Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kwame Sikani and the magic blocks: a Ghanaian fable

(Today we have a cautionary tale. For notes, the numbers represent author's notes, and the letters represent comments from our housekeeper here in Ghana when I told her this story).

As he did every time a good catch came in, Kofi kept aside a little money to buy cement block. He had been saving this way diligently for several months, and already had a pile of over 60 blocks in front of his small house. One day he would have enough to build a much better house for himself and his wife and young son--the first of which would one day be many.

As did his neighbours, Kofi saved in block because prices kept going up. But block was always block, and it’s price rose along with the price of bread or fuel, and it was a useful thing in its own right. But if you saved in money, all that happened was the price of bread would rise and soon you would need twice as many cedis to pay for it. But if you saved in block, the price of the block would also be twice as much, so you could sell block if you were short of cash and still buy bread (1).

But as happy as he was with the ever-growing pile of blocks in front of his house, he was saddened by the inevitable signs of wear on his savings. Days of rain and sun and wind in the harmattan pelting the blocks with Saharan dust had rounded the edges and corners of his blocks. And he could see in the buildings of his neighbours even more dire consequences of erosion—the wall of Kwesi Andoh, which was a mass of rectangular holes, where the block had eroded away entirely, leaving only the mortar remaining.

Ah! If only he could protect his savings from the weather.

And as he walked down the street to the Nyame Bekyere block plant (2), his friend Yaw the Younger called him “Eh! Kofi! Don’t buy block there! Come with me to Magic Block!”

“Yaw, how are you? What are you saying?”

“You must come to me to Magic Block. It is a new block plant owned by Kwame Sikani (3). His blocks are magic—they don’t wear away in the weather.”

Now Kofi thought that this sounded like fine block, but such fine block must surely have a high cost. Yaw laughed and told him that Kwame Sikani’s block cost just as much as any other. So the two friends walked along the road to Kwame Sikani’s block plant (a).

It was a solid-looking, new building at the edge of town. The sign over the door read “God Willing Magic Block”. Kwame Sikani, dressed in tribal regalia greeted them warmly as friends. He called his girl to bring his guests water.

Kofi asked about the properties of this block. Was it good?

Kwame Sikani brought them in to the building. Virtually the entire building was devoted to storage. It was perhaps half full of concrete block. Kofi inspected them, and found they were of excellent quality. The edges and corners were sharper than the blocks he had bought even when they were new.

“I only make 25 blocks from one bag of cement,” said Kwame Sikani proudly. “Many others around here will make 30 or even 40 blocks from one bag, so they fall apart—there is not enough cement for one block. My blocks are strong.”

Kofi asked that if cement was so expensive, and he was using more of it, how could he afford to sell blocks so cheaply. Kwame Sikani smiled. I have made long-term arrangements with the sand miners, and they have agreed to deliver a lot of sand a fixed price. The same is true of the cement. And I deal in large amounts, so it is much cheaper for me. That is how I can deliver a better block for the same price as the other shops.”

Kofi decided he couldn’t lose to buy a few of these new magic blocks. He said he would buy five.

Kwame Sikani smiled broadly. “Now Kofi,” he asked, “are you building something right now with your block, or are you still slowly accumulating it?”

Kofi admitted he was accumulating it. When he had enough he would build a house, but he knew that day was at least two years away.

So Kwame Sikani told him, “Listen Kofi. The block is heavy. You are going to buy it, and carry it all the way across town to your home. Once it is there, it will stay in your yard for many days. The rains will come and take away some small-small part of the block. The sun will shine and the blocks will flake. The harmattan wind will take away the block small-small.”

“But I thought your block did not crumble in the weather.”

“My block does not crumble away in the weather, because they stay here. Listen Kofi. You buy some blocks, and instead of keeping them in front of your house, you keep them here. Here inside my warehouse they are safe from the elements, and any time you want you can come and see that they are there.”

“I can’t keep my blocks here. How will I be able to get the blocks when I need them? And how will I know which are mine?”

“That is the part that is special to my company,” said Kwame Sikani. “When you buy blocks, I issue you a receipt. I call it a certificate. The certificate says you own however many blocks you buy.” He showed Kofi a book with notations for each purchaser. “You see, Yaw here has already bought fifteen blocks from me.”(b)

Yaw grinned with pride. Kwame Sikani directed their gaze to a large pile of block. “Yaw’s blocks are in that pile.”

“Which ones are they?”

“Does it really matter? All the blocks are the same. When Yaw wants his blocks delivered to his house, he will come and choose the ones he wants.”

Kofi thought and asked, “Yaw is clumsy. What if he loses his certificate?”

Kwame Sikani said, “In that case I still have my records. Yaw will still be able to take his blocks.”

Kofi thought it sounded pretty good. “And you have sold many blocks this way?”

Kwame Sikani showed Kofi more of the receipts. Manager Paul has bought 43 blocks. Yaw Arthur has bought seven. Kwabena Daniel has bought sixteen. Look—even Kofi the Wise has bought ten blocks.

There were many more names on the list, all of them people Kofi knew from the village (c). But Kofi still liked the security of seeing the pile of block in front of his house—his blocks—growing with each purchase. “Well, in this case, I would like to buy them and take them to my house.”

Kwame Sikani exploded with anger. “You want to buy my block and let it rot in the elements with all the others?! If you are too backwards a villager to buy block by my modern methods then go buy somewhere else! I am trying to help you buy good ones but if you don’t want to take it then stop wasting my time. I have a lot of other customers, and I don’t need your custom!”

“Kwame, please don’t be angry with me,” said Kofi. “This is all so new to me. But if Kofi the Wise is one of your customers, then how can I not be one too?” So Kofi agreed to buy five blocks, and take home only the certificate.

And so it began. The weeks passed, and Kofi bought more and more magic blocks. He kept his certificates safe at home. He and his neighbours discussed their plans for their growing piles of block at the Magic Block plant.

Kofi asked Kofi the Wise how it was that the pile of block in front of his house had continued to grow. Had he taken delivery of his block from Kwame Sikani? But Kofi the Wise shook his head and said that after his one purchase of Magic Block he had decided to keep buying block from Nyame Bekyere block plant. After all, it was a business that had been in the village a long time, and with everyone else buying block from Magic Block, he wanted to support his friend.

“But his blocks are not as good as Magic Blocks,” said Kofi, “and they cost the same.”

“We shall see,” said Kofi the Wise.

One day Kofi met Yaw along the road. Yaw was pulling a truck behind him (4). Yaw told Kofi that he had bought a plot of land and was now going to build a wall around it. Could he come with him to help him move the block. Kofi agreed and the two friends went to the Magic Block plant.

Yaw presented his certificates to Kwame Sikani and asked to start choosing some blocks to load on his truck and take home. But Kwame Sikani said, “You know Yaw, when you bought block from me, I told you I would deliver them to you when you demanded. So let my boys come and bring the blocks on my diesel to your new plot so you don’t have to haul so many blocks in the sun.”

Yaw thought that this was a fine idea. “Will they come later today.”

“In fact,” said Kwame Sikani, “they are on a delivery now in Aketekyi, and will not be back until late tonight. So I will deliver your blocks tomorrow morning.”

Yaw was happy. It would have taken many trips back and forth with the truck. Yaw pulled his truck back home and invited Kofi for some apeteshi to celebrate.

The next morning Yaw went to the Magic Block plant to see to his delivery, but Kwame Sikani was not there. The house girl told Yaw that Kwame Sikani was travelling. Well perhaps Yaw could start taking some of his block then. But the girl showed Yaw that the gate to the warehouse was padlocked, and there was no way in. “Perhaps tomorrow,” she said.

By the afternoon, four of the villagers, including Kofi the Wise had gathered outside Magic Block, trying to find out from the girl where Kwame Sikani had gone. But she did not know, and kept insisting that perhaps he would return tomorrow.

Word spread, and by morning many people of the village were at the gate, excitedly demanding to receive their blocks. The girl told them that Kwame Sikani had phoned early in the morning to say he would come in the afternoon and he would satisfy every last customer. This calmed the crowd somewhat, but it only partially dispersed.

Kofi saw Abela Frances there. “Where is Yaw?” he asked.

“Eii! My stupid husband has drunk himself into a stupor, so I will have to carry his blocks for him.”

Manager Paul asked the crowd to calm down and wait. He, too, had many blocks to be delivered, and was as worried as the rest of them, but reassured them that all would be well. This seemed to calm the crowd a little, which dispersed and sought shade, but remained in sight of the Magic Block plant.

Kofi found himself sitting beneath a mango tree beside Kwesi Andoh, who was now nearly blind. Kwesi said that he hoped to replace the wall around his property with Magic Blocks, as the old blocks had nearly rotted away.

The day slowly passed, and the villagers grew agitated. More people began to arrive, including Kwame the Younger, Kofi the Wise, and Arthur Hammond. Again the crowd surged around the block plant, but stopped short of breaking down the doors. The girl was very apologetic and asked people to return tomorrow.

The next morning, the entire village was at the door, demanding their block. The poor girl was swept aside as the crowd smashed the padlock on the door and swept into the warehouse. The sight of the great piles of block within, instead of calming the villagers, only increased their excitement and in moments they were swarming the piles, grabbing blocks and taking them away. But Kofi the Wise urged them to stop.

“Now that you have seen the blocks are there, let us tally all the blocks and all the certificates so that everyone will get their blocks.” And Manager Paul chose two assistants to help him count the blocks in the warehouse, which took much of the day, and then spent a couple of hours in the afternoon tallying the certificates.

At sundown he was able to present his final tally. “The certificates total 12,117 blocks. However there are only 2,109 blocks in the warehouse. It seems that each block has been sold to six people.(5)”

There was pandemonium. Some cried. Some raged.

Kofi had lost his investment, and now had to face his wife and son. Most of the block he had saved at Magic Block was gone. Kwame Sikani was no doubt off to swindle another village.

That is why you always take delivery of a commodity you buy to protect yourself from inflation.


(1) We would say that purchasing block preserves Kofi’s purchasing power.

(2) Nyame Bekyere = The Lord will provide

(3) Kwame Sikani could be translated as 'Moneybags Kwame'

(4) think of this as large wagon

(5) This guy is a piker next to the gold market.

Comments by Ghanaian housekeeper

(a) "I would not buy anything from someone named Kwame Sikani."

(b) "Are these people stupid?"

(c) "I am not listening any more. This entire village is stupid! Why would anyone buy block and not take it and go?" So I told her that this story is for people in Abertyuri who buy gold but only receive certificates. "Then they are stupid too!" Hahahahahahahaha!

1 comment:

  1. This pretty much sums it up. Take your silver and gold and store it yourself.