Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A whirlwind of travels

Since I had last written, so much has happened: I finished my stay in Montpellier, I traveled to a few different countries, and I finally moved into Geneva. Whew! I have barely had a moment to breathe! But let me start from the beginning.

My entire stay in Montpellier was a good learning experience. I unfortunately was still having a lot of trouble adjusting to life in a country other than Ghana, but nevertheless, I truly enjoyed the challenge of my class, living with a host family, and adjusting to a new culture. My time in Montpellier came to an end on February 5, and (as per usual), I had to hurriedly finish packing. Even though I was pressed for time, I ran to a boulangerie/patisserie to buy my last meal (pizza avec chevre, fruit tart, and of course, pain au chocolate) and then rushed off to the train station. I made it. :)

I got off the train at Geneva to be greeted in one of the loveliest possible ways: to the smiling face of my dearest Emma Little! We had a fantastic dinner of cheese fondu at Emmy’s host mom’s house (YUM) along with a great conversation in French, but the best part of my night was catching up with Emmy while exploring the outskirts of Geneva where Em lives. After sleeping for an hour, we barely woke up in time for my ridiculously early train back to Geneva so I could venture off to Rome.

I arrived in Rome Saturday afternoon, checked into my hostel, and set right off to explore Rome. The next three days were filled with the Vatican City, gelato, pizza, spaghetti, ruins, the urge to speak French and sunshine.

On Tuesday, I made my way over to Florence. I kept dozing in an out on the train ride during which I woke up to see fog and snow outside my window. I thought I must have been dreaming, but alas, I left the short-sleeve weather in Rome for a real winter in Florence (at least it’s not Colgate…). Luckily, my heart was instantly warmed when I saw my beautiful Lily Sehn! We were able to spend a lovely, albeit short, time together. I was super lucky in that there was a chocolate festival going on in Florence at the time of my stay. Mhmmm. :)

Wednesday night, I took the night train (couchettes are… weird) to Paris. I wish I understood Italian because at one point during this ride, the police boarded and began interrogating with one of the men in a neighboring room; I think they argued about his visa and him possibly being in Europe illegally… I was really scared for the man being interrogated.

I got into Paris Thursday morning. I went to see the Eiffel Tower at night: gorgeous. The walk was great too, but a combination of factors (meaning the fact that Paris is actually super confusing and well, we all know about my directional skills) got me SUPER lost. The next day, I went to the Louvre in the morning: this is one place I actually did not mind getting lost in (because needless to say, that was easily accomplished)! I then hopped on over to the Notre Dame and amidst the crowd of people relaxing, I found myself a Claire Healy. :) We spent time by the Seine, at Père Lachaisse (including Chopin’s grave and a lot of relatively new WWII memorials – France has only recently begun recognizing its real role in WWII), and at the Catacombs (which houses bunny’s namesake, Robespierre; however, the bones are not even remotely labeled… I must admit, this was quite… frightening…)!

Unfortunately, I only had a short few days in Paris. I took a train to Lourdes, which was a fascinating and beautiful place to be. The people were so wonderful and genuine and nice here. For example, when I got off the train, a fellow traveler made sure I got to my hostel before heading off to hers even though it was almost midnight. And the owner of the hostel was fantastic! As I was waiting for my train, I was doing some work. All of a sudden, the owner comes over with a fruit tart and tea for me! I was so pleasantly surprised. I just love genuinely kind people like that.

That night, I took an overnight train back to Geneva and got in Monday morning. I shoved my belongings in my room (rather, the few belongings I had), went straight to class, and then hopped on the train over to my Emmy again to pick up the other half of my stuff and, of course, see my Emmy. It is always so great seeing her, but time simply flies whenever we are together and before I knew it, over an hour had gone by and I unfortunately needed to head back to prepare for the week’s classes.

Classes are fantastic. They are so interesting! I am taking classes on nationalism, (European) security, and international institutions. I also had the fortune of visiting the UN offices, which were spectacular!

Without getting a moment to breathe, I had decided to go to Budapest for the weekend with a couple of friends, leaving on Thursday and returning Sunday. Everything about this trip was breathtaking: the train ride, the city itself, the hostel, everything. One major perk: Budapest was cheap. Especially in comparison to Geneva…

I barely got settled back into life in Geneva, with a visit to WHO and PATH in between classes, and now I am about to head off to another great adventure to visit some familiar faces! :)

I am so lucky.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bonjour Europe!

I found myself once again frantically (no surprise there) packing on the 6th of January for my flight that evening. I could not believe that my three weeks in the United States flew by so quickly! I had just barely had enough time to readjust to life back in the U.S. and I already had to ship off again to a new culture. But alas, here I find myself in Europe. So far, the culture shock has been particularly difficult to deal with here in Europe because I have been surrounded by so much privilege and wealth but so little appreciation.

Anyway, we all arrived in Geneva, Switzerland on the morning of the 7th of January. I was shocked by how warm it was! It is such a beautiful city, filled with beautiful buildings and surrounded by majestic mountains. After applying for our residence cards, we spent the entire day exploring this wonderful, albeit very expensive, city.

On Sunday, we packed up and headed on to Montpellier, France. Here, I am living with a host family while simultaneously taking intensive French classes at ILP.

My host family is comprised of a mother and a 17 year old brother, and I live with one other Colgate girl. My family is so nice and welcoming; however, they did not speak any English. I believe they know a fair amount, but, because I was placed here by ILP, I am almost positive that the program forbids them from speaking to us in any language save French. Long story short, it’s intimidating. Slowly but surely, with emphasis on the slowly, I am beginning to loosen up and speak more French. I am just going to have to force myself past my fear of making a fool of myself and simply speak as much French as I can. It’s the only way I will truly learn to speak French better, which is essentially my ultimate goal. Anyway, the apartment is so cute. (Random side note, I love European toilets! They are genius! A little flush for pee and a big flush for, well, you know, haha.) Breakfasts and dinners are provided by the family. The French unfortunately eat small breakfasts, basically just bread and coffee. Dinners are always superb, though they are served kinda late into the night, but are so worth the wait. Being vegetarian is not normal for French and seeing as both my roommate and I are vegetarian, we are a bit difficult. Luckily, our host mom loves vegetables, so we are too, too much trouble on that front. I actually love dinners. Our host mom is fantastic, very energetic, and talkative. She keeps the conversation lively, and I actually understand most of what she says, that is except when she talks super fast. I vow to start speak more during dinner starting today, or perhaps tomorrow… But let me tell you, French cheese, now that is the best part of my meal. Heck! It’s the best part of my day! Sorry Ghana, but one point for Europe! :P

During the day, I have French classes at the ILP. Monday through Friday, I have class from 9 to 12 in the morning with Isabelle. We focus on improving grammar and we work on speaking as well. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I also have an afternoon class from 13:30 until 16 with Frank. During this class, we practice speaking a lot and do some grammar too. After this much French in day, it’s quite difficult not to think in French. I am even accidentally subconsciously trying to write this in French, I actually have to fight the urge to do so. I hope that’s a good sign… But Morgan Caninno, you will know what I mean when I say that it feels so good to be using my brain again so much!

A super exciting thing happened today. I was wearing one of my dresses from Ghana and a girl from the Netherlands in my afternoon class turns to me and asks if I got it in Africa. I said, “Yeah, in Ghana, how did you know?” Turns out, she spent six months in Tamale working at a clinic in 2008. Frank, our teacher, over hears our conversation and turns out he actually lived in Accra for three years! His wife was teaching at a French school there for that time. Before they returned to France, they also adopted a Ghanaian girl. This was so thrilling for me, I could barely contain my excitement. All I wanted to do was talk about Ghana and reminisce about the things I miss, like kenkey and FanIce and Waakye and pidgin and, well, this list could go on a long time.

I still get big pangs of missing Ghana. Huge pangs. As anyone who has been to Ghana can probably relate to this sentiment, I miss Ghana so much. But I have been keeping myself really busy, which has been good for me, albeit exhausting.

That's all for now! A tout a l'heure!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Back in the U.S., but not for long!

I am back home, both happy and upset about the fact. I have loved seeing all of my family, friends included; however, I miss Ghana. So much. The last month or so that I had not written was spent with loved ones, just the way it should be. From concerts to comedy shows to throwing the frisbee on the beach to simply relaxing, I could not have asked for a more fantastic conclusion to all of my adventures in Ghana.

Now I have a couple of weeks with my loved ones at home before zooming off to Geneva and traveling Europe!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Volta Region

Thursday provided an amazing start to my weekend. I had the opportunity to visit the fire department that is on the University’s campus. It was very small and different from what I am used to. They had a lot less resources and the equipment was not as up-to-date, resulting is a decreased efficiency in response; however, much of the standard operating procedures were the same.

This weekend was filled with breathtaking scenery. Morgan, Jordan, Haley, Sally, Jackie, and I went to the Volta Region. It was so beautiful. We got to Wli Friday night and spent the night relaxing. We woke up bright and early on Saturday to hike the Wli Waterfalls. We first hiked to the Upper Falls. It was very exhausting, but we got to swim in the falls when we got there, so it was very worthwhile. When we got back down, we visited the lower falls – also spectacular. The whole hike took about 4 or 5 hours. Immediately after, we traveled to a neighboring town to tour come caves. This was intense. About 300 years ago, people used to live here. I cannot imagine how difficult their lives must have been. This hike took about 3 or 4 hours. Needless to say, we were all exhausted by the end of the night. The hostel we stayed at that night was superb. We got dinner, room, and breakfast for about $5 a piece. We gave the guy extra money though because he was so nice.

That morning, we took a trotro to Mount Afadzato, the highest mountain in Ghana, granted, it’s only 884 meters high. It was a one hour hike each way. The top of the mountain was spectacular and so peaceful. I just wanted to sit there for hours.

The six of us then proceeded to head home. We were very ready to be back at school. We also found out that on that past Friday, the professors’ strike finally ended, though there still seemed to be some uncertainty revolving around its completion. I hope the professors finally get paid (last I heard, the government did not have the funds to pay them), but I am glad that classes are once again in session.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Alliance for African Women Initiative

While attending the University of Ghana, I am simultaneously interning at an organization called Alliance for African Women Initiative (AFWAI). AFAWI is a “development oriented, non-profit, non-governmental organization that seeks to ensure equitable development for both the rural inhabitant and poor urban dwellers, especially women and children.” Together with Lucy Hayes, I have been hard at work trying to further build the organization.

My supervisor Philip and I in front of AFAWI

My main responsibility at AFAWI is to head the Teen Club. This club, presently operating at the Taifa Community School in Accra, works to empower the youth. The club meets every Friday for two hours once classes end at 12:30. The activities I design focus on providing the kids with a fun, yet concurrently educational, experience to conclude their school week. Various topics we cover include, but are not limited to, the importance of staying in school, health, sex and sexual maturation, HIV/AIDS, friendship, and leadership. We will also organize a day for indoor and outdoor games.

The students are all very enthusiastic and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. There are between 150 and 200 club members. We have many hopes for the club this semester and I aspire to fulfill as many of them as possible. I have three big projects for the students.

First, the school needs a library. Below is a picture of the building they hope to transform into a library. For this project, I am working on obtaining a grant.

In regards to my second project, the teachers also expressed the need for a computer lab for the school. The students and teachers cannot afford to purchase individual computers for themselves at home; therefore, a computer lab for the school would be very beneficial and appreciated. I hope to secure donations to complete this project.

My last, and perhaps most important, task is fundraising for the club itself. There are many individual components that compromise this section. I need to raise money to provide the students with refreshments during each meeting. For the approximate 150 students, refreshments (drinks and a snack) would cost about $100US. I also want to take the students on an educational day trip into the Volta Region. For this, I will need to cover transportation, meals, and entrance fees. The students also want to create t-shirts for the club.

In order to accomplish all of this, I will need lots of support, specifically financial aid. AFAWI, the Teen Club, and I would really appreciate any support or help your club would be willing to give us. The most beneficial and productive direction in which your efforts could be aimed would be towards general fundraising for the club. More specifically, I am asking for help with the following:

1. Raising funds for refreshments/general upkeep of the club

2. Raising funds for the educational day trip into the Volta Region

3. Raising funds for t-shirts for the club

4. Donations of books (used or new) and other school supplies for the library

Please let me know if any of these endeavors interests your organization. I can provide more information on any of these projects if requested.

AFAWI website:

AFAWI Teen Club:

The school building used for the Teen Club meetings. (It is actually three classrooms with a divider in between each classroom. The acoustics in the building are awful, so I can only imagine how difficult it must be to conduct three classes in there at once.)

Myself, presenting the activity for the day

Some students collaborating on a project

Ruby, the president of the Teen Club, doing a presentation

The members of the Teen Club listening to a presentation

Monday, October 18, 2010

Santa Claus vacations in Busua

This weekend provided a much needed break from my hectic time in Ghana. Between classes, my internship, and travel, I feel like I am always on the run or on the trotro or thinking about what I must do later that day. This weekend, I was finally able relax and breathe in some fresh air.

On Friday after my internship, Morgan, Cathleen and I rushed over to the Accra International Conference Center for the Malta Street Dance Competition. This was just… wow. This was the final leg of a continent wide dance competition. The teams that made it into the top five were Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Cameroon. Their dance performances were PHENOMENAL. We got to the Center with time to spare and somehow ended up inside the building before the rest of the audience, so we were able to get superb seats – third row, right on par with the judges. The DJ was bangin’, so we did not mind the long wait that followed. The show opened with the introduction of the three judges, who all entered while dancing. They were amazing. I knew right from this part that the Competition was going to be extraordinary. The five dance crews then came on stage and presented themselves. First, all five crews performed a dance representing their country. Then we had a quick break while this artist (not sure of her name) sang. I think she was lip singing though, but it was still cool. The five crews danced again after that. While the judges tabulated scores, Ruff and Smooth performed. Afterwards, the host announced the three teams that would move onto the next round: Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. VIP performed while judges again deliberated who the top two teams were: Ghana and Nigeria. These two amazing crews then did a last performance, which led to the decision that Nigeria was declared the winner. I only wish I could put videos up of the dancing (as a result of a three-way effort, Morgan, Cathleen, and I basically videotaped the whole thing). At the end of the show, the three of us just sorta wandered backstage and were able to meet all of the dance crews. It was really neat. We then got invited to the exclusive after party upstairs. Unfortunately, we could not stay long.

Our group (Emmanuel, T, Cathleen, Morgan, and me) waiting to get into the Malta Dance Competition

All five teams

The X-Fellas, Nigerian crew, after they won

Backstage with the some members of the Nigerian team

Backstage with some members of the Ghanaian Team, High Spirits

We got home close to 2am. At this point, I decided to pull an all-nighter since we had to leave early anyway to get to Busua. I also desperately needed to do laundry, so the timing was perfect.

Morgan and I set out at 5am to get to Busua. Our travels were actually quite smooth, and we got there relatively quickly. My seat on the one trotro was so bouncy though! I felt like I was on a trampoline! Morgan and I kept looking at each other and cracking up. I am pretty sure that the people on the trotro thought we were insane. Once we got to Busua, we met up with Haley and Jordan. The Alaska Beach Resort where we stayed was awesome. It was right on the beach, so we headed right to the beach the moment we got there. We tried to swim out to this island that is 2K away; however, the current was too strong and the waves were too big. The Alaska Resort was also pretty sweet because it had three pet monkeys, which we got to play with. The littlest one, Doobey, was absolutely adorable. He climbed all over us and was so fun! Sunday morning we got pancakes from Dan the Pancake Man. I got one with bananas and chocolate, and then (me being me) I got a second one with scrambled eggs, tomato, onion, and cheese. Mhmmm. Super delicious! The four of us then lay out on the beach for basically the whole day. We went to a French restaurant for dinner before we left. It was fantastic!

Santa Claus (a.k.a. the owner of Alaska Beach Resort)

The beach was so beautiful!

The best way possible to spend our days:

Doobie bit me.

One of my pancake breakfasts (super delicious)

Dessert at the French restaurant (Anyone know how to fry bananas?)

Traveling back was relatively painless. We got back in record time. Unfortunately, once we got home, I found out that despite my careful applying of sunscreen, I got a nice burn. Well, hopefully that means that my wicked crazy tan lines will be evened out…

Monday, October 11, 2010

From Blacks and Blues to Black Stars

This must be a quick post, but this weekend was absolutely fantastic!

On Saturday, Morgan, Whitney, and I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to do a 66K bike tour of Aburi. The sites were so breath-takingly beautiful! The trail was super cool! We had to go through bodies of water that reached our chests, the single path parts were super skinny and frightening and I could not keep my balance on them, and the downhill was scary (but that part was only my problem, haha). The guide was really frustrating though because he did not know where he was going or how far we ever were. I was really happy till we got to this one point when he told us that we were 5 or 6K away. Then 8K down the road, I asked the guide if we knew where we were and he said that we were close... about 20K or more later, we got to our final destination. He kept stopping to ask for directions, but got angry when we asked for directions ourselves. The guide was also getting angry that we were "slow", yet I was in front of him the whole time and had to stop for him multiple times. Regardless, I really enjoyed the bike ride. It was very difficult, my bum is super bruised, my hands are swollen, and I have numerous cuts/bruises on my legs (I was of course the one to fall into a mud puddle), but the bike tour was very worth it. Our final destination, Boti Falls, were very impressive and beautiful. :)

Boti Falls

On Sunday, I yet again woke up early to go to the Black Stars (national Ghanaian team) vs. Sudan football (or soccer for you Americans) match. The game got moved to Kumasi because the flood lights in Accra were broken. The drive was annoying, but it was very worth it. :) The atmosphere and game were wicked cool! I really enjoyed myself at the game. the moment the game ended, it starting POURING! It was storming so bad and happened so fast - I was so glad that it waited to rain after the game ended. Even so, we got drenched on the short run to the bus.

Sarelle, Morgan, me, and Liana at the match. Closer to the beginning of the game, the seats were jam packed! The only thing that was missing was you, Claudia!

The Sudanese (in red) and Ghanaian (in white) teams.

Super cool picture of the guy sitting in front of me that was telling me all about the players and etc. :)

Mom, meet your future son-in-law. It will be one of these three men in white. :) 11 and 13 are the Ayew brothers - their dad was also one of the best Ghanaian football players of all time. 3, Gyan, got a red card because he shoved another player towards the end of the match. But these three were my favorites.
The night sky and packed stadium.