Saturday, October 21, 2017

Awareness of Others

I have met some of the most generous people in Ghana who would give you the shirt off their back or the last bit of food in their home when you come to visit. I have also noticed some people who are kind of clueless when it comes to being aware of the needs of others or showing concern for people other than themselves. I understand selfishness and being inconsiderate of others is a universal problem, but I've noticed it here in the following ways:

1) Taking more than your share of food. While dishing up at a couple gatherings with limited food, I’ve seen several youth dish up heaping plates and take the majority of the food and not even care that the others behind them that will end up scraping an empty container. This may sound familiar to those of you who grew up in a large family. We have 10 kids so I am always rationing food in my mind to make sure everyone gets some. When my family buys pizzas, everyone does the math and knows how many pieces they are allowed to have before we even open the boxes so it has been a shocker for them to see some people dish up with reckless abandon and forsake the even portion rule.

While I'm on the topic of pizza, I once bought several pizzas for a scouting activity years ago and has to bite my tongue as I watched some of the boys eat twice as many pieces as the others, but they would only eat a couple bites from the end of their piece and would then discard about half a piece of pizza since it was just "useless crust" in their eyes. I could go on forever with tales of pizza equality but I'm getting off topic.

2) Playing loud music or being super loud around others. There is no awareness of noise pollution or the possibility that your loud music might annoy others. Our neighbor across the street regularly plays loud music in the morning at 6 am as soon as the sun comes up until late at night after 11 pm. I’m sure many people around the world have the problem of neighbors playing loud music but what makes this extra annoying is the fact that for months he played the same 3 songs over and over and over! I am not exaggerating. 3 songs all day long! I really don't mind the fact that I can hear his music, I just wish he had more variety. I have been tempted to burn him some CD’s to expand his play list.

3) Being late and making people wait for you. It is a pretty kicked back culture here when it comes to punctuality. Our Sunday meetings  usually start on time, but for any activities that take place during the week, they tell everyone it will begin an hour earlier than it really does just because they know most people will show up late. I have been furious on a couple occasions when I bust my butt to get to activities on time just to realize I was told the fake time as I wait for over an hour until people finally start showing up (because those people are aware of this early time announcement trick and know they can show up an hour late and be on time.) It is a vicious cycle. If you tell people a fake early time they still come late and are then conditioned to think it’s okay to go everywhere an hour late since that’s when people actually come.

4) Driving etiquette. I have seen an occasional driver stop and waive a pedestrian or other car through before them, but the majority of the time it is a super competitive attitude on the road. It reminds me of what it would be like if you were driving during a natural disaster trying to outrun flood waters and save your family. There is no such thing as the “every other zipper pattern” merge here. It is every man for himself and it is crazy. Even though the traffic is crazy, I have not seen Ghanaians with road rage. Any anger outbursts last just a few seconds and then everyone goes on with their lives. One reason for the aggressive driving is because there are not enough traffic lights or structure. In an effort to avoid traffic on roads full of pot holes, everyone takes matters into their own hands. 

I hope this post does not come across as being too critical. The experiences I mentioned happened to occur here, but I could have just as easily written about this same topic with examples from home. Anyway, the moral of the story is: If you can develop greater awareness of how your actions affect others, people will probably like you more. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Animal Life in Ghana

I have not noticed a big difference between the animals from back home and the ones I see here. Some people assume I'm surrounded by elephants, lions, hyenas, etc. but we are not living in the Maasai Mara of Kenya but rather the outskirts of Kumasi, Ghana. I've heard there are monkeys and crocodiles up north but it's not like I'm living in en episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins. I can't believe that show just popped into my mind. I haven't seen it since I was a little kid. Anyway, here is a list of the animals I see the most here. Sorry if it's not that exotic.

Lizards- The biggest difference here is there a a ton of lizards everywhere. At first it was kind of entertaining to see so many lizards, but I have totally gotten used to them and hardly notice them anymore unless they are really big ones. These health conscious reptiles are always doing pushups. If I find a small Gecko in the bathroom at night I wouldn’t think twice.

Snakes- These are the only animals I really am concerned about. I have always hated snakes and we’ve had a couple on our property in the last 3 months. I imagine most are harmless and help control the rodent population but venomous snakes are found in this area so I always keep an eye out around grass and bushes.

Spiders- I haven’t seen too many spiders here and they have never really bugged me. I have been letting the cobwebs in the corners stay up in the corners of my room since I’d rather have spiders present than mosquitos eating me in my sleep, which reminds me of the next pest....

Mosquitos- These are probably the most dangerous threat here since they can carry Malaria. We try to keep our screens closed, use mosquito spray, and some of us have used mosquito netting to sleep under at times but we need more netting. I have gotten good at keeping my body up to my neck covered with a sheet when I sleep.

Scorpions- We found a baby scorpion inside our front door one evening so I try to at least wear flip flops near door entrances or when going outside, especially if it’s dark.

Cockroaches- I haven't dealt with cockroaches for over 35 years but I've recently been re-introduced to them. We have some big ones here. A couple days ago a large one ran behind my wife’s pillow. Luckily, I was there to protect her and slay the dragon....after I was done screaming and climbing down from the chair I jumped onto.

Birds- I don't know much about birds, but the ones I've seen here look and sound much different than the usual Robins and Sparrows I was used to seeing in Utah. I have enjoyed hearing some exotic sounding bird calls and seeing new varieties of birds.

Dogs- There are many dogs around here. The ones that worry me the most are when there are 3 or 4 of them travelling together in a pack. We actually inherited a dog that came with the home we rent. It is a guard dog but had been living on the streets eating garbage for months before we got here since the home was vacant and the property owner lives in another city. 

One day he hobbled up to the gate and would not leave. We were told that he had been the guard dog for the prior tenants. He could hardly walk on one of his legs but after treating him for fleas, infections, cuts, and starvation he has made a great recovery and feels like part of the family. Arthur is now a beautiful, healthy dog.

Aside from the various animals listed above, I’ve seen many cats, mice, chickens, and goats. The other day we had to go to a hospital and get physicals for our resident visa application. It was the first hospital I’d been to with chickens and roosters living on the property.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Rain Down in Africa

One of the things that I have enjoyed here in Africa is the rain. Some days it is a fine mist or a light sprinkling but other times it will really rain hard. I have been surprised at how fast and hard some of these rainstorms can occur. Some days we will hear a brief pitter patter for a few seconds and then it turns into a deafening downpour in a matter of seconds. It is like someone just flipped a switch. Having a metal roof really makes us aware of how loud some of these storms can be. We are heading into the dry season soon and I missed the bulk of rainy season here which occurs in May and June so I really have nothing to complain about.

Last week we had a big rain storm throughout the night. When we got up in the morning and looked into our back yard we were surprised to see our small grass strip had turned into a pond. I was grateful for the small curb barrier that kept it away from the house. It receded back to normal within a day or two. I also made an observation that clothes dry much better when you take them off the clothesline before a storm. I guess they just got a very thorough extra rinse cycle.

Some of the dirt roads near our home get very damaged after heavy rains. Below is a picture of one section of road a couple blocks from our house after it was repaired. The locals use chunks of cement, big rocks, weeds, garbage, and sandbags to fill in the washed away sections of road. The problem is that many of the gutters on the side of the road get clogged and they overflow and run down the dirt road. It is kind of futile to work on rebuilding a road when you know all your hard work can be erased with a couple days of rain.

In the past I've been irritated when I was inconvenienced by road construction and maintenance back home, but I'd love to see an asphalt truck and steam roller working around here.

Speaking of African rain, here is a nice arrangement of Toto's Africa performed by the Angel City Chorale. I have always enjoyed this rendition, but I appreciate it even more after moving here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My Hearing Loss Paradox

I've had hearing problems with my right ear since I was a little kid. I used to frequently get bad ear infections that would make my ear ring and hurt. I later went through a period of having inner ear and balance issues when I was in 5th grade. I had always been good at sports during recess but over a span of several months I could no longer hit a baseball when it was pitched to me. My mom took me to several doctors and specialists but we never figured out what the problem was. (It wasn’t just a hitting slump either.) I remember one occasion walking to school and getting so dizzy that I had get down on my hands and knees and crawl back home. I eventually got better but I’ve had a faint ringing in one ear ever since then which I have gotten used to. Here is the link to a prior post telling about my ear infections.

About 20 years ago I started receiving hearing aid ads addressed to me in our junk mail and I’d laugh and say “How old do they think I am?” as I tossed them in the trash. It wasn’t until the last couple years that I have really noticed an increase in hearing loss and realized I might benefit from having one. When my wife sits on my right side and whispers something in my ear at church I have to turn my neck 180 degrees like an owl and look behind us so she can repeat it in my left ear. In case you were wondering, they are not sexy whispers but rather reverent ones.
I'm starting to relate to this guy.
I now constantly find myself turning my head and placing my “good ear” closer to the mouth of people when they speak to me. Earlier this year I received yet another insulting flyer for a hearing exam presentation and this one offered a free dinner for attending so I decided to give it a shot. The short presentation was actually quite informative. After completing my hearing test, the doctor showed me the results and asked if I had ever done work with blasting or explosives. He explained that there was a certain range or sound register where my hearing perception just disappeared in one ear. He showed me some cool hearing aid devices that work with smart phones but they were out of my price range so I told him I’d have to get back with him down the road.

Before you who feel bad for my hearing loss, I have some additional information that may surprise you. Despite my hearing problems, ironically, I also have some hearing super powers too.  Many times, when we are in a noisy environment I will say “What is that squeaking noise” or “can you hear something dripping?”  Everyone in the room will usually answer that they can’t hear anything. I will then tell everyone to be quiet and eventually point out some subtle noise originating on the other side of the house. My family is always in awe that the deaf dad can hear such quiet noises as caterpillars crawling and dog whistles but can’t hear regular conversations.

Apparently, I am kind of like Cyclops of X-Men. My weakness is actually a super power. I am still waiting to find out how to fight crime or make an exciting movie about my ability to hear water drip in another room but I’m sure the day will come when my auditory anomaly will save the day. In the meantime, I am seriously going to check out some of those new state of the art hearing aids when I get back to the States. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Internet Challenges

Our Internet coverage here has been very challenging.  My family came over 2 months before I did and whenever we’d try a video conference call it would freeze up or I could only hear or see them for part of it. It reminded me of those scenes from Star Trek when someone hails the Enterprise while being attacked and relay a poor-quality distress message while cutting in and out and only hearing every couple words. I hate texting more than anyone else on this planet but after 10 minutes of saying “What?... you cut out again…. I can’t see you…Can you hear me?” for the bulk of our conversation, I conceded to just text many times instead.

We live on the outskirts of town and are just outside of the phone poles that could provide DSL coverage. As an alternative, we use a small mobile pocket modem with a sim card and power it with a battery pack when we travel. We had been purchasing data in small amounts at a time and load them on the modem so we could get wireless Internet coverage for a couple days. They actually sell little data cards everywhere here that you can just buy off the street and scratch off the back to reveal a code to get coverage for a while. We eventually went to Vodafone which is the local Internet company and purchased a large bundle of data instead at better rates but even with more data, the coverage is still weak and irregular so it is always hit or miss when we try to use the Internet.

My wife’s work involves consulting, coaching, and conference calls with her clients. If Facebook Messenger, Google hangouts, Zoom, Skype, or some other application does not work due to poor Internet or no signal at all then she has to call them on her phone. Her cell phone bill has been up over $500 each month since the Internet is so unreliable where we live. I also do data entry which requires me to access multiple websites and download documents. I spend most of my time each day waiting for coverage, then when I get a signal, I log on, pull up the needed websites, then start work for a few minutes until it freezes up, kicks me out, or we have a power outage. It’s kind of like playing Whack a Mole with the necessary requirements needed to work always popping up and down but never working at the same time. I was working on my computer for about 5 hours a day before I got here. Lately I’m lucky to get 5 hours a week in even though I spend double that time just trying to get online and attempting to work. As you can imagine this greatly affects my income so it has been pretty frustrating.

We have been requesting that the local Internet company install a few more poles and extend their DSL coverage a couple blocks towards us since we got here, but we are still waiting for a response. They finally sent a person to our home to access the neighborhood last week so hopefully we are making progress. I don’t know how the Roman Empire could spread half way around the world by sending written messages back and forth. Being accustomed to instant fast Internet coverage anywhere I go back home has spoiled me. 

Every so often our coverage is good enough that we can even stream YouTube videos. I almost cried with joy last week when I was able to watch some College Football highlights for several minutes without it freezing up. I am grateful for those rare windows of good Internet coverage. I'm confident we will find some ways to improve our Internet dilemma here soon. Having sporadic Internet access can be frustrating but at least it is better than when I went without any coverage whatsoever from 1968 to 1993.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Carrying Stuff on Heads

One thing I have seen a lot of in Ghana that I never saw back home is people carrying stuff balanced on their heads. I'm aware there are many parts of the world where this is a common practice and I don't understand how they do it so effectively. 

During my first week here, we went to a busy market to buy some produce. We purchased several heavy bags of food and the merchant we bought it from insisted her teenage daughter carry it back to our van for us. She hoisted the bags up on her head into a large container you could bathe a big dog in and walked as easily as the rest of us. After I realized how heavy it was I took some of the bags out and carried them. I was just as impressed with her strength as I was her ability to balance the load while walking.

Another observation I quickly made was that so many Ghanaians have great posture. I’m not attributing it to their ability to carry stuff on their heads and don’t know if there is any correlation between the two but I have been impressed with how many people I see standing up straight with their head up and shoulders back as compared to people like me who look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo when I attempt to stand up straight.

Both men and women carry stuff on their head. I’ve seen small intricate things like piles of loose peanuts and eggs to medium sized loads of clothes, bread or cleaning supplies, to huge things like crates and lumber carried this way. 

One secret to helping them do so is taking a small cloth and wrapping into a ring shape so it will balance better and not be so hard on the top of their head. They seldom use their hands to balance the load either unless it is a very heavy load like the lady below carrying all the crates.

I’ve seen some women balancing some seriously heavy stuff I’d probably only have the neck strength to take several steps with. I’m sure some of the loads I’ve witnessed women carry on their heads are at least 50 or 60 pounds. If the Crossfit Games ever incorporate a head carry routine into one of their workouts the African region would dominate.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


The light switch & fan control in the kitchen
I’m grateful that we have electricity here but it is not always reliable. It may go off at any time for several hours or even multiple times during the day. It’s something that people here are used to. They just shrug and say “Ghana Electric” when the power goes out. We have several solar lamps and pocket chargers that are always ready when the power goes out. 

Luckily nobody in our home is on life support so it's not a big deal, but my only concern is for the electric pump that moves water from the well to our polytank and the fridge/freezer if it is an extended power outage.

Power outages can be frustrating depending on when they happen but what I like even less are the brown out conditions when the power is greatly reduced across the grid so only about half the appliances and light switches in the house work. The lights that do work are at lower power so they are extremely dim and flicker and they remind me of a scene in a horror movie when someone is exploring a poorly lit scary building.

The voltage here is 220/240. We use multiple adapters, power strips in order to use the devices we brought with us but I still could not get our electric hair trimmer to work at this currency without sounding like it is a wood chipper and overheating. Many of the electrical outlets in our home are poorly insulated with several centimeters of space around them or wires sticking out so there is a shock hazard if you are not careful when plugging things in. None of the outlets I’ve seen are grounded either. I frequently get minor shocks all the time from touching some devices when they are plugged in. It’s not that painful but feels like sharp tingling or a pinch when it happens. We have many outlets in the main room but only one outlet in each bedroom so that affects the layout when arranging furniture and appliances in a room.

We have been living here for three months now and we have an old electric meter that has not been checked on for many years since we are on the outskirts of town. Our landlord is afraid that if and when it does get checked that the electric company will bill him for several years of service. I am concerned that he may try and stick some of that to us especially since I recently noticed that the “caretaker” of our property who lives across the street has tapped into our electricity for his house across the street. This is the same guy who starts every conversation with me by saying “I don’t want your money” and then proceeds to tell me why I should give him money. He does nothing for our property but he does scheme how to get money from us.

Anyway I recently started taking a picture of out meter each month in case we have to prove how much power we use should a dispute arise in the future. I hear it has been quite a hot summer back home and one thing I do not miss is receiving my Rocky Mountain power bill for the summer months. Maybe having inconsistent power is not as bad as getting a $600 power bill in August. I really am grateful for our electricity even with the minor inconveniences we experience.