Wednesday, May 20, 2009



Both flights home were easy and uneventful, and we somehow managed to completely avoid customs when we got to O'Hare, I'm still not sure what happened there. We made it home in about six and a half hours, so I was back here about 10:30 last night. Seeing my family was one of the best feelings ever!!! I've been sleeping and relaxing and applying for summer jobs most of today and just taking it easy, it's pretty great!

I should have a few more posts over the next few weeks with random things to share, so check back in now and again. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Burkina Faso!

May 5th-11th

May 5th through the 11th was a crazy adventure to Burkina Faso. Burkina is directly North of Ghana, about 24 hours away from Accra (the capital city of Ghana). Clara and I left here on Tuesday morning, and after an incredibly long bus ride (which broke down at 1:00 in the morning and we sat by the side of the road for one hour) we reached Paga, which is right on the border. We made it through customs just fine, despite Clara and I speaking zero French and having to purchase a visa and then off we went to Ouagadougou, about four hours away and the capital of Burkina Faso. When we reached Ouagadougou we made it to a Mennonite guest house that we were staying at and then we had to wait for Kristen, our friend who spoke French.

When Kristen made it to the Mennonites we decided to explore around Ouagadougou. We had to bargain with a taxi driver for quite some time to get them to take us in to town, most of the taxi drivers were big jerks the whole time we were there. They refused to quote us a low price and spoke in fast, bad, French, making bargaining close to impossible. We reached the center of town finally and wandered around and found a really cute little cafe that had delicious fresh juices and cheese sandwiches, yum! Right down the street from the cafe was a chocolate shop!!! Something I had not seen for almost 4 months! I had an amazing piece of dark chocolate and when we explained to the shop owner that we had been without good chocolate for 4 months she gave us some more for free! I love that woman! While wandering around some more we found a woman who was selling all sorts of handmade things, and we had a lot of fun talking and joking and bargaining with her. She ended up really liking us and dashed us each a bracelet! (People selling things will sometimes “dash you” something extra if they like you or if you by a lot.) Dinner was pizza and pasta with lots of cheese!

Wednesday morning we took off for Loumbila where we had read about a goat cheese farm and camel riding. We got to see how they make the goat cheese (it involved a weird medal contraption with tubes and three plastic buckets) and also the finished product. Then out came a camel!! I'm not sure if seeing/riding camels is a normal part of the tour of this place, but our book had mentioned it, and the guys there seemed confused, but happy enough to bring out a camel. So out came this awesome looking camel, and we got to pet her and feed her, and then ride her! I must say, riding camels is not the most comfortable thing I have ever done, but it was still pretty cool. That afternoon we found an American restaurant and had delicious tex-mex food, something I have been missing a lot! We spent a lot more time just wandering around Ouagadougou and seeing the town.

Thursday morning we took off for Bobo, which is the second biggest city in Burkina Faso. The bus ride there was fairly uneventful, although we did run over a pig, which didn't seem to phase the bus driver one bit. Bobo is a fairly small town, but it's really easy to navigate (this is not true for any other place I have been) so we were able to spend time just wandering around and seeing all sorts of things. They have a wonderful market and I found some awesome fabric that I was able to really bargain them down for the price. We also found a great bakery that seems to constantly be baking fresh baguette. Also, frozen yogurt is popular in Bobo, and it's really good, so a lot of that was eaten too.

Friday morning we went to Banfora (about 90 minutes from Bobo) and then we saw hippos!!! We went out on the lake in a little pirogue (a super shallow, low to the water, canoe) and we got to watch the hippos swim around and see their ears wiggle a whole lot. Those things are massive!!! Then we were off to Karfiguela Falls where we got to hike to the top of the waterfall and look all the way down to the pool below. We then hiked back down and waded around in the water for awhile to cool down. Also, in case you were wondering, it was 42 degrees Celsius that day, and for those of you who are bad at converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, that means it was 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit. IT WAS HOT! Also, the bus ride back had 60 people crammed into a 40 person bus for 90 minutes, I have definitely done more enjoyable things than that ride in my life.

Our bus to get us from Bobo back to Ouagadougou was leaving at 11:00 p.m. that night. Luckily, the hotel we stayed at the night before let us use the shower again, so this way we could at least be clean for our long ride home. We showered and then spent a lot of time sitting at this restaurant, eating dinner and waiting for 11:00 to roll around so we could leave. We reached Ouagadougou at about 4:00 in the morning, waited until 6:00 for the next bus to Kumasi, and then hopped on for the long 20 hour bus ride there. We reached Kumasi somewhere around 10:30 p.m. (the bus only broke down once!) and then got one last bus to do the 4 hour drive in to Accra. We finally reached campus at about 3:30 in the morning. Overall, we spent 31 hours in transit to get home. CRAZY!

So that was Burkina Faso, it was a pretty good trip, but definitely full of challenges. Public transportation is expensive, haggling with taxi drivers is a pain, and the pigeon French made communication really hard. Despite all that, I'm still really glad we made it and we definitely had a good time!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Note On Final Exams

*I haven't gotten a chance to write up my Burkina Faso adventures yet, but here is something to hold you over until then. I wrote this right after my first exam and just forgot to post it until now. I am alive and well and back in Ghana, and will try to post about Burkina asap.*

A Note On Final Exams

Last Monday I had my first exam here at the University and it pretty much worked out like most things here, not anything like it was supposed to, but nothing was really wrong with how it happened.

First off, you only know the date and time of your exam, not the location. The location isn't posted until a day or two before, for reasons I'm still not fully sure about. So on Sunday I went hunting for the location of my exam and and it wasn't anywhere on any of the venue sheets. So I panicked, worried about having missed my final and called my program director. For whatever reason my test location wasn't put on the sheet, but it was still happening and luckily my director found out where.

Second odd thing: My professor said there would be six questions on the exam and we had to choose three. There were five questions, not six, which doesn't matter that much, except it really gives you less choices that are kind of necessary.

Third: The professor said there would be two questions on AIDS/HIV, there was one, and it wasn't even really a question on what she talked about in class.

Fourth: There also was supposed to be two questions on what could be done in the future to stop the spread of AIDS. This question was mixed with the only one question about AIDS and she asked why people didn't have better behavior about protecting themselves from AIDS, despite the knowledge being provided. We never once discussed that in class.

Fifth: The professor GUARANTEED that there would be the question “why is the AIDS rate so much higher among heterosexual couples than homosexual couples?” We talked about this at length the last day of class and I was well prepared to answer it. The question was nowhere on the exam.

So when it all came down to it, one of the questions I had prepared wasn't there, and she also gave us one less option, plus combining what should have been four different questions into one. I was still able to find three questions I could answer, but the whole thing was just so odd and so different from anything in the states.

I'll be interested to see how the next three go.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Togo and Benin!!!

*I should warn you all, this is a long post. I seem to struggle with being concise and not giving lots of details. But lots of things happen in Africa, so I want to include it all!*

This past week was an adventure to Togo and Benin. Togo is directly East of Ghana, and Benin East of Togo, so each country is only about three hours apart.

We (Kristin, Sarah, Clara and I) left for Togo early Tuesday morning. We hopped on a tro in Madina and paid our 5.50 cedis and we were off to Togo. Unfortunately I had a very large women at the end of my row, so the guy sitting next to me was leaning up really close to me and he did not smell particularly good, so it was kind of a long three hours. Crossing the border from Ghana to Togo was no problem, and conveniently, the hotel we stayed at was about 3 blocks away from the border, so we could just walk right there. Our hotel was really simple, we had two beds, two fans, and a small bathroom where you could literally use the toilet, shower, and wash your hands all from the same spot. But for the equivalent of about 6 dollars a night, I figure it's a pretty good deal. Also, our hotel was directly across the street from the beach, so you couldn't beat the view!

Togo was absolutely amazing! I had so much fun while being there and I loved just having a break from Accra. Everything in Lome (the capital of Togo) seemed more relaxed to me and there wasn't as much yelling and everyone just seemed really friendly. Also, because they speak French in Togo, they don't yell Obruni, they say La Blanche or Mon Chere, both of which sound much nicer than Obruni. Also, they use Moto Taxis (motorcycles) which Ghana should really start doing. They were so much fun, and they're cheap, and they can weave around stopped traffic much more easily and it just makes getting places really easy. We spent most of Tuesday wandering around Lome and the big market they had. We had avocado sandwiches for lunch, which was a lot like eating a guacamole sandwich, avocado and tomatoes and onions and salt, all on fresh baguette, so delicious! For the night we went to a random restaurant we found that had a really odd variety of menu choices, but I was able to get a beef shwarma wrap that was really tasty, for the equivalent of about 3 dollars. Then we walked down to an ice cream store!! It was real ice cream and it was so good! The waiters there really got a kick out of us four white girls, so they were really generous with our servings, so I got mint chocolate chip, chocolate, and something called crunch, which tasted a lot like a snickers bar. I don't think ice cream has ever tasted so good to me,

Wednesday morning we got up early and headed off to Kpolime, where we wanted to see a butterfly garden. If you're curious about how public transportation works in West Africa, let me enlighten you. Buses leave when they are full, and never before then. So we got to the station at 8:00 a.m. and we left 9:30 a.m. quite a long wait in the sun in a stuffy tro. Also, tros need to be stuffed as much as possible to make more money, so in a vehicle meant for 16 people, we had 22. It's about a two hours ride to Kpolime and with 22 people, it certainly was not comfortable. Clara and I had to take turns leaning forwards or back against the seat so that we each had enough room. And mind you, it's somewhere around 90 degrees (if not hotter) so everyone is hot and sweaty and smelly. Overall, not the most enjoyable tro ride ever, but hey, it's done now. Kpalime was a really neat town where people seemed to speak an odd mix of Ewe and French, making translating somewhat difficult for Kristen. Lonely Planet had told us that we should try to find someone in town who could guide us around the butterfly garden, so we asked around, and Kristie spent a long time bargaining with someone, and we eventually settled on a price that included a driver, a car, and a guided tour, so off we went. The guide (who's name I think was Momo) was able to show us all sorts of neat things, including a waterfall, and a mountain where you could see most of Togo from one side, and then part of Ghana from the other. When we eventually got to the butterfly gardens though, the man in charge there said that the butterflies would be gone for the next three months. Now, Momo had told us that he does this tour all the time, so we figure, if you do this all the time, wouldn't you know that the butterflies would be gone? But Momo kept insisting he had no idea what was going on and that he was very surprised to hear any of this. We still don't really believe him. With that not working he offered instead to walk us along a path so we could see different fruits and veggies growing. That actually worked out and he even got a cocoa pod down for us so we could munch on the seeds. In case you're wondering, cocoa seeds taste like melon more than anything, not cocoa. And you suck on them, don't chew! When we got back in to town and we payed Momo he got mad because he said our money only included the driver and the car, and that we also needed to pay him for guiding us. Kristen explained to him that we had already agreed on the price and we weren't going to pay more. Then he got mad because he said we were cheating him, but we were mad because we hadn't even seen butterflies and we had already paid more than we wanted to. Momo ended up getting really mad and we were just as frustrated, so we gave him a 1,000 cefa note (about 3 dollars) and left. It was less than he asked for, but more than we wanted to give, so we figured that was fair. Then we luckily found a really nice guy who quickly found us an already full tro and we headed back to Lome. Despite the butterfly garden not working out, and fighting with Momo at the end, it was still a really day.

Thursday morning we headed off to Cotonou, the capital of Benin. We had read that there were buses that went from Lome to Cotonou on a daily basis, but couldn't find them. While talking to the taxi drivers about where the buses might be we were told “there are no buses, they left with colonization” Probably one of the best quotes I have heard my whole time of being here. We never were able to find the buses, so we took a shared taxi there. Now, most cars fit 3 people in the back and 2 people in the front counting the driver. Not how they do it in West Africa. Here, a full taxi means 7 people. The driver in his spot, 2 people in the passenger seat and 4 in the backseat. Not the best set up for a country that is hot and humid, but hey, it meant we paid about 10 dollars to get all the way to Benin. Also,in case you were wondering, Benin is 1 hour ahead of Ghana, which we figured out after we were confused how it took us four hours to do a three hour trip and none of our clocks matched up with any of the ones in Benin.

We stayed with some friends of friends in Benin which was a huge money saver and the people were incredibly nice! They were Preced and Victor, and they had a daughter and son who were both really sweet. The boy was 4 years old and you could tell that he kind of ruled the roost. He was really cute and definitely knew how to get what he wants. The family seems very well off, their house was really nice, and it was air conditioned, which you don't usually find. This meant two wonderful nights of sleeping in the cold and not sweating, woo hoo! Most of Thursday was taken up with traveling, but we were able to go all around the big market in Cotonou, which seemed a lot like the markets here, but this time with everyone yelling in French.

Friday morning we headed off to Ganvia, which is a stilt village in Benin. It was really neat to to see the stilt village since literally everything was on stilts. There was a very small patch of actual land that had a few houses/buildings, but besdies that, everything was above the water. There were canoes of all shapes and sizes with people of all ages going throughout the village. The kids were adorable and always seemed excited about seeing white people. We canoed there and back, so it meant about three hours in the water, with no shade, and an awfully bright sun, so it was definitely one of the hotter activities I have ever done. After Ganvia we headed off to Ouidah (pronounced wee-duh) where we had wanted to see a museum on the history of Ouidah, but it was closed. Turns out that the first of May is more or less the West African version of Labor Day, so most everything was closed. Ouidah is known for it's voodoo practices, and this museum was supposed to have a neat section on the history of voodoo and the current role it plays for Ouidah, so we were bummed we couldn't see that. We did make it to the Sacred Forest, where they had different statues depicting important symbols and figures in the voodoo religion (over 50% of people living in Benin practice voodoo), so at least we got a small taste of what it's about. We then decided to do the Route des Esclaves, which is the route taken by slaves when they were brought to the ships that would take them away from Africa. Our book told us it was a 4 km walk, which seemed very doable, but it was much longer than that. We walked for probably about two hours, always thinking that we must almost be there. By the time you reach the beach there is an archway saying “point of no return” and it is a memorial dedicated to the slaves. It was good to see, but had we known how long the walk was actually going to be, I think we would have done moto taxis instead. We originally thought it would be funny to drive along the route that is so known for it's history. However, the road is now the major one used to get to the beach, and there is no path, you just along the side of this very dusty, very busy road, so a vehicle probably would have really been our best choice. We got back to Preced and Victor's at about 7:30, had dinner, and pretty much all fell asleep by 10:00. I think between all the sun and all the walking, we were just way to tired!

Saturday morning Sarah and Kristen headed off to the North of Benin while Clara and I headed back for Accra. I am quite proud of us for making it all the way through Benin and Togo without either of us really knowing how to speak French. With enough pointing and my extremely basic knowledge of French and most of the customs peoples knowledge of English, we got through ok. Luckily, our taxi driver from Cotonou to Lome was great and he drove us right to the Lome/Ghana border, so we got to avoid a lot of interactions there. It took about 8 hours to get all the way back, but we safely made it! Also, that means I was in three countries in one day on Saturday, how cool!!

So there was our great adventure to the East of Ghana. I'm really happy that we did it and it was great to see a new part of the world! Monday is another exam (Regionalism and Ethnicity in Ghana) and then Tuesday morning Clara and I take off for Burkina Faso! It's a 24 hour bus ride, with some stops, but it's air conditioned and everyone has their own seat, so at least we'll be comfortable. We'll meet up with Kristen there and travel all around for a few days, hopefully seeing hippos and crocodiles in Bobo! I have no internet or phone service in Burkina, so it will be another week or so until you hear from me again. And just a week after I am back from Burkina Faso, I leave for home! Tuesday the 18th will be here in no time and then I will be back to real water and electricity, both of which have really been lacking lately. And studying for an exam anytime after 7:00 p.m. is pretty hard when there is no light to read your notes by. This sure will make taking exams next year at Morris seem like nothing!

See you all soon!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Adventures Schedule

Here is my grand adventure plan for those of you who are curious:

April 22nd-24th: Elmina Castle, Nzuelzo Stilt Village

April 25th-27th: Study for and then take Culture, Gender, and Reproductive Health final exam

April 28th-May 1st: Togo and Benin (w/ Clara and Kristin and Sarah)

May 2nd-4th: Study for and then take Regionalism and Ethnicity in Ghana final exam

May 5th-10th: Burkina Faso, Crocodile Sanctuary, Hippopotamus Sanctuary

May 11th-May 13th: Study for and then take Human Rights in Africa final exam

May 14th-May 16th: Study for and then take Penology final exam

May 17th: Be baffled as to of how my time is already gone, spend one more day at the beach, pack

May 18th: Worry and panic about not enough suitcase room, desperately rearrange things in the hopes to make them fit better. 10:30 p.m. take off for Heathrow Airport

May 19th: Arrive in Heathrow at 6:30 a.m. entirely confused, find chocolate, wait for next plane. 11:30 a.m. board plane, fly to O'Hare. Arrive at O'Hare having lost 5 hours somewhere along the way. Make it through customs, find Clara's parents, cry and hug them ecstatically. 2:30 p.m. hop in the car, head to Saint Paul. 9:30 p.m. arrive at home, repeat crying and hugging ecstatically, take a hot shower, go to bed.

So there you have it, the next month of my life. The last two days are particularly well planned out, haha. Today is April 18th, which means exactly on month to go until I leave for home, so crazy!! And I'm quite sure time is going to fly with all these trips! Also, if you were going to send me mail, you should send it now or not at all. Anytime past this week, it probably won't get to me before I leave. Feel free to send e-mails instead! :) I miss you all and hope you're having as much fun as me! :)

The president of Ghana, waterfalls, and monkeys

What a great weekend! This weekend was the last of our four CIEE trips and I think it was probably my favorite one. We went to the Volta Region, where I hadn't been yet, and went to Wli Waterfalls and a mokey sanctuary! I also saw the president of Ghana, John Atta Mills, purely by chance, but it was so cool! The hotel we stayed at was having a shopping mall of sorts constructed by it and Mills is really big on developing Ghana, so he came out to give a short speech about how important this progress was. Security didn't let us get to close to him, but he drove past in his motorcade and waved to the few of us who were outside, it was awesome! I have now seen in person, the president of my home country and the president of my temporarily home country. I'm pretty impressed with myself. :)

Saturday afternoon we had an early lunch at the hotel and then we drove about two hours to Wli falls. We had a 45 minute hike through the jungle which meant a break from the sun, but holey moley the humidity was crazy! The forest was so green and gorgeous, but it was hard to see everything, because a lot of time was spent making sure I didn't fall on my face since the path was pretty rough. There were some people doing the walk in flip-flops and I'm surprised no one broke an ankle, I was pretty thankful for my Merrell's and for my dad being smart enough to make me get some. By the time we reached the falls I was pretty sweaty, but my problem was conveniently solved by the 60 meter high waterfall that I got to swim into! The water was a little chilly, but not much worse than any MN water in late May, I think most people were just babies. It was so cool to swim under the actual waterfall, and then we went behind it and looked up from there and that was amazing! It was something of an uncomfortable walk back with a wet bathing suit, but it was so worth it for the falls! I have some cool pictures, but you all will have to wait for those until May. And someone on the trip has a picture of me in the falls, so there is proof! Dinner was back at the hotel, and afterwards some of us went for a night time swim, which was almost as good as the falls, haha. Night time is never all that cold (at least not for me) so it was great to have warm air around me and a cold pool to swim around in. Plus, it was night time, no worries of sun burn for me, woo-hoo! I enjoyed an amazing hot shower and then slept in an air conditioned room, sooooo nice!

Sunday morning was a breakfast of beans, toast, eggs, and steamed lettuce (pretty common around here) and then we were off to Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. These monkeys are pretty used to tourists and they're calm, so we got to feed them! They came up so close to us and really happily grabbed the bananas and ate from our hands. It was great to see them up so close and their jumping abilities are pretty impressive. I fed one monkey who happily sat by me while eating, and then another mama monkey who had a tiny baby monkey attached to her. Pretty sure it was one of the cutest things I have ever seen! Again, there are pictures, but you will have to wait until I am home.

Between swimming in a waterfall and feeding monkeys, I had a very African experience weekend. Which is good, it reminds me of why I choose to come to Ghana and not a more developed or more like America country. Of course, when I got back, the water was out all over my dorm, and I was back to wondering why not England or Ireland, haha.

I got my Visa for Togo last Thursday, and on Tuesday I am getting one for Benin, so that trip should be good to go! Also, this Wednesday I leave for Elmina Castle and a stilt village. Elmina Castle is in Cape Coast, where I have been before, but my tour of Cape Coast Castle was kind of a let down, so I'm going to try again with Elmina this time. From there we take off to Nzuelzo stilt village and hopefully this will go better than the planned trip we were supposed to go on, that never happened, when at 4:00 in the morning, there was still no bus. We come back Saturday and then I'll study like crazy for my first exam on Monday. It's crazy to think how soon those are happening! EEK! I've got all sorts of trips planned out for the next few weeks, but I will save your eyes, and put those in another post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Still Alive

Hello All!

Sorry for not being better about posting, but the internet has been particularly slow these past few weeks, so getting blgoger to work is always a challenge.

The past two weeks or so have been filled with different things. I purchased fabric a ways back and was finally able to have clothesm madfe with it. I found a great (and cheap) seamstress who is incredibly nice and does really good work, so I'm very pleased with my clothes. I've been to the beach a few times (don't worry Mom, always with sunscreen). Last weekend I toured a prison in Nsawma (a small town outside of Accra) which was quite interesting. 5 men live in a cell that's about 1/4 the size of an average college dorm room. There is no shade anywhere and there is always noise. I recommend never doing anything illegal to anyone who comes to Ghana. This past weekend was Easter, which means all of last week and this past weekend was filled with church services. My one suitemate can't believe that I had no plans to go to chuch at all. I went to Palm Sunday service and that was enough for me. Clara (one of the girls on the trip with me) went to Easter service with her host family and it was 7 hours long! Needless to say, I'm ok with having not experienced that. For easter itself, Clara and I went to Gail and Stu's (the folks who work for the Embassy) and that was really nice! We met three of their friends and had delicious turkey and salads and lemon merengue, yum! We also got to sleep there, which means air-conditioning and real blankets, woo-hoo!

This is the last week of classes here, although three of my four are already done. Two classes ended two weeks ago, and one class ended last week. So I just have the one class today and then I am done! Next week is revision week, and then exams begin for three weeks. It's weird to think that I am done with classes here, I kind of feel as if we're just now starting to learn things.

Planning for my different trips is starting. I'm hoping to make it to Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso, and then a few different places within Ghana. Once I know my travel schedule I'll keep you all updated! I have a feeling that my last three weeks here are going to go pretty quickly, because I'll either be studying, taking a final, or traveling. So I will spend the next two weeks getting ready for all that.

This time in exactly 5 weeks, I will be boarding a plane in Heathrow headed to O'Hare, this is crazy! While I love being here, I will definitely be glad to be headed home, but I'm glad I've still got lots of travel time to go!

Happy Tuesday!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kumasi Weekend

This weekend was a CIEE trip to Kumasi and it was absolutely amazing! We had planned to leave at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and we took off from campus at 6:45 a.m. which is really good for Ghana! We also took two buses, so there were spots for everyone right from the beginning, something else that doesn't always seem to happen here, haha.

We arrived in Kumasi around noon, had lunch at Pizza Inn (yum, pizza!) and then we split into two groups and we were off to two different villages in Kumasi. Quick geography lesson: There are 10 regions in Ghana, Kumasi is one of them. Ashanti is the capital of the Kumasi region. OK! My group first went to an Adinkra village, where we got to watch them make the ink they use for stamping and then got to try our own hand at stamping cloth. For those of you who are curious, Adrinka is the name for different symbols the Ashanti's have that mean different things. There is a very common symbol you see all over Ghana that means “except God” which is just one of the many they have. There's all sorts of others: humility, unity, fertility, go back to your roots, etc. So this village, has these symbols carved out of wood, and then they make their own liquid dye, and stamp pieces of cloth and then sell the cloth to make a living. Since there were 25 Obruni's, I think the village was more excited about what they could sell us, then showing us how they did it, but I still really enjoyed it.

The next stop was a Kente cloth village. Kente cloth handwoven cloth, and it is traditionally worn by chiefs, people with honor, or people with lots of money, because it is very costly. There are different patterns that are made for different ethnicities, different chiefs, whatever it may be, a Kente cloth pattern can be made specifically for one person. The looms they use to weave are really neat, and I got some great pictures, which you can all see in May, because I don't think the internet will ever work fast enough here. I met a man named Peter inside this workshop who said he had been weaving Kente cloth for 21 years, and he has done some pretty impressive work. He was very proud of the different things he has made and his skills with Kente, and he was really happy when I took a picture of him with his loom. He also didn't pester me while I was looking at his cloth for sale, so that gave him lots of brownie points too. Leaving the Kente cloth village we somewhat accosted by all of the people trying to sell knick knacks to us on our way back to the bus. A few of them men kept trying to force their way on to the bus so we would buy something, and it ended up being quite an adventure of letting CIEE people on the bus, but keeping the hawkers out of it. Kind of crazy, but we're all still alive.

After that we drove through the Kumasi Central Market, which is the biggest in West Africa, and I believe it! There were shops/stalls/people everywhere you looked! We were going to walk through it, but after we tried to for just 10 minutes, it was much to crowded and we had to give up. It was kind of nice driving through the market though, because traffic is horrible, so we sat for a long time on the bus and really got to see lots of things. And all this without the hassle of being bothered by people to buy things, so nice!

After that we were off to the hotel which was sooooooooooo nice. It was the Golden Tulip, which is apparently an international chain, and they sure know how to make things fancy. I completely forget that I was even in Ghana. The carpet was super plush and soft, everywhere was comfortably cool, and there was a bathtub and hot water! I took two baths while we were there! :) Apparently Mr. Gyasi (our program coordinator) is friends of a friends who has some kind of connection to the hotel, so we got a great deal on it. Another awesome part to the hotel was that the Black Stars were staying there! So when we would be walking around the hotel, we would randomly see them around, it was awesome! I'm pretty sure all of us were much more excited than any of them, haha. After a delicious dinner with real salad and fruit, I took an hour long bath and then happily curled up in my bed, with a comforter and watched TV, it was so wonderful!

Sunday morning I woke up not feeling well at all, and was hoping it was just from lack of food, but after eating breakfast I still felt nauseous and really not up to doing much. There was a planned trip to one of the museums in Kumasi, but I was really worried about missing out on the football match later in the day, so I stayed at the hotel and just rested for the morning. I'm not going to lie, I took a second bath and just read in my comfy bed, and it was one of the best things ever. I also drank a ton of liquids and that seemed to help as well.

At 1:00 we took off for the football match which was starting at 5:00, but I guess you have to get there early. The match was Ghana verses Benin and it was a qualifying match for the World Cup in 2010 (which is happening in South Africa). I guess games that matter for World Cup can be pretty intense and full of people, so I think CIEE wanted to be sure to get us there early enough to be safe. On our way in, there were people everywhere, and one of the girls had her wallet stolen. She realized it the second it happened though and ran after the guy and yelled thief really loudly. Everyone close by immediately went after the guy, and her wallet was found on the ground, everything in it, in a matter of about 20 seconds, but it was intense. We had been told that thievery is taken very seriously here and this really proved it. Ghanaians who had been standing by closed in around the thief and wouldn't let him go until police came by, and from there who knows what happened. We still had a ways to go to get to our seats and a lot of people to get through. Abena and Alex (two CIEE leaders) made sure we all had everything really safely in our possession and then we pushed our way through everyone. I felt hands on me everywhere and people trying to reach into where my pockets would be and making grabs for anything. Everyone made it through fine, but the whole experience left me kind of rattled and really glad that we hadn't tried getting through the crowd on our own.

At this point it's about 2:00 in the afternoon and we have three hours to go before the game. I thought I would be bored, but I was so wrong. The fans at theses games are awesomely crazy. There were so many “fan clubs” (as they call themselves) of the Black Stars, or of Black Stars players and most every club had their own mini marching band, so there were trumpets, drums, and loud instruments everywhere. And everyone danced, the whole time! The game went until 7:30 p.m. and they all were dancing and singing the whole time! Ghana won the game, which was great, but unfortunately, the first and only goal was within the first minute of the game, so there was never another time for everyone to go absolutely crazy, which is to bad. It was definitely a great game to watch and an experience unlike anything I've ever had. It was really neat to see how proud the Ghanaians are of their athletes.

Dinner wasn't until 9:00 p.m. which meant most everyone was starving, but I think CIEE thought ahead on that one, because there was lots of food put out for us. After dinner was more laying around in my incredibly comfortable bed and Ocean's 13 was on TV, wooo! Monday morning was just breakfast at 8:00 and then we hit the road. We couldn't leave on Sunday night because that would get us into Accra in the middle of the night, which wouldn't be safe for anyone, so we got an extra night in amazing luxury and then made good time Monday morning with lack of traffic on the roads. I've got to say, while I loved living so comfortably for those 48 hours, it was kind of hard because it made me realize how much I miss my normal lifestyle at home. I mean, all of the things that made being in the hotel so wonderful, were simple things that I usually have at home. Hot water, soft carpet, not sweating, sleeping with a blanket, wearing pants. None of it was anything fancy, just things that I am used to. So being there made me somewhat homesick, but I think it's worth it for how relaxed and comfortable we all were. And in just seven weeks I will have all those things again! Before that though, I still have hippos and crocodiles, stilt villages, and Togo and Burkina Faso to see!

Sorry this post ended up being so long, but it was a good weekend! Feel free to send a letter my way letting me know how you're doing. Getting mail while I am here is always exciting, and I posted my address, so no excuses! :) For those of you in MN, I hope Spring in finally on it's way!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Great Weekend!

Just a quick note to let you all know that I am alive after my weekend in Kumasi. It was absolutely wonderful and involved staying at one of the nicest hotels every. I will get a blog post up in a few days all about it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trip Time!

This weekend is a trip to Kumasi (a main region in Ghana) with CIEE. We will got a village known for Kenti Cloth, as well as apparently the largest outdoor market in West Africa. On Sunday we will go to a Black Stars game (the National Football (soccer) Team of Ghana) and watch the game against Benin which is one of the qualifying games for the World Cup. It should be pretty awesome. The best part to the trip is that it is all arranged by CIEE, so I don't have to worry about a single thing, for 48 hours, woo-hoo!

I'm sending some of our sun and heat to help melt the snow and bring Spring back to MN. :)

P.S. I am still hunting for a summer job for June-August 2009, if anyone knows of anything, please let me know!

Monday, March 23, 2009

A wonderful few days

Thursday through Sunday of this week were really good. Thursday night we went to Bywels (a local bar) where there was live high life music and it was so much fun to be with people my age and dancing and not on campus. The bar atmosphere made everything fun and the music was great for dancing. It reminded me a lot of how I would spend time in Morris, so that was really good.

Friday morning was a failed beach trip, but it meant we were at 37 station, so we went to the massive veggie stand there and got lots of veggies for sandwiches and that was dinner which was so good! Avocado, cucumber, green pepper, tomatoes, and fresh baguette, made for such a delicious meal! I think I am going to try to start buying veggies for the whole week sometime during the weekend, and then I can have veggie sandwiches for some of my meals and have a nice break from rice or pasta.

Friday night we went and saw the Pan African Orchestra and they are great! The concert was outside and it was night, so it wasn't all that hot, and it was good music and it was neat to watch them play. Sarah's boyfriend Moussa plays with them, and he actually had quite a few solos, so he must really know what he's doing. Rumor has it that the Orchestra is coming to the States in the fall, so I am going to keep my eyes open for them, it'd be great to see again if they're anywhere close to MN.

Saturday morning we tackled Makola market which is the biggest market in Accra, it is absolutely insane in size and everything that is there. We tackled primarily the fabric section of the market, and we were able to find a woman who was inside of a building, so we were out of the sun and the crazy rush of people, meaning we got to slowly look at fabric and choose the ones we really wanted. And she sold it to us for cheap too, which is always appreciated. I got two different prints and am going to have one dress made and two shirts, I'm pretty excited. Also at Makola were all these different types of foods, giant snails included. When I say giant, I really mean giant. There were some that were bigger than a tennis ball, it's insane! They are just massive! Some of the home stay people in my program have said that their hosts have fed them snails, and it's not anything all that pleasant. I'm kind of glad I've been able to avoid that. I'm getting better and better at not being overwhelmed by people constantly badgering me to buy things at markets, so that made being at Makola much easier. I went in to it with the mindset that people might bother me, but to just ignore it, and I think that helped. Yes, there were people who grabbed me and hissed at me, but I just didn't let it bother me and it made the whole experience much better and more enjoyable.

Saturday evening Clara and I got to go to Gail and Stu's (who we met through a friend of Clara's dad) and they work for the U.S. Embassy, so they have a really nice, Western style, house. We had showers with hot water, cheese and crackers and doritos(!), a dinner of tacos and salad with chocolate chip cake for desert, mass amounts of juice, running water, clean bathrooms, and air conditioning. It was absolutely amazing. And we got to spend the night, so I slept in air conditioning too. It was so nice to wake up in the morning and not feel sweaty or gross. And it was quiet! So wonderful!

Sunday morning we had a tasty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and hashbrowns which was such a nice change from the normal pb&j of most mornings. Then Gail, Stu, Clara and I took off for campus and Clara and I were able to give them a tour of campus which was fun. We did it in the car, which made it much more bearable, and it was nice to know that we had something we could do for them, after they have done so much for us. I had forgotten just how massive this campus is until we drove all over it. Thank goodness I only have to go to a few places throughout my class week here. Both Gail and Stu seemed happy to be able to see the campus (they hadn't seen it yet in their 2 years here) and it was nice feeling like I actually knew things about what I was talking about. Generally I am the one asking questions, haha. OH! And when we left Gail and Stu's they sent us off with homemade wheat bread, cheddar cheese (AMAZING!), leftover chocolate chip cake, chocolate frosting, and a bag of dove chocolates. And then a bunch of plastic ware too, which we can always use! The generosity of the two of them is incredible and it made the past 24 hours so much better. Just being in a house, and somewhere quiet and comfortable was so nice and put me in such a positive mood. I owe Gail and Stu big time!

Last I heard it was 58 and sunny in Saint Paul, sounds like you've got good weather. It's still about a million degrees here, but I'm happy you all aren't sweating. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Halfway There

This past Sunday marked the end of week 9 in our 18 week program, meaning I am officially halfway done, and tomorrow (March 18th) means I have only two months left in Ghana, holey moley! It's weird to think that I'm already halfway done ad will be home so soon. The first month flew by, but now that I am getting used to things, time doesn't seem to go fly by quite as much. What I have figured out is that the days tend to go slowly, but the weeks fly by, making time pass pretty quickly.

There are only 5 weeks of classes left (counting this week), and then there is a Revision Week, and then 3 weeks of finals, and then I'm done! Just like that! During the 3 weeks of finals I have lots of plans for traveling (Togo, Burkina Faso, Northern Region of Ghana) so I know that it is going to go by super quickly. And when I plan the rest of my time out here weekend by weekend to figure out what trips I want to go, it feels like I have no time left here at all! I'm excited for traveling and seeing new parts of Ghana, as well as adding new countries in to my passport!

I can tell that I am getting more used to things and that ways of life are making more sense to me as time goes on. Riding the tros seems so much easier. I know what ones go where and the general cost of getting there so that I don't get ripped off. I can go to a market, look around for what I want, or just look around in general, and not get bothered by the vendors constantly calling to me. I know camps so much better. How to get to the bank, to the CIEE office, to Akuafo Hall with it's places to eat. Getting by as a whole isn't as much of a challenge any more either and I'm just more comfortable with how to do things. It's really nice. And last night I successfully made made sandwiches, having purchased all of the ingredients on my own and from different places around campus, I am very proud of myself! (Also, for those of you at home, I got a huge avocado for 50 pesewas (about 45 cents) that was delcioius! Not something you're going to find at Cub or Rainbow.)

There are many small annoyances that still get to me, but all of it will be bearable for just 2 more months. Taxi's honk non-stop here. And when waiting for a tro-tro, the taxis will pull up and bother us and ask us where we're going for a good minute before realizing that we will not be riding with them. Also, people hiss here to get your attention. So when walking around the city, if someone wants to sell you something or ask you for money, they will hiss. It is not something I enjoy. I know that many of the things that bother me are just a matter of cultural differences, so I am trying to stay patient and understanding, but man oh man, it sure will make me appreciate a lot of things one I am back home.

My mom told me the other day that I really am having an abroad experience, and it's really true. There is nothing that I do here that is the same as at home. Which is good, I mean, I know I am gaining an amazing perspective on life because of it, and the sociologist in me especially loves seeing all the differences. Seeing elephants, having it assumed that I am rich because I'm white, having Ghanaians grin when I asked for more shitto (a spicy pepper sauce), making tro-tro mates laugh when I say meda ase (thank you in Twi) as I hop off, and everything else that happens in my random daily adventures, make me so happy that I am here and having this experience. Don't worry though, I will still be happy to see all of you when I am home! :)

Monday, March 9, 2009


March 5th-7th

Thursday to Saturday was an adventure to Mole National Park. Mole is in the North of Ghana, and is known for elephants, monkeys, warthogs, antelopes and other wild game. We went with the Computer Science Student Association, so it was about 45 African students, and then us few Obruni's on the bus. In true Ghana fashion, a million things didn't go as planned, yet everything worked out somehow. For starters, we were told to be to the car park to get on the bus at 3:30 on Thursday afternoon, that way we could be sure to be leaving by 4:30 p.m. to avoid traffic. We get there at 3:30 and no other students are around. It's just a few of us international students, and one of the students helping to organize, no one else. 4:00 comes, then 4:30, which brings the arrival of the bus (only an hour late, not bad for Ghana, still no other students though), then 5:00, then 5:30, then 6:00. At 6:00 a few more students trickle in. There are probably about 20 (out of 50) of us ready to go. At 6:30 there's a big rush of people who show up, and we start to think that maybe this trip could actually be going somewhere, only 3 hours late, what's the rush. But oh no, it turns out we're still waiting for food, but don't worry, we will leave by 7:00 at the latest. 7:00 arrives and there is no sign of food. At 8:00 p.m. the people show up with food. We pull out of the lot, and somehow, it is discovered that there are more people than seats on the bus. So the bus stops, (we haven't even made it off campus yet) and we all have to get off the bus, and get back one, one at a time, so they can count how many there are of us. How this helps solve the not enough seats problem I don't understand, but we comply. It is finally decided that some people will just have to sit on the stairs, or squeeze into seats, so that everyone can go. Keep in mind, Mole is a 12-14 hour drive, not something quick. And not good roads, so really not a time when you want to be sitting on the steps of a bus. At 8:30 we hit the road. We have been waiting for 5 hours! 5 hours! Sitting outside of a bus, waiting for people and then food to show up. (Also, after talking to one of the Ghanaian girls on the bus later on, she said that she was told to be at the car park at 6:30, and that's what all her friends were told too, so I'm confused why we were told 3:30.)

The bus ride is looooong. Unless it's one of the few major highways in Accra, roads in Ghana are really not the best, so this is not the most comfortable thing I have ever done. The bus is air conditioned, which helps a lot, but there's no real way to stop bumpiness and the pain it causes when you whack your head against the window. There was a video player on the bus, which I'm sure was great for some people, but Ghanaians movies are very unique things. They involve a lot of screaming and yelling and very long drawn out plots. The movies are recorded at high volumes, and it seems to be necessary that they are played at loud volumes as well. This would have been fine, but at about 1:00 in the morning when all I wanted was sleep, a blaring movie is not something that is pleasant. At about 2:00 I went and asked if the movie could be turned down at all, and when the guy asked me why I said that there were some of us who were sleeping in the back, and he was very apologetic for the noise, but also seemed baffled by the idea that anyone would be sleeping at this time of night. I would say from about 4:30-5:30 in the morning was quiet, and besides that, there was always noise of some sort on the bus. The rest of the way was uneventful, although the last two hours of the drive was on one of the bumpiest roads I have ever been on. We were in a huge coach bus and we're bumping around like crazy, I can't even imagine what that would be like in a car.

We got to Mole around 8:30 and again, confusion sets in. The girl we talked to about the trip when we bought our tickets (who did not actually go on the trip, leaving us very unsure about who to talk to) told us that when we got to Mole, we would have rooms and would shower and rest for a few hours before we went on the walk. So when we got off the bus, none of us were really sure where to go. I don't know if it's because we left so late, or if it was never really part of the plan, but there definitely were not rooms for resting or washing. We were served a breakfast of rice and chicken and fish (not quite the same as cereal and milk) and then there was more standing around and confusion, although this time, everyone was confused, not just the Obruni's, so I felt better about that, haha. Finally we took off for our tour of the park, and even though there were two guides, for some reason, we all went as a massive group of 50, instead of two groups of 25. Walking through the park we saw elephant footprints everywhere and they are massive! There were also monkeys and warthogs and antelopes running all over as we walked along. When we made it to one of the main watering spots, there were elephants!!! Apparently we got there right around bath time, because a whole lot of the elephants were just wondering through the water and spraying water/mud at each other. It was so amazing to see them in their natural habitat, just wandering around, eating and drinking. Also, elephants are MASSIVE! I mean, I know when you see them in zoos and such they look big, but up close, compared even to a tree, they still look huge! One of the guides saw me trying to get a picture of the elephant and having a hard time with trees, so he motioned for me and led me over to this obscure place, that had no trees, with an amazing view of them! And he stood close by just in case the elephant went crazy, and when I finished with taking pictures, he said “I hope that helped” and then walked off. Man of few words, but very nice, haha. I keep trying to get the internet to load just two pictures I got that are pretty amazing if you ask me, but it hasn't worked yet. :( (If you check my facebook though, my profile picture has me and an elephant, I could get that to work!) The rest of the walk was fairly uneventful and it was noon by then, so the sun was incredibly warm, even the African's thought it was warm, so then you know it has to be hot. As Nana (one of the girls I met on the trip) said “God is being very generous with the sun today.” I don't think there was a single part of my body that was not dripping with sweat, and it's probably the grossest I have every felt since getting here. I stayed close to the other Obruni's, none of them looked any good either. :)

We then hopped back on the bus and proceeded to the town of Larabanga which is right before Mole. The town is known for the Larabanga Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in Ghana (and maybe all of West Africa), but more importantly, legend has it that the mosque just showed up one day, having appeared over night. No one had built it, no one knew where it came from, it was just there. It's pretty neat looking, it's solid white with these funny brown things sticking out of them, and the design itself looks cool. Hopefully I can get a picture of that up too.

After Larabanga, we went a different way back and stopped at a waterfall. This would have been a good idea most any other time, but Friday was independence day, so there were hundreds of people at the fall, so all we could really do was see it, and then turn back around. Also, with at least another 8 hours to go on the bus, I don't think anyone really wanted to be wet for it. The waterfall stop did a good job of breaking up the trip though, so it was 3 hours and then 9 hours, instead of 12 long hours.

The ride back proved to be somewhat more enjoyable than the ride there because three random guys decided it was important that the white girls get to know other people, so they split us all up and sat next to us and talked to us. It was more or less a group of about 15 of us all yelling or shouting different questions and answers. I didn't know what was going on half the time, but it was still really fun.

One of the downsides to long bus rides though is the ever present need for a bathroom, but that's hard to find when you're in the middle of nowhere. Our “bathroom breaks” consisted of pulling over on the side of the road, people getting out and peeing. Pretty easy for a guy, something of a little but of a challenge for girls. Now, I have no problem peeing outside, I mean, sure I prefer a toilet, but I've done my fair share of camping, and can pee outside like anyone else. What I cannot do though, is pee outside where there is NOWHERE to have privacy. When we stopped, it was literally along some dusty road, with no trees or bushes or anything. And I am white, and a girl, which puts me very much in the minority of the people in the group (there were very few girls, lots of guys) which means there is no way to blend in. So the idea of squatting down and peeing in front of a bus, with people everywhere watching, was not something I enjoyed the idea of. So I just didn't drink much water, which worked out pretty well for most of the trip. The last hour of it though, before we made it to Legon was on a really bumpy road, and by that time, my bladder was definitely full, so that was pretty unpleasant, but I'm pleased to say that I made it just fine. We rolled into Legon at about 2:00 in the morning, and one of the guys in charge of the trip helped us find a taxi to Pentagon, and we made it back to our rooms about 2:30. A quick bucket bath felt wonderful, and then I crashed into bed and slept until 11 a.m. on Saturday. I have NEVER slept that late here, either the heat or noise always wakes me up long before that (generally around 6:30 or 7:00). Apparently though, depriving my body of real sleep and a bed for 48 hours will do wonders for knocking you out.

Here's a link to a photo of me and an elephant:

Monday, March 2, 2009

What do you want to know?

So I am perfectly happy to babble endlessly about my random adventures that I have in Ghana, but I'm curious if there's anything that you all would like to know about. Pretty much everything that happens in Ghana is different than anything at home, but it's hard to pinpoint specific things to talk about, so you all should let me know what you're curious about!

In other news:
I am officially done with my Twi class. It was supposed to end last Thursday, but the power was out in the Linguistics building, so they couldn't make copies of the final, so it got moved to today. The Twi class was through my program, not an official Legon class, so they only made it six weeks. It's nice to not have to worry about the class anymore, but I kind of liked ending my day with other CIEE people in an air-conditioned room. It brought a nice close to things. I'm guessing there are going to be some CIEE people that I just never see anymore now that Twi is done.

I lost a load of laundry to the rain today. :( When I was washing this morning the day was sunny and bright, so away I washed and hing everything up and headed off for the day. I was sitting in class when I heard the thunder and then heard rain, and thought sadly off all my laundry on the line that I could do nothing about. I guess tomorrow will have to be another laundry day.

This weekend I will go to Mole National Park where I will see elephants!!! (And other cool wildlife.) I can't wait!

Don't forget to offer up some suggestions!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Twi Class

So I am taking a mandatory Twi class through my program, and our professor is a linguistics teacher here at the University, and he really seems to know a lot, which is good and makes the class really interesting. There have been a few different things that have happened throughout the class and I have been trying to keep track of some of them and thought I would share them with you all.

Today we were discussing food and the names they have and why. And our professor explained to us that food is meant to be eaten in a certain order, and when two people share a plate, there can be a crash between them because they might want to eat the same thing at the same time. Apɜsie means yam, and if you break the word down, pɜ means to like, and sie means to save, so the word literally means, you save the pieces of yam that you like. But, when two people are sharing the same dish, they might both want to save the same piece they like, so when this happens, there is a CRASH and then you have problems. The best part to this is when we just stared at the professor, and he took our stares of shock and stares of not understanding, so he went to the board and drew different pieces of yam and numbered us, and then showed how if two people both wanted the number five piece of yam, that then there would be a crash. It was really entertaining.

Also, fish in Twi is nsuowunam. Nsuo means water, and nam means meat, so fish translated to: meat in the water. Which is genius! I feel like Twi is giving me a greater realization of how crazy the English language can be.

Kyebom means egg in bread, so it's what they call an egg sandwich, something which I have become addicted to here. It's an egg, cooked up with random vegetables, and put on this delicious sweet bread It's kind of like an omlet, but no cheese. Another common food here is fufuo, which is a combination of casava, yam, and plantain that is all pounded together and generally served with soup. There are three key things to know about eating fufuo: 1) Eat it with your fingers. 2) Dip your fingers in the soup first so that the fufuo doesn't stick to your fingers. 3) Don't chew fufuo, simply swallow it after dipping it in your soup. All these are things that have taken me awhile to learn, but now that I know them, I am apparently a pro fufuo eater. This is according to my Twi professor who says that by the time we leave here, we should all be veteran fufuo eaters, and I apparently am one. Go me.

With some frequency, there are rules or ways of speaking Twi that don't really make sense. When this happens, my professor generally says “who knows, only God can know.” So when I asked where the verb went in a sentence we were saying he says “who knows what happens to the verb, only god can know!” And this was a perfectly acceptable answer. It was great. So next time your trying to learn a language and your confused about it, don't worry, only God can know why it's working that way.

Meka Twi kakra, means, I speak a little Twi. While this sentence is extremely helpful, this always makes people laugh because I probably sound ridiculous when I say it and I'm usually saying it in response to them talking to me in Twi and me having no idea what-so-ever about what they have said to me. So I tell them my one sentence in Twi and they giggle and then try to talk to me again in Twi, but slower. I generally still have no idea what they're saying.

Another fun fact to Twi, many words are spelled the same, but mean different things and are very different words. The only way to know what word the person is talking about is by knowing the context it is being used in. This provides to be a challenge though when you can't understand what they're saying.

And that is more or less my class in a nutshell. This is the last week of it, so only three classes are left, we'll see how many more new things they can cram into our brains.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Photo and Letter Update

So, I have yet to be able to get photos to upload, because no internet connection ever works fast enough. I'll keep working on it, but you might all have to be patient and just wait and see photos when I am home. But don't worry, I am taking lots and lots of pictures, so there will be plenty of them in May.

Also, if you decide to be kind enough to send a hand-written letter (which I highly encourage), along with the letter, if you wouldn't mind throwing in a few twist-ties, it would be greatly appreciated! Twist ties don't seem to exist here, but there are so many times when I could use them! And they're light, so if you throw a few in, they really shouldn't cost anything extra to send along with the letter!

Hope you all are staying warm! With humidity, it's about a billion degrees here, I pretty much sweat constantly.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Weekend Adventure

February 21st-22nd

This weekend Clara, Kate, Mary and I ventured out to Shai Hills Resource Reserve, which is a wildlife sanctuary about 2 hours away from Legon. Between my Bradt book, and directions from one of the guys who runs our hostel, we thought we had a pretty good idea of how to get there via tro-tros. We were told, Legon to Madina, Madina to Dodowa, Dodowa to Doryumu, and there you are. Sounds simple enough, right? We started out fine, going from Legon to Madina, no problem, and even in Madina we were able to find a tro right away that went to Dodowa. We probably should have started to worry then, that there was a tro right there, but we didn't know that Dodowa is tiny, so we thought maybe there were just lots of tros that went there. Not correct it turns out. We rode along in the tro for about an hour, and we get to Dodowa and there isn't a tro station anywhere in sight. Our tro driver and mate ask around, for where we should go, but they have no idea. Finally, these two men, probably 12 and 18, tell us that they will hire a taxi for us to go to Shai Hills. We refuse to take taxi, knowing there is a tro somewhere, and definitely not wanting to pay the 10 cedis for a taxi, instead of 80 peswa for a tro. Once these guys finally realize that we will not give in to their taxi plan, they take us to the tro station. All I can say is good thing they took us there, because if we would have had to do it on our own, we would still be walking in the small town of Dodowa right now.

The tro from Dodowa was supposed to take us to Doryumu, but instead, it took us to Ashaiman, where we had to catch a different tro to Doryumu. Only to get to Ashaiman, the tro turned about 100 feet from where we needed to be, but we didn't know it at the time. So we more or less went an hour in the complete wrong direction, only to have to cover the exact same ground once we were in the correct tro. It was interesting to say the least. We found Shai Hills Resort (which is a good 2 miles down the road from the actual reserve where we were dropped of) without much difficulty, but walking was the only way there, and it was 2:30, so lots of sun, and no shade, it was not pleasant. (And don't worry, lots of sunscreen was worn.) Lucky for us, our room had air conditioning! It was wonderful! There isn't really anything to do in the town (really a junction) of Doryumu, so we spent the evening, cooling off in AC and being lazy, it was wonderful! Also! We saw grass cutter! It's this animal that looks kind of like a mole, and is furry, and apparently is eaten a lot in Ghana. There were three in the cage when we went to dinner, and three when we came back though, so we think we're safe from having eaten them.
This morning started at 5:30 (I thought about all you folk at Morris, and realized that your Saturday night activities were probably still in full swing, since it was only 11:30 p.m. there), and we sadly left our air conditioned room, and walked back to the reserve. Bradt had told us that a tour guide was required, so we weren't to surprised when a guy started showing us around, but even now, looking back on it, we're not entirely show if he actually worked for Shai Hills or not. We got to see baboons way up close, which was great! And then we did an incredibly long walk (about 6 km total) to a bat cave, where we saw antelope and trecked up this really steep mountain, into a cave, where there were hundreds of bats flying around. It was a long, hot, walk, but I'm glad we did it so early in the morning, I can't imagine what it would be like in the full sun. It was great to see the baboons up close, but that walk back, in the sun, with sweat literally dripping from my face, I kind of wondered why the heck I thought this was a good idea, but now that it's done, I'm glad we did it. Our ride back was much easier and quicker. We simply took a tro from the reserve to Ashaiman, and then right from Ashaiman to Legon, which took all of 2 hours, instead of the four it took to get there.

I'm really proud of us for finding a place to go, getting there, providing food for us, and getting back, all on our own. It also gives me a lot of confidence for doing more trips in the next few months, and staying busy on the weekends. Hopefully the internet will pick up one of these days and I can post some pictures from this weekend, and Cape Coast a few weekends ago.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Address!

Most importantly, I have a mailing address for you all! It should only cost 98 cents to send me one, and I'm sure you all love me enough to at least spend one dollar on me. :) The address is:

Greta Simons
c/o Kwasi Gyasi-Gyamerah
Private Mail Bag 31
University of Ghana
Legon, Ghana, West Africa

In other news:

I've been without water since Sunday night. The water has been iffy for the past week, so I've been using bucket baths, but at least the spigot in my suite was working. Now though, with no water in the suite, in order to shower I have to bring my bucket to the spigot in the courtyard and then haul it up four flights of stairs. I don't mind using the bucket, but I could do without all the hauling.

My weeks are starting to form a pattern and I'm getting some sort of a schedule down. Tuesdays generally have down time until the afternoon, when I have my Human Rights in Africa class and then go from there to Pizza Inn (it's buy one, get one free on Tuesdays) to meet up with other CIEE folk, and then back to my dorm to do readings for my Penology course. My days tend to pick up the pace once the afternoon rolls around, mainly because there are things to do, and then at night, all of us in Pentagon hang out together. It tends to be that the mornings are the hardest time of day for me, because there's lots of free time, so I tend to think about being home. I don't have class on Fridays, so generally a group of us go to a beach and just relax and do nothing producitve. Don't worry, I wear lots of sunscreen!

I leave for home in exactly three months from tomorrow, which seems crazy! Even though the days go slowly, the weeks go fast, and I know that May 18th will be here before I know it! Right now I am just at the point where I am really missing foods from home. Baby carrots, leafy lettuce, and cheese are a high priority for when I get home. :)

This weekend will hopefully be an adventure to Shaii Hills Reserve, but we're having some troubles figuring out the details, so we'll see.

Happy Belated Valentine's Day to you all!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It's Been A Month

This time one month ago, Clara and I took off for Ghana, and here I am, one month later, doing well! It's hard to believe how quickly the month has gone by, this means there's a little more than three months left, which seems both way to soon and way far away.

In current news:

On Tuesday I had my Human Rights In Africa class and the professor walked out. He warned us last week that we needed to do the readings for each class because he would ask people questions, and if they couldn't answer, they would be kicked out of the class. So class gets started and he says “boy in the green shirt, what was the reading about?” And the boy couldn't answer, he said he wasn't enrolled in the class last week, so he didn't know to do the readings. The professor then kicked him out of class. Then the prof asked a girl what the readings were about, and she answered. He then said “the gentleman who came in late, what were the readings about?” And no guy would stand up and answer. So the prof finally said, “if the the gentleman won't stand up, I will leave leave class.” No one ever stood up, so the prof left. It was quite a sight. Right then it really struck me how different academics are here than in the states. I feel as if the professor was kind of saying “if you don't do the work, we won't have class” which most students would be pretty happy about it back home. But after talking to my room mate, she said that the professor walking out would make the students see the need to do the work from then on.

On Wednesday morning I went to the orphanage with Mary and Kate. The orphanage is called Ma Daamfo Pa (which I think loosely translated is My Good Friend) and it is run by a lady called Fati. I heard at some time that there were around 25 kids, but I've only seen a maximum of 10 kids at any time, so I'm confused. I worked with Paul on his math homework and reading. The math homework was multiplication and long division, and it made me realize how long it has been since I have done any math without a calculator. I had to do a couple problems myself before I could help him out, haha. When Paul and I were working on reading he was reading about the digestive system and the book he was given on it had so many problems. There were grammar errors and spelling problems, and extra words, and words that made no sense. So not only was Paul trying to read, he was trying to comprehend information that wasn't even being conveyed to him correctly. It was really frustrating to watch Paul work so hard at understanding something that wasn't right. Not only that, but he was learning to read by talking about the esophagus and the small and large intestine, not particularly easy topics. It just made me feel like these poor kids aren't being given any fair chances. I am happy to give my time to help them, but I also feel like no matter how much time I give them, the education system here just won't give them a chance.

This weekend was our Cape Coast trip with CIEE. Overall, definitely a good weekend. We took off at 6:30 in the morning, and trecked about three and half hours to a hotel in Cape Coast. Shocking as this is, when we got there, only about half the rooms were ready for us. And a lot of the rooms that were supposedly open for us, still had people's things in them. We all wasted time for about an hour, and then there was lunch, which at least lightened the mood. The afternoon we went to Cape Coast Castle, which was one of the original castles used for slave trading. I was not very impressed with our tour guide, and wasn't able to get all that much out of the tour. It was interesting to be in an original piece of history, that has so much to do with Africa, but there wasn't a lot of explanation in what the experiences for a black slave were like. I feel as though I could have learned more from reading a book, then being on the tour. I'm definitely glad I went and could see it, but I wasn't real impressed.
The rest of the night was ours, which was spent mostly in our rooms, with air conditioning, which was great! I slept the best I have since getting here. I got a hot shower, a cold room, slept with a blanket, and it was quiet! I woke up when I wanted to, not because someone was singing, or praying, or yelling. And I wasn't sticky. It was one of the best feelings ever. While the humidity out that close to the ocean was insane, it makes the humidity here in Legon feel not nearly as bad. Sunday morning we drove out to Kakum National Park, where we did a canopy walk through the jungle. It was AMAZING! The rope bridges are secure, but that's all there is. Wood and rope, holding you 60 feet above the jungle ground. It was amazing to be walking through the trees and see so much jungle life from that high up. After the canopy walk, we went to Hans Cottage Botel (no idea why it's not hotel) for lunch, where we got to see crocodiles while we ate. They were so cool looking! After lunch, we went for a walk around the grounds, and saw a crocodile in the shade and I got some really awesome pictures of it. When I was all of 10 feet away from the crocodile and taking a picture of it, I realized that I am definitely in Africa!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

God Is Great Cosmetics

The humidity here absolutely baffles me. How can you stand somewhere and sweat??!! I don't get it! I'm not moving, I'm not doing anything, why must I sweat??!! This morning was laundry day, which you do by hand, and I had showered and was somewhat cool. Then I spent an hour, in the sun, scrubbing away, and I was soaked, and it was NOT from my laundry water. I look forward to being back at home where I can take HOT showers and not sweat profusely by just walking to class. We had a nice break from the humidity last week, but then it came back strong this week, and apparently we were lucky to even have a break for all of last week, I guess it's not very common.

I am taking two sociology and two political science classes. The sociology ones are: Culture, Gender & Reproductive Health and Penology. And the two poli sci are: Human Rights in Africa and Regionalism & Ethnicity in Ghana. My classes are HUGE and the profs just lecture. I mean, all they do is lecture. And you frantically take notes, and try to understand their words, and then hope that a nice Nigerian or Ghanaian is sitting by you so you can ask them what the prof said. Also, even though we have had two weeks of classes, my Penology class has yet to meet. I dunno where the prof is, but apparently coming to class is not the big concern. One my suitemates said that once Feb 6th comes (the add/drop deadline) then my prof will probably show up, but no guarantees So we'll see what happens there.

One of the neatest things here with the animals are the lizards and they are EVERYWHERE! Minnesota has squirrels the way that Ghana has lizards. They're awesome though and I love seeing them everywhere. They scurry around everywhere and don't seem to mind being around people. They also seem to change colors when they're in the sun. I want to try to learn more about them, but I have no idea who I would even ask.

Other random fact about Ghana, church is everywhere here. Especially on campus, but throughout Ghana, there are references to God no matter where you go. The turn for the orphanage I volunteer at is right after God Is Great Cosmetics, but before In God's Hands Mechanics. And signs like those can be found almost everywhere. On campus though, there are church services happening all the time. And on Sundays (today) it seems like it goes all day long. I woke to service at 5:30, and then again at 7:30 (probably the same mass). Throughout the day I hear different prayers and chants, and then the real kicker is Sunday nights, when there is a “small” service in the building behind my dorm, there they turn up the volume as loudly as possible and sing and chant and speak in tongues for three and a half hours. It's a good time. I'm sure soon enough I'll get used to it, but for now, it's weird to go places and always have religion being pushed in my face. I know people mean well and are just trying to show me their beliefs, but sometimes I feel like it's a little bit of intrusion on my personal beliefs.

Happy Beginning of February to you all!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The third week

Monday was Mary's birthday (a girl on the CIEE program), so we decided to make dinner. We attempted to tackle cooking plantains and pasta. Luckily, Gabriel (a U-Pal who works for CIEE) showed up and helped us with cooking the plantains, because after he showed us how to do it, I don't think we could have done it on our own. Turns out it requires a lot of patience and time stirring the plantains so they don't stick to the pan. If I can ever tackle plain plantains, I am going to try kelewele, which is fried plantains, but with spices so it has a nice kick to it. Unfortunately, I think it requires a lot of spices that can only be found here, so cooking them at home might be interesting,

We were actually quite successful with our pasta. We had purchased tomatoes and cut them up small, then put a small amount of vegetable oil and salt on the pasta, added tomatoes, and voila! It was really quite good. So I think a group of us from Pentagon are going to try to make that at least once a week. Right now I still really like Jolof rice and other types of rice, but I worry about getting sick of it, so I want to try to add some variety in my diet while I can.

Also, my Culture, Gender, and Reproductive Rights class met Monday, and I think it'll be great! It's a women professor, and she seems really interesting. She also said that the class will be very discussion based, which I think will be good, because the African students here are bound to have very different points of view than what I am used to. Unfortunately there was a lot of background noise going on around our classroom, so it was really difficult at time to hear what the prof was saying, but she seemed to realize that, and tried to talk loudly, but sometimes she forgot, resulting in me and the other white kids in the class being pretty confused.

On Tuesday my Human Rights in Africa class met and it is huge! Luckily, the prof uses a microphone, so hearing him was fine, although that doesn't mean I could understand what he was saying, haha. They have an interesting way of doing notes here. They aren't condensed at all, so the professor just rambles on for a long time and ends up giving you, more or less, a half page of one quote. Part of the problem of doing things this way is that when I can't understand what he's saying, it makes the rest of the quote hard to track. I guess I'll just need to work on getting more used to that way of taking notes. The other weird thing is how classes only meet once a week. I know it's for 2 hours at a time, but it still seems weird that I only have 10 classes of each left. I feel like it will be hard to learn anything that way, but I guess if this is how the school has been doing it, it must work out somehow.

Tomorrow is my first Twi test, here's to hoping I remember all my verbs. :)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The End of Week Two

I had an actual class on Thursday! It was Regionalism and Ethnicity in Ghana and I think it'll be a good class. Unfortunately the professor doesn't do so well with speaking into his microphone, so there were a few times when I had no idea what he was really saying, but overall I was able to get the general idea. As long as he writes his notes on the board, I should be ok. I sat next to a Ghanaian student who is in his final semester here at Legon. He was really curious about what I thought of Ghana and the university and how it was different than home. It was nice having an actual class and not feeling out of place. I mean, I could tell that I was obviously a minority in the class, but I also felt like another student and just like someone else, which was really nice.

I spent the night with Clara's host family on Thursday and it was nice to have a home cooked meal, and to just be off campus for awhile. In the morning, we went to her families seamstress with fabric and now I have dresses being made. I can't wait to see how they turn out and have something nice and cool to wear here.

Friday night I went to a kind of, sort of, dance show. It was some of the dance classes here at the University showing the other classes what they had learned so far. The way people dance here is amazing! They move their bodies so well to the beat of the drums, and the drummers are something else too. I feel like they have a better sense of matching body moves to any type of beat than we do in the states.

Saturday we had a CIEE field trip. We went to a glass bead place, where we got to watch the process of making beads, going from glass, to dust, to coloring, to melting, to the final product. It was really neat to see. Then we went to Aburi Wood Carving, which is this area in the town of Aburi that was created solely from these wood carvers who found trees the liked, set up camp and just never left. There are small stands all over selling the things they make, and it's pretty amazing to see the type of details they can do. Our last stop for the day was the Aburi Botanical Gardens. The only other gardens I have been to were in New York, so I was expecting to see something like that, but this was really just a huge garden with trees. There weren't a lot of flowers or color. A lot of green and different types of trees, but nothing more than that. We saw one tree that was hollow on the inside. The way it works is that a tree finds a host tree and starts wrapping itself around this tree. Slowly, the guest tree takes over the host tree, and the host tree ultimately dies, leaving the inside of the new tree hollow! It was so cool!

There was a Durbar last night for all international students, and I met some people from California, here with a different program. As much as I like everyone in CIEE, it was nice to meet people that I haven't spent the past two weeks with. The food was delicious, and there were plantains, which I am slowly, but surely becoming addicted to, haha.

With two weeks down, I am starting to feel more confident that I can handle being here for four months. There are times when four months seems like a horribly long time, but then I realize how many things there are that I want to do between now and then, and I know I will be fine. As long as I keep myself occupied, I'm pretty sure the time is just going to fly by.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Me fa tro-tro daa

The title means "I ride a tro-tro everyday" in Twi. It is one of the few sentences I know and remember from my class, which has been great, but a lot of new letters, meaning new words that are not anything my brain recognizes.

Just a quick note to say that I have finished the first week of classes, although only three out of five profs showed up, which apparently is normal. Classes should actually get going this coming week, I guess this past week was more like a practice, haha.

Things are going great here and everyday gets a little easier and more fun!

Love from 88 degree weather! :)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Church in Ghana

Today I went to church. Natalie's dad has a friend who's a pastor, and he came and found her and invited her to church and she invited me along. I figured it would be a good idea to try it out, because maybe it'd be something I really enjoyed... nope, not at all. The service went from 7:30 until 10:30, only they ran late, so it was 8-11, it was RIDICULOUS! The pastor spent and hour and a half on the sermon. It was about faith, and in the beginning was somewhat interesting, but then he just kept going and I could not pay attention. Also, the singing was in Twi, which meant I understood none of it, and each song went for about 15 minutes. Oh, and the pastor shouted roughly every six words (yes, I counted) and mixed with a microphone this was not pleasant for my already pounding head.

The pastor has good family friends who took us over for lunch. The act is something I think you would only find in Ghana. These people who didn't know us in the least happily took us in, fed us, and entertained us for the afternoon, all because someone asked them too. Koby and Elise (they're sister and brother) were in charge of us, and after a huge brunch, they took us walking around their neighborhood. They live in a nice sized house, but there were some other houses close by that were really big. I mean, ridiculously huge and unnecessary. Elise said that in Ghana, if people have the money, they will spend it. We also sat outside in their backyard and talked about life in Ghana and what the University was like and just generally enjoyed talking peer to peer.

Tonight was our official Akwaaba (welcome) dinner. It was good food, and amazing African drumming and dancing. I am really tempted to take a drumming class now, so I am going to look into the times tomorrow. Being at the dinner tonight, I realized that I am starting to feel more at ease with being in Ghana. I'm adapting better and the heat isn't getting to me quite as much. Being here is starting to feel more like school, than another country, which is good. I like that I am in Ghana, but am still starting to feel comfortable with things, it makes my days much less stressful.

Classes start tomorrow! I only have two, one of which is Twi, but it'll be nice to get a schedule of some sort going on. In the afternoon I'll need to try to register for some political science classes since they don't let international students register until Monday in their department. Hopefully no teachers change the time of classes now that I finally have it all worked out!

Happy MLK jr day!

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's been a week

I woke up this morning and realized today that I have been here for one week. And I can tell. Everything is getting better and easier to handle. I am remembering to take toilet paper with me everywhere and to wash my hands every two hours or so. My backpack always has sunscreen, purell, and two waterbottles full of water. These are the basic necessities. Oh, and a couple cedis (dollars) and pesewas (cents) for food or other random items throughout the day.
Yesterday I ventured down to the Bush Canteen and back and didn't get lost and didn't get cheated by the people in the market. I was very pleased with myself. The campus, while being huge, is slowly making sense. I know where the International Programs Office is and I know where the CIEE office is (both of which are air conditioned). Those are the two main places I would go to for help with anything, so I'm glad I can get to each of them. I also know how to get to the two main buildings where my lectures will be. Now I just can't be late to class. Apparently if you're late to class, there is no point to going. For one, you probably won't have a spot, and for another, the professor will find it very disrespectful and ask you to leave class. So I will definitely be leaving on time.
I have been able to register for one class so far, and it is a sociology class on Culture, Gender, and Reproductive Health. I'm excited for it because I think it will be a very different perspective than anything in the states. My other classes I apparently can't sign up for until Monday, even though teaching starts then, so that should be interesting.
Tonight I am going to Clara's host family for dinner, so it should be another good adventure on a tro-tro, and it will be nice to get off campus.
Enjoy your weekends everyone!
p.s. For those of you in MN, the high in Ghana today is 93 degrees, feeling like 98. :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Ghana!

Hello Everyone!
I apologize for the long break without writing, but it turns out that internet at the University is not the easiest thing to come by. Apparently, once classes start, I can buy good internet, for quite cheap, but that won't happen until Monday at the earliest, so don't hold your breaths, haha.
Luckily, the Office of International Programs has a computer lab, so we started our morning here to get re-connected with the world. I am doing quite well so far. Our first three days in Ghana were wonderful, we stayed at a hotel where they spoiled us with good food and air conditioning. On Monday we were dropped off at the University (I didn't get a homestay, so I am living in The Pentagon, which is with other Ghanian and Nigerian students) and settled in to our new living situations. Monday and Tuesday were both really overwhelming, but now things are getting better. I live in a suite with 5 other girls (3 rooms, two people per room). One of whom is another CIEE participant. I've met two other suite mates (my room mate isn't here yet) and they both seem really nice, which gives me a lot of hope for the semester.
Registration here makes me so thankful for the simpleness of registration at home. Here you go from department to department and look up what classes they're offering (keep in mind, this is a school of 40,000 students, the campus is HUGE!) and then hope they have the place and time listed (which they generally don't) and then attempt to create a schedule. Yesterday was spent trying to find the departments and classes they offer and today or tomorrow I will try to actually register with the office for the class. Sure makes Morris' registration seem like a breeze.
It is incredibly hot and humid here, but I think my body is slowly getting used to it. It's hard to picture all of you in Minnesota and your below zero weather.
Hopefully I can update soon, but if not, just means (like a lot of things in Ghana) people are taking their time and I need to wait a little longer for it to happen. :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Leaving On A Jet Plane

I leave tomorrow morning for Ghana. I can't believe how quickly my break flew by. January 8th seemed like so long ago when I first started counting down and now, all of the sudden it's here! Somehow everything worked out though. My contacts made it on time. Malaria meds were granted to me by insurance. My camera charger was found. The elections went smoothly in Ghana. There were a lot of things I was worried about, but now that it's time to go, everything seems to have worked out.
Tomorrow will be a long day in the car, followed by an even longer time on planes and in airports. I figure if Clara and I still like each other after all that time together, then we will survive anything Africa throws at us. :) I will do my best to let you all know as soon as I arrive in Ghana safely. Just think, the next time I post to this, I will probably be 6,102 miles away!