Day of Errands

It happened again this morning. I set an alarm to wake up at 7:30, but I woke up at 4 AM, 6, 630, then finally got out of bed around 7 AM. I haven’t been able to sleep up to my alarm yet. I’m now getting ready for the day with Jennifer, Charles’ wife. Joe told me it will be fun to spend the day with her because she has so many things to do and she knows many people all over town. Alright, now it’s time for me to take the bucket shower and go explore this day.

 I got up and joined Charles Jr. or Koteay, which is the name given to the second born son, in the living room. Jennifer came out and made me eggs and toast for breakfast. The morning was pretty lazy until about 12PM, when Jennifer, Koteay, and I all left to take care of some errands. First thing was to go to the U.S. Embassy to register me in case anything major happened in the country. It is a good idea in general, but especially now. There is a big of a dilemma with the new Ghanaian presidential election and some Americans are worried it could turn badly. I say Americans because all of the Ghanaian people I have talked to about this issue through out our visits across Accra and what I have heard on the newspaper and TV, there was confidence in the sustained peace. We went out on the main road back toward the airport again. This seemed to be the main transport artery of Accra. I mentioned earlier how people on foot or in a car would walk in front of cars knowing that if the person made a last second maneuver there wouldn’t be any collision. Well, that was also the same with the cars on the sides of us. I thought drivers in L.A. were aggressive. Here, if you blink for too long 14 cars will make it in front of you and good luck getting control of the lane back. There were many times where I thought people would just keep going in front of us and we would get in an accident. I’m glad Jennifer was driving because she mostly sped up when she saw this and the other drivers would stop within a foot of our car. It is especially hectic when some one just as aggressive as Jenifer pulls out because then there were three or four cars next to each other across a two lane road. Oh and don’t forget about the pedestrians that would run to the middle and squeeze between the middle of the cars or make the one on the end slam their brakes on.

 We pulled up in front of the Embassy and Jennifer insisted that I go in alone while her and Koteay would wait in the car. Jennifer said she would be over there parked underneath the trees and pointed with a sort of half wave and half point in front of her. I said okay and had confidence in my common sense ability to find her. I walked up to a plastic table set up outside and asked where I could register with the Embassy. He didn’t really look at me and mumbled that they were closed and to come back before 12 PM M-F. Great, it just turned 11:55. I turned toward the road to find where the car was “under the trees” somewhere. As I got closer to the trees I noticed it was a small park in the middle of a roundabout. Definitely not a place to park a car. I walked and crossed the road to the park. I spotted the car and gained confidence with each step. Even though I was very close to our Embassy, this was the first time I had been alone walking on the street and it felt very strange. I crossed the other side of the roundabout and saw the car was surrounded by about 5 men, just chatting. This didn’t surprise me because Jennifer made new friends everywhere we went. As I got within about 30 feet I noticed the person in the car was not Jennifer. Now that everyone around the car was looking at me, I turned on a dime and started laughing as I went the opposite direction. They probably thought I looked crazy. As I was walking over to the actual spot of the car, I started to have fun being on my own. I noticed another Obroni walking right past me on my side of the street and had a strange feeling of disappointment. I’m not sure why, maybe because I felt it was less of an adventure then. This is a nice ease into being on my own in Kumasi. Apparently the American Embassy was close to the British Embassy and a lot of other important buildings. All of the employees were encouraged to live in that area so that the police can make sure they know which zone to keep safer than the rest. I wonder if the U.S. treats the area around the Ghanaian Embassy the same.

 I got back to the car and we headed off to take care of the rest of Jennifer’s errands for the day. She needed to buy some credits for their Internet. In Accra, people pay for Internet and electricity ahead of time and they get something akin to a sim card to plug in. We went to refill the Internet on a street called Oxford, just like the place in England. It was very touristy in this area and Jennifer warned me never to buy anything here, especially with me being such an obvious Obroni. Just driving a mile down this street I saw more Obronis than I had my entire stay. Koteay and I went in to eat at the fast food place, I’m sure they put there to make the tourists feel more comfortable. There was a KFC across the street, the first fast food place I’d seen. Most of the food we got was finger food except for maybe the coleslaw. The place gave us forks. Pfff, I was practically a Ghanaian now after my vast two days and there was going to be no way I didn’t eat that all with my hands. Joe was telling me before I left that, especially in Kumasi, everyone eats with their hands. Including when they eat soup. He said if he was eating with utensils on the street, people would start laughing at him even though he is a local. We got done with our food and they had a sink by where the napkins and condiments were.

 We got back in the car and headed off to meet some people on the way home. First we went to a tutoring center to figure out a plan for Koteay to improve his grades. Jennifer talked with a friend who had been an English teacher at one of the best schools in Ghana. This woman took us over where we could sit down inside and talk. Even though she was running a center with many toddlers and had a baby of her own in her hands, she was willing to get down to the bottom of Koteay’s situation. After about an hour of debating we moved on to meet with the Oracle to see if she thought we had any chance to save Morphius. We got inside and this time it was much quieter with four of us rather than a room full of relatives with Joe’s family and Cousin there. She gave me a lot of advice about being in Kumasi and I was very grateful for her attention. They talked a bit about Koteay’s situation and then some more in Ga I didn’t understand.

 Next stop was to meet Jennifer’s mom and dad. As we drove up to the house I could see a bucket out by the road. I looked down in the bucket and saw a slaughtered chicken. Jennifer said that most times you saw a dead animal the dogs would be around picking at it. Since there were no dogs around this one, it was better to avoid the whole area. When we got inside her dad was sitting and immediately turned toward us. Without even saying hello to Jennifer he was repeating Obroni and pointing to me. I went over, met him, and joined him on the couch as Jennifer and Koteay moved on. He was very hard to understand, but very genuinely interested in who I was. He was the only person who asked for my last name. Even he could pronounce it correctly, unlike many of the native English speakers who pronounce it Hoffman in the U.S.; really, Hoffman? He told me how he had been to University in Ghana, Germany, and got his Masters in Minnesota. He also had lived all over the United States and parts of Africa. I was very impressed to hear the things he did across the world as a famous Geologist. He had a picture of him and the Prince of Whales on his wall and was very proud to show it to me. I went into the other room and met the Mother and sister-in-law. Her mom was very nice and wanted to make sure I was having the best time I could in Ghana. I told them I would be here for 6 months and they laughed and said “oh, so you’ll be Ghanaian by then.” The Aunt had been away for a few years, living in New Jersey. She said she preferred to be surrounded by the people in Ghana and I found it hard to disagree. Jennifer was mainly there to discuss a funeral they were attending in Kumasi. Funerals in Ghana are a very big deal and generally consist of a very traditional ceremony and a large party afterwards. You know you are close to a family when you are invited to one of their funerals. They said since I would be in Kumasi during the funeral, I should join them and experience my first one. I was very honored that they would invite me to such a special event. Shortly after we left their house to pass by the chicken once more, of course I had to look again, and head to Jennifer’s Aunt’s house as a final stop. The Aunt and her husband were very kind and welcoming. Jennifer and the Aunt were arguing about planning the big funeral event. The husband was giving me a lot of advice about my stay in Kumasi. The Aunt had very large facial features and looked like she would be a scary woman to see angry. I still haven’t been able to recognize the common Ghanaian features. Each person we met looked so different to me.

 On our way home we took the back roads to avoid getting on the main paved road, where everyone cuts everyone else off. I thought it would be much more fun to see the local roads anyway. It was very interesting that these houses we visited throughout my trip were very nice, probably just as nice as most houses in the U.S., but the infrastructure of the areas between the houses was the obviously impoverished part. The roads were very rough dirt roads, with no street sign anywhere in sight. I didn’t get a feeling of being scared, but one more of sadness. There were many signs of modern technology like Ipones and modern cars and clothing around most places we traveled, but you could see the underdeveloped government help. Ghana is one of the fastest growing Economies in West Africa, so I wonder what the reality of the other countries are. I am hoping this Presidential election goes in a favorable way to continuing improving the infrastructures of Ghana. It has a long way to go to catch up to the improvement in technology. This situation had been described to me in one of my classes with Dr. Rohwedder. He was by far my favorite professor at SSU because he actually lived what he taught. His main passion was focused on increasing the humanity while keeping a low ecological footprint for the developing nation’s populations. These places are where most of the population and growth of the world are and if they decide to go down the same path of development as the U.S., then the poorest populations will have to suffer in order for that to happen. There just aren’t enough resources for that, unless we learn from previous mistakes and grow our world in a more sustainable way, designed to provide enough resources for future populations. Yes, this means that problems won’t be addressed as quickly, but they will be dealt with on a stronger foundation and will have less of a chance of collapse and will eventually lead to a much healthier growth. In many of his classes he showed pictures of people riding oxen drawn wooden carts, with cell phones in their hands. I never quite got what he was saying until now. I realize that technology can be made cheap and available to spread much more rapidly than the more sustainable changes. I think that is where I want to head in my career. I’ll need to dig a bit deeper into this during my stay, but I’m interested in how to build those foundational blocks of society that will enable the technological growth to be matched with the growth of the foundational infrastructure. Well, that’s my opinion so far and I am sure it’s far from the truth. I am going to continue to do this kind of work with an open mind so that some day I will get a better hypothesis and closer to some kind of plan for a solution.

Just before we got home we stopped at a vendor on the side of the street and Jennifer bought us some oranges to eat. They looked a little strange and had the very top part cut off. I stuck my finger in and started to tear the skin off. They yelled at me not to do that because Ghanaian oranges are much different from those in the U.S. Apparently the skin is too tough to peel it the normal way. The local way to eat it is to cut that hole in the top and squeeze the orange so that the juice comes out and you drink. It reminded me of the stress balls that people use. It was a lot of fun to squeeze the oranges and very rewarding because I got to strengthen my hands and get some juice for it. Jennifer, Koteay, and I were all laughing as I struggled to get the last bit of juice out. I really felt at that moment that we had gotten much closer. I have a feeling it is going to be very hard to leave the Janney family after this week is over.

One thought on “Day of Errands

  1. First, I can’t believe you’ve already had fast food! That is disgusting! You should be eating only local food, not the crap we Americans are sending overseas to those poor people. I think you should petition the embassy to have those places thrown out of the country!

    Also, why was it best to get out of that area if there were no dogs around the slaughtered chicken? Was it diseased or something?

    Finally, it’s crazy to me that people have iphones before they have water systems or paved roads or the things you think would be the basic (BASIC!) necessities of life. I think it’s amazing that you want to focus your career on the solutions for our world and our future sustainability. It sounds like you’re going to have to study something like city planning or something of that nature in order to create and implement your ideas.

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