November 29, 2010

Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp

One of my housemates, Emily, interns with WISE Women's Initiative for Self Empowerment.  Twice a week she visits the small counseling center they have set up in Buduburam.  Buduburam is the Liberian refugee camp that is situated about 40 kilometers west of Accra. 

Brief History on Buduburam
        Buduburam was established in 1990 to accommodate the sudden increase of Liberian refugees who fled to Ghana when Charles Taylor came to power. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was initially very supportive and provided the settlement’s residents with individual aid and relief.
In 1997, however, after Liberia held elections, the UN decreed that Liberia was safe and stable. As a result, the UNHCR discontinued refugee assistance to Liberians in Ghana, and the settlement lost much of its funding.  Thousands of refugees returned to Liberia, but the majority chose to remain in Ghana. 
        Soon after the 1997 elections, the political situation in Liberia worsened, and the second Liberian civil war erupted.  Although the UNHCR limits its personal aid efforts in the settlement to unaccompanied minors, the elderly, and the disabled, the organization does sponsor infrastructure work within the community, funding projects such as construction and education.  As the UNHCR is increasing its pressure for repatriation, its aid is being withdrawn. 
        Now Buduburam is host to about 40,000 refugees, most of whom are Liberian, the settlement still receives new refugees on a regular basis. 

        While I visited last week, a group of women had started a protest, to try and bring down Sambolla, the leader of the refugee camp.  When we spoke to the women, they were filled with so much tenacity and expressed all of their frustrations about the camp with us.  They wanted someone who represented them, and someone who did not care about Ghanaian special interests.  They wanted to be informed.  They wanted somewhere to live where they didn't have to pay for their basic needs such as toilet use, water, etc.  They wanted to have job opportunities.  They didn't want to go back to Liberia, it is not safe for them, it is not home. 

        The UNHCR is actively promoting voluntary repatriation.  I was a bit frustrated with the literature that was urging them to return home.  It seemed it would either not be simple enough for many of the refugees to understand or it seemed like blatant propaganda (view comic photo below). 
"There is no place like home..."
What would you suggest for all these thousands of displaced people with such limited resources and opportunities?  

        We visited a woman who has been given a microcredit loan from WISE and she has started a small business where she sells water and some small food products.  It would be better if she were able to sell a heartier food, than just snacks and hard candies, but she has a medical condition that prevents her from cooking, as the heat is not good for her health.  This makes it increasingly difficult for her to bring in enough money to meet all her basic needs and pay back her loan with the interest. 
         While we were sitting with her, a young boy, Chris (above) was petrified to see Emily and I initially.  With time he warmed up to us. : )

November 26, 2010

Ghanaian Food

Fufu with lightsoup
        Ghanaian food is generally simple, but plentiful in flavor. Meals tend to be very starchy and heavy on the spices.  The majority of meals consist of thick, well-seasoned stews, usually accompanied by such staple foods as rice or boiled yams.
       A few of the staple foods are Fufu, Banku, Jollof rice, Waakye, Kenkey, and Red Red.  Fufu is made of cassava and plaintain. It is pounded with a huge wooden mortar and pestle into a big ball, which is called fufu.  Banku is made similarly, however it is made of fermented corn dough and cassava dough.  It tastes more sour and less sweet than fufu.  Fufu and banku are eaten with your hand (the right of course, never the left).  At vegetable stands you will often find kenkey which is fermented corn dough wrapped in corn or plantain leaves.  Jollof rice is a spicy tomato flavored rice.  Rice and beans, waakye, are a more healthy, less spicy option in Ghana.  One of my favorites is red red, which is very well spiced beans with fried plantains.  Other foods that can be found at many street vendors are fried rice and egg sandwiches.  Tons of fresh fruit can be found everywhere- paw paw (papaya), pineapple, oranges (which are green) and bananas.
        A meal from a street vendor generally costs about 1 Ghana cedi, which is about 70 cents in the US.  When ordering, you must say the amount in terms of cost - 50 pesewas red red,  20 pesewas plantain. 
        Due to poor water treatment, bottled water is a must.  A less expensive way of getting water is through water sachets, which are only 5 pesewas (a few pennies) for a half liter bag. 

A frequented lunch spot of mine
Red Red
Palava stew with boiled yam and fried plaintain
          For dessert, if kelewele (fried plaintains) is not sufficient, you will not have to look far to find some delicious doughnuts or a FanIce product.  There are plenty of guys honking their horns as they push a cart full of FanYogo and FanIce.  On a very hot day, there is nothing better than tearing the corner off of one of those bags and indulging in something reminiscent of a milkshake, definitely worth 40 pesewas. 

November 16, 2010

Buruku Rock Pillar Shrine

Hospitality is arguably the selling point for Ghana.  

     After four hours of riding north in cramped tro tros(vans) we arrived in Kwahu Tafo.  We had not made any arrangements for accommodations and the sun was beginning to set.  I noticed two obrunis (white folk) and we decided to introduce ourselves.  We asked if they knew anything about a place to stay...  
fast forward two minutes...  
     A very nice SUV rolls up with two individuals who we learn are Humphrey, the Chief of Development and Prince Boat.  Humphrey Barclay is a very well-to-do British TV series producer, who has founded the organization Friends of Tafo.  He has done wonders for the community - established a library, brought computers to the schools, increased sanitation, etc, etc.  He whisked us away to his palace and gave us a cold drink and told us a great deal about the area.  Then, Boat took us all around the little local hot spots that evening. 
    We could hardly believe our luck.  At times, it can be frustrating to have everyone acknowledge you because of your race.  But really, it is so nice to be acknowledged as a visitor and given the royal treatment.  

     The next morning Gustav and I wandered through town with a faint idea of what we wanted to do - Adventure and hike.  We had heard that the Buruku Rock Pillar Shrine was a good day hike and it certainly looked spectacular off in the distance. 
     Ghanaians believe that the natural and spiritual world are very tightly knit.  Thus, whenever the natural world exemplifies any mark of being extraordinary it may be deemed sacred. The rock pillar is sacred and home to a God who distastes yams.  Story goes that it used to be twice as tall, but one day an ant holding a yam climbed atop Buruku, and lo and behold the top half crumbled down!  What a mighty, mighty ant. 
     We wandered around town asking for directions, and giving the abridged version of our life story to every Ghanaian we passed (everyone asks "Whatareyoudoinghere?Whereareyoufrom?Whatisyourname?Whereareyougoing?"). This makes getting lost in Ghana nearly impossible.  I had my mind set on roughing it through the bush alone.  Luckily, I did not get my way and a young village boy decided to be our guide. 

Young boy - "Where are you going?"
Us - "Buruku Rock Pillar Shrine."
Young boy - "OK, lets go."

     Once we left the road, we found it to be quite difficult to find our way.  No worry, we ran across two other young boys that decided to join us on our hike.  Also, they had machetes, which made working our way through the bush a bit easier.  We got to this cliff edge, where the boys were determined to find a way for us to get down.  A jump here, slide there, grab that branch (hope to God it doesn't break) and we were down.  It was hot out, we got lots of cuts on our arms and legs, but damn were we determined to get to Buruku.  Without the help of those young boys, I'm not quite sure how we would have made our way. 
     Once we reached Buruku, Gustav poured some drink as an offering, we were told if we didn't do this then our cameras would be spoiled.  From the top we could see Lake Volta and a few small villages; it was a beautiful sight.  It was funny to think that we had struggled so much to get up to where we were, since it looked like a relatively simple climb.  Not having a proper path had proven to be a bit treacherous at times.  Looking down the bush did not seem to be that tall or thorny and the slight slope did not seem to be slippery, but looks can be deceiving.

It was just the adventure I had been craving. 

Contemplating our Path

November 10, 2010

Volta Region

Over the weekend our program traveled to the Volta Region.  The landscape was so lush and green.  The Volta Region is in the southeastern part of Ghana and spans along the east end of Lake Volta.  We stayed at the capital, Ho.  Lake Volta is the largest reservoir on the surface of the globe.  Its formation was a result of the Akosombo Dam.  This hydroelectric dam which is pictured below (2nd to last photo) was built when Kwame Nkrumah was in office.  The Aksombo Dam symbolizes growth and a new beginning for Ghana. 

During our stay in the Volta Region we traveled to the Agumatsa National Park and went on a short hike to reach Wli Falls (pictured above).  Wli Falls are the tallest water falls in West Africa. The path we took to the falls had 11 points where we crossed the Agumatsa River.  Once we reached the falls some of my program mates ventured into the pool of water and slowly made their way beneath the falls.  On the rock face were thousands of fruit bats.  It doesn't seem like the best place for rest... direct sunlight, mist from the rainfall, but boy does it have a view. 

We visited a small village that is home to the Tafi Monkey Sanctuary.  This was such a treat!  Walking into the jungle I was a bit on edge.  I expected large, mean, trouble-makers.  What I found instead was small, friendly, cute, trouble-makers.  We brought a bunch of bananas with us and our guide, showed us how to properly feed them.  Then he proceeded to say that sometimes they'll eat right off your arm!  So, I extended my arm about one foot from the tree trunk and waited.  The little guys scrambled down and reached out... eventually one hopped on board and enjoyed a tasty treat from the seat of my arm! 
As we were departing the jungle the sun was setting and the monkeys were preparing for slumber.  They were hopping from tree to tree above our heads.  We even saw Commander, the King of the particular group of monkeys we had just fed.  At the end of the visit, our guide explained the benefits of the monkey sanctuary and relationship between the monkeys and the Ghanaians.  He explained that the funds have helped increase proper sanitation practices in the village, which of course leads to reduction in spread of disease.  Also, since the monkeys are now protected, so is their natural habitat.  All in all, it seems that this little ecosystem seems to be growing and prospering. 

November 2, 2010

Life Is Beautiful

The internet is very unreliable in Ghana. 
When it is working it's at a very slow pace...
My neighborhood has been out of internet for the past week... or two?

I'm keeping it short and sweet for now...

I feel as though it's all downhill now.
I'm reading 'Breakfast of Champions' by Kurt Vonnegut and discussing culture with friends from all the corners of the globe... It makes me a bit weary to return to the States, but heck I love the Northwest. 

This week...
the random beauties...

On my walk home from class

On my walk to work
Eastern Region
Eastern Region
Also, we threw a Halloween Party - I was a mosquito!