Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Monday, September 20, 2010

NO GAS: waiting for LP gas ...OR: A lesson in Economics

Charlie writes:

Last week, we ran out of cooking gas in our blue 15kg bottle, and switched over to our second one. I figured we could go by either of Dansoman's two fuel stations for a re-fill, but found it not so easy.

Earlier in the week, the station in the neighborhood of MUCG was dispensing gas to a long line of taxis, making the access to the campus more congested than usual. By the time I made it there, the 3-foot-square white painted plywood sign with red letters "SORRY NO GAS" was back in place, and the station was locked.

Later in the week, we saw a similar long line of taxicabs near Control Goil station. Since High Street is being worked on, all the traffic is rumbling over dirt roads parallel to it, and again the line of cabs was obstructing traffic. I stopped by on Friday with our tank, and the attendant just shook his head, then suggested that I come back at 6 a.m. when the line would be shorter. I
counted about 100 tanks waiting to be filled, and the attendant said it would be a four hour wait.

This morning, our driver was running late (another road closing) but advised that the queue was of a manageable length, so I could try again if I got there around 7 a.m. I loaded the tank in the back seat of the Carina, then parked outside the station. There was a line of about 20 tanks awaiting the pay station, where the attendant would eyeball your tank, then quote your
fee (I paid GHC 12.20, about USD 8 for the 14.5 kg of gas, sold at just over 80 pesewas per kilo).
She dispensed change and a two-inch square receipt with the quantity purchased and today's date.

Next, I carried the tank to the end of the line snaking back from the chain-link fenced cage. Here several operators (all male) wearing bright blue jumpsuits were handling the LP gas filling operation. Everyone was patiently waiting for their turn, and as tanks were brought into the cage, the whole line would advance a few feet. The men would move the womens' tanks, letting them sit on the bench provided. Everyone from a girl who looked about 10 years old, to market women, mothers with babies on their backs, and young men were attentive to their place in
the queue, and there was surprisingly little conversation going on.

When someone's tank was filled, the operators would heft it from the scale, and half roll, half swing the tank down to the entrance of the cage. The young men would often carry them off stiff-armed straight overhead, carrying them as a lifter might carry a barbell weight, in a
horizontal position, grasping the bottom ring and the top flange. Most women would place the tank atop their heads, using a small rolled cloth to cushion their skulls from the metal edge of the bottom ring. One woman begged the attendant to help her carry her tank, she holding one
end while he the other, until they got to the main road, where she could hail a cab. I noticed a handtruck near the gate, so used it to lug my filled tank back to the car, belting it into the back seat for the trip home. During the hour that I was at the station, I believe I was the only one to do that.

The whole experience reminded me of a summer in the 1970s, when I sat in our family car during the gasoline crisis in the USA. Today, the Goil folks were not accepting taxis at
their station, I presume they are nearing the end of their supply and would prefer to dispense gas for cooking than for driving. According to Dean Osborne Jackson, my local economic advisor, the main cause of the lines is that the price set by the government is sub-market. Therefore, taxi drivers have moved in great numbers towards LP fuel. This interested me, so I checked with Mr. CDK Opoku, an economics lecturer. This resulted in a long discussion about markets and African politics. If you pull up a chair, here's the rest of the story...

The Government of Ghana had worried that her forests were being cut down to make charcoal for cooking fires. To relieve pressure on the forests, Ghana, as well as some other African
countries, promotes the use of LP Gas for cooking. In order to make the cost attractive, the Government, which is the only entity allowed to import petroleum products, enters into agreements for the supply of crude oil from Nigeria and other oil states. Then the Tema Oil Refinery produces petrol and LPG from the crude. The government subsidizes the cost of the LPG. CDK believes the market price for my tank would be about GHC 20, rather than the
GHC 12.20 that is charged.

During the last administration, the Government of Ghana entered into a 90 day credit facility with Nigeria for crude oil. Nigeria required that their oil be carried on Nigerian vessels to use the facility, and the current government of Ghana claims that there were payoffs being made to certain unnamed parties on this carriage, and withdrew from the deal. Now, LPG must be bought on the spot market for cash, rather than refined from crude here on credit. So, there
is a reduced supply, since the Government does not have sufficient funds to purchase and subsidize the quantities demanded. Ironically, since the prices are subsidized, the taxi operators have found that it is cheaper for them to run taxis on LPG than petrol. In yet another example of unintended consequences to government programs, the LPG demand has grown dramatically.
And there are taxi drivers who are already dropping LPG tanks off to be filled while they wait at other stations to fill their tanks. It is likely that they use the other tanks to unsafely fill their taxi tanks. So clearly, it would be impossible to set a different price for domestic and automotive use of LPG.

Who'd have thought I'd learn so much economics from a simple transaction so Mary Kay can cook dinner?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Couple Time

Charlie writes:

Today marks 24 years of marriage for me and Mary Kay. It has been interesting to spend a week back in our old haunts around Atlanta, but without either of our boys. Ken is down in Brazil, visiting our missionary colleagues, the Reyes, while Chip is busy at summer school in Blacksburg, VA. The two of us had spent a short time in Utah in early July, visiting Mary Kay's brother and a supporting church in Park City before spending two days in the southern part of the state, enjoying the incredible scenery at Bryce Canyon and at the Capitol Reef National Monument.

We have been able to meet with some long-standing friends on this trip, and as we share stories and hear about their lives, it strikes me how encouraging it is when such friends affirm our decision to extend our stay in Ghana another two years.

Yesterday, we spoke at Dunwoody UMC, our home church in the USA, and shared photos of water projects, clay pot water filters, teaching at the University, and such. After lunch with the Mathis's, who have opened their home to us this month, Mary Kay and I drove on up to North Georgia and tromped about, looking for waterfalls. We visited one we had not seen before, called Helton Creek Falls, which was not particularly well-marked, but listed on the Georgia Trails website. On the way back, we stopped in to hike the 3/4 mile trail to the upper DeSoto Falls. Even though the temperatures in Atlanta were in the mid-90's, the forests were still very green and remarkably cool. Then on our way home, the usual afternoon thundershowers cooled things down nicely.

The walks brought back fond memories of other walks Mary Kay and I have taken, especially those in forests. Don't get much chance to do that in Ghana, and I miss that.

Our time in the US is flying, we will gather as a nuclear family of four this weekend in Virginia. I'm looking forward to catching up with both boys, maybe spending some more time out on rivers or in forests, which are beautiful in western Virginia.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Innumeracy in High Places

Charlie says:

As a math lecturer, I'm always interested in seeing the confusion many people have about the subject. Tuesday of this week, the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission here in Ghana announced new tariffs. Here's the headline: "UTILITY BILLS UP: Electricity by 89%, Water by 36%." (Story by Michael Donkor, Daily Graphic, Tuesday, 1 June, 2010)

Now, this seemed a bit extreme, so we read on:
Consumers will now pay a total of 125 per cent increase in utility bills following an upward adjustment of 89 percent in electricity and 36 per cent in water tariffs announced yesterday by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC).
Speaking at a press conference, the Chairman of the PURC, Dr. Emmanuel K. Annan, explained that the increases were arrived at after a wide range of individual and institutional stakeholders consultation to solicit views.
He said for electricity, consumers within the threshold of 0-50 would continue to pay the old tariff of 9.5Gp, while those within the range of 51-300 would now pay 17Gp as against the existing 12Gp.
He said those within the range of 301-600 would pay 21Gp, as against the existing 16Gp, with those within the range of 601 and above paying 23Gp, as against the existing 19Gp.
Dr. Annan said in adjusting the tariffs for electricity, the commission did not lose sight of the social impact on and fairness to consumers, hence the lifeline tariff for electricity consumers.
He said, however, that consumers in the residential category of between 51-300 units had an increase of 42 per cent per kilowatt-hour, which translated into 17Gp per kilowatt-hour, up from the existing 12Gp per kilowatt-hour.
Dr. Annan said the increase was partly to restore the value of the tariff in dollar terms, which dropped from 13 cents per kilowatt-hour in November 2007 to eight cents per kilowatt-hour in November 2009 as a result of exchange rate depreciation.
He explained that it was also to ensure that consumers of electricity got value for money through an improvement in the quality of service being delivered by the utility service providers.
Dr. Annan said that the increase was based on a projected hydro/thermal generation mix of 60/40 and it was envisaged that the delivery of natural gas from Nigeria and its use in the generation of thermal energy later in the year would have an impact on generation tariffs.
He said the increase in tariffs fell substantially below the level requested by the utility companies and left a financial gap of approximately GHc49 million.
On water, Dr Annan said the current adjustment was meant to assist the GWCL/AVRL meet key operational costs, such as the cost of chemicals for the treatment of water, replacement of obsolete equipment, maintenance of the system, among others.
He gave the assurance that the commission would closely monitor the GWCL's performance and would not hesitate to impose the necessary sanctions where laid-down benchmarks were not adhered to.
He reiterated that tariffs alone could not raise all the desired funds for investments, maintenance, replacement and refurbishment of utility equipment and, accordingly, advised the government to continue sourcing investment funds to supplement the tariff income.
He said that would enable the utilities to achieve the desired level of investments in service delivery.
He said the PURC would ensure that stringent but realistic quality of service benchmarks under relevant regulations were adhered to by the utility service providers.
Dr Annan said failure to comply with these benchmarks would result in the application of penalties and sanctions under the regulations.

Ken read the story and figured the 89% number came from adding the percentages in each of the bands, I guess that is as good an explanation as we'll ever get. To recap, here is a table:
Band old new %increase
0-50 9.5 9.5 0%
51-300 12 17 42%
301-600 16 21 31%
601+ 19 23 21%

and the sum of these is 93%, close to the 89%, but clearly not the correct number. The Graphic had to print a front page retraction later in the week. I suppose the summing of the 89% and the 36% to get a total of 125% falls in the same category...

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Flip Side - IT Disadvantages

Charlie writes:

This last term, I taught about 300 of the 500-member class "Introduction to Computers" at MUCG. One essay question asked the students to relate personal experiences, both positive and negative, with information technology.
What a wonderful way to gain insights into West African teens' use of information technology.

In this second post, I excerpt some of their self-reported negatives:

Because I am a business girl and at the same time a student a don't always go for lectures because lecture periods crush with my other business. Because of information technology I have access to lecture notes on net.
Information technology has introduced me to many friends which makes we waste much of my time charting with friends on net.
[most of the bandwidth going to the university is probably being used to post to facebook, I'd guess.]

The aspect of my life which has been impacted by information technology was lying. I lied to somebody through a cell phone which I didn't know the person was standing right behind me. The person called me through a cellphone and asked me where I am and I lied to him that I am doing something urgently for my father which was a lie. I became ashamed of myself when I saw the person behind me. The positive impact through this cell phone was that the person was able to reached me within a short time just like three (3) seconds. The negative is I lied to the person through the cell phone which I became ashamed of myself.

The negative impact of this facebook system has made me to lie about certain things about my personal life. This has become so because you would want to be in the range of people who use this system. Some of the lies include telling people your wrong age just to fit in and also send false pictures to be posted on the net.
[We have been trying to help a man from the USA locate a "Natasha" he found on the internet who claimed to live in Accra. Unfortunately, we had to conclude that it was another case of "sakawa," see below...]

I remember when my dad was abroad, USA to be precise, he saved lot of money becasue he knew my siblings and I were graduating from SHS to the university. But when we about to enter into the tertiary my dad called and said he has been duped by fraudsters and all his long-saved money was gone through the internet. This what information technology brought to us becasue of what we call "sakawa" my siblings and I had to spend two years at home before going to school. This is the negative part of it.

However, not everything about IT has turned out to be good, sometime back my dad's credit card number got into the hands of some fraudsters and they cleared out his accounts online, he ended up losing lots of money.

But with every great power comes a price and this price that I have to pay is the bombardment of pornographic pop-ups and malware infested sites which may cause damage to my computer so although I try to gain helpful information from the internet sometimes I see things that are negative to my health or damage my computer.

it has had an adverse effect also on my life when my friend nearly ended up making me an adult movie addict "introducing me into pornography" but with good advise I have been able to overcome this addiction and hope IT would only impact others in the positive way.

IT can also impact negative information to students. This can be done, when a student goes to the internet and visit a website that contains pornographic movies and pictures, the student might be aroused, therefore he/she might practice such act which might cause teenage pregnancy and early parenting.

The use of the internet also has its side effects in terms of increasing immoral lives side effects in terms of increasing immoral lives since one can go the internet and have access to ponographical films that at the world put him into practising them. This brings about increasement in rape cases and high rate of prostitution.

Even with the good aspect it has a negative one too and this by introducing machines into the various companies to replace human labour. With this some workers were dismissed and my mother was included. This made her unemployed and has affected my family economically. That is by introducing some information technology make some people unemployed.

As a result of Information technology a worker like me at the post office is not recieving customers because people sit in the house and deliver the necessary information.

It has tended to make me lazy because instead of doing the research myself, I rather go for the answer on the internet. Like this I am not able to experience for myself the first handedly the process and the fun obtained from carrying out researches.

There was also a time when I lost my mobile phone. I was very restless because I could not easily communicate with people afar. [Ghana has less than one landline phone per 100 population, but nearly 50 cellphones per 100, so the loss of a cellphone is a real problem!]

The use of cell phones is much more easier and fast, also, no matter how far the distance you always get to talk. In Ghana it is always not so because the reception is not good sometimes and it is also costly to get a good cell phone which is a disadvantage.

Although the ATM is the fastest way to withdraw money, people stand close to them, and as soon as you withdraw some money, they attack you.

But it is with this same machines that help to cure illness that has also brought about more injuries in hospitals. Some machines used for scanning and x-rays are known to have side effects of skin cancer. Also, this machines if not placed plugged properly could cause fire hazards and deep wounds by the machine dropping.

How differently would US college freshmen answer this question?

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Internet: "a cesspool of knowledge"

Charlie writes:

This last term, I taught about 300 of the 500-member class "Introduction to Computers" at MUCG. One essay question asked the students to relate personal experiences, both positive and negative, with information technology.
What a wonderful way to gain insights into West African teens' use of information technology.

I'll start with selected positive impacts in this post, their self-reported negatives will come next.

Information technology is the gateway to the world. One aspect of my life which has been impacted by information technology is accessing information or gaining information on the internet. This has helped me to gain more knowledge since the internet is basically a cesspool of knowledge. Years past people had to walk far distances to gain information through libraries but now there are electronic libraries which can be accessed from home.
[I just love that image - the internet as a cesspool of knowledge!]

At the top of the list, I.T. has helped me greatly on my English life. With the help of Information technology (IT) am not afraid to talk in public, because I have overcome the fear in pronouncing of words. With my student Encarta I now say byebye to spelling mistakes. My grammer was so bad. But with the help of IT I can now go to the level of even writhing novels, poems and articles which can also put some money in my pocket. With this out of the lot I say Information technology has helped me to become if not the best one of the best in the world.
[obviously, without the computer, spelling remains a challenge, "grammer", "writhing"]

Education has been a key area that IT has affected my life, with the use of information technology learning/studying has become more easier and more accessible to me because of the availability of the internet. Researching used to be a problem for students before me as my dad always tells me that "in your time you have all the facilities to succeed but we had to struggle."

With the help of the internet, I can get deeper meaning of my subjects of study with the sense that through the internet I get the meanings of topics I cannot get in books.

It has impacted me positively in terms of research. Gone where the days when I had to go to the library and pick over ten books just to get information on a particular subject. Now all I have to do is access the internet and all I have to do is type my question and all possible answers would be given to me and all I have to do is choose the answer that suits me.
[I can attest to this, as some of their earlier essays were cut-and-paste from Encarta or other web sites!]

The positive impact in my life is when I was looking for admission in MUCG, I was leaving far from the school. With the help of information technology I was able to get information from the net about MUCG. All that I was suppose to do before being admitted. Instead of picking car everyday to go to the school. Information technology has made me save money and time.

I gained my admission letter from my e-mail instead of travelling to my school for my admission letter.

Under communication, as a result of Information technology, I am able to make a phone call, recieve messages, browse and search for the meaning of words on my phone. There is no need for me to travel before I can send information to somebody.

In fact, information technology has brought about fun in everything that I do. I am very happy with IT. I am able to dial and save people's numbers everywhere I go.

Now I can surf the internet when ever I want to with the help of my laptop computer and a modem. I can download music, videos, chart with my parents outside Ghana and even buy stuff from other countries all all the net.
[Ghanaian English has nearly silent 'R' sounds, so mis-spellings like formerly vs. formally, or charting vs. chatting appear commonly.]

Information technology has over the years grown to gain by so many people living in different parts of the world. As I grew, I came to realize how information technology has improved my educational life. That is, my father has bought me a personal computer at home, a pendrive and even a laptop which I carry around almost everywhere I go. With these devices with internet connection, I can browse and search for information anytime I am given assignment from school. This has made research work extremely easy for me. With typing softwares installed on them, I practise typing during my leisure hours which has improved my typing speed. I also take lecture notes/slides from lecturers using my pendrive which is easier and faster. This any many more benefits are what has made my life better with the help of information technology.

I can now send my assignments to my lecturer through internet instead of going through all the stress in order to give him the assignment.

The introduction and use of cell phones, an example of information technology has had a great impact on my life. It has really saved me time and the stress of writing letters to long lost relatives. I always had to go through the stress of buying envelopes and postage stamps and then queing for long hours under the scortching sun to get my letter posted. Sometimes the letter doesn't even get to the recipient.
[We can relate, having just received some Christmas cards this week. Mary Kay received a birthday card one year after it was mailed from Texas! "Stress" is a common complaint of students here.]

Information technology has impacted greatly in the aspect of my health. With the impact of information technology in my health, it has made it possible for doctors to diagnose and cure illness easily. This is whereby information technology has made it possible to bring all sorts of machines used for surgeries, x-rays, scans, autopsy and many others. With the help of IT, people no more have the fear of loosing their lives or living with an incurable disease till your death.

I've made new friends and made up with old friends who now help me in my educational problems.

The ATM card has helped me alot espically in school. It has help me save time. Because I don't need to join in a long queue at the bank.

Before ATM's (Automated Teller Machines) were made available, I would have to queue up in the bank just to withdraw some money. This could sometimes take up my whole day. But since the introduction of the ATM, I'm able to withdraw money without joining a queue.
[This idea has shown up repeatedly in essays this year and prior years. When I questioned our driver about whether this is exaggerated, he denies that, saying that it did actually happen. He reports going early to the bank, then returning later in the day, picking up his place in line, as the Ghanaians watch out for each other!]

How differently would US college freshmen answer this question?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Laundry Day

Mary Kay writes:

One of my friends, Jamie, is a true southern writer, blogging and writing about life in small-town Georgia. I love reading her blogs, as she has such a similar outlook on life to mine, but she is much funnier! And it helps me to feel connected to friends and life back in the US.

This week was priceless. She wrote about laundry day, and her daughter’s request that they go green by getting rid of the washing machine and dryer. Charlie and I got a kick out of this! While Jamie researched 1930s laundry practices in the US, it could easily have been 2010 in Ghana! Laundry is still done by hand here, and most Ghanaians we know would love to have a washer and dryer, and the heck with the carbon footprint!

We personally don’t make our own soap, but my NGO trains women on how to make it to sell for extra family income. We use shea butter, palm oil and commercial caustic, rather than lye from wood ash, but it is still basically the same – and a hot messy process!

Laundry day- we have a washing machine that works – sometimes. If the power is on. And if the water is flowing.

Then everything gets hung out on the line. The first couple of times, I had the romantic memories of being a small child and helping my mom hang the laundry. I love the sound of snapping out the sheets to get them straight before hanging. And the smell and feel of the fresh, damp laundry. Playing hide-and-seek among all the sheets. But, after the laundry all gets re-soaked in the sudden afternoon downpour that you didn’t see coming… Or your whites turn a dingy grey because of all the smoke and dust in the air… Well, maybe a dryer would be nice.

Then comes the ironing – not because we really care about being neatly pressed, though everything is cotton and needs to be ironed. But there is a lovely mango fly that lays its eggs in cotton clothing. Then once the clothing is put on, your body heat hatches the eggs and the larvae will burrow under your skin to live and grow, until they come popping out like in Alien. Fortunately, the heat from ironing will kill the eggs, so everything gets ironed – even your underwear.

The only thing I can say is, “Thank goodness labor is cheap here and I don’t have to do the laundry!” It is basically half to two-thirds of our housekeeper’s job to keep up with our laundry. The remainder of her time is spent in mopping the house every day to keep the dust under control.

So, Jamie, tell your daughter she is welcome to come visit and do laundry at our house anytime she wants to reduce her carbon footprint!

Friday, January 01, 2010

(Soup) Bowl Score: Mary Kay 1 – Turkey 0

Mary Kay writes:

In keeping with Ghanaian tradition, we received a live fowl for Christmas again this year. Having given in to the children’s horror last year, we gave the guinea hen away, rather than kill it and eat it ourselves. But this year’s gift was a HUGE turkey. So I was determined not to let this one get away.

After all, I come from good pioneer stock, right? My ancestors settled the hills of Tennessee, and the plains of Texas and North Dakota. I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a girl. And my mom always talked about her grandmother going out back, catching a chicken and wringing its neck for supper.

So if they could do it, I could! Well …. maybe…. with a little help….. Please?

So Charlie got the kids out of the house, under the guise of a driving lesson up at the MUCG campus. There, that will stop the complaints from the peanut gallery. Our boys, especially Chip, really don’t want to know that their food was once a live animal!

Then, I sweet-talked our security guard, Michael, into helping me. Having grown up in a small village, he knew exactly what to do. Michael slit the turkey’s throat and let him bleed out. Then, he poured boiling water over it, and we plucked him. I think Michael was pretty surprised that I would help!

But we had an interesting conversation about food – how we in the west never really see our food alive, only packaged in the grocery store. And which parts of a turkey are edible – everything except the feathers, it turns out. Needless to say, I was not at all hesitant about parting with the feet, head, and intestines – my “gift” to Michael for helping me. Well, I felt guilty about taking all the good parts, so I gave him some of the meat as well.

I never weighed it, but the whole turkey was huge probably 18 to 20 pounds or so. He was so big that I ended up having to cut it into quarters to package and freeze it. But that will give us several good turkey dinners, not to mention the turkey soup afterwards from the bones, over the next few months. Yum!

I’m just glad that we don’t have to perform blood sacrifices any more. Next year, Michael says I have to do the whole thing myself. Where is Butterball when you need them?

“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to Him is much better than offering the fat of rams.”

(1 Samuel 15:22, NLT)