Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Monday in West Africa

Kids' First Day of School, Dad Gets Arrested, the Dog Dies

It didn't take long. In fact, I got "arrested" here much quicker than when we were in Liberia. And one of our dogs died sooner too. Plus our lovely children are grousing about their new school. The other sandal has dropped.

Today started off with Hannah and Noah heading for school trying to keep their chins up even while mumbling under their breath. But we knew this day was coming. The kids were starting another school year, and first day jitters are unprdictable. It could have been worse. With the house quiet, it was time for errands, so Yers Trooly thumped his chest and declared to his wife that he would venture deep into Accra to complete the various quests. He would do this with only his trusty map, his twitchy cell phone, and his desire to master the rules and road
s of the Ghanaian capital.

He set off, map at shotgun, looking for a certain "Ring Road." When he passed it, he wondered if that might have been his exit, and by the time he got to Castle Road, he knew he needed to venture back. He had been going Southwest, now on a parallel avenue, he traveled Northeast. Wishing to find his previous thoroughfare, he turned right at what appeared to be a perfectly good exit right. This was his mistake.

By the time he had reached the next light, two police rushed to his vehicle and waved him over. He had "driven carelessly," so now he must accept the consequences. To Yers, this sounded all too familiar, and the
next steps only required remembering his first few weeks in Liberia. Step one: "You are being arrested." Step Two: "You must carry us to the Police Station where you can apply for bail." Step Three: Upon getting to the station, a deal will be proffered: "Perhaps if we think of something else, you will not need to go in." "Oh yeh?"said Mr. Truly, "Tell me more." The "more" was as expected: if I could "find something" for the arresting officers, I could go. They have that discretion, you see. I told them to continue with the arrest, I wanted to chat with their commander regarding my deed, and of course, their alternative offer.

To make a longer saga shorter, after sitting in a station house providing entertainment for drunk fellows and officers alike, and after listening to my captors debating amongst themselves for an hour, the Station Commander (Agnes) came in from nowhere, called me and the arresting officers into her office, chatted with me a while, warned me to be careful, and let me go. And that was that. I was off to finish my quests, the crime-stoppers off to nab school kids for chewing gum in class.

By the time I got home, our water was not running, the Internet was out, and I was feeling grumpy. But at least our dogs were welcoming me. Or two of them were, Jack and Dusty. The third, Downer, was missing. We all knew she was very sick. When I found her, she was already gone.

The kids got home around three, happy to be home, but still forcing chins up against their natural urges. We all told our stories of the day's events and grieved Downer's passing over a bowl of cookie dough, and by now, as I finish at 4:27pm (GMT), Hannah is singing, Downer is in dog heaven, mom is multitasking, Noah's waiting for me to get off the computer, and I'm heading off for a nap.
After all, tomorrow is another day.

The day began with groggy, unhappy young ones at breakfast. Mom pitches positivism. Dad provides balance, by irritating with camera.

Leaving the gate for the twelve minute walk to school.

There they go! Sniff!

Meanwhile, Accra's finest waits for Yers Trooly to turn right.

But I already told that story. After a long day, home looks swell.

...and soon the kids join us for a well deserved hunk of a sugar, shortening, flour, egg, and chocolate chip concoction. The day comes full circle, at the dinner table.

Bonus Featurette: Our Dogs, Dusty, Jack, and the Late Downer

Daughter delights in gray Jack and African dust-colored Dusty.

Again, Jack hides.
Here they are!
Downer, the one that didn't make it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Weather: Mild and muggy in the mornings under cloudy skies, with temps in the upper 60sF to lower 70s. As the day warms, the sun shows up, the relative humidity drops a bit, and the winds pick up to around 20mph. Daytime temps in the 80s, but nighttime is cool and breezy. Even though this is the rainy "season," we know that this close to the equator we will see a dry period in August between the two short seasons of rain. So we have seen very little rain in our first week in the Accra suburb of East Legon.

Non-Stop Settling-In

Is it too soon to say I love it here in the red hills of suburban Accra, Ghana? True, the water sometimes comes in spurts, and it has to be filtered-- but it spurts right out of our taps. No pumping or hauling! And yes, sometimes the city shuts off electricity for a few hours to save energy, but mostly it works. And while the Internet is not really able to stream YouTube or the PGA championship, it comes into our home. No driving miles to a dingy, unreliable cafe. And it is indeed a fact that Accra, like Monrovia, is an equatorial city on the ocean with high humidity. But-- dare I say it? Will saying it jinx it? But, dear readers, unlike the still, stifling air around Monrovia, Accra comes with a breeze! Nobody told me this! Oh, nobody told me! It feels good here almost all the time! Who cares about humidity when you got a 20mph breeze blowing all day? Oh happy, oh, joy!

So, can I say I love it here yet? Naw, I'll wait until the other sandal drops. But I like it a lot so far. I feel the Akwaaba-- the welcome-- of Ghana.
We've spent a full week here in an almost non-stop selecting, purchasing, signing in, registering, liaising, testing, and adjusting mode. Our nice Ghanaian home (see video below) has nothing in it so we need to buy it all-- bedrooms,
living rooms, office, kitchen, bathroom, electrical adapters, step-downs, regulators, surge protectors, lamps, plates, rugs, pillows, towels, refrigerator, ... but I'm not complaining. Give me cash and a
breeze, my people, and there is nothing I can't buy. The photos to the left and right document our daily taxi rides from our neighborhood, above left, through the city. Click on 'em to see a larger version.
The kids, Hannah and Noah by name, are now enrolled in the American International School, a new enterprise started just a few years ago with an excellent, professional, dedicated and enthusiastic staff. Tis very small-- only about 6 students in Hannah's 11th grade, and another 5 in Noah's 10th. But that's good; it means individual attention, and there are a lot of kids in the local church-- Ghanaian, German, New Zeelanders, British, and North American-- for them to get to know.
Last Saturday, Renita and I took an hour out of our tasks and visited an "inventors fair" in downtown Accra, a place where Africans and expatriates ("expats") have worked together to come up with some easy ways to make things work out of odds and ends one might find in a small rural village anywhere in Africa. The inventors had come up with ingenious ways to chlorinate water, create power, process food, and recycle waste. Renita and I found the show fascinating, and may be able to use some of these ideas with others in our work worlds. Pictures of a few of the inventions are below.
Both Partners Worldwide (PW), Renita's agency, and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), my employer, remind us that for the next few weeks and more, our main job is to simply get set up and get settled here as much as we can. But we know we came here for work beyond our home, and beyond Accra. Our work will take us both throughout West Africa, and both Renita and I are essentially servants, helpers, even water-bearers to the men and women in cities and villages spending themselves on enhancing the lives of their neighbors and communities. We are patient but eager when we look to our "non-domestic" work tasks. We want to get out there!
Since it looks like we have safely planted ourselves in Ghana, we want to say thank you to so many of you who extended yourselves, provided housing or transportation while we were there, stored our stuff after we left, paid bills and advocated for us all the time we are away, and continue to uplift us in many essential ways every day now that we are here. We are merely the front-line hands and feet to this work, while many of you act quietly but doggedly, behind the scenes as heads and hearts, path-clearers and bridgebuilders, encouragers and challengers. You pray for us daily, call us on Skype, send us emails, donate real hard-earned cash, occasionally visit us, and always welcome us when we return. I'd love to mention you by name, but there are dozens and I'd forget somebody. I hope you know who you are.
Here are a few more images.

Renita hunting for housewares at one of Accra's several large, modern stores. Most items are comparably priced to what we saw in the US, except for food. Food is at least 1.5 times more expensive, and some items, like spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, cheese or most meat, are completely out of our range. Hamburger works at about $5.50 a kilo (2.2 pounds per kilo), and I get get a whole chicken for about $6.00.

Now on to the Inventor's fair. These are batteries made from salt water and old soda cans...

...a cassava grinder for making fu-fu...

...a 'cycle operated millet shucker...

...and our favorite, a bamboo-frame bike.

A final shot o' the fair-- finally, something to do with old plastic water bottles, which are otherwise a blight on the world. As Hannah says, "Don't buy water in plastic bottles!" (Unless yer makin' furniture.)

A 5 second home movie. Literally. These our our new digs. Just click on the arrow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From ORD to FRA to ACC

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

We made it to Ghana, and because we are all together, it is home. Actually, it feels like it, after nine months in Limbo in Grand Rapids. Tis Thursday night as I write, I'm still a bit sleepy, but we started Day 1 of our time in Ghana on the run from sunup to sundown getting some of the things we'll need to get up to speed. But more on this settling time later. Here are a few images of the trip. I did not take as many as I needed for some good ones, but it will still paint a picture.

Chicago again. Wasn't I just here three weeks ago? Our friends Tom and Mary Steenwyk carried our eight large suitcases and three bodies to ORD, and it was their anniversery no less. We made it with lots of time to spare.

Our first plane, the one that took us to Franfurt, was an old 747. It was cramped and the packed flight was overnight...

... so the three of us got just an hour or so of sleep each.

At the Frankfurt (FRA) airport, Noah took his traditional sleeping position on the floor. He started really sleeping when we were called to board the flight to Accra. That flight was much nicer, in a new, roomy plane with our own individual movie screen. We landed at 3:15 pm local time, and by four we were united and on our way to our new digs.

Two boring and typical shots of Accra, but I thought you might value further evidence that we are here.

Street bid'ness.
A roomy home-- right now with too much room. The house has a large and open living room/dining room combo, a good sized kitchen three bedrooms, an office room, and a guest room. But oh so empty.

Hannah is still living out of her suitcase and Facebooking like a fiend. By the way, she's already had one marriage proposal from a very earnest looking young fellow as we were out shopping for furniture.

Noah, on the other hand, is a bit of a minimalist.

Together again, two migratory luv burds.

Monday, August 10, 2009

We're Outa Here

Last One Out Turn Off the AC

Hannah, Noah and I leave Tuesday from Chicago O'Hare Airport at 4:45pm EDT. We'll be flying to Frankfort, Germany via Lufthansa Airlines, then on to Accra Ghana. We arrive in Accra Wednesday at 3:30pm local time, or 11:30amEDT.

Our weekend and Monday was spent organizing, returning, canceling, packing, and trying to avoid saying good bye to anyone. Of the three of us, I'm the most happy about going, Hannah the least and Noah somewhere in the middle. We've been talking about it a lot, and I think we are as ready as we can be for moving to another continent with only eight suitcases.
Meanwhile Renita is an ocean away making purchases and trying to get us set-up in our new home, while at the same time processing her tour of Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire. The house will be rather bare when we arrive, but we'll have beds and kitchen stuff. I'm looking forward to getting a lay of the land and joining Renita in finishing the job she started. Stay tuned; we'll send more images as we travel.

And here it is, waiting for us: our new home! And a new home it is. We'll be its first occupants, and it may be the nicest home we've ever enjoyed.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Renita in Cote d'Ivoire

From Danane', with Love

As our little map indicates, on Wednesday Renita left Monrovia, Liberia by car to travel to Danane', Cote D'Ivoire. The rainy season has turned the roads to thick, dangerously sticky mud, but she had places to go and people to see. After 10 grinding, bone jarring hours she traveled the 125 miles to the muddy river that represents the border between the two West African countries. At the border, she said goodbye to her visaless driver, and walked with a Ganta LEAD staff member across a sagging wood bridge at dusk, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, 5000 miles from family, to place herself in the hands of customs officials and eventually Dea Lieu, a man she has never met. Dea is the director of ACLCP, an affiliate organization of Partners Worldwide, and thus is one of Renita's co-laborers. Together, they bumped and jostled their way in the dark the remaining 25 miles to Danane'. The trip took two hours. The internet, phone service and electricity are neall spotty in Danane', so after she arrived, we kinda lost touch with her. But Saturday, she came through with an email to us all, giving us a picture of what the trip has been like thus far. On Sunday, she was able to email a few images as well. Here is her letter to us, a view of Dea Lieu's world.

Dearest family,

It was so good to hear your voices today. I'm very glad that the three of you are together again. I can't wait to see you in Ghana.

Here are some pictures from Cote d'Ivoire. It was interesting after we crossed the border and drove to Danane’. I knew that it was rebel held territory, but I didn't really think about it in the active sense. There were young, tough looking men walking around with AK-47s and rifles; the first checkpoint we stopped at had a rebel in some sort of fatigues come up to the car smelling very strongly of opium (according to Dea). Apparently drug use is quite a problem among the rebels. They hold the territory in this portion of Cote d'Ivoire, and there is an awareness of their presence around and an air of anticipation to see if they will actually make a deal with the government or if it will remain as a rebel held territory. There is definitely a sense of being victimized – the citizen’s live here with this around them. Aid and development assistance will not come in until the conflict is resolved, so the organization here (ACLCP) is in some ways not able to progress at a rate they would like. They are doing such a great job despite this and have some real success stories.

The people here have been great - very friendly and welcoming; laughing at my mistakes (I told them Hannah was 60 years old:-); trying to speak English. The Board meeting was in some ways hard - I had two tough issues that to bring to them we needed to address. But we had a very lively discussion and the Ivoirians held their ground on the one issue but came around on the other. After the meeting, however, I heard discussion about rethinking the second issue as well. I was pleased that they held their ground, had researched the issue and were able to support their stand with a good argument.

The other thing about Danane is that there are no white people here; no NGOs to speak of; and yet being white here has not been a big deal, nor has it garnered any attention that I'm aware of. They are so disappointed that we are not moving here and are insisting that there are good schools in Abidjan. They keep talking about it amongst themselves.

That's all for now. My battery is getting low.

I love you all.

The best view of these guys-- going away.

Renita with Dea and his daughter Armande walking the streets of Danane'.

Click on small pictures for a larger image.