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Sunday, November 24, 2013

From Legon to Hohoe and Wli on tro-tro

My last post on the Shai Hills was to help me find that place again, but this post is designed more to help others make their way on public transit from the University of Ghana to the Wli waterfalls on the Togo border in the Volta Region. I was surprised how hard it was for me to find clear instructions on how to reach what must be one of the top weekend destinations for international students at the University of Ghana. In fact, Lonely Planet only mentions the Metro Bus that leaves from downtown Accra in the middle of the afternoon and arrives in Hohoe after dark, and returns at an unreasonably early hour from Hohoe. What follows is a much better option, and there might be even better options:

1. Tro-tro from Legon to Madina station (50 pesewas). Personally I would recommend an early start in order to reach Wli before dark (the entire trip is about 6 hours).

2. Tro-tro from Madina to Hohoe (4 hrs, 12 cedis). The tro-tros to the Volta Region leave from the front part of the Madina station closer to the market. Hohoe seems to have several pronunciations, but ho-HOY seems to work for me.

3. Hohoe has a new lorry park and the tro-tros to Wli (most people seem to understand when I say "blee") leave from close to the entrance (30 min, 1 cedi).

When I left Wli, people told me that there were few or no tro-tros on Sunday. I don't know whether that is true or not. A taxi driver wanted to take me for 20 cedis, but I waited and took a shared taxi for 5 cedis.

The lower falls is an easy, flat 30 minute walk along the river. The upper falls is a bit of a climb, and takes about 2 hours longer than the lower falls. My guide Mr. Charles recommended a longer round-about hike to the falls, which was most definitely worth it for the views. We arranged a day in advance to leave early in the morning, which is what I would also recommend. The lower falls cost 10 cedis, the upper falls 13 cedis, and an accompanying guide is required.

The Waterfall Lodge is 50 cedis a room, is close to the entrance to falls, and provides a quiet setting with excellent views of the falls.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Shai Hills

This post is more for myself than anything, because my memory is not very good and if I ever want to make a visit again to Shai Hills these will be useful notes. In short, this is what I did:

1. Took a tro-tro from Legon to Madina Station (50 pesewas)

 2. Then from Madina to Ashaiman Station (pronounced a-shaman; 2.40 cedis). Tro-tro leaves from far back corner of Madina Station and goes right past Legon, but it probably always leaves Madina full which makes it impossible to board at Legon.

3. Ashaiman to Shai Hills (pronounced shy hills). Tro-tro leaves from front of station by main exit. My tro-tro only went to Afienya and I had to pick up a second tro-tro to Shai Hills, which is by Doryumu Junction. First tro-tro was 1.50 cedis and second was 1 cedi. Total travel time: almost 3 hrs, much of that waiting for tro-tros to leave & in heavy traffic in Ashaiman.

Shai Hills: 25 cedis for 1 hour hike, + 5 cedis for each additional hour. 2 hours (30 cedis) to Adwuku caves. 4 more hikes from far entrance which I should do next time, but that is best done with own transportation. Required to take guide, which makes hike less relaxing than it otherwise might be.

 Return:

 1. Tro-tro from Shai Hills did not go into Ashaiman Station, so they passed me to a second tro-tro that spent most of the time stopped in traffic in Ashaiman. First tro-tro did not charge; second charged 60 pesewas. We stopped by a tro-tro going straight to Accra, which probably would have made more sense (ie, go to 37 & then backtrack to Legon).

2. Ashaiman to Madina (2.40 cedis). Leaves from middle of station; quick trip on Tena highway.

Total return travel time: just over 2 hrs.

Total cost: 37.90 cedis (exchange rate USD = 2.10, $18 USD)

Shai Hills was nicer than I remembered, but that might be because I've spent very will time out in nature here. Still, 5 hrs exhausting travel time for 2 hr hike is a bit unbalanced.

Bradt is the best guide book; Lonely Planet is just way too thin.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Still a scab in Africa

This Monday, September 2 (appropriately Labor Day in the United States, although no where else in the world) I arrived in the history department just before 9 a.m. only to have one of my colleagues tell me that the Vice Chancellor (VC) finally had caved to union demands and that the strike was finally over.

My only problem is that I had class in half an hour, and I had done nothing to prepare.

I grabbed my notes and ran across campus to JQB where, indeed, a group of students were waiting for the lecture. So, we had class.

I texted my students from Missouri that the strike was finally over and that they should go to class. They started complaining that they were showing up for class and their professors were not there.

And then I started hearing rumors that the strike was not over.

On Tuesday, UTAG held a meeting to vote on the strike. Only this time I did not find out about the meeting until the next day. Apparently the only people who knew about the meeting were management from the university, and they promptly voted to call off the strike.

I should not have been surprised by management’s behavior.

Last Friday, August 30, the university held convocation with the VC chairing. He proceeded to insult the faculty, basically calling us a bunch of idiots who didn’t understand the issues and were acting in bad faith. He then tried to force the UTAG president to hold a union meeting right there and then to hold a vote on the strike (ironically the VC is also a member of UTAG). Obviously he thought he would win such a vote. I’m not so sure. Management was behind him, but the faculty seemed to be quite antagonistic to the jerk.

The meeting ended with the VC saying that he would make an announcement on Monday what to do with the university. As the weekend drug on, I was more and more convinced that he was going to cancel the semester.

Imagine my surprise on Monday morning when I was told that the strike was “discontinued” and we were back in the classroom.

But now I’m not so sure.

The strike is between a national union, of which Legon is only one branch, and either the Ministry of Education or the VCG (the Vice Chancellors of all the public universities in Ghana), I’m still not entirely clear on that point. But what this means is that the UG VC could not unilaterally call off the strike, and that neither could the management legitimately call a UTAG meeting on the Legon campus and vote to end the strike.

The signed agreement for the book and research allowance that UTAG is demanding must come from the VCG, and then the national UTAG must vote to end the strike. None of that has happened.

What this means is that we are still on strike, and I am still a scab.

And management at the University of Ghana, even though they are also members of UTAG, are acting like management always does—in the interests of capital rather than the workers…or students.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Scab in Ghana

Four years ago I spent a semester at the University of Ghana at Legon as the faculty co-director of the Missouri in Africa Program, and I have returned for a second tour of duty. Four years ago I blogged about my experiences, and published those blog posts as a paperback book Stories from a Semester in Ghana. People have been asking me if I’m going to blog again and write another book, but in reading over what I wrote last time I felt that what I would write would be highly redundant of my previous visit.

Now, however, a colleague has suggested that I could write a new book and it would be titled “A Scab in Ghana.”

The faculty union of public universities in Ghana has been on strike since I arrived on August 1 because of non-payment of benefits. Only no one bothered to tell me.

My first class met at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, August 12, the first day of the semester. I went to the classroom prepared to lecture, only to find out that only 2 students were present and they told me that the faculty were on strike. I returned to the history department to complain to the chair that he had made me a scab. He said no, we are not on strike, and opened his email to show me only to find an email from the union president telling us that we were effectively on strike.

People kept telling me that as a visiting faculty member I was not a member of UTAG, the faculty union, and the strike had nothing to do with me and that I should continue to teach. Furthermore, if the strike drug on there was a good chance that the semester would be extended beyond my December 10 return date, and it was in my own best interest to teach my classes.

With mixed feelings, I returned to the lecture hall the following week to have a “conversation” with the students. I informed the students that this was not a lecture because we were on strike. I fully expected the strike to be resolved promptly and that the semester would return to normal.

My view changed fundamentally when I attended a union meeting last Thursday, August 22. The union leadership made it clear that no faculty should engage in any activities approximating teaching, because otherwise the strike would begin to unravel. It also appeared that resolution of the strike was nowhere near a resolution, and it was a question of whether the faculty union or the government would blink first.

After this meeting, I decided that I would no longer teach my classes. Even though people continued to tell me that the strike has nothing to do with me and that I should continue to teach, it was an issue of solidarity with the permanent faculty.

Today the union had another meeting to see whether an agreement to conclude the strike was acceptable. The faculty were adamant that they wanted to bring the strike to a resolution, but they were equally adamant that they needed a signed and legally binding agreement with the government as well as a concrete timetable for the payment of arrears before returning to the classroom.

And that is where we are at right now. The government has agreed orally to make these payments, but will they be willing to put the agreement in writing? And will the agreement be acceptable to faculty at all public universities (which is necessary to bring the strike to a conclusion)?

A central underlying issue is budgetary. Where will the money come from to make these payments? The university and the government both claim that they do not have the money to make these payments, and the loggerhead is that the faculty will not return to teaching without these payments.

Life under neoliberal economic policies has led to a very similar budgetary crisis in Missouri. The main difference is that in Ghana the faculty are willing to go on strike, and in Missouri they are not.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Kirksville's Best Hikes

Nature areas around Kirksville provide some of the best hiking opportunities  in Northeast Missouri. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Thousand Hills State Park is the chief attraction in the area, and for good reason. The park has a network of hiking trails by the main entrance, and there is a five-mile loop on the Big Creek Conservation Area side of the park. The best, however, is a nine-mile trail that goes through a surprisingly scenic forested area on the back side of the lake that even includes a primitive camp ground. The problem with this longer hike, however, is that the trail ends up far from where you started, which typically requires a access to a kind soul to pick you up and take you back to your vehicle.

2. Sugar Creek Conservation Area is the only other nature area around Kirksville of which I am aware that includes a foot-only nature trail. The 2-mile Ironwood loop trail provides a quick and scenic hike. Sugar Creek also has about 15 miles of bridle trails that are also marked as bike and foot trails. At first I did not think that walking along a horse trail would be very appealing, but in reality the trails are quite nice. An added advantage is that the trails are wide and mowed which can keep the problem of picking up ticks to more of a minimum.

3. I'm not sure now if Hidden Hollow Conservation Area is nicer than Sugar Creek, or if it just appears so to me because I only recently discovered it, and therefore it strikes me as new and different. The DNR map of the trails in this area have only a vague resemblance to the actual trails, and it took me a while to gain my bearings. The main trail can be done as a 5-6 mile loop.

4. Montgomery Woods Conservation Area has a 1.5 mile trail along a ridge that can be hiked as a 3-mile in/out. Perhaps as or even more interesting than the hike is taking the back roads to the conservation area through a very scenic part of rural Missouri.

There are numerous other conservation areas in Northeast Missouri (Union Ridge, for example, is particularly nice), but these are the only ones I know of with formal trails (if anyone knows of other trails worth hiking, please let me know). With the exception of horses at Sugar Creek, I assume that these trails are provided primarily for hunters. Nevertheless, the hiking is quite nice, and the seasonal variations in the nature areas provide an additional layer of interest.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

108 ticks

I picked up 108 ticks on my morning walk this morning--97 wood ticks and 11 deer ticks. The wood ticks are not that big of a deal because I can see them and pull them off, hopefully before they bite me (because it is the bites that itch so badly). The deer ticks are trickier because they are so small and look just like moles on my skin so they are harder to spot, and sometimes I don't find them until they have already lodged in my skin and created a big welt (and maybe even transmitted lyme disease).

This wasn't a particularly bad morning for ticks. I was guessing I was pulling about 50 ticks a day off of my body, but this was the first time I counted and the number surprised me. I wish the DNR would mow the bridle trails, because that would really help cut down on the number of ticks I pick up.

So, do I give up my morning walks, or just deal with the ticks?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Solidarity Singalong

I'm back in Madison for the Fighting Forward Working Class Studies Association conference, and was quite amazed to discover that a year after the failed recall election the daily Solidarity Singalong is still going strong. It is so encouraging to see this positive level of energy in favor of re-envisioning the world.

See more photos at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/edit/a.978012543222.1073741827.36107131/

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Assange Asylum, Ecuador Stands Against Neo-colonialist Policies

This morning, we posted "In Assange Asylum, Ecuador Stands Against Neo-colonialist Policies" (authored with Roger Burbach) and I have received a broad range of seemingly contradictory reactions:



Thank you. Good article that touches on some important and current topics.

--

  Well, I am glad to see you can now write half an article on Correa without attacking him. I take it that is an implicit self-criticism of your previous continual attacks on him.
  
    Maybe in a few years you will also mention that there was a failed U. S. coup against the Correa government, and that your "left" friends in Ecuador, which you mention in the second half of your article, supported it. 

--

Thanks to you both for this article.
BEST wishes!

--

This reads like propaganda for Mr. Correa. Granting asylum to Mr. Assange is commendable of the Ecuadorian current government but it is also a stunt to attract attention to Mr. Correa's government and continue its seemingly progressive image while incarcerating any resistance from the Ecuadorian society, especially runakuna. Putting Ecuadorian people in prison for voicing their opinion or disagreement overrides the "good gesture" of asylum to a foreigner who has not contributed in any way to the betterment of Ecuador. Has Mr. Burbach or Mr. Becker spent time in the Ecuadorian jails? Have these two men any idea of such an experience?
Please do not make Lasa a forum for Mr. Correa's "good side".   

--

good piece- square and informative (daring title, piece is more balanced).
i'll have to follow up on these issues. there is so much opposition from the left of Correa and Dilma despite their very leftist positioning in intl politics...

Friday, June 01, 2012

Paul Dix

When as a young 23-year-old working with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua our photographer Paul Dix went through a bit of a midlife crisis because he was turning 50 years old. All I could think was that I sure hoped that I was as cool as Paul when I turned 50. Well, that time is here and I'm no where near as cool at Paul. Last week I ran into Paul at LASA where he was selling copies of his book Nicaragua: Surviving the legacy of U. S. Policy. He is now 76 years old, and all I can think is that I sure hope I'm as cool as Paul when I'm 76.

Monday, May 14, 2012

American Airlines: Making the world a worse place one flight at a time

I haven't had many complaints about American Airlines lately, but that is just because I haven't traveled much lately. Unfortunately, I'm traveling to a conference next week. Last month when I attempted to book my flight on aa.com it gave me an error message that said to try again later--which I did, only to receive the same error message again. The third time I called AA to see what the problem was, only to find out that despite the error messages the first two tickets had already been issued--one as an electronic ticket and the second on paper. Coleen Ward told me I would have to wait for the paper ticket to arrive and then return it for a refund. Ten days later the ticket finally arrived, and I returned it as instructed. Now, almost a month later, I received a letter from "Customer Service Representative" Pat Reeves telling me that AA will not refund the ticket because it was a non-refundable ticket.

So, please explain to me again what's so great about capitalism? All I see happening is corporations running roughshod over people with the singular purpose of making a profit irregardless of its consequences to people. As I've said before, American Airlines is not particularly worse than any other airline company; I've just had more opportunity to be abused by them. The less I travel with American the fewer opportunities they have to screw me over. And I'm not traveling much lately--it looks like this might be the first year in about a decade that I lose my elite status. Oh well.

Coda (May 30, 2012): I received a request for feedback from AA on this flight, so of course I complained about this problem with the reservation system. This morning I received a call back from customer service concerning my complaint. The representative offered me 5000 AA miles as compensation. When I pointed out that if our roles were reversed that American would be charging me $150 and that I thought that is what they should pay me that amount, the representative unceremoniously hung up the phone on me. I guess we're not supposed to question corporate america's largess.

It's like they say--capitalism is a good idea in theory, but not so great in practice.


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