Wednesday, August 3, 2011

All My Lovin' and All My Children

I have found love in Africa, and I proclaim it proudly. 35 children who call me Madam have won my heart. Everytime they see me approaching the school, they race towards me and attack me with one massive group hug. (I invite you to make an image of this in your head: tall obruni in the middle of this circle of 4-10 year old Ghanaian children haha). When I enter the class, ie. walk into the courtyard of the housing compound, I am greeted formally with, "Good morning Madam Annabelle. You are welcome Madam."
And I reply, "Good Morning. How are you this morning?"
"I am fine. Thank you Madam. How are you?"
"I am also fine. Thank you." And class begins.

I have 9 students between the ages of 5-8. With a school of only 4 classes, and childen ranging from 4-14 years, each class has children of all levels of understanding. This makes teaching difficult. Some kids can answer the math set all correct in under 5 mins, whereas other children in the same class take 10 mins to just copy the problems. I taught for 4 weeks, and it was only until the third week that I started understanding what each kid needed and I figured out how to be a somewhat effective teacher with the time and resources that I had. It is unfortunate that only a week after I had figured all this out, it was time for me to leave!

I definitely saw improvement and learning in the time that I was there, but I also hit a couple frustrating dead-ends. Maybe the students felt more comfortable asking questions because I wouldn't lash them (although after being in the village over a month, I can sort of understand the lashing, although I'm no advocate of the practice). I wanted them to learn and not memorize their maths and English. They memorize their multiplication tables and they memorize 3 letter words for example. But if you ask them something outside of their memorized curriculum, they are just baffled. They know their multiples of 2, but when I ask, "If 2x6 is 12, what is 6x2?" They look at me utterly perplexed and say, "Madam, that number is too big! We don't know the multiples of 6 yet!" And I say, "It is the same as 2x6! You are not thinking!" (Yes, I am surprisingly stern with these children). And we go over it on the board and they pretend to understand, because the next day they definitely don't remember the lesson from before. Frustrating I tell you!

Other days there are breakthroughs. One of my students after 3 weeks of doing addition problems, FINALLY realized that any number plus 0 equals the same number-- 7+0= 7, 3+0= 3, etc. What a happy day for me (and him of course)! Or when one of my students was able to draw out 3x3 all on his own to get the answer 9. The question is now, will they remember this for next semester? I cannot be sure.

My class proved very challenging because I was attempting to teach them basic maths and basic English; however, English is not their first language, adding another obstacle to teaching. The older classes are easier to teach because they already understand the basics. Their new knowledge builds on this understanding that they acquired earlier. I'm teaching my kids what addition is, what subtraction is, what English is-- the letters, the sounds, essentially phonics. I am far from complaining. In fact, I'm bragging. I love these kids and although they frustrated the hell out of me sometimes (most times? lol), at the end of each day they got something out of coming to school as did I. The hope is that they learn something everyday, although I cannot promise that happens with each day. It is important each day that we have offered these kids an alternative to their daily lives. These kids would not be going to school if Kwame (pronounced Kwah-may) had not started this NGO. These kids would be begging in the streets, selling goods in the marketplace, or selling water atop their heads on the road. In fact, some children still go to work in the market after school. The families don't have money to send their children to school, so they put them to work at a young age. Or maybe if they are too young to work, the mother can go to the market while the 4 year old babysits the 1 year old.

These kids have responsibilities beyond their years. Not only do they take it and accept it, they manage it. It's no big deal to them. It's just the way things are. This school is an attempt to break the cycle of this village-- Women having too many children, men leaving them, and women raising their children ready to work towards the family income. Without education, these children are raised with no higher expectation than to work in the markets, or sell food on the street, which is what their mothers do. One mother sells hot corn on the side of the road. 25 cents a cob. She has 6 children and no husband. How does she feed them? These are the types of families that we are bringing education to. We hope to give these children options when they are older. They do not need to be condemned because they do not have the money for education.

The school is expanding. Right now they are building a school outside of the village so the students can have their own campus. Ultimately, the plan is to have 12 classrooms, and to make it a boarding school. Quite honestly, I think they will have a better time boarding than at home. I've visited the students in their homes and there is very little joy. The kids who are the first to hug me in the morning, treat me like a stranger in their home. They don't speak and they don't even smile. It breaks my heart.

What is also important about them coming to school, is that they get attention. They get love and people care about them outside of their families. Like all families, some are more proactive than others in their childrens lives. I feel most of the parents work so hard to get the little money they earn that they do not have the time or energy to engage their children other than feed them. So when the kids come to school, people listen, people care, and they have fun with the other children. This school attempts to change the lives of children in the village, but they expand with hopes of reaching children outside their village as well. I'm so privileged to be a part of it!

Ghana. It's one big dance. I came here thinking I already knew the choreography, the rhythm, and the beat, but I proved too confident. When I left Ghana last year, I knew all the moves-- walk the walk and talk the talk. When I returned, I realized I had lost my "rhythm" and would have to gain it back. I was a dancer who had taken a year off and was now returning. I KNEW all the moves, but it would take some time to FEEL the music and move naturally once again. When everyone else is dancing around you, you must re-learn quickly or else you are a hindrance to the other dancers.

It took me 4 weeks to get back into the "swing" of Ghana. Like I said, I needed to re-feel the rhythm. I thought I knew how to avoid getting sick (hand sanitizer in my purse!), knew how to avoid getting robbed (zip your bag, keep it close), and knew how to survive Ghana (keep a kerchief as a sweat rag, bring toilet paper everywhere, always carry cash, pleasantries will get you far, etc.) but even this time round, I had lessons to learn. I needed to get sick, and get over it. Needed to get scammed, then get over it. I came knowing the culture, but now I leave understanding the culture.

I feel that now that I am once again fully comfortable and confident, people on the street don't harass me as much. Maybe I'm imagining it, but the people who sell on the street want to target new obrunis who they can rip off because they don't know any better. Vendors barely even approach me anymore and maybe that's because I have this aura about me that suggests, "I know what's up. I live here. Don't even try to mess with me." Hahah I don't know, but maybe.

So it takes 4 weeks to get resettled. And I leave week 5. Time is too short! Well I guess I should mention here that I missed my flight on Monday, and gained another week. Totally NOT my intention! And actually completely screwed up the rest of my summer plans. I finally was mentally prepared to leave, but now I have another week! Blessing or curse? What to do, what to do!

So next time I return I'll be really REALLY ready for Ghana! I got this! Haha

See you back in the States,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oh, the Good Times!

Since I last wrote, I've managed to accomplish the two things that I was avoiding most in Ghana-- a visit to the hospital and being robbed. Both occurances happened last time, under different circumstances, and obviously I did not return to the States disillusioned. I returned to Ghana wiser than before definitely, but apparently not wise enough! (Maybe by NEXT time I'll have learned all my lessons haha).

So we'll start with the hospital experience because that happened 2 weeks ago. On Sunday July 10, I woke with my stomach hurting and I couldn't eat. I felt if I eat I would throw up, so I decided to let the pain go away and eat later. Fortunately, Saturday night I slept at my (American) friend Therese's place. She is staying with her boyfriend's sister, Jade, and the sister is a nurse. So finally late Sunday, Jade forced me to take food because I hadn't eaten that day. I was hesitant at first, but it's hard to decline a Ghanaian's offer to feed you. That's just rude! So yes I ate some stew, and yes, 5 minutes later you found my face in the toilet. That lasted a while until Jade said she was taking me to her hospital. I was very weak. I could barely walk from the car to the door.

The way that Ghanaian hospitals work will forever baffle me. I had to bring my own sheets for the bed. I had to bring my own soap for the bathroom. My own towel. I even brought my own toilet paper, but it turns out that's the ONE thing they provide beside the medicine! haha So I get hooked up to the IV, get a couple shots, one in the butt. You know the drill. It was very reminiscent of last year, except this was better-- they found the right vein for the IV on the first try, versus the 4 times it took last year. So it was a great improvement!

I was in hospital for 24 hours. So compared to the 3 days I spent last year, this was much better. I was diagnosed with Gastritus. They believe the school lunches might have basically poisoned me over time. Or maybe it was the street food I've been eating since I arrived? Honestly, it could be any number of causes, but they are sure it was not food poisoning from ONE dish, but developed over a week or so. Well that's reassuring! But not really...

Although I left the hospital Monday evening, I was not able to be a full functioning person until the next Sunday. So 7 days I was bedridden. Compared to the 2 weeks last year spent recovering, 6 days is great! But I don't have that time to spare! Being here only 5 weeks, that cuts a whole week out of my trip! Since then I've been teaching at the school and eating lots of food. I wasn't able to hold food down until Thursday. So I'm trying to make up for it.

Now for my pickpocket story-- On my way to school on Wednesday, I was waiting at the tro tro stop. It was 9am and a shared taxi pulled up and asked where I was going. (Shared taxis in Ghana are very common. It's an alternative form of transportation to tro tros. It's just a little more money because they are faster and take fewer people). So I said my stop and they told me to get in. The car had two passengers-- a woman in the back seat with me and a man in the passenger seat. So we're driving and the driver asks again where I'm going. I repeat my destination, and he says "Oh sorry, we are not going there. I misheard you. I will drop you at this tro tro stop." He pulled over at the stop and I'm pissed cuz he wasted my time. I pull out my wallet to give him a quarter, but the passengers said in Twi something like "You're not taking her to her stop, she shouldn't pay." So after they grumbled that, the driver said quickly, "Oh, no no. You do not need to pay. My mistake." I'm surprised at this because usually taxi drivers will take any money you are willing to offer. But I accepted this, and put my wallet back in my bag. At this point the tro tros are honking at the taxi to get out of their way. So he moves forward a few hundred yards. I try to open the door but it is stuck. The driver is leaning over to "help" me open the door. He's giving me directions like "pull from the outside, push here, no not there" etc. My purse is in my lap, unzipped. I should have taken this stuck door as a RED FLAG, but I didn't. I was just pissed at their incompetence. So finally the man in the passenger seat gets out to open my door and it opens. I get out and as the car drives off, I hear giggling from the car. "Hmm, that's strange" I think to myself. First thing I do is check for my wallet. It is gone. A slur of curse words go through my head. I check again. Yep, they took my wallet. I was SO played!
It was all a setup. The driver, passenger, and woman in the backseat, they were all in on it together. As the driver "helped" me with the door, the woman leaned over to take my wallet. I was so preoccupied with trying to open the door I failed to notice. And the driver, once the woman had taken my wallet, finally asks the "passenger" to get out and open the door from the outside. All a scam. I see all the signs clearly now. But now I know, and I have learned. It was a lessen that cost $30, but it could have been more. A lot more. And for this, I am lucky.

Lucky for the scammers, I brought extra money this day because I knew I was going to be paying my dress maker later. Win for them. But I also had my camera in my bag, and thankfully they did not take that. I think I would have noticed the loss in weight in my purse if they did! Inconveniently my ID and ATM cards were in there as well, but that is all.

The ultimate relief is that yesterday I took out $275 from the ATM as part of a donation to the school that I am teaching. I had the money in my wallet this morning, but for some reason I felt uncomfortable transporting it to school. So I took it out and left it in my room. THANK GOD! The students would have been left without the funds that could go SUCH a long way for them!
I left the taxi feeling so PLAYED. I was a little shaken up to say the least. I called Therese on the verge of tears just because I couldn't believe what had happened, how played I was, and ultimately naive! I was left with no money to get home, let alone to the school, so I walked home about 30 minutes. I didn't want to trust anyone, talk to anyone, nothing. I just wanted to blow off some steam by walking home. I was SO played! I kept on going over it in my head. Yes, there were warning signs. Yes I thought some things were odd, but I assumed the driver's stupidity, rather than my own naivete! Ah! So the joke is on me.

Oh well. The recurring motto from all this is you live and you learn. Last year when I got my wallet stolen, I had about $50 and all my cards in it, ID, everything. But this time round I only had my ID and ATM. And even these, I just put back in my wallet after I left the hospital. (I wasn't carrying my ID or ATM when I went to the hospital which was an issue, so I decided to put them back). I learned from my last experience, and I will learn from this experience. When a door is stuck in the taxi, this will be an immediate warning sign. You live and you learn.

On another note. I love the school and the children that I work with each day. I will update you all with my daily routine once I get over the shock of being robbed. So you'll be hearing from me within a week, which is when I return!

Talk to you soon!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ghana, How I've missed you!

Welcome back to Annabelle's African Adventure, Part II! Please enjoy, and send me comments/
questions. I would love to hear from you!

By Day 1 I already had the most randomly awkward mosquito bites-- 2 on my forehead (the only part of my body exposed while sleeping) and one on my pinkie finger knuckle. Hello Ghana! How I missed you so! I start my days with (unheated) bucket showers and haven't seen the sun in full force since I've been here. It's been overcast an an unusually wet rainy season. By Day 3, I got my hair braided, and no I don't think it makes me more "African," it just makes bucket showers much easier. You have one bucket of water you take with you into the shower. And it is this water only that you will have to wash your whole body and hair. Washing my hair takes about 2/3 of the bucket. It's really just unfortunate when you run out of water and you still have soap on your body/ hair and have to leave the shower room (literally a room with a hole in the corner for drainage) to fill your bucket and return. I lock my bedroom door with a padlock by day, and by night I'm securing a broomstick horizontally across my door, as they did in the Middle Ages. It makes me laugh. I am however a convenient 10 minute walk to the major strip of clubs and bars. So that's really nice.

I've started teaching at this NGO in a village that takes 2 hours to get to by tro tro in traffic, or just 30 when driving directly. The distance is not far, but the traffic makes the journey quite long. This school began in 2009 when a local to Kissemah Village, Kwame Agoe, realized that too many children were living on the streets, or working, and not getting an education. He started rounding up children and asking them to join him on his porch to learn. And they came. After a year, he teamed up with an American studying at the University of Legon, and they started working together to get financing for their school and meet the criteria for NGO. As of now I'd say there is about 30-35 kids at the school, ages 4-14. Classes are held in the courtyard of a housing compound, but they have started building a proper school for the children. Unfortunately, the progress of the new school keeps getting delayed due to lack of finances.

Day 1 at the school and I already see much room for improvement. For the past seven months,
three teachers have been teaching four classes without any help. With me, it will be 4 teachers/ 4 classes, making it easier, but unfortunately it's only temporary. I will be teaching basic maths and English everyday. Class is from 10-3.30 with a 1.5 hour lunch break.

If you remember from my blog last year, I mentioned how the university students are not taught to analyze or comprehend information, so much as memorize what they are told. That was my complaint. Well this process of memorizing starts in primary school and I experienced it within hours of my first day at the outreach program. For example, the children were reciting their multiples of 2- "2x1, 2. 2x2, 4. 2x3, 6," etc. But I do not think the children understand the concept of what multiplying is. They repeat these numbers from memory without actually knowing what they are saying. And this I see as a problem in the education system. Not just at this school, but in public schools in Ghana. Learning in Ghana is based on muscle memory. If you are slow to "learn" then you are lashed accordingly. Obviously in my class, I will not be lashing as a form of punishment for wrong answers. I would rather like to reward those for getting it correct and help those who do not understand. But that's just me. I don't know how much of a difference I can make in the 4 weeks I am teaching, but I will try!

I have a feeling I'm going to come to love these kids before I leave, making it hard to leave yet again! But I must do what I can while here, and go from there. I brought with me donations from a couple friends which amounted to 3 soccer balls (this brought the most excitement to the school!), $300, and a set of children's books authored by my club soccer coach, Lasan Darboe. The school was pleasantly surprised and the most grateful.

Can I also mention that the students all call me "Madame." SO weird! Not "Miss Annabelle,"
but "Madame!" I'll see if I can get used to that. It's so formal!

Cheers for now,

P.S. Did I mention that I'm loving Ghana all over again?! Because I am. Haha

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Burkina Faso

My backpacking trip through French West Africa is one that I will always remember. Everyday was something new, everyday I experienced something out of the norm, everyday was a day I felt was worth documenting, so I did (in my makeshift journal). This being said, this entry will be indubitably long but hopefully not TOO tedious! Read as interests you and I would love your feedback. I learned a lot about Africa and its people in my travels, inevitably comparing everything to Ghana, but can you blame me? Ghana is what I knew Africa as. Sure I’d been to the Ivory Coast, but Ghana was what I was most acquainted with. So despite however cliché this sounds, from my 3 week adventure in West Africa, I acquired a much greater understanding of the land, people, and cultures. In what ways and how you may ask? Let me share with you!
Now I could break this entry down by topics and lessons learned, but then the fun and lightheartedness would be stripped away and the entry would be fully introspective. The latter we can save for when I see you, over a hot beverage and a delicious pastry. As for now, enjoy the escapades and go-with-the-flow attitude that we learned in Ghana and let dictate the tone of our travels (for as we knew, nothing in Africa is ever certain or reliable).

So where did I go? Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal. Where am I now? South Africa. Where do I go next? England. Let me remind you that Stacy and I BOTH do not speak French and we were traveling FRENCH West Africa. We figured we would be able to get by… somehow! (And obviously we did, it was just a little more challenging than we expected).

Burkina Faso
Waterfalls, Giant Rocks, and Motorcycle Accidents

MAY 17-18
After 16 hours of traveling we finally made it to Hamale, the border town between Ghana and Burkina Faso. We missed the bus that goes to Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina so we were stranded (in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE I might add) unless we found a private vehicle traveling to Bobo. Fortunately enough, we were able to find a van that was transporting about 300 bike frames to Bobo that day. The frames were strapped to the roof and cargo lined the seats inside. Where did we sit? On top of the cargo of course! The ride should take 4-5 hours, but it took us 10. What was the delay? Well, there were a few…

We were driving for 5 minutes when stopped by the police. We waited for over an hour for this van to get the authorization to deliver bikes to Bobo. At least, that is what we gathered from the miming and little French we could understand. By 4pm we are on our way to Bobo. Five hours later we’re pulling off the main road. Are we here?! There are no lights. The road’s unpaved and we’re winding through the streets cautious not to hit anyone in the dark. Where are we?! What are we doing here? Stacy get out the pepper spray, I’ll get the knife. The five men get out of the car, and the van starts swaying with the weight of men climbing up its sides. Ooh! They are unloading the bikes here! What a relief, but did they have to choose such a sketchy drop point? Thirty minutes later, we are back on the main road. So we’re close right? It’s been 5 hours. Wrong. We had three more hours to go. I still don’t know why our supposed five hour journey turned into ten. I realize that we made three stops which took 30 mins each, and then we got into a 15 minute argument over payment, but it still shouldn’t have taken 10 hours! Regardless, we did eventually make it to our hotel and one thing was certain-- we had left Ghana and our adventure had begun!

MAY 19- 20
Waking up early, we had to get to Banfora as soon as possible. We only had one night there, but so much planned that we didn’t have a moment to lose. (We had our whole 3 weeks planned with what we WANTED to accomplish, but we didn’t know WHEN we’d make it to our destination, so we never booked hostels ahead of time). When we arrive at the Banfora bus station at 11, we have the whole day but still nowhere to stay. Two men approach us speaking French and the only word I recognize is ‘campement.’ I feel bombarded by these two and pull the “No francaise” card and walk away. Then one of the guys switches to English. “We have a campement 1 km from town. Very cheap, very nice, very close.” Then they show me their business card with a photo of the campement. Hmm.. It is very nice. Stacy and I check another hotel across the street just to compare prices but we decide to go with these two. Was it sketchy? Maybe. But we decided to go for it.

The campement was so legitimate! There were mud huts with grass roofs and no electricity, but that’s to be assumed. It was a little retreat with a large mango tree shading the intimate courtyard. They fed us lunch and then we went to town to buy the components for dinner. Here we are, two white girls, each riding behind one of our guides on a moto, driving through town. We definitely stand out! We got our vegetables, now we had to go get our chicken. We park our motos in front of the chicken vendors who each had their own coops filled with LIVE chickens. This was to be our dinner that night and we got to choose it. It almost made me consider vegetarianism, just because I was seeing the face of what I would be eating only hours later, but at the same time I was laughing at the situation I was in. First you have to look at the chicken and make sure it’s not too old. And then you have to make sure it’s heavy enough because you’re paying per chicken, not by weight. So here I am, with the guidance of our English speaking guide Youku, picking up chickens by their wings to choose the heavier one. What an interesting twist to buying pre-cut, de-boned, de-skinned, and de-faced chicken from the supermarket!

Again, we get behind our guides on the back of their motos, and Stacy is holding the chicken, whose legs are tied together as to inhibit movement. We drive back to the campement to drop off dinner, and then rent a moto to drive ourselves to the waterfalls nearby. (Stacy is designated driver).

We drive 30 minutes through the countryside of Burkina Faso (think Motorcycle Diaries but African style and two girls!) until we reach the park with the waterfalls. We’re driving through the park when too late! We see we’re about to hit a ditch! Our front wheel hits and can’t make it over. I jump off the back before it falls and Stacy goes down with the bike. The bike is on top of Stacy’s leg and I’m thinking “HER LEG IS SMASHED! GET IT OFF!” Haha and then I remember our bike probably weighs only 100 pounds. But still, I quickly get it off of Stacy and she’s fine except for scrapes on her hand, knee, and elbow. They weren’t pretty, but nothing serious. I, on the other hand, had two tire burns on the back of my leg. The friction between the moving rubber and my skin provided two nice burns. Again, nothing too serious, but nothing pretty or painless either. Even more, our bike is also a little injured. Our peddle of our bike got stuck and you (literally) have to kick start the engine. We haven’t made it to the waterfall yet, and we’re already stranded!

A few women who were tilling the land nearby saw that we crashed and walked over to help us. They bring their hoes and start pulling at the stuck peddle. Stacy and I are pulling the bike one way while the ladies are using their hoes to pull the peddle the opposite direction. Nothing worked, but we realized we could actually kick start from the left side even if the peddle on the right was still stuck.
We make our way to the waterfall and finally arrive. We hike up and it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s a series of waterfalls, each with their own view, and regardless of which point of the waterfall you were standing, you were always at the highest point within view.

We were the only ones there until two men start running passed us down the side of the waterfall. They speak English and are Banfora locals. Their names are Isau (pronounced Ee-saw) and George. They are hunting dinner with a pellet gun and a slingshot. When we met them, they were shooting at a ravine of flying bats with their respective weapons. They taught us how to shoot and invited us to dinner of bat and quail which they were in the midst of hunting, but unfortunately, we had already picked out our chicken, which was assuredly already beheaded and would be waiting for us at the campement. Tempting offer though, I know!

On our way out of the park, we get stuck in a swamp of thick goopy mud, similar consistency to mud clay. The bike BARELY makes it through (we had to walk it through while straddling the bike) but then Stacy’s sandal gets stuck in the thick mess! I have to go back and get it because Stacy is driving and needs to keep the engine running. She’s yelling at me to hurry up, but she doesn’t realize that the mud is sucking me in and my feet are STUCK! So I’m trying to slide through this mud to get the sandal while trying not to fall myself. I’m crying with laughter at the situation, she’s yelling, our feet are covered in a goopy mud mask, as are my hands from digging out her sandal. I make my way back to Stacy, when her other sandal breaks! Of course. Haha so now I’m in charge of holding the muddy sandals while she drives the semi-disfigured bike with the two semi-disfigured passengers. Gooood Times!

Once we return to our campement, our hosts freak out about our injuries and rush for treatment. It was very sweet! We immediately take our bucket showers to cleanse ourselves of the day and the mud. Afterwards we had a delicious local dish with the chicken we bought, and ate with our hands family style. (I love how communal eating is here). We go to bed early because we were waking up at 6am the next day for Sindou Peaks, a geological formation of awesome rocks!

MAY 21
Today we got a larger moto because our drive was going to be 2 hours on rougher terrain. Stacy is driving again because I proved incompetent of doing so. We leave by 8am, and again, it’s like motorcycle diaries through the countryside of Burkina. We’re passing through villages, children wave ’Hello!’ and chase after us giggling. We are forced to slow down when we meet a herd of cows in the road and they don’t move until the herders give them a little slap.
After an hour and a half we make it to the peaks. They are nothing like we’ve ever seen before. I’ve seen my share of rocks-- Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Yosemite-- but nothing like this. It’s a mountain range of rocks 5 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide. The layers of rock form peaks that look like fingers. The pictures don’t do the range justice, but give some idea.
On our way back, our engine stalls so we have to pull over. To start the engine , you have to put the moto in neutral and then put in the gas. Well, Stacy’s hands are too small to start the engine because you have to flick one thing while twisting the other, so I’m in charge of starting the engine. No big deal. Stacy and I are on either side of the moto. I’m on the side with the handle that starts the engine which is the same side as the exhaust pipe. I pull the trigger and twist the gas and voila! We have power! But right as the engine starts, the moto jerks forward, grazing my leg with the burning exhaust pipe. Stacy forgot to put the car in neutral! So now I have a 3 inch by 2 inch burn on my leg, and it is on FIRE. But there was nothing we could do about it at the moment, so we just drove off, with the harsh wind further affecting my burn. My legs were disgusting for the rest of my time in West Africa. People would see me on a bus or in the street and literally stop to ask me what happened to my legs! All I could do was say “moto” with a sad face and then mime crashing, so they could understand I wasn’t diseased or anything. Haha, thanks Stacy!

Once we return back to our campement, we gather everything so we can get the bus back to Bobo. Once at Bobo we hoped to get a bus straight to Ouahigouya (Northern Burkina). There are no busses that go to Ouahi, so we decide to make some progress and go to Ouagadougou. We take a taxi to the next station and Stacy goes to the ticket booth while I’m in charge of taking care of the bags. She is automatically hounded by people as am I . Stacy yells from the ticket booth that the bus is leaving right now! A couple men take our bags from the taxi and put them in the bus. I’m just waiting for the tickets from Stacy when the bus starts driving off. I’m outside the bus door, hitting the outside and yelling “No, No!” It stops. Phew! Our bags are on their already, we HAVE to get on this bus! One minute later, it honks and starts moving AGAIN! “No, No!” I’m yelling and then I shout for Stacy but she’s too overwhelmed by people to respond. She is still trying to buy tickets when the bus starts inching forward again! I yell anything I think they’ll understand-- “Stop, No, Espera, Halte, NO!” People on the bus are laughing at my desperation to make the bus wait just a LITTLE longer. Finally, Stacy is coming towards me with the tickets with 3-4 men surrounding her asking for money in exchange for their “help.” Isn’t a “merci vous cous” good enough? Apparently not.

We get on the bus for Ouagadougou and arrive around midnight in the capital. The next bus to Ouahigouya was leaving at 10am so we had to find a hotel. And the only hotel was $25 a night. Are you kidding me?! And it didn’t even have air conditioning! We were paying $6 at the campement. It was midnight and we had nowhere else to go, so we paid the money…

MAY 21
We get on the 10am bus to Ouahi and meet a man (Corefu) who lives there. His English is good enough to have a simple conversation, but nothing more. We get to Ouahi, hoping to catch a same day bus to the Mali border. Corefu drives us on his moto to the bus station that goes to the border town of Koro. We buy tickets for that evening, with the time of departure depending on when the seats fill up. So we have 6 hours to kill. What to do in a city that acts as only as a passageway to Dogon Country for tourists? We go home with our new friend Corefu, of course!

Stacy and I meet his father, and Corefu has his own shack on his father’s property. Considering Corefu had his own living space complete with a full size bed, small couch, a 12-inch TV, stereo, and fan (which all imply the presence of electricity!), I’d consider him upper-middle class. It was quite comfortable!

First thing is first-- Corefu suggests and offers us water to bathe (this is more to cool down in the high heat of landlocked, sub-Saharan Burkina than to clean oneself). I think this has to be one of my favorite showers or at least most memorable showers. Corefu’s younger sister prepares a bucket of water us and tells us the shower is ready. She hands me a towel and points to the walled structure ahead. It has no roof and looks like the bathrooms you use at parks, where there is no door but a 5 foot L-shaped corridor leading to the toilet. That is exactly what this was-- the toilet. You choose right and you get the urinal, you choose left and you get the toilet hole/ shower room. So I took my ever so refreshing bucket shower next to the hole which acts as the toilet for the family. And you know what, I had no problem with that. I was thankful for that shower because I did feel better after having it.

After we all showered, we sat down to a traditional Burkina Faso meal. It was quite similar to Ghanaian food, but a little less flavor and more fishy. After our meal, Corefu invited us to his friend’s house across the road for some tea. His friends spoke broken English, so there wasn’t so much conversing but rather a lot of miming, giggles, and confused faces. I think I was actually proposed to at one point in the conversation. At least that is what I gathered!

The tea was quite tasty, unlike anything I’ve ever had before. They brew green tea with literally a cup of sugar and serve it in shots because it’s very strong and very sweet. This is the only type of tea we found throughout West Africa and everywhere we would see small cliques of friends on the streets socializing over shots of tea. It didn’t matter that it was over 100 degrees outside, people would still be outside drinking their boiled water and sugar, and we always enjoyed joining them!

Corefu visits the station to check the status of the bus and finds out that it won’t be leaving tonight because not enough tickets were sold to make it worthwhile for the company. OH NO! We cannot stay here another night because then we lose another day! There are no more days to be lost! There HAS to be a way to Koro tonight! We literally searched the city for another ride to Koro, but found nothing. So we unfortunately stayed the night in Ouahigouya, thus losing another day. Our new plan was to wake up at 5.30am to try and get the locals’ bus to Koro.

That night at our hostel we meet a group of French Canadian boys who were also backpacking West Africa, except in the reverse order of our trip. As we were going to Dogon country and ending in Dakar, they started in Dakar and just came from Dogon country. We literally had the same itinerary, and had conveniently met halfway in our journeys so we were able to swap stories and give advice. The most daunting thing they told us? The only form of transportation from Bamako, Mali to Dakar, Senegal (besides an expensive flight) is a 40 hour bus ride. Not THAT big of a deal, until they also added that this bus has NO windows and NO air conditioning. Must I also remind you that we’re traveling through SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA?! Well this should be… memorable!


Up next on Annabelle in Africa--
Part II- Mali and Dogon Country, the EPIC bus journey, and the beach city of Dakar.

I would really love some feedback!

We’ll be in touch very soon!
Take care,

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Not Goodbye! More like, 'See you Later!'

After living here for four months, and almost being on my way out, I thought I’d share what Ghana is to me. I’ve learned a lot (outside the classroom, of course) and this is what I have gathered. But despite what I love and dislike about Ghana, (trust me, there have been rough patches in our relationship, but we got through them!) it is all uniquely Ghana. It is the things that I can’t stand about Ghana that I’ve learned to adapt to, laugh off, and come to love. When my friends went to their 3.30 Dance Final and I heard that the professor didn’t show up until 4.30 and that only half of the class were actually able to perform because there wasn‘t enough time, and that no one was informed that not everyone would be going until they had already waited 5 hours, my roommate came home fuming, and all I could say was, “Wow, but don‘t you love Ghana!? Come on you gotta love it.” And we just laughed at the ridiculous inefficiency of this school, and at ourselves for ACTUALLY being surprised.

So what is Ghana?

-It’s a place where you can order 50 cents of food and you still have left-overs (this only applies to traditional Ghanaian cuisine of course!).

-It’s a place where you can’t plan anything because you don’t what’s going to happen.

we gave up planning early in our time here. There are just so many factors that could go wrong, get delayed, or just cease to be, that you really just have to live a step at a time

-It’s a place where life moves so slowly that it even has a name for it: “Ghana time.” By the second day in this country, we were already well aware of this “Ghana time.” Orientation would require us to be on the bus at 7am, yet we would never leave before 8.30. What were we waiting for? We never knew. When a Ghanaian says see you in 30 minutes, it means 2 hours. My textile class was 12.30 to 4.30, yet after a few times of showing up on time I realized, why on earth was I on time when class never really got going before 1.30? So I started going at 1 and even then I’d be waiting for an hour before I did anything!

-Efficiency. A word not analogous with Ghana culture. The way things are set up just don’t make sense and it’s the little things. Papers not being alphabetized when you need to search for a certain one in particular. Being required in my textile class to wash all the bowls and scrub the floors when we are about to start using everything again to dye our fabric. Or the Final Exam schedule in which your Final times are not organized by the time of your lecture (ie. All Tuesday classes at 12.30-2 have the same final exam time as to avoid Final conflicts), but instead are organized semi-randomly.

-It’s a place where the customer is not always right. It’s a place where if you find a bug (or two!) in your food, there is no returning it and getting a complimentary replacement. No, instead the question becomes, ’How much do I want this?’ From my experiences, we all just pick it out, shrug it off, and continue our meal. Why? Because the workers will do nothing for you. They don’t care, unless you want to buy another. So we adapt and deal with it.

-It’s a place where running water is infrequent, power is erratic, and heated water is practically non-existent. When I leave campus, I assume there won’t be running water or power unless proven differently, and heated water? Not even a concept worth considering!

-It’s a place where if you walk any faster than a saunter Ghanaians look at you and ask “Obruni, what’s the hurry?!” I attribute the slow and relaxed atmosphere to the heavy heat. It’s just too hot to care, or to move that quickly. And really, what’s the hurry? With Ghanaian Time, nothing is ever on time, so you might as well enjoy what’s around you!

-It’s a place where you can buy anything on the street. ANYTHING. The second day here, one of my orientation guides told us, “You can buy anything in traffic.” What did he mean? Well I didn’t fully understand until being here for some time. Items that can be purchased from someone’s head on the street? Food: Plantains, oranges, bread, yoghurt, doughnuts, cooked rice, meat pie. Clothing: bras, underwear, international jerseys, cowboy hats, shoes. And other sundries: weight scales, toothbrushes, DVDs, toilet paper, pillows, lanterns, and world maps.

-It’s a place where you’re physically never dry. You’re perpetually sweating, and then you shower to cool off, but you never really dry because you’re sweating the moment you put on your clothes. You’re even sweating when it rains because it is still 80 degrees but now with the added bonus of 100% humidity. You are all always damp. So never forget your sweat rag!

-It’s a place with glorious beaches. Forget Mexico and the Bahamas, Ghana is the place with the beaches, and CHEAP because it’s not a touristy place. It’s a secret from the world that you only find out once you’ve formed an intimate relationship with the country. My roommate and I ran away to the beaches every chance we got!

-It’s a culture that loves dancing. Dancing is the way into any Ghanaian’s heart. I love going to bars, which is mainly a man’s place because women don’t (usually) drink, and seeing men just stand up at their table and just move to the music that is playing. They don’t need anyone to dance with to make it “ok” to dance. They just go at it, and most of the time it’s with their male friends they are with. They just get up and dance. No hesitation. No thinking. Just moving. It’s beautiful.

-It’s a place that loves foreigners. Children see you passing, conspicuously stare at your different appearance, and yell “Obruni, Obruni!” We wave back and say “Hi!” and they giggle and suddenly turn bashful. There are other children however, that are not so sweet and come up to you and pull on your arm, tacitly asking for money. You literally just have to shake them off and hasten your pace.

-It’s a place where you shower regularly with mosquitoes, ants, palm-sized moths, other flying insects, and on the occasion roaches. It’s come to the point that the 4 times (yes I’ve counted!) that I’ve showered without my companions, I felt alone! What’s a shower without the regular mosquito and/ or moth attack? I can’t remember!

-Ghanaians really like giving foreigners a good impression of their country. People always ask “How are you finding Ghana?” or “Where are you going?” or “Can I help you?” And when I first got here, I would ignore them, assuming all they wanted was my money in return for their “help,” but after being here I realized they actually did want to help and they weren’t asking for money. On many occasions I’ve been lost at a tro-tro station, looking for the right tro-tro amongst the crowds of people selling, traveling, and buying, and I’ve had men walk me from one end of a tro-tro station to the other, or on some occasions walked me to the next station to get me to the vehicle I needed. And what did they do once we found our ride? Barely said goodbye and walked away. Nothing. They just help us out because we’re lost foreigners. And because of this, Ghana is the friendliest and most welcoming country I’ve been to. If you plan to come to Africa, start in Ghana. It’s a good place to get your groundings before you move on in this continent…

I could stay in Ghana another month (or three haha!) without hesitation; I’m comfortable here, I have friends here, and it’s always a perk to be legal, but I’m ok leaving now because I know I’ll be back. I’ve had my time in Ghana in which I‘ve become quite well acquainted, but it’s now time to explore West Africa. I leave May 15 for 16 days hitting Burkina Faso, Mali, The Gambia, and Senegal. On June 2, Stacy and I fly from Dakar to Cape Town, where we will spend a month (WORLD CUP!). On July 1, we both leave South Africa, but separating from each other: Stacy flies to India for 2 weeks and I’ll go to England.

So I guess Part I of our adventure is coming to an end, but we have so much more to go! Every day we will be doing something different, so these next 2 months will be the fastest of my life!

Take care, and I don’t know when the next post will be! Maybe SA, after we’re done backpacking? We’ll see!


PS. Photos

1. This is the chicken before i cut off its head and broke its bones for dinner!
2. Me and Regina outside St. Paul's Cathedral in Abidjan

P.P.S. I am in Mali now on my way to Bamako. We've already done Burkina Faso and are on our journey out of Mali to Dakar. This will be a 40-50 hour bus ride! If you're interested in tracking our route thus far, this is what we did.

Accra, Ghana to Wa

Wa to Hamale (Burkina border)

Hamale (not on map) to Bobo-Dialousso (Burkina Faso)

Bobo to Banfora

Banfora to Ouagadougou

Ouaga to Ouahigouya

Ouahi to Bankass (Mali, Bandiagara is the closest town on the map above)

Bankass to Kani-kombolè
(Kani was the first Dogon town we visited where we spent the night and trekked the whole next day to Tali and to Ende.)

Back to Bankass.

Bankass to Mopti (I write to you from Mopti now!)

Overnight bus to Bamako and then Bamako to Dakar!

That being said, I end with a disclaimer apologizing for brief Ghana update ( things got so hectic the last 2 weeks of school) and for the delay in update! This is the first time I've had internet in almost 3 weeks!

My next update will be of all the details of the backpacking adventure. I have so much to say and I want to tell you now, but there is no time! Stacy and I are great, we're loving this!

Talk to you all soon from SA

Au Revoire,


Monday, April 12, 2010

Travels to Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Surprisingly, I made it to Cote D’ivoire. I say “surprising” because it is notorious for its political instability, rebellions, and coup d’etats. Why did I choose to go there? I don’t really know. I suppose I heard that other people had gone and they had been ok so there was no reason for me NOT to go. And of course I was curious to see what this country was like despite all the instability. For context, here’s the rundown of the last 50 years in Cote d’Ivoire as briefed by the BBC:

"Once hailed as a model of stability, Ivory Coast has slipped into the kind of internal strife that has plagued many African countries.
An armed rebellion in 2002 split the nation in two. Since then, peace deals have alternated with renewed violence as the country has slowly edged its way towards a political resolution of the conflict. For more than three decades after independence under the leadership of its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Ivory Coast was conspicuous for its religious and ethnic harmony and its well-developed economy.
All this ended when the late Robert Guei led a coup which toppled Felix Houphouet-Boigny's successor, Henri Bedie, in 1999. Mr Bedie fled, but not before planting the seeds of ethnic discord by trying to stir up xenophobia against Muslim northerners, including his main rival, Alassane Ouattara.

This theme was also adopted by Mr Guei, who had Alassane Ouattara banned from the presidential election in 2000 because of his foreign parentage, and by the only serious contender allowed to run against Mr Guei, Laurent Gbagbo.
When Mr Gbagbo replaced Robert Guei after he was deposed in a popular uprising in 2000, violence replaced xenophobia. Scores of Mr Ouattara's supporters were killed after their leader called for new elections.

In September 2002 a troop mutiny escalated into a full-scale rebellion, voicing the ongoing discontent of northern Muslims who felt they were being discriminated against in Ivorian politics. Thousands were killed in the conflict.
Although the fighting has stopped, Ivory Coast is tense and divided. French and UN peacekeepers patrolled the buffer zone which separated the north, held by rebels known as the New Forces, and the government-controlled south.”

My trip was interesting for many different reasons; it was the first time I’ve left Ghana since I arrived, so it was interesting to see how another African country is, but it was also interesting to see the differences in legacy of an ex-French colony. What was my impression after 3 days? Cote d’Ivoire reinforces the clichés of French culture-- cigarettes, baguettes, and cheese, with an African twist. I didn’t do anything touristy in Cote d’Ivoire, so I don’t have much to share in that respect, but I lived like an Ivorian for 3 days and that was the experience. Here is my weekend:

Laurel (my roommate) and I get visas for Cote d’Ivoire, which was more expensive and difficult than we thought it would be, but in the end we got them! We needed to exchange money so we get in a taxi and tell the driver “take us to the airport. We need to exchange money.” The driver is very friendly and responds, “Yes, I will take you and I will drop you off where you get CFA (Ivorian currency). We’re driving and are almost at the airport when the driver points over to a grassy area with trees off the side of the road and says, “OK, you exchange your money here.” I respond, “What? Under that tree?!” (nervous laughter). “Yes, Yes” he says and he pulls over and 2 men run toward the car.
“How much money do you want!? How much!” Laurel and I nervously look at each other and I proceed to state the obvious, “Wow, sketchy. What the hell is going on?!” The taxi driver explains that he deals with these people all the time, they are legitimate, and he wants to give us a good rate. So after some time calculating and number crunching, we work out a good rate with the man outside our taxi window and exchange roughly $350 into CFA. Was I questioning the legitimacy of the exchange? The whole time. Was I being ripped off? I don’t think so. Were the CFA real? I hoped so. This was the beginning of our Ivorian adventure and it started on the street, exchanging more money than many Ghanaians see in a year from my taxi window, with a man who stations himself under a tree on a random street corner in Accra. Gotta love Africa!

I convinced Laurel last minute (on Wednesday when we were leaving Thursday morning) that we should Couch Surf in Abidjan and not stay in a hotel. Couch surfing, for those who are unfamiliar, is a social network for travelers, who are looking for a cheap place to stay. Basically, people sign up on this website advertising that they have a couch that is available for crashing. It’s a great concept, and in a country where you don’t speak the language and is infamously corrupt, I thought it would be a good idea for us. Luckily, as we were leaving campus we get a phone call from this Abidjan local, Regina. She has room for 2 and would be happy to house us! Perfect! How exciting! She is fluent in both French and English, and will be an asset to our journey.

We start our long journey to Abidjan which takes roughly 12 hours, and that’s assuming everything goes smoothly… The first 5 hour tro-tro ride goes well and we then transfer to a shared taxi to get us to the border. All 4 seats are taken in the small taxi when the driver pulls over, appearing to be picking up more people.
“What? Where are they going to sit?” I think to myself. Of course, how naïve of me-- One man squeezes in the back with me and Laurel so there are now 4 in the back, and 3 people and a live chicken in the front passenger seat. So we have 8 people in this small taxi and a chicken in a black plastic bag acting as a surrogate carrier. Wow, how I love Africa.
After many hours we finally cross the border, and what a difference in culture. 100 yards on the other side of this arbitrary political boundary, and you’re in a whole different world: different language, food, currency, everything. Laurel and I wanted to buy water off the top of some girl’s head, and we had no idea how to communicate that or how much it was. We were so dehydrated and distressed from everything around us: people asking us where we’re going, how do we want to get there, do I want to buy bread, or some bootleg DVDs? And all this was communicated in French and broken English, so it just felt like people yelling nonsense at us.

Laurel and I finally got into a shared car going to Abidjan. She and I shared the passenger seat… for 5 hours! Never would I be OK doing that in a car from LA to Berkeley, but here it’s more like, “Only TWO to the passenger seat? Great! Should be a (relatively) comfortable ride!” However, it was hot and sticky to say the least. On our ride from the border to the city, we were constantly stopped by the police requesting to see our papers. Not everyone else’s, just ours. The police didn’t care that the car was overloaded, not at all. They just cared that we had our papers. I felt bad for everyone sharing the car with us because we were obviously the reason for being stopped at EVERY checkpoint. No one really spoke English. The officers knew basic interrogative questions, “Where are you going, Where do you come from, Where are you staying?” but other than that, nothing. I started to feel that this was going to be a loooong weekend…

We finally make it to Abidjan, where Regina meets us at the station. The first thing we do? Go back to her room and take a relaxing bucket shower! We were so disgusting from the journey. We then meet up with her friend to get some authentic Ivorian street food. It is SO much better than Ghanaian food! It reminded me of Ethiopian cuisine except that instead of the sourdough crepe, you eat the main course with another carb that resembles cous cous, but is sticky enough so you can mold it into a ball and then take your bite. Delicious! Oh yeah, and there was real ice cream for dessert! Remember, Ghana doesn’t do dairy, or dessert, so to have real ice cream was an extra treat.

6.30am the next morning- “Alright guys wake up! We have to go to the market. Take your bucket showers, let’s go!”
“Regina. What time is it?! Ughhh we’re still so tired.”
“It’s late. Get up. We have much to do!”

Resentfully, we get up, as we do not want to upset our host. First things first. We have to get butane for the portable cooker because Regina ran out. Alright no big deal. WRONG. We walk around carrying her empty gas tank looking for butane, but everyone has run out. We take a cab to the next nearest option. They’re out as well. We tried about 6 places before we gave up and called her friend who had a moto, to go searching for us. The whole neighborhood was out of butane! What are the chances?

Next stop. The market. I am used to African markets at this point, but I suppose when it’s African AND in French, I get overwhelmed just like it’s my first time all over again! Regina is bargaining the prices of potatoes and onions with some vendor, while Laurel and I are just standing there, not understanding a word, and having people rush by us in the tight space that we are standing.
“Pardon, Pardon” I hear from behind me. A man hurriedly passes us, carrying a cow’s head on his shoulder, sinews and all. I move without hesitation.

“Pardon, Pardon” I hear 20 seconds later. A man squeezes passed us with a wheelbarrow containing another cow’s head. Eyes open, fluids leaking. Love it! Walking around the market, which is crowded with people buying, selling, haggling, shopping, for 2 hours killed me and Laurel. We weren’t even doing any of the bargaining, but just being in that crazy atmosphere, dodging cows’ heads, and maneuvering in tight spaces with so many people drains you!

Afterwards we went to her parents’ house, where we had lunch. We shared a plate with her brothers and sisters of typical Ivorian cuisine, ie. We all used our hands to eat off the communal plate. It felt really special being invited into their home and sharing food with the family!
Later we walk around the business district for some time before we’re too tired to care anymore. What an exhausting day! We go home, take our bucket showers and then start preparing dinner. There are 2 knives for the 3 of us, one portable burner on her balcony, and no running water, making the dinner preparation a very long process. In the end, we had a delicious Ivorian meal which we helped prepare. It was very rewarding!

The next morning (Easter Sunday), we’re actually allowed to sleep in passed 10. Thanks Regina! But the lights were out in her bathroom, and there are no windows so I had to (bucket) shower by the light of mine and Laurel’s phone! My favorite part? I love not being able to see all the roaches that I’m showering with. Ok, it was only two this time, so an improvement I suppose!
We spend the day at the beach and on our way home stop by the Catholic Church because the priest has prepared an Easter feast for us (it‘s because we‘re white and foreign)! But Laurel and I don’t eat meat, and we had just bought all the ingredients for dinner, so we had to decline the food offer, but we did take them up on their drink offer! We go home and prepare dinner, and at this point Laurel and I have the hang of what to do, and how to prepare it, and how to be efficient with only 2 knives and 1 burner. I’m in charge of grating the hot pepper (my first time!) and I think to myself, “I know there are some hot peppers that you need gloves to prepare, good thing these aren’t them!” Well, I guess my hands are extra sensitive because my hands starting BURNING. You know the feeling when you eat something REALLY spicy and your lips are on fire? Yeah, imagine that, but on both of your hands. I couldn’t pick anything up, because my hands would burn more, I couldn’t stop shaking my hands because the breeze relieved the heat. I iced my hands, hoping to numb the pain. Nothing. Regina took the dish sponge and VIGOROUSLY scrubbed my skin in hopes and removing the acid. Nothing. I dipped my hands in salt and put them in front of a fan. Nothing. I took a shower. Nothing. I couldn’t even eat, because I was in too much pain, and we had spent so much time preparing and it was so good! After 3 hours of incessant burning, I decided to go to bed, leaning off the side so I could fall asleep with my hands submerged in cold water. Haha I woke up and my hands no longer burned! I slept the pain away, but wow was that painful.
We leave the next morning, ready for the 12 hour journey ahead of us, hoping it will be more comfortable than when we came.

When leaving, we really appreciated that we had met Regina, for she ultimately kept us safe and showed us what it’s like to live as an Ivorian. There were language barriers at times and cultural differences that we had to overcome, but Regina’s intentions were always genuine (despite being sometimes overbearing!). I’m not sure if we would have left our hotel room if we stayed in one, because neither of us speak French (making it SO difficult in Cote d’Ivoire to do anything), and it is generally unsafe (something we were definitely aware of, but still a little naïve of HOW unsafe until we arrived). Regina made it possible for us to get the whole Ivorian experience, so thank you Regina!

Laurel and I were so happy to be going back to Ghana. By leaving the country, we realized how comfortable and settled we are with the culture and the country. We know how much things should cost so we don’t get ripped off, we know how to get home and we’re able to communicate it by common language, and we know how to interact with Ghanaians. It was a relief to be back on the other side of the border, for we felt like we had made it home. And I realized something from my travels to Cote d’Ivoire; I don’t just study in Ghana, but I LIVE in Ghana, and I love it.

Be in touch soon!

P.S. Check out the Songs! (copy and paste the URLs)

P.P.S. And check out the pictures!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Legacy of Colonialism-- Intriguing for a History Major!

*This is a long entry, I know. So skim it and read the parts that appeal to you! Just my thoughts/ observations, take them as you will!*

Why did I choose to come to Ghana? I wanted something different. I had been to Europe and I’m there relatively often, and the next continent of interest to me was Africa. Why? I don’t know. I think there is so much unwarranted mystery about this continent, so many misconceptions, and negative images, but what about the positive? What is the reality of this continent? I didn’t know, so I thought the only to find out would be to live here for myself and form my own conceptions. Africa can’t just be dictators, civil unrest, coup d’etats, poverty, and AIDS; there had to be more to this continent and I wanted to experience it first hand.

What is Ghana? How do I describe it to you? It’s fast paced, yet ridiculously slow and relaxed, it’s gorgeously rich with vegetation, yet disgustingly smoggy and industrial, it’s frustrating and tedious, but it is sometimes what frustrates you one day that you love the next; it’s a love/ hate relationship, but one that you find you can’t get enough of.

I’ve never been to a country that has a history of being colonized; I’ve only visited the colonizers-- England, Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal. When you visit these passed dominant powers, you forget that colonization was a part of their past, until you stumble upon all the foreign spoils in their renowned museums.

Being in Ghana, the legacy of colonization is always around you: Christianity, style of clothing, the English language, architecture, slave forts, and silverware, things that are everyday in our lives because of our distant connection with Britain, but were forced upon Africans relatively recently. Colonizers came late in African history, after cultures were settled and after they had established a way of living. (This is obviously unlike when the British came to the US, for they slaughtered all the natives, took their land, and established a new country.)

So how do all the things I mentioned above play out in Ghana (whose boundaries were also determined by the British)? I’ll start by explaining the most prominent-- Christianity.

I’ve been to the Vatican, Italy, Spain, and France to name a few relatively religious countries, but never have I felt so inundated with religiosity (unless I’m hiding from Jehovah’s witnesses proselytizing at my door!). Ghanaians are more openly pious than any other culture I’ve encountered, especially the British, who are the ones who brought it to them! To give you a feel of what I mean, this is how most first encounters go with the random Ghanaians I meet:

*Sample Dialogue*
(Let‘s name my sample person Emmanuel, considering 50% of all men I meet are named this)
Emmanuel- (Starts w the basic questions) “Hello, how are you? Where are you from? What’s your name?”
And I answer.
Then with no haste they ask “Do you go to Church, Annabelle?”
Me- “No I don’t.”
Them- (They gasp, either to themselves or explicitly) “What! But will you go to Church with me? I want to get to know you.”
Me- “I used to go to Church, but I don’t need to go anymore, but thank you!”

And then from there it differs with each person. I’ve had one guy say that he can’t be friends with me actually because I won’t go to Church. And then I have had many offers to teach me religion with hopes of “showing me the light,” and then I’ve had others just drop it and keep talking to me because they realize religion is their thing and not necessarily mine. So it’s been interesting, the whole religion thing here. It’s just, EVERYTHING and (I don’t want to exaggerate, but) EVERYONE is religious here. Like even the random booths on the street, and the tro-tros have religious references.

For example, where I get my market food is called “God Is Able,” but others include, “God‘s Time is the Best,” or “By God‘s Grace,” but my favorite is “The Lord is My Strengt (the ‘H’ was missing!). So the names of stores, if you can call them that, alright, shacks that serve food or other goods, 95% of them have religious titles which are more like religious declarations. It’s cool with me! I just don’t want to pray with you or go to Church. My point is, Ghana is religious. Religion is everywhere: in casual conversation, quotes on the backs of taxis or tro-tros, the names of public services, people’s names, etc. At this point we all just look for the most entertaining names and titles that we run into in our travels (like the “strengt” one!). One thing is for sure, they always make us smile.

Clothing and the English language- Both effects of colonization and it is so apparent. There is this constant struggle between tradition and modernity here, and it can be seen in the clothing styles and language here in Ghana.
Unlike when the British came to the US and obliterated native culture, they had a more tolerable approach with Africans (to an extent). Children were taken from their homes and sent to missionary schools where they were educated, taught English, and learned how to use silverware, ie. They were “civilized.” But not all were sent and a lot kept with their traditions, but with the addition of Christianity. So they had their tribal languages, depending on their region it could be Ewe, Fante, Ga, or the most prevalent, Twi (spoken in the capital), and they had their traditional wear, for women, long dresses with colorful prints, and for men, draping more conservative prints toga style.

The languages are still widely spoken, in fact, regional languages are most Ghanaians FIRST language. I’d estimate that for 90% of Ghanaians, English is their second language, and this throws me off considering all official, governmental, and business matters are conducted in English. So I came here assuming it’ll be so easy to get around because English is the national language-- WRONG! The accents are hard to discern, and they definitely have an equally hard time understanding me. I think I speak very clearly, but there is seriously a language barrier, and an English one at that! And you’d think I’d be so good with deciphering variations of English pronunciations with being British, and just living in America-- yeah, wrong AGAIN! It’s been surprisingly difficult to get what I ask for, for people don’t understand, yet we are both apparently speaking the same language. They agree and nod like they know exactly what you’re saying and that they understand no problem. Well then why am I repeating myself 10 mins later when something has gone wrong, or just never happened to begin with? Haha I don’t know, but we all just deal with it, assume something will not go as we asked, and that way if something does go right, we can only be pleasantly surprised, right?! I just try not to complicate things that’s all. Keep it simple and hopefully it will turn out as you asked!

Back to clothing-- Women are more traditional in clothing than men. The only place I’ve seen men in draped fabric have been in smaller villages. Men in the cities mostly all wear business clothes, or dress pants with a nice African print button-down for flavor. Women here though are more conservative and traditional, so it is common that I see women (though mostly older) wearing their long dresses/ skirts, and their hair wrapped in the same/ matching fabric. It looks so put together and classy!

So I will end with an anecdote which sort sums up this whole tradition vs. modernity aspect of Ghanaian culture:
Stacy made friends with the cafeteria lady in her dorm. She is 25 and makes 1.50 Cedi a day, roughly $1 a day, but that is relatively good pay by Ghana standards. So her friend invited Stacy to a wedding and made her food and introduced her to her whole family, and is just really nice to Stacy (plus she hooks it up in the cafeteria haha). So Stacy, to show her gratitude, decided to take her out for dinner in the city; they had Chinese food, which was her friend’s first time (which was surprising to me as that is the most prominent ethnic cuisine they have here), and it was her friend’s first time using a knife! Stacy had to teach her how to use it, which her friend found amusing apparently! Dinner cost about 3 weeks pay at the rate her friend is paid (don’t worry! Stacy paid the bill!). But this story made me think-- This friend hadn’t had any food in her life that wasn’t Ghanaian, which made sense as to why she had never used a knife before. Ghanaians eat with their hands, and only sometimes require the help of a spoon or a fork, but never a knife. Why? There is nothing to cut in Ghanaian cuisine. All the meat is on the bone, so you just go for it, only hands and teeth required. All the sides (rice, beans, spaghetti) can be eaten with a fork. I personally haven’t used a knife since I’ve been here! Her friend is entrenched in tradition with the way she lives her life, and her experience at the Chinese restaurant is a taste of modernity, just by default that she ventured out of her immediate comfort zone and tried something UNtraditional.
I’m telling you, Ghana is an interesting place! This whole “being run by the British for over a century” thing has really had a lasting effect on the culture in ways that are sometimes so blatant, but are also latent within the culture; and it is the latter that I find most intriguing.

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