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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……


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…:)


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.