Thursday, December 18, 2008

Traffic makes me sad

New favorite store names:
I am Collections
George Bush Way Chop Bar (chop Bar = restaurant)

And now, may I present the story of the 8-hour journey to and from the Accra Post Office. The main characters are myself, and traffic. The trip to the post office involved 3 separate tro-tro rides. Traffic was unusually heavy (usually it's just heavy), and by the 3rd tro-tro I was so fed up with traffic that I alighted (to use the local phrase) and walked 30 minutes until I found the post office [elapsed time: 2.5 hrs]. It took me three tries to find the correct service counter, and once I did I was directed to another window that was currently vacant. Luckily after 10 minutes of waiting a man appeared, and was friendly and helpful [elapsed time: 3 hrs]. However, the post office didn't have the package I was looking for (joy of joys!), and they directed me to another post office. Since it was about 4pm I didn't think I had enough time to make it to this other post office, so I decided to go home.

I left the post office and decided to forgo another tro-tro ride since traffic was ridiculous. As I walked on a street towards my destination, I had the feeling I was marching in a parade: tons of people crowded the street, a few vehicles were playing music that people danced to, and cars trying to get through the gridlock were horning (to use the local phrase) like crazy. After walking to an area of less traffic I picked (to use the local phrase) a tro-tro and got the station, and boarded another tro-tro (remember, I still need to take 2 more to get home). This time, traffic was so bad that I literally moved 20 feet in an hour [elapsed time: 4.5 hrs]. I was so frustrated that I got out of the car and walked to eat some food and kill some time. I figured by 7pm traffic would settle down.

After eating and relaxing a bit, I walked to the station hoping that things had cleared. I was dead wrong...traffic was still horrendous. Even more exciting was the crowd of about 200 people trying to board any tro-tro that came by. As each car came every 2 or 3 minutes, 20 or 30 people mobbed it (even before they knew where it was going), pushing and shoving their way to the front so that if the car was the right one they could get in. It was crazy. Apparently the concept of forming a line hadn't crossed anyone's mind. And apparently this happens every day as the commuters leave Accra to travel back to their homes. I've experienced this once before but it wasn't quite as crowded. I decided to give up after about 30-40 minutes, I was too overwhelmed and didn't feel like fighting people for a spot. [elapsed time: 6+ hrs].

I killed an hour and a half at a nearby internet cafe and made sure to come back late, around 9pm, when I knew traffic would be clear. It took me less than 45 minutes to get back, but I was frustrated and exhausted [elapsed time: 8+ hrs]. The End.

Moral of the story: Traffic will get you down. It may suck life from you, as it has special powers. It may drive you to despair. So live in the countryside or buy a custom jetpack with wings so you can fly.

Other: I am getting better at drumming little by little. I'm not getting better at handwashing (I need to find out WHO invented the washing machine, as they are my new hero). I took a trip to a nice beach (sorry, no pictures as the package in question contains a replacement camera). And according to my neighbor, who lived for 30 years in Canada, I will cry on Christmas day here. Because it's just not the same - hot weather, terrible reggae versions of X-mas songs, only a few decorations, and people typically don't share a nice meal together. So I'll let you know how many tears I shed. Shed a tear for me please, as I'm very homesick. But I'm really looking forward to some travels. Take care.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Important Announcement

Just wanted to post a quick update. Forgot to mention last week that I saw a really well produced play at the University of Legon. There were about 60 people in the cast (!) decked out in dazzling costumes. Traditional music and choreographed dancing occurred throughout. The story detailed the history of an 18th Century war between the Ashanti (from central Ghana) and the British colonials. It was somewhat comical as the "obrunis" (white foreign exchange students) acted the parts of various British colonials, a.k.a. the bad guys. I have to admit I felt a little awkward when the audience cheered the defeat of the "obrunis" (who ran off the stage doing the British high-step), but it was a pretty powerful experience nonetheless. And it started on time and the lighting worked uninterupted.

On Sunday I got another crack at playing "Kinka" and also "Slow Adbadza" with my society. Two of their main drummers were away near Lake Volta, so I got to play a lot. It was pretty awesome. Nothing much else is new - haven't had power for 2 days.

I'd now like to announce:


That's right, you can submit that burning question(s) you had about Africa. Many Ghanaians I talk to want to know what Americans think about Ghana (at least two people I talked to are worried that Americans think they live in trees). So I'd like to tell you *how it really is*, at least to the extent that I know. You can hit me up with questions in any of the following ways:

1) Post it as a comment for this blog
2) Email
3) Message me on Facebook

I'll select the best questions and provide brilliant, witty, insightful responses, and the best question winner will receive a Viking Range, a new Sealy mattress, an all-expenses paid trip to the Azores OR Sri Lanka (your choice) AND travel in style in a BRAND ... NEW ... CAR!!!

Peace out. PS: One thing I look forward to when I return: flushing a toilet (it's been 3 months)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Where's the Stovetop???

Happy Thanksgiving y'all! In honor of the holidays I ran amock around my property with a butcher knife until I caught one of the turkeys that roam the grounds. After I beheaded and de-feathered him, I cooked up a feast with yams, carrots, and onions, with apple pie to boot. Okay, actually I just ate beans and plantains, and I couldn't even find Stovetop. Such is life in Ghana.

Can't say that I have much to report, it's been two weeks of failed plans and days blurring into one another. But I have an action-packed weekend coming up (assuming that plans actually work out) and I might even be able to put up pictures in my next post (a replacement camera is possibly en route).

Music: I performed in a parade, the first since high school marching band (thank god we didn't have to wear the stupid marching uniforms). There were about 10 of us going round the neighborhood at maybe 7pm, drumming, singing, and causing havoc. It was great. Later that night we played Weka and Kpanlogo, both popular traditional dances. The night also stood out because I also took apateshie for the first time, a mix of gin and traditional herbs. It burns like whiskey, but I did enjoy the "earthy" flavor of the herbs.

At the university campus I saw a performance of Brazilian samba. Well, sort of. The singer/guitarist was an exchange student from Brazil and the rest of the musicians were Ghanaians, so it was a weird fusion of samba and highlife (afropop). Halfway through the performance the mounted lights illuminating the stage fell over. Oops.

Other: I took a trip up to the Eastern region and though it didn't quite work out as planned, I found a trailhead into the "sacred and everlasting Dodowa forest" (said the sign nearby). The only person around was an old lady sleeping on a bench, so I went right in. I found this amazing clearing with two HUGE bamboo trees and a small stream. It could have been a set right out of Jurassic Park or some African movie set in the jungle...unbelievable. I relaxed under cover of the forest canopy for about 30 minutes before I saw a man in approaching in the distance. We met eye to eye, and I had this weird vision that he was going to signal to his friends who would emerge from hiding in the bush all around me, with painted faces and blowguns with poison darts, and I would be tied up and carried to the chief. That's what Hollywood movies and do to your mind. What actually happened was he left, and I was alone again. When I exited the jungle, the old lady was awake and started yelling at me in Ga-Dagbani, a language I unfortunately don't speak at all. I just had to shrug and walk away, hoping she wouldn't come after me with a machete.

I've also converted to being a futbol (aka soccer) fan. It's a sport unrivaled in popularity in Ghana. At some point I'll see a Ghanaian Premier League match at the Accra Sports Stadium. Tickets to the cheap seats are less than $4!

And the real fun times: Moments to cherish ... being on a tro-tro where everyone was yelling (and I mean everyone, excepting myself) in Twi for 15 minutes straight, like an episode of Jerry Springer, and the car being stopped so the driver could get in the face of the man who started the disagreement. I think the dispute was over the fare ... going to campus dressed up to play a concert with the R&B group I volunteered to help out, and finding out 45 minutes before the show that it was cancelled for the second time, meanwhile I had cancelled other plans just for this show ... traveling two hours by tro-tro and hiking 30 minutes uphill to attend a rehearsal that two people confirmed would happen, and arriving to find no one there ... oh, Ghana!

Happy Holidays!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Still hot & heavy in November

The current score in the war for supremacy in my kitchen: Ants: 2,313,534 Me: 7

Addendum to favorite fruits: Tangerines - cheap, tasty, juicy, available, fresh, amazing, yummy, goodness

What's new: Stayed up 'til 5:30am last Tuesday to watch the election. My neighbor lived in Canada for 30 years and loves to follow politics, so I camped out at his place with 2 big cups of coffee and lots of adrenaline. By some small miracle we picked up CNN around midnight. I'll never forget that night...there's a lot of scariness ahead for our country but Tuesday was inspirational.

I returned to the Ewe music society, this time in a different location, for another funeral (did I mention that a funeral in Ghana can last up to 3 days, and after the body is buried it becomes a party celebrating the life of the deceased). Once again I played the song/dance "Kinka", playing rattle, supporting drums and the master drum for a good while. I think I can safely say that I tore it up: many people complimented my playing, including the resident "master drummer", and my teacher was very proud (he boozed in my honor). While I'm still by no means a master, I know "Kinka" well, and I'll be working to get other songs up to this level. I've become an official member of this society until I leave Ghana, and I'll be visiting them in 3 weeks for more of the same.

Finished teaching my orchestration class, and I will be playing keyboards for the university R&B group (our show includes "Killing me softly" and "No More" by Alicia Keys) at an unannounced concert date. Caught a cold twice in 2 weeks, but I've recovered and hope to stay healthy. Slowly making more friends and maybe more enemies. Seeing a few unbelievable thunderstorms and hoping my house doesn't flood (it didn't). Reading books. Learning RH Factor tunes on my keyboard.

What's on the Telly in Ghana: I get four channels on my 13" TV: GTV, TV3, TV Africa & Metro TV. All are homegrown Ghanaian stations. By far the most common programming is news, broadcast by all stations. Other common programs include African movies (from Nigeria & Ghana) and music videos (from Ghana & US). Soccer is fairly frequent, including English Premiere League, UEFA Champions League and Ghanaian soccer. There's also an assortment of very random shows on that I've catch now and again. This includes "Murder, She Wrote", "Touched by an Angel" (never watched these shows before in my life), a very strange Korean show about princes and princesses with subtitles (currently my favorite), a Spanish soap opera with English dubbing (which doubles the entertainment value), Voice of America (a US news report and propaganda tool), and US cartoons. I even watched 10 minutes of the latest "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, the one in CGI. Wow. I'm sure there's lots more I haven't seen yet. And apparently it's also possible to get CNN and Al-Jazeera early in the morning, but I haven't been successful yet. I'm hoping to build a rogue antenna so I can pick up "American Idol" and football playoffs.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

You say?

Small (small) differences between American and Ghanaian English:

US: How's it going?
Ghana: How is it?

US: What did you say?
Ghana: You say?

US: These little insects are biting my arm!
Ghana: These small small insects are biting my arm!

US: I'll be right with you.
Ghana: I'm coming.

US: Do you like ground nuts?
Ghana: Do you take ground nuts?

US: [phone ringing] Don't answer it.
Ghana: [phone ringing] Don't pick it.

US: Lets go this way.
Ghana: Lets pass this way.

US: Get off at the crossroads.
Ghana: Alight at the junction.

US: The bus will turn.
Ghana: The car will branch.

Common Ghanaian phrases:
I'm telling you! I'm TELLING you!
You understand? You understand what I'm saying?
(There are lots more, can't think of them)

Saturday: I traveled to a funeral in the afternoon in Mampong, in the Eastern Region. This area of Ghana is not far from Accra but has lush, tropical forests (partially cut down) and mountains with scenic overlooks. The entire town of Mampong was filled with people dressed in nice black clothes, all attending various funerals in the area, which apparently is the thing to do on Saturdays. The funeral itself was uneventful, since we arrived too late to see the burial of the body and the associated rituals, and there was no traditional music performance.

Monday: Today was America day. I traveled to the US Embassy for the first time and voted (it should arrive by plane tomorrow morning). Then I went to Osu where all the trendy international restaurants are, and got myself a juicy, dripping burger and fries. It was so unbelievably good, you can't even imagine. The cost was remarkably high by my standards ($8.70) so I'll probably go back once more before I leave. And I got to watch CNN at the restaurant. Yay America.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Accra and The Prophet

What's new:

Music: I'm still working hard at drumming, and working on a few new songs: "Agbadja" (with sticks) and "Kpalogo" (with hands). Slowly my sound is improving, and there are some upcoming opportunities to perform with other musicians in the next few weeks. I *finally* got a keyboard and it's a real piece of junk: an early-90s vintage Casios with 4 octaves, 100 preloaded rhythms that all suck and the ability to play no more than 4 notes at a time. But I've never been more excited to have something to play on, and I'm hoping to jam a bit with some Ghanaian musicians. I'm getting to know my students in orchestration and jazz piano, and they are really great people, very talented and appreciative of my teaching. It's been a great experience so far.

Accra: I'm starting to explore the city more and more. On one trip I saw the commercial center of the city (Adabraka), the National Museum, and an art store with authentic Ghanaian paintings. I also saw some live "jazz" at the Golden Tulip hotel, a 4-star hotel near the Airport. The jazz sounded like it was from the 1930s, and it wasn't exactly my style, but the hotel courtyard took me away from Ghana with its modern atmosphere and truly international mix of people (mostly wealthy, so I didn't exactly fit in).

Accra is hard to pin down; some areas feel modern and vibrant, with 25-story skyscrapers and stores stocked with new tvs and appliances, and some areas are cramped, smelling of sewage and public urination. Some roads are well-paved and wide, others are dirt roads that ride like a wooden roller coaster. Traffic can be brutal at times, but there are windows where getting around is quite easy. There's still much more to explore, and I'm sure my impression of the city will constantly change.

I took a trip north with my neighbors (Solomon, who lived in Toronto for 30 years, and Peace, his wife) to a traditional church service. The trip took over an hour, and the service lasted almost 6 hours!! The church, called The Church of Rabbi, was "Christian", but certainly not in the Western sense. The service started with a few junior pastors preaching in Twi, the local language, interrupted by traditional music (a highlight for me, most of it was just awesome) so they could take a breather.

However, once the Prophet Kwabena Takiah arrived, things became a bit less structured but more serious, as he called people up to solve their problems (which either resembled an episode of Judge Judy or a televangelist), preached a bit on whatever topic he felt like, and left the church from time to time to attend to his visions. The Prophet had a commanding presence, and was able to conjure up fear and laughter from his parishioners throughout the service. According to my neighbor, in the 20 years that the Prophet has led the church, no member has died! Many people told me that he was a great man and had solved many problems for them. I was even called up at one point to receive a blessing from the Prophet, who welcomed me and proceeded to drench me in a ridiculous amount of oil from a special horn. I was glad to get home and wash myself!!

Being a white man: While I continue to have a great experience in Ghana, it has been tough at times. First, I am here completely on my own, independent of any program. While this has been a great asset, since I have been able to decide how to structure my time, it's been hard having no one to share in the same experiences. I've met some American exchange students at the University, but they live on campus with other foreigners and have their own circle of friends. While they are friendly, I haven't really connected with any of them yet. I'm starting to become friends with several Ghanaians but I have to be cautious with who I can trust.

I also constantly stand out. Since I usually travel alone, I'm the only white person in almost all situations. And this means people notice me, and want to talk. Sometimes they just want to say "Good afternoon", or "How are you?", or just ask permission to be my friend, or maybe I'm the subject of a laugh while riding on a tro-tro, or maybe they want to teach me a little Twi (the most common language taught to foreigners). In fact, one friendly guy taught me a few phrases in Twi, then offered to give me lessons for $100/hr! We laughed about it.

But this is a common perception: that as a white man I have lots of money, and this is when standing out isn't so good. Strangers sometimes ask me for money, and even my "friends" will pressure me to help them out using a variety of tactics. This is often the hardest to deal with: for instance, the man who rakes leaves for me each week haggled with me for 20 minutes to give him some extra money after I had already lent him some the previous week. I don't mind helping people out, but I don't like being seen as an ATM; I just want to be seen as a regular person.

Now with all of that being said, most Ghanaians are INCREDIBLY kind and friendly. Strangers who I've asked for directions have shown me the way and paid for a taxi. My neighbor has washed my clothes and insisted I don't pay him twice. Many many people have helped me out. So all in all, Ghana is way cool. Sometimes I wish I wasn't a white guy. Maybe I'll pull a reverse Michael Jackson (but what would this mean for my nose?)!

Hope all is well in the US...take care, and expect another post soon!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Random musings

RANDOM MUSING #1: In the streets of Ghana you may come across stores (which may be a 6x6x10 wooden shack, or part of a concrete building) that have names like these:

God Reigns Cold Store
Gifted Hand Beauty Salon
No Weapon Beauty Salon
Alpha & Omega Unit Transfer
Girls Next Door Mini-Mart
Merchants of Daughters Security Systems
Sober Spot Drinking Bar & Food Joint (a bit of an oxymoron?!)
But Seek First the Destiny of God Construction Works

You might see on the back of a taxi or tro-tro:

Holy Ghost Fire
God Dey

RANDOM MUSING #2: The fruit here is fresh, cheap and available almost anywhere. Here is my list of favorite fruit in Ghana:

1. Mango (not currently in season, but occasionally you can find it)
2. Pineapple (
its so soft and juicy you can eat almost the entire fruit)
3. Plantains (fried, heated, as chips, its delicious any way its been prepared)
4. Guava (very sweet, this fruit was new to me)
5. Banana (best bananas I've ever tasted, smaller and sweeter than ones in the US)
6. Grapes (I've only seen red)
7. Coconut (coconut trees are everywhere...someone climbs a tree, pulls them down, cuts them open, and you drink the juice. Then you can scoop out the goopy white stuff inside and eat it. But it stains your clothes)
8. Orange (most of the skin is cut away, the top is cut open, and you squeeze what's left of the skin to get the juice out of the open top. Basically you are drinking juice straight from an orange)
9. Papaya (hadn't had this before, resembles melons)

RANDOM MUSING #3: The sound of what seems like a million frogs outside my house is driving me insane. It starts at dark, maybe about 8pm, and seems to continue on and off all night long. If you don't hear from me again, I'm probably out trying to find and capture all the frogs so I can take them to Burkina Faso.

I'm working on getting a camera, but it probably will be a while before I post pictures. Farewell!

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Baby, can I take you to the Babicue"

Favorite songs I’ve heard on the radio while riding in tro-tros:

[reggae beat]
I’m gonna leave my AK-47
Down 'der in A-mer-i-ca
Down ‘der in A-Eur-o-pa
Down ‘der in A-Rus-si-cka
And enter Mt. Zion in peace

The Barack Obama song (can’t remember the lyrics)

Baby, can I take you to the Ba-bi-cue (=Barbeque)
Baby, can I take you to the Ba-bi-cue
7 o’clock the time, 7 o’clock
7 o’clock the time, 7 o’clock

One of the main reasons I came to Ghana was to see authentic performances of traditional music. Numerous attempts to actually see of these performances failed (but on one attempt I got to watch someone snort coke, so at least I learned something), and I began to think that the elusive “societies” that performed for funerals, naming of babies, rites of passage, and other festive occasions didn’t actually exist.

Luckily, this all changed yesterday (Sunday) when my drumming teacher took me to an Ewe (an ethnic group) celebration somewhere in the convoluted streets of Accra. The festivities took place in a small courtyard between houses where about 50 people, young and old, male and female, crammed in. I had to put on the colorful authentic cloth around my waist worn by all participants. The celebration had already started when I arrived, and it was a sensory overload: people were shouting, singing, clapping, drumming, dancing, singing, smiling at me, staring at me, grabbing my hand, making me dance...

I had been working with my teacher on “Kinka”, a song that would be performed at this society, and theoretically I was supposed to “sit in” with the musicians after I figured out what was going on. After soaking up the scene for about 20 minutes, I was playing one of the 7 rattles (maracas), trying not to mess up the rhythm I learned 10 seconds ago which might piss off one of the old guys playing next to me. The drummers were drinking shots from the cap of a bottle filled with a mystery liquid (it smelled like gin) that made you play STRONGER, and encouraged me to drink so I too could play stronger. 15 minutes later I was playing the kagan, one of the 7 drums which included 2 master drums over 8 feet tall. After some surprised stares and encouraging smiles, I was starting to relax and settle down.

Then someone grabbed my hand and passed me the huge sticks to one of the master drums, which was a signal. Before I knew it I was playing the variations of "Kinka" that I had worked on the past 3 weeks. The dancers started going crazy, surprised to see a white man playing Ewe music! Women came up to me and draped a cloth on my back. I was locked in, playing confidently and having fun. But it all came crashing down: I accidentally interrupted the other master drummer, and I became confused and hesitated, and soon the sticks were taken away from me. I felt a little sheepish, but I danced for a little bit, played some more kagan, and had another stint at the master drum later on.

This experience was the best day in Ghana I’ve had so far: the music filled me up and deeply moved me. And I still have so much to learn about the music here…next time I go to this society, I’ll be a better drummer and have a better idea what and when to play. I hope to experience many more performances of traditional music in my time here.

Everything else has been fine: I’m still teaching my orchestration class at the university, I’m teaching jazz piano to a group of three students which is going really well, and I’ve visited the Noyam Dance Institute twice. Noyam is a professional dance company about one-and-a-half hours away, and I’m hoping to study their versions of traditional music, and maybe even compose a piece for them to perform. I’ve also been hanging out with a honest-to-goodness Canadian, eh, who is visiting her dad (my neighbor) for 10 days. It’s been a real boost to have someone to talk to and hang out with, and to share the joys and frustrations of Ghana.

There are always a few daily frustrations: not being able to wash my clothes by hand that well yet (and the girl who is supposed to come and help me out never shows up), accidentally riding a bus that took over an hour to fill up when I could have taken a tro-tro instead, mistakenly giving out my phone number to a dude in the neighborhood who wanted to be my "friend", then receiving 6 phone calls from him at 1am (I'll never make THAT mistake again!), running water being gone for 2-4 days, and so on... but I'm so glad to be here.

Thanks for all of the comments, sorry I haven’t replied individually but I miss everyone! I have much more to talk about so expect another post soon… I'll be back in exactly 5 months!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lizards, Spiders and Jollof Rice, oh my!

So I successfully moved to West Legon, near the University of Ghana, 10 days ago. The place I am renting is a small, furnished house with a generous kitchen, 2 bedrooms (one is ominously and permanently locked) and an empty living room. It's a very nice place, and the neighbors are generally very friendly and helpful, and look out for me. But I've had my share of mishaps: when I'm not smashing monster spiders, chasing lizards, and battling invasive ants (now I really understand Garcia Marquez in 100 years of Solitude when he talks about the Buendia's eternal struggle with the ants), I'm enjoying occasional power outages, no running water (which happens about every 3 days), a power strip where one of the outlets blew up creating a small flame at 5am (luckily it extinguished by itself), and certain neighbors engaging in Jerry Springer style wars of words for extended periods of time. All that being said, I feel fortunate to have my own space, even if I get a bit lonely now and then, that's relatively close to the University. I've been cooking simple meals, and as an added bonus I have satellite TV with about 10 channels, including ESPN, CNN, and BBC (all European versions however, so lots of "real" football and world news).

Musically, things are starting to get going. I'm working with a great teacher on drumming, and even though it's not terribly cheap it's been productive and fun. He's going to take me to various music societies who perform traditional music/dance, so I'll be the token "obruni" trying to step in on drums. I'm also teaching (with the chair of music) a six-week course at the University on orchestration with the greatest student/teacher ratio ever - 2:2. And at first it was 2:1 - we picked up a straggler. I've taught one class and it was great fun - I realized how much I missed teaching, and the class size makes it very laid back and stress free. Other avenues of exploration include getting a keyboard to jam with, and working with a Dance Institute up north, both of which should get going in the next couple of weeks or so.

I also got to see a group called "Hewale Sounds" perform at a posh bar, with mostly whites in attendance (which made me a bit sad, since most Africans don't have the expendable income to hang out at this sort of place). They were pretty awesome, and featured 4 recorder players, 2 balafone players (aka xylophones), a keyboard player (who often used general MIDI percussion, to my great amusement), and some drummers (including a dude on "box-drum"). It's been really inspiring to be around so much great music and dance at the University and elsewhere...I've even heard a pianist practicing the familiar Rachmaninoff G-minor prelude!

The day-to-day stuff is coming along. I'm getting settled in, becoming familiar with the tro-tros and markets, and coming to terms with extremely unreliable internet (but the good news is the internet cafe I'm in plays nonstop Britney Spears, it's just finished "Slave 4 U" and now on to "Stronger", thank god for American pop music). I've had time to catch up on some reading, and to my surprise learned that Ghanaians barely read fiction at all (only self-help and religious books). While out walking I'm often greeted by strangers, and many times I've met people who desperately want to get to the US by any means (and can't get a job here, not for lack of trying), asking for help and advice. This also makes me a bit sad, and I feel fortunate to have a place like the US to return to (even in the wake of our $$$ crisis). So even though you might see taxes go up, and inflation, and all sorts of scary economic developments, be glad for hot showers, reliable transportation and hamburgers/fries (I am REALLY craving this, you can't even understand). Farewell, and peace.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Hello friends and family, hope all is well! I arrived safely in Ghana 9 days ago and traveled to Winneba, a town on the coast about an hour from Accra. I am staying at a house owned by relatives of my friend Kwesi. They have been wonderful hosts, cooking all my meals, doing laundry, and taking me all around.

So far my experience has been like a vacation, but it’s been a great vacation. Ghanaians are generally very friendly and helpful. Winneba is a charming town, and I’ve explored most of it, including swimming on a secluded beach, playing checkers with the locals (they call it draughts), and going to a church service which was well over 2 hours long! As far as I can tell, I’m the other white person here, and am constantly greeted by young children shouting “Obruni! Obruni! Obruni! Obruni! How are you?” (Obruni means white man). But the children have been a lot of fun. I brought my frisbee (to spread ultimate frisbee to Africa) and a huge crowd of children played, they loved it. We also put up a basketball hoop and I taught some people the basics of basketball. It was strange being the best player in the land (especially being white) being watched by a crowd of about 15 children, plus the hoop was 9 feet high so I could throw it down!

The house I am staying at has 7 people: Ida (a radio DJ), Mensa (just finished high school) and their mother (retired), and 3 people renting rooms (2 of them are teachers). The food has been a pleasant surprise: most dishes I really like, including the legendary fufu (cassava/plaintains ground up with pestle/mortar into a gooey dough, served in a vegetable soup broth), jellof rice (rice with spices/vegetables), waichi (rice/beans), and lots of fish, chicken and bread. There is a TV and DVD player (I’ve watched 3 African movies; my advice, steer clear!!), no computer and the kitchen is very small but functional.

Traveling has been an experience; it is generally more unreliable and cramped but comes with plenty of character. There are a million taxis everywhere, but it is cheaper to travel (in Accra and larger cities) by a chartered bus or a tro-tro, a converted van that seats around 20 people. The amount of people that are packed into these vehicles is insane, and the traffic (especially in Accra) can be an absolute nightmare. Often you have to wait 10-15 minutes until they are completely full. Drivers aggressively cut off others in narrow confines, constantly honk the horn warning people and other vehicles (I’ve heard more than a 1000 horn honks), and shout out the destination to recruit even more riders. You might receive a 30 minute sales pitch or hear the gospel preached on a tro-tro ride (with a joke or two about the white passenger)! The good news is that you can usually find a tro-tro or taxi quickly in most locations.

One memorable trip was to Cape Coast, about two hours away. There was a major festival that featured a huge parade (with costumes, drumming and a generally festive, frenzied atmosphere), attended by the president of Ghana. Unfortunately, my camera was stolen (so I have no pictures posted yet!) and we were in a car accident leaving town. We had to wait 5 hours at a repair shop only to learn they couldn’t fix it, so we ended up taking two taxis and a tro-tro back to Winneba.

The one key ingredient missing from my trip is music. But I am moving to Legon on Monday, where the University of Ghana lies. Once I arrive I’ll start drumming/dancing lessons, collaboration with the Noyam Dance Institute, and teaching at the University. I don’t know how quickly any of these will take shape but once I am in Legon I’ll be surrounded by musicians, which is just the way I like it.

Please keep in touch…I miss all of you already so much. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to access the internet but I’ll do my best…my aim is to post about every 10-14 days. Have a fantastic week.

All the best,