Thursday, June 28, 2012


Day 18

Up until this point in my trip, I have been given the chance to meet the Ghana I did not know, a Ghana that is vibrant with life and culture: people striving to further their education and careers, building communities, and working to better the nation’s economic, political, and social infrastructures. This Wednesday, on a field trip for my Social Service Delivery Systems class, I came face to face with the Ghana I do know, or at least thought I knew, from late-night commercials by charity organizations and gloomy mass media highlights. It was the Ghana without shoes, the Ghana without a place to sleep, the Ghana that makes hardly a dollar a day’s wages for work, the Ghana without basic human needs met. We went to the Katamatoo Market on the outskirts of Agbogbloshie to interview a group of kayayoo women. These teens-twenty year old women had left their homes in the North and Upper West regions of Ghana to work in Accra as head load carriers. 

When we first arrived at the market, Professor Boateng led us through a twisting maze of what appeared to be a decommissioned train station. Along the way there were women of all ages sitting, sleeping, and eating in and beside their empty headpans. We then passed by piles upon piles of food and used clothing (ever wonder what happened to that beloved pair of 8 year old jeans you finally donated to Goodwill? but that's another can o' worms) laying out for sale until we reached a covered area where we would meet the young women. They each spoke different dialects from their local areas, and very little English, so Dr. Boateng had to translate much of their responses.

Out of the twelve women we spoke with, three had completed school through their junior high level (here in Ghana, grade school is free up until the last three years of high school). Because they could not afford school, they left to come to Accra to work as a kayayoo to earn money for themselves and their families up north. When asked what their goals were as kayayoo, they replied that they hope to earn enough to invest in the necessary materials to either pick up where they left off in their schooling or train in a vocation like hairdressing or seamstressing. As it turns out, the road is hindered by quite a few obstacles, namely that they make at the most three cedi a day (equivalent to about $1.50), and sometimes nothing at all. Yet, the toils are more physical than financial. They wake up at 3:30 am each day to port heavy loads for market customers, putting strain on their neck and back until the late evening. 

Despite the poverty and difficult work conditions that makes for a challenging lifestyle as a kayayoo, the women are strong in their identity and their self-worth. I was especially stunned that they could hold such high esteem of themselves considering what harsh treatment they receive from their own Ghanaian people. Attempts to cheat them out of already-low rates and degrading comments like “don’t come near me, you are dirty and smelly” are far from unknown to these women. This is their way of life. 

Upon the close of the interview, the women allowed us to take photos with them. Never have I imagined that I would be so moved by such a juxtaposition of opposites: the kayayoo, whose life is a constant drive toward survival, next to me, my life sheltered in comfort and privilege. Endless opportunity is at my fingertips while for them the smallest open door means everything.

In light of this truth, I am left buzzing over a slew of questions. Now that I have met these women, what then? I have seen their faces, smiled with them, listened to their stories. I know my position in this world relative to theirs. Do I have an obligation to these women? Yes, I know now, I do. Although my home is thousands of miles away, we are a global community. The choices I make and the lifestyle I subscribe to affects these people. If there is anything I have taken away from my encounter, it is this: we cannot feel sorry for Africa. While knowledge of their circumstances surely elicits compassion, we need to be cautious. It is not racism that has fueled the mess and present aftermath of colonization, it is condescension and cultural imperialism: “the first world’s burden.” To pity Africa only perpetuates its subordination, which subsequently, we use to justify our exploitation of it.

These people are dignified. Their situations are no less complex than our own, and they cannot be fixed by our handouts, which come at the expense of their progress. In the words of my friend Ruth, they have their own story. It may not be our story, but it is no better or worse. I still don’t know what this means for me or how my life needs to change, but I am prepared to find out.

I guess I am just terrified that the moment I step off the plane in Reno and back into my normal life, that this will all turn into a page of a National Geographic magazine again. Maybe then I’ll be glad I tried to save my convictions here.

[A note about these photos! Aside from the first three I took with the kayayoo, the rest I snapped on the way back to the bus. I was so absorbed by everything around me that I took pictures while I held my camera at my waist as we were walking. Sorry they're so haphazard, but maybe that makes them feel more organic? I'm a cruddy photojournalist, haha.]

Proverbs 24:14
Nante yie,

P.S. We're leaving for our weekend trip to Kumasi early tomorrow, so I may not be able to post anything new until Monday. Till then! <3

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Obroni, obroni

Days 16 and 1

Monday and Tuesday were not the most eventful, so I figured I’d knock them both out at once!

Monday morning began very early (we’re talking 6 am), so that I could get ready for my 7:30 am Twi class. Mornings and I get along okay, thank goodness! Especially now that I’ve discovered such delicious teas here that will soon be accompanying me back to the States. I am just loving my Twi class. It’s not as much an extensive intro to the language (after all, we can only cover so much material in six weeks) as it is a crash course on how to get around Ghana without sounding like a total obroni (the Twi word for foreigner).

This time, we learned about how to barter, a skill that is extremely helpful for making purchases at the market and for negotiating with taxi drivers. See, being a clear foreigner, especially one from a developed country, can make it appear as though we have a good deal of money to throw around. So, traders and the like will start by charging about two or three times what the product or service is actually worth. In light of this, Prof Peprah gave us some phrases to use so that we might be cut a little slack in the marketplace, like “Meye osuani, menni sika” which means “I am a student, I don’t have money”. And “Mepaakyew, ne bo ye den. Te me so” which is “The cost is too high. Please, lower it for me.” As I may have mentioned before, what I have noticed here is that the locals seem to appreciate it when we make an effort to speak their language with them. With any luck, I thought maybe I could humor traders into lowering prices with my ridiculous attempt at Twi. Challenge accepted.

That afternoon, I ran into Rna, who was leaving to run a few errands at the Accra Mall. I joined her, thinking this was the perfect opportunity to see if we could negotiate a cheaper trip. After taking a few minutes to rehearse our lines, we hailed the first taxi to come along. It WORKED! We were able to haggle the drivers down from 10 cedis to just 4, not only for the ride there but also the ride home. Not to mention we got a good laugh out of them. It was fun! I am amped to try it in Kumasi this weekend.

The next day, I went to basic school to see my wee ones! These children, man. I can’t get enough of them. Today, I taught them to play Simon Says, during which I got them all to shake their booties while giving themselves finger mustaches. We must have been a sight, hahaha. Other than teaching each other games during recess, there isn’t much for me to do save marking workbooks. Because of this, I spoke with Mrs. Ruby to see if we could coordinate a fifteen minute period each week that I might teach something to the class. This Thursday will be my first attempt, and I plan to bring the kids PB&Js. Are you as amazed as I am that these kids have never tried them? Bread, peanut butter, and jelly are all purchasable at the convenience store down the street, yet I have only ever seen the kids eat rice and beans during their snacktime. PB&Js are such an American staple; I doubt I’ll ever grow sick of them. Ahh, I can’t wait to blow their little minds with the magic that is a PB&J sandwich!

I’ll leave you with a few of the drawings that the kids made for me. I’m not sure who got the first idea to draw me a picture, but ever since then I have received at least one every time I come to class. Adorbz.

I can only hope these are all portraits of me because they are striking!


I'm... I'm not sure what this is.

Finally, I was given a handwritten letter from Nana Ama that reads, "anut (I think she meant "auntie") gabi I like you gabi. it is anut gabi. she is a good teacher. she is good for me. I like anut gabi she is good"

<3 forever. 'Nuff said.
Nante yie!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Deep blue sea, darlin'

Day 16

What up, beach! Sunday, we took the most relaxing trip to the Volta region to see where the river flows into the sea. I need a geologist to explain to me how a freshwater river can kiss a sea without becoming salty. I have a feeling the answer is obvious, but it just boggles my mind!

Boarding our boats!

Sweetest ladies! Lauren, Joelle, Kelsey, and Shelby.

There are some pretty fancy pads in this area! It's a picturesque place to live, just keep scrolling...

It doesn't look like much, but this is it! The river is calm until it meets the ocean, if you can see those crazy waves off to the right side of the photo.

The trees are all painted to look like the Ghanaian flag!

The kids here know how to shake it.

Shell-collecting! :)

The waves gave us a beat down.

Rna, Ridhi, and I. Frizzballs!

Bet you'd never guess I was pretending that rope hammock wasn't digging into my skin.

We nearly were caught by this storm!

Okay, we were. Rain and sea spray got us good. (Adelaide, I love you. You're so stinkin' cute I can't stand it.)

Nante yie!

Lessons in cultural sensitivity

Day 15

Were you to ask me Saturday night, did I find anything redeeming about the Miss Teen Ghana beauty pageant launch, I would have laughed. Yet, what I hadn’t considered as I closed my eyes was that the stubborn bitterness I brought to bed could take new form in the morning light.

This post was supposed to be scathing and critical. It was supposed to be about my opposition to pageants. How I felt physically uncomfortable to see these young Ghanaian women sexually objectified and paraded around to the tune of catcalls, cheers, and the crude gestures of men in the audience. How I sat stunned, watching as the event’s philanthropic effort consisted of Miss Teen Ghana 2011 pleading for almost an hour (to a largely unresponsive audience) that we donate a total of 3,000 Cedis ($1,500 American dollars) to her charity project else the ladies will not be released from backstage to finish their performance. How I had finally had enough and took a taxi home with half my group, despite Auntie Peggy, who had invited us to come and support her daughter, begging us to stay.

But pageants are pageants, created underneath a global model of patriarchy. This isn’t new. Somehow, what shook me the most was that regardless of how disorganized and poorly run the event was, the Ghanaians I spoke to felt it was a huge success. Here’s a quick play-by-play. The function started about two hours late, which meant we were sitting, for two hours, confused and grown impatient. When it finally got up and running, we sat through a couple acts of break dancers and two comedians (who I was told were not very funny? I couldn’t say, it was all in the local language), before the contestants finally appeared on stage. This of course got the crowd going wild; the men were all over the place, hopping on stage at times and blocking the view in front of those of us who were seated. By all means, standards of what I had been raised to understand as common courtesy were out the window. Yet, I didn’t see anyone try to control the crowd or at the very least remove those individuals who were interrupting the event. Last but not least, the fundraiser. Ohh, the fundraiser. I think you could list all the good ways to raise money for a charitable cause, but this was not one of them. It felt akin to being threatened that the show would not go on if we didn’t cough up the cash. I can’t speak for the Ghanaians that were there, but 200 cedis per girl seems like a lot to ask for. Not to mention that no one jumped the gun to donate. After 45 minutes of waiting for anyone to make a move, I was thoroughly soured by the whole ordeal. Auntie Peggy herself decided to donate so that she could finally see her daughter appear on stage. She should not have had to do that! I was incredulous. I was out of there.

The next morning, I was terrified that I would run into Auntie Peggy, who I was convinced would be hurt and resentful toward those of us who had stormed out of the event. Instead, I was greeted by Auntie Peggy describing what a wonderful time she had and thanking me so genuinely for having come to support her daughter. 

Needless to say, I took the walk of shame after that. I was so jaded by my impatience that night that I failed to recognize how important this event was to Auntie Peggy and to the Ghanaian community who were present. The people I have encountered here seem to put much care and meaning into what they do. They are understanding and supportive, despite setbacks. Little did I know, this pageant launch was only the tip of the iceberg of what would soon be hardcore preparation and training for the girls for the next three months. Auntie Peggy was so proud of her daughter. I wish I could have put aside my attitude of inconvenience to appreciate the Ghanaians' enthusiasm for the event, even if I did not agree with its values on a personal level.

Lessons in cultural sensitivity, such is my #Ghanalife.
Nante yie,

Monday, June 25, 2012

Keeping me on my toes

Day 14

Friday was all about the unexpected. It began with business as usual, class and the like. I had sat down to do some journaling around lunchtime until I heard a knock on the door. I opened it to see my friend Morgan looking like death. She told me she was feeling something nasty and asked if I would come with her to Nyaho Hospital. I remembered having driven past it during our tour of Accra, but neither of us had been inside. Our program director, Abigail, drove us to the hospital in her car, reassuring us that we would be well taken care of and that a taxi ride home would be easy to come by. We had barely entered the front lobby before Morgan started to feel sick again, to which the hospital staff responded immediately! They brought her a wheelchair and began the testing process to see if her symptoms might indicate food poisoning, dehydration, or malaria, which are the most commonly seen conditions among travelers to Ghana.

In short, we spent about five hours at the hospital. Now, I could probably count the number of times I have visited the hospital on two hands, so I’m (thankfully!) no expert on the hospital experience. This one was bittersweet. Most of our time was spent waiting, which was, frankly, exhausting. It would not have been as frustrating if there were someone to check in on us to let us know our status, but we were mostly left alone. Eventually, we decided to ask what was going on, and we realized that while we were waiting we were expected to find out if the lab had produced the results. We were both astonished that patients had so much autonomy! In the States, answers and explanations are brought to you, while here, you must seek them out. Yet, the potential stress that this could have caused was quelled by the most friendly and accommodating staff I have ever met. No matter who we asked for help, the staff always took the extra time to point us in the right direction. I think that’s what makes a world of difference in the service industry. Setbacks occur, people are inconvenienced, and mistakes happen, but a kind word means we are cared for all the same. Thankfully I’ve made it this far, and God willing I’d like to avoid pulling the short straw for the rest of the trip. I don’t care where in the world I am, the hospital is still no Disneyland, nope.

Morgan (Who, by the way, was feeling much better by the time we left! The hospital gave her rehydration salts and malaria medication) and I got back to Ish (our hostel) just in time to join our group to head out for our friend Matthew’s birthday! We were all craving Chinese so we hit up a place down the street. Wasn’t bad by American standards, I guess. I’m skeptical of Chinese food from anywhere that isn’t China. Do we even come close in the States? Have I ever actually tried the real thing? The eggroll is a lie. (Portal reference, ba dum tss) Anyway, after eating, we settled on checking out a night club. And not just any night club. A night club at a Best Western. Yes, a Best Western. Now, imagine a Best Western in your mind. And then imagine it was designed by the guy who did the Ritz. There were three, I say, three glass chandeliers in the lobby. The club was in an underground room beneath the hotel, and good lord, it was refreshing. Ghanaians know how to party. I knew I brought my black pumps for a reason ;)

One down, two to go and I’ll be all caught up!

Nante yie,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Get some culture in yo face

Day 13

Thursday means service learning at basic school with my first grade class! (Okay, this probably sounds like the time change is crazy, but in all reality it’s Saturday and I’m about three days behind in my journal, oops! I vowed that today would be a catch-up day.) The kids had two of their languages classes today, French and Ga (a local dialect). It blew my mind to find that they are learning FOUR languages: English, French, Ga, and Twi. What is the word for that, quadrilingual?? Apparently, it is quite practical for them to know these languages because while English is Ghana’s official language, Twi and Ga are still widely used, and French is spoken in three bordering countries. I’m not sure for how long they study these languages, but what a helpful ability it is in life to be able to cross language barriers and better connect with people. I wish that language was emphasized more in the States. While some classes are offered, few of us roam far from our reliance on English. But the kids here are like sponges, I swear it. We sang Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes in French. A room echoing with 40-some six year olds singing about body parts could stretch a grin on anyone’s face, guaranteed.

Also, I think I mentioned food here very briefly in the beginning, but I need to document my culture shocks with meals for future reference so that I will never ever ever take food in the States for granted. So, there are a few restrictions that many of us travelers have placed on ourselves willingly to prevent from getting sick. One, we can’t drink the tap water. Since the filtration system is not the greatest, we are almost exclusively dependent on purchased water bottles for our drinking water. We have to be careful when we go out to eat to ask for drinks without ice. Two, since we can’t trust the tap water, we can’t eat anything without a peel. There is a big empty space in my heart and stomach that salads and fresh vegetables used to fill. In order to eat peel-less, skin-less fruits and veggies, our food must be cooked. Three, there is so little diversity of foods. When we arrived here, meals were provided for the first weekend, and we ate mainly the local staples including rice, beans, plantains, chicken, fish, eggs, cabbage. Little did we realize these are the only things to eat a vast majority of the time aside from certain fruits at fruit stands. Don’t get me wrong, they taste fantastic, but I dearly miss having the variety of options presented at home. Did I mention that the only kind of cereal here is Corn Flakes? Sadface. Five (and this has been the greatest shock for me), dairy products are not refrigerated. Even in the grocery store, eggs and milk are just hanging out on shelves or in the sweltering heat at roadside stands. This is... this is okay? This isn’t unsanitary or anything? What about expiration dates?!? I feel like my entire life is a lie. Needless to say, I plan to arrange myself a grand feast the day I get back to the States. Burritos, salads, pizza, get in my belly.

That night, a few of us got together to try eating at a local cafe, adorably named Cuppa Cappuccino. We had an extremely frustrating experience trying to get there with a taxidriver who, despite our clear direction, had no idea where he was going. (I’ve noticed this quite a bit with taxis. You really have to confirm multiple times that they know the area, else they will say, come, get in the car, and you’ll end up on the other side of town from where you wanted to be.) Not to mention he ended up charging us more money than we had agreed upon from the get-go. But hey, miscommunication is a recurring reality, right? We can only do the best we can under the circumstances. Anyhow, we finally reached the cafe to learn that they were about to close, yet we were seated and served, regardless! We were worried about inconveniencing the staff; however, they seemed content and happy to wait on us. Is it just me that this kind of service seems few and far between in the States? Many restaurants are so adamant to be on time that they will shoo people away even 15 minutes before closing time. Could be a cultural thing... we Americans are known for being punctual. Long story short, this place had the best mango banana smoothie and cappuccino I have tasted, and I promise I will be returning for more.

Enough for today :) Oy. Sometimes I feel like there are just too many thoughts in my head to squeeze out into each blog post. Forgive me if I ever seem scatterbrained or verbose!

Till next time, nante yie!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beer can with a British accent

Day 12

I really need to work on blogging about my day on that day because then I wouldn’t be trying to wrestle it out of my memory the day after like I am now. Aha! Yes. Okay. Nothing too interesting about my morning, mostly journaled and read until I joined the rest of my Social Service Delivery Systems class to head out on our first field trip to the General Hospital in Accra. If I didn’t already explain what this class is about, essentially it aims to examine formal and informal social service delivery systems in Ghana so that we may better understand how community-based agencies here approach major economic, cultural, and social welfare issues. Even in the short time I have been here, it is quickly dawning on me how much we rely on social services for everything, like health care, having access to fresh food and drink, and the disposal of waste/garbage.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were given a presentation from Dr. Frimpong, an OB/GYN who explained some of the positives as well as the shortcomings of the medical facilities. While the hospital is still continuing to grow and see a slow increase in resources, it faces the constant challenges of being understaffed and small. Often there are not enough beds for patients and there is no intensive care unit, so if one needs immediate or round the clock help, he or she may have to wait or somehow be transferred to a different facility, which can create terrible complications. Fortunately, health care is relatively easy to access under inexpensive insurance coverage (and ambulance rides are basically free!). The intricacies of this system he didn’t describe, but I imagine it’s the best the hospitals can manage with the resources they have. One of the hospital’s biggest tools is the ability to educate others. Because the vast majority of Ghana is not urbanized, people are likely to lead more active lifestyles, which puts them at a lower risk for certain diseases! So, public health initiatives focus on prevention, encouraging people to eat well and exercise (no pills; can’t argue with that!). Sadly, we were supposed to have a tour of the clinic, but it was canceled so as not to put us at the risk of exposure to the rampant illness running around.

Now here’s where I get to the juicy part of my Wednesday. So here in Accra, every Wednesday night Labadi Beach holds a Reggae event featuring a Bob Marley cover band, dancing, drinking, and (for some) smokin’ da ‘erb. Fun fact of the day: I don’t condone recreational smoking in my own life, but apparently if there’s anywhere to have one’s foray into it, Ghana is the place. Cheap, cheap stuff. That being said, weed is also considered illegal here so to be caught with it as a foreigner can have serious ramifications. We were warned pretty heavily about it when we arrived here. Anyway, I know practically squat about Jamaica and Rastafari culture, but I found it a savvy coincidence that the colors of the Ghanaian flag are Red, Yellow, and Green. Whether the two are connected in any way, I have yet to find out!

Before hitting up the beach, a few of us stopped by a jazz club called Plus 233 where there was a live all-female band playing an upbeat blend of traditional Ghanaian pop and reggae. (Frankly, I’m dreadful at telling apart music genres so this could be a very inaccurate description.) I just loved it. Loved it! The way people dance here is so adorable, like swing dancing with hips errrywhere. After their last set, a few of us decided to head to the beach so I hitched a ride with a couple of our Ghanaian friends. The beach was a blast. Hanging out, meeting people, dancing, strolling across the sand, I dunno. There aren’t words. Just go. Every study abroader here should go. I think I got home around 3 am if that tells you anything about my night ;) but really, I just have an extremely poor sense of time, haha. I think to myself at least once a day that I need a watch, but I have somehow convinced myself that it's too much work to find one? Ah well, when in Ghana!

Till next time, nante yie!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Day 11

This post is going to be less about the events of my day than it is about Charity. Not the gesture of good will, but the woman who is a teacher’s assistant in my first grade class at the school. I sat with her for most of class helping her mark workbooks, and we struck up a conversation about her thoughts on Christianity. For those who are not as familiar with Ghana’s history, Ghana was originally colonized by the British, which brought a lot of missionary activity to the local people. The evidence of which is still manifest in Ghanaian society today. I’d bank that it is impossible to drive through town without spotting a Bible verse painted on the doorpost of a business or even a Christianese-inspired trade name like “His Sovereign Strength Carpentry.” I should start writing some of these down. They are too funny! Anyhow, I don’t think I am alone in my wariness of the mark that the missionaries left here, especially considering the abuses that accompanied them at the time (cough, slavery).

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting Charity to say, but I was welcomed with the most genuine and open description of her personal relationship with Jesus. We spoke about God’s influence in her life. How she is humbled by His capacity to love and forgive her and others. How she opens every day with prayer, even about the small things. How God showed her emotional and even physical healing when modern medicine has failed or is absent. How her community finds peace and fulfillment in Jesus despite strife and loss. I was in awe.

The way Charity spoke about her relationship with Christ and how it is a significant part of her day-to-day life and interactions with others was so encouraging to me. We have all heard the hackneyed notion that America is a Christian nation, but in all honesty I could not be more afraid to express my faith in the States. I feel restrained by the threat of ridicule and ostracism from those who perceive even something like mentioning God’s impact in my day as forcing my beliefs on them. (Although, I confess I may not give people enough credit sometimes.) Yet, the street has two sides as well. I have no doubt that those who subscribe to opposing worldviews have many times felt similarly in the midst of Christians. Before the day I zealously became a self-appointed “Jesus freak,” I remember being accustomed to the fear of condemnation from those who professed religion.

It frustrates me to no end that we subject each other to such treatment. Rather than enjoying a civil conversation with someone about our beliefs, it turns into a power struggle. A discussion over matters of right and wrong (essentially, how well our ideas fall in line with reality) mutates into personal insults (actual or perceived) to one’s worth and identity. Yet, if there really are objective universal explanations to how the world works (think science!), then wouldn’t those explanations be outside of and unaffected by the random Joe Shmoe who happens to understand them? I wish we valued what others bring to the table; what we learn may change our lives! After I was persuaded to follow Christianity and accept Jesus Christ as my savior four years ago, one question has guided my life from that point forward: if there is one true worldview (whether it is atheism, secular humanism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc) that explains what this all means and what it is all for (if anything), wouldn’t I want to know? In the present world where we are interconnected by the click of a mouse, I am privileged to be able to hear what others have to say and to sincerely examine their view compared to my own.

I like to think of life as a group project. We all share the pieces of many different puzzles, but only one puzzle is a complete set. I imagine that this is why certain worldviews have some shared tenets while differing vastly on others. Like the idea that love, kinship, family, and community is important. Secular humanists and Christians can agree on that much, right? ;)

But I digress! You can tell what has been parading around in my head all day. Ahh. I feel indescribably grateful to have met this woman. I truly hope some of her boldness will rub off on me while I am here. I can’t control how others will react to my words, I can only take care in how I choose them. What is the benefit of living and professing my life in a way that is contrary to what I believe is true? Why overcoming this is easier said than done, I will forever wonder.

Because Your Lovingkindness is better than my life, my lips will glorify You. -Psalm 63:3

My tattoo and my stone of Sisyphus.

Much love,
Nante yie <3

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My days here are so diverse, I can never think of good titles for them!

Day 10

This morning, I resolved to start my day with some “me” time. Those who know me at home know I fry the living daylights out of hair... often. Considering Ghana’s sub-saharan climate of high 80’s heat and ridiculous humidity, you might say packing my straightener (and other cosmetics) was against my better judgement. I realize worrying about my looks here can be a needless distraction from my overall experience, but let me tell you how wonderful it felt to have just a moment of control over my appearance and my body. I showered, did my hair, lined my eyes, and showed my favorite dress some sun. My self-esteem could have rivaled Marilyn Monroe's! I felt happier, more energetic, and more outgoing today than I had the past few days. That said, I have literally no one to impress here, but I can't explain it. Could be the female condition. Well, they say life's a show so let's all throw on more makeup and get a nose job! Yeah! No? Oh, okay.

Anyhow, after I felt well-pampered, I left the hostel to go pick up my textbook for my Twi class at the campus bookstore. The staff inside directed me to the book within moments, so I decided to stick around and browse for a bit. Among the various collegiate publications written by local Ghanaian thinkers and scholars, I found some interesting (and by interesting, I mean seriously weird) material. The very first thing to catch my eye was a smiling Donald Trump on the cover of his ever-so-generous book that purports to teach plebs how to enter the 1% (or try?). How anyone here can benefit from such privileged advice in a struggling African economy, I would be tickled pink to know. I also stumbled upon an entire shelf of 90’s romance novels in the popular reading section. Where did these come from?! I honestly thought the only people who read romance novels were over the age of 40. In any case, in a university bookstore it was akin to a seeing a Cosmo in the Smithsonian. Finally, the big kicker. One shelf in the popular reading section contained two whole rows of the Hannah Montana and High School Musical book series. Initially, I thought hoped I was looking at the kids section, until I discovered the actual kids section moments later on the other end of the store. I hope I'm not the only one thinking, what is this I don’t even? If they serve a greater purpose than dust collectors, I give up.

In the afternoon, a few of us went to the mall to pick up some amenities. I got to taste some of their pizza! Not bad, not bad, though it’s no Blind Onion. Unfortunately, during this shopping trip I missed a rare opportunity to visit Agbogbloshie with the S.I.S.S. volunteer group. Agbogbloshie is a slum in Accra that is largely known for the environmental dumping of e-waste (like old computers) from industrialized nations. About 40,000 Ghanaians live in this area in what I hear are extremely squalid conditions. Some of the girls who I spoke with after they went described it as so unpleasant and uncomfortable that they would never want to go back. We actually drove past it a few days ago during our tour of the city, and what I saw briefly was... unsettling. The lagoon that flowed through it was literally a river composed entirely of garbage and waste. I hope to see it up close once before I leave. As I mentioned the other day, there is a good number people who live here by choice rather than necessity, and I am eager to understand their way of life!

Finished up the night with a few friends and Bridesmaids. I lol’d. Hilarious. Do watch it if you haven’t already. My list of favorite chick flicks isn’t long, but this sure tops it. 

Cheers to another day :)
Nante yie

Monday, June 18, 2012

Weekend photo-journey: Part 2!

Day 9 (Happy Father's Day, Dad!)

After visiting both Cape Coast and Elmina on Saturday, we left to go to our hotel that evening, which was, to our utter surprise and amazement, more like a luxurious resort! I thought, Toto, we're not in Ghana anymore. We stayed in adorable little bungalows disguised as thatch-roof huts. And they even had AC (this was huge, my friends)! Unfortunately, my camera died on the ride there, and I didn't have a chance to charge the battery until later that night so I don't have any photos to show. But, oh lawdy, it was nice. A short walk away from our bungalows was a ridiculously overpriced outdoor restaurant, a bar, and a pool right next to the beach. Of course, our first stop was the bar where I ordered a glass of wine like the very hip and cool underage person I am. I chased my drink with a plate of what I hoped was mac and cheese but was more like pasta with a cheesy alfredo sauce (or I guess high-brow mac and cheese?). We then went to check out the beach where within a few minutes we were chased away by sandcrabs (the animals are all ninjas here, I tell you!). Ultimately, it was a lovely night with friends and a wonderful prequel to the trip we had in store the following day!

Kakum!!! On Sunday, we drove to this rainforest to walk along these foot-wide planks suspended with ropes a million feet above the forest floor! There were 7 rope bridges in total. To be completely honest, I have less to say than to show you these photographs (that hardly express even a fraction of how incredible this experience was). I was in awe.

Taking my first steps...

Looking down!

One of those times you feel so small.


At about this point in the walk it started to rain on us.

Gaaah! I have no words, no words. I would relive this a hundred times over if I could.

A perfect ending to the week.
Nante yie!

Weekend photo-journey: Part 1!

Get ready for a rad photo-journey of my weekend!

Day 8

Saturday morning at 9:30 am sharp, we all hopped on a giant bus with airplane-style seats to start our 3 hour drive to Cape Coast!

 Along the way, I noticed that some Ghanians still rock thatch-roof huts! While it may seem surprising to see this in a country that is a good degree more developed than the rest of the continent, we learned that there are many reasons why individuals choose to live this way including tradition, familial ties, and so on. The important thing to note is that it is a choice and not necessarily a poverty-driven decision, even for those who live in the slums.

The lush green meadow went on forever!

 Finally reached Cape Coast, a town that was one of the first British settlements on what was then named the Gold Coast (and is now Ghana!). It was incredible to see how many of these old buildings still stood, occupied by the locals, of course. I honestly wish I had taken more pictures of this area. The history nerd in me was going nuts.
 The Atlantic Ocean. I forget how rarely I have the chance to visit the ocean! Gorgeous.
Wall sculptures outside of the Cape Coast Castle. I'm not sure what they mean or when they were made, but I love when illustrations tell stories.

Women by the castle were showing us how they balance pounds of goods on their heads! I didn't have the chance to try it myself, but apparently it's as hard as it looks.

 About to begin our tour of the Cape Coast Castle, a slave castle built by the British in the 1800's during the slave trade.
There were piles upon piles of old canon balls that never saw their debut across the open water.

The place is enormous!

About to enter the male slave dungeon...

...which was also visited by the President and the First Lady in '09! The Ghanians I have met seem to greatly admire Obama.

There were actually quite a few other tours going on simultaneously. I imagine it's a hot spot for school field trips. These kids were cracking me up! I couldn't help but take a picture.

This was not a dungeon, but it looked like some sort of holding cell. There was some kind of indescribable smell in there that made me slightly uncomfortable.

Part of the inside of the male slave dungeon. Literally, we were standing where dead bodies, plague, piles of feces, and hundreds of crammed human beings were once held for extended periods of time.

There were three windows in each room of the dungeon which were the only sources of light and oxygen. When it rained, water would enter through these windows and wash away some of the fecal matter into small gutters on the ground which led to the sea.

This is our tour guide! Here, he is standing in front of what was once the passageway where slaves were led to the giant ships that would take them to the Americas. The year slavery was officially abolished, this passageway was sealed as a symbol of hope that these atrocities upon humanity should never again be allowed to occur.

Outside of the dungeon, our guide showed us these containers that were used as wells. Some were also disguised as holes used to spy on the slaves to make sure they were behaving as they were being moved to the ships.

I bet this castle really looked beautiful in its prime. Yet, I have almost a sick, half-hearted appreciation for its aesthetic,  especially considering the crimes that took place inside.

Clearly, this place meant business.

Our view from the courtyard.

In the dungeons, we saw that groups had left tokens to memorialize and honor those ancestors who had died here.

Directly adjacent to the slave castle was a huge coast lined with fishermen! We spent some time here appreciating the view and mingling with some of the locals. Shelby taught an adorable Ghanian girl how to take a picture with her camera.

I loved all the rich colors of the stones.

Brian, Josh, Stasia, and Queena!

The view didn't even look real. It may as well have been Monet's doing.

The smell here nearly choked me at first! It took a little getting used to the fishiness. And I like fish. But this was pungent.

The fishermen were catching little crabs! I think this one was dead...

We were told not to touch dogs because they don't get any of their shots here and are likely to have fleas :( They are still so cute to watch! And the beautiful designs of this woman's clothing just make me swoon.

Boats, everywhere!

My heart will go on! (Check out the gnarly battle wounds on my legs) Also, we all know there was enough room on the plank for you, Jack, you swine.

 Huge fishing nets!

I couldn't get enough <3