Chale Wote: Our first big outing in Accra

Our first few weeks in Accra have flown by…between the new city, new home, new school, and new curricula, we’ve been too busy to get out much. And even when we are out, we’re usually scoping out the best places to buy our groceries : ) Because, as usual, food is the most important thing in our lives.

But this weekend we did get a chance to check out a new part of the city and see some local and international street art.

This year, the Chale Wote Street Art Festival took place from August 15 – 21. In celebration of the fifth anniversary of the festival, their theme was “Spirit Robot,” a constellation of art, energy, and passion that signified a united capacity to create meaningful change in our communities and shift our realities into a more livable world for all.

The school was awesome enough to take a bus down to the heart of the festival and drop us all off in James Town, one of the oldest districts in Accra. Known for its remnants of Accra’s colonial past, one of it’s most notable landmarks is the lighthouse.

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These days, most of the neighborhood has fallen into disrepair, but the community brightened itself up for the week’s celebrations.

There were pop-up performances everywhere we turned, encompassing many different kinds of art, from painting, to street art, to dancing, to singing, to impromptu yoga sessions, and a pop-up library.

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We got hitched!

Ok, so it’s probably a little weird that my first blog from Ghana is about an event that happened four weeks ago in the U.S. But between the wedding, our post wedding excursion (ok, mini-moon), saying goodbye to family & friends, and packing up our lives for the second time this summer…there just wasn’t time to look through photos and write a blog post!

And I have to admit, I’m a little surprised this is happening even now. We start school in three days and I meet all of the second graders new to the school tomorrow. But if you don’t make time now, then when?

So, this is mostly a picture blog. For anyone wanting to see how the pictures turned out or to relive the day (all right, I’m probably the only one who does that! Haha), or for those who couldn’t make it…you know who you are : )

First, we got ready at the house, which was a historic home in St. Paul, so of course we took some photos there…

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But then the ladies got bored and we figured it was time to include everyone…

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10 Travel Tips I Learned AFTER Peace Corps

You’d probably think living overseas in Ethiopia for 2 years would have taught me a lot about travel, but honestly, I moved there with two 50 lb suitcases and two very large carry-ons. I pretty much tossed in everything I thought I could possibly need and then relied on friends and family to send me care packages every 2-3 months.

It wasn’t until my partner (now husband! What? But that’s for another post) and I spent 3 months traveling around SE Asia with just a medium-sized North Face duffel on each of our backs that I really learned something about packing and traveling in general.

Tip #1: Bring a boatload of spare passport photos with you
I didn’t bring any extra to Ethiopia (because buying them in the United States is SO expensive!). It wasn’t a big deal, I had them printed in Ethiopia for super cheap, but I knew the language and had friends to refer me to a place. And while I got all the photos I needed for SE Asia (think visa forms, drivers permits, and lost passports), they all had this silly photo-touched glow to them that left me feeling embarrassed and hoping like hell they’d be accepted! This time around we printed them ourselves using a handy tool from the Department of State, a color printer, and some semi-gloss paper.

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Tip #2: Don’t buy adventure clothes
Things I bought from REI that I could not have lived without: My quick-dry towel, light-weight sleeping bag (only for my time staying with a host family – I never used it when traveling), Swiss Army Camper Knife, Nalgene water bottle (this time I’ve upgraded to a Hydro Flask), and headlamp (because you never know when the electricity’s going to go out). Things I could not wait to get rid of: expensive hiking shoes, linen pants, and rain jacket. If you don’t wear it at home, you won’t want to wear it while traveling! This time around I’m packing plenty of jeans, summer dresses, and an umbrella.

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Add it to my bucket list…

Well, cruises may not be my thing, but traveling still certainly is! In my last blog I talked about all the reasons I didn’t really like cruise life, but I’d be lying if I said at least some parts of it weren’t amazing. Would I rather travel by plane than boat? Yes. Would I prefer to spend an extended amount time in one place than hop around to a bunch of places? Most definitely. But we still got to see some pretty incredible things while docked in Mexico.

Our first stop was the dock outside of Progresso. We were traveling by bus for 2 1/2 hours to reach Chichen Itza – one of the greatest Mayan sites on the Yucatan peninsula. The tour had some pretty mixed reviews: Long bus ride, bland lunch, questionable bathroom on board the bus…if only those people had traveled in Ethiopia! It felt like we were on a luxury trip : )

This is the first time we’ve left the United States since we flew back from Ethiopia via SE Asia in November of 2014, so needless to say, it was about time. But what struck us the most is how similar traveling feels, almost no matter where you are. Take this photo for instance…

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I took it in Mexico, but it could just as easily have found its way on my blog back when I was living in Ethiopia. Life doesn’t always seem so different.

That said, the history from one place to another is what really makes cities and countries stand out. I’ve been to the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the San Antonio Missions, the archaeological site of Pompei, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame (all UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and it’s these incredible structures (and the stories they tell) that I value most about my time traveling.

I’m lucky enough to now be able to add Chichen Itza to my list, with its gargantuan splendor. But despite the overwhelming immensity, I was struck most by the precise detailing that still survived.

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Each of the figures or animals, still so intricate. Though not all of the structures have gone unscathed. Take, for instance, the main structure for which Chichen Itza is known. That temple has undergone an amazing face lift to transform it back into its former splendor, however, sides of it remain as it was found, a solemn reminder of what can happen to our history if we don’t take care to preserve it.

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A pirate’s life is not for me!

Fun fact: Jimmy John’s has nicer toilet paper than my cruise did.

Ok, let’s back up a bit: A few months ago, Chandler and I began talking about what we wanted to do for Spring Break. He mentioned a cruise and I wasn’t really into the idea, but we didn’t cement any plans.

Fast forward a few months…we still hadn’t made any Spring Break plans…and we were running out of time. So we started looking into Central and South America – at airfare, all-inclusive resorts, and small beach getaways…keeping our options and locations open. However, the more places we looked into, the more we realized we were way late to join the game. Between 17+ hour layovers and room prices of $300-400/night it just wasn’t working out.

So Chandler once again broached the idea of a cruise. I still wasn’t completely sold on it, but it seemed like our best option and I was determined to have an open mind.

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Our first night we were crazy sea sick. I grew up on boats, but let me tell you, a lake is nothing like an ocean (seems pretty obvious, right?). We rocked and rolled all night long and I was running to my Dramamine. Thank God for Dramamine : )

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I Hear The Drums Echoing Tonight

“I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.” – Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Earlier this month, Chandler and I made the trek up to Waterloo, Iowa. Everyone we had spoken to about UNI’s Overseas Placement Service for Educators had told us to keep our options open and be prepared for a roller coaster of changes and emotions. They were right.

In my last blog, I listed our locations of interest as Monterrey, Mexico; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Athens, Greece; Kathmandu, Nepal; Muscat, Oman; and Asuncion, Paraguay. Well, after interviewing with Mexico, we decided that while they’re a great school, it just wasn’t a great fit for both sides. Slovenia ended up filling their positions ahead of time and didn’t make it to the fair. Bangladesh, Greece, Nepal, and Paraguay required more years of teaching experience from me. Oman was crossed off the list due more to lifestyle reasons than the school itself.

Which makes it sound like we sat around scratching our heads thinking what on earth do we do now? But in reality, we had been contacted by schools in three other countries just days prior to the fair. Countries that weren’t even on our radar: The Bahamas, Ghana, and Venezuela.

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Plan The Escape

I haven’t posted in nearly a year, because I figured that without significant travel in my life, I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say. Especially since this blog almost solely documents my life overseas and my travels.

But now that I’m once again planning a life abroad, I’ve found I have more to say. It might not be as interesting to those who used to read this blog; I haven’t gone snorkeling in Thailand recently, there’s been no spelunking in Vietnam, or haggling in Qatar. Instead, I’ve become an elementary school special education teacher and that takes up nearly all of my time.

Yesterday, however, Chandler and I did get fingerprinted, as requested by UNI’s Overseas Placement Service for Educators. The results came back quick – neither of us have a criminal record : ) Which I guess is doubly good news since I’ll be tying my life to his this July. Maybe every engaged couple should run joint background checks through the FBI together, just so each party knows what they’re getting into!

These background checks were the last in a long list of things we needed to get done before our trip to Waterloo, Iowa next month. Once there, we’ll meet with schools from around the world and hope that we strike up a mutual interest with one of them and choose a place to call home for the next two years.

Some of the potential contenders include Monterrey, Mexico; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Athens, Greece; Kathmandu, Nepal; Muscat, Oman; Asuncion, Paraguay; and so many more. So, as you can see, we’d like to narrow it down!

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