Some Things We’ll Miss. Other Things … Not So Much!

We are about to celebrate our two-month anniversary of living in Accra. We’re blessed with a great living situation, wonderful teammates and ambitious clients. We’re experiencing lots of new things … some good, some not so good:

 House “Fairy”: On Sunday night, we had a dinner party for seven grownups and two 18-month olds.  We made veggie pasta, salad, garlic bread, and fruit salad. The dinner was great, and the two children had lots of room to chase each other around. They even shared their pacifiers!  Both moms are Stanford grads, so this duo comes from a smart gene pool:
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At the end of the evening, we realized that we had dirtied every dish and every pot we owned. We left all of these in a pile on the counter for Francis. We didn’t see him prior to leaving for the office on Monday morning, but by the time we had returned in the evening, everything was clean and put away. Now this is a service we’ll miss!

The Music: Ghanaian music is ubiquitous and wonderful. Since our last post, we attended a concert of Ghanaian Highlife with a New Zealand twist. Zohzoh, the artist, is a big personality who struts on stage in true Mick Jagger style! His band includes an incredible drummer and a brass section that fuses big band, funk, Afro, and reggae. It was so fun that we bought the CD.

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Drivers: When we need to go to a client meeting, we pop into one of the three cars under contract to Stanford. We primarily use Randy as our driver. He is very conscientious and knows his way around Accra. This is very helpful since there are no addresses! Once in a while, he yells at the other drivers in Twi … but the windows are closed and they can’t hear him. It’s a good thing we’re not trying to drive here since there is definitely a knack to merging and cutting in front of the other cars.

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Cabs/Ditches: Sometimes we take cabs, which are usually ok. We have to negotiate the price before getting into the car.  They are likely to start with the “obruni” (White person) price. We now know how to bargain them to a reasonable price, since we have a vague idea of how far it will be to the various locations.

One time, when Ed hailed this cab, the cab turned around to pick him up, but landed in the ditch.

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These ditches are open sewers that are on the sides of most roads. Some homeowners elect to put grates on top of them (which is much appreciated). When it’s hot, the smell can be bad. For this taxi driver, Ed had to get another cab (because he had to get to his meeting), but Ed noticed that other drivers rallied to the cause and helped lift the car out of the ditch!

We have learned to pay rapt attention while walking down a street. We do not want to twist our ankle in a pothole or fall into a ditch. (We heard a story of one WHO manager who fell in and was waist-deep during the rainy season.)

Internet/Phone:  Since we have a huge task of serving six clients per coach, we depend on “always on” Internet and phone service. Over the last week, it’s been more like “always off”.  Ed was nominated to be the point person to assist the local manager with dealing with Stanford’s (complicated) Internet system (complete with firewall.)  This “opportunity” allowed Ed to have an 8-hour conference call with the US for troubleshooting!  The coaches were switched from a MTN “prepay” to a “post pay” phone plan, but as a result, we had no phones or Internet on our phones for two days. This caused quite a problem, as no one could reach us, and we couldn’t call or email anyone. We went to an interim solution with a temporary phone, but this wasn’t so good. Later we found out that the whole country was having MTN phone problems!


Elevator Landing:  Our apartment is great, but there are some things about it that make us scratch our heads and wonder, “why did they build it this way?” For example, the elevator landings are on the half floor.  This means that on the ground floor, we walk up a half of a flight to get in the elevator. Then, we push “5” for fifth floor. We get off the elevator and walk down half of a flight of stairs to get to our apartment. This is especially confusing for guests, who don’t know where to go when they get off on the 5th floor stop. Up half a flight?  Or, down half a flight? Perhaps the builder wanted to make sure that elevator riders got at least a bit of exercise!



Cash-Only Society:  Due to the extent of credit card fraud around Ghana and Nigeria, it’s a cash based society. This means that even most plane tickets have to be purchased with cash. The last time we went to Nigeria, Jan took a wad of cash ($700) to the airport to buy the tickets. This required two trips … because during the first trip (4:00 pm), the agent said I had to pay at a bank. Then I went to the bank, which was then closed. Later I called the airport to see if our “hold for 24 hours” reservation had been cancelled, and a different agent asked me to return to the airport (with the cash) by 9 pm. So, Ed and I took a moonlight cab to the airport and bought the ticket by 9 pm. Not the most efficient use of time!

We’ve learned a new way of coping with some of the nuances brought about by life in Africa.  This was a suggestion put forth by Bill’s son.  When something is frustrating, we say “WHEEEEEEEEEEEE” in a high pitch voice. You can’t help but smile while saying this.

The adventure continues!


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