Monday, May 28, 2007

Tourism 101

Set 1 056
Originally uploaded by jenicra84
One good thing about the program I'm with is that they take you around the area to do a lot of the tourist-y things that you just kind of have to do. On Monday, the day after I arrived, we went into Accra and saw the National Museum, Kwame Nkrumeh Memorial Park, and the Arts and Cultural Centre, in addition to the big markets of Makola and Tema. None of these things were spectatular by any means, but I wanted to see them and I'm glad I got the chance to. The market was crazy, milling with people, smelly, hot, dirty, busy. It's so funny to me that the town moves at such a fast pace, because no one Ghanaian person (that I've yet met) moves at this speed. Everything here that is done on a person-to-person level is very slow and iffy. "It's not far" could mean a 2 hour drive, "soon" could mean within the next few days, and "definitely" is practically a curseword. But the speed of the city is in stark contrast. I don't really like the city - the fumes from cars and the stench of the open sewers make it practically impossible to get a breath of fresh air. If the car or tro-tro I'm in gets stalled behind something that spews an especially toxic black smoke, which happens a lot, I start feeling light-headed and nauseous. I guess I'm spoiled by our pristine Pacific Northwest air.

In Case of Septuplets

The language I am learning here in Ghana is Ewe (ay-way). My teacher is a young woman named Roberta, with the awesomest hair in the world (with any luck, I'll get a photo tomorrow, at our last lesson together). There are a few new alphabetic letters as well as some new phonemes to learn, and I'm finding that even though the language is "logical" to me (meaning that the sounds of words line up nicely with the meaning of words), it's very difficult for me to master the new sounds. Further adding to the frustration, Roberta, who is very quiet and sweet and is a good teacher, seems to expect that we are going to come away from these handful of 2-hour lessons speaking Ewe fluently. I don't know if she actually thinks this, or if it's just the vibe I'm getting from her. Plus, the booklet of words that she gave us has some of the silliest things in it. Here seems like an appropriate time to introduce a phrase Joseph has introduced to me: TIA, short for This Is Africa. I'm finding myself thinking it more and more. Anyway, this relates to the language, I promise. The language book definitily makes me think "TIA," because it's poorly organized (words like "forgive" and "search" can be found under the heading Pronouns) and there's a lot of useless words in there and it's severely lacking things I would think of as important. For example, there is a section devoted to multiple births, just in case I encounter a herd of septuplets or something and need to know that the Ewe word is... yeah, I can't even remember, nevermind. You get the idea.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Just a few notes

Here are a few things I've learned from my time here thus far:

Use your right hand when gesturing in any way or touching someone. The idea behind this is that you use your left hand for less-than-sanitary actions and thus it is an insult to use this hand with others.

Bring toilet paper with you everywhere. It will surprise you how few places actually have it.

Pretty much everything tastes the same here. It's not necessarily bad tasting, but it's not great either. Plus, I miss cheese with a passion.

Bucket showers are amazing. Basically, you get a big bucket of water and use a small bucket to toss the water over you. It's room temperature (at the warmest) and very refreshing.

Do not dare order a "mini" beer unless you want a look of disgust from the waiter. A "mini" is the typical size back in the states. The normal size here is at least twice that size, so when I tell stories about feeling drunk off one or two beers, it's because they're massive, not because I'm a total lightweight (though that's a little true too).

There are not nearly as many mosquitos as the U.S. public health system would like you to think. I've only been bitten a handful of times thus far.

When some one says anything like "Just a second, or it'll just be a minute, or very soon" don't believe them. I've now experienced a half dozen situations where I was told "Any minute now," only to wait for hours. Time is fluid here.

Being clean isn't all that important and big bugs aren't that scary. When you're worried about falling into the open sewer system full of human feces and who-knows-what-else, that spider the size of my head isn't nearly as frightening. Also, Purell should be sold by the liter here.

The only thing you need to know to get somewhere - anywhere, really - in this country is the name of where you are going. The people here are incredibly helpful. Even if you have to ask eight people, eventually, someone will make sure you get to the right place. Just today, someone we met in a bar Friday night saw us again in town and got us a taxi to the bus station and stayed with us until we got on the bus.

For the 411

You should totally go check out the blog of my roomie, Catherine, because she is writing more everyday stuff than I am currently (though I will eventually get to that too).

Expecting Expectations

This post goes out to Dugan, the D-meister, DD, and other things I won't mention here.

First off, on the suggestion of Dennis, I tried to jot down some notes on what I expected Africa in general, and Ghana in particular, to be like. Some where spot on, some dead wrong.

1. It's going to be hot and humid.

Check! Actually, it's not always that hot, but it's very humid. Mindblowing humid. Sticky-all-the-time, never-dry-off, I-can-wring-the-sweat-out-of-my-pony tail-after-walking-around-outside-for-10-minutes humid. Yeah, I'm gross. I'm really glad I haven't encountered many mirrors here.

2. It's going to be bright, colorful, loud, and musical.

That's pretty true, I guess. It's definitely loud and musical for the most part. But sometimes the noise is overcome by the sound of car horns. Instead of stopping, yielding, or turn signals, Ghanaians honk their horns to symbolize pretty much everything. Adding to the noise pollution are the tro-tro drivers shouting "circ-circ-circle" everything 30 or so seconds. Also, taxi drivers assume that because we have white skin, we must want a taxi, even if just passed up the last eight in a row and we're going in the opposite direction. Today, at Cape Coast, we waited for a taxi for 15 seconds and I thought I was going to die of impatience. Kidding of course. As for bright and colorful, I guess it is, but a lot of the color comes from the various shades of decay.

3. I'm going to feel like an outcast a lot and I'm probably going to be lonely a lot.

The fact that there are friendly obrunis (Twi for white people) around me is really helping with the feelings of isolation. It's kind of fun to be a novelty for a while, but it gets old quick (except for the kids, they smile when they see us coming, and run up, daring one another to touch us - it's very sweet and endearing). I'm lonely sometimes, most definitely. I miss David big-time at night. During the day, if I don't keep busy, the loneliness will sneak in, and it's a pretty awful and overwhelming feeling. I often contemplate coming home early during these times.

4. There will be kids playing soccer in the streets everywhere I go.

This was kind of a surprise - I've only ever seen one soccer game going on here. There aren't many flat, open areas in the city and I think that perhaps a soccer ball is more expensive than I imagined. Also, it's kind of hot to be playing outside for very long.

5. There would be plenty of Americanized/Westernized areas, especially in the cities of Accra and Kumasi.

I was really, really wrong about this. I haven't seen anything to suggest that any American chains have their hands in Ghana at all. I expected a modern, Westernized part of the city, where I would see some golden arches and big U.S. banks. The only familiar brands I've seen are those for mobile phones, vehicles, and a handful of foodstuffs (like CocaCola, Nestle, etc.)

There are others of course, smaller things that I can't really put into words, but that's all you're getting for now. :)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

You're a champ, Champs

We've been in town since mid-afternoon, Joseph, Catherine, and I. J & C are trying to change some details about there flights out of Accra. Not much was achieved. Exhausted from bureaucracy, we leave the airline offices behind. Our new mission: a cool place to watch the Milan-Liverpool game. Luckily, I've brought along my Lonely Planet guidebook and we decide on Champs Sports Bar. Champs claim to fame? It serves the only Mexican food in Accra (and perhaps all of Ghana). We jump in a taxi. The driver suggests a local bar in Nima, we accept. When we get to Nima, it becomes obvious that there is no electricity in this part of town tonight. It simply will not do, so we head off to our original destination. We wander about for a bit, stop in at a posh hotel to ask for directions, and are personally led to Champs. 60,000 cedis (~$6) and a 5-minute wait later, we've pushed our way into an upscale ex-pat sports bar with standing room only (and barely). Joseph pushes his way to the bar and orders a round of Carlsbad-I mean burg, Carlsburg... slip of the tongue... We settle in to watch the game. I don't even know which team is which, but I don't care: the place is crazy busy and there's A/C, so what the fuck do I care?

The beer doesn't taste so bad halfway through the second pint, by the third, it's good. So here we are, the three of us drunk as skunks, in the room of a thousand languages. Within 30 minutes, I've heard English, Twi, Ewe, Ga, Wolof, Swahili, Italian, Spanish, Russian or something close to it, German, Dutch, French, and who knows how many others are there. It gives the place a very cool atmosphere.

Before we know it, the game's over, we pee (taking time to enjoy the running water and flush toilets), walk out front, and hop into the first taxi car we see.

"Teshie Camp 2 - you know it? How much? 60,000? Great." We pile in. The wind rushing feels amazing as we whiz by bright city lights and honking car horns. They drive fast and crazy here. Seatbelts are rare. Catherine and I whip out our cameras and take photos of things we won't recognize the next morning. We get into Teshie - we're getting very close to home now. It becomes obvious that our taxi driver does not know the way to Teshie Camp 2. Unfortunatly, neither do we, even when it's light out and we're sober. We stop and ask about a half dozen people for directions as we wind around Teshie suburbs. Eventually, we get going in the right direction. Catherine spots Happy Your Self, a familiar watering hole that we've frequented several times now and we ask the driver to stop here. We get out, pay the driver (he seems happy to see us go), and stumble back to Big Mamah's, our host house. We're late - it's 9:50, our curfew is 9:00, but no one cares. I have established myself as "The Good One" to our handlers: all who pass with me are safe! We head straight to bed, the room still spinning, and sleep fitfully.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I have landed... and been here for 4 days

I write this from Teshi Camp 2, outside Accra proper. I won't write much today, I don't think: just an update. I arrived with no problems at all (nice, since I was expecting some). I went and did touristy things in Accra yesterday with a guide, Adom, and Catherine & Joseph, two other volunteers. Saw the National Museum (photos - maybe - on flickr today or at least soon), Kwame Nkrumeh Memorial Park (first president of Ghana), Makola Market, and the Arts Center. All of these were on "the list," so I'm doing good. Today we are supposed to go in to town again, hopefully to see W.E.B DuBois' gravesite & the museum there. This weekend we (C, J & I) hope to travel to Cape Coast & Kakum, also on "the list." I am learning Ewe (ay-way) and enjoying it so far - it's got some difficult sounds, but many of the words just "make sense" to me.

I rode a tro-tro for the first time today, which is basically a big van that carries people from place to place. More about those later. It's all written in my journal, so it'll eventually get here, even if it's August before that happens.

Everything is so laid back around here, yet town is so hectic.. more later.

Gotta go, my ride is here to take us to Accra.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Boy Will Live

Originally uploaded by jenicra84.
I spent all day yesterday preparing some freezer food for Dave to ensure his survival in the coming weeks. Here's what I made:

2 - Cheesy Chicken and Rice
3 - Chicken Enchiladas (3 each)
3 - Meatballs in Spaghetti Sauce
3 - Meatloaf with Rice
1 - Spicy Chicken with Rice
2 - Spicy Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice
3 - BBQ Pork
1 – Spanish Beans and Rice

18 bags in total (each bag contains 1-3 meal-sized servings)

Packing is a pain

The baggage
Originally uploaded by jenicra84.
I am officially packed. Many painstaking hours went into this, the ultimate pack. It's quite impressive, if I do say so myself. I have compiled all of my necessities for the next two months and a pile of gifts (including a 20' play parachute with a set of 24 nerf balls, 50 children's books, and a dozen bags of M&M's) in an incredibly small space (with the help of my trusty vacuum, which is useless against floor dirt but quite adept at sucking the air out of a plastic bag).

The bags come in at just around 57 lbs. combined, well below the 100 lb. limit. I am a packing goddess - bow down to me in my awesome glory!

Oh, and look at my cool folding plate and spork thing:

Folding plate with spork (folded)
Originally uploaded by jenicra84.

The Visa Has Landed

My passport!
Originally uploaded by jenicra84.
Delivery was attempted on Saturday, but I was a little occupied. So, first thing Monday morning, I walked over to the post office, crossing my fingers that everything had worked out on this one. Of course, the machine wasn't working so the guy couldn't release the darn thing to me for an extra 6.5 minutes. I was going crazy, because this has been such a pain.

When David came home, I made him decipher the handwriting, specifically where it says "length of visa." I had requested 6 months, and they gave me 5 years. Ummm, thanks?!?

Graduation Day

Rob, Jen, DeeDee
Originally uploaded by D_Dugan.

Graduation was hot, dull, and boring - but I got a degree out of it, so I'll stop the complaining right there. Mom, Rob, Dad, Nancy, Grandma, Grandpa, David, and Dennis were all there, which was super-sweet.

The first photo is Dugan's, the rest are from my attempt to amuse myself with my camera during the ceremonies, without creeping out people too much.

Friday, May 11, 2007

T minus 7 days

But first, I must graduate. Tomorrow is the graduation ceremony. I have to get up hella early and make my way over to the Kibbie Dome for line-up, then sit through what will surely be a very boring ceremony. At least I'll get a diploma out of the deal (though I have a gut feeling that my diploma will be mailed to me, not handed to me tomorrow (with all the issues I've had with the independent study course, I'm thinking it'll be awhile before all my stuff is lined up). Not that I really care, because I leave for Ghana in a week! Yikes, I mean, it'll still be three days after that when I actually arrive, but I have a feeling all the traveling is going to be very stressful, considering I change planes three times. I will be very, very grateful if my luggage gets to me.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Here we go again... visa, round three

I sent off my visa application ($28 to ship it there and back to me - ouch!) yesterday. Hopefully, it arrived at their offices today. I paid for it to be rushed, so I'm hoping it arrives back by the end of the week. Keeping my fingers crossed...

Did I mention...?

My independent studies Physics 111 is completely finished. And I squeaked out a 'B' too!

Thank you David for all the help - I couldn't have done it without you!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Dynamic Duo

The Dynamic Duo
Originally uploaded by jenicra84.
Meet Ginsberg (left) and Burroughs (right)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

How rude!

I don't understand why people are so nasty to eachother when conducting over-the-phone business. I experienced this nastiness Monday with both Apple and DHL, and then this morning with the Ghanaian consulate. As I said yesterday, my visa application packet was returned but I was missing my personal check, so I called them up. The woman I spoke to was terse and rude - I explained to her that I would like the check returned to me (since they can't accept it as payment, anyway) and she snottily suggested I just call my bank to cancel the check or trust that the consulate won't do anything with it. I replied that canceling the check is an option, but that doing so costs $15, and that I would prefer not to do that. I also explained that I wasn't suspicious that the consulate was going to cash the check without my permission, I was concerned that they didn't know where it was!

After this explanation, she sighed dramatically, and mumbled "Your name."

"Excuse me?" I replied.

"Your name! How am I supposed to solve all your problems for you without your name?"

At the end of my rope by now, I pointedly say: "Once my documents reach your office, they're in your hands, not mine. It is your office's responsibility to keep track of the application packet - I really don't think I'm asking too much that you locate my check."

Pause on her end of the phone. "Your name."

> sigh

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Visa hiccups
Originally uploaded by jenicra84.
So, my visa application was returned to me today, sans visa, which I wish I could say was more of surprise than it is. I knew something would be wrong with it because there is no information about several of the requirements. I was lucky in that I only had two items checked on the list of requirements still needing to be fulfilled.

On the printout they sent me, it says that they don't accept personal checks, but the personal check I sent along with my application was the only thing that wasn't returned. So now I HAVE to call them about it to find out about the check they still have that supposedly they can't accept. Grrr. Also, since I'm now close enough to my leave time, I'm going to have to expedite the processing (and fork over another $30), which means I either have to get a money order for the full amount (and get my check voided) or send another check for the remaining $30.

Here's to hoping the embassy workers are there tomorrow (they were out on holiday today, being Labor Day for the other 90% of the world), that I can get through to talk to someone, and that they can help me with the whole process.

Until then, let this be my mantra: I will be more forgiving and understanding, I will not be a demanding, impatient American.

On a happier note, Physics 111 Independent Study is a thing of the past. I completed the final exam today and handed it off at the ISI office. Woot! Now if only the professor can get my stuff graded in time for me to graduate!

* Blogged via Flickr - awesome!