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).


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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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My sister visited me in Ghana and all she saw was the Harmattan

Ok, slight exaggeration. However, the Harmattan has affected most of her time here in Accra. Tonight, for instance, I’m up well past midnight…a rare occurrence, I can assure you, simply because her flight was delayed for an hour (I’m assuming because of poor visibility) and I was too anxious to sleep.

We spent an extra day in Northern Ghana – that’s a story for another blog – and didn’t get back to Accra until Christmas Sunday. Monday was filled with grocery shopping and, luckily, a pool day. And then the Harmattan hit. Tuesday we woke up to downright chilly weather (think mid 60s) and the poorest visibility I’ve encountered since I was caught in a sand cyclone in Ethiopia (or the week I spent in LA!).


We tried to make every moment count, but found ourselves only able to brave the dust storms to shop at Global Mamas and eat lunch at Buka on Tuesday. I’m a big fan of Global Mamas, a fair trade organization working with women here in Ghana and around the world. Buka, less so. Poor Brittany wanted to try some more Ghanaian food – we’d had groundnut soup and jollof rice up north – so we took her to the highest rated Ghanaian restaurant on Trip Advisor. Our school had taken us there when we first arrived and I remember the food being pretty good…now I know just how much influence our school had on the menu that night. Our lunch was less than mediocre. It was incredibly oily, fishy, and arrived about 3 minutes after ordered, not exactly fresh.

Day two of the Harmattan we decided we wouldn’t let a little sand get in our way. We set off for Artists Alliance Gallery – an interesting set-up where everything is for sale from the $2 postcards to the $250 carvings to the $8,000 paintings. We spent about 2 hours wandering around that place looking at everything from the intricate, the bizarre, the antique, and the ugly. We loved it.

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Field Trips & Taking Action

A short while back, second grade went on our first field trip. We went to the Kokrobite Chiltern Centre, an organization that’s building local school classrooms out of plastic bottles.

They got the idea from an organization in Guatemala doing similar work. We showed the students the video below to get them excited and they immediately wanted to know how they could help.

We spent the next few weeks collecting plastic bottles and were able to donate hundreds by the time of our visit.

The organization in Kokrobite collects the bottles, but instead of filling them with trash, fills them with sand, something we have an abundance of here in Ghana.

The bottles are then held together with a clay-like substance that is created by mixing a certain kind of sand with water and then stomping around in it – easily the students’ favorite activity. Once the clay is made and the bottles are filled, the laying begins.


This was just a small example, the beginnings of a playhouse for the center’s after-school activities space. But after learning the process and getting to play a small role in it, we took the children to the town school where a classroom had already been built.

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Bead-Making in Ghana

Let me start by saying, if someone were to ask me the biggest difference between Ghana and Ethiopia, I would have to say the heat. I’m sure that sounds clichéd, the climate in Ethiopia was almost always so comfortable, but I’ve only experienced heat like Ghana in SE Asia (and they seemed to have much more reliable electricity and air).

Most days, this heat is totally manageable. The school has generators and so does our apartment. The only time we’re without air is in our taxi rides to get groceries each Sunday. But this past Saturday was brutal.

After an hour and a half on a bus, we arrived at TK Beads and immediately experienced scorching heat. We were shown how local powder glass beads are made. No part of them is made indoors.


The first thing we encountered was heaps of glass bottles. Those are broken down, smashed with a crudely made giant mortar and pestle. Once the glass has become dust, it’s mixed with various ceramic dyes to achieve the desired color. It’s then poured into molds.


Inside each mold is a straight twig from a special kind of tree (and of course I’ve forgotten the name of this special tree!). This tree has been chosen because once the molds are filled, they are placed inside a furnace and the twigs burn out at the precisely right time – not too soon and the bead hasn’t formed and not too late that part of the twig remains in the bead. You then have a perfect hole.

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