Saturday, September 8, 2012

Everything is made of cheese

Life! How does it work??

Since you last heard from me, I aged eleven months, got dengue fever, got robbed, my wife done left me, and she took the kids too.

I live in Accra now, in a distinctly different situation from last year's. I work in an office in support of a small vegetable marketing project paid for by Swedes, I also contribute some to our main program as well. As sad as I am to have left wonderful Bolga for much less savoury Accra, living here affords me some priceless good things which, all in all, make it a better than fair trade.

In few words, whilst I was lonely in Bolga, I feel like I have a family now.

In conversation with a friend the other day, I mentioned a trip I will take soon to Cambridge and Vancouver to (as I said it) "see my family, and then see my biological family". Perhaps I've disobeyed the dictionary definition of the word, but my usage reflects simply how I feel about people. Y'all are functionally my family, that's why I'm coming to see you. 13th October, ya-hoo!!

Same here in Accra. I really really like the folks I've got to know and who I spend my time with. They are great people, and I'm getting super attached to them. I feel like they're becoming my family, small small. I don't want it to sound like my biological family ain't my functional family too. They are, and I adore them. I just like having a big family, and lots of it. Okay, enough mushing.


The nature of my work and life these days means that I have much fewer photographs of it to share. I get out to field sites less, and spend more time at a desk or on the phone. Even when I visit my project, I'm more of a supervisor or asset to the program staff rather than a worker or an implementer.

Well, it is what it is.

I'll share with you a few shots I took on a site selection trip I took a while back:

Lots of cabbages!

Goats! How do they do it?

Visiting some vegetable plots at the end of the airfield when this jet flew overhead, coming in to land

A good old fashioned Ghanaian shit truck


Living in Accra also grants me access to a bunch of other fun things to do:

Photo: James R

I had the great honour and privilege to learn to sail from the beautiful and talented Sondy Springmann, who was in town for a brief 7-week stay.

Sailing is hard (also, fun!). Teaching sailing is harder. I definitely remember an instance where I was swerving the boat all over the place because I didn't yet have the coordination to handle the sail and rudder at the same time. Sondy was guiding me while I fought the rudder in a hard turn, when her instructions stopped abruptly. I turned around to see her flying sideways out of the boat. Moments later, I was hurled out myself as the boat rolled sharply the other way and showed its keel to the sky. Thanks, Sondy, for your immense kindness and patience.

This was one of the most perfectest days I've had in recent memory. Remember the old Nor Easter times? Same joy. There I was sailing on the Volta estuary: perfect temperature, leaning out of a speeding sailboat over flat water, with nice breeze, sunshine through the clouds, surrounded by palm trees and in the company of some of the nicest and warmest people I know or have met at the absolutely brilliant one-and-only Ghana Sailing Club. Throw in some cold beers and a hot barbeque, and you got yourself a recipe for paradise right there.

I'll omit the part where James and I capsized and half-sank an old, leaking Hobie cat and needed a rescue tow.

Photo: Sondy S

I've also been climbing a lot. In this picture, the right honourable James Regulinski, the lovely Danielle Knueppel and good ol' yours truly crushing on the Bat Cave, T-Rex, and Kelly's Corner/the Grand Deception respectively, from left to right. Okay, everyone crushes their routes except me. Kelly's Corner sounds like a cute little bakery and cafe where the pastries are sweet and the coffee is strong, but it's more like a medieval torture device or an extended camping trip with the in-laws. And that, my friends, is the grand deception.

Getting a couple of hours out of the city every weekend to a green green place with great views and even better company, climbing rocks and making jokes, does wonders for my sanity and general well-being. A nice side benefit is that I'm getting in some shape from pulling on rocks all the time. I don't think I've ever before in my life developed so much excess strength or ability, and moved with so much...confidence? Not quite the word, but something like it.

--- this next section is rambly, skip to the end if you'd like

I've been thinking a lot, recently, about money. Everything costs money. Well, lots of stuff does. Money helps you do things, it "gets you to where you wanna go". Money's good to have handy, but it also ain't no good if you don't spend it.

I've started to keep a loose track of my net worth with spread sheets and graphs, to see what the trends are. Nothing too obsessive, just a sample of each of my accounts once every two weeks. Fortunately, I find I'm net saving money since I got here. Unfortunately, I've been spending beyond my means for the last month or so.

I'm pretty sure I know the major offender in this case: a few thousand miles on aeroplanes. Of course, I ain't complaining. This is money I'm gladly spending. It's also money that's made me reflect on, understand and get a better idea what's important to me. The big picture. I've recently gained some wisdom about how money can buy happiness and I have some thoughts of my own to add. I've learned a ton of stuff from the rest of this blog, I highly recommend it.

Each day that passes, I realise more and more that I'm a(n extremely) social animal (an animal, certainly). Those who know me probably don't think I'm particularly extroverted or outgoing, and they'd be right, I ain't. But I'm definitely social, and I'll define it thus: "I want and need to spend lots of time with people, especially excellent people, especially people I like and care about. How I feel, what I think about and what I do, and the basis for the decisions I make all depend very strongly on the people around me and who matter the most to me." Community, family, so on.

So I've started to evaluate my expenditure based on whether and how it will improve my happiness, with the perspective gained from this key knowledge (how my money goes towards increasing the amount and/or quality of time I can spend with people and so on).

Sample evaluation of spending:

-Motorcycle (yes, I now ride a motorcycle): helps me see folks more frequently and easily: meet them places, call on them. Therefore, this is a good purchase. Admittedly, I quite like things that go fast on two wheels...and this motorcycle sure does go fast. The other great thing about motor vehicles in Ghana is that it's pretty easy to re-sell, and they hold their value well.

-Climbing gear: helps me not bum climbing gear off my friends, or helps me bring friends climbing, also adds infrastructure and enables us to climb more and different things. Therefore, this is a good purchase. Admittedly, it's nice to have toys again! I don't own that much stuff in any case, and it's a durable good, so not a constant expenditure.

-Going to restaurants nicer than I would usually: a chance to spend more time with dear friends. If I really have to put up with nice food for that, then I guess I have to live with that (: It's probably not all that much money in the grand scheme of things.

-A few thousand miles on aeroplanes: helps get me to where my peeps are, helps me and folks get to somewhere where we are going to have an extremely opportune, well justified and legitimately bad ass awesome time this November (you'll know who you are and where we're going when you read this)

You get the picture. It seems pretty straightforward (to me at least), but I didn't always think this way. Now that I do, it's doing wonders for my conscience and peace of mind. I'm instinctively a very financially conservative person, so it was a real leap to take to start spending more than I make. I almost need a list of things-I-won't-say-no-to.

Certainly, I won't (can't) spend more than I earn in the long run. All things considered, I'm quite risk averse with money and do save most --literally (and much) more than half!-- of what precious little I make here. I'll come out on top. And in any case, I still have significant savings, and I do have a few safety nets. I own a wee bit of stock...


That's all for now, folks. You might see more out of me, you might not. Writing takes time and energy and free space, but sometimes I also feel like I just have something I want to write down: to get it out and help me think it through, for posterity, you know, all that.

They're two opposing pressures, the cost and the benefit, the can and the want, and every time one of them overcomes the other, you'll see something go up here. And sometimes, it just comes: I basically wrote this in one take, where I usually do a few re-drafts and lots of editing.

Until next time, gentle reader...lost of love, yours truly, Jungle Boy, Sushi Roll, or whatever else you might know me as.