Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Somewhere in the world with Hinda and Peter Schnurman"

Samuel in local garb Posted by Picasa

Hinda on Balcony of our Accra Apartment Posted by Picasa

Sellers in the Accra Crafts Market Posted by Picasa

Email Number 1 From Accra, Ghana, 24 May 2006

Accra, Ghana
Email Number 1
May 16 – May 23, 2006

Hello again!

Once again we are far away from the USA working as volunteers for the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). This time we are in Accra, the capital city of Ghana in West Africa. We have volunteered in East and South Africa, but this is our first visit to the western part of this continent.

Here are some first impressions and also a bit of how and where we live, who we are working with, and what we are doing.

We arrived here on May 16 in the early evening after a long 16 (10 hours and 6 hours) flight from Seattle, plus 6 hours in Amsterdam. At the airport in Accra we were met by 3 of the people that we will be working with. Disembarking from the plane, at 6:15 in the evening, we encountered high heat and humidity – and rain in that it is now the rainy season. The folks tell us that it is cool now because of the rain, but the high 80’s and high 90’s humidity doesn’t feel too cool. Actually, it has rained off and on each day since we arrived, but today, the 22nd, it has been clear and sunny, and really hot – perhaps high 90’s. This is not the most comfortable environment for Hinda who has developed a case of prickly heat, but she is a trooper and will survive as usual. By the way, it doesn’t cool off too much at night, but at least the sun stops beating down on you.

By this time in our travels we are used to the electric going off several times a day. While we have an electric hot water heater for our shower, it is so warm here and the water is so warm that one really doesn’t need hot water for a shower. In fact, it is rather refreshing to have a cool shower.

Last night it rained with thunder and lightning so hard, we were awoken by the noise. WOW!

Luckily, on our first day we were able to rent a very nice, fully furnished one bedroom apartment quite close to where we work. In fact, we walked to work today trying to negotiate lots of mud and puddles. Our apartment is in a large guest house which has several sleeping rooms and shared kitchens and dining rooms, but ours is self contained and takes up the western side of the second floor with a very large balcony that offers some breezes occasionally. There is an air conditioner in the living room and ceiling fans in the other rooms. Tonight we are heading to the store to buy a floor fan to blow directly on us in the bedroom.

We have decided not to try and rent a car on this trip. Traffic is horrendous, and taxis and shared vans – “tro tro’s” are very very cheap. To take a tro tro, (imagine a VW or Toyota van with 25 or so people crammed inside). The cost is 1,000 – 1,500 ceidi’s, and the conversion rate is 9,000 ceidi’s to $1, so you can see how cheap it is to get around. Taxi’s of course are more, but still pretty reasonable, so if we are going someplace not in a straight line, we have been taking taxi’s. The most we have paid so far was 60,000 ceidi’s.

Because of the morning traffic, it has been difficult getting a tro tro. Luckily we live close to work – a bit less than a mile, and we can walk in the morning while it is still relatively cool. However, the roads around here are not paved and it is like walking in a sea of mud.

By this time you have already figured out that you have to carry a lot of bills in order to pay for things. The other day at the FOREX, (Foreign Exchange Bureau), Hinda changed $500; got about 4,500,000 ceidi’s given to her in a black plastic bag since it was obviously too large a bundle to just stuff in your pocket or purse.

As we have found elsewhere in Africa, and really elsewhere around the world, we find the people here very nice. Please keep in mind that the Ghanians are the forefather’s of many African Americans since Ghana was at the heart of the slave trade in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. We plan to learn more about the slave trade while we are here and visit slave forts and the like and we will share our thoughts, experiences and photos with you. However, we think it will be an emotional experience for us since as you know, slave conditions were very very terrible. Anyway, yes, Ghanians are very nice – friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. On our first Saturday night here, the director of the organization we are working with and her husband took us to a lovely restaurant on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The view was wonderful and we enjoyed the breezes. After dinner Peter and the director danced to a live band and what a hit he made.

Our house and office are about an hour away from downtown Accra even though we are still in the city. Where we are is an industrial area with some residential housing which is increasing. Also, there are a lot of “squatters” – homeless people living in shacks made up of whatever materials they can gather. Ghana is in fact a very poor country like much of Africa with lots of disease HIV/AIDS, TB, cholera, malaria, and much more. We have already heard a story of a family that is so devastated by Aids that they have built a coffin for the latest victim placed them in it and waited for them to die. As we learn more in our work, we will share with you.

We work with an organization named Pro-Link and you can find them on the internet at We will be doing a variety of administrative and organizational development kinds of things. Already we have helped the IT person figure out how to make changes to their web page. Since neither of us know anything about web development, don’t ask how we did it, but we wanted to have an early success, and we did. (Just blind luck actually). We will be doing some fundraising training and workshops, board training, policy development, computer training and like many of the places where we have been, lots of little things here and there.

More to come, Peter and Hinda