Saturday, December 27, 2014

Finishing the year strong

            Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone back home and around the world!

        Last Sunday officially marked the end of the semester thanks to completing my fourth and final exam.  Now that the holidays are here, I’ve had some time to reflect on all the crazy stuff that happened this semester and how I adjusted (am still adjusting) to the Ghanaian way of life.  A lot of you have asked me to give more details about my Masters program, so this post is dedicated to summing up the fall semester.
My graduate work here in Ghana has encompassed the most rigorous academic program I have ever taken on.  This semester I took five classes: Philosophy and Scope of Adult Education, Psychology and Andragogy, Management of Adult Education Organizations,  Education Research Methods, and a special topic paper.  I ‘crunched’ some numbers last night to help put my work and class assignments in perspective.  Of those courses, the assignments included:
10 papers 
5 group presentations
2 qualitative research (fieldwork) assignments
64 pages written (typed) for independent papers
48 pages written (typed) collectively for group papers
42 pages written (by hand) for exams
Total pages of final drafts completed for assignments and exams: 154 pages

My class notes strewn over an office table as I prepare for exams and stream Christmas jams on Youtube (I counted over 400 notes for Adult Psychology and Andragogy class alone) December 7, 2014.
Believe it or not, this approximation is pretty accurate.  The hostel was always too noisy to study in and the library too far to walk so the majority of my time each week was spent studying at my department.  I’d usually arrive around 9:00 on my mornings off from class and study until about 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon.  The Teaching Assistants would visit often to see how I was doing.  They would always say, “Sierra, you’re here all the time—are you sure you’re not working too hard?”  Or, “Sierra, you always seem to be the only one here—where are your classmates?”  I would think to myself, how in the world do I know where they are, am I their keeper?  But instead, I would simply respond that I didn’t know how anyone could successfully complete the course without putting in the hours I was putting in.  However, to their credit, I knew that some of my classmates were most likely studying somewhere on campus, working, or at home tending to their families.  

Handwritten notes from class.  McClusky's Differential Psychology of Adult Potential
was my favorite unit, December 7, 2014
Out of the 14 graduate students in our department, only about three of us were unmarried and/or without children.  I remember the first week of class one of my professors went around the room asking everyone if they were married and how many children they had.  For each person who at least had a child he congratulated them.  I’ll never forget how I responded when it was my turn.  I said something like: I’m Sierra Nicole Butler, before I came here I worked in administration for a non-profit, and I’m a full-time student.”  He could tell that if he asked me if I was married with babies I was going to give a long explanation about how women can do more than be baby making machines.  He simply nodded his head and moved on to the next person!   I smiled to myself and mumbled “Good idea.”  I know that the volume of work for the program presented a challenge to me, but when I think of my classmates who were mothers, fathers,  workers, and teachers, it made me think that my lot wasn’t quite so bad.
  Fortunately, I was able to complete all of my papers before exams.  I was determined not to go into exam week with term papers hanging over my head.  And I was right to think that I needed all of my remaining strength for exam week.  Each exam began at 9:00am and lasted for three hours (one hour per exam question).  As I studied for my exams, I daydreamed of when it would be all over, of how I would run out of the exam hall, dance and do somersaults in the street.  But by the time I finished my last exam, turned in my booklet, gathered my belongings and walked out the door into the sunlight, I could believe it was over.  It was as if a weight had been lifted and I had been set free.  Walking down the street to the tro tro, the sun felt wonderful as it funneled through the tree shade and warmed my face.  I want to say I went home and took the best nap of my life, but I went to the mall instead to get some groceries for dinner first and then went home to fall asleep (some chore or responsibility is always around the corner rearing its ugly head).  Since that time, I’ve been extremely thankful to have rest after what has seemed like a much longer time than five months.

Bread pudding I made after exams.  When I took it to the chef at the hostel cafeteria to put it in the oven for me, he asked for the recipe so he could make it for his family over Christmas in Togo,  December 15, 2014.
Topped with being in a foreign land, learning a new culture, way of life, and everything that goes with it, needless to say that finishing the year strong was no easy feat.  Having half of my graduate program behind me is an amazing feeling.  Soon I’ll have to begin doing research for next semester’s research proposal, but for now that’s nowhere in my mind!  Next week, I’ll discuss spending the Christmas holiday with my host family and taking part in a most lively weekend.  Until then, happy holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Natural hair bazaar!


       Last week the blog hit the 1,000th view mark!  Thanks to everyone and please keep reading!

        Since last week’s post, I had the opportunity to go to a hair bazaar with a friend.  When she called me up and told me about a gathering to celebrate natural hair I had to make the time to go.  And when I did, I had a blast!  Here’s a look at a natural hair adventure.
Finding hair products in Ghana takes a bit of effort.  I think I’ve mentioned before how  
Dark & Lovely, a popular American hair line, has the monopoly on hair products in Accra.  While some of their products work fine, my favorites are hard to find around the city.  However, when my friend and I attended the Bazaar, I found hair care products galore!  When I saw my favorite leave in conditioner I almost passed out.  It was the first time I had seen it in Africa and I was shocked they had it.  I was equally shocked when they told me the price and that it was so high because it was imported from the US.  Sadly, I had to leave my beloved product behind.  There were, however, lots of entrepreneurs with wonderful smelling and feeling products which I figured I’d give a try.  I ended up purchasing a shampoo and a moisturizer.  I haven’t tried the shampoo yet, but the moisturizer—with all natural ingredients and no sulphates—is wonderful!

Pretty day at the W.E.B. Du Bois Centre in Cantonments, Ghana (December 5, 2014)
In addition to hair products there were several young professionals selling fruit drinks, African prints (fashions), products for the skin, body, and overall health.  One man who tried to sell us drink mix powders encouraged us to find out our Body Mass Index.  While I turned him down, I did step on the scale and I’m proud to say since I’ve been in Africa I’ve lost about 18 pounds!  (Finally jumping in and out of tro tros and walking for miles in the sun is paying off!)

I scored on natural soap with ingredients I didn’t know could be used for healthy skin such as charcoal and chocolate.  I also enjoyed a delicious watermelon and mint smoothie.  Watermelon and mint-who knew!  My friend was also able to interview a couple of people for a magazine article she was writing.  It’s great when you can 'kill two birds with one stone'.  

Unveiling of an undo, November 5, 2014

At first I was a bit hesitant about attending the bazaar with so much school work looming over me.  But as I hailed a taxi to take me back to the main road and headed on to campus, I was really glad that I took a break and did something a little different.  It was great to see so many young professionals with their own creations.  Many people believe the future of Africa is in entrepreneurship and the folks at the bazaar made me feel quite inspired.  
Tomorrow morning I will be writing my third exam-research methods.  After that there will be one more exam and then I'll be ‘free’ for nearly a whole month!  Next week, I’ll talk about surviving the exam period and finding a Christmas tree to make the season bright!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Trip to regions 5 and 6: the Upper East and Northern Regions

I had no idea that when I traveled to the Upper Eastern region of Ghana I would get to visit the Northern region as well.  During Thanksgiving week, my friend and I traveled to the northern border of Ghana and had some experiences that I will definitely never forget.  Here’s a look at how I touched a crocodile, spent the night on a bus, and spent two days in what felt like the hottest place on earth.

When my friend asked me if I’d like to travel to the North with him for a church event, I knew I couldn’t let an opportunity to travel pass me by, so I gladly obliged.  On Thanksgiving afternoon, we hopped on a large air conditioned bus and shortly afterward, were on our way to the Northern Region of Ghana.  The day before when we went to the bus station to purchase our tickets, we were told the bus ride to Bolgatanga (the capital of the Northern region) would take 12 hours.  Little did we know that with two rest stops and multiple stops to let people off along the route, we wouldn’t get to Bolgatanga (Bolga) for over 15 hours!  My friend thought it would be a good idea for us to travel on to the neighboring city of Navarongo since the event would be held there the next morning, so I reluctantly fought sleep for another 45 minutes.  When we finally made it to Navrango around 4:00am Friday morning, it was all we could do to get our bags off of the bus and find a hotel.  A taxi driver took us to the hotel and told us it was the best Navrango had to offer.  I’m usually quite picky about these things but at 4:15 in the morning I wasn’t putting up much of a fight.

          Once we checked in, I was too hungry to sleep, so I enquired about breakfast.  When the hotel attendant said there was no food at the hotel, I was so glad I had thought ahead to pack some oats, sugar, and raisins.  After waiting for about 30 minutes and explaining to three different people that I was very hungry, I managed to get some boiled water to cook my oats.  They were very delicious and soothing after such a long trip.  As soon as I ate them and took a bucket bath, before I knew it I was fast asleep.  When I woke around 10am, there was still no food at the hotel, so I just had some more oats.  After breakfast, Selasy and I headed out to explore the community.  I thought Accra was hot, but nothing prepared me for the North.  We walked down one of the major roads in what felt like an oven.  Sweat poured down as we took in the sights and sounds of this extremely rural community.  I was fascinated by how women road their bicycles and scooters with pride.  Back in Accra, when I ride my bicycle to class, women stare at me and some men clap and cheer me on.  But in the North, women ride scooters and bicycles in beautiful dresses with their babies tied to their backs.  My friend explained that bicycles are the major mode of transportation in the Upper East as it makes traveling back and forth to the farm easy.  

A woman riding her bike in Navrongo, November 28, 2014
The local market, November 28, 2014
When we finally arrived at the center where the talks would take place, there was a restaurant for us to grab a bite to eat.  To be honest, I have really been struggling to get accustomed to the local foods (if I haven’t mentioned that before).  But for some reason, that Friday morning, as I had a bite of Selasy’s Guinea Foul and Fufu in Groundnut Stew, it wasn’t so bad.  Maybe it was my hunger, maybe it was the heat.  Either way, I gladly ate the cabbage and chicken the cook prepared for me (I avoided the pepper).  A little later, after we rested from the outdoor heat, we ventured out again to try and find the crafts market.  It was fun to walk through the village and explore the everyday life of the people.

A typical Ghanaian dish of cabbage, chicken, rice, and "Peppa" November 28, 2014
Local women preparing food in the market, November 28, 2014
Not sure what this is, November 28, 2014
Check out this rustic fire pit made of what appears to be mud.  Fascinating, November 28, 2014
A snapshot of the local people, November 28, 2014
Kola nut.  The first time I tried one was at my brother and sister-in-law's Nigerian wedding two years ago.  The taste is bitter but good with some drinks.  November 28, 2014
As the sun continued to pour down, I told Selasy that we could really see the village if we had some wheels.  As we rested at Obama’s Spot (chuckle) I noticed a young boy passing by with a wheel barrow-type contraption being pulled by a donkey.  I asked my friend to see if he would be willing to ride us around the community.  He obliged and before long, we were sitting in the back of the wheel barrow getting an old fashioned tour of the community.  The locals were tickled to death to see two tourists being pulled by a donkey down the hot, dusty roads of Navarongo.  Selasy and I told the young boy and boy who joined him that they should put an umbrella on the ‘chariot’ and offer rides to foreigners when they come through the city.  We told them with a little ingenuity and their friendly attitude they could make a little business for themselves.

A man riding with a donkey, November 28, 2014
Selasy and I being pulled by the donkey.  The locals were thrilled!  November 28, 2014
After riding around town, we decided to go ahead of the church group and check out the famous crocodile pond in Paga, the northernmost city in the Upper East.  I had read in my travel book about how the local people sit on, pet, and even play with the crocodiles without the amphibians harming them.  I found this hard believe and wanted to see it for myself.  I was quite shocked to seen several young, naked, barefoot children running around the crocodile as our host summoned him from the water with a small white chicken.  My friend and our host encouraged me to pet the croc.  I was a bit afraid, but at their insistence, went over at petted the animal—still can’t believe I did that!  After I was finished, the host allowed one of the children to throw a chicken to the crocodile.  He caught the poor defenseless chicken in his mouth and swallowed him in about three bites.  It was gruesome and interesting at the same time.

There he is, November 28, 2014
I petted a crocodile! November 28, 2014
This little boy could wait to send the chicken to his doom, November 28, 2014
I think this photo is self explanatory, November 28, 2014

After the famous Paga crocodile pond, we walked across the street to a small locally run outdoor museum.  The orator was very lively as he and his grandson explained how the mud brick buildings were built and the different instruments inside.  We were both hot, tired, and ready to go rest, but the orator’s lively spirit kept us engaged.

Selasy posing as a tribal warrior at the museum.  This photo cracks me up every time I look at it!  November 28, 2014
That evening Selasy suggested we head out of Navrango early on Sunday so we could spend an afternoon in Tamale.  After spending about an hour in Bolga, we went to the bus station and picked a tro tro for the two hour ride to Tamale.  Not five minutes after we began the trip did tragedy strike.  Two small pigs were trying to cross the street in front of the tro tro.  Our driver was getting dangerously close to the two pigs, but I just knew he was going to stop.  Before I (and I’m sure any one else in the tro tro) could blink, the driver had run over the pig!  It was clear that others on the bus were shocked, but I was the only one who let out a loud “Oh my gosh you hit the pig!”  The driver said nothing, reversed the automobile, and drove on.  There was nothing any of us could do but feel helpless and sorry for the poor pig as we watched him yelp in pain before he died.  I was terribly upset with the driver for doing such a cruel, heartless, inhumane, and unnecessary thing.  I prayed for that poor pig’s suffering and tried to remain vigilant for any other animals as we made our way to Tamale.  About ten minutes later, we came across a cow who was standing still right in the middle of the road.  An older Ghanaian woman quietly said “Cow,” doing her best to warn the driver.  I held nothing back as I was sitting across from the driver and yelled at him, “HEY THERE’S A COW IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET!  WATCH OUT FOR THAT BIG WHITE COW!”  I couldn’t bare to see another animal hit by this reckless man.  Fortunately, he slowed down this time and dogged the cow and a few other animals that crossed the road as we made our way to Tamale.   Not surprisingly, we had a bit of tro tro trouble and had to get out of the automobile as we were almost into Tamale.  The driver was able to fix the stick shift and shortly we were on our way again.  My friend thought about the ordeal and explained that the driver probably didn’t stop when the pig was crossing because he knew he was having car problems.  Even still, we felt it was no excuse.  Even as we entered Tamale, there was a collective gasp and yells at the driver for almost hitting two men on a scooter!  I  thought to myself, this guy should not have a license.  

The road to Tamale, November 28, 2014
          Once we made it safely to Tamale, and after a bit of effort, we found a Catholic hotel.  It was nicer than Hotel Mayaga, with a restaurant that had food and a hotel attendent who was a little bit more engaging.  After checking in we headed to the Luxury Restaurant.  The restaurant may have been the hi light of the trip for me.  My favorite parts of my trips in Africa have been finding good hotels with running hot water and restaurants with good American-style food.  The Luxury restaurant was adorably decorated with African-themed furniture and artwork.  It had traditional Ghanaian food as well as American burgers and fries, ice cream sundaes, and apple pie!  I went for the burger and apple pie and Selasy had beef, vegetales, and rice.  The most surprising part of all was that in the middle of this community, where this very nice restaurant was, they were playing American Country music.  Yes, Country music!  I’ve heard from a few Africans (Selasy included) that they enjoy Country music.  Now, there are one or two Country songs I can tolerate, but I told Selasy that I don’t know a single Black person back home who loves Country music the way Africans do—talk about culture shock!  However, as we sat and ate the food in a really nice atmosphere, the Country music actually didn’t sound that bad.  That night when it was time to turn in, with all the activities of the day, I was asleep before I knew what hit me!

          The next morning, after Selasy purchased our bus tickets for the long ride back home and I found a bite to eat, Selasy connected with his sister who lives in Tamale.  Patience and her husband own a restaurant in the city.  After breakfast, Patience’s husband’s best friend picked us up and gave us a first class tour of Tamale.  We saw the very modern hospital which would easily fit in in the US, the secondary (high school) where Ben (our host) teaches Physical Education, and a state of the art soccer stadium.  The stadium looked so out of place in such a poor community, but nevertheless, there it was.  It made me think that money is coming in from somewhere, even if it’s not in the hands of a lot of the local people.  After the driving tour Ben took us to the cultural center.  I was very happy to make it there.  Along with the restaurant it was the hi light of Tamale.  Vendors sold everything from straw hats, to carved necklaces to masks to beautiful woven Fugus (a type of woven pullover that is indigenous to the Northern region.  If I had had just 15 more minutes to look around, I know I could have finished all my Christmas gift shopping.  Foretunately, I was able to pick up some Christmas gifts for my parents and a lovely Navy and Black-striped Fugu for myself.  After picking up some palm wine, we headed to Selasy’s sister’s home.  They had prepared Fufu, which I had never tasted.  I was reluctant, so to start Selasy let me try some of his.  Unlike fermented Banku, which I do not like, the Fufu was surprisingly delicous!  After a few more bites I asked Selasy to call for Patience to give me a bowl of my own.

          I had no idea that Patience and her husband had so many fascinating stories about traveling along Southeast Africa for their last job.  She told me about how they had traveled to South Africa, Nambia, and some other African countries of which the names I don’t remember.  She said it was a fun job, but she and her husband got burned out after so much traveling.  She said the company asked them to return, but now that their restaurant is taking off, they want to really invest time in it.  We were having such a good time talking about their travel adventures, we almost lost track of time.  Selasy and I only had about thirty minutes to get to the bus station before the bus was scheduled to head to Accra!

The market in Tamale, November 30, 2014

The school where Ben teaches, November 30, 2014
Yeah, USA! November 30, 2014
The tailor preparing my Fugu, November 30, 2014
My lovely Fugu is very well made.  Ben said it will last me forever.  Hope I can keep it clean in such a dusty place.  November 30, 2014
Around 3:45pm we were back at the bus station.  After saying goodbye to Patience’s husband, we boarded the bus and were on the road around 4:15.  About 30 minutes later, just as I was settling into my seat and getting comfortable, the bus came to an abrupt halt.  At first we figured it was just a hold up in the long line of traffic.  Then, after 10 minutes, people began getting off the bus and speaking in one of the local languages which I didn’t understand.  20 minutes later, the driver turned off the bus and the air condition was gone.  At this point Selasy and I began to get a bit concerned.  When we got off the bus, and walked around a bit, we discovered that the workers were working on the split that had opened on the bridge and they weren’t letting anyone cross the White Volta River for at least a few hours.  When we heard this, Selasy and I, along with everyone else on the bus were shocked and quite annoyed.  As we talked among ourselves and tried to figure out alternative routes to get home on the hot Sunday afternoon, we received word that the workers were mixing concrete to pour in the cracks and they would let us pass once it dried in two hours.  As we stood in a circle in front of the bus calming down, I told the men that I knew enough about construction to know that a concrete bridge was not going to dry in two hours, and that there was a good chance that they were just pacifying us before telling us that we were not going to get to cross for the night.  Sure enough, 8:00pm rolled right on by and were were still right on the road in the middle of a very rural community (the middle of nowhere).  Once the driver reappeared, we tried to get him to take us back to Tamale so we could sleep for the night, but he would hear nothing of it.  At first I found this little fiasco quite the adventure, but as the sun went down and I realized we would be spending the night on the bus, it was no laughing matter.

Goats packed on a tro tro ahead of our bus, November 30, 2014
A close up of the goats, November 30, 2014
This driver has clearly experienced this before.  He was fast asleep with his mosquito net and fully prepared to get some rest, November 30, 2014
Construction workers fixing the bridge, November 30, 2014
The crack in the bridge that kept us from going home Sunday night, November 30, 2014
Selasy asked this young man to give us a ride back to our bus from the bridge.  This was my second time  riding a scooter on the trip and in my entire life.  Quite fun!  November 20, 2014
People sprawled all over the ground trying to get rest as far as the eye could see, November 30, 2014
          Because we were practically in the middle of nowhere, there was money but no food to buy.  I was very glad I had thought ahead to pack a few snacks back in Accra.  Paired with some plantains, yam, and groundnuts we were able to purchase from a street side vendor, Selasy and I made a meal.  After sitting on the sidewalk with my blanket tucked beneath us for about an hour, we made our way back to the bus and decided it was time to try and get some sleep.  But as we made our way onto the bus, the farther back we went, the hotter it became.  People were stretched out across the seats on the bus sweating terribly, their hair plastered to their faces.  Because our seats were all the way at the back of the bus, I knew I had to think of something or there would be no way for us to spend an entire sweaty night in Africa on the stuffy bus and not pass out.  Think Sierra, think, I always say to myself when I’m in sticky situations such as these.  I looked around the bus and realized there was something of a fire escape door in the ceiling.  Against Selasy’s advice, I took the paper from between the door and the ceiling and opened the ceiling door.  The hot night air felt cool as it enveloped the hot interior of the bus.  At this point we had air, but we needed a way to prop the window open.  As I looked around, I noticed a work area through the window a few feet from the bus.  I told Selasy I would be right back, hopped off the bus, side stepped some people who were sleeping on the sidewalk, went over to the work area and found a small piece of wood.  I went back to the bus to prop the door open.  In the meantime, Selasy had found a way to open the side windows of the bus.  Finally, we had air!  I thanked God for the small breeze that was coming in.  

          Across the way, a crowd of young people were in a field dancing to throbbing music.  I thought to myself that surely they would turn the music off soon.   Against Selasy’s advice again, I laid my blanket on the floor of the bus, laid down, and tried to get some sleep.  At 2:30 in the morning, when I woke up needing to use the bathroom, I looked at the window and saw people and saw about five people still dancing to this loud crazy music!  I seriously felt like I was in the twilight zone.  I woke Selasy up to go with me so I could find a wall or bush or some semi-secluded place to use the bathroom.  As we got off the bus the night air was cool, almost too cool, and it felt wonderful!  Once we relieved ourselves, we decided to stay off of the bus for a while, walk down the road, and enjoy the piece and quiet.  There were people and animals sprawled all over the ground in quiet peaceful sleep.  When I remembered that it was my birthday, Selasy began quietly singing Happy Birthday to me.  I told him that this was one birthday I would surely never forget.

The next morning, I woke up  to the loud hum of the bus engine.  As I sat up on the floor of the bus, rubbed my eyes and looked around, I noticed everyone moving around in anticipation of the bridge opening.  Selasy and I quickly put ourselves together, used the bathroom, and purchased some water from a nearby provisions shop.  Not long after, we looked to the road and saw people moving in a frenzy to get back into their vehicles.  We realized the bridge was opening so we darted back go the bus and took our seats.  When we finally headed over the bridge about 15 minutes later, I was not sad to leave the little community.  I was thankful for the life I had and wondered how the people could wake up each morning to such a barren land.  The view of the sunlight hitting the White Volta River at 6:00 in the morning was breath taking.  After I got a few photos, I placed my head on Selasy’s arm and immediately fell fast asleep!

After several stops, we arrived in Accra around 4:00pm in the afternoon!  Boy was I ever happy to back in the hustle and bustle of dusty Accra!  Once I said goodbye to Selasy and was back in my hostel room, the first think I did was take the best bucket bath this world has ever seen!  After I grabbed a bite to eat and prepared to go to campus the next day, I had nearly fallen asleep but for some happy birthday text messages and a call from my parents.  They were shocked as I recalled the details from my trip.  When they asked me if I planned to take anymore long road trips any time soon, I told them next time I wanted to head to the North, I would probably fly!

At the time, sleeping on that big bus was not fun at all.  But looking back now, Iit was an incredible adventure that, as my host mother says, “Has added to the fabric of my life.”  Later this week, I’ll give a brief report on wrapping up the semester and preparing for exams.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m not out of the forest yet!