Friday, July 29, 2011

Kaneshie Market

The Kaneshie Market, which I wrote about in a previous blog post is the market in Accra where we would shop for our produce. The Kaneshie Market was featured as a pit stop in the Amazing Race last year. Watch this clip, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGtu9LNrUWo to see the market bustling with people.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ghanaian Women

Living in Wegbe and not staying at a hotel when I visit the village gives me the opportunity to see how things really happen on a day to day basis and gives me such an appreciation for everything that the women in this country do. Every morning, I would wake up at 6:30am and exit my room to brush my teeth and use the toilet. Every single morning, I could expect to find mothers bathing their children, setting up their shops, or cooking breakfast. They had probably already been up for hours. Around 7:30am, I would cross the road and wait in front of the church with the kids, waiting for the school tro tro to come and take us to Christ Orphanage, or rather, what has recently been renamed, Christ Academy. From this church, one could see women carrying water on their heads from the river, women walking by and carrying various crops on their heads, and women selling food items such as popcorn, which I bought for 10 peswas (about 7 cents) per bag every morning and took to the school as a snack.
While at school, I know that the women continue to work hard. They do the laundry, which is no easy task when done by hand. Since I ended up staying in Wegbe for 10 days, I needed to wash my clothes about half way through my stay. Sika, Alex’s sister who was cooking for me while I was there has a three month old baby as well as two other young children so I did not want to bother her and ask her to wash my clothing for me. Rather, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I purchased a small bag of laundry soap and was given a bucket to wash my clothes. Sika’s children, Mawuse and Richard as well as Sika’s younger sister, Millicent, and my neighbor Cynthia saw me preparing to wash my clothes and decided they wanted to join in the fun. So, the washing of my clothing became a group effort. Five sets of hands were in the bucket, attempting to wash my pretty dirty clothes. After getting through the first stage and preparing to rinse the clothes, Sika came over to tell me that she would wash the clothes for me. “We didn’t do a good job?” I asked. “No,” she responded quite honestly. She rewashed all my clothes and somehow got a ton more dirt out of them while I tried to help in some way by hanging the clothes on the line and comforting her crying baby, Bevlyn.
Women in this country are often times responsible for going to the market and buying the necessary food items to cook for their families. In addition, they are usually responsible for cooking 3 meals a day for themselves, their husbands, and their children. Cooking generally occurs outside, on a coal stove, which means that cooking food takes longer and only one pot of food can be cooked on each coal stove. If the women are lucky enough to have an older child in the household, that child oftentimes becomes responsible for helping with the cooking. In Sika’s house, Millicent, Sika’s younger sister, who is probably about 7 or 8 years old and Godwin, one of the orphans from the school, who is 11 years old help Sika prepare dinner every evening.
Most people, including children bathe twice a day. For Cynthia’s mother, that means bathing three small children in both the morning and the evening. One afternoon after returning home from the school, I went over to Cynthia’s house to visit with the family. I was amazed with the way her mother was bathing her twin girls (around 9 months old). She had one girl in the bucket, bathing her, and the other was standing, leaning on her mother, sucking her breast. It astonished me how she was able to do this and keep both girls relatively happy. Life with twins is not the easiest thing to begin with but here, with limited resources, it is even harder. Cynthia’s mother does not have a double stroller or even really any toys for her girls. When she needs to transport both of them, one baby is tied to her back and the other is carried on her hip. The babies sit on the concrete steps in front of their house all day playing with whatever they can get their hands on – dirt, water, containers that are left sitting, etc. And most of the time, these two young girls are just dressed in a shirt and a pair of underwear even though they are obviously not potty trained, therefore, one can usually find puddles of pee on the step. But these girls are generally happy babies, well, they still aren’t used to me yet but at least they no longer cry when they see me.
Seeing all the hard work that the women here do on a daily basis really makes me appreciate them so much more. Its amazing how much time and work our machines and technologies back home save us when cooking, washing, do laundry, and even bathing. These women are usually underappreciated and not recognized for all their hard work. Ghanaian women, I recognize all the hard work you do and am amazed that you manage to do it all (and do it so well)!

Monday, July 18, 2011

One of those days...

Today was one of those days. You know, the type of day that you just wish that things were done differently here in Ghana, that there was actually some order to the systems here, and that people actually did their jobs well (or even just showed up to their jobs!).
I traveled to Ho on Saturday to visit my adopted family there once again before leaving Ghana and to tell them that I would be leaving. Their reactions were heartbreaking and it made me think once again if I am making the right choice. They decided that before I left we needed to visit the waterfall in their village, so off we went. The waterfall is beautiful and since the last time I visited, two years ago, the surrounding area has been cleared and is more suitable for visitors. My family told me that the village is working on turning the waterfall into a tourist attraction. There are three levels of the waterfall and we walked up to the highest one and enjoyed the relaxing sounds of the water before the rain began. On the walk home, it started pouring. My family had brought along my old March of the Living raincoat that I had given them a few years ago for me to use but I just used it to protect my camera while enjoying the cool rainwater running down my face.
I traveled back to Hohoe on Saturday afternoon with the expectation that I would not be back to Ho until the next time I visited Ghana. But, that all changed today. I decided to ask Godwin, my taxi driver friend here in Hohoe about renewing my visa in Accra and he told me that it would be better to renew it in Ho as they are usually quicker at returning it and are not as busy in Ho. I really did not want to return to Ho, did not want to spend the day traveling, and did not want to leave my kids for a day to do this but I didn’t have much of a choice as my visa expires 2 days before my departure flight. So, I called Godwin to come pick me up from the school and take me to the tro tro station so I could take care of this business. Godwin took his dear old time getting to the school and I became so frustrated that after waiting for a half hour, I decided to leave and start walking.  The walk from the new site of the school to the main road takes about half an hour but I wanted to get to Ho as soon as possible so I could return to Hohoe as soon as possible so I was in no mood to deal with Ghana time today. The headmaster of the school and one of the teachers decided to “see me off” and didn’t seem too confident in the fact that I told them I could walk all the way to the main road. There were no taxis on the road near the school but there were some motorcycles and the headmaster stopped one of them and instructed me to get on. I stared at him and he asked me if I was scared. Uh…yes.  I am scared of motorcycles in America where the roads are paved so yes, I was most definitely scared to get on a motorcycle here. I hung on to the motorcycle driver for my life and was so grateful when after about ¾ of a mile, I saw Godwin’s taxi approaching.
I boarded a tro tro and was met in Ho by John, the father in my family. When I told him that I had to return to Ho today to renew my visa he told me that he would accompany me, something I was grateful for as I had no clue how to get to the Immigration Office. When we got to the office, the first thing the immigration officer told us was that it was break time and we would have to come back at 2pm. Now this did not make me happy. It was 1pm and I was not about to wait an hour to talk to them. So, John and I inquired about renewing my visa and we were told that I would need an introduction letter from my sponsor here in the country. I informed the officer that I had such a letter and had sent it to the Ghana Consulate in the US in order to receive my visa in the first place. He rudely replied that it did not matter and he needed another letter. I pleaded with him and informed him that I only needed the visa extension for 2 days. Finally, I remembered that I had a copy of the letter in my email inbox and we asked if I could go print it and bring it to them. It is at that time that we were told by the rude officer that the head immigration officer that needed to sign and approve the visa extension had traveled for the day. Now I don’t remember the day when I renewed my visa two years ago too clearly but for some reason, I remember that the head immigration officer had traveled that day too. Now, what good is this head immigration officer if he is not in his office? I was beyond frustrated and had had it with the immigration officer. He had attitude and was not a very pleasant man. He happily informed me that there were nice hotels in Ho though and told me that I should spend the night and come back tomorrow. I kindly replied that I had other plans and did not have time to spend the night in Ho. He then suggested that I leave my passport with him and have someone I trusted come and pick it up for me. I informed John that there was no way that I would leave my visa with this man.
John pleaded with the officer to process the visa right away but we were told there was nothing he could do. We finally left and I returned to the Ho station to travel the 2 hours back to Hohoe. I was not happy that I had to travel 4 hours today and that I did not even get my visa extended. Sometimes the systems here are beyond annoying and I don’t understand how anything gets done in this country. I did however learn that if I return to the airport to depart without renewing my visa, I will be charged double the price to renew it (80 cedis (about $60) instead of 40 cedis) so now I am not so worried about renewing it however I will give it a try when I am back in Accra.
Luckily when I returned to Wegbe, I was greeted by some of my kids and their bright smiles and adorable laughs made me feel better. They made me realize why I love this country and made me forget about the negative experiences that I had earlier in the day.
I have decided that since I was gone for most of today, I cannot leave tomorrow and rather will stay in Wegbe all day tomorrow and depart for Accra early Wednesday morning. I need to be able to spend some final time with my kids before leaving. They are already sad that I am leaving and I know that spending tomorrow with them will mean as much to me as it will to them.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happiness

If I could have things my way, I would live in Wegbe permanently, Alex and I would both have good paying jobs here, and I would always be as happy as I have been this week. It has been amazing to be back here. Tuesday, when I go back to Accra is coming way too soon and I am nowhere near ready for it.
A few weeks ago on one of my previous visits to Wegbe, Patrick told me that two years ago when he was talking about starting a bead workshop here in Wegbe, I encouraged him to go for it. Apparently I told him that he could do it if he really wanted, if he worked hard, and if he saved his money to make his dream a reality. He told me that I inspired him to really go for it, to have faith in himself. Today, I visited Patrick at his home to see the bead workshop that he has started. It is still in the beginning stages but he is doing well and it is amazing to see. He has a kiln and is making beads and teaching youth in the community to make the beads as well. I have much faith in Patrick and I am sure he will go far with this project. Today, while making some beads, we talked about how he can start selling the beads and advertise so others in the community and passersby know that this bead workshop exists.
While I have visited the Cedi Bead Factory here in Ghana before, it was amazing to really talk to Patrick about the processes involved in bead making and see the whole thing from start to finish. Its beyond amazing how glass bottles are pounded and turned into a powder which is then used to make the beads. I also got the chance to paint some beads which was a tedious and much more difficult task than it sounds. I have a much deeper appreciation for beads after today and now realize all the hard work that goes into making them.
After making the beads, I told Patrick that I have wanted to visit the Talking River for quite some time now and asked him if he would take me. He agreed and Cynthia, my 3-4 year old neighbor decided she wanted to come as well so the three of us set off. Well, the 10-15 minute walk was a bit longer than 10-15 minutes but it wasn’t too bad.  The path was grown over in areas which made it difficult to walk, especially for Cynthia since she is so small so we had to carry her at some points, something she enjoyed. When we finally arrived at the river, it was so overflown that we couldn’t get very close. It quickly became evident that Cynthia’s desire to bathe in the water would not be happening, as the water was very deep. The river apparently has some steps and if you are close enough and quiet enough it sounds like it is talking. Since the river was so overflown, it was impossible to get close enough to hear the river talking. But at least now I can say I have been there, done that and it is no longer something on my list of things to do here in Wegbe.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The way things are

I am currently in Wegbe, loving on my kids here before I depart for the US in a week and a half. Its crazy to think that in less than two weeks I will be back on American soil and honestly is not something I am prepared for. In the back of my mind, I am hoping some miracle will come about and even though I am no longer looking for a job here, I will receive an offer that is impossible to turn down. Can you tell I am not ready to leave yet? I know it’s the right thing to do. I honestly in the back of my mind know that but still, I cannot imagine leaving. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I wasn’t supposed to be going back home so soon. I wasn’t supposed to go back to having a long distance relationship with Alex yet or a long distance relationship with all my friends here yet. It was supposed to work out. Or maybe it wasn’t. I am trying to see the positive in this. I am trying to understand. Trying to make the best of the situation.
This week has been so amazing thus far. Its nice to be able to stay in Wegbe for a decent amount of time and return to life here. Its like I never left. And its like I never want to leave again. But I know I have to. I know I will be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later. I need to come back, I need to continue to watch my kids grow. Its amazing how much they have grown since the last time I was here. And I can’t even imagine how much they will grow while I am back in the US.
I just keep telling myself I need to leave. It’s the right thing to do. Maybe it will actually all sink in eventually. Or maybe not. Its okay, it won’t be the first time I cry as I leave. But for now, I will make the most of every moment and enjoy being here while trying not to think about the painful good byes.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same...

Since my first visit to Ghana during the summer of 2008, I have had a huge passion for Ghana and a burning desire to move here permanently. Preparing for this life-changing move, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. I knew that things would be much different living in Ghana and I expected that there would be unexpected challenges that would arise as time went on.
I have been here in Ghana for one and a half months now and there have indeed been challenges, both challenges that were anticipated as well as unanticipated ones. I have realized so much living here, things that I could not realize without being here and experiencing life here myself. But I have lived in Ghana before, you say. I know I have visited Ghana many times but living here and trying to start a life here is so beyond different from visiting. When I come and visit Ghana, things are different, I spend my days volunteering, I don’t have to worry about things that one has to worry about when they actually live here, I don’t have to think about the long term, and I stay in the village, not in the city. Life in the city is different. Accra is beyond different from Wegbe. Its like two different worlds.
I know life isn’t easy in the US but life really isn’t easy here. Its hard living as an expat in a foreign country regardless of how much you love the country. Its difficult not having the luxuries we take for granted back home. Its difficult not having a car, not having a job, and just renting a bedroom in a house occupied by others.
As a recent college graduate, it is difficult to find a decent paying job here. The jobs I want, the jobs that pay the American salaries require years of experience, years of experience that I don’t yet have. The life I want to live here is not one of luxury however, I do want to live a life of comfort. That just isn’t possible in my current situation. It is not possible to live that life on the average Ghanaian salary. It is not fair to me to sacrifice my happiness, my health, and myself to work a job where I do not receive anywhere near fair compensation and live a life that I am not happy with. Yes, I know jobs are hard to find and I need to give it time but I have come to the realization that the jobs that I am qualified for and am being offered here are jobs that are not on the level that I want. I need the work experience, experience I can gain in the US while living a more comfortable life. Yes, I know it won’t be easy in the US either but I know that I have more opportunities there. I know that I will be able to find a job where I will be much more fairly compensated than I would be here at this point in my life. I know that one day, maybe in a few years, maybe in 10 years, it might be the right time in my life to come back and live in Ghana but I am also strong enough to realize that that time is not now.
I have come to realize why the expats that I wrote about during my first days here live the way that they do. Its hard to live the Ghanaian life style permanently. I can deal with it when I visit but its difficult to adjust it permanently. I don’t want to live the same life that some of these expats are living but I would like to live a more comfortable life here in Ghana.  Its nice to have some of one’s comforts and luxuries from home. Its nice to have hot water once in awhile, to have an indoor kitchen, to not have to worry about the lights and fans going off because you have a generator, to always have running water because you have a Polytank, to not have to worry about mosquitoes, to have security guards, to have a vehicle, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I love the life here, I love the simplicity, I love Ghana but its difficult to live the average Ghanaian life style.
So, I have taken a bold step. I have made one of the most difficult decisions of my life. A decision that is weighing hard on my heart but a decision that I know is the right one. I am coming home. I am spending another 2.5 weeks in Ghana and will be home towards the end of the month. I know that this is the not end of my relationship with this country and that I will be back many times…maybe even to live permanently (for real) one day when the time is right.

Wegbe and Being Sick

The kids screamed my name and ran up to me like they hadn’t seen me in a year when in fact it had only been a few weeks. I was tired of job searching in Accra and decided to go to Wegbe to visit my kids again. I did promise to visit them every month and I needed a break from the city life so I boarded an air-conditioned tro tro (so nice!!) and headed to Wegbe for 3 days. It was so nice to be back in the village but on my second day there, I started to feel ill. From that point on, I wanted nothing more than to be back in Accra where I have access to a toilet 24/7 and where I could visit a full on hospital to get treated. I will spare you all of the details but basically after a long 3.5 hour ride back to Accra plus a visit to the airport to pick up some volunteers, I finally arrived home and decided that it was time to visit the hospital. I had been given an injection in the village due to the fact that we already had figured out that I definitely had malaria but I was sick beyond just that and I knew that I needed to be seen by someone in the city.
I have come to realize that when I get sick in Ghana, I don’t just get sick, I get really, really sick. So, after three visits to the hospital here in Accra within 4 days, I was treated for malaria, a stomach infection/parasite (the exact type is unknown), and tonsillitis. After the first visit and a day spent vomiting everything I put in my mouth, including water, it was back to the hospital only to find out that I was having a bad reaction to some of the medicine and was so dehydrated that I needed to be hooked up to an IV for the entire evening. I was so lucky to have Alex there to help me and take care of me and wait with me at the hospital until the 3 IV bags were completed at 1:30am. It has been a difficult week due to these multiple illnesses but I have received amazing care and am now feeling so much better.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

This is Ghana...


  • Ghana time: Yes, its 10x worse than Jewish Standard time and whatever other times you know of.
  • Drivers use their horn just as much as they use the gas.
  • And brakes, haha, ya, they don’t like to use those.
  • Traffic lights and signs exist in Accra and across parts of the country but who knows why since no one seems to pay any attention to them.
  • Where you can buy any necessity from the comfort of your car. Toilet paper. Food. Super glue. Handkerchiefs. Flashlights. Phone credits. Ice Cream. Plantain chips. And the list goes on…
  • Where ‘lights off’ is a common phrase. (Meaning = electricity is turned off).
  • And where I am learning ‘tap off’ is another common phrase. (Meaning = Water is turned off). 
  • Where you can determine which cars are taxis because they have orange front and back side panels.
  • One’s head is used to carry every and anything regardless of size or weight.
  • Three lane roads are really five lane roads. Drivers make their own rules and own the road.
  • Where pedestrians do not have the right of way and when crossing the street on foot, your life is in great danger.
  • Where taxis are on the brink of dying at most times. Side mirrors are hanging on by threads and you’re lucky if the window actually rolls down and if the door can be opened from both the inside and outside of the car. And seat belts? Most people don’t use them regardless of whether the car has them.
  • Cell phones are answered regardless of where someone is or what they are doing.
  • It is common to see people peeing on the side of the road.
  • Hissing the call someone’s attention is totally normal.
  • Most people burn their garbage.
  • Babies are carried on the backs of their mothers.
  • Animals roam around at their own will. Yes, even in Accra, the capital city.
  • Drinking water is typically consumed by locals in little plastic bags. The plastic is then tossed on the side of the road after it is finished. And they wonder why there is such a huge trash issue here!
  • Where you will witness the most beautiful sunsets and the starriest skies.
  • Where being a foreigner means you get tons of attention AND get ripped off.
  • Where food is usually cooked outside, primarily by the women.
  • Where window screens are a necessity to keep out the mosquitoes.
  • Where crackers are ‘biscuits’ and avocados are ‘pears.’
  • Where the currency is called Cedis. Yes, it sounds just like ‘CDs.’
  • Where ‘This is Africa’ or ‘This is Ghana’ is a commonly heard phrase.