Sunday, May 31, 2015

Global Connections: Home!

My super, geek-exciting, alliterative, reverse alphabetical order trip!

Global Connections: Next Stop, America

Global Connections: Day 7

Our Wednesday visits were the heavy hitters, the Bank of Ghana and Unilever. Unfortunately, I had to miss Unilever because I was taking a sick student to the clinic.

On the way to our site visit that morning, I was on the phone with International SOS, our medical and security provider, to let them know I was going to take a student to the clinic. The support they provide is amazing. When we were in the taxi on our way to the clinic and the driver did not know the location of the clinic (and he seemed to think my google map was laughable), I was able to call them and they provided me with the doctor's mobile number. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In the morning, we visited the Bank of Ghana (Ghana's Federal Reserve).

Though monetary policy is not necessarily in my wheel house, I did immediately take note of a slide that indicated there is only one mortgage company regulated by the BOG in the entire country. After all we had heard on this trip about the difficulties of leasing and buying property, this was an interesting fact.

*We were given BOG calendars for 2015 that included this same picture, but from the Global Connections group from 2014. Maybe we will be in the 2016 calendar?

After the BOG visit the students headed for lunch, but I hopped in a cab back to the hotel. I was taking the earlier mentioned student to the clinic. ISOS was wonderful and the clinic experience was great as well. The wait was short, everything was taken care of in house (including prescriptions), and thanks to the ISOS letter of guarantee they had sent to the clinic (all the way from the Paris headquarters) the student didn't have to pay anything for the visit or prescriptions.

That evening I joined a group of students at Afrikiko, a collection of restaurants and bars where it was also salsa night.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Global Connections: The Return Home

Global Connections: Day 6

Tuesday was our first official day of business visits in Accra. We started the morning with the West African AIDS Foundation. CEO Dr. Naa Ashiely Vanderpuye-Donton is a moving speaker.

WAAF facts from our visit:
  • WAAF is a for-profit model, though their revenues are very low. Their clients register for the national health insurance, but government payments are more than a year behind at this point. Additional revenue streams include donations to a crisis fund and individual sponsorships of patients.
  • In addition to their clinic, counseling, and education efforts. They are also working on an anti-stigma campaign with an online platform.
  • They want to completely eliminate mother-to-child transmission. Currently more than 90 percent of the babies born at their clinic are born HIV negative.
  • Today, the treatment of HIV is rather simple, it is the psycho and social issues that are difficult.
  • "HIV has a family face." You cannot just treat the disease and you must empower women.
  • They see a lot of push back from the religious community on HIV medications. Patients will stop taking their medications after speaking with their pastors. Dr. Naa recognizes that you need to be right spiritually, to get your mind in right place to heal, but she said that HIV is a physical thing and patients need to take their medications. They need to do both. It is not one or the other.
  • Thanks to pressure from the Global Fund, the government is now funding outreach to men who have sex with men (MSM) populations, a curious twist of phrase used in a country where homosexuality is illegal. 
In the afternoon, we visited the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and Incubator (MEST).

"MEST is fully backed by The Meltwater Foundation, a non-profit arm of the Meltwater Group in San Francisco. Meltwater is the global leader for online news and social media analytics."

MEST was once just a school, but they determined that there weren't ways for their graduates to get traction in the local environment and started the incubator to provide that starting point. We heard from Senior Faculty Todd Holcombe, Director of Product Emmanuel Quartey, Business Development Fellow Daisy Chang, and a panel of Business and Tech Teaching Fellows.

Some interesting thoughts from this visit included:

  • The team is as if not more important that the idea. A strong team can have another idea.
  • Talent is universal. Access and opportunity are not.

We also had the chance to hear from several of the students. They are working in teams on capstone projects that involve developing a business to launch. We got to hear their elevator pitches.

*This student is pitching a company that matches travelers with available space in their luggage with people trying to ship items overseas.

*Pricilla is working on an audio diary app.

*The school and incubator are separated by a small creek. You cross from one to the other on this bridge.

I started to notice a few themes starting on this day.

  1. Many people choose Ghana for NGOs and start-ups (Village Exchange, MEST), based on a check list of needs that include safety. 
  2. Health care and access to doctors is a huge issue in Ghana.
  3. Residential and commercial space is also a huge issue.
I am adding some commentary from our guide on HIV in West Africa.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Global Connections: Update

We are in Cape Coast, but the internet here is so slow it look a few minutes just to load the blogger new post page so I could type this.

I left the map to load while I brushed my teeth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Global Connections: Day 5

On Monday, we were on the move again and it was also a national holiday. Monday was Africa Day, though in Ghana it is referred to as African Union Day.  It commemorates the founding of the Organization for African Unity, what is now the African Union, in 1963. Ghana is one of only six countries that recognize it as a national holiday. If you search African Day 2015 on Google, the top result is from Ireland, which is strange. I am linking to the African Union chairperson's letter here.

As we started out that morning, our guide Nii Kpa Kpo, spoke a great deal about his dream for African Union. Below is a compilation of several of the things he had to say.

*Once again, ignore the fact that the SoundCloud embed has my Facebook profile picture. As soon as I get a good picture of Nii, I will replace that. When you don't upload a picture with the clip, they just use the profile picture automatically. 

We did not head straight back to Accra on Monday. We took a small detour to the Akosombo Dam. The flooding of the Volta River Basin to build the dam displaced about 80,000 people (who were relocated) and created Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world (by surface area). It was built with support from US investment to provide power for the aluminum industry and was completed in 1965. When it was first online, it was able to provide power for Ghana and several other countries (I cannot remember if it is three or five).

*Lake Volta is not in this picture, that is the downstream end of the dam. That is just the Volta River.

Today, things are quite different. Thanks to an unusually long drought (that I am sure has nothing to do with climate change since that isn't a real thing) Lake Volta is at an unprecedented low level (below the minimum level for the dam to operate at full capacity). Only four of the six turbines were in use on the day we visited. The lack of hydro power is one of the more recent causes of the frequent power outages in Ghana, referred to as dumsor.

As Wikipedia explains:
Dumsor (or more appropriately dum sɔ) is a popular Ghanaian term used to describe persistent, irregular and unpredictable electric power outages. The term is derived from two separate words from the Asante Twi, the Akuapem Twi or Fante dialects of the Akan language (a language spoken widely in Ghana), dum (to turn off or quench) and sɔ (to turn on or to make light), so the term roughly translates as "on-and-off".
The frequent Ghanaian blackouts are caused by a power supply shortage. Ghanaian generating capacity is currently 400-600 megawatts less than Ghana needs. Ghanaian electricity distributors regularly shed load with rolling blackouts. At the beginning of 2015, the dumsor schedule went from 24 hours with light and 12 without to 12 hours with light and 24 without. The long blackouts contrast with the practice in other countries, where blackouts roll rapidly so that no residential area is without power for more than one hour at a time.
Interestingly enough, as a tourist the dumsor has not affected me (so far). Power went out briefly on two occasions at our hotels, we had a site visit at the West African AIDs Foundation (details TK) and they were operating on a generator, and the power briefly went out at a clinic where I had taken a student (when I say briefly, I mean almost flickers).* Other than that, I would have no idea there was a power problem. Clearly based on the news though, your average Ghanaian is well aware.

*As I type this, we briefly lost power at the hotel. 

*This is Lake Volta behind us.

Once we were back in Accra, the students continued on to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, National Museum, Independence Square, and a crafts market (I think this is the crafts market, I am not sure). I however, did not join them. I had a student with what was clearly a case of food poisoning that started Sunday night. The long bus ride to town was not her favorite thing and I accompanied her back to the hotel once we were in Accra.

Though I am sad I missed some pretty interesting sites (including a man in the market named Colin Powell who knew all the countries and states and their capitals), I was a little thankful that I had the chance to spend some time quietly in my room.

Since I cannot share with you about those sites, I will share with you another clip from Nii Kpa Kpo on the Ga people.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Global Connections: Ready, Ready, Ready

Our tour guide, Nii KpaKpo, often talks about asking our lunch destination about what they have "ready, ready, ready." He is very clear, not "ready," but "ready, ready, ready."

This has been reminding me of something in the Samoan language. If you add a bit more of the same word to a word you've created a sort of emphasis that means something a little new. Like "savali" means walk and "savalivali" means go for a walk (and the PCVs reading this know I totally took this from that song). In English, at least when you are a teenage girl, there is a difference between when a boy likes you and when a boy like likes you.

This all came to a head while I was on the treadmill this morning and James Brown came on and started singing about a woman who is "sexy, sexy, sexy." 

Somehow the repetition adds emphasis and often a little bit of a change in definition.

Global Connections: Day 4

Sunday was a day for us to be tourists. Our first stop was the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary home to several troops of mona monkeys. According to our guide the population of mona in the sanctuary has increased from less than 50 monkeys in the 80s or 90s to more than 500 today. Historically, the monkeys in the region were revered and considered sacred, but after the introduction of Christianity the people in the area sought to destroy those things that were sacred in their old religion, including the monkeys. Interestingly, both Nii and our guide at the sanctuary discussed the value of a tabu over a law. It is their belief that laws protecting the monkeys and their land are ineffective, that people will always find ways around laws (particularly ones that are hard to monitor and enforce). However, when the idea of the monkey and the land as sacred was re-introduced, people became less destructive.

The monkeys in the sanctuary are quite friendly and tame. We were provided bananas and instructions on how to hold the bananas to encourage the monkeys to it on our arms and shoulders. It was quite the opportunity for selfie fodder.

Whether or not the Wiki Travel entry is true, it claims that Tafi Atome is "one of the most popular and well run ecotourism projects in the Volta Region of Ghana." This is surprising to me, as there was very little to the operation from my perspective. We were led only a short ways into the forest before we encountered a troop and spent the bulk of our time off-loading bananas and taking photographs. The hike continued on only briefly where we were shown a palm tree being consumed by a ficus tree, which is a common thing and something I saw in Kenya too. I see a great deal of opportunity there to develop the eco-tourism efforts, hopefully with out overly developing the land.

Other interesting notes from the Wiki Travel entry:

  • It indicates that the operation was developed in partnership with a Peace Corps Volunteer. A quick Google indicates that this is a common belief, but on one seems to have more details. The various sources cannot agree on the year the sanctuary was started (between 1993 and 1996) or how the Peace Corps was involved.
  • The entry notes the government was preparing to construct a road in 2012. I think we may have actually seen that start while we were there. When we arrived, there was a dirt road and while we we were in the visitor center trucks went through and laid road tar and gravel.

Our second stop that day was at the Wli Falls, something the internet seems to know very little about. According to Nii, it is also a sacred place where people formerly were not even allowed. We had a 45-minute hike in the woods (jungle?) to the base of the falls. In addition to the spectacular view, the rock face on either side of the falls are lined with bats. On our arrival, the local guide banged a machete against a rock to create a echo that sent them to the sky. It was a impressive amount of bats, particularly for someone who still hasn't gone down to Lady Bird Lake in Austin to see the bats come out at night.

Once again, I thought to late to turn on my recorder, but I do have a bit of Nii's information on our two visits for this day.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Global Connections: Day 3

Our first stop on Saturday was the Village Exchange. Christiane Milev founded VEG in 2002 to focus on women's reproductive health issues. After working in development for more than 20 years, she had a checklist of criteria she was looking for in finding a location to start an organization that could have the impact she hoped for, and Ghana met all her requirements.

*Thanks to Dami's hat, he always makes for good pictures.

Though the organization initially focused on women;s heath, it quickly moved into other areas understanding that issues cannot be addressed in isolation, but must be approached holistically. Their most recent efforts include a social entrepreneurship program. In partnership with an Italian economist, they are providing workshops in innovation and creativity as well as business development to two groups of entrepreneurs. One group is also being provided smart phones with an app aimed at developing the entrepreneurs networks and ability to communicate with each other. They'll be looking to see what impact this has on the work these entrepreneurs do.

They have also started a electrical and solar training program. It is their goal to develop a common degree with the national technical school. However, currently, there is no recognized exam for solar in country.

*The solar panels are made from scrap solar cells.

I was interested to hear they are in the process of ending their micro finance project. The program required a great deal of capital, which means they were always out after money and Christiane said they were losing credibility this way.

After a lunch that included peacocks (not to eat, but to be fascinated by and attempt selfies with), we were off to see a kente weaving operation. Unfortunately, the weavers are typically outside and that is when the downpour started. However, there was a small amount of activity going on in a covered area. Nii explained a little about the background and students got to try their hands at the complicated process.

*Can you tell I am taking a page from the Kelley play book, getting my shots with the backs of students wearing McCombs gear.

After the weaving facility, we trekked into a more rural area to see what we were oh so diplomatically calling a rum distillery, but what was clearly a moonshine set up. This distilled palm wine is called akpeteshie. The students were able to see how it is harvested and taste the palm wine (which is really more like palm water or sap since it is not fermented and comes straight from the palm tree).

Then we returned to the still to see the distillation process. Palm wine first sits in drums for various periods of time before it is put into the still, in this case, an oil drum over an open flame. It is then pumped through tubing that runs through a large concrete pool to cool and out a cotton filtered tap at the end.

Students were also able to taste the finished product and take a little home with them.

That night was Sam's birthday and Nii arranged for a cake to be made. While most of the group went out on the town, I took advantage of the time to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Back to Accra

We were on the road again today.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Global Connections: Day 2

* I have been making the blog maps in Illustrator (or Inkscape) with vector files since the beginning. However, I am testing out just using Google Map screen grabs. It's easier on me. And I am lazy!

So the students arrived on Thursday night, mostly without incident. The big surprise was that we all made it with all of our luggage as well. Though I am not that much older than many of the MBA students, they still seem to have way more energy than I do. Despite their long journeys, many of them were still up that night when I was heading to bed.

Friday morning we were heading out early on our way to Ho. Ho is the capital of the Volta Region (one of Ghana's ten administrative regions) in the east near Togo. In fact, thanks to the fluid borders created and recreated by colonial rulers, Ho was once part of Togo (or Togoland). We were meant to spend three nights in Ho before returning to Accra.

Friday was also when we met our tour guide Nii Kpa Kpo and our driver Francis. Nii and Francis are with LandTours, the company hired by WorldStrides to handle all our in country logistics. Nii (whose name autocorrect absolutely hates) was immediately impressive. Nii is a natural storyteller and launched into an animated telling of Ghana's history. He also managed with aplomb our first motion sickness of the trip. We all applauded the student who was able to hold it back long enough for the bus to stop.

During the drive, one of the students asked Nii if there was one social issue or problem in Ghana that he could solve, which one would it be? Nii considered the question thoughtfully for a moment and surprised everyone with his answer: He would solve the problem of time.

*I thought too late to record this, so you only get a small snippet. Also, for some strange reason, the picture is my Facebook profile picture.

Nii was also full of other tidbits. One that I took note of was the phrase "Everything is bigger in Texas" had made it to Ghana. Since everything is bigger in Texas, they would refer to larger things as Texas. Nii, as a child, had a Texas head. If someone has large lips, they have Texas lips.

On the way to Ho, we had our first site visit with the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana. Cocoa, for those that don't know (though how could you not), is used to make chocolate. Though it is actually native to South America, the Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two largest exporters in the world. Though the Ivory Coast (or as our guide refers to it as la Côte d'Ivoire) exports more (double), Ghana apparently has higher quality cocoa.

*The internet here isn't too great, so I am just uploading a few of my pictures, at small sizes for now.

After of visit to the research institute, we continued on to Ho. To get to Ho from Accra, we needed to cross the Volta River. Unfortunately, the bridge has been under repair for several years now and we would need to take the ferry. My Samoa and Kenya ferry experience has prepared me for a longish ride. I brought ginger pills to combat any motion sickness. We were also prepared for a long wait. Last year, the group waited in line for the ferry for two hours. As we approached the river, there was no line and I quickly realized that the crossing was barely a hop. We would be on the water for maybe five minutes. I guess all my ginger burps from the ginger pills I had taken were for nothing.

When we arrived in Ho, we went straight to our hotel on the side of the mountain. Though SkyPlus has a beautiful view, we were to discover over the next few days it was not quite ready to host international tour groups. Our program welcome dinner was a buffet served by the hotel that was less than impressive. I learned the next morning that despite the students' rooms being double rooms, there as only one sheet and one blanket in each room. At breakfast, they would only allow each student one egg and one cup of coffee.

But before we can get to breakfast, we do need to discuss how the first full evening ended, which was at the Mirage Club in town. There were some drinks and I, you will be surprised to learn, was even the first one on the dance floor to encourage the students.

*Our fearless leader, Dr. Raj.

I'll talk more about our time in Ho soon, but this is enough on our first official day on the program. If you cannot tell, I am behind in blogging. I am getting ready to go to sleep on my third night in Ho, and you have only heard about the first day. Tomorrow, we head back to Accra bright and early.

Posts Forthcoming

We've been in Ho since Friday. Things have been busy, so I have not been able to post.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Global Connections: Day 1

I arrived in Accra last night around 8:30 pm local time. For those of you following the maps, did you figure out what had me geeking out as I created them? Joni got half of it in her Facebook comment. They do all start with A. But, did you notice I just traveled in reverse alphabetical order? As Cale pointed out, the return trip is going to be AWESOME! IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER! You can just feel how cool I am through the interwebs can't you.


Since I don't have any interesting stories to share or pictures to post yet, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about how bad I am at packing.

Given enough time and assistance (i.e. Cale grabbing things I have packed and throwing them out of the suitcase), I can get down to a super tight pack for long trips. SE Asia for three months? One Osprey backpack and the camera bag. Kenya for 10 weeks? Same. The thing about long trips is that you know you will do laundry. So you can just bring a few things, knowing you will wash and rewear.

But a 10-day trip over three locations with professional site visits? I cannot handle it. What if it is hot and I need to be casual? What if it is hot and I need to be business professional? What if it is hot and I need to be business causal? But what if it is cold? Or rainy? Or what if one of the things I brought gets dirty? Or what if we go out to dinner? Or what if we go for a hike? I am totally going to exercise every morning, right? Sometimes I like this t-shirt and some times I don't, so maybe I will bring a back up just in case.

And as I speculate on every possible weather, event, dress code combination, the pile of clothes I am packing just grows. This is normal for me. Overtime, I typically whittle* the pile down to something reasonable. Not so much this time. About an hour before leaving for the airport, I unpacked my two bags and repacked them, leaving behind a pretty decent-sized pile of things I knew I was just being redundant on.  I still had a ton of clothes (and shoes...because what if we hike near water? or tour a factory? or meet executives? or go to the beach?), but as I said to Cale, "I way over packed, but for the amount of overpacking I did, it still looks pretty small." Cale was having none of it.

*For some strange reason, I was totally convinced that whittle was spelled widdle and could not figure out why spell check had an issue with that.

So I get on a plane and head out across the ocean and start making mental inventories of all I have brought. And it occurs to me that at some point when trying to pair down my pack, I convinced myself that I could wear my light weight khaki capris on one of our company site visit days when I really should be wearing more professional wear. How is it, Sara, that you are going to Ghana for 10 days for company site visits and you managed to bring like six pairs of what are probably totally in appropriate shorts but only one pair of dress pants? Could you not pair down the pack by removing shorts, not dress clothes? What was the thought process there? And what is sad, is that there was a thought process. Days in advance I had made a list of what I should wear on each day and then turned that list into a packing list. And both those lists included a dress skirt for one company visit day. And then at some point, while actually packing, I was like, "Nah," and DIDN'T PACK IT. But I did bring a bunch of inappropriate tank tops, you know, just in case.

When I am traveling and don't need to be grown up Sara on arrival, I sort of look a slob. My travel wear this time was tennis shoes, jeans rolled up to my calves, a tank top, and Cale's grandpa's sweater. After a solid 24-hours of travel, but what was some how two days, I arrived at our hotel looking a little scruffy. And our hotel is clearly a business hotel, so there are all these men in slacks and dress shirts milling around. And there is Sara in a two-day old tank top trying to comb her greasy bangs out of her eyes.

Tomorrow our site visit is a cocoa farm, and I had planned to wear khaki knee-length shorts and a t-shirt. But while I was in route, one of the students message the GA (graduate assistant) to ask what "casual" attire meant for the cocoa farm, and he recommended long pants (like khakis). So now I am paranoid that my shorts are wrong.

I have come to the realization that I have bags full of clothes and will likely wear the same two pairs of REI capris almost the whole time. Way to go me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On the Road Again

I am on my way to Ghana with a group of MBAs from McCombs. So the maps are back.

I created my journey maps in advance. I am heading from Austin to Accra with a few stops in between. While I was making the maps, something stood out to the inner geek in me that I got an unnecessarily big kick out of. I'll see if you all have figured it out by the time I get to Ghana.