Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ghana Trip Four - Storming The Barriers

Three days into Trip Number 4 and significant accomplishments have been achieved. Maybe using the word accomplishments is a bit too strong because it implies that we have done things of our sole accord. It might be better to say significant obstacles to moving forward have been overcome.

As it is late and I am sleepy, I will just cover them in brief.
  • First, our host Rotary Club...the club that is critical to the success of our Global Grant a meeting on Thursday expressed their unqualified support for the project. They indicated they would be submitting the proposal shorty. Very exciting and humbling.
  •  We did our second attempt at video recording for our promotional video. It went a thousand times better. The advice from fLO Content Marketing was invaluable. All the issues we had earlier with location and equipment were resolved. I am confident we have the raw material we need to produce the video I need.
  •   I have work for the third of my six ladies in the Theodora group. There are actually two jobs, one an internet research project and the other a data input on-going job. Both of these are actually Ghana companies they will be working for. Each time I bring a first paying work to one of these women, it is so gratifying to see their faces light up as they realize they will be appreciated, respected and paid for doing this type of work. Even though this project is not supposed to officially start until December 1, the young woman was so excited that she couldn't sleep and started to do the research that very night!
And I am happy to say that I am actually following my stated objective of working much fewer hours and keeping the energy expenditure in line with my actual energy. Am also happy to report that the current apartment rented is in a way better location that has reduced substantially the amount of time in transit.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ghana Trip Four - Lessons In Optimizing Longer-Term Travel Planning and Acclimatization

I am into day three of this my fourth trip to Ghana in 2019. It has become clear to Wife and I that this venture has the potentail to have that I mean that it can achieve the types of objectives we theorized when we started the venture. That has led to us establishing a schedule for continuing the work in 2020. Which in turn has me (in particular) working on how to make the travel, work and living experience here as good as possible.

Of course 'as good as possible' is a relative term and leads to the process of optimization...understanding that a number of the things one wants to achieve might be contradictory. For example, I may desire the shortest of flight time each trip. I might also want the lowest airfare. Most likely I cannot get both. I most likely have to make a tradeoff between time and price. Similarly I might want to spend as little time as possible with non-productive time when on site but also want to avoid stressing myself too much from fatigue and energy drain. Again, it is unlikely I can do both.

This trip I opted for less flight time and less non-productive time enroute. That turned out to be a less than optimum choice as I have been more tired and less organized hitting the ground working. On the plus side, I am on my third lodging option which has turned out to be a winner in terms of its location, reasonable access to locales I usually want to go to, quiet and overall quality of the space.

So as I look forward, I will be seeking an optimum solution that allows me to function reasonably well at a cost I can afford.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Heading Back - Ghana Part Four

I have to pinch myself. Really. Has it only been nine months since I took that first rather terrifying voyage to Accra, Ghana?

I am heading out again tomorrow for my fourth trip of the year. In just nine months, I've gone from not having a clue as to what I might find, to focused action to accomplish well-defined goals. This trip I need to complete what is necessary for our fund-raising video. We need to complete our community assessment required for our Rotary Global Grant request. I need to reconnect with the club President who is supposed to be our local partner. I have paid projects for three of the Theodora women that need to be moved forward. I have four proof-of-concept clients for the JOBS program that all have action items to be worked on. And I want to find an apartment to rent because I think I can get a full-time place and furnish it for no more and maybe a bit less than what I've paid this year for hotels and Airbnb.

All in all, it should be a very busy trip. Really, all this in just nine months?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Gearing Up To Be Off Again

I will be leaving Friday for my fourth trip to Ghana this year.

I have a very busy schedule. There are two tasks that are critical to being able to raise funds for the projects. We need to do a second set of video takes and we need to do a community assessment (to make sure we have buy-in from those we propose to help).

Our first cut at the video in September was just 'OK'. Not at all where it needed to be. I will cut all of us some slack on this. I certainly did not provide the leadership necessary in large part because I'd never done anything like it before. But (as with so many things associated with this venture) providence had Daughter #1 and son-in-law 1A visiting us for some alone, adult time last weekend. As professional videographers, 1A took the time to look at the first cut of our video and gave me really excellent advice on how to improve it. I am confident that we will rise to the challenge.

My partner GG is handling all the logistics of the community assessment which involves three different focus groups with about thirty people altogether.

Also, there are the 'proof-of-concept' businesses I am mentoring for the JOBs project. There are five of them and I will be giving them some substantial time as well. There are two more potential virtual assistant jobs for ladies in the THEODORA project group. And the one woman who has done the most is building out a detailed business action plan to get into Virtual Assistant work as her career. That's one woman seeing this as a viable way out of sex work. A tiny victory, not fully achieved but moving tangibly in the right direction. I will be giving her a lot of coaching during this trip as well.

And here at home, work, paying work, keeps up at what seems just the right pace. I have plenty to do but I really never feel that stressed because the work I do is perfect for my abilities. I was looking at our financial reports (Wife is so incredible at giving us great financial information so we always know exactly where we are) for our year-to-date. Amazingly enough, despite all the costs associated with our Ghana venture, we are actually doing better overall than we did last year! How can that be? I have stopped trying to understand. I just go into each day, do the best I can and accept whatever comes.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Oh To Be Able To Grow!

This whole year with the great Ghana adventure and all that have spun off from it is a miracle in the exercise of personal growth. I have a hard time looking back at this time last year and even imaging all that has taken place.

It isn't the tangible things though those have been substantial. It is personal growth. Just today I got the first cut of our promotional video from our folks in Ghana. It is very rough and we are going to have to redo a lot of it. But that in and of itself is going to be a phenomenal opportunity for growth - my growth, the growth of the women we are working with, the growth of our video people - and just to be able to perceive this - to not look at it as a frustration - as an "oh God we're going to have to do all this extra work" - but to see it as the tremendous opportunity to grow - is such a blessing.

I know I have been using that word a lot in recent posts - Blessing - but you know, that is the state that I am in these days - feeling very blessed.

But back to the theme of this post (Hey it's late and I'm tired. I can ramble a bit!). I cannot think of a more wonderful thing than to be in one's 72nd year and be in a position where one feels he is growing prodigiously. We associate our aging years as a time of atrophy, a time when you have done all you were going to be capable of doing, a time to sit around and tell stories of one's past. To me, that vision sounded like hell on earth. So to be in this position where I feel I am growing, learning, expanding, improving is like being in paradise.

I make no preachings to others. All have their own road to hew. I am just grateful and thankful that I am on this road.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Continuing To Observe The Transition Miracle

Much of this blog since 2013 has focused on the process of transition - what I have called the transformation of going what we in the U.S. look at as our 'real' life as a worker and going on to whatever comes after one stops working.

For many, maybe most, that is not the easiest or most pleasant change. Our culture glorifies the role of working so much that the vast majority (at least males) find the thought of giving that role up the gutting of their whole self-image.

Yet, as you have seen me write, I have found that giving up the rigid role of 'Worker' as our society defines it has allowed me to transition into a state of being that exceeds anything that I could have imagined during all the years I strived so hard to 'get ahead' to be 'acknowledged', to have 'success'.

Having allowed myself to move on but to not be restricted by any definitions such as 'retirement',  has resulted in my finding a state of fulfillment and peace-of-mind I could only have dreamed of when I was in my full bore, "I will be a success", career mindset. And in the most bizarre and unforeseen twists, the 'Ghana Adventure' of 2019 seems to have added yet another remarkable twist to the transition story.

It was only a week or so ago that I had this amazing realization. All the things I am doing in Ghana are being met with the most genuine and profound appreciation. I deal with highly capable, hard-working and ambitious young people. But there is a supreme lack of basic support in the Ghanaian culture. Everyone is sort of on their own. People don't just listen without judgment and try to help. So when you do...genuinely...people are incredibly appreciative. Way more so than people here in the States are.

So it is very, very rewarding. And as I throw myself more into this work I realized that after a lifetime of good fortune, of all kinds of people helping me, of just plain good luck, I am getting the chance to pay it all back! How freaking crazy is this! I can't even talk or write about this without crying (I am sure you see all the tear stains on my computer screen). But it is true. It is like I am having this unique opportunity to balance the wheel of karma. 

But none of this would have come to pass if Wife and I had not chosen to throw ourselves into what life was going to allow us to do 'post-work'. So my advice to all who see the horizon of their 'work-life' coming to an end is this. Don't resist it. Embrace it. Don't worry about how it will unfold. Let it unfold. But don't deny that you are going through a transformation. I doubt sincerely if the caterpillar has much of an idea that it will become a butterfly when it goes into the cocoon. You don't need to know exactly how your transition is going to occur. But you do need to let it happen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Chicken Light Soup - A de-I Culinary Post

One of the things I have thrown myself into during this year of exploration and expansion into Ghana has been its food.

"What?" You say. "de-I interested in food, in culinary adventure?"

Yet it is true. From the moment I was introduced during my first trip to "Local Food" (the term from my Ghanaian friends, not mine), I was intrigued by flavors. Certainly, the food as it is served and eaten has come discordance with Western sensibilities. But the flavors? That is a different case. Given the great popularity of Thai food, I would say that the food of Ghana (West Africa) has similarities that resonate on the palate in the same way.

Yet as I've made my way through a variety of local food dishes (Light Soup, Groundnut Soup, Palmnut Soup, Palava Sauce, Ground Egg Stew, Grilled Talapia with Pepper, Fu-Fu, Banku, Konkonte, Jollof Rice with Grilled Chicken), I have found this commonality of the flavor profile. As a cook who dissects the components of various cuisines and finds the common thread of flavors and techniques that make a national cuisine and then uses those in his own creations, I was having a hard time figuring out just what made this Ghanaian cooking different. When I asked what ingredients and flavorings they were using, I would get a list of things that I was very familiar with. Yet, the flavors that resulted didn't jive with any that I had tried before.

Then on this trip, one of the people I am mentoring cooked a meal for me, Chicken Light Soup, and I had a chance to observe. As I had suspected, it wasn't the flavors. It was the technique! There was one spice that she didn't know exactly what it was in English (though I suspect fennel seed powder is an important component). So this weekend I made my attempt and I must say that the results were quite credible.

All that is required is a fresh chicken, onion, garlic, ginger, tomato, salt, fresh chile and the special spice (I suggest using fennel seed powder).

  •  Cut your chicken into parts and put into a pot
  • Cover with water and bring to a boil
  • Now take a half an onion, three garlic cloves and a medium piece of peeled ginger and your spice powder, put into a blender. Take some water from the chicken pot. Add and blend the aromatic vegetables until completely emulsified. Add to the chicken
  • Cover your pot and cook the chicken under medium heat for 30 minutes
  • Take four small tomatoes, cut into quarters and add to the chicken. If you want heat, add chile - scotch bonnet, jalapeno, serrano, New Mexico - whatever you want. Or as in our case, we did not want it spicy so I omitted the chile
  • Cook for another 20 minutes, Fish out the tomato and chile. Put into the blender with more of the cooking liquid. Add another quarter raw onion. Blend until completely emulsified. Pour back into the chicken. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is very tender
  • In Ghana, we would serve this with a ball of a pounded starch from cassava (Fu-Fu), cassava and corn (Banku), or toasted cassava (Konkonte) right in the soup. Here I'd suggest either rice or noodles or even mashed potatoes. In Ghana, you eat it with your hand (right hand) taking a bit of the starch and dipping it into the soup before eating it and picking at the chicken the same way. I took the meat off the bones for Wife.
A pot of Chicken Light Soup
 A plate in the American Style
de-I's plate with him prepared to eat the chicken more Ghana style

This very different technique of taking the aromatics, blending them raw with fluid and adding to a stew or braise is very intriguing to me. You can be sure I will be trying variations on it. 

Bon Appetit!