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!