a weekend in ada.

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defensive driving.

 

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is that daylight showing through the floorboards of this vehicle?

Yes.

And yes, the vehicle has floorboards. Just another morning commute in Accra.

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cape coast castle.

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The Cape Coast Castle sits in a beautiful place, its crumbling whitewashed walls a preserved monument to an haunting history: the torture, humiliation, and degradation of transatlantic slave trade, which saw the sale and purchase of human beings on an immense scale.

The fort’s dungeons are dark, fetid, oppressively hot caves. A couple tiny slits in the stone provided the only hint of light and a rough gutter was the only toilet facility for over a thousand captives imprisoned waiting for slave ships for up to three months at a time. In places, the floors have been left untouched to leave evidence of the depth of layered human waste that accumulated. There are frantic scratch marks on the floors and walls, especially in the windowless cells reserved to starve those who revolted or resisted.

Rage. Shame. Nausea.

Just atop the men’s dungeons where an unknown number died sits the airy governor’s quarters, the well-marked graves of the few Europeans who passed away here, and a church. This church struck President Obama in his family’s visit here as a strong reminder “that sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think that we’re doing good.” Human beings were branded like cattle and exchanged for material goods across a stone courtyard.

The castle’s “Door of No Return” was the departure point from the African continent for unwilling members of a massive diaspora. It opens to show a stunning seascape and nearby shores that are alive with the bustle of fishing boats bringing in their catch. It is also called the “Door of Return” now, welcoming back the descendents of slaves who come from around the world to walk the reverse journey of their ancestors.

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it’s the little things.

The steps in the staircases in my 4-story office here in Accra are uneven. It’s almost unnoticeable, except there’s one really tall step in one flight of otherwise-small steps. It makes me fall up the stairs every time.

When I lived in Uganda, it always struck me that the local bank had bothered to install a ramp for handicapped clients. Very considerate, except that the ramp was so incredibly steep that someone in a wheelchair descending it surely would’ve barreled down it and quickly into traffic in the road.

For a treat on Sunday night, I went to the cinema in Accra with some friends to see ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ In most ways, the theater seems like it could be in America. However, due to a design involving single entrance/exit and people working the door allowing exit from one showing and entry to the next to happen simultaneously, there was an alarming crush of people. All I could think was what would happen in the case of a fire.

Building codes. It’s things like these I don’t appreciate ’til they’re not there.

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a nation in mourning.

Yesterday afternoon, the radio (which is always on in our office) brought news that Ghana’s President, John Atta Mills, had died. The official statement from his office reported that the death was sudden, but foreign media outlets are reporting that he suffered from a long battle with cancer that handlers repeatedly denied was happening.

This unprecedented event in Ghana’s democracy has thus far demonstrated great national unity and strength, which is particularly notable in this region of the world. When I asked co-workers what would happen, replied that the vice president would take over according to the constitution’s rules, there would be a period of mourning, and December’s elections would go forward as scheduled. Indeed, that process is underway. Last night, a visibly shaken vice president John Dramani Mahama took the presidential oath in front of Parliament. While I noticed many market stalls had shuttered their doors early yesterday evening, business seems to move on continued as usual today, though somberly. Flags are at half mast and many people are wearing outfits of traditional black and red to signify mourning

So far, I have heard nothing but resolve from Ghanaians that this is no the occasion for unrest or political opportunism. On my little cell phone that conveniently plays radio, I’ve listened as programs have aired updates, played mourning songs, and read out text messages coming in from across the country. Presenters have outright stated that they will not read anything with a divisive tone. Last night, broadcasts from religious leaders all highlighted that the deceased president was a peaceful man and Ghanaians should celebrate his life.

Here’s a nice article from the New York Times.

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ghana beats.

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of autotune or some of the really awful lyric choices that seem to dominate pop music here.

However, to give you a taste of what pumps through the speakers of nearly every bus station, shop, and club, here is a sampling of some of the tracks that folks in Accra seem most fond of right now.

Chop My Money, P-Square feat Akon & May D:

Sweetio,  Raquel feat Sarkodie:

Best in Me, Efya:

Over Again, Edem:

Bonus: A BBC report on Azonto, Ghana’s dance craze. Learn in less than 3 minutes! Do a youtube search for some more samples.

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what can i buy while sitting in this traffic?

Accra has some pretty epic traffic jams. Impromptu marketplaces spring up around waiting vehicles when things get really stopped up, with hawkers offering a fantastic variety of items to passengers in waiting vehicles. One way I pass the time spent sitting in a stagnant 90-odd degree trotro with a dozen others is noting the wares offered.

Recently spotted:

  • ice cold plastic sachets of drinking water;
  • tools: a saw, wrenches, a set of screwdrivers with American flags printed on the handles;
  • a large laminated map of west Africa;
  • cell phone airtime;
  • shoes (specifically, 3 pairs of men’s loafers);
  • snacks: buns, bananas, Mentos, apples, yogurt, oranges, etc.;
  • the Tummy Trimmer, a weight-loss belt (the type of product normally advertised on late-night infomercials);
  • political paraphernalia (it’s an election year here);
  • key chains and bottle openers;
  • wall clocks;
  • insulated coffee mugs;
  • short-sleeve men’s button-down shirts;
  • sunglasses.
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that familiar unfamiliar feeling.

Arriving solo somewhere new is always a humbling experience for me. I am reminded that each place is its own, and I have everything to learn- from how much things should cost to the sound of the languages and accents; from the pace and style of work to the correct amount of the spicy sauce to use (right answer: only a tiny tad).

Every time I find myself in this situation, I am amazed all over again at what incredibly deep knowledge of one’s surroundings and culture it takes to go about one’s business having the slightest clue about how anything works.

So here I go again with a clean slate. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve lived and worked abroad before, Ghana is its own place with its own handshake and traffic patterns and dance moves. It’s time to be comfortable with getting lost and feeling foolish and making mistakes, over and over.

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equator prize award ceremony.

My time in Rio was spent working very hard to help make events run smoothly. My trip and our events at the Rio+20 conference culminated in a fantastic ceremony honoring this year’s winners of the Equator Prize. I actually left straight from the after party for the airport. It was wonderful to spend several days learning from and getting to know the representatives from the winning communities.

Highlights from awards night (plus a few other Rio shots):

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Link: 2012 Winners Video

Next up, Ghana!

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