Saturday, March 21, 2020

Ghana vs. Kenya

I've been living in Ghana for nearly 3 years now but recently took a trip to Kenya and really enjoyed it. I thought it would be fun to write a brief post highlighting some of the differences between these two countries. I admit my observations are superficial and that they are just generalizations due to the limited amount of  time I spent there, but here are some of the insights that stood out to me.

Country size and population- Kenya is located in East Africa and has approximately twice the land mass of Ghana in the West. Kenya has about 50 million residents compared to Ghana with around 29 million.

Weather- I've grown accustomed to dry season weather in Ghana over the last 5 months. The dust from the Harmattan has limited visibility and air quality. East Africa is not affected by this. When I arrived in Kenya it was a good 10-15 degrees cooler, the skies were blue and clear, and it was not nearly as humid. It was a wonderful change. I did not sweat nearly as much there and it felt much more like being home in Utah.

Picnic during our safari
Wildlife- Ghana has several monkey sanctuaries and a Mole Safari park in the far north, but Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa have claim to some of Africa's greatest safaris. I felt like I was watching The Lion King as our Jeep passed Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Ostriches, Zebras, Water Buffalo, Gazelles, Hippos, Baboons, etc. I was really impressed with the Masaai Mara but it is much more expensive to vacation there than Ghana, especially if you stay at any of the nice lodges within the Park.

I know donkeys are not considered exotic animals, but I was surprised to see so many of them in Kenya pulling carts around. I've only seen a handful of donkeys in Ghana.

Food- The food I ate was much less spicy than many of the traditional Ghanaian dishes. Some of the dishes were also eaten with their hands like here in Ghana. I really liked the Kenyan food. There appeared to be an abundance of cheese and milk in Kenya so those particular foods were cheaper than they are in Ghana.

Health- Both countries have a similar life expectancy numbers but there is a higher prevalence of AIDS in Kenya. People are also less likely to be obese in Kenya. There were many more people in Kenya with thin builds.

Sanitation- There is plenty of garbage in the streets in both countries, but Kenya recently outlawed plastic bags. There was trash in the busy streets of Nairobi but elsewhere I didn't see nearly as many empty water sachets or black plastic bags in gutters or blowing around like I do in Ghana.

Public transportation- Many of the vans, buses, and motorcycles in Kenya had fancy paint jobs on them. I was surprised to see so many vehicles decorated with a variety of themes. I saw an NBA bus, Money heist motorcycle painted with characters and sayings from the show. There were church, and many movie themed buses too. It's looked like graffiti artists had decorated many of the vehicles. The vans I saw and rode in appeared to be in slightly better repair than many of the tro-tros and taxis I use in Ghana. Most of their motorcycles also had weird shaped windshields on them.

example of artwork on vehicles.
Housing- The homes I visited in Kenya all had unique metal front doors with a small opening that just your hand can fit through to unlock the lock on the inside. I guess this prevents someone with bolt cutters from accessing the lock on your home when you leave and lock up. I also didn't notice many homes under various states of construction. In Ghana there are many homes in a partial state of completion with piles of sand, gravel, and bricks, piled up in the front yards.

Vendors- I did not see vendors walking up and down the roads selling goods on their heads like you experience in Ghana. I kind of missed being able to just get a fan ice,  plantain chips, or a loaf of bread at any intersection.

Police- I only saw one police vehicle during my entire week in Kenya. That is not to say they don't have a sufficient police force, but it was nice not having to experience any police stops at road blocks. This week I drove from Accra to Kumasi and was pulled over at 5 different police stops. I also did not encounter any toll stations on the roads we traveled in Kenya. Both countries do however, have an abundance of speed bumps on many of their roads. It seems you can only drive at a decent speed for so long before you have to slow down to a near stop to avoid damaging your car on these bumps.

Capital City- I went to some nice places in the city but did not enjoy downtown Nairobi. It was so crowded and dark and dirty. The country was beautiful once you get out of the big city though. When it comes to safety, I'd feel much more comfortable in downtown Accra than Nairobi, especially at night. I'm not sure if that's due to familiarity or the massive numbers of people there.

I like both countries but I'd really like to go back to Kenya again sometime.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

For Those Who Despise Haggling

I have never cared for the practice of bartering or haggling when one is trying to purchase something. Some people love the rush they get as they put their negotiating skills to the test and demonstrate their business savvy. I am not one of those people. Maybe I'm a wuss, but I tend to avoid any unnecessary confrontational interactions and I just can't stand the inefficiency and repetitive nature of bartering.

I'd like to first clarify that I don't think there is anything wrong with getting a bargain or being good with money. It's been said "a fool and his money are soon parted." I also understand that there are times and places when you don't have a choice but to bargain, but why would you do it if you didn't need to? I would describe haggling as an unnecessary extra step, a waste of your time, and an exercise in inefficiency. I don't like having to employ acting skills and excessive dialogue in order to purchase something at a fair price.

My first encounter with this came as a teenager when I went to Tijuana with some friends. As soon as we crossed the border we were swarmed by salespeople trying to sell their goods. If you wanted to buy a blanket, hammock, jewelry, or any souvenir, you had to go through the process of listening to the vendor tell you how much they wanted for it which was usually 5 times too much. Then you countered their offer by saying you would pay far less than the item was worth. You did this back and forth multiple times as each party slowly gave in and got more reasonable. By the end of the process you pretended to be uninterested and walk away until they finally ran up to you and agreed upon the appropriate price both parties were okay with. This is the real price you could have just bought it for in the begin without all the theatrics. Even buying an inexpensive thing like a can of soda involved going through this ridiculous routine!

I would rather pay more for almost anything than have to play this silly game and waste my time when I buy something from a street vendor.  Since I moved to Africa a couple years ago I have been forced to barter and bargain more than I like. Taxis are notorious for making you haggle. Many taxi drivers here typically ask 3 to 4 times the going rate when I need a ride. I just feel it is insulting to my intelligence to have to play this game. That is one reason I love Uber. I know what the price is before the driver even shows up and it is usually a third of what the taxi drivers demand. I don't have to spend any time or energy arguing because the decision is made in a split second on the app. If the quote is too high, I simply don't proceed.

One exception where I can accept this type of negotiating is when you are making a large purchase like a home. It doesn't seem quite as annoying when people are dealing with large sums of money and are submitting written offers and counter offers with a deadline while their offers are being entertained. At least this only happens for most  people a handful of times in a lifetime.

If you disagree with me, just think what your shopping experience would be like if the next time you went to Costco or a grocery store the person in front of you with a large cart of groceries haggled with the clerk over every item they purchased.

After writing this post I was looking online for a picture for haggling and came across this video clip. I feel vindicated if Monty Python is also making fun of this topic. Just because I hate bartering doesn't mean I'm better than those who do enjoy playing this game... it only means I have more common sense than them.😄

Monday, February 17, 2020

Controlling Governments

I haven't given much thought to communism over the years, but with the recent Coronavirus outbreak. I've had some interesting insights and reminders about controlling governments. It has been interesting to see how slow the Chinese government was to admit that they had a serious health crisis on their hands. They even criticized other countries that had issued warnings to their citizens about travelling to China saying they were over-reacting and promoting needless fear. It's also been disturbing to see Chinese citizens, reporters, and bloggers attempting to tell the world about the actual severity of the problem be censored, jailed, or just simply disappear. On the bright side, a controlling government made it much easier to shut down and quarantine a city with twice the population of Los Angeles. That would be much harder to do in the US where people are accustomed to going wherever and whenever they want.

I've noticed a similar patterns in other countries over the years. The citizens of North Korea are only allowed access to media that is provided by their government. There is no social media or interaction with other countries. All the movies made in North Korea are produced by the government and this propaganda paints their leader as a man who is approaching deity. Their starving citizens are taught to fear the rest of the world and are constantly being told how well they have it. The last thing their leaders want is for their citizens to have their eyes opened to how the rest of the world is living and to the freedoms they do not enjoy. In a way it seems like North Korea is pulling a massive Truman Show prank on 25 million people.

Speaking of the Coronavirus, it might not spread into North Korea as quickly as other countries since it is so isolated with travel restrictions for visitors, however; if it ever did infect North Korean citizens, I doubt their government would ever be willing to acknowledge it.

North Korea keeps it's citizens in the dark "literally"

In 1986 I remember learning of the nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl. The Soviet Union downplayed the severity of that situation and their state controlled media tried to cover up and minimize what had happened. It seems in many of these communist countries the image a country is trying to project for the rest of the world is valued more than the safety and well being of it's citizens. These countries are frequently too proud to admit the truth about many issues if it does not line up with the propaganda they have been promoting to their citizens and the rest of the world.

Going back even further to the late 70's I remember visiting Germany when the Berlin wall was still up. This was during the days of East and West Berlin and the difference between the two was shocking. I will never forget visiting the Check Point Charlie museum as a young kid and seeing how those in the East would risk their lives to try and get to the other side in order to flee their government.

Reviewing these examples of repressive governments makes me grateful for the freedom I have. My country is not perfect and I admit it has many problems. Ironically, I know this due to the fact that we have freedom of speech and the press. I don't think I could handle living in a world where my mail, phone conversations, and e-mails were monitored and censored. I complain enough as it is about my entertainment options but I'd go crazy if I could only watch government approved programs and was told what kind of music, clothes, and hairstyle I could enjoy. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to bear arms are things we can easily take for granted.

I am not anti-government. Governments play an important role in bringing order to society. I also understand that many bad things can happen within a country when it gives it's citizens so much freedom but when you weigh the problems of a free society versus the problems of a society where government controls every aspect of your life, I will always choose freedom. Many young people today believe in a Utopian form of government that will take care of all of their wants and needs and solve all their problems. I would suggest they have probably not been around the world or studied history enough to see what happens to your standard of living when you relinquish your freedoms over time to a government for the promise of future benefits.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Too Many Holidays

I'm surprised at how frequently I keep hearing that regular days carry some kind of  significance and have been designated as minor holidays or commemorative days. I 'm cool with the usual big holidays like Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Days for one's country, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, but there are just way too many supposedly special days.

If you look up unofficial holidays or awareness days you will see there is a special day every single day of the year which basically cheapens any legitimate holiday. So here is my opinion on some of these other holidays or "fun days."

I'll be the first to admit that some of these holidays are kind of lame but I can go along with them since most of them are a great excuse to justify eating food or treats. Some that fall in this category include:

Feb 14- Valentines Day- A day people do something for their significant other out of obligation and peer pressure. Also a day many restaurants increase their dinner menu prices by 25%.

Apr 1- April Fools Day- A day for kids and immature adults to do pranks and mess with people.

May 4th- National Star Wars Day- "May the Forth Be With You" It was destiny and I like puns so you will have no complaints from this Jedi Knight.

May 5- Cinco Dey Mayo- This is not Mexico's Independence day but commemorates a military victory over the French. Many people know this is a great excuse for Gringos to enjoy Mexican food and beer.

National Donut day and World Chocolate Day- If you insist it is appropriate to eat chocolate or donuts on these days I'm not going to fight you.

Then there are some special awareness days that are not as well known as big holidays but I feel they are worthy of taking note. I'm sure there are many more but I'm too lazy to look them up. These would also include religious holidays from a wide variety of religions that followers choose to observe.

Jan 11- National Human Trafficking Awareness Day
Jan 27- International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Mar 2- Employee Appreciation Day
Aug 21-World Senior Citizen Day

My final category includes holidays or special days that I think are just plain dumb. I love science fiction, Nutella, and cinnamon rolls, but I don't need an official day designated to enjoy them.

Jan 2- National Science Fiction Day

Feb 2- Groundhog Day- Who benefits from this? I am as sick of this mindless tradition as Bill Murray was in the movie.

Feb 5- World Nutella Day

June 24- Take Your Dog to Work Day

Oct. 4th- Cinnamon Roll Day

Nov 15- Day of Imprisoned Writer- Yes this is a thing. This day commemorates the serious topic of human rights and those who have been repressed but it sure sounds odd. How many imprisoned writers are there? The first one that always comes to mind is ironically Hitler writing Mein Kampf.

Others special days that are just plain silly include static electricity day, national gorilla suit day, no pants day, monkey day, talk like a pirate day, etc. Sometimes there are the special commemorative dates that a State or City might choose to observe. I love the Utah Jazz but was shocked to see our State declare February 29, 2012 as Jeremy Evans day after he won the NBA slam dunk contest. Wouldn't it make more sense to just congratulate him?

Anyway, I hope I haven't stepped on too many toes. If your family gets excited for Apricot Day each January 9th then go for it. I hope you enjoy celebrating your favorite holidays but I think I'm going to start making up my own because I'm pretty sure I could do much better than most of these.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

So Much Confusion...

Recently I've been amused with how much contradictory information we are constantly bombarded
with. There is more information available now than at any time in the history of the world but sometimes the more I study a subject the more confused or even manipulated I feel. One area we regularly see this is in the world of politics as different sides of the isle share their propaganda and try to discredit their opponents. We see many biased news reports and editorials as well as claims of "fake news". Social media has only amplified this problem with trolls, memes, and keyboard warriors  stirring up controversy and sharing their opinion as if it was absolute truth. It's hard to know what to believe anymore. Don't worry, I'm done talking about politics.

Another area where I've noticed inconsistencies is in the medical field and health and fitness industry. It's interesting to see how things change over time. Bloodletting was a common practice to cure disease several hundred years ago. In the 50's there were smoking ads endorsed by physicians. I even remember as a kid in the 70's seeing health spas featuring machines with vibrating belts to melt away fat from your hips and stomach. In the 80's our country went on an anti-fat crusade and adopted grains and cereals as the foundation of our foods. As a result, obesity increased and today those same carbs are currently the villain when it comes to weight gain. The USDA food pyramid has evolved over time so was that due to new findings, lobbyist food groups, or mutations in the human population?

Every so often aspirin, chocolate, salt, wine, and egg yolks are bad for you and then a few years later we are told they are good for us. We were told to eat more small meals throughout the day and that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Now we are told intermittent fasting is better for us and you really only need 2 meals. Much of the confusion lies with media outlets sharing these new findings for the sake of getting our attention with quick sound bites but frequently many of the studies they report are incomplete or not scientifically sound.

I understand that a good portion of the confusion we encounter comes from scammers, quacks, and deceptive salespeople who will always promote half truths and even outright lies in order to sell their miracle pill or ineffective products to the masses. What is even more frustrating is when even scientists and authorities on a particular subject sometimes argue with each other when they disagree and point to studies and experimentation that proves their point. It seems that many scientific studies can be spun to prove a person's position on a particular subject. Sometimes trying to find the truth can be like looking for a needle in a haystack since there is so much conflicting and confusing misinformation you have to sift through.

I live in Ghana and we have an non-profit that promotes literacy. We recently got a large shipment of books donated from the US. While I was looking through several of the boxes containing medical and health and fitness books that had been written over a 40 year span I noticed something interesting. Many of these were popular or best selling books when they were first published but I noticed that quite a few of them were written by authors who were either later discredited or proven wrong for some of their theories and teachings.

I'm not super excited to hand out books that promote principles that are now questionable or ideas that are 30 years behind when it comes to the latest scientific findings. The truth should not change every 10 years like clothing styles or music trends. Truth should be constant. Sometimes I feel like despite our technological advances and abundance of information, I am still living in the dark ages relying on rumors, misinformation, and superstition. Luckily, you can have the peace of mind knowing that everything you read here at Chaka's World is 100% accurate and true, with the exception of most of my posts.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Invisible Walls

Over 20 years ago I remember seeing the TV mini-series of Gullivers Travels starring Ted Danson. I only saw parts of it and don't remember much but one scene that has always stuck with me was when Gulliver encountered a character played by Omar Sharif. The man offered Gulliver food and lodging and suggested he rest for a night before continuing his journey. Apparently he was a sorcerer with bad intentions and was trying to distract him from his journey. He placed a spell on him where he thought each day at his home was his first and at the end of each night he'd invite him to rest for the night in order to have energy for his long journey the next morning. I think this continued for several years until Gulliver finally realized what had happened and how much time had been wasted. I feel like the same thing happened to me...about 6 years ago.

You've probably heard stories about how fleas in a jar can easily jump out but after a lid has been attached for several days they stop trying even after the lid is removed. There is also a story about how baby elephants are tied to a stake with a thin rope and as they grow bigger they don't even attempt to pull on the rope because they've been conditioned to believe it is a sturdy anchor holding them there.

It's amazing how small habits (good or bad) slowly become part of your daily routine. It might be something like constantly checking social media way more than you think you do, or slowly phasing out of prior habits like praying, flossing your teeth, or exercising. Either repeating bad actions or omitting good ones over time can quickly become habitual.

Some days I feel like I'm in Groundhog Day. The days seem so similar and are always repeating and if I screw up or have a bad day I always get a chance the next day to try again with what seems like little or no consequences. This has become even more obvious since I've been living in Ghana. It's not very convenient to do many of the things I've previously enjoyed doing like playing basketball. Aside from the cultural differences, I have limits on my income and transportation and as a result, I spend a lot more time on my computer which is not the best recipe for self improvement.

My productivity over the years has decreased and I feel like I've been confined by invisible walls. I used to passionately work on personal growth, learning new things, and achieving goals. One of these days I will finally pull out the thin rope and stake that I feel tethered to. My daily routine has been pathetic for some time now but each night I assume it will be better after I have a good night's rest in preparation for the long journey that lies before me.

Friday, May 24, 2019

3 Controversial Opinions

It's been a while since I've added content to my blog. Sometimes I just write about random topics but today I'd like to share my thoughts on three important things I'm very passionate about. The first two fall under the category of manners, etiquette, or proper protocol, and the third is a pet peeve.I don't want to sound like an ignorant hick by going against the grain but it's time to stand up for how I really feel so let's get started.

My first concern is with spaghetti. I was taught it is bad manners to cut your spaghetti so you should instead swirl it around your fork. Maybe I've just witnessed too many little kids making a mess of their face and clothes as they slurp up long strands of pasta. I'm a big enough boy to be able to eat the "appropriate" way without making a mess but I don't want to. Since my blog is a big hit in most culinary circles there will undoubtedly be several 5 star chefs reading this and rolling their eyes. They would probably suggest I eat a bowl of spaghettios with a spoon if I don't want to adhere to the appropriate protocol, but I don't care. I'm going to keep cutting my spaghetti.You can have my fork when you pry it from my cold, dead, hands.

You should also know I break the spaghetti in half when I cook it. Yes, I'm aware that this is also taboo but you may have this rebel confused with someone who cares.

The next topic to address is tie tacks. I'll admit I'm a good 30 years behind the times when it comes to fashion trends but this accessory just doesn't feel right. I've known for a long time that when you wear a tie bar, it should attach at the level of the third shirt button. I just think that is way too high. That may look acceptable when you are wearing a jacket but once the jacket comes off, I think it looks imbalanced and awkward. It doesn't even serve it's purpose when it's up so high and your tie will still swing around down below. I own a few tie bars but never wear them since I will probably have some know-it-all come up to me and tell me it's supposed to be worn higher up on the tie than I prefer. As a result, the world is missing out on seeing me sporting stylish tie bars. Your loss.

My final gripe is a pet peeve about something I see regularly on Facebook. I usually see this from women who post a lot. I don't understand why someone posts a link to an article on their page and then say "for later", meaning they have not even read it but it sounds interesting to them. That's like an Instagram user taking pictures of a menu descriptions instead of the food they are eating. Why would you promote something you haven't even read? It was obviously not important enough for you to take the time to read but you share it with others? Do these same people forward e-mails they have not read to their friends after just reading the subject bar?

I'm sorry if I have come across as being  judgmental and uptight. I admit I probably need to chill out. By the way, one of the best ways to blow off steam and relax is by breaking handfuls of spaghetti in half.