Friday, June 25, 2010

June 25th

I know pics can say more than words, so here are some more images of the past few weeks...or months...

But just to sum:

The first is Vivian cooking. She is teaching me to make some of favorite Ghanaian dishes, and i have been full for the past 2 weeks! We always make a ton, and end up eating it for the next week...for all 3 meals, hah. There are no recipes here, you just learn how to cook from your mom when you are small. So when i told her that my mom has about 50 books filled with recipes, he was totally shocked!

The next is at the market of a signboard advertisement for a clinic. The signboards here are amazing! So graphic! Its a bit small, but the green one has images of people with different ailments...and some sort of monster/bear creature??

The next 2 are church service with vivian. She has been trying to convince Andrea and I to go with her this whole year, so we finally gave in!

The next is from the top of a mountain in Kpalime, Togo. We drove up through the mountains on the back of motorcycles, and it was totally magical! It is the rainy season now, so the trees are really green, and we were winding up through the mountains, with our hair blowing in the wind (haha, so classic!!), and it was awesome! Our drive from Ghana to Kpalime was in a super sketchy truck (pic 6), that probably saw brighter days 60 years ago...and we were jammed in with way more people than space.

The next picture is of a naked man running across the beach. A few friends and I went to a restaurant that is on the beach, and this man kept running back and forth (i think for exercise?), and i simply could not resist taking a picture. He looked like he was having an amazing time...way better than the treadmill!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Real Africa

Either I have been paying more attention lately, or this idea seems to be quite present these days…the idea of the ‘Real Africa.’ Im sure you can all imagine what im talking about. Villages, thatched roofed houses, no running water or electricity, and of course, poverty, malnutrition and AIDS. These are the images we have been made to think about when we think about Africa.
Is it referred to as ‘real’ because that is what life was like before colonization, ‘modernization’ globalization and all the other ‘ion’ verbs that Africa has been presented with in her history? Fair enough. But how come we never refer to poor and rural India as the ‘Real India’ or the ‘Real China.’ What is really real after all? What countries have not been influenced by all the ‘ion’ verbs? So why is it that we deny Africa’s ‘development’ and ‘progress’ (I use these in quotations, as these terms and theories can be quite controversial…I am using these terms for simplicity), as a reality?

I am not going to deny the fact that my opinion is biased. I am living in a stable and peaceful African country, in its capital city. Undoubtedly where I am living and what I am experiencing is much different than a small village in the northern region, or of a town in the Congo. This being said, my experiences are real, and the life that I am living here, amongst my Ghanaian counterparts is ‘real.’

To digress a tad, I was in Togo (Ghana’s neighbor to the East) a few weeks ago with a friend, and we met up with her French teacher (Togo was colonized by France) who happen to be in Togo the same weekend as us. He was originally from there, but moved to Ghana to pursue greener pastures. Anyways, we had a great time with him and he took us to his village to show us around. We were in a small town called Kpalme, where the local transport is on the back of a moto (motorcycle). So all of us on board, we drove up through the mountains, which was stunning. I felt like I was in a fairytale.

Anyways, where I was going with this, was when we arrived at his village, after drinking wine with his grandmother, he descried the village as ‘The Real Africa.’ I didn’t think much of it. A few days later, I was speaking with a friend where she was asking me if I had been to a certain part of Accra. She was trying to explain it to me, and the word she used was it was like ‘The Real Africa.’ She used this in reference to the fact that there were tons of people, it was dirty, and I probably would not want to go there.

I totally understand where people are coming from with this. We are taught to think this way. And when someone says ‘The Real Africa’, I unfortunately know exactly what they are talking about. And I have a big problem with this. Although, yes I am living in Accra, in a safe country, this is still Africa, and I don’t think it should be denied of that. Africa is huge, and it varies. The majority of countries here have undergone years of political unrest fighting for independence. Since this time, it is indeed true that many have been politically unstable, with civil/ethical conflict, coups and full-fledged wars. This being said, life does go on. Countries here have developed at different rates from one another, with the larger capital cities undoubtedly holding more wealth. I have been to a number of African countries, and they are all different. Many similarities, yes, but all different.

My life here in Accra is similar to my life at home in Canada. I work, meet friends for dinner and drinks, buy groceries, wait for the bus at 5:00 to head home amongst others in business attire after a long day at work etc. etc. I have some very close Ghanaian friends, those whom I work with, and those who I do not. They are very smart and educated and live their lives just as I do. So why cannot this be considered ‘real’? My work place, at the university is such an inspiring place to be. Although it is hotter, there are more trees and people arent chugging down coffee, it reminds me of McGill. Students going from one lecture to another, strolling around with their friends, talking about life, politics, their futures and what is going on Friday night. So why is this not considered 'real' when this is the reality for many.

There are malls here, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, and Italian restaurants. Highways and traffic lights, air conditioning, gyms, and Irish pubs. Yes, these things are primarily located in Accra, but its still Africa, and Ghanaians are enjoying these luxuries. Yes, the upper end restaurants, and fancy hotels are not accessible to your average Ghanaian, but isn’t that the same everywhere?

I guess what I am getting at is I think we need to re-imagine what we see as ‘The Real Africa.’ Yes, many people on this continent unfortunately suffer from poverty, malnutrition, AIDS, a lack of water and electricity, but on the other spectrum, there are those who do not…and I don’t just mean the upper crust of society. There are those who have university degrees, work at restaurants, banks, cafĂ©’s, shops, schools, hospitals etc., and if we deny these of being the ‘Real Africa’, how will its perception change?

Just some food for thought!

Friday, May 7, 2010

More photos

An attempt at a Passover seder...

Andrea's radio debut!

Friends on our front porch.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Its been a while, but life is life, and it seems to roll right along, and before you know it, a whole month has passed.

I went to a memorial service yesterday for the passing of the husband of a woman I know. The funeral was in a town called Kumasi 2 weekends ago, but I was unable to go. Yesterday was the memorial service here in Accra. The whole funeral and mourning process is very different here than what we are use to. The actual burial day can be months and months after the actual passing of the individual. The beginning of the month is usually a big time for funerals, as people have the most money at this point, whereby making it possible to throw a big celebration – which is what it is. On the burial day, people do wear black, but it is a party! People dance and sing and drink. It is common to be confronted by obnoxious drunk men at 10:00 am Saturday morning, making it quite clear they just came from a funeral.

What I attended yesterday was the memorial service, which takes place about a week after the burial, on a Sunday. People generally wear black and white material made into something spectacular (as always), and attend a church service, where the family is called up for condolences, and then following is a lunch for all the friends and family.

In preparation and wanting to ‘fit in’, I bought some black and white material and got a traditional outfit made – long skirt and top. Come Sunday morning, I tried on my outfit, and was embarrassed even looking in the mirror. I looked absolutely ridiculous and simply could not wear the whole outfit. So sporting my very own black top and the traditional long skirt, I was ready to head to church. I’ve been to a few church services here, and this one was actually pretty tame. Then the lunch. The food was great, the music was nice but after being proposed to, and being told that my outfit did not match, I decided to leave. But not quite yet. I was told that it is customary to make a donation to the family. So I went to the front, shook hands with all the family members sitting at a raised head table, and then donated 20.00 Ghana Cedis. Ok, done, im on my way. Not quite. I then hear my name announced with my donation amount, and something about me being white, but that I am from the mountains so I among them…don’t ask. I then awkwardly said goodbye to the man who drove me there, whom I sat next to, who wanted to buy me gum and peanuts, and whom asked to marry me, and left.

Oh Ghana!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Some snapshots

These pics are:

1) Vivians graduation
2) Paragliding in the Volta Region
3) Omo Tuo night. Our friends Vivian and Tifa came over for dinner. They are our neighbors and Vivian is also my co-worker. She taught us how to make groundnut soup with rice balls...yuummmm
4) When Andrea and I are bored, we do stupid trying to fit into a bag...
5) The backdrop of a wedding I attended
6) Co-workers/office

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

existential crisis

I had to go home unexpectedly, and now I am at the Heathrow airport during my 8 hour lay over on the way back to Ghana. I am sitting here, mindlessly staring into the abyss of people rushing off with take - away sandwiches and rolling suitcases. I can’t help but think about myself, and the sheer emotionless state that I am currently in. I have been in this airport 6 times, sampling way too many expensive perfumes, roaming the luxurious shops, unable to afford even a key chain, and downing way too much coffee. On the flight into London, my flight was full with 2 group trips – one of high school students going to Italy for March break, and a senior citizens trip heading to Turkey…interesting dynamics. I was unfortunately surrounded by all the eager students, making it quite clear to myself that I have become a cynical, nonchalant traveler. How did this happen to me? I remember when I was 16 and was in this airport for the first time with a group of 30 students on the way to Kenya. Just as the students on my flight this morning, we too were overjoyed with the free socks, eye mask and personal TVs. Stocked with the latest ‘SEVENTEEN’ magazine and enough gum to last 7 months, we were ready, just as these students were for an amazing 30 day trip.

Now here I am, just spent the past 6 months in Ghana, 4 days in Tanzania, 9 days back home in Toronto and now back here in London, waiting for my flight back to my home in Ghana. Yes, I am looking forward to getting back to my life and friends in Ghana, but what happened to the excitement? Im not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing.

Being home this past week, and being in London right now makes me think about my place in all of this. On the one hand, I feel as if I totally fit in, and its nice to be surrounded by things that are normal to me. Yet on the other hand, I feel totally out of place. Yes, the specialty coffee shops, Gucci and Tiffany’s stores, TVs and overflow of white people with novels and laptops in hand is something that is so familiar to me. But then again, I am living my life without any of this. I go in search of good brewed coffee, which is only available at fancy hotels, my friend once found a Gucci skirt at the second hand market for 50 cents, I don’t have a TV, and I am a minority. How is it that I can fit into these two completely separate lives? Or do I even ‘fit it’? Sorry for my public existential crisis, but I no longer write in my journal, so this is it. I need to vent somewhere.

I truly cherish my time in Ghana. I am so happy that I decided to come back, as my experience is totally different than that last time around. My work is very rewarding and is pretty much exactly what I was looking for. The people I have met are so wonderful and it will be a real challenge to not have them in my life once i return home. But living in a place where i am a minority and where my color comes with a whole skew of expectations, its hard to not question my role in it all.

I have now moved to the departure gate, and I must now switch my gears. I have just spent the past 9 days at my parents Thorhill home, and now I am on my way back to my other home at Okponglo junction in Accra.

Untill next time!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Here we go again, more empty promises. Sorry that I am not posting more, my life is just not that exciting. Whenever I sit down to write a blog post, I feel like I am 8 years old, writing in a journal, pretending like its natural, when really its not. I always have the initial feeling of writing, ‘dear journal, today I learned how to…I also have to say, having only 5 ‘followers’ is really encouraging, I guess I lost all my acclaimed support by posting too sparsely, I totally understand.

So to sum, Israel and Egypt were great, and it was a nice break from the heat! Visiting the fam was super nice, and seeing old friends put me in a major time warp.
I met Andrea and Halley in Egypt, where we lived up being tourists! After constantly defending myself in Ghana as someone who lives here, and not just a passing tourist (so yes, I have tried fufu, I know where im going and I know your price is too high etc…) we lived up being true tourists in Egypt, and I must say, it was kind of nice. There is such a huge tourist scene there, which at times (Luxor) is completely overwhelming and frustrating, but it does also make getting around pretty easy and pain free (sometimes..).We did the classic tourist thing- visited the pyramids, rode camels, slept in the desert, which I have to say was great! These places obviously had the usual touts that go along with these densely foreign populated places, which got to be a bit much, but overall, these places and historical sights were really fascinating. We tried to avoid organizing guides etc, but we realized after way too many roundabout answers, various bargaining tactics and obnoxious men on the bus making way to much conversation, that although more expensive than we would like, and not how we usual go about travel, that it may indeed be easier to arrange something in advance.

We traveled to a desert oasis called Siwa, which was incredible! It literally was an oasis, and after driving through the desert for 6 hours, it was amazing to come upon a town full of life. Although they get tons of tourists who pass through, we experienced no hassle. Siwa is very traditional and we saw hardly any women, as their place was in the home. It was a pretty interesting experience to walk around and literally only see men. This being said, we were 3 girls alone, and people hardly approached us. We met a British guy who was working and living there, and he explained to us that Siwa ‘use to’ have a huge homosexual population because the genders were always separated – the men working out of the home for days, and the women in the home. Interesting tid bit. We traveled out of the oasis into the desert for a night. The desert was so breathtaking! We drove up and down sand dunes in 4X4 car with 4 Korean girls, a Siwan driver who spoke no English, and us. Pretty hilarious. The driver (guided by no signs) drove vertically up the sand dune, and then plummeted down the other end, with the 7 of us thrashing around in the back, screaming, hold on for our dear lives! He was smirking, as im sure he does this daily and always has the same reaction from foreigners. We slept in the desert that night, which in theory was a great idea, but in reality turned out to be 1 night that felt like 4. The combination of wearing all my clothes yet still freezing and having to share my blanket with the stray dog that slept on me, I don’t think I got any sleep that night. But all definitely worth it.

We later traveled to Luxor - a city that I never wish to go back to. The train ride there should have been a sign not to go. We bought tickets (small pieces of cardboard with Arabic numbers written on them), and while we were waiting for the train to approach, we asked an attendant which car our tickets indicated. He told us car 13. So we boarded at car 13, found our seats, got comfortable, and tried to sleep (it was an overnight train). We then made the first stop, and were informed that we were in the wrong seats. So we politely moved to empty seats in the same car. No problem. This continued to happen at every stop. We showed people around our tickets, and we were informed that we were suppose to be in car 1. So yea, we had to walk through the train from car 13 to 1…three foreign girls, carrying our bags and huge blankets that we bought for warmth. I wish I could have seen this from a bird’s eye view. We proceeded to walk the length of the train, while in motion, first jumping over the sketchy area where each train car ‘connects’, then through the area of smoking men sitting on the floor as they could not get a proper seat, motioning at us to just sit with them, and then repeated this 13 times. Finally we approach car 13, which unbeanontes to us is first class and all foreigners. Classic.

We finally arrive, and the next 2 days followed this pattern. Luxor’s main industry is tourists, but unlike Siwa, Luxor is just downright obnoxious. We did manage to do a tour of the historical sights – The Valley of the Kings etc. and a great boat ride along the Nile, but all in all it was 2 days of our 14 that were severely unpleasant. Men drive all over town in horse-drawn carriages offering rides to tourists, a mode of transportation that no locals use. This being said, they trot up to you and latch. “Only five pounds, only five pounds”, we smile and say ‘no thanks’ and keep walking “Four pounds, four pounds”, we choose to ignore. “Ok, three pounds”, we then decide to give a look and say “no!”...but they never leave…still trotting next to us, yelling prices the whole way. No escape. And taxi drivers do this too, literally following us the whole way home, wasting gas and their time. The combination of the mice in our hostel room and men telling us ‘nice ass’ when looking at our face, we decided to get the hell out of there. Not so easy. We first tried to book our return train tickets upon arrival to get it over with. We were told that we could not and had to book them on the train the day of departure. We knew this was not true, so the next day we went back. Same answer. The morning of our departure, we again waited in line, surrounded by people buying tickets and receiving them, and were again told the same thing – buy the ticket on the train. After 2 awful days, there was simply no way we could manage another by not getting on a fully booked train. So we asked again. Same answer. So we waited for the train in anticipation, and we saw two older women, whom we asked if they had tickets for the train. They did. Printed out tickets too. We expressed our frustrations with them, and their reply was “oh, you just need to trust them”…thanks ladies. Easy for them, they had tickets. So we finally board the train, and indeed bought tickets. We settled into our seats, went to sleep, and then were of course awoken at the first stop because we were in someone else’s seats. Great. This happened 7 times. The irony of it all, our hostel’s name was ‘Happy Land’.

But that aside, Egypt all in all was great! Cairo was awesome and Alexandria was so beautiful! I could talk about both of these places forever, but I will spare you all. I hope the pictures can speak for themselves.

Massive pieces of cake came with our coffee...
Our tent
The next morning...
Cairo - amazing tea stalls everywhere
Boat ride on the Nile