Sunday, June 30, 2013

Canada! Oh.

Living overseas has taught us bundles about how Canada is perceived and we can tally it all in one word: introversion.

We're told Canadians are inclusive, kind, generous, polite, and funny, especially about our selves. We’ve learned that our national ethic might as well be live and let live, and when we ask people why they think this the reply most often given is we’re thought of as peacekeepers not war-makers. That just makes us flat-out proud. 

We also learned that we’re not Americans. Seriously. About 99.9% of the time folks don’t ask where we're from, they ask if we're American. We think its only fair to mess with their heads a little. “Yep. Sure am. North American.” Pause for blank look while seconds tick by. “We're Canadian.” And — cue drumroll — the most frequent reply? “Oh. The other country.”

Now we know how New Zealanders feel.

So there it is. We’re the other one. The introverts. The quiet country. The wallflower at the orgy. 

Canada’s 146th birthday is July 1. Happy birthday, baby. Wishing you another quiet year.

(Big thanks, Classified. Keep up the good work. xo)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Something Annoying

We are generally pro-DIY. Generally. But we've hit a wall when it comes to charcoal. Martha Stewart's probably done a piece at some point called Simple and Easy Home Carbonization. And, really, when you notice that a stack of toxic chemicals are added to commercial charcoal to control its burn time, well, yeah, you have to wonder if subjecting your own lungs and your free-range farm fresh premium-priced organic weenies to this kind of heat isn't at least counter-productive to personal and environmental health. 
So there are definitely plenty of reasons why its just basic common sense to make the stuff yourself. In prepping this blog post, I searched on-line for some DIY instructions for how to make charcoal from scratch. This post tells you how to make some in a small tin can over a campfire Make-Charcoal; this one gives instructions for a bigger batch that takes about 24 hours Making-your-own-charcoal-aka-lump-charcoal
Amateur hour, folks, these methods are pure amateur hour. Charcoal mountain sound good? Howsabout a three week burn, mmmm? I couldn't find a post that tells how to make a good-sized hillock of the stuff. As far as I can tell, you dig a pit, start a bonfire and reduce it to coals, then load your to-be charcoal hardwood on top and work like stink for 30 minutes to cover the pile with dirt. Then you watch it. You want a good, even curl of smoke coming out. From watching them, I'd say that experienced home-carbonizers know just where and when to poke long sticks into the covering layer of soil to provide more or less air and control the burn. Nice. 
What's not nice is living near it. The squatters on the land behind our house made a charcoal pile about 25 feet from our back door, exactly behind us. Exactly. Behind. Us. We get a nice steady breeze from behind the house. Living through the experience was like having someone hold your face to an exhaust stack, relentlessly, for weeks. I mean, hel-lo perpetual headache. The residents of a house at the end of our street also make their own charcoal and, while we get a whiff from their pile now and then, it is nothing at all like living in the full flight path. 

 Burn, baby, burn. After three weeks of smoldering, it took two guys 
two full days to excavate the charcoal.

Several of our neighbours make their own charcoal...and live with closed shutters 24/7.

Here, people make their own charcoal to save money or earn money. I gave the squatters four cedis for the box that sits on our back porch. I also made a deal with them: I wouldn't rat them out for squatting on the University's land if they moved their next DIY effort further into the bush. Truly, I probably wouldn't have reported them to the U — as if life isn't hard enough here, being homeless in Accra has to be pretty close to living in hell — but I was having fantasies involving midnight raids, elaborate distractions, and an arsenal of H2O poured over the CO2. Desperate times, people, desperate times....

The finished product burns slow and even. Its good stuff. Thinking now of returning to Canada and starting my own line of Artesanal Carbon. I'm sure the neighbours won't mind... I'll tell the by-law officers that my berm is malfunctioning....

P.S.   Back home, I was speaking one day with a new neighbour, who declared, "You guys must be vegetarians." Well, yeah, says me. How did you know? And the nice man replied, "Because you don't have a barbeque."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kente Cloth Weavers

In Ghana, if you need to give a gift and you’re not sure what's appropriate, you cannot go wrong if you give cloth. One of the best known Ghanaian textiles is kente, a cloth that is woven in narrow strips about 5 inches wide and 4 feet long and costs 10 or 15 cedis depending on the type of thread used. Looking for a more dramatic gift? Bigger pieces of kente are made when the strips are sewn together. These are often used for making clothes. Really, really big pieces seem to have two popular uses: they are worn toga-style by Ghanians to ceremonies and celebrations, or purchased by ex-pats intent on owning a stunning bedspread!

If you want to learn a little more, hit this link for a nice description of why kente cloth is so important to Ghanaian culture.

These weavers are set up beside a busy road about 45 minutes walk from campus. 

All the weavers say they have a lot of low back pain...

... and calluses.
The warp extends from the loom and is tethered to a rock. Its also exactly 
high enough for dogs who want to scratch their backs to walk under. 

This freshly minted bride and groom wore traditional garments made of kente.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Our Favorite Little School Grows

One of the Children of God Community School's longtime supporters from the US raised enough to build and furnish two new classrooms. Applause, Sean!

Cudjoe, Sule and Ozzie with the new desks. The school is now running 
six classrooms staffed entirely by volunteer teachers.
The school's landlord, Jack, is a carpenter as well as a school supporter: Jack donated his labor to the build. His assistant demonstrates how to use a saw backhand.
Jack's assistant bangs it out.
The reno crew (from L): Jack's helper, Jack, Sule, Cujoe, Francis, Ozzie.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We Moved and It Is Good

This is the view from the back of our new house facing west-ish. Little Vesuvius in the centre-right is actually an anthill that’s more or less 12 feet high. Seriously.

The land we’re on was loaned by the University of Ghana to the engineering firm that built the George Bush Highway. (Dunno if its for Dubyah or the other guy, or if they’re supposed to share.) The deal was the company could borrow land from the university for houses that would be deeded to the university in lieu of rent at the end of the project.

Ours is the house on the right.
Five of ten houses are occupied. We think of it as the first tract home development we’ve lived in: all the trees are the same height; everyone has the same garbage can; uniformity, people, uniformity. We have two bedrooms, our most functional kitchen to-date, privacy, and a couple of dynamite porches tacked to the house’s front and back.

Our rear windows look out over grassland that turns into a cornfield. The vertical cement posts across the back are intended to support a barbed wire fence. Besides ants, the fields host a variety of birds, including some I hadn’t ever seen until we encamped. There’s one eccentric variety of brown bird that sashays its hind quarters toward starboard and port at the same time it both condenses and loosens its tail feathers when it walks, as if it were a strutting girl wagging a ponytail, then fans its tail feathers really wide and flat for flight. Wacky. (PS. An amateur ornithologist friend made me track down the bird. It is a Senegal Coucal.)

Chai's routine is largely unchanged since moving.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Meet the Children of God

I'm spending a lot of time these days working with a really cool elementary school. The Children of God Community School provides kids in Accra’s Adenta neighbourhood with elementary education even if the parents can't afford to pay fees, with school supplies and uniforms, and a daily bowl of rice. The kids who attend CGCS are from poor families, and many of the seventy-odd students stuffed into the school's four small classrooms have already spent time living or working on the streets. If CGCS weren't there, its pretty likely that many of these students wouldn't have a chance to learn. 

Chilling by the water cooler.

Science class.

Camera! Did someone say camera!

Francis offers lunch in the unfinished part of the building.

Not enough desks or uniforms.

Three of the CGCS’s teacher’s are former street kids as well as the school’s founders. They're motivated by the idea that education combats poverty, and by a desire to keep kids off the street. Cujoe, Sule, and Ozzie, all in their late-twenties, taught school in a church, under a tree, and in an abandoned house before they raised enough money to rent land and put up a small school building. Because the school doesn’t make enough to pay them, these guys don’t have homes themselves: they sleep at the school on student benches that have been pushed together. These three guys are kind of my superheroes. 

from l: Ozzie, Sule, Cujoe

Sule & the little blue school that could.