Saturday, June 30, 2007

from the "a close shave" dept.

Customer service in Ghana can best be described as rigid. It's not that it doesn't exist; it's just that it is very limited.

Recently I was in Accra, Ghana's capital. I had originally planned to stay just a few days and packed accordingly.

At the behest of my colleagues, I was convinced to stay a few extra days. Because the original itinerary was so short, I didn't bother packing a number of things -- notably a razor.

After six months in Ghana, my face has become tough enough to handle shaving without wussy shave cream for sensitive skin. Give me a sharp blade and a few drops of water and I'm whisker free sans irritation.

This makes me wonder if wussy shave creams actually irritate your skin and soothe it at the same time, addicting you to a lifetime of wussy shave cream purchases. Very smart, Colgate-Palmolive, very smart.

Unfortunately, I was unable to locate anything handy at my hotel with which to scrape my face. I was tempted to use a machete, but found balancing it on my neck a bit of a challenge. If I slipped, I'd end up on the front page of the Daily Graphic. Or worse.

Instead, I dropped into a North American-style grocery store called Koala, in the heart of Accra's tourist district. How North American? They sell K.D. Well, not Canadian K.D. but the American version: Macaroni & Cheese. Purely semantics.

Inside the store there were dozens of razors to choose from. Grandpa types, two-, three-, and four-blade models. Re-usable. Disposable. Razors for men and women. The whole razor universe was on offer.

I figured I needed just one disposable razor to get me through my stay. I searched high and low, finding only packages of 5 or 10 razors. Being cheap, I kept looking until I found it: a single razor! Dual blade! Protection strip! And cheap -- something like $1.

But there was a problem: There was no Koala UPC price code on the razor -- just a hand written price tag. I figured that since there was a price, there would be no issue, and I made for the checkout line.

When I placed the razor in front of the cashier, she looked at it, then at me, then the razor again. Everything came to a stop. I swear everyone stopped talking.

Clearly, I was doing something wrong. But what? What possible cultural norm was I smashing to bits this time?

"You cannot buy this," the cashier said sternly. I felt like a 14-year-old trying to buy Playboy.

"Huh?" I responded. I'm a witty bastard.

"You cannot buy this," she repeated as she pulled the razor away.

"Why not?" I asked, not realizing that I was creating even more trouble. I sensed a hush go through the gathering crowd.

"You won't win," whispered a friend who had stumbled upon the scene after visiting the Macaroni & Cheese display.

"There is no price. You cannot buy this." The cashier was beginning to sound like a broken record (or skipping CD for anyone born after 1980).

I pointed to the razor in her hand and said that the price was right there.

"It is not for sale."

"Why is it not for sale? It has a price and was with the other razors," I said, trying to keep calm.

"Give up," my friend suggested.

At this point I decided to dig in my heels. When I asked to see the store manager, the cashier rolled her eyes, dismissing me instantly.

"Please, I want to buy this. Can you just call your manager?"

She screamed at the top of her lungs. Not at me, but for the manager to come over. That's another thing about Ghana. People tend to yell for each other rather than going to find them. It's effective, but noisy.

The semi-hostile crowd was getting restless. I could sense that they were ready to tie me up and forcibly cut my whiskers. Despite the impending danger, I stood firm.

After the cashier yelled the manager's name a few more times, a young gentleman came over and asked what the problem was. I told him I wanted to buy the razor that the cashier was attempting to put away in a drawer.

He asked to see the razor, looked at the price tag, and then had a brief conversation with the cashier in their native tongue. He gave me an apologetic look.

"You cannot buy this. It is a sample"

"But why is it on the floor? Why does it have a price tag?" I asked, knowing I had lost in my oh-so-simple quest.

"It is not for sale."

"But why is on display?"

"It is not for sale, but come back. Maybe next week."

"See?" said my colleague, as he paid for his Macaroni & Cheese.

I was ready to debate the manager about why I should be able to buy an item with a price tag sitting on a display in a store that sells things. But looking around at the glum faces, I caved. It was too much bother. And I was beginning to like the my new hobo look.

Before leaving the store, I paused and thanked the cashier for her time. Why? Because I'm Canadian. It's what we do.

However this wasn't the case when I had a spectacular run-in with Ghana Post. But that's another story for another day.



Friday, June 29, 2007

from the "where to go from here" dept.

It's incredible, really. The older you get, the faster time seems to pass.

I have a theory as to why this is: When you are 10 years old, one year is equal to 10 per cent of your life experience (and even more, if you discount the infant years). When you are 40, one year equals 2.5 per cent of your life experience.

Therefore, a year at 40 seems shorter than a year at 10 because it is a smaller percentage of your life experiences. In addition, there are usually more new life experiences at 10 than at 40.

That's my theory, anyway.

Back to today. It's the end of June and less than three months remain of my gig with JHR/SKYY. Officially I'm done September 15 and I have a flight booked back to Vancouver October 1.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what to do come the fall. Not returning to Canada seemed the best option and my original idea was simple: stay put at SKYY for another eight months. Unfortunately, that isn't an option as the new JHR person has been contracted.

The remaining options with JHR are to apply for an expert trainer position, which is based in Accra, or apply for a position similar to my current one, but in another regional capital.

My preference is to stay in Takoradi. I have a home here. I know people here. I am comfortable here. Staying in Takoradi would preclude staying with JHR.

Does it make sense just to hang here and do nothing? Certainly not. Does it make sense to use Takoradi as a base for some additional travelling and freelance? Now you're talking.

So. What to do?

Do I want to go back to Canada and do the same old thing as before? No.

However I am very aware of the fact that I am not getting any younger. Which brings us back to where we started. Time flying. Or is it? Do I worry too much about my age and what I "should be doing?"

And what is that anyway? Isn't what I'm doing exactly what I should be doing because I'm doing it?

After turning the question over in my mind for the past few weeks, I think I have come up with a solution, one which I will make firm this weekend.

The idea is this: I will remain in Takoradi until at least December 15. I can change my plane ticket once without penalty, so no extra costs there. Once I finish my JHR contract, I will focus on freelancing written pieces. If I can make $500 a month, I can easily cover my expenses here. If not, it'll cost me about $1500 in savings to remain. A fair trade? I think so.

I've also some irons in the fire here and I think there is a good chance of doing freelance work for one of the myriad of NGOs here.

If I am able to bring home enough bacon, I'll look at staying even longer. I would likely fly home to Canada for Christmas and return in January. There are a couple of big stories to cover in 2008: the African Cup football series and the next election. Both of those should provide some freelance opportunities.

Then again, I might change my mind. You know me...


Thursday, June 28, 2007

from the "shopping list post" dept.

Just a short one today...

It's been a busy week. Surprise.

I've a million things to do before my holidaze begin Saturday.

Sunday is Republic Day in Ghana and Canada Day back home. Double trouble!

I'm staying in Takoradi for the celebrations and will post photos asap.

The internet works a bit better at work these days. I've been able to download episodes of the Daily Show and a couple of movies. How nice, especially during power cut nights!

I saw some of the damage from the Manitoba twisters... yikes! I bet I can name one busy journalist... heh heh.

I keep promising to write a long post... and I will... really. No shit. Seriously.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

More from Akwidaa. It's pouring outside and I am stuck at work... uploading.

Picture Window

Picture Window
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Another shot from Akwidaa, Ghana.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Another shot from Akwidaa. That's a tv antenna high atop a bamboo pole. Click the picture for more images.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

from the "I like maps" dept.

Here's an interesting timewaster:

Strange Maps


from the "back from Akwidaa" dept.

Street Life
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

I'm back at Skyy after a few days with Mark and Janet at the Green Turtle.
We wandered down to Akwidaa on Saturday and I snapped a ton of pictures. We even "discovered" an old castle... but aren't yet sure of its origin.

To see the images, click on the picture.

Longer post to come.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Krisan Photos

Gaze 2
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

I've put a bunch of pictures from my visit to the Krisan Refugee Camp online. Click here or on the picture to be taken to flickr to see them all.

I'm off to the Green Turtle... see you Monday!


Thursday, June 21, 2007

from the "turtle again" dept.

It's been difficult to connect to the SKYY internet hub this week.

The wireless router is broken and that means everyone has to share a single connection.

On top of that, I've been knackered and haven't been holding up my part of the bargain: writing daily blather.

I'm hoping to get some Krisan Refugee Camp pictures up today or Friday.

I'm planning to wing off to the Green Turtle again. This time with Mark, one of JHR's expert trainer and his lovely wife Janet. We'll likely stay through Monday.

I'm still singing "Should I Stay or Should I Go," meaning that no decision has been made about remaining in Ghana for an additional year. I'm now thinking of staying through December and then returning to Canada.

At that point I'll either get a visa to come back or jump back into real life in Canadaland.

Who knows!?!


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

from the "black gold" dept.

They've found oil! Here's the BBC story:

Ghana 'will be an African tiger'

Ghana's President John Kufuor says the discovery of the country's first major oil deposit could turn the West African country into an "African tiger".

"Even without oil, we are doing so well... With oil as a shot in the arm, we're going to fly," he told the BBC.

"My joy is that I'll go down in history as the president under whose watch oil was found to turn the economy of Ghana around for the better," he said.

The discovery of 600m barrels of light oil offshore was announced on Monday.

Reserves in the Mahogany exploration well were far greater than the 250m barrels that UK-based firm Tullow Oil had earlier forecast.

Tullow, which saw its shares rise more than 12% on the news, jointly owns the West Cape block where the drilling took place with Anadarko Petroleum.


Correspondents say champagne bottles were popping at Osu Castle, the seat of Ghana's government, after the announcement.

Mr Kufuor said the discovery would give a major boost to Ghana's economy.

"Oil is money, and we need money to do the schools, the roads, the hospitals. If you find oil, you manage it well, can you complain about that?" he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

He dismissed suggestions that Ghana may follow in the footsteps of other countries that have mismanaged their oil wealth.

"Some are doing it well and I assure you if others failed, Ghana will succeed because this is our destiny to set the good pace for where we are. So we're going to use it well," he said.

"We're going to really zoom, accelerate, and if everything works, which I pray will happen positively, you come back in five years, and you'll see that Ghana truly is the African tiger, in economic terms for development."

His sentiments were echoed in many of Ghana's newspaper headlines on Tuesday.

The Statesman hailed the Gold Coast, Ghana's name under British rule, finding "black gold" and the Accra Daily Mail leads with the headline: "Thank God. Oil at last Thank God!"

The BBC's Will Ross in Ghana says the country is the midst of an energy crisis and every four days everybody has their electricity switched off for more 24 hours.

Ghana is described as somewhat of a success story in Africa but the country does suffer from widespread poverty and also has alarming levels of corruption, our correspondent says.

Tullow chief executive Aidan Heavey said the discovery was one of the biggest oil discoveries in Africa in recent times, but warned it could be up to seven years before the oil started to flow.

Tullow Oil holds a 22.9% stake in the West Cape Three Points licence and just under 50% in the Deepwater Tano licence.

The move comes as foreign firms are increasingly tapping into Africa for oil.



from the "know your Cedi" dept.

The Bank of Ghana has produced another video about the upcoming (2 weeks!) redenomination of the national currency, the Cedi.

CLICK here to download... a test will follow!


Relax. Or else!

Relax. Or else!
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

It's not really what it seems. In reality, a large group of us had been to a program at the Krisan Refugee Camp, just west of Takoradi.

On our way back to the city, we stopped for lunch at the Axim Beach Hotel. While munching away I noticed a group of police officers taking a little break.

After standing out in the hot sun all day, who can blame 'em?

I'll post more images from our visit to Krisan in the coming days.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

from the "one connection" dept.

Had planned a long post. Got kicked off the single internet connection at work.

Waddya do?

Go home and sit on the roof, that's what!


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

from the "going postal" dept.

Going postal
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Feel the need to send cards, letters or packages to your pal in Africa? It's easy:

Doug Murray
c/o SKYY Power FM-TV
P.O. Box MC 1231
Takoradi, Ghana

That's it!

PS: I already have goats, chickens, sheep and a kitten.

from the "midweek report" dept.

Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

The weekend is fast approaching and I am well aware of the lack of meaty stories appearing on Roadspill.

I've actually got a bunch of short ideas that I need to write. But it seems time is an issue this week.

Long days at work. An upcoming workshop. A possible JJ Rawlings interview. And another visit to the Krisan refugee camp. Whew!

Plus there are endless and annoying power cuts. And I always seem to be bagged in the evening. Pick an excuse!

No decision yet on staying here. I want to, and I think I will, but it's not confirmed.

My first piece of mail arrived on Monday. A copy of Vanity Fair. Ahhh, VF! I'm still waiting for another package... which is coming via ship and pony express.

The rainy season continues and I am told it gets worse. So far the rains hold off when I walk to work, but I know this will change. How will I stay dry and clean? Good think I have my VTV rain coat and Goretex socks.

I must say that the cool weather is a blessing, although in reality cool weather means 30C during the day, 27C overnight.

And so it goes.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

from the "from the roof" dept.

Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Finally a picture of me! This one taken in early June by JHR's Emilee Irwin. Location: my roof, Takoradi, Ghana. Click picture for full size.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Sam plays Trisha while Graeme watches. Another Akwidaa/Green Turtle snap. More on flickr!

Surf's Up

Surfs Up
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Another shot from Akwidaa/Green Turtle.

fron the "Green Turtle Part 3" dept.

Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

I spent the weekend (June 8/9 2007) at the Green Turtle Lodge at Akwidaa, Ghana. It's about a 1.5 hour journey from Takoradi.

Joining me were Trisha and Graeme (from Kumasi) and Sam (from Tamale).

I've posted a ton of pix on flickr and crackbook.


from the "oz" dept

'Nuff said!


Thursday, June 07, 2007

from the "JJ" dept.

Nothing is confirmed yet... but with luck I'll be meeting Ghana's former president Jerry John (JJ) Rawlings next weekend.

I can't say much more than that. But JJ is a very interesting man.

Here's his Wikipedia entry.

More to come...


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

from the "midweek meltdown" dept.

Ha! I thought that would grab your attention.

Actually, I have little to report.

The week has been uneventful. It's been cool. Lots of rain. I actually slept without my fan last night.

This weekend I'm going to the Green Turtle with some of my JHR colleagues (Trisha and Graeme from Kumasi and Sam from Tamale). The forecast looks very Vancouver-like: rain, rain and more rain.

Still, it's a nice break from the oppressive heat. And it'll be fun spinning tales whilst drinking many beers beach side (and under a palapa hut).

If the weather clears we hope to wander to Akwidaa to shoot some pictures and maybe even do a story on the wee fishing village. Graeme has also suggested overnighting in a nearby castle dungeon for another potential story.

Earlier in the day I received an invite to vote on my favourite Canadian magazine cover of all time. That's a toughie. But here's my favourite magazine cover ever.

With that, I think I'll head to town and get some supplies. We're low on food and I am so tired of eating bread and tuna every day. There are few options near my home, even fewer when it rains!


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

from the "this just in..." dept.

Way back in 1997, I was lucky enough to be part of the Vancouver Television start up team.

Over the years that followed there were many good times. There were also many not-so-good times -- the newsroom near-coup a fine example. But we all felt that we had peen part of something special, even though our expectations and reality went in opposite directions.

A decade later, many of us from those early days are scattered across the the planet. Belize. Ghana. White Rock. India.

Back then I was the news promo guy at VTV. It was a tough job. I had to get grumpy reporters to give up story details and/or shoot stand-ups for promos. Many didn't get it.

Satinder Bindra did.

This morning I was checking various websites that report on business of media. I found the following terse posting:

Satinder Bindra Leaves CNN

CNN senior international correspondent Satinder Bindra has left the network, TVNewser has confirmed.

He left CNN a few weeks ago, a spokesperson says without elaborating.

"He is responsible for the Network's coverage of India, and the South Asian region," according to his bio. He had a high profile on CNN in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.

I wonder what the story is...


Saturday, June 02, 2007

from the "rainy season is here" dept.

The original plan was simple.

Hang out at home, reading, until it got too bleedin' hot inside. At which point I planned to tuck a book under my arm and head to the Planter's Lodge (in Takoradi). There I would sit poolside, in the shade, beer in one hand, book in the other. Paradise.

It was not to be.

There was no power last night. Without my ceiling fan, I had a fitful and sweaty sleep. I got up around 6 a.m., fixed some coffee and began reading Carl Hiassen's Sick Puppy. I would have taken a shower, but the water was also out.

Mid-morning the power returned, followed by the water. I continued to read, but noticed that it was still cloudy outside. Suddenly the ambient light dropped to almost nil and the heavens opened up. I read some more.

Around 3, the rain stopped but the clouds remained. I gave up on reading/drinking poolside and decided instead to walk to work and use the internet at SKYY. I had reports to file and I was very close to completing a some tv and music downloads.

At 6 my work was done. I'd downloaded some classic tunes and some not-so-classic television, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail and my email. It was time to go.

Then the skies opened up -- really opened up. And it hasn't stopped. It is now 8:18 p.m. and I am trapped. At least I've got net. But I'd rather get home. I'm hungry and thirsty too. Poor me. Wah.

"Take a cab!" I can hear you say. Right. Trying to get a cab here on a rainy night is like trying to get on New Years Eve in Vancouver. Fuggeddaboutit.

No. I am stuck here until the rains stop because I have my laptop and other goodies with me. I can't leave 'em as they'll disappear. I can't take 'em as they'll get wet. I even have an umbrella, but it's too small to offer much protection.

So that's the dilemma. Saturday night at work. Trapped by the rain. Too bad I didn't bring a book.


Friday, June 01, 2007

from the "not-so-quiet riot" dept.

I'm outta here... but want to update my earlier post regarding the protests and violence at Takoradi Polytechnic this morning. Everyone at SKYY is safe and sound.


from the "butt out" dept.

It's nice to see that a B.C. restaurant chain has banned smoking from their patios.

Sitting on a Vancouver patio on a hot summer day is a beautiful thing -- until you have to breathe in the cancer fog spewed by lunkheads puffing their heads off one table away.

The only option had been to go inside where smoking is banned. What a load of crap.

But now Milestones has done the unthinkable:

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) - As you may be thinking about dining out in the sunshine today, you might want to know Milestone's has banned smoking on its patios.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is pleased the restaurant chain recognizes the vast majority of us don't like smoke blowing in our faces, whether it's indoors or out.

The authority's environmental health manager, Nick Losito, remembers the battles he had with Doll and Penny's restaurant on Davie to get them to enforce the city's no smoking inside bylaw.

He calls the move by Milestone's very progressive because they haven't waited for the government to tell them to ban smoking outside. He thinks it's the most effective thing to do, considering up to 87% of people in Vancouver don't smoke.

Losito says there is new evidence even very small traces of second hand smoke can be harmful to your health. He wishes the province would ban smoking in all public places. Losito had hoped Vancouver would have banned smoking on patios by now but that likely won't happen until late summer.



from the "tear gas and stones for breakfast" dept.

Friday morning I accompanied two Skyy reporters to a disturbance near the Takoradi Polytechnic school. When we arrived, tear gas hung in the air and rocks and rubber bullets were bouncing all around us. I quickly fired up my video camera and started rolling.

Hundreds of students, many wearing red -- a traditional show of displeasure -- were engaged in clashes with police clad in riot gear.

The students are protesting a decision last week by the school to give the heave-ho to 71 students for various offences ranging from poor performance to rape. The principal said he was disgusted with what he saw as a degredation of morals and acedemic performance at the school.


Thursday night, students were calling for the head of the principal.

“From today, we are boycotting all academic activities on campus. I want all students to comply with us. No examination is taking place until the principal goes away,” a student organizer said.

Examinations were scheduled for Friday.

With that,the stage was set for confrontations. They began last night and continued through this morning. Students throwing rocks, police responding with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Some of the tear gas canisters landed in the yards of private homes and in a women's residence. We were in one home when it came under attack. Shooting the scene from the roof, the students turned on me and began hurling rocks. I ducked inside as a canister of tear gas exploded outside, the gas forcing us to run from the house.

My eyes burned and chest tightened as I ran for safety. A number of people handed me wet rags breathe through. Tear gas sucks.

We captured more of the mayhem from a distance and then made our way back to SKYY. Other cameras and reporters remained on scene.

Back at SKYY, our morning show was still on the air on both TV and radio. Footage captured earlier in the morning showed police hunting down students and pulling them out of private homes. Many were beaten for no reason. A true case of police brutality.

The disturbances continue as I write this (Friday, 11 a.m. GMT). MORE HERE.

But be assured, despite the tear gas, I am safe and sound. Cough, cough.

Stay tuned!


Blue House

Blue House
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

There was a rare blue moon Thursday night. I've put several photos up on flickr. Just click the picture.