Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Music in Ghana

I’ve had an interesting experience with the music here. There are many similarities between radio programming in the United States and here in Africa. The radio stations here feature political talk programs, sports, gospel music stations, preachers, rap, and lots of talking. 

Soon after I arrived her I was shocked to hear "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers while our driver was flipping through stations. I actually heard a couple American country songs that day and I have to admit it was the first time I didn’t want someone to change the station while listening to country music.

We have a neighbor across the street who plays music very loud with outdoor speaker very early in the morning until late at night. After several hours, you can sort of tune it out but those big bass notes are hard to ignore. When you go to the quieter parts of our house it still sounds like a tuba playing off in the distance. For months he played the same 3 songs over and over all day but I'm glad to report he has started listening to the radio more so we finally get some variety now.

One difference between our radio DJs and those here is how often they interrupt the songs they are playing. Back home we've all heard DJs cut songs off early as they speak or ramble on for the first few seconds when a song starts but nothing like it is here.

Sometimes I will be listening to music and I hear the DJ yell a few words as he mutes the song and then it will continue again for second or two until he hits pause on the song and says a few more words. Luckily not all songs are this way but it is something I hear quite frequently on the radio. It sounds like a teenager who wants to listen to music and a parent who wants to hear a talk radio and they are pushing buttons back and forth in the car fighting over which station to listen to.

I've included a brief sample you can hear on the video clip below.



Another thing that has surprised me is that Ghanains play loud music at funerals. Funerals here are close to all day events and actually include hiring a DJ and playing music for the guests. I've only seen serious, reverent funerals back home so this was a big cultural switch for me. There is plenty of mourning and sadness when someone dies but they also turn it into a celebration of their life. When I'm driving around and hear really loud pop/dance music booming from speakers I never know if it's a party or a funeral until I can see if the attendees are dressed in red and black, which is the traditional dress for a funeral.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tropical Weather and Climate

Our front yard
When I left Utah to come to Africa at the end of July, the temperature back home was averaging between 90-100 degrees each day. When I arrived here in Ghana in early August the weather was a constant 85 degrees. It was much more humid, and actually felt much nicer than the dry heat back home. Since I’ve been here many people have written things like “I can only imagine how hot it must be for you in Africa.” I guess people must think I am living in Egypt. It does get hot here but I arrived at the end of the rainy season so it’s not too bad. 

During the first month that I was here I only recall seeing my shadow a handful of times. Despite it being very warm, there always seemed to be cloud cover so it’s not like the sun was beating down on me. I’m used to cold weather and snow from November to March so it will be a nice change adapting to warmer weather year-round.

In October I noticed a slight change with the weather. It is starting to get dryer and hotter. We still get occasional rain showers but they are very brief and not as frequent as the rain storms we've previously had. The temperature has only gone up about 5 degrees and I can't recall a day over 90 but it sure feels much hotter than it was months ago.  Our fans are always running now. On a positive note, I have noticed that the mosquitos, cockroaches, centipedes, and other crawly friends have decreased significantly in the last month. I imagine it is due to the dryer weather but I'm not sure.

A couple months ago we got the great news that two of our sons back home are getting married in December so we will be coming back for a visit much sooner than originally anticipated. I am a little anxious to return in early December since I have been wearing flip flops and shorts for the last 4 months. When we moved here our family got rid of all of our winter clothes. It should be interesting showing up at the Salt Lake Airport in the middle of winter dressed like we are going to the beach. 

One thing that has been an adjustment for me is the equal time for night and day. It starts getting light before 6 AM and the sun sets around 6 pm. It is an even split of light and dark over 24 hours. Since we are near the equator, the summer days are not longer and you pretty much get the same sunlight year round. 

As much as I like the warm climate, I still dislike having it get dark at 6 like it used to back home in the winter. Last week the US changed their clocks back for daylights savings. Africa is having none of that foolishness so now we are 7 hours ahead of back home which makes things a little more inconvenient since we have to wait until 3 0r 4 in the afternoon if we need to call home and that only gives us a 5 or 6 hour of window after that until we are falling asleep on our end here.

Sometimes late at night I feel exhausted and ready for bed and then I realize it is only 8:30. The early sunset plays a role in making me feel tired so early at night but so does my almost 50 year old body. I can see why aging people enjoy the warm weather. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

My Technologically Impaired Life

I am going to be very honest and vulnerable with this post. I am confessing some embarrassing things about myself so please don't judge to harshly. When I was a kid I remember helping my parents work the VCR since they found it to be too confusing. Perhaps it is genetic, but over the years I have slowly been afflicted by their malady to the point that I now find myself in their shoes and am technologically challenged. Here are just some of the examples:

I find myself now asking my younger kids to adjust my digital watch each daylight savings time change as I used to do for my father.

I used Wifi for the first time last year and it made me nervous.

I don't know what blue tooth is. I think it's what allows people with the dumb built in ear pieces to answer their phone hands free but I'm not sure.

I don't know how to back up anything on my computer or phone. I've heard about "The Cloud" but I can't believe it is that simple I and don't trust it.

I have several friends who are network engineers, programmers, coders, etc. and they intimidate me. I try to only talk to them about the weather or current events instead of trying to understand what they actually do.

I hate iPhones! Their supposed simplicity has backfired on me and I can't even get past the main screen. Luckily I use a Samsung phone but my other family members have iPhones. Trying to navigate an iPhone is like playing with a Rubiks cube for me. On a good day I can get one side the same color.

I don't understand when people talk about measuring data, memory, or whatever that Internet stuff is they are talking about. I have no idea what a kilobite or gig is. I understand it even less than I do when people make metric system references. I've at least seen a liter of soda before and have run a 5K, but I have no idea what a bit or byte is. All I know is that the higher the number on your phone the more expensive it is (and the cooler you are.)

If I went undercover at a tech convention like Comdex, I would be discovered within the first 5 minutes and they'd take away my lanyard and lead me out of the building. It would be like how I feel when I hear someone who knows nothing about sports say "that guy bounced the ball really good during the basketball game."

Seriously!
While reviewing this post I looked online and saw that Comdex actually ended over 13 years ago and it is The International Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas I was thinking about. Just another fitting example how behind the times I am with my tech knowledge.

Things are just way too complicated. Look at any remote control these days. They have about 64 buttons. There should only be power, channel, volume, mute, and skip buttons. The rest is just showing off and sheer confusion.

I really hate it when I have a question and have to call  an IT help desk and they ask which version of Windows I'm running.  It is at that point that I have to explain I am completely illiterate when it comes to technology. I also can't stand it when someone tries answering a tech question for me by sending me a link to an article about it. I need a person with a gentle voice to hold my hand and show me how to tackle these difficult problems in life like how to change settings on an app, not some cold heartless memo.

So there you have my confession. My name is Tom and I struggle with technology. Thank goodness I have younger kids who understand all that stuff as a matter of instinct.

PS- On the bright side, I stopped saying World Wide Web recently.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ghanaian Food

A delicious lunch a friend made for us.
I consider myself an expert on the subject of food since I have been eating it for 49 years now in order to stay alive. One of my biggest concerns about moving to Ghana was the uncertainty of what the food would be like.

One of the most traditional Ghanaian dishes here is Fufu which is made from a kasava root that they pound into submission until it turns into the texture of pizza dough. They then tear off pieces of the doughy substance and dip it with their hand into a soup for flavoring then swallow it. When everyone at the table uses the same soup pot it can take double dipping in the relish tray to a whole new level. 

Other popular dishes include rice ball, peanut butter soup, jollaf rice, banku, and kenkey. I'm too lazy to explain those but you can google them if you want to know what they are. In addition to those foods there are also fried plantains, fish, chicken, and fruits and vegetables.

I have never liked fish. I’ll eat tuna and can handle some occasional talapia or halibut but I’ve never craved fish. I am especially leery when I see dried fish covered in flies at the market and I know we are 5 hours from the coast. Nothings puts a damper on my appetite like seeing a fish head sitting in the stew pot while you are dishing up.

The fruit is great here. It is plentiful and affordable (except for grapes which are very expensive.) We eat pineapples, bananas, melons, tangerines, and mangos when they are in season. One big difference between the fruit here is that it is produced locally and I'm sure it is organic and has not been genetically modified. The bananas  here are much smaller but sweeter than the big yellow ones back home. They only last a couple days from when you buy them until they are attracting fruit flies and turning black. Due to the heat, humidity, and organic nature of the produce, you really have to go shopping for it every day or two in order to keep it from going bad.

Ghanaians eat much less sugar than Americans. I’m sure they enjoy occasional sweets and candy which they refer to as “toffee” but they aren’t as big on desserts as Americans are. Their food is also much spicier. Many of their dishes are quite tasty but it can be hard to enjoy the flavor when your mouth and lips are on fire. When our local friends have prepared food for us they often turn the spice level down to “bland American” level.

Bag of drinking water
One of the things that surprised me upon arrival was to see their drinking water is frequently served in plastic bags. You can also buy water bottles but they are much more expensive. The water bags are kind of like drinking out of a water balloon. You have to be careful when you put it down on the table that the open corner does not get too low and spill.

Ice cream also comes in little plastic bags the size of a frozen burrito which you suck on as it melts. It is called FanIce. It reminds me of how an astronaut living in zero gravity might eat dessert. At first it was awkward but I’m a fan now (no pun intended) and would gladly be their spokesman once I get famous and am looking for endorsements.

Overall, I’ve eaten less here than at home and have even lost weight because it is not nearly as convenient and there are not fast food drive-throughs everywhere like back home. You won't find American fast food here with the exception of just 2 KFC restaurants in our city of 2 million people and they are more of a novelty than anything else. Most Ghanaians would much prefer their traditional food to anything an American fast food chain offers. 

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.