So far, so good! Although I must say it is very different here. Steve and the kids have adapted and are taking things in stride more easily than I am, I think. Although, I’m doing fine and having fun, certainly. Every morning is an adventure. I’ll give you a quick run-down on things so far.
We arrived uneventfully – in fact, the flight was almost delightful. American to London which was cramped, but we left at 11:30pm so we just slept anyway. 3 hours in London, then British Air (which is MUCH nicer than American) to Accra, another 8 hour flight. That flight was mostly during the day, so we could see the sights – very interesting! The Sahara is HUGE – I swear we were over it for 3 hours, at least. Light brown sand, the occasional road, but no sign of people otherwise. Wow. I’m so glad the terrorist stuff hadn’t happened yet – we would have had a hard time with no hand luggage and no liquids (bug spray, suntan lotion)!
We arrived uneventfully but of course things are different here. We got our 12 (!) pieces of luggage, were met by embassy folks (the first time I’ve been met at the airport with someone holding my name on a card – yea for me!), and went to our hotel out of town. The sights along the road were pretty culture-shockish for me – a lot like Mexico really, but I kept thinking “I live here now!”
The hotel was O.K. – the grounds were nice – good pool, good restaurant, right on the beach with nice little covered tables overlooking the water where we could play cards, or eat, etc. You could also go outside the gate to the beach, which we did quite a bit (Anna is addicted to building sand castles), but it was VERY dirty. We learned to wait until after 10am for them to have cleared the garbage that washed up the night before – but, always there was new garbage rolling in. After some investigation we learned the dump was right next door – but, that just made it a little worse – mostly you have to travel about an hour West of Accra to get away from the garbage on the beach – we hope to do that sometime soon. Steve and Wes & Grace did do a little wave jumping, but you’re really amongst floating plastic bags, etc., and the undertow is fierce – we’re told not to go in over the waist anywhere along the coast – but even that allows good wave-jumping and body surfing. I didn’t brave the floating garbage (another reason I’m anxious to explore the cleaner beaches farther down the coast). On the beach people are very friendly, some a little too, some wanting to sell you things or take you on a “tour”, but often people just want to chat. At the beach outside the hotel we met Enuk and his two little cousins – Enuk is 15 (Wesley’s age) and his Dad is a pastor. We went to their church the first Sunday in Ghana, a fun and interesting experience – lots of singing and line-dancing– a little hard to understand as Enuk’s Dad does not speak English well – both the accent and the fact that many adults don’t speak English well is surprising to me – it can be hard to communicate, but, we’re getting used to it. After church they invited us to their home, which was very nice of them. Although clearly they didn’t have much money, they went across the way to buy us cokes and meat pies. Hospitality is big here. We had a nice visit – Enuk’s Mom and youngest sibling (Steve, who was 3) stayed outside in the “kitchen”. So we chatted with Enuk’s Dad, his younger sister, a friend who was visiting from Nigeria, and Enuk’s little cousins from the beach were there as well. Enuk came to visit us at the hotel several times, to swim or play soccer (football) on the beach. Our first Ghanaian friends.
We stayed at the hotel until last Friday – a few days longer than expected since our apartment was not ready. In fact, it fell through. The Ashesi folks were very embarrassed about the whole thing – even more so because Ashesi is trying to create a different sort of Ghana, not the ‘business as usual’ which results in agreements not being met. Anyway, they contracted the apartment last April, as soon as they knew for sure I was coming (I think the building was to house other faculty and staff as well), signed the agreement, paid a full years’ rent (which is how it’s done here). As they were going by to check on it in preparation for us moving in just a few weeks ago, they found someone else living there – turns out the guy leased it to someone else out from under us, someone who paid two years in advance! I guess this is business as usual here (see my note on my initial thoughts on Ashesi on the blog). Ashesi should be getting their money back – lawyers are working on that – but in the meantime, no apartment. They want us to be in walking distance (so do we!), but all that are available at this later date are very large houses, so, oh well, we’ll be taking one of those. I saw it briefly – 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths. It’s larger than our Texas house (which I think is pretty large). It was not intended to be this way, but it’s how it has worked out. In general, though, if you have money (which means at least one decent salary) you live pretty well here (we think, but we’ll see how it all settles out). In fact, if you have money you are expected to hire those who don’t – there is no welfare system or social security, so those with money hire or give money to those who don’t. It has been suggested that it is not only O.K., it is your duty, to give money to the infirmed/maimed beggars – they have no other means.
The money is unusual for us. The largest note is 20,000 cedis (“see-dees”) which is worth a little over 2 dollars. So, for example when Steve goes to cash a several hundred dollar check this morning, he will have a backpack full of money (cedis). It’s disconcerting for us, but we’re told that the city is quite safe – muggings are very unusual, typically only at night at the bar areas, and even then very unusual – one of the safest cities in the world, they say. Credit cards are generally not accepted – if they are, then they tack on a 5% fee, and even if they say they do, if their machine isn’t working then they don’t.
Last Friday we moved to the Ashesi student apartments, to save some money for the University (they were paying our hotel bill after Aug 1). It is nice to have more space – it is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment on the 4th (top) floor of what is now the only student apartment building. They are getting another building ready as well – they will have almost 100 new students this term, 300 total. They used to have faculty and staff on the 4th floor of this building permanently, but now they need all the space for students. But right now the building is largely empty since school is not in session. It’s nice to be closer into Accra – the hotel was a $6 and 30-60 min taxi ride in or out of Accra – the traffic could be horrendous. Traffic – that’s another topic.
Maybe I’ll blog on traffic, and mosquitos, later. The apartment is fine – probably closer to what we were expecting than the large house we’ll be getting. But, problematic in several ways – the noise for one – car horns (they honk all the time), music and partying, roosters – an interesting (and loud, did I mention that?) mix of noises. We’re on a busy circle. We’d get used to it, certainly, if this was to be our final destination, but it will be nice to be in a somewhat quieter and less smoggy/smoky area (the street vendors cook on wood fires at their little stands, so that and the car exhaust together with the heat can be a bit much). We’re also just ready to settle – I’m tired of not knowing where something is – we’re mostly just each still living out of one suitcase, although we’ve dipped into others now and again to find things we really needed.
Last week was professor and teaching assistant orientation at Ashesi. I met lots of folks, all very nice – it will be a great place to work! I met another American who has been in Accra for 5 years, at Ashesi 2. She is the school psychologist and also teaches org behavior and another class. She has a 14 year old boy, although he goes to a different school than our kids will go to. She told us about the American church and we went there on Sunday – the kids LOVED it. They were bombarded afterward with kids their approximate ages, wanting to make friends. Wesley (going by Fox these days) and Grace will go to their youth group on Saturday – they are starved for friends. In fact, Steve and kids just came by to drop off my last 2 boxes of books that arrived at the Embassy, and then are on their way to horseback riding with some of the kids they met at church – at the same place Steve learned to ride when he was here in 1968/9!
Ashesi University will be a good place to work, I am sure. I haven’t yet met my office mate, with whom I will co-teach one of the courses. I also need to figure out exactly what is expected of me – it appears that in the syllabus they want all assignments and due dates up front, which is not how I’m used to doing things, since I typically assign weekly homework and it can depend on how far we’ve gotten. I also don’t know the level of the students (although both classes will be juniors I think 2008’s they call them), but am assured that I should make my classes as tough here as in at Southwestern – they are really wanting to be as rigorous as the top US schools. Not hard for me! Another different thing here – final exams will be evaluated by an outside expert – typically in the UK or US. When I questioned it they say it’s a system left over from colonial days. But, seriously, at the end of each term I have to submit the syllabus for the class, a copy of the exam, and then the University samples some of the graded finals and an outside evaluator determines if I have fairly assessed the students in the class. Wow.
School for the kids looks good – Steve took them to tour the place and register last week. Unfortunately I was at orientation at Ashesi and couldn’t attend. They seem very happy, and are anxious for school to start (next week). But, Wesley and Grace still have summer homework/reports to finish! They are getting bored, and beg to go to the internet café every day. We’re doing a lot of waundering and exporing which can be fun and exciting dotted with boring (grocery shopping, or towel shopping, or just walking around) and overwhelming (we went to the public market Saturday – probably 100’s of thousands of people – I saw one other white couple – so we stand out, to say the least, and some large percentage of the people, vendors and just other shoppers, would call out to us or stop us to say hi, etc). Grace got her hair braided yesterday, you can see more photos at our Yahoo Photos Page