Tuesday, October 13, 2009


As I await the return of my wife, hopefully flying south over the Sahara as we speak, I thought I’d expound a bit on an aspect of life in Ghana that just wasn’t the same in Liberia. In a way, the sight my dear wife is now viewing out her window is part of this glimpse into our lives. To the left, a picture out the window of her Lufthansa Airbus. What do you see? Exactly.

In Liberia, the biggest non-human related environmental difference we had to adjust to was the humidity. As you may recall, I wrote several blogs attempting to share in words what the remarkable, world-class sweltering stickiness of the Liberian coastal air was like
. In Ghana, while it is humid, it is more familiar, similar to the air moisture I might have felt on a muggy Michigan summer day. The humidity here is nothing like I experienced in Liberia. In Ghana it’s not the humidity. It’s the dust.

Africa is famous for its sand and its dust. Most of the continent rests on the oldest, most stable rock on earth, rich in iron. The iron oxidizes, giving much of the dirt its reddish tone that we see everywhere. Over the millennia, the sand becomes pulverized into dust, a heavy red dust that is easy carried by the wind, but settles quickly—and absorbs moisture.

So every day, the rusty dust is there. If you walk around on your “clean” floor in your white socks, you’ll have to change them in an hour. If you wash your car and go to the store, no one will know it was washed. If you come in after a hot afternoon outdoors and wipe your face with a white cloth, your hand print will be plainly visible on the cloth. It is a cultural taboo to speed through communities without paved roads. The clouds of dust get into disk drives, clog up fan vents, and generally spell an early death for unprotected electronics.

None of this bothers me too much. Many places in Africa have it much worse.
(See video in separate post below) I like it here. However, in one area, the dust is a literal pain. My feet. I must warn you, if you are one of those unfortunate people whose dry skin crack open into painful chasms on the heel and side of the foot, a dusty place like Ghana will not be nice to you. The dust here is so fine that it is almost like cement powder; if you have ever stuck your hand in dry cement you understand the problem, as you immediately had to wash your hand to rehydrate it. Walking around on this powder sucks the moisture right out of unprotected feet. I'm used to moving about barefooted whenever possible—Ghana has made this impossible. I went four years in Liberia without cracked feet. The humidity kept them nice and soft. Today my feet are covered with six or seven band aids, as I attempt to coax the gaping fissures to close. I only need to forget to wear socks for a few hours, and the damage is done. And I go through so many socks each day that I sometimes run out.

All in all though, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. I still have this great breeze every day, reasonable temps moderated by the ocean, and sunny days mostly. Not to mention we feel like we have good work to do here. As I say, it could be much worse. Ask the kid the left. I wonder what his feet look like.

The door on a book shop down the road from us.

Scubitrip - Sandstorm in Niger

Its dusty in Ghana, but just North of us, in Mali and Niger, it gets incredible-- huge sand and dust storms that wreck havoc. Here is one from Naimey, Niger, where I'll be meeting with other CRWRC folks in January. Renita passes over Naimey on her flight today.