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!”, 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 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 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 was a lot of fun. 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 I 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!!!