Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Part 2 of: Trip to the top of Ghana and Burkina Faso!

LIGHTS ON YEA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I left off at crossing the border at Paga into Burkina Faso... We made the 3 hour drive into the capital Ouagadougou and arrived late evening, checked into the only hotel that had room and went to bed. The next morning we went to the special chief ceremony at the main Chief of Burkina Faso's "palace" where every Friday the other chiefs from around the country come to pay their respects. The ceremony is said to be the Burkina answer to the changing of the guards in London (this I failed to see the resemblance). I have no pictures of the ceremony as it is TOTALLY NOT OK to take photos. I will do my best to describe it. The main chief is dressed all in red and all the other chiefs wear a red crown, which basically looks like one of those hat-like yalmukas (spelling?). The main chief stands close to the palace and then about 12 yards facing him there is the line of all the other chiefs. Near the beginning and again near the end (not exactly at the start or conclusion) two canons are fired, scaring the life out of me (remember I went to sleep at almost 1AM and woke at like 5AM to get to the palace!) After the ceremony we went back to the hotel to check out/switch to another cheaper hotel. Then once settled we went to explore Burkina...

The main thing that surprised me was the number of motorbikes, it was as if no one drove a car! Also their market (behind the bikes in the picture) is covered, in Accra, and every other market it Ghana, is open-air. I must say it is an interesting idea to cover the market, more shade = less heat and sunburns! But it was basically a normal typical African market. We had to take a driver the first day because there is no way really to navigate the city before actually getting an over-all picture of it, done by driving around. So we saw the Palais du Justice, the Ministry, various statues in round-abouts. The thing is everything closes from 12 to 3PM for "lunch," reminded me of France; so we ended up going to the music museum, which isn't even worth including pictures of. As a museum person I was very disappointed, even Asante said it was crap hahaha, at least we learned from this experience we could skip any future music museums in Burkina that we would come across. Overall, I must say I did not enjoy Ouagadougou, it was very expensive, very difficult to get around, people were very stupid, it was dirty, bikes almost killed us too many times, there were more people begging than in NYC and the list goes on.

Sunday Asante and I had decided we had had enough of Ouagadougou and took a bus to the eastern part of Burkina to a town called Fada. I think this was actually my favorite part of Burkina. It was a small town and not too much there but I really enjoyed it. The market was SOOOO much smaller than any other market but it was good to see. I had wanted to buy leather in Burkina because it is known to have very good quality, in Fada especially. We had wanted to go to the leather market there but it was not open that weekend, however we made friends with a guy who took us to a man who makes various items of leather and I was able to get myself something special to remember the trip. Monday we left Fada to go back to Ouagadougou to get another bus to Bobo...

The scenery from the bus ride to Bobo was beautiful. There was so much land that was not being used, this surprised me but I later learned that their land is not arable. The bus ride provided an example of how dirty the country is... a mother let her child just start pooping on the bus, and no there was not a toilet on the bus. I was appalled that a mother would one, let her child poop on the bus like nothing was wrong with doing so, and two, not even say anything to the bus driver to stop/have consideration for the other passengers! I was very glad to finally get to Bobo and check into the guesthouse, have dinner and go to bed.

The next morning we went to, or tried to, go to Immigration to get my temporary visa extended so we could stay in Burkina. Basically this is how we know they are stupid in the country - no one knew what Immigration was. Asante could no understand this and finally pulled out his passport and said immigration-passport-voyage(travel) WHERE! I tried not to laugh but ended up just choking on my spit. We finally found it but finished at about 12 so, yep, we had to just do nothing till 3 so we had lunch. Then since there were still about 2 hours to kill we walked around, saw the mosque (far left picture) and the train station (sepia picture).

Then spent the rest of the time till 5 trying to find the Musee Provincial du Houet where you could see the historical cultures of Burkina. Once we finally got there it was pretty cool, there was a gallery of different art by artists in Burkina showing the morals/ideals/stories of the culture through the cultural symbols. Also, outside were two examples of homes that different tribes lived in - this is what was the coolest part. We got to go inside and I think Asante took pictures of EVERYTHING inside but I will only include a few. After the museum it was about 6:30 so we walked around and eventually got dinner and sleep.

Next day we had to go sort bank crap out and it was so exhausting and literally everyday on the trip something happened, it was as if something was trying to prevent us from continuing our (even starting) our trip. So I said you know lets go back to Ghana enough is enough. We then headed back to Ghana. I didn't realize till I left how much I will miss everyone I have met and the country in general, it has truly become my second home. I have a Ghanaian family, Stanko, Salome and Papanii as well as Asante's family (if I list everyone I will be typing till Tishabov!) But that is basically Burkina. We didn't get to see a lot but it was just a good experience to see another country.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Part 1 of: Trip to the top of Ghana and Burkina Faso!

So on February 6th the trip through Ghana and Burkina commenced! We, Asante and I, left our home in Nungua at 4:30AM to get a tro-tro (I need to include a picture of these things, will try to do so) to a place in Accra called Circle, where we would pick another tro-tro to Kumasi to then pick ANOTHER tro-tro to Nkramah and then get one more car to Boabeng-Fiema to go to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary! Lots of different vehicles and LOTS of sitting. But once at the sanctuary we had a guide walk us through the area showing us the different monkeys (the heat is making me forget the two, all I can remember is Mona monkey) and trees. I become very "fascinated" by the ficus trees (these are not like the house plants you probably are thinking about) but they are SO cool and you can climb up inside them, we both did this (and on a few trees). The monkeys were also cool too, but as cool as it was to see monkeys climbing in those trees simply won over the monkeys. However, the other monkeys, not Mona, are super friendly and actually go into the village and try to take food from the people; they even have it figured out what time various meals are prepared so they know when to "visit." After the sanctuary we went to Techiman, the closest "large" town for the night; in the morning it was back to Kumasi to get a bus to Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region of Ghana.

Tamale was just a stopping point for the night so we could get the 6AM bus to Larabanga (you had to be there by 4:30/5 to make sure you got a seat). Larabanga was the town/village we would get off the bus so we could get a ride on the back of a motorbike to go to Mole National Park!!!!!!!!! I think (despite how expensive it was) the park was my favorite part of the trip in its entirety. We had entended to camp at the park but when we found out that Baboon will rob you I said, "Um, one robbing was enough, I am not about to get robbed AGAIN, and this time by a BABOON!" so we sucked it up and checked into the hotel (the only one in the park). The upside was a pool, no I am not lying! So since we had been up since like 3:30 I said ok Asante you go to see Larabanga, this Jew is ok not seeing the oldest mosque in Ghana (I would see enough of them in Burkina Faso) and I will stay here and sit at the pool. Don't worry I wore sunscreen and put it on like every second because it kept being sweated off every other second.

Anyway, we met two guys, Conor from Rochester New York and Mike from Germany; we made friends (I think Asante got excited to have other guys around hahaha) and they invited us to go on a Jeep Safari with them the next morning at 7AM. We were going to do the walking safari the next morning at 7AM, but thanks to the WONDERFUL Mr. and Mrs. Hoechster we were able to go on the Jeep Safari!!!!!!!! So the next day we woke and got on a Jeep, we were the first car that left the area of the hotel, and that was a very good thing; within less than 10 minutes we saw TWO elephants!!!!! One had large ivory tusks and the other was just BIG, we were about 50 meters from them and it was like nothing I could have expected! We also saw a ton of other different animals (not including birds, and no Mom they did not poop on me!), some were: antelopes, baboons, warthogs (puma from the Lion King), buffalo, waterbucks, 2 types of monkeys (different from those seen the other day).

After the Safari we went back to the hotel and relaxed by the pool, watched the landscape, just relaxed. Saw a baboon attack a man for his lunch (the baboon won, and I was thankful we decided on a room and not a tent), and there was ANOTHER elephant that we saw, walking literally like 12 feet from our room! This elephant we got even closer to and I was just inert with my mouth hanging open, if it wasn't for Asante being like GIMME THE CAMERA there would have been no pictures of the third elephant. Anyway, the next day we were on the 4AM bus back to Tamale, with new friends Conor and Mike in tow.

In Tamale we walked around to see the "sites." Basically we had the food local to the region called TZ, don't even know how to describe it! Walked the market, making a well-intentional stop at the fetish stalls (where you go to buy things to be used in medicine or other assorted things/doings), saw the mosque, I almost got my camera taken along with myself to be used as a sacrifice (DO NOT TAKE PICTURES ANYWHERE NEAR A CHIEF'S COMPOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!), their National Cultural Center (it is just a more expensive crappier version of the one in Accra, which I went to today!). I was very excited to leave Tamale to go to Bolgatanga, the capital of the Eastern Region. Before we left Tamale, the four of us got supplies to make spaghetti jollof with vegetables, which was very good (thank gosh we were successful in getting a family near our hotel in Bolgatanga to let us your their pots and things to cook it all!)

The following day we left Bolgatanga for Paga, the last town in Ghana before you get to the border and go into Burkina Faso. At Paga we went to the Chief's compound (I was not almost abducted this time!) and went to the Chief's crocodile pond... Then we parted from our friends and went to get our passports STAMPED!!!!!!!!

I will end this post here and come when more battery to finish the Burkina Faso part of the trip (promise, as long as they don't have lights out tomorrow!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kumasi and second half of January

So it is the beginning of February and sadly I have only one trip to update on...Kumasi. I went to Kumasi with Asante the weekend of the 18th (I think, don't really remember, time/days are not really paid attention to in Ghana). The city is VERY different from Accra; it is the capital of the Ashanti Region and is inland. It is known for its Kente Cloth which is very thick and woven on these crazy long looms and then each strip is sewn together (the process is very long and therefore it is very expensive to buy); however I did buy two strips that Asante helped me haggle for (originally each was 10 cedi) and we got them both for 5 cedi total! Essentially markets here are like Flea Markets and you haggle and haggle to get the lowest price (actually this is basically how most of Ghana is). Anyway we went to the market on the last day so let me go back and start with our first day in Kumasi.

We arrived in the afternoon (around 1, its a 5 1/2 hour trip from Accra and Accra is about an hour tro-tro ride from where I live). We then had to find our guest house (Guesthouse Lodge) and when we got there only one room was available and it was like their version of a presidential suite for 39 cedi!!!!! We had to take it, and as Asante put it, we HAD to use everything in the room and get the money's worth; the next day we were able to change to a lesser priced room but it was actually NICER! On our first day we didn't really get a chance to see anything as we didn't get to the room till late and everything closes by 5pm. Anyway that night we went exploring, something only was able to do since had a Ghanaian with me.
The next day, since was Sunday and about EVERYTHING is closed in Ghana so people can go to church, we went to the only thing that was open...the National Culture Center. It was actually really cool. We saw a lot of different historical artifacts of the Ashanti people of Ghana; none of which you could take pictures of. On a complete side note everyone in Kumasi thought Asante was an Ashanti (he isn't) because of his name and it was rather funny when people were insistent and I just start hysterically laughing. The Cultural Center was in this park with some artists shops (had no money so couldn't buy anything sadly) but the money goes to help fund advancements in art and help the artists of the country. After spending about the rest of the day there (about 3 hours) we went to get food and go back to the room; I had a sick little boy on my hands and I was getting a bit burned as it was hahaha. Sunday night we went on a search for a restaurant that had FALAFAL!!!!!!!!!!!! After searching and taking taxis for like what felt like forever we found it. On the way back we stopped to get a bit more to add to dinner then home to watch a virgin falafal eater fall in love with the food of the land of milk and honey (Israel). Monday morning woke up early and checked out of the guest house to go see the sites in Kumasi.

CRAP I will come tomorrow to finish, my computer is about to die.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year... Elmina/Cape Coast/Kakum ... Making Jollof

OK so Happy New Year (a bit late but o well), this new year started off with me getting sick (AGAIN - what is this all about?) and was in bed/puking for 3 days with a 102 fever. However, New Years Eve a bunch of us got "dressed up" and when to Afro (a club in the area of Accra called Nima). It was a very different New Years than I have ever experienced but then again I am in a very different place than anywhere I have ever been! So that brought us to the 4th (Monday) and honestly it was a sad day - Nora had to move out of the house to go live at the Orphanage that she volunteers at. It was very odd sleeping in the room without her, and we have decided we miss each other and needed a sleepover party and a trip together very soon! Tuesday was Asante's birthday, I made him take his first sick day (I think ever) and we spent the day doing what he wanted - isn't that what you are to do on your birthday? I guess in Ghana that is not the common birthday practice, and no one had even remembered his birthday since his dad had passed away :( so we had Waakye for breakfast then went and spent the day at the beach, and then WENT OUT TO PIZZA for dinner - ok pizza in Ghana is expensive and a special thing, not like in NYC! Wednesday night Nora came back over for a sleepover because we were to wake VERY early (4:30am) on Thursday to go to Elmina and Cape Coast.

We first went to Elmina to "Elmina Castle" which is actually a more important, historically, place where slaves were kept then "shipped" than Cape Coast Castle. There were 400 females and 600 males kept in the Elmina Castle, and in the female dungeon you smell this aroma that you HAVE to ask the guide what it is - he tells you it is the smell of urine, poop, and the blood from their periods that had been absorbed into the floor - when you are in the dungeon you actually feel the spirits of those who were kept there. Outside the female's dungeon is a courtyard that whenever the Governor wanted would call all the females to congregate there for him to choose one he wanted to rape; at that point the "chosen" woman would have water poured on her to cleanse her then be lead up stairs that went directly into his bedroom. Looking up the stairs, then later on the tour, looking down
them I couldn't help but to get teary for the women who had to walk those stairs. That is just one example of how horrific and extremely emotional walking around the castle with the guide. It is so, I can't even come up with a word to describe it, but that such a beautiful piece of architecture could be used for such a disgusting thing. However, our guide Kofi, was amazing and answered any questions Nora or I had (the other people on the tour were not very talk-ative, except the two Ghanaian guys who were trying to get Nora and I to marry them because we are white. I have too many pictures of the castle to include in this posting so I will be happy to share them all when I get back.

Also while in Elmina we went to the fish market (you can actually see it from the castle). I needed to take the time after the castle to journal because it was so emotional for me. Nora went to walk around the market, took some cool pictures and met a group of ladies who gave us fish hahaha! After that, and before getting on a tro-tro to Cape Coast to stay the night at the Sammo Guesthouse we also went to the Dutch Cemetery, which I really had not much desire to see, but we went none-the-less. The next morning we woke up at 6:30 and were out picking a tro-tro to the market in Cape Coast to then pick another tro-tro to Kakum National Park for us to do a canopy walk in the rainforest. This was SOOOOOO cool and worth the 5 cedi each!
It was absolutely beautiful, very different than the zip-line in Costa Rica, but still cool! You will see from the pictures all that I would need to tell you about it... In Cape Coast "city" we went to the castle, and forgot to take pictures because we were just SO tired at that point, and didn't do the tour for 10 cedi because we already did Elmina and its like the same thing - SHHHH don't tell the Obamas! So we left and went home Friday late afternoon. This past weekend was pretty relaxed - nothing special really, just planning the trip up to the top of Ghana, then through Burkina Faso then into Mali and then back to Ghana (leaving February 15th to return by the end of the month - don't worry I am not traveling alone, Asante is coming hahahaha). And now we are at today!

However, I have forgotten to tell you about my Jollof cooking lesson from Asante while babysitting little Sean. Basically Jollof is a type of rice that we eat in Ghana and it is made with a various number of spices and such - if you are nice when I get back I'll make it for you. But, I was able to make it the right way on my first time - granted I did have help from a professional! He was VERY serious about the cooking, while you can tell from the picture, I couldn't stop laughing or sweating - hello this is Africa people!

Till later - the African Cup just started so there are a million it seems (when there is no fan its really very hard!)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Continued from the 24th....

So Kokobrite... robbed and moved campsites, to the left is a picture of the "new" place, didn't think it would be good to include the other one. So basically it was camping on the beach and utter ridiculous! We ate coconuts, which we cut open with machetes, and Nora taught a Ghanaian how to floss while Asante taught Nora and me how to brush our teeth with a twig (pictures below or maybe to the side!) There is not much to report about this adventure but the pictures serve as the best way to explain.

So I guess I will skip the funeral stuff -- rather depressing, if you want to see the pictures and hear about it I am more than happy to do so when I get back. So now I think we are "up to date" and in the "present."

Christmas is rather different here. Since there is not as much money in Ghana as in the U.S. Christmas is not as commercialized here - no lights, gifts are VERY VERY rare (ok non-existent really)., obviously no snow, didn't hear songs on the radio, no Santas anywhere, no movies (Christmas Story, White Christmas, Babes in Toyland, Christmas Carol, etc), it was rather sad and made me homesick. Ironic being Jewish and MISSING Christmas!

I must be honest everyone... I have strep throat and am cutting this blog entry short as I still have a fever, it's down from 101.8 (yesterday) and is only in the 100's but I must go back to bed. I am going to try my very best to update this blog on the regular now so be excited. Till I am feeling better... Dokodoko (that's duck in Ga - and a big joke with a video to go with)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's the beginning of a new day in Africa...

HOT DAMN! My bad it has been like 2 months since have last been to the internet cafe...SORRY!!!!! Well so let me fill in about as much as I can (considering the internet is so reliable and fast - sarcasm). So I have taken a few trips thus far, attended 2 funerals, planning at least 2 weekend trips for January, and have begun to plan my 1 1/2 to 2 week trip to Senegal and the Gambia.

The most recent trip I took was to the Volta Region of Ghana. It is the lush area with waterfalls, lots of trees, a monkey sanctuary, the highest point in Ghana (Mt. Afajaro, didn't get to climb it though because ran out of time) and is just overall very beautiful. I went with my roommate Nora, host brother Papanii and boyfriend Asante. We left our house on Friday at about 5am to take a tro-tro to Accra where we then took another tro-tro to the town of Hohoe in the Volta Region, this took about 5 hours (6am to 10:30/11am). Once arrived we looked for a place to stay (our reservations were not possible) after being like WE HAVE NO PLACE TO STAY, thank gosh for Nora's wandering, she met a guy who then let us stay in his house in one of the rooms.

After we found our lodging we then went to the Wli Waterfall (you can see a small picture above that was a view from the walk to the waterfall). On the way we saw all the trees that have many of the things we eat in Africa: plaintain tree, groundnut tree, palmnut tree, yams, coco plant, mango tree and others that I forget, we all know me and nature are not like peanut butter and jelly. So we arrived at the waterfall and Nora and I took turns swimming so my camera didn't get wet and then die :(. It was actually so surreal, like a lot of what I have seen and experienced here. (The main reason I haven't updated in so long is that I have been LIVING the experience instead of just writing about it, but I will share everything with you all when I return, promise). So I will share some of the pictures we/I took at the waterfall... the one on the left is Papanii, Asante and myself almost under the fall (or whatever you call the area where the water coming from the fall hits the water below), the middle picture is of the actual Wli Waterfall and the picture on the right is Papanii and Asante being ridiculous.
The main reason we went to the Volta that weekend was there was a festival in Hohoe celebrating the merging of two tribes in the area, basically it is a celebration of their unity and all the chiefs come together and it is just really cool. Sadly though (and ironically) Nora had her camera stolen at a festival about TOGETHERNESS AND PEACE! (OH Ghana!) The picture to the left is of the Left Handed Chief who is known as the best dancer, he eventually jumped on the sides of the thrown he is on and danced on there (it was like dancing
on two balance beams that are next to each other with about a foot/two feet of space between them). I have included a variety of pictures of the festival.

On Sunday we left the Volta to return home. I think it can be understood that when you have been running around and having a busy weekend in 90 to 100 degree weather the ride home is very tiring and feels SO much longer than the way there. But we made the most of our ride and had a photo-shoot session...

The Trip before going to the Volta was a day trip to James Town in Accra. This is where one of the forts built by the British was located that first housed slaves and then was turned into a prison and was used as a prison till 2007. It was here that Kwame (the man who gained Ghana its independence was kept, because he was speaking out of turn - there was no freedom of speech when the British were still ruling over Ghana); his cell (pictured below or to the left) was completely dark with NO light EVER, not even during the day, the window was covered by cement. It was a very eerie experience, you could feel the souls of the people who were there at one time or another.

(Pictures: left - Kwame's prison cell, middle - Papanii "coming out" of the Fort, right - Papanii and me trying to see if there is still water coming from the showers that the prisoners used)

I also will share a story about a guy I have met in Ghana who had to stay in the James Town Fort or shall I say prison. So the man's name is Godfred and he was walking with a friend who was going to Germany to see his wife in about two weeks time. This guy had a "good" amount of weed on his person and the cops were going to arrest him, but Godfred said it was his so his friend would still be able to go to Germany. The wife was then to send money to release him, however the "friend" took the money and went to Germany anyway; leaving Godfred in the prison for 5 to 6 months! Unfortunately this is not something that is surprising to happen in Ghana. Sometimes, actually often, people will, backstab a friend if it will help him/herself make it a bit easier.

The other trip I have taken was to the Art Gallery near La (between my house in Nungua and Accra). As it is known I love art, and it was really nice to go to see what a gallery is like in another country. I will include some images of the art I saw...

Before THAT I went to Kokobrite, to the west of Accra towards Cape Coast (the next trip that I am going on with Nora on the weekend of January 7th, we will go to Elmina on Thursday to another festival, then Kakum National park on Friday to do a canopy walk (not as cool as the zip-line Jill but should still be cool) then Saturday Papanii may meet us in Cape Coast and we will do the castles and the place were the slaves were kept right before they were "shipped" to wherever, known as the point of no return). OK back to Kokobrite... let me first say this was my first multiple-day trip in Ghana. So it was Nora, Papanii, Joe, Martin and myself (of course) and we were to camp on the beach... SO COOL! Well so we settled in and pitched our tents, went to find dinner and begin our fun exciting weekend of camping on the nice beach. And since Papanii had told us "there are a lot of white people there," (this is a rarity and actually feel odd when I do see white people hahahaha) "because it's nice and white people like nice things" OH Papanii... I then replied "Well doesn't everyone like nice things?" TOUCHE my friend! Well, there were a lot of white people there actually. So that night we returned to our tents, the boys in theirs and Nora and me in ours.

Around 3:30am I woke-up and was like omg my phone is gone and our tent "door" was unzipped! I tried to wake Nora up but she was not getting what I was saying...I couldn't go to sleep and I put all our valuables in my sleeping sac and moved our bags from the door and used mine as a "pillow" so i could keep it safe (or so I thought). Around 4am a guy with a knife opened the tent and grabbed my bag, I screamed so loud I ended up loosing my voice for almost 2 weeks! The guy ran and the guys came running out of their tent, I am hysterical and say we just got robbed! The guys got so upset Papanii ran one way Joe the other and Martin starts to run in a third and Nora and I say if you go we will seriously just go nuts! Obviously none of us went back to sleep, Papanii was SOOOOOOOOOOOO mad that someone took my bag and then went with me to see if maybe the guy (or guys maybe) threw out anything from my bag around the area; all I was really upset about was my Journal was in the bag and my special green sunglasses (seen on the girl in the last post). That day we changed our location of our tents.