Shafted

Mechanics, plumbers and electricians all over the world charge an arm and a leg. When you need wiring done or your car breaks down it is like saying goodbye to any amount of money that you managed to save in your account. If you are a woman too, well, you have lost the battle before the war has even began.

What I will give to the western world though is that if your car breaks down the chances are you will not have to go back a few weeks later. These kind of personnel have had adequate training and a certificate proving that they are qualified to do the job. On this side of the world, it is trial and error. If you’re lucky you will not have to go back to fix the same fault, if you are not lucky not only will you have to fix that fault but something else will miraculously mess up on your car.

A year ago my A-C packed up. I was told that the motor and the valve needed replacing. I paid almost 1,000 GHS to get it fixed and do some patch work on the car. A few weeks later I turned on the A-C only to have hot air blowing in my face. It was the motor, the same motor I had paid a lot of money to buy a new one, not only that but my battery died too. Which is surprising as it was not that old. I am pretty certain my battery was replaced with an old one, and the mechanic probably swapped it although I don’t have the proof because it looked like mine. He probably drained it of all the fluid.

It’s been a year now and I still roll my windows down, by the time I got it through to my cousin that his mechanic had shafted me time had gone, my cousin is laid back and I know he didn’t argue at all. I however gave the car to my cousin and didn’t know where this mechanic was so there you go.

However, when the shocks went kaput on me last week, I decided to find my own mechanic. It was close to my house and any issues I could walk over and blast him. A few people had used him and he seemed more reliable than some (they are never totally reliable). However, I think he saw my money tree planted at the back of my house and wanted to shake me of all my money.

I asked him to find out the price of the shocks on Wednesday, on Thursday he told me that it was 300GHS. I had some rainy day money set aside, unfortunately it pissed down as I had to pay for this car to be fixed. On the Friday the car was rattling as I drove down the rather rough road from my house to the main road, so I had to get it fixed. I went there first thing in the morning and gave him the money plus an extra 50GHS for the fan that had gone and 20GHS for some other fault that he managed to find.

Around lunchtime he called and told me that he was at the shop and the price had gone up to 500GHS. The dollar had gone up in 24 hours apparently and I had to pay the difference. Let alone the fact that this item was probably purchased months ago at a cheaper rate, plus if the dollar goes up my salary stays the same, how did the price go up so drastically in the last 24 hours.

I took to the phone incandescent with rage, the mechanic did not speak English so I forced out this twi with anger on top of that, smother just looked at me once in a while chipping in to correct my use of the Akan language. If the dollar goes up, my salary doesn’t and I asked you yesterday what the price is, I was shouting which made him shout, but all I could hear were some tired excuses. So I tell him rather to calm down, he can tell that I am angry so the worst thing he can do is raise his voice. He then goes on once again about the dollar, so I tell him that I will not accept it, he must sell it at the price he told me, if he knew the dollar was going to go up he should have said. Then the mechanic said I should talk to the shop owner and I repeated what I said and told him that he is a business man, he thinks he is cheating me but what will happen, I go to him once but never again, neither will I go to the mechanic, so you both lose business. If he is honest and gives me the best price, I tell other people and his business goes on.

I didn’t stay on the line to listen to the rest, I was so upset as this was 300GHS I didn’t need especially after having to fork out for new spark plugs the week before.
I got to the mechanic that evening and I was told by the mechanic that he got it for 400GHS, I said I will have to owe him then, I don’t know if he and the guy were in cahoots to pull a fast one on me or that was really the price, but I seriously have zero money now and so he’s going to have to wait a long time for the balance.
I am praying that nothing else goes wrong with my car because if I end up having to park and take tro-tro to work. Well then I am definitely going to go back to London, sitting on a sweaty bus with the unwashed is not my idea of fun. I would rather stay at home in darkness to be fair.

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La Piazza

Saturday I was taken out on a treat by my close childhood friend and her husband. Well she was taking her nieces out for a pizza and I tagged along.

La Piazza is situated in Osu behind the Total filling station, opposite Firefly bar. It has a friendly setting, there are comfortable seats outside but if you don’t like the natural A-C then there is indoor seating.
Pizza’s range between approximately 45 – 50GHS but I didn’t really study the menu, just looked at the one with ham and mushrooms and picked it, normally I would have bought a large pizza and shared it with a few people, but this is Ghana and everyone seems to take one each. Although there was a bit of a mix up when the pizza’s and so me and my friend shared one.

My friend’s husband had a fruity salad, served in a pineapple it was pineapple, mango, avocado, some lettuce and a sauce similar to thousand island, I am not one for fruit and savoury but it was interesting to taste. The salads come in at around 20 – 30 GHS. They do a make to order as well, we ordered a plain green salad with egg and no dressing and got just that. We did take bets to see if we would get exactly what we asked for and was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t come out an egg salad with lashings of cream and baked beans but as requested lettuce and boiled eggs.

They do a few other dishes if you prefer not to have a Pizza but if you are looking for authentic Italian dishes, I suggest you try Mama Mia, I saw a prawn dish and a Beef dish both in the vicinity of 50GHS.
The plus point was the cocktails, I ordered the La Piazza Mojito, it was a mojito but with Hennessy instead of rum, it was refreshing and just enough alcohol for you to enjoy without getting excessively tipsy.
The Pizza, well I think 50GHS is rather steep, I think you pay more for the ambiance than the food. The mushrooms tasted a bit rubbery and I am sure they were out of a tin. The Pizza was large in size and not too doughy but the taste didn’t blow me away, in fact it was the bottle of Tabasco sauce that I would say gave it any real flavour.

Saying that, the service is fast and the waiter we had was attentive (although he did miss one order). There is an ice cream parlour next door which you can enter through the restaurant. Unfortunately they had an issue with the fridge so we had to go down the road, but I did see a bread pudding and apple crumble on the desert menu.
Personally I think the plates are too much and would rather spend less for a lot less, but this is Ghana, they eat like they are New Yorkers. We also live in a country where everything is pegged to the dollar and prices are set at the tourist price. If you convert the cost of a Pizza it comes up to less than £10/$25, and it comes across as a place for the wealthy and the visitors.

Slightly over priced for me, but I would go there again if only for a cocktail. Food aside, it was a thoroughly pleasant night. The company was great, we had lots to talk about and nothing to complain about (apart from the cost) so I think that is a result.

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Ignorance is killing

I always say a prayer before I start my car. Driving in Ghana is very safe, it is just the other car drivers that are the problem. Everybody seems to be in a hurry to get to their destination. This is very surprising because they are slow when it comes to everything else. As I mentioned before, when I arrive in Tema, there are three roundabouts before I get to the office, nobody seems to wait until there is a gap for them to pass, instead they just drive out and you are expected to wait for them. On the motorway too, even though there is a fast and slow lane like the rest of the world, nobody usually takes any notice of it. It is not uncommon to get stuck behind two long vehicles and you don’t know who is over taking who. If that is not bad enough some idiot comes speeding from behind and expects you to slow down to let him push through. I tend to drive a lot slower these days than I used to, the drivers behind can honk at the roundabout and the taxi drivers can shout out profanities but the fact is I am not going to have a poster with my picture and the caption “Gone To Soon” just because I decided to overtake a long vehicle and the driver in front me is ignorant of the law, or a person decides to walk into the road forcing me to get into an unnecessary accident.

The other day I was sent a whatsapp, it said EBOLA, Eliminating Billions of Lazy Africans. Some may find it quite sickening but the truth is, that is becoming to be the reality. The disease started off in Guinea and spread to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Then it moved to Nigeria, Lagos to be precise and it’s causing fear and panic because there are fears that it could spread to this side of the continent and beyond. After 6 months and over a thousand deaths, Guinea finally declared a state of emergency and closed its borders, but I wonder why it has taken so long before action was taken.

There is no vaccine and there is no cure but if you are fortunate enough to be an obroni, it is likely that your chances of survival are a lot higher than your average African (they get flown back to an isolated facility and it is said have been given a test serum which appears to have helped two aide workers who caught the virus although this is not confirmed). Its symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous damage, the fatality rate is 55% – 90%. Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery. Fruit bats, a delicacy for some in West Africa are considered a natural host for the virus. The virus is deadlier than HIV as this virus is spread by contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids such as sweat and blood. In this tropical environment just shaking hands with a sweaty infected person can pass on the virus and it is spreading like a game of tag.

We have been advised to carry sanitizers as before the virus can penetrate into the skin, washing your hands in warm soapy water can kill it before it infects you. I have always carried a sanitizer in my bag but now I seem to use it every two minutes and wash my hands every time I go past the washroom (you never know who has touched the hand rail).

The most unfortunate situation about this whole sorry story is that it is sheer ignorance that is killing the people, I wouldn’t even say it is lack of education because it is in the newspapers, on the radio and local TV, they educate on the best cause of action to avoid this but yet the number count for deaths is spreading. We have been told that once a person dies, especially from Ebola, we should leave it to the professionals to dress and properly dispose of the body, they have the protective garments and are trained in the proper cause of action. Yet still in the name of “tradition” people are burying their own. We are told if we believe that we are developing symptoms we should seek the appropriate attention. Yet one man from Liberia, who’s sister caught t he virus decided to hop on a plane and travel to Nigeria. Due to his disregard, two health workers died and 5 other people developed the virus. In addition, the medical centres have admitted that they lack adequate facilities to deal with this crisis, which is probably why almost every health worker coming to contact with a victim has either contracted it or died from it. I am sure that this will resolve itself soon but I pray that it doesn’t get worse before it gets better.

There is a stigma attached to the virus, just like HIV, but unlike HIV, stepping on a plan and coming into contact with “healthy” individuals is putting them at risk, people need to stop crossing the borders at least until they get it checked out, it is selfish of the individual to put other lives at risk just because he wants the world to “see” him/her as healthy. At least if you don’t value your own life and won’t seek help, don’t put others into such a tight corner.

In Ghana here, Cholera is our greatest enemy. The cause of this problem is due to pure lack in any type of hygiene. You can walk the streets in Accra today and you will find a lady selling food, close to a gutter, the gutter is filled with waste and excrement, there are flies swarming around and still people are buying, isn’t this cause for sickness?

Around 600 people have contracted the disease or died from it, in and around the country. You find people using water from the stream which others have pissed in, they are using it to cook and to bathe, does it take a genius to tell you that you are going to get sick? You would think this was common sense, however I was listening to the radio and somebody asked what advise should he give to the grandmother in the village and the advice was simple, wash your hands before and after eating, make sure that the food you cook is hot so as to kill any bacteria and boil hot water before you bathe. On top of poor hygiene, the streets are dirty to boot, I wouldn’t say everywhere, but some parts you would probably hold your nose even if you drove through the town with the windows up and the A-C on in the car. The waste management system seems to be on a go slow, people put their rubbish out, pay for the service yet there are no vehicles to collect the refuse. Which is unfortunate, because I see the owner of the largest waste disposal unit in town (ZoomLion) every evening, he drives down the road in his 4×4 with 4 motorcycle police guarding him (he doesn’t do traffic like the rest of us mere mortals). He is obviously getting our money so why not send out the trucks to collect the rubbish?

I listen to the radio every morning and I shudder to think of what this country may become. It has so much potential but for every two steps forward, there is like 5 steps back. Even in my office, we have a health and quality meeting every Friday morning. When the cholera outbreak first came out we read out an article which advised us not to eat bush meat as it carries certain diseases. One of the guys here was incensed and tried to defend it saying if it is cooked correctly, I am careful to avoid him now as if anyone is going to catch something, it is likely to be him.

Who says ignorance is bliss?

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Mr Herbalist

Word to the wise, if you see me sitting in the corner playing with my phone and generally not minding anyone, it means I want to be left alone. I don’t need your company, I don’t want to chat, I just want to sip my fanta in peace and when I am done, I will go back to my car alone and drive off alone.

Somehow, even though even the expression on my face should tell you “danger, keep away”, people still try their luck. This morning some guy asked if he could sit by me while I was doing my usual routine of sipping tonic water while playing pyramid solitaire on my phone. At first I politely said I was busy doing something, but then when he asked again 10 minutes later if he could join me now, he got a flat out no.
Yesterday at around the same time a man holding a briefcase came up to me, I knew he was selling something strange by the way he geared himself up to start a presentation. I said “no” even before he let out his breath, I literally have 70 cedis to last me the next 20 days, I didn’t even want to know what he was selling because I know I wasn’t buying.

He made a second attempt to sell his goods, I don’t know why telling me he was a medicine man would make his case any sweeter, but after he realised that it wasn’t getting him anywhere he left me with a copy of his leaflet.

On a badly printed out A4 sheet, I was introduced to Mr Placid from the Benin Association of Herbalist. Located at Lashibi (Accra, by the coastline) or Benin, Mr Placid has a treatment for all. He treats the normal stuff like Malaria, can help those who suffer from tiredness/fatigue, you don’t need antibiotics to take away that Gonorrhea, he has something for that to. He can help with fibroids, sexual satisfaction he can even enlarge a man’s penis. He can bring back a divorced woman, ease headache caused by a person and he offers protection against witchcraft all for a consultation fee of 10.10pws (whatever that is, magic beans or something, I don’t know).
There are a list of 22 problems which he resolves to cure. Then there is “The index accord of mystemain problems” containing another 17 general points. I have no idea what mystemain means and there is nothing on spell-check that comes close to what it could be. He does point out things like like lucky soap, to love somebody and loose affection and toothache, so I guess they are more general points as opposed to things like penis enlargement, asthma, hernia, obesity and “man power” (I guess some form of Viagra).
At the bottom of the paper he writes “with the aim that you believe and know that we are living in Africa & mysterious continent you may ask what ever you problem are”, Mr Placid needs something that will help him with grammar.

This is Africa, “& mysterious continent”, but it is a bit like the fortune teller, if he is that great, then why doesn’t he know the winning lottery numbers. Why didn’t he use the stuff on himself give himself a high retentive memory, pass his exams, become a millionaire and retire with his riches, his wife and his enlarged penis. Instead he sends out a scraggily looking guy who could do with some of the herbs himself touting for customers.

But this is Africa, he will probably get a few, spiritualists, herbalists, pastors, we are in a continent with a lot of poverty and a lot of perceived/real witchcraft, he is the equivalent of Madam Rosa who you would find down Blackpool pier with her crystal ball. Madam Rosa though will not find half the population of gullible people that you would find on this side of the world.

I remember an ex bless him bought home a remedy for my period pain, it was thoughtful of him, I was supposed to put it in my tea. It was mud though, he got played and I still get stomach cramps.
The medicine seller didn’t get any sales from the vicinity I was in yesterday, but it would be interesting to know how many people would have been interested.

Well if you are, let me know, I have his leaflet and I can forward him your number.
Just when I think I have seen it all in Ghana, I meet somebody weird and wonderful to show me that this is just the tip of the iceburg….

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We’re Hungry Mr President

For those of you who know me, I hate bathing in cold water, especially at 5am when the water is like an ice block. I don’t need it to be hot, just tepid, so I boil water in a kettle and mix it with the cold water (I am yet to install a water heater). Unfortunately today, after patting themselves on the back for having a stable flow of electricity, I woke up to no light and as I decided to use the extra 10 minutes to sleep as opposed to putting some water on the gas, I had to face the horror of the ice cold water against my skin. You would have thought that it would have been refreshing in this hot weather, but no not really, I was just cold.

To coincide with the return of the dum-sor, the troubles in Ghana have made International news. Yesterday the members of the Trade Union Congress took to the streets in protest over the gross mismanagement of the country. Tro-Tro drivers also went on strike over (amongst other thing) the sharp rise in the petrol and well the whole country is up in arms due to the fact that they can’t do the basic things in life, like eat.
In contrast, the taxi drivers took an opportunity and were charging double the fair for passengers due to the fact that the lack of alternate means of transportation.

The government in return did the usual, came out and said they were working on it, but added that Ghanaians are going to have to make a lot of sacrifices in the meantime. So that means no eating, bathing, getting to work, surely they can see that this will not bring about a boost in productivity or am I thinking differently.
At the beginning of the year the dollar had just hit 2GHS, now it is 3.51, I don’t know somewhere around the 2.8 you would have thought they would have started crisis management, but instead they bring about innovations (like scholarships for sanitary pads) which is important but I think it’s a matter of prioritization. They have had 2 years in power under Mahama and a full 4 years with the now deceased Mills, why now when the country is completely jacked up, do you put the little money you have into a small population. Yes, they are just as important, but they should have been catered to already.

Now I am no economist, but with the way things are going, Ghana is going to take a long time to recover. I remember at Uni we read about a similar situation with the Thai Baht. Some economists say that the problems started because the country was so reliant on the dollar and when the US were going through their recession it hit the Thai people twice as hard. That was in 1997, almost 20 years ago, and they are still recovering, and they have do a large amount of exports. Ghana is a mainly import market and with the dollar doing well, it is obvious that it’s going to hit us hard.

One thing I will repeat though (if anyone in authority is listening), is either we change our currency to dollar (maybe it would be better if we were managed by the federal reserve) or stop people charging in the dollar equivalent. For example, I buy a house at $10,000 last year at 2-1, when I sell I mark it up to 20,000GHS plus my profit margin say 30,000GHS. If I sell that same car today, I haven’t really lost anything but telling me to buy at the prevailing rate, sorry its nonsense, who can afford to buy your goods. So what happens, I don’t buy. You don’t profit. Life goes on. This is what is done basically the world over. When I was in Nigeria, I could not pay my hotel bill in dollars, I had to get the money changed. The dollar is not their currency it is the Naira, now today, Nigeria has its issues but the economy is not really one of them in fact they are standing as the most influential on the west coast.

However, I as I said I am no economist, and I doubt that Minister of Finance is either, maybe we should start by having a cabinet that is actually qualified to do the jobs #justsaying

On a lighter note, I was sent an article yesterday, the headline said
“Chairman of Ghetto Boys Voices Anger over Increase in “wee” and prostitution charges”, it goes on to say:
“For now, cannabis or Marijuana popularly known as ‘wee’ is considered as illegal in the country. However, a ‘wee smoker’ has been bold enough to dare the police. He said they were part of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) as such joined the Organised Labour in the ‘we are suffering demonstration on Thursday’. According to him, they also have the right to join in the demonstration because they are Ghanaians and they feel the ‘heat’ in the country.

The ‘wee smoker’ who gave his name as Nana and described himself as the ghetto chairman, said that ‘first, wee was sold at 50ghp, but now it is 1GHS. Now the economic hardship is that, a colleague wee-smoker will not want to give you ‘pass’ (the little piece of weed he is smoking)….Formerly when someone has a ‘short time’ with a prostitute they charge 5GHS and now it is 10GHS, even the condoms they use are now expensive.
When asked if he knew it was illegal to sell or smoke ‘wee’ he said ‘it is not a matter of legality, everybody is doing what they like…..tweaa!!!’”

Acknowledgement: peace fm online

You just can’t make this stuff up…..

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A Fine African Restaurant

I have been complaining quite a lot, maybe it’s the rain, maybe it is the country, maybe it is the universe. However today I am going to make this light, because I actually had an experience that made me remember the times when I actually used to have fun in this country.

A couple of weeks back a friend of mine picked me up and took me to dinner. The lucky cow who did a degree with an actual car career path (a doctor) has been asked to manage a medical centre in Accra. It comes with a car, a driver and she is getting paid the salary she maintains in the UK. Had I known back then what I know now and all that.

We went to a place called Buka in Osu just behind the Oxford Street close to the Citizen Kofi Club. It is like a two story open air building with the decor made from wood and bamboo, it is like the type of place you would find by the beach.

We went on a Saturday and it was very busy, we did have to hang around for a bit because there were a lot of large parties, thankfully there was only three of us so we managed to jump the queue somewhat.
The dishes are mainly Ghanaian, normally I don’t see the point in going out to eat food that I can make at home. Plus I would rather eat fufu in a chop bar rather than a restaurant because I have turned into my auntie and believe that these places are over-priced and under quality. I am quite a fussy “local food eater” and I have been to many a restaurant that has been recommended as the best in town and it really hasn’t been. So when I looked at the menu and saw that it was 90% local, I was a bit like hmmm.

I played it safe and went for the jollof rice, and the ladies had kontomire stew with yam and fish. They do fufu, banku & tilapia, fried yam and chicken, and all the favourites. For about 15 – 18GhS a plate (bout $5 – $7) you can eat rather heartedly. I didn’t manage to finish the food but I have to say it was very tasty and the chicken was nice and moist (and not cooked to death like some places).

They also do popular Nigerian and foods of Francophone origin, it is much like Tante Marie, but I think they have a slight edge of the chain group of restaurants.

The ambiance is pleasant the food is nice, the service, well you can’t have it all but I will give it to the waiter that it was very busy and he was kind of flustered.

However, as local food restaurants go, it is probably one of the better ones in town.

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Change of Bank Details

You will notice that this blog is very short. It is funny that when I have something to gripe about I can go on for days, but when I have something praise to give it is short and to the point. The other reason I am keeping it short is that there is a young man who is very unaware of the importance of personal space. He is so close I can actually feel his breath on my neck so I want to finish up and move around until he goes to lunch. I have tactifully tried to school him about making use of all the space around him and not just confine it to the bit around my arse but he’s the nice but dim type clearly.

Well anyway, I have finally changed my bank after years of complaining and moaning about Ecobank I jumped ship and so excited. What finally tipped me over the edge was that I had 9.31 in my account, for whatever reason they took the whole lot, it felt like whatever little money I had, they were just hungry to take it.

I understand with a current account they charge for the service and they charge for owning a debit card, but they were just taking. Like it was just so random and so I decided to go to Fidelity.

All they asked for was a picture, the usual ID and start up money (minimum of 100GHS). I took out a savings account with a classic debit card, cheque book and e-banking. They explained that it would be 2GHS a month for the use of the debit card. Well, even in this economy I think I can deal with it.

I had to sign a lot of forms, but the Customer Service guy filled in most of it, the whole process took about 10 minutes and that was that.

This was Saturday, he explained that he will start the process on Monday but they will contact me once everything is sorted. It’s Wednesday and I got a message saying that my account was live and they sent my account number. Like I was expecting a week or two, these people are on point.

If they continue the way they have started, well they have got my vote.

Wow, this is the first time in a while Ghana has done something that has impressed me in a very long time.

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