“last one!”

The students wake at 4:30 am to prepare for the day. They wash, dress, and have to prepare their own breakfasts. They use the cooler hours wisely. All of this activity takes some time. Ben and I get to languish in bed and await the ‘coffee milk’ that will be delivered to our room around 7am. We are so spoiled. We have learned to stay inside during the dark hours as that is when the biting bugs come out. All of those long sleeved shirts and pants that we brought with us seem absurd now. We are sleeveless during the hot days and stay inside when the sun sets. It is easier that way. We have the privilege of getting to do what is easy. 

At about 5:30 am, we are woken by a loudspeaker. It feels like it is right outside the window, but it is not. The noise is coming from the village. A voice is screeching at us and it is unpleasant. Were we so tired that we missed the call to worship the last two mornings? On and on it goes. It is a long wait for our coffee milk. Ben finds out later that it was the village radio. They announce things and have advertisements, for things such as medicine and the school we are visiting. Aha!

We have been served such quantities of food, three meals a day. We are stuffed and our stomach’s have a settled and full feeling. Our bodies are getting used to things here. We are always seated at a table in the sewing room and our food is presented on a tray with a net over it. We are left alone while we eat. But MCSOT is a very pleasant place to be, and folks are always around visiting. There is laughter, happiness, and camaraderie everywhere. The kitchen, where the catering is taught, is a hub of activity always. (Is this universal?) The staff gathers in there and enjoys their meals. We find ourselves wishing we could eat in the kitchen. 

Our newly tailored clothes have been completed! Don’t they look great?

Matching outfits
With the sewing instructor


The school plans a celebration and we are the guests of honor. Many of the people from the village wander over, including all of the younger students from the primary school that is across the dirt path. They start with singing. This, of course, also involves clapping. There is a different clapping rhythm here. Four claps fast, four times. One student always chimes in at the end of the 3rd round “last one!”. 


Clap clap clap clap, clap clap clap clap, clap clap clap clap, “last one!” clap clap clap clap.  I love it! We now join in and participate. 


The rhythms start again, and we get a fashion show. The sewing students make all of the school uniforms, all of the checked dresses that the females wear when not in class, and all of the lab coats for practical work. But now we see beautiful dresses and shirts for all occasions. 

Party wear


Eight of the female students perform a cultural dance, Apatampa. This involves costumes, footwork, intricate hand movements, lots of different rhythms. It is fantastic! They force us to join in at the end. The hand movements are hard, the footwork is harder, and we bungle it badly. Every body laughs, and laughs, and laughs at us. We are laughing too.  

Apatampa
Ben with the dancers


One student reads the beautiful poem Africa, by David Diop. https://isleofsage.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/analysis-of-africa-by-david-diop/Select this link to read the poem. It is powerful. 


Later, we enjoy another walk through the village with the students. This time, many of the guys join us. They have all kinds of questions for Ben. We are getting to know them personally and it is really nice. We take the dirt path in the other direction, towards farms and crops. Steven picks up a cocoa pod and whacks it open. We grab the beans inside and suck on the milky sweet substance. I bite mine and they laugh and shake their heads at me. Don’t bite it, it is bitter. Steven cuts a few palm fronds from a tree and within 10 seconds he has manipulated them into a flat disc. We are going to try to carry firewood on our heads. We put the palm frond ‘rag’ on our heads and learn to balance ONE lone piece of firewood. Ben and I are pretty proud of ourselves, but they laugh, and laugh, and laugh at us. 

Palm frond rag
I could carry more….
Balance!


Clap clap clap clap, clap clap clap clap, clap clap clap clap, “last one!” clap clap clap clap.  

Last one

“Aburoni”

After school is out, Ben and I walk into the village with 6 of the girls. It feels very sex separated here, so I am usually with the female students. Ben is often with the male instructors, watching what they do and learning about how the school is run. We don’t have as much interaction with the young male students. They play volleyball with every free moment that they have. They are also tasked with making the bricks for the library that they are building.

Making bricks

I tell Ben that you learn more about what is really going on from the ladies. They want to show us and tell us everything. We walk down the dirt path and over the bridge that often gets flooded. When the bridge is flooded, the school and everything this side of the creek is inaccessible. Luckily, we are visiting in the dry season. We ask about the dry season, and it inevitably brings up the fact that the seasons are changing and it is not the same as it was. Yes, they see and understand climate change out here instinctively.

Two of the students live in the village and they welcome us to their homes and introduce us to their families. We meet brothers, sisters, babies, grandparents. There are goats and chickens running around. We get to see their outdoor kitchens. We are always offered the plastic chairs so that we can sit and visit, even though the English spoken here is pretty rough.

Visiting homes

We walk through the village. The women are still selling produce or goods along the street. Or they are cooking. The men are often inside and I’m not sure what they are doing. Everybody is proud to show us their crops or food, since the students are with us and it must be OK.

Cooking
Kale
Making fufu
Drying cocoa beans

We seem to be attracting a crowd of followers. Small boys are following us everywhere. We hear the word “aburoni”. Rita, the student with the best English, tells us to ignore them. The word means white person. It is not meant harshly or rudely, it merely describes what we are. The little boys have never seen a white person in the flesh before. They stare at us with blank faces. When I try to be friendly, they run away. But they keep coming back to follow us.

One of the students talks to the local imam. She is asking his permission for us to go in this village’s tribal palace. It is confusing to us as to how things are run here. There is government, and there is also tribal rule. Tribal issues (such as land) are handled by the tribal elders. The tribal ruler sits on a throne and the elders sit on wood carved stools within the palace. The imam wants us to follow him so that he can talk to some of the elders. The ruler is not in the village today. The men disappear into a room and we wait where we are. Somebody is playing music and the students start to dance. They want us to dance, too. We do some basic “aburoni” moves, and everybody laughs at us. The little boys take a break from their staring and laugh too!

We now have permission to enter the palace. We are not sure what to expect. It is an open courtyard with covered edges for the throne and stools. One side has lots of drums for ceremonies. The plastic chairs are brought out and Ben and I sit facing the imam and the elders. Rita translates and tells them we are visiting the school. They ask us how we like their village. We all shake hands and Ben gives them a Lockheed pen he has in his pocket. They seem to like this gift.

The throne & stools

We move over to the drums and they let us touch them and bang on them. Our crowd of boys are getting closer to us. Finally, my friendliness works. I ask them if they want to touch Ben’s skin. They are all so shy and back away. One of the school students touches Ben’s arm and then every boy has his hands on him. They think the hair on his arm is funny. I just love this moment.

Touching Ben’s arm

Next, I get them to touch me. They tell me that I am soft. I touch them and tell them that their skin is soft too. One of the students tells me that is not what they mean. She kind-of pinches the skin on my arm and says this is soft. Oh, the lightbulb in my head goes off. They mean that I am squishy! “Fat”, I say. Everybody smiles and nods. “Fat!” “Fat!” “Fat!” Yup, I guess I am fat.

Fat! Fat!
My Obama moment….

Next, I offer the boys a touch of my hair. The scene is the reverse of the famous Barack Obama photo of a boy touching his hair in the Oval Office. I am absolutely loving this. It is my favorite moment of the trip perhaps.

iphone

It strikes me that I am always on my phone even though I have no service. I never seem to have time write my blog.  I feel a responsibility to my family to keep them posted on where I am and what I am doing. I am a worrier, so I assume they must be worried about me.  I have realized that I can just create a draft email with random thoughts and observations. There is no need to jot down how I feel, I can remember that easily.  I try to work the thoughts into sentences when we are traveling or when I can grab a few minutes of peace. I take too many photos. How strange I must look. What a luxury to have this phone out in the countryside in the center of Ghana. 

We have arrived at the school. The true reason for our trip is to visit and observe at the school.  

My brother Dave did the graphics on the MCSOT sign

We are served coffee in our room at the school. This guest room is the only room with window screens, a flush toilet, and a shower. We also have a ceiling fan! It is exquisite. We are served breakfast in the sewing room while the students are doing a morning gathering. There is so much food presented to us, and it is fresh and delicious. All last week, we had to be very careful about what we ate. We had to avoid the fresh produce that could have been washed in local water. (Oh, for a salad!) But here at Moringa, there are no worries. They will ensure that we can eat everything, and Ben does. I’m still finicky, but I’m totally fine with pineapple, papaya, and watermelon.  Meanwhile,  the students have been making their own breakfasts and dinners over the fire on the rocket stove. They eat a lot of garri, which is essentially cassava pounded into grain form. You can add hot or cold water to it, and it will expand to fill your stomach. Many students around the country will bring a large bag of garri to school or university and that is what they eat for the semester to save money. 

There are now 3 rocket stoves!
Cassava

The headmaster has a school gathering and introduces us. Ben speaks and draws a map of the world to show where we are from. He talks about the long airplane ride that we have taken. I’m not sure this journey is fully understood. 

Ben’s map of Africa

We  are told to wander the grounds, ask questions , join in, take pictures. So we do. I go into a classroom and the girls are sitting eating. There are a few boys. I sit and am instantly surrounded. They want to see pictures on my phone. “Show us your kids”, “Show us your house”, “What is the name?”, “This is how we say it, you say it”. Everything always ends with “this is how we say it, you say it”. They either laugh or clap depending upon how much I bungle the pronunciation. I can’t find a photo of my house, but I find a Thanksgiving group photo of family around the table. They tell me it is nice. One girl in particular likes the name Abigail. She asks me about my Abigail a lot. 

“Can u take me home?”, “Do you have chocolate?”  I have shared all of my chocolate already with the small boys at the Shea nut village, but I do have a bag of peanut M&Ms. They want to try them. I grab it and quickly add two packages of peanut butter cheese crackers. I had brought these in case I needed to eat something familiar – and particularly for my time at the school. But we have been so well fed and my stomach is so settled here that I don’t need them. They all like the crackers better than the M&Ms. Now the boys hear that I am giving out food, so they crush around me and I have to go to my room to get more. One boy takes all of them and I tell him he must share with the others. I have no idea if he does or not. 

They like me to scroll on my phone and let them randomly select a photo. Then they want me to tell them what it is. They like seeing snow. One random photo is of Alex,  shirtless as always, holding a tray of cinnamon bread that he had just pulled out of the oven. They all like it a lot ….. but it’s the bread they are pointing to and asking me about, not him. 

They find a photo of a soccer stadium – it is Camp Nou (FC Barcelona) from our spring trip. They really like that one! Just wait, I say. And I pull up a photo of Lionel Messi’s cleats that I took in the museum. Such clapping! These kids know their stuff. Just wait, I say. This player is my favorite. Guess who he is? I show the photo of a Captain’s band from the museum. Pujols!! one of them yells. Yes, I yell. I have connected with the boys. 

I ask the girls if they want to take a selfie. I take one to show them how and they each take turns getting in front of the group and snapping the pic with my phone. When everybody has had a turn, I let them scroll thru and critique them. Meanwhile, the group of kids around Ben (looking at the photos on his phone) now want to do selfies too. He wouldn’t have thought of this, but he is having fun with it also. The girls now want individual photos taken and they do various poses, same as everywhere else in the world. 

Selfies!

I ask if I can see their lodging. Most of them board here. It is a cement room with about six sets of bunk beds. They have mosquito nets and a few personal belongings. They want to know if I think it is nice. I tell them it is VERY nice. They take me out back to the girls wash area. It is just a square within a cement wall. No roof. I feel guilty about my shower and flush toilet. 

Girls dorm
The sewing teacher takes my measurements
Dress fitting

The school teaches sewing. I am shown a rack of cloth and I pick out some fabric. The sewing teacher measures me and asks me to pick out a dress from many fashion books. I tell her that I like the dress that she is wearing and that I would like one like that. I’m a tad confused, because I think I am also getting a wrap jacket made from kente cloth pattern. I guess that I will find out. I thought that the sewing students would be working on my dress too, but they now have free time because the teacher is doing all of the work on my dress. She has to walk into the village to get a zipper. How in this little village can she find the right size/color zipper?

Kakum

We are now done with the formal tour portion of our trip. We now need to travel to the MCSOT school – the real reason we are here in Ghana. We are picked up by the school’s headmaster. Before we drive the 2+ hours into the central region, we must visit Kakum National Park. Once again, it is a fascinating drive to the park and we see a slightly different type of village. 

We had been told lots of things to do and not to do for this trip. Most pieces of advice were valid. But we just couldn’t understand why we were told not to bother to wear white. The red dust is supposed to be on everything. So far, this hasn’t been our experience. If you know me well, you know 80% of my tops are white. I snuck one white T-shirt into my luggage and happened to wear it today. Moving away from the coast, we catch a break from the unbearable humidity. But hello dust!! Everything alongside the road is covered in red. As am I. 

Unavoidable red dust

The Kakum Park feels cool and sweet. It is a rainforest and the growth is plentiful. It is nice to have so much shade. We are doing the tree canopy walk. We get to traverse 7 sections of rope bridges that are strung between the tallest of trees. We get to look down upon the rain forest. The bridges strain and sway while we walk across them. This is amazing! I wish we could do it again. But after we purchase a cold bottle of water, we are off to the car again. 

Zoom in & look closely….. you can see the canopy bridge
Tree canopy walk

We are in farm country, if you will. We see rows and rows of coconut trees, palm trees, orange trees, plantains. Our friend stops many times along the bumpy roads. We watch some men processing palm seeds for oil. We see crowded church services with everybody dressed up in their finest clothes. I recall that we started on a Sunday, so we have been here for a week. 

That’s some big bamboo!

The headmaster is picking up some things for the school as we drive. This is perhaps my favorite thing to witness. He pulls over to the side of the road and the vendors descend upon us. I’m trying to figure out how the system works, but I can’t. At first, I think he tells the first woman he spoke with what he wants and she summons the vendors who have that fruit. I’m thinking this works like a western hierarchical organization. Then I think, no, word is out that we want pineapple and watermelon. There are multiple women selling the same fruits. They are shoving it in the car window, and he is rejecting it. There is price bargaining going on. And I’m pretty sure that fruit quality is also being discussed (loudly). This goes on and on.  Then, all of a sudden we have all of this fruit in the car and off we go. I decide that it was just chaos. What do I know?

The next stop is simpler. We need oranges. I try to snap a photo of the man sitting with a machete (machetes are everywhere out here). But hey! That is our headmasters uncle and he has the best oranges around. This transaction is easy. 

Next stop is lunch. We arrive at our friend’s home. It is one of those homes that look to be unfinished. The entire second floor is concrete and open. There is a roof structure, but no roof. The lower right half is finished and it is lovely inside! We sit in the living room, and they wash our hands and serve us a beautiful and delicious lunch. I enjoy playing with the two small boys. 

We have brought gifts for them. Ben brought T-shirt’s from UND (the whole rocket stove & teacher connection) and toy cars with the Leidos label. At the last minute at home, I threw in the small Eagles jerseys that the kids had years ago. You know, the days of McNabb & Dawkins. The oldest son’s face lit up when he saw American football jerseys! He could only fit in the smallest one, Izzy’s old Akers jersey. I doubt he’s taking that off for quite a while. 

E A G L E S – Eagles!

As we visited, we were shown their wedding album. Again, I don’t understand most of this. But there were photos, mostly all of the women, in lots and lots of beautiful dresses. It seemed that on Friday, she was wearing a fancy blue dress and had fresh henna on her hands. On Saturday, she had a white dress (not the gown, that was a different day I think) and all the women relatives had new clothes too. Her married name was in henna on her chest in the photo with the wedding gown. 

Cape Coast

(I am having trouble uploading photos with the internet I have, so I will add later)

We are at a resort called Coconut Grove Beach. It sits right on the Atlantic and the waves are crashing in, as they tend to do here on the coast of Ghana. We are behind the walls, gates, and security guards. There are no vendors on the beach to accost us. Our outdoor eating pavilion is right at the edge of the sand, as is the pool. It is so hot and humid on this part of the coast, that my glasses fog up every time I step outside. It takes repeated wipings over 5 minutes to get them cleared. I don’t notice eyeglasses on the Ghanaians. 

Did I mention that I am hot? The heat is really sapping me today. I’m not sure if my stomach is feeling ok or if it is just the heat. I drink so much water but it doesn’t stay cold long. I had saved a linen dress for the Cape Coast, but already I know that it was a wrong choice. I want to rip it off but I have nothing else to wear by this point. I sweat so much that repeats are a tactical decision. I take a Pepto (shout out to Pepto – amazing stuff) and soak a buff in cold water. I was going to use my buff for evenings at the school when I had to be outside with the mosquitos. But no. The buff is now meant for me to wipe my brow. I wipe my brow all day, just like the Ghanaian guys. I get why they do that. I hadn’t thought about it before. I totally get it. 

We drive through the fishing village of El Mina. The large and colorful fishing boats are fantastic and are everywhere. The fishmongers are busy processing and selling fish all along the streets. It is crazy busy. I suppose that I am used to the roadside markets now, as it doesn’t phase me much. 

We head to Cape Coast Castle. Our guide tells us that it was called a castle by the Dutch who originally built it, but it is in reality a fort and a dungeon. 


There is a somber quiet and respect here. We listen intently and feel horrified by what has happened here. I wipe my brow. I am so hot. 
We are brought down into the slave dungeons, both male and female. The heat and the darkness are incomprehensible. We are given descriptions about the conditions and how long some humans were kept here until the next slave ship arrived. Some in our group get claustrophobic and have to leave. Some in our group get too hot and have to leave. We have that choice, but those who did not face even worse conditions on the slave ships. 


Finally, we walk through the Door of No Return. It leads right to the beach and the boats that take the slaves to the ships off in the distance. The Atlantic Coast is too rough here. All around us are fishermen now. 


The guides are amazingly positive. They say that we have to remember this inhumanity so that it never can happen again. We want to shrink into our guilty white skin. How can you even want to show us this? How can you want us here?


We next drive to El Mina castle. Along the way, the streets are filled with people wearing black and white fancy clothes. It is a funeral celebration. The color of the clothing tells us that it was somebody old. It is festive, but we are not.

 
El Mina Castle is equally horrifying. We are locked in a cell for Europeans and then a cell for slaves to experience the difference. We are also told more about what happens to the women. 


It is too hard to tell. 

A Shout Out!

Today was a necessary travel day. We knew it would be long (and it was), arduous (it was), and something would probably go wrong (it did). 

The vying for position started early. Everybody wanted to be on the bigger, more comfortable bus. There were only three of us originals who got back on the small van. Since we are the ‘extras’ on this trip, it seemed to me that we should be in the small van. I know my place on this particular social ladder. 

We are not 30 minutes in to our bumpy ride, when somebody orders the van driver to stop. I don’t think he is used to this, and he doesn’t stop but instead tells us it will be 1.5 hours more to the airport in Tamale. NO! STOP! She’s gonna be sick….

We stop. And Montezuma has his revenge on one of us. This is the first that I know of us who has ‘drank the water’ as they say. It’s a pretty good revenge and it lasts quite a while. There is not much foliage out here in the central part of the country, so finding a bush to hide behind isn’t going well. 

We all distract ourselves by digging in our bags for remedies. Baby wipes, toilet paper, Imodium, are whipped out and offered. It takes a little longer for the prescription drugs to be located in carry-on bags. “Here, take this! It will solve this problem in 5 minutes. It is the greatest stuff. It worked on me back when I was traveling to…” The distracting narrative quickly becomes our diarrhea war stories. There are lots of them. Listening to them makes you want to be sick yourself. And that starts the second narrative. Do I feel queasy too?

The men, lucky as they are, start to saunter off to various spots to take care of business. We are on the side of the road so long that we begin to worry about getting to the airport on time. The big bus decides to leave and off they go! Finally, our unlucky one feels ok enough to get back in the van. Off we go. 

STOP! This time the van driver stops pretty quickly and it is the same exact routine. We all begin the distracting bag searches to afford the ill some measure of privacy even though there is none. 

Now there is peer pressure to get back on the road because we may seriously miss our flight from this dinky remote airport. The Imodium kicks in, the hand sanitizer is passed around. And we make it to the airport. 


This is a shout out to the beautiful powers of Imodium. It is great stuff. 


The remainder of the day is simply more travel and more unbelievably crazy traffic to get to El Mina. We arrive at 9:30 pm and get prepared for a difficult day tomorrow. Tomorrow we visit the slave castles. 

Life is not fair

After our day of communing with the Shea nut pickers, we cram back into the vans and drive and drive to our ultimate destination. We are in the smaller van and we’ve got a couple of the tall guys. A couple of folks have had knee issues & replacements, and there is no room to stretch. The road is bumpy. We all joke that we in the small van have taken one for the team. Big time. In fact, we should get t-shirts that say ‘we were in the small van’. It binds us together and is a point of pride. (More on this in the post about tomorrow!)

Our destination: Mole National Park. We are to stay in the Zaina Lodge, which sits above two large watering holes. 

If you know me well, you know that I am not a city person. I need my open spaces. I need my natural landscape. I need to see vegetation.  And I am an introvert. I need my quiet time. And I would particularly love to be alone. I wish for 1 hour, but I would gladly take 5 minutes. Group travel is not for me. 

The lodge is heavenly. The lodge is perfection. It is all open air with high thatched ceilings. There are stellar, open views of the savanna from the dining tables. The bar sits front and center overlooking the entire vista. The eternity pool is so BLUE! I miss blue. And there are so many chairs surrounding all of this on the patio, from which one can sit endlessly and soak it all in. Could it be any better?

Yes! It could. Because we happened to arrive during a gorgeous sunset in progress. We have since learned that  out here, 5 degrees north of the equator, is quick. Hmm, never thought about that before. The sun gets low and turns pink. The sky gets pink, orange, and yellow. As soon as the sun touches the horizon line, in less than a minute, it all disappears and you are left to wonder if you actually saw all of that beauty or day-dreamed it. 

Yes, we saw it. 

The night is oddly quiet. It is not until about 4:30 am that we can hear strange noises. We learn later that those are the monkeys. I thought that they were birds. But really, I have hardly seen a bird. Our guide told us that this portion of Ghana is a worldwide birding destination. Some in our group discover this on an afternoon safari to the marshland, where they discover new & colorful birds. 

We are in a thatch-roofed stand-alone half tent structure with a porch. We left the curtains open so that we could wake and watch the dawning of the day. The sunrise is behind us, out the bathroom window. The sunrise isn’t particularly colorful. We are excited to start the day. Today is safari day. 

We find fresh skat on our porch. Who, or what, left that? We don’t have to ponder this too long, as we spot a baboon sitting quietly next to the neighboring hut. He looks at us and saunters away. Am I really experiencing this? How could I be so lucky?

We take a pre-breakfast dip in the pool and sit down for an hour of watering hole excitement. First, it’s the antelope that are there. The different kinds of monkeys and baboons are always hovering on the outskirts. Our guide points out what looks like a big stick in the water and tells us that is a crocodile. Later we see him sunning on the edge for hours. I guess we didn’t happen to catch him when he was hungry. 

Finally, a line of six elephants slowly and majestically saunters in. The smaller ones are in front. The guide tells us that they are all males. We watch an elephant show forever. 

And this is before the safari starts! We load into Jeeps and head down to the watering hole. There is a blind that we can go in and watch. We are so very close. 

Next, out to see antelope, Buffalo, monkeys, baboons, and warthogs. These are the animals here in Mole National Park. The guide takes us back to the staff only area afterwards and shows us elephant skulls, antelope skulls, baboon skulls. We get to touch them. I get my only exercise of the day by lifting the elephant jawbone. 

We have the option of doing this all again in the afternoon. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would choose the pool instead. But I did, and it was a wonderfully quiet, relaxing afternoon in the pool and on the patio watching the afternoon parade of animals to the watering hole. 

Sunset

We catch another beautiful sunset. Why am I so lucky to get to experience this? Life is not fair. 

It Takes a Village

Today we woke early and headed to the airport. We flew to the city of Tamale. Our vans awaited us at the airport. They had driven up after the previous night’s dinner. We had a fascinating 2 hour drive to a Shea tree farm. I could sit and look out the van window forever. Of course, air conditioning in the van makes this a comfortable experience even though my knees are under my chin in this middle row. Although the country is over 75% Christian, this area is Muslim. We see the same foods and drinks being sold on the side of the road. We see the same plastic that is littered everywhere. It feels more hot. Will this be my new adjective for this stage of the trip? ‘More’

But now we see mud huts in circles with thatched roofs. Goats everywhere. Herds of cattle. Chickens. Stacks and stacks of firewood. And at 1 pm, prayers. 

Outside of Tamale

We are headed to two communities of Shea nut pickers. They supply, as a community, the Shea nuts for the Shea butter factory that we visited on Monday. They have been taught to do some initial processing – they crack the nuts and keep the kernel. The shell is not used so you don’t want to carry the extra weight of the shell. They parboil them before selling them. 

We show up to the first community and are greeted with women dancing and clapping. It is a celebration that keeps on going. We have a local interpreter, and the head woman speaks to us and the CEO of our group speaks to them. After each comment, there is a unique clap that everybody performs. Clap, clap, clap clap clap, clap. Many of the women come forward and tell us what they do and how they do it. We tell them what our part in the process is. The women get up one by one to the center of the circle and ask us questions. We get up and ask them questions. Clap, clap, clap clap clap, clap every time. When we are finished there is more dancing in a circle and singing. 

Welcome ceremony
Village women
Young boys
Young girls

Then we go and repeat the entire thing at the second community. It is the most special of days. The women are beautiful and friendly. They like for us to take their photos and show them to them. 

The babies are all on laps and the young women are in the circle. The small children ((mostly little boys) sit quietly under a cotton tree on a log. We have been told if we take a picture of a child we should have something to give to them. But to also make sure that we have enough for all the children. I have a chocolate bar in my bag and I get to give each of the 9 a small square. Some are too shy to take it from me (but eventually do), some eat it immediately, some just hold it. Yes , it is melting. I get to take another picture and we have a second round of chocolate. They all take it right away when offered, and now I get smiles. One little boy is still holding his two pieces. 

Our local bus driver thinks to scoop up all of the empty water bottles that litter our vans. He gives them to the children and they are happy to have new toys to play with. Oh, my heart. I feel so guilty at the second community because all I have are biscotti from a long ago Delta flight that Ben had in his backpack. But the biscotti is sweet, so that’s ok. We don’t have any empty water bottles for this group. Life is not fair. 

Michael

Our friend Keli from 1stPresb met us for breakfast with her daughter Abigail before we left. Keli  grew up right outside of Accra and was a wealth of information. She gave us extensive lists of foods that we must try. Red red, shito, palm nut soup, ground nut soup, red snapper, palm wine, tiger nuts, joffa, milo cubes. (We are actually doing a damn fine job of working thru this list by day 3). Abigail was working google pretty adeptly to show us photos of all the foods that her mother was describing. 

Keli also gave us lists of things that we must see. Since we are on a tour, this is a bit more difficult to accomplish. Of course, our trip has cultural sidetrips scheduled, but that is not the main purpose of the tour. 

But the BEST thing that Keli gave us, was a connection with her cousin Michael. Michael generously gave us an entire day of his time and local knowledge. He is kind, generous, joyous, interesting, and has an infectious smile. As he described himself  to me, his love of life shines through his eyes. So true! I was smitten and kinda crushing on him. Don’t tell Ben. 

Ben & I with Michael

Michael drove us 1 1/2 hours out of Accra to the hills. It was just fascinating sitting in his car and looking out the window at the differing types of homes, businesses, schools, and street markets on such a different scale from Accra. The vegetation was so different too, as there was farming and trees to delight in. 

He stopped in the middle of nowhere and starting conversing with a woman selling palm wine outside her house. He told us that she makes the best. We each had a calabash of sweet palm wine (it was 10 am) and bought some for sharing with the group later in the evening. We used her outdoor bathroom. 

Drinking palm wine out of a calabash

With an empty stomach and a slight buzz, we headed to the Abruri National Botanic Gardens. We had an English-speaking guide show us the trees. We saw cocoa, Moringa, Shea nut, nutmeg, quinine, cassava, and many others. The guide was pulling leaves off the trees, plucking nuts from them, breaking twigs to show us cassava. They don’t let you do that at Chanticleer Gardens! Most memorable was when he pulled a leaf off a tree and waited for a liquid to start to drop from the stem. I almost put my hand under it to touch it. No, no! It is called poison arrow and it was traditionally used on the end of a dart for hunting. 

😍 Michael holding quinine

We had a huge spread for lunch. The restaurant had small bowls next to each dish with samples of all the vegetables and spices that were in the dish, so we could make some informed choices. 

Colors of the market

Last, we went through the famous Makola Market. Vendors galore selling and making everything. Bargaining is required. I didn’t bring my phone with me, yet would have loved taking pictures. Somehow that just seemed wrong. It was sensory overload and it was a wonderful day.