Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Destination Damango

Hello from Tamale!! This morning we said goodbye to Accra at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and departed for the Northern regions of Ghana. We are currently in Tamale (pronounced TAH-mah-lee, not like the candy) waiting for the air conditioning to be repaired in the van that will take us to our eventual destination, Damango. While there, we will be working with a man named Abraham and his orphanage, the Children's Redemption home.

I am excited to get started. The air is so much fresher up here than it was in the city, and the people are friendlier and less adament about selling you random things. After the bustle of Accra, we are all relieved to enjoy the quiet of the countryside. It's not all cookies and cream though, northern Ghana is much more rural and we're going to have to adjust to the lack of ammenities and Westernized food. Neither the airport nor the restaurant we had breakfast at had any toilet paper, so I am not optimistic about the remainder of our stay.

Our last day in Accra was hectic. Leena and Beth arrived late Monday night and accompanied us to the market. The part of Accra we visited was highly modernized. We saw a lot of four-door SUVs (with big silver grills, the ultimate status symbol) and men walking around in three piece suits (while I broke a sweat in a T-shirt). The vendors there were relentless, note to self for any future Accra visits: never passively suggest that you find something a vender is offering "nice." You will be stalked. In the end I made no purchases. I will wait until up north or Winneba, where the things that can be purchased are cheaper and more authentic.

These past few days have also brought many interesting conversations about politics and gender equality. We met a woman named Mrs Awortwi who is the director of science and education for all of Ghana. It was very interesting to hear her take on government. She implied that there is a general lack of interest and participation in public affairs. Government in Ghana remains an abstract concept rather than something to be influenced for the betterment of the country. What a contrast to the USA, where the government is constantly under scrutiny.

Here are some interesting observations we have made:
- Even when arriving late, Ross and I were always served food before the ladies
- Practically every manikan I have seen is white. Whiteness is associated with sophistication.
- No businesses, restaurants, or otherwise will accept 50 cedi notes, because they cannot make change. We were only given 50 cedi notes. Way to go airport.

I have only four minutes of internet time remaining, so I'll finish here. On the whole, things have been great and hopefully will continue to be so!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Football and June-Births

Has it really only been five days? For the so-called "slow pace" of life in Ghana, we sure have been moving fast. Here's a little bit of what I've been up to, though my remaining 39 mins of internet could never do the trip justice.

On Friday we visited the University of Ghana (Accra) to meet with lecturer Justice Bawole and establish a study abroad partnership between UG and GVSU. Justice was an amazing man, and the course that's been designed for next summer sounds like it will be a phenomenal experience for anyone interested. As currently stands, the course would feature two weeks of classwork on Ghanaian culture, sustainable development, and NGO implementation followed by five weeks of working directly with an NGO of your choosing somewhere in Ghana. The course would wrap up with a debrief and project in which students create an NGO to answer a problem they see as needing to be addressed in society and mock-apply for funding. If you are reading this (whether you've found me through the GV Honors College site or otherwise) I would HIGHLY recommend considering this for next summer. I'm not even being paid to say this, I swear (although if someone would like to, i will not complain).

The UG has about 20,000 students and has an atmosphere similar to Grand Valley. Everyone there was extremely welcoming, responsive, and helpful (we learned, after some confusion, that a "bathroom" is where you take a bath and a "toilet" is where you take care of business. Why are these Obruneis [white people] so desperate to take baths???) Speaking of bathing, we were very excited when we got moved to a room with an electric water heater... but the shower was still cold. Nice water pressure in this one though, we take what we can get.

We were unable to appear on Kennedy's television broadcast because we had a prior commitment in Winneba, a much smaller city a ways down to coast. We were supposed to travel by bus, but the wait was impossibly long and we were being constantly approached by individuals whose intentions we did not know. Kaleigh got the first marraige proposal of our group, so as of two days ago Kaleigh and I are "married" (but we left our rings at home so we wouldn't lose them, oh darn).

We ended up taking a trotro to Winneba instead. A trotro is like a passanger van in the US, but without anything that could be considered a safety measure. In the states we can it armageddon, but Ghanaians call it traffic. I've never felt unsafe though, there is something about having EVERYONE ignore traffic rules that makes the system work.

In Winneba, we met Annie Hakim and her host Fred Dadzie, a former Challenging Heights worker that has since taken a job with Youth International. We were taken to Fred's house and then Annie took us across town for dinner. The atmosphere in Winneba is very different than Accra, there is much more of a community and everyone waves, smiles, welcomes you, and asks you your name (not your formal name but a name based on the day of the week you were form. I am Qwejo). One very kind lady outside the restaurant we ate lunch at had drinks sent up for us. I have a new favorite beverage, and I will find a way to get it back at the states. Ebay if I must. It is called Alvaro and it is pretty much the nectar of the gods.

That evening we went to another, outdoor restaurant to celebrate Annie and Fred's birthdays (along with everyone else born in June, it was a June-birth party) and watching THE football (soccer to you Americans) USA v. Ghana. When Ghana scored in the first five minutes, the place went crazy. People jumped up, ran around, hugged, sang, and blew horns. There was no way I couldn't root for Ghana, the excitement was too infectious. Believe me, the Ghanaian victory means a lot more to them than victory would have for America.

The party commenced with dinner on the house (rice and vegetables, chicken, and ambiguous-part-of-fish stew) and drinks (ALVARO LOVE LOVE and Gold Star... drinking age in Ghana isn't quite so high). We danced all night and had an amazing time. We did not know everyone there though, so I busted a lot of moves that involved brushing against my money pouch and camera. They say in Winneba that theft doesn't occur because you're stealing from your cousin's best friend's uncle, but there was no point in taking chances.

We returned to Accra in the morning via bus as planned. I had one night of not feeling well in the very beginning but haven't had problems since. I swear there are only four choices of food here though: redred, fufu, banku, and chicken/rice. Even if a restaurant has an elaborate, amazing looking menu, when you go to order they will tell you they are out of everything but redred, fufu, banku, and chicken/rice. It's a little bit like Grand Valley dining, hahaha.

I feel like I've only covered the very basics, but my internet time is running out and to cover everything would require as much time typing as I've spent living here. Everything has been a unique and amazing experience. As usual, I hope everything at home is doing well. Miss and love you all, I will see you one month from tomorrow!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Greetings from Ghana!! Despite a frightening two-hour flight delay, a sprint across Detroit metro airport, and some terrifying turbulence flying over Cote d'Ivoire, we've finally made it to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. It feels so good to be back on the ground.

What little of Accra we've been able to see in our seven or so hours here has been fascinating. We traveled by trotro from the airport to our hostel, and more or less followed the lines on the road and other traffic suggestions. The traffic is surprisingly heavy in the city, and merchants walk between moving cars offering to sell everything from peanuts to soccer balls. No purchases yet, aside from a pancake breakfast from Frankie's restaurant and the 50 peswas (<50 cents) spent for a half hour of internet to make my update. No promises that consistant updating will continue; being a largely Westernized city, Accra offers certain luxuries that may be hard to come by in the northern regions.

Our hostel rooms are fairly basic but they have much wanted air conditioning so no complaints here. Our water isn't working at the moment but hopefully that's squared away before we turn in for the night (hopefully not to long from now, I have jet lag like whoa).

The girls and I walked a bit around the city and ended up finding a school for children 4-8 years old. They were all so excited to see us, they kept asking us how we were ("etensei") to which we responded "yaaaaa!!" to much laughter. We are supposed to visit again tomorrow when the children are actually in school. Also on our agenda is a meeting with a university professor and a weekend trip to Winneba to celebrate Annie's birthday. Our friend Kennedy, who drove us from the airport, is a sports broadcaster and has invited us to appear on his nationally broadcasted coverage of the Ghana v. USA game Saturday.

USA, you are great but it's gonna be a Black Stars victory. Sorry!!

Hope everything is well back home and I'll check in again as soon as I can!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Afternoon Before

I'll start by apologizing for the unoriginality of my blog. My mom is a scrapbook pro, so you'd think some of her talent might have rubbed off on me. Yeah, no. I created a blog, picked the template background that looked like it could maybe be an African savanna, and ended up with a page full of clouds... and that's how it's gonna be forever. Sorry.

I am one day away from setting out on my "adventure across the pond." My family and friends have expressed horror at how little I've packed, but I think I've covered all the essentials (peanut butter, nutella, and frisbees. What else could I possibly need?) My luggage is sitting in the office behind the Niemeyer front desk and I'm spending the afternoon relaxing and hoping that it doesn't get locked up back there before I have a chance to retrieve it.

If you aren't already in the loop, I'm heading to Ghana (Africa) for a five week service-learning trip through the Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley. Our trip will include work in a school for the deaf and blind, participation in Annie & Uma's clean water initiative, and involvement with the outreach organization called Challenging Heights.

My pre-departure thoughts? I think I've forgotten how crazy this trip really is. I've spent so long talking about it that what was once unreal now seems entirely possible. Only my friends remind me from time to time that Africa isn't your typical vacation destination. My biggest concerns are small things. I'm worried about a daunting bus ride to Damongo and back (I get car sick very easily). I'm concerned about how well I'll handle the change from a steak-and-hamburger diet to one of rice, fufu, and red-red. In particular, I'm not a big fan of my fish having eyes and watching me while I try to figure out how best to eat them. And I'm really hoping that I don't waste any amount of my trip laid out in bed with malaria.

My excitement for the trip far outweighs any of my concerns. Many students travel to Spain, Germany, Australia, and other westernized places where they can see the world without sacrificing their McDonalds and flush toilets. Very few places will offer the same unique cultural experience that I'm going to have in Ghana. I've heard a lot of great things from my friends who traveled there last summer, and I can't wait to share in these experiences and have some new ones of my own.

I've always been told that there are things that can't be taught in a classroom, and I'm one plane ride away from finding out what they are.