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 :):):)

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Academics at the U of G

I only have two weeks of classes left!

If you remember, classes were very slllloooooowwwwww to get started, and there was a strike in March, meaning no classes for another week. While I'm excited for the close of the semester, I have to say I'm a little disappointed to see classes end...we were just starting to settle into a rhythm! 

Here's a little more about each of my classes.

 Twi, 5 person class
My Twi class is most similar to what I'm used to in the United States, it's on par with introductory language classes I have taken in the past. I think this is primarily because learning a language requires a pretty standard procedure and lots of repetition/practice. This is my only class with weekly homework assignments, quizzes, and tests. The professor is truly fantastic, my favorite here, without a doubt. He is quiet well known throughout Ghana and West Africa for his work with Akan Linguistics. He received his PhD in Norway, spent time at Ohio University, and also speaks Russian. All in all, he is a really impressive guy. In class, you can tell he really enjoys teaching, he has fun with it and with us. He's also a huge jokester, which I really appreciate. 

 Music of Southern Africa, 12 person class
I've found this class interesting because I knew next to nothing about music or Southern Africa at the start of the semester. For the same reason, I've also found it a bit hard follow. When I take notes, I star and circle a lot of things to look up later. The professor is pretty straight forward. He has switched the time of the class on several occasions and usually shows up at least a few minutes late. In my opinion, he has a bit of the "I'm the professor, you are the students" superiority complex. I've written two papers in this class, the first defining southern Africa as a geocultural region, and the second on the general musical traits among the Nguni and Sotho peoples.

 History of Ghana in the 19th and 20th Centuries, 100 person class
I have really enjoyed the topics we've covered in this class: abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, abolition of indigenous slave trade and slavery, the Asante and Fante Wars, Christian missionary activity, the history of formal education, the growth and spread of British influence, early nationalist activities, and the attainment of independence. I've had two professors for this class, the first started with abolition of slavery and the second picked up at nationalist activities. Classes under the first professor were PAINFUL, they consisted of her reading out loud from our handouts. This seemed like a huge waste of everybody's time. I really like the second professor, he doesn't use handouts and he doesn't read directly from his notes. Instead, he engages the class and uses the whiteboards. There have been no grades thus far. There was a midterm scheduled, but the first professor cancelled it because she didn't want to grade so many essays.

 Poverty and Rural Development, 100 person class
This class is really dry. It's the same each week, the professor reads word for word from his powerpoint. I really like all of the topics, in fact, this is probably the class in which I have the most interest, but it is so difficult to sit there and listen for TWO HOURS. We've looked at the UN Millennium Development Goals, rationale for rural development, explanatory models for rural poverty, the state's role in rural development, rural development in the context of education and health care, and more. The class is specific to Ghana, but also applies to many other areas in Africa and elsewhere in the world. No grades yet, so like History, my fate is with the final!

 Islam in Ghana, 40 person class
My professor is a Muslim, so he has some unique commentary on the wide reaching influence of Christianity here in Ghana. The beginning of the course focused on historical issues in the origin of Islam in Ghana. These lectures involved a lot of names/places that were very foreign to me. Fun fact, Islam in Ghana, unlike most religions, started inland and spread to the coast. Now, we are learning about contemporary issues in the Muslim community, things like Islam and national politics and Hajj operations in Ghana. I prefer these types of topics. There are only a few Muslims in the class, I feel horrible because the professor constantly picks on them and essentially implies they aren't "good" Muslims. The final is the only grade in the class.

I only have two major qualms with classes here, and they aren't related to the material or professors.

1) Two hour classes are horrible. There are numerous studies on attention span that show this is not an effective way to learn.

2) The final is make or break...hopefully my finals go well!

A few weeks ago, I registered for my Fall 2012 classes at VT. I'm almost a senior...not sure I'm ready for that!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Quiet Easter

As I have mentioned previously, Ghana is a very religious country. While Christianity is most prevalent, there are also many Ghanaian Muslims and African Traditionalists. In any case, things have been very quiet on campus since most students went home to be with their families for Easter/the long weekend (Friday and Monday = public holidays).

Accra is not a very quiet place, and from what I can tell, Ghanaians don't seem to sleep all that much. Noise only seems to truly subside from about 2:00 AM - 5:00 AM. This morning, however, I did not wake around 6 AM to the sounds of cars backfiring or people shouting.  Of the few people remaining on campus, most were in church services until about noon, so I was able to sleep until 11 AM!!!

Since we weren't able to take our trip this weekend, things have been relatively low key. On Saturday, Katie and I visited two local businesses to buy gifts to bring back home. The first, Trashy Bags, makes bags and gifts from plastic trash. Trash is a HUGE problem in Ghana, it's everywhere and there is no real system in place to dispose of it. The second, Global Mamas, is a non-profit and fair trade organization that helps Ghanaian women to become economically independent. I bought some great things and was really happy to support both Trashy Bags and Global Mamas. 

The majority of my weekend has been spent reading The Hunger Games series. I am on book number three, the last of the series. The plot is so outrageous that I can't seem to put them down. Also, the end of each book is conveniently a complete cliff hanger, so the suspense/my curiosity leave me no choice but to rush to the next book. Sidebar--I'm reading them on Katie's Nook and i'm loving it, I think I might want one. 

Anyway, I welcome the reading because it's keeping me occupied. I'm in great spirits. I miss my family & friends but I'm not really homesick. That being said, my dad emailed me a picture of the fam on a hike yesterday, and I felt a pang of sadness not being there. I miss you guys!

The only thing I really see being a problem during my last 45 days here is my increasing foodsickness. I'm reallllllyyyyyyyy starting to miss the quality and variety of food I have access to at home. I ask those of you eating in your kitchen at home, or Westend, or ABP, or Old Peking, or Chipotle, etc., to think of me :)

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


There are several abbreviations we turn to daily when things just don't go according to plan. The most commonly used is TIA: This is Africa; however, Kelly recently came up with WAWA: West Africa wins again.

Today, WAWA. 

Kelly, Katie, Avery and I had grand plans for the weekend, we were set to visit Togo and Benin, two countries to the east of Ghana.

Several uncontrollable events caused the downfall of our much anticipated trip.

1) Yesterday morning, Katie woke up with a fever, rash all over her body, headche, and the chills.

2) Katie had been waiting on her visa extension from immigration for quite some time. Luckily, she finally got her passport back around 6 PM last night. 

3) I woke up to loud knocks on my door around 1:30 AM this morning. It was Kelly, she had a fever and needed to go to the hospital. Earlier this week, Kelly was diagnosed with her third bacterial infection while in Ghana. Last night, in the wee hours of the morning, she was told she has tonsillitis as well. By 5 AM, we were rolling back into bed, neither of us ready to make a trip later today.

4) Katie went to bed around 8 PM last night, hoping a good night of sleep would be just what the doctor ordered. When I woke up for the second time today, around 8 AM, her rash, fever, and headache were all still present. So, we headed to a small medical clinic to get her checked out. The doctor did not seem too concerned, she prescribed some itch cream and told Katie to come back in if her symptoms did not subside by the weekend.

Aigh yigh yigh. These ladies are troopers.

All I can say is that I really, really, really, really, really, REALLY hope my immune system continues to hold up. 

I have to say that I am a little proud of myself. At home, I love a good plan...let's just say I'm not always great at "going with the flow." Here, you have to be flexible. You have to be okay throwing everything out the window and starting from scratch. 

I also have to say that many of the people in my program have hit a wall, they are in a bit of a rut and aren't so fond of Ghana at the moment. I feel like my trip to Italy/Hungary allowed me to skip right over that stage. While it wasn't easy to leave Thomas and many of the comforts of a more western world, my trip left me in a really happy place. Having taken a short break, I came back feeling really ready to make the absolute most of the next two months. My positive attitude has withstood two hospital visits in less than 12 hours, a nearly sleepless night, and the current prospect of a weekend full of nothing.

Life happens. It's all part of the experience. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

Good ole' Abe Lincoln said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

Well, Abe, I've made up my mind to be happy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Western Region

 I'm still exhausted/recovering, but I had a great weekend :) 

It didn't take long for me to get back in the thick of things here.  My flight from Rome landed around 9:00 PM on Monday night, I had classes Tuesday-Thursday, volunteered on Friday morning, and was off to the Western Region Friday afternoon.

On Friday, five of us (Kelly, Katie, Avery, Lisa, and I) took a bus from Accra to Takoradi, spent the night there, and headed to the small village of Butre the next morning. 

In Butre, we paid at the tourist centre (lol) to climb up to Fort Batenstein. The views from the fort were absolutely gorgeous. 

The three villages we wanted to visit, Butre, Busua, and Dixcove, were connected by two foot paths. It took about an hour to walk between Butre and Busua. 

The beaches of Busua were beautiful. 

This is one of my favorite pictures, I love photographing the Ghanaian sailboats.


We ate lunch at a little place right on the beach in Busua. My Ghana guidebook recommended this place for it's fiesta burrito. As we were all missing/craving Mexican food, we went for it. I'm not going to say this burrito was the highlight of my weekend, but it's up there. We watched the chef make the floor tortillas, just sayin'.

 Our next stop was Dixcove, the last and largest of the three villages. It only took us about 30 minutes to get there on the second foot path.

We spent the night at a lodge on the beach just outside of the village Akwidda. We didn't get more than an hour or so of sleep because our accommodations were not the greatest.  Our "dormitory" was a single room in a wooden loft structure with six thin mattresses placed on the floor, no fan, and a door that did not lock. A combination of heat and paranoia, for those sleeping next to the door (I was furthest from the door, hehe), kept us awake for the majority of the night. 

The following morning, at 6:30 AM, EEEEK, we went on a canoe trip through the mangrove swamps of the Ezile Estuary.

With school, I spend the majority of my time in Accra. Most of my favorite moments in Ghana, however, have been spent elsewhere. While I'm in Accra, it can be easy to forget how beautiful Ghana is. It amazes me that shanty towns overlook million dollar views. For me, the villages I saw this weekend rival the beauty of any five star beach resort.

This weekend might have been my favorite trip thus far. We packed a lot in and were veryyyyy tired come Sunday evening. I woke up at 6:00 AM Monday morning to volunteer, needless to say I was in bed early again last night.

Tomorrow marks seven weeks until my flight leaves Ghana. Now that I have crossed the halfway mark, time seems to be flying!