Friday, May 9, 2014

Rain, Rain, Go Away

We've lived in Accra for 13 months.  In those 13 months, I'm nearly certain that we have had a grand total of less than 25 days with rain.  The rain rarely lasts more than 2 hours and we've never had more than 2 rainy days in a row.  Until this week, when we actually had a week full of outside plans.  But, I'm not bitter.  Really, I'm not.

The good news is, the rain brings cooler temperatures, so when you're stuck inside watching movies and playing board games, you don't have sweat rolling down your back like you normally do.  Since three days this week were rainy, we have not been able to do all that we'd planned.  Instead, we've been doing lots of this...
 That's right, we've been playing lots of board games.  Here are some of our favorites and some of the ones we've been playing this week.  It's nice to have kids who are old enough to play games that we actually enjoy playing.  I do not miss Candyland, Memory, or Pretty, Pretty Princess (though I do miss lots of the delights that go with that age!)  The one on the top, Whoonu, is one of my favorite family picks.  It's not my personal favorite to play, but it's my favorite for the group dynamics it brings.  It works well with a variety of ages and is easy to teach and enjoy.  It's easily the most used game in our cabinet.  If you have kids and you don't have it, I highly recommend it.  

In between board games, we have been trying to get out for at least a few hours each day.   On Tuesday, we weren't too annoyed with the rain because we'd planned to go to the movies one day anyway.  The theater here is one of the few things that isn't ridiculously expensive.  It costs about 35 USD for our family of 7 to go on a weekday.  We usually try to see the family movies they bring in.  I'd say they average about one every 6-8 weeks, which is just enough for our family.  This time, we saw Rio 2.  I wouldn't have chosen it, had we had options, but we didn't.  Truth be told, I got really cold (which RARELY happens here) and napped through a bit of it.  But, the kids liked it and that was good enough for me.

Wednesday, we woke up to more rain.  Fortunately, it cleared fairly early.  Liz wasn't feeling great, so we decided to stick close to home.  We went to the central part of our city and visited the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park.  It is the site where the first president of Ghana declared independence from Great Britain.  It's the site of a colonial polo field, which Ghanians were forbidden to enter when the British ruled.  So, Nkrumah thought it was a fitting site to declare independence in 1957.  They have since built a small museum and a mausoleum type memorial.  The guide gave us a history of the period when Ghana gained her independence and described every 18x20 black and white photo in detail for us.  The kids were patient and it was at least moderately interesting.  The history was truly fascinating, the presentation was so-so, and the grounds were beautiful.  After that, we walked next door to the Arts Center where we told about 100 vendors "No, thank you, " amazed a few of them with our broken Hausa, and purchased a little side table for 16USD.  Lizzie eventually cried "uncle" so we headed home, but not before we stopped at KFC, the only western food chain in our city.

Here are 4 of the kids in front of President Nkrumah's statue.  He was known for the sentiment that Ghana was not to look to the East or the West, but forward.  I think that is why he is shown reaching forward.

 Here's his burial site.  Interestingly enough, this is his 3rd and final resting place.  And yes, Abe did manage to knock one of those cement pillars over.  Man, I love that boy and all of the trouble he manages to chase down.

Peacocks wander the park grounds.

 Here we are, beating the heat with a water break.  

 I wanted to include this picture because it's a perfect scene from our city.  The rule here is, if it stands still, it ought to be painted red, yellow, and green with a black star.  Tree trunks, shacks, walls, you name it, they'll paint it.  They are proud of their flag and their football (soccer) team, the Ghana Black Stars.

Thursday it rained all. day. long.  We just stayed home.   We played games, I napped and read, and we experimented with some sort of brownie which was pretty much a flop, but it got eaten.  I think brownie mix is the only baking mix that we still miss.  We've got great cake, cookie, waffle, pancake, and muffin recipes.  I can't even tolerate canned icing anymore, much preferring the homemade ones we make.  But brownies in a box...they are still like crack-cocaine to my sweet tooth.  

Friday, the sun finally came out to play.  It was a gorgeous day and everyone was feeling great.  We drove a little more than an hour to a nature reserve called Shai Hills.   There we spent a few hours exploring.  This area is a savannah-like ecosystem and has a rich history with the Shai people of Ghana.  They require you to hire a guide who rides in your car with you and takes you on walks from various parking spots throughout the park.  

The first time we parked, he took us to see a small group of baboons who were hanging out near the ranger camp.  We've seen a good number of baboons since moving to Africa, but they continue to fascinate me.  I especially love watching the mamas and babies.

Our second parking spot involved a walk into the ancestral cave where the Shai people hid during battle times.  Along the way, Abe spotted these millipedes and wanted Ryan to take their picture.

We climbed up into the cave and got close to a bunch of bats while the guide pointed out some different highlights and stories of the humans who once used the cave.

Our next stop was baboon rock, which was an area that was used to train the females of the tribe who were approaching marriage.  They, along with the older women who trained them, lived on the rock for 6 months before their rite of passage ceremony.  We used ropes to help us climb the rock.  Apparently, they didn't have that advantage.

Here's the view from part of the way up the rock.  Doesn't it look too pretty to be real?

The girls and their latest picture trend.  They have decided to LOVE everywhere we go.

Our guide got this one of our whole family.  I know you don't care, but when I see this picture, I remind myself of the promise that I've made to myself that I will not wear a ponytail one single day in America.  Seriously, if you see me out in a ponytail, I want you to say, "Girl, whatcha doing with that rattail on yo' head?  Save it for hot, steamy Africa where you got no other options.  We don't wanna see that mess."

All along the rock, there were these circular indentions in the stone.  The guide explained that the girls each made one during their training time because there was this certain rock that they had to grind into powder for their rite of passage.  They covered their body in it at some point.

Here I am going down the rock.  The kids were making some smart remarks about how they hoped I could make it.  I just cheerfully muttered a bunch of remarks about how I'd reeled in a 50+ pound salmon in Alaska, ascended Jamaican waterfalls, hiked in places they couldn't pronounce, and some other smart remarks to which they just rolled their teenage and nearly teenage eyes.  

Here are the kids checking out the spot where the women slept during their training time.  You can't see Abe because he had crawled way back in there. The inside was super slick, the guard said it was from the pommade they used on their skin.  I didn't go inside myself.  My older brothers closed me in the kitchen pantry one too many times during my formative years for me to enjoy those kind of tight spaces.  

We saw quite a few antelope along the road as we drove.  Ryan did a good job of navigating the road, though he did give us one good squeal in an especially vicious mud hole.

Because the guide was paid by the hour, per person, we waited until the clock had stopped to enjoy our lunch.  Here we are picnicking before we headed home.  You like that fine ride we drive?  Many people think it's a taxi, so we often get flagged down along the road.  We just wave and smile and folks stare at us in total disbelief.  It's quite amusing, actually.  Seriously though, we're so thankful for it.  We're also thankful to the Ghana police officers who pulled us over and insisted that we purchase those yellow reflective stickers, for safety's sake.  Because, you know, we wouldn't want to be unsafe.  

Monday, May 5, 2014


For at least 6-8 weeks, Ryan and I have been very aware that we needed to take some down time for our family.  With Ryan's job + traveling, my guest house responsibilities, and just life in general, it has been nuts.  It used to get that way in the States too, but it seemed like there were some built-in breaks with life there.  Our culture offered abundant opportunities for road trips and long weekends.  We had multiple options for affordable getaways there including camping, visiting relatives, or cheap hotels.  We have really, really missed that.  Since last year's vacation ended up being a very emotional and frankly, sometimes stressful,  trip to the States, we have known we needed a chance to decompress and just have fun together.  We needed a vacation.

The problem was, we didn't want to spend the kind of money it would take to have a week of vacation here.  You see, we live in one of the prettiest places in West Africa.  There are abundant tourist opportunities here, but they come with a hefty price tag.  We have had no luck finding a clean and safe hotel with a private bathroom that will house our big family for less than about 250-300 USD a night.  And those folks, are nothing fancy.  If we want one with a pool, that has AC and constant electricity, we're looking at more like 400-500 dollars a night.  This is mostly because all of them would require us to purchase at least 2 rooms per night.  With our Stateside time just 9 months away, we simply haven't felt like we wanted to spend that kind of money.

To complicate things even further, we have 2 children with peanut allergies.  Because of their allergies, we also can't eat most of the cheap food options in our country.  Groundnuts (the local term for peanuts) are used in many, many things here and the understanding of food allergies is almost nonexistent.  So, it's nearly certain that if we stop at a chop bar, which is the local version of a drive-thru, we run the risk of a serious allergy attack.  So, we really need a place with a kitchen option or we have to eat at restaurants that are at a much higher price point.  For 7 of us to eat basic pizza or cheeseburgers and french fries, we're looking at least 70 dollars.  There are no value menu options.

Now, I'm not saying all of that to make you feel sorry for us.  At all.  We all have a limited income and all of us have to make choices about how we use it.  We could spend the money to take a beach vacation, we have simply decided not to use our money that way.  But, we knew we wanted to do something.  

So...we decided to take our first ever, STAYCATION.  With quite a few vacation days just sitting there, waiting to be used, we decided we'd make our own fun on a budget.  We chose to eliminate the cost of lodging, reduce the cost of eating out, and still have the blessing of fun and time with each other.  This week, we're exploring our area by day, and sleeping in our own beds by night.

Today we took a day trip to a beach about 90 minutes from our house, called Bojo Beach.  We had a fun time and we came home with only minor sunburns, which is always important to little ole fair-skinned me.  

Since we're fresh out of drive-thrus here in Accra, we made some homemade chicken biscuits, wrapped them in foil, and hit the road.

The drive out there went really well.  We left just after rush hour and half of the drive was on good road.  The second half involved us driving down a really rough dirt road and stopping every 10 minutes or so to stick our heads out the window and ask the locals if we'd gone too far.  They all just kept pointing for us to continue.   At one point, a shack called "Jesus in the Answer Metalwork" led us to a discussion of how the art of singing songs in tandem or in rounds seems to have been lost on today's youth.  And just to make sure our kids didn't miss out on that lovely worship option that so blessed us in the late '80s, we found ourselves singing one of our favorite Nigerian choruses in rounds.  I'm not sure they're going to beg to do it again any time soon, but they were good sports.  

After following the advice of enough pointing locals, we got to our destination. We parked on one side, where there is a hotel, and then we took a boat over to a sand spit, where we spend the day playing in the sun and surf.  

 This is the view as we were waiting from the parking side.

 Ready for a day at the beach!

 There were dozens of these little crabs crawling in and out of the sand as we waited for our boat.

Apparently, they save these big boats for the weekend, because...
 here's our boat and driver.

Here are the girls, headed to the ocean side.

The boys took the front.

We got there in time to watch this fishing crew at work.  Let me tell you, there was some serious strength involved in pulling in those nets!

There were so, so many sea treasures on the sand.  We found gazillions of "unicorn" shells, a good number of sand dollars, and lots of assorted rocks and shells too.

When I was pretty certain that I was nearing my sunburn threshold, we packed up, tracked down the boat driver, hopped back in the van, and headed back down the dirt road toward home.  Along the way we made and munched on sandwiches, while waving back at all of the waving locals, and oohing and aahing at all of the baby goats and naked children.  All in all, it was a great day and we're looking forward to staycation day number two, tomorrow.