Exclusive Breastfeeding: the Guilt and the Pain

october 2Yeah, so October was the Pink month – the breast cancer awareness month. Off course, a month that also brought up all ‘other’ conversations about the breast and in many different ways.

For me, it was an exceptional month, as I managed to complete a major milestone in the life of my newborn – the six months exclusive breastfeeding. Oh my God! Such an endearing course – the sleepless nights; keeping wake in the midnight hour to express milk; very little production on some days; the uncertainty of whether the expressed milk will suffice in my absence, you name it.

Today, I feel like a kid with a new toy, having achieved such a milestone. As a friend  usually says in jest: “You deserve to eat one full egg when you achieve significant milestones” and I will do exactly that.

The Exclusive Breastfeeding Chorus

Exclusive breastfeeding here; exclusive breastfeeding there – at the ante-natal classes, the pregnancy school, the post-natal check ups, on radio, etc – the midwives will harp on and on the benefits for the baby and the mother. And yes, there is abundant literature to corroborate its usefulness as in the infograph below. Infact, I remember in one of my pregnancy classes, we were actually taught an exclusive breastfeeding song. It almost became a rhyme. Ha!

By WHO Philippine

Credit: WHO Philippines

But how come the emphasis is so much on the benefits and so little on the stress, discomfort and extra hardwork that must come with it, especially for working/professional mums?

It appeared all easy and fine just being with baby at home – breastfeeding on and off demand. Then after enjoying maternity leave for three and half months, I resumed work. Ooops! Options? Yes as follows:

  • Switching completely to formula milk so baby can have enough
  • Expressing and storing the breast milk for baby while away
  • Carrying baby along to work

Being convinced of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, I settled for option two. Initially, it was okay as I could express between 300ml and 400ml to make up for my absence (about 5 – 6 hours).

breast-pump.jpg

But at baby’s 4th month, it didn’t seem easy anymore expressing breast milk – Production on some days was very low. Other days, I just could not just get home early enough. There were actually days I would drive home like a James bond after receiving a call that the feed was finished. Anxiety set in, and then frustration too. I felt baby was not getting enough.

But why the stress? – I murmured to myself – why not just switch to formula milk afterall that won’t kill the baby; plus I’m a working mum and that’s understandable. The last time I checked, maternity leave is still three months; what you get in addition is your annual one-month leave making four and that’s all …

But the more I contemplated ending it, the guiltier I felt – this would mean I have let my baby down; I could not try harder to see all the benefits it comes with; And oh all the advice at the pregnancy school? The guilt was so much, I choose to continue the exclusive breastfeeding. 

undying

Credit: Fidson.com

So what worked?

First, the advice from the medical professionals – I discussed with my midwife and a few doctor friends: Well, you have less than two months to go, why not just complete it to avoid mixed feeding? We encourage you to complete it unless it is absolutely impossible.  Ha! Mixed feeding? But all feeding is feeding or?

Second, the experience sharing from fellow-women, and the hubby’s encouragement. Call it the woman magic, a number of my female friends willingly shared their experience and how they managed it: It is a good practice; the baby will hardly fall sick; try a little harder to complete it unless it is absolutely impossible; eat very well; stay hydrated and take lots of soup and water. I felt encouraged. And Hubby? Yeah, he promised me a special treat as soon as we achieved that milestone.

And before I forget, please tell Nestle-Ghana that their radio advert on exclusive breastfeeding was very helpful and motivating.

I got myself a special set of ammunition to help increase milk production and survive the battle:

  • Groundout soup                                                Palm nut soup.
  • Vegetables and fruits.                                      Mashed kenkey with milk.
  • Milo drink or milk shake.                               Brukina fresh milk.
  • Roasted maize and groundout                       Fresh Palm wine when available

Akan_Ghanaian_Palm_Nut_Soup 20170511-groundnut-soup-vicky-wasik-2-2-thumb-1500xauto-438152groundnut mashed k

For the remaining two months, these were my stock. I stayed awake the better part of the night both to put the baby to the breast and express for the morning. And like the manna that fell from heaven, I could produce just about enough milk for a day. I started a countdown chart at 35 days, looking forward to each day with optimism – 20 days more; 10, 5, 3, 2, 1… and huuurrrrraaaayyyyyyyyy I made it.

For now, I can only look forward to enjoying the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. But even before that I’m off to eat one full egg for completing such a milestone and enjoy my well-deserved hubby treat. 

I will be glad to hear your experience too.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Freetown Memories: My 25 minutes on the ocean

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Sierra Leonian National Flag

So it’s been about two weeks after the devastating mudslides in Sierra Leone which claimed many lives and destroyed properties worth thousands of Leones. I constantly kept in touch with the few friend I had for their safety.

Alas! May such never happen again. Indeed, authorities and citizens alike should do the needful to avert a recurrence.

But while that fluid situation unfolded, so my fond memories of that beautiful country – the warmth of the people, the Creole /Krio spoken by more than 90% of the people and uniting the different ethnic groups, and indeed the landscape of Freetown (the port city) which gives you the pleasure of a beautiful journey of air, water and land transport in one day.

Yea, so as a development worker, the twists and turns of development interventions and scope of work got me into the Sierra Leonian capital Freetown. This time, working with influential journalists on how to increase citizens’ awareness of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

So, from Accra to Monrovia and then Freetown International Airport at Lungi.
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Lungi is located across the river estuary from Freetown. So here, the Airport and Freetown, are separated by the Sierra Leone River, about eight miles north of Freetown.

This obviously opens up a menu of transport options – land, water, air – to choose from. Before my trip, a colleague had cautioned strongly against using the option of air transport – the helicopter. Besides being scary, it had recorded very fatal consequences.

Good or bad, I didnt have to even bother about that option because it was no longer operational and for a while now.

My next choice was water transport with the specific preference being the Ferry – big, spacious and carries more people. But no, this would require another two to three hours to get to Freetown. And before I could even decide, I was informed that the ferry had broken down for months and so not available.

Whoa! Going by road (the land option) was certainly not worth considering as it would require another four to six hours after an already windy air travel.

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So?
So Speedboat!
Speedboat? I exclaimed. Yes Speedboat! came the confirmation.
20 to 30 minutes and it docks at Aberdeen Freetown. It is the shortest distance between the airport and Freetown cutting straight across the mouth of the estuary.
Adventurous but can be very bumpy, I was told.

20160910_142401Adventure?                                               Definitely not this time (at least not for a first-time mum to-be). There and then, my water-phobic instincts begun pushing up my adrenaline. It quickly flashedback an experience I once had on the Volta lake in Ghana where the boat on which we travelled went low on fuel several meters away from destination.

My Reverend minister father was travelling from Yeji to one of the nearby communities on a preaching appointment. Hmmm, had it not been for the assistance of the fisherfolks and boat attendants we would probably have been history by now.

That was a lake; but this time, the ocean. With bated breath I managed to sit next to other travellers on board the speedboat. In a pensive mood, I could only hear the distant voice of a boat attendant blabbing away on some announcements. My mind was far away – shall I say my last prayer or just have a positive mind and oh my baby.

But how other travellers looked relaxed and engaged in hearty chit-chats remained a mystery to me. For the next 25 minutes, I sat in complete silence (awashed completely with first-time speedboat/sea blues). I watched from the window how fast the boat moved and the waves the propellers made; intermittently checking the clock that hanged in the boat.

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20 minutes later, I could see scattered communities afar off. A twinge of hope finally in my heart. Tick-tock-tick-tock … and we made it; Oh, I mean I made it; off course I doubt anyone else was as scared as I was.

Now the Return:

20160921_134512Obviously, the first time experience had completely melted my fears giving way to absolute confidence. This time, I was ready for adventure. Indeed, I made friends and networked; But Wait! Do you know there was apparently chilled water served during the earlier trip? And oh, the boat also had a Wi-Fi service and see, television too.

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What a shame. To think that I missed out on all that initially, (wink wink – still scratching my head).

All together, it was such a fascinating trip – the beauty of land, water and air travel all in one day.

Thank you Freetown for the experience. Please do not deteriorate; I will certainly visit again.

Chao

Abigail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Insults, False Claims dominated political discourse in Ghana’s 2012 elections Will 2016 be different?

political-parties logo

Some political parties in Ghana

As a country, we pride ourselves in having successfully gone through six competitive presidential and parliamentary elections without violence. What is evident, however, is that these elections have always been associated with potential election crises, which have had to be managed in order to avoid full-blown election-related conflicts.

As Ghana prepares for its seventh consecutive elections in November, political tensions are already building up. It is the 2nd quarter of the year and already insults and propaganda messages have become common in political debates, discussions in the media and other public platforms.

Elections constitute one of the first steps in any democracy; ordinarily meant to afford citizens the freedom to choose their leaders in a peaceful manner. Unfortunately, in Africa, elections exceed just the competition of ideas and how best those ideas are communicated to convince the electorate in one’s favour.

Voting in Ghana

Clearly, underlying the kenkey and fish concerns or bread and butter issues (depending on your class) which politicians promise to deal with are the lofty capitalist ideals of winning power, forming a government and controlling state resources. In many cases these have led to personal aggrandisement rather than actual development and improvement in the lives of the electorate.

The partisan nature of elections no doubt divides society along such lines and in the effort to win over the electorate, politicians go all length, foul or fair, in their campaigning. Political discourse during electioneering periods gets heated such that the closer the Election Day, the hotter the political discourse gets.

As a result of the agenda setting capability of the media, they become the most influential platform for reaching the masses. Political parties, their assigns, serial callers and communicators more vigorously than ever use the media, especially radio, to reach the masses. Unfortunately, this is sometime done in ways that suggest that any expression can be used on radio without regard for the basic ethos of cultural and social values regarding public communication.

Indeed, the dangers inherent in mass communication cannot be overlooked and in a media pluralistic environment such as the one we enjoy in Ghana it will be naïve for us to think that all media are set up based on the much-coveted ideals informing, educating and entertaining towards the ultimate of ensuring social justice, peace and development.

Some political reps in a studio discussion on Radio XYZ

Clearly, ownership wishes and political party interests become glaring in such times making the ideals of truth, fact-checking and objectivity casualties in the process. Simply put, they are sacrificed on the altar of jarring penchant for intemperate, indecent, unethical language expressions and personal vendetta. The result is the resort to character assassination insult of persons, lying unsubstantiated allegations, unwarranted outburst of fury, provocation and inciting violence.

Perhaps Rwanda and Kenya have become a cliché in Africa such that they no longer invoke the caution it used to. But should Ghana become the next synonym for electoral violence on the continent? Certainly not!

In the 2012 elections, insulting/offensive comments, unsubstantiated allegations and provocative remarks were the three most frequently used types of indecent expressions against political opponents of a list of 10 of such expressions. There was an average of four (4) indecent expressions recorded on daily basis by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) between April and to December,.

For the nine month monitoring period, 2,850 programmes were monitored on the 31 radio stations. A total of 509 indecent expressions were coded on those programmes with as much as 404 indecent expressions by political party affiliates.

As the elections draw closer and political parties intensify their campaigning, Will these change in 2016? Will media discussions be focused on issues rather than insults? Do politicians and media institutions care enough about the brands and reputation so as to be measured and guarded in their remarks? Already,  there is on daily basis one allegation or the other; can the media help by doing some more fact-checking and separating facts from opinions, can the media also wear their gate keeping caps tightly so as to control such elements on the airwaves.

As remarked by a friend recently, “even in America, elections are characterised by these kinds of expressions and particularly for their 2016 electioneering process there is a certain Donald Trump rocking the boat”. This may be rightly so but how do we compare apples and oranges, contrasting social and cultural values of the two countries. We live in a country where culturally words such as “sebe” and “taflatse” are the expressions used when a communicator thinks his or her language will be deemed insulting. Our cultural modes of address simply frown on abusive language in public communication.

Again, some media practitioners ask “how do you expect our programmes be hot if we should only empanel people who will appear like saints; our programmes will lose their popularity and that will cut our advertising incomes drastically”. While this may also be a legitimate question, what is also important to remember is that ample evidence suggests that people can discuss issues passionately without insults or descending into the gutters. This is where owners and operators of media bear a greater responsibility of professionalism.

During the 2012 elections campaign language monitoring exercise, several individuals called the MFWA to challenge the findings put out. They however did not come back after they had received audio recordings of their voices and some of the unprintable remarks they had made on air. Of course, in the haste to outdo opponents politicians are often unmindful of what they are saying, how they are saying it and how what they are saying affects listeners.

The radio campaign language monitoring exercise defines indecent expression as any statement or insinuation that seeks to attack or damage the reputation of an individual, political party or ethnic group; or that could provoke the target of the expression to react in an unpleasant or offensive manner or that could offend the sensibilities of members of the public. These include insults, prejudice or bigotry, inflammatory expressions, hate speech, tribal slurs and stereotyping, provocative remarks unsubstantiated allegations and gender specific insults.

So here we are in 2016; the MFWA expects to monitor about 70 radio stations across the country with the first report released in April. The reports to be issued fortnightly will help us know whether we have improved as a people or gone from bad to worse.

No matter what we as a collective bear a responsibility to ensure our country Ghana is in one piece.

I sincerely wish all Ghanaians peaceful elections 2016.

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International Women’s Day 2016: Media Must Consciously Increase Women’s Visibility

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history. The Day als…

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International Women’s Day 2016: Media Must Consciously Increase Women’s Visibility

international-womens-dayInternational Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history. The Day also brings to the fore, commitments under the UN Women’s Step It Up Initiative, and other existing commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

Several reports by the United Nations and other international treaties and conventions recognize the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment in advancing democracy, development, peace and security. Gender inclusiveness and the inclusion of women in decision-making processes have not only become an important indicator of good governance in many democratic societies but also considered critical for the overall empowerment of women.

Another global study has also revealed that women have seen only marginal improvements in the world of work in the past 20 years.   In countries where women access work more easily, the quality of their jobs remains a matter of concern. Even though several countries in the West Africa region including Ghana have signed and ratified several UN Charters and Conventions which emphasize women’s political participation and representation at all levels of power, women’s participation and involvement in governance processes remain quite low.

journalistsIn Ghana for example, while political parties endorse the UN mandated figure of 30 percent women’s representation in public offices in their manifesto pledges, such promises are hardly translated into action as the number of women in public offices continue to dwindle rather than appreciate. Despite efforts by women’s rights organisations to increase women’s representation in public spaces, the numbers remain disturbingly low.

Out of 133 women who contested 102 parliamentary seats in the last elections, only 30 were successful. This means, out of the 275 Members of Parliament, only 33 are women. This is despite the fact that about 51 percent of Ghana’s population are women.  It is widely acknowledged that the media sets the societal agenda, shapes public opinion and builds decisive visibility platforms for issues and people.

There is research evidence that also points to the influential role of the radio as an effective citizens-engagement tool in many parts of the region and thus an important tool to increase women’s voices and participation in governance processes.  Unfortunately however, there has been little effort on the part of the media to include women in their programming with the reason that the women are not available for participation.

media-2The inclusion of women in media programmes have often been pushed to the back burner  and left to the discretion or in some instances the biases of programme producers and content writers and editors. Such gender inequalities in media representation have continued to frustrate women’s ability to use the media as a vehicle for empowerment and participation in governance.

Quite regrettably also is the fact that the few women who have braved the odds to occupy influential positions in governance or public spaces are often too quiet in public discourse on national issues instead of serving as trail blazers and paving the way for greater women participation in national affairs.  Even in Ghana, which boasts of high levels of free expression, women face obstacles to participating in public discourse through the media.

This was evidenced in the troubling disparities in the gender of featured individuals, discussants, and moderators and in the quantity of governance issues discussed on radio programmes, as revealed in a study of women’s participation and voices on public discourse on radio between 2013 and 2014.

There is certainly no doubt that the media has the powerful ability to empower women to raise awareness about pressing issues in their communities.This is what makes it imperative that women have equal access to media platforms to seek, receive, and impart information in order to prioritise women’s issues. This, in turn helps promote good governance and development.

Women Aspirants in the studio

Aspiring women in Ghana’s local level elections in a discussion on local-based Radio A1 in the Upper East Region on Ghana

Media owners, programme producers or content producers and editors must make the conscious effort to fully and equally integrate women into their staffing and programming on all issues and not pidgin-hole women into discussing only women issues. While the media does it’s best to increase women’s voices and participation in public discourse, it’s about time that many more women stood up, and braved the odds to be counted.

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International Day of Access to Information: Baby finally delivered after 13 years

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International Day of Access to Information: Baby finally delivered after 13 years

Mama has been pregnant for 13 years; certainly past the ideal nine months of pregnancy for any woman. When she would deliver – time and date – has been watched with lots of anxiety.

But Bingo! Here comes good news: Mama finally delivers on November 17, 2015. Baby is healthy and sound, and brings lots of joy and hope to family, friends and loved ones. It is named “International Day for the Universal Access to Information” to be celebrated annually on September 28.

unesco-sign-and-buildingThat is the story and journey of the global civil society campaign towards the declaration of September 28 as Access to Information Day. The 13-year campaign was finally delivered when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) General Conference voted on November 17, 2015 to designate September 28 as “International Day for the Universal Access to Information”.

The Joy and Cheers

For global civil society and like-minded organisations across the world this is indeed welcome news and precisely so for the significant benefits such a day brings. The International Day for the Universal Access to Information does not only to seek to raise awareness about the importance of the right of access to information but also provide a framework for the enjoyment of the right of access to information by all people.

As succinctly captured by UNESCO’s Executive Board “the establishment of a specific date provides a coherent message at the international level and facilitates coordination of joint initiatives on public awareness and elucidation by organizations in the coherence of a universally recognized day.”

indexFurthermore, Access to information is a fundamental human right – to seek, access and receive information. It establishes a legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions. It is guaranteed by several protocols and charters such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 4 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

The Bated-Breath Moment

Already, international civil society advocates celebrated September 28 as “Right to Know Day” since 2002 when the idea was developed at a conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. Many more civil society platforms such as the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI), African Freedom of Information Center (AFIC) amongst other regional and national level organisations and coalitions have engaged in several activities and vigorous campaigns to push for the adoption of the international day.

On October 19, 2015, the news that the Executive Board of UNESCO adopted a resolution recommending that September 28 be recognized as International Access to information Day was a good one and huge milestone in itself. The commitment by African civil society groups and African countries to push the UNESCO resolution was highly instructive.

As remarked by Nigeria-based Freedom of Information Campaigner Edetaen Ojo the adoption of the Resolution represents a major advancement in the 13-year quest by global civil society to have a day set aside annually to raise awareness about the importance of access to information throughout the world”. He said “When the Resolution is finally passed by UNESCO’s General Conference, it will be a gift to the world that Africa can be justly proud of.”

So with the baton handed to the 38th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris on November 3-18, 2015 came the real moment of bated-breath. Will the baby be finally delivered or another long wait lay ahead?

But alas! the International Day for the Universal Access to Information has been adopted. The approval by UNESCO’s General Conference came during its meetings in Paris and follows on support from a UNESCO Committee on November 11 and the UNESCO Executive Board on Oct. 19. 2015.

Certainly, this is a great milestone. But it also signals the beginning of more work ahead. International civil society still bears the onerous task of translating activism into real adoption of ATI legislation by many more countries and also ensuring that there exist implementation mechanisms for such legislation to become meaningful to the ordinary citizens.

Kudos to international civil society and more grease to our elbows for the task ahead!!!civil-societyAbigail Larbi

Programme Officer for Media Development and Democracy

Media Foundation for West Africa

Accra-Ghana

 

 

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The rains are here; Time to play the Oware game again

The rains are here; Time to play the Oware game again.

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The rains are here; Time to play the Oware game again

It is indeed another year and like the merry-go-round, the ‘visiting scholars’ have started showing up. I choose to call them the ‘visiting scholars’ for reasons I will tell you shortly. In the coming days these ‘visiting scholars’ will be arriving in droves and soon will be the talk of town because we will begin to feel their presence (if not pinches) strongly. Call it punishment for our ‘irresponsibility’ or failure on the part of leadership, the reality is that they are here again. Last year they were; this year they have started arriving. As a matter of fact, it’s become a yearly affair with no end in sight, perhaps not now.

…..And if I am reading your mind correctly, sure, a Visiting scholar is very much associated with academia – a scholar from an institution who visits a host university, where he or she is projected to teach, lecture, or perform research on a topic the visitor is valued for. The visiting scholar is often invited by the host institution and such invitation is proof of regard that the scholar is prominent in his or her field (whichever that may be).

Here in Ghana, we are each year “blessed” to receive a crop of ‘visiting scholars’. They are indeed knowledgeable and prominent in their field; they do not just come to teach, lecture and perform research, they also come with their annual verdicts on the very field they have expertise in. The interesting thing is that we (as the host institution) do not invite them; they are naturally orchestrated.

Their sizes, width and depth are enough to tell how good or bad one is performing in that particular field for which they are orchestrated. They suddenly throw us into a moment of reflection and accountability as they expose the shoddy work of road construction in this country – Contractors and semi contractors who take huge sums of money only to produce roads that do not even last a year; the weaknesses of supervision and just how we care about road maintenance.

These ‘visiting scholars’ and the discomfort they pose to motorists will soon send our politicians and duty bearers into frenzy again running from one loud speaker to the other in attempts at explaining why it is the case and yet all you hear is a regurgitation of the same lines.

Indeed, if we had our way we would never ever extend an invitation to these ‘visiting scholars’; never! But can we say we are unaware of their regular visiting periods. Is it not widely acknowledged that they usually commence their visits in May/June/July? Is it also not common knowledge that these ‘visiting scholars’ sometimes stay with us for a long time until the road maintenance vans start patching the roads? Or that some area boys decide to cover the pits while exacting coins from motorists?

Well, in case we are oblivious, or have blatantly turned a blind eye or feel too constrained and helpless of the situation or simply not bothered, these ‘visiting scholars’ are a clear verdict of how we are doing with our roads. They still beg the following questions:

  • Why are our roads still bad, full of potholes and do not last
  • Why do we spend resources only to be shortchanged by contractors?
  • Who monitors road construction to ensure that they are of the right quality and standard

In seasons like this, majority of our roads begin to look like the typical two-row board of an Oware with varying number of pits. Some of these pits are huge enough to be called manholes. They are so spread out on the roads to the point that you dodge one and fall in three others.

Now in a usual Oware game, players take turns moving the seeds in the row of varying pits called houses. A player removes all seeds from one house, and distributes them, dropping one in each house counter-clockwise, in a process called sowing and the game goes on and on. The potholes (visiting scholars) are here again – so so discomforting if not annoying to drive through potholes. It’s obvious we haven’t done well with our roads.

So just like playing the Oware game, motorists will need focus, tact and patience to drop their seeds (wheels) in the pits as failure to do so will earn you constant appointments with your mechanic.

Perhaps those who drive the green and white GV number plates may have little cause to worry because after all, there is some tax payers’ coins for maintenance. But if you belong to the lot others, it’s time to play the Oware game again and play it well to keep the wheels safe until the visitors are gone back or some help comes.

As they say there is light at the end of the tunnel but you can never tell how long this tunnel is because the end does not seem in sight.

Abigail Larbi

Twitter handle: @AmaSekyibea

Blog:abigaillarbi@wordpress.com

– See more at: http://www.myjoyonline.com/opinion/2015/June-3rd/the-rains-are-here-time-to-play-the-oware-game-again.php#sthash.kCpmFvSU.dpuf

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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