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."

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.

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.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Culture, Bartering, or Racism?

I have met many good people in Ghana so far but some things about the culture can be pretty screwed up. I hope not to sound too negative with this post but I'm really fed up today with some recent events. Most of my experiences being discriminated against here have been in the financial arena. When you take a taxi a certain distance most locals pay 2 cedis (the local unit of money.) When I try to take a taxi the same distance, drivers tell me it is 10 to 20 cedis. Why do they charge me 5 to 10 times more? Is it just because of the color of my skin or is it because they know I’m from America and they think I'm rich and clueless? I don’t care which one it is. It still pisses me off.

I have always hated bartering. When I went to Mexico after high school I couldn’t stand having to play negotiating games and put so much effort into buying something simple like a can of soda pop. When we need to make almost any big purchase or repair here, we have to send Brian who is a Ghanain who lives with us to get a fair price, otherwise everything is much more expensive when they see who really needs the service. 

Yesterday I got sick of the horrible dirt roads that we have to carefully maneuver around in our neighborhood so I went out with my boys with our shovels and we worked on fixing them. After about half an hour, the “caretaker” of the home we rent who lives across the street noticed us working and asked if he could help. He has previously offered to help us with things and then comes back later presenting us with an excessive bill for his efforts. When we mentioned this to our landlord he got mad at him since he is already paying him so the other day he offered to help around our yard and assured me he didn’t want money in return so I asked if he had a wheel barrow we could use since we were carrying buckets of dirt half a block away to fill in holes in the road. He came back a few minutes later with one and helped us. After a couple hours of hard labor in the afternoon sun we had finished our street. Just then a man who identified himself as a neighbor who was building a nearby home came by and said he had some extra gravel he would put down over the dirt.

He never came back so I walked around the block to where the road is really bad and saw a pile of large rocks, broken tiles, garbage, and dirt that he was referring to. It was not gravel but there were several men working on filling in huge holes in the road in that area. I had my shovel with me so I decided to pitch in and help them fill in the road for about 45 more minutes until I got dizzy in the heat and went home.

My wife took this picture since she was excited to see people fixing the road.
As I arrived home I saw my younger kids picking up garbage off the streets with some little neighbor kids. Nobody uses garbage cans here so the streets are heavily littered. The only place I have seen a public garbage can since I arrived is at the mall. We have a small dumpster and pay for a weekly garbage service but most people just have piles of garbage on their property or litter in the streets and gutters. We gave the little neighbor kids some ice cream for helping my kids pick up trash. I then went in feeling good that we were able to make improvements to the neighborhood.

So today I got back home from some errands and I was told that the guy who offered "gravel" for the street came by and wanted to collect money from me for the road improvements. I was shocked. It was not gravel and it was not even used on our street. Our local friend Brian told him to go collect money from everyone in the surrounding neighborhood and after they pay we’d consider it knowing it was just a bluff to try and get money from us. Why would someone try to charge me for making improvements to a neighborhood dirt road and for spending my time doing manual labor on a road on the other side of the block? Because I’m an Obroni (white man) and he lives in a culture where you try to overcharge and rip off people for anything. It is so backwards that someone would try to get money from you for volunteering your time to improve their neighborhood.

The irony about this is that if someone is caught stealing at the market, a mob will chase them down and may kill them for their crime before the police can even get there, yet the same culture allows dishonest business dealings and ripping people off. They equate it to being shrewd or having business saavy. I guess it's kind of similar to how some massive white collar crime in the US can receive lesser punishments than violent petty crime. 

We've had many people try to take advantage of us since we've been here and some have been successful. I know this problem is not unique to Ghana and people take advantage of each other all around the world in a variety of ways, but it's a challenge for me to keep a positive, loving attitude towards people I'm trying to help when I know many of them just see me as a big money target because of the color of my skin.

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


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.