Thursday, April 24, 2008

African Triangle - a poem

Sipping earthwine
nectar of putrid poverty
Cocktail of sadness and salty tears
Potholes of memories
Laughter trees

Wet flesh
Sloppy yellow sliding down
Chocolate chin

Wide white grin
Dusty fingers sliced
through with the rabid juice
Cry to the red red blood soil boy
of torn GAP t-shirt
The widening gap of evolution
Stained yellow and red and smudged brown
Stain the universe with a foul history
No simple game here
No recess from school playground life
No life at all

The great white hope is not spelled U, N,
On the side of a great white monster speeding by
Spitting lumps of gutter mud
Off to dine wine meet greet retreat
Resolutions afar like rice among maggots
Fed to agencies without arms
Spread over tin ghettos like rust
Perpetuate, ridicule

Blue blue boy
Old old man.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rainbows and Geckos

After living in a tropical place for over a decade, one begins to take their exotic surroundings for granted. Basically you just stop noticing what is around you. And that is a pity.

That's why it's great to host a variety of guests from around the world, who inevitably help you see your world through fresh eyes.

Today we toured Accra with a visitor from Switzerland. He was enamored and amazed by the critters that run alongside us daily. I actually never think of them, but it made me realise that the geckos and rainbow lizards that run by our feet and hang out on our bathroom ceilings are actually pretty cool, exotic and interesting.
The geckos are quite shy guys, hiding behind doors and quietly ridding us of the many ants, cockroaches and miscellaneous insects that crawl endlessly through the house. The sad thing is that these little geckos, sometimes almost transparent and quite prone to being startled, are no match for the 2 inch roaches that come out at night. In fact, the ants too outnumber the geckos exponentially. If they could eat all the ants they'd be monsters, but somehow the ants just seem to have it more together. Perhaps it's the strength in numbers. They are guaranteed to take over the kitchen each night and can be found feasting on any spilled food... even the tiniest blob or crumb...

The geckos are also quite unlucky little creatures - they always seem to get caught in a door slamming or a drawer closing. Cut right in half most of the time.. not a pretty sight. Their tales do grow back though, if accidentally chopped off by an inconsiderate human...

The rainbow lizards on the other hand are quite fast, bold and animated. They spend most of the time doing push ups and they don't like to come indoors. They will however be tempted by a morsel of food, if you're sitting out on any patio having a cold beer.. Their bright orange heads are great - some are so bright they look flourescent.

We don't need to go to the zoo or the exotic pet store... our home is a welcome ecosystem for all these things to grow and flourish - whether we like it or not really.

And there are really some residents we'd rather do without...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Africa's Deadly Skies

We had planned a big farewell dinner for yesterday and booked fancy hotels for our Financial Director who is moving on to greener or snowier pastures as the case may be.

Getting hotel rooms in Accra has turned in to quite a nightmare these days, with a seemingly endless flow of business, aid and trade visitors flocking to Ghana’s capital and lack of planning for this has meant that if you want a decent hotel room you must book months in advance. This time we were organised enough to know the dates that the team would be flying across from Nigeria, and booked the rooms accordingly.
We booked the restaurant venue, the gifts, the speeches – all organised.

But then we got the call from Nigeria – “our plane is delayed – no fuel”. This is common enough. Even British Airways has had to reroute flights between Accra and Lagos, en route to the UK because either of the countries has no aviation fuel available. Nigeria is the 6th largest oil producing country in the world. Yet it is difficult to organise fuel for the aircrafts…

Anyway, we expected the flight would be late so this was not a big issue. Only an hour later they called back to say that there was actually no plane on the runway, so the story about no fuel was losing credibility. A few phone calls from other Nigerians confirmed there was a much more ominous reason for the flight delay. The aircraft had actually made an emergency crash landing in Port Harcourt (a smaller town airport) the night before. Hence there would be no flight. Details of the accident are very sketchy.

Today I found an article online that lists the issue as having been the captain’s response to smoke in the cargo hold and a subsequent alarm.
Our team had considered joining the lines to try and get seats on another of the two airlines also flying to Accra but the mayhem was too much – with the pushing, shoving and general aggression they decided to give the whole thing a miss and cancel the trip. We’ll try again soon.

The question is how confident are they to travel again soon? How likely is it that the plane will not make the journey next time?

In Africa, sadly, the chances are pretty high. This was a major commercial airline. There are hundreds of smaller, less known, banned in Europe airlines across the continent that rent or purchase 20 to 30 year old aircrafts and hope for the best. In 2006/2007 there were three fatal plane crashes in Nigeria. The rest of the continent has the same frightening statistics.

Late last year a Kenya Airways plane took off from Douala in Cameroon, en route to Nairobi and fell from the sky less than 20 km from the airport. Apparently there was a serious storm but the pilot took off anyway. It took rescue crews and all police, fire and army forces over 48 hours to locate the crash site! Meanwhile I was sending e-mails in vain to a customer of ours. He had been on the flight…
Even back in 2003, the BBC ran an article called the Dangers of Flying in Africa.

Below is a brief list of examples of the crashes that have dotted the African landscape over the past 10 years. The last few years have not made the list but the fatalities continue to rise.

Just this week an aircraft took off from the airport in Kinshasa DRC, and crashed into a crowded market minutes later…

Some of the worst recent aviation disasters in Africa are:
• January 1996: More than 300 people died when a cargo plane crashed in a city market in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

• November 1996: 142 people were killed when a Nigerian jet fell into a lagoon near the country's economic capital, Lagos.
Later the same month a hijacked Ethiopian plane crashed into the Indian Ocean. At least 125 people died.

• January 2000: A Kenyan plane crashed into the sea off the west African state of Ivory Coast, killing 169 people.

• May 2002: 149 people died when a Nigerian plane crashed in to a slum on landing at the northern city of Kano.

• March 2003: An Algerian passenger craft crashed on take-off from the Sahara desert town of Tamanrasset, killing 102 people.

• May 2003: Some 200 people fell to their deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo when the door of their plane opened in mid-air.

• July, 2003: The crash of a Sudanese aircraft in the east of the country killed 115 people.

• December 2003: A passenger plane crashed in the sea on take-off from Benin, killing 139 people.

• October 2005: All 117 people aboard a Nigerian aircraft died when it came down in a swamp during a thunderstorm.

• December 2005: 107 people, many of whom were schoolchildren, died when their plane crashed on landing in Nigeria.

• October 2006: Another flight came down in Nigeria, killing 96.

• April 2007: Dozens were killed when a passenger plane crashed near Goma, in the DRC.

• May 2007: A Kenyan passenger plane crashed in Cameroon, killing 114.

• October 2007: More than 50 people died when a cargo plane crashed in a crowded district of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Sapa-AFP

In Africa, who investigates these crashes? Who ensures the safety standards are met? How many accidents are even reported on a broad scale?

I am headed to Liberia in a few weeks time for business. I know that most people believe ‘when our time comes, it comes’ but I must say that flying in Africa is one way to push the envelope, to really tempt fate.

Really puts a farewell party into perspective. I guess a couple cancelled hotel rooms and an annoyed restaurant manager is better than what could have happened…

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dieting in Africa

After months of serious indulgence at the end of 2007, we did the thing people do on December 31st, we vowed to make a New Year's resolution to diet, lose weight, get fit (in that order).

From DAY1 - January 1st, we cut out all bread, grains, potatoes, SUGAR, caffeine and all the other baddies in the world of food.

John leaned toward an Atkins diet, I leaned more toward an Anti Candida diet. Luckily they are both quite similar.

In fact, most main stream diets that have any clout, all advocate that the following guidelines are necessary: cut out most sugars, all white breads, grains and starchy foods, caffeine should be eliminated, you should drink lots of water, and you need moderate exercise. They are mostly common sense.

Well we are 3 and a half months into this diet/lifestyle change and I am happy to report we've each lost 8 kilos/17lbs. The trouble is that common sense is a difficult thing to keep at hand when one is faced with temptation.

Living in Ghana as an Expat in our company means that we are constantly hosting guests from abroad. In a given week we may have one to two guests staying with us, and two to five suppers out at fancy restaurants. This means that will power is as necessary as oxygen, yet as slippery as a slide.

The good thing is that these diets do allow for treats that are both good for you and yummy, and one has to focus on them to avoid cheating constantly.

Dark chocolate has numerous health benefits as well as blueberries. I love both, and these small pleasures keep me on track the rest of the time for the most part. (Except when a good red wine is opened... but they do claim red wine also has it's health benefits!)

This brings me to my issue of dieting - in Africa.

It's all just so self indulgent, when one considers that we are concerned about cutting back on foods that are abundant and everywhere, available in excess, while everywhere around us there are millions of people surrounding us who's annual income could not pay for even one of our dinners out.

It's just so ridiculous that in the new (and only) mall in Ghana we push our carts round the aisles, choosing items based on healthy choices etc, despite the fact that 90% of these items have to be imported. Blueberries at $9 per 100grams... dark chocolate bars at $10... no problem.

WHAT?! This is absurd! Minimum wage here is under $2 per day. So it would take a minimum wage worker here 5 days to be able to afford 100grams of blueberries. Yet these items sell. The shelves fill and empty. We get all excited when the shipment of fresh milk is flown in - $5 per litre. The Expats and the upper middle class Ghanaians mull around the shop doing their weekly shop without much thought.

Meanwhile, we are in Africa. Starvation and poverty are the most pertinent subjects.
Traditional foods here are made of 90% heavy starches - to fill empty bellies.

The concept of dieting is borne out of success, excess, progress. Our choices are many, it becomes our decision to choose the good from the bad.

Give us this day our daily bread - but please make it wheat free, gluten free, sugar free, unbleached, with organic eggs...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks the Prez. jets are highly indulgent!

My faith in humanity is restored a tad today - being a Tuesday - and after having read that at least some Ghanaians are also speaking out against the hypocrisy that surrounds them... This article on a Ghanaian website puts the truth out there...

Nothing of course will change the path or decisions of the government, but hopefully the more public outcry, the more these things are challenged and maybe in a few generations these governments will be held accountable.

But whatever you do - DON'T SEND MONEY.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ghana Government buys luxury jets, and the aid money keeps coming

A friend sent me an e-mail this morning that sent me into such a rant, she had to call me afterwards to inquire as to my state of mental health and general emotional stability. I am just fine I had to assure her, just as I re-iterate here. The thing is that she touched on such a delicate subject. A subject that once opened, like a scab that does not heal, can ooze an ugly trail of true stories and tales, until it simply tires of spewing the pus of truth, that it closes up once again.

She asked me to advise on a charity organization in Ghana to donate money. More money, hard earned by westerners, just dumped into the bottomless pit of African aid. No! No, no no. Do not send money.

How could I advise on this? I have never been more dead set against a concept in my life. After all I’ve seen firsthand, I could not advise on this with a clear conscience.

The friend had the most noble of intentions. She runs an annual cultural trip to Ghana, and this year she thought she would offer the participants a chance to pay for their carbon emissions, by calculating the carbon footprint of their flights and giving it a monetary value. The idea was then to give this money to a trustworthy and viable organization in Ghana which replenishes resources. All a great idea until the execution. Who to trust? Who cares enough about the people? Who doesn’t take every buck they can get for personal gain, flagrantly displaying this without shame or guilt? What type of culture is this? What role models do they have?

It’s not that there aren’t people who need assistance. People who spend their days toiling the land, or helping those who do. It’s just that these people are few and far between. The poor are many but the projects that actually make a difference are non-existent. The agendas are many for these organizations, but actually changing the future of the poor is rarely the aim or outcome.
And the absolute irony of this request from my well intentioned friend was highlighted this morning of all mornings – being a Monday - and I had just heard some news about the two new Presidential jets being purchased by the government of Ghana. To a tune of multi-millions of dollars.

Apparently they received a loan from ‘an unknown source’ and feel the jets are necessary for the President’s many travels and for the image of the country. This statement just sits on my tongue. Will not be swallowed. It feels a bit like my reaction to the national dish of Ghana – fufu –which is a glutinous starchy blob the texture of chewing gum and the size of a grapefruit, and is torn off in balls to be swallowed whole with a coating of soup. I just can’t get a bite of that down my throat.

How is it that the government is concerned with their image and the people cannot get clean water, if any at all. No electricity, no planning, no concern for the dying dirt poor that make up the majority of the population?!!!! How is it that minimum wage in Ghana is less than $2 per day, yet petrol costs over $1 per litre?!

Where did the loan come from anyway? Another donation no doubt from some foreign government. All turning their blind eye to the corruption that rules this continent, and the culture that perpetuates it on every level.

Why should young hopeful hard working students from other continents be concerned about women’s cooperatives in Ghana? Why does Ghana’s president not step off the show room floors of the luxury jet designers in Europe, and take a look himself at his people. Why doesn’t he care that there are no industries in Ghana providing jobs? That Ghana rates among the most corrupt nations in the world (along with every other Africa country) – according to transparency International?

How can he face the people of this country after making such a purchase, leaving such debt, such a disgraceful legacy? How can the people allow him to do all this?

Maybe it’s just me who sees the absurdity in it all. Maybe that is why I am incredulous then, when foreigners keep believing their dollars, time, sweat and tears will make a difference here.
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