I’m not somebody who’s very easily given to too much thinking. There are these times though, when the cynical engineer in me gives way to an idealist. A dreamer. And folks, let me tell you this: the dreamer is not a man to be trifled with. The dreamer believes all things are possible, and possesses an innate capability to go above and beyond. Or as all of us Haasies are wont to say, Beyond Yourself! In my humble opinion, that probably explains why I keep that beast locked up most of the time.
So, when I looked at the Haas programme more than 18 months ago, there was this one course that caught my eye. International Business development. A glint in the eyes. And a promise.
Fast forward to three weeks ago. I’m in Ghana, working on the Ghana School feeding programme. Day one in accra, and I’m suddenly confused: wasn’t Ghana part of the british empire? And since the answer is yes, why in the good queen’s name do they drive on the wrong side of the road? (note: the author is subject to significant bias, as you can tell, and wishes to profusely apologise. Or as the indomitable sardarji on the popular sitcom ‘mind your language’ would say “A thousand apologies, sir!”
A significant part of the project involves all of us going out into different teams and interviewing caterers and farmers in the supply chain to understand drivers of costs and what can be done with the programme to improve it. Me and Luis (also known as the harmless brown men – for more read this) are going up to the north of the region. Luis is excited that he’ll get to see the actual landscape of the country, and also get to see elephants in the wild. I’m going to get a little rural flavor, and for the intensive travel that we’re going to see. Only thing is, I didn’t realize how much we would be travelling. Over the course of 6 days we travelled 1300 kms on some of the most challenging roads I’ve ever seen. What was even more surprising to me was the fact that at the end of the journey, I was in a state of perfect bliss and extremely happy that I had taken this trip. I was asked by my amazing client, Daniel Mumuni, whether given a choice, would I do the trip again. My response (which surprised the cynic out of my skin): Yes. I’d do it all over again. After all, how many times do you get to ride 300 kms in the back of a pickup truck, the wind blowing across your face, and get to see at once in cinemascope color a kaleidoscope of poverty and happiness existing in the same individual?
I realized quite a few things in my journeys up in the north of Ghana. One, that luis was probably the whitest person that most of these people had seen. Two, that I wasn’t so much of a novelty. In fact, there was this farmer in a quaint little village called Zabzugu-Tatale (By the way, the story of this farmer could be a blog post by itself. When we asked him to introduce himself, his response in endearingly broken English was “My name is Best Farmer. I am the Best Farmer here, and I am the chief of my community”) who, on being told that I was Indian, actually started talking to me about Bollywood movies!!
In the course of my journeys, I actually happened to go to the borders of Togo (in the east), Cote d’ivoire (in the west) and Burkina Faso (in the north).See the map i’ve attached. If there is a competition for most borders touched while on IBD, I guess Luis and myself qualify for the award!! (George: can we institute this award for next year?)
While the prospect of seeing elephants wasn’t too exciting for me (I’m from Kerala, India. See Ana faba’s post and pics to understand what I mean about me not being excited by elephants. I’ve literally grown up around them. Relative to people from other parts of the world, I mean. ), I did have an awesome experience up at the Burkina border. I actually sat on a live, free crocodile!!! Needless to say, I was just as scared as the chicken I bought to keep the crocodile docile. My first reaction honestly was, wait, you want me to do what??? Contrary to what I thought, these guys are really fast. Case in point: I was clicking a similar picture of luis, and in a flash, one of them had sidled up and was a couple of feet from me. Cue hasty retreat. Considering the awesome state of physical fitness that I’m in, you can imagine the sight. The locals enjoyed that a lot.
Overall, one of the best road trips I’ve been on, made even more enjoyable by the thoroughly amazing company of Vasco (best driver evah!), little john (I’m serious. He introduced himself as little john) and Michael. By the time the road-trip was done, I’m infinitely more knowledgeable about Africa and its tumultuous history. (I’ve also had assistance from a certain Martin Meredith).
Back in Accra, we’re instantly condemned to The Asylum (code name for office). More revelations. Apparently, some of us from the tropics need the air-conditioning to be at a lower temperature than most others can handle. In a spate of hard-a**ed negotiations, we started from 17 degrees (Fran’Chico’ and me) and 24 degrees (Yosuke and christine) to a suitable middle ground of 20. (I’m sorry greenpeace. Please don’t take away my membership card.). We had several other negotiations as well. Some great. No further details will be released.
I’ve been picking up a few tips from Luis: about his diplomatic talents (he was last seen negotiating a settlement with Cote d’Ivoire. Don’t ask me what about.), and his awesome ability to power through the most adverse circumstances.
On a related note, we ended up buying traditional smocks when we were up north. In the dialect that’s spoken up there, the word for it is ‘bungma’ (pronounced bnng-mma. Is that right, Daniel?) We wore the smocks to our final presentation. I must say, I do look pretty dapper in it (even if I say so myself)
Anyway, I have a million stories to tell about Ghana. Can’t hog all the real estate on this blog. If you’re an admitted student or a fresh first year looking to understand whether you should be doing IBD, go for it. If you just want to hear a good story to get convinced, come find me.
I’m going to board a flight back to San Francisco tomorrow. Have a packed schedule ahead of me. Flight to Fort Lauderdale, then back to SF and then on a flight again to Chicago. I can already feel the dreamer leaving me. This time however, the dreamer is going back into his shell without a fight. He’s had a good time in Ghana. Thank you. Mr. Cynic – the stage is all yours. I’ll let you know when I need to come out again.