Monday, April 8, 2013

Ghana's Great Potential

April 8, 2013

My mind is buzzing tonight as I write this blog post. I'm not sure what triggered it, maybe a cumulative wonderful experience here in Ghana so far, but I've realized that this trip is nearing its end. Had you asked me if I was excited for it to be over a month ago, I might have leaned toward a positive answer. It's a sensory overload to say the least. At this moment, however, the thought of leaving this new life scares me. I feel an odd sense of fear of what I used to know. 

Don't get me wrong, it's not a dread of going back to the States, it's more of an unease about what it'll be like. I can't get terribly dramatic because I'll only have been gone four months by the time May 4 rolls around, but with everything we've experienced and everything we've been through, I wonder how I will perceive the place I've called home for almost exactly 25 years straight. Will I feel a sense of comfort? Will I settle right back in? Or, will I have an itch, a longing for something else.

Matt and I thought this trip would be a giant answer to all of our questions of the future. We thought the transition would make us realize what's next for us. Instead, we have more options and more questions. It's fantastically frustrating and irritatingly exciting. Or maybe the other way around...I don't know yet.

Today was an all over good day. We slept on the ship last night as it repositioned from Takoradi to Tema overnight. The ship arrived in port around 8am while we ate breakfast on the back deck. Our ship maneuvered its place in next to the National Geographic Explorer ship. We all wondered what it would be like to be on that voyage around the world.

Matt and I prepared for the Unreasonable round table event that we were going to shoot today in Accra with the rest of the team. We got our gear and hopped on the shuttle outside of the gangway. We met up with the rest of the crew who had travelled overland to meet the ship.  They were un-showered 
and had had some adventures of their own that we needed to hear about.

The shuttle took off, and we got a nice tour of Tema, the ocean and then Accra where the event was located. The shuttle took about an hour, not because of the distance but because of the traffic and very bad roads. The potholes here are impressive.

We arrived at the shuttle drop off location which is a nightclub closed down for renovations called Citizen Kofi. SAS was excited to hear that Accra's biggest night club was shut down for our stay here. Despite their desperate attempts to hide it, there are some party animals on this ship.  They give the other students and the program a bad name.  It's sad that they come all this way to go and get pass-out drunk. It's truly a select few, and there are many students who are wringing every drop of value out of the experience.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to do this trip as a student.  College is such a formative time, and this is such a life-changing experience to see the world like this.  I'm not sure I would have been ready for it when I was in college.

We grabbed taxis to the grand opening of Start-up Ghana, a new hub in Ghana that incubates entrepreneurs, much like Unreasonable, but all year round.  They just pulled together the office, painted it, furnished it and planned the event in the last three days.  We walked in and they had painted the logos of Unreasonable at Sea, the Unreasonable Institute and all of the companies that were coming to visit that day on their front wall.  It was an exciting atmosphere since they were kicking off their grand opening by inviting us in to meet with all of the entrepreneurs that they will be incubating in Ghana.  

There's a lot of exciting energy in Ghana.  They just discovered oil here in 2007, and many people fear that it will become like Nigeria with the warring over the natural resources, but as a more peaceful country and with a stable democracy for the last few years, the hub and many entrepreneurs are hoping to learn from other countries and utilize the new find for the better of the people and not just for the government and politicians to get rich.  There's a lot of corruption here, though.  At all of the check points along the roads, the police force bribes and profile people depending on who is in their vehicle.  When we were with Steve, we were stopped at a check-point and the officer made Steve pay him 2 cedi because Steve had so many white people in his car.

There were great conversations and great energy between the Unreasonable entrepreneurs and the local Ghanaians.  We were supposed to have brunch at 11am, but TIA (this is Africa) and we ate around 1:30pm.  People hung around, and they had organized round table discussions throughout the afternoon based on different topics of technology, health, start-ups and green topics.

About two hours into the event, the power went out, so the lights and air conditioning that we were enjoying were no longer.  They opened up the windows, but there was no breeze.  It immediately heated up in the building, and people started sweating.  It brought up another ongoing issue in Ghana which is the inconsistent power.  After our time in India and Myanmar, we weren't surprised.  The locals who were running the hub felt embarrassed, but we all went with it.  We understood.

At 5pm there was an hour-long break for people to mingle and get some fresh air outside.  There was a soccer game going on across the street in a big dirt field, so many of us went over and watched the teams play.  I sat and chatted with people who came by and said hello.  Everyone introduces themselves, asks your name and usually how old you are to get the conversation going.  We met many nice people.  My favorite was a painter around my age.  His art was hanging on the walls at the hub, and he has a studio where he shows and sells his art.  It's truly brilliant.  He started an NGO where he teaches young people art.  I took down his information because it would be fun to partner with them using their art in our videos.  I support anything that encourages art in young people's lives.

I really enjoyed sitting out on the front step of the hub between buzzing conversations.  I sat and watched the world go by.  It was interesting just to watch the community go about their business.  Some watched the game. Some were selling fruit and water.  Some young girls would come by every once in a while and get bags of water from a building a few houses from the hub.  A few old men chatted together on the side of the road and gave passerbys that they knew a hard time.  It was just life in Accra, and it was peaceful to just sit and watch.

A little after 6pm, our hosts had prepared the dinner tables for all of us.  They had put three candles in the middle of all the tables, and we ate by candlelight.  During dinner people gave keynote talks to inspire us all.  At one point, we had an electronic guest.  There were two co-founders of this hub and one of them has never been and might not be ever able to come to Accra and see his work.  He lives in California and was paralyzed eight years ago.  His dream is to see the local businesses in Accra and in Ghana succeed and grow and become profitable.  He works from afar on the project and he pre-recorded a message for us.  It was very powerful to hear his story and his thoughts on how his experience in charity showed him how highly ineffective it is.  You have to teach the people to fish, and they have to save themselves.  He really wants to support the innovation from within the country.

Our live band at the Republic Bar
After dinner, we all walked down to a bar called The Republic.  It was fun to walk along the streets at night and see all the people and what they do when the sun goes down.  It's relatively safe here, although it's never really a good idea anywhere to walk alone at night.  We felt safe with our local guides leading us to a well-lit and open bar.  They had fun cocktails with a Ghana twist using local ingredients.  I had the Republica which was delicious.  They had live music: a band with a xylophone, djembe, drum I have no idea what it's called and a guitar-esk instrument that the singer played.  Far too good to have to leave, but we needed to catch the last shuttle back to our ship in Tema.  With an hour's drive ahead of us, 9pm seemed like a good time to head back.

I'm definitely in a contemplative mood, and I'm sad to see how few days we have left both on the ship and in-country.  We still haven't heard back if we're needed in Washington DC for the Unreasonable at State event which will be going on May 1 and 2, so our trip could come to an end sooner or later than we expected.  We're flexible at this point, so whatever happens, happens.  We're already packed, so traveling isn't the problem.  It's settling that will be weird...