Friday, December 28, 2012


One of the best things about Ghana is the markets. These markets are the center piece of life in Ghana. They are where everyone shops for their ingredients but they house so much more than that. Along with piles of fresh produce from tomatoes to vats of ground nut paste to not so nice smelling meat, there is often a variety of other things for sale. Items for sale here seem to be either used clothing items from the Western world or reject items from Chinese factories. The saying one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is so true here.

Markets are usually found next to tro-tro stations and definitely fulfill the fantasy of African markets which has festered in my brain since reading about them in childhood storybooks. And the market of all markets is located right here in Kumasi. I still have yet to figure out its many nuances but Central Market is completely awe-inspiring.  It is loud, crowded, and filled to the brim with merchandise from a huge produce section to a neon meandering pathway filled with shoes to fabric filled corridors to hairdressers and seamstresses. It is an overwhelming place filled with so much your eyes don’t know where to look.Your mind wanders down the winding paths following the basket carrying girl whose eyes caught yours for a second. Her eyes, much older than her apparent age, gave away so much, yet nothing at the same time. As she disappears into the bustling crowd you paint her life story on the metal bowl carried on the head of the lady in front of you. 

I haven’t taken out my camera in the market due to it being notorious for crime since the amount of people makes criminals conspicuous. But I took a few pictures in one of the markets in Atonsu a wicked quick walk from my house. The quality of the images aren't good but here it's hard to take pictures since having a camera is such a frivolous thing, I don't like taking it out. 

On Christmas Eve, I accompanied my host mom into Adom, the name of the area that houses the central market & Kejetia tro-tro station. It was unbelievably packed with people. Here are some pictures of the crowds taken from a tro while we were leaving.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fish Out of Water: Being White in Sub-Saharan Africa

I am a fish out of water here in Kumasi; a bustling city full to the brim with colors, miniscule patches lush green fauna so covered in trash they are in inhabitable, and an incessant swarm of people, rendering it impossible for solitary runs. Impossible to go unnoticed, as I like, in the sea of beautifully dark skin that can spot my difference from a mile away. There is no fitting in, there is no blending in with the crowd, there is only attempting to imitate them, yet I am still distinctly different and I will never, ever be one of them for my skin color is too much of a barrier to ever overcome. They will always view me differently due to my skin color. This often saddens me since I will never get a truly African experience since I am stuck in the White man in Africa’s experience. The struggles I go through as a white woman in Africa in not something that I share with Africans. It is a struggle that I must bare alone, and it is a struggle that has united me to my fellow AFS students in a way nothing else could. We are experiencing something solely unique to being white in Africa, something which few people know but once they do they will never forget for as long as they live.  

Northern Ghana Trip (November 19th-25th, 2012)

Everyone with the Chief & Elders of Dalun, Northern Region, Ghana

J'adore les vaches. <3

Local Children in Dalun <3

Back in November, yes, I am really behind the times; I went along with the other AFS Students to the Northern Region of Ghana for what they dubbed “The Study Tour of Northern Ghana”. It was fantastic for a multitude of reasons. From the late night talks discussing the origins of religion, the universe, and the ever constant question of whether it is genes or ones environment that shapes a person to the amazing sights that Northern Ghana presented us.
Northern Ghana really is postcard Africa, the Africa that one dreams about, the kind straight out of a National Geographic magazine complete with beautiful traditional round huts, barefooted children carrying water to their homes from the local well, and a dusty hot atmosphere that shapes the savannah. Before we reached Northern Ghana we spent the first two days in Kumasi, real exciting for us Kumasi residents, sightseeing in places such as the Manhyia Palace, a museum of the palace of the Asantehene (the King of the Ashanti) which was an interesting mix of British colonial with traditional Africa memorabilia. One such thing that fascinated me was this wood throne, carved with intricate designs of African scenes such as lions and local fauna, yet it was distinctly European in its ostentatious design. This museum was really enjoyable and reminiscent of museums such as Willowbrook back home. It is interesting how museums come along with development, how the appreciation of the past is a high class thing that requires money due to the opulence of the idea if one has to spend all their money trying to survive.  Other than the Museum, we traveled around the outlying Ashanti region visiting a traditional bead-making place which was enjoyable and informative.
                The next day we started our expedition up North. We zoomed through the Kumasi directly north passing the mountain I would see every day from Atimatim. As we drove, we watch as the fauna changed slowly the rainforest fauna changed, fewer trees more open space, until one could sense the lack of liquid. The ground became dusty; the land gradually became grassland, the fabled savannah reminiscent of the Lion King and 6th grade science class projects. During our journey up North that day, we stopped at Kintampo Falls, a gushing waterfall which we were allowed to swim in. In was strait out of South Pacific, I swear (wrong location I know but I was still reminded of it). We were able to climb into the waterfall, have the water pleat down on us as we marveled at our fortune to be here.

                The next day we went on a safari! The moment all of us had been waiting for, us a generation raised on the fantasy of the Lion King, were all itching to go and see the elephants and other fabled African creatures. Sadly, the elephants were allusive as ever and the most exciting things we saw were antelope, warthogs, baboons, and a crocodile but it was extremely enjoyable all the same.  It was stunningly beautiful and as we wandered silently through the savannah, I was reminded distinctly of my own walks and runs through my neighboring abandon apple orchard in the fall. It was dry like it was in fall except much hotter, but walking through the tall grass made me feel so at home. I felt more at home there than anywhere else I have been in Ghana. That is what I did for fun, wander through nature, sure usually it was running but it was so gosh darn fun and familiar. It made me realize just how much of a fish out of water I am in Kumasi, a bustling city full to the brim with colors, miniscule patches lush green fauna so covered in trash they are in inhabitable, way too much trash, and a incessant swarm of people, rendering it impossible for solitary runs.


So much like the Abandon Apple Orchard next door complete with antelope that look an awful lot like the white-tail dear back home

After our two hour safari, we emerged, soaked in sweat, and begging for a dip in the hotel pool. It was perfect and definitely made for Obrunis since it lack the frivolous additions of opulent fountains or mini waterfalls that the Ghanaians love due to the perceived opulence of the pool. Another tell-tale sign that it was designed for Obrunis, was the depth of the pool which was a standard depth of 12ft that pools in the U.S. almost always reach to but are all but nonexistent here in Ghana a nation where most of the populace cannot swim.
After the Safari, we visited the oldest mosque in Ghana named the Larabanga Mosque, which did not disappoint. The architecture was phenomenal. My inner intense love for historical architecture was floating on cloud nine here as well as in the next place we stayed called Dalun which was full to the brim with traditional huts. After the mosque, we traveled to Tamale where we stopped briefly. Even though we were only there for a second, I feel in love with in it with the motorbike filled streets and the dusty clean air that passed through its streets. We soon continued on to the best place we visited, a traditional village called Dalun.
Larabanga Mosque

Dalun was so wonderful, it was traditional but being developed in the best way: sustainably. It was development the way it should be complete with cherishing their traditions which I sometimes feel isn’t existent in the city. In the morning we were received by the chief & the town elders who were called together by a talking drum played in a rhythm which must have signified the need to assemble and as each elder came in he was announced with a specific drum beat. It was marvelous. These men looked so wise. Their wrinkled faces, hiding wonderful stories I was dying to hear. They gave of the presence of deep traditional wisdom and my imagination wound a fantasy of a fire side story telling night in which the beautiful words that wove their tales in Dagbane were understandable to me.
The Village Elders & Chief

That day we crossed a river in a traditional canoe, the way locals do in order to get to the other side of the river with Jeneni, Nans, and others doing the honors of continually scooping out the water leaking into the canoe with a large tin Pomo can. We also we able to visit a mango grove and then were given free rein to explore the town which was the best thing that could be given to us. We wandered, taking pictures, holding the hands of beautiful children, playing games such as follow the leader with them, and even happening upon a political rally which here in Ghana always involves music and dancing which was marvelous. That night we even decided sticking with Western tradition of camp fires, to create our own which was highly enjoyable yet kind of silly since it was so hot that it didn’t really make sense to have one. But all the same, it was highly enjoyable and we ended that night by watching traditional dancers perform their arts to the beat of drums and beautiful voices.
We went across the river in one of these lovely canoes

A typical house in Dalun

Political Rally

Children curious why I put my camera near the ground

An Adorable Girl

This girl held on to my hand for hours and cried when I had to leave

Friday, December 14, 2012

T.I. Amass

My New School

On my first day at school with my wonderful new classmates <3

Amass is just so wonderful, I have only been here a week so far but I am completely in love with it. Being here is like what I imagined being an exchange student would be like complete with wonderful conversations with people that after almost four months without classmates who even scrapped the surface of a deep conversation. This week I have had so many and I am so, so happy. Being at Amass has made me float out of my trench to cloud nine. I have had deep conversations over cultural perceptions of beauty, what is socially acceptable (think America’s PDA epidemic), and best of all, religion.
Although I came to here to be a student, I have spent more time in limbo that actually in school, much to my chagrin. Yet, Amass was well worth the wait. This school is marvelous and such a night and day contrast from Simms.  What I am referring to is in the caliber of my classmates as well as their treatment & attitude toward the obruni girl. At Simms, I often felt as though I was viewed not as a human but as a physical representation of their intense desire for the Western World. I was considered by many as their ticket into the United States and the first thing almost anyone said to me was, “So when you leave you are going to take me with you, right?” or “How can I contact you once you leave?”-This one killed me since they didn’t ask how to contact me here; even if it was just to give the pretense they had any interest in me as a person instead of just a contact for their visa applications to the States. It is not like the students at Simms were not nice, it is just that I never was able to relate to them even a quarter as well as I have been able to relate to so many people here at Amass and it’s only the first week!
Some of the factors are different such as the fact that I am actually in a class of peers instead of juniors. Instead of being in Form 2 (a Sophomore level class), I was put in Form 4 (Senior Year) after convincing the assistant headmaster that I really wanted the academic challenge that I was really lacking at Simms. I think another major difference is that Amass is a Class A school while Simms was a Class D school on a scale of A-D, with A being the best. I’ll write another post to explain the Ghanaian school system more in depth since it is so fascinating and different from the American system but basically at the end of JHS (Middle School) all Ghanaians take a test and then attend a school that corresponds to their scores. I never realized the depth of my value of intelligence and meaningful conversation as a basis of relationships until I was placed at a school where I was essentially devoid of opportunities to bounce ideas off my classmates. Luckily, the whole time I had my best friend, Sarah, who in Ghana has progressed to sister, just a phone call away to discuss our observations of the days and ponder different attributes of Ghanaian society.
I started school at Amass at the beginning of their exams before Christmas Vacation. These exams are mock WASSE examinations which is a cumulative test that all Ghanaian high schoolers have to take in order to graduate from high school. The results of these tests are also the sole information Universities use for choosing who to accept into their school. I was a little trepid about taking test over things I haven’t learned but I really wanted to see how well I could do with no preparation. Thus far, I have taken a Math, Science, Literature, Government, and Oral Literature Exams. These exams are very similar to A.P. tests complete with a multiple choice section and a ton of on-demand essays. I really am quite a dork and have really enjoyed testing my memory and ability by taking tests that I haven’t prepared for just to see how well I can do. Literature was a bit difficult since it was mostly over specific books that I haven’t read and I had no who said what, when, and to whom as the multiple choice required me to. As for the rest of the exams, I think I did pretty well considering the circumstances.
All in all, I am extremely thrilled to be back in an academic environment surrounded by people who I can relate to personally and intellectually. I have really enjoyed testing my knowledge and ability with the mock exams and have enjoyed the people at Amass even more so. I have only been at Amass for a week but I love it here so much and wish that I could have been here since the beginning. Yet, I do understand that since I was able to experience Simms, I will have a view of both extremes of the Ghanaian education. And due to my first school experience I appreciate Amass, tenfold.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

And the President is....

It was just announced a couple minutes ago by the Electoral Comission that John Mahama will again be president. He won 57% of the vote while Nana Akufo-Addo won 47% of the vote. As the results were announced over the T.V. , horns (of the South African FIFA World Cup kind) and cheering exploded up the street. Interestingly, the power popped on in order for the news to be broadcast and then was cut back off right after the results were announced. Nana Akufo-Addo accepted his second narrow defeat for the presidency gracefully but now we just have to pray that the NPP supporters can accept it. At first sitting here in the dark hearing my host mom fuming in Twi mixed with English words such as "Lies" makes that questionable but I truly believe that people here in Ghana know that fighting really isn't worth it. Fighting doesn't do any good, it just ruins the things that were so painstakingly achieved.

Thankfully, Ghana has once again proven that they can have a peaceful election and can stay the beacon of democracy in Western Africa.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ghanaian Presidential Elections

*Disclaimer: This post is based purely on my observations and conversations. I have been very interested in attempting to understand the political climate here and would like to convey my discoveries to you guys as best as I can.

Just like in the United States, 2012 is election year with the Presidential Election taking place tomorrow, the 7th of December. Unlike the United States, Ghana is not a two party system, there are multiple parties resulting in 8 candidates vying for the presidency. Although there are 8 candidates, one only ever hears about two of them: the current president, John Mahama from the NDC and Nana Akufo-Addo from the NPP. Although Ghana possess many parties, the NDC & NPP are the leading parties and just like in the United States, pre-election this year, they are running so close in the polls that the outcome is unclear. The parallel to the US election stops there although I believe that the current president, John Mahama has tried to draw a parallel between Obama’s re-election and hopefully, his own.
There are many differences between the United States election and the Ghanaian election. Ghana is what they label as a “maturing democracy” having televised presidential debates for the first time this election. A another huge difference I have observed is that between parties there is no major moral differences or distinct types of thinking behind certain parties as there is between the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. Whereas in the United States, one can easily define Democrats as liberals and Republicans as conservatives, here in Ghana the political parties are elusive to be pinned down by beliefs. In Ghana, one does not vote based on who their beliefs line up with but rather on who they believe will actually do what they said they would. Each party blames the other of corruption and one has to vote for who they believe will better the country.
The main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP)’s candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo promises “Free SHS*” (*Senior High School a.k.a. High School as it’s called in the States). Yes, currently in Ghana people pay out of their own pocket for their children’s high school education which is hard a hard pill to swallow coming from the US which provides us with a stellar, free education from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Being here really shows me how blessed I am to be an American, I digress. At first hearing that one candidate promises free education, thoughts of how could anyone oppose that crossed my mind but then after considering it and conversing with people, I have heard there are many unanswered questions such as would he actually do it, Where would the funding for this come from, more taxes, Would it work, etc. As I earlier stated, one votes on who they actually believe will be true to their word and will better the lives of Ghanaians but there is much skepticism on every side that government is just corrupt in its entirety.
Other random tidbits that I have picked up about the political environment here are: Here in Kumasi, the Ashanti home land, is a NPP stronghold while Accra is primarily NDC. Also, I have heard that Nana Akufo-Addo, the flagbearer of the NPP, dislikes Muslims and gives off an air of disconnect due to his wealthy upbringing, including being shunted off to the UK for boarding school. (Hey, maybe there are more parallels to the US election afterall!)
In this race although there are two leading parties, I have felt like it is a three party race. The party which has taken up a large amount of advertising is the campaign for a peaceful election. West Africa is a region mired in political violence and Ghana is one of the few democracies left standing. Ghana gained its independence in 1957 from its colonial power, England, making it the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence. Ghana’s independence was followed by a series of governments created by coups. The current democracy has been running strong since 1992. Thus, there is a strong push for peace. People here want to keep their peace so much and there is so much publicity toward that affect that I would be shocked if anything happened. But then again, “it only takes a spark to get a fire going” and in a part of the world where electorial violence is so common, the concern is a very real tangible thing. In preparation for the elections tomorrow, ECOWAS was called in to help monitor the elections and schools closed for today & tomorrow with the warning to stay inside if possible. Even today, on the news there were rumors of premade ballots filled out for a candidate being found when a car crashed which makes the concern seem more understandable.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Host Family

I just wanted to let everyone know that on the 10th of November, I switched host families. I am now in a much better place but sadly, since it is on the opposite end of the city than I was previously, I had to switch schools. But truth be told, the switch is still in progress, and thus, I am school-less again. It is a blessing I had the foresight to pack a ridiculous amount of books. I want to thank everyone so, so much for their prayers & messages, I cannot even begin to explain how much I appreciate them.

I now live with a wonderful host mom, an 8 year-old host sister, and my host mom's sister.

Our Zoological Adventure

On Thursday, the 8th of November, (Yes, I am super behind times due to lack of internet.) Sarah, Nans, and I decided to visit the Kumasi Zoo since we are on a short vacation from school for Midterms. 

I highly enjoyed the Zoo, which is located in Center of Kumasi and actually holds a large amount of free green space which is not in ample supply in the rest of the city. The most interesting animals in the zoo were not actually part of an exhibit but were hanging from the trees. I am talking about bats, there more bats hanging on this tree than I had ever seen in one place before. They were tan in color unlike the brown bats that I know from back home and were chirping incessantly which mildly confused Sarah & I who could not understand why they were awake.

But other than seeing animals in the trees, wandering peacocks, and caged lions, the most exciting thing happened when we reached the chimpanzees. There was a chimpanzee there that I swear was a character out of a storybook. Swinging around, rattling his cage, and well causing mayhem for visitors. Instead of butchering the moment with words, watch this video to see the chimp in action.

After the chimp swung up and gave us a shower of spit, I decided to keep a safe distance from the cage. Sarah sadly did not share the same amount of caution I exercised and ended up getting poop flung on her. Yes, you read correct, the same chimpanzee that had just spit on us, picked up his own poop and threw it at Sarah. It landed on her shirt, leaving a lovely reminder of our morning adventure too close to the chimpanzee’s cage.

My Classes at SIMMS

My Classes at Simms:
My classes are:
IRS (Islamic Religious Studies): This class is by far my favorite class. Since it is an elective, there are only 5 of us. This I believe is due to the fact that everyone, excluding me, takes the subject that correlates to their faith. Thus, almost everyone is in the CRS (Christian Religious Studies). When the students found out I was taking IRS instead of CRS many were aghast and confused why the Christian Obruni was taking the Islamic Studies Class but I am so glad I did. I came here wanting to learn as much as I can about Islam, which is one of the main aims of YES, and am so happy to be in this class.

English: Really basic English grammar which at first I was appalled at the level of this class but then I realized, wait a second Lydia, stop being so critical, this isn't their native language what are you thinking? Our Madame, is a very interesting teacher who takes pleasure in punishments. She has made this girl who said leopard wrong write an apology letter for her and then had her read it in front of our class five times before telling her that it was not the correct way to write a letter and thus she had to write a new one. She had also pounded the class captain’s head & shoulders with a marker, and made some of my classmates who arrived to class late kneel at the front of the class for the whole 80 minute class period.

Literature: Well, I am supposed to have Literature but due the teacher being on maternity leave, I have yet to have a literature class. Here the idea of Substitute Teachers does not exist. If there is no teacher, then the students are obliged to sit in the classroom and study for the whole period. If the students get too noisy usually another teacher will come and cane or threaten to cane some members of the class.

Social Studies: We have been learning about the values, faults, & characteristics of each type of leadership there is which is pretty self-explanatory but my last class was the most interesting since my teacher has now started a unit on development and was discussing how the attitudes of people had to change in order for development to happen. It was very interesting for me to hear him point out the "faults" in Ghanaian society that need to be overcome in order for Ghana to develop. Some such things were Ghana's attitude towards public property as not their problem and their lack of a strong work ethic like Americans have. The last point got me thinking since, as a American I am very proud of the American work ethic for hard work=success but his statement made me wonder; at what point does development start changing culture? Ghanaian culture has its’ own values and way of life yet by assimilating with Western ways in order to develop, the quality of life may go up but will the quality of happiness go up? Development is a very interesting thing and I am not sure how I feel about it. Coming from the developed world, I have definitely reaped the benefits of living in a developed nation but sometimes I wonder if it is really a good thing.

Economics: Pretty basic Economics information such as the finding the equilibrium price, etc. The most interesting part is the few times that my teacher mentions facts about Ghana's economic system compared to the West.

Core Maths: A.k.a. Basic Algebra. This class is so easy it's sad. The math we are doing is stuff I had to do in my head last year. This class for me has consisted of my teacher writing the problems on the board which I copy down and finish within the first five minutes of class which gives me a whole period to read. The class is given about 20-30 minutes to finish the problems and then the teacher explains the whole procedure for the rest of the class.

P.E. (Physical Education): The BEST Class EVER! Sadly, I only have it once a week but I love it so much. There is a special uniform for this class as well which I don’t have but I have been able to borrow some of the other girls extra uniforms the past two classes. We usually end up playing football (soccer) and at the end of class their “cool down” consists of singing and dancing! How awesome is that?

Science: Science is broken down into four different introductory courses in Biology, Physics, Agriculture, and Chemistry. Agriculture is my favorite but all we have done is learn the advantages and symptoms of deficiency of a whole long list of elements. AS for Biology, it's so basic that even though I didn't have any notes and had only been to one class before we had a test I easily got a 100. Which seriously impressed the teachers but it was so simple, how could I not get a 100. Also here, it is totally acceptable to cheat blatantly obviously during tests which I didn't do but about everyone else in the class did.