Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Good Eatin' with my housemates

       Believe it or not, this Friday will mark the 10th month that I’ve been in Ghana.  Even more amazing is that I am now in the last teaching week of the year.  Next week is revision week and then two grueling (and I mean grueling) weeks of exams.  It’s hard to believe that so much time has gone by so quickly!  As I set my thoughts on home, one of the things I keep mentioning to people is how I’m going to tear up some good Southern food!  (I’m wondering whether or not I should ask my parents to bring a banana peanut butter bacon shake with them to the airport, though by the time I get through customs, it will probably have melted).  While I’ve been waiting to get back to the familiar for a bit, I had the chance to enjoy a hearty dinner last week, courtesy of one of my compound mates.  Here’s a look at the food we enjoyed.

I mentioned in a recent post that since I’ve moved to my new apartment, my compound mates have been very sweet and very accommodating.  For example, since last October, there have been severe power outages across the country.  In the area where I live, we usually have 12 hours with power and 24 hours without.  When I first moved in, the generator would be turned on around 8:00pm.  This was not conducive to my learning.  Being the only one in the compound who is a student, I asked my housemates if they would work with me and have the generator turned on by 7:00pm so that when I get home by 6:00pm from campus, I could do some work before bedtime.  They willingly obliged and now I have more productive time to study and prepare for the next day.  

        My first week at the compound, one of my compound mates had me over for dinner.  Ghanaian-American, she prepared food that was a nice blend of the familiar and something original: colorful vegetables were embedded in the macaroni and cheese, something I would have never thought of but was quite tasty.  We enjoyed teriyaki chicken, and corn on the cob, all over a bed of fluffy, steaming white rice.  We had a good chat over dinner about life in Ghana and how we miss our families in the Southern US.  As if this hearty dinner weren’t enough, for dessert I had a big bowl of steaming peach cobbler smothered in vanilla ice cream!  When it was time to go back to my apartment, I could barely move!  My compound mate also sent me back across the way with a helping of dinner for another night and some peach cobbler!  All I could think was ‘delicious’!

Check out the spread!  April 19, 2015
Eating by lantern light.  The power came back on half way through the meal, yay!  April 19, 2015
What's for dessert?  Peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  Delish!  April 19, 2015
In addition to this tasty meal, a few nights later, my apartment mate purchased some fresh fish from one of the local seafood stores.  She brought home a huge blue bag of fish.  She said she had only ordered a few kilos, but the man at the shop gave her a whole lot more!  That night, she prepared a feast of fried and stewed white fish!  Another of our compound mates came over and we had a great time.

Tasty white fish with white rice and lime soy sauce, courtesy of my apartment mate, April 21, 2015

It’s great to be living with such kind, accommodating housemates!  They’ve made the transition to my new home so smooth and fun.  Hopefully I’m returning the favor!  This ends this week’s post.  Check back in a few days for the next exciting post!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Trip to region number 8: Kumasi and Lake Bostumtwi!


        As I sit here writing this blog post, this time last week I was riding a bus, on my way back home from Kumasi.  I’d traveled through Kumasi on my way to the North last year, but hadn’t had a chance to explore.  My trip to the former capital city and stay at Lake Bostumtwi was fun and, as usual, unpredictable.  Here’s a look at my trip to the bustling city.

Busy and tired as I was/am, I knew I had to make my way to Kumasi before the end of my Rotary year.  I woke up one day last week, somewhat impulsively, and decided I would make the five hour bus ride.  So I made some calls and enquiries, secured a reservation at the hotel, packed my things, and Friday morning found a taxi to take me to the bus station at 5:30 in the morning.  When we arrived around 6:00, the Accra bus station was already bustling and full of life.  Just as my classmate had told me, there were busses leaving frequently, so getting a ticket was easy.  One major difference between public transportation in Ghana and the US is, unlike back home where the bus has a set route and time to leave each stop, busses in Ghana don’t leave the depot until the bus is filled—completely filled!  So even though I boarded the bus around 6:15, we didn’t move until the bus was completely filled at 7:15!  I was happy when we finally took off.  And because it was so early in the morning, I snapped a few photos from my window seat and went right back to sleep.

Leaving Accra, April 10, 2015
Heading towards Kumasi, April 10, 2015
          We made a couple of stops before we got to Kumasi.  It’s not difficult for me to gather my courage to go on a trip solo—it’s after I get to my destination that I sometimes wonder how I’m going to get where I want to go!  Fortunately, a kind man in the seat behind me overheard my asking where the “Kejeta” market was.  He slid his hand between the cobalt leather seat, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked, “Is this where you’re trying to go?”  He had written out Kejetia market on a small slip of paper.  “Yes,” I said, “That’s exactly where I’m trying to go.  No wonder no one understands me; I’m pronouncing it wrong.  Do you know how I can get there?”

“Yes, I’ll show you at the last stop.”  Boy was I thankful for that kind man.  Sure enough, he spoke in the local language to a taxi driver and helped me find my way.  I had the taxi driver take me to the Forex Bureau and then to a place where I could find some good American-style food.  For lunch I had tuna pizza (as I said before, sounds gross, but was quite good).  After relaxing in the air condition, I got directions from the hotel receptionist and made my way to Kejetia Market.  I had to ask a few other people, but finally found my way there.

What I saw from the backseat of the taxi, April 10, 2015

Tuna Pizza at Sabron Hotel, April 10, 2015
Carving of former Ashanti royalty, April 10, 2015
        Kejetia Market is the largest open air market in West Africa.  True to all I have read and heard, this market has everything anyone could need.  From children’s toys to handkerchiefs to cooking pans to costume jewelry, it’s a consumer’s dream.  I had limited time to look around since I’d soon have to leave for Lake Bostumwi, so I strategized and headed for the fabric center.    All I can say about the fabric was that it was fabulous!  Any color, shade, material, length, design, pattern, this place had it!  I was in awe of the beautiful local patterns, imported laces, polished cottons, and chiffons that were in every stall from the ground all the way to the ceiling.  I seriously could have spent my whole afternoon just walking around the center.  Finally, I decided on buying four yards of a GORGEOUS lace material I will have made into a baby doll style dress.  I only wish I’d had more time to explore that fascinating place!

Walking through Kejetia Market, April 10, 2015
The Market's a busy place!  April 10, 2015 
Fantastic fabrics!  He's pulling down the one I purchased, April 10, 2015

A view from above of Kumasi, April 10, 2015
Hustle and bustle of the city, April 10, 2015
An African Bathhouse.  It may look crude, but I was pushed to use the bathroom and was happy to use it.  The first time I tried one of these I was a bit grossed out, but this time it was kind of fun!  April 10, 2015

They call this "A Piece of Loaf" or something like that.  We saw it at the tro tro station.  This is by far one of the most delicious road side treats I've had since I've been in the country; warm and flaky with a hint of sweetness!  April 10, 2015
        Shortly after I made my purchase, I received a call from my classmate’s friend who lives in Kumasi.  Fortunately, we were able to meet and chat over drinks.  It was great to have someone in the city to meet with and talk about my experiences.  Not only was Lucy’s (my classmate) friend a good conversationist, he also helped me find my way to Lake Bostumtwi.  I had no idea about the complexities of finding the right tro tro and making my way to the neighboring city, only to find another tro tro and go another 30 minutes to another neighboring city, then hiring a taxi to take me 20 minutes to the lake!  My new friend put me in touch with his brother in the neighboring city and together, they got me where I needed to go!

Once I arrived at Lake Bostumtwi around 7:30 at night, I was tired, but not too tired to get some delicious Tilapia for dinner!  After placing my order, I went up to my room and found a quiet, spacious place for reading and resting.  I took a quick shower and had dinner.  After dinner, I went straight to bed.  My rest was quiet and comfortable, and I slept soundly through the night.

My accommodation, warm and cozy, April 10, 2015
My huthouse, April 11, 2015 
Pathway to breakfast, April 11, 2015
A decadent breakfast, April 11, 2015 
The open air lobby, April 11, 2015
The next morning, I woke to a serene landscape of palm and mango trees and a well manicured lawn.  I took a shower, dressed, and headed down to the open air lobby for breakfast.  My ‘pancakes’ (really crepes) and fruit were tasty, but the syrup they poured on the crepes was a little too sweet, even for me.  After doing some reading over breakfast, Joshua, the manager, showed me to beautiful Lake Bostumtwi.  It was too dark to see the night before, but in the light of day, it was lovely.  Surprisingly, the water was boiling hot!  I’ve never been to a lake where the water was so warm.  When I told my dad, he said the lakes heat showed how hot the earth is in those parts.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go for a swim, but I did get some nice shots of the lake.

Lovely Lake Bostumtwi, April 11, 2015
        After taking a wonderful midday nap, I took a walk to the neighboring hotel, grabbed some lunch, and did some more resting.  As I surfed the web in the lobby, a cool rainstorm came upon me and the hotel attendants.  I was more than happy for the rain, as it helped cool things down considerably.  It was so peaceful to sit in the open air lobby and feel the cool breeze as it blew through the handmade bamboo blinds.  Surfing the web by candlelight was interesting, too.  When the power went out around 6:00pm, Joshua brought me a candle so I could continue my work.  All I can say about the staff is that there were so sweet, accommodating, and friendly.  They wanted to know all about life in America and were anxious to see my photos.  They found a fresh bar of soap for me to bathe with, provided ample hot water, and apologized profusely for not having rotating desserts (as was advertised).  We had fun taking photos together and discussing the similarities and differences between Ghana and the US.

Working on a blog post by candlelight, April 11, 2015
Guess who, April 11, 2015
Posing with Joshua in the Lobby, April 11, 2015
Posing with Eunice in the lobby, April 11, 2015
A twist on Chicken Masala with pasta and starfruit salad, April 11, 2015

Closeup of the starfruit salad, quite refreshing, April 11, 2015

The next morning I woke early, paid my bill, said goodbye to Eunice and Joshua, got in the taxi, and headed back to the neighboring town for the long tro tro ride back to Kumasi.  After arriving in Kumasi I made my way back to the hotel with the American style food, where my classmate’s friend met me to chat while I had breakfast.  Shortly afterwards we headed to the roadside and hitched a taxi to the bus station.  We said our goodbyes and I found my seat on the bus, which was pretty comfy—at least until we started hitting potholes and speed bumps on the highway!  About five hours later, we were back in Accra.

Once back home, safe and sound, I chatted with my neighbors in the compound, unpacked my belongings, took a nice hot shower, and thanked God for a safe and fun journey.  That evening as I laid in bed to rest before the busy week to come, I smiled to myself for making the trip.  I never get tired of adventure and was thankful for a chance to get out of Accra.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spending Resurrection Day weekend with my host family

        This past Easter weekend was a special one.  As with the Christmas holiday, I spent the Easter weekend with my host parents in Tema.  It was a great time for catching up, rest, and reflection.  Here’s a look at the weekend.

Everyone in my department (myself included) had been looking forward to the holiday weekend.  Some people had plans to head to the Eastern region to watch “the White men paraglide off of the high cliffs,” some would travel to nearby villages to visit their loved ones, and others just planned to catch up on rest.  I especially had been looking forward to a six day educational tour of Ghana.  Adult Education students and professors had planned to visit most of the regions of Ghana and learn about community development initiatives around the country.  Three days before the trip, when my classmate and I went to our professor to pay the trip fee, we learned that the trip was cancelled.  Apparently, no one had paid the trip fee yet, and since a deposit hadn’t been put down on the bus, the bus managers decided to rent the bus to another group who had their money ready.  Let me tell you, my classmate and I were extremely disappointed.  I had even planned to make it to the last three regions of Ghana on that trip and visit my friends in Cape Coast.  Right when I thought I’d be stuck at home for the long weekend while my new roommate headed to Israel for a week long trip, my host mother called and invited me to hang out with them for Resurrection Day festivities.  I happily obliged and headed to Tema on Friday afternoon.

After I entered the compound, my host father met me at the door.  We had a good conversation around the kitchen table and caught up on the past few months (we hadn’t seen each other since December).  Ms. Joanne came home shortly afterwards and began preparing dinner.  I kid you not, we ended up chatting from 2:00 in the afternoon ’til 10:00 at night!  It was great to hear about their children, grandchildren, and her plans for heading back home to visit family.  I was glad to have a fellow American to vent to about power outages and loads of school work.  I went to bed that night in the familiar old bed, the same one I slept in the night I first landed in Africa.

The next day, we woke up, had breakfast, and talked some more.  Mr. Ako went to play golf for the day and Ms. Joanne and I ran some errands and had lunch at the new mall in Tema, “The Junction.”  We enjoyed a tasty barbecue chicken pizza in the food court and then strolled around the clothing stores.  When we went to the ice-cream parlor and found that the ice-cream was “finished”, we were determined to find some.  On the way home we drove around Tema until we arrived at a gas station that sold ice-cream pops.  On a hot April day, they were quite tasty.  
That night we enjoyed hamburgers and yam (sort of like potatoes) chips with all the fixins while we watched the last two discs of “The Bible.”  Watching the stories was very sobering and provided a good time for reflection for the special weekend.  I went to bed early to be ready for church the next morning. 
Buns, burgers, and yam chips!  April 4, 2015
Burgers with all the fixins, April 4, 2015

        Resurrection Day church service was great.  Ms. Joanne was the worship leader.  She along with the singers and musicians did a nice job with getting the congregation excited through music, and at the end of service, a couple people even danced.  The pastor talked about whether or not Jesus Christ is relevant in our world today, or if we should just look to human beings for inspiration.  The difference, he explained, is that while human heroes provide inspiration, only Jesus’ sacrifice provides eternal salvation.    

(Clockwise) Wild rice pilaf, collard greens, cauliflower casserole, baked chicken, and cream-style corn pudding--this is what I call good American eatin'!

After church we enjoyed fellowship with hot chocolate, tea, iced cookies, and wafers.  We took the beach road on the way home and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.  That afternoon, Ms. Joanne and I watched some earlier stories from “The Bible” while we had dinner.  Abraham returned from his Rotaract trip to Togo shortly before I headed back to Accra.  We chatted for a while and he shared with me a gift he received from someone on the trip—several bars of high quality anti-bacterial soap.  Ms. Joanne and Mr. Ako joked that someone was trying to tell him in a nice way that he needed to wash!  Shortly later, my friend came to give me a ride back to Accra.  After saying goodbye to Ms. Joanne, Mr. Ako, and Abraham, my friend and I parked along the beach road, sat on the rocks and watched the tide come in. 

Enjoying the view along the beach road, Sunday, April 5
         Easter weekend was so relaxing and wonderful.  I always have a great time with my host family and am very thankful for them and their warmth.  
This ends this week’s post.  Next week, I’ll discuss taking weekend vacay to region number eight: the old capital city of Kumasi in the Ashanti region!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Out with the old and in with the new!


Moving out of the old house, March 27, 2015
          You know the old saying, there's no place like home?  True as ever, theres no place on earth like the family homestead, and I'm not ashamed to admit that as April 7th will mark my 9th month in the country, I'm actually getting a bit homesick.  Fortunately for me, I was able to move to a new and improved 'house' last Friday that definitely feels more like home.  Here's a look at the move to another spot in East Legon.

          As you may recall, I lived with my host parents in Tema for a week when I first flew into the country.  I then lived on campus at one of the local hostels.  After feeling that I had outgrown much of campus life, I moved to a family house in East Legon.  Shortly after I came home one day, went to the washroom and found that my solid bar of soap had turned into a liquid due to the blistering heat, I realized it was time to find a place that was a bit more comfortable.  Fortunately for me, God works in mysterious ways, and before I knew it, I had a new, bright, sunny place to live.

Melted Black soap in my soap container, February, 2015
Packing up wasn't as hard this time around, March, 27th, 2015

          The new place is only about a 10 minute drive from the old place.  So I’m still in East Legon, my favorite area in Accra.  East Legon reminds me a little bit of my old home in West Ashley, SC, USA; while it’s a sprawling, built up area with lots of old houses, it’s still bursting with up and coming restaurants, shopping facilities, embassies, NGOs, and schools.  Not to mention the architecture of the residences are unique and exotic.  

Moving to the house was easy; I hadn’t unpacked my kitchen items from when I lived in the hostel so a third of the work was already done.  All I had to do was pack my clothes in my suitcases, my notebooks in my bag, my toiletries and melted soap in a box, tidy the room, and I was on my way!  A friend and a neighborhood guy helped me get all the items moved, so that made life even easier.

The neighborhood guy helping me move, March 27th, 2015 
Loading up the car, March 27, 2015
The new place is only about a 10 minute drive from the old place.  So I’m still in East Legon, my favorite area in Accra.  East Legon reminds me a little bit of my old home in West Ashley, SC, USA; while it’s a sprawling, built up area with lots of old houses, it’s still bursting with up and coming restaurants, shopping facilities, embassies, NGOs, and schools.  Not to mention the architecture of the residences are unique and exotic.  

My new home, April 6, 2015
My comfy bedroom, April 6, 2015
A gift from my new neighbors in the compound, March 27, 2015
Moving to the house was easy; I hadn’t unpacked my kitchen items from when I lived in the hostel so a third of the work was already done.  All I had to do was pack my clothes in my suitcases, my notebooks in my bag, my toiletries and melted soap in a box, tidy the room, and I was on my way!  A friend and a neighborhood guy helped me get all the items moved, so that made life even easier.

The new place is a gated compound (like the old house).  A gateman/security guard is there 24/7 and also helps with odd jobs.  I have my own room with an air condition (!), fan (!), cold and hot running water (!), two bedroom windows (!), and a bookcase.  I share the living room and kitchen with my roommate who’s as nice as she can be.  There is also a half bath which connects to the living room, couches, a dining room table, and and two air conditions in the shared space.  The kitchen also has a hot water heater and a washing machine (!).  There are six apartments with a separate house off to the side.  About four other women live in the other apartments and have all been over to introduce themselves.  The one downside is that it’s an air traffic zone, so we hear a lot of planes overhead, but seeing the planes is kind of nice because it makes me think about going back home next month!   

I’m so thankful for my new home in East Legon.  It’s a clean, comfortable retreat when it’s time for rest and relaxation.  Next week, I’ll discuss my Resurrection Day weekend celebration with my host parents in a  It’s a great upgrade and more of what I had envisioned for myself before I arrived in Ghana