Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Beginning to An End

Photo Above: Sunrise at Cape Coast, Ghana

Personal Experience Presentations, A Final dinner, and Sunday Morning Service-

Today, we prepare for our journey back to the land of the free and home of the brave. In 10 hours we will be boarding our Delta bird to fly us safely across the world back to our American reality. This reality has been incredibly rearranged for each and every person of our Ghana group. It was all made known yesterday afternoon as we all sat together and were able to express our deepest opinions and thoughts about our educational and personal transformations while here in Ghana. Our discussion together was full of tears, laughter, and sincere appreciation for Ghana, our new home away from home. Experiences ranged from finding one's voice again and regaining inner strength, to realizing what can paralyze our natural ability and how to collect an opinion about a world only portrayed by media standard.
The emotional afternoon was followed by a final dinner together fit for a king and queen. We arrived at a local hotel banquet hall and was greeted by a sight of elegance. Table tops dressed with white cloth and lit candlesticks, chairs adorned with red bows, jazz music whistling in the background and a feast for an army was set for our arrival.
Dr. Seth and Tess began with presenting us our very own "Alabama in Ghana" Kentes and we wore them proudly throughout the night as we completed our last dinner together, snapped pictures by the cool ocean breeze, and ended the night traditionally with rooftop chats and laughter at the hotel. A particular highlight of the night was me being able to finally teach Tess and her brother Fred the "Cotton-Eyed Joe." They rocked it and promised to practice at home. Who would have ever known that the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" would ever find its way to West Africa?
The next morning was a bittersweet morning as it began the day of our departure home. We attended the morning church service at beautiful church down the street. Even after us crazy Americans showed up halfway through the service because we got the times mixed up, the church was pleasantly gracious to have us there and made us stand in the middle of the congregation after the service to be introduced as The University of Alabama. As cheers and waves were made, my heart felt even more heavy to leave this peaceful nation that I now can call a home.

As our last day in Ghana is coming to a close and our flight departure is approaching fast:

Through Zach's request, I would like to express my very own summary of purpose, expectations, and lessons learned shared with the group during yesterday's discussion. This, is why Ghana will forever hold a warm place in my heart:

As touched on previously, my initial purpose for setting out on this journey was to diversify myself. I knew that diversity was the key to understanding my personal place in this world, not just my surrounding states. Also, I knew that diversity was my key to spiritual self growth and the only way that I was going to be able to successfully communicate with different mindsets and backgrounds.

My initial expectations were basically to learn how to adapt to a living environment so different that mine. I knew that if I try to experience as many different lifestyles as I can, then I could be able to pick the positives and throw out the negatives of them all to create the best environment for me and those a part of my life. Also, I needed to see things and see people that would humble my outlook on life. I needed a physical and mental challenge....
And my wishes were met.

I have learned too many things to count throughout this Ghanaian road and all can be somewhat compressed into these particular topics.-

America has a greater influence on the world than I remotely realized.
I have always been taught that America was a large influential power throughout the world, but never to the extent that it is in actuality. Within Ghana in particularly, President Obama's picture imprint is a design of one of the first displays of art at The Adinkra Village and billboards of his support stretch across roads all throughout the country. Also, children at the private schools where we completed our service learning are itching for a chance to discuss our government structure and if Kia wears stilleto heals like Beyonce. This trip shined a bright light on the fact that I, an American, need to be well aware at the extent that other nations depend on me for knowledge and guidance.

Less may be more.
Ghana has broadened my entire outlook on life in many different ways particularly in the aspect of "less actually being more." I have seen that even though material possessions are hard to come by and afford in Ghana, the locals are more happy than so many of the richest individuals I know back at home. For them, having few sources of entertainment and luxury brings focus and importance back to relationships. The effects of this in Ghana are obvious as family and friends are considered top priority, married families are joined as one and not separated into two, and spiritual strength is more commendable than physical strength. Because of this children can walk two miles to school or to play by themselves without parents wondering about their safety. Parents are left spending less time worrying about their children, family, and friends and have more time to experience planning things with them.

To be a part of something you do not have to be born into it.
A lady at the market Friday looked at me and asked me how long I have been in Ghana and to where I have traveled. I answered Accra, Cape Coast, Sunyani, Kumasi, and followed with the different field studies that we have participated in. She looked at me with sparkling wide eyes and said, "You are Ghanaian now." It dawned on me that because I experienced and respected Ghana, I was a part of it. I loved that feeling.

Keeping traditions alive unifies a people and a nation.
Almost every day in Ghana we were taught another tradition. Some of them included the handshake snap (practiced by practically all locals,) basket balancing for transportation, the significance of music, and the cherished friendship with nature. The people of Ghana are proud of their nation and culture and are always so excited to share it with others. I am sure that tradition has a unifying effect throughout the local people as keeping pride and respect for the nation is a main priority.

Along with all of these, I also gained:
Courage from the swinging bridge at Kakum, Rhythm from the Ashanti dancers, Love And Respect from the school children and Concentration from the Kente weavers.

After experiencing this life I can definitely say that I have learned to defeat communication barriers, be more aware of cultural differences and benefits, and to be persistent when dealing with others who know I am out of my comfort zone.
These lessons are only the beginning at the end of this adventure. I am positive that my return home tomorrow will allow me to continue comparing my American way to Ghana time and learning the benefits of both worlds.
I absolutely feel that each and every person making up this trip was placed together by purpose. Together we have held strong and without one person, one link, we would have had a serious gap in this experience. Each individual here has had a significant impact on the group as a whole and we have learned from each other just as much as we have learned from this beautiful, sweet country.

Finally, from the words of the Shaman and the Ghanaian lifestyle:
I have learned to not envy anyone, to not be greedy with wealth, to continue experiencing the world as a whole, and that learning from words in a book will never again be the same because life really is love and love is what you whatever you want to make it.
Cheers to Ghana! Thank you for two weeks of soul searching and adventure. You will forever be a part of me and I will continue to learn through your lessons for the rest of my days.

Sincere. Humbled. Thankful.

Until Next Time,
Life is Love

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Resulting Art of Mystery

Photo Above: Myself attempting the weaving technique of the Kente factory

A Day of Art, A Day of Travel, A Day of Recognition-

Life has been flying by in Ghana the past few days! It has to be because our time here is almost up.
Finally, I get to share our recent story...
Wednesday, we were introduced to the artistic side of Ghana, one of my absolute favorites no doubt.
To start our artistic journey, we left the city of Kumasi to arrive at a small town just a short time away. There, we had a massive crowd awaiting our arrival.
Dr. Seth had warned us about this the night before as he explained that there would be many artists and vendors there that were thoroughly anticipating our visit, and that we should be prepared for an intense excitement upon arrival.
Just that was so, and I don't think that anyone was prepared for what we witnessed there.
As the bus came to a stop at the Kente factory, there was an immediate crowd approaching and before we could even take a step towards the factory Dr.Seth poked his head out of the bus door to warn the surrounding street vendors. Afterward, we were able to walk to the factory in a peaceful line, despite a few persistant sales pitches.
We finally stepped through the turmoil into the factory. It was a rectangular, small area about 30ft by 20 ft. that was decorated on all sides by Kentes of every design and color. Special weaving machines lined the middle of the shop.
These weaving machines were spectacular with un-believable amounts of ability. There are three separate weaves that the machines can do including single, double, and triple weaves. Wooden bars entagled with thread create the weaving patterns by being moved up, down and side to side mechanically by the weaver. The machine seems very simple if you observe it from the outside, but the string movement and preparation is defintely a hidden puzzle. When the weaving is being performed,it is so fast paced as strings are moving mutually in every different place from every different direction. It seemed as if the resulting product of art was a mystery. I was thoroughly in awe.
Setting yourself up to perform the weaving operating is quite a tediuos task. After placing yourself underneath the wooden weaving tool, you then wrap your toes tight with the thread dangling from the attached string hanging beneath you and begin to work. As you hold a wooden weaving bar wrapped with string in your hand, you pass it back and forth across the criss-crossed string surrounding the weaving tool and afterwards tighten with another wooden piece that is suspended from above.
A 30 mintute lesson passed by and we still could not get to an explanation on how to weave the multiple weaving patterns. The teaching process is as complex as the weaving tool, and is known to take weeks upon weeks to be able to completely instruct how to weave a Kente. This work is commended, honored, and treasured and will be for multiple generations to come.
Following our introduction to the myterious art it was finally time to shop! Throughout this entire trip the Kente shopping experience has been my absolute favorite and most cherished. The main reasoning behind this is the fact that every Kente design has a particular meaning. The history of the Kente is incredibly significant especially when it comes to the name and meaning of a certain pattern.
As our reading states, " Each pattern has its name and in many cases also represents the clan, social status, or even sex of the wearer; or it may refer to some proverbial saying." Also, "In olden times, the King of Ashanti appeared to hold the 'copyright' of all new designs and these he would either reserve for himself or allocate them to great men or women in the kingdom."
I was in disbelief that the art could be so impacting still today. This distictly significant fashion fascinated me and I ended up choosing the "siserhood" and "family is unity" cloths for some very special people back at home.
I left the shop in complete admiration of the trade.
Our next stop was the Adinkra village where we witnessed locals demonstrate how to make the natural ink that stamps their garmets. The ink comes from their very own badie tree and goes through an extensive process to result in an ink that is stamp worthy.
The process goes like this-
First the bark is shaven from the badie tree. Next it is soaked in tubs of water for 24 hours until it goets soft enough to break apart. After pounding the soft bark into tiny strips with a large wooden grinding stick, the tiny strips are put in a boiling pot over a fire and there they sit for two weeks until the boiling bark becomes a dark, thick, sticky paste.
This ink is then used to be the creator of many symbols upon the cherished hand woven cloth produced in the very same village.
Symbols of design were presented to us and their meanings were made known. Some were child of God, patience, unity, and back to your roots.
Afterward we were intructed to begin stamping our very own shimmering white cloth with symbols we chose from our previous lesson. We loved stamping the garmet and were particularly happy to be able to participate in creating such a natural, meaningful piece of artwork.
Afterward Dr. Seth surprised us as we stepped on the bus with the garmet and explained that he had bought it for all of us to cut and keep our personally stamped symbols. For this we were especially grateful and it became a sweet ending to our group feild projects.
I was truly saddened by our next day travels back to Accra to prepare ourselves for our journey back to America.
I am not ready to stop learning this way.
Studying the world through a book is something that I will never agian look at the same. Through this blogging adventure I now know how difficult and tedious explanation and experience through textbook and media can be to portray. Now I see that reading and acknowledging something about our ever changing world is only the begining of knowing the true story.
To me it is like a puzzle-
Reading and researching this amazing life can give you the easier outer edges but only by experince can you get the inner pieces that create the entire picture.
I am so thankful to now to have the inner pieces of Ghana.
Thursday our journey back to Accra and back to our Delta bird flying us back home began. We were all happy to arrive back, as Accra is a favorite city to many on the trip... maybe because it hosts Shop Rite, which is the one and only grocery store we have been able to access within the past two weeks. Needless to say, we made a hilarous scene later that night as we all stormed into Shop Rite. We never thought we could ever be so happy to grocery shop.
That night brought everyone some amazing rest, awesomely hot showers, delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a gorgeous sight of landing planes that is clear from the view on our hotel rooftop.
Yesterday was a "shop till you drop death match" as we hit the outer-city market. Girls were scrambling for African dresses for the banquet and all the guys could think about were Ghanaian soccer jerseys.
The day closed with a delicious feast at our favorite diner, Frankies, where Kia thankfully discovered the bakery next door. "Our rice tank has been overflowing and our desert tank is dangerously low," as Michael would say.. so about 5 doughnuts and a piece of cake later, we were aboard the bus again to the hotel where later we had another rooftop adventure of overhead landing planes and laughs.
Today began our ending presentations and banquet dinner, which has been so incredibly special that it deserves a blogging explanation within itself. The bittersweet ending will be explained tomorrow before our Delta bird flys us back.

Prepared. Relieved. Appriciative.

Until Next Time,
Life is Love

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Healing of the Spirit

-Photo Above: The Shaman and village children dancing to the beat of the surrounding drums

The Feima monkey sanctuary, lunch with the Prime Minister, and a Spiritual Healing-

First off- I would like to express that as much as I am in love with my new home away from home; I am missing, appreciating, and looking forward to Locust Fork and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I cannot wait to actually hear the voices of family and friends and to actually be able to rest assured that everything is ok. You never know how much you appreciate something until it is completely absent from your life. One primary thing that this experience has already taught me is to not take advantage of anything- not coffee with a friend, not a phone call from mom or dad, not a kiss from your love, not a burrito from Taco Bell, not anything! These small things and so very much more make up our blessed, united, and respected aspects of The United States of America which people across the world are only dreaming for. Upon arriving at home I will be a changed person with a broader admiration for the things that I have and the relationships that I cherish.

Sunday was the infamous visit to Fiema monkey sanctuary. Throughout this program in the recent years, the sanctuary has been one of the most highlighted adventures and I now personally see why.
Feima monkey sanctuary is surrounded by two primary villages, Feima and Boabeng, that have a total population of around 300. These local villagers not only live by the monkey sanctuary, but live with the monkey sanctuary and consider it as close as family.
The two species of monkeys in Feima monkey sanctuary are the Mona and the Black and White Colobus.
A myth surrounds these precious creatures and it goes like this-
Long ago there were brutal tribal wars throughout the region as well as the villages surrounding Feima. It was said that while Feima was at war with an enemy tribe, the monkeys surrounded their village chief from head to toe and protected him from any harm.
To this day the people inhabiting the area of Feima monkey sanctuary see the monkeys as their protectors and treat them with as much respect as their own human neighbor. This is all the way to the point of burying every deceased monkey in a cemetery that monkeys and prized chiefs inhabit after death.
The monkeys are so very gentle and friendly and treat you like one of their own. In stepping into the forest with only a few small calling cries, the monkeys swing over to say hey from all directions. With the peanuts in hand that Dr. Seth purchased for us in the village before we arrived, the monkeys were following our every move as we fed them through the forest paths we hiked.
The Mona is the typical monkey you will see in Feima but the Colobus is the very shy one that you will only see high in the treetops. They will eat peanuts right out of your hand and sit by you just like a best friend. It is absolutely amazing.
I envy this direct relationship with nature so very much. To be able to live among these amazing creatures of comfort is a dream within itself.
Along with experiencing the monkeys of Feima, we encountered trees as old as 300 years old and plant and wildlife that are lifelines to the local people in terms of physical and spiritual medicine. This idea of a solely dependent relationship with nature is something so foreign to my life in America. After personally seeing the relationship and observing the spiritual power that nature can bring into a family, I am positive that this aspect of Ghana is something America should look up to.
The day ended with dinner from the wonderful Chef Tony which cooked scrumptious corned beef just to our taste, and a crazy game of Charades!
I have not played Charades in so so long, but now our group is officially hooked. The games began in Blair and Annie's room with girls vs. boys against Zach, Michael and Davey and ended with the vision of Davey with a t-shirt over his head and a shoe in hand, pretending to be the bride off bride wars. We laughed to tears, it was absolutely priceless!
The next day was suspected to be quite the relaxing one with just traveling on the schedule for the day, but to our excitement we were scheduled a surprise lunch with the Prime Minister of Ghana's Brong Ahafo region and the mayor of Sunyani.
We began with a tour of the government office and introductions to the Prime Minister and his operating crew. He was very pleased to meet and begin a relationship with so many Tuscaloosa residents as he and four others from Sunyani, Ghana have an upcoming visit to Tuscaloosa in plans to discuss governmental matters and specifications regarding their partnership with Tuscaloosa as their sister city. Despite his extremely busy schedule he still took the time to sit and discuss each of our majors with us and open the floor for question and discussion. Afterward he hosted a lunch for us at the nearby hotel and along with his already overwhelming generosity, he organized a personal tour of the Sunyani Regional Hospital.
Again, we were shown such amazing gratitude.
As we toured the Sunyani Regional Medical Center I was in quiet dis-belief. As this hospital is one of the most prized hospital and teaching facilities in Ghana, the facilities were absolutely accommodating and effective but in a whole new light. There was no such thing as comfort here. At one point throughout the tour we were brought directly through the maternity ward and were shocked at a vision of a room filled with 10 women, all either holding babies or in labor. Mothers were separated by only a sheet that was left open to allow air to circulate through to them and their infants. There was one lady particularity that gave me pains to the stomach as she was in terrible labor, naked with sweating pains, and tossing side to side in the bed she was left to share amongst the other 9 ladies of that ward.
I was flooded with emotion as I was thankful for the facility that was available to the women and other patients, heartbroken over their discomfort, and extremely appreciative for the amazing United States of America that I can call home.
Later we arrived in Kumasi, had a round table discussion of our experiences so far ,and prepared for what awaited us the next day.
Dr. Seth explained that we would be visiting the Shaman the next day and that we needed to read and discuss what to expect from this traditional leader.
The Shaman is an indigenous healer, also called a traditional priest, and practices healing with plant, animal, or mineral substances with methods that are a part of the local culture. The Shaman is guided by particular deities that instruct him on each individual case that he is faced with. The deities allow him to lead the patient into a therapeutic consultation on what to change in his/her life and what to do to solve the immediate problem.
Today we arrived at the Shaman's home and were greeted by the community surrounding a group of local drummers, singers, and dancers. The welcoming process was fantastic and thoroughly prepared us for the journey we were about to set out on.
We were immediately seated and greeted by many priest and priestesses that had came from surrounding villages. It was not until we spoke to the Shaman out of his spiritual body that he said he had called the surrounding priest and priestesses to join him in greeting us and educating us on this indigenous healing process. I was honored at his thoughtfulness and so thankful to the priest and priestesses for enduring the inconvenience of travel for them and their family out of pure joy and appreciation for our visit.
I can only begin to describe to you this amazing process, but I can start with the fact that it was the most educational, thrilling, and spiritually impacting moment of my entire life.
Sounds of beating drums were surrounding us and in front were views of priest and priestesses adorned in spectacular decoration.
Many of these healers were specifically recognized by their extravagant chalking of the face and exposed skin. This chalk is known to represent the many spirits that the priest and priestesses consult with throughout their healing process.
While they are adorned and marked with the chalking they are said to be with the spirit, which guides their speech and every movement. When the spirit leaves them, they are dressed down to normal Kente and operation.
As tradition states, we were greeted by drinking a glass of dry gin offered by the spiritual translators. This was followed by an offering of dancing shakers wrapped in decorated leather and made with hair.
If you were handed a dance shaker by the Shaman, you were asked to dance.
At one point the entire group was handed a dance shaker and we were all dancing a circle around the entire dirt dance floor surrounded by tents, smiles, and beating drums. We laughed and tried our hardest to follow the moves of the priest and priestesses the best that we could. The beat of the drums became addicting and I found myself lost in the rhythm. That moment put every dance class that I have ever had in my entire 12 years of dancing to shame. It was a spiritual healing beyond belief.
As the dancing came to a stop, the head priest, the Shaman, went below a tree and was seated to invite those who had traveled for healing to present themselves to him.
We observed the Shaman consult with three different individuals and slowly but surely gained an understanding of the indigenous healing process.
The healing process begins with an egg offering to the Shaman and then an explanation of your visit. The Shaman then throws the egg and as it breaks, an x-ray of your mind is shown unveiling your inner thoughts and problems. While he is consulting you on your healing process, there are translators all around that translate the Shaman's spiritual tongue into the native Twi language. The Shaman evaluates whether your illness is caused by natural causation, spiritual forces, supernatural forces, or socially unacceptable behavior. After his instruction you are sent with blessing and the Shaman sleeps to rest from his spiritual being into his human being.
After observing his healing process we proceeded to a round table discussion with the Shaman and the rest of the priestesses. We were allowed to ask anything and everything, and we did.
One of the favorite questions from the group came from Kia. She asked what advice the Shaman had for us to live a long and happy life.
He replied that the question was one of the best questions that he had ever been asked.. and instructed us in many ways.
He explained that money, envy, or steering away from our education would not make us successful and that we needed to always observe and concentrate on a clean heart.
I was in complete admiration of the Shaman and the surrounding community with their efforts to shine a light on their tradition for us to observe and appreciate.
Today was so eventful and impacting that it is impossible to share my feelings in words tonight. I do know that I experienced diversity, respect, honor, and tradition today in its finest. I appreciated every minute of dancing and speaking with the Shaman and could have stayed there hours more despite the oncoming storm and grumbling stomachs of the group.
Today truly changed my outlook on Ghana. I now have an unmeasurable respect and admiration for this country.

Healed. Cheered. Blessed.

Until Next Time,
Life is Love

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Sweet Hand of Peace

Photo Above: Me and Annie Showing Some Love to our Service Learning Class

A Bittersweet Ending and a Night Out:
Yesterday sadly ended our service learning at the local clinic and private school.
As nervous as I was for the last day, it ended up being the most amazing day I have had here so far.
Me and Annie's plan to pair up and teach together worked wonders! As we began the morning with a counting game we ended with reading an ABC book together and drawing pictures on the board that the letters stood for. They children ate up the fact that they could use the chalk on the black board. Chalk is actually given to the instructors as gifts from the children many times; therefore, I am sure the chalk was not something that was easily accessible.
It was amazing how excited and precise the children were with the illustrations on the board and I began to make many observations about their education levels. I could automatically tell a lot about a child from the picture that they drew. Within the group there were some of the smartest children that I had ever met.
After class we handed out candy to everyone for being so wonderful and respectful. With every handful there was a "Thank You Madame, Thank You Madame." I could not get enough of their sweet respect.
After teaching two classes about counting by fives and tens and illustrating the alphabet we moved on to another one of Annie's classes that she had visited the day before. The class had begged her to sing America's national anthem, and she said she would come back the next day with friends to help her.
Me, Annie, Blair, and Michael instructed the class to put their hand over their heart and stand to their feet. Afterwards, we began to sing. Normally, I would have been so nervous to sing in front of such a large group on the spot but this time was different.
This time I could not help but sing. Emotions flooded the room as we began to sing together in the sight of these sweet Ghanaian school children who were so eager to hear us praise our nation. Holding back tears, I sang loud and proud.. we all did. A screaming applause was given afterward. Off we ran to the bus as everyone had already been waiting quite a time for us. Along our two minute walk to the bus I made wishes that time would freeze. The sight was unimaginable. Little ones were yelling our names and asking over and over when we would be back. I told them that it was my dream to come back very soon.
One girl in-particular I will never forget.
The bright eyed girl grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye and said, "Madame, I hope you will come back very soon and I wish you safe journeys."
She had to be all of 9 years old. Her words were so sincere and her hand was so sweet and peaceful... I will remember it for as long as I live.
Leaving the school was a bittersweet goodbye.
As Dr. Seth says, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so that night he took us out to experience Ghanaian night life. Unfortunately we could not venture to where the group was really wanting to go. Steven our bus driver went there to check it out and said it was unsafe. So, we went to the safest place which was a small music hole in the city. We definitely made the best of the night and danced until it was "waffle house time" as we told Steven. Unfortunately, there are "No Waffle Houses or any eqivalents in Ghana," Steven said smiling.
That gave us all a huge laugh to end an amazing day in Ghana.
Today was very relaxing as we traveled to Sunyani to get checked into our hotel and prepare for the next day's monkey santuary adventure. Some of us played and were taught the card game "spades," which is definitely going to be the group addiction for the rest of the trip. We were also introduced to chef Tony.
Chef Tony saved us all from starvation and made the most amazing fried chicken. It was absolutely right out of Grandma's kitchen. He told us that he knew we were so hungry and that he would make us anything he possibly could.
Meanwhile he brought us out watermelon and fried away in the kitchen. The dinner was heavenly and I told him that he completely saved my starving life.
After talking with him tonight the told me that he had been all over the world cooking. He had cooked in Japan, Canada, Europe, and hopes to one day have a restaurant in Las Vegas. His smile and positive attitude was addicting and after a night full of chat he promised to make us whatever our hearts desired for dinner tomorrow. This is the best service we have had so far. I officially no longer feel like an outsider; I feel right at home.
Cheers to a filling night of spades and fried chicken!

Happy. Fullfilled. Peaceful.

Until Next Time,
Life is Love

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Blessing of Smiling Purple

The Ashanti Nation and Service Learning:

Yesterday we took a journey to the Ashanti cultural center in Kumasi and afterward to the Ashanti King's Palace.
Upon arrival at the Ashanti cultural center, traditional Ashanti dancers had already been preparing for our arrival. We were all were seated on the performance stage while drums and seating arrangements were made. To our, and my special amazement we were introduced to three different traditional Ashanti dances, with costumes to match. Meanwhile, we were taught how respected the dancers were in the village and how, without hesitation, their art was an important and absolute essential part of the Ashanti nation. During their performance we were told that if we felt the urge to join them that they would be honored! Out of our group no one interrupted their traditional performances, literally because we were in awe half the time. Afterward, they brought all of the dancers out, they scooped us out of our seats and began to teach us.
Everyone was out of their seats laughing, joking, and dancing the morning away.
Dr. Seth was running around making a video of all of us on the dance floor that I am sure will come back to haunt us one day.
After dancing a lady dancer came up to me and told me that I was her sister because I was as short as her. I laughed hysterically and told her that me being so short was always a laugh among my friends and that it was very hard to find ladies as short as me, but her short presence made me feel very welcome. We laughed together for quite awhile.. until the group was nowhere to be found. I frantically put back on my shoes and ran out the door, wanting to stay there for hours to talk and dance with my Ghanaian short sister.
Afterward, the group was led to The Kings palace.
It was alluring to say the least! So much Ashanti culture, tradition, and law was packed into an hour discussion.
Kumasi, the city we are presently in, is part of the Ashanti region in central Ghana, and the Ashanti nation (the nation of gold) is ruled by one King and a Queen Mother. If I could describe the Ashanti culture in three words they would be:
Peaceful, Joyful, and Plentiful.
An interesting thing about the Ashati King is that he is the only king throughout all of the regions of Ghana that cannot step down, or be relieved from his duties as king until he passes away. When he passes, a King is selected from only his mother's side, as the Ashanti believe that only the mothers side of a King is royal.
This too is the same for the Queen Mother. Even though this rule is so, the Ashanti nation has never had a problem with a leader's choices or decisions about the nation. The people have always looked to the King and the Queen Mother for guidance throughout all of their life activities.
Upon arrival to the palace, we did not get to actually step foot on the King's palace yard because it is so sacred but we went to the museum that is just outside his courtyard which houses many things that he uses, still to this day, for many of his traditional and daily activities.
The Ashanti culture is magical.
Today we began our service learning projects throughout the city. Four of our students are doing their service at a local clinic while the rest of us are guest teachers at a nearby private school.
We began the day dropping our future doctors and nurses off at the clinic and Steven proceeded to the school with the rest of us. We had no clue about the unbelievable welcome awaiting us.
As our bus pulled around the school yard our view was full of purple uniforms surrounding a wide open field in the shape of a circle. As soon as the bus stopped all you could hear were cheers. Waves and smiles and excitement flooded the bus and our hearts. I was in dis-belief.
We stepped off of the bus to even more cheers. Imagine us as The University of Alabama football team stepping off the bus to walk to Bryant Denny Stadium before kick off-
We were the football team and the students were the dedicated fans.
Along with our welcoming ceremony was a demonstration of a riding lawn mover that the school had just received from a very good friend of the Dean. As a school worker hopped on the riding lawn mower the children and teachers chanted and shouted together in thanks and amazement at the mower.
Stares followed the mower as it surrounded the field of high grass. I was humbled and touched at the amount of love, respect, and appreciation shown.
Beyond the school yard was a school house, filled with about 20 rooms of no doors or windows, just fresh air. Lines behind the building were drying clothes of the children and workers. To the left was a break area, complete with a snack hut and 3 black pots of steamy Jillaf being prepared for the nearby lunch hour.
Each of us were assigned a single classroom. Ages in the school ranged from 4-16 years of age.
After awhile, Dr. Seth grabbed me and introduced me to a smiling class of 4-6 year olds and said goodbye. The amount of children per classroom ranged from 30-50. I believe my class had around 30 to begin with, and grew gradually to probably 60-70 of children passing by in curiosity. I was thoroughly overwhelmed.
As the schools are based on a British school system every greeting is very structured. To a guest the entire class begins
"Good Morning. Welcome. How are you"
The eager voices of my smiling children was a blessing beyond belief.
I have never felt so welcomed anywhere else in my life.
The little ones were sent to break after a short introduction of themselves and what they want to be when they grow up.I decided to go with them, and my experience was one in a lifetime.
At break the children usually play games together and eat lunch. Today, was different. I would pay anything to have video of the scene of children surrounding me and pictures of the many little hands constantly grabbing mine.Sadly, communication was hard with the little ones, thanks to my southern accent, but they did not care. My presence was enough, and I was just fine with that.
My family instantly grew to over 100.
Eventually, a young teacher named Richard rescued me from my new family and gave me a tour of the entire school. He introduced me to the cook, ( which would not communicate with me unless I spoke the native Twi language, so the wonderful Richard walked me through it,)the construction workers, and 5 other classrooms.
My family immediately grew another 200.
I cannot wait to teach again in the morning. Despite my nerves, my friend Annie and myself have decided to pair up in a classroom to try to make the younger children communicate with us better. We have planned stories, counting, and Red Rover to entertain... lets hope we can teach the children successfully and break the communication barrier that our strong accents stick us with.
I am saying a prayer tonight for the whole group- that we may speak clearly, we may be strong, and we may leave a lasting impression of love.

Thrilled. Inspired. Prayerful.
Until Next Time,
Life is Love

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Magic Place I Never Knew

"Me clumsily falling in the ocean at Coconut Grove Hotel thanks to Kaitlyn and Courtney!- Cape Coast, Ghana."

(Welcome in Ghanaian Twi)

I am so happy to finally be able to highlight a piece of my journey to everyone. Internet access is Ghana is available many places, but not without a laptop. But even though you have a laptop it does not guarantee you access! It takes about 10 minutes to load a mailbox, and as you can imagine with only 3 laptops from the whole group it has been quite the task to get everyone internet access. The first hotel we stayed at had an internet cafe where you could pay by 30 minutes or an hour for usage. ( About $1.50 American Dollars per minute.) That was amazing! As the group has traveled throughout the country to Kumasi from Accra (the capital)the hotel accommodations and business has been very different. We are now in Kumasi at a hotel named Royal Basin Resort and I have been deemed a temporary office worker to use the front desk computer! haha.
I pleaded the receptionist to allow me access to the internet and she gladly accepted me without question. I thanked her kindly and laughed after telling her that I would greet people as they walked in the door and answer the phone. She said OK! and asked me how much I wanted to be paid monthly.
I answered $100 Ghana cedis a month. She answered with a laugh and said maybe $54. ( $77.20 American dollars)
She and everyone here have been very accommodating and happy to see us visit.
While sitting here the power went out throughout the whole hotel! Apparently it happens almost 5 times a day. They luckily have a handy generator to step in and work for them when there is problems. The receptionist and I sat here for about a minute and laughed among each other in the dark until the generator kicked and we had power. She thought it was crazy! But I was so scared in the pitch dark.
From the beginning of our trip until now, we have visited 4 cities- Accra, Cape Coast, Obuasi, and now Kumasi.
In these cities we have visited two slave castles, a fishing village, a national rainforest park (where we walked across 1,000 feet of rope bridges atop the rainforest), and a gold mine(where we got turned away for the first time in 11 years because the conditions of the mine were too dangerous that day in the eyes of the embassy.)
The embassy looks after everywhere we visit, to make sure we are as safe as possible. That makes me feel very safe and secure. After that incident, I can rest assured that my trip in Ghana will be very safe.
The villages here are stunning.
Scenes of mud huts and wooden huts for miles on sides of the streets are covered with local people selling and distributing everything imaginable. Children young and old run the streets with no fear playing soccer and cards all all sorts of games and all the while, women are feeding, changing and nursing their little ones aside them. The Ghanaian people are so happy and free.
They have traditional and culture that they cherish and adore, and that is their main priority.
One of the most amazing things that I have seen here so far are women and men carrying baskets atop their heads- some I think to myself are physically impossible to balance! The cloth below the baskets balance them and allow things of all shapes and sizes to be carried many distances without trouble, allowing the Ghanaians to use their hands for more important and sacred reasons.
(The receptionist just gave me a lesson with her cloth and a laundry basket on balancing.. she is hilarious. She is 25 and very interested in studying nutrition in the U.S.A. We exchanged emails so that we can keep in touch. She has talked to me all night and amazingly I see her and I as two very similar people in character. Her name is Emily and she is a native Ghanaian who is pationate, positive, and full of life! She has been such a humbling experience. I hope to find her a suitable college to continue her journey through education at home.)
I have learned so many things already.
Patience, respect, appreciation, and diversity are just a few of the lessons that have resulted from our journeys so far.
Also, this experience has greatly opened my mind to the fact that I cannot make a judgment or cast a permanent idea about a subject or place that I have not been a part of or ever visited. Ghana is very different compared to my initial outlook. Modernly advanced things are seen all around! But also- aside them are other observations that are the exact opposite.
Patience is one of the the things we all are learning as a group. African tradition does not worry about time. The fact of life for them is to live and not worry, and that time spent patiently is time spent wisely.
Therefore, at lunch and dinner it has been an average of 2 or even 3 hours to order food, eat, pay, and leave.
It is very humbling, and in the meanwhile I have had many cherished conversations.
As the title of this blog post came from the Disney movie Aladdin- comparable are thoughts about my Ghanaian experience so far. Distant, inspiring, and magical in every way.
We are traveling to the Ashanti Kings palace tomorrow and visiting the cultural center to learn traditional dancing and crafting. I am BEYOND excited. I will be able to experience my passion for dance in a completely new way.I am absolutely overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement!
I am so grateful to be here and I am soaking up every moment to its absolute fullest.
Anxious. Informed. Blessed.
Until Next time,
Life is Love

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A World Beyond the Window

Arrived safely in Ghana Accra yesterday around 2:45 pm! This was only after a miracle from God that I caught my plane after a scary controversy at the airport. Lets just say, that someone above is by my side without a doubt!
The country is everything and more that I expected, and that is just from the drive to the hotel! In comparison to the US, an absolute other world.
I wish I could say more, but sending my family an arrival note has wiped out my 30 minute internet cap!
I will leave with one last note before breakfast and heading out to The University of Ghana and later traveling to Cape Coast-
The hotel where we have accomodations is absolutely amazing. Everyone is friendly and the atomosphere is as inviting and as comfortable as it can possibly be.
Although this is so, outside my hotel window is another world. I will explain soon!
Thankful. Anxious. Changed.
Until next time,
Life is Love