Friday, May 22, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
A Day in the Life... puberty initiation ceremonies, power outages, electrical fires and garden showers...
Having just returned from a well appreciated mini-holiday in Germany with a one day Dubai shopping stopover, I returned back ‘home’ to Ghana over the weekend. Back to the ‘expat life’.
Sunday morning we headed off to Somanya, a village about 90km out of Accra that holds a series of annual female puberty initiation rites ceremonies – called Dipo. (A more culturally sensitive and detailed post with photos to follow). My good friend had gotten us an official ‘obruni’ invitation to come and observe.
So the day started in true Ghanaian style, dodging church traffic and hawkers, through a maze of roads, avoiding road construction and trotro drop offs – and this was a Sunday!
Armed with full bottles of Voltic water, we were all set and arrived in the village just in time to realise we all needed to pee. Uh oh. This is not a desired state to be in, arriving as an obruni in a village in Ghana. You can’t just straddle the gutter unnoticed as others can... and the chances of finding an actual flushing toilet with – gasp – toilet paper - were slim. Luckily one of us had been here before and knew a trustworthy ‘spot’ (Ghanaian roadside restaurant). This one was indoors, WITH a toilet AND toilet paper. No flowing water though, but two outta three ain’t bad. We ‘dashed’ the waitress a tip for saving our butts literally, and headed to the ceremony.
It was about a million degrees in a tight little dilapitated compound, writhing with about 20 times the bodies safe for such a space, and we pushed our way in.
We emerged three hours later, after having offended half the village TWICE through some daft and semi-serious cultural faux pas, having nearly passed out from heat and over-crowding, and having witnessed quite a spectacle – shot gun salutes and all!
And with that we headed back to Accra, conscious not to be caught on the roads after dark...
As we came into the city we realised the entire spanse of Accra was bathed in darkness. ‘Light off’ is the affectionate term... A few spots of light here and there, accompanied by the deafening din of diesel generators led our way.
At home we followed the usual procedure, flashlights in hand, switching over to the generator. Only this time the lights danced and whirred and flashed and the
generator answered with a few gasps and sighs. And then in a millisecond the flames had lashed out and jumped fast – one of our trusted voltage regulators in the socket had turned into a hot orange melting fire block. JW calmly shouted orders, “Bring me a wet cloth, quick!”, and “Bring me a broom! Quick!”. And Q and I did as we were told. And within a minute the fire was out. The computer room had been reduced to a smoky, stinking grey cell, with a blanket of black ashes everywhere. The white wall, now mostly black, branching out in a fan pattern from above the socket.
We spent the next hour testing what had caused the generator to ‘misbehave’, and then started cleaning away the evidence of the fire. With all the windows and doors open, the smoke had cleared and everything was now in order, apart from the bloodthirsty swarm of mosquitos that had come in, taking advantage of our vulnerable position...
Then Q wanted his hair done – this involves a straightening chemical treatment from a box that I smear on his head every couple months, in the name of his vanity...this treatment tames his wild locks, and we’ve got it down to a science, but as the chemicals involved are actually quite serious, it must be rinsed out at just the right time or... or I just wouldn’t want to know. Visions of hair clumps and singed scalp come to mind.
So as Q headed up the stairs to get the gunk out, the generator started playing it’s tricks again and after a few coughs and spurts it died. And there was Q – up in the shower, in the dark, water having stopped (being powered through a pump it’s dependant on the electricity). Panic. Plan B was put into motion immediately. I instructed him to squeeze his eyes shut and get a towel. Marched him down the stairs, through the darkness and out the front door. We have a water tap that runs out in the garden, under the mango tree and mess of bouganvillia that is not dependant on the power from the house. He crawled under the trees, turned the tap on full blast and proceeded to rinse and rinse, down on all fours, knees in the dirt, the white chemical mixing with the mud, making a greyish sludge out of the garden. With the moonlight as our guide, I passed the special shampoo and conditioner down, one by one, until the job was done. Emergency averted.
Just then the power came back and the neighborhood came to light and to life. Great.
Exhausted I headed up to bed, stopping for a well needed shower. But on entering the bathroom, four – yes four – giant cockroaches decided to peek out from under the dark dank hole they occupy under the tub. Instead of my usual scream and evacuation, I decided they needed to simply be dealt with. It was that kind of day. I calmly got my weapon – RAID (Fast Acting) and let them have it. Half a can of it. I left the room feeling quite satisfied with myself and came back soon after to find them writhing uselessly on their greasy brown backs, limbs jerking wildly from the nerve toxins I’d subjected them to.
Another day in the life was over. The next day, Monday – back to work. With the memories of the crisp cool air, German perfectionism and view of the Alps in the distance fading faster than my cockroaches would succumb to their punishment...
Friday, May 1, 2009
I remember vividly my teenage years, wanting to know so many things, and being so frustrated by the lack of a resource. From simple debates with friends and family as to whether the actor in the movie we’d just watched was the same actor we’d known from a TV show years earlier. There was just no way to solve the debates. No library resource could help. I was perceiving the NEED even then.
But I was no computer boffin – I couldn’t even figure out the Commodore 64 game my Dad has just bought, and the computer class that had just been introduced alongside typing was my most dreaded course. The flashing square on the black screen, with the robotic font and all that basic programming language was the farthest thing from a usable tool. I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined what the Internet would become. I realize these comments risk me dating myself horribly...
Today I look to the Internet for almost everything! I pull out my iphone around the table at a restaurant with friends and log in to the Web to answer the question everyone is hotly debating. It is so gratifying! This is what I wanted at 16!
(This statement is REALLY going to date me>>> The kids today are amazing. Their imaginations are in tune with what the Internet has become and what it can become.
They have been creating it, masters of it’s evolution… and some of them have become millionaires for their vision and their dedication to making those changes. Look at the history of Google, or Skype or even Napster. All of them have one thing in common – kids with a vision and the guts to introduce it to the world, with the result of changing our lives through the Internet.
My son has always been a dreamer, a creative soul. He is also an Internet baby. He can talk your ear off about Web 2.0 (those of you ‘aged’ like me may not know that Web 2.0 is the next phase of the evolution of the Internet). It is what is happening now. Web communities are developing and providing forums for people on every subject, every interest you could imagine, and many you couldn’t.
If you ask him about his friends, he might give you a list of people from around the globe, most of whom he’s never physically met. They are people he’s ‘met’ on the Internet. Yes all the parental red flags go off as we’ve all been brain-washed into believing the Internet is full of pedophiles posing as nice kids… but he’s proven me wrong.
In fact, he has teamed up with some of the kids that are making the changes to the Internet that make the news and enhance our lives in the end. These guys have worked day and night for over 6months on a new website that is a new concept for the Web 2.0 generation. He’s now involved with them on the design of the site and he’s having Skype meetings weekly. My son, ‘working’ at 16!
Questional.com is the site and it’s the brainchild of Robert Newcomb aka ‘Bobbo’, a 21 year old from Philadelphia who has been doing web design since early 2003. He realized that there was something missing in the traditional search engines, in that they are simply designed in an ‘ask a question, get an answer’ format. He decided he wanted to build the frontier website about questions and answers. He created a clean layout (only showing you things you need), easy to use by anyone with an Internet connection, and ensured there was zero spam. He approached his friends with the idea in October 2008. They are now a team of five.
After working 14-hour days, he released the site in February this year to a tremendous reception. The site is called Questional.com. Questional.com has the strength, motive, and the dedication behind it to produce something that will, in time, become the leading source for answers on the web. Despite the site still being early in its expansion, I can see the potential it has.
Questional.com is not a search engine, but provides a community, giving you real contact with real people who are willing to answer your questions and give their views. The Googles of the world can look through something that's already been written, but an entire community, devoted to organizing their thoughts one subject at a time, is truly amazing.
Instead of searching all over the web for your information, you can directly ask your questions on the site and get direct answers by other members. When you’re not asking questions, you can then browse around and answer questions that you have certain expertise in. With enough growth, you have a powerful machine at your disposal. Where were these guys when I was 16?!!!!
The site has a true sense of community, and quite a number of regulars.
The team is working round the clock with new upgrades and they are coming out with a tagging system to increase the organization of the questions, and to allow members to be fully enveloped in subject matters that interest them.
To go the way of Google and the others that mushroomed to success, they need some financial backing and some exposure - and what better place to find exposure than the World Wide Web!
I think it’s amazing and I’m proud to have anything to do with it – even if it is living vicariously through my son’s involvement. Go guys!!!
You can find Questional.com on:
Facebook Fan Page
And of course, Questional.com