Monday, December 14, 2009

On my way out

So as you can see, keeping up with this blog was not exactly something that really happened. But I thought that I would put up a last post to conclude my trip and let people know what I have been up to this past month :)

As most of you know, the last leg of the trip was an independent research project. After a lot of debate and sorting through a lot of different ideas, I decided to study child poverty in the village and city. I wanted to see how different organizations work to educate and empower children to rise above their circumstances. Therefore, I decided to work with some NGOs and community based organizations (CBOs) who work with disadvantaged kids. This led me to a couple of different organizations. The first one was Elikem Youth Centre. It is a school in between two really small villages, Boudumase and Dediman a bit outside of Accra. They have no electricity and no running water, but a lot of kids who love the centre and really want to learn. I also found a couple of groups in the Cape Coast area that I was interested in working with. One of these groups was called African Traditionals, a culture group, which teaches street kids traditional Ghanaian drumming and dancing. The other was the Baobab Childrens Foundation, which targets school drop outs and illiterate kids, brings them back into school and gives them a second chance for education. Basically I was traveling back and forth between a village out of Accra and the more urban area of Cape Coast every week. (Which took about 4-5 hours each direction) Lots of travel...

However, this was a truly incredible experience. I met some of the most amazing, genuine, caring and loving people. People who are really making a difference in the world. Kids who just blew me away with their stories and their life experiences. One girl I met a girl, Fati, was one of 20 children from one of 4 wives. Her father could not afford school for her, so she had to drop out. Her aunt heard about the Baobab school, and Fati decided to go. Now, she can read, write and do math. She also is an amazing batiker and sewer. She makes beautiful bags from the cloth that she makes, which was all learned at this school. She is about to graduate and will be in the first class to graduate from the school. It will be interesting to see what kinds of job, or further education this group of kids chooses to pursue. I have a strong feeling that they are going to do well.

While in Cape Coast I lived with a woman named Antoinette, she is Ghana's only recognized female master drummer. She was awesome to live with! I got private dance lessons from her and another member from her group every morning. I got to perform with them at one of their weekly performances and even when they performed on the local TV station. It was their first time appearing on TV. That was fun. She is convinced that I am going to get married to her son, and that I am going to be her first in law. Funny. But I really enjoyed spending time with and getting to know the members of this group. They took me in and treated me as if I was one of them. They are amazing dancers and drummers and a whole lot of fun to hang out with. Practices were a blast!

One night at Elikem in the village, I got there and the door was locked. There was a misunderstanding and the person with the key had gone to Accra. This was a problem because I had just bought a bunch of food for the kids for dinner that night. We were not able to get to the pots and pans, and it was getting dark. We ended up getting some pots from the nearby houses but by this time it dark. Yet these kids, one girl in particular, 14 years old, starts chopping up wood. Before I know it she has a fire started, the rice cooking and is instructing the younger girls to help her as she is chopping the veggies and cooking the stew. In about a half hour, this girl has cooked a dinner for over 20 people, outside in the pitch dark. It was amazing. It made me realize how developed the survival/life skills of these kids are. No American child could do that. I couldn't even do that. Incredible.

If anyone is interested in reading my paper, it goes into a lot more detail, about the poverty in Ghana and about these organizations. I would be happy to share it with anyone who is interested.

Overall, I have had a truly amazing experience here. I am so grateful that I have been blessed with this opportunity. I learned so much about the world, Ghana and myself. (Corney right?) :) Even though I have not even left, I am looking forward to coming back to Ghana again!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hot Tamale!!

Tamale is HOT! Up in the northern region of Ghana just a few degrees away from the equator, Tamale sits close to Ghana's boarder with Burkina Faso. (Which I saw briefly, from a distance...) The north is super interesting though, and I did not feel like I had quite enough time to see it all. It seems like there is a lot more culture up there. Just a lot more diversity than in the rest of the country. In contrast to the rest of Ghana, mostly Christian, the north is super Muslim. Which made the architecture and the people really interesting to look at. The majority of women were wearing all sorts of layers of beautiful cloth and scarfs. Also it is funny to see so many traditionally dressed people riding around on motorcycles, which are all over the north. Also while walking one must be constantly aware of the bicycles that are all over the place, or you will surely be pulverized.

We spent one day at Mole National Park. In my opinion it was a little over rated. We went up one afternoon, and stayed the night at the park. They did have an pool there, which overlooked a giant valley which was beautiful. The pool was soooo great, and felt so amazing, especially considering the heat. We stayed in the pool that majority of the evening. The next morning we woke up early to go on the safari. We pretty much walked through the bush for the 2 hours that we had the guide looking for elephants. I had to borrow these huge rubber boots, because like a fool I only brought my open sided keen hiking shoes and was not allowed to wear them. Therefore, I had to shuffle my way though the bush, and got huge blisters on my heals from the damn boots. But alas, right before our two hours were up, when we had all just about had given up on any hope, we did come across an elephant. He was cute. I am glad that I saw him :)

Another day we went to Paga, to check out the crocodile ponds. We got to sit on them and feed them chickens. They actually felt different then I expected them too. A lot more life like and less solid then I thought they would be... go figure. It was a little bit of a disappointment though, because we had a crazy ass tour guide that day, who was pretty much set on leaving basically the second after we got there. The whole group was annoyed that we had just spent 3 and a half hours on a bus to turn around before we felt like we had seen the sights. Oh well... the crocodile was cool!

Another really exciting thing that happened while we were up in Tamale was that Ghana won the Under 20 World Cup, against Brazil!!! (Soccer, aka football for the rest of the world). It was a huge win!! And all of Ghana was celebrating. I was watching the game inside the hotel, when they won, the streets went wild. There were horns blowing, people yelling, people dancing in the streets, excitement everywhere. Small parades were forming as people went running down the street sing and banging on anything that made noise. And what was even better then all of this, was how excited people got that we (white people) were excited for them. They loved that we were cheering and happy for Ghana! It was fantastic! The party lasted for HOURS! Honestly I don't know how late it went, it was still in full blow when I finally fell asleep that night. It was craziness.

<3 <3 <3

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oh Naamma- Two weeks in a village!

All I can say is yay for the village!!! Our group was split into 3 groups and placed in different villages. I was in Naamma, the smallest of the three villages. It was absolutely fantastic!! The people there were so welcoming and friendly! They loved having us there. They have about 500 people in the village, but it definitely seemed like a lot less than that. I again got to live in the chiefs house, although it was not nearly as glamorous this time :) But the chief, Nana, was to cute. He was like an adorable grandpa, and was so happy to have us!

The kids were a major part of what made the experience so great. There were kids all over the place, and they LOVED us. They loved that we had camera, they loved that we were white, they loved that we liked to play with them and they even loved to just sit and look at us. They just wanted to be with us no matter what we were doing. They were so excited even to help us with chores. For example when we went down to the waterfall/spring to do our laundry they were fighting over who got to wash which piece of our clothing. It was actually quite funny. No matter where we went there was a brigade of children following. There were these 4 brothers that I really came to love. The oldest were twins about 8 years old, Penny and Kakra, their brother was Niko he was about 5 and then the baby. They were the sweetest, cutest boys I have ever met. We all got "married" to one of the boys. My husband is Penny, the older twin. Despite the communication barrier and age difference we were a match made in heaven!

As this was my second experience living in a chiefs house since I have been here, I felt compelled to learn more about the chiefs, elders and their role in the Ghanaian society. I feel like I was pretty much led to study chieftency for my mini research project. It was actually extremely interesting! The institution has so much tradition and is so infused with history as well as a means of keeping social order. I got to interview all sorts of interesting people while I wast there studying this topic. I even got to meet one of the paramount chiefs (top chief) of the region, who is known for his silver stool, during a spacial event called akociday. It was pretty cool! It is also interesting learning how the chiefs and the government must work together in Ghana, because both groups have power and are considered to be figures of authority. In the village the chief and his elders are the ones to settle small disputes that take place in the community. They call it arbitration, and reminds me a lot of restorative justice, which I am obviously way into! I got to attend one of these events, where 5 or 6 cases were being discussed. The outcome is usually the guilty person paying a fine to the elders and the person they cursed. Which was another interesting thing... most of the cases were over cursing people to death, an offence that it taken extremely seriously here. This led me to discover the strong belief in small gods, spirits and witches, which I think will be the topic of my next research paper!.These are all things that majority of Ghanaians believe in, or are at least conflicted about not believing in. Interesting stuff!!!

Well I have a bunch of people waiting on me to finish, so I think that I need to be done, but this has definitely been one of the best part of my trip so far. Not to mention we had a great chief and our food was actually pretty good!!! I was really sad to leave the village this morning, and got sadder and sadder the closer we got to the city. Thankfully we will only be in the city until tomorrow and then we begin a 3 week travel adventure, one week in Tamale up north and then I believe 2 weeks at cape coast, but I am not totally sure on that one.

<3 <3 <3

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Royal Palace

So Kumasi really has been great, I have totally enjoyed being here. I figured out why the house that I have been staying in is so nice.. turns out my host dad is the Chief of the city that we live. Its kinda a big deal. Chiefs are very respected, powerful people in their towns, and I have been living in his palace!! How cool! And I know that I already said this, but they are sooo nice. Today they gave me a new dress, and it is beautiful!! Its green and brown batik :) I love them! Oh and you what is the weirdest, they have two daughters who are living in Colorado... Small world.

Today was our last day of Twi classes! I have enjoyed taking the classes and learning the language but I am happy to see the classes go. lol. Twi is a very difficult language. It is tonal, so different pitch on the same word can have 3 or 4 different meanings. We had our last test today. It went alright.

Tomorrow we will be leaving for the village. I am really excited for it. I have been having a great time and have already learned so much, but I am looking forward to escaping city life for a while. Then we have a 5 week travel adventure where we will get to see some sweet wildlife and national parks!! I am finding it quite difficult to contain my excitement!

In the village we will be doing a mini ISP (research project) I am not sure what I want to do for this one, but I am thinking about studying traditional religion for my big paper.. They have so many traditional religions here which are quickly disappearing or being overlooked by westerners and other scholars and inadequate. But it is just a thought...

Any way, I think that is all for now. I don't know how much Internet I will have in the next few weeks, but I will try to keep you as up to date as possible. Sending my love!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Welcome to Kumasi

Sorry that I am really bad at keeping up with my blog, but oh my gosh, I think that I am in love with Kumasi!! Although it is still a big city it is so much more laid back than Accra. They have paved roads and stop lights!! Not to mention, my new home stay is basically a palace. I have a big room and my own bathroom with running water! WOW! Also I have some very attractive home stay brothers who are right around my age. My home stay mom is my Twi teacher at school and she is sooo nice! She is going out of her way to make me the most delicious vegetarian food! It is the best I have eaten since I have been in Ghana!

Oh and Shana Tova to all of my Jews out there! I hope you are all having a sweet start to the new year. I spent the holiday with a small Jewish community in the Western Region of Ghana in a city called New Ardmbrum. It was definitely an very cool and interesting experience. First of all, who even knew that they would have a Jewish community in Ghana! It was really awesome! We did shabbatt dinner with them, and it felt almost like being at home. (kinda). The next day we did services in the synagogue. It was all decorated in blue and white. It was really interesting because you could tell that they were striving to be like Western Jews, but you could still feel the Ghanaian influence in the service. We ate apples and honey and they were all so nice. My only complaint about the experience was that I got kinda sick and their bathroom facility was pretty much a wooden box with a cut out that goes into a big hole in the ground. Ahhh. Fun times.

One thing that I should have mentioned a long time ago, is how everywhere we go and people see you coming they start yelling Obruni (white person) at you. It was kinda funny at the beginning, and it was funny to get that sort of attention, but by now it is starting to get kinda annoying. It is like yes, I know that I am white, I dont need to be reminded of it again and again. But just giving people a little wave when obruni is being called seems to make some peoples days. And it is still really cute when little kids run up to you to give the obruni a hug! hehe.

Oh and my Twi is getting a lot better! I am able to have some basic conversations, which is exciting!

Dont think that I have much else for you... We will be in Kumasi for the rest of the week and then we to the village for a week.

laura is awesome! -by laura

Love and miss you all! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Life in Accra

Ma Ha! Good Afternoon! I have been in Accra for about a week now. I am much more comfortable getting around the city and using the tro-tros, although it still always an adventure. We have been taking classes at the University of Ghana in Legon. We are working on out Twi- learning the most useful and basic terms and phrases. Honestly I am really bad at it. When I speak, I am either getting laughed at by the locals or just stared at blankly. Either way, not so good. People do get really excited though when they see a "stranger" trying to communicate in Twi.

My home stay family is really great! I have been having a great time getting to know them, and the life of a typical Ghanain family in Accra. I went to church with them this past Sunday which was definitely an interesting experience. (I know that was a long time ago by now). But, it was in a huge dilapidated, unfinished building. Yet, when you walked in the main space was decorated really nice. Flowers, carpet, lots of color! Sunday school classes were held upstairs in unfinished cement rooms. I went with my home stay sister to the teen class. They were taking about drawing Moses out the the water. It was cool being half way around the world, in a church, and knowing the story that they were discussing. One thing that really struck me as odd though was how they teach their kids not to say anything if they feel that they have been mistreated by a teacher, but instead to pray to G-d that everything will work out for them. Very different from the lessons that we teach our children in America. It is just a different value system.

The other day we were walking through a market with a group of people. Someone stopped at a stand to buy something, and I decided that a soda sounded really nice. I asked how much, agreed and the woman opened the bottle. I was reaching for it to leave and the lady told me to sit down. The whole group was waiting and I was confused. She told me here in Ghana you are not allowed to leave the store with a glass bottle. "Umm.. ok..." She asked me if I wanted it in a bag. "Umm, sure.." so into a plastic bag my soda got dumped. Learning experience :) It is just funny learning the small differences in culture and practice in new places.

Yesterday, we went to a workshop and got to make our own Batik cloth. It was sooo much fun!! You wax out areas that you do no want the dye to penetrate and then dye the rest, put on more wax and dye it again. Every one's turned out really well!! I am hoping that we get time to do a few more!

I think that is about it for now. We will be in Accra until Tuesday, and then we move on to Kumasi. The home of the Ashanti. Love and hugs!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ghana 1

Hi all!! I have been in Ghana for almost 4 days now. And man is it a trip... I am in Accra, the capital city. It is a very big city and have not made it to the town center quite yet. When we got here the whole group stayed togeter in a hotel for the first 3 nights. It was a modest hotel, but it was clean and they went out of their way to make sure that we felt at home. The food was good, lots of rice, cabbage and this spicy red sauce that I really liked. They were good about putting meat in a separate dish since about half of my group is vegetarian. There was a neighborhood right right there that we went for some walks in. Lets just say that it is pretty clear that you are not in America. All the roads are red dirt. There will be a nice house with a big fence around it next to a metal shack. Almost all the people were cooking out in front of their houses by the street, and trying to sell the food to the people passing by. You will be walking along and then all of a sudden a heard of goats will cross in front of you. On one walk we walked past a lady with a baby on her back. She was so excited invited us into her home. We walked into the gate a it turns out that her husban is a paster and they have a huge church in thier back yard. They were so happy to talk with us and wanted us to come back for a service. I hope that we are able to make it back before we leave Accra. We went to a market that was about a 20 to 30 min ride in a tro-tro, which is pretty much a big van that packes in the people and has moveable seats. They are really really cheap. About 30 cents for a ride anywhere. The market was crazy, caos really. People everywere moving in every direction shoving things at you and trying to get you to buy thier products. They get really offended if you try to take a picuture of the market, and yell at you to pu your camera away. We went with a big group which was just not a good idea.

Last night I moved in with my first home stay family. They are very nice, but it was a little wierd just going into someone home. There is a mom with a little boy and then her mother and 4 neices and another boy live with her. Her husband came in later in the night, but he was not really interested in talking and went to bed. For dinner they cooked me some sort of fish stew with mushrooms and some sort of cabbage thing. It was really slimy and I had a really hard time eating it. I ended up mainly eating the yams that were on the side. They served me by myself, and I had to eat alone. I am not sure if it going to be that way the whole time. Then it was time for my shower. Turns out that they use the water that they collect in a bucket and use another small bucket to pour over themselves. It was my first bucket bath... and it was cold! Then when I had to use the bathroom I found out that there is no water in the toilet, and that you need to collect the water that falls from your shower to put into the toilet. Oh and no toilet paper. Good thing I brought a roll :)

All the people in my group are very nice. Lots of personality around! Keeps things interesting and entertaining. I think that most everyone had a similar shower and toilet experience. We have quickly discovered that it is a huge luxury to have a flushing toilet!

I think that is about it for now. We will be in Accra for another 10 days or so before we move to Kumassi and have village life experience.

Miss and love you all. Sending love and hugs!