Day 72+

Hi, friends! While this is crazy for me to believe, I have now been back in the States for exactly as long as I was in Ghana. This is difficult for me to wrap my head around as I feel that I’ve only been home for a small blip of time… and yet it also seems like my time in Ghana was an entire lifetime ago. Over the past few weeks, I have really enjoyed catching up with friends and family members and discussing our respective summers. However, in these conversations, I am constantly reminded that I kind of dropped the ball on the blogging front: blogging for 71 days out of my total 90 and thus leaving my last 2.5 weeks unspoken for. Though it is now obviously much too late to go back and do those 19 days of stories justice, I thought today’s milestone the perfect opportunity to go back and quickly summarize those lost days so that I am not left with the feeling that I abandoned something before it reached its full potential. 

When I last left you all, I had just spent my first day at Escape Three Points: an eco-lodge at Cape Three Points that I had traveled to with my new friends Carlo, Hannas, Theresa, and Luca. This was my second to last stop in my solo-backpacking trip along the coast and was a lovely few days filled with swimming, sun bathing, hiking (to a nearby lighthouse), and great conversations with the friends I had made. After two nights at the eco-lodge (one of those nights marred by the finding of the biggest spider I have literally ever seen… several inches away from me and in a bathroom stall, no less), I subsequently set out for my last stop: a village called Nzulezo.

 Lucas and Theresa at the top of the Cape Three Points light house.

Lucas and Theresa at the top of the Cape Three Points light house.

 My canoe mates: Thomas and Randolph.

My canoe mates: Thomas and Randolph.

Nzulezo is known for being a “village on stilts.” Though this name is a bit difficult to comprehend, it’s surprisingly accurate: the village sits on a type of wooden boardwalk (stilts) at the center of a huge lake. The village was pretty difficult to reach as the lake was further inland and I had started out on the coast, so I needed to take a combination of tro tro rides (4 hours) and canoe rides (45 minutes) to reach my destination. The canoe ride was particularly scarring as, halfway through, the sky opened up to produce more rain than I’ve ever seen in my life. As I was in the middle of a lake at this point, there was nowhere to go to seek shelter… and I had both my laptop and camera with me in my bag. Luckily, I found out later that both were fine and I eventually reached the village to receive a tour and meet some of the locals. In a hilarious reality check, one of the men I met (who was some sort of higher-up in the village) told me that we had actually met the day before on a tro tro. When I apologized and stated that I did not remember him, he jogged my memory by recounting that, when he had tried to talk to me, I quickly shut him down and said that I did not feel like talking. Though, at the time, I was tired and really did not feel like talking, it was embarrassing to be face-to-face with the same man I had so rudely denied, especially after hearing that my actions were upsetting to him. I felt awful and apologized profusely, noting that I really need to be nicer to strangers (even when I’m exhausted). I guess you could say that karma evened out the playing field between this man and myself because, about an hour later, I was taking a picture of some little girls I had danced with and literally fell off of the village’s stilts and into the lake. Well, technically only half of me fell into the lake… but I ended up with one soaking pant leg and a giant bruise up my entire other thigh. I can’t say the fall was undeserved (or atypical).

 The lake's water was so beautifully reflective that paddling through it felt like being inside of a kaleidoscope. 

The lake's water was so beautifully reflective that paddling through it felt like being inside of a kaleidoscope. 

 Nzulezo

Nzulezo

 Words of wisdom found on an Nzulezo classroom chalk board...

Words of wisdom found on an Nzulezo classroom chalk board...

After visiting Nzulezo, I finally made my way back to Brainbirds. This took many hours of traveling back to Cape Coast and then later to Accra. Though I left Nzulenzo around 1PM, it was nearly 11PM when I finally got back to the school due to the Ghanaian tendency to take ones time. As I was constantly reminded over my summer: perspective is everything. While I had surely complained about the condition of my bed at the school on countless occasions (to remind you: it was constantly breaking), the bunk bed felt amazing after such a long journey.

Arriving back at Brainbirds was the official marker of having exactly two weeks remaining in the country. Looking ahead to these two weeks, I was undeniably the most excited about spending more time with Peace, Alice and Emmanuella (my adorable roommates), since I had not seen them for the several weeks that the school spent on holiday. Unfortunately, my wish did not really come true as, in typical Ghanaian fashion, most students took their time returning to school. Despite the new school semester beginning the very next day, some did not return until mere days before my departure and others did not return at all (at least before I left, anyway). My last two weeks of classes felt a bit empty without my girls, though I did receive two new roommates in this time: Antoinette and Cindy. Thankfully, Emmanuella and Peace did eventually come back to school (several days before I left), which was really amazing as a few days with them were obviously better than none at all. Unfortunately, Alice never returned and I’d be lying to say that it doesn’t deeply pain me that I was never able to tell her goodbye.

I feel that I’m getting a bit off track here (it’s harder than you think to summarize 2.5 weeks), so allow me to list off the highlights I experienced in this time period. One notable highlight was when Sir Isaac taught me to make jollof rice: a Nigerian (turned-Ghanaian) specialty. Though I had always found jollof questionable when produced by the Brainbirds’ chefs, Isaac taught me that the school did not have the funds to make jollof properly and, once properly made, it was an amazing dish. I did get a second round of food poisoning from the fish we had added (it had been sitting out in the sun all day, though Isaac said it was “fine”)… but I don’t regret making/eating it for a second. I had always secretly envied how close Mariana was with many of the teachers (naturally, as she had spent much more time with them than I had), so I really treasured the bonding time I had secured with Isaac.

 The fire we made the jollof over.

The fire we made the jollof over.

I also spent a lot of time with Ayse and Uche: treating ourselves to “nicer” restaurants, trekking to beaches, hiking in the mountains, and even going out to the bars. In this time, I became even closer with Ayse than I had already been and, every day, I grew sadder to think about leaving her. While I had obviously spent so much time with Mariana while she was in Ghana, Ayse was the only friend that I had for the entire length of my stay and it meant a lot to me to know not just one, but two people that could relate to my experience. Having been home for a while now, I miss them both immensely and speak with them several times a week.

 Hiking to a waterfall with Ayse, her friend Elizabeth, David, and Uche.

Hiking to a waterfall with Ayse, her friend Elizabeth, David, and Uche.

 Visiting Kokrobite Beach with Ayse.

Visiting Kokrobite Beach with Ayse.

Other highlights included touring Accra's parts-unseen (including the historic town of Jamestown, where the English and Dutch conducted their slave trade, as well as Kwame Nkruma's mausoleum and Independence Square) and seeing the school undergo a major transformation. Crazily enough, over the course of my last two weeks, Madame was able to secure the funds to completely revamp the school yard and add a canteen, turf-covered playing area, and an above ground swimming pool! 

 Boats along the shore in historic Jamestown

Boats along the shore in historic Jamestown

 An aerial view of Jamestown via the Jamestown lighthouse. 

An aerial view of Jamestown via the Jamestown lighthouse. 

 Construction phase one: building the canteen.

Construction phase one: building the canteen.

 My new roommate Cindy laying on the astro-turf. 

My new roommate Cindy laying on the astro-turf. 

 The kids "swim" in the pool. (I say "swim" because most of them don't actually know how, and so they just slosh around in the shallow water)

The kids "swim" in the pool. (I say "swim" because most of them don't actually know how, and so they just slosh around in the shallow water)

 The final product.

The final product.

Although, obviously, a lot happened to me over the course of my last two weeks, I’d say that my last major highlight was the Brainbirds’ Camera Club’s photo exhibition. This was an event that I initially mentioned to my students in our very first classes together, so it was kind of surreal that it actually came together. My students worked very hard to bring the event to fruition: picking their favorite photographs, bringing in money so that I could get them printed, matting their prints, and writing out captions. For my part, I printed and distributed fliers advertising the show and arranged for Isaac to “DJ” the event. While I have an inherent phobia of hosting events (what if no one shows up??), I’m happy to say that the exhibit was a huge success and the majority of my students showed up with their parents in tow. For me, gallery shows have played such a significant part in my growth as an artist. Simply put, feeling like your work is important and worthy of public display is a major motivator to keep making work. I was so happy to give this feeling to my kids; I don’t think we could’ve ended our school year together any better. Though I can’t say with confidence that I helped to “change” the kids at all, they absolutely succeeded in changing me.

 Ruth and Michael work on creating their mats. 

Ruth and Michael work on creating their mats. 

 The final exhibition.

The final exhibition.

 Mercy and Elizabeth pose in front of the pictures they took.

Mercy and Elizabeth pose in front of the pictures they took.

In addition to the highlights, there were of course a few pitfalls. The first, I briefly mentioned earlier: I got food poisoning again, meaning that I spent a full month literally sprinting to the bathroom. The second difficulty was having to unexpectedly say goodbye to Brainbirds teachers and staff members. When I returned from my trip, I learned that Madame Nti had fired Becky in my absence. This was not incredibly surprising to me as Becky was quite lazy as a worker, but it was still sad for me to see her go. I also had to say goodbye to several Brainbirds teachers: Sir Phillip, Teacher Albert, Sir Hayford, Sir Isaac, and Auntie Alice. Besides Sir Phillip (who I didn’t talk to much), these were all teachers that I had greatly respected and enjoyed spending time with. However, the silver lining was certainly that these teachers would now have the opportunity to hopefully make more money (Madame paid them next to nothing) as well as work for someone who would treat them much better than Madame ever did. And, lastly, I'd have to say that my final stroke of bad luck was having to do without electricity for a full week (out of my last two). Apparently, Madame prioritized the new construction over our power and did not pay the bill. Who's really surprised? 

While I feel like I’m probably still forgetting to tell you all about so many things that happened to me, I know that all of my stories will never get told… and while it was an incredibly self-bettering experience to keep up this blog for so long, there are some stories that I need to reflect upon privately, if at all. I cannot count the number of hours that I spent writing, revising, and posting my blogs this summer but, in my opinion, every moment was worth it. Though the blogging did, in theory, take away time from my experiencing the country (which is why I ended up not writing over my last few weeks), forcing myself to take a moment out of my day to reflect upon my own actions helped me to take a hard look at my bad habits and modify my behavior as a result.

When I was preparing to return home to the States, I was a little worried that I would lose all of the valuable lessons I learned in Ghana. I was also scared that I would revert right back to my old ways: complaining about “first world problems” (and getting annoyed at my friends for doing the same), becoming too easily impatient, and eating way too much. When I first got back, I had no problem staying on the straight and narrow. Though I was thoroughly overwhelmed by how much food my parents had in their refrigerator (a normal amount by American standards, but a feast compared to the small stash of crackers and milk that I kept in Ghana), my shrunken stomach still got full extremely easy. Having a hot shower was out of this world; forgoing hand washing for a washing machine was surreal; and having a room to myself was more peaceful than I could have even imagined. That being said, it wasn’t that long before I did start giving in to old habits. I was so amazed to have so much food that I just wanted to eat it all. Hot showers were still blissful, but became the norm. Not surprisingly, the act of washing clothes lost its charm. I also dipped back into the bad habits of practicing less patience with my family members. Though I would like to tell you all that Ghana changed me in my entirety, that simply isn’t the case. I still have quirks that need ironing out and, of course, there is still more introspective work to be done. That being said, it would be going too far to say that I haven’t changed at all. I do notice changes I’ve been able to maintain such as treating strangers with more kindness, continuing to appreciate my access to modern conveniences, being less abrasive with my speech, and slowing down a bit to “go with the flow.”

I’m happy to report that my time in Ghana was everything I wanted it to be and more. In retrospect, it’s honestly the best decision I have ever made. I miss all of the friends and experiences I had in the beautiful West African country and I really hope to make it back there someday. However, if I don’t, I know I will always have my Ghanaian friends to chat with via WhatsApp, international news sources to keep up with Ghanaian politics and cultural events, the insane amount of artwork and clothing that I brought back, and my fond memories to reflect upon via these blog posts. To all of my friends and family members: I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your continued reading and support. When I was lonely in Ghana, I felt comfort in feeling like you were all “with me” in my journey. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to put as much effort into the last 2.5 weeks as I put into the first 10.5… but I’m hoping that this final post will make up for it in part. I hope that you’re all having a beautiful holiday. Me da se pa (thank you so much) for reading!

 A snap of me teaching, taken by my amazing Form 1-2 student Barbara.

A snap of me teaching, taken by my amazing Form 1-2 student Barbara.

PS: If you would like to see the Facebook album of all of the images I took over the summer, you can do so here, and if you would like to see a gallery of the images that my students took, you can do so here

Day 71

I took my time getting up in the morning, lounging around and then ordering breakfast in bed. The meal was absolutely delicious, featuring a Spanish omelet, toast, and fruit salad. I dug in, finishing the spread quickly. Then, as I finally left my room in attempt to return the empty tray to Frida, I ran into Carlo and Hannas. They were sitting on the porch in front of my door, chain-smoking cigarettes (as, I suppose, per usual). When I stopped to talk to them, we discussed the plan for the day. Carlo informed me that there was a German couple that he and Hannas had met a few days earlier who wanted to join us in our taxi. They were apparently staying just down the way, at Alaska House, and Carlo asked me if I’d mind if they squeezed into the cab with us. Of course, I didn’t, as this meant that I’d have to pay even less of the fare and, if we’re being honest, I definitely valued thriftiness over space/comfort. I told Carlo that they could absolutely join and he gave them a call, asking if they’d like to meet us at Scorpion Lodge soon. Realizing how quickly the boys were planning to get a move on, I figured I should probably pack up my things and so I attempted to go back to my room once more. Unfortunately, I found that I had accidentally locked myself out, so I sought help from the chef in opening my door. Evidently, the hostel did not carry spare keys, so the chef ended up picking my lock with a pocketknife. Thanking him and apologizing for the inconvenience, I then began to throw all of my belongings together, doing my best to tidy up the room so that Frida would not have such a hard time cleaning up after me. Then, I met the boys back on the porch. I settled my bill with Mike and waited while he called up a taxi-driving friend of his to inquire about pricing. While the normal cost of the trip from Busua to Cape Three Points was 60 cedi (according to Carlo), Mike’s friend wouldn’t accept anything less than 80 as he claimed that the roads were worse than normal after the recent rains. Since we weren’t looking to pay so much, we asked Mike if he knew anyone else that could take us. Upon calling a second friend, Mike was told once again that we could not go for anything less than 80 cedi, though he was eventually able to convince his friend to take us for our requested price of 60. Overjoyed, we thanked Mike and awaited his friend’s arrival. Then, Carlo and Hannas’ friends arrived.

As the couple ascended the porch steps, with huge backpacks on their backs, I did not realize that these were the same people we’d be sharing a cab with. In fact, when they walked towards me to extend their hands for a shake, I thought that they were just extremely friendly people who were also staying at the lodge. It wasn’t until they began to speak with Carlo and Hannas in German that I (stupidly) realized these were the friends they had mentioned earlier. The couple introduced themselves as Theresa and Lucas and seemed very sweet. Apparently, Theresa is a medical student that had just completed an internship at a medical school in the Cape Coast area. Her appearance, interests, and demeanor really reminded me of my cousin, Kristin, so I was instantly at ease around her. Her boyfriend, Lucas, was visiting her for several weeks and they were backpacking around the country together. It was great to meet them and also nice to have another girl around. Before long, Mike’s friend arrived and we all met him downstairs, where we loaded our bags into his trunk. Then, we set off for Cape Three Points.

While the drive started off quite uneventfully, we soon began to see major flooding in some parts of the road. Our car was able to glide through most of the puddles with ease… that is, until we encountered a pool that stretched several meters ahead of us. The driver tried to continue on but his wheels spun in the mud, leaving us unable to progress beyond the water’s edge. We all looked at each other in disbelief, not sure how to suggest we overcome the obstacle. Eventually, Carlo offered that the driver might have an easier time passing through the water if he had less weight in the car, so we all made moves to get out. Hannas and Carlo exited the car first, both hilariously stepping directly into thick mud. As they groaned, Theresa, Lucas and I cracked up and then did our best to step carefully onto more solid ground. We mostly succeeded, though it was impossible to not get a little dirty in the process. Thankfully, our lighter taxi drove easily through the water to the sound of our applause. We carefully walked along the edge of the pool and joined our driver on the other side, hopping back into the cab. Our drive was then smooth for about fifteen minutes after this… until we hit another body of water. We attempted to repeat the same drill as last time, though this time Carlo sunk even deeper into the mud! The rest of us laughed as he struggled to pull his feet from the ground and even more when Hannas tried to help him and got stuck as well. This prompted the boys to try and wash off their sandals and feet in the water before getting back in the car, though the damage was pretty irreversible at this point. Again, the taxi glided effortlessly through the water as soon as we were out of it, and we quickly clamored back in once it had passed completely through. Then, we were off for the cape once more, experiencing, thankfully, a relatively smooth drive for the rest of the way.

 One of the crazy-large mud puddles we came across

One of the crazy-large mud puddles we came across

 Carlo and Hannas try to wash the mud from their feet and sandals (though washing them in such muddy water didn't really do much)

Carlo and Hannas try to wash the mud from their feet and sandals (though washing them in such muddy water didn't really do much)

We arrived at our hostel, aptly named Escape Three Points, around 2PM. When we got there, we quickly convened and decided to give our driver the original 80 cedi he had requested as his car had clearly received quite a beating by taking us through all of the mud and water. Then, we grabbed our bags and walked towards the reception area where we were greeted by the owner of the hostel—a sun-bleached Danish guy—and a woman named Milly. I waited while Milly showed the four Germans to their rooms and then, after she came back for me, she showed me to the shared dorm room (or “The Hive” as they called it). The Hive was conveniently located right next to the lobby and dining area and, again, I seemed to be the only one staying in it. After I placed my bags on a bunk bed, Milly then showed me the shared toilets and shower. There were actually two toilets: one right behind my dorm, and another closer to the ocean. The one behind my dorm was only a urinal, meaning that it was essentially a small shack with a hole in the ground that was only for urine. The other toilets were also basically holes in the ground, but they were holes in the ground with toilet seats (big deal), meaning you could therefore do all of your business there with no problem. The urinal smelled absolutely horrible, though the other toilets were supposed to smell a bit better as they were compost toilets (using natural carbon). When we reached the shower I could see that it was simple as well: essentially a large, open pen with a barrel of water towards one side. Despite its minimal accommodations, the hostel was pretty cute and definitely lived up to its eco-friendly promise. Besides the compost toilets, bottles were reused as flower pots, signs pointed out different trees and how to best care for them, and a plaque by the beach claimed that for every bag of trash guests picked up off the sand they would be offered a free drink at the hostel bar.

 The Hive: a small bunk with a sliding screen door and many sets of bamboo bunk beds

The Hive: a small bunk with a sliding screen door and many sets of bamboo bunk beds

 The compost toilets

The compost toilets

 Glass bottles reused as bar decoration

Glass bottles reused as bar decoration

When she had finished showing me around, Milly then led me back towards the dining area where I sat with Theresa and Lucas and we tried to order lunch. Milly informed us that meals were usually only served at specific times, and we had already missed lunch for the day, though there were a few menu items that could be ordered at any time. These items were pancakes with local honey or an egg sandwich. Since I had just had eggs a few hours before, I went with the pancakes, while Theresa got the sandwich and Lucas got bread with honey (apparently he hates eggs… weird, right?). The food was delicious and I enjoyed chatting with Theresa and Lucas throughout the meal. Then, when we were done, we went back to our respective rooms to change into swimsuits. We subsequently met at the beach, grabbed some complimentary chair cushions, and then laid out in the sand. Theresa walked up and down the coast, Lucas tanned, and I slept under the sun. After an amazing nap, I dusted myself off around 5PM and told my new friends that I would meet them later. I then took a quick shower (even quicker because of how cold the water was), changed, and hung out in my room for a bit until dinner began at 6PM.

 The beach at Cape Three Points

The beach at Cape Three Points

 Theresa walks along the shore

Theresa walks along the shore

 The beautiful water

The beautiful water

There were two dinner options: fish or chicken. I went with fish, as I believe most other people did as well. How could you not when you’re so close to the ocean? This time, I sat with Hannas and Carlo for dinner, and we discussed the differences in American and German diets. Carlo lamented the fact that American foods have so many chemicals and GMOs in them, since apparently all German food is made organically. (For the record: Lucas and Theresa later disagreed with this claim, so I’m not sure what the truth is here.) I teased him about his commitment to remaining chemical free, seeing as how he was still chain-smoking (inhaling who-knows-how-many chemicals) as we spoke. The conversation then digressed to music, politics, and eventually the extensive akpeteshie menu on the table. While I had only seen plain akpeteshie in Salt Pond, Escape Three Points offered over twenty different flavors from ginger to apple. The boys contemplated ordering a shot or two, though I declined the invitation. While I hadn’t done much during the day, I was exhausted from my time in the sun. I hung out with them for a bit more, playing with one of the hostel’s cute cats, and then returned to my room around 9PM. When I arrived, I realized that I had acquired new roommates since I had last been inside The Hive. No one was actually in the room at the time, only their backpacks, though I figured I’d see everyone later. I climbed into my bunk, pulled my mosquito net down, and then attempted to get some rest. The twin bed was small and the mattress thin so it took a while to get comfortable. I sorely regretted taking a nap so late in afternoon, as this definitely did not make going to sleep any easier.

 Escape Three Points' extensive bar. Everything to the left is flavored akpeteshie!

Escape Three Points' extensive bar. Everything to the left is flavored akpeteshie!

Day 70

Hi, friends! As you might have noticed, it has been way too long since I blogged last. In fact, I’ve been back in the States for a week at this point and I still haven’t written about my last three weeks in Ghana—whoops! With this in mind, I’d like to apologize and ask you all to bear with me over the ensuing series of posts. My recollection will not be as sharp as it would be had I written these sooner, but I will still do my best to take you through all of the details that I can remember.

So, we left off on my first evening at Scorpion Lodge in Busua. Just as I had hoped, I was able to sleep in and woke up well rested the following morning. After taking my time getting out of bed, I then exited my room and took a seat at the picnic table on the patio just outside my door. I noticed a middle-aged Middle Eastern man sitting by himself further down, to my left, and exchanged a polite good morning before ordering breakfast from Frida. I was delighted to see that the menu included options of banana or chocolate chip pancakes (among other things), so I combined the two and requested both bananas and chocolate chips in my pancakes. Frida put the order in and, while I waited for the food, the man beside me attempted to strike up a conversation. I discovered his name to be Gabriel and that he was here on business from Pakistan. He seemed to enjoy Ghana greatly, given that he was only supposed to spend several days in the country but ended up extending his stay to four weeks. I gave him as much travel advice as I could and, eventually, it came up in conversation that I had just graduated from Drexel. Coincidentally, his daughter was considering attending Drexel for biomedical engineering. What a small world, right? This realization led us to have a long conversation about my life in Philadelphia and, through the course of the discussion, I did my best to convey all of the positive attributes of the school. Retrospectively, my advice started off a bit irrelevant as I had originally misheard him and was under the impression that his wife was considering Drexel (I assumed for a masters or doctorate degree), not his daughter. Anyway, I was able to eventually give some sound opinions and he seemed very happy to relay my thoughts to his family. As the conversation wound down, Frida opportunely arrived with my food.

The plate looked delicious and, while I was excited to dig in, I noticed that there wasn’t any syrup on the pancakes and asked if Frida would mind providing me with some. To my dismay, she replied that the kitchen did not have any syrup, nor did they have any suitable substitute such as honey or jam. Luckily, Gabriel came to my rescue after mentioning that he actually kept a jar of honey with him in his suitcase (?). I did find this a bit strange but was happy to have something to drizzle on my plate. I helped myself to the jar and, after soon returning it to him, bid him goodbye. He was apparently going to have a surf lesson on the beach, so I welcomed the opportunity to have some alone time. I ate my pancakes (which were delicious, by the way: much better than the hamburger the night before), chatted a bit with the lodge manager, Mike, and then returned back to my room. Despite the early hour, I was feeling drained for some reason and crawled back into bed. At this point, I lounged around a bit: reading and editing photos. I felt a bit guilty for staying inside when I was mere steps away from such a beautiful beach, though I tried to rationalize that this was my down time and I could spend it however I wanted to. When I eventually worked up the energy to leave the room in the early afternoon, I was disappointed to see that it had started pouring rain—a “sign” or something, I suppose. I returned to my room to wait it out and blogged for a bit until the rain slowly subsided. Feeling reenergized and wanting to take advantage of the calm weather while it lasted, I grabbed my camera and packed a beach bag with a towel, sunscreen, headphones, and a book. I then set out for the beach, wading again through the dividing stream and emerging on the other side with intentions of sunbathing and swimming the afternoon away.

 In walking across the stream, I realized that my shadow weirdly looked like a silhouette of Africa!

In walking across the stream, I realized that my shadow weirdly looked like a silhouette of Africa!

As I walked down the beach, I ran into Gabriel. He was wearing a wetsuit and holding a large fish. The image was a bit perplexing, so I asked him where he had gotten such a giant fish (and why). Weirdly enough, though it had only been several hours since our talk, he didn’t seem to recognize me at first. Stepping closer to my face, he asked, “Rachel? Is that you?” I’m assuming that perhaps he normally wears glasses and simply could not see me now to confirm my identity. I replied that it was I, and he strangely remarked that I looked beautiful (even though I hadn’t changed a thing about my appearance since we had spoken last). I nervously laughed his comment off and changed the subject back to the fish. Apparently, he had just bought the tuna off of a local fisherman and was bringing it back to the lodge so that the cook could prepare it for him for dinner. He then invited me to said dinner, to which I hesitantly agreed. The “beautiful” comment was a bit unexpected… but who was I to turn down free fish? I told him that I’d join him and then, at his request, took a photograph of him, the fish, and several local kids that were playing soccer nearby. Unfortunately, I am not able to post the photograph here because an error occurred in my file backups and most of the photos from this day are missing somewhere in cyber space. Though I wish you could see it with your own eyes, the scene was a bit funny since one of the kids walked over without his pants on. I didn’t think anything of it since he was clearly a child (and walking around naked is pretty socially acceptable if you’re under a certain age), though I suppose that Gabriel might have been offended by the indecency as he quickly tried to move the fish around so that it would cover the little boy’s privates. I took a few pictures and then attempted to continue my walk. Gabriel warned me that I shouldn’t go beyond the fishing boats on the beach (I wasn’t sure why) and also clued me in on one of the fishermen’s newest catches: a dolphin. Gabriel had seen the dolphin lying on the beach after he finished his surf lesson and, after asking around about it, learned that the locals planned to eat it. Apparently, dolphin meat is quite a common meal in Busua. Though I was slightly grossed out, I was also intrigued. I continued to walk down the shore with intentions of finding the beached porpoise. 

As I walked, I passed by several groups of locals, hanging out by the docked boats. Though I did my best to offer a polite nod and smile to each person I passed, my efforts were largely met with cold stares. I did not feel especially welcomed as a tourist, and I cannot say that I blamed the people for their reaction. I continued my journey, doing my best to photograph everything but the people I came across (so that I wouldn’t upset them any further), and then found the dolphin soon after. It was resting on the sand and was completely unattended—something that I found fascinating as, had I seen a beached dolphin in almost any other context, I’d imagine that the creature would have a swarm of curious people surrounding it (as the stingrays did in Zanzibar). Though I was sad to see that such a beautiful animal had been killed, the dolphin’s mouth was curved into a slight smile that made me feel a little bit better in gazing at it (it looked happy?). I took as many pictures as I could, thinking that I could use an image for #AccraFromAbove, and then eventually decided to continue on. I passed a few hostels and a surf lesson and, just as I began to near Alaska House, the hostel that Josephine and Jonas were staying at, the sky opened up and it began to pour once more. Stupidly, I had not packed a rain jacket or umbrella, so I dashed for cover under a nearby coconut tree. A man stood beside me who had been selling the fallen fruit and suggested that I try for more substantial cover under one of the Alaska straw umbrellas. I took his advice and ran for an umbrella with a table and chairs underneath it. An older gentleman sat reading in one of the chairs, and I took a seat in another. Soon after, the coconut salesman joined us and, after the older gentleman retreated back to his room, the salesman and I began to talk. 

 The (somewhat-happy-looking? cute?) dead dolphin...

The (somewhat-happy-looking? cute?) dead dolphin...

Though at first I was a bit short with him as I wanted to read my book and he continued to distract me, I eventually gave up and engaged the man in conversation. He was young, with tight dreads, and he introduced himself as Rusko. We talked about many things including the differences between Ghana and America. Through this, I was able to ask him a question I’d been wondering for a while: why Ghanaians seemed to be so obsessed with moving to America (over Europe, South America, etc.). Essentially, his reply taught me two things. First of all, the idea of the “American Dream” is alive and well; second of all, people seem to be generally ignorant of what is required to “make it” in the States. After we discussed airfare and the cost of living, Rusko surprised me by saying that he thinks he’d only want to visit, but not move to, America. When I asked him why, he explained that he’d be foolish to leave Busua. He admitted that, though his life is leisurely and his responsibilities few, he is happy this way. He can sleep in later; he can swim in the ocean whenever he wants; he was able to buy a house for little money and incurs few expenses on it. His obvious contentment with where he lives was beautiful to me and I was actually a bit jealous. Though many would argue that my standard of living back in Philadelphia is much higher than Rusko’s is, I can’t say that I’m familiar with the feeling of genuine satisfaction; rather, I am always thinking about the next place I can go. I was really impressed with his ability to assess his options and determine that the grass wasn’t greener: a sentiment I could definitely learn from. As we talked, the rain continued to fall and I questioned whether it would ever stop. According to Rusko, it had been raining in Busua a lot lately and, in his opinion, the rain had the potential to go for hours without stopping. Thankfully, his prediction fell short and it was only about 45 minutes before the rain let up enough for me to run back to Scorpion Lodge. I told Rusko that it was wonderful meeting and talking to him, and then booked it back to my hostel.

 Strangely pretty beach-side trash

Strangely pretty beach-side trash

When I arrived, I found Frida and ordered lunch. It was nearing 2PM at this point, so I was absolutely famished. Since I now knew the “burgers” half of the menu to be off limits, I redirected my attention to the “local dishes” side. Here, a listing for red red and fried plantains caught my eye. Because it’s been so long since I posted, allow me to remind you that red red is a delicious dish consisting of black eyed peas marinated in tomatoes, onions, and spices. I relayed my order to Frida and, after she took it down, I sat down at the same picnic table where I had enjoyed my breakfast earlier. This time, two new guests sat beside me: tall blonde boys. Though they seemed nice enough, I wasn’t in an entirely social mood and the fact that they were blasting rap music and chain-smoking cigarettes didn’t exactly help. I therefore decided against sitting at the table and instead hid away in my room while I waited for my food to arrive. I hoped that I might be able to take a nap to pass the time but, alas, the loud music prevented this entirely. In the end, I ended up lounging around before eventually resurfacing and receiving my meal back at the table.

Through conversation, I determined that the boys were named Carlo and Hannas and that they were from Germany. Apparently, Carlo had spent the past year working in Ghana and was just wrapping up his time in the country; Hannas, a friend from home, was visiting for the week. I listened to Carlo talk about his experience while I wolfed down my lunch (which was positively delicious, by the way). Then, when I couldn’t eat anymore, I gave the remaining food to the boys, who seemed thrilled to take it off my hands. Before I headed back to my room to become a hermit once more, we quickly discussed my plans for the ensuing day. When I informed them that I was planning to take a few tro tros to try and reach Cape Three Points (another beach along the coast), Carlo let me know that the tro tros going towards the cape only left at 6AM and that, since they were so rare, I’d have had to reserve my spot on one beforehand. I obviously did not know this, nor did I reserve anything, so I was slightly panicked thinking about how I would reach my destination. Luckily, Carlo mentioned that he and Hannas were thinking about going to the cape as well. Though they had originally planned to go later on in the week, they explained that the weather at Cape Three Points was supposed to be much better than at Busua, as well as the waves much more accommodating for surfing, so they were considering going sooner. This was great news for me, as it meant that we could collectively split a cab ride from one beach to the other. As they picked at my remaining plantains, the rain started up again. I told them it was great meeting them and that I’d see them around, and then went back to my room to wait out the rain once more. Now, I continued to edit photos, blog, and read. I also attempted to take a shower that, unfortunately, did not feature hot water as Frida claimed it did. Due to the colder weather outside, the freezing shower water felt less than great and I sped through the process as quickly as I could. Then, just as I had toweled off and thrown some clothes on, I heard a knock on my door and Gabriel calling my name.

 Yummy fried plantains!

Yummy fried plantains!

When I answered the door, Gabriel informed me that the lodge chef was about to prepare the fish. When he asked me if I’d like to watch him filet it, I honestly wanted to say no… but, I ended up agreeing out of curiosity. The two of us then walked down to the bar area where we met up with Frida and the chef. Frida had the fish, a large tuna, laid out on a rock by the water. As the chef stood over her and dictated where she should place the knife, she sliced the fish into thin steaks. At first, I was surprised to not see any blood. Even when Frida had cut her way to the center of the fish, only a tiny bit of blood had dripped out onto the rock. However, when she reached the heart, blood suddenly began to pour. At this point, I couldn’t help but continually turn away and then turn back out of mutual disgust and fascination. Gabriel, on the other hand, was completely enamored with the process and practically squealed when the chef reached into the fish and pulled out the heart with his bare hands. When he asked me if I’d like to touch it, I said no, and then he spun around and threw the organ into the river. This seemed vaguely unsanitary to me but I guess such is life in Ghana? Frida continued to chop at the fish until it was completely dismembered, throwing organs and bones in the river all the while. Then, when she was finished, Gabriel accompanied her back to the kitchen so he could instruct her on how he wanted it prepared. I walked back to my room and awaited the finished meal.

Before long, Gabriel was knocking at my door once more. When I opened it, I saw that the table on the lodge balcony had been set with plates, napkins, glasses, and drinks. The set up seemed weirdly date-y, but there wasn’t much I could think to do other than take a seat. Soon after, Frida arrived with the fish steaks. While I had anticipated that she would serve us each a small portion of the fish, she had prepared and offered us the entire tuna. As if this wasn’t enough food, Gabriel had also evidently ordered yam balls (basically, fried rounds of mashed potatoes). The food was seriously delicious and, as we ate, Gabriel and I discussed how his travels were going so far. He told me about a strange moment he had experienced just a few days before in which a young Ghanaian girl was hitting on him: apparently, so that he would buy her a soda. When he gave in, she only continued to flirt with him until he confessed that he was married. The strange part of the story is that this girl didn’t seem to care and actually seemed to become even more interested in him. When pressed, the girl explained that cheating is not a big deal because “everyone here does it.” Though, as always, I hate to generalize, I have to admit that the prevalence of adultery in Ghana is something that I had noticed as well. This led Gabriel and I to then discuss religion: why adultery can somehow be viewed as less of a “sin” than homosexuality, and why his religion (Islam) seems to be more respected in Ghana than my own.

Beyond our somewhat disheartening talk of sins, religion, and systemic sexism, Gabriel also informed me of an unfortunate incident he had experienced shortly after his arrival in the country. Apparently, a few weeks before, he had wanted to explore the Accra area and so had hired a taxi driver to take him around for the day. While the pair had originally decided on a price of 200 cedi for the day, the driver waited until he had dropped Gabriel back off at his hotel before demanding a much higher price of 500 cedi. Naturally, Gabriel declined and stuck to their original agreement of 200, at which point the driver became aggressive with him and threatened him if he didn’t comply. When Gabriel entered the hotel to attempt to receive the staff’s assistance with the issue, the staff suggested he pay the driver 300 cedi as a compromise. Long story short: though Gabriel complied, the driver was still not satisfied and came back later with friends in attempt to intimidate Gabriel into giving him more money. Unfortunately I cannot remember how Gabriel eventually got the guy to leave him alone, though evidently he was able to. At the end of his tale, I was shocked and saddened. However, I was also a tad judgmental. Of course, I was sad that he had been the victim of such an aggressive act of robbery. However, I also couldn’t help but question why Gabriel had agreed to pay such a high fee in the first place (as even the initial price of 200 cedi was pretty hefty). Throughout my time in Ghana, I’d gathered that I actually received more respect from vendors when I bartered for lower prices on things. While, in America, paying more for something will most likely earn you extraordinary customer service, the same does not necessarily apply in Ghana. It seems to me like paying an “obroni” price without question might lead Ghanaians to prematurely critique someone as a rich snob who has so much money to give away that they surely wouldn’t mind paying even more than the ordinary price (as happened to Gabriel). However, in the times that I’ve leveled with taxi drivers or shop vendors and explained that, as a volunteer and artist, I don’t have a ton of money, I’ve felt that I’ve been treated more “normally.” This story wasn’t the first time that I had heard about Gabriel acting beyond generously, as he had also done in buying that girl a soda. What’s more, in addition to offering the kitchen staff the rest of his tuna, he gave the staff a sizeable sum of money to buy ingredients as well as a dinner of their choice. I felt bad for internally criticizing Gabriel for his kindness since, of course, it was very nice that he was so willing to share his wealth with others. However, as someone who had personally fought for weeks to be seen as an equal to my Ghanaian peers, I was a little worried that his actions might be perpetuating the idea that all “obronis” are so wealthy that they can effectively “save” poor Africans.

At the close of the meal, I tried to give Gabriel money for the food but he declined my offer, saying that I was like another “daughter” to him. This statement somewhat quieted my earlier suspicions that he was hitting on me though, despite how nice he was to me and to others, something still did seem a little bit off about him. Frida cleared our plates and, when I thanked Gabriel again for his kindness, he took my hands in his and gave me some sort of compliment in return. Carlo and Hannas walked past us during this weird handholding, so that was a little bit awkward, but the moment eventually ended and I headed back to my room. Then, just as I was about to close my door, Gabriel came over to me one last time and asked about my wireless hotspot I had told him about. Apparently, he had some emails he really needed to check and his SIM card had run out of data. Instinctually, I regretfully informed him that I didn’t have so much data myself and so I wasn’t sure that I had the capacity to share the hotspot. He seemed a bit disappointed but retreated back to his room without protest. As soon as I closed my door again, I felt awful about it. Despite his slight weirdness, this man had just treated me to an elaborate dinner… and I couldn’t even let him use my Internet for a few minutes? Feeling quite badly, I left my room once more and knocked on his door. I apologized for my earlier rudeness and told him that he could absolutely use my hotspot. I gave him the login information and then, at his request, also gave him my phone number so that his daughter could reach out to me with questions about Drexel. I then finally told him good night and went back to my room, quickly falling asleep.

Day 69

On Monday morning, I woke up as early as I could stand to (about 7AM). Though I didn’t plan to meet up with Josephine and Jonas until 9, I wanted to try and get some more charging time in before my nearing departure. When I stepped out of my dorm room with an armful of electronics, I was sorely disappointed to see that it was an extremely overcast day. In other words: that meant no sun, therefore no solar power. Still, I tried my luck and walked down to the restaurant. When I plugged my laptop charger into the wall, I was surprised to see that it lit up. I began to write but then, just a few minutes later, the power turned off. When I asked the desk employee about it, he said that he didn’t expect the hotel to have any electricity until the sun came out. However, he thought it would come out soon, in about half an hour. In fact, he promised me it would, as he said that it never stays overcast for long on the coast. I took him at his word and passed the remaining time by wandering through the two gift shops towards the left of the restaurant. Though both did feature some cute items, they were way overpriced and, again, I had no room to actually carry anything more in my bag. I thanked each of the respective shop workers and headed back towards the restaurant, though not before one worker ran out in attempt to talk to me. I wasn’t in such a talkative mood as it was still pretty early for me to be awake, so I answered him as quickly as I could and attempted to escape the conversation by grabbing my nearby book and sitting down to read. When he didn’t get the hint and continued to ask me about where I was from, I tersely explained to him that it was a bit difficult for me to listen and read at the same time. He didn’t seem to care and switched to a new question, asking over and over for my name. I answered him and, again, reminded him that I was reading, wondering if we could please speak later. He agreed and finally left me alone.

(As an aside: I am sometimes worried that my honest retelling of events might make me appear cold and unsocial to locals. While this very well may be how I appear, I just wanted to take a moment to point out that it is not as if I intend to deny every person I encounter the chance at a conversation. If that were the case, sure: I would absolutely be a heartless, pompous person. When I’ve chosen not to talk to people over the course of my trip, however, I feel it is for a different reason. Unlike anywhere else I’ve ever traveled, my white skin stands out in Ghana like a flashing neon light. Because of this, people approach me wherever I go and try to talk to me, I’m assuming since they are so amazed to encounter an obroni in the flesh. While some do have very good intentions in trying to talk to me, I’ve found that a good amount equate my skin color with wealth and are only trying to sell me something or work in a marriage proposal. So, after having so many people approach me in a day to chat, I sometimes just don’t feel like talking. I mean, think about it: I’m a Philly girl. On the streets of my city, people would probably aim to commit you to an insane asylum if you did something so abnormal as smile at or strike up a conversation with a passing stranger. Of course, you can view my actions however you’d like to. But I just wanted to take a chance to explain that whenever I am not feeling talkative it is never personal… it’s really just that I’m beginning to become talked out.)

So, contrary to the employee’s belief, when half an hour had passed I still saw no sun. I thus settled in to eat my breakfast: a delicious meal of a Spanish omelet, homemade toast, and a thermos of tea. Josephine and Jonas sat beside me, eating similar dishes. Thankfully, as our meals progressed, the sun came out just enough to allow my phone and computer to gain a few more percentage points of battery. Then, around 10, I returned to my dorm to gather my things and then promptly met Josephine and Jonas by the reception, where I settled my bill. We were then on our way to Elmina castle.

 Checking out from Stumble Inn

Checking out from Stumble Inn

 Jonas and Josephine, nervously laughing about my request to take their picture before we left

Jonas and Josephine, nervously laughing about my request to take their picture before we left

Since Stumble Inn was so far from the main road, we didn’t have much chance of finding a taxi to take us to our destination. We therefore decided to walk back up the long, dirt path towards Elmina. Josephine and Jonas both carried humongous, legitimate, “backpacking” backpacks, and I still have no idea how they made the journey without complaint. Even my small school backpack started to give me shoulder pains after a few kilometers. Thankfully, we eventually crossed paths with a taxi and were able to bargain for a 6 cedi fare to the castle. We threw our packs in his trunk and headed out for the castle, arriving in about ten minutes time. Due to the same bridge closure that had lengthened my trip the day before, the driver was only able to get us so close to the castle and dropped us off in a nearby station/market. After thanking and paying him, we all grabbed our bags and began the ascent up to the castle. I pointed out typical market fixtures to Josephine and Jonas as we walked and, in just a few minutes, we arrived.

 The market before Elmina Castle (which you can actually see, in the distance)

The market before Elmina Castle (which you can actually see, in the distance)

 Some nice lookin' palm trees in front of the castle entrance

Some nice lookin' palm trees in front of the castle entrance

Though seemingly just as big and popular as Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle was much different in that it was severely lacking in its upkeep. As I hope you saw in my Day 66 blog post, Cape Coast Castle is a pristine and sparkling white. Elmina Castle, on the other hand, is more like a faded, peeling gray. We entered the castle by crossing over a small drawbridge (it’s so cool that those really existed) and then approached the ticket desk: having to pay 30 cedi apiece. Luckily, a tour group had just assembled a few minutes before, so we hastily dropped our bags behind the reception and then ran to join the group. We now stood inside the main courtyard of the castle, where our guide, Sam, began to tell us about the castle’s history. He explained that the Portuguese built the castle in the late 1400s, and it is therefore the oldest European building in West Africa. He also mentioned that the name of the town and castle were accidental—that the Portuguese had named the town Mina, as the area was known for mining (and was a major fixture on the Gold Coast); when locals couldn’t say Mina correctly, the name eventually came Elmina: as it is today. While the castle was originally used for trade, it soon became one of the biggest stops in the Atlantic slave trade. Thousands of slaves passed through the castle’s walls between the 1400s and 1900s, meaning that it played such a gruesome part in history for the better part of 500 years. As Sam led us through the first and second floor bedrooms of Portuguese/Dutch/English soldiers and government officials, my only thought was: how could these people sleep at night when, below them, they could literally hear the sounds of thousands of people dying?

 A small section of the main courtyard, from the ground floor

A small section of the main courtyard, from the ground floor

 A larger view of the courtyard, from a balcony

A larger view of the courtyard, from a balcony

We continued our walking and subsequently ended up in the female slave quarters (it seems that the male quarters had not been fully renovated just yet). Here, we were taken into a small room that apparently held over one hundred people. Sam told us that the women would have been chained together in groups, which meant that if one person wanted to move, they’d all have to move. This created a major problem when it came to using the bathroom and many inmates had no choice but to relieve themselves right where they stood. Sam showed us a horrible line on the wall where the women’s waste had piled up to without removal. Just as I was thinking that I couldn’t possibly imagine being confined to such a small space, experiencing so much disrespect that I couldn’t even be granted a place to use the bathroom, Sam took us to a nearby cell that had cloths and chains on its floor. He mentioned that there had just been a demonstration in the quarters a few months ago in which hundreds of volunteers spent a full 24 hours in the cell. The cloths on the ground were their only clothes, and the chains bound them together. Sam admitted with horror that, after less than 24 hours, the volunteers seemed scarred and legitimately questioned if they would survive the night. To think that these people had such a strong reaction after less than one day in the cell made it even harder for me to fathom how indescribably awful it must have been to spend three months in a cell—the average time slaves were held before they were transported to Europe or North America. I mean, really, there just aren’t words to describe how cruel and disgusting it is to know that people treated other people in this way.

When we walked back out into the courtyard between the first and second female cells, Sam explained that a ball and chain visible on the ground were remnants of hundreds of years of rape. Apparently, on the balcony above us, generals and governors would stand to survey a selection of women that had been brought below them. They would then pick the woman they wished to “have.” If she came “willingly,” she would be led to his bedroom above; however, if she didn’t, she’d be chained to the courtyard floor and raped in front of others. While I was already feeling nauseas hearing about all of the inhumane torture that women had to endure inside these walls, this new information made me feel flat out sick. As if this wasn’t enough, we now continued on to the “door of no return.”

 Sam leads our group across the general's balcony

Sam leads our group across the general's balcony

 The door of no return...

The door of no return...

 The punishment room...

The punishment room...

After walking past the cells, we rounded a corner and descended a set of narrow stairs. No light entered the room, so it was difficult to see where I was going. We then walked on towards a second small room, equally dark save for one small door. This was the “door of no return,” or the door that both male and female slaves would pass through before being led down another set of stairs to the nearby ocean, where they would then board ships. Sam informed us that, of every slave that was forced onto a ship, about 2/3 would die over the course of their journey overseas. While, obviously, the fact that the conditions were so horrible on the ship that so many died was a very sad thing to learn, Sam confessed that he’d almost rather die on the boat than be one of the slaves that made it to shore, only to begin a life as a cruelly-treated servant. He wasn’t wrong. I sadly peered through the small door and took several pictures before Sam urged me to continue on. I ducked back through the second room and walked up the staircase to join the group in the main courtyard. This time, Sam explained the purpose of two small rooms in front of us, which were used for torturing male slaves. One door did not have anything above it. This was the punishment room. The other door, however, had skull and crossbones above it. This was the isolation room: where men were literally left for dead. The symbol seemed a bit dramatic to me, so I asked Sam if this had been added after the castle’s recent restoration to make a bigger impact on tourists, or something like that. To my surprise, he told me that the skull had always been there. The thought of so many Europeans openly acknowledging that they were purposeful in their intent to kill gave me shudders. We then walked to the second floor, where we were able to look down on Elmina’s fishing village.

 An aerial view of Elmina

An aerial view of Elmina

Having a chance to get some fresh air and enjoy a nice view was a pleasant break from all of the horrifying news we had been told over the course of the morning. Of course, news like this is so necessary for North Americans and Europeans to hear so that they can fully understand the horrible actions/impact of their forefathers. However, just because it is necessary does not mean it is enjoyable, which is why it was nice to take just a small break. After everyone had looked around and taken their fair share of pictures, Sam then took us to the upstairs quarters, where the general lived at the time. The rooms were big and airy, placing further distance between the lavish life of the oppressor and the cramped life of the oppressed. When we had finished walking through the kitchen and bedroom, we then walked outside again so that Sam could show us special prisons where a Ghanaian chief and his family had been kept. An interesting thing that I learned on the tour was that the European idea of slavery was, surprisingly, actually supported by many Ghanaian rulers. By this, I mean that the Portuguese, Dutch, and English offered chiefs goods and land in exchange for their approval of the kidnapping of their people. Though I cannot begin to understand what was going through the cheifs’ heads at the time, most did agree to the Europeans’ conditions. Perhaps they were worried about what the Europeans would do if they denied them, or maybe they were just so entranced by all of the expensive offerings they had been promised. Either way, of the few that denied the Europeans’ actions and actively worked against them, one of those chiefs was imprisoned in the cell that we now stood in. Though I was sad to hear that he had been captured, I felt proud that he had stood up for himself and his people, which clearly not every other chief had done. As the group walked from this cell and back towards the main entrance of the castle, Josephine, Jonas and I accidentally lagged behind and found ourselves a bit lost. After blindly wandering around the castle for a bit, Sam finally found us and brought us to the rest of the group. Here, he thanked us for our time and answered a few questions (naturally, I had a lot) before turning us loose. I then asked him for directions to Busua, used the restroom, and then grabbed my bag before meeting Josephine and Jonas at the entrance.

 Sam shows us the general's massive bedroom

Sam shows us the general's massive bedroom

 The top floor of the castle, where the special prisons were

The top floor of the castle, where the special prisons were

From the castle, we walked back through the marketplace in hopes of finding a shared taxi to the station from which we could grab a tro tro towards Busua. On our way, we grabbed small things for lunch. Jonas got bread, peanut butter, and pineapple; Josephine got a doughnut and peanuts; and I got popcorn, pineapple, and plantain chips (as per usual). We then asked a woman on the street how far the station was from where we were and, after she said half of a kilometer, we decided to walk instead. In theory, it should have taken us about ten minutes to travel the distance. But, after twenty-five minutes, we were still walking. At this point, we gave up and took a shared taxi the rest of the way. We found a tro tro going to Tacoradi, which was the town that we’d need to pass through before continuing on to Busua. We piled in, sharing the front row of the car. The journey was about two hours long, making it my longest tro tro ride yet. I passed the time by listening to music, while Josephine and Jonas tried to watch a blaring TV that was situated right above my head. When we finally arrived in Tacoradi, we asked around about taking a second car to Busua. By chance, the man we had asked was actually the driver of the car, so he led us to the tro tro. We waited about an hour for it to fill up and, all the while, I tried my best to remember all of the little bits of advice I could give to Josephine about life in Ghana. Finally, we were on our way and, about twenty minutes later, we arrived at the Busua stop. This was as close as we could get to our respective hotels via tro tro, so we would need to take a taxi the rest of the way. Thankfully, Google Maps showed Josephine and me that our hotels were quite close to one another, so we convinced a taxi driver to drop us off at both and were thus able to split the fare. The driver took us down a long, muddy road and dropped Josephine and Jonas off first, at Alaska Beach House. I gave Josephine my number and told her to reach out if she ever had any questions or wanted to meet up in Accra. I then said goodbye and the driver took me to my hostel, Scorpion Lodge.

 A street view of Elmina, as we walked from the castle towards the tro tro station

A street view of Elmina, as we walked from the castle towards the tro tro station

When I stepped out of the cab, it was into several inches of mud. I supposed that it had rained in Busua recently, which was weird because it hadn’t rained at all in Elmina. I thanked the driver and walked into the hostel, finding an employee and asking if he could point me towards the reception.  Apparently, there was none, but he seemed to know that I was staying in the dorm room. He called over a younger girl to show me to my room. After this girl unlocked the room and began to fix my bed for me, we got to talking. I found out that her name is Frida and she is 18 years old. She explained that her parents had asked her to move out when she finished high school, so she is now working and living at the hostel until she earns enough money to go to college. I found her work ethic inspiring and we talked a lot about how she enjoyed working at the hostel and what she hoped to go to school for. At the close of our conversation, she asked if I was traveling alone. When I replied that I was, she asked if I would like to be friends. The question was so sweet and I responded that, of course, I’d love to. She then let me be while I unpacked my things. Again, I was so lucky to have the whole dorm room to myself. This time, I was also blessed with an indoor shower and toilet.

After I had taken a moment to get myself situated in my room, I stepped out with my camera so that I could explore the area a bit. There were only about three or four other rooms in the hostel and, after I walked away from the main building and down a set of stairs, I found a bar and seating area underneath me in the sand. Right behind the bar was a sort of stream or lake that separated Scorpion Lodge from the nearby beach (Busua Beach, I presume). Finding no footbridge or path of any kind, I assumed the only way to cross the stream would be to walk through it, which I did. The water was a bit chilly but shallow enough that I made the journey without trouble. On the other side of the waterway laid several fishing boats, houses, and children playing soccer. (Funnily enough, I typed football instead of soccer in my first draft of this blog. I am starting to speak like a Ghanaian!) As I walked past, I then discovered more children in the water. Most of them were nude and, adorably, they ran and dove into the ocean’s suds like little penguins sliding on ice. Honestly, the water they played in was so shallow that they must’ve been slamming into the ground each time they dove, but no one seemed to mind. I really enjoyed watching them play as their pure bliss was contagious. I also loved photographing them, as the water was so clear that it perfectly reflected them as they stood.

 As you can see, a bit of water separated me from the actual beach

As you can see, a bit of water separated me from the actual beach

 A beautiful fishing boat docked at the shore

A beautiful fishing boat docked at the shore

 Bathing beauties

Bathing beauties

 A cute new friend!

A cute new friend!

Though I could have spent a while more looking out at the activities on Busua Beach, it was starting to get dark and my lack of bug spray worried me. What’s more, I was starting to get hungry. I walked back over the length of the beach, through the stream, and up to the bar. Here, I asked a hotel employee if I could please see a menu. The man asked Frida to fetch it for me and, while she did, he asked me where I came from. On a hunch, I thought that this guy might’ve been Mariana’s friend Michael, who she told me was the manager of the lodge. I talked with Michael on the phone to book my reservation and, as I hadn’t seen any employees other than him and Frida, I thought this had to be the same guy. I replied that I was coming from Accra, where I was teaching with Mariana. It seems that my assumption was correct, because his eyes lit up and he asked how she was doing. We talked about her for a bit and he made me promise to tell her to come back and see him if she ever visited Ghana again. Then, Frida arrived with the menu and I looked it over. There were not many options, and the entire list only included a few local dishes and a few different types of burgers. Despite the pretty awful burger I had the other day, I decided to give the dish another go and ordered a “scorpion burger.” It included fried onions and avocado and sounded delicious. Because I wasn’t super hungry, I asked Michael if I could order the burger without its included side of French fries. I also asked if leaving out the fries would make the meal cost any less, because it was kind of expensive as is. Michael told me that he wasn’t sure, but called the cook over so I could ask him myself. When I did, the man told me that this was fine. He also told me that my meal would be ready in about thirty minutes, to which I asked if he’d mind bringing it to my room when it was finished. I was exhausted and fully planned to eat the burger in bed before falling asleep (…please don’t judge me). He agreed and I happily returned to my room to edit some photos while I waited.

As more time passed since the time I had placed my order, I began to grow more and more hungry. However, after half an hour, I had still not received my food. In fact, it wasn’t until an hour after that that the cook showed up at my door. I responded to his knock with pure elation, though my mood quickly declined when I was able to catch a glimpse of the plate he held. The burger was so burnt that the outside was a pure black; when I poked it, it was rock solid and crumbled to the touch. I told the cook that, I was sorry to say this, but there was no way I could eat it. I mean, I’ve never seen a burger so burnt in my entire life. What’s more, when I lifted up the bun to see more of the meat, I noticed that there was neither avocado nor fried onions present. I clarified with the cook that both were supposed to be on the burger and, when he agreed, I asked where they were. Weirdly, it seemed like he hadn’t noticed their absence until I had said something. I told him that I hated to be a pain but I’d really appreciate it if he could cook another burger as well as add the toppings this time. He sheepishly told me that he could not make me another burger, as this was the last patty in the kitchen. I really couldn’t believe it. Half of the lunch/dinner menu was burgers and they didn’t have any more than this one? I considered rescinding my corrections and ordering something entirely new but, given that I was so hungry, I didn’t think that I could wait any longer. I modified my request and asked if he could please just put the avocado and fried onions on top. He agreed and, about fifteen minutes later, knocked on my door again. This time, the burger had “fried” onions (like the burger, completely burnt to a crisp), yet still no avocado. When I asked him why it was still missing, he told me that they didn’t have any in the kitchen, as it was not avocado season. Though I knew this to be untrue (about the season, that is), I couldn’t fathom that he had been to the kitchen twice now and, both times, had failed to mention that they didn’t have any in stock. Pretty disappointed, I asked if he actually could re-add the order of fries, as it was now about two hours after I had ordered and I was now pretty ravenous. While I had hoped that he might offer to make the fries for free—especially since I had not been shy about the fact that the only reason I was so hungry is because he took so long to make the food—he instead looked annoyed that I would even ask for such a thing. He eventually said that the fries would take half an hour more to produce and then left me to “enjoy” my meal.

As I took a bite into the burger, I noticed for the first time that the bun was absolutely rock solid. It must have been sitting out for weeks. Also, though the burger was not overcooked inside (the cook had just seared the edges like nobody’s business), the charcoaled edges made the whole thing taste extremely salty. It was tough to make it through more than a few bites, though I powered through about three quarters of it just because I was so famished. Just as I gave up, Frida appeared with my fries. Sadly, it didn’t take more than a few bites of these to regret adding them. Like the burger, they were grossly over cooked. In fact, they were so hard that they snapped between my teeth. I was disheartened to say the least and ended up giving Frida most of both dishes to take back to the kitchen. When the cook came to check up on me and ask how the meal was, I explained that it was almost impossible to eat. Again, he didn’t make any sort of apology and I had to pay the full price for the meal (bummer). After this, I was quick to fall asleep: tired and still hungry, though thrilled to have the chance to sleep in for the first time in days.

Day 68

Though Francis and I did not have plans to meet until 9AM, I figured it would be smart for me to wake up earlier so that I could shower, pack, and blog a bit before beginning my day. Unfortunately, the old snooze monster struck again and it wasn’t until 8:45 that I finally got out of bed: effectively leaving me no time to do anything other than get dressed and pack my things. Even these small tasks took a little longer than I expected them to, and it wasn’t until 9:10 that I left my apartment and took a seat by the front door, waiting for Francis to arrive. He showed up just a few minutes later, explaining that he had been knocking on my door at 8:50 and, after receiving no response, decided to return later. I apologized for not hearing him, feeling bad that he had been waiting for me.

 A horrible picture of my amazing room. (As you can see: there was no internal lighting, which is why this image turned out so grainy)

A horrible picture of my amazing room. (As you can see: there was no internal lighting, which is why this image turned out so grainy)

 Another grainy picture of my beautiful living room

Another grainy picture of my beautiful living room

Our agenda for the morning was to grab breakfast before he saw me off on a tro tro back towards Cape Coast. On our way to town, he suggested that we return to his mother’s house so that I could say goodbye to her. I thought this was an excellent idea and felt guilty that I hadn’t thought of it myself. We rounded the corner and walked towards the house where we arrived to find that Francis’ mother had actually not returned from the market just yet. No one was sure when she would return, so I sadly gave up hope of thanking her for her hospitality. His sister, Dina, was still at the house though, so we entered the home so that I could speak with her. I found her in her room with her aides, who were helping her do her makeup. I told her it was so wonderful to have met her and that I hoped to see her again soon. She repeated the sentiments and we left, conveniently bumping into Francis’ mother, who had just come back from shopping. I shook her hand and gave her a big hug, thanking her for setting me up with such a beautiful apartment for the evening. Like Dina, she sweetly thanked me for coming and invited me back in the future. It was obvious to me that Francis came from such an amazingly loving family and I was truly glad to have met them, albeit briefly. After chatting with his family’s neighbors for a bit about my plans for the day and the upcoming American election (they said they were would-be Democrats!), we then went back to my apartment quickly so that I could thank the landlady for allowing me to stay: another thing I had stupidly forgotten to do. Then, we finally made our way to the town so that I could appease my growling stomach.

While I had only been traveling for two days at this point, the previous days’ meals of omelets and oatmeal had upped my expectations for breakfast in Salt Pond. Unfortunately, these expectations were let down when I realized that Salt Pond is much more like Israel Alhaji than touristy Cape Coast. By this, I mean that there were no hotels or restaurants in the area, only street vendors and provisional shops. Though Francis and I had agreed that I would treat him to breakfast since he had covered so many of my tro tro fares the day before, he now said that he wasn’t hungry. I felt really terrible that I had now run out of ways to pay him back, though he assured me that the gesture was completely unnecessary. I bought a package of digestive biscuits (sort of like graham crackers) from a roadside provisional shop and we then walked back towards the tro tro station where I had originally met him. On our way, we passed the park we had visited the day before and also intercepted a parade for NPP: the New Patriotic Party of Ghana (essentially, their Republican party). People sporting NPP shirts and waving flags walked behind a large truck with massive speakers on its back. A man stood inside the bed of the truck, I suppose urging people to vote for his candidate and donate to the cause. Francis and I walked behind them for a bit, eventually surpassing them and ending up at the tro tro stop. I gave him a huge hug and thanked him immensely, saying that I was so glad to have had the chance to see him. He bid me farewell and I jumped onto a tro tro towards Cape Coast. The ride lasted about thirty minutes and, when I arrived, I then transferred to a shared taxi towards the new Cape Coast stadium. The receptionist at Oasis had told me that I could easily grab a tro tro to Kakum National Park from the stadium. However, when I arrived, I didn’t see a tro tro for miles. I waited by the roadside for almost half an hour, fending off many taxi drivers who offered to drive me to the park for obscenely high prices. Eventually, a tro tro arrived and I got in: paying 5 cedi to travel the hour-long distance to the park.

 The tail-end of the NPP parade

The tail-end of the NPP parade

 A beautiful cemetery that we passed on our way...

A beautiful cemetery that we passed on our way...

When I arrived at Kakum, I paid the 2 cedi entrance fee and then walked up a long, dirt driveway towards the visitors’ center. Within the center, I then had to pay an additional fee to visit the park’s main tourist attraction: the canopy walkway. The ticket was a bit expensive, with the cheapest option being a 30 cedi student ticket. Stupidly, I had left my student ID (still valid until December) back in Philadelphia, however I ended up convincing the desk employee of my recent status by showing him a picture of myself at my college graduation. With my ticket purchased, I was then offered the option of leaving my backpack behind the desk. I had not expected to be able to do this and was elated to not have to lug my heavy pack through the rainforest. After snapping a lock onto the zippers, I then followed the employee’s directions towards the tour waiting area. Because the tour would not be leaving right away, I passed time by visiting a small museum that the park had established nearby. The museum (intended for children) presented extensive information on the types of plants and animals that could be found in the forest. It also featured many plaques on Adinkra symbols: visual symbols created by the Ashanti people. The symbols, which are primarily used in fabrics, represent important concepts to the West African region. As I read up on what various symbols meant, I was really struck by one symbol: Aya (the fern). I read that, as ferns can grow in near impossible conditions, aya serves to represent strength and endurance. Beneath the symbol was written the phrase “Ade nyinaa dan suahu.” The English translation is: all knowledge is acquired by experience. More so than any of the other symbols, this one really spoke to me. I felt that the aya symbol was an amazing representation of my personal journey in Ghana and the strength and knowledge I have gained through my experiences—both good and bad. I remembered having seen an aya pendant at the Artist Alliance gallery I had visited on my birthday, so I made a mental note to return so that I could purchase the jewelry and keep a physical reminder with me of the important message that aya represents.

 Information on the aya symbol

Information on the aya symbol

 The entrance to Kakum National Park. (Akwaaba means "welcome" in Twi)

The entrance to Kakum National Park. (Akwaaba means "welcome" in Twi)

I continued on through the rest of the exhibit and, when I was finished, wandered into several gift shops nearby. I didn’t find anything I wanted to buy, which was convenient since I couldn’t have carried anything with me anyway due to my already-stuffed backpack. I then returned back towards the tour departure area and waited for my guide to arrive. After about ten minutes, a park employee called me over to join a tour group. I showed the park rangers my canopy ticket and was then escorted through the trail entrance. Though I unfortunately cannot remember her name, our group’s guide was a very kind and well-spoken lady who told us about the park’s history and climate. Apparently, Kakum had only been an official national park since the early 1990s, when it was discovered that its visitors needed to do a much better job protecting and conserving its resources. She then led us up a series of steps towards a small clearing, where she explained that we could reach the canopy walk by following one trail and a tree house by following the other. It seemed like the tree house was more of a luxury accommodation than an attraction, so we all continued on in the direction of the canopies. We continued to walk up stairs for about ten minutes (leaving some older members of the group a bit winded) and then walked along a flatter incline for about twenty minutes. Finally, we arrived at the canopies and took a staircase up to its starting point: over 1,000 feet above the forest floor.

 Our guide stops to tell us about the park

Our guide stops to tell us about the park

 The first stretch of canopy

The first stretch of canopy

The canopy walks stretched from tree to tree, featuring narrow floors (about one foot across) surrounded by tall net walls. I was the first to step out onto the walk and found it to be extremely rickety as the small floor was suspended only by rope. The walk swayed as I continued down it and even more so once others began to follow behind me. I didn’t mind the movement, I actually found it quite fun, but some of the other group members did not seem too fond of it. The length of the walk was about 1,500 feet and took about half an hour to (slowly) walk. Honestly, the view wasn’t so great as I could only see the tops of trees when I peered over the net. However, the experience was still amazing—not because of the sights, but because of the experience of walking so high. When I had finished the walk (a bit short to cost 30 cedi, in my opinion), I then joined the rest of the group in walking back towards the park entrance. Sadly, if I had chosen to stay and hike in the forest some more, this would have cost me an additional 20 cedi (which I wasn’t so willing to fork over). After returning back to the entrance, I handed back my temporary permit and retrieved my backpack from behind the visitor center’s desk. I then walked back down the long path towards the main road, where I waited about ten minutes for a tro tro to arrive. When it did, I took the car back to Cape Coast station, where I then got in a shared taxi to Elmina.

 Looking down at the walkway (as I said before: not the coolest view, but still a great experience)

Looking down at the walkway (as I said before: not the coolest view, but still a great experience)

 A small portion of the walkway

A small portion of the walkway

I was now traveling towards my accommodation for the night, Stumble Inn. Mariana had explained to me that she was able to get a taxi from Cape Coast to Stumble Inn for about 10 cedi, so I was thrilled when my shared taxi total only amounted to 2 cedi. My excitement was soon killed, however, when I discovered that Stumble Inn wasn’t so close to Elmina station as I had thought. What’s more, the distance between Elmina and the inn had been even greater lengthened by a recent bridge closing. I now had no choice but to take a “dropping,” or a taxi that goes specifically where you tell it to, as opposed to a shared car which only goes between two set points. Droppings are much more expensive as you usually cannot split the cost with anyone else. I tried my best to barter with the many drivers lined up outside of the stations but, due to the bridge closing, I could not convince anyone to take me for less than 20 cedi. I eventually caved, having realized that there was no other way I could reach the inn, and got into a driver’s car.

On our way from Elmina, my driver proceeded to tell me about his complicated love life. Apparently, him and his girlfriend were quite happy together but would have to break up soon since her father did not approve of them becoming engaged. Though the driver said he had tried everything, he couldn’t convince the father to like him and, in his opinion, there was no use dating his girlfriend anymore if they could never end up together. I was a little surprised to hear him say that his girlfriend’s father’s opinion meant so much to their relationship. While, of course, it is always great to have your parents approve of your partner, and vice versa, I don’t think that parental approval is as important in American relationships. It is significant, yes, but I don’t know that it makes-or-breaks a couple’s future. Honestly, it seems many Americans would rather piss their parents off than break up with the love of their life. He questioned aloud whether it was their age difference that upset her father, so I said that this could certainly be it and asked him how big the difference was. He told me that he was 25 and his girlfriend was 24. I audibly snorted. I quickly rescinded my earlier agreement and said that there was no way this could be the issue. The driver then attempted to turn the conversation to my love life in asking if I was married or had kids yet. I have been asked this question a lot over the past few months. While I first guessed that people asked because they assumed me to be older than I am, I realized that my age didn’t even factor into the question as it is somewhat common to be a teen mom in Ghana. When I told my driver that I was neither married nor a mother, he responded with shock. I explained to him that I was still young, at just barely 22 years old, though he insisted that I was certainly old enough. In fact, he told me that my time was running out and I was almost becoming too old to be an attentive and energetic mother towards my future children. I did not agree with this opinion at all and tried to rationalize that I still had so many years ahead of me to travel and work on my career before I had to worry about settling down. What’s more, I couldn’t understand why he acted like it was so horrible that I am single. I defended that I don’t need a boyfriend to be happy. The driver clearly disagreed, essentially telling me that my life was pointless if it wasn’t spent in a relationship. That pretty much ended the conversation for me and we sat in polite silence for the rest of the drive. When I arrived at Stumble Inn—a long, pothole-covered, dirt road away from the main streets of Elmina—I thanked him and stepped out of the car.

The Stumble Inn looked quite similar to Oasis Beach Resort in that it contained many straw-roofed huts along the beach. As I walked across the inn’s grounds in search of the reception, the place seemed pretty empty; I couldn’t see or hear anyone in any direction I turned. When I finally found a hotel employee, he took me to the restaurant/reception (which shared the same desk). Here, I received my key for the dorm room that he then led me to. Luckily, I was the only one that had reserved the room for the night, so I would have it all to myself. This meant that the inn’s lack of lockers would be no problem as I didn’t have to share the room key with anyone and could keep it on my person. He showed me the room and outside toilets and showers, which also heavily resembled the setup at Oasis. When I asked about electricity, the employee explained that the showers were open air and that the room lights were powered by solar energy. I thanked him for his help and, after placing my bags in my room, I walked down to the beach to lie inside a cabana and phone my parents. They were a tad concerned about me taking my first solo backpacking trip, but I assured them that I was okay and making friends along the way. When I explained the inn’s taxi situation and lamented that it would probably cost me a fortune to visit the Elmina Castle the following day, my parents suggested that I find other people at the inn that might want to go to the castle as well so that I could then split the fare. This sounded like a great idea, though I had only seen two other guests so far, making my chances a bit limited. After we had finished our chat (cut short due to my concerned data monitoring), I worked on my writing for a bit before deciding to take a shower. I walked from my cabana back towards my dorm and, on the way, mustered up the courage to approach the only other guests I had seen, who were sitting in a nearby cabana. I asked if they might be going to the castle too, but they replied that they were actually headed towards Busua Beach in the morning. I excitedly exclaimed that I was going to Busua too, though in the early afternoon. I asked if maybe they’d mind waiting for me to go—that I could return to Stumble Inn after my castle tour so that, if necessary, we could split taxis along the way to the beach. They said that this was not necessary and so, to make things easier, they’d just accompany me to the castle. I asked if they were sure, feeling bad for having guilted them into the tour, but they insisted that they’d be happy to join. It wasn’t until this point that I learned a little bit about them: an engaged couple from Munich, Germany, named Josephine and Jonas. I was so happy to have met some more travel companions and told them that, while I’d love to talk to them more later, I had to run to shower before it got dark outside. We agreed to meet in the restaurant for dinner and, after placing my food order on my way to the shower (apparently, orders had to be submitted before 5PM), I returned to my room to gather my toiletries. The shower was just as cold as I had expected it to be but, as before, I was just thrilled to bathe under a showerhead.

 A sweet pup sleeps on the beach in front of the Stumble Inn

A sweet pup sleeps on the beach in front of the Stumble Inn

 The inn's view of the beach

The inn's view of the beach

 A Ghana mantra, courtesy of Stumble Inn

A Ghana mantra, courtesy of Stumble Inn

When I had finished showering and getting dressed, I returned to the dorm room to hang out for a bit before dinnertime. The lights were off and, having found no light switch along the walls, I had to walk back to reception to ask an employee to turn my lights on. After they did, I realized that my room was still too dim to get any reading done, so I turned to my laptop instead. I blogged until 7PM and then headed over to the restaurant to grab my meal. I brought my laptop and phone with me, hoping to charge them while I ate (since I had been previously informed that the outlets in my room did not work). Unfortunately, I was now told that the solar-powered inn only had electricity when the sun was out (instead of using the sun to charge batteries/a generator) and therefore, as it was now past sunset, I’d have no hopes of charging my electronics until the morning. I was pretty bummed to hear this as my phone, hotspot, and laptop were all dangerously close to dying. What’s more, I had not been made aware of this technicality until now; had I been, I would have charged them earlier. I was a little annoyed but, alas, there was nothing I could do. I sat and waited for my dinner and then, after being handed my tuna wrap and fries (both just “meh”), Josephine and Jonas arrived. Through chatting with them, I was able to learn that Josephine is about to begin a six-week stint as a volunteer teacher in a suburb of Accra. She is studying to be a teacher in Germany and so this internship will count towards her graduation. As she now had one week before her program began, her fiancé was joining her in a weeklong beach trip. I also learned that Jonas is a beekeeper—how interesting! While we ate, I did my best to give Josephine as many Ghana tips as I could remember. I told her about the need to use disinfectant in the bathing water, how many people would scream “obroni” at every turn, and not to expect any sort of strict scheduling at the school, among other things. I was surprised to see that she actually knew most of what I was telling her thanks to a handy guidebook that her and Jonas had brought along. The book was incredibly informative, even discussing which brands of pure water were better to drink and how much a tro tro should cost to take from location A to location B. I felt bad for telling her some things she had already known, though I hoped that my advice could help in some way or another, just as Mariana’s advice had been so helpful to me in the beginning of my journey. It was only about 8PM by the time I finished eating but, after a long day of traveling, I was exhausted. I said goodnight to the couple and made a plan to meet them for breakfast the following morning at 9AM. I then retreated back to the dorm room and got ready for bed, blogging a bit, (finally finding the light switch in my room) and then falling asleep.

Day 67

Waking up on Saturday morning, I was tired to say the least. Thankfully, I was not hungover, but I did slightly regret my decision to stay up so late the night before. I gathered my small amount of belongings and, after saying goodbye to the friends I’d met, I walked from Oasis back to Baobab House. I decided to eat breakfast at Baobab because, when I’d glanced at Oasis’ breakfast menu the night before, I’d realized that it was smaller and also pricier than Baobab’s options. The walk took me just a few minutes and, when I arrived, I ordered another serving of pineapple moringa juice and also a bowl of oat porridge. The porridge came with bananas, milk, cinnamon, and sugar, but was just okay for some reason. The juice, however, was still amazing and, overall, the meal was not so bad. As I finished up eating, I exchanged a few words with a nearby table where a brother, sister, and father sat eating. The brother explained to me that their father was Ghanaian and their mother German, and though the whole family lived in Germany, the siblings had now returned to Ghana to complete internships. We discussed where they each lived in Accra and I also told them about the festival I was about to go to in Salt Pond. Francis, one of the translators I had met in my first trip to Ghana, had invited me to attend with him, so this was where I was now headed. I bid goodbye to the family and asked passersby for directions to Cape Coast station, which a young girl selling candy then led me to. When we arrived, I found a tro tro going towards Salt Pond and got in, waiting for it to fill up so that we could be on our way.

 A street view of Salt Pond: a small, brightly colored beach town

A street view of Salt Pond: a small, brightly colored beach town

I was already running a bit late and, unfortunately, traffic did not help my case. When I finally reached the bus stop that Francis had told me to meet him at, I was running about 40 minutes late. Luckily, he didn’t seem to mind at all and, when we met at the stop, it was so great to reunite. Francis was probably the closest friend I made during my first visit to Ghana and, seeing him now, it was like no time had passed. We fell quickly into conversation as we walked from the bus stop to his house, stopping briefly along the way for him to purchase a coconut. We reached his house after about fifteen minutes of walking and, when we got there, I had the opportunity to meet his family. As he explained to me later, his father and brother live in a different town, so it was only his sister and mother that I was able to meet now. His sister, Dina, appeared to be partially paralyzed, and had two aids beside her. Both Dina and Francis’ mother were so sweet and welcoming of me and I was so glad to have had the chance to meet them. I was flattered that Francis had even wanted to introduce me in the first place! After we all chatted for a bit, he then led me to the apartment I’d be staying in, which was just around the corner from his family’s house. Apparently, the apartment was owned by one of his mother’s good friends and, as it awaited a new tenant, the landlady had offered me a free night’s stay. When I entered the compound, I met a small group of other tenants who, like Francis’ family, were all so welcoming. We next entered my apartment: a seriously gigantic space. The home was definitely met for a whole family, not just one person, because it featured a large bedroom with two queen-sized beds and an even larger family room. The apartment also had a bathroom with a showerhead. I felt totally pampered! I told Francis that the room was even more beautiful than I could have expected and thanked him so much for setting the situation up for me. Then, after I placed my backpack inside the bedroom, we continued on to our next destination: Adansemaim.

 Francis poses with his sister, mother, cousins and neighbors

Francis poses with his sister, mother, cousins and neighbors

Adansemaim is the village that I volunteered in during my past visit to Ghana. Though I only spent about a week there, this week was my first time in Africa as well as my first real brush with the “third world.” The experience was eye opening to say the least and I learned and loved so much that, for years, I tried my hardest to return. Though my time in Adansemaim was the catalyst behind the trip that I am experiencing right now, I hadn’t been able to visit the village all summer as I didn’t exactly know where it was in relation to me, how to get there, or how to communicate with the people who live there (who speak Fante, a dialect similar to Twi). When I discussed visiting Francis in Salt Pond, I asked if we might be able to go to Adansemaim. Luckily, he was so kind as to agree. Now, we were on our way: taking a tro tro and then a shared taxi before we arrived. The car had insisted upon squeezing four people into its three-person backseat and I was so focused on how squished I was that I didn’t even notice when the car stopped to let us off. As I stepped out of the taxi, I couldn’t believe that I had really arrived. Surprisingly, the village looked nothing like I remembered it.

While my original reaction to the village, several years ago, had been that it was quite small and humble, I now saw it to be pretty large and developed. In fact, Adansemaim didn’t look so much different from Israel Alhaji. As Francis and I walked up to the closest building, I began to notice familiar sights. I saw the school building, the soccer field, and the structure in which our brigade had held our triage station. In this structure, two men and a woman sat, and we approached them. In Fante, Francis asked them if the village chief was around. To our dismay, they responded that he was out of town at a funeral and that most of the village had gone to join him. When Francis explained who we were and why we had come to visit, they answered that they were sorry we had missed everyone but that they would still be happy to have us. The first man, an older gentleman, introduced himself as Allahassan, the village secretary. The second man, much younger, was an amateur filmmaker named Abubakal. After asking me a few questions about my previous visit to Adansemaim, the two offered to show me around.

 A group of houses within Adansemaim

A group of houses within Adansemaim

 Kids from the village request to be "snapped" by the local pond

Kids from the village request to be "snapped" by the local pond

They first took me to the new school building that was still in the process of being constructed. I had actually already heard about the project from Benson, a project manager at Global Brigades. The school was beautiful, made from a clean concrete, and already featured several classrooms. Abubakal explained to us in a mixture of English and Fante that Global Brigades had partnered with another organization to bring the building supplies, free of charge, but that members of the village had done all of the building themselves. He explained that he was very impressed with the way that the villagers worked because they did not receive any pay for their work; they simply did it because they were so excited to have a bigger and better school for their children. The men then led us back into village, past the public restroom I had remembered using years ago, and through some of the neighborhood houses. As they had warned me, the area was largely empty, though a few people sat outside their homes to greet me in passing. We walked down to the village pond where two girls were fetching water and other children ran about in play. The children stopped when they saw me approach, giggling in excitement, with a few mustering up the courage to say hello and ask me how I was doing. I responded using the few words I had retained of Fante and then, per the children’s requests, took several pictures of the group. One small boy asked me what my father’s name was and, immediately, I received an adorable flashback to the many times that the village kids had asked me that same question in my initial trip. Unfortunately, the children that I had remembered from before were all gone for the funeral, but I wasn’t so sad about it as I expected. Really, I was just so happy to be there and to have come full circle from my original journey.

With Francis’ help, I was able to speak with Allahassan and Abubakal extensively about how the village had been doing since I’d last seen it. They explained to me that they were doing fine, but that they had been thriving much more when they received more frequent visits from volunteer groups. Ever since the Ebola scare, groups had ceased to visit. I inquired about what types of differences they felt the volunteers made in the community and they responded in what I thought was an interesting way. They told me that, of course, they were missing the supplies, such as medication, that the volunteers usually brought. Apparently, when medical brigades visited regularly, there was a noticeable decline in the amount of disease that the village saw. Now, with the absence of the free medical care, these diseases had started to resurface once more. The interesting part of their response came when they told me that, beyond physical things, they were also suffering from the loss of mental and emotional improvement. In addition to providing general entertainment and happiness, volunteers had brought them tips regarding more efficient ways to build houses, how to save money, how to create safer drinking water, etc. Allahassan explained that, just as the first-world visitors benefited from the educational experience of visiting a foreign culture and lifestyle, the residents of Adansemaim profited from what they learned from their guests in turn. Because I have heard many criticisms of first-world inhabitants volunteering in third-world countries, I was genuinely surprised to hear Allahassan say that, though they could certainly function without volunteers (and were doing so presently), he truly did feel the village to be better off with the little bit of extra help.

 Children wave and smile as I pass them on my way out of the village

Children wave and smile as I pass them on my way out of the village

We continued to walk and chat, with Francis doing a truly impressive job at translating. Allahassan and Abubakal continually apologized for the absence of most of the village, though I reiterated that it was okay. It was my fault, if anything, since I had not informed them of my visit. Above all, I was just happy to be back, so it didn’t much matter to me how many people were or were not there. Allahassan told me that the chief would be sad to have missed me, but that he knew all of the village elders would be so proud of me for returning to Adansemaim. Apparently, I was the first volunteer to do so. Their kind words really touched my heart and I made sure to tell them how important they, and the rest of the village, have been in my life. My initial visit to Adansemaim succeeded in giving me a purpose and, for the past three years of my life, I have worked for that purpose: saving up pennies, writing grants, and sending emails until I finally succeeded at returning to the country I fell in love with. Though I could have stayed talking with the men all day, Allahassan began to lead Francis and me back to the main road. We followed him past the houses, school building, and soccer field, and then finally reached the street. The entire time, I tried my best to process what I had a hard time believing: that I had come here; I had visited the village; I had actually succeeded at what I’d been working for all of this time. While I couldn’t say that the visit had been especially climactic, it felt so great to now view the community with new, educated eyes. Since my initial visit had been the first time I’d ever seen such a poor community, I had looked upon the villagers with slight pity. There were many things I admired and loved about the way they lived their lives—and I became enamored with their food, dance, and general morals and values—but I still felt badly for the conditions they were living in and wondered how they could seem so happy while in such poverty. Now that I’ve been living in Ghana for almost three months, I was able to remove myself from my earlier feelings of pity and awe. I could now see that these people and this village weren’t anything extraordinary: that Adansemaim was just one example of the millions of communities around the world that simply make the best of the cards they’ve been given in life. We continued to chat as Francis and I waited for a taxi to pass and, when it finally did, I gave Allahassan and Abubakal giant hugs and thanked them so much for their hospitality. They told me that I was welcome back any time.

 Francis stands on the street with Allahassan (left) and Abubakal (right)

Francis stands on the street with Allahassan (left) and Abubakal (right)

Francis and I now headed for our next destination: the annual Odambea festival. The festival was in the heart of Salt Pond and, to get there from Adansemaim, we needed to take a shared taxi, a tro tro, and then another shared taxi. The entire time, Francis and I jokingly argued over who would pay. I insisted that I should, since he was doing me such a favor with offering me a free place to stay, showing me around, and translating for me. He, however, insisted that it should be his treat as I was his guest. We went back and forth for a while, eventually agreeing that he would pay this time though I would pick up the tab the next time. When we arrived, we realized that our visit to Adansemaim had set us back more than we expected and, as a result, we had already missed most of the celebration. As Francis explained to me, the main portion of the event is a procession through the streets in which all of the local chiefs are hoisted up onto wooden chairs that are carried around by young men. We had unfortunately missed this part of the festival, so we headed towards the park where Francis said everyone gathered at the close of the procession. Most people seemed to be heading home already since, as we walked towards the park, many people were headed in the opposite direction. We still continued on, reaching the park around 2PM. From the reactions I received from passersby, I gathered that the residents of Salt Pond did not seem to be too used to obronis in their town. Honestly, I couldn’t tell whether people were happy or mad to see me, and it was quite an awkward feeling. As we entered the park, my feelings became even more confused when we passed a group of festivalgoers who had covered their body in a light gray mud. I momentarily questioned whether this was “white face,” though I’m not sure that such a thing exists so I quickly shook the thought from my mind. One of the mud-covered people greeted me and, before I knew it, had come up within several inches of my face. Just as I was about to take a step backwards, she took a handful of mud and smeared it down my arm, saying a few words in Fante. I wasn’t expecting this, so I was definitely a bit shocked. I looked at Francis for some sort of explanation and he grabbed me, pulling me away from the woman and over to a more secluded spot. He apologized, using his handkerchief to try and clean me up. I wondered to myself whether the woman had innocently been trying to include me in the day’s festivities or if she had been slighting me by rubbing dirt on me. Francis offered no explanation as I suppose he did not wish to escalate the situation, so I decided not to ask. A bit rattled, I continued on.

 A man covered in dried palm leaves makes his way through the festival crowds. (Can't offer any sort of explanation for this one: I was and am just as confused about this as you are)

A man covered in dried palm leaves makes his way through the festival crowds. (Can't offer any sort of explanation for this one: I was and am just as confused about this as you are)

As we walked, I was able to see the chairs that had been carried earlier, though they were now empty. We then came to a larger clearing of the park that was surrounded by tents. A band played and people were dancing. Soon, several chiefs walked into the center of the clearing and walked around to spectators, shaking hands. Then, the music stopped momentarily so that an emcee could announce the arrival of the festival’s guest of honor: a chief from Nigeria. The crowd parted to make way for a black SUV that drove into the center of the space. Several people got out of the car to applause and were then seated on makeshift thrones while the music and dancing resumed. We watched for a while before heading back out of the park. Here, another incident occurred that I did not know how to process. A man drunkenly approached me and continually shouted “obroni” in my face as he tried to get me to dance. I brushed him off, yelling “obibini” back, trying to play into his little game. When he continued to step closer to me, I asked if he could please give me a little room. However, he either didn’t understand English or chose not to respond, because he continued to come towards me, trying to inappropriately dance on me. Disgusted, I backed away and told Francis that we had better keep walking. Again, Francis chose not to speak about what had happened—I’m guessing because he felt bad telling me that I wasn’t really welcomed there (or so I thought). The only thing he said was that he was so sorry for how drunk everyone was.

 The guest(s) of honor arrives

The guest(s) of honor arrives

We exited the park and walked down the main street, bumping into Francis’ friend along the way. His friend took it upon himself to mention quite quickly that his goal in life was to marry a white lady. Though I’m very sure that his friend did not mean to offend me, I was a little tired of how consistently I was being reminded that, in Salt Pond, I was an outsider. While, really, I’m an outsider anywhere I go in Ghana, I’d say that most people I meet at least try and pretend that they can’t see how glaringly light my skin is in comparison to theirs. Here, with people’s self control softened by their alcohol consumption, I was being approached much more boldly than I ever had been in Accra. After a short conversation with his friend, Francis and I continued on and ended up at a small bar. Francis had taken me here because he wanted me to try akpeteshie: a local liquor made from distilled palm wine. When we neared the establishment, I was very surprised by its appearance. The entire bar was just a single, small room with two plastic chairs against each wall. The bartender stood behind a counter that was so fenced off that you could barely see him. While I waited on a bench outside, Francis ordered a double shot of akpeteshie for 1 cedi. I didn’t feel so much like drinking the hard liquor, but I promised him I would take a small sip just to taste it. It burned just about as much as I expected it to, but it had a sweet aftertaste: similar to tequila. When he begged me to help him finish off the small glass, I agreed on one condition—that we order a soda to mix it with. It was only about 3PM at this point… so like, no, I was not about to take a shot with no chaser. I bought a Pepsi and we poured a bit of it into the glass, splitting the sweet concoction. As we drank, I remarked that I thought my dad might like to try the liquor. When I asked Francis if I could buy a bottle of akpeteshie at one of the liquor stores near the school, I was surprised when he laughed. He explained to me that akpeteshie isn’t a regulated type of liquor made by a company/factory, as most liquor is. Instead, farmers make and sell it, in small quantities, to local bars. This was a bit confusing for me to hear and I asked Francis how you could tell who was making what you were drinking, when it was made, and even what percentage of alcohol content was inside. He laughed again, saying that there was just really no way to know. If I really wanted to take some for my dad, I’d have to bring an empty water bottle to a small bar and pay for them to fill it for me. That didn’t sound sketchy at all.

When we finished the drink, we continued on to another, open-air bar. This space was much larger and featured many tables and chairs as well as a small restaurant and live band. The band was quite good and, in front of them, people of all ages were getting down on the dance floor. Francis suggested that we go in to have a beer and I agreed. It was a bit hard to hear each other over the loud music, but Francis and I took a seat at a table and talked about what had happened in our respective lives since we had seen each other last. Then, when the bar’s single billiards table opened up, Francis suggested that we play. I reluctantly agreed, warning him that, though I do know how to play pool, I’m not very good at it. This was confirmed by the fact that he beat me terribly three times in a row, sinking his pool balls so fast that the ends of our games consisted of the both of us taking turns at sinking solely mine. Regardless, we had lighthearted fun as we sipped our “beers” (which, really, were sort of herb-infused wine coolers). When we had finished and needed to give others a chance to play, we sat back down at our table and continued to chat. Now, we had a surprisingly great conversation on religion. Though I’d been under the impression that Francis was extremely religious, he proved himself to be more liberal than I had anticipated by admitting that he didn’t see a problem with homosexuality. We then had a great conversation on why some sins are perceived to be “worse” than others, given that a Ghanaian might be killed for being gay but would likely receive no backlash for committing adultery. It was really interesting for me to hear Francis’ take on the situation being that, like me, he actually had no idea why homosexuality is often placed at #1 on the sin list. As it began to get later and eventually became dark, Francis ultimately convinced me to join him on the dance floor for a few songs. Looking around, I was honestly amazed at how many other people were dancing. The bar was truly home to any and everyone and the dance floor was filled with little kids, teens, and adults alike. My favorite part of the whole thing was how much the boys danced. I am used to a dance culture in which boys either dance with girls or don’t dance at all. Here, boys danced alone and with other boys: shaking their hips to the music. While I was certainly impressed with everyone’s confidence and dance moves, I also found it ironic that, for a culture that generally hated gay men so much, the boys were acting in a way which many would perceive as “gay” in that they danced closely and intimately with one another sans fear.

 The first people to brave the dance floor

The first people to brave the dance floor

We jumped around to the music for about half an hour and then left to try and find some food for dinner. I had only had a small ice cream for lunch, while Francis did not eat anything, so we were both starving. After a bit of wrestling, Francis finally convinced me that he should cover the bill. I reluctantly agreed and we walked back onto the street and towards the center of the still-raging festival. Though it was pitch black outside, DJs had recently assembled on the streets, which were now filled with hundreds of dancing people. We weaved our way through the crowd and to a small food stand, where we each got chicken, fried rice, and salad. I then purchased a bottle of water from another nearby vendor, and we crossed the road to sit in an outside eating area. Here, we dug into our takeaway containers. The food was just okay, though I couldn’t complain having only paid 5 cedi for it.

When we had finished eating, it was nearing 9PM and I was totally exhausted. Though I would’ve loved nothing more than to go back to my temporary room and sleep, Francis wanted to stay out longer and so I did not want to be a downer. At his suggestion, we walked to another bar and, after dancing a bit, took seats towards the back. Here, he drank another beer, though I stuck with my water. We continued to chat and I did my best to express how grateful I was for his hospitality. He had given his whole day up to chauffer me around his town and I appreciated it so much. It was also so amazing for me to have had so many great conversations with someone whom has lived their whole life in the country, but is closer to my age. Though the teachers at the school can be great to talk to, they are much older than me and also much more conservative. It was really educational for me to receive a different perspective on Ghana’s current state of affairs as well as to receive a tour from someone who knew the ins and outs of the town.

As we continued to talk, we were interrupted several times by a girl who came over to talk to Francis. I could not understand what she was saying, as it was in Fante, but she seemed to be mad at him while he just laughed it off. I wondered if maybe this was his girlfriend and she was mad to see him sitting with me. When she eventually wandered off, I asked him what she had said and he explained that she was trying to convince him to buy her a drink. He said that he wouldn’t, as he knew she had a boyfriend, but she wouldn’t take his “no” for an answer. She must’ve come over about three times to ask him and, every time, he refused. Eventually, I asked her if she didn’t have her own money to buy a drink? When she said she did, I suggested that she go ahead and purchase her own then. She left and Francis and I cracked up about how utterly weird the situation was. We then packed up and left, walking the ten minutes back to my temporary residence. Here, Francis told me goodnight and continued on back to his mother’s house. I had hoped to do some blogging at this point but was way too tired. I passed out on one of the beds and set an alarm to meet Francis the following morning at 8.

Day 66

After hitting snooze a few times, I finally got up around 9AM: leaving me one hour to eat breakfast, get dressed, and gather my bags before my intended departure of 10AM. As I left the schoolyard, I said goodbye to Madame Nti and Cornelius, who were perched at a table by the gate. Though I had told them both about my travel plans, I guess that they’d forgotten because they asked me where I was going. When I explained that I was headed for Cape Coast, they looked slightly confused but said they’d see me in a few days. I then then walked from Brainbirds to Alhaji Station, where I caught a tro tro to Kaneshie: another suburb of Accra. I’d never been to Kaneshie before but I knew that this was where I’d have to grab the bus to Cape Coast. With a fellow passenger’s help, I was able to get off at the right stop. The same woman then so kindly walked me over to the bus departure section of the station, where I thanked her profusely and then set about determining which bus I’d actually need to board. Orange buses lined the length of the street and it seemed that, at each vehicle I stopped at, I was pointed further down the line. Eventually, I found the correct bus. I wasn’t sure that it was exactly the bus that Mariana had recommended I take—as she described her method of transportation as a lush Coach bus, while the vehicle I had stepped into more closely resembled a school bus—though it was going where I needed it to and was also about 20 cedi cheaper than the bus Mariana had taken (she had paid 30 cedi, while I only paid 11). I found my assigned seat next to a large, middle-aged woman and waited for the bus to fill. To my dismay, the bus took almost an hour to load as, unlike in Philadelphia, there wasn’t exactly a listed departure time. Here, the buses simply wait until they are filled and, once they are (whenever that is), they go. I was sitting in an aisle seat and, as everyone passed me to reach their own seats, bags repeatedly hit my shoulder. Ouch. Eventually, around 11:30, the bus pulled out of the station and began heading towards our destination. I had heard from others that Cape Coast was about a two hour drive away, so I was happy to think that I’d arrive just in time to grab lunch. The apple I’d just purchased through the bus window would hold me over for the time being, but I knew I would grow hungrier as I continued on my journey.

 Kaneshie Station

Kaneshie Station

About twenty minutes into our drive, an older gentleman stood up in the aisle, towards the front of the bus. Here, he began to preach in Twi: screaming so that everyone in the back could hear him. I thought to myself oh, brother. I had seen preaching in a tro tro before and knew that it was only a sneaky attempt to make some money. When you think about it, what better way is there to collect petty cash than preaching to an extremely religious group that you’ve effectively cornered? It’s not as if anyone was getting off of the bus and out of earshot any time soon. I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying, but was able to catch choruses of “amen” and “hallelujah” from his eager listeners. His bible talk went on for about half an hour and then he returned to his seat. Naively, I thought he was stepping off his soapbox. In reality, he only returned to grab something from his bag: a handful of cinnamon sticks. He continued to yell in Twi, though this time I was even more confused. I asked the woman next to me, “What is he doing with those cinnamon sticks? I thought he was a pastor.” She replied that he was perhaps a pastor, but was also evidently a cinnamon salesman. Preceding a sales pitch with a sermon seemed a bit weird to me, though it did appear to work out well for him in that people already trusted and liked him, and were paying him attention. As he walked up and down the aisle with the sticks, he broke off pieces and placed them in spectators’ hands. When he came to me, I declined. From what I could understand from the limited amount of English he used, he was addressing the many “health benefits” of cinnamon. As he brought out several vials of cinnamon capsules and pills, he explained that the spice could be used to relieve PMS and clear up skin. Though I suppose I didn’t actually know whether he was correct in his claims or not, I assumed not. I figured that if cinnamon really was so great at helping with these things, wouldn’t the skin and self care industries have jumped on the cinnamon market wagon long ago? Also, isn’t cinnamon toxic in high doses?? Still, he was able to collect orders from many people over the course of his hour and a half long speech: a successful day for the cinnamon market, I’d say. He finally wrapped up around 1PM, giving me some much needed peace and quiet for the rest of the ride.

 Cinnamon man/preacher doin' his thing

Cinnamon man/preacher doin' his thing

While I expected to get into Cape Coast around 1:30, given that we had hit no traffic along the way, we were still driving at 2. It wasn’t even until 2:30 that I saw signs for Salt Pond—a town that I know is still about a 20-40 minute drive from Cape Coast. At this point, the driver began to make stops along the road for people who wished to get off before our final destination. I decided that I would just take the bus all the way to Cape Coast station and then figure out where my hostel was from there. However, I began to question this decision when I saw a large sign for my hostel along the roadside. Thinking that it must have been right beyond the sign, I departed the bus, grabbing my bags and heading towards the sign I had seen. As I walked, a taxi driver approached me and asked if I needed a lift. I thanked him but said that I could walk to my hostel from here, as it seemed that it was just down the road. When he asked me where I was going and I said Oasis, he then corrected me—saying that this sign wasn’t where the hostel actually was; it was really about 20-25 kilometers away. I couldn’t believe my stupidity. I had gotten off the bus 25 kilometers before I was supposed to? What would I do now? He told me that he was able to drive me there and, when I asked him how much he charged, he said 10 cedi. This sounded reasonable enough for what should have been a 15-minute drive, so I agreed and got into his car. On our way, he complimented my phone and asked if I could give it to him. I thought this a bit inappropriate and hit him with a quick um… no. He laughed and asked why, and I relayed the obvious answer that, if I gave him my phone, I wouldn’t have a phone. We then kept driving and, as we neared Cape Coast Castle, I asked if he could actually drop me off at a nearby restaurant called Baobab House. Mariana had recommended the place—a hotel and vegetarian restaurant that benefit underprivileged children—and I had seen on Google Maps earlier that the house was just a short walk away from my hostel. It was nearing 3PM at this point, so I was starving and needed food ASAP. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before we arrived. The drive from the pseudo bus stop had been short… but so short that I didn’t think there was any way that we could have driven a full 25 kilometers (about 15 miles). Suddenly, the 10 cedi fare seemed pretty pricy, though I had already agreed so I had no choice but to pay it. To make matters worse, the driver upped his slight price escalation with another, bigger one, when he suggested that he take me to Kakum National Park the following day for 200 cedi, round trip. I had been planning to go to Kakum in several days but had heard that you could take a tro tro from Cape Coast to Kakum for 5 cedi, meaning that there was no way I would pay 200. A bit miffed at the man’s attempt to cheat me, I exited the car and walked into the restaurant. Here, I took a table on their balcony and waited for a server to bring me a menu.

 The view from the Baobab balcony

The view from the Baobab balcony

 A side profile of Baobab House

A side profile of Baobab House

The menu I received was an adorable handmade booklet featuring painted paper and children’s drawings. A review I had read online recommended I try their pineapple moringa juice and banana cake so, while I looked over the food items, I ordered a small glass of the juice. I didn’t know what moringa was but was surprised to taste that it gave the pineapple a bit of a kick, sort of like ginger. As I found out from a page inside the menu, moringa leaves have many health benefits. In fact, just 100g of moringa has 10x the vitamin A in carrots, ½ the vitamin C in oranges, 17 times the calcium of milk, 15 times the potassium of bananas, 25 times the iron of spinach, and 9 times the protein of yogurt. Wow. I wondered why I hadn’t seen moringa sold at health food restaurants in Philadelphia as it is so clearly packed with nutrients. As I sipped my juice, I then ordered my food: a cheese omelet with toast. I hadn’t eaten good cheese in a while and so was very excited for the opportunity. To my dismay, the cheese I was given was the same Laughing Cow wedges I buy from the Shop Rite here, but the omelet and whole-wheat toast were good. When I had eaten everything but was still a bit hungry, I then ordered the banana cake I had heard such great things about. Unfortunately, the dessert didn’t live up to its hype and was extremely bland and tasteless, with a Playdoh-like texture. I only had a few bites before pushing the plate away and breaking my laptop out to blog a bit (because, even then, I was pretty behind on my writing). After a little while, I called the waiter over so I could pay my bill and pack up my things. I checked out the restaurant/hotel’s gift shop, as I heard that the proceeds in the shop also went towards helping children, though I unfortunately was not too fond of anything that I saw. I then continued on to my hostel.

 Walking towards Cape Coast Castle, on the way to Oasis.

Walking towards Cape Coast Castle, on the way to Oasis.

On my way, I passed the Cape Coast Castle: a magnificent structure that I had visited once before on my first trip to Ghana in 2013. In summary, the castle was a major stop on the West African slave trade and, for hundreds of years, thousands of people were tortured in its enclosure before either dying (of starvation or beatings) or being transported to the nearby beach (where they would then board boats to Europe or North America). Though it was an incredibly eye opening, not to mention horrifying, experience to visit the castle the first time around, I figured I’d skip out on the tour this time as I’d be visiting a similar castle in Elmina in the ensuing days. After walking past the structure, I then came across a pickup soccer game and a small festival before finally reaching my hostel: Oasis Beach Resort.

 The main building in Oasis Beach Resort, where the reception was located.

The main building in Oasis Beach Resort, where the reception was located.

 Oasis' dining/bar areas

Oasis' dining/bar areas

As I walked to the hostel’s reception, I passed a large dining area and bar. Tourists ambled around—mostly obronis—and held fruity drinks, playing foosball and cards in their bathing suits. I then checked in at the desk, paid my 20 cedi fee, and chatted with hotel employees about my time so far in Ghana. We laughed about how much the taxi driver had tried to charge me earlier as they showed me to the dorm room, a cute straw-roofed hut amongst many others. Once inside, the employees told me that I could pick any bed I wanted, though warned me that I should probably leave something of mine on top so that others knew it was occupied. They also showed me my locker (which I wasn’t expecting to have, so this was exciting), as well as the shared bathroom and shower. I thanked them, placing my belongings in the locker and then setting out to explore the grounds a bit. In my stroll, I found a cute dog and several kittens. I also discovered that the hostel sat right on the beach and, within seconds, I set foot on sand. I would’ve probably swam in the ocean had it been earlier, but it was now nearing 5PM and it seemed like it would get dark soon. Since the shower stalls were outside, and thus featured no roofs (or lighting), I knew that I had better wash off before the sun set. I went back to the dorm room, gathered my things, and then headed for the stall.

 A faraway view of Cape Coast Castle from the beach in front of Oasis

A faraway view of Cape Coast Castle from the beach in front of Oasis

Though the water was cold, it felt good in the hot outside air. Also, it actually came from a showerhead, and it was amazing to not be bothered with using buckets, as usual. As I lathered and rinsed my hair, I took a moment to reflect on the present moment and realized how much pleasure I was able to take from such a small thing as this shower. While I thought about how I would describe, in my blog, my feelings on the event, I acknowledged how incredibly happy I was to be there at that time and place. Because I have never kept a diary or journal, I’ve never taken much time to reflect on how I feel in certain situations. Having my blog has forced me to analyze each moment I experience and, through this, I feel I’ve been better able to deeply appreciate the “little things” in life, such as this one.

When I had finished bathing, I headed back to the dorm room in my towel. Here, I met my roommates for the first time: a group of volunteers from a school near Thema, Accra. The group members came from all over the world, having just met through their volunteering. There were three girls from England (Elizabeth, Alex, and Lucy), a boy from Scotland (Rory), a boy from Ireland (Phil), and another boy from Italy (Francesco). The last member of the group was Michael, a Ghanaian who worked as a volunteer coordinator at the school. They all seemed very nice and we chatted while I struggled to discreetly slide out of my towel and into my change of clothes. It turned out that two of the girls, Elizabeth and Alex (who were sisters), had only arrived from the UK two days before. They thus had many questions for me about my experience. I happily answered, asking my own questions in turn, until several of the male group members mentioned that they’d like to go and grab dinner. I didn’t want to impose myself onto their plans and, as I hadn’t been invited, I figured I’d just have dinner on my own later. When they were about to leave, Alex then turned back to ask if I’d want to join. Though I wasn’t incredibly hungry after my late lunch, I happily agreed—I was just so glad to have made friends, as I expected to be spending most of the trip alone. Our group claimed a large table in the outside dining area and, after looking over the menu and making our selections, the boys decided to take a walk on the beach to pass the time before our food arrived. The girls and I joined and, for about twenty minutes, we walked along the shoreline. I spent most of the time speaking with Michael and asking him about the school he worked at. It seemed to me that the school was much more affluent than Brainbirds, as it was a sort of sports academy that fed their many volunteers well and also provided free WiFi! I couldn’t believe it. We continued to walk until it began to get dark and then returned back to our table.

As our food was still not ready, we continued to chat. Lucy and I had a very interesting conversation about the recent state of affairs in England and America. We agreed that it seemed unreal that Brexit had actually taken place, especially given the fact that most of the claims in favor of the departure were later proven to be untrue and were simply fear inducing tactics against immigrants. Lucy admitted that she was embarrassed to be from a country that had voted so ignorantly, while pointing out that she felt like a similar thing was happening in America regarding Trump. I totally agreed with her and said that, while I would like to think that there’s no way Trump could ever get elected, I am worried by the notion that no one seemed to think that Brexit would happen either… and, yet, it did. Like Lucy, I was embarrassed to note that there are so many people that do support Trump and blindly blame their problems on immigrant populations. At this point, Elizabeth chimed in and we talked a bit more about politics before discussing the changes in government aid that have recently occurred in the UK (Elizabeth is in law school, and would thus be greatly affected should she become a public defender). Our food took a while but it eventually came, with a waiter placing a hamburger and fries in front of me. Honestly, the burger was horribly overcooked, but the fries were pretty good so I ate them with no complaint. Most of the other members in the group had ordered red red: a local dish that I didn’t think I’d tried before. Upon taking a bite of Lucy’s, I realized that I had actually had it, though in Kenya not in Ghana. It was a delicious blend of beans, tomato, and onion, and I made a note to order it if I saw it on any other menus in the future.

We continued to chat as we ate and then, when we were finished, we returned back to the room to apply bug spray. Here, I engaged in another interesting conversation with Alex in which we discussed the high levels of corruption that exist within the Ghanaian government. Apparently, when her and Elizabeth had entered the country just several days before, they realized that they had forgotten their yellow fever vaccination cards back in England. Though they had photocopies of the cards, Ghanaian immigration gave them a very tough time and refused to admit them into the country unless they received another vaccination on the spot and also paid a hefty fee. Panicked, the girls insisted that they should not have to receive another vaccination since they had so recently had one. After a few hours of debate, they were able to get out of the situation by bribing the immigration officer with a 10 pound note. Though I was happy that they had been able to get into the country, I agreed that it was really not okay that the officer had accepted a bribe so easily.

When everyone was ready to continue on with our night, we pulled chairs together by the beach and began a game of Uno. The game was supplemented with drinks as the boys had brought liquor and soda with them, and I had purchased a liter of sangria from the bar to split with Alex and Elizabeth. Michael had never played the game before so, after we taught him, we played a hilarious series of rounds. We then moved on to play a few rounds of “never have I ever” before dipping back into conversation. This time, I chatted with Elizabeth, Lucy, and Rory about history, delving into the unfortunate topics of slavery and genocide. We concluded that history only continues to repeat itself as, for some reason, it seems difficult for societies to learn from past mistakes. Interestingly, I noted that even our conversation was an example of a repetition of history. Here we were, a group of 20-somethings, gathering with a few drinks to discuss larger world affairs: namely, how did the world get to be as screwed up as it is now? I remarked that this conversation must’ve been as old as time—happening in America specifically during the times of slavery, Jim Crow, prohibition, women’s rights movement, Vietnam war, etc. Then, when Francesco recommended a great retrospective book on the Holocaust, Rory and I began to speak about our relationship with Judaism, as his grandparents had sadly perished in Auschwitz. It was amazing to have such a great succession of deep conversations, and with people I had only just met. However, our contemplative moment soon came to pass when Phil pointed out that it was time for the “foam party” that the hostel was throwing that night.

Though I knew I would need to wake up quite early the next morning, I caved in to peer pressure and joined the rest of the group at the party. This was my first foam party as I had been purposefully avoiding them for quite some time: a decision only reaffirmed when I saw how aggressively the foam spread across the dining area. After agreeing to run through the bubbles for a few minutes, I was then happy to move to the bubble-free dance floor and jumped around with my temporary crew. While I had stopped drinking at this point, Phil continued and soon became quite drunk. He was first pretty funny as he split his time between Alex and an Irish girl he had met, with me attempting to act as a wingwoman. The whole time, he was dancing around like a crazy person—so much so that, after climbing onstage, he actually fell off and cut his leg. This seemed like a good enough time to call it a night, so I helped Rory and Lucy to clean up Phil’s cut. Feeling no pain, he actually wanted to go back out to the dance floor, but we convinced him to get some sleep. The rest of us went to our respective beds as well, and I finally passed out around 2 or 3AM: probably not the best move as I had planned to wake up the following morning at 8.