Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random Update!

After my last posting I went to check on Sean and I ended up taking him to the local clinic. Checking him in I learned his last name for the first time which was so odd considering we had been friends for a month already. It was a fun experience seeing the place and chatting while waiting. He stayed overnight and now he is better.

Since my last posting I have traveled yet again, this time to the Volta region which makes up the lower eastern border of Ghana during which I:
saw Lake Volta
saw the hydroelectric dam that powers the country
had Mona monkeys climb/jump onto my arm and eat bananas from my hand
climbed the tallest mountain in Ghana Mt Afadjato
marveled at the beauty of mountains
swam in Adagbo Falls waterfall-indescribable
stole a shiny rock from the shore
went to a small town's Dubar festival
ate local banku
ate local bushmeat called Grasscutter-which looks like a beaver-groundhog mix
weaved some kente cloth
made a batik fabric with wax stamps and dye

Amazing right?? It was a great weekend. Unfortunately, my camera battery died before I could take any pictures so I have to rely on my friends photos to aid my story. Here is a link to some of Christine's facebook photos but idk if it will work for you :

Since that trip I have stayed here for the weekends. Gone to big markets, gone to the pool, gone to dance shows. My friend Jarett got a motorcycle this weekend and I got to ride on it for 5minutes yesterday. woohoo

I wish I had better internet/phone linkage back to the US. Mail is so slow. I have written postcards but by the time I mail them they seem so out of date. Mo figured ou that he can take videos and post them to Youtube so maybe he will let me use his camera and I can put up some videos. I come home soon for Luke's wedding and I am excited beyond belief about it.

I had my first test yesterday night in History of the Black Diaspora. It was on about 20 pages of reading and I think I did really well.

I have 6 blisters and 20 mosquito bites.

This weekend I am going to Togo the country East of Ghana. Since they are francophone I am now going to study up on french travel phrases and relearn my verb conjugations.

Au revoir mes amies! Je t'aime. Tu me manque.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poker & Malaria

We have a small group of people who are interested in playing poker and surprisingly, I am the only girl I know who knows how to play poker and enjoys it. Yesterday, we finally got a game going with a 5 cedis buy-in. We made "chips" out of paper. After 2 hours of play, non other than yours truly won the 20 cedis pot. OH yeahhhhhhhhhhh. :D
You have taught me well, family. I think if I keep this 20 and use it to play poker with for the 4 weeks to come I can get a good income going here.

Two of my friends have malaria. That will be 3 ppl thus far who have gotten it :Megan, Sean , and Bjorn. I have been taking my pills religiously so hopefully I wont get it. I haven't seen Bjorn yet but Sean is fine he is just feeling like he has the flu. 2 weeks ago I took a malaria pill without water and laid down to take a nap. SO dumb. You are supposed to drink plenty of water but I was out and you are not supposed to lay down after taking the pill, which I know now. My esophagus was sore for about a week and a half and every time I swallowed the food/water would just get stuck on the way down. Breathing was uncomfortable sometimes and I was burping a alot. I got worried about it when it didn't go away but as of today I am 100% better.

I am going to go check on my sick buddies and do some reading.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cape Coast Weekend Extravaganza

Independent Travel Adventure 2

Cape Coast is a cool city about 4 hours to the West of Accra. They were having a festival this weekend and we wanted to see it. My travel buddies had been the week-end before but decided to come again bc of the circulating rumors that there was going to be a bull sacrifice. Also, it was Mo's 19th Saturday and we wanted to go big.

Saturday morning, Mo (Texas), Jarett (Tennesse), Anna Rose (Wisconson), and I packed up our book-bags and signed out of our dorm for the weekend. We walked to the main road and hopped on connecting tro-tros for 3 hours costing us about 4 cedis. Right before we reached the last station the tro could barely make it through the streets for all the people marching in the road. One group was pushing a huge paper mache whale through the streets and squirting water on passer-bys. We get off the tro and almost immediately we see some people carrying what looks like a tub full of a bull's body-SHOOT. So we kinda just walked against the massive crowd staring at these random groups of people wearing the same color (red or green or blue or black) that were dancing and playing trumpets and following or carrying some type of chief looking person, who was identifiable by all the bling they were wearing. Kinda weird to just watch but we weren't about to dance like crazy with big book-bags on. Also, Cape Coast smells like poop so you don't really want to stand still.

We eat at this cool beach-side place and wait about 40 mins for food and 10 min for the check. 4 cedis. We ran into a lot of kids from our school and left our left-over food to the lingering kids around the table. This one kid kept doing eye-brow raises back and forth with me and it was hilarious. We heard rumors that the president was coming in 20 mins. Mo and I decided that meant he wouldn't be there for at least an hour so we went to the Cape Coast slave castle.
This castle is so cool. It is made out of some white rock in Portuguese style and it has old rusted cannons lining the walls with piles of rusty cannon balls all around. There were 2 plaques at the front chamber: 1 plaque of apology from chiefs of the Ashanti tribe who acted as African agents to European slave traders and 2 a plaque comemmorating the visit of Mr. and Mrs. President Obama. I went down into this dungeon where the men were kept. No light. Small rooms with cobble-stone floors. There were chalk lines 1.5 feet off of the ground to show how high the human waste had reached since prisoners were not allowed to go to the bathroom anywhere. We saw a priest guy do a prayer and a ritual to honor the dead. That whole experience was very surreal. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for those men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. So many people shuffled through small cargo chambers. We walked to the top of the castle towers and that was strange too. What was it like for the people who ran this place? Did they feel guilt for what they were doing? What about the religious people? Did they even think they were doing something wrong? I kept thinking about the Holocaust the horrific ability of humans to blind themselves and dehumanize others. It also made me think about some current economic practices that are still in effect because they render profit even though they paralyze the lives of people. I don't want to be blind.

The view from the top was beautiful. You see the fancy buildings on the left, and as you sweep right you see the crowds of people, the slum buildings, kids lifting a weight bar with cement blocks on the ends, puppies wrestling, the boats on the shore, kids playing in the waves, and rocky coast and the ocean. We saw the President Atta Mills' crew drive through the streets.

We call Anna Rose and Jarett and find out that they got seats next to princes and chiefs-SO COOL. The prez was no big- it's not like we understood a word he said and it started to rain so we just left to catch a ride to the forest. We get a crazy good deal on a taxi to Kakum National Park and it was super dark by the time we arrived. Luckily, we are able to find someone to pay for a campsite and we follow him through the forest as he marches forward with a mattress on his head. We post up on a little covered platform and a malaria net. We walked down to the the center and since no one was at the canopy walk gate and it was 9pm, we snuck up the trail with our flashflights. Amazingly, the lock on the canopy walk was still open so we did the canopy walk in the pitch darkness! Jarett and I are like giddy kids, Mo is meowing to woo out some leopards, and Anna Rose is freaking out with her Wisconsonite accent. I just put my arms up and loved my life in that moment. So yea, I spent the night in the wild African bush. No big. ;) I didn't sleep all that much bc of all the insects and animal that screamed like a small child every so often. GREAT DAY.

The next day, we ate breakfast at a Rasta guy's coffee shop. We ordered egg sandwhichs and then he left to go to the market to get the ingredients. Needless to say, we waited a looooong time. It was okay though because there were 4 adorable kittens to play with. Okay, maybe they were skinny and dirty but they were still kittens and they were desperate for some loving and some food. We got a cocoa fruit from the street vendor kids. Cocoa fruit is yellow and the seeds inside are covered with a starburst flavored goo that you suck on. In the words of my friend Sean, "It will change your LIFE." We saved the seeds to attempt homemade chocolate.

I got to do the canopy walk in the sunshine and it was unbelievable. I was on top of the world. You are walking on a shaky board that has a rung ladder thing underneath it and is supported by ropes. The boards are strung between tree tops about 200 ft off of the ground. Hard to describe. Most people were clinging on for dear life but I was totally trusting in that rope and I just danced my way around the trees thinking about Tarzan. I think that view is better than a mountain top, and that is saying something.

On the hike back I picked up some Palm wine. This stuff is made locally and it tastes like Smirnoff Ice but better. They chop a tree down and let it ferment and then drain it. All natural, baby. On the way back to the city we caught a free bus ride with some high-school teachers who explained that the festival was a way for all of the people of Cape Coast to remember where they came from. All the chiefs come together to talk and celebrate a good year. We said good bye to our friends and slept our way through our last 3 hour tro-tro ride home, occasionally buying snacks from the street sellers, passing coins and food through the van windows.

Fantastic trip. Everything just fell into place the whole week-end. If only gas was this cheap in the US... in any case I am not afraid to travel anymore (well, mostly).

The End.

tidbit about this week since I am already on here:
Went back to the school Tuesday and gave the kids books and pens. Made dinner for Sean's birthday and had a cake!!

Alrighty, folks. Enjoy your days. Appreciate all the variety in your diet. Appreciate fast food and toilet paper and fresh air. Get out there and leave it all behind sometime.


Friday, September 3, 2010

I'm alive!



Topic 1: Ghana church
I have been to two churches thus far. This past week I went to the interdenominational church on-campus and it wasn’t as fun to describe so I will pick the first church I went to. I went with Christine to a family friend’s church called Vinyard Chapel that took about 30 mins by taxi to get to. The building they meet in is still being built so it is a bare frame of cinder-block and a few ceiling fans hooked up. There were about 500 people there all dressed up. We came in for bible study and everyone was in in groups of 30 going through a booklet from Assemblies of God that I was very impressed with. Announcements in Ghana include the tithe and giving counts from the previous Sunday. They also drone on about every possible meeting time and include lost and found shout outs- haha. Worship had a full band and a choir. Everyone was so excited to get up and sing and dance- I loved it. I was just taking it all in as they sang songs I didn’t know. They did Worthy is the Lamb and it was a really surreal experience to sing such a familiar song in an unfamiliar place with hundreds of strangers. It moved me a little and I found a lot of refreshment in that moment. As worship went on, I knew less of the songs and I am pretty sure they weren’t in English. Overall worship is very celebratory. You don’t see a lot of somber or serious faces. No one looks like they need to be convinced that God is real to worship- it is more like everyone, man and woman, has been waiting all week to come together and sing and dance up the isles and raise their hands and wave their handkerchiefs. It is pretty great. Sometimes I wondered if they were just getting caught up in hype but that was generally during the songs in which I couldn’t understand them so I would say they were legit.
The sermons was –eh. At the beginning, the pastor asked us to stand and introduced us to the church which was cool. I mean, it was pretty obvious considering we were the only white people in a crowd of 500 but still. I think my favorite part was when everyone was told to greet their neighbor and so we kinda marched around to the music and sang and shook hands and smiled at everyone. It was super friendly and zero awkward. I always find that part kinda weird in the U.S. Not to say there wasn’t any awkwardness. After service one man told us to save ourselves and marry the church and by that he meant marry a man from their church. I had to tell him that I was already married to the coconut guy. SURPRISE!

Topic 2: Marriage
I am married! Here is how that went:
Me: Thanks, this coconut water is great. Hey, will you take a picture with me?
Coconut man: Only if you marry me.
Me: OK.
Coconut man: Let me see the picture… ahhh we make a beautiful couple!
Done. Who said it was hard to find someone? Come to Ghana. Mo got a serious offer from the lady who is doing his dreads. She brought her daughter over and said, “This is my daughter. Will you marry her?” I think they were a little offended when he laughed.
The guys here are so forward and extremely persistent. Here gender roles are very strict which I think adds to the pressure for them to pursue girls. I have also learned about thing called “stretching” that Ghanaian girls do where they will turn down a guy even if they like him. This process can go on for as long as TWO YEARS! Thanks girls. Now no one believes us when we say “Really, I don’t like you.”

Topic 3: Short hair
Great decision! Thanks everyone for encouraging me to go for it bc I love it here. I wake up and put some water in it and go. I can also throw my head out of the taxi anytime I like and not worry about my hair getting messed up. Yessssssssss… Bjorn says it is very “exclusive and cute”-ahhh made my day.

Topic 4: Dance
Dance class is pandemonium. I am in a class of about 150 people. When you get there this sweet old man with a cool cane stands up and says stuff you can’t comprehend and then everyone starts singing and you kind of just have to catch on and sing back. One song goes: Key-key-re, key-key-re, jo ja jo jajajaja, O-my-ooooooooooooooooooo O-my-ooooooooooooooooo, O-my-o O-my-ya O-my-ya O-my-o. It is so great to sing crazy loud with so many people. You fade into the crowd and it is once again a lot of happy people dancing and singing. It isn’t very hard to pick up but the movements are so repetitive you are bound to run ragged eventually. It gets really hot and with so many people you can just see and smell the sweat everywhere. There are about 12 TA’s in the class and I think they have more fun than we do. The old man gets really excited and kinda fist pumps around the room. I think it would be more fun if I were in there with some friends. Also they can shake their butts amazingly fast. They break into solos sometimes and dance up towards the drummers who are also super happy and they kinda shake around to the beat and everyone screams and laughs. Haha

Topic 5: Outings
I haven’t traveled a whole lot but I went to this beach with 7 friends by tro-tros and taxis. In the middle of these street towns with goats and chicks running around we found a compound from our guidebooks called Big Milly’s where we stayed overnight in a bungalow for 6 cedis. It rained about 30 minutes after we got in the water but it was still a great trip. We played cards and complained about the price of the food compared to campus. We made friends with a wild dog and a kitten who we shared our food with. The compound put on this drum and dance show for about 3 hours. The whole local town came out to watch and I enjoyed watching the locals as much as I did the show. That was the first adventurous trip I have done outside of road trips in the U.S. and I loved it. Yea it wasn’t the most comfortable and it was a little scary navigating a place you have no idea where you are or what ppl are shouting but it was really exciting and I felt accomplished after it all. Travel in the US will be nothing after this. I love confidence!

This past weekend, my program group of 3 (Christine, Jessica and I) went by minivan again up to the mountains. It reminds me so much of Honduras. We went to the Aburi gardens and it was so beautiful. I tried to take pictures but when trees are that big there is just no way to capture it. There is a tree there that has been there since at least 1875. It was massive. Some of the roots were 15 feet high alone. I touched it in hopes that some magical tree wisdom would pass to me. They had all kinds of trees that they let grow naturally. I saw Cocoa and nutmeg trees and I tasted the bark of cinnamon, and smelt the leaves of barley, and all spice (which amazingly smells like a pumpkin pie-SCORE). The coolest thing by far is kinda hard to describe but it is worth trying. Okay, so there are these parasite vines that attach to trees and root in around the ground of the tree to steal nutrients. The vines sort of hug the tree and shoot up above it to steal the sunlight. Eventually the vines spread all around the tree and starve out the host. I got to walk inside this one Parasite tree that had been going for about 30 years and its host tree had deteriorated inside so it was hollow. Looking up, it was a twisting tunnel with holes all around. Mmmm

We stopped at a street market and I bought a lot of cool African masks at a street market for super cheap. Score again. It is hard to shop in places like that bc everyone is so desperate for you to buy something. They also work all day and hand-make all their awesome stuff so I want to buy from them. One guy gave us 3 small masks for 8 cedis (about $5.50 US) because we were done shopping but he said he needed to eat for the day. I just felt kinda sad leaving there. I wish there was a universal market where awesome hardworking skilled people could compete. That feeling hits me a lot. You see street acrobats and entertainers that will just rock your socks off for free and ask for donations. They may get like 14 cedis from the crowd but I know that I could pay 15 cedis myself to see a circus show with the same amount of talent.
We left from there to see a bead village that exists by handmaking beads from bottles and I got some cool beads. Once again, very hard workers.

This weekend there is supposed to be a huge festival in Cape Coast which is about 4 hours by tro-tro. I have heard rumors of a bull sacrifice and there is a national park where we can go on a canopy walk. 3 friends and I are going to venture out with our guidebooks and make a trip of it . I have mapped out my weekends and there is little time to do all I want. Togo is yet to be visited and there is a huge national park in the North called Mole where you can see wild elephant. My program has scheduled a trip to the East where we will hike and go to a monkey sanctuary and a kente cloth weaving village. WHERE AM I? Monkeys and elephants? Awesome.

On the smaller scale of outings there is Reggae on the nearby beach every Wednesday. I go occasionally but I can only handle so much Reggae. People love it here. You see guys with dreads wearing green, yellow and red all the time. They will fist pound you and bring it to their hearts, saying “One Love” and you just feel so cool and ridiculous.

Topic 6: School
Classes have started and I am taking:
African Traditional Religions
Introduction to Drumming
Traditional Dance
International Organizations
Political Economy of African Colonization
History of the Black Diaspora
The class sizes are pretty big and classes meet once a week for 2 hours. I like how the professors are usually 15 minutes late. A few classes are really great and epic feeling because the prof has a beautiful voice and they want to challenge us. Other classes you have to fight to stay awake in. Those bad teachers will dictate notes to the class and it is like the students don’t know how to take notes bc they write every word down. EVERY WORD. If you really listen the teachers usually only get about 4 points across in 2 hours. Daghhhhhhh I am getting really good at dots.

Topic 6-part B
I volunteered at a school in a nearby town called Adenta. The school has about 30 street kids in it and it was started by 3 rasta guys about 5 years ago. I there is a picture of me teaching on facebook. I walked into the 4 room concrete structure and was told to teach. The girls I had were 10-16 and I taught them from their book about poultry. This one girl Joyce asked me to give them quizzes. So I gave a spelling quiz and a sentence dictation test. It was cute to see how thirsty they were and how they shared their paper and pens. We read for a long time and I had them switch off every once in a while. At first I thought they were a bit slow but then I realized that English is their second language in most cases and I was impressed. 3 hours later they gathered with the Rasta guys and said the Lord’s Prayer, sang a song or two and ranout screaming and asking for candy. I bought some books and pens to bring back. That day was one of the more spiritual experiences for everyone.

Topic 7: Poverty
It is such a weird topic. What we would call poor is so different from what they would call poor. A lot of it is in perspective. I like the simplicity of the typical people around. Who needs 30 pairs of shoes, really? When I went to Honduras in 2003 I thought everything was so sad subpar. When I drive through a hut town now watching kids without shoes kick around rolled up plastic bags I am not sad. There is still joy. Now, obviously intense poverty is still sad but generally when I meet “poor” people I am talking to hard working ambitious positive people and there is little to pity.

Topic 8: Daily Life
Daily life is chill. I hang around with kids from ISEP (international student exchange program). I hang out Americans generally, with some Europeans in the mix. We play soccer or Frisbee and as of yesterday we registered to go to the campus pool. WHOOP WHOOP! The pool has a 50 foot or higher diving platform that I am pumped about. The other day we managed to make Ramen with a plug-in plastic kettle and a pot- that was exciting. I play cards and read on the lawn. I wash my laundry by hand. I drink tea. I walk to get food at the market. When the power goes out everyone gets together in the courtyard and plays games. We got a movie disc from the market called “Super Epic Film Series No.2” and we watch movies from that, crossing our fingers and hoping that of the 30 films they have- the good ones will be in English. There is a lot of down time but not a lot for internet. I went about 2 weeks without it because the connection as soooooo slow it generally wasn’t possible to find time to post when it takes so long to check email and facebook.
I call home and think about my friends and wish that I had their phone numbers so I could call them. I am not homesick anymore. Friends here helped a lot. It is weird though to be here. Everyone thinks it is weird that I had long hair. Generally, they aren’t ever going to visit my family. We will never know each other’s hometowns or group of friends. It is so weird when your environment does nothing to define you. I would say I have definitely adapted to Ghana life and I am happy to be here.

Phew that was a lot. Space it out. I may not post again for a while ;)