October 22, 2010

the Happy Feminist Journeys to Shelter

Last week, during my midterm break I traveled to the Eastern Region with The Ark and stayed at the women's shelter.  
We traveled a few hours north of Accra.  When we arrived at the shelter and the gate began to open I heard the cheers of children.  My, oh my; how I hadn't expected all these little guys.  The moment I stepped out of the bus the cheering stopped.  This was unexpected to me, but I suppose they're cautious around newcomers.  Luckily, it didn't take long for them to warm up to me.

The first night at the shelter was the most difficult experience I've encountered in my study abroad yet.  After I ate dinner, the kids requested I come out to the classroom and teach them something.  I was at a loss, but didn't want to refuse their gracious invitation.  So, I accepted and when I stepped outside I saw them all scurrying around arranging chairs.  There were about ten of them, and most didn't speak a word of English.  
I sat in the circle of chairs with them and we found one thing that was universally understood.  Laughter.  Even though I didn't have any grand story to tell them or lesson to teach them, they were constantly entertained by my strange mannerisms.  They also had some really cute songs to teach me.  The girl in the picture above holds a special place in my heart, her name is Adua.  That first night, her little sister would not stop crying.  Adua was carrying her, trying to soothe her, all the while with a smile.  I did my best to keep my poker face, since the last thing these children need is pity.  

When I returned to my room that evening, thoroughly exhausted from everything my mind was racing to process.  I collapsed beneath my mosquito net.  I wrote pages, upon pages within in my journal, mostly questioning my purpose in being here.  Who did I think I was, trampsing into this place?  So that I could simply have an experience?  Who did I think I was imagining myself as a person who had trials and trivulations?  In short, it was a deep moment of doubt.  

When I awoke the next morning at dawn, I heard yells.  
"ADUA!".... "ADUA!"  
No rest for the weary. 

I am in love with Aunty Beatrice.  Aunty Beatrice is a beautiful and resilient woman; she runs the shelter.  She has two children of her own, who stay at the shelter with her, and a husband, whom she sees on the weekend.  Every morning when I awoke, Aunty Beatrice had a warm plate of food waiting for me.  The same can be said for every afternoon and evening.  She even taught me how to cook Kontombre ( ( yum, yum, yum. ) ); it will forever be a treasured memory.   Sitting in the kitchen with Evaa, and getting mocked at by one of the little girls for doing such a sloppy job was priceless.  I find that using a knife to cut leaves with only your hands (no cutting board/counter) is not always the simplest task.  I can only imagine how amused they would have been to see the way I would cut my vegetables back at home.

Some of the boys were pro at sneaking into my room.  The photo above was from my last night in the shelter, I am going to miss those little rascals so much.  Also, after I realized laughter can't get lost in translation, I also realized neither can TICKLING!  : )

KWASE - synonymous with CRAZY  ; )

October 18, 2010

We Do It for the Kids

When did I become a celebrity?  August 13th, 2010.  
Of all my moments on the stage as a flutist, actress, singer or whatever, none have compared to my daily excursions in Ghana.  Every time I leave the house it's as though I'm preparing for a parade.  Pageant queen wave, check, sturdy walking shoes, check, hair and makeup... Well, you get the point. 
The image above was a moment that caused me to blush more than I have in a decade.  These children, were all so over joyed to see me.  Me!  ...  Me?  Why, yes... me.  Simply, because I am an obruni; I am white.  I have journeyed all this way to see them; to try and build a better future for the children.  

This past week was my midterm break, so I decided it would be a good opportunity for me to take a trip with my internship to some of the rural communities.  The Ark has been sponsored by Nestle Ghana ((Milo, anyone?)) for some years now to go to the schools in the Eastern Region and educate about Children's Rights.  The Eastern Region is a huge producer of cocoa and a lot of children are recruited to work in the field, and thus aren't able to go to school.  Therefore, the Ark wrote a proposal to Nestle asking them to fund their efforts to educate children on their rights (one of them being the right to an education).  
I went with the Ark to various villages to educate primary and junior high children on child's rights and child abuse.  I did my best to stay on the sidelines; taking notes and pictures, etc.  However, one of my supervisors liked to try to get me involved.  My second day, I was watching him give his lecture to the kids and when he was done he walked off, and gestured to me saying I had a word to contribute.  I rose, stammered to find a few words, and thoroughly embarrassed myself.  However, the students were all very amused by this performance. 
At times, it was difficult for me to remain on the sidelines.  As we were educating on child abuse, some of the teachers would use cains to keep the kids in line.  The contradictory nature of this situation was overbearing at moments.  However, watching the expressions of the teachers during these lectures was really fascinating to me.  I was overjoyed during one session, when a few teachers really seemed to try to grasp the idea of why caning as a course of disciplinary action was wrong.  How else, were they to get children to stay in line?   Caning is just the simplest way and it was how they were disciplined in school. 
Another point of sadness for me, was the moments of Q&A.  In one session that I sat in on, Evelyn, a social worker with the Ark, posed the question "How much money do you get for lunch?" and "How many times a day do you eat?"  It was astonishing to hear how many children got around the equivalent of a quarter to feed themselves.  Also, the majority of the children ate only breakfast and supper.  I imagine it must make focusing at school very difficult. 
At the end of the lecture when the children got the opportunity to ask questions, I was overwhelmed with how much they had to battle against, to remain in the classroom.  One boy, had such a look of defiance on his face when he inquired about the situation he had at home.  He was probably around the age of twelve and had to raise money for all of his needs; food, clothes, education, etc.  
These kids are such champions. 


October 13, 2010

How we snuck into Heaven

I traveled to Kokrobite on Saturday. 
It was lovely to get two invites, simultaneously, from two friends to go out and have fun in the sun, at the beach.  I tried arguing with Susie at first, but after Gustav had invited me to travel to the same place, I took it as a sign. 
After all, I had just completed my midterms. 
But really, I'll take any excuse to hit up the beach. 

So, after one trotro ride, two trotro ride, three trotro ride... we were there!  It was spectacular!  Kokrobite is a small fishing village just about 30 kilometers west of Accra.  We splashed around in the ocean and bought some stellar clothes (I got two dresses and two wraps for under $10!). 

We saw a hill off in the distance (see image above) and mused about the view from the top and the time it would take to get there... before I knew it, Pedro and Gustav were scheming to make their way to the top. 
And we were off! 

Thanks to the brilliant idea of Gustav, we all clamored atop this mystery building. 
Oh. My. Goodness.

On top of the building, there were these holes; perhaps they were modified skylights? 
It was rather amusing to hoot and holler and make silly noises into them.  The building didn't have any inhabitants, that we were disturbing.  Though I make an effort to not be "that loud American", this was a moment of pure bliss that could not and would not be contained. 

And we are the echoes of eternity, echoes of eternity
Echoes of eternity maybe you heard of us
We do rebirths, revokes and resurrections
We threw basement parties in pyramids
I left my tag on the wall
The beats would echo off the stone
And solidify into the form of light bulbs
Destined to light of the heads of future generations
[Saul Williams-Amethyst Rock Star-Coded Language]

oh, and there was pizza.... mmmmmmmmm....

October 10, 2010


Last weekend our program traveled to Kumasi, in the Asanti Region. 
The Asanti Region at times was roughly the size of Ghana, and encompassed as widely as parts of Cote D'Ivoire and Togo.  The feel of the city was much different from that of Accra.  Kumasi seemed as though it was much more lively and I found it to be more aesthetically beautiful.
Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana and it is home to the largest market in West Africa (see image above).  Going through the market was pretty fun!  We wandered through the maze and looked through fabrics, spices, various knick knacks and finished with the tour of the meat market. 
Thinking back to our walk through the meat market, I can't help but giggle to myself a little... Many of us, particularly those who try to avoid eating meat, struggled with the sights and smells... However, everyone was so smiley and chatty; they all wanted to touch us and have us come over to their particular stand.  I did my best to smile, give the appropriate greeting and move forward.  It certainly was an odd adventure, such emotionally charged images juxtaposed with such welcoming people; that's Ghana for ya. 

[Kumasi Market]
Many regard Kumasi as a royal city.
It is home to the Golden Stool.  The story behind the Golden Stool is rather mystical.  It is believed that Okomfo Anokye received it from the heavens and it was the embodiment of the Asanti Region.  There are a great array of captivating stories that illustrate the connection between the Asantis and the Golden Stool - they would travel hundreds of miles to protect it and the King who reigned over the region at the time, wage wars and scheme dubious plots to trick those who were colonizing Ghana and attempted to possess the Golden Stool. 
Today, the King of the Asanti Region is Okomfo Anokye II and his role in the governement is more symbolic than political, from the western perspective.   It has been hundreds of years since the first ruled the land, I am curious to see what greatness the second will yield over his kingdom.

We were sad to go home.  And yes, Accra is home.  : )

This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About


GlobalGiving helped raise The Ark $1,649 from 29 individuals!
A special shout out goes to two individuals, who I know personally, that contributed-

Grandma Joan - Thank you so much, I know you have a lot on your plate.  Your donation is going to help so many individuals. 
Denise Cully - Thank you so much for your donation!  You were the individual who made the single, largest donation to The Ark Foundation through the GlobalGiving challenge!  

“World leaders will not make poverty history until they make gender discrimination history,” ... “Many leaders call for free trade to spur economic growth. It is time to call for action to free women of the discrimination, violence, and poor health they face in their daily lives. This will unleash the power of half of humanity to contribute to economic growth.”
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the UN Population Fund

October 8, 2010

Asoafua-Assimang: bedazzled with beads

[Molly Alice Smile]
Jewelry, it is such an ornate extension of ourselves.  
I was saddened in my preparations to come to Ghana, since I had decided to leave most of my accessories at home.  However, beads are a fantastic, fun way to get bedazzled in West Africa!  It is reminiscent of my childhood, when I would have five or six bracelets of wooden, glass or plastic beads on each wrist.  I've been told here, that if I wear four or more bracelets on my wrist that I am just like a queen.  
mmmm yes, Queen Gina, it has a good ring to it, doesn't it?

The final village we visited outside of Kumasi this past weekend was Asoafua-Assimang.  It is noted for it's bead factory.  We were shown the process of how beads are made.  There are many different materials that are used and a variety of techniques that are used to attain varying looks - monochrome, striped, painted beads, and so forth.  Finally, we were shown the different types of ovens that are used to make the beads. 

After our introduction to the production of beads, we went out to this little market they erected for us.  It was really difficult to choose precisely what I wanted; there were so many funky designs and colors!  I was discussing some of the patterns I liked with one particular woman and suddenly she procured a bag with just what I was looking for!  I managed to snag some good souvenirs for some family and friends, as well as a little somethin' somethin' for yours truly.  

 My favorite part of my trip to Kumasi, was here in Asoafua-Assimang.  This is because there were tons of kids here!  They were so friendly; the moment I stepped off the bus this little girl came up to me (center in picture below) and requested to hold my hand.  How could I refuse such an offer?  It wasn't long before I was holding the hand of another little one.  We walked through the village to where the bead factory was, exchanging a few words.  When we got to the factory, they scattered around.  I couldn't help but feel, perhaps I'm not the first to have come all this way and walk this path with these children.

After we were done learning about the bead making process, the kids were out in the little makeshift bead market.  There was one little boy in particular that stole my heart away since he was so bashful (bottom left of the picture below).  I decided to try to capture some of these characters, and they had so much fun making faces at the camera and absolutely loved seeing the results on my digital display.  As we were about to make the walk back to our bus, some of the children got a bit territorial over us.  I imagine, they were saying something along the lines of....
"Kwaku! I was holding her hand first!" "No, she's mine... go get that one!"
If only I had more arms.  

October 7, 2010

Ntonso - Adinkra

Symbolism. Symbolism. Symbolism.  
The layers of this society keep my mind endlessly spinning and analyzing the inner workings of everything. 
Adinkra symbols are adorned everywhere!  Fabrics, furniture, buildings, tro tros, jewelry, and so forth.  
The village, Ntonso, that we traveled to just outside of Kumasi, is famous for their production of Adinkra.  We were taught about the history and production of Adinkra.  The ink that is used for the stamps is produced from boiling down the bark of trees.  A dark liquid is extracted and the bark that is remained is strained through a basket.  The stamps above were carved out of the wood from palm trees. 

We all got to try our hand at stamping some Adinkra.  The symbol above that I chose is called Osram Ne Nsromma.  It is representative of a star and the moon.  It stands for faithfulness, harmony, and benevolence. 
The star is always waiting in the sky for the return of her partner, the moon.  

The symbol below, that I am holding is the AYA symbol. 
Aya is the Adinkra symbol that speaks the loudest to me.  It is the symbol and name of the center through which our program is run.  It resembles a fern and stands for defiance, endurance and resourcefulness; the strength that is necessary to stand against a system or commonly followed practices. 

October 6, 2010

Bonwire - Kente cloth

 Our program traveled to Kumasi this weekend, and while we were there we traveled to a few neighboring villages.  The first we went to was Bonwire, where they are known for their production of Kente cloth.  Kente was traditionally worn by royalty.  It is deeply woven with expression - the colors and patterns both hold a great deal of symbolism.  It expresses the status and origin of the individual adorned in the cloth.  Kente originates from the Ashanti region (where Kumasi is) and is a notable artifact that is recognized throughout Africa and the world today. 

I even got to try my hand at weaving some Kente!  I was at first weary to try making something with such a long standing history and prestige, but found it to be relatively simple once I got my bearings.  Generally, it is forbiden for women to weave Kente, but they made an exception for us five ladies.  All four of my limbs were put to good use; left foot down, pass thread through, comb it tight, right foot down, pass thread through and so forth.  The pattern below, that I wove about 1cm of, means family is unity.  However, this pattern, like many others, has multiple meanings. 

Hellooooo, shopping spree!

October 5, 2010

Odwira: Festivus for the Rest of Us!

I met a fellow American student, Gustav, who invited me to go to the new Yams festival near Aburi with him and some friends.  
I had a blast!  
About 20 of us managed to charter a trotro (van) to take us there from the market.  It was such a beautiful drive; we rode up into the Akuapim Mountains and seeing the expansive Ghanaian terrain stole my breath away.  This area in the Eastern Region is known for their botanical gardens in Aburi, however, we traveled to a neighboring little town called Akropong.  The moment we were unloaded we were hustled into one palace to another.  At the second palace we were introduced to the queen mother (image below) and before we knew it we were sitting beside her.  It was fascinating to watch the dialogue between the visitors and queen mother.  
Next, we went to another palace where a great deal of customs and rituals took place.  We sat, and observed as different individuals came and went and discussed varying things.  I felt as though I was watching a Shakespearean play as all these characters came to and fro speaking in foreign dialects.  The King and Queen sat and observed and interjected the occasional word of wisdom.  
Later, we returned to the first palace and dined on fufu (beaten plaintain in light [spicy!] soup).  One Ghanaian came up to me and asked me if I understood what had occured at the last palace we had visited.  I told him I thought it was a general welcoming of visitors.  He then told me that special permission was granted to us obrornis (white people) for being there.  He continued to say that is was against traditional law for us to be in that palace, but that we were granted permsision.  I felt like such a fool to not have picked up on any of that, but was grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a rare, special day. 
After we had our fill of fufu we emerged into the street and the procession was about to begin.  Drums began to be beaten and Queens and Kings alike were atop these boat-like-chairs.  My ears began to ring as there were guns being shot beside me.  It was quite the commotion- drums beating, people dancing, queens and kings bouncing above our heads and the blistering sun emerging from the end of the rainy season.  
Oh, Africa, how I love thee so. 

I really enjoyed my day spent in Odwira, though I was so unaware of the symbolism behind everything.  After my weekend travels, I found some time to interrogate my program coordinators and get the facts on what I had witnessed.  Apparently, Odwira is a week long festival devoted to a series of traditions.  The purpose of these traditions is to purify the people, town and most importantly, the ancestral stools of the chieves.  
Chieftancy is a really interesting aspect of traditional Ghanaian culture that we have spent a great deal of time studying in our sociology classes.  It was wonderful to get the opportunity to see up close and personally the festivities.  Everyone was so welcoming and I felt an immense pleasure walking along the side of the new chief.