Tuesday, September 22, 2009

School, Sea, Sunset, Somnambulation

Well finally a shot of my sisters... from the left, Nana, Afia, Abena, though we call her Mina. This is the only shot I have of all three- and now Nana is living in Koforidua with her mum. We were swimming, obviously, in the front... Mina and Afia go to school alllllllllllll day, they leave 8am get home 7pm, or later. They are in Junior high, and granted it takes half hour to hour to get to school depending on traffic, but still...!

Below is my front yard, with the pool as you can see and my house... if you walk in that sliding door behind the fence, there is a lovely breezeway that is kept very clean for visitors. I have enjoyed teaching the girls a bit how to swim, or just encouraging them to feel comfortable in the water. Last I went swimming was in the evening- Afia and I made a fruit salad- pineapple, pawpaw (papaya), banana, orange- and we ate it while we swam, and the sun went down...

In some places dusk is merely sunset. The lifegiving ball of fire sinking in the sky slowly melts below the horizon and the haze becomes cool, or it is not witnessed because of the hanging clouds and only the dissipation of the light admits a shadowed world. But here, dusk is a time of its own. I began to notice it first when I was taking walks on the train tracks behind the house towards evening. As I was ambling I looked skyward and saw what was perhaps a bird above me, then another and another, and as I kept my eyes up they were filled with hundreds of small black reflections flying overhead. And as I looked closer I saw that, of course, they were bats. So I saw them again the next night and the next, always they come as the sun departs, though once the light is gone they have dispersed and I see none. Always they fly from the South, fluttering like funereal confetti on a current. And then that same current carries a most achingly beautiful voice, as though from the same far off gathering as the confetti, as though from the spirits of the other world are calling through a doorway, briefly opened each night when the sun is at just such a place, singing the praise of God, chanting the evening call to prayer. I have never lived in a place where I could hear proof of Islam each day, a few times a day, and always at this time of evening. So I floated on my back that day in the pool and watched the bats from the silence of the water, the strange and eerie silence of submersed ear drums, watched the light go, a few stars penetrate the light and dust, watched the black bodies of the desperately flapping bats move from south to north above me, watched it and then raised my head to hear the low, deep voice coming from nowhere and everywhere, coming from the human and the superhuman, weaving the fabric of the night around me with ancient melodies.

And these are my team mates, plus some Germans. From the left- Adam Streeter, whose blog is also definitely worth reading and can be found by looking at my followers. Anna Martinez who is doing the lovely video footage and is also attending Achimota School with me. Me... of course the one shot that had everyone in it and smiling I had to have my mouth all weird... then Meredith who lives in Tema, maybe an hour away with traffic.... don't know if she has a blog. Then our German friends Laura and Anne who stayed in Ghana in 2005 for 6 months and have made it back almost every year to visit and vacation. I sure hope to do the same!

This picture demonstrates a few things- first, the roasted plantains that she is selling- those are everywhere, though I actually haven't tried them prepared that way yet. The soccer ball on the umbrella: Ghanaians love soccer, though, this being Not America, they call it football along with the rest of the NA world. Ok, if you click the picture, and read the advertisment on the wall it is for Ghaliwood, which I got a kick out of. Have not see it yet, true Ghaliwood, but I'm looking forward to it. Then if you look behind the Ghaliwood signs, you see the green wall with half of another add for VEGA that has been posted over- well if I zoomed out the entire wall would be green and advertising VEGA and this would be one of many monotone walls advertising either a food or cell phone company.

oh. my. gosh. where to begin!!!!!!!!!!?

where did I leave off?
The Belgians, American and Danish girl came in dazzled and frazzled and tired and shocked, and it was finally I who was the "experienced" one to give advice and all.... a good feeling. Unfortunately most of them are living far away, up in other regions of Ghana so I won't see much of them. Except the Dane- she goes to my school. Schoool. SCHOOOOOOOOOOL!!!? what? I'm still in school? I'm supposed to be learning practical things as well as a new culture? I'm a teenager?

Let me back up.

We went to school when it started, last week to get our uniforms, pick our subjects and pay our fees. However that day only entailed waiting and walking around and waiting and then finally picking our subjects- even though we changed them again, just today. Then we waited for the rest of the week to be called by AFS and told that we would be going back to school to actually begin.... but we waited all week and it was only today, Tuesday the 22nd that we finally started school.

The campus is incredible. Absolutely beautiful. Built in 1927 by the British, Achimota Senior High School has a timeless and almost placeless feeling. Novelistic imperial British tropics. Could be India, could be any time in the 20th century, one could turn the corner and see some proper Missionary/Military wife in a sweeping white gown reading Dickens under a parasol... writing small notes in her journal about the red dirt and shining faces, the enormous black scorpions and breathtaking trees. How did those first people see this same land? Before it was over run with industrialization and media, before it was mostly Christian, and before the red dirt was paved over? Before the air was made thicker by smog, and before natives spoke English, the later of which is a simple way to say a lot of things.
There are immense trees over the whole campus, and wide open lawns in front of the tall white washed buildings. The buildings with blue shutters and a constant two feet of red dirt smudged around the base, some of which are dorms to house the approximate 1500 boarding students, some of which are our classrooms and others of which house the teachers and administration. The only real mark of the era is the large billboard between the boys dorms and the girls dorms reminding students that engaging in premarital sex can lead to HIV/AIDS.

Today we went to school late and finally got our uniforms and figured out our classes and got our books and were left with less than two hours to go to class, which was a nice amount of time to feel apart of something but not get overwhelmed. So, first impressions... the kids are as shy of us as we are of them... and since there are three of us obruni girls, at first it was easy to stay apart, but now that we are all in different classes (a conscious decision) we will each begin to blend into our own groups. I have chosen the Vocational Visual Arts track (vs. General arts or Science) because I am excited to do classes like textiles and General knowledge in arts that will give me more of a local taste- will be, hopefully, traditional Ghanaian, or at least West African. The class I came into was Economics, and I really like the teacher- he had taught in Missouri for a year and had also hosted an exchange student. But when we were going around telling him our names, and let me note that when a student is speaking in class he/she must stand, though most kids just sort of half raise their tushes from the wood bench, this one boy stood and said his name... well he was really tall, I mean tall for any standards and especially Ghanaian because most people here are fairly short, and so the teacher looked at me and said "Afia", because I had also given them my local name, "would you like to marry this sort of man?" well. I will leave you to imagine just how red my face was and just how loud that classroom became with hoots and hysterics. Welcome to Class 2V2. (Form 2, Vocational 2). My class prefect told me that ours is one of the notorious loudest classes in the school... which is fine by me because they are loud with laughter. So for now that is school, and I will post some pictures when I download them. Oh just a word about the assistant headmistress....I'll just say she is the stereotypical scary headmistress that you do not want to see after the first day. My friend, Marie, was debating about whether to go to form 2 or 3 (form=grade) and the woman was like, well if you want your name to appear at the bottom of the exam sheet every time, laugh laugh laugh, go to form three, but I won't change you around unless they demote you because you can't keep up ... laugh... well, Marie, bless her, said no, I think I can do form three thank you. (I'll keep you posted).
It is true that they post our exam results publicly for all the school to see.... great. and for the dress code. One pair of stud earrings is allowed. No bracelets, no necklaces, no second earrings, nails must be cut all the way down, no polish, no makeup, no hair clips, only in a pony tail- not down, not braided, not a bun, only pony, she kept saying it, only pony, only pony. The girls here actually are made to shave their heads from the very first class of school until they graduate high school. Sandals must be brown, nothing inbetween the toes (like flipflops) and no closed toes. No rings. No food in classrooms, not even in our bags, though they were willing to make an acception for us as day-students to bring tightly sealed completely concealed snacks for break time. Lunch is after school at 2:30- break is for a half hour at 11 and that is the only time we may use the restroom as well. Our uniforms must be washed and pressed... Yes. Dress code is tight, but overall I am more or less excited about school. But somehow over the past month I feel like I've grow so much I am out of school- I am beyond school or something, so it felt weird at first having to get back in that mindset. This summer has been so extraordinarily long and filled with new experiences from climbing a multi-pitch in Yosemite to visiting DC to everything about here I just couldn't believe that I had to go back to SCHOOOL.

This past weekend was by far the best I've had here... On Saturday I had another drumming lesson and learned my new favorite rhythm, then went out of Accra with my YES friends and an AFS volunteer to a beautiful park called the Aburi Botanic Gardens where we were toured around and saw trees planted by different presidents and even Queen Elizabeth. The place was made into a park in 1890 and has sections for herbal medicine research, conservation, and then the trees that we were toured through. Once I upload my pictures I will speak more of the Gardens. So we got home around evening and less than a half hour after I got back my brothers decided to go out so I spent a nice night drinking pineapple juice, listening to the music, admittedly feeling awkward at times... at a little spot on the side of the highway near the sea.
The next morning I got up to go with the same volunteer to the International Central Gospel Church, or ICGC. It was quite a church I must say- first it was big, hundreds of people all decked out in their Sunday Best, live band, ushers in suits, a big choir, even a balcony, and everyone was singin' and dancin' and and fillin' up that whole huge building with glory and praise. Then we went to the beach for the first time...

The beach. the beach. sandy expanse of untarnished white swept up by a crystal blue sea and elegantly swaying palm trees shading your personal haven...right? Warm water with gentle waves rolling around you and bright fish darting between your legs- It's the tropics after all.

Labadi beach is a touristy spot and hence a money making opportunity. Bars line the beach, with shaded tables to sit at (and pay for) very crowded- people selling things from bathing suits to carved wooden statues to mini drums to little Ghana bracelets to pirated DVDs...
I was so excited to be in the ocean that I just started running, jumping, splashing into the sea, feeling the perfectly chilled water and there- oh, is that seaweed, huh, why no, its a plastic bag. And that there- it's a ice cream bar wrapper, and that and wow- it really is dirty... then a whistle. Silly girl has gone flitting and prancing into the red flag zone. Ha, count on me to do such a thing... but truly it's hard to tell because most of the beach is red flag. In fact the area where we can swim is very small, like a hundred feet from white flag to white flag (though I'm a terrible estimator). But at least there is a lifeguard. Many Rastas, many Obrunis, many locals, music blasted from everywhere so loud that even when you are swimming you can be dancing... not my idyllic lie-on-a-beach-and-read place, but interesting in a people watching/meeting sort of way... and I did enjoy swimming, especially when it was later and the waves were really crazy, powerful but close to shore so still safe...
and then there was Eid, the Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, as well as Kwame Nkrumah's birthday celebrations..... but I will wait until I have my pictures and some more time.

Personally, I am just riding the tide, starting school is the main thing on my plate, and having to get to school by 6:45 tomorrow. I have not felt real homesickness since DC, though I think of home and people- you all- often, especially when look at the night sky.

As always, that this may find you in peace.

by the way, this had nothing to do with sleepwalking, don't worry, you didn't zone out... but I'll be doing that soon... if I don't cut short all the things more that I want to say and instead sleep.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

As-Salam Alaykum

laugh laugh laugh laugh "no, no, no... AponCHE"
what is the difference?!
Goat. AponCHE=Goat. They roam the streets here, and then they grace our stews.

Irony. Check it out. I guess you can't see that well, but those are slums... the billboard.... yea.

These are the same slums, it is very hard to capture from a
moving car.

First dress... not a great shot... they add extra material to make the hips look big,
which I thought was funny... so different.

Click on the pictures to get a super enlarged view. Especially the slum ones, you can really see.

Ghana countryside. Sorry about the cracks in the window.

The woman has a baby on her back... this bridge is just behind my house... I like to go there in the evening sometimes and there are train tracks to walk on, along the fields.
The boys are running across the street with heads full of limes.

This is my bedroom, though I've since removed the mats. Above is the Kwame Nkrumah burial site. He was the first Ghanaian president and was very interested in uniting Africa... I know painfully little about him... Most people adore what he did, but my uncle went on a tirade about how Nkrumah wasted the money that could have helped GHANA, and is therefore part of the reason why Ghana is still poor. Same uncle has told me numerous times how Ghana is one of, if not the richest place on earth, considering its size and the amount of tapped and UNTAPPED resources... Gold, oil, cocoa, salt... I can't remember now, but he feels like Ghana should be doing much better than it is. Below is the Presidential place... their White House... except for some reason the president is not there right now... then there is a shot of Accra. It doesn't really demonstrate anything, there are no people selling things at that spot and you get no sense of the traffic, but I liked it as a photo...

I cannot believe I have been here for a month already. Of course it feels like I have been here forever, and for no time at all... have done many things, but also sat around for way too long trying to understand the terrible Ghanaian soaps in a florescent lit den, while everyone else gets a kick out of talking in Twi to each other and the screen.

So I broke the semi-monotony one day by asking one of my uncles if I could take the trotro to my drumming lesson. After much debate about if I could get there in time, if I wouldn't get lost, if I should take this route or the other, he decided to come along with me. And I sure am glad he did. Trotros are the most common mode of transport, being cheap and accessible. From anywhere in Accra one can get anywhere by trotro at any time of day or night for less that one cedi. Ok, I have no way to verify if that is true, but you get the idea. So we caught the trotro, and took it to "Circle" where I would have been completely lost if I had gone on my own. The most interesting part was walking down a narrow sidewalk where there were literally hundreds of young Ghanaian guys on either side of me selling stolen cell phones mostly and hissing, calling obruni, or princess or just girl, or making a smooching noise, another common way to get someone's attention, or lightly grabbing my arm... yes, if my uncle had not been there I might have just fainted. No, I exaggerate. The next day I went through the same mob by myself and was perfectly calm and dignified, if a bit sweaty. That day was fun... I met up with some fellow YESers at Circle and we found the bank...ate some interesting street food- a different kind of fried doughball- stood out like a 7 fingered hand with three soar thumbs... made our way through the mazes of trotros, shoes, shoes, shoes.... were followed by a relentless guy wanting to get my or Marie's number, so we finally gave them to him....

JOKING- we would never do such a thing, don't worry.

...unfortunately I should say that this taste of independence was short lived because my dad said later he wishes I would not go by my own yet. By my own. I guess that is improper, but it is something my brother Dominic says... funny how it just slipped out.


We went to a mosque on 9/11.

seems appropriate, given the program we are on.

Sitting there listening to the prayers and preaching, which was focused on how Islam is misunderstood and is the most peaceful religion at heart, thinking that if the events of this day 8 years ago had not happened, I would not be here. Which is in absolutely no way to say that some good comes of every wrong because that would be attempting to be a justification and that's not my point, it was just a profound realization. One that actually didn't dawn upon me until my friend pointed it out. Beside the point.
It was not a traditional mosque in any way... just a building that could have been an office, but was transformed into a place of prayer by the atmosphere of quietude, the white and flowing hijabs on the women, the long mats being unrolled in the courtyard. If any of you are interested in Islam, the story of its birth, some reasons for its misinterpretation and a good, balanced opinion on its true meaning (with different ideas presented) I am reading a book called No God but God by Reza Aslan and would recommend it.

There are certain things about Islam, such as praying 5 times a day, wherever one is, taking the 5 or so minutes to stop whatever is going on and join every other Muslim across the globe in an act of prostration to Allah, submission to something greater, that makes me have a great respect for the Ummah. Also, fasting during the month of Ramadan, which is almost over now, I mean fasting is not for the fainthearted... but fasting purely for religion takes such great spiritual devotion I am truly in awe. And of course, how much they must enjoy Eid, the equivalent of "Fat Tuesday" which comes for the three days after Ramadan has ended.

Religion is very prevalent here in Ghana, though it is predominantly Christian, not Muslim, at least in the south. I have been asked about my religion, and it seems people only accept two answers. Christian or Muslim. Being neither is hard because I am asked why and don't really know how to respond. It is both very simple, I just wasn't raised that way, but also very intricate because I am not downright atheistic. Why don't your parents take you to church? And forget trying to explain Unitarian Universalism... but the thing is, I wonder in myself why I am not religious... in an organized sort of way. I start wondering what my own beliefs are.... What will I teach my children should I be blessed with any? Blessed by who?
It is something I meditate on when I am in the Presby church and can't understand a word of the Twi service.

One interesting thing is that when we were in DC with the 400 other YES participants from around the world (have I mentioned that?), there was an activity we did around religion where we had to pass a sheet of paper and write what we knew about all the different major religions. I was really surprised that some of the kids had not heard of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Agnosticism... I was surprised and concerned and judgmental (not of them, but of the lack of education they had been offered in this particular area)....

Tomorrow I will get to meet the other AFS kids coming from Belgium, USA, and either Germany or Finland. I have met some sweet German girls already who were on a program here three years ago and came back to visit, and I've begun to realize just how much AFS connects one to people from not only the place I am but to people from all over the world. So we chatted about our homes to each other and shared our observations about Ghana, new to us all. One of the funny things is that us Americans all come from different parts of the country, so we run into a problem when explaining "how things are in America" because we all have different experiences. It all comes down to, America is a very vast place and everything really depends on where you go.

I hope you enjoy the pictures, I will try to upload some videos too later.

Hope all is well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Kitchen

What defines a place? Weather, people, geography, culture and within those all the various aspects of life from religion to vegetation. And Food. Food is one of the most essential definitions of place, and it gives a view into the rest- how it is prepared, taken and what exactly it is. So. Ghanaian food.

The picture is of my first meal here, a gentle rice dish called Jollof. By gentle I mean it was roughly familiar and not too spicy. And of course there was fried chicken and some sauteed cucumbers, tomatoes and beans, which they call "salad" but is very different from my definition of salad. Jollof proves to be one of my favorite meals, and it is basically rice cooked in a tomato, pepper sauce, and there is usually some canned corned beef thrown in for flavor. But I shall zoom out to the main ingredients, because there are so many variations on roughly the same things.

For the starch of the meal there is rice, yam, cocoyam, plantain, potato, and some other types of yam. These are taken with sauces made out of tomatoes, pepper, onion, "spices", fish, canned corned beef or tuna and in one dish a spinach like leaf. Fish is a big part of the diet, in all the soups and sauces or fried on the side, though I have only had it like that in a restaurant. Gosh, how does one tackle food....

Breakfast: usually I have bread and tea. Tea meaning either PG Tips or Ovaltine or Milo. The bread here is amazing- it is very white, very square, and infinitely light. I have never had Wonder Bread, but I think this is basically the same. We buy it unsliced, every other day from the store down the street, and I got to see one of the bakeries so I know that it is local bread (though obviously not local wheat). It is slightly sweet which makes it perfect on its own or with the delicious chocolate spread, which gets me through my sugar cravings because...

Ghanaians are not big on sugar. There are not really desserts, except sometimes watermelon, which is surprisingly flavorless compared to what I have tasted before, or pineapple which is really really sweet and juicy.

One thing that all of us YESers have found that is like a doughnut is called a "bowfloat" and it is fried corn dough with a bit of sweetness. Unfortunately they are addictive but give me stomach aches.

But back to the starches- all of them can be fried or boiled, and my favorite is fried plantains with a bit of ginger, especially when they are really really ripe and soft.

The specialties are fufu, banku and kenke. Fufu is impossible to explain, but I will try. So you take the boiled cocoyam, and-or boiled plantain and-or boiled cassava and mash it up. The mashing process is impressive because one woman sits there slowly putting in the chunks of starchy tuber and then mixes it while a man steadily drives a long log into the mortar where her hands are. I thought her fingers would be smashed a million times, but I realized that you learn from early on how to be quick and if the man has a rhythm then it is easy to work together. Slowly the fibers break down until it looks like a lump of bread dough. I have just completely mutilated the process- it is so involved... I will try to post a video... So then the fufu is taken with a "light soup" but as they pronounce, liesoup, which is really just a broth of tomato and pepper and it always has a hunk of fish or meat for everyone. Fufu is a long process... we start it in the mid afternoon, usaully after church on sundays, and end around 4 or 5 and eat it as soon as it is done because first it gets hard when it sits, and second it is so heavy that one does not want to take it any later. Then sometimes we will have some small rice or bread with tea in the evening. I have had fufu a couple of times, but I find it hard to eat. Because it has been broken down by the pounding, there is no need to chew it, and truthfully chewing it is rather unpleasant because it gets all stuck in my teeth, so one just smooches off a bit with the fingers, gets it all soupy and then quickly swallows it... which I find not entirely enjoyable. But I love the light soup, so sometimes I just have that.

Now banku and kenke are made out of fermented corn stuff, and are stickier and less slimy than fufu, and have a flavor, which fufu does not. They are sour, to variying degrees, and if it is too sour I do not like it. We eat them with sauce, again, a tomato, pepper onion spice sauce... and again with fish or meat..... yes.... it does get a bit monotonous, there is little that is not spicy and fishy and starchy. Fresh vegetables are not a big thing.... most meals are taken hot, which is because of the tropical diseases that can get into cold food. So far I like most everything, though I have to be careful with the heavy foods because they are so much heavier than what I am used to. Then they ask me what I eat at in the US and it is so hard to remember.... its all so diverse and just so different....

Dairy is nonexistent.... they bought cornflakes, which I tried, but seriously, putting water with some canned "Ideal milk" was a little bit weird. I said that at home I have cereal with real milk, and my sister was saying that this canned creamy stuff made of palm oil and stuff was milk, and I was trying to tell her..... and of course there is no cheese, and they use margarine....

Water is another thing. We do not drink tap water, no, I have not had a glass of water since Ive been here, it has all be taken from bags or bottles. even the locals drink sashes of water, little bags that you tear the corner off of and suck on.

Food.... let me see.... preparation... Most things have been prepared in bulk and then we heat them up- sauces and soups and stuff... I can not wait till we run out and I get to see the cooking process. The starches of course we make as we need, and i love that our pantry is full of these HUGE yams, and whole bunches of plantains. Of course we do make simple tomato pepper caned tuna sauces when it is late and no one feels like cooking and eat it with rice.... Because my host mom is not around the food situation is different- it is more fend for yourself and then in the evening the girls makes something or my Auntie brings us banku or fufu if we do not have time to make it.

Taking food... first of all we say "taking" more than "eating" which tripped me up the first few times. And this family is informal about eating.... most of the food is finger food, which I love, but also gets me very messy, and most of it is taken together... I had my first experience eating rice out of a bowl with my fingers and three other girls, which was enjoyable, if a bit of a race to try to get enough... one can easily see that eating together has caused everyone to eat faster.

Salad- well they do have salad... usually it is cabbage, carrots, green pepper, canned tuna, onion, and noodles. Or else they don't add noodles and they make sandwhiches out of it... put it between bread and put the bread in this nifty little warming oven.

In general I like the food, but find it a bit repetitive. and i occasionally really miss a good feta, cranberry, walnut, pear, spinach salad.

Switching angles... communication is sometimes frustrating. When I feel like I've told the right person what I want to do it then ends up being mixed up in the wash and coming out some other way, and in the end I feel like I messed up, even though I can't think of how I could have though to do it differently. It hasn't happened too often, but the few times it has I have felt very regretful that I didn't play it differently. I just keep reminding myself that this is only the beginning and I am learning so that eventually I will get it.

School begins next monday, on the 14th... and I have to say I am nervous.
I will be going to a pretty prestigious school and I have heard the academics are much more difficult here.... though I'm not so worried about that as much as just getting along, fitting in, finding my place in another new school. fortunately this is not the first school transition i've had to make.

I hope all is well with everyone, and I would love to hear from any of you, email, facebook, anything.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Shopping Spree

"Having trouble tellin' you how I feel, but I can dance, dance, dance" - Lykke Li song lyric

Oh life goes in and out, roller coaster, up and down, and I am just trying always to dance my way into myself. As I spend the morning in a strangely quite house catching up on my fellow exchangers I feel both that I am part of a much larger network of similar experiences, and too that I am so so so alone here in completely my own situation, my own adventure, and I can't quite wrestle it into words to share.

But as always, it is best to being with experience.

Well, roller coaster indeed, I had two days of complete overload and stimulation which dumped me into a weekend of fatigue and a small cold. On Thursday I went shopping for some clothes...
The day began with a mango. The better part of a mango, and tea, with the usual powdered milk, which in itself has been strange to get used to. Dairy is not really practical here... anyway, the market. The market is situated in a 'trotro' station, trotros are like minibusses, so it is a mecca of trade with a constant flow of people coming in and leaving, and of course vehicles driving through the throngs, weaving between the umbrellas, under which there are goods like presents under a christmas tree. And people constantly parading their wares; belts to sponges, sunglasses to sim cards in one's face, and I simply keep an eye on Auntie Essi as she parts the red sea with her calm poise. One thing I realized, as I stood before a heap of shoes that all looked roughly the same, trying to find some that both fit, weren't too old looking and were ok for church, or walking, not really knowing what I needed or wanted, and having new ones thrust on my feet by another Ghanaian man, asked are they ok? yes they look nice, yes you buy, yes you like? are they ok for you? well, at home I can say yes they are ok, but I don't really want them, but here, Ok means that they are suitable and therefore worth getting... so I did a lot of, wait, no I don't want them... anyway, I realized that to go shopping at a place like that, I would need to have a clear idea of exactly what I needed and exactly how much I was willing to spend on it. Bargaining was an art. The whole experience was heated and flustering, except the bargaining, done by a skilled Auntie Essi who would then speak softly and not look at the man, softly and firmly, both with equal tones, until she would be still, and then tell me how much money to fork over. I could not understand a word of it, not even the rates they were talking about because they speak with the old money lingo, which I can't really translate into cedis yet. At one point when I had just made some slightly hasty decisions and was feeling quite flustered, trying to keep up through the noise and narrow paths between baskets of dried fish and piles of old electronics, Essi took my hand, softly. I have never been thrown a life ring or rope, but that hand, those calm fingers amidst the blur was a life saver as much as any other.

I could go on. We went to another part of town where ladies sold things out of their hand bags, until the cops drove by, and then we all hid our money and looked around like we were unassociated. And all I could think was, where does all this stuff COME FROM? I mean the sheer mass of plastic and cotton, the piles of second hand clothes and new shoes, it is just unbelievable. I asked Essi, and she just said, mass production is everywhere now, and shrugged.
I mean, I used to get totally overwhelmed shopping at Ross... this place makes it look like a "chique boutique"!

Friday I had drumming lessons until afternoon, then when I was picked up brother Bush told me we were going to the wedding. Now I had been told there was a wedding, but I had been told that this day was not really the wedding but the "engagement" and that the festivities were in the evening, so needless to say I was a bit unprepared. There is a theme here, and the lesson is: always be prepared Justine for spending time out on the town. So the rest of the day I spent at the reception for this wedding which involved sitting, sipping minerals (the local word for soda), listening to Twi, feeling disgruntled that I had not worn my new dress, and generally waiting because, as I was informed by an uncle, the whole thing was not going according to plan. Apparently the couple were of a certain region that likes to do things at night. So we got there- to an open courtyard bar- at three or so and waited until after dark- 6:30-7 for the bride and groom and everyone else to get there.... And I went to buy fish with my uncle, that was the best. We drove to "Oxford st" (you know why they call it Oxford, he said, because everything is so expensive) which might be called a main drag- a touristy spot where I saw many obrunis. So we just drove and when we passed the fish guys our driver hissed them over and the barganing began. As we sat in the car, four or five Ghanaian guys with buckets of different fish were all trying to make theirs look the most appetizing and cheapest. Talapia is a specialty fish, but we got red fish- the biggest one, more than a foot long, which my uncle cooked the following day in a delicious stew of tomatoes, oil, peppers, spices.... it is taken with banku, a sour, sticky, pasty mush of fermented corn that is not entirely terrible but not all that great either.

After winning some points by dancing- it was great, the aunties got up and laughed, hailing me with their swaths of cloth- we ate. And as I was finishing my plate, the drink guy (who made sure everyone had ice, alcohol or minerals) brought me a plate of food larger than my first and told me to eat all! eat all! else I charge you big money! Then we go dance, and you make sure to move your waist! and I said, o yes, but see sah, if I eat all I will no be able to dance! and it was all very humorous and in good fun. After the supper my uncles and brothers went to play pool and listen to live music, jazz and high life and I did dance, to the Ghanaian rhythm and hummed to myself when the song was a version of "Lean on me" and later, "Hard days Night".

On another note, I have found a really good friend, also named Afia. She is my "dad"s niece and has graduated senior high school but is taking French courses and plans to go to university. We both enjoy reading and I've asked her to recommend some good African authors, and we have both found a friend in each other. Today she showed me how to fry plantains, which is one of my favorite dishes, and she has promised to teach me more Ghanaian cooking, as she loves to cook herself.

I have begun to feel so incredibly privileged, that I am studying abroad, have been abroad before, can go home and even come back sometime... I don't know how to express the feeling because I don't know how if feels, just a big question mark. Why? circumstance. Fair? Un-qualify able. But it has made me more certain that I must give it back in some way, must make the effort to walk toward the middle ground, walk toward the center of the see-saw. In a way that is what I am doing, but not completely.

one more note: Laughter. laughter here is a spirit, a fairy, a jinn coming from the depths of these Ghanaian souls. It has a way of completely taking over the bodies around me so that the girls crumple as it rolls out of their mouths. Abenna begins to laugh, she stumbles to the wall, sighing, leans on the tiles to regain herself, or on each other, or on the floor, I absolutely love watching people laugh. I can't say I've completely every released my own Genie of Laughter, no, I remain upright in my humor, but one day, I know, one day I will laugh that thing right out of my throat and forever more laughter will be a full body experience.

Another note, on the irony of life as relates to the everlasting struggle for beauty. In Ghana they bleach their skin to become fairer, whilst we waste our money and time in tanning salons. Needless to say, both have terribly ugly long term side effects.

The picture I took on the first day out of my hostel window, of central Accra in early morning on a deserted street.

Asomdwee, peace.