Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ghana Make A Difference

Shortly after arriving in Ghana, my wife informed me that she had put together a trip to take our family along with 8 local teenagers to help out at a Children’s Shelter called Ghana Make a Difference. The youth we went with are locals and have grown up living in a Liberian refugee camp in Southern Ghana. 

Ghana Make A Difference takes care of about 29 kids. The majority of them are young boys between the ages 6 and 13. It is not an orphanage but a temporary child shelter where the government will bring children who have been neglected, abandoned, or experienced all kind of abuse including child labor and human trafficking.

GMAD is a big operation so there are many staff members and their families who also live there. Our group of about 15 volunteers was there for 10 days and we got to stay in a separate building at their facility and they took good care of us even though we were supposed to be the ones serving them.

We were able to spend time playing with the kids, cooking, doing service projects like painting the new staff house they had just built, weeding, and moving building materials for additional structures they are building. 

In the evening, we would spend time with the youth we brought with us. We spoke with them about their future plans and what they wanted to accomplish. We also shared some skills and tools with them that will help them throughout their lives.

While at the shelter I was amazed to see so many happy kids despite their circumstances. The facilities there are much nicer than any other type of shelter or care center here. It was clean, safe, well organized, and a very impressive operation. They teach the kids, feed them three meals a day, let them play soccer and other sports, and take them to church each week. It was a very inspiring experience to see all the good they do there. It was also nice to make new friends with the kids, staff members, and the youth we went with.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Laundry

This week’s topic may not be very exciting but it is one many people take for granted. I'd like to share some thoughts about laundry. After 25 years of going through many used washers and dryers, we finally bought a new washer and dryer and they were awesome, but I’m afraid they spoiled me. Here in Ghana we have a small washer but it is not very effective. I’m pretty sure it was made by Mattel or Hasbro and is the washer version of an easy bake oven.

Washing clothes by hand isn't so bad since you can do a small load much faster than with a machine. I've done my own laundry since I was a teenager so I don’t have a problem with it. The challenge I’m having here is with drying the clothes after. We hang our laundry out to dry but it can take a while with the humidity and rain. What bothers me the most is what happens to clothes when you hang them out to dry over time... STRETCHING!

I experienced this many years ago when I was traveling around Europe for over a month and would wash my clothes each night in a hotel and then lay them out to dry. After several weeks, my clothes were stretched like crazy. My shirt collar was sagging half way down my chest and would easily slide over one shoulder if I wanted to go for that look. My poor shirts knew how it feels at Café Rio for a cute ball of dough to transform into a large tortilla. I'm not sure where that analogy came from, maybe because I'd love a Café Rio pork salad right now.

Anyway, on that trip I ended up finding a laundromat in France and paid about $25 to do a load of laundry and use a real dryer and it was totally worth it. I recently realized that I love my synthetic, dry wicking shirts and can’t stand cotton anymore since it takes forever to dry and stretches out so bad. Our towels and clothes get clean but they are often hard and crunchy when they finally dry.

Our laundry situation fits into a theme I keep seeing which is that everything takes so much more effort and time to do here.  The next time you throw a load of laundry into the washer and dryer, remember how blessed you are to have a quick and easy way to have clean, soft, clothes that actually retain their original shape. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Transportation: Orchestrated Chaos

I have been to many different countries over the years and experienced various cultures but the biggest culture shock for me upon arriving in Ghana was the traffic. The best way to describe it is "every man for himself", yet at the same time it is incredibly efficient considering what is happening. During the first day I grimaced and flinched in anticipation of multiple near accidents I witnessed, but by the second day I was just amused, and in awe with their driving.

In the United States drivers are much more cautious, careful, and orderly, yet ironically we seem to freak out when there is an accident or go ballistic with road rage when someone cuts us off or wrongs us on the road. In Africa anything goes on the roads and everyone is pretty cool with it. While driving through the city it is normal to be cut off or run red lights (a mere suggestion) as long as you can see your surroundings and the other cars around you.

Another thing that surprised me was the fact that many of the busy freeway speed roads have speed bumps on them every few minutes so if you are not paying attention you and your suspension will be in for a rude awakening. There are also a ton of police check points that slow traffic down along the way. Between the speed bumps, police stops, tolls, and single lane traffic full of potholes, it can take quite a while to travel on the road. I was wondering what side of the road they drive on before I got here. I now know the answer is both sides.

Merging here is insane, yet a work of art. Scooters, pedestrians, cars, taxis, and trucks all come within inches of each other. As people try to pass each other and avoid pot holes it looks like a giant game of chicken. The big vehicles have an advantage since they win in the event of a collision, but the smaller vehicles are quicker and maneuver easier so they can get away with more. Despite the utter chaos traffic is surprisingly efficient.

The video below is footage from a busy intersection in Ethiopia, so it's not from here but it pretty much gives you an idea what the driving is like here.



The car horn is used as often as blinkers and a honk of the horn can mean a variety of things like warning a larger truck you are trying to pass them in their blind spot, notifying someone you are coming around a blind turn, saying hi to someone you know, or to tell a pedestrian to move over since they walk on the edge of the road and are mere inches from passing vehicles.

We have a 15 passenger van we recently bought here since we have a large family and have service groups come over regularly so we need the seats but I am not looking forward to driving the beast in this free for all. We have hired several different drivers for long trips or to congested areas in town but my wife has been driving to church and other local errands on her own for a couple months now.

Despite the crazy traffic, my biggest concern is the dirt road conditions. The city roads are mostly paved but we live on the outskirts of town so about 10 minutes of driving to our place is on unpaved red dirt roads that can wash out over time with the rains. Due to road damage, some of the turns have to be done slowly and resemble four wheeling in Moab. My kids have actually gone out with shovels on a couple occasions around our neighborhood to improve the road conditions.

Anyway driving here is crazy but I'm also impressed with how well they do it under the circumstances. Hopefully when I return home I won't adopt the local driving habits here or I will end up losing my license within a week.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Adventures in Ghana

I haven't written any posts on my blog for quite some time. Fortunately, I have recently made some major life changes that will provide some new content to write about. Rather than start a new blog, I have decided to use Chaka’s World as a platform to give updates about my family’s new adventure.  This blog may not be as silly or entertaining as it used to be but it may be informative for family, friends, or unsuspected strangers who get rick rolled and diverted to this site.

My wife and I recently made the crazy decision to move our family to Ghana for a year. One of my sons served a church mission there so we were somewhat familiar with Ghana. My wife originally went to Africa three years ago and has since started doing humanitarian work there and has been back six or seven times in the last 3 years. Rather than me holding down the fort at home with the kids each time she left, we felt it would be good to make a change and have the entire family go over together for an extended period of time. My wife and five youngest kids moved to the Kumasi area of Ghana a couple of months ago. I had to stay behind after they left to tie up loose ends and wait for our home to sell. Last week our home sale was finalized and I was finally able to leave.

Just before leaving home I was looking forward to a final farewell basketball game with some friends I have been playing weekly ball with for many years. Within the first couple of minutes of playing I blocked a guy’s shot and came down and rolled my ankle on someone’s foot. I knew it was bad but decided to keep playing since it was going to be my last chance for good hoops for some time. I tightened my shoe and tried to walk it off and kept playing for two more games. I know that was stupid but it’s a guy thing. I finally couldn’t take the pain any longer and also realized I was not doing my team any favors by trying to hop around on one foot so I bowed out with a disappointing farewell game.

I flew out a couple days later and was sitting on planes or in airports for over 30 hours so the swelling got pretty bad. I’ve included a picture I took at my layover in Paris. I was mistaken for an elephant by a couple people. Lucking I found some compression socks in my luggage after I took this picture and it is slowly healing and doing better now. I arrived in Accra late Saturday night and was very happy to be reunited with my family. 

Each week I will either give an update or address a new topic from frequently asked questions I get the most from concerned people who wonder what we were thinking. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts regularly on Chaka’s world again.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fluorescent Light Bulbs a.k.a My Arch Nemesis

I've spent a lot of time over the last two months lighting and re-lighting our furnaces. I had a friend and even a repairman come out to look at them but our furnaces are just getting old and it's common for me to have to light the pilot light several times a day which is a pain, but much cheaper than replacing old furnaces.

For those of you who are not familiar with the process of lighting a furnace let me share the joy. You first take off a noisy metal cover and then find the knob that controls the gas. You turn it to "pilot" and press it down hard as you light a match and try to fit your fat hand through a small space until you can get the match back to the pilot light before the match burns out. Getting my hand back to the pilot light is similar to when a rodent compresses it's body flat in order to sneak under a door or other opening it has no right fitting in. Once you light it and you see the flame you still have to keep pushing down on the pilot knob for about a minute or until your thumb goes numb. Then you can release it and slide it to the on position. Re-lighting a furnace is a pain, but one thing I hate infinitely more is changing fluorescent light bulbs.

I am grateful for fluorescent lights and appreciate the illumination and energy savings they provide but it is 2017 and there has to be a better way to connect them than trying to fit the Frankenstein neck bolts in the metal housing and then twisting them around hoping it will fit in and stay without shattering a glass tube in your hand. It is also common for the old brittle plastic end pieces of the light that you are trying to fit it into to crack and break during this process.

Because I am tall I have been the victim of genetic profiling all my life. People always say "You are tall can you switch this bulb out for me?" Each time this happens I comply and silently give myself a pep talk that this time it will be easier and smoother than the last time I tried. After I remove the plastic cover and watch the dead flies and bugs slide out, I remove the burnt bulbs. As I attempt to put new ones in I hear the noise of metal prongs scratching on the metal light frame interior which is even worse than fingernails on a chalk board.

I usually need to stand on a ladder or chair with my hands over my head for much longer than I'd like. Sometimes I end feeling like the soldier in Unbroken but instead of holding a heavy wooden beam I am holding a glass tube that weighs at least 3 or 4 ounces. Also nobody will shoot me if I lower my arms but besides that it is a pretty accurate analogy.


I'm sorry to complain about my first world problems and how inconvenient it is for me to have heat and light but with all the advances in technology how have we not improved the ease of changing long fluorescent light bulbs? If you think I'm just an incompetent wimp then you haven't changed enough fluorescent light bulbs.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cold Weather

If you've read this blog you know I am not a fan of cold weather. Rather than complain and whine about the cold I thought I'd just share some funny winter weather memes I came across recently. Enjoy.






Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The celebrity deaths of 2016

2016 has been a rough year for losing many artists, entertainers, and celebrities. Below is a small portion of those who have passed away this year. It's enough to make you want to put some of your favorite entertainers into protective custody so we can make it through 2016 without further losses. It shouldn't be a big surprise since famous people die every year. 2014 was a rough year for entertainers but 2015 was not quite as bad. 2016 has made up for it.

David Bowie  
Prince
George Michael
Glen Fry
Mahammud Ali
Nancy Reagan
Gene Wilder
Garry Shandling
Craig Sager
Carrie Fisher
Kenny Baker
Abe Vigoda
Alan Rickman
Peter Vaughan
Florence Henderson

All of the celebrities listed above impacted my life to some degree and I am grateful for their contributions and wish them and their family and fans the best. At the same time I have noticed a trend that I find amusing. It is the need some people have to seek attention by telling everyone that they are grieving more than everyone else since they were their biggest fan. This could be true in some cases but I suspect many people like to hop on the grieving bandwagon for some celebrities they know next to nothing about.

One of my favorite scenes from The Office perfectly demonstrates this. You can click on this  Office Clip and watch to see how Ryan was in so much pain when he thought Smokey Robinson had died and how little he knew about him when pushed on the subject. If you didn't just click on the video link you really should. It is funny and only takes 2 minutes of the episode. Seriously, do it.

I've seen the same thing happens with bandwagon followers in sports. Ask anyone who claims to be a hardcore life long Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Clippers fan. You will find that few of them can name more than a couple players from their favorite team from more than 5 years ago.

I am not trying to play the role of "fan police" or tell people who they can like and how they should react when a celebrity dies, but you have to admit there is plenty of superficial grief going around. I'd also like to give you a heads up that there will be many people you grew up being entertained by who will die in 2017 so we will probably go through this same thing again at the end of next year.

It's been sad to see so many entertainers pass away this year and as I continue to age I'm afraid it will only get worse each year, but what is even more disturbing is watching Keith Richards suspiciously getting younger and more powerful each year.