Monday, November 29, 2010

Butterfly Kicks Man's Butt, Flies Away

From our local correspondent in the lower Lake Volta region, Ghana
Friday, November 5, 2010
When the obruni couldn't get close enough to the butterfly to take
a photo of it, he snapped these seed pods instead

It was reported that, yesterday, near Lake Volta in the Akosombo Region of Ghana, an obruni (white man) on a bike ride had his butt kicked by a butterfly.

"I was just pedaling along," the man said mournfully, "and out of nowhere this beautiful, teal-winged butterfly passed me from behind.  I tried to catch up to it, but it just left me in the dust."

The obruni tried to follow the butterfly up a hill, he said, but couldn't keep pace with it.

"I was feeling completely worthless," he continued, "getting passed and then beaten by such a small and delicate creature.  Then, on a downhill, it was suddenly just in front of me again.  I pedaled frantically and even gained on it, but on the next uphill it completely left me behind and disappeared.  I was so dejected, and I never saw it again."

This story was told to me later that day by the obruni himself.  I had gone to the dock of the "Dodi Princess" picnic boat on Lake Volta to cover the rising water levels on the lake.

I found the man there, sitting dejectedly under a tree, fiddling with his sunglasses.  The incident with the butterfly, he indicated, had completely sapped his strength.

"I was planning to explore a bit around the lake then ride back to Accra today," he said,  "But I couldn't even make it out to the end of the lake road to Gyakiti, not far away."

The obruni had ridden his bicycle from Accra through Dodowa to Akosombo the day before - given the heat, a feat of either incredible fortitude or stupidity, we're not sure which.

The man attempted then to explain away his poor performance against the butterfly.  "I've heard that the water from Lake Volta gives insects in this region special powers," he said.

Bystanders immediately questioned this assertion.  "But I heard this reliably from a local herbalist," he insisted.

"I'm not at all making it up to make myself feel better."

We think the equatorial sun has probably gotten to this obruni's head.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Eat, Drink, Pedal

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

Obama's Dairy Policy Reaches Dakar

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.