Week 11: The Home Stretch

Well friends, the time has nearly come to say good-bye, can you believe it! And we are going out in grand style, if I may say so myself.

Thursday we went back to Linda’s house to hang out with all our new friends and we learned how to play a bunch of different games. They have these things that resemble Mancala boards, but without the little goals on each end, and we always see the old men playing it ALL day long. Turns out they have tons of different games that they use the same board for, and we became pros at 3 or 4 of them. Much of the time it was us sitting in front of the board attempting to play and all the little kids correcting us and playing for us…but they still gave us the credit when we won, so we celebrated appropriately.

A couple weeks ago, the Ghana Kumasi Mission was officially opened, and rumor had it that the new mission president was going to come visit our little branch in Asamang. So, Friday we met with most of the branch to clean the chapel! It was a blast—we blasted the hymns on their little player piano and went to work. I have never touched more dead bugs in my entire life! Oh. My. Gosh. Gross. But if I had a problem with spiders and cockroaches, I certainly don’t anymore. Yay! The mission president didn’t end up coming this week, but the chapel looked great on Sunday!

Friday was also my last clinical weigh day at the hospital. I LOVE our Friday clinic days because dozens and dozens (usually 60-80) of women bring their children in for weighing and immunizations and it’s just a party all day long. A lot of the women have seen me three months in a row now and we’re just getting comfortable talking to each other. Go figure.

Saturday, Brother Tawiah (in the branch presidency) took us to his farm in Asamang! We sported some long pants, tennis shoes, a cutlass, and off we went to walk the farm and attempt some weeding along the way. IT’S SO HARD, holy cow! But we saw all his orange, cocoa, and palm trees, ate some more fresh cocoa, and just enjoyed being out in the bush again. Cocoa farms are some of the most peaceful places I have been here, as odd as that may sound. They are so pretty! After a couple of hours on the farm, we were all exhausted, so we headed home, through a bunch of cushions on the family room floor and spent the rest of the day napping, watching movies, and playing card games.

Random lesson of the week: if you fry cookie dough, it actually turns out even better than baking it! (thanks for that idea mom…and the cookie dough!). Seriously, Lauren and I went through a whole batch of peanut butter fried cookies in two nights. Yup, so good.

Finally, Lauren and I finished out Book of Mormon reading yesterday (Monday). It has been such a special experience to read the Book of Mormon in such a short time-span, with other people, and during a comparatively challenging, unique time in our lives. I can’t even begin to describe our experience yesterday as we finished Moroni and took the challenge laid out in the final chapter of his writing, but it proved to me beyond any doubt of the divine nature of the Book of Mormon. I can think of no other book that provides its readers with so much awe-inspiring knowledge, guidance, peace, love, and pure happiness. No one says it better than Elder Holland: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/10/safety-for-the-soul?lang=eng&query=%22safety+for+the+soul%22…start at 5:50.

Now what, you ask? Here’s the itinerary:

Wednesday & Thursday—work, pack, and party in Asamang

Friday & Saturday—stay at our friend Rita’s house in Kumasi being as lazy and boring as we want

Sunday—travel the 6-9 hours to Accra (hopefully my bus doesn’t break down this time…)

Monday & Tuesday (day)—hang out with my American friends that we met in Cape Coast, walk around the temple grounds, and visit a Liberian refugee camp

And then Tuesday night at 9:00 I will officially leave Ghanaian soil! I’ll have 8 hours to spend exploring Frankfurt and practicing my German, and then it’s finally off to American soil, Arkansas, and my wonderful family! …Then gone again a week later for a family vacation out of the country. My passport is gonna have SO MANY stamps! Yay! Thanks for tuning in for a little glimpse of my life in Ghana. I’ll try and get one more post up once I’m home with some final thoughts and stories from this coming week!

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Week 10: Lots of Walking

(To see pictures from our “Amazon Trail” adventure last week, check out my roommate’s blog: laurenmcfadyen.blogspot.com …definitely worth it).

Ma akye! How’s life? I hope everyone has some great stories about Fourth of July celebrations! As for us, Lauren and I bought some fried chicken, made the chocolate cupcake batter my mom sent in her package (we couldn’t bake it, so we just dipped bananas in it and ate it by the spoonful), and found a giant watermelon! That’s as American as it gets here…no fireworks, but we made it a party nonetheless.
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It was a busy week for my research and I finally conducted some interviews! I’m still trying to spend some more time up in the maternity surgical ward and that is providing a nice change of pace. I still spend most of my time down in the maternal and child health block helping with child immunizations and growth monitoring. My interviews have been focusing on the Millennium Development Goals and their affect on health care and it’s been a really eye-opening week for me and I’ve learned a lot! Not that I don’t love classroom learning, but this whole independent, on-the-ground thing is pretty awesome.

On Friday, King took Lauren and I for a little walk through “the bush”—the local term for the farmland and jungle just outside of the village. It’s mostly cocoa plantations, so we found some ripe cocoa and King split them open for us to eat. Did you know that, besides ultimately producing chocolate, cocoa is a fruit?! I had NO idea. Chocolate comes from the seeds, but they are surrounded by a soft fruit…and it’s delicious! I have absolutely no idea how to describe the flavor or texture of it, but you would never guess that it comes from the same plant as chocolate. We also walked by this river that is traditionally seen as a god, and a large rock where, as the story goes, a lion use to come and lay on it as a warning that the neighboring tribes were coming to attack the village! We didn’t see a lion, so I guess we’re safe for now.  

So, for the past month or month in a half, I’ve had this secret desire to walk from Asamang to Agona. We make that drive all the time on our way to work and it’s SO pretty, but it goes by so fast, so I’ve always wanted to walk and enjoy the landscape in between. On Saturday, we finally did it! It took us just under two hours, and I’m really bad at estimating distances, but I’m guessing it’s about 4-5 miles…ish. Luckily it was a rather cool morning so it was quite enjoyable. Those of you that know me well enough to know my worst fear in the whole world will enjoy this next part—as we were walking along, out of nowhere there was a HUGE, jet black SCORPION in the middle of the road. I may or may not have freaked out for a minute, meanwhile Lauren was back there snapping pictures, saying, “cool!” I’m just glad I didn’t know there were scorpions in Ghana this whole time or I would never have gone to the bathroom or showered without a flashlight! It took a solid two miles of walking to get myself relaxed again. Still worth it….THAT’S how pretty that was is!

On Sunday, besides all the wonderful lessons shared at church, I learned why it is that spiders always lurk in the corners of rooms! Mama told us the story of Kwaku Ananse, the wise spider. Unfortunately, Kwaku Ananse was a very greedy and selfish spider who wanted to hoard all wisdom for himself. Through a serious of rather embarrassing events, Kwaku Ananse learned that he cannot do this, so now he hides in the dark corners to cover his shame. I don’t feel bad for killing spiders anymore…that’s what they get for being so greedy and selfish!

Yesterday was Monday and Mondays in Ghana are usually just as “blah” as Mondays at home (is that a universal thing? It must be…), but this Monday was ANYTHING but blah! After work, we had arranged to meet some of our friends to learn how to make the delicious donuts that we always buy on our way to work. We ended up having to wait for a while, but we were sitting on this little wooden bench with some old people that didn’t speak much English, listening to the radio, and just looking out over the sun setting in the jungle. It was just too perfect! But, alas, our friends came and the adventure commenced. Making donuts turned out to be the least entertaining part of the evening. The people here live in larger homes (usually 5-7 rooms all opening into a small courtyard) with ALL of their extended family, so there was quite an audience when we arrived. After rolling donuts for a while and playing with the chicken and tortoise that were just crawling around the same table we were cooking on (thankfully the donuts are cooked in VERY hot oil!), a dance party inevitably commenced, as well as this little jumping/clapping game called ampei. By the time we left, we had a whole new colony of friends, most of which (as usual) are under the age of 14.

When we got home, we were surprised to find Mavis (Mama’s daughter) back home from University! It was a beautifully clear night, so we all just sat on benches outside, looked at the stars, and talked. Then Mavis brought out some stuff she had bought for us and just said something to the effect of, “here are some treats that I thought looked good”…well these treats turned out to be a tin of those butter cookies that you always get at Christmas time and a LINDT CHOCOLATE BAR! What the heck?! Where did she get these?! Well, Lauren and I tried not to freak out and it took all of our will power not to eat it in the first 30 seconds. SO GOOD! and SO SURPRISED!

Well, that brings another week to a close. Next Tuesday will be my last blog update from Asamang because the following Tuesday I will be on a flight from Accra to Frankfurt, Germany! Crazy how that snuck up so fast. But, I think I can honestly say that I am excited to go home and that I will be leaving without any regrets—that in itself is a great accomplishment. But the fun isn’t over yet, and I’ve got two whole weeks to enjoy before then!

And here’s some random pics for you to enjoy! These are from our vacation last week…you can hardly tell we’re in Ghana! Definitely felt like a different life for a few days.

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Week 9: A Toothbrush and a Clean Pair of Underwear

You know those people who go on crazy adventures and all they pack is a toothbrush and a clean pair of underwear? Yeah, I’ve never been one of those people. My brother use to come home from college with a zip-lock bag, but I’ve always been a “list person” and planned for many potential happenings on trips. But I was this week! Here’s the story (it’s a good one):

Monday was a public holiday, so since we couldn’t go to work anyway, Lauren and I decided to join some of the hospital staff for a little trip to the Western Region (bordering the Ivory Coast). So, we left Asamang at midnight on Sunday, drove 8 hours, and ended up at a small little village right on the coast. We honestly had no idea what we were going to do there (because we couldn’t understand any of the Twi when it was being described), but we were pleasantly surprised. Picture that Amazon Trail game you played on the computer years and years ago…and then picture it in Ghana and you have a really good idea. Turns out there’s this village called Nzulezo that is built on stilts over the water that can only be accessed by a one hour canoe ride through the jungle– so we hopped on some old wooden canoes and made the journey out there. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen just paddling through these dense patches of jungle on perfectly still water with lilies floating around everywhere. The only thing missing was a little button up on the right hand corner saying, “Go Hunting” and it seriously was Amazon Trail in real life (although not on the Amazon). After an hour, we reached the village and just walked around and got a little history lesson. The whole place (school, church, houses, walkways, etc.) is built on stilts above the river. It was like a picture straight out of a National Geographic “most unique places on earth” edition or something like that. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait until next week to see pictures, but just believe me when I say it was probably the coolest thing I’ve done since being here.

After that, we went to a little resort on the beach to relax for a few hours…and it was, like, a REAL resort! They even had hand dryers in the bathrooms! We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, haha. So Lauren and I just walked around the beach for a while and loved every second of it. The jungle canoe trip was worth the 16-hour round-trip on it’s own, but this was definitely a great way to ice the cake.We pulled back in to Asamang in the early hours of this morning (Tuesday) and got four hours of sleep before getting up and going back down to Kumasi to pick up our Visas! It was a very busy 36 hours!

Anyway, now for the rest of the week: I can’t believe another whole week has already passed…and it’s been a busy one. Thanks to my family for the greatest package in the world! We now have some crystal light so we can drink something that tastes different than just water, AND peanut butter cookie mix—we can’t bake them, but who honestly likes the cookies better than the batter anyways?! Maybe we’ll try frying them like pancakes. That is potentially a very good idea…

This was a fantastic work for research and internship stuff. We already miss Cape Coast and the ocean, but we came back with a little extra motivation to get to work on what we came here to do, possibly because we realized we only have four weeks left in Ghana. I leave THREE WEEKS FROM TODAY! What the heck?! Anyway, like I said, it was a great week at the hospital. Wednesday, Lauren and I got to attend an all-day workshop on home-based care of malaria, acute respiratory infection, and diarrhea. It was definitely a lot longer than we anticipated at a solid ten hours, but we both learned SO much about our research, and just some really cool information. I observed a couple of family planning and breastfeeding consultations this week in the Maternal and Child Health unit—I may classify myself as a public health nerd by saying this, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. That was the subject of my Honors Thesis so it was right up my alley and it makes me so excited to learn about it and see it at work in a totally different culture and environment. I embrace my nerd-ness whole-heartedly. I also made my way up to the maternity surgical ward this week and had one of the nurses, Isaac, give me a little tour and run me through what they do on a day-to-day basis. Some of the cases they have up there are definitely a little more exciting then what we get down in MCH, so I hope to spend a little more time up there my last few weeks just to get a different perspective. All the staff are SO excited to teach us everything they know and what they do, so we are learning so much and getting lots of hands-on experience.

Lauren and I got to experience the hospital from a whole new perspective this week: the patient! Nothing serious, don’t worry, but we both broke out in some sort of hive-like rash and it was driving us crazy. We thought it might be a reaction to something we ate or the detergent we use to wash our clothes or something…still not sure, but hopefully it will go away soon. One of the great things about working with the hospital staff on a daily basis is that it’s really easy to get treatment when something like this happens! Although, I still think the doctor was a little surprised when we walked in his consultation room and it wasn’t for an interview, haha!

I had another first-time experience this week—I ate a WHOLE fish! Okay, well not the eyeballs, but I don’t count those. At that workshop I mentioned earlier, part of lunch was this whole fish—tail, skin, head, eyeballs…everything. We see those a lot here, but I’ve managed to avoid eating it so far. I was about to do that again, but I figured I’ve been here two months so I can handle it. And I was REALLY hungry. So, I just covered its little head with a slice of tomato so it wasn’t staring at me as I ate it, and went to work. Turns out it was pretty dang good! Some parts had an interesting texture, but overall it was tasty! Not saying I’ll start seeking them out for dinner every night, but I survived the experience and might be persuaded to say that I even enjoyed it.

Finally, want a little update on our Book of Mormon challenge? We are now well into 3rd Nephi, Christ is doing His thing in the Americas, and it is fantastic! Reading the whole Book of Mormon as a group was probably the best decision we’ve had since being here. Not only does it keep us sane even through the craziest of times, but the fact that we are reading it in such new and unique circumstances helps us to gain a different understanding and appreciation then we ever have before. This church is so true, it’s not even funny. If I haven’t learned anything else from this little adventure (which I have, don’t worry), it has been that God and His creations are soooooooooooooo far beyond magnificent that I don’t even know how to explain it, so I won’t even try here. Just take time to read the Book of Mormon, I mean REALLY read the Book of Mormon, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Well, th-th-th-that’s all folks (thank you Saturday morning cartoons). Have a great Fourth of July tomorrow! We’ll be celebrating by eating watermelon and corn, and writing our names in the air with matches—a poor substitute for sparklers, but we do what we can. Eat some BBQ and potato salad for me. Yay for America! We’ll be back there before you know it…

…but here’s to three more weeks of enjoying life without showers, mirrors, make-up, flushing toilets, air conditioning, microwaves, oreos, milk, and sweatpants. And when I say I’m excited, I honestly am!!

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Week 8: Cape Coast

Well, this week was just the greatest thing EVER! We traveled to Cape Coast (on the coast about two hours west of Accra) for our mid-semester retreat, and there is WAY too much to tell, so you’re just going to get some highlights I’m afraid…but get excited.

So Thursday we started the grand adventure by taking a huge bus on awful roads for almost five hours. The only way I can explain it is to say that it is comparable to that Star Wars ride at Disney World right when you’re coming out of warp speed and fighting the Imperial Army in the asteroid cloud…you know, the one where you bob and bounce around like crazy…but for five straight hours. Needless to say, we were very excited to arrive at our little guest house. So I’m partially ashamed to admit this, but a lot of our trip was planned around running water and food, so we were a little upset when we found out our running water wasn’t working at the guesthouse. Good thing Lauren and I are champs at bucket showers now!! The second night we did find a working shower, but it was in a small cement room, covered in bugs, and with no light…probably better it was completely dark because then we couldn’t see the bugs, just like I mentioned last week. Despite all of that, my first shower in two months was still the most wonderful experience. I felt like a princess!!

Our first night was spent walking around town and down on the beach, grabbing some hamburgers and pizza at this little place RIGHT on the beach while watching a little dancing/drumming show, and then finally finding a place to watch the Portugal-Ukraine soccer game. We ended up watching it in this random courtyard in the  middle of town: me, the girls, and like 300 Ghanaian men. But once we established ourselves as Portugal fans, we were accepted with open arms. It was definitely quite the experience and one that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to repeat in America!

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(P.S. I got SOAKED about 0.2 seconds after this picture was taken! Good timing, huh?)

On Friday we went to the Cape Coast Castle—an old slave castle from who knows how long ago. We took the tour which was definitely really interesting, but also really depressing and sobering. It’s hard to imagine people treating other humans the way that they did in times like that. One part of the tour showed the Gate of No Return where the slaves walked out on their way to the ships. Recently, they have renamed that the Gate of Return, inviting all the descendents of the slaves in that castle to come back and learn about their ancestors…including Michelle Obama! They were there a few years ago to do just that.

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Saturday was seriously the greatest day ever, and I don’t only mean in Ghana. It was just pure fun from beginning to end and one of the happiest days I’ve ever had! We woke up super early, got some breakfast on the roof (French toast and scrambled eggs…yummy!!) and then went off to Kakum—a national park about an hour North of Cape Coast known for its canopy walk through the jungle. So, you hike for about fifteen minutes up through the jungle and then you’re suddenly on this platform over 100 feet above the jungle floor. The walk consists of seven rope bridges crossing over the canopy with little platforms after each one to stop and take pictures and just take it all in. It was the most beautiful thing ever, and we got there early so we basically had the whole place to ourselves to take our sweet time…and to jump and sway on the bridges while we were out there (definitely not for those afraid of heights…sorry mom). On the way home, we stopped at  a little restaurant place called Han’s Cottage where guests are privileged to eat their lunch in the friendly company of crocodiles (or is it alligators? I never know the difference)! And, you can just wander out on the grass and take pictures with them. They are use to people, yes, but definitely not tame so its still rather nerve-racking to think about. I kept looking for a sign to the effect of “parents, please keep your children far, far away”…but never found one.

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We got back to Cape Coast in time to do a little souvenir shopping around Cape Coast where we found some AWESOME stuff…but I can’t say anything about it because some of the things I got are a surprise for my family, so ask me about it after I’m home and just trust me that it’s awesome…and all this coming from the girl that HATES shopping with a passion 🙂

After another wonderful dinner at another restaurant on the beach, we decided to get a little taste of the night life. There was a guy that worked at the place we were staying that knew of some good places in town, so we got together with some friends we’d made along the way and went dancing at a couple different places– one of whom was a super talented street dancer/acrobat guy that taught us some awesome moves! It was seriously the funnest thing ever (so fun that I don’t even care about the awful grammar of that sentence) because the music was ten times better than that at any Provo dance party, we learned some local dances, EVERYONE was just having a huge party, most were sober, and it just went on for so long. The last place we were at was right on the beach, so we wandered down to get our feet wet and just chill on the beach for a while and relax (don’t worry, we still had four strong men with us, three of which were Ghanaian, so we were well protected). That is one thing I really love about everywhere I’ve been in Ghana so far—I’ve never felt unsafe! That makes it a lot easier to have fun and make friends. Overall, this was really the first time I felt like a college student here—staying up late and actually hanging out with lots of people my age! Anyway, we were just happy from sun-up to well after sun-down, making it the best day ever!

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Sunday was MUCH more relaxed with an hour of church at a local ward (LOVE that the church is everywhere) and an afternoon just sitting on the beach and talking with the girls. We headed back to our guesthouse early to eat dinner and play some games up on the roof with our friends that stayed there. It was a great opportunity to unwind. Being a Saumweber, I am naturally drawn to water, so four whole days of smelling salt water and feeling the ocean breeze was all I needed to be in heaven. We left early Monday morning to come back to Asamang and I am happy to report that even in the middle of Ghana…it can feel like coming home after a vacation—that great feeling when you pull in your driveway to something familiar…or in this case open up your front gate to something familiar.

So yes, that is the very brief (but super long…sorry) summary of our vacation. Now, we are happy to be home and ready to power through our last four weeks here and enjoy every moment of it. FOUR WEEKS! Can you believe how crazy short that is?! Wow. How did that happen?

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Week 7: Happy Father’s Day

Hello again! I hope all is going well for all of you wherever you may be in your summer travels. Sometimes it’s really weird when I picture where I am on a map of the world and how far I am from most of you—I guess occasionally I feel closer to home than I actually am, thanks to emails and occasional phone calls with my family. Gotta love technology!

It’s been a little bit of a rough week for us…not because of any event in particular, but this week has just been a little challenging emotionally. I’m not sure how to best explain it, but it just sort of comes with the field study territory; every now and then life just gets a little rough for a while. I think part of it is that you see the halfway point as this big landmark where you have assumptions of where you will be with your research, relationships in the community, and emotionally, but then when you get past that halfway mark and don’t feel any different, sometimes it results in a couple hard days. But luckily, we all had a great talk about it and life goes on!

Lauren and I spent a lot of time in Wiamoase this week! We went last Wednesday because Lauren had set up an interview with a woman there. While her and Cassie were gone, Natalie and I watched a few episodes of Friends that we have on DVD and experimented with some cooking for a while. The result was a bean and rice dish with tomatoes and onions that was actually quite delicious (probably due to large amounts of garlic salt). We returned to Wiamoase on Saturday so Cassie could take us up to the Secondary School (high school) where she works and introduce us to some of her friends. The school is about a 30 minute walk outside of the main village all up and down these red dirt roads surrounded by the jungle. It is hands-down one of my favorite walks in Ghana and I LOVE doing it. Once up at the school, we hung out with some of the girls in their dorms, listened to music, traded our awesome dance moves, and talked about who knows what. It was great to have some quality girl time! Afterwards, we wandered back down to Madam Esther’s house, where Cassie and Natalie stay, to make crepes and just chill for a few hours. It was a great time!

Other highlights of this week included:

  1. a little trip to a hair salon
  2. Zumba with King

First things first, so…remember how I got my hair plaited? (see pictures from last week) Well, turns out that, as wonderful as it is, not washing your hair for a week (even in braids) get gross. No surprise there. So, just as I was about to take my hair out and give in to washing it, some ladies at work convinced me to go to this little salon in town to get it washed. You see, you aren’t suppose to get your hair wet when it’s plaited because the fake hair they mix in with it starts to smell if it gets wet. BUT, this little salon had one of those dryer things that resembles an alien helmet that you sit under. So not-so-long story even shorter, I went and got my hair washed salon-style and then sat under the dryer for half an hour or so. Besides the hot air being blown on me in the already 100 degree heat, it was the most pampered I’ve felt in the last two months!

And then, of course, there was Zumba with our host-brother King. He dances a lot to work out (he’s an unbelievable dancer), so we asked if we could join him one day and learn all his moves…and so we did! Well, we joined him at least…learning all his moves is another story. Try as we might, we were still two white girls trying to dance and I’m sure we provided more comical entertainment than anything else, but King was gracious enough to hide his amusement. I’ll come back home with a whole new arsenal of dance moves, so get ready!
Another important lesson we learned this week: while washing your clothes in a washing machine often causes them to shrink, the antidote is to HAND WASH your clothes, which magically, yet inevitably, makes them grow! My small and medium shirts are now all boarding on XL shirts…or short dresses, take your pick.

Well, we’re off to Cape Coast and our Mid-semester Retreat this Thursday, so get excited for next week’s updates!! Oh yeah, and happy father’s day 🙂

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Light-Hearted Lessons From Ghana

To celebrate being halfway through, here are some important things I’ve learned:

1) when you go to the bathroom at night, its better not to take a flashlight, because if you can’t see the cockroaches and spiders, it’s almost as if they aren’t there!

2) Eating an entire, large pineapple in one sitting, no matter how delicious, has enough acid to make your tongue hurt for days.

3) Large ants have an uncanny resemblance to flecks of dark chocolate…in appearance only

4) An unquenchable desire to dance in the rain is not a universal phenomenon…

5)…Beyonce, however, is.

6) “Sweating like a pig” is nowhere near adequate to describe what the human body is capable of

7) The man in the yellow hat and Ben Stiller really do deserve our pity– monkeys can be straight up mischevious and stubborn, especially when you don’t give them the WHOLE banana you have in your hand.

8) I will never in my life own a goat or live within five miles of one. They must have allied themselves with the roosters to torment the human race at hours of the morning I didn’t even know existed!

(to be continued…)

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Week Six: Halfway

We are now officially past our halfway point of our time in Ghana. Weird…I’m not really sure how that happened. I’m happy to report that we have made it this far without any major illness, although Lauren and I never really feel completely healthy—probably a result of the food, well-water, and heat.
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Picture 1: Me and some village kids. They call this doll the Obruni doll (white person doll) and said it looked like me. Not sure if that’s a good thing…

This week was almost a bit of a holiday for us, at least from our internships/research, and we had a lot of new, fun experiences. On Wednesday, Lauren and I went to Agona to get our hair plaited, and aside from it taking SIX hours to do (and a very sore butt from sitting so long), it was a great decision. Basically they just put your hair in lots of little braids, but they weave hair into it so that it’s a lot thicker and longer…basically the Rasta version of extensions, haha! Not necessarily stylish, but very functional because it keeps my hair out of my face and makes it much easier to manage. Not sure how long I’ll be able to put up with it, but I plan on having it in at least the next two weeks. Mama says I’m a real Ashanti woman now because I have my Ashanti dress and now my Ashanti hair. Huzzah for Ghana!

Thursday we made plans to travel up north to Nkoranza—a village known for having lots of monkeys in the surrounding jungle! Our bus left three hours late form Agona (hello Africa time), and then we got ripped off on our taxi ride to the village, but it was definitely worth it. We didn’t make it 50 yards on our hike into the jungle before we were surrounded by monkeys. We had bought some bananas and bread in Agona as a snack, but this quickly turned into bait as we lured the monkeys in closer for pictures. They certainly weren’t shy! They just came right up and would grab the food out of our hands. We spent the next 2-3 hours just wandering through the jungle, feeding monkey, and climbing really cool looking trees—one was completely hollow on the inside so we actually climbed up INTO the tree. Cool, I know. At one point we found ourselves in an area that looked just like what I would imagine the Sacred Grove to look like, probably one of the prettiest places I’ve been since being here (or ever, actually). We took a little break just to sit and enjoy the beauty and peace of being in an area completely untouched by human hands. It was absolutely fabulous and made the whole trip worth it, as if it wasn’t already.
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Saturday, the fun continued with a wedding in Agona! Unlike the last wedding, which was much more traditional, this one was more what we would expect at an American wedding: white dress, flowers, rings, cake, etc. Except, in true African style, there was non-stop music and dancing throughout the whole ceremony, making it a non-stop party! The ceremony was fantastic and all building up to the ‘I do’ and kiss…but it never came!!! Turns out they aren’t allowed to kiss in their ceremonies, so they gave each other a nice hug and that was it! It seemed a little anti-climactic to us, but they were all smiles and happiness so who are we to complain. After the ceremony, we were invited to a special get together for employees at the hospital (the bride works with us) at a little bar just a couple block outside of Agona for some free drinks (non-alcoholic of course), conversation, and dancing. Apparently weddings just put everyone in the mood for marriage and courtship, because all four of us got “engaged” or given away to someone for marriage throughout the events of the day. Such proposals are far from rare here, in fact they happen almost daily, but the fact that all of us got them in such a short time span made for a special day, haha!

Other than that, it’s been a pretty typical week: interning, researching, dancing with all the village kids, watching the Euro Cup whenever possible, reading, sleeping, repeat! Six weeks down, six to go. Not sure how I feel about that yet.

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Week Five: “AgonAgonAgonAgona”…

How on EARTH is it June already?!?! Seriously, that blows my mind. We are now starting our sixth week in Ghana and I am happy to report that we are all healthy (for the most part) and happy!

Remember how I once said that living in Asamang was a lot like camping (no running water and very often no electricity)? Well it took another step in that direction last week when I took a shower in the rain! A heavy rainstorm is by far the closest thing we have to a shower, so I took advantage of that wonderful blessing, grabbed the shampoo, put on shorts and a tank top, and went for it! Honestly, I think it was the first time I got all the shampoo out of my hair since I’ve been here. Thank you mother nature!

This past weekend was an absolute blast. Saturday we made our second trip to Kumasi—the largest town of any size about 60-90 minutes south. It’s one of the craziest, most crowded places I’ve been, and this time we ventured to do it without our host brother, King. I have to take just a quick second to say how proud (righteous pride, of course) I am that we made it back alive and well to tell you about it! Anyway, we went with the intention of getting some more money out from the bank, and finding the Obruni market—a store rumored to have some comforts we have been living without. Well, we found it, and were SHOCKED to find Oreos!!! Needless to say, I jumped on that opportunity and made a little purchase right there ☺ They also sold Magnum Ice Cream bars, some crackers that resemble saltines, and Pringles. Yup, it was great. On top of all that, we found a restaurant that sells primarily Indian food…but has a whole page on the menu dedicated to hamburgers. Could life get any better?! I submit that it cannot! The burger wasn’t high quality by any means, but it was the most beautiful thing we saw all day.

The funniest part of the day, however, was the tro-tro experience on the way home. By way of reminder, tro-tros are 12 or 22-passenger vans that act as taxis between all the various towns and villages. They all come to Kejetia Station in Kumasi—picture an outdoor train station with dozens of “stalls” where the tro-tros pull in, HUNDREDS of people, bags, animals, merchants, etc. all trying to walk and drive different directions at the same time. From the way you see people politely standing in line to wait for the tro-tros, however, you would think that the loading process would be orderly and organized. Not so. The second a tro-tro gets close, the line is abruptly abandoned and it quickly starts to resemble a football game as people elbow and shove their way to get in the van—it’s a full contact sport, but without the pads. Football is for boys, tro-tros are for men (and women for that matter). Anyway, we missed the first two tro-tros despite being in the front of the line, so by the third it was getting late and we were getting tired and frustrated. So… as every one else sprinted for the door, we went straight to the back window, threw in our bags, and climbed in, using the back tire as a step stool. This was all done much to the amusement of hundreds of on-lookers, resulting in applause by the time we all slithered our way in. But we made it and we were quite proud of ourselves, and so were Mama and King when we told them…once they stopped laughing.

Next order of business—Asamang All-star of the Week! Her name is Afia and she has a small food stand right across from the hospital where Lauren and I work. We met Afia when we first went to buy rock buns (sweet roll-like things) from her. We fell in love with them and have since bought them for lunch 3-4 times a week. Overtime, we got to know Afia! She doesn’t speak any English and our Twi is obviously sub-par, so most of our friendship came from smiles and broken attempts at conversation. But every time we see her, she lights up and shouts our names with this huge smile on her face, and is even know to throw an extra rock bun in our bad every now and then. What is there not to love?! She’s just all-around fun to be around and we’re getting to be great friends.

Finally, just a little thought. I don’t mean to get preachy or anything, but I just finished reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and it is an AMAZING book…you all should read it. Anyway, there is a quote at the very end that says, “Your real self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.” You often hear about experiences of people venturing off into solitude or some unknown place to “find themselves”, but unfortunately I think we mistakenly put ourselves first too often in these situations. This quote put into simple words what I have come to learn very recently in one of the most real “finding myself” moments I’ve ever had—the harder I try to learn about myself and the more I focus my gaze on me, the less I know and more frustrated I become. It is only when I completely forget about myself and turn all my efforts to God that I learn so much about me. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise because if I am in fact trying to become even as Christ (although not attainable in this life), than the most logical place to look for “myself” is in Him.

On that note…go have a great week and spend a little bit more of your time looking upward, not inward. Nyame Nkomwoho!

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Week Four: Power Returns to Asamang!

That’s right! After almost three weeks without electricity, we are now going on four straight days with electricity and it is amazing the difference that it makes! Cold water is the world’s best thing.

The world’s other best thing…Tuesdays! Not only because I get to come and get wonderful updates from family and friends, but also because all four of us get to hang out in Agona all day long. Agona is a small market town (not much bigger than our village actually) about halfway between Asamang and Wiamoase, but we have discovered some wonderful treasures in Agona—a small little bar owned by Mama’s sister where we can get pineapple fanta and fried chicken, and (drumroll…) ICE CREAM!!!! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we can buy these little bags of chocolate or strawberry ice cream (it’s more like an Italian icy but you certainly won’t find us complaining…its practically frozen and that’s the best part). Just like the water we drink, it comes in a small bag, so you rip off the corner with your teeth and go to town. AND, to add to this excitement, we saw two other white girls in Agona last week. Since we were down the street a ways, Cassie and I literally started running to catch up with them (and we may have yelled Obruni once or twice). So here was our logic: any white person would be SO excited to see us, just like we were to see them. Sounds logical, right? Wrong. Should have said: any American white person would be SO excited to see us…these girls were German. Their response? “Oh hey” and a cold shoulder. I even started introducing myself and the others in German, but they just could not understand why we were so excited to see them and were very adamant about being left alone. It was the source of great laughter for us for the rest of the day.

One of the best/worst things (depending on the day) about staying in Asamang is that Mama cooks dinner for us every day. It’s awesome because we get to try all these local dishes that are 100% Ghanaian (that also qualifies as a potential “worst” if the meal involves Mackerel), but every now and then Lauren and I REALLY just want to make ourselves something because we like to cook and it would be food that we recognize. Well, one day this week we did just that! Mama had to work late, so Lauren and I did some experimenting. The goal—Pad Thai. The result—definitely NOT Pad Thai, but still good. We found noodles, green peppers, eggs, and this stuff called ground nut paste (vaguely resembles peanut butter) at market, and combined with Lauren’s stash of cashews, it made a very delicious pasta dish…and it was SO fun just to cook something on our own!

Work this week was really exciting. On Wednesday we went on outreach again and it was WAY out in the jungle. We took a taxi to this small dirt road, and then hiked up to a small farming village called Gyidim. It was a total Paul Farmer moment (for those of you who don’t know who Paul Farmer is, he’s basically the Michael Jordan of Public Health—trekking all over Haiti to immunize and operate on people): I was hiking up a dirt road in the middle of the jungle, immunization cooler slung over my shoulder, to this remote village where I am pretty sure I was the first white person that some of the kids have ever seen (half were mystified, half terrified). It was basically that dream job you always fantasize about having but know is not realistic in any way, but I got to get a small taste of it and I loved it. Also, just today I met the traditional birth attendant of Asamang and she is the real life version of Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas– old, worn and wrinkled, but wise, respected, and dignified. She is seriously one of my new favorite people here. We don’t speak each other’s languages very well, but we communicate through smiles and gestures a lot. I think we’re going to be GREAT friends!

Saturday, we were invited by Natalie (BYU student in Asamang) to go to the wedding of one of the girls she works with at the clinic. It was suppose to start at noon, but in true African Time fashion, it got going around 1:30. As is tradition, we went to the bride’s house first to greet her (where Johnny English was playing on the tv…love it!), and then we were introduced to the groom before returning to the church to sit down and wait. The actual ceremony took place in a little courtyard outside of the church and it seemed like the whole village showed up and participated in the dancing and preaching that went on for the next two hours. We were led out in the courtyard to dance at one point and, if we weren’t already drawing an insane amount of attention just being there, four dancing Obrunis certainly were the life of the party for a few minutes. Later, when the Elder stood up, he said that he was very happy we had accepted the invitation to come—normally foreigners aren’t invited to attend (apparently), but he was happy we came because it showed a unity between our people. It was such a cool experience!

Also, just as a side note, it is SOO beautiful here. We’ve been traveling a lot between Wiamoase and Asamang this week and I keep trying to get a picture of the scenery, but you just can’t capture it on camera! Both Wiamoase and Asamang are located on “high ground”, so if you go to the right spot in the village, you can look out and all you see is GREEN mountains in every direction. It’s even better when storm clouds are rolling in from the North because the sky gets this smoky grey color and the trees get even more green and beautiful. I wish you all could see it—it’s probably one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen.

Well, that wraps up another week of adventures here in Asamang! I cannot believe it has already been a whole month since we’ve been here. There have been some hard times and challenging adjustments, but those are certainly made up for by all of the spiritual and intellectual growth, as well as the unbelievable people we are meeting!

Until next week, Nyame Nkomwoho!

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Week Three: “The lights are gone, but the moon is on!”

Happy Tuesday everybody! We are all alive and well, or relatively well anyways—it was my turn to be sick this week, but I’ve been taking oral rehydration salts (ORSs) and life is good again! Just so you know, ORSs are the grossest thing ever…like drinking sea water = definitely motivation to get better fast! This post is kinda long, but we had a lot of awesome things happening this week!

I was so excited to announce to you that our power finally came back on Sunday morning after 8 days of no electricity, but even as I am writing this it went out again…so we’re now on day 9 or 10 out of the last 13 with no power. It’s actually quite funny because now its more of a point of discussion when the power is ON, rather than when it goes out. But on the brighter side, I have never seen so any stars at night in my life…there aren’t any lights to get in the way! As they say here, the lights are gone, but the moon is on!

Last Wednesday was Natalie’s birthday (one of the BYU students staying in the other village), so we decided to throw a party. We found some canned milk at the market last week and splurged to buy some flour. The result? CREPES!! Yup, fresh crepes with bananas and peanut butter (thanks to some wonderful foresight that we would all crave peanut butter while were here… so we all brought some) and you have never seen four happier girls in your life! We absolutely gorged ourselves and it was worth every single bite. Of course, a dance party ensued followed by an equally epic sugar crash that had us all in bed early.Thank you Natalie for being born!

Thursday while we were lounging around, this random guy came in to greet us and turns out he lived in America for like 25 years! One of the most isolating things here is the fact that we really can’t communicate with 90% of the people past a basic greeting, so it was so fun to talk with someone who knew what I meant when I said KFC, deep dish pizza, and Walmart. He found out we went to school in Utah and said something to the effect of “Oh yeah! I’ve been there. I met this guy….do you know a Gordon Hinckley?”. Yup, he met Gordon B. Hinckley!! How random and awesome is that?

Work this week has been great as well. I missed a few days from being sick, but the time I did spent there was with infant immunizations, weight monitoring, family planning counseling, and other awesome maternal and child health activities. Next month (June) I’m going to be in charge of the educational workshops on preventing childhood malaria…with an interpreter of course. I’m excited, of course, but very intimidated since I don’t speak their language and still feel like I know very little about their culture. My coworkers are very supportive, though, and anxious to help me prepare for it. Pending the approval of a grant proposal, I also might get to start helping in some district-wide research on elevated hemoglobin and still birth rates, which would be awesome!

Speaking of language and customs, we had a really enlightening experience about that this week! Booze Man, a guy that lives with us at Mama’s house (called the Booze Man because he is always drunk. Don’t worry, he’s not someone to be worried about…he’s almost always asleep in his room) anyway, Booze Man came home the other day and we asked him “How are you?” as always, to which he responds in Twi to the effect of “I’m good”. This day, however, he responded with “I’m fine”…in ENGLISH!!! He never speaks English—we didn’t even think he knew a single word. Hence, we freaked out and started laughing and celebrating that he said a word in English. It was probably taken a little bit too far, but we were just SO incredibly shocked. Then the epiphany came…that’s probably why everyone here just laughs or starts yelling excitedly when we speak Twi. It’s not that they’re laughing at us (which they usually are anyway) or whatever, they are just legitimately surprised. Okay, this story sounds a little silly when I read back over it, but it was definitely a ground breaking discovery for those of us here experiencing this very tangible language barrier.

For you soccer fans out there, you will remember that Saturday night was a very important game—the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Bayern. Well, EVERYONE here likes soccer. I know that sounds like a broad generalization but it’s actually quite true. And almost everyone loves Chelsea since there are two Ghanaians on the team. Anyway, since most people here don’t have cable, this is how it works: before every game, they post signs around the village of which houses will be showing the game on their tv. You just show up, pay a couple cents to contribute towards cable costs, and enjoy! So, we went with our host brother, King, to one of his friends houses—it was Lauren and I, two little white American girls that aren’t suppose to know anything about soccer, and like 15 big Ghanaian guys, all passionate Chelsea fans of course. King, Lauren, and I were the only ones in the room cheering for Bayern, but we did a dang good job if I may say so. However, as you soccer fans will also know, it was a fantastic game, but a very disappointing ending. But this experience of watching it is definitely a memorable one and one of my top five soccer memories.

Another thing—it is actually really cool to be living in a largely Seventh-day Adventist community. Since their Sabbath is on Saturday, almost all the shops are closed, the village is so peaceful and quiet (even the goats are quiet for a change), and we can hear hymns being sung from various churches all day long. I love it because it is a break from the usual craziness and a really good way to help us get prepared for our own Sabbath on Sunday…it’s like a whole weekend of church! Speaking of which, church is entirely in Twi, of course, but it has taught me a great lesson—the peace and comfort that I love so much about attending church is not a product of the words spoken, but rather of the Spirit. I’ve always known this, but it is amplified here because I can’t understand a single word said (or very few anyway) but I still leave feeling just as uplifted and rejuvenated for another week.

Motivational quote of the week: “Think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Take it one day at a time. Don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain…take it one day at a time. The Holy Spirit can guide us when to look ahead and when we should just deal with this one day, with this one moment” (D. Todd Christofferson)…and Elder Wirthlin adds, “The next time you are tempted to groan, you might try to laugh instead…The moments that seem to overcome us with suffering may in fact be the ones that suffer us to overcome.”

Love and miss you all! Have a great week!

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