Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Last Leg

Its definitely been too long since I have had a chance to blog - sorry for the temporary hiatus.

Up north in Damango went extremely well. Our group spent 10 days working with the Redemption Childrens Home - an orphanage of 50 children under the age of 18, but mostly under the age of 13 - helping with the daily labor that is of paramount importance in maintaining the orphanage. Personally, my tasks included changing diapers and hanging out with the babies, giving the Aunties a much needed rest. We also helped with painting the outer orphanage walls, which took a few days. The northern regions of Ghana are very hot and sunny, and they lack the refreshing breezes of Accra and Winniba. While we were in Damongo, the group also took a trip to Mole National Park to see the antelope, elephants, and baboons. The natural, essentially untouched landscape is very beautiful and lush, especially in this rainy season.

While we were in the north, I also got my first taste on the work (or lack thereof) NGO's in the region are doing. There is a great need for clean, filtered water - water-born illnesses are endemic in this area. It was frustrating to see the various failed projects that organizations such as International Aid and the Rotary Club had implemented. It seems that these groups lack a cultural sensitivity of truly understanding the villagers needs and desires, and, accordingly, their projects are anything but sustainable. It was very frustrating to come up against the wall of idealistic faith in philanthropy and the brutal reality of western "charity."

On our last day up north, before the flight home, our group ran into good ol' Uma Mishra, one of the co-directors of the GVSU Nsu Clean Water Project. After much deliberation, Uma and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to further my knowledge of NGO's and sustainable philanthropic work by spending the remainder of my Ghanaian journey working directly with her. Hence, I forfeited my ticket back to Accra with the other GVSU students in favor of a 12 hour city bus ride through the Ghanaian mountains and jungles. It was absolutely incredible to see the vastness of the land here; it truly is a beautiful place, despite the city poverty and other forms of injustice. After a long day of driving and talking and hashing out some ideas together, we made it back safely to Accra to stay with a new friend in the military barracks in the big city.

Since arriving back in Winneba, Uma and I have been going to plenty of meetings and it never ceases to amazing me how easly she has made some very powerful contacts in Ghana. We spent one afternoon at the Ghanaian Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) trying to get a bit of financial support for the water filter project. We have also been busily working in the village of Atekyedo (ott-ey-chair-drrro), the communuity that will be recieving the filters in the next few weeks. We have also gone to meetings to form connections between universities and the GAEC to help establish a location where university students can actually research their theses in a lab envirionment, a luxery American students take for granted. So much work still needs to be done, and I only have a little time left to see as much as I can see. So much good work is begin done by the GVSU team and the contacts they have established with NGOs in Ghana, as well as Ghanaian organizations themselves, it is a honor to be a part of this process and I am excited to get home and create something with all that I have seen and done here.

Tomorrow we are all leaving for a weekend in Cape Coast, a huge tourist area with historic slave trade castles and canopy walkways. It will be a nice break from working, but I would also like to spend my last weekend with the family we live with in Winneba. It will be an expensive, final pleasure trip, but well worth the two hour tro-tro bus ride. As for leaving soon, I am going to miss all the friends I have made here dearly. I would definitely like to come back and see how things have progressed and changed here in the next few years - the soccer wins, oil discoveries, and growing economy are surely going to shape this place in ways I'm not sure I'm even ready to envision.

More later,


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Go Black Stars!

Today we welcomed to the group Leena and Beth! They got in very late last night from London (they had an interesting stop in Liberia) so we all had breakfast together and went over the plans for the next few days. After the small omelet, nescafe coffee (the cook just naturally brings Janaan and I two cups worth at this point - we pay), and the softest, thickest bread ever, we all figured out some important things. First things first: breaking down our large bills. It has been a form of torture to get our 50 GHC bills into singles, its not like you can walk up and exchange here, no one has enough to break you down. This has been the biggest difficulty. It would be similar to asking a stranger on the street to break 1000 USD for you... good luck. Our Ghanaian friend Kennedy stopped by and took those most in need to a bank (which can be a 4 hour ordeal) to handle this issue. Thankfully, I have been paying close attention to this problem and have enough small bills to get me through our trip up north to Damango and Tamale (dah-mahn-goh and tah-meh-leh). Most things only cost 1 or 2 GHC (Ghanaian currency, called Ghanaian cedi's), so this is important. Our second issue was packing - everyone should try and disperse weight because we are changed .30 GHC (called peswas when it is less than 1 GHC, like cents in USD) for every pound over our allotted 44. I think I am all set, but you never know.

After breakfast and the trips people had made to the bank or local ATM's, most of us set out for the "market." Which actually means that we set out for the vendors. They are actually called "hawkers" here, I don't know if that translates as some sort of predator, but it definitely feels like that. In any case, I am much more as ease with them now and have no qualms telling them I am not interested in buying anything, but I would like to talk to them a little bit. Everyone is so nice! This, in the USA, may seem naive to talk to strangers, but this is just how Ghanaian culture is here. Its actually very fun to hear where they are from and how they are enjoying the futbol games and such. They always ask who is teaching me the phrases, its funny. They love that I know what Obrunie means (white person). I only bought a few small things today, nothing big (because I don't want to add any more weight to my bag then necessary, but also because I can't afford it). I did walk to get the most delicious frozen juice they have here, its a better version of Tang, its called Tampico. Amazing! I also bought some bananas to eat in the morning because we heading to the airport at 4am, no time for a big great breakfast.

After a nice slow day yesterday, I am feeling caught up to speed with the culture and the language barriers. I am actually picking up a lot of small phrases very quickly now and should be able to hold a brief conversation in a few weeks! Its very exciting because I was learning so slow at first. I am also looking forward to heading up north to see the orphanage that Abraham is running. After seeing how loving the children are, how trusting, I can't wait to get one-on-one time with them. Occasionally, they will just run up and hold my hand and kiss me and touch my hair. I love them! I just want to love them and hold them. While up north, we are also going to the Mole (moh-ley) National Park to see the elephants and monkeys, this should be fun. So, in a sense, we are mixing both business and pleasure - even though to me, the business is pleasure.

I still haven't had any meat yet! This may change soon - we are very limited to whatever the cooks have up north, and I definitely do not want to offend anyone. We will see how this turns out... I am also hoping to have some traditional dresses made for me up north so I can start dressing a little more Ghanaian! I have already begun to wrap my hair... I love it. Things are going really well and I know they are just going to get better once we are out of the high-paced city. Anyway, off to go shower up and get as much sleep as I can before another busy travel day. I'll blog if I can, otherwise you will hear from me in 10 days!

Majo (mah-joe, good evening),

Aco Meredith

p.s. Don't forget to cheer on the Ghanaian Black Stars this Friday, you can count on me watching the game! I don't think one single Ghanain will be missing it!

Monday, June 28, 2010


Where to begin? The past few days since my last blog so much has happened!

Saturday morning the group got up early and we planned to travel to Winneba for a birthday party for Annie (a GVSU student who has been here since May) and Fred, the Ghanaian that Annie is living with during her stay. We had supplies to bring to Winniba, so we had our overnight bags and several boxes that we planned to bring. We were told that it takes some time to find a city bus that will take us, so we left around 12pm from the hotel. We needed two taxis, so Kaylee and I nabbed one while Janaan, Christine, and Eric traveled in another. Since there are several different bus stations, our taxi driver was clearly confused and took Kaylee and I to the wrong place. We had no way of contacting the others, so we held tight to our belongings and waited it out. The workers at the station kept trying to convince us that we should get on the bus to Cape Coast (far from Winniba) and to help us with our bags. That is a constant theme here, many people want to help you with your luggage, in hopes for a tip. Debi means no, so we have learned very quickly to refuse. Anyway, our group thankfully figured out what happened to us and came within 20 minutes to our rescue. We all got back in the taxi and went to the Acrra junction/market area to learn about the busing system in Ghana.

Now, in the USA there is an actual station with schedules and tickets and lines. Here, nothing but a mass of people and vendors and garbage and yelling. There are buses, taxis, and tro-tro's - which are simlar to large vans, that decide on a desdination by demand. Since there are no schedules, you basically wait until the bus or tro-tro becomes full, beyond capacity, to being the organized chaos of driving here. We waited for the longest hour of my life for a bus, so we decided to take a tro-tro. Because this area is in the same region as the market, there are vendors everywhere. Touching you, trying to sell to you, hissing at you (how they get your attention here), hollering OBRUNIE! (which means white man) at you. You have to be constantly on guard. There are thousands of people and little vending shakes. It smells, its beyond hectic, and its nerve-racking trying to keep track of everyone and everything. Although our tro-tro wreaked of sweat, was on the verge of breakdown, it was a wonderful break from the chaos of the market. That was the first and only time this trip that I was legitimately scared.

After over an hour of traveling through and outside the city, we welcomed the clean air of the countryside. We saw poor villages with thatched-roof huts and farms, massive termite mounts, rivers, rolling hills, etc. However, this beautiful landscape was at one time all forest that has been harvested and essentially eliminated.

Winniba is a smaller city, with mostly shacks and small shops. Even though it is relatively large in comparison with most communities in Ghana, it has a refreshingly slow pace and the people are very hospitable and welcoming. We met the rest of our GVSU companions there (it was so great to reconnect with Uma and meet the infamous Annie!) and Fred took us out for some chicken and rice (I skipped the chicken). He gave us an orientation and filled us in on the culture a bit, even though Accra has ingrained much of this knowledge already, it was helpful.

Around 6 we went to a local bar/club to watch the futbol match. I have never seen fans like this in my entire life! It was crazy! We all cheered for Ghana against the USA - it was a lot of fun. It was complete pandemonium, nothing I have ever seen - screaming, sprinting, crying, dancing, and cheering - by all the Ghanaians. I don't think a single person missed that game here. It's nice because it gives us something to talk about with all the locals. They love that we are rooting on their team. The country pride is outstanding.

We are still slowly learning the phrases here. It's taking me longer than expected, but I am picking it up slowly. By the end of our time, I should be able to hold a small conversation with people in Tle, pronounced tree, which is the language nationally shared. There are over 46 tribes in Ghana, so one way they can tell where someone came from is through their accent - local dialects leave a little accent on each Ghanaian, much like we can tell where an American is from in the south or north. I have also seen some tribal scarring to indicate one's origin.

I should also mention my working list of things one should expect in Ghana:
1. chaotic driving, traveling, and walking
2. ridiculously loud music
3. incessant honking, for no reason. You honk if your cab is full, empty, to clear the road, etc.
4. drinking water from bags
5. chickens, goats, and dogs randomly roaming the streets
6. cold showers
7. public urination - any place, any time - there is no shame
8. hissing - there is only one way to get an obrunie's attention - hiss at him/her.
9. curious, curious people! Everyone wants to know where you are from, where you are going, how are you getting there, when you will be back - its not to be intrusive - everyone is beyond hospitable here.
10. sleep where you can - we have so far only slept on the bare floor once, but we are open to the possibility to have it happen more often soon.

Overall, it is hot (but not unbearable) and we are all bracing for bowel issues, emotional breakdowns, arguments, stress, and trying to have group solidarity. It is very hard to let go of the western notion of schedules and regimens. We are working towards group strength to deal with the level of poverty and struggle witnessed everywhere. This, understandable, is a slow process, but I have faith that we are all going to gain so much from this trip. We have so much to absorb from the culture and from eachother, it is going to be a hellofa ride! I will blog more tomorrow about the things I forgot to mention today - let me know what you want to know and I will respond!

Love from across the world,


Friday, June 25, 2010



There aer some details worth mentioning that I did not get a change to mention last blog post. 1) I already have gotten local water in my mouth and am waiting for the bowel disaster to strike. 2) it was a torrential downpour this morning, but is already warming up. 2) the evangelizing churches are everywhere, and if we arn't listening to mainstream, western music on portable radios, we can hear tele-pastors laying doctrine on thick. 3) I have now become FB friends with the internet cafe` owners and they gave me a new name (names go by what day of the week you were born on here) which is Afue Meredith (we decided Wednesday was a good choice). 4) the showers are nice and cold and I have been turning off the water in between soaping up and washing off... some of you out there wouldn't make it I'm thinking. 4) there is sewage all over the streets and there is garbage too, anyone complaining about city taxes would become silent very quickly. 5) phone cards are expensive and I think this will be how I plan to mass-communicate from now on (with the exception of two things, writing Tony and responding to personal emails).

The group went to visit the university here today, it was a 40 minute cab ride for Janaan to discuss the potential study abroad program with a professor here, so I opted to stay and have the morning to myself to relax/reflect. Eric and I are sharing a room, I think he's a little surprised at how long women can spend doing things in the bathroom. It's funny how differently women and men pack, live, wind down, etc.. differently. Anyway, it will be only a temporary situation until we leave for Damango on Tuesday. That's when true "roughing it" begins.

The food does contain a lot of meat. I have already realized that I will probably have to eat some at some point, either out of courtesy or mistake. Otherwise, I will have the choice of rice or fruit. It's possible I won't have any teeth when I come back if I don't start to adapt to these western mimics. Think of McDonalds with talapia in the buffet line instead of chicken fingers. Interesting...

The world cup festivities are still happening despite the Ganaian loss. Black Star flags are everywhere and there are public spaces dedicated to watching the games. Its fun! I am also noticing the poverty more and more. It seems that the majority of the improverished are merely squatters on closed lots. Clothes are just hanging out to dry wherever, and the homeless are just sleeping wherever they can catch some shade. On the other hand, those with some money (none compared to U.S. standards, however) live decently and there is quite a disparity. It is very easy to tell who is squatting/homeless and who is not. Another thing we have notices is that the schoolgirls, even the young women, all have short hair. I knew this was not due to a stylistic decision, but am thinking it is either because of lice or for easier care. All the women have beautiful braids and long hair and are, generally speaking, well dressed. No shorts, rarely pants, but nothing much higher than the knee. Cleavage is a different story.

Anyway, I am thinking I should have brought some philosophy with me. Anything to help with the struggle to understand how capitalism has resulted in the inequality of nations (such as Ghana and the U.S.), whether or not they participate in the economic system itself or not (which they do). I am also wondering about he destruction of indigenous cultures and why the people here have attempted to be as westernized s possible. I think this may also be related to participating in capitalism. In any case, my reflections are quite different than the rest of the group so far. They are all quite up to speed on Ghanaian culture as a whole (typical Honors College students!), but are more surprised by issues that I was also aware of before arrival (such as housing conditions, swarming evangelists, etc). Anyway, we are going to head to the market this afternoon and see what we can find! More later,


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Alive and Well!

We made it! We survived near-death turbulence and crazy airport hurdles and sprints, but we are here, it is hot, and we are absolutely exhausted. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, I am the only one of the group who got even a decent night's sleep on the plane (I didn't have anyone sitting next to me so I curled up into a ball and tuned out the crying babies and 8 foot man with his knees in my chair), which was about 6 hours. We are all running on empty. Onto the details...

The poverty here is more severe than I had anticipated, especially for a metropolitan capital. In terms of the American standard of living, we are living in a rustic hostel that goes for about $15 USD a night. It would be intolerable in the states to pay for these conditions, but I am absolutely loving it. How better than to understand wealth inequality and cultural differences and social norms than to be right in the thick of it. Today, we arrived at about 8am and had a good, full breakfast with ample supply of Nescafe coffee (the one part of Europe I missed most) and came to the hostel. First observation is the dirt roads and crazy city driving (even compared with NYC or Chi). Everyone is everywhere. We settled in and the group and I are exploring. We found water and internet cheap (.50 USD per 30 minutes for internet), so its very affordable. We also wandered over to the kindergarten school and the children were so playful and loved to touch my hair and have us take pictures, I think they loved the pictures most. I wish we could post those, maybe later on. We have a full schedule, but we are going to try and get back to the children ASAP. It is hot, it is rainy, it is very lush, and it is very exciting to be here! More tomorrow or when I get the next chance. Miss you all, hope everything is going well,


Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting Started/Finishing Up

Phew - OK, after finishing up classes, finding a new apartment and closing up an old one, preparing for this new adventure - I think I am almost ready to embark on this Ghanaian journey! I am only nervous about... well, nothing. Maybe I have some slight concerns about the 86 degree weather we are flying into Wednesday, only because my pack currently weights just under 50 lbs. That's some laborious travel. Anyway, I better get back to packing up some last minute things, hopefully I don't forget my passport!

over and out,