Sunday, January 15, 2012

Have You Walked Up A Staircase Lately?

Just for a moment, consider the last staircase you walked up or down in your life. Can you recall anything about it? Was there any difference that was notable or did you just see the stairs and then move from one story to the other? My guess is that if you live in America, then no, there was nothing particularly unusual about the staircase - maybe you noticed a chip in the paint on the handrail or that their is a bit of dirt on the third stair. I think I can expand a little bit on stairs here in Ghana from a recent experience.

There was a recent In-Service Training (IST, naturally) for our newest education volunteers which was held just outside of Kumasi. The trip out and back were most definitely worthy of a post here, but that will be later. Peace Corps held the workshop at a hotel that felt like it was 50 miles away from Kumasi but in reality was probably about 10; traffic is so bad around the Kumasi area that walking would feel far faster than sitting in a taxi. Still, the hotel was very nice. The rooms had air-conditioning and a water heater in every room in case you wanted to take a warm shower. It was a beautiful hotel and one where a lot of money was spent to create a building that had four floors of good-sized rooms. Tile was everywhere and TVs that worked in each room.

Every morning I would descend the steps to get breakfast in the lobby and each morning I would make a mental note of which steps were completely different. I could lose count before I was finished with the first flight of stairs. I would dare say that in this very fine hotel, one where a lot of money was spent to make things nice enough for international travelers, no one step was a carbon copy of any other step. Like snowflakes, each one had a unique character, and by character, we really mean exaggerated flaw. Several steps were not even close to parallel either, they jutted out in completely random direction as if someone purposefully liked to change the lines to create "visual interest".

In the morning it was not so bad, you are walking down the stairs and the foot lands when it lands but there is not as much danger of a stumble. Unless of course you found the one set where there was a miniature bonus step added to the top stair. No, the morning commute was fine. It was the evenings when you were a little tired (or as some volunteers tried it, tipsy) that the steps posed a safety hazard. There were so many variances in step height that you could not keep track of which one was the odd man out. Was it the first set on the second floor where the third and eighth step were too high? No, it was the third step of the third flight which was out of sequence. I tripped at least six times on those things and I knew they were there.

This problem exists in a lot of buildings here in Ghana, too. The steps seem to be made from the ground up and at some point the people checking the steps realize two-thirds of the way up that they have to make up 3" of extra space in one direction or the other. If you were employed only to do this type of work there surely would be some form of trick or shortcut that would give workers a better method of consistency, spacing the rise and run of each step to be similar to the previous one and the next. My hope is to post a photograph of the first stair case that I would climb down in the morning - it was comical.

It is one of the endearing things about Ghana I think, but I am not sure I will miss it when I leave.

Here was the photograph mentioned above:

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