Monday, March 30, 2015

A play and garage sale in North Legon!

         The past two weeks have been crazy!  As we draw closer to Resurrection Day weekend and the close of the school year, things continue to get busier and busier with my program.  One of my professors warned us that this time would begin heating up with assignments, papers, reading, and research—but yet, she’s giving us more and more assignments!  While the rain stopped me from going to Coco Beach last weekend, I have been able to enjoy a couple of fun activities.  Here’s a look at the past two weeks.
           My friend I went hiking with invited me to see a play not too long ago.  What a great stress reliever it was!  It was held on campus, only a stone’s throw from my department.  As we walked in, a vendor sold popcorn and cold drinks.  The outdoor theatre was packed with people and surprisingly, I didn’t get bitten by any mosquitoes.  The actors were very lively, very entertaining, and very funny.  It always amazes me how they can remember all of their lines.  The play was about women taking pride in themselves.  All in all it was a nice break from school work.

Another day I went to a garage sale.  Well, it was sort of a garage sale except it took place in someone’s home.  A few days earlier I was checking out an expat website and came across a girl’s ad.  She said she was leaving Ghana and had a whole bunch of cool stuff that was available for sale.  Being my curious self I had to check it out.  A friend and I headed to North Legon and found the girl’s apartment without too much trouble.  With most garage sales, she had a few odds and ends, but what really caught my attention was a lovely antique amber-colored lamp.  I just knew I had to have it!  After negotiating back and forth a bit we settled on a price.  I was happy indeed to have the cute little lamp.  And also relieved when I got home, plugged it in, and found that it was working (I couldn’t check it at the girl’s apartment since the power was out).  It really helped to brighten up my apartment and illuminate the space.

Pretty little lamp in my new apartment!  March 28, 2015

School continues to press me, but I’ll press back and press on until I finish this year strong!  Later this week, I’ll discuss saying goodbye to my old room and hello to a new home in the heart of East Legon!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My first community service project in Africa

     Last week, I took part in a  community service project with the Rotaract Club of Accra-East.  The trip was nothing short of a real eye opener to what the majority world deals with on a daily basis.  Here’s a look at the service project in the community of Sefwan.

A few weeks ago I posted about making new friends during a presentation I gave at the Rotaract Club of Accra East.  After the presentation, the Club President, Emmanuel Deho, invited me to take part in their community outreach project to a very rural community in the Western Region.  I quickly accepted the invite, delighted to know I’d finally have a chance to ‘get my hands dirty’ in a community and not let Ebola, Malaria, Cholera, or any other fears hold me back.

On Thursday evening, we met at the VIP bus station.  We had some time to wait for the bus to load, so it was a good opportunity to meet club members who couldn’t make it to my presentation.  All I can say for the hospitality of the Club members is that they were attentive, warm, and very happy I could join them.  At the bus station, when I wanted to go search for a bottle of water, PP (Past President) Erin would not hear of letting walk out of the bus terminal by myself.  He escorted me to the water seller and back and paid for my water.  P (President) Deho called me a few days before the trip and asked me if I had any dietary restrictions.  When I told him not to go to any trouble, that I would bring some packaged foods along, he insisted I tell him what I could and couldn’t eat.  I told him I had trouble eating pepper, but not to go to any trouble.  He said not to worry and that he would make me some Garden Egg stew special, so that I could have some food pepper free.  What a hospitable group!

I have one word to describe the bus ride up—cold!  The air was pumping out of the vents overhead, and I didn’t think to wear pants and my long sleeve shirt to the Western Region.  Everyone on the bus was close to freezing to death.  At a quick pit stop, I asked the bus driver if he could turn the air up a bit.  He pointed at the dashboard and said there was nothing he could do.  I glanced at the dashboard and read 30 degrees Celsius!  Well eight hours later we were glad to be off that bus and on the side of the road, organizing taxis to take us to the guest house.

Arrival in the Western Region.  It was so cold on the bus, it fogged the camera...that's how cold it was!  March 6, 2015

          A wild night ride with four to five of us in each taxi took us to the guest house.  Even at 4:00am in the morning, people were already walking the foggy roads, balancing bundles on their heads, on their way to their farms for a full day’s work.  After unloading the taxi, I asked PP Regina if there was anything else needed of me before I went to sleep.  When she said no I made a B-line for my bed and didn’t wake up ’til much later that morning.

When I woke up, took a shower, and joined everyone in the hallway for breakfast, there was no power.   The weather is okay early in the morning, but around 10:00am it gets too hot to handle.  The men were in charge of breakfast and prepared omelets with think slices of bread.  Some of the club members were surprised at the amount of sugar I took in my coffee.  I told them in America we like lots of shoooooogar (as it’s pronounced in this side of the world).  I even mistakenly took groundnut (which is kind of like peanuts) paste for peanut butter.  Well that was wrong.  That groundnut paste was exactly that—paste.  No sugar at all!  But at least now I know what it tastes like.

A tree trunk where locals dump their trash.  They have no way of taking it away or recoiling it, so they just burn it every day.  Think of the pollution to our planet, March 6, 2015

Breakfast time!  March 6, 2015
Breakfast: thick slabs of bread and a tasty omelet, March 6, 2015
          Shortly after breakfast we heard banging of drums and children’s voices outside.  The Club members explained that since it was Ghana’s Independence Day, there would be a parade.  We ran outside in the sun with our cameras and captured the sweet children from the local schools marching (really marching) down the dirt roads, representing their country.  It was quite a nice sight, but pretty soon, I was looking for a shaded spot to enjoy the parade.

The Children's Parade, March 6, 2015
The drummers, March 6, 2015
More youth from the local schools, March 6, 2015
          The rest of the day was spent inside to try and escape the heat.  The power was off the whole day, so we limited ourselves to some comfortable activities such as chatting and sleeping.  I did get some reading done on English language studies for my special topic paper, but eventually took a nap, too, to forget about the heat for a little while.  When I woke up, I walked to the back porch to find some of the club members pounding Fufu for lunch.  They asked me if I’d like to try, but I told them I’d just watch this time.  The members were quite shocked when I told them I’d have Fufu and Garden Egg Stew for lunch.  When I asked them what was so strange about eating Fufu with Garden Egg Stew, P Deho simply said, “It’s just weird.”  Not as weird as a banana bacon chocolate milkshake from the Sonic drivethrough—weird, but delicious, I thought to myself.  Culture shock hit them again when I requested a fork to eat the Fufu with instead of using my hand to dip in the sauces.  One girl said, “Eat with your hands, that’s the Ghanaian way.”  I said, “I’m not eating with my hands, I prefer a fork.  Aren’t we supposed to be embracing cultural differences here?”  They all laughed and after they tried to take some photos of me eating with a fork, I was finally left alone to eat my Garden Egg stew in peace.  Another of the club members asked me later why was I being so quiet, was I comfortable. I told her that when all the conversations are taking place in Twi or one of the other local languages, there’s not much I can say  because I don’t understand the language.  After that they said, “Oh, sorry” in unison and P Deho encouraged the members to speak in English.  Some listened, which was nice so that I could at least follow the conversation.

Club members preparing Fufu for lunch, February 6, 2015 
          That evening, after I calling my mother and reassured her that the Western Region of Ghana is not an Ebola-stricken area, some of the club members and I went for a walk to some of the Cocoa farms.  The walk was one of my favorite parts of the trip, as I saw some unfamiliar plants and the weather had cooled down considerably.   P Deho said we had walked for at least two kilometers, but the walk was so enjoyable, it didn’t feel that way.  We passed through a very rural cocoa farm and tasted some of the dried cocoa beans which were very bitter (as cocoa beans are in their raw state).  P Deho explained that this was the area in which he did his National Service (National Service is a program that Ghanaians take part in the year after they graduate from college.  They are stationed in some part of the country for a year to give back after completion of their studies).  He told me that the area was so rural, when graduates were assigned there, they simply didn’t show up for their National Service, and that after years, he was the only graduate to report and fulfill his duties in the Sefiwan community.  We didn’t walk all the way  to the community, but got pretty close.  Once nightfall was near, we headed back to the house for some Rotaract activities.

Nature walk!  March 6, 2015

Posing for the camera, March 6, 2015
Children pumping drinking and cooking water, March 6, 2015
I gave it a try-but didn't last long!  March 6, 2015
Under a thatched-roof house, March 6, 2015
Closeup, March 6, 2015
Action shot!  March 6, 2015
Thousands of cocoa beans!  March 6, 2015
Me holding a cocoa pod on a tree, March 6, 2015
          That night, although the power didn’t come on, we sang lots of songs from the Rotaract songbook and had a wonderful time fellowshipping by candlelight.  Everyone spoke in English which really allowed me to take part.  There were three songs in the songbook which the Club members weren’t familiar with: “Eidleweiss" (From the Classic Musical “The Sound of Music”), “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand”, and one other I don’t remember.  They were happy that I was able to teach them how to sing these songs.  We had singing competitions between the guys and girls and had a great time.  We all went to bed tired but happy.

Rotaract Fellowship, March 6, 2015
Dancin' in the dark March 6, 2015
          Saturday morning we woke up, rearing to head out to the community.  We took a tro tro the 20 minute ride to the community, singing “Eidleweiss" most of the way.  Once we arrived, we unloaded the tro tro and went to see the chief.  The chief welcomed us warmly and told us that after he reflected for his Sabbath, he would join us at the school block.  As we headed down to the school block, a bell and drum rang.  One of the club members explained that since the chief gave us his blessing, a bell was rung signally the community to follow us to the site.  The sleepy village seemed to come to life and before I knew it, people, young and old, men and women and arm babies, had come from everywhere.  It was clear that they were as excited for the community outreach as we were.  Children ran into the school and brought out wooden desks which they set up under the tree.  The members looked on excitedly as we set everything up and explained what would be done that day.  We ended up testing the blood sugar levels of the people and conducting a deworming project for the children.  Two nurses came shortly after we got started, interpreted the results for the people, and gave them information on how to manage their sugar levels and live healthy lives.  

Heading to the community, March 7, 2015
Meeting the chief, March 7, 2015
Community members forming a line around the tree, March 7, 2015
Community members anxiously waiting under the tree, March 7, 2015
The testing begins, March 7, 2015
Club members pricking fingers, March 7, 2015
          I was put in charge of the deworming table.  With some help from the club members, we must have dewormed at least 100 children.  The children closer to the age of five were very well behaved.  They opened their mouths wide and swallowed the white liquid in two gulps.  The younger children were more wary.  Some kicked, screamed, and shrieked.  Aaron helped me hold their heads steady as I tried to get them to swallow the medicine.  Mothers and fathers walked their children over to the table with care and held their little children close to their chests with the most sincere love.  I often had to call one of the club members over to interpret for me as I was often asked questions in the local language.  Though I could not understand most of what was being said, I could see in the mothers’ eyes that they were praying that this medicine would keep their babies happy and healthy.  At one point, during a break when I was waiting for more children to come, I took in all that was happening around me.  Here was a small community of people—living, breathing, farming, being—in the most remote place I’d ever been to in my life.  Since my last job I had become extremely curious, completely fascinated community development.  Thanks to this experience, I had gotten a small morsel of what community development can actually be.

A little boy squirming, March 7, 2015
Here was a good, cooperative little girl, March 7, 2015 
Deworming a small child, March 7, 2015
She was happy for a 'toffee', March 7, 2015
The cutest little boy I saw all day!  March 7, 2015

Breakfast time break!  March 7, 2015 
A classroom in the community, March 7, 2015 
Club members moving blocks that will be used to add on to the school block, March 7, 2015 
Lots of lumbering goes on in this area-desertification has already begun in many parts of Africa, March 7, 2015

          After things slowed down considerably, we cleaned, packed up, and headed to the other side of the community for lunch.  The men and women cooked us Light Soup and Fufu.  They brought baskets of plantains and coconuts for us to enjoy and take with us.  Although I was as tired as I could be, I immensely enjoyed their hospitality and chatting with the club members, the chief, and the local people.  By the time we left, I felt like I was leaving some old familiar friends.  Upon arrival back at the house, I went straight to sleep.  Shortly before 6:00pm, someone knocked on our bedroom door.  It was one of the club members.  She said they had been knocking on our door for the past two hours (apparently my roommate and I were sleeping hard) and that we would be leaving for the bus station in 10 minutes!  I quickly took a shower, packed my things, and headed to the front porch.  We loaded the tro tro and a Rotaractor’s truck and headed to the bus station.  The bus arrived shortly and we loaded on and began the eight hour journey back go Accra.

Fufu pounding-most serious workout, March 7, 2015 
Our wonderful hosts who prepared lunch for us, March 7, 2015
Waiting for lunch to be served.  I was clearly ready for a nap, March 7, 2015
          The ride this time was warm and comfortable.  Once we got back around 4:00am, I said goodbye to the club members and walked with P Deho to the waiting area where my friend picked me up moments later.  On the bus, we had a wonderful conversation about his efforts to raise funds for building a school block and other related initiatives for the Sefwan community.  I told him it was a great, great effort and I was so glad to lend a hand.  We promised to stay in touch for future service opportunities.  Later that morning, once I arrived home, P Deho called to make sure I had arrived safely.

   The community service project to the community of Sefwan definitely ranks in the top 5 experiences I’ve had in the country thus far.  The community members are hard working, loving people who only need assistance—not hand outs—people to partner with them for sustainable and measurable community development.  Personally, the trip opened my eyes to what community partnership can be.  I learned this at my last job, but this was my first experience living it and breathing it, which of course, is totally different.  I’m looking forward to taking part in the next initiative in the community and tracking the Club’s progress.

Donation of school supplies to community teachers, March 7, 2015

Community photo, March 7, 2015
This concludes this week’s exciting post.  Next week, I’ll discuss a much needed relaxing afternoon at Coco Beach!

They call this one a community selfie! March 7, 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Day trip to Boti Falls, Umbrella Rock, and the Tetteh Quarshie Cocoa Farm

          Before coming to Ghana, I expected to take part in a rigorous Masters program.  Sure enough, last semester’s work load proved to be a great challenge indeed.  However, this semester is already shaping up to outdo last semester.  With all the work and commitments swirling around me, it’s good to find time to break away and get back to nature.  Fortunately for me, that’s just what a new friend and I did last week when we headed to Boti falls and Aburi Gardens.  Here’s a look at our adventure.

           I met Barbara at an expat get together.  We discovered we both had a love of traveling and spending time with our families.  Before the end of the meet and greet, we had exchanged information and planned to meet up soon.  After a couple of other social gatherings, Barbara invited me to visit Aburi Gardens and Umbrella Rock.  I had heard of Aburi Gardens, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to travel there.  I had absolutletly no idea what umbrella rock was though.  

           Early Sunday morning, Barbara and her driver came by to pick me up and we set out for the Aburi mountains.  As soon as we drove out of the city, I immediately felt cool, crisp breeze in the air and the lack of dust and trash.  We stopped to take some photos and then headed on toward Aburi Gardens.  Once at the gardens, our tour guide led us around the grounds and pointed out lovely trees like cinnamon, nutmeg, lavender, palms, bamboo, and what appeared to be a dogwood.  As we walked along across the lawn,  church singing and drumming could be heard in the distance.  The peace and tranquility was a much welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

              Entrance to Aburi Gardens, February, 22, 2015

                         A carved tree in the Gardens, February 22, 2015

              A closeup of the carved tree, February, 22, 2015

                            Tree that has been eaten by a parasite, February 22, 2015
Rustic shack in the Gardens, February 22, 2015
Barbara and I cheesing on a double-headed palm tree, February 22, 2015
A photo of me under what I believe is a dogwood, February 22, 2015
After the Gardens, we made our way to Boti Falls.  While the Falls were much smaller than Wli Falls I visited in the Volta region last year, the short 15 minute ‘hike’ down the concrete steps was easy and comfortable.  I was a little disappointed to see that the water was quite muddy and shallow.  I told Barbara we’d have to come during the rainy season when the area was flooded for a good swim!  

Me posing in front of a huge tree on the path down to Boti Falls, February 22, 2015

Beautiful Boti Falls, February 22, 2015 
Too shallow to take a swim!  February 22, 2015
Cocoa pods at the entrance of the Falls, February 22, 2015
Our second tour guide took us on from Boti Falls to Umbrella Rock.  While hiking up the barren, rocky pathway, I was reminded that I was hiking in the heart of West Africa!  The treck was only slightly treacherous, with  narrow walkways and sharply sloping paths.  Umbrella Rock proved to be quite breathtaking.  Along the other side was a wonderfully cool, windy, and shaded enclave—great for a picnic lunch.  After getting some great photos and enjoy the gorgeous landscape, we headed back (through a gravesite) to the car.  

Walking to Umbrella Walk, February 22, 2015
A treacherous path!  February 22, 2015

Barbara and I posing at Umbrella Rock, February 22, 2015
Right when we thought we were headed home, Sam, the driver, took us to a cocoa farm.  Once we had come down from the Falls, I had purchased a cocoa pod from one of the local women.  Once we began talking about the process of making chocolate, Sam suggested taking us by a farm to see how it was done.  Once again, our tour guide at the Cocoa farm proved to be very friendly and knowledgeable about his trade.  He taught us how long it takes the cocoa pod to grow, when it is ripe, and what must be done to dry out the seeds for cocoa processing.  All in all, it takes a few years to get the first cocoa pods!  But clearly a worthwhile investment.  

Our guide cracking open a cocoa pod, February 22, 2015
The cocoa seeds on the left have to dry.  The cocoa seeds on the right will be sent out of the country to be processed, February 22, 2015

Throughout the drive, I couldn’t help but drift off to sleep.  It’s always a treat when someone else is driving around and you can just relax!  Once Sam and Barbara dropped me off, I thanked Sam for driving and Barbara for the invite.  We made plans to get together again soon.  When I walked in the house, the power was off (again), but fortunately the generator would be turned on in a couple hours.

There’s nothing like taking time to get out of the city getting back to nature.  Last week’s adventure was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle.  I can’t wait to check out Boti again when the rains come.  This afternoon, after class, I’ll be off to the Western Region to do a service project.  Next week, I’ll discuss my time with the Rotaract Club of Accra-East in the Western Region!