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…

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