Friday, September 25, 2009
Akwabba! Welcome to Ghana!
This is what I thought Africa would look like when I pictured it in my head- dusty, no traffic lanes, goats everywhere and beautiful, beautiful people!
Once again in Ghana we have a slightly inconvenient port where we have to take shuttles into Accra which is an hour away. The ship is actually berthing in Tema where you can see all the ladies dressed like the Chiquita banana ladies with plantains, coconuts and telephone SIM cards on top of their heads... its actually quite amazing. Ghanians start to carry things on their heads around the age of six when they are coming back from the farm, it's practiced by men and women. Some of the veterans can carry up to 50 KG (110 ish lbs) on their head!
On my first day in Ghana I went to meet with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) for a class field trip for my International Law class. We sat through an hour presentation and learned that most of the refugees in Ghana came from Liberia in 1990 and continue to come till this day. The UN is actually trying to shut the camp down which is something I found very interesting.
After the presentation, we boarded the bus to go on the hour drive to the Budubram Refugee camp. I honestly had no idea what to expect other than listening Tom Petty's song and seeing some scenes from 'Blood Diamond'. Upon arrival I was shocked; the people have a fully functioning community going for them including schools, hospitals, shops and playgrounds. Ghana allows their refugees to roam freely meaning they can move all over Ghana and in and out of the borders. We got to meet some of the refugees and they were so happy, it was very humbling to see their happiness and made me strive to show that happiness in my life. It also made so thankful for the country I live in, actually this trip as a whole has made me appreciate America so much more which I never thought could be possible.
Speaking of America, Ghanians have such a love, admiration and sense of pride for Obama. There are billboards all over that say 'Akwabba Obama' which means 'Welcome Obama'. All the street vendors that attack you as soon as you get off the bus had oodles of Obama stuff they wanted to sell. I mean I was not having any of that and the fact of their love as they told me was what I know got him elected-his skin color. They loved holding my arms and saying 'my sister you see black and white can live together! Long live Obama! Black Pride!' and I thought to myself, well yeah I'm pretty sure we established that a long time ago? Ghanians also like to get close- very close. They grab your arms, shoulders, hands whatever they can really. That was shocking the first couple of times but you tend to get used to it which is so weird. It just seems as though they do not have any concept of personal bubbles. The other thing they say is 'It's nice to be Nice' that got old real fast when they just started draping bracelets on your arms and putting them down your v-neck. Needless to say, I have a bunch of bracelets and other knick knacks that I bought just to get them to go away. Not all of the vendors were that pesky though. I met some cool men like Oliver who is from the Kenti Village and is studying Electrical Engineering at the University. He also just talked to me and did not nag me so that was very nice and he gave me a bracelet as a way to remember him until we meet in heaven, as he told me. All the Ghanians wanted my e-mail so thank the lord I have a junk account!
On the second day in Ghana I had the opportunity to work with Habitat for Humanity and build a home. We had to travel by bus for about 3 hours to get to the Eastern Region of Ghana which looked like Tarzan's home. I was amazed. Lush green plants, banana (thanks gwen) trees, and large mountains in the background, it was utterly beautiful. We spent hours building this home with clay bricks and mortar which seems a little sketchy to me because usually I like to build things that last but I guess thats just how Ghana does it? It was really rewarding to work along side the woman who's home we were building, she was so grateful. One of the tasks was to carry the ten pound bricks from where them make them to the home which was about a mile. It's not that the bricks were heavy but just cumbersome and the walk started to feel long after the third brick. The woman Mercy who we built the home for showed us all up by putting a leaf on her head and then carried the brick all the way back to the site! It started to rain during the end of the day and it was cool to hear the pitter patter on all the leaves, I had a wonderful time.
My other favorite day was when I had a drum lesson with some locals. We sat around in their shop played some beats back and forth, I was in heaven! It was so cool, one of the highlights of my time for sure! Another highlight was today on our last day when my friends and I were on a mission to find a chocolate bar (which Ghana is known for) and some banana chips a few hours before we were supposed to be on the ship. The port city of Tema requires a shuttle ride so after being all turned around we were dropped off in a sketch area and this man approached me telling my he liked me and I was his favorite. He told my friends and I that he would take us to go complete our mission so we walked until he got out his keys and walked over to his sketch ass blue run down car. He opened the doors for us and told us to get in. We all looked at each other knowing all of our lives to not get in the car with strangers but we figured, hey we're in Ghana and we need some banana chips so we piled in avoiding the front seat as if that would have prevented a 'Taken' like situation. Smart I know but it was legit, I mean his name was Tony Montana (I'm guessing the Ghanian version of Hannah?) so I knew we would be fine. Actually he took us to a grocery store to locate the luxury that could have lead to our abduction. As you can tell, I am alive and well so thats a good thing and got our mission accomplished. Mr. Montana took a few photos of us on his camera phone and a special one with just me after getting my e-mail. So I'll keep you posted on that...
Ghana is amazing and each port gets better. I have made some really solid friendships with my neighbors Allie and Anna, we are always together and I really love their company, we can do whatever and just hang! Tomorrow we cross the equator and that should be exciting with all the head shavings and fish guts.. don't worry my hair will stay! I hope this finds you all well and that you are not too disappointed with my lack of pictures. I plan to add some of those when free Internet can be located, or rather just any Internet off the ship. My next week will be spent heading to South Africa and I cannot wait!! I love you all and I will try so much harder to keep this updated! muah!
Bonjour from Morocco or Moroc as it is spelled in Arabic!
This trip has been insane, a total and complete contrast from the semi-familiar spain. Spain was comfortable because I could speak the language (kind of), I could wear whatever I desired, I could jump in a cab and communicate where I wanted to go. That was definitely not the case here in Morocco. It was difficult to find a restaurant because of Ramadan let alone order a meal but let me tell you, once I drank the Mint tea I was hooked!
It was a shock when I first got up and looked out my window into port. All I could see were cranes and large cargo containers and a filthy ship yard that reminded me of many CSI episodes I have seen before. The actual port or place of berth for the ship was terrible compared to Cadiz. We had to walk for about an half an hour to get to the port entrance, not to mention trying to not get attacked by cranes or run over by imported cars. The rats were a nice addition too, very beautiful- picturesque!
I traveled this port with my neighbor Allie from Boulder, Mika from Hawaii and my roommate along with her friend Jenny who met up with her in Casablanca who is a SAS alum from F06 and fluent in French, that was a nice perk. Because Morocco is 99.9% Muslim, we were told that we had to wear pants, long sleeves and no shoulders should be seen. I opted for capris hoping that a little ankle would be acceptable. One interesting and maybe TMI observation I noticed from walking around Morocco is the fact that the men tend to stare for a long while right at your crotch? Maybe it's because most women around them don't wear pants or perhaps they are looking for some fertile woman? beats me, but you could feel it. I found myself looking deep into the people's eyes and the men either took that as flirting or offensive I'm not really sure. I just love looking into their big, round eyes to see the story they tell... the women however cast their eyes down once you look at them and they never answered when the were spoken too. It did not feel like women were oppressed but you could totally feel the difference when a guy was traveling with us and how we were treated.
The people as a whole in Morocco are incredibly friendly. The Medina is were you can find all the Souks which are the big markets were you can barter and find the coolest things. The exchange rate this time was much better compared to the Euro, it was $1 US = 7.76 Dirham so the money went much farther. It was difficult for me to calculate how much money I was really spending because 1) I suck at math and 2) because a bottle of water for example was 20 dirham, it just made it seem so much more expensive.
The first day in Morocco was rough but I am glad that I did not write it off, we went back out and saw the amazing Mosque. It was neat because we had to take off our shoes and cover our heads, my romanian heritage came through as my bandana looked like my ba-bush-ka. It was so ornate and at night a green laser points from the top of the tower towards Mecca, it's actually quite amazing. Hookah bars are also very prevalent so we hit up one in the evening and we had palm flavor seshia, very Moroccan if you ask me. So many of my peers were upset with the forbidden items list when they noticed the hookahs on there, they are pretty cool but I understand why they are not allowed, I mean you can smoke more than one thing out of them.
I took another Semester at Sea trip to Merrakech were I got to trek on a camel. It was fun and just enough time. I also got to take home a nice free souvenir of a camel bite on my thigh, that was fun. Actually it was really funny and I wasn't scared. The rats on the pier scared me more than that. Merrakech is amazing and there is so much to see including the snake charmers, monkeys, hanging meat, millions of shoes and 'real silver jewelry'.
I experienced some really amazing things and met some really cool people that expressed how much they liked our business and would give us a student discount (yeah right.. 50 dirham for this authentic Moroccan keychain.. that came out of a 'made in China ' box). Although Morocco is so cool, I am so excited to move onto Ghana. I have some exciting plans including going to a refugee camp and working with Habitat for Humanity to build a home, I cannot think of a more rewarding feeling.
I am still enjoying this trip more than I could have imagined. I continuously meet awesome people and now, we are hanging out more than just for a meal. Tomorrow is laundry day so that is something to get excited about. I attempted to wash some things in my sink but everything just smelt like Lever 2000 so I wasn't digging it although that is better than the smell of camel.
Classes also begin tomorrow so that is something to NOT be excited about, we do have three days of class and then a day off and then three more days back on and then we hit Accra, Ghana!!! If this pattern keeps continuing, I am going to love each port more than the last, learn amazing things about other cultures, people and myself and try some amazing food. I get to start taking my Malaria medicine soon so that will give me something fun to do everyday:)
Well I will give more detailed updates in e-mails later but I have to load up my laundry bag, aka pack it to the brim! I love you guys and hope that life is treating you well and that you are thankful for everything you have in your lives. This trip has opened my eyes in that way already more than I could have imagined. Let's be thankful for health, successes, friends and most importantly family. Cheesy enough?
Monday, September 7, 2009
Ship life is totally my style. I have two classes each day and they last 1 hour and 15 minutes and they are super interesting. It is really cool living and attending class in the same place as your professors because you see them everywhere. Actually two of my professors live on my deck but towards the middle of the ship and not near the engine like myself... but this is an upgrade considering I was originally supposed to be placed on deck 2. So two flights up and a little noise? I'll take it!
Luckily I have lucked out in the roommate department again. Her name is Cristina and she is from San Francisco. She attends UCSD and is a senior. We both are courteous of each others space and she is so damn clean... but hey I'm not complaining. I found one of my favorite places on the ship- deck 6 outside at the stern. I just read and do most of my homework out there between classes and after them. It's nice to get a tan and socialize... with a book by my side. Judging by my study habits I'd say the book is more of an accessory than a necessity. Don't get me wrong, I am trying to use this semester as a GPA boosting one but when you put me in front of one of my favorite things like the ocean I'm going to get distracted. So I have to give myself time limits of enjoying the outside, that or actually read my books? I am finding my Organizational Behavior class to be very interesting and the fact that my professor is down to get a cup of coffee whenever is really neat.
Crossing the Atlantic has made me appreciate the fact that my ancestors did it and not me, there is nothing here! I saw a sailboat the other day and jumped up to take a picture. I find myself searching for birds, planes, bugs... anything but nope just the vast, wide, blue ocean!
The International waters allow everyone aboard to drink, so we have had pub nights every other night and they have a limit of three beers or glasses of wine for the whole night. People line up as though they were getting rations for the 12 oz, $3.50 drink. The line swoops around the pool and all across the deck. The security around the railings of the ship mirrors that of a airport security checkpoint. The Captain told us it takes about a half an hour to turn the boat around and then another 30 to locate the person in the water. The water temperature reported by the Bridge lately during the noon report is the same as the air... around 71 degrees. Unfortunately, a dip in the ocean gets you a one-way trip home... at your own expense.
Most of the many conversations I have had with people this first week seem like interviews with the what's your name?, what year in school are you?, where are you from? trifecta. I can't wait to truly develop my 'group' who I can dive into deeper conversation with. I am hoping to find this possible in Spain as I am going on a trip to Sevilla and Cordoba through Semester at Sea. The trips through Semester at Sea (SAS) tend to be more expensive than independent travel but the SAS trips cover everything from transportation, hotels, food and admission.
We had a panel of Spanish people talk about stereotypes of Americans from a Spanish perspective doing our cultural lecture the other night and they were pretty funny. Basically according to these seven spokespeople, Americans are socks with sandals, baseball cap wearing, hamburger eating football and beer lovers... who also speak fast. The funny thing it was so difficult to understand many of these people as they spoke fast. i think it's just because of the disconnect between languages. They told us all a brief history about Spain and the main things to eat. They raved about Paella with rabbit or the seafood (I will opt for the rabbit if given the chance) and how that should be paired with a white wine. They also say that the ham is to die for even for a vegetarian. SO, that being said I will in fact try the ham when given the opportunity! shocking I know, (For those of you that don't know I think ham is the most disgusting thing on the planet, it's my kryptonite). I will also go to a tapas bar which are raved about it Spain. Speaking of raves, the nightlife in Spain is supposed to be wonderful. They tend to go out around midnight and party til 6 in the morning, so like 50, you can find me 'in da club'! we also learned that shaking hands can be viewed as a wall so it is customary to give one kiss on each cheek.
That above was written the day before we arrived Spain after experiencing it, it has blown my mind and I still have a full day left. Cadiz, although it's a port is beautiful: palm trees everywhere, narrow cobble stone streets and vespas, vespas, vespas! The first day in port 9/5/09 I walked ALL around with my roommate and a girl from AImee. It was so damn hot, 45 degrees centigrade, so obviously a glass of Sangria was a necessity at a beach cafe. We walked all around the plazas, walked to the tops of lookout tours and went to every free attraction Cadiz has to offer. The Spanish culture is so neat and very different from the states. There is a sense of security walking through the streets of Cadiz.
There was not one point where I felt unsafe...- okay maybe when the stinky bum of a woman (michaela, you would have hated it! p.s i miss you!) asked me for money and then proceed to make fun of my roommate when she didn't reply. The Spainards don't awake until around 930 and the shops open around 10 because they party so hard the night before! They lesuirely walk through the town and are incredibly social. At one point I saw a woman almost get run over by a vespa, turns out the driver was her friend so they proceeded to talk for five minutes in the middle of the street. Oh yeah, I ate the ham.. not really a fan. I'll have to give you guys more information about it later when I have a chance, I'm about to go explore more of Cadiz, eat some Paella and try to spend the rest of these Euros I have.
I want you all to know that I am having a great time and I think about many of you all the time. This has been wonderful to stay connected through e-mail and to update many of you through this blog. Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
MUCH LOVE FROM SPAIN!
I tried uploading pictures but the wifi is not strong enough, next time though for sure!