Maker Faire & Why It’s Hard to Blog About Accra

I started this blog as a way to chronicle my life in Peace Corps. Instead of sending individual emails to each family member and friend on a regular basis, I thought I’d just update this website. Partially due to laziness, and partly due to the unreliability of Ethiopian internet.

Since moving to Accra in July of 2016, I’ve written 20 blogs that I’ve tagged locally. Two of which were actually book reviews, I just happened to read the books here.

I just wrapped up 13 posts on our trip to Egypt and Jordan. We spent three weeks there. I’ve spent 74 weeks in Ghana. I’m sure you can see the discrepancy.

Part of it is because our trips are jam packed with new and interesting things to blog about, whereas my day-to-day life consists of teaching, reading, wishing my husband and I weren’t too lazy to try new recipes, and listening to Kesha’s new album.

Even when we do force ourselves out of our apartment, by year two, it seems like I’ve already written about it. Why blog about another dinner at Coco Lounge? And International Festival Day might be my favorite day of the year, but not much changes from year to year. We went on another field trip to the Kokrobite Chiltern Centre and continue collecting plastic water bottles for their building projects.

I guess I never blogged about eating Ethiopian food at Simret for the first time since leaving Ethiopia, nearly three years prior. I’ve since eaten it many more times. It didn’t seem ground-breaking to anyone but me.

Recently, however, I helped my school run their first ever Maker Faire. Self-labeled as “The Greatest Show (& Tell) on Earth,” it’s part science fair, part county fair, and part something else entirely. It’s a chance to showcase invention, creativity, and resourcefulness.

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How to Batik in Accra

This weekend, six of us decided to try our hands at batiking. If you don’t know what that is, batik is the process of decorating cloth using wax and dye.

The word batik originates from the Javanese tik and means to dot. And the style was brought to Ghana by Dutch merchants.

To make our batik, we chose areas of the fabric to stamp with wax and then the cloth was dyed. The parts covered in wax resist the dye and stay the original color. You can repeat this process over and over, layering the dyes. The woman who taught us, makes some of the most beautiful designs. Our first tries were much simpler!

We arrived at Esther’s compound around 9:30 in the morning (an in-depth interview with Esther can be found here). We were greeted with cold water and warm hugs, as Esther showed us around. In the past year, she has built a complex for bathrooms, as well as a dedicated lean-to to protect visitors from the sun.

While Esther has been creating her own batiks for the last 20 years, she would happily spend her days running these workshops and teaching others the skill.

First, you start with the stamps:

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From traditional prints to animals to the artist formerly known as Prince, Esther has a lot to choose from. I’m not kidding when I say our first hour was spent looking through the stamps.

We also needed to decided if we wanted to start with a white canvas or if we wanted to dye our fabric first. You’re more likely to get what you have in mind if you stamp on white, but dying first often gives a more textured look to the fabric.

I couldn’t make up my mind, so I decided to do multiple prints. For 120 cedis (approx $30 USD) you get the tutorial, as well as your first two yards of fabric. Each yard of fabric thereafter is another 16 cedis (approx $4 USD). I decided to start with two designs, both requiring a pre-dye: one raspberry, the other charcoal.

While I puttered around, choosing my colors and my stamps, Chandler had already gotten started (that’s right, I convinced Chandler to come with us!). Unsurprisingly, he chose a simple stamp, with a simple pattern, on white cloth.

It looked like this:

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Over the next hour, my fabric sat in dye, before being rung out and dried in the yard. The process is quite straightforward. Mix the powdered dyes to get the right color and stir it in the water. Esther was quite clear – despite your best efforts, coloring rarely turns out exactly as planned. Something we were going to learn soon enough!

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Shrill: Notes from a loud woman

If you have a vagina, you should read this book. Also, if you have a penis, you should read this book. If you have something in between or have added or subtracted to it, you should also read this book.

Because this is a book that everyone should read. Shrill: Notes from a loud woman by Lindy West.

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As an American, my country embarrasses me. I left the United States 13 months ago and while I should have seen this coming, I lived in my own privileged bubble. And now, it appalls me. And I hate to admit it, but I’m glad I’m gone. I know it was the easy way out. Which makes this book and the conversations Lindy West is having all the more important.

Instead of trying to review this book and tell you what I loved and why I loved it, I’m merely going to let Lindy’s words speak for themselves. And while I think these excerpts are powerful in and of themselves, putting them in the context of the book in its entirety makes them breathtaking.

On being fat:

“So what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body.”

“If you really want change to happen, if you really want to ‘help’ fat people, you need to understand that shaming an already-shamed population is, well, shameful.”

“As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trails, and—the one thing Hollywood movies and Internet trolls most agree on—my ability to be loved.”

On being a woman:

“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world, it steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

“The most significant source of my adolescent period anxiety was the fact that, in America in 2016 (and far more so in 1993), acknowledging the completely normal and mundane function of most uteruses is still taboo…The taboo is so strong that while we’ve all seen swimming pools of blood shed in horror movies and action movies and even on the news, when a woman ran the 2015 London Marathon without a tampon, photos of blood spotting her running gear made the social media rounds to near universal disgust. The blood is the same—the only difference is where it’s coming from. The disgust is at women’s natural bodies, not at blood itself.”

“My abortion was a normal medical procedure that got tangled up in my bad relationship, my internalized fatphobia, my fear of adulthood, my discomfort with talking about sex; and one that, because of our culture’s obsession with punishing female sexuality and shackling women to the nursery and the kitchen, I was socialized to approach with shame and describe only in whispers. But the procedure itself was the easiest part. Not being able to have one would have been the real trauma.”

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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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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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