Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Let's Go Tripping

I would have blogged about this earlier in the week but it took half a bottle of cheap, crummy rosé to get the creative juices flowing. Luckily, even crummy rosé has a 12% ABV.

My Dad arrived late Thursday evening (March 24) after a busy business trip to Jo’burg. Instead of hanging around campus, I thought that a brief tour of Ghana would be more interesting. Cape Coast and Kakum National Park beckoned. Since we were pressed for time, my suggestion of renting a car made the most sense. We felt compelled to rent a driver too as neither of us had too much a clue as to exactly where we needed to go and a large hold on the parental credit card to cover damage was dissuading.

Our first stop was Cape Coast Castle. While this was my second visit, it was neat to hear some things I had missed such as that the dungeon floor we tread upon was compressed dirt and other unmentionables from the slave trade era, only having been excavated in one section of the dungeon. I also saw President Obama’s plague again. It made me happy as President Obama is very popular in Ghana as it was his first stop on his first trip to Africa, even before the donor darling Kenya. There is even a Hotel Obama, complete with a Michelle Obama room, a stone’s throw from the University. After the sobering tour, we perused the exhibits explaining the castle structure, complete with photographs outlining its many uses. The Castle Restaurant called and we sat down for cold beers at a table that faced the ocean. After taking in endless views of the large waves smashing against the rocks and their counterparts the sand, we hopped into the car for the final leg of the day.

We arrived at Kakum at around 5:30 when it was almost dark and under an ominous sky. Immediately, we were told that the park was closed but our driver mentioned we had a reservation to spend the night and we were let in. Earlier in the week, I had called and made a reservation for the Rainforest Hilltop Campsite. I was told that everything we needed would be provided including mattresses and bedding. I forgot to inquire the cost but it was printed in the Bradt Guide as 10 GHC. At the park headquarters, we were introduced to the woman in charge of tourism. She said that it was 50 GHC per person per night as it included guide fees. Guides were mandatory. When we came up short twelve Cedis, right in front of the hired car and driver of course, the kindly tourist lady gave us a twelve Cedis discount so that we could experience the canopy walkway the next morning.

After waiting for a couple of Peace Corps volunteers to finish their leisurely dinner, we donned flashlights and our backpacks for the trek into the woods. It was slow going and after half an hour of hiking, we stumbled to the base of a tree house. The forest immediately surrounding the park entrance is second growth so we had to hike to into the old growth forest where the trees are tall enough to support tree houses and canopy walkways. This was where we would spend the night, 35 feet above the ground in a gently rocking tree house as our reservation for the campsite was apparently void or at least the guides preferred to have all of the obrunis in one place.

After a short rest, we took a two hour hike into the jungle, looking for animals with flashlights. As our guides felt that a lack of animals would be unacceptable after two hours, the hike was extended by about 45 minutes, during most of which I plodded forward in a half sleepy daze. Therefore when an animal was finally discovered (a honey badger!), I only saw the tail vanish into the woods. We did find a turtle which apparently was unable to evade us.

I collapsed onto my double staked mattresses. Sheets were optional as there were only three for six people, Dad taking one while the female Peace Corps volunteers got the other two. Before completing blacking out, we set our alarms to 5:30a and I was even able to text my girlfriend as the 35 feet allowed for a cell phone signal.

Why 5:30a? We wanted to be the first ones out on the canopy walkway. We spent a good 45 minutes accompanied with only the guide. We saw some birds, took in the expansive view and even saw a tree move as a monkey hopped from one branch to another.

One thing one must always remember about the rainforest is how loud it is, especially at night. As we were waiting for the guides for the night walk, we were treated to the distance, intermittent sound of what vaguely reminded me of a baby crying. Other bugs and night critters made for a loud orchestra of finely tuned noise. While there were plenty of bugs, the mosquitos were scarce as a certain type of tree gave off a lavender scent that repels them.

After touring the canopy walk and eating breakfast at the Rainforest Restaurant, we turned back for Cape Coast to visit nearby Elmina Castle. I got to further examine the harbor at Elmina which houses well over a hundred fishing boats. After another delicious lunch at the Castle Restaurant, we drove back to Accra although unfortunate we missed the Boat Race due to traffic. I did however snap a photo of Ruth’s Fast Food.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Let Us Tweet

For those of you who do not know, P..J. Crowley was the State Department spokesman until Sunday. Much to my disappointment, he resigned over a comment that was controversial although probably correct. Bottom line, I think that it is unfair to punish the messenger who has the resolve to speak what may be on less resolved minds.

However, the former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and former Air Force Colonel’s resignation also has spelled the demise of the State Department top Twitterer, at least temporarily. While his career was long and distinguished, he began Tweeting in May of last year. I defer to Josh Rogin’s piece in Foreign Policy for his top ten Tweets. Strangely, his resignation highlighted at least for me and in this relevant context, the power of Twitter. Therefore, I think that my original position of Twitter ignorance should be supplanted by one of participation, particularly given my international affairs interest. I announce that ZackInGhana has added a supplemental Twitter, unimaginatively named @ZackInGhana. While I will save you all the agony of following me on Twitter initially, Twitter will host all future Twits although I have added a Twitter sidebar to this blog.

While burning rubber on a motorcycle is annoying in the USA, this is a country where new tires are a luxury… and it is 11pm!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Perils of Dating in Africa

I am very fortunate in that I have already found the love of my life. Thus, this story is inspired by and subsequently embellished from a true event.

A friend of mine from the California delegation recently dove headfirst into the Ghanaian dating scene. After meeting a cute girl at one of Accra’s top night clubs, John (obviously an alias) was smitten. He managed to obtain her phone number. They talked and seemed to hit things off. John was invited to the young lady’s home for dinner even meeting her friend’s small child. Dates to other night clubs followed. Intimacy became more common and a code was established to quietly encourage John’s roommate to seek temporary lodgings elsewhere. Life was good for John as he had fallen hard for beautiful Ghanaian girl.

John and his Ghanaian girlfriend progressed quickly through the various stages of a relationship, skipping entire stages in the name of passionate love. One evening, his roommate found other places to be, candles were lit, and even the sheets were given a much deserved wash. Anticipation built to unimaginable levels. The couple whispered closely their most personal life secrets as it was her way of edging closer to the abyss. John went first with a poor reconstruction of a past embarrassing event.

Her closest secret was the small child he met at her home was her own. Inside this cloud of passion, John’s face burned and he had to leave to seek other his wiser friend’s guidance. What to do? She was sitting on his bed, the Ghanaian relationship indicator that gives her man unspoken permission to do, well...fill in the blanks. But her secret went to the tune of an unplanned pregnancy and a deadbeat dad. John’s embarrassment was high, his heart was slightly bruised, and his ego had been deflated by 50%. The rest I suppose is another chapter in dating in Ghana.

Diplo Review

As many of you know, I am fascinated by the world of diplomacy, foreign policy and international affairs. I have thought about how to channel that enthusiasm into something productive. The solution? Another blog of course! Diplo Review is where I will comment on various diplomatic initiatives or lack thereof, sprinkling in my unprofessional and strictly undergraduate opinion. Please check it out at

As the week becomes less busy, I will put some finishing touches on Diplo Review and hopefully provide another update to Zack In Ghana!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Locked Away

Another interesting day in Ghana! In my infinite wisdom, I decided to go work in the Balme Library and be free of electronic distractions, particularly the internet. Through a lively campus, for today is graduation day, I made the unassuming twenty minute trek. After checking my bag at the entrance, I wandered the outside hallways, looking for a quiet place to get some work done. Upon finding a tottering desk with loose boards, I sat down to study economics for I have a test on Thursday. After looking over Arabic as I have a test on that same Thursday, I moved on to writing a note to Ruth to commemorate our six month anniversary. I was lost deep in thought as well as the rhythm of Rawlins Cross, my favorite Newfie band. Upon completion of what I hope is a stellar love note, I got up to leave. Walking out, there was a distinct lack of other people, in fact one might characterize the place as deserted. Then, the door I tried refused to let me out. Across the courtyard, the main garage door was down. The library was closed.

Immediately, I began trying other doors. Locked, locked and locked was how I was greeted. And not just any lock, rather padlock, new installed lock, or wielded to the aluminum door lock, all of which were reinforced by a robust door made of 50 year old Ghanaian hardwood, among the strongest in the world. I was locked in the Balme Library at the University of Ghana. Just like James Franco Aron Ralston, I had told no one where I had gone. I gave a halfhearted thought to jumping down one story to freedom with my laptop in my arms. That was if I could make it out onto the roof. Another irrational thought required a double victory against two Ghanaian hardwood doors, likely involving a chair. One must remember that Ghanaian standards of fire safety are different and more relaxed than those in the US. Had this happened in UAlbany’s Science Library, I could have easily exited via one of the exit only doors, likely lit by an exit sign and with an armed alarm. But in Ghana, all of the doors were locked. Worse still, I could not even get to an outer exit so I had no hope of flagging someone walking by. Many would be celebrating graduation anyways and would not be near the library.

However, I remembered my cell phone. But whom to call, my roommate, my program director whom would be engaged at the graduation ceremony? I scrolled to a certain contact, “Head of Security.” During our orientation, the Head of Security gave out his phone number to everyone. While I had lost my original phone, I copied down every contact from a kindly group mate and almost did not bother with “Head of Security” as I doubted I would ever put myself in a situation where I would need to contact him. I dialed, waiting to hear Ghana’s monotone. My phone complained “Could not connect.” I walked near the glass back door. Two bars and a few antagonizing seconds later, I heard a hello and began to explain the situation. However, thanks to Vodaphone, the call quality was not there and he could not understand me. SMS to the rescue! As quickly as one can type on a 1-9 keypad, I informed him in perfect grammar that I was stuck in the Balme Library, the main building near the courtyard and could not get out as all of the doors were locked.

With a few minutes, he responded, saying that he would get someone to open it up and to be cool. When I told him of my exact location, he said that he was around trying to open it up. Finally, I saw the library, a security guy and Head of Security, Amadu Salifu, unlocked the main door. Of course, the door lock was being stubborn and we almost fed the guy to the inside in order to open it. But the security guy used a little more force and opened the door. Mr. Salifu said that I looked hot and sweaty. I had not noticed. He also offered me a ride back. I am very appreciative as he was kind enough to come himself on one of the busiest days of the year graduation, even as he was driving home to dinner. He asked me on the ride back whom I would have called if I did not have his number. Had I not gotten a hold of him, my program director was the next on the list followed by my roommate whom I could ask to go down to the main desk in ISH to ask what to do. If I did not have my phone, it would have been much harder to get anyone's attention as there is only one camera, no alarms that I could see although I may have been able to find a forlorn fire alarm. Another alternative could have involved finding a way up to the clock tower where there is a deck from which I could have attempted to get someone's attention. Thankfully, my phone was fully charged, had plenty of money on it and I had actually remembered to bring it along for the experience.

Anyhow, there is never a dull moment here. What can I say, I crossed an ocean to get locked in a library!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Food Post: Perry Americana

My grandmother asked me a while back to write some posts about food. It should not be hard to do as I am a DesJardins. I was lucky to have inherited by my father’s iron stomach as thus far, I have not gotten sick on that end. However, there has been a little reluctance to pull out my camera to take a picture of whatever it is I am eating in the Night Market as my camera costs a little less than the per capita GDP here. Not that I worry about someone stealing, I just thought it would be on some level insensitive.

Moving on, tonight I grabbed a meal from the Perry Americana. Known by their blue sign on a white background as well as their general lack of regular operating hours, Perry Americana is mainly smorgasbord as they simply fill a Styrofoam container with fried or jollof[1] rice, scoped fresh from a cooler. The best cooked with a succulent batter that reminds me of the India pecora’s outer texture is placed in the corner. A healthy squirt of Mayonnaise and ketchup follow which are interesting additions, probably a reflection of Perry Americana’s all male employees. Salad goes on next, a usually dry fare as fresh salad seems confined to the land of expats. A large scoop of green, sweetish sauce with beef is then plopped on the pile. Finally, a conservative spoonful of pepper sauce serves as a local cuisine reminder.

That meal starts at just three Cedis with an option for more food at four Cedis. That is somewhat expensive by Night Market standards where a typical dish eaten at the vendor costs usually costs less than the base meal at Perry Americana. However, the difference probably accounts for a in my opinion well deserved premium as well as the Styrofoam containers, and plastic forks and napkins. All other Night Market take out options are confined to eating out of a plastic bag, sometimes with fingers if the extra 10 pesawas spoon/napkin set is forgotten.

I will not begin issue a hard and fast rating until I am more comfortable with food but I would say that the Perry Americana is at the very least, a weekly favorite, sometimes twice weekly. That compares with my usual less concerned option of looking for a vendor who has the most rice, indicating that batch’s freshness.

[1] Jollof is the local rice, similar in texture to Chinese fried rice but with a bit of spices thrown in for good measure.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ten Things I Hate About You

Well Ghana my love, it is not that I don’t adore you. Please do not take it personally but we can all change for the better. Maybe I am cranky for lack of a glass of cold skim milk which you do not seem to stock on your grocery store shelves but I must air out the dirty laundry of this relationship.

1. Drivers: You Drivers are well, frankly, scary at best and deadly at worst. Pedestrians and bicyclers must exercise constant vigilance to avoid an abrupt meeting with a curb as your drivers have no respect for anyone but themselves.

2. Deferred Maintenance: Your concept of Deferred Maintenance also grates on me. I know you are not rich but now that you are a middle income country, there is a lot of stuff that should be fixed. It will save you a bunch of money on your car insurance at the very least.

3. Internet: My love, your Internet tubes should be updated. I know this also costs a ton of cedis but I think you are mature enough to do it yourself.

4. Tro-tros: If your Drivers are scary and at times deadly, your Tro-Tros are far worse. Combined Deferred Maintenance with a lack of respect for anything or anyone on the road, as well as a need for speed, you should begin dictating your tro-tros as you do to me so well in this relationship.

5. Network Fail: Vodaphone may be a British company but dear Ghana, they operate in your country. When I try to call you or even anyone, Network Fail flashes on my cell phone screen indicating the obvious that needs fixing.

6. Hot water: I am sick of cold showers with you.

7. Honking: Please try to control yourself. I know traffic is frustrating but honking your horn does not make vehicles go faster. Nor does it attract more riders at six in the morning when you honk your loud Metro Mass bus honk and awaken your significant other from a deep sleep.

8. English Breakfast: While the British left some good things as part of their colonial legacy, your English breakfasts complete with beans leave a rather lot to be desired. Would you mind going to a French cooking school?

9. Visa ATMs: Of all payment system providers, you had to pick Visa. You know how much I hate Visa, how incompatible my Mastercard is with that choice but you chose them anyway. Next time, it is me or Visa!

10. ISH I internet Café: While you are cursed with a creaky Internet, at the very least my love, you could spend something on your cafés. But glacial speeds, log ins that don’t work, and the total lack of a customer service culture in your Café employees does our relationship no favors.

That being said, I must issue an ultimatum. If you do not fix any of these things in our relationship, I will terminate our relationship on May 29th, flying back into my beloved Ruth’s arms.