Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The flame hit Takoradi and Sekondi yesterday - it was a pretty good day ... lots of people out and lots of good stills.
Today we were supposed to leave for Cape Coast, about an hour away. My 4 a.m. ride became 6 a.m. Then 8, 9, 10, 11 and finally noon.
Of course, things were in full swing by the time I got to Cape Coast. Good luck making a film if this continues.
After the event we were supposed to continue on to a location near Accra. But for some reason we've returned to Takoradi for the night. And we'll leave for Accra at 2 a.m. But based on past performance, I won't set my alarm.
Other than that, things are good. No illness, feel good... and can't wait to spend 5 or more days at the Green Turtle Lodge. Ha!
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Takoradi, Western Region
Is there anything sweeter than home? Whether it be Vancouver, Halifax, Winnipeg or Takoradi, Ghana, home is a wonderful place to be. Especially after a long journey.
After seven hard and very challenging days on the road I am in my own personal utopia: the one I call home. Unfortunately, it is but a blip on the Freedom Flame agenda. We hit the road Monday for six more regional capitals before arriving in Accra for Ghana's golden jubilee. The next break: March 7th. I honestly wonder if these old bones can make it. I don't think I've ever felt so old. However, maybe that's normal because I've never been so old.
We arrived at my home around 9 p.m. Saturday night. Seconds after walking in the door and dumping my bags, I headed straight for the shower to rinse off the hard work and frustrations of the previous week.
Three words best describe how I feel: tired, hungry and dirty.
Due to a lack of internet access, I've had no chance to post my experiences for some time. In addition, so much happens each day that even my rough notes are multiple pages long. Knowing that most people prefer shorter posts, I will attempt to edit for length. What follows, then, is a hodge-podge notes from the past week's events.
Also, I've written this with great speed and little regard to the elements of style and/or the proper use of the English language. And let's not even talk about tense. What follows is the uncut, raw version.
All right, Peabody, let's hop into the wayback machine... in chronological order...
Takoradi, Western Region, Ghana
There is little to write so far as I am now caught up with my reports. It's just before noon as I write this from home. After a cursory spell check and something to eat, I'll make the sweaty journey to SKYY in the hopes of finding working internet access.
I doubt I'll post much more between now and arriving in Accra on March 5th. I'll try!
Takoradi, Western Region, Ghana
More than 12 hours later a blaring television brought me out of a deep and restful sleep. I lay there dismayed that I was covered with bite marks. Something had had a good feed on me and I wasn't sure what. I had burned a mosquito coil in my room and slept under a poorly draped mosquito net.
I've not seen any mosquitoes nor heard any buzzing around at night -- so I think the culprit is something else, like perhaps bedbugs. Ugh.
I rolled out of bed, ripped off the sheets and sprayed down the bed with strawberry-scented Raid. Lord only knows what this is doing to my body, but I think I'd rather an early death than more of ultra-itchy bite marks.
Surprisingly, I wasn't very hungry but I did drink down two pots of coffee (it had been more than a week!) for breakfast.
I spent the rest of the day writing notes, dumping off hundreds of images and relaxing. It was so nice not to have to do anything.
Asamoah called to say that a new event had been added to the itinerary for Sunday. It was located on the border between the Western and Ashanti regions, about four hours away. The new plan was to leave at 4 a.m.
I asked if there was anything special expected -- and it turned out that it would be nothing more than some politicians passing the flame across the border. I told Asamoah to shoot it himself, as I needed more recovery time.
Late Saturday evening I was finally able to eat. Gloria made a massive plate of spaghetti and I wolfed it down along with a litre of peach juice. But I remained exhausted and wasn't able to find the energy to walk to SKYY to (hopefully) go online, post stuff and deal with all the waiting emails.
I crashed early in my poisonous but lovely smelling bed, hoping I wouldn't wake to the sight of another few dozen bite marks. I did wake up several times due to the itching, but by morning it appeared that I didn't make a repeat performance as a buffet for my insect neighbours.
Kumasi, Ashanti Region & Takoradi, Western Region, Ghana
It was the standard morning. Pack. No breakfast, save for some stale bread and some warm bottled water.
The route of the flame through Kumasi was a long one. All the torchbearers stood in the back of a pick-up truck during the slow tour through Ghana's second largest city and financial capital.
It took something like four hours to complete the journey, thanks in part to horrific traffic jams. There are two many cars and not enough roads in Kumasi. To make matters worse, we ended up going the wrong way near the central market, completely bunging up traffic for what seems to be an eternity.
There is a lot of jealousy between Kumasi and Accra, the nation's capital. Several times we heard people yell "Accra at 50," in reference to "Ghana at 50," the catchall term for golden jubilee celebrations.
After the event, we picked up our luggage and stopped for lunch at a small chop bar (small eatery) that Smiley recommended. I was ready to dive into a big bowl of fufu, but as we walked through a back lane, I caught a whiff of an open sewer and I was done for.
I'd been fighting the effects of the heat, the dust, the lack of food and water, the physical demands, the mental demands all week and it had taken it's toll. My stomach was rolling, and the stench of shit did me in. In a valiant effort I was able to choke down a beer and watch the others eat.
I had time to think over how pissed off I was and decided that there was no way I could bail on the project. Although we were not even halfway through, it seemed that by quitting, I would be the one that would lose out.
Plus, a group of us had bonded, and that made it easier to deal with the challenges. We could at least discuss them, and sometimes laugh about them.
We left Kumasi quickly. Smiley was not happy with the slow moving traffic, so he simply drove between the lanes, blaring his horn at oncoming traffic. Because our vehicle flew two large Ghana flags and was plastered with decals, it was like Moses was behind the wheel. Traffic simply parted, allowing us to proceed at a remarkable speed.
Apparently a couple of flags and decals are all you need to break every traffic law on the books.
In addition we learned that we could blow through police checkpoints and tollgates at speed by simply yelling "Ghana at 50!"
It took more than four hours to reach our next stop, which was also my home, Takoradi. Our incredible journey was about to take a short break. We would have a day or two in Takoradi to relax and renew before the next event. Thank God.
My hopes of getting home early were dashed when the organizers made a last minute stop at the Western Region ministry for a meet and greet and to work out some details. About an hour later, and just before 9 p.m. we pulled up in front of my home. Both Grace and Kweku were out.
I pulled my stuff into the house, bid the group farewell (they were staying on the ministry compound) and hit the sack.
Sunyani, Brong-Ahafo Region, Ghana
It's funny how my posts are getting shorter as the journey goes on. But each day is becoming almost a carbon copy of the day previous.
The three of us rose from bed around 6. Smiley took off to do some non-driver related tasks like filling the torches with kerosene. We've such a small crew that everyone is doing everything. It's the only way to keep the things from flying off the tracks.
The clothes that I had hung up to dry the night before were damp, but dry enough to wear. In fact, a damp shirt first thing in the morning is quite pleasant in such a hot climate. I'll file this away as a trick to beat the heat when the hot season (!) hits in Takoradi.
As per usual there was no opportunity to get breakfast, but I giggled happily as I wolfed down my loaf of bread and bottle of "Doug-safe" water.
The Flame event started on the outskirts of town and followed a route though screaming school children and flag waving bystanders. Asamoah and I were shooting less material, simply because so much of it was the same. Instead he concentrated on clipping people about freedom and I looked for images that were specific to Sunyani.
After a couple hours of patriotism, we left the good people of Sunyani behind and headed south to Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti Region.
There was more bickering in the car, I ate more rice, and a few hours later we were sitting in the parking lot of the regional ministry. And sitting. And sitting. And sitting.
This was the single worst experience of the trip, and one that nearly caused me to pull out.
As the organizers were inside arranging things with the ministry we waited in the parking lot. We had little food, little water, and there were no shops close by. We hesitated to take off as we kept thinking the never-ending meeting would soon come to an end.
A couple I know from Canada are living in Kumasi, and I kept calling to say I would be able to meet up with them soon.
After about six hours -- NO SHIT! -- we were finally on our way to our home for the night. If sitting in the parking lot for six hours was bad, the accommodation was worse.
It was some sort of student guesthouse with two tiny beds to two tiny rooms. No fans. No power outlets. And a shared bathroom with nine other rooms on the floor. Reservations were required to have a shower in the morning.
Enough was enough. While the journey to this point had been tough physically and mentally, at least the good still outweighed the bad. But not any more.
I was completely fed up, ready to pay for my own hotel (despite knowing this would be a bad precedent).
We headed back to the ministry where the organizers were and I told them that the accommodations, especially in light of the sacrifices we all had made during the week, were simply unacceptable.
After more waiting in the parking lot, alternative accommodations were arranged. They were better -- I had my own bed, a single bulb connected to stable power and believe it or not, a working air conditioner and a functioning shower.
Still, I was ready to pull the pin. The bad was now outweighing the good.
I went to bed without dinner, completely pissed off. A few hours later I was brought out a deep sleep by a knock at the door. Some of the team had gone for a midnight snack and brought some food back. I declined, rolled over, and went back to the previously scheduled second feature at eyelid theatre.
Tamale, Northern Region, Ghana
As each day passes my reports get smaller. This is primarily because the days seem to be the same. Wake up tired. Rush around to get ready for the next event. Pack. Miss breakfast. Try to find water.
Team two was already gone by the time I climbed out of bed. They were off to Sunyani for more advance work.
The rest of us loaded the truck, refilled the torches and prepared for the big event.
Around 10 a.m. we arrived at the dusty Police Park near the centre of town. After a series of speeches, the flame was once again off. This time I walked the entire route, sweating off the pounds while I captured some great images.
Asamoah shot video but wondered why I was shooting so many stills. After explaining how we were going to use them (like in a Ken Burns documentary) he understood the importance of what I was doing.
It struck me that this entire adventure will not only make a great documentary for local television, but I should be able to spin something off for radio and print back home. A little extra income would go a long way.
It was a long drive over good roads to Sunyani, the capital of Brong-Ahafo district. One disconcerting part of the journey was the large number of wrecked cars along the side of the road. The worst example was a tipped-over transport on one side of the road and the burned out remains of a car on the other. Whatever happened, it was not good.
Another feature in this part of the country was the number of ant mounds that towered several meters high. Very National Geographic.
The round homes that we'd seen a lot of up north slowly gave way to square buildings made from mud bricks. As we left the dusty and dry flatlands behind, we found ourselves surrounded by green rolling hills and familiar flora and fauna.
Inside our vehicle things were not only uncomfortable because of the cramped conditions, there was lots of stress between the organizers. Once again my lack of Fanti prevented me from understanding exactly what the problems were, and maybe I was better off not knowing. There is more to discuss, but I will leave that until after the event is over.
I knew nothing about Sunyani and was surprised to find it a good-sized burgh. It was quiet and orderly, with most of the main roads divided by broad medians. The people were friendly and I heard few shouts of "obruni."
Our hotel was located on the edge of town, but was very nice. But with the good, there is always some bad.
My clothes at this point were smelly and covered with dirt from all the dusty roads and parade grounds. I desperately needed to do a wash, but when I turned the tap in the bathroom out came a mere trickle.
I filled the handy bucket that was in the shower stall and began a two-hour attempt to wash my soiled clothes. I had a bit of liquid laundry detergent with me that I supplemented with a bar of hand soap. I scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed and rinsed. I was shocked at how dirty the water was, even after a second scrub and rinse.
The next issue, of course, was how to dry everything overnight. Again, a challenge. There were plenty of windows to hang my clothes from, however there was a large outdoor party going on next door. I decided to put up with the over-modulated music in the hopes that I would at least have damp pants in the morning. Failing that, I'd be wearing my swimming shorts.
I had also hoped to charge up the batteries for the various electronic devices. But even that was a problem. The power slowly rose and fell -- sometimes enough to power the lights and ceiling fan, sometimes not. This kind of power is murder on electronic devices. It is so bad, that I travel with a special surge/low-power protection unit. When the power gets nasty, it halts the flow before electronics can get fried. More weight to lug around, but certainly worth it.
I plugged in the video camera and hoped for the best. But the protector immediately switched to safety mode, stopping the flow of dirty power. I crossed my fingers and headed out for a nice dinner of street food -- rice and chicken, my staple. I also bought some bread and a bottle of water for the next morning.
Back from dinner I was happy to see that the power had stabilized enough to at least partially charge the video camera's battery. When fully charged, it can easily handle a full day of shooting. I hoped the partial charge would be enough to get through the following day.
After a trickle shower, I jumped into bed - one that I was sharing with Asamoah and Smiley. That's right: we were now sleeping three to a bed! What a treat!
Bolgatanga, Upper East Region, Ghana
In the morning we were informed of the bad news. The damage to the other vehicle was so serious that parts had to be shipped in from Accra. So the first thing on the agenda was securing a new vehicle.
Next on the list was determining what to due about a lack of media coverage of the flame. I have no idea of what kind of press releases went out originally, but I bet the change of dates may have had something to do with the lack it.
It was decided that a team of advance people would leave for Tamale. This was good for the flame, bad for us. It meant that we now had 7 people stuffed into our vehicle -- three in the front and four in the back. And that was in addition to all the luggage and torches (there are several) and kerosene. The mixture of fuel and sweat added to the sensory overload of the trip.
There was no time for breakfast, although I was getting somewhat used to eating once a day.
The plan for Bolga was somewhat different that for what we had seen in Wa. The event would open with speeches and then a cross section of citizenry would run with the flame through town. As an added bonus, we had a pick up truck at our disposal to use as a moving camera platform.
The event took on epic proportions in Bolga.
As the flame was carried through the town by a series of runners, thousands and thousands of schoolchildren lined the route or chased after us.
Both Asamoah and I lept in and out of the truck to get better angles of the excitement. Asamoah concentrated on the video while I concentrated on stills. As the camera truck was the lead vehicle, it struck me that a white man (me) was a the head of a procession marking independence and the end of colonial rule.
It was stifling hot, and my ancient bones struggled to keep up. But the excitement we generated in Bolga was incredible. Despite the challenges of the trip, I found the experience to be more than worth it.
There was little time to rest, eat or drink fluids. We had to hit the road again, destination Tamale.
The driving would be less torturous as the remaining regional capitals were a little closer together and connected by decent paved roads.
After about two hours we arrived back in Tamale. I called Kat and Sam, arranging to meet up for dinner at the Gariba Hotel later in the evening.
We sat in the parking lot of the Regional Ministry as the organizers made their arrangements. I killed time by talking to people back home and twiddling my thumbs.
We were shown to our accommodation for the night. I was rewarded with my own bed, but the residence was a bit of a dump. There was no light in the bathroom, the toilet didn't function and in place of an actual shower was a broken tap from which flowed an icy trickle of water at knee height. Perfect!
A lack of lights throughout the residence was likely a blessing as it hid any six- and eight-legged creatures from view.
One of the biggest problems on the trip for me was water. I was unable to drink any of the tap water for fear of getting sick, and I had no way of treating it. Worse, most of the time we slept in locations so far off the beaten path that there wasn't even the possibility of walking to a shop for a bottle. It didn't take long to start planning ahead and buying water and bread when I got the chance.
It was getting late by the time we were settled and the arrangements for the next day were made. Smiley drove me across town to the hotel where Kat and Sam were waiting.
We had another wonderful chat about our experiences. Both of them loved living in Tamale. They found the weather hot but bearable. They both were doing home stays at the same place. And, as mentioned previously, both owned motorcycles.
From my short experience in Tamale, I was quite jealous. Takoradi is ok, but sometimes it feels like a mini-Accra. Too noisy, too busy and too difficult to explore without wheels. Tamale is calm, friendly and comfortable. If I decided to spend a second term here in Ghana, I just may head north to Tamale.
Sam bought my dinner and drinks and we said our goodbyes. It was so nice connecting with people from home going through the same experiences. I can't wait to get back up north again.
Kat and Sam left me in the hotel's business office where I connected my laptop to the outside world. It was only the second chance I have had to go online while on the road. It took some time to read through the hundreds of emails that were waiting for me.
It was close to midnight before I packed up the laptop, exhausted. I asked the hotel security man to fetch me a taxi.
After another long drive across town, I arrived at the gates of the residence. A raspy voiced security man refused to allow the taxi to continue any further. I'm not sure why this is, but it is common to see signs that forbid taxis to enter certain properties.
I paid the cabbie 30,000 cedis, shot raspy-voiced man a foul look, and proceeded to hike what felt like 20 miles through a tangle of dorms in search of the right one. After about 20 minutes and a couple of wrong turns, I discovered my home for the night.
I slid into bed and listened to the six- and eight-legged creatures scuttle around in the darkness. I closed my eyes....
Wa, Upper West Region, Ghana
It was not a good start... we joined up with the other members of the team. There was considerable discussion, much of it heated, about the day's agenda.
Eventually we were off, bound for a parade ground in the middle of Wa. I was armed with my tiny little video camera, shotgun microphone, digital audio recorder and digital SLR camera plus three lenses.
The original program called for Ghana's president, John Kufuor, to speak. But, as the original program was actually a shortened version of an even earlier original program, the president was unable to attend. Instead, the regional minister and a string of political and religious figures were on hand and addressed dozens of official types and hundreds of school children.
After a series of speeches there was a traditional blessing in the form of a libations, followed by some excellent drumming and traditional dance.
The large cement arms clutching a cauldron were then lit, and the regional minister took the freedom flame torch -- a three-foot length of bamboo painted with the colours of Ghana's flag -- and lit it from the cauldron.
Unbeknownst to Asamoah and me, the regional minister dashed off, torch held high. I yelled at Asamoah to grab our tripod and other gear that we had left near the podium. I grabbed the video camera and ran after the regional minister but was soon caught up in a sea of excited children. I could not keep up.
I turned around, and swam upstream against the school of children towards the parade ground. It was there that I discovered something terrible had happened.
First, my camera bag had been trampled and the protective filter of one of my lenses was smashed. Second, my digital audio recorder that had been on the podium was nowhere to be seen.
I freaked. Poor Asamoah felt helpless. He had done the best he could, but in his eagerness to rescue the tripod and microphone, he lost sight of the other items.
A few panicked minutes later, Asamoah discovered that the PR man for the regional minister had grabbed the recorder. I still don't know if he was being kind or thought it was some kind of a gift.
I decided to worry about the smashed lens later -- it was more important to try and catch up with the flame. We were both pissed that we were left behind. We walked around for more than an hour and despite asking bystanders where the torch went, we were unable to find it.
The two of us were frustrated, hot, thirsty and above all pissed that we were left behind. How the hell would be able to cover this event if we were left standing at the side of the road?
We met up with the rest of the group and expressed our displeasure at being left behind. It was all blamed on a communication breakdown, but in reality, it was also a lack of planning.
Back at our residence I was fuming as a police brass band played jazz and drank beer. Nearby, a group of politicians was sitting in an air-conditioned room enjoying the liquid gifts we had brought with us from Accra. Once it was gone, so were they. This isn't meant to be a criticism -- it's the same everywhere -- from Wa to Winnipeg.
The next destination on our itinerary, Bolgatanga, is the capital of the Upper East Region. Like the previous night, we left late. The road to Bolga, as it's called, was even worse than the road to Wa.
Not only was it in terrible shape, it traversed some of the most barren and remote land in the country.
We left during daylight hours, which afforded the opportunity to actually see the barrenness and remoteness. We saw few vehicles and even fewer gas stations. There was no cell phone service and the few villages we passed had no power and little to connect them to the outside world.
Most of the land near the villages was burnt. Bags of charcoal were piled along side the road, for sale to the few people who passed by. Another feature I noticed were small mounds everywhere. Smiley told me that these were actually fields of yams.
At one village, so small that we were unable to determine it's name, the local residents were not only unaware of the Freedom Flame or Ghana at 50 celebrations, they weren't even sure when Ghana became independent.
Communication was difficult as the residents spoke a northern traditional language that had few similarities to the Fanti and Twi that my traveling partners were fluent in.
We took lots of pictures, shot some video and waved Ghana's flag. It was an amazing moment, and more of what the tour should be about: local people celebrating 50 years of independence and what is now a free nation. Like every country, Ghana has its problems, but it is a rarity in Africa. And that certainly deserves to be celebrated.
Night was falling by the time we hit the road again. Our convoy of two vehicles sped along at a good clip down the red sandy road. We were in the second Land Yacht and kept back from the first due to the clouds of dust. When we got to close, our visibility dropped to the equivalent of minestrone.
Outside the town of Navarongo, which lies just a few kilometres south of the Burkina-Faso border and about 30 km from Bolga, the lead vehicle sputtered to a stop. Smoke poured from under the rear of the vehicle. The smell of burning oil filled the air.
The problem was serious. The motor ran fine, but when the Land Yacht was put into gear it stayed motionless as the driver revved the engine.
A few people gathered to see what was going on as we tried to figure out what to do. We had mobile phone service and were able to arrange help to meet us in Navarongo. But our vehicle would have to tow the stricken vehicle to town.
We didn't have a towrope, but with the help of my penknife, we cut one of the seat belts from the dead Toyota and tied the two vehicles together.
We averaged about 20 km/h as we covered the 10 kilometres that separated us from help. It was a good thing that the breakdown occurred where it did, rather in the middle of nowhere with no mobile service. We likely would have spent the night in boonies waiting for help.
When we reached Navarongo, we stopped near a major intersection in the northern part of town. As we waited for help and the organizers figured out what to do, a number of people gathered, wondering what this Freedom Flame thing was all about.
Soon, several people were asking if they could hold the torch. Since we were going to be here for a while, we thought, "what the hell!"
The burning torch attracted more people and soon an impromptu nighttime torch run was making its way through town. It was another great moment and showed the true spirit of the Freedom Flame: bringing all Ghanaians together to celebrate their freedom.
We had to leave the dead vehicle where it was for the night. It would be towed to Bolga the next day. The luggage, torches and promotional goodies were loaded in a truck sent from the regional ministry in Bolga. After a couple of hours we were on our way again.
A short time later we were settling into our remote ministerial residence for another abbreviated night of sleep.
Kumasi, Ashanti Region, Ghana
"Jesus Christ," I screamed.
"Jesus Christ," echoed a fat southern preacher the tiny television in my room.
It was around 7:30 in the morning and Asamoah was up and bored. He had flicked on the God channel and filled the room with over-modulated fire and brimstone.
I was not amused.
Before I could think of something more than four letters long to say, there was a knock at the door.
It was one of the organizers. They were going to drop of press kits at a number of Kumasi's media houses. George asked if we would like to come. Asamoah volunteered as I lunged to turn off the TV.
I lay in bed and enjoyed the quiet for a few minutes before deciding to have a shower. Although my clothes were clean, I was still covered in the soil of a nation.
I climbed into the shower stall, grabbed the telephone showerhead and cranked the tap. Happily, there was water, though it was just a trickle. My heart sunk as I raised the showerhead above me. The water stopped flowing. There wasn't enough pressure to send it higher than about four feet above the floor.
After my less than relaxing shower, my stomach reminded me that I was hungry. Despite the increase in exercise and reduced food intake, I was disappointed to find my pants were not falling off me. In fact, they seemed tighter.
I put on a damp shirt and waited.
A short time later my shirt was dry and the organizers and Asamoah had returned from their media blitz. We loaded up the Land Yacht and pointed north towards Wa, capital of the Upper West Region.
It was early and we foolishly though that we'd be able to make the several hundred kilometres to Wa before sundown.
In Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region we planned to meet up with our second vehicle, its crew and the concrete arms.
When we pulled up at the pre-arranged meeting point we learned the tragic news: the concrete arms were broken. We would have to remain in Tamale until they were fixed.
Luckily, I knew two JHR folks living in Tamale. As I had had no face-to-face contact with my JHR colleagues since arriving in Ghana, I was giggling like a schoolgirl at the thought of having a debrief with someone going through the same experiences.
Katerine and Sam (a woman) work at two different radio stations in Tamale. Their job is the same as mine: to train journalists. Sam was busy, but Kat was able to meet me on the patio of the comfortable, if expensive, Gariba Lodge.
Kat and I chatted for hours over food (rice, chicken) and beer (Star). It was such a wonderful experience to have a brain dump with someone going through the same challenges.
Tamale, Kat told me, was a great place. Brutally hot, yes, but dry. And very quiet and relaxed.
We discussed the trials and tribulations of working in a foreign land and found that we shared many of the same things. Both Kat and Sam bought motorcycles in order to get around more easily. And while Tamale is a town that, unlike Takoradi, is filled with motorcycles and bicycles (there are traffic lights for the bike lanes here, just like in Europe), I too think that buying a motorcycle is a good idea.
The one thing about Tamale is that it's hot. But it is also dry. So dry, in fact, that I don't sweat. Which is odd. I'm not sure how it can be 10C hotter than in Takoradi, where I sweat more water than goes over Niagara Falls in a day -- yet I remain dry. I think I live in the wrong place.
After dinner and drinks Kat and I headed to Gariba's office facilities where I was able to plug in my laptop and upload the pictures that you saw last week. It was nice to not only use my laptop but also experience the wonders of a fast connection.
Around 9 p.m. our driver, Smiley, came to pick me up. We headed back to the yard where the arms were now whole and setting. This was a good sign.
Around 10 we hit the road north to Wa, capital of the Upper West Region. As I've briefly posted previously, the roads up north are not great. And at night, they are difficult to see: red sandy ribbons bordered by red sand.
The road, an international highway, was little more than a goat track filled with poorly balanced and overloaded trucks making their way to and from Burkina-Faso.
Poor Smiley. Around midnight he was driving through the back of beyond, in the company of sleeping passengers. If not for mental power required to follow the road and avoid the crushing death of a 1960's MAN transport headed to Ouagabougou, Smiley surely would have joined us.
I think we passed through Mole National Park, but as it was so dark it could have been Disneyland after dark.
Every once in a while we passed a small village. We knew this to be the case because we could see the flames from kerosene lamps and because there were makeshift barriers placed across the road.
I'm not sure why these were there, other than to collect unofficial taxes from truckers driving to/from Burkina-Faso in their overloaded MAN truck -- but we simply blew through them, scaring the crap out of the young kids sleeping nearby.
It was 2 a.m. by the time we pulled into Wa. We were lucky to have survived and more importantly, we were lucky to have a place to sleep.
In each region of Ghana, the government keeps a large compound for the regional minister's home and office. There is also a residence for visitors.
I shared a room with Asamoah, Smiley and, once the lights were out, a few million bugs. Misery loves company, I guess.
Somewhere in Accra, Ghana
I learned a new lesson today at the University of Africa: the concept of African time. It is really no different than Belize time, something with which I have much experience.
The story picks up from my previous post this morning. Asamoah and I were informed that we would be fetched from our overpriced Accra "hotel" around 9 a.m. We decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to grab a quick breakfast first.
It was 9:15 by the time my eggs, toast and Nescafe arrived. Asamoah's rice and chicken arrived at 9:23 -- precisely the same time as our ride. I wolfed my food down; Asamoah had his packaged to go.
We loaded up the car, barely squeezing our luggage into the trunk and five of us (three people were apparently needed to fetch Asamoah and me) into the passenger compartment. The weight was too much for the ancient Opel. The suspension bottomed out and the rear tires squealed as they rubbed against the undercarriage.
We sped down Accra's expressways towards the Freedom Flame office. The noises from under the car worried me. It felt like it was going to fall apart or burst into flames. If our car didn't do us in, surely the crazed Saturday morning drivers would. In a short frame of time we had many close calls.
I've become so acclimatized to living in Ghana that it didn't surprise me that there was no power -- and no air conditioning -- when we walked into the blast furnace otherwise known as an office.
We were under the impression that we would be heading out shortly. As it turned out, it was time for more practice in the concept of elastic time concept. We'll leave when we leave. (h/t to Bob Geldof for this description)
We were greeted and asked to have a seat. It turned out that the Land Cruiser that would be taking us around the country was an hour away in Winneba getting decaled with sponsors logos. "It should be done by 11 a.m.," one of the organizers said.
For a short time someone singing outside the window serenaded us. A few tunes later a radio was brought out to entertain us.
The radio was in the shape of a white cat, preparing to pounce on some unlucky prey. It had knobs along one side, speaker holes in its belly and an antenna in place of a tail.
The cat radio had another feature: it was a flashlight, with the bulb precisely located in the approximate area of the cat's ass. How inventive!
We listened to the BBC on the cat with the light-for-an-arse-radio until we were weakened by hunger. A light-bulb-in-the-cat's-ass-radio can only entertain for so long.
It was noon by the time Asamoah and I decided to exit the sauna of an office in an attempt to find food. A tiny street vendor opposite the office sold loaves of bread and sachet water (water in a plastic bag). A good start, but hardly what we were looking for.
We finally found overpriced rice and chicken a few blocks away. After a couple of meals, hotel and transportation my personal tab for this adventure that hadn't even started was already at more than 1,000,000 cedis. That's in excess of a $100.
When we returned to the office, there was much discussion about money (none) and the route (changed). None of this involved Asamoah or me, so I tuned it out. Much of the discussions were in Fanti, which I couldn't understand anyway.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon we heard a vehicle pull up out front. I'd long since given up on ever starting the adventure and assumed this was the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Nope. It was our driver in a big Toyota Land Yacht containing a large and heavy cement bust of arms breaking free from the shackles of colonialism. The hands clutch a torch that will be lit at the start and end of the Freedom Flame's journey.
The cement sculpture took up most of the Toyota's cargo space. This presented a small problem, as we had to load five people, tons of promotional gak and boxes of booze into the vehicle.
Much of the promotional gak (t-shirts and caps) and booze was destined for regional politicos and chiefs. And there was a lot of it.
This began the next delay. And we waited in the powerless office for a solution to be found.
After another eternity, Asamoah and I headed towards the nearby beach. The filthy swine, hungry goats and garbage detracted from the seaside beauty -- but the air was still fresh, cool and salty.
Back at the office, the power had come on. When we arrived, we discovered that the organizers had all sorts of new duties for us: mainly that I, along with my $250 video camera, would be the pool camera of the event.
I mentioned that my camera operated on a North American standard and that all footage would have to be converted first. Suddenly I was no longer the pool camera.
There was good news, too: the concrete bust had been loaded in a second Land Yacht and sent north. We would meet in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region.
As the clock ticked past six we finally began our journey. We made quick time out of the driveway and down the street until we hit the thick traffic of Accra. It took at least an hour to leave the grip of the sprawling metropolis.
It was a surreal scene: there were no streetlights, but thousands of hawkers along the side of the road were backlit by oncoming headlights. It was as beautiful as it was dangerous.
We headed north, on a highway clogged with slow moving and safety-impaired big rigs coming from and heading to Burkina-Faso.
Our driver was aggressive in trying to make up for the daylong delay. My knuckles were white as he passed on hills and curves. I was a prayer away from becoming born again.
The highway was not good. In many places it was filled with holes. And in the places it wasn't filled with holes, it was under construction.
Around 9 p.m. we stopped at a roadside diner for dinner. It was good, if expensive. But the organizers paid for it. A welcome relief after my hemorrhaging of cash the day before.
Back on the road and headed north, I sat crammed in the back with two others. Tired of my visions of oncoming death, I tried to sleep. This worked for a few minutes until I awoke from either neck pain or a headache from my noggin bouncing on the window.
Around midnight I awoke to the sight of banks. In every direction a bank. I discovered we had arrived in Kumasi, the financial heart of Ghana.
Our mission: to find a room for the night. The organizers left our Land Yacht and set off on foot in search of a place to sleep. After several attempts, they returned with bad news. There were no rooms at the various inns.
We drove around town in search of somewhere, anywhere, to crash. Eventually we found a guesthouse. Asamoah and I shared a room while the others slept on couches in the lobby.
I stayed up late washing the clothes I'd been wearing all day. The wash water turned an unbelievable dark shade of brown.
After scrubbing the night away I discovered I was too tired for a shower. It was time to hit the sack.
I struggled with my mosquito net and after it became caught up in the ceiling fan, I decided a better option was to spray myself with chemicals and fall into a deep DEET induced sleep.
The adventure of a lifetime had begun!
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
Day 2 of the Freedom Flame... finally reaching Bolgatanga, in the Upper East Region. Many more images on Flickr (click the image to go there). Scroll down for more images and a brief posting.
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
Some kids hitch a lift on my pick-up truck camera platform. The irony of being a white man in the Freedom Flame procession was not lost on me. Especially when my vehicle was the first one. An odd moment in Bolgatanga.
We're back in Tamale after lightning visits to Wa (capital of the Upper West Region) and Bolgatanga (capital of the Upper East Region).
The Freedom Flame project is going a little smoother now, and certainly I am enjoying the chance to see the remotest areas of Ghana -- and shoot a ton of stills with the D70.
We're in Tamale for one night only then off to Sunyani tomorrow. Kumasi the following day. And home to Takoradi before heading to the southeastern part of the country.
I'm writing a journal of the experiences of the last few days and will post that this weekend, time permitting.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
I arrived earlier this afternoon after a 5 hour drive from Kumasi. We arrived in Kumasi last night after a long drive from Accra. The highlight of the journey so far: the drive. The lowlight: the drive.
I've connected with Kat, one of my fellow JHR folks living here in Tamale. How nice to share experiences with someone who gets it. We each had a delicious plate of spaghetti and now we're in the internet cafe at a local hotel.
The rest of the crew are off doing something. Likely waiting to go somewhere, while I am here enjoying the calm before the storm.
All is good. The hard work begins Monday. And I'll post a long winded story of the last few days when I get a chance.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Upon returning to my room, I decided to indulge in the luxury of a cold shower (are there any other kind?). Pulling back the shower curtain revealed a truly horrible sight: a pail of water hiding in the stall. I summoned up my courage, stepped over the pail, and reached for the tap. I held my breath. The pipes issued a painful squeal and then, miraculously, a trickle of water. There wasn't much pressure, but at least there was water. Phew!
After toweling off, but before I began sweating again, I surfed through the two working channels on my TV. Not that it mattered -- the TV was mounted so high on the wall that the only clear sight line was achieved by standing in the far corner of the room, my arse half out the window. My apologies to Greater Accra for that.
Within moments I was ready for sleep. The ceiling fan worked its magic, cooling the air temperature to broil. Clad in a t-shirt and encased in a poorly hung mosquito net, I prepared for 5 hours of delicious eyelid theatre.
I slowly eased into dreamland as, somewhere down the hall, a TV preacher blared. A lullaby of Satan, fear and requests for more donations of loot. I was tempted to call in and pledge a goat or empty bottle of Star beer.
Speaking of religion: I'm a little ticked at the Christian missionaries these days. We have a church near our home in Takoradi that shows recordings of big time preachers on a massive screen in their parking lot. Several nights a week the pounding voices of American preachers fill the night air. Worse, they own a generator for nights when there are power cuts. It is beyond loud and impossible to escape. They certainly haven't won me or my heathen neighbours over. A pox on them!
My alarm went off at the rude hour of 5 a.m. The organizers of the Freedom Flame had told us to be ready for 6:30 and I wanted to make sure I had time for another shower and hopefully some breakfast.
The alarm went off again at 5:15. I was determined to get up and get going.
The phone rang at 5:30. It was Asamoah wondering if I was up yet.
At 5:31 I discovered why there was a bucket of water in my shower stall: no water! After a disappointing splash-splash-splash-sploosh shower, I was set for another day of adventure and fun.
I went next door around 6 to chat with Asamoah and to call the organizers of the Flame. We were informed that we would not be leaving at 6:30 as per the original plan but probably closer to noon. Ah, Africa time!
On the surface, this was good news. More time to relax. Perhaps sleep a bit more. And, if the water returned, maybe have a real shower.
I noticed Asamoah had an iron. I borrowed it with the thought of trying to coax some of the wrinkles out of my shirts. Most of the time ironing is not really required because the combination of heat, humidity and sweat tend to magically, if aromatically, chase wrinkles away. But I have one shirt that looks more like a relief map of the Rocky Mountains.
There was no ironing board in the room, but I've learned to make due with what is at hand. In this case, my bed. I filled the iron with water, plugged it in, and discovered too late that this was a bad idea.
It turns out that the moment the iron touches fabric, it releases its entire reservoir of water. My dry, wrinkly shirt was now a wet, wrinkly shirt. Worse, my bed now had a large and embarrassing wet spot in the middle. How to explain that?
I wanted to give my gear a quick check to see if it was working. The video camera was fully charged and appeared to record and playback fine. Excellent.
My D70 SLR (aka The Good Camera) was still in one piece. I pointed it at the bed for a "places I have slept" shot, but a moment after the shutter released, the camera locked up and returned an error message on the digital readout.
Good thing I left the manual back in Canada to save weight!
I switched it off, pressed the shutter release again and the mirror inside was released. I tried again and again and again. Same thing every time. The shutter would release but the mirror would jam.
It wasn't until I swapped lenses that I noticed that the lens would not lock in place. Then the camera suddenly appeared to be functioning normally. After trying a third lens I discovered that this was the problem -- I had to ensure the lens was rotated to the correct position on the camera body. It was likely a contact issue.
Still, I wondered why the lens would not lock in place. Upon closer examination I discovered that a little pin on the camera, one that is instrumental in making all this technology work, was stuck. I gently poked at it until popped out.
I attached a lens and it locked. I pointed the camera at the wall and took a shot. It worked. I looked at the image in playback mode and it seemed crisp and properly exposed. I tried to recreate the problem, but was unable to.
I'm not sure what caused the pin to jam, but I'll be very careful with the camera over the next few weeks. I plan to supplement the video we shoot of the Flame with still images and it would have been a real disappointment if the good camera packs it in. Especially since I no longer have my point-and-shoot camera as a back up.
It's now 8 a.m. and we've just had a call that we'll picked up at 9 a.m. We'll see!
Friday, February 16, 2007
By Thursday things seemed to have come together, but we were unable to hit the road as planned due to... problems. Nothing major, but there were a few little things that had to be inked first.
By the end of the day we had the green light. Everyone was on the same page. And the plan was to take the bus or possibly fly to Accra. By air force jet, the flight is a scant 45 minutes. By bus, about 4 hours.
Lower your expectations.
However, by dinnertime Thursday it was apparent that we would have to take the bus. Trouble was, we weren't able to buy an advance ticket as the STC bus office closed at 6.
Asamoah, bless him, offered to hit the STC office on his way to work in the morning. At around 6 he secured two tickets for the 11:30 a.m. air conditioned comfo-rama coach to Accra. It was coming together.
I spent the morning packing things and charging batteries. I was unable to do that overnight as we were again subjected to yet another rotating power outage. It's more than just no lights. It means a night of sweating and not sleeping due to the lack of a ceiling fan. The 12-hour power outages aren't that common, but when they hit, well, it sucks.
Thank God I bought one of those Petzl coal miner's type lamps. When I dropped $35 on one at Mountain Equipment Co-op, I thought it was something I would never use. Ha! It is the one thing I would highly recommend to anyone travelling anywhere. It's so nice to be able to walk around with your forehead lighting the way. It's even nicer to be able to read as you swelter in the unbearably humid and still night air. And the batteries last forever, despite the sweat induced shorts.
I had a traditional breakfast of Corn Flakes and UHT milk and a bodum full of fine coffee before heading into work around 10 a.m.
I wanted to use the interNOT one last time before leaving. I managed to download all 52 new emails. 48 were spam, junk or CNN Breaking News Alerts (Face of Jesus found on Teen Burger).
At 10:30, Asamoah and I hopped into the Skyy vehicle and Kojo drove us to my place to pick up all the gear. After that we headed to the STC bus station in plenty of time to catch the 11:30 to Accra.
Lower your expectations.
At 11:40 a.m. we were informed that there were problems with our air-conditioned pimped out bus-a-topia. It was, in fact, not working. A back up would be brought into service and because it was a lower class of bus (broken air con, non-functioning toilet) we had to get new tickets issued so we could get a refund of a few thousand cedis.
Upon hearing the refund announcement, everyone raced to the only ticket window. Luckily, Asamoah is small and nimble and was able to break through the crowds and secure our refund.
At 12:30 p.m. the replacement bus chugged up, belching a black death that enveloped anyone unfortunate enough to be outside. Ten minutes later we were crammed on the lower class bus and heading east to Accra.
About an hour later we pulled into STC depot the seaside town of Cape Coast. The oil company GOIL (I always chuckle when I say that... I like GOILs) shares a large lot with the bus station, a restaurant and a bar where the music is cranked to "over modulate."
As the bus came to a stop, the driver informed us that there were problems with our second-class chariot, though he would endeavour to fix them. Asamoah and I headed into the restaurant for a plate of rice and chicken and a bottle of Star lager.
After about half an hour, Asamoah wandered outside to see how McGyver was coming along with his stick of gum and rubber band repairs. He wasn't.
We were told that another bus -- the third -- would be dispatched from Takoradi to collect us in about an hour. Luckily the Over Modulation Bar was open for business. I grabbed the Daily Graphic newspaper, headed for a big umbrella and ordered another Star. There's always a silver lining.
After two Stars, our replacement bus arrived. It appeared to be a Soviet model from the mid-60's. We were lucky to have legroom and padded seats.
Despite the large flashing red light on the dash, the bus seemed to work. And it was fast. We passed everything in sight. Trucks on blind curves. Tro-tros on hills. We even passed other STC buses to the surprise of the on coming big-rigs.
We flew along until we hit the outskirts of Accra, where traffic seems to stop for no apparent reason. Perhaps it was because there was a power cut, meaning the oft-ignored traffic lights weren't functioning. Hell, neither were our headlights. Maybe that was the reason for the flashing red light on the dash. Or maybe it was a sobriety meter.
It was around 7 p.m. and dark. Asamoah and I were knackered. I called Esi, the JHR person in Accra, to let her know we had arrived. She told us to take a cab from the STC bus station to our hotel, the Kingdom International Hostel conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. She said the cab fare should be no more than 35,000 cedis (about $4).
Surprisingly, the hacks of Accra didn't see it that way. Five of the six that we asked scoffed at us and would accept no less than 60,000. Driver number six relented and agreed to accept 50,000. In a shocking coincidence, he also had no headlights.
Traffic was brutal as we inched from wherever we were to wherever we were going. More parts of town were without power and it was difficult to see anything -- less so with no headlights. I noticed that the roadside hawkers, who sell everything from toilet paper to gum along the "express" way, seem to have an uncanny ability to jump out of the way at exactly the right time.
A few minutes later we saw our Holy Grail: the gaudy sign of the Kingdom International Hostel. Home! It was 8 p.m., roughly 8.5 hours after we should have left Takoradi on what should have been a 4-hour journey.
Lower your expectations.
We were under the impression that we were getting a good rate at the Kingdom: two rooms for one night for 250,000 (about $30). We were left with gaping mouths when we were told to double that.
It's impossible to take out more than 800,000 cedis per transaction at the bank machine, and the wad I thought would last several weeks has suffered a severe case of shrinkage. I had to pay for Asamoah's room, but I should be able to expense most of that.
By 8:30 p.m. we had left our stuff in our cramped rooms and were chowing down on a plate of chicken and rice, washed down with an ever-present Star lager.
We called the organizers of the Freedom Flame and were told that they may not be able to pick us up at 6 a.m. Saturday as no one has a clue as to where we are. We're to call first thing in the morning to see if we have more details on the location of our secret lair.
A few quick notes:
- Now that there is light, I can see how much dirt I collected today. My off white pants are now really off white. And somehow I managed to get pen ink down one leg.
- My room at the Kingdom has a window on the hallway and no air conditioning. I can hear everyone, including the many students who live here, run up and down the hall, screaming and laughing.
- The way the toilet is positioned in the micro-bathroom, I have to put my feet up on the shower enclosure to use it -- meaning I look like I am giving birth when I use it. Sorry for that image.
- Still no sign of my point and shoot camera. Looks like it was nicked from the newsroom. Sigh. I have officially placed a curse on the thief and five generations of his/her children.
That's it for now. The big adventure begins in less than 8 hours with a two-day drive to Wa. I can't wait to break out the good camera and lenses and start shooting!
The bad: my point-and-shoot camera has vanished. Did it fall out of my
bag? Did I misplace it?
Or worse... was it stolen?
More from Accra!
Thursday, February 15, 2007
We're in a holding pattern waiting for more things to get settled.
But we should definitely be on the road by tomorrow! I hope.
Excuse the formatting... I'm posting from email again, and it does weird
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Valentine's/Chocolate Day in Ghana
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
The SKYY morning show "Agoo" presented an extra long edition this morning to celebrate Valentine's AND Chocolate Day. Mmmm. Chocolate...
After much discussion over deliverables, an agreement has been made between Skyy and the organizers.
For most of yesterday it looked like I wasn't going to go on the cross-country trip to follow the flame that celebrates Ghana's 50th Anniversary.
But now we have a green light. We'll be shooting the flame as it makes its way from regional capital to regional captial. In each location we hope to find human rights stories that we can shoot for television or record for radio.
We leave Takoradi Thursday morning and will stay in Accra two nights. Then we drive all the way to the northwestern corner of the country and the city of Wa. It will be a long drive, but we'll be able to see a variety of landscape changes as we head north. Stand by for tons of photos!
It's Valentines Day AND Chocolate Day here in Ghana. It is BIG. Most men are expected to give chocolate to their sweeties -- and I've been instructed by most of the women in the station to join in.
I picked up a box of Ghanaian chocolate bars yesterday and I've been spreading the wealth all morning.
There is little else to report right now. It's still early (11 a.m.) and I have to rush home and pack all the gear for the trip. I really wish I had bought a better DV camera -- my fear is that my cheap Canon will die on the road. We'll see.
Time to distribute more chocolate...
Cheers & Happy Valentines (and Chocolate) Day!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
interface is on glue. And the work interNOT is soooo slow this day.
- no water for two days
- the beer man now comes to the house to pick up my empties (is this a
- more problems with the Freedom Flame project. It might die on the
- still now illness to report
Sending the test now...
Monday, February 12, 2007
(Posted Monday Feb 12)
Now that there is internet access at work, I should be able to post more frequently and with more multimedia goodies. However there is a drawback: there is only one computer hooked up to the outside world, and that means it might not be easy to get access on demand. It could mean going to work super early or staying super late. Super! But it's better than having to deal with the internet cafe. And it's certainly cheaper (free).
The big news is the delay of "Freedom Flame" roadtrip. I've mentioned this before, but in a nutshell: In honour of Ghana's 50th anniversary of independence, a torch will pass through each of the nation's 10 regional capitals -- very much like an Olympic torch run. It's all very symbolic... and will be an amazing experience.
Our less-than-organized trip was to begin Saturday Feb 10th. By Monday we should have been in Wa, way, way up north. However, Ghana's president, John Kufuor, can't make it and that means the official start of the event has been pushed back until at least Thursday.
There is a silver lining -- it allows me more time to prepare. As of Friday morning I was stressed out at the thought of hitting the road and not being to answer simple questions like: How are we getting there? Where are we staying? Who's paying for this?
In theory, the government is picking up the tab in some sort of cost-share/contra deal with the television station. If that's the case, I have yet to see it on paper. And, since I am effectively field producing the entire journey with a green reporter, I really want to have all my ducks in a row.
By midday Friday I was pulling out my hair. Will my NTSC camera work in a PAL world? When are we leaving? Where are we staying? Who's paying for this?
I urged the reporter, in a less than subtle way, to call the government people to find out what the deal was. That's when we learned of the delay.
Unfortunately, the end date of the entire Freedom Flame event remains solid. We arrive in Accra on March 5th and the golden jubilee is on March 6th. It means we have 3 weeks to criss-cross the country, not four. And that, in turn, means that we have less time between destinations to travel, to find human rights stories, and to stop and smell the roses.
That said, it remains an unsurpassed opportunity to see parts of the country (most, in fact) that I would never get a chance to see.
-- CULTURE SHOCK --
Everything is going well, but there are still times when I suffer from culture shock. Absolutely everyone I deal with is nice and they go overboard to make me feel at home. But at the same time I sometimes feel it's all too much and I need a break. That was the primary reason for going to Akwidaa for a day last week.
I wish I could go there again, but I don't think there is time before I head off on the roadtrip and three straight weeks of work with no days off! Although I will definitely be at the Green Turtle after March 6.
I've come to the realization that I need a motorbike or scooter. My colleagues in Tamale have each purchased motorbikes and rave about the freedom they have.
As I am here alone (no other JHR person is in Takoradi), it is important that I build my life in the community. But I often feel my life is little more than time spent at work and at home -- with a short but sweat-inducing walk between. (Sounds like real life everywhere!)
If I am going to explore where I live, I need wheels. It's too hot to walk great distances (remember, we're only a few degrees north of the Equator) and the Takoradi-Sekondi metropolis is far to big to just wander around -- especially when you don't know where you're going. I've actually thought of hiring a car and driver for a day just to scoot around to get my bearings.
That's why I need wheels. I need to be able to zip to the store with ease. I need to be able to explore town. I need my freedom!
It shouldn't be too hard to find a good deal on something won't depreciate too much during my time here. The problem is money. The cedi has a low value against the Canadian dollar (about 7200 per $1) and the biggest bill is a 20,000 note (about $2.50). That means bank machines can only spit out a maximum of 800,000 cedis per transaction. That's about $100. And each transaction costs me about $5 in fees. It adds up.
There is an option: I can take a cash advance off my Visa at the local Barklay's branch for any amount. The fees are a bit higher, but if I need several thousand dollars, then it's the cheapest and easiest way to do it. After the money is pulled off the card, it's a simple matter of using internet banking to transfer money from a regular account to pay off the Visa balance. Interest for one day would be minimal.
I'll be looking into this when I return from the roadtrip.
Power continues to come and go. It went off today around 3 p.m., just as I returned from the beach. Luckily, SKYY has a generator, so everything always works here. An afternoon power cut is rare, and it's very likely the outage will be short lived. I'll know when I return home for dinner.
We also continue to suffer from water outages. There is no rhyme or reason to them. There was no water at 7 a.m. this morning -- a Sunday. But there was water by 3. The city council is replacing water mains in the area, which is the main reason for the poor supply. But I don't understand why it goes on and off so many times in a single day -- and at weird times, like midnight, when there shouldn't be any work underway on the line. It just comes and goes like bad gas.
Other than the water and power, daily life very much like at home in Canadaland. The sweating is still a drag, as is the constant dirt under my fingernails. A small thing, to be sure, but every time I look at my hands, I recoil in horror. I suppose it's normal when one lives in a hot and dusty environment. Despite not being a germ-o-phobe, I still use a lot of hand sanitizer. It may be one reason why I've yet to become sick.
--BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE--
If you scroll down you'll see lots of pictures from this past weekend when I had the chance to explore a little more. I'd like to include the images within my bigger postings, but it remains too difficult with a slow connection.
There is much more is below... so scroll!
That's about all for now. I starting to feel like I'm repeating myself in these posts... but that should change once I hit the road.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Tro-tros are poorly maintained mini-buses that form the backbone of Ghana's transportation system. They're crammed, handy, necessary and cheap.
I shot this video from the rear seat of a Tro-tro outside Takoradi on Sunday. Enjoy!
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
This is how we get around in Ghana. Little ramshackle mini-buses that run to and fro.
They're cheap like borscht, but a tad uncomfortable for fat white guys.
But without them, no one would get anywhere.
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
On Sunday I travelled to Christian (one of Skyy's reporters) to his home town to meet some relatives. His uncle spent 8 years in Edmonton getting a couple of degrees at the U of A. Small world!
This pic is of an average street in Assorku-Esseman.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
The Takoradi council (SAEMA) decided that there were too many unlicenced businesses around. So over the last couple of days, the bulldozers have been out making short work of structures that don't have permits. There's been no violence, but there is a bad vibe in the air.
Weddings, Funerals, Anything
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
Some good news: we now have the internet at work!
I am writing this late Friday night... with my laptop plugged into the company internet line. It is still super slow, but hell, it's close, and it works.
This post brought to you by the following advert, an example of some of the wacky ads here in Ghana. And this one isn't even that goofy.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
The Atlantic Ocean
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).
Another shot of the sandy goodness that is the Green Turtle lodge. After all the life changes recently, it was wonderful spending a full day reading and relaxing. I can't wait to do this every other weekend.
Total cost for 2 days: about $40.
I arranged for a ride with the owners and after a long bumpy ride down a loosely defined "road", we arrived at what I belive is the African version of Caye Caulker.
Quiet. Cheap. Relaxing. Seaside. Perfect! Except when my battery operated fan packed it in last night. I sweat far too much...
I'm back in Takoradi, at the slow-as-molasses interNOT cafe... and it looks like after two hours of struggle, I have uploaded a little video of the beach at Akwidaa. It was spectacular, as was the night sky. Holy stars, Batman!
Due to limitations of the interNOT cafe, I am not able to view the video myself... but I will cut and paste the code below, in the hopes that it works for you.
Off to Kumasi on Saturday and eventually Wa, in the far northwest of the country Sunday. I hope to post more details Friday.
And, of course, more pictures will follow.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
I am about to head to the Green Turtle Lodge to prepare for the upcoming cross-Ghana roadtrip. I find that I need a day or two to chill out and think with the clairty a sea side beach chair will give me.
The owners of the lodge are coming to fetch me in moments, so I won't write much.
Power and internet outages are a major pain... and I'm not sure when things will be resolved.
I hope to have a major post before I leave for Kumasi on Friday or Saturday.
Until then... keep those cards and letters coming!
Saturday, February 03, 2007
[ still having difficulty linking images here -- go to flickr for corresponding pictures for the stories below ]
Week two is now in the history books. And what a week!
The first health issue has finally appeared. Using my medical degree from the online University of InstaDiploma, I have diagnosed the problem as "prickly heat".
What's that, you ask? It's a condition that extra-large white folks get when they sweat all the time. I won't go into the details, but I must say that I've not itched so much since I drunkenly ran naked through a campground at the height of Manitoba's mosquito season many years ago.
Luckily relief came in the form of Wendy. She and her husband Jason have just returned home to Winnipeg (and the balmy -30C weather) after six months in Ghana's capital, Accra.
Throughout this whole process they have been an incredibly valuable source of information and suggestions. The latest: using mentholated dusting powder to treat prickly heat. Wow! Talk about relief. I've gone from itching the night away to feeling cool and minty fresh all night. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
*** Meanwhile back at the plant ***
I spent the week working with SKYY reporters on various stories. I'm slowly getting a fix on not only how they report the news, but my new hometown. I find that without a car, it's not easy to get a sense of the Takoradi area. In my two weeks here, most of my non-work related travels are from home to the central market area by taxi.
On Friday I followed along on several stories. One of them took me to the old slave fort of St. Sebastian in the town of Shama, a few kilometres east of Takoradi.
Ghana turns 50 next month and slavery is a big topic of discussion and one of our reporters, Christian, is doing a several stories on emancipation.
Fortress St. Sebastian is mentioned as a tourist attraction in my Ghana travel book, but in reality, the building actually used for office space and a post office.
We ventured into many parts of the fort, including rooms where slaves were held. However, this fort is much smaller than the others that dot the coast and the dungeons here pale in comparison.
The manager of the fort showed us chains that were once used to shackle the slaves. He also let us examine bones recovered from a mass grave outside the fort. When we visited that area, Christian was able to dig up barely covered bits of human bone.
I was shocked that the mass grave area is a heavily used pathway. In fact, judging by the pile of speakers and amps on nearby, the area would soon turn into a dance floor. I would have expected the spot to be considered sacred, but apparently this is not the case.
When we were finished shooting the story, we wandered around Shama. I drew the attention of at least a dozen kids who seemed shocked to see a white man in person. This happens constantly -- and I still find it surprising. The kids don't want anything other than for me to say hi or perhaps let them touch me.
*** Of cassava and three-legged goats ***
Our next story was also in Shama. It concerned the local production of a paste made from cassava. Within sight of open sewers and a smoldering garbage dump, women peel piles of cassava. Another group mashes the cassava into a pulp before placing it in a bag. The bag is placed on a press that is used to squeeze out all the water and the paste is then used as a staple for cooking.
The focus of the story was the cleanliness of the production process and what, if anything, could be done about it.
As we were wrapping up, a group of men walked up to Christian, asking him to follow them. They were anxious to show off a three-legged goat, which had recently been born in the neighbourhood. Christian told me that people love seeing these kinds of things on TV.
*** Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown ***
One thing I've noticed when visiting rural communities is the lack of grass and plants. Other than the odd tree, most yards are little more than dirt. This seems odd, since the surrounding countryside is lush with all sorts of tropical plants in a million shades of green. But villages tend to be dusty places where, except for the odd tree, the ground is bare.
When I asked Christian about this, he told me the reason is because people sweep their property every day. Apparently spirits come out at night and the next morning townsfolk sweep their yards to remove any traces of the spirits.
Because of this constant sweeping, it is easy to identify the age of most structures by how high about the surrounding ground they stand. The foundations of many older buildings are clearly visible due to years of constant sweeping. The exposed ground is generally hardened red clay.
*** Baaaah! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! ***
Back to the goat.
Several people had gone off to find the three-legged goat as Christian and I waited. By this time the sight of a news crew PLUS a white person attracted nearly two dozen onlookers.
Eventually the little darling was found and paraded before for us. I managed to get some great video of the goat as he escaped their clutches, running an obstacle course through the legs of all assembled. It was hilarious!
I'm still working on getting video posted and hope to have the goat video soon, as well as some video of my colleagues and my home.
*** Live News ***
It was getting late by the time we returned to the station and I decided to sit in on the 6 p.m. radio news. I was shocked to see most of the reporters in the studio waiting to read their stories LIVE to air. Rather than pre-tape their stories, they write the script, cue their clips on mini-discs and do the whole process live.
They've been doing it this way for years, explaining it takes the pressure off the newscaster. I didn't get into efficiency issues.
*** Pooped ***
I find that I still return home each night exhausted. It's the heat, the heavy food and a bit of culture shock.
I had planned to go to the Green Turtle Lodge for the weekend, but decided that I have too much to do before I head out next week on my month-long road trip. However, I did call the owners of the lodge to confirm prices and how to get there.
During our conversation, they mentioned that they come into Takoradi quite often -- so I asked if I could get a ride if our schedules matched up. No problem, they said. Sweet!
My weekend plan is get all the remaining things bought for the house Saturday. On Sunday I have to create a budget and itinerary of the road trip for the boss. Because I'm going to be working nearly 30 days straight, I've decided that I'm going to take a couple of days off in the middle of next week -- and hopefully get to the Green Turtle. I need a couple of days to decompress.
*** Inter-Not-Yet ***
I'm told by the I.T. manager at SKYY that we should be able to get broadband at the house. He said he'd know more by Monday. Apparently there is already a phone line installed -- though we don't have a working phone. Still, that means it should be easy to get the connection hooked up.
I'll have to buy a modem and pay something like $60 a month, but despite the relative high cost, the time savings will more than make up for it.
The I.T. guy also told me that the internet should be functioning at work next week. If nothing else, that means I should be able to cart my laptop to work to synchronize my mail and upload pictures and videos. We'll see.
That's about it for now. It's beginning to heat up again and I need some more miracle powder to relieve the itching. Good times!