This is my first Blog entry. The first of many more to come. I will probably babble on every week about this and that. Things about Ghana, things about America, things about everything. So you are all welcome to come and read anytime. I hope you enjoy it. And maybe get a little more insight into a Peace Corps volunteer’s experience.
West Africa Trip -------------
I finally just got back from my trip around West Africa last week, Tuesday. We managed to do all that we said we would. Almost… I hope some of you managed to look at a map to see the countries I was visiting. Believe me, I didn’t even know where Ghana was until I got my Peace Corps assignment package, so I understand. Below is a link to a web site of a West African map, so you can see where I traveled (if you’re interested).
Of the whole trip, definitely favorite country was... NIGER! Hands down. Such a different place than Ghana. WE saw such a different type of Africa. It was truly refreshing and made us all more appreciative of this huge diverse continent. All of us had been in Ghana for 20+months, and I think we were getting a bit bored of it all. This trip and seeing the amazing diversity in culture and people and way of living, showed us that there truly is so much more to see in Africa. We had surely not seen it all by living in Ghana for 2 years. Ghana is just one small part and culture of Africa. Yes, there are similarities between African countries I think, but there is a lot more difference I think. Which means there is sooooooo much more to see. It probably will take a lifetime.
Here's some highlights and exciting moments of the trip (not all necessarily fun at the time):
Seeing a baby elephant loose on the streets of Ouagadougou and it trying to be captured by 5 **Burkina men (very strange site)
**Trying to inhale the dust filled air when we first arrive in Burkina Faso
**New Year’s Eve with Peace Corps Burkina Volunteers, disco party and beer pong
**Seeing the “last wild herd of giraffes in west Africa” outside Niamey in the bush.
**Seeing Niger –It’s villages seem so ancient, so Africa!
**Driving through a strong Harmattan windstorm at night getting to Agadez. Trying to breathe as the air became so thick with dust our clothes and our bags were covered an inch thick and even our mouths would get sand in it if we breathed without a scarf. And I thought Burkina was bad???
**Wearing turbans and riding camels in the desert
**Wearing turbans for a week in Agadez (I even have a style now)
**Attending a Tuareg wedding ceremony outside Agadez (Tuareg are the nomads of the Sahara)
**Eating dinner in the tents of a Fulani family. Also nomadic people of the desert.
**Having car brake down in the desert 100 km out of Agadez, during harsh Harmattan winds. (I’ve got a story to tell about this one, not so funny at the time, but very funny looking back)
**Riding back from Agadez for 12 hours in a bus with a missing windshield and front window.
**Stilt Village in Benin, village built on water.
**Watching Voodoo dance in Ouida, Benin.
**Burning leg on exhaust pipe in Benin. (Not fun, but now I’ll have a scar to show for my trip and reason why I’m in the peace corps med-unit right now)
**Pleading our way, in Ewe the language I learned in Ghana, out of paying a bribe at the Benin/Togo Border (this was the only border this happened). Thank god for Ewe, it worked!
** Chilling out in Kpalime, Togo, last stop b4 coming home
and here's a “brief”(ok not brief) summary of the way my trip went, when you have some time on your hands:
From my site, close to Ho, which is in the Volta Region (lower east side of Ghana), I traveled to Kumasi, the second biggest city in the middle of Ghana. That’s where I met up with Tina and Chad, my two Peace Corps friends. From Kumasi we took a 14 hour night bus to Ouagadougou (pron. Waggadoogoo, how funny is that name??) the capital of Burkina Faso. We spent 3 or 4 days there and celebrated New Year’s Eve with the Peace Corps Volunteer’s (PCV’s) there. It was fun. Of course the regular Peace Corps events of 70’s and 80’s disco party and a little beer pong took place. All the PCV’s in the countries we visited were so nice and friendly, so it was always a warm welcome in every country. They also helped us so much with the language too. Almost all West African countries are Francophone, meaning the national language is French. Ghana is only one of 4 or 5 that actually speak English. So the PCV’s helped us a lot in getting us around, although Tina did get us by a lot and I did learn the numbers and how to throw a hard bargain in French. J
From Ouaga we took a bus to Niamey, the capital of Niger (10hours). In Niamey, we saw our first camel’s walking around the streets with cars and donkeys. Very cool, I was super excited about it. WE spent 4 days here. One of the days we went to see the “last wild herd of giraffes In West Africa” Well, that’s what they say anyway. WE drove down a road out of Niamey, picked up a guide, he drove us down a dirt road. Me, tina, and Chad all had our mouths hung open b/c the villages we saw and the houses and millet storage units were so interesting, so different so “Africa!” It’s hard to describe, but they were made using mud huts and standing on such interesting structures of sticks. We were all thinking “wow. This is Africa!” (don’t worry, I took pix)
Then we drive a bit further into the bush and then our guide sticks his head out the window and climbs onto the roof of the car. It takes us a few minutes to realize what he’s doing. Then we figure out, he’s looking for the giraffes! How cool??? WE started looking too, through all the tall trees and dried up brush. Then within a few minutes among the tops of the tallest trees we see the head of a giraffe. It was sooooo cool. It felt exactly like we were in Jurassic park. When they are driving in their 4x4 and first see the dinosaurs through the trees. You know you’re looking for them, but it’s not until they are right in front of you in their natural habitat that your breath gets taken away. One, b/c I’ve never seen anything like it before, two b/c the giraffes were just so ungodly big and three, they were beautiful and completely unmoved or affected by our presence there!!! They were so elegant and so relaxed and so big! Their heads reach the top of big trees! I didn’t even reach the top of their legs. Meanwhile they still have their whole body and neck going up even higher. Especially the papa one, he was enormous. Truly how I picture a dinosaur. The giraffes let us come so close to them. Maybe 2 or 3 meters. They didn’t seem to be phased at all. They stood by the trees and ate the branches. Every now and then they would turn their long necks and I swear stare straight at me, flashing their long eyelashes up and down. Then ever so casually they would walk away to the next tree and nibble on its branches. Just relaxing and taking in the sun. They were a herd of about 12 giraffes that we saw. Males and Females mixed. Giraffes, in the wild, are beautiful creatures. Perhaps my favorite so far.
So we spent the 4 days in Niamey, taking in the people, the dust, the cold (yes, it was cold there! We had no idea) and the new environment. Getting ready for our long trip to Agadez.
From Niamey, we took an 18-hour bus ride (this was long and torturous) from Niamey to Agadez, also in Niger. Agadez was the peak of our trip, the farthest point we were trying to go, and also the highlight of our whole trip. The bus ride up was really interesting because you could tell we were entering such a different world every hour we drove more north. After the 5th hour. It then started to become colder and colder, hour after hour. Dustier and dustier and the Harmattan winds kicked in and the sand was being brushed onto the road. When we stopped at a rest stop in the evening, the winds would blow us over. The men have to squat to pee, b/c their pee would blow back on them, no matter what direction they were in. So you really feel like you’re sort of driving into this twilight zone. And it was night, so we couldn’t see anything around us. We only felt the dirt in the air, on our clothes, on our bags, and in our mouths. And the chill in the air becoming colder every hour. We started the trip in just a summer dress and ended it in pants, skirt, 2 shirts, a sweater, and then finally wrapped a piece of cloth around my head as a hat. It was a little nerve-wracking b/c none of us really knew what it was like in Agadez, in the desert, and there were always rumors going around about this and that, so we started to chat to keep our minds off it all and eventually we did reach Agadez.
It was truly another world up there. A world of the Sahara with nomadic Tuareg and Fulani people’s wearing swords (literally), capes, turbans, and amazing decorations and silver jewelry. They had camel markets, sand dunes not too far away and interesting mud mosques. We spent a week in Agadez. Since explaining this can be a book by itself and we do have some funny stories from it, I will explain more about Agadez later.
So after Agadez, we then made our way south to Benin. We pretty much went straight from Agadez to Parakou, a city in the middle of Benin. We had traveled 28 hours with only a 2-hour break in a Peace Corps office. That was REALLY long and torturous. For about 12 hours of it (half of it at night) leaving Agadez and heading down, our bus, which was big, was missing a huge windshield. Just one whole side was gone. And it was freezing up there in the desert. Since we were the only ones stupid enough to be on the bus, the three of us were cuddled on the left side of the bus in as many layers as we could find, which wasn’t much. We managed though, even though the time does seem long at times, it also passes really fast when you’re on the bus. So we made it.
Then we headed south to the coast to reach Cotonou, the capital of Benin. WE went to the famous stilt village, a village of 45,000 people literally built on water (sort of like Venice, but…different) then we went to the famous Voodoo town of Ouida. Benin is known for their voodoo, they are the ones who spread it to Brazil and Haiti during the slave trade. We saw some pretty cool traditional Voodoo dance, where the men dressed up as women and everyone was in such decoration. Being as we had just missed the big voodoo festival the weekend b4 (we had no idea, again) we were happy to catch at least a little of the voodoo stuff. Ouida was on the beach, which was nice, except the currents and waves are so strong you can’t swim there at all. (Nothing to do with the Tsunami, we were very far from it) So I just sat back and imagined how we managed to get from the edge of the dusty, windy, and COLD Sahara to the beach all in the same week. Once we got to the coast the distances were easier. Only an hour or two between places.
We then left Benin for Lome, the capital of Togo, which is right next to Ghana. So we were almost home. Togo is a really small country, so Tina and Chad went back to Ghana pretty fast and I went up north to a place called Kpalime, which is actually pretty close to Ho, my town in Ghana. In Kpalime, there is some good hiking, unfortunately I had blisters on my feet and I had just burnt my leg in Benin, so I couldn’t do much of that. SO I hung out with a Togo PCV for a day or two, practiced my Ewe (the language I had learned), which they also speak in Togo and then took the very relaxed border that finally leads back to Ghana and is very close to my town of Ho. Because I of course have proper visa’s I do not have to pay the small bribe to the Customs guys of 300 CFA (50cents) on Togo side and 2000 cedis (20 cents) on Ghana side. But, maybe next time….
So that was how our trip went. At least some of it. But, I still definitely have a lot of stories to tell. Yes, I can go on forever. I kept a journal of the trip, so I wouldn’t forget to write anything. So, since I have so much to blab on about I just started my own blog spot web site. Have you ever heard of it? Basically it’s like an on-line journal. I can write about everything in Ghana and from my trip and instead of annoying you with group e-mails all the time, you can instead just go to this web site and see what I am up to and how Ghana is. I think I will try to write in it every week. It seems a really great way to stay in touch with everybody. The web site is:
I will post any new and interesting Ghana realizations and some more things about my trip. Then you can also respond with comments to what I have written. So we can chat with each other like that. So give a look if you can. I will probably post this first e-mail on there.
Don’t get me wrong, I will probably still send some group e-mails b/c I know some of you will never go to the site, but you will open up an e-mail in your inbox. But, sometimes I feel bad sending all of these group e-mails. SO I think if you don’t want them anymore, maybe just drop me a line, and I can take you off my list. I promise I won’t feel bad about it. Ok??
Alright everyone. Happy New year 2005. I miss everyone A LOT. Can't wait to see you all in august/september this year.
Love and kisses,
p.s write back