Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Marco... Polo...

7-28-10 @ 4:54p

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

Shout out to Jada for taking the bar yesterday and today. Now that you’re done enjoy your time off. You’re an inspiration. Love ya!

Wli Waterfall
We’re back in Accra. We had another great adventure to the Volta Region. We left early Monday morning from Accra and headed to Volta. Upon arrival we took a 45-minute hike (that should have been 5 according to Sonny) and finally arrived at the most amazing waterfall you can think of. All of the complaints for the long and underestimated walk were wiped away at the sight. I immediately tore off my shirt and shoes and went running into the shallow water. Halfway to the waterfall I hit a huge log in the water and stumbled. OUCH! Five more steps and a big rock was making contact with my pinky toe. DANG! I yelled back for others to be careful. As we got closer to the waterfall we had to turn around and walk backwards because of the pressure. Then the ultimate prize came. Standing underneath intense pressure coming from the pouring water. I had to keep my eyes closed so that my contacts didn’t come out from the pressure. The water hit my back and I felt around for someone slapping me. After removing myself from underneath the waterfall, seeing some of the smiles on faces was comforting. It was like seeing children in a candy store. Especially those that try to hide they’re emotions the most. On the side of the waterfall were the most bats I’ve ever seen. Close your eyes and imagine as many bats clinging to a mountain as you possibly can… Don’t worry, I’ll wait… Now multiply that by 3!

We stepped foot on Togo soil after the waterfall.

We left the border and went to a monkey sanctuary. Equipped with bags of bananas and cameras we entered a forest ready to see the brilliant animals. The monkeys would crawl down from the trees and peal the banana right in our hands and take part of it. You could throw the bananas and the monkeys would catch them like a wide receiver. The smiles continued.

Momma, I made it!
On Tuesday we went to climb Mount Afadjato. The mountain stood 2,905 feet above the flatland. I’ve been reading Three Cups of Tea and there are many references to people climbing K2 in Pakistan and Everest. It would be an insult to even suggest that they are close to the same but I have a tremendous amount of respect for mountain climbers. We worked our thighs, calfs, butts, arms, abs, and backs tremendously on the climb. Just in sight I could see one student as I dreaded the next rock. My mind played tricks on me and told me I was almost there. I began to wonder what would happen if I broke a leg. No airlifting as they do at Everest. I remembered climbing Table Mountain in South Africa. Table Mountain was a mix of flat and uphill. Mount Afadjato was straight up for the entire hour. But reaching the top was well worth it. I put my Spanish to test at the top when the Spaniard arrived that we had also seen at the waterfall the day before. At the top we took pictures, recorded commercials on a flip cam, slept on a rock, ate pineapple, and cheered as more and more made it to the top. The guide said he climbs the mountain 4 times per day. Ascending the mountain was harder on the body but much easier on the lungs and mind. Most of us reached the bottom in 1/3 of the time it took to climb.
Mount Afadjato
The evening was spent in the hotel pool. We were playing tag, Marco Polo (I love it when everyone gets outta the pool and splashes the person that’s it), and judging cannon bombs. Even as we grow up there is always a faction between the males and females during games. It reminded me of being at recess in Jamie’s class in the 5th grade. Did I mention that we had a dance off in the water? My footwork is unstoppable under water.

I followed the pool with a HOT shower and movies. On the way back today the girls from Tougaloo picked my brain about relationships. I can’t believe how much I’ve seen people grow since being here. I have grown a tremendous amount as well. It has been a humbling experience. And I am blessed to be a small part of it. I can envisage doing more trips abroad like this, maybe as a professor.

As promised… The bios.

Uncle Solo. Check his bling!
Uncle Solo is our driver. He’s been a driver for virtually his entire working life. He has driven taxis, semi trucks, trojos (small vans that act as the main source of transportation), and coach buses. I think he is about 45-50 years old with a wife and two daughters. Uncle Solo comes from the Cape Coast and now lives about 2 hours by taxi away from East Legon (where we live). Most nights he makes the long journey home to be with his family. They say that Fanti women in the Cape Coast area cook the best because they were first exposed to the spices brought over from the West. Solo wakes up early in the morning when we have early departures or sleeps in the kitchen of the Aya Centre on the tile floor with just a blanket under him. Even with encouragement from the group, he will rarely eat with us when we have a buffet at restaurants. Instead, Sonny or I pack him a takeaway box and he eats after dropping us off for our next adventure. Most places we go he knows everyone from his many trips back and forth. He has a keen awareness for landmarks even though they can change overnight, never have we been lost on our excursions. He told me one day, “Abdul, you treat me like son, and I treat you like father. I like that, thank you.” He usually knows more facts and historic sites than Sonny and Alex but plays his role and whispers to the guides to mention things to us.

Timothy is 33 years old and is charged with being the caretaker of the compound. The Aya Centre is right next to the house we live in. He comes from the Northern Region, which is the poorest region. It’s about a 16-hour drive from Accra so he rarely makes it home. Timothy is not married but has a partner waiting for him in the north that he hopes to marry. He lives in Nima, a community of squatters right next to the ocean and is struck with extreme poverty. Crime is huge in Nima and many Muslims occupy the area. Because of the large amounts of crime in Nima, Muslims receive a lot of negative stereotypes. He has been robbed twice in the two years he has occupied a room in Nima. He told me about the last robbery. I could see the agony on his face as he told me he struck one of the three men with a rock before running and still wonders the outcome of the blow, praying that the man did not die. He only goes home during the day and if he cannot make it back before sundown he waits until the next morning. He refers to me as his ‘main man’ and frequently tells me he’ll miss me when I depart. He insists that I come back to Ghana and Solo and Elijah usually nod in agreement. Timothy too sleeps on a blanket on the hard floor in the kitchen.

Elijah and me.
Elijah is 55 years old and is also from the Northern Region. He too lives about two hours from East Legon. He was in the military for many years and then worked as a construction worker. Now he is the watchman. He has a wife and six daughters ranging from 16-25. One is in high school in Akwapem, where many of the countries best schools are located. He makes the one hour journey to see her every chance he gets. Elijah usually arrives at the house around 6pm and stays until daybreak. He rests in a small room next to the gate on the cement, also with just a blanket. Even while resting, Elijah remains alert. I find extreme joy in sitting with them late at night outside of the Aya Centre hearing stories of their families and childhood. Timothy and Elijah are usually hovered around a small radio with its antenna fully extended listening to the Christian station or talk radio. By then, Uncle Solo is gone home. They pick my brain about the cold in MN and the hardships of surviving in the US.

I know I mentioned the robbery next door in my last blog. Everything seems to have calmed down now. I don’t anticipate any other mishaps.

Let me take you back to Sunday quickly. The entire house cooked a meal and invited the Aya Centre employees. Most people worked together in the kitchen to prepare their individual meals, laughed, and joked. It was just what we needed after one person leaving, a minor security breach, and the feeling of missing home. Many people are still ready to go home but doing much better than last week. Once they all finish their final papers on Friday I’m sure the ‘hurry up and wait’ game will be in the final quarter of play.
Bus and house we live in
Aya Centre

JJP, not sure if you’ve been reading but I hope the move goes well!

Mariam, let’s make goal please. ☺

Prayers go out to a friend and her family. Sorry for your loss.

The life and times of amo…

Saturday, July 24, 2010


7-24-10 @ 12:50p

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

One of the students went home yesterday. Sad situation. She’s been feeling sick since arrival and after a five-hour doctor visit with her we found out she does not have malaria, as she thought. But her parents weren’t satisfied with the diagnosis and changed her flight. It’s unfortunate because this experience is one that cannot be replicated. To think when I was selected to be in the first cohort of this program, it was because someone dropped out. I would have been quite disappointed if I was an alternate and a student returned home, disallowing me the opportunity. But, you must take care of self first. She’s a really nice person and hopefully she benefited from an amazing three weeks.

Many of the students have hit the middle ground of traveling and are missing home tremendously. It’s hard to see them so sad. I remember when I hit this phase in South Africa. I wanted to go home so bad. But then it levels out and a neutral place is reached. Hopefully they will have the same experience as me and it will level out.

We did our last community service project on Thursday. We went to a school in Community 18 near Tema. Tema is like driving to Bloomington from Minneapolis. We were charged with painting a portion of the school. Before arrival it was hard to envisage exactly what we would be painting. I imagined cement walls with open windows and little shelter from the sounds outside of the walls, like the previous school we worked at. Most of us were surprised to see the learning environment. Dirt was under the students’ feet from the ground, wood planks made the walls and rose to chest height, poorly crafted desks, and absolutely no shelter from the outside distractions. The school has been in existence for 17 years, started by an elderly woman and serves students with little money to pay school fees. Many of the students are orphans. The Head Master told us that it is hard to make improvements on the structure when they target that population of young people. They were in exam week just before a month break. As we painted the walls just outside of their classes, I could not help but to think of the immense distraction we were. But they paid attention with a keen interest and focus that I have never seen in a US classroom. I thought about the worst schools I’ve entered in the US or seen on television. Eastside High in Lean on Me cannot compare to these conditions. The paint was mixed with polyurethane so that we could cover more wood. As we painted we slowly floated higher and higher from the smell.

After we finished painting it was lunchtime. The entire school rushed into the courtyard to greet us. Students ranged from kindergarten to 12th grade. The schoolgirls surrounded our girls and played games and danced in circles. The boys played soccer with a small ball the size of a softball and extremely soft like a teddy bear. It reminded me of a ball you get in a machine at a restaurant (the ones that you pay $1 and use the hand to pick up a teddy bear. But you never win, unless you’re Omari at Denny’s). I played soccer with the boys. Initially we were passing the ball back and forth, and for some reason every pass had to come through me. Then I dribbled the ball and put a move on one student. It was ON. Every man for himself. There were at least 20 students, one tiny ball. 10 legs in a circle kicking shins and attacking the tiny ball. Finally I learned that the ultimate prize was to get it through someone’s legs. This was after they had megged (got it through my legs) about 8 times. Finally, I put it through a students legs and everyone cheered and gave me high fives.

We went to lunch and returned for a discussion with the older kids. We split into groups of 6 and visited the high school classrooms. They told us about their future aspirations and we asked them if they knew the steps it takes to become a doctor, nurse, teacher, or accountant. Much like everywhere else in the world, many of the boys want to be professional futbolers. We probed about their life after futbol. Then we played games. Heads up seven up, Simon says, and Gorilla/Ninja/Cowboy. The last one is a game I learned in Young Life, it’s just like Paper/Rock/Scissors but with your entire body. They loved it and the entire school watched and cheered for their candidate to win the entire game. We lifted the winner in the air as if he was a pro athlete and had just made the winning goal in the World Cup.

This interaction is critical in a trip like this. The barrier of being on a bus was lifted, the dichotomy of us and them, the other. Or simply looking in a classroom and smiling. The mystery of these foreign people coming in to help with painting or building a library was gone. Names were added to faces. Aspirations were added to bodies. States were added to a country. Of course our students had mixed reviews. Some students said the interaction wasn’t meaningful. Most agreed that it was great. I was delighted to hear one student draw connections between the games played by the females here and at home. They sang gospel songs and played schoolyard games. And the rhythms and actions were almost the same as in the US. The student said they originated in Africa but they have remained virtually unchanged for so many years in the exploitative land across the Atlantic.

We’re headed to the Volta Region of Ghana on Monday. It’s to the North East of Accra. The Volta Region used to be a part of Togo. However, opted to become part of Ghana some years back. Illenin schooled me on this history just before departure. I was hoping to be headed to Togo right now but waited to long to get a Visa. Maybe it will work next weekend. And I might spend a night in Amsterdam on the way back (can’t remember if I mentioned that in another blog).

Last night I was out and there was a robbery attempt on the neighbor’s house. Seven men. One jumped over the wall into our complex and some of the students are pretty nervous about it. I’m not so worried but it’s getting to be a big deal. We’ll see how this plays out. Hopefully the watchmen won’t get into trouble. I’ll keep you updated.

Chaka, I was extremely excited to read your last email. Let’s get it. I miss everyone back home but am doing surprisingly well. Is it bad that I REALLY miss my closet? I feel like it is but… It’s the truth. Mommy, I’m dying for a burger. Oh, the students think you’re 45. You’re beautiful! Pop, they said they’re afraid of you and they haven’t met you, HAHA. Mapenzi, can a brother get some guacamole? Halwa, sweet potatoes, mac n cheese, and greens. O2, I need some of that rice with the olives. 

I probably won’t travel with my computer; I’ve been intentional about that. So, more than likely I won’t have an update until after we return on Wednesday. I know I promised bios on the people that work here. I got you, don’t worry.

The life and times of amo...

Monday, July 19, 2010

In a different space and time

7-19-10 @ 9:33p

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

So much has happened since my last blog. I do not even know where to begin. For starters, my friend left Ghana today. It’s sad. That necklace suits you well. We’ll meet again in a different space and time. ☺

This past Friday we had a fascinating lecture on the “Political Economy of Ghana.” The professor was great. He spoke a lot about the continent as a whole and the idea that Kwame Nkrumah attempted to put into reality of uniting the entire continent of Africa. Or having a United States of Africa with more trade and positive relationships in order to encourage industrialization. Ghana’s government struggles with colonial undertones just as other sectors of the nation such as education, economics, etc. The sound of having a united Africa makes me smile. Former president of South Africa, and the current presidents of Gambia and Senegal have been attempting to push this idea. We’ll see how it develops. Ghana is $7 billion in debt. An exchange rate of 1.41 cedis to 1 USD might suggest a bit of difficulty in paying this back. Much of the debt was accumulated during the period after independence (1957) that military coups were constantly overthrowing the government. This led to borrowed money for specific projects going unfinished. The coup to overthrow Nkrumah in 1966 was funded by the CIA. #randomfact. I love to hear the lecturers refer to Kenya. It’s amazing how frequently this happens. I feel extreme pride hearing them reference the Kenyan government, presidents, or anything else. Even when bad things are mentioned I smile. I need to learn more about my home countries, Jordan and Kenya.

Saturday we traveled to the city of Kumasi. It is the center most part of Ghana and a trading point for all of western Africa, dating back to slavery. It houses some of the most prosperous people in the country but there is poor education and financial literacy. We went to the central market, which is the largest open market in western Africa and run by women. For every 15 stalls there might be one male owner. My five foot, eight and three quarter inch frame towered over many of the women (average male height). The stalls are the size of a closet; most were hard to even enter. As you walked, you found more shops. It was as if it was never ending. Name a product and it was there. Look right and you see clothes (panties, bras, shoes, flip-flops, jeans, tops, kente, socks). Look left and you saw raw pig, beef, chicken, fish onions, tomatoes, potatoes, plantains, peanuts. Take 10 more steps and look left again to see more clothes (panties, bras, shoes, flip-flops, jeans, tops, kente, socks). 10 more steps and repeat the process to see gold, silver, pots, pans, blankets, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc. They chopped the meat in front of you. They ate from their goods. Look straight and a 10-year-old girl was peeing. It rained for about 30 minutes before we entered the market. We split into groups of 6. Most of the girls and I had on sandals. The water splashed feet causing the women in my group looked down to avoid the unsanitary water rather than taking in the experience. The paths were narrow and the locals were moving fast, not worried about the water hitting their feet or anything else for that matter. The girls complained of the nasty smell of raw meat and body odor. They sang church songs, partially to be funny and partially because they thought they would vomit. “Abdul, get us out of here please.” I ignored them and took it in. Nodded and smiled at the stall owners. Unlike the many shops we visit with tourist attractions, these women did not ask for us to enter their stalls, they did give you the famous, “come my broda (brother), have a look, this is my work, I’ll give you a good price, we’re from the same family…” I get off the hook most times when I tell the vendors that I’m Kenyan and think of Rory’s time in Haiti when they ask to trade my shoes, hat, or NSOD bag for things they have. Back to the central market… Stall owners did however yell at the mixed guy in the group that can pass for white, “white man, white man” or “America, America.” One girl began to cry, back to the bus we went. And of course I thought we were exiting from the exact spot we entered but I was easily lost in the most ORGANIZED CHAOS I have ever experienced. Once on the street we spent 30 minutes searching for the bus, which for me was fun but traumatizing for the girls in the group.

I’ve grown to hate the traffic in Ghana. If I didn’t know any better I would think the horn was the device that made cars move. The horn has become second nature to drivers. If the light turns green and you don’t peal out leaving streaks on the ground, you’re getting honked at.

We visited a kente village in Kumasi. Kente is the national cloth of Ghana but unfortunately it’s imported from China. I think I’ve mentioned this before. And you can’t be mad at the buyers, because it makes economic sense especially for poor people. The men do the weaving. It requires extreme arm, back, leg, and butt muscles. They sit for hours at a time weaving beautiful and elaborate designs. I’m a bit jealous of the men here. Most have defined arms, legs, and abdomen areas. I suppose if I actually worked out when I visited the YMCA, it would help me. I kid I kid, Mariam will like that one.

The bead village was also an interesting place. All of the beads are made by hand from crushed glass. The glass is placed in little clay holes and bamboo is put in the middle to create the hole that remains in the bead. They then place the clay in the clay oven fueled by wood until the glass melts, let it cool, and you have your beads. I did not buy much, mainly because I was playing soccer with the kids just behind the tables with all of the necklaces and bracelets. That was my day’s highlight.

The hotel we stayed in was nice. We swam for a bit on Sunday in the over-chlorinated pool. They had hot water! Man, the showers were wonderful. While I’ve grown accustomed to the cold showers at our house in East Legon (head first, then hands, then chest, and slowly put your back in), the hot water was great. I miss some of the luxuries we experience in the states. I watched CNN and boy am I out of touch with the happenings. It feels weird.

I’ll soon be blogging about the people that work at the house and Aya Centre. I love to sit and talk with them. The conversations are rich and I’ve learned a lot from them. Elijah, Timothy, and Uncle Solo. I’ll do a little bio on each of them this week.

I guess not too much has happened. Maybe I was just excited to blog. Who knows?

The life and times of amo…

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Feel what they felt

7-13-10 @ 3:53p

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

Shout out to the Dutch not winning the World Cup. I know I know, I’m hating. But Slave Coast will do that to you. Not that the Spanish are much better…

Am I the only one that listens to the Drake album at least every other day? 10 Light Up #nowplaying. Thanks @tajordan2 for the album.

So, I promised I’d tell you about Slave River. We visited the river on July 9th. It was another emotional journey. Before arriving I was a bit confused about what went on at Slave River. The drive to the river from the coast where the castles remain was about an hour. Our tour guide began to explain the significance of what we were preparing to experience. First he told us we were going to travel along the same path our ancestors traveled. He asked us to remove our shoes in order to feel what they felt. He mentioned that in the past there were poisonous thorns on the ground that would cut the feet of people and lead to their deaths. Slaves came from all over the western portion of Africa. They walked in shackles for days, barefoot, all times of the day and night. They were fed well as they traveled to Ghana in order to prepare for the auction. But many did not survive the journey, either they died from poison, wild animals attacking in the night, or simply fatigue. Children also passed along the way. The tour guide asked us to close our eyes and grab the shoulder of the person in front of us. He wanted us to feel what it would be like to walk through a foreign land in the night. The sound of the river grew louder.

Those that made it were brought to the river for their last bath. We learned that there are actually rivers separated by a few rocks. One for bathing, the other for drinking and within 10 feet from each other. To date, the community still drinks out of only one side. Some of us stepped into the water. Chills shot up my body, more so from the horror of the past than the cold water. I washed my legs, arms, and face. Kept my hands in the water. Looking at my reflection. I held back tears as I thought about being covered in oil after bathing and sent to the auction block.

We walked over to the drinking river. I know I’m not supposed to drink the water, but I had to. If I get malaria, I guess we know why. Sonny says, “hold on, let me drink with you.” He’s a cool person. I’m blessed to have met him and shared the experiences with him and stories. Just before drinking the water, a tear dropped but I laughed to alleviate the emotional ride. We walked back the way we came, for us we went to the bus. For those before us, they were sold and held at the castles we visited a day before. And then shipped to a new land. For most, never to return.

Saturday and Sunday were free days. We went to the club on Friday night, GREAT TIME. Then most of us slept on Saturday. I slept off a sore throat. Sunday was relaxing as well, much of the same. For the students, they spent most of the day finishing their first of three papers.

Yesterday we had an interesting class about W.E.B. and Shirley Graham DuBois. They are two people that should be studied in every school around the world. We left class and visited the DuBois museum. For the last few years of W.E.B.’s life he lived in Ghana and his house was turned into a museum and the bodies of both Shirley and W.E.B. are buried there. Their historical impact on the world and lives of those in the African Diaspora should not be overlooked.

Today we did some community service. We traveled to a local elementary school and helped to build a library and computer lab. The structure is not yet built so we spent about 4 hours mixing cement, hauling and laying bricks. This was a lot of fun most of us and a great workout. Doing something tangible like this was rewarding. The construction guys used scrap wood and built UNSECURE platforms to stand on. You would hear them call “marter” when they needed more cement and “brick” when they were ready for more bricks. They would place two bricks first, one on each end of the wall, then tie a rope around the bricks to make sure the structure would be straight.

The school had kids from kindergarten to ninth grade. We left around lunchtime and after talking to some of the students and the woman serving the food I learned that the kids in sixth grade and above do not get lunch. Most of the older kids stood by a tree during this time, talking rather than eating. Thoughts raced as I considered being in class hungry. It’s not easy to concentrate is it?

The number of African Americans living in Ghana continually surprises me. We saw this in Cape Coast and I met a woman on Saturday who owns a store here but is from Chicago, teaches at the University of Illinois half of the year and spends the rest in Ghana. And this came up in our class discussion yesterday as well. Over time, many African Americans have attempted to help build Ghana and industrialize the nation, mostly because former president, Kwame Nkrumah, invited all black people around the world to move back to Ghana. I thought about the education system and wondered why there has not been a major push to revamp the education system. After dialoguing with two professors, the education system has changed but it has never been a large initiative. For a country still using a colonial education system, it will be hard to free the people of the colonial aftermath still apparent in Ghanaian society. In addition, the lecturer said, “Ghanaians don’t necessarily want African Americans to come and “solve” their problems.” What a great observation. This is the dilemma of the scholar raised again. How does the outsider come in and “solve” the problems WITH the people rather than for them? I think time is one of the most important factors. I’ll continue to ponder this one.

I was extremely disturbed today after we finished laying bricks when the head master (principal) interrupted an entire classroom and had all the students come outside for a picture. I hate to see this happen. The students were learning, already distracted by us being there, and in my opinion should not be brought out of class for a picture with us. Who are we to interfere with learning? I stayed out the picture. I experienced the same thing in Ecuador and South Africa. And was equally bothered all three times.

We’re meeting a lot of people, Ghanaians of course, Kenyans, British and people from the US. The next few days are classes and research days for the students. I will be laying low before we travel to the Ashanti Region on Saturday morning for a two-day trip. We are moving into the Woman’s Role in Ghana section of the course. In Kumasi we will visit the Kente village, the Bead village, and Adinkra village. Sherry, I’ll try and grab you something to add to your collection.

I think some of the students have entered the distress and re-integration/angry stages of culture shock. I’m not sure where I am right now, but I think I am in a good place.

@bestnewactress, how’s the magazine coming?

The life and times of amo…

Friday, July 9, 2010

600 men, 400 women

7-9-10 @ 9:13a

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

Worse than I could have imagined. Something no one can prepare for. We went to Elmina Castle first in the town of Elmina located in the Cape Coast region of Ghana. Elmina was changed from El mina or ‘the mine’ because there was a lot of gold when the Portuguese first came to Ghana. There was so much gold that Ghana used to be called ‘Gold Coast’, Ivory Coast received its name because it was rich in ivory.

The Portuguese reached Ghana’s coast in 1452 (I think) and originally built Elmina Castle as a trading post. As mentioned in an earlier blog the slave trade picked up immensely after the ‘discovery’ of the Americas. When slavery became profitable inter-tribal war broke out and Africans would sell tribesmen and women that had been captured from neighboring tribes to whites. We were overwhelmed with facts about the castle and historical information, such as when the Dutch captured the castle and when the British bought it from the Dutch. I would encourage you to look online for such facts. I have a bad memory. But note that when the Dutch captured the castle more slaves were held and sent off than any other time. I hope they lose to Spain. :)

The sight of the castle from the far distance sent chills up my spine. As we drove up the coast you could see it, covered in fog, elevated on a hill. As you attempt to enter the castle the locals try to make friends and sell their goods. You easily get distracted and forget the horror of the upcoming experience. You enter the old structure, most of which has been unchanged. As I journaled about this experience, Kind of Blue played through my headphones. You start in the museum and get the historical facts of the fort that I mentioned earlier.

It begins. The female dungeon first. I wanted to vomit from the smell. 1000 people held at a time in the castle, 600 men, and 400 women. It was dark; the walls were damp, almost no sunlight, no showers for months, one meal per day. Sometimes there was no meal. The only sunlight was when the white governor stood on his balcony overlooking an atrium. All of the women were brought out, naked, and he would pick the woman to satisfy his desires. The ball in my throat grew larger and larger. Breathing became more and more difficult. I thought of my sisters and the women in my life that I hold close to my heart. She was allowed to bathe and sent up a wooden staircase that led straight to the governor’s room. If a woman rebelled she was chained to a heavy ball and forced to stand in the sunlight all day with no water or food. Deep breaths I told myself. But the stench made me want to hold my breath instead. Sweat dripped from my forehead. “Breath Abdul, breath.”

To the dungeon of no return we went. Male slaves that resisted in any way were sent to the dungeon. Locked in. No sunlight and left for death. A small room, we packed in and the curator closed the door. I imagined my brother Omari lying next to where I stood and tears began to flow as they are right now. Just before we entered, Sonny had to confront a German couple for their jolly spirits in the female dungeon. When I exited it was as if someone had breathed life back into my lungs.

Off to the male dungeons, which led to the room of no return. This room also had the famous door of no return. Dark, damp, watch your step, duck so you don’t hit your head as you enter the room. I was last to the see the door of no return and I began to weep upon seeing it. Narrow, and short with beaming sunlight on the other end. You could see sand and water. I knelt down, felt the ground, the walls, attempting to feel what they felt. Tears flowed like a child. They wouldn’t stop.

Upstairs was the next stop. We walked where the soldiers walked and patrolled. The ocean right there. Never has the sound of the ocean been so deafening, the smell of the sea has never been so rancid, the sight so blinding and ugly, and the taste of salt grotesque. I located where the small boats would wait outside of the door of no return and grew angry. I wanted to be upset with the elderly white woman on the tour with us. But my upbringing forced me to assist her up a step instead.

The tour took us to the governor’s balcony. I didn’t want to step foot on it. And when I looked down at where the women would stand I began to sob yet again. Something about our women. So loving, caring, beautiful, made me ache at the thought of their pain, more than anything else in the castle. The protective nature we have for women came out. The ball in my throat has returned as I write. They took us to the governor’s bedroom. I waited outside. I couldn’t touch the walls that had witnessed so much pain and rape. But hey, it’s ok because the store accepts all major credit cards according to the sign on the wall just outside of the governor’s room.

I do not know if posting pictures from the castle is appropriate. I don’t know if taking them was appropriate. This experience cannot be captured by words or pictures. This is an experience that EVERYONE should have. No matter your race, class, sex, gender, country of origin, etc.

Before Elmina Castle was built the tribes would gather where the castle is located and have festivities praising the Gods for a good year. This day was the start of the festival. They gather, dance, poor libations, and thank the Gods for a plentiful fishing season (it is a fishing community). We saw the chiefs and queen mothers being carried in the parade and the spiritual healer. They were all dressed in beautiful kente and bright colors. It was cool to see. Ghana is a matrilineal culture. It’s extremely interesting and I’ll try and devote a blog to explaining it (as best I can).

Time for class. I’ll tell you about Slave River another time.

The life and times of amo…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Go DJ!

7-8-10 @ 9:35p

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

I’ve just realized that I did not explain what I am doing in Ghana. For those of you who know what I did in South Africa, this is the same program but in Ghana. The Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change (ICGC) at UMN has an undergraduate Global Issues Honors Consortium (GIHC). The students come from Tougaloo College in Mississippi, UMN Twin Cities campus, and UMN Morris campus, and Dillard from my cohort but not this year. They have undergone over a year of intensive coursework and research training and now are here in Ghana taking part in lectures delivered by Ghanaian professors and traveling. They are expected to build on a research paper they produced over the last year and add an element that includes a Ghanaian perspective (if possible). Some of the topics include; skin bleaching, interracial relationships, HIV/AIDS among women, the impacts of the oil industry on the developing world, religious preservation, governmental medical experiments, and more. Every trip they take a graduate mentor/teaching assistant, and I’m that person!

I went to Cape Coast and visited two slave castles/forts and the Slave River. Let me say it was an emotional experience and I don’t have it in me to write about it right now. I’ve written in my journal extensively and will do so again tonight. Hopefully tomorrow I will get the words and courage to revisit the experience.

I am thankful that my pop was a DJ growing up and that my brother is now. I have found my new talent. I am a self-proclaimed IPOD DJ! I kid I kid. No, in all seriousness, I learned a lot in rural MN in the middle of a snowstorm with my pop DJing for all white folk. If nothing more, I learned what songs people will dance to.

Hopefully today was my last trip to the hospital. The student with the stitches had them removed and another needed medicine for a rash. I find extreme joy in bargaining the price with the taxi drivers. I tell them there is no traffic so they will lower the price, as if I know. HAHA. It’s so amusing to me for some reason.

We had lunch on the beach today. While we were waiting for our food some of us changed into our swimming trunks and jumped in the Atlantic. Riding the waves and diving into them was refreshing. Lunch was followed by a nap on the chair listening to waves. It was great! We played with crocodiles the day before. Talk about a rush. The young ones are feisty and ‘misbehave’ as the employees said. I ran from it when it started to move my way and realized I left my beer. So of course I went back for the beer. I mean hey, I had only taken one sip. Couldn’t have a flag on the play for alcohol abuse.

Sorry for the long time without blogging. We did not have internet. I’ll update you on the castles tomorrow.

The life and times of amo…

Monday, July 5, 2010

Come down come down

7-5-10 @ 4:17p

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Joy. #thatsall

Congrats George and Sheena Ellis. I wish you the best. 

Mapenzi, how’s Nas’r? I’m missing my little man. I often see kids tied to the backs of their mothers and think of him on your back. I thought of him when I saw this wood carving as well.

Fufu, chicken, talapia, goat, Jullof (brown rice), white rice, fried plantains, salad, and pepsi in a bottle. Just enough spice is used to give a kick but not make the tears flow. It’s hard to explain how good this food is. I’ve done a decent amount of traveling and MAN O MAN! I need to find a gym… My gut is back already. J

We spent yesterday at the beach. Started with a two-mile jog down the shore. I love the sound of the waves on the ocean. I was reminded of my time in Mexico, falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean. The jog was followed by lunges, feet soiled from the water pushed by the wind upon the shore. And of course, futbol with the locals. What more could you ask for?

We had lunch at the beach. At a restaurant overlooking the water. I am always skeptical of the businesses, wondering if Ghanaians or foreigners own them. Foreigners own most of the large businesses. Including the large stores at the malls such as Shoprite, Game, or the upscale bar called Rhapsody. It bothers me but I’m not sure where to channel this frustration. On one end Ghanaians benefit with jobs, but the ones making the big money are not nationals. This is an interesting contrast because I love to see foreigners in the US opening prosperous businesses.

As we sat at tables in the sand people attempting to sell their goods stopped and offered us wood carvings, bracelets, juice, bags of water, horse rides, etc. As more tourists appear they slowly migrate and leave us. It is interesting to see other tourists. You can always tell when they’re tourists and I’m sure they can tell we are. But for some reason most people won’t talk. I attempt to make eye contact but no eyes look my way. Sonny’s theory suggests that Americans take ownership of a lot and feel threatened by other Americans being in this foreign place that we have taken ownership over. I have yet to form an opinion.

One man offered to make a free bracelet with a student’s name on it. I smiled at his business plan and he winked back. 5 other students bought bracelets after seeing the first one. He made his money back plus quite a bit in profit.

We walked down the shoreline after lunch and were greeted with smiles from prostitutes and offered “pure, high quality weed” from the Rastas. People rode motorcycles on the wet part of the sand for stability. Acrobats put on shows. They did amazing flips and dance moves that you would see in a circus. Then ended the show by walking around with hats asking for money. In the midst of all this action there was a constant whistle being blown by the lifeguard demanding that swimmers remain inside of the swimming area but for me, the sounds of the ocean out sang all of the other melodies it all.

We had an amazing lecture this morning called “pre-colonial Ghanaian patterns of development” by Dr. Antwi-Danso. I can understand the pride Ghanaians have in their nation and heritage. The partnerships with dynamic world renowned leaders including Du Bois, St. Clair Drake, MLK, Richard Wright, George Padmore, and Kwame Nkrumah (I can devote an entire blog to Nkrumah).  

Riding in taxis in different countries is always an adventure. Today we flagged one down, told him we were headed to the hospital and asked how much. No matter the price they give, you always respond, “come down, come down.” Depending on the time of day and the amount of traffic the driver will bring the price lower. Traffic in Ghana is worse than Chicago at its busiest time. We spent 10 minutes stopped, drove half a block, then 10 more minutes stopped before finally crossing through the intersection. And when a light turns red, 30-40 people rush to the street begging or selling everything you could imagine. Books, DVDs, CDs, bags of water, posters, newspapers, peanuts, mirrors, fruit, candy, ice cream, most goods carried on the heads of men and women just as you would see in many other nations.

Tomorrow we head to Cape Coast. My sister, Halwa, told me just hearing the words Cape Coast brought back memories of her visit. She said she can still smell it. I’m attempting to mentally prepare for this traumatic experience. But I doubt it’s possible. We’re told you still feel the spirits and hear the cries coming from the slave dungeons. Soon enough we will experience it. We visited the national museum today and it made an attempt to illustrate the experience of Cape Coast.

There was a small exhibit about Dutch and Ghanaian archaeology students digging and finding remains at a Dutch slave castle. They summed up Ghanaian feelings towards colonial rule as bringing an end to inter-tribal war. I almost left the museum. In the lecture mentioned earlier it was argued, convincingly, that the slave trade and colonial rule did just opposite. Then the professors strategically placed the slave trade strictly within economic terms; it was eye opening. Dr. Husbands Feeling’s econ course at the Humphrey was tremendously useful. The lecturer argues that the slave trade began and ended because of economics. Claiming that Europeans did not begin the slave trade, as we know it until after the Americas were ‘discovered’ (which was long after they had set foot in Western Africa) and ended after US independence from the British.  The British issued the decree to end slavery and set up barricades off the coast of Ghana because they did not want the US to gain more economic power due to slavery.

Allow me to stop here cause this is getting long. I’m sure I will have much more to say after my visit so Cape Coast.

The life and times of amo…

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Kyale Kyale!!!

7-3-10 @ 8:58p

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

First, allow me to apologize for not putting up many pictures. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t take many pictures. But more than that, it takes a very long time to post them because the internet connection is slower than we’re all used to.

GOALLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!! The room erupts. Elijah (the watchman), Timothy (one of the Aya Centre employees), Uncle Solo (the driver) and I jump around yelling GOALLL and hugging. Sonny (our tour guide and one of the smoothest brothas you’ll ever meet) runs over from the big house jumping and blowing his whistle. If I weren’t familiar with soccer I would’ve thought Ghana had won the entire World Cup. Horns, music, and screams echo throughout the entire neighborhood. And what a shot it was.

Off to the bar at halftime we went, Chez Afrique. Food came secondary to the game for Sonny and I. I listened to the folks speaking Twi (the most common language aside from English) attempting to follow along with the conversations. Shrieks and screams as the Black Stars attacked were heard all around. Kyale (pronounced chalay) was said over and over. It’s a slang word for homey, man, or buddy. We might use it saying “ah man or oh man.” Red card in the last minutes of extra time… Penalty kick awarded. Everyone was jumping up and down, hugging, and singing “OOOLLLEEEEEEY, OLLLEEEEEY, OLLLEEEY,” etc. “Off the woodwork,” says the Ghanaian commentator. Silence… Sonny fell to the floor.

I think you get it now. After the loss the bar cleared out. Tears fell; you could sense anger and hurt in the air. Finally the band began to play the peaceful tunes of Bob Marley. Some frowns turned to smiles and folk began to drink and dance away the pain of losing. And for that man wearing #3, Gyan, the weight of a continent on his shoulders. A place I’d never want to be in. A pause in the music came and the bar sings the Ghanaian National Anthem in unison.

Even a day later you could tell the excitement has not fully returned to this friendly, up tempo peoples.

Studying the sociology of sport as an undergrad forces me to think about sports in a different light. The pride, belonging, and attachment that sports bring with it. Soccer is heightened across the world. And in this case, the Cup being in Africa, the only African team left, it was hard to accept. And now we’re left with Spain, Germany, Uruguay, and the Dutch. There’s no team to root for that looks like me ☺.

After returning home from the Chez Afrique I was lying in bed and heard a loud noise in the bathroom (connected to my room). I knew someone was in the shower and figured the soap or shampoo had fallen. Then a knock on the door, it creeks open. “Abdul,” says one student holding the back of his head dressed only in his towel. “Sorry to bother you but I just fell and hit my head and I think I’m bleeding.” Bleeding he was. We spent a few hours in a Ghanaian hospital. It was interesting to hear the doctor talk about the politics of being a doctor and the hospital as an institution. But what was most fun was negotiating the price for his stitches. I thought of Frances while I was there. Frances was a fellow MacArthur scholar that left his secure job as a pediatrician in Ghana to attend the Masters in Public Health program at UMN so that he could study preventative methods in childbirth. He told me he couldn’t stand to send another woman back to her village without the child she was supposed to return with. He’s graduated and back in Ghana. I hope to connect with him. We need more people like Frances.

Have I mentioned the food?!?!?! My goodness. I’ll save it for my next blog.

I’ll be at the beach tomorrow. Don’t be jealous, Halwa. Reubs, Keith, and Andrea, I’m going to try and get up with Uncle this week. Laura, I have to call Moses. Haven’t been on facebook since I arrived.

The life and times of amo…

Friday, July 2, 2010

Where everyone looks like me

July 2, 2010 @ 9:13a

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

Golden by Chrisette Michele is playing in the background. It is just a coincidence. I’ve just completed the book How to Love a Black Woman, which in my opinion many parts of the book could omit the Black part and easily be titled How to Love a Woman. Not to say loving all women is the same. It gave me an opportunity to think about the things that I already knew and apply them to particular situations. I was skeptical when first reading it but in the end it definitely did no harm. Three things stood out to me the most. These may be useful for men and women alike. @Professor_Helm used to talk about the first one…

1.     Allow your partner to be imperfect. Give space and time for imperfection.
2.     Balance criticism with compliments.
3.     Stay!!! If it’s worth it, stay.

Enough of that…

We toured Accra yesterday. Witnessed what you would see in many developing countries and even the US. The richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. We drove through an open market and saw poor folk trying to make a daily living. The annual income of the average person is about $380 USD, and $2USD/day. The unemployment rate is upwards of 30%. In 1960 after independence the population in Ghana was 6 million people, today it’s upwards of 20 million. Ghana produces rubber but imports tires and you see tire shops everywhere. The country’s textiles are amazing but again, textiles are imported. The infrastructure is far ahead of a Kenya but traffic is ridiculous. Cars everywhere, all imported. The immediate question is why import? Decent infrastructure often is not good enough to manufacture much of these goods. Therefore, they are imported with low tariffs and sold.

The black star on the last post was put up after independence from the English. Hence, the Ghana Black Stars and the black star in the middle of the national flag. We saw the future Black Stars playing futbol in dirt fields. We drove past ‘castles’ also known as slave holding barracks. One student has problems calling them castles, while another says not all were built for the purpose of holding slaves.

I participated in a great conversation with 3 students on the balcony over wine and Joss Stone. They are struggling with and asking many of the same questions, my cohort asked in South Africa. It is a privilege to listen and probe. Students questioned the impact of tourism and our impact on the country, from a macro and micro perspective. As a part of our trip we will be helping a rural school build a library. Sounds nice, right? But one student said we are taking jobs from locals by coming in and building the school so that we feel better about ourselves… he struggled with taking pictures of people on the streets. Some probed about whether or not it is our responsibility as a privileged people to educate others of such a struggle. And we all battled and will continue to battle the balance of such a task. Whose responsibility is it? How can one justify writing or trying to teach about a people that he/she does not belong? Richa Nagar did a wonderful job of balancing these struggles in Playing with Fire. The scholar or “good” scholar will forever fight with these questions.

Someone asked where we would travel if we could go anywhere in the world. One student answered simply, “where everyone looks like me.” Whenever I travel to Africa I know that I am looked at as an outsider. But because of my Kenyan heritage I always feel as if I belong, or I feel a sense of entitlement as a fellow African. But also understand and know that I am mixed blood and recognize my Middle Eastern blood. For some, even with African ancestors, this is not the case. I’m rambling now and not sure if I’m articulating my thoughts in a clear manner, if not, sorry.

To my South African cohort, I passed by a Barcelos yesterday. I will definitely hit it up in honor of you all.

Thank you Sherry and Ayana for forcing me to critically think about the trip before departure. The balancing act. This is a great group of students and I’m excited for the conversations to continue.

Justin and KT, I’m most looking forward to listening!

Later at night July 2, 2010
I'll tell you about watching the game here in my next blog.  Heart breaker...

The life and times of amo…

Thursday, July 1, 2010


7-1-10 @ 6:55am

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

It’s Republic Day. Not sure exactly what that entails but it’s a national holiday. I’ll find out more info for you.

My day started at 5:45am. My alarm was set for 6am but the nonstop barking of the neighbor’s dog kept me awake all night. Plus the ever so beautiful sound of roosters at sunrise woke me up early. I plan to go without the air conditioning but if that dog barks every night… I might not make it. I wish Salim were here to take him out… I kid I kid… Maybe… Mariam, you’ll be happy to hear that my day started with a jog. Too bad you, Jackie, and Tammy weren’t here to converse with.

Elijah stood watch as I exited the grounds. Left first, right at the bathtub on the side of the streeet. The Audi and Volkswagon sign let me know I was on the right track. Left at the Mensvic Grand Hotel, immediate right… I saluted those that I passed and was greeted by raised eyebrows, “ey bosseeey”, and “yesssaaahhh.” Finally, I found the restaurant that we had dinner at last night, owned by the exec dir’s wife (finally means after 15 minutes). It reminded me a little of The Music Factory in Kenya, but a little nicer.

Turn around and trace my way back. I took a longer route and passed by Dr. Brewer’s hotel. Went down the busy road passed the bar we visited last night and saw the guy that took the biggest shot I’ve ever seen. Never called white but definitely recognized as a new person in the neighborhood. Perhaps it was the baldhead, light complexion, or maroon and gold Gopher shorts.

The power went out last night. Thank you for the flashlight. Cold showers and no lotion after without the feeling of the middle of your back cracking! I love it.

KT asked before I left what I was most looking forward to. I hadn’t thought about it. Maybe it will evolve. But I know I’m looking forward to taking Salim’s advice and listening. It’s time for breakfast.

The life and times of amo…