Quick Facts: Ghana was formed when the British colony of the Gold Coast and the Togoland trust territory merged together in 1957. It became the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence.
Population: 23,887,812 ranking 47th in the world
Religion: 68.8% Christian, all over shops are named after proverbs and Christian sayings such as: Gods Will Groceries or Peace be With You Bank. Too funny!
Language: 36.1% English so it was fairly easy to communicate. Other language were variations of Ewe a dialect unique to Ghana- One man offered to make me his wife and teach me to cook. When I explained that I was in school he said he could teach me Ewe also! What an offer!
So essentially I dedicated my entire week in Ghana to volunteering at Christ Village Orphanage. Most people in Ghana were not aware what the word orphan meant so it was better and less offensive to just call it Christ Village SCHOOL. Again, note the Christian reference. We were ready to leave super early but had to wait until the Ghanaian Government officials cleared the ship to disembark. Depending on what country you are in, this can be a rather lengthy process. It is basically up to these officials to decide what is considered clear. No surprise, these men would not clear the ship until they had a full breakfast and were offered lunch and dinner on board. So this is what they got. While we waited we went into town to exchange money. As we were walking down the 2mile long port road to find a taxi a large, uniformed man intercepted us. Where you go? he demanded. We explained the situation and he said simply I take you. So 3 of us piled into his car and he took us through town and walked us to the bank and the ATM free of charge asking for no money whatsoever. While everyone was at the ATM I saw a group of 5 kids hanging out on the curb. I walked over and sat down with them. We got to talking and one girl asked Coke please? You would like a coke? Yes madam! Yes! So I stood up and they grabbed my arms and led me down a back alley (yes, I know this sounds dumb on my part, but I felt safe) to meet their families and to a little outdoor café. I bought drinks for the kids and filled their bright colored mugs. One girl sat on my lap and the other held my hand as locals explained to me the kids like you very much, you give us much hope. Thank you. My friends were worried so I walked back toward the ATM. Alex handed out her standard Pencils for her Pencils of Promise non-profit that was actually started by as SAS guy a few years back.
From here we got back on the boat, we had finally been cleared so we picked up passports and headed to Accra. The ride was about 3 ½ hours long. From here we were met by Raymond, the founder of Christ Village School and driven to Hohoe a small village about 5 hours North of Accra. It was a loooong ride. We stopped for a dinner of rice, spicy tomato paste and some kind of meat I decided not to eat. As we drove at busy intersections people were bombarding our van with everything from fresh bread to plantains that we could buy through our windows. I tried some fried plantains---basically an unsweetened, green banana-pretty tasty! Similar to a potato chip.
We got to our hotel and were tucked in; 4 to one bed, 5 to another by a big African Gramma. She asked us what we would like in our omelets and made sure we were up on time. In the morning we ate outside at a fancy (fancy for Ghana that is) table and then were picked up by Raymond, his girlfriend and the ever-mysterious John. John not only stayed with us and ate with us for most of out time in Hohoe, he also introduced us to his family, took us out to OBAMA BAR (they LOVE Obama) and showed me the best place to get my hair done. He basically just made sure we were taken care of. He was obsessed with getting pictures with his new white friends. In fact, he made a point to get one photo with each of us and was sure to change up the background and pose. I had him shake my hand so we looked very official. Side note: No one knows who John was, or why he was with our group. We think now, he was just hanging out with white friends
Within 10 seconds of arriving to the orphanage I was holding a baby in my arms. We were briefed by Raymond in the dining hall. He explained that this project was his own, after he went to school his family hoped he would go to America or work in Europe but he wanted only to help his community. He is saddened by the gender inequalities in his country and sees the best solution to this problem in education. I really respected his dedication and explanation as to why he started the orphanage and was very impressed by the progress they were making. While we were visiting a woman from London, a representative from Jolly Phonics was at the school doing training with the teachers. Our job was basically to take over teaching and keeping an eye on the kids so the teachers could attend the meetings. I was one of two people who were assigned my very own class. Kindergarten II so my students were 5, 6, 7. WHAT A HANDFUL. Aunt Ruthie I dont know how you do it! These kids were bouncing off the walls. When I first came in it was obvious I would have to gain their respect. They were fascinated by me but at the same time overly excited to have visitors. Two older boys were playing tug-o-war with the smallest boy in the class. When I turned to them they dropped him on his face and there were inevitably tears. With this, another girl began crying and before I knew it 10+ kids were throwing themselves on the ground out fake crying. I was at a loss, so I too threw myself on the ground in a ball and began crying. Things got quiet very quickly. Everyone ran to the front of the room and began pulling me off the floor. Madam! Madam! It is OK. Do not be sad Madam White Girl! I could hardly contain my laughter.
From here I got everyone to at least be quiet and most of the kids were in their seats. Major progress. I took out a globe ball and began to toss it around. Where am I from? I inquired. GHANA!! No, no, no. I point to Asia. YES!!! No, no, no. America! I explained. OBAMA! They yelled back. Madam are you from Hollywood? Everyone seems to think Im from a) Hollywood or b) Manhattan. Wrong.
We proceeded with some sharing activities and games that I made up on the spot. Overall it was a successful day and I fell in love with these adorable kids one by one all day.
Recess lasted from pretty much after lunch until 3pm. The lunch was decent. Beans with spicy tomato paste (yet again) and some boiled yams on the side.
Before going back to the hotel we visited the monkey village. We fed the monkeys who are considered sacred. According to our guide they have never found one dead monkey, they live forever. Oh geez one jumped on my arm because I guess I was holding my banana too high. It was intense, but we got pictures.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner made with love from our African Gramma. Fried chicken, fried rice, peanut soup and the best spicy tomato paste yet. After this John picked us up and we walked down the dirt roads into town to go to some bars. It began raining. Slowly but surely our group plus some locals stepped out from the sheltered patio to dance to some African Zuk (music). It was the best thing ever. We were stomping in puddles and spinning around singing and just so happy. One of my top 10 moments so far.
The following day we worked again at the orphanage. Pretty similar to day 1 only my class was really well behaved today. I gave the kids the soccer ball from One Futbol World Project; a new non-profit that I am working with on the ship. Basically a man saw these kids in third world countries playing soccer with tin cans wrapped in twine and was very upset by it. He didnt see why these kids couldnt at least have a decent soccer ball. The problem, he found out, was that when balls were donated they would break within days because of the rough terrain the kids play on/amount they are used. So he developed this goal to engineer the worlds first indestructible soccer ball. Sting helped fund the project. It is based out of Napa Valley, California and the actual factory is an old CROCS factory, which is the same material these balls are made out of. It is a similar structure as TOMS Shoes where there is one ball donated for every ball that is purchased. We are helping distribute them on our trip because that is the one aspect of the company that is still a little shotty. The kids were OBSESSED. It was so funny to watch 30+ kids chase this ball around with extreme intensity. 5 kids ripped off their shirts and one kid even took off his pants. Basically every boy minus this one little cutie that was holding my hand took off. He said that he did not want to play soccer; he dreamed of being a surgeon ☺
I got really sick after lunch that day ☹ So when my group went to the waterfall hike I stayed back and got my hair done. It was super fun to hang out with the local women. One lady who I approached in the street to ask directions stayed with me the entire time to help out. Everyone from the village kept coming in and asking to see the pale one with the head of gold they wanted to touch my hair and help braid. Good stuff.
Ubuntu- the God in me sees the God in you
The energy of the people was second to none. I feel very uplifted and thankful for the chance to help these kids and again hope to eventually travel back and see the progress Raymond has made with his school. Bless you Raymond, African Gramma and all the kids at Christ Orphanage!
*More Morocco/Ghana photos to come soon! Miss ya'll!
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Quick Facts: Ghana was formed when the British colony of the Gold Coast and the Togoland trust territory merged together in 1957. It became the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence.
Monday, September 20, 2010
I was fortunate enough to link up with Sara, a native of Morocco who was adopted as a child by a Peace Corp volunteer and raised in America. That morning, Sara gave a comprehensive overview and customs briefing to the entire shipboard community. I’ve been encouraging her to try her hand in travel writing. Her presentation was rather captivating/humorous, as anyone who witnessed it would agree.
We disembarked at 0900 after breakfast on the ship and set out into the city of Casablanca. We decided to trek it rather than taking a taxi, hoping to get a better feel for the country. We walked probably two miles approaching a decadent mosque. We just happened to port on Ramadan. One might compare this day to Christmas in the US. If Muslim countries are strict, generally speaking, on Ramadan they outdo themselves. It was entertaining to see the get-ups that SAS girls threw together to make sure hair, shoulders and legs were covered while combating 90* weather. Toward the front of the mosque we found masses of locals, mainly filthy children, jumping into even filthier waves off the giant stonewalls. I struck up a conversation with a man watching the chaos and much to my surprise was able to communicate quite coherently. I could feel my years of French studies flowing back into my brain and somehow out of my mouth in response to his rapid-fire words. The primary language of Morocco is French, secondary Arabic and as you approach the Atlas Mountains, Berber- a language unique to the indigenous peoples or “gypsies” of North Africa. This makes for, in my opinion, an interesting mix of language.
As we circled the mosque, taking photos and admiring the intricately colored tiles I stepped aside to breathe for a second. Sitting on the stairs looking around I met eyes with an adorable I’d say 3-year-old boy. I smiled and spoke to him in simple French assuming he was likely fluent in Arabic. He ran to his fathers’ side, ducking behind him out of my view. His dad leaned down, and whispered something in his ear, pointing my way. The little guy bashfully shakes his head, no way! His dad whispered something to him again and this time, to my surprise, he comes running toward me. At this point I’m not entirely sure what to do so I just keep smiling, anticipating what might come next….he gets up on his tip toes and plants the sweeeeetest cold little kiss on my cheek! He runs back toward his dad, again, hiding behind him. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the most incredible feeling. I pushed my sunglasses down over my eyes and stared at the ground (tears, what tears?). Apparently a lot of my friends witnessed this special moment. Someone even happened to have their camera ready and captured the kiss ☺
We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking the city, waiting to break the Ramadan fast with locals at a authentic little restaurant. I mentioned to our server how much I loved the glass tea cups. At the end of the meal he approached me asking “blue or green?” green is my favorite color, when I told him this he proceeded to wrap up a cup and place it in my hands. I tried to offer him money but he refused. “No, no! Just remember me. It is a gift…un cadeaux!” he kept repeating. Of course, I will.
Top 10 DON’TS in MOROCCO
9. Eat the ice! You’ll get sick!
8. Forget to tell SAS where you will be on 9/11
7. Let bugs hang out in your ear
6. Put the scarves on your head! You’ll get lice!
5. Forget toilet paper (they wipe with their left hand)
4. Dance with you pashmina off in front of an all-men café
3. Shake hands in greeting with your left hand
2. Wear and Ibiza mank-top to a Berber village
1. Eat with your left hand
DAY TWO/THREE- Camel trek in the Sahara
Hopped a train to Marrakech, rode standard class to again maximize our time interacting with locals. Had my first encounter with Moroccan bathrooms. The train broke down twice, so the 4-hour ride took 6. Around hour 5 I broke down and staggered (the ride was very bumpy) toward the restroom. There were women crowding outside since there was no more room left to sit in the stuffy cabins. I walked in, nearly threw up and walked immediately back out. No toilet paper. Lucky for me I had packed some tissues in my backpack so I grabbed those and headed back making my way through the crowd. I tried to be as discreet as possible, but it was obvious the women were on to me. Hysterically laughing and pointing, making the biggest scene they shouted “Na, naah, naaaah! Not in Maroc! NOOOOT in Maroc!” I laughed and went in, ready to take on whatever lied ahead. Peeing on this moving train while managing to not make contact with anything around me was challenging to say the least.
We were traveling in white vans up narrow, winding mountain roads. Views of shantytowns and high altitudes shocked us at every turn. We quickly learned the concept of African time (or lack there of). “Go with the flow” takes on a whole new meaning. I assume this would have been okay with most of us, had it not been September 11th, had there not been threats of Qur’an burning in America and had our French/American drivers not switched to primarily Arabic hardly French speaking after dark (when we should have already arrived at our camp). It began raining and it seemed that we were driving straight into nowhereness. Needless to say, things good a little eerie. I tried to rationalize…”no worries guys, everyone registered the trip through Semester at Sea, they know to expect us…” Nope. Not one person in my van had informed the ship of where we were traveling. True feelings of worry didn’t set in until we turned off the main mountain road and onto…dirt? So now we are with an Arabic man, off-roading, in the middle of the High Atlas Mountains, on 9/11, nearly 5 hours off the time our itinerary showed us arriving, after dark and nobody has record of where we are “supposed” to be. Being one of two who could semi-communicate with our driver I tried to keep cool. I tried asking what road we were on? “LA RUE?” as simple as I could say it. Nope. This word meant nothing to him. Continue driving…toward…where? I wanted to call the ship. BlackBerry…way dead. One girl had her BlackBerry but no international plan. I took her battery, put it in my phone and called the ship. That eased my mind a little. Finally, about the time I get off the phone, we arrive at a place with a sign reading “TOUMBUCK TOO” sound familiar?
At this point I was somewhere between hysterically laughing and crying. I think we all were (minus the bro’s who just wanted to get on a camel and drink---idiots) I asked them to at least wait until we got to camp to start celebrating and to drink at their own discretion. After a 2hour trek into the pitch-black Sahara (minus the stars which were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen) we arrive at our camp. “Chez Mohammed”
We spent the night dining on a traditional 5-course meal, using our right hands as substitutes to silverware. After dinner and some Saharan Red Wine that I shared with my table, we began drumming. Daniel and I kicked things of with some impromptu beats, but we were soon moved to the front of camp where the Berber men began to play. The sound was all encompassing and the energy that consumed that camp made some tribal dance hard to resist.
The following morning, after sleeping under the stars we woke up at 5am (those who preferred to sleep-in were bombarded by drums) and saw for the first time the vast Sahara desert spreading for miles around us. The dunes were as high as mountains; so we set out to climb, roll down, sprint down and Sandboard over these sandy hills from all angles. After a few hours of frolicking we set back toward the main camp on camel back. Mid way through our trek we stopped once more in the middle of the Sahara for an impromptu dance/drum party. Success.
DAY FOUR/FIVE- Home stay in Elgara
After an exhausting 2 days in the Sahara, a part of me wanted to take its easy back on the ship. Sara had invited me to an overnight home stay with the family who housed her dad back in the 80’s while he was volunteering in the Peace Corps. After minimal contemplation, I made up my mind…how could I resist?
13 of us SAS girls set out in pre paid cabs to Elgara. After a Moroccan music filled cab-ride (standard, la musique s’il vous plait!) we arrived at a shabby looking apartment. As we walked inside ohhh’s and ahhh’s filled the echoing hallways. It was decorated like a small palace! The room we stayed in had bench seating around the entire perimeter, a large balcony overlooking the town, carved light fixtures and the charming hand painted tile from ceiling to floor. The family could not have been more welcoming. I felt like I was visiting an old friends or long lost relatives (minus the language barrier). They did speak a good amount of French so that was helpful. We, again, ate an incredible 5-course meal. The best lemon chicken with fresh green olives, garlic-dipping juices, some sort of sweet spaghetti with white raisins that we sprinkled powdered sugar on… MmMmmMmmm! Moroccan food is so fresh. We ended each meal with honeydew or “Moroccan Melon” is what I was told when I inquired.
After a wonderful dinner we walked a few blocks to a Hemmem. For those who don’t know, a Hemmem is a bathhouse that Moroccan women visit once/twice per week to cleanse themselves. As soon as we entered, a teenage girl who held my hand the whole way there began unfastening my bra and throwing my clothes all over the floor. She turned and did the same to my new friend Adora. We were hysterically laughing and pretty unsure of how to react. We went along with it as everyone else was doing pretty much the same. For the sacred nature of the Moroccan Hemmem I’ll spare you the details from here. In short, I had the most thorough shower via bucket water of my entire life. I’ve never felt so clean!
The following day we woke up to enjoy yet another extravagant breakfast. Moroccan Mint Tea, oh yes! After breakfast we ventured outside to see the town. I had slept fairly well, minus waking up to the call of prayer and an extended (from 4:30am-5:30am) reading of the Qur’an. It is sounds somewhere between creepy and soothing, but after about 15 minutes I was able to zone out and fall back asleep. In town, I managed to gather my typical following of kids. I started out with two little boys who I tossed a bouncy ball and ended with roughly 10 young boys and two of the sweetest girls tugging at my crazy-pants (you’ll understand when you see photos). I offered the girls my extra large bottle of water and they ran quickly away. Thinking I had offended them, I sat down on a bench to contemplate the interaction. Suddenly the two little dolls came running back toward me, holding hands open they offered to me a mound of sunflower seeds. In Morocco it is common practice to always return a gift with an equal or better gift. Rats. Not my intent. I sat on the bench enjoying sunflower seeds with the girls, one on my lap the other holding my hand. Freeze frame…happy moment.
A group of the girls I had traveled with started yelling my name. Apparently Yasseif, the son of the family we were staying with had taken it upon himself to track down the local Peace Corp volunteer and introduce her to me. Alex was her name. She was wearing an “As Tall as Lions” tee shirt and had a tattoo on her wrist reading Only Human. We went inside and shared tea, consumed in good conversation, new friends and funny coincidences. Overwhelmed, again, by the subtle beauty and surprises of Morocco. I love this country.
As you can probably tell, Morocco rocked my world. Between the language and kindness of those I encountered it stamped a permanent place on my heart. I’m sincere when I say I hope I may someday return to this wonderful place and send a little love back their way.
*Is that enough Emotion for you K-Ham?
Monday, September 13, 2010
Favorite Drink – limon cervesa (1/4 lemon fanta, ¾ beer)
Food – green olives, jammon (illegal in America, salted and dried- not cooked- ham)
Moment- Riding bikes through Barcelona as if we had any idea where we were going
Place- Sagradia Familia
Bar- Dow Jones, basically modeled after WallStreet. People bid on drinks and order by saying “I’ll take two shares of Sangria”
…The most popular drink is most expensive and the least can be bought for as low as .25 Every hour the market “crashes” and prices reset.
Scariest moment(s)- thinking I lost my BlackBerry to a pickpocket, when in actuality my roommate took it and forgot to tell me…Pro
bably a blessing in disguise because I experienced that feeling of loss and have been overly cautious since…Or Jay nearly getting jumped by an Armenian man who thought we had stolen his girlfriends purse. I watch helplessly at a bird’s eye view from a lifeguard tower above. Who would blame the hundreds of homeless men sleeping nearby? Just blame the Americans students…logical.
- Spain is ranked 12th largest in the world GDP/per capita; compared to America which is ranked 11th…in other words, its really nice.
- Dean David (the head dean of SAS) spent many years in Spain during his college years and was eventually knighted could he be any cooler?
- Everyday between 3-8pm Spaniards “siesta” and everything shuts down while they catch up on zzz’s. Plan accordingly, or just join in the napping like I did!
Our first port was Cadiz, Spain. We docked super early in the morning. I was wide eyed and awake with journal/camera in hand to document our first sight of land in nearly 10 days. To my pleasant surprise I found Desmond TuTu on the top deck getting his morning workout in (walking laps around the deck, periodically stopping to do toe raises) adoooorable.
We ventured out into Cadiz, everyone was super stoked to just have land back under their feet. It was hilarious watching people wobble around as we had all just recently adapted and got our “sea legs”. A lot of people including myself were land sick (who would have known?). The only cure was being near water where I could see and hear the crashing waves. I never imagined these two things would become such a comfort!
I spent what was most certainly one of the best days I can remember exploring Spain, stopping at markets, local pubs and street vendors. I quickly learned of my mild (others may argue unhealthy) obsession with international children. They are so fun to photograph. So I used Jay as my decoy until I got up the nerve to start talking to parents and gage if they would be comfortable with me snapping some shots of their little nuggets (nugget- international kids under the age of 5).
Later that day we ventured down to the beach. It was such a change of pace from the local markets we had experienced all day. Everyone was so mellow and eager to strike up conversation. It was my first time to put my feet into the Mediterranean Sea and one of the best views I’ve had since leaving Halifax. We walked along the 3 or so mile long shore collecting sea glass and “treasures”. Everyone makes fun of me because I love being a “gatherer” and discovering free souvenirs (for example broken pottery that I plan to tile when I get home) We had no intention of walking the entire beach but between good conversation and competitive sea glass hunting we ended up at the opposite end of the shore. We walked back the other way and decided to try some Tapas at a local place. The restaurant overlooked the beach and everyone seemed to have forgotten the concept of time. We ordered some calamari and some kind of fish dish, a bottle of water and two glasses of red wine. The wine (surprise, surprise) came right away. It wasn’t until two hours later (we were trying to refrain from being impatient Americans) that we decided to inquire about our tapas. They had entirely forgot. We were too happy to care. At this point a woman and man who had been mingling with locals took the stage and began to perform Flamenco (a traditional form of Spanish singing/dancing accompanied by guitar). We really were not anticipating this portion of the evening and overall it was quite entertaining. By the time we finished our wine, got our food, contained our laughter, drank free shots of Honey Rum (delicious as it sounds, no chaser needed) and paid we had probably spent close to 4 hours dining. This is nothing out of the ordinary for a Spanish meal and to my pleasant surprise turned out to be extremely refreshing.
Early the next morning a group of us woke up and snagged a cab to Jerez, the nearest airport was here. I, of course, ended up riding shotgun (I kinda have a thing for talking with locals) and by the end of the 45 minute ride was doing Flamenco claps to Spanish music on a cassette tape with our cab driver. Did I mention it is 5am?
The airport was like no airport you will ever experience in the states. No one ever asked to see a passport or even a photo-ID. Lots of kids actually walked onto the airplane drinking mimosas and beer. I bought my standard gigantic Toblerone chocolate bar and a bottle of Honey Rum for Barcelona (we’re on a budget here, so this sort of planning is important). As we took off on Vueling Airlines, there was music playing and everyone was so eager to get to Barce.
Oh Barcelona. What a city! It was everything and nothing I had imagined it would be at the same time. We found a hotel that was actually really nice for 30 Euros per person/per night. I had a view, free breakfast and my own bed, so no complaints. We enjoyed delicious tapas, sangria in the streets and the incredibly detailed architecture for the next 3 days. Barcelona is the type of city t
hat seems to have left no corners untouched by art or something to make it unique. The entire time in Spain, sleep was secondary. I mayyybe spent 4-6 hours sleeping or should I say seista’ing (because the times I did sleep was usually after a late lunch) for the whole 6 days. We checked out of our hotel and biked our backpacks to a friend, shout out to Tyler Wallace & roommates for being great hosts! Tyler is studying in Barce for the entire semester (gnarly, right?)…The grand finale to an amazing visit was our last night in the city. Rather than sleeping we closed down a Disco staying until 4:30am with some other SAS kids who we ran into that night. DJ Popcorn was spinning all night, the music was perfect and at one point they shot “popcorn cannons” into the air as 500+ kids stood idle with mouths wide open to catch a snack. It was epic. From here we swung by Tyler’s apartment to grab our stuff and took a taxi to the airport.;
True story: after being told in Jerez airport that my liquids would be no problem and I could carry
them on, no worries, they were confiscated in Barcelona. On our flight back when I was told “check these or deeestroy” by a security woman, it was quite liberating to snap back in Spanish, but of course I lost this battle (and close to $200 of Moroccan oil, face wash and lotion)
“When traveling there is no such thing as a bad experience, only a good story”
^Quickly becoming the motto of the trip
Live music in the streets of Cadiz (Cadish) Love Life.
MAKE YOUR OWN PATH.
Authentic Bull-fight in the streets...for free? Not so much. Love this homeless lady, somebody take my wallet.
Biking in Barce <3
Skylines from the plane en Barce
OH-IO...Where'd you go boys ? WE MISS YOU! <3 Erin and Amanda
yeahhhh...so we took our time, no biggie.
For YOU Madeline
I found your mentor... ;)
MOROCCO and MORE PHOTOS TO COME SOON, so much love to all!
*Something I have noticed and love about travel in groups is you can get on a train as 8 strangers and feel like a family by the end of day 2. The unfamiliar situations require everyone to be alert and supportive of one another. I’ve been very blessed to
be surrounded by a lot of lively, interesting students. I feel like I’m making new best friends every day, which is a phenomena I’ve never experienced. I’m learning quickly to keep an open mind and never judge. That funny looking quiet kid will probably be your new favorite person.
Sahara Desert, M<3ROCCO
Moroccan Out..."One love babygirl"