Turned 30 today. That's about it.


I'm not a fan of Ghana. I'm going to try to get to Togo (to the east) and maybe Burkina Faso (to the north) but from what I've read, neither are any nicer than here.

The country used to be called the Gold Coast. There's lots of gold here, so mining is a big industry, just like in lots of southern Africa. They've also recently discovered that they have a lot of black gold as well, so of course the Arabs are now streaming in to help solve that problem. China is here too for that. China is huge in Zambia - funding projects everywhere you go to improve the roadways, but that's it - no other infrastructure, no factories, no schools, no shopping centers, no nothing. The only thing the Chinese are sponsoring there (and magnanimously, I might add - they have it painted all over on signs advertising said projects) is building the roads. Because it helps them ship out the natural resources (copper's a primary one in Zambia) faster to places where its cheaper to smelt it for market.

I actually wrote a bit about China in Africa when someone made a recent post about it on Metafilter, here. I'll paste the text of it here for those too lazy to click:

China is raping Africa, economically, because they can, because there's not enough motivation for the rest of the world to blow the whistle. So Africans stay poor and keep battling AIDS and malaria - as long as you can still get your value meal at McDonald's in Peoria, that's all that really matters to you, right?

I've spent the last month living in Zambia, and working in some of the more remote provinces around the country. You know how much gasoline costs in Zambia? Almost 9,000 Zambian Kwacha per litre. That's about $2.80 a litre depending on the day's exchange rate. There's about 3.75 litres to a gallon, right? Zambians pay $10.50 a gallon for gas. And people in the US are crying foul whilst trading in their SUVs...

Why does gas there cost that much? Because the Chinese are smart - they realized that to gain a solid bargaining position, the best thing to control to a land-locked country in Africa was the overland trucking industry. They have a stranglehold on it, and anything they ship into the country comes at whatever premiums they choose. And they maintain this through a complex series of bribes to the political leaders of whatever port host-country it is easiest / cheapest for them to move oil, et. al. through. That's just gas. But of course it takes gas to get food, clothing, building materials, or really anything else for that matter, to market. You can't get a decent meal for under $10 in Zambia.

And so an otherwise completely fertile country sits pretty much stagnant as China swiftly relieves it of its natural resources - shipping off valuable copper to neighboring countries where it can be refined. Zambia sees little to nothing in the way of recompense. Again here, political leaders taking pay-offs to look the other way. They're president has been (theoretically) off in a French military hospital for the last month, for crying out loud.

Why would China bother to do business with Africans in Africa, when its much cheaper to pay off a powerful few, and do business with no one? As long as the rest of the developed world isn't going to step in, it will still be Chinese weapons that ZANU-PF uses to keep Mugabe rich and the rest of the people starved. It will still be Chinese aircraft scorching the earth of Darfur's destitute villages. It will still be China leaching the natural resource out of every country here not sufficiently structured to defend itself from a greedy older sibling on the planet when there are no parents to set rules.

Instead, we, the collective free countries of the world, go to Beijing to play in the games and pretend that China isn't propagating mass suffering in the dark continent, let alone raping the environment in their own.

But at least I can get great Chinese food here, right?

So, yeah. China's here in Ghana too.

And of course they're in Sudan and Zimbabwe too. Its a sad pattern, but here I am one guy working with one humanitarian org, one voice on the internet that only a couple of people will hear. That's not a lot compared with hundreds of millions of oil-hungry Chinese, not to mention the oil-hungrier US (did you know that California alone consumes more gas than all of China? Gas, not oil - an important distinction, but still. China could eclipse California this year, with 1.3 billion people to CA's 37 million).

I feel like I can see something that's wrong with the world, that's an important thing that needs to be fixed, and pretty much the rest of the planet is deaf and dumb and blind to the problem. It's like that line, I can't remember where its from: "98% of the population is asleep. The other 2% are staring around in complete amazement, abject terror, or both."

The scary thing is that even if I am in the 2% awake on this issue - its only on this issue.

I really want to go surfing and feel like things are going to be OK, for a bit.


Read this question first. What follows is a story I wrote in response (which kinda technically broke the site guidelines so it got deleted).

June 12th, 2067.

We're hovering down the windy, decrepit old road that used to be CA Highway 50, en route to South Lake Tahoe. Its so freaking hot, even at this elevation. There wasn't much snow this winter, and unlike when I was a kid, the snow doesn't last as long into the early summer as it sometimes used to. I remember skiing under the July 4th fireworks at Squaw Valley, when I was a teenager. Those were the days.

The lake used to be so blue. But with the climate shift and the slow but steady temperature rise, more and more algae were able to find it a hospitable environment. Despite its massive size, its always been a mostly motionless lake, feeding no rivers and being fed by none. And so nature took its course, changing what was once blue into what is now green. And carnivorous.

The cattle grow restless as in the back as we near the water's edge. Somehow they can always tell the difference when we're moving over water and not land, and they do *not* like it.

There used to be gambling in South Lake Tahoe. I remember spending birthdays in my early 20's there, pumping quarters into the slot machines. Once I nearly won a Corvette - if I had only put in 3 quarters instead of one. We'd regularly get drunk at night on booze bought with bucketfuls of coins. That was back when we still used coins. The strip is an overgrown ghost-town now - no one's lived in Tahoe since '58, when the last remaining locals either moved out or were...well...consumed.

The first whisperings in the early 50's came with a missing fisherman here and there. Then a family out waterskiing for the day. For almost a year, foul play was suspected. It was foul alright, but play had nothing to do with it: rumors started to run rampant of some kind of freshwater shark, or perhaps even a re-awoken dino, ala-Nessie. And then one day a kid with a webcam saw one of the first one to be seen on camera - a massive land-mobile creature, resembling probably most closely a squid, but with hundreds of small, muscular, leg-like appendages on the bottom of its torso (for lack of a better word). Its beak, rather than the upper and lower joints found in most of nature, was more like an octagon. The mouth alone was the size of a Volkswagon.

The rear hull creaked to life as the first cow was hoisted out and slowly moved back over the aft of the ship, lowered to just a meter or so over the water rushing beneath it. We were cruising at roughly 70 knots, which had proved to be a speed slow enough for the gunners to work efficiently at, and still fast enough to tempt the beasts to the surface for an easy meal. They would come from beneath, and behind - so while we could see the dark mass begin to appear in the water behind the bait, the cow never saw it coming.

Tourism essentially fell off completely in '52 when the first video went live. Scientists from across the planet descended upon the town, however, and for a brief while gave some semblance of life to it. But as there continued to be less and less sustenance in the lake, the beasts began to roam further and further ashore, and it seemed as though anything larger than a small cat was likely to be considered edible. When a whole research team went missing near Zephyr Cove in November of that year, the government finally stepped in. The lake and the banks surrounding it for 20 miles in any direction were declared emergency government property, and anyone still stupid enough to be living within that radius was evacuated.

6 years later, they called us. The creatures had now been spotted within a mile of the safety zone border, and it was estimated they had decimated most of the ecosystem between the lake and mile 20. They'd soon need to roam even further, and that would mean they'd soon find new bodies of water.

Target acquired. On my mark...fire, fire, fire - my spotter called flatly into the PA system.

Man-eating fresh-water squid sold at almost $2000 an ounce in many parts of Asia.


I got mugged today.

That's the bad news - most of it, at any rate. Good news is that it looks as though I'm still going to see 30 next week.

I woke up early - 6am, and the first thing I did was look at my camera. I had been trying to decide whether or not to take it with me to Kokorbite today. I know it wants to leave me, all of my cameras apparently want to leave me, but I decided I'd be extra careful and not let it off my person unless it was behind the bar at the resort, buried deep in my bag, for safekeeping.

8am came and I caught my taxi off to the Bojo Beach Resort in Kokorbite. There wasn't much traffic as we were off pretty early. I was the first person at the resort, around 9am, and they were still setting up for the day. I took a few minutes to watch the waves. There was a practically endless right-hander that was breaking a little closer to shore than I would have liked, but it looked to make for some nice long rides. It was going to be a good day.

Until I enquired about the "surf" boards for hire. There was one. It was a drug-store boogie board. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR. So apparently there won't be surfing in Ghana, as this was the only spot that Lonely Planet even listed for it.

I decided to take a walk down the beach. The only thing I took with me was my camera. About 50 yards from the resort bar I come across a line of about 20 guys heaving on a rope, pulling in a fishing net. I watch them for a while and then one of them waves me over and asks me if I want to see the fish. I say "sure," and he indicates a spot on the rope for me to help pull. What else am I going to do, right? So I start heaving with these guys. You slowly make your way back across the beach and soon you find yourself the last guy on the rope, and that's when its time to walk back to the front and start heaving again. It was hard work, but each time the bouy was a little closer to shore.

They were singing in unison - one guy would call out and the others would respond in a double-grunt kind of thing. I kept hearing them talk about me but couldn't pick up all the Twi (local language) - just enough to know that there were regular jokes at my expense. My camera was firmly lodged in the only pocket on trunks, the whole time.

Sun starts getting high, and I start getting tired and decide I don't want to wait around to see the fish. So I wave goodbye and start to angle back towards the resort. The guy right in front of me on the rope (Samuel, but it would turn out that wasn't even his real name) turns and insists on walking me back out of the village and towards the resort.

I stupidly follow him behind the only reed hut between me and the resort instead of walking along the beach, and that's when his pal steps out in front of me.

He didn't have a weapon in his hands and "Samuel's" hands instantly grabbed both of my arms from behind, just above the elbows. I don't struggle as the younger guy in front of me quickly grabs for the camera. He's wearing a black and red jersey emblazoned with a large "95," basketball jersey style. Then he trips me and Samuel pushes me face first into the sand, but is still on top of me.

I realized about halfway to the ground that I didn't have anything else of value to them but my life, and that's about when I decided enough was enough. I jerked my head back into Sam's face and felt his nose crunch against the back of my skull. His grip weakens a little bit, but he holds onto me as I stand up again, so I toss him overtop of me and onto his back on the grond in front of me. I turn to take on 95 but he's already taken off.

I decided against chasing after the camera, who knows what I might run into back in the village.

Broken Nose is lying there and I pat him down to make sure he doesn't have anything, and then I leave him there to go get resort security.

By about noon I get back with a small boatful of resort security and they quickly find Broken Nose. We cart him off on the boat and I stop to get him some sports tape from my bag, and set his nose, since it didn't look like anyone else around had the faintest idea that it needed to be done. Then we drive over to the police station.

We spend a couple hours in total driving there, hemming and hawing and finally convincing the chief to send a couple policemen back out to find the other guy, and of course my camera, which I'm repeatedly assured by everyone will be found quite shortly. They drag Broken Nose along so that he can help point out his accomplice. So the whole time I'm riding right in the same taxi van with the guy who attacked me. But whatever, TIA.

So now its maybe 2 or 3 and we're back boating over to the stretch of sand that the resort and these theiving bastards' village is on, except this time with a couple of cops. I've got my backpack on the whole freaking time as I trust no one even as far as I can throw them (literally) at this point. So there's the lone white guy with his backpack, 3 or 4 resort security guards, 2 cops, and Broken Nose, trekking through the village, which veritably collapses on us as I'm sure this is the most excitement they've seen all year. Kids crowding around people whooping and pointing, the occasional drunken guy coming out trying to act tough and get in a fight with the Broken Nose, since he's tightly cuffed and can't fight back.

We eventually find 95, sitting there mending fishing nets with the others, like he's done nothing wrong. I found it interesting that he wasn't in hiding or didn't even try to run. So they cuff the two together, and of course they start fighting, and now the crowd around us is like 10 deep and I'm starting to get a little nervous, and it occurs to me that its for the first time.

We eventually start back out of the village and down the beach, but not before the cops can stop and buy some of the day's fresh catch. Apparently this was every bit as much a shopping trip to the beach for them as it was arresting the theives. They make Broken Nose and 95 carry their fish. There's lots of taunting of the prisoners, both from the cops and hotel security, and even some of the locals, but its all in Twi and there's usually at least 3 people yelling at the same time. We return to the scene of the crime, its maybe 4pm by now, and it looks for a minute as though they might finally decide to tell the truth and give up the camera's whereabouts.

I should probably mention that by this point I've tried to bribe EVERYONE, multiple times. I've tried bribing the cops, repeatedly. The hotel security. I even tried bribing the thieves themselves. I bribe them and the cops simultaneously, convincing the cops to let them go if they produce the FREAKING camera.

But everyone decides that the camera just isn't going to happen. So we boat back across, and now the resort staff refuses to use their van to take us all to the police station (again), but they would appreciate it if I'd pay them for taking extra trips in the boat. Screw you guys, I'll pay you if I get my camera, which they're STILL telling me not to worry about.

So my taxi guy, who's been waiting there all day (not an uncommon thing, he knows he has an overpriced ride back to town essentially paid for), who is also my instant advocate and friend, drives me, the 2 cops, and Broken Nose and 95 back to the police station.

This time its a little more straight forward - I don't waste any time trying to bribe the chief anymore, I just fill out the report, and get their real names in the meantime so that I can include them in the report. I also get everyone's cell phone (there's no land line in the police office, but all the "detectives" have cells). Taxi driver suggests that I give them some money ahead of time as it might help their results, which apparently means that they'll agree to beat the prisoners extra hard. Everyone in the room seems to think this is a good idea but me, and they all seem somewhat disappointed when I tell them that I still only plan on producing bribes once I see my camera. As if I'm going to pre-bribe them or something.

Taxi driver takes me back to my hotel. Sans camera but with my corpus intact.

I take a shower and start writing this, and now its 7pm and I'm starting to come down from my hours-long high. My neck is sunburned as I didn't get the chance to put on sunblock today. Or eat anything. Or even go in the ocean. Which I could care less about seeing again here in Ghana.

This is my 3rd camera stolen here in Africa. I was joking after the second one that apparently God doesn't want me taking pictures of this place, but now I'm pretty sure He's serious about it. So that's it - I give up. If this camera comes back, great, if not, no more pictures. I have a feeling its been tossed into the ocean at this point - these people seem pretty afraid of the police, and as long as it never shows up, those two guys will be the only ones that get any hassle, which I assume will be a couple days in a dark cell and maybe a slapping around. And then they'll be off, with or without my camera waiting for them.

The really ironic thing that occurred to me at some point in the endless charade of waiting and pointlessly traveling hither and yon was that it really would have been something to have a camera to document the insanity.


Africa - I love you, but you're killing me here.


Tomorrow I'm going to Kokrobite - a town about 30kms from Accra, where there is report of surfboards for rent. I will leave it to your creative imagination what I will spend the day doing. Lonely Planet also tells of a pizza place there where the chef rides his bike to Accra every day for fresh ingredients. So hopefully the day will end almost as well as it begins.

And now I have blogged, which means I can eat now. Which I haven't had time to do yet today.


In Ghana now.

Decided this morning that I'm not going to let myself have dinner unless I've blogged already. Every day in Ghana, or at least every day I have internet access, that's the goal.

I got in yesterady (and didn't blog, yeah, I noticed). Toffa met me at the airport. I left a bag with a copper print I had bought in Zambia in the car that took me to the airport, and of course the guy couldn't find it when I emailed the agency in the afternoon. Anyway - at least it wasn't the camera. I bought my third one in the Joburg airport Monday night and am determined to keep this one til I get back to the US.

Toffa dropped me off at the lodge I'm staying at, which has aircon and internet so its pretty much clutch. I guessed the time zone wrong so I was up an hour early and ready to go and when I SMS'd Toffa he called me back laughing. So I hung out for an hour and then we headed into the office. Met with Toffa and Lewis, then the National Director, then the Procurement team. Also had a good call with Jen and Don, who are starting a project with Save the Children, also focused on Supply Chain. Jen and I worked together at the Postal hell project, so she's good people.

Picked up some groceries on the way back to the lodge, then this evening I walked a couple kms to the closest take-out place. I should have looked inside before walking home with it, if I had I would have bought 2 of em. Its a meager leg of chicken and some limp fries. Oh well.

Not a lot of people like me here - even less than in Zambia. We're called "obrani," here, for a change. Feels pretty lonely.

I'm tired.


And like that, my time in Zambia is through.

Its been a whirlwind 3 weeks, as evidenced by the nearly complete lack of blogging. Let's see if I can catch up a little.

I spent the first week bouncing between low-cost lodges trying to save on project budget, but they weren't nice, security was iffy, and I didn't have regular power or any internet access. And my camera got lifted, AGAIN. Apparently God doesn't want me taking pictures of Africa. At least I still have the video camera. Also that week was all of the creations of the approach and deliverables I'd be working to craft out for my validation (survey, interview guides, intro materials, final reports, etc.). That first weekend was a party that Anthony took me to with a few of the expats around, and then on Sunday I hit up Pastor Kabifya's church and was the only white guy there. I think I might have blogged about this already. Anyway, Kabifya's turned into quite a good friend of mine and a sort of trusted individual in my life. He's about my age but his life has taken a completely different path and he has a lot of good input for me on things. That's all.

Week 2 I started all the interviews, sending out the surveys, etc.. I also moved to the new, nicer, safer, usually powered and interneted lodge which has been much more comfortable. I spent most of the 2nd weekend hanging around here. The 4th was a Friday and not a holiday here, so I was working, but headed to the embassy to see where the party was that night. It was at the colonel's house so Diana dropped me there and I had a few gratis drinks and caught the last of the back-yard fireworks. Some gal from the Irish embassy invited me over to another expat party following, so that was nice too. Sunday I went to George's church with him and his daughter and Christy, who are all staying at his house (across the street from the lodge I'm at) right now. We hit up the grocery store and the street fair market thing they have Sunday afternoons to sell trinkets to the tourists. And we played soccer with security guard and maid that George has on staff, and the maid's 2 kids, which was fun. And I had more of George's excellent cooking. And watched an episode of house. Then I finally went back to my lodge to sleep because...

Week 3 started with a 2-day holiday here in Zambia. I worked from the lodge mostly. Wednesday morning Anthony and I were due to leave for Nakande, which is in the far western province of Zambia, about 70kms from the border with Angola. It meant a 6.5 hour drive (2 of them through the 3rd biggest national park in Africa), to a 2.5 hour speed-boat ride up the Zambezi and its requisite tributaries. Then another 2 hour truck ride to the actual field sites, which involved a very sketchy river crossing that we almost didn't make (the truck was taking on water, and I caught the whole thing on video).

This was in an area so incredibly remote that I was the first white person quite a few of the children had ever seen. Instead of shouting "Mzungu" they were mainly just screaming and pointing, and following me around at a safe distance whence I alighted from the truck. Suffice to say there's not a lot of NGO's operating this far afield.

We spent that night in Nakande, Anthony and I drinking Castles in front of his room and talking about life and such, and then Friday was all the traveling back to Lusaka. Yesterday and today have been mostly work (although I didt take a break to go work out at one of the nicer hotels here in town, with Tina, another expat stuck here at the lodge like me). I've been cramming the final presentation to the senior management team together, which I present tomorrow to them before flying back to Joburg. And then to Nairobi, and then to Accra.

Today Tina and I walked to the further away shopping center (Manda Hill, about 2kms, Arcades is the closer one at 1km) to have lunch at the Irish pub - Hagan's. Food's actually really good and we had a couple Mosi's and bitched with each other about the general challenges of development in Africa and the resistance to change and the temptation to succumb to the general "TIA" attitude that convinces you that's just the way things work here.

Tina went back to the gym and as I walked home, I thought back to what I have written about before - that part in Lord of the Rings where it talks about how Aragorn took Frodo's hand to lead him away from the fields of Pelennor, and "never walked there again as a living man." Except this time, I was feeling it for Zambia.

I've been here 4 times now, and have made good friends and grown quite accustomed to the society. I will miss it, and I hope to return. But I don't know if or when I will.