Friday, October 24, 2014

Traveling to region number 3-the Eastern region!

        I’m pleased to say that last week I was able to complete the first rough draft of my education research methods assignment.  It’s pretty rough-but that’s why it’s called a rough draft!  Along with continuing to put my nose to the grind, I found a delightful pastry in a delightful supermarket (which means a lot) and I got to visit the Eastern region-the third region of Ghana I’ve visited!  Here’s a look at last week's activities.
For my education research methods term paper, I’m researching variables that affect Ghanaian adult English as a Second Language (ESL) learners in the classroom setting.  The idea for the research developed out of observing basic adult learners in the natural (classroom) setting.  Last week, I was able to gain the permission of these students and the professor to distribute a questionnaire to explore my research questions.  I received some very helpful information from the students.  After I explained what the questionnaire was about, the instructor told me he needed to explain again because the students said I had spoken too fast for them to understand.  As I was about to say okay, I realized that I needed to learn to communicate with the local people more effectively, so I asked him to let me try again.  When I did, I spoke more slowly and tried to use simpler words.  This time, they nodded their heads, smiled, and understood what I was saying!  It made me feel like less of an outsider once I was able to communicate effectively with them.

Thankful for this ESL class' participation for my research study term paper, October 15, 2014

After Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) on Tuesday evening, my friend and I stopped by a supermarket for a bite to eat.  I had heard of this nice swanky supermarket but hadn’t had a chance to go inside.  I was very pleased to see Halloween decorations on the door!  When we walked in, walls were laced with spider webs and skeleton heads.  I thought the store must be owned by Americans since Americans are the main ones who celebrate Halloween.  My friend, John was explaining that Ghanaians don’t even celebrate Halloween-how sad!  The store was small but nicely laid out with with a deli, bakery, produce, and a canned goods section.  The pastries in the bakery were really lovely!  I mentioned several posts back that finding sweets is very difficult here;  pastries, cakes, and the most beautiful breads taste like water.  However, when I saw a lovely apple pastry displayed in the window, I knew I had to take a chance.  To my surprise, when I got home, heated a piece and tasted it, I was absolutely shocked.  It was so sweet, so rich, and so wonderful!  It was the sweetest thing I’ve had since I landed in Ghana, and it was absolutely delicious!  It was a pleasant break from the typical foods that I usually eat here (rice, chicken, and yam).  It’s nice to know that I’ve found a nice place to have some sweet eats!

YES, October 15, 2014
In addition to working on my research paper and finding a bakery that actually sells sweets, a friend invited me to a church service located in Nkawkaw, the Eastern region of Ghana.  We began around 5:00am last Saturday, picked up some of his church members, and drove through Aburi and on Northward to Nkawkaw.  The journey, as always, is half the fun.  Sitting in the front seat, I got to enjoy all of the beautiful scenery.  Early that morning, people were already out jogging and running up and down the hills of Aburi.  It’s amazing: Accra is not terribly scenic, but if you drive about 15 minutes out of the city, the land becomes very picturesque.  Anyone who travels to Accra should find a way to travel out, even if it’s just a few hours.  After we arrived at the church about three hours later, there were lively talks and seminars where people shared their experiences about following God.  Around 5:00pm we headed home.  As the sun melted over the tin roofs of Nkawkaw, I wanted to kick myself for not remembering to pack my camera!  All in all, it was a nice trip and a much needed opportunity to take a break from the dusty hustle and bustle of Accra, if only for a few hours!

Nkakum in the Eastern region-a nice break from the dusty hustle and bustle of Accra, October 18, 2014

The weeks here continue to be laced with papers and responsibilities.  Slowly but surely, I’m working my way out of the assignments.  I can only imagine what I’ll see and do next week!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Another night in Osu


     Now that the middle of the semester is underway, there’s not a whole lot of time for socializing.  People here are extremely friendly and always inviting me to events, so it’s a bit torturous to turn them down!  Work is on the mind for now and taking up at least 90% of time throughout the week and weekend.  I did however, get to say goodbye to a new friend who’s headed home after some volunteer work.  I also caught some beautiful photos of the sunset.  Here’s how it went.
As was mentioned a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine, Addison introduced me to a friend of hers who was doing volunteer work for a couple of months in Accra.  We had met once before and were now meeting for a second time before she headed back to the States on Sunday.  Lakaya arrived in the country around the same time I had, and yet it seemed she was so much more knowledgeable about the terrain than me!  I’m sure she squeezed in as much as she could before she left.  It was great to hear about her experiences working at the orphanage and giving back.  I agreed that it is very difficult to walk by mounds of trash outside of people’s homes each day, or to see a baby crawling on the bare ground beside chickens looking for food in the dirt, however, we also agreed that there is something special about this place that’s hard to put your finger on.

Dinner at Mama Mia's with Lakaya and Tameisha, and Addison (not pictured), October 9, 2014

Can't believe this guy tried to get both our numbers!  Pretty funny when he got caught! October 9, 2014
Tameisha, Lakaya, and I, posing for the camera, October 9, 2014
We ate at Mamma Mia’s, a quaintly decorated restaurant in Osu, right down the street from Saffron.  The atmosphere was lovely and as soon as I stepped onto the portico, I felt I was back in Italy—it was quite convincing.  We had some really good laughs off of this guy who tried to get two of us to date him.  Tameisha went to the restroom and reported that on her way back to the table, this Nigerian guy started asking her questions and eventually gave her his card and asked to go out with her. We were all amused.  20 minutes later, when I came out of the restroom a Nigerian guy stopped me and started asking a million questions about myself.  I couldn’t help myself so when he asked for my number I said, “I don’t know my cell number by heart yet, but could I have your card?”  When he pulled out the exact same card he gave Tameisha, I nearly burst into tears of laughter.  I held it in until I got to the table.  When I shared the card with my friends, none of us could stop laughing!  We decided to play a little joke on him.  On the way out of the restaurant, we saw him sitting at the bar.  Both of us went to him and said hello.  He was clearly surprised and a little embarrassed.  Caught!  I thought to myself.  Everyone had a good laugh off of that guy.
On my way back home after studying last week, I was feeling pretty good.  The workload was (is) great, but I could feel myself slowly making progress on papers and group assignments.  The sun rises and sets each day here at 6:00.  As I biked back to my hostel last week, I looked over my left shoulder to see a beautiful sunset.  I was pleased and thankful for such a breathtaking view.

My residence beneath the sunset, Bani Hostel, October 7, 2014

Gorgeous sunset, October 7, 2014

So for now I press on with more work!  Hopefully I’ll be able to report next week that I’ve completed my research methods term paper (exciting I know)!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Making my way to Medina Market

          One of the major challenges in moving to a foreign country is learning what and what not to eat.  I face this challenge weekly.  Until recently, I wasn’t sure where the best grocery stores are located, which ones have the best prices, and what foods and brands are the equivalent of foods back home.  As mentioned last week, I discovered a nice grocery store a bike’s ride down the street from me with some American brands—very nice, but very pricey.  Fortunately, some unexpected help came right as I needed it-twice!  I also took part in the delicious Muslim holiday, Eid ul Adha.  Here’s a look at my adventures last week.
Sometimes figuring out foreign foods is frustrating.  Last week as I was sitting in my room studying, my thoughts moved to what I would eat for dinner.  With the deep plunge the dollar took a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t keep eating out, and I didn’t feeling like going to the store.  A past Rotary scholar had put me in touch with a friend of hers the week before.  As I remembered Margaret offering to be a resource, I picked up my phone to text her about visiting the market.  As soon as I typed the letters, “Hi M”, someone began rapidly knocking at my door.  
“Who is it,” I asked.
“Sierra, it’s Rachel!”
I opened the door and my Nigerian friend burst into the room bringing her light and laughter.  As we began discussing her finance class and reading and assignments that are piling up for both of us, not surprisingly, our conversation turned to food.
“I am getting so hungry and I don’t know what I’m going to do for dinner tonight,” I said.
“Why don’t you just cook something?”
“I don’t have anything to cook.”
“Oh?”  Rachel jumped up took a look at the can of tuna and bag of pasta and said, “We can make something with this.  Let’s walk to the store and  buy a tomato.”  I was skeptical but grabbed my wallet and together we walked down the hall to the shop.  She instructed me to purchase a Maggi cube, tomato, and carrot.  When we got back to my room, I was in awe as she took about four other ingredients and water and created a very tasty dinner!  I smiled inside and thanked God that he had sent someone immediately to my aid to fulfill a basic need of food.  After sharing the meal another thought crossed my mind.  I didn’t want to ware out my welcome, but I had to ask, “You know, Rachel, I really want to purchase some items in the Medina Market, but most of the foods are completely different from what we have back home and I don’t know what’s what.  Would you mind going with me sometime to point things out?”
“No problem!  How about tomorrow morning before my 1:00pm lecture?”  I smiled again to myself again.

Rachel helping me prepare dinner, October 1, 2014
Freshly chopped vegetables for dinner, October 1, 2014
Tuna pasta with vegetables.  It turned out pretty good!  October 1, 2014

At 9:00am the next morning, we headed to the road and took a tro tro10 minutes down the street to Medina Market.  I had never done any serious shopping in the market so it was all very new and exciting.  The sun was pouring down on us, the vendors, women with children saddled to their backs, and the goods, some of which were live and dead.  I saw things I had never seen before up close such as healing medicines and edible slugs on a platter.  I like to think that I’ll try anything once, but those slugs are where I’d have to draw the line.  They looked gross!  Although I had made a list, moving through the crowed and being haggled by people trying to sell us random items like belts and blankets, it still took us about three hours to get everything on my list.  By the time we got back to our hostel I was thankful, but exhausted.  Being in the African sun really zaps one’s.  I was glad to be back in my room with a cold bottle of water in my hand and a swirling fan above me.  After I rested and collected myself I thought, finally, I know how to get to the market and get some food!

Fresh vegetables at the market, October 2, 2014
Kind woman selling Heirloom tomatoes, October 2, 2014
Medina Market, October 2, 2014
Herbs, vegetables, and medicines I've never seen before, October 2, 2014
Snails for sale to thank you, October 2, 2014
Beautiful rainbow-colored crabs, October 2, 2014
I love this photo for its mysterious glow.  Wonder what's up those stairs, October 2, 2014
          Rachel also invited me to her friend’s Eid ul Adha celebration.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about celebrating a Muslim holiday, but once I did my research and discovered that the is a celebration commemorates Abraham obeying God’s command to sacrifice his son, and then God saving Abraham’s son due to Abraham’s obedience (a familiar bible story from childhood), I felt more comfortable.  Rachel’s friend and her family were very hospitable.  We spent most of the day on the couch while they prepared dinner.  I had managed to get a little breakfast that morning but pretty soon, we were both hungry.  We debated whether or not it was impolite to ask our host for food, but once our stomachs were growling long enough, we figured we had to.  Rachel told her friend I was hungry and I thought to myself, okay, if saying I’m the one who’s hungry will get us some food, I’ll be the scape goat.  I was so happy when her friend’s mother brought out a huge box of Raisin Bran!  I practically ran over to the dining room table and hugged the box as if it were a newborn baby!  Not only was I hungry, but seeing something familiar from home meant a lot.  I think it was imported directly from the States, too because it didn’t have any Arabic writing on the side of the box (which made it more meaningful).  My friend was laughing at me, but I didn’t care, those grains brought a lot of comfort!
          After breakfast I offered to help prepare dinner.  Soon, we were in the kitchen chopping vegetables.  Rachel’s friend’s mother asked if I would like to try the breakfast they were cooking on the kitchen stove.  I pulled out a bowl and poured what appeared to be porridge along with some sort of sweet yogurt they had made.  I was surprised at the delicious texture of the food!  It was a dish they called “La” which was a typical breakfast food they enjoyed back home in The Gambia.  
After helping prepare dinner, my friend and I sat back on the couch and watched some American TV shows with the family.  I was amused that they enjoyed American television so much.  They recognized some American celebrities that I wasn’t familiar with!  After a few hours, Rachel’s friend called us to ask if we wanted to see the killing of the lamb.  I thought to myself, what?!  Sure enough, we went outside to see a sweet looking goat, tied to a tree in the front yard and a lamb on the front lawn.  Two men held the lamb down while the other killed him.  It was really sad to watch, but I understood that this was part of their tradition of sacrifice, this had happened for eons before I had been born, and was probably happening all over the city at that very moment.  I walked back into the house a bit sad for the animals’ suffering.  But I have to admit, when it was time to eat, that lamb and goat meat was delicious!  Paired with rice, cole slaw, onions, and sunflower juice, I went back for two more helpings.
We spent the entire day at with Rachel’s friend’s family laughing, eating traditional food, and ice cream bars for dessert.  Around 5:00pm we said our goodbyes and hitched a ride back home with Rachel’s classmate.  Before heading home he took us for a little sightseeing around the city.  The sun was beginning to set and so were my thoughts on the events of the day.  
It’s interesting how comfort and help comes when we least expect it and need it the most.  My friend came at a much needed time to help me learn how to survive in the unfamiliar culture and I learned about a common, yet foreign holiday.  All in all, I was very thankful for last week’s experiences.  Next week, I’ll discuss seeing off a new friend bound for the States!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Keeping a smile

The value of the dollar has dropped sharply in the last two weeks, causing happiness for some and heartache for others.  Some Ghanaians believe that the stabilizing of the dollar will help with the crazy inflation that has been rampant in the country since before I arrived.  I am not terribly happy about the drop because it means my dollar doesn’t go nearly as far!  Thus, last week I began buying real food at the grocery store.  In other words, instead of purchasing fun stuff like knock-off Oreos, peanut butter, cane sugar, and cool whip, I was on the hunt for reduced price brown rice, parmesan cheese and canned black beans.  When I first saw the huge decrease in the dollar to cedi ratio I gave a long, deep sigh.  I’d been living the good life trying different restaurants and pastry items at bakeries.  But since last week it’s been time to get serious about cooking and finding staples for my kitchen.  And like all things, after I made up my mind to just do it (cook) it really wasn’t that bad.   I also had my first taste of guinea fowl and made new friends over a delicious steaming bowl of spinach soup at a fabulous Indian restaurant.  Here’s a look at my adventures last week.

One of the past Rotary Scholars I connected with told me about her favorite grocery store in Accra.  She raved about how they have some American brands and what a nice atmosphere it has.  Since it was right down the road from me, I figured it couldn’t hurt.  Sure enough, I was impressed with the cleanliness of the store and the American feel it had.  There’s a cute little cafe right in front of the store that sells beautiful pastries, sausage rolls, and fish pies (I haven’t been brave enough to try the fish pie yet).  It was very nice to see Lucky Charms and Special Kay on the breakfast aisle, but I’m sorry-I am not about to pay 45 cedis (about $15) for a box of cereal!  I’ll just admire them from afar.  Instead I opted for some cans of kidney beans, sliced cheese, instant coffee, and other staples.  I had purchased some hamburger about a month ago that I had not yet been brave enough to try.  So when I got back home, I took the thawed out hamburger out of the fridge, added a little bit of this and that, and 30 minutes later, I had American style three-bean chili!  And I was pleasantly surprised at the taste of the hamburger!  It looked a bit peculiar when I pulled it out of the freezer, but after I cooked it and added my ingredients, it was delicious.  I was able to eat it for a few days and then I stored the rest in the freezer.  It may not seem like a big deal, but finding my way around a grocery store in a new country and cooking something that turned out well was a huge accomplishment for me!

Veggies from Maxx Mart, September 24, 2014

The first meal I cooked in Ghana, Three-Bean Chili, September 24, 2014

Another former Rotary Scholar friend put me in touch with an American doctoral student studying at Legon.  We met a couple weeks ago and immediately hit it off.  Last week she invited me out to dinner with two of her friends, also Americans.  We made the ride from Legon to Osu, a trendy little town with some fabulous restaurants.  Her pick was Safron, an upscale Indian restaurant staffed by Ghanaians.  It was by far the nicest restaurant I’ve been to since I arrived in Ghana.  Soft camel colored chairs decorated the dining area.  As soon as we sat down, servers removed our white cloth napkins and placed them in our laps.  I like pampering as much as the next person, but was perfectly happy to pour my own carbonated water for myself!  I’m pleased to say that 90% of the friends I’ve made thus far have been Africans, however, it was really refreshing to chat with other Americans over dinner and hear about their experiences.  By the end of the night none of us could stop laughing and raving about the incredible flavors of bread, rice, spinach, and meat kabobs.  I was so glad we had met for dinner We decided to meet up again soon.

Swanky Safron Restaurant, September 25, 2014

Lovely dining area, September 24, 2014

Delicioso spinach dinner, September 24, 2014

The scents and flavors were amazing!  September 24, 2014
The server brought warm, lime-scented water for each of us to clean our hands after the meal-very nice!  September 24, 2014

Tasty candies for dessert, September 24, 2014
Posing for the camera, September 24, 2014

On Sunday I gave my second presentation to the Rotary Club of Tema-Sakumo.  Tema-Sakumo was started by my host club, Rotary Club of Tema.  The group was small and intimate, but they had plenty of questions for me!  Their questions were challenging and stimulated great conversation.  At the end of my talk, I presented the club with my sponsor club’s banner.  The club president, Kofi Asiedu.  I expected, in return, to receive their club’s banner, however, I was tickled to death to receive a beautiful pattern of fabric from the club.  I’d seen men and women alike wearing beautiful shirts and blouses with Rotary symbols woven into the fabric and I always wondered where they found these beautiful patterns.  Now that I have this lovely fabric, I can’t wait to find a good seamstress to make a dress out of it for me!

Tasty tasty Guinea Fowl.  All this 'peppa' is going to be the death of me!  September 28, 2014
Lovely material for an outfit, October 2, 2014

Posing with the Rotary Club of Tema-Sakumo, September 28, 2014
Despite this time of uncertainty with the economy and various disease plaguing African nations, the spirit of the Ghanian people seem to be unshaken.  They remain kind, friendly, are always with a smile, and are curious about foreigners.  It’s very easy to meet new people here and, as I learned today, easy to buy food at the Medina Market!  Next week, I’ll discuss my first real trip to the bustling market of Medina!