Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cape Coast

Whew, we had a busy weekend in Cape Coast! Yesterday was packed, but it was all very worth it. We got up early to go to Kakum National Park to go on the canopy walkway. Unfortunately, we did not see any animals, but the walk itself was beautiful! Since you're so high up (in the canopy, obviously), all you can see around you is green, for miles. I didn't have my camera out, since I was so concentrated on taking my next step, but just trust me when I say the view was breathtaking! From Kakum we went to the Cape Coast Castle and had lunch on the ocean (I had some of the best red-red I've ever had - fried plantains are my downfall!) I really enjoyed our tour of the castle. The history is a bit overwhelming, thinking of all the lives lost there, all the families split apart forever, all the heartbreak and devastation...I didn't realize before the tour that there was a church at the castle as well, built right about the male dungeons. As our guide said, I'll let you make your own judgment on that paradox.

After the tour, we all had the chance to shop our hearts out (which I know Kaleigh and I did!) I bought the remainder of my gifts for people, so finally I am done shopping! We walked back to our hotel after that, and I called it a day at that point. (We were spoiled with air conditioning and hot water at that hotel ... what luxury!) Early this afternoon we got back into Winneba for our last three days here! Tomorrow we're hosting the spelling bee at Challenging Heights, and that's our last main event we have before leaving for Accra Wednesday afternoon. Hard to believe, one month has gone by, and it's almost time to go home. It really reminds me to cherish each moment as I have it, since time goes by so quickly! I think on this trip I've spent too much time thinking about how long I had to go before going home, but now I realize that was a waste of time. I really need to enjoy the time as I have it! Nevertheless, I'm glad to be going home this week. See you all soon! :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Last Week in Ghana ...

Hello everyone! As I write this, I have just 8 full days left here in Ghana ... the time really FLEW by! For the remainder of last week, Beth and I worked at the school at Challenging Heights, continuing to type exam questions and be in the classrooms. This weekend was very laid-back, because we had nothing planned. Eric, Kaleigh and I went to the market Saturday morning to look for fabric and search for food for dinner. I succeeded in finding fabric, and ordered my dress from a seamstress later that day. :) Anyway, we were planning on making French toast for Emmanuel and his wife, so we bought butter bread, Blueband (a brand of margarine), eggs, and tea creamer (best substitute for milk). Although we didn't have cinnamon or syrup, it came out really well! We got many compliments for our "cooking"! Shopping for the ingredients makes you really appreciate the supermarkets we have back at home. Everything you need, you can get in one stop at Meijer. Here, however, it's not that easy - you usually have to go to numerous shops to get what you need. I found that out yesterday when I bought my own cell phone. You have to buy the actual phone, then go somewhere else to get a SIM card, then you have to go somewhere ELSE to have your card registered. And then there's always the chance that the person registering your card will copy down the number wrong, so you can't use the phone until the next day, when you give them the correct number. I feel like I had a true Ghanaian experience yesterday! (My whole afternoon was spent walking around Winneba). It was so kind of Emmanuel to help me - I offered many times to pay him for his troubles, but he kept refusing! He (and his wife) have been wonderful hosts to us here. They have cooked for us several times, and Emmanuel takes us to the school every day (for a fee, but he's still giving us his time!) I've really been enjoying my stay here in Winneba; it's a lovely town to spend the rest of the trip in.

This morning James Annan (from Challenging Heights) took us around Winneba and explained some of the many programs that Challenging Heights administers. I was amazed at how involved they are in the community, from helping send children to school, to women's organizations, to skills training, and everything in between it seems (in addition to helping children who have been rescued from slavery!) There will be many different opportunities for the students who come on next year's trip. Unfortunately, our time restraints make it very difficult to get involved in anything else before we leave, but we gathered a lot of information that should help plan for next year's trip. We only have tomorrow, Thursday, and Monday to work in the school now! On Monday, we have to plan a program for the students. We're still a bit unclear on what exactly that should entail, but we're thinking something more academic for the older students, and something more akin to a "field day" for the younger students. Hopefully when we put all our heads together we can think of something really cool! (I feel like the students would enjoy almost anything we put together).

Working in the school has really helped me appreciate the educational system we have back home. I almost didn't notice it at first, but the students here don't have textbooks to work from - they have to copy whatever the teacher puts down on the blackboard. Most kids use pencils - pens are very rare - and they sharpen the pencils with razor blades. Caning is not uncommon either. It is culturally accepted, but James said that at Challenging Heights, it's not allowed. That doesn't stop the teachers from threatening to cane the students (my teacher says that frequently), and we saw the headmaster cane some students this morning. I felt terrible for them - it would be humiliating anyway to be hit in such a way, but in front of visitors, too ... it was sickening. Teachers here don't show the same love and affection that is common for teachers back home, and it can be a rude awakening. I think that's why the students LOVE it when I write a smiley face on their papers if they did a good job - they will get the biggest smile on their faces and say "Thank you, madam!" It's a small thing, but it makes them feel so good. James mentioned that to us on our first day - the kids really just need love, since they oftentimes don't get it from home or from the teachers. I think just us being there makes a difference.

Friday we leave for Cape Coast! I'm excited to see yet another part of this beautiful country (and do all the touristy things like go on the canopy walkway and tour the slave castles). Tuesday we're going to take it easy, clean, and pack before we leave for Accra on Wednesday. It's so hard to believe that our trip is almost over! I'm beyond ready to see everybody back home though - it's been too long! I miss you all, but I will see you next week! Take care!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Challenging Heights

Hello everyone! Today was our second day of actually teaching at Challenging Heights. It was decent, except for the fact that my teacher doesn't really do much teaching - which means I don't have an opportunity to help her much. My main duty is helping correct homework and the practice exercises that the children do in class. That's what the majority of school time is spent on - the kids copy notes from the board, do exercises, then copy their homework into their books to do when they get home. Honestly, I was a little relieved at first - I'm not comfortable with public speaking, which is one reason why I don't like teaching! - but I will admit that it gets boring, sitting there for hours occasionally correcting a students' work. Today I helped type up some exam questions, and I believe that we will be able to do that the rest of the week.

Beth and I are the only ones here in Winneba right now - the rest of the group traveled to Lake Volta this morning. I had no strong feelings about going, so I decided to stay here. All the traveling takes a toll on me, so I thought it would be better to stay settled in Winneba. The days here are relaxing - we work in the morning, and have the afternoon and evening to ourselves. I go to bed around 9, and have been waking up naturally around 6. And showering outside? I have grown to LOVE it! It's much cooler (temperature-wise), and the scenery (palm trees!) can't be beat.

I'm becoming more comfortable with the village in general. I feel safe walking by myself (in broad daylight!), and our hostel really helps me feel like this is 'home' for the next two weeks (the owner, Emmanuel, showed us how to cook red-red last night, and boy was it delicious!!) Such a wonderful place to spend our final time in Ghana!

The attention from the kids at the school is a little overwhelming. They all like to touch my arms and hold my hands - multiple kids at once! They'll pull me in every direction. At first it was flattering, but now it's getting to be too much. I know that I'm special to them, but I feel like the attention is unwarranted. I guess I don't like feeling like a celebrity.

Well, my time at the internet cafe is almost up. I will give you more updates later! Take care!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Where should I even start, not having blogged in almost 2 weeks?? So much has happened, I dont know what to talk about (and the apostrophe button isnt working correctly on this computer, so I apologize for all the misspelled words!) On June 30 we flew from Accra to Tamale, then drove to Damongo, where we stayed for 9 days. We worked with Abraham, the director of the Redemption Childrens Home, an orphanage in Damongo. I was uncomfortable at first, working with children - I dont know how to relate to them very well - but it got a little better. Luckily I could also make myself useful by helping out the aunties (workers) by mopping the floors. On Wednesday and Thursday, all the volunteers (including the Dutch volunteers who stayed at Abrahams house) painted the outside of the buildings. I really enjoyed that, because I felt like I left a physical mark there, a way that I could be remembered. I have been struggling with that - feeling like what I am doing here is meaningless. Those children probably wont remember me next week, let alone in a few years. Meredith and I talked about this a bit, and she told me something very important: its true that I cant make a lasting impact while Im here, so what matters is what I do when I get home. How can I keep this trip alive, and tell others about what I learned here? How can I be an ambassador for what we saw? How can I keep Ghana in my heart everyday? I still havent found the answer, so its something that will be weighing on my mind probably for the remainder of the trip.

We flew back to Accra yesterday (after our flight was delayed 6 hours), then took a tro-tro from Accra to Winneba. This is where we will stay for the rest of our time in Ghana (except for a weekend trip to Cape Coast to visit Ross, see the slave castles, and go on the canopy walkway at Kakum Park). Our hostel is very nice - it is right by the beach, so it is quiet and breezy (makes it nice and cool!) There are community bathrooms though, which takes some getting used to (plus the fact that they are outside) ... so last night Ross, Eric, Kaleigh and I showered together, in the dark, with our flashlights, underneath the palm trees ... it was so cool! When else can you say that you showered under the stars? Im actually looking forward to doing it again tonight.

Tomorrow sometime we will meet with James Annan, the founder of Challenging Heights, then we can start our work here. Today, however, is just a day to relax (which is needed after two days of traveling!) We all took a trip to the market this morning to get food. Our hostel has a kitchen, so we can cook our own meals (the owner said he would cook with us, and teach us a few things!) I stocked up on a ton of things, including oats, pasta, tomato paste, bananas, homemade bread, strawberry jam...I should be all set for a while!

One of the things I like most about Ghana is the friendliness of the people, especially the kids. Many will yell "obruni, obruni!" as you walk by (which means "white person" or "foreigner"). It seems like theyre always smiling and happy to see you! Adults sometimes will talk to you, sometimes not. If they do theyll say "Good morning" or "good afternoon" and "How are you?" Back at home that behavior would seem almost creepy, like somebody is trying to get too friendly with you ... but here it is normal. (Although it is creepy when men - especially when they are drinking - tell you that you are beautiful, or "nice to look at" ... that is when you get away as quickly as possible! Also why you should always go with a friend, even if it is just down the street).

So far I really like it here in Winneba. It is very quiet, and cooler than up north. The breeze is much appreciated! Ross and I walked to the beach this morning and took pictures, and it was just so serene, hearing the waves crash. I might like to go down there from time to time to journal and reflect on everything that happens.

I sincerely hope that all is well back at home! Thank you everybody for supporting me and following me on my journey. I appreciate all the help and support that I have gotten from everybody; I truly love you all! I miss you, but the last two and a half weeks of the trip will fly by and I'll get to see you before you know it! Thanks again, and take care!

Monday, June 28, 2010


Hello everyone! Everything's going great here in Ghana. Right now we are still in Accra, but we leave for Damongo Wednesday morning (6am, bright and early!) We all dislike the city, especially since we got a taste of "the real Ghana" Wednesday when we went to Winneba for Annie's and Fred's mega birthday party. After a stressful tro-tro ride (we accidentally paid the wrong person our fare, then had to pay again), we got into Winneba and immediately loved it. The air is cleaner, and it's just so much calmer and quieter. Fred let us stay at his house for the night, so we met up with Annie and got some lunch at a place by the market. We took a taxi back to the house, got ready, and left for the party. We got to the bar/restaurant just in time for the soccer game (USA vs. Ghana) to start. When Ghana scored in the first 10 minutes...I've NEVER seen anybody celebrate as wildly as the Ghanaians did (except for maybe when they won the game!) It was so much fun, especially when they won; the DJ started the music right away (really loud music, I must say) and everybody was cheering and dancing. Very exciting!

Because we're not huge party people, Janaan, Ross and I left shortly after that to have some quiet time and get to bed early. I was feeling stressed at that point (just overwhelemed with everything, moving around all the time, maybe a bit of culture-shock), so I talked with both of them and they made me feel a ton better. Even if the past two days, I think our group is getting closer and more comfortable with each other. That's very important, as Annie told us, because we're going to need to lean on each other and support each other, especially when one of us is having a hard time.

We got back into Accra last night, and have taken it easy since then. We're meeting with Mrs. Awartie, the director of science education for Ghana, this afternoon, and then we're heading to the market to do some shopping! I hope to get a bag, maybe some gifts...and maybe I'll learn to haggle! I've heard a lot of advice when it comes to haggling, but I've never tried it myself. I think that's one of the many ways I'll learn to stand up more for myself on this trip. One of the things I want to get out of being in Ghana is to learn more about myself and grow comfortable in my own skin. I'm a softie, but I don't want everybody to walk over me all the time - I need to get some tougher skin. It's so hard though, because I'm a people pleaser. Even last night I think I was a little too nice to someone I was talking to in the hotel lobby. I needed help with my toilet - I thought it was broken, but it turns out I just wasn't pushing the lever hard enough - and a Ghanaian sitting there watching TV volunteered to help me. He was teaching me some Twi and making me practice, and he told me (out of the blue!) that his friend loved me and was worried about me. The way I dealt with it was to try and joke my way out of it - "How can he love me? I don't even know his name!" - but he just smiled and repeated that he loved me. So I said I was married, and that my husband was also staying at the hotel. (Ross is serving as my husband, since Kaleigh has already used Eric as her husband; it's also not sufficient to say you have a husband back home, because the Ghanaians will just say "well, he's not here right now..." and so on). By the end of our conversation he was telling me that HE loved me, to which I could only say thank you. Not quite a marriage proposal, but very similar. I hope I handled it well. But I need to get a bit more aggressive (without being mean) and not put up with things that really bother me.

I feel like I've talked your guys' ears off in this post, so I'm going to wrap it up here and try to tell you more later! I wish I could talk more about the culture, but I don't feel like Accra is really "Ghana" - Annie even said that Accra isn't the real Ghana. Of course it's different from back home, but I'm looking forward to being in the smaller communities and really getting to know a few Ghanaians. Okay that's good for now - talk to you all soon! Love you! :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


We have finally made it safely to Accra, after a mad rush to our flight to JFK in Detroit (our flight from GR was delayed due to the storms, so by the time we made it to Detroit we were cutting it really close!) The same thing happened in New York - pretty much from one plane to the other. So needless to say I'm happy just to be here!

I'm not sure where to even start in describing the city. (And forgive me, I'm quite sleep-deprived, so whatever I write today is probably going to be very disjointed and maybe confusing! I apologize!) I learned my lesson quickly when leaving the airport not to let anybody help you load your bags into the van; someone almost stole 50 cedis (approx. $35?) from me when I attempted to give them a tip! I was warned about that, but I guess so many things slip your mind when you actually get here. We've taken it easy for the most part today. Janaan's friend of a friend Kennedy picked us up at the airport, and we went to Frankie's Restaurant for breakfast. I didn't really feel like eating - the airline gave us a free breakfast due to the fact that we sat on our plane to Accra for an hour before even leaving! - and although it was 9:30 here (and normally I would have been SO ready for breakfast - you know I like to eat!), I had no appetite. I'm hungry now, but what I want most is just to sleep. Luckily our hostel has air-conditioned rooms, so that shouldn't be a problem!

Accra's quite a bustling place, as is any big city. All along the road there are shops, selling almost anything you might need (oddly there are a lot of computer and printer places). There are a few scattered internet cafes also, which is where the four of us are right now, typing away. We met some kids who had just gotten out of school about an hour ago. We found where their school was and they swarmed us when we got there! They were so happy to see us, and they all wanted to touch us and hold our hands. We met some of their teachers, and will probably go back tomorrow if time allows. I'm not sure what we'll do tonight - most likely get dinner and collapse on our beds, since we're all exhausted (it was very difficult to sleep on the plane over here due in part to the uncomfortable position of the plane seat and in part to an occasionally screaming baby that kept EVERYBODY awake!) I'm still a little in shock right now about everything; I suppose I'd be more excited if I was more well-rested.

Ohh one thing. Kennedy (who picked us up from the airport) is a sports broadcaster, and he invited us to join him on Saturday for the Ghana vs. USA soccer match - on live TV! I think that would be so cool if we could do that! Then that night we're heading to Winneba to go to Annie's and Freddie's birthday party (Annie traveled to Ghana last year and is here right now working on a clean water initiative; Freddie is with Challenging Heights). So we've got some good things lined up! But first, sleep! :)

I miss everyone back home, and I'll call you all before I go to bed tonight! I love everyone!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The road is calling, today is the day...

Well, tomorrow to be exact. This will probably sound a little cliche, but it's hard to believe I'm actually leaving for Ghana tomorrow. So many months of preparation, getting all my ducks in a row...and we're taking off at 10:30 tomorrow morning! Maybe it will hit me when the plane leaves the runway, or when we arrive at the Accra airport. Either way, we're going to Ghana! This is so exciting for me, because it's my first international trip - and the destination is Africa! It's just surreal. I'm ready, literally (my packing is pretty much done!) and figuratively. I'm ready to be challenged in so many ways, to see how other people live and love in a completely different part of the world. It's going to be a life-changing trip, and I cannot wait to depart on this journey.

I'm not sure what else to say for now, so I guess I'll see you all in 5 weeks! Love you all!