So, one of the things that we have to take care of on the airfield is water. Water for washing, water for drinking, water for construction, etc. There are also three types of water that we use: pure water, tap water, and river water. Pure water is used for drinking and sometimes cooking. It comes in bags and is about 1 cedi ($0.60) for 15 500ml bags. Tap water is clean enough to drink but is more used for cooking and washing (dishes, clothes, and bodies). River water is a gamble and mostly used in construction. Do not drink the river water unless you're craving the runs or other random digestive issue.
Right now, we are very close to connecting up a pipe water supply, but until then we have to get our tap water from a neighbor who has main water access. His name is Bob. Now, I've been to Bob's place probably about close to 10 times now on water runs, but it didn't hit me until I nearly missed the road to his house that there was a great movie quote looming. For those of you who know me, I love movie quotes and working them into everyday situations. So, without further ado, please enjoy this twister reference:
So, despite having 2 cars on site, we still have situations where public transportation is best. Unless you are going long distances, need to transport stuff, or are finicky about driving yourself, it is often more economical to take public transportation. The only thing is...it's a little different here than it is in the states. Let's go through the options:
Taxis are available pretty much anywhere. You can identify them by their yellow quarter panels. Unlike some taxis in the states, every taxi here is owned by the person who drives it. You won't see any "Washington Flyer"-like taxis coming to and from the airport. Who you get is who you get. The other "interesting" thing about taxis is that you negotiate the price of where you are going before you even get in. That's right, no automated ticker on the dash telling you how much time, how far, how many people, or how much luggage you have in the car. Flag one down, barter on the amount, and off you go. For comparison's sake though, to go across the city of Accra (which is a little larger than Atlanta sprawl wise), it's gonna cost you about 10-15 Ghana cedis to make the trip (a little less than 10 bucks). Not bad.
These are basically mini buses that hold anywhere between 10-20 folks (sometimes you can pack more in if it's a long trip - they even let you ride on top sometimes!). Unlike taxis, these vehicles will follow (more or less) a route to a certain destination that's predetermined. The tro tro operates with a two-man team including a driver and a "mate". The mate will open and close the door (usually when the vehicle is still moving), yell out the window what the destination is, and handle the payments. A tro tro from one part of the city to another is normally 1-3 cedis ($1-$2). Tro tro's can also be used as transportation to the suburbs of the city or (for a price) used to haul wood or other materials if you don't have an appropriate vehicle. My favorite was the 1 hour tro tro ride when we had to basically sit on half frozen fish (mmm...not).
Regional Buses These are the least interesting of the options because it is most like what we have in the US. Pack in 50 folks, and get taken from one city to the next at a predetermined rate and route. While these may seem like they're the most comfortable, they often break down on the rough roads. I try to avoid these guys if I have a car.
One thing that I thought was really interesting about basically any mode of transportation here is the type of stickers people put on their cars (especially the taxis and tro tros). As you can see in the pictures above, pretty much 75% of all the pub trans vehicles contain some type of phrase or reference to God, safety, or common sense quote. You can see "thy will be done" or "Psalm: 27" in the pictures but other examples are "don't rush", "don't drive tired", or "honor your wife". Some of them are quite comical.
I have added a new hat recently: electrician. You can see below that the living room and bedroom are wired with double sockets on 2 phase 220V (one socket is 3 phase for lights, air conditioning, and refrigerator). For those of you who don't know, there are normally 3 lines coming into the socket: live, neutral, and ground (they call it "earth" here). In the picture, the live is red, neutral is black, and "earth" is green/yellow. I learned though that international standard is usually neutral is either blue or black, live is red or brown, and earth/ground is green or yellow. In addition to wiring most of the sockets myself, I assisted in running the wire for the overhead lights/switches, as well as assisted in connecting the main supply line for the house to the junction for the whole compound.
The house is wired well, but on a budget. To avoid paying a lot for wire, we decided to go with a linear bus configuration that carries a live current throughout the whole house from a 20 kba generator across the airfield to a supply junction just outside the house, and finally through the house circuits. While it is economical, let's just hope we don't have a problem in the wire at the beginning of the line because that means no power beyond that point. The ceilings and roof are well built so that means it's very unlikely we'll have things influencing their integrity. At any rate, it was a cool experience knowing exactly how my house's "nerves" work.
...no matter where you are in the world. Yesterday, I spent from 8:30 AM to nearly 3 PM at the DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Authority) aka the Ghanaian DMV. If you thought the American DMV was...irritating, then I'm not sure what word to use for the DVLA.
Let's get the play by play:
* Arrive at DVLA and pick up "instruction pamphlet" from receptionist (8:30 AM) - Foreign License Conversion Requirements: * Valid foreign driver's license * Photocopy of license * Letter of introduction from employer
* Pay 1 cedi (about 63 cents) to get driver's license photocopied (8:40)
* Enter line to verify documentation - number 7 in the queue (8:45)
* Enter office of the "big boss" to get documentation verified (9:15)
* Leave DVLA office to go to "the bank" to pay for the license, eye test, and various fees (9:30)
* Enter bank, wait in line, pay 34 cedis (about 20 bucks), and receive driver's license application (9:40)
* Return to DVLA office to fill out documentation and wait in new line (9:45)
* Enter new office with an assistant of the "big boss" to review filled out application (10:30)
* Get told that I need to have 4 passport photos made to complete application (10:33)
* Get hissed at and told to "listen" when I explained to him that passport photos are not one of the requirements to convert a foreign driver's license to a Ghanaian one according to his pamphlet (10:34)
* Leave DVLA office to pay for overpriced passport photos just outside of DVLA office (10:35)
* Pay 10 cedis (about $6.25) for some random dude in a shack to take a 4-shot polaroid and cut them up (10:50)
* Re-enter line to get application re-verified (11:00)
* Re-enter office of assistant who hissed at me earlier and get application verified (11:30)
* Leave Mr. Hisser's office after telling me to come back tomorrow to have "big boss" approve my application (I negotiated for 1:30 PM same day) (11:35)
* Return to DVLA to check on status of application (1:30 PM)
* Enter office of Mr. Hisser to be told it is still on the big boss' desk (1:35)
* Stand (not sit) in line outside of big boss' office until I obtain signed application (2:25)
* Return to Mr. Hisser's office to talk to different assistant about next step (2:30)
* Make friends with different really helpful assistant by giving him my pen which leads to next step facilitation (2:35)
* Enter back door of next office and drop name of Mr. Helpful to get new digital photo made for license (not the passport photos) (2:40)
* Leave last office with temporary license (2:45)
My apologies for the delays on the updates. I've been busy wearing my many hats. My latest addition to the hat list is video editor (more on that later). The most used hat this week though has been construction foreman. The masons have been working hard plastering the outside of the house and screeding the floors. I also put my work gloves on and ran the base electrics (on the outside and around the roof). It's finally looking like something I want to move into.
There are still a few things left to do like dig the ditches and cast them with concrete for the drainage out of the house to connect to the septic tank as well as install the plumbing and bathroom fixtures. After that it's all downhill with screen, doors, and ceiling panels. Michaela and I are hoping to move in by the end of next week (just in time too because we have visitors coming on the 9th).
We've also come to the conclusion that we could go out and buy furniture for the inside, but we have an excellent carpenter in house that could pretty much build us anything we want. Anyone want to contribute any design ideas?
Since the age of 15, I've been behind the wheel of a car. Whether it was my mom's Chrysler Town & Country, the Dodge Dakota in high school, the Honda Accord/Subaru Outback in college, or the BMW 323 recently, they've always been on US roads and with an automatic transmission. Time to flip everything upside down.
Introducing the chariots:
First, we have the workhorse: 2011 Kia 2700 double cabin. It's nicely equipped and does a lot of the heavy lifting. We mainly use it to haul water and construction materials around the airfield.
Second, we have the cruiser: 2005 Mitsubishi Pajero (third generation). We got it used for a great deal. Despite not having a radio or great air conditioning, the more powerful and functional SUV makes it the top choice when going into the city.
Over the past few weeks, I've been tossed in both of these guys and taught how to not only drive a manual, but how to drive in Ghana. Let me show you what I mean. In the US, the roads are actually paved, the drivers behave themselves (for the most part), and the pedestrians are taught from a young age that cars will not hesitate to run you over.
In Ghana, the roads are mostly dirt (although there are some decent paved ones around where we live), most of the drivers don't have licenses, the ones that do take the rules of the road more as suggestions if convenient (see right side of photo), and the pedestrians would prefer to stand in front of your car so they can sell you something.
I don't care who you are or how good of a driver you are in the US. This place is different. It takes the idea of defensive driving to a whole new level. Motorcycles will drive through cars at a stop light at 40km/h and cars will over take you when there is absolutely no room to overtake and just run the other car off the road (especially if you're a big vehicle). The rules are merely suggestions and people who can survive a crash if they get one own the road. It's all comes down to how much of a hurry you're in, how big your car is, and if you feel like playing chicken that day.
I will say this though...it's pretty fun driving a manual. I'm looking forward to owning a car that can make use of it (i.e., not a work truck or heavy SUV). Stay tuned for more bloggage soon!
So, I've discovered that, like many careers (even in the US), there's the job that's in the job description and the tasks that might be...extracurricular. Ghana takes that to a whole new level. I've worn 4 very different hats in my first week here. While I will say it's somewhat atypical to do all these things in 1 week's time, I'm pretty sure I would've been roped into these eventually.
On Wednesday I was a construction foreman (this is my own doing since it's my house that's being constructed):
On Thursday I was a plumber:
On Friday I was a tax accountant (this one is actually in the job description):
On Saturday I was a bush fire fighter:
All of these jobs related back to purposeful projects (building a house), problems that popped up (clogged toilet pipes), or even just chores that one has to take care of (ironically even the bush fire was an annual chore). The bottom line is that here (like many places) shit happens (literally) and you gotta deal with it. I just thought it was entertaining when thinks retrospectively on the week's tasks. I hope you laughed as much as I did.
One of the challenges that people have here in Ghana is infectious disease. This becomes especially prevelant when you introduce water into the equation. Whether it's drinking, washing, or peeing, all of it requires a sanitary place, hygienic processes, and some common sense in addition to water to make them happen. Many Ghanaians (and even the obrunies - that means white people/foreigners) either don't know, don't care, or take for granted that just because there's water around, it doesn't make it good for the above tasks.
The most prevalent of these diseases (behind malaria) is a little bugger called schistosomiasis (aka bilharzia). What is schisto...I don't know how to pronunce the rest? Shis-toh-soh-mi-uh-sis is actually a parasite that comes from a snail that has been introduced to infected poo or pee (see graphic below - it's kind of a chicken and the egg thing). That means a guy with schisto decides to go to the bathroom in the lake, snail absorbs human waste, parasite is released from snail, and infects water around it. You come to stand in the water/gather drinking water/wash your clothes or body and presto; you're now infected! All you have to do is touch the water, the rest is done through the skin. After a few days/weeks, now you have anything from a tummy ache to diarrhea to blood in your urine/poo to distended bellies due to schisto worms. Sweet!
So, how does one get rid of schisto? Simple: 1) take some praziquantal and 2) don't reinfect yourself. Number 2 is always the hardest to teach because it requires cultural change. What if it's just easier to get water from the lake shore rather than paddle out into moving water in the middle of the lake (where the snails don't live)? After all, it's not affecting how well I can plant my yams and sell them. Here in lies the challenge.
On March 15th, we'll be talking with a lot of big wigs (Ghana Ministry of Health and World Health Organization) to tackle this issue especially in the villages that don't have access to roads (let alone hospitals). Stay tuned for more Ghana health education action!
After settling in a little bit, it's time to get to work. My vocation has turned from IT security specialist to logistics, project management, and general administration. There are a ton of moving parts around the airfield from water to fuel to materials that need to be coordinated in order for everything to come together. As a result, I need to be organized and on top of things (some of which I'm still learning). To give you a better idea, let me have you take a peek into my world.
Let's start at the desk. I have to admit, this is not a typical desk. Coming from my prior house, I wanted to bring a lot of my little toys to make life easier. I also have to protect these things from dust since it's the dry season. Here I take care of all the finances (cash flow, taxes, payroll, etc.), plan MoM missions, keep track of projects (e.g., building construction), and other general administrative tasks.
I also have peers and people who work for me to make things happen around the airfield. Jonathan (aka Captain Yaw) is the MoM visionary as well as the resident Ghana guru as far as knowing the method in which things get done around here (e.g., construction, mowing, maintenance, etc.). He is also a pilot and engineer by trade. Then, I have my workers: Mr. Solo, Le Le, Ben (not pictured), and the masons. These guys together take care of all the construction and ground maintenance.
Another colleague is Patricia. She is the lead for the AvTech school (you can read about them here) as well as an accomplished pilot (the first African female pilot in Ghana). While she and the AvTech girls are not under my direction, I have to highlight them and all that they do (cleaning, cooking, washing, and even technical things like generator and aircraft maintenance).
In addition to all this, Michaela and I are starting to get into a special project with the Ghana Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other local universities/specialized teams to battle a disease called Schistosomiasis (aka Bilharzia). I will blog more on that in the next installment. You can also find some more information on Schisto on the MoM blog. Until next time though, I hope you enjoyed reading and please, please, please leave notes below with any questions or comments you may have!
So, I told you guys that there have been some changes to the airfield in my last blog. Holy poo...have there been changes. In the last 5 weeks, the bungalows have gone from foundation to roof (they still need the plaster and inerds). Both Michaela and I are really looking forward to our new house. Also, realize that we have another bungalow attached to ours that will be a mini clinic and training room. The training room will also be a quasi-entertainment room hopefully. That's another thing I'm looking forward to because I'll be the one setting it up with learning machines and hopefully an area for an xbox!
For now though, we've taken shelter in a bedroom in one of the existing bungalows until our house is up and running. Despite being just one room, it has plenty of space and a dedicated bathroom. I'm still getting used to the temporary bucket baths and the "one flush" toilets (more on that one later). Boris is also finding his home there and even has a new spot behind the laundry basket.
The last thing I'll mention is the stunning picture of the landscape caused by something called harmattan. I've enclosed two before and after pictures (you may have seen these in Michaela's post on the MoM blog). For those who are not Ghanaian, there are two seasons here near the equator: dry and rainy. The dry season is called harmattan and throws up a ton of dust in the air from the north. It truly is a sight.