First trip abroad: Phones in the post office and travelers checks and stamped mail
Phones in a home or hotel and a credit card and travelers checks and stamped mail
Phones in a home or hotel or calling cards for pay phones and a credit card and stamped mail
Phones in a home or hotel or calling cards for pay phones and internet access at a friend’s house and a credit card and an ATM card that works for local currency and stamped mail and email
Cell phone with a local SIM card and internet access at a friend’s house and a credit card and an ATM card that works for local currency and and email
Cell phone with a local SIM card and wireless access at cafes and at my neighbor’s house (and eventually at mine)andwriting checks(!)for local currency at the cashier at work and email (and stamped mail if ever I get to Timbuktu). (Too much fraud for ATM and credit cards to be safe and most of what you buy is from small vendors). Sometimes the old becomes new.
Since the day my bed was packed out of Chicago not even four months ago, I have lodged/lived in seven places, and I am not yet in my “permanent” home. That will hopefully happen in mid-July. Of those four months, about a month of that, some solid and some sprinkled, has been living out of suitcases. I guess it is good practice for a peripatetic lifestyle, but right now I just want to re-setup a home, even if it is just for a couple of years.
I did quite a lot of purging before I moved; several people figured I could purge more but by the end I just didn’t have the energy. When all of my stuff gets here I will probably realize there are things I don’t need. When my “consumables” shipment gets here, I will probably realize I bought too much of some things and not enough of others. I will try not to acquire too much more. The short time period bodes well for managed acquisition; being in a three-bedroom house, though, may just cancel that out. Time will tell. One thing is for sure—I must figure out how to keep my checked baggage under weight and my carry-ons to to something carry-able. I’m still recovering from the plane trips.
I decided to go the pay-as-you-go route for a Ghanaian cell phone. That’s what everyone does. First after finding every store closed last Saturday I ended up at a Vodaphone place and asked for a SIM card with some amount of time on it. I learned they call it a chip here, and then you buy little scratch of cards with certain denominations to add money or “Top off” your card. You can top off your card in the store or buy the scratch-off cards from little kiosks of even guys sitting on a chair under a big umbrella (red for Vodaphone) like the guy a half a block from my house. My friend Nana’s sister told me most people have chips from all of the companies and top off according to which company has the best deal at the time. Vodaphone now has a bonus 2 for 1 credit going for the next couple of months. Buy 10 cedis worth of time which expires in about a 3 months, and get 10 cedis worth of time which expires in a week. (I’m finding 10 cedis is a little over an hour of calling to the US, which, at the current conversion rate is about $6.67, so it’s about 10 cents/minute.) At another time MTN will have a deal where it’s unlimited calling to another MTN phone, and some other company will come up with another deal. I’m glad I have an unlocked phone. Meanwhile, someone should design a little SIM card/chip wallet so I’d be able to keep all my chips straight (including my USA T-mo one).
Looking out of the window of the plane as we flew over Côte d’Ivoire at midday, I noticed the towns and cities sparkled—like the lights were on in the middle of the day. I’d never seen that before, and knew it couldn’t be lights, but I wondered what the sun could be reflecting off of: windshields? I was stumped until our descent over Ghana, where I noticed that many of the houses were covered with corrugated metal roofs. Eureka—my stars! I am now living in one of those midday stars, and last night I was treated to quite a symphony by one of our tropical torrents. Considering I love sitting in my truck during storms, I enjoyed this rhapsody in rain.
Here in Accra, you don’t hail taxis. Taxis hail you. I noticed that whenever I was walking on the street cars kept beeping their horns at me. I asked the guards at the embassy if I was walking wrong on the street and they just laughed and told me it was just the taxis trying to get a fare (silly naïve foreigner). Today as I was walking one block and then waiting for a friend for about five minutes, I was constantly shaking my head “no” – I probably turned down at least 25 taxis.
The taxis are all two-toned. Their front and rear fenders on both sides are a yellow or an orange, and the doors and hood and trunk are all another color—any other color. Of all the combinations I’ve seen, my favorite so far was a purple and yellow one. I’ve yet to take a taxi. I have been lucky to have embassy transportation and very warm and welcoming co-workers and neighbors. When I do take a taxi, I’ll probably choose by color. I’ll have to bargain with the driver beforehand for a price, preferably not too exorbitant of an obruni price (obruni are we foreigners), and I hate bargaining, but I guess I’ll get over it faster if I get to ride in a purple and yellow taxi.
In January of 2010 amidst a “mid-course correction” (my friend Carl’s positive spin off of the usual “crisis”) I learned that a long-held dream to join the Foreign Service was still and option, and I decided to put feet on the dream. I studied for the exam for two months, took it and passed it in March, wrote a series of essays (relying on some pretty tight editor friends) in April, received an invitation to the Oral Assessments (OAs–very involved interview/evaluation) in June, worked with some great fellow candidates to prepare for the OAs throughout the summer, took and passed the OA on September 7th (with several great folks that have either finished training or will soon start), uncharacteristically flew through medical and security clearances (not without thinking I had had or was having a heart attack in the process), had an offer on November 10th, sorted and weeded and packed out my worldly possessions acquired over several decades, and started training on Valentine’s day 2011 with the 159th A-100 class of Foreign Service Generalists (FSO — O meaning Officer) for the United States Department of State. Many weeks of training later, I landed in Accra, Ghana for my first posting as a consular officer–almost a year to the day that I learned I’d been invited to the OA. I’m still reeling.
Accrabatics are my impressions of being a new FSO in Accra, Ghana.
This morning as I was walking Cap’n Jack, I met a friendly labradoodle sporting a smashing Harrod’s collar. We owners asked after each dog’s breed (Cap’n Jack is a French bulldog/border terrier mix), and I mentioned the collar. She laughed that I was the first to notice it, and, somewhat embarrassed, told me her kids insisted on buying the dog a present in London. We started talking about our respective trips to London (hers this past summer, mine in 1983), especially the fun we had just hanging around, watching people, visiting churches and free museums, riding the tube and double-decker buses, and relaxing in the parks. I loved afternoon tea; her kids were “underwhelmed.”
So today I share a painting of a field in or near the Lake District, and a song I wrote when I was about to leave. I apologize that I was losing my voice at that point in the show . . .
Here’s the audio introducing the song (immediately following as song about Italy which I’m talking about at the beginning). It sets up my life immediately before that summer, which made that trip so transformational for me.
A little over 25 years ago I traveled to Heidelberg with a friend. One night we two Americans, and one Austrian we met at the hostel, went to see a Brazilian mime . . . in Germany. I remember being amazed by the universality of the non-verbal languages of mime and music. On the way “home” to the hostel, we got lost; and out of the darkness arose the words “Hey, you guys!” We turned to find a friend who I had last seen two years before at her going-away party. (I didn’t even know where in Germany she was going.) She had just taken a train back from Yugoslavia, and she was walking a route home that she had never taken. So there we all were, meandering toward our respective temporary homes a half a continent and an ocean away, only to discover, for me the first time, that the world is actually quite small. The next morning, we hiked up the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s way) in an eerie fog, and I took this picture. At the top we mused about and toasted to coincidence with my first glass of glüwein.
I learned the hymn, Lead, kindly light by Cardinal John Henry Neuman, 24 years ago. I was on a work abroad program in England for the summer. I went to a different Anglican church every Sunday–several in London, in Cambridge, in Rye, in Carlisle, in York, in Newcastle, in Exeter, in Dalston, in Mousehole . . . and I sang from the Anglican hymnal for the first time (not too many Lutherans over there). It was the transformational summer of my twentieth year, with rich memories still stirred by Anglican hymnody, Turner landscapes, and Monty Python.
I put these words and pictures in together in my head, and have held them there for about 23 years. Today, I put them together with my hands, and will now have this mantra ever before me.
Things don’t take forever to do, just as I don’t need to know forever to live. I just have to keep taking that one step.