Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Only Real When Experienced

Yesterday, almost four weeks after the end of classes, I took my last two finals.

Today, I leave.

WOAH. Where did  the semester go? There were days when today felt years away, yet, here it is.

I have so much to say about this experience. I sit here wondering how I will answer the question, "How was Africa?"

I turn to the title of my friend Patrick's photo album of Ghana on facebook: "only real when experienced."

For now, I'll leave you with a quote:

"Adventure is a path. Real adventure
- self determined, self-motivated, often risky -
forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world.
The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it.
Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness.
In this way you will be compelled to grapple with
the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind -
and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both.
This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white."
-Mark Jenkins

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Fastforward one week and I (should) be sitting on the plane, minutes away from take off!

I had my first final yesterday at 7:30 AM. Now, I have three left: Saturday at 7:30 AM, Tuesday at 7:30 AM and Tuesday at 3:30 PM.

...I wish I were a morning person...

In other news, today was a big day.

1) Thomas is back from Rome!


2) Katie left today, making her the first in our program to go.

Byeeeeeeeeeeee, Katie!

After much rearranging and weighing, we think both of her bags were 50 pounds or under...she brought a few extra cedi to the airport in case she needed to give an employee a little somethin' to let an extra pound or two slide...oh, Ghana.

I miss her already.

I think the next week will be a little slow because Katie was one of my main partners in crime and I don't have much to do aside from study.

Here's to my last week in Africa :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Field Day at Mawuvios

Earlier this week, Kelly organized a field day for the kids at Mawuvs.

The kids were divided by age/ability into four groups and they competed in five events: short sprint, long sprint, long run, baseball throw, and long jump.

  group one, the youngest boys and my favorites :)

group 4, the oldest boys...they weren't messin' around #inittowinit

The games lasted about 3 hours. We started around 9 AM, but even then it was HOTTTTTT, so we took a water break and cooled down in shade for a while.

Even though the boys had been running around for hours in the hot sun (mostly without shoes on), they still had energy to climb all over me, hehe.

It was a fun day for all involved :)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Neither here nor there...

I have mixed emotions tonight.

I'm feeling a little anxious, I attribute part of that to my impending finals.

I will be the first to admit that I've had a countdown for my departure for some time now. I also have made a list of the food/meals I hope to inhale as soon as I'm back on American soil.

That being said, I can't help but feel there is still lots to be done here and so much more to learn!!!

Food for thought courtesy of Mr. Robert Frost:

"We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.

"The middle of the road is where the white line is - and that's the worst place to drive."

That's all for now, goodnight :)

Tricks of the Trade

I thought I would do a quick post giving you a few simple ways to be more Ghanaian.

1. Drink sachet water

Each sachet is 500 milliliters. The symbol on the bottom right corner signifies that the water quality has been approved by the Ghanaian government...or so they say (My friend Collin shared this with me...

You can buy a single sachet for about 6 U.S. cents, or a pack of 30 for about $1.10. They are sold everywhereeeee and they also end up everywhereeeee on the ground. I would say sachets account for about 70/80% of the trash in Ghana. It's hard to fix this problem, because Ghanaians don't recycle, and sachets provide a cheap and easy way to distribute safe drinking water.

2. Don't eat your orange in slices

Ghanaians peel the (green) skin off oranges, slice the top, and suck out the juice. I, however, have been known to get a little aggressive, often hacking my oranges, because I like to get some of the fruit in addition to the juice.

3. Babies on the back

If you've got a baby, this is the way to carry it. Strollers do no exist here.

I think it's pretty darn cute to see a baby snoozing back there, completely oblivious to the chaos all around them.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tribal Marks

When I first arrived in Ghana, I noticed many Ghanaians had marks on their faces. These marks looked like scars, but seemed too methodical, and occurred too frequently, to be accidental.

I soon found out they were tribal marks. Every tribe has their own unique style of mark which is used to identify different ethnic groups. I have seen single horizontal or vertical lines, but I have also seen faces that seem to have been marked on either side using a rake.

Seeing tribal marks for the first time was a blunt reminder that I was entering a whole new world, one with entirely different cultural practices. Now, I find myself comparing marks and trying to identify the tribe.

This is not a great picture, but you are able to see the horizontal mark on this community elder's right cheek. The marks are typically mirrored on both sides, so pretend you are looking at him straight on and can see both cheeks.

Today, tribal marks are not as popular among younger generations. Some find the practice barbaric and without purpose. Others stopped giving the marks to create a more unified Ghanaian, as opposed to ethnic, identity. However, many Ghanaians remain proud of their marks and want to continue the tradition by passing on the marks to their own children.

I have a feeling I won't see too many when I return to the U.S....

I don't always fully understand aspects of Ghanaian culture, but I am so thankful that I've had the opportunity to experience and learn about things that are completely foreign to me. Whether I prefer things here or elsewhere, whether I find them right or wrong, I'm seeing new things and I'm seeing them in a new way.

P.S. I leave two weeks from today.
P.P.S. I still haven't had my first final. I think I'll start studying this weekend, as my first is scheduled for Tuesday, May 15th.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Farewell Dinner

  Earlier this week, my program had its farewell dinner.

Farewell dinner? I don't leave until the 23rd! The three week final period only just started today; however, with differing final schedules, some people are able to leave early and others are trying to fit in a last trip or two.

The evening involved a full Ghanaian spread, drumming, and dancing.

Clockwise: Jollof rice, plain rice, red-red (fried plantains and bean stew), fried chicken, fried yam and palaver sauce, fried sweet potatoes.
                                                          Okra stew, the Ghanaian Gumbo

As you might have noticed, Ghanaian cuisine typically involves 1) carbs, carbs, and more carbs, 2) frying almost everything, and 3) palm oil. So, fear not, I will not be returning to the states a shadow of my former self.

I thought I'd introduce you to two Ghanaian beverages:

                    Palm Wine                                          and                                           Bissap

Palm wine, made from fermented sap, tastes pretty good, but the yeast-like smell is a bit of a turn off for me. I believe Bissap is made from dried hibiscus flowers. I don't really like it, but I'm also not a huge fan of ginger and the Ghanaian Bissap is heavy on the ginger.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

18 days until I leave, eeeeeek!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Northern Ghana

Well, we got on a bus in the wee hours of Friday morning and arrived at Mole National Park 16 hours later.

Needless to say, I was a little stir crazy by the time we arrived.

Transportation to and within the north is rough. Quiet literally...the roads are horrific. With this in mind, Katie, Kelly, and I made the decision to travel with a tour company that organizes trips for international students at the U of G. The vehicle and driver provided by the company for our trip were infinity better than anything we would have encountered traveling on our own.

Mole was beautiful.

Here are a few pictures taken from the Mole Hotel.

Yes, as I ate my breakfast I watched 7 elephants at the watering hole.

We ventured into the park to see more wildlife.
Water Buck

Red monkey, complete with BABY MONKEY!!!
Baby monkeys are in my top 3 cutest baby animals.

However, our main objective was to track down an African savanna elephant. 


We knew we were hot on the trail when we found large elephant poop...Everyone Poops. I'm referencing a childrens book if that is lost on you.


I took a minute to pose about ten feet away from my new friend. He was remarkably calm, just enjoying a few nibbles on some greenery.

Mole was hell in a hand basket to get to; however, I would deem it entirely worth it. Western African is not as well known for game/safaris as Eastern Africa, but I'd say we did pretty well!

Several areas in northern Ghana are home to Nile crocodiles, so we also went to two crocodile ponds while in Paga. I don't have any pictures because I couldn't tear my eyes away from the locals feeding live chickens to the crocs. I'll also say that it's pretty creepy and a little intimidating to see a huge crocodile emerge from the water and  slowly crawl toward you.

On our way out of Mole, we stopped in Larabanga. This village is known for its mud and thatch mosque, said to be the oldest in Ghana; however, there is some discrepancy about the actual date it was built. This mosque is the cover photo for the Lonely Planet West Africa guidebook. It's odd, an interesting site, but I was a little underwhelmed.

The Muslim influence is significantly more prevalent throughout the north. However, it is less so than neighboring Burkina Faso, where 60-70% of the population is Muslim.

Speaking of, check me out:

We took a quick jaunt into BK.

The French influence also grows as you come closer to another French speaking West African country. Unfortunately, I did not eat my weight in baguettes this trip.

I have traversed the entire length of Ghana, top to bottom! ...It only took 40+ hours in a bus over four days. Travel isn't always glamorous, but sometimes the most rewarding things are not.

After this trip, I have now visited 9/10 Ghanaian regions!!! WOOOOO!

My friends and I have really been able to get out and travel and see the diversity Ghana offers. Now, unfortunately, it is time to start thinking about finals...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Togo et Benin

Quel bon weekend!
(What a great weekend!)

We were able to reschedule our trip to Togo and Benin, two countries to the east of Ghana.

Both were part of the French colonial empire, the influence of which is still very apparent. One of the highlights of the weekend was being able to speak French!!! I was a little rusty, but a lot of things came back to me pretty easily. The people in both countries seemed friendlier than those in Ghana, but I attribute that partially to my ability to communicate effectively with them in a language other than English.

We left Accra for Lome, the capital of Togo, located just over the Ghanaian border. Unlike Accra, Lome utilizes its beach front location, you can actually tell the city is located on the water!

I snapped this during a walk on the beach around sunset.

Throughout the day, many Togolese can be found playing football (soccer) and running on the beach. The city beach was much cleaner than those found in Accra. In general, I think Lome is a bit cleaner than Accra. I really enjoyed it.

Our next stop was Cotonou, one of Benin's main cities.

Crossing the border from Togo to Benin, I had my first direct experience with bribery. After purchasing my visa and leaving immigration, the next stop was a health check. At this point, white people were supposed to present documentation showing proof of Yellow Fever vaccination. I had left this document in my hostel, thinking I wouldn't need it until I reentered the United States. I got nervous pretty quickly and wasn't sure if I would be allowed into the country. I spouted off in French, explaining I was a student in Accra and had forgotten my card, blah blah blah. The border official was not havin' it, he couldn't care less. I wasn't really sure what to do next, since he didn't seem to be taking pity on me nor appreciating the story I was weaving in French. I stood there for a few seconds, calculating a new approach, before I noticed what every African was doing. Instead of showing paperwork, they slipped the official some money and carried on their merry way. So, I did the same thing and was good to go. It all worked out, but boarder crossings are a bit nerve-wracking. We crossed 3 (2x each) in three days!

Benin is famous for voodoo. While 40% of the population is Christian and 25% Muslim, most people practice voodoo, whatever their religion. The northern people practice voodoo under the name of fetishism. In Cotonou, we visited le Grand Marche du Dantokpa. It was HUGE. We were particularly interested in the fetish section of the market. Here, we found fetish shrines and many, many dead animals. Throughout my time here, I've really tried to check any familiarities and preconceived notions at the door, but I couldn't help but feel bad for all the animals.Rows and rows of everything from monkey heads to iguanas.

The following day, we went to Ganvie, a stilt village home to 30,000 people. We took a boat from Cotonou 18 kilometers up the lagoon into Lake Nokoue.

Cotonou from our boat:

Le Marche from the river

 Entering Ganvie

The floating market

The village was beautiful. Fun fact, the stilts are made of ebony and have to be replaced every 20 years.

The whole experience was a bit awkward though. Most of the places I have visited aren't what I think of as typical tourist sites. Accra has several independence monuments, but otherwise, I am usually visiting someone's home or place of business. It's not like walking around the mall in Washington, D.C.. It seems strange to take pictures of their daily life. I think I'd feel like I were in a zoo on exhibit if the situation were reversed. Consequently, I don't always take as many pictures as I'd like, specifically of people.

Now for the food.

Street food of choice:
Baguette, avocado, onion, tomatoe, lemon juice, and a dash of salt

I think I had 5 of these in 3 days. Simple, but so fresh and delicious.

I could eat French bread all day.

Anddddddddd, since we were in a French sphere of influence, I couldn't pass up

a crepe
or pastries
Kelly and I split un Mont Blanc crepe featuring chocolate, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream. We also both got a pastry. Mine, the one on the right, was like a maple eclair/cream puff. It rivaled those I've had in Paris and elsewhere in France, if I closed my eyes I almostttttt thought I was on a different continent.

With the heat, humidity, and chaos of daily life, it can be easy to forget how incredible all of this is. I had a few moments this weekend when I couldn't help but stop and think, this is pretty damn cool. Four young women were able to successfully navigate three African countries on their own.

Updated list of countries I have visited:
Jamaica (x2)
France (x2)

Five additions in just over three months!

And, four/seven continents.

I've covered a lot of ground in two decades. I can't thank my family enough for affording me all these opportunities to travel.

Unfortunately, they've awakened a curiosity, so I hope I can keep this up in the next however many years.

I leave a month from today, May 23rd! Seems strange. I have a feeling this last month is going to fly by.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I got a package from Mumee today!!!

Chocolate and fruit snacks...she knows me too well. 

Mumee visited and sent me a package...she is making you all look bad. Haha, just kidding!

The package came at the right time, I needed a little pick me up. It was also perfect timing because the supply of sweets Mumee brought with her in March is starting to dwindle. Now, I'll make it until May 23rd!

Mumee is also incredible because she outsmarted the Ghanaian postal system. We receive packages that are under 4 pounds directly to our program office on campus. If your package is over 4 pounds, it is held in the central post office allllllll the way down town and you have to pay to pick it up. Downtown, you open your package in front of a post office employee, and your fee is determined by the contents of the package and the mood of the employee. People I know have gotten into verbal altercations with employees because the process is abused easily and things can get out of hand.


Monday, April 16, 2012

NeVer ForgeT

Life isn't fair.

There was nothing fair about 32 Hokies and Officer Crouse losing their lives.

With heavy hearts, our minds are often plagued by a simple question: Why?

Out of tragedy, however, comes a renewed sense of purpose.

"I ask each of you to take the time to be a Hokie this week. Appreciate life a little more, take in every moment around you, count your blessings, tell the people around you that you love them, slow down, remember what's truly important in life. And live for those 32 that do not have that chance anymore."

Life's too short.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Susan's Wedding

Yesterday, the assistant coordinator of my program got married! 

While in Kumasi, Katie, Kelly, and I bought traditional Ghanaian fabric to be made into dresses for the wedding. Susan took us to her seamstress. She told us that most seamstresses in Ghana are women who didn't go to university; however, her seamstress went to a four year university and some type of design/art school for an additional two years. For this reason, and because I wasn't quiet sure what style I wanted, I just let the seamstress do her thing. This is what she came up with:

 Pretty cool, eh?

 The Ghanaian symbols on the fabric signify supremacy and strength and humility.

Kelly, Katie, and I in our dresses! 

The wedding was very...Ghanaian. It started over 30 minutes late and lasted over two hours. 

 Susan and her dad walking down the aisle

The wedding was a beautiful blend of old and new. Both of Susan's parents were dressed in incredible Ghanaian kente cloth.

 The ceremony was more like a regular church service with elements of a wedding woven in. The focus seemed to be on Andy and Susan's relationship with God as opposed to each other

. In Ghana, there are still very defined roles for men and women. The ceremony placed special emphasis on the idea that the man is the head of the household and the woman is subservient.

 Mr. and Mrs. Andy Akpebu


Unfortunately, the cake did not taste as wonderful as it looked. It was really dense and tasted like a combination of carrot cake and corn bread. The icing was the consistency of a thick paste and didn't have much flavor. Ghanaians just don't seem to have dessert quiet right. Needless to say, I am going to take my wedding cake very seriously.

 Most importantly, I've never seen Susan so happy! It was so nice of her to include us in a very special day.

Susan's wedding has me eagerly waiting for two upcoming weddings. 

Alex and Nicole will be married in Blacksburg, VA in June 2013!!! I'm a bridesmaid, YAY!


Ashleigh, one of my best friends, recently got engaged and will start planning her wedding following her graduation from VT in May. Her fiancee, Alex, is about to finish tech school for the Air Force. He's been stationed in Virginia Beach, so Asheligh hopes to get a job in the area and settle there with him.

I know this is horribly cliche, but the idea of these two weddings nearly makes me bubble over with excitement :):):)