Ghana Day: A day of culture sharing

Every year, our Grade 2 Team hosts an event called Ghana Day. Which is great for me, because even though it’s our third year living in Accra, there’s still more for me to learn about this country.

This year, we set up eight stations for the students to explore. For the second year in a row I got to run the best (and messiest) station – Adinkra Stamps. These symbols are used extensively in fabrics and pottery and were created by the Ashanti people. The symbol below stands for abundance.

Last year, Chandler and I went batiking in Accra and we got to decorate our own fabric using adinkra stamps.

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Another station was Outdoor Games and all the children were taught to play parachute. Basically, you tie two yards of fabric around your waste and hold the other two ends in your hands. Then, you run : )

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We had a Market station where students were shown the traditional food you can buy in a Ghanaian market – since most of their families probably shop at Maxmart or Shoprite. Students were also taught to say thank you in Twi: Medase Pa.

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A new station for us this year was Weaving. Students had already learned a brief history about Kente cloth and they got to “weave” their own patterns with paper.

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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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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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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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