Business travel took me all over the world- once around it completely. This included Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The work was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), NATO, and the U.S. EPA. European countries included especially England, Belgium, and Portugal.
In particluar I did work in Jamaica, Ghana (West Africa) and The Phillipines over a period of 4 years. Included was one trip to Zambia. I didn't live there full time, I just went for two to three week periods at a time two to four times a year. Since I was there on business I considered myself a traveler rather than a tourist. The big difference was that I was interacting with local people. Thus, I was very lucky with respect to learning local customs from people who lived it rather than from a tour guide, who may have or may not have ever experienced living there.
My first impression, in advance not really knowing what to expect, was that technologically they were all very well equipped. This was with respect to plastic and rubber manufacturing processes. They had the latest thermoplastic and thermosetting injection molding machines. The tire and rubber plants, many of them Good Year, were identical all around the world. Once you were inside you wouldn't know where in the world you were. It was most impressive.
In time I found that a number of countries, including the United States, all had AID programs which readily supplied capital equipment. Getting capital equipment was not a problem at all. Interestingly rubber trees are grown in both Ghana and the Phillipines. I got to see them and, as well, was intrigued with the cocoa trees in Ghana (I was told that Ghanian cocoa was to cocoa what turkish tobacco is to tobacco).
The facilities in Ghana were supported by foreign nationals (especially from Checkoslavakia) who provided technical expertise in formulating and operating the facilities. The local people, many of who were educated in England ran the facilities, doing an excellent job. They produced high quality rubber and plastic parts. I guess I had expected labor intensive processes taking advantage of the lower cost local labor. Except for some support services, that was not true.
What was different, but they handled very well, was that supplies were not always available and it was routine for the power to go off (this was in the 1970's time frame-so I have no idea what the status is today). Supplies ran in cycles depending on when ships arrived at the port. This was true in Jamaica also where I remember a time when there was a shortage of toilet paper, then the ship arrived and it was overly plentiful. It seemed that each time I visited a plant in the outskirts of Kingston the power went off for at least a half an hour each morning. It seemed so routine no one seemed too concerned. Phone lines seemed to be in short supply so it was difficult to call a company. Many times I just drove there rather than wait to get a connection.
I could usually call back to the office in Dayton with greater ease and reliability. At that time calling from Ghana back to Dayton required a radio link. You had to book a call a week in advance. I usually had to book a call on the day I arrived if I expected any chance of calling back. With the time difference this made it near impossible. Use of telegrams was usually more reliable and effective. Again getting a response while you were still in town was difficult. I finally came to the point that I better be prepared for any event for getting help from back home was unrealistic.
I had great help from a Dutch businessman who new how to import and export materials. I could usually communicate with him via telegram in advance and he would usually have things in order. I also learned a lot about the Dutch by spending time with him and his family. They loved for me to talk with their children because they wanted them to learn American English.
I met some very interesting people while in Ghana, usually at the hotel where I stayed. One from England was there on a three year contract relative to a computer business. After passing in the bar a number of times we started talking. That fellow was Tom Bowles. He eventually moved back to London where I have seen him many times since. On one of my trips to England I stayed in his flat and on another trip his parents let me stay in their house in Isleworth.
I'll never forget my first visit with Tom's parents. They invited me over for dinner. We had what they called a typical boiled dinner: beef, potatoes and another vegetable. We ate in the living room. Tom's Dad had been in the British Navy during W.W.II and had been in the port of Philadelphia on one of his cruises. He was happy to have an American visiting in his house and made me most welcome. Dinner was just over when they turned on the TV, turned all the chairs toward it, darkened the room and watched the show Dallas. They obviously had watched every episode and knew all the characters as if they were family members. They couldn't believe that I had only seen the show once and didn't know all the characters. I had heard of JR (This might give you an idea of my intense interest in popular TV programs. Whereas I have always had TV's on, including now as I type this into my laptop, I don't pay much attention unless there is a lot of action- like the Terminator.)
On a trip to London with my son Craig we stopped by to see Tom's Mother and Dad. We arrived about 11:00AM on a Wednesday which happened to be the day which the men went to the "British Legion". It was a men only thing and they invited Craig and me to go. His brother went, as well as Tom. That was one of the highlights of Craig's trip. We sat around and drank and had crisps (potatoe chips to us). They turned on the English accent to the point that I almost couldn't understand. Having spent the previous 4 days in London, and probably encountering few English people, this was a great introduction to England.
Another interesting character I met in Ghana was at a hotel which I frequented only once because I couldn't get into any other hotel. The power had gone off and there was no water- I think it was true in the whole surrounding area - so everyone in the hotel had their door open and it was like one big party. I walked into a room where a well weathered gentleman was drinking shots from a bottle. He had obviously had quite a few. The bottle was at least 3/4ths empty. We got to talking. It turned out that he worked for the World Health Organization (WHO). He job was to audit mosquito populations. The way he did it was to sit around and get bitten. Each time he got a bite he chalked one up. Needless to say that he had had malaria for some time (probably before starting the job) and his arms looked like he was a drug addict. I was able to move from the hotel the next day so I never met this fellow again. The next place I moved had power and water including air conditioning.
One of the strong memories I have of Ghana is of ants. First on arriving from the air you could see these little hills. I was amazed that these were ant hills. There had to be billions. Another time I was visiting a family at a sugar mill. I had just met them but they were very friendly and had invited me into their house for tea in the afternoon. We sat in the living room. It was a fairly simple room furnished with the little elephant tables on which we put our tea. I was facing the outside corner of the room which had a window on each side. The windows were both open and the walls were a stark white. We were sitting there chating when I saw a line of ants walking in one of the windows and across the wall. I tried to stay in the conversation and keep track of the ants at the same time. After about ten minutes there was a track of ants stringing from the window across the wall to the corner of the room. At that point I directed the attention of the lady of the house to them. She said, Don't worry, if we bother them they will just start runing around. As it turns out they continued on their way until there was a line of ants from one window to the other. They just continued on out the other window and in another twenty minutes were all back outside. I guess they knew where they were going.
My work in Ghana, The Phillipines and Jamaica involved finding a good reinforcing material for composites. The thing we found was bagasse, the residue from sugar cane which is much like corn stalks. This when broken up into fibers by processing in a banbury mill used to compound rubbers resulted in a very good fairly long fiber. As a result of this being a good reinforcing material, I visited many sugar mills to determine its availability, consistancy, cost, etc.
Visiting sugar mills was most interesting. It turns out that efficient ones, like those in the Phillipines, actually used the bagasse to run the mills. After the sugar was extracted from the bagasse, the bagasse was stacked outside to dry. Eventually it was used to fire the boilers that ran the mills. A very neat process requiring fuel only for startup of the season. This meant that the bagasse had the value of fuel.
I visited mills all over the Phillipines and saw mountains of sugar. In the timeframe that I was there (ca. 1975?) there was some sort of a "sugar price war" going on. Because of that sugar was being stockpiled instead of sold and the bottom had dropped out of the price. When I say mountains I mean stacks of bags at least thirty feet high all along the roadways.
When in the Phillipines I managed to take a trip to Mendeno(sp). This required special permission since there was still fighting going on in Mendeno. Fortunately we were able to get an invitation from the plywood mill there whose was interested in the project we were conducting. We flew there. They met us in Jeeps at the airstrip and took us to the factory. It was a most interesting factory where they made plywood from Phillipine Laun trees. The trees are tremendously big. The wood is noted for having no knots. It is what is used as underlay for tile and linoulium(sp). What I watched was the sciving operation where they brought in the trees, probably 6o foot in length and 3-5 ft in diameter, and proceeded to scive off a thin layer which came off almost like a roll of paper in a paper mill. It had a beautiful grain. The thin layers were then painted with glue, cross plyed, and pressed into plywood. Large cores were discarded and burned to help run the mill. In the U.S.A. we probably would have been happy to just start with what they burned. I gave a talk there in their conference room about the project. I was happy to get back off the Island without seeing any combat.
In Jamaica, the Phillipines and Ghana there were bagasse board plants. These were much like particle board plants except the bagasse was used in place of wood chips. Phenolic resins were used to glue the particles together when exposed to heat. A good construction board as long as it was protected from moisture.
Another interesting experience was a non business excursion in The Phillipines near Manila. My boss, who was there with me, and I decided to take a little excursion up a river on the weekend. It consisted of riding in a hollowed out log rowed by two locals "up" a small river (stream) for many miles until we reached a beautiful about 100 ft high waterfall. It was along that way that I remember the most. First the scenery was the most like a jungle setting that I had ever seen (as expected from the movies). As we rode along, at times carried up over little falls by the locals, we experienced all kinds of flora and fauna. At one point there was a large rock structure on both sides that looked something like the supports for a small bridge. As`we passed it and got to the upstream side we observed that the rock structure was a wood structure covered with a paper machet(sp). Just like Disney World. I guess we got there early before the tourist season. On that trip I managed to buy a woven straw hat which looked like what the Chinese wear when they harvest rice. I still have that hat in my collection, today.
© 1997-1998 George L. Ball
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