Wednesday, October 31, 2007

from the "trick or treat" dept.

I'm heading to Kumasi this morning to work on a series of magazine articles. It's taken a while to get them off the ground, but I think I've finally received clearance. Let's hope.

One of the bonuses about visiting Kumasi is I'll be able to swap tales with Leffler. I also plan to buy a bunch of stuff at the craft market for upcoming gift giving. So much for the surprise!

In other news: I sold this photo to T-Mobile U.S.A. this week. It will be included as a desktop image in this mobile phone model. Cool, eh? A little extra cabbage for me to spend back in Vancouver. And, hopefully, a nice new phone.

And with that... Happy Hallowe'en!


Friday, October 26, 2007

From the "looking the other way" dept.

I'm close enough to a group of white folks in Takoradi's market area to determine they're from an English-speaking nation. Likely Canada. If pressed, I'd say Ontario. North York, maybe?

They're the perfect subjects to test my theory on something that I've noticed happens a lot in Ghana: The obruni snub.

I look over at the group, smile and say hello. They stare, and turn away. Ah ha! I knew it!!

Obruni is the Akan word for "white man" and snub describes what white people do to each other here.

I first noticed the obruni snub back in January. I had just arrived in Ghana and spent my first couple of days exploring the capital, Accra.

You see a fair number of white folks in Accra. And they see you. But you'd never know it.

When two black people pass, they usually greet each other. Same goes for when a white person and a black person pass. But when two white people pass, they tend to look the other way. Obruni snub!

I wasn't even aware of how prevalent it was until I met a reporter from Halifax. He had been travelling around West Africa and our paths happened to cross at a local beach resort.

Over beers one night he explained how other white people constantly snubbed him. They would shoot dirty looks, look through him, or simply look away.

We concluded that it has something to do with the "African experience." White people come to Africa for a lot of reasons. Many come for some magical "pure" experience. As if microwave ovens, shopping malls and horseless carriages don't exist here.

Some foolishly assume that talking to other white people somehow cheapens their three-week-17-country-bus-tour-of-sub-Saharan-Africa experience. Meeting white people isn't why they came. They came to see the real Africa. You know, like lions and shit.

But just because you're in Africa doesn't mean that you have to be a dick.

Saying hello to someone is just polite. You might even find you have something in common (I like the Indigo Girls too!). Or exchange a great travel tidbit (hemp shirts are so comfortable on the plane!).

But many folks won't change. A friend of mine once called these people "little lost souls." They travel the world with this faux idea that wearing a Che shirt is not only cool, but that it will make the world a better place -- unaware that they're financing a sweatshop in Cambodia. Nice going, Chet.

Travelling is about experience. Experiencing the place you're in, the people that live there, and, yes, the people you cross paths with. You don't have to buy them dinner -- but a smile to acknowledge that you're a long way from home doesn't mean you're selling out.

It just means you're being human.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

from the "fame, fortune and romance" dept.

I Made Photo of the Day on Gadling, my favourite travel blog. It's the second time.

To see the image and their blurb, click here.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

From the "food fight" dept.

The battle of the bulge has long been my cross to bear. I've been involved in a serious food fight since I was in grade school. And, as I'm dragged kicking and screaming into middle-age (can't we use another term like youthful maturity?) I find the war on weight is one I am steadily losing by gaining.

Not counting my birth weight, I have, as an adult, weighed as much as 351.5 pounds and as little as 180 pounds. Deep fried foods contributed to the former, cycling to the latter.

As I stubbornly enter the wrinkle years, I am conscious that my weight is once again climbing in proportion to my belly size. There's intelligent design for you.

How did this happen?

It goes all the way back to when I moved to Vancouver a decade ago. At the time, my main form of exercise was cycling. Those two wheels were the reason I dropped all the weight and kept the fat demons at bay.

But I suddenly found myself cycling less. This was not due to laziness but rather the work of a cracked-up thief who snatched my mountain bike whilst my back was turned.

It took some time to find the right replacement and during this period of indecision I began to expand.

Eventually I set myself up with a new rig and all was good. Then I moved to South Vancouver and all was bad. I stopped riding because it took so long to get anywhere cool. It was easier to drive and I racked up a serious debt at the Bank of Carbon Credits. And no small amount of guilt.

But I can't take all the blame. I also have a digit firmly pointed at the CBC. Yes, our national public broadcaster also contributed to my expansion. How? Telecommuting.

At the same time that I was cycling less, I was working from home more. Initially it was great. I'd roll out of bed, throw on a pot of Joe, fire up the computer and start working in the basement office.

Eight hours later I'd drag my arse upstairs, stuff my face and shift into neutral. The justification for this was simple: I had just finished work, I deserved a break.

While my mind was getting a kick-ass workout, my body wasn't. I didn't wander around the workplace because I didn't have a workplace. And I didn't leave the house to go for lunch or a midday stroll. I just went upstairs. The only thing increasing more than my waist size was my productivity.

I soon realized that I had to open the front door start walking -- which I did. But, unfortunately for my gut, I found little of interest to motivate me to explore my neighbourhood for more than about 38 seconds.

In an effort to reverse the unwelcome growth spurt, I would visit my old Commercial Drive neighbourhood and wander around. But even that took some effort, especially on those cold, dark, wet Vancouver winter/spring/summer/fall nights.

Still, I managed to find a balance between caloric intake and expenditure. I wasn't getting fitter, but I wasn't getting fatter either. Or at least, I didn't think I was.

I noticed another increase in girth last December, which also happened to be the same time that I snagged a gig to move to Ghana, West Africa as a journalism trainer.

Perfect, I thought. I'll lose weight in Africa! It'll be easy!!

And so I began worrying less about my intake and more about a second round at the Irish Heather pub. T'was the season to pig out. And I did. Oh, how I did!

Several weeks after bidding adieu to my city, my friends and the Irish Heather, I was in Takoradi, Ghana and ready to shed the excess pounds.

It was the perfect plan: I didn't have a car, so I'd walk more. It was hot as hell, so I'd sweat more. And I certainly wouldn't be tempted by Irish pints or fattening foods.

Nearly 10 months later, I realize that I was sadly mistaken.

My clothes -- even my big, custom-made billowy African shirts -- are tighter. When I walk I feel like Vito Spatafore.

Jumping on a luggage scale last week at the local bus station confirmed my worst fears. I actually gained weight in Africa.

How could this be? Blame the Ghanaian diet.

First: Most dishes are carby. We're talking rice, beans, plantains, yams... you name it. If it's got carbs, it's on the menu. Add fattening sauces and you've got a plateful of trouble.

And the carbs sneak up on you too. Looking around, you'll see that the average Ghanaian woman is slim; the average Ghanaian man is ripped. Logically, if I eat what they eat, should I not also be slim and/or ripped?

Fat chance.

And it doesn't help that the portions here are shockingly big. Think American portions, but on steroids -- sort of like Marion Jones, if she were a plate of rice and beans.

The slim and the ripped dig right in. And then, after coming up for air, they wash it down with 625 ml bottles of beer. When in Rome...

Which brings us to my weight. I'm certainly not at 351.5 pounds again, but neither am I a waify 180.

My biggest concern isn't my health (I'll live forever!), but rather how to lose the extra ballast before I return home in December.

I already have enough 'splainin' to do about my lack of tan and crazed-composer hair. How do I explain getting fat in Africa?


Sunday, October 14, 2007

from the "grab bag" dept.

It is hard to believe, but in less than eight weeks I'll be back in Vancouver and getting ready for ChristMESS merry making. Tick, tick, tick.

Between now and then I have a few things to attend to. The big news is the long-in-coming confirmation of a writing gig. It's a three part magazine series. The theme is "empowering women in Africa" and the focus is on Canadian-funded development projects. Now the tough part: finding them!

The first part is due at the end of October. Parts two and three shortly thereafter. The hard work begins tomorrow. Thank God I have the internet at home.

The project will take me through December 7, when I fly home.

Already my four weeks in Vancouver are already starting come into high demand. Many people are asking if I'm available for work. And I am... sort of.

Here's the issue: There is still no word on the Belize guidebook project. If it comes to pass, I'll be heading down there immediately after New Years. And if that's the case, I probably won't want to work my ass off through the holidaze.

On the other hand, if it falls through, I'm coming back to Africa and a couple of weeks employ in Canadaland will more than cover the plane ticket and a month or three of rent.

We'll see.


Brennan Leffler was in town for the past few days. He's JHR's new journo-trainer in Kumasi and came down to check out Takoradi. We drank beers on the roof, went out for several dinners and yesterday visited Cape Coast castle.

As I've toured the former-slave castle several times previously, I elected to drink beer and watch the rolling surf at a restaurant next door. Is that bad?

We spent Sunday chowing down on fresh fruit before hanging out at the bus station waiting for his bus back to his new home.

I'll likely head up to K-town as soon as I get my research done for the articles. They'll likely involve a trip up north, where many development projects are based. I want to re-visit the market at the cultural centre to load up on Christmas gifts. Then continue on to Tamale.

That's about it for now. It's a quiet Sunday night and time to watch some downloaded goodies. Prison Break, Bill Maher and perhaps my 100th viewing of High Fidelity.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

from the "teeny, weeny post" dept.

I'm alive and well and in Accra. Been spending the last few days meeting and greeting the new JHR peoples. Nice gang of folks, although younger than my group.

Former CTV colleague Brennan Leffler is one of the new faces. We've been hanging out and laughing our asses off. He brought 4 seasons of Family Guy and 51 (?) episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm to entertain me.

On Sunday I'll accompany him and Shawn & Nicole to Kumasi. Nicole is the new JHR person for Tamale and Shawn is her fella. They plan to spend a night in Kumasi before heading north.

I'll hang in Kumasi for a few days and then return to real life in Takoradi. Looks like the big magazine writing gig has evaporated. And no word yet on the Belize guidebook gig.

That's it!