Monday, March 26, 2007

An elementary school we pass between Accra and Aburi.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Near Legon.

WAWA Subaru

I was out running some errands by car today. Normally I would be on my bike, but I had several stops and many things to carry today. Plus, Patience asked if I could take her and baby Isabella into La to pick up some fabric from a relative. Not a problem.

We got about two blocks from home, when the car sputtered and lost power. Luckily there was a wide shoulder without an open drain. I coasted to a stop and muttered, "WAWA."

"The car is spoiled?" as Patience put it.

West Africa Wins Again!

I suggested that Patience walk back to the house and stay cool, but she insisted on staying; suggesting armed robbers might ransack the car...two blocks from home in broad day light. She called her husband on my cell. Recall that he is the same man who helped me purchase my spare wheel. He rushed to the rescue on his moped with an assortment of tools and much more knowledge of engines than I.

Once under the hood he quickly traced the problem back to a blown 30A fuse. Battery and starter seemed to be cranking. Just not any fuel getting to the burners apparently.

Hmmmm....I think I've heard about this problem recently before. ARG! Bad fuel, perhaps, gunked up fuel filter (hopefully). I don't mind dropping a few bucks changing a fuel filter, but the possibility of a fried fuel pump has me concerned. Hopefully the fuel pump has not been over worked - just the blown fuse. SJD agreed via phone.

We swapped the ABS fuse to get the motor running. Derrick was backing the car up to take it for a test spin, and went right into an open gutter. DOUBLE ARG! I saw it coming a mile away but couldn't get his attention to stop. We got it out no problem and went on our way.

So, our final stop is really close to home. Try to start the car again. Crank, crank, crank...nothing. Now Patience, Isabella, my wilting lettuce and I are stuck again. We call Derrick again who rushes over again to swap a few fuses. Eventually the car is running, but he suggests I just give it a little extra gas all the way home. Easier said than done in Accra grid lock.

I've never seen anyone riding a moped stop traffic with such authority to allow the frazzled white guy to motor through without stopping. Only in Accra...nice job Derrick! Driving Ghanaian style ain't for sissies.

Back home safely, I'm now scouring the internet for quick-ship OEM parts. I mean Derrick was good and appreciated, but even he agrees that his home-made fuse is not very reliable. That, and I dread another trip to the Kaneshie auto market....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Recycling bottles?

Without curbside recycling our wine and beer bottle collection was growing. What to do?

We had a similar dilemma with our cardboard packing boxes and paper leftover from the US to Ghana move. The local moving company took the majority of the boxes and paper off our hands once we had unpacked. The remainder of boxes and paper were offered to our guard. He gladly snatched them up off our porch one night.

I made a short trip down near Makola Market a while ago to ogle some bike parts and to see first hand if the decongestion efforts of the AMA were having any affect. Decongestion of hawkers seems to be the hot-topic in the paper in February. Yes, you can actually move much easier. The bike part vendors were still rude and grabby, so I didn't buy any of their junk. I did, however, stumble across a side street that seems to be where one can buy all sorts of used packing boxes and paper.

I somewhat assumed that the packing material would be reused, recycled, and/or resold for just the same. Perfect! We also heard that sometimes Ghanaians will use cardboard for insulation in their houses. I was a bit surprised to hear that one might actually insulate a house in the tropics, but what do I know? Either way, I was glad to see it not simply being tossed into a landfill, or perhaps more likely for Ghana, burnt.

So, back to the bottles... I inquired at two local shops where we purchase wine. They looked at me like I had three heads, and suggested I simply toss them into the garbage. Beer bottles from Ghana Brewery and Coca-Cola Ghana are returned for repackaging/refill/resale. Buying Ghanaian beer or soft drinks requires somewhat of an odd negotiation and promise to return the bottles to the point of purchase. Not so for wine. Seems as though there should be plenty of wine bottles sitting around Accra.

I'm pretty sure the local bead industry uses crushed recycled glass to form new beads. SJD and I are planning a trip to Cedi Beads in a few weeks anyways, so I'll have few questions ready for them. Whether they purchase discarded glass, or get it free? If there is some local collection point in place? How many beads are produced from a single bottle? It will keep me distracted while SJD sifts through beads to purchase. Our friends just posted about their visit here.

Without any better idea in place, I set the current collection of 20 or so bottles on the front stoop one night. By 6AM the next morning, they were gone; I assume the guard snatched them up. I will have to ask him what he did with them.

Monday, March 19, 2007


So after numerous emails and phone conversations, dead-end leads, seven interviews, and one really bogus job offer, my six month selective mini-vacation has come to an end. Yup, a job has found me in Accra.

This is good. Oprah reruns were getting boring. The long morning road rides were turning a bit lonely.

I'll be part of the development team managing the construction of a 260 room five-star resort hotel, conference and retail center in the heart of Accra. It appears to be a pretty decent project on paper. I'll have many of the same responsibilities I had in DC, and perhaps a few more. The on-site mock-up is a good indication that a high expectation of quality will be maintained.

And yes, I can bike to work as long as I can tolerate the heat.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dress to Impress...

or not.

It is two days after Ghana's big celebration. Patience, our cleaning lady, was working when I returned home. She asked me to help fold some bed sheets before she popped out the door to grab some fufu and fish soup for lunch. When she got back, we talked for a while about the jubilee, our families, houses and food. She is an interesting, opinionated and curious woman, and the only Ghanaian I get a chance to speak to regularly enough to get a bit of an insider's glimpse of this country. She is the oldest of four sisters and two brothers, and is the mother of a 6 month old daughter, Isabella.

Patience knocked on the front door on March 6, just to say hello and tell us that she was headed down to Osu with Isabella slung on her hips to see some of the Jubilee. I offered her my freebie Ghanaian flag to wave, but she declined. We wished her a good time and good luck with the crowds.

Today it was interesting to hear her impression. What I thought were Ghanaians having a crazy good time, I think she found just a bit too busy. What she noticed was the "plenty, plenty people and lots of white people" milling about Osu. Fair statement. Osu seems, after all, to be the place where most white people go for groceries, restaurants and small retail, and yes, I mill about Osu fairly regularly. Perhaps her assessment was just a bit skewed since most of the Ghanaians that would normally be in Osu were likely just a few blocks away at Independence Square. Not really important to me, but it was kinda funny to hear her say it. I think she had fun although it sounds that even she found the temperature hot and steamy.

Believe it or not there is some hub-bub surrounding the ongoing/recent Jubilee. First is that the President wore a suit, white shirt and tie instead of the brightly colored and wildly patterned traditional kente cloth. I asked Patience what she thought about this. Not surprisingly, she thought it was a snub to Ghana. I explained that I had not really given it much thought until the hard feelings were mentioned to me. Guess I'm used to seeing male world leaders dressed in a clean, crisp boring gray (or dark gray with red or blue tie in DC) suits afterall. She seemed to excuse me for not noticing. I started to explain "perhaps" just what President Kufuor might have been thinking. Perhaps he went for the suit when he realized he was going to get his 15 seconds of TV exposure on CNN, and was attempting to show the rest of the world that Ghana is no longer "the Africa you studied in junior high." Dress to impress??? I have no idea, but quickly realized I wasn't going to convince Patience otherwise. In the end, I think she is right in feeling a bit snubbed. Similarly, there is a photo circulating of former President Clinton with former President Rawlings - both dressed in kente. Ok, Clinton must have been melting in his gray suit, white shirt, tie AND kente wrap. Patience, you have to agree with me on this one. Come on now....

Of course there is the controversy over the expense of the celebration ($20M US), the overwhelming amount of garbage produced, and the much more complicated question of whether or not Ghana has prospered under their independence. I really do not have enough background on these subjects to feel that I should toss around unsolicited opinions.

Completely unrelated...I returned from a nice solo 57 mile road ride out west of Accra along the XX road. The road has recently been repaved, and probably had a shoulder added. Traffic still moves along briskly for the most part, but at times it seems like you're riding along inside the wheel well of whatever truck might be belching diesel exhaust chugging up an incline. I caught up with a Brittish (?) cycle tourer on his way to Ivory Coast. He started way up in Mali two months ago. We rode together for a mile or so, before I wished him happy/safe travels, and I turned around for Accra. Man oh man there was a ceaseless headwind from the west that required much effort to maintain 16mph on the way out. The return trip was effortless crusing at 22mph though. Fun! Traffic was still gridlocked in Accra three hours later.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ghana @ 50 - two perspectives

Two similar but different reports of Ghana @ 50 from western perspectives.

Smart and balanced from National Public Radio.

Touchy-feely from Voice of America. Ummm....okay.

Lost in Lagos on Lufthansa

A neighbor here in Accra reminded me that if nothing goes wrong during our travels we won't have anything interesting to talk about at cocktail parties once you get past the weather and jet lag. Perhaps.... Anyways, considering how much extra business Lufthansa might be expecting in/out of Accra this year, perhaps a refresher course in customer service would be advised for their agents in the Lagos, Nigeria airport.

I would like to bring to your attention unsatisfactory customer service experience in Lagos, Nigeria. We believe some compensation should be offered from Lufthansa to make up for its inexcusable lack of basic customer service, which not only inconvenienced us but put us at a certain amount of personal risk.

My wife, Ms. SJD, and I were booked on the February 9, 2007 flight LH 565 departing Accra, Ghana to Frankfurt, Germany via stopover in Lagos, Nigeria. Our final destination, via a connecting flight, was Paris, France. A mechanical problem with an engine was discovered while on the tarmac in Lagos. Two attempts to rectify the problem delayed the departure for nearly three hours. Finally near 1:30AM local time, the captain informed all passengers that the flight was being cancelled. All passengers were directed to disembark the plane for an overnight stay in Lagos, Nigeria. I commend Lufthansa for this decision, however a complete lack of customer service and coordination by the Lufthansa-Lagos on-ground staff continued for the next 24 hours. My complaint follows below.

1. Lufthansa did not have sufficient representation on ground to explain to passengers of what was happening and next steps.
2. The one agent present provided a phone number to contact Lufthansa for further information. When passengers attempted to call it over the next day, there was no answer.

3. Passengers were herded through Nigerian Immigration and had passports (including our diplomatic passports) confiscated because we did not have visas, with no clear explanation of how or when they would be returned.
4. Passengers were boarded onto buses and driven to a poor quality far away hotel in a dicey neighborhood. Lufthansa had failed to notify Hotel staff of our arrival. Staff was caught by surprise and was unprepared for the arrival of stranded passengers at 2:00 in the morning. They did not have room for all the passengers.
5. The following morning, Lufthansa did not make any attempt to update passengers at the hotels of the plan for rescheduled departure.
6. The hotel did not have operating phone lines for passengers to call Lufthansa for flight status. Passengers used personal cell phones instead. Since the phone numbers provided by Lufthansa staff were incorrect or out of date, passengers resorted to calling relatives in Germany for assistance contacting Lufthansa. We were given no resources for these calls to cancel and revise plans and reservations at our final destination.
7. These calls resulted in a raft of unconfirmed rumors about options and an indication that a bus would return passengers to the airport at various times. The bus did not arrive at any of the rumored times and repeated assurances from hotel staff that we would be called with information proved false. At about 5pm, most passengers resorted to hiring taxis to return to the airport, at their own expense.
8. Upon return to the airport around 6pm, Lufthansa managers apologized but clearly had not begun to coordinate the rebooking of passengers. Passports were still being held by immigration. Lufthansa did not even have a list of stranded passengers, or where they were being held in Lagos. This was potentially dangerous, and simply inexcusable!

9. Over the next five hours, Lufthansa chaotically dealt with passengers. The options and story changed frequently and there was no central and authoritative communication to all passengers concerned. Again, rumor and confusion prevailed. At around midnight, we were finally informed that Lufthansa was re-routing a plane from Abuja to pick up the remaining passengers. Passports were finally located and returned less than an hour before flight departure. No one had been fed since a barely edible lunch at the hotel.
10. We finally left in the wee hours of the morning and arrived at our destination 30 hours later than expected.

My wife and I are seasoned travelers and understand that delays resulting from mechanical problems are a reality of travel. However, neither of us I have yet experienced such lack of customer service. So many of these problems could have been avoided by simple leadership and communication on the part of Lufthansa. Lufthansa failed to perform at every given opportunity. As you know, there are options within the Star-Alliance network for travel to Europe and the North America without having to do business with Lufthansa. Passengers deserve and expect much better service from airlines. We hope to elicit a satisfactory response from Lufthansa regarding this matter.
Thank you,

The good news is that our comment is case #961,340 in the online que with Lufthansa customer service.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Happy 50th Ghana!

I bet these guys are headed to the parade, don't you think? Right thigh says "Welcome". Left thigh says"Akwaaba". Perhaps SJD noticed what was written on the rear (SJD says an eye was painted on each cheek) .

We just returned from a Ghana @ 50 Jubilee celebration at Independence Square here in Accra. There has been quite a lot of anticipation building up to today. Lots of freshly painted curbs. Plenty, plenty police and motorcades zipping around town. Seems almost like DC in some ways.

Most of Cantonments and bits of Osu were ghost towns. Seemed as though most of Accra was watching the parade. There was a lot going on that we could not get close enough to to see. Every now and then another cheer could be heard. It was quite a party even from the perimeter of the crowds.

First order of business, get a flag to wave.

I managed to be in the right spot at the right momemt as the Ghana Police started handing out the freebies from the back of a pick-up truck.

SJD, Giselle and I worked our way though some of the masses,

but declared defeat when the view of the parade (which was taking place inside the square surrounded by grandstands) did not improve. A Ghana Police officer spotted us amongst the crowd and offered unemcumbered passage to the front row for better viewing. We politely declined. It was intended to be kind I'm sure, but the special attention was rather embarrassing considering the other 100,000 or so Ghanaians straining for a better view of their party. The color guard below probably had the best view.

Back on 28th February Road people were really getting into the Tigo (cellular phone company)truck passing through the crowd with speakers pumping out some high-life music with dancers, bikers, unicycle riders, roller skaters all around all whizzing through the onlookers. Winnie the Pooh, resting on the roof, looks as though he has had enough excitement for one day.

Yes, there were more than a couple painted Ghanaians caught up in the mood.

We ran into the other Ghanaian cycling team (Dome Cycling) that I occasionally ride with.

The 50th year of independence is quite a milestone for Ghana and Africa. Congratulations!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Foix to Paris - wrap it up already

The final days of our trip we drove from Foix zigging and zagging a bit, but with most of our progress towards Paris.

France, at least the departments we happened to drive through, seemed to be on school holiday and winter hibernation. Many of the stores and houses were shuttered during business hours. Not too many people walking the narrow streets. The comment "sleepy little town, eh" was repeated quite a bit. Some hotels and restaurants were simply closed for the winter, we were told. RocAmadour, in Lot, is apparently one of the most visited towns in France but felt more like a western ghost town than tourist hub/trap when we passed through. Not such a bad thing.

Also on the plus side there were not any tour buses idling in front of sites, or grinding up swichbacks, or crowds -- and we generally had no problem finding gites on a walk-in basis. Off season travel is quite nice as long as you don't need to see flowers in full bloom, or whales migrating through a strait, or vines full of grapes. In fact, I don't ever recall going to Europe during peak/summer season. Odd...

So... here are our chambres des hotes along the way.

Alvignac - Not much to look at this time of year, but clean and pleasant inside. A bit tricky to find amongst narrow farm lanes. The very friendly proprietor is a great cook. Best cooked meal so far - potato-leek soup and canard. SJD had an omelet with walnuts. Sounds a bit funny, but it was tasty.

Sarlat - Good location for walking around the town center. The house forms part of the old rampart of this medieval city, with owners not quite as old. Nice garden out back. The house was filled with a bunch of dusty antiques that we were afraid to touch.

Perhaps the nicest place we stayed. A huge house near the "sleepy little town" center of Mer. Quite a ways up some narrow curling stairs. A really scary flush toilet that sounded like a space shuttle launch. Nice view of the nuclear reactor cooling towers as well as another old church. Otherwise nice.

Eventually we rolled back into Paris only to spend the next three hours attempting to return the rental car at the Gare Montparnasse. Oh what fun it was circling the block, double parking, looking for a "Budget" sign. Eventually, we ditched the car in the 5th level of a an unmarked garage before trekking back over into the Gare looking for anyone with a "Budget" name tag. The customer agent was not miffed or surprised at our story. Only concerned whether or not we had left the tank on F.

I looked at her square in the eyes and gave her a nice stern, "oui" before SJD could spill the beans that the tank was actually 15/16ths full.

"Any receipt?"

"No. Listen. The tank is f-u-l-l." Any more questions? "Oh, and here is the key. The car is located across the street in the basement of the garage. Merci. Au revoir." Actually, the tank was full before we started the round the block odyssey.

Eventually we made it back to the hotel to freshen up before heading out on one last scavenger hunt for items to take back to Ghana. Oh just cheese, chocolate, wine and sausage as well as a few snacks just in case we got stuck in Lagos, Nigeria again. More on the "AGAIN" part of Lagos later.

All is well that ends well. France never disappoints me. It was a nice time of year to get away with SJD. We're now back in Accra sweating away those glorious added calories without even lifting a finger. Perhaps the urge to exercise will overcome us.