Friday, August 31, 2007

from the "decade on" dept.

It was a decade ago, on the labour day weekend, that my life changed significantly.

At the time I was still living in Winnipeg, but I also happened to be in the middle of my very first visit to New York (which would become my favourite place to visit).

It was a significant weekend for two reasons: Diana died and the phone rang.

[ supersized before I was supersized ]

[ I read the news today, oh boy... ]

On the other end of the line was Brent Toombs, senior producer for the about-to-be-launched Vancouver Television, telling me that he had accidentally stumbled across my demo reel. I had sent it months earlier, but had long since forgotten about it.

[ big guns in seattle ]

Would I, he asked, be interested in a full-time promotions job in Vancouver. Would I indeed, I wondered. We discussed the details and within a week I was flying to the left coast... and a whole new life.

[ as it was then ]

And so it goes...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

from the "home sweet home" dept.

Sure, the Evangelical kooks are filling the evening air with their noise... but I'm home, and happy to be.

The trotro from Accra was fairly quick, not counting the flat tire.

And after visiting seven of Ghana's 10 regional capitals in less than two weeks, I am ready for my own bed.

I'll write more in the morning...


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

from the "just flew in from Tamale and boy, are my arms tired!" dept.

I am in Accra. But for a few moments only.
I have to go shoot in Tema.
And then back here to... chill/eat/crash/deflate.


from the "post via email" dept.

Excuse the formatting... posting via email never works smoothly!

I am in Tamale, getting ready to fly to Accra.
By bus, it's more than 10 hours.
By plane it's under 2.

I'll be in Accra for 2 days and then finally head home to T'adi.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Adventures on the Bolga bus

The alarm, which I usually refer to as "Bastard!" went off at 3:45 a.m.

At the time I was enjoying a rare deep sleep in the Uplands Hotel, located in beautiful downtown Wa, capital of the Upper West Region. Wa is located in the extreme northwest corner of Ghana.

The annoying alert was a reminder that I had to travel to Bolgatanga, the capital of the Upper East Region. Bolgatanga is located in the extreme northeast corner of Ghana.

The road connecting the two towns can be best described as a narrow dirt track that even goats avoid.

It was still dark at 4:30 a.m. when we arrived at the dusty parking lot that served as the bus station. I was with Mark Legere, a JHR colleague, who was taking a different bus to Accra and Joseph, JHR's resident fixer, who was accompanying me.

We had attempted to purchase bus tickets the night before, but were repeatedly told that we could not buy them in advance. My pleas of customer service fell upon deaf ears. We were told to show up early and take our chances.

Even at 4:30 there was a large crowd hoping to get a seat on the only daily bus to Bolga. Departure time was fluid, but we were told the bus would leave around 5 or 6.

The vehicle was a standard issue beat-off collection of 1960's rust and even older tires. There were two seats on either side of the bus with a jump seat that folded down into the aisle, creating room for another dozen passengers at the expense of everyone else's comfort.

Joseph and I thought we had lucked out with our seats. We were located near the back door and there was a lot of free space. Suddenly a half-dozen people, clutching an astounding amount of luggage (including a sack of live parrots), entered through the rear door.

The free space vanished, leaving those sitting in the rear quite grumpy. Through the burlap the parrots squawked their displeasure as well.

As night slowly gave way to a cloudy daybreak, the bus driver coaxed the rusty beast to life. After the bus sputtered and shook for a few minutes, we were ready to depart. A flurry of last-minute commerce took place outside. Food was passed into the bus, money passed out.

We hit the road around 6 a.m. and headed east. After a few kilometres the road changed from asphalt to goat track. Outside, it had begun to rain. Inside, it was hot and humid, the windows thick with condensation.

The journey eastward was rough. The unlucky souls standing at the back of the bus discovered that holding onto my seat was the only way to stop from being launched into midair. I felt for them, of course, but secretly wished I had some underarm deodorant -- and not just for me.

As the kilometres slowly clicked by, the rain increased in intensity and large pools of water began to collect on the road. The driver was determined to make good time and floored it. His noble plan was doomed and the road went from bad to worse.

We rattled over one patch of washboard for at least half an hour. My back still aches.

The pools of water increased in size and depth. Of greater concern were the streams and rivers that now crossed over the road.

It was at one of the rivers where the bus stopped. Peering out the front window we could see the water was completely covering the highway. Several of us at the back of the bus got out to have a better look, take pictures and pee.

Suddenly the bus lurched into motion and barreled through quickly flowing water, leaving a group of us standing there, jaws dangling. The water came as high as the luggage compartments, which did not bode well for dry clothes at the end of the trip.

We screamed at the driver for leaving us behind and then looked at each other. How the hell were we going to get across? The answer was obvious: Wade.

I found both the depth and speed of the water to be mildly disconcerting. One woman nearly lost her footing and surely would have been carried all the to the Atlantic if not for a quick grab by another passenger.

I was wearing shorts, but because the water was more than knee-deep, they got wet. A number of cameras and mobiles phones captured my epic crossing [Stay tuned for the video post], and there was an uncomfortable amount of laughter.

Once we were all back on the bus, spontaneous applause broke out. It was just like when a pilot somehow saves a doomed plane. Or when you fly WestJet.

As we continued east, our bus navigated several similar wet spots, but everyone was smart enough to remain on the bus.

Seven hours later, exhausted, we pulled into the Bolgatanga bus stop. Everyone congratulated each other headed off into another downpour.

The next day we heard that the Wa-Bolga highway had been closed due to dangerously high water. I'm not sure what happened to the sack of parrots.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Not Jesus

Not Jesus
Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

These are my feet (and shamefully white legs) in the shallow part of the Wa-Bolga highway.


Originally uploaded by borderfilms (Doug).

Our bus drove across this. I waded across it.
It was knee deep. And the "highway" was closed the next day!

More to come....

from the "in transit" dept.

The bus journey from Wa to Bolga took 7 hours including an impromptu wade through a stream. Pic to come.

Bolga was nice and on Saturday we went to Burkina to shoot a story for CTV News/Vancouver. That went well.

Today (Sunday) I hopped a trotro and arrived in Tamale just a few moments ago. I'll stay here the night and then head south to Accra. I hope to fly, but will likely end up on a bus. We'll see.

New photos on FLICKR. Will add video and photos here when I get some bandwidth!


Thursday, August 23, 2007

from the "popping my head up" dept.

Quick note from Wa, Ghana.

Alive. Well. Heading to Bolga tomorrow.
Burkina-Faso Saturday.
Tamale or Accra Sunday.

Total KMs: about 2000!

More stories from Bolga...


Monday, August 20, 2007

from the "early riser" dept.

I'm in Accra and getting ready for a good night's sleep on Mark's floor.

I made it here in record time by taking a Ford trotro. Left Takoradi at 12:45pm and I was in the JHR office in Osu by 4:30 pm. That's amazing!

I bought a new digital point and shoot camera to replace the one stolen last spring. It wasn't cheap, but it was necessary.

We're heading to Kumasi in the morning -- because there isn't a bus that goes all the way early in the day. How early? We have to be at the STC station around 4:30 am. That means getting up at 3:30 am.

We hope to be in Wa by the evening. It's a long haul.

More from there!


from the "travellin' man" dept.

The travelling continues!

I'm back in Takoradi but in a few hours I'll be hopping on a trotro and heading back to Accra. From there, it's off to Wa in the northwestern corner of Ghana for a few days of JHR work. Then over to Bolgatanga in the far north eastern corner of the country. A quick visit to Burkina-Faso on the weekend for a secret project and then back to Accra and finally Takoradi. I'll be home in my own bed next Tuesday. Phew.

More from Accra tonight!


Sunday, August 19, 2007

from the "boy, am I old" dept.

I can still remember the day, 25 years ago, when the compact disc arrived and turned my massive collection of cassette tapes into sonic dinosaurs. Those tapes were soon pushed aside, began collecting dust and eventually disappeared.

But despite the CDs giant leap forward in sound quality, my collection of records is still safe and sound in a Winnipeg basement. They may be scratched and worn, but there is something about the record that makes it more like a book. Neither of which I can throw away.

The BBC has a little look back at the beginnings of the CD. Good reading on a Sunday morning. Click here.

Friday, August 17, 2007

from the "this flight has been delayed" dept.

I changed my flight. I now return to Vancouver on December 7. In time for Christmas and sampling Lorne's Scotch.

Ho ho ho!


from the "in Accra, posting via email" dept.

I'm safely in Accra.

Kevin Hill (the new JHR guy at SKYY) and I arrived in Ghana's capital
late Thursday. We took a Ford tro-tro for about $7. It was comfy, quick
and air conditioned. Maybe too air conditioned -- I nearly froze my
berries off! Still, one can't complain about air conditioning in Africa.

We're here to shoot more video for a JHR project as well as attend a
human rights film festival. I have my brand new Visa card (the one that
took four months to get from Vancouver to Takoradi) and I intend to use
it. On the shopping list: a digital camera and an external hard drive.

Thursday night Kevin and I went for dinner with some of the JHR gang.
Friday we're all going to a journalism workshop. This weekend will be
the final time we're all together -- some people are wrapping things up
and leaving Ghana next week.

My first bit of freelance aired Thursday morning on CBC's The Current. A
couple of minutes of "streeters" about the discovery of oil in Ghana. I
also rented my SLR for a couple of days... net income about $250. If I
can make coin like that, staying here will be easy.

Speaking of which: I am now thinking the best and cheapest option is to
change my ticket to December and see how I fare with freelance through
the fall. If I go home in October, I'll have to buy a new plane
ticket.... without knowing if I can make a living freelancing. If I just
change the ticket, it'll be status quo.

I'll pop into the airline office today or Saturday to check it out.

I'm writing this via email... hoping that the formatting will work
better with the new and improved Roadspill template.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

from the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" dept.

It's obvious by the number of posts today that my home internet is working fairly well. It's slow, but it beats taking the laptop to work all the time.

Since installation Tuesday, I have uploaded some "streeters" to CBC Radio for use on the Current tomorrow (Thursday) morning, done my banking, downloaded another episode of Prison Break (loser!) and even listened to the morning show from CBC Radio One Vancouver.

But now I am about to attempt something entirely different: Upgrade my blog.

I know I shouldn't tinker, but I would love to change Roadspill's look. And there is only one way to do that.

So... if Roadspill looks goofy or disappears for a few days, you'll know why.

If all goes according to plan, you'll be sitting there in awe. Or won't notice a thing!


from the "reality has a well-known liberal bias" dept.

Looks like someone at Faux News has been tinkering with Wikipedia...

Crooks and Liars has the dirt.

Also: if you want a hearty chuckle, check out Louis Black's commentary on Conservapedia, an "unbiased" version of Wikipedia.

Need a laugh? There's always Liberalpedia.


from the "you say goodbye, I say hello" dept.

From GhanaWeb Wednesday morning. Draw your own conclusions.

Poll: 70% of Ghanaians want to leave

Over 70 percent of Ghanaian adults say they would move abroad if they could, and 1 in 4 say they would even do so illegally if necessary, according to surveys conducted for GhanaWeb.

Surveys of 1,130 Ghanaian adults in April and 500 in June, shows the favorite destination for most Ghanaians is United States (US) followed by United Kingdom (UK), Canada and Italy.

Some less known destinations like Ireland, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and South Korea were also mentioned as targets for immigration by over 5% of the adults surveyed.

Germany and the Netherlands have fallen off the radar for most Ghanaians, since only 3% of those polled mentioned it as a possible destination.

9% of those polled just wanted to leave Ghana and did not care about the destination.

The survey also showed that, more than half of university graduates would move abroad if they could, and 1 in 6 would do so even if they had to do it illegally. Their preferred target was the US, UK and Australia. Language played a major part in the selection of a destination for the graduates.

The survey found that, Ghanaians willingness to leave the country is driven by a desire to improve their economic status and join family and friends already there.

Despite the arguably marginal improvements in Ghana’s economy, people with and in the process of getting university degrees believe they have greater economic opportunities by migration to the west - even illegally - than they would staying in Ghana.

In September of last year, a United Nations report on International Migration painted a grim image of Ghana’s workforce, saying that about 50% per cent of the ‘highly-educated' Ghanaians have migrated - mainly to more developed countries such as the United States, Britain and others within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

from the "wired" dept.

After nearly eight months I am finally connected at home.

The boys from the internet company installed a wireless Motorola Canopy system this afternoon. Long lengths of cable now connect my computer to the radio antenna and... the world. Kevin's too.

It's not super fast. But it seems to work. And that's the important thing. Unlike phone or cable systems, our house is connected to the provider via a 5.7 mHz radio link.

It was expensive but, I think, worth it.

The first big test will be uploading a 20MB audio file to CBC in Toronto.

It's nice to be back in the 21st Century!


Sunday, August 12, 2007

from the "short" dept.

Another short missive.

Busy weekend... working on some freelance stuff for CBC Radio. Getting caught up at work (the interNOT!)... and that means no interNOT at home. Yet. This week? I hope.

Oh! Finally got my Visa card last week [took 4 months via surface mail]. That means I can buy a new point-and-shoot digital camera in Accra. And THAT means the pictures will begin to flow again.

Scroll down for the latest babble. And tune in next time!


Saturday, August 11, 2007

From the "if it bleeds, it leads" dept.

It's 6 p.m. on a muggy Tuesday night in Ghana's Western Region. Thousands are tuned in to the local TV news. The anchor introduces the first item, a story about motor vehicle accident in which a cyclist died. After a terse warning, full colour video of the mangled corpse appears.

You see all kinds of things in Ghanaian media, but generally speaking, the stories are not that different from what you might see in Canada: Politics, business, health and crime.

However, the coverage of some crime stories would shock a Canadian audience.

In the newspapers, pictures of the accused, usually in handcuffs, often accompany the stories. Headlines and news copy regularly convict suspects before they even get to court. "Robbers caught!" screams one; "Cocaine traffickers nabbed!" blares another. That the accused are innocent until proven guilty is often an afterthought.

I point these errors out to the journalists I work with. Do not convict someone with your words, I tell them. I hope it sinks in.

Victim's Dignity

There were two incidents at my media outlet last week that caused me to shake my head.

The first was a story about the accidental death of a cyclist in Takoradi. The cyclist had been riding down the road when a passing lorry clipped him. Witnesses claimed that the load on the back of the truck extended outwards from the bed of the vehicle. A portion of the load apparently struck the cyclist, causing him to fall to the ground, where he was run over by the truck's back wheels. His body was mangled and ripped apart. Not pleasant.

When one of our reporters -- along with an inexperienced cameraman -- arrived at the scene, they captured some of the most gruesome images I have ever seen.

The crew interviewed the truck driver, police and witnesses. Most of the bystanders seemed to think that the cyclist was at fault, having no business on the road.

When I watched the 6 p.m. bulletin, I was surprised to see the accident lead the newscast. I was sickened when I saw the footage of the mangled body appear not once but several times throughout the story. I stopped eating.

The following morning the story was the subject of great debate.

Most of the journalists in the newsroom agreed that the graphic images were in bad taste. But it took more dialogue before I was able to make my point. It's not that the footage was gross -- it's that broadcasting the footage tramples on the rights and dignity of the victim and his family. How would you, I asked, like to see your father or brother's dead body on display?

The discussion turned to the cause of the accident and the need for a follow up story. Should the driver be held to account? Was the truck properly loaded? Do bicycles and pedestrians have an equal right to use the road -- especially in areas where there are no sidewalks? Who was the victim? How can a tragedy like this be prevented in the future?

Locked in a Trunk

In the same week another questionable story aired on our airwaves. It concerned a taxi driver who showed up at the station, claiming he was the victim of a robbery attempt -- and the alleged robber was tied up in his trunk!

While a cameraman shot footage of the bound and beaten man, the taxi driver explained what had happened. He said he had been attacked by the nearly unconscious man in his trunk, but was able to overpower him. He tied the man up, tossed him in the boot and delivered him to the station.

The following day the story was discussed during the editorial meeting. Most people seemed to think that the taxi driver had been within his rights to detain and restrain his attacker.

But questions were raised: Why did we take what the driver said at face value? Could he have been covering up a crime? Did he have the right to beat the attacker? Tie him up? Throw him in the trunk? Transport him to our media house? Why didn't he detain the man and call the police? Wasn't this kidnapping? What does it say when potential victims feel more comfortable in dealing with the media than the police?

On Thursday we received a letter from the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) regarding the dead cyclist story. The voluntary association aims, among other things, "to promote professionalism and high journalistic standards."

The letter questioned the professionalism and ethics of the cyclist report, pulling no punches when it described the story as amateurish and unprofessional.

When read out loud in the morning editorial meeting, the two-page letter sparked an intense discussion. Most felt we had erred in our coverage, though they found the letter from the GJA to be overly critical.

Some missed the point completely, feeling that the GJA (which we are not a members of) was just trying to slander our media house.

I pointed out that personal feelings about the GJA didn't matter. What mattered was that we had violated the rights and dignity of the deceased. Had we learned anything from the error? I wondered aloud whether the story would have made top slot had it not been for the gore.

More of the Same

On Friday there yet was another example.

A full colour photo of a severed leg appeared on the front page of The Daily Graphic, Ghana's most widely read newspaper. The leg belonged to a boy who had been killed in a freak accident. Was the photo of the severed leg important to the story? No. Did the Graphic violate the dignity of the victim? Big time.

Journalism in Ghana has come a long way, but in many ways it still has some distance to go.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

from the "men of few words" dept.

Home internet on the horizon.
Life good.

More to come.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

from the "decisions, decisions" dept.

It's a cloudy and cool Saturday and I am at SKYY, catching up on net-related tasks.

I'm supposed to head to Cape Coast to meet Mark Legere, a JHR colleague. It's been a lazy morning and I should grab a tro-tro and get going. But Cape Coast is only an hour down the road and it's just 12:30 p.m. Lots of time. And the trip is for one purpose only: to chill out, which I am doing now.

Kevin, the new JHR guy at SKYY, was going to join me, but he's feeling under the weather today. Could be the climate change, too much work or the local gin and beer he was drinking last night. Heh. Welcome to Ghana!

Re: today's title:

I've been thinking of reformatting RoadSpill. New template additions allow me to do this, though I am scared of screwing up the site. I'd like to use a bit smaller font and find a way to add photos so they look better. The current design makes it hard to do any customization. Perhaps this is a task best left for September?

I've been working on getting the interNOT at home. There is a company, TeledataICT, that offers microwave broadband. SKYY uses it on one of their wireless networks. While it's not perfect (it's slow), it may be an option.

They're is coming out to do a site survey on Monday. Let's hope I have line of site with the tower -- and that the fees aren't outrageous. My thinking is: Even if it's slow, I can let my computer chug away all night... hello daily Daily Show!

Lastly: I had a bit of an accident last night. I was sitting in my room watching a film when I heard something skittering about in the common area. I looked over and saw a huge scorpion heading for the kitchen.

I've seen scorpions three times before. Twice dead, once alive. The time I saw a live scorpion, I remarked on how small it was before Gloria mashed it to a pulp with a cinderblock.

The one I saw last night was bigger than my hand. As I rose from the chair I accidentally knocked one of my 80 GB portable hard drives to the floor. The one containing all my Africa photos. After much difficulty I managed to get it to mount, but I don't have anything big enough to drag the data to. I'm going to have to buy a new drive... damn!

Meanwhile, I was able to capture the scorpion in a large plastic box. Kevin took some pictures (to come) and I turned the creature over to Gloria for destruction. Poor thing.

That's about it... best get going!


Thursday, August 02, 2007

from the "keepalive" dept.

So. Thursday. Week almost done.

A short blurb to say I exist. And that after a day of trying to find a copy of Ghana's criminal code online (and other assorted research), I am heading home.

I have a case study to start and several pieces to write for Roadspill and the JHR site.

And I have to pack for a weekend in Cape Coast. Yeee ha!

More soon...


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

from the "fotos" dept.

While I struggle to add the photos from the border expedition to the latest posting, you can still see them. Go here:

Great Ghana Border Expedition Pictures


from the "quick update" dept.

Just finished two days of workshops in Takoradi with my JHR colleagues. It's been a busy time, what with Jesper's visit, Kevin arriving and the workshops.

I am pooped!

However, there are only three days of work left before I head to Cape Coast to read Vanity Fair, stare at the ocean, and do lots of nothing. Can't wait.

I can't believe my JHR committment is done in six weeks. September 15th will here before I know it. And so will Leffler! Bwa ha ha...

Happy New Month!

from the "broadcast" dept.

Funny story about the call letters assigned to a TV station in Hawaii:

K-WHAT? Unbuilt Maui TV station lands questionable call letters

(h/t REW)