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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Return of the Prodigal Daughter

I have returned.  I fit right back in.  I assimilated much easier than I thought I could.  The family was there to meet me at the airport where I was excited to dole out the presents and show them all the things I’d brought back.  I had milk, I had diet coke, and I curled my hair.  Felt so good to be back.  I went about my business.  I didn’t really start missing Ghana until lately.
Now, the word ‘return’ has a different feel.  Not to go or to come back, but many different things.  I learned a West African symbol called Sankofa, which depicts a bird with its head turned around toward its tail and picking something up off the tail.  It really means to “return and take it”, or to learn from the past.  I learned that returning to somewhere I’d once felt at home, now felt different.  It felt like anywhere I chose to make “home” could be my home.  Pondering these things while attempting to study, I started to really realize that my life was mine to take.  I can do with it and make of it what I wish.  The possibilities are endless. 
It’s hard to believe I did it.  I went to Africa.  I lived there.  There are so many things I did and put myself through and handled that I never expected I would.  I’m not a weak person, but this made me stronger.  I had to fight.  Some days sucked.  I missed my family and friends and I had nothing to do so I had time to just sit and think.  I had time to figure out whatever I needed to. 
Here is a list neatly comprised of some of the things I miss:
I miss the people profoundly.
I miss all the things that were ridiculous because they were so different.  I miss laughing at those ridiculous things.  I miss being stared at and cat-called to.  I miss walking into a bar full of people who think I’m beautiful and just “have to” buy me a drink…twist my arm!  I miss feeling like I’m making a difference when I walk into a classroom of little kids every week.  I miss learning new games to play with them.  I miss the sounds of African drumming on campus.  I miss the Ghanaian U.S. Embassy workers.  I miss going to Maxx Mart and buying jelly for bread that lasts all semester.  I miss reggae night.  I miss the ocean.  I miss tro tros.  I miss bartering.  I miss amazing colors everywhere.  I miss attempting to call myself “The dusty foot philosopher” because that’s what K’Naan’s titled one album (and my feet were always covered in dirt/dust).  I miss the sun beating down so hard on me that I felt like I was burning.  I miss burning in the sun.  I miss Vivian.  I miss the night market.  I miss Fui.  I miss Akua.  I miss remembering I was pretty cool and adventurous because I was in Africa.  I miss Thelma.  I miss her calling me “baby Miriam”.  I miss Tuesday pizza nights.  I miss running into our room and yelling, “SURPRISE!” to Thelma and having her laugh.  I miss Pearl.  I miss TT.  I miss Emma.  I miss class being completely pointless.  I miss walking a half hour to class and sweating profusely two steps into the walk and then realizing that class was pointless.  I miss going for runs with the family.  I miss being hassled.  I miss getting ‘flashed’ on the phone.  I miss buying cheap things that are awesome.  I miss the registry run with Scott.  I miss being surrounded in people who have a strong passion for God.  I miss being surrounded in really politically active people.  I miss listening to funny remarks being made and written down in a notebook so we don’t forget them.  I miss butter bread.  I miss egg sandwiches.  I miss soccer on the beach.  I miss it all. 
It has meant a lot to me to return.  I would like to return home again.  This reminds me of the poem by Robert Frost titled Swinger of Birches.  I will conclude with a favorite passage.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches. And so I dream of going back to be. It's when I'm weary of considerations, And life is too much like a pathless wood Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs Broken across it, and one eye is weeping >From a twig's having lashed across it open. I'd like to get away from earth awhile And then come back to it and begin over. May no fate willfully misunderstand me And half grant what I wish and snatch me away Not to return. Earth's the right place for love: I don't know where it's likely to go better. I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, But dipped its top and set me down again. That would be good both going and coming back. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Robert Frost

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cars


Having finished registration for home and classes here…we packed up and headed to the beach for a long weekend.  The night before I attended a play that students in the drama department put on.  One of our ISEP members was in it, so that was fun to see.  She was the only white person in the play.  We headed back and went to bed so we could get up early and make the journey to Busua.  We went to Kaneshie station to catch a tro tro to Takoradi before we made our way to Busua.  On our way off the tro tro to Kaneshie, Natalie’s shoe broke.  It’s a flip flip, so there was seemingly no possible way to fix it.  Oh we of little faith… Sure enough, a guy on the side of the road started hissing at us.  He’s a shoe repairman.  He fixed it right up and it lasted the rest of the weekend!  After that, we waited a good hour before one finally came.  Of course we can’t form a civilized line and get on in an orderly fashion…everyone pushes and shoves and fights their way on.  That’s always fun.

On our way, we made it a little game to take pictures of all the sayings on the back of the taxis and tro tros.  I have a project to put together using them when I get home.  Makes the drive go faster, too.  After a long ride to Takoradi, we grabbed a taxi to Busua.  We arrived in the town welcomed by a very small town atmosphere and our choice of a few reputable hostels.  We checked in to Dadson’s and headed to the Black Star Surf Shop right next door on the beach.  We spent the next three days and two nights being absolute bums.  We walked the beach and the town and met a lot of the locals.  We met Daniel the Pancake Man, and Frank the Juice Man as well as Frank the Bag Man (which are two separate people).  The community reminded me of Pixar's movie, Cars.  We were invited to the African Rainbow later that night.  It’s a rooftop bar where everyone goes to hang out.  Live music and a view of the town and ocean…you can’t get much better.  We met some Germans and a guy that everyone knows as “Mr. Bright” from England who has started a surf school right on the beach.  The next day brought a suntan, street food, swimming, and sleeping…a beach fire and relaxation.  Yaw, a local guy, took us on a walk up the beach and a hike through the jungle up to a lookout point.  A Canadian guy built his house up a hill that overlooks all of Busua and the beach.  Gorgeous sunset view.  Don’t worry, we caught a few crabs on the way up along the beach. 

There’s nothing like standing in the ocean and seeing forever.  The feeling that I can pick up my beer and walk 20 yards and I am in the ocean is something that I’ll miss greatly upon my return to the states.  My peer adviser was right in saying that, “…you’ll have plenty of time to figure out whatever you need to figure out.”  There’s something about that ocean view that un-sticks my mind. 

I beat Yaw in his own game the next morning.  Oware is the Ghanaian version of Mancala.  He quit before I could beat him too badly.  Natalie and I went swimming again in the ocean.  It’s sort of fun to get rocked by the huge waves for a bit.  Knocks the ego back down from earlier being inflated by Ghanaian men.  Namely one who started telling me that, “Any reasonable person would pick you out of a crowd.  Miriam, wow.  I love blondes.  You are the most beautiful white girl I’ve seen in a long time.”  Thanks dude.  Anyway… we got a little too far out of our depth.  I got a little freaked out while swimming back in and getting crashed on a few times.  One wave almost got me.  It caught up to me and knocked me under before I could take a breath.  Just when I thought I wasn’t going to make it, I broke through the surface.  Feeling quite relieved and a little shaken, I threw my hair out of my face and put my feet down…I touched land.  It got shallow that fast.  Safe and sound, we got ready to depart to Accra.

Yaw came with us back to the city.  He decided to play nice guy and after my insisting I really didn’t want octopus off the street, got me some.  I ate it.  I’m still alive.  Just another day in Ghana.  On the bus on the way home, for a good two hours, a guy preached at us in Twi.  I put my headphones in.  Then they played two lovely Ghanaian films.  Just awful quality, but pretty entertaining.

I have an exam on Saturday at 7:30 am.  Wish me luck! I just realized my lecturer never covered half of the things on my syllabus…could be interesting!  It stormed last night, but the sun is coming out now.  I best be on with my day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

One Week of Class?


Five months doesn’t seem like very long in terms of a lifetime.  It’s not.  In retrospect, blink and it’s gone.  As I sit in my room on the day before Easter pondering my time here, I look down at my tan (that seems pathetic in comparison to the Ghanaians I’m surrounded by).  I’ve realized that when we go certain places here that are more heavily populated by white people, we’ll comment on it.  “There are a lot of white people here….”  “Yeah, that’s weird.”  Then we try to figure out why they’re here, especially those that have families with children.  “Hey kids! We’re going to Africa for spring break this year!” 

Back to before I noticed that I’m still a Caucasian... My tan is symbolic.  I earned it.  I hope it sticks around a while.  I’ve grown accustomed to it.  That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Aimee Mann singing in the background, it’s a peaceful, reflective day in room 154.  I think it’s safe to say that the atmosphere will change when we attend a Fabolous concert tonight.  Here’s our day plan:

1.     -Get my life together.
2.     -Walk outside and immediately start to sweat.
3.     -Negotiate a taxi to the mall (which will cost approximately 3 GHc (Ghana Cedi)
4.     -Go to the mall to get tickets for the concert.
5.     -Enjoy a little of what looks like an American place with A/C.
6.     -Go to a grocery store to get marshmallows and Ghana’s version of rice krispies.  (Claire and I are making our roommates rice krispie bars- they’ve never heard of marshmallows.  We weren’t even sure we could get them here, but we can!)
7.     That’s as far as I’ve thought ahead…..

We went to Till’s beach yesterday.  Walking along the beach I came to a few more realizations.  The beach looks like something you sometimes see pictures of and think, “That’s so beautiful, maybe someday I’ll get to a beach that looks like that.”  But then you never actually get there.  But here I am.  Funny enough that someone trying to get me to go to the beach with him sent me a text message describing the scene I would see if I went with him.  “next week we can plan going to tills or bojo beach it’s a nice beach like pirate of the carribien look”  And I quote.  Despite the horrible English and stupid reference…it really does look like a scene straight from a movie.  (Also, needless to say I didn’t go to the beach with previously said stupid man.) Pinching myself and asking the most commonly asked question of this journey, “Is this my life right now?” I walked the beach in amazement.


Fast-forward the concert.  50 GHc later, we arrived at the conference center promising a look at Fabolous.  It rained earlier in the afternoon, so it was cool out.  You would think that since we have been here a while that we would know by now not to assume that things would start on time.  Set to start at 7 pm, we left the embassy at 7.  We didn’t hear any artists until about 10:30.  They had a good lineup of local artists to perform, and nothing against Fabolous, but I enjoyed the local artists more.  When Ghanaians surrounding us see us singing along and dancing to their music, they get a kick out of it.  Fabolous came onstage at about midnight.

We were pretty casually dressed in going to this concert.  I had jeans and a tanktop on (under my sweatshirt) and looked like I could be going to the grocery store instead of a concert.  The locals were dressed quite fancily.  Heels, short dresses and skirts, dress shirts, and of course some really strange outfits.  One guy had a sweater we deemed as something we’d wear to an ‘ugly sweater party’.  Leopard print leggings, paisley shirts, and sunglasses were other unsurprisingly common sights.  So many funny things.  There were a lot of younger teenagers there, too.  They started standing on each other shoulders and on a wooden divider in order to see better.  We were sort of annoyed because they were in front of us.  Until they broke the divider.  Whoops.  Problem solved.

After about 6 of Fabolous’ songs, we decided to leave and go out.  I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that much on a night out.  We went to one of our usual spots, saw a lot of the same people, but for some reason there were some new, odd really drunk people out.  After being grabbed right after walking through the door and being told, “I have to buy you a drink.” I politely accepted and continued on to being with my friends.  An older Indian man came up with his camera and started grabbing us to take pictures with him.  Not the most coordinated dancer in general even without the alcohol, you can imagine what he looked like a little intoxicated.  Then he handed us his camera and we took full advantage of his drunkenness and took loads of stupid pictures of each other.  I can guarantee this man is having a great Easter morning recapping what his night consisted of through those pictures.  “Who are those white people?!”  Then there was another man who was really drunk who wanted to dance with me.  After pushing him away a few times, he started giving me attitude.  He turned around and sassily said, “Bye bye,” to me.  Really, really funny.  His friend approached me and told me that his buddy wanted to dance with me and should he, “tell him to go away?”  Yes, please tell him to go away.  His friend returned and informed me that his friend, “wouldn’t go away.”  He kept ‘cheers’-ing us by touching his glass to ours.  After breaking a glass on one of ours and then trying to continue drinking out of it, we struggled to prevent him from coming close to our glasses.  He would ‘cheers’ us when we weren’t looking and then run away.

I can’t paint an accurate picture of that night unless you were there, but that’s my attempt.

P.S. Don’t worry mom, I’m keeping those two-legged sharks at bay.

Speaking of mom…I miss you!  It’s weird to spend a holiday away from home and family.  It’s definitely a lonely feeling.  But I’ve been informed that my Easter basket will be waiting for me when I get home. 

I haven’t made my title point yet.  I only have one week of class before finals begin.  Where did the semester go?  It will be hard to leave here.  There are so many things that I’ll miss.  I’m not excited to have to readjust to being home, but I will have to do it soon enough.  Though, I am excited to go home at the same time.  Strange adjustments.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mole National Park..... or something like that.


I had another visitor come to stay with me in Ghana.  I gladly welcomed Flat Stanley to the University of Ghana – Legon when he arrived in the mail.  If you haven’t heard of Flat Stanley, you’re missing out.  He is the main character in a ‘self-titled’ children’s book that I read when I was in elementary school.  Stanley was a little boy when a bulletin board fell from the wall onto him.  He was very tragically flattened, however he remained alive.  Then everyone realized how cool it could be to be a flat person.  Stanley could slide underneath doors, do other acrobatics, and even be mailed to different places.  Each year, at my alma mater, (Lewiston-Altura Elementary School) where my mother conveniently works, at least one class does the Flat Stanley project.  Each kid will trace out their own Stanley on paper and color it to his or her desired liking, and they choose someone to mail him to.  The class teacher mailed her Stanley to me here in Africa!  My instructions were to “take Flat Stanley around Ghana snapping pictures of him where you go”.  Then I was to email a letter and pictures back so that she could teach the kids a little about me and Ghana.

Poor Stanley was in for a bit of a rough ride.  When he first arrived in customs, I’m surprised no one opened him up and charged me 5 extra cedis to get him out.  He was really hot and stuffy in that envelope.  He sat in the ISEP office for a few hours waiting for me to pick him up.  When I finally got to him, I greeted him with a hug and an excited smile.  However, he had to ride around in my backpack for most of the week.  He got a little crumpled up, I’ll admit…  One of my friends, after I excitedly told her about having Stanley (and making her take a few pictures of me with him) said, “I don’t know if I’ve seen you this excited about anything.”

He got bumped around on buses and trotros, and even got a taste of how African dirt feels rubbed on him.  A true Ghana experience.  Even though I failed at the picture taking aspect of this assignment, I seriously took Stanley pretty much everywhere I went.  Including Mole National Park………

We had been planning this excursion for about a week before we went on it.  We thought this enough time, since the last trip we took was about 2 hours in planning.  We got a driver (because public transport can be pretty unreliable and difficult to navigate, and we wanted to do our own thing) and had everything planned out.  We left Thursday morning at 6 am to get there by Thursday night so we could have all of Friday to go on a safari and hang out before leaving to come home Saturday.  We get in the car early Thursday and head out.  After riding around Accra for a while with the windows down, we decided to flip on the A/C.  Rexford, our driver, informed us that it was “finished”…in Ghanaian terminology…broken or done.  Great.  Not exactly an ideal situation for a 12 hour car ride anywhere, let alone in Africa.  But we let it slide (planning that we wouldn’t pay the full amount for car and driver because of it).  The whole no air conditioning thing wouldn’t have been a big deal if we wouldn’t have gotten extremely dirty because of it.  Windows down is one of my favorite ways to ride around in a car.  In Africa…emissions ruin the thrill of my favorite ride.  My hair has gotten pretty blonde from being in the sun here, but you would think that I had dyed it back to the brown I had for a brief period.  We had black, disgusting-ness all over us by the time we got out of the city.  It only got worse along the way.  By far the dirtiest I have ever been without voluntarily going down a homemade mud slip and slide.  The worst part was knowing that not only was this blackness all over us, but it was also inside our lungs.  We got to Mole at about 8:30 or 9 p.m.  It was dark when we pulled up to the entrance gate and they informed us that they had no rooms left to stay in because they had a convention this weekend.  After repeatedly calling a number that never connected earlier in the week and again that day, we had given up on trying to make reservations prior to arrival.  At this point, I just wanted to throw up my arms and proclaim, “I’m through planning.” (Mom’s coined phrase)  I didn’t get the chance because they found us one room left in a guesthouse.  The 4 of us slept 2 people each in 2 single beds.  After a really crappy shower, we crawled into our cozy arrangements.  Since it is so much hotter in the northern region, there was quite a bit of sweating going on and not very much sleeping.  We awoke to Rexford revving the engine of our Land Cruiser outside our guesthouse.  Good morning!  We went to the information center to start our walking safari.  We were hurried along in the beginning because someone had spotted an elephant and they wanted us to see it before it moved on.  We saw that elephant indeed.  One of those things that you see people stop moving up ahead and you wonder why…then you realize that they’re looking at something either really gruesome or really cool.  The elephant was the latter.

I really enjoy elephants; they’re huge and kind of cute…what’s not to love?  This bush elephant was breathtaking.  It was moseying around eating leaves and spitting them out onto himself.  Doesn’t sound very glamorous, but truth be told it was amazing to see.  We got within 20 yards of this creature.  We were told over and over and over again, by our safari guide, facts about elephants.  Edem turned out to be a pretty cool guy, but it took us a while to warm up to his annoying facts.  He kept asking if we knew the scientific names of all the animals.  Of course we don’t… and we won’t remember them if you tell us 15 more times.  In our tour group of about 20, we walked for 2 hours.  We saw antelope, water buck (a huge antelope), baboons and other varieties of monkeys, warthogs, birds, and cob (smaller antelope).  The highlight was the elephant.  We were hoping to see more throughout the day, but no such luck.  Our one and only made a good first impression.

Fun fact for you about elephants:  Their tusks (said like ‘tuxes’ by our guide) have two separate uses.  The right one is used as a weapon, and the left one is used to eat food.

We proceeded to walk to a few watering holes and through the bush.  It was a really cool area to see, even if we didn’t see any more big game.  We went back to eat breakfast and relax until we went on a driving safari later in the afternoon.  We swam in the pool for a bit, and took naps on the pool deck.  We headed back to the information center to get in our vehicle.  Just the four of us, Rexford, and our guide, Edem, were in our Land Cruiser.  We headed out while being asked if we remembered the scientific names of all the animals he’d told us that morning…no Edem.  You’re smart, we get it.  So we started making jokes out of it.  He was killing flies in the front seat, so we asked him what the scientific names were of the flies he was killing.  He laughed!  Then said that he doesn’t study insects. 

We saw many antelope and monkeys along our way.  It was a pretty cool day, but I wish we had seen more large game.

After our safari, we told our guide to come and eat with us at the canteen later on that night.  We met up with him there and sat around in the Mole community.  A little kitchen surrounded by tables and chairs in the dark.  A group of guys were crowded around one small TV watching a football game, and others were playing checkers on a table.  Kids were around and their moms were holding them or feeding them.  We got to ‘babysit’ for a brief time while our cook was making our food.  It turns out that we were holding onto Edem’s brother’s baby, Arabiatu.  She was the highlight of the night…so much so that we wanted to take her back with us.  We sat around and ate with our driver, our guide, and our guide’s friend.  They were speaking in Twi amongst themselves, like they often do, when our driver asked me if I wanted to know what they were talking about.  I just laughed and said, “Sure.”  He told me that our guide’s friend thinks that I am “very beautiful and he wants you to stay here.”  Sorry buddy, it’s too hot up here.

We headed to bed setting alarms for 4:30 so we could be on the road by 5 a.m.  Good thing Rexford woke us up at 4.  We went back to sleep until our alarms went off, and still left 10 minutes early.  We took a nice shortcut over some boulders back to the main road and stopped at Kintempor waterfalls.  These were pretty cool.  We ate breakfast near the falls, and then headed out determined not to stop again until we either needed gas or reached Accra. 

After reaching Accra, we met with a lady to renegotiate pricing…after intensively arguing for a good half hour to no avail, we quite angrily gave up, paid, and headed back to Legon towards a MUCH needed shower. 

Maybe in a week we’ll be able to laugh about it.  Until then…it may take approximately three more showers to get all the exhaust/dirt off of me.  All that matters is that Stanley and I are back safe.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Attempted Sea Turtle Excursion:



To prove to Tom that I’m not too busy with African boys ;)

So we got a great idea at about 2:00 p.m. on a Friday, that we should go and find some sea turtles.  In order to do this, we made reservations at a beach resort called, Green Turtle Lodge and then had to find a way to get there.  Yay for public transportation in Ghana!  We jumped in taxis to get to Kaneshie station, where we would catch a bus/van to Takoradi and then get a cab to Busua to the place where we would stay.  This is something that we learned would prove to be a little more difficult to accomplish than we had originally comprehended.  We made it to Kaneshie to meet our other friend and then waited amongst the market bustle for a van to take us to our next location.  We found one and hopped aboard the 15-passenger vehicle.  Traffic was horrific.  It took us about 7 hours total for this expedition.  We arrived in Takoradi alive (thank God for air conditioning).  We got a cab who swore he knew where our lodge was…of course, what have we learned about cab drivers…don’t trust them! We drove to Busua and had to ask around to find where we were going.  The road that took us to the lodge, mind you it was pitch black out by this time, was probably the worst road ever created.  If you could call it a road… The car can’t have been better off for taking us all the way out there.  We got to our site and no one was awake.  Dark and very much alone, we walked around to try and find where we would be staying.  Since we didn’t really know what else to do, I took a walk on the beach.  The most amazing beach I’ve ever seen.  It felt like a deserted island.  I’ve never seen so many stars in my life.  We found a couple of tents that looked like they may be for us…so we crashed there for a few hours until we were going to get up and look for the sea turtles that were supposed to be hatching.  Needless to say, we didn’t find any..why would we see something that we planned to see? That’s too easy.  I did see the sunrise though.  Walking along a serene beach in the morning with a dog that decided to join along was a pretty good way to spend my time.  Made me miss Scout quite a bit.  A guy came out with a long pole with a blade attached to it.  He was going to go cut some coconuts down.  I got in on that, too.  We hung out on the beach for the morning, and then it was regrettably time to begin the long journey back to Accra.  Quite hard to leave.  Places like that leave you with nothing but thoughts and tranquility.  I imagine it to feel how the North Shore does for my mom.  A crazy adventure, but overall…glad we did it.  Maybe next time, we’ll start to plan a little earlier.  Makes for a good story, at least.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Family Ties



I arrived at the airport just in time to meet my brother, Jed, and my cousin, Sarah, at the arrival gate.  I made the guard let me rush the gate so that I could go and meet them before I was supposed to.  They were happy to be off the plane.  A little jet lagged, we made our way back to my campus to check them into the guesthouse where they stayed for the week.  Not letting them rest for too long, we headed out to see my hostel and campus until my other brother, Jonathan, was set to arrive from France.  Jed was captivated by the lizards, and attempted to make one of them his friend.  Sarah was enjoying the sun and heat (coming from Minnesota).  We sat by the library for a while and hung out before we decided a nap sounded pretty good before we’d leave to go and get Jonathan from the airport.  Reisetter family reunion in Africa!  Mom and dad can rejoice in the fact that their three children were on the same continent for at least a week again.

Now for the adventures…  I think my family realized (and reminded me) of just how hard living here can be.  It’s much more difficult to get around and do things than it is back home.  I’ve gotten pretty much used to this fact in the two months that I’ve been here, so it was a good reminder to see their reactions.  We got to go and see Cape Coast for a day with our quiet but amazing driver, Jeffrey.  We walked on the rope bridges along the canopy in the rain forest, and we saw Cape Coast Castle with them too.  We went to a few markets and beaches as well.  The three amigos also got to come with me to the place that I volunteer with.  They took us from the headquarters to four other sister schools in the community.  It felt a bit as if we were on parade, but it was really a good experience for all of us.  Jed, Sarah, and Jonathan got to see a more intimate view of Ghana this way.  The kids sort of put on a show for us.  They were pretty cute, but I think a better picture of what their schools are like would have come through observation of the way they teach.  Jed got to challenge the students a little bit, but, I think, if given a better opportunity, he could have actually gotten somewhere with them. 

Jed had heard of a really nice beach that I hadn’t been to yet, so we decided to check it out.  We get in a taxi that knows where the beach is and head out.  Of course the cab driver was lying because he takes us to a random spot that he calls Bojo beach.  Not the correct beach.  We get back to the main road and ask someone else to take us there.  He decides, without telling me until halfway through the journey, that he’s just going to take us to Kaneshie, which is a public transit station just outside the city so that we can find someone else to take us to the actual beach.  Thanks, dude.  We’re all a little frustrated by this point, so we make the cab driver pull over and find us a new taxi to take us all the way to the beach.  Success! After about another hour, we arrived.  We weren’t disappointed.  Bojo is a beautiful place located west of Accra.  It’s sort of like a sandbar so we were rowed across to the sand by a gondola-looking boat.  We spent the rest of the day at the beach enjoying each other’s company, believe it or not. 

We went to an art market and another market in Osu, a different part of town.  Osu is probably the least crazy market that I’ve seen and been to since being here, but it was still a little too crazy for Jonathan.  Being hassled constantly by shopkeepers gets a little old, and Jonathan got a little flustered at a few people in the market.  This provided us with some good reasons to pick on him for the rest of his stay, claiming that he had ‘slapped someone in the market’.  Needless to say, this didn’t really happen, but it makes for a good story. 

My family learned that honking has its own language here.  Cars honk constantly in different situations for various reasons.  Some drivers tend to honk more than others, and some a little unnecessarily.  Sometimes as if to say, “Here we are!”  Jonathan came up with the ingenious idea that we should all get our own little horns for daily use.

After the family went home, despite a little trouble with the return flight, the excitement of new people and the pressure of showing them a good time died down.  Here I am in Africa…….. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, and I’m glad they got a taste of my life here.

Maybe I’ll go to class this week……

Volunteering



This week I’ve made it to a much higher percentage of classes than I did last week.  I’ve only missed one, so you can be proud of me for that.  Even though by physically missing class, I’m not actually missing much of anything, I still should attend.

Last night we attended a pool party at a hotel in Accra.  Well…we sort of worked at it.  We know the owner and a lot of the staff, so Claudio asked us if we would help out at his event.  Our job?  To wear their logo shirts and have fun.  Sure, we’ll help out.  We also got roped into serving drinks and such, which isn’t a big deal at all.  One of the managers asked me and one other friend to serve a few football players.  We had to wait for them to sit down, so we walked back to the bar.  Claudio, the owner, pulled Natalie into the pool (it’s a swim-up bar).  The manager grabbed my arm and told me not to go in after her.  I said I wouldn’t, but it wasn’t up to me…Claudio grabbed me from behind as the manager was holding my arm…Claudio won that fight and into the pool I went.  She was not very happy with me!  But since I’m not really an employee, it wasn’t an issue. 

Rewind to before I entered the pool involuntarily.  My brother’s college friend is in Accra for work for 3 months.  I finally got to meet up with her last night at the party!  It was awesome to get to talk and hang out with her and her roommate.  We might start running with the running club they’ve joined since being here.

That’s my life this week! Today, I think I’m going to go see baby sea turtles…:)

Volta/Kumasi



I’ve gotten to travel to a few different parts of Ghana since my arrival in Africa: the Volta region and Kumasi in the Ashanti region.  Both rich in culture, they have helped paint me a better picture of what Ghana is. 

The Volta region is on the eastern edge of Ghana.  When we went there, we arrived at a monkey sanctuary.  We walked out into the forest after our guide who started calling the monkeys by making a loud and long kissing noise with his mouth.  Sure enough, we saw some monkeys in the trees coming closer to us.  A few students were able to feed those monkeys bananas that we had brought with us.  After that group dispersed, our guide got word of another group of monkeys farther into the forest, so we went on a hunt to find them.  This group of monkeys was larger, so there were more of them for us to feed.  Holding onto a banana still in the peel, we held out our hands so that they would come down from the trees and put their little hands on ours to peel the banana before taking chunks of it and disappearing again.  They were pretty cute. 

From the monkey sanctuary, we went to our hotel.  This is the second hotel that we’ve stayed in since being here.  By far the worst I’ve ever stayed at in my life.  But then again, this is Africa, so it was what it was.  We had a faucet for a shower right next to the toilet, with nothing on the floor to keep the falling water remotely close to the drain by the shower.  So…no showers were taken.  The two single beds in the room were pushed right up next to each other, and we had no blankets or top sheets.  But we did have a TV.  Too bad it didn’t work.  Good thing we only stayed one night.  Just had to laugh about the whole thing.

The next day, before we went home, we stopped at a village that makes Kente cloth.  This sort of traditional cloth is colorfully hand-woven.  We played with three little boys that didn’t know any English, and they took our sunglasses and put them on themselves upside down.  They wanted us to take pictures of them and when we did, they had to see each picture afterwards.

We headed out after we saw the cloth weaving.  A week passed, with little class attendance from Miriam.  It turns out I didn’t miss much.  The next weekend we went to Kumasi.  We left early Friday morning.  By early, I mean the bus was supposed to leave at 6, but we didn’t leave until 7.  Traffic was awful on the way there, so it took quite a while.  However, there were fewer bathroom stops on this trip.  Greatly appreciated.  We finally arrived at a cultural center that had many shops with African made art; paintings, wood carvings, clothes, beads, etc.  We ate and shopped a bit in the rain.  We were all a bit exhausted so we headed to our hotel/guest house.  This place was a significant improvement upon the last hotel we stayed at.  We had queen beds, a nice bathroom, a TV that worked, a fridge, air conditioner, and a water heater!  A warm shower (even if the warm only lasted 2 whole minutes) was nice.

When we left our guesthouse the next day, we headed to a village that makes kente cloth.  As soon as we stepped off of our bus, we were hit by a gale force wind of guys trying to sell things to us.  They waited outside the building where the cloth was being made until we came out so they could swarm all over us again.  Inside the building there were so many different colors to view.  We were able to talk to the guys who had made the cloth and they were pretty pushy to sell us their work.  We got to barter for it; I only purchased one piece of cloth.  After leaving the building, we walked around the village.  Common on Saturdays, there was a funeral in process.  We saw women and men in all black traditional cloths.  We then saw the motorcade following the hearse drive past.  Around 200 people, mostly women, were waiting in an alley for the procession to start so they could join.  We got caught in the alley as they were walking by so we just stopped to let them pass.  They’d walk by and smile and stop to shake our hands…very welcoming people.  After we returned I was talking to my roommate about funerals here and she told me that they pay people to cry and wail during the funeral, however they are more of a celebration than a time to grieve.    Funerals take place usually at least a month after the death and can last for days.  They are a time for not only just family but a huge extended family and friend circle to gather.  They usually collect some sort of donation from people because it costs so much to feed all the guests.  When we were on the bus leaving the village, we saw the casket being carried down the road to the burial plot with a whole lot of people in black walking behind it.  I got one not-so-great picture of this. 

We headed back and stopped out on the road for a bathroom break.  Another cement slab…how nice.  We took the time to dance in the middle of the road and take pictures of the scenery around.  It was a gorgeous day.  Sweltering hot, but gorgeous.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Raw Meat...Raw Culture



If you want a picture of what small industry and ‘grassroots’ life looks like in Ghana, head to Makola market in Accra.  I didn’t know what to expect before we got there except I knew that this market relied less on tourism which meant the vendors would be less insistent on selling products, especially to four white girls.  The day started off sweltering hot and the sun was out to boil the earth.  The trotro ride there was easy and uneventful.  We arrived at Tema station and walked to Makola just around the corner.  I will have to return to take pictures of the scene because I didn’t take my camera with me, but it’s a bustling, lively place filled with whatever you could probably imagine.  Crowded alleys and sidewalks are teeming with vegetables, rice, beads, clothes, shoes, fish, superglue, fabric.. you get the picture.  I can’t even describe how unrealistic this is, its something to be experienced personally.  The smells, often a bit revolting, were strong and told obvious tales of what was being sold throughout the vicinity.  Weaving our way through aisles and alleys, we were greeted by every woman or man at each shop and asked how we were.  “What do you want?” Then, they hover over you while you’re looking at their products until you either purchase something or move on.  At one point, three women grabbed us by the arm and said, “Come with me.”  We’re kind of used to the friendliness here, so we knew we weren’t in danger.  Aubrey, the woman who had pulled me into the alley, told me to sit down in the chair next to her and started asking me questions about where I was from and where we were staying.  She just wanted me to sit and make conversation with her.  After 10 minutes, we got up and wished them a good day and kept moving.  Raw meat and blood sort of ruined the experience for me.  I don’t have a terribly weak stomach, but that sight and smell combined with the smell of fish is enough to make me not eat meat for probably a week.

Walking around, we saw three little boys playing in the street.  They were probably about 3-5 at the most.  There were two older boys and one little one.  They were all sort of fighting and playing around when the little one picked up a board from the street and went after the two bigger kids.  He hit them pretty good a few times before they ran away from the little guy.  Pretty comical.

We headed to the Makola mall area which is a more chill atmosphere where we headed upstairs determined to find some cute clothes comparable to what we see people wear all the time.  We can’t seem to get a straight answer about where these girls get their clothes.  “My friend has someone bring them to her and we get them from him.”  What??? I just want to know where to shop.

After bargaining our way through a dress and a football jersey, we stood up on a deck of a store and looked out over the market.  Too tired to do much else, we decided to head back to the hostel.  We climbed down the stairs, and we walked back towards Tema station to catch another trotro.  While waiting to cross the street, there was a disturbance close to us just up the street.  People started yelling and scattering in different directions.  My first thought was that a car got away from someone and was going to crash, but that wasn’t the case.  I still don’t know exactly what happened, but then people started yelling and then things calmed down.  Guess we’ll never know what happened. (Sorry for the anticlimax)

Thursday the rain came.  Melissa and I were walking back from our social work class when a few drops started taming the dust.  Since we got here, we’ve been wishing for rain because it’s so hot.  We got our wish…and then some.  When it rains here, it really rains.  We got completely drenched within seconds of the downpour.  We started running back to our hostel so our school things wouldn’t get terribly soaked.  At that point, there was nothing to do but laugh.  It rained really heavily for a few hours and then it stopped and the world was cool.  I put on a sweatshirt and had goosebumps for about 4 hours.  It was awesome.

The next day, my cab driver told me the “weather is friendly”.  It was still cooler from the rain.  “Water is life,” here in Africa.  Isn’t that the truth.

Since everyday is like a weekend here, we have a lot of time on our hands.  We go out a lot and try to experience a lot of different places.  We’ve been able to check out a bit of the nightlife as well.  Bella Roma is becoming a favorite spot.  We know one of the bartenders so it’s fun to see him at work.  It can get really busy there on weekends, and there are people from all different cultures.  I love hearing about people’s lives, so it’s fun to be able to sit down and have a conversation with others I’ve met here.  At Bella last night, I met quite a few people, but I talked to Maxwell who is a 31-year old from the Volta region who runs a radio station.  He told me that if I ever come to the Volta region, he will put me on the radio and we can have a conversation.  He explained that he’s one of 21 siblings in his family.  His father had had four wives in his life.  The first wife had 10 children, the second had 6, the third had 4, and the last wife had one child. 

Abrupt stop, but that’s what I’ve got.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reaffirmation


I had my first real class where I learned something and took notes today! HOORAY for brain stimulation!  I now see just how very different the things we learn in the states are from what students are taught here.  Social Work 306 – Personality Development and Behavior Disorders showed distinctly that Americans are taught to believe different things than Ghanaians are at this university.  The word “failure” was thrown around a lot when talking about those with personality disorders like OCD, anti-social, and borderline personality disorder.  I, of course, sat and listened to the discussion and took notes, but I found myself shaking my head during the majority of the class.  I wasn’t alone.  A few other Obrunni students I talked to after the class felt the same way.  One striking illustration of this happened when we were talking about single parenting.  Apparently, like homelessness, it doesn’t exist here.  I think the only way (at least our professor) would consider a family to be in a single-parent situation is if the other parent was dead…even then, she might not.  Her rationale behind this was that “…at the end of the day, even if the other parent is lost in space but still sending money, then it isn’t a single parent situation because the two are collaborating and making joint decisions.”  I still don’t understand how that works; I strongly believe that’s not true at all. 

Another part of the lecture that really made me a little irritated was when she was defining personality disorders.

“…Personality disorders don’t disrupt emotional, intellectual, or perceptual functioning.  However, those with personality disorders suffer a life that isn’t positive, productive, or fulfilling.  These disorders are associated with failures to reach potential.”

Gahhhh…there are so many things wrong with that statement, and the real problem is in the second part.  I guess the positive side of this lecture is that it sparked my attention and passion.

On the other hand, Social Work 304 – Social Welfare and Social Policy seems like a very appealing class that I might learn a lot in.  It has a bit of a basis in Ghana, which already in the first lecture, we learned about a lot of the corruption that happens in this country.  Because of it, around $350 million USD is lost each year at the borders of Ghana.  This kind of money is huge for developing countries to be losing out on because of corruption.  More about this later.

Anyway……..

The four of us girls decided to venture out on our own again last night.  We ended up in Osu at a Lebanese restaurant called Venus…after our cab driver had no idea where we were attempting to go and asking for directions about 15 times, we finally made it there.  Met by more inefficiency inside, we settled for the food we got, and then wandered around the streets before heading back home.

I’m feeling a tad apprehensive about going to class on Friday to see Grace.  Grace is a really soft-spoken Christian girl that I met last week in my geography class.  Let’s hope she never reads this.  She had the best of intentions, but the situation was a little awkward and strange to me.  We made eye contact and she told me to come and sit by her in lecture.  I did, and we went through all the formalities including asking if I am a Christian (which is a formality in Ghana).  When I replied, “Yes.” She said, “Please, I want you to come to my church with me on Sunday.”  I was flattered by her offer until I found out what time church was.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus, but I love Him even more when I can sleep in and still partake in Sunday festivities.  6:30 a.m. is a little early even by American standards.  She told me she’d call me Saturday evening to remind me, and she did.  I didn’t quite pick up the phone….whoops.  While still in class, she handed me a pamphlet titled “Walking in Faith” and told me to read it until the lecturer came in.  I did as told while trying not to laugh out loud about how strange this whole situation was.  My favorite thing Grace said all of class was when our professor asked us what we should do if someone’s phone rang during class.  Grace yelled out, “Forgive them!”

My cab driver yesterday turned around halfway through my ride and smiled at me.  We hadn’t really been speaking before that, so I was a little creeped out by it but I smiled back and laughed a little.  Then, almost back to my hostel, he turned around again and proclaimed his love for me.  After laughing quite hard, he said, “I will give you my number and the next time you go out, please call me.”  So if anyone is in need of a friendly black man to hang out with, I’ll give you Ebenezer’s phone number. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be too lonely here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Oh, Life...


I was excited to come here and un-complicate my life.  That’s all good in theory, until realizing that it’s not about location or escaping at all.  It’s about you.  Well…me, that is.  The longer your life, the more ties, relationships, events, and essentially, complications there will be.  Its’ not something to get away from.  It’s all a part of this huge process that molds and shapes us.  Some things never change, and some things never stay the same.  It’s such a beautiful mess that is so hard to grasp even the closest edges that I don’t often think about it.  But when I do, it hits like a bowling ball to the shin.  Forever can be so many things.  It’s always changing.  (for Jers and Roz, “Embrace it!”)

Fun fact about Ghana:
People don’t appreciate pets here.  They might have them, but they don’t really have them for enjoyment like we do in the states.  They don’t feed them ‘dog food’.  They just get leftover table scraps.  They more or less would have a dog or something to protect the house.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Your World is About to Change"

“Your world is about to change” an ad for a new cell phone network billboard declares: the topic of my first conversation with Jason, one of the Americans we met at reggae night on Labadi beach.  Jason and J.M. are here in Ghana with business growth opportunities.  J.M. also has a more personal connection to Ghana: his birth mom lives here.  Blissfully reunited at last, the two men can continue their business here until they return home.  But, back to the billboard… the changing started off with the heat, then everything else followed suit.  I’ve pretty much given up on trying to look somewhat decent for the next 4 months.  I’ve also given up on my digestive system functioning normally for the next 4 months.

I finally have my permanent room and roommate.  Thelma moved into our room and brought with her more Ghanaian-ness.  She’s a sweetheart, but she’s very different from me.  Very quiet and reserved, Thelma goes to bed early and gets up early.  She likes to play gospel music on her radio when she gets up at 5:30, which is such a treat for sleeping Miriam.  I guess I’m just used to Jacquie, who is basically me in another body and is the easiest person to live with.  I have to remember that people do things differently in this country.  I think Thelma thinks that it’s pretty funny that we take precautions against mosquitoes.  She laughed when she asked me if I was on anti-malarial prophylaxis and I said yes.  “You whites are so scared of them!”

Also (side note for my mom) Thelma told me I was a neat person (physically).  She said she assumed all whites were messy and disorganized.  She’s really neat and always has her bed made and stuff like that, but I just thought I would throw that in for my mom: that someone in this world thinks I’m not messy.

We had an ISEP meeting today to talk about some ‘housekeeping’ issues and to direct our interest toward a few organizations that we can volunteer for while we’re here.  I was particularly interested to talk to Michael who works for Global Civic Preservation Organization (GCP).  GCP is a non-profit org that does a lot of outreach work for children, as well as adults.  They take kids off of the streets and educate them so they can eventually place them in mainstream schools.  They help families get medication they need.  And once I meet with him, I will know more about what I’ll be doing with them.  I’m excited.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cheese


The Embassy:

Last night, after going to the beach, we did our laundry at the American Embassy.  Yeah, it does still sound ridiculous saying that.  If you didn’t already know, we have to do our laundry by hand here.  I haven’t tried this yet, because I, like a slob, like to let mine pile up before doing anything about it.  Apparently those who did do their laundry didn’t have a very successful outcome.  So we were at the beach again relaxing in the sun when one of our friends showed up at the beach.  Matt is a US Marine serving here at the Embassy in Ghana.  There are six guys that live in the Marine compound in Accra and we have had the pleasure of being invited over to have a refresher of what American things look like.  We were signed in and given badges to wear and then taken past the entrance.  As soon as we stepped past it, it was like being back in the states.  They had air conditioning, normal furniture, and other American things, like washing machines.  We got to watch movies on their giant projector that comes down from the ceiling while our laundry was washing.  Once again it paid off to be a procrastinator by not doing my laundry right away.  I’m more and more reassured everyday that it’s okay to put things off.  Also, we midwesterners got to share and explain our love of dairy products that no one else seems to understand.  We had a very long, drawn-out conversation about it.

Class:

Class is a whole different thing here.  Many students don’t attend class for the first 2 weeks.  Coming from a university that’s rules are so that if you miss the first class of the semester you are automatically dropped from the class, this seems a little lax.  One of our student guides didn’t attend class for the first 6 weeks last semester because he was too busy working.  I guess he did fine.  I’m not sure how that works, but I don’t think I’m going to spend too much time trying to find out.  I really do want to learn here, even though I sort of forgot I was going to go to school while I was here.  My first class was a social work class about personality development and behavioral disorders (which will be basically psych 100 all over again).  I had it with a few other Obrunni’s and we were the only one’s not laughing at the jokes told in class.  Whoops.

This hasn’t happened to me yet, but Claire’s professor never showed up for her class, but she did manage to get 4 phone numbers and someone’s church address.  It is much more common for people to exchange phone numbers here than it is back home.  People will stop you on the street and after talking for less than 5 minutes, they will have your name mastered and they will have asked what room you live in and have asked for your phone number.  Very different social practices.

Water:

Bottled water of a few brands is safe to drink, and commonly comes in 1.5 liter bottles (which are just huge).  But the most common way Ghanaians drink water here is sachet water.  It is in a bag and for a fresh stomach like mine, its not the best idea.  By now I’ve had several of them.  After the first one, then two, then three, I assumed I was fine.  Not so much the case.  I have a hard time remembering to take it easy, so this morning/afternoon turned out to be a fun reminder of that.

Hygiene:

Going home will be a strangely amazing experience to once again feel clean.  Since arriving here, I have maybe felt completely clean for only the first ten minutes of getting out of the shower each time.  My feet are constantly dirty from all the dirt and walking in sandals, and it’s so hot that we all sweat all the time, and unless we visit the embassy weekly to do laundry, our clothes will definitely not feel as clean as if they would have if they were washed in a washing machine.

Food: A whole separate category.

Rice and plantains are staples here.  Who knew there were so many things you could do with them?  My favorite so far has been red red, which is beans in some sort of sauce with a little spice and fried plantains.  My roommate makes a mean red red.  Other things we eat are jolof rice which is a little like Spanish rice, banku (I still don’t know what this is) that looks like a ball of play-doh in a whitish/tan color that you ball up and usually dip in a sauce.  Sweet bread is delicious, probably not very good for you though.  And one of our favorite things is to get an egg sandwich at the night market from Vivian.  This is an omelet-type thing with cheese and/or meat on the sweet bread.  Another amazing treat we discovered is pancakes (crepes) with nutella on them.  I was quite excited about this find.  Had one today actually.

Fresh fruit and vegetables here are great.  I’ll have a few pictures of some at the market, but the pictures don’t illustrate the taste.  There are so many new things that they grow here that we don’t have at home.  I drank water from a coconut and then got to eat the skin from the middle afterward.  There’s a strange little orange fruit that is sticky inside that you suck the juice from and then eat the stickiness.  There’s a cocoa fruit that you simply suck the moisture from the seeds and then spit the seeds out.  It doesn’t taste like chocolate though.  There are many others that I have no idea about yet.

I’ll wrap it up for now by saying that the Superbowl is on at the same time as there are a few celebrations for Bob Marley’s birthday.  I might have to go with Bob on this one, I guess there will be other Superbowls, but we’ll see.  When in Africa!

"Are we in the hostile stage?"



ISEP likes to spoon-feed us.  I’m all for learning and all that, but these first 9 days have been exhausting.  Also, I’m going to have to relearn all these things on my own anyway after they stop leading us around.  Which is frustrating to me.  And I think we’re all a little sick of group activities.  Apparently there are four stages in culture adjustment.  1. Honeymoon stage: everything is great, good for you.  2. Hostility stage: frustration, anger, anxiety, and blaming of the external environment. 3. Humor stage: relaxation and ability to laugh at headaches in the process.  4. Home stage: retaining of allegiance and the general feeling of home.  I wouldn’t say I’m full blown hostile, but I’m still just kind of “here”.  The general consensus is that things are done a lot more inefficiently here.  Which is the American in me coming out.  I’ll let you know when I start to laugh again. ;)

Cape Coast is a beautiful place.  We toured Cape Coast Castle where Ghana saw a lot of slave trade in the early days when the Portuguese and Dutch and British had control of the area.  Right on the coast, the Castle boasts two great slave chambers, indoor plumbing, and a “door of no return”.  We were given a tour of the place and a background on the history.  However, we didn’t have enough time to go through the museum slowly enough to fully soak it all in, so I hope to return before I leave Ghana.  The male slave dungeon is dark and damp.  There are ditches in the floor to drain whatever human waste was produced, and in a very small room human waste from up to 200 men would have been nauseating to say the least.  In the female slave dungeon, there were all the comforts of the male dungeon, plus an alter for offerings.  While we were there, there was a goat head, a bowl of goat blood, raw meat, and various other things.  Out the “door of no return” there is a fish market.  These are some of the coolest scenes here.  Boats out in the ocean and people everywhere on land with nets and fish and flags of every color and nation.  Going back in the “door of return” as it reads on the other side, we walked around in the museum and then headed out.  I sound sarcastically cheerful about these quarters, but in truth, as you can imagine, it was a powerfully dark experience, and I’m glad I got to see it.

It was quite a long ride there and back to the Botel, which is where we stayed.  It is a little motel that has a restaurant over a swamp with alligators roaming pretty much freely.  Hooray.  Also, we took a hot shower for the first time since being here.  Oh, no…I guess the heater didn’t end up working, so it was just a normal cold shower.  This place was the sketchiest place I have ever stayed in.  We did find some enjoyment in teaching our student guides how to swim in the pool though.  None of them know how to swim, which was really strange to all of us, so we took it upon ourselves to try and teach them.  Comical for us, and scary for them, we conquered a few fears and it’s definitely on camera.  Maybe next time they go to the ocean with us, they won’t run away from the water anymore?

We hit up reggae night on Wednesday.  We took taxis to Labodi beach for some live entertainment.  This was the most chill thing we had done since coming here, which I think is why it was so much fun.  They have a stage with live reggae music right on the beach…waves crashing in the background and ocean breezes drowning out the worry in your mind… it was beautiful.  Exxxxxcept for the ride there.  We piled five us of us into one taxi, and apparently you’re only supposed to have four.  We got stopped at a police barricade and our driver got his license taken away.  We weren’t worried at all as passengers, but we felt bad for the driver, even though he knows the rules.  He took us to our destination, but had to go back and talk to the officer that kept his license.  The law enforcement system here is much more corrupt than it is in the states.  He would probably be asked to pay the officer a fee and then he could move along.  We are convinced that they don’t follow any laws here.  It seems like every punishable crime ends up with the same sentence; ten years in prison.  Truthfully, whether you rape your own child or you get caught smoking marijuana, it costs you ten lovely years in a place you really don’t want to go to.  Beware.