Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Sunday I wake up with the sun and the goats, dazed and dreamy on a rooftop in Larabanga. Time for elephants! Abraham and his cousin Yusef drive us on motorcycles from the village to Mole National Park. I hold on tight to Yusef as we take yet another twenty minute roller coaster ride. Yusef has little dreadlocks all over his head and is almost never seen without his super cool sunglasses, tan hoody, and cubic zirconium studded belt. After four days without washing and several motorcyle rides, my curls are starting to dread too. Are you a rasta? Yusef asks, hoping for a love match. Not quite. He seems very disappointed.

Yusef may not be the classiest of Larabangans but he does manage to get us a spot for the 7am safari and a guide named Osman. We head off into the bush with Osman who is outfitted in huge boots, camouflage pants, and a shot gun to do. Five minutes in to the safari we see a large, grey, wrinkled tushi peeking through the trees- "oh, woah, that's an elephant" janet notes.

The safari is not as thrilling as I had hoped. There are few animals out and the highlight is really an impromptu face off between Janet and a warthog. (On a side note, I would like to add that warthogs are quite possibly the most unattractive organism I have ever seen, making Pumba in the lion king an exceptionally misleading character.)

The four of us take a break from the large safari group and sit at a nearby restaurant for some lunch. Several gangs of baboons are lurking nearby and there are frequent terrorist attacks as the baboons literally run into the restaurant on two feet, stealing bananas, mangos, french fries, whatever they can get their hands on. A girl of no more than two years runs after the baboon in her diaper, waving her wooden stick and seeking revenge. The children keep a look out and scream baboon! when they see them approaching but these animals are relentless! I hold on to my french fries for dear life and we shoot the baboons a good death stare. Oh no you don't!

Tired of being on baboon watch, we ask Osman to take just the four of us back into the bush. After a short walk through the forest we come to the watering hole and our eyes and mouths grow wide as we have just stepped into the pages of national geographic. I can't help but feel that these magnificent animals are very old and wise men with remarkable tales of their journeys across africa- the places they've been, the people they've seen. They spray water on themselves and each other, playing like young children as white birds sail across them and deer observe from the shore. We spend a good hour just watching the elephants, amazed by their size, beauty, and simple existence outside the cages of a zoo. What a treat, I think.

The sun is beginning to fall so it is time to hop back on our motorcycles, dreads blowing in the wind, and copper earth settling in my laugh lines. Upon returning, I spend my afternoon by the woman's canopy, pounding cassava (fufu) and holding babies, in particular a pair of two month old twins, adorned with beads and gold jewelry for good luck. Abraham watch the boys play football and discussing the enormous challenges of educating women in a Muslim community.

It is now a saturday night and about 40 girls have come to Abraham's courtyard in hopes that they might have a turn at reading one of the fifteen books he has had donated. The girls are not just hungry, but starving for knowledge. Abraham teaches out of a standardized Ghanaian teaching manual, this one on information technology. I doubt these girls have ever seen a computer but we sit in on Abraham's class and watch as he uses a stone wall as a chalk board and spells words (sometimes incorrectly) like "mouse" and "hard disk" as the girls dictate. One by one they stand up and mistake or no mistake, Abraham says, "clap for her!" and we all clap as such, CLAP-CLAP- CLAP CLAP CLAP - CLAP. By nine thirty the girls are becoming restless and the little ones are dozing off. Time for sleep, says Abraham. The girls hurry through the village to their beds and we follow suit. I am woken by Abraham the next morning at 3:30 so we can take the 4am bus back to Tamale, Kumasi, and then Accra. We walk to the bus station (a wood table manned by a gentleman my grandfather's age) in complete silence, dreading our departure and goodbyes. My eyes are heavy with tears but I try so terribly hard to keep them in and hide from Abraham. I already miss you, he tells me.

I don't want to leave Abraham, or Labrabanga, or the girls. I especially don't want to be the tourist that intrudes on a community for just a few days, makes empty but appealing promises, and never returns to make good on them. I don't want to be that person, I think. So Abraham and I hug and say, until we meet again. No goodbye.

This is the constant struggle of the do-gooder. So many bandwagons to jump on, charities to donate to, ngo's to volunteer with, mouths to feed, bodies to cloth. Talk about a migraine and a heartache. Like mother, like daughter, I tend to feel this enormous responsibility to take care of everyone, to fix things that are broken and heal people who are hurt. But I am learning that even though the puzzle may be a bit of disaster, while there are so many problems and not enough solutions, it's ok to take it one piece at a time.

Larbanga is my piece. Larabanga was, is, truly special. And I can't tell you what or who pulled at my heart strings so forcefully, but they're still tugging.

THE BEST WEEKEND OF MY LIFE (broken up into two parts to deflect lengthiness)

There are moments in life that warm your heart, crinkle your laugh lines, and fill your eyes with tears- people, places, and experiences that will stay with you always. My adventure to Mole National Park and the muslim village of Larabanga in northern ghana was truly an experience that I will forever carry in my heart.

I set off at 5 am Thursday morning with three of my girlfriends to catch the 8 am bus from Accra (capital city on the coastal south) to Tamale in the north, where we will catch a ride to the town of Domongo, Larabanga, and then finally to Mole. The drive is an exhausting 20 hours, so we decide to rest a bit and spend the night in a precarious motel in Tamale. Sarah and Janet pay for a room with one bed and the other two of us sneak in after the porter has gone. Janet snaps a picture of us as we enter the room, "this is what you looked like when you saw where we were sleeping- surprise!" We look mortified.

I feel menopausal in this heat so the four of us sleep horizontally across the single bed, trying to minimize all contact with our own body parts and with each other's. After fourteen hours of traveling, a jar of nutella and white bread, we pass out by 1 am, hopelessly sweating in our underwear. What a day.

And so we head off that next morning to Domongo and then Larabanga, which is roughly a six hour roller coaster ride, minus the seat belts and souvenir picture of yourself. When we have finally arrived in Larabanga we are greeted by our host, Abraham.

Abraham is handsome, charming, and drives a motorcycle. Despite his casual demeanor and carefree persona, he has more on his plate than my brother at a buffet. At twenty three, Abraham is single handedly attempting to rejuvenate his weathering community of 4,000, three quarters of which are children. He is a devout muslim, son of the old Imam and chief of Larabanga who passed away some years ago, and so he too will one day fill these shoes. Until then, Abraham has sacrificed his dream of becoming a doctor to stay in Larabanga and build a school and a special learning center for the local girls who until very recently, were denied any sort of education at all. One hundred and twenty girls between the ages of 6 and 18 gather in the courtyard of his family's home ever day, which is really a collection of mud huts within the labyrinth that is Larabanga.

This courtyard serves as a central gathering space for the entire community and visitors alike. Upon arriving in Larabanga we are escorted to this area where we meet Abraham's large and hospitable family, including his grandmother who sits on the floor of her mud hut, spinning thread on a wooden stick from a tuft of freshly picked cotton. I walk around the village and mother's hand me their babies, most wearing nothing but a strand of beads. I am in heaven! sometimes holding up to four little ones at once. I sit on a prayer mat under a canopy which has been built for the women and their children. I join them in a circle and they speak in the local dialect but it feels much like a chatty lunch date with my girlfriends. They breast feed whoever is hungry and hand me a crying baby, a bit disappointed but mostly amused that i can't be more helpful. Even the great grandmother who is more than 100 years old is breastfeeding her great grandchild. I am still completely baffled as to how this is physically possible, but more power to her.

Baby sitting duties come to a close and after a hearty lunch of an identifiable protein (it's a toss up between grass cutter and gizzard), we walk a mere 10 yards to what is West Africa's oldest mosque, built in 1421. In Larabanga, this mosque is simply the local gathering space for prayer and cultural festivities- i wonder if they know that it is one of 100 endangered world monuments.

The sun is high and hot, so a siesta and several oral rehydration packets seem in order. I wake up hours later and Abraham invites me to shower before dinner which is currently being prepared by his mother and aunties. I first go to the bathroom in what is simply a small mud hut and must do my business on the floor. After gathering my shower items, Abraham redirects me back to the hut where I am now supposed to take my bucket shower. I used to say that in Ghana I am hygienic, but perpetually dirty. I'd say this severely blurs those lines. C'est la vie...

Now a much lighter shade of copper colored earth and smiling from an exceptional first day in Larabanga, we sit down with Abraham's mother and enjoy an entire pot of Fufu (smashed casava), ground nut soup, and fresh fish.

Around this time Sarah does not feel so well and starts to look very pale so Janet and Abraham accompany her to the nearest "clinic" which is simply a midwife stationed in another town twenty minutes away. I get nervous when I don't hear back from either of the girls but then I receive a text message from Janet: "Omg, she just dropped all her money down the s--t hole!!!" Seems that Sarah dropped about 100 cedi (75 dollars) down a five foot deep defication hole! I must admit that if I had dropped 100 cedi down a poop hole I would have left it without hesitation, but 100 cedi is more than some of the people in Larabanga will make in an entire year! When Sarah came out of the bathroom and shared the news, Abraham did not waste a moment hesitating before he used two five foot poles as chop sticks to fish the money out while Janet caught the bills one by one in a plastic bag. GOD BLESS ABRAHAM!!

Janet arrives back in Larabanga to share the story and we all have a good laugh, utterly impressed by Abraham's bravery. He informs us that the community will be having a traditional dance and drumming celebration tonight so a few of his students come to the courtyard to dress Janet and I in traditional clothing. Three eight year olds boss me around as I stand in my underwear, arms out, taking barking orders from these tiny seamstresses and stylists. One of the girls yells at Janet, "too big, too big!" as she tries to fit a top made for an infant.

But after twenty minutes of preparation we are ready for our Larabanga coming out, and spend the evening dancing with the girls and other members from the community who have come to watch and join in the festivities. As the party comes to an end, we sit together in the courtyard listening to a few of the girls recite their poems, including "Education," "Power," and "A Good Listener." The most precocious of the bunch warns, "boys, be very afraid of girls. we are so powerful." The girls sing one more song together, perfectly harmonious. When asked if the americans would sing a song, we break out a shamefully unpleasant version of "Lean on Me" which begs a sea of boos rather than the riotous applause we receieve from Abraham and his girls. Abraham concludes his night with his own poem about the importance of female empowerment and education; he exudes relentless passion and I can see that his fire is lit- my heart is warmed.

These words ring true as the four of us lie atop the roof of the mud hut and reflect on an overwhelmingly beautiful day. The roof is cool and the stars are bright- orion's belt so vivid and the north star a familiar and comforting sight. I call my mom from this mud hut which overlooks the sleeping goats in the village of Larabanga, nestled by the forested homes of elephants in northern ghana. This must be your fairytale, she says. From her mouth to god's ears. I go to bed on the roof of the mud hut that night with the giggles of school girls ringing in mine.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It has been two long and eventful weeks since I have last written, and goodness is there much to tell!

Two weekends ago, our group of about forty students set out on a day trip to the Volta Region (four hours by tro tro) where we planned to visit the Mono Monkey Sanctuary and Wli Waterfalls.

About eight of us decide to extend our stay and enjoy the natural wonders of the nearby villages and tropical forests. On the walk to the waterfall, Janet and I meet Charles, one of our guides. He is a man of about forty, but weathered well into his fifties. Charles tells us about the wife who left and the son who lives in the village with his mother. He is sad and sweet, but mostly lonely. I tell him my grandfather was Charles, and my brother is Charles, and he gives just a hint of a smile, like a secret.

Charles generously offers us room and board in his village, located just a few yards from the falls and nestled right at the base of the mountain. We take Charles up on his offer and for less than five american dollars, I eat a hearty dinner of rice, beans, and a fried egg sandwhich that night- by candle light and the company of at least ten local men who are cooking for us, seemingly delighted and frazzled by our presence.

After dinner we buy a few drinks and sit beneath a star studded sky, playing with local children and enjoying a few bedtime stories courtesy of Charlie. He tells us that- it used to be that a person dies at the falls every fifth day and so you cannot go to the falls every day, but do not have worry because this is no longer the case so you can go to the falls every day. Well phew! :)

The village is quaint, peacfeul, and not exactly "hopping"- it is a saturday night and there are no clubs or bars, just the dances of children and soft songs of baby goats. I lay in a real bed, in a real four walled and roofed room, with high hopes for a good night's sleep before our big climb of Mt. Afadjato tomorrow, the tallest mountain in Ghana!

But alas, no such luck. The goats appear to be night owls, and the roosters seem to have forgotten that the sun does not rise for at least six more hours! They stay up late chatting till the wee hours of the morning.

And then come the bells! GONG-GONG-GONG-GONG, only one strike every three seconds for three minutes in 30 minutes intervals for two hours- which means 240 GONGS! And why in God's name would you want to strike a bell 240 times between the hours of 6 and 8am? It is Sunday, Charles reminds us.

Well then, that is precisely why you want to strike a bell 240 times between the hours of 6 and 8am- in God's name! Apparently it takes 240 GONGS to remind a 600 person village that they are late, later, and the very latest for church.

Ok enough with the bells. So after an early morning wakeup and another fried egg sandwich, we are off on our journey to mount afadjato! A tro tro takes Charles and the eight of us to a village about an hour away where we will climb the mountain and visit another waterfall. The road is a 15 kilometer stretch of copper earth, narrow, pitted, pocked, and lined with overgrown palms and grasses.

Driving down this road is comically disastrous as passengers move toward the center of the tro tro so as not to be impaled by the intruding flora from the windows. My head bobs side to side, up and down, much like Jim Carrey in the opening seen of Ace Ventura, or a dashboard bobble head. I laugh the whole way there, bobbing head and all.

Upon arriving at the next village, the group is joined by another guide by the name of, drum roll please... Kofi! Kofi is handsome and soft spoken. He is the expert climber here, seeing that he climbs the mountain at least four times a day. I am however perplexed by his choice of outfit- despite the heat, humidity, and difficult terrain he wears long sleeves, pants, and sandals!

But who am I to talk- he takes one look at me and chuckles. I am a vision in a white lace blouse, white shorts that come up to my belly button, white tennis shoes, a white sun hat (SPF 50 included) and pearls to do. Seriously? he laughs. Seriously.

We set out for the day, our bags loaded with drinking water, bread, peanut butter, bananas (not mine of course), and a crap load of bug repellent. I slather my entire body in bug repellent but boy do the bugs LOVE me. Its like they knew I was coming and told all of their friends about it- upon entering the forest I am greeted by thousands of insects ready to feed on me. Charles suspects that the bugs mistake me for a large white flower and he courteously swats me with large palm fronds in an attempt to shoo them away. I think, it would be a frickin miracle if I don't get Malaria- oy did I speak too soon.

In the meantime, I am kicking tushi on this hike- wheezing a bit, but still kicking tushi. Every so often there is a stretch of trail which is open to the sun and without the generous shade of the greenery, these parts are the hardest. But then the sun and its heat dissaspear beneath the forest canopy and I am enveloped by more pure and vivid pigments that I have only seen in a crayon box. The tree branches have formed moglie's jungle jim- swings, ladders, the best hideouts for hide and go seek. New
trees use the natural riches of the trees that have died to replenish the forest canopy. After an hour, the mosquitos have grown tired of me and the butterflies drop by for a visit as they flutter around my large white hat- we walk and talk. (Fun fact: there are over two hundred species of butterflies in this forest, more than in the entire continent of North America).

Two hours and some change later, we have made it to the top!- the highest point in Ghana, overlooking several small villages and the neighbouring mountains of Togo. I am sore and smiling and enjoying the world's best ground nut paste and white bread sandwich.

Unfortunately, our joy is short lived as one group member, Gareth, becomes very very ill. It soon becomes apparent that Gareth needs immediate medical attention and so Kofi agrees to take Gareth to the nearest hospital (1 hour on the back of a motorcycle) and the rest of us follow in a tro tro.

The hospital is at best a triage center for a natural disaster. There is no running water, soap, or toilet paper, and I have to go to the local pharmacy to buy Gareth his own needles, IV bags, and clean drinking water. A couple hundred people, mostly women and very very ill children, wait in long lines outside while a lucky few are given beds in the emergency treatment room.
I sit with Gareth in this room, and the three other older women who he shares it with. The woman directly beside him receives frequent visits from her brother and son but does not seem comforted. She is weak and weepy and in need of a hug, I think. When the nurse takes her IV out she squeams and holds back her tears. I go sit with her on her bed and with the touch of
my hand to her arm she is released and water flows down her cheek as she looks at me and nods. I don't speak Ewe and she doesn't speak English but we understand each other perfectly. I received a text message just today from her son informing me that she passed away at 10:15 am. She needed a hug, I thought.

Gareth is too weak to take the tro tro five hours back to the university, so a few of us stay with him while the rest of the group heads back that night. I want to cry. I am dirty, exhausted, and emotionally drained as I see my friend suffering on his cot and hear babies shrieking throughout the hallways. I am grateful that Gareth is getting the help he needs but disheartened to see
two doctors and a handful of nurses tirelessly and single-handedly attempting to serve a community of thousands, and without basic resources. It is hard to stay strong, to be optimistic, in such a seemingly hopeless environment.

A friendly nurse named Isaac sees that Gareth and his posse of three girls struggling to keep our spirits high, and he suggests that we spend the night in the nurses private quarters next to the hospital. He takes us to a nearby town to buy food for ourselves and for Gareth, and introduces us to some of his colleagues who work in medicine and public health. Isaac continues to checks on Gareth throughout the night and keep us updated, even though he is one of two nurses caring for nearly two hundred patients.

Darlene Viault used to tell me that there are angels all around us- people who protect us no matter where in the world we may be. Isaac is certainly an angel. After Gareth had gained strength, we returned to the city and checked him into a better equipped hospital where he received treatment for Malaria, typhoid, and a host of other possible illnesses. Isaac called me twice every day for ten days to ask how Gareth and our group were doing.

To all the angels who made our weekend at the waterfalls so memorable- thank you, medasi, akpe.

with much love and gratitude,

Friday, January 29, 2010

Shabbat Shalom! I said to the woman in the market this morning! You too! she smiled. Oh do I love cross cultural communication.

Ghana is a particularly religious country, and Christianity permeates nearly every realm of life. Yesterday, my geography teacher began lecture by describing his epic journey to Jerusalem and his general love of Israel. He noted that "some people do not even believe in the bible!!" pointing to the class, "are you one of those people!?" "NO!!" replies the class! Oh boy. My favorite is when he asks if any of us are Muslim. "Well I'm Jewish!" I think- I bite my tongue.

At night, most of the campus facilities turn into churches, and there are more denominations than I can count on all my fingers and toes. On my way home from class one night, I hear loud screams coming from the dining hall and suggest to my friend that we take a look to make sure everything is alright. He lets out a big laugh... "He's just thanking Jesus!" Of course he was!

At sunrise, students and teachers alike gather on the soccer fields to pray and sing, often with the help of a megaphone. This is an extra...special, way to wake up. I try to imagine Jews doing this- waking up at four a.m. to stand in the middle of a dirt field and belt out the Amidah so loud that the street dogs cover their ears. Ha, I don't think so. I mean people complain enough as it is in shul about the air conditioning! :)

Ghana is in this way the antithesis to the separation of church and state. But I am never made to feel guilty or uncomfortable. I find it endearing that people are so eager to welcome me into their community and place of worship.

But of course not every Ghanaian goes to church. There is a community of Jews outside of Accra, a small population of Muslims settled mainly in the north, and a slew of other spiritual practitioners.

And then there are those who may have no religious or spiritual affiliation at all, or perhaps simply opt of a sunday morning ritual. It is with these fine folks that I spent last Sunday with on a booze cruise of sorts, the "Dodi Island Princess Cruise." This boat was right out of Michael Scott's booze cruise, complete with a live band and kiddy pool. Dodi Island is a small island on Lake Volta, about two hours from the University. It is marketed as a tourist destination for those visitors who would like to "mingle with the locals," buy a few craft pieces from the village, and join in some traditional songs and dances. Someone had the idea to monopolize the transportation so that you must pay about 45 american dollars to take the cruise to and from the island. The ride is about two hours each way, which means most patrons occupy themselves with large quantities of alcohol and several rounds of "Uno." Exhilarating.

I go aboard the ship with two of my friends and we sit at a table toward the back of the boat. Two older white men claim the table next to us and their lovely Ghanaian escorts. Now I don't know exactly what kinds of signals I'm subconciously giving off, but I seem to be attracting these sorts of neighbors- this must be the fourth time I have sat next to a prostitute and her client. These girls are beautiful, young, and vibrant, and they give a mangificent portrayl of a woman in love with her grandfather. I feast on a buffet lunch but the smooching and groping is kind of nauseating. Pepto bismol anyone?

Two hours later, we have arrived at our destination, Dodi Island! I am expecting (as promised) a fun afternoon of shopping, singing, and dancing. To my surprise and dismay we are greeted by several small children- so small, some of them are still in diapers. The children grab our hands and forcefully shuffle us from one path to another, exploring this seemingly deserted island. There is not an adult in sight, except for one woman who is assisting her young child as she scoops river water into his mouth.

When I ask the children where their parents are, one girl tells me that her parents are dead- five minutes later she slips that her mother is in the village on the other side of the island. The littlest ones of the bunch do not speak English, but have nailed "money." I'm beginning to get the picture.

Just twenty minutes after our arrival, the captain blows the horn and we are summoned back to the ship. As I begin my descent toward the dock, an older girl approaches me and takes the small child who has been my Dodi docent. "Please give me money for school and books, please madam, please"- she is polite but persistent.

"Where are your parents? Where is the village?" I ask. "Money for books!" she protests.

As I board the ship, I am bombarded by more than twenty to thirty children, all begging for money and gifts. I give the eldest a few Ghana cedi. My heart melts as the boat reluctantly pulls away from the dock- so this is Dodi Island.

I am left baffled and utterly disappointed. Who is caring for these children? I feel a deep sense of anger- angry that these children are exploited, that wealthy tourists are seemingly set up and taken advantage of, that I am personally perpetuating this cycle, and all while I sit in a chlorinated kiddy pool with a refrigerated beverage in my hand. And on a sunday, a holy day, a day for God and community.

I have a soft spot for children- always have, always will. It is why I spent my childhood caring for and working with children, and why I want to dedicate my life's work to their cause. It is easy to rant about the injustices and the exploitation of Africans, of young people, of women, etc. How can anyone in good conscious waste a person's forty five dollars and six hours of travel time, only to result in additional harassment and financial losses!?How can these parents put their own child's life in danger and let them wander a remote island, and under the care of total strangers?! I am quick to vilify any individual who seemingly exploits another, and especially any parent who puts their child in this situation.

But genuine concern and honest intentions can quickly turn self righteous. What happens if these kids do not beg for money, do not financially contribute to their families? Is it better that their parents take the moral highroad, or let them go to bed hungry? These are questions I would have previously deemed irrelevant- wrong is just plain wrong. But these are complicated problems with even more complicated answers.

Just some food for thought on this Friday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Today was perfect. I woke up at around 8:30 and bought an egg sandwich at the market for breakfast. Egg sandwiches are a delightful and familiar treat. They cost about 40 cents, and are cooked to order with onions, peppers, and tomatoes in a warm roll. Yummmm.

Then my drum class started at 9:30 (convert to Ghanaian time= 10:45). The class has about 20 people in it and we sit in a circle in the courtyard of the music department- our melodies are accompanied by a chorus of birds and ladies chatting in the market next door. Our professor is named Johnson and he has the warmest and most genuine smile. Being a drummer in Johnson's class is a big change from playing classical violin in an orchestra- there is no mention of A flat or four-four. The change in pitch is "high-low-high-high-low" and the rhythm is something like "shaka-shaka-shak-A-shaka-shaka." We say music is a universal language, so I must be learning a new dialect.

When the two hours have passed and my hands are sore and happy, I head to the tro-tro stop which takes me to my internship. Tro-tros are city buses on speed; man are they something else! Flying down the road, plastered with "God Bless You" and "Jesus Saves," you can't believe the thing still even runs, since the doors are hanging on by a thread, maybe even dental floss. Each tro-tro can squeeze a good 25 people into it, not including the babies who are wrapped on their mothers backs and the children who sit on their laps. The driver then has an assistant of sorts who literally hangs out of the side door and calls out the destination as we pass tro-tro stops along the roadside. There are various hand signals and calls, all of which are totally unrecognizable to me, so I ask about ten people which tro-tro I should get on, receive eleven different answers, and then hope I get on the right one. A tro-tro ride like practically everything else in Ghana is both phrenetic and therapeutic; getting on the tro-tro is a pain in the tushi but once you're settled in your seat, it's a relaxing ride.

An hour or so later, I have finally arrived at my destination- an unmarked area called "Dimples." It might as well be Freckles. I am meeting a woman named Mrs. Dove who is the head mistress of a special school for children with disabilities, ranging from cerebal palsy to autism and adhd. She wears many hats, and this is just one of the remarkable projects she juggles.If Osu the dance teacher could not bring about world peace, then Nakwale could surely lend a helping hand.

Nakwale Dove is Ghanaian but raised in Scottland by missionaries, and later schooled in London and Paris. In the car ride from Dimples to the school, I learn that she went to college with Prince Charles of England- according to Nakwale, Prince Charles was infatuated with her because she had "gumption."

Mrs. Dove also tells me that she had ten children, one who is in his forties, another with autism, and eight more who all passed away. She has been through hell and back and still manged to open her own school, get her umpteenth degree in Psycho Drama Therapy from NYU at age 50, and serve on practically every social, cultural, and political board in Ghana. What a woman.

And so Mrs. Dove and her colleague (a child psychologist) pick me up from Dimples and her driver takes us to an international school just outside of Accra. Today we are interviewing children at the international school who have been recommended by their teachers to be placed in her special school. We are greeted by the head mistress and escorted to the school library where we interview thirty to forty children, one at a time. Mrs. Dove introduces me as the doctor, and I am given full license to interview the kids about their struggles with school, friends, and family. The kids are beautiful and precocious, ranging in ages, backgrounds, and abilities. After we talk to a little boy with autism, she leans to me and says, "My, he is a very very special one." Words like "autism" or even "hyper activity" give way to discrimination in Ghana, and so Mrs. Dove applies varying degrees of "specialness."

After a long and fufilling day Mrs. Dove has the car drive me back to campus, and insists that I accompany her and the children to the clinic on Tuesday for their neurological exams. Afterall, I am a doctor.

Only twenty minutes late, I go straight to my dance class from the tro-tro stop, where I am greeted by seventy smiling and sweaty faces. Dance class, home at last.

Another two hours of dancing, a few chicken kebabs from the night market, and a baby wipe bath- pure bliss.

ciao for now, lots of love,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I finally met my Ghanaian roommate and boy does she know how to make an entrance. At around twelve thirty a.m. I heard a knock on my door and a loud, high pitched "hey girl, let me in, it's your roommate!" Caroline had arrived.

Caroline is much like a Ghanaian barbie- petite, and wrapped in pink. In Ghana, one might say she is "portable," which refers to anyone or anything that is cute and small. Caroline's boyfriend makes just as strong as an impression. He loves me because I am from Los Angeles, home of the Lakers and dozens of Maseratis. He gives me a long schpiel about how he likes Maseratis and Kobe Bryant but he does not like Lamar Odom because Lamar Odom married Chloe Kardashian and Chloe Kardashian is just jealous of her sister Kim because Kim is prettier. Oh really? I say. Yes, I watch E News, he firmly replies. I still do not know this man's name because he insists that I call him Kobe- surprise surprise.

She keenly notes that the Americans are rather poorly dressed and so she will take me shopping to get a proper wardrobe since I am apparently lacking all fashion sense. Yesterday she made "light soup" on our porch, filling the room with garlic and ginger. Last night I came home and she had cleaned my side of the room, made my bed, and ironed my pillow case. So begins my semester living with Caroline.

love from room 109,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Today is my fourth day without electricity or running water. Welcome to Ghana.

The week kicked off with a surprise 4am evacuation from our dormitories. After the tragic events in Haiti, a few loonies suggested that due to Ghana’s “intrinsic spiritual and cultural connections to Haiti,” Ghana was bound to experience an earthquake as well. And so in the wee hours of Monday morning, I woke up to the frantic calls of our porters, running up and down the five story building with kerosene lamps. After ten minutes of yelling and confusion, several hundred students made their way to the nearest parking lot, half naked and wrapped in bed sheets. Oh what a sight this was- and all this panic and chaos just because of a silly rumor and a few superstitions! Gotta love it.

Dormitory life in general is quite exciting, a bit like Ghanaian “Animal House.” There is large posse of boys who frequently wander the hallways in their boxers, blasting American rap out of their large Prince of Bel Air-esque boom boxes. This morning, one of these young men named Kofi even offered to smoke a joint with me before I went to class. Oh boy. (On a side note- I have learned that when in doubt, a Ghanaian man’s name is Kofi).

Women spend a great deal of time on bathing and laundry- the process is a combination of lethargic relaxation and pure exhaustion. Since there is no running water, I fill up a large bucket from a nearby water tank, and then shlep it up two flights of stairs to my room. I sit on a stool with the bucket in front of me and spend a good three hours washing less than one load’s worth of clothing. Then I hang everything on a clothes line or drying rack, and moments later half of the whites have fallen back in the copper colored earth- I am so tired and apathetic that I usually just put the clothes right back on the line. Oh well, I say, they’re going to get dirty anyway. I have simply accepted that I will be perpetually dirty in Africa- hygienic, but not clean. My feet look like I had a bad spray tan, and that look coupled with the mosquito bites… well it just screams sex appeal.

In the meantime, baby wipes have been my best friend- I don’t think I’ve used this many since I was in diapers. Bucket showers are also a fun one and in this heat and humidity, pouring a gallon of water over your head is pure bliss.

And so this week has turned out to be a particularly challenging one, but none the less loads of fun. We go out practically every night, and tonight (Wednesday night) is reggae on the beach. I think Kofi with the joint will be our escort.

More tomorrow!

Peace, Love, and Bob Marley,