Saturday, April 07, 2007

from the "tales from my road" dept.

Happy Easter!

Or, as I like to call it, battle of the church P.A.s!

I'm back online for a short time only -- sitting at the Nalex interNOT cafe, uploading this, downloading that.

Little headway was made this week in getting dedicated interNOT access. It IS coming, believe me, but not tomorrow. Or the day after that.

As a measuring stuck, the interNOT has been down at work for more than two weeks.

Another typical week... lots of work. But with Easter, things have slowed considerably and I have about 3 days off. Next Friday I have a workshop... and then (I hope) we're finally heading to the refugee camp.

Below is my posing for the JHR website this week... enjoy!


Week of April 6 2007 submission
Doug Murray


I often climb to the roof of my home, a two-story building consisting of three flats and noisy feral kitten named Gato, to relax in the cool evening breeze. It gives me a chance to unwind and survey my neighbourhood of Christian Hills, just outside of Takroadi, Ghana.

The neighbourhood is aptly named. It is hilly and sprinkled with churches. In addition to the requisite pews and altars, each church also owns a nuclear-powered public address system. The immense speaker and amplifier set-ups are used in a "Most Powerful P.A. in Ghana" contest every weekend. The fun begins shortly after 6 a.m., immediately following the "Loudest Preacher" event.

To passers-by, I resemble a large middle-aged white man suspiciously sitting on a roof. More than once, presidential security helicopters have buzzed me in order to get a closer look and assess my threat factor. Usually I don't rate a second pass.

Neighbourhood children react to my presence in two ways. Some will look up, wave and say, "Good evening, my friend." Others will recoil in horror, shrieking, as they turn tail and run for the safety of their mother's arms.

In addition to assorted houses of worship, Christian Hills is also dotted with partially completed homes, mobile phone transmission towers and hydro-electric pylons all set atop a lush carpet of tropical vegetation that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Cutting through the spectacular scenery is a jagged red scar that, upon closer inspection, is actually the main road past my home.

It has a name: The Mapee's Bypass Road, although in the interest of saving letters, let's call it the MBR. It has a purpose: It connects two busy parallel roads that terminate in the centre of Takoradi. And it had a problem: It's in terrible shape.

You see, the MBR is little more than two lanes wide and hideously deformed by the erosion powers of heavy rain. It's as crooked as a Florida mobile home salesman, the colour of lobster bisque, and named for an imported car parts shop (great deals on genuine Opel parts!).

All types of vehicles travel the MBR, from giant MAN lorries to bicycles. Size is usually the determining factor of who gets the right-of-way. A fair number of humans, goats, sheep and assorted poultry use the road as a thoroughfare, grazing ground, toilet and mating area. On the hilly parts, the road looks like an aerial photograph of Mars, deep gullies evidence of intense ancient water flows.

As we'd just entered the rainy season I thought it a good time to ask my neighbours what the MBR was like when mixed with water. Those that didn't run away shrieking for their mothers just laughed.

My biggest worry was navigating the MBR during or after a heavy rain, which, according to local experts, could potentially last several weeks. Like the poultry, I walk to work. Unlike the poultry, I wear shoes and socks and pants, all of which would become mud splattered and not dissimilar to a Jackson Pollock, if he'd designed business casual clothing for a living.

In the short time I have been in Ghana, I have come to know most of the shopkeepers on the MBR between my home and work. They're all quite friendly and we have short, but informative chats whenever I stop by.

Mary, who sells me bread and toilet paper from a wee shack of a shop, painted horrible, apocalyptic images of a wet MBR that seemed drawn from the Book of Revelation. Appropriate, given that this is Easter.

Beer Man, who sells me mostly liquids, just shook his head -- although this may have been more from his genuine concern over the negative health aspects of my daily beer intake.

One morning I was given a hint of what was to come when the heavens unleashed barely a thimble-full of rain. The dusty road was instantly transformed into a chunky red stew garnished with little balls of goat dung. It would not look out of place on the cover of Gourmet magazine.

Thankfully, the sun made short work of the earthen stew. It congealed into something that resembled the Grand Canyon from 30,000 feet.

A few days later the first big rain storm of the season hit. What happened to the MBR was remarkable. From the safety of my rooftop perch, the road looked like a lava flow, sweeping away everything in its path, including fat hens that squawked in confusion as they floated towards town.

The sight of bobbing poultry failed to scare off those behind the wheel. Taxi drivers simply floored it and, without the slightest regard to life and property (nothing new there), somehow made it through the crimson gunk. School bus drivers adopted a more cautious approach only to wind up mired in the slop. Petrified students pressed against the windows, silently praying they wouldn't be asked to get out and push.

It made for great entertainment.

The following day, city officials responded to the transportation nightmare not with gravel and graders but with dirt. Piles and piles of dirt. A seemingly endless line of trucks dumped loads of soil containing a surprisingly high percentage of tree roots. The fill wobbled like Jell-O because the roadbed, thanks to cooking power of the sun, was now the consistency of cake batter.

The dumping of the dirt had the unintended (?) result of blocking half of the road and completely plugging the roadside ditch originally intended to handle runoff.

Neither Beer Man nor Mary were quite sure of what to make of the project.

Beer Man: "There must be a method to their madness."

Mary: "This is hell!"

Another of my entrepreneurial neighbours, Tie-and-Dye Woman, creates colourful fabric using the same technique that the hippies borrowed back in the 60s. She laughed and told me that the actions by city officials were nothing new.

"They've done it before and it only makes things worse," she said before asking if I was interested in seeing some of her latest prints. "Are you familiar with Jackson Pollock?"

Foolishly, I had assumed that large yellow graders would travel the length of the MBR packing the dirt into something resembling a garden or -- best-case scenario -- a road.

But after many days, the piles of dirt are still there, effectively turning the MBR into a one-lane death strip. Pedestrians, goats, sheep and poultry all attempting to travel the road unscathed, performing amazing aerobatics to dodge impatient taxis and overloaded lorries.

Perhaps one day in the future someone will write a book on the mysterious piles of Ghana's Western Region. A more likely scenario is that the excitement of watching vehicular, pedestrian and animal traffic navigate the MBR during the rainy season will draw tourists from far and wide. Enterprising landowners will add bleachers and charge admission. It'll make Lonely Planet as a "don't miss" attraction. Beer Man will make a killing.

Eventually I can see a massive entertainment and retail complex on the spot. Resorts and tourist villages will pop up with names like Sheep River Falls and Lake Poulet, built on man-made lakes featuring church sponsored swamp buggy races. Progress!

Until then, I'll be wearing my Pollocks to work and working to perfect my tuck and roll maneuvers, lest I join the insects on the front of a speeding MAN lorry.


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