5.5 weeks * 39 days * 936 hours * 51160 minutes

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Risky Business – navigating the TRO-TRO

Tro-tro definition:
*Oversized mini van or similar to a small utility van that started it’s life somewhere else & has landed its last years of life in Ghana.
*A true tro-tro has been stripped of its original interior & been replaced with flat, formless bench seats. Bottom line: maximum capacity.
*Radios, speedometers and gas gauges do not function.
*Doors – typically tied down to secure luggage and passengers.
*You just hope your feet don’t go through the floor boards.
*There is always a Christian message displayed on the back window.
*And when you think the tro-tro is full & on its way…it is very likely you will pick up more passengers along the way!!

Three Steps:
1) Get yourself a tro-tro to your destination
2) Scary business of riding the tro-tro
3) Getting off the tro-tro & hailing a cab to your final destination

Step One:
Equivalent to a 5 AM Black Friday shopping extravaganza, it’s like a pack of wolves on fresh meat. People yelling destinations & pulling you in every direction, and grabbing your luggage, it is no small feat securing a tro-tro with seven available seats for the group. Once settled you must wait for the tro-tro to fill with passengers. Time is out of your hands.

Step Two:Packed in like cattle, there are 16 people crammed into a mini van made for a maximum of 10.

Sensory overload:

Touch: random strangers bumping and grinding next to you, sweating all over each other (talk about disgusting).

Smell: sweat, BO, dirt, car exhaust, the stench of open sewers and a variety of food (meat, veggies, fruit and baked goods are being sold at the tro-tro windows at every stop along the way.

Auditory: horns blaring, animals calling, people yelling & a steady roar of traffic.

Taste: No thank you! We have not taken that opportunity besides the plantain chips purchased.

Sight: It’s best to close your eyes and hope for the best, however, if you dare to peek you will find your self being propelled down the road swerving, dodging and passing cars/trucks & potholes and oncoming traffic. Going hastily down the road at ungodly speeds (note: speedometers do not usually work, we have yet to a working one!). Your only hope is to make it back in your lane before hit by oncoming traffic. We’ve been lucky so far.

Step Three:Your biggest concern is not becoming separated from your luggage. While your still crammed on the tro-tro, your lovely luggage has been tossed & abandoned on the dirty road side up for grabs for all those surrounding the tro-tro. Just as you make it off the tro-tro with your luggage an aggressive taxi driver attempts to (sometimes succeeds) to take your luggage & hustle you into his taxi. True story! Just image 7 people being pulled in 7 different directions. It’s pure chaos. You finally let out a breath of relief when all seven have safely made it into two taxis w/luggage on their way to their final destination!

Follow steps one through three for a successful tro-tro experience. Note: We make no guarantees.

2 cedi…$1.40 tro-tro cost – the tro-tro experience priceless.

Signed, tro-tro survivors – Beth & Leena

Consumers Report

Prior to travel, Leena and Beth spent hours shopping looking for the most convenient traveling accessories to ease the trip. Now after backpacking through Ghana, Africa we can give a pretty good account of what is worth your money and what is not!

* Antibacterial fast drying travel towels - Work wonders, dry in hours, and don't smell musty!! You may consider spending the few extra $ and buying the XXL version Beth found. Leena's size L (the size of a hand towel) left one wanting for a few extra inches of material!

*Exofficio undergarments - Packaging states two pairs, 6 weeks, 10 countries! Truly AMAZING!

*baby wipes, face towelettes, and hand sanitizer - MUST HAVE A LOT! Quick bath on the go.

*100% cotton sleeping bag liners - Great when guest house sheets are questionable!

*space safer bags - if space is an issue, great for condensing clothing size - may leave you a bit wrinkly

*North Face hiking pants - MUST for any traveler! Wash and air dry easily overnight!!!

*Crocs and Keen footwear - Long time Croc wearer Beth made a believer in Leena on the comfortability and ease of Crocs!!! Keens are great too but claim to have a odor shield that does not work!

*Food: peanut butter, almonds, granola bars, tea bags, easy mac candy - PACK AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!!!

*travel kleenex - Crucial when traveling to areas where restrooms can be anywhere and available toilet paper unreliable

*40% deet bug spray, sunblock - VERY IMPORTANT

*baseball hat - truly the only thing we never used and sent back with Steve!

*small travel lantern/flashlight - when sharing a room, in case of electricity loss, or walking out at night CRUCIAL

Rejuvinating with supplies from home!!!

As luck would have it, Steve (Beth's spouse) had some business in Accra, Ghana and came over to Africa for a few days (July 19-22). Lucky us, we had a few supply requests from home to rejuvenate us!!! The SURVIVAL KIT included the following:

*1 large suitcase (to pack up the souvenirs we have purchased and ship it home with Steve)
* 2 boxes EasyMac (it tastes amazing when you haven't eaten macaroni and cheese in a month!)
* 4 boxes of 18 count Granola bars
*1 pound bag of wasabi and soy sauce flavored almonds
*1 small container of chocolate covered almonds
* 1 bag of star burst
* 1 bag of dove chocolates
* 1 bag of assorted chocolates

----we did share too!!!
Eating well now, Beth and Leena

If you are breaking chairs....are you really losing weight??

We could have sworn we have been losing weight - eating less, pants are baggier, and walking everywhere. But then, the eve of Tuesday, July 20th the truth came out...dun dun dun! As we were sitting in our common space in our guest house relaxing, talking and just enjoying our quiet evening to ourselves Leena noticed a bit of a wobble in her chair. To be fair, the chairs are plastic lawn chairs and look a bit worn. Beth offered to swap one off the three chairs out if she was concerned though Leena declined which would leave her doomed to her fate. Within moments after sitting down Leena went crashing down to the floor; legs & arms flailing & plastic chair pieces flying!!! A HUGE crash brought, Emmanuel (our landlord) running into the guest house concerned for our safety, yelling "are you hurt? Are you okay?" He found Leena on the floor trying to put the unsalvageable plastic chair back together. To sum it up, it was not a pretty sight.

So the question remains- are we really losing weight??

Signed, unhurt-chair crasher Leena and laughing Beth :-)

What you survive can only make your stronger. Right?

What is or is not acceptable hotel accommodations?

When you pay for a hotel, there are some basic accommodation expectations. Throw those out the window when traveling on a budget to Ghana! Lizards become sleeping companions, bathroom doors become null, clean sheets not an option, shower curtains are a luxury, toilet paper is on your own dime, and when paying for hot water and AC don't count on it - just hope you have running water!

Here is a glimpse of what we have encountered so far:

Accra Hotel #1: no running water results in showering and flushing toilets with buckets

Damango Guest House: shower head falling off the wall (watch out from above!), ceiling fan barely rotates, ants galore, toilet spraying out everywhere when flushed, the 5AM call to prayer wake up call, and the sheep/goats/dogs/roosters calling out all times of day or night (just when we told the doctor no rabies shots were needed because we wouldn't be around stray animals!).

Tamale Guest House: dim bedroom lighting (could only have been 5 watts illuminating the room), the toilet so cramped in the bathroom your feet were in the shower when using, the janky front door lock falling the door, the ceiling caving in, and the bathroom floor made of unfinished concrete.

Winneba Guest House: TRULY A GEM!!! Clean floors and sheets, comfortable, kitchen use and private bathroom, separate twin beds, and private indoor common room space.

Cape Coast #1 Hotel: the name of the hotel was called Same Blood - questionable to start off with! Smelled like moth balls (makes sense, they were stuffed in every crevice of the room), the bedroom window was in the stairwell leaving the room bright as day throughout the night, and 1 restaurant in town that had no menu and only three meal options (fufu, banku, and chicken/rice - we never it made it past the rice - very questionable!!!).

Cape Coast #2 Hotel: Had a luxurious hot shower the first night the first in 4.5 weeks - it was a tease because we never had one again, no AC though we paid for it, flowing sheet as a bathroom door (we had to make sure to turn the ceiling fan off before using the facilities to avoid being exposed - though it brought us to a whole new level of bonding - conversations just continued without the barrier), and trickling detached shower head.

Accra Hotel #2: LUXURY - we are staying our final night in Africa in the beautiful Holiday Inn the equivalent to a Chicago or New York facility. HOT WATER, SEPARATE DOUBLE BEDS, RESTAURANT DOWNSTAIRS POOLSIDE WITH A BREEZE OFF THE OCEAN, ETC.!!!

Survivors, Beth and Leena

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TAKING ALL BETS....friends or foes

So, many of you have probably been wondering what is really going on behind the scenes of Ghana, Africa. Really, are Leena and Beth getting along??? We have now spent 33 days & nights together and upon return it will be a GRAND total of 39 days together (definition of "together" - sharing a room, sharing a double bed, shopping together, walking together, working together, eating ALL meals together...basically having no individual time or privacy).

SO...we are taking online blogging bets from all of our followers whether we will be returning as FRIENDS or FOES...calling all bets in now.

Signed friends or foes??? Leena and Beth

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 12-16: Working at Challenging Heights

After we arrived in Winneba, we settled in at our Guest house. We have truly found a gem here!!! The guest house is spotless with the cleanest sheets we have scene yet!!! The owners are wonderful people who have offered to teach us how to cook Ghanain dishes (YUM - we will be bringing our recipes home: fried plantain/yam, fufu, banku, and redred)!!! The guest house is 1/4 mile from the beach. If you sit outside the guest house under the cabana, you can hear the tide crashing from the shoreline down the road. Janaan, Leena and I know we are already spoiled. We are sharing a two bedroom with living room and private bathroom guest house at the compound. The students are across the way in individual rooms. There are also covered outdoor showers that provide a unique experience where you can look up at the coconut trees and shower under the hot African sun (a once in a lifetime chance to TRULY even out those tan lines!!!).

We have begun working at Challenging Heights - a school that enrolls children that have been rescued from slavery in the fishing industry or children who are at risk for being trafficed into the industry.

The first day we had an orientation with James Anann (a survivor of child slavery and now an administrator with Challenging Heights). James will actually be traveling to the States in the fall and speaking at GVSU in late October during Sustainability Week. Once we reviewed the schedule, we spent the day observing the classrooms. The school has three classes in the nursery (children range from age 4 to 9). In addition, there are classes from 1st to 5th grade. Each year they add another grade to their facilities. The nursery school is chaotic and lacks a lot of structure and curriculum based teaching. The 1st through 5th grade are more structured where teachers work from curriculum books. Starting Tuesday, we will pair off and choose a class to work with. Leena and I decided to take on the chaotic nursery. We will soon see if this was a good choice!

On Tuesday, Leena worked in the most advanced and oldest nursery classroom and then headed off to Lake Volta. I stayed behind with one of the students and worked at the school for the remainder of the week. I spent half of each day assisting in typing up exams (which will take place in two weeks) and the other half of the day working in the classroom. I had the opportunity to teach one of the nursery classes both mathematics and spelling lessons, as well as, assisted in grading exercise books. I stumbled through the language barrier (the young children are still in the process of learning English) ,as well as, the poor classroom management structure that is in place. The classroom is primarily managed through the threat of corporal punishment which doesn't seem to be really working and obviously myself unwilling to participate in managing the class in this manner. So it has been a challenging week to keep the children's attention and move through the lesson! My favorite part of the day is recess which takes place each day at 10:30 AM. The children love to play frisbee together. Each day I get involved in a competative match (where I think I hold my own pretty well)!

The student's will continue to work at the school next week while Janaan, Leena, and I attend meetings and work in the community to solidify information for the study abroad trip next year.