Archive for May, 2009

vacuum packed versus nature’s sack

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

 If you grew up in America, you are probably quite good at something that most Togolese find baffling.  Probably your great-grandparents would have found it puzzling as well.  I’m talking about packaging.  Chip bags, ziplocks, candy cane wrappers, or even bottles of lotion and shampoo all count as unnatural forms of packaging.  Most of these types of “emballage”  are new here.  Several times I’ve offered American candy or treats to my Togolese friends, only to watch them struggle for a while before I take it back and remove the packaging for them. 
      Here, most food is purchased whole, although the woman at the market might kindly give you a small black bag in which to carry your beans or chunks of dried fish. 
      Many Americans would starve if they had to deal with food the way it comes here – in its original packaging.  Could you make your own corn flour from corn on the cob?  Could you make peanut butter from unshelled peanuts?  I won’t even ask about chicken nuggets.  I know which form of packaging (vacuum packed vs natural) is better for the environment, better for our health, and even better for our understanding of how the world works.  

one laptop per child

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

A volunteer here lent me her OLPC laptop to take around and introduce to teachers and computer professionals here in Sokode.  This laptop got a lot of press recently for trying to develop a machine that can be used in developing countries to introduce children to computers.

I brought it to my computer training of trainers.  I tried to explain that the computer is cheap, durable, and for education.  They looked at, but at first did not understand that it is for children.  It was like I had showed up with a porshe and said it was for preschoolers.  Why would someone give a computer to kids?  I finally opened a simple math game and showed them how to play.  They finally got the idea, that yes, technology can be used as a tool to learn other things, like math.

I think the laptops are a great idea, but I saw that there will be challenges in changing the paradrigm about computers.  The idea here is that Computers are fancy technology for big important people, and one must be trained on using computers themselves extensively.  Giving computer to children to help with their schooling is a novel and foreign idea.

But after playing awhile themselves, they seemed to get the idea and started asking how they could acquire them.

Ben Stiller as Rebecca

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Every now and then I end up in uncomfortable situations with no escape or alternative. Often, my best solution it to imagine the same scene with Ben Stiller in my place. I pretend I’m watching the movie and laughing at his discomfort instead of experiencing it myself.

For example, last week I travelled in Ghana. I had a 5 hour trip on a packed mini-bus full of about 30 people. Every inch was crammed with sweaty bodies; even the aisle was filled with pulled down seats. A young man with pearly white teeth stood up in the front and started preaching in a local Ghanian language. He was strong! He was loud! He was ardent and true! Every few sentences the force of his voice made me jump, even though I knew it was coming. The crowd responded with emotion. When he asked them to hold up their hands to God, everyone on the bus did except me. When they sang, the passengers poured their hearts into it. When it was time to pray and everyone put their heads down, the man sitting behind me used his hand to push my head down as well.

I used my trick and imagined Ben Stiller stuck in the middle of the crowd, physically different, dressed differently and not speaking the language; stuck there for hours. I started giggling and couldn’t stop for a good 5 minutes.

Ah Ben Stiller, what a funny guy.


Friday, May 1st, 2009

After a couple relaxing days in a posh part of Accra, I’m off to a beach resort.

I’ll be meeting some friends there.  And you thought I don’t have any fun here.