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: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=30156344&l=562c8&id=1280610054

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!