Tuesday, December 6, 2011

time to say goodbye

hi all!

i leave tomorrow. i cannot believe that the time is finally here. i have been counting down for a long time and now i am down to one day.
the past few weeks have been wonderful.
over thanksgiving break we had a wonderful trip to the beach, relaxing, playing in the ocean, and enjoying one another's company and the beautiful location. we even had a bonfire on the beach to celebrate thanksgiving.
we went on one last trip together up to akropong once more.  we had a lovely time of reflection over where we have been, where we are now, and what the future holds for us.
we also had a final party last night where we were able to thank everyone we have worked with and say our goodbyes.
now we have the day to finish up shopping and work on packing.
we fly out tomorrow night and we would appreciate prayers for safe travel and patience in our remaining time.
i cannot thank you enough for all of the support i have received in the past four months but thank you from the bottom of my heart. i could not have done it without you.
i cant wait to see you!

all my love.

here are some pictures:

beautiful sunset on the coast of Ghana. perfect vacation.

my darling Shelby and I on the beach

Our Safe Water Team.  Josephus, the Safe Water representative, Stephanie, our professor, and James.

Our Ghana family that we lived with for homestays.  From left:  Kate and Steph, Atta Bah (the help), Christabel (7), John, Ashia (4), Maggie, Zeta (mom), Drome (8 months), and Daniel (dad)

My baby girl Ashia.

My darling Cristabel

The seniors of our group.

Monday, November 21, 2011

thanksgiving goodness


i never realized how much i loved thanksgiving until i didnt have it.  funny, how people don't realize how good they have things until they dont have it anymore.  like the season of fall, and running water, and time with family with lots of good food.
i can give thanks though for the fact that we were able to pull together a thanksgiving meal for our group last week.  we got turkey, mashed potatoes (a tad spicy but hey its ghana and it was the cooks first time ever making thanksgiving - he did a fantastic job!), stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and bread.  i dont even like half of that and i ate it all.  i have really learned to appreciate a good meal when it is given to me. (dont know how much i will ever appreciate vegetables though)
i also am really thankful for the time i have been able to spend here.  i can say i lived in ghana for four months. that is pretty incredible.  it has had its fair share of challenges and been very trying at times but i did it.  and i am so glad i did.  i have some amazing experiences that i can share with people back home and memories that will stay with me forever.  the challenges have really pushed me to focus on my relationship with God and that is worth it.  God is pretty amazing, you really can do anything with Him.
that being said, as thankful as i am for this experience... i will be through the roof excited to go home. it will come quickly because we are really close to the end and busy busy busy.
here is a little update:

we have the week off for thanksgiving break! i am leaving EARLY tomorrow morning to make our way down to the coast to lay on the beach for a week and get all tan and happy :).  i will be back on friday and then i have the weekend to hang around Accra and finish up schoolwork.  i will probably head to the markets again :)  markets here are very dangerous.  not really. but they are when you become a shopoholic -- i have contributed a lot of money to ghana's economy.  packing is going to be a challenge... not thinking about that yet.

then we have one more dancing and drumming class on wednesday.  pretty easy school week here in ghana!
next thursday we head back up to akropong for a little reflection time together.  (ps. akropong is where we went in the very beginning and also for the odwira festival).  so we are there thursday and friday and then are stopping at adenkrebi on that saturday to say goodbye.   i dont want to say goodbye to adenkrebi.
then that monday we have our final good bye party with everyone we know in ghana... not joking. its a big deal. and then i leave to rejoin you all in the freezing tundra of the midwest on december 7, arriving in chicago december 8, and heading to grand rapids december 12.

so clearly, my time at the end here is going to fly by!!

i hope you all have a wonderful thanksgiving! appreciate everything you have.
i cant wait to see you all.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

one month left.

in 28 days i will be leaving ghana. today is november 8.  december 8 i will be arriving in chicago at 9 am and spending the rest of the day with my family.  words can not describe how excited i am to see everyone.  december 12 i will be heading back up to gr.  i cant wait to see everyone there either.
many of you have been messaging me letting me know of your support and that you are reading my blogs and i want to take the opportunity to thank you again.  i truly appreciate it.
one month left and many things are coming to a close.  so its time to reflect a little bit :) stick with me this is pretty informal.
the director for the ghana program next year is currently here and has been asking us what we like, what we would change, and advice for next years group.  it allowed us to really reflect on our time here as everything is coming to a close. just in case you are curious, here are my answers:

what i like: adenkrebi.  the past week i was able to return to adenkrebi, where we did homestays, and i realized how much i missed that place.  everyone remembers who you are and the relationships built were amazing.  the little girls came running up to me and jumped in my arms with many hugs and kisses.  accra is a very busy city and very chaotic.  adenkrebi is more calm and allows relationships to build and strengthen.  i love those people so much and i will really miss them.
what i would change: as most of you noticed, i was not here in october. and the week i was here, many of our final projects were due.  october was busy.  it was stressful.  all of it was wonderful and the best experiences but my oh my does the scheduling need some work.
advice for next years group:  you are really going to figure out how to be independent and that is great.  but you are also with the same 17 other students every minute of every day.  we have become a family and as great as it is to be independent - its rough at times over here and you need to learn how to rely on these strangers as they become your family.

i could probably think of a few things for each of those questions but thats what originally came to mind.
here are a few little snippets of reflections of things i will and will not miss about ghana:
1. i will not miss the water shutting off for an unknown amount of days. its not pleasant.
2. i will miss all the fresh fruit. its delicious.
3. i will not miss having rice at every meal. do not serve me rice when i get back home.
4. i will miss being with the wonderful people of this group.  it will be very strange to not be with them every moment of every day.  we have determined that we kinda feel homeschooled.  we are always together, we even eat in our classroom.
5. i will not miss tro-tros, taxis, and traffic
6. i will miss africa.  i love living in a developing country.  (not accra) but everywhere else is slower and calm and relaxing and beautiful.  from the forests to the savannah, it is gorgeous. (trust me we hiked all over this country)
7. i will not miss being cheated in the market places because i am white and blonde. i will also not miss being called obruni. i like my name and i like when people use it.
8. i will miss the sun.  yes, it is hot and i sweat ALOT on our forever long walk to class but i prefer this to those blizzards back home.
9. i will not miss missing my boy, my family, and my friends.
10. i will miss finding bootleg dvd's of anything i want for a very cheap price and all the shopping in the markets. i have become a bit of a shopoholic.
11. i will not miss worrying about finding clean water to drink or worrying about the food i eat.
12. i will miss the beautiful art that is everywhere
13. i will not miss breaking every pair of shoe that i have brought to ghana and the shoes i have been buying here.
14. i will miss the children.  i would come home with ten of them if that were even remotely acceptable. they are all adorable and loving children.
i could keep going on and on but that is all for now in terms of that.

here is a little school update.
politics: DONE.
peoples and cultures: i finished my presentation on national parks turned in all my assignments.  now i just have to finish the take-home final and then DONE.
twi: one more test next week and then DONE.
ethnography: i finished half of my presentation (its complicated) and i have to finish the rest next week.  then i have to write a little reflection paper and then DONE.
drumming and dance:  i think 2 more classes and then a performance at our final party right before we go.  then DONE.

basically almost done with everything.  after next week of classes.

then the week of thanksgiving we have off.  a majority of us are going to spend 4 days relaxing on the beach. heaven.
then we go back to have a reflection trip in akropong.
then final party.
then home to you all.
you can be really excited now.

thanks for sticking with this random, informal post. i hope you enjoyed.  not too many left!
miss you all and i cant wait to see you!

Monday, October 31, 2011

pictures from northern trip!

Here is a picture of one of the women we visited who makes bauxite beads. 

Here is a picture of the lovely Kente cloth that I am obsessed with.

Here is the madness of Kejetia in Kumasi.

Here are a few of the women from the witches camp in Yendi.

The children here really steal your heart.

A few gonja players and the cutest little boy who joined in.

There is an elephant in there.

The absolutely beautiful Mole National Park.

Warthogs and baboons everywhere!

The first mosque built in Ghana.

Such a beautiful part of Ghana.

northern trip brings us to november!

Hi everyone!
Once again I apologize for this going to be a long blog post but we were gone for a long time on this trip so there is a lot to tell!
Happy Halloween and goodness gracious it is November! I don’t know where the time has gone but I am excited to be in the home stretch now.  I never thought I would miss fall but the heat here has been getting more brutal everyday. 
And on to the Northern Trip blog:
We left at 5am on Friday and headed up to the town of Kumasi in Central Region.  On our way we made a few stops to see culture.  Our first stop we headed to a village to see how bauxite beads were made.  The beads are made by chipping off bauxite into pieces and then rolling them into beads.  After visiting a few ladies who did that we headed back to the wonderful bus for our next stops.  Our next stop was visiting another Kente cloth factory.  They are the masters of selling so bartering with them was quite amusing.  I like to think I am getting pretty good at bartering.  Its going to be a problem going back to the States and having to pay the price they want me to! J.  After a lot of money spent by our group we visited an adinkra fabric place.  Adinkra is bark from a certain tree melted and then stamped on to fabric in different symbols.  Then we were back on the bus and finishing up the drive to Kumasi where we stayed in a great hotel with pizza.  Happy Kaylee right there.
Saturday: We woke up and went to Kejetia Market in Kumasi.  It is the largest market in West Africa.  It is a total zoo but so much fun.  There are people absolutely everywhere and stuff being sold everywhere you look but it was fun to wander through and see what we could find.  Most random stall we found had a Hope College sweatshirt and a Grand Haven sweatshirt!  The rest of the day was spent driving to Tamale in the Northern Region.  Tamale is probably my favorite town in Ghana so far.  It has so many NGO’s located there and is more calm than Accra and Kumasi.  We ended Saturday night by having dinner on a roof top overlooking all of Tamale.  Beautiful.
Sunday: Quite the day.  Our first stop was a school where we observed something that resembled a spelling bee but with questions about the constitution.  Not really sure what happened there.  After that we headed to the witches camp.  The witches camp was started by an NGO to create a shelter for woman who are exiled from their villages after being accused of witch craft.  Witches are accused after someone dies unexpectedly in a village and there is no reason why, therefore they blame it on witch craft.  The witches are put on trial.  This trial consists of killing a guinea fowl (chicken-like-thing) and depending on the way it falls when it dies it means you are a witch.  The witches we talked with all claimed they were falsely accused and have been there a long time.  It is very rare for the woman to be forgiven and welcomed back into their homes so they stay in the camp until they die with their children.  The children here are all very malnourished and they struggle to get health care there.  It was rough to see the shape these women are in.  After the witches camp we made a stop to see some gonja players.  We all had to take a turn dancing by ourselves to the music in front of everyone.  Yup. We also had a little movie night of watching Enchanted.  Go watch that movie.  For some reason I am in love with it right now.
Monday:  We traveled basically up to Burkina Faso (literally could have walked across the country border) to visit a few NGOs.  Our first NGO we visited took us to a few villages amongst these crazy rock formations that were a mix between Stone Henge and another planet.  Before this NGO (sorry, I cannot remember the name) the woman in the villages were all making shea butter and selling it separately but now they all make it and sell it together and share the profits. We visited the different homes by traipsing around the savannah. We even got a turn at trying to make the shea butter.  My hands have never felt so soft.  Amazing stuff.  If you want some, let me know.  After that we headed to another NGO that sells pottery from the local villages.  We visited a few homes and got to see how Northern tribal homes are set up and the way they live.  After that lovely day we headed to a town that was called Navrango (or something to that effect).  We stayed in the worlds worst room ever.  Love sleeping with them bugs. Yummy.
Tuesday:  We woke up after not sleeping much and headed to a very early morning Catholic mass.  It was the first Catholic church in Ghana and it was pretty neat to see.  It was so colorful and early in the morning.  After that we headed back to Tamale to the craft market.  We spent lots and lots of money and are fully supporting Ghana’s tourism economy.  So lovely.  Then we stayed at a fantastic hotel where we found the air conditioning after about 4 ½ hours of laying there in the heat because me and Kate are genius roommates and enjoyed some yummy pizza again.  I like hotels with pizza.  Also note.  It sounds like we didn’t do much but there is a lot of driving involved in this little scenario. 
Wednesday:  We once again woke up very early and headed to Mole National Park.  The road there is the worst road I have ever experienced for 2+ hours but the end result is so fantastically worth it.  We arrived and started out on our afternoon safari walk.  Our guide picked up on an elephant close by so we followed the trail through the forest and tracked down the elephant! Absolutely incredible.  There were also lots of warthogs (which if you don’t know – I love them) some antelope and many species like them, and those awful baboons which once again stole food from right in front of my face.  This has to stop happening.  I hate baboons. 
Thursday:  I woke up early and was heading to breakfast and looked out over the watering hole and was lucky enough to see 5 elephants walking out to the watering hole.  It was the most breath-taking, God is so amazing moments ever.  Nature is just out of this world.  It was so remarkable to sit there watching the elephants – two of them even were fighting!  That afternoon we drove to Larabanga which is right near by and we saw the first mosque that was built in Ghana.  Islam is the majority in Northern Ghana so this was very interesting to see.  It is really old and made of mud but it is so historical looking that it was sweat.  After that we finally got to relax by a pool which was very much so needed. 
Friday:  Once again, woke up early and headed our drive back to Kumasi.  After 9 hours we got there.  That’s all that happened.  It was a long day.
Saturday:  We woke up and headed to the Ashanti King’s palace in Kumasi.  We got a tour there and learned some history.  Basically the Ashanti people controlled West Africa and the King set up camp in Kumasi.  End of history lesson.  There were peacocks strolling around too.   Then we headed to the cultural center in Kumasi and of course contributed some more to Ghana’s economy (it was a lot of shopping on this trip.) We finally made our way back on the bus and finished up the final 7 hours back to the University. 
It was a really exhausting, fun-filled, diverse-filled experiences, and a lot of bonding on that bus but it was really great and it brought us to November!  Northern Ghana is a whole other world from Southern Ghana and it was so interesting to see the comparison.  Northern Ghana is so much more North African than West Africa.  Northern Ghana is majority Muslim, much more rural and traditional, a thousand degrees hotter, and more desert but also has the coolest National Park ever.  I am so glad I got to have this experience and it was a great final group trip for the semester.  I can’t believe we are in November already. I will see you all before you know it!
I tried to keep this shorter so I hope you stayed with it! Have some Halloween candy for me! 
Love and miss you all so much! 

Monday, October 17, 2011

a few pictures from akropong - odwira festival

We had to pay to take pictures so these were all taken by the wonderful natasha mufasa. 

Here they are pouring schnapps on one of the girls feet.  

Here is one of the girls being helped down the street.

Here is the chief sprinkling maize around town.

Somehow we managed to stop and take this cute picture :)

Here is the king entering the palace.

Here are all the chiefs making their way into the plaza.

They let us sit on the ground after we got all pushed around in the crowd.

Some of the chiefs seated in an aisle leading up to the king in the top right corner.

akropong excursion

This past week we returned to Akropong for the Odwira festival. 
Here is a little plot summary to get you to read the whole thing since it is really long again:  the festival involved a parade of possessed girls carrying food on their head to offer to the ancestors at the sacred cemetery.  I am not making that up.
We arrived Tuesday morning for the opening ceremony of the festival.  We were ushered into the King’s palace- that never gets old. It is so cool.  We were sat down before all the people arrived.  Thank goodness we got a seat because once the drumming started to call the people from the town into the room it was so packed we could barely see anything.  The chiefs then filed into each of their seats and then the king was walked in.  And by walked in I mean he was so old someone had to hold on to him and carry him to his seat.  Then a few people danced for the king and chiefs and then the executioners came in which marked the beginning of the festival.  After they did their thing (not even sure what it was) the king and chiefs left and then the people went out to party and have a good time in the street.
Wednesday is the day of mourning in the town to remember all those who have past away.  Everyone wears black and white and they get together with their whole families and party all day long.  We visited a few homes to see some dancing, meet some chiefs, and see a lot of alcohol intake.  It was a pretty fun day to see everyone celebrating together.  For this festival everyone’s relatives come home so the town is packed and just so full of life. 
Thursday is the craziest day I have ever seen.  We split into smaller groups and spread out over the town to get different glimpses of the girls walking from the palace to the ancestor grounds.  I was at the start by the palace so I saw it from beginning to end which was really cool.  After waiting for what seemed like forever we could see umbrellas coming down the street, heard a few gun shots, and heard drumming so we knew something was about to start.  Then one of the possessed girls ran into the crowd causing everyone to try and run out of her way and fall all over each other.  Kate and I looked at each other at this point and realized it was going to be a crazy day.  Each girl had a man holding an umbrella over her, two men carrying her/helping her walk, was wearing all white, and carrying food on her head.  White clothes symbolize joy and celebration and red and black symbolize sadness.  Some of the girls also had drummers following them or guys shooting guns off.  It was loud. A few of the girls also had family members walking behind them and somehow the three of us at the palace got swept into walking with them down the street.  It is hard to follow a possessed girl by the way.  Who was being carried by drunken men.  They would stagger a lot and suddenly run in a different direction.  Occasionally they would just stop and then the men would pour schnapps on their feet as a libation and then if the ancestors approved it would allow the girls to walk again.  The ancestor’s grounds are surrounded by a wall and a man guarding it with a knife so only certain people can enter – and he was not afraid to use that knife.  So a few important men would carry the food in that the women brought and the women would just keep running around outside in the crowd.  Then one of the higher up chiefs came out from the door carrying a large bowl of maize and sprinkled it up and down the streets to purify the town.  The entire town followed him back to the palace.  We managed to get into the palace before the crowd – somehow.  And we were able to get seats.  Then the drumming started again and the chiefs and the king entered to their seats.  Then the chief who was sprinkling the maize entered with one of the possessed girls and came up the king.  The chief then took the food that the girl was carrying and placed it on the king’s lap three times, then he took the girl who we were told was fully possessed at this time and placed her on the kings lap three times.  Supposedly this removes the possession from the girl and she was returned back to normal.  So bizarre. That marked the end of that part of the festival and before we even knew what was happening the chief exited and then the king and then we headed back to our rooms.  On Thursday night there is a curfew in the town and all lights have to be out so that the chiefs can bring their stools out at night to be washed.
Cultural Lesson on Chieftaincy and Stools in Ghana:  Each ethnic group in Ghana is different but here is a general understanding of chiefs.  Each household has a chief (similar to a grandfather in the States).  Then each town has a chief that represents all of the household chiefs.  Then each region has a chief that represents the town chiefs and etc.  In Akropong, the ethnic group is Ashanti and they have a King that represents a few of the region chiefs.  The chiefs have much less power than they used to however because the state has made a few laws against chieftaincy.  For example, a chief can no longer punish someone for a crime – the state handles that. 
Now for the stools.  Symbolism is huge in Ghana.  Having a stool is a marking that you are a chief.  The president’s home in Ghana is actually shaped like a stool.  You can look up Ghanaian stool to see what they look like if you want.  Anyway, the stools are a bit sacred here so when they are washed during the festival no one is allowed to see it happen.  Each ethnic group has stools made out of different material but overall it is the same.
Back to the festival… so Friday is the day of the durbar.  Each year the festival has a lesson to go along with it and this year the lesson was moral restoration. This occurs by a few of the chiefs and other important people giving speeches.  Of course, it is much more dramatic at a Ghanaian festival.  The morning started by a sheep being slaughtered and then having the head and intestines hung in a tree.  Ew is all I have to say on that.  Then there is a parade with the chiefs being carried up and down the street with drummers and guns surrounding them and they are dressed up in all their gold jewelry and they make their way to their chairs at the front of the plaza.  So dramatic but so exciting to watch.  After that the police pushed everyone out of the plaza (literally) so that it was open for the chiefs to see the speeches.  We were caught in the middle of this and it was terrifying but somehow we managed to make our way out and they let us sit in the plaza.  While we were there, the chief from Adenkrebi where we did our homestays recognized us (not the hardest thing to do we stand out A LOT) so we were called up to greet each of the chiefs.  Our experiences are our of this world over here.  After that the speeches began about having good morals, especially during the 2012 election which a lot of people think isn’t going to go well.  Good thing we wont be here for that. 
We left Akropong Saturday morning for a hike in Shia Hills.  We stopped by baboons.  I hid because they are evil and I am scarred from my experiences from them in Kenya.  And baboons are just ugly.  Then we made our way to a mountain that looks like it is a 90 degree angle up so of course we climbed it.  It was strenuous for sure but the view at the top was amazing.  Lame comparison but I don’t have pictures right now so imagine Lion King and standing on Pride Rock and looking out – that was the view we saw.  It was amazing.  Then we saw where people used to live up there in a cave.  Which was actually two rocks that fell together and left a very tiny opening in between.  We crawled through and shimmied out on the other side.  On our stomachs – it was that tiny.  Then we made our way back down the mountain and finally headed back to Accra.
It has been a crazy two weeks of traveling and I leave again this weekend for an 8 day trip.  So far the experiences have been great and I hope they continue for the next trip.  October has been flying by so fast and by the time I am back from this next trip it will be November.  Insane. 
As always, I love and miss you all so much.  Thank you for all of you who are sending your support, it means the world to me. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

a few pictures from adenkrebi :)

Here is a picture of one of the homes in Adenkrebi. 

Here is a picture of one of the village ladies pounding banku.

Me with some of the adorable children from the school :)

A view of Accra from up in Adenkrebi.

This is how well I handled crab hunting...and proof that I did for you doubters.

This was our homestay group on our tarzan vine-swinging hike.

A view of Accra at night.  It goes on forever and it is gorgeous.

Monday, October 10, 2011

village life for the week

Warning: this is really long so make sure you have time to read it all.  J
I will post pictures soon!
For the past 3 weeks, 6 of us at a time have been going on homestays and now the third week it was finally my turn.  I headed to the village with Steph, Maggie, and the boys; Peter, James and John, and our director’s son, Sam.
This past week I lived in the village of Adenkrebi and it was amazing.  Adenkrebi is up in the mountains that surround Accra. We stayed in a very nice home with Daniel and his wife Zeta.  They have 3 beautiful little girls who just steal your heart.  Christabel is 7, Ashia is 4 (and quite the drama queen), and Drome- who is 5 months and the most well behaved baby ever.  We also had Atta Bah who is the house keeper and had quite a good time laughing at us and being our guide for everything.  They are the greatest people and it was so good getting to know all of them. 
Daniel picked us up Monday after class and brought us back where we had a great dinner together then spent the night sitting out on the patio just admiring the beautiful views.  Tuesday and Wednesday were spent going back and forth to the university and Daniel’s house and playing with his daughters.  The girls have non stop energy.  We were also able to visit the girl’s school one morning when we dropped them off.  They go to a really nice school that seemed just like one back in the states.  Daniel has his own company and is very well off.  Thursday I was sick and not able to do much which was a bit of a downer. 
Friday we headed to the Adenkrebi School and played with all the village kids during their gym time.  The village kids are also way full of energy and think we are jungle gyms.  It was very tiring in the heat but so much fun.  The boys played soccer with them, we learned some of their games, and they showed us around.  The school is a bit chaotic and unorganized but they seem to be learning a decent amount.  After that Atta Bah brought us to an old palm tree to show us how to tap it for palm wine.  Unfortunately, the tree was dried up so we couldn’t get any palm wine out.  After that Daniel took us to Ashesi University.  It is a newer university up near Adenkrebi and it is beautiful.  It is a private university and, although small, it is really nice.   Friday night Sound of Music was on TV, so we all watched that together.  They laughed at us singing all of the songs and we explained to them what was going on.  It was a great bonding experience with the family and I will never forget it. 
Saturday was a jam packed day and so exhausting but it was incredible.  We started the day by heading to the flower garden where the showed us all the different plants.  The flower garden is in the middle of the bush and we had to hike to get there (carrying the girls so we were dripping sweat by the time we got there). We then made our way to the cassava trees.  Atta Bah chopped down a tree and pulled the root up to show us all the cassava underneath.  He then chopped down another one and after putting all my effort into it, I could not even budge the roots to get them out.  Pretty embarrassing after Atta Bah pulled them out in one quick motion.  Thankfully, James took quite a bit of time pulling it out after me. 
After that we headed to another clearing for crab hunting.  Crab hunting consists of sticking your hand in a muddy hole and pulling the crab out.  The boys all took their turn and got a crab and some even got pinched.  Us girls were a little apprehensive to go after that but after Atta Bah grabbed our hands and plunged it into the hole for us we all managed to get a crab too.  It was quite the comedy for sure.  Daniel was very proud of all of us for getting one though so he felt that our group would be up for the challenge of going on a hike.  The people in the village did not think any of us “obruni’s,” or white people, would be able to do it so none of the other groups did.  We were pretty pleased with ourselves that Daniel thought we could do it.  After stocking up on water we drove to a clearing.  We didn’t see any path which probably should have been a marker on how intense this was going to be.  Atta Bah took the lead with the machete and started hacking away at the bush.  It was a pretty steep hike and there was quite a bit of falling.  Near the end when we were by the water fall we were even repelling down vines to get down the rest of the way.  Clearly, there were some Tarzan feelings going on.  It was pretty intense but the rushing waterfall was so incredible to see.  The water was moving quickly and kept going so we had to be careful.  I, of course, fell in so the walk back was difficult in soaking wet jeans.  After we made it back we were dead exhausted and really hot but it was such a great feeling knowing we just did that.  Daniel told us that during the dry season some women go down there for water.  I still can not comprehend how that is even possible.  Daniel, again, was really impressed with us so he took us to a sacred tree.
Story is that a long time ago someone tried to cut the tree down and found a bottle of schnapps in it and a white hawk flew out.  Since then, people have regarded the area as sacred and have always looked for an explanation.  This is where Adenkrebi got its name because Adenkrebi means looking for explanation. 
After all of that we headed for some much needed showers and food before snail hunting.  Snail hunting is at night and in the bush and a little terrifying – especially when Daniel says we should always pray before going into the bush at night.  Obviously though we are all ok, just some added cuts from all the thorns we ran into all day.  Snail hunting is done by walking around and looking at the ground with a flash light.  Pretty easy stuff. And snails are ugly.  We ended the hunt by walking to the edge of the mountain (Adenkrebi is on top of a mountain) and looking out over Accra.  Accra is beautiful at night and goes on forever.  We all stood there together and watched an airplane land at the airport.  It was pretty neat because 2 months from that moment we will be landing back in the states.  After that we headed to sleep.  It was a tiring day.
As I am writing this, it is Sunday and we are hanging out on the patio waiting for lunch to be ready.  It has been a great week but we are excited to go back to the university and see everyone else.  It is weird being apart from the others since we spend so much time together here.  Also, for dinner we tried fufu with the crabs and snails we caught.  Not a fan of fufu at all – it is the texture of wet bread dough.  And they eat every part of the crab and snail.  The crabs eyeball was still there.  It was… disgusting. We did finally get a meal of chicken though after a week of fish and the chicken was so good.  (It was killed that morning so it was pretty fresh – poor Richard the chicken.  Thanks for naming it boys – it made it awesome to eat)
I miss food that does not have fish in it.  It has been an adventurous week with food.  Lots of stew- with fish in it, rice – with fish in it, kenkey – with fish in it, contumbre – with fish in it, yams – with fish stew.  I am ready for some Taco Bell and Uccellos and Aurelios and Portillos. 
The week was a great way to end our first half here and I can’t wait to see how the second half goes.  We have a lot of trips and I am sure there will be many more adventures, preferably without fish in them. 
If you read through all of this – thanks! I hope it was worth it.  Sorry it was so long!
As always, love and miss you all so much! 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

hi there october

Hi everyone!

Once again, sorry for not posting recently!  I have been busy with homework and working on the NGO and October is going to be just as crazy.  Happy October by the way!  The month of October is going to be crazy busy and I am so excited for all the experiences.
The first week I will be living in the village of Adenkrabi with 5 other students.  We have been going 6 students each week and so far everyone has loved it and they have been having a great time!  I can’t wait to tell you all about the experiences that I will get to have there!
After homestays in the village I will be back in Accra for a day of classes and then we head up to Akropong for a week long festival.  I am not sure what that festival will be about other than it is a religious festival.  Ghanaians love their festivals though so I am sure it will be a good time. 
Then I will have a week back in classes before I leave for the Northern region of Ghana for 10 days at the end of the month.  It’s going to be a lot of traveling and I can’t wait!  The month is going to fly by for us and I hope it’s going to be great.  I will try and update you after each trip if I can! 
I hope you are all enjoying that wonderful fall weather back home! We are getting into the hot, dry season so it keeps getting hotter here everyday.  Coming back in December is going to be quite a shock! 
The end of this week marks our halfway point already! It’s hard to believe we have made it halfway already, time is flying by and it’s only going to go faster this month!  I am enjoying my time here but I am still excited to go home and see you all – and eat a lot of good, gross, greasy food when I get back. J  Last night, my friend Kate and I found a KFC that delivered to our dorm.  It was soooo good.
As always, I love and miss you all so much!  I will try and update again soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Part 2: Volta Region

Part 2 and a Side note: 

Side note:   September 22 is my dad’s birthday so make sure you all say happy birthday to him for me!  Happy Birthday a few days early dad! Love you!

Part 2: This past weekend we had an excursion to the Volta Region in eastern Ghana.

We started our travel setting off for Cedi beads.  Here we learned how to make beads and we were even able to make 4 of our own glass beads and 1 other bead made from powder of…something.  Not helpful but it looks cool and it’s colorful.  I don’t know what it’s made of.   Cedi beads probably loves us though because we nearly emptied their shop.  They have some very beautiful jewelry.

Our next stop was the dam on the Volta River.  This dam has created Volta Lake which is the largest man made lake in the world.  You can look it up if you really want.  The scenery in this area is beautiful (the dam is just really big and concrete- not so pretty).  The dam does however provide electricity for most of Ghana, as well as the countries of Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso.  That is pretty impressive.  The dam does have some negative impacts as well though.  While it was being built and the Lake was being made, many people were displaced to another area.  We were able to travel to one of these villages to see the impact that the dam has had on their lives.  They have to deal with traveling farther for fishing, which is their way of life, the children are taken into slavery, and they have to deal with occasional flooding that can be very destructive.  It is terrible to hear about how something can be so helpful and destructive to a group of people.  The village was very friendly though and it was fun to watch the women get water from the lake, the men loading and unloading their boats, and the children playing.  It was a really fun little village.

After that we headed to our hotel for the night.  We got to go swimming in a pool and we had hot showers! Words cannot express how wonderful both of these things were.  A hot shower was the greatest feeling in the world after not having had one since being here.  We only have very cold water in our hostel on campus. 

The next day we spent a lot of time in the bus.  A lot.  But we were able to stop at a Kente cloth factory where we, of course, bought more things and ordered our stoles that we get to wear at graduation.  I graduate in May by the way, that’s really weird to think about.  Anyway, after that we headed to the Wli waterfalls.  I stayed back from the hike though because I did not want to injure my back and so did a couple other girls.  The view from the reception area was still very beautiful and we were able to watch a storm roll in over the mountain which was really cool to see. 

We then headed to our next hotel for the night.  Not so cool fact:  the road up to our hotel on the top of the mountain was too muddy to get up in the dark so we drove about an extra 2 hours to get there and it took us 5 minutes to get down the next morning because the road was open.  Not cool.  All we could do was laugh though at the ridiculousness of it. 

In the morning we headed to the monkey sanctuary!  This was so much fun.  We were given bananas and the monkeys would crawl on to us and eat it right out of our hands.  It was scary, funny, and really cool all at the same time.
It was another great excursion and we were able to learn a lot and see another part of the Ghanaian culture. 

Now we are back to another school week – another short one.  Turns out there is another holiday on Wednesday so no classes!  Ghanaians love their holidays. 

Love and miss you all! 

Picture 1: Me with the monkey! 
Picture 2:  Beads!
Picture 3: We live on this bus sometimes
Picture 4: Kente cloth.  So beautiful and intricate
Picture 5: Storm rolling in over the mountains.  Volta Region is so beautiful 

Where have I been? Part 1: Safe Water

Hi everyone!

Where have I been?  Very busy!  I will split this up into 2 posts so that you aren’t reading a novel at once.

This post is going to be all about the beginning of my work with Safe Water. 

This past week James and I were able to travel to one of the communities where the water filters are set up.  They have a water filter set up in a clinic and two homes.
One of Safe Water’s problems is that they do not have any transportation options to bring the filters to the communities.  Fortunately they found a connection through a taxi driver who was willing to bring them to the community for free because he had relatives there.  The taxi driver, named Abbot, and the leader of Safe Water in Ghana, Josephus,  were able then to bring the filters to this community about 3 months ago but have not been able to go back to do a follow up.  The community is a little over 3 hours away so public transportation would be costly and difficult.
Fortunately, we were able to drive up there with them and finally do a follow up with them.  This also provided an opportunity for James and me to do a little interviewing for our research.  
The first filter that we checked up on was the filter in the clinic.  One filter there provides enough clean water for the entire clinic a day and they never have a problem of running out during the day.  This is good because it shows that they are using the filters properly, since the more they are used the better the filters are.  The filter system was working well and the water was coming out clean, however, someone must have knocked it because the spout was broken off.  We will have to try and make it back there to fix it for them but for now it is still usable. 
The second filter that we checked on is used by about 7 families and other members of the community as needed.  They also informed us that the water is cleaner and their health is improving.  We did notice that there seems to be mold of some sort on the piping though and we will have to look into ways of avoiding that in the future.  They also showed us where they get their water from to filter.  The water was very dirty and unfortunately that is what they were drinking before.  Water is a major issue for Ghana and hopefully we will be able to set up a few more while we are here.
The final filter was working great and had no mold or problems at all.  This was really encouraging because it shows that there can be good success with them and they will not all have problems if used properly.  I am glad that we were able to report that at least one is going smoothly. 
Our research will be interesting as we begin to continue interviews with everyone involved and find the root of the problems. 
Sorry, this may be one of my more boring posts but it was interesting and I know some of you will think it is cool J

Love you all.

Picture 1:  Josephus with the filter in the clinic
Picture 2:  The second filter, the clear hose is where the coloring is
Picture 3:  Their water source
Picture 4:  The third filter

Sunday, September 11, 2011

one month in and the adventure continues

Hi everyone!

It has been awhile since I have updated and I apologize!  Internet was of course down again and I was unable to get to the internet and the week ended up just flying by.

Classes went well in the beginning of the week.  Monday was another long day of class and nothing too exciting to mention.  Tuesday was our last day with our scary Twi professor- he is very old and quite sick so we are getting a replacement now.  We are sorry he is sick but he is not the best teacher so we are all a little bit excited for a new professor.  Tuesday night our night class was cut short because one of the girls had an allergic reaction and needed to be brought to the hospital.  Thankfully, she is doing well now! Only down side is she can’t have Ghanaian ice cream which is really good.  Wednesday morning went well.  In the afternoon we had our fourth person go to the hospital.  Aside from the allergic reaction, 3 girls have also gotten bacteria infections from the food or water.  Hopefully we don’t have any more hospital trips the rest of our trip.  Drumming class was really fun, we now know an entire song and it sounds really good – for beginners anyway.  Dance class = not so good.  Unfortunately, I hurt my back in dance class and I have been lying down icing it since Wednesday afternoon.  Aleve and ice are my best friends right now.  The pain is slowly getting better but I will have to take it easy for awhile. 

Thursday was a strange day.  Nearly everyone started their NGO work this week so there were only 4 of us left at the hostel.  It was very quite and weird when you are used to the group of 18 of us.  I laid in bed all day and watched some Modern Family and worked on homework.  Friday morning I was finally able to go meet with my NGO.  After getting there in double the time it should have we arrived at SafeWater in Tema, Ghana.  I will be there with one other student, James.  We were taught how to put the filters together and learned a little bit about the structure of the organization.   James and I will be working on research for them for the next couple of months.  Many of the other students are doing service learning along with their research but there is not much for us to do at SafeWater so we will be focusing on research.  I was a little disappointed at first because I was looking forward to doing more work but I am getting more excited to start the research and it will be really helpful to them.  This upcoming Thursday we will be going out to the community to see where the filters are installed and what is going well and what could use improvement.  The rest of the semester will also include interviews and who knows where that will take us. 

Friday evening many of the people went out to a really cool Irish pub that is owned by a British guy.  It has a lot of similarities with home so I am really looking forward to going to that.  I stayed back because my back had been hurting and Shelby’s ankle is still in pain so we were able to hang out.  Shelby sprained her ankle just before leaving for Ghana and it is still bothering her at times. 

Saturday was spent working on homework together.  Saturday evening a few of us made spaghetti and it was so good.  That may be a new tradition.  We also went to a play.  It was a one man show and very… interesting.  There was nearly no dialogue and the beginning was really good, then it got really trippy and no one really knew what was going on.  It was an experience for sure.

This morning we met with a man who talked to us about Christian-Muslim relations throughout the world and how that has changed after the 9-11 attacks.  We followed the talk by a time of prayer and worship in honor of 9-11.  It is strange to not be home on a day like today and yet still feel connected.

As always, I love and miss you all dearly.  I have been here over a month now and there are still new things to experience and adjust to every day.  For those of you at Calvin, I hope you had a great first week of classes! 


Sunday, September 4, 2011

cape coast

Hi everyone!

The past couple days I have been at Cape Coast and it was awesome.  It was so beautiful and relaxing and I got to go swimming so of course I loved it!  We were also able to learn a lot about slave trade which was really interesting.

We headed out super early Friday morning for our 3ish hour bus ride.  (I can now sleep on a bus no matter how crammed in I am so you can all go on road trips with me now.)  Our first stop was Fort Amsterdam which is an old fort that held slaves.  It was located right on the ocean and had the most incredible views.  Inside the fort was absolutely beautiful but at the same time so hard to imagine all the slaves that went through there.  There were still some chains on the walls that held the slaves in their rooms.  The women were held on one side and the men on the other with the general’s room on the second floor as well as all the guns.  I will post pictures on Facebook of course because that is really the best way to understand it.  We were also shown the “door of no return,” which faces the ocean, and this is where the slaves were brought through and loaded on to boats and sent away.  It was hard to imagine that such a beautiful place held so much cruelty years ago.   The views of the fort were beautiful overlooking all the fisherman and little villages.
After the fort we drive over to Elmina Castle which was a slave castle.  It was huge and you had to pay to take pictures inside so I don’t have any pictures except for the outside view.  The castle held up to about a 1000 slaves at a time and was ruled by the Dutch and Portuguese.   The history of the castle was fascinating learning about who ruled it when and the changes that it went through.  After slave trade the castle was used to train British police men.  Our guide told us some horrible stories about what some of the rooms were used for which made the castle almost haunting despite it being rather open. 
Surrounding the castle is a bay.  The bay is so filled with boats and people that you can’t even see the water.  It is so beautifully colorful and hectic but not a city-hectic so I actually really liked it.  The town of Elmina is filled with old colorful buildings and the people almost reflect the village that they lived in. 
Following the slave castles we went back in the car and headed to Hans Cottage which is the hotel that we stayed at.  Once we got there we got to relax, take a little nap before dinner, and some went swimming.  We also found a pen of rabbits and fed them grass, later we realized those were the rabbits used for the restaurant.  Not as adorable after that.  Oh, and there is also a giant crocodile pond there with about 40 crocodiles and you can pay to touch them and take pictures with them and I did!  It was scary, obviously, but I survived!  We had a delicious dinner together as a group and then relaxed afterwards by the water just hanging out.

Saturday was another early start as we headed to Kakum National Park.  Oh, and before that we had a large breakfast at the Cottage.  Awesome fact:  the Kumasi Soccer team (professional) was there as well and ate right next to us.  That is really cool just so you know.  One of the team members was also pulled up the night before to the national team to play in the Ghana vs. Swaziland team which Ghana won by the way. Anyway, Kakum National Park is a rainforest packed with trees and supposedly animals and birds although we didn’t see any.  We did a canopy walk while we were there followed by a nature walk.  The canopy walk was rope bridges and the nature walk was a legitimate hike.  They need to get their vocabulary fixed.  Both were great experiences though and the trees were so exotic looking and beautiful.  The rope bridges almost killed me, but be proud I actually did it.
After that we headed back to Cape Coast for an afternoon at the beach and best lunch I have had since being here.  The waves here are huge and so much fun to play in, but also really strong so we had to be careful and although we felt like we were way out there we only stayed where we could touch.  The waves knocked us down numerous times but it was a blast to play around in the water and on the beach.  Best afternoon in Ghana ever.
Our way home was supposed to take 3-4 hours but actually took 6.  Let that sink in.  Crammed in a bus for 6 hours and the last 2 not moving ever.  That wonderful chunk of time led to some quality time together. 
It was a great trip and I learned a lot and had a great time doing so.  And the beach was just the best thing ever, even with the gallons of salt water that I ended up swallowing.

Today has been a day filled with finishing up homework as we actually have our 3 full days of classes this week.  No Labor Day for us in Ghana L.  
As always, I am always missing you all and I wish all of you about to start school the best of luck! I wish I could be there with you more than anything. 

Love and miss you all. 

Fort Amsterdam,  Elmina Castle, and Cape Coast Beach: 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

goodbye august, hello september

August is over! Internet has been down for awhile (which, for me, is really hard to deal with not having any communication with home) so I have a bit I can catch you all up on J.  

We had classes on Monday and that was good.  We had Twi class on Monday and our professor was 30 minutes late…. Let me try and explain how afraid we all are of this class.  Every time the door opened during that 30 minute period we all froze in fear and jumped because we thought it was our professor.  It was as comical as you are picturing.  Tuesday we were supposed to go on a trip to observe the Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan but that got pushed to Wednesday so we ended up not having classes on either Tuesday or Wednesday.  Thank you 1 day class week!  So Tuesday and Wednesday we spent working on homework and relaxing and watching movies together (like Passport to Paris- thank you Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen for that hilarious childhood memory).  We also went to the mall again to compare the Shoprite (reminds me of a K-mart) and the local market for a cultural essay to right.  Plus on Tuesday pizza is buy one get one free at the Pizza Inn and we all know I will never pass that up. 
Wednesday morning we woke up bright and early and left at 7am to head over to independent square.  Wednesday was a holiday here to honor the end of Ramadan.  All the Muslims gathered and lined up to pray to end the fasting.  There were so many people and it was very interesting to see.  I can’t even think how to describe it.  They all prayed in unison and moved together, it was just incredible.  Afterwards we headed over to the craft market to browse, shop, and waste time because there was no way we were ever going to get out in that traffic.  It was a good afternoon and a lot of fun.  The craft market is geared towards tourists but hey that is what we are so I don’t mind too much.  There are still a lot of locals there and its fun to joke around with the shop owners. 
Wednesday afternoon we finished up homework and then headed to group dinner at the professors flat.  We had a lot of guests with us last night but one in particular was amazing.  James is the founder of the NGO called Challenging Heights were 2 of the girls in my group are interning.  Challenging Heights is an organization that rescues children from slavery in Ghana and also works on prevention and education of child slavery.  James started this NGO with his own money and has now passed a few laws and is working on passing more to save these children.  If that is not incredible enough, James started this NGO because he was a child slave himself.  From the ages of 6 to 13, James was a slave in the Volta region of Ghana.  He tried to escape a few times and was caught, and when he was caught a rope was tied around his neck and he was dragged around to show the other children what would happen to them if they tried to escape.  At age 13, he tried to escape again and succeeded.  He is such a remarkable man.  He then went on to get amazing grades, graduate from University of Ghana, work for a few years, and then start an NGO that is continuing to grow.  This man is just beyond remarkable.  I am even more excited now to start working at my NGO and help in any way I can.  Being here to help reminds me of why I chose to do the Ghana semester in the first place.  I cant wait to see what other amazing people God has in store for us to meet.

Today is another day of relaxing and working on homework.  Tomorrow morning we head to Cape Coast for 2 days.  I am so excited for that trip!  I will of course blog about it when I get back! 
As always, I miss you all so much and I cannot thank you enough for the support.  You are all in my prayers just as much as I am in yours. I can’t wait to see what September has in store for our group. 

Here are a few pictures from the Ramadan festival,  this is like a 1/4 of the amount of people that you could see. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

hi everyone

first of all, you should all say happy birthday to my mama! she is the best mom in the entire world and i cant be there for her birthday which is difficult so you all have to celebrate with her for me!

since we do not have class on thursday and friday, and i have not been able to visit SafeWater yet, i have had quite a few days off.  i havent been doing much so this post isnt very exciting but you know i am alive.  i got a lot of homework done and continued to hang out and bond with the group.

on saturday, we visited the village of Adenkrabi.  we met another chief and got to play with children all day which was so wonderful.  Adenkrabi is the village where we will be doing our week long homestays so this visit was to meet with them and see where we will be staying.  6 of us will be going at a time starting the last two weeks of september and going until the first week of october.  so a total of 3 weeks, 6 each week.  just to review and clarify :).   im excited to see how that goes!  oh and we also tried palm wine as part of the welcoming shin-dig thing when we visited.  it tastes like coconut milk mixed with sprite mixed with lemonade and something else.  its very different-  and hard to drink a lot of.

not too much to report for now but there ya go.
i still miss you all like crazy!
love you all!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

first week of classes

hello all

classes have begun this week and i can not explain how excited i am to have a routine again. we have classes monday-wednesday from 10:30 until 9pm on Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday we go from 10:30 until 5:30.   Long days but then we get Thursday and Friday to work on our research and go on all our trips.
many of you have asked what classes i am taking so here is a little summary:
Peoples and Cultures - This class is made up of all guest lecturers coming to each class and teaching us about the people and culture of Ghana.  Its very interesting so far and I am excited to learn more as the semester goes on.  For this class we also do a little research on a side about a cultural topic of our choosing.  I am really excited to pick a topic and start learning more about something there.
Culture and Ethnography - This course is all about learning what ethnography is and how to do it.  For those of you who dont know, ethnography is research in the form of observing and interviewing people.  This class goes along with the research/internship work that I will be doing at SafeWater.  So by the end of the semester I will have an ethnography project done on something to do with SafeWater.  I still haven't been able to go to SafeWater yet so I am not sure what my ethnography will focus on but I think it will be really interesting.
African Politics - Our professor for this class is great.  Its a long class but its pretty interesting and is all discussion based on our readings.  (ALOT of reading).  We also do a research paper for this class as well and although I am not as excited for this one since politics is not my thing but the professor is interesting and I am ready to learn something interesting.
Twi Language - Twi is the local language here.  This class is terrifying.  Im not exaggerating. The professor is very stern and intimidating but he is (trying) to teach us useful phrases.  The pronunciation is difficult but hopefully it will fall into place soon.  I think we are all quite afraid of this class.
African Dance and Drumming - Umm ha.  So we havent had this yet, our first class is pretty soon.  I have no rhythm at all but I am going to put in my best effort and maybe I will pick up on something. maybe. if all else fails im sure it bring out some good laughs and great exercise.  we have seen some students leave the class dripping sweat. cant wait. love the sweat.

So those are all my classes.  A few others are taking an african literature course but i chose not to take it.  The routine is helping make our weeks go faster and helps with the settling in.  We also have quite a bit of homework ahead of us so we will be really busy with that as well.
Overall, the rough patch of transitioning is ending and it seems like it will be a good and busy semester.  Im excited to learn a lot and maybe come back and teach you all how to african drum and dance! :)
I miss you all like crazy and I cant wait to see you again.

love to you all.