Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ewonam ready for Ghana vs. Brazil in World Cup Posted by Picasa

School girls in Danfa Posted by Picasa

Boys fishing on Lake Volta Posted by Picasa

Girl with one pink earring Posted by Picasa

Village children carrying firewood for sale Posted by Picasa

Pounding Fufu Posted by Picasa

Coffins 6' and Over Posted by Picasa

Young Coconut Trees on Keta Beach Posted by Picasa

Young Coconut on Keta Beach Posted by Picasa

Email Number 4

Email Number 4
Accra, Ghana
June 28, 2006

Dear Friends and Family,

Well as you know, both the USA and Ghana are out of the running for the World Cup, and for a while here it was pretty exciting. After we lost to Ghana, we of course were rooting for Ghana, even wearing shirts displaying the colors of the Ghanian flag. After the US loss to Ghana, we got caught up in a drunken mob and it was a bit scary for a while, but ended up ok.

Imagine global warming here on the equator in Equatorial West Africa! We can tell you that global warming is not such a good thing, we are here in the rainy season but the rains do not come and the water level is down and the heat just keeps up.

Anyway, we are not writing to complain, but to let you know what we are doing, how things are going, and to ask you to participate in a small project that may in fact help in a very localized way to deal with this problem of global warming.

Talk about global warming, heat, and high humidity, one day a week or so ago, we discovered that the vitamin pills that we were taking developed green mold on them. So now, everything edible stays in the refrigerator.

We are in the process of moving to a new apartment not too far from where we were living. Things just didn’t work out there and we decided to leave. Hopefully this new place will be better, and it is also cheaper which is good. We’ll let you know.

Here is a lesson: The house maid got too busy to do all of the ironing one day, so she gave one of Peter’s shirts to the gardener to iron. I know you are asking why a gardener would be ironing a shirt. When Peter went to wear the shirt, it had gone missing and after a long search, the house maid found it hidden and crumpled up in a corner with several holes burned in it. The gardener had hid it. They agreed to have a seamstress fix it by embroidering over the holes. When we got the shirt back, the holes were indeed covered, but not by embroidery, but with the tags and labels from inside the shirt cut out and sewn to the outside. Now it says “Do not dry clean” on the front pocket. Don’t give ironing to the gardener!

Bribery is everywhere and is done by everyone, so rather in many cases, it is just the cost of getting things done and is not so much a bribe but perhaps a commission. Nevertheless, in the cases of traffic police stopping cars to check licenses and insurances, it is most certainly a bribe and easier to pay that small amount than go to court for hours and hours and pay a much larger amount.

Here are two good stories, and then we’ll tell you about work and the project we have in mind.

We spent a 3 day weekend in Akosombo, where there is a hydroelectric dam which dams up the Volta River and creates Lake Volta, the largest man made lake in the world – 400 kilometers, about 250 miles long. When we got to the hotel and turned on the AC, after about 20 minutes there was a loud noise, kind of a grinding sound, and then from the AC vents, three tails from some gecko’s came flying out and when they landed on the floor, they continued to wiggle for 3 or 4 minutes. If this wasn’t bad enough, the same thing happened again about 20 minutes later, but there were only 2 tails this time. A family of gecko’s probably took up residence in the AC which hadn’t been used for a while. Not to worry however, gecko’s can grow their tails back. Needless to say, the next time we are in Akasombo, we probably won’t go back to that same hotel again.

This is a little funny, but has a great ending. Here, people like us are called “whiteman”, and in the local language – Twi, the word is “Obruni”. It is just a descriptive word and not a negative word at all. When we first found the new apartment that we are about to move into, Peter noticed that the owner’s eyes were extremely red. While he didn’t want to be rude, he asked nicely if the man had something wrong with his eyes, and was told that they were bothering him. Peter suggested that he go to the hospital and have them checked. When we returned 3 days later to check on the progress of the repairs he was making to the apartment, he greeted us with dark glasses and told us that he had just removed bandages from his eyes and still needed to protect them from bright lights. He did go to the hospital and discovered a fairly serious eye infection which they treated. Now the landlord – Samuel – told us that he goes around telling everyone “that the whiteman saved his life”. A good story with a good ending. Peter’s reputation continues to grow!

Now, we want to describe a project that you can participate in a modest or little more substantial way, and if it is completed, it will make a fairly big impact in a number of ways.

Keta is a town several hours drive east of Accra on the Atlantic coast. It is bounded on one side by the ocean and on the other by a very large lagoon. Fishing, fish smoking, and fish mongering is the major source of income for the people who live in Keta. Over the years, the ocean has overrun the narrow strip of land between the ocean and the lagoon, and thus has destroyed many of the houses where the fisher folk live and work. Last February, Pro-Link, our organization planted 2,700 coconut seedlings on the beach separating the ocean from the lagoon, and these seedlings are doing very well. (See the photo on this blog posting). As they mature they will keep the beach from eroding; provide coconuts for sale and consumption, and the chaff from the coconuts will be added to the feed of the ducks that most families keep for food. Most importantly, the fishing industry will be able to survive providing employment and all that entails to the residents of Keta. The District Assembly of Keta wants 10,000 more coconut seedlings to be planted to insure that the erosion will be stopped and provide coconuts, etc. The total cost of the project is approximately $1,100 - about $1.10 per tree. So for a pretty small amount, much can be done. The District Assembly will pay all transportation costs to bring the seedlings to Keta, and a volunteer group and the Keta residents themselves will plant and care for the seedlings. The seedlings will be divided up to be given to families who will then be responsible to plant and nurture them.

For those of you who are Jewish and who know how the Jewish National Fund collects money from individuals to plant trees in Israel, you can see how similar this is. In any case, we hope that all of you will want to help to the best of your ability. Together, we can literally save Keta!

We are going to make a contribution to this project, and we hope you will join us. We can make arrangements for how to send your money, and we will try to see that it can be a tax deductible donation.

At work, things are going very well. We did a 3 day training for the main office staff on fundraising, marketing, needs assessment and income generating activities. Next week we’ll do some more training for a full week in Hohoe – one of the project sites several hours drive from here. We are working on grants and reports – editing rather than writing. We are trying to build capacity and not just do things. There is also a lot of informal one on one mentoring that goes on that may have as much, if not even more impact. We finally got most of the computers virus free and virus protected, and all this week, not a single virus has been discovered. Also helping people learn more computer skills. And, a big one: we got a wireless internet connection set up that is relatively fast and not too expensive and it is making work much easier for those here who need to browse and send and receive emails. Finally, Peter has set up a digital photo archives and will teach a short course in photography, and digital photo editing. So, all in all, we are satisfied.

Thanks for listening to us once again, and we sign off for now with love.

Peter and Hinda

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Fishing boats on Senya Beraku beach Posted by Picasa

Fish boxes, Senya Beraku Posted by Picasa

Street sweeper, Keta Posted by Picasa

Woman selling okra on road to Keta Posted by Picasa

Girl selling watermelons on road to Keta Posted by Picasa

"Mommy" helping to pull the nets in at Senya Beraku Posted by Picasa

Our taxi driver Kwame's son Posted by Picasa

Our taxi driver Kwame's daughter Posted by Picasa

Sign at slave fort in Keta Posted by Picasa

Mending nets at Senua Beraku Posted by Picasa

Girl selling water on fisherman's beach at Senya Beraku Posted by Picasa

Getting pineapple on way to work Posted by Picasa
Email Number 3
Accra, Ghana
June 13, 2006

Dear All and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads!!

We wish we could tell you that the weather is cooling, but alas, we can only tell you that it seems to get hotter and hotter by the day. Even though we are in the rainy season, it is still pretty hot. And when it rains here, it pours; the streets flood, the power goes off, and it can be so loud that we have to shout at each other even though we may be lying in bed right next to each other. Our road to walk to work is a sea of mud.

We are getting along quite well here despite the heat and humidity. We live in the community rather than in an area with other “Obruni’s” – white people. Since we are nearly on the equator here in Accra, the days are pretty much split between 12 hours of light and 12 of dark, so we rise early and go to bed early. Now that we have lived and worked in East Africa and Southern Africa, we think that West Africa may be the friendliest, and the Ghanaians are particularly friendly – lots of smiles, help, courteous, and so on. We feel extremely safe here in Accra and Ghana, and very comfortable living where we do. It is basically a light industrial area with lots of factories and consequently lots of small shops and roadside stands. There are also some fancier residential areas around, but we live just off the main road with only a couple of other houses nearby. We can usually buy whatever we need from a roadside peddler or small shop, or someone walking by carrying something on their head. This is an interesting thing, Here, and elsewhere in Africa, it is women who carry most of the things on their head. However, we did see both men and women carrying sewing machines on their head which they use to mend things for people along the way. Street commerce is a great thing. Also, men sell some things which women don’t such as peddling ice cream from a wheeled cart, or pushing heavy loads on a large wagon. It is very nice here we are enjoying ourselves very much.

Peter just had some African shirts made from material he bought from a women’s AIDS group that is located just across the road from the office. Now he has shirts from Uganda, Thailand, India, and now Ghana. Hinda also had a couple of dresses made and we also had a table cloth made. It is good to support the local aid groups here and elsewhere. The 4 shirts, 2 dresses and a tablecloth including material and sewing cost $50.

We also had haircuts here the other day for about $8 each and they are really good, although there is not much hair to cut on Peter anymore.

At work we have developed a number of materials which we will be using for training beginning next week with a staff training here in the main office and then some trainings in 3 of the outlying offices. Also, we are doing a lot of mentoring regarding report writing and grant writing. We are proud to say that after many months of problems, in the 3 weeks or so we have been here, we were able to get Pro-Link’s web site revised by getting someone to teach the IT guy how to get to the right place on the internet to do whatever you do to update a web site. Not much in one sense, but a major accomplishment from another perspective.

If any of you are following the World Cup, you know that Ghana is one of the contenders, (and so is the USA – so we started a betting pool). Ghana and the US will actually be playing each other sometime next week. Of course no one here thinks we stand a chance. Let’s wait and see. Tonight Ghana is playing, and the government has promised not to cut any power (no rolling blackouts) during the game, so it is good that Ghana made the World Cup playoffs. (They lost 2-0, but we had power the whole time – after the World Cup ends, we are sure there will be more rolling blackouts).

In a bit we want to talk about some serious things, but for now let’s have some more fun.

Peter is continuing to learn Twi (pronounced “tree”) one of the local languages spoken around Accra. And as usual he speaks in 1 word sentences like our youngest grandchildren, but he can be understood most of the time. Each day he tries to learn a new word. Unfortunately, they don’t all go together in a way that make sense.

We usually take a tro tro to work. This morning, in a VW van, there were 25 of us, and we get out at the “Blue” Gate, which of course is red. It only costs the two of us the equivalent of 22 cents, so it’s worth it. We have finally learned all of the appropriate hand signals and fares, so we no longer get cheated out of 10 cents per ride as we did from time to time.

We live in a “guest house” of which we are the only guests, so it is quiet, and the best thing is being close to work. If we lived even a mile or two further, it would take us an hour or more each way. Besides the heat, traffic is the next worst problem we have.

We have a joke between ourselves when we take dishes out of the cupboard and ask if we want our plates with or without bugs. Can’t get away from them or the cockroaches. At least the bugs are so tiny, that you couldn’t taste them anyway.

Here the “hawkers” sell everything in between the lanes of cars and at stop signs. Some examples: bread, water, (about 3 cents for a plastic bag which you bite the end off of and then suck), plantain chips, sunglasses, shoes, toys, etc., etc. People are too busy and it there is too much traffic to get to a store, so the store comes to you.

On the way to work we often buy a nice sliced pineapple, and some mangoes, and other things to eat at home or in the office. There is a lot of street commerce, and it is pretty functional and cheap.

One of the interesting things about Ghanaian culture are that most funerals are held on Saturday so that the relatives and friends of the deceased can attend, so that on Saturdays you can see many many people walking who are dressed in black and you know that they are going to a funeral. People just can’t do during the week because of work and also because many of the funerals may be in villages and towns where the deceased person was raised, but the guests come from all over and transportation being what it is here – slow because of the poor roads, the funerals are thus held on a non work day when people can get to them. In the Accra area, there are some very ornate caskets shaped in the form of anything you want. For example, a sports car, or a chicken, or a whale or shark. And they are painted in very bright colors so when we first saw them we thought they were large toys for kids, or part of a carnival ride.

You know all of the spam you get? Well, we now know where much of it comes from: There are a lot of Nigerians here who inhabit the internet cafes all day long and send millions of these things, e.g., “My uncle the King died and left me a billion dollars, but in order to get it I need a bank account. Please send me your account number and password, and I will share my dead uncles billions with you”, etc., etc., etc.

We have been taking some weekend excursions to places close to Accra. One of them was to Senya Bereku, a small fishing village on the Atlantic. We spent several hours there walking on the beach and talking to the fisherman who are all having a hard time because the fish have been so depleted. We even helped pull in one of the fishing nets and boy is that hard work. (see photos)

As you may know, Ghana was one of the major places from where slaves were shipped to the “New World”. Either they came from here, or came from neighboring countries and came through here. Millions as you know, and probably millions died in the slave forts as they are called even before they were shipped out.

We have visited a couple of these already and will be seeing more. Suffice it to say that the conditions under which these people were kept were indescribable. Perhaps 150 men in a 10 x 10 foot space with water and food dropped in from a hole in the ceiling so that people had to lap it up from the floor, (along with all of their bodily excrement). These dungeons were so dark that many people became blinded from the sun when they were taken out and since a blind slave was of little use, they were weighted down and tossed into the sea. All of the slave forts were built on the seashore so that the slaves could be easily sent through “The door of no return” to the waiting ships to be brought across the ocean.

Needless to say it is pretty moving to visit these places, but it is important to see, and to understand that these slave forts were a part of our US history as ugly as it may seem to us now.

Most of the Ghanaians we talk to about that period of history feel that it is in the past and life should go on. Perhaps, but, we should always remember and say “never again”, although if not slavery, then genocide or something equally horrible comes along. It is always hard for us to understand how humans can be so inhumane to each other

For some reason, there are a lot of hermaphrodites here, and we have been trying to arrange help for a few of these children who are clients of Pro-Link. They need to have some lab tests performed which can be quite costly, and so we have been so lucky to have been befriended by a very nice Ghanaian who is the head of a department at the University of Ghana Medical school and he has agreed to try to help. If he can, then we think these children can get free operations to become one gender or the other. Imagine how embarrassing it is for a child, or anyone not be able to be seen in public in school because of this problem. Hopefully, they can be helped over the next few months. Of the 4 kids we are talking about, 3 come from one family.

Finally, we have come upon a very interesting project which we will share with you the next time we write and invite you to consider helping out. It would be a very modest support that will be needed but will go a very long way, and for all intents and purposes will last in perpetuity. More about that later.

Until then, stay well, and enjoy your weather whatever it is. We are sure that it is more comfortable than ours. The other day in a store visited by ex-pats we overhead a man tell some one that he ran out of deodorant because he has to shower at least 3 times per day. (and of course one can only do that if they have a shower!)

Hugs to all, and we miss you a lot.

Peter and Hinda

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Girl at fruit/veg stand on walk home from work Posted by Picasa

Squatter family across from office Posted by Picasa

Pro-Link office Posted by Picasa

Squatter houses across from office Posted by Picasa