The Markets by Sam

Saturday we went to Grace Life International to help paint some of the classrooms, and Kate and I went around the community with Ms. Felicia conducting interviews. After finishing at the school we went to a market not too far away on a mountain that Eric had recommended to us because it was less expensive and a lot of the stuff was made there. Many of us had travelled previously and gone to markets where people are very pushy getting you to come in to their shops and buy things, and then you have to haggle with them, so from those previous experiences and what Carole had told us about the Accra Market the year before we were preparing ourselves for some chaos, but we were all very surprised by what we found. The market was very open and quiet, and there weren’t many people there. When we got out of the tro-tro the shop owners were very excited to see us, some came up to greet us and others called from their shops to welcome us. We all buddied up, but being in a group of 3 I jumped around a lot between buddy groups, and I felt okay doing that because there were so few people, it was such an open place, and everyone was very nice. Some of the kids came up and showed us where they were working on sanding and painting the wooden sculptures and masks, you could watch people carving and could see how genuinely handmade the majority of the products were. It was really awesome to see how they made these pieces of wood into these beautifully crafted pieces of art. I enjoyed walking around and just getting to look at everything, and I appreciated that I was able to do that without the shop owners constantly trying to get me to buy things. My main goal was to get a drum that I liked and I was happy to find one that was not too big or too small, I also got a couple of masks, some elephant statues, a giraffe, a bowl, and a painting. Everything was so beautifully made that I wished I had had more money with me because I would have loved to buy more things. I got some drum lessons from one of the guys, and continued to walk around enjoying myself. I think everyone was pleased with what they purchased and we were all very glad that Eric recommended that we go to that market because it was such a nice experience.

Kevin playing the beautiful drum.

Kevin playing the beautiful drum.

The detail on this drum was incredible.

The detail on this drum was incredible.

Monday was a holiday in Ghana, so we did not get to go to New Horizons like we had originally planned, so most of us decided instead to go to the Accra Market to see what it was like and probably to get some more stuff. We knew right when we arrived that this was much more of what we were expecting the market to be like compared to the last one we had gone to. It was not very busy with shoppers, probably because of the holiday, but it was busy with people. From the second we got there everyone started to swarm around us trying to get us to come to their shops and break us off from our groups. I had my shopping buddies for this market and I was definitely going to stick with them. They had a lot of interesting things, but much of their merchandise seemed to be more commercially made than at the last market we had gone to. You could tell just from the atmosphere that this was a much more touristy market, prices were higher, people would haggle less, and they were much more aggressive. Since it was a holiday we hadn’t gotten to go to the bank to exchange money and I didn’t have an ATM card to take any out. I didn’t have many cedis left but I was kind of glad because it made me really think about what I was buying and made it easier to walk away when shop owners were handing me random things that I had briefly looked at and asking how much I would pay for it. It was definitely an experience with all of the people trying to get you to come and look at what they had, which was often almost exactly the same as their neighbors. Somehow we made our way through the really chaotic part of the market to the back. We had been told to be careful and not let people lead us far back in the market because it got a little sketchy, but after we got through the front part the back seemed much calmer. We figured if we stayed together and in the main rows we would be fine and we were happy that we did. The people towards the back of the market were much calmer and quieter and weren’t as pushy. The sculptures and artwork also seemed more hand-made or at least less commercially produced as the things in the front of the market. At one shop I played on the floor with a little girl while Becky and Caitlyn looked at all of the beautiful bowls and coasters. Her mom told me that I could take her for free and we all laughed. We enjoyed walking around this part of the market much more, and since we had time to kill we got to talk to some of the shop owners. Walking back to the tro-tro it was interesting to experience all of the noise and chaos of the front part of the market again.

I found it really interesting how different the two markets that we went to were. One being more rural it is fitting that it is more relaxed, but it surprised me how much cheaper it was than the urban market, especially because it would have been so easy for people to say things were more money than they did and we never would have known. It also surprised me how much the Accra market varied in its way of being from one part to the other. While the back part of the market was still loud and people were still a little pushy it was still much more similar in feeling to the rural market that we had gone to on Saturday than it was like the front of the very same market.

Rope Bridges, Castles, and Waves by Sam

On our day off we decided that we wanted to try and make it to both The Cape Coast Slave Castle and Kakum National Park. Both of these places were a couple of hours away from our hotel, but luckily they were in the same general direction. We weren’t sure if we would make it to both but we figured it was worth a try since it was our one day to adventure. Going to both meant it would have to be an early morning, but we were excited and figured we could sleep on the tro-tro. The drive was fairly uneventful, I was surprised that I was able to fall asleep as I was sitting on the folding seat that we had nicknamed “the Busch Gardens Chair” as it reminded us all of being on a rollercoaster. I do remember that we drove through at least 3 police check points which surprised me, but many of them they just waved us through quickly. At one point we stopped for one of our driver’s friends to get in the tro-tro with us so he could give us directions the rest of the way, and we thought we must have been getting close as we were seeing signs for Cape Coast, but when we kept going we realized that we must have been going to the National Park first.

We arrived at Kakum just before a bunch of school groups did, and after getting our passes we walked around in the visitor center reading about the rainforest and the various animals that lived there. We then had a short hike to get to the canopy walkway with our tour guide telling us about the different things that people could do at the park, when the best time to see the animals is (unfortunately the best time was at night), and the history of the conservation project. We climbed up into a big tree house that was the start of the canopy walk and began our adventure atop the trees. The bridges were rope nets with pieces of wood laying on top of ladders to walk across and attached to these tall trees that stuck out through the forest canopy. Around these trees were platforms where you could stop and enjoy the beautiful views. Our whole group made it across the first bridge, but then we split and went separate ways. To the left was a shorter path with less bridges to cross, to the right was the longer path. I went to the right with Jodi, Kate, Caitlyn, Anna, our bus driver and his friend. While I continually got yelled at for purposefully shaking the bridges, I really enjoyed all of the beautiful views that we got to see being up so high above the trees. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any wildlife because of the time that we were there, but it was still an amazing experience. After we crossed all of the bridges we met up with the rest of our group that went the other way and made our way back down to the visitor center and gift shops.

Aikens and I on the bridge

Aikens and I on the bridge

Rope bridges!

Rope bridges!

Beautiful view from the canopy walk

Beautiful view from the canopy walk

Proud of these two for facing their fears (and grateful that they didn't throw me over for shaking it)

Proud of these two for facing their fears (and grateful that they didn’t throw me over for shaking it)

Next we started our journey to Cape Coast Castle. The castle was right along the beach so there were beautiful views and a cool breeze coming off the ocean when we got there. Before our tour started we went to the museum to read about the history of Ghana and the Slave Trade. It was an interesting perspective to learn about because it was a part of the story that we are never really told about in public school in the US. Europeans went to Africa to trade for gold, and built the castles for these purposes after buying the land from the African tribes. The castles changed ownership many times finally coming into the hands of the British. What I found interesting about the history was that the slaves that were kept in the dungeons of the castles before being transported to The Americas were actually sold to the Europeans by the chiefs of the various African tribes. In school it always seemed that the Europeans went into Africa and captured people arbitrarily to then sell as slaves, so it was interesting to learn that the people were actually traded to the Europeans to become slaves for other goods. The conditions of the slave dungeons were terrible, pitch black with hundreds of people crammed into a small area with nowhere to go to the bathroom other than where they stood, and the cool breeze from the ocean was not able to be felt. On top of one of the rooms of the dungeons was the church, and there was a whole in the ground near the entrance to the church where people could check in on their slaves as they went in.

After our tour of the Cape Coast Castle, we went to a restaurant nearby and enjoyed an early dinner overlooking the beach. As we watched the waves crash into the ocean, and all of the kids playing, we all laughed when we saw pigs walking around as well. Many of us were eager to stick our feet in the water after we ate, but when we did so we realized that the pigs that we had seen were eating out of a sewer drain that was, of course, leaking onto the beach and right into the water where we had been walking. We tried not to let this bother us too much, laughed about it, took some pictures, and headed back to the tro-tro to make our way home. It was a great day exploring tourist spots in Ghana, seeing more of the country, and learning a lot about the history and culture of the country that we came to do work in.

View of the Castle from the beach

View of the Castle from the beach

Beach from the restaurant.

Beach from the restaurant.

Waves

Waves

Becky carrying plantain chips

Becky learning how to carry plantain chips on her head!

We learned how to carry things on our heads

Plantain Chips!

 

The 3 C’s by Sam

The 3 C’s

The first day we visited Grace Life International School we sat down to talk with Reverend Eric for a while. He told us about the school and about Ghana, including cultural differences between Ghana and the US. One thing that he told us about that really stood out in my mind throughout the rest of the trip was the 3 C’s that Ghanaians believed in for parenting. They stood for Control, Compromise, and Choices. Family plays a huge role in Ghanaian life and many parents seemed to believe in following these 3 C’s. From birth until the child is 18 years old children should be under their parents’ full control; from 18 to 25 years old children should be allowed to think about what they want and get their parents’ input and opinions, finally coming to a compromise; after 25 years children can make their own choices. In addition, Eric told us that Ghanaians believe in corporal punishment for children both in the home and in school. Children should not talk back to or disobey their parents and the best way for a child to learn that something is wrong is through the infliction of pain. However, he did clarify that they should not hit a child if they do something wrong that they did not know is wrong. When helping Kate with her interviews these beliefs seemed to be fairly consistent throughout the communities that we saw in and around Accra.

I thought these were interesting cultural concepts when compared to the US. In the states, corporal punishment is a huge topic of debate both in the homes and in schools, and is outlawed in public schools in 31 states. Additionally, I found it interesting that where parents in the US typically begin to listen to and compromise with their children early in their teens, compromising doesn’t start until 18 in Ghana, according to Eric. Further, at 18 in the US, children can go off and do what they want apart from their parents’ beliefs or views, this doesn’t seem to occur until much later in Ghanaian culture. At 25 many Americans have graduated from college and ideally begun their own families and lives apart from their parents. In listening to some of the interviews that Kate conducted it does not seem that children will generally get married and start their own families until 25 or 30 years of age. After hearing about these 3 C’s from Eric, I was interested in how much of an impact they had on the culture and how much they were aligned with legal restrictions. I asked our driver how old you had to be in Ghana to drive and he said 25, I couldn’t image not being able to drive until 25, in fact I still wouldn’t be allowed to drive if that were the case in the US. When I looked into it further after getting home I found that the legal driving age in Ghana was actually 18 and that it was 25 for driving a commercial vehicle, so it is likely that our driver misunderstood the question and was responding for how old you have to be to drive a commercial vehicle like he was doing at the time. In finding this information, I also came across information about other legal ages in Ghana: you are legally considered an adult, can drink, and get married at 18. Finding this information made me curious as to how much people followed the ages that Eric gave us for the 3 C’s and how often children when off and made their own choices at 18. In the US, children often continue to live with their parents and be financially dependent on them (at least to some extent) until their early 20’s, either after completing college or becoming more financially secure.

I would be interested in looking further into the 3 C’s and how much a part of Ghanaian culture they really are, how much they may just be the beliefs of one person or one community, and how much variability in these parenting beliefs exists throughout the country.

 

Wheelchair Maintenance by Sam

New Horizon Special School in Accra is a school for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities. The school provides both educational and vocational training as well as employment opportunities, and aims to help each child reach their full potential and lead a productive and satisfying life. When we got to New Horizons last Tuesday we were given a tour of the facility and were all blown away with what we saw. All of the teachers and staff were doing incredible work, trying to meet each child’s individual needs as best as they could. Everyone seemed very receptive and excited to have us there to provide some additional help. Throughout the tour, several children were identified that they wanted us to work with on various things, such as feeding, positioning, and fine motor skills. Afterwards we regrouped and got to work, with some people going into the classrooms to work with certain children and others working on cleaning up and repairing some wheelchairs.

While I would have liked to be hands-on with the children, I was cleaning up wheelchairs. Sanding off rust, oiling brakes, and making sure wheels spun properly. It wasn’t very exciting work to start, but once the staff realized that we could work on wheelchairs they were excited and kept sending us more to look at. Tuesday night we got more tools from Rick after the Volta group returned, which was hugely beneficial so that we could actually loosen the brakes so they would work, and weren’t all trying to share 1 crescent wrench. We knew that we had a lot to do on Wednesday as it was our last full day at the school, so we broke up into multiple groups to get everything done. While all of my peers went off to be more hands-on with the kids, I was happy to be working on the wheelchairs as I could see how important it was and how much the students and teachers appreciated it. I had an awesome partner in Carole’s son, Kevin, and together we got a lot accomplished. We replaced some broken armrests with foam – so the kids wouldn’t hurt themselves and could be more comfortable – and when we knew who used which chair we could adjust the leg rests so they could be better positioned. We fixed all of the brakes so they were easier to use and actually functioned as brakes, and made them less painful to use by wrapping them in rubber bands and duct tape. Kevin came up with some great ideas, including using Velcro to secure the brake on a stroller that one of the children used, so that it could be strapped down tight when the brake needed to be on and could still be released easily. One group was also able to make seat cushions out of wood and foam to help support the children more appropriately in their wheelchairs. Kevin and I managed to finish all of the major wheelchair maintenance done by lunch time on Wednesday, so I still got a chance to be hands-on with the kids, and then we would help out with some minor adjustments after children were positioned.

I was happy with the wheelchair maintenance that we accomplished at New Horizon, especially because I felt like it was something that we could do for those two days and then have it continue to benefit the students until we could come back again next year to work on them again. I knew we had done work that was very appreciated, but didn’t understand how much it was until Stacey told us on Thursday that the school had been trying to find somewhere that could service the wheelchairs for them, and that the only place they found was hours away. Between the huge expense it would have been to get a van that could take all of the wheelchairs and get them serviced, plus the amount of time it would have taken to bus them all the way there and back on top of the time it would take them to get repaired, and the fact that the students would be left without their wheelchairs for as long as this took, we really saved them so much and were so very helpful to them. I never imagined that servicing old and well-used wheelchairs could be so satisfying.

Image
Me and my awesome partner.

The Roach. By Sam

The roaches and I have been at a standoff the last few nights. They appear randomly and cause me to let out “a blood curdling scream as though you are about to be murdered (as described by Becky Hooks) and I freak out until Becky kills it or it runs away so we can’t get it. Tonight as I put things away in my suitcase I saw a roach scurry out from underneath and screamed again. Becky was about to get into the shower so I either had to face the bug or be paranoid about it all night. The roach was too quick and even before I finished screaming he had made it to safety under the bed. Becky called out to ask if I killed it because she knew immediately from my scream what it was. As I told her that he was under the bed he came out again and this time I won. Roaches: 2, Becky:3, Sam:1.

Interviews with Kate by Sam

Yesterday I helped Kate conduct interviews in the community around Grace Life International School. She is interviewing Ghanaian parents about what life is like for their children, different things that are important to them, when they typically reach various developmental milestones, and how they grow up. Madame Felicia came with us to help translate and it was very good that she did because we would have really struggled without her. It was interesting to walk around the village and listen to what the people had to say. The first lady we talked to was making Kenkey, a traditional Ghanaian dish made from ground corn that is made into a sort of dough and wrapped in dried corn husks or banana leaves. It was interesting to watch her and another young woman making this while we talked to her and also seeing the other kids nearby working on different chores or coming over to listen to us talk. The second lady had a little convenience store in the village and we sat outside to talk with her. At one point her eldest daughter came over and joined our conversation some, helping Felicia to translate and explain what we were asking. The last woman that we talked to was a mother of 6 and lived in the huge walled in compound covered in barbed wire. She had a cute little boy running around who was 2 and then 3 of her other children were outside. Her children all attend Grace Life and the 2 oldest daughters also helped translate for us. When Kate asked about what age girls should typically get married the mother said 30 and the 2 daughters disagreed wanting to get married younger. I enjoyed getting the opportunity to walk around with Kate and Felicia and seeing and listening to some of what life is like for these mothers and their children first hand.

The Bacon Cheeseburger by Sam

The bacon cheeseburger. The most American food I can think to have for lunch on my last day as I wait for Caitlin to pick me up so we can head to the airport. It was a delicious burger and the fries were cooked to a crispy perfection washed down with a glass of sweet iced tea. Embracing the nice cool weather that Richmond has graced us with this last weekend before we depart for Ghana. After running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to pack and finish up projects before leaving, it was nice to sit down and get to enjoy the nice weather while eating my bacon cheeseburger and fries. Before having to sit in airports and on airplanes for hours, even the company of my parents was tolerable.

As I write this I am in the car driving up 95 on my way to the airport. Passed Kings Dominion, passed the rest area, through Fredericksburg, 130.1….130.2….130.3…. Dulles International Airport here we come. I am excited for this adventure. To find a baby honey badger to bring home to my uncle and an elephant for my grandfather. To add a new country to my list of places I’ve been and check off my third continent. But mostly to learn about and experience a new culture, work with the children, and apply the knowledge and skills that I have been learning in school to real life situations, and gain so much more over the next 2 weeks. I am ecstatic.

And when I get back, I think I’ll want another bacon cheeseburger and fries.

“I’m Your Grandmother, I’m Allowed to Worry” By Sam

When I told my grandparents I was going to Ghana I was completely shocked by their reaction. Grandma: “Ghana!? Ronnie did you hear that? She’s going to Ghana.” Grandpa: “That’s in Africa, she is not going there, why on Earth would she go there?” Now imagine this being voiced as if trying to talk to someone half way across a football field, when in reality they were sitting right next to each other at a very nice restaurant. My Uncle just sat back and laughed as he was the one who brought this up, and my mother just continued to sip from her glass of wine, while everyone else in the restaurant turned to see what the commotion was all about. After calming down from their initial reactions to the news that their youngest grandchild was going to be travelling abroad to Ghana for 2 weeks they continued to insist that this should not be allowed. In my grandparents eyes Ghana is not a safe country to travel to and the idea that anyone would want to go there is preposterous. I understand that, as my grandparents, they are allowed to be worried that I am travelling abroad, and the fact that I will be going to a developing country might add to that some, but I would never have imagined the response of “absolutely not” that I received. These are the grandparents that have travelled around the world, and the same grandparents who had the complete opposite reaction when I told them that I was finally going to Israel 2 years ago – after they had been encouraging me to go for as long as I can remember. When I told them that I was going to Israel on Birthright they couldn’t be more excited for me to go, insisting that I was going to love it and that it was an amazing country. This contrasting response was one of the first things that came to my mind, why are they so against me going to Ghana when they were so for me going to Israel. The typical American mindset is that Israel is such a dangerous place, surrounded by countries that don’t think it should exist and continually under threat of terrorist attack. The main concerns when travelling to Ghana are medical ones, many of which you can be vaccinated against or can be treated with modern medicine. These two things don’t seem to match up, especially when considering the reactions my grandparents had when told that I would be travelling there.

After contemplating this question and talking with my grandparents I realized that it was the unknown and the lack of familiarity that they had with Ghana that made them so insistent that I not be allowed to go. My grandparents have travelled to Israel before and feel a strong sense of connectedness with the country. It is a beautiful place with fascinating history, and despite the high tension that runs through the area, I had rarely felt so safe – a feeling that my grandmother shares with me. Where my father – who has never been to Israel and feels no connection to the land – was terrified and confused at the idea of anyone wanting to go to Israel, my grandparents took pride in it. They’ve been there, they felt safe there, to them it was a home away from home – it was comfortable and it was known. Ghana was the complete opposite to them. They had never been there, never had any connection to the country or sense of belonging, and had no desire to visit. Ghana was an unknown country to my grandparents and they had been perfectly okay with that until their granddaughter decided that she was going to go there. The reaction that they had wasn’t necessarily because Ghana was a terrible and dangerous country; it was because they didn’t know. The only thing they knew about Ghana was that it was in Africa, and that’s what frightened them, that’s what caused their seemingly excessive response to the news that in just over a month I would be going there. While the excitement that I have at the adventure and new experiences that I will get in Ghana triumph over my fear of the unknown, for my grandparents it is just the opposite.