Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Goodbye from Ghana

So, I definitely did not lay around and update you on my life like I thought I was going to when I was in Accra. This is my last day in Africa and I hit the city!
I am headed back up to my room to zip my bags and head to the airport in a few minutes. I can’t believe the time has come. I can’t thank you enough for coming along this incredible experience with me and for all your prayers and support. I will never be the same as I have been touched by hearts in Ghana because of yours. I am so grateful. I came here looking for love, the kind that penetrates your innermost being and I found it. I am not the same girl I was three months ago.
This song best explains my feelings right now however I have more than one Albertine. "Now that I have seen, I am responsible..."
Much love to you all.
This is Ghana girl, signing out.

May: Time Get Your Party Pants On!

1 May 2011
“I can do this.” I forced myself to sit up in bed and looked out my window to see the morning sun falling on Saboba. Lately I get headaches if I change altitude too quickly, and when you are just over 6 feet tall, that’s every time you stand up. I wanted to feel a little bit better than I was feeling, but I am still convinced even after the malaria diagnosis that I will be better off if I tell myself I am fine. I have not had a normal appetite lately, and needing to get back to fighting shape for all this traveling I have to do, I forced a bowl of oatmeal down. Dr. Faerk was there to join me, and I was so grateful for his company. This man is really great, and I so wish I could have spent more time in the hospital with him. He is an incredible man, very Dr. Nick-esque and I thoroughly our conversations. He is a quiet, contemplative man and you feel like he can see right through you with his deep blue eyes peering through bushy grey eyebrows over his glasses. We were casually having breakfast chat when he switched the subject.
“You need to be patient with yourself as you adjust back to life in America. It will take time. When my wife and I came back from Zambia (on a 2 ½ year term), it took us nearly a decade to feel completely accustomed to the life we left behind in Denmark.”
And he leaned in close with his hands folded on the table and said, “You have Africa in your blood. I can see it.”
I do not know what this means or why this made me tear up, but it did.
I wanted to go to church at Jonah’s to see a few people off, but I was too tired and slept until I heard Jonah’s voice in the hallway. He wanted to see how I was doing and invited me to a children’s program out at World Vision at 2. I did not want to go, but I told him I would. Did I really want to spend my last days in Saboba like this? Nope. I would dress myself in will power and head out the door.
A few small gifts in my hand, I headed out the door. If I was out, I should try and get some goodbyes and final visits out of the way. Dr. Jean was kind enough to let me burrow her bike and I rode off to Jonah’s. We didn’t leave right away, but took time to talk under the mango tree outside his yard. I love these times, and my spirits were instantly lifted. This was the best medicine I had had yet. One of the best things I brought to Ghana with me were bouncy balls for the kids. I loved those things as a kid and still do so I wanted to share some with them. They laugh so hard trying to chase one around that I couldn’t help myself from laughing. Jonah and I have had some really meaningful chats under that mango tree, and I was so grateful for this time with this family.
He loaded James and Rueben on the back of his bike and I jumped on mine and weaved around the compounds out to the children’s program. The place was combing with kids! The venue was changed to Pastor Jidoh’s church because there were so many kids… this is a great problem to have! There was not way to count, but I guess there to be 400-500 kids in that squished in that building and more were trying to get through the door. This program was the kick off the Children Evangelism Fellowship started in Saboba as an outreach to children. I was so thrilled for to be a part of this!
People here are shocked that I can ride a back, and when I tell them that I learned when I was a little girl, they are even more surprised!
I left there and went to my friend Solo’s house to see his wife and little girl, Benidita, off. It hit me as I was riding my bike thourgh the dirt trial that zigzagged between little round huts and compound- major Julia Roberts riding her bike in “Eat Pray Love” moment. The sun was beginning to set when I rode up. Bedenita, was in her best look- earrings and panties- and I was so glad to see her off in the oufit that suits her best. Solo and his wife will have their second baby in June, and I really hope it’s a girl so Benedita can name her Grace!
From there I went to see my hilarious friend Andrew, who is suffering from a broken foot after a motorcycle ran into him a few weeks ago. He is the one that dances and exercises when he is sick (I have his philosophy on such things on video), so I had to encourage him to dance the best he could with his arms and his good leg so he could get better faster.
My last stop of the day was the Jidoh residence. Pastor Jidoh, who I know jokingly call “Chief”, was in the yard and very happy to see me. I was in Accra but came back a day early so he could see me off, which meant so much to me. He said a whole bunch of things I will keep locked in my heart forever. I left with tears in my eyes.
All these people have welcomed me into their family without any hesitation. I am forever changed by the love and kindness they have shown me and their gallant, resilient spirits.

2 May 2011
I have said goodbye to my Saboba. I was fine until I saw James waving at me. I will process this all later. I can’t think about it now
I began my birthday celebrations with my friend Zee and her sister, and we had a fabulous time!  

3 May 2011
Year 24 is lookin’ pretty darn good.
My mom said this morning that she wasn’t really sure how she felt about this... my brother Galen turned 17 in Mozambique, I just learned 24 in Ghana and this summer Gavin will turn 21 in Morocco. Clearly Africa is the place to be on your birthday!

Full stories to come, but here is a brief overview:
-My final days in Saboba were the best with a very bittersweet goodbye
- Birthday celebrations started last night in Tamale where I was CENTIMETERS away from getting pooped on by a bat
-I shamelessly ate a whole plate of French fries
-Arrived safely in Accra this morning and spent the day running around Accra with a Danish doctor
-I found a book devoted to the color green and bought it, birthday dinner tonight complete with birthday sign (which I was thrilled about) and birthday brownies for all! I got to celebrate with the CUTEST little girl. SHe is two!
Thank you Jimmy and Sylvia of the Baptist Mission Guest House for making this day so fabulous!
-GI track nearly back to normal woo WOO!

Until tomorrow, my friends.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Monster of an Update

Well, it happened. I have a case of the Volta adventure-induced malaria. I have been feeling very tired lately and the digestive system was certainly not up to par, all of which started the day I left Kpando. Fortunately, I had two high powered antibiotics with me just in case, and started taking them in Kumasi with Dr. Jean’s recommendations. So after days of feeling tired and the classic case of the runs, Dr. Jean suggested I get out of bed yesterday and go get some blood work done. I knew it was for the best, but it took me all morning to get enough will power to walk in the scorching sun to the lab.
I saw it with my own to eyes through the microscope, which was actually kind of cool. In some ways it was a relief because I had an explanation and now could undergo appropriate treatment so I could get back to feeling like myself. I have some celebrating to do when I get back!
So, that would be the reason for my negligence these past few days. I am doing very well, especially this afternoon. Dr. Jean is the best possible person to be with right now and she is taking very good care of me. I am so grateful. I have the nightstand of an 87 year old woman with all the pill boxes and bottles as I am on five different drugs right now! I am fine though. Really I am. I am really, really thankful because for African newbies, it’s usually much worse. Last night was the worst I have felt, and I think that was because I was taking my antimalarial drugs on an empty stomach and oh… that was not fun.
While I have been sleeping a considerable amount these last few days, I did manage to see the President of Ghana and the nastiest hernia yet. I managed to pull myself together for an afternoon and evening long enough to greet President Mills (that really has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?) as he came to Saboba in his brief tour of the Northern Region. We just happened to be seated under the awning in the “chief section”, all of whom came walking in clad in their chiefly attire shortly before the President’s arrival. I am getting all the best that Ghana has to offer, and these experiences and pictures are invaluable.
The surgery that evening still gives me the willies. A 75 year old woman with a femoral hernia that was rotting from the inside out… just the sight of it was jaw-dropping and that was before I was close enough to smell it. I was fascinated and eager to see what this looked like from the inside. This was the best I had felt in days, but in retrospect, it was only adrenaline-masked malaria. I will spare the details, but that was definitely one for the books.

Because I feel good enough to be in an upright position but not well enough to leave the house, I am going to try and tough out the rest of my Volta stories…

Back to April 17th
I really love Kpando. It’s got a great feel, it’s beautiful and the people are nice. Today we had a Kpando day, which was a nice recuperation from yesterday’s climb to Wli Falls. There is a little boy Christopher who has latched himself on to Chris and his friend Allero who decided to join us for our trip around Kpando today. They are so sweet. I forget being in the north that Ghana was in fact once called “The Gold Coast” and was inhabited by several European settlers. Chris took us to a German governor’s house that was built the late 1880’s. It is on a hill overlooking Kpando, and we had so much walking up the old, crack steps and through all the rooms. I am fascinated with history, and I can’t help but imagine the people who once walked as I walk now through these remains.
We circled back around near where we began our journey. We were headed to the shores of Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake in the world. One of Chris’s Peace Corp projects is helping a group of farmers in this area in okra farming. Fun fact: there are only three Yoga “retreats” in the world and one of them in is Kpando. I don’t know exactly what this means, but if you are super into Yoga, I think it’s a big deal. The yogi’s house we passed was beautiful- blue and white, like Greek blue and white and moments away from the overlook of the lake.  Once we reached the top, we stopped for a moment to pause at the impressive expanse of the lake, in the shade of course. Chris gave us a brief history lesson and pointed out where his farmers’ okra fields were. There is a little fishing village right on the short called Toco, not to be confused with Togo, so we meandered down the long hill down to the shore. It was market day in Toco, so the village was bustling. I remember when my brother Galen went to Mozambique, he brought back the coolest pictures of sailboats. While his pictures are definitely cooler than the ones I got, the boats themselves were awesome. We wandered a bit and then took a cab back to Kpando because the kids were too tired to walk all that way (it was about a 5 mile walk). All 5 of us piled in the back seat and off we went!
Chris, Mike and I continued to a little village called Dzewoe (pronounced J-we… clearly a phonetic spelling) where Rosina, Chris’s other counterpart lives. This is the cleanest village I have seen in Ghana. Chris calls it the “Zoomlion Effect”, Zoomlion being the national garbage picker-upers. They are not in this village for some reason and because these people cannot depend on the government to pick up their trash, they pick up after themselves. She had wanted to serve us lunch, so we were wined and dined Ghanaian style. These people are so kind! We get their very, very best and I would be doing a disservice to my friends here if I do not make that a practice of my own. We had banku (again, slightly fermented mashed corn in a ball) with red pepper sauce and mackerel. And I ate it, with my hands, and actually enjoyed it. I can only stomach so much because I can only pretend I am ok with unknown parts of a fish for so long. It is so filling though and I usually can’t finish eating all of it. It is a known fact that the Carroll basketball girls can eat a lot, but these Ghanaians would put us to shame!
While we were eating, I heard this huge crack of what sounded like thunder. I looked out to see nothing but sunshine and blue skies. Odd, I thought. We presumed they were doing some kind of construction. Rosina is a potter, and Chris helps her and other women in the area, with their business side of their pottery. She showed us one piece to entice back to her shop the following day. Her work is impressive, and I was very much looking forward to seeing the rest of her work.  
Once outside, we saw in the distance a rather large raincloud brewing… so it was thunder! We started walking, briskly, opening to beat the rain back to Chris’s house. Our hopes were dashed with the first drop of rain. We jumped in a cab, with no defrost and road through Kpando with the driver wiping down the front window the entire time as we drove. Hot, hot heat mixed with rain equals lots of condensation and perspiration! I would have rather  walked, but it would have been quite a trek.
We took shelter under the awning of a drinking spot and waited out the rain. It was a torrential rainstorm, so loud we had to shout to hear each other. I thoroughly enjoyed it though. We didn’t have a care in the world. Three hours later, the rain finally stopped and we walked back to Chris’s house to make dinner.
The rain had knocked out the power so we ate by candlelight and listed to the rain that started to fall again. It was quite the experience. We always have good talks, so times like these are anything but dull. More stories of college, Mike’s wedding and possible future investments for Book Farms. Good times, good times.
I was able to talk to my brother Gavin that night, which was perfect because earlier that day, he got a special man ribbon he gets to wear permanently for his mad shooting skills, M16 skills that is. So proud of him for how well he does. He’s a really big deal.

April 18th
Today Mike and I were on our own as Chris had some farming to do. We were going to see the caves of Likpe Todome, a small village outside of Ho Hoe. While we were at the tro station, I introduced Mike to the egg sandwiches and Milo I rave about. He said I have led him to his two favorite foods in Ghana: Fan Yogo (frozen strawberry yogurt I live on) and of course, the infamous egg sandwich. We sat there at our table as we wait for the tro to fill and people watched, which is so entertaining here. I started laughing so hard as I watched a man literally shove a baa-ing goat in the back of a tro shortly before it took off. Enjoy your ride, goat!
When Mike and I arrived to our final destination, we had to wait for a little bit for our guide to come and take us up the mountain. Chris has a Peace Corp friend here, and she hooked us up with a friend of her’s to take us up. I didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. From the way Chris had talked about it, it sounded like a quick jaunt back into some caves- no sweat. Typical man… it was HARDLY that!! It was less than WLi, but only because that was a real doozy. Our guide named Joshua, who also sported flip flips, took us up a Fonzo speed. Not this again…
We had reached the top of the mountain to find two rope swings, which I took full advantage of. We had to hike around the back side of the mountain to get the caves. Again, I was holding on for dear life, shimmying across the side of the mountain, trying not to look down. The view was impressive- quiet little villages amidst the tropical Ghanaian brush and to the east of us was a Togolese village we could see on a distant mountain top.
The set up was this: there are six separate caves that were supposedly ancient dwellings of the ancestors of Likpe Todome. A meeting room, a dungeon, a sleeping room, the chief’s throne, and others I don’t remember as they were literally just holes in the ground. This was by far the most dangerous things I have done in Ghana. I was in Chacos (not smart) and completely and totally freaked out in some parts. I am not nearly as hardcore as my brothers, but I really try and keep up with them, which is why I go rock climbing with them on occasion. Though I have done it a few times before, last summer I had a complete meltdown 30 feet in the air for some reason. Galen had to climb up (without a rope!) and give me a pep talk. I tell them all the time learning how to deal with my antics will only make them better husbands. Anyway, I had to harness my inner-Galen that whole afternoon. Freaking out was only going to make things worse. I was sweating from the heat but from fear as well and I was completely soaked Completely. I have pictures to prove it! Everytime we climbed around one and into another, I considered it a moral victory. The fourth one and I laughed at. Joshua and his little flip flops whipped around backwards onto a ladder and disappeared underground. “Watch out for the bats” he says.
You have got to be joking me.
Deep breath. Big girl pants. I can do this. The other caves you could somewhat walk into, but this one I had to turn around backwards, squeeze through a small hole and climb down a ladder hoping I would not disturb any bats. It was so eerie inside. I could feel the wind of bats flying past me inside the dark cave. We had a weak flashlight and a few sunrays gleaming through the hole in the top, but that was it. This was room they slept in, though if it were me, this would have been the dungeon!
Yes, I was scared several times, nearly out of my mind, but I did have a blast. This is something I wanted to do, and I am really glad I did it. Unfortunately, this day of all days, I forgot to bring enough water with me. My nalgene was only half full when we started and it was completely empty at the top and we still had the caves to climb through and to get back down. Coincidently, Mike had also not brought any with him so we were some seriously whipped whites once we got back to the village. When I get tired like this, I have one speed and that is first gear. And I do not change that speed for anyone or anything. It is survival speed! Joshua and his flip flops were yards ahead of me with Mike following behind him. I was so tired coming down the hill and I stubbed the side of my toe on a sharp rock, so until enough dirt got in my sandal, my toe was stuck the inside of my shoe from the blood. Gross.
Once rehydrated, we walked through town with the help of one of kind man who was friends with Jeanna, Chris’s Peace Corp friend. Her project is to help a group of woman start a batik business, a technique used for dying material in the neatest patterns made from wax and dye. There work was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this process. Jeanna had just finished a two yard piece of material that she laid lace on top, mashed kasava (a starchy potato-like plant) over the lace, pulled the lace off, and dyed it, leaving behind the pattern of the lace on the fabric. Super cool.
I really enjoy traveling around here. There is a lot that could go wrong in a short amount of time and the ever-present language barrier, so it is very satisfying when you get to where you want to go for a reasonable price in one piece. We did not have Chris with us today, so I had to step up to the plate. When Mike and I arrived back in Kpando, I might have given myself a pat on the back.

April 19th
The Potters of Fesi. That was the highlight of the day. After a good morning chat over some coffee and Milo, we headed out to Rosina’s shed in a nearby village called Fesi to see her handiwork. The Volta is such a beautiful area, and I am impressed with its beauty the more I am here. We walked around a grove of trees to a large shed with open sides except at one end where her gallery was. Around the edges were pots of aloe plants and vases beyond vases. It was incredible! Rosina was there to greet us with fresh mangos, and once we perused around her gallery for a while, admiring her work and then we sat and talked for a while. I watched her as she worked… they do not use a wheel. All her work is formed from the bottom up by hand. What craftsmanship!
On our way back, we stopped on the road side and bought water while we waited for a cab. Everything in Ghana is placed in a black plastic bag. Though I am sure there are some exceptions, every place I have seen only uses the same black bag. You can imagine how easily things get mixed up if you are not careful. We had to pile in the bag because there was already one small little lady in the back, so I had to sit on Mike and put my head in between the two people in the front seat. It was hilarious. We realized when we got to the station in Kpando that we had an extra bag that felt something like a… dead animal?! Where in the world did this come from?! We laughed so hard at the oddity of this whole situation… only here would this happen. We determined it to be part of a cow leg and gave it to the taxi driver. We found out later through a very random chain of events that Chris had accidently taken it from the people we bought water from that afternoon.
Funny, funny things in Ghana.
I loved hanging out and traveling with Chris and Mike, but I had not had Nikki time since I left Saboba. Too long! They guys wanted to go to this wood carver’s place and I opted to stay back at Chris’s for some time alone. I didn’t even do anything. I just sat in front of the fan. It was wonderful.
That night after dinner, we played with Christopher, his sister Mary, and Allero for a while. Mike and his trusty headlamp was on dish duty so Chris and I were running around with the kids. Valentine and Valentina, the cute little hellions that they are, had to join in as well. I should explain to you the dish washing protocol at Chris’s: find a large bowl and place on the ground, dump semi clean water in, add dish soap, scrub, rinse in other large bowl of semi clean water. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes its room temperature, but at least the food is scrubbed off right? Oh dear, that was a new one for me. Needless to say, I did the dishes most of the time so they were done right!
Because Chris had such an early morning, we did not have our usual late night chat and all went to bed… or mat if you were me.

April 20th
To the coast! Chris had a Peace Corp meeting in Accra this morning, so he had to be get up at 3:30 to make it to Accra in time. Mike and I felt like professional tro riders at this point, so I was quite confident we could get Accra just fine. Get there we did, but I was so unbelievably uncomfortable smashed in the front! These things were not built for tall people and I was so miserable. I fidgeted for over four hours, and was probably really irritating the girl with the box of avocados and plaintans in my space really irritated. At one point resorted to beating on one of my legs to get some feeling back into it! I
How telling for the rest of the day…
When got to Accra and I managed to uncoil myself and stumble out of the tro. Never again. That was miserable. We were going for luxury next time. I am too tall for this! Chris had met us there and gave us instructions to the resort we were staying at in Elmina. He was held up again, so we would have to continue on without him. Directions in hand, we climbed into a cab where I had the whole back seat to myself and road to the next station to catch a bus to Cape Coast. I didn’t want to spend any more than 10 cedis for this trip, but I was not going to sacrifice my legs again. Once out of the cab, I was bombarded by drivers all trying to sell me something. I get so annoyed by this and bull dozed my way through the crowd with Mike behind me. There were two ways we could do this: take a Cape Coast bus and a cab further west to Elmina, or take  the bus to Takoradi, which is farther west and get dropped off at Cape Coast. There was a very nice, air-conditioned bus for 6 cedis I just happened to walk into. Perfect. There were two seats left. This was perfect!
My hopes were dashed the second I saw the seat left for Mike and I. Not only was there no leg room, but I was on top of the wheel well! I was so frustrated but always conscientious that I represent the U.S. whose global popularity is debatable at times, I did not want to cause  a scene and sat, sideways. Mike, sorry buddy, your legs are just going to have to go in the aisle! So that’s how we sat for the next three hours to Cape Coast, my bag on top of me, my legs awkwardly in his leg space and he was completely sideways in the aisle. I am sure it was quite the sight. I have learned the perk about not-so nice buses. They do not have any of their Ghana shows playing. Not only do I not enjoy them, but they are SO LOUD!! It makes me irritable. My hearing is too sensitive anyway, and the sound can be nauseating as there is no way to escape. I was so grateful when we broke onto the coast line for a distraction from my cramped legs, aching back throbbing ear drums. It was a clear, sunny day and the waves washing up on the white sands with naked little black bodies running down them was a sight I will have in my mind forever. It was breathtaking. White castles, remnants of old European houses and little shanty huts are all randomly dot the hillsides, overlooking the water. It is a visual paradox.
This was unlike any part of Ghana I had seen before. As we pulled into the station, cab drivers began yelling and beating on the bus windows before the bus had even stopped. This again… I pushed my way through the shouting and heckling, one was so bold to grab my arm, which infuriated me. I walked far enough away to gather myself and let my legs come back to life before I made my next decision. Chris said the place we were staying at was not well known by the cab drivers, so I had to tell them we were going to a place by Coconut Grove, a very popular resort. After negotiating the right price, I jumped in the back, rolled down my window and relaxed. We were almost there.
The drive from Cape Coast to Elmina is about 30 minutes and it’s all Highway 1. We were right on the water and it was just beautiful! Coconut trees, awesome African fishing boats, cute kids running on the beach. It was a very enjoyable ride. The resort we were staying at was called Stumble Inn, but as Chris said our driver might do, took us to Coconut Grove, so we to back track and continue west until we finally found a sign. I was not really sure what to expect out of this place, from the road we were trying on, it might be a hole in the wall.
Wrong. Oh so wrong!
We walked to brush line and to see open beach with tiki huts, chairs and hammocks. This was amazing!! We were greeted by a sharply dressed man with stylish wide brimmed glasses name Kofi. I had known him for 2 minutes and I could tell he was excellent at what he did. He knows Chris so I did some name dropping as we walked down to the bar area to get our arrangement settled. During our walk down, I discovered Chris had not made a reservation, so we could very well be out of luck. Mr. Kofi said not to worry, we would figure something out. We just needed to rehydrate, sit down and relax.
Sure enough, no room in the inn, but he was determined to accommodate us. While he was one the phone, this adorable little blond with a killer accent came over to welcome us. She was Seitska (that is so not the correct Dutch spelling, but it’s the best I can do!) from Holland and she was one of the managers of the Stumble Inn and was delighted to have us. I explained our situation and she was devastated they did not have a hut for us. Surely they could figure something out…
About that time, Mr. Kofi got off the phone. If it would be ok with us, he could arrange for three tents to be spent over and we could camp out on the beach for 5 cedis a night. I think he was reluctant to say that at first, feeling bad for giving us a second-rate offer, but he did not know who he was talking to. This was even better than a hut! When am I ever going to camp out on an African beach again?! I was so pumped. It was going to be a good hour before they could have them delivered, so we were invited to put out stuff behind the bar and go enjoy a hammock.
This place was incredible. Concealed between two major resorts, this is clearly a hidden gem. More than affordable, much more remote and beachy than the grandeur of Coconut Grove, and the ideal place to spend my time on the coast. The sun was just starting to set behind the coconut trees, lighting up the sky with oranges and pinks. So picturesque. I had to pinch myself to make sure this was really real. I had a splitting headache from the traveling, and I did not move for my hammock for a good two hours. Mike and I were joined by Alex, a Belgium doing some research in Ghana. We had a lovely chat and my headache eventually evaporated.
As the sun disappeared, the place became alive with lanterns, creating an unforgettable ambience.  They were dotted over by our tents, around the beach, on one of the tables near the hammocks by the waterline. A warm breeze lightly blew as I sat with Alex and my new British friend Stuart in the main lodge. Alex, Stuart, Mike and I ate our meal of yam, palava (some collard green looking mixture) with two whole crabs. I am not sure how to eat crabs (something I need to figure out) and fortunately neither did anyone else at our table so we knife and forked the living daylights out of those poor little things, laughing the whole time. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy meeting new people, and the only ones I have run into here have been really, really nice people that will sit and chat for hours. These are my kind of people!
Mr. Kofi and Seitska were floating around, doing that really charming thing they did so well and Andre, Dutch turned Brit, was behind the bar. His accent was a perfect blend between the two as he has lived his half of his life in each place. It was fascinating to hear how people ended up in Ghana and furthermore, at the Stumble Inn. Seitska, for example, was traveling for eight months around the world with her boyfriend and stayed for two months at a place just down the beach from the Stumble Inn. They had only planned to be there for 2 weeks, but the managers needed a quick getaway so they asked Seitska and her boyfriend Aaron to run the place while in their absence, which is just bizarre.  They had liked it so much and had done such a good job that the British couple who own the Stumble Inn asked if they would be interested in managing it for a few years. So, they quit their jobs, brought their two year old son and came. Just like that!
It just so happened that night that they were having a group of drummers and dancers come in to entertain the guests. It was one of the most fascinating and bizarre things I have ever seen. I had no idea what they were doing half the time, but I was certainly entertained. The pictures are worth a thousand words.
I was starting to fade quickly, and knowing what I know now, I think it was the malaria talking. I grabbed my things and headed through the lantern lighted path to my little, one man tent. I was hit with the awesomeness of this situation all over again. I threw my stuff in there, and grabbed what I needed and hit the outdoor showers made of bamboo… which came up only past my shoulders, so I had a nice view of the beach while I was shampooing. Two thumbs way up! I was so happy to under a constant flow of water rather than the interment splashes of a bucket bath back in Kpando that I stood there, indulging for longer than I probably should have.
I walked back to my tent, zipped myself in, and laid down looking at the palms of the coconut tree high above me (no, nothing fell on me!) A warm breeze gently blew as I replayed the day’s events in my mind. This was amazing, and I could not be happier. I have so much to be thankful for and I went to sleeping that night counting blessings.

April 21st
This was a great day, but by far the most frustrating day yet! We were victim to the language barrier and idiot cab drivers. After a nice breakfast on the beach at the Stumble Inn, we set off down the water line, past Coconut Grove’s beach and into the actual town of Elmina, a small fishing village with the notorious slave castle. It absolutely baffled me walking through there why in the world people would build their livelihood so darn close to the water! These houses were literally right on the beach. I could not believe it, but then again, my roots are deep in landlocked frontier of Wyoming. I would rather get blown up by Yellowstone than washed away at sea, that’s for sure.
Today we were Kakum bound! This is a national park located about an hour north of Cape Coast. According to one source Chris read, Kakum National Park has one of the top 5 canopy walks in the world. I am not much a flora and fauna buff. I just wanted to climb in the sky! We were 40 meters (~120 feet) walking around on suspension bridges made of mostly rope and boards at the bottom to walk on. I absolutely loved it. Chris had my camera so he got some great pictures and video footage, which turned into a Wyoming bashing session. Imagine that!
We walked out of the park and waited by the road on a bamboo bench for a tro to come take us back to Cape Coast. IF they did come, they were packed to the max. We waited and waited. Waited some more. This guy who works around there started talking to us, which was quite entertaining. I asked him to take a picture of the three of us, since I didn’t really have one yet and he got some hilarious pictures. What ended up happening was right as he was taking our picture, a tro came and I was so excited! Chris stood right up and Mike was just staring at it like it was too good to be true. The guy kept taking pictures the whole time and the progression is so comical.
Our next destination was Elmina Castle. Tourist spot, yes, but an important part of African history that we needed to see. We ended up driving around Cape Coast trying to get things squared away for me to leave and find ATM machines and lost Mike in the process…
All we really wanted to do was get back to the Stumble inn and lay on the beach all afternoon, and this running around was really ticking me off. I did not lose my cool though, and it helped that Chris is a super chill guy. We reunited back at the slave castle, and I got a quick private tour by a super nice guy named Gideon. I wanted to see everything, but I did not need it to take an hour. Mike was already there as we had got separated so we finished at the same time, which was great.
The castle is really beautiful if you don’t think about what happened there. Built by the Portuguese in 1482, It is all white with black trim and bits of green from the plants, one of my favorite color combinations. The beauty of it quickly faded as I began walking in the dark, cellar like rooms. As Gideon walked me around, explaining that this small room, with only one hole for ventilation is where they kept 130 woman. No bathroom. No bathing room. All that on the same floor they lived in… so revolting. And this hallway, this leads to the point of no return, which is a small window they had to go through to get on the boats. There was an open area in which the Dutch officials could look down on the woman they herded into the bottom. They would scout out which woman they wanted to rape and she would climb up these hidden stairs to the governor’s bedroom.
That is just not ok, and it happened over and over again.
What really struck me is that in the same castle all these hellacious acts were happening, there sits a church on the other side of the courtyard. There are various inscriptions through the castle with biblical references. I think they missed something!!  
I stood on one of the balconies overlooking the water thinking about all of this. The sun was setting and sight I saw was just breathtaking. Gideon was looking at something on the other side of walkway on top of the castle, and I was grateful for a few minutes to ponder this alone. So much beauty that housed so much pain.
Snapping back to reality, I walked down the stairs and met up with the guys. Stumble Inn bound to celebrate our last night. Mike was flying out the night day and I was headed to Kumasi. On our way out of the castle, a man approached us wanting to tell us something. Chris is really good at dealing with these people (which means I do not have to) and he is really good about being nice but direct. This time however, he decides to tell the man that I am his wife and he would like to sell me. How much? A few guinea fowl? A half a beef? How much? Mike jumps in with his opinion as the guy is sizing me up, looking at me if I was a cow to buy. I wanted to knock their heads together, but I had to laugh. This continued with all the cab drivers on our way back to the Stumble Inn. There is not enough guinea fowl in the world for this girl!;)
I am so thankful for these last few days. I have seen and done so many amazing things and this is exactly what I wanted. I am so thankful for Chris’s mad tour guiding skills and for such good guys to travel with. We had one heck of a good time.
I will miss my one man tent on the coast of Elmina.

The next few days I spent in Kumasi with Vincent Asamoah and his amazing family. They were an absolute God send to me. I had a huge bed, a huge fan and the space I was craving. I was completely exhausted from the last week and really was not feeling very well. I spend the first two days sleeping the afternoons away, but eventually recovered. He showed me around Kumasi, his basketball courts he is working on, introduced me to his coaches for Shoot For Life, his kids’ ministry centered around basketball, which is foreign to a lot of people here. I really should spend more time introducing him to you so you can understand his ministry, but I am getting very tired of this computer. I filmed him talking about it so hopefully some of you will see for yourselves and jump on board. He has such a great vision, and it’s worth sharing.
His wife Doreen is all that is African beauty. I would get excited every day to see what she was going to wear. I referred to her as the “Queen Mother” the whole time just so I could hear her laugh. It’s the best. They have three kids who are wonderful: Amma-13, Kwame-11 and Afia-8. We spent Easter together, which was a very special thing for me and Afia and I read a lot. I taught her and Amma how braid. Afia ended up getting the comb so stuck in my hair that Doreen had to break it in three places to get it out haha! Afia felt so bad she wrote me an apology, which was just adorable.  They lived in the U.S. or a few years, so they had a wonderful selection of movies. “Beauty and the Beast” on Easter evening during the comb-breaking incident really curbed the homesickness I was feeling that day. I had Disney songs stuck in my head for the next two days!
This was a really refreshing time for me, and I am eternally grateful to this family for taking me in and making me feel so at home. We will be friends for a very long time.  
So that about covers it, folks. That is a long one, but at least you are filled in. Pictures to follow soon.
Again, I am feeling much, much better as the meds are kicking in, so you do not need to worry. The worst is over, and I am in the hands of the world’s expert in tropical medicine. All signs point to “good to go.”
This could be so much worse, and I know your prayers have kept me from the extreme, and I THANK YOU for that.
I am getting very excited to come home and see my peeps again. I am really missing you!
Apologies for the many typos- no proof reading tonight!
Much love.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The EPIC Falls of Wli

"some things weren't mean to be tamed... including you."
~Wyoming tourism commercial

My darling friend Kelsey left me this note on my imaginary mirror from Chicago this morning as she used to do for me in college. Great way to start off the day!

It was good to be back in the hospital today. Lots of crazy cases! While I very much enjoy traveling, I really love the intensity of the hospital. There is a Danish pediatrician, Dr. Faerk, here now and he is a wonderful man. I thoroughly enjoyed doing rounds with him this morning. He is such a good teacher and took time to explain things and let me palpate whatever it he was examining. I learned a lot! There is a 13 month old who Dr. Jean did a colostomy on earlier who came back to get reconnected. Colostomy bags are a luxury… this little boy simply has a piece of cloth the mother has tied around him. Otherwise, the end of his intestine is literally open to the outside of his body. It looks like a giant, squishy, red Life Saver candy on his stomach with poop in the middle! How’s that for an analogy?
I got very tired today doing rounds. It is so much hotter up in the north, and it hit me like a sack of “welcome back” bricks. I am going to be freezing when I come home! I came back to the house and sat on my bed to regroup around just after noon. I laid back just for a second and two hours later I woke up in the exact same position, which I thought was rather impressive.
Needless to say, this has been a very lazy day. Recovery needed!
Confession: Besides missing my friends Krista and Robbie’s national television debuts on “Minute to Win It” shortly after I left, I have been totally ok without TV. Until this week. I am missing Royal Wedding week!!! I remember the day in checkout line at the grocery store skimming magazines when I found out Prince William and Kate were having an April wedding. I nearly cancelled my trip! I am completely fascinated with the royal family, which makes me sound so townsfolkish. So Mom, stop of Dad’s recordings of his man shows and record the next two days on TLC and E! News ok? I am sure he will understand;)

Ok so, we left off on the monkeys yesterday, but first, I must keep things consistent and properly introduce two new characters:
Chris Massie- Illinois native and Peace Corp volunteer in Kpando, Volta Region. We met at Mole )Holy Mole!) where we discovered his hometown is in the same area as Dr. Jean’s and that she knows his parents. He is good at what he does and SUPER chill. He is the reason my trip to Ghana is complete. I could not have asked for a better person to travel with because he knew all the good spots, not found in a travel guide, and the cheapest way to get there. Really nice guy, but I found quickly, a bit sassy! He was the perpetrator of all Wyoming jokes I endured this entire trip. It was me vs them, and you KNOW I held my own!
Mike Book- good college friend of Chris’s at Illinois and they go way back to freshman year when Chris was the cool, party boy and Mike was the social recluse. They really should never have been friends, but became the best, and I thoroughly enjoyed their reminiscing. He is engaged and will soon move from the accounting world of Chicago and take over the family farm. We had lots of good talks about life, love and marriage as we spend lots of time together traveling. Typical accountant, he is the guy that read, and quoted, the entire Bradts travel guide before he came and asked a lot of questions there were no answers to and would have been completely lost, literally, without me when we were out on our own. Thank you, Dad, for my sense of direction and common sense! Another funny feature about our friend Micheal: He went from super excited to get married, to wanting to live forever at the Stumble Inn back excited to get married. It was quite hilarious.
We talked a lot about politics, college, family, Mike’s wedding, farming and potential investments for Book Farms (the running joke of the trip). Fortunately, we all have a good sense of humor and are nice people, so we got along really well and had a great time. They are conveniently bigger guys, so the rate of proposals and heckling went waaaaaaaaaaaaay down. I was not bothered once when I was with them! Except when they tried to sell to a Ghanaian man… story to come.
That night, we stayed with one of Chris’s friends and fellow Peace Corp volunteer, also named Chris in the village of Tafi Abuipe. This tiny little community is known for its kente weaving, which is very unique pattern they make lots of tradition clothing out of. Chris took us the “weaving shed” where there were several looms set up, and weavers flying through their work. It was a truly impressive sight. A barn full of color, and I got great video clips of the weavers at their craft. They are so talented. We ventured through the rest of the town and found more weavers as most do their work from home. In the villages, especially in the North where it is so dry, it is a very monochromatic world. The ground, the huts, the roofs are all varying shades of brown. In Tafi Abuipe, the dismal brown color pallet is strung with vibrant pinks, oranges and blues. The thread they weave with is stretched yards away from the loom, so you are literally stepping over stands of color as you walk. It was fascinating and really beautiful. Chris’s counterpart (Peace Corp vocab word meaning native person you work closest with on your development projects that will take over when you go) Aikins picked me the most beautiful purple flower of a vine during our walk. I pressed it and saved it because I liked it so much.
I had the best banku and okra stew I have ever had this night. It was so peppery hot and delicious. Picture this. There is no dining room area in his house, so we had to set up a table and chairs in the guest bedroom. Me and three dudes eating banku with our hands.. the one thing I did NOT get a picture of! I am sure it was just hilarious. There were lots of really funny things about Chris’s house, and one of them was the “latrine”. This was the first hole-in-the-ground toilet I have encountered here and I survived that just fine… like a true lady;)

The next morning I awoke to roosters crowing as the sun broke out over the horizon. I went outside to the shack with the hole-in-the-ground before the boys were up (strategy at its finest). Today was a big day, one I have been waiting for for a very long time. Wli Falls.  
Chris, the one I was traveling with, had to go back to Kpando so Mike and I went ahead to Ho Hoe, our starting point to Wli. Chris had arranged for motorcycles to take us to the main road where we could catch  a tro to Ho Hoe and wait for the other Christ to get back from Kpando. I seriously love these motorcycles rides even though they are undoubtedly the most unsafe means of transportation in this country! I think that is why they are so fun.
In retrospect, I severely underestimated the severity of this hike. I had no idea it was going to be as tough as it was and not having a decent breakfast that morning was the worst thing I could have done for myself. I bought this gingerman shaped roll of bread off the street out of curiosity (cool shape- I’ll try it!) rather than necessity. This would be reason number 2908432 I am writing the makers of Clif bars a personal thank you note when I get home. I am not even being dramatic when I say this, I would have passed out if I did not have one in my bag.
 Chris found Mike and I and he negotiated a decent cab price for us and off we went. To the falls! I really took this backpacking thing seriously and thought for some unknown reason that I should take it up the mountain with me against Chris’s advice. “It’s pretty steep…” I insisted. Note: we were going to Kpando from Wli, so I had to bring all my stuff with me from the other Chris’s. It was a risk leaving it at the place we had to pay and I didn’t feel like separating out my camera, my money, my trusty Nalgene and my chapstick and other necessities for any excursion, so why not take the whole darn thing? If it wasn’t for Fronzo, yes FONZO, our wirey little Ghanaian guide in plastic yellow flip-flop, I think I would have died.
The plan was to go to the Upper Falls, the hardest part, and then down to the Lower Falls. It would take us a good 2 hours to get to the top.
The trifecta was ready: Nikon, Nalgene, Nikki.
The forest was so beautiful as it was nothing like any forest I had ever wandered through. We wound through, pineapple plants, bamboo groves, teek trees, several other plants that bushwacked me and the river trickling down from the falls. We crossed it a total of 9 times I believe before we got to the Upper Falls.
Before we got to the hard part, and I didn’t know it was the hard part, Fonzo stopped us and made us drink while he handed each of us a walking stick. Without a word, he came to me and pulled my backpack off of me, put it on his back and took off. It was when I started to climb up an 80 degree grade that I realized he had to have been thinking “you stupid American” when he saw me with that backpack.
Up and up we went at Fonzo speed (he was like Ghana’s equivalent of the shirpas in the Himalayas), so I had to go into basketball practice mode. There was no talking or laughing. I had to focus. If I fell, this was going to be a very,very bad thing. My legs were burning, and all I could think about is Dr. Gretch’s lecture in biochemistry on glycolysis, nerdy as it may be. My muscles were being sucked dry of sugar to keep my body moving because I had not eaten a proper breakfast. TISK TISK! I was about let to get pride get in the way, but I made the group stop for water and rest. I was starting to see black stars of the Ghanaian flag. Luckily the hardest part of the ascent was over, so in a few minutes, I was fine and we continued.
I learned something about myself. People who are legitimate outdoorsmen/women enjoy hiking for the journey rather than the destination. I do not think I am one of those. I just want to get there, especially when I get excited about where we are going. I was over the “scenic trail” and just wanted to be at that waterfall!!
I could hear the roar of the water for a longtime coming. My excitement was the only reason I was the only thing keeping my legs moving. I thought maybe after this bend, or that curve, or that hill we would be there, and we weren’t. Ahh! Stop teasing me!
My friend Christina says that girls don’t sweat, they glisten. I was so far past the glistening point by now. I was soaked, literally from head to toe and felt disgusting. If the wet rat look was in this spring, I would have been first out on the runway!  
I finally saw the pool through the trees and flipped on my video camera. This was so exciting!
The brush opened into the white sands around the pool and the water spilling from the top of the mountain roared into the pool.
I am going to use my word again: EPIC!!
I pulled my sweaty, nastified hair out of my pony tail, and took off into the waters of the majestic falls. I felt the spray on my face as I feet splashed into the pool. At first it was a trickle, and as I moved directly under the falls as I had seen myself doing in my mind’s eye, the water beat down on me. I stood there for a moment, immersed in the roar and the cool thrill of the falls.
I was so happy, like deeply fulfilled happy. This is exactly where I wanted to be in November when I first laid eyes on this place, and I was so satisfied that I had completely such an ambition of mine. This was so totally liberating.
We stayed there for quite some time. Chris, Mike nor I said anything for a while, taking it all in. Actually, I wasn’t talking because I was mowing down a Clif bar to prevent another star-spangled episode! There were white lilies that grow all around the falls, and they had so much to the pristine landscape. I talked with some Brits who were behind us for a while, one was actually Swedish, so I guess I should not lump them together. They were super fun. Chris took a picture that just cracks me up. They are playing in the water and I am just walking out of the waterfall and something about it is just funny to me. I keep trying to put captions to each person in the photo.
We moved to the Lower Falls, which had too many people as it an easy, level hike into that one. We didn’t stay there long because of that and the fact that we were all starving. There was a woman selling bananas and I ate four of them in a matter of minutes. So good.
We made our way back to Kpando and landed ourselves a table at a  little drinking spot (not as cool as the pink one in Saboba). Dr. Jean introduced me to Alvero and I love them because they are good and they come in a green bottle. They are my lemonades here. There is pear, pineapple and passion fruit and I don’t have a favorite yet. According to the label, they are a “non-alcoholic malt based beverage.” I never thought one could make malt-based anything so good!
Cheers to us.
The sunset was setting on one of the greatest days in Ghana. We were laughing and talking politics like old friends. Satisfied, we left and walked to Chris’s house to make dinner. TOTAL bach pad! The fridge had a bunje cord around it to keep the door from falling off, which was my favorite feature. There is a small front room and then his bedroom. That’s it. It was so tiny and three of us were going to be living in here for the next three days. Right on. I laughed out loud at that point, and put my bag down by my bed aka mat on the floor and walked back outside to help with dinner. He lives in a complex with a really great purple gate with several other families. There is a large courtyard in between with a community kitchen and bathing room and toilet swarmed in flies. Fun fun fun! It just so happens that one of the families in the compound has the cutest set of twins EVER- Valentine and Valentina. I had a random photo shoot with them one day. I couldn’t help myself.
I laid down on my mat that night, clean from my bucket shower and surprising comfortable, and replayed the day’s events in my mind with my eyes closed and a smile on my face. I have so much to be thankful for and I made sure to thank God for every little thing that day.
This is such a good life.

Well kids, that’s it until tomorrow. It’s bed time!
Please watch as much of Royal Wedding week as you can for me!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Distract Yourself": The Return to Saboba

Deep sigh.
I did it. I made it back to Saboba, alive and in one piece. Epic adventure complete. I have searched the English language, and I simply cannot find a word more fitting, so over-users of the word epic, stop for the duration of this entry, because right now, that is my word.
I had to be up at 3:30 this morning and be at the bus station by 4. I have never in my life seen such mass chaos at such an early hour. That was the most disorganized group of humans I have ever seen in my life. This particular bus line is how do I say it, DEAD LAST, in comfort and quality of transit lines, but it was the only one that left early enough so I could have a chance to Saboba in one day. I am not above a new experience, so I thought I’d just add this one to the list. It was hot, crowded, sticky and loud ALL day. It took 6 hours from Kumasi to Tamale. The Young’s friend, Big Man, is the MAN and is a master networker. He has a friend that works in Tamale at this bus company that personally came to see that I was taken care of and found my bus to Yendi. I am so well taken care of here, and I am so grateful. Bob was coming to meet me in Yendi and take me the other half of the way to Saboba, so I only had an hour and a half in a bus. That is nothing right? Well, when there are three people in a seat, people standing in the isles with suitcases, plaintains, and nasty fish in your face, it suddenly became light-years. But I had to stay strong. No time for sickness or a heat stroke. An hour and a half. That’s a short basketball practice… I can do anything for that long! I found myself singing to the song “Express Yourself” and making up my own versioin. “Distract Yourself! What ever you do… don’t freak out!”  It worked, so you can totally borrow it sometime.
Every good story has a beginning, so it is only fair I start there back on the 13th. I actually wrote an entry in Accra, but forgot to post it, so I am going summarize and continue onto the good stuff. However, this story is going to come over a few days because there is so much to tell.
 Kristi and I had a great time in Tamale. We had Austrian neighbors, a 4 hour nap in a cool room. So nice! We met Zee for dinner to celebrate her birthday at a really great restaurant with a lovely, dimly lit patio AND THE WORLD’S SLOWEST KITCHEN!! You want to see nice girls get angry? Make them hungry. It was worth the wait though. That pizza was so delicious. Gosh I miss cheese.
My 12 hour bus ride from Tamale to Accra was a total success, and I had a blast.  I could not have asked for a better way to see the country than to drive on all the bad roads right through the heart of it. I did sleep for maybe an hour and read about 10 pages, but the rest of the time, my eyes were glued to the beauty of Ghana outside my window.
Before I left, my Aunt Dena reminded me from a rather traumatic experience she had traveling and warned me I might have to pay for toilet paper or I could get chased down. WELL, turns out that the same thing nearly happened to me. That was the nastiest bathroom I have ever been in my life and they followed me in there to collect their money. It was nearly terrifying, yet really funny. Don't you worry, I have a picture of the toilet as proof of what I was up against.
I met this guy, a very nicely dressed gentlemen, who claimed to member of the royal family of the Dagomba tribe from Yendi which is the fairly close to Saboba. Right on... you and everyone else! He was very kind to me and was the reason I ended up in the right place! I was trying to tell Henry, my awesome driver friend in Accra where I was... I had no clue. I just know I am in Ghana and am back to the clueless American girl I was two months ago. I finally just handed my royal escort the phone, told him to talk to Henry and tell him what he needed to know  and then tell me what I was supposed to do. They spoke and laughed in Twi, hung up, and he filled me in. I was good to go. Then I realized, there were THREE stops the bus made when we got to Accra. Oh dear. The really nice, Ghanaian lady next to me (who picked up on the clueless vibes early on) was trying to figure out what station I needed to stop at. We passed the first one- well, not that one. I just assumed because Henry didn't say anything it was the last one. I had just finished declaring this, rather assertively to her and the two German girls I had been chatting with on the way, that I would be getting off at the last station. Not two seconds later, our royal highness runs back to me as the bus pulls in to the second station and says this is where I am suppose to get off. We all started laughing. He grabbed my backpack (let's not overlook this- a back pack. That is singular. BIG DEAL) and we headed off the bus where his Ghana smarts led him to Henry, a man he had only talked to on the phone. They exchanged some words and shook hands and off we went. Thank GOD for my suave, royal friend!
Kristi and I had to say our goodbyes. It was so good to see her when I arrived at the guest house in Accra. This is the longest we had been separated for a month! She greeted me with a hug and the true gesture of love and friendship, a typhoid-free piece of fruit, an orange to be exact. I didn’t even wash my hands off afterwards just so I could smell it on my hands… desperate times call for desperate measures here people. We shared a room on purpose and said our goodbyes. I was so thankful she was here for me even though she had a rather um, unpleasant sickness! Miss you Kris!
Henry, driver extraordinaire, picked me up the next morning and sent me off to Ho Hoe via tro. Ghana vocab word: a tro is a ghetto fabulous beater van that is occasionally made before 1980 and air-conditioned. They are the vehicular equivalent of Mary Poppins’ bag. You would NEVER guess looking at the size that so many people, goats, kitchen sinks… you name it can fit in one of those things. The marvels of the tro will be discussed many more times as this story unfolds.
It was such a relief when I met up with Chris and his friend Mike in Ho Hoe. Finally, someone who knows what is going on! We had lunch and then from there we went to a monkey sanctuary outside a little village called Tafi Atome. We jumped into another tro for a bit, were dropped off on the side of the road and jumped on to three motorcycles like we were secret agents and the drivers took us into the wild. I had bugs on my teeth when I got off I was smiling so big. Ok not really, but I was totally loving it.
The three of us got off the motos like secret agents do and walked into the forest with a sack of bananas. We didn’t have to hunt at all as there was a group of monkeys  right by the road! Here monkey, monkey. They were fascinating to watch because the one in charge was trying to eat all the bananas and keep all the little ones away, so it was quite comical. There was one crawling down a tree next to me so I held out a banana. It stopped, checked to see if the big one would see, and looked back at the banana. The monkey was in midair before I realized it was actually going to jump on me. Right one my arm! It shoved half the banana in its mouth and scurried up the tree before it got caught. I was thoroughly amused by this and made a game out of it- just how far can the monkey jump? If I hold it here… or out here… It was awesome.
Aunt Deb, I have so many great pics for you!
Alright, more tomorrow. I can hardly see straight I am so tired as my 3:30 morning into a tin can of sardines on wheels is getting to me. Typo apology! My brother Gavin, the finest cadet in the whole Air Force Academy, told me I had to give him all the information of the two guys I was with and notify him of my location at all times just in case he and his posse had to come save me. So let it be known to my dear brother and to all, I am SAFE and SOUND in Saboba. So happy to be back!
Good night!

Monday, April 25, 2011


OH MY GOSH do I have stories for you!!! It is all I can do not to go into story telling mode. I only have a few minutes so I must be brief! These last two weeks have officially been the coolest ones I have ever lived, and I have officially surpassed my own expectations for myself... officially. I can not believe some of the things I did (and lived through haha!) and the things I have eaten and literally, by the grace of God, have not gotten sick from. Oh He is so good to me, and I sincerely thank you for your prayers.
I am currently at an internet cafe in Kumasi on my way home to Saboba. I am staying with the coolest family ever here. He is a friend of Jonah's I met in Saboba and has is trying to get this basketball ministry off the ground here (more on that later), so this morning, I was running through plays with a bunch of Ghanaians... in a dress. We had such a blast!
 Here is the plan: I am hoping if all goes well (and it never does in Ghana when it comes to traveling) that I will get back tomorrow night and then I will have the time and resources to update you on my travels.
Here is a preview of what my life the last two weeks has been like:
I have been to 7 or the 10 regions in Ghana, and navigated my way through half of them by myselfWITHOUT getting lost (pause for a pat on the back). I hiked to the highest falls in West Africa and went crawling through caves. I had a monkey jump on me while I trying to feed it a banana (and have photo documentation of me screaming- hilarious). I am now completely comfortable with the fact that I sweat 432809324 liters a day and look like a wild woman 98% of the time. I have slept in the most odd places, which proves that I can in fact sleep ANYWHERE (this is a huge accomplishment for me). I got chased down for not paying for my toilet paper... this is also the day I learned there are urinals for women... I hung out with 3 Austrians, 1 Brit, 1 Belgium and got my fill or Euro-charm haha. I attended the coolest Easter service and could not pay attention to the preacher because I was in a sea of African fashion. I slept on the beach in a one man tent, which was just incredible, and  really, just had the time of my life. 
So much more but I must go. I am running out of time.
Just now that I am safe, and oh so happy, but I am getting really excited to come home and see all my peeps. I really can not thank you all for your prayers and support. God has done and will continue to do so much through your generosity and I hope you know that.
More updates to follow and pictures... oh the pictures I have for you!
Love to you all!!

Gma Ali- this is doubling as an email to you... I LOVE YOU!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adventure Sequence Lauched

I am just going to be honest- if I hadn’t spent all my time in a gym growing up, I would have been on the stage, more specifically the spotlight. It is not that I have a lofty opinion of myself, oh no nono, I just really love singing and dancing. Though I am convinced that the rendition of “Just A Little Bit of Love” I sing in the shower is second only to Celine herself, I really am not that great of a singer. I have pitch, which is more than some, and that’s about it. As far as dancing, I am probably the only one that thinks I have killer moves, but I firmly believe that I am the only person who needs to think that. So, when I woke up with a song in my heart and a pep In my step, there was only one thing to do: I turned on my tunes for 7:00 am dance party. It was great. Just great.
I think it was side effects from yesterday. I got probably the greatest footage of my trip (besides really awesome surgery stuff) in the lab yesterday. Once work slowed down a bit, I had to interview my friend Jacob about his thoughts on Celine, which he took very seriously. He told the audience that he had 118 of her songs, which qualifies him for die-heard status, and we followed up with a little duet, which was delightfully awful until my camera ran out of memory!
What was even more hilarious was that shortly after this little interview, Jacob and I did round two after clearning some space in my camera so the stage was set to perform “Because You Loved Me.” We were all over the place, verse one, verse two, the end of verse one. Jacob was in the middle a really great break out when my friend Fidelis, who gave me this awesome necklace, barges in the door. Perfect addition to the party. He is totally up on his American tunes so I had him sing “Forever Young” by Jay Z and he nailed it. This sing along continued as he is threw out names and sang some more songs for us…. And the camera was rolling the whole time. It is such great footage and I die laughing every time I watch it.
I feel it appropriate at this point to give a heartfelt shout out to my awesome camera girl Miss Kristi Christian without such dedication behind the camera, none of this would be made available for your viewing pleasure.
Such good people here and they never, ever cease to entertain me.
And seriously, I am sending this to Celine and I really think this could be my shot at a friendship- like Christmas card kind of friends. “So, how are the twins?”
This is ridiculous. I know. But it’s so much more fun being this way.
Today I spent finalizing a few things before our 6:00 am departure tomorrow. Let it be known to the world that I am the WORST packer. I never know what I am going to get myself into and I need options. I am not high-maintenance. I am indecisive in these matters, and Kristi saw how pathetic this was so she decided to help. She has been living out of suitcase the last year of her life doing rotations in a new place every month, so she has beyond expert status. Before you judge, you should know that I am trying to fit all of this into a backpack. Yes. A backpack. I am attempting to live out of a backpack for 2 weeks. There might be one small little purse bag thing additionally but that’s a given. I am girl. Duh.  I just feel like one is so much more credible traveling through a foreign country with a backpack. So, I am not taking my computer and will be at the mercy of internet cafes if I can find them to keep you updated on what I know will be the COOLEST trip ever! I am so excited!
So here is the general itinerary:
Tomorrow: Tamale. Pick up passport with newly extended return date. Hang out. Explore. Celebrate Zee’s birthday tomorrow evening. Girl’s night out!!
April 14th: A friend of Abraham’s is taking me to the bus station at 5:30 am because Bob and Dr. Jean need to take Kristi to the airport around the same time to fly to Accra… ask me how not happy I am she is not coming on this trip with me. It has been sooo nice having here here. We laughed a lot together and had some really great girl talks, which I have needed this week. HOWEVER, I am very happy she gets to see her family. Back to the itinerary… Get on bus. Ride for 12 hours if… IF my friends, nothing goes wrong, which is highly unlikely. Proceed south across the fine country of Ghana to Accra. Arrive. Lord-willing between 7-8 pm at the bus station where this super nice man named Henry will pick me up and take me to the guest house I stayed in when I arrived. Kristi will be there so that will be just great.
April 15th: Another early morning! Henry will pick me back up and take me to…. Well. That’s it. That’s all I have as for as concrete plans. How fun is that?! It just depends on where Chris is at. I will go to either Kpando (pon-do) or Hohoe (ho-hoy), which are in the same general area. I will go by “tro” ( taxi… kind of;) to one of those two places where will spend the next week or so or however long I feel like it exploring the Volta!
Fun fact: Lake Volta is the largest manmade lake in the world. We are going to do some awesome hikes. The mountains on the southern Ghana-Togo border are the highest in Ghana I believe. Don’t quote me on that, but I think I read that somewhere. There are caves we will explore, a monkey sanctuary so I can take a picture of, I mean FOR, my Aunt Deb. The area Chris is in is known for its pottery so there will be come great stuff to observe there and finally…. The long awaited, much anticipated WLI FALLS!!!
I would just love to enlighten you… I didn’t know that was the name of it when I saw it, but when I saw it, I knew I had to go find it. Last November, one of my good friends at Carroll did some majorly impressive networking and got the producers of the most incredible documentary “The Human Experience” (STOP READING AND GO LOOK UP THE TRAILER ON YOUTUBE) to come for a private showing in Helena, Montana. Daniel Pearson, definitely one of your finer moments;) I decided in August that I was coming to Ghana, so when I discovered a portion of it was filmed in Ghana, my interest was piqued. After watching it, my interest was through the roof. There is this amazing shot of them at some waterfall and I just had to go find it so I could see if for myself. Without knowing the name or location, I went to work and did some investigating shortly after I got to Saboba. I looked through guide books. The internet was no help and until one day, in this great book, I found it. It was a picture and I knew that was the one I wanted. I was so excited I had a name and location for it so I could start planning a trip to see it for myself. Confession: I have a slight fascination with waterfalls and it goes all the way back to my childhood. We rented George of the Jungle the DAY it came out when I was in 5th grade. George takes Ursula to this amazing waterfall and kisses her behind it, and my enchantment with falling good ole H20 was solidified for all times. It’s one of those someday things that girls like to dream about:)
And then whenever I feel like heading back, I head back through Accra where I will stay again. And then I will stay in Kumasi with my friend Pastor Vincent Asamoa and his family for a few days over Easter and then head back to Saboba from here. Though I am very much looking forward to exploring the Volta with some super fun people, I am just as excited for my time in Kumasi. Pastor Vincent is just the neatest guy with such a love for basketball and kids. I am not really sure what he is going on there in that regard, but I will find out. I just want to help him anyway I can. I think it will be so refreshing for me to be with him and his family. The guy just oozes God’s love, passion and charisma.
I attempted to make a map for you so you can see where I will be.

So… there you have it. I will post updates when I can, but I anticipate I will be off the air for much of the next two weeks.  But, don’t you worry. I will fill you in when I return with plenty of stories. I am so excited about this. This was just an hopeful idea and it has grown into a reality. I am telling you... We are meant to dream!!
I hope you all had a great day. To my awesome friends and family who have sent recent emails, the internet has been very slow here and really tests my patience… and wins. So I am not ignoring you. I love your emails and truthfully tried to respond. For instance, Aunt Deb, I tried to send you one back THREE TIMES and it didn’t’ work!!
K. I’m out. I’ll see ya on the other side with blips in between. Epic adventure has begun….