Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Water treatment

Water treatment
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Boil. Treat. Store. Bottle. This is how I save money on bottled water in Ghana. And so far, the guts remain rock solid.

Freedom Flame Route

Freedom Flame Route
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

This is the route I'll be following from Feb 12 - Mar 6. Holy roadtrip! Details below.

At the office

Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

TV news in Takoradi -- not much different than home. More pictures at flickr!

from the "lowered expectations" dept.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The words of the JHR people echo in my head: "Lower your expectations."

After hitting the ground running (to the detriment of setting up my home), I find that I've hit a small wall built up by my expectations -- and my lack of experience with the concept of "Africa Time."

Perhaps it's all a part of settling in. Let me explain.

We've not had water in the house for two days. While I'm prepared for this with bottles and buckets of standby showering/flushing water -- it is still a drag. Especially at night when, during the dusty walk home, this sweaty white man has visions of cold showers dancing in his head.

Lower your expectations. Check.

Monday was a long day at the plant. I've written at length about the lack of resources and how it can result in a lot of waiting around. That's what happened yesterday. Big time.

The day, like every workday so far, started around 6:30 a.m. The ritual goes like this: I roll out of bed, make my way to the kitchen and boil some (treated) water. We have a kettle, but there is an issue with the plug -- it smokes and gets hotter than hell. Plan B involves boiling tap water on the gas range. It takes longer, but gets the job done. And I can use the excess water to drink later in the day. That's IF there is water. But, like a Boy Scout, I'm always prepared with standby sources of water.

After I make coffee -- usually crappy Nescafe instant as I have not been able to find better brands of real coffee -- I have a bowl of Corn Flakes or Weetabix. This is where my pledge to eat local falls down. Ghanaians eat breakfast, but it is often very heavy and I prefer something light.

After a shower (again, if there is water -- otherwise it's more of a splash, splash, wipe) I set off for work around 7:30 a.m. Along the way, I meet others walking to the main highway. Everyone is friendly and most greet me with a cheery good morning. The kids still stare, however I don't even notice the roaming goats and chickens anymore.

After listening to the morning bulletin at 8, the editorial meeting starts after a short prayer. Religion is very big here -- and I'll have more on that in another post. Following the meeting, the reporters are dispatched -- IF there is transportation.

The story that interested me Monday concerned a bunch of sellers from the local market who are being relocated to a new market area. However, there are problems at the new area -- part of it turns to swamp during the rainy season, there is no security, there is no warehouse for sellers to store their goods and the lighting is poor.

I waited in the newsroom with Christian, the reporter, for hours and hours. In the interim, I busied myself with meeting people and figuring out a cheap and easy video archiving system. "Hire a librarian" doesn't fly.

By 2 o'clock, we had still not left the plant. I was starving but there are few options. SKYY is located in a fairly rural area and there are no food stalls or restaurants nearby. The closest thing is a woman who sells bananas on the road leading to the station.

Around 3, I left with Kweku and Ben (a master control operator with a car) and we went for lunch at a Chinese joint -- the same one I visited when I first arrived in Takoradi. Finally, food! And it was cheap too: an African take on shrimp fried rice for about $4, including a Fanta.

After lunch we headed back to the station where Christian was finally able to secure a camera, a car, and a driver. The SKYY trifecta!

We visited the new market area, shot lots of pictures and interviewed several people. I was very popular with the kids and one little girl ran up just to touch me... before running off again.

After shooting for an hour or so, we went to the current market area to get some more pictures. The entire area is to be cleared tomorrow of sellers and hawkers. That should be interesting.

We zipped back to the station, arriving around 6. The story is due to be cut today, so there wasn't much more for me to do last night.

I walked home dreaming of a shower... only to be disappointed.

Lower your expectations. Check.

I was so stuffed from the late lunch (portion sizes are massive) that I couldn't bear the thought of dinner. The heat and long days leave me exhausted and lifeless when I get home. I usually listen to the BBC and stare at the ceiling. I trust that this is part of the acclimatizing process. Kweku and Gloria must think I'm nuts.

As mentioned earlier, today was a particularly frustrating day. After the morning ritual, I waited to go out on another shoot with Christian. And waited. And waited. All the other reporters had gone out earlier, and in retrospect, I should have gone out with one of them. But Christian was doing more on the market clean-up/relocation -- and I wanted to follow the story.

By noon we had a camera and a car and a driver. But then another reporter and a special guest of some sort wanted to come along. The car holds 5 people max. I became number six and was not able to go. I felt like I had wasted the morning and with everyone else out, there wasn't much left to do in the newsroom.

Lower your expectations. Check.

I decided to walk home, praying for a shower, but alas, the water gods were not smiling. Instead, I sopped up my sweat, changed clothes and decided to write this.

I do have some JHR reports to write and file, so I will spend the rest of the day doing that and getting some stuff in town done.

I need not feel bad. In speaking with my JHR colleagues, it seems I am the only one who has been working so much. While they've been dealing with things like housing and sickness I've been working away. It's all positive.

A few other random thoughts:

- SKYY shoots everything on DV tapes... of which there is a severe shortage. They use the tapes until the oxide begins to flake off. I am hoping to find a cheap source of slightly used tapes from Canada to help reduce the strain. If you want to donate some, let me know.

- Reporters carry their own tapes and shooters don't even carry back ups. More than once we've had to return to the station because of a forgotten tape.

- SKYY runs movies a couple of times a day. Most are from Nigeria, where there is a booming film industry called... Nollywood.

- White people (excluding me) seen Monday: zero. Tuesday: zero.

- Still no word on getting some sort of internet service at home. I've discovered there are some wireless services in addition to possible broadband and dial up. Newspaper ads say that the services are available in Takoradi, but we might be too far from town. Kweku is stick handling that one.

- I mentioned the Freedom Flame event in an earlier posting. It's a torch that will be carried by volunteers across every region of Ghana. I've been asked to accompany one of the reporters on the route in order to do some human rights stories in smaller communities.

I was originally told that the trip would be two weeks long, starting around February 23. It turns out that the time frame is actually 22+ days. It begins in Wa, near the Burkina-Faso border on Feb 12. From there we travel to the regional capitals and finish in Accra on March 5, the day before the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence.

We hit a new regional capital roughly every two days. We'll likely leave Takoradi around Feb 10th and not arrive home until March 10th. It'll be a great way to see the country. A map of the route is posted on Flickr.

That's it for today.


PS: More pictures on Flickr!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More smiles

More smiles
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

A sample of the pictures from Saturday...

New Photos!

School Sunset 1
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

I've discovered a better, faster internet cafe. And still just 60 cents per hour. No kidding!

On Saturday I spent the day running errands and the afternoon at a school where the kids were rehearsing for a show in Plymouth, England. It is a very big deal.

Check out the pictures and fanstastic colours at Flickr. (click the picture to be taken there).


Saturday, January 27, 2007


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

New images! And a new posting (below).

Cheers write often!

From the "end of the first week of the new life" dept.

Written: Saturday, Jan 27, 2007

***** New pictures on Flickr. Click here or link on RIGHT --> ****

Seven days ago I arrived in Takoradi knowing very little.

I did not know where I would live. I did not know my roommate. I did not know anything about my workplace.

Have things changed!

I've mentioned SKYY TV in previous posts. It's a very friendly place with a newsroom atmosphere could best be described as "feisty".

I've had the chance to speak with most of the reporters and go out on shoots with several of them. They are: Asamoah, George, Amofa, Jojo, Christian, Adu, Patricial Ange, Ebenezer, Saeed, Shirley and, of course, my roommate Kweku.

On Friday, I travelled with Asamoah and George on three stories. Asamoah was reporting on the plight of children hawkers. Hawkers stand at busy intersections and sell everything you can imagine. From newspapers to gum and water to handbags.

Far from being a hassle (other than slowing down traffic), it's like a drive through shopping mall. Need toilet paper on the way home? Not a problem. Soap? Here you go. A snack? What would you like?

But during the day you notice something interesting: many of the hawkers, who carry their goods atop their heads, are children. Asamoah wanted to find out why these kids are on the street instead of the classroom. The short answer: their families need the income. In some cases, it's because of real poverty. In others, it's because the parents suffer financial problems due to booze or gambling problems. I think this subject could be my first documentary.

Christian was working on two stories. One about the price of water and another about the terrible condition of the roads in some parts of town. We spent much of the day driving around Takoradi and shooting pictures of bad roads. It was a good chance to see more of the metropolis.

Many of the industrial areas are, well, industrial. There is a huge section where all the car repair shops are. Car parts are piled everywhere and most operate from clapboard stalls. Some, to my surprise, have children working in them. We tried to interview one boy, but his boss shooed us away.

In speaking with my other JHR colleagues, it appears that I am the only one who immediately jumped into work this week. I had originally intended to spend the first week getting used to my new surroundings, but everyone is so eager that I felt obligated to jump right in.
That was a good decision as I have now established relationships with a couple of the reporters.

On Sunday, Christian is going to take me to various historic areas along the coast (I've still not seen the water even though I live in a port city!). I'll be armed with the "good" camera and plan to start taking lots of pictures. Getting them online continues to be a challenge.

I've connected with Asamoah, who is very young -- maybe 18 -- but VERY bright. We've worked on a couple of stories and he is incredibly eager. He gets a lot of static from others, but brushes it all aside.

*** Road Trip ***

Ghana turns 50 on March 6th. I believe it is the first country in West Africa to mark 50 years of independence following colonial rule. This is a VERY big deal, and the preparations are in full swing.

Former-UN secretary-general Kofi Annan returned home to Ghana last week. He is highly respected here, and his arrival and the speeches that followed were carried live across the nation.

One of the golden jubilee events is the "Freedom Flame". For two weeks prior to the big anniversary, a flame will be carried across the nation to symbolize the important milestone. Think Olympic flame.

Asamoah asked me if I would like to join him in covering the flame as it makes its way to every corner of Ghana. "Of course," I told him.

Not only will it be a great experience and a chance to see the country, it is also a great deal. The government is providing transport, accommodation, and meals for journalists during the event. And any additional expenses should be covered by my organization.

I will field produce and shoot for Asamoah and we'll be expected to file stories daily. I'll have to use my own video camera, however.

When I was in Toronto, I decided at the last minute to buy a video camera. I went low-end, but now wish I had purchased something a little more robust. Also, my camera operates on a different broadcast standard than local television, meaning that all the video will require conversion. Not a big deal, as this can be done back at SKYY, but it could impact the turn around.

I would think seriously about buying another camera here, but I a) don't want to spend the money and b) don't want to be stuck with a non-North American camera. Still, it would be nice to have a decent camera. My worry is that my $350 handicam won't stand up to the wear and tear.

And the logistics of editing and filing have to be worked out.

Following the Freedom Flame could make for a great radio documentary for NPR, CBC or the BBC. However, because the route ends in Accra for the day of the anniversary, it is time sensitive. And there is no way to edit something like that until getting back to Takoradi. I'll have to put on my thinking cap for that one.

*** Speaking Fanti ***

Everyone here speaks Fanti, the local traditional language. Most conversations switch back and forth between English and Fanti -- making it very difficult to follow. As much as my colleagues try to teach me words, I find that they're not sticking in my brain.

I think it is incredibly important and a show of respect to learn at least a few phrases. It might also come in handy in bargaining with taxi drivers, who all seem to try and squeeze as many Cedis out of their passengers as possible. Being an obruni (white person) doesn't help. I automatically pay higher rates than the locals.

It is impossible for me to blend in. I am the only non-black at SKYY and one of a handful of white people in town. I did see an Asian person yesterday, however.
This isn't a problem, and I never feel weird about it -- but sometimes I do realize that I am in a very small minority. It doesn't help that the Europeans didn't really have the best interests of local people in mind when they colonized the area.
A moment occurred this morning when I realized how rare I am.

One of our neighbours stopped by to borrow some water from our large back-up water tank. She had a baby strapped to her back, and a young boy in tow. I popped outside for a moment, and the little boy saw me. I waved and went back inside.

A few minutes later, I went back outside and the mother told me that the little boy, who was now on the other side of our gated property, wanted to see me.
She went to fetch him and when she returned, the little boy saw me and freaked. He burst into tears and ran down the road.

This may take some getting used to.

*** I want my SKYY TV ***

SKYY is a unique operation. It broadcasts four separate free-to-air signals. SKYY One is the main channel and features a mix of local programs (including the morning show Agoo!), news and movies that are selected by Ben, the exceedingly outgoing master control operator.

The other three channels are rebroadcasts of South African channels (like E, an English station from Cape Town). SKYY Four rebroadcasts different foreign feeds: sometimes CNN International, occasionally BBC World, and often, live football matches from the UK.

There is a catch, however. You need a special antenna and decoder box to receive the extra SKYY channels. There are no monthly fees, just the initial equipment purchase.
We're supposed to have our antenna and box installed today. Once we have that, we'll have about eight different stations to choose from. And I'll finally be able to watch SKYY at home. I have a TV in my room, but there is no aerial and I can't receive anything. As I've said before, thank God for BBC World Service!

*** The long and winding road ***

I find I am getting more exercise than I did living in Vancouver. I have to walk for almost everything, including catching a taxi or tro-tro (mini-bus) to town.

It takes about 15 minutes to walk from home, down the dusty road, to the main highway. SKYY is only a short stroll away, but is perched on a hill, meaning the last part of the walk is a sweat inducing hill climb.

Sometimes I am able to get dropped off at home, but generally I do the walk 4-6 times daily. Along the way there are a couple of little shops. One for bread, one for household stuff, and, my favourite, the shop that sells beer.

I'm drinking treated tap water, as it is more convenient and cheaper than buying bottled water. I've not yet found a source of the big bottles of treated water. So, I fill a (new, clean) bucket with tap water and mix in some treatment liquid I purchased in Vancouver. This works well, and I have yet to feel sick. But I am worried about running out of treatment solution.

It is so hot that I drink a lot of water -- and, consequently, a lot of beer as it is also safe to drink, cheaper than water, and much more refreshing.

However, water doesn't make you fat, and I realize that if I am going to lose a few kilos the way to do it is not by drinking beer.

Like the promise to myself to eat only local food (so far, so good), I also intend to limit my beer intake to no more than one bottle per day on weekdays. If I go out on a Friday or Saturday night, then I will take a few more.

*** The Accident ***

Last Thursday I was shopping in Market Circle and fighting with the internet. It was after sunset when I finally took a taxi home. After settling on a price (about $2), we headed towards SKYY. I told the driver to make a left turn just prior to SKYY.

There is a car repair shop there called Mapees. Everyone knows the corner.

As we approached, the driver was confused as to whether he should turn at Mapees or SKYY. I said Mapees as just as he passed the turnoff. As he slowed, and pulled onto the shoulder to make a u-turn, there was a loud bang.

I looked out my window to see the driver of a motor scooter flying into the ditch as his scooter crashed to the ground. This was not good.

We stopped and seconds later the pissed-off scooter driver knocked on my window and began screaming at the taxi driver. This was all in Fanti, so I was unable to understand what was said. However, I think the cabbie tried to blame me, while the other guy blamed the cabbie.

The scooter was slightly damaged but the driver appeared OK judging by his ability to argue. I slipped the cabbie his fare and wandered off into the night as they continued to argue.

I bought four beer at the beer shop on the way home.

*** Saturday Events ***

It is early Saturday morning as I write this. Unlike yesterday, there was water to take a shower. I find there is no rhyme or reason to the water outages, but I'm always prepared with back up buckets for showering and toilet flushing.

Gloria (our live-in housekeeper/cook) was up at 6 doing laundry. It is so nice not to have do deal with chores, although I do want to learn how to cook some of the local dishes over the next few weeks.

Kweku had to run off to read the 9 a.m. news, while I'm enjoying some peace and quiet.

We're heading into town this afternoon to visit the internet cafe (a new one, I hope), as well as to pick up some stuff for the house.

At 4 p.m. we're going back to the same school I visited in Sekondi when I arrived a week ago. I've been asked to shoot pictures of the kids who are rehearsing their musical performance. These are the kids I wrote about last week who are travelling to Plymouth, England this summer. I hope to have some stills and video up next week, technology willing.

Tonight will be another quiet one, I expect. I find that I am completely knackered by the end of the day. Perhaps it's the heat. Or maybe that it's been such a crazy stretch these last few weeks/months. I certainly sleep well and haven't heard the call to prayer for several days.

As mentioned earlier I am travelling along the coast tomorrow. And then back to work on Monday. There is no weekend television news, thankfully.

Next weekend I will head to the Green Turtle Lodge (which I think will become my Ghanaian Caye Caulker) for two days of R&R.

*** The New Reality ***

It's funny how something so different like living in Africa has just become normal. The water and power outages don't bother me (I think we lose power tonight) and although I have much to learn, I feel I am adjusting with little difficulty.

I think I am lucky in that my housing was set up for me and that I am working with a decent group of people. It's been very easy to transition from the old life to the new.

There are many things I miss about home: the people, the sushi, the cool nights, broadband internet, working weekend days at CTV and good coffee. And yes, even Steve Hughes. Heh heh!

But I feel blessed to be able to have this experience, meet so many new people, and get to tell stories again.

At this point I'm not sure what I will do when I return. My fear is returning to exactly the same life as I left. Life in Vancouver is great, surrounded by many great friends. But career-wise things were getting stale. Perhaps this adventure will open up new avenues that I can't yet see.

And with that, I will close. Check flickr for photos. And return here often!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

from the "pulling out my hair" dept.

Thursday Jan 25, 2007
Takoradi, Ghana

This is a double post. I wrote a long post offline on Tuesday and I am only now at the internet cafe downtown. It still sucks and the service is brutal. It took 40 minutes to get my plog's posting window to actually open.

I hope the cut-and-paste works and that this actually makes it to "air".

Despite the electro-hex I suffer, everything is going well -- but I am looking forward to the weekend. Methinks I'll head out of town as the cultre shock is beginning to take its toll...

Here's the big post:

Blog Posting
Tue Jan 23

The internet is still broken at work and I didn't make it to town Tuesday, so I am writing this posting off-line on Tuesday night.

If you're wondering why I haven't been sending many emails the answer is threefold: restricted access to the internet, lack of time and the most recent one: I've been blocked. Apparently I can't send emails from my mail provider (dot mac) to anyone with a Shaw account.

Shaw apparently blocks either email originating from dot mac accounts or Ghana IP addresses or both. I'm not sure what the work around is, although I may have to start using Gmail more often.

If you've got a Shaw account and I'm not responding, it's not that I haven't wanted to... they just keep bouncing back.

On another topic: life here.

Today marks my one-week anniversary of being in Africa. The time has flown by. I still face the occasional moment of culture shock and I'm not quite used to being stared at because of my skin colour. I see very few white people here. Maybe five since I moved to Takoradi.

I continue to eat local food (largely rice and beans-based). The quantities are so large and the food so filling that I eat just a small breakfast (today: Corn Flakes) and lunch only. In the evening I couldn't imagine eating another thing.

I still drink bottled water when I can, however it is not readily available near my home or work. I brought some water treatment from Canada and I've been experimenting with drinking treated (and boiled) tap water.

In both cases, the digestive system is working well. I've yet to touch a cipro pill. Fingers crossed!

I'm settling into my home, but finding it rather boring. So far I generally hang out for a bit at the kitchen table and then crash or listen to BBC World Service. Radio Canada's service is terrible -- if it comes in at all. It consists of one hour of English programming, one hour of Arabic programming, and two hours of French programming every evening. None of which I can receive with any quality.

Thank God for the BBC.

My room is still a mess. On Monday we installed what Ghanaian's call carpet: plastic flooring similar to linoleum. But without shelves, a bookcase or clothes rack, everything is spread out on the floor.

My bed is massive but very uncomfortable. It sags here and there and I find it difficult to sleep through the night. It doesn't help that my windows open onto the common area of the house -- meaning I can hear Kewku and Gloria (our helper) as they go about their business in the evening.

Which brings me to the topic everyone must be wondering about: Noise.

It's no secret that I have a low tolerance for noise. This applies mostly to living in Vancouver and you've all heard me complain about the bongos of East Vancouver, the traffic of Deep Cove and the dogs of East 54th.

Surprisingly this quirk tends to lessen whilst travelling. Believe it or not, I can generally handle the dogs of Belize City, the karaoke machines of San Ignacio and the kruffy of Caye Caulker. Maybe that's because I know that it is all temporary.

Thankfully Ghana isn't that noisy.

Sure, taxi's drive with their stereos cranked. And the TV is cranked during meetings at work. And everyone loves to honk.

But as I write this at 7:19 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, all I can hear is the fan in my room and the whine of the fridge (chilling another Star Beer).

People tend to respect their neighbours. They might watch TV loudly for an hour, but that's it. The street dogs might bark for 5 minutes, but then they stop. The mosque might call people to prayer in the early morning, but it doesn't last.

Perhaps this is because I am living at the outskirts of Takoradi. Whatever the reason, I am thankful!

I don't know if I mentioned that there are two cats in the house. I think they're partially stray, but they seem clean enough. Kweku's girlfriend Grace tells me that most people don't like cats and even fewer name them.

I've named our two, however. Gato (cat in Spanish) and Mini-Gato. As far as I can tell Gato is the mother of Mini-Gato. Gato is very healthy -- a tabby with angular features and a bushy tail. Mini-Gato is a smaller version, but has a mangy looking tail.

I slip both cream and milk, to the chagrin of Kewku and Gloria.

*** Meanwhile at the Plant ***

It was another long day at work.

I got up around 6:30 a.m. and after fixing a bowl of Corn Flakes, some coffee (thank you Wendy for the french press!) I was ready for a cold shower. There is no hot water here, and there is little value in it. Even at 7 a.m. you want cold water. If there is water. This morning there wasn't.

The water service has been pretty good since I moved to Takoradi. It goes out once in a while, but for short periods -- usually less than an hour. Unfortunately, that hour is generally in the morning when I want to take a shower.

I have learned from previous experience to fill 1.5 litre water bottles with tap water for such an occurrence. So this morning when the tap was dry, I had a nice splash-splash-done "shower" with a bottle of tap water.

Wendy, who blazed the Ghana trail before me, was kind enough to set me up with not only the previously mentioned French press for coffee, but a sun shower. Basically a 5-litre water bottle with a long hose and showerhead attached. The idea is to hang it in the sun to heat the water. So tomorrow, when there is no water, I'll be able to do more than splash the pits.

My second editorial meeting was much like the first. Lots of stories offered up, a bull session about the previous day's stories and lots of finger pointing between reporters. It's a decidedly different take on the morning meeting. Unfortunately when tempers flare everyone switches to Fanti, the local language. I sit there wondering exactly what they're saying. My feeling is that it may not be nice. I miss those calm CTV meetings.

After the meeting I went out on a shoot with a young reporter named Asamoah. After telling the cameraman that I was born on a Friday, I was given my African name: Kofi. Kofi means first male child born on a Friday. Think Kofi Annan.

Our story today was simple: the local social services office is in a terrible state of disrepair -- despite assurances that measures would be taken to fix it up.

The concrete building is falling apart. There are no washrooms. The conference room has no windows or chairs and the big table was covered in dust and dirt. Raw sewage runs in an open sewer behind the building, providing mosquitoes with an excellent breeding ground.

There is no computer. No real office furniture. And no phone. The manager uses her own phone and spends about 150,000 cedis a week on calls. That's $15, which, believe me, is a lot of money here.

The reporter's hook was: if the Ministry of Social Services can't take care of itself, how can people expect it to take care of them?

We interviewed a number of people -- but not the Minister. That will be done as a folo. So the story was rather one sided in that there was no official reaction, but the local manager did make an impassioned on-camera plea.

During all this, the sun was out and it was hot. By the time we returned to the station I was drenched in sweat. Nothing like a sweaty, middle-aged white guy to turn heads in Africa.

There was a big back up in the newsroom so Asamoah and I went for a late lunch. He was terribly worried that I wouldn't like the food sold at the stall he picked. I said I was here to eat Ghanaian food, not hamburgers. He offered to take rice in case I hated my order of spicy this and that with fish. I told him to order what he wanted and not to worry about what my reaction would be. The only way to find out if you like new things is to try new things.

We took a cab and ate lunch at my place. It was great. I'm still not sick.

We walked back to the station -- about 15 minutes -- and I was drenched again. Worried staff herded me to the air-conditioned editing room. 29C never felt so good.

Editing was backed up and it became apparent that Asamoah's story wouldn't get cut in time for the 6. Here, that's not a problem. Stories are often held for the next morning's news bulletin or the following day's suppertime show.

I pulled the pin around 5:30 p.m. and walked home... stopping at a small shop for a couple of frosty beer.

By the time I was home I was drenched again. I peeled off my damp clothes and jumped into the shower. It worked. And it was cold. Aaaah. It was also an opportunity to wash my "dew rags" for tomorrow.

I'm told this is the cool time of year. I can't wait for the heat. And the rain. That'll make walking to work on a dirt road fun.

Have I mentioned that all roads leading to my home are nothing more than red dirt? Adding rainwater to that scares me.

After a long, hot day, I find I have little energy. The boys at work want to take me out and get me hammered on local hooch. I want to go (sort of), but can't imagine doing it on a school night. I think I can push it off for another week.

This weekend I am already thinking about going to the Green Turtle Lodge, which is west of here. It's about $22 US a night -- which is incredibly expensive by Ghana standards, but I think I need two days to flake out and re-charge the batteries.

Speaking of money, 10,000 cedis is worth roughly $1 US.

- Regular Beer: 70 cents.
- 500 ml beer: $1.20
- Meal in a restaurant: $4 - $10
- Taxi $2 - 3
- TroTro (mini-bus) 15 cents
- Street food $2
- Crappy coffee (250g) $3
- Good coffee (250g) $12 !!!!

By and large, it is extremely cheap here. But it's funny how your perceptions change. I look at some things as being expensive when in our reality they're not.

*** LOOK AHEAD ***

My plan for Wednesday is simple. I intend to go to the morning meeting and then head into town to fetch more things for the house. A chair would be nice!

I had originally planned to spend the week getting things set up, however, I felt obligated to spend time at the station. It's been a challenge remembering people's names -- and I am trying to remember their African names -- not their English names. If I was a Ghanaian, the last thing I would want is an old colonial name.

That's it for now. Enjoy the cold and snow! And the Pickton trial! Hahahahahaha!


Monday, January 22, 2007

from the "first day of work" dept.


This posting won't be as lengthy as my previous tome.

The main reason is that the internet is so slow and unreliable, long postings are only possible if I write them on my laptop -- and then cart it to downtown Takoradi. This will explain the lack of pictures as well.

I hope to resolve the issue as soon as possible. I wish I could use the internet at work, but it's broken.

Speaking of work: today was my first day at the plant.

As previously mentioned, SKYY is a rather big operation with about 90 employees. Today, I joined the news staff for their 8 a.m. editorial meeting.

It was similar to a Vancouver news meeting, except it lasted nearly 90 minutes. Each reporter is expected to come up with two or three stories... and then do them. There is no look-ahead calendar. Reporters have to be looking for stories at all times.

Some of the stories will be done for SKYY Radio, some for TV and some for both.

The meeting featured a lot of arguing and bashing of ideas -- but in the end, nearly 20 stories were assigned.

However, there is a problem. Gear. The station has three PD-170s and one HD CAM. But one 170 is on the fritz.

So three cameras to about eight reporters. No problem, right?

Well, there is just one news vehicle. One! I waited most of the morning to go out on a shoot with one of the reporters, but that never happened. By 2 p.m. I had to be elsewhere.

But wait! There's more!

There is only ONE edit suite! A non-linear Adobe Premier suite. Well, there are two others, but they're reserved for promos and commercials. And all three suites are in the same room!

There's no Choppy here.

The days ahead will be interesting. I've been asked to do some long features for radio... and I am holding a workshop on how to make good TV with little gear.

I also look forward to heading out into the field and watching the editing process. Tim Latham, consider yourself lucky!

After I left work, I went shopping with Kweku's girlfriend Grace. We bought a bucket, some sheets, Corn Flakes and real coffee! Wandering around the crazy market was a true experience.

I'm looking forward to finally having food in the house. A good thing beause as of this posting Tuesday afternoon, I have yet to eat. Go figure.

I remain happy and healthy and hope for that to continue.

More to come...


Sunday, January 21, 2007

from the "home sweet home" dept.

Sunday, January 21, 2007
Takoradi, Ghana

So much has happened in such a short period of time that this is going to be a long entry!

On Friday, Ato, JHR's country director, drove me from Accra, Ghana's capital, to Takoradi. At this time of year the air is thick with smog and haze. Much of this can be blamed on winds that bring dust down from the Sahara desert. I'm told this will change soon and I look forward to clearer days.

The drive was uneventful. The main road to Takoradi (a few hundred km west of Accra) is in decent condition and we made the journey in less than four hours. Ato and I talked at length about my new job and life in Ghana.

I still find it hard to believe I am living in Africa. This, I think, is because much of what I am experiencing reminds me of Belize. The terrain, the people, and the flora and fauna -- at least on the surface. I know as I peel back the layers I will discover much, much more.

I'm glad that I've spent so much time in Belize. Those experiences have prepared me well. There is no question that I am a minority here -- in fact, when Ato and I stopped in to visit his mother in Sekondi (effectively Takoradi's twin), he warned me that all eyes would be on me. And that they were! It was an odd feeling.

Once in Takoradi we did a quick drive about town. It is much smaller than Accra, but there are places that are just as hectic. It is also larger than I expected. It'll take some time to get used to things. Ah, learning!

Ato drove me to SKYY House, my new place of employment. We were met by Kweku Temeng. Kweku is not only a journalist at SKYY, he is my new roommate.

Although it was Saturday, there was a lot of activity at SKYY. SKYY broadcasts four television channels (three are pan-African satellite channels) as well as on FM. They also publish a newspaper.

I met many of the people I'll be working with -- which was quite overwhelming. So many names and faces to remember!! However, everyone was incredibly friendly and made me feel very welcome.

My first day of work is Monday (Jan 21) for a meet and greet. My plan is to spend the week getting my life set up in Takoradi and hanging out in the newsroom. The following week is likely to be more intense.

Kweku works long days -- and often seven days a week. It's expected that I do the same, though I will push to at least have occasional weekends off if I am working 12+ hour days. However if there are important stories on the weekend, then I will certainly jump in.

After visiting SKYY, Kweku took Ato and me to my new home. It's located near SKYY at the end of a dirt road. Kweku tells me it takes about 15 minutes to walk to work. Hurray! Exercise!!!

We're on the outskirts of Takoradi and I'll have to depend on Tro-Tros (mini-buses similar to Guatemala's collectivos) and taxis to get to town -- although I am considering the purchase of a scooter or motorbike. I should have brought my mountain bike! Heh!

Kweku found a great spot for us to live. It's a large house in a relatively quiet area free of the barking street dogs and loud stereos that plague urban Belize.

However, there are several mosques in town, and this morning I was brought out of a deep sleep by the call to prayer. I'm sure I'll get use to that...

The family that owns the house live upstairs and we have the entire downstairs. There are three bedrooms -- one for Kweku, one for me, and one for our "helper." We have a young woman living with us (and her two boys). In exchange for free rent, she cleans, cooks and does laundry.

Kweku explains that as journalists, we're far to busy too waste time on such things. I tell him that only very wealthy people in Canada have such live-in assistance.
Regardless, it's a nice touch!

Our space includes a common area/dining room plus a fully kitted out kitchen. My room is quite large and came complete with a king size bed. Somehow I ended up forgetting my bed linens in Canada, so I have been using a sarong as a sheet. However, it's so warm at night that it isn't a problem.

Kweku is moving in more furniture in over the next few days -- so we should have a rather comfy home. There is a lot of furniture manufacturing in the area, so the prices are affordable.

In Ghana, you pay rent in advance. Once it's paid, you need not think about it again.

Here's the amazing thing: my portion of rent for the next eight months? 8,000,000 Cedis. How much is that? About $800 US. Nice!!! And it looks like we'll be getting dial-up internet access too. While not perfect, it certainly will be handy!

I also had the chance on Saturday to visit a local school with Kweku and Ato. A group of children from the school are heading to Plymouth, England in July to perform. I was an honoured guest at the rehearsal -- and completely blown away by the traditional singing and drumming. It was at that moment that I really felt I was Africa and is something I will never forget.

I hope to attend further rehearsals and will record pictures and sound. I've been keeping a low profile with the camera, as I don't want to appear to be a typical tourist. This is my home, and there will be lots of time to shoot stills and video.

Since coming to Ghana I've often mentioned Belize while trying to describe my impressions. Last night, everything came full circle.

I was lying in bed, preparing for my first sleep in Takoradi. I dialed up BBC World Service on my shortwave radio... and after listening to the 10 p.m. news bulletin, there was a program about world music.

The focus of the show was music from... BELIZE. Imagine my surprise when they interviewed my friend Ivan Duran (the force behind Belize's Stonetree Records) at length. They also played Paranda, Andy Palacio, and much more. [BRENT: Pass this on to Ivan and Katia].

Despite the 5 a.m. call to prayer, I managed to get a good night sleep, rising about 9 a.m.
I've spent the morning drinking coffee (terrible Nescafe -- though I am seeking good coffee later today), unpacking, writing, and listening to local music on the radio. Ghanaian music is very popular. You hear much more local music than imported Amer-o-pop. It's wonderful to switch on the radio to hear all this amazing West African music.

So far, the experience has been great. Nothing negative to report and no sickness from eating local food (which is wonderful, spicy but carb-laden). I'm still being careful with water, but plan to start boiling it rather than buying it.

The folks at JHR call the first few weeks after arrival the "honeymoon" stage. I hope it lasts. I know there will be challenges ahead, but so far, I am having the experience of a lifetime. I have absolutely no regrets about coming here and look forward to what is to come.

That's about it for now. I'm hoping to upload this text today at the internet cafe. I'm saving it to a USB drive rather than taking my laptop to the cafe. Hopefully it works.

It's great hearing from everyone at home... please keep the notes and comments coming.

Until the next time,


Saturday, January 20, 2007

from the "Takoradi" bound dept.

I only have a few minutes before Ato, JHRs' country director drives me to Takoradi.

Last night the gang attended a huge 30th birthday party for Ato. Is was a ton of fun and the food and drink were outstanding.

I'll have more pictures soon. And perhaps some video if I can find a decent internet connection.

The gang is now split up. Four left for Kumasi and Tamale this morning. I'm off to Takoradi. And the rest (4) remain here in Accra.

So far I am finding the experience unbelievable. They call it the honeymoon stage -- and I suppose that's part of it. I'm sure the excitement will die down once I am going to work on a regular basis. I think I start Monday. Although I don't have a home, so I may delay my first day of work until I get settled.

The drive with Ato (and possibly his mother) should be interesting. The highway winds its way along the coast... and should provide a different view of Ghana. All I've seen so far is Accra.

That's all for now. I will post as soon as I can from Takoradi.

Thanks for following along...


Friday, January 19, 2007

The Gang in Accra

The Gang in Accra
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

I can hear the 70s crime show theme...

Watch that first step!

Watch that first step!
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

A seaside bar in Accra.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

The coast near Accra.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).


Global Sales

Global Sales
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

You can buy anything from street vendors in Accra. It's like a drive-thru shopping mall.

Smoggy Sunset

Smoggy Sunset
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Sunset in Accra.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Sam in Accra.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

The JHR gang in Accra.

White and Blue

White and Blue
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Accra, Ghana.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Enjoying the cool spray on a hot day.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Ghana's future World Cup team.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

from the "arrival" dept.

I am in Africa.

Accra, the capital of Ghana, to be exact.

It's been a whirlwind of activity since arriving late Tuesday night. We've had lots of sessions with local people about cultural issues, politics and the media.

We've had very little time to ourselves due to the busy schedule, however that changes Friday with a trip to the beach just east of Accra.

How to describe what I've seen? I wish I had more time but -- and this applies to Accra only -- the city is far more developed, clean and friendlier than I expected. That said there is no lack of air pollution.

The food is great. The weather has been warm but not gross. I've yet become sweaty white guy.

Everyone we've met has been great... and I've been shooting all sorts of stuff... pictures to come soon. Perhaps Friday.

I'm on the road again Saturday, bound for my new home, Takoradi.




Monday, January 15, 2007

from the "countdown" dept.

Man, it's close.

I am writing from a crappy airport bar, on the other side of security, at terminal one, Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Ontario.

One beer is done. Another has been ordered. It's 4:40. My flight is about an hour away, as is my new life.

Maybe it's beer fuelled, but I am really thinking about the change that is about to happen. Although I think it already has.

Proof? An instant message from one of the reporters at Skyy TV in Takoradi. Go Figure.

The day has been uneventful despite the snow, ice, cold and nerves.


Yep. But it many ways it's nice to have the hard stuff done. Now, all I have to do is just... go.

I'm pulled in a million of directions mentally, but I would much rather this than the alternative. I am not about staying put.

Bring on the world, baby! BRING IT ON!


Icy Treats

Icy Treats
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

No photoshop here... that's the Wendy's outdoor menu board in Oakville, Ontario.

Frozen Shut

Frozen Shut
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Nothing like an ice storm on a travel day.

Places I Have Slept: Oakville, Ontario

Places I Have Slept: Oakville, Ontario
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

My last North American bed... until October.

No waiting

No waiting
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Oakville, ON patio in January. Blerk.

The Empire

The Empire
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Janis and Jamie's HQ in Oakville. The empire!

JJ & JJ2's home

JJ & JJ2's home
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Janis and Jamie's home in Oakville, Ontario.

from the "freezing rain" dept.

Freezing Rain
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

I thought I had managed to escape the worst of winter.

I was wrong.

The weather here in Toronto over the past week has been positively balmy -- by Southern Ontario standards. What that means is that the temperatures have hovered around zero and there has been a relative lack of snow.

Today is the day I fly to Frankfurt and then Accra. But in looking at the video cams that cover Toronto's freeways one sees little traffic due to the ice on the lens. That's not rain. Nope. Ice. And it's everywhere.

I just spent 30 minutes chipping my car out of it's frozen cell. Pictures to follow.

Luckily, my flight (LH 471) departs at 5:30 p.m. I have plenty to time to leave early and skate my way down the QEW towards Pearson.

Good times!


Sunday, January 14, 2007

from the "1 sleep" dept.

Ghana Notes
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

It's officially Monday in Toronto: the clock just rolled past midnight.

That means I leave for Africa TODAY -- but not before my last night of sleep in Canada until at least October.

Janis and I spent the day running around. I bought more stuff -- a cheap video camera and some more clothes. Summer stuff seems to be on sale and I found some decent climate specific stuff for cheap.

It snowed in Oakville, which kept many shoppers at home. Cruising the malls was pain free, if tiring.

Earlier in the day we had breakfast at a place called Fava -- which overlooks Lake Ontario. Or at least that's what they say. You couldn't tell with the low cloud and snow. But the food was deeelish.

In the evening Janis, Jamie and I enjoyed homemade pizza before I started the re-pack. I'm leaving some stuff behind and I have no worries about the weight of my bags.

I also spoke at length with John Gaudi, who worked in Takoradi (my city) about a year ago. He answered all my questions and I am looking forward to seeing the place for myself. It sounds amazing.

A winter storm is forecast for Monday in Toronto, and my fingers are crossed that it doesn't interrupt my flight schedule. We'll see.

I'll post pictures from last week and from around Oakville tomorrow morning.

I'll attempt to post from Pearson Airport and Frankfurt. But there may be radio silence for a few days.

And with that... bed time!


Saturday, January 13, 2007

from the "night" dept.

Out the window
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

I haven't had much time to photograph Toronto these past few days. As always, time and short days are the enemy.

I do have to head downtown to pick up my rental car, and I'm hoping to at least grab the odd point-and-shoot shot of something remotely interesting.

As previously mentioned, I am heading north to Oakville for the night. It'll give me a chance to decompress with friends and do laundry.

My head is still swirling with thoughts of what to expect next week. I'm having a hard time finding focus.

And I find it odd not to have to carry keys. That'll change once I snag the rental.

With that, I'm off to ride the Rocket downtown.


Friday, January 12, 2007

from the "another step closer" dept.

Ghana Notes
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Toronto. Friday, 8:06 p.m. EST.

Man, am I bagged!

Our five days of training came to a close this afternoon. We covered everything from our job description to cross-cultural interaction to dealing with emergency situations.

Five days loaded with information that I'm still trying to process. Luckily, I have the weekend to decompress and get ready for the next step.

Our group (Sam, Hisham, Katerine, Trisha, Darrell, Mark, Eva and Renee) got along quite well.

We had dinner together Thursday night at the Pickle Barrel and then Katerine (a Quebecois living in the Netherlands) and I popped into the hotel bar for some wine. We seem to have developed the closest bond. She's closer to me in age, although I am the oldest of the group by far.

It's the first time I've every been really conscious of my age. Not that it matters...

I'm picking up a rental car Saturday and heading to Oakville for the weekend. I'll stay there through Sunday and possibly Monday.

Why Oakville? Because that's where my friends Janis and Jamie live. It'll give me a chance to do laundry, repack, buy a couple more items and generally hang out before flying to Accra on Monday.

On Sunday I plan to meet with a former JHR trainer who worked at the station in Takoradi that I've been assigned to.

Earlier tonight I spoke (via internet chat) with Kweku Temeng, a journalist at Skyy Power TV. He is very excited about my joining the team and asked if I liked beer. Heh heh.

Kweku and I may become roommates as he's looking to share a flat. As a value add, he mentioned his girlfriend is a good cook.

There is more, but I need to flop on the bed and just chill out. I'll post more observations and photos over the weekend. Then stay tuned for the first report from Ghana.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

from the "free bird" dept.

The Gang
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Here's a pic from Tuesday -- the gang posing for a photo. More of these to come.

After a long day of training Wednesday, I ended up back in my hotel room watching one of my favourite documentaries: Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. If you haven't seen it and you love music and the magic of recording -- find it and watch it!

In it, there is a great scene with Lynyrd Skynyrd performing Free Bird.

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be travelling on now
There's too many places I've gotta see
If I stay here with you girl
Things just couldn't be the same

Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Oooh ooh ooh
And the bird you cannot change
And this bird you cannot change
Lord knows I cannot change

Bye bye its been sweet love
Though this feeling I can't change
Please don't take this so badly
Cause lord knows I'm to blame
If I stay here with you girl
Things just couldn't be the same

Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Ooh oh oh
And the bird you cannot change
And this bird you cannot change
Lord knows I can't change

Lord help me I can't change
Lord I can't change
Won't you fly high free bird


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

from the "countdown" dept.

Briefing notes:

- living at the Ramada Hotel past 2 days.
- training going well. Group is great.
- Monday night: Went for stroll to get food, ran into three hookers and two toughs looking for dough. Nice.
- Tuesday: sushi for lunch. Ethopian for dinner.
- Also Tuesday: switched hotels (a funding issue)

Everything is still a blur. Looking forward to the weekend. And beyond.

More pictures should follow soon. I'll take the point and shoot with me tomorrow...


Monday, January 08, 2007


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

This captures how I felt arriving at Toronto's international airport just before midnight last night.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Flying on Air Crapada... to Toronto. As thrilling as it looks!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

from the "big smoke" dept.

Originally uploaded by oddfit.

Toronto, Ontario -- 1:20 a.m. Monday Jan 8, 2007

The adventure has begun.

Left Vancouver Sunday afternoon after final packing and more packing.

Departed almost on time.

Watched "Little Miss Sunshine" and snored on the plane.

Arrived just before midnight.

Bags took forever. Cab from the airport to the hotel (Ramada/Downtown) took forever.

In room. Free wifi. Have to rise in about 5 hours.

But no more packing!

Pictures and more party tales to come.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

from the "surprise guest" dept.

Grey Cup
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

What would a going away party be without a visit from the Grey Cup?


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Wasn't that a party?

It sure was.

Many more pictures to come.

Including the special guest: Cuppy!


Friday, January 05, 2007

Ghana Notes

Ghana Notes
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

The packing continues. In the meantime, some entertainment from Ghana.

(h/t Wendy)

This is going to be sooooo much fun!


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Stormy Weather v4

Stormy Weather v4
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

It was a stormy Thursday in Vancouver.

I took a break from all the running around to capture some of the excitement at Stanley Park.

And just two hours away: the first of two going away parties. Good God.

Tomorrow the storage company comes and the final load-in begins.

3 sleeps until Toronto. Egads!



Monday, January 01, 2007

from the "shave everywhere" dept.

The first day of the year was spent packing and sorting and packing and sorting. Started at 7am or so. Still not done and it's 10:28pm. Keeripes!

And Tuesday is errand/shots/shopping day. Fun.

But, speaking of fun -- I do have something to share. It was sent to me before Christmas and the URL scared me off for nearly a week. Silly. Check it out.


Ah, internet marketing... love it!


from the "day one" dept.

Towering horizon
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

And away we go.

Remember this?

Let's Go Exploring