Thursday, December 3, 2009

Time to go

It's always a sad day when I'm down to the last bit of shake of a tea. It's my snowbud's last day, but its vegetal sweetness is still crisp and resreshing in the early morning hours before the sun gets too intense.

I woke up on the roof this morning to a beautifully radiant yellow-orange sun breaking through the morning clouds. Last night was my last here in Accra and Joe, Alex and I hauled our mattresses up to the highest part of the roof to bask in the cool night air that is simply unattainable in our thermally efficient rooms. We spent the night with the other guys of the floor at the closest bar, Tyme-Out drinking ber and shooting pool, reminiscing on the time we've spent here.

I still can't believe that it's over. It seems to be ending all too quickly, and as each day passes I can't decide whether I'm happier to see everyone back home, than I am sad to be leaving what has been my home for the past four months. I'm most definitely excited to get back home, but Ghana will always be a part of me, and It'll be strange not to step out on my balcony each morning and see the women setting up their fruit and bread stands, or not be able to hand off my dirty clothes to the any-work boys downstairs when I need a good cleaning job.

In any case, my snowbud in its final infusions tastes just as good as the first. Its liquor is yellow-green, and its taste subtle but relaxing and without any hint of astringency or bitterness. I like my balcony, and it's treated me well in my writing, reading and tea drinking. I've had a lot of time to think and grow on it, and it may be what i miss most about Ghana.

It's time to go now though, as I slurp the last bit of snowbud from my cup. My last final is at 3:30pm, then I'm off to Burkina Faso for a week, and then back to the good ol' USA. It'll be quite the culture shock I'm sure, but I can't wait.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Weekend

Sundays are alive with the dichotomy between the bustling, fancifully dressed church-goers, and the emptiness left by the absence of those students who travel home for the weekends. Nothing is open here on Sundays and as a result even less gets done than at the normal pace that Ghana functions. It's called "Ghanaian time" and being here on the weekend after traveling for so many makes me realize how efficient I am on the weekends. Spanning hundreds of kilometers and seeing West Africa is an easy trade off for sitting around my room avoiding the hellish heat of Accra.

The sun just passed it's peak and as it continues its job of bringing daylight to the rest of the world, it becomes much easier to move about campus. I attempt to go out and buy a wireless card for my computer to skype with Jaci, but just as Alex and my brunch at Coffee Q was stopped before it could start due to the Sunday closures, I was unsuccessful in my afternoon stroll. I came back to the Internet cafe downstairs from my room and luckily had enough signal to download 2 megabytes of lecture slides over a ten minute time period. It's still too hot to really do much else so i go up to my room in an attempt to study for my Interim Assessment on Tuesday.

It's not too necessary though, to study that is, since my teacher didn't show up to over half of the scheduled lectures. In class we'd wait, and each time Joe and I would leave earlier and earlier until the probability of having class dropped lower than that of torrential downpours during the middle of the day. That's just Ghana time i guess, and while at first I got frustrated by it, now I've gotten quite used to it. I actually think it's relaxed me quite a bit. By having to deal with this lack of organization, I think i've become less stressed and I hope it comes with me back to America. I like not stressing about finals, but then again exams back in America will be more challenging and I'm still not sure how my stress free lifestyle here will affect how I perform on them until I actually take them. I do however think that it'll be good for me to keep my newfound cool as best I can when I get back to America, because as someone wise once said, "worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cote d'Ivoire Part 2

The ride there was amazing because of the well built and maintained roads. It had been a while since I'd been on a bus that didn't have to slow down every ten minutes for potholes in the road. The "simple" investment of capital into infrastructure like nice roads made such a difference in the efficiency of the country and for the first time I was able to take a step back and realize that adequate infrastructure was seriously lacking back in Ghana.

The comfortable bus ride came to an end in a small station on the outskirts of the town, and after consulting the guide book we hailed a taxi and asked him to take us to the cheapest hotel. Yamasukro, the official capital of Cote d'Ivoire is a rare gem of West Africa in that with its modern amenities like smoothly paved six lane roads and unnecessary amount of street lights lining them, It didn't actually feel like I was in Africa. One of their presidents in the 80s straight up moved the capital from Abidjan to his small hometown, developed it, Built a giant $ 300 million basilica taller than the one in st. peters in the middle of nowhere and renamed it Yammasukro.

We arrived at our hotel off the back streets of some small housing communities just the way I liked it. The lobby was small and quaint and opened up into a beautifully small and unique courtyard with colorful flowers and well groomed bright green shrubbery. The rooms consisted of small huts with running water showers and a double bed and for the 4000 Siffa (8 dollar) price tag, seemed like a great deal. We put down our stuff, locked up our rooms, and walked down the street to flag a cab.

The Basilica rose triumphantly in the distance over everything else in the town as if to make sure the people could view their tax dollars at work anywhere, anytime they looked up. As we approached it, it was evident from the dense jungle in the immediate distance that a lot of trees had been cleared to make way for the monstrosity. It felt almost eerie walking up to the giant structure and as i approached I felt like i wasn't making much progress because of it's grandeur. The inside was amazingly beautiful, with over 40 giant stained glass windows including the dome of the Basilica itself. From the outside, the gardens were quite a shock in that no where in Ghana has gardens, but then again I guess that's what you get when you commission 1500 men for three years working tirelessly day and night.

The Basilica, and Yammasukro in general was such a strange site to me. It served as a prime example of the corruption that exists in this part of the world and the ability for a leader to take advantage his power. But then again, the capital was beautiful, the infrastructure present, the people just weren't. It's strange to drive down 6 lane highways in Yammasukro that have no people on them when contrasted with Accra's main two lane road that gets congested every afternoon in front of Campus. It is a different way to build a city, to establish roads and buildings before the people come, but who knows, maybe it'll turn out to be a great capital, i guess only time will tell.

After the tour, we walked back through the lobby before the exit and saw some beers in a refrigerator in the small cafe and decided to treat ourselves. I didn't necessarily even want a beer at 3:00 in the afternoon, but I figured I'd make the day a little more sacrilegious and we sat there and shot the shit as the cashier cleaned up her store. She wanted to close up soon after so we finished up and took a cab down to a lagoon side restaurant as the sun set and we ate a nice meal of spaghetti and pondered the strange world that is Yammasukro.

I awoke early at 6:00 am, showered, and began my journey back to Accra alone in order to make it in time for my interim assessment (IA) in coastal management. The journey back to Abidjan was easy on the smooth road and when I got there i quickly boarded what I would soon find out to be the worst bus yet. It took a few hours to leave the station, and once we got on the road we made so many pit stops that i soon lost count. I fell asleep soon enough and awoke at the Ghanaian border, sleepily removed my passport from my camera bag and put it back in my backpack on my seat. I crossed the border fairy easily after convincing the clueless order guard that my visa was legit by showing him my student ID. We crossed the border and all got back on the bus but were held up by a Liberian woman who had to get her passport stamped back at the Cote d'Ivoire checkpoint before crossing into Ghana. After waiting for a while I stepped off the bus to stretch and slink off into the jungle to relieve myself. I got back onto the bus and realized that my backpack was in a different place than I remember leaving. I opened it up and immediately my heart sank when I saw that my camera bag was gone. I made quite a scene to the driver and while everyone erupted in commotion i realized that there was no sign of the man who had been sitting next to me.

My problem i see now was that I was gently lulled into a false sense of security by the friendliness and hospitality of Ghanaians, and the walls I had brought down as I accepted my new environment should have been put immediately back up as soon as I was in a new, unfamiliar place. I was angry at myself most of all and couldn't really blame the slimy bastard who saw an opportunity and seized it. I fell asleep until the faint city lights of Accra welcomed me home and once back in my room, a nice cup of Bai mu Dan (White Peony white tea) comforted me as i studied through the night for my IA,

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cote d'Ivoire Part 1

We sat in our tro tro on the way to the capital of Abidjan, waiting for what seemed like forever for the soldiers who had our passports in hand to decide whether or not it was worth it to try and extort any money out of us. Our new friend Mustafa sat behind us, and told us to just sit back and not say anything. He had been to Ivory Coast many times and was returning with a woman and child for business. The officer gave one last glance at our passports, decided against it and let us continue on our journey.

The ride to the capital was lush and green with something I hadn't seen in a while: large scale agriculture. The Ivorians definitely seemed to have tamed the land with endless rows of pineapple bushes and major deforestation visible every so often but often hidden by trees close to the road. I fell asleep for a while but was awakened suddenly as we sped around a corner and just in time to see the passenger side mirror explode into thousands of pieces, some grazing Alex's face through the open window. We pulled over and Alex began his first hand recount of how the driver, using the hand break, sped around the corner and hit a woman with the side mirror. We all got out of the car and Mustafa began yelling in French at the punk kid driver, his earbuds still plugged into the side of his head. We quickly decided that this driver was pretty illegit so we thanked the fired up Mustafa and flagged down a cab for Abidjan.

As we approached the city, I realized that I hadn't seen a skyscraper in a very long time and that I was about to be in a proper city. We had the taxi drop us off at a hotel and after failing to persuade the hotel manager to let Alex, Joe, Stirling and I share one room, we reluctantly accepted two.

I hailed a taxi and made use of my petit francais to negotiate a price to "le plateau", the center of the city where the skyscrapers originated. On the way we stopped at an awesome market inside of what seemed like a kind or parking structure but made for individual shops to be stationed. Giant snails as big as my hand were being sold at one end, and various meats were being butchered on wooden blocks and displayed for sale. If we wanted, we could have bought anything from cow's kidney to a whole dog, but we weren't too hungry and decided to continue to le plateau.

After a satisfying cheeseburger and a few beers in the city center we decided to go back to the room and get some rest. We chilled in Joe and Stirling's room and watched the Bourne Supremacy in French while lethargically playing psoi until we could barely move. The day had wiped us out and it was time to rest for the next day's adventure.

We woke early and hoped into a taxi. Our first stop was for some French Pastries. I told the driver to take us to a patisserie and soon enough we were at a bustling little Lebanese-owned pastry and sweet shop. We all grabbed at least three pastries that brought me back to France with their chocolaty, buttery and cheesy centers and warm flakey outer covering. We finished our breakfast with a small pot of coffee and 4 small espresso cups. I was impressed with the presentation and the black coffee, with the addition of a sugar cube was surprisingly delicious.

We walked into a small market across the street that seemed to be owned by another Lebanese family. I liked the addition of another race thrown into the mix. I liked the French influence and culture that they brought in with the pastries and the market had a lot of middle eastern goodies like hummus that I hadn't seen in a while. They seemed to be living pretty comfortable lives and ran business quite well. After picking up some freshly baked pita bread, we got into a taxi and went to the bus station and quickly hopped on a bus to the capital of Yamassukro.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Night Run Adventure

As most of my friends will tell you, I like to climb things. I’m always on the lookout for sweet buildings that look challenging or interesting to climb. So tonight when I began my run out of Legon Hall Annex A and saw a small bus with a ladder down the back slowing down at a speed bump, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
I ran up to the back of the bus as it sped up over the “rubble strip” and jumped onto the bumper as I got a hold of the middle rung of the ladder. I hung out for a while on the ladder and then made my way up to the roof. I had to lie down fairly regularly, both to dodge low hanging branches and avoid the guard with a flashlight as we exited campus and swung onto the main road. We were picking up speed now and headlights from behind me were quickly making my position aware to everyone around.
When I realized that the bus was not going anywhere but further away from campus, I proceeded to climb back down the ladder and into the back left window, which was conveniently open. I went down the aisle of the empty bus and asked the guy, sitting shotgun where he was going and he said something that did not sound familiar. The driver then looked at me and yelled something about coming on the back of the bus so as he slowed down the bus I hopped out the window I had come and into the bustling city streets of Accra.
With headlights approaching rapidly, I quickly hopped the tall fenced median and jogged back in the direction of campus until I got to a stoplight that had just turned green. I hopped the median and then quickly into the back of a green pickup as it sped up from the traffic light. A woman in the car next to the truck tried to signal the driver, but I slunk down and got close to the cab so he couldn’t easily see me. Once the driver missed my turn off I hopped out at the next speed bump and began running in the direction I knew campus was.
Eventually the streets darkened and I reached a creek bed. Normally I wouldn’t be as cautious, but the distinct smell of feces wafting up from the darkness beneath me in Ghana meant that this was probably the local public shitting grounds. After carefully stepping across stones in the water and scaling a small cliff, I reached a nicer residential area and resumed running. I passed the “Hotel Obama” and I knew that I was close. The run back through campus felt triumphant though long and for good measure when I got back to the dorms I had to climb up the back railings to my fifth floor room. The cold bucket shower was so satisfying after a long adventure and I couldn’t help but think how sometimes getting a little lost is half the journey.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Northern Region

I just woke up but we're still not to Accra yet. As I come out of my sleep I can feel the dried vomit in the back of my throat and remember the excessive puking out the window that took place some time ago before I fell asleep. I think we're in Kumasi and it's 3:40 am. If we are in fact in Kumasi then we have about 4 hours from when we leave until we're back in Accra. Right now I'm watching a strange Ghanaian soap opera with bad camera angles, horrible sound and even worse acting but looking back on this weekend I'd definitely call it a success.

There's no purified water in Sonyon. Only coca-cola, cigarettes, assorted beers and liquor in small sachets are available at the local bar. Joe and I opted for cokes and sat across the table from each other while fifty local children surrounded us as we clinked glasses and commenced our drinking. After we had finished our warm beverages we asked the flock of kids to take us to the village chief.

We took off our shoes and entered the flat roofed mud hut representative of the Islamic architecture here in the north. We talked to the chief, a generous and aging man through a translator and made an offering to the village. The translator then toured us around Sonyon, introducing us to the village elders while the school of children continued to trail behind and then engulf us when we stopped. Joe and I took pictures as we explored the village and the kids got such a kick out of my camera’s LCD display on the back. They went wild when I would show them pictures I had just taken and I can only guess that this was the first time they had seen a digital camera. We first came to Sonyon because we heard that you could walk on the rooftops. This was true and while the solid roofs made great alternative pathways and you could enter and exit through holes in the roofs, its awesomeness was far surpassed by the friendliness of the people there.

The chief offered us a place to stay for the night but we sadly had to turn it down. The truck we hopped on to get here was leaving and tro tros didn’t come by this remote village too often. The guide book said the road was only 5 km but after walking for 20 minutes and then hopping on the back of the truck and riding it into Sonyon for 30 minutes we figured the guidebook was mistaken and that we should take any chance we could to get back to a town with available transport.

I didn't think they could fit any more, but they did... A lot more. I was in the back of a flatbed truck but it's not like the previous day’s ride through the swampy grasslands of Sonyon, it’s more like in the markets when you see a cage crammed full of chickens. My legs are opened at a slight angle with my backpack crammed in between and I have it easy. Other people are fighting for foot space as they stand on their tiptoes.

Some of the men packed onto the truck were hanging off the back so when the lack of movement became too much, I wriggled my way out of my seat and climbed to the top of the caged truck. Some Ghanaians made horrified, shocked sounds as hey normally do when I climb things, but by the time I reached the top I could hear them no more and where I was cramped and miserable just moments before, only two feet higher I found myself at peace as the truck slowly puttered along the red dirt road.

The town of Dorimon was rather unexciting but the house we stayed at that night had a great stone shower area about belly button height. The great thing about it was the clear night sky above. The small size and lack of lights in Dorimon allowed the stars’ brilliance to twinkle through. I felt one with nature as I gazed at the stars and looked around at the cornfields that surrounded me. The worn dirt walkway back to the room was comforting under my feet and made me feel like I was walking a path that had been walked by many generations before.

On our way back to Wa, I sat and looked at a boy for a while with no sort of reaction but as soon as I raised my eyebrows and softened my smile he smiled back at me as if we had communicated telepathically. That's a really cool thing about Ghana, there's a lot of communication that's done with subtle visual cues whether it's the eyebrow raise or the wink, its the small things that make a difference here. Behind the boy is the spidered glass of the front window of the bus. The boy has no seat, but neither do the four men sitting and standing by his side. I looked up from typing and this time gave the boy a wink. He smiled, nodded his head as did I and again it was like we had acknowledged each other's legitimacy and went back to our day.

Though very cramped the bus was surprisingly cool due to the torrential rains that visited the town of Dorimon the previous night. The red mud/clay roads were carved by and filled with rain and made the journey back to Wa a bumpy one. The good thing though is that the rains have left a cloud of protection and cooling, a very nice treat as compared to the previous day's blistering equatorial sun. We're lucky we got on the bus because Joe and I had gotten distracted by our newly acquired slingshots and were target practicing with the local kids on a tree down from the main intersection. We saw the bus coming from a distance and quickly packed our slingshots away and walked back towards town. The bus caught up to us and we hopped in.

Wa is a city with a great feel to it. It isn't a very well lit city considering it's size but it's okay because the streets are illuminated by the constant passing of motorbikes. Our STC bus was supposed to leave at 6:30pm for Accra and its 7:37 right now. If we leave before the hour we'll be on time by Ghanaian standards. A team of women are preparing fufu, a Ghanaian doughy food served with groundnut (peanut) soup, by beating it repeatedly with large wooden sticks to get it to the right consistency and watching this site feels almost comforting now. I've been eating absurd amounts of food this weekend and I have a slight inkling that I have worms. It's no big deal though, as soon as I get back to Accra Ill pick up some wormplex 400 and rid myself of those parasites. But for now I think I’ll just get on the bus and try to get some sleep. I’ve got a long night ahead of me…

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A day in The Life

I don’t expect there to be running water anymore, that’s a luxury I’ve simply learned to live without here in Ghana so when I make my way to the shower in the morning I make sure to bring my big blue bucket with me. After the final dump of cold water from big blue to rinse away the suds and shock my system one last time, I mosey on back to my room and plug in my cheap, pink Chinese made water boiler that I bought at the Bushcantine for three cedis.

I’m staying strong on my tea game and will soon need to stock up again. I decant my Lung Ching Chinese green tea from my teapot and walk out to my balcony. It’s a nice place to sip slowly and appreciate the subtle flavors and aromas while looking out into the possibilities of an early day. I look down from my fourth floor room to the street in front of my dorm at the women selling bread, cheese and coco; a mixture of ginger porridge and sugar that is a cheap and fairly popular breakfast among Ghanaians but I personally prefer oatmeal.

I’ve begun to forgo my dress shirt and slacks as the weather has gotten both more hot and humid, but today is my first day as a teacher’s aid at the local elementary school so I slip unwillingly into my trousers and a polo.

As I exit the front door of Legon Hall Annex A I stop and converse with the bread women in the little Twi that I know as they spread cheese onto my 20 peswas of bread. The walk to the primary school is short and on the way I look down at my expensive French loafers and see the accumulation of red soil gathering on the tips where the polish has worn off. I don't mind anymore and actually rather like the battle scars my fancy shoes are acquiring.

As I arrive to Mrs. Washington Nortey’s classroom the kindergarten age children are diligently writing the numbers one through one hundred in their math class work journals. I walk around the room helping those kids who are struggling until I get to a little girl named Chantelle who has not written anything and I ask her why. She point to the front cover of her journal and then to the boy sitting next to her. Apparently her mother wrote “math remedials” on the front of hers when it should read “math class work”.

Chantelle was upset when I told her that she should be fine if she turned it in like that but she told me that if she did “The teacher would beat me”. She was genuinely concerned so I tore off a piece of paper from the inside and glued it over “remedials” and wrote, “class work” in its place. Then a rounder, jolly boy came up and introduced himself as Fifi and proceeded to introduce me to all fifty children in the class. The accents of the children are so cute and I love the way they speak English here. I indulged him and began shaking tiny hands until Mrs. Nortey shouted for everyone to sit down and cross their arms. One boy sat swinging back and forth and Mrs. Nortey quickly made an example of him to show the class who was boss.

The topic of the day was nouns and the fidgety children had a great time naming everything they saw around the room. They were very energetic and eager to answer questions and I thought it was very cute. One girl had her hands inside her desk playing with something so Mrs. Nortey walked over to her and twisted her ear! I thought it as different from the way I was handled in Kindergarten but attributed it to being in a different country and culture. After the noun lecture was over I had to leave for class so I waved goodbye to the kids who excitedly waved back and I told Mrs. Nortey I’d be in later in the week.