Monday, October 26, 2009

In the Field, Again

After about a month of data work, I'm back "in the field." Being in the field is a pain. It's hot and dirty, and your office work doesn't go away -- it just gets done in the second eight hours you work. But I'm glad to be working outside again. I have an assumption shattered, or learn something that I really should have known every time.

This time, we were delivering envelopes to our respondents, with a paper inside that they had to remove. I stapled the envelope -- and therefore the paper inside the envelope -- to a page that described how to locate the respondent. I was obsessed with the idea that it would be impossibly difficult to remove the staple, everyone would get pissed, and the paper would be torn and ruined when they gave up and tore it out. Or, at least, that it would be a hassle.

I forgot that I was working with tailors -- they had the staple out and envelope open in no time flat.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An Interesting Ride to the Beach

I took a short trip to be beach today, but with Accra's traffic, I ended up spending more time traveling there/back than relaxing. On the ride there, the second tro-tro (minibus) I picked was blaring music out of a tape deck, and there were cassettes strewn across the front seat. "Only in Africa is there still I thriving cassette market," I thought.

I was quickly put straight when I hopped out and picked a shared taxi, who was blaring music off a USB memory stick plugged straight into his CD player. When he stopped at a junction, he yanked it out to swap with his buddy, and I saw that there is a USB port right on the face of the CD player (when did they start making such things!?). We cruised on to the beach listening to Burning Spear.

Juxtapositions like this are all over the place in Accra. If I had to describe Ghana to someone who doesn't know Africa (something I was totally unprepared for on my recent trip home), I would use stories like this.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Finally Did It...

I finally posted some pictures of Ghana on facebook. They are here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The most traumatic thing about being an ex-pat in Ghana…

… is getting your hair cut! I’ve had 3.5 haircuts here, the latest yesterday, and each one was equally damaging. There is supposedly a barber somewhere in Accra experienced in cutting Obruni hair, but he disappeared around the time I arrived and I haven’t yet met anyone who can handle my golden locks. Nothing is more traumatizing than removing your glasses and blindly surrendering all control over the top of your head to a man with scissors (if you’re lucky – most only have clippers) who just finished petting your hair and saying, “it’s so smooth!”

Here is a synopsis of my haircuts to date, in chronological order. No pictures, sorry – this is one of the moments better left uncaptured (and off the internet).

#1: ‘The Is this 1990 and am I Vanilla Ice?’. For my first hair cut, I decided to try out the barber closest to my house. Mistake! I told him: “Longer on the top and shorter on the sides” and received what would have been a flat top, if my hair were capable of such a thing. Instead, I was left with a Vanilla Ice Flat Top. Oops!

#2: ‘The Wet Ret’. Thoroughly traumatized, I decided to take on my next hair cut myself (while wearing glasses). Mistake! On the plus side, the process of cutting it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had alone, and my interior monologue was priceless. Some of the things that crossed my mind while cutting my own hair: “Wow! I don’t even need a mirror for the back!”; “I wish my scissors weren’t so dull…”; “Wow! I don’t even need my glasses!”; “Next time, I will use a comb”. On the minus side, when I put my glasses back on and found a mirror for the back, the first thought I had was that it looked familiar, but I couldn’t place why… Oh, that’s right, it looked like the hair on the wet rat I’d seen crawling out of the sewer the week before. Oops!

#2.5: ‘The Fade’. After two weeks of walking around with the ‘Wet Rat’, I realized that no one was going to take me seriously until I got it cleaned up. Back to the closest barber it was. This time, I told him, don’t cut the top, just clean the bottom and make a smooth transition to the top. Mistake! He cropped it right up to the skin until about halfway up my head, when it faded aggressively into the 3+ inches of ‘Wet Rat’ left on top. Oops!

#3: ‘The Egghead’. Tried a new barber this time, one who actually owned scissors. He had a picture of someone with `The Fade’ on the wall, and I carefully explained that I wanted exactly that, only all the same length in the back, and using scissors on top. Somehow that translated to: “Please make my head as ovular as possible. I really like looking like an egg.” Mistake! I got what would be a tight, hip afro, if my hair were capable, but instead just makes my head look bizarrely round, almost fascinatingly so. It could be worse, I suppose… but not much worse. The nerdy irony that my head is literally shaped like an egg does stir my pocket-protected soul. Oops!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ghana Wins!

Ghana won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup on Friday night. Wow! It was CRAZY! Everyone was far, far more excited than I expected, about on par with Argentina during the 2006 World Cup. And they were only cheering for teenagers! The World Cup is going to be quite something indeed.

I watched the game on a 40' by 30' projector set up right smack in the middle of one of the most popular streets. The game itself was a slog. Ghana was playing a man down for most of the game, but managed to keep Brazil scoreless through the entire game and extra time as well, so it went to penalty kicks (about the only situation you ever want to see PKs). When Brazil missed their final kick to give Ghana a chance at winning... wow... I really wish I had a camera...

As Ghana set up to take their final kick for the game, I wondered aloud to my friend, "What percentage of Ghana do you think is praying right now?" The prayers were answered; it was a perfect kick. It was enough for Ghana's vice-president to decide that "God is a Ghanaian".

I originally thought I wanted to go to South Africa for the World Cup, but Ghana is looking like a pretty amazing place to be.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back Home, in the Tropics

I returned to Ghana this morning, ready to (try to) get back to work. One of the things that I was fascinated by on my visit was the smells. Fall in New England has such distinctive smells. The crisp bitterness along the Charles. The damp pine forest behind my mother's house. The rotting leaves at the base of Mt Lafayette. The cold, slick smells above treeline. Etc.

Getting off the plane in Ghana, I had forgotten that the tropics have their own distinct smell. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's the humidity, but it's there. I was surprised how familiar it smelled -- it smelled like home.

The romance faded when I walked to work, and got a good whiff of open sewer. Ah, the smells of Accra!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Back in Beantown

I'm back in Boston for a surprise visit, so there will be less posting for a bit. In the meantime, check out David Brooks's thought-provoking piece from yesterday.

Come to think of it, Brooks has been on a roll recently. His Friday article was brilliant. The conservative critics would have a lot less power if there were an election right now, but since there isn't the attention is going to those who shout the loudest, not those with the most public support.

And Brooks is at his most formidable when addressing trends in American culture. His latest insightis somewhat terrifying.