Monday, January 30, 2012

Kakum National Park

I forgot to include this in my Cape Coast post, but we also visited Kakum National Park.

The majority of southern Ghana, *excluding Accra, is tropical while the north is primarily savanna. I hope to visit Mole National Park in Northern Ghana at some point.

In Kakum, we went on a canopy walk. At times we were over 40 meters above the ground, the tallest trees can be up to 70 meters high. #EEK!

*Accra is a small strip of grassland savanna among the southern tropics.

Ghanaian Eats

I am always thinking about food and the next meal, so I thought I would give you a look at a few of the things I have been eating in the last few days.

 Beans and Gari (ground *cassava) 

Porridge made with *kenkey, sugar, milk, and ground nuts

Rice and bean curry

I am trying to be as adventurous as possible in terms of trying local dishes. Thus far, I think I have been quite successful! However, I must admit that two of my friends and I picked up a loaf of bread from the market and intend on having peanut butter sandwiches for lunch...

*Cassava is a root and major source of carbs in Ghana.
*Kenkey is fermented maize.  

Cape Coast and Cake

We ventured to Cape Coast this weekend.

Ghana is currently in the harmattan season, so it is dry and hazy here as the dust blows in from the Sahara. 

The grey day, rocky coast, and limpets reminded me a bit of our beloved Oregon Coast. In very exciting news, I was accepted into my top choice summer internship program! It is a month long program sponsored by the NSF in New York; I will be doing trauma research. The program ends June 29th, so I am hoping to have time to get out to Oregon! I can already taste the Grand Central...hehe. One of my friends in my program is from the Portland area, so I have had someone with whom I can share my love of Oregon.

The Cape Coast area is infamous for two slave castles, Cape and Elmina Castles. We had the opportunity to see the inside of Cape Castle, it was a harrowing sight and quite emotionally draining. The areas surrounding the castles, however, host very vibrant scenery.  

Two girls in my program had birthdays last week, so our program leaders surprised them (and us) with birthday CAKE (marble cake with a chocolate frosting)!!! The cake and frosting tasted different than their U.S. counterparts, the use of natural ingredients made both less sweet. Nonetheless, I was loving myself. I had two pieces and I would have had a third or fourth...or sixth if possible. 

Friday, January 27, 2012


The title of the post is supposed to evoke an image of me singing that song, “I got my own house, I got my own car”, etc... I apologize if that doesn't register with you.

Today marked a big day for my program friends and I. For our first week here, the program provided three meals each day. Now, we are on our own. We have access to a few very finicky hot plates, so we went to a store yesterday to stock up on some necessities like a pot, utensils, stirring spoon, sponges, and soap. I don't imagine we will do much more than make rice/pasta and grill vegetables when we cook for ourselves.

The program provides our first week of meals in part to insure we are eating nutritious, sanitary meals. It also helps us get a sense of what to eat, where to eat, and how much we should be paying.

Unfortunately, in spite of this, I am feeling a little sick today... #wompwomp. Really not so fun. I think my system is starting (or trying) to adapt to the different bacteria here and what not. I am hoping some medicine, lots of water, and a good night of sleep will help.

Here is what I manged on my own...

Breakfast: two of my friends and I bought the makings for a fruit salad

Pineapple, mango, and apple. The pineapple and mango were incredible; I could easily eat an entire pineapple in one sitting. I also must add that I cut a pineapple like a pro.

Lunch: a grilled plantain and ground nuts

Dinner: fried rice

I'm not a particularly picky eater, but I love food and I've had the opportunity to enjoy some truly amazing meals throughout my life. While there are some great dishes here, my day to day meals will be pretty basic. I think it is going to be a challenge for me to eat this way for four months. Variety is definitely something I take for granted.

In other news, I did my first load of laundry today, washing everything by hand. I manged to string my clothes line up, although it only hangs about two feet off the ground. My clothes aren't quite dry, and I'm not sure how much cleaner I actually made them. That being said, I feel virtuous.

My program is venturing to the Cape Coast for the weekend.

P.S. Today is Thomas' 21st birthday, send some love and birthday wishes his way!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Officially, Operation Tro-tro

If it weren't already, now it's official.

Aside from misspelling my middle name, this is one of my better ID cards. You are no longer allowed to smile for your VA license picture, so I ended up looking like a convicted felon on that one.

Following registration and lunch, we set off on a major adventure. We visited a grocery store and two very traditional markets.

Eighty percent (or more) of the adventure, however, was getting to and from those places. We had our first experience with Tro-tros, a preferred mode of transportation for many Ghanaians. Based on our first encounter, tro-tros = hot, crowded, and slightly questionable minibuses. The good news is they are inexpensive and usually get you from point A to point B.

I say usually for two primary reasons. First, tro-tros are typically unmarked. You know where a tro-tro is going based on a hand signal the driver makes out of the window as they approach a stop. (At this point, I know three signals. Of those three signals, I only know where two of the final destinations are actually located.) Second, Accra is home to a lot of traffic and many roads that are in poor condition. At their discretion, many tro-tro drivers choose alternative routes based on traffic or the condition of the road. This means that I must 1) know where I want to go, 2) know the corresponding signal for that location or a stop on that route, 3) locate a tro-tro with the correct signal that has room for me (and however many people with whom I am traveling), AND 4) hope the driver does not decide to take a short/long cut that skips my stop. Additionally, these four things must happen quickly, as tro-tros only stop long enough for someone to get on or get off. You snooze, you lose.

I hope to become confident in my tro-tro “rider-ship” by March when Mumee visits. Game on, tro-tros.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Desert for Dessert

I have yet to follow a Ghanaian meal with dessert. For anyone who knows me this is HUGE. I am surprised I am still functioning. Luckily, Thomas had given me a bag of gummy lifesavers (...that lasted me through the first night, hehe).

The closet I have come thus far is the Ghanaian “pancake.” These pancakes are like very thick crepes with a honey glaze on top. I have been alternating breakfast each morning between a pancake and a fried egg and beans. I get more mileage out of the fried egg and beans, but I have to get my sugar in while I can!

While I am not eating dessert, I am getting plenty of sugar elsewhere. It is very hot/humid here, and cold water is not always on hand, thus I have been drinking a bit of soda. Blackcurrant Fanta is quickly becoming the drink of choice among my fellow program members and I. I say fellow program members because we are in the awkward transitioning to friends stage. We have graduated from the “What is your major?” conversation, but we are still tip-toeing around a bit. Politics came up at our dinner table tonight, I could feel the heat rising. We have several political science and philosophy majors in our group, so someone is always arguing or “debating” a particular point. Above all, it is just really nice to be getting to know people better!

We went to a Ghanaian pub today to watch Ghana take on Botswana in the Africa Cup. Great atmosphere! Ghana won, 1-0. The Black Stars play in Accra, so we are hoping to get to a game when the Cup is over.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The University of Ghana

 This morning was our first orientation session through the University. Following the orientation a Ghanaian student took three of my fellow ISEP students and I on a campus tour. The campus is HUGE. I thought Virginia Tech was big...I think it is going to take me 30 minutes to get to class! I might allow even more time to try and avoid showing up sweaty, but I think that is inevitable. 

The U of G Registry

The Registry is atop a very large hill, you can see it at the very top of the map within the oval. ISH (the International Students Hostel) is not pictured on this map, we are way out in the boonies.

We walked around for a few hours. By the end I was a little sunburnt (Yes, I had applied sunscreen) and tired, but I felt like I was developing a sense of direction around campus. I will have the chance to test myself and see if I retained any information because I need to visit the department of each class I wish to take.

In other news, I am feeling significantly better today. The addition of a totally different environment and the absence of sleep and loved ones made for a slightly discouraged Emma. Alex and Thomas were the lucky ones to talk to me during this phase, many thanks to both of you for helping me through it.

I have a significantly more positive outlook today. I am feeling more comfortable and having more fun here by the minute. I have the tendency to be a perfectionist, and I like to excel at what I do. I briefly lost sight of why I came here. I didn't want to transplant my environment from home. I wanted something totally different, something with which I had no experience. It was unfair to expect perfection from myself at this time. Four months from now there will still be many things I don't know about Accra, Ghana, and Africa. However, all I can do while I am here is open myself up to experience as much as possible.

While I know my “Type-A” personality will bear it's somewhat ugly head again in the days to come, I am excited to work on embracing the organized chaos I have encountered here thus far.

A Paraphrased Two Days

We spent our first full day exploring Accra. We went to the mausoleum of the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. He is a big deal in Africa. In fact, in Africa he is actually more celebrated than Nelson Mandela.

The following day (yesterday/Sunday) we went to Labadi Beach. I didn't take many pictures because it was extremely hazy. While Accra is on the coast, other areas of Ghana are more well known for their beaches. Apparently Labadi Beach is the Ocean City of Ghana...I hope a few people understand that reference.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I'm hereeeeeeeeeeee!

Mom, Dad, and Thomas escorted me to the airport. My flight left IAD at 10:48 PM, and I landed in Accra at 1:50 PM local time. I watched Moneyball with Brad Pitt and then slept uncomfortably on and off for the remainder of the flight. Aside from the seemingly endless tossing and turning on the plane, it seemed like the almost ten hour flight flew by...flew see what I did there? Hehe.

There were several other people from my program on my flight, but I didn't hook up with them until arrival. There are 13 people in my program, but many other international students are here as well.

By the time we all found our luggage, loaded it onto the top of a van, and got to the University of Ghana, it was almost 4:00 PM. After a few hours of unpacking it was time for my first meal in Ghana (see above). I enjoyed some type of fish, chicken, rice, a cabbage salad and fried plantains. 

By 8:00 PM almost all of us gave into our exhaustion and called it a night. I slept soundly until about 11:00 PM.

I spent most of the first day tired and sweaty, but I made it!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

T-Minus One Hour

One hour until we depart for the airport, the bags are packed and ready to go!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Beginning of the End

Packing has commenced! 

After a trip with my mom to Target, TJ Maxx, & REI, I have acquired almost everything I need for my trip...or at least almost everything I have anticipated needing. 

Now I have four days to put the things pictured above (as well towels, sheets, and a few other things that have not yet made it to the packing grounds in my room) into two duffle bags.


Current weather conditions in Oakton, VA at 12:48 PM: Sunny and 30 degrees F
Current weather conditions in Accra (5 hours ahead): Sunny and 91 degrees F

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ten Days...

I chose to use a picture of one of my favorite baby animals (rather than an embarrassing picture of myself) to describe how I feel knowing I will be heading to the airport at this time in 10 days!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christmas for one Traveling to Africa

Some months ago, I had my eye set on a $135 dollar watch. I assumed this would be the big ticket item on my Christmas list. However, that thought became rather silly when my plans finally gelled and I finalized my semester abroad. My upcoming trip (and I would also like to credit mature, adult thinking) yielded a short, practical Christmas list.

Here are some of the practical, fun, and...interesting things I unwrapped on Christmas morning.

 Thomas gave me a Canon PowerShot digital camera, EEK!!!

Mine is all black (very hip and happening), so the box does not show my exact camera. I was so surprised and obviously very excited as a series of unfortunate events lead to the demise of my previous digital camera and I will want to take pictures whilst I am away. THANK YOU, THOMAS!!!


I have wanted a pair of these bad boys for quite some time. It is a little ironic that I will be traipsing around Africa in TOMS, but they are easy to pack, fairly durable, and good for hotter weather (...not to mention they are in my favorite color family, I love a good olive green).

A head lamp and laundry soap

 I have heard the power frequently cuts out, so I think a head lamp will come in handy. I am trying to pack lightly and I will be doing my own laundry, so the travel size laundry soap (fine print: that container holds 50 sheets!) was a clever gift that will be put to very good use.

Hand sanitizer, contraption that allows women to pee standing up, and moist towelettes for all of my bathroom needs

Hand sanitizer is self explanatory, the next item is not. Warning: It's about to get graphic and uncomfortable here folks. To quote the website the pink item in the picture is "a female urination device (sometimes called a FUD) that allows you to urinate while standing up. It's neat. It's discreet. It's hygienic." I encourage you to check out the website,, it is both educational and disturbing. Above all, I know that you all look forward to the blog post that chronicles my first experience using the contraption. 

It was another fantastic Christmas with just a few more laughs than usual.