GHANA

The following is the documentation of my first international experience (besides Canada and Mexico).  At nineteen, I traveled to Ghana on the west coast of Africa with my sociology classmates and professor for three weeks to explore and discover the roots of racism, slavery, and colonization.  The experience defied my expectations to the very core.  As this trip was the beginning of my travels, I wrote about EVERYTHING!  All the things I did, ate, and observed – big and little.  Not all of it is imperative to know, but it takes me back to the places we visited and the people we met.  Some of the things recorded in this journal are very personal and I apologize but it was written in the moment and I can’t go back and change those, as much as I may have wanted to during those moments.  

*Many mistakes exist still, but that makes it more charming, right?

My Trip to Ghana

December 18, 2006

Ten months of preparation has finally paid off.  Yesterday was our makeshift Christmas on mom’s side slash Tristen’s 5th birthday party.  Grandma and Grandpa Lefcoski are spending Christmas in Florida with Uncle Richard and Shan and Darren will be in Cabo, so it was great to see everyone before leaving.  I went to say goodbye to Great Grandma and Aunt Lou today.  As usual, GG was ecstatic to see me and parade me around to all of her work friends.  And as usual, Aunt Lou cried.  Last night, Grandma and Grandpa King came back from California to surprise me and say goodbye.  It was wonderful to have them send me off too.  I wish I could have enjoyed today more though.  I caught a nasty cold bug in Bellingham during finals week, and I am desperately trying to get healthy before we leave.  I came to the airport with Mom, Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa Lefcoski around 3:30 today.  I met up with my posse at the ticket counter, which was a relief so I didn’t have to navigate the airport on my own.  When we went through security, I had to have my backpack searched because of the strange shape of my airborne dispenser.  And now I’m sitting in between two strangers (both with English accents), on my way to London Heathrow.  The guy on my left is originally from England, but now lives in Seattle.  He was excited to hear that I was a Western student because his daughter was just accepted.  Nice guy.  The woman on my right isn’t a talker – not getting a good vibe from that side.  I can’t really focus on the in-flight movies.   The anticipation is really getting to me.  I tried to watch “Invincible,” and now I’m listening to the radio station,  “Scoop.”  Not really impressed.  Right now it’s -67 degrees and almost 10:30 pm (we left at 6:30).  There is a screen on each seat that we can control.  I’m watching “Friends” now, and I just saw a virtual map of out plane’s progress, and it showed us just flying over Hudson Bay.  We went up and over Canada.  I think I’ll try to get some sleep now.  By the way, the airline offered us drinks earlier!  International flights…younger drinking age.  I didn’t even put that together!

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The plane to Accra is smaller and more comfortable than to London.  Less people, and no puking or crying babies (like the last one).  I’m feeling better now that we’re in the air.  I had a terrible cough attack at Heathrow while waiting.  I literally couldn’t stop coughing long enough to breath.  I had to gasp for air and unfortunately was traveling without any water.  Thank goodness my classmates were able to pick up a bottle for me as they explored the airport.  The plane-changing process has been quite confusing.  They didn’t even announce our gate until an hour before we were scheduled to depart.  We actually didn’t take off until 3 pm (an hour late).  I did, however, get to step outside and breath the London air (for however short a time) because our plane didn’t board from a gate.  We took a shuttle about 30 yards down the tarmac and climbed stairs to get onboard.  I’m trying to stay awake as best as I can because we’ll have to go to sleep when we arrive in Ghana around 9 pm.  I was so tired that I fell asleep while waiting for take-off.  I am definitely in the minority on this flight.  It’s kind of nice to experience the exact opposite of what I am used to (minus the racism and discrimination).  Well, we have three and a half hours left before we land.  Apparently (according to our virtual flight tracker), we flew over Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona.  Out of the window during take-off, I could see the English Channel as we started to cross it.  We also flew over the Mediterranean Sea.  My legs are starting to cramp up now.  That’s a whole lot of sitting.

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So, technically, it’s December 20, but that’s just because of the time change and the fact that I am up past midnight.  We landed in Accra about half an hour late.  This flight was a lot cooler than the last one, which felt like a sweatbox.  When we finally landed, we got off the plane onto the tarmac and walked into the airport terminal.  As soon as the opened door was in sight, I felt a rush of humid air surround me.  It was such a contrast to the freezing London that we had experienced only hours earlier.  Unfortunately we ran into a bit of an obstacle.  When we were waiting to go through customs, we were told that since we didn’t know the name of our hotel we were staying at, we couldn’t go through.  But brave Erin saved the day by using her passport as collateral so she could run ahead and talk with Seth.  Thanks to her, we all got through and picked up our checked bags. Once the outer gates were in sight, we saw Seth, Kelly, and our hosts greeting us with a huge yellow welcome banner.  There were hundreds of Ghanaians standing around waiting to pick people up as well.  After working our way through the crowd, we loaded onto the bus, and drove about 15 minutes to the hotel, which is right by the ocean.  Gretchen and I are in room 210 at the Riviera Beach Hotel.  It’s pretty run-down.  There are ants all over the bathroom, but there are window screens and a great big fan, which is what matters most in this humid heat.  We then met downstairs for food, which was some kind of poultry (I think), French fries (also known as chips), and spicy red sauce with veggies.  Pretty good compared to airplane food.  We ate in an open-air dining area that resembles the ruins of an old army fort.  Through the windows we could see the crumbling remains of a giant swimming pool twice the size of an Olympic one.  Then we met in Seth and Kelly’s room to get water and money.  When unpacking my goods, I was met with the liquid remains of my spilt shampoo bottle, which took forever to clean up.  It infected the rest of my shower stuff including my toothbrush.  So, while Gretchen was in the shower, I cleaned up my things to the sound of cats crying out my window.  Sad.  Well, it’s almost one in the morning, so better be off to sleep.

December 20, 2006

I barely got any sleep last night – I think a total of an hour and forty-five minutes.  Right outside our window is a pen full of chickens and roosters, and apparently they don’t know that they’re not supposed to crow until dawn.  At first I thought they were cats, then they woke Gretchen up, and she used to have roosters, so now I know.  We talked and got to know each other from probably 4 till 6:30 am, and then dozed off for an hour.  Our alarm didn’t work, so when I got out of my freezing and not quite so refreshing shower, Seth came to get us and we were last to the breakfast of fruit and toast.  After breakfast I cleaned up the room and we all met back downstairs with Dr. Michael Williams to discuss proper etiquette while visiting a country so different from our own.  About three quarters of the way through his spiel, my hands suddenly went numb.  I felt the color rush from my face as I became nauseous.  It was a very scary feeling.  I had no idea what was going on.  I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t speak.  For all intents and purposes, I was frozen.  Kelly quickly grabbed me and led me to the bathroom where I proceeded to vomit all of my breakfast (I knew I would be the first to do so).  It felt real nice accompanied by a stuffy nose and cough.  After our meeting we all boarded the bus and went on a guided tour of the city for about 2 ½ hours, of which I spent in the front of the bus with the windows open and a doggie bag on my lap.  We went through all types of areas with traffic jams (locals would try to sell us stuff through the windows) and even people jams with vendors slowly walking with their goods balanced on their heads.  The smell in some places was awful.  The scent alone nearly set my gag reflex off for the second time today.  Most of the waste is just thrown into the gutters.  On our way around town, we passed two prisons and even a truck transporting prisoners.  The president even passed us with a police escort on his way to work.  Now we’re at Labadi Beach enjoying the sun, surf, and amazingly refreshing breeze.  We even made friends with a few of the locals.

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The beachside restaurant that we ate at was pretty good (at least I liked my rice).  It was weird though because the fish and chips were served as a fish…not a fillet, but the actual charred, crispy black fish.  It definitely did not attract my appetite.  Throughout our time at the beach, we played in the water, finished our meals, and examined the natural beauty of the locals at the beach (especially the extremely fit and active men).  Unfortunately I was not able to enjoy the water as much as I had hoped due to this cold.  When we were finally ready to leave, the bill was much higher than expected because the menu prices were wrong.  So we ended up paying more to help out the waiter who would have had to front the extra bill.  The bus ride back to the hotel was nice and breezy.  The attention we get when riding around is so crazy.  We are like celebrities – everyone stares, points, and talks about us in their native language.  Street behavior is so different here too.  I can’t believe the way people will just walk between lanes of traffic.  In Seattle, they would undoubtedly meet the hard end of a bumper.  The upside is that they are not sitting on the street corner, begging for money.  I guess that is admirable.  The sky was so hazy on the way back that the sun shone through as pinkish-orange.  I got a picture, but accidentally snapped it when a law enforcement official was in the foreground (a big NO NO).  Oops!  I took a shower when we got back to the hotel, but unfortunately the most persistent cough of my life prevented me from taking a brief nap.  Dinner is in half an hour…time for the deet.

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Tonight’s dinner included a variety of animals, French fries, rice, and plantains.  I went down early and sat with the boys and Gretchen and enjoyed the evening breeze off the sea and the random background music.  After dinner, I stayed and played UNO for a while, seeing as how that game takes forever.  I think that I’ve resorted to sleeping in the underwear.  It’s that hot.  Have to wake up at 6-tomorrow morning, so bon soir.

December 21, 2006

So, it’s a really good thing that I took a shower last night because all upstairs in the hotel is out of water.  So we went to use the downstairs bathroom for the morning routine and one of the employees told us that all of Accra has water problems and that a tanker was coming in to bring some more.  And one thing I didn’t realize until I laid in bed last night was that yesterday was the first time I touched the Atlantic Ocean.  Who would have thought it would be from this side of it?  Well, we have an early breakfast in a few minutes, and then it’s off to the University of Ghana.

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There are a lot of things that I take notice of while we are riding our bus around the city.  For one thing, it seems like there are many abandoned construction jobs.  Buildings with only a portion of the outside completed.  Maybe they are a work in progress or perhaps they were once beautiful buildings.  Another thing that shocks me every time are the abundant piles of burning trash right off the side of the street.  Accra is so dry right now (the rainy season is in April) that I would not think fires to be a good idea.  The reason for them is probably because there is no effective waste management system in place, so the trash just ends up in the fields or gutters if it is not burned.  Due to the “need” to pollute, it seems that Accra is lacking in environmental pride.  The gutters are scary because some are very deep (since it rains so much in April) and no one can ever be sure what is actually in them.  Rotting food, urine, and other garbage makes its way into the glorified ditches.  Speaking of urine, as we drive through the city, we pass guys peeing right off the side of the road.  Another thing I’ve noticed are the chickens that wander all over the place.  I don’t know if they belong to anyone in particular, but I’m pretty sure that their fate is the dinner plate.  The smell and even sight of exhaust and waste toxins cannot go without being noticed either.  Every time we drive around the city, I feel like it’s impossible to breathe fresh air.  Perhaps it helped clear my sinuses though because I can finally breathe again!  Along with exhaust, dust from the Sahara desert is blown in by the winter European winds to provide a haze-filled grayish-colored sky.  I haven’t really even seen blue sky.  The drivers here use their horns like nothing I’ve ever heard before.  You can barely go a few seconds without hearing one.  They can mean anything from “would you like a taxi?” to “you’re gonna hit me.”  The traffic is so tight.  People barely leave room, which could be bad since all the cars I’ve seen are manuals.  Even the Cho Chos are.  Cho Chos are like a taxi service but with vans where 15 or so people cram into them for super cheap rides.  They’re in the process of eliminating them since they cause so much traffic congestion.  We also learned about how poor young women would walk all the way into the busy part of town and wait for someone to hire them to carry their stuff in porcelain pots on their head for very little money.  It’s a long walk from the poor parts of town.  Women who are mothers of young children tie their babies to their back with a long piece of cloth.  It’s really cute to see a Ghanaian woman walk toward you with two little bare feet at her sides.  Yet another surprising thing is that a lot of the residents have cell phones.  I wouldn’t have thought that possible for a third world country, but everyone I have seen has one.  Apparently they are more reliable than ground phones.  One of the things we have to be careful about is the “thumbs-up.”  Here it is used to insult one’s mother.  I never realized how often Americans do that until it was no longer an option.  We are also supposed to ask, “How are you?” before we inquire something from one of the locals, which is really hard to get used to.  I haven’t done it right yet, but they don’t ask us.  Some also gave us the “thumbs-up,” but they probably meant it in the American way since the back of our multi-colored bus says in big, bright letters, “USA.”  The bus almost allows each of us to have two seats to ourselves, but they’re vinyl, which makes for a painful experience when it comes time to peel yourself from the seat.  Our driver is does a great job navigating through the crazy traffic.  His name is Kujo.

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So I had a decent breakfast that I managed to keep down today!  Then we went to the university and drove around while Dr. Williams spoke.  The campus is very large.  It currently accommodates 30,000 students, but has the potential (by its size) to house 80,000.  There are so many departments to choose from.  Some of the ones I saw included psychology, sociology, English, nutrition and food science, zoology, archaeology, and chemistry.  Most of the buildings are white, but the grounds are kept up like one would expect.  There were a lot of anthills that probably reached eight feet high and three feet across.  They were made of really red dirt and had lots of holes.  Before we arrived at UG, we passed the wealthy part of Accra, called Airport Residential (old money; diverse) and East Legon (new money; mostly Ghanaians).  Since interest rates on loans are in the twenty percents, most people pay cash upfront, but since the majority of the area consists of severely poverty-stricken people (who sell their talents in the form of service, artwork, and handy stuff) it takes many years, even decades to accumulate wealth.  I took notes on the lecture, which was interesting, but since I took some medicine beforehand, I had a hard time following, and instead dozed off.  After the somewhat tedious lecture, we went to the post office to pick up post cards.  This was where I had my first cedi confusion because the clerk didn’t have enough change, so I had to grab something else.  Then we had lunch on campus, before traveling to the W.E.B. DuBois Center.  It was fascinating, but not the most exciting thing ever.  In his bedroom (where he died in 1963) were a bunch of academic robes from various universities and family photographs.  Even a book signed by Albert Einstein.  His library was very impressive, housing around 1,000 books, including some written by him and his wife.  We also went inside the tomb where his body is, which wasn’t as creepy as I would have thought, probably because it’s a big tourism destination.  In fact he is the biggest thing (person) that links Americans and Ghanaians.  Since we arrived back in the hotel, I’ve been writing (almost 2 hours).  One of the employees came and got Gretchen and me so we could switch rooms to be away from the roosters, so we packed up real quick and now we’re in room 204.  I took a glorious cool shower in our new room (which has completely different curtains, shower curtain, closet, wall paper, and bathroom floor) and now I’m just relaxing waiting for dinner (at seven).  We’re required to show up for all meals as a check-in technique.  When I shower, my fingers get real pruny within about four minutes.  I wonder if it’s because of the humidity of maybe the cold water.  I have also realized how lucky I am to be able to enjoy cold drinks, cool indoors, and hot water.  They are truly a blessing.

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My short pre-dinner nap was disturbed by the same employee as before.  This time she came to spray the ants with Raid while we were still in there.  I guess it’s not toxic for us…  Dinner was okay.  Rice and French fries again.  Then we played Uno, Bullshit, and Egyptian Ratscrew.  A cat came into our dining area during dinner.  It looked pretty well fed.  On the other hand, all the horses I’ve seen, minus two, have been so skinny I could almost see directly through them.  All of the bones in their butt and legs were visible and they looked so unhappy.  They were really depressing to look at.  Anyway, time for bed.  After I write a post card for the family.

December 22, 2006

The alarm hasn’t even gone off yet this morning.  Got about half an hour left.  I didn’t really sleep too well last night.  I expected to because of the sound of the waves since our new room faces the ocean, but I think it’s hotter on this side of the building so I woke up a lot and never fully was asleep.  I thought it would be important for me to describe our room a bit.  In order to unlock it, you have to turn the key twice, and then, the keys go in the lock on the inside since there is no deadbolt.  Our door doesn’t latch, so when we’re in here it is locked.  After entering, the bathroom is on the left where there is a sink (with mirror), shower tub, and toilet…none with hot water.  The soap is nice though.  It smells good.  We can’t use the water for drinking or brushing teeth though because there’s a possibility of parasites since the water (although treated) sits in the pipes for a while.  The shower is just fine.  The tub sits higher than the rest of the floor, so you kind of have to climb in, but with the shower shoes it’s VERY easy to slip (as I have done numerous times).  There is only one knob (cold) and the shower curtain, displaying colorful sea creatures on a blue background, doesn’t reach around the two sides that remain open.  The showerhead drops the water from directly above and is electric, so don’t touch!  The toilet is kind of gross.  We can only flush our “initial wipe” toilet paper because Ghana’s plumbing can’t handle much more, so the extra is expected to be put in the trash (this causes the public bathrooms to smell real bad).  When it’s flushed, the water moves a lot and the toilet is super loud and then it runs for like five minutes.  The door doesn’t close and there’s no knob.  The rest of the room isn’t bad once you get used to it, but it definitely wouldn’t be up to par in the U.S.  You just can’t go into the situation with any expectations.  Straight ahead from the door are the windows (with screens) that stay open most of the time.  The long teal curtains cover even the bright blue wood paneling directly below the windows.  Our beds are parallel to the wall with windows, each with a blue nightstand and yellow checkered sheets (we brought our own though).  The head of the bed is met with more paneling, but at the foot is a padded bench with a wooden desk next to it and a mirror.  I sleep close to the window, and next to Gretchen, is a large blue closet.  I forgot to mention that most of the bathroom is white tile, then wallpaper with green roses, and the floor is a mixture of brown and black.  The floor in the rest of the room is covered in a weird rubbery material.  Maybe it has something to do with all the ants.

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After breakfast we went out and exchanged $200 each, which is ~ 1,800,000 cedis.  We were each given two huge stacks of paper money.  Very dirty and smelly.  The bank was called Barclays, and it is an example of how the British still benefit from the colonization that occurred years ago.  The tellers’ uniforms were really pretty, all different styles, vibrant colors.  In fact, all the workers’ uniforms were very unique from the traditional shirt and tie.  After assuring that our finances were in order, we went on to the Aburi Botanical Gardens.  On the way we passed both rich and poor.  The drive was about 45 minutes, and all along the way, I made more observations.  A lot of people are seen sitting on the roads by themselves (or with others) expecting to sell stuff to the people they most likely see everyday.  The shops are very tiny, probably 10’ by 10’ and often there is very loud music blaring.  A lot of the buildings are painted in really pretty vibrant colors.  All kinds of greens, blues, yellows, and oranges.  A lot of them also have razor wire of shards of broken glass along the tops of the fences that surround them.  It’s interesting though, because Ghana is supposed to have a shockingly low crime rate.

December 23, 2006

I was so absolutely exhausted that I couldn’t possibly write any more last night.  So…on with my observations.  The handiwork of some of these crafty people is amazing.  Everyday on the side of the road, we’ll see hand-carved doors and bed frames (all elaborately carved), and even couches and chairs.  A lot of roadside vendors carry buckets and brooms in all different colors.  A few times we’ve driven by women doing laundry in large pots and hanging them to dry on clotheslines.  This was surprising because during the quarter, Seth told us not to hang things to dry outside because there is a bug that likes to lay eggs in wet fabric, then, once the offspring is born, it burrows into the skin of whoever is wearing the infested clothes.  Needless to say, all of my clothes were hung inside to dry.  The children we’ve driven by appear to be so happy.  Many of them shout and smile and wave at us.  Some even gesture for us to take their picture.  They all seem very responsible too.  I’ve seen many children carrying around and caring for young babies.  They also tote very impressive head loads, only sometime with an adult in sight.  They all appear very disciplined and grateful for what they have.  In order to get someone’s attention around here, you have to hiss (like a snake).  It’s very awkward because it sounds like someone is angry with you.  My first time was at Labadi beach when an employee was directing me to the toilet paper.  I was pretty startled.  My last observation for the time being is that many of the buildings under construction seem to be rickety and unstable (although I saw cranes at some of the construction sites).  I wonder how the building (and health) codes differ here than in the States.  The botanical gardens we went to yesterday were truly amazing.  Many of the plants were brought in from other countries and some were quite old.  The gardens were opened in 1890 by the British.  As we walked along, we saw many trees that the guide would tell us about and he even had us play guessing games by crushing up leaves and having us smell them.  Among those were cinnamon, allspice, licorice, lemongrass, and eucalyptus.  Other plants we saw were cocoa trees, palms, bamboo, fikas, vines, and sensitive plants.  The sensitive plants are really exciting because the leaves contract when they are touched.  I had to take a video of it.  Another fascinating thing we saw was a tree that was choked off by a type of parasitic vine.  The inside of the tree was hollow and we got to go inside and you could see all the way up to the top.  I think at one point there were four people in it at once.  There were a lot of beautiful and vibrantly colored flowers there too.  Above one of the walkways, we saw a telephone wire with a convoy of ants crawling across it.  We ate lunch at the garden’s restaurant (that reminds me – I haven’t seen any restaurants yet that are not open-air).  I had spaghetti and my first soda of the trip.  They call it “mineral” here, and they all come in those old-fashioned glass bottles.  Mine was Sprite.  We all had a nice lunch with good conversations and afterward I got to demonstrate the amazingness of the retractable hand sanitizer that Aunt Lou got me (along with this journal).  The bus ride to campus for another lecture was very long.  I think I dozed off for a while.  When we got there, we sent our postcards, and visited the bookstore (which only had books, no school merchandise).  They even had books on Twi (‘tree’), one of the most common languages, besides English, that is spoken in Ghana.  There might be a time in the future when it becomes the official language of Ghana.  This lecture was more interesting than the last to me.  It was discussing the domestic slave trade.  I had a very difficult time staying awake once again, and unfortunately, Seth noticed.  They have been checking up on me a lot since I have been the most sick thus far.  I guess it is nice.  I wish I could just be tired without constantly being asked if I am doing all right.  I’m glad they’re concerned though.  When we got back to the hotel I took a nap and then we had the same food for dinner again.  I came back up right after dinner and showered and was in bed by eight o’clock.  I forgot to even brush my teeth and pray.  I was out in about 2.5 seconds.  I woke up at five and did some laundry in the bathtub and tried to get back to sleep, but I guess I’ve taken on the role of early to bed, early to rise.  I’m feeling a lot healthier now.  I just have that cough that is trying to get all of the gunk out.  Plus, it’s nice to wake up to see the sunrise.  Seth is letting us sleep in today, so we’ll have an hour before the alarm goes off.  I guess I’ll try to get a bit more shut-eye before breakfast.

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We had our regular breakfast of fruit, eggs, and some sort of salty porridge.  Then I braided Gretchen’s hair.  We then all walked to Kwame Nkruma’s Mausoleum.  Nkruma helped lead Ghana to their independence from Britain in 1957.  He was president before that and worked in conjunction with the British leader.  He died in Romania in 1972 and was buried in his hometown for 20 years, then was transferred to his final resting place inside the “sword’s handle.”  He was actually imprisoned just one day before becoming president.  Many of the photos showed him with important leaders of other countries including Fidel Castro and Queen Elizabeth.  The walk took us about 15 minutes.  We walked on the side of the road and it was very dusty so my feet turned about ten shades darker.  Along the way, we passed a bunch of chickens that were being sold for Christmas dinner.  The park was really pretty.  There were lots of fountains that lined the walkway to the mausoleum where his body lies.  The outer walls were shaped like a sword handle that had been struck into the ground, representing peace.  The entire memorial was made of marble.  We toured the museum portion first, which was a few steps under ground, trapping the heat to create a sauna.  We saw his original casket and lots of books and photos and even some of his possessions.  There were pens, his glasses, furniture, his walking stick, and his presidential desk (which I “accidentally” touched).  The lady who worked there gave us a short tour, but she spoke so quietly that I could barely hear her.  A lot of people in this country speak so softly that they are nearly inaudible.  Even Armstrong, our Ghanaian escort.  He goes to the University of Ghana and leads tours around the country as a side job.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a market called the Cultural Arts Center and looked around so that we could get a feel for how the markets worked.  I got grabbed a lot and even a subtle proposal.  We walked back to the hotel and got ready for lunch, which we had at a Chinese restaurant in Osu.  Armstrong taught us some Twi, and discussed with us some of the cultural norms and no-nos.  After lunch we walked to the African Market.  I bought a skirt on the way to the indoor, air-conditioned shop.  It had many rooms, but you weren’t supposed to barter in these places where the price was marked.  The bus ride back to the hotel was very refreshing, with the breeze blowing in, since we were all drenched and dripping with sweat.  We noticed when we were driving that there are many statues around the city, wrapped in cloth.  I haven’t yet figured out why.  After returning to the hotel, a bunch of us walked back to the market to purchase a few things, passing a football game along the way.  Gretchen and I got suckered into a booth to buy wraps where we talked them down to 100,000 cedis each (about $10 USD).  They also pushed some cute earrings onto me.  The vendors at the booth were very funny, which allowed me to feel comfortable in the unfamiliar scene.  I also ended up getting a small bracelet with a cowry shell on it.  Pretty sure I received another subtle proposal from the guy who sold it to me (he goes by the name of Friction).  He teaches drums and wants me to learn when I’m back in Accra.  I also got an arm pinch at the hotel this morning.  Now I’m on my bed, half-clothed (in my new wrap) and freshly showered.  It’s almost time to get ready for dinner, which we are having at Chez Afrique, Dr. Williams’ wife’s restaurant.

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One thing that I failed to mention earlier about returning to the market is that we took a shortcut through huge mounds of dirt and trash.  Cows, chickens, and even a kitten were grazing through the mess.  There was even a man pooping on one of the trash heaps.  It makes me wonder were the chickens for our dinners were found.

December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve!  Last night was really fun.  The band was great.  They played a lot of Bob Marley songs and even “Celebration.”  They were almost reggae.  They had an electric guitar, bass, and a keyboard.  The restaurant was definitely hoppin’.  We were served buffet-style, and the food was okay, but it was so dark that I couldn’t tell what I was dishing up.  I had rice, beef, and a plantain.  A lot of people ordered drinks (I had a sip of the African beer, Club).  And then we all got up and danced like crazies.  We also had fun with Josh’s camera, passing it around and taking stupid photos of ourselves.  I was really excited that I was able to wear my new wrap and earrings so I deeted extra on my legs.  After breakfast this morning, we’re leaving Accra for the Ashanti region.  Regions are to Ghana as states are to the U.S.  I’m taking with me a ton of memories, a sunburn, and a nasty ankle mosquito bite (the deet must have been taking a coffee break).

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We just left the hotel and are now traveling toward Kumasi, which is an expected four-hour road trip.  We just passed a mother bathing her child on the side of the road.  A lot of things happen on the roadside, in complete view of passersby.  I’ve notices that many of the children we spot play without shoes.  That seems like a risky habit, considering the sewage and garbage problem.  We are currently passing shanty-type town.  I hope that there is never a fire.  It would truly be a devastating catastrophe.  There’s very little traffic on account of the holiday.  Of those out on the road today, I have seen lot of travelers packed on the backs of trucks, without seatbelts.  I suppose I have yet to wear a seatbelt here as well though.  I am, however, wearing my new flowy skirt and there is a wonderful breeze.  We’re at a Ghanaian truck stop now to get gas and bags of water.  Turns out, throwing them is not too great an idea.  One exploded on Gretchen’s lap, dyeing her legs the beautiful bright blue of her new dress.

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We just arrived at the Bobiri Forest Reserve.  The bus ride was hot, long, and bumpy.  The place is nice though – painted murals, mosquito nets over the beds, and a patio, but it’s three to a room with no fan or electricity.  On the way we passed a wedding and lots of crumbled car remains that had obviously been through a beating.  People did not stop and gawk though.  There would have been many traffic jams at home.  There were lots of maize (corn) fields and even some plumeria trees.  With all of the animals that wander, it’s surprising that I haven’t seen any road kill.  Armstrong told us how every African is named depending on the day of the week he or she was born.  Their true name is then given to them if they survived the first eight days of their life.  He is so knowledgeable about his country – its past, present, and future.  Many Americans don’t even know our national anthem.  A noticeable cultural habit is for people of the same gender to hold hands just because they are friends.  I think that the weather is just far too hot for that.  I’ve noticed that all the girls and women I see have pierced ears.  I assume that it is customary to pierce their ears as babies so that they are recognized as female.  A lot of young girls have shaved heads just like the boys and in some cases it is difficult to distinguish between the boys and girls.  Our guesthouse is very secret garden-ish slash Jurassic park.  There are many bugs and the insects are very loud, especially in the evening.  I hope I get some sleep tonight…  The rest stop along the highway was nice and had tasty food, but they charged an entrance fee into the bathroom.  It had to be the nicest bathroom I’ve seen in Ghana thus far though.

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The kittens that run around here are so adorable.  It was really hard not to feed and play with them, especially for Seth.  So I’m just settling down for the night.  We ate dinner, then sat around and laughed for a while.  Then I took a freezing shower.  Billie Sue, Gretchen, and I are sharing room 2.  It’s kind of like a dorm room, with separate rooms for the shower and toilet.  A lot of people are feeling sick right now, including Kelly.  Hope they feel better in the morning…

December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!  I’m just now relaxing after our long, sweaty nature hike through the jungle.  It rained last night and we walked to breakfast in the misty morning, where the kittens were extra cute and playful.  Armstrong played with them while it was super hard for us to resist.  Breakfast was the same as in Accra, plus some citrus fruits.  The walkway to the breakfast building has such beautiful fragrance, as it is lined with flowering trees.  I wish I could bottle it up and take it home.  We put on our socks, close-toed shoes, and pants on for a one and a half hour trek through the Bobiri forest.  It was really pretty and super loud – full of buzzing insects and chirping birds.  We were introduced to lots of exciting plants.  There was a tree that was 366 years old!  We also came across a HUGE spider!  And when I say “we,” I mean I found it and somehow we thought it would be a good idea to poke it with a stick.  The bugger jumped so fast, all of a sudden it was on a different leaf nearly a foot away.  Erin, Elisa, and I ran so fast that we almost ran right into the rest of the group as we caught up with them.  On the way back to the house, Erin and I explored a huge bamboo overhang that came out over the road.  As I posed for a picture, my foothold broke off.  It’s a good thing I had a hand on a sturdy branch!  Now, since we all worked up quite the appetite, we are waiting around for lunch.

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Lunch was actually kind of good.  We had chicken, yams, cooked beans, and plantains.  The kittens only come out to visit when the food is served – smart little furballs.  After lunch we took the bus to the village that we passed on the way to the guesthouse (which we now share with other travelers).  I don’t know how anyone can find these places.  Our purpose for visiting the village was to spread Christmas cheer and bring gifts for the children.  There were SO MANY of them!  They all came running when the bus pulled up.  We were greeted by the cutest smiles and eager faces.  We all played for a while and took lots of pictures (of which the children insisted on seeing after each was taken).  Then we handed out pens and pencils to each child.  It’s amazing how excited they were to receive a mere pencil – something we can purchase in 10-packs for one dollar.  They probably will not be getting much else for Christmas.  It really puts things into perspective though.  I made two little friends who latched onto my hands ad quickly became my shadows.  The girls’ names were Abigail and Anani.  We sat and watched a football game together, and when the time came to say goodbye, we were all so sad to say part.  There was actually another white guy there too.  Now that we’re back, I’m laying on my sheet (thank God I brought one) after a cold shower writing in the dark.  The electricity comes on at six…I think with the help of a generator.  So we have to be patient until then.  Dinner is in an hour or so, so I think I’ll clip my nails.  By the way, those hours in that village may very well have been the best in my life.

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The spaghetti was the best part of dinner.  After eating we all went up to the town where Armstrong grew up.  We were led to this courtyard between houses (along the way, kids would straight-up ask us for money), where we danced for a while with his family.  Then we moved on and before we got settled, two others and I needed to use the facilities, but of course there was a lack of them, so Armstrong took us to his family’s traditional-style toilet.  Basically a hole in the ground surrounded by four walls.  Then we went back to the club/bar where I tried the African beer, Star, and danced for a long time!  I mainly danced with five little children for most of the time, but the teenage boys kept trying to interfere, getting a little too close for my liking.  I’m thinking they were probably fifteen.  They were so persistent!  Apparently I have two husbands and tons of admirers now.  I’m totally exhausted after that, so I hope that I am able to get lots of sleep…and stop feeling sickly in the stomach.

December 26, 2006

Turns out that my sick feelings did not go away.  I had to make several trips to the toilet between 10pm and 1am.  At one point, I sat on the toilet for about an hour with my headlamp around my neck and a three-inch cockroach flirting with my feet.  I would not wish what I experienced last night on anyone.  I sat there with a cramping stomach in the severe heat drifting in and out of awareness.  I came-to every time the toilet seat fell off the base though.  I am feeling better this morning now, but I’m scared because I don’t know what caused it.  I have a feeling that all the dancing in the smoldering heat last night played a role in it.  I don’t think I would blame the peanut M&Ms. Today we will head to Kumasi to tour a palace and visit the Central Market, the largest in all of West Africa.  I’m praying that my stomach allows me to enjoy it.

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Bonwire was our first stop along the way to Kumasi.  It is a Kente weaving village, but not only that; it is where Kente weaving actually originated.  We saw them working on all the looms.  It was quite impressive.  The colors and designs in the fabric are so crazy.  It was some of the brightest cloth I have ever seen.  I bought a mellow-patterned one and some shoulder bags as souvenirs, and then we continued to our next stop, a village where they dyed and stamped Kente cloth.  We saw some of the locals pounding dough for fufuo and they said I could take a picture, but later they found me and hassled me for money – Armstrong to the rescue again.  When we finally arrived in Kumasi, we checked into our guesthouse and got settled.  It’s a really nice place in comparison to where we last stayed.  The room is separated into a front living area with seats and a bedroom area with two big beds pushed together.  There are three of us in this room – me, Gretchen, and Kerry.  After taking a short rest, we piled back onto the bus and hit the road for a lunch of fast food.  It was kind of like a food court without the mall attached.  The grocery section was called Bonjour and I think there were three fast food joints that surrounded it.  The fast food was basically just rice, chicken, and French fries.  I ended up getting a loaf of bread, some strawberry wafers, and drinks.  We won’t be able to stop on our long bus ride to the monkey sanctuary tomorrow.  Our next stop was Asuofua to see how African beads were made.  It was a really fascinating process.  The beads are made from the powder of ground-up glass bottles, which is carefully placed into molds, and fired in an oven for two hours, allowing the chemicals to melt together.  After a tour, we were taken to the local market to shop around for jewelry made by the residents of the village.  I ended up picking out a bunch of souvenirs for friends and family.  Especially in my mind was my “beader”-dad.  Our final stop before we returned to Samarittan Villa Guesthouse, was the Central Market.  We strategically split into 3 groups and briskly made our way through the biggest maze I had ever stepped foot in.  I can’t believe that people don’t get lost in there.  I would have for sure.  There were such a variety of smells, from soaps, to odors that seemed unhealthy to inhale.  I still am dumfounded at how trash is just thrown in the aisle-ways and the fact that kids walk around barefoot.  You have to push your way through and dodge gigantic head loads if you want to get anywhere.  We went through the meat market, which happened to be disgusting, as expected, where we saw bloody meats hanging everywhere, unrefrigerated and crawling with flies.  It’s hard to imagine not being able to escape this lifestyle.  A lot of them seemed happy, or at least content.  Many greeted and welcomed us to Ghana, and one lady even grabbed my arm and tried to dance with me.  We finally emerged and returned to the guesthouse, where we enjoyed dinner inside for once.  It was all right but my tummy was acting up again.  Today we found out that Armstrong’s girlfriend is from New York.  She’s actually traveling with us for a while.  She is studying abroad at UG, but she is originally a Princeton student.  Anyway, I am awfully tired, so I hope that my stomach allows me to get some rest.

December 27, 2006

Kujo’s (our busdriver) 49th birthday!  My stomach sure did allow me to get some rest.  PLENTY of it.  I attempted to take a shower this morning, but I had difficulties because it was the kind with the showerhead that you have to hold while trying to maneuver your body underneath the low pressured water.  There wasn’t even a shower curtain.  After breakfast, we set out for the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary.  I tried to rest for the majority of the ride, but it was hard because it was a real cold morning, with fog hanging over the trees.  I think it rained last night.  As the temperature rose and the day drew on, so did the contents of our bladders so we stopped at a Shell station for relief.  Not many Westerners make it this far north in Ghana, so we are fortunate to have seen what things are like up here.  On the way, I noticed that there are many hairstyle salons (this was before we left the city).  Tiny little shacks that advertised cuts, weaves, and braids on small, intricately painted road-side signs.  As we drove further into the country, we were able to see how green the area on the sides of the road are.  In the states, I’m sure it would be lined with Walmarts and McDonaldses.  It kind of feels like we have gone back in time, back before all the material obsession and corporate buzz.  It’s a simple life.  So simple that you can see roadside houses that were constructed from sticks and straw.  Buildings, in the midst of crumbling are, rather than being condemned, inhabited with bright-eyed resourceful families.  All the plants, buildings, and cars are coated with a thick layer of red dust from the dirt roads.  As we approached the guesthouse further, we could see and smell the smoke of uncontrolled flames.  Apparently the brush is purposefully burned in order to protect it from being burnt by others, and to prepare the land for cultivation.  It was really hard to breathe as we drove through smoky sections of drive.  We threw our stuff into our rooms at the guesthouse as soon as we arrived, then jumped back onto the bus, anxious for our monkey encounters.  Upon arrival, we donated books to the village school and saw that many of the houses were mere shacks made from simple material.  We went on a walking tour of the jungle that bordered the village.  There were lots of unique trees and crazy plants.  The sounds were incredible – all kinds of insect and bird noises.  Then we reached to the place where all the monkeys were.  The mona monkeys were more friendly than the black and white colobus.  It’s amazing to see how much the villagers respect the monkeys.  The little pests go straight up to the houses and steal food.  They are even buried in a monkey graveyard, which we were given the privilege to see.  We also got to see lots of babies with their moms, and even baby goats, which were also roaming around the village.

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We took a dinner break and discussed our favorite parts of the trip thus far and decided how we were going to go about teaching the village children in Biriwa.  After dinner, I discovered a praying mantis in the bathroom (more like toilet stall), which actually is not attached to our rooms, and then we watched Alex show off some sweet card tricks.  We’re waking up tomorrow at 6:15 for an early departure to the coast so I’m once again praying for a good night sleep (and my own seat for the bus ride tomorrow).  It’s going to be our longest trip, and the longest road trip of my life.

December 28, 2006

We totally had pancakes for breakfast this morning!  It was wonderful.  We experienced our very long and gruesome bus ride today (perhaps that’s why we were treated to pancakes).  I started the day out on the bus wearing long sleeves and ended with them as well.  That’s how long we were confined.  Along the way, I noticed how all of the trees and bush plants are green, even though the rainy season has long passed.  I thought that was strange but super cool.  I had to pee twice along the trip, so we stopped at the same fast food place as before.  Then we went through tremendous potholes that Kujo did a wonderful job of trying to dodge.  Around 4 or 5, we arrived in a town called Assin Manso.  It is home to the river where slaves took their last bath before reaching the coast and being sold.  It was crazy to think that I was standing in a type of internment area where slaves were held.  We walked along the trail to the bank of the river, the same trail that slaves were forced to drag themselves along in chains, dehydrated and exhausted.  I kneeled down by the river, as Seth told us that we were standing on five hundred years of history.  It was real spiritual and emotional.  I did my best to take it all in since I knew that I was unlikely to return there.  It is the kind of place that demands your undivided attention the moment you approach it.  Entrenched in the shadows of overgrown bamboo plants, the site had a sort of lurking presence.  Light was hard to come by through the brush – it has been a dark place for hundreds of years.  As we were contemplating the gravity of our experience, a local woman strode down and fetched some water from the same river that her ancestors may have been beaten and tortured.  And then one of my classmates complained about the humidity, which increased as we decreased in altitude.  Who could complain about such a petty thing while taking in all the history that surrounds the area?  About an hour later, we arrived at Cape Coast, where the slaves would have walked to.  And then we were at Hans Cottage.  It’s basically a resort, complete with a pool and Internet.  Erin and I room 25 (Keisha was yesterday’s roomie).  It’s shower time now, then dinner over the crocodile-infested lagoon.

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Didn’t see any crocs tonight, but I did enjoy some tasty curry chicken and pasta for dinner.  While we were eating our dinner though, Hana had to be taken to the hospital.  She has been sick for four days so it was time to call in the professionals.  The pre-dinner shower I had was absolutely amazing.  I actually shaved my legs for the first time on the trip.  The cold water felt so great after the long, hot, sticky ride…and not showering for 36 hours or so (but sweating just the same).  It is a lot warmer with a higher humidity near the coast.  I think it’s because when we were further into the country, we were higher in altitude.  I was thinking about ordering my first legal alcoholic beverage with dinner, but I am afraid that my stomach won’t do so well with it in the heat.  Maybe another day.  Or maybe in London.  After dinner, I was able to use the Internet to write friends and family.  It was really great to get one back from dad so fast.  It’s weird how you can be on the other side of the world from someone, yet only seconds away from communicating.  I was also able to check my grades.  So far, two Bs and one A – not too bad.  Now I’m feeling awfully exhausted so I must get some rest.  Canopy walk tomorrow!

December 29, 2006

I am thoroughly disgusted by how many people are complaining after what we saw yesterday – and what awaits us today.  The whining is really started to get to me.

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So, breakfast this morning was nice.  There was no live music like last night, but it was okay.  I saw three crocodiles today before we left for Kakum National Park for our canopy walk adventures.  There were no drunk drivers along the road today (unlike yesterday).  Kakum was really impressive.  The rocks on the pathway had me fearing a twisted ankle, but the facilities were done really well.  It looks exactly like it came from Disneyland, except that here, there were real lizards everywhere.  We walked about half a mile uphill before the start of our trek over the African rainforest.  As we climbed the wooden platform to step out onto the first bridge, I realized the sounds I heard were not just birds, but that nature was calling.  So I hopped back down and peed behind a tree.  In all, we traversed seven bridges, each connected to a platform on a tree.  The view all around us was so amazing.  The ground below, the beautiful blue sky above, and a 360-degree view of gorgeous green trees around us.  Birds were chirping about as loud as the wooden platforms were squeaking.  I wish I could say that I was scared, but working at camp totally prepared me for heights.  Seth was so afraid though.  It cracked me up to see our professor like that.  I actually lunged over the rainforest.  Staffers would be proud (too bad there is no photo evidence).  Our next stop was for lunch at Elmina Beach Resort.  This place was super nice!  Probably $100 to $200 US per night.  There was a beautiful entry way but what surprised me most was that all of the chairs and plates in the restaurant actually matched.  That’s the first time I’ve seen that since we’ve been here.  I had spaghetti and spicy meatballs for lunch, which were really good.  The view of the ocean was incredible.  I love being back at the coast.  I’ve lived near water for too long to be satisfied with the middle of a country.  We next stopped at Elmina Castle, which is 524 years old!  It was ridiculous to touch something that ancient.  It borders the sea on three sides, so the view is spectacular.  Unfortunately, my camera ran out of battery, but other people had theirs.  We started off with a brief history of the castle.  The biggest use was to hold Africans before they crossed the Atlantic to become slaves.  The whole experience is impossible to describe. I touched the stained walls of the women’s dungeons, where hundreds were forced to sleep in their own blood, puke, urine, feces, and God knows what else.  I could almost hear the screaming and clanking of chains.  I stood in the courtyard where the governor would peer down to choose his next mistress.  I crossed the floor of the room he used to violate her.  I was locked in a cell where hundreds died, where people were put specifically to die.  I stared out the door of no return, where the slaves were taken directly to the ships that would sail them to their depressing fate of a lifetime of servitude in a foreign land.  I looked through the peepholes where guards watched their posts.  I stared through the bars where slaves would have been staring right back in my face.  The experience was definitely humbling and it made me feel guilty that our country was built on the basis of the slave trade not that long ago.

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We had a discussion before dinner about our reactions to the histories that we peered into.  I was finally able to voice my frustrations about the complaints that I had been hearing.  Hopefully they made sense to everyone.  Dinner was all right.  My stomach cramps came back so I wasn’t able to finish my rice and noodles.  I then struggled to listen through Armstrong’s explanations of the expectations that await us in Biriwa tomorrow.  Then we discussed how we should go about teaching AIDS/HIV prevention to the village.  Not looking forward to that.  I would rather do more community service, but I am worried about the heat as it is.  Seth and Kelly just stopped by to check on me.  I am praying to feel better in the morning.

December 30, 2006

Today was a very long day and I have a lot to write about.  I started off the morning with a nice cool shower then breakfast of toast.  Saw a big croc swimming right under the bridge I was standing on, and a little baby hiding in a hole in the cement.  From the hotel, we loaded the bus and traveled to Cape Coast Castle.  We didn’t do a guided tour, but rather took the liberty of showing ourselves around.  I think that since we weren’t told everything about its history, there was less of an emotional impact.  It was still overwhelming to travel down to the pits of the male dungeon to see a shrine in memory of the unfortunate victims.  This particular dungeon went downhill throughout about four different chambers.  I can’t imagine all of the human waste that ended up in the lowest section.  This castle was right up against the ocean.  Evidence of ruthless waves was visible on the castle walls.  From there we traveled to Biriwa, the village that awaited our community service project.  Upon arriving, we met Frederick, the chief’s linguist, who led us to the palace to meet the chief himself.  The palace was more of an office cubicle made of four cement walls, attached to another room.  A desk sat at one end, where the chief, dressed in a traditional toga-like robe, greeted us with big smiles and hand shakes.  We all crammed into this tiny room, where we were given soda (mineral water) to drink before we could leave to tour the village.  While we quickly tried to finish our drinks, some of the village elders came in to greet us and pack themselves into the room to sit with us, which we barely fit into without sharing it.  One lady even took her baby off her back and had Erin hold her.  I was a little jealous.  We then moved outside to finish our drinks and wait for the young-looking chief to change into “American” clothes, as he called them.  He came out of his room ten minutes later wearing a long sleeve button-up printed shirt with dogs on the front, overalls (Dickies), and a Yankees baseball cap.  I am not making fun, but it’s crazy how all the clothes around here (outside of the big cities) come from Salvation Army or similar companies.  He led us around his village, pointing out the fishing canoes and nets, the health center, and the school.  Children followed us around everywhere, most barefooted, and only half-clothed.  A lot of them demanded money, saying, “cash-cash” and making gestures.  I even saw a little girl on crutches who was missing a leg and had traces of a repaired cleft lip.  The greeting and tour took a little over an hour, and then we started our community service.  We were asked to tote pots of dirt up to the new school that was under construction.  It was really tough in the mid-day heat, but we roughed it, carrying them on our heads like true Ghanaians.  We did that for more than an hour and the children even came to help.  They actually took over our job.  The elders told us to sit and rest and they got us ice-cold water to hydrate.  Then came the teaching part of our visit. We had already decided to discuss aids, so we couldn’t change the topic when only small children and the elders showed up.  Oh well.  The adults seemed interested and asked questions.  Then we taught the kids “heads, shoulders, knees, and toes,” and they decided that they would sing it during school.  Donations were handed out, and then along with the elders, we filed into the bus to go eat lunch at the Biriwa Beach Hotel at 2pm.  We ate next to a beautiful view of the Atlantic.  It was gorgeous and the food was so good.  Just chicken and fried rice again, but there was something great about them.  We were told not to eat all of our food out of respect and it was so hard, but the elders practically licked the bones clean and asked us why we hadn’t done the same.  After lunch, we took the elders back to their village and set out to Winneba, where the Lagoon Lodge awaited us.  Kujo pulled some tricky maneuvers to get the bus in the parking lot, but of course he is totally and completely capable.  Gretchen and I are rooming together again at this beautiful open-aired hotel.  Dinner is in a little bit and I am really hungry from all the hard work.  My legs are actually starting to feel sore.  It’s no wonder that the children here are so physically fit if they work like that everyday in the hot sun.  I know that I have never sweat so much before.  My pants are a lot looser than when we started the trip.  I think I’m loosing some of that junk…the king butt.  It’s so weird that there are only four days left.  On one hand it’s kind of a relief because the constant queasy stomach is not something anyone should have to get used to, especially so far from the comforts of home.  It will be great to see my family and friends and not worry about where the next bathroom will be and whether or not it will have toilet paper.  It’s a petty concern compared to what the slaves dealt with but these are the current realities of my situation.  On the other hand, I’ll probably never be here again.  The weather is amazing, and the culture shock when we return home is going to be very hard to deal with.  I’ve definitely seen poverty now.  It is devastating to witness.  It’s horrible to think that my life is the opposite of theirs…possibly at their expense.  It’s crazy to compare the lives of these children, who tote heavy things around all day to help provide income for their family, to those of my cousins, who are not spoiled in the eyes of the well off, but rather have the luxury of food and shelter everyday.

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Dinner was good.  The chicken was breaded and seasoned really well.  We ate and chatted about hospital experiences on our side of the table.  That, along with crap stories, seems to be a popular subject.  I think we all just like to gross each other out.  After dinner we discussed our reactions to the experience that we shared.  Over all we felt really accepted by all ages and we all liked doing the work.  It was nice to join them rather than stare out of the confines of our bus.  We also laughed about how informal the chief was.  He drank beer during our meeting and actually answered his phone in front of us.  At one point, he held it in front of his mouth and was yelling into it while the linguist was trying to speak with us.  I noticed a few of my classmates crack shy smiles.  The cell phone etiquette is very different here.  One of the elders answered his phone while sitting in front of the chief.  I would have guessed that to be disrespectful, but I must be mistaken.  Being chief these days isn’t a full-time position.  Apparently he is also an accountant.  The eating mannerisms of the elders were different too.  Some threw their cleaned-to-the-bone chicken remains behind them over the cliff.  Thomas, the old man sitting next to me who tried to teach me some Fanti (another Ghanaian language), was spitting out his chewed food between his legs.  It was definitely a surprising sight.  Tomorrow is the start of our chilled-out, relaxed, soak up our experiences days.  We have no more set-in-stone scheduled activities, which is nice but also kind of sad.  It went pretty fast considering that we’ve pretty much all had sick stomachs every day.  I know I have.  By the way, Hana is all better now.  She came back from the hospital late the night she had left.  Got some IVs in her and now she is way healthier.  Apparently they saw some pretty gruesome things in the ER.  Seth seemed pretty stunned the next morning.  They received medical attention before a lot of the others because of skin color.  The trip to the hospital only cost $28, which seems truly unbelievable.

December 31, 2006

New Years Eve began with Seth waking us up at 7:30.  After breakfast, we all got on the bus and set out for the Fort of Good Hope, an ex-slave trading center.  It is in the village of Senya-Bereku.  We got a little lost along the way, so what we expected to be a 35 minute trip turned out to take over an hour.  Now I am here, sitting on this 400-year-old castle, staring out over the Atlantic, watching children splash around in the surf, and fishing boats out for a day’s work.  Our job here today is to write about what’s next.  What’s next for us, what’s next for our culture, and what’s next for our country.  For me personally, I plan on being more grateful for the things I have.  I want to travel more, not necessarily in developing countries, but all over the place.  I feel like being the minority has really helped me to understand the differences of life.  I know that I haven’t been oppressed like the minority groups of my culture have, but I know that at one point, when my ancestors arrived in America, they were discriminated against as well.  The Irish, the German, and Polish.  I am fairly positive that they all dealt with the harsh realities of racism.  They were, however easily able to blend and conform because of skin color, and these days, there aren’t really any issues regarding those ethnic backgrounds.  I look forward to the day when the racism that exists between people of different skin colors dies out as well.   Until then, it is important that all people recognize that racism does in fact exist.  Of course the majority of it is unintentional.  Why then is it so hard to admit that “yes, negative stereotypes do cross my mind from time to time?”  People never want to admit their mistakes.  That’s the problem.  I think that another mistake is that so many African Americans play into the stereotypes that exist about them.  All the wannabe gangsters and thugs aren’t doing anything to help erase those negative beliefs.  As far as what’s next for Africa and Ghana – decades of catching up.  I think our job, having come and seen this is to create awareness of the harsh circumstances that exist here.  You can tell someone over and over again, but to show is to teach, and that is what needs to be done.  I think the first step may be to beautify the country by making receptacles to clean up the trash.  Creating garbage routes and donating waste management vehicles would create more jobs for people.  As I look down over the wall I’m sitting on, I can’t even attempt to count the pieces of trash that are scattered everywhere.  There’s no way.  By cleaning it up, it could reduce the number of illnesses and increase hygiene, especially since the prevalence of bare feet is so high.  So I don’t know exactly where I am on a map, but I’m assuming that I’m staring at Antarctica.  Since I can’t really think of what else to add right now, I think it would be important for me to focus on the things in my life that I am thankful for.  Looking at this country, which suffered the slave trade, I’ve realized that it hasn’t really benefitted from it at all.  But we did.  I’m watching people fish from 40-foot canoes with nets, while we have huge iron ships that go out and do the work for us.  I just wonder what life would have been like if it had never happened.  Would MTV and video games rule the life of young teenagers?  Would money govern all aspects of life?  Would the streets be paved with gold?  Too bad we’ll never know.

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I shed my first tears today.  The whole thing caught me by surprise.  We returned to the village that redirected us to the Fort of Good Hope.  The Village of Hope is an orphanage and a school.  It houses children aged two through college-aged students that are no longer with their parents because of AIDS, abuse, or other reasons.  We got out and donated books and supplies to them.  There were about 120 and they all came out to greet us.  The adults even introduced us to two young boys whose parents sold them into slavery 5 weeks ago.  They didn’t speak any English yet and were still very young.  Probably 4 and 5.  There was a white family from Texas who came to help out the orphanage.  The director of the school was also white.  I got his contact information in case I, or any of my friends feel the urge to come and volunteer.  There was also an article in the New York Times about these poor boys.   Their story is very depressing, however it sheds light onto the issue of modern day slavery and forced servitude, which is a conflict that needs to be addressed.

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We had lunch at two after we got back from our reflection time.  Today has been very relaxed.  It’s just basically a vacation now.  I took a much-needed nap for about an hour and before I knew it they were waking me up to go check out Winneba Beach.  We weaved our way through trails until we were able to find the dirty-sand beach where we sat and watched the waves, collected shells, and played in the shallow surf a bit.  It was nice to just chat and relax.  Seth, Kelly, Mike, Asher, Alex, Hana, Kerry, and I were the fortunate ones who were able to watch the sun descend toward the horizon.  We took some crazy pictures, and on the way back, Seth’s sandal broke and had to be tied with palm leaves.  We got a little mixed up by the paths on the way back, so we ended up going through yards and met a school teacher on vacation there.  He invited us to join in a New Year’s celebration, but we hinted that we would be unable to attend. While we were at the beach, apparently there was a money dispute, and the hotel ended up charging us an extra 2,000,000 cedis.  They threatened to have Armstrong arrested if we didn’t pay, so now we’re brainstorming ways to comfort Armstrong and help him keep his job so he can get a visa to the US.  He was also upset after seeing the orphanage today.  Apparently he went through some rough times in his childhood.  It’s about 6pm right now and dinner is at 8, so I think I am going to take another nap so that I can make it all the way until midnight to greet the New Year.

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Lunch was ramen noodles with veggies and chicken, and fries for dinner.  After dinner, we played all sorts of games to keep us awake for the festivities – speed, uno, solitaire, and scrabble.  A lot of people drank, but I decided that tomorrow could be really bad if I partook.  I did taste the Ghanaian-brewed lager called Stone.  It was real strong.  Finally the New Year came, and after listening to a variety of Asher’s crazy music, we were able to count down so that we could hit the sheets.  The hotel even set off a variety of fireworks.  Their aim is not very good though – they shot them up into the upper floors of the hotel.  Luckily nothing caught fire!  I am so tired now, but a lot of our group is still downstairs.  It’s no good that this hotel echoes a lot – it sounds like they are right next to me.  Some of the boys gave me a soar throat by smoking next to me…gross.

January 1, 2007

The New Year has begun!  My friends and family are probably still celebrating (it’s around 1 am at home).  Curtis is probably in Tokyo right now, on her way home from the Philippines.  I started my morning off with a lovely high-pressured cool shower.  The Lagoon Lodge probably has the best showers in Ghana, and not just because the water pressure rocks, but because I actually needed showers while I was there.  Breakfast is in a little bit, then its back to Accra, the birthplace of  our camaraderie.  It will be interesting to be back at the Riviera.  We were so hesitant the first time we stayed there, but now we’re pros, so hopefully nobody will get cocky.  I think I’m coming down with another cold – my throat is a bit sore and narrow, and I’ve been coughing up nasty phlegm.  I’m all packed up now, so I think I’ll go check out the breakfast scene and take some Airborne (thanks, Grandma).

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We just got back to the Riviera Beach Hotel in Accra after a 2-hour long bus ride.  There were a ton of speed bumps in sets of 5.  They’re fun until I had to stand up as a shock absorber to keep from wetting my pants.  There is no enforced seatbelt law in Ghana so it’s nice to stand and stretch on the bus.  It’s lunchtime now at the hotel, then we’re going souvenir shopping at the Cultural Arts Center.

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I’m lying in the midst of all the souvenirs I purchased today.  Erin, who happens to be my roomie again (208), Gretchen, and I were shopping buddies, so we all worked our way through parts of the market, indulging in all sorts of souvenirs for ourselves and loved ones.  I ended up getting lots of jewelry for people to choose from.  I also bought three masks, a drum, a shaky noisemaker, and a wrap skirt for mom.  She better like and wear it after all the hassles I went through to buy it.  The color I wanted was too long, so I had them tailor it while I stood by for 20 minutes.  I got a picture taken with the guy who sold it to me, so I have proof of the struggle.  I also bought some pretty paintings and I think I’m in the market for more.  We spent probably two and a half hours shopping until Armstrong fetched us.  We could have kept going though.  When we got back, we chatted with the others and shared our purchases and experiences, and then Erin and I came to our room to lay everything out and organize who gets what.  Dinner followed our hour-or-so process of souvenir designation.  Same old rice, chicken, fish, and chips.  I only had rice and about four French fries.  After dinner, we had a class discussion that probably went on for an hour and a half.  We talked about what we learned and how we were going to share our experiences with people from home.  It got to be emotional for some, but for me, I know there’s hope.  I feel like there’s nowhere for Africa to go but up.  I feel like a forward movement is on its way, but who knows how long it will take to get there.  Now I’m contemplating how I’m gonna take all of this stuff home.  I’m also wondering how badly a ripped-off mosquito bite would scar.  It’s driving me crazy!

January 2, 2007

Our day started at 7:30 thanks to Asher’s wake-up call.  We met up with Dr. Williams at breakfast, and shortly after we got on our bus to travel to a local coffin maker.  Joe was the name of the carpenter, who made the craziest caskets I’ve ever seen!  There were car-shaped, fish-shaped, and other crazy coffins.  They were all pretty colorful too.  Then Joe came with us to Teshie Orphanage so we could donate the rest of our books and other supplies.  We all sat on the porch and spoke with the woman who owned the house.  They had 35 kids ranging from 5 to 21.  From my seat I could see in the windows, and it seemed that this place was definitely not in need of donations.  There were tons of books on shelves and piles of what looked like stuffed animals.  I guess anything helps, but it seems like some other place could have benefitted more from our donations.  After we left, we drove to the National Museum of Ghana.  It covered slavery, Egyptian history, and different types of sculptures and pottery.  They had one of Dr. Kwame Nkruma’s chairs (I touched), a skinned lion rug, and even a real mummy’s head.

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After the museum, we went to Osu for lunch at a Mediterranean place.  I had an amazing fresh croissant and hummus on pita bread.  It was so good!

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Nothing like broken-up journaling.  Anyway, after our cuisine we came back to the hotel to change into out swim gear for Labadi Beach.  It was a lot more crowded this time.  There were multiple white groups today.  Since I didn’t have a terrible head cold this time, I was able to play in the waves and go swimming!  It was so much fun.  We jumped and splashed around in the warm water for a long time before Armstrong came with his soccer ball to play with us.  He’s so tiny, and not so great with holding his own in the waves.  He grabbed on to me multiple times until finally I took his hand and pulled him out to the others.  He didn’t have a very good grip on that ball, so I had to go save it.  It’s amazing how close you can grow to a complete stranger in two weeks!  When my shorts started to chafe my thigh, I decided to head on in to sit in the warm breeze and watch people.  I saw two guys with monkeys walking down the beach before we buried our tour guide in the sand.  I also enjoyed some delicious kettle corn for about thirty cents.  I really loved just soaking up the experience.  Who knows when I’ll see or touch the Atlantic again?!  The bus ride back to the hotel was sticky and salty, but I jumped in the shower as soon as we got back, and now I’m medicating my thigh in hopes that I won’t have to deal with diaper rash during our travel day.  Tonight we have our farewell dinner accompanied by a Ghanaian performance of some sort.  It’s hard to believe that 24 hours from now we’ll all be on our way to the airport.

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The performance was absolutely incredible!  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It started with African drummers playing and singing traditional songs and chants.  Dancers started coming out in their traditional garb.  The women were okay.  They wore very unflattering clothes for their shape though.  The male dancers were ridiculous.  They were all extremely fit and gorgeous.  They could shake their hips better than any girl I’ve seen.  I was very impressed and in awe the entire time.  There were multiple dances, all with drumming and singing in the background.  The musicians were very entertaining as well.  They would pick up their drums, roll them, dance with them, and they looked like they were having so much fun.  I hope that they were paid well.  I would like to try to get one of their CDs when I get back home.  My favorite dancer was real dark and slender and muscular with short braids (or dreads).  He just moved so flawlessly.  I almost started crying during the performance because it was so beautiful and I couldn’t help but think about how my ancestors took that away from all the slaves and now most African Americans are so detached from their ancestors’ traditions.  I was also kind of upset that my culture has no traditional dancing or songs like that.  I wish there were though.  I’ll just have to take home the moves I learned here.  After the dancers were through, one of the drummers had us form a circle around him and he taught us some traditional Ghanaian dance moves.  It was real exciting and fun and I just hope I can remember them to show off.  It was a little hard on my ankle, which I hurt earlier while playing in the waves.  I think I may have also been stung by something in the water.  My feet are also collecting mosquito bites, which is weird since I have put deet in my ankles every night.  Anyway, to end our group dancing, we each had to solo in front of everyone.  Mine kind of turned into a shimmy shake type move with a couple spins.  The drums were going fast, so we had to speed up our shaking.  It was really fun.  The performers all quickly dispersed afterward and left quickly.  I was hoping they would stick around and chat or maybe even teach us some drumming.  Oh well.  A few of us entertained ourselves for a while by playing soccer with an empty water bottle.  The invention of the game is attributed to Elisa.  Breakfast is at 8am tomorrow and we have a big day of shopping ahead of us so I must get some rest.  Today was really great though.  I also bought Kujo a beer for dinner, during which I really enjoyed the meatballs!

January 3, 2007

Erin and I woke up a bit early and started planning for our shopping day.  Our first stop of the day (after breakfast) was Barclays bank to exchange more money.  Erin and I each took $50, and then split another $50 so we each had $75.  After the bank, some of us walked to the jersey shop in Osu and I purchased two shirts.  We next rode to the African Market to check out some stuff.  Fixed prices really suck though.  It was nice to get back to the market, despite the crazy mauling by vendors.  I got a whole lot though and I saw a lot of vendors that I had dealt with before and they were so excited to see me back.  Overall, I am pretty satisfied with my purchases.  I think I bargained pretty well.  I got six small masks for 105,000 cedis (I think).  I also gave in for some traditionally colored kente cloth.  A few other things for myself and multiple souvenirs for the friends and family.  We came back and I was able to shower, thankfully, then we packed and moved all of our stuff into 2 rooms to consolidate everything.  Lunch was good and fine, and then four of us went back to the market to finish our purchases.  I’m all out of cedis and dollars now.  I only have $50 in travelers checks left.  Hopefully the bars at Heathrow will take that.  While we were waiting for a bracelet to be made at the Cultural Arts Center, I got a free drum lesson from a nice Ghanaian man.  It hurt my hands but it was really fun.

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The drum lesson will pay off when I’m bored at Heathrow!  And on the plane…  Since I wrote last, we packed on to the bus and traveled to Accra’s airport called Kotokoa.  The Harmaton winds have brought such a dusty haze that looms over the streets of Accra.  Armstrong dressed up like an “American” for our bittersweet goodbye.  He had on a sharp white button-up shirt with black slacks held up by a black leather belt with a Boss buckle and pzazzy white shoes.  It was so hard to hug and say goodbye.  I feel like we learned so much from them.  Kujo was our silent protective grandfather figure while Armstrong played the role of fun crazy cousin.  I am sure gonna miss that kid.  We got through customs and security just fine and now we’re waiting for the gate to open.  It’s 7:25 now, our gate opens at 8:30, and our flight takes off at 11:30 pm.  I think it’s time for sudoku or some reading.

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Once opened, our gate was really hot and crowded.  We had to go outside to board the plane but I didn’t have any deet on…oh well.  Once everyone was boarded, we had to wait a while for the broken wheelchair lift to be moved out of the way.  We took off and I sat next to Josh, so we jammed and danced to Spice Girls until I fell asleep to the Gridiron Gang.  I listened to classical music while I slept.  For dinner we were served crappy chicken, jolof rice, and plantains.  I can’t escape it!  After attempting to eat it, I fell asleep for the entire flight to London.

January 4, 2007

So we made it to London safely.  It’s about 11am.  We arrived at Heathrow shortly before 7am and have been wandering around terminal ever since.  We had breakfast at Wetherman’s Bar.  I got granola with fruit and yogurt.  It was a great alternative to our routine breakfast of toast and oats.  Since pounds are worth more than US dollars, everything is a lot more expensive here.  During breakfast we saw a news broadcast about a fatal coach car accident near Heathrow.  The vehicle that crashed is used to transport passengers from one London airport to another.  After breakfast we got separated from our big group so Hana and I browsed some shops and wandered toward the end of the terminal where I called home and spoke with the parentals for the first time in two and a half weeks, which is weird since I usually speak with them everyday when I’m at school.  Then we checked our email, for a pound for ten minutes.  I have so many!  We walked back and found some of our group sleeping and now I am using my new pen from London at Est Bar Deli.  I had my very first legal full drink here.  I got a mojito, but all the cocktails are real expensive.  I’m feeling a little buzzed right now and the 3 London explorers returned from their trip to Buckingham Palace.  I probably should have gone, but I would have been so paranoid about missing the flight.  I figure that I’ll be back soon enough (hopefully).  I think it’s bathroom time now, and we board in less than two hours.  We’re homeward bound!

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The flight to Seatac is almost through.  It’s been a long flight – a delayed ending to an exciting and prosperous adventure.  Lots of bumps and bruises, ups and downs along the way.  I can’t believe only 45 minutes till we land.  I’m hoping that my friends and family can effectively provide the support I need to transition.  Before we left Heathrow, I had three shots of free Baileys on our way to meet everyone at gate 2.  There was a delay to our flight.  I don’t know why, but we were 40 minutes late for departure.  I watched Romeo and Juliet, and School for Scoundrels.  I was confused as to when I should sleep to make this time change as easy as possible, so I slept for about three hours after the movies.

January 5, 2007

I got through customs and immigration just fine and surprisingly fast.  It took forever for me to get my bag from baggage claim though.  It’s a good thing that I wasn’t the only one because I probably would’ve gotten lost.  Once we got off the shuttle I could see my parents waving at carousel one, where my bag had been transferred.  It was real great to see them.  They were so cute and excited.  From there we waited for grandma and grandpa (returning from Florida), who were convinced that we dealt with the same climate – I don’t think so!  Their bags took forever too, but once we got them, we packed into grandma’s car and headed home.  It was weird because I was so hot in the car.  I think it was from having cold air blown on me the entirety of both flights.  Mom brought my cell phone for me.  I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I decided to check my voicemail.  It’s a good thing too because Chana called right when (and I mean exactly) it was booting up.  She was on her way to Vancouver but not very far yet and if I didn’t answer, she would have kept driving, but she turned around and came to my house to visit.  We dropped dad off to get his car at the lot and then we took the grandparents home.  I gave them and aunt Joy their masks and then came home to balloons and flowers…and Chana’s freshly cut “can’t-even-fit-into-a-ponytail” hair!  I gave everyone their presents and then put my pictures on the TV to share.  Chana left afterward and then we all went to bed before 10pm.  There were no waves or insect music to relax to and lull me into a good night sleep.  There was no fan to cool my sweaty body, but rather layers of clothes and blankets to chase away the cold.  I didn’t even wake up thinking I was still in Africa because of the dramatic difference in my sleeping arrangements alone.  I woke up at about 5:15 and came downstairs to write and say goodbye to dad.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do today, but I just pray that I can handle it and have someone to talk to that understands the shock that I’m experiencing.  I’m almost crying as it is just thinking about it.  It’s weird just being able to flush the toilet every time and wash with hot water.  I had my first breakdown when I read to mom what I did on Christmas.  Reviewing my entries is going to be so tough, especially out loud.  But somehow I think it’s almost healthy.

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I took my first hot shower in almost three weeks.  I made it so humid that I felt like I was back in Africa.  It was weird to get out and not already be sweaty.  My body really enjoyed the hot water and freshness.

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