Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Buduburam update


Unless you've been to the murky depths of South Carolina when the electricity shuts off or there isn't a fan for miles, you've never experienced the tropics. If you have, you'll know that it isn't a good idea to do much walking, talking, or thinking, and it certainly isn't good to wear uncomfortably sticky clothes.

Anyway, the point is that I have been at the Liberian refugee camp for the past few days, and I am starting to go a little crazy. However, I spent 2 hours at the internet cafe today and regained some of my sanity. It's bizarre, how important contact with the "outside world" is for my happiness. That alone makes me wonder how well I will be able to live in a foreign country. I definitely can no longer see myself living in the bush for my whole life... electricity is a fairly important comodity to my "essentials" (which include my cell phone phone, iPod, and fan). Of course, I can get by without them. I have definitely learned over the course of this semester that I do not need as many things to get by (like hot water, air conditioning, a personal computer, etc).

Anyway, these are semantics. Let me tell you about life at Buduburam.

People wake up very early, with the sun. Extended famiiles usually live close to each other and they all eat at one central house. For example, at the house where I am staying , 3 to 5 people sleep there (2 are nephews whose parents are dead. They rotate houses), but 9-11 people eat there. This saves the cost of stoves, cooking equipment, etc, and also allows them to share labor and money without much fuss. People are employed doing small trading and selling. Many sell bagged water. Others go to Accra to buy used clothes and sell them at the camp. It is very hard for a Liberian to get a work permit in Ghana, so many people depend on relatives outside of Africa to send money.

The English that they speak here is very different. It is a kind of pidgen which blends words and skips some altogether. Often, I cannot understand older people the first time that they say a phrase, but younger people are easier to understand.

The electricity is out because the transformer broke, and UNHCR has phased out its support, so they have to find another way to fix it. They hope it will be back on my Christmas.

I have 2 more minutes on the computer, so I have to go. I'll try to post pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

15 days left in Ghana!

It seems like these posts keep getting fewer and further between. The time is drawing nigh, though, and soon I will be at home, enjoying Christmas in Virginia. That seems strange… that Christmas is almost here. I am used to cold and late-fall frosts as precursors to Christmas. Instead, I have soft red dust underneath my feet and tropical heat at the end of November.
Things are happening so fast here that it’s hard to keep up. My parents came to visit me last week, and we had an amazing time. We went to Kakum National Forest and walked on a tree-to-tree rope bridge across the rainforest canopy, we stayed at a hotel that had crocodiles in a pond underneath the restaurant, we went to Green Turtle Lodge and basked on the sunny beach, and we saw a rural school, where the kids were practicing balancing sand on their heads for gym class! I think that they enjoyed themselves and got to see a lot of the reasons why I love Ghana.
Today is my last day of class, and then tomorrow I embark on my next journey. Many of you know that I have a strange and remarkable interest in social science research (surveys and statistics and the like), and that I have been going to the Liberian refugee camp while I’ve been in Ghana. For my one week travel break, I am going to stay at Buduburam (the camp) and conduct a research study about child sexual abuse. Apparently, incidence of children being raped is on the rise, and there is very little empirical information about how the community responds to it, other than the obvious horror-struck reaction. I want to find out about the community’s attitudes and beliefs about child sexual abuse, and then investigate some of the community’s responses, and the resources that they have to deal with it as a social phenomenon. I will be conducting focus groups with citizens and doing interviews with community leaders for 7 days.
I am going to stay at the camp with one of the women who works at Center for Youth Empowerment (the organization through which I’m doing this study), but coming back to campus for a few days in the middle for personal debrief and a rest period for myself. Please pray that things go smoothly and that I would have access to all of the resources that I need. I think that this will be hard and somewhat stressful, but important. Very little research exists about cross-cultural community beliefs about child sexual abuse, and this is a new and important area of study. It would be a perfect master’s thesis topic, too.
So anyway, please keep me in your prayers. I’ll let you know how it’s going.

15 days left in Ghana!

It seems like these posts keep getting fewer and further between. The time is drawing nigh, though, and soon I will be at home, enjoying Christmas in Virginia. That seems strange… that Christmas is almost here. I am used to cold and late-fall frosts as precursors to Christmas. Instead, I have soft red dust underneath my feet and tropical heat at the end of November.
Things are happening so fast here that it’s hard to keep up. My parents came to visit me last week, and we had an amazing time. We went to Kakum National Forest and walked on a tree-to-tree rope bridge across the rainforest canopy, we stayed at a hotel that had crocodiles in a pond underneath the restaurant, we went to Green Turtle Lodge and basked on the sunny beach, and we saw a rural school, where the kids were practicing balancing sand on their heads for gym class! I think that they enjoyed themselves and got to see a lot of the reasons why I love Ghana.
Today is my last day of class, and then tomorrow I embark on my next journey. Many of you know that I have a strange and remarkable interest in social science research (surveys and statistics and the like), and that I have been going to the Liberian refugee camp while I’ve been in Ghana. For my one week travel break, I am going to stay at Buduburam (the camp) and conduct a research study about child sexual abuse. Apparently, incidence of children being raped is on the rise, and there is very little empirical information about how the community responds to it, other than the obvious horror-struck reaction. I want to find out about the community’s attitudes and beliefs about child sexual abuse, and then investigate some of the community’s responses, and the resources that they have to deal with it as a social phenomenon. I will be conducting focus groups with citizens and doing interviews with community leaders for 7 days.
I am going to stay at the camp with one of the women who works at Center for Youth Empowerment (the organization through which I’m doing this study), but coming back to campus for a few days in the middle for personal debrief and a rest period for myself. Please pray that things go smoothly and that I would have access to all of the resources that I need. I think that this will be hard and somewhat stressful, but important. Very little research exists about cross-cultural community beliefs about child sexual abuse, and this is a new and important area of study. It would be a perfect master’s thesis topic, too.
So anyway, please keep me in your prayers. I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thoughts on Ghana in 2007

Yesterday was the four weeks mark until we leave Ghana, and it passed without much fanfare. We are all ending this semester with mixed feelings- towards Ghana, towards Calvin College, towards development, and especially towards living as part of a group. I came into this semester with a fairly idealistic picture of what life in community with 16 other people would be like. I’m leaving with the consensus that I cannot and should not expect to thrive within randomly delegated community, and especially that I cannot and should not expect that all of my opportunities will fall into my lap. I have had meaningful and valuable experiences here, but they are in no way automatically afforded to me. I had some strange notion that my life in Ghana would be profoundly different from my life in America, but it has been profoundly similar. I spend time watching movies with my friends, listening to music, talking with people, and reading. I have electricity and running water, access to the internet, clothes, food, and even a laundry service one floor down from my room.

This is not to say that Ghana is exactly like America. There are girls who work at the market right outside of my hostel who do not know how to read, who sleep at their market stall at night. There are people all over who live in abject poverty and who have access to minimal resources. My roommate’s parents completed only elementary and some junior high school education, and yet they have an upper-middle class standard of living. I encounter people every day who do not speak the national language of their country. All the while, my own life is not intrinsically affected by this disparity. Instead, I go out at night and eat good food, travel all over the country with ease, and get to observe Ghana’s neat little cultural quirks.

This may have been a pointless rambling, but it says some important things. I am learning that people in the developing world can and do do things for themselves, that they desire more for their lives, and that they recognize the disparities that exist in the world. They also have hope. All of the migrants from the Northern region come to Accra for the same reason that actors go to New York- they want to make it big. That might mean that they end up selling water by the side of the road, that they become street kids or that they do not get a formal education, but they are active in their pursuit of something better and bigger than life in a rural village. It is important that we recognize this distinction of choice and agency when we do development work, because often it gets neglected. Africa is not, nor has it ever been static. In ten years, Accra will have a totally different look, just as it looks completely different now than it did ten years ago. It is both exciting and terrifying to be in a place that is changing so rapidly.

My perceptions of Africa have changed so much during this trip. No longer is it a place waiting for me to save it and all its people, or a wild bushland waiting for cultural observation. It is new and growing and ready to do for itself what it wants. After 50 years of independence, I think it's time.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Update during the rainstorm

Some wonderful things are happening in my life:
  • I just got stuck in the most amazing rainstorm. It started with purple clouds rolling in and wind tossing leaves up and down gutters. All of a sudden, drops of rain splattered to the earth, jumping up to bite my legs. It reminded me of the second day I was in Ghana, when I got caught in the rain and was soaking wet. A man called across the road (in a Ghanaian accent, which I did not yet fully understand): “Africa has blessed you!” I am updating my blog while I wait out the storm.
  • When my parents come, we are going to stay at the Green Turtle Lodge, an Eco-Tourism project about 3-4 hours away from Accra. 17 days until they come!
  • I am helping to facilitate a workshop concerning gender-based and sexual violence among Liberian women living at the Buduburam Refugee Camp. THis will be a two-day affair with thirty women. I am working with Center for Youth Empowerment, a grassroots NGO that is run entirely by Liberians. They are doing some neat things in their community. The workshop will take place in two weeks. I need to do some serious research about the specific ways that GBV comes up in that particular community. I'm used to thinking about it from an American perspective, but the norms will be completely different, and ways of addressing topics will be challenging. I think that I will learn a LOT from the women.
  • I'm going to a bead-making village this weekend! Jemima, the receptionist at the Center for African Studies, is going to bring me, Sarah, and Pearl.
  • My dresses are ready! I have two "traditional" African dresses (long skirts and fancy shirts) and one wrap-dress made from batik fabric. I am extremely happy with the results.
  • I dressed up as a snail for halloween yesterday. I made the shell from my laundry bag- I sewed it into a shell shape, stuffed it with my pillow, and then sewed circles on the sides. I was pretty proud of it. I'll never get too old to dress up.
Some sad things are happening in my life:
  • Lydia Brown, one of the girls who came on this trip from Calvin, has been sick for 5 weeks with a debilitating stomach cramping and nausea. The doctors have no idea what it is, and condescend to her (the nursing major) as though she doesn't know her body. She hasn't been able to go to classes or travel, and she's pretty miserable, so she is going home early next week. I am going to miss her so much. Hopefully she will get well soon.
  • I think that's pretty much the only thing.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Elmina Castle (graphic and disturbing, but truthful)

I wrote this in my journal today after touring Elmina Castle, a historic slave dungeon that was controlled by the Portugese, Dutch, and English. This is a pretty emotional and sometimes graphic entry.

Ten minutes ago, I stepped out of the gates of hell. One hour ago, I walked into it. What more can I say about a slave castle- a place that stinks of shit and blood, fear and death? I understand now what it means to be a slave- the depth of the horror and victimization that humans can inflict on other humans. Wait. No. I don't understand at all. But I have seen a part of a history that always evaded me.

My ancestors owned other humans. For some part of my life, in a small and dusty corner of my mind, I was proud of that legacy- of the power and prestige that they won by taking advantage of other people. No matter how benevolent and paternal they saw themselves, I have no doubt that they whipped or had people whipped. They bought and sold human beings. They raped women- legacy of the racist masculinist system in which they lived. My ancestors gave their slaves names (not allowing them to name themselves and their children) and did not allow them to read or write, to play music using their African-style instruments, or to associate freely.

Another legacy of my ancestors are the darker-skinned cousins which I know I have. I know I have them, because slave masters were never without their mistresses, and plantations were never without their jealousy. My grandmothers had to compete with the women whose names I have read in my grandfathers' wills- women named Janey and Lucy. They threatened my grandmothers, Mrs. Sally Dumas and Mrs. Lily Dockery with their youth and sensuous darness. Because my grandfathers owned white people, too. Legally, Mrs. Oliver Hart Dockery and all of her property did not belong to herself, but to her husband.

Lucy and Janey and so many other African women weren't even "protected" by the regulatory laws of chivilry and the mobs and the Klan. They were beaten and killed, raped, forced to bear the children of hate and repression. At every turn, they were taken and picked at like so much livestock. The raiders, the governer, the soldiers, the captain, the sailors, the merchants, the masters, and the masters' sons (not to mention the terrible frustrated male slaves, themselves starved for masculinity and control). "Woman is the n-gg-r of the world" John and Yoko said. But black women? Theirs seems to be the worst fate of all.

Today when we went to the women's quarters, we learned that the governer would periodically have all the female slaves brought out into the courtyard (the only time that they would be allowed to see the light of day) for the governer to survey. He would pick out one particular woman who would be washed (they hadn't had baths in months) and fed and clothed, and then he would have her sent to his quarters, upstairs. When he was finished with her, she would be sent back downstairs to be finished off my the soldiers. Many times, they would rape her to death. Any women who resisted a soldier's advances would be chained to a cannonball in the courtyard for the entire day without food or water. They also cut off one of her ears.

My time is running out, so I can't say all that I can. This shook me deeply. It's been a very emotional day.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Northern region

This morning I skipped drumming class to go on the internet. I've been pretty happy with that decision so far.

I had a really great time in the North. My camera is messed up (it won't take pictures), so I've stolen all of these from Emily via Facebook. I'm sure she'll understand.

In Yendi, we visited a witchcraft village, where accused witches are sent. It's a really cruel system- there are over 700 men and women who are exiled from their homes after people accuse them of killing people with magic, making women infertile, or for causing weather problems. These are not usually diviners or shamans, who have traditional powers, but rather people who are wrongfully accused of social disasters. It's society's way of placing blame and shunning undesireables. These are some of the women:

We were flooded by children at that particular village. At one point, I was carrying one on my back and one on my front, while another was carrying my purse. The little girl on my right (left?) knee was really funny.

On Saturday, we went to Mole National Park. It’s a beautiful drive visually, but physically, it was one of the worst roads I’ve ever been on. It’s pot-holed dirt road for 3 hours. Anyway, we went on a walking safari in the morning, complete with gum boots. Here’s Erica, Kristen, and me in our “great white explorer” pose:

Since it has been raining lately, most of the animals are deeper in the forest. They come out around January, when it gets hot and the water dries up. We trudged around for about an hour and a half, seeing gazelles, baboons, and the occasional pack of warthogs, but these things are not as exotic as *elephants*, *zebras (which don’t even live in the park)* and *lions*. We were despairing of seeing any big animals, until we started hiking back to the lodge. Suddenly, our guide stopped and told us to be quiet. An elephant! It was in a clump of trees and we couldn’t really see it, but then the guide started throwing things at it. This probably is not the wisest move, or the most friendly to the animal, but it worked. He moved around for a while, trumpeted, and then started moving towards us. All of a sudden, our guide (pictured here):

said “Go! Go! Move that way! Run faster!” And the elephant started running (or maybe loping would be a better word) towards our general direction. We moved out of its way, and then it trampled a tree and charged a pack of warthogs.

All in all, it was an exciting trip.

Today we are going to Cape Coast. That was where many of Ghana's slaves were shipped from, so I suspect that it will be an emotional trip. I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Are they speaking in tongues or in Twi?

This weekend I did a lot of things, none of them particularly life-changing, but all of them enlightening.

On Saturday I went with my roommate and her boyfriend to see her sister. Her sister just entered her first year of high school at a boarding school about two hours away from Accra. The first year of high school is really hard for students, because, on top of being away from home for the first time, they are also made to do all of the menial labor around the school like cleaning the bathrooms, scrubbing the floors, weeding, etc. I brought a bracelet for her sister, but she said that the older girls would take it away from her, so she asked my roommate to hold it for her. I was so sad for her! Tina and Fifi (my roommate and her boyfriend) said that this was very common in Ghana.

Today, on Sunday, I went to church with Sarah and her roommate, Peace. It was definitely different. It lasted for four hours and included slaying in the spirit, an alter call, and calls for financial donations of $1,000. They got four people to pledge $1,000, so I guess it worked. At one point, I wrote a note to Peace that said "are most people speaking in tongues or praying in Twi?" and she laughed. Most were speaking in tongues. I felt very Presbyterian throughout the whole thing, but it was an interesting experience. It actually reminded me a lot of what we saw at the Odwira festival in Akropong a week ago, when women were ritually possessed by the spirit of their ancestors. They exhibited the same movements, facial expressions, etc. The people around them caught them exactly as the helpers at Odwira did. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

After church, we went to see Peace’s cousin, who is a seamstress. She is making me three dresses, two of which will be quite fancy. I gave her fifteen yards of fabric to work with in all, so I hope they will turn out well. She measured me today, but I’ll go back in a few weeks to try them on.

This week (we leave tomorrow at 6 am) we travel to the Northern region of Ghana. I am extremely excited for this, although I am not excited for the 12-hour bus ride over very bumpy roads. The bus is supposedly air conditioned, so I will hope and pray that it is working. I think that I am going to spend my travel break doing relief work in the North (there has been heavy flooding), so I am excited to see what is happening before I make my plans to go. Joy's parents are involved in a mission organization which has branches in the North, so she is going to connect me with some of her friends. It will be good to do some "real" work in Ghana.

Anyway, things are generally very good here. I am learning a lot about relationships and Ghanaians. I feel like I am finally making friends with some of them, and learning how to communicate across our accents and cultural outlooks. It's been good for me.


Sorry, sorry, sorry. I haven't written for two and a half weeks. I am very much alive, but busy and not around computers very often. Also, Blogger has been acting up.
I guess I'll start where I left off, which was 3 weekends ago, when I went to the Volta region (on the Eastern side of Ghana. It is 3-6 hours away, depending on the less-than-reliable modes of transportation) and I went with Dave, Michael, and Everett. Everett is from Alberta, Canada, Dave is from California, USA, and Michael is from Germany. I had been feeling a little constrained by the Calvin group dynamics, and it was a welcome respite from the same old people, places, and activities. Plus, it was great to be independent and do some things that deviated from the official plan.

We left on Friday, taking an STC bus (similar to a Greyhound) for 6 hours. It was a long trip, and we were sore and tired by the time that we arrived in Hohoe (pronounced ho-hoay). We settled at the Taste Lodge for the night, after a delicious meal of macaroni and cheese and beer, and then got up the next morning to catch a tro-tro to the falls.

Dawg man, those falls so high they be trippin off the chain. The highest falls in West Africa. And I was underneath them.

Then we went to the highest mountain in Ghana and climbed it. Well, really it was more like I crept my way to the top of a very steep, very large mountain, complaining the whole way, while three tall and athletic young men went ahead and left me with our Ghanaian guide. I felt like a dolt, sluggish and unfit, but finally I made it to the top in time for… the sunset. There’s the rub. See, we neglected to bring flashlights, and the descent was rocky and the path covered by jungle and ant nests. At one point I stopped to wait for the guys (the guide and I had gone before they had) and the guide went ahead for a flashlight. Ten minutes alone in the very dark jungle sounds ominous, but really was a lot of fun. I sang and made up stories, and nothing bothered me. Finally, we found the boys and made it to the bottom, covered with small scratches and ant bites.

That night I started to get sick with a fierce sore throat and went to bed early. The boys stayed up and drank beer, and decided to go “swimming” in a water storage tank. Dave cracked his head open when he got out, leaving him with a battle scar and a funny story to tell for weeks to come. Once again, my sickness was eclipsed by something that was actually serious. Oh, the inhumanity of fate.

Monday, October 8, 2007

sorry sorry sorry

This week has been a weird one- I’ve hit a wall in the trip, where I don’t seem to be moving. It’s a little eerie. Anyway, it isn’t really true, because I’ve done a lot in the past week and a half since I’ve written. Mostly, I haven’t written because I haven’t been online for a week and a half. I went to the Volta region last weekend, and then I went to Akropong for the Odwira festival last week. Also, I got a cold and freaked out and thought that I was getting meningitis. I think I was just a little bit bored, because I definitely don't have menengitis.

I’m going to write so many wonderful things this afternoon, and post pictures. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet… I’m getting lazy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Preaching to the choir (who happens to be asleep)

After yesterday's rant, I'm due for a light and fluffy, 1-paragraph post. Here it is.

This morning at 5:40am, I was woken up by the sound of a woman shouting. At first I thought that it was someone talking in the hall outside my room, but then I realized that she was preaching. Loudly. I went to my balcony and said "tst! tst!" and she looked up. "It's very early. I am trying to sleep." She said "Oh, I am disturbing you?" Yes, you idiot. It's 5:40am. This is NOT an effective evangelism tool! Anyway, she moved a little ways down the building and finished up with a sinner's prayer and I giggled with my roommate and fell back to sleep.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Culture stress

I seem to be popular with Ghanaian men. My Twi professor included. Ugh. I sit next to him in class (we're in a conference room) and today he said "I'll sit here next to my wife today." I replied straight out "I am not your wife. I did not consent to that. I am not anybody's wife."

Culture stress is popping up all over the place. I am starting to become disillusioned and frustrated with a lot of things, but this mostly manifests itself in my critique of gender relations. I am often super resentful of the patriarchal climate here, and I take out the culture stress by getting mad at the guys in my group. They've been really good about it, but it's troubling to me that I have such resentment of my host culture.

On Saturday night we went out to a jazz club in town. We went by tro-tro, so it wasn’t direct, and we had to walk a little way (a few blocks). It was a very nice neighborhood with compound walls and beautiful houses and a gorgeously decorated mosque. But naturally, a group of 7 Americans walking at night might feel nervous and unsettled. After we got back, my friend Matt (who was the only male in the group of 7) said that he, as a male, felt responsible for the group of girls, and that it made him very uncomfortable to be walking around at night.

I completely understood this sentiment but didn't like it. To me, hearing that a man felt he had to take care of me because I was a woman was clearly unfair, wrong, misogynist, and any other number of frustrating things. It gives the impression that I will never ever be whole in and of myself. What about when I'm 30 years old? Will I have to take a man everywhere I go? In some countries, I would. Grown women need their husband's or their brother's or even their infant son's permission to travel. I think about that and want to cry. I understand the social pressure to take care and assume responsibility based on gender, but I don’t like it. More so, I don’t like the broader cultural climate that so devalues women that they cannot stand up for themselves and feel safe. Maybe I should organize a Take Back The Night march in Ghana. That would go over well, I’m sure.

Later, reflecting on this, I realized that I was so frustrated because my leadership and confidence doesn’t matter much in this situation, and that comes as a shock to me. I realized that, had something happened, no one would have asked “was Audrey with them?” They would have asked “was there a boy in the group?” and Matt would have borne all the ideological blame for any unfortunate events that transpired. For him, this is an unfair and distinctly bittersweet responsibility, one which I do not wish as an automatic role for anyone, but a burden which I believe everyone should bear collectively.

I guess I have been spoiled for a very long time. Living with extremely supportive parents who are both very strong people in and of themselves, I was raised with the assumption that I could do anything that I determined to (within reason), and that this had nothing to do with my gender, but rather with my own personal attributes. My mother does the bills because my father hates dealing with money. She mows the lawn and he does the gardening. They both cook and wash the dishes. She wakes up early and he wakes up late. These are things that my parents do- not things that women and men do.

In Ghana, though, gender roles are so differentiated that it comes as a sort of slap in the face. On one of our first days in Ghana, we had a lecture in which a woman told us “if you don’t make sure everything is right in the home, that it is clean and your husband and children are well taken care of, then you are not a good woman.” Although some gender-differentiated tasks are changing (boys, for example, sweep and cook when they are young), the broader schema is set up in a way that is hard for me to swallow.

And yet, to add to the mess, West Africa has a long history of women who are involved in economic endevors (the markets, for example), and the Queen Mother has a formal political role in nominating and approving Asante/Akan chiefs. Oh, it's all convoluted and confusing. Anyway, I'm going to try to talk about something other than gender in my next blog post. I'm sure that my 21-year-old feminist rants are not the most interesting reading material on the market.

Next time: the adventures of Richard the Rasta?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It all falls tumbling down [or: all roads lead to Accra]

Had all gone as scheduled, we would have gone to Akropong for the Odwira festival this week. This is a traditional harvest festival which has a lot of functions, most of which I have no idea about yet. Anyway, it's been moved up a few weeks, so we'll go in October.
Not having anything planned, we decided to go exploring. Not having any idea what to do, we decided to try the Amenapa waterfalls near Akropong/Akuapem. This was supposed to be about an hour and a half by tro-tro, and we had been to Akropong before, so why not? I figured that I had all the benefit of 4 Twi classes, and knew how to say "My name is Audrey. What is your name?" and "I am from America. My parents' names are Diane and Michael." This knowledge, plus the assurance of three cell phones, four guide books and ten people in their early twenties led us to yet another adventure.

We split up onto three groups- two of three and one of four. Each group had a guide book, a cell phone, and a boy. This last element seems to be crucial in the minds of many foreign travelers. Anyway, we hopped on a tro-tro to Medina, where we would catch another tro-tro to Akropong, after which we would hire a taxi to the falls. Brad, Jordan and I traveled the first leg of the group together, and then we met Sam(antha), Kinsco and Deric and waited for 40 minutes for the tro-tro to take off. After a very beautiful (if cramped) ride, we arrived at Akuapem and crammed the 6 of us in a relatively small taxi. The driver didn't have a cell phone, so we decided to wing it and worry about getting back later. 10 white people hitchhiking in rural, mountainous Ghana? No big deal. We were sure that we would find a ride back.

After a 10 minute walk to the falls, we found what seemed like 100 feet of water and the rest of our friends. The falls were beautiful and slightly ominous. In between the rocks, there were fish which had taken the great leap and found it wanting, and there was the collective trash of months of careless hikers strewn over the ground. The water buffeted us this and that way, and Brad lost his footing and gashed his head. All the while, it was unbelievably beautiful, with moss covering the boulders and the water streaming down the rock face. I had to close my eyes just to stand there, but Little Wings (a fabulous band) was in my head and I couldn't but dance. At that moment, I missed my friends so unbelievably much- standing under a waterfall, dancing like Joke and Brian and Audrey all together, hearing music in my head that reminded me of all of them- I could think of nothing better than being there with them.

But I digress. Erika, Derek, and Jordan went exploring and tried to find a way to the top of the falls. They were gone for over an hour, and we were starting to get a little worried. Finally, we saw them staggering out of the woods, covered in scratches, Jordan carrying his flip-flops, and Erica limping. "How was it?!?" "It was... not worth it." Apparently, they had traversed the deepest jungles of Akuapem and found it wanting. I'm not sure if it was the swarming ants or the scratching branches or the shoe-destroying terrain, but they weren't satisfied.

Finally, sore and wounded (but satisfied) we set off to find a way back to Accra. All of the tro-tro's that passed us were full, but we did our best to hitch a ride. Finally, after walking about half a mile uphill, a pickup truck stopped and agreed to take us to Akuapem. We hopped in the back and enjoyed the ride. That was really the end of the story. We finally caught a tro-tro back to Accra and then went out for dinner at Redd Lobster. I got back to the dorm at about 9, and was asleep by 9:40.

Tonight is Professor Jelks' birthday, so we're taking him out to dinner.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Patriarchy and new perspectives

It's been a while since I've written, but nothing much has happened. Well, more like a series of nondescript adventures one-by-one in a row.

My biggest news is that I have a roommate! Her name is Tina, and she is moving into my room from downstairs because her roommate is a medical student who goes to bed very late and wakes up very early. I liked my room all to myself, but I am also happy to have someone who can initiate me into Ghanaian culture. She grew up in Accra and goes home fairly often.

More and more lately, I have been struck by the patriarchal climate of Ghana. No, there are no large men denying me admittance to the university, or commanding me to wear a certain type of clothing, or breathing misogynist rhetoric down my throat. However, there are subtle inflections which have begun to wear on me. Take, for example, the use of male universal pronouns. Virtually every Ghanaian professor (including our one female lecturer) have used "he" as an inclusive word. "Man" refers to all human beings (even in anthropology classes), and cultural traditions refer to male traditions. Our dance professor is a man, and he is teaching us the male versions of dances. We found out yesterday that there is also a female version, but no one is teaching the women how to perform it.

Only this year has there been a law enacted against marital rape, but it was passed with extreme resistance from many members of parliament and the President. Traditionally, there was a taboo against women playing musical instruments. However, my literature professor (a man who goes by Eddy) has been extremely good about opening my mind to the complexities of women's life in Ghana. We will be reading works by women authors, and yesterday we listened to a praise poetry recording that he did of a woman who uses poetry to subvert the system and voice her resistance. Her poetry was a song of sorts that was set to the rhythm of a millstone, where she was grinding millet. I could hear the grinding in the background- this rhythmic whosh-whosh was a substitute for the drum (which women traditionally have not been allowed to play). Also, she used her mouth to make these amazing xylophone noises. She made the same sounds, but did not use the instrument. Her song was fantastic and beautiful and somehow ethereal. I feel very priveledged to have access to these resources. My professor is one of the kindest and most humorous people that I have met since coming here. He is passionate about literature and he loves to laugh at himself and the world. Today he said "I almost became a Catholic priest. Somehow I escaped."

Anyway, this has been the most significant point of culture stress, but I have largely been able to control and/or vent my frustration. When I first got here, I was mean and nasty about broad gender generalizations, etc. Now most of it rolls off my back and I am much happier.

Friday, September 14, 2007

All African men are scum, but marry my brother.

Everywhere I go, it seems that outrageous people flock. Maybe I bring out the best in them, or maybe it's just that there are an abundance of outrageous people in the world. Either way, I met another one yesterday- a Ugandan lawyer named Rose who is here finishing her master's in law, specifically peacebuilding and democratization. For some reason, they have placed these women in their late 20's in the International Students Hostel, where they are obviously unhappy. While I am reluctant to admit that I do not fully appreciate Ghanaian food, she flat-out says that she hates it. She also says that Ghanaians are ugly, and that Africans missed a step somewhere in the past, and that is why they are not developing at the rate of the rest of the world.

I asked her what about the economic dependency issues that resulted from colonialism (monocrop, foreign-controlled economies, exploitation of raw materials rather than finished problems, lack of industrial development, commodity exports whose prices are widly variable and unbalanced, etc)? Oh, well, that's not really the problem. The problem is lack of democracy and weak state structures. But why are there weak state structures? Well, because the governmental regimes refuse to cede power, and the state is captive to the government. Thus, Uganda's president Musevini (the same one who wrote a book saying that heads-of-state should not overstay their terms) has been in power for over 20 years. So there's nothing economic about political development? Not really.

So anyway, we talked about this for a long time, and then she started in on why and how Africa had missed a step somewhere in the past, basically that the people were just not as good or advanced as white people. Well! to my white liberal American viewpoint, that is practically heresy, but what do you say when an African says it? She had an essentially cultural basis for the argument, and so I just laughed and explained that I have a hard time believing that black people are inferior. Poor, yes. Embroiled in socio-political conflicts, definitely. But I have far too much white liberal dependency theorist guilt to buy into it.

She also told me that all Ghanaians are ugly, but that Ugandans are all very beautiful, and that all Nigerians are rude. Not one to contradict people's deeply held assumptions (haha), I told her that my best friend is Nigerian, and lied in insisting that she is always very polite. I also asked her if a Nigerian child were raised by Ugandans, would that child be rude? She said that the child probably would- there's just something about Nigerians.

Then, there are the African men- they can't be trusted. They will sleep with any woman who comes around, they don't have respect for women, and some are very rude (beating their wives and the like). Before I can understand this, I should start dating an African man, and then we will laugh about it together. Also, her brother is very nice, but he is still an African man, so take him away from Africa, and he will behave because he is not on his turf. Having dated a Nigerian for 2 years (my dear boyfriend Charles), I think that I can honestly speak on behalf of all African men in saying that not all African men are scum, but some might be. Really, though, that applies to every single human being that I know, so there you have it.

Anyway, this woman was amazing and confident and spunky. She said that when she was in South Africa for her master's program, the white Afrikkans students looked down on her and would make explicitly racist comments, but she just laughed at them because she knew that she was smarter than they were. She worked for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) for a year as a protection officer, and we talked about the possibility of an internship at either UNHCR or Refugee Low Project, which works more directly in the camps.

Anyway, that's the only semi-interesting detail about my life. I'm going to the Karaoke bar tonight with my group. That will be fun and funny.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monkey brains and bananas

Holy smokes, this computer is slow. AfroNet seems to be slipping in quality.
We started classes today, which I really enjoyed. We had Politics and Development, Peoples and Cultures, and West African Literature. Today on campus I saw a monkey tied to a tree in someone's yard. It was really neat that there was a monkey there, but sad, because there was a monkey tied to a tree on the University of Ghana campus. This really is turning out to be a wild place- packs of friendly wild dogs, giraffe-legged horses, goats, chickens, vultures, small children, and now monkeys. I sometimes sit back and puzzle at the odd bizarrity of it all.

Last night I made dinner for the group (all 17 of us!). It seems like we have pretty firm partitions and friend groups (read: cliques), and this seems antithetical within such a small group. Possibly it is only an initial protectionism which drives us towards people who seem fameiliar to us (the three main groups are the dutch kids, the guys, and th minorities... you can't help but wonder). However, I have the fortunate and frustrating predicament of not really fitting into any of these groups. There are 3 others who feel very much the same way, and so I wanted to do something to bring people together and help us to get to know each other outside of our automatic cliques. I suggested, when we got ready to eat, that we should try to sit next to someone who we hadn't really gotten to know well so far, which I now see is more of a remnant of my (elementary school principal) mother's pep talks than a practical solution to disunity within a group of college students, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. One of the guys replied "didn't you hate it when people made you do that in high school?" to which I said "no, actually I was always glad, because I knew how it felt to be on the other side of a clique. It isn't fun." but to which I should have said "no, because in high school I wasn't an ass." Either way, it was enough of a retort to let me get on with the meal, but it ruined any hope for that idea. At least I said it, though. Maybe he will start to think a little bit more about who he is excluding.

But dinner was good, overall. We had spaghetti with a tomato sauce, bread, and pineapple for dessert. I think that we might try to cook and eat dinner together every Sunday night, taking turns cooking. We'll see if that materializes.

Anyway, that's all for today. I'm working on sticking to my budget, and I only have about $10 for communication costs every week (including phone calls home), and the internet cafe is fairly expensive. I have budgeted (roughly) $20 for food, $10 for miscellaneous expenses, $10 for communication, and $5 for transportation. So $45 for the week. I hope I'll be able to stick to it. I can eat for about $2-3 per day if I eat a lot of ghanaian food (which I don't love, so that means that I'll eat a lot of rice) or peanut butter and banana sandwiches (which I'm okay with), and don't buy cokes (I have discovered that I have an active caffeine addiction). I might have to complain once in a while.

Well I spent 7 minutes configuring a paragraph that is composed of drivel and whining. That's my signal to go back to my room. Maybe I'll get a roommate today!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Kokrobite beach

Today was wonderful and amazing. We went as a group to Kokrobite beach, which is this absolutely pristine beach with palm trees and white sand and wonderful water, all together with colorful fishing boats and small children and fishermen repairing their nets.

There were a lot of Rasta's there. One lit up a joint right in front of me, and proceeded to sell little baggies of pot out of a plastic bag. It was definitely a quality operation [sarcasm inserted]. He had four-inch-across, inch-thick matted dreads (not the sexy, well-kept kind, but the kind that has bits of old animals and the remnants of past civilizations in them). However, some of them were wonderful and nice and playing soccer on the beach and splashing in the water. There were even some little kids who had dreads. Their dad had hair down to his ankles. Wow.

Although it was an absolutely wonderful day overall, men kept hitting on me, asking me for my number, etc. This makes me extremely uncomfortable.I never truly appreciated how little harassment I get in the United States, but I am starting to understand. Although it stings every part of my broader independent feminist consciousness to realize that it would be easier if I were perceived as "taken", maybe I will make up a bio for my boyfriend in the States. His name is Charles, and he goes to school at Michigan State (people know where that is, or at least the name). He is a football player, and extremely large in stature. Originally, he was from Nigeria. His family has oil wealth (and also old money?), and they came to the US when he was 5. I have no idea how many children we are going to have, but I have met his family. They are extremely numerous, and will protect me with weapons and kitchen utensils if necessary. I would love to be able to use my own friends and family as a threat, but a bunch of white people thousands of miles away don't have a chance.

I could also say that I am training to be a nun, or that I have a terminal illness, or that I am no fun at all. Or I could stop bathing and washing my clothes. I think that Charles is starting to sound more and more appealing.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Adventures in Akropong

The sun rises extremely early in Ghana, and Akropong is home to about ten thousand roosters and maybe five thousand goats (well, maybe more like ten roosters and five goats near our hostel), and they made so much noise that I woke up at 6:15am on Monday morning. What's a girl to do, when breakfast is at 8, and no one else is awake? I decided to explore the area, so I followed the sound of the goats behind the hostel, and met a girl named Chaarezie, who is 13 years old. I asked her what she was doing that morning, and if I could follow her around on her chores. She said yes, that she was going to sweep, and that I could help her. The brooms here look like they're made from a bunch of extremely long pine needles, bound at the top. It is some kind of branch or switch that is about 1.5 feet long. So I swept, and then when we were done sweeping, we carried water, which they got from a well. Apparently, I am not competent enough to carry water upon my head, so I got to carry it by my side in a bucket like the 6-year-old girls. Even then, I spilled it a little bit. Such is life. At this point, I had to eat breakfast, so I left with promises to "go and come" (the Ghanaian colloquial for "return") later that day.

About 4pm on Monday afternoon I went to Chaarezie's house where her mom and siblings were making Fou-Fou. Fou-Fou is a sticky pounded casava and plantain ball which is dipped into a broth. It is similar to the Sudza which I ate in Mozambique. It was getting close to dinner time, and I wasn't sure about the proper protocol for guests and mealtime. I guess I just wanted to find out what would happen if I stayed. So, after a minute of awkward uneasieness, we established that I was supposed to stay for dinner. At this time, it dawned upon me that the mother was using water to moisten the Fou-Fou, and that I was going to have to eat the Fou-Fou. It also occurred to me at this time that I was smelling a mixture of spices and fish (neither of which I am crazy about). I was really in for it now.

Knowing that I was obliged to eat the meal which they had prepared for me, I trudged to the kitchen store-room (where they brought my very large bowl full of Fou-Fou, three cooked fish, and peppery soup) to discover what all the fuss was about. Also, I ate my meal alone, which made it even harder for me to make myself eat. I ate half of one fish and about a third of the fou-fou ball. The family kept coming in and telling me how to eat (don't chew the fou-fou, dip it into the sauce, eat more fish, etc), and eventually I told them that it was so very good, but that I was so full I could not eat any more. I am getting very good at making up lies to avoid eating.

So that was my adventure. I felt like an ungrateful oaf for not liking their food, but Ghanaian food takes some getting used to. Afterwards, I was completely and utterly convinced that I was going to be sick with any number of diseases, but Ghanaian Stomach didn't come until a few days later, and any malaise can probably be chalked up to hypochondria.


It's been a week since I last updated my blog, and it seems that time has crept and flown, full of little adventures and minor tragedies and exaltation.

On Sunday we attended church at the Legon Interdenominational Church on the University of Ghana campus. It always strikes me that worship tends to stratify according to class and social status rather than geography or skin color. This church was made up of middle and upper class people, most of whom were somehow connected to the University. The sanctuary was like any American church that I have been to, with high ceilings, a cloth-covered alter, and a platform at the front where the officieries perform their duties. Everything about it seemed to resemble other churches that I have seen in videos and in person all over the world- in South Africa, Brazil, Mozambique, and China. Dr. McDermott would disagree with me, but I am convinced that Christianity is becoming increasingly "glocalized" in terms of income, education, class, etc. rather than geography and skin color.

After church, we ate at "Redd Lobster" restaurant (notice the two d's) and then headed to Akropong, which is a city about an hour away by bus, up in the mountains. It is a beautiful drive. As the tro-tro (mini-bus) edged up the mountain roads, we saw a full rainbow on the valley to our right. The scenery reminded me a lot of Malawi, with its green, rolling hills and forested mountains. In Akropong we stayed at the Akrofi-Christallar Institute for Christian Study. Kwame Bediako (the president of the Institute) gave a lecture about African traditional religion and philosophy, and how it interacts with Christianity and the Christian worldview. We also heard lectures about Ghanaian culture and gender roles, and about Christian-Muslim relations in Ghana.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Out of place and time

I feel like I'm finally settling into some sort of rhythm here, or at least I know how to navigate my surroundings. There are two cafes that I like eating at. One is called the Basement Cafe, and they have standard Ghanaian food- lots of rice and meat. The other is Tyme Out, which is pseudo-Chinese food with a good selection of beers and soft drinks. Apparently, there is a Ghanaian rivalry between Star beer and Club beer. It's supposed to say something about you if you prefer one or the other. So far, Club is my favorite.

The group has been spending a lot of time just hanging out, doing this and that. Since I didn't really know anyone on the trip before I came, I feel a little out of place, but after talking with some other people, it seems that everyone is feeling that way- out of place in Ghana and in the group. I think that the group is starting to develop a sense of unity and continuity. Hopefully the Ghanaian element will fall into place soon.

One interesting thing about Ghanaians is that they take a lot of pride in their clothing. They dress up for class, they dress up for church, they even dress up to go to the pizza place accross the road from campus. We Americans (and Canadians) are unused to this standard, and we shrug off things like not wearing flip flops or not drying our hair before going out. Our roommates look at us like we're crazy, but they tell us that they already know that Americans are weird, so it's okay. However, I feel like it's important to meet their standards at least a little bit, and with our hot weather hippie clothes, that's a hard thing.

People have started getting sick with various intestinal maladies. This morning Sierra went to the hospital with food poisoning. I would like to think that I will be immune from sickness, but somehow I know that it's coming.

It has been raining a lot, which is great, because the rains were few during the major rainy season (in July). When it rains, mud puddles fill up with red ochre- colored water, and tiny frogs pop up from everywhere.

I got a cell phone, and it gets free incoming calls from the US. The number is 001 - 233 - 25- 516 - 4959. At least I think it is. If you get some random person in Ghana, I'm sorry.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lesson 3: Even if you're running late, things will be okay [or: don't drink all the wine they give you on the plane]

Okay, so yes- I am here and safe. The darbar was a welcoming ceremony. There was music and dancing and food. The food is really spicy. That might prove to be a problem.

My trip was fine. I was a little late getting to the airport, but it all turned out alright- I got into the elevator, and there was my friend Sarah, who was also going on this trip! Her late arrival was due to a late shuttel from Gatwick to Heathrow and she was pannicking. Having pannicked unnecessarilly many times during this trip, I told her to calm down, and we got through all the bag checks and check points in about 15 minutes- not bad for Heathrow!
My sister Lauren advised me that British Airways gives out wine like Shriners tossing candy at a parade, and I found that this was true. I asked for some white wine when they brought around the beverages, and the flight attendant gavbe me two bottles! Always the thrifty one, I wasn't going to let them go to waste, so I drank them both. THEN they came by with the dinner cart and gave me another bottle with my meal! I tried to drink that, but didn't have the heart or the pure alcoholic resolve, so I sent it away with my uneaten salad and sat back to watch stupid movies and watch the moon rise over the Sahara.

Some random points of interest:
-I don't have a roommate yet. I am told that she will be coming in the next week (Monday is the first day of "serious" classes for the Ghanaian students, even though classes have been in session for 2 weeks. I don't pretend to know what's going on, though.
-The sun sets at 6:30 pm every night, and rises at 6:30 am every morning. This is not unusual, for the sun to rise and set, but I have never been this close to the equator, so the punctual equivalence seems strange. Plus, the sun wakes me up when it rises. I need to invest in some curtains today.
-I found an internet cafe which is very good and fast, etc. It is a little bit expensive, but completely worth it, I think.
-Today I hope to buy a cell phone. That will be good.
-There is a VEGAN food stand near my hostel! I got a good meal yesterday for the US equivalent of $1.50. I consider this well worth it.
-There are lots of international students here. Well, more than 100, which seems like a lot to me. However, in a campus of 30,000 people, white people are a very visible minority.
-Today my group goes to the market to buy some essentials. These include buckets for washing our clothes, clothes hangers and clothes pins, notebooks, cooking supplies, etc.

My address is:

Audrey Kelly
Attn: Calvin College, c/o Dr. Jelks
Institute for African Studies
University of Ghana
PO Box 73, Legon, Ghana, West Africa

I'll post pictures and my phone number soon!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I'm here, but I have to go to a darbar. What is a darbar? Who knows. I'll know when I come back.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Lesson 2: Ask for directions before you're lost [or: know exactly where you're going, and don't try to go there on Carnival day].

Wow. What a crazy day- crazy but good. Actually, it's been a crazy couple of days. My Spanish is getting much better- it's all coming back! Last night I had a real conversation with my Spanish roommates. Apparently, Paco lives and works in Andalusia, on the Mediterranean Sea where he and his male family members are olive oil farmers. We all sat around last night and ate cookies and walnuts that their father grew and talked about culture and accents. One interesting thing that I've noticed is that you can have two accents at one time- a British accent and a Pakistani accent, for example. I guess it never really occurred to me before, for some reason.
Today is my last day in London- I leave for Ghana at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon. I have had an interesting time here, but it is much too expensive, and fairly impersonal. I have taken to wearing my iPod earbuds and sunglasses a lot. This makes me look like a Londoner, but then I get out my tour books (which have been indispensable, thank you Daddy and Lucy!) and give myself away. Oh well. It seems like half the people in London are tourists, just like me, so I don't care. It seems to be a very anonymous place
Yesterday during the day I went to a music festival, where I saw M.I.A., The Go! Team, Peter Bjorn & John, and if I had stayed longer I could have seen The Streets (a UK hip-hop act which is really quite excellent), but I was tired and wanted to go home. I finished reading 'All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes' by Maya Angelou and watched 'Flight of the Conchords' (a TV comedy show about a novelty band from New Zealand in New York) on my iPod.
Today I intended to go to the Rough Trade record shoppe, but unfortunately it is in Notting Hill. Usually this would be a good thing- a convenient location, interesting neighborhood, etc. Today, however, the Notting Hill Carnival was happening. This is a huge celebration of Caribbean culture. I figured that I would go and hope for the best- maybe the shoppe would be open and not incredibly crowded. Well, first I had to find the stupid thing, which I didn't actually accomplish (I found the street, but then it was too crowded to walk through and I couldn't find it again). So I bought a beer (at 1:00 in the afternoon) and walked around the Carnival, getting exhausted by the crowds and music and people blowing horns. There were rasta's and people in flags and people smoking pot and selling pot and police at every corner. The police were really there functioning as direction-givers. I asked one of them how to get to the nearest Underground station, and he directed me. Then I got on the train and then got off, tried to find the other station to board another train, couldn't find it, and then walked around Hammersmith for a while. That's where I am right now, in an Internet Cafe. I bought food, juice and socks at a grocery store.
I am debating whether I should go to the British Museum this afternoon, or just go back to my hostel. Probably I will go to the Museum because I don't want to appear a loser to the people at my hostel, staying in every night. But really they don't matter much to me, and the hostel owner insists on calling me pet names (baby, angel, dear, etc), and you all know how much I like that. I know that I'm going to get a lot of that in Ghana. Maybe I should start dressing in a bourka. It'd probably be too hot, though.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lesson 1: always bring more socks than you think you'll need.

I'm writing from the pub beneath my hostel. A band is playing, but I'm tired and want to go to bed. It's 10:30. I have been waiting to write this post for the whole night, but a guy has been on the computer watching youtube videos all night. I asked him to use it earlier and he let me, but I said that it would be only 5 minutes, which is not enough time to check my email and write a blog entry. Anyway, in attempt to save time and make things more coherent, I wrote the following earlier this evening.
I am sitting in my hostel room in London (to be transcribed later tonight). Old punk rock music is drifting through my open window- the Sex Pistols and what I think is the New York Dolls. Today was a good day. I have a blister on my right heel, but that is only because I walked a lot today and wore shoes without socks (I apparently didn't bring enough socks).
I went to Portobello Market and \Hyde Park with my hostel roommates, who are from Spain. There are two women and a man (who isn't my roommate). He is an olive oil farmer in Grenada! I think that's really cool- his father and grandfather and on and on and all of his brothers have been and are olive oil farmers. He doesn't speak a word of English, and neither does his sister Elena. \Susana speaks only a little (she is younger, and a friend of Elena). I am finally glad that I had to take Spanish in school.
After Hyde Park, I set off on my own to see the British Museum. I didnt' spend much time there- maybe 20 minutes and then it closed. Then I TRIED to find a vegetarian restaurant I had read about called |Food For Thought, but for the life of me I could not find it and kept getting lost. Finally I just decided to eat at a Thai restaurant where the prices were pretty good (£3.95 for a meal, which actually turns out to be $8.00, but I was tired of walking and looking). I had steamed vegetables in a ginger sauce. THat was really good, but they charged me £.90 for a glass of water, and then my waitress filled it again, and they charged me double. So I spent over $3.00 on tap water. One more item to add to me 'waste of money' list, which is now up to about $30.00 (most of it spent yesterday on unnecessary transport cost). But I guess I saved dinner yesterday and lunch today by buying a baguette and chease and pears at a grocery store.
Mommy and Daddy, sorry I haven't called you yet- I have to get around to buying a phone card and figuring out how to use it, plus it's the middle of the afternoon when it's night here, and vice versa. Maybe tomorrow morning your time? We'll see. Love you.
It's time for bed. Tomorrow I go to a music festival which will be a good part of my London budget (£30, which = $60), but will be completely worth it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My British tour diary

I wrote this in my journal this morning:
To repeat an often-heard phrase from this morning's commute, this is absolutely bloody awful. I am exhausted (it being 5am EST) and did not sleep at all on the plane. I have been in transit for more than two hours, and have gotten lost, bungled the connection, and otherwise fallen further into this hole of self-pity and desperation. At least I don't have both of my big bags with me, as I left one of them at the airport in Left Luggage storage. I hope I get there soon.

It is 4:10 pm London time, and I am now sitting in the pub, feeling tired but not nearly as desolate. I finally found my way through a street lined with open-air vegetable and fabric and all other kinds of stands. It seems that this is an ethnically diverse neighborhood, so that's neat. Then, I got to sleep on the common room couch for a few hours, and that did amazing things for my morale. I was absolutely exhausted. And now I suppose that I will explore the neighborhood with a girl from Texas who is also traveling alone.
I am having a hard time typing on this computer because the shift key is a little bit different. I'll live, I suppose. Or maybe just stop using caps?
I have a headache, and I'm tired of typing, so I'm going to try to find something to eat. I got here all in one piece, although my trip has been an exercise in patience. Hopefully the next few days will be much more refreshing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Let's get out of this country!

I am leaving tomorrow! I have been walking around in a daze today, unable to focus but desperately trying to concentrate on the task ahead. At 5:44 am tomorrow morning, I will depart from Grand Rapids. My friend Brian is taking me to the airport. He assures me that it will be no inconvenience- he just won't go to bed until after he drops me off. I marvel at his version of college-aged insomnia.
This week in Grand Rapids has been good for me. I am reassured of my place in the world, and happy to be in with people who are happy to be around me. More than that, though, it has been a segue to the next step, and then the next, and finally, I will find myself in Ghana, wondering where the time went.
Really, this post is just a filler- a fluffy note to reassert the fact that I am still alive and moving.
I need to buy an address book, because I have recently realized how dependent I am upon my phone and computer to save information. I will have neither phone nor personal computer in Ghana. Yikes! It will be an adjustment, but not necessarily a bad one.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The next five months

Okay, so here's the scoop:

August 1-14: Roanoke, VA: working at Bed Bath & Beyond, idolizing Grand Rapids, listening to music, watching TV, cooking food for my parents.

August 16-23: Grand Rapids, MI: staying up late, drinking wine, having fun. Staying with Joke and Tonya and maybe some other people.

August 23: Fly from Grand Rapids to Washington, DC; from DC, fly to London.

August 24-28: London: staying at a hostel and doing fun things.

August 28: Fly from Heathrow to Ghana with the Calvin group.

August 28-December 13: Ghana: living at the University of Ghana's International Student Hostel. 18 other Calvin students are going on this trip, as well as one Calvin professor. My parents are coming to visit me over American Thanksgiving!

December 13-14: Fly back to the US, make photo albums.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Jesus loves me, but I don't like my customers.

This was today: I am learning to knit, so I got up early and did that for a while and read The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor by Scott Bessenecker. It really is a wonderful book. It's giving me hope for an authentic future in the Church. My aunt and uncle spent the night last night, so we had a big breakfast, and then I piddled away the day knitting, reading, and organizing pictures on the computer. It was not the most thrilling day that I have ever had. However, it was relaxing.

I went to work at 5 pm and was greeted with a tidal wave of customers. One customer was extremely particular about her coupons, making sure that I was doing it exactly right and giving me directions for the best way to scan them. I gave her the ::deer in the headlights:: smile for the whole time and nodded, saying "Yes, Ma'am" and "No Ma'am."

When I gave her the bag, she said "Jesus Loves You, you know." I smiled, with the same look on my face, and said "Thank You." It was such a strange interaction... I wasn't sure how to take it. It was almost like the families who leave tracts instead of tips at restaurants.

And then, when we get down to it, my reaction was strange. Why did I say "Thank You" with a half smile/ half grimace on my face instead of something else? I could have said "I know, and I'm so glad! What church do you go to?" or "I know that. But this is a strange time for spontaneous ministry, after you have just belittled me by telling me how to do my job." or "just because I have short hair doesn't mean that I don't know Jesus." Instead, I said "Thank You" because it is a conditioned response, said a hundred times a day after people wish me good day.

Coupons do strange things to strange people. Retail has made me cynical and reductionistic. I am ready to get out of this country.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Everybody's doing it

This seems to be the thing to do when one leaves the country. I am leaving the country, so it naturally follows that I will keep a blog while I am away.
I leave for Ghana in about a month. Before I go, I will have a four day stopover in London. There, I am staying at a little hostel in Deptford called The Bird's Nest. It sounds like it will be interesting. Bands play there on the weekends, and it's in a working class neighborhood that has a reputation for being artistic.
This summer has been an experience for me. I've been at home, feeling like a bit of a friendless oaf, but this is only applicable while I am in Roanoke. In other parts of the world, I assure myself, I have plenty of friends. To pass my time I work at Bed Bath & Beyond, selling sheets and dinnerware to people who do not need anything more in life, but who feel the desperate need to spend $500 on their credit cards. I have become judgemental and petty, and have begun to dress like a dowdy Aeropostale employee. That is to say, I look very normal, but it is a boring kind of normal.
Anyway, that's about it. I have been positively horrible to my poor mother today. I am a resentful daughter. Oh well.