Saturday, March 17, 2007

from the "doug @ 60" dept.

Saturday, March 17th

It was another long week here, but the weekend has finally arrived. Work is busy with various projects both new and old. And I remain healthy and happy although the lack of internet access continues to be a burden.

The latest: I can access wirelessly from at work, but many sites -- including my bank and other secure sites -- won't function on my laptop. I have no idea why.

Other than that, I am now looking forward to a weekend off, likely with a cold pint in my hand. I had hoped to go to Accra for St. Patrick's Day, but decided I was too knackered to hit the road again.

Instead I will don a green shirt and attempt to find some like-minded folks interested in hoisting a pint in celebration.

That's the latest... and for your reading pleasure I have my weekly contribution to the JHR website.


I have now been in Ghana for two months. I know this because my 60-day permit to remain in the country has expired. I was alerted to the fact when checking my passport the other day. Right beside the yearlong and multiple-entry visa that I paid $150 for is a stamp that I received at the airport in Accra. It granted me 60 days to stay in Ghana and not work.

Funny, considering I am here for eight months to, essentially, work.

I am now in the process of getting my permit extended. Originally I was going to go for a six-month extension at a cost of 600,000 Cedis (about $80). But then I learned that if I left the country between now and the end of the extended period, the clock would be reset to 60 days again. As there is a good chance that I will leave Ghana to visit one of its neighbours within the next several months, I decided that a 60-day extension was a better idea. And at 200,000 Cedis, it's cheaper too.

In reality, two months isn't a lot of time. But it represents about 25 per cent of my time in Ghana. Two months is also a good point to look back and reflect on the adventure so far. And what better way to do that than with a bunch of lists?

Things I'm glad I brought from Canada:

SHORTWAVE RADIO: With the exception of malaria medication and my bank cards, I would say a shortwave radio is the most useful thing I packed. As a media junkie without regular access to the internet here, the BBC has become my saviour.

Their World Service programming, especially the African service, is a life and brain saver. The signal is always strong and I can generally tune in at any time of day.

In contrast, I find Radio Canada International a huge disappointment. Its content is aimed not at ex-pats, but towards an international audience eager to find out more about my beloved homeland.

In Ghana, I can pick up RCI nightly at 6 p.m. The four-hour broadcast features one hour in English, one hour in French, an hour in Arabic, and then another hour in French.

The English portion begins with a painfully short newscast written in a breezy educational style: "Edmonton, a city in the Canadian province of Alberta..." Ugh.

PETZL HEADLAMP: A severe energy crunch in Ghana means that rotating power cuts are an everyday fact of life. Where I live, the power is switched off every five days. The blackouts begin shortly after 6 p.m. and continue for about 12 hours. This is called load-shedding and is meant to reduce demand on Ghana's overtaxed hydro infrastructure.

When the lights go out, I slide on my trusty Petzl headlamp, powered by nuclear batteries that never seem to die. I may look like a coal miner, but I'm able to wander around the house without walking into walls. I can also read in a wonderfully quiet environment.

LAPTOP COMPUTER: When there is power, I often use my laptop as a stereo, a DVD player or for a challenging game of solitaire. When there isn't power, I often use my laptop as a stereo, a DVD player or for a challenging game of solitaire until the battery dies (about 17 minutes).


Only one thing here: books.

Fifty pounds sounds like a lot, right? It is, if you're carrying bowling balls up Kilimanjaro. But if you're talking about the stuff you might want for an eight-month visit to Africa, it's nothing.

I found the challenge of staying under my air carrier's laughable 50-pound limit, well, laughable. In my first attempt at packing last January, I purchased a fish scale and hung it from the basement ceiling. It took the strength of ten men to lift my bag up to the hook and, when I let go, I swear the scale screamed in agony just before it blew apart.

Having come so close to death by flying spring, I realized that I would have to leave many things behind. So much for the anvil, the cast iron stove, and, saddest of all, a few dozen books.

But now, two months later, it is the books I regret leaving behind. Luckily, I've found some decent used bookshops in Accra and Cape Coast, and the hunt continues for one in Takoradi.


HAND SANITIZER. Not for some Howard Hughes inspired irrational fear of germs, but the fact that soap is rarely available in washrooms and one often eats with one's hands.

GOOD COFFEE. I thought I'd be tripping over an incredible selection of African coffees: Kenyan, Ethiopian, Ugandan, Tanzanian. Nope. Most shops stock little more than Nescafe, which barely meets the standard definition of coffee. I've found small packs of imported espresso blends, but they're expensive and the grind is too fine for my French press.

In retrospect, I would have gladly left all my socks and underwear behind for a couple of kilos of Continental Blend from Vancouver's Continental Coffee.


Carrying a lot of keys.
Getting bills in the mail. In fact, I don't even get mail.
CNN's lame attempts to fill their schedule with meaningless entertainment "news."


Family and friends.
The Globe and Mail.
The New York Times.
Dependable internet access.
Keith Olbermann.
Drinking tap water from the tap without boiling, adding drops or saying prayers.
Sushi. (Oh, how I miss salmon sashimi at Osaka Sushi in Deep Cove, BC)
Quality wines. Especially a thick Australian Shiraz.
Quality rum.


Belizean hot sauce and a back-up of my music library. Sadly, I lost more than 3,000 songs when my iPod synced iNcorrectly and eRased everything.


My Tilley hat. Yes, I own one. I bought it back in 1993, for my first trip to Europe. I have brought it on most trips since, yet I have never worn it. Why? Because it makes me look like a goof. And even though I know I'll never use it, I still secretly pack it away -- just in case.


Trying to sleep during a power cut. Without a fan to circulate the hot and moist air, sleeping is all but impossible. Even if I were able to drift off, I am too fearful of drowning in a pool of my own sweat to stay asleep for very long. It's not the way I want to go.


The people, the people and the people.


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