Monday, September 27, 2010

Oh yeah, ran a marathon, no biggie.

To start off, my laptop is not turning on (hopefully due to the humidity, but who knows), so there will sadly probably not be any more pictures. Other than the news about my laptop, this weekend was fantastic!

A couple of weeks ago, Morgan and I met one of the owners of this company called Trashy Bags which makes various products out of water saches (bags) and he invited us to tour the factory, so on Friday, we took him up on his offer. A big group of us ended up going and it was so cool! We first went to look at all of the finished products - I got a purse made out of water saches and a coin purse made out of the Fan Ice plastic. George, one of the workers, then took us on a tour of the factory. We got to see the process involved in the making of the products - from the cleaning to the sewing of the bags. It was truly amazing!

Then Saturday, Morgan and I woke up at 4am to go run a Marathon. Yeah, we didn't train or anything, but it seemed like a fun idea, so we did it. It was a 42K Marathon sponsored by Milo (a popular brand here, owned by Nestle) for peace. It was so fantastic. The marathon started in Nungua and zig-zagged through Accra, ending 5K past Kaneshie market at the Keep Fit Club. I ran the first 22K, power-walked the next 15K, and ran the last 5K. I came in 1,366 out of 3,000+. It was so thrilling. I was a bit surprised that we were two of the only women there. There were approximately 3,000 men and maybe 30 women at best. The course itself was bizarre because it was rather unclear about where we were supposed to go - the roads weren't marked very well. The traffic was a bit difficult to navigate through as well. Overall the experience was so great, but there were moments where I was a bit frustrated. While we were walking, even though there would be other runners in front and in back of us walking as well, many of the people on the street would make comments only to us about being last or lazy or just telling us to go home because we were walking. Unfortunately, they were picking on us because we were the only white people running. There were also a whole bunch of people though who cheered us on, which was an energy booster. At the end of the marathon, there was a whole group of men following us until to take pictures with them. Luckily, we made a friend who shooed the others away saying we are tired and that he is our bodyguard. I know that no one meant any harm by yelling at us to keep running or by wanting to take pictures with us, it was just so exhausting and tiring to deal with that kind of unnecessary and singled out attention. However, I am so happy that I was able to complete a marathon. Next time though, I will run the whole thing. :) We also did get a whole bunch of Milo products as prizes at the end. That night was spent relaxing and eating a lot of great food.

Sunday was another relaxing, but exciting day. I got to pick up my drum! :) It is beautiful! I got to choose the Asante symbols that Donty (the man who made it) carved onto. The ones I choose mean "bite not one another" and "unity is strength." I can't wait until I can play it with greater skill. I am still unsure of how I will get it home, but I will jump that hurdle when I come across it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cape Coast

This past weekend, CIEE visited Cape Coast. We left Saturday morning – first stop was a fantastic lunch. From there, we could choose to visit only one of the two slave castles – Cape Coast Castle or Elmina. I chose Elmina. Elmina was one of the major exporters of slaves during the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade. This castle in particular was erected by the Portuguese. The Dutch then seized it and used it for the slave trade, after which the British took possession of it. The experience was overwhelming, and it is difficult to put the rush of emotions into words.

The male and female quarters were separated. The room where the women were kept had this unbearable stench about it – the tour guide said it was remnant of the time when the castle was in use. The room (which was rather small especially considering the number of women that were stuffed in there, really dark, and completely enclosed) housed upwards of 100 women at any given time. The room had one small hole in the wall where food was passed through and, mind you, this hole was connected to the magazine which stored all of the ammunition and etc. If there was an explosion of something went wrong in the magazine, it would result in disastrous consequences for the women. The women had to do everything in this room while crowded together, from eating to bathroom to menstruation – it was this combination that was the source of the stench in the room. The smell was present even hundreds of years later. The women were also consistently raped by the guards and men that lived in the castle. If the women misbehaved, they were punished by being chained naked to a cannon ball and just standing there while the guards and everyone could see them. If you closed your eyes, you could still feel the tremendous pain and humiliation of the thousands upon thousands of women that were at one point or another held captive there.

We later moved onto the men’s quarters which directly led to the door of no return. This was the door that all of the Africans had to pass through in order to get on the slave ships. Although the water had receded by this point in time, the ocean used to come up directly to the door. These were the Africans last steps on their continent before forever leaving. That thought was… just mind-boggling. I started shaking just imagining all of the souls and people that passed through that door. As I tried to put myself in their position, it was simply overwhelming. My heart ached so much for the Africans who were sold into slavery as well as for the Europeans and Africans who lost their humanity and committed these monstrosities.

After visiting Elmina, we went to the Coconut Grove Hotel. It was ridiculously beautiful. The sand was the most amazing I had ever been on, the water was so warm, the view was breathtaking, the showers were actually warm – simply put, we were all so spoiled that night. I did not want to get into bed. I stood at the edge of the water basically the whole night after dinner. Cathleen and I tried to wake up for the sunrise and we made it out of bed; however, it was unfortunately too cloudy to see a sunrise. Nevertheless, we were more than happy to be awake early to just sit on the beach a bit longer. We slept for maybe 4 hours that night – the beach was simply too beautiful to be wasting time sleeping. Cathleen and I were the first two at breakfast – the food was delicious. We had cereal. We were super spoiled this weekend.

We then traveled to Kakum National Park and took a tour along the suspension bridges. The view of the forest was breathtaking. It was also so wonderful to be breathing such fresh air. Lunch was served at the Hans ____ Botel. This was wicked cool because we got to touch crocodiles. Yeah, I pet a crocodile. It wiggled its butt under my hand! (I may have screamed a little at this moment…)

The rest of the week has been rather uneventful. I did get a drum! I got to choose the two Asante symbols I wanted carved on it, so it will be ready to pick up this Sunday. J Donty, the salesman, is also giving me a free drumming lesson when I go to pick it up. How I am going to get the drum back home is still a question up in the air, but it will happen… somehow…

On another note, this upcoming weekend promises to be a very exciting one! I can’t wait to tell you all about it! J

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pictures from Kumasi (backwards)

I thought this was an amusing sign advocating the use of condoms outside of the bus station.

Jenny, this is a picture of me with a lion just for you, until I can maybe get a real live big cat. :P

Morgan, me, Fent, and Maiken outside the Palace.

Me, Fent, Maiken, Morgan, and Cathleen outside of Fent's room.

A very partial view of the huge Market - it was so expansive.

At a loom at the Kente place. In the background, you can see all of the beautiful fabrics.

Maiken and I extremely happy to be at Fent's place.

Morgan and Cathleen with some cheesey smiles. :)

And here is my address (and PLEASE no big packages!!! It is a DISASTER trying to get them! Morgan and I had a most terrible experience trying to get hers. We had to go back 3 separate times and it took 2 hours and a whole bunch of taxes for her to be able to get hers. But letters are more than welcome.) :

Olivia Straub
c/o Kwasi Gyasi-Gyamerah
CIEE Study Center
PMB 31 School Research and Graduate Studies Building
University of Ghana
Legon, Ghana

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From community service to adventure

So Cocoa Beach was... interesting. The beach was unfortunately filled with trash and we got a little harassed by the people there, so we didn't stay too long. But we were super proud of ourselves for finding our own way on the trotro and bus! Also, the coffin shop was super cool! They had so many different designs - everything from a beer bottle to a bible to a robot to a crab. Really impressive!

The next weekend, CIEE went to Dogobom in Ada to do some community service building water purifiers. At first, I was a bit skeptical and annoyed to be going because I felt as if we were going for the day just to do a good deed and then going back to our privileged lives. There was also a lot of people to do a job that didn't require that many people, so many of us got distracted, but I ended up getting really into helping build the purifiers, and as I got more into it, I began having a more positive experience than I expected. The process was as follows: building the plastic container, washing rocks and sand (very weird thing to do, I know), and putting rocks and sand in the plastic container. The whole process took the entire day. It truly amazed me how much the rocks and sand actually cleaned the water. Below is a picture showing the difference in the water going into the purifier (the one on the left) and the water coming out (the one on the right). It was truly amazing. I was so happy that it worked so well. Underneath that is a picture of the purifier itself.

That week was fairly uneventful - just continuing my classes and going on constant walks with my dear roommate. I also did my first big chunk of hand washing. Oh boy! But I still have a huge load left to do. Eek! I must finish that soon or else...

This past weekend, Morgan, Cathleen, Maiken, and I traveled to Kumasi to visit both the city and Fent (Morgan's good friend from Elon who is Ghanaian). Friday, we struggled to find a bus to take us to Kumasi (a city about 4 or 5 hours away from Accra). The bus stations were super confusing and we did not really understand what was going on half the time, and we were all getting tired and grumpy and were about to leave to try to find some good cheese pizza to make ourselves feel better, but right before we were about to leave, a bus came. We got to Kumasi at about midnight and Fent picked us up. We stayed with him near his family's house at his room. It was so much fun and really nice to be able to experience life the way that Fent and other Ghanaians live and not just the touristy, hotel experience. On Saturday, we went to Bowre, where they make Kente fabric. It was so impressive. All of the fabrics mean different things too - I got one that means "education is the best option" - I love the meaning of mine. After that, we went to the market - it is the biggest market in West Africa - so busy and hectic and wow. Then we went to the Cultural Center, looked around and had dinner. It was really a fun day. That night, it was pouring rain, so we stayed in, just watched a movie, and slept. Sunday, we went to the Palace in Kumasi - we learned about the history and traditions of the Asanti Kingdom, which was really interesting. The travel back home to Accra was just as hectic, if not more so than to Kumasi. We went to the bus station, were bombarded with people trying to get us to go on their buses, almost got run over by a few taxis and buses, and could not decide on what to do because we were so confused. But we finally got on a bus/trotro and got home. It was a fantastic weekend. Kumasi was so different from Accra, especially in the way that people treated us. They were not as forceful or persistent as people in the city. It was a fantastic and relaxing weekend (except for the bathroom situation). We were not able to take a shower for the whole weekend and were so looking forward to taking showers when we got back home, but lo and behold, we find out that the water is out at ISH2 and also out at ISH1, which is our usual fall back. Needless to say, we were quite distraught. Morgan and I took a 30 minute walk at night when we got back at 10pm to a friend's dorm across campus to shower. We felt so fantastically clean and wonderful and fresh after that.