashed around. It was really funny to watch these kids. . .they really make me laugh.

The next set of photos is of Mo holding a baby lamb.

The photo below is of two children in the Beo area who were playing their drums for us while we worked. The drums are really pretty cool: modeled after the local style but constructed from “trash” items. I really love them, I wish I had enough luggage space to have them make me one to bring home! (The other photo I included because I was not in any of the pictures this time around). The video that follows is of them playing the drums, typical rhythms that are heard not only when biking around, but also in the local music that is played on the radio.

As for everything else, just working really hard is all. Below I have included a map of Bongo areas (also referred to as “governances”), so that you all can appreciate how hard we are working. We have completed Soe (pronounced: Soo-oy), Namoo (pronounced: Nah-mo-oy), Bongo (pronounced: Bohn-goh. . .the Os are long), and Beo (pronounced: Bee-yoh). On Monday we will sample all of Balungu (pronounced: Bah-loong-goo) leaving only two governances to go. Yea.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

A few good days in Bongo.



K: Wednesday we rode to Beo for the first time (only knowing the really long way) off of directions given to us by Richard (“there will be a sign where you turn that says Adoboya”. . .there was no sign) to meet our contact and hopefully put in a day of work. You see, Richard was supposed to have word sent to him on Tuesday, but of course on Wednesday, Ayindoo was surprised to meet us AND could not work that day since he was on his way to a meeting in Bongo at the District Assembly (hopefully, not to meet us). So, following Ayindoo back along the shortcut to Bongo we considered the day a success since we not only met Ayindoo and got the cell phone number Richard did not know he had, but we also learned of some cool single track to ride to Beo that cuts the commute in half.

Then on Friday, we had one of the best days yet. The worst part was waking up with a food hangover at 6am. But riding the trail back to Beo was so peaceful. It feels cut off from the rest of Bongo District (which one could say is pretty cut off from the rest of Ghana, so you get the picture). It seems the more you remove yourself from town centers, the quality of people increases. Ayindoo was not only very nice and friendly, but possibly one of the smarter people in Bongo. He knew more and was able to tell us more about boreholes than most people who are employed to do so. Riding back home all I could think about is that I feel really lucky to be here . . . I guess that is when you know it was a good day!

M: Last thursday was my birthday and, given that I probably worked on my birthday 8 out of the last 10 years (work being a less traditional definition in some years, more conventional in others) I took it off. We celebrated by eating junk food. Not only is that type of stuff rare in these parts, buts when you can find it you’re paying 2-4 times as much as you would back home. How did we justify such an extravagant use of money and empty caloric intake? Well, considering the lack of variety in the our local diet and the fact that sweets over here have no high fructose corn syrup, a day of ice cream, cookies, coffee, and cheese couldn’t be all that bad. I estimate that we had about 8500 calories that day (and by estimate I mean I’m pulling a number out of my ass. . . big enough to address the enormity of our resultant food babies, but small enough to lie this side of hyperbole. . . maybe), but it was one of the more delicious days I can remember. We’ve included some pictures of the festivities.




Friday, January 23, 2009

A twofer

Mo: I’d be one UGLY woman

Androgyny used to be a sore subject for me when I was younger. Until about the age of 13 or 14, if anyone outside my family called the house and I answered they would immediately assume one of a few things, all of which pinned me as a female. It irked me, but it never really bothered me until I found out that it was supposed to bother me, at which point I stopped answering the phone until my testicle dropped into their right and proper place: the end of my coccyx. Until I turned 25 or so, no one really made that mistake. I kept my hair short and made sure to make well-timed references to football, steak, beer, and killing bunnies, erm, rabbits; often enough to keep the Fraternity at ease, but not so much as to arouse suspicions of overcompensation. Then, I grew my hair out and pierced me ears. Let’s be honest here, there are people out there who think I’m as pretty as a filipino cabin boy can get, but with my hair long, and if the sun hits my derriere just right, and with my legs freshly shorn (which are killer by the way), well, then you have yourself one fine woman. I’m not ashamed. I’ve grown to embrace it and not be scared off by it. I’ve come to realize that it’s just what happens when you’re born with the natural beauty the powers that be have bestowed upon me (plus I’m modest as hell!). Sorry ladies, but I’m taken.

Anyway, if it can be called a “problem,” I’m having it again here in Ghana. While I’d like to think that while sampling the people are looking at Katie and I with an earnest interest in our work, when half of the people you meet in a day ask our guide whether or not I’m a woman, I get a little disheartened that they’re more keen in sizing me up and categorizing me as this or that than why and for what reason these people are here testing our drinking water. The classic scene of the day, however, was when I was returning to our house to be greeted by a handful of children as such: “White lady! You are welcome!!” Just so you know how I looked on that day, here’s a picture (
I'm in the middle) of myself not five minutes after this happened. You be the judge.

At the end of the day, I can’t be mad, because what’s a Chinese/Korean/Caucasioid martial arts expert she-male gonna do when you don’t speak the local language?

Katie: Yes, yes, yes . . .

I guess it is now my turn. The “season” has changed again from dry and cool to blustering and cooler at night and in the morning. The wind has been blowing so much that the sky actually looks grey and foggy because of all the dust that is being carried around. All this wind coupled with roads made of sand has made the past few days of sampling very tiring. Let me outline a typical day of sampling with a new contact. So, the day before we plan to go someplace new I ask Richard at the District Assembly to get me a contact for the region. The inquiry is always met with “yes yes yes” and “okay okay okay”, and a promise to call me later with the details (which never happens). So, Mo and I rise early because we usually try to get to the community by 7:30 am so as to get an early start and, more often than not, there is no one waiting for us when we arrive at the community. Having the cell number of the person usually does not help much since either they do not speak english or the network is in varying states of suck. So now I have to go around to shops (read: wooden stands with tin roofs and people standing around staring at the two pretty white women) asking if anyone knows where I can find “Roger” or “Tony” or “Asangare”, because I am only given one name and I have to hope that this community does not house more than one “Tony.” My favorite was asking for “Asangare” because no matter how I pronounced it, all I got was furrowed brows and “Who?...Oh AsANgare!”.....um, that is what I said. After much confusion and many people asking me “Where are you going?” only to have my response of “I am looking for Tony HERE” to be met with laughter and disregard. Hmmmm. After about 10 minutes of asking around I usually find someone who, miraculously, speaks english, knows who I am looking for, and is willing to send someone to go get him. Now we wait . . .and wait . . . and wait. Then comes the next round of awkwardness when the contact arrives.

“Hi, I’m Kate . . .” (btw, I’m “Kate” here since it is a very common name and the extra letter and syllable in “Katie” always causes a lot of confusion. Plus, there is enough confusion when Mo introduces himself since “Mo” is pronounced the same way as “More” here, and they always want to know why he needs more) “. . . and this is my husband Mo . . . did Richard tell you about us?” This one is always the fun question. Usually they will know OF us, but not what we want or why we are here or what we need of them or . . . well, you get the point. So now we have to explain what work we hope to accomplish today and hope the person has a working bicycle.

I know I sound cynical, and to a certain degree, I am. The people who promised their help have done very little of it, and the little they do is half-hearted and always accompanied with a sense of imposition. BUT, so far, we have been lucky and it has worked, but it is always met with a morning of awkwardness, especially when the contact does not have a cell phone, does not expect us, does not speak english, and we are given a name with a rough approximation of where this contact lives (directions are not a Ghanaian strong suit). Above was a direct transcriotion of what happened in Bongo Soe (pronounced “soy”), and we spent 2 hours just trying to find the person, who then helped us find someone who spoke English, who then had us following him to go find another person who could help us find the assemblywoman who knew another guy who knew someone else who could help us find the boreholes. Every day is more than one adventure!

So, cynics? Not really, since we are finally getting real work done. It’s a small price to pay to feel like I’m accomplishing something, plus I get to see what true untrammeled Earth looks like. As it stands, we are about 2/5 of the way done (if 300 is an accurate approximation of the number of boreholes) with 120 samples taken and 10 broken or capped boreholes identified for later sampling (if we can open them). Yea! The levels are MUCH higher than I was told and there are many more boreholes open considering the levels are higher than they should be. I am trying to get a hold of the paperwork that is associated with each borehole drilled to see what the “original” levels were, but each time I ask for them, well, re-read the above passages for an idea.

Friday, January 9, 2009

“Even the little person can see the sky”. . . Feo Chief

We have been very busy this week (yea!!!!). It has been really great. On Monday afternoon we rode out to Feo (a community in the Bongo district) and stayed with the Feo Chief and his family for two nights. The Chief indulges heavily in two things: talking and pito (locally brewed beer from millet), and therefore as his guests so did we. On Tuesday we spent 8 hours out on the bikes sampling boreholes (the hand pump wells) and hit 21 wells. It was a long day, especially since our accommodations at the chiefs house was a very nice room with a very hard concrete platform upon which to sleep. Our bones were hurtin’! On Wednesday we rode back to our house in Bongo (to sleep on a soft bed) and to patch some tubes---we are having some rim tape issues (fuck velox cloth rim tape, for reals. . . but more on that later. . . like in another post).

Wednesday night there was this fire festival in Bongo that was described to us like this:
“So tonight, around 7pm people will go out with sticks of fire and will chase you with the fire as part of our fire festival, are you coming?” Hmmm . . . maybe next time. We turned out the lights to the house and watched through the window as people of all ages and in various stages of inebriation ran by with fists full of fire. Then there were the cannon shots. Then came the gunshots. Needless to say we conducted our nightly rituals without the aid of light. Scared? Naw. More like frightened more than a line of cattle in a slaughterhouse.

Thursday we rode back to Feo and repeated the day of sampling again, except we only had 8 wells left (phew) and were finished by midday. On Saturday we do it all again in Bongo-Soe (the community next to Feo) and we should be able to do a lot more in the same amount of time since Mo and I hare have finally got a rhythm going.

The Chief told us a story before we left, and we’d like to relay to you as it may be interesting for our audience to hear: “One day, there was this mathematician professor on his way home from the university. As he was driving, his front wheel flew off, and in the chaos the bolts were lost. As he sat there on the side of the road, an insane man came by and told him that he could help, an offer the mathematician refused. But the crazy man persisted until the professor finally said ‘What is it that you, a crazy man, can do to help me, a learned mathematics professor at the university?’ The crazy man replied, ‘You have twelve nuts left on the remaining wheels. If you take one from each wheel, you should be able to get to town and purchase the missing bolts.” That’s how he ended the story. I know, I don’t get it either. Maybe we should listen to crazy people, is that the moral? Or only when it comes to automobile mechanics should the criminally insane be given credence? Maybe this story only applies in Africa, but my western mind has been flummoxed. (He speaks in stories and sayings . . . it can be amusing if you are not trying to go somewhere...but if you are, sit tight because the road may not be open to you---since he is chief you must ask permission to leave his presence by inquiring “Is the road open”). But seriously, he is a really great person with a nice family . . . he is just a character is all!

Check out the pics . . . they’re pretty cool . . . and so are we.




Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

New Year’s here was fun. On New Year’s Eve Mo and I went and had drinks with Uncle Francis (who owns one of our favorite bars in Bongo). The bars (and the town too) was pretty quiet for what is a typically a huge party night. Planning to only split a beer, we ended up having 2 each with Uncle Francis...in one hour to top it off. Then, we rode home and met Ai (our roommate) and she cooked us New Year’s dinner (I helped a little): Korean pancakes and Chinese noodles. Our special New Year’s Eve plan was to try to soak Vodka into a watermelon, but we failed: the melon was bad...and the vodka did not want to soak too much! Apparently (according to the internet) you are supposed to start a week in advance. I don’t know though...I have had vodka watermelon at some of my friend’s parties....and they are not the type to plan these things 1 week in advance!!! But, who knows. Instead, we drank some box sangria (which is available in Bongo no less)! None of us stayed awake until midnight (too drunk to stay awake) plus Ai and I made plans to partake in Japanese New Year tradition. We woke at 5am to walk 3km to the Bongo hills and climb them before sunrise. It is Japanese tradition to greet the first sunrise of the new year. We actually made it to the hills and to the top of one before the sun rose...I was very surprised. It was very nice and peaceful. We shared some oranges up there...it was nice. 


Then, New Year’s day we wished everyone “Yahm Parlay” (Happy New Year) and made the rounds to say hello. Mo and I went to have drinks with a co-worker at the District Assembly (which turned into two cokes for me, but two beers for Mo). After that we had to go say hello to Uncle Francis and some other relatives that we really like and discovered that New Year’s Day is the real party night (oops)...and so we had more beers bought for us, and we bought a round for everyone...it was a lot of fun. BUT...by then the sun had set and we had to ride our bikes back without lights, and slightly intoxicated. Then, like typical college drunks, we made some Ramen noodles (here they are “Indomene” brand) and went to bed.  There is a bar really close to our house, and we could hear sooooo many people at the bar last night. I was wondering why no one partied on New Year’s Eve...now I know...it is really the first night of the New Year that is the party day here!!!

We have been missing everyone a lot lately. BUT, some good news is that we start sampling next week. Hopefully we will be too busy to think about how much we miss our friends and family!!!