Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Drinkers with a Running Problem: the Hash or Government

The last few weeks have been themed by work, trying to get cool, playing random sports and of course some dancing. I learned to play squash, was initiated into a local sect of a global running/drinking club called the Hash (slogan 'drinkers with running problem,'  joined an actual running club, found a clean stretch of urban beach, and am headed to the US Embassy to play beach volleyball tomorrow. After surviving attack of the parasite, fever and series of stomach issues late last week, Saturday night regained strength enough to hit a few local dance clubs featuring Nigerian music with two guys I met from church - we jammed until late, grabbed some street food and took a rickety '80's toyota cabbie home. 

Despite the list above, I have worked 6 days a week as much as my latent internet connection, directionally challenged personal driver and the rolling blackouts of electricity will allow. I have met with government ministers, deans, venture capitalists and computer programmers across Ghana. I am living an education course on the Ghanaian intellectuals, techies, entrepreneurs, mobile operators while surviving the lectures of the government. 

Often ministers and government employees require you to pay them money, called sitting fees, to attend meetings and request consulting fees for their formal advice or permission (we do not pay :).  You frequently have to bribe the press to attend and write about events.  But possibly the worst of example is the World Bank and such NGOs, who provides loans with exact provisions of where the money is spent, which is typically back in their pockets and then require repayment with hight interest with money that only glanced their economy. I was aware of this WB policy but spent my afternoon with very honest well educated government official who relayed the spiraling effect of the policy in practice - short sighted minister offered millions indentures the country. Interestingly enough, the World Bank has competition here with Chinese banks making a carbon copy sales pitch but with more cash. 

On a lighter note, it is a holiday weekend (not sure what holiday yet :) so I will be headed with friends to a family mansion on the southeast coast to enjoy the Gulf of Guinea. Ghanians are awesome hosts and take care of their Obruni. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From Italian Girl to Accra 'Obruni'

Since my last post, I traveled to historic Milano, Italy for the weekend, back to Zurich and am now sitting to Accra, Ghana - my new home. I traveled to Italy by train through the snow capped Swiss Alps, twisting through quaint towns, remote villages, deep gorges and absolutely stunning lakes. The border between Switzerland and Italy was only marked by the backyard gardens transitioning to small family vineyards but the culture is worlds way.  I strolled and ate my way through Milano then capstoned Zurich with back-to-back pub crawls with local Googlers. (Italy pics)

On Wednesday night I arrived in Accra, Ghana welcomed by a hot balmy gust of wind that settled to just....hot air. The only other Google employee, Estelle, welcomed me and drove me to my new abode with 3 roommates, a lively security guy named Hope, a house keeper Theo with her 5 yr old daughter Blessings. 

Thus far, Ghana has lived up to its reputation as a friendly, topical safe haven, with incredible mangos and even better people.  It's economy is booming - hosting West Africa's first proper mall, well paved roads with nice cars, tons of expats, and a bourgeoning local middle class. Poverty still has a prevalent face in society but its not ruling the complexion. 
Since my arrival, I have managed to join a cycling group, church, running club, and have meetings with local developers, the largest university in Ghana, a Nigerian bank and lost power and water at least once a day (if it is on at all to loose).  I am mastering the 'bucket shower.'  On the radar is purchasing a 4x4 and a week in Senegal.

Funfact: Ghanians love country music. You will find Dolly Parton much faster than Beyonce on the radio.                            > My house >>>

~ Bridge ' Obruni '

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hoisting My World Behind Me from SF to Zurich

> Last ride, last day in SF.

Geography and time have moved at an equally rapid pace the past few weeks. I packed up my life into a 6x6 storage unit and two suitcases, enjoyed a final few bike rides in San Fran, hopped a flight to Seattle to relish my family at our best event yet - Hollie & Isiah's wedding, and now I am in Zurich for 8 days bound for Ghana.  And yes, I have begrudgingly been the sherpa for my 65 kilos (143 lbs) of luggage. I look like that girl who brings shoes for every possible outfit that you see in the airport and think 'she should just not travel if it is that much effort.' Luckily, I have an excuse.

Zurich is gorgeous and tastes even better. The landscape with the rising Alps above Lake Zurich and greenery are incredibly similar to the Puget Sound in Washington with pristine running weather! The architecture, cobble stone streets, and cathedrals are quintessentially European with German influence. The Swiss are strong traditionalists with fairly ridged social norms and odd regulations to enforce them (apparently it is illegal to recycle on Sunday because it is noisy). The food tastes handcrafted - from the crusty fresh bread to the decadent chocolate and smooth wheat beer. I am indulging while I can.

The Google office here is a little fantastical with fire poles and slides running between the seven floors, authentic chairlifts serving as couches, a greenhouse, library and outgoing groups of Googlers to go along with it. They have ensured that I enjoy the slightly uptight, smokey, male dominated Zurich nightlife to its fullest. I have ;)

This town is awesome but little too quite for my style. I think I might go to Italy for the weekend. Given the wedding I attended last week, I am confident Italians are slightly less reserved. More pictures can be found here!