Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Welcome to May

May did not start off well. It has been a very difficult week, centering on Katherine and school.

But until I have any sort of resolution regarding that, I figured it's time to write up our Ghana trip, so here it is.

Since we went over spring break/Easter weekend, the kids were off school and we could leave on our trip as soon as Ian got home from early-release Friday. My biggest worry was getting across the border but Ian handled it like a pro, visiting the half dozen windows and getting stamps x6. We were through the border town Aflao and on our way an hour after we left the house. We passed the huge termite mounds, the Ostrich Farm, the seemingly well-provided for country hospital, the pot market (as in clay pots, not the other kind), through towns with cross walks and speed bumps and too many shake-down spots. Normally a cause for a rush of nerves and a wave of anxiety, but since I’d done this trip once before and our Embassy driver not only drove through them but barely slowed in the process, I told Ian to do the same. The driving was easy. Only one point, where Ian tried to pass an 18-wheeler directly into on-coming traffic, did we have any problem. We slowed to fall back behind the truck but there really wasn’t enough time. We were duly impressed when the folks we were heading towards slowed down also, allowing us the couple extra seconds we needed to get out of their lane. Once we crossed the river bridge at Sogakope, the road changed to a newly paved 4 lane divided highway. It was bliss. While we didn’t reach the 100mph the Embassy drivers seem so fond of, flying along between 60 and 70mph was cleansing.
We used an amazing map, borrowed from the CLO but I’d also paid enough attention during February’s trip to sense if we were heading the right way. With that, combined with proper street signs and working stoplights that were –heeded-, we found our hotel on the Accra beachside with no problem.
The La Palme Beach Hotel is huge, lovely and seemingly well-run. We had 2 adjoining rooms in a separate round bungalow. There were six other rooms in the bungalow for other guests as well. Through a lawn and along the beach was a path to the main resort with its huge sectioned pool and several restaurants. There’s even a gelateria with decent gelato.
It’s only a three hour trip from Lomé to Accra, but the kids were more than ready to go swimming. Cooled off and cleaned up, we were the first to the on-site Japanese Tepanyaki restaurant. At dinnertime there’s nothing kids like more than watching the food preparation, especially when it involves bursts of flames.
The kids went to bed without a problem. Two twins in one room for Ian and I, while the kids shared the king bed laying crosswise like sardines. After the second night they were very ready for their own beds at home, but it worked in a pinch.
Saturday we all went swimming after enjoying a poolside breakfast and before visiting the dentist. The dentist has a home clinic, clean and well-stocked, complete with four assistants. His prices were American, but we feel that the care he offered was worth it. After an x-ray confirmed Katherine’s adult tooth is coming in nicely, her nearly abscessed baby tooth was pulled. She can now where her new Gap shirt. The dentist also discovered the sealant work done in Manila is cracking. When we return in the fall, it will be repaired. Then it was Rebecca’s turn in the chair. The gray line on one tooth was a cracked filling, also from Manila. That too was repaired. Both girls had their teeth cleaned. The boys each had check-ups: Nicholas is doing great, Jonathon needs to brush for longer. That’s where the new Firefly toothbrushes come in. My parents sent some for the boys and I got additional ones for the girls. Press the handle and the toothbrush blinks for a minute telling the kids to keep on brushing. Jonathon was told to press his Firefly twice at each brushing.
While the girls were in the chair, the boys and I played Go Fish, Crazy Eights and I Spy to stay occupied for the 2 ½ hours. It’s not like the assistants said hello, much less offered any sort of diversion. It was almost eery how silent the place was. But we’ll be back during fall break to finish up the work that needs to be done on all of us.
Relieved that Katherine was no longer in pain, though she couldn’t speak well and was a little drooly after the Novocain, we made our way to the Embassy commissary. It’s a spot of paradise in our book with freezers full of US grade meats and ice cream, and shelves of cereals, lunchables, nachos, and M&Ms, the kids were like, well, kids in a candy store. Ian and I were no better. We treated ourselves to a trunk full of treats. Even better, there are discussions going on of forming a Co-op with Embassy Lomé once we’re in the new building. There is commissary space allotted in the compound and we’d put in regular orders from Accra to keep our own store going. Wouldn’t that be sweet? Speaking of food, we’re due to put together the remainder of our consumables order. Our first attempt was more difficult than it should have been that we’re a touch nervous about it. We’ve learned Peapod by Giant no longer does diplomatic orders so we’ll do this one through ELSO and perhaps it will get here the first time and quicker overall.
Well past lunch time, we returned to our hotel with our goodies. All the restaurants but the Ghanaian Village were done with serving lunch, so we sat outside by the beach (well, not by the beach, as there’s a fence and a drop to actually reach the sand, but we could see the waves) and waited what felt like forever for our food. Katherine was stuck with soft foods so she opted for soup. Note to self: peanut soups are always spicy.
We had a rest period in our rooms before joining Simon and Jill (third tour) at their home for a BBQ. Simon had been to our Embassy a few months back on a small exchange, so his family invited us to spend the evening with them. Their two bunnies were the hit of the evening with our kids and the kids also spent a lot of time playing in the toy wonderland of Elizabeth and Henry’s room. The most striking thing about their home is the colors on their walls. Jill has painted just about every room, from deep red in the dining room to the flowers and bugs in the kids’ room. Her work really made the house feel homey and for three years in one place it might well be worth the time and expense. I guess my biggest issue with painting is that typically the Embassy asks for everything to be returned to original white before you leave post.
After a very nice evening commiserating about the difficulties of West Africa (they have water trucked to their home several times a week and the generator works overtime) and sharing some perspective (“Oh, you think that’s bad, we don’t….”) we promised to visit again in the fall. We’ll be bidding from the same list, and it’s always interesting to see which places folks pick and why.
The next day was Easter Sunday, so we dressed up, had our poolside breakfast and attended Mass at the Nunciature, aka the Embassy of the Holy See. The kids and I had missed going to Mass, so it was nice to participate in a low-key, English, familiar service. Ian had the opportunity to chat with the Papal Nuncio after Mass.
Our time in Ghana was done. After a quick poolside lunch, we packed up the car and drove out of town. The drive was uneventful, Jonathon slept most of the way and the border was hassle-free. We weren’t thrilled to re-enter Lomé with its bazillion motos and poor roads, but we were home and having that feeling that we were glad to be back in our house was worth quite a bit. Contentment, no matter how brief, refreshes the mind and soul.
Of course, we’d locked ourselves out of the house (a deadbolt had slipped partway into place) which erased some of the good feeling, but after much sweat and a little cursing, we yanked the door open. The kids had gone swimming during our effort, and once we were inside, all was well and back to normal.

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