Journal keeping from West Africa

Journal entries for March of 2020

Flying was easy.  No bumps – just cramped seating on the SLC to Amsterdam flight.  But we found some soft benches to doze off on in the Netherlands.

Next comes adapting to the heat, tomorrow.

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we’ll stay an extra day in Accra.

Ama needs to get her hair done, I had to exchange some money, it’s cooler here in the capital city  and our room is nicely air conditioned and fairly cheap.  

We took a walk to get SIM cards for our phones and Ama to find a hairdresser she likes.

 Data is inexpensive in Ghana, if slow.

 Wish you were here.   A sensory feast that borders on overload.

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Good vs Evil is like a law of the universe.  At least I think so.

I’m sitting on the bus in Africa heading to Kumasi with Ama. It’s not hard to imagine some intelligence fighting both for and against humans.

Plants and mushrooms are trying to teach us about cooperation. Microbes have decided it’s time to get rid of us humans….we’re just too incorrigible.

The virus is trying to pool its resources by staying alive as it flies over oceans to drop down and infect new people.

Who wins is anyone’s guess.

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Most Ghanaians are kind.  Some tall teenagers from Nigeria were staying across the hall of our hostel and as I was locking our room they surrounded me and it was spooky.

I told the manager and he brought them downstairs to where Ama and I were.  Ama proceeded to loudly reprimand them, even getting them to kneel down and she slapped their backs.  I could only take a few minutes of this.  I walked outside. One boy came over to me and begged my forgiveness.  Ama told me later that when she mentioned ‘police’ one boy started crying.

This left an impression of evil/good.

 Kind of like how some cultures handle things well without police intervention.

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I’m suggesting anything is possible.

Stranger things have happened. What if the microbes are able to hibernate like seeds do in the winter?

This is based on movies I’ve seen. We are living in a sort of movie now.

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When disembarking I usually let them know that I really appreciated their service and that I wish they would get a bonus or pay raise.     They smile tiredly.

Ours was struggling moving the food or drink cart down narrow aisles.

She tried to suppress her frustration but I saw it.

  Delta has the best I still believe.

  Here comes the 100 degrees at Ama’s.   She asked if I’d like to go to the slaughterhouse with her to get lamb meat – I said No Thanks.

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Well for sure I’m thawed out of the Idaho winter.   I find if I don’t have coffee – I have my VitaCost coffee chocolates – I get drowsy from the near 100 degrees.  Ama blazes right into it.   An early morning bike ride today felt great. There’s a nearby hotel with swimming pool – $30 to sleep there or $3 to use the pool only.

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Mornings it’s not too hot for a 1/2 hour walk here in Kumasi Ghana.   Of course, Ama has to greet acquaintances often.   

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From Africa, writing under a ceiling fan blowing warm air…. I’m accompanying my wife as she has some work done – mostly with hammers – and getting ready to before very long going to a town to honor the 1 year passing of her sister.

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Okay, mornings and evenings aren’t too bad.

I wanted to get one of those portable air conditioners as the electricity problem is fixed in Kumasi. I paid very little at a Missoula yard sale but here they are hundreds of dollars.

I guess I’ll just deal with the heat.

Staying healthy is the focus.

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 I manage to bike for a good 1/2 hour or walk through the neighborhood with Ama most mornings.  People are amused by me but I would be too if I was a local seeing a white guy.  

  Away for 2 weeks feels good so far.

  I’m getting used to hearing loud Aye’s and Ohhh’s.  Some cultural quirks seem strange at times, inefficient but people have creative outlets.  And that’s good.

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Ama is 95% Ghanaian in personality when here so I better assimilate or I’d be very lonely.

People run up to me if I’m carrying a case of water or shopping bags and they don’t imagine I need the exercise.  If I forget to say ‘thanks but I don’t want help’  in Twi, they go “Ohh!”

Am I that old-looking?

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If you’re right about hot weather and the virus  maybe we should stay here longer.  Its just that the heat drains me afternoons.

People shake hands here still and don’t talk about the virus – maybe on radio talk shows.

We have coughs when lying down so something  but no fever.  I actually am feeling strong.  

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Nothing here  so far Shirley.   People say that disease doesn’t like heat of the kind found in Ghana.  I never thought I’d be safer here than Europe or N America.

I don’t shake hands with people who extend their hand, saying ‘bump’.   They understand.

It’s not my favorite country – potholes that make taxis dodge them looking as if they’re driving straight towards me when walking on the sides of the streets.  Intense heat most afternoons. Loud talking, even Ama talking to herself while we walk.

People are generally friendly tho many times their lives don’t make sense to me.  

Still, no regrets about coming here.

I promised Ama she will always be able to return.   She’s now trying to get one room outside ready to rent out.   It’s what she’s wanted to go for years.

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It’s been surreal for quite some time for me at least.

Travel makes things feel healthy.

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A bunch of older relatives came over and I can tell they’re talking about the family. Quite emotional.  Similar to times of my own youth.  Problem – trying to fix it.

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Today I visited an older woman with Ama, her friend.  They have a nice big plantain garden so I asked and they gave me a machete and I manicured the old dead leaves and branches. 

 Some guy saw me from the dirt road and tried to understand what he saw. 

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She happily found a woman and child to rent a small part of her compound here.  Amazingly she has some workers right now putting a tiled floor, electricity and somehow a shower/toilet there with almost no money of her own. She’s relying on what the woman gave her.  I can’t comment, only watch from the sidelines.    They don’t use power tools.  Ghanaians are used this.

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I wonder what it’s like going shopping for food now?  I’ll bet you’re sensitive to trying not to cough when among people.

We even here are stocking up somewhat in case things get crazy.  The way people love to buy things at crowded market areas may change in a big way.  We see many old ladies and they’re the most vulnerable. But it’s so busy, hundreds of people slip past each other every couple of minutes.  Thousands of people shop along the streets in a small area of downtown Kumasi.  And in the market itself.

 We don’t know for sure if our return will come off as our tickets have us scheduled for.

Again, the last few years I’ve gotten the thought  What if we’re forced to stay overseas by an unexpected event rather than just by tiredness of seeing the devolution of everyday life in the home country?

 What’s happening —  Fixing up Ama’s new small rooms for a new rental  and  next week a trip over to Obuasi where the family will try to honor Ama’s sister’s passing.

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People here have adjusted to pain it seems. You and I Gwen are sensitive to things others simply aren’t.    When Ama started a fire in her small charcoal stove she put a big piece of plastic on top of the charcoal to start it.  I ran over and pulled it out.  And yelled ‘No!’    It hadn’t occurred to her that it would be toxic.

There’s good with the bad here.  The people are kind. Very kind.

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People come visit Ama almost every day.  When we go for walks she has to stop and talk.  In Ghana this is normal.

I’ve learned to put some small money in my pocket because there are shops along the way.

I got brave and a cooler morning I explored farther on the bike.  Went through some neighborhoods that surprised people seeing a white guy ride through.  It’s a mixture of big houses along with low income houses.  Ama says many earn $2/day.  No social security here.

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One thing about being here – I’m warm if not hot.     It rains afternoons usually.

 If only it was easier to go from Salmon to W Africa.  

 People come running up to me when I carry a big box or drinking water so I say in their dialect I don’t want any help please.  Ama says  He likes exercise  to them. I guess it’s because I wear shorts and do look weak (but I feel fine).

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Some good and bad —

Our dollar goes farther here in ghana so I’m not going to the ATM too often.  

What bugs me about living at Ama’s house is all the dust that’s making us cough when lying down and not realizing for 2 weeks here that the fans’ blades are dusty  especially on the side I couldn’t see.  We keep the ceiling fan on all night long to stay cool enough. It’s dark even with the lights on.  Sometimes I don’t want to see the dust because there’s so much.  And Ghanaians are used to pollution so I can’t count on anyone pointing that out to me.

Okay, that’s done.    

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In Flux

That’s how it feels now here.  One country after another following each other.   Today Ghana has closed schools.  The thought I had the other day at the market might become actualized.  They might shut down the biggest market in W Africa.

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A lot of things aren’t logical here so that’s why it keeps me on my toes to live with what I call Chaos.

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Everyone is stressing out these days. 

 Where I am people are good at calming themselves down. 

  Here, then, are some observations from Ghana:

  People in Africa have adapted to the hot weather by not attacking their jobs head-on. 

 When a crew hears that work is postponed because of an equipment failure or materials don’t arrive  everyone either waits around or leaves. 

  I notice some heavy equipment projects from last year are sitting in the same spot.  People resting or dozing off in the shade of big trucks. 

 I’ll see a mechanic working with a bunch of guys hanging nearby and it looks like these 4 guys are unemployed.   An SUV was tipped up on its side and held up by 4 2x4s while a guy was patching new sections of shiny metal into the floorboards that had rusted out.   I smiled and gave him the thumbs up sign and the guys all were happy I noticed.  Too bad I missed seeing them coordinate tipping it up.  I’d of loved to have helped. 

   ——-

Maybe this crazy scene will pass soon in the USA ?

I’m kind of glad I’m here, yes.  From time to time I feel some anxiety but right now, after walking up a steep hilly road to Ama’s brother in law’s house and a breeze is drying my sweat, I’m African.  

 A few orders are coming in via the internet so that’s a good feeling.

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It would be really great if it wasn’t for all the  Aaahh,  huhh?, aaayyy, oohh when people feel stressed.

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Taxis don’t weigh that much.   

It looks safer than jacking it up and crawling under it. 

 We took a taxi for the 40 or so mile trip from Kumasi to Obuasi.  There was a long stretch of road construction – about 30 miles.  The rear door didn’t close well and my backpack was covered with dirt.  The driver just snapped a rag over it and got it clean. 

 Sometimes I’ll find good air though usually not.  

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Very challenging here to stay cool afternoons.  I have to pour water over myself a couple times a day.  Early mornings are pleasant.

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Flexibility is called for.

A few hours after our new itineraries were sent to us, the first flight from Ghana was cancelled.

 Even the Delta rep was surprised when I contacted him after double-checking it myself.

Our new arrival will be May 2nd.

Maybe Ghana will be really good for me.

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An extended time in w Africa – how lucky I am!

People bending down that way where they don’t bend their knees.

Laughing young men in groups, not doing the 6’ apart thing yet.  Hand sanitizer is for sale in shops now.

My friends write me – stay in ghana; You’re safer there.   My brother, who is more of a germaphobe than me, tells me to get out of here.

What a relief to have cooler weather today with a breeze!

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  They say Every misfortune is a Blessing – because our money is going into fixing roof leaks (it rains like crazy when it rains) and there’s no running water to the house, Ama hauls buckets of water to the bathroom and the kitchen.  Exercise!

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Ghana.    Luckily the carpenter and the mason have their supplies here.

Ama’s house needs repairs.  That’s what they’re doing now.

I went for a bike ride and I have never seen Kumasi so quiet.  There are still people and children walking, but actually it’s nice for me as a bicyclist.  I’m glad I put new tires and tubes on it and everything works.  Less taxis around if I needed to get back. But I still see the empty taxis.

The pharmacies and gas stations are open. And the main road leading to other villages and to Obuasi is fairly busy.

Ghanaians are smart – they really are following the rules. The news travels fast via radio or smartphone or maybe tv.

Right now I feel very good and safe.

Yesterday they unloaded wood to fix Ama’s roof.  Then there’s the load of metal roofing sheets to unload. That small air cooled motorcycle engine did its job.  

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People smile and give me the thumbs up.  Ama tells people we are from Canada, and they then trust us.

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Being here is like a long meditation.  

Because it’s not my culture and I don’t want to impose anything on them I try to hang out with them. 

 The afternoon heat can be oppressive.   The place is kind of blocked off with concrete walls as it’s along a  fairly busy street.  So although some places have breezes it’s kind of rare here.  Ama closes one window’s drapes at night out of fear so that’s one less breeze.   (I sometimes open it back up.) 

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But from what I see here in Ghana, they’re doing it, Bart.

I hear that they indeed shut down the big market and surrounding stores. Only food shops or sellers open.

Walking through that area a few weeks ago i imagined it very difficult to do, but here it is.

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We’re doing fine.  Who would have thought that Ghana would be a better  safer place?  In fact, Ghana could be the new world leader.

Like that game Risk. Did you ever play it?  One country changes leadership and it’s not the one you’re used to being the richest.

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Because my wife is from here, I feel like I have a tour guide showing me the culture very deeply.

At times it’s a little much – the midday heat; sometimes the yelling when they are just conversing.  People burn garbage a lot.

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If the trend I see of cases increasing in the USA continues, we really would be safer here.  

I’ve got mixed feelings – wanting to return to home sweet home in Idaho vs  the relative safety of here.  

As others I’m in touch with say, I have to give myself a break from the news.

/——/

Yes, I’m afraid I know all that stuff. Like many, I’m spending too much time reading all of it on my iphone.  Ghana has this protocol now too.

I just got off messaging with delta.  We tried to get away from JFK but the best she could do is getting in to JFK and 1 hour and 10 minutes later to Atlanta and the next day to Montana.  She said the lines shouldn’t be long because there’s not much traveling going on.  I Reslly hope we can get it of New York in time.

 They’re cleaning like crazy at the gates.  

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It’s interesting here – ghana is following USA and Europe.   We can go out if it’s for food or medicine.   So I’ve been putting my small backpack on and I’ll put a little food in it.  And I’ll also have a copy of our passports. They also are making sure we don’t go in big groups.   

I just saw a guy, his daughter, wife with baby on her back strolling by. They were holding some small black plastic bags so they went to the shop for food nearby.  Our neighborhood has a few dozen small shops and although the rich people have been hoarding, it seems it is important to keep them stocked with food and water.  We buy water by the case.  A big bottle is 40 cents.

 They looked to me to be just a little concerned they might be hassled. I haven’t seen any real police cars but they have their unmarked cars too I’m sure.

 Ama travels with her USA passport so no problem leaving or entering ghana. Ghana really is trying to keep the number of cases down – it’s around 150 now.

 She tells me some might think I’m bringing the virus but most wave to me.

Some people walking are wearing masks. Those people look at me with some fear.  Taxis are still operating.  I haven’t had to take one by myself tho a couple years ago I got a flat tire and easily got one to bring me back, sticking my bike in the trunk.

  I think and hope that around the 13th of April the Accra airport will reopen for international flights.  And I hope The buses we use for Accra to Kumasi and vice versa should run again then.

 Lots of flights everywhere are cancelled.  The one we were going to use to get to Missoula where our car is – the one from jfk to slc just went away last night.  I contacted Delta – quite easily using their messaging on my iPhone (boy, I really have to keep our two iPhones working)  – and said Where is the flight to slc?  She said something got changed.   I’ll say!   It was removed!  They didn’t tell me.

So we’ll go directly from Accra to New York to Atlanta to Minneapolis to Missoula. One night sleeping at Atlanta airport.   Airports apparently are cleaned constantly.

  The afternoon heat is oppressive usually tho it rains strongly many evenings.   I had to sleep one night wearing my thin tights and long sleeve shirt.  Nice surprise!

 So, in some ways, this unexpected stay is nice.

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 I just got back from a 10:30am bike ride.  Hardly anyone out, well relative to here it’s hardly.  Maybe I saw 200 people, lots of small kids.  They all looked either neutral or unhappy except for a few older men who smiled seeing this white guy riding with gusto.  Maybe they thought I was a doctor rushing to someone who needed help?  You know Ghana is a place where people often shout to each other.  So I don’t know if they’re yelling or jiving to me. ….  I just keep riding.

 It’s somewhat primitive here in Ama’s.  No running water means we carry buckets from outside big plastic garbage cans.   When it rains it fills up from the roof in a few minutes. It would be expensive to get water hooked up again like she had when she first lived in it.

There’s a battery backup fan that comes on during power outages (which are thankfully seldom) and the overhead fan has different speeds.

I’m still impressed by how just about everything is done building houses with no power tools.

As far as getting exercise it’s nice breathing fresh air mostly and not being intimidated by smelly vehicles.

Like enjoying bike riding during holidays that I used to do.

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