The Adventure is Over

Posted on September 19th, 2010 by rahunt. Filed in Ghana life.
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I have been back in the USA for several weeks now, getting used to the cold (70 degrees!), going to school, re-learning calculus, and finding that I pathetically start most of my sentences with “In Africa,…”.

The future of this blog is uncertain.  It was created specifically for my Peace Corps adventure, and then got extended when my Peace Corps experience was delayed and when I stayed in Africa for an additional year.  Now that I’m in grad school, I’m not sure the blog is as useful for keeping in touch with friends and family.  Heck, now I can just pick up the phone and call you!

Pictures on Flickr

Posted on July 2nd, 2010 by rahunt. Filed in Ghana life.
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selling cornflour

Originally uploaded by ohkamala

I’ve added a few pictures of the Accra market, and some more wedding photos to my flickr page.

Party on the Back of a Truck

Posted on July 2nd, 2010 by rahunt. Filed in Ghana life.
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There is a peculiar form of marketing here in Accra.  At least, I think it is marketing, but it might actually be just a party.  Every week or so I will see that a company, group, or school has rented a flat bed truck, given about 20-50 young adults a t-shirt with their logo, and put the youths and speakers on the truck to be driven around town slowly.  Some dance, others walk along side the truck.  The speakers tend to be about 5-feet tall.  In fact, it is a lot like a parade float, without the decorations, and without the parade.

I’m not sure what the point is.  Usually the only logo on display is on the T-shirts, which is too small to see from a distance.  So I see the event, but I have no idea who is sponsoring it and why.  The folks gyrating together on the truck seem to be having a good time, but I feel like and old person when I see them; I always think they must be really hot in the sun.  Do they get paid to be there? Is the t-shirt enough payment? Or is this just a good time? How far does the truck go, and do the cars behind them mind that they are holding up traffic?
I have so many unanswered questions.

Web Applications in Africa

Posted on June 3rd, 2010 by rahunt. Filed in Ghana life.
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I’ve tried to explain the web surfing experience in West Africa before.  Slow connections, power outages, viruses on the cyber cafe machines… did I mention really really slow connections?  Here in Accra, working above the poshest, most professional, and probably speediest cyber cafe in the country, we get a pretty good connection.  You still wouldn’t want to download a video or an application, and even browsing websites with lots of images (baby pictures from friends!) is slow.  But it is possible.

At work we are building a web application, and most of our clients are in Africa.  They experience all the same frustrations as us, and some times worse.  We built a web site using a leading technology (GWT) that, we thought, would allow them to have a great user experience.  Check it out: There are not a lot of graphics, certainly no video, audio, or flash. We don’t have any problem with server load.   The site content isn’t heavy, and the site might seem fast in the US.  Yet some of our clients have been complaining of slow page loads… very slow.  As in… almost forever for a page to load.

One problem is that our servers are in the US.  Our clients, on their 56k modems are making requests that need to cross the Atlantic and come back with data.  It seems that the closest hosting company we can find to West Africa that meets our standards is in… London.  That is still pretty far away.  We need a professional quality hosting company here (and content distribution networks like Akamai don’t have servers in Africa!)

Another problem is that we wrote the code without making performance our top priority.  We wrote it as if our clients were in the US or Europe.  Most developers there don’t worry about sites being more than 100mb.  (I didn’t when I was there.)  But we see that we have to be very concerned.  We don’t have the luxury of being big and lazy.

We are hard at work improving the site, squeezing every bit of performance improvement out of the code that we can.  We are reading yahoo standards, facebook advice, looking at what all the big players have to say.  We are writing improved code, re-working what is slow, and looking hard at our numbers.

Despite all this, we can’t improve our clients’ connections. They will still be on 56k modems or similar.   Our objective is to have pages that download for most of our clients in 10 seconds or less, which hardly seems speedy outside of Africa.

3,500 Ghanaians Flee To Togo – Or Is It 1000?

Posted on May 28th, 2010 by rahunt. Filed in Ghana life.
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Yesterday the Daily Graphic – the Ghana newspaper that is something of a mouthpiece for the govt – had an article that Ghanaians up north were crossing the border into Togo to flee ethnic violence.  The article also showed up on BBC. (See it here too)

Eric and I, while not unsympathetic to the refugees plight, sniggered at the Togolese authorities response:

“Our immediate task is to find the resources to provide these refugees with emergency relief supplies, security, feeding, clothing and temporary rehabilitation structures.”

In other words, Togo was looking for money from the international community to help them in this situation.  Yet there is little doubt that most of the money would be “eaten”.  That is to say, put in the pockets of local authorities… as little as possible would go towards refugees.

But then, lo and behold, today the Daily Graphic had an article on a meeting between high level government dudes of Togo and Ghana (including Ghanaian president Mills).  They renounced this horrible press rumors.  There were really only 1000 refugees in Togo, they stated.

Surely, it is highly embarrassing for the Ghanaians to imagine that their own citizens would seek refuge in the poor neighbor country that they tend to look down on.  Of course they would react strongly to put a stop to the international press that is (possibly) airing Ghana’s dirty laundry.

I don’t know how many refugees are actually in Togo, and how much of the story was fabricated by the Togolese to get international money, and how much is being refuted to save Ghanaian pride.  I don’t intend to go up North to find out.  But I’m learning to “read between the lines” of press stories!