Sunday, March 14, 2010

Delicious Freedom

6 March 2010
It’s Ghanaian Independence Day! We woke up at 4 something in the morning to catch transportation to Independence Square, where we heard that there would be parades and a possible sighting of Ghana’s President Atta-Mills. It turned out we did not need to get there that early. We got seats very easily and sat around for quite a while with nothing happening. Then the parade started. It was not terribly much more exciting. Different schools and groups marched, and their marching was impressive and it was nice to see all the different uniforms, but it got a bit monotonous after a while and the seats were not super comfy. The president rode by at one point in a little car, but I was looking at the wrong place at the wrong time and missed it. I did catch a glimpse of him through the window of his car. Woo?
Then we went back to the hostel and celebrated independence the only way we knew how—-with an American style BBQ! And that was delicious. We ate our fill of hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta salad, and bacon-wrapped shrimp. Yum. Oh, the taste of freedom.

A Ravens Fan in Ghana?!

2 March 2010
Today I did some mad crazy bargaining at Madina Market! I hopped on a tro-tro between classes to get some rugby wear, i.e., cleats and clothes that can get destroyed. I mustered all the Twi I knew and whipped out my bargaining skills. I’ll put prices in U.S. equivalents to simplify. I got cleats bargained down from $14.50 to $6.60. Then I deviated from my goal a bit when my eye caught sight of sports jerseys. I’ve wanted a Ghana football jersey for some time now. That was a bit of a splurge. He initially asked for $23.30 for the jersey and shorts, but I got the set down to $10. Just to warn you, I will be quite an obnoxious fan when I get back to the states and watch Ghana's Black Stars in the World Cup. It’ll be great. Furthermore, my friend Hafiz told me later that I had gotten a good deal. It was good to know, because I had no idea what a reasonable price is in the U.S., let alone here.
Anyway. I got two t-shirts for 30 cents each. I paid $1.30 for a pair of shorts and got another pair ‘dashed’. That means she threw in another pair of shorts for free. Yes free. I paid the same for another pair of shorts elsewhere, but when I got back to the hostel, showing off the results of my savvy, I found that there was a U.S. dollar in the pocket. So… I paid 30 cents for those shorts. Which is good, because they didn’t fit. Oh well.
But going back to that bit about the U.S. dollar. I see people wearing or selling clothing, t-shirts in particular that is very clearly shipped used from the U.S. It’s crazy but exciting seeing people wearing very place specific shirts in Ghana. At first I felt it would be weird to point this out to someone, but I’ve found that it can be exciting on both sides. For example, one day at rugby, I saw my team mate wearing a Bowie Baysox t-shirt. (Baysox are a baseball farm team in my area.) I told him they were my home team, and he was very interested and asked what sport they played, if they were any good, and how they were doing this season.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Got 'To-go' Home.

28 February 2010
This morning we started off the day with bread and cheese. Some people were really excited to have cheese, even though it was pretty much just American cheese. Dairy in general is not highly prevalent in Ghana and usually expensive. I however was excited to have a new kind of bread. I haven’t actually gotten tired of Ghana’s sugar bread, but variety can be fun, and here they have delicious and perfectly wonderful baguettes! Yay French influence!
Then we went to a fetish market, for which apparently Togo and Benin are pretty famous. This is where people go to buy items for Voodoo spells. Yes, like dead animals. It’s common to practice Christianity and still use or at least acknowledge Voodoo in both Togo and Ghana, and I believe other areas as well, but I haven’t done research to back up other areas. These ideas aren’t so much blended together as was the case with Santeria, but coexist separately with little or no dogmatic issue. Kwame, our coordinator’s husband explained that most people in these areas believe in Voodoo but many, like he, think it is unwise to mess with it. Though our coordinators assured us that this was a normally functioning market, created for the purpose of buying items for Voodoo, the whole place still had a rather touristy feel. To elaborate, at the end, we got a group picture with the tour guide in which a number of our group were holding various animal skulls. Beyond the normal reasons this would seem a tad odd, I was confused by what seems a contradiction to me. Before traveling here, we were wanted that in Togo, many people did not want their pictures taken because they believe that you cannot get an image of someone without taking a part of that person. But at the market, you could pay a number of CFAs (French West African currency) extra to take as many pictures as you want. Actually, to be accurate, he did set a limit. It was something like 18,000 photos. Tangents aside, the whole picture-taking business was unclear and fishy to me.
After our refreshing pit stop, we got back on the road. I'm not sure how many of you are following news about Togo, but their presidential election is set for Thursday. So as we got close to the border, we saw people all around the road waving signs, shouting and selling related merchandise. They were almost all wearing yellow, the color of the leading opposition candidate, Emmanuel Bob-Akitani. In Togo, there is one dominant party. Others are allowed to run, but have little chance of winning. You'd never guess it from the displays we saw here. People ran up to cars with fliers, shoving handfuls into open windows. It was quite chaotic. I was very glad to be with people who knew what they were doing. We all got across the border in one piece and continued with the road trip. When we got to the hostel I jumped on the internet to find a status from Miki letting everyone know she was a-ok.
And I apologize for the title. Had 'To-go' with the blog theme, no?

Where'd the Maple Syrup Go?

27 February 2010
Our Ghana visas only last two months, so this weekend landed us with some mandatory travel time. Because we've been here almost two months? Whoa. Anyway, the third country I’ve ever gone to: Togo! We drove about three hours to Aflao, Ghana, which is at the border. Now, I’ve never been to the U.S./ Canada border, but I discussed with a couple of friends that there are probably one or two differences. And I’m not talking about temperature. The border checkpoint thingy to get into Togo had… character. And by that I mean it would be kind to call it a shack. There were nails sticking out of boards here and there and the nine of us struggled to find flat surfaces to fill out our bilingual paperwork. (Togo is a French speaking country. Ghana is completely surrounded by French speaking countries.) As we tried to determine whether our ‘point of entry’ was in Ghana or Togo, vendors were passing back and forth across the border. This went smoothly for them for a while, but for no reason as far as I can tell, a border employee suddenly decided he did not want this. So he grabbed a wood plank (with nails sticking out, of course) and closed off their path and yelled at the vendors to get away. On second thought, I imagine that’s exactly what the U.S./ Canada border is like, no?
Anyhoo, we got through and went to a German restaurant (because apparently there’s German influence in Togo as well) and ate delicious food and then walked around the city a bit. ‘The city’ is Lome, by the way, the capital of Togo, and we found it to be much cleaner than Accra, which was nice.
At some point during the trip, I heard about the earthquake in Chile. This was horrible timing. Being in Togo, I had no phone signal and no way to get online. For those of you who don’t know, my good friend Miki is studying abroad in Santiago this semester. Right where the earthquake hit. I have no way of finding out anything about her until tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by coverage. It seemed like everyone was talking about it, and when we got back to the hotel, we stupidly watched CNN, which of course showed nothing but constant re-tallying of death tolls and footage of destruction. This could only make me more worried, because no matter what they said, they couldn’t tell me about Miki specifically. Stress and suspense. Sorry if it’s weird to read this, Miki.
Something interesting I did note while watching the news: the news anchor at one point said something to the effect of “Let’s see what the president has to say.” It took a moment to think which they were speaking of, but I figured it must be the Chilean president. Wrong. It was a surprise visit from Obama! “The” president. Obviously. Keep in mind we were watching World CNN, with British anchors I believe, in Togo, showing Chilean earthquake coverage. But everyone needs to hear the United State’s opinion on everything, so there he was.
To be fair though, he is speaking for two countries. (I feel as though I’ve explained this in another post, but I can’t find where I did, so I will continue. Forgive me if I’m wrong.) Yes, at least two. Because the Ghanaians claim him as their own. In fact, one man told me that Barack Obama is actually Ghanaian and that after he finishes his eight years of presidency, he will come and live in Ghana. I have been told by people that they love us (Americans) because Obama is our president. Little bonus today-- here’s a song a bunch of prominent Ghanaian musicians put together when he came to visit Cape Coast: (‘Akwaba’ means ‘welcome in Twi) Some of us have decided that we would like to write letters to our president thanking him for making our stay in Ghana welcoming. Fun fact though: Despite the fact that Ghanaians don’t approve of the wars we have going on, they really liked Bush as well. In fact, I’ve heard that Africa is the only country where Bush’s approval ratings went up through his presidency.
Anyway, Togo was nice from what we could tell, but we’re only spending the one night, so I don’t think we’re getting a whole lot out of the area. Unfortunately, our coordinator seems to be unimpressed with Togo and wants to go and come as quickly as possible. Oh well, we’ll see what tomorrow holds for us.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Little Short of Island Paradise

20 February 2010
Today our group went on a cruise to Dodi Island. The cruise itself was pleasant, though not terribly exciting. I had less neutral feelings about the destination. Dodi Island is a tiny, uninhabited bit of land where very poor Ghanaians sail out to make money from tourists from the cruise. The only structures on this island are a couple pavilions and a sidewalk that goes from one side of the island to the other. When we got off, we were surrounded by children who took us by the hands and followed us as we walked on the sidewalk, past women and children singing quietly and playing on plastic gas can drums. One of these girls, who looked about five, had a baby strapped to her back and was walking around the island like this, presumably all day. We walked up and back on the sidewalk very uncomfortably with children surrounding us, begging for money. Then we got back on our air-conditioned boat with a live band, toilet paper, and large plates of food.

A Day at Wli

19 February 2010
Today we hiked to Wli Falls. The destination is a waterfall that empties into a shallow pool that is a perfect, cool temperature for swimming. We stayed there for about two hours and I was excited to find that you could actually stand directly under the waterfall. I've always wanted to do that!

A Trip to Third Grade

18 February 2010
This morning we left for the Volta region of Ghana, which is in the upper eastern area. The car ride was rather bumpy and unpleasant. I think there was more speed bump than flat road on the way there.
We first took a gander at the Akosombo Dam on Lake Volta. Lake Volta is man-made and provides electricity to most of Ghana and other surrounding countries. Our guide was redundant, paused a lot unnecessarily, and spoke to us like we were idiots. I’ll give an example of the last: “I’m sure that many of you were very excited when you found you would be coming here, but I imagine that if someone asked you what a dam is, we would have problems. So let me take you back to third grade…” He also reassured us that despite what we may have thought, the water was not "electrocuted", and that that was not the way electricity worked. As you can imagine, this tour was both annoying and hilarious. But it was all worth it, because mom, you will be happy to know that I got another marriage proposal on the tour.