Well, I think it’s been about 2 or 3 weeks since my last blog… I can’t quite remember, but we’ve been either on a shaky Internet connection or no Internet connection aside from the occasional Internet cafe since my last blog. As I’m sure you can imagine, quite a few things have happened since that time, so I’m going to attempt to limit myself to a paragraph about each, otherwise I’ll be spending my 2 weeks left in Africa on the computer blogging
I think the last time I blogged was prior to our weekend trip to Mole, Ghana. It was about a 10 hour bus ride up to the northern part of Ghana, which is where the animals are. We arrived Friday night and then woke up early Saturday morning to go on a 7 am safari. It was absolutely amazing. Now one must keep in mind that Ghana is no Tanzania or Kenya so we didn’t see any lions or zebras, but we did see antelopes (and various breeds of antelopes), warthogs (which I love so much, strangely), many types of birds, the eyes of crocodiles in the watering holes, monkeys, baboons, and elephants! Some of our group actually got charged at by one of the elephants, which was highly amusing to reflect upon, though it was definitely a scary moment at the time. The enormity of the elephant was striking to see… it’s one thing to see them in zoos back home and an entirely other-worldly experience to see them in their natural habitat. In fact, some of us loved the first safari so much we decided to go on a second one in the afternoon. The morning one was on foot and the afternoon one was in a jeep, which I got to sit on the roof of which was amazing. Northern Ghana is extremely hot (and our room the first night had no air conditioning and virtually no fan, which, suffice to say, was quite the uncomfortable night) but it was all so worth it. I think in many ways the landscape and experiences we had in Mole were the Africa most of us had idealized in our minds as what we’d see most of our time here.
After Mole we spent another week back in Kumasi, Ghana at the University Engineering Guest House. Then, that next weekend we all separated off into groups of 2 or 3 to go on homestays in the community. Myself, Maggie and Margaret got to spend the weekend with a Muslim family–three brothers and a sister who were all either in their 20′s or 30′s. The brothers had started a NGO that helps out orphans and juveniles in the community, as well as providing HIV/AIDS support groups in the area. We got to visit the orphanage and also sit in on a support group meeting which was very moving. On the Friday, we all went to mosque, as Friday is the day for all Muslims to pray. It was a very interesting experience for all of us I think–also, since it was a Muslim neighborhood we heard the call to prayer at all hours of the day, including at 4am every morning. The sister in the family, Latifa, is a fashion designer/jewelery maker and we bonded a lot with her. We helped her make beaded necklaces and bracelets all weekend, and she showed us how to cook one of our favorite dishes here, which I don’t know how to spell but sounds like eto’o. It is made from mashed plantains and groundnuts (which we hand mashed with a bowl and pestle), palm oil, chives, eggs (which we didn’t include) and plenty of avocado. I would like to mention that avocados (or pears as they call them here) are HUGE. I’d say at least double the size of the typical avocado found in America. And very cheap. About 50 cents or less usually. It was a wonderful weekend which was eye opening to how people live in Kumasi–removed from the hotels we’ve been staying in.
As soon as we got back from the homestays, we left Kumasi for Cape Coast, Ghana. On our way to our hotel we stopped at Kakum National Park where we hiked up the rainforest and walked across seven narrow bridges through the canopy. It was absolutely breathtaking… I personally felt as though I was in an Indiana Jones movie. After navigating our way back out of the rainforest, we made our way to our hotel which was right on the beach! Suffice to say, I think most of us dropped our bags immediately, threw on our swimsuits, and went swimming. The waves here are incredible–huge and very very powerful.
The next day we went to Nzulezo which is a village on stilts. It was about a 3 or 4 hour bus ride to get there and then we had to take a 45 minute canoe ride to get to the village. The only way for me to describe the ride in words is that it felt like we were canoeing through the Amazon. Amazing. We arrived at the village and took about a half hour tour through it. It is 600 years old, which is incredible for me to imagine. The whole village is literally propped up out of the water on wooden stilts next to a swampy forest. After canoeing back to our bus, we encountered another adventure–as our bus backed up to turn around, the back tires got stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. So here we are, 40 Americans and a giant coach/tour bus, trying to dig out the wheels to make a 4 hour drive back to our hotel. After two hours and help from the locals, we finally we able to push and pull the bus out of the hole having gotten planks of wood under the tires. To add to the drama, about ten minutes before we started to pull it started to storm. Full on thunder and pouring rain–we were starting to think we were spending the night there. But, alas, we made it out, a little wet, but very relieved.
The next day was a wonderful break from all our travels–after classes we spent a free day on the beach, reading, swimming, and just some general hanging out in the sand. So great. Then the next day we went to two slave castles, Elmina and Cape Coast. I’m not quite sure how to put that experience down in words. The castles themselves were absolutely beautiful, and both were perched right over the ocean providing striking sights. Yet the horrors that occurred within the castles as well as the dungeons and cells we saw created an unshakable pit in my stomach. At one point at the Cape Coast castle our tour guide took us into one of the cells used to punish disobedient slaves (punish is a light term… these slaves were thrown in this cell and starved to death), closed the door behind us, and turned off the light. Though there were only about 10 of us in there, it was painfully stifling in both heat and lack of oxygen, and pitch black. I simply cannot imagine what those men, women, and children went through at these places. I’m very glad we visited the castles though.
On Saturday, then, we left Cape Coast around noon for Accra to fly out to Senegal. The original plan was to leave Cape Coast at noon, get to Accra around 2, have about 4 hours to hang out in Accra (which we were all so excited for because that was our first home here in Africa), and then meet up at 6 to get to the airport for our 10:30 flight. Well, we got about 10 minutes out of Cape Coast and our bus broke down. We had to wait for another bus to drive out from Accra to pick us up, so we spent almost 3 and a half hours at a gas station waiting for this bus. Suffice to say, that set us back on time. With night traffic and everything, we got to the airport around 8 and immediately got in line for all the check-in. We all managed to get through in time, but they held the plane about 20 minutes to wait for all of us to get on, thankfully.
We arrived here in Dakar, Senegal at about 2:30 in the morning yesterday, waited about an hour and a half for our bus to pick us up to take us to the hotel, unloaded, got our rooms, and fell into bed around 5 in the morning. Quite the long day all and all. Our hotel here is absolutely amazing though–gorgeous. Yesterday we caught about 5 hours of sleep then were off to Goree Island. We took a ferry to get there and then spent about 3 or 4 hours on the island. I’ve never been to Europe, but it looked like what I imagine Italy would look like. We took another tour on the island, saw another slave castle, went in the oldest Catholic church in West Africa, then had time to wander around and shop or just look around the island. For all those rap fans reading this, you will be interested to know that Ja Rule was on the island with us and right above us on the ferry. I can’t say I personally know his music, but all the same, it was very strange to be in such close quarters with a celebrity. We had a buffet at the hotel last night which was delicious and very fancy. Senegal is proving to be very different than Ghana in that it definitely feels more European and, for lack of a better word, rich. It’s an interesting adjustment to make. Also, they speak French here, so those of us who know ‘merci’ and that’s it are having fun communicating
Well, that’s the past couple weeks in a nutshell. I’m going to try to load some pictures now, but the Internet connection here had proved to be pretty shaky so far so if there are no pictures, you know why. In two weeks from today, we will be on a plane back to America–so strange.