Monday, November 04, 2013

11:30 - 3:00 3 November 2013

Another eclipse in Africa. This one again in Ghana, but it was only a partial solar eclipse. I would have needed to travel to Cameroon to see totality.

This time I was able to travel with 20 children to the Ghana Planetarium for the eclipse. This event was organized by the Kisseman Community Library, which is supported by the TransCAP Foundation.

We hired a trotro, which is a stripped-down minibus filled with only seats, and packed it fully.

Our librarian Sandra was with us for the excursion. Our driver Alpha had some difficulty finding the planetarium or any of the other landmarks we gave (street addresses are not fully implemented even in Accra, a city of nearly 3 million people). So we all got to enjoy a tour of the city of Accra, passing Nkrumah Circle, the National Theater, the Museum of Science & Technology, Independence Square, the Accra sports stadium, some high-rise hotels and other sites before we finally found the Ghana Planetarium.

Since the children rarely even leave their neighborhood, this was a fun drive for them and they enjoyed the sites. There was singing and clapping and impromptu songs of praise to the excursion
organizers, our driver and trotro, the planetarium, and the sun and moon for preparing to give us a show in the sky.

The kids were so well dressed and excited for the excursion. Some arrived hours before our scheduled departure. We had some safety lessons and an educational session before we went to the Ghana Planetarium. There were many well educated children there and our students were mostly intimidated. But there were a couple that asked or answered questions of our host, Sarah Abotsi-Masters, director of the planetarium. Confidence building is one of our most important functions.

We saw 80% of the sun blocked out and got to participate in learning activities and arts & crafts. We also met a couple volunteers that want to come to our library to assist.

We returned to Kisseman at 3:00, tired from a long day, but still full of excitement. Immediately upon exiting the trotro the children heard that they had been seen on television. A number of networks were at the Planetarium that day broadcasting.

Enjoy the pictures and we look forward to another outing with the Kisseman Community Library.

Friday, October 11, 2013

It has been a year and a half since my move to Ghana became permanent. It has been such an incredible journey so far, and my plans for writing have been so often delayed. I apologize for not making you aware of what has been happening.

This transition has been more difficult and at the same time more rewarding than I had ever imagined. As I think you know, I am living in a family compound home in the middle of a shanty neighborhood and developing a number of poverty alleviation projects. Let me give you a long overdue personal update on the progress being made here in Ghana with help from the TransCAP Foundation. 

1) West Africa AIDS Foundation
Our longest-supported partner in Ghana, the West Africa AIDS Foundation is providing education, testing and treatment for people throughout Ghana. The TransCAP Foundation has provided a laptop computer, condoms, medicine and medical supplies in addition to a monthly cash stipend.

2) Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa
The TransCAP Foundation has provided support for a number of VPWA projects over the years, including their "Kick Malaria Out" campaign, their yearly de-worm Ghana day, and most recently providing support for their Street Library mobile libraries.  

3) Kisseman Community Library
Working together with Easy Track Ghana, the TransCAP Foundation has helped create a free community library that serves a neighborhood where most homes do not have running water. The 700 books in the library makes this a better stocked library than any school in the area, and the computer lessons given on a laptop are far more interactive than the paper 'computer' that most area children are learning from at their schools.


UPCOMING GOALS:
1) Excursions for children sponsored by the Kisseman Library
Over the course of the next couple years, we would like to organize excursions, starting with the Accra Planetarium for November 3rd partial solar eclipse. Other site would include a) the Accra Zoo; b) Ghana National Museum; c) the international airport; d) Kwame Nkrumah Memorial to Ghana's first President. Each excursion would include transit, entrance, lunch, water and $1 of spending money.
Costs: $200-$275 to sponsor 20-25 students on an excursion.

2) Enhanced Library Collection 
Books: Too expensive to ship. So contribute for us to purchase them. These are needed by the Kisseman Community Library, the VPWA Street Library, the WAAF children's ward, as well as other schools we support that serve children who would not otherwise be going to school because the families cannot afford school fees. 
Videos: Easy to ship. North American DVDs are not compatible, but will play on a computer.
Educational Games: A small collection of freeware has been downloaded. Suggestions and contributions are welcome.
Costs: $250 will get us 30-35 durable children's story books. 

3) Tablets for Teaching
There is little doubt that many of the young people in our library today will be adults in a fully mobile-enabled world. This is the way people will be using computers and we would like to be teaching relevant technology. Already children are attempting to use our old laptop as if there is a touch-screen interface. Learning a mouse or touch-pad is difficult for some. 

We have received guests on a couple of instances that have connected our library students with a classroom in the USA. It was pure magic, with students on both sides of the conversation being highly engaged and receiving a wonderful cultural exchange. There were so many questions flying. Then a US student asked about dancing. Suddenly local music was produced and the children in Ghana burst into an awesome dance party. More instructive sessions are planned when the appropriate hardware is acquired. We welcome the ability to communicate with schools or libraries around the world.
Hardware: $700 for a Galaxy; $1,200 for an iPad. 
Option: Buy or contribute a tablet in the US or Canada and ship it to a person that is traveling to Ghana on an Easy Track tour. You will still get your tax deduction.  


4) Keep Things Running
It takes money to make a library function:
Staff: $45/month
Student volunteers: $30 is contributed into a school fee account for the student helper of the day
Supplies: $15/month 
Electric & Water: Donated by Easy Track Ghana
Service: $50/month for Internet service 
$140/month


5) Spelling Bee at the Kisseman library 

6) Student essay contests - Previously this successful event has paid school fees for students writing essays about good health topics.

7) Condom distribution and STD awareness evenings - TransCAP has distributed thousands of condoms on Ghana

8) Library soccer team - TransCAP has helped bring soccer gear to Ghana in the past and will now underwrite one or more teams in conjunction with the Kisseman Library

Remember, your tax-deductible contribution of 
$250 purchases 35 new books!
$500 pays for an educational excursion for 60 children!
$1000 converts into 
- 140 new library books
- 6 months of library operations and 40 new library books
- a tablet and 5 months of Internet service
- a tablet and an educational excursion for 25 students

This is a lot for us to achieve, so please consider us when you are making your charitable contributions this year. Send your tax-deductible contributions to :

TransCAP Foundation
1170 Peachtree St, NE 12th Floor, P3
Atlanta, GA
30309


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

WOW! I've been elected Vice President of the Tour Operators Union of Ghana. This is a great honor and I pledge to work seriously on behalf of those tour operators in Ghana that have placed their trust in me. Thank you for this opportunity to help grow tourism in Ghana!

Come celebrate at the inauguration of the new TOUGHA board at the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel at 10:00 AM on the 8th of October, 2013

Wish me lots of luck!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Today was the big opening celebration of the Panafest 2013 celebration in Ghana.

President of the Republic of Ghana, the Honorable John Dramani Mahama opened the celebration at Victoria Park in Cape Coast. This marked the 10th Panafest celebration and makes this the longest-running pan-African festival on the continent.

The Artists Alliance performed a slave march re-enactment that brought many in attendance to tears. On a more inspirational note, there were performances of dance and music by contemporary artists from Ghana and the Diaspora.

A ceremony was held where all those in attendance from the Diaspora were welcomed home. White clay, representing Mother Africa, was applied to the left forearm by the Panafest Queen Mother during this emotional moment.

Ms. Elizabeth Ofosu-Adware, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts also addressed the crowd, advocating the economic advancement of Africa through tourism.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Africa Union, the 50th anniversary of the death of prominent pan-Africanist W.E.B Du Bois. We also remember this as the one year anniversary of the death of our previous president, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills.

It was indeed a day of many remembrances.

See more information about Panafest as well as the festival schedule here:
   www.http://easytrackghana.com/tour-ghana_panafest.php

President Mahama reminded the gathered crowd about Ghana's unique Right of Abode law, enacted to allow those of the Diaspora to receive expedited citizenship to live in Ghana. He urged other African countries to enact similar laws.

If you are not attending this year, plan to attend the next Panafest in 2015.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Easy Track Ghana wants to welcome our newest staff:
  Mr. Christian Sena Dogbe - a new guide to travel with visitors
  Mr. Kosi Batao - providing tour continuity
  Mr. Sam Amuzu - part-time marketing assistant
  Mr. Biney Bright - Tourism Management student on attachment for 2 months from Takoradi Polytechnic

  Kossi

  Sam

Congratulations to all the new members on our team!

Also, we have now opened the Comments on each guide's page. Due to spam comments, we have kept comments closed for some years. But due to guest requests, we now allow the posting of Comments directly on each guide's blog page.

Leave some words about the guide that you traveled with!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kisseman Community Library


As you may know, Easy Track Ghana has been working with the TransCAP Foundation to help create a community library for the urban village of Kisseman, in suburban Accra, Ghana. 

While I was in the USA, I met with the TransCAP Foundation to open a fundraising project. I also held a book drive, collecting nearly 700 books. About half are children storybooks, but we also have children's learning and advanced readers, as well as non-fiction vocational, health, history, language, IT, travel, reference and other types of books.

The books were shipped from California. My family in Ghana donated some space on their property for us to build. They also assisted with construction. The initial funding was made by the Easy Track Ghana tour company and my personal contributions.

Finally! What a day when we opened the library! The children have known there were books in the locked library room, but only a few were being pulled from the boxes. Any distribution or reading was being done from the Easy Track office or outside in the compound.

Eventually the children got annoyed up with my slowness and they stormed the Easy Track office on a Saturday morning, insisting that the library be OPEN. So I begged off working with the Easy Track team, and with the children we all went scavenging for lumber and cement blocks we could use to construct shelves. A group of girls cleaned the library rooms and found cushions and floor mats. The boys scrubbed the scrap lumber, carried the blocks and helped build the shelves. Others went door-to-door asking for pencils and paper and a pencil sharpener.


When we had everything together, we got a couple buckets of water and we all washed up. The construction had been a messy job! As soon as they had dried, the children RAN into the library.

Everyone entering received some basic instruction: hands must be clean, how to turn pages, only one set of hands on a book, returning books to the shelves, no shouting.....those were the main rules, plus a couple others as the day wore on.

Jessie's son Bismark was the enforcer in the main room while I went into the reading room, where you see the children standing (below).

By the end of the day:
- 37 children had visited the library
- 2 children ejected for unruly beaviour
- 2 children identified as exceptional
- 0 books damaged

This is the most wonderful thing! I wish so badly that each of you can witness yourself what we are doing here! 
Every day now there are children at my door or at my window asking when the library will open. When funding is in place, we will have regular hours and staff.

Every day I walk in the area, I am besieged by children asking that they may come to read. These young children want SO BADLY to have a book in their hands. Yet too many books are still in boxes.




I know these pictures are somewhat sad, but this is where we stand now. Or I should say, where the children stand. 

To the children, though, this is such a wonderful, fantastic place unlike anything they have ever before experienced.

US and Canadian citizens are able to make tax-deductible contributions to the TransCAP Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 charity based in Atlanta. Indicating on your check the "Ghana Library" will ensure that 100% of your contribution goes to improving this wonderful gift to the community.

We have been "interviewing" 3 different candidates for librarian by letting them gather groups of children outside and reading to them. Easy Track Ghana will be donating a couple computers and an Internet connection. But we still need shelves, tables, chairs, a desk and a small operational budget.

Through Easy Track's "One Extra Bag" program, we will be able to solicit pencils, paper, books and other supplies. But Easy Track does our best to send these contributions to remote areas visited when touring. As much as possible, we will work to raise funds through the TransCAP Foundation to fund operations of this magic place.

I am asking that you help in whatever small way you can. Nothing is too small. Send your tax-deductible contribution to:
TRANSCAP FOUNDATION INC
1170 Peachtree St, NE 12th Floor, P3
Atlanta, GA
30309

This library is a space that is going to change lives.

THANK YOU !!!

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Celestial Event

Gosh, can it really be a year-and-a-half since I last posted! My apologies to any subscribers, but these past two years have been the most difficult of my life. Making this transition to living in Ghana has not been an easy process. But at last, the bureaucrats agree. I am now a legal resident of Ghana! Yeaaaa!!!!

During that time, containers of contributions and supplies have been shipped to Ghana, our travel business, Easy Track Ghana, has become of of Ghana's more visible tour operators. It has been an extraordinarily busy time.

But now already I cannot believe a month now since I departed the USA. It has been an insane month! It was just this past Sunday that I finally crashed. I slept the entire day! It was *GLORIOUS* !!

Anyway, things here in Ghana are going great. It is the rain season now, so the days and nights are cooler. Two nights ago was the most intense thunderstorm that I have heard in some years. Apparently it was rather severe by local standards too! I mean it was REALLY LOUD! It also blew out our Internet serice for a few days, adding to the delay in my good news.

Before departing the USA, my friends hosted a great send off party and some great food. I tell you, I sure am missing some of that BBQ beef right now!!! I am actually committed to trying to make a pot of chili next weekend in Ghana. We will see how that goes over here! Hahahaha!

I departed California the very next day as scheduled. I was in Nevada to see the annular eclipse at totality. It was an amazing sight, with a perfect golden ring in the sky. I had my elipse glasses with me that I had used in Ghana for the 2006 eclipse. My first visit to Africa over a decade ago was to witness a total solar eclipse in Botswana. My first visit to Ghana was also for a total solar eclipse. So it is quite a coincidence that my trip to move to Africa would also include in eclipse.

OK, I am going to end here. Keep in touch via any of the methods below that you prefer. Has Facebook killed Blogs? I hope not! I'm not really a fan of Facebook. So my hope is to dust off the old blog now that I have the time and the stories to write. Hopefully future posts will be less self-absorbed.

Better than reading this blog, visit visit Ghana some day!!! Easy Track Ghana is at your service!

Until then, I hope you do not mind if I solicit some tax-deductible charitable contributions to help fund some of the projects I will be working on. Anything that you donate to the TransCAP Foundation for "Africa relief" comes to me 100% for projects that I am directly invoved.

I have *work* to do now that I am here!

Steve
Yahoo messenger: Swilson510@yahoo.com
Google talk: Swilson510@gmail.com
Skype: SWilson510
Steve Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=683988615

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving

Greetings from Ghana! I know it has been a while since I have last posted, and my apologies to our followers. It has been a busy year for us at Easy Track. We have hosted tours to all corners of Ghana, including school visits, safari tours, beache holidays, business travelers, traditional ceremonies and cultural interactions. I have seen so very much.

So on this day of Thanksgiving in the USA, I am reflecting on what I have to be thankful of in this life. The things we take for granted are such the things to be most thankful for: A roof and a bed. Clean water. Plentiful food. Access to good health care and medicine. Loving friends and family. The opportunity to obtain a good education and direct your life.

I have been blessed to be the recipient of all these things in my life. During my life, and especially these past few years in Africa, I have seen that so many people are not so blessed. This is why I have devoted such efforts into making Easy Track a tool for helping people who may not be so fortunate. I am always pushing Easy Track Ghana, and I am proud that we have been able to keep advancing our social responsibilities by providing gifts to schools, clinics and orphanages as well as building a toilet for an area school - while at the same time providing memorable tours for travelers and improving the lives of all our team.

I have had my eyes opened in so many ways living in Ghana. It am truly thankful for the Easy Track team, my Ghanaian family, and all the supportive people I have met as I have been making this transition that is not always easy.

As for things not going smoothly, some months ago I mentioned our community library project, and you may be wondering of the status of that project. Well, in our biggest disappointment to date, we were not originally given land upon which there was clear owership. After some additional months of searching and negotiating, we finally secured property for this community library project. The property owners were legitimate and nearby schoolmasters had approved the location - one even brought us a schedule for when he would bring students.

Sadly, the very day after all agreements had been reached, the donors communicated that they had lost confidence due to the delays, and were withdrawing their offer of funding. It was quite a loss to all of us involved. This is a bit of an embarassment to admit, but it is a story to be told. The best of intentions do not always come to fruition.

Our intentions though, are to somehow find the funding to make this dream a reality. As such, on this day of thanks, I have decided to donate my collection of African art to a foundation that would be able to hold a fundraising auction to raise the necessary funds for this community library. The TransCAP Foundation I work with in the USA is only chartered for health-related activities, so I am in search of an appropriate 501(c)3 charity that could receive this contribution, assist with an auction and help realize a place of learning in a poor Ghanian community. Suggestions or contact in this endeavour are most welcome.

Have a most blessed Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Why Africa?"

I get asked this so often.

Yes, you should definitely come to Ghana someday! Speaking as an American, I am probably like most people in the US - Africa was the last place on earth I had any desire to visit. But some years ago I had a ton of frequent flier miles that were going to expire, so I cashed them in for the maximum award - Johannesburg! I stayed there only for a couple days and then ventured across 6 countries in the next 6 weeks.

So it was really by accident that I went to Africa in the first place. But that one trip changed my life. I didn't think of going anywhere else after that, and when I finally traveled to the country of Ghana, I knew I had found a very special place indeed. I can't wait until I am able to sell my house in California and move there.

All we in the US know of Africa is what we see in the media, which focuses relentlessly on disease, poverty, warfare and all the ills that are certainly there. All that most people in Africa know of the US is what they see in the media, which is all glamor, riches, an easy life with little work, and all the good things that are to be enjoyed here.

Of course we know that homelessness and poverty and crime and other afflictions are in the US, but when I tell people in Africa about these things, they are astonished and sometimes even refuse to believe me, thinking that I am lying to keep them away.

When I first visited Africa, I saw with my own eyes that the life is more than the problems the media feeds us. Sure, all that exists, but there is so much more. Like the kindness and respect shown to each other, the tightly woven fabric of community, the greetings that everyone gives to each other in passing, the sharing and civility and joy of life.

The life isn't always easy in Africa, it isn't always comfortable, and it always isn't fair. And I believe there are those that would say these same things about life in the USA. I don't advise this path I am following for everyone. I will most likely I will have a shorter life if I am living there. But I honestly feel it will be infinitely richer.

Enjoy the pics....they are from my send-off party when I departed Ghana. That's a whole other story sometime!






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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Save a Life Today


I have returned from Ghana again, only for a quick business trip over the holidays to tend to projects. We were able to make donations of soccer gear to schools and medicine to the Korle-Bu Hospital Fevers Unit. Our community library project had it's groundbreaking. Four sets of holiday travelers were hosted by Easy Track Ghana.

But most important, the TransCAP Foundation established a new campaign to pay for anti-retriviral therapy for the members of the Brothers Keepers MSM HIV+ support group.

For only $5 per month, you can provide life-saving medicine to a person with HIV in Ghana. This is an important program, and once started, cannot stop. I urge you to make a regular contribution to this important charity. 100% of your contribution is used to purchase medicine.

Save a life here!
Here is my $60 to provide HIV medication to a person for a year ====> CLICK HERE


Here are a couple photos from the community library project that an Easy Track guest is funding. We had the groundbreaking in December and hope to have the project complete before the rains begin.





Saturday, October 24, 2009

R.I.P. My Friend

What has prompted me to write this post was a tragic event last week.

As you know, I do volunteer work in Ghana with an HIV prevention foundation based in the USA. Yesterday, one of the people I worked closest with passed away from complications of HIV and I am deeply saddened. So many people with HIV in Ghana (and other places) have no access to medicine.

My departed friend Augustus, as well as the other members of his support group, are treating themselves with Vitamin C and Selenium. It was very difficult for me to watch them line up and pool their little money to get the only “treatment” that they could afford.

He was a person who I could trust fully and was a selfless advocate for others. As President of the Brothers Keepers HIV+ support group, I watched him provide counseling, advice, education and sometime just a shoulder to cry on.

I will miss my friend very much when I return to Ghana this Christmas for 2 weeks of volunteering. He was a good man, working hard to help others. He was only 26 years old.

Sometimes it was not easy being in Ghana. The harshness of life and the tears of children and the demolished hopes of too many people can be difficult to witness so intimately. How can you speak optimistically to people who you know have no opportunity? How can you encourage hope in the future when there is no food on the table today?

For urban residents, the issue is money, not access. The life-saving drugs needed are at the hospital and other clinics. In the USA, if you do not have insurance, a one month supply of ARV therapy costs well over $1,000. In Ghana, because of pharmaceutical and governmental supports, this cost is $5. Sadly, even that is too much for many in need.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Wrap Up of My Year Living in Ghana

Well, it has been some months now since I last made a post here. I apologize to friends and strangers alike who may be reading. I have been suffering from re-entry into the USA. It has been very difficult.

I have had to depart my beloved Ghana and am now working in an office in California. I miss my bucket showers under the stars. I miss smiling faces and caring people. I miss greetings given by strangers that you pass on the street. Morning porrage for breakfast and no alarm clock.

Basically no clock period. On the equator, the days never change, so it is sunrise at 6AM and sunset at 6PM.....every day. And every day, you are surrounded by friendly, sharing, hospitable people. Even if they do not know you, they are quick to offer assistance and would give you the shirt off their back if you need a shirt - even if is the only shirt they own. Lives are tightly woven together and everyone helps each other to get by.

Sure, it was not always easy living in a compound house with 18 extended family members, no plumbing and only one pit toilet. But my family that I live with was always ready to do anything to keep me comfortable and healthy. I miss them so very much.

During my year living in Ghana I visited more schools than I can count. Through my work with the TransCAP Foundation (Transitional Center for AIDS Prevention), I was able to pass out school supplies, athletic equipment, essay awards, and even a few laptop computers. I have mentioned Pencil Day before, one of my favorite activities at schools. Just passing out pencils at a school would generate such excitement and joy you would think I was passing out $100 bills. I helped some with reading and computer skills too, with many a night interrupted by a young child asking for some computer time on my home machine, which I also used to help teach children.

I also met with health officials in the Ministry of Health and the Ghana AIDS Commission and visited a number of HIV prevention organizations and clinics. The message is broadcast everywhere in Ghana about being safe. Everyone knows their ABC's. Abstinance. Be faithful. Condomize. The message is there, but condoms are not easy to find or afford.

The infighting and political maneuvering and even ignorance among many of these groups was astonishing, and dashed any hopes I had for doing more serious work in this field. When an official at the Ministry of Health glares across his desk at you and boldly proclaims that "there is no AIDS in the north of Ghana", it feels like a hopeless situation. (The northern regions of Ghana are the poorest and the least served by institutions.) When NGO's are worried more about fighting other NGO's than fighting for the clients they serve, it is clear that priorities are not set correctly. I felt pretty much alone in my works on this front, doing what I could while trying to remain under the radar.

This is why I am so pleased with another project I worked on there. It is one of the best ways I personally have found to help. Rather than importing/exporting goods or trying to raise charitable contributions or even doing volunteer work, it seems best to invest in jobs. Jobs that bring money *into* Ghana would be better. Or jobs that bring people who have money. From there it was quick to see that a travel business stressing charitable giving would be a great way to bring relief into the very poor community where I live.....and Easy Track Ghana was born.

We are a community-based tour business in Ghana. Our staff comes from the shanty where I lived and we train raw talent to become certified guides and administrative staff. We offer opportunity in a place where there is very little opportunity. Bringing visitors to this area has a profound impact on them, and we have received many gifts to give to the community from our guests.

Our corporate responsibility is strong and we pay the salary for employees' time on this library project. We are proud to pay SSNIT (social security) and P.A.Y.E. (income tax) for our employees. We file corporate tax returns with the IRS in Ghana, unlike many of our competitors. It is our responsibility to help build a better Ghana.

While at the same time, we are providing memorable and exciting tours to our guests. The emails I get from visitors that have traveled with Easy Track have been outstanding. More than one visitor has told me that Easy Track Ghana has given them the best vacation of their life. I am so proud of each and every one of the Easy Track team.

In addition to being an awesome adventure and learning experience, this year in Ghana was truly one of the most rewarding events of my life. With jobs so scarce, the rule of thumb is that every employed person is helping support 10 family members that are not working. Supporting familes and the community by giving visitors tours of a lifetime - now that is win-win for all involved!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Want to learn some language?

Here are a couple videos that teach some simple words in two of the main languages in Ghana.

Twi is most widely spoken in the southern half of the country



How are you?E te sen?
My name is SastoYa fre me Sasto
My name is WisdomYa fre me Wisdom
My name is Steven
How are you?E te sen?
Please I am fine. And how are you?Me pow chow me ho ye. Nso ho ye?
I am fineMe ho ye
My name is Make StoneYa fre me Maker Stone
Stone, my name is StevenStone, ya fre me Steven
We are here to speak some small Twi today.....
Thank youMe da se
PleaseMe pow chow
Excuse meMe pow chow
White personObruni
Black personObibini
How are you?E te sen?
I am fineMe ho ye
How are you?Wo ho te sen?
I am fineMe ho ye
GoodbyeBye bye
EsiuWater
Where is ...?... wo ha?
Where is water?Esiu wo ha?
I want Ma me
I want waterMa me esiu
How much?Sen?
Excuse me, how much?Me pow chow sen?

500 = 50 pesewas
MoneySika
I do not have any moneySika e ni ho
WelcomeAkwaaba
Thank youMe da se
GoodbyeBye Bye
Byeeeee



Ewe is spoken in the Volta Region of esatern Ghana, and in southern Togo

WelcomeWoezo (pronounced "Way-zo")

Woezo lo

Thank youAkpe
PleaseMedekuku
Excuse meKafla
White personYevo (or Yevu)
Black personAmebo
How are you?E foa?
I am fineMe fo
Yes, I am fineE me fo
And how are you?Wo ha efoa?
I am fineMe fo
How is your spouseSra de? (for male or female)
My spouse is fineSra fo
How are the children?Deviwo de?
The children are fineDeviwo fo
How is the house?Afeame de?
The house is fineAfeame fo
OK, very goodYo, enyo nuto
WaterEshie
Where is ...?... fica de?
Where is water?Fica eshie
Thank youAkpe
I want waterMe legee eshie
How muchNini?
How much is waterEshie nini?
5 pesewas = 500
GoodbyeMiadogo
You come!Ya va!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Financial Headaches

Today’s post is about money. I know it is the subject that everyone around the world is talking about, so here is what is happening in Ghana.

For starters, the government is more interested with the spectacle of Parliament vetting the President’s ministerial nominees than actually running the country. During the Presidential election, the two main contenders kept arguing whether industrialized manufacturing was a plus or a minus on the economy here. That basically sums up the macroeconomic situation: No one knows. They really do not even know if the country is solvent.

Now, what the people on the street see are rapidly rising prices. Our currency here is called the cedi, pronounced “seedy”. It is falling faster than the Dow Jones, Nikkei, and DAX all combined.

Here is what the currency looks like:



I hope you think they are pretty notes. I may be able to wallpaper my room with them soon.

When I arrived in July 2008, the new cedi was just 1 year old and was basically equal to $1. Today, one cedi will get about $0.65. I have heard predictions that it will fall by up to 30% this year. And my stupid butt is sitting on a pile of cedis to buy my return air flight. Since I do not know when I am returning, I have no choice but to spend the cedis. Every day I hold them they become worth less.

What prompted this realization were two events just this past weekend. In taking a normal taxi route, I sent away 3 drivers who all were demanding what I knew to be an unfair amount. Finally, when the 4th driver also insisted on that same inflated amount, I gave in. The next day, Jessie and I went to the mall (ahhhhhh the cool cool Air Conditioning of the Accra Mall). I was starting to get a feel for the prices of things because I had been hanging out there as a meeting place with friends.

In the month since I was last there EVERYTHING had been re-priced about 20% higher.

Adding to this dismal exchange rate situation, we have an internal inflation rate of about 18% here, so holding cedis is just not an option. That figure comes from the World Bank, because obviously the government of Ghana would not have any idea.
The salary you negotiate at the start of the year is only holds 80% of its purchasing power by the end of one year.

How does one live in such a financial climate? Well, if you want cedis, the saving accounts at banks pay about %25 interest. For the longest time I could not figure out these signs in the bank windows advertising rates. Hahahaha.

Most people with any money at all would rather keep their savings in a foreign currency account that all banks offer. And forget about taking a loan. Interest on a loan is 30%. Yes, that is 30%.

You can also get loans that are US dollar-based. These loans are at the bargain rate of 12%. Anybody got any money you want to loan in Ghana?

I know I have some good economic scientist friends out there, so I am open to any suggesting on how to live in an inflationary economy with a falling currency. I almost want to take my pile of cedis and go buy a car or a house or just buy something that will hold some value.

But the housing market has not crashed here yet. Houses are still way overvalued, so I think I am 6 months to a year before being serious about looking for a house. I believe remittances (money send to Ghana by ordinary people) have dropped dramatically, and that was driving a lot of the housing and property speculation. People outside of Ghana (whether Ghanaian or not) were pumping a lot of money into Ghana to build retirement homes.

Houses can be built over the course of years here. Everywhere in the country you see half-built houses. It is the most secure bank there is. If you have some extra money, put it into a non-liquid asset that will hopefully one day come to fruition. The Ghanaians understand this and will sit tight. I think some of the Westerners will soon start looking to sell. I will let you know about the 2nd dream retirement home that I find. I’m taking the first one I find.

So I am going to end this now and go spend some cedis! I’ve lost money just writing this post! LOL

Hope to see you in Ghana soon!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Whoops.......I missed my flight!


How are you today my friends? I am doing great! I am STILL IN GHANA!! I decided to stay and was not on my return flight yesterday. It looked like it would be a major ordeal to find work in the USA right now. Since I have a decent, low-stress job here, I decided to stay a few months longer and hope for better options in the USA at a later date.


This is how I felt as my plane was departing without me!


No other pictures today, just an update to let you know not to expect me back in the USA so soon! Here is a link to the Easy Track photo album where yuo can see some other photos:
www.EasyTrackGhana.com/photogallery/_GALLERY/index.htm

Steve
www.EasyTrackGhana.com

Monday, January 05, 2009

Peaceful Election!

I am certain that you have heard some news about the Presidential election in Ghana. Here is my first-hand account of these roller-coaster days here in Ghana.

On December 7, there was a Presidential election, with the 2 main candidates receiving 0ver 95% of the total vote, but neither achieving th required 50% + 1. A runoff was declared for Dec 28, ruining the Christmas holiday for everyone.

During the runoff, the election was within 1%. It is a miniscule difference in the vote tally, occurring in a new democracy with a weak judicial system. British Airways immediately took action and re-routed at least one flight into Togo, the country to the east of Ghana.

Suddenly, the runoff results from another region started to magically change in favor of the party in power, the New Patriotic Party (NPP). The radio and TV journalists started screaming about how the party in power is stealing the election and changing vote counts. It was so blatant and obvious that the entire country was outraged, regardless of which party they belong to. One radio broadcast said that emergency law would be in force by nightfall on the day of the runoff, but that did not happen. The air was very tense with rumor and speculation running rampant.

At 1:00 PM on the day of this disputed run-off, all the shops started closing. Even the mall closed. There was great tension in the air, but don't worry. I was always quite safe and knew that nothing bad will happen near me. I live in an area that is perhaps 80% opposition supporters.

The supposed 2PM announcement from the Electoral Commission never happened. It seemed like every journalist and every police officer in the country was at the Electoral Commission. Around 4:45PM all the TV stations started showing music-videos and re-runs of popular reality TV shows, abandoning their near non-stop election coverage. It was very freaky, and for the first time, I thought that something may happen.

Radio Gold, which was one of the more outspoken radio stations said that they would stay on the air talking until the Electoral Commission reports. If you hear music, they said, then we know a takeover has happened. The whole area I am in was just going crazy. Jessie's mom came to the door while we were watching the TV waiting for results and said that guns were being passed out at the NDC party headquarters, the opposition party that was having the election stolen from them. Of course that was just a nonsense rumor, but it shows the type of wild rumors that fly about and inflame people greatly.

Shortly thereafter, election covereage resumed and the Electoral Commission announced the results of 229 of the 230 constituencies in Ghana. The run-off was too close, with the opposition having 50.13% of the vote, and the party in power having 49.87%.

It was like Bush vs Gore all over again. The one outstanding constituency (think Florida) experienced flawed voting. So the Electoral Commission has announced that this one constituency will vote for a third time on January 2 - and that they will decide who becomes President.

At first when the percentages were announced, the entire area erupted with joy. Then as the news conference progressed, indicating that the vote was not over, great anger swept the crowd. The emotions that this election have stirred are intense, but everyone here always talks about making a peaceful election.

I went out with Jessie to walk the streets after the press conference. The streets calmed somewhat. There have been HUGE rallies at party headquarters and at the Electoral Commission. All peaceful. Everyone here is excited and anxious, but everyone also is insisting that this be a peaceful election.

Yesterday was the Tain re-run of the runoff election. Tain is the constituency that has to vote again. A giant throng of people descended on Tain for the special re-vote. Tain is mostly a backwater, so this is more attention than they have ever received. Police, military, media, voting observers, international observers, party officials and party supports from everywhere. It was a complete circus.

In the intervening days between the run-off and the special run-off in Tain, rumors I heard indicated that even NPP supporters in Tain were angry with the NPP's refusal to concede the election and were going to boycott the special re-vote. So the NPP, in it's infinite wisdom, decided to officially boycott the special runoff in Tain and is suing the Electorial Commission. Not one NPP official was on hand at any polling place.

The courts immediately rejected all legal actions brought by the losing party and the result was a devastating loss, with the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) receiving 94% of the vote. Previously Tain was much more evenly split.

The NPP Presidential candidate refused to concede, and again the country was feeling tense. Many of the Ministers of the party in power (NPP) came out and indicated that they support the change in power, most importantly the Minister of Defense. This was reassuring to most people because they took such a message to indicate that if the party in power tries to steal this election, the army will step in to prevent it. The current President indicated that he was ready to hand over power, again reassuring the people.

Apparently only one person in all of Ghana was refusing to accept the results. That is the Presidential candidate himself, Nana Akufor-Addo. I always believed he would do the right thing for Ghana, but the people of Ghana were not so sure. A giant crowd of people carrying sticks went to Radio Gold and surrounded the building. (Guns are illegal to posess in Ghana, and gun violence is extremely rare.) Tension was plenty, but there was no violence.

Finally the day after the Tain vote, the Electoral Commission certified the Presidential vote, and my entire neighborhood erupted. I safely walked the streets and enjoyed the great mass of people and celebration.


Eventually the losing candidate, who's father was once President of Ghana, conceded defeat. All is calm now and the entire country is breathing a sigh of relief. The new President takes office on Jan 7. I hope his transition team is ready! The winning candidate was once Vice-President, so he will be able to assume the office quickly.

In Africa, things are rarely clean and neat, but Ghana should be proud of this wonderful election. Ghana has been able to show the world how an emerging democracy can peacefully handle a crisis. One again, Ghana is setting a shining example for Africa. The journalists here also should receive special merit for their coverage and openness. I believe that it was the free press in Ghana that actually saved the day here.

This has been fascinating and exciting to watch unfold. But do not worry, all is safe and calm and nothing bad is going to happen. As you know, democracy is not always clean, and especially in a very young democracy there will be moments that test the people and her rulers. This has been such a moment for Ghana and I have seen clearly how the people of Ghana, when walking to the brink of anarchy, chose a different path and resolved this crisis with great peace and professionalism. Congratulations to Ghana!



Sunday, December 28, 2008

Election Fever!

Yeaaaaa! Bandwidth today! Enjoy the photos.

Election Fever
Tomorrow is the Presidential runoff election in Ghana. It has been a hotly contested Presidential race, with neither of the top two candidates gaining the needed 50% + 1 to become President. So now we have the runoff, and tension is high. It did not feel like Christmas at all because everyone is only thinking of the election.

Professor Atta Mills is the candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). He was vice-president 8 years ago, during the last change of political power here, when
the NDC peacefully turned over power to the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Nana Akufor-Addo is the NPP candidate, a former UN ambassador who talks like The Godfather.

Yesterday the Undersecretary of African Affairs arrived from Washington DC. It was the first time I have seen a USA government official on TV here. Whereas the Chinese ambassador to Ghana in on the TV at least once a week. I see a New World Order shaping here. Unfortunately all across Africa there a HUGE expectations that President Obama is going to change America's relationship with Africa. I try hard to lower these expectations, but he is a Super Star here.



I am confident that this will be a peaceful runoff in Ghana. Both parties are working very hard and are renting every bus in Ghana to get people to their proper polling places. During the election before the runoff, I visited 4 polling places. One was spectacularly chaotic, while the other 3 were calm and relaxed.

Sadly, with the runoff being so late, the newly elected President will have only 1 week for transition to the turn over of office on 07 Jan. This has been an amazing election to witness. It *almost* makes up for me missing Obama's election in the USA.

So, on another note, let me tell you that the Harmatten arrived today. I write a lot in this blog about the weather because it is the harshest thing about living here (for me). The Harmatten winds are a horrific weather phenomenon that arrives here around Christmas. It is a dry, hot, dusty wind that blows across the Sahara for hundreds of miles, unobstructed. Then when it leaves the Sahara, the wind stops, but the air carries the dry dirt and dust for hundreds more miles, finally reaching Accra at the coast. At first you only notice your eyes and sinuses and throat are irritated. Then the next day, the sun is noticeably dim and the entire sky hazy. Finally, on a bad Harmatten day (which thankfully does not happen every year) it is like a thick London or San Francisco fog - except it is dust! It has not been bad yet, but it can last all the way through the end of January. In the northern regions, it is much worse.

My return ticket to the USA is 21 January, so I know I will be ready to get away from the Harmatten, but I will be a total wreck on the day I depart Ghana. This is a wonderful place with wonderful people and it has taught me much about life and, in the process, unalterably changed my life. It is not nearly as comfortable as life in California, but it is infinitely rewarding to the soul.

I plan to return to Ghana before June 2009.

The unfortunate thing is that after 5 months working towards a Residency Permit, I am *still* waiting on some stupid bureaucratic nonsense. Two months ago I was certified for an "automatic Residency Permit" because I have founded a business here. However, this "automatic" permit requires that I wait for a letter of approval which every week I am told is coming.

TIA....TIA....TIA.....This Is Africa

It is a good bandwidth day at the cafe, so here are a couple more photos. Remember the student Helen Tekpor that I mentioned in a previous post? She was one of the
winning students in the TransCAP essay contest but was unable to receive her prize because of the death of her mother. She is now living with her aunt, but We were finally able to find her. Here is a photo of her reaction when we showed at the school where she now lives. She was the Big Woman On Campus that day, and probably for a long time thereafter.

Here are shots from a couple other schools:




Here is a photo of the construction of the Easy Track office. Unfortunately, the concept of a 'home office' is not acceptable to the bureaucrats, so we had to build a
separate room next to the house. Jessie did a great job making a cool space. All who enter ask me if there is air conditioning. HAHAHA! I can only dream of such luxury!

Here I am with Jessie's mum Anti, wearing my new dress on Christmas. I love it. My family is so good to me here. We had a GIANT feast for Christmas - a wonderful salad
with fresh fruits and vegetables and pasta, jollof rice with beef, and fufu with groundnut soup. Normally this much food will last 3 days in the house. The children played and there was singing and dancing. Later we all watched "Kung Fu Hustle" which I had brought with me. They all loved it.

OK, I will post again soon. Have a GREAT NEW YEAR! It is an enormous party here, so I am off to enjoy now.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Greetings from Ghana

I have been in Ghana for 3 months now, and the life here has been wonderful so far. It has not always been easy or comfortable or spent in good health, but fortunately these inconveniences pass quickly and are overwhelmed by the sheer joy of life here that everyone shows every day. The good nature, cheerfulness and hospitality demonstrated by all people in Ghana are astonishing to me. Even more so, considering the difficulties and harshness of life here.

I have managed to travel some while here and that has been great. I’ve been to the Volta River region (my favorite), all along the Atlantic coast, inland to mountain villages and waterfalls and rock formations, and even to Togo. This travel has involved a lot of research and training too. I have been organizing a community-based travel services company in Ghana, and these trips have been intense training for new staff.

But a problem happened along the way……the Western economies crashed, and it suddenly became a poor time to organize a new business venture around expensive discretionary leisure spending. All the Americans in our pipeline canceled almost all at once. We still have at least one confirmed booking per month for 4 of the next 5 months, but the anticipated 4.5% annual growth in Ghanaian tourism for the next decade now seems like a distant dream.

Jessie is out this week traveling with a German who has been living in Nigeria for the past 20 years. I’m jealous because this client is traveling luxury, so they are enjoying great food, ice cubes in cold drinks, nice swimming pools and AIR CONDITIONING! We even had to go out and find a different car to rent for him. He has loads to spend and our 4X4 is not to his standards. A friend is renting us his luxury 4X4 for $60/day, which is a great bargain.

I ran into the German with Jessie and Sasto in the area yesterday. They had brought him to the neighborhood just to walk around and see and meet family. I was walking back to the house with some food I bought at the roadside, so I was finally able to use the line I hear so often myself: “White Man, how are you?” We all laughed and walked back to the house together. They all told me about the great day they had had and all the sights they went to. The German seemed like a very satisfied client.

It was the first time another white has seen how I am living. Jessie said the German was asking a lot about me and how I am living here. I have seen a number of other whites come and go while I have been here. They will be in the area for a few days, staying with a local family, and then they are gone.

My life here at the house is far far different from that luxury life. I have been really blessed by the weather since I have been here. When the stone was presented at the voodoo hajj in Glidji, Togo (see previous blog posting), people said that the color of the stone indicated that it would be cold and rain. Well, the stone got it correct. It has been blessedly cool with light rains to cool things more. The few days that have been cloudless, windless and sunny have been days that force me to seek refuge in some shade somewhere. But even when cool, the tropical humidity is intense and just a short walk is a sweat-drenching activity.

The worst thing is that it seems I am living in the hottest house in Ghana. Where I stay, it is impossible to stay inside the room from 10AM until 4PM during a sunny day. Other houses I have visited, while hot, are not nearly what I experience in my room. I could bake break in my room during the day. The office where I work at the Department of the Controller and Accountant General is blasting with arctic cold air. Some days I actually look forward to going into work.

For me here, ‘work’ involves about 5 hours a week (and 6 additional hours of commute time) giving instruction and management to a team of software developers working to develop the government’s new payroll processing software. For this, I receive $1,800 per month, which gives me a decent life here. Not a great life that would allow me to go party every night and enjoy the fine things here, but I don’t need that. To have a life with maximum comforts like the USA, you really need a USA salary. It is very expensive here if you are living on the top side of the economy.

This job I have could be extended for up to 5 years. I am tempted to forget about my return flight to the USA in January.

Listening to me talk about my job, I don’t want you to think that I am doing nothing. My other jobs are intense and take up a lot of my time. The schools I have been working with have been amazing. While children will be children and act up sometimes, these young boys and girls are always respectful and polite. One of the best things has been having a donated laptop computer with some learning software on it. With only one laptop, I have to severely ration computer time, and the students are attentive and eager to learn. It is just basic instruction without Internet connectivity. Sometimes children even show up at my door in the evening to beg for some time on the laptop.

Internet connectivity is available via a wireless modem through various mobile services. The one I have been using is slow and expensive, so I bought a different service that is supposedly faster. Sadly, when at my house, it did not work at all. I was told by technical support that a tower has fallen and the re-routing has left me in a dead zone. It will be fixed any day now, I am told. That means sometime after I return to the USA. TIA TIA TIA

My favorite activity with the schools is what I call Pencil Day. It is nothing more than taking boxes of pencils to a school and handing each student one or two pencils. You would not believe the excitement and joy that this simple act elicits. You would think I am passing out $100 bills. It seems like the entire school is jumping up and down and screaming.

If just a pencil generates such emotion and gratitude, then imagine how I felt on the days that I award essay writers with prizes of $120 paid to their school for their tuition and supplies. Sometimes it is difficult not to let tears come to my face when I see the impact that this award will have on a life. The students also sometimes have a hard time controlling tears, but people here are taught to never cry, so while I have seen some misty eyes, I have yet to see a tear falling. When I meet the parents, I also see the immense gratitude for this substantial burden being eased for a short time.

I have to travel to Winneba next week for one of the award winning students. During the school break, her mother died, and she has moved to live with her aunt. Since I give the award money directly to the school where the student is enrolled, I need to travel to the village of the aunt to find this school. Keep Helen Tekpor in your thoughts as she deals with this difficult period in her life.

My other job, trying to build a travel services business, has been the most time consuming. It is a lot of time on the computer, answering queries, building our web site, writing all the documents and spreadsheets, preparing tour proposals. It is also a lot of time in meetings, both with hotel owners as well as staff development. In Africa, the culture here is that it is a huge insult to require a precise accounting of funds. Supposedly it is because if you ask for the precise accounting of funds, you are accusing a person of dishonesty. … Hmmmm... Well, the dishonesty that is everywhere in the system is exactly why a precise accounting is needed from my staff.

Eventually, after numerous attempts to explain why, one of the guys named Sasto came to understand the importance of the expense report as a tool that allows us to better plan for the future.

Looking at the future seems to be a terribly difficult concept for people to grasp here. But when Sasto got it, he was able to explain to the others from his own mouth, and they all quickly came into line. All it takes is to convince one person, and then the others will follow.

Fate and God rule your life. That is what people think here. People have difficulty planning because they see it as an insult to God’s plan that He has already made for you. How can you attempt to change what is your fate, which apparently is believed by many to be set in concrete. I have heard stories of taxi drivers, when heading for imminent crash, will remove their hands from the steering wheel and their feet from the brake, and cry out to God for His mercy in what His plan has coming in the next instant. I heard this story from the passenger, who was able to grab the steering and quickly run the car into a ditch.

It is a very different place, Africa. If not for the weather and the expense, it would be an easy decision to remain here. Sadly, Accra is now ranked as the most expensive city to live in all of Africa. The discovery of oil has super-charged the economy and widened the gap between rich and poor. When I first visited 3 years ago, the largest currency denomination was equivalent to $2 and there were no coins in circulation. Now the largest denomination is equivalent to $50 and the poor live only on newly re-introduced coins. History shows that oil discovery is terribly destabilizing to a country, especially when the wealth is not distributed widely.

I live in a poor place, and getting paid $1,800 makes me really rich. That is 2,000 Ghana cedis. When I cash my paycheck at the bank, I usually get all 20 cedi notes, which are like having no money at all in my area because no one can change a 20. I will flash my 20 to show I have money, the vendor cannot break it, so I take what I want to buy on credit. Eventually my balance gets to the point that I have to walk to a gas station or a popular bar to cash a 20 and pay my debts. When the debt is paid, if there are any small coins or currency remaining, that is quickly taken for food or water when I return to the house. Today I do not have the 0.40 that I need to take the bus to work and cannot get a 20 changed, so I have to miss work because of this. This is Africa, and that is a perfectly acceptable reason for missing work, even at a government ministry. So no problem. I get to write email while still collecting a salary.

Tomorrow is another day of stress for me. I must return to my bank to again inquire as to the delay in receiving the documents I need to apply for my residency permit. I cannot believe what a fantastic hassle this has been.

I have to decide how much I am really going to take back and how much I will leave to run the business when I return to the USA. With the economy as it is, I am not as confident as when I departed about being able to find a well-paying position upon my return.

If I return.........

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Student Essay




Here is a copy of one of the student essays. TransCAP sponsored an essay contest on the topic "How To Improved the Health in My Area". This is one of the outstanding essays we received. The three best boy authors and the three best girl authors received an award to pay for their school fees for 2 terms, about $125. Click on the image to get a larger view.