Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some things are all the same... 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)

So, as a result, I leave you with this video:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Abode Update

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?

Stay tuned for more bloggage!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Learning How to Drive...Again

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'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!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Ghana You Wear Many Hats

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.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kill the Schisto

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!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Welcome to My World

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!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Accommodations and Harmattan

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.

Stay tuned for some new stories!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Adventure Begins

Well, after a couple SNAFU moments and 10.5 hours of flight time, we've finally made it.  We took an Airbus A330 from Atlanta around 9:30 at Saturday night (2/4/2012) and arrived in Accra, Ghana around 1:00 PM Sunday afternoon.  Aside from our original flight being cancelled 4 hours before we were supposed to leave, the trip itself was surprisingly uneventful.  Boris (our cat) was a little bit of a whiner, but he was drowned out by the crying baby.  When we landed in Accra, we took the obligatory jaunt through immigration where our mug shot and electronic finger prints were taken (we thought that would be the easy part).  After that we got our checked luggage and prepared ourselves for some bartering and bribing in customs.  Much to our surprise, the line kept moving and we were never stopped.  Well, I guess all that time, stress, and money spent on Boris' health paper work and import permit were unnecessary.  Oh least we were prepared.

After a quick greeting from an old friend (thanks Dad Owen),  we loaded the luggage into the car and made our way to Kpong Airfield.  The rest of our day was basically spent letting our eyes soak in all the changes since our initial trip 9 months ago (more on that in the next installment) and synching up on all that we have coming up during the next week (it will be busy).  We ended the night unloaded our stuff, found some dinner, and hit the sack after a long day.

We've got consistent internet now, so look for more posts to come soon!  Also, see the comments section below.  I welcome any feedback or questions you may have!