Sunday, July 22, 2012

We never step into the same river twice

Day 40
19 July 2012

Wow. The last few days have been a blur. I’ve been saving up the chance to dedicate a special post for Thursday because that day our group met to debrief for our reentry into the States. Before this meeting, I had never before considered the idea that coming back to my home country could be a culture shock in itself. They say, spend enough time in a foreign country and suddenly it’s like your home is not as familiar anymore. But the program was only six weeks, right? Maybe this was not enough time to make a full adjustment to a Ghanaian lifestyle, but I can’t help but feel that after all I have seen and done in the past month that I will not be returning home the same person I was when I left. Actually, I’m one hundred percent positive of this fact. Our presenter quoted Heraclitus, “You can never step into the same river twice.” We change so quickly, we really do, without even realizing it. The other day I was going through some pictures of mine and my friends’, and I was stunned to see what is different now compared to the year prior. We move, we change jobs, we change relationships, we change perspectives.

One of the concerns of reentry that particularly resonated with me is finding myself acutely aware of everything I took for granted in the States. And not just the things that I didn’t appreciate before, but even more so the assumptions that I once held to be true without questioning them. I feel threatened by the ugly head of cynicism toward my home country that travelers often grapple with. As much as my eyes have been opened to a few more of the not-so-attractive qualities of America, the purpose of this journey was not to gain a “more enlightened and cultured-than-thou” attitude toward my nation. Having said that, after my short time traveling abroad it is becoming clearer to me that I am in a unique position to fight American exceptionalism. Our country is a major presence in a wide and complex world community, yet Americans still struggle with prejudicial attitudes and entertaining overly simplistic views about the world.

This is why I can’t box this trip away. I can’t shelve it now, only to take it out once or twice years down the road to tell my grandkids how this one time, Grandma Gabi went to Africa. During our conversation at the meeting, one of my groupmates mentioned how surreal it feels to be going back to the “real world.” It’s funny and even poignant when you think about it, that in a sense, we are returning to our bubbles again. Looming overhead is the threat of losing touch with my Ghanaian life, to be replaced by my relationships at home, my job, and school. Countering this may be tricky business, but I have a few ideas! On an individual level, I want to keep in contact with my new Ghanaian friends. To share our lives with each other despite being so far away is a reminder that Ghana is real, it is still a part of my world. I also intend to seek out organizations in Reno that are involved with international social work or advocacy to see if there is any way I can get involved. I have to move fast... before the summer is over. Motivation can slip away if it is not nurtured (cough, like going to the gym, cough). I don’t want to wait too long. Blog, you better keep me accountable because I’ll be back to read you again and again, you can count on that.

Of course only a wonderfully reflective day with my groupmates could only be followed by our final dance performance. It was FANTASTIC. What an adrenaline rush! I guarantee that there are pictures and videos to share, I just have my hands on none of them at the moment. But when I do, I’ll be back to this blog to put them up!

Writing these last few posts during my final hours in Ghana...

Nante yie,

Friday, July 20, 2012

'Merica! Farewell dinner

Day 39
18 July 2012

Hello, Wednesday! Thank goodness, I was feeling fully recovered when I woke up that morning. After I finished my last essay, Ridhi and I decided to go out and walk down the street near campus to see if we could find anything interesting. It was... a lot less climactic than we anticipated. A lot of little stores like dress shops and mini-mart type shops situated next to each other. I think that was the only bummer thing about our living arrangements for the past six weeks. For the purposes of school, living on campus made things convenient, but we ended up being a bit far from everything worth seeing/doing in Accra. Those taxis fares rack up fast!

Afterwards, we all congregated to get ready for our early farewell dinner before we all go our separate ways. With no one to even prompt us, we all wore our African printed dress that the seamstresses, Jane and Lizbeth, made for us. We were a sight, I tell ya. My obroni family is so beautiful <3

We piled onto a bus to head over to Abigail’s sister’s house to eat a dinner we’d been anticipating for WEEKS. It was our, what do you call it, “readjustment” dinner? Basically, we got to have American food. A LOT of it. We’re talking beef stew, mac and cheese, garlic bread, potato salad, chicken salad, mashed potatoes, veggies, and lasagna! I mean, look at this pig trough...

 I’m a little embarrassed...

Matthew! I got to hear this talent not once, but twice tonight! (Corey and I got him to come serenade us later after dinner, hehe) King of jazz, this one.

With Adelaide and Priscilla!

Unfortunately, I was so frustrated with the bulkiness of my camera that I snapped hardly any photos. Which is why I'm waiting for all my obroni lovelies to put theirs on Facebook so I can snatch 'em ;) Ahem hem.

Aye. Goodnight. Great night.

Nante yie,

The home stretch

Day 35-38
14-17 July 2012

All right, having two days left in Ghana, I am increasingly threatened with the lurking possibility that I’m going to be stuck catching up on journal entries when I’m back home (a little, well, purpose-defeating of a study abroad blog). So, I’m going to combine these four days, which were mostly spent being sick and writing papers anyway, because I would still like to have some time to reflect on the end of my experience!

On Saturday, I spent the brunt of the day with Isa working on papers. The majority of our group was gone on a somewhat impromptu beach trip, but a few of us stayed behind to try and be productive (which didn’t actually end up doing me much good, as I’ll explain in a bit). Though my day wasn’t journal-worthy, my NIGHT was. However, due to my concern for professional appearances (Hi there, Dr. Valentine and honors staff!), I am going to carefully leave this story out of my study abroad saga. I can’t say that night was my first (or probably my last) lapse of judgement as a twenty-something, but hey, that’s what being a twenty-something is all about, right? In the end, it was a ridiculously amazing time. I am still trying to wrap my mind around everything that happened! Don’t hesitate to ask me if you’d like to hear the details sometime, and I won’t hesitate to share :) To be honest, I’m writing this “censored note” so that I won’t forget about this night when I look back on my blog later!

Sunday morning, Ruth and I woke up early to meet our program director, Abigail, for church! We had been hoping to have the opportunity to check out a local church service to see how people here (well, at least one congregation) celebrate God, but our weekends prior had been filled up with trips and the like. This was our first free Sunday to go, so we asked Abigail if we could join her at her church, Harvest Chapel. It was really lovely! A bit long, about three hours Ruth and I champed on empty stomachs, but still lovely. I have never seen such animated worship! There was a full band with a drummer, a bassist, and four vocalists. The vocals stole the show, by far. We didn’t understand most of it because it was in Twi, but it was so upbeat and lively that we couldn’t help but get up and dance with the congregation. People were clapping and singing and greeting each other and a few were even shaking tambourines! It’s interesting to see the contrast between this church and the one I attend at home, Living Stones. A lot of our songs seem more... sentimental, with an undertone of reverence. Aside from the occasional lifted hands, we’ve really got that side-swaying move down ;) I love worship like I love art. There’s no right or wrong to it; whether it’s a choir hymn or a death metal riff. After the service, a couple women came up to welcome us and brought us juice and tuna pies. I swear, if I’m bringing one thing back to the States, it’s Ghanaian hospitality. I’m sure being a foreigner doesn’t hurt the fact that people are friendly, but y’know, an gesture of kindness is a gesture of kindness. The rest of the day was more paper-writing and studying for my 7:30 am Monday Twi exam.

Monday, a whole lot of nothing. After Twi, I came back to Ish to write. I’m not sure what it is about this last week... if it’s the fact that we’re finishing up classes or if it’s the anticipation of going home, but these days really seem to be blending together. I did stop by the night market later that day to find new fruit! Star fruit, passion fruit, and rambutan... I had to try it all. Little did I know, OH little did I know that my lust for trying adventurous foods would be my downfall. Pretty convinced that one of the three gave me food poisoning. I’m leaning toward the star fruit because it was the only one that didn’t need to be peeled. Well, here’s some fun pictures of the fruit that ruined my life for the next two days!
Rambutan! Peel apart its spiky exterior and there's a white grape of sorts!

Passion fruit! My favorite, by far. It's just like the juice!

Before the plague hit me, I had the fantastic fortune of finding out that night that my papers were due a day earlier than I thought, a.k.a. the next day. With only one 1.5 spaced eight page paper half written and another one zero percent written, the news about gave me a hernia. Despite my best efforts to avoid one, studying abroad would not let me get away without an all-nighter. That, combined with my monthly female condition must have made my body the perfect kitchen for a bacterial soup. I am not sure what I would have done on Tuesday without Dr. Boateng letting me leave early from class presentations to go home and sleep and giving me an extra day to finish my last assignment.

Rounding the home stretch in my #ghanalife.

Nante yie,

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Friday the 13th

Day 34
FRIDAY THE 13th of July

I don’t consider myself much of a superstitious person. But if you asked me on Friday, I would have had to stop and think about it for a second. 

Before it even began, Friday was jinxed. It all started a week prior, when I was planning a semi-spontaneous trip to Togo and Benin. I had been looking forward to it ever since Leslie and Cara (my sweet USAC alumni pals!) first told me about their crazy adventure. This weekend was our very last free three-day weekend before finals and before leaving Ghana, so I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I would go into detail about all the planning and maneuvering around class trips and exams to orchestrate the expedition, but I would be saying a lot of words just to say that it didn’t work out. As much as I’m bummed, these things happen for a reason, right? The latest news is that because it’s Togo’s election year, there has been quite a bit of rioting and striking going on, which can make it a sketchy time for a foreigner to be sight-seeing anyway.  C’est la vie!

In any event, the group spent nearly the entire day looking forward to the evening. Heard there was some kind of half-off drink special at Honeysuckle, so we thought we might head over to the Osu district to check it out. A few of us were feeling pretty famished, so we left early to get a head start on dinner. Hmm, how do I go about this play-by-play... Rna, Ridhi, and I catch a cab. Cab breaks down five minutes later. We get out. Find a different cab. Different cab gets lost. Cabbie tries to overcharge us. We refuse to pay cabbie more than we had agreed upon. Cabbie drops us off at a random gas station in Osu. We stumble around in the dark and walk all the way to Honeysuckle. Show up to find a few of our friends standing outside dejectedly because there is a 15 Cedi cover fee per person. Decide to try and find dinner elsewhere in Osu. Look for food in Osu. Restaurants are expensive. Get a call after more than an hour of stumbling that the cover at Honeysuckle would have gone toward our bill! Yet, we were so hungry and tired that we decided to settle on pizza at Mamma Mia.

I swear, pizza has to have some kind of magical properties because it really turned my night around. Probably the best veggie pizza I have ever had. On our way home, we just so happened to hop in the taxi of the sweetest cabbie in the world, Charles. Usually cabbies are polite and will make small talk, but not so with Charles. He let us in on his life... why he’s a cab driver, what he wants to do, even getting to know us and making sure we’ve visited all the best places in Accra.

When I think about it, it all sounds pretty anticlimactic in retrospect. I don't know what it is. Something about that night, about the familiar feeling of wandering around the city with good company made me feel so at home. Cheers to this. I’m going to miss this.

Nante yie,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Leaving 38 pieces of my heart in Ghana

Day 33
12 July 2012

Holy wow. I am exactly a WEEK behind on this blog. If that tells you anything about the last few days... In short, a lot of paper writing and a nasty bout of food poisoning kept me preoccupied in a not-so-pleasant way. Thankfully, I'm back on my feet today, so get ready because the floodgates are open.

Anyway! Thursday was my last day with my first graders :( Hardly over a month we spent together, and right when I am feeling like I am getting to really connect with them, I have to leave. I prepared my final "obroni lesson" for them, which was an art project that I remembered from elementary school. It's a puzzle-type project, where each child colors a design on one small square of paper. Then, I'd collect all the squares of paper and combine them, which would form the prepared message, “1U IS THE BEST.”

It was hilarious to see how the kids approached a prompt to draw and color free-form pictures. Some of them seemed really nervous; they brought their squares to me asking if they were coloring it correctly! Gotta love that about art. You really can't screw it up, haha. As I was putting the pieces together to form the poster, the kids kept trying to find sneaky ways to peek at it. I wish I could describe how good it felt to see their excitement when I revealed the final product. They all came running up to the front of the class where it was hung to read the message and to point out their own individual squares to me.

Later, Mrs. Fiawoo told me how other teachers would stop by the class to compliment the project.  I was glad to bring something new and creative to their learning environment! It felt suitable to encourage artistic creativity because it didn't seem like they have many opportunities for it. Also, I didn't find out about this until just yesterday, but Ridhi went to help in her class the day after to find out that HER teacher had organized the same project! I can't even believe it. Astfeihdskjkni SO COOL. I'm just... ahh. I feel blessed that I could make even a teensy tiny impact. I heart art.

As promised... pictures!

These photos feature mostly Bondzi, Nellie, Fadila, Jemima, Nyanyuie, Lady, Fakiiha, Abba, Sedem, Felix, Edrick, Eyram, Shaun, John Pauls, Opanin, Adwoo and Zidnabu <3

"Snap me!"

 Mrs. Fiawoo!


Playing "Down by the River"

The perfect Fadila expression. A tough cookie, this one :)

Lovely Lady.

You'd never guess that behind that devious little smirk, Felix is a wonder at drawing horses.

Sweet Sedem is so shy, it took some convincing to snap her picture!

Jemima <3

Oh, Edrick. Hahaha.

Eyram is... concerned?

Opanin! A troublemaker, but such a sweetheart. He gave me his mom's phone number saying I should call and talk to him sometime.

Nyanyuie went and fetched her sister from the kindergarten class so they could take a picture together :)

 Edrick's serious side.
Says a thousand words, hahaha. The girls were about to take a picture until the boys jumped in the way!

Our valiant attempt at a class photo. Except we were missing a lot of the class.

With Charity and Mrs. Fiawoo!

Our final project! :)!

They walked me all the way to the gate to say goodbye :'(


Nante yie,

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Village of Hope

Day 32

11 July 2012

[Hey!! Before I say anything, I have to apologize for taking so long to update. Now that we're coming close to the end, I've been trying to work on my papers for the past couple days, which has taken up what used to be my designated blogging time. I'm attempting to break the cycle today, however :)]

Wednesday was our final field trip for our Social Service Delivery Systems class. This trip was more informal than the others as we took an hour bus ride to an orphanage called the Village of Hope. I was struck by how aptly named the place is; it is a HUGE property. As our class emptied the bus, we were immediately greeted by the fresh country air and the sound of kids playing. I felt like I was standing on a little slice of Ghanaian paradise. While we took a seat in chairs underneath some shady trees to hear from the res director, we were slowly joined by a few hundred kids of all ages come to check out their visitors.

We learned that the Village of Hope is a running orphanage that welcomes not only abandoned or parentless children but also children whose families are unable to take care of them (due to mental disabilities and the like). They come here to live and attend school until they are of an age where they can go off to be trained in a specific vocation and establish themselves in the greater community.

What I found most interesting about the orphanage is that it invites couples who would like to donate their time to come and live there with their biological children and be “acting parents” for about a dozen children at a time. This way, the kids essentially have adoptive guardians to be their guides and role models and to give them a sense of family.

The facility runs entirely off of donations from the public, which has made a major impact. This was clear to see on our tour of the place. The buildings were clean, polished, and new and there was even a professional clinic. I believe it was mentioned that both the clinic and the school are open to the public! The kids have a lot of exposure to the larger community this way, and they are less confined and less segregated like other orphanages are.

I just felt so at peace at this place. Seeing how much pure, unconditional effort has gone into caring for these children gives me hope.

And oh! I almost forgot to mention, the kids SANG for us! Their choir director organized for them to perform a couple songs for us and they were just gorgeous. I took a few videos with them, but I may not be able to upload them on here until I have access to WiFi (right now I’m using a paid modem with limited data). My love for choral music knows no bounds.

Alright, better get back to being productive. These papers have no mercy!

Till next time,
Nante yie!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Entrepreneurship and questioning everything again

Day 31

10 July 2012

Tuesday was my second to last day with my kids. Guhhh, don’t get me started yet, I feel the pipes leaking already. I brought my camera that day, and we spent all of recess taking pictures together. I’m not ready to leave them yet!! :( I’ll put up the photos on Day 33, when we did our class art project!

The large part of the day I spent with my SSDS class visiting Kama Industries, a pharmaceutical company where its founder and CEO (I can’t remember his name for the life of me, so I’ll call him Bill) talked to us a bit about entrepreneurship in Ghana. It was an interesting speech, at best. He explained that there are many opportunities for entrepreneurship here, although I don’t remember him listing any specific examples. Rather, it seemed like he was describing the general mission of business, that says, hey, think you have a great idea? well, seize the opportunity and sell it. Certainly, the concept that creativity and innovation are the keys to success isn’t a new one, but I think we can all get behind it just the same. Especially if we aim to tackle such world challenges as globalization, poverty, health issues, and the global economy. My only criticism is this: can entrepreneurship really achieve these goals if they are only a means to an end, which is making money?

The irony cracks me up when I think about it. During the presentation, Bill pulled up a list of 5 M’s that are the necessary building blocks for any business venture: Materials, Machines, Money, Manpower, and Marketing. He asked us, which M do we feel is the most important of the 5? Naturally, we assumed the answer was Money. No, no, Bill objected, without Manpower, the wheels don’t turn. So, people, right? It’s people that are important. People provide the ideas, the energy, and the time to solve problems. I imagine he explains the process in depth in his book, which he offered to us for the one-time low price of 20 cedi.

Bill then led us on a short tour of the facility, where the medicines are manufactured. (We got to put on some goofy sexy blue shoe-gloves and shower caps for this part, oh baby.) Among the pungent smell of various chemicals were his employees, all participating in assembly line operations. Within the next year we hope to get some machines put in to take over these menial tasks, he mentioned. Nice thing about machines is they don’t get sick, they don’t create slander in the workplace, they don’t need vacations, they don’t get pregnant... (four of his employees are currently pregnant). Bill, you worry me. You’re starting to sound a little bit Huxleyian... But for the time being we’re glad to offer employment to these people. Phew! Saved yourself at the last second. Right? 

You can probably imagine how our group was buzzing by the time the visit was over. Entrepreneurship is well and good (American dream, anyone?), we agreed, but how can Bill endorse entrepreneurship as if it is for everyone? In his own words, Manpower is the backbone of any successful business. Well, that’s the service industry. That’s the “grunt work” per se: the people who labor, but don’t own. Where do they come from?

This is exactly what is happening in Vegas, my groupmate Queena pointed out. We’re raising two  groups of people: those who are set on the track for higher education and better careers and those who are set on the track for subordination. Her words made me stop short, so I asked her to explain. I learned more about Nevada’s education system in this one conversation that I ever had during my 20 years of living in the Reno-Carson area.

In Vegas, there is a big dichotomy between the nicer high schools in higher-income areas and the poorer high schools. The problem with the less-fortunate schools is that the system allows students to slide through, even though they have learned virtually little. Queena illustrated this with the idea of failing an assignment. How many points out of 100 would students receive if they not complete an assignment? A zero, you’d think. Actually, they would earn a 50. Still an F, but enough to grant them something, although they have done none of the work. In fact (and I have never heard of this up north), in Vegas there is such a thing called a “Certificate of Attendance.” This certificate essentially signifies that the student showed up for high school. This graduation is not as esteemed as a diploma or a G.E.D, but some employers (basically minimum wage service jobs) will accept it.

And then there’s the flipside; the students who earn 3.9 and 4.0 GPA’s in their lower-income school, despite the lack of a diversity of classes to choose from. Yet, when it comes time to take the SATs and HSPEs, they rank at the bottom in the state. Queena knows firsthand what it is like as a school counselor when honors students would come to her sobbing because they were placed into remedial level math courses for their freshman year or, at worst, did not make even the cut to go to UNR (which is viewed as the better quality of the two Unis). But it makes sense, after all, Vegas’s industry is tourism. And its Manpower? Well, let’s think about it.

Reflecting on the condition of my state’s education system, such is my #ghanalife.

Nante yie,

P.S. I think I should have named my blog "Ghana in Sixty Minutes" because that's how long it takes me to write every one of these dang posts, haha.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Getting caught up

9 July 2012

Nothing of interest happened on Monday (no joke) so here's some photos I should have posted a long time ago!

 Remember that sunrise I described on Day 3? :)

 The night market where I make daily stops to buy fresh mango, papaya, watermelon, pineapple, bananas, passionfruit, and oranges galore! And also fresh baked bread in the morning, mmm.

The colorful little playground at the basic school, where I get to visit my kids <3

 We have our classes here at the International House, which is also home to the USAC office.

Fabulously geometric landscaping inside the outdoor lobby of the International House.

 A major contrast to the U.S. that I noticed right away is residential integration. It's hard to travel far in Accra without noticing this juxtaposition: grandiose displays of wealth situated perfectly adjacent to degradation and poverty. You can see the security measures that mansion owners use, like high walls and barbed/electrified wire (I assume as a precaution from the desperate/needy). I'd be interested to learn how individuals of opposite socioeconomic statuses interact as neighbors!

A sign outside on the doorpost at the S.I.S.S. headquarters. So heartwarming to see in person the international presence of the organization (Amnesty!) I grew up with in high school.

One of the roads close to campus. As you can see, no street markings. No road signs. No speed limits. No road. Yet, people seem to manage!

A popular vocation for women is to open their own salon! Women here work magic with their hair. Braids, weaves, wigs... gorgeous stuff.

This is Brutus. He has so graciously allowed us to share his turf with him for six weeks.

A typical plate of Ghanaian cuisine! Getting my carb fix. Every. Single. Day.

This is fufu! Fufu is a kind of fat fluffy cornmeal-based ball that you're supposed to eat in small pieces. The catch? You have to swallow it, not chew it. Not everyone in our group is a fan, haha.

Nyaho! Fun times at the hospital. I won't forget them.

Abandoned concrete castles. Eerie.

At the home of my sociology idol, W.E.B. Du Bois!

Little did I know he's buried here too! I could only dream of accomplishing in twenty years what he did in two.

On the way through Accra...

At the main judicial court HQ in Accra: "Justice is NOT for sale! Justice is your right. Play your role to ensure it. Desist in taking or offering bribes."

Remember my brain-expanding visit to Kwame Nkrumah's memorial? Here's the man himself (or, at least the metal-plated version) pointing in the direction of north, toward progress.

This is the memorial itself, designed to look like the trunk of a tree. This is because Kwame Nkrumah laid the foundation with the work he did toward his vision of a united Africa. It's up to us to nurture its growth!

 Craziest vandalism I've ever heard of. This is the head of the original Kwame statue that was erected. A super devoted fan lady had taken it and displayed it in her living room for around 40 years before it was returned to the memorial. Whatchu got on that Beliebers?

 These junior high kids were visiting the memorial too! Here, they are joining us to take group photos together.

Waving goodbye. The sweetest moment of my whole day <3

Fried tilapia, plantains, cabbage and cucumber salad, and spicy banku! Mmmm.

At the oceanside of Accra we passed by a small market. I believe this is relatively close to Agbogbloshie.

I love the way mothers carry around their children on their backs. Apparently, carrying children (especially the girls) in this fashion during their development widens their hip bones so that giving birth later in life is virtually painless for them. Also, a baby is close to the mother's heartbeat, which lulls them to sleep in minutes! My entire time here I have not seen a single baby crying while it is being carried like this.

The art market! Where I never hope to spend extended amounts of time again, PHEW.

1957 - Happy birthday, Ghana!

The new presidential palace! Where the legislature is held.

I believe that somewhat catches my trip up to speed, photo-wise!

Nante yie,