Editor's travelogue

Learn about our CEO's round-the-world trip to four countries and his experience in Ghana. Ever eat grasscutter? He did.

During 16 days at the end of April, I took a 23,300 mile trip around the world to visit three of our international clients in India, Egypt and Ghana and to present at Foundations Entertainment University at the Dubai Entertainment, Amusement & Leisure Show (DEAL). Neither the airline nor I originally planned it to be an around the world trip, but the Iceland volcano changed the route. I was scheduled to fly from New York direct to Mumbai, India. The normal route is east. But with the volcanic ash, that wasn’t possible. So Continental, my favorite U.S. airline, became proactive and switched to the much longer Western route over the North Pole and down across Russia, around 9,000 miles and 17 hours of flying. The total trip was 23,300 miles.

As in my previous international trips, I made it with one checked bag, not all that large, one carry-on and my computer bag loaded with electronics. That yellow tape on the large checked bag is to make it easy to spot on the luggage belt. In addition to what I was wearing on the flight I carried clean shirts, socks and underwear for each day, a suit, ties, two pairs of dress slacks, dress shoes and reading materials. I almost exclusively dress in wash ‘n wear, no iron clothing, so I didn’t want to send things to the hotel laundries, as in most of the world they don’t understand wash ‘n wear and how to launder it. Oh, and yes, I carried one extra days clothing, which came in handy when I missed my connecting flight home at JFK Airport in New York. Always be prepared for flight problems anywhere in the world. My attitude is that I never expect to get there. Therefore I am never disappointed or upset, and most times, the airlines exceed my expectations.

After spending three days in Mumbai (previously named Bombay) and Bangalore for our India client inspecting possible FEC locations in just about every enclosed mall that is either completed or under construction, I continued west to Cairo, Egypt where we are working on feasibility and design for a 2,170-square-meter (23,300 square feet) children’s edutainment center. Then it was on to Dubai for our first international presentation of Foundations Entertainment University at the DEAL show and where I had a meeting with our Kuwaiti client. From there I flew to Accra, Ghana where we are in the early stages of feasibility, concept development and site selection for a family entertainment center (FEC), which will be the city’s first.

I can’t cover all the countries in this eNewsletter. One story in this issue describes the new Mirdiff City Centre mall and its two new entertainment venues in Dubai. We’ll leave India and Egypt for a later issue. So in this issue I will give you a little coverage of Ghana, as at least for most Americans, Africa seems lowest on the radar and is not that well understood.

First, about Africa as a whole. Yes it is one continent, but it varies as much as Asia, not only from country to country but often from one area of a country to another area due to its tribal nature.  Each country has its unique culture(s), economy and people.

The Republic of Ghana is located in West Africa, bordering Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. The word Ghana means "Warrior King" and is derived from the ancient Ghana Empire that once ruled most of West Africa.

As a British colony, Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain its independence in 1957. Ghana endured a long series of coups until Lt. Jerry Rawlings took power in 1981 and banned political parties. In 1992 a new constitution was approved and multiparty politics restored. Ghana has been a fully functioning and peaceful parliamentary democracy ever since with full freedom of political speech for the press.

Ghana has a population of about 24 million people. It is home to more than 100 different ethnic groups. But Ghana has not seen the kind of ethnic conflict that has created civil wars in many other African countries and has a very stable government and low crime rate. With abundant natural resources, Ghana has twice the per capita output of poorer West African countries. Oil was discovered in 2007 and starting this year, a tremendous inflow of capital is expected to be injected into the economy as oil is produced in commercial quantities. Some estimates are that the gross domestic product will increase possibly by double digits this year and as much as 20% in 2011.

Accra, the country’s capital, has a population of 4.3 million and is quite densely developed. As in most of Africa, there are many poor who live in slum areas. But there are many upper class residents and upscale neighborhoods as well. There is one enclosed mall.

Arriving in Accra after visiting India and Cairo, Egypt was a relief. Unlike the aggressive, chaotic and often insane driving in India and Egypt, Ghanaians follow the rules of the road and are courteous drivers.

Wherever you drive in Accra there are roadside merchants and venders. Some just walk between the traffic lanes at stoplights carrying their wares. Others have makeshift shops along the roadside. What amazed me the most was the high sanitation standards followed, even at the most rickety stands. I saw vendors washing out their display cases with soap and water. Whenever they handled food, they wore plastic restaurant-type gloves. 

One way to learn about culture is to eat what the locals eat. One night at the Africa Regent Hotel where I stayed, I had their dinner buffet. Buffets are great, as if you don’t know what the food is, at least you can see it. One dish that sort of looked like a beef stew was labeled ‘grasscutter palm nut soup.’ Being curious, I asked the cook what grasscutter was. She replied, ‘bushmeat.’ At that point I decided to not ask any more questions and try it out. It was very tasty, the meat was tender and somewhat similar to beef, but not fatty. Then when I returned to the room, I went on the Internet to research it. What I learned is that palm nut soup is known as Abenkwant in Ghana and made from the pulp of pounded boiled palm fruits, or what you might call the nuts or seeds of the oil palm tree. The Grasscutter, also known as the Greater Cane Rat and one variety of bushmeat, is basically a member of the rodent family (think rat) that weights up to 20 pounds and is considered a delicacy in Western and Central Africa. The meat has a higher protein-to-fat ratio than beef and other meats. Hey, we in the West we eat rabbit, so what’s wrong with also eating a large rat. I’d have it again.

The grasscutter lives in the wild, but there are farms in Ghana and Nigeria that raise them. Muslims, who do not consume rabbit or guinea pigs, will eat grasscutter. The southern part of Ghana is predominately Christian. The percentage of Muslims increases in the north.

That’s it on my travels for this issue. Hope you enjoy the articles that follow.

Randy White