Resort Hopping in São Tomé

I learned a lot about myself this week. I learned that I’m over “roughing it.” I learned that sometimes, when I want to relax, a resort will suit me just fine.

This year, we decided to spend spring break in São Tomé. If you’ve never heard of this country, don’t feel too bad. I hadn’t either before moving to Ghana. It’s a small set of islands (São Tomé and Príncipe) located west of Gabon and south of Nigeria.

We went with four other people, and to cut down on costs, decided to share an Airbnb. We thought we’d have a low-key, quiet week at the house. For anyone who’s ever spent any time in Africa (I hate to generalize, but for me this has usually held true), something will inevitably go poorly. Whether it’s power outages in Ethiopia, a city-wide day of rest in Djibouti, or Ghanaian food that can’t be made fish-free (a moment of truth: Nothing went wrong in South Africa).

In São Tomé, it was 24 hours without running water. And as much as I’d like to blame the Airbnb for this, it’s definitely a country-wide problem. Also, for as beautiful as the house was, it had been built by the ocean in 2002 and was, 15 years later, absolutely falling apart. The downstairs hosted every kind of bug imaginable, and our bathroom was even home to a very large roach and a very small crab.

That said, the upstairs was light and airy and had wonderful views. I read three books while on vacation here : )

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Eventually, however, a girl needs some water (and light to read by in the evenings – man that house was as dark as a dungeon at night!).

We ventured to Omali Lodge on our second day in São Tomé. As you can expect, island food isn’t very vegetarian friendly, but we were able to dig into some homemade mac & cheese, rice & veggies, chips, and of course, dessert – a brownie with peanut ice cream. However, the real reason to go to Omali is for their cocktails. Their passion fruit margarita was divine.

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Can I have my Sunday back: Why not everyone wants to attend baby showers

Ok, so I’m still on my All the Single Ladies kick from my last blog post. There was a chapter that I only vaguely connected to, in which an interviewee bemoaned that her 30s were spent attending weddings and baby showers and she didn’t understand why she had to shell out so much money for things that were never going to happen to her.

Well, at the age of 27, that doesn’t so much apply to me. The majority of my friends are unmarried and even fewer of them have children. Plus, living internationally, I’m not really expected to attend weddings, let alone baby showers.

And yet, having never attended a baby shower in the states, I’ve now attended two (to four) since arriving in Ghana. I say two to four because two were official “decorations, food, gift giving, and games” occasions, while the other two happened at school as mini-celebrations.

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I have to admit, the two big celebrations left me uncomfortable and confused. And I’ve decided: Single women and married women without an interest in children shouldn’t have to attend these events. Why is it that men are given a free pass? Because society assumes this doesn’t apply to them? Well guess what? They are 50% of the equation. I’m the real person this doesn’t apply to.

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A Married Woman With a “Single Girl” Mindset

“I always hated it when my heroines got married.” And with that line, Rebecca Traister had me hooked. Author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation – my current reading fascination.

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And it’s true. Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books, but even I wish Jane could have found happiness and stability outside of Mr. Rochester.

Which is an odd thing to admit, given the fact that I’m married. And, in fact, was married at the age of 26, when the median age of first marriage for women in the United States is around 27.

But reading this book, I’ve found that I much more identify with a single girl mindset. “Single women helped put Barack Obama back in the White House; they voted for him by 67% to 31%, while married women voted for Romney.” I can’t even fathom having voted for Romney, with his antiquated ideas on how much control a woman should have over her own body.

These are the kinds of things I’m struggling with in a Trump-elected United States. How could women have voted for a man who so devalues them that he admits to being able to grab their pussies without consequence?

It’s making me realize that women might just be women’s worst enemy…and married women might be the biggest offenders. Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder) worked outside of her home her entire life and yet, in 1936 was quoted as saying that a woman’s real career “is to make a good marriage.” Going further to state that “feminist agitation” had dangerously diminished the importance of the “deep-rooted, nourishing and fruitful man-and-woman relationship.”

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International Festival Day aka The Vegetarian’s Thanksgiving

I’ve been a vegetarian for 8 years now, and by far, the most disappointing holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s become a, “sure…I’ll have a plate full of mashed potatoes, raw carrots, and a roll” kind of day. I have to admit, living abroad, I don’t really miss it.

But every year, our school celebrates its cultural diversity by hosting an International Festival Day. The day kicks off with a parade filled with the flags from each country represented at our school (60 in total).

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The rest of the afternoon is filled with enough eating to put Thanksgiving to shame. Many countries put up tents and serve (free!) cultural food in an effort to share their diversity and culture with each other.

This year, I counted 20 tables in all and two of them were continent tables: Europe, comprised of countries like Germany, Italy, Ireland, and more, and Central/South America featuring foods from Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, and Venezuela. The Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland) also banded together to offer a lot of deserts and pickled fish!

But the larger representatives included: Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States, India, Jamaica, Turkey, Israel, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia, Cameroon, South Africa, Japan, Lebanon, Brazil, the Netherlands, and, of course, Ghana.

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Walking around those tents, I kid you not, I filled my plate about three times. I’ve decided the only acceptable way to spend time in line is eating and waiting for your plate to be filled again.

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A Day in Accra: The Natural Expo at the Legon Botanical Gardens

We had last Monday off, giving us my favorite kind of weekend – a long weekend : ) And while we were certainly too lazy to get out of town like some of our fellow colleagues, we did, at least, get out of our apartment.

One of the events we went to was the Natural Expo at the Legon Botanical Gardens. First, we wandered through the stalls (a little too cramped and a LOT too hot), and encountered so many great all-natural or made out of recycled goods products. Shea butter, fresh bread, dried mangoes, essential oils, and these beautiful cards made out of fabric scraps:

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Of course, there was tons of clothing to pick through as well, Chandler probably appreciated that part the least. I’m still trying to find my “Ghanaian style,” which means I always want to try things on, but I’m never comfortable enough in anything to buy it. But it’s always beautiful to look at!

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After that we finally took a break for some food. I tried my first kombucha (late to the game, I know), it was berry flavored and delicious! We also ate these incredible fresh veggie sandwiches (and loved them so much we bought more to eat for lunch the next day). Chandler ate spicy tofu kabobs while I ate breaded seitan ones. And we finished the meal off with vegan brownies. Everything for sale was vegan – it was amazing.

Our last stop and what blew me away the most was the playground at the gardens! If it hadn’t been so hot and directly under the beating sun, I’d have spent the rest of my afternoon there.

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Now yes, like true Americans, we immediately went home, showered, and then, like we always do, spent the rest of the day reading. But it was nice to get out for a few hours and experience a bit more of what life in Accra has to offer.

Remembering To Be Thankful (My First Safari!)

(I just read an article called, “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind” and it was a wonderful wake-up call that even though I find what’s happening in the US to be devastating, it’s not what I have to think about 24/7.

Confession time: I wake up every morning and I log onto Facebook or Twitter or scroll through new articles from the New York Times, the Atlantic, or the Washington Post. And 9.5 times out of 10, the news this past week has been bad.

Of course, I’m heartened by the 5 million members of our international community who took a stand against Trump and everything he stands for. Of course, I’m thrilled to be from Minnesota, so I can be represented by Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar – who understand the importance of education, women’s reproductive rights, civil rights, diversity, religious freedom, environmental justice…the list goes on.

But also, being outraged is exhausting. So…I’m going to take advantage of the fact that Chandler and I decided to leave the United States. No, when we left last July, we never could have foreseen how far our nation would fall, but we weren’t exactly happy there either.

But here, in Accra, our lives are good. And I shouldn’t tell myself that’s something to be ashamed of. And it doesn’t detract from the positive things I’ve been able to do for the movement: march, send postcards, and email. I’m still working on the whole phone call thing : )

So I’ve decided I don’t have to live every moment outraged. Instead, I can live in the moment and be grateful for past, current, and future experiences. Including our trip to Mole National Park with my sister this Christmas. We had plenty of ups and downs getting there and back, but our time at Zaina Lodge was incredible.

I’m currently reading a book by Frans de Wall called Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? And even spending a week near them has further convinced me that only ignorance on the part of humans could lead us to believe that animals aren’t incredibly intelligent.

Take elephants, for example. They will leave food they’re interested in if it’s out of reach to find a box/stone, kick it back over to the food, stand on it, and eat. They return to water holes hundreds of kilometers apart year after year. They use dirt/sand as sunscreen/bug repellant. Female elephants will charge to protect an infant, even if it isn’t their own. They mourn and “bury” their dead. They work together – something humans could learn a thing or two from.

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I’m sure you can tell, the elephant was my favorite visitor of the trip : ) But we saw other incredible animals at Mole, including baboons, vervet monkeys, and patas monkeys. Monkeys have long been considered intelligent in the scientific community: their ability to use and even make tools, problem-solving capabilities, facial recognition, and more.

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When Your Christmas Flight Gets Cancelled Twice

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Monday, December 19th, while my sister was on a flight from Amsterdam to Accra, we got the call that Starbow Airlines had cancelled their Christmas Day flight from Tamale to Accra.

This was unfortunate because approximately two months prior we had purchased three round-trip flights between Accra and Tamale heading north on the 22nd and back south on the 25th.  We were staying at Zaina Lodge in Mole National Park, and at $500 a night, we didn’t really want to extend our stay until Monday. But with the promise of elephants, infinity pools, and relaxation, we didn’t really want to cut our trip short either.

Lucky for us, both the lodge and the airline were accommodating and we moved our reservations to the 21st to the 24th. My sister was going to have one less day to adjust to jet lag, but we figured she could do that just fine in an infinity pool with a mojito in hand.

Our flight up to Tamale was a breeze – they even served us our favorite local juice, Blue Skies. And I promise my next blog will be about our actual stay at Zaina Lodge (still haven’t gotten through all my photos yet!). But, unfortunately, our time living it up in luxury had to come to an end, and at 12:30pm on Saturday, December 24th, the lodge drove us back to the airport.

We arrived at 3:00pm a full hour and a half before our flight was scheduled to leave and were surprised to see only one line in the airport. We were under the impression that multiple airlines flew out of Tamale. We got up to the front and asked where the Starbow check-in was (everyone behind the counter had AWA – Africa World Airlines – gear on).

They were surprised to have to tell us that Starbow had cancelled their flights for the day. We then found out that it was AWA’s last flight of the day and it was booked. We were put on the wait list at numbers 12, 13, and 14. Promising, right?

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