Monday, December 15, 2008

It's a bitter sweet symphony...

Today is my last day in Ghana. I woke up at 5:15am and ran up commonwealth hill one last time to watch the sun rise. it was beautiful.

The next 13 hours will be spent running last minute errands and saying "yebeshia bios" (we will meet again soon), to friends and family.

My flight leaves from Accra tonight at 11:30pm and arrives in London about 7 hours later. The last week in Ghana has been full of adventures which im excited to post about during my layover at Heathrow airport.

Thank you for all of your love and support during the last 7 months of travel.

Just wanted to say one last time...

Love from Accra!

Elections in Ghana

I can't believe i haven't written about the election yet...

The 2008 Presidential election took place in Ghana on Sunday Dec. 11. The weeks up until voting day were filled with political rallies all over the country, including rallies at the University of Ghana campus. It was (and still is) the topic of discussion on trotros, at chop bars, and in Taxis.

Everyone wants to know "Are you moving forward (NPP) or do you want change (NDC)?"

While there was some incidents of violence during voter registration, the election on the 11th has been declared by both Ghanaians and outside observers as peaceful and fair.

Ghana's Electoral Commission has announced the presidential polls will go into a run-off on December 28 between Nana Akuffo-Addo and John Atta Mills .

The certified results from 229 constituencies announced by the EC credits the New Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate, Nana Akuffo-Addo 4,159,439 polls representing 49.13 % of votes cast,

The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) contender John Atta Mills is behind him with 4056634, representing 47.13%

The run off vote on the 28th was met with both excitement and disappointment. Tension is still running high and it is expected to increase over the coming weeks leading up to the vote.

BBC World Service - Ghana Elections 2008 reports on Ghana's election and the upcoming vote on the 28th of December 28th.

Will be watching from the U.S. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Much to be thankful for

Cooking thanksgiving dinner in Volta Hall's main cafeteria...
We call it Ghanaian/ American fusion


"Ehh!? You are cooking green beans? Oburoni Why?? All the nutrients will leave them!!?

"but Auntie Ester, that's the whole point of thanksgiving - to cook the nutrients out of everything!"
...
The Cooks

"Ugh! Dabbi! Dabbi! (No! No!)"

"What's wrong Auntie Joyce?"

Auntie Joyce sticks her finger in the canned cream of mushroom soup. She makes a face.

"Ugh! Daabi! Daabi! I cannot eat this!"

"It's okay Auntie Joyce. This is Oburoni cooking. It's supposed to taste like that."
...

Six of us volunteered to help cook thanksgiving dinner. Elizabeth, one of our EAP coordinators, dumped about 10 loafs of bread in front of us. "You can make the stuffing". Anita and i looked at each other and then back at Elizabeth. "I don't suppose you have a recipe do you?" Right. Didn't think so.

We used our imaginations, tried to remember what we've seen in our own kitchens, and well... we faked it. At one point i asked for a measuring cup. "Measuring? What do you need a cup for? Use your hands".

Despite missing family at home, it was an awesome thanksgiving. Great food (i think we ate the only four turkeys in Ghana), Great music - drumming and lots of dancing. Great friends.
...

We found out about the Mumbai attacks on thanksgiving morning.

"Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think." ~ Jawaharlal Nehru

Thinking about friends and their families in India.

Love from Accra.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Photos from Benin


Stilt Village


Canoe to the stilt village. Love the snoopy bed sheet sail :)



Love from Accra!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Benin

Continued…

So we finally made it to Benin, the birthplace of voodoo - the country’s national religion. We needed to find a ride to Ouidah, once a capital of the slave trade and the current center of voodoo worship. While we were looking for a car, guess who showed up! None other than the original taxi driver who did/ did not steal our bags. We decided that since he waited for us at the border we could trust him to take us to the town. It took us awhile to find the hotel. It was raining and smelled like gas in the backseat. We drove on a shitty road (not suited for cars, supposedly only motorbikes). Once we made it to the hotel, the cabdriver threw a fit about the price. Wanted 3000 more CFA. He was being irritating and overly dramatic about it. Big confusing mess. Miriam and I were ready to pay him off (What’s $7.50?) but the others were angry and didn’t want to give in. Everyone was yelling – French. English. Twi? The driver refused to reason and refused to take the money we had agreed upon. It was getting late and already dark. Frustrated and tiered Miriam and I sat on the steps of the hotel and watched the others argue. Even the hotel people got involved. The cab driver ended up taking Rebecca’s backpack from the hotel steps and tried to lock it in his car. Everyone was yelling. This was going too far. Miriam gave him the extra money after Matt ripped Rebecca’s bag out of the driver’s hands. He drove away. What a day…

After a midnight swim in the huge ocean front pool, we went to sleep (the worst night of sleep ever – 3 people in a full size bed. I was in the middle. I have never been so hot in my life!) Woke up early. We paid the bill and learned that the only way to town was by motorbike. Ugh. I’ve always been semi afraid of motorcycles (well just the possibility of crashing and burning). We found 3 motor taxi driver - fit 2 people on each bike. One bag on the drivers lap and one on the person in the back. I had to completely disengage my brain in order to get on the back of that bike. Without a helmet. The dirt road was empty but bumpy. It was actually a really great ride. Felt almost like flying. We were dropped off right across the street from the temple de serpents. The voodoo python temple. A kitschy, semi touristy, semi legit place. We were told a bit about the history of the temple and the religion. People who believe in the worshiping of the pythons have scars on their cheeks and foreheads (which looking like fang/ bite marks). People come to the temple to for ceremonies, to pray, and to get baptized. We were lead into the temple - a small circular shaped room filled with over 40 pythons. This was of course, after he draped a huge, slimy, scaly python around my shoulders (I now have much more respect for Brittney Spears). Apparently all the snakes are defanged and not poisonous. It was pretty cool to see all of these snakes in one place. We wondered what they ate… Turns out they are let loose in the town at night to find food for themselves. People who live in the town are paid to bring them back to the temple in the morning. Crazy.

We walked around the small town looking for food. Cool town - Small and quiet. Found the perfect place to have egg sandwiches and pamplemous (grapefruit juice). At this point we realized everyone was beginning to run out of money. We were told there was an atm in Cotonou – second largest city in Benin. The guidebook describes being in Cotonou “like being locked in a car with a chain – smoking speed freak.” We found a cab and told him to take us to hell. It was a long ride, but we met a police officer that said he would sow us where an atm was. Our cab followed him on his motor taxi. Again we had to fight with the driver about prices. Even the police officer demanded a bribe for his “service”. Corruption at its finest.

Next on the agenda: Spend the night at a stilt village. From Cotonou we took 3 motor taxis to Ganeive. Almost got into an accident (several times actually). The motor taxi was insane. Zooming between cars off the pavement. It was what I imagine motocross or off roading to be like. Up mounds of dirt, and back down. We finally reached the end of the road, and were dropped off at the boat loading area. The stilt village at Ganvie houses 27,000 Tofinu people living in bamboo huts built on stilts, several kilometers out on Lake Nokoue. We hired a boat – a wooden dugout canoe-like sailboat with no motor. Two men paddled us out into the middle of the lake and put up a “sail” – a coloful snoopy bed sheet held up by two crossing wooden poles. Slowly but surely we sailed across the lake. The villagers survive mainly by fishing: Piles of dead foliage are left in the water until they decomposes. When the fish come to eat and “fall asleep” the people can collect them. We were also told why the village was built – the Tofinu people fled to the swampy lake region in the 17th century. They fled from the Dahomey slave hunters who were banned by a religious custom from entering into the water. We finally made it to the hotel at nightfall. It was a big, red, expensive, obnoxious floating mass surrounded by modest wooden houses. We had dinner (couscous) on the patio and played cards on the bed under a mosquito net. We got up at 5:30am the next morning and took a canoe tour of the village at sunrise. We even got to see the village market, which was just like any other market accept each seller was on a wooden boat instead of a wooden stall.

We left the stilt village after the tour and found a cab for pretty cheap to take us all the way to Lome (the capital city of Togo). The drive was smooth and shorter than expected. Nothing to worry about, except when we stopped for a fruit breakfast - our driver passed on pineapple for a couple shots of gin. We were dropped back off in “France” aka: le Hotel Galion close to the Ghana – Togo border. We had one last nice lunch and talked about our favorites part of the trip, which was coming to a close. We had no problem leaving Togo, although it took awhile, but we did run into some problems getting back into Ghana.

All the girls were fine - we all had multiple entry visas. The boys on the other hand were not. They had only purchased single entry Ghana visas and hadn’t checked or noticed before we left. The man stamping the visas was a jerk and would not let us through. He said we would have to spend the night in Togo and get another visa at the embassy in the morning (only technically we couldn’t get back into Togo because we had a single entry Togo visa). Earlier I had seen that the officials checking passport stamps were often bribed. I told Rebecca we could go around the building and make a run for it (so to speak). She and I mapped it out – did a test run and told the boys. Worked like a charm. We snuck around the immigration office and walked calmly to the border gate where the officials were checking passports. They saw our US passports and said “Hello America. Yay America. Keep your passports.” And just waved us through. We hurried to the Afloe station – found a trotro that was going to Legon and literally jumped in. We were free! We spent the whole ride back making jokes, talking about the trip and laughing. I guess technically (according to their passports), Kevin and Matt are still in Togo. Well actually they are in “no mans land” (out of Togo but not into Ghana). I guess we could have left them there to fend for themselves, but as Rebecca would say: If you come together, you leave together. It was an awesome trip. Great people. Great memories.

Love from Accra.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Togo Pictures


Beautiful beaches of Togo (just past the border, near Lome)

View of Cathedral from the Grand Marche in Lome
Clay pots in the Friday market in Vogan


In the market

Checking out the Voodoo section... Skulls, Teeth, Skins oh my!

Love from Accra!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Adventures in Togo and Benin

As usual, a lot has happened since my last post. For one thing, school has ended and finals are beginning. Exactly one month from today I will be on my way back home to California. Part of me is of course sad to leave, while the other part can’t wait to be back on Zig Zag for a while. But, I still have 4 more weeks of adventure. Speaking of which, I am excited to finally write about my trip to Togo (the country bordering Ghana to the east) and Benin ( to the east of Togo).


October 24th

We (Miriam, Rebecca, Liberty, Matt, Kevin and I) arrived in Togo on Wednesday evening after a full day of travel, crossed the border on foot, and found a cab to take us to a hotel near Lome. Because it was dark, because we were tiered, and because our French was limited, we ended up paying 10 dollars to go 2 miles. “Well, it looked a lot further on the map” Rebecca consoled. At least we made it to hotel Le Galion, (which we would later refer to simply as “France” – because of the amazing food, the décor, and the attitude of the clientele). The next morning we woke up to the sound of rainfall and took a cab to the center of the capital city. Lome has a very different vibe than Accra. For one thing, it is much quieter. It lacked the kind of manic chaos that in my mind defines large capital cities. Right away I understood what the tour book had meant by “decaying colonial charm”. Togo obviously had at one point experienced a build up of infrastructure. A lot of buildings, roads, stoplights, and much fewer shanties, and shacks lining the roads. But everything we saw was old. Crumbling. Falling apart. Paint peeling. Metal rusting. It contrasted greatly to Ghana’s current development. Ghana is heading forward while Togo is slowly slipping backward.

After walking through Lome and checking out the cultural center, we spent some time at the Grand Marche (market). It was one of the more relaxed markets I have been to. No pressure. No cars. No foreigners. Only foot traffic. Women carried large stacks of clothe on their heads while men pushing carts full of produce or electronics. It began to sprinkle again and we found another taxi to take us to Togoville, the voodoo capital of Togo. The 6 of us squeezed into the tiny cab and arranged ourselves as comfortable as possible for the 1-hour ride from Lome – 4 in the back and 2 in the passenger seat.

We were dropped off at the edge of Lake Togo where we would have to get a canoe to take us across the lake into Togoville. We went for a quick swim in the beautifully calm lake and trekked through cornfields, houses, and mounds of dirt to get to the dugout, wooden boat. We crossed the lake at sunset and arrived in Togoville in the dark. The following morning, before we left for the Friday market in Vogan, we had breakfast – omelets – in someone’s backyard. We had been searching for something other than chicken and fish all morning. I’m not exactly sure how we ended up there, but before I knew it, three Togolese men were cooking us breakfast in the small dirt courtyard. They had arranged themselves under the metal overhang of a small, unremarkable house. a mango tree in the center with a clothes line connecting it to the mud brick building. The men took shots of gin while cooking our eggs.

The market in Vogan was truly breath taking. I have never seen a market as picturesque. Everything about it was beautiful. The colors, the people. It was so easy going. Crowded but manageable. Somehow it felt safe and calm. Women wearing large brimmed straw hats. No one really even noticed us (the only foreigners). It was as if they were too busy going about their normal activities that they didn’t have time to give us special and generally unwanted attention. There were people selling everything you could ever want (well, need). It was an outdoor market organized into sections – beads, livestock (goats, chickens, etc), fruits and vegetables, clothes, and then we came across the voodoo fetish section… It was like nothing I have ever seen. Live chameleons for luck. Skulls – birds, alligators, monkeys. Skins, bones, teeth, turtle shells. It was right in the middle of everything. Just another part of life in Togo in which -59% percent of the population have animist beliefs. The men invited us to sit down under their wooden awning to get out of the sun. They explained some of the fetish charms. Miriam and I ended up buying necklaces that were supposed to provide us with protection.

While we were exploring, we got separated from the boys. We found matt in the voodoo section, but couldn’t find Kevin and unfortunately our phones weren’t working. While walking around searching for the “tall obruni man in a bright pink shirt” we found a man with a bullhorn – preaching the gospel or trying to sell something (I couldn’t understand the French). Somehow Rebecca convinced the man to give her the bullhorn and she began shouting for Kevin. When there was no sign of him, she handed back the bullhorn. As we were about to walk away, the Togolese man decided to help us. He started yelling “Evan! Evan!” We all laughed and joined in trying to enunciate the K in Kevin. Before we knew it the whole market was laughing shouting “Evan! Kevin! Evan!” Man shouted. Needless to say, we finally found him.

After exploring the market, we decided it was time to head on to Benin. We got lucky and found a trotro to take us to the Togo/ Benin border. Comfortable but very bouncy. The driver was being kind of crazy, making sharp turns and passing other cars, reminding me of Indian driving. At one point, we were passing over a short bridge when our driver decided to overtake the car in front of us. Only there was another car coming in the opposite direction. Before I knew it we were facing a head on collision. On a bridge no less! I don’t know how we squeezed past the car at the last minute avoiding what could have been a very bad accident. Miriam and I looked at one another. “Maybe this voodoo stuff really does work” we decided, thinking of our newly purchased fetish necklaces. Finally we rolled to a stop near some a large group of trucks, not too far from the border. We had found out that the trotro break had gone out. I guess the driver had motioned to Matt during the drive that he couldn’t stop the car. Apparently, Matt suggested the emergency break. With an unease smile he indicted that the emergency break did not work either. “It is finished”. Upon hearing this, Miriam and I explained to the group how lucky they all were that we had bought or voodoo protection necklaces. However, I think the group consensus was that if the charms did actually have some kind of voodoo power, we wouldn’t have gotten into a brakeless trotro in the first place.

The trotro driver helped us find another car to take us into Benin. By this time we had crossed the border out of Togo, but had not yet passed the border to enter into Benin. Traffic at the border was awful. Jam packed. Bumper to bumper. We were at a complete standstill. The driver got out of the car in front of a restaurant bar. Becca had to pee and before I knew it we were all out of the car. After all, what was the point of sitting in a hot car when it wasn’t going anywhere? The boys ordered drinks while Miriam and I decide that we should at least watch to see when the traffic lightened up. We sat on the patio with a view of the car and started talking about the day. We got completely distracted until Becca came over and asked where the car was. Miriam and I looked up. It was gone. Shit. We ran to the side of the road and it was nowhere in sight. “I guess we will have to find another car”. Oh f*ck. “Our bags are in the car!!”. Shit. (at least I had my passport and valuables on me – Mom has taught me well J ). Miriam, Rebecca, and I ran through the street frantically searching for the white car. We caught up with the traffic, hoping that the driver couldn’t have gone too far. We found a security guard and in broken French tried to explain what had happened. By this time I was sure our bags were gone forever. He told us to calm down. “You don’t understand. We can’t calm down!” We kept running through the street. Dodging people and motorcycles as we ran. The vendors on the side of the road yelling at us. Found driver parked near the border with a bunch of other cars. Thank goodness. We all hugged him. Kevin, Liberty, and Matt found us with in 10 minutes. I guess everyone on the street was pointing them in the right direction – the direction the other obrunis were running. We paid the man, grabbed our bags, and crossed the border on foot. Before I could comprehend what had happened, we were in Benin.

To be continued…

Love from Accra!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Photos! End of Ramadan in nima

Pictures from the festival...


Miriam, Becca, and I. Ready for the festival.
(Yes we are wearing pants and scarves in 90 degree heat! crazy!)


Breaking of the fast. A day of sharing and eating...





Candidate for the NDC (National Democratic Congress),
John Evans Atta Mills, waves to the crowd


Togo and Benin adventures coming soon!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Eid al-Fitr and the black stars

The past couple of weeks have quietly come and gone. I have been keeping myself busy here in Accra and making trips to other parts of Ghana since class takes up only a small amount of my time.. I have also begun playing the bamboo flute and the Kora (kind of like a guitar made with a calabash gourd). The days are full of mini adventures and at the end of everyday, someone always says, "Man. That was a strange day" so i guess strange has become the norm while living in Legon.

Two weeks ago marked Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan and the fast).

On Tuesday, Rebecca and I went with Miriam to Nima (a predominantly Muslim town in Accra) to celebrate the end of Ramadan with the principal of the school where she is volunteering. Before heading to the street festival, we were invited to his mother's home to have lunch. We sat on a wooden bench in a dirt courtyard surrounded by small cement houses. In one corner of the courtyard was a goat pen constructed from left over scrap wood. An older man was sitting in front of the makeshift gate door, choping up food with a machete. In another corner sat a series of pots, which bubbled over with oils and juices, filling the whole courtyard with delicious smells. We were brought a huge bowl of rice and chicken with 6 spoons and were not allowed to get up until nothing but bones were left.

After walking around Nima a bit, visiting Kofi's family and friends, we walked to the street festival. It was similar to the parade in Cape Coast. The chiefs were carried down the street like royalty. They were raised high in the air and protected from the sun by large red umbrellas. Hundreds of peole filed in after with a sense of organized chaos. In true Ghanaian spirit, all the people were dancing as the followed the drummers down the street.

We also followed the crowd until we reached a big stage that had been set up for the event. I realized that everyone around us was sporting red, green, and black clothing - the colors of the NDC political party. A man whose body was painted like an NDC flag ran up on stage and started dancing. People were cheering. HOw did we get in the middle of a political rally? My initial trepidation was swept away in the excitement. Put in a trance by the chanting - "Youth, power, action". Part of me was completely alert to the fact that a fight could break out at any moment. There has been some election related violence in the northern part of Ghana, which has put the whole country on alert. A man in a pink polo shirt appeared from the sunroof od a black SUV. It took me a second to realize it was none other then the NDC presidential candidate just 10 feet away from me. He waved and smiled. Obviously a bit surprised to see the group of obrunis at the celebration. It was definitely one of the biggest crowds i have ever had to push myself through, almost mob -like. That is until i went to the black star match last Saturday.

The Black stars are the national soccer team. I traveled 5 hours to Takoradi on Saturday morning to watch them play Lesotho in a world cup qualifier. We arrived at the stadium about half an hour before the game was scheduled to begin. We didn't have tickets. We joined the huge crowd at the front of the gate waving money at the men scrambling behind the glass window. Before we could figure out what was going on, we heard someone say "They are finished" (a phrase we here often in Ghana). After hearing the same thing from other fans, security guards, and ticket holders, we were still optimistic. We had managed to buy one ticket off of someone else and were waiting around outside the stadium for some kind of divine intervention. Sure enough, we mwt a man who showed us how to get inside the walls of the stadium through a gate that had been unintentionally left open.

On the other side of the wall, we tried again to get tickets from security, but no luck. Just when we were about to lose all faith, we saw an official take money from a couple of fans. We ran back over to the glass window. About 30 other people running after us. I pushed to the front (thank goodness for my height), shoved the money through the upper slot in the glass. "Mepaakyew. Mepaakyew boss." The men inside the booth were once again scrambling while other fans tried to break open the door (and eventually succeeded). The man took my money and quickly handed me three more tickets. WHOOT WHOOT! What a rush. We were jumping up and down. We bribed the man collecting tickets to let us all go in the same section and somehow were able to find "seats" in the aisle.

We definitely had to fight to keep our pseudo seats on the steps. By the end of the game i was literally sitting in some Ghanaian woman's lap with another mans feet in my face (yes he had taken off his shoes!). People were hanging on the side of the stairwell and sitting on top of the roof. It would have been a really uncomfortable afternoon, but one of our friends had brought a waterbottle full of gin. We took shots everytime there was a shot on goal. So by the end of the first half, it didn;t matter that i was sitting on someone or that someone's coke had spilled on me or that some guys feet were in my face. By the end of the game i had a black star painted on my face, a flag tied around my sholders and a bandanna on my head. We were all having a great time. The whole staduim went wild everytime Ghana scored. jumping up and down. It was great! we won 3 to 0.

I'm travelling through Togo and Benin with some friends next week and then mom and dad will be here the following week.

Pictures to come soon...

Love from Ghana!



Friday, September 12, 2008

Cape Coast Festival - Gods, Priests, and Blood

Walking back in an awestruck daze, Rebecca’s high-pitched voice sang from behind me, “You have dirt on your shirt”. I stopped in the middle of the street, my back still turned to her, thinking about what I had just witnessed. The brush of her hand on my back woke me from the solitude of my reflection. The street was crowded with people, but less congested than it had been only a few minutes ago. We walked in the opposite direction of the decapitated bull, which was now being paraded through the town of Cape Coast on a rusting wooden wagon. “It’s not dirt” she said both disgusted and intrigued. “It’s blood”.

We arrived in Cape Coast on Thursday evening. We stayed in the Savoy hotel. The agenda for the night: To watch the fetish priests dance. It was late and I was tiered, but the town was excited – alive. Part of me wanted to fall asleep to the whooshing sound of the ceiling fan, the other part of me craved adventure and experience.

We walked through the streets of cape coast, towards the sea, in the direction of the cape coast castle. A row of ducks following our student leader at a pace no quicker than a slow meander. The streets were lined with people and stands – popcorn. small shops – hair weaves. clothing. cloth. Drinks and biscuits. Music blared. The horns of taxi cabs filled the streets along with the sound children calling out, “Obruni. Obruni” – A greeting that I now answer to on a regular basis. A name that I have taken as part of my own. We finally arrived at the sacred site where the dancing was to take place. It was an alleyway, only slightly wider than the two parallel roads it connected. On the corner was a small enclosed area, 15 by 15 feet, surrounded by a brick wall between five and six feet tall. A single tree stood proudly in the enclosed area, adding a hint of greenery to an otherwise filthy, garbage littered road. As we moved closer, I noticed wooden benches had been set up creating a rectangular pin in the street. Men and women draped in beautiful fabric sat on the benches directly in front of the brick wall. A group of three younger men sat opposite them, tightening the heads of their drums.

A woman dressed in a dark, shiny robe, holding a small bowl moved toward the open area, formed by the benches. She reached into the bowl and began to sprinkle what looked like white sand on the ground in front of us. She moved quickly, with precision, drawing a large ring, which marked the space where the dancing would take place. She painted a second smaller circle directly in the center of the first, indicating the center of the second circle with an X. She sat back down. A tall, muscular man, who had a build more like a roman god than a mere human being, walked to the center holding a glass bottle. He held the bottle high above his head and poured the liquid onto the X drawn on the dirt.

I had just read about this in a book – he was offering alcohol to the ancestors, who are believed to be the intermediaries between the human world and the divine. In African culture, both the Gods and the ancestors are believed to be inside the earth. In the ground. The fetish priests are thought to be possessed by the Gods, presenting themselves in the form of dancing and movement. Once the offering had been made, the dancing begun. One after another, priests and priestesses, danced in a circle, accompanied by the sound of drums. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. The movements were quick and stilted, each person using a stick to direct their bodies. Although claustrophobia and exhaustion caused many of us to leave early, the dancing went on late into the night.

The following day a bull was to be sacrificed in honor of Tabir.

I learned that Ghana has 77 total deities and that each God is assigned to one particular region. Although the powers of the Gods are not limited to that particular geographical area, each region is responsible for celebrating a specific god once of year. The God of Cape Coast is Tabir, the God of protection and a sacrifice must be made for those who have passed away as well as those who will pass away that year.

The bull was tied to the railing of a white washed cement staircase in the courtyard of the castle next to a pile of cannon balls left over from the days of the slave trade. The bull was large but thin, not like the heartily feed bulls I saw in India. It was strange looking at this bull as a sacrifice instead of a holy being. Only two months ago I was in a country where this animal would have been treated with the utmost respect.

A small group of students were invited to go down to the altar, which was located in one of the old cells, previously used to hold prisoners during the slave trade. It was dark and damp – just as I remembered it from our last trip to Cape Coast although this time the smell of blood now filled the room. The altar comprised of four white cement stairs. On the top stair, sat the head of a small goat. Eyes open staring into the distance, past the cave-like entrance. In the corner, two men hunched over the body of the bloody kid. The sound of a machete echoed against the rock walls. I placed a cedi on the bottom step of the altar, along with other offerings. The priest, dressed in unremarkable clothing stood on the step of the alter, a small bowl raised up in the air. He began a series of libations. Unrecognizable words spewed from his lips as he spattered a blessed mixture of alcohol, water and the goat’s blood from his hands onto the altar. Once he had finished the prayers he offered to bless us. I stepped forward and reached out my hands. He poured the liquid into my palms – prayers slipping through my fingers.

The bull was then led from the Cape Coast Castle, to where the fetish priests danced the night before. We waited with the children at the castle entrance. The bull finally came through the gate, led by a young man with a rope around the bulls neck and another in back, controlling a rope tied to the hind legs. The bull was forced into the gated area with the tree and the group of priests and priestesses. Men and women in red and black robes – calm & beautiful. Hundreds of people gathered around, climbing on top of the wall, on top of each other, to catch a glimpse of the sacrifice. One swift downward motion with the machete and the bull was on the ground. I was in the middle of the crowd. Slowly, the mob pushed me to the front (because I’m white and foreign and a woman). The guard at the gate opened the rod iron bars slightly and pulled me through. Into the courtyard. Blood everywhere. A small river on the ground. A priest cleaning the bloody machete in front of me. Men and women dressed in black and red with green wreathes atop their heads. The same picture i painted only 5 years ago, hanging in our living room. I was seeing it come to life.

I don't think it really hit me - how real it all was - until we walked back. Away from the crowd and the bull and the blood. It didn't really hit me until I turned around to see the fibrous red clump of particles resting peacefully on Rebecca's index finger. The "dirt" she had removed from the back of my shirt.

Love from Accra.

Monday, September 1, 2008

First Week of School and an African Sunrise

No, I have not fallen off the face of the planet!! I’m still here. still healthy. still happy. In typical African fashion, so much and relatively very little has happened in the couple of weeks since my last post.

For one thing, school has officially begun! We are entering into our second week of class and I’m still slightly uncertain about which courses I am taking, where they are held, and who is teaching them. I have spent the last two weeks crawling through the web of organized chaos that defines registering for courses at the University of Ghana.

The process requires a map of the campus, 6 passport photographs, and a whole lot of patience. In order to take courses in a particular department (economics, political science, history, etc) you have to physically walk to the department, fill out a form, attach a passport photo and sign your name next to each course title you are interested in taking. Sounds fairly simple, until you realize that you will be taking 6 classes in 4 departments and the course schedules don’t come out in any particular order. It’s kind of like a big scavenger hunt except, you don’t know exactly what you are looking for and aren’t quite sure about the rules.

The first week, I managed to make it to eight classes (missing two others because I couldn’t figure out where the classes were to be held). However, only one of the eight professors showed up. Apparently some were on strike and others felt they needed a longer holiday. I guess it happens every year. I should have known something was up when I began to notice that the only people in my classes were Ghanaian freshman (who, just like at any university, are expected to know nothing about anything) and “Obrunis”, meaning white people in Twi (who know even less).

Slowly however, things are falling into place and my schedule is shaping up to include: Literature of the Black Diaspora, International Conflict & Conflict Resolution, Refugees & International Relations, Colonial Rule and African Response, Twi, and Intro to African Drumming.

In an instant of impulsive insanity, I also agreed to join the cross-country team which means 5:30am runs 5 days a week. Training has only just begun but I have a strong feeling that this time in the morning will be my saving grace. There was a moment this morning during the last quarter mile when I felt invincible, like nothing could touch me. Maybe it was the endorphins, or the realization that I am in Ghana, or the feeling that if I pushed a little further I would be able to go on forever. Whatever the reason, in that moment, I could not imagine being anywhere else in the world missing that beautiful African sunrise.

It was like all of the good energy and happiness from every corner of the earth was wrapped up into a glowing circle peeking from behind a horizon lined with trees.

To steal the words of Mr. Mayer:
You should have seen that sunrise
With your own eyes
It brought me back to life…

Love from Accra!!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chasing Waterfalls and Scaling Mountains

I have been in Ghana for three weeks now and the first day of school has been secretly creeping closer and closer. A number of EAP students decided to take one last trip before classes begin tomorrow (Monday). By the time our travel plans were adjusted and readjusted, we ended up with a group of seven adventures girls.

On Wednesday afternoon we took an STC bus from the center of Accra to Hohoe, a city just east of lake Volta. After an overly complicated taxi ride to the station and 5 hours on the bus, we arrived in Hohoe around 9pm. Arriving at night is never ideal, but we were able to check into a hotel, find food, and sleep 3 and 4 to a bed. The next morning, after consulting the Bradt guide, we set off for Likpe Todome, an ecotourism site whose hiking trail is known for its caves, waterfall, and view of the neighboring country, Togo.

We had been walking only a couple of minutes and just lost sight of the tourism office when our guide stopped in the middle of the path and waited for us to gather around him.
“See that stick?” He pointed to a lone stick protruding proudly from the top of a seemingly distant mountain. After searching for a second, we responded with excitement, thinking maybe it was some historical landmark.
“That’s where we are going.”
What?! We exchanged surprised glances and excited giggles. Thinking back, it was at this point that we should have realized it was not going to be an easy trek.

“The path to the caves involves a near vertical climb, and although ropes have been attached to the trees for support, its safety is questionable” - well, Mr. Brant is no liar. I don’t know why we were shocked when our guide expected us to clamber up into a dim, slippery cave. After reading the guidebook we should have known exactly what we were getting ourselves into.

After climbing up, into, around, and through a series of caves once used by the Bakuas people as hideouts, meeting places, and even prisons, we finally came to the bat cave. We were expected to shimmy down a ladder, through a hole - 3 feet in diameter, and into a dark underground cave, which houses a colony of bats. After the guide explained the process, we once again shot each other awkward glances of trepidation followed by a chorus of nervous giggles. Finally one of the girls spoke up,
“Um, is this part optional?”
“No.”
So the seven of us found ourselves crouched in a dim, somewhat damp cave with lamps on our heads and winged rats (aka bats) flying frantically from one side of the cave to the other. Needless to say, most of us were ready to climb back up the ladder after a lengthy 5 minutes of observation.

We spent the night at the Waterfall lodge owned by a friendly German couple. It is a beautifully secluded haven with a majestic vibe and a gorgeous view of the Wli waterfalls. The rooms were clean, there was toilet paper in the bathrooms, and mashed potatoes with meatballs were served for dinner. Leave it to the Germans to have everything in order.

The next morning we walked from the lodge to the bottom of the falls. After the adventures of the previous day, we learned not to take the Bradt descriptions lightly. The 2-hour hike to the base of the upper falls was going to be “arduous”, so we brought plenty of water, Neosporin, and band-aids. We were given walking sticks for the hike, which at first seemed like more of a hindrance than a help. However, it sprinkled on and off during the day and the steep, tiny path was extremely slippery. Towards the end, I was so thankful for something to lean on while jumping from the slick rocks onto the muddy path.

The view and the waterfall were of course absolutely stunning and the feeling of accomplishment was unprecedented. The seven of us worked as team lending each other a hand or shoulder for support, and encouraging one another after every fall (and there were many a stumble). It was definitely a bonding experience and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other group of people. As dad would say, “Las Mujeres Fuertes!”

All in all it was a fantastic trip – I have the cuts, scratches, and bruises to prove it.

Love from Accra!

One of the many "near vertical" climbs

After rolling around in the bat caves, we finally made it to the waterfall

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cape Coast and Emlina Slave Castles

Cape Coast Slave Castle

Last week we traveled west of Accra to visit the Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles, which once served as the heart of the Trans-Atlantic slave route. The slave castles (even the name is an uncomfortable paradox) conjured an array of emotions among the group. I was left with a gut wrenching, awesome, exhausted confusion.

At one point we were led into a small room, 15ft. by 15 ft. with no light that trapped over 100 slaves at one time. Many of them suffocated. Their last breadths recorded by nail marks on the walls and ceiling, which today serve as both a memory and a warning.

My confusion was further fueled by the juxtaposition of beautiful white sand beaches and the dark, cold cement walls that so clearly separated freedom and confinement. From some parts of the castle, you can see the palms swaying lazily in the breeze of silent whispers from those who suffered only 200 years ago. The castle and surroundings seem to be far too handsome to have such a tragic history.

The governor’s quarters were located on the second floor of the castle – on one side of his bedroom, a view overlooking the Gulf of Guinea and the infinite Atlantic Ocean, free and uncontrolled. And through the other window, a view of the courtyard where the female slaves would line up -hoping that the months locked in a cell with the stench of feces, blood, and death would cause the governor to find them unattractive. The others were raped.

How is it possible that human beings were able to inflict such pain and humiliation on other human beings? It is said that almost 60 million slaves spent time locked in the castles over the period of only 200 years. More than half of them died before they were shipped to other countries to work as slaves.

I’m really not sure how to end this post, so I guess I will finish by repeating what was written on a plaque in the Elmina castle:

In everlasting memory
Of the anguish of our ancestors
May those who died rest in peace
May those who return find their roots
May humanity never again perpetrate
Such injustice against humanity
We, the living vow to uphold this


Love from Accra.

View From Cape Coast

View From Cape Coast Casle

Inside One Of The Cells

Elmina Slave Castle
View From Elmina Slave CastleInside Looking Out

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Snaps from Kumasi

The market in Kumasi is the largest in all of West Africa!




Learning to weave in Kumasi




Friday, August 1, 2008

Akwaaba means welcome in Twi

I can’t believe I am finally here in Ghana. It all happened so quickly. I find it even harder to believe that I was still in India only a week ago. I miss India. I miss the intensity and stimuli. The busyness of the city. The hardness of the people. The “head wiggle”. Cows on the roads. I miss my duparta and being able to cover my head whenever I want to. I miss the modesty and the humbleness. I miss the things that became so familiar during the past 2 months – the challenges that I learned how to overcome. It’s funny how your perception of an experience changes once you have completed it. As ready as I was to leave, part of me really wishes I were back in India. Anther part of me wishes I were back in the US. And part of me is excited about the adventures that lie ahead.

I left Mumbai at 3am on Saturday morning, spent 6 hours in London, and finally arrived in the capital city, Accra around 8:30pm (local time) Saturday night. I was incredibly relieved to see an EAP (Education Abroad Program) student coordinator waiting for me since I wasn’t able to fly with the group. When I finally got to the International Student Hostel at the university, the other students were having dinner by candlelight – the power had gone out earlier in the day (and has gone out multiple times since). I am currently living with one of the Ghanaian Student Coordinators, Efua who has been a big help. The past few days have been jam packed with lectures, logistics, and fieldtrips. The University of Ghana campus is beautiful and lush – red dirt roads and all kinds of trees and shrubs. The campus is currently very quiet since school doesn’t begin till mid-August. I have to admit; I am definitely looking forward to a little bit more action.

On Sunday, we spent most of the day at the beach (which is super touristy) listening to live music, getting out of our seats only to dance or dip our toes in the water. We also had our first African dance lesson. Our teacher was an older man with glasses, a grayish beard, and a walking stick. He says he walks with a cane, but when he dances, “the cane falls away”. He spoke a little about the history and importance of African dance, explaining that it is about celebration and communication - about being able to let lose and have your soul transcend your body. It’s about being free to express yourself. Dancing is about family and acceptance. It was a blast (and a total workout!!)

On Wednesday we finally made it into the center of the Accra. Well kind of. We had a bus tour of the city. Accra is broken up into multiple parts depending in part by who colonized the area (i.e. Jamestown was colonized by the British). While the main roads were nicely paved there were many dirt alleyways lined with shanties (aka “low cost housing”). As in India there were some stark contrasts. There are many large buildings, center road dividers, and traffic lights, but then there are people living in their selling stalls, on the streets, in small door less shanties. There were children in the street barefoot and sometimes shirtless. There were women cooking and washing laundry only 100 yards from a fast food restaurant. Its odd to actually see the effects of globalization and development and to wonder how it is all affecting the informal markets.

Tomorrow we are traveling to Kumasi to learn more about Ghanaian festivals and funerals. We will return to Accra on Monday.

Miss everyone!! Love from Ghana!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Big Fat Indian Wedding

TCSRD (Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development) has a vocational training center. There are classes you can take in sewing, mobile repair, computers, and… beauty parlor. In the beauty parlor training, women learn to do makeup, hair, mendi, etc. so that they may ofen their own beauty parlors in the villages. Kamlesh, who is in charge of vocational training had the brilliant idea to dress me up as a bride before I left India. I agreed, not fully comprehending what I was getting myself into. Two days before I left Babrala, Kamlesh (who speaks as much English as I do hindi), brought me to the beauty parlor class and introduced me to the students. The first three hours were spent doing Mehndi, traditional of Indian celebrations. I sat still on the floor with my limbs spread in opposing directions while 3 different women put henna on my hands and feet. I was relieved when they finally finished. I looked like a meticulously frosted cake. I sat in the same position for another hour while the henna was left to dry. I couldn’t stand up or move without smudging the artwork on my body. So there we sat, communicating with hand gestures and facial expressions.

Then, all of a sudden the women all jumped up from the mat we were sitting on and started screaming. I couldn’t understand what was wrong until a small frog literally jumped on my lap. My impulse was to jump up but I couldn’t get off the ground without setting my hands on the ground. What a fiasco. The women were jumping around the room trying to get rid of the frog while making sure I didn’t ruin their work by standing up. Finally the henna dried my mendi was finished, but my makeover had just begun. Within 5 minutes I was wearing a traditional Indian wedding sari – almost a perfect fit. Before I could admire the heavily embroidered bright red fabric, I was sitting in the beauty parlor chair, my head tilted back with 4 women standing over me speaking loudly to each other in hind. I saw that one of them had a roll of thread. “They must be fixing something on the dress”, I thought to myself. But before I knew the thread was in my face and I could hear the hair being ripped from the skin above my eyes. There was more speaking and pointing to my face. I was tempted to jump up and stop them but I didn’t. “Please God. Just let me still have eyebrows at the end of this”. Another two hours of makeup, necklaces, bracelets, and rings, I was ready to be married. The women stayed through lunch and after their class was over to take pictures and help me out of my wedding costume. What an experience... i will never forget it.

Mehndi

Hair and Makeup


Jewelery

Selene!! Maid of Honor :P

With Kamlesh


I can't believe it's over. I flew out of Mumbai at 2am last night and all i have left are my memories and the faded dye on my palms. I'm back in the Heathrow airport, waiting to board my flight to Accra - already missing the excitement and contradictions of India. I will post as soon as i can from Ghana. Missing everyone!

Love from London

Images of India


My Indian Mothers: Manju, Mamta, & Kamlesh


Fun in Delhi (Qutab Minar)


Grant and I at the Red Fort in Agra


Selene and I on our way to the field!


Pedro and I doing in the field with a female SHG

Rishikesh


Family Photo :)


The Taj Mahal!!


Thursday, July 17, 2008

The British Have Come!

I can’t believe I have already been here for seven weeks. Lately my mindset has been fluctuating between “homesick and can’t wait to get out of here” and “never want to leave” (ok, maybe not never!!). I have very much of a love hate relationship with my current environment and circumstances. I anticipate feeling both sad and relieved when i fly out of Bombay at 2am next Saturday.

Once again quite a bit has happened since my last blog post and when my parents left Babrala. For one thing, the Cambridge students have arrived! Selene and Grant. Their arrival provided a much needed distraction. It has been very amusing watching them get acclimated having already been through the process ourselves. We are doing our best to warn them about certain cultural adjustments that took us by surprise.

For instance, in the guesthouses they have this charming little thing called “Bed Tea”. The first time my doorbell rang at 6:30 am and a man half my size waltzed into my room with a pot of tea in hand I too was taken aback. I remember the first morning I arrived; I had no idea what was going on (partly because of the language barrier and partly because I didn’t have my contacts in). I do remember standing in the doorway watching in awe as this stranger went to my kitchen, poured me a cup of tea, brought it to the table, and then left as quickly as he had come. Needless to say, I left the tea sitting on the table and went back to bed. This routine carried on for the first three days until i got smart and put a sign on my door. “No Bed Tea PLEASE”. I haven’t had bed tea since… until Selen and Grant arrived.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard as when Grant described his first experience with bed tea… “Who in their right mind would want a cup of tea an hour and a half before they need to get up? …It isn’t bed tea if you actually have to get out of bed to open the door.”

He came up with this brilliant explanation for our experience in India. We have decided that about 80% of what goes on here is familiar, logical, and normal by our standards. The other 20% however defies logic or explanation. So, whenever something happens that we just can’t wrap our heads around or even begin to explain, we just chalk it up to “the other 20 percent”. Our new favorite phrase is “Kia ho ra ha he?” Which means, “What’s going on?”

Last Sunday we traveled by bus to Aligarh, which is 80 km from Babrala. We had a great time. It was pouring rain when we got there and the whole city was flooded. So we spent the first 10 minutes wading through water to get to the point where the rickshaws were. Then we got rides to the shopping areas, got some Salwar suits tailored, had a wonderful non vegetarian lunch (The guesthouse only serves “non veg”. I swear I can actually taste bacon when I see a pig on the streets – no matter how filthy it is). We went to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) which was supposedly modeled after Cambridge University. Shameem showed us the campus and his dorm. We barely made it back on time to catch the bus and sang backstreet boys songs most of the way home.

This week has been very busy. Wrapping up our project and all of the other lose ends before we leave in the middle of next week. I leave Babrala on the 24th for Mumbai and have a presentation at Bombay House on the 25th. Then off to Ghana at 2am on the morning of the 26th.

Miss everyone!! Love from Babrala!!!!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Haridwar & Rishikesh

A lot has happened since my last post. I spent an hour in the computer room yesterday trying to upload pictures but no luck – unfortunately the internet is just too slow. So I guess I will have to be extra vivid in my descriptions.
Mom and Dad arrived in Babrala last Friday and we spent the whole weekend together. I was so happy and relieved to see them. It was the first time I really let myself relax since I arrived in India. On Saturday after work we left for Haridwar (where the Ganges or "Ganga" flows down from the mountains) and Rishikesh ("the place where the Beatles hung out" mom read in her book). We spent the night in a hotel, walking distance from the street bazaar. Though the bazaar was close to the hotel, I wouldn’t dare say it was easy to get to. As soon as we stepped out of our hotel a typical India street greeted us.
Picture this – me in the front, mom in the middle, and dad in the back. Walking like a little family of ducklings over heaps of mud, around vendor carts, people, and dogs. Horns whaling in the background. Then the fun part – crossing the street – holding hands like little children, dodging rickshaws and cars (which by the way do not drive on the right side of the road nor the left side, but in any which direction/ side they please). Finally we make it to the entrance of the bazaar where thankfully cars are not allowed. It was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it. Both sides of the road were paved with small shops selling fabric, jewelry, trinkets, and snacks (everything deep fried right there on the side of the street). Mom and I bought glass bangles, which make the coolest sound when they clink together.
On Sunday we traveled the short distance to Rishikesh. It is a place where many people come to take holy bathes, pray, and worship the Ganga River. We took a small boat across the Ganga to where the ashrams and temples are. As soon as we stepped off the boat we were asked to take a picture with a group of young men. I really wish I could post the picture because there is no way to describe the expressions on everyone’s face. We were celebrities for a day. Every 20 minutes someone stopped us on the street and wanted to take a "snap" with us. It was like we were a family of giraffes. Pink giraffes! In the middle of super market. Everywhere we went, people stared. It was pretty funny.
Dad bought a small basket of flowers with a candle in the middle that was to be floated down the river - an offering to the Ganga. Sounds like a pretty image, but after dropping the basket from a three-foot ledge the candle was blown out and the half-flooded basket just kind of sat there. Graceful dad! Real graceful! J We walked around for a couple of hours, visiting an ashram (where anyone can stay free of charge as long as they abide by the rules) and soaking in the spiritual vibe of the town. We walked back across one of the two famous footbridges (which I can’t remember the name of) and spent the next 4 hours in traffic driving back to Haridwar.
That night our driver, Pintu, who has been super helpful, took us to the evening worshiping ceremony at the Ganga. There were hundreds of people bathing and playing in the water. The best way I can describe it is like having church in the middle of a wild rivers water park. People seemed to be having a great time. At 7:20 a prayer was recited and we all put our hands in the air in response. Torches were lit and candles were properly sent down the river. It was truly beautiful. The people sitting around us were very eager to explain some of the ritual and share the food that they had brought. Despite the mad stampede-like rush to get out of the gated area after the ceremony, it was an amazing experience.
Mom and Dad are in Agra now and are coming back this weekend to hang out and bring me some essentials (i.e. peanut butter and an extra flash drive) before they head to Jaipur and then back home to the US. Can’t wait to see them again!
By the way thank you guys so much for all of the email messages/ facebook posts/ and bog comments. I get so excited and love hearing from everyone. It makes home seem not so far away.
Love from Babarala.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday the 13th and the beginning of monsoon season

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but I had a strange feeling when I woke up on Friday that it was going to be an off day. After 2 weeks of being in India I finally experienced the infamous “Delhi Belly” (Babrala Belly I guess…). The combination of sleep deprivation, excitement, and well… eating everything in sight (the food is to die for), finally caught up with me. After our fieldwork on Friday I got sick for the first time in a very long time. I spent the rest of Friday hobbling from bed to bathroom and most of Saturday letting my body rest. After sleeping the weekend away, I woke up this morning feeling completely refreshed and entirely awake for the first time since I arrived.

Today we had a couple of errands to run in town. It’s Shameem’s birthday so we picked up some supplies for an impromptu party tonight. On the way back to the township we decided to stop by the Ganges. Our driver wanted to take a “holy bath” and Kartik said it was a nice day for a “stroll” along the river. As soon as we stepped out of the car, black clouds rolled in and it started pouring, and I mean POURING!! Raining cats and dogs. We huddled under the tents of the vendors trying to stay dry. We finally decided the rain was not going to let up and hurried back down the muddy hill to the car. The whole time I was thinking “don’t fall in the mud. Don’t fall in the mud”. And to everyone’s surprise (including my own) I didn’t. The dirt path however, was also flooded with water and garbage. As I was making my way through it, my sandal slid off and decided to float away without me. I can’t imagine how I must have looked - sopping wet, dancing around in the mud, chasing my runaway slipper. Miss everyone!

Happy Fathers day Daddio!

Love from Babrala

Monday, June 9, 2008

First week in Babrala and the Taj!

I am happy to report that these last few days have been just as busy as the first. I have been in India for about a week now and the days seem to just fly by. I have already learned so much and met some really wonderful people. Pedro and I have spent the last week getting to know the organization and the current development projects. We have had some wonderful trips to the local villages - The learning never ends. On Friday we traveled to Agra with some of our TSCRD colleagues: Shameem, Kartik, Lipi, Swarn, and Venot. They have really tried to make us feel like part of the family. We visited the Taj Mahal, which is just as exquisite as described, and had such a blast taking pictures of each other. I was pretty surprised when strangers kept asking to have their pictures taken with me (there were very few American tourists, so I guess we really stood out). We spent the night in Agra and went to the Jama Masjid Mosque on Saturday. We walked through the tomb of Salim Chisti with was absolutely breathtaking – covered in beautiful abalone pieces. Afterward we stopped at the wholesale fabric market in the middle of the city. I am constantly surprised at the order in such a seemingly hectic county. There is so much going on at once that it is easy to become overwhelmed – cars honking, cows blocking the roads, rickshaws going every which way, and people. But once you get used to all of the people and noises there is something calming about finally surrendering to the hustle and bustle of the city. We reached Babrala late last night and went back to work in the field this morning. I bought some embroidered cloth (called Karjobi) from one of the TCSRD Self help groups and Kartik is taking me to get the material tailored tonight!
Hope all is well in the US of A. I hear Obama is getting the nomination.
Love from Babrala.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I’m in India!!

Wow. The last 3 days have been an amazing whirlwind of adventures. I arrived in Mumbai/ Bombay at 2am on June 2nd and was brought to the Tata Tea guesthouse where I spent my first night. Later that morning Liza and I were picked up and taken to Bombay House for the company orientation which lasted all day and ended with an informal dinner/ drink at the Clubhouse. By the time we got back to the house I was completely exhausted. Yesterday morning Pedro and I flew from Bombay to Delhi and were greeted by a very kind Bengali driver (whose name I cannot even begin to pronounce). We had a great time – He practiced his English while I was able to humor him with the few Hindi words that I know. He got a kick out of the fact that my name sounds like Anamika, a common Hindi name meaning “No name”. We were cracking up. The 6 hour drive to Babrala was absolutely unreal. We were able to see a completely different side of India than I have heard of read about. People are extremely beautiful here and everything is so vibrant. We passed through many small rural villages each with its own people, market, and cows (which wander in every which way they please). We finally reached Tata Chemicals, which has gorgeous grounds covered in peacocks, and met some of the other Indian students doing internships here as well. The Tata township is really amazing. It is equipped with a tennis court, lake, and swimming pool. We were invited to watch the nightly game of cricket - a hugely popular sport in India. Such a blast - i can't wait to learn how to play! Today (it’s currently 5:45am) we are learning more about our specific projects and getting to know the teams we will be working with.
Love from Babrala.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

And so the journey begins

I’m currently sitting next to a window in the London Heathrow airport (after flying first from LA to Detroit). The weather is overcast which makes it difficult to guess what time of day it is. I have about 3 hours before my flight to Mumbai leaves so I’m passing time watching planes take off. Kind of surprised at my lack of emotion. Not nervous or excited. Not really anything except tiered. Just running on autopilot at this point.

It’s still difficult for me to believe that I will be spending the next two months living in Babrala, India working with Tata. I really have no idea what to expect but I guess traveling without expectations makes the initial adjustment much easier.

I do know that I will be spending the night in Mumbai and have an all day orientation on June 2nd. On the 3rd I fly to Delhi and than somehow get to Babrala (not sure how that’s happening as of yet). For the rest I guess I just have to wait and see.

Will keep everyone posted. Love from London.

Monday, May 12, 2008

DREAM Act. Just the facts...

I just finished a memo for a public policy class and would like to share some of the things i learned from my background research pertaining to The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) which you can read more about in an earlier blog post.
Just the facts...
  • In the 1982 Supreme Court case, Plyer v. Doe, the court ruled that the state could not deny undocumented children free public education that is offered to other children residing within its borders (Brickman, 2006).
  • Approximately 1.8 million of the 12 million undocumented immigrants, who are currently living in the U.S., are under the age of 18 and are eligible for public education (IPC, 2007).
  • Each year about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate with a high-school diploma but are unable to apply for legal work and cannot afford college without government-backed financial aid (Chandler, 2008).
  • It is estimated that only 5 -10% of undocumented immigrants with a high school diploma attend college (IPC, 2007).
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects nine high-skilled occupations (ones which require an associate degree or higher) to grow at least twice as fast as the national average between 2004 and 2014 (IPC, 2007).
  • The rate of labor-force growth during the last few decades has been declining and fewer US-born workers are available to join the labor force (Gonzales 2007, 6).
  • In 2006, The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that workers who lacked a high-school diploma had an unemployment rate of 6.8% and earned an average of only $419 per week (IPC, 2007). In contrast, workers with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate of 2.3% and earned approximately $962 per week (IPC, 2007).
  • In 1999, a RAND study estimated that the average Mexican female immigrant who graduates from college would, by the age of 30, increase her pretax income by more than $13,500 per year (NILC, 2005).
  • The RAND study (1999) estimated that a 30-year-old female Mexican immigrant with a college degree will contribute $5,300 more in taxes and will cost $3,900 less in criminal justice and welfare expenses each year, than if she had dropped out of high school with no prospects of a college education. Based on this study, fiscal contribution of immigrants with a college degree may increase by more than $9,000 each year (NILC, 2005).
i'll let you draw your own conclusions...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Indian investment in Africa

African leaders urge Indians to act on pledges:

Following the end of the India Africa summit, BBC published an article, entitled India and Africa Investment Deal ...

"Africa should no longer be seen as a mere market for raw materials, they said, and if countries such as India acted on their pledges, the region could see greater economic growth.

And many of the delegates said they wanted to see more investment from some of India's leading private companies, such as global players Tata and Mittal."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

India - Africa Forum Summit

As the summit continues this courting begins...

"India will provide more than $500 million over the next five to six years in grants for development projects".

Read more in Washington Post article, India Pledges Aid to African Leaders.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Another Scramble for Africa?

The first India-Africa summit begins this week...

"India will be keen to stress what an able partner it can be in Africa's economic development. India is desperate to beat China in the race to win over the continent. But any victory will be hard won - investment in Africa will now be on African terms."

Read more about the summit in BBC report: India to court Africa for business

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Belen, Peru

More pictures of Belen ...




Entrance to the
floating shanty town















Kids playing underneath the main room of their house. During the dry season when the water level is lower, this area may also be used as an additional story/ room.








Kids swimming















Local Church built on stilts
























Steps of the local church




















People use canoes to get around and do laundry on their front porches.

















Every house has a hammock











Kind of what i imagine Venice must have looked like a long long time ago...





Dusk















The sun setting on
the town of Belen