Accra and Nairobi, Days 7 – 9: From West Africa to East Africa

I had my last Ghanaian meal, met with teachers in Nairobi, and ate ox testicles! Here’s a recap of my last three days.

So, our seventh day in Africa and last day in Accra was very low-key. We got up slowly around nine and ate breakfast, then finished packing and did some work. At noon, we went to a place that was highly recommended a few times for us in terms of authentic Ghanaian food – Azmera.

It was a lunch buffet (Ghana seems big on these) and it definitely had the most expansive spread that I’d seen on the trip.

One of the servers went through all the different dishes and explained them to us, also pointing out the ones that were very spicy (which I appreciated as someone who has trouble with spicy foods). Next to every dish were the ingredients it was made of, to give you a better idea of what went into everything.

I want to point out that the biggest picture shows three different types of plantain – essentially a plantain fritter on the left, kelewele in the middle, which is fried plantain with spices, and regular ole’ fried plantain on the left. The introduction of fried plantain to my diet is one of my favorite things about Accra and something I’m sure to bring back to my eating habits in the states. The prevalence of rice, the proliferation of fried plantain and the fact that you can get hot tea any and everywhere was one of my favorite things about eating in Accra.

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My final Ghanaian meal

After Azmera, we headed back to Global Mamas to pick up a few more souvenirs, then hung out at our hotel to do work before heading to the airport.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Accra. I didn’t get to really walk around the city or the towns as much, but visiting all the different places was a joy. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites:

From Accra, we took a five and half hour red eye flight (9pm – 5:30 am local time) to Nairobi. I didn’t get any sleep despite knowing that we’d have a very full day when we landed, but I did watch Me Before You (sappy and predictable, but still enjoyable/wtf that ending?), Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (I did literally LOL but I was ashamed of it), and two episodes of “New Girl” (which I was mostly charmed by but did not especially miss watching), so at least there’s that, I guess.

Now, I don’t know if it was because we flew in so late or what, but it the Nairobi airport was the easiest, most stress-free airport experience I have ever had. Getting through the gate, immigration, baggage collection, customs and then out the door literally took half an hour, tops. Getting to our hotel took longer than going through the airport.

Due to traffic, what might’ve taken maybe 30 minutes to get to our hotel instead took close to an hour and fifteen minutes. However, the hotel is very nice and relaxing and, I suppose as an added bonus, is right next to the Israeli Embassy, so the security around it is very, very tight. I would take a picture and show you, but there is absolutely no picture-taking allowed near or around the embassy for whatever reason.

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The garden below my room

Lisa and I had about an hour and a half to set our stuff down, shower, and get ready before we went off to our first meeting.

It was about an hour away with traffic and lulled by the pleasant hum of the car and the absolutely gorgeous weather, I fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up just as we were pulling up to our destination – the Kenya Technical Trainers College. I am actually very, very upset that I was too brain addled and sleep deprived and bleary eyed to remember to take pictures because the campus grounds were really pretty. Apparently the nice weather makes for some very lush and verdant surroundings here in Nairobi.

Our meeting was with about 7 different heads of different departments, plus a school administrator. It was one of my favorite meetings we’ve had so far. I have enjoyed hearing about school and school systems from teachers (most of them young) and students, but here I had the opportunity to hear from college professors who had long been in the educational system and were all obviously passionate about their jobs and helping their students. It was so interesting to learn about the Kenyan education system and the perceptions and standards of education in the country. I especially liked hearing about and thinking about all the ways that the Kenyan and American system of education is the same (a reliance on standardized testing, a large and recognizable gap between the rich and the poor, a system that frequently teaches knowledge but not skills) and all the ways that it’s different (there’s a nation wide test that students complete to see where they will be placed in secondary school and if they will be accepted to university being the biggest factor).

If it weren’t almost guaranteed to be an essentially useless PhD, I might really consider getting a doctorate in something along the lines of international comparative education. It’s been so fascinating on this trip to learn about the histories of the respective countries, their schooling system, and to think about how one affects the other. I’ve also enjoyed comparing what I know about the US educational system, the Filipino educational system and what I’ve been learning here in Ghana and Kenya. Alas, it’s hard to defend going to school for that long for something that I’m not sure I’d do anything with.

Anyway, enough about my useless, pretend PhD. Lisa and I made it through our first meeting with no sleep and, I think, giving little to no indication of having had no sleep, so that in itself was a victory. Add to that the fact that it was a very productive and informational meeting, and our first day in Nairobi was starting out pretty good.

After running some errands around the city and a second meeting, we finally headed back to our hotel to rest some more and relax around the grounds.

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The view from the lobby

Lisa and I decided we were too tired to go any where, so we decided to dine in one of the four restaurants on site. Of course, we decided to go with the nicest one because why not.

It was a decidedly non-African meal since the hotel seems to cater to mostly foreign/mzungo (a Kiswahili word I learned tonight basically means “white person”) guests.

It was delicious, though, and Lisa and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and ordered three different courses.

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Dessert, of course, being the most important course

I went to bed full, satisfied and finally, finally got an entire night’s sleep! It’s only been my second full night’s sleep, so it feels like a victory.

This morning I got up groggily and slowly and we made our way to the sports stadium to do a workshop similar to the one we did with CAMFED in Ghana. This time, we were meeting with EGF, which does similar work to CAMFED in that it provides scholarships for high school students to attend high school. I thought it’d be very easy since we’d already run through the workshop once and, as any teacher can tell you, the second class always gets a better lesson than the first one.

Boy, was I wrong.

Now, I do want to say that the day went well, the students all did well and were well-behaved, and I think we did a good job. We also learned a lot and got most of the information we were looking for.

However, a key difference is that instead of having a mixed group of teachers, college students and high school students like we did in the previous setting, instead we had an entire group of students who had recently graduated from high school – so about a dozen 18 and 19 year olds. Add that to fact that some of them had traveled long distances to get there (one had traveled ten hours the night before) and that they were missing out on hanging out with a bunch of their friends (EGF was holding a ceremony that invited 2500 Scholars to Nairobi) and you can understand how it might’ve been different.

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I vastly overestimated how tall I was.

There were plenty of times that we had to pivot or even completely change the trajectory in our lesson. Fortunately, I’m quite good at coming up with a new lesson plan on the fly since so many of mine have failed in the past. While the students were less actively enthusiastic than our previous group had been, they were still willing to participate and, as I mentioned earlier, we ended up with a lot of good information from our session with. It was, actually, very similar to a day of teaching I might have had in my own classroom in the states, which made me both miss teaching and not miss it, ha!

For dinner tonight we headed to Carnivore, which you may guess from the name, is all about meat. It is literally an all you can eat meat buffet. Now, I don’t think it’s very decidedly Kenyan since most of the meat dishes were cooked in a way that I feel like wouldn’t be out of place in America, but basically every Kenyan we asked for food recommendations told us we had to go there, so who are we to go against them?

carnivore

Why would you go here if you were a vegetarian? What about the name is confusing?

Essentially what happens is you sit at a table and people bring by slabs of meat continuously until you give up on life/tell them to stop. We had about half the meats on regular dinner menu and all the exotic meats. Of the regular meats, the lamb chop was especially delicious. On the exotic meat side, the crocodile was delicious (the texture was similar to calamari), though I will admit I slathered it in garlic sauce so who really knows. The ostrich was in a meat ball, so it tasted like any other meatball I’ve ever had. Ox ball, contrary to what you might think, is not ox meat balls, but is instead ox testicle. I had one bite of that and it was enough to (dis)satisfy me. It kind of tasted like something that wanted to be a hardboiled egg yolk, but somehow didn’t quite get there. We left satisfied and even kept enough room in our stomachs for some delicious dessert!

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Hello, grand pit of roasted meat

Finally, some quick observations about Nairobi:

  • Nairobi feels like a city as I’m used to in the states – a prevalence of skyscrapers and huge buildings, a large number of shopping areas and malls, and lots and lots of traffic. One of the things that was pleasantly surprising about Accra was the fact that even though it was the biggest city, the roads were always pretty clear of traffic.
  • The weather is absolutely beautiful. It was maybe 83 degrees at most, no humidity, the first day we were in and people kept apologizing for the hot weather. I had to stop myself from laughing at them.
  • There is security everywhere. Almost every place we’ve been so had a guard and partition that has to be lifted up. Our hotel and every shopping area we’ve gone to requires you to go through a metal detector and have your bags checked.
  • Hakuna matata is not just a phrase from your favorite childhood movie.
  • They drive on the opposite side of the road and my brain is still trying to get this sorted out. Sometimes I look up and panic because I think we’re about to run straight on into a car.

Tomorrow we have a meeting in the morning and then essentially a free day which includes SEEING THE BABY ELEPHANT I ADOPTED. How much do you think I’m going to enjoy that (it’s going to be A LOT).

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Cape Coast, Day 5: Above the treetops and into the past

Today has mostly been a catch-up day for work and we spent all of it in the hotel, so nothing of note to report for day 6 in Accra.

However, yesterday was our day off, so we decided to make the most of it and take a day trip down to Cape Coast

After a rather pleasant and traffic-free 2 hour ride, we began the bumpy ascent up to our first stop was Kakum National Park. The condition of the road this last hour of our trip was similar to the one we had to take up to Ashesi. It wasn’t unbearable, just uncomfortable, and mostly I spent a lot of it cringing in secondhand worry for Christian’s (our driver this week) car every time I heard a questionable bump or scrape.

But, finally, we rolled up into the national park and paid 50 cedi (roughly 12 dollars) to do the canopy walk. There were other options, including a nature hike with a guide around Kakum that we might’ve taken, but we also wanted to have ample time to explore Cape Coast Castle and head home before traffic got too bad, so we decided to stick to the main attraction of the canopy walk.

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The holding area while we waited for our tour guide.

We took a fairly easy hike into the first part of the forest and up a few flights of stairs. It probably took no longer than 30 minutes to get to the entrance of the forest proper and the incline wasn’t steep, but it was also probably more exercise than I’ve gotten in quite some time. I was at least glad to have worn comfortable shoes and brought a water bottle.

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From the entrance, it was an easy 10 minute walk to the entrance of the first bridge. Being the intrepid explorer that I am, I jumped at the chance to be the first to cross.

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Ok, not really. I mean, I did want to be the first to go across, but not because I’m an especially intrepid explorer. Mostly it was because I wanted to get away from two other American tourists in our group who were very loud, very annoying and very embarrassing. “We’re not all like that!” I wanted to say out loud to the group around us – but instead I just ran away onto the rope bridge first.

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I thought it might be more frightening than it ended up being, especially since I have a very intense fear of heights. However, even though the rope bridge sways as you walk across it (and one of the seven bridges very memorably tips to the side) and you’re very cognizant of how high up you are, they also seem very structurally sound. The rope walls are also high enough that you don’t fear tipping out and over. There were seven rope bridges in total, strung across very large trees in the forest. There were landings attached to the trees where you could take a moment and admire the view around you.

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It’s exceptionally peaceful…or rather, I imagine that if you are lucky enough to go with a group that doesn’t include two loud Americans talking about the cocktails they had in Accra and what a bore it is to get henna tattoos in India, then it’d be exceptionally peaceful. I was told that there are animals in the forest but that they are mostly nocturnal, probably to avoid insufferable tourists.

However, other than the loud tourists, it was a very enjoyable experience. The forest itself was cool to hike through. Given the climate of Ghana, I expected it to be more like the tropical forests of the Philippines, but it’s decidedly less so – mostly deciduous looking trees with a few tropical ones thrown in here and there. We learned that there’s a literal tree house that you can spend the night in and then take a night walk with a guide to see all the mostly nocturnal animals. Had we known this, Lisa might’ve planned our weekend differently in order to take advantage of such an opportunity but, alas, it was not to be.

From Kakum we headed back down to the Cape Coast proper and visited the famous/infamous Cape Coast Castle, a former British castle and one of the largest slave ports in all of Ghana and West Africa.

We entered and were able to walk around the castle and look at the surrounding area for a bit, which I enjoyed because it afforded us a beautiful landscape to look at and a way to view the surrounding area’s town.

Prior to the start of our tour, we went into the the second floor of the castle and walked through the museum that was housed there. It was a very impressive little exhibit and I learned quite a bit about the history of Ghana, including the slave trade, the African Diaspora and the culture of the peoples of Central Ghana – specifically the Akan peoples. I was about 3/4 of the way done with the museum exhibit when we were called back to the entrance of the castle to begin our tour.

We gathered around a doorway at the far end of the castle, the ground sloping down into complete darkness.

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I have no photos of the interior of the castle. It seemed disrespectful, somehow, to take photos of places that had witnessed so much suffering and misery.

As you walk slowly down into the darkness, you can feel the air pressing in closer, the heat settling against your skin. The path slopes gently downwards and turns to the right. Our group gathered together on a slope just beyond the light of the door, barely able to see three feet in front of us. The only light before us was one small shaft of light from a roughly hewn window far above us, no more than six inches across and a foot high. Despite the faint glow of daylight from the still open door behind us and the sliver of light from the window, the darkness still felt heavy and oppressive.

Then, our guide, Oscar, began to speak.

We were in the slave dungeon for the male slaves. Men would be held in these very rooms for at least six weeks at a time, sometimes as long as three months. Imagine, he told us, being trapped in this room, shackles around your neck and wrists and ankles. The door behind you is barred shut, the only air and light coming from that small window far above you.

Even just the thought of it felt suffocating.

He turned on the light and we descended further into the room, a dank stone room perhaps the size of many people’s living rooms.

And it was there, in that room, that nearly 500 men were held. They would be awaiting a ship that would send them to parts unknown and where they would live out the rest of their lives as slaves. There was a groove in the middle of the stone floor that made its way around the edges of the room and wound its way out. This, our guide told us, was the only toilet to speak of for these 500 men. A ‘toilet’ that archeological evidence shows would contain human waste that came up nearly to my waist.

It was astounding to think of. There were only perhaps twenty five people in our group total, and the room seemed still rather small. To imagine even a hundred seems impossible; 500 seemed unfathomable.

We moved on from the room and passed two other dungeons that would have held men. We entered a room with an awkward wall jutting out from the middle of it with something that looked like an altar coming out in front of it. At the far end of the room was a stack of ribboned wreaths with various organizations listed on them.

The awkward looking wall with the altar in front of it had once been the entrance to the tunnel that slaves would take to get to the door that would lead them to the ships. See, almost the entire time that these slaves were in the castle, they would never see the light. They would be held in the dungeon, then travel through a tunnel underneath the castle until they squeezed through a door at the end of the castle that would take them outside and into a canoe, where they would then be loaded into a slaving ship.

The entrance of this tunnel, then, was the beginning of their journey into slavery. And as bad as the holding cells had been for them all, what awaited on the other side of that tunnel was much, much worse. So, the tunnel was sealed off, a symbolic gesture that represented the sealing of the slave trade, the end of this chapter in Ghanaian history. And today, there was an altar to a native god – one of fertility – where people would come and speak with their god.

The ribboned wreaths – including one from Michelle and Barack Obama – that littered the ground had been brought from people all over the world, members of the African diaspora who had paid a visit to Cape Coast and thought perhaps some of their ancestors had been held there.

We walked on to the women’s dungeon. Here, the set-up was the same – 300 women packed tightly into a room made for half that amount, the only light two small windows far above the ground. Women would be taken almost nightly by British soldiers and raped, the especially beautiful ones handpicked by the governor that ran the castle.

It was a horrifying picture, more so because every part of it was true.

From there, we went back outside, the light seemingly blinding after even that small amount of time in semi-darkness. The sunlight was on our faces, a breeze that smelled like the sea blew across our skin; it was already hard to imagine the oppressive darkness and heat of the dungeons below. Oscar then pointed to the building directly above the dungeons, a plain white structure built on top of that place that held so much suffering and human misery.

That building, Oscar told us, was the church. While men groaned in the dark, British soldiers sang hymns to God right above them. While men slowly suffocated in the heat and smell of their own waste, the governor enjoyed the feel of a cool breeze and the view of the expansive blue ocean in his rooftop room.

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The view from the Governor’s living room

It was an abhorrent thought.

The end of the slaves’ time in this castle had them going through what had been dubbed the “Door of No Return.” It was the exit that slaves would take that would place them outside the castle and onto the ships that would carry them to slavery. This door was the end, the doorway that guaranteed that you would never again return to the place of your birth. Once you passed through that door, you knew you could never again look on your homeland.

The door, we were likewise told, had been widened from its original size. It was now the size of double doors, rather than a small hole that one man would have to nearly crawl through to get to the other side.

We walked out of the door as our guide painted the picture for us: the men and women would emerge one by one into the blinding light, nothing but forest around them and a great big ship before them. They would be loaded into the ship, still shackled, pressed together as tightly as possible and spend another four, five, six months in the dark hold of a rocking ship.

But, Oscar said as we stood on the other side of the door of no return, looking at into the vastness of the ocean and imagining the horrors that awaited the slaves on the middle passage and beyond, look at the sign on the door behind you.

We turned and looked.

door-of-return

The plaque had been put up, he told us, as a way to commemorate the return of the diaspora. It was a way to show that though the slaves themselves forced through that door and were never able to return to their homeland, their ancestors could and were now returning, were now completely free to do so.

The tour ended where it began – at the entrance to the male dungeon. Beside it, Oscar pointed out a plaque that had been installed by the chiefs of the major tribes. Here, he made one last poignant observation and plea to all of us who had been so affected by the tour. That while slavery as it had been described on this tour was long over and done with, modern slavery continued all over the world – human trafficking, forced labor, educational segregation and systemic racial discrimination.

It is up to us all to work towards justice, he exhorted, to put an end to man’s inhumanity to man. Let us not be like the British soldiers, eyes bowed in morning devotion as men beneath their feet bowed under the weight of their chains. Let us reject living like the Governor, who looked out every morning to admire the beauty of the sea while perpetrating the injustice and torment beneath him.

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It was a moving experience, and timely given that today in the states is Martin Luther King, Jr. day. It was difficult to think about the brutality that mankind has and continues to bring upon itself, but I’d rather be forced to look at it and confront the reality of it than pretend it never existed.

All in all, Cape Coast was a great place to visit and completely worth the six hour drive (combined) that it took. While Kakum made for great picture opportunities and fun storytelling, I know that I’ll never forget my visit to Cape Coast Castle. I’m grateful that I was able to visit and that I’ve been able to share it with all of you.

Accra, Days 3 and 4: CAMFED Scholars and Ashesi University

These last two days in Accra have been busy ones filled with work. Or rather, “work,” because it was all so enjoyable that it felt like anything but.

Yesterday, we presented a workshop to a mixed group of individuals who are all part of CAMFED, which is one of our partners. CAMFED is an organization that is dedicated to providing secondary and tertiary scholarships for girls so that they can attend schools. Girls’ education, especially in more rural parts of the country, is not necessarily seen as a priority for maybe families. CAMFED provides scholarships, uniforms and mentor support to thousands of girls across Ghana so that they can continue on in their education.

We were able to present secondary students, college students, teacher mentors and staff members of CAMFED. I was a little bit worried about this workshop because I hadn’t ever presented it before and there’s an old and, unfortunately, very true adage about the fact that teachers make the worst students. During professional development days, you’re liable to see teachers exhibiting all the worst behaviors of their students – scrolling through their phones, not paying attention, working on other work or talking while you’re talking. I’ve been guilty of it plenty of times myself even as I also try to curb the instinct.

But I think that this adage may only apply to American teachers. The teachers that attended yesterday’s workshop were all lovely – attentive, participatory and open to learning new ideas.

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The lovely teacher-mentors of CAMFED-Ghana

I think we also might’ve gotten a unique population of teachers – those who are mentors to students as well as being teachers. It stands to reason that teachers in this role might be a lot more engaged in learning opportunities in general.

In my previous post, I mentioned how fun traveling can be because of the fact that it makes ordinary things extraordinary. The same goes for new experiences in general. I’ve taught dozens of children hundreds of different times, but, again, I’ve never facilitated with adults. I’m also terrible with small talk and introductions, which is a lot more important in wide group facilitation than it is in teaching. So, I was initially very nervous and it definitely showed, especially as people trickled in little by little and I did my best impression of a normal human being who is not at all shy or anxious.

The impression, unfortunately, wasn’t very good. I mostly just came off as twitchy and awkward.

Luckily, Lisa has a natural charisma and warmth that comes from being extroverted and, I think, hailing from the South. She immediately made people feel comfortable and welcomed, taking sure to ask them about themselves and making them smile as soon as they came in the door. Observing her allowed me to let go of my anxiety some because I realized at least one of us wasn’t going to be a fidgety mess.

The actual facilitation part, which is very much like teaching, came a lot easier to me. First off, my anxiety at teaching teachers faded almost immediately, when I realized that no one in the room saw me as an imposter or incompetent, but actually regarded me as an expert in the subject. Secondly, everyone in the room was so engaged and respectful. Both the secondary and tertiary students showed an initiative at being helpful and useful that I was frankly envious of all the teachers in Ghana; I only had to pick up a stack of papers and a student would jump to pass them out. Finally, once I actually got into the teaching part of it all, I slipped into it quite easily. Even if I didn’t know the material as well as I might’ve liked, and was running on three hours of sleep, some things have just become muscle memory. Facilitation is a bit more involved than teaching, at times, but the basic mechanics are the same. I really enjoyed the day . The workshop as a whole went really well – we had great participation from all involved and I think (hope) that everyone got something useful out of it.

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Notice how cool I am in matching those secondary scholars’ school uniforms.

My favorite part, though, wasn’t so much the workshop itself, but sitting at lunch and talking with those involved in the program. As we broke for lunch, I was tempted to do what I always do and sit next to someone that I know so as to avoid the anxiety of having to make conversation. However, as I went through the buffet line, I realized how much I’d be irritated with myself at missing out on this opportunity to engage with people I’d never met before and learn about an experience that I’m completely ignorant of. So, I made myself sit with a group of people I didn’t really know: two tertiary students – one a junior, the other a freshman – as well as a staff member of CAMFED. I was able to learn so much about the Ghanaian school system (compulsory until 8th grade, at which point you take a, 8 subject! national exam to be placed into a senior high secondary school, then take another national exam to attend college), Ghanaian culture in general (the different ethnic groups and languages- such as the lingering beef between the Ewe and the Akan and ideas about Northern Ghana), the backgrounds of the three ladies I was sitting with, as well as the work that CAMFED does.

One of the fun things to notice, too, were just all the small differences in language. So you don’t major in something, you read something. It’s not college, it’s tertiary school. Instead of grades, it’s forms. Instead of scholarships, it’s bursary or bursar.

I also got some advice one what I absolutely needed to eat in terms of ‘genuine’ Ghanaian food – and was pleased to find that I’d already eaten many of them. Jollof rice, red red, plantain and fufu were all listed. The only one I’m still missing is banku, which I plan on checking off in the coming days.

All in all, a very successful day. Although, unfortunately, that night was not as successful as I did not get any sleep at all. I did, however, finish the Queen of the Tearling series and really quite enjoyed it (review forthcoming), so at least there’s that.

So onto day 4.

Oh! Before I talk about that, I’ve been really enjoying the advertisements and signs that I’ve seen around Ghana. First off, Lisa and I have asked a lot of Ghanaians about what makes them proud to be Ghanaian or what do the like about Ghana, and over and over again we’ve heard a lot about their peaceful elections or the fact that Ghana is a peaceful country. I thought this was so interesting because it definitely shows in the advertisements I’ve seen as we’ve driven around Accra.

There were actually two others that I really liked as well, but unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough in the car to get a photo of them. But they were just regular household products companies – I think one was a paint, the other a cleaning solution – who would advertise their products and the importance of peaceful, clean elections. That truly is something to be proud of, I think.

My other favorite sign I’ve seen around town is this one:

no-hawking

I’m fascinated by the use of “hawking” rather than soliciting or selling. I’m also quite tickled at the fact that these signs are mostly ignored, as you can see from this picture. In many places, there will be stalls and people with wares standing directly in front of this sign hawking their wares.

So, anyway, Day 4 (this morning) dawned and I had literally gotten no sleep. Ah, well, I’d done enough all-nighters in my time to know that I could power through it.

We woke up early and took the long, bumpy road up to Ashesi University. Our driver kept reiterating just how bad the road was and how often his taxi driver friends refuse to take people up it. About thirty minutes later, with a headache and a fair amount of nausea due to the amount of bumps and potholes that we hit in the road, I could see why.

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The view from Ashesi’s main entrance. That red dirt road in the distance is what we traveled along to get there. 

However, Ashesi itself is defintely beautiful and unique enough to warrant the trip. It was founded by Patrick Awuah Jr., a man who grew up in Accra but studied in the states. He left a very successful engineering career with Microsoft to come back to his hometown and found this university, with his overall vision being to educate the future leaders of Africa. Walking the grounds of the university, you can really see how much love, care and thought went into it.

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The view of the main courtyard from the second floor

But the beautiful campus wasn’t the reason we were there – or, at least, it wasn’t the only reason. We met up with two of our former interns from last year – Bridget and Sihle – and got together with a few other Scholars at the university to conduct research interviews on our project. I won’t go over the details here since I’ll write them up in a report on Monday, but again, it was such a great experience to sit down face to face and just talk to Scholars about their experiences. Like I mentioned a few entries ago, I think it’s going to be these conversations that I end up loving the most out of this whole trip. I truly love my job and I love the impact that we’re making and potentially going to make on this group of amazing students. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to feel connected to them when you’re sitting behind a computer screen all day, writing out content. These conversations helped me to get a fuller sense of the users of our project, put faces and personalities to names, and just really provided motivation and inspiration for what we’re doing.

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Some of the lovely Ashesi Scholars we got to meet with. Notice that Lisa and I are unwittingly matching. 

Afterwards, we drove back down this treacherous road with Bridget and Sihle and went to eat together and catch up in Accra.

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It was such a great time for both Lisa and I (and hopefully Bridget and Sihle). Managing the interns has probably been one of, if not my most, favorite experiences since starting this job and it was wonderful to catch up and just chat in a way that wasn’t about work or upcoming deadlines or projects.

These were a busy two days but incredibly fun and fulfilling, which you don’t often get hand in hand.

Tomorrow we have a day off, so we’ll be heading down to Cape Coast for the day and hitting up Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle. Hopefully I’ll get more sleep tonight!

 

Accra, Day 2: Venturing outside our hotel

The cool thing about being in a different country is that even the most mundane things become little adventures.

Take today for example. Here’s what we did:

  • Ate lunch at The Holiday Inn
  • Met with Vodafone at their corporate offices
  • Went to the mall to buy a phone
  • Went to a shop to buy some clothes
  • Ate dinner downtown

Had I done these things in Phoenix, they would barely warrant a recap to Charles at the end of the day. I mean, I probably still would anyway, but they’d hardly be interesting to listen to.

However, because of the very fact that I didn’t do them in Phoenix, they were novel and fun and interesting.

The day didn’t start out all that well for me. Jet lag hit me pretty hard and rather than getting a good night’s rest, I simply tossed and turned all night – though I did finish The Queen of the Tearling and quite enjoyed it, so the whole thing wasn’t a loss. I finally fell asleep around 5 only to wake up around 8 and stare at the ceiling. I finally dragged myself out of bed an hour later, rushed down to catch the free breakfast, and then headed back upstairs to get ready for the day. On three hours of sleep? Thank God there’s tea at every single meal here.

We had a meeting with Vodafone, one of the major telecommunications companies here. We decided to head there early in order to partake in the Holiday Inn lunch buffet which was situated next door and, weirdly, came very highly recommended. Yeah, I know, Holiday Inn. But one country’s mid-level party motel is another’s upper middle class hotel with a great lunch buffet.

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And, admittedly, it was a great lunch buffet. That white fruit at the bottom was the second best pineapple I’ve ever had (sorry Ghana, but the Philippines still got you beat in the tropical fruit round), while the fried plantains are the left are apparently a Ghanaian staple and one of my favorite things about the food here so far. They’re served at almost every meal and are delicious! You know what else is at every meal? Rice! Ghanaians know whats up. I also had something called red-red or red-red stew, which is at the top left on my plate and is another national staple and delicious (and vegetarian!). If it were not for the fact that many things are just slightly too spicy for my weak taste buds, Ghanaian food would probably be my favorite.

After lunch, we walked over to Vodafone and had a very, very productive and successful meeting. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say that we walked away feeling buoyed and satisfied with the outcome.

From there, we stopped by Accra Mall to get a travel phone since the one we’d brought was no longer working. Now, I don’t know what it is about international countries and their malls, but everyone always seems inordinately proud of them. This was true in every city we visited in the Philippines and it was true here in Accra. To me, once you’ve seen one mall, you’ve kind of seen them all.

However, what was fun about this was that buying a phone here was such a different experience that 1: we looked really, really stupid and 2: because of this, I ended up a learning a lot. Such as – why it’s helpful to have a dual sim card phone (so that we can have a Ghanaian number and easily switch to a Kenyan number) and the fact that in Africa, you buy the phone, the sim card and the data all separately.

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Say y’ello! To your data and sim card kiosk.

There are no phone companies here – no Verizon or Sprint telling you what kind of phone you can get and how much data you should get and forcing you to sign your life away. You just buy a phone, buy a sim card and purchase whatever amount of data you think you’ll need (or can afford). Fascinating!

After the mall, we headed back out to city and went to Global Mamas, a souvenir store I’d seen on some “best of shopping” list and thought looked like a good idea. It also came recommended by a few people, so I was pretty pumped (I also just love shopping).

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The cool thing about Global Mamas is that you get really great looking stuff that’s fair trade, so you get to feel good about what you’re purchasing too. The stores stocks a bunch of handmade things and profits go back to supporting women in the Ghanaian community.

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But of course, my favorite wall was the one filled with dresses and skirts.

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The fabrics are beautiful and the dresses are well-made. I wanted to buy about a dozen different things but ended up getting a wrap skirt for myself and a button up shirt for my brother.

I almost got about half a dozen dresses, but even though they were beautiful, they were also very bright and I tend to wear more subdued colors now – which is why I got the fairly simply skirt. I am, however, going back one last time on Tuesday before we leave to grab some things that weren’t in stock, so there’s plenty of time to reconsider.

Finally, after putting in a few hours of work at the hotel, we headed to Buka Restaurant, whose website tells me that they serve the BEST West African dishes. I can’t say for sure, having only tried buffets from hotels prior, but the food was exceptionally good.

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I asked for a very Ghanaian meal and was given jollof rice (wonderful, but a tad too spicy for me) with baked tilapia (absolutely delicious! Tilapia can be a very bland fish, but this was anything but) and a side of kelewele (fried plantains seasoned with spices which I literally could’ve eaten a vat of).

All in all, an ordinary day made extraordinary by context! Tomorrow, we present a workshop that I’m a little nervous about, but at the same time am very excited to hear from some of our secondary alumni Scholars and teachers about their experiences.

Hopefully I can fall asleep before 5am this time!