Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Name This Plant: Mango


Strangely enough, despite living in Samoa for two years and spending three months eating all the mango and sticky rice in SE Asia, I had never seen a mango tree before. I am not sure why I found how they grew surprising.

The entire time I was in Samoa, I didn't eat a single mango. During training, another member of our group discovered that he was allergic to mangoes by developing a full-body rash and swelling. He itched everywhere. In one commiserating session, he compared his allergies to my boils and we both came to the conclusion that we would rather have my boils than his allergic reaction. They told us in training that the mango tree is in the family of poison sumac and poison ivy. Though I am not allergic to poison ivy, I decided I didn't want to take the risk.

However, by the time we got to Thailand, I was over my fear. It was probably the mango and sticky rice that did it. Seriously, best food item ever. Sweet. Salty. Delicious. We ate it I think just about every day for breakfast in Chiang Mai.

I wasn't totally free of the mango allergy. As it turns out, it's the skin of the mango that is the problem. As long as I ate peeled mango, I was usually ok. However, if the skin had rubbed against the flesh or if it wasn't skinned well, I would get what I called mango lips. Aesthetically, mango lips are great. My lips would swell a little and take on a redder hue. Looked great. But they also had a strange rough texture and itched. According to Wikipedia:
The skin of unripe, pickled, or cooked mango can be consumed, but has the potential to cause contact dermatitis of the lips, gingiva, or tongue in susceptible people.
I am a susceptible people. Just like I am one of those lucky few that have a reaction to doxy. Lucky me.

Cale's family is from rural southern Indiana near the Kentucky border. Apparently, they referred to bell peppers as mangoes when he was growing up. It had never occurred to him that was unusual until we were listening to a Way With Words where an Indiana listener called in to ask why her family calls bell peppers mangoes. Wikipedia explains:
When mangoes were first imported to the American colonies in the 17th century, they had to be pickled due to lack of refrigeration. Other fruits were also pickled and came to be called "mangoes", especially bell peppers, and by the 18th century, the word "mango" became a verb meaning "to pickle".
Fun mango facts!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Name This Plant: Fig

A photo posted by @seereeves on

I was a little disappointed to learn this was a fig. Cale and I were at the grocery store when I happened on them. I wasn't sure what they were, but decided with Ramadan just around the corner this must be what a fresh date looks like. Somewhere inside of that thing was the date I was used to seeing. I was super excited to do a timely, Ramadan-themed Name This Plant.

As it turns out though, fresh dates don't look much different from the ones you see in the grocery store.

*I can totally see how a date is hiding in there. It's not really hiding that much.

There were, however, no dates hiding in those figs. And figs aren't really the traditional food of Ramadan. So there goes my timely post.

Figs, which this post is actually about, are native to western Asia and the Middle East. If you thought it was a fruit, you were totally wrong. According to Wikipedia:
Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually the infructescence or scion of the tree, known as a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds are borne.
Also, the bits on the inside that you are eating are called druplets, and that is a fun word.

Figs are one of the oldest plants to be cultivated by humans (older than wheat and other grains), and fig leaves are an ancient/historical way for people to clothe their genitals. Just ask Adam and Eve. Figs are actually all over the old and new testament. They are both famous for being one of the seven plants that feed people year round in Deuteronomy and infamous for being the plant that couldn't feed Jesus, so he cursed it. Damn you fruitless fig tree!

It's not just the Christians and the Jews that are big on fig. Buddha apparently became enlightened under a type of fig tree, and it is mentioned throughout the Qur'an as well.

And who can forget the Fig Newton?

"Fig-Newtons-Stacked" by Evan-Amos - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Monday, June 15, 2015

Name This Plant: Artichoke

A photo posted by @seereeves on

This was a pretty popular name this plant. It was fun to watch people realize what it was in the Facebook comments. They pretty much had the same reaction I had when I stumbled across the plant in the wild.

Cale and I were walking to the grocery store and passed this plant in a neighbors lawn. Is that? It can't be? Is that what artichoke looks like? Cale did a quick Google, and yes, in fact, it is.

I know, you're thinking, "But, Sara, this is what an artichoke looks like."

You're right. But apparently, given enough time, they can look like this.

And for those of you that guessed thistle, you weren't actually wrong. Apparently, an artichoke is a cultivated species of thistle.

It just so happens that Cale and I already had an artichoke in our fridge we planned to grill today.

A photo posted by @seereeves on

I'll let you know how they turn out.

Name This Plant

A photo posted by @seereeves on

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Global Connections: Day 9

Friday was the last true day of the McCombs Global Connections trip to Ghana.

We started the morning visiting what is called the Cape Coast Castle. As our guide pointed out, there's really nothing castle about it. It is a fort.

A slave fort to be specific.

Hundreds of thousands of humans as chattel passed through insufferable, inhumane, unconciounable conditions in this fort. Many of them died. Many of them wished they had died.

More than 100 men would have been shackled and crammed into this light-less, air-less underground dungeon for months after having been basically death marched across the coast, only to be packed into ships to suffer similar conditions on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean and then sold.

It's a really tough thing to see.

Women and children were also crammed into tiny dungeon spaces, but they were given a window. The window in the picture above had iron bars across it when this was a functioning slave fort. Today the ledge gives weary visitors a place to rest.

*There were many interesting moments framed by windows while at the fort.

Prof. Raj knew the visit to the fort was an important historical and cultural site to include in this trip, but he also knew that it could be emotional for the students. When we were planning the trip, our travel provider wanted to schedule the fort at the end of the day because our second activity for the day was outside and she was concerned about the heat. However, Raj correctly insisted that we visit the fort in the morning so that we did not end the day on such an emotional low. We needed to lift the students' spirits after facing such a hard part of human history.

After lunch, we went to the Kakum National Park. I believe a visit to this park is required for all tourists in Ghana, as I have never seen any pictures out of Ghana that didn't include this park.

Kakum is a rain forest, so it was appropriate that it was raining when we arrived. Fortunately, it immediately let up and we were able to make the hike into the forest under only the occasional sprinkling from the wet leaves above. Though Kakum is home to several animal species of interest, including monkeys and elephants, they are shy and do not come near to the part of the park accessible to tourists. This is fine though, since what people really come for is the canopy walk.

What an amazing experience.

I am not super fond of heights. Though for me, the problem with heights is getting back down, once I have gotten up. At Chichen-Itza, once I was at the top of the pyramid, I was basically trapped. I had to work my way back down one step at a time on my butt. In Siem Reap, there was one temple where I had to abandon the climb because the steps were too tall and too steep, and just too, too for Sara.

However, I did not have the same fears on the canopy walk. Even though the structure is basically wooden planks laid over metal ladders all wrapped up in rope. Even though it swayed and bucked with the movement of other people. Even though we were quite a ways above the forest floor. I was not particularly afraid. Instead, I was able to enjoy the beauty and the scenery.

After the canopy walk, we weren't quite finished for the day. Our guide, Nii, was able to arrange a cultural show for us that evening from a local dance troupe.

The students had a chance to learn some moves.

The fire eating was particularly dramatic.

Several of us were called on stage to pick up these small balls of fire and throw them into the air for the performer to catch in his mouth.

Mike was successful, though he did burn his fingers a little. Mikhail was also successful in this endeavor.

I, however, was not. It is very hard to bring yourself to pick up fire.

Apparently it's actually not that hard to do. If only I had seen this video first.

Fire eating isn't a bad way to end a trip really.

On Saturday we all loaded into our bus for the last time and headed back to Accra. We lunched at the Fiesta Royale and then everyone set out on their journeys home.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Global Connections: Day 8 - Part 2

Many months ago I was selected to be the staff the MBA+ Global Connections Ghana trip by default. I was the only staff member willing to travel to Ghana during the ebola scare. My main arguments? One, there wasn't ebola in Ghana, but there was in Texas at the time. Two, one of our trip options was Israel, and Ghana felt safer than Israel.

When I agreed to staff Ghana, my first comment was, "As long as we aren't visiting an orphanage."

But we were.

I was extremely concerned about an orphanage visit. To the extent that I ended up creating a classroom presentation to discuss issues related to poverty tourism, support for children with out parental care, and the role of donors.

I shared an article with the students on Ethics and Poverty Tours that I thought was particularly relevant.

Through my research, I was able to see ways that this type of site visit can be done carefully, but I was still wary of visiting an orphanage.

On Thursday, on our way to Cape Coast, we had that visit with the Village of Hope. It was an excellent site visit.

Araba first sat with the students to explain the VoH model.

This is a Ghanian run organization that starts with rigorous assessment and investigation by social workers before a child is accepted into the orphanage. Only children without living relatives who can care for them are accepted. Often, in the course of their investigation, VoH social workers discover unknown relatives who can take in the children.

VoH is not an adoption agency. Children taken in become VoH children. There have only been three adoptions in the entire history of the organization, and they were unique circumstances.

VoH children live in families of ~20 children in a single home headed by house parents. These parents are married couples who serve as these children's parents (not simply as their care takers). When the parents have biological children, then become VoH children as well and live with the families. Since the homes are single sex, if a couple has a biological child of a sex different then the one in their home (such as our guide who is the father to a female house, but who has a biological son), their biological child will live in another house nearby.

When VoH leadership realized that the local primary school could not serve their children or the community well, they built their own primary school that is open to the community. When they realized there was no secondary school for their children to attend in the community, they built one. When their children needed medical care, they built a community clinic that has since become a fully functional hospital.

As the VoH model was described, I became increasingly impressed with their operations.

At the end of the visit, we had an opportunity to engage the secondary school students. The MBA contacts, Perla and Lauren, had arranged to bring some school supplies they wanted to share with the students, and the entire MBA team was given the opportunity to talk with the students in smaller groups.

It was a beneficial exchange for both parties, the VoH students who had questions about the US, studying business, and just about the MBAs in general; and the MBA students who had questions about these students' lives and studies.

Though I was initially hesitant, I was happy that I participated in this site visit.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Global Connections: Day 8 - Part 1

On Thursday we were on the move again and would end the day in Cape Coast. However, first we had some site visits.

We started the morning at HUB Accra, a co-working space turned incubator. We were met by board member William Senyo who challenged the students to convince him to add UT to his short list of possible MBA programs for himself (a list that currently includes Stanford and Booth). William has some experience with Austin since he had been sponsored to attend SXSW Interactive in the past. In William's opinion, Southby is a top five event experience and everything that it claims to be. Though he agrees, it is way too expensive.

Immediately the presentation discussed the issues of finding space that we had heard at many of our other sessions. According to William, landlords require renters to provide 1-3 years of rent up front. Start-ups simply do not have the ability to raise that sort of capital, and HUB started as a co-working space to address this issue. Rent is not the only pre-pay issue in Ghana. Everything is pre-pay here. From phone minutes to electricity. As William put it, if you don't have money in your pocket, you're screwed. I was a little skeptical of one HUB company William described. It sounded a lot like the pay day loan companies garnering so much criticism in the U.S. right now, but with a bit of that indentured servant to the company town feel as well. The company offers short-term loans for items you can purchase in its own ecommerce store and appears to have the ability to garnish wages. Definitely something I am wary of.

William was surprised that the co-workign model did not start in Ghana first, as it is just a natural way to work there. What does a co-working space offer? Internet access. Networking with other entrepreneurs. Cheap rent. In William's opinion, businesses in the U.S. do not need a HUB for internet or rent. It's the networking that is nice there. However, in Ghana, all three of these things are make or break for companies. According to William, it is a no-brainer that co-working should have developed there a decade ago.

William also talked about the many hackathons HUB has been involved in, including hosting the largest one in West Africa. HUB is also supported by an entity I had not heard of before, Unreasonable Institute, that I find quite interesting...maybe because I just like the name. HUB has connections with a number of big names including Facebook and Google. Priceline founder Jeff Hoffman* came through as well. I have a paraphrased, second-hand quote from Jeff that I like:
Imagine what is possible if you empower people instead of governments.
*Maybe I should look to see if I am related to this Hoffman?

After hearing from William, several of the start-ups working at HUB presented on their businesses.

Two start-ups, TroTro Diaries* and Wanjo have garnered some international attention.

*Tro tros are a mini-vans that are a common form of public transportation in Ghana. They were originally named for the cost of the ride which was two tros. 

An interesting takeaway for me from this session is a quote from William. I was typing this on my iPhone, so it is not a direct quote, but a paraphrase:
The goal is to lift people out of poverty (and make a lot of money while doing so). You cannot do business here and not be social. The core of your mission should be to lift people out of poverty. It's good business and its human.
To that extent, HUB is looking for companies that can impact one million people by year five.

Another role William sees for HUB is to provide a soft landing to international companies looking to enter into or scale up in Ghana. HUB can build teams with the necessary local knowledge to scale ready-to-go products with emerging markets potential.

William ended the session challenging the students to make a commitment to supporting at least one entrepreneur with their time or talents.

Since I clearly had a lot to say about HUB Accra and I know I have a lot more to say about our next site visit, I am going to split this day's blog entry into two. Tune in later to learn what we did in the afternoon on Thursday.