Sunday, October 29, 2006

Research Progresses

I have been getting some questions as to how my research is going. The short answer is very well for me, but not so well for the communities I am testing. I am finding a much higher rate of contamination than I was expecting to find. Quite how to analyze all of the data is still confusing to me, but it is coming along well.

I have a whole group of pictures of the hand-dug wells and bore-holes that I have been testing as well as the result data from each of them posted, but I’m sure that besides my professors and the communities involved this is of minimal interests. I sometimes take pictures of the people in the community who hang out, help me administer the tests. This is a collection of those pictures.

I have met lots of interesting people out in the field, but I was most excited to come across a blacksmith making farming tools. He was kind enough to show me his trade and let me take a few pictures. He makes all basic farm tools – hoes and machete (cutlass) – but was working on a particular curved knife for cutting down cocoa pods at the time when I visited.

Aburi Festival & my Paramount Chief Professor

After the parade at Cape Coast I was too tired to stay for the Durbar (sortof a party, but also involves speeches). When I went up to Aburi for their festival on October 14 I was too tired from being out in the field to get up early and so I missed the parade, but I was there for the Durbar. Well, I was there for the part of the Durbar where there was dancing and lots of interesting greeting of and by the Paramount Chief. Then the vice prime minister or some such important political figure showed up (late) and there was more greeting. Then the political speeches and the discussion of what development project would be carried out in the following year began. My host didn't feel like translating and so this was not as interesting, so we went off in search of lunch.

Some things I learned:

(1) The ritual of greeting is very specific in Ghana. After the chief arrives, then people begin to come forward to greet him. There is usually a dance that is performed by each individual as they move forward to greet the chief. Each person performed a unique dance, although there were some similarities. The dancing appears to my untrained eye as somewhat hectic and confusing, but I could also tell that it was precisely executed. Hammond explained that if you dance poorly at the festival it is very insulting, and so all of the dances were very precise and practiced. The chief stayed seated throughout this whole process and depending on the status of the person coming they might just approach the chief or go all the way up and shake his hand.

(2) After the chief has been greeted, then he came down and made a circle around the grounds to greet everyone who had come.

(3) The linguists are people who speak for the chief. It is not proper for the chief to speak in public, so instead he whispers to the linguist who makes the announcement. The linguists also carry staffs with top ornaments that have some symbolic meaning or represent a popular parable.

(4) The political minister arrived late, after the chief had already greeted everyone. Instead of going out again, he sent his linguists to greet the minister on his behalf. The minister came down from his seat to accept the greeting of the linguists; this signified that (at least on the chief's turf) the chief is higher ranking than the political minister.

(5) Bananas and groundnuts (peanuts) make a very satisfying lunch.

My professor for Medical Geography, Prof. Nabila, is a paramount chief from the northern region. I am constantly baffled by the particular forms of respect that my fellow students pay to him.

First off, we have become totally spoiled in the class because he always gives us juice boxes to drink during class (we are only four students). But, he never distributes the drinks. One of his aids will deliver them and then he will call on one of the students to distribute them (we always serve prof first). Last week this became apparent because he made a joke that he was going to serve the drink and was telling me how this never happens. But, before he could, one of the students had jumped up to relieve him of the responsibility.

Class usually takes place in his office, but we wait around in our regular classroom to be informed that Prof. is ready for us to come up. When we enter the room, at least the one student also from the north, and sometimes other students, do a kneeling bow to him. He is never allowed to carry anything, not even to move it from the bookshelf to his desk after he has located it. Professors in general are seen here as a long ways above students and are shown a lot of deference. This professor, however, is perhaps my most humble professor. He seems to accept the deference paid to him as part of the responsibility of being a paramount chief, but he doesn't act like he expects it or that he is particularly superior, just this is the way culture defines the relationship.

What is most odd to me is the ways that he is trying to change the culture of his people and the ways he accepts the cultural norm. For example, Prof. only has 5 children because he works on population studies and he knows the effect of large families on population growth. I was shocked, I though 5 children was a lot. That was until my mates explained that the expectation is for him to have 20 or 30 children, and some have around 80. We also have interesting dialogues about topics such as malnutrition and the cultural beliefs that children should not be fed eggs. He is very upset about the cultural practices towards giving inadequate protein to children. The idea with eggs is that if the child gets a taste for eggs, they will steel the eggs before the chicken can even lay them. But these traditional beliefs act to deny protein from the most vulnerable members of society. Prof. talks about how he uses the Durbar at festival time to do some education of his community around these issues.

It is a difficult dilemma for me to understand the process of cultural adaptation. There is a lot of talk among my fellow foreign students as to the negative aspects of western culture influencing people here. I will not deny that this is the case, particularly when it comes to environmental protection. The current implementation of western cultural values is leading to severe environmental degradation that used to be preserved by traditional values. It is not that western culture doesn’t also have values to preserve the environment. Unfortunately, there is a lag in how values are adopted. The values (or superstitions) that kept people out of the forests and preserved the environment are abandoned early along with the value to exploit the land for immediate capital gain. The education and adoption of western values of preservation or modern interpretations of the traditional values of conservation take more time to be articulated in the community. This lag causes a period of severe environmental degradation. This lag causes some of my fellow students to say that we are wrong for sharing our cultural values. However, as Prof. has been sharing, there are a lot of traditional cultural beliefs, such as the idea that children shouldn't get protein, that need to be changed for the betterment of the country. It makes me want to study anthropology and culture change to understand the process better. I agree with my mates, that education all around is important. Both education that allows for the articulation, and thus preservation of those beneficial cultural values, as well as education that allows for a more well rounded adaptation of outside values that lead to the betterment of the population.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Birthday party and hair braiding

I turned 29 this year while I was in Ghana. As is typically the case, I let my birthday slide by without much hurrah. The day before I ventured down to the salon to get my hair braided. It was great fun because I learned that it was not necessary to have hair added, that they could just do corn-rows in my hair. The beautician was very talented and could quickly braid my hair without even adding gel to it. It took less than an hour to braid the front half into about 12 corn-rows.

I asked my program office to pick up some cake for me, and then I made a frosting of melted chocolate and condensed milk. I also melted some orange marmalade and poured it over the cake before putting the frosting on. It was very tasty (but a little too sweet for my tongue). I took cake with me to share with all of my classmates, and the various people I interact with on a daily basis (the porters, the ladies who make my breakfast, the TAs in my department, etc.). All of the Ghanaians were very upset that I hadn’t told them earlier, but whatever. Lots of the foreign students came by in the evening to help eat the left-over frosting which was fun. So overall it was a very nice birthday, and I don’t think I could have asked for better.

Monday, October 09, 2006

First Data Collected

As interesting as it is to travel and see the natural beauty of Ghana, my purpose in being here is actually to complete a research project on microbial water quality. As this has taken form, I have focused my efforts towards bore-holes, and looking for indicators of recent fecal contamination in these. On Saturday, September 30 I went with a student, Peter, from my hydrology class to his hometown to sample the water there and test my protocol. On Monday, I went to the 37 Military Hospital with the same purpose. I am satisfied that I can detect coliform & e.coli in well water, and I have refined my protocol for the visual survey of the wells. You can see the documentation of my initial data:

Chanten-Lapaz Water Quality
Sep 30, 2006 - 15 Photos

On Friday, October 6 I went to the Community Water and Sanitation Agency office in the capital of the Eastern Region, Koforidia. I collected some historic information about the digging of bore-holes in the region and made arrangements to go next week and test the wells in 14 communities in the Sahum District. I am really excited at how quickly this has come together. Up to this point it has been extremely slow and tedious to make the appropriate connections, but once I submitted my ten-zillion letters of introduction to the Sahum District Assembly they have been very helpful in making the arrangements for me to visit the communities. More details after my visits next weekend!

Volta Hall and various pictures

It is easy to complain about how different things are and how frustrating it is to adjust my mode of thinking to be patient with delays, power-outs, etc. In reality, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in this amazing garden. So, one morning I went out with my camera to document some of the beautiful flowers and trees in the courtyard of Volta Hall, where I live. Enjoy!

Where I live - Volta Hall
Sep 28, 2006 - 135 Photos

Of perhaps equal interest, but not so aesthetically pleasing, here is a gallery of various pictures taken from the bus window during our orientation and other outings to the market, etc.

Roadside attractions
Sep 24, 2006 - 52 Photos

Friday, September 29, 2006

Living with the wildlife

My bed is protected by a mosquito net, but I am somewhat skeptical as to its effectiveness because I have found spiders inside my bed. My room, additionally, is a know haven for wildlife.

My roommate and were having a challenge from a rat the first week. It was chewing holes in our window-screen and coming into our room during the first week we were here. Our first attempt was to spray the screen with DEET and Permithrin, but this did not deter the rat. We put all the food into plastic bins with lids, which meant the rat had nothing to eat. But, he was still visiting. After a week or so, we discovered that if we filled the window well with plastic bags that he didn't like the sound of those as he was chewing a new holes in the screen and he stopped visiting. However, this may have coincided with more people moving into the dorm. In any case, we haven't had any problems in our room since.

Lizards are a constant delight to me. There are some very large ones that have red heads and tails. They do pushups in the courtyard, apparently a kind of threatening defence mechanism. The smaller ones like to hang out in our room. The very smallest ones are barely bigger than an inch. I took some pictures of the one that was hanging out on my ironing board. If I nudged it, it would scurry very quickly. I took a video, but unfortunatly, I can't figure out how to share that.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Shai Hills Wildlife Refuge

Yay for outings, and getting better at uploading pictures with captions. Like all parks in Ghana, in order to take a three hour walk along the road we had to hire a guide, but Simon was very good at spotting animals, so we even got to see a Green Monkey.

We left shortly after 6am, got put onto a trotro where the mate didn't actually know where we wanted to get off and had to take a trotro south before connecting by Taxi to the park, but still made it on the trail by 8am.

On the trotro ride home, we made it easily, quickly and cheeply to Ashaiman, but then we asked for a trotro to Legon (which is west of Ashaiman) and ended up on a trotro going east to Negon. I was a bit queesy and not paying attention until we were driving along a coast-line I had never seen before. So another hour later we were back in Ashaiman asking for a trotro to Accra, to which they told us essentially "no dummies, you should catch a direct trotro to Legon", to which we replied essentially "we tried that already, and look where we ended up." In the end, we took a direct trotro to Legon, which only took 30 minutes, so we got back about 2:30. But that is travel in Ghana, and all in all it was a very fun outing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Adinkra & Kente Fabric

I just figured out how to get a title on my blogs! I know that is somewhat lame, but the connection here is so slow, so I usually don't try to make any major updates.

After over an hour I have finally uploaded some pictures from my visit to the fabric villages near Kumasi during my second week in Ghana. There are some pictures of how the ink for Adindra fabric is made, and me printing some Adinkra patterns on fabric. There are pictures of some young boys weaving Kente cloth and the two pieces of cloth that I bought. Also, the museum in Cape Coast had some displays about Adinkra and Kente cloth, so I took pictures of those.

I also have captions written for all of the pictures, but I am so tired of the slow connection that they will have to wait for another day. I hope that if I go down to the Volta cafe late at night, that the speed will be faster and I can get the other pictures I have taken over the last month loaded.

Adinkra & Kente Fabric
Aug 5, 2006 - 20 Photos

Friday, September 15, 2006

Power Break

Two weeks ago I walked into the courtyard of the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries where all of the students for my class on Coastal Zone Management were gathered eating a kind of Ghanaian corn nut snack and plantain chips. George asked me if this was my first “power break”. I gave him a baffled look. I thought they were referring to all of the students sitting and chatting in the courtyard eating snack and that this was the Ghanaian equivalent of a “coffee break.” Really he was referring to the fact that the electricity was out, thus all of the lights in the classroom (as well as the aircon) were out, so everyone was hanging out in the courtyard for the natural light.

The level of Lake Volta is low this year and so there is a limited amount of hydroelectric power being generated and a system of rolling blackouts has been instigated across Accra. According to the radio, which several people have reported to me, the schedule for blackouts is 12 hours of power off during the day followed by 12 hours off at night 3 days later. Except that it didn’t seem to happen exactly that way.

At first I barely noticed the power-outs because they were all during the day. It was slightly annoying because then the free internet access in the International Student Office is down, but that is not the only thing that causes it to be down. The buildings are all built with two walls of windows to facilitate natural light for these kind of situations. And somehow, our power always seems to comeback on at 6pm when it is out during the day. Until last night. Well, half of the dorm came back on about 6:45, but the annex (where I live) did not. The computer lab in Volta Hall was working, but there was no light in my room. Since I am a creature of habit and I don’t like to change plans this was somewhat frustrating to me. I had planned to do some reading in my room and then I couldn’t, so I just went to bed instead.

I should probably head down to the Bush Canteen and get a kerosene lantern, but in reality I don’t find the power outages to be that big of a problem. Even when power was out in my dorm, the office building just outside my room was blaring its lights all night (as usual), and so there was plenty of ambient light to do all of my evening chores, just not enough to read, and I didn’t feel like using my laptop by battery in the semi-dark.

The report is that the university is on a different rolling outage where the academic buildings will get power M-F. The dorms are divided into three groups and we should expect to loose power every three days from 7 am to 6pm. However, this is not entirely accurate since the School of Business across the street always has power and we have had our power out all night.
Sometimes concurrent with and sometimes just because, the water also goes out. This causes more of a frustration to me. I keep two buckets of water in my room. And actually, I typically heat a bucket of water with my heating coil and use it to take a shower, so that is not a problem. It was confusing at first as to how to proceed. But now I have a setup on the balcony with a pitcher to use for washing my hands, and I can shower with about a gallon of water, but since I usually heat two I never feel a lack (although I avoid conditioning my hair with the quantity of water).

The main problem is that the toilets in the bathroom fill up and the room begins to smell after a day or two. The most recent water outage lasted almost 3 days, except that we had water for about 2 hours in the middle. Luckily, those women, who were up and around, made use of it to flush all of the toilets. The worst was last night when the power was out so the bathrooms were dark and the toilets were full, it made the bathrooms a scary destination.

If you don’t have enough water stored in your room it is possible to fill up your bucket from the polytanks in the courtyard. I think that it is possible to also fill the toilet tank from your bucket and although this is not the common practice I may take it up. I am typically too lazy to carry water upstairs from the polytanks, so I try and keep my buckets filled up when the water is on so that I am not caught off guard.

The power came back on at 5:30 this morning and the water shortly afterwards, so now I feel like I am back to normal. Even though it is possible to do everything by carrying water, I am lazy and I tend to put off things like mopping the floor and doing my laundry. So, this morning I mopped and this evening I will probably do laundry.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cape Coast Festival

My second visit to Cape Coast was for a seasonal festival. Festivals play an important role in the culture of the Ghanaians, with spiritual, economic, political, agriculture and many other significances. Perhaps the agricultural foundations seem like the basis to me. The festival I attened started on Wednesday with a special ritual to re-open the local lagoon to fishing. Cape Coast is a fishing community, but for several months of the year they close the lagoon to fishing and only fish in the sea, for conservation purposes. This festival marked the re-opening of the lagoon, unfortunately we missed that part of the ritual.

The spiritual aspects of the festival revolve around the local shrine. The African Traiditional Relgion (animistic in nature) identifies a rock that is located in the dungeons of Cape Coast castle as a sacred spot. When the castle was built, the shrine had to be moved into what is now the center of town. So this particular shrine now has two location of equal significance. Some of the rituals happened at one or the other or both of these locations.

Thursday night we arrived in time for the pouring of libations and ritualized dancing. I received a nice explanation of the process of how a deceased person is selected to become an ancestor. It turns out to be fairly similar to the process of selecting a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition, and they seem to play a similar role of intersession. There are a few different rules, such as an ancestor can not have died a violent death, and the death cannot have been caused by fire or water in any form. But, basically you had to be a good person. The ancestor of the shrine at Cape Coast was known as Nana Anthony, which happens to also be the name of the patron saint of the Portugese Catholic church built above the dungeons where the Shrine is located. This was described as a symbol of the melding of Traditionalist and Christian traditions in modern African Traditional Religion.

The dancing took place at the shrine in the center of town. It opened by making an inner and outer circle with sand and then pouring libations (a bit of gin) on the grounds as an offering to the ancestors. The dancing was very hypnotic and was a kind of meditative commune with the spirits / ancestors / gods (sometimes it was hard to tell). I only stayed for a few dances since it was already past 11pm. Our power was out when I got back to the hotel, but they had put kerosene lanterns at each of our doors.

On Friday was the main ritual sacrifice. Usually both the dancing and the ritual sacrifice are done in secret, but since tourism is so important to the Cape Coast economy they have made these elements public. In the morning we went down to the castle. We witnessed them carrying plates of fruit and other gifts down into the dungeons where the rock shrine was located. They also brought a bull to the castle to be accepted by the god(s) there before being moved to the shrine in the center of town for slaughter. The distressing part of the animal sacrifice was that there was no apparent respect paid to the life of the animal involved in the process. While hanging out at the castle the bull was subject to poking, being pushed over and having a bloody rag waved at it in order to rile it up. It was already bleeding slightly when I saw it the first time at 10am. It was a decent sized bull for those I have seen around Ghana, but compared to other bovine I have seen, even in the Philippines, it was on the small side. We waited and watched for a while, but eventually I went off with the professor who had the most knowledge of the events to get some lunch because I wanted to hear more of an explaination of what was happening.

While we were out the procession occurred. The reports of those who stayed to witness it was that the bull was walked from the castle up past a tent area where the chiefs were sitting to approve of the bull. During the procession lots of the town children and members would all attack the bull. The bull was barely walking, and bleeding from several wounds by the time it reached the shrine in the middle of town. The effect was that it was placated so that those who were performing the sacrifice would not have to worry about it responding in any way or acting in any way that might harm them. This was perhaps important because those performing the sacrifice were of the royal family, and not likely to be people who handled animals very much these days. By the time I reached the shrine there was a tight crowd around it and I couldn’t see much of what was going on inside, although there were some chicken entrails outside from an earlier sacrifice. So, I headed back to the hotel.

My roommate stayed to watch and was a little ways back, but was glad that she did not have a direct view. The neck of the bull was slit and so the bull died by bleeding. I was disappointed that the spinal cord was not first severed by a strong blow, but this is difficult to do and requires some skill. After some time the neck was sawed some more and the head pulled back and removed. This came as a shock to some people who got blood splattered on them. My professor had explained that in the process of the ritual it is believed that the gods who are involved (some said it was a ritual to the 77 gods of the area) become manifest in the children of the chief who are performing the ritual. When the bull is sacrificed they drink some of the blood as a sign that the gods are accepting the blood sacrifice and then they return to human form. After the sacrifice the bull is butchered and the meat is divided up among the various chiefs who are up in the tent. Thus ending this part of the festival.

Saturday was the culmination of the festival, and typically the only public part of the festival. You can just look at the pictures with captions or read the description.
Cape Coast Festival Parade
Sep 2, 2006 - 146 Photos

Early in the morning we headed out to get good seats at the start of the parade route. I took a multitude of picture during the parade. First come the Acosombo. These are the traditional Military Companies. Participation in these is hereditary, and they are very similar to our fraternal orders or secret societies in the US. There is not a need for local militias these days and so the Acosombo typically function for search and rescue or to do various development projects. There were seven different Acosombo companies in this parade. They all had a different color costume, dignitaries, musicians and dancers who paraded with them.

Then came the chiefs and queen mothers. These people were carried by palanquin and had large colorful umbrellas held over them. Behind each paloquin were several huge drums, each carried on the head of one man and played by a rotating group of people. The paloquins were carried on the head of 4 men and would sway and dance and turn in circles. The chiefs and queen mothers would dance (as much as you can from a sitting position). I even saw one queen mother who was tossing out small bills to people in the crowd.

We watched the entire procession go by and then we joined the parade. I chose Adrienne as my parade partner. For a while we danced at the back of the parade, but then we decided to explore, so we pushed our way forward. We made our way all the way up to the front of the parade. We were going to join an Acosombo company and be part of their revelry, but then one of them blew a horn of some sort in Adrienne’s ear which was very painful, so we had to fallout until she felt better. The line was moving incredibly slowly, so we went ahead to the festival grounds. We saw the big park that was set up for political speeches. Apparently the President or some minister in his cabinet was scheduled to give a political speech, and I’m sure there would be many others, but we decided that those were not of interest to us, so we went off to get lunch. There were lots of open air food stalls, but we settled on a restaurant where we could sit and relax.

On our way back to the hotel we got caught in a push of people where there were lots of people’s hand all over us and my bag. It was probably the scariest part of the day. I am glad that I have a very sturdy bag with thick fabric. The zipper to my water bottle pocket got opened in this crush, but no important pocket. Several folks with cloth bags had them slashed and two cameras were stolen, but I, luckily, did not loose anything. We headed back to the hotel and got there about 4pm.

On Sunday we visited a national park and went on a rope walk through the canopy of the rainforest, which was fun.

Here are the pictures from Kakum National Park:
2006_09_03 KakumRainforest
Sep 2, 2006 - 42 Photos

Monday, September 04, 2006

Cape Coast & Elmina Castles

I have been to Cape Coast twice now. It is a very important destination for travelers to visit, but also difficult to put the experience into words.

The first visit was to tour the castles at Cape Coast and Elmina. Elmina was the first perminant European building in West Africa and is significant because it represent the era of trade between Europe and West Africa. It was built by the Portugese and used by the Dutch and then turned over to the English when they took control of the entire Gold Coast in I think 1860s. Cape Coast was also built by the Portugese but then captured by the English. Both of these buildings have a long and varied history, not all of it pleasant.

Initially they were built as trading forts. They were places of storage for the goods coming from Europe to West Africa and those awaiting transport back to Europe. Initially the majority of the trade was in gold, but also in other goods. They were centers of interaction with Europe and also the centers from which Christianity entered into Ghana. The first Ghanian Anglican priest (who was trained in England and returned to Ghana for his ministry) is buried in the courtyard at Cape Coast Castle.

Then West Africans were transported to the Americas, thus marking the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. During the next 400 years more people than I can really comprehend were transported across the Atlanta. A huge majority of them were processed through these coastal castles. Because sea travel is dependent upon the prevailing winds, often times men and women would have to wait several months until there were ships available to take them. During that time they were kept in the dungeons of the castles that were previously built to hold more savory goods used for exchange. In Elmina Castle, it is the original Catholic church built by the Portugese that was turned into the trading hall were merchants exchanged the West African slaves for riffles and other goods, about 3 rifles per man or 1 rifle per woman.

In Cape Coast there is a tunnel under the outer Castle wall which the slaves would have to walk from the dungeons where they were held out to the gate which opened onto the dock and sea. The tunnel is now blocked off for symbolic reasons, but the gate is still there. The gate is called “The Door of No Return” and there is a plaque with this inscribed on the inside. A few years ago, the bones of two slaves, one from the US and one from the Caribean, were exhumed and brought back in a ritual that involved brining them back through the door. In memory of this, there is a plaque on the outside of the gate which reads “The Door of Return.”

In Elmina we went first into the cell where the European soldiers who had committed some crime were kept for their punishment period. It was not pleasant, but there were windows in the upper parts that let in light and air. Next door to it was the death cell, with a scull and crossbone carved into the stone above it. Only those who were condemned to die by dehydration or starvation were put into this cell. Usually it was the leaders of the slaves in the dungeons who tried to rebel and escape who were put here. There were several rebellions over the period of the slave trade, but none were successful. The dungeons themselves where the slaves were held for up to 3 months while waiting for transport are hard to explain. They do have a window or two in them to let in a small ray of light and fresh air, and the rooms seem kind of large until you realize that 50 or 100 or 200 people were kept all together in one room, with no sanitation, and only one meal a day. When the ships come, the people are herded out through very small openings that require them to stoop and travel in single file such that order can be better kept.

The women and men were always kept separately. At Elmina the cells for the women were better in that they had a full wall or two that was just bars. This was nicer in that they had access to light and air, but it also meant for more exposure. The governor’s residence overlook the courtyard at the center of the women’s cells. Women were put on display in the courtyard where they could be selected for sexual use. Women who refused could be chained to one of the cannon-balls in the center of the courtyard where they would be in the full exposure of the elements.

Whenever I face these genocidal acts of humanity, whether at the Holocaust Memorial Museum or the Hiroshima Peace Museum or here at Cape Coast and Elmina, I am shocked that we as humans can be so brutal in our treatment of other humans. Sometimes the stories that the tour guides would tell us seemed so extreme that I couldn’t believe that they happened. I have toned down my reflections here to just a vague generalization of what I personally observed and the tamest of the atrocities described, yet even those are horrendous.

What I still cannot comprehend is the shear magnitude of the number of people who passed through the walls of those castles. I know that people died during the long walks to get to the castles, then they died in the dungeons and also on the ships. What we have is a record of those that arrived, and those numbers are too great for me to comprehend.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Dance class

I love social dancing, particularly the variety found at Gaskell and FNW, but I have never been much for clubbing. So, I had a few trepidations about the "African Traditional Dance" class that was scheduled for four evenings of our orientation. It was very new, the energy is very different from the high, smooth feel of the rotary waltz I love so much. The dance instructors were all amazing, beautiful dancers, and they could execute isolated movement so well that I was somewhat intimidated. The music was also totally new and strange. The drumming is strong and powerful, the rhythms were strange and almost syncopated, but not quite. And the tonality was also new, the drums each had their sound, and the rattle and the bell, and then the singing and flute on top of it all. It was a total sensory overload.

But the professor is amazing. He is totally attuned to the expression of dance not only as a movement of the body, but as an expression of the spirituality of the community and the individual soul. During orientation the dances were really hard, I just didn't quite get how the music and the movement worked together. In part because I am such a controlled person. The professor would say, "when the music changes I want you all to get out there and boogie, boogie with all that you are." The idea of letting go so completely into a dance is very frightening to me, at the same time, the word boogie just sounds funny, and not like something I would ever be caught dead doing. To top it off, they called the move we were learning "chicken arms." So, we would be dancing around in a circle, and then one of the assistants would come over and call you out into the center where you had to show off. It was so frightening, but at the same time the attitude is so generous, and everyone is smiling. For a few, brief moments I could slide into my body and just move as the music moved, until someone would call out and I would become self-conscious again.

As I was signing up for classes, I was worried that dance would not fit into my schedule, and so I missed the first week of classes. Luckily when I went last night they were working on the same dance we learned in orientation.

I am so amazed by the professor. He started off explaining that we had to come with the correct emotional energy for dance, then led us in a song that grounded the group together in a common pulse. And then we got up and started practicing the dance moves. It was the noisiest environment. The drums filled the entire room, and the acoustics have a lot of echo. Additionally, some parts of the dance are sexually suggestive, and so there is a lot of hooting and laughing that go along with them, especially during the explanation of movement if one of the TAs is a bit silly and over-exaggerates a movement.

The style and technique are still foreign to me, and I have a long way to go in learning how isolate different parts of my body, but the class moves at a good rate, and the attitude is so generous that I know this will be an important kind of learning for me.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A fetish shop

Today (Sunday), I went to the early service at Trinity United Church again. The senior pastors were all off at their respective equivalents of Annual Conference (it is a Methodist-Presbeterian church). Once again, the music was great and the sermon left something to be desired.

In the afternoon, I went with two others down to Accra in search of "Timber Market" somewhere around James Town or Ussher Town where they had read in the Lonly Planet guide that there was a place to buy fetish items.

After 3 tro-tro rides and plenty of asking we decided to head out on foot. Along the route we met up with Emmanuel (a very common name here), who took us to the entrance of Timber Market. We had some difficulty explaining what we were looking for, but we eventually pulled out the guidebook, and that helped.

There was a single stall deep in the interiors of a residential area that bordered on the Timber Market (where they make things like doors). The residents were delighted to see us and were very friendly, but the woman at the stall was a bit more worldly / standoffish. She had a huge display of roots and herbs and calabash bowls. She also had a stack of animal skins (including a lepard), tiger teath, sculls, horns, tusks, pipes, etc. I bought 3 porcipine quils for 30 cents each, and the others also got some cowery shells.

Here are the pictures of what we saw:
Timber Market Fettish Shop
Sep 24, 2006 - 13 Photos

Emmanuel took us back to his house. It was a very small one room appartment, but nicly furnished and we got to meet his fiance Matilda.

It took us to tro-tros to get home, so we stoped at Nakrumi Circle and walked to my new favorit vegan restaurant where I had a huge mint & tomatoe salad with tofu. Back home I finished my mosquito net frame, finished the laundry I started this morning and moped the floor (I sweep daily, but Sunday I also try to mop).

Classes start for real this next week, so I hope that all goes well!

A cocoa farm and the botanical gardens

On Saturday I invited a group to go with me up to Aburi for a day trip. We were joined by one Ghanaian first year, Fiona.

Our first stop was to the Tetteh Quarshie farm and homestead in the town of Maampong. Fiona explained that Saturday is "market day for funerals," which explained why there were about four taking place in the very small town of Maampong. The care taker of the Tetteh Quarshie farm was at one of them, but someone went to fetch him and we had a very interesting tour.

Tetteh Quarshie was a Ghanaian black-smith who traveled to (some Island, I'll fill in the name later), where he befriended the local farmers with his ability to make farm equipment and so when he returned to Ghana they gifted him with a live cocoa plant. Several people had been trying to establish cocoa growing in Ghana, and he also tried first in Accra, but failed. Then he headed up to Maampong where the chief gave him 0.38 hectars with a creek and he succeded! We saw two of the orrigonal trees planted by Tetteh Quarshie, which are about 126 years old. The rest of the orrigonal farm has trees about 50 years old, all in good health.

There was some controversy over who first introduced cocoa, but I believe a court case settled it on Mr. Quarshie. For a time, Ghana was the worlds largest producer of cocoa, but there was an infestation in 1982 or 83 which meant that many of the groves had to be burned and now they are second or third. Cocoa is still a major cash crop in Ghana, I think it is second only to gold as a foreign currency earner.

Our second stop was the botanical gardens in Aburi. There was more info on cocoa, and some interesting spice trees. We met some more nice folks and had a relaxing lunch.

We took a wrong turn and had to walk along the highway, but eventually made it to our third stop at the carving village portion of Aburi. Our friends from the botanical gardens were driving by and stoped to look with us also. I bought a small gift for Patti, but basically just looked.

I took lots of pictures, which I'm finally getting posted at the end of September!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Adventure to Medina

Today was my first solo adventure in Ghana!

Volta Hall was noisy last night, so I slept in until 8am and then read for a while before heading out at 9am (this is very late by local standards, given that I was woken up at 4am by the singing from the Pentecostal prayer meeting). I had a fried egg sandwich (40 cents) and a cup of Milo (hot chocolate, 80 cents) for breakfast at Akwafu Hall (another dorm, the name means farmer).

Across the street and just to the left of the main gate of the university I caught a tro tro headed north. (A tro-tro is a kind of mini-bus into which 20+ people squeeze on a set driving route.) I'm not certain of the final destination of my tro-tro, but I asked the mate (the guy who is in charge of filling up the tro-tro and collecting the money) if it went by Zango Junction. I gave him 2000 cedi (20 cents) and at first he didn't give me any change. I didn't know the fare, but it is 3000 cedi for the 20-30 minute ride to the central Accra market. Then the passenger behind me hissed at the mate and so he gave me back 500 cedi. I had heard that it was hard to get cheated on the tro-tro because there are lots of other passengers watching, but this was my first experience of it in action. In general, I like the tro-tro better than the drop-taxis. Not only are the taxis 10-20 times more expensive, but I also somehow feel more vulnerable with just other foreigners in a cab.

The tro-tro dropped me off at Zango Junction (at one end of the Medina market) and I could see the Shell Station that was my landmark for finding the Areba cell phone office (to try and sort out why my parents can't get through to me). I was done (mostly unsuccessfully) with that errand by 10:30 and decided to walk around the Medina market.

I have been to the Accra (Mecheda) market four times now, and am starting to feel more comfortable finding my way around it. Accra is a really big market and has a good selection of (western) clothes, shoes, books, and, of course, my favorite department store - Melcome. However, after today, I think that for general trips to the market, Medina is both closer and all more comfortable.

Part of this might have been that I was on my own (not with any other white foreigners) and so I got to interact with more people. I received 4 marriage proposals in the hour or two I wandered around. The best came from a man selling some nice pottery; I might go back and try to get a vase later.

The most exciting part is that I found PVC piping! I have been very frustrated with the trip-lines that are currently holding up my mosquito netting, and so I am constructing a frame out of the PVC. The men selling the PVC joints (a different place from the pipe) wanted to know if I was a plumber. I should have answered yes (since I actually have done a little plumbing), but instead I told them about my project. They were very supportive and drew a diagram as we discussed what joints I should get (this also included a marriage proposal). I really enjoyed all of the interactions and it was lots of fun to laugh with people.

On the tro-tro ride home, the mate was really good about storing my pipes along the floor of the tro-tro and I sat next to two older ladies. When I motioned to them that we were at my stop (because they had to get out so that I could), they said to the mate that the "foreigner" (in English) wants to get off. It was surprisingly refreshing to be referred to as such, it felt very respectful. I often have people yell "obruni" at me. Obruni also means foreigner, but especially down at the Accra market it is often in the context of "Obruni, give me" or "Obruni, come here and buy from me." Sometimes I will also be referred to as "white woman" (which is how some people translate obruni).

The joints didn't fit perfectly with the pipe, so I have been layering the glue into the structure and hope to have it finished tomorrow. I picked up some clothes I ordered, and was pleasantly surprised with how they turned out.

I also cooked my first dinner in my new rice cooker. I made rice with squash, carrots, green beans and spring onions, a can of tomato paste and some random spices I picked up in the market. It was great to eat so many vegetables that were not drenched in oil, but it tasted about like the rest of the food I have been eating. In general, there is not a lot of depth to the flavor of the food, and there is more chili pepper than I think is necessary, but I like the food, especially jolof rice.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Dorm life and adjusting to Ghana

After almost 3 weeks in Ghana, I am starting to settle into life here! I arrive on July 30th, and my luggage (intact!) a few days later. I am moved into my dorm room in Volta Hall with Isis, an Anthropology / Zoology student from CSU Humbolt.

Orrientation was a blur of lectures, a visit to Kumasi where I bought some Kente cloth, and to the Castles at Cape Coast and Elmina (the location for the departure of so many slaves across the Atlantic). I am still trying to process these experiences.

This week has been the slow process of registering for classes. I will mostly be reading in the department of Geography and Resource Development (Medical Geography, Hydrology and Agricalture Land Use Theory and Practice). I am also trying to register for a course in Epidemiology, and need to visit the department of Oceanography and Fisheries to talk with an advisor there about my research and get connected to the Ghana Water Board. My desire is that it will also work out for me to take dance, but we'll see. The registration process is very different and somewhat confusing, but I am practicing patients.

Volta Hall is the only "all female" dorm on campus. Its motto is "Ladies with Style and Vision." And my first impression of the new students moving in these last few days is that definatly have style. I have been feeling very underdressed, even in a skirt and blouse, mostly because the women all seem to wear heels. I have a hard enough time walking in sandles on the combination of cemement, paving stones, gravel and dirt!

The other entertaining aspect is that the ATM (if it is working) typically only dispenses 10,000 cedi notes, the equivalent of about $1, and only up to 40 bills at a time. On a lucky day, it will be loaded with 20,000 cedi notes (the largest bill printed), but these are less useful. I have found it useful to try and stockpile the smaller bills because exact change is usually needed if you don't want to wait around for 5 or 10 minutes to get the balance.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Things to Do

I have a large number of tasks to complete before I leave for Ghana (in addition to finishing up my regular school semester). Here is a list of immediate items so I don't forget:
  • purchase airline ticket (due: 5/19)
  • academic advising meeting (due: 5/19 at 12:30)
  • health check-up (due: 5/23 at 11:15)
  • 11 passport size photos (due: 6/1)
  • submit Americorps payment voucher (due: 6/1)
  • finalize project proposal summary (due: 6/1)
  • mail packet / payment to Longbeach (due: 6/1)
  • make WAPI & discuss experimental design (due: 6/2 or 6/3)
  • questions about housing / availability of items to Longbeach
  • letter of introduction to Ghana churches
  • vaccines (due: 7/1)
  • fill prescription for malaria pills (due: 7/1)
  • finalize project proposal (due: 8/1)
  • order visa (due: 8/1)
  • pack (due: 8/28)
(subject to update)

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Going to Ghana

This weekend was the orientation for my year at the University of Ghana, Legon and Chiara informed me that sending mass emails, as I did during my time in Japan, is soooo passé. I have never been enthralled with my livejournal site as anything more than a place to read what my friends are doing, so this is an attempt to figure out a mode of communication that works with my style.

This opportunity has only really come to fruition in the last two weeks, but since it is now only 3 months till I depart (Friday, July 28 at 10:00 pm), I figured it was time to try and get in touch with folks and let them know what is up with my life...

Currently, I am living in the central valley of California and working on a masters of science in conservation biology at CSU Sacramento. My research is in microbial water safety, in particular, testing that can be done on-site in remote rural locations in tropical regions, with minimal resources. I have also been working for various agencies of the United Methodist Church for the last six years, which I hope to return to after completing my degree.