Local couple finds a truly "novel" destination



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Don and Barbara Carey dressed in authentic African garb next to a map of Ghana. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
August 10, 2011
As part of the summer reading program, "Novel Destinations," the Gilford Public Library welcomed Don and Barbara Carey on Thursday, Aug. 4 to speak of their recent trip to Ghana.

The Careys traveled in March 2011 to the unique African country of Ghana, where their son works for the Sweet Potato for Profit and Health Initiative. The Initiative's 10-year mission: to reduce childhood malnutrition and improve local income by introducing the tasty tuber to various African communities.

According to Don Carey, much of the sub-Saharan African population survives on a fairly bland diet lacking in nutrition; mainly Vitamin A. The Initiative hopes to integrate the more nutritious sweet potato into the food chain; however, most of West Africa is not used to sweet foods.

Carey's son Ted is working to create a sweet potato that is not so sweet to fit local tastes, while still offering the same great nutritional benefits. This gave the Careys an opportunity to visit their son in their favorite African country — Ghana. Through the time Carey spent with the Peace Corps overseeing the healthcare of volunteers in four countries, the couple became very acquainted with the culture, history and geography of the region.

"Its our favorite country," said Don Carey. "It has a long history, with settlements dating back to about 1100 A.D."

According to Carey, Portuguese explorers discovered the coastline around the 1400's, and built castles later in the century when they discovered gold.

After a history of colonization, Ghana became the first African country to achieve independence, and to host Peace Corps volunteers.

"It's a great place. The people are wonderful," said Carey.

The couple traveled Ghana's busy streets, lined with vendors selling a wide range of wears, from food and snakes to cell phones. They arrived at their son's home in Kumasi, about three-and-a-half hours from Ghana's capitol Accra.

According to Carey, Ghana is only 400 miles from top to bottom and 275 miles across.

Upon arriving at Ted's home, they met his gardener and daytime-watchman, and his housekeeper and cook. After a meal, they toured Ted's office at the CSIR crop research lab and the plots where Ted is developing various types of sweet potato in an effort to produce a strain suitable for the region.

Don Carey pointed out the number of unfinished structures one sees in Ghana.

"Anyone gets some money they put up a building and finish it as money comes in," explained Carey.

He attributed this to the uncertainty of the currency and its tendency to drop in value without warning. People would occupy these unfinished buildings for protection during construction, and simply for shelter.

The Careys toured some of the landscape, including Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world. They traveled along the 2,000-foot hills surrounding much of the lake and stayed overnight in a small inn.

Their trip, however, was not confined to the usual tourist areas of Ghana.

"We encountered various conditions that gave one pause," said Carey, showing a slide of a dilapidated bridge they came to along their journey.

"We took that photo after we crossed," said Barbara.

Don also stressed religion as a major part of the culture.

"It's the theme of Ghana. Church is a big thing. It permeates all aspects of society," said Don, showing slides of business names incorporating religion, such as "God's Grace Fast Food" and a few posters placed around villages reading "Special Holy Ghost Parade" promoting special ceremonies.

"Someone asks you 'What religion are you?' and you say 'atheist'; that's completely incomprehensible to them," said Don. "You can't escape it in Ghana; the religious aspect."

He showed a slide of another church bulletin advertising "Sunday morning worship 8 a.m. to noon."

"Three hours was common," said Barbara.

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