LV in Ghana

My semester in Ghana

Top 10 things I love about Ghana March 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lvogler @ 8:37 pm

Things I love about Ghana:
1.    Cold showers – I never thought I would say that if given the choice I would choose a cold shower over a hot one (not that I have that choice here). However, when it is 102 degrees and you have to walk 30 minutes to get to any class, cold showers are much appreciated and looked forward to.

2.    Public transportation – of course it is nice to have your own car, but who can complain when you can get anywhere in the city for less than a dollar using the Tro-Tro system – where you cram into a big van full of people, crying babies, baskets of food, and sometimes animals, and hiss at the mate when you want to “alight” – or haggle for a taxi and then enjoy the interesting conversation which usually comes up with the driver.

3.    Rice – we probably eat rice at least once if not twice a day. Whether its fried, plain, jollof, with beans, with plantains, with chicken, with tomato stew, or with the spicy shitto sauce that Ghanaians love so much, I love rice.

4.    Slow internet – okay so maybe I don’t always love the unreliable internet as it makes it difficult to talk to family and friends or keep up with emails and my blog. But I will admit that it is refreshing to not dwindle my time away on Facebook or watching tv or movies online. It leaves more time for actual human interaction and other things like reading.

5.    Sachet waters – drinking water out of plastic pouches is super cheap and I’ll admit that it is fun as well. A 1.5 liter bottle of water here costs 1.20 GCH (about $1). But you can buy a bag of 30 x .5 liter sachet waters for the same price as the 1 bottle of water, pretty good deal. Also, when it is over 100 degrees, you appreciate water much more.

6.    Clean feet – this one may sound a little strange, but there is nothing more satisfying than getting in bed at night and seeing that your feet are clean (after a vigorous scrubbing of course). You can’t set foot outside without coming back and having your feet look like they have been painted a rusty red color (with lovely white lines from your sandals stenciled in). So when your feet are actually clean, it is a much appreciated sight.

7.    Power outages – it doesn’t happen too often and the longest it has ever lasted in our hostel is only a few hours. As soon as the lights go off you can hear a collective “Aweee” from everyone in the hostel. We usually just laugh it off and then have a fun time using our flashlights.

8.    Football (Soccer) – Watching football games with Ghanaians is one of the most exciting/loud things you could do here. I don’t think you could find a group of more dedicated and animated fans than those in Ghana. Watching games here is always an experience and usually includes expressive noises, chants, shouting, and lots of celebratory dancing.

9.    Laundry – it is incredibly satisfying to do a load of laundry by hand and have it hang dry in the sun. Last week I washed my stuffed panda bear (he was no longer any semblance of white) and it is now a very happy and clean white again.

10.    The market – yes, it smells awful sometimes, and we can’t walk two steps without people grabbing us to come to their stand or hissing at us to get our attention, but it is always an adventure. We have learned not to make eye contact, or stare at any one thing for two long or you get hassled even more. Although overwhelming, it is always fun to go to the big markets in Accra even if not to buy anything, but just for the experience.
Of course there are many other things that I love about Ghana, these are just the more ironic ones.

 

A Ghanaian Wedding March 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lvogler @ 1:01 pm

Sarah and I recently had the privilege of attending a Ghanaian wedding. It was the wedding of a cousin of our friend Jude, and it was held at the National Conference Center. Jude told Sarah and I that the wedding started at 10 am and therefore wanted us to meet him at the Circle Station at 10 (that pretty well sums up Ghanaian time for you). Sarah and I of course arrived there around 9:40 (we can’t seem to get out of the habit of American time). Jude was running a little late and didn’t arrive until 10:30, so Sarah and I waited under the bridge trying to avoid the sun. When Jude arrived, we grabbed a taxi to the National Conference Center and when we got there we were informed that the wedding actually started at 2 p.m. It wasn’t worth it to go back to campus so we walked around the area, grabbed some Fan Milk (frozen chocolate milk) and sat at the Independence Square for a while. We then headed down to the beach and spent an hour or two walking in the water and sitting in the sand (in our dress clothes). It was a nice time, but came at the cost of some lovely sunburns and awkward tan lines for Sarah and I. We then headed back to the Conference Center for the wedding which was outdoors. The wedding ceremony lasted about 2 hours and was actually quite similar to a typical American wedding, except slightly more animated and not as reserved. I think the main difference between marriage in Ghana and the U.S is the engagement process. In Ghana they have what is called “knocking” where the man goes to the woman’s family (he usually brings a gift) and asks to marry the daughter. He then is given a list of things to buy for the bride and her family (cloth, food, drinks, or sometimes animals). They then have an engagement ceremony or party, and then the wedding which can take place that very day or some weeks or months later. The reception was lovely, the food was great and of course it was plenty. By the time Sarah and I got back to school, it had been a 12 hour ordeal so we were exhausted, but really happy we got to have this experience.

 

Togo

Filed under: Uncategorized — lvogler @ 12:56 pm

Our exchange program group had a trip planned to go to Togo in March so that we could renew our visas for Ghana and get to experience another African country as well. My friend Sarah and I however, were invited to a wedding that weekend and we decided that was something we didn’t want to miss out on, so we planned our own trip to Togo. Now I know that traveling to another country (where hardly anyone speaks English) on a whim, with only one other girl probably is not going to win me the daughter-of-the-year award, but Sarah and I decided to go anyway. We left early on a Friday morning with just our backpacks, no hotel reservations, and no real plan. We first made our way down to the Tro-Tro stop near the University. Traffic was quite heavy that morning so we decided to walk the 2-3 miles to the next stop to see if we would have better luck there. We caught a Tro from that station to the 37 station, and one from there to Accra. When we got off at Accra we knew that we needed to find the Tudu station so that we could get a Tro to Aflao (the Ghana/Togo border). We had no idea where Tudu was, so we asked a man who was on our Tro how to get to Tudu so we could get a Tro to Aflao. He didn’t speak very much English but nodded and motioned for us to follow him. He led us across the busy street and into Makola market. I can’t begin to describe the chaos of the market; the sights, sounds, smells, dodging people and cars and chickens and dogs. We followed the man for about 30 minutes deep into the market and kept looking for a Tro station but didn’t see any. He abruptly stopped and said “here”, pointing to a coop that contained Guinea Fowls. We looked at him in total confusion and he said “a fowl” and pointed at the birds. Sarah and I just looked at each other realizing that we had been led 30 minutes deep into Makola market because this man thought we wanted to buy birds. I guess we needed to be more careful with our pronunciation of Aflao because it can apparently be easily mistaken for “a fowl”. So there we were, in the middle of this huge market with no idea how to get out let alone find the Tudu station. We were lucky enough to find a taxi in the midst of all the chaos and finally got to Tudu. We found a Tro going to Alfao and waited for almost an hour for it to fill up and leave. After a 4 hour hot and bumpy drive, we made it to the border. We walked 20 minutes back to a bank to try to exchange our money only to find out that the bank had no CFA (Togolese currency), so we had to exchange some of our money with the guys standing near the border with big wads of money and calculators. About 45 minutes and a few pages of paperwork later we were in Togo. In the commotion of trying to exchange the rest of our money and get a taxi we ended up getting robbed of about 50 U.S dollars. We finally made it to a hotel and were exhausted. We went for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant and shared an amazing chicken chawama and a cheeseburger. At the suggestion of some friends we went to Le Privelege – the biggest night club in West Africa – that evening. But before we danced, we had a second dinner of a delicious and spicy Regina pizza. The next morning we woke up early, had a nice French breakfast and had a small tour on the back of motorbikes. We rode right next to the ocean which was incredible. The beach was white and the water was a vibrant blue. There were kids playing football (soccer) on the beach, and fishermen pulling in boats and nets. It was an amazing way to end our short trip to Togo. We had a nice time in Togo, but found ourselves so happy to be back in Ghana. You can just feel the Ghanaian hospitality the second you cross the border. We plan to go back to Togo again sometime this semester, just probably with more people and a little more planning. Was it a little too spontaneous and daring? Maybe, but I’m glad that we did it, and it is something I will not ever forget.

 

Kumasi March 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lvogler @ 8:41 pm

In February we also took a trip to Kumasi, which is in the Ashante region of Ghana. It took us about 4 hours on an extremely bumpy road to get there. Our first day there we went to the palace of the Ashante King. The King doesn’t necessarily have political power per se, but is revered and has sway in politics I believe. We then went to the cultural center and got to do some shopping and see the works of some local artists. That night we stayed at the guest house at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and were quite excited to find that we had air-conditioned rooms, and warm showers. The next day we first went to another Kente village, this time there were many more vendors so it was quite overwhelming as we tried to walk around and shop. I bought 3 pieces of Kente to give as gifts, and ended up with a Kente table cloth given to me by a weaver named Eric who “claimed” me as his wife. A few of the other girls in our group ended up with “husbands” as well. After that we went to an Adinkra stamp village. They use tree bark and pound it to extract a liquid which they use to stamp pieces of cloth with different symbols. We were able to choose our own pieces of cloth and 3 different symbols and got to stamp them ourselves which was a neat experience. From the Adinkra stamp village we went to a wood-carving village. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were swarmed by men who wanted us to come to their shops first. The carvings were all so beautiful, but it was quite overwhelming trying to shop with guys grabbing you pulling you into their shops or following you with pieces that you may or may not have shown interest in. It is a completely different type of shopping experience here, it is much more involved with the bartering and ‘game-playing’ to get a good price. After the wood-carving village we got to walk around the market area of Kumasi to find some food for dinner, which was an adventure in itself. We returned to Accra the next day and were exhausted after a weekend of bargaining and shopping. 

 

Volta Region

Filed under: Uncategorized — lvogler @ 8:39 pm

Back in February, our ISEP group took a trip to the Volta Region of Ghana. We left on a Saturday morning and spent about 5 hours on the bus until we reached our first destination which was a monkey sanctuary. Each of us received a banana and we headed out into the forest. Our guide lead us making smooching sounds to attract the monkeys (it actually worked). After a few minutes we were surrounded by small monkeys that were not shy to come right up to us and eat the bananas right out of our hands. It was quite a unique experience. Talking to the guide we learned that we could come back for an overnight visit where we would be treated to a traditional meal, a performance by the people of the village, and more one-on-one time with the monkeys. We are definitely going to look into coming back later in the semester.

After the monkey sanctuary we rushed off to the Wli waterfalls. The drive to the falls was beautiful with many beautiful mountains and enormous trees (yes, some of the trees do actually look like they do in the Lion King). When we got there we hiked up a scenic yet twisted path for about 30 minutes to arrive at one of the most amazing, stunning sights I have ever seen. There stood before us the tallest waterfall in West Africa, and I cannot describe in words how amazing it was. The best part was that we actually got to get in the water and swim right under the falls. We could only stay for about 45 minutes because it was getting late, but I could have stayed there all day admiring God’s amazing creation. On our way back to the bus, we stopped in the village and got to do a little gift-shopping; I think it’s so great that we get to meet and talk to the actual people who make the things that we buy.

The next morning we visited a Kente weaving village and were shown how they do the weaving, meet some of the weavers, and buy some Kente cloth. The building we went into was crowded with looms that stretched from one side of the room to the other. The men sit at stations and use their hands and feet to do the weaving. It was amazing to see how quickly these men could weave, but even at their unbelievably fast pace it still takes them days to make just one strip of cloth.  After our visit to the Kente village, we headed back to Accra. On the way back we got to see baboons crossing the road, which was quite a bit more exciting than seeing deer or turkey cross the road.

 

Beacon House Orphanage February 12, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lvogler @ 10:14 am

One of the reasons I chose to study abroad in Ghana was because I knew that I wanted to go somewhere where I could really focus on service work. If it was up to me I would spend these 4 months doing nothing but volunteer work, and I have found a place that I really wish I could spend all of my time at. The Beacon House Orphanage is only a 15 minute cab ride and a 10 minute walk away from campus, and is home to about 50 children. This Friday, I went with 2 other girls in my program to set up our volunteer work at the orphanage. When we got there we were greeted by a sweet older woman called Grandma Julie. The woman who heads the orphanage was not there, so Grandma Julie said that she would show us around and try to answer any questions we had. Talking with her was so inspiring and amazing. She is from Washington state, but spends a few months each year at the orphanage. She has 17 grandchildren, many of them have been adopted (3 of them were adopted from the Beacon House Orphanage). She sponsors a young deaf girl in northern Ghana and 3 school boys in Ghana also. She is a retired college professor and has traveled all over the world volunteering and doing mission work. She almost brought us to tears as she spoke about the time she spent in Vietnam in a leper colony. She is such a beautiful person with such a big heart and it was so wonderful to just talk to her. The orphanage is in more of a residential neighborhood, many of the houses nearby are quite extravagant, but they all have cement walls surrounding their homes, with barbed wire or electric fences at the top. As she gave us the tour, Grandma Julie spoke about how they often have trouble getting water, and some of the needs of the orphanage. The children hardly get any protein in their diet at all as it is more expensive to buy chicken and fish than cabbage, and they really need more vitamins because of this. Some of the children there do have HIV/AIDS, but Grandma Julie said that she isn’t even sure which ones (she only knows a few for sure, but can’t say anything because of confidential reasons). She said that when she was in Ghana last year, there was a baby girl who had HIV/AIDS and passed away as a result. After she gave us the tour, we went on a walk with some of the children down to the miller (this man uses a machine to turn these things that look like beans into some type of fermented mixture).

As we walked down the dirt road, with dirty feet, dodging the chickens that scurried across the road, holding hands and laughing with these beautiful children, I couldn’t help but look at the big beautiful houses and wonder how those people can live right next to this orphanage that needs so much, but I guess that’s why they build the walls. Ignoring poverty and social injustice is so much easier and a lot more comfortable than being aware of it, because once you are aware of it you know that you have to do something about it. As happy and at peace as I have been here, I have never felt so guilty and uncomfortable for having so much. I’m learning that I need to make a lot of changes in my life, and I just pray that I never end up like the people with the walls around their houses – comfortably ignorant of what is going on right next door.

After we got back from the miller we each grabbed a few books and found a child who was not still napping and went out to the porch to read. One child turned into 2 children, which turned into 5 or 6 all vying for our attention and a spot on our laps. We sat and read and played with the children for a few hours, and it was so amazing. By the end of the day with children hanging all over us we didn’t want to leave. We made plans to go back on Monday to sign paperwork and set up our schedules. Afterwards I was completely exhausted, but it was such a wonderful kind of exhausted. I had such an amazing day, and I wish I could put into words how happy it made me. I feel so blessed to be able to spend time with these children. They have such life in them and so much love to give, you can just see it in their eyes.

 

Cape Coast

Filed under: Uncategorized — lvogler @ 8:43 am

On our second weekend here we took a trip to the Cape Coast region, which is about 3-4 hours west of Accra. After a long ride on bumpy, pot-hole ridden roads, with a lot of honking and passing (its funny to me that the only time Ghanaian’s seem to be in a rush is when they are driving), we arrived at the Elmina Caslte. The Caslte is a gorgeous, old white stone structure, set right on the beautiful shore next to a colorful, vibrant fishing village. It was once a military fort that was eventually won over by the British during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and was then used to hold and auction off slaves before they were sent to the America’s.  We had a tour that took us around the castle and down into the male and female slave dungeons, upstairs to the auction room, and finally out the “door of no return” where hundreds of thousands of people were pushed through, leaving their homes, families, and lives behind, to be packed onto ships and be subjected to disease, oppression, poverty, and injustice. When we went out the doors we had walked right into the fishing village bustling with fishermen bringing in their catches of the day, old men sewing large fishing nets, and children playing soccer. It was such a lively and beautiful area, but is in such juxtaposition to the travesties that happened there years ago. It was the most picturesque scene I have witnessed so far in Ghana, but is accompanied by such a haunting feeling. At the end of our tour, our guide pointed out 4 churches within 100 meters of the castle, as well as the home and office of a general which was located directly on top of the male slave dungeon. The fact that such religious institutions could have so ignorantly coexisted with such an awful place is unfathomable.

(But at the same time, how is that any different than us ignoring poverty, disease, and all of the human rights abuses that go on in our world? We condemn these atrocities in the past, but then we turn a blind eye to practices like human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Something about that doesn’t seem quite right.)

Touring the castle was quite a learning experience, and I don’t think it is fully possible to understand all that went on there, especially because it happened so long ago. But being there makes it more than just an event of the past; it is a physical representation of the immense harm that one man is capable of doing to another.

            That night we stayed at a Botel, which was situated on a crocodile pond, so in the morning we were able to see some crocodiles out in the water. We left for Kakum National Park in the morning, only about a 30 minute drive from the Botel. We hiked through the rainforest up to a canopy walk that consisted of 7 rope bridges that linked the tops of the trees. I can’t write too much about this, because it is one of those things that you have to experience for yourself. All I can say is that it was absolutely amazing, and the views were indescribably stunning. I’ll post some pictures, but they don’t do it justice.