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.