Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Christmas From Ghana!

Hello My Dear Friends,
Well to start with I would just like to wish you all a merry, merry Christmas, and a prosperous new year. May you all enjoy wonderful times with family and friends, as well as lots and lots of wonderful Christmas food and drink. As I sit here in shorts and t-shirt, and as I look outside and see the hot, hazy Ghanaian air, it is hard for me to believe that today is Christmas eve, and that tomorrow is Christmas. Even though we very rarely have a white Christmas in Bellingham, I still asscociate the holiday season with cool, wet, Pacific Northwest weather, so it is taking a bit of work to convince myself that it really is December 24th, despite my sweaty brow and the palm trees outside. The fact that it is already Christmas also just brings home to me how fast the time has flown by here, I remember when I arrived here Christmas seemed ages away, but now I realize just how fast the past 3 1/2 months have zipped by.
Here in Ghana, Christmas is already here, as they celebrate the holiday for pretty much a whole week surrounding the 25th, the dates differ depending on who you ask. Exactly what they define as celebrating Chirstmas however, is a bit of a mystery to me, because so far here in Sunyani there are virtually no indicators that it is Christmas. From the adds I have seen on TV for Christmas sales in Accra in Kumasi I get the impression that the holiday is at least commercially a bigger deal in those places, but the stores that put those commercials out are not present in Sunyani, and walking the streets here I have seen no Christmas items or sales. I think in Ghana people still take the holiday very literally, a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, so a large part of the celebration is just going to church even more often than usual. So far at my house life goes on mostly as it has for the past months, the only difference being that a few family members who were at boarding school have come home. I have asked my brothers what we do here to celebrate, and it sounds as if the extent of celebration is a nice meal here sometime in the next few days. I think that although people here are not confronted with a financial crisis like many people in the U.S. are right now, they are confronted with the reality of living in a developing country. In a family like mine, feeding twenty people each day is enough of an expense, and I'm sure there isn't money left for gifts and other Christmas activities. I think that in many ways though they have it just right, the whole family is here to celebrate and to enjoy eachothers company and some good food, and really isn't that the most important part of the holiday?
I have now been off from school for a week and will be until January 13th, and really this year that is the best Christmas gift I could have received, almost a month off to relax and travel. A week ago today my fellow AFSer Rich and I took our first trip for the break, a day excursion to a nearby monkey sanctuary. It was a wonderful trip, definitely the most excitement I've had so far in my stay here. Not only did we get to see a ton of lively monkeys, but we also got to enjoy a beautiful 250 year old forest, as well as a couple helter skelter taxi rides. We have two other trips planned for the break, the first being a couple days in Kumasi at the beginning of January, hopefully with a few other AFSers from around the country, and then at the end of January AFS is sponsoring a trip to the Volta region, both should be great fun. Here in Sunyani I have fallen into a very regular routine, a routine that when I first got here I would have deemed incredibly boring, but at this point in my stay I am very content with it. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Rich and I go to town at 8am and buy a wonderful breakfast of an egg sandwich and a mug of wannabe coffee, and then after that we come here to the Internet cafe for an hour. The rest of my week is spent chilling at home, and as boring and lame as that may sound, I have come to enjoy my time with my family immensely. A lot of my time is spent with my brothers bagging sachets of purified water and sugary drinks that my family manufactures, in fact last night I was up til three in the morning with them working, yikes! I also have taken a couple fishing trips with my younger brothers to a nearby muddy little creek, where with sticks and string we caught an amazing amount of palm sized little fish, which despite there size, we of course ate. Other than that, my days really are incredibly lazy, I spend a lot of time sitting out in our yard under a big coconut tree, often with a little grey and white cat in my lap who has become a fast friend. Just sitting does sound boring when you say it, but I have learned to enjoy my time under the tree, sometimes a nice breeze is blowing and I can close my eyes and enjoy its cool touch, or if there is no breeze to enjoy then I can just enjoy time with my little feline friend and I can spend time time contemplating this crazy world around me. Usually around twelve or one I take a nap, then around five I head out for my daily five-ish mile run, and really that is the extent of my daily activities. Boring as my routine may sound, I really am learning to enjoy it. I think perhaps that is another Christmas gift I have received this year, the gift of learning to enjoy small things immensely, I wont deny that I am longing for a good day on the ski slopes right now, but it is valuable to learn that I don't necessarily need that kind of excitement to be happy.
Alright, well as it is Christmas eve, I am sure you all have much better things to do than read my ramblings, so I will cut this email off here. Again, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, I am thinking of you all and wish I could be there with you to celebrate and make merry.
Best Wishes,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ghana Q & A Part 1

A lovely bowl of plantains and a leafy sauce of some sort that has been cooked for several days...

Bagging a sweet "juice" aka sugar water w/ artificial flavoring drink that my family makes and sells.

From left to right: Innocent, Iris, and Jessica.

Apple tree in Washington, Coconut tree in Sunyani!

Looking out at the rusty metal roofs of a residential part of Sunyani. Note the small mosque in the center.

Hello again everyone,
To start with, I hope you all had a wonderful thanksgiving! I was drooling all day just thinking about turkey and mashed potatoes and apple pie... It will taste so amazing next year I am sure. Well, since I last wrote, things have been going well for me here in Sunyani. School is still definitely the most trying aspect to my life here, but I am really enjoying life with my family, which makes up for the hours of agony in school. I know I have written very little to date about my family, but it is my plan to write the whole next newsletter on my family life, hopefully in two or three weeks. As far as today, as I said last time this will Ghana Q & A edition! Thanks so much to all of you who sent me questions, unfortunately I can only work in a few today, but somewhere down the line I am planning to do Ghana Q & A part two.

What kind of smells do you encounter day to day in Ghana?

After being here for nearly three months, the smells here now seem very commonplace to me. When I first arrived however, that was not so, smell was HUGE, because well, Ghana is a pretty smelly place. There are several prevalent smells that infest my nose on a daily basis. Walking through town is probably the most aroma rich part of my day, as there are tons of food vendors selling food like meat kabobs, fried rice, fried plantains, and many others. Unfortunately, those nice food smells are also mixed with a healthy helping of exhaust, as well as the wonderful smell of garbage filled open sewers. Lining all the roads, there are these big cement gutters, and it seems they were poorly designed because they are always full of stagnant water mixed with garbage, rotting food and vegetables, and probably a fair dose of urine. Another very prevalent smell is smoke. Ghanaians love fire, and use it for cooking and burning pretty much anything. The cooking fires aren't so bad, as they are usually just burning charcoal, and plus the smell of cooking food is always pleasant. The smoke that I find slightly less pleasant though, is the smoke created by the burning of plastic, and of piles of green grass and leaves. The other day I came home and my host mom was throwing some old phones and tires into a fire outside our house, yuck can you say carcinogens?! As prevalent as the smells I've mentioned are, the thing that probably fills my nose the most is lovely, red african dust, but I guess maybe that doesn't quite qualify as a smell..

I'd love to know about other AFS kids there, from what countries, how often do you get together, and how do you feel the local support is, like is anyone unhappy with a placement, etc.
There are three other AFS students in Sunyani, two who are participating in the high school year program like me, and one who is taking part in the shorter community service program. The girl who is doing community service is named Barbel and is from Italy, and because she is not attending school I do not see her very often. The other two are Rich from Tenesee, and Iris from Belgium, and they are both wonderful people. Rich lives about a five minutes walk from my house, so I spend a lot of time with him, and I definitely am thankful for his company. Iris lives in a different part of town, but we still see her every school day since we are all in the same class at Twene Amanfo. As far as support, it is somewhat minimal. Our contact person here is actually Rich's 29 year old host brother, and although he is a very kind, nice guy, he hasn't organized too many activities or anything of the sort yet. I know though, that if we were in trouble or needed help he would be there for us in a second. As far as support from the national office, Rich and I have heard from them twice, and Iris hasn't heard from them at all. This doesn't really bother me as I haven't really needed any help, but what does bother me is that for the whole ten months they only have one group activity planned for us. Ghana does have poor roads and such, but still, I think they could do a bit better than that. All of us were lucky enough to be placed with great families, so there have been no problems there.

Internal Family relationships -- how the children relate to their parents and vice-versa.

I'll cover this more in my post on my family, but I'll go over it briefly here. Wow, family relationships are crazy here compared to what I know at home, or at least they are with my host family. The biggest thing I would say, is that there is really no visable affection showed between my host parents and siblings. It seems that they interact more as maybe a boss and an employee do, a boss who doesn't feel much affection for his employees. Beyond telling her kids to do chores or reprimanding them, my Mom really does not talk to my host sisters and bros, and certainly doesn't ever hug or kiss them. My host dad lives in Accra during the week, and when he is home on the weekends he barely talks to anyone. In the few words he has said to me he has of course been polite, but today for instance, all I got was "good morning." This has been a bit tough for me, because I come from such a wonderful, loving family, and it has taken me a while to get used to the fact that I am never going to really feel like this is my family.

How has Obama's win been viewed there?
Obama's win has been huge in Ghana, and throughout the whole of Africa as well. As they rightly should, people here are very proud that "one of them," as they view it, has been elected as president of the most powerful country in the world. Before the election, tons of people asked Rich and I if we supported Obama, and now even after he has won people continue to ask us if we support him and if we are happy he won. It is a little amusing at times though, because as much enthusiasm as they have for him, very few people know anything about him. Like before the election, most people I talked to did not know who he was running against, and I even got some funny and kind of confusing questions like: "Is Barack Obama from the U.S.?" Or one particularly funny one, "Is Barack Obama a man or a woman?" That said, there are also many well informed people who when I spoke to them knew a surprising amount about him and the state of U.S. politics. One teacher right after the election came to our class and spoke with us, saying that "George Bush is a bush man!," and that it will do the U.S. a ton of good to have change and a new administration in control. I have to say, I agree completely, and common, who can't laugh at "George Bush is a Bush man!"

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Pictures!

The Sunyani Municipal Hospital. Its closed on sundays..

The neighborhood football pitch.

My host sister Mamia pounding the traditional dish "fufu" w/ one of my host bros. Fufu is served in a spicy sauce and you swallow it immediately w/out chewing. Not one of my faves..

A village outside of Sunyani.

The neighborhood garbage bin

My host bro's Oraku and Kweku cutting up some freshly killed chicken.

One of the roads I run on near my home. It is very nice and scenic until a truck or bus goes by at 100 mph and makes me swallow lungfulls of dust.

On the left is my host brother BB and fellow AFSer Iris from Belgium. On the right is Iris' host sister Alice, and my fellow American AFSer Rich, from Tennessee.

My host brother Solo, and my adorable 2 year old host sister Angel.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Being a White Guy in Ghana

One of the billions of lizards that inhabit ghana.
Four of my host siblings, closest is Addie, the dude is Paw Kwasi, the little girl is Angel, and the girl in black is Mamia

Our tuesday and thursday treat... egg sandwitches and "milo," a wonderful malt coco drink. the guy who helps us is awesome and has made that enormous milo can tower

Bakoniaba road, the driveway to my host home is at the top of this hill

Well the days continue to slip on by here in Sunyani. I have now almost been away from home two months, which seems already like an incredibly long period of time, especially considering that before this I'd never been away for more than a couple weeks. Life is going pretty well for me here, I have become semi used to the flow of Ghanaian life and I am adapting fairly well I'd say. That said, I knew that this year would be a challenge before I left, and having now been here as long as I have, I can see that it indeed will be. In my last post, I explained how school is a very trying aspect of my life here, and today I am going to explain an equally trying aspect, and that is the experience of being a white guy in Ghana.
Walking around as a white person in Ghana is roughly the equivalent of walking around in the U.S. wearing a tutu and a gorilla mask. It makes you an instant novelty. The difference however, is that while most people would avoid a person wearing a gorilla mask and a tutu, Ghanaians certainly do not avoid white people, or in twi, "obrunis." Other than my two safe havens of my host home and my classroom at school, I am verbally confronted everywhere I go, and by anyone and just about everyone. The majority of the banter thrown my way sounds harmless when explained on paper. Most often, the conversations are simple and short, polite questions, such as: "Obruni how are you?" "Obruni where are you going?" Obruni, what is your name?" So obviously, the reason I feel semi assaulted is not because of the content of what people are saying to me. The problem instead, is with the frequency that I am confronted and the frequency with which I must answer to there, "Obruni..." questions. It really is almost incessant, especially when in town I am greeted by a large portion of the people I pass. Considering that most the people are well meaning, I know it sounds rude on my part to say that I am starting to find all these conversations annoying, so instead I will just say that I am starting to find them tiring.
The other problem with these constant interactions aside from their frequency, is the way in which Ghanaians choose to attract my attention so that they can start a conversation. Often "obruni," or "obruni bra,"(white man come) are used to attract my attention, and as I've already mentioned obruni is not on my list of favorite words. The most common way people grab others attention, however, is by hissing. So, I'll be walking through sunyani and I'll feel as if I am surrounded by hordes of hungry snakes. As much as I would like to just tune the the hissing out and ignore it, I cannot because here in Ghana that would be quite rude. It is funny, because at home it would be rude to call over a complete stranger and demand a conversation, but here I am required by courtesy to at least say a few words. Most often the conversations are short and the people well meaning, as I mentioned before people most often just want to know where I am from, how long I am here, etc. There are however, slightly more annoying people, and those are the ones who like to use obrunis to get a good laugh. This often comes in the form of marriage proposals, requests for me to assist with hard labor, and the most common and most annoying, people who speak to me rapidly in twi and then break into hysterical laughter. I have learned that the best way to deal with these comic obibinis, (black men) is to just smile, nod, and continue on my way.
There is one more kind of interaction I have on a daily basis as a result of being white, and that is requests for money. Obrunis are not only seen as a source of amusement, but also as a source of money. The most difficult part about these requests, is that they most often come from children. I have seen next to zero beggars in Sunyani, but there are an abundance of school children who would love to have a little more spare cash in their pockets. Oftentimes, I'll just be walking to or from school, and kids of varying ages will come and grab my arms or hands, and then ask for money. As hard as it can be, I have to deny them all. I am going to be here for eight more months, and I definitely cannot afford to gain the reputation of being the obruni who is always leaking money. I do not have that hard of a time turning down the older kids, because they are often completely tactless. Apparently white people are so rich that you don't even need to be polite towards them, often they just say, "Obruni give me money!," and I have little difficulty turning them down. I cannot help but feel a bit guilty however, when I turn down the small, big eyed children who grab my hands so fervently.
Well friends, that brings me to the close of newsletter #4, I hope it has been enjoyable. I had intended to send this off more than a week ago, but I have to admit that I have been having quite a few problems with writers block, and hence it took me a bit longer to complete. The writers block was positive in one way however, and that way was that it gave me an idea. I realized that with each passing day life here is becoming more and more the norm for me, and there may be many things that you my readers might find interesting, but that I no longer see as so. My idea then, is to do a Q & A edition, or an edition that is at least part Q & A. So, please, if any of you have any questions for me that I have not covered yet, please send them to me so that i can incorporate them into my next newsletter. Also, if you have any suggestions as to how I can make these newsletters better please let me know!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Twene Amanfo Secondary School

There has been one big addition to my life since I last wrote, and that addition has been school. Twene Amanfo Senior Secondary School. The school year here is comprised of three terms, and this first term has been going for three weeks and will last until the middle of december. So, much as I would back at home in Bellingham, I now go to school monday through friday, from eight in the morning til three in the afternoon. Beyond that however, Twene Amanfo is drastically different than school at good 'ol Mount Baker, and so I am going to dedicate this post to describing me experience up til now at my new school.
Twene Amanfo is comprised of roughtly fifteen one story buildings that each hold three or four classrooms, as well as one three story building that contains about fifteen classrooms. The campus also includes a nice football pitch at its center, as well as an open air cafeteria and a small library. Practially everything on the campus is the school colors of green and yellow, from the buildings to the buses to the student's uniforms. Walking around the campus it has a nice open air feel to it, and it is also well complimented by trees bordering the walkways and the perimiter wall. The asthetic appeal of the place however, ends abruptly as soon as you step into a classroom.
The classrooms here are not dedicated to a subject, but instead are dedicated to a course and to all the students in a grade taking that course. So for instance, the course I chose is visual arts, and myself along with all the other second year students who chose visual arts sit in the same classroom all day, while the teachers who teach the classes that make up our course come to us throughtout the day. When I first heard how things worked here, I thought, OK, being in the same room all day will be sort of like elementary school, and elementary school was pretty fun. WRONG. These classrooms unfortunately, more closely resemble a prison cell than they do the cheery classrooms of my childhood. Gone are the colorful posters and art on the walls, the racks of books and the boxes and drawers of supplies. The classroom that houses Visual Arts Form Two is bare bones simple, as are all the classrooms here. A chalkboard stretches accross the front wall of the room, so smudged with chalk residue that it takes an effort to decipher the new additions teachers make. Filling the rest of the room are the wooden desks the whole school uses, desks that look much like the ones you'd expect to see in one room classrooms during the American Homestead period. They really are almost torture devices, the narrow wooden seat causes my butt to ache after only a few minutes of sitting, and the vertical wooden black allows for no slouching that might relieve my discomfort. The desks at home seem like Lay-Z-Boys in comparision. Apart from the desks and the chalkboard, the only other items in the room are two pieces of paper taped to the wall. One is a typed up paper encouraging students to study the bible, and the other is a handwritten schedule of classes from two years ago. Enclosing these few items are hostile cement walls, originally painted a dingy green, but now flaking badly and fowled by chalk graffititi and smudges of who knows what. I know my description must sound critical, but my intent is only to compare the classroom here to the classrooms I know back home. The classrooms at Twene Amanfo were built as they were, I imagine, due to limited funds, and for the way teaching and learning has evolved here they serve their purpose well. And plus, I'm sure having my tailbone put into agony by my desk each day really is an invaluable characer building experience, and ten years from now I will look back on it and smile.
The uninspiring classroom however, has not been the biggest adjustment for me in this new system. By far, the biggest difference I've had to deal with is the way teaching and learning are conducted here. At home, teachers talk about the different ways each of us learn, how some of us are visual learners, some are hands on learners, how some are oral learners, etc. Unfortunately, the teachers here didn't catch that memo, because almost everything here is based around taking notes, memorizing those notes, and then spitting them back out for tests. The only exceptions to that would be my three art classes, ceramics, graphic design, and GKA, (general knowledge in arts) where we occasionally will break from note taking to do a project. As a student who is used to doing a limited amount of notetaking, and lots of projects and assignments, this different style of education is unfortunately proving to be a bit on the side of boring. Luckily, I am partly saved by the prospect of getting to do some fun art projects, although there havn't been any so far, as well by a classroom of very friendly peers who are constantly making me laugh.
The teacher student relationship here is another big difference from home, and a bit of an unpleasant one too. Here in Ghana students are expected to not only be respectful and obedient to their teachers, but we are also expected to be totally submissive. While I am conforming to this as I must, I won't lie and say it is easy for me act as if the teachers are some sort of superior being. Saying, "Sir" and "Madam" and standing when we speak really isn't a problem, but it is a bit discomforting how the majority of the teachers take very little interest in us despite our good manners. I am sure that the teachers here care for their students just as much as teachers back home do, its just that they do not seem to feel the need to show it. This is difficult for me because back home I have friendly relationships with many of my teachers, and because of that has been a bit difficult being in an environment where my teachers are 100% business. They are also 100% percent into discipline and punishment, and witnessing the punishment has been amusing more than anything else. Their two favorites are caning students and making them pull weeds for hours on end, and there are many different ways you can have have them brought upon you. Being late, wearing white socks instead of black, having your hair to long, sleeping in class, talking out of place, answering a question wrong, being out of class when you aren't supposed to be, and that is just to name a few. They are also very fond of punishing people in front of the whole school. On the first day of school, they brought a girl whose hair was too long out in front of the whole school and beat her, and there have been several other similar instances since then. Its not as if they ever do any damage, but I'm sure that cane can leave some beautiful welts, although I am in no hurry to find out.
I hope this latest entry has been informative, and I apologize if it comes accross a bit on the negative side. I really do think they are trying hard to improve their education system and are making progress, unfortunately however this is a third world country so funds are a bit limited. Anyways though, to end I thought I'd just add a couple fun little tidbits that aren't negative and that should be a bit amusing.
-The chalk smudged chalkboard I mentioned is no longer chalk smudged. A couple of days ago it was re-blackened, with battery acid. All the students were asked to bring in one big battery, and then the batteries were broken open and the acid was poured into a bowl. A fellow student then used a rag to administer the acid to the board, when he was finished his bare hands were black up to the wrist with the acid. The board looks great though.
-Lunch at MBHS costs $2.50. Lunch here costs me 50 Ghana Pesewas a day, which is slightly less than 50 US cents.
-The bathrooms at the school are a bit primative. They are simply cement holes cut into the floor, accompanied by baskets of recycled notebook paper to wipe with. I make sure to do my business at home.
-We have been learning about how to use the internet in one of our classes. When the teacher asked how many students had used the internet, only two Ghanaian students raised their hands. I think at home 100% of the class would have. Also our school only has 4 computers and no internet access, so all the teacher could do was write stuff up on the board. It was a bit amusing to see www. and yahoo and google written up on this smudged up old chalkboard.
That is it for now, until next time I hope all is well back at home and I hope you all are doing well.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

First Impressions of Sunyani

Hello freinds, here is the latest update from Ghana:
I have been in Sunyani a week and a bit, but its just now starting to feel like home. The first three days I felt as if somebody had taken my life and shaken out everything I knew, replacing it all with new sounds, smells, foods, new everything. It at times felt like nails grating across a chalkboard in my head, and it was terrifying. In Accra, I do not think I felt much culture shock because I was with a group of ten other white kids, and we traveled around in our little bus like tourists. But on my first day here it hit me like a fifty pound weight to the chest and left me gasping for air. This is culture shock like being one of three white people I've seen in Sunyani, the other two being fellow AFSers. Shock like realizing that although English is the official language, twi is the spoken and known language. Shock like going from living on tons of wonderful vegetables, to having eaten nothing but yams and other starchy plants since my arrival. Sickening shock like going from being an environmentally minded person to becoming a litter here because there is no apparent trash disposal system. (Everyday one of my little siblings gathers all the trash in our compound and dumps it in a field across the driveway) The list goes on and on, but the last major shock I will mention is religion. I am not a religious person, but I had known Ghanaians would be quite religious and I thought I was prepared for that. Not quite. Religion is everywhere here, part of most shop's names, (The lord's own Internet cafe) on the back of taxis, in the schools, everywhere. The hardest part about it is that people always want to know my religious orientation, and upon hearing that I am not sure about the existence of god and that I believe in evolution they often laugh or look at me like an alien. Science is simply not a part of peoples lives, global warming is out of their radar, church is the highlight of their week, and the thought that we were once "monkeys" is impossible. I am learning quick to laugh at myself along with them.
My life at home is in all honesty, a bit of a zoo. I live in a compound made up of five squat one story buildings, which sounds like a spacious setup until you see the twenty-some people that live there. The room I sleep in is attached to the main house, but is only accessable from a single door outside the house. In my estimation, it is about 8 feet wide by 15 feet long, and I share the one twin bed in it with one of my host brothers BB. The room is sunk about a foot into the ground and has horrrible ventilation, so I go to sleep every night sweaty and uncomfortable. (I'm getting used to it though, the feeling of being sweaty and sicky isn't as bad as it once was) The only quiet time is between 11 at night to 6 in the morning, and for the rest of they day it is alive with activity. There is constantly loud music blaring from scratchy radios, and then there is the buzz of many people doing many tasks. Every day my little sibblings sweep the whole compound with homemade brooms, and every day my older host sisters sit out in the sun and wash clothes in big metal basins. Then there is the constant ca-chunk sound that is made by a big machine that filters water before putting into 500 ml plastic bags. The machine, along with my host brothers produces hundreds of the bags a day, which are then sold throughout Sunyani or drunk by us.
Sunyani. Sunyani is about the size of downtown Bellingham, and I think of it as the Ghanaian Bellingham because it has everything you need in a city without being big and crazy. It is about a 3 minute taxi ride from my home, and once in town I can walk everywhere I need to go. There is a big market in the center of the city that sells just about everything you'd find in an American supermarket, and just a few blocks from that is the school I will be attending. It is a constant buffett of smells ranging from pineapple to fried rice to giant roasted rats to sewage. It, like the rest of Ghana, is made quite dirty by an abundance of garbage, but that is no longer shocking like it first was. There is a constant flow of people and vehicles flowing through the city, but it has a lively feel to it rather than the frantic rushed feeling that inhabited Accra. I feel right at home in the city, and I don't think I could have been luckier in my placement.
I am now far past my first few days of intense homesickness, and now the place that I sleep and eat at is beginning to feel like my home. With this sense of home I am finding many things I like about the Ghanaian culture. I like the pace, the lack of rush and the absence of time. I like the twinkle of humor in so many Ghanaians eyes, the ease with which they laugh. I like how business is done, how everything is sold by local merchants and how most of the food is grown locally. I like the peace I feel as I sit around the cooking fire with my family, watching the sun silhouette the huge African trees in gold and listening to the contented buzz of crickets. I am finding there is so much to like here, and I know that this will only become more so as time passes.
Well that is all for today, I'm sorry this issue dragged on a bit more than the others but I had so much to tell! I am just starting up with school so in the next issue I will tell all about that and much more. I hope as you read this life is treating you well, and to all you Whatcom County people tell our beautiful home that I miss her!
Take Care,

Sunday, September 7, 2008

First Impressions

Hello Dear Friends,
Well it has only been six days since I left, but already home seems worlds away and ages ago. After two days of orientation in New York and almost twenty accumulative hours of flight I am on day 2 in Accra, Ghana. I will skip over my orientation in New York, (it wasn't very eventful) and skip straight ahead to my first impressions of Ghana.
So where to start. Ghana is amazing. Ghana is startling. Ghana is different than anything I've ever known. I am trying to keep these brief and readable, so for today I will share just one of my experiences. On day one we traveled from the hostel we are staying in to the beach, a distance of 10-15 miles, a trip that took at least an hour each way. The beach itself was, well a beach, and there is nothing to explain there. But the ride to and from was a first look at life in a Ghanaian city, and it was incredible. First off, the driving is insane. There are people, goats, chickens, dogs, etc. walking constantly along and across the streets, and yet the fearless drivers still drive at gut wrenching speeds. As far as I can tell the only signal people really use much is their horn, and it is almost constantly beeping. The next part of this ride that was new were the street vendors. There were hundreds of them, and at every stop they would rush up to our open windows, trying to sell us rich "abrunis" items wranging from candy to sunglasses to yams to screwdrivers. I wonder how much of a product these diligent salesman manage to make, because of the hundreds of them we passed, I saw five or less sales. The other part of this ride that was also incredible was the poverty. I had of course known it would be everywhere, but seeing it first hand was another story. It is absolutely numbing to see it all, be it naked little children standing atop garbage piles, bone skinny old men or women sitting inside there about to collapse little shacks. And seeing all of this I also have to take into mind that Ghana is one of the better off African nations, which is also quite numbing. That said, there are many positive things happening here. As our orientation leader said to me earlier, there are so many good things happening in Ghana and in Africa, but Americans and other foreigners seemed obsessed with only focusing on the negative things. The poverty rate here is declining, there water and other services are improving, good things are definitely happening. And aside from that many people live happy content lives, but because there lives are simple and do not involve much technology it is assumed that they are impoverished.
Accra is very dirty and as I said poverty is present everywhere, but despite that I am already in love with the culture. Part of this I think is because it is so completely different from the U.S. For instance, as far as I can tell 90% of shopping is done out on the street, and price is always negotiable. This provides for a very lively and also loud atmosphere everywhere in the city. Also the smells are all competely new, both good and bad. All the sewers here are open trenches along the roads, so that at first was a bit nausiating. But then there are the smells of street food, and that is very pleasant. I am not planning on eating much of that street food, but so far the food that has been prepared for us has been delicious. In general a meal consists of a staple food, (plantanes, yams, beans) and some sort of very spicy sauce that usually contains meet. Although the meals are all similar, they have all been some of the most delicious meals of my life. And to end this, the last thing I will add is that the people I have met here so far are amazing. Everyone is very friendly and of course very interested to hear about the U.S. I met a man yesterday who greeted me by asking who I was voting for, and when I told him that I supported Obama he broke into an ear to ear grin and gave my an enthusastic handshake. There are very few white people here, so in part I think we are a bit of a novelty and people wish to talk to us because of that, but they also do seem genuinly interested in knowing a bit about us and about our country.
Ok well that is all I am going to write for today, I hope that I did not write to much and that it is readable. In my next post I will try to add some pictures, I think they will be quite fun to see. Also, my posts are also viewable at
I hope all is well back in the States, and I hope all of you are doing well.
Best Wishes,

Friday, August 29, 2008

Departure Approaches

Although a couple weeks ago it seemed like it was something very distant that would never happen, my departure suddenly is imminent.  I am scrambling to get everything done, packing, thank you notes for fundraising contributions, gifts for my host family, the list goes on but despite all of that I am very excited to be on my way.  I am of course very sad to be leaving everything I love here in Bham, my friends, my bicycle, my puppy, our lovely cool climate, but that sadness is overshadowed by the feeling that I am moving on to a experience that will be unlike anything I have done yet in my short life.  
Stay posted for my first post from Ghana, probably somewhere during the second week of August.