Thursday, August 28, 2014

Making the best of it

A lot of friends and family have emailed me inquiring about my studies.  They've wanted to know how I'm enjoying class and campus life.  Sadly, I've had to tell them that class has yet to begin because professors in Ghana are on strike.  Being a foreigner myself, I'm not sure who or what is the true source of the problem.  Some say professors are demanding fair wages.  Some say the government is trying to use educational resources more wisely.  Some say it's because of the Ebola outbreak.  Regardless of the reason, I along with other international students have traveled a long way from home and are here, ready and waiting to learn.  Until the issue is resolved, I'm doing what I can to make the best of the situation.  Learning my way around campus, orienting myself with the culture, and meeting new people are a few of the ways I'm keeping myself busy and productive (and traveling, of course).  Here are the top three activities from last week, with a little background on setting up my mosquito net, getting some wheels, and making new friends in Cape Coast.
In last week's post I discussed walking everywhere to do everything.  I have made a couple of friends who have cars (yay), but I can't call them up every day to hitch a ride.  Walking is good exercise, but after a while a person just needs some wheels.  A couple of different people had offered to help me find a good quality bike at one of the local markets, but they just weren't moving fast enough for my Western-minded self.  As the hostel manager, Mr. Selasy and the carpenter were in my room helping me set up my mosquito net, Mr. Selasy offered to help me find a bike in the city.  Not knowing my way around Ghana, I thanked him and took him up on the offer.

The carpenter helping set up my mosquito net (this is my hostel room by the way!), August 16, 2014

He may be the one to thank for protection against Malaria!  August 16, 2014
We traveled first to a little town past Tema so he could look at eco-friendly tiling options for a new roof.  On our way back to Accra we stopped in Ashama to look for the bike.  On our journey, we encountered several squawkers along the highway.  A squawker is a local merchant who sells wares in the middle of the street when cars are halted in traffic.  As we zoomed down the highway, women walked through traffic toting heavy loads of plantain chips, yeast rolls, ice water, and several fruits and vegetables.  Men sold everything imaginable, from floor mats to chewing gum to phone credit.  Because squawkers sell very random goods, I've never been moved to purchase anything or be more than a spectator.  My attitude changed, however, when a man walked in front of the car carrying a huge roll of maps of Ghana and Africa.  Emotion took over as he leaned toward the car asking if we'd like to purchase one.  After paying 10 cedis I asked Mr. Selasy if it was a good price and he said it was.  Finally, I thought, something to decorate my bedroom wall with!
I was happy for the map and this vendor was happy for the business!  August 20, 2014

Hopefully the map will help with my navigational skills of the country.  Mr. Selasy suggested searching for a bike in Ashama since bikes and other goods are imported in Ashama directly from other African and European countries.  After bargaining with three different street side vendors, I finally settled on a light blue women's bike from the first vendor.  Culture shock hit again as we waited and waited for the little second hand bike to be repaired.  The owner of the shop had to run to another store to find a basket, then another store to find a screw to fasten the basket on, then another thirty minutes to oil the bike up, then another twenty minutes to put in the bicycle pedals, and so on.  Through all of it, I just took a deep breath and waited until they finished.  And once they did, this little used blue bike made me pretty happy.  It took nearly a whole afternoon, just to get a used bike.  But the next morning, as I placed my book bag in the basket and made my way to the international student building, I was ecstatic!  Riding it that morning took me back to my undergrad days at the College of Charleston (boy do I sound old).  I was very thankful to have it as it saved a lot of time and a lot of foot work. Not to mention going down hills now is like a mini roller coaster!

Bicycle shop owners fixing my new/used (recycled) ride, August 20, 2014

What were you expecting-a motorcycle?  August 20, 2014
More bikes!  August 20, 2014

In addition to purchasing a brand new used bike, last weekend I made my first visit to Cape Coast.  The dirt road to Cape Coast was lined with palm trees that swayed in the cool beach wind.  Mansions and shacks alike were nestled high on leafy green hill tops.  It's every bit of a beach town.

The breathtaking beach town of Cape Coast, August 22, 2014

Several years ago my friend's husband was stationed in Ghana in the Peace Corps.  During that time he became friends with Mr. Quansah who was teaching history.  I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Quansah last April while visiting my friends in Arizona, USA.  He was glad to know I was coming and welcomed me to the country.  As soon as I walked into his home, he told me he thought I would be White, but was glad I'm Black-how funny!  August 22, 2014

Cape Coast was on my list of places to visit, but I also went to meet Mr. Quansah and his family.  Upon arrival one of his sons, Don, picked me up from the bus station.  It didn't take long for me to fall in love with Mr. Quansah's family.  Ms. Juliana prepared local Ghanian dishes for me each day which included red red, garden egg stew, and groundnut stew. Their kids were a joy to be around.  It's funny-I call them kids and they are all at least 10 years older than me!

On Friday after taking a much needed nap, Mr. Quansah's kids took me to some local fun spots including Kakum Canopy Walk and the Ostrich farm.  After taking the long walk into the forest through a rain storm, I was pretty tired.  But once we reached the top and I saw the beautiful walkway, I gained a second wind.  As I stepped onto the the Walk, Gloria asked me if I was afraid.  I certainly wasn't!  I had read about the Canopy walk in my travel book and couldn't wait to walk across.  We decided to be dare devils and took the long seven course way around to the end.  The view was absolutely breathtaking.  The beauty in the heart of the forest was calming and incredible to take in.

Posing with an elephant skull and some of Mr. Quansah's children and grandchildren: Don, Manaeow, Thomas, and Kofi at Kakum.  August 22, 2014

A hot and sweaty me suspended in air on the Canopy Walk after a rain storm, August 22, 2014
Hanging on for dear life!  August 22, 2014
Will I make it?  Yes!  August 22, 2014
Hands up (Manaeow is so cute here)!  August 22, 2014
Amazing moss growth and root system on this tree, August 22, 2014
These guys REALLY wanted to sell us some local home grown palm wine-it wasn't my favorite, August 22, 2014

After picking up some postcards for my mom at the gift shop, we headed to the Ostrich farm.  The ostriches were huge and peaceful animals.  They became a bit more aggressive once we started feeding them.  When the keeper started chasing them around the pin, I was able to get a shot of one of the males with his wings open.

Male ostrich flapping his wings, August 23, 2014

A hungry male ostrich, August 22, 2014
Hungry female ostriches, August 22, 2014
The next day Gloria went to campus and Don was writing exams, so it was just Kofi and I off to explore Elmina.  Cape Coast Castle was our first stop.  But as usual, getting there is half the fun.  After walking to the neighboring town, I was so glad to hop in a taxi to get to Elmina.  Riding in vehicles has really become a treat for me now that I walk and bike everywhere!  As we made our way up to the castle, people lined the streets with goods, but it was different than before.  The salty sea breeze filled my nostrils as I observed this fishing village way of life.  People, chickens, goats, and dead animals all mingled together.  We passed by three dead sharks on the way up to the castle.  Kofi went up to the merchants to have a closer look, but I kept my distance.  It was interesting to observe from afar and that was good enough for me!

Kofi admiring the sharks.  I'm keeping my distance, August 23, 2014

The road to Cape Coast Castle, August 23, 2014

Living conditions for some in Elmina, August 23, 2014
Incredible view of Elmina's fishing village, August 23, 2014
 Entering Cape Coast Castle, August 23, 2014
Once we made it to the castle, we were able to join a group of what appeared to be high school kids on a tour.  The tour guide was excellent and well versed in the history of the castle and the transatlantic slave trade in general.  Being a history major in college, this was right up my alley.  Some of the facts he discussed about the rape of enslaved women and the treatment of the Africans and Portuguese was sad, but it actually wasn't as depressing as I thought it would be (I suppose it's because I've studied it so many times and I was excited to be there).  All in all it was very educational and we had a great time.

The tour guide briefs us on what we're about to see.  He was excellent, August 23, 2014

The tour guide said church used to take place upstairs and slave auctions occurred on the first floor.  Some church this was.  August 23, 2014

Shackles, August 23, 2014
This is a peep hole in the Portuguese church-funny! August 23, 2014
Apparently Europeans got whipped for resisting, too.  This skull marks the spot where Europeans would get flogged or receive lashes for disobedience or being too rowdy in a drunken stupor.               August 23, 2014
Old cannon ball in the castle courtyard.  Yes, that's my foot!  August 23, 2014
I think my expression says it all, August 23, 2014
Kofi was having a blast taking "snaps" with my camera, August 23, 2014
Posing for the camera, August 23, 2014

We met this gentleman, Isaac, as we entered the castle.  On the way out, he found us and presented this shell to me as a gift.  Kofi said he was just trying to get money out of me, but I thought it was a sweet gesture!  August 23, 2014
 After leaving the castle Kofi took me to a government building where he works and some other sites I told him I had read about in my travel book. We visited the Boabab house and the hip and happening Oasis Beach Hotel.  It was thrilling to visit these places I had read about in my travel book.  We left the house that morning around 11:00am and returned home around 6:30pm.  Neither of us know where the time went that day, we just remember walking around the city, visiting landmarks and having fun people watching.

In front of Baobab House, August 23, 2014
 When we got back home that night, Gloria greeted me at the door and asked, "Did you have fun?  So when do you want to go out tonight?"  I told her I'd be ready to go out after I passed out for a few hours!  Not sure how I gathered the strength, but we headed out around 8:00pm that night and, as we did Friday night, danced the night away!  Family member Louisa and neighbor Frank, a pharmacist, joined us.  Together, the six of us had a great time singing with the crowd and enjoying the cool evening breeze (I didn't know what they were singing of course, I just hummed the tune).

Gloria and Kofi invited me to join them for Mass the next morning.  It would have been nice to experience Mass in Ghana, but I declined for not having packed the proper attire (aka church clothes).  By the time they made it back home, the family looked so nice, I asked if I could take their photo.  As they posed for the camera I thought, man, what a great looking family!

What's for lunch?  Tasty groundnut stew with chicken and yam.  August 24, 2014

Posing with Ms. Julianna and Mr. Quansah, August 24, 2014

Family photo of the Quansahs after Sunday Mass: Mr. Quansah, Ms. Juliana, (pet Jupiter), Manaeow, Gloria, Louisa, Vincent, Kofi, and Thomas.  August 24, 2014

After photos, exchange of contact information, and lunch, it was time to head home to Accra.  The kids gave me a lift to the station, and I was off again down the palm-lined dirt road.  That Sunday afternoon I was feeling great.  Despite all the uncertainty of the strike and being in a new, exciting, and strange land, I felt I was doing okay.  I had gotten my mosquito net put up for protection from Malaria, gotten some wheels, and had made some new friends who had already invited me back to their home for the big September festival (stay tuned).  I am learning more and more about the people of West Africa and making the best of it.  This thought helped me drift off to sleep as the little white van twisted and turned, taking me from the beautiful beach town of Cape Coast back to the hustle and bustle of Accra.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Walking 10 Miles in Africa

When I woke on the Friday morning, the day after I arrived, I sat straight up in bed and began thinking about the past weeks’ events and the days to come.  Always concerned with time, I immediately began making a mental check list—it was Friday morning and there was so much to get done in the day and it was already nine o’clock and I had to move into my hostel room that weekend—and so on (boy was I in for a rude awakening).  As I sat at the kitchen table, I started telling my host family all the things I had to do that day.  I had been warned that things move much, much more slowly in the developing world than in America, but I had to experience it for myself.  And although my friend and I covered a lot of ground that day, instead of moving into my hostel room that weekend, I moved in a week later; instead of getting a bank account opened in a day, it took a week (my checkbook has been delayed another coupe of days, too).  Here’s a look at some of the experiences I had during my first week in Africa.

 My friend and I first had to walk to the market to get a tro-tro to take us to campus.  Now I enjoy exercising as much as the next person, but that walk seemed so long.  In flip flops down a dusty red road we went, with me rotating my ankle every few feet.  Once we arrived at the market, I completely forgot about my fatigue as I was swept into the chaos.  Vendors were everywhere selling oranges, apples, pineapples, onions, and every food in between.  Clouds of black smoke flowed as women stood on eroded sidewalks cooking meat kabobs over smoldering grills.  As I walked behind my friend in single file line of pedestrians, the crowd suddenly gave way to a man barreling (literally, barreling) down the dirt path with a barrel of potatoes.  No horn or excuse me; his pace made it clear to get out of the way or be hit by a barrel of potatoes.  Car and person traveled side by side in an endless row of traffic—and it was only 10:00a.m.!  I was in awe.
My first morning at an African market, August 8, 2014

Street side vendors with fruits and vegetables of all kinds, August 8, 2014

We eventually came to a dirt clearing that had more vendors along the road.  My friend said we were about to hop a tro-tro to take us to campus.  I had read about tro-tros in my travel book, but had never seen one.  Before I knew it, vans full of people whizzed by with men shouting what sounded like “BOZ, BOZ, BOZ!”  My friend hailed a tro-tro in Twi, we jumped on, and were off from Tema to Accra.  I was amazed at how many people could fit into one of the lively decorated vans.  Not sure how many tro-tros we took in all that day, but each one had its own personality.  Some blasted reggae from the speakers, some had ripped seats or wooden ceilings.  Many sported stickers of a favorite soccer team or Star of David.  Most included an inviting message about Christ.
Hailing a tro-tro in Twi (my friend was doing the hailing!), August 8, 2014

Hopping the tro-tro, August 8, 2014
We ended up hopping two tro-tros to get to campus.  As our feet hit the pavement, it began to rain, but I was having so much fun it didn’t bother me.  I whipped out my camera and continued taking photos.  I’m sure I looked like a tourist, but I didn’t care—these photos were too good to pass up!  The campus was indeed huge, just as I had been told, and we took tro-tros and taxis in some places to get around the campus.  By the time we got back home that night, I was completely exhausted, but happy.  

On Saturday my host mother invited me to attend a wedding with the family.  I had been to a Nigerian wedding before (my brother and sister-in-law’s) but never a Ghanian wedding in Africa, so of course I said yes.  It was a traditional white wedding in a beautiful church about an hour from home.  We arrived late, but the wedding was still quite lengthy.  It reminded me very much of a church service.  There was a ‘love offering’, a choir, and a sermon.  Everyone was very nice, and the sun poured down as pictures were taken of the bride and groom’s wedding party.  I met family members of my host family and had a great time.  

A lively white wedding near Tema, Ghana, August 10, 2014

The 'cork popping' ceremony at the wedding (this is serious business), August 10, 2014
The reception was very loud and very lively.  The wedding colors, purple and fuchsia were everywhere, and everyone was having a good time.  Major culture shock hit during the cutting of the cake.  Like back home at a wedding, I expected to walk over to the cake cutting table after dinner and receive a nice piece of two or three layer cake.  As I looked around for the cake cutting table, a server drew closer with a platter of what appeared to be cake.  I was heartbroken when I saw a pile of wedding cake that had been cut into teeny tiny triangles!  As I took two pieces off the platter, it appeared that someone had scraped nearly all the icing off the cake!  It was beautiful during the cake cutting, but now it appeared to be a triangular piece of bread!  My host family explained that Africans don’t eat many sweets, and rarely have dessert after dinner.  The cake tasted ok, but I wondered how much better it would have tasted if it had had icing!

Where's the icing?! August 10, 2014
On Sunday I went to church with my host mother.  This time we took her car instead of a tro-tro, so the ride from Tema to Accra on Ghana’s only motorway was a much smoother ride!  The service was held in a two story building.   The people at the church were very nice (as church folk usually are).  The sermon had three points that were very good.  Use the Sabbath to rest, spend time with family, and worship God.  God created the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.   It was a good reminder for me personally to not be so attached to my list of things to get done every second of every day.  After church we ran some errands and headed home.  

Yes, a 'selfie' in the middle of a busy street, August 8, 2014
After our trip on Friday, my friend started using his watch-pedometer to measure how many kilometers we were walking each day.  Starting out after breakfast that Friday morning, I was focused only on checking off my list of things to get done.  However, I completely forgot that getting there is half the journey. Although my friend now uses his watch-pedometer to measure how many miles we walk when we hang out, but I'm convinced that Friday we walked 10 miles in Africa!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Arriving in Africa

This time last year I wasn’t sure if I would ever make it to the motherland.  Two weeks ago I was bouncing off the walls, trying to anticipate every moment.  By last week I was so tired of staring at my suitcase that I just wanted to be on the plane already and go to sleep.  Friends and family had asked me what sort of emotions I’d been having: was I nervous, anxious, scared.  Scared, I thought to myself, why would I be scared?  I’m not afraid of anything.  But when the big day finally arrived, I was running around the house like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to squeeze everything I possibly could into my suitcase and making trips around the house looking for my missing hat, laptop charger, or anything else I couldn’t find.  

Once the final bits and pieces were packed, I had to figure out how I was going to tell my mom, dad, and sister goodbye.  We had been making fun of my mom all week, knowing she was going to cry.  But as we held hands at the airport six days ago and bowed our heads, hearing my mother’s sniffles muffled behind my father’s prayer made tears stream down my face as well (I couldn’t believe my behavior!).  It wasn’t easy to leave them standing there, but by the time I’d made it through security at CAE (the nicest TSA agents I’ve ever met) it was a lot easier.  My dream was finally coming true; I was getting on a plane to go to Africa!  

A grueling 14 hour journey from Columbia, SC to Washington, DC and across the pond finally brought me to Frankfurt.  Although I’d been to Germany several times before, hearing the German language and seeing the tall, pale people is still surprising to me.  After getting off the plane and taking a bus to the inside of the building, I made my way to the gate that would take me to Katoka airport in Accra, Ghana.  After confirming that I was indeed at the correct gate, I found a bite to eat and waited to be called for boarding.  As I sat, I couldn’t help but notice all of the Ghanaians pouring into the waiting area.  As we all boarded the plane and spoke with one another, I had the most amazing feeling.  I had never seen so many professional Black people entering onto a plane at once…it was quite refreshing!    

Lots of Africans boarding the flight-how refreshing!  August 6, 2014
The plane ride from Frankfurt to Ghana seemed longer than the ride across the pond, even though it was two hours shorter (six instead of eight).  The plane was scheduled to land at 7:13pm, but by 5:00pm, I was experiencing serious jet lag and wondering if I’d ever arrive.  But as I peered out the window and watched a blanket of clouds envelope the melting sun stretched over the horizon, I realized that I was flying over Africa and would be stepping onto motherland soil very soon.
Getting close to my destination!  August 8, 2014

How would you feel to know you were flying over Africa?!  August 8, 2014

Wasn't sure what the heck this said but figured it out!  August 8, 2014
By this time I was bouncing off the walls!  August 8, 2014
Happy camper on the plane-unbelievable how many people asked me about my college t-shirt, August 8, 2014

After finally arriving, I couldn’t get off the plane fast enough!  Looking back now, it was all a bit of a blur, but very exciting.  I remember from past experiences how quickly the lines in customs can fill up, so I quickly filled out my customs form and darted into line.  There were lots of officials checking papers so it didn’t take long at all.  Soon, it was off to find my luggage.

The big city of Accra-finally!  August 8, 2014
I thanked God when I saw my zebra-striped suitcases.  I was so afraid they’d gotten lost!  What a comfort it was to pull them off of the conveyor belt.  The men looked surprised that I didn’t ask them for their help.  I smiled to myself.  By the time I made it off the plane, cleared customs, and had my luggage it was getting past 8:00pm.  I didn’t have a way of contacting my host family since we had only been using email before I left.  After passing several faces I finally came across a man in a Rotary shirt holding a sign that said “Sierra Butler.”  “Mr. Ako,” I shouted.  Although we’d never met, I had never been so happy to see someone familiar in my entire life!  He greeted me very warmly as we went to the parking lot to his car.  It was pitch black outside.  

Dinner with Rotary PAG Mr. Ako, Ms. Joanne, and Abraham, August 8, 2014

As Mr. Ako drove through turnabouts and explained different parts of the city, I felt like I was in a dream.  Not sure if it was the jet fatigue taking over or the excitement of being in a new country.  When we arrived at my host family’s home, I was greeted by Mr. Ako’s wife, Ms. Joanne, and their nephew, Abraham.  They too, were extremely warm and kind.  After showing me how to use the appliances, hot water, and my living quarters, we had a nice American dish of Spaghetti.  I suppose Ms. Joanne, being an American herself, knew I didn’t need a lot of pepper or a foreign dish after so many miles of traveling!  
As I laid down that night to rest, fatigue was coming in for the kill, but adrenaline was still running through my veins.  I was finally in Africa, my long hoped for, prayed for dream.  That night as I drifted off to a sound sleep, I wondered what my second day in Africa would bring.