October 29, 2009

How dangerous is travel in Ghana?

This is my take on them, and please feel free to add your own stories or tips in the comments below:

1. Health—Mosquitoes: Malaria. I wrote a post about how it feels here. The bad news: it is ‘as common as catching a cold.’ The good news: it’s easy to do something about.

The standard rule is to take antimalarials for one month before arrival so your system can develop resistance, and one month after leaving. The month after leaving rule is to kill parasitic cycles that could develop into malaria over time, later.

One time, a volunteer friend was experiencing spontaneous sweats, fever, vomiting, tiredness, and diarrhea, so we were tested for malaria; her test was negative. The following day she was ill again so we visited a different clinic. She had a seizure during the consultation. She had severe malaria. So much for the test.

So, the moral is: a negative blood test may be wrong; it doesn’t guarantee you are malaria-free. If you are presenting the clinical symptoms, you should seek treatment. You can go to a hospital or clinic. They’ll test you. Even if negative.

Roughly speaking, about 1 in 5 volunteers I worked with got malaria. Some never got it, others, like me, got it regularly. We took the various brands: Doxy, Larium, and so on. None of them are perfect. We sprayed ourselves at night and slept under nets, but it only takes one bite. The good news, as I said, is that it’s easy to cure provided you do something about it when you notice the symptoms. Don’t worry, don’t freak out or panic, just act. If you wish to see a doctor, fine. It’s not a bad idea to keep a written record of medical visits.

Regarding general health and travel, see your travel doctor at least a month, preferably longer, before coming to Ghana and follow their advice on general and Africa-specific vaccinations (there is no malaria vaccine), and which antimalarial drugs would be best. For the record, it’s much cheaper to buy them here than it is in developed countries. I can buy a sheet of 10 doxy for one dollar. You might want to check the Centre for Disease Control’s latest updates for Ghana here to learn about malaria in detail and other mosquito-borne diseases and health issues in Ghana:

I’m looking forward to the day when a mosquito bite simply means an itchy bite.

Vehicles: Most nights I say a prayer of thanks for good health, friends and family, and that I haven’t been mangled in a horrible road accident. Indeed, I don’t practice any one religion, but the roads in Ghana have turned me into a practicing prayer. And I’m not picky about which God hears my trotro prayers. I had so many close-calls and passed so many serious accidents that I updated my will—that’s how bad it is. The Vice President, John Mahama, was on GTV yesterday morning at a community where a terrible dirt road was about to be paved. He said that the rutted road forces vehicles to drive at 20-30 km/hour and there has not been a single road accident there. But he lamented that once it’s tarred drivers will speed and he fears the ‘carnage’ that will occur. It was quite candid of him, and it gives you a sense of the gravity of the situation.

The Bad news: Taxis, trotros and buses are virtually unavoidable. The good news: There isn’t much good news on this one. I’m sorry. Drivers bribe officials to get licenced without sitting for a driving test and until that situation is brought under control, I can’t see it improving.

A few months ago on my trip to Accra, the STC (which I took because it gives the impression of being safe) driver fell asleep at the wheel and veered so close to an oncoming semi-trailer that the side mirror smashed off. On the way back from Accra, the STC driver over took on a blind rise over solid double lines into a row of oncoming cars and trucks that were forced to shift to the far right to make space for us on the wrong side of the road. I think most travelers in Ghana would attest that this standard of driving is quite normal. I have countless similar stories, mostly involving trotros, blind corners or hills, oncoming vehicles, rain, and high speeds.

Highway robbery along remote roads is becoming more common. I have not heard of physical threats occurring during the highway robberies, but I’d like to know if anyone has. It seems that as long as you hand your stuff over, you are not harmed. Don’t carry anything you don’t mind losing on trotro journeys.

If a driver is being careless, chances are Ghanaians will shout at them. Don’t be afraid to shout yourself. If worst comes to worst, you can always get off. I learnt to say ‘slow down’ in Twi and it works. Life seems cheap on Ghana’s roads, so if you value yours, speak up.

Crowd situations: Pick pocketing and stampeding are problems. There have been a few stampedes at football games over the years that resulted in many deaths. Please be careful if you’re attending a game or any event in large crowds like a concert where everyone might suddenly push to get in or out.

Pick-pockets are rife in crowded areas. I’ve seen it and heard about it. I kicked guys off me one day in a crowd and saw others do it plenty of times too. One sneaky thing thieves do is slash your bag straps or the underneath of your bag, so hold your bag tightly in crowds.

The ocean current and surf: While waves on Busua, Axim and a few other beaches I visited are much smaller, they are wildly unpredictable. You might pop up after ducking under a wave to find another one hitting you side on and pulling your legs in the opposite direction. You have to keep moving around to stay in a safe zone. The undertow and rips are fierce.

My friend, a strong swimmer, got caught in one rip, and struggled to get out of it. It seemed to shift and suddenly I was caught in it and I really struggled for 10 mins until I made it to the shore.

General places to avoid:

Kokrobite Beach is notorious for daylight and especially night time robberies. A bunch of small boys will surround you, pull a knife and demand your back pack. Even male acquaintances were robbed this way.

University: Like most campuses world-wide, don’t roam around at night unless you’re in a large group, definitely not alone or with just one other person.

Accra
Nima/Mamobey area at night. Be alert during the day. Pig Farm (yes, it’s a name) at night. Ashaiman at night. Kwame Nkrumah Circle area and Kaneshie by day and night for bag and phone snatching; don’t be alarmed, but don’t let anyone carry your bags and hold on tight. Osu main street at night.

Kumasi
Racecourse area at night. Kejetia trotro station and market area at night for bag and phone snatching and occasionally people physically trying to stop you. Just push them away and keep walking. Shout if you have to. I never had a problem there, but keep your wits about you.

Cape Coast
Along the beaches at night—just don’t do it unless you’re with body guards (not the guys who like to sweet talk girls at Oasis or any of those who approach travelers on the street. It’s a notorious area for robberies).
Around the Castles—the area and beaches around there are known for petty robberies.
Outside Oasis and the back roads that lead from Oasis to the town centre at night. Stick to Commercial Road: the long road that extends from the Castle past the crab and up to the market, but be careful around the Castle/Restaurant area at night.
Around the crab at night and Hacienda. You can have fun, but take care.
Kotakoraba taxi station at night—not too bad, but be careful.

Elmina:
Shell Elmina during festivals when all the young boys in the area converge to dance.
The SSNIT building past Shell on the right side of the highway at night is not a safe area. Elmina Castle area at night.

I have only been robbed twice in Ghana. My phone was pick-pocketed because I left it in an outer backpack pocket in Kaneshie. And I was robbed by three men when I least suspected it—in broad daylight in a taxi one morning heading to work along the highway from Elmina to Cape. In retrospect it was a set up, but I’d never experienced such a thing. I got mad, shouted a lot, hit them over the head (lame but it worked) and got my stuff back. It was a surreal experience (and another exciting chapter for the book). But I was lucky; try not to be in that situation in the first place.

The point is, if you don’t see a weapon, or you’re not physically threatened, don’t be afraid to fight back and shout and make a lot of noise. If other people are around, there’s a good chance they’ll come to your aid. Ghanaians detest thieves and people who break into other’s homes, uninvited, in particular.

Upper East and West
Comparatively, the Upper East and West Regions are less touristed and the hassle factor is virtually zero in towns compared with, say, Kumasi or Accra. However, you should keep your wits about you at night and traveling in remote areas.

Bawku:
It is a conflict zone and you enter Bawku at your own risk. However, the conflict occurs in bouts, weeks, sometimes months apart. Most times, if you’re just passing through you wouldn’t know there was a conflict. There is a heavy police and military presence if something should happen.

Between Mole and Larabanga:
It says so in the guide book and for a reason. That little stretch of road is a playground for thieves. Avoid it.

While all this may be scary, I’ve felt safer here than many other places in the world. Most Ghanaians hardly drink alcohol or smoke so alcohol fueled violence is barely an issue. Truly ugly, violent crime is far less common than in many capital cities in developed countries.

If you want to read more about health issues, I recommend the Travel Doctor in the UK for information.

The photo is licenced as free to use from Flickr.

October 26, 2009

Latest News from This is Ghana

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion.

Hi folks,

I've had malaria this past week--badly--(there's a vast difference between mild and severe malaria) and was laid up in bed for about five days. So don't be surprised when the post on 'Is Ghana Dangerous?' which will hit your inbox within 48 hours, includes references (in my humblest opinion, based on experience), to Ghana's greatest danger: mosquitoes. There will be a few other 'dangers' on that list, too, of course. If anyone would like to make suggestions, email me ASAP so I can include your ideas (gaylepescud@gmail.com).

Hope you're all rocking along on a malaria-free Monday.
See you soon with the next post.

October 15, 2009

Climate Change in Ghana: Blog Action Day 2009

If you're truly into climate change issues, visit our site "G-lish" with a strong "green" focus and loads of info to help you do your part to reduce greenhous gases.

I used to think that ‘Adaptation’ was the name of a quirky film about an orchid hunter and a depressed script writer inspired by a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. But over the last few weeks I’ve discovered that ‘Adaptation’ is also a key word in climate change circles and arguably the key word to survival. Not that it wasn't the key word to survival before, but it seems that our ability to adapt is more crucial than any time in human civilisation's history.

As part of MS Action Aid Denmark’s Global Change programme mentoring a blogger leading up to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change in December, and as part of Blog Action Day on October 15, I decided to write a post linking farmers in Ghana, a prime example of a developing nation already feeling the effects of climate change (and where I live), with Australia, a developed nation which happens to inhabit the driest continent on earth (and where I come from), and Zimbabwe, with its own unique challenges (where my mentee comes from).

A quick note about COP 15. Reported in the UK’s Telegraph , Professor John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change, said:


"The conference is designed to put pressure on world leaders coming together at the end of the year for the “most important meeting in the history of the human species”. The UN Climate Change Conference in December will try to reach an international deal on cutting carbon emissions so global warming stays below an increase of 2C (3.6F) [my emphasis] above pre-industrial levels."

Why focus on farmers? Because the consensus, as you will see, is that climate change will hit agriculture and developing countries hardest. Unsurprisingly, Ghana’s economy, as with that of most developing nations, depends on agriculture for survival. So does Zimbabwe's.

So I twittered my way, with great help from Australia’s ABC, to several Aussie farmers. In Ghana I spoke with farmers in the Upper East Region . And I read the conversation in Zimbabwe and my Zimbabwean mentee’s thoughts on the issue.

I also discovered interviews with Ghanaian farmers online. EcoWorldy reported on a cocoa farmer’s experience in May 2008.

There was one day at my grandparent’s farm in January 2003 when the temperature hit 48 degrees Celsius in the shade! That's 118 degrees Fahrenheit--and way too toasty for anyone's good. I was certain the thermometer was busted so I called home to Sydney to check. But it was 46 degrees there. In February this year, here in the north of Ghana I began silently freaking out that every day was going to be like that day at the farm. Of course it wasn’t that hot, but the temperatures were consistently in the high 30s and low 40s. And so I finally mustered the courage to ask my partner, Godwin, how hot March would be. He said, ‘This whether is strange. This is like March now. Everyone is saying (in Frafra, which I couldn’t understand) that “we are having March now.” Even the rains that should begin in April have already started in Sunyani; very heavy rains were reported there. This is very strange.'

But the rains didn’t come to Bolgatanga until June. I asked Godwin about this yesterday. ‘In times past,’ he said, ‘when the weather patterns were predictable, the rainy season began in April and ended around late September or early October. And the rain fell evenly. In recent years the rainy season has started as late as June or July and towards September or October the rains become extremely heavy, spoiling the crop yield.’

According to the Reuters Blog, ‘Climate change is any long term significant change in the expected pattern of average weather of a specific region.’

And so I say: Welcome to the future. A future where, Ghana Business News reported earlier this month:

"Even without climate change, food prices would rise, but climate change makes
the problem worse…Rice [prices are] projected to increase 60 per cent without climate change but would go up by as much as 121 per cent with climate change. In 2050 maize prices would be more than 60 per cent higher, without climate change, but would be up to 153 per cent higher with climate change."
According to the article, these figures were derived from a study “Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation,” by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The study, released on September 30, "combines climate change models that measure changes in rainfall and temperature and a crop model to capture biophysical effects, with IFPRI’s economic model of world agriculture."


“If governments and donors begin now to invest seriously in adaptation for poor farmers, we could avert this bleak future,” said Mark Rosegrant, Director of IFPRI’s Environmental and Production Technology Division and Co-author of the report. He also said that agriculture was extremely vulnerable to climate change, because farming was weather-dependent. He said small-scale farmers in developing countries would suffer the most."

Indeed. I spoke with a farmer from Bawku and Bolgatanga who has farmed this region his entire sixty-odd year life. He also happens to be Godwin’s father. He had no knowledge of ‘climate change’, so I asked him about his experience.

Have you noticed any changes in the weather in recent years?
"Yes, in times past we weren’t getting heavy rains like the last three years—the rains were extraordinarily heavy and shorter than usual. This year, in particular, the rains came in late and heavy. By the time the crops were two feet high, the rain stopped. We had a poor yield for some grains. We have felt this change [shorter rainfall] for more than five years now. It’s hotter all the time, but when it comes to March onwards until the rains it’s extremely hot; hotter than I remember as a young man."


How do you feel about your farming future?

"I’m worried because if the rain comes too much we won’t get a good yield. And when the drought comes like that we get a poor yield too. The best is when we get both sunlight and rain equally. About five years ago we had a very good yield. When I was a young man we had good yields and the rain was never too strong like that this and last year."

And it's much the same story in Zimbabwe. This is an excerpt from a report in March this year at All Africa:



"Even though climate change issues are difficult for most people to understand, smallholder farmers in Seke rural district about 40km south-east of Harare say the most persuasive evidence that global warming is happening is the change in the rainfall pattern as well as the frequency of droughts.

"We hear a lot about climate change issues but we don't understand the processes
involved," Mr Peter Chamboko (84), a village elder told journalists recently during a tour organised by Environment Africa to discuss climate change issues. "To us as people who are not educated the clearest evidence that climate change is happening is the severity of droughts we have experienced in recent years."


And this is what my mentee, John Ndebele has to say on the issue. Zimbabwe was once known as 'the bread basket of Africa'.
"Life has changed totally for the ordinary citizen of Zimbabwe, from bread basket of southern Africa to beggars. Zimbabwe was able to maintain the state of being self sufficient in terms of food for more than 30 years before independence, but after independence it only lasted for less than 15 years. She was the hub of Southern Africa’s economy. Politicians will attribute this to Mugabe’s regime, which has failed to run the country. I totally agree with them, but can they also think outside the box and explore other factors. Politics played its part (Land Reform Policy-60%) for the failure of the Zimbabwe’s economy and the other 40% by climate change. Zimbabwe has experienced series of drought since 1992 caused by shortage of rains, rain coming rather late causing short agriculture season or excessive rains. Some parts of the country experienced floods and people were evacuated from their homes to safer places. Crops were affected by the floods and leaching. Artificial manure –fertilizers are mostly used to replace the lost nutrients. I need to reminded if Zimbabwe is still producing fertilizer. If nutrients are not replenished, the crops are likely to fail the following year as well.

In June this year, the blog Sea Level Rise quoted Dr Duadze, a senior lecturer at Central University College Department of Environment and Development Studies in Ghana, on his public lecture on the theme, ‘Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Strategies for Ghana. According to the Blog, Dr Duadze said:

"Agriculture was likely to be the heaviest hit by the global climate change as a result of decline in soil fertility due to unpredictable changes in rainfall pattern and temperature. Dr Duadze predicted a decrease in the rainfall pattern of the country on an average of 2.8 per cent by the year 2020, 10.9 per cent by 2050 and 18.6 per cent by 2080. He was said that ‘a few of the expected impacts of climate change were increased incidence of pest attacks resulting from [an] increase in temperature, loss of cropland due to erosion and desertification, coastal erosion destroying some valuable coastal agricul-tural land, and increased demand for irrigation."


Meanwhile, farmers in Australia have already begun to adapt. The gist of the emails I received was this, (reminding me how unpredictable it is to be a farmer in a land famous for decades of drought and sudden flash floods):

"Moisture conservation through zero tillage is paramount. The old practice of ploughing and cultivating - turning the soil over has dissappeared in certain districts over the last 10 years. These farmers use far less fossil fuels, Also, the practice of burning crop residues is gone - most farmers understand the importance of leaving the crop stubble behind to act as ground cover like a roof
to hold the moisture in and slow the drying of the topsoil. Zero till adds up to farmers becoming more efficient and productive on limited rainfall while at the same time having a much reduced carbon footprint. Farming in Australia is about putting up with tough conditions. Although the world around us is changing, we already witness the extremes of flood and drought - often spread over many years. And that is why its difficult to see change over a few decades."

But it's another story in the developing world where access to information is one of the greatest challenges for taking action to adapt to climate change. EcoWorldly reported that while African farmers are adapting and developing some coping strategies on their own, they need new information about farming methods that minimize the negative impact of climate change.


A major challenge is providing such information to large numbers of people at low cost. Radio broadcasts can help address this challenge because they are spoken-word, often in local languages, building on Africa’s oral culture and therefore not constrained by illiteracy. The technology for broadcasting and receiving broadcasts are widely available and affordable. Information can be delivered to farmers’ homes at a cost of pennies per program. A Canadian charity is leading two new initiatives that help African radio stations to reach farmers with important information about adapting to climate change. Farm Radio International supports broadcasters in meeting the needs of local small scale farmers and their families in rural communities, and helps broadcasters build the skills to develop content that responds to local needs.

Farmers are taught ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable farming methods to improve on their crops which require little or no technical help to implement...FRI has now launched African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), a 42-month action research project in Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania. A collaboration between FRI and World University Service of Canada and funded by a US$4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AFRRI will gather, implement, evaluate, and share best practices for using radio-based communication strategies to enhance food security in rural Africa.


Reuters Africa reported on the U.N. climate change convention in Accra in August 2008, one of eight in a series of U.N. sessions culminating in the Copenhagen treaty in December 2009.

The then President John Kufuor said, ‘We need more than rhetoric to make progress in the next 12 to 18 months.’ He said there were damaging signs of climate change in Ghana -- rainfall had decreased by 20 percent in the past 30 years, while up to 1,000 square km (386.1 sq mile) of land was at risk in the Volta Delta due to sea level rises and floods. Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said ‘Africa had been the ‘forgotten continent’ in the climate debate and among the most vulnerable, with up to 250 million people threatened by water shortages by 2020.

Ghana ratified the Kyoto Protocol in November 2002. In Ghana, the Environmental Protection of Agency (EPA) is the umbrella organization guiding the climate change process. Most policy documents originate from the EPA and each ministry’s climate change unit handle their respective department’s concerns.
Commenting on Ghana's position heading into the Copenhagen conference in an article at the Government’s official website, Dr. Edward Omane-Boamah, Deputy Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, said:

‘Ghana will go along with Africa's collective decision, and added that it is not likely that Africa will reduce its carbon dioxide emission since the continent contributes very little to carbon dioxide emission globally…However, we will put in place mitigation measures to reduce the effect of climate change on our people.’

I found the following information about how local communities use traditional knowledge in rural Ghana to cope with climate change in a forum called Climate Change and Agrobiodiversity in Ghana fascinating. Posted by T. Hodgkin :
‘The information comes from a presentation (PDF attachment) delivered at the conference on “Adaptation of Forests and Forest Management to Changing climate with Emphasis on Forest Health: A Review of Science, Policies, and Practices” that took place at Umea, Sweden, August 25-28, 2008.’

The presentation focused on the significant role traditional knowledge is playing in Africa’s climate change ‘adaptation’ efforts, and specifically Ghana:

Traditional knowledge has played a significant role in Africa’s adaptation efforts, in the face of low technology but still traditional knowledge is usually neglected in academic, policy and public discourses on climate change and adaptation. Farmers and other natural resource dependent communities in Ghana have been coping quite well with changes in climate through traditional knowledge and practices although the country has no climate change adaptation policy. Over the last 40 years, Ghana has recorded temperature rise of about 1oC as well as reductions in rainfall and runoff of approximately 20% and 30% respectively.


The report also noted, as did my interviews and research, that farmers are feeling the effects, even though they may not have any understanding of ‘the science of climate change’:

Indigenous people may not understand the science of climate change but they rightly observe and feel its effects. Some of the indigenous people, although admitting the changes around them, attributed it to other factors other than climate change, such as a sinful generation, wrath of God, signs of the end of life, etc. Though majority of the people believed that they have contributed to the current changes and can do something about it, others felt it was an act of God and hence nothing they can do about it.
The report listed farmers’ coping strategies included:

For inadequate rainfall, reduced water quantity and quality
– Rainwater harvesting
– Water rationing
– Traditional norms, forbidden days, taboos, bye-laws, etc
– Construction of wells and boreholes
– Tree planting programmes and water protection awareness campaigns
– Purchasing sachet water for drinking

Some of the challenges they have [already] met [in coping] include:
– The type of houses and the roofing system does not support efficient rainwater harvesting.
– Respect for traditional authority is not absolute and still declining ascommunities become more cosmopolitan or heterogeneous.
– Religion, mainly Christianity, has undermined traditional authority and their directives on forbidden day and taboos are seen as pagan/fetish and not adhered to
– Communal nature of the communities is breaking down and people now think more of themselves
– Farmers are no longer able to predict onset of rains very well

The report suggests that there should be a healthy relationship between scientific
knowledge and traditional or indigenous knowledge especially in developing countries where technology for prediction and modeling is least developed.


In an article at All Africa in August this year, an Official of Ghana’s EPA, Mr. Emmanuel Arthur, said:
"Irrigation water demand was to increase to about 40% and 150% for 2020 and 2050 due to climate change respectively and 5% and 17% without climate change.
Hydropower generation is seriously being affected by climate change leading to about 60% reduction in available water in all basins by 2020, this crisis currently being experienced nationwide."


Perhaps we ought to make ‘Ghana’ and ‘all nations’ interchangeable:

He [Mr Arthur] emphasised that Ghana should meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.



Well, if Kwasi Gyeabour, one of the eight finalists of The World Bank Essay Competition 2009 has anything to do with it, future generations may well be able to meet their own needs. Saptarshi Pal at Youthink! Blog wrote a post entitled: Greening the Ghanaian Youth in which he quoted much of Kwasi’s winning essay. It went like this:


"Kwasi, along with his friends, wants to establish a Green Mutual Fund for initiating “green” enterprises. In his essay, he also suggests establishing the Green Scout Movement which will focus on environmental and climate change issues. This movement will target youth aged 6 to 21, who will participate in climate activities. On successfully accomplishing their tasks at each stage, they will be promoted from “Green Prince” to “Green Scout” and finally “Green Entrepreneur.” Scouts will be trained and supervised in their series of tasks and will be awarded a diploma in entrepreneurship after they’ve completed all three stages."

For those yet to experience Ghana, most urban gutters and roads are choked with plastic waste from either water sachets or the ubiquitous black plastic bags (called 'rubbers') that are handed over without a thought with virtually every shop purchase:

"To initiate recycling activities in his community, Kwasi wants to form a group with his friends, and collect renewable items from households that would otherwise throw them away, and group them into categories for recycling. He plans to place labeled boxes at vantage points separately for paper, rubber and metal recyclables. Then they would take them to recycling organizations in the community. Individual homes will be rewarded if they separate their garbage and
make collection easy!"
I was particularly taken by the following idea:

"In Ghana students are idle for about 10 months after senior high school, before they start college. Kwasi plans to build a campaign for policymakers to engage these students in climate oriented service during this time. Policymakers can make sure that this community service will count towards a student’s admission requirements. These students will be trained and recruited to do field work in their respective districts, such as community sensitization against deforestation for livestock grazing, discouraging the slash and burn practice which normally leads to bush fires in some districts, carry out water projects in water-stressed rural communities, and plantation of trees in their assigned communities. A certificate of community service will be provided to them upon completion."
As Saptarshi Pal wrote in his post, ‘the essay is full of such brilliant ideas. For space reasons, I can only highlight a few…’ I urge you to go check out the essay in its entirety here: World Bank Essay Competition 2009.

I was thinking, unless we adapt there won’t be any quirky films about Orchid Hunters because there won’t be no more Florida swamps to hunt orchids in. And, if Ghana keeps drying up, that means its neighbour The Ivory Coast probably will too, and Nigeria, and Cameroon.

So what?

Together they produce 70% of the world’s cocoa which means there will be a world-wide shortage of chocolate. Rising oceans, hurricanes, spreading tropical diseases, melting polar ice and floods aside, if the reality of a world-wide chocolate shortage isn't enough to motivate any of us to take action, I don't know what will. (If I seem flippant, it's intentional. I'm appealing to self interest, generally, a stronger motivator than the wellbeing of those living in far off places that don't seem to have any relevance to us leading comfortable lives in developed countries--that are the greatest contributors to climate change. Take note: USA and Australian citizens.)

But when it comes to chocolate, or cocoa production, the livelihoods of farmers across West Africa is inextricably linked with the prices you will be paying in years to come for your sweet fix. You can read more about it in this excellent article at Africa Files. In Cameroon:

"Climate change is killing my cocoa farm in front of my eyes," lamented Antoine Etundi of Bapende village. "Too much sunshine is burning cocoa seedlings and young cocoa pods while too little rainfall denies young seedlings the water they need to survive. This climate will not give seedlings a chance to replace old trees, and the whole thing is getting worse."

"Some people say we produce less and less cocoa because we are not learned," declares Adolf Mendo in Edea. "But they forget that the number of learned people currently involved in cocoa farming is higher than it has ever been, yet production is falling everyday. As the weather changes so the harvest falls."

Asked to what extent fluctuating prices affect cocoa production, Jean Mwelle echoed the view of several respondents, "Prices are high now, but where is the cocoa? Climate madness has made it difficult for us to track cocoa diseases, so the loss to pests and pathogens is plenty."

If you’ve made it this far, thank you! And these links may be of interest to you:
Firstly, Blog Action Day's list of excellent links so you can work out where to hit first.

But the future of our world as we know it rests on this: COP 15: http://en.cop15.dk/

Chris Reij and Ann Waters-Bayer's book : Farmer innovation in Africa 2001 ( Earthscan). provides excellent examples of how farmers can innovate rapidly when faced with seemingly catastrophic environmental degradation.

Climate Change: Ghana’s Sea Level’s to Rise by 2020: http://sealevelrise.blogspot.com/2009/06/climate-change-ghanas-sea-level-to-rise.html
For a fantastic alternative perspective see Mystic Saint Blog: http://mysticsaint.blogspot.com/2009/10/blog-action-day-09-earth-as-sacred.html

http://ghanabusinessnews.com/2009/10/05/climate-change-will-lead-to-massive-decline-in-crop-yield-study/

http://youthinkblog.worldbank.org/greening-ghanaian-youth

2020 Climate Leadership Campaign: http://www.worldforum.org/

http://ecojustice.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/climate-action-week-the-world-speaks-out/
http://itsgettinghotinhere.org/2009/06/22/australia-an-example-one-way-or-the-other/

October 12, 2009

Remembering Kwame Nkrumah

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Remembering Kwame Nkrumah there.

I recently did a round-up of blogs commemorating Dr Kwame Nkrumah's 100th birthday at Global Voices. Reading the various blog posts, mostly by Ghanaians, was fascinating. I really enjoyed myself and learnt much in the process to augment my understanding of modern Ghana. You can read the full round up at this link. Here is an excerpt from Abena at chardonas.blogspot.com:

‘In a dusty, browning album belonging to my late father, I found the above
photograph of the first President of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The
album, covered in red psychedelic flowers houses my father's pictures from the
mid-1960s up to 1973. The photos follow a natural fashion time-line and show how
extremely tight -fitting trousers, beehives and mini-skirts gave way to unkempt
bushy hair, bell-bottoms, afros and platform shoes. It's like Austin Powers
meets Shaft all in Ghana.’

October 9, 2009

Godwin Talks: Swimming with Crocodiles in Ghana

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Godwin Talks: Swimming with Crocodiles in Ghana there.


I had no idea we had a big dam near our house until we went walking last week. This reminded Godwin of his childhood days and as we approached the water, he related this story and he agreed to share it here.

'When we were kids we played hide and seek with this crocodile in a dam at the village where we went to swim. We were always at one end of the dam swimming and the crocodile would be at the far end. It would come on top and we used to keep our eye on it, so when you see it floating on the water you know that you’re safe and you can keep swimming. But the moment you look around and it’s disappeared, it means it’s gone under the water and you have to start running out of the water because the next minute it will resurface at exactly where you were swimming. If you don’t do that you know what is in store for you.

And then when it arrives and sees we are on the bank of the dam it will be lying there afloat looking at us for five minutes, then we’ll also be standing there watching it, smiling, saying. ‘We know, we know, go, go, you won’t get anybody here, go away!’

It would disappear again and the next minute it would resurface at its original position, afloat, and we’d run into the water again and keep our eye on it.

At times we’d even ask the weakest among us not to come in the water but stay on the bank and keep an eye on the crocodile. That’s how we used to play the hide and seek with the croc.

It was fun but scary when you traveled too deep into the water and then it disappears because it swims faster than you, so then you’re thinking ‘Can I make it?’

When the crocodile disappeared one day there was this guy who said, ‘I’m not going to get out, it won’t come, it won’t come, you guys should come back in.’ Then the croc appeared right alongside him and was facing him, ready to dive at him.

The guy dived under the water and then the croc went under the water, and then the guy resurfaced a short distance away and by then he was almost at the bank and you could see the croc coming at him. He pulled his legs out of the water just before the croc slid up behind him onto the bank.

Another guy went looking for the croc in the place where it takes a bath in the sun. That wasn’t where we swim, but where it lies in the grass. Normally we go to observe how it lies, as if it’s asleep. So the guy went to the grassy place and he was looking around just by the dam, but the croc wasn’t there. And then the guy was looking around saying ‘Where is it?’ not knowing that the croc was right there under the water, next to the sandy place where he sleeps, just below the surface; they can stay like that for hours. When you’re standing like that it can get your position by watching your shadow on the water. Before the guy realized it, the croc came with the tail and whipped the guy’s legs and took the skin right off as if some fire had burnt him. That was before our swimming incident. That guy never swam in the dam again. The guy who had the underwater incident didn’t swim for five days, but then he was back in again.'

And I kept a safe distance between me and the water after that.

Photo by Pandiyan at flickr. (Mental note: tell Godwin—never smile at a crocodile.)

October 4, 2009

Costs and money for travel and life in Ghana

Budgeting for travel or life abroad is one of the most difficult challenges you face before departing. How much should I bring in cash? Is it safe to carry cash? What about traveler’s cheques? Can I use a credit card?

EDIT: This was written in 2009. Multiply all figures by 4-5 to get up to date prices in 2017.

Here I  list ‘a basket of products’ and their prices from the market and shops. I’ll write up a few journeys and show their costs to give you something to measure other trips against. And I’m going to talk about renting and utilities costs.

Costs of products and services:Bar of bathroom soap: 40 pesewas (Ghana made) – 2 Cedis (Imperial Leather)
Block of laundry soap: 50 pesewas
Toothbrush: 50 pesewas – 3 Cedis
Pack of shaving razors: 3 –10 Cedis
Washing up sponge: 1 – 3 Cedis
Ajax like cleaning powder: 1.5 Cedis
Cigar lighter: 50 pesewas
Ten boxes of matches: 1 Cedi
Small block of cheddar cheese: 7 Cedis
250 gm butter: 4 Cedis
Medium sized packs of ground coffee: 10 Cedis (only available in Accra)
Nescafe all in one sachets: 2.5 Cedis per cup
Pack of 25 Lipton tea bags: 1 Cedi
400 gms of milk powder in plastic packet: 4 – 6 Cedis
200 gms sugar: 1 Cedi
400 gm oats: 1.8 Cedis
1 litre vegetable oil: 2 – 4 Cedis
1 egg: 20 pesewas
5 big tomatoes: 1 Cedi (although the price fluctuates)
1 loaf of bread: 1 – 1.5 Cedis
2 medium eggplants: 1 Cedi
1 kg potatoes: 2 Cedis
3 carrots: 1 Cedi
1 big cabbage: 1.5 Cedis
1 head of garlic: 20 pesewas
1 maggi stock cube: 10 pesewas
5 small onions: 50 pesewas
Fistful of bananas: 1 Cedi
5 small oranges: 50 pesewas
5 large oranges: 1 Cedi
Hard coconut: 50 pesewas – 1 Cedi
Fresh coconut: 20 – 40 pesewas
2 big yams: 1.5 Cedis
Packet of spaghetti for 2: 60 pesewas
Small tin tuna: 1.9 Cedis
5kg bag imported rice: 11 Cedis
5 kg local rice: about 8 Cedis
1 litre of Star Beer: 1.5 Cedis and most similar beers. Guiness is slightly more.
1 litre bottle of Mapouka (Bailey’s rip off): 2.5 Cedis
375 ml Coke: 40 pesewas
Bottle pineapple cider (Alvaro): 70 pesewas
1 bottle of drinking yoghurt: 1.5 Cedis
1 bottle hair shampoo: 3 – 15 Cedis
Set of 3 good stainless steel saucepans: 80 (eighty) Cedis
A packet of cheap stainless knives: 12 Cedis
Wooden chopping board: 3 – 5 Cedis
Washing bucket: 3 Cedis
These clothes are the sort of thing you can negotiate over on the street:
Flip flops: 1 – 5 Cedis
Copy Burkenstocks: 10 – 20 Cedis
3 pairs of underwear: 1 – 4 Cedis
1 pair running shoes: 20+ Cedis
New pair of jeans: 10 (stall on street) – 30 Cedis (shop)
Used t-shirts: 2 – 8 Cedis
‘Pretty’ sandals: 5 – 10 Cedis
Bead bracelets: 1 – 2 Cedis: really depends on the beads
Colourful cloth patch pants: 5 – 10 Cedis
One plastic soup bowl: 50 pesewas
One ceramic coffee mug: 1 Cedi
Rubber football: 3 Cedis
Real football: 20 – 30 Cedis
1 G jump drive: 10 Cedis (Prices vary greatly on the different sizes)
Broad band internet connection 1 month: 80 Cedis
A basic Nokia phone: 30 – 40 Ghana cedis
There are now 4 cell phone providers that all sell prepaid ‘units’ along streets everywhere. You can top up your credit for as little as one Cedi.
Phone ‘chips’ or sim cards cost 1 – 2 Cedis each. Since competition is hotting up there are regular discount offers and many Ghanaians have one chip from each company to take advantage of this.
Second hand car: You can get them for as little as 500, but normally around 2000 Cedis or so.
Second hand motorbike: 300 – 600 Cedis.
New motorbike: 900 Cedis.

Journeys:
Cape Coast to Busua Beach.
I’m talking trotros and taxis.
Cape-Takoradi tro: 3.5 Cedis
Takoradi tro-Agona junction: 1.5 Cedi
Agona junction share taxi to Busua Beach: 70 pesewas
One night at Alaska backpacker hang out: about 10 Cedis (was 8 when I last went)
One meal of rice and chicken at Alaska: 4 – 6 Cedis

Accra to Wli Waterfalls
Taxi across Accra to Tudu station: 4 Cedis (rough average across town)
Tudu tro to Hohoe station: 5 Cedis
Hohoe tro to Wli: 1.5 Cedis
Both guest houses are about 16 – 30 Cedis depending on the room
Their meals are anywhere from 3 – 10+ Cedis.
Waterfall Lodge (run by Germans) serves excellent food.
Waterview Heights, run by Ghanaians, is very friendly and welcoming. Food is OK (no one equals Eli, except Mountain Paradise about one hour south of Wli off the Fume junction.)

Accra to Mole National Park. This is a killer trip on public transport.
STC or similar coach from Accra to Tamale: 20 Cedis
Overnight hotel in Tamale: at least 10 Cedis or more
Public bus from Tamale to Mole: 4 – 6 Cedis
Park entry fees: 4 – 5 Cedis
One night in 3 bed room at Mole Motel: 25 Cedis
Guided walk: 7 Cedis
The bus back to Tamale and coach to Accra are the same again.

Renting:
Most landlords expect you to pay up fully in advance for at least one year, but more like two to three years. It’s difficult to find anything under one year. It can, however, be done, but it takes a lot of looking and there are very few trustworthy agents. I’d love it if someone could alert me to any good agents. It’s more a matter of knowing someone you trust to go around and hunt for you and using word of mouth.

They also expect you to cover all your maintenance costs. There are no tenants’ rights. So if the plumbing fails or pipes bust (as they did once for me), you pay. Imagine you owned it, but you don’t own it. You don’t pay council rates, but you do pay water.

Accra. I’m no expert; I never lived there. But I have heard tales from others and this is what I know. It’s as expensive to rent an apartment in Accra as it is in Sydney—for the same level of accommodation. For a decent two room place you’ll pay anywhere upwards of 400 Cedis a month (you can live by the beach in Sydney for this) in a central location. For what it’s worth, Phnom Penh was the same.

If you rent a room in a basic compound and share a shower and kitchen with others, you will spend at least 100 Cedis a month, but probably more. If cost is an issue in Accra, you’d be better off living with a Ghanaian family and renting a room from them.

I always suggest hitting the notice-boards at internet cafes and asking online at places like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum for tips or inside info.

The upfront payment condition is the same across the country, but costs vary greatly.

Kumasi is slightly less expensive than Accra and easier to find a place not right in the centre of town. I’d recommend asking at Vic Babboo’s in town and the net cafĂ© next to the British Council for accommodation.

Cape Coast is easier again (but not as easy as you’d think). It has many guest houses where you can pay upwards of 100 Cedis a month, long term, for a room. In fact, LOV Guesthouse in Abura, an offshoot town of Cape Coast, has gorgeous fully furnished rooms for 100-150 Cedis a month. It’s on a ridge overlooking the lagoon and ocean. Lovely and private and the owner, Mr Eshun, is a cool guy. On the downside, it’s a walk from the main Abura road and can be dodgy at night—always take a dropping to the door. Coastal TV put their staff up there and all the drivers know it for that.

Not that I imagine many would look up here, but there is a shortage of rooms in Bolga due to the Bawku conflict and prices are on par with Kumasi and Tamale.

Utilities:

In Bolga we pay a flat rate of 10 Cedis a month no matter how much water we use. In Elmina it varied according to usage and was always around 20 Cedis or so, depending on how many people were staying.

Electricity here is about 20 Cedis a month—computers, fridges, TVs, the works.

How much should I bring in cash?
In my opinion, I think it’s very safe to bring up to a thousand in cash. You have to be careful in crowded areas and dark roads at night. If you’re planning a journey up to Mole, only take what you need and leave the rest locked up at ‘home’. The exchange rate is better (and so is the service) at hole in the wall exchange booths than banks.

What about traveler’s cheques?
They can be painful and time consuming to change. I’ve known tellers to refuse someone because their signature was fake; it was their signature. And others didn’t take the passport as valid. Insane. Personally, the hassle factor is too high for me, but it’s up to you.

Can I use credit card?
I’d minimize the use of credit card other than for withdrawing from ATMs. I’ve heard of fraud in hotels and any place someone has time to copy your credit card details onto paper. However, I did use mine a few times and so far, no problem. You cannot use Mastercard! If I'm wrong, someone please alert me. (edit: Thanks Jade! I think I transfered minor Visa issues I'm having subliminally while writing.)

Your home ATM
You can use your home ATM card to withdraw cash and all the usual charges apply.
Be careful. Occasionally the ATM machine messes up and doesn’t actually dispense the money, even though you get a slip to say it did. Worse, it doesn’t dispense and you don’t get a slip so you don’t know if it was deducted or not. The latter happened to me once and, although I thought the amount was deducted, my bank noticed I didn’t receive cash and reversed it without my needing to say so. You can go into the bank and report it and they’ll follow it through for you.

You might like to check out my Cost of Living in Pictures post. And this currency converter which includes the Cedi!

I would truly appreciate updates on any of this information. If you have something to add, please do so in the comments below. I'm always trying to find out what works and doesn't at banks!

October 2, 2009

Blog of the Month at Expat-blog

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Blog of the Month at Expat-blog there.

A couple of months ago Expat Blog contacted me, asking to feature this blog as 'Blog of The Month' on their site. What a surprise. So here is an excerpt of the interview and you can read the full interview over at their site. For anyone who's ever wished to live abroad, and hankers after new shores, and wonders how on earth one would go about working in Peru or Portugal or even Ghana, check out the blogs there.

'I’m Gayle, which is a brilliant traveling name. It can sound like ‘frog’ or ‘vomit’ in Japanese or ‘girl’ in Ghanaian English. I was born and grew up in Sydney, Australia.

Where are you living now? Have you been there for a while? How long
do you plan to stay?
I’m living in the Upper East Region of Ghana, West Africa. I spent two years in Cape Coast/Elmina and four months in Kumasi. I’ve been in Bolgatanga since February. And I spent almost one year in Cambodia for work too. Eventually, my Ghanaian partner and I would like to establish a centre up here focusing on domestic violence and communication, with some kind of income generating element. There are no social services and there is very little access to helpful skills or information. If there was less violence, perhaps people could concentrate their energy into putting more food on the table at the end of the day. I know it’s a chicken and egg argument though and after discussing it in depth with various individuals around this area over the last few months, we feel that we can make the best contribution to what is
really needed this way.


Have you ever lived abroad before?

I lived in Japan for a year when I was seventeen as an exchange student. I absolutely loved it. I studied Japanese throughout high school and uni, but my language is rusty these days.


How many countries have you visited?

NZ, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, India, Japan, China, USA, United Arab Emirates, England, Italy, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Ghana. The Philippines was like the Ghana of Asia to me—so friendly and fun. All of South East Asia was interesting, but I really want to see more of Africa and India.


When did you decide to go and live abroad? Is it your first time or are you a "serial expat"? Why did you choose to live in Ghana?

I discovered I could get a British Ancestry visa and planned to work in England. And then, late 2004, the tsunami hit and I decided to volunteer in Indonesia, which led me ultimately, and quite surprisingly, to Ghana for 6 months. Just before I left Dad said there’s no shame if I don’t like Africa and I want to come home. I was secretly relieved because I thought I might not cope! In my last week at work in Sydney a colleague who’d spent time in Zambia said something like, ‘the Africa bug will get to you, you will always want to return to Africa.’ I remember thinking, yeah right. Famous last thoughts.'

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