Saturday, January 1, 2011

Volta trip #2 and Benin

Volta region was so great I had to go twice. This time we hit up the bat caves and climbed up rocks and down ropes into small rock caves in the side of a beautiful mountain that housed bats flying around our heads. Very fun. There were really no safety regulations and at one point the trail on the side of the mountain got so thin I slipped and almost fell off the mountain. I caught myself on a thin wire that had been strung from tree to tree. Close one.

We also went to Wli waterfall which was gorgeous. We stayed in cheap hotels and hitchhiked with a rich Ghanaian man from Vermont who kindly shared with us his philosophy on life. He drove a truck so we were squeezed in on eachother's laps but it was free! He took us to the Tafi Monkey Sanctuary and we spent the night there and played with Mona Monkeys in the morning before riding back.

The Last month:
Classes picked up regularity and everyone as studying for finals. Most classes could be studied for easily in a few days by reviewing class notes and readings. International students got to take our exams earlier than the Ghanaian students who may still be taking them as I write this blog. Most exams were essays that were very open ended and seemingly easy. It is hard to tell because I never did get a grade back all semester so I have no idea if my quizzes, papers or finals were written in a way that fits with Ghanaian grading standards.

We traveled to Togo another time to try and extend our visas but were sent away bc we had got our visas at the Togolaise Embassy in Ghana instead of at the Togo border. They wanted us to pay all over again and we wouldn't have it. We needed the Togo visa so that when we went to Benin we could just drive through Togo but I am glad we didnt get our visas bc when we did decide to go to Benin we had so crazy fun at the border.

We go to the border, Ghana side and Togo side, filling out forms like pros. The togo border guy sends us past the visa check line to the desk where we are supposed to pay for new visas but when we get there the desk man looks at our old visas and sends us through without a word so BAM! We are in Togo as illegal immigrants(with stamps) and we didn't have to pay for a new visa! We also got through the health services check point by shuffling our 2 health cards among the 3 of us. BOOM. We felt so cool which was just magnified by the Togo tradition of buying a Fan-extra frozen yogurt and riding on the back of a moto-taxi to the market. We got really good deals on taxis to Benin. Benin was also a French colony and their French is much easier to understand. Their taxis are miserable because the driver waits until his car is packed with 2 people in the front and 4 in the back. After many hours our taxi comes to the city of Ouidah, the voodoo capital of the world. Our driver took us past where we told him to turn and attempted to drop us off at the Museum of History. When we said " NO, take us back to the visitor center" for the 7th time, he drove us straight to where we wanted to go and said we owed him more money than we had agreed on bc he drove us in circles. Jarett, like a true Ghanaian, argued until both were shouting in that distinct fake-angry voice. A Beninoise man crossed the street to get involved and Jarett explained in his best Ghanaian English to the bystander that we were being ripped off. A few minutes later and the taxi driver goes his away and we go to the visitor center without being gypped. This was typical for almost every moto or taxi ride we took in Benin. If I had been by myself or if this were the first trip of the semester I would have been very upset- but by this point it was all a game to be enjoyed.
We spent the night on a straw mat in an upstairs room after getting dinner in the city square. It was very french-looking with cobble brick streets and people all around. We went on a search for fan-extras and found the headquarters. We went to the Benin Museum which was an old Portuguese slave fort which housed the first church in Benin. So crazy to me that Christianity and slavery came together. Portugal and France fought for power and presently the religious make up is Catholic and voodoo practiced simultaneously by many. We went to a python temple and I could understand the whole tour given in French. There was one building that was just a big snake pit and they woke up a few of the sleepy snakes for us to hold :)

Ready to see another city we took motos to the nearest taxi stop which turned into a big fiasco. The taxi men were all trying to push us towards their own taxis and the moto guys were telling all the taxi drivers that we owed them money. One man told us to get in his car and he would work it out. He talked to the crowd then came back over to ask if the moto men had taken us to the beach. We told them our side of it and sort of let them duke it out in the local language, occasionally shouting "fraude!" or "cheat" out of the taxi windows. It was a lot of fun. That man settled it and all the moto/taxi men drove away laughing.

Next stop: Possotome- a river village with natural water springs and beautiful beaches. This small village was a massive contrast to the larger city of Oiudah. The people there were SUPER nice charging us a third of the already reasonable price to camp and to learn the local fishing techniques. Out on the lake the fisherman ride in small wooden boats and use long sticks to propel the boat by pushing off the mud of the river-bottom. To fish you take a huge circular net and you loop it around your hand and spread your fingers through the bottom of the net before you fling it out in the the water where it hopefully unfolds into a nice wide circle. I wasn't that good at it and I almost fell off the boat throwing the net :) We didn't catch anything because it was Sunday and as our guide said "all the fish are in church!" The boatmen told us a local hippopotamus legend and that was pretty cool to hear in French and English. We headed back to shore and ate cheaply from the market up the road. There were a lot of kids swimming on the dock so we sat and tried to talk to them in broken French. They were all Evangelical Christian but their community had many signs of local voodoo protection so I assume they practiced both. They were playing a game where one kid would hold his breath underwater while another kid turned an empty 2 liter upside down until the breath-holder surfaced. The were competing to see who could hold his breath longest and using the water level of the bottle to measure time- Pretty creative, huh?

On the beach we practiced handstands and attempted flips and learned how to climb coconut trees. They got some down for us and we ate while unfolding our tents. The stars were beautiful and the night was warm. We had two bottles filled with the local tap water and I put iodine tablets in to purify them. My pills to neautralize the iodine flavor had gone bad but I didn't notice until I had already put one in. I drank some from that bottle and had horrible diarrhea and vomiting for the next 3 days. So if I look skinnier- that's why! PS. it is NOT fun to travel sick while traveling on public transport. We made it back eventually but it was a hassle stopping to relieve myself at random towns in crappy bathrooms.

The last week in Ghana was so good. I felt so immersed and practiced in the culture. Mo and I spent some of our last days going to the local wood markets and using amazing bartering skills to get many masks and other gifts for home. I saw him off at the airport and it was so sad after which I got the first taxi back from the airport for FIVE cedis, which is a great deal. The driver was the nicest I had ever driven with and I felt so happy with Ghana. The next day I went to Makola market with Jarett and Anna Rose and bought the Ghana jersey that I have been searching for all semester and some cheap Adidas tennies.

On my last day, I wrapped up my internship and got a certificate that was really nice except that it read " this certificate certifies that Caitlin Stevens has completed his internship..." SO close.... I brought my roommate, Tsugumi with me and I think she wants to work there in my stead. It was her birthday and we spent the day together getting all my classes stamped and eating together. I also stopped over at Sala's house and I gave her all my extra stuff and a little money. We went to the night market and bought 20 pencils to give out the the market kids. They were so happy it made me sad. I wish I had done things like that a lot more often. I gave my cell phone to my favorite fruit seller, Grace, and she introduced me formally to her mother and they all were blessing me for the gift which was small for me and huge for them. I said goodbye to friends hoping I would see them again and wishing them the best on all their adventures.

Apparently reverse-culture shock hits the immersed the hardest and is best avoided by anticipating the return before it comes. That would have been nice to know :/ Being back in the States is strange. I love variety of food and hot showers and driving but I miss spicy food eaten by hand and tro-tros and cheap travel. I have learned that our culture isn't all that superior to theirs. I have learned that "shoes have nothing to do with happiness." That having internet doesn't necessarily make you more efficient or less bored. That having less than enough money may be healthy for an individual. That hot weather is way happier than cold. That freedom and justice and morality are not values owned my America. That dogs will be as you raise them. I am glad to have had the opportunity to go to Ghana as a student and I am glad to be able to graduate with some of my best friends. It is a huge shift and while I will miss Ghana and all the adventurous times I had there, I know it is because I was blessed there and that this time has been to open me up and teach me to feel much more free to chase my dreams and adventures with a hopeful and carefree spirit.

This has been my experience abroad. I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my time as a student at the University of Ghana. Thank you for letters and kind words and for giving me another incentive to record my trip. As they say in Ghana: All the best!

The End

No comments:

Post a Comment