Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 1301 - The End

In the morning, I taught.  Ruth came to my class for part of it (she caught me clarifying some issues in MacKinnon's "Difference and Dominance" but left before Cabral and Rorty).

Ruth picked up her dresses.

We napped a bit together.

Apparently, because of all the foul-ups, they gave Ruth and my folks the run of the business class lounge.  Ruth drank juice and my Mom sounded a little (deservedly) tipsy when she called.

Then Ruth went home.

Days 1298-1300: The Beginning of the End

Early Saturday morning, my parents left for a weekend in Elmina, at my urging.

Saturday, Ruth and I just hung out.  We read stories, we played tro-tro to Madina Market, we danced in the courtyard, we had a nap.  Nothing special, except that it was special.

Sunday, we spent most of the day at the Shangri-La (and by most of the day, I mean five hours).  We ended up grabbing a cab down after waiting forever for a tro-tro (not that hard to get... except on a Sunday).  There, we played in the big pool - some other children had brought small animal-shaped squirters, and Ruth asked very nicely if she could borrow one.

The pool was pretty crowded - the other kids (mostly expats) were all a bit bigger and better swimmers (I tried pointing out the girl who was probably only 4-5 and swimming underwater, but Ruth was unmoved), and so Ruth was having fun but would sometimes get a bit frustrated that she couldn't follow them off the steps.  I managed to convince her to let me carry her on my back while I swam (despite it meaning - horrors - that her face was close to the water), and of course once she took the plunge that was all she wanted to do, squealing the whole way.

I loved it.

We ate pizza by the pool (and drank some pineapple juice).  Later, some local kids came and Ruth played quite energetically with them in the splash pool - throwing a beach ball around, flipping and horsing around, and even convincing one to let her ride on her back.

She also found a large swing near the pool, which she climbed on for a while with a little girl about her age.  It was grass, so I let them go pretty far up onto the sides - Ruth can be brave when she wants to be.

And, of course, after five hours, it was a good place to take a flop.

Monday, following a tip from the Embassy, we went to see Mr. Happy at Unique Ceramics (Happy told me while we were there that he was interested in turning the place into an NGO - first thing they should get their own website!).  He was very nice even though Ruth was - as usual - a bit shy.

We started with a quick tour around the workshop area.  Ruth was especially impressed by the big walk-in kiln that they use for firing large pieces (like some huge vases they had on display - they were lovely, but I didn't think I could get one home!), and by the fact that they heat them in it for three days!  Then Happy showed us how to throw pottery on a wheel, by tossing off a perfectly symmetrical flowerpot as if weren't no thing.

But for Ruth, he wisely started us on rope ceramics.  Ruth tried her best to make it like a snake, like she does with Melissa, but soon found that rolling small balls for decoration was more her speed.  So I made ropes and she made balls, and then Happy guided us in building them up into sort of cups.  Ruth quickly became interested in filling hers up with tons of balls - it was a crown, she explained, and those would make it more comfortable.  Happy was polite, but seemed to sense that she was done actually listening to directions and so moseyed off to take care of some other things, while I helped Ruth (this is not at all a criticism of him - and in fact, he only charged us for an hour despite our being there for over two all told, so it's not as if he was billing us for time that I was the only adult in the room).  He told me that he'd call and I could pick up our creations in two weeks - I'm looking forward to maybe painting them with Ruth when I get home.

We stopped by Miss Gloria who, alas, was not quite done with Ruth's dresses.  So we went back to the flat and met my folks - they'd braved a tro-tro from Cape Coast, much to my surprise.

Ruth napped, and I thought about how she was going home soon.  I made some pancakes for dinner.  I probably won't do that again while I'm here.

Days 1294-1297: I miss everything! But I do research!

Tuesday and Wednesday I had to teach, so Ruth hung out with my parents, and I met up with them in the afternoon, mostly to just hang around their flat and relax.

Thursday, I finally got called to Burma Camp to do interviews!  But you're not reading this blog to find out about my research.  Just in case Ruth ever reads this and wants to know what her Dad did before he failed his tenure bid... after weeks of wrangling, I got a call telling me to come on 11/3.  Not, "would 11/3 work for you?" but just, that's the day.  So I went down and did a marathon series of interviews in Burma Hall (with no A/C).  The only big issue was that - even though I told them I planned about an hour per interview - they had all the interviewees show up in the morning, which meant several of them were waiting around for hours and hours by the time I was able to get to them.  Not that anyone would take my offer to "go and come."  Ah, the military.  I did update my hypothesis, though.  While I'd gone in thinking that perhaps involvement in peacekeeping would have a beneficial effect on attitudes towards human rights and civil-military relations, I walked out thinking that it was more of a "scared straight" program.  What many of them told me was basically that, after having seen societal breakdown abroad, they didn't want it at home.

Friday, I was supposed to go with the family back to Teshie to (for reals this time) see the coffin makers, but I got called back to do more interviews at Burma Camp instead - and given how long I'd been working on it (and that this was the centerpiece of my research project here), I couldn't really say no.

Fortunately, I was done by about lunch time - everyone else had gone to see the coffin makers (Ruth liked the cow!) and I met up with them for a very nice lunch at Next Door Restaurant out in Teshie.  There was a sort of sea-water-filled artificial tide pool there (it looked like it had seen better days, and was maybe from when they'd been planning to expand Next Door with a hotel), and Ruth and I splashed in it and wondered at the tiny, tiny snails.

Grampy's Ghana Photos

For any of you who may not be following along on G+ or FaceSpace, here are my Dad's Ghana photos (I hope the link works for you):

Ed Levine's Ghana photos (on Facebook)

Days 1292-1293: Actually Getting to Hang Out With Ruth

On Sunday, we all went to Coco Beach.

I'd missed going to La with the family due to work (see my Mom's guest post for details on it), but I'd read that Coco Beach was a great spot, cleaner and quieter than La beach.

Unfortunately, that turned out to not be entirely true.  Apparently La beach had recently been subject to a major clean-up, while Coco had gone downhill a bit.  So, it was more than a bit trashy.  But we still had a good time with Ruth.  Coco had a lot more shells - we had fun finding a zillion tiny spiral shells.  Ruth played in the surf with a couple of the local kids, and I held her so we could feel the waves crash against us a bit (while being very careful not to let - heavens forbid - a single drop of water touch her face).

Afterwards, we headed back through the Radisson and grabbed some lunch at their restaurant.  Mostly, it was a chance to hang out near the beach a bit longer and for Ruth to play on their playground (the advantage of very slow service at almost any restaurant here is plenty of time to play around!).

We had been hoping to see the coffin makers at work, and we thought we'd cleared that they would be around on Sunday with Mr. Lartey, but it turns out that they were not.  So we just drove back to campus.

That evening (at least I think it was that evening) I'd promised my Mom that I would get her "authentic" Ghanaian food from Basement Plus, a small restaurant on campus.  We did indeed have an authentic experience - I was going to get her banku and okro stew, but they were out... as they were out of a lot of things.  We settled on just asking what they did have, and ended up with some fried fish and some palava sauce with yams for me.  The other part of "authentic" is that - as promised - everything was flavored with smoked fish (even the palava sauce).  Ruth, of course, had pizza.  As actually did I - the smoked fish is really starting to disagree with me, for some reason.

Monday, my parents went down into Accra for the day and Ruth and I hung out.  We'd decided to go to Madina Market - she had been playing pretend all week on the stoop at the side of the Fulbright House that we would get on the tro-tro (we would have to wait for one going our way) and then go to Makola Market. When we would get there, we would have to go "whoa!" and talk about all the different things people were selling - "look, there's a big pile of toothbrushes!" and we'd always end up buying some rice and beans while we were there.  Makola is actually a bit of a trip, so I sold her on going to Madina instead.  Our misson: coconuts to drink and some blue fabric to make a dress for Ruth's friend Sasha.

I hadn't been before, and I think I misinterpreted Melissa's instructions, because we got pretty lost.  The first time I asked someone where we might find fabric sellers, she brought me way outside the main market to what I can only assume was a friend of hers - and who was very overpriced (10 cedis/yard for mediocre fabric?  Saa?).

Fortunately, next we found a coconut seller.  One guy seemed to be a bit drunk, and also to be poking gentle fun at the obrunis, but his English was pretty sketchy.  I felt bad, but I wanted to say, "it can't be that funny because no one else is laughing, and it's lost on me since I have no idea what you're talking about."  We got a coconut with a lot of juice, and then squatted down under a tree to drink it - if you think that I probably ended up drinking most of it, you'd be very wrong, Ruth can put it away (and loves them - it's a shame it's the sort of thing you don't find back in the US).  She got a kick out of how the guy then split it open for us and hacked off a piece of shell to use as a scoop to get the meat out - she got pretty good at it!

Grimy from dust and sticky coconut juice, we soldiered on to find fabric.  And on... and on... Finally I came to a large yellow building, with a sort of courtyard inside (and strangely, much emptier than the rest of the market) where I found some fabric sellers.  I got a bolt of green to make a surprise dress for Melissa (you'll have to wait for her to upload a photo) and we did in fact find some blue for Sasha:

Then, home on the MMT bus, and a bouncy bouncy nap.  I'm pretty sure that shock absorbers are illegal in Ghana.

Back at Grammy and Grampy's flat, we made dirt cups and then had a proper nap.

(As my Mom warned me, Ruth much preferred making the dirt cups to eating them.  Weird kid.)

After the nap - what else?  Grammy and Grampy were still on their adventure in Accra, so Ruth and I got pizza from the Guest Center and watched Ratatouille (my goal when I get home is to get her to eat actual ratatouille - I even have a mandoline, so I can make it the way they do in the movie, probably).

NEXT: Not getting to hang out with Ruth!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Days 1277-1301: Grammy's Story

Guest post by my mother, Chris Levine!

Appalling was how Daniel accurately described the circumstances that kept Ed and me from a long-awaited and specially planned trip to meet Melissa and Ruth and him in at the University of Ghana in Legon and to travel to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary in the Volta Region of Ghana. in the Volta Region of Ghana.

Our three trying attempts to reach Accra and our family are here documented.

October 13 – On our way: YEA!
12:30 PM: departed Albany for Atlanta
8PM: departed Atlanta, FOR THE FIRST TIME; flew 3 ½ hours over Atlantic; returned to Atlanta due to insufficient and non-flushing toilet facilities. Supposedly, this difficulty would be corrected at 16K feet: NOT; arrangements made by Delta for all passengers to check in at various “local” hotels. However, most hotel shuttles had been discontinued by 3AM.
Anxiety: Do not want Daniel to stay behind; he worked so long on planning the adventure to the monkey preserve for his family and friends! How to contact Daniel – considering the four-hour time difference, Daniel and Mr. Lartey repeatedly awaiting us at the airport, inability to use cell phones/laptops while in air, etc., etc?

October 14 – Still not there
3AM: arrived at Marriott; wait in queue for Delta passengers to be checked in
4AM to 8AM: attempted to sleep
11AM: departed for airport and a second security check-in
2PM: departed Atlanta, FOR THE SECOND TIME - ON THE SAME AIRCRAFT; flew 2 ½ hours over Atlantic; again returned to Atlanta due to insufficient and non-flushing toilet facilities. Supposedly, this difficulty was to have been corrected early that morning – NOT! Déjà vu?
9PM: departed for Accra FOR THE THIRD TIME – ON A DIFFERENT AIRCRAFT. NOT! We sat at the gate for two hours, due to an instrument panel concern. Finally...
11:30PM: departed for Accra
Anxiety: Do not want Daniel to stay behind; he worked so long on planning the adventure to the monkey preserve for his family and friends! How to contact Daniel – considering the four-hour time difference, Daniel and Mr. Lartey repeatedly awaiting us at the airport, inability to use cell phones/laptops while in air, etc., etc?

October 15 – Exhausted and disappointed to have missed our trip to the sanctuary; irate at Delta
1PM: arrived in Accra – finally, but sadly hours after Daniel, family and friends had left for the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. We missed an adventure, yes; but, sadly to say, a young girl on our flight missed seeing her mother before her mother passed away.
Our experience going through customs at Accra's Kotoka International Airport was facilitated by Stephen – a Ghanaian passenger with whom we had become acquainted during our nightmarish flights. His driver sped us to the Guest Centre and requested that we get the best accommodations... we did: bright early morning sunshine and colorful late afternoon sunsets!
5PM: surprised by Theresa who had come to the Guest Centre at Daniel's request to ensure that we had surely arrived, were given cell phones with the urgency to call him, and to be invited to Sunday dinner at the Fulbright flat.
October 16 – Missing Daniel and Melissa and Ruth
This was a relaxing day – once we'd slept in and had breakfast. The Guest Centre was the perfect place for us to stay - it was just a quick walk across the field to the Fulbright flat; provided breakfast, and offered a restaurant. (Ruth especially liked their pizza; Ed appreciated Star beer!) We were eager to see the campus, so we toured around and chatted with students.
Later in the day, we dined with Theresa and Bill. The dinner was so delicious; the wine was so appreciated! Thanks, Theresa and Bill!

October 17Still missing Daniel and Melissa and Ruth
Although this was another relaxing day, we were eager to keep busy, anticipating a late afternoon arrival of Daniel, Melissa and Ruth, so we contacted Mr. Lartey to take up shopping at Game/Shop Rite.

October 18 – Bush Canteen
Each day had a plan, because we wanted to spend time with Ruth and to give Daniel and Melissa quality time in the three weeks Melissa was in Ghana on holiday. On this day, we all met to tour some of the expansive campus, be measured for and order dresses from Miss Gloria, then enjoy dinner at Daniel's flat. Fabulously colored fabrics had been chosen by Daniel, Melissa, and Ruth when they toured the Makola Market in Accra, prior to our arrival.

October 19Medina Market
While Daniel instructed his class, Ed, Melissa, Ruth, and I visited Medina Market... so many patterns; so many colors! Later that evening, Melissa and Daniel went on a “date,” and Ruth bunked in with us. I awoke during the night to find that Ruth had put her big toe in my belly button! When I told her, she laughed and laughed – and, of course, tried to do the same each night she stayed with us. Well, she's a fidgety sleeper, and her big toe found unusual places to land – my ear, my head. One night I awoke to find her armpit straddling my nose. How she giggled when I recounted her nightly wanderings!

October 20 First Nigerian Dinner
Today began with a pleasant breakfast with Dr. Ani, a colleague of Daniel's in the Philosophy Department. It's pleasant to meet and chat with visiting professors, parents, etc., who stay at the Guest Centre. The day was filled with dress making, watching the students at their dance/drum classes and eating plantain chips at Bush Canteen. Dinner, our first of a number at the Nigerian restaurant, was delicious: plantains, chicken, yams, salad, rice, and Star.

October 21 – Missing Melissa
Before Melissa had to leave for home, we took Ruth to the University's pool. Although the big pool was closed for cleaning, we did refresh in the shallow baby pool. Ruth would have no part of the water, but wandered around the edge, pretending she was Belle and Ariel and Rapunzel. To distract her at Melissa's departure, we all watched “Ratatouille” (for the ga-zillionth time) and pigged out on pizza.

October 22 – Dance Class
One of the reasons we were in Ghana was to give care to Ruth - once Melissa had returned home. This gave Daniel more time, while in Legon, to spend with Ruth and less time, when she was in Baltimore, to miss her. So... on many days, including this one, Ruth and I would play dress-up or “school.”
Dressing-up was easy given the number of doilies found in our hotel. These were imagined to be veils and bridal dresses and capes and gowns. The terraces were her stages or fashion runways or castle towers. Ruth's imagination knows no bounds!
Later, we walked over to the University's botanical gardens. The flora is outstanding and the landscape quiet and serene. Ruth was hesitant to return there, so Daniel and she hung out in the maze of gardens behind the Balme Library.

October 23 – La Beach
La Beach is busy beach not too far from the University. It takes a while to get there, though, as the traffic in Accra is maddening and chaotic. So many cars and too few roads. Although I must say, I did see more roads under construction in the north and west parts of the city.
Ruth loved to jump the waves, eat plantain chips, sip any flavor of Alvero, bury my feet and her mermaid doll in the sand, watch the pick-up soccer games, run after the horses roaming the beach, and generally have unbridled fun!

October 24 – “School”and Second Nigerian Dinner
Ruth loves school and missed her freinds.
So... while we were in Legon, she (the student) and I (the teacher) played “school.“

First, we would go to the “cafeteria” (aka Guest Centre restaurant) for a healthy breakfast, then return to our flat for her “backpack” (a large, plastic, Kente cloth-like sack I had purchased at the Medina Market) and await the imaginary “bus” that took her and Addie and Catherine and Isaiah to “school.”
School” was one of the outdoor tables at the Guest Centre. Each day was a different “lesson”: reading (books by Ghanaian authors that Daniel had bought her);

 writing (drawing letters in the dirt); science (finding frogs hiding under lily pads); 

fashion design (wearing the dresses of colorful fabrics Mommy and Daddy had bought her); dance (practicing her ballet/jete); film (Ratatouille again?) and cosmetology (prepping for the Halloween party).

According to the story Ruth tells...
Unfortunately, one day (imaginary) Isaiah did not listen to his (imaginary) teacher and ran across the (imaginary) street to the (imaginary) bus. He broke his leg and had to stay in the (imaginary) hospital for FIVE YEARS! Can you imagine???
School” always let out early, so that we could take “real” field trips to La Beach, the coffin makers, drumming/dance classes, and  to the University's Archeology Museum. Ruth was most impressed with the old pottery there – especially one that looked like a cupcake tin. She was also impressed with the human skeleton hanging in a glass box.  Daniel was less impressed with her "enthusiasm," hoping that she would not run into these artifacts and cause an international incident!
Later that night, Daniel joined us for a goat dinner at the Nigerian restaurant.

October 25 – In Search of License Plates
Each day, Ed would roam the campus and local communities searching for license plates. “Pay dirt” was at the junk yard behind the University's fire department! While he treasured hunted, Ruth and I would listen to the student drum classes and watch the dance classes. Today, we watched as students played xylophone made from gourds. Later we met Daniel and again visited the Archeology Museum. Ruth wanted to show him the pottery... her enthusiasm, however, made us a bit nervous.

October 26Shangri-La
AH! The Shangri-La had a wonderful, cooling pool. This day, a number of kids were assembling for swim classes. Ruth had fun chatting with the kids, sharing their toys. One little boy, Laurence, from Italy had a little boat that Ruth enjoyed. His mom bought Ruth sweet treat: chocolate gelato! She enjoyed it totally – did not want my “help” in keeping it from melting... Does this bring back rainbow sherbert and bubble gum ice cream memories, Daniel?

October 27 – Shai Hills and Cedi Bead Factory
What fun to see the baboons and the ostrich! While Daniel and Grampy and Timothy hiked off in search of the elusive antelope, Ruth and I joked that perhaps the antelope would graze by us, as we waited by the car. Unfortunately, NOT. But we did have our own fun time singing: Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope roam... Believe it or not: the US did, at one time, have roaming herds of bison, antelope, etc.
The Cedi Bead Factory, although a challenge to find, was fascinating. The explanation/demonstration of the process was short and clear and fascinating to Ruth. At Daniel's suggestion, she chose beads for herself and Mommy and her friends at the Y.

October 28 – Dad and Daniel Dine Out; Grammy and Ruth Dine In
Today was a “flop” day. Ruth attended “school,” then we met Daniel for a visit to the Archeology Museum and Bus Canteen. In the evening, Daniel and Ed went for a quiet dad-son dinner; Ruth and I ate pizza – well, I savored a piece or two. Ruth ate four slices! But, as Bill Cosby would rationalize... most food groups were represented: dairy, grain, fats, vegetables...

October 29 Adinkra Durbar and Third Nigerian Dinner
While Daniel did more work and research, we thought we'd take Ruth to a new market that Ed had noticed on campus. Luckily, we happened upon the Adinkra Durbar, as “annual traditional festival celebrated in the University of Ghana to display the rich Ghanaian cultural heritage and to install a new student chief known as the Chief Farmer for Akuafo Hall. The durbar showcases traditional African dances, costumes and culture. On display and sale at this special occasion are Ghanaian dishes, drinks, artifacts, dresses and cloths. Ruth was in royal heaven!
While we were at the festival, I bought jewelry from a local artisan, Ruth had her hair braided, Daniel relished Ruth's enthusiasm, and Ed made another license plate connection.
That evening, Ed and I had our third dinner with Theresa and Bill at the Nigerian restaurant. I had arranged for another meal of roasted goat. (Unfortunately, we were given the sad news that the restaurant was moving to a new on-campus site.) We later attended a dramatic production at the Efua Sutherland Theater, while Ruth and Daniel had fun at the [REDACTED - Ed.] Halloween Party.

October 30 – Coco Beach
We had a fun day at Coco Beach. Many kids eager to interact with Ruth. We later ate lunch overlooking the ocean and Ruth eagerly played on the hotel playground. This reminded me of the time we took Daniel and David to Québec City. They had such fun on a rocket-ship-shaped jungle gym, unheading of the fact that Québec City is a major cultural center of the French-speaking world! But, Ed and I had such fun watching them and munching on buttery croissants!

October 31 – Grampy and Grammy's Accra Adventure
This day, Daniel wanted to spend quality/quantity time with Ruth at the Medina Market. So, Ed and I tried to take a tro-tro to downtown Accra. However, despite Daniel's very thorough explanation of how to do this, after nearly an hour, we opted for a taxi. We devised our own walking tour from the lighthouse, into the heart of the city and Makola Market to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum to Independence Square to the Cultural Centre to Osu for a Chinese dinner. The day-long tour was entertaining and exhausting, but it was well worth our time and energy!

November 1 – More of the Campus
While Daniel taught, we took Ruth on an extended tour of the campus. She imagined the white-washed buildings to be castles. She was the Princess Ariel, and Grampy was Prince Eric.
At one dorm, high on a hill overlooking distant Accra, we found a box designated for clothing/book donations to a local orphanage. We later brought some of Ruth's summer clothes and oft-read books here.

November 2 – Teaching and Swimming and Dancing
While Daniel taught, we took Ruth to the University's pool. This time, the kiddy pool was closed, but we made our own kiddy pool by adding water to a foot-washing basin. Ruth had a ball! She bathed her two dolls, both named Kelly Piskelly, and squirted me with the hose. We brought a picnic lunch and danced to religious music blaring from a TV on the pool terrace. A hot walk home was cooled by a drippy/delicious ice cream from the Night Market!

November 3 – Flop Day
Daniel had to conduct interviews at Burma Camp, as we went to the Bush Canteen for a lunch of authentic Ghanian foods. Authentic food for Ruth was Alvaro – a rich blend between malt-beer and fruit. NOT to worry! It's non alcoholic, is golden in color, and comes in fruit a number of flavors-Ruth preferred passion fruit. While we ate lunch at the open-air canteen, we were amazed at the difficult/lengthy process of making banku.

November 4 – The Coffin Makers
This was the day that we had set aside to see the coffin makers, since none were open/found on Sunday when we were at Coco Beach. However, Daniel was unable to join us, as he was requested to conduct additional interviews at Burma Camp. We drove to Teshie-Nungua with Mr. Lartey and were fascinated by the making, all by hand, of the curious coffins. As the day was getting hotter, and we were getting droopy, we decided to skip another visit to La Beach and just stop for lunch at the Next Door Restaurant. Surprisingly, Daniel called. He had finished his interviews and would join us! What fun – to relax by the ocean and wade in the surf!

November 5 to Monday November 7 – Our Trip to Elmina, Ghana
Ed and I took a three-day excursion to Elmina, Ghana. Because Ghana is developing its infrastructure, we experienced a long, Saturday morning delay in traffic, due to road construction. The three-hour trip took five! However, one past the outskirts of west Accra, our bus sped along beaches and small villages and by-way vendors to Elmina. There we visited the slave castle El Mina, the fish markets, the posubans, Kakum National Park (canopy walk, tree platform, etc.) and Hans Cottage Botel (lunch and a crocodile scare!). On the return trip, we took a tro-tro, must to Daniel's disdain/surprise. It was a speedy trip – only 2 ½ hours! Along the way, to the delight (I think they were delighted, not derided) of the Ghanaian riders, we sampled various foods offered by the by-way vendors: corn cakes, plantain chips, bo froot, etc. YUMMY!

November 8 to 9– Back to the USA
Although Daniel taught this last day of our visit, we did meet him at his office and observed his class. What was touching is that as he lectured, Ruth would occasionally raise her hand, as if to say: Might you expand on that point? or I'd like to add to that comment. It was so cute! Had Daniel noticed, he said he would have called on her! I wonder what she would have said.
Daniel hung out with Ruth, napping with and reading to her, before we left for the airport. AT the airport, our nightmare of our arrival was documented: a Delta rep upgraded us to business class ad invited us to the classy Sky Lounge. Ruth loved the glitz and glamor and FOOD!
Thankfully, our return flight was uneventful. Ruth was THE BEST of travelers and stated to Melissa that, because she was such a “good listener” on this long flight, she could now go to China with Grampy. Yes!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Days 1290-1291: Secret Parties!

Friday, we recovered.  I think we ate pizza and watched Ratatouille.  But then, that's just statistically a good guess as to what we did.

Saturday was kind of a big day.  My mom had noticed that they were setting up a market on the lower campus, and so Saturday morning my folks were going to take Ruth there to look around while I caught up on some more work (if you must know, I started reading Osiel's Obeying Orders).

Then I got a call from my Dad telling me I needed to come down to it, as there was a huge celebration going on.  I heard Ruth say, "I saw a king!"  So I rushed down.

The first thing I noticed was that it appeared to be a major royal event sponsored by MTN.  And people say that tradition and modernity can't mix.  Pfft.  That tent you see on the left of the photo was signing people up for MTN mobile service through the whole thing.

It took a bit to figure out what was going on.  I'd missed out on the big parade when most of the VIPs came in, but fortunately, chiefs kept arriving (often interrupting the announcer, who was trying to keep things moving forward with random chiefs who couldn't be bothered to show up on time barging through and needing some pomp and circumstance).

Anyway, like I said, it was all very impressive - "I saw a princess! With a silver tiara (more of a headwrap with silver threading - Ed.)!" "I saw a queen, and you know what?  She threw candy at me!" "That man with the golden staff must be the king." "No, sweetie, I think he's the linguist, sort of like the king's herald." "No, I think he's the king." - but it was a bit hard to figure out what it was all about.  Part of it was language barrier, and part of it was that everyone around seemed to think of it as common knowledge - we'd ask, and they'd be like, "oh, it's just the [word I don't know]."

As near as we could figure out, it was part of a celebration of the founding of Akuafo Hall - "The people in green are the ladies in waiting!" "Sure - they're wearing green though because that's fabric for the residence hall they live in." - which was given a large grant back in the day from the cocoa farmers' associations.  So we think this was the durbar (gathering/procession of chiefs) to celebrate that and elect the "Farmer King" and "Queen Mother" of the hall.

Anyway, it was fun to watch!  And made up a little for the fact that, due to a date change, the Sunday Adae festival in Kumasi, where the Asantehene (King) meets with his subjects was the same weekend that we were in Tafi.  But this way at least Ruth got to see a king with a golden crown.  And for the rest of the week she kept wrapping herself up in sheets with one shoulder bare, emulating the way the "princesses" wore their robes.

After that, we did in fact go over to the market, where Ruth had a ball getting her hair braided, and my dad talked highlife with the guy who owned the beauty school whose pavillion we were in.

That night, my folks went out for Nigerian food with the Fulbrights across the hall (Bill and Theresa), and Ruth and I went to a SUPER SECRET HALLOWEEN PARTY.  I'd been invited to bring her to it on the condition that I not share too many details (especially in advance).  And my mom had brought with her some fairy wings and a fairy tutu, so Ruth even had a costume to wear.

I felt a little bit bad for her.  As I'm not an employee of REDACTED and everyone else there was, talking to the adults was fine and people were friendly but it was clear that they knew each other well and were more being polite to me (can't fault them for that!).  So a bit awkward, so I can deal.  But most of the kids were kids of the employees, and so clearly knew each other well.  Ruth spent a lot of time running up to everyone, explaining that she was a fairy, and asking, "what are you supposed to be?"  Some of the older kids kind of snubbed her, but mostly they were like the adults - polite, but she wasn't part of their group.

Still, she seemed to mostly have fun, so I'm probably projecting awkwardness that a 3 year old doesn't really feel the same way.

They had pinatas (separated by age), but Ruth balked when it came time to hit hers and just watched/grabbed candy when it was broken.

One of the cool things, though, was that they had a "trunk or treat," which I'd never heard of.  What it ended up being was that, in the parking lot, a bunch of folks had decorated the trunks of their cars - pretty elaborately! - and the kids went from trunk to trunk getting candy.  People really went all out - costumes, light shows, smoke machines, etc. and Ruth seemed to think it was all pretty cool.  She especially liked the 70s-themed one.

After trunk-or-treating (and eating some of the candy), we waited in line for the "non-scary" (lights on) run through the haunted house.  Kudos to the work put in by the folks who did it, but even the "non-scary" run was pretty scary for the little ones.  Ruth was the youngest to brave it (Melissa!  She really wanted to go, and they said non-scary!) but all of the kids on my run flipped out a little at the "scary doctor."  They had not turned the lights on in his room, and it was frankly pretty creepy - a patient tied down spreadeagled and moaning/writhing on a medical cot, the "doctor" with a bloodstained lab coat and glow-in-the-dark butcher knife, etc.  Ruth needed to be carried the rest of the way (and reassured that we were leaving as quickly as we could) and one of the other girls (about 7 or 8) who had gone in without her parents held my hand the rest of the way, too.

Afterwards, I was more or less able to convince Ruth that the scary doctor was really a nice man who was only pretending to be scary, and we called George and went home.  Poor George - by now, Ruth had warmed up to him, and monologued to him about the party the whole way home (especially about how the scary doctor was just pretend), but I think George didn't quite understand that she was trying to talk to him instead of talking to me.

Plus, you know, scary doctor, but she thought the scary clown was hilarious.

Day 1289 - Kpong and Odumase-Krobo

Pronounced like this.

After Shai Hills, we pressed on north toward Kpong.  I'd read about a traditional bead factory, Cedi Beads, up near there.  Again, we had some trouble finding it.  We took the road north from there, and it looked on my map as if we needed to hang a left at the Somanya junction and head up through Odumase-Krobo (spoiler: I was right).  But the Somanya road looked a little rough, so George hopped out to ask directions, and we were sent back up the main road.  I shrugged - the maps in the guide have been wrong before (especially in Congo!).

Where we ended up was at the "annex," which was nice but just a place to buy beads, not where we could see them made.  Fortunately, the man running the annex was able to give us better directions to the factory itself - we had to loop up through Kpong and then back through Odumase-Krobo, which is where the factory was - back to where we would have come up from the south had we taken the Somanya road. He also gave us a number so that we could call ahead and ask Cedi himself if it was OK for us to come and look around.

Odumase-Krobo itself was a bit of a trip.  The entire place was like one big market that ran for miles, and going was slow.  There was a sort of astroturf street party at one point with shirtless guys dancing on a flatbed and handing out free samples of some sort of new bitters (didn't catch the brand, sorry).  And every chop bar was blasting window-rattling music.

Ruth slept the whole way.

We did eventually find the factory, down a side road that we again worried would rip out George's undercarriage.

When we got there, Cedi apologized that it wasn't really in full swing.  As it turns out, this was related to the craziness in Odumase-Krobo.  We had unknowingly arrived at the beginning of the Nymayem festival, originally a millet-planting (I think planting) festival, where people would travel up to the ancestral home of the Krobo people, mount Krobo, and otherwise party for a week (we were sorry to have missed it, but it may have been just as well!  Chieftancy disputes are no joke here, folks.)

Despite everyone else at the factory being off at the festival (and us feeling a little guilty, but he assured us that he was there anyway), and hence the kilns not running, Cedi was happy to show us around and walk us through some of the beadmaking.  It was actually quite fascinating - the Krobo are one of the originators of the tradition of bead-making in Ghana, and widely considered the best (the archaeological museum here on campus has a ton of displays on Krobo beadmaking).  At Cedi's, they do a few kinds - the cheapest and simplest ones are ones made by breaking up and fusing glass bottles (beer bottles for green, Coke bottles for a sort of faintly blue-white, etc.).  Everything else requires the work-safety-defying process of grinding up glass (usually clear bottles, like from soda) into powder in a mortar and pestle and then adding pigments.  They use the powder both to create straightforward beads in colors you can't find bottles in (e.g., red) and to make more complicated ones that involve painting designs on the outside with a slurry of glass dust and water (then re-firing) or building a pattern up from glass dust (Cedi made it look easy, but oh my).  They also reclaim broken ancient beads by putting the shards into a form and re-firing them, fusing them into multicolored ones.

I was listening in interest (and wrangling Ruth, who was fascinated), so I only got the one photo of the demo work table, after he was done:

The kilns themselves are traditionally made from the clay from termite mounds - apparently the termites secrete a saliva that makes it more heat resistant.  But, in the olden days, they would still only last a few months of heavy use before the bottoms and sides where the heat was most intense would start to break down.  So the new thing is to use car parts to strengthen them - the floors of most of the kilns were made from leaf springs (my dad has photos).

And, of course, we bought some beads - I got a strand of small purple ones and black and yellow painted ones for Melissa (and a surprise for Channukha, of course).  Ruth got some yellow ones for herself (and a larger star-shaped one), and we got a bunch of beads for Ruth's class (I hope - Melissa is checking with the teachers) to string into bracelets.

Then, everyone was exhausted, so we came home.  I did not make George stop the car so I could try grasscutter at the place advertising it.

Day 1289 - Babooooooooons

On Thursday, we got Mr. George to come pick us up pretty early so that we could do an ambitious two-part (we'd thought maybe three-part, but that turned out to be too much) trip up north of Accra into the hills.

First stop, Shai Hills Reserve!  We almost missed it.  George is a great guy, but his English is the weakest of Mr. Lartey's crew.  So, when my mom and I spotted a gate at what we thought was the right junction and pointed it out, he said, "no, we are not there yet."  We thought that he meant that he knew where we were going, and that we hadn't yet reached it.  As the gate had looked pretty deserted, and I knew there was another northern gate, I figured we had to go up to Sayu Camp to get in.  But it turns out that he had thought we were asking whether we were there yet, and it was only after the third time that I asked him, "are you sure?" and pointed out where I thought we were on my map, that we figured out the confusion, with him saying, "if you saw the gate, why did you not say something?"

Anyway, no harm done and we got back to the gate ahead of the massive (three tour buses full, massive) student tour group there from Volta.  We hired a nice guy named Timothy as our guide and went out looking for animals.

We were not disappointed!  About 500m into the reserve itself, we came across the troop of olive baboons that were reputed to hang out near the entrance, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Mission accomplished.  Dad has provided dancing and two kinds of monkeys.

Here's a snap of the first one we saw:

We didn't want Ruth to go too close - she was excited after her close encounter with monkeys at Tafi Atome! - because these baboons aren't really properly habituated to humans.  As I told her, "baboons can be grumpy."  But Timothy ended up taking some crackers from my mom and feeding one of them, and they seemed pretty curious about us.  We watched them kind of mill around, and jump through the trees for a while.  Ruth was pretty excited about the baby that was clinging to her mother's fur as they hopped around.  To be fair, it was pretty cute!  I didn't get a good photo of that, but here two more (one with my folks):

After the baboons, we doubled back to see some ostriches.

The ostrich sighting wasn't really a wild game sighting, as the ostriches are refugees from a zoo (I think they said the Kumasi zoo) and still in a large fenced-in area. They're apparently going to be allowed to run wild once they get better acclimated to their new surroundings.  But Ruth still thought they were cool, even if the best snap I got of one was right as it decided to stop looking impressive and start digging for bugs in its feathers.

After the ostriches, the plan was to head up to the Sayu Camp gate to drive toward where there's a bat cave (about 5k from the gate) that was once used as a palace for the chief of the Shai people, before an unfortunate misunderstanding with the British colonizers (the Shai were under the misunderstanding that just because they'd been there hundreds of years before the Brits and were mostly minding their own business, they had any rights).

The guide had said that most of the roads in Shai Hills were accessible only by 4x4, but Timothy seemed game, and he was the guide, so...

After having to push poor George's car out of the mud twice, and then changing to a different road with five-foot high grass growing in the median and rocks that a few times sounded like they were about to tear out the undercarriage (and with Ruth getting a bit tired and hot and grumpy)

we decided that we'd rather have an intact car than a visit to the bat cave.  So Ruth and my mom stayed in the car with George and most of the water, and Timothy took my dad and I out looking for antelope.

Along the way, I just appreciated the beauty of the area.  Shai Hills is an area of coastal savanna, broken up by large (mostly granite) inselbergs.  I hope you think inselbergs are as awesome as I do, because here are a few pictures of them:

We heard there were impressively large rock python in the area, but we didn't come across any.  We did in fact see some antelope!  But the thing about antelope is that they're prey animals, and so evolution (darn you evolution!) has given them very good eyesight.  By the time we were close enough (about 100 miles, by my estimate) to sort of kind of make them out, they had counted our nosehairs and were convinced we were a threat.  Every time we would even move, the herd would bolt a bit further - at that distance, it was actually pretty uncanny.

(my homeopathic antelope picture)

After seeing the antelope, we went back to the car and then on for lunch, where my parents finally tried banku (and at least my dad liked it).  Then, on to Kpong!

Days 1284-1288: We Did a Lot. What Did we Do?

As I'm trying to reconstruct the past couple of weeks for all you loyal readers, I'm realizing that I should have taken notes!  My Mom is smart.

Don't worry, though, the big trip days I have photos and etc. with date stamps.

The Saturday after Melissa left, my parents wanted to check out the Legon Botanical Gardens, which are a bit unkempt but really quite lovely.  We stopped at the bookstore on the way, which actually has a pretty solid selection of children's books. In the past, I've brought one home for Ruth each time I've been in Ghana - my only disappointment was that on my last two trips they'd had a significant number of children's books in local languages, especially Twi, but not any more.  We sat on the steps outside this time and read Chidi Only Likes Blue.

Unsurprisingly, when we got a bit further, Ruth didn't want to walk all the way to the gardens - my folks had brought a stroller with them, which made it easier for them to walk with Ruth, but also made Ruth a bit of a diva about walking when we didn't have it with us.  So she and I went and played on the lawn behind the Balme Library while my folks explored the gardens a bit, and then we all had some lunch.

Sunday, Ruth and my parents went to La Beach and hung out while I caught up on some work. I missed out!  Apparently they had a grand time and ate lots of plantain chips, but I'll have to let my parents tell that one.

Monday and Tuesday it rained, so they ended up being flop days.  We had initially planned to go to Shai Hills on Tuesday, because the military had re-scheduled my teaching day that day at the last minute, but because the rain, we put it off until Thursday (and the next entry).  Wednesday my folks took Ruth back to the Shangri-La while I taught.

One of those days we went back to the Nigerian restaurant - Monday?  My mom had bonded with the woman who owned it and did the cooking, and had gone over to request goat.  Most of the time when you get goat here in Ghana it's in soup - and much as I like goat, it's honestly not my favorite way to have it.  But this was roasted to perfection.

OK, that's the boring stuff for completeness' sake.  Next up, animals!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More Monkeys!

If you would like to see a fine compilation video of our time at Tafi Atome, Tafi Abuife, and the Biakpa Mountain Paradise, all scored to classic classical music by my fine grad student Richmond Kwesi, your wishes have been answered!

Days 1279 - 1283: Grammy and Grampy Arrive! Melissa leaves!

Folks, I'll be honest.  The almost-week that all of my parents, Ruth, and Melissa were in town was a little bit of a blur.  I was focused on hanging out with everyone, and Melissa and I were spending some much-needed and little-gotten time together, so things may be short on the details here, and will definitely be short on the pictures.

I know my Mom takes notes on what she does on vacation, and my Dad is much more of a shutterbug, so I will ask them to write a guest post on the time they spent here from their perspective when they are settled in at home.

With that out of the way...

Monday night I took my parents - and, finally, Melissa - to the Nigerian restaurant on campus.  The Nigerian restaurant is, hands-down, my favorite place to eat.  We got a feast of yams, boiled plantains, chicken, rice, bitter greens with egussi, and spicy tomato sauce - and while they didn't have fan-favorite Alvaro for Ruth (I'm serious, the kid is going to go through Alvaro withdrawal when she gets home), they had a reasonable facsimile.  For my parents, who had been eating at the Guest Center while we were away, it was finally some good African food.

Tuesday and Wednesday were teaching days for me.  Tuesday morning, the sister of one of the folks who works at the Guest Center came by to measure everybody for some clothes (which turned out to be a disaster, but more on that later).  And, during the day, Ruth picked up her bird dress from Miss Gloria down at Bush Canteen - it would be several days before she would consent to taking it off.

 Wednesday I got out a bit early (canceled meeting, yay!) and Melissa and I took a "date night" into Accra while Ruth stayed over at Grammy and Grampy's flat in the Guest Center.  We stopped in at The Loom art gallery and browsed - mostly contemporary art by Ghanaian artists, and we ended up going home with two pieces.  Then, since it was still early, we headed over to the White Bell, which had been - accurately - recommended by the guide as a good place for a beer in Adabraka. So we hung out, chatted about light topics like the fate of the state of Maryland's IMD waiver, and had a few Stars in the open-walled second-storey bar.  It was late afternoon, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which was nice, actually.

I then had the bright idea that we would walk down past Makola Market and out along 25 January Road (past the Nkrumah Mausoleum) to dinner. This was, in theory, a good plan.  But then I left our paintings at the ATM - fortunately, they were still there after we doubled back, but by then it was very dark and neither of us were really in the mood for another click of walking, so we hailed a cab.

We had dinner at the restaurant at the place I stayed the first time I was in Ghana, the Afia African Village.  Though their nice little gallery - composed of pieces the owners have picked up on travels through West Africa was already closed - the restaurant was still as good as I'd remembered it being (maybe not quite as good as the food at the Mountain Paradise, though!).  And it was nice to sit in the open air and listen to the surf.

Then back to the flat, but this is a family blog.

Anyway, Thursday... what the heck did we do Thursday?  I know we went back - at my Mom's insistence - to the Nigerian place, and had another lovely meal.

Friday we met up with the seamstress who had come to measure us... and it didn't go that well.  Ruth loved the two dresses she made for her, and they were in fact great.  Well, I'd picked out the green material as a surprise, since earlier in the week Ruth had seen a woman walking with a green and black dress and said, "ooooh!  Her dress is so pretty!  I want a green and black dress like that." It didn't hold a candle to the pink one made from fabric Ruth had chosen at Makola.  These photos aren't from that day, but show off the two of them:

But she charged us twice what Miss Gloria did, made me a shirt out of the fabric for Melissa's dress, made Melissa a dress (that didn't fit right) out of the fabric for my shirt, and claimed that there were no fabric remnants (we were going to make a couple skirts for Ruth) - despite the suspicious presence of bolts of fabric pieced together from remnants (not ours) for sale among the cloth she'd brought the first time.  When we made motions towards perhaps that we were unsatisfied, she was very sorry but didn't offer to, say, refund our money or fix anything.  So, when in Legon - go to Miss Gloria at Culture Touch!

And, unfortunately, Friday it was time for Melissa to head home.  I was glad she was going to have a chance to rest, but of course sorry to see her go for what would be two months.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 1301: Basically My Favorite Conversation Ever

RUTH: Daddy, I need to tell you about something.
ME: OK, what?
RUTH: Come sit over here.  [Pats the ground in front of the gate to the Fulbright House, and we sit]  Do you know about this place? DREAMLAND! [Her eyes go wide and she spreads her hands in front of her dramatically]  It's the place where you can see anything you want to.
ME: What do you see there?
RUTH: I see... DORA!  No.  I have a little one, she doesn't understand Dora yet.
ME: What should I dream about?
RUTH: You should dream about... coming home to see me at Christmastime!
RUTH: And Channukha.

Apparently, she'd earlier had a conversation with my Dad, where she told him that she saw Mommy in Dreamland (she's been here, without Melissa, for about 2 1/2 weeks for those not following along at home).  And then she told him that he could dream about Great-Grammy (who died last year - she's been asking/talking about death a lot... it's been that kind of year).

I promise, I will fill you in on other stuff that's been happening here in Ghana soon.  She left with my parents about 2 hours ago, so I'll have nothing but time for a while.