|At the road-side 'bars' where I stop for water and a cold drink,|
there's often chickens underfoot...
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
|When the obruni couldn't get close enough to the butterfly to take|
a photo of it, he snapped these seed pods instead
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
If the recent book and movie Eat, Pray, Love can link Italy, India, and Indonesia, then maybe my eating, drinking, and pedaling can connect Ghana, Afghanistan, and America.
When my cousin Glen Lapp died in Afghanistan in early August, I gave one of the eulogies at a memorial service in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the United States. In that speech, I told how the phrase "pedal harder" was Glen's mantra for a bike trip we did in 2002, and how it expressed his approach to life.
He didn't just live this phrase himself, though. Glen also had a way of convincing others that, at least for a time, this could be their motto, too. Since his death, it's been no different.
Glen's go-hard-at-life approach has become inspiration for those who wish to carry his spirit forward. There's been a "Let's go!" editorial, a Pedal Harder bike ride through late-October Lancaster countryside, a blog post from a fellow hiker on a years-ago Chile trip, and people from teachers to artists to adventurers telling how Glen's persistent endurance and caring sacrifice has encouraged them.
But, while he taught me to pedal hard on our 2002 bike ride across the US, Glen also shared the value of being good to yourself. Early in our trip, soon after we rode out his front door in Lancaster, Glen taught me a catchy little phrase: "Eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty."
Newbie bike-tour rider that I was, I blinked twice at this. I'd always thought you should listen to your body, not indulge it.
Glen explained that, with the high energy output we'd be daily asking of our muscles, our minds might have trouble keeping up. And so, if we waited until our brain cried out "Thirsty!" or "Hungry!" that meant we were already past the point of need.
It's like you're a newborn, and if you're already crying then milk should have been at your lips twenty minutes ago. Sometimes you have to baby yourself.
A couple weeks back, since I don't live in Lancaster, I did my own Pedal Harder ride here in Ghana. I cycled about 60 miles north from Accra, Ghana's capital, to the Akosombo region at the bottom of Lake Volta.
There were no Amish buggies to pass, no autumn leaves in reds and yellows, and gloves weren't necessary against the morning chill. No, in this nearly-equatorial land it was so hot that my "drink before you're thirsty" catch-phrase meant my two water bottles were always nearly empty. I did get to ride through acres of mango orchards, though, take in the reds of drying chilies, sit in blessed shade along the lazy Volta River, and enjoy forested hills rising from an expanse of dark blue water.
Along the way, I stopped (before I was hungry, of course) to eat at a roadside shack, the By His Grace restaurant. Stepping across an open ditch, I entered a room barely ten feet square. A rusty refrigerator hummed beside shelves that held a row of metal pots, next to two small tables with a few chairs squeezed around them.
Just the kind of place Glen might have appreciated.
I sat and ate a plate of chicken, with a spicy sauce and rice, out of one of the pots. As I ate I thought about my three month ride with Glen across the US. I remembered the frigid day in North Dakota, in the middle of nowhere, when Glen insisted we pull over for a snack. It was too miserably cold to stop, I thought, but Glen knew our bodies' need.
We ate some graham crackers and peanut butter, then, shivering on the windswept roadside. And the peanut butter made it better.
Later in my ride to Akosombo, my water bottles needing a refill, I pulled over at a small storefront. Sitting in a dusty plastic chair on a dusty concrete patio, I drank a cold Sprite and watched the store owner nap under a nearby tree.
As I sipped I thought about the late November day when Glen and I had just finished pedaling a 16 mile trail along California's Lost Coast. It had taken two days to do this hiking path with our loaded bikes, not one day like we had hoped. The night before, for our Thanksgiving dinner we had eaten a cup of rice each, with soy sauce. We were completely out of water, and the nearest store was still miles ahead.
Glen, ever resourceful, flagged down a passing pickup. He artfully coaxed the driver, then, into giving us a little water.
So, here's the lesson: Eat, Drink, then Pedal. And while you're pedaling hard through life, remember to reach for the peanut butter before your body screams for protein. Don't be afraid to ask someone for a drink. And, now and then, baby yourself.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Caption: And what tasty flavor of ice cream is this? A fine cinnamon, perhaps? A dainty dollop from the sea for a nautically Dakar-ian twist on the icy treat? No no, it is the flavor of an American president!
Today I had an Obama-flavored milkshake. Chocolate, with crumbled cookies - slightly gooey - and a hint of caramel.
Classic Obama, for sure.
Caption: All that Obama-flavored goodness, in a cup. Sip that through a straw!
I'm in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, for a week, enjoying good food, a lively street and architecture scene, and the furthest west coastline on the African continent.
There's an ice cream shop just around the corner from my hotel. It's called N'Ice. Very nice. So nice I've been going just about every day.
Caption: She scoops up Obama with the greatest of ease.
I might actually need that Obama health care plan soon.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Walking down Oxford Street the other day in Osu, Accra's shopping-and-restaurants area, I saw this guy all painted up and advertising for Zion Thai Restaurant.
I guess performance art, of a sort, has made it to Ghana.
And if performance art and advertising have already dovetailed here to help this guy create a little business opportunity - for himself and for the restaurant - then that's saying something about Ghana's level of development.
It's amazing what a little peace and stability can do. Next thing will be graffitti and Segway scooters, punk rock and mock political rallies.
By the way, if you live in Accra, do check out Zion Thai - it's in Osu down the Papaye street. And if you like things spicy, order the papaya salad: it'll turn your cheeks the shade of this guy's ankles.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Yes, a proper ride-your-poodle-around-the-neighborhood kind of basket. Thank God it doesn't have a daisy printed on it.
Here in Accra, I don't want to take my shiny new Trek mountain bike - lovingly hand-flown in from the US - out around town on errands, leave it locked up outside stores. Plus, I need a bike with some cargo capacity for easy grocery transport. Thus, for the last couple weeks, I've had "buy beater bike" on my to-do list.
So a few days ago I set out from my house, flagged down one of Accra's orange-paneled taxis. This driver was a piece of work. "Six dollars," he said to my "how much," an outrageous price. But I bargained him down in Ghana cedis (the local currency), and off we went to the used bike markets along Nsawam Road, just north of the city's central Nkrumah Circle.
Along the way, this guy played his horn like it was a musical instrument and Accra traffic his band. "Boop, boop!" his thumb danced across the steering wheel, telling two pedestrians: go ahead, please, cross in front of me. "Beep boop-boop," get out of my way, to the car trying to cut him off. "Beep-bop," speed up in front of me, people!
Stopped at a traffic light, he bought a lollipop from a teenage girl pedaling candy down the long row of cars. He unwrapped it and licked it noisily. "It is nice sucker," he said to me gravely, smacking his lips.
He dropped me on Nsawam Road. This is a four lane, gritty, roarin' avenue, the main artery north from the city's center. And, in Accra, it's the place to buy a used bike.
Wandering the sidewalk rows, an alert shopper can find everything from beat-up local coasters to what were, five years ago, the latest mountain bikes in Europe or the US. Here they have a second life, shipped over to "the third world" and ending up in the street markets of West Africa.
Here's a beauty that I found, for instance.
This street-slicks mountain bike had a notably lighter frame than my brand new Trek, and what appeared to be a nice set of shocks and components. Although, just now I've been googling the "Lakes" brand and can't find much about it. So this one is either an awesome machine or the best fake I've ever seen. Either way, it was too expensive for me - even used on the streets of Accra - and so I moved on.
I considered buying one of the local coasters, then, the kind that still have the cute little curved handlebars, the curving dip of the center bar so that you can step easily onto the bicycle without having to swing your leg high and over. The kind that have the rear rack and the front basket and the fenders and the bell and the generator that rubs on the wheel and powers a little headlight - all standard.
Completely take-your-poode-for-a-ride ready.
I ended up, though, settling on an old Giant brand (a respected make) street-rider - complete with rear rack, fenders, and kick stand - something that probably saw many miles in the bike lanes of Oxford or Amsterdam.
I had fallen in love, though, with the image that presents itself often on the streets of Accra: a muscled Ghanaian man, in greasy clothes, barrelling through traffic on what we in the US would call a "grandma bike," that little poodle-basket on the front. And so, I asked my street-side seller of choice, nickname of "Tokyo," to throw a front basket into the deal.
Here's Tokyo attaching that basket...
...while I sit on a wooden bench and watch life go by.
Nothing like a hammer, a metal punch, and a rock to complete a bit of delicate basket-hanger modification!
And so, basket add-on complete, I now had a bike with all the errand-running cargo capacity I could wish for. And I put it to use right away.
I went to the local Wal-Mart-style store. I bought some floor mats. I strapped the three-foot-long mats to my rear carrier rack, and took off under soggy skies.
I stopped at a little side-of-the-road rope shack and bought some string. I put the string in the basket. It started drizzling.
I stopped at a home decor store and bought some hangars and a light bulb. I put those in the basket, too.
And, in the rain, I biked home happily, my daisy-less bike basket full of shopping goodies.
Next thing I'll be putting a poodle in there.