Ron Smit's Blog
Sometimes I wish could take a picture by just blinking my eyes, since doing so with a camera is just not possible or would generate the wrong type of attention. Today I experienced such a moment, while being driven through the busy Accra traffic. The eye-blink-camera is not yet working, and so I will have to make do with words.
I was sitting in the passenger seat of a nice 4x4 vehicle, being taken back to my hotel room after some meetings. At the numerous stops and traffic lights, there was the usual economic activity: Street sellers trying to convince one that they have the keyrings, dust cloths, maps of Ghana, plastic toys, and everything else you could possibly want.
Once, I even saw a chap selling a book, titled “How to become President of Ghana”.
But I digress. Today I also saw a few beggars, some missing limbs, hobbling between the cars on makeshift crutches. Also a common sight here, even in the traffic. Years ago, I even saw a chap using two crutches, but hobbling on two legs, wearing flipflops, directing traffic at a famous intersection usually serviced by military police. On that day the smartly-dressed and white-gloved MP’s were not there, however, and this chap on crutches was directing traffic with one of these crutches, having stuck a piece of white paper to its end, to increase visibility. I have never again seen that same level of public service under difficult conditions.
But now I have digressed yet again.
The beggar who I would like to describe today, was seated in a wheelchair, with his withered legs tucked under him. Sadly, begging in the traffic on a wheelchair is not what made him so notable. This particular chap, however, was decked out in the red-white-blue colours of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and even had an NPP flag strapped to the wheelchair, flapping in the exhaust smoke-laden wind. Then I noticed that the NPP flag did not only have their name and symbol, an elephant, on it, but also a slogan: “Development in Freedom”... Perhaps the image of a partial cripple, begging in a wheelchair within the Accra traffic, is not quite what a political party would have liked to portray. No-one else saw the incongruity.
Almost halfway into my current mission in Accra, and I am starting to make some small progress. Strange, how the development world like that word "mission". It conjures up images of bible-toting bearded people, or alternatively something military. My own mission is not so dangerous or fundamental, it is rather to help prepare the ground for yet another mission in a few weeks' time - this time a "corporate mission" involving a number of business people who are all planning to be involved somehow with the business end of better recycling of e-scrap in Ghana.
Everybody I meet, is excited about the concept, whether I speak to foreign diplomats or local consultants and businessmen. We only need to push the process along in a notoriously slow part of the world... easier said than done, especially considering the fact that a few different companies, probably each with their own corporate strategies, all need to find a way together, somehow. We dealy need a "champion" who is prepared to spend time here, and to push, pull, threaten and cajole the start of some small business entities.
Today I met an old friend, erstwhile General Manager of the Golden Tulip Hotel here in Accra, for many many years, during the days when my family and I were living here. Now, since about two weeks ago, he is General Manager at Alisa Hotels, where he just happened to walk past my table when I was having lunch. I was quite surprised, especially since we had last met in Luxembourg a few years ao, when he was managing a hotel there. It's a small world...
After lunch I returned from a few meetings to my temporary office while here in Ghana. Here is a view of the main entrance, also the main entrance to my hotel bedroom:
And the corporate office facilities (a bit spartan, but with an extremely small view of the ocean, which I can hear in the background) are pictured below.
The picture should indicate clearly which time of the year we are in, and normally autumn is that time of the year when one enjoys the colourful trees, while grimly considering the coming winter...
But this picture also clearly shows red leaves in sunlight, and a blue sky behind. We are indeed enjoying some really nice, late summer weather, and it's the first of October! Next week will apparently not be quite as nice, but better weather should follow again, we are told. Then, I travel to Ghana for almost 10 days from next weekend, so that should give me some good hot, steamy weather. I'll be working with the NDF/RMG, etc. e-scrap project there.
Then, on 26th October, we travel to South Africa for 3 weeks, taking in Marcel's birthday, in the Cape, and the wedding of a niece, in Gauteng. The weather should be pretty acceptable, that time of the year.
And then the cherry on the top is the fact that I currently have the luxury of looking at two different job opportunities, back in mainstream geology and exploration management. Nervous, but exciting times! The less charitable among you will bring my story to full circle by suggesting that I'm in the autumn of my career, but I believe I still have quite a few active and useful years ahead of me.
Today I had the dubious pleasure of cycling through the attractive countryside between our home, in Eindhoven, and Nuenen. The cycling was pleasant enough, but I was going to the dentist, which is not one of my favourite places to visit. No need to explain that, I think.
Anyway, after a less-painful-than-average session in the chair, I had a relaxed ride back, and took some pictures. The first one shows my bicycle perched against a relatively new bridge over the Dommel:
The next picture shows the inscription on the "Willem-Hikspoor" bridge.
Directly (though not so poetically) translated, it says:
- "Unintentionally (or maybe unnoticed?), God saved us
- with this weak bridge.
- Her weakness was our strength
- here the enemy had to turn back."
Apparently some German armoured vehicle (I think it was a half-track troop carrier) was too heavy to cross the earlier little bridge during WWII, and had to detour to another place, as a result. The cynic in me thinks that they would have made it across if they really wanted, and in any case could have found a better place to cross not too far away. The Dommel is hardly a major river... However, I wasn't there, so I don't know for sure.
On the last stretch towards home, I passed the city's ecological grass mowing operation, though the operators (sheep) were having a break. Couldn't have been a lunch break, must have been a break from lunching?
Today we have had decent summer weather at last! Most of this country has been complaining about the lack of summer weather after a spring that was too hot.. (!) and probably an autumn that will be too wet and windy, and certainly a winter that will be too wet and cold. We are never happy here, unless we can complain about something, and the weather always obliges.
Well, for the last day or two, the weather has been great, even very warm. I'm writing this at 21:30 and it is still very warm...
Yesterday and today we cycled along various routes here in Eindhoven, and this morning we visited our favourite spot to buy fresh produce, in a little shop run by a local farmer. The picture below shows our bicycles parked in front, and the sign which proudly advertises their strawberries, which are indeed excellent.
We had some before, during, and after the braai (for the uninitiated: barbeque) we had in our backyard this afternoon. Fresh local strawberries, beef sausages from a supermarket (since we don't have boerewors), cold Bavaria beers, and excellent steak from a nearby halaal butcher (he always has the best meat). The best of many worlds, can't complain about today.
And yet, with nothing to complain about, I'm still quite happy... Maybe I'm not really so Dutch.
A few days ago I returned hom from Sweden, after the successful conclusion of the study tour there. Selected photographs from that tour can be seen in the slideshow on the "Ghana e-scrap project" page under "Projects" on this website.
During the trip to Sweden, I spent quite a bit of time in and around Stockholm, but also some days in places like Skellefteå (to the North, in Västerbotten, on the coast, about an hour’s flight from Stockholm), Kristinehamn (about two hours by train to the West of Stockholm, on the shore of Lake Vänern) and a short visit to Katrineholm (between Kristinehamn and Stockholm). Though we had heavy rains in Skellefteå, we enjoyed the visits to all the places mentioned.
One’s first impression is one of cleanliness, everywhere. Even within recycling facilities and waste collection depots. Moreover, with the exception of the capital, places look somewhat underpopulated, reflecting a large country with relatively small population. It is the 3rd largest country in the EU, but has a population of some than 10 million. As a result, the towns I visited are quite .. calm, without the hordes of souvernir-buying and ice cream eating people that we have come to expect further South, especially in summer. Even Stockholm is busy, but not overly crowded, and a short ride on the excellent public transport can take one into leafy suburbs on the shores of inlets from the Gulf of Bothnia.
On the last day in Sweden, I went kayaking in the area near Saltsjöbaden, with my colleague Håkan, who lives in that area. The following two satellite images clipped from Google Earth shows the route that we covered with the kayaks. A very pleasant paddle, in cool but not cold weather, with scenery that varied from luxurious yachts to pine forests and mosses on basement rocks. Even unmistakeable evidence of a beaver who had been chopping down some trees.
All of the above has made me convinced that I want to return to Sweden again, not only for work, but also for more leasure time with Marina. We just need to find the time...
Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of meeting up with an ex-colleague (and current friend), Björn Wenngren, and his partner Christina. Björn was one of the consultants who made a major contribution to the National EIA & SEA Project in Ghana, some years ago. More about that project in the “Projects” section. Now they live (at least between travels to various parts of the world) in a suburb of Stockholm called Hammarby Sjöstad, a rather new area, built on a site that had been polluted by industry years ago, but which has been cleaned up. The suburb was designed with energy efficiency and recycling in mind, putting in place a number of systems before the final designs of buildings were even done. More about that on their website http://www.hammarbysjostad.se/ (there is an English version).
The picture shows the view from my friends’ living room towards the centre of Stockholm, the view I enjoyed while I also enjoyed the meal prepared by “chef de cuisine” Björn.
Nice to have good friends in such pleasant settings!
More news from the study tour mentioned in the previous blog post. We have been visiting a number of organisations in Sweden, including the Swedish EPA, recyclers like Kuusakoski, the municipality of Skellefteå, and Boliden, who operate a number of mines, as well as a large smelter (Rönskär, at nearby Skelleftehamn). The idea is to study ways to upgrade the current rough-and-ready (to put it mildly!) recycling of metals in Ghana. Skellefteå and Kuusakoski are both involved in so-called “city mining”, recovering metals from industrial and domestic waste, and Boliden currently processes this secondary raw material. They are in fact building a new smelter, due to go on stream during the first quarter of 2012, dedicated to process e-scrap. Adding this to the existing smelter, which also processes lead concentrates, will almost triple total capacity for the processing of e-scrap, to 120,000 tonnes per year.
At Kuusakoski, I was surprised to learn that some of the material being recycled is extremely valuable. A batch of printed circuit boards, for instance, could contain between 30 and 50% copper and 50-250 g/t gold (no, I did not forget a comma there!), and even more silver. Smelters like Boliden’s Rönskär are understandably keen to access such high-grade “ore”! Moreover, the plastic from the same circuit boards yields excess energy, used for steam generation for the generation of electricity, as well as for district heating.
There is considerable excitement within the Ghanaian group, and we are all grappling with the potential of recycling e-waste from the Agbogbloshie site in Accra, Ghana.
I have just arrived in Stockholm, in preparation for a study tour of various e-scrap recycling facilities that starts tomorrow. I am accompanying a group of Ghanaian officials and businessmen who are all in some way involved in or interested in the recycling of electric and electronic scrap. The group includes officials of the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a Ghanaian consulting and advocacy firm Green Advocacy (GreenAd) and two members of the Greater Accra Scrap Dealers Association. The tour has been arranged by Raw Materials Group RMG AB who is leading the project "Energy Efficient Recycling of Electric and Electronic Scrap (e-scrap) in Ghana", funded by the NDF.
It will be good to learn more about e-scrap recycling processes, and also the relevant business models.
But for now, I'm enjoying the comfort of Hakan's flat in the green area of Saltsjobaden, South of Stockholm.
We have finally got a bit of summer weather here in Eindhoven. Perhaps I should not complain about cold and wet weather when I'm supposed to working inside, but I do like to get out every now and then.
Today is a good day and I was able to take this picture with my phone while returning from a bicycle trip to the shops. It was a slight detour, but worth it.