Accra Ghana Temple

Accra Ghana Temple
Accra Ghana Temple

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fruit Bats Are Here!

I've been waiting for this since the day we moved to Ghana -- the return of the fruit bats, sometimes called flying foxes.  The fruit bat has an excellent sense of smell.  While many people believe all bats are blind, fruit bats are really the only bats that do not have the best sight; they mostly do everything with their nose.  And they eat fruit exclusively.

Ghana has a large number of endemic bat species. It is nearly impossible to not see a colony of the Straw-colored Fruit Bats. They roost in trees and in the early morning they are quite noisy as they squabble over branches to roost on. There is a huge colony of perhaps 2000 individuals that make their home in trees near the 37th Military Hospital in Accra.

It was really fun for me to drive down Independence Avenue on my way to the Accra Temple and see the thousands of fruit bats roosting in the trees near the Military Hospital. Accra is in their migration pattern and at some point, they will move on and return again next year.

The locals tell the following story.  There once was a king who became very sick and was brought to the Military Hospital in Accra.  The bats loved him very much and flew to Accra to be near him.  The king eventually died there.  But no one told the bats - so they return every year to this same location.

There is a large tree near the swimming pool of our gated community.  We were told that the bats loved to roost there, but because they created such a mess, the gardeners cut the tree back drastically and the bats have abandoned this location.  However, during one of our morning swims we saw hundreds of bats swarming in a neighboring yard.  That was close enough for me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dodging Malaria

In America, we have mosquitoes that are big and loud.  You can hear them coming.  You can feel them land and slap them while still on your skin.  Not so in Africa.  The Anopheles mosquito is very tiny, quick, and silent - the perfect predator.  You will only find out later, maybe the next day, that you've been that mosquito's lunch.  

The female Anopheles mosquito is the "bad boy" that transmits the parasites that cause malaria. They start biting in the late evening, with the peak of biting activity at midnight and early hours of morning.  The specific species of Anopheles that causes all this trouble in in Africa is called A. gambiae. The Anopheles female mosquito lays 30-150 eggs every 2-3 days and the average life span of these critters is 2-3 weeks.  Sadly, every 30 seconds a baby dies of Malaria in Africa. 

Studies claim that mosquitoes choose their victims by odors and human behaviour.  Also it is believed that males are more frequently bitten.  Can that really be true?  Gregg said "no way is that true," because Shannon always has more mosquito bites than I do. 

We are currently on a preventative regimen of Doxycycline.  This is to create a hurdle for Malaria; maybe even disable it.  We also carry, at all times, a box of Artrin which is to be taken immediately if malaria symptoms appear. Artrin is very effective in eliminating the parasites. It is possible for  Malaria to manifest up to a month after being bit.  The telling symptoms are chills and fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  I am told that you get really sick really fast.  Not fun at all.     

All the missionaries in the West Africa Area are given a mosquito net and 2 new commandments; use the net every night and to take Doxycycline daily.  If they follow these guidelines, they can avoid malaria - virtually guaranteed.  They are also encouraged to give the mosquito net to a mother for her baby when they return home. 

It gets dark here by 6 p.m.  We really try not to be out at night to avoid the mosquitoes, so if we do go out at night we use DEET mosquito repellent.  We have a pest control plan for our home and we do our best to keep our house sealed up. We also protect ourselves in the evenings and early mornings by wearing clothes that cover the body as much as possible.

If it can be done, we plan to leave Africa having never experienced Malaria.  Wish us luck.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving Ball

Gregg and I were assigned to represent the Church at the Thanksgiving Ball sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce, Ghana Chapter.

As it was a black tie event, Gregg found a tailor who made a wonderful tuxedo for him at a reasonable Ghanaian price (this would have cost a mint in the United States, not here). I had only one request of the tailor; make him look like James Bond.  And he did!  Finding a tuxedo shirt and a cummerbund was another challenge.  They just don't sell them here, and certainly not in Gregg's size; fortunately our tailor had a European contact that found what we needed. 

I was still in America when we received the invitation.  Gregg told me to pack a gown.  I could only imagine what it would look like when I landed in Accra.  To my amazement, it was just fine. 

We attended the Thanksgiving Ball held at La Palm Resort and had a wonderful time. 
Entertainment was by the Zuum band which seemed to us to have a Caribbean flare. 

This was a great opportunity for us to meet local dignitaries.  We also met the US Ambassador and other US Embassy officials which can be of great help to the Church here.   

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Going native in the Kitchen

As I said in my last blog, a Ghanaian  church member agreed to teach me to cook some local dishes, which led us on our adventure to Kwame Nkruma Market.  At the market we acquired the following ingredients:  okra, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, green onions, little white eggplant, cabbage, Ghanaian spinach, a medium sized smoked salmon (or a salmon-like fish), red cooking oil, tomato paste, and some mystery dough.

After my arrival home from shopping with this bounty, I washed and then rinsed in bleach all the items, including the can of tomato paste and the smoked fish.

The following day she arrived for my cooking lesson.  Our biggest disconnect was my need to measure items in teaspoons and cups, which is absolutely foreign to them.  Recipes happen based on "look, smell, and experience."  When I began to record the steps of our cooking and asked her how many cups of rice we needed, I got a polite smile and a muffled giggle.

We made Jollof Rice - which contains onions, tomatoes, tomato paste, small green chiles, small red chiles, garlic, ginger (African ginger is HOT), fish, rice, cabbage, green beans, carrots, green onions, bell peppers, oil, and water.  It is a 2 hour process, but very worth it.  We made enough to feed a small army.

We also made Okra Stew.  Okra are season right now and you see them everywhere.  I'm very fond of fried okra.  You can't find that here.  For this dish we used a chicken, onions, small green chiles, ginger, garlic, 20 chopped okra, 10 garden eggplant (imagine very small white eggplant), African spinach, red oil (palm oil), salt, bouillon and water.  This dish took an hour to prepare.  Boiled okra is slimy, no matter how you cut it, so you'll just have to imagine that when you think about eating this.

Making fufu was a bit like making play dough. To begin, I mixed together with my hand the cassava, maize and water to a smooth consistency (like making mud pies as a girl). Then we began to cook it, stirring constantly as it changed color (from white to light yellow) and thickened. I was amazed how much work it was to beat this dough as it cooked. I was cautioned that you must always cook this at least 40 minutes or you will get terrible diarrhea. Having received the warning, I cheerfully continued to cook and beat the dough.

I invited her to stay for dinner. She had to go before Gregg would get home, so she ate immediately. The way the locals eat this meal is with their hands, which was fine with me. It was very interesting to watch her pinch off the dough and dip it in the Okra stew. She was very pleased with the outcome of our project. Gregg, who will eat just about anything, thought it was great!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shopping at the Kwame Nkrumah Market

I asked a Ghanian Church member to teach me to cook a few local dishes. She suggested we shop for food at the Kwame Nkrumah market (named after the first President of Ghana). We rode a tro-tro to the market. A tro-tro is usually an old, beat up, privately owned van that can hold up to 16 people and is the only form of "mass transit" here; this will be the subject of a future blog. 

At our destination the tro-tro pulled into a red dirt lot filled with hundreds of tro-tros. We have arrived safely and pile out to begin our walk through Kwame Nkrumah market.  After passing shoes, clothes, wigs, underwear, and African soap vendors we reach the food area. Imagine a football sized field of red dirt with beach umbrellas and tightly packed little wood tables (old crates) covered with produce and fish; everything you need to cook dinner tonight.

The spaces between the little tables are just wide enough for one person to walk. I saw a 3 sided wire mesh box on a table where a man was chopping up a side of beef as people came and made requests. No thanks, I'll pass. I also saw fresh water crabs running around in the bottom of a great big tin bowl. We bought plantains, okra, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, green onions, little white eggplant, cabbage, Ghanaian spinach, a medium sized smoked salmon (or a salmon-like fish), red cooking oil, tomato paste, and some mystery dough.

I didn't know what to expect the cost would be. I took 70 cedis and spent only 25 cedis.  One cedi is about $.75.  My bag now weighed 25 lbs. and I hired someone for one cedi to carry it in a big metal bowl on her head back to the tro-tro . That was the best money I spent all day. I was completely covered with sweat and still faced the return trip home on the tro-tro.  I held my 25 lb. bag on my lap as there was no other option. I was dropped at the Cantonments Post Office near my home and walked about 1/4 mile to complete my journey. The outing took 2 1/2 hours and I was hot, wet and very tired. Thank goodness for our air-conditioned home. Tomorrow I will be cooking Jollof rice, Okra stew and a dough ball. Today I will be washing and bleaching everything we bought including the tomato paste and the fish. Then I'll take a shower.

I never saw another white person and never heard a word of English. All the bartering was in Ga, one of the dialects here. It is suddenly very clear to me why we drive to the air-conditioned store in our air-conditioned car. Man, are we spoiled, and we think that's normal. Here, it is not normal. I feel very blessed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Our Adventure in Makola Market

Our adventurous spirit led us to visit Makola Market with a few friends that knew the "path through this jungle." We left home at 7 a.m. on a Saturday hoping to beat the crowd and we still found it shoulder to shoulder from the moment we arrived. Truly, it was a flowing sea of humanity, with an occasional goat or truck in the mix.

Makola Market is where all the locals from Accra and surrounding areas go to find and buy what they need. It covers 12 or more square blocks of tightly packed buildings, booths, and people. Although there are still a few fresh food items left in the market, now it is mostly things. You can literally find anything you want at Makola Market if you are willing to take the time to look for it. You can find dress shirts, to fabric, to prepackaged goods (who knows if they are genuine or not), to used parts, to wastebaskets, to luggage, to propane tanks and anything else your mind can imagine.

Gregg and I have been to markets, bazaars, and "souks" in many places including Istanbul, Cairo, Amman, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Mexico City, Juarez, and Sharmel Sheikh. However, Makola Market in Accra, Ghana is now one of our favorites. There was not one "tourist" item for sale and not one vendor begged us to buy anything. Other than our little group, we never saw another white person (obruni) the entire time and no one gave us a second look. It was still fun to bargain, but the prices were low and fairly firm.

Gregg bought several nice things: four dress ties, a bow tie, and cuff links all for about $10. I saw a cluster of women tightly grouped around a vendor on the sidewalk and poked my head in to happily discover Ghanaian Batik fabric for a good price. Yes, I bought two pieces (about 3 yards each) for about $12 total.

Although we went early in the day, it was very hot and humid and Gregg quickly became completely soaked in sweat. At the end, our little group had bought so much that we needed to hire a little lady to carry our bounty back to the car. She placed a flat board on her head and had us stack it several feet high. Gregg had so much fun; he can't wait to go back. I asked him, what would you buy? And his reply was, "I'm sure we could find something!"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Collin Gregory Dunn has Arrived

Wouldn't you know it?  As soon as I arrived back in Ghana our daughter-in-law, Alison and son, Greg headed to the hospital.  Within 12 hours of my arrival in Accra, little Collin Gregory Dunn arrived safe and sound in Nevada.  He is 20" long (a fact his father is proud of), weighs 7# 5oz. and was born at 12:04 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2010.  Mother and baby are fine.  It is suddenly hard for me to be in Africa.

I'm back in Ghana

Gregg and I were invited to attend October Conference in Salt Lake City.  We enjoyed those sessions very much.  After some business meetings Gregg returned to Ghana Oct. 9 and I got to stay and play with grandchildren for 3 more weeks!

Gregg and I are so happy to be back together again!  The stars have once again aligned and all is right with the universe when we are together.  I was pleased to hear from our friends here in Ghana how much Gregg missed me (not just my cooking).  They told me he was moping around quite a bit.  He did take the opportunity to spend a week in Nigeria while I was away.

Our son Scott and his wife Melita, who live in Mountain View, CA surprised us and were there to welcome us as we arrived home for Conference.  Scott is a recruiter for his company at BYU.  What a well timed recruiting trip!

I flew to Albuquerque and attended the International Balloon Fiesta with my mother.  The balloons were as wonderful as I had remembered and the New Mexican food was even better than I remembered.  I brought a dozen frozen tamales back to Salt Lake City.

Next I visited Reno where our 3 granddaughters live with our oldest son, Greg and his wife Alison.  It was great to attend Lina's soccer game, go to a pumpkin patch and just enjoy being together.  In the photo the granddaughters are wearing dresses I brought for them from Africa.

I had a great opportunity to spend true "quality time" with our 7 month old grandson, Aiden while his parents flew to Rome, Italy for a belated honeymoon.  I now understand clearly why it is best to have children while you are young.  It just about wore me out.  I have a lot more compassion for our daughter and her interrupted nights of sleep. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Vacation Time

I get to go home for General Conference in Salt Lake City!  Gregg and I leave shortly for Utah.  Gregg has meetings and then he has to return to Ghana.  But I get to be "Grandmother" for a couple of weeks before I return to Africa.  Our next blog post will most likely not occur until November 2010. 

Kente Cloth

I love Kente cloth! Kente cloth is colorful woven fabric, historically worn by royalty in Ghana. Kente derives from the word kenten which means basket. Patterns in the cloth resemble the weave of a basket.  Kente cloth was expensive to own because of the quality of work put into the making. Today, people of all status wear the Kente cloth. Kente cloth is more than mere clothing; it is worn on special occasions such as weddings and important affairs.


Traditionally the cotton is locally grown and spun into yarn by women and woven by men.

You must believe me when I say that the local ladies look stunning wearing Kente cloth and other traditional dress.  The colors are just amazing against their beautiful skin tones


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Memories of Miracles

Gregg recently made his first visit to Liberia.  In 2003, during his first week as Managing Director of Security for the Church, a civil war erupted in Liberia.  This quick moving event caught a zone of African Elders behind rebel lines.  Gregg and his team worked with the Mission President and the Area Presidency to determine a way to get the Elders to a safe location and eventually evacuated. 

Arrangements were made for them to stay at a hotel near the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, if only they could get there.  The Elders had a cell phone but, as typical for young men, forgot to take the charger.  So they could only call periodically. They passed through check points controlled by both rebel and government forces.  They were helped along the way.  A member of a Stake Presidency escorted them part of the way and a Catholic Priest gave them sanctuary and a place to rest overnight.  At one check point, the guards took everything they had including the cell phone.  There was no contact with them for a day or so.  They eventually made it to the hotel but the rooms reserved for them had been given to others.  However, they were permitted to stay in the lobby where there was a phone, allowing them to make collect calls.

As a "coincidence," the wife of Pres. Charles Taylor, the First Lady of Liberia was at this hotel. She knew of the Church and seeing the Elders asked if she could help them.  She kindly arranged a military escort to get these 11 missionaries to Roberts International Airport.  After a day or so of waiting at the airport, the missionaries got seats on an airplane (with help from influential members in West Africa).  All safely arrived in Ghana where they continued their missionary service.

It was fascinating for Gregg to now see the hotel, the U.S. Embassy, and the airport.

Sadly, Liberia is still feeling the effects of this terrible civil war.  Electricity is not yet restored to many parts of Monrovia.  City power and water are still scarce commodities.  If you are lucky enough to have a generator, you can enjoy a reliable supply of electricity.  Many major roads are in desperate need of paving and repair.  But the Liberian people seem to be moving forward with the hope of a brighter future.  The Church continues to grow in Liberia bringing the light of the gospel to them.    

Mud Puddle or Opportunity?

It rains here! And not all roads are paved.  This makes for some great mud puddles!  These are truly some of the biggest I've ever seen.  Fortunately, around Accra most major roads are paved.  But when you get off the main roads, they are usually dirt.  

In his travels, Gregg has found the very best mud in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Niger River Delta area of Nigeria.  Mud holes can be deceptive, as you often don't know how deep they are.  It is very reassuring to observe others enter and exit the puddle before you try it.

In several locations, Gregg and I have observed that muddy roads can be an opportunity for the entrepreneur.  For example, on his recent trip to Liberia, a small pond next to the road was turned into a "Truck cleaning station!"  The locals would encourage the driver to drive his vehicle into the pond where several individuals would quickly wash the caked mud off the vehicle for a small price.  And for a very short moment, you could have a clean car. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What a Shock - My Electrical World

We fully understood that in coming to Africa, we were leaving the world of 110V electricity and entering the world of 220V.  We brought with us adapters, converters, and step-up/step-down units.

The surprise to us was that Ghana is the United Nations of electrical plugs.  We have electric appliances from Europe, South Africa, Asia, the United States, and so on.  Our home is built for UK style plugs.  Our appliances are rarely from the UK.  So we are always searching for what kind of an adapter will allow us to plug what appliance into the wall. All wall sockets have their own on/off switch at the wall. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, you can have a close up look at our electrical world. 

For the US appliances and electrical equipment we brought, we have to step-down the voltage from 220 to 110.  We have several varieties of converters which can accomplish this.  But if you forget... it is the sudden and sure death of your US electrical toy (if there is not a built in converter in your US appliance).  For example, most computers have that built into the power system.  

The second problem is electrical surges which are all too common here.  In order to protect your equipment, you must have a voltage regulator.  It will stabilize the flow of electricity to 220, even if spikes occur.  So, your sewing machine would need a voltage regulator or it could become toast!

The third problem is the frequent power outages.  We are very blessed to have a large diesel operated generator in our back yard.  When the electricity goes off, this behemoth roars into activity.  We usually have a quick return of lights and power unless there is a problem with the generator... which has happened... and then Gregg and I sit in the dark.  Fortunately, our computers function with a battery backup, so we don't lose anything during a power outage. 

Leapin Lizards!

Our small guests, the common house geckos (hemidactylus mabouia), are not to be underestimated in their jumping and running abilities.  This week I opened the cupboard to take out plates for dinner.  Peering over the top of the plate, were two tiny black beady eyes;  a baby gecko.  As I reached for the plates, he leaped out of the cupboard, onto me, and made a safe landing and a quick getaway on the floor. I was so proud of myself for not dropping the plates. Gregg said, "well done, Shannon." The happy ending is that the next morning when I opened the door, there he was ready to run for his life.  Free at last! 

These little translucent bug-eyed lizards are small and bland compared to the Rainbow Lizards which live in our yard and just about everywhere in Ghana.  The males have a bright yellow or orange colored head and bands of colors down the length of their body.
The females are smaller and smarter by blending in very well with their surroundings, usually matching the dirt or rocks.  These lizards have the most unusual characteristics of sprinting, looking around quickly with their buggy eyes, and then doing a series of fast push ups.  We're not sure what they're trying to tell us.  Perhaps it's "look how strong and buff I am!" Gregg thinks they are just showing off for the female lizards.   

Rarely will they let you get close enough to snap a picture.  I like to think I'm quick with the camera, but it was probably just a case of a lizard with an inflated ego that wanted a picture of his push-ups.  We like these lizards because they make a steady diet of bugs.   

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Elmina Slave Castle

During our recent trip to Cape Coast and Elmina, we visited the very sobering Elmina Slave Castle.  The white-washed, red-roofed castle with its many cannons facing the sea sits right on the ocean.  The grand scale and picturesque views belie the horrors that took place there.  This is oldest and largest of many slave castles that exist along the Gulf of Guinea (also known as the Slave Coast).   

Elmina was built on sedimentary rock believed to be over a hundred meters deep, thus explaining why it is in such good condition today.  The castle was isolated from the community with moats, over which spanned a drawbridge, allowing no one to enter of leave the castle when lifted.  The Portuguese built Elmina Castle in 1482 as a trading post to house goods bartered (like guns, ammunition, tobacco, alcohol, and spices) for local gold and ivory.  As the demand for slaves developed in South America (Brazil), the Caribbean Islands, and America, the castle began to store a more precious and perishable trade - African human slaves. 

Millions of Africans were taken into slavery between the 1500s and 1800s.  The slaves were traded or sold to Europeans sometimes by their own chiefs, by a victorious warring tribe, or native African raiders.  Elmina castle could hold 600 men and 400 women and children (over age 12) for months at a time, waiting for the ships to arrive.  The cramped conditions had to be atrocious. 

The most sobering location in the castle was the "Door of No Return."  A barred door opens to reveal a narrow opening, only wide enough for one slave at a time to fit through sideways.  As they left the castle on small boats bound for the ship, this would be their last view of Africa, their homeland.  Half died on the voyage, but none ever returned.  It is hard to believe what humans can do to each other.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Road Trip to Cape Coast

This weekend we made our first road trip out of Accra to the resort town of Cape Coast and the neighboring fishing village of Elmina.  This is a very lush green area of Ghana with picturesque villages and beaches.  The real adventure of the trip relates to the lack of road signs for highways and streets.  There were signs identifying most of the villages, which was the only clue.  

Getting to our hotel was a bit unnerving to say the least.  After driving through the small fishing village of Elmina, the paved roads with potholes came to an end.  As we followed the red dirt road with high vegetation on both sides, we asked ourselves, "could this be right?"  Then we saw a sign directing us to our hotel and made the poor assumption that we were almost there.  WRONG.  Just as we were about to turn around thinking that if there was a hotel out here, we weren't sure we would stay at it - we found a very lovely and new hotel on a beautiful beach with a hundred coconut trees.  It was delightful to sit by the pool or in the open air restaurant and enjoy the crashing of the waves.  At the restaurant we enjoyed wonderful fresh seafood.  The grouper, snapper, and lobster were outstanding and reasonably priced. 

It was interesting to see villages made up of huts which were mud bricks with grass roofs.  The traditional shape of the huts is round, but the newer ones are rectangular. We saw many Brahman cattle being herded along the seashore.  The fishing villages were fascinating; ladies were selling live crabs, shrimp, and fish of every variety including smoked fish.  We saw the mud brick ovens with screen racks on top used to smoke the fresh fish caught that day.   

The drive through the small fishing village of Elmina was filled with amazing sights, sounds, and smells that are difficult to describe.  All the homes were made of wood or mud bricks, a very few had block walls.  We were sharing the narrow road in Elmina with goats, chickens, pigs, sheep, and children.  All the boats were made from wood; some were nothing more than dugout canoes.  All go out to sea for fishing with nets.  As we drove along we happened upon two white-shirt and tie Elders teaching a man in front of his very simple home.  

We attended church with the Ola Ward in Cape Coast. The meeting was conducted in both English and Fante (the local dialect). The Bishop was making the announcements in Fante. And suddenly in English he said, "and would the white couple in the back stand up and announce yourselves," which we did. We were a little surprised but felt warmly welcomed.

Gregg saw what looked like someone holding a dead rat by the tail at the side of the road.  Guess what?  They were selling a dead rat!  Among bush meat delicacies is the highly favored Cane Rat also known here as a Grasscutter.  This particular man had caught the rats, cleaned and smoked them and was offering them for sale to passing motorists.  We were not tempted to buy one, but paid $1 to take a picture (we just had to have a remembrance of those teeth).  On arriving home we googled Grasscutter and found it is genus thryonomys syinderianus with numerous tasty recipes including Grasscutter stew.  Darn, I guess we missed our chance.