Tagged: Ghana

Not the Next Audrey Hepburn

So, back to Africa!

Here is where I admit that I adjusted to Africa like my dog would adjust to swimming in the ocean. Which is to say, you toss her in and she gets out as fast as she can (or she’d probably drown). It appears with a quick Google images search that there are no other Yorkies that enjoy swimming in the ocean either.

And I feel terribly guilty about it. Not throwing my Yorkie in the ocean, but how I handled my time in Africa. The people were wonderful, and it was amazing to experience something so different from my own life, but it was way outside of my comfort zone. Yes, that’s partially what draws me to foreign lands… a chance to get out of my comfort zone, to stretch myself, to humble myself, to see things rather than to just hear about them… but it’s not easy. I’m like a new pair of toe shoes that needs to be worn in. I’m stiff and shiny and I need to be bent and softened, cut and beaten down a little bit before I am ready for use. Before God can dance in me.

I would love to react to life the way Audrey Hepburn did. She was always thinking of others first, it seemed, and wouldn’t mind her own discomfort. Of course, she grew up during World War II and had a mother drilling into her that “others matter more than you.” I’m sure she handled Africa much better than I did. Though, to be fair, she did request to have an air conditioner shipped to Africa during the filming of The Nun’s Story, and also that “quarantine laws in the Belgian Congo would be waved for [her terrier] Famous […] and most important of all, that a bidet would be installed and waiting for her… It was probably the only bathroom fixture of its kind in Central Africa at that time.” (I read this ages ago and found this particular reference Here)

Mr Famous in Africa
Mr Famous in Africa
Having fun!
Having fun!

The above photos are from the Leo Fuchs gallery.

I, however, did not have a bidet or my Yorkie. So perhaps Miss Hepburn’s trips to Africa were slightly more comfortable than mine. I did my best, but I felt that two weeks was enough to experience major culture shock and not really get acclimated to a new country such as Ghana. I admit that my own discomfort really took over my thoughts at many times. Many, many times. But what drove me crazy about that was knowing that many, many people have traveled to Africa, have lived in Africa, spend their whole lives in Africa… and probably do it without complaint. I mean, I’m just assuming. Maybe I’m being hard on myself. I don’t know. I can adjust to things. It doesn’t mean I like them, but who says you have to like everything? Perhaps I was just not sufficiently mentally prepared for this.

I knew there would be no running water in the village. I knew the internet situation may be sketchy. I was prepared to bend the rules on being vegan or vegetarian. I was not exactly prepared for other things, however.

I haven’t known exactly how to approach all of this in a blog post. To me, it was another world far from my own. To those who live there, it’s life as usual and people seem generally content. I don’t want to gloss over my experience there and only share the positive, fun stories, but I also don’t want to focus only on the negative points. Because it’s a completely different culture that I’m not a part of and won’t completely understand or agree with. To me, it’s shocking to see the living conditions of some people, and I feel the urge to change things. But I don’t know what it’s really like to live there, or if they even want to change. I’m sure there are aspects of my own culture that Ghanaian people would witness and say “that’s terrible!” and they would be right. We all have things we can learn from each other, and ways we can help each other. This could be it’s own topic….

That said, let’s move on. I’m going to just start with some of the things I wasn’t prepared for. 🙂

I rode in this way too many times.
I rode in this way too many times.
Oh my gosh, a TV in the trotro!! Now where's my seatbelt....
Oh my gosh, a TV in the trotro!! Now where’s my seatbelt….

Transportation. I actually did not get a photo of the exterior of the trotros, which are large white vans that can seat over 20 people inside. They go down the road in set routes, with the mate hanging out the front window making signs with his hands to tell people along the road where they’re headed. You hop in and pay about 25¢ for a ride.

From the junction near our town, we would get a taxi (see above). Several of them would line the street, waiting for either enough people to fill it up, or someone willing to pay for all 4 seats. Somehow, most of the time we got a taxi, it was the one above. The inside was terrifying. You could touch the rolled-down window through the inside of the door… because there was no inside of the door. I don’t recall if it was this particular taxi or another one, but I’m pretty sure there was a jug of gas with a hose stuck in it on the floor of the passenger side. Every time we’d pass a sign saying something to the effect of “slow down! 12 people died here” I was pretty sure they were talking about a trotro accident.

The issue here seems to be that cars are imported to Ghana, and a heavy tax is levied on them, making them unaffordable to most people. So they wring every last bit of life out of the cars they have. Even if in the US, they wouldn’t even be allowed on the street. Here, apparently, if it starts and you can still move it… continue on.

According to Road Safety Services, a few of the major causes of road accidents in Ghana are, in fact:

•    Most accidents are caused by broken down vehicles on our roads.
•    It appears in Ghana there is a leeway for drivers to drive on worn/second hand tyres.
•    The unworthiness of some cars on our roads also invariably leads to road accidents.
•    Over-loading of vehicles beyond their expected gross weights is a known cause of  accidents.

And according to Irin News:

Road accidents are among the top causes of death in Ghana, with malaria, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases, according to deputy director of the Ghana Health Service, George Amofa. Road accidents kill more Ghanaians annually than typhoid fever, pregnancy-related complications, malaria in pregnancy, diabetes or rheumatism.

Eek.

At The Department of Social Welfare
At The Department of Social Welfare

Sanitation. I don’t know why I thought nothing would be different. Sure, in the US and in France you run across the idiots who pee in the street or don’t wash their hands, but I was practically in shock here. Men, women and children used places other than covered toilets to relieve themselves, and don’t seem to see the importance of washing their hands after. I witnessed a small boy at the marketplace casually relieving himself on the ground not far from where food was being sold, and the toilet above was found on a visit to the Department of Social Welfare, with a little sink out in the hallway. Toilets in this part of Ghana seem to be treated the same way as kitchens in Paris – an afterthought.

I got a lot of use out of my organic, lavander-scented hand sanitizer spray on this trip, and cringed inside every time somebody wanted to shake my hand. I loved the children and let them touch me, but I also knew that they probably hadn’t been washing their hands either. I’m not a mysophobe, I swear, but I must have seemed like one. Even with all my precautions, by the end of the trip I suffered mild diarrhea and major stomach pain during my flight home. I’m better now. But so many people are not as lucky.

According to UNICEF:

In Ghana, diarrhea accounts for 25 percent of all deaths in children under five and is among the top three reported causes of morbidity…. Nine million episodes of disease could be prevented each year by washing hands with soap.

Ghana Business News adds with a quote from Mrs. Theodora Adomako-Adjei:

“In Ghana it is even critical because most of us like eating with our hands, because of the type of dishes that we cook. So when it comes to handling food we use our hands a lot. Secondly, surfaces [transfer] to palms a lot of germs. It can be a door knob, even our computers, the ATM cards…people use their hands a lot so there is the need to create awareness. Look at the food that we eat – fufu, kenkey, banku and all those things – we don’t enjoy eating with fork and knife, so we have to eat with our hands – therefore we have to keep the hands very clean.

I’m really glad to see that there are efforts to promote hand-washing. Global Handwashing Day has even been established by GlobalHandwashing.org. It’s just one of those things I never even thought about… I naively assumed most people knew you get sick less often if you keep your hands clean. Even last year I learned my lesson once more. After months of winter illness, I started carrying hand sanitizer and not touching anything on the public transportation. Add to that a morning smoothie, and I have not been sick in over a year (though there was the one time I fell ill from lack of sleep). Sometimes I forget that we are not all aware of these things. Heck, there are still things I could learn.

European supermarkets rock.
European supermarkets rock.

See all that fruit up there? That was not to be found in Ghana. Apparently I’d missed mango season so really all I had were tiny bananas, avocados, apples…mmmm am I missing something? Oh, some papaya but I really don’t like papaya so I couldn’t finish it. My friend had told me diets were different here, but I thought really… so close to the equator… there wouldn’t be tropical fruit to eat? I’d find something. I was a little wrong. I am realizing my love of fruit is so strong that now I’m researching tropical paradises I can live happily ever after in. Kauai?

Ghanaian cedis - I'm rich!
Ghanaian cedis – I’m rich!

 

In Ghana, I’m rich. Fair enough, I understand. I do earn more than most of the people I met. But the cost of living is much higher in the US and EU. And right now I would not be considered rich in either of those places. lol But in Ghana it was assumed that I am rich, and that prices can be higher for me. I suppose it’s like that anywhere for a foreigner…. the other day I bought a little toy from a man outside of the Pompidou Centre and we got to chatting… he told me that he sells the toy to Arab tourists for 10€ because to them it’s nothing. It’s all relative. I don’t mind so much when I’m buying bananas or some fabric, but when they want to charge you oohhhh like, 500% more to enter a fort and then the equivalent of $100-$200 to take pictures…. I’m wondering exactly how rich they think we are.

I'm so whiiiiiite!
I’m so whiiiiiite!

I’m white. And that’s weird. lol. There is no walking around unnoticed. Even in my nice new dress.

Yep, still white.
Yep, still white.

I love that dress. The niece of a friend of my friend made it for me from fabric I’d bought at the market. Other than that dress I wore for Manon and couldn’t keep (it was a costume), and my “Belle” Halloween costume when I was about 12, I think this is the only time someone has ever made a dress specifically fit for me. I usually buy second-hand. But anyway, yeah, there’s just no blending in. You’re white, and you’re rich. Get used to it. 😛

Now we’re moving into the cool unexpected things… 🙂 I mean starting with that dress. I’ve even worn it out in Paris, and I’ll wear it out in L.A.

Still white.
Still white.

Water… baggies. What do you call this? This is pretty cool.

Why didn't I take a better photo of these?
Why didn’t I take a better photo of these?

 

OK, I’m going to say it, still a little unsanitary because you have to bite it to open it, but if it’s fresh from the bulk package, it’s cool. What I think is great about it is the reduction in plastic waste. Sure, you still see a ton of them littering the ground, but it’s probably better than a lot of water bottles littering the ground, right? And think of what you can do with these things. 

Trashybags.org is even doing what I had been thinking about as I stared at all the bags along the streets and outside of the villages – collecting the bags and upcycling them.

Sorry to go back to the negative zone, but this does bring up the issue of trash collection in Ghana. I found an article focusing on waste management in Accra here, if you care to read it. In the village I was at, there was no trash collection, and in my meanderings around the community center I stumbled upon a trash heap (on which someone was, er, squatting, to top it off….). Walking along the beach, I would see buried trash beginning to peak out after a high tide. I didn’t take a photo but I found one online to illustrate:

Under the sand...
Under the sand…

Anywaaaaay. Since I knew where all my bags would end up, I decided to take most of them home with me. I’m using one of the bags as a soap holder, and the rest are awaiting inspiration.

Moringa seeds!
Moringa seeds!

I’ve been learning about natural cures (specifically in the tropics but some apply anywhere, you can learn more at anamed.net) and one powerful plant seems to be Moringa. It grows in Ghana! In fact there was a tree right behind the community center. Sadly, the pods were very dried up and the seeds didn’t look so good, but we did find some in Cape Coast!

New food!

Yummy stew
Yummy Ghanaian stew, on a Parisien stovetop.

I was taught how to make a certain veggie and fish stew that I found tasty, and it’s been my easy go-to meal to make since I’ve gotten back to Paris. I’ve had to adjust because of differences in the availability of ingredients (those whole cooked fish, not sure where to find them here. Short grain rice? Seems different in France…) but I like to have this new African dish in my recipe book.

mmmm palm wine
mmmm palm wine

Seriously. I’m going to start hacking down palm trees when I get to L.A.

Obama biscuits. Yes they can.
Obama biscuits. Yes they can.

I don’t think I actually ate any, but I’m including it here because it’s funny.

I forget what this was called but it was tasty. :-)
I forget what this was called but it was tasty. 🙂
Talapia. I even tried to eat the head.
Talapia. I even tried to eat the head.

I believe this was the first time I’d ever eaten a fish that still looked like a fish. And I’d do it again. So un-vegan of me….

Well, this blog post has taken hours, and I should start packing up my things for another move this evening.

In closing…. I’ll say of course there is more to say about Ghana… good and bad. It was my first time in Africa, my first time in a really, truly completely different culture…. I was almost going to say “I hope in some ways it’s changed me for the better,” but then thought how self-centered that seems to me… what I really wish is that somehow I could have gone and returned having made someone else’s life better. But perhaps it’s just given me things to think about, and a better idea of what I can be a part of in the future to make someone’s life better. Some sort of reconnaissance mission, in a way. There must be a better phrase for that. But I think with first-hand experience it helps one to understand the world better than you can simply by Googling things (duh). And some day the pieces of the puzzle that you’ve gathered simply by being open and curious will come together and help you fulfill your purpose.

I’d like to leave you with one of Audrey Hepburn’s favourite poems (and one of mine, too) by Sam Levenson…

audreysomalia

Beauty Tips

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.

For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.

My First Time

…. in Africa.

Whenever I would think about going to Africa, I would think about seeing wildlife I would never see in America or Europe – lions, giraffes, monkeys. I imagined large, quiet plains of grass or desert with a sunset more magnificent than any one I’d ever seen over the Pacific Ocean.

True, Africa is large, it can’t all be filled with lions and giraffes and sunsets. What else came to mind when I’d think about Africa…

Well, I thought about what I’d be doing there. Perhaps helping to bring water to a village, or helping out in some other way. I like to go places with a mission, though many times that just doesn’t happen. I didn’t really have a mission for this trip, other than to visit my friend in Ghana and to take some nice pictures. I’m working on the photography thing. I tried to get in contact with film makers there, but being far from the main town made networking difficult in person. We had thought perhaps I could take some video of my friend’s computer class that she could use as promotional material, but it turned out my trip fell right before class started. Regular school started midway through my stay, so I got to see the kids in their school uniforms and take some class photos of them. I did take some photos and video in the computer lab, since the kids would go in there and play on the computers some afternoons. Silly me with my new microphone though, sometimes I forget that I have to turn it on in addition to the camera. I’m still learning.

One class photo
One class photo

 

Computer time
Computer time

And speaking of photography… Ghana not only knows you’re coming with your camera – they’re counting on it! Many of the touristic places in Ghana not only charged non-Ghanaians more than double the entry fee to places like parks and forts, but the equivalent of about $100 to take photos…. and more for video. Needless to say, most of my photos were taken at the beach, in the village, and in the city, but not in the parks and forts. That just gives me another reason to come back (and this time with some money. Apparently I’m the only person who goes to Africa on a budget).

So, Ghana….

I spent two weeks in Ghana, between a small village called Afrangua and a place called Kokobongo Beach. I don’t want to make this into a massive blog post that nobody will ever finish reading, so I won’t give you a day-to-day account of my time there. 🙂 In Afrangua, my friend and I spent a lot of our time chilling out in the courtyard of the community center, hovering in the one area by the table where cell phone reception was the best, so we could check our Facebook walls and post photo updates. She let children into the computer room occasionally, where they would sit at the computers drawing pictures, putting together puzzles, and other activities for young kids.

 

To the left, you will see the community center of Afrangua.
To the left, you will see the community center of Afrangua.

The kids were very curious about me, the visitor, the “obroni.” They wanted to play, be chased, hug, touch, handle my hair… one tiny girl giggled hysterically until I got nearer to her, at which point her giggles turned to terrified shrieks. She would run and hide, and we would try to convince her to touch me, that it was OK. When she finally did, she found me endlessly entertaining. She reached out for my face with a look of utter amazement…. it’s the look I imagine I would have on my face if I were to reach out and pet a unicorn.

I'm a unicorn!
I’m a unicorn!

We spent some of our days near the beach, where there was running water and even a little restaurant. The bread that the sandwiches were made of was really unique. It was in slices perhaps three times as thick as American sandwich bread, and a bit more solid and sweet. Being on  budget, the tuna cheese sandwich was the only thing I ordered at the beach. And the one I got that actually had cheese in it was quite tasty! 😀

sandwich

There are so many little moments to record, and many of them I documented with photos, so I’ll be spreading out the details and thoughts on my trip as I remember things to share with you. For some reason I’ve been putting off blogging about it. Maybe because it feels like such a big task. I don’t know. But I’m determined to get this posted tonight and get back on track!

I also need to get more focused here. I started this particular blog to document how I make things happen in my life, how I create, how I give back to the world, how I join with others to make films and make music… but I feel like I haven’t done much of that at all this year! I suppose we go through peaks and valleys, and every experience serves us in some way we may not be aware of yet. I have written several songs this year, so that’s some progress, though they all still need the finishing touch and a genius musical partner to help me bring them to life.

I feel like I’m still figuring out life. My snow globe world is still being shaken up, though I’d really like it all to settle into place soon. This is why I’m taking some time out to get myself back to Los Angeles, land of the familiar, to take a few deep breaths, write a few deep songs, and make a plan.

So that’s all for today, stay tuned for more. 😉

There’s No Place Like Home

But for the first time ever… I don’t have one! Sure, I have some official addresses, but I don’t have a home right now. Let’s recap.

My little sublease was up at the end of July, because I thought I would be returning to L.A. after having a residency meeting in June. Well, that appointment got placed at the end of September, screwing up that plan. So instead of looking for another overpriced apartment in the Paris region, I estimated how much I could save by staying somewhere else. So the month of August was spent in Barcelona, and then the past two weeks visiting a friend in Ghana. The largest part of my spending was the plane ticket to Ghana, but overall I definitely spent less than I would have if I’d stayed in Paris. I’m back in Paris now, and surfing my way around until the end of October, when I really get to go back to L.A. Yes, the Parisien adventure, Part I, is coming to a close… it’s practically bankrupted me. I need to get back to a place where I can at least do background work and garage sales.

A month and a half is a lot to go over in one post, so I won’t do that. I’ll spread it out a bit. I did give you a little update from Barcelona… did you want more? lol Barcelona was a nice break. Downstairs from where I was staying was a fruit and vegetable market where almost every day I’d go down and check their discount shelf, with the fruits that were on their last legs. I’d pick up a bunch of fruit for only a few euros. I’ve been trying to stick to spending roughly 5€ a day on food. And now that I’m back in Paris, I’ve unpacked all my kitchen goodies to see what I’ve got to eat in the next 40-ish days. Can’t throw things out, that’s wasteful! I made a chickpea/spinach/coconut milk curry today (no lemon, that tasted weird to me last time). The past few days I’ve been chowing down on an African recipe taught to me by someone in Ghana. It’s not vegan, there’s fish involved, but it’s just so gooooood and doesn’t cost much to make. Perhaps when I get back to L.A. I’ll be able to find some kind of imitation smoked fish flavour to make it vegan. I also attempted to make some crêpes the way we had them in Cape Coast, but I failed. I only found one or two recipes online. But I’m not sure what the problem really is… they’re just dense, and not as sweet… I guess I’ll just stick to French crêpes!

Well, I just wanted to let you know I’m alive (still taking my malaria pills) and well and back in Paris. In the next post I’ll tell you more about Ghana, as it was my first trip to Africa, and very different from anywhere else I’ve been.

Ciao!

How Can You Afford To Travel?

It’s asked. It’s thought. And sometimes my answer is “I can’t.” At the moment I’m in a space where I just have to have faith that if I keep working hard and smart that I will get out of this hole and back to a bit of stability. But the answer to the question of “how can you afford to travel?” right now is…. “How can I afford not to?”

I’m realizing that I can’t afford to stay in Paris, at least not comfortably. But I have to stick around for a few more months for some classes, meetings, and to get to India in November with a shorter and cheaper flight (and vaccinations). My solution to the “I can’t afford to live here anymore” situation? Travel. Yeah. That thing you think you do only when you have money.

But I can explain. I took the leap and bought a round trip ticket to Barcelona, and another roundtrip from there to Ghana. In total, this cost me less than 900€ and will take me from July 31 to September 19. To couchsurf or rent a room in Spain will end up costing me maybe 200-300€. And I can easily couchsurf the rest of September in Paris. So right there is about 1200€, or 600€ a month, which is equal to or less than what I would pay for a room or studio in Paris. BUT I get a grand new adventure out of it, in places where everything else is cheaper. So I’ll be lowering my living costs. Yes, for the moment, I had to put the tickets on a credit card because I don’t get paid that far in advance and am squeezing every last dime (er…. centime?) but I think it was worth it.

I think traveling can frequently be cheaper than staying in one place, especially if you use couchsurfing.org or helpx.net for your accommodations. Yes, airfare can be a big cost, but if you plan carefully, you still could be saving more money than you’d spend at home on rent and food (and gas, etc….). If you have a mileage card, that can help you out. I don’t have one, but maybe I’ll get one in the next year if they’ll approve me!

So that said… yes, surprise! My summer plans are to go to Barcelona and Ghana. While in Barcelona I want to make a music video for an original song (still being composed, and still seeking a musician to help me record it!) and while in Ghana I will be filming at my friend’s computer school.

In other news… I’ve made a little video about the past 2 weeks, since I’ve been doing some kind of interesting things! Filming a short starring my dog, pretending to be military, going to the White Dinner, dancing along the Seine….. It’s summertime. My favourite time in Paris. Well… if it would stop freaking raining.

And now…