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15 posts categorized "Kaylin LeMelle-Thomas"

12/17/2010

Blog entry 15- Back Home NOW <3 My message to Ghana, From Kaylin

I have so much to say I have to write another blog entry.  I have too many ideas to fit them all in my Facebook status.  The first thing that happened when the plane landed in NY after two, 7-hour flights, was that my Blackberry powered on. I checked my email in a few minutes and I responded to an email from my Teach for America recruiter.  I also sent an email to my boss, and planned to come into work to tutor science in two days.  It is an incredible luxury to have my email right at my fingertips.  It also makes me realize that I will never complain about having slow internet ever again in my life.

Ghana taught me how to be calmer and more satisfied with the small joys in life.  The second I stepped off the plane, I stepped into the winter and the hustle and bustle of New York City.  Everyone is always rushing and running everywhere. What is the rush? If you constantly rush in life, you never take out enough time to enjoy the present, the here and now.

Ghana is overall a healthier place then New York.  As far as mental health is concerned, in Ghana you will rarely be stressed or anxious.  You learn to relax and you realize that certain things (like electricity and water) are not within your control or influence.  They will turn on and off as they please.  However, you will never go without water or power for so long that you cannot survive happily.  You can always buy water at the store in a plastic sashay, and you can always take a trotro/walk to the nearest internet café.  The weather is so gorgeous; you can usually hang outside with friends, so what is the need for power anyway?  In Ghana, rather then spending hours on facebook, you can simply walk next door and see your friends.  That’s the way life should be.

New York is so cold and dry.  My skin was a lot happier in Ghana. I never had dry skin in my life, and now my skin is so dry from the cold here.  Ghana’s main export is cocoa, so I continue to use cocoa butter lotion as usual.  I stepped off the plane in my AfricanWear and I felt fantastic! I love the feeling of bringing Ghana home with me.

It was never a secret—my boyfriend and I are engaged and we are in a long distance relationship now.  The first question my friends from home always ask me is, “Is he an American?” No. He is a Ghanaian. LOL that question is so funny to me.  Why would I want anything less then the best? I am engaged to the best man in the world for me, and I plan on spending the rest of my life with him.  Long distance doesn’t really faze us since we know we are going to be together forever.

I am not going to lie, the first thing I did after putting my bags down and taking a hot shower, was engagement ring shopping! I tell my friends over and over again, the ring is more for them then it is for me.  If I was in Ghana, I wouldn’t want an engagement ring because I would be with my fiancé everyday.  But in New York, I swear, the first question people ask me is “Where is the ring?”… As if a ring is supposed to symbolize my love for my future husband.. craziness. But then again, what else should I expect from USA?

I am not being critical of USA entirely.  I will admit it; I went on a shopping spree or two within this first week of being home.  New York is good for superficial things like good food, huge department stores, and a wide selection of everything!  I know there are fantastic school, job, and internship opportunities in New York too.  New York is the second best place in the world to me.  One amazing thing about New York is that it’s the home to my amazing family. I am very grateful to have the most loving, caring, open-minded and supportive family in the world (which I love dearly!).  However, as far as locations are concerned, Ghana is better then New York because Ghana has more of the deeper, meaningful qualities I love to incorporate into my life.  But New York is certainly the place I plan to go to get all of my degrees and to go to medical school.  My fiancé and I already have a plan to get an apartment together in the City while I am in medical school and while he is pursuing his masters in a NYC graduate school.

Ghana, Ghana, Ghana. Why are you so sweet, so beautiful? So deep so meaningful? Why do you explain the meaning of life in such simple terms, and why are you always right?  You asked me to return to my history, my roots, and my values.  You asked me to ignore all of the corruption and competition at home, and to open my mind to freedom.  You showed me a way out.  You held me by the hand and led me around the most beautiful land on Earth, and you introduced me to the most caring and loving people I have ever met in my life.  And for that, I thank you and I will be forever committed to you.  Ghana, I will do anything and everything to live a life full of meaning and purpose.  I want to make a difference for women and children, and I want to make this world a fairer place.  I want every child to receive a good education and good health care.  I know I am not superhuman, but I know I will do my part.  I love you and I thank you for inviting me to “study abroad” with you, in order to find myself and discover meaningful purpose and direction in my life.

Peace and Love. We are all one race, the human race. One love. <3

Blog entry 14- Vodafone Scam, European Ownership

Everything is not sweet in Ghana.  When it comes to European owned businesses and imperialism, there are several cases of inequality and scams. The only one I will touch on in this entry is Vodafone.

I was very skeptical of the Vodafone 40-40 plan from the start. The plan claims it will change all of your calls to only 8 peswas/ min (less then 8 cents a minute). Sounds good right, compared to 14 p./ min. WRONG! Because this rate only affects local calls. You still have to pay the same amount to call the states (which recently skyrocketed to 47 p. / min to call international cell phones and something around 16 p. / min for international landline calls). Also, without the 40-40 plan, you will receive a 75% bonus on the credit you purchase if you spend 10 GC or more. For example, if you pay 10 GC, you will actually receive 17.5 GC in credit. I did the math and I figured out that you get 125 min for local calls on the original plan and you also get 125 min for local calls on the 8 p/min plan (40-40 plan).  The difference is that on the original plan, you are receiving 17.5 GC of credit compared to only 10 GC of credit on the 40-40 plan.  On the 40-40 plan, you have less credit for text messaging and less credit for making international calls.

In conclusion, the 40-40 plan is a scam.  If you are an international student or a person who makes even one international call, you are at a disadvantage.  Also, if you are a person who sends one or more text messages, you are also at a disadvantage.  The math is very easy to figure out.  I called Vodafone and spoke to one of their representatives and asked them to do the math with me and they got the same results.  40-40 is a complete scam.

Vodafone is a European owned phone company that is receiving the majority of the profit (if not all) from Vodafone users in Ghana.  I hope more Ghanaians are made aware about this 40-40 scam and I hope they do not fall into Vodafone’s trap.

Blog entry 13- ISH vs. Pentagon- Guide for U. Of Ghana International Students on Housing Selection

Kaylin LeMelle- Thomas                                                       November 26, 2010

CIEE Study Abroad At University of Ghana, Legon

University of Ghana, Legon Housing Preferences: ISH vs. Pentagon

There are many differences between living in Pentagon and living in International Student Hostels. Many of these differences are not described in detail in the manual, and therefore it is difficult for study abroad students to make the best choice for themselves.  I live in ISH 2, but I spent the second half of the semester in Pentagon (Block B) for the majority of my time.  I will share some of my personal observations and well as some of the feedback I received from my study abroad peers in both housing complexes.

ISH 1 and ISH 2 are not created equal.  ISH 1 has a generator, so when the lights are out on our side of campus, they are never effected.  ISH 2, on the other hand, has no generator.  ISH 1 also has nicer rooms with titled/carpeted floors.  Some people think the restaurant is better at ISH 1 and others think it is better at ISH 2.  The ISH 1 restaurant is about 30 peswas more expensive but the food arrives a lot faster and you do not have to wait for your change.  ISH 1 almost never runs out of running water, but in ISH 2, you will have to fetch water with your bucket from the outdoor faucet on occasion. All rooms in ISH have a porch on the back.

ISH 1 and 2 have a very international feeling, hence the reason for the name. Although there are some Ghanaian students living in ISH, the majority of the time you will gravitate to other foreign students and will spend a significant amount of time with friends from your program.  ISH has TV rooms and shared kitchens and shared bathrooms.  The porters in ISH 2 are very strict and will almost always complain if you make a lot of noise or if you want to have a room party. ISH 1 porters are very strict about having people sign in, and in both ISH 1 and ISH2, the porters will make sure your visitors leave by midnight.  Some international students watch movies and TV together, but overall there is not one consistent source of entertainment or a fun place to hang out in ISH (besides people’s rooms or common areas).  The great thing about living in ISH is that you meet people from all over the world, including people from all over USA, Europe, and Africa.

Another positive aspect about living in ISH is that it is located next to the Night Market where you can purchase food until 10pm, and can even get bread or egg sandwiches around midnight.  The Night Market is amazing because they also sell fruit, clothes, pots, pans, buckets, DVDs, kebab, spaghetti, and anything else you could possibly imagine.  Whatever you cannot find in the Night Market, you can get at the indoor convenience store located right next to it.

Pentagon, on the other hand, has a very defined culture.  First off, Pentagon has a few stereotypes linked with it.  People say that the majority of the rich Ghanaians at the University live there and that more people own cars in Pentagon in comparison to other dorms.  I am not by any means saying that only rich people who drive cars live there, rather, it seems they are more highly concentrated in Pent then anywhere else. I am not sure if these statements are correct, but I can vouch for Pentagon having a very outgoing, lively crowd. Although these are all generalizations, it is obvious that some of the people who live in Pentagon enjoy taking part in the fun, partying, “hang-out spot” atmosphere there. However, people in Pentagon also get their work done.  There are many large study halls on each floor that are constantly utilized by students at all times of the day and night.  As an international student in Pentagon, you will often be grouped in the same wing with other people in your program, so you will not be the only American in your wing.

Part of what makes Pentagon so much fun is that Time Out is located in Block B.  The Time Out in Pentagon is like a restaurant, bar, and lounge all in one.  They have large flat screen TVs, comfortable couches, a pool table, and fully loaded bar. And, they recently started serving pizzas, which they even deliver to your door (and it is definitely the best pizza in Ghana I have had so far).  There are also more then 3 restaurants within 2-5 minuet walking distance from all of the Blocks, plus several convenience stores.

Another reason why Pentagon is awesome is because every room has its own bathroom, kitchen, and porch within it.  Therefore, you have more privacy and do not have to walk around in your pajamas in public to get food or to use the restroom.  Also, you can easily hire someone to clean the bathroom and porch.  You get your own full size refrigerator, and for an additional fee, you can get an air conditioner.  These small luxuries make a huge difference when comparing life in ISH to life in Pentagon.  However, there are a few disadvantages to living in Pentagon.  For one, the water and power go out more frequently.  Also, there are thousands of students living in the 5+ blocks (buildings) that make up Pentagon.  It would be impossible to meet everyone like you could do in ISH, but on the other hand, if you are friendly and open-minded, you will meet incredible people no matter where you are living.

Some people in Pentagon tend to be fashionable and concerned with appearance. Pentagon does appear to be somewhat like a fashion show, especially on the weekend evenings. But then again, people in Pentagon often dress up everyday, as if they are going out to meetings or lounges. As you begin to visit other rooms in Pent, you will realize that many fulltime students decide to hire a painter to customize their room.  Some people have large, flat screen TVs, pictures, posters, paintings, colored lights, and even fish tanks! ISH is just a dorm, but Pentagon really is like a home, with a definite vibe and culture. Time Out plays music videos and plays a mixture of popular local and international music.  Sometimes people in Pentagon can be loud.  People blast music, throw parties, and have guests visiting at all hours.  However, most people are friendly and considerate to their neighbors.

As an international student, it is normal for you to have a lot of questions and preconceived notions about University of Ghana and the students here.  In general, people are very friendly and will come up to you and introduce themselves on a regular basis.  You will make Ghanaian friends whether you live in Pentagon, ISH, or in the homestays. Although there are many pros and cons to living in ISH and Pentagon, the choice is ultimately up to you.  I prefer Pentagon for its lively atmosphere and for the fun times I have at Time Out, and with my Ghanaian friends in their Pentagon dorm rooms.  But, ISH is also a great place for deep conversations and laughter with international and Ghanaian friends alike.  The one thing I have noticed to be quite true about Ghanaian friends is that they have a good time talking and laughing together, and they do not need activities and entertainment to have a good time.

Pentagon and International Student Hostels (ISH) at a Glance


Pentagon ISH
Room size Generally large but there are some smaller ones Comfortable size
Number of roommates Single, double (four in a room is possible for Ghanaian students) Single or double
Bathrooms and Showers In the room; you have to clean it or you can hire someone to clean for you Shared in the hall, four per floor; cleaned by maintenance staff everyday
Kitchens and Sinks In the back of the room Shared in the hall, two per floor
Refrigerators One large refrigerator per room Big refrigerators in kitchens, shared with everyone
Porches Back door and porch Back door and porch
Air conditioning Yes for an extra fee No, only ceiling fan
Washing clothes You can hand wash it yourself or pay someone to wash it for you (usually hand washed and hung to dry) You can hand wash it yourself or pay someone to wash it for you (washed and dried in washing machines in ISH)
Convenience stores Yes, a bunch close by Yes, one close by
Restaurants A bunch, including Crossroads and Time Out ISH 1 and ISH 2 restaurants
Close to… Main campus, Time Out in Block B The Night Market

11/25/2010

Blog Entry 12- Academics and University of Ghana

The academic life at University of Ghana is different from the styles of instruction at Cornell. Personally, I decided to take courses that interested me and that were not large lectures.  I decided to take Intro to Traditional African Dance, Introduction to Drumming, Developmental Studies, Internship for credit, Twi language class, and Living and Learning in Ghana.

 I highly recommend dancing and drumming while at University of Ghana because these are unique, once in a lifetime experiences you could never find in the States.  The dynamic of dance class is almost magical.  People from all walks of life are united and share a common heartbeat of the rhythms and dances. Drumming complements dance because in Ghana, you cannot have one without the other. If you are interested in learning about my incredible dance and drumming experiences, go back to this blog entry: http://blogs.cornell.edu/cuakml65/2010/09/29/dance-cape-coast-slave-castles-some-things-only-in-ghana/

I am sure you are wondering about my other classes and if actually did any work this semester. I chose classes that would allow me to experience the joy and passion of Ghana. I took practical classes that allowed me to explore issues I found important in Ghana.  I studied when needed, but I was by no means stressed or overloaded like I commonly experience at Cornell. However, some of my friends had to fulfill requirements for their majors back at home.  Their academic experience was a lot different from mine.  Most of my friends who took classes in large lecture halls said that the lecturers are hard to understand, can be boring at times, do not engage students, and expects students to copy their every word in their notes and regurgitate facts for the exams.  Rote memorization is a large part of what is expected for large lectures.  Most classes only have a midterm and final, but depending on the class, you may have presentations. Like at Cornell, some classes break into smaller discussion sections.  I knew that I did not want to take any large lecture classes and that I would rather take small, interactive, dynamic, practical discussion classes.

 I highly recommend the Developmental Studies Track for people who are curious to learn about every aspect of common day Ghana and the development of the country.  The class is very hands on and practical. It is accompanied with an internship that is also for credit.  We learn about several aspects of Ghana's development, such as education, health, infrastructure, urban vs. rural issues, sanitation, social services, politics, and gender issues.  If you are interested/in love with Ghana or development studies and want to learn as much as you can about a variety of topics, I highly recommend this course.  The readings are all very interesting and the tests are very easy (all you have to do on exams is write about the class lectures, readings, and incorporate your own ideas).  There are two exams and two or three papers.  The final paper is on your internship and it is 10-15 pages double-spaced.

 I really loved my internship at the West Africa Aids Foundation and I learned and contributed so much during my time there. I have become good family friends with the doctor (my parents met her during their time visiting me in Ghana this semester) and I plan to come back and intern at the WAAF clinic in the future.  In Ghana, there are a lot of opportunities to come up with your own innovative ideas, and you are encouraged to do so. For example, I started the WAAF Ambulance Fund to raise money to get a van to transport patients to and from the clinic in emergencies.  Please read more about my incredible internship experiences at this blog entry : http://blogs.cornell.edu/cuakml65/2010/09/06/the-truth-is-blunt-poverty-inequality/

My director taught a 2-credit seminar class called Living and Learning in Ghana.  This class was small (only 6 students) and they were all from my program, CIEE.  We learned a lot about Ghanaian culture and we learned that with cultural competence, we could bridge gaps between our home culture and Ghanaian culture. Through open, honest discussions we targeted some differences and challenges we were experiencing, and we formulated different ways of viewing situations and understanding each other.

In addition to taking 5 classes and interning at WAAF, I also volunteer at a daycare center.  Some of my friends volunteer in schools and in orphanages.  There are a lot of volunteer activities around and all you have to do is tell the coordinator for your program that you are interested and he/she will write you a letter of recommendation. You can read more about my overall experience (and all the reasons why I do not want to leave Ghana) at this blog entry: http://blogs.cornell.edu/cuakml65/2010/10/28/we-decided-to-live-in-ghana…-permanently/

I hope this provides more insight about academics at Ghana. If you are interested in other specifics, contact me directly.  If I cannot answer your questions from my own experiences, I can put you in touch with one of my friends who can.

Peace and Love.

Blog Entry 11-Preparing for Re-Entry into USA

It’s funny how I thought I would get homesick while in Ghana. In reality, there was not a single day this entire semester when I felt like going home or I missed USA at all. Now, I am slightly worried about how I will adjust to being back in NY and back at Cornell. I have to get used to being on my own again and being surrounded by constant competition and stress. However, there are particular aspects of my feelings and experiences that I do have control over.  I think I learned a lot from being in Ghana. I learned to be more laid back, to live comfortably but not extravagantly, to be satisfied with life, and I learned what it is like to enjoy each day.  I have learned ways of eliminating stress and I learned that I can chose to have a positive outlook and state of mind regardless of the situation I may find myself in.  I learned not to worry about people, things, or situations that I cannot do anything about. Rather then being constantly bombarded by my friends’ issues and choices, I have learned to take a step back and not allow their issues to become my problems.

I feel a lot more focused and level-headed now that I have lived in Ghana for 4 months. After speaking to some American friends, it is clear that we have really grown as individuals and have taken out the time to discover ourselves during our stay in Ghana.  We have really developed clear career and social-life goals that we plan to stick to.  It is inspiring for me to realize that I have the potential to do whatever I want in life.  I needed to take a step outside of my usual, hectic life in NY in order for me to really see the larger picture.

You only live once. Life is all about happiness, fulfillment, making a difference for others, and love. Every time I speak to my African friends or to my friends who decided to relocate permanently to Ghana, it is clear that the deep human connectedness (that I often write about) is in its actuality, the true meaning of life. Also, there are so many opportunities here in Ghana to open your own non-profit, youth center, business, health clinic, or make a significant impact in any field of interest. In NY we are competing so much because we are so overcrowded with specialists and our individual impact on society is often overlooked or diminished since there are so many educated professionals concentrated in a small area. We need to spread our knowledge and potential to other areas where people are under-served. We should embark on missions to empower the people from the grassroots level, encouraging them to reach their full potentials and make a difference in their communities.  There is so much that can be done outside of New York City and outside of USA. The world is open to possibilities.

It is clear to me now that the reason why I will not experience reverse-homesickness when I return to NY is because I know I am coming back to Ghana. I understand it may take 10-12 years for me to complete my educational goals first, but I will eventually return and get a job and a house here in Ghana.  I am grateful to have met so many amazing people through the CIEE program, on campus, and also from around Ghana. I plan to keep in touch with all of my friends and I will visit again during my vacations.

Peace and Love. Take a deep breath and experience the joy of life <3 <3 <3

11/02/2010

Blog Entry #10: We decided to live in Ghana… Permanently.

Why should we go home? Why do we want to go home? Well, if you speak to some White Americans in my study abroad program or to some Black Americans who live in my hostel, you will receive a very interesting answer to these questions.  They do not want to go “home” to America because Ghana is now our home. Earlier in my blogs I wrote, “Living here is 100 times better than living in New York because here in Ghana there is a deep human connection you find with others, even with strangers and new people. I feel like the human spirit is more alive here in Ghana then it is back in America.”  Once you come to Ghana, you experience a deep love, connectedness, and passion between people that is very rare to find in the United States. Deep, meaningful conversations pop up everyday and you do not have to wait until the weekend or the holidays to see your best friends.

It is very hard for me to articulate in words the warm feeling inside of my mind and my soul. I was unhappy in New York because I was never satisfied with things.  I could teach inner city youth full time and even volunteer teach an additional 6 hours a week in the evenings.  I could shop and party and go to bars.  I could travel to see friends on occasion and visit my family on the weekends.  But still, there was a cold and empty feeling inside of me, despite my struggle to live a balanced and fulfilled life. I felt like a deep person who was searching for a deeper human connection, but since I could not find what I desired, I settled for less, and I participated in meaningless, superficial things.  I was hoping since other people were satisfied with clothes, money, and many superficial friendships, that maybe I would be satisfied with these things as well. I was wrong. They say everyone has to find what’s best for them and pursue that interest.  Well, Ghana is everything I could have ever dreamed of, and more.

When I speak to some Americans about why they want to live in Ghana permanently, it has partly to do with the deep human connectedness.  Two of my friends really enjoy teaching Ghanaian students.  The children are very respectful and very passionate about learning as much as they can.  They love participating in class and they always ask for more homework! Although some Ghanaian teachers still use physical punishment, my American friend decided to use “tickle punishment” with her kindergarten students instead.  Whenever a student misbehaves or doesn’t do what they are supposed to in class, she tickles them for a while and they giggle and giggle until they agree to behave! The children are so grateful for their education.  Their outlook is so positive, despite many obstacles that may be in their way.

The difference between life in Ghana and life in America is that here, people are satisfied.  Maybe people are not rich or they do not drive fancy cars, but people have meaningful relationships and share love, laughter, and conversations, even with strangers.  Yesterday I sat down for lunch with two African American women who live in my hostel that I have never spoken to before.  They both told me that they are moving to Ghana permanently.  One woman said this was her 11th time in Africa but her second time in Ghana.  She planned to move to the Eastern Region and get married to her fiancé there. When she told me her plans, I felt the joy radiating from her smile, and I smiled with her.  What a beautiful life! It makes so much sense that people should be happy, satisfied, and in love.  It makes sense that people should love openly, without regret and should trust each other and build a future together.  To me, love is the greatest joy in life. Although my career is important to me too, love is equally (if not, more) important. Why are American’s so dissatisfied with their love lives and why are they so obsessed with their careers? I realize that after feeling immense, unadulterated joy in Ghana, I can never return to the unhappy, dissatisfied, restless state of mind I experienced in New York.

Now, you could argue I am simply in love with my Ghanaian boyfriend and that’s why I do not want to leave Ghana.You could argue that my internship at the West Africa Aids Foundation has inspired my career decisions to be a doctor, and that Dr. Naa has become a positive mentor and role model and I want to become exactly like her. Or, I am so in love with the cute 3 year-old babies at the Daycare Center where I volunteer on Mondays, and I want to continue spending time with Ghanaian babies. Or you could say, since I am living a SuperStar Lifestyle, appearing in music videos with Ghana’s top hip-life artists, V.I.P., that’s why I do not want to leave. But my connection to Ghana is even broader, and deeper then that.  My boyfriend told me, “Ghana is your home. You are always welcomed here”.  Americans never told me, “Welcome home”. What is home really? It should be a place of comfort, love, joy, and satisfaction.  The only thing I miss at home is the food.  I think I can get over that with time.  I love my friends and family at home, but it is obvious to me that I was not satisfied with the limited amount of time I got to spend with them when I was in the States. I feel like everyone in New York is constantly competing, trying to advance their careers, and reach their goals.  I realize these are can be positive attributes and aspirations in moderation, but I personally think that taking out the time to be with loved ones and sharing deep moments is more important.  You only live once, so why spend your life feeling trapped in a superficial “battle to the top”?

So where do I go from here? Do I still want to apply for Teach for America and attend post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs in New York City? Do I still want to go to medical school in New York? Well to be honest, I am not sure anymore. I have to see how things go. I know that foreign students attend Korle Bu Medical School in Ghana and it only costs about 6,000 a semester (WOW, no debit after medical school)! So at this point, I must say, I am very open to new possibilities.  I am sure if I follow my heart, then all of my love, passions, interests, and my dedication to making a difference will steer me along the right path.  From day one, I knew I wanted to be different from everyone else and I knew I was open-minded to everything the world had to offer me.  I no longer think solely as a New Yorker, New Rochellian, or Cornellian—my mind is now open to a global perspective and global possibilities.

I LOVE GHANA!  <3   GH   <3

(see original blog and comments at http://blogs.cornell.edu/cuakml65/  )

Blog Entry #9: Inequalities in Ghana- University Stike, Police Bribes, and Gender Discrimination

Things have gotten very interesting in Ghana over the last 3 weeks for me. Unfortunately, some of these stories are too personal to discus online. But in short, COME TO GHANA!!! All the people here, including young adults, men, women, and children are very hospitable and friendly. The parties are amazing and the men believe in chivalry still!  Ladies, if you come to Ghana you will be treated like a Queen and will be respected (I can’t emphasize enough how well you will be treated by the guys here in comparison to the guys in colleges in the U.S.). Of course there are always exceptions, but I am speaking for me and my international female friends, based on our experiences in The Sates and here in Ghana. Anyway, I digress. I just wanted to be honest about that part of my study abroad experience.

***

I have noticed that the Ghanaian government turns the other cheek to many inequalities.  For example, all public university teachers in Ghana are on strike now.  This is the third week of the strike. According to the rules, if the strike lasts 3 weeks then all of the public Universities in Ghana will be closed for a whole year.  According to my Ghanaian friends, the strike started because the government refused to pay the university professors the advance payment they agreed to in their contracts.  One friend told me that the government owed 5,000 Cedi to each professor, and there are approximately 3,000 public university professors in Ghana.  In other words, the government owes a lot of money and either the government does not have the money or they are refusing to allocate it to the professors.

It is very interesting how the universities have temporarily dealt with this problem.  The Ghanaian students have no classes at all and they are spending the majority of their time sleeping, hanging out with friends, and relaxing.  However, the international students still have classes because the professors agreed to teach only the international students.  This is simply one example of inequality here.  The international students are generally catered for, yet the Ghanaian students are left behind. The international students will write final exams on time, leave on time, and receive their grades on time.  However, the Ghanaian students (especially the level 400 students) may not even graduate in 4 years.  Who knows what they plan to do if they have no school for a year.  Most students here do not have jobs and do not work, so most likely they will continue to relax with friends and help out their family if the schools shut down.

There is corruption all over Ghana, especially with the police.  The police look intimidating in their blue army print uniforms, and they all carry rifles strapped across their chests.  I noticed that whenever the taxicabs pass through certain checkpoints, they have to negotiate with the police. They usually wind up giving the police 2 or 3 Cedi.  For example, one taxi driver did not have his new registration stickers for his car. As a result, he was charged 3 Cedi every time he passed through the checkpoint. In his case, it would have been a better idea if he simply got the sticker replaced (since it was not very expensive to do). Another time, the taxi talked to the police for literally 20 minuets because he had 5-passengers in a 4-passenger car.  I am sure he had to pay for that mistake.  He knew we had 5- passengers so it is unclear why he would chose to go through the police check point rather than taking an alternative route.  Also, taxis that do not have a University sticker have to pull over into a parking lot and pay 1 Cedi every time they enter the University at night. Although this rule is pretty standard, it is not clear what that money they are collecting is actually going towards.

Other inequalities I am noticing on campus are seemingly random.  International Student Hostel 1 is better that International Student Hostel 2 in many ways, even through the buildings are supposed to be the same.  For example, the rooms in ISH 1 are more spacious and have tiled floors in some of them.  The restaurant there serves larger portions, the food is better, and the food comes a lot faster.  More importantly, ISH 1 always has flowing water. They never have to carry buckets to an outdoor faucet to get water and take bucket baths like we have to.  However, even more significant than the water issue is the issue of electricity.  ISH 1 ALWAYS has power and ever experiences “lights out” because they have a generator.  This entire side of campus will have no lights, but if you look across the parking lot at ISH 1, they will ALWAYS have lights.  It makes absolutely no sense why ISH 1 would receive all the upgrades before ISH 2, if they were supposed to be the same quality buildings.  At least the price of housing should reflect these obvious inequalities between the two hostels.

The oddest example of gender inequality occurred to me a few weeks ago at the University pool.  The university has the strangest rule about swim caps.  They only require women to wear swim caps and men do not have to, regardless of their hair length, and the swim caps cost 8 Cedi (which is relatively expensive).  I saw an international guy swimming with shoulder-length hair and he was not wearing a swim cap.  Upon further inquiry, I was first told that women have cream in their hair and it will mess up the pool if they swim without a cap.  I was not happy with this answer, so I went inside to speak to one of the managers.  Then, I was told that women have perms in their hair and that the chemicals in the perm will mess up the pool.  However, this explanation makes absolutely no sense because there are no chemicals in your hair after you receive a perm (otherwise I am sure your head would be burning pretty intensely).  According to what my Mom explained to me in the past, when a person gets their hair relaxed (chemically straightened), the chemicals denature the protein in the hair, making it straight (then of course you deactivate the chemical cream and rinse the hair very well).  I though it made absolutely no sense that women (all women, regardless of whether they have a perm or not) would be required to purchase a 8 Cedi swim cap because of the “creams in their hair” or the “chemicals from the perm”.  I am sure you could imagine I was annoyed by this rule and immediately labeled it as an example of gender inequality.  The only rule that would have made sense was if all people were required to wear swim caps to prevent loose hairs from falling out and clogging the drain.  But as you could guess, I was hot and wanted to swim, so I bought the swim cap and went swimming anyway.  I learned that in Ghana (and in life) you have to choose your battles, and arguing over a swim cap and unfair pool rule are not on my list of things to do this semester.  However, I have not seen a more obvious example of gender inequality since I have been here in Ghana.

Blog Entry #8: Dance, Cape Coast Slave Castles, "Some Things, Only in Ghana"

I)     Boogie Boogie – Rhythm, Dance, Reggae Night, Salsa!

Most aspects of Ghanaian life are accompanied with dance, song, and music.  I really love this aspect of the culture, and it is clear that people share joy and a strong human bond through music.  I have the best dance class EVER! There are easily over 100 people in the class, and my dance instructor’s energy level gets everyone to boogie and unleash their wildest feelings through dance.  The teacher is an older gentleman who has decades of experience teaching dance in Ghana as well as in California.  He carries a cane when he walks, but as soon as he begins to dance, he drops the cane and boogies like no other!  He also teaches us the meanings behind the dances and he encourages us to mix and mingle and unify as one group (the class is very diverse, with a significant number of foreign students as well as Ghanaian guys and ladies).  He also teaches us the words to the songs (in Twi) that we sing to accompany our dances.  We dance in several concentric circles, both on the floor and on the stage.  Our teacher explains, “These circles represent family. Live, die, live, die, live. [It also includes] the extended family.  In Ghana, we say if you have not danced then you have not lived… Dancing is not just boogie-ing, it is about reaching your humanity”.  Every ceremony has some kind of dancing involved, including church ceremonies and funerals.  Dancing brings the community together.

Now on to my favorite dances! I love this one part of our first dance, where you pair off and stand in front of a guy.  You chest-pop 3 times (sorry, I do not no any other way to describe the movement lol) and you look over your shoulder while sitting on his lap.  The key is that when you turn around to look at him, you have to give him the biggest smile EVER, and he smiles back! I think it is hilarious and fun!  Then you skip joyfully over to the next guy and you do the same thing, sit on his lap and smile too! The dance is so much fun and the rhythm of the drums is so deep.  When you dance you can’t help but feel the blood pulsing through your veins, as you feel the sense of unity shared among people who would otherwise never meet in this lifetime.

I also have a big drumming class of mostly foreign students. We all meet outside on a concrete platform, carrying drums and drumsticks with us.  I came to the class late so I still have a lot of catching up to do.  We borrow the drums from the music department, but I think I am planning on buying my own Congo drum before I leave :-D Ghana is filled with so many different rhythms! I am so happy I decided to take drumming and dance classes because when else am I going to get this incredible opportunity?

LOL so of course I couldn’t discuss drumming, dancing and rhythms without discussing the wild Ghanaian parties!  I was told that University of Ghana was a party campus (well I was also told that Cornell was a party school).  To be honest, I haven’t been going out to party much, if at all (I’ve been a sweet homebody lately).  But, I can tell you about Wednesday nights, Reggae Night at Labadi Beach! I went there last time I came to Ghana as well.  There are a bunch of Rastas chilling on the beach, doing what Rasta’s do. There is a live band playing old school reggae music, and there is always a large crowd of Ghanaians and foreigners dancing.  There is a bar on the beach and also some people selling crafts (all Rasta/Jamaican themed).  It was very funny, I was already “in the zone” when I was going to Reggae night, and I told all of my friends at ISH that I was “going home to Jamaica for the night!” Good times, great times! I took a lot of adorable pictures on the beach that night and I posted them on my Facebook page.  I LOVE GHANA!

Another fun dance experience was Friday Night Salsa at the Aviation Recreation Center!  I went with my roommate and a bunch of her friends and I literally had one of the best times of my life! It was amazing to see all of these gorgeous Ghanaian men and women work their hips to salsa music! It makes sense that a culture of people who embraced music and dance so much, would be naturals at picking up other dance forms.  The class was so energized, and the instructors were so helpful! I brushed up on my basic salsa moves, and for the second half of the class I danced with some experienced salsa instructors and students to improve my moves! I will always remember that night! The best part was when they took a break from salsa and put on the Ghanaian line dance music, like the song Wengeze by Eazy (my absolute favorite song)! Now picture a dance that is a billion times better and more sensual then the Electric Slide and Cha-cha Slide, and add in a bunch of Ghanaians who are all really good dancers, who keep a perfectly synchronized formation! It was amazing, too great for words! Let me just say I had one of the best nights of my life and I would like to plan a Girl’s Night Out again soon so I can go back with my friends!

I have one more story to add about dancing!  Last night I went to my first Room Party on campus (they are also called “Drink Ups” LOL).  They are the essentially the same as Cornell’s parties (similar to “Sweat Box” in Ujaama).  The biggest difference is that the ratio of guys to girls is 5:1 and the guys don’t mind dancing with the lights on! One of the non-traditional words I learned from my friends in Twi is “ntwia”, which means to dance close (grinding), which was all they did at the party.  It was really a fun time though. The birthday girl was very sweet.  She introduced herself to us and made sure we had everything we needed.  It was funny! I think we only stayed for about 20 or 30 minutes (which is the shortest time I have ever spent in a good party), but we had just enough of the experience so we could say we went! Good times, great times at University of Ghana!

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II)     Cape Coast, Slave Castles, and Coconut Grove Hotel/Resort on the Oceanside

Cape Coast is a gorgeous place stamped by an ugly history.  I went to Elmina Slave Castle (the first and biggest one) last time I came to Ghana, so I decided to take a tour of Cape Coast Castle this time.  A lot of the sights and stories are similar, but I think Elmina had a deeper presence and longer lasting effect on visitors.  I am not sure why, but if you have to choose, I suggest you go to Elmina.  I will not go into details about the stories of the Slave Castles here on this blog, but as you can imagine, there was a lot of abuse, sickness, rape, dehumanization, death, and separation of loved ones.  If you want to experience the history of the Slave Castles, you should come here for yourself and see them.  The history is heavy, but these facts and emotions CANNOT be ignored.  Not only should African Americans come here, Africans, Europeans, and people from all over the globe need to understand the severity of the slave trade and the horrible conditions people were forced to endure. I hope history does not repeat itself. However, there are still incidences of people capturing and enslaving each other, and these atrocities are occurring all around the world right now.  How long will it take for the world to become a place of peace, diversity, and acceptance?  Who knows.  All I can hope for is that every person will take out the time to educate themselves on the injustices around us.  We should all do our part to make this world a better place.

Now Cape Coast the place… WOW.  All I can say is wow, wow, wow! What a gorgeous place! It reminds me of Cancun, Bahamas, and other amazing vacation spots near the U.S. The beach is beautiful, the sand is clean, and the ocean is clear! There are palm trees everywhere and the ocean breeze whisks me back to Cancun (memories of chilling in the hammocks with my family and friends on the beach).  We stayed at Coconut Grove Hotel and it is definitely a 6++ star resort! I told my girl friend that this spot should be our future honeymoon location! The pictures cannot do the place justice.  You truly have to be here in order to smell the sweetness of the flowers and to experience the fresh ocean breeze.  I apologize if I am making you jealous right now, but I hope if you are a student considering studying abroad, you realize that CIEE’s program at the University of Ghana is the best study abroad program EVER!  We lived in mini houses/bungalows that were ascetically decorated and furnished.  The bathroom was made up of three rooms (the shower wasn’t a stall, it was its own room). And yes, HOT WATER! Not to mention, the food was all catered, buffet style and was quite delicious!  We spent countless hours on the beach playing beach volleyball, swimming in the ocean, going on walks, and burying each other in the sand. We only spent one night at Coconut Grove Hotel in Elmina, but  that day and night were so memorable! I am sure I will be going back again in the future  :-)

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III)     Some Things You Can Only See In Ghana

I can’t help but laugh or shake my head when I see and experience certain things that only happen here in Ghana.  Some things are funny, some are upsetting, some are amusing, and some are very different.  I will continue to add to this list every so often.  I already listed over 30 different things in my notebook, but I will include 20 here right now:

1)     When you vote in National Elections, you dip your finger in ink so that they know you have already voted. The ink doesn’t come off for a week!

2)     Learn how to make a low-cost water filter using rocks and sand

3)     The random things you see people selling right before you get to the location called 37 ( I will make a separate list for this one in the next blog entry)

4)     Some things are better said in Twi then in English. Some people can express more of their feelings and ideas in Twi (hence the reason why becoming fluent in Twi is so important to me)

5)     Showering with wall geckos (they always have a way of surprising me!)

6)     Shoving people out of the way and running down the street to catch a trotro; Having to wait over 30 minutes to get a trotro that is going to your destination

7)     I saw a big lady running towards a trotro, so I ran passed her and got in before her (there ended up being enough space for her too); Moral of the story is: Get in the trotro as quickly as possible, and ask questions later!

8)     Big orange and black lizards doing “push ups and head-bobs” to scare off smaller lizards

9)     A mommy chicken with 9 different colored baby chickens, walking dangerously close to the busy street

10)A heard of giant bull cattle with huge horns running along the sidewalk

11) People urinating everywhere, including in the open gutters and in the grass along busy intersections; You even find messages written on buildings that say “No Pissing Here”

12) People running up to your vehicle /trotro when you are at a red light to sell you various things

13) When you walk on campus at night, you heard giant toads croaking, but you NEVER see them in the night or day

14) Tiny black tadpoles in the open gutters, swimming in murky water and trash (who knows what else is in those open gutters! I wouldn’t want to fall in, but I know some friends who have fallen in) :-P

15) Pay 1.20 for a big 1.5L plastic bottle of water or pay 1.30 for literally 10x that amount of water, but it comes in individually sealed mini plastic bags. You end up throwing out the little bags shortly after purchasing them, since you only used them to refill your big plastic bottles

16)Everything comes in a plastic bag in Ghana

17) FanYogo is the BEST EVER! Frozen strawberry yogurt yumm, I bet it has no equivalent in the U.S. that tastes as good ;-) It is so awesome, I have no idea why!

18) If you want to get to work by 9am, don’t plan on making it there on time (even if it is less then 20 min away) unless you leave at 7am… the traffic is that horrible

19) Pineapples are white and oranges are green, but they are probably the sweetest you have ever tasted in THE WORLD!

20) Trotros range from a van (“bang bus”) size to minibus (“hood-bus”). Either way, you are going to be squeezed in and the trotro will not leave the bus stop until it is filled beyond capacity.

Blog Entry #7: Kumasi, Sacrificing Chickens, Wrap the Baby, Mystery Bathrooms, and More!

Good day! My fun adventures in Ghana continue! Here are some entries for this week:

1)     Welcome Home to Kumasi

2)     Wrapping Fresh Boy

3)     The Curse of the Antoa River

4)     The Mystery of Ghanaian Bathrooms

5)     The Golden Stool- Kings, Museum, Culture Center, Sword in Ground

Feel free to leave comments and email my blog site to your friends. You can sign up to automatically receive emails whenever I post a new blog entry (see option on the right side of the screen). Also, I will begin fundraising for the West Africa Aids Foundation Ambulance Fund starting early next week. Email me if you are interested in getting involved or giving donations.

Enjoy!

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1)     Welcome Home to Kumasi

Well, getting to Kumasi was quite the adventure as well! Let me start off by saying that Ghana has a lot of imported things, and all of their vehicles are imported. I felt like I was riding in luxury in the big coach bus. The seats were twice as big as normal seats and even reclined and had a footrest. However, we did wait about 3 hours before even getting on the bus.  Arriving in Kumasi feels like returning home (homeland, home, that is).  I am staying with K and his family. His parents are so sweet! Also, a family friend, cousin, and his nephew also live there. Part of what makes a home in Ghana feel so warm and inviting is the strong family dynamic. There are more people to love in an extended family and each person of course brings their own dynamic outlook on things.

His Dad asked me how did I see Kumasi compared to Accra. Accra is a big city, bustling with activity and Kumasi is the homeland. Also, everything in Kumasi costs fractions of the amount you would pay in Accra. Transportation is a lot cheaper and trotros are a billion times easier to catch in Kumasi. I always feel so much warmth, laughter, love and support when I am with a Ghanaian family and so I always connect Kumasi with these happy feelings. And it’s true, if you are a guest in a Ghanaian family’s home they will certainly overfeed you and make sure you have the best, freshest, tastiest food ever! Everyone in the neighborhood knows everyone. The community is very close-knit.

I certainly felt like a Queen, laying on my bed under the round-shaped mosquito net. Everything in the room was pure white, and there was a dreamy feeling that came over me. Life is so good here, it feels too good to be true! It feels like the sweetest dream has actually become reality.

All of the food was amazing but I must say that the chilled pineapple for dessert was THE BEST PINEAPPLE I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE! Wow. Over the weekend, I also had pasta with tomato stew and steamed fish; peanut soup with fufu, beef, fish, and mushrooms; pasta with apples; eggs, buttered bread, tea with cream, and salad with fish for breakfast; yams with my favorite vegetable stew for dinner; the list goes on. I learned that there is a particular way that Asantes eat fufu. First off, you have to eat with only your right hand in the bowl (no utensils are used when you eat fufu). Apparently I was eating it the wrong way because you are supposed to swallow fufu, not chew it. Also, you are not supposed to chew fufu and meat at the same time (I love to mix my food so I was not very enthusiastic about this rule). You have to “cut” the fufu in the blow, meaning you break a small piece with your fingers under the soup before you lift it to your mouth. My friend stood over me and watched me eat, which I did not enjoy. However, now I can say now I know the right way to eat fufu!

I know this is pretty random, but I must say, the roosters are so confused here! They start cock-a-doodle-doo-ing as early as 4am and they continue to make noise throughout the afternoon.  They are very strange. I also woke up a lot to the sound of loudspeakers around 4am because the Muslims get up very early to pray.

Something else unique about Kumasi is the way people bargain.  I was looking for kente cloth, which is usually around 100 Cedi for 3 pieces (long enough to make over 3 dresses). When I was in the store, my friend told me not to say that I would look elsewhere to find a better priced product. He was talking to the store owner, saying that he used to live near him and that they might be neighbors or family friends. People in Kumasi will give discounts if they think of you as family friends or close neighbors. There is so much to learn about culture in Kumasi!

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2)     Wrapping Fresh Boy

I am so fond of Fresh Boy, I had to give him his own chapter! He is 8 years old and is in second grade in a private school (if you know my cousin Stephon, he certainly reminds me of him). He never fails to impress me with his fluency in both English and Twi. We were watching a Ghanaian movie together in English, and he would describe the scenes in Twi, until he eventually asked if I could speak Twi. I told him I was taking a class to learn it but I certainly couldn’t understand that much yet. I love how I was being tutored by an 8-year-old!

Fresh Boy loves to dance.  K told me a funny story about Fresh Boy’s antics. On his first day of class at his new school, Fresh Boy lined up with his grade after an assembly.  As usual, the teacher played a drumbeat and all of the students began to march in line back to their classrooms. However, when Fresh Boy heard the beat, he jumped out of line and started to dance and boogie! Haha Fresh Boy is just like his uncle—fearless, outspoken, never shy, and loves to dance!

Fresh Boy is also very sweet. I thought it was absolutely adorable when I told him I was going to brush my teeth, and he came into the bathroom with me to brush his teeth at the same time! Aww! I wish I could do that everyday. I love how close-knit the family is.

One night I got a dose of the ultimate Ghanaian experience—lights out, no water, and pouring down rain. However, it really didn’t matter what the conditions were around us because we had such a blast! I was sitting with Fresh Boy and the rest of the family in the living room and we were all crowded around one lantern. Fresh Boy and I started playing the “Shadow Game” and I was making huge monsters with my hands.  I would make my shadows eat him and he would start giggling and rolling all over the place! He would then make shadows back at mine, and his shadows would eat my shadows. We even added in a storyline, dialogue and sound effects! I think we must have played that game for hours. I didn’t even realize I was sweating from moving around so much. We had so much fun! I will never forget that night in the dark.

Wrap the Baby! Now that was certainly a Kumasi highlight.  For a while now, I always wondered how Ghanaian women managed to wrap their babies on their backs so well. The babies are always so well supported and the women have their hands free to carry tons of things. I was really lucky that K’s cousin showed me how it is done! As you can imagine, Fresh Boy is pretty big but he was the closest person we had to a baby’s size. I managed to wrap him on my back, but he was so big! He actually just held onto my waist with his legs so he wouldn’t fall backwards when I stood straight up. The pictures are hilarious! I am going to post them on Facebook and I might put some on the blog too (if my internet ever decides to work). Good times, great times with Fresh Boy!

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3)     The Curse of the Antoa River

** This description may be considered graphic, viewer discretion is advised**

The Antoa River is very powerful. The belief goes that if people are cursed by the river, they will begin to develop a large belly and swollen limbs.  They will die if they do not perform the necessary sacrifices.  Many local people are afraid to even visit the river and have no interest in going near it because they are afraid of its powers. We had a guide show us everything and explain the process.  We walked along the dirt road for over 25 minutes before we got to the river.  Along the way, I saw people walking with pans on their heads and the pans each contained a live chicken.  When we finally got to the river, everyone removed their shoes behind a wall, then walked up to the ceremony.  There was a line of about 15 men and women holding chickens by their legs or wings.  There was a chief in charge of the river and he was directing the sacrificial process.  Another man stood by the river’s edge and he held sharp knives.  The smell of fresh meat and blood was overwhelming. The smell reminded me of a dissection lab in biology or in animal science classes (eww).  The procedure started with the cursed person washing his/herself in the river with their clothes on.  Next, the man by the river’s edge took the chicken and sliced its neck with the blade and let the blood drip onto a rock.  Then, he tossed the dying chicken into the river and it flapped around for a while.  After a while, it began to slow down and it stopped flapping entirely.  He picked it up and cut the limbs and head off and tossed the pieces into a pile.  He also poured Schnapps (libation) onto that same rock he dripped the chicken blood on. The people all said a chant in unison, and then the sacrifice was complete.  The next person online proceeded with the same ceremony.

I was surprised to see that people brought their young children with them.  The children stood in line next to their relatives.  I was also surprised to hear that some people had to pay up to 100 Ghana Cedi as a sacrifice for the river.  However, I was happy to find out that the chief would use the money to pay for the school fees for children in high school and for young men and women from the village who wanted to attend a university.  I also found out that people overseas could also be cursed by the Antoa River.  For example, if a person curses you and you are in the United States, you can send a close relative of yours who is in Ghana to break the curse for you.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the chief and other important people eat the chickens that were used in the sacrifice, so they did not go to waste.  As a former president of the Animal Rights Club in my high school, I certainly did not approve of the way they killed the chickens.  They could have killed them in a different way so that they did not have to suffer and flop around with blood dripping out of them.  But anyway, it is what it is. Different cultures have different practices and I am glad I got a chance to take a glimpse into the belief system of some Ghanaians.

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4)     The Mystery of Ghanaian Bathrooms

One time I was instructed to take my shower, but I wasn’t sure quite how. I entered and saw the buckets placed in the corner, as expected. However, I was confused when I did not see an actual shower. Under closer inspection, I noticed there was a drain and a showerhead in the far right corner, but no shower stall or shower curtains. The toilet was in the left rear corner. I closed the toilet lid and took a warm bucket shower. I think I probably splashed water all over the entire bathroom, since I am so used to having a shower stall. Either way, I am very grateful for the hot bucket showers I took in Kumasi. It felt so amazing and relaxing. I can’t believe I haven’t taken a warm shower since the first day at the hotel.

Another example of bathroom confusion occurred when I was on a trip with my study abroad CIEE program. We went to a small rural town to buy carvings. I asked to use the restroom and I was led to a small restaurant. They led me to an interestingly shaped cement wall. The wall only came up to my waste, and it shaped like a maze. When I walked inside of the maze, I noticed three holes the size of a ping-pong ball. Ladies and gentlemen, that is your “toilet”!

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5)     The Golden Stool- Kings, Museum, Culture Center, Sword in Ground

I learned a whole lot today! First, we went to the Palace Museum and I learned all about the Golden Stool and the belief that falls onto the lap of the next Asante King.  I found an Asante symbol I really like called Funtumfunafu and it is a picture of two crocodiles heads that share the same stomach, yet still fight over food.  It is a really cool symbol and I am looking for fabrics and jewelry that have this symbol on it. If I ever decide to get a tattoo one day, I might want to use this symbol because I like its meaning and design. It represents unity and diversity.

Next, we went to the Cultural Center and I got a few small gifts for my family. Then, we walked through the hospital to get to the famous site of the sword in the ground. It is believed that the person who can remove the sword will be a very important person in Kumasi (I forgot the exact description but I will get back to you on this). Muhammad Ali and other famous people tried to remove the sword in the past to no avail. Now, people are no longer allowed to try and pull the sword out of the ground. Supposedly, there was a curse that was causing the people who tried to pull the sword out to die.  Very interesting. After that, we went to a traditional Asante funeral. It was incredible to see men and women adorned in layers of traditional funeral cloth.  The close friends and family to the deceased wore red cloth.  The people who went to the same church as the deceased wore white, and all the other guests wore dark brown and black.  Even the chief from that village attended the funeral and performed a ceremonial dance and greeting.

There is so much to learn in Ghana and in Kumasi and the best way to experience life here is with a close friend and their family.  I am very grateful that I met K and that he has welcomed me into his family.  He has shown and taught me so much in the past month.  All of the fun, laughter, and experiences have been priceless :-)

Blog Entry #6: The Truth is Blunt- Poverty & Inequality

First off, I would like to acknowledge that I got a lot of feedback concerning my last blog entry. I am glad that my last blog caused some controversy and I got an array of productive feedback, comments, emails, and opinions. Some people may have felt my last blog post was offensive, critical or felt as if it was designed to target particular people. I will always be direct and blunt on this blog because I am here to expose the TRUTH. There are many ways people can get involved in making a difference in the world around them. You don’t have to volunteer or chose a service-oriented career to make a difference in the lives of others. You can ALWAYS give monetary and supplies donations. No matter your interests, profession, career, or social status, it is UNACCEPTABLE for any person (especially Americans and people who can afford to have their own laptops) to not do their part in making this world a better place. If you are following my blog, you will get pure, unadulterated truth. Here is a sad example from the International Health Care Clinic:

A young HIV- positive mother brought in her young daughter, Deborah. She was already in the later stages of AIDs and little could be done to help her as the disease took over her immune system and her small, young body began to deteriorate. One wonderful family from the UK decided to sponsor this brilliant young lady so she could attend school and receive the anti-retroviral drugs she needs each day. However, Deborah was still very sick. One day she began vomiting and was straining when she tried to use the bathroom. Deborah passed out when she was in the bathroom and did not wake back up. Her mom begged her neighbors until she raised enough money to pay for a cab to take Deborah to the clinic. By the time her mom collected 3 Cedi (less than $2.50) from her neighbors, 3 hours had already passed since the time her daughter passed out in the bathroom.  When they finally arrived at the clinic, it was already too late. Dr. Naa Ashiley Vanderpuye pronounced Deborah dead.

Now I can tell you exactly why I may sound frustrated or bitter in my blogs when I write about injustice and inequality, or when I discuss Americans’ selfishness and failure to take action. Can you imagine a mother having to carry her dead daughter’s body on her lap in a taxicab? Dr. Vanderpuye and a volunteer from the clinic accompanied Deborah’s mom, as her daughter’s body was shuffled from place to place in a taxi and in a friend’s truck. They had to obtain a death certificate, autopsy, and burial permit. It is unbelievable to me that they had to take Deborah’s body in a taxi with them to obtain all of these permits because the clinic cannot afford to purchase an ambulance or used truck to transport patients. This inequality is tragic and unacceptable.

My goal is to raise 12,000- 15,000 (Cedi or Dollars) before January 1st 2011 and donate this money to the West African AIDS Foundation so that the International Health Care Clinic can purchase a used truck. After speaking to Dr. Naa Ashiley Vanderpuye and her Mother (who helps her run the clinic), it is clear that they would be very grateful and appreciative if our goal becomes a reality.  I know I will personally be donating a portion of my earning to this greater cause. I know everyone who is reading this blog has 20 or 100 dollars/Cedi (or more) that they can donate. I know fundraising can bring in even more donations.

There is a saying that “Ignorance is Bliss”. That’s fine for some people. But again I will emphasize that my blog will always tell you the truth the way it is. Yes, I will discuss topics like religion, music, dance and other interesting and fun topics. However, I will also elaborate on the inequalities I encounter. Rather than take offense to my messages, think of my passionate criticism as a CALL TO ACTION. Ask yourself the question, “How can I make a difference this week?” You can give money, vitamins, Band-Aids, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, clothes, shoes, etc. Virtually anything that is good quality can be donated. The clinic has 500 patients and Dr. Vanderpuye is the only full-time doctor at the clinic. She has four young children and lives a busy life. She is a fantastic woman and I would love for you to read more about her so that these images and stories become more vivid for you.

Please copy and paste the following description into an email and send it around to your friends. Our goal is to raise 12,000- 15,000 by January 2011. I need your help and the help of your friends and family to make this goal a reality. I will look into setting up a PayPal link for the organization. Tell me in an email how much you would like to donate (whether it is in the form of money or supplies) and I will further coordinate with you via email to determine how we will collect your gift.  My email address is KML65@cornell.edu

If you would like to read more Dr. Naa Ashiley Vanderpuye, I will include part of her story at the end of the blog entry. If you would rather read her complete introduction, please go to her personal site at http://www.aandachtvooraids.nl/ihcc.html ).

Here is the website for the West African AIDS Foundation and for the International Health Care Clinic: http://www.waafweb.org/ .

Also, if you would like to read the complete, vivid description of Deborah’s story, visit this page written by a study abroad student volunteer from last semester. Scroll down to where it says “In Memory of Deborah Sarchie” and click where it says “Read Deborah’s Story” http://www.waafweb.org/news.html

Before you fall asleep tonight, take 5 minutes to reflect on what you can do to make a difference. Reflect on what the words “Peace, love, and justice FOR ALL” really mean to you. Peace and Love <3

***

Here is the beginning and select parts from Dr. Naa Ashiley Vanderpuye’s story:

“About the International Health Care Center (IHCC), a community clinic
at Roman Ridge, Accra Ghana.

Since April 2003, I have been working as a full time doctor at IHCC in Accra. My name is Naa Ashiley Vanderpuye. I am 34 years of age. I was born in the Volta region of Ghana. My father was a Ghanaian and my mother a Dutch. We had a wonderful simple life in Ghana untill my father suddenly died of perforated appendicitis. My mother, left alone with 4 daughters and not working at the time, decided to move back to Holland. All four children accompanied her.

Leaving Ghana so suddenly, at the age of 14 and under those circumstances was not easy. I had therefore promised myself that I
would oneday return to my motherland. The circumstances under which my father died also motivated me. He, after being diagnosed had to be operated upon immediately, but there wasn’t a surgeon around so he would have to wait for the next day and that was just too long. He died in the early hours of that morning.

My goal was to come back to my country and help as much as I could.” …. (to read her complete story, please click here http://www.aandachtvooraids.nl/ihcc.html ) … “IHCC is now treating over 500 HIV/AIDS patients. These people are from the lowest social ladder in our society and have very little or no access to any kind of health care. Even transportation fee is a
problem. Many times, patients actually ask us for some little money for them to be able to pay their transportation back home. Food is also a serious problem, financial constraints again being the main reason. Most people cannot buy common fruits and a high protein diet, what they do need is not part of their diets. At our clinic we offer the in-patients free meals.

Occasionally it does happen that we do not have certain medications and have to prescribe these for the patients so they can buy it themselves from the pharmacies in town. They mostly end up either not buying these at all or buying just a few, at least what the money they have can buy. This does not enhance treatment and rather worsens it since in such cases resistance easily builds up. Sometimes they show me prescriptions they have been carrying for months, medications that were prescribed by other doctors and what they could not buy. People walk around with the same medical problems for a long time because of
this, only ending up getting worse and even in certain cases dying.

At IHCC, most of our services are free. Since we started our clinic, we have received only one big funding solely for the treatment and care of HIV/AIDS patients. This came from Barclays Bank Ghana. In the proposal we estimated to treat about 200 people with the disease with the money given, which was twenty two thousand pounds but we ended up
treating well over 400. With the funding, we are able to purchase medications generally and frequently used in the treatment and care of opportunistic infections, food supplements, which is very essential, since most of the patients are malnourished and cannot afford to buy the right food. We also use part of the money in paying the staff and in buying disposable items. We frequently have to squeeze here and there but we manage to survive and carry on… In some cases when the patients get better and have to be discharged they do not want to go. Reasons being that at the clinic, they have people to talk to, they feel comfortable and at home they are going to end up thinking too much and be shunned by the family… We are very much in need of an ambulance and another extra transport. The ambulance will enable us do our Home based care programs, meaning visiting the people at home. We are trying to encourage this as a means of getting communities involved in the care of their loved ones. It will also be used to transport patients from the house to the clinic if necessary and from the clinic to other hospitals for, for example, diagnostics and also if we loose a patient to enable us send the body to the mortuary. Currently, when we loose a patient, we have to charter a taxi, which most of the times is a burden. The taxi drivers charge a lot for this, if they do agree to take the corpse and also getting some of the bodies into a taxi is not an easy task and also not a nice sight. The other transport will be used to do our rounds. At the moment we have to rely on only one car that is mostly used for the NGO and charting cars every day is not cost effective…”(Due to space, I did not include her whole introduction here and I left out some paragraphs but please read the rest of her story on her site http://www.aandachtvooraids.nl/ihcc.html )

(see my origional blogs and comments at http://blogs.cornell.edu/cuakml65/  )