London Calling

I can’t believe I’ve been to three countries since the last time I had a chance to blog. It’s been a whirlwind beginning to our summer, but things are finally calming down now that we’ve settled in for our month in Leysin.

Our trip began in London and I can’t believe I haven’t been to that city sooner. The ease, the food, the culture, the activities…I guess it’s easy to say I fell in love. We only spent seven days there, but I’m already itching to go back – there’s just so much more to do!

We didn’t stay in city center, but to the west in Chiswick with some friends. They helped us with the ins and outs of using the tube and buses and the app Citymapper made our lives so much easier. Our first day was spent wandering through Chiswick with them and stopping by the Tabard for a pint (mango cider, mmm).

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The next day, we hit the streets ready to tour London on our own. We wandered around and past all the touristy things, wanting to see everything we’d heard of, but not necessarily needing to go inside all of it (we only had seven days after all!). Our walk took us through (royal) Hyde Park, walking past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Palace & Abbey. We worked up quite an appetite and made our way over to the Borough Market – where we apparently missed Prince Harry by 10 minutes…si triste.

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However, not all was lost as we wondered through the charming market, sampling cheeses, fruits, sweets, and olive oils. After nine months in Accra, it was shocking to see so much food and at such good prices. We decided to stay for lunch, Chandler opting for a mouth-watering veggie burger and me being unable to turn down pumpkin-stuffed tortellini!

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The day was already off to an incredible start and it wasn’t even noon! I was keeping a close eye on the time, because at 12:30 we had a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe before our viewing of Twelfth Night at 2:00.

Normally, I’m not one for tours, but I love (love) theaters. And this one has a fascinatingly short history – the modern reconstruction (built only 750 feet from where the original stood in 1599) didn’t open until 1997. And the theatre was founded by an American actor and director named Sam Wanamaker.

I, mistakenly, thought the shows performed here were all done traditionally, but after my initial surprise, I was thrilled with the 1970s reinterpretation involving some great music, a fabulous drag singer, and a lot of laughs. It won’t be easily forgotten or confused with other shows I’ve seen.

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Art Shows In Accra

As the school year comes to a close, we find ourselves getting out and about more in Accra. This past month alone we went to three art shows: one for a student group, another a hotel display, and the third, a friend of ours.

Our school has a Right To Be Free club, and the student members invited the community to their art exhibition “Growing In Ghana” that was held at Alliance Francaise. Students, parents, and teachers worked with professional artists to create works of art. All of the artwork was for sale and all proceeds went to support the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of child trafficking.

We now have to decide where to hang this incredible screen print we bought, made by one of our third graders : )

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Shortly after that we found ourselves at the Kempinski Hotel for a relaxing pool day and made our way into their Standing Ovation exhibit. In it, Gerald Chukwauma utilizes painting, sculpture, and collage to explore migration as a constant process of transformation.

All of his work was affixed to pieces of wood. It was an incredibly unique experience.

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Our third and final art show also took place at Alliance Francais. This time, our friend Tjasa Rener’s work was on display. She used recycled phone cards, screenprinting, and painting to make these absolutely incredible works of art.

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I’m hoping, next school year, there will be many more art shows to come!

Five Minutes in Tafi Abuife Kente Village

To be fair, I once again didn’t quite do all my homework. I knew that the Tafi Abuife Kente Village was in the Volta region and I already knew we’d be in the area because of the location of the Wli Falls.

However, I didn’t take into account just how far the village was from our location: about a two-hour round trip. Which, isn’t really a big deal for a full outing, but in retrospect, was a bit far for the five minutes we spent there.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

My last post ended with the bruised and battered return of our friends from the four-hour hike to the upper falls. After a round of showers, we set off for the kente village around noon.

About an hour later we arrived at a small warehouse. While our driver talked to some men who, up until our arrival, had been sleeping inside, I walked around and snapped some pictures.

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It was interesting to see how much space was needed for these looms. Also, while the second and fourth photo show what I’ve come to consider as “typical” Ghanaian kente cloth designs, I had never seen the first design before.

We had assumed we’d arrive, see how the production of the cloth happened, and then browse through a store or market for the finished product. Wrong.

It was clear that Saturday is not a typical day to observe…given that the only people inside the facility were napping. We were told that in order to receive a tour, we needed to go to the head office down the road, pay, and then return. We were escorted out.

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Leaving My Comfort Zone (Again): Volta

I know just last month I posted about how I’m over “roughing it” and plan to vacation to higher standards in the future…but that plan got side railed when three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers came to visit us last week.

Before arriving, they talked to current Peace Corps Volunteers living in Ghana to get recommendations on things to do outside of Accra. My Teaching Assistant has lived in Ghana her whole life and when I told her some of the towns and activities recommended, her response was a raised brow and, “Why would anyone want to go there?”

One trip she could get behind was a visit to her home region: Volta.

Volta makes the tourist list in Ghana for the Wli Falls (highest waterfall in West Africa),  Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (not a real sanctuary), Tafi Abuife Kente Village (cloth making), and hiking (Mounts Afadja, Aduadu, and Adaklu come to mind).

We were just up for the weekend (we had plenty to show our guests in Accra, not to mention Cape Coast), so we made our plan simple. Leave Accra early Friday morning to make it to our hotel near the falls by noon. Make the hike to the lower base of the falls that afternoon. Saturday, our friends would hike to the upper falls (while we relaxed and read!), followed by a drive to the Tafi Abuife Kente Village, then back home to Accra.

Friday morning we left nearly on time and were on the road about an hour before Chandler asked our driver to stop so he could use a restroom. Our driver was visibly concerned. He didn’t know of an acceptable place to stop. Chandler assured him any gas station would do, and that’s why he got to pee outdoors – something we haven’t done since we were Peace Corps Volunteers ourselves:

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I was tempted to hop out and see what a “female urinal” is…but I figured if you’ve seen one hole in the ground, you’ve seen them all.

An hour later when my bladder had filled, our driver breathed a sigh of relief. We were nearing The Royal Senchi Resort which, in his mind, was a much more appropriate bathroom stop:

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I have to be honest. As we walked around the grounds, I was no longer sure the Wli Falls held any appeal for me…I was wondering how we could convince our guests that they’d rather stay put for the night : )

However, despite my best attempt, we pushed on. At about this point, the gravel disappeared and the remainder of our drive was pretty bumpy. I was feeling pretty car sick by now and told the driver I needed to stop. He was still appalled from the morning stop with Chandler and so he asked if it would be all right to drive to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary for the stop. It wasn’t on our list, but I figured a bathroom was a bathroom.

Man, am I glad the monkey “sanctuary” wasn’t on our list. Driving through the town it became pretty obvious it was just a tourist trap. You pay money for a local “guide” who takes you through the village to find the monkeys (that are already hanging about and easy to spot). You are then “encouraged” to buy bananas and feed them to some already overfed monkeys. The bathroom break was enough for us and before long we had made it to our destination:

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The Island That Doesn’t Speak English

This sounds like a hyperbole, but I can honestly say the only English I heard spoken in São Tomé was from our Airbnb host, Ito, the dive shop owner at Club Santana, and a smattering of staff at Pestana Hotel. The rest of the time, we got away with mixing English/Spanish/Portuguese…and I only speak the first one.

Luckily, two of the members of our group were fluent Spanish speakers and two others could ask questions in Spanish. None of us really knew Portuguese, the official language of São Tomé.

But let’s back up a moment, to an event that assured me we were going to have an interesting vacation. We hadn’t even left Accra yet, we were still in the airport. We had passed through security twice, once at the entrance and again to get to the gates.  We had walked past the first set of gates and had to round a corner to get to ours…and there stood two dudes with airport security tags.

They asked us to come to a small table so they could (yet again) search through our belongings. Chandler went first and his guy was meticulous, touching absolutely everything. That is, until he got to my swimsuit top. He pulled it out of the bag and turned his concerned face to Chandler to ask, “Sir, is this yours?” Chandler was quick to explain that it was mine and we often split our belongings up between bags. The man instantly released the swimsuit, zipped up the bag and waved us all through. Swimsuit tops save the day.

Then, we got on the plane and a torrential downpour began. We waited on the runway for 45 minutes for it to let up. The pilot announced that even though we had been held up, we’d still make it to São Tomé on time. To no one’s surprise, except maybe the pilot’s, we arrived exactly 45 minutes after our scheduled time.

Add this to the fact that despite the 28 rows of seats on the plane, I was placed directly behind the family of one of my student’s. They have three kids. We should have known this was going to be less of a vacation and more of an adventure.

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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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