Sunday, June 13, 2010

Last Day in Ghana

I write this entry from Ghana’s major airport, located on the outskirts of the capitol city. We’re waiting for our flight back to Amsterdam, where some of us will stay and relax for a few days, but others will continue on to the United States.

We spent the day seeing a few last sights and driving about the city for one last look at the environment here. I made it to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, which was very much worth the visit and made me want to read some of the late Doctor’s work when I return home on Wednesday.

I feel completely recovered from the dehydration, but am burnt out on the country. Being in the touristy part of the city today meant dealing with hawkers swarming the bus and pressuring us into buying various wares and that gets tiring very, very quickly. We’ve seen so many things and had almost no time to process any of it. My brain is very, very wrinkled. Writing here and in my paper journal has really been my only respite, and towards the end of the trip, that just wasn’t enough of an escape anymore. I’m very much looking forward to a few days of low-key exploration around Amsterdam.

The trip has answered many questions for me about my future and the study of international relations in general. However, it’s simultaneously provided so many more to answer. I’m going to spend so much of my free time this summer trying to come up with solutions. What is development? How can I morally justify coming from New York to Africa to tell the locals how things should be done? Is there a workable solution to the intense problem of global income disparity, or is this an inherent feature of global capitalism? What can I do in order to help in a way that’s wanted and needed?

Global health is very much without moral qualms – curing malaria wouldn’t be frowned upon by anyone. Development is different. Development insists there is a right way and a wrong way. How has modern development evolved beyond the White Man’s Burden? Am I justified in my desire to help? Should I care about the philosophical side of development at all, or just start building more libraries or getting militias to disarm? It seems to me that can’t possibly be a bad thing to do by anyone’s standards.

Very many more questions are floating about in my head as I wait for our KLM flight to board. This won’t be my last post here. I’m sure I’ll have some adventures to share in Amsterdam, as well as more reflective pieces like this one. Let me just say thank you to everyone who followed along on my journey as I explored Ghana. It’s been a truly incredible experience, and I hope I was able to bring a bit of it home to all my friends and family.



Sorry for the lack of updates – our last days in Ghana have been hectic and sans Internet.

Thursday was our community service project about an hour north of Accra. Originally, we thought we were painting a computer room, but plans changed and we were helping a mason and bricklayer work on a new library for the students.

When we arrived, the students, a few hundred strong and ranging in age from 5-15, were outside playing or eating snacks. Right when our bus pulled up, the smaller children gathered around and waved. Our jobs included mixing and hauling concrete and moving and lifting brick.

The construction process in Ghana is painstakingly slow – because large loans are mostly inaccessible, building is done one piece at a time whenever funds are available. The library were were working on was missing a few walls and a roof, we were working on the front face of the upper section. The building materials were highly suspect as well. Each time I lifted a brick, a bit of the material would fall off into dust.

The schoolrooms themselves were overcrowded, unbearably hot, and severely lacking in basic equipment. There seemed to be only one bathroom for all the students, and it’s sanitary quality was less than desirable. The kids were all determined to learn, though, so they make the best of what they’ve got. We delivered some notebooks and stationary to the headmaster to give to one of the classes.

As we worked, children would come up and introduce themselves and talk to us. That alone gave me enough energy to keep working despite the heat and how much like death I still felt. I thought about how many times we used to complain about our school district back in high school, and how ridiculous and ungrounded that really was.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It’s been two days since my bout with dehydration. I still feel lethargic, sore, and my digestive system isn’t exactly 100%. I do, however, feel a whole lot better every day, and I think if I take the time to rest in some air conditioning and make more of an effort to take solid foods, I’ll be more or less fine by our departure time on Saturday.

We had a lecture on HIV/AIDS this morning, and some of the women’s rights issues involved with the spread of the virus are staggering. Many wives are a sign of social status for men. A wife here has no right to ask her husband to wear protection. Sex workers won’t be paid the full fee if they ask their client to wear a condom. Having the virus is instantly socially stigmatizing for both men and women, but moreso the latter. It’s a very male-dominated society, and that contributes dramatically to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Our site visit, accordingly, was to an HIV/AIDS clinic in the city. They make a special effort to give screenings, consultations, and treatments at a minimum price to those infected. They see about 30 newly infected patients a month, but their ward was nearly empty – I guess a good sign. The clinic has only one primary doctor and is vastly understocked. They need basic supplies like condoms and printer ink, as well as more expensive items like a vehicle in order to reach those that can’t make the journey to the clinic or to deliver bodies to the morgue and cemetery. I think I’ll try to mobilize the WGSU DJs to raise some money for that purpose next year. I got the e-mail address of the head doctor in order to figure out the best method of donation.

They also had a small shop, which sold different goods all handmade by HIV/AIDS patients. I bought a few gifts here, because I thought it was a great idea. These patients – mostly women – are likely ostracized by their own society and, without continued care (and sometimes even with), would slowly wither away and die. Giving them some purpose to wake up to  each day has to be amazingly therapeutic psychologically, if not physiologically.

A slower day was very welcome. We’re supposed to be painting a library tomorrow, but I think if I still don’t feel right in the morning, I may have to regrettably stay inside and get more rest. It’s very upsetting, because this is the closest to actual development work we’ll be doing while in-country, but being in the heat will certainly prolong my recovery time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Sunday was a free day, we mostly stayed at the hotel and recharged.

Monday I woke up and didn’t feel great to begin with. Our site visit was the Obuasi gold mine. For the better part of the ride, I felt like I was going to throw up. Once down 800ft underground, I somehow felt better. We saw gold in its natural, unrefined form, which connected us and supernovae, and got to experience a darkness so complete it felt more extreme than blindness.

I didn’t notice how much water I was losing through sweat, especially on the way back up. A steep climb while wearing 30lbs of gear and a helmet didn’t do good things for my health.

At lunch, I had absolutely no appetite. When my food was put in front of me, I felt again like I was going to throw up, so I retreated to the bathroom just in case. Nothing. On my way out, I felt like I was going to faint, so I sat down on the ground and Mo came over to see what was up. Him and Sonny helped me to the bar, where I laid my head down and nearly passed out once again. They poured water on me and got me some to drink, and I felt much better. I lost feeling in my hands and legs – not just pins and needles, but full feeling and control. Once that subsided, we got back on the bus and I finally threw up.

Back at our Kumasi hotel, I got right into bed and started taking medicines and electrolyte drinks. I was shivering and convulsing a bit, but everyone in the group stayed with me a while to make sure I was alright. I got some decent sleep but had very strange dreams.

It’s now Tuesday afternoon, and I’m on the bus because it isn’t good for me to be out in the heat with the group on today’s site visit. I feel sweaty, light-headed, and pale, but I’m doing much better than I was yesterday. It takes about a full day to day-and-a-half to recover from dehydration, so I should be alright once I wake up tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the promise of a hot shower once we’re back in Accra tonight.

I can now understand why the impoverished locals take obviously dirty and unhealthy water to drink – the risk of parasitic infection or other water-borne illnesses are far from mind when one is in constant danger of feeling like I have for the past day. 

I’m back in Accra now. I had solid food for dinner, and I’m doing some writing and watching a Portugal – Mozambique friendly. I feel about 80% better. That should reach 100% by tomorrow morning as long as I have another Gatorade or two – thanks Mo.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Akwaaba Kumasi

We’ve been in Kumasi two nights now. The Aya Centre gave us the nicer, bigger bus for the 5-hour trip from Accra on Friday, so it a much more comfortable ride then we’re used to. We left around 6:30AM, but I figure I got about 3 hours of extra sleep sprawled out in the back of the bus.

Our first day in Kumasi brought us to a museum dedicated to the history of the Ashanti kings. The Kingdom had ruled territory which included Ghana as well as small parts of neighboring Mali, Burkina, and Togo. They were considered a threat by colonizing powers and subjugated, but the King still holds a great deal of respect. His interests are represented in Parliament, and he serves as a small  but sometimes very effective check on presidential powers, usually representing conservative and traditional values. The museum tour was interesting but brief. The free-range roaming peacocks came less than a foot away from us, much closer than I’ve ever been to one before.

We also had a lecture on Population Geography and sanitation issues. The Ghanaian professor agreed that the country needs a vastly improved infrastructure to deal with the problems of litter and waste removal if it should ever hope to enter the realm of middle-income/semi-periphery nations.

Despite exhaustion, Sonny took us to a club Friday night. I nearly fell asleep on the taxi ride there, but a few Cokes gave me enough steam to make it the night. The sound system was absolutely top-line, which is probably why he likes the place so much – he works on speakers and sound equipment. Drinks were expensive, but the cultural lessons learned that night were beyond well worth the cost. I really felt like an obvious minority for the first time in my life on that dance floor. Clubs aren’t really my scene anyway, so even back home I’d feel pretty awkward at one. Never before have I felt so completely out of place, and it was a brief but enlightening insight into the lives of racial minorities back home. I feel a bit more understanding of how strange it must feel sometimes to be non-white at Geneseo, which is, unfortunately, very, very far from a racially diverse college community.

We got about 3 hours of sleep that night, then woke up on Saturday for market day. We drove to three separate rural villages around Kumasi, each specializing in different wares made and sold. The first was a Kente cloth village, which was originally modeled after a spider’s web and is traditionally made by men. There are varying degrees of complexity and materials, and I had the chance to get into the machine which the weavers use to try for myself. I got the hang of it pretty quickly, but I had absolutely nothing on the workers whose rhythm was absolutely musical in nature. The shopowners insisted we view each of their sections, so I thought it rude to not at least pretend to have some interest in everything. I bought a piece that I thought Erin would like, then avoided the rest of the shopkeepers and hawkers outside to get back on the bus.

The second village specialized in Adinkra, which are Ghanaian symbols that represent different ideas or philosophies. The Aya, for example, is a fern, and symbolizes determination and self-preservation. At this village the hawkers were particularly insistent and difficult to avoid. The ground was literally moving with ants, flies, other insects, and small lizards, which are more or less the Ghanaian equivalent of our squirrels. We were shown how tree bark is mashed up and heated to make the dye for stamping the symbols, and got to do a bit of stamping of our own. I showed some interest in a piece of cloth that was stamped with a pattern of 3 Aya and Barack Obama, but the original price of 10 Cedi was far too high. After walking away and back on the bus, the shopkeeper came to my window and offered to sell it to me for 3 Cedi and a pencil, which I couldn’t refuse. Pencils go a long way here, I haven’t quite figured out why. I wish I bought more before I came, both for barter and giving to small children.

Before the third and final village was lunch, where my Red-Red had some kind of unidentifiable spinal bones, which I assumed were chicken bones for the sake of not vomiting. The bathroom’s plumbing wasn’t working, so relieving myself without vomiting took some willpower.

The third and final village was a bead-making community. Once we arrived, we had to stay on the bus for about ten minutes, which resulted in a great deal of small children surrounding us, waving and smiling. As we walked about the village, they followed us and occasionally sang songs. Some of them were severely malnourished.


The village elders showed us how beads were made from recycled bottles and oven molds. I bargained for a necklace for myself and a few gifts for friends, but was quickly burned out on commerce and dealmaking.

Our last destination yesterday was the Kumasi Central Market, the second largest market in all Africa. It covers about 11 square miles. Eleven! That’s one more than ten! The size and scope of this place was incomprehensible. I have no idea how a local would go in and find any specific item. Certain sections had certain items – fish market, meat market, spice market. My sense of smell was barraged on all ends – peppers, raw meat, brain, pig’s feet, human waste being carried about, body odor. 3 of us nearly got separated from the group, and it would’ve taken the best search party over a week to locate us. After 15 minutes marching through the market avoiding shopkeepers trying to grab your arm and rickshaw-like cargo carriers racing through the tight alleyways, we escaped back to the outer street and climbed on top of the bus for a better view.


That night, we sat outside and enjoyed a few beers and relaxation. I slept amazingly well, but the still pillows and mattresses are taking a toll on my neck. I left a shower till the morning, as our water heater doesn’t work and it’s much easier to wake up after a cold shower rather than go to bed after one.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Arrived in Kumasi

Yesterday was a slow day to relax a bit. We did a bit of peer editing on each other’s assignments, had lunch at Chez Afrique, and had a lecture on the biology of Malaria. We had a lot of free time on our hands, so we took a taxi down to a tailor’s shop on the local main road so the girls could get measured for custom made dresses. They made me a pretty great offer to get a long-sleeve shirt made, so for roughly $20 American, I got myself measured, picked out a fabric, and come Tuesday, I’ll have a rockin’ new party shirt that’ll probably be the best-fitting piece of clothing I own. We took another taxi to Accra Mall to bum around a bit. On the way back, we were swarmed by cabbies which made it tough to bargain for a good rate, but we made it back to the hotel by dinner.

After eating, we called two more cabs to take us to Osu, a neighborhood in Accra with a good nightlife scene. We haggled for a good rate, then Mo and I went in opposite cars to make sure each taxi had at least one dude to two girls for safety’s sake. During the drive, Carrie got proposed to by a street vendor while we were stuck at a red light. Our cabbie told me where I could find the city’s best prostitutes, so I kindly gestured towards Carrie and Alyson and told him that I was pretty much OK, but thanks.

When we got to Osu, it was pretty clear we had no actual destination in mind. We almost got let out at a closed appliance store, but Mo came to the rescue and had his cabbie take us to a bar and pool hall that was actually pretty excellent. Shots were had and friends were made.

The shots that were had pretty much kicked our asses when we had to wake up at 545 for breakfast and our bus to the inland city of Kumasi, where I’m typing this now. Luckily, we had a nice big bus and we slept for most of the five-hour drive. Once here, we ate, had a lecture on Population Geography, and toured a museum for Ashanti Kings.

The lecturer was interested in waste disposal problems, so I got some more insight into the Ghanaian perspective on the issue. There’s a real lack of infrastructure here for refuse. Ghana needs organized collection procedures, treatment, and collection centers. I’ve seen probably about 5 trashbins since I’ve been here. Many Ghanaians don’t want to litter, but they really don’t have a choice. Given the health implications, this needs to be a development priority for the Ghanaian government.

 IMG_0658 These storm drains are meant for rain, but wind up being used for trash and human waste

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hangin’ Out

After Elmina, we drove inland to Kakum National Park, home of a world-renowned series of rope bridges which lead through the rainforest canopy. This was a hell of a great way to decompress. The view was incredible and awe-inspiring. About halfway along the course, the “rain” part of rainforest made itself known and known hard. It felt great.


We bought dry t-shirts and waited for the rain to subside before heading back to Accra for the night.

Everywhere is War

My alarm jerked me out of bed this morning at 5:45 Accra time. In order to beat some of the very horrible city traffic, we had breakfast and left for Cape Coast by 6:30. Something about the bus rides make me uncontrollably sleepy, almost like I have a concussion, so I was in an out for most of the ride.

Cape Coast is truly a beautiful city, and based only on the superficial environment, I prefer it over Accra.


Elmina Castle was built in the 17th century by Portuguese traders as an economic control center. It then became the largest slave dungeon, processing center, and example of Hell on Earth in West Africa. The Dutch took control of it for a while and were even bigger bastards to the natives than were the Portuguese.

Upon walking into the fort, the first thing that drew my attention was the church in the middle of the square. “Even the Devil can cite scripture for his purpose,” wrote Shakespeare.


After a brief introduction from our tour guide, we moved into the Female Slave Dungeon. 400 women were held in bondage against their will with only enough food and water to survive – and plenty of times not even that amount. The floors here were never washed, and the odor of human feces, menstrual blood, and sweat hung in the air. I imagine the only places on Earth that could feel so tainted are Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The Female Dungeon was located almost directly under the Governor’s Chambers, and he had the privilege of being able to call the women to order in the square, pick any one of them, and rape her. If the woman did not submit willingly, she would be sent to the Condemned Cell, where non-compliant Africans would starve or suffocate to death.

IMG_0603 Condemned Cell. No food, no water, no air, only death.

The Point of No Return was the last major part of our visit. This was the door through which Africans would be loaded onto ships to be taken across the world and used as slave labor. The portal seems small, but given that all the slaves passing through here had been mostly starving for months, it served its purpose.


Atop the Fort, there was really a very beautiful view of the city. It stunned me that the people here could enjoy the beach with such a stark reminder of humanity’s potential to be horrible looming constantly in the background. It’s almost as if someone set up a soccer field next to the killing fields of Cambodia.


Throughout the open areas of the Fort, small birds were flying about. I thought for a moment these were the spirits of former slaves, who had been forcibly ripped from their homelands and stripped of all humanity and dignity, returning to the last place they considered home to display their freedom in death and reincarnation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Today was a light day, with a lecture focusing on the sociology of Malaria and then a site visit to the Noguchi Institute, which was named after a Japanese doctor who came here to study Yellow Fever and died of it. It was donated by Japan, and every piece of equipment in the lab carried a “Japan: Official Development Assistance” sticker to advertise the fact.

Some in the group have been craving Western food, so we stopped at the Accra Mall, which was clearly built to Western tastes. We had pizza which made Dominoes look like Mama Lombardi’s, and it made me a little homesick for food and friends. Personally, I want to eat as much Ghanaian food as I can while I’m here, because I think it’s incredibly spicy and delicious. More importantly, it’s actually food, as opposed to all of the food-like substances we inevitably wind up eating back home.

Fully and completely exhausted. The slum really did take a toll. The rest of the night will be spent writing and relaxing with the group, because tomorrow we go to Cape Coast and the Slave Dungeon there, which I’m sure will be just as emotionally taxing as Ussertown was. I can't stop thinking about the 9-year-old girl who spends her days carrying 40lbs of water on her head or the 70-year old stroke victim who's husband left her for the United States and took their daughter with him, leaving her in a shantytown sweatbox with only her sister and extended family to care for her.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Empty as a Pocket

We just took a walking tour of a slum near Jonestown, in downtown Accra near the coast. I feel as if I’ve aged ten years in only two hours. Everything I’ve been studying for the past three years has just come alive in the most unimaginable sense. It’s amazing how few tears I saw – laughter was abound. I suppose that’s the culture and the coping mechanism at work. Kids were playing soccer, ping-pong, and foosball, and they showed off karate moves and gave us high-fives when we gave them some biscuits we purchased for them.

The atmosphere was hot at times and cool at others, the living spaces where people sleep (for those that are fortunate enough to sleep indoors) have no ventilation and few comforts of any kind. The people we met were sociable, warm, and welcoming. I talked to a girl who was waiting for her parents support to be able to afford college. She wanted to study Journalism. It made me feel horrible for abandoning that former dream of mine, if only because switching my field of interest was so easy to do. Because of the family I was born to and the place I happened to be born, I can do anything I set my mind to do. The people I met in the slum were all full of potential and dreams, but only lacked the capital needed to achieve them.

There is more to be said about today’s trip, but I’ve only just returned, and wanted to write some immediate reactions. I’m going to need much more time to process the sights, sounds, and smells of walking around an urban slum in the developing world.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Volta Region Day 2: You Could Just Be a Camel

We’re finally back in Accra after spending the weekend in the Volta region on the country’s eastern border with Togo. Last night’s digs were somewhat less than five-star, as our toilet gradually fell apart as the night went on and the room smelled inexplicably of must and urine.

This morning we had a chance conversation with a Ghanaian who told me his friends call him Kabila, because of his resemblance to the President of the DRC. He asked us our opinions of American culture, and more specifically, why we thought America was so powerful. I really had no good answer for the second one aside from military hegemony and economic superpower status. We talked of Ghanaian politics, and the consensus here is that, much like in the United States, there is too much apathy in the population. People don’t know their rights and don’t make demands of their government to deliver on the promises made during election season.

I told him that my biggest concern for Ghana after spending a few days here is sanitation. Not only the roadside toilets, but the refuse burning and the littering. I think it’s accepted only because there really is a lack of a well-developed garbage processing infrastructure here. Well-placed receptacles are few and far between and litter reigns. Not only does this detract from the immense tropical beauty of the country, it poses a very serious human health risk. Before coming here, I really didn’t expect this to strike me as emotionally as it has.

Other emotional moments have largely revolved around babies. Many women carry small children in a sort of backpack/satchel designed for this purpose, and the girls in our group tend to fawn over how cute they are, and they are cute indeed. However, my thoughts usually turn to the future of these children. They’re not going to be toted along by their mothers for long, and the Child Mortality Rate here is still far too high. Life expectancy is rising, but too slowly.

Finally, it seems nobody here is impatient or lazy. Things happen and delays occur, but there doesn’t seem to be the rage you’ll find on the streets of New York. I’ve always hated people that get outraged when a shop sells Pepsi but not Coke, and experiencing a culture like this is going to make that even harder to deal with when I get back home. Economically, everybody is producing and selling something. Small shops flank all the major roads, and women will come up to cars, busses, and taxis in traffic looking to sell anything from souvenirs to live crabs. Despite relative economic poverty here, everyone is trying to improve their lot. It’s very encouraging for the nation as a whole.

From our one-night hotel in Volta, we traveled to Volta Dam, and had lunch at a hotel which provided quite a beautiful overview of the Dam and the Lake. Hawks and Vultures flew overhead, enjoying the thermals provided by the intense heat and sunlight. I finally tried Guinness Malta, which is a non-alcoholic Malt beverage that tastes very smooth and very heavy.

IMG_0555 At Volta Dam

Volta Region Day 1: Throw Your Cedi in the Air!

A 2.5hr drive to the Volta Region was an experience all in itself. The distance from the capitol city and the quality of roads are directly related, as we got closer to our destination and farther from the city, we were navigating mud/clay/dirt paths littered with potholes and small ravine-like water damages. Speedbumps are very common as highways pass through villages, and they’re much, much more violent than back home. One particularly nasty one lifted me out of my seat and the ceiling of our bus whapped me pretty good upside the head. I felt the blow more in my neck than anywhere else, then promptly moved to an open seat where the belt actually worked. We stopped at the side of the road to walk into the bush a bit to use the Ghanaian bathroom, as they say.

At the Monkey Sanctuary, we bought some bananas and our guide made a kissing-like noise that attracted a large group of Roli monkeys. To feed them, we held the fruit firmly and they would skittishly approach, peel the banana themselves, take a bit of the food inside, then scamper off. This was about eighty times more fun than any zoo I’ve been to before.


Another 45-minute drive over unimproved roads and very beautiful mountainous terrain put us a 45-minute hike away from Wii Falls, the tallest waterfall in West Africa. The trek through the rainforest was certainly a sweaty one, but it was absolutely worth the trip.


Up in the air were hundreds, if not thousands, of fruit bats. I couldn’t get a good picture of them, but I did get a great one of this – an American proposed to his girlfriend at the base of the falls. She said yes. Which is good, because if she said otherwise, that would be a pretty shitty 45 minute walk back. This scene made me pretty pensive all the way back to base, where I bought the most delicious fresh mango I’ve ever had. I ate it with my knife, which was pretty much all kinds of badass.


Another hour or so put us at our temporary digs for the night. Tomorrow we get lunch at Volta Dam overlooking the Lake, then drive back to Accra.


Plant Medicine; Get Up, Stand Up

I type this from Hotel Freedom in the Volta Region. We’re sitting all together outside under a canopy in fan, Ghanaian Hiplife is playing from the bar speakers, and it’s a very relaxing scene after a day of being in the bus and hiking around. We’re really starting to come together as a group, and I’m glad of it. The room that Mo and I are sharing tonight? Not quite as great. I’m gonna need a beer or two before I can sleep peacefully tonight, but I think I’m tired enough that it won’t be too much of an issue.

Yesterday featured a lecture on medicines derived from Plants, then took a tour of a facility working on just that process as part of the Ministry of Health. In-between was lunch at the University, where I had Red-Red, which is a tomato and chili pepper sauce with black-eyed peas, served with chicken on the bone. I may have already mentioned it, but it’s delicious. I’m going to miss the food quite a bit. My major thought on plant medicine was worry that a large Western pharma company like Pfizer could come in and rape the land, while patenting their product back home and reaping major profits at the expense of the Ghanaian people and ecology.

We took a guided tour of the Aburi Botanical Garden, which served as a very peaceful and meditative oasis in the midst of poverty, sort of an inverted Central Park. I enjoyed it greatly, and for the same reasons I love Central – very calming, very relaxing, and you forget everything else around you while you’re there. We played in an old helicopter, smelled plenty of different spices, and touched a tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II.


Rockin’ them high socks, bein’ a cool kid


Dinner was at Chez Afrique, where the live band played Bob Marley tunes and Paul Simon/Ladysmith songs. A few rounds were had and group bonding occurred. We hung around our hotel a bit, then got around 4 hours of sleep before our weekend trip to the Volta Region.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Like Wearing a Raincoat in the Shower

I finally slept like a normal human being last night. Mohammad tried to wake me twice, but I didn’t roll out of bed until just in time for our 7:30 breakfast.

Our morning adventure was a bus tour of the University of Ghana. It’s the country’s major Uni, and has more or less any department you could think of. Tertiary education here is nearly fully subsidized by the state, but all graduates are required to do a year of national service following graduation. I think the Obama administration is pushing for a similar program in the United States, and I think it would be a great idea, but  it would be very hard to implement without increasing government subsidization of college costs.

IMG_0358 Dept. of Political Science. ‘Sup?!

The University has some elevation to it, and we were able to get out and grab a few pictures above the northern part of Accra.


After the tour was our first morning lecture on the topic of the Ghanaian health care system from Dr. Kofi Ohene-Konadu of the University of Ghana. He discussed the history of healthcare in Ghana as well as the major diseases and causes of those diseases that Ghanaians face. He recognized the connection between education and health care, while also acknowledging that a great number of people live in ignorance and simply don’t understand the risks associated with certain lifestyle choices. While Ghana has a comparatively low HIV/AIDS infection rate, he addressed this as a major problem, reporting that some men compare sex with a condom to a shower while wearing a raincoat or eating toffee with the wrapper still on.

Malaria was also a major issue, and the most interesting idea here was that of a “mosquito police,” which Malaysia uses to enforce laws which require citizens to pay careful attention to preventing mosquito breeding spots to form.

From 1985 – 2003, Ghana’s health care system was “Cash and Carry,” wherein patients at a regular hospital had to pay before being seen by doctors. This resulted in a number of Ghanaians sticking to traditional medicines (roots, leaves, etc) or not seeking treatment at all, and was replaced with a basic system of universal coverage which all Ghanaians pay for with an annual tax.

Lunch was at Chez Afrique, and I had chicken with fried plantains and Red-Red, which is a sauce based on black-eyed peas, which were Furgilicious.

On the bus ride to our second lecture of the day, we noticed garbage burning on the side of the road. There doesn’t seem to be anything like a city dump, so much of the trash probably gets disposed of in this way, contributing to environmental hazards here.

The second lecture was on the Bretton Woods institutions and the social welfare cost of conditionalities, something much more up my alley. Our professor was from the University’s Sociology department, and clearly fell on the left side of the aisle. I talked with him a while at the end about the Ghanaian view of the Bank and the Fund and he told me they have both largely been discredited. I don’t know if I fully believe that, because Ghana is widely portrayed as a very good student of the BWIs. However, we both agreed that Ghana, which stands to soon start making quite a bit of money from oil, stands to benefit from lessons learned in nearby Nigeria.

After coming back to our hotel, a few blocks of a walk to a busier street netted me a yardage of cloth and a Black Stars football jersey from sidewalk vendors. Bargaining and haggling is going to take some time to get used to, and I feel bad doing it, but it’s expected here. Another picture I took serves a second example of income disparity.

IMG_0381 Just because you own a Mercedes S-Class ‘Get Out of the Way, Poor People” doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a roadside mango

A quick lightning storm just passed overhead, so we ran out to stand in the rain and experience a coastal African lightning storm first-hand. It died down by the time we got outside, but some of the lightning was impressive.

If you can’t tell from the monotony of this post, I’m exhausted. The plan for tonight is to write a little bit more, do some laundry, then pass out hard. Tomorrow we’ve got a morning lecture followed by a site visit about an hour north of the city.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Accra, Accra!

Day one in Ghana. Today was mostly about getting our bearings; we took a bus tour around the city of Accra. Much credit is due to our driver, who somehow navigated laneless, half-paved streets lined with foot-deep sewage/rainwater drains of doom without once hitting anything.

IMG_0321Example of aforementioned Doom Drain

The level of income disparity was staggering, one block would be populated with Mercedes and Toyota SUVs, and the next would be a slum. I thought this picture captured that nicely…


It was market day in the Muslim neighborhood and the outer lanes of the street were filled with vendors selling everything from cell phone minutes to plantains and it took us about an hour to navigate a mile of road.


The women who balance various parcels on top of their heads are called Headporters, and are mostly very poor women from the north who come to the coastal city in search of job opportunities. Sadly, many of them live, eat, and raise children on the streets or in the slums.

That’s all for now. It’s time to drink seven gallons of water and then have a nap.

Alive in Ghana

Made it to the hotel in East Legon alive and well. My parents and probably Erin are gonna kill me because I won’t have internet or cell access until tomorrow.

The ride from the airport was unreal. Bobbing and weaving through haphazard traffic at nighttime with no geographic bearings whatsoever probably should’ve made me want to cry, but I was so emotionally numb after 14hrs of airplane travel that almost nothing would’ve been able to phase me. After a good meal and a hot shower, I’m ready for my first night of decent sleep in what feels like forever but is really only a day.

IMG_0316 Leaving Accra’s Airport via Suicidebus

We’re only in-country for a little over two weeks. Then it’s a few days in Amsterdam and back home. We’ve got individual rooms for tonight, so it feels a bit lonely right now, but we’re moving into doubles tomorrow.

Hopefully I’ll have WiFi access tomorrow and can start posting these updates. Breakfast is at 7, so it’s time for some sleep.

Somewhere Over Algeria

Roughly two hours into the AMS –> ACC leg of the flight. This one should clock in at just over six hours of airtime – slightly less than the JFK –> AMS flight. I don’t have any of that fancy midair internet magic available on this flight, so this won’t get posted until I’ve reached Ghana. That is, of course, assuming we have decent internet. I’m assuming we’ll take turns pedaling the bicycle which powers the 28.8kpbs modem we’ll have in our rooms.

I got up to use the bathroom as a result of overdosing on the Stroopwaffel I purchased in Amsterdam (I blame Joel) and the subsequent in-flight meal which consisted of shell pasta in a green sauce that resembled spinach. Luckily I filled up on Dutch pastries before boarding, so hunger is not an issue. The Heineken served on every KLM flight is a nice touch which helps one to forget they’re hurdling through the atmosphere at 650 miles per hour in a giant aluminum tube filled with aviation fuel, but makes you panic even more when you hear the pilot’s announcements in Dutch and, for a split second, think you’ve finally gone mad from 12 hours airborne.

IMG_0315 Our Boeing 777 for the AMS –> ACC leg

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Packing Up

Just about finished with all my packing. Scout is acting a 50/50 mix of concerned and lazy with a dash of tiny dog bark noises. I myself am 90% excited, 8% nervous, and 2% skim milk. I think I’ll be fine once airborne – sorta like the opposite of a kamikaze pilot. I’m headed out tonight with the guys for one last night of a regular LI summer before my 10PM departure from JFK tomorrow night.

Admittedly, this post was mostly filler to test out Windows Live Writer to see if I can write blog posts while offline then upload later. It seems like I can, so in a low/no-bandwidth environment, it should work out pretty well.

My next entry will be from either JFK, midair, or Schiphol Airport. See you on the other side!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Two Weeks

Would you always / Maybe sometimes / Make it easy / Take your time

There's exactly two weeks left until I leave for Ghana. Over the past month, I've gotten all the shots and pills I need, a new knife, a passport holder, and a water bottle that should hopefully mean I can drink the water without this happening:

Because that would be bad.

We've finally got a syllabus and itinerary for the trip. Some of the better parts include a trip to Elmira Castle, which is really more of a former slave processing facility/holding dungeon, one of the biggest in West Africa. We're visiting two preserves dedicated to Rhinoceros and Monkeys, and one dedicated to freaky hybrid Rhinomonkeys. We also get to climb across a rainforest canopy on a bridge made entirely out of rope and good luck. From the pictures I've found, it looks like something Indiana Jones wouldn't even cross. Unless he was being chased by a squadron of Rhinomonkey-mounted Nazis, of course.

There's a few free days on the schedule, so I'm sure I'll break free from the biology students and track down some more political or historical destinations, like Independence Arch, or call up Kofi for some lunch.

While originally the plan was to fly through Heathrow, it was much cheaper to fly Delta/KLM via Amsterdam. For a modest fee, Delta can delay my AMS -> JFK flight for a few days, so as long as the finances allow for it, I think I'll hang out in Amsterdam for a few days after Ghana to relax and partake in some delicious Stroopwafel. I'll visit the Anne Frank House, take a canal ride, and, if I'm lucky, see Van Gogh's earlobe.

I'll probably throw up one more post before I leave. Once I get to Ghana, I have no idea how the internet access will be, so I'm not sure how frequently I'll be able to update this. Pictures will probably not be an option until I get back home, but I think text updates should be a possibility.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


My deposit is in, my letter of acceptance has been signed, and my passport has been photocopied. Ghana is happening! It feels good to know the trip is definitely a go, but now I need to worry about getting my shots, shopping for supplies, and saving more cash for the trip. Seeing as how quickly the first half of this semester has gone by, it's going to feel like no time at all until I'm wheels-up from JFK, headed to Heathrow and then Accra.

It's time to get some stamps in my mint passport.