New Year, New Beginnings

File 2016-01-06 16 00 01Something about being human just clicks with new beginnings. They are chances to redeem our (wicked) ways and start fresh, kick off some new habits, become more productive and more…ourselves? As a educationist, the new year is not so much a new beginning compared with end of August when the new SCHOOL YEAR, but alas, I take what I can get.

This year, I aim to transform in the following six ways:

  1. Back to paper. There has just been too much screen time in my life lately. This needs to stop and one way of edging closer to this goal is my new paper calendar (see photo above). I always had one and stopped only a few years back when tech savvy friends were laughing at my Filofax.
  2. End justifies the means. No excuses towards the road to impact. I have a few fields I want to influence the world and nothing shall stop me. I will not need cheer or public acclaim, I just want my heart’s desire: to make a small impact with my short life.
  3. Less driving, more fun. After my car broke down last year, I had to live without it – and in some ways it was great. Yes, it does add uncomfortable minutes and sometimes hours to my commute, but also relaxation, connection and saving of resources.
  4. Dinner parties. I just love them, so why not have a few more of them in my life?
  5. Delegation. I want to do a lot so delegation becomes key. That means letting go of control and perfection for the benefit of more production and more time with my children at home, meanwhile the party must go on.
  6. More personal blogging. The trial I started last year went so well: both in terms of positive feedback and how writing the more personal posts make me feel.
  7. Charging for appearances. I have done my last free (non-academic) appearance. From now it costs money to hear me talk! I guess this is a version of delegation and getting stuff done. I had a few bad experiences with saying yes to free gigs last year, and will have none of that this year!

What are your new beginnings? And do let me know, if you want to attend a dinner party of mine! 

The Ashaiman Spring, BBC Africa Debate and African New Middle Class

Ashaiman collage

On Monday, drivers in the town of Ashaiman started a protest against the horrible state of the roads in the community. Daily Graphic reports that as early as 5 am, protesters had blocked the roads and by 6 am they had reahed the Tema motorway, taking over toll booths and blocking traffic to and fro Accra.

What is Ashaiman? It is a residential town where many workers of Tema (the industrial city) and Accra (the capital of Ghana) live. Although rent is cheaper here than in the neighbouring cities, many of Ashaiman’s inhabitants have to endure long hours of commuting. Although its population is twice that of Tema, it was only 5 years ago it got its own municipal district and local assembly.

Every day on my way home to Tema, I have to cross the traffic queues leading to Ashaiaman that is situated on the other side of the Tema motorway from where I live. Only crossing Ashaiman traffic many times takes upwards 20-30 minutes. As I later breeze in the opposite direction, I see people walking towards Ashaiman moving faster than the traffic all the way to the central part of Tema.

The MP of the area, Alfred Agbesi and the Municipal Chief Executive, Numo Adinortey Addison were accused by the demonstrators of not doing their jobs – providing better roads! – but could, according to the same newspaper, “not be reached for their comments”. However, the newspaper also reported “policemen and soldiers managed to bring the situation under control after 4 hours of violent protest…[and] would offer 24-hour patrol to residents and commuters”.

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Today, I took part in the internationally broadcast BBC Africa Debate together with a delegation from Ashesi University College. The background of the debate “Can the middle class drive growth?” was both Obama’s travel to the continent, supposedly to augment trade, and the African Development Bank’s report on the New African Middle Class (PDF). Interestingly, the AfDB’s definition is people who spend 2-20 USD/day per capita. That means, just after the poverty level (less than 2 USD/day) comes now “middle-income”. This was debated along with what government needs to do and what we as individuals can do.

During the debate, the recent Ashaiman demonstration, called “the Ashaiman Spring” by some, was not mentioned, but maybe it should have been? Here we have people who have jobs, pay taxes, dutifully go to work everyday even when it means hours in traffic morning and evening – but not benefitting much.

All public amenities in Ghana need back-ups: water (buckets and poly tanks), education (private school if you can afford), health (herbal traditional medicine or private health insurance), electricity (candles, batteries and generators), waste collection (burning in your backyard), but poor roads are difficult to create your own private alternative for…

The representative from the AfDB concluded the debate by graciously admitting their definition of middle-class only talks about spending, but does not include living costs. We are many who know by experience that living a middle-class life in Ghana demands much more than a middle-class income and plenty of patience…

Listen to Ghana Connect on JOY FM Friday 28 June at 6.30- 7.00 PM for more on the “Ashaiman Spring” and BBC, 7 PM GMT for the full debate!

 

Street “Hawkers” in Ghana, Handiwork and Child Labor

I just came back from a weekend in the Western Region and really enjoyed my time there! On the way back, we stopped a few times along the road to stock up on different food items. Our first stop was Elmina, where we bought crabs.

The street vendors or “hawkers” as they are referred to in Ghana catch these crabs and then tie them in sets of 8 to a large grass straw. How you tie a live crab is beyond me, but it is exquisite, beautiful handiwork! 

 

Crabs and numerous other things you can buy from your car. Many times, just like you see in the collage above, the items are sold by children. In Ghana, 1 million children do this type of job according to the International Labour Organisation.

But that is a different blog post…

A Day at the Car Shop

This morning, I rushed out early to just fix “the alignment” of the car, something that is needed often here because of all the potholes which makes the steering wheel…dis-aligned, I guess.

However, it turned out to not be alignment, balancing or any wheel related issue that made my steer shake when braking, but the BRAKES! Yikes!

So, I decided brakes are important and called in a replacement for my 11 am class. I think I said:

“I might not be in at all”, suggesting not until 12.30.

Haha, big understatement!

After visiting with two vulcanizers, two car shops, meeting a chief and his cool American car, getting to know everybody on the wooden bench where I waited (including a poetic but jobless mechanic, a muslim mechanic buying prayer CDs from bearded guy, a few other customers – mostly men and a talkative supervisor) , pacing up and down, eating a FanIce, asking a few (ok, many) times how much longer it would be, drinking two bottles of water and discovering there was no washroom, after using all my Twi vocab,

“Enye easy koraaa!”

Finally, I was calling to cancel my afternoon appointments and buying some biskit to eat, trying to think about the anthropological importance of  “my corner” to cheer myself up.  I was out by quarter to 4.

Just in time for afternoon traffic.

But at least with good breaks.

>New Ghana Road Tolls Today

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The increase in road tolls in Ghana takes effect today.

A regular car that used to pay 5 pesewas is now paying 50 p, a heavier car like a pick-up or trotro which used to pay 8p now pay 1 GHC (or about 70 US cents). That is an increase of 900% and 1150%!

Since I moved to Ghana three years ago, there has not been any increase in tolls, so I guess it was long overdue. The amount can of course be discussed. At present, maintenance is minimal on motorways and highways. This means street lights rarely work, potholes sometimes resemble craters and abandoned broken-down vehicles can be found anywhere, yes even on the fast lane of the motorway! It seems clear money is needed to make roads in Ghana safer.

However, as the toll increase was published in the newspapers last week, no reason was given for it, no promises were made, no connections were made with above stated problems. We were just informed through newspaper ads that “The Ghana Road Fund under the auspices of Ministry of Roads and Highways…solicits the cooperation of Motorists to comply with payment of the new tolls at the various toll collection facilities”. Information was published in newspapers, but for a 1000% increase, is that enough? I was surprised that there was little discussion about it.

Because even though, something clearly needs to be done about Ghana’s roads, the effects of this increase in tolls become almost like a tax on commuting. With a congested capitol, maybe that is not the best measure… For me who commute to Accra using the Tema motorway my monthly costs is up by 18 GHC or a little less in USD. That’s in a country where average monthly salary is about 160 GHC per month (1326 USD per year in 2007 according to Gapminder).

Just now, Joy FM is reporting that some people are refusing to pay and there is chaos at the toll booths at Tema motorway.

Hence, short term, this toll has made it more difficult to get to work. Still, I’m cautiously hopeful about the long-term improvements.

Pic: A trotro pays its tolls at the Ashaiman/Tema toll station last week, most likely happily unaware of the changes of today.

>Ghana Map Online

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The disappointment of Google Maps (top pic) and others to cover the Afrian continent has been unaddressed for some time, but now there is Africa on Map (second pic). I have played around with it and it seems to have mapped Accra quite well, there is the possibility of getting (not fully accurate) directions and opportunity to list real estate.

Interesting indeed. Since information, about basically everything is scarce here, I belive good online maps could be of good use. Currently, directions are given in the style of “adjacent to…” or “opposite of…” using land marks rather than road names which makes the threshold of understanding directions quite high. For starters being able to easily print/email maps of locations would make it much, much easier to drive around town and find clubs, stores and friends’ houses!


In the maps above I have asked for Kotoka Airport in Accra.

>Thankful in Traffic

> In the quite chaotic Ghanaian traffic there are a number of things that brighten my day. These days we tend to mostly complain about the many car crashes, the traffic jams, people failing to adhere to traffic rules and regulations or the regulators of the traffic flows being outright silly.

As a counter balancing act I here will list my favorite elements of the Ghanaian traffic, you are welcome to add to it!

1. People are friendly and will let you in to any queue, no matter how slowly it moves, if you give a sign like twitching your headlights or raising your eyebrows.
2. Funny vehicles like the pearly white Mercedes with the Registration “JESUS 1” (Oh Lord, won’t you buy me…), the itsy-bitsy small truck that is loaded with chocolate (Think Ompa-Lompas) or the hot pink pick-up (Barbie’s car!).
3. If you make a mistake, there is room for it, because mistakes happen all the time…
4. When reversing out from a tight spot there is always someone there to direct you.
3. FAVORITE The random messages displayed in the back windows of the public transport Tro-tro’s, like the one in the picture above, “THEY ACT AS LOVERS”.

What do you make of that?

Im clueless. Is it an accusation? A biblical message? A warning to the public? A general statement being true in different situations?

Thinking about this I have a happier and even a bit thankful drive to work.

>Driver’s Licence News

>On Thursday I wrote the theory exam for the third time.

For some reason, the test was scheduled to take place in the new buildings for the licencing authorities instead of in a school as the other times. When we get there and some 35 of us are ushered into a unfinished concrete block, no windows or doors put in, no tables and chairs, animals grazing outside, it is like they know I am hoping to get a blogpost out of this experience.

And it only gets better: the crafty driving instructors help the licencing folks to carry benches into the “room” and soon they have also found a few tables. Women clean them with their hankies and quietly take their seat. We sit three and three on a bench and after 20 minutes everybody also have a table or a hardback book for writing support.

The licencing officer gives instructions on a woodboard someone found outside and a nice breeze comes through the, erhm window-openings.

After 30 minutes I am done. Hoping I have done the writing for the very last time I pass a rooster on my way out.

So Yesterday, I call my driving school and finally get some good news – I have passed. Now, my instructor says in a happy voice, all you have to do is to wait for your practical exam date. And so this morning I get a call from the licencing office:

– Madam, April 16th at 8 am you have your practical test.

I don’t know if to laugh (because I have gotten this far) or cry ( wait seven weeks more…).

What do you think? Will I ever obtain my Ghanaian driver’s licence? Comments go below.

>Give Way

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-So Kajsa, how is your driving going?

Well, that is a long story, unfortunately including:

… eight dangerous and crowded practicals where tree fellow driving students sit in the back seat, mind you WITHOUT seatbelts, whilst I drive. Now I am not allowed to continue practicals until I pass the theory test, which I thought would not be all that difficult, however…

… two failed theory tests later in which I scored respectively 18 and 20 out of 30 – Pass is 21, I realize it IS difficult. Noone knows which questions were answered right or wrong (or if the official wants to make another buck at our make-up test-s), since that information is not provided…

… not to mention, the time waste of two cancelled theory tests. You go to the driving school in the morning to “register” your intent to take the test, you go to the Licencing Office to pay your fee (USD 3), you then go to a secondary school here in town and wait until they close so you can use their big hall for the test and then you find out it is cancelled. No explanation. The only talk is the…

…rumors about the practical exam being scheduled months from the date you pass the theory test and so far noone I know from the driving school acctually ending up with a driver’s licence. Which ratifies above described rumor.

-Oh, just fine, I’m sure I’ll have my licence any day now.

In the picture: Me in, thats right, the backseat.

>Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me…

> On New Year’s Eve, a friend came by to ask me what I wanted God to do for me in 2008 so that she could pray for me in church the same night. In Ghana, New Years is an important church event more than anything else. The question surprised me and since I am not really a believer and hence don’t know what to ask God for, I answered

Well, I think I’d like to learn how to drive.

My friend looked at me disapprovingly and pointed out that it in a way already has been granted since I have signed up at the driving school.

Yeah, you are right,

I hear myself saying. With surprising determination I continue,

Then I’d like a car.

What? Has it come to that? A car? For the new year, I don’t wish to become a better person or to make the world a better place. I ask for a gasdriven vehichle of my own. Oh Lord, help me.

>First Gear

>So today I enrolled with a driving school here in Ghana. My goal is to sometime next year be able to navigate between goats and Mercedes-Benzes, yellow taxicabs and banana sellers. The registration was surprisingly smooth – I payed the fees ($200) and handed over five (5) pass port sized pictures and got a report card for fifteen driving lessons to start with along with the theory course and a textbook, an exercise book and a notebook.

Then the theory class started, with me as the only student! My inspiring teacher Justice talked me through the roadsigns one by one in preparation for the “interview” later this week where I will be orally questioned by the roads authorities about the roadsigns before I get the go ahead to start practice driving.

If only it was this easy to enroll with the University of Ghana…Right now I am experiencing some time consuming shuffling around – “Oh, then you need to go to the registrar’s office and buy the forms”, “You come back later”, “You need to go back and get a go ahead from that department”, and “I can’t promise anything, just go back to the registrar”. It seems like the first test to pass is one of endurance.

I’ll keep you posted on both my educations in progress.