Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm ghana miss Ghana

This will be my last post here from Africa! I officially board my plane back to the US tomorrow evening. I can't believe the time has finally come for me to leave but this past month has truly been wonderful.

Working with New Seed International was so different from my experience this semester, I think that's why I appreciate it so much. Ho is an absolutely beautiful city, and I would wake up each morning looking out to an almost jungle like scene. It rains about everyday so everything there is so green and lush. The work I've been doing just knocks me off my feet as well. I have to double check on reality now and then because it seems all so unreal. My time was split up either doing HIV/AIDS education programs, or doing home visits to New Seeds clients/patients.
For the HIV education programs, we would go to places where they sew and makes dresses or do hair and ask if we could come back and talk to the workers about HIV and AIDS. These are the places where most young girls work, and they are our main target group. It also helps that these shops are everywhere around town, so there is always plenty of people to go talk to. Almost all of them said yes to us coming back and I was surprised at how open they were. It's cool because young women are the ones most affected by the disease, and we're trying to nip it in the bud with education. So, the rest of the time we went back to these places, gave the talks and it was amazing. It was so great because we were just talking to these girls, they were asking questions, and I can only hope that they came out that much more empowered and knowledgeable about the disease and that their future is in their hands- which is so true. All in all I really enjoyed this aspect of it.

The other part, doing home visits to the clients of New Seed, was a bit more difficult because most of the people we go to visit are in stage 5 of the disease and now have AIDS. A lot of them were dying and it's just difficult to know that there isn't anything you can do, just pray for as little pain and as much happiness as they can have. Also, the way people are cared for others here sometimes is not the way I would (it's just not very personal) and is hard on the heart. But a good friend reminded me that yes this disease is huge, but God is even bigger and that's what we have to focus on. And in total it has been such a learning and growing time for me and I have loved every minute. I just feel so fortunate for being able to have come here in the first place, and that the people here have been so welcoming.

It's going to be bittersweet coming back home but I know that this is the time to come home. Of course I'll be sad but one of my sister's told me today that all good things have their time and all sad things have their time- so as this good things comes to an end, and I may be sad for a bit, it will soon be taken over by another good thing.

So here's to friends and family, no matter what they look like, or where they may be in the world. I am thankful once again for you all and hope I can see many of your beautiful faces soon. Take care and hope you are well.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ho, here I come :)

Sorry, no pics. Just the written word, haha.
This week has been the beginning to my time here in Ho. After all the people on my program left this past weekend, I was left to pack and regroup myself for this next leg. It was wonderful to get to spend some quality time with my family after havinghad to study so much the past couple weeks. Yes, school is finally over and I hated so much to see everybody go, but all in all my semester was incredible and unforgettable.
Before coming to Ho, a couple weeks ago I was informed that I would be living with another volunteer, and to my surprise it was one of my best friends growing up in Seattle, Ally. I couldn't believe and it has been one of the biggest blessings having her here. She flew in on Monday but one of her bags didn't make it so she was able to recooperate from the trip for a couple days and then we headed to Ho and Wednesday. It has been great to have her here not only just because I love her, but she is a breath of fresh air. She sees Ghana with fresh, admiring eyes, and has helped me snap out of some of things I get frustrated with here. So all in all, our first couple days here have been awesome.
We live with a couple and there 5 year old son and each have a bed. It is apartment style housing, or what they call 'flats'. We took a tro-tro here and were met by the man in charge, Livinus. He is so wonderful and we soon met all three of his adorable kids. He showed us around town and we went to the clinic of New Seed International, as well, where I'll be spending some of my time. Ho is a lot different from Legon/Accra because it is a medium sized city/town in surrounded by a gorgeous hillside on one side and flowing jungle'esque-type surroundings on the other. It is so beautiful here, a lot less city lights, and not as many people.
On Thursday, we went to the New Seed office, but then were able to attend this workshop/conference at the hospital dealing with HIV/AIDS in the media. It was a great way to get more information on HIV so can be more knowledgable, and it was also interesting to see the way Ghanians discuss and deal in regards to the disease. My mind was on sensory overload, let's just say. But then that evening, a volunteer who had been there for a couple weeks was leaving the next day so we had a little dinner gathering by a volunteer house near the clinic and met a lot of kids around the area, played, danced and ate. It was so much fun and again, everyone is just about as kinds and generous as can be. Today we were at the hospital, where New Seed hosts discussion groups for HIV and AIDS in the community, as well as gives out food supplements and antiretroviral treatments. We were able to sit in and listen to the discussion (at least the bit in English) and talk to some of the people. The rest of the day has been pretty relaxed, and Ally and I are just exploring the town and happened to the internet.
We are going to be able to attend a wedding tomorrow, of one of the doctors at the hospital, with Livinus and other staff tomorrow. I look forward to all that will hold and I here church on Sunday is a whole other ball game in itself. We shall see.
I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their summers. Take care.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Rest of Egypt...

Once again, sorry these are all jumbled!

Muhammed Ali's Mosque

The entrance area to Muhammed's Mosque

In side the his mosque

The new library of Alexander the Great

Side-street in Alexandria

The Mediterranean

One of the mosques in the citadel

Once again, the inside area of a mosque- so beautiful

Good ol' Sphinxy

Cairo city sunset

The Nile running through the city

St. George's Cathedral in Coptic Cairo

The Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo

Entrance to the 'Step' Pyramid

I couldn't help it :)

View from the highway of Giza


Due to lack of time, and probably boredom on the readers part, I am going to condense the last five days into one to the best of my ability.
Sunday (Day 3) was the day of pryamids! Kelsey and I tended to do our own thing without the touristy stuff, but seeing that transport to the pyramids is a little tricky we took our hostel up on a deal to have a tour of Memphis, Saqqara and Giza. Our guide's name was Hendt and she was so sweet. She took us first to Memphis then Saqqara and we ended at Giza. Seeing all the amazing structure and architectural feats that I have read and learned about for years was slightly surreal. I just couldn't believe that I was standing in front of something so massive, magnificent and historical. But the desert was a lot closer to the city than I imagined, and you can actually see three pyramids in Giza from the highway. There was a lot of tourist-happenings going on all around so it kind of took away from the moment, but it was incredible all the same. All in all, it was so wonderful and it still doesn't seem real that I was able to see them. It was funny, because after that great 'historical' experience we headed back to the hostel and right across the street was a McDonald's. Neither Kelsey nor I eat there back home, but lacking meat and potatoes in Ghana, it sounded like a delicacy. Who would have thunk? We then perused the streets and walk along the Nile. It was such a pretty time of day and nice to just walk in cool weather.
Monday, Kelsey, myself, and then a girl we had met the day before who was traveling by herself ventured to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. In the museum were a large portion of the artifacts retrieved from the tombs and surrounding areas in Egypt. This included the mask of Tutankhamen, mummies, statues, jewelry, pots and everything in between. All of Tutankhamen's artifacts were all I imagined and more. Once again, standing in front of artifacts and the bodies of so many people I had studied was unbelievable. The museum was so huge and full of so many things to see, it was almost overwhelming. Once we got our fill of Egyptian artifacts, we just grabbed some dinner and treated ourselves to the new Indiana Jones movie. The theater was beautiful, yet a little odd to be watching an American movie in Egypt, with Arabic subtitles.
Tuesday was probably one of my favorite days. Kelsey and I had bought train tickets to go for a day trip in Alexandria. The train ride was about 2 and a half hours and so, so, so much fun!! It was great to travel in a different way besides tro-tro, van, or plane. Being able to see the country side outside of the city was really neat, and to my surprise, when we got off the train, it was even a little cooler there. It then hit me that it was that way because Alexandria gets a nice see breeze because it sits on the Mediterranean Sea! I have never seen anything like it. The water was incredible and I could see have this was an attraction for travelers from afar a long time ago. Alexander knew what was up. The original library of Alexander the Great actually burnt down sometime ago, but they have created a brand new one with several interesting exhibits. We went and walked around in the library for a while, walked around the city and along the water and then had a wonderful dinner at a little restaurant. The city itself was much calmer than Cairo and I enjoyed the buildings and sights so much.
Wednesday, Kelsey and I went to the Citadel, which encompasses several mosques, including that of Muhammed, considered one of the last and greatest prophets in Muslim beliefs. Once again, the architecture in each place knocked me completely off my feet. I could have stayed there for hours on end just thinking, looking and looking some more. The mosques had been turned into a governmental place where there was still some worship held there, but mostly it was for tourism. Muhammed's tomb was even in the central part of his mosque. Everything there was just so astounding and incredible. After that, we had heard of this incredible mall that held everything you could imagine Starbucks, so we decided to check it out for kicks. Again, it was so crazy being in a place like this, because it was so westernized and I don't think Kelsey or I were really ready for that. But none the less, a cup of coffee in my hand has never tasted so good. We ate at a Mexican place and were happier than little clams after NOT eating rice! haha.

Then Thursday came along and it was our last day. Our flight left later in the afternoon so we went back to Khan-El-Khalili for some last minute meandering and ate at this fantastic pancake house. We got one that was kind of like a pizza and then another with honey and nuts...yum!! Then we got our stuff because we had to leave the hostel by a certain time and headed to the airport to wait out our remaining time. To our glorious surprise, we were able to have one last cup of coffee and even a Cinna-bon! wooo!! Our flight back was safe and even though Egypt was such a wonderful experience, I can't tell you how good it felt to be back in Ghana. Being away from Ghana for that time made me realize the things I love about it and that I will miss so much when I leave. I feel so comfortable here and there is nothing like coming home to a place where your family missed you too. I can't even think about leaving them now- they are all so wonderful and have truly become my family in my heart (as cheesy as that sounds).

But, sadly, Rachel left on Saturday (my roommate) as well as almost the majority of my program. This marks the last part of my journey here in Ghana. I leave for Ho tomorrow and will be there for four weeks. It's going to be a lot different from my time here in Legon, but I know it will be great all the same. I will probably not blog, or if I do not as much, while I'm there because of lack of internet situation, but who knows.

I miss everyone so much and I hope all is well wherever you may be. Take care to all.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Egypt- day 1 and 2

Sorry- these are all a little jumbled! :)This is a pretty weak shot, but it was from our hostel
In the mosque with our head coverings

The streets of Cairo- Talaat Harb
The Al-Ahazar Mosque
Inside the mosque- men studying the Koran
The final product of our henna
Our favorite restaurant!
Delicious tomari and lentil soup at Felfela's

Fishawi's Coffee house

The tourist side of Khan-El-Khalili
The oldest stall/business in the market...the Fez hats!!! too cool
Kelsey and I enjoying our Turkish coffee and hookah

My trip to Egypt was definitely the most unexpected part of my adventure here in Africa. My friend Kelsey and I decided to seize the carp during our break from school before exams and I am so glad we did! We were there for seven days and six nights and it was the perfect amount of time- not too much, not too little.

After a wonderful red-eye flight to Cairo, we arrived in Cairo Friday morning. It worked out great because the hostel we stayed at picked us up at the airport sans-cost so we weren’t completely confused straight out of the gate. We stayed at the Ramses II Hostel (catchy, huh?) and it was on Talaat Harb St. right in the heart of the city. It was a ten minutes walk from the Nile as well as the Egyptian Museum. We were on the 12th floor and you should have seen the view from the balcony! Pictures just don’t do it justice.

It was such a bizarre feeling being back in a city. I’m pretty sure my experience would have been completely different had I been coming from America going to Cairo. I was in awe of all the tall buildings, highways and central buzz going on all around me. I was just used to a different pace and feel it was a different kind of shock I was in, because I was pretty well prepared for the culture having been in Ghana for awhile now, but the city just took me aback. The language was also a different kind of barrier. I really enjoyed trying to speak Arabic but I think I was the only one because everyone else just looked at me like I was a big weirdo. I could have sworn I was saying everything correctly but apparently not J I also think I’ve rediscovered a passion for languages that I have forgotten- I really enjoy learning and speaking them (although some people rather me not, ha).

The weather in Egypt was INCREDIBLE and such a nice change from the humid, grueling heat of Ghana. There was a nice breeze and so wonderful. But we just settled in the first day, got our bearings, and there was this really cute movie theatre next to our hostel and so we ended up watching a movie (in an actual theatre!!) that night- I think it was ‘21’. It was funny how many English movies there were, and then they just added on subtitles.

The next day we went to this huge bazaar called Khan-El-Khalili. Little to our knowledge, there are three sections to this bazaar: the Egyptian market, the Turkish Market and the Tourist market, and our taxi dropped us at the Egyptian section. This means that this is where everything is produced and a lot of buyers buy things in bulk to sell elsewhere. We got this feeling soon as we continued to walk and saw no other outsiders. But then we were sent an angel in the form of a guy named Hamesh. He was a student at the University in Cairo and was studying English. So he pretty much took us around the Egyptian market, got us good deals and was our tour guide and friend for the day with out asking for a thing! It was so nice and refreshing to meet someone like that. Before we crossed over to the dark-tourist side, we were able to go into the Al-Hazar Mosque, which is the oldest in Cairo. It wasn’t too big, but it was just incredible but at the same time a little heart wrenching, to see this awesome place of worship. We wore head coverings and were able to walk around while the people inside were studying. It was almost completely all men, and Hamesh told us they were all studying the Koran. It was really interesting and the mosque itself was beautiful.

When we went to the tourist side, I’m so glad we did because we happened across this really neat coffee place called Fishawi’s and before that had a delicious falafel sandwich-yum! Fishawi’s is the oldest coffee house in Cairo and it was my first experience with Turkish coffee. I am no expert so I have no idea how they make it that way, but it’s A LOT thicker and there’s this sludge-remainder at the bottom. Despite my description it was delicious. We also had hookah while were sat there and then a lady came up and gave us both henna on our hands. Yes and yes!

After a little more meandering, we headed the direction of our hostel and grabbed some dinner at this really quaint restaurant named Felfela’s. I had lentil soup with bread and falafel, and Kelsey had this amazing dish called tomari. It had rice, noodles and this delicious read sauce. Everything tasted amazing and it was the perfect ending to a great day.

Sorry I’ve written a novel. In between my studies this week, I will be sure to write about the next couple days. Three more exams to go…wooo! Take care to all and I miss you!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Kumasi and Lake Bosomtwe

Everyone in our group stamped the cloth with an Adinkra symbol- this one is of hope

Handmade stamped cloths- so beautiful

A man weaving Kente

The Chief's Palace and his 'guardian' peacocks

These creatures have God's beauty and creativity written all over them

A view of Kumasi Central Market- the biggest in West Africa

This man was explaining all the meanings behind the designs of the Kente cloth

Lake Bosomtwe

Talking about how the dye for the cloth is made

Stamps for all the Adinkra symbols

Giving Kente weaving a try :)

Our hike to where we ate lunch on Lake Bosomtwe

Isabel, Lindsay and I on Lake Bosomtwe

Lake Bosomtwe

HELLO!! Sorry it has been so long!! Hopefully I'll make it up with a double-post this weekend :)
But all all has been going well and I can't believe that as of today, my program ends in two weeks! Of course that doesn't mean I'm going home but it does mean there are two countdowns to keep my eye on- once my semester here ends, then I'll have four weeks left until I head back to the good ol' US of A- I just moved the date up a couple of weeks. I'm definitely not itching to leave, but I can't help but miss my dear friends and family.

Last week marked the beginning of the University's Revision week. After that, then there is a three week period where finals take place. It's so different from back home because at Texas we only allot for not even a week and a half for finals, and there are only two 'dead days' for revision- I guess that's the Ghanian style. All my classes have ended well though and everything has just been quite the experience. I actually had my first final last week because the Fine Arts finals happen during revision week. It was for my drumming class and I think (hopefully) I did just fine- we shall see, though.

To catch up on the times of recent past, several weeks ago all of us on the program traveled to the second biggest city in Ghana called Kumasi. The trip was about 5 hours and it was one of the most beautiful drives I've ever seen. Rolling hills and mountains just covered with dense jungle and forest. The rainy season has come (at last!) so everything here is so much greener and fuller. The heavy rains bring brief, and I repeat BRIEF, relief from the heat but then we're usually confronted with muggy weather the next day- when in the tropics, I guess. But when we got to Kumasi, we visited the ex-palace of the chief of the Kumasi Region. He now lives next door in a not-so-humble abode. It was really interesting to learn more about the history of the region and in turn a lot about how Ghana came under colonial rule. The 'palace' yard area was filled with beautiful peacocks, randomly, but it was my first personal encounter ever with them- who knew it would be in Africa!
The next day we visited the village where Kente cloth supposedly originated from. Kente cloth is a uniquely woven cloth in which certain patterns have certain meanings. It was very cool to see it being done first hand, and I even got to try my hand of weaving, which was fun. We then went to a small village outside Kumasi where they make this certain type of dye to use for Adinkra symbols. There are about thirty different Adinkra symbols and they all have characteristics (such as strength, courage, humility etc.) associated with them. We each got to choose the stamps we wanted and put the symbols on the cloth ourselves- it was really neat.
After that our group drove to Lake Bosomtwe which is a crater lake, about an hour outside the city. It was so beautiful and big. Being able to look up and be surrounded by blue skies and green jungle is a pretty incredible feeling. We had lunch there and were able to relax and go on a short boat ride. The city of Kumasi itself was a nice change from the city of Accra and its surrounding areas, because it was much more spread out and not as congested every where we went. I take that statement back on only one occasion- before we left Kumasi, we went to the biggest market in West Africa. It probably stretched over 6 city blocks by 4 city blocks and looked like a sprawl of metal roofs from the top. It was pretty hectic so I just stuck my nose in for a second but chose to stay near the outskirts.

I haven't really done a lot of traveling else where since then but have enjoyed being a little more of a home body for a change- just some weekend jaunts here and there. One of my sisters, Hablanyo, her father died at the end of January but they just had his funeral the first weekend of May. Crazy- yes. But it was so interesting! The family decides on a certain design and cloth to be made, so everyone will be dressed in the same fabric. Funerary colors are usually black, brown or red, and this is exactly what it was. They decided on a fabric that was mostly black, with some red and brown and a picture of his face in varying sizes all over it. It was so interesting! So Rachel (my roomie) and I were invited to attend and bought some of the fabric and had it made into a dress. We looked so goofy compared to all of them but it's all good. Hablanyo's home village was about 2 and a half hours away, very near the Ghana-Togo border. Hablanyo is the 25th of 29 children and her father had 3 wives. Oddly enough, this is more normal than not. We arrived (there were about 10 from my family that went) and we sat and had some coffee then went over to the traditional ceremony was taking place with the Chief of the village there and it was quite the hoop-la. We then got to see the body, and I was prepared for it to be in a casket but he was placed in a chair like it was any ol' day. I'm not going to lie, was kind of eerie, and given that the body was almost 4 months dead, it was even weirder seeming. But oh well- the rest of the traditional ceremony went on for hours, but we went back to the house and there was food and music. After that we left around 4 and headed back to Legon. I didn't take my camera because I thought it would be rude, but now I really wish I had because it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

My family is doing wonderful and I love them so much. It's hard to think about leaving them, especially my sister Yawo who I've become close with. The kids too, I will miss a lot- even when they bug me a little, it's so wonderful because they've really become just like little sisters to me. Rachel is gone to Mole National Park for 10 days for her internship so I'll be all by my lonesome for awhile- but the time to myself is kind of nice all the same.

I had the awesome opportunity to go to Egypt for a week and just got back yesterday. It was incredible, but more to come on that later...
Cheers to all those back home and I miss you tons!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cape Coast etc.

Looking out from a window in Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle

One of the cells slaves would be kept in before departure

The outside of Elmina Castle

Cape Coast fisherman- I love these boats!

more fishermen...

Beautiful Amy and beautiful beach

This guy was trying to catch some dinner as we passed

I was so happy to be able to capture the sun like this- when it gets cloudy the sun pierces through the clouds in this perfect circle and it's such a different kind of beautiful

Another jumping picture- they're so fun!
l-r: Stevie, Amy, Tamu, me, Stevie's Dad

This was completely candid- as we were about to take the picture, I pointed out to Rachel that she had a mystery bag on her foot that had floated in from the water :)

My nua (sibling in Twi), Rachel and our dresses that we got from Auntie Grace

This is the view downward from the canopy walk

Stevie and Travis just walking in some trees

The canopy walk ladder aka what our life depended on, haha

More tree tops

This past weekend was yet again tons of fun. I went with my program to Cape Coast, Elmina Castle, and Kakum. We left Saturday morning again and came back on Sunday evening. Saturday's events started out going through Cape Coast and then going to Elmina Castle. Elmina castle is a historical landmark in Ghana because it started out as a trading post for the Portuguese and later became a slave trading post for the Dutch. It was interesting to visit because so often we learn about the slave trade in our American textbooks and the reality of it can only come so close. You feel certain strong emotions of course, but to be in a country where slaves came from and to standing in the place where fates were sealed and people's lives were bartered was a completely different feeling. It was also so ironic because the area surrounding the castle is so beautiful. Beaches stretch for miles, palm trees line them, yet there in the middle of it is a dark place. But I'm really glad I was able to learn more about the slave trade in general as well as experience first hand one of the places of origin.

After we visited the castle the mood was much lighter as we headed to where we were staying the night. Dinner wasn't going to be for several hours so some of us decided to wander down to the beach and walk into town. The beach was yet again, gorgeous, and it was a really nice evening. We ended up walking for about 2 hours and ended up at Cape Coast castle, but it was closed and getting dark so we couldn't go in. It surprised me how poor the town of Cape Coast is because the castles are one, if not the, top tourist stops in Ghana. Everyone was still so kind and it was a great end to the day- but we definitely took taxis back to the hotel :) The hotel had air conditioning and water pressure so I was definitely a happy camper.

On Sunday morning we headed to Kakum we were able to hike to a canopy walk in the forest. For some reason I really love heights so it was so much fun for me, but it was a stretch of enjoyment for others. The ladders were about 180 feet off the ground and you didn't even get the full effect of how high you were because the tree tops gave you a false sense of there being something there. But the views were incredible and I loved every bit of it.

I just registered for classes today and that was sort of bizarre to me. I guess because I feel slightly removed from the University of Texas world so it was weird to be registering for a school thousands of miles away, and simply to be thinking about what I will be doing in 4 months. I don't know if that makes sense but it was just kind of ironic, I guess, to where I am now. But anywho, all continues to go well. Classes are keepin' on and my internship continues to go wonderfully. This weekend I am going to visit the place where I will be working this summer and I'm really excited about that. It's about 2-3 hours away and I'm excited to get a better idea of what I'll be doing and meeting people too. wooo! I'm looking for to it.

But I hope everyone enjoys the weekend and know that I miss you!! Can you believe April is coming to an end? Because I can't. baahh. Take care to all!