Ghana: “Africa for Beginners”

February 4th, 2009
Sue going native with some of the kids.

Sue going native with some of the kids.

Gary here.  Below is the first installment of several trip reports from my wife, Sue, just back from Ghana, Africa.

* * * *
I stepped off the plane in Accra, Ghana (after being in the air for 16+ hours) and was immediately struck by the air pollution and oppressive humidity. January is Ghana’s cool season, but the air was thick and I wasn’t prepared for it. Needless to say, I started to sweat–I mean really sweat.
  Street market in capital city, Accra
Before I could say, “where am I,” we hit the Accra markets. And I’ve never been the same since. The markets are insanely chaotic. Just keep in mind that there are about 21 million people in Ghana, which is roughly the size of Oregon. And ten percent of those 21 million live in and around Accra. The number of Africans, taxis and tro-tros (imagine being smashed into a small van/can) is staggering.
But it wasn’t the chaos that threw me. It was the smells–an unhealthy mix of exhaust, burning garbage, sweat, fried yams and plantains, grilled bush meat (various rodents), fermenting gari (will explain later), and sundried Tilapia. Let’s just say the plantain chips I tried lost their appeal early on.


The women work harder than anyone

The women work harder than anyone

Did I tell you I was sweating? So I  grabbed a couple of handkerchiefs off a woman’s head and paid her 40 pesewas (roughly 40 cents). The “sweat rags” are sold all over Ghana. Despite the fact that most Ghanaians live without running water, they are very clean and conscientious about their appearance. Everyone carries a cloth to keep their face clean and sweat free. I quickly learned to follow suit.


I was happy to get out of the busy city of Accra to the more primitive village where I spent the rest of the trip. That night, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of bullfrogs and awakened by the loudest roosters I’ve ever heard. I’m usually not a morning person, but in Ghana all of the noises outside got me up and going pretty early.


Nice change from Accra/Mampong countryside

Nice change from Accra/Mampong countryside

New friends in Mampong
New friends in Mampong


Unlike most adults, the Ghanaian kids love to have their picture taken

Unlike most adults, the Ghanaian kids love to have their picture taken


 I quickly learned to fish murky water out of the well and give myself a spit bath. That will explain why I spent five hours in an African salon getting braids and extensions. It’s just too hard to wash your hair and it doesn’t get clean anyway in the dirty water. Believe it or not, I learned to relish my nightly well water ritual, despite all of the frogs, lizards, spiders and snakes. Travel trip: if you go to Africa, bring a sturdy pair of flip flops…

Lesson in the art of carrying water from the well

Lesson in the art of carrying water from the well


Washing clothes with the high school girls--not easy

Washing clothes with the high school girls--not easy

 Tomorrow I’ll post about the Demonstration School for the Deaf–the real reason for my trip to Africa.


The Sun Also Rises

January 31st, 2009

Well it’s a been a few days since I wrote. The single parenthood thing is T-U-F-F, tough! But in my case it came to an end.

My Sugarpotpie made it home. Sporting corn rows in her hair and a tropical tan, no less. Girl went native on us.

There’s no way I can sum up her story and I’m not even going to try, so I’ll be having her sign on for some guest blogging by popular demand. Stay tuned.

As for the boys and me. We survived. The curry stew was kinda the zenith of my culinary endeavors and we quickly reverted to whatever was on sale in the frozen food section. Survival mode by week two. Pathetic.

That is until one of the boys suggested we meet some friends at the Red Iguana. Now I’m only going to say this twice. Red Iguana is the best Mexican food you may ever eat. And I’m not talking about just in whitebread Utah. You’d think that bar is pretty low. But I got two words for you: Mo le’.

Suspend your disbelief that the best Mexican food might actually be in Salt Lake City.

Suspend your disbelief that the best Mexican food might actually be in Salt Lake City.

The boys and I met my brother, Colin, at Snowbird for a perfectly sunny January day. That helped pass the time, but they were all missing Mom pretty badly by the time day 17 rolled around.

L to R: Micah, Jonah and me at Snowbird. The new sticks were all that and a bag of chips.

L to R: Micah, Jonah and me at Snowbird. The new sticks were all that and a bag of chips.

And wouldn’t you know it, the night Sue is coming home several neighbors drop their kids off at our house to play. Now except on this blog, I haven’t told many people that my wife left the country for 17 days with a 28 year-old man who lives around the corner. Most people just can’t wrap their head around why I would consent to that.

So at 6p.m. I get a knock at the door. It’s my neighbors who have a nanny raising their kids. Before even asking if now is a good time for their kid to play, the dad starts thanking me for allowing his boy to “hang out” with my youngest boy, Micah. Ten minutes later another kid shows up unannounced.

That’s fine. Sue’s plane doesn’t land till 11:15p.m. Course the house is a mess and the fridge is empty, so I’ve been planning a trip to the store followed by a cleaning blitz.

Well two hours of three eight year-olds running around raising cain, making my house messier on the 17th day of my wife’s absence starts to fray my nerves. Then dad #1 calls me.

“Hey we got caught up here in Salt Lake and somehow we forgot our boy was at your house. We’re probably only going to be another few hours. Is that okay?” [This is the second time in six months this has happened with this same family. And the thing is, I don't like to be manipulated. At all.]

“My wife is coming home from a 17-day trip to Africa tonight and I’ve got  some errands to run before my boys and I head for the airport to pick her up. So we won’t be here. But your boy is welcome to stay.”

Mom of boy #2 is at my house picking up both uninvited guests in six minutes flat.

I guess nothing quite says I’m not your damn babysitter like the very real threat of leaving their boys alone.

Let’s hope so.

Come back for a trip update and some fun pictures from my wife. Cheers.


Experiments in Single Parenthood

January 15th, 2009

This post is dedicated to all single parents. One week alone with my three boys hardly qualifies me to count myself among this exclusive club, but I’m certainly gaining added respect.


Episode 1: Please Do the Dishes

My boys frequently do the dishes, especially when their mom is home. So one would think this would be no big deal. But you know those dishwashers that have a built-in dispose-all?


You know, the one with the ad where the beautiful model places a full cake she had just frosted into the dishwasher on a plate and turns it on for a regular cycle. And then after the cycle is done she opens it up and all there is is a perfectly spotless cake plate. You know that dishwasher?


Well that is not the dishwasher we have.


Perhaps they think their dad is a pushover; not detail-oriented enough to notice their gross negligence in the area of rinsage.

 Well the flood on the kitchen floor and the cornbread grit stuck to every plate and every glass told the story.


Episode 2: That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Of necessity, my boys have learned how to prepare a simple meal. Quite often, their choice is refried beans with tortilla chips. (Yes they got their dad’s sophisticated palette.)


Friday evening I emerged from my dungeon office to see what the boys were hungry for. I found my oldest son, Spencer, nursing a cut on the tip of his middle finger.  


Sorry did I say cut? It was a coarse-edged gash still oozing blood 10 minutes after he’d done it. Done what, you say?


Apparently he tried to tear the lid off the top of the semi-opened can by applying significant force to the jagged edge of the lid with his fingertips.


Now we’ve spent significant time in the ER over the years. Last fall, Spencer spent about five hours one afternoon trying to get the S-curve out of his arm, but that’s another story.


That don't look right! [in your best hillbilly accent] 

I knew, and Spencer knew instinctively that his finger needed stitching (something about seeing the white fibrous muscle, probably). But the prospect of spending Friday night in the ER compelled us both to delay.


I called the neighborhood Doc to seek a professional opinion. He didn’t answer. So we bandaged it up the best we could, trying to force the two rough edges together.


In the morning, we removed the bandage to find that it wasn’t holding together, at all. We called the Doc. We were ready to go into some detail describing the cut to get his expert opinion on whether it needs stitching or not.

 “Let me make this very simple. If it happened yesterday evening and it’s about 10am now, you missed the typical stitching window.”


I honestly did not know there was a “stitching window.” For the record, that window is within four to six hours after the incident.


That is going to leave a serious mark.

Episode 3: Sunday Dinner

I actually love to cook. But my wife is so territorial in the kitchen, I’ve fallen out of practice. So I’m experiencing something of a culinary rebirth.


We used to listen to a radio show in Portland where people would call in with a handful of random ingredients and the chef/host would tell them how to put those things together into delectable, if somewhat unlikely, dish.


With my wife in Africa, I finally got to play that game.


One roasted chicken from Costco

Four potatoes

Bunch of carrots

An onion

Some butternut squash that needed to be cooked or tossed

Bunch of celery

Chicken stock

A slow cooker

Put it all together, turn it on and go to church for a few hours.


The thing is, I like spice. And so far, I had a healthy but bland chicken… uh, stew? Then I found the curry powder in the back of the spice rack. It brought some heat and complexity, but on its own it didn’t taste quite right.


A little sugar; a little vinegar for chemistry sake. It was getting closer to interesting… but it still tasted like the experiment it was. Then I spotted it.


In the back of the pantry, behind 13 lethal cans of refried beans: one can of coconut milk.


Thirty minutes later I served up a delicious meal of yellow chicken curry… uh, stew?…  that even my eight year-old savored to the last spoonful.


I love it when serendipity visits my kitchen. Course I’ll love it even more when my wife revisits our kitchen.


BONUS QUESTION: How does an ER Doc straighten an arm with an S-curve in it?

Answer: Put the arm in traction and hang a 15lb weight off the elbow.

Answer: Put the arm in traction and hang a 15lb weight off the elbow.