The Adventure Continues

30 May

This feels crazy to write…but I’m actually in Ghana!!

We have had zero internet for the past three days, so these posts are a little late…but here is an update on my adventures.

5/28/12

The internet stopped working before I could post this, so it’s a day late… Today/yesterday have been a bit of a blur, but after 24 hours of travel, we are actually in Ghana! It feels so surreal to be here. Jessie and I were exhausted by the time we got to London, but we walked around the airport shops, got Starbucks, and recharged our computers, so we were somewhat refreshed by the time we boarded the plane for Accra. It felt strange to be an ethnic minority for the first time, but I know it was one of many strange new experiences to come. Landing in Accra was like setting foot in another world. After taking a shuttle from the plane to the terminal, we were immediately stopped by an airport official and asked to show our yellow fever cards. We then went on to customs, where we were photographed, finger-printed, and scrutinized curiously. I’m guessing Accra is not a major vacation destination.

After clearing the baggage inspection, we met up with Lorenzo, and hurried outside to find a taxi, which was an adventure in itself. Each driver tried to bargain with us, but Lorenzo, who had already made five trips to the airport, would not be fooled. We finally found a driver who was willing to take us to our hotel for 15 cedi, and as we raced through the dark streets of Accra, it started to hit me that I was far away from anything I knew. The driver made a wrong turn, and then told us that it would be 25 cedi for the extra block of driving. Lorenzo held his ground, and a slightly nerve-wracking negotiation ensued, but we were finally dropped safely at our hotel. The Rising Phoenix hotel is definitely not the typical tourist destination, but if you look past the freezing cold showers and tiny hut-like rooms, you realize that you are only steps away from the Atlantic ocean. I’m listening to the waves crash onto the shore outside my window, and I feel very much at peace here. I can’t wait to explore more of this beautiful country.

View from the Rising Phoenix

5/29/12

A few things I will never take for granted after today…some obvious, some not so much:

  • Showers
  • Flush-able toilets
  • Water from the tap (or any other source other than a bag)
  • Fresh air
  • Non-corrupt police

Today has been the first of many adventures in Ghana. We woke up this morning to a beautiful view of the ocean and a delicious breakfast cooked by the women at the Rising Phoenix. Their kitchen is very small, so they brought one meal out a time, but the food was delicious. We had booked a driver to take us from Accra to Asuansi Farm at 9:00 am, but when all of our luggage had been loaded and the nine of us packed into the van, the driver insisted that we pay him 400 cedi instead of the 190 cedi he had agreed to originally. They refused to take us for any less, so we awkwardly sat in the bus and tried to figure out a plan. Finally Lorenzo was able to talk him down to 300 cedi, but he was not happy with us, which made for a somewhat nerve-wracking ride. The drive through Accra was unlike anything I have experienced before. The city is one of extreme poverty with trash-filled streets, reckless drivers, and tiny shack dwellings packed together. While we sat in traffic, listening to the sounds of constant horns, venders were crowding at our windows with bags of water, candy, and other strange food items. It was definitely a strange experience, but then again, I’m sure a van full of Americans isn’t something they see everyday either. When we finally got out of the city, we were met with fresh air and lush greenery on either side of the road. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, that is until we got stopped at a police checkpoint. I started to get nervous as the officer spoke to the driver in Twi, and we then had to pay a “tax” (in other words bribe) in order to continue on our journey. The rest of the drive was beautiful, but needless to say, it was a relief to finally get to Asuansi Farm. The moment we arrived, however, it started to pour, and it was a rainstorm like I have never seen in my life. We met Lawrence, the headmaster, managed to get our bags out of the van, and then walked around the property (in the rain) while he set up our rooms. The accommodations are very sparse and simple (no running water, flushing toilets, or air conditioning), but the land is beautiful.

After getting settled, we took a walk into the nearest town, called Yamadan, to buy some bread, fruit, and nuts to have at the house. The kids were just getting out of school, and most were astonished to see white people in their village. Everyone was extremely friendly though, and I definitely felt more at ease than in Accra. The town is tiny and also extremely poor, but the people seem genuinely happy. It was such a breath of fresh air from the often materialistic US. After making our purchases, we headed back home to unpack and set up our rooms before dinner. Joyce, who oversees the kitchen at Asuansi, prepared vegetarian curry with rice, and we ate together in our little makeshift dining room. We then realized that we had no dish soap, so John and I walked to Yamadan again and picked some up while the rest of the group filled water buckets for showers. We spent the rest of the night piled into mine and Jessie’s room talking about the day, the rest of the trip, and life in general. John decided to bring an electric mesquite swatter, so we amused ourselves by zapping any mosquitos that entered our lair. (Hey, you’ve gotta find something entertaining to do when there’s no internet or TV!) I’m currently sitting under my mosquito net, which is actually pretty cool, and listening to the ridiculously loud cicadas outside my window. It’s been a really long day, but I’m happy to be finally settled at Asuansi and ready to get started on my research in a few days!

It’s so green!

5/30/12

I woke up at 5:30 this morning to a ridiculously loud rooster crowing outside my window. Welcome to mornings on a rural African farm. It was way too humid to go back to sleep, so Sydney and I went for a beautiful run along the one road that leads out of the farm. She was quite fast, and we kept up a good pace together. It was so peaceful, and the wet dirt such a refreshing change from the treadmill and the pavement. The path cut through rolling hills of waist-high vegetation, and the air smelled like fresh rainfall. We passed groups of uniformed kids on their way to school, and they looked at us curiously as we ran by. On the way back, I suddenly heard footsteps behind me, and when I turned around, I saw a young boy running to catch us. He had a devilish smile on his face, and he looked at us excitedly as he fell into stride next to me. I asked him if he liked to run, and he nodded with a huge grin. He followed us all the way back to the farm, and as we ran, I looked down at his feet and realized he was wearing sandals.

When we got back, I took my first “bucket shower,” which was actually quite refreshing. After a quick breakfast, we headed into Yamadan to catch a “Tro Tro” to Cape Coast. The Wednesday market was in full swing when we arrived, so we walked around for a few minutes and admired the various crafts and homemade clothing. Tro Tros do not run on a time schedule; instead, the driver simply waits until it is full to take off. When the Tro Tro arrived, we packed ourselves in and waited. When we were sufficiently squashed, the driver turned on the ignition, but we didn’t move. We were stuck in the mud. A nice push from a few village men got us going again, and we set off down the road. If you thought the Indiana Jones ride was rocky…you haven’t experienced a Tro Tro ride in Ghana! It was quite the experience, but we arrived safely in Cape Coast and proceeded to do our household shopping. The town was definitely nicer than Accra but still poverty-stricken and crammed with street vendors every few feet. We bought cleaning supplies, cell phones, food, and other random necessities, and then we headed over to an “Airtel” booth to get our phones set up with sim cards.

The man was quite a character, and it took him a good 45 minutes to set up two phones. He then proposed, and I quickly showed him my “wedding ring,” and told him that my “husband” back home would be very upset. He was evidently bummed, and when I got back home this afternoon, I discovered that my phone wasn’t working. Coincidence?

After we finished our shopping, we headed to Bao Baab’s vegetarian restaurant for a delicious lunch. I had a Spanish omelet, but there were many different ethnic cuisines, and the plantains and red beans were amazing. The restaurant was also part of a school for the arts, so we spent some time talking with the waiter about the educational programs. Over lunch, we all discussed our research, and I loved hearing the depth and variety of everyone’s topics.

After another long, bumpy Tro Tro ride, we arrived back at the farm and spent the afternoon putting away kitchen supplies and getting organized. A few of the local primary school boys have been fascinated by our existence, so they came to visit us this afternoon and helped us de-bug the house. It hit me how little they have when one of the boys came up to me and asked if I had any socks. We gave him a pair to protect his feet, but it is difficult not to give more, despite the idea that it creates dependency on American influence. Sydney and I cooked dinner tonight, and it felt like one of those cooking shows where you try to make something out of random ingredients. Despite our lack of preparation, we made vegetables in tomato sauce over rice, and it was actually a big hit with the crowd. The fresh watermelon for dessert was the best though.

Our last research fellow was supposed to arrive today, and he made it all the way to Accra, but he and Lorenzo got stuck in Cape Coast, so they’re staying the night. The rest of the night has been filled with talking, laughing, researching, and making bracelets out of string. One of our fellows came down with something a little while ago, and she now has a 100.5 fever, so we are all a little anxious. If it reaches 101, we’ll take to her to the hospital in Cape Coast, so we’re all keeping our fingers crossed. Off to bed because we’re meeting with the district chiefs tomorrow to get our research approved!

Cape Coast “Grocery Store”
Photo Cred: Paula Narvaez

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