Saturday, June 28, 2008

Photos from Togo! You have togo...

Togo Hiking, Paycheck Nightmares, and HOME!

Saturday morning I wished I could have slept in. However, that was not the case as Bianca and I got up at 5:45am to get to the bus station on time. We had no problems finding a taxi in the morning and got the station, boarded our bus and were off to Togo in no time at all. The trip was uneventful and went by pretty quick given we both took sizable naps over the course of the 5 hours it took us to get to the border. As we pulled up the station in Sinkansee, there was a swarm of taxi moto drivers who descended on the bus and specifically Bianca and I. While it bothers me that they do that, it really bothers Bianca. She can not stand these guys. And to top it off, the guys were calling to each other claiming each of us as their customer… yelling out things like “I get the tall one!” As you can imagine it was unpleasant. The funniest part is that Bianca can’t even ride motos, Peace Corps rules, and so we had to walk anyway. They kept on saying, “Oh, it is too far, yadda, yadda, yadda.” It took us 5 minutes to walk to the Burkina Faso immigration office. They stamped our passports and we walked over a small bridge packed with trucks trying to get across the border. Then we stopped in at the Togo immigration office. This was a bit trickier because we had to buy a visa on the spot. Togo doesn’t have an embassy in Burkina so there was no other option. Bianca and I had intended to go get ID size photos taken, but we ran out of time so we just hoped for the best. $30 and 30 minutes later we had our visas, no pictures provided, and headed out to find a taxi to Dapaong, a town about 40km away, where we would spend the night.

We actually had to walk a long time to find the taxi area. Since we weren’t sure where we were going and Bianca really does not like associating with African men, we stopped by a beauty salon and asked some ladies for directions. They were really nice and their whole little beauty salon hair braiding scene was very stereotypical. We kept walking and walking and I finally asked another little boy if we were headed in the right direction. He said yes, but then even better he found a guy like right there who had a taxi that was headed back to Dapaong. I think he was going anyway and so we only had to pay a small fee to go with him and we had the taxi to ourselves. Trying to get back to Cinkase (Togo side of the border) again on Monday, we would realize just how great a deal it was.

We had the driver drop us off at the hotel that we had picked out from the guide book. As we pulled up we saw that the name had changed. We figured no big deal. Except that this name change came with many other changes as well. When we asked the guy at the desk for a room and his response question was “Do you want the room for the whole night?” We were like um, yes… as he lead us to the room which was in a really dark hallway we slowly came to realize what he meant by that earlier comment. The room had no door handle, just a lock. The door jab had been busted in at some point and now was being held there by an added metal strip. To top it off there was a safe sex instructions poster hanging on the bathroom door! We spent about 5 minutes convincing ourselves it would be fine. Bianca was on a tight budget and this was in her price range. I thought very diligently and decided that there was too much at stake. I was too close to getting home safe and sound from Africa and I did not need to put myself in a less than optimal situation for a mere $10! So I told Bianca if should could chip in as much as she was planning to pay for the first place, I would pay the rest for us to stay somewhere nicer. That was the best choice we could have made.

We found a nice place the called Le Campement. This place was definitely less shady. It had clean rooms, a nice outdoor seating area and I did not fear for my safety… all good things. After we settled in, we struck back out and explored the market. It was market day so the place was hopping. However, I can’t say it was much different than any of the other West African markets I have seen. We got supplies for the next day’s hike; bread, cheese, and water. On our way back we checked out transport options to get to Bogou. We found the same guy who had driven us from Cinkase earlier and talked with him for a while. While he seemed really nice the price he wanted was really high. However, he assured us that there were no other options. He was a liar. Just down the road we found the shared taxi stand to Bogou where the transport was half the price the first guy told us.

Back at the hotel that night I worked out, showered, and then started reading a book called Ishmael that Susan gave to me. It was very philosophical. Good, but at the end it really seemed to have not made any really strong points. It was a fun mental exercise, but there was no resolution or call to change anything that was pointed out. We ate dinner out on the veranda. I ordered a hamburger which turned out to be crumbled ground beef on a baguette. You tell me… It was still good though. p.s. I think we were the only people staying at that hotel that night. Not that it mattered, it was just funny that as soon as we ordered our dinner they opened up the kitchen and there was no doubt that what we were smelling was our dinners being prepared. While Bianca went to bed super early, I stayed up and wrote the last two blog posts. Even though I was tired, I couldn’t let myself get anymore behind.

Sunday morning Bianca and I got up at like 7:00ish. We packed our stuff and ordered an omelet for breakfast. The service at this hotel was outstanding which is very unusual for Africa. After satisfying our appetites in the morning, we found a taxi to get us to Bogou. Bogou is a very small village about 35km south of Dapaong. There was no trouble finding the auberge (guesthouse) where we were going to spend the night. It had no running water or electricity, but that was the point. We wanted to rough it African style. The lady who runs the auberge found us a guide and within 20 minutes, we were off on our hike headed up to the cliff dwellings. It was a nice hike. The terrain was challenging; steep and rocky! When we got to the top of the plateau area we met with the local village chief and bought a ticket to see the cliff dwelling ruins. There were two little boys from the village who also accompanied us. In Mali you can just walk up to the cliff houses. But here that was not the case. This place had been used as a refuge during ancient tribal war times so getting to it was really tricky. So tricky in fact, a steel ladder was built to help foreigners descend to the ledge to explore the ruins. The ladder was made of rebar and was 18 years old. However, it looked like it was in very nice conditions still which I thought was impressive. The view from the edge of the cliff was amazing. It felt like you could see forever!

So we courageously climbed down to get to the dwellings. They were really cool. A lot like Mali, just a much smaller scale, no other tourists were around and you could climb all over the things! The guides also showed us a sweet little waterfall which served as the water source for the people when they were hiding out. We took lots of pictures, but saved our lunch for later. On the way back, when we were almost down, we paid our guide and told him we would stay there to have our picnic and find our way back. At first he was reluctant to leave us but then decided since we were going to stay for a while he would go. Bianca and I had a nice picnic lunch and great conversation ensued. After reveling in doing nothing for a while we decided to head back to the camp. I should note Bianca and I brought some water with us, but not enough. I figured we could buy some at the auberge. Normally that is a fine idea except all this place had was soda water which is infinitely less satisfying than mineral water when you are thirsty. After the hike we had used up our reserves and if we were going to stay in Bogou that night we would have to find more water. We found a Catholic mission that had a pump looking thing. Pump water can be safe to drink as long as it is stored safely and not recontaminated. The same is true for most rainwater. We weren’t sure what this source was, but given our limited options, we took the gamble. This was one we would win. Yeah. I would also just like to note that there was significantly more water infrstracuture in the Togolese towns that I have visited versus the Burkina villages. For example, in Togo I saw many roofs set up for rain water harvesting and many household sized water towers. It was really encouraging. Speaking of water, that night back at the auberge we bucket bathed (i.e. showered without a shower).

In the evening Bianca and I just sat around and read until it got to dark to see the words. We had a dinner of rice and peanut sauce (the sauce was sub-par in my book) with some nasty, no meat on the bones, chicken. After dinner I read a little bit more by kerosene lamp light, remember that there is no electricity, and then called it a night. I had a hard time falling asleep. There was no bed net and no window screens; so to discourage mosquitoes, we kept the windows and door closed, but this also meant we forfeited any chance of air circulation. It was hot. No electricity, not even a fan! Then I heard the thunder. The rain arrived not long after, and boy did it make itself known. The roof of our room was tin which means that the rain was deafeningly loud. It was a hard night.

We got up at like 5:45. What else was there to do because I couldn’t really sleep…? We left in a private taxi which was nice considering we were planned on waiting for a shared taxi. The only reason why we went that way was that the driver came way down in price for us. Back in Dapaong, we tracked down the Peace Corps hostel. We met a nice female Togo volunteer there and got a ride to a sweet breakfast place with another volunteer on his way out to a camp. We had an astonishingly good omelet sandwich for breakfast. After breakfast we took a taxi motos to find the weaving cooperative noted in the guide book. It was really interesting to watch these women hand weave these beautiful textiles. I was able to take some great photos, and bought a few coin purses. Back at the hostel, Bianca and I had a little less than 2 hours to kill. So what did we do? We found out the hostel had a sweet collection of Disney movies and watched The Little Mermaid. It was so cool because just the day before we were saying how much we wanted to watch that movie! We totally sang along the whole time.

Following our childhood reenactment we headed off to the taxi stand to get to Cinkase. We had to wait a while for the taxi to fill up and boy did it fill up. They put two people in the front seat and four crammed in the back. It was absurdly tight. In addition, one of the woman in the back seat with us had a very newborn baby with her. I thought it was insane she was traveling with a baby that small!

Back in Cinkase we walked to immigration office. We had a similar experience with the taxi moto guys charging us when the car pulled up. But before Bianca would even got out I leaned over and yelled “NO!” out the window at them. They backed off really fast. My very serious, don’t mess me, “NO!” has that effect on people. Anyway, during the epic walk back to the border I really had to go to the bathroom. But FYI, there are no public toilets. There are rarely toilets at all and so the people that have them hardly make them public. I knew my options were limited, so I took my chances and asked the border police if I could use their bathroom. Sure enough they said, “Yes.” I was totally surprised, but very pleased as they had a flushing toilet which was clean and had toilet paper. You never know until you ask.

From the Togo immigration office we headed back across the border to Burkina. We thankfully had no problems. Since I was leaving in two days, I was a little nervous about having problems with immigration. I wanted to be able to go home! Once we checked in at the bus station, we found more water, and then I ordered spaghetti for lunch. It was cutting it close for the bus departure, but I was so hungry. The bus on the way back was the small size which I tend to prefer because I feel like they go faster. The driver seemed to be a pretty aggressive man, which I thought boded well for him driving quick and getting back to Ouagadougou in good time. NOT! He was so slow! He kept on stopping at random villages just to say hi to people. All the while there is a storm rolling in from the East. It normally takes 2.5 hours to get to the halfway point. It took us 3.25 hours! 45 minutes longer than it should have. 45 minutes crammed in those buses in nothing to dismiss lightly. Anyway, we are on our way to Ouaga from Koupeala and the driver stopped and got out again. As I said this was not unusual. However, he pulled over again like 2 minutes later and everybody has to get out of bus. We had a flat tire! Doah! Add to that the fact that the rain is coming quickly and you have a recipe for two unhappy white girls. We could feel the cold wind coming. At the first few drops, Bianca and I get on the bus. The problem was everybody followed us. This was bad because the jack was still under the bus. They got everybody else off again, but Bianca and I stayed on, we were not about to go get wet. We got off the bus at the first Ouagadougou stop, the Gare de l’Est where Ben and Reid came to pick us up. They were a few minutes late because they went the wrong way which meant we had to wait in the eerie post rain dark in not such a great area.

Final note about the bus… partway through the trip, some guy got several people to move so he could sit next to Bianca and I. I was not pleased by this. He started trying to talk to me and I just ignored him completely. Not even a response. I was not in the mood to talk especially when this person made other people move just so he could come sit by us. Not cool. After his first attempt to start a conversation in French failed, about 45 minutes later he tried starting a conversation in English. Again, I simply ignored him. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but I really just want to illustrate that I learned I don’t have to respond to people if I don’t want to. After I wouldn’t talk to him, he started singing Jesus songs in English in a low voice. That did it for me. I was thinking, “Seriously!” To top it off he looked a lot like my friend Pascal from 2iE who is nice, but just doesn’t get it. I was happy to get off of that bus.

Anyway, Ben and Reid picked us up. We were tired and gross from traveling. However, it was Ben’s last night in Ouaga. He was headed back to the US for 3 weeks that night on the Air Maroc flight. We went back to their house and they had dinner of rice and brochettes ready. Yum! We hung out for a long time. I was able to check my email which was important because I had a lot going on in the next two days before I left. However, one email I feel compelled to share was one from Pascal. He thought I was already gone and wrote me this very nice, but unwanted email about how much he will miss me. He even attached a picture of himself to the email. Wow. This was in addition to a text message I received before I left for Togo again saying how happy he was to meet me and how he will miss me forever… Oye!

At Ben and Reid’s house we chilled through dessert and tea, then the power went out. Lovely. Again, the powers that be were just making sure I got the full Africa experience in my last few days on the continent. At 11:30, I asked Ben to drive us home since I was really tired and still wanted to pack that night. They drove us home and I said good bye to the guys. They had been really great friends to have! At home, after showering I should have gone to bed, but instead I stayed up until 2:30am going through my life in Burkina Faso and packing. I got pretty much all of it done which would prove to be very helpful. Bianca slept on the couch at my house again that night. She could have stayed at Leanna’s but we planned to make French toast in the morning so she camped out at 2iE for one last night.

Tuesday morning the French toast making was a huge success, despite the fact that we had to go use the communal kitchen next door because I still didn’t have a new gas tank for my stove. On the way over we saw Namaro and asked him about it. He gave us some lame excuses, but really there is no excuse. He should have had it changed already, it was 5 days since I first told him about it…Anyway, as we were eating breakfast, the tailor came by. The green dress I was really skeptical about came out great! I was really excited. The dress he was copying wasn’t such a success. He still needed to work on the sleeves. I tried it on, he took some measures, and assured me he would be back that night to drop it off. He also asked for money to pay for gas to get there and back. I didn’t really care so I gave him some. Also, I think he may have showed up the night before looking for me because I told him, and thought myself, that we would be back earlier than we ended up getting back.

I went into work about 8:00am which was part of my plan. I went to check in on the pay check situation. The guy told me I needed some document from the bank proving I didn’t have a loan out! Are you serious?! Okay, no problem. I was going to go to the bank to close my account anyway, I will just go right now and do it and bring them the paper after lunch. I was planning on making up a poster about Jstor that morning, but instead I spent it waiting at the bank. I went to the main branch because last time I had to go there anyway. I was told I have to write a letter asking them to close my account. There was no form and I am like, 1. Where do I get the paper? and 2. My French isn’t really good enough to be writing something like that… When I finally got someone to help me, I learned it would be 2 weeks to verify my account was closed or at least two days to get the no loan verification. I HATE African bureaucracy. And to add insult to injury it was going to cost me about $20 to close my account. What would have happened if I just took out all my money and left, I don’t know. But frankly I’m not a fan of messing with that sort of thing in a place like Burkina Faso. Anyway, after all that they then tell me I have to go to the branch where I opened my account. Are you kidding!? No, they weren’t.

What was I going to do? I was very worried about this stuff, but I had my last tennis lesson that morning at 10:15am. I decided to go to the tennis and leave by 11:05am to get to the other bank before it closed at 11:30am for the afternoon break. I HATE the African time schedule… Besides it was my LAST lesson; I had to go! I tried very hard to be focused, but it was very tough. However, I gave it my best, best effort and it was fun, even though I had to leave a little early to get to the branch office before it closed! When I got to the branch office I had a long meeting the accounts manager guy. He was not all that helpful and the number of people he called in the time span of our meeting was absurd! No one knew what the other was doing… At the end, I did submit my demand to close the account. I got no promise for the official document, but I did get an account activities report print out. I was hoping that would work. I should also mention at this point I am wearing my nasty tennis clothes. I felt rather out of place. In any case, I brought the print out back to 2iE and gave it to the secretary explaining the situation. She said if there was a problem she would call. I was expecting to get my check the next morning.

I went home, showered, ate lunch, went back to the office to send some emails, then happily awaited my last French lesson. It was great! No exercises, just a nice French conversation where my teacher asked me all sorts questions about my time in Africa. It was sweet. At 3:00pm I was supposed to have a meeting with the director. That didn’t happen. It kept getting pushed back until it was time for the farewell cocktail party they were throwing for me… Even that got pushed back 30 minutes. I had planned to slip out of 2iE pretty quietly. While this was not quite, it was actually really nice. The director, Yezouma, and Konate all said some very kind words. There were refreshments as well as tons of presents for me. It was amazing. I got a table cloth, an African dress and necklace, a tourag box, a leather imprint picture, and a beautiful large batik. The funny thing is the gifts were all things I wished I could have bought for myself but didn’t feel like I could justify spending that much money on. It was great! I felt very good as I said good bye to everyone. I had been doubting my contribution to 2iE, wondering if I had made any sort of an impact. I guess I had! I also wore my new green dress for the event. What you do you think?
That night after the cocktails I went to dinner at Gondwana’s with Susan, Bianca, Keith and Sheryl at Gondwana’s. I had been looking forward to this goodbye dinner for quite some time. I planned to order the taxi burger… the epic burger of Burkina Faso. Not even on the menu this is 4 full size patties with cheese. It is literally about 10 inches tall named after the taxi buses which stack cargo to unimaginable heights. I was totally geared up to eat one all by myself. However, I only got half way through and then hit a wall. I cut off a small piece for Bianca and that gave me the inspiration to keep going. All the sudden I was done! It was amazing. I had conquered the taxi burger! Originally, Bianca and I had planned to watch a movie Tuesday night, but I thought better of it. I needed to finish up life stuff and wanted to get a decent amount of sleep. Bianca slept at Leanna’s for the night. I went to bed at a reasonable time and for my last night in Africa, I slept very well.

Wednesday June 25, 2008. That date had been engraved into my mind. There were times when I thought it would never come. There were times when I willed it to come sooner. And now it was here. I can’t be sure if it was nerves or the massive hamburger I ate the night before, but I woke up on Wednesday feeling not all that great. In fact, I had no appetite what so ever and when I thought about food it gave me nausea. My stomach would knot up and then relax again in waves. It was not fun. Anyway, I had to get on with my life. I was leaving Ouagadougou that night! My plan was to get up early to get my check, go to the bank, go change my money, run my errands and get to the pool. Unfortunately, Africa had other plans for me. The first issue was that there was no check waiting for me. Apparently the boss said the record I gave him was not good enough. They were seriously going to make me go back to the bank, when I was certain it wouldn’t do any good and just waste the limited time I had left. I said I wanted to talk to the boss. No problem, except he wasn’t in yet! Oh and the guy who I saw last Friday had the nerve to tell me I should have closed my account earlier. Um, no. If I needed something more, YOU should have told me that when I came in to see you last Friday. Don’t make it seem like I should have known it would take 2 weeks to close a bank account. In America, it takes all of 30 seconds.
I was all fired about this, but decided to go back to my office and chill. I chilled reassessed my situation and went to the library to show the librarian how to use Jstor. As I was walking over I saw the financial bosses car pull up. I quickly showed the librarian the neat features of the website and then went straight back to the financial office. I had every intention of making myself a nuisance until I was paid. After waiting like 15 minutes, the boss came out and told me he will try and call Bank of Africa to verify I didn’t take out any loans. The reason why the yneeded to verify this was that if I had taken out a loan and left town the bank would come knocking on their door. It is a legit concern, but also a stupid one because why in the heck would I take out a loan. I can hardly get my own money out without a myriad of issues springing up… So the guy calls, and no one is available. They are in meetings until 11. I lost it a little bit, but figured I could wait until 11. If after 11 there was still no movement, I would go see the director who told me yesterday to go see him if I had problems getting my last paycheck. He said he had already approved it. In the mean time, the boss’s assistant gave me my pay bulletin. This was when I learned that I was getting paid twice as much money as I expected because of vacation pay! WOwowowow! Talk about an amazing blessing!

I went back to my office feeling both utterly frustrated, yet overjoyed at my discovery of a “bonus”. I stopped by and saw Konate. I explained the problem to him and my one consolation was that according to Konate this guy does this to everyone. So it wasn’t just me getting the short end of the stick. Really though, how would they have paid me after I left? I surely wouldn’t have forgotten the money and it would have made more work for them!

Anyway, I resigned to wait until 11. In the mean time I called Bianca and asked her to come over. We went through my kitchen stuff dividing it up. Then we started watching a movie called Dan in Real Life. I got it from Ben who loved it. Wouldn’t you know, just as we start the movie, it starts raining! Sad. No pool I guess... The rain made it hard to hear the TV sound, and it was still down pouring as 11:00am rolled around. How was I going to get to the office again? I waited until 11:30am. The rain had slowed, but not stopped. I put on my rain coat and decided to brave the elements to get my paycheck. This time when the boss called the Bank of Africa he got through. He wrote up the form and I was able to go to the money lady at the school and get cash instead of having to go to the bank to cash a check. Yeah! Walking back to my house at that moment I was full of joy and didn’t even care that it was still raining. I had gotten paid, and I was leaving that night to go home!

I got back and we finished the movie. I couldn’t eat anything for lunch because my stomach was still upset. I thought maybe a little exercise would help shake out any thing that might be bothering my stomach so I did a short workout routine. By 3:00pm, the rain finally slowed to a mist and Bianca and I decided to brave the conditions to run my last errands. I bought my spotted ceramic chickens, changed my money, and picked up two other little trinkets. We also stopped by Helvetas and SIM to drop off some stuff I had promised to get to Nicolas and Rosie. Oh, side note: At first I couldn’t find the change bureau I was looking for so we stopped in to Bank of Africa. Their rate was worse than I had anticipated and I was ticked off at them about my account stuff, so I left. After leaving the bank I was able to locate the place I went to change my money when I first got to Burkina. The place had a worse rate, but with my new knowledge of Bank of Africa’s price I was actually able to negotiate an even better rate than at Band of Africa. It was a pretty solid moment for me…p.s. when I first came to Burkina the dollar could buy 445CFA today you can only get 390CFA. What is going on!?

Anyway, after SIM we dropped our bikes at the Burg’s house and walked back to the main road. We stopped at Prix Bas looking for oatmeal for Bianca. This was third boutique we stopped at and we had all but given up hope, when voila, they had it! From there we took a taxi back to the University. I wouldn’t have been unbearable to walk, but we tired. Walking back to 2iE from where the taxi dropped us off, I picked up some credit for my phone to leave on my card for Hahna. I also passed Susan as she was headed for her class and gave her a final good bye hug.

Back home I was able to see that the dirt and water that splashed up my back from my biking adventure was way worse than I had imagined… That is why I put on grubby clothes when we went out. I knew they would be gross when we were finished. Anyway, I showered and then went to my office a final time to email my parents and finalize things. On my way back I called Nancy Burg and told her she could head on over to pick us up. It was so nice she came to get us! We first stopped by Leanna’s house to drop off all the stuff Bianca was going to keep. Then we went to the Burg’s house for a lovely dinner. I was surprisingly able to eat. I hadn’t had much all day so I was surely hungry. I was just glad my stomach agreed that I should eat.

At about 8:30pm we left for the airport. I was nervous about my bags being overweight. I had no scale to use when I was packing. However, in general I am an okay estimator of those sorts of things. Just to make sure everything was good Nancy, Diana, and Bianca waited for me to check in and come back out and tell them the status. Turns out you get a
22.5 kg allowance. My heaviest bag was 21.7kg. Amazing! I just have a sixth sense for packing 50 pound bags! Check-in went really fast and I had no word on my large basket carry-on. I went back outside to say goodbye. It was weird. I was happy to be going home, but also sad knowing that this chapter of my life had ended.

Back in the airport I filled out the Burkina Faso immigration card. When I started there was no one in line. But Wham, as soon as I finish, there is a team of like 30 people who got in line. My heart sank. What should have been 5 minute wait was 25 minutes… I was still was doing fine with time. I got through customs no problem. The only bad part about the whole travel thing was that the security took the baby giraffes that I had packed in carry-on. I was unaware that you couldn’t pack bronze in your carry-on. I guess they count it as a weapon. Watch out, my baby giraffes are really dangerous! (NOT!) I was so sad, but didn’t want to mess with trying to get them into my other luggage which had already been checked and done. I did not want to mess up getting home.

I thankfully had an aisle seat on the airplane. Funny enough, sitting next to me on the plane where three kids whose mother was behind me in line through security and clearly did not grasp the idea of personal space if you know what I mean. I stayed up for dinner, but then fell fast asleep. I didn’t wake up until we were in Paris! It was great. In Paris, the flight to New York was in the same terminal as where we arrived. While I did have to wait a long time to go through security again, no terminal change meant I didn’t have to wait in the immigration lines again. Phew! While I was waiting near the gate, I sat and worked on my final Africa Update email.

On the flight to New York I got an excellent window seat with no one in the middle. The only downside was that Paris to New York is a long flight! I read, watched a movie, ate, slept and we still had 3.5 hours to go. The first movie I watched was Fool’s Gold. The second movie was 10,000BC. Both were pretty bad. I felt like I got really shafted with the plane entertainment this time. But whatever, I was just so happy when our plane finally landed. I went right through customs, no problems :) I rechecked my bags and went to the domestic Delta terminal. There was no line at security and there was, to my luck, pay phones right across from gate that I used to call my parents. The only bad thing was that it was a really small plane and my basket did not fit in the over head bins. It was a bit of hassle to figure out how to make it work, but I did. Oh, and there was a lady was sitting my seat! Like, really, please don’t assume I don’t want my window seat. It is a little presumptuous and makes me seem like the bad guy for asking for my rightful seat… The small plane made for a long flight. I read a lot, but otherwise just tried not to get too excited as the Chicago skyline came into view! My parents met me at the bottom of the stairs leading to the baggage claim. It was so nice! My luggage came out right away and we were on our way home…

Home. I could have kissed the ground, did actually but not literally. Kissed my hand then touched the ground; you get the idea. I quickly showered and then headed back off in the car to see Ryan at his Boy Scott Camp in Michigan. It might seem a bit weird to get off the plane and then into a car to drive for an hour and half again, but my parents were going anyway. I got to see Jordan when I got home, but Ryan was obviously still at Camp… I could have sat at home or I could go along and sit in the car with my parents. I chose the later which was a great idea. The Boy Scout Camp had a very nice authentic American feeling which was awesome. I stayed up until 10:15pm at which point I crashed pretty hard. Lying down in the back seat, I was out like a light bulb in Africa when the power goes out. When we got home I showered one more time and then crawled into my princess bed which had been waiting for me for nine long months! Wait no more. I slept with reckless abandon, safe and secure in MY room, in MY house, with MY family.

I love home.

Love,
Sara

The next post will be my Togo pictures. After that there will be one more follow up, wrap up post… so stayed tuned!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Civil Unrest, Movie Night and Speed Scrabble

My last week at work was crazy and riotous. Literally. Monday I would have loved to sleep in. Not a chance. I had an 8:00am meeting with Professor Maiga. I worked in the morning on a short summary of the ceramic filter initiative at 2iE. It actually went quite well. I worked until like 1:30pm and had almost finished the summary before going to the gym to work out. I had to wait to use the treadmill, but that was okay. It was worth the wait. My workout was great. Three and a half miles of running and afterwards I was able to arrange to have a tennis lesson on Tuesday at 2:00pm. I needed to go to Marina to pick up some ground beef for Tuesday so I decided to just go after my workout since I was already halfway there. I felt pretty dehydrated and by the time I got home I was regretting not stopping and buying water while I was out. I got home, ate lunch, showered and went back to work. I was able to go with Susan to arrange to hold an information session for how to Jstor. Just because we had access doesn’t mean it will be utilized. People have to know it is there and how to use it! We planned for Thursday from 3:30-4:30pm. I was very excited about this chance to leave something useful at 2iE. I also made up a schedule of things I needed to show Martha, the new girl from Ghana. I had a whole plan for when and how we could fit everything in and trust me there was a lot to fit in so I had to be creative. We would start on Tuesday morning.

I talked to Ryan online for a few minutes that afternoon before I left work and then met a very nice woman named Jocelyn in evening. She works for Catholic Relief Services on their global water initiative and was interested in point of use treatments and partnering with 2iE. It was great to talk to her. It seems like I am leaving just as things are getting interesting. Or maybe they are getting interesting precisely because I am leaving…? That night I cooked up the meat I bought at Marina. P.S. remember the guys from Marina market at the airport in Accra. I saw one of them at the store. He totally recognized me, but I was not up for an awkward encounter so I quickly left the store after buying my groceries. Monday I also wrote up some on my Ghana posts. I have fallen way behind with my blog and it is killing me. I have done so well so far! This is the home stretch I can’t lose it now… So I stayed up and gutted it out. I also went through some of my photos and picked which were ones that made the cut go online. I was feeling pretty odd in general that night. I had a low grade headache and a nausea feeling that came and went. Well, as soon as I finished working and was headed to bed, I started feeling really badly. I had a terrible time going to sleep. That was the first time since I have been here that I have not felt well to the point where I was having trouble falling asleep. As I laid in bed I just kept thinking, come on… I am almost there! I am almost going home… don’t fail me now body.

Tuesday morning I woke up and felt better but not 100%. I started working with Martha which has turned out quite well. She is a very smart and able. She also speaks English since she is from Ghana. In fact, she speaks little to no French so by default I have become a great resource for her in getting her settled at 2iE. We started with a non-saturated flow rate test and prepared the gel medium for our microbiology tests.

Before I left for Ghana I submitted a request to be reimbursed for my French lessons. Since I hadn’t heard anything about it I went to check in on it. It was a good thing I did because it still sitting in the same place. I was able to take it the right people and got things moving again. Geez-a-lou. I don’t think I will ever know how this place functions. In the morning, Nicolas was able to arrange an appointment for me to go to Poceram to take pictures on Wednesday morning, but I had to get there. I emailed a couple of people and finally Professor Maiga’s assistant Madame Dayamba, very intimidating but genuinely nice lady, helped me arrange a car from 2iE to take me. Phew. I did not want to have to pay for a taxi.

Anyway, in the midst of dealing with these little things I realize there is a bit more of a ruckus on the University campus than usual. I thought maybe school was out for summer and they were celebrating. Oh, naïve Sara! They were rioting. Legitimately rioting. You know how I found out? As I was walking from office to office, through open air passageways my throat and nose started burning and it was hard to breath… TEAR GAS! The gendarme (military) had intercepted the mob of students and was using tear gas on them! It was so heavy in the air it wafted to 2iE. It was serious business. I never felt unsafe and generally tried to keep doing what I needed to do with work stuff. I figured it would be over by lunchtime. I had my tennis lesson and a meeting with Nicolas scheduled for the afternoon and was not looking forward to canceling them. Well, about noon, from my window I see a bunch of people congregating by the entrance road. They are looking at something, but I can’t see the gate. Then the start running and I’m like “Oh man, what’s going on!”… Well, I stayed safe up in my office, but later I learned that several students had fled onto 2iE’s campus before our guards could stop them. The gendarme decided to pursue them and rammed their army truck into our gate. I am not kidding.

When things calmed down I left my office to go home for lunch. I found Susan by the entrance road and went to talk to her for a few minutes. It was about 1:20pm. While the roads were barricaded by the students with piles of rocks, there wasn’t much action going on. I was still debating on whether to go to my tennis lesson or not. Susan figured I could get out okay, but it was questionable as to whether the roads would be blocked to get back in. Again, I’m thinking to myself, come on I have 8 days left in Africa, did they really have to riot today! I was resentful of this useless violence and didn’t want to have to change my schedule because of it. However, I’m not stupid. I don’t like civil unrest in general and tear gas, let me tell you, is not pleasant to experience. So, I decided to play it safe and cancel my lesson. I took it as a sign from God I needed to take the afternoon to rest which I did. Before I took a nap, I went to make lunch. No big deal except as I am working in my kitchen I look out the window and see two students hiding out behind where my laundry dries. That took me for a bit of a scare. I decided not to mess with the situation. My doors were all locked, they were literally taking a nap themselves so I just finished making my lunch and went to my room hoping they would be gone when I woke up from my nap. At first it was hard to fall asleep because I kept hearing tear gas shots and there was a constant riot background noise that would crescendo and subside again. Nancy Burg called to check in on me which was really nice of her. I love their family. I hope to get to see Lindsey in August during the down time she will have between when her Dad leaves and when she starts college. She will be in Minnesota, which isn’t like next door to Chicago, but it’s not an unreasonable distance to traverse.

When I woke up from my nap it was calm again. It was about 4:00pm and although by now it would have probably been fine to go, I still cancelled my meeting with Nicolas. Instead, I talked to Ryan online until my French teacher came for my lesson. I was happy he was able to come. As I said, the hullabaloo had calmed down. Susan and I had planned a dinner and movie night for that night. This would be the last of several such nights we hosted for our English speaking toastmaster and 2iE friends. About midday we considered canceling it, but by 5:00 since things calmed down we decided to go through with it. We served chili with cornbread. The chili was only so-so. We didn’t have any tomato sauce only some tomatoes. So it was really just chili flavored ground beef, but it was still good. I’m not complaining. The movie for the night was The Pursuit of Happiness. It is an excellent movie, but it is seriously hard to watch. I feel like the entire time I am holding my breath, even though I know what is going to happen. You just wish the guy could get a break. One thing I do love about the movie is the Rubik’s cube references. My Dad used to love those things, and even I used to be able to do them. Seeing them in the movie just brings back nice memories.

There were 7 of us at the movie night. It was very nice. All my favorite Burkinabe ladies were there; Mintou, Salimata, Lydie, and Sandrine. Also, we invited Martha to join us since she lives with me and all… I would like to interject here and note for the record, that not having Leanna in Ouagadougou feels really weird. Like I am so used to being able to text her or stop on by her house and now I can’t do that. No tears, just somber realizations and appreciation of what a good friend means in your life.

Wednesday morning I got up and got ready to head off to Poceram. The 2iE car was ready to take us at 9:10 :) Martha came with me. Since she will be working on the filters, I wanted to make sure she is involved with what I am doing to wrap things up. When I asked Konate about her coming with me, he was like “Okay… but her first priority for work is with me.” Fine, whatever, but clearly I’m leaving and if, as you say she will continue my experiments, I have to show her what to do before I leave! AND you sure as heck are not taking the time to show her anything (sound familiar?). Gosh. Last week. Be patient Sara. Anyway, we went to the ceramic workshop and the visit went very well. My French was on the ball that day. I was able to show the owner the video footage of the filter factory I had visited in Ghana, and I took pictures of their workshop to send to Ron Rivera. I was very pleased. When we were done, the 2iE car came back to get us. I felt like finally after 9 months here I can successfully go somewhere on my own for work and make it work for me! Success!

After we got back from the workshop Martha and I started the saturated flow rate tests. We had set the filters to soak after the last measurement the day before. I also went to the informatics service and got Martha a power strip and Ethernet cable so she could get on her computer. Again, not my job (ah-hem), but otherwise she would sit there with nothing to do until Konate got back from Mali. So remembering how I felt, I helped her out. When I left the office for my lunch break, I didn’t eat right away. I rode my bike over the rec center and set up a lesson for Thursday at 8:00am. It was only time that would work for me! I had 5 lessons that I already paid for and needed to use. Thanks to the riots I may not got to use them all… In any case, I went home, made lunch, and took a short cat nap.

Back at work in the afternoon, Martha and I finished the flow rate tests, washed and prepared the bottled to be sterilized, scrubbed the filters and brought them over the STEP area and loaded them with raw water. Things were moving right along according to my schedule. Even though Martha’s computer was now hooked up, it still wouldn’t connect to the internet. How do I know this? She and I share my office now. It is bit inconvenient to be almost finished and then have to change things up accommodate another person for the last week you are there. And we have one key for the office between the two of us. Normally, this would have posed a huge problem because I am in and out, in and out all the time. But we worked it out. There is a hook in the entryway of our house and the first person to leave in the morning takes the key with them. Midday the last person to leave locks the door and puts the key back on the hook. The first person headed back to the office after the break grabs the key, and like before the last person to leave locks up and hangs the key in the entryway ready for the next day. It has worked great so far. Martha is very easy to get along with :) Anyway, I contacted the information services people again and hoped they would come.

At 5:00pm I went to Professor Maiga’s office to have a conference call with Professor Soboyejo. He wasn’t there the first time we called, so we waited 15 minutes and called back. This time we got through to him. It was an important call because it essentially was the last meeting between myself and my two bosses. Professor Maiga leaves on the 21st so anything I needed him for I had to figure out before then. Regardless, the call went longer than I expected and I know Professor Maiga was late for his next meeting. I was given the task to write up a call summary. I didn’t mind though. It was nice to feel like I had something to do.

Wednesday night I finally had a free night. It was glorious. I worked very hard on writing more of my blog posts, the call summary, and drafted some other documents I have to leave for 2iE. The tailor came by that evening. Of course he comes when Susan is gone. Anyway, he had the first version of my dress to show me. I was having him copy the cute blue dress I have with some fabric I got in Ghana. It looked okay, but not great. He has to fix the sleeves. I also gave him the green fabric I bought with Mary Ellen. I had meaning to sit down and design something with that stuff, but never had time and I knew if I didn’t give him the fabric now to make something with, it would never happen. So I quickly decided on a long dress with strappy straps and fairly simple lines. I am very skeptical of how it will turn out. However, as I said, I knew if I left Africa without having something made with it, it would sit indefinitely. So we’ll see!

My tennis lesson on Thursday was tough. I was still a kind of asleep and rusty from not playing for a while. By the end things were better, but I was just not on my game. I got home, showered, popped into the office and then went with Martha to start the flow rate tests. We had plans to meet Nicolas at 11:00am, but he called to cancel. At first I was ticked, but it turns out I really needed that time to get ready for the Jstor information session I was going to facilitate. Susan helped me send out an email invitation, and I hung up 10 posters. However, I was still worried no one would come… Martha and I were going to do our lab tests in the afternoon before the workshop, but my preparations took longer than I had planned and I was starving. I reassessed my situation and decided we would move the sampling to after the session was over. I was going to take the 45 minutes of down time I had to run to the Shopette to get the mango pieces and other food items I needed. However, after lunch I took a nap and the Shopette plan went to “File 13” (a euphemism my 2nd grade teacher Miss Flessner used to use to refer to the trash).

I got up and went to work. Seriously the segmented workdays make you feel like each day is really two days. I am happy to be almost done with that work schedule. Anyway, I printed out the handouts I made for the session and went to get set-up. Six people came to the session and I think that was more because Susan went around drumming up business. Regardless, once they were there and saw what the website had to offer them they were really excited. I had debated about making a PowerPoint presentation versus using an online connection. I am glad I used screenshots because the internet was really slow and not working great at the beginning. I was very pleased with how the workshop turned out. It was exactly what I hoped it would be. What really needs to happen is to have workshops like that for every unit at 2iE. I also plan to go and work with the librarian personally before I leave… Oh, I should also mention the Peace Corps wanted Bianca’s signature before they approved the trip. This was a bit of an issue considering she lives about 5 hours by bus from Ouagadougou! So instead of coming Friday morning, she decided she would come in on the evening bus on that day. She is such a trooper. More on that later…

So after the session Martha and I went to work taking water samples and running physical parameter and microbiology tests. It was really fun to show her how to so this stuff. I like teaching and not to brag, I think I am not all that bad at it. Instead of the hodge-podge instructions I got, I worked with her to actually DO the experiments. I would do the first run and let her do all the others. I would take the first sample and then let her take over. It is one thing to watch someone do something and something totally different to do it yourself! We finished with everything at about 6:00pm. It was perfect timing. Oh and update, the information service people came and Martha’s computer is set up now. Score one for Sara. I was able to connect with Adam online for a bit, which was nice. I also talked to Leanna on Skype and set up for her to come visit in July (maybe). She can extend her layover in Chicago from Seattle for like $90, which is way cheaper than any other flight and probably even driving…

Thursday night was great. I just chilled out at home for a while, did some dishes, had dinner, ect. Oh, for dinner I made potato pancakes. They were amazing! Only problem was my stove ran out of gas while I was cooking. Lucky for me the communal kitchen for the apartments is next door and so I just popped over there to finish cooking them. Ben and Reid came over about 8:30pm to watch a movie. We watched a movie called Disturbia. I was not all about the movie because it sounded like a scary movie and I don’t like scary movies. Anyway, Ben said it was more suspense and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Reid is really funny, and when he and Ben are together it is ridiculous. Reid says whatever he is thinking which is refreshing and often leads to side splitting hilarity. We were about 15 minutes into the movie when Bianca arrived. I was so happy she made it. We filled her in on what had happened and continued with the movie. It was good times. While the guys left by about midnight, I stayed up until 3:00am working on stuff. Time was running out and fast.

Friday morning Bianca and I got up early and went to buy our bus tickets. We were going to Togo! I got back and Martha and I headed over to Helvetas for a 9:30 meeting with Nicolas (third reschedule). He wasn’t at the office when we got there which wasn’t cool. I had my day planned out pretty tight. I didn’t have 20 minutes to wait for him. But we did and I was able to go over some things with him, and he was able to meet Martha which was also important. I had hoped to leave Helvetas at 10:00 to walk back to 2iE stopping at Shopette, the bank, and the market to get some things I needed and to show Martha around a little and be back in time to make it to my 11:00am tennis lesson. We left Helvetas at 10:20… grrr. I again did a quick assessment of my options and chose to walk back but only stop at the Shopette and simply point out the market. I was able to get everything I needed at the Shopette which was great. I got about 2 pounds of dried mangos, peanuts, yogurt, jam, and bread. Very successful stop. We got back to 2iE at 11:00am. Great. I change quickly and go to get on my bike. My tires had been really low, but I was doing a really good job at putting off stopping to get more air. Not a good plan. They were finally so low I couldn’t reasonably make it to the rec center so I had to stop and get my tires pumped. Not that it takes a long time, but I was late!

When I got the rec center Emile my teacher was just finishing up a game with someone. It was no problem I was late. I actually knew it would likely be just fine, but I hate being late. And I hate that my being late was because someone else was late and messed up my plans. Being late is not respecting that person’s time. This second lesson went better. It started out rough warming up with another tennis player, not Emile. It was weird to get used to. And, and my mind was in about a million and one places, but not the tennis court. I just found out that morning that I don’t normally get paid until the 26th, 27th of each month. I never really gave much attention to the actual date because it was electronic and I never had a problem with not enough money. Anyway, if I didn’t figure out how to get paid early I would have a big problem on my hands! I was already stressed trying to figure out how to change my money and bring it back with me, or wire it, ect. Add this to it and you have reached code red on the Sara alert scale. I did my best to focus and things improved. I will likely only have one more tennis lesson before I leave which makes me sad. I hope I make it a point to keep up with it. I have really enjoyed learning to play.

After tennis I went to the bank to get some money for Togo. Thankfully they use the same currency there so there is no hassle with changing money! I stopped for some veggies for dinner on the way home. I was planning on making salmon cakes with rice and green beans. After my successful errands, I went home, showered, and ran over to the office to send some emails. Bianca had gone with Ben in the morning to the Peace Corps office to sign her form, and then over to Air Maroc to check on Ben’s ticket which he thought he might have a problem with since he lost it. Turns out it was an E-ticket so he is good to go. I finished up at my office and went back home to make some hummus for lunch :)

Bianca and I had a nice lunch and then got on our bikes to go with Susan over to a new and different artisan place. Susan picked up two shish-ka-bob sets like the ones I got for the price I paid for one set. I think I still got a reasonable deal. Her deal was just astounding. After going to the fancy and low key artisan workshop we ventured into the not so peaceful booths across the street. I was still looking for four baby bronze giraffes for my Mom. I knew how much I should pay for them, but no one was giving me the price. Anyway, this seller was very pushy and very rude. He finally came down to my price, but I left without buying them because it had been such a terrible experience. That made him mad. Bianca, Susan, and I were headed back and then out of nowhere the guy comes up next to us on this moto, giraffes in hand still wanting me to buy them from him. At this point Bianca starts yelling at him in French to leave us alone. They finally turned around, but my goodness. Talk about ridiculous. Idealistically, I hope that teaches him not to pull that crap with other people, but I know he won’t do anything different. After that mess, I just wanted to go home, but I still needed my giraffes and so we stopped by the artisans near the Hotel de Independence. The vendors there remembered me from last time. I finally got the giraffes for a price close to what I wanted to pay, as it was clear there were no other options.

After the shopping trip, I left Bianca at the house and went back into work. I was able to talk to someone about my pay check, phew. AND I got paid in cash the reimbursement amount from my French lessons I was totally surprised! I met with Konate for a few minutes to work out what would happen to finalize my time at 2iE. All I can say is he is a little late! I have only been saying June 25th is my last day for 2 months now. If there were things YOU were supposed to arrange in regards to my leaving, wrap up meetings ect. because you were quote unquote responsible for me you should have done that before now. That is your job. I am not familiar with 2iE ending formalities! Sara, be patient… I don’t where that came from. I have to remember all the things I have been helped with while I was here. Even though the help was sometimes infuriating and frustrating, they had the best of intentions. At first he was saying something about meeting with a bunch of people and doing this and that on Monday, and I’m like, um… I won’t be here on Monday. I’m going to Togo… We settled on Tuesday afternoon for more of a social goodbye among the GVEA faculty. I don’t have to give a formal presentation or anything, which is good considering I already presented at the Scientific Forum. Glad that was all straightened out.

Martha and I went to go read the tests we had completed the day before and I was shocked to find no result what so ever. Turns out we had prepared the extreme sensitivity variation of Chromocult instead of the regular medium. So it didn’t register anything. I didn’t know there was more than one type of Chromocult! It wasn’t a huge deal that the tests couldn’t be read, because my main concern was that she knew the procedures. She can ask for help reading the tests the next time she does them. It was frustrating though… 2iE wins one again. Anyway, after that I worked on some finishing touches on the documents I needed to leave for 2iE. I was heavy into fixing up one of my excel sheets when I realized 1. It was past 6pm and 2. It looked crazy outside, really windy and dark skies. I did not want to get stuck in my office if it started to rain! I packed everything up and booked it home.

So I was planning on a chill evening, but Ben and Reid texted and said they wanted to hang out. Not chill evening; Ben and Reid equal a high energy evening of food, fun and games. I wanted to chill, but you only live once so we told them to bring dessert and we would do dinner. I had planned two meals for two nights of salmon cakes and spaghetti with spinach sauce each would feed 2-3 people. So what did we do, we made it all! When I got home everybody was there. We borrowed the gas tank from the communal kitchen and hooked up my range to that so we didn’t have to move everything over there which would have been crazy. We had all four burners going cooking rice, beans, pasta, spinach, salmon cakes. It felt like a restaurant in my kitchen. It was so fun! And that night, as we started cooking, it started to rain… Since the kitchen was so hot we opened the back door in the kitchen and had excellent rain storm sound effects and refreshing smell of African rains wafting through the kitchen. That dinner was a great way to use up some of the food I had left.

We sat down to eat and it was great! Again, the conversations among the four of us were amazingly entertaining. We lingered for a long time at the table and only cleared the dishes so things would be ready for dessert after we played a few round of speed scrabble. It was great fun. We must have played 25 games of speed scrabble. No one kept score and we even tried to come up with some variations meshing speed scrabble with spoons or rotating spots, ect. It was wicked. We paused only for a little while when we decided it was time for dessert. The guys were put in charge of dessert and they pulled through in a big way. They brought ice cream and cookies. Talk about amazing. We ate 2 liters between the 4 of us. Yeah that’s right a ½ liter each. Boo-yah. The speed scrabble recommenced after dessert. I was so tired though. When we finally stopped and they guys left, Bianca and I finished up the dishes, I packed my stuff for Togo and we turned in for the night. I think I was asleep close to 1am. We were up at 5:45 to get to the bus station.

The adventures that ensued in Togo and my final days in Ouaga will follow in the next post!

WIRED Retreat Pictures!

Salt and Light, Galloping Horses, and a Significant Departure

When I got back from Ghana I felt like I didn’t have a chance to take a breath before I dove right back into the swing of things. After Susan left on Tuesday night I went to my office to let my family know I made it back safe to Ouagadougou. Ryan was the only one around so I regaled him with a few of the crazy transport stories. He got a kick out those… I went home and should have gone to bed. But instead, I showered, unpacked my bags and went through some desk stuff. I didn’t go to bed until like 2am. Oh and I noticed when I first got home that the door to the bedroom area of the house was closed, which was unusual. I didn’t think anyone had come because I didn’t see any tell-tale signs of another person being there. Also, when Susan came over I wasn’t exactly quite when retelling my adventure tales. But, when I came back from my office and opened the door to the bedroom area… dun, dun, dun there were strangers shoes in the hallway. Indeed there was another person staying at the house. The shoes looked like the kind my old Asian doctor used to wear, so naturally I assumed there was a small Asian man staying in my house. Boy was I wrong!

Wednesday I slept in until about 9:00am and then went into work. I worked a continuous day so I could go to the bible study party and do some errands afterwards. In the morning I worked on going through my emails and figuring how to finish up all I had left to do in the very limited amount of time I had before I was to leave. Anyway, while I am at work I met a new girl who will be working with Konate for the next 10 months (Heaven help her…). She is from Ghana and, surprise, was the person staying at my house. She had actually just arrived at 2iE when I returned from Ghana myself. She is very nice and is going to be helping to continue my experiments when I leave. I was really excited to hear that, but it also meant training her to do all the experiments in t-minus 5 days. But have no fear… I’ll figure it out somehow.

Wednesday June 11th was the last Ouagadougou girls bible study so we planned to have a nice little party. In order to celebrate in true fashion I made up some quick brownies and bought some sugar peanuts on the way over. I also made up some sesame bars, but they weren’t ready when I had to leave so I left them home planning to have them as a treat for myself ;) The final bible study was lovely. I hadn’t had much time to prepare, but we did go over some of things they most remembered, and then I had them write a letter to themselves to open a year later. It was an exercise I think they all liked. I also gave the girls the bookmarks I had made. I hope they use them ;) Anna’s family (one of the other leaders) was in visiting from England, so they sat in for the final bible study. It was overall really fun, and Anna’s family loved the brownies I had made. I thought they were okay, almost too sweet, but they LOVED them and kept saying they were the best they had ever had. Beats me! After the party was over I sat around chatting with Anna’s family for a while, but then I had to head home so I could scan my Ghana receipts to get reimbursed for my expenses before I had to meet Ben to finalize plans for the WIRED retreat which was FRIDAY! Holy COW! We hashed out details, but just in general we were both pretty worn out and you could tell. After Ben left, I took the evening to write up a short summary of my Ghana trip to send to Professor Soboyejo.

Thursday morning instead of going into the office, I wrote like 15 emails I had needed to get to but had been putting off… writing emails takes a surprisingly long amount of time. At about 1:15pm I left my house and I stopped by SIM to pick up my ring and brownie pan I left there yesterday. Then I went to ISO to see Leanna for a few minutes. She had lunch plans so and I went back to her house to chill out for a while and send my emails. It was a great plan and then Ben showed up which was great to have company, but I really needed to get my emails sent and did not want distractions. Ben is like a walking distraction. It wasn’t bad though, and I was saved from total loss of productivity because Leanna’s DVD player wasn’t working so Ben couldn’t put on a movie… I did thankfully get all my work done. After Leann’s lunch she picked me from her house and we went to the SIAO (Artisinal Village). I was originally planning to send the emails from my office and then got ISO, but as I walked outside it looked like it was about to down pour rain and I didn’t want to be stuck at 2iE… hence the down time at Leanna’s house. Anyway.

The SIAO was great. I made a list in Ghana of what I needed to buy and how much I wanted to spend and so it wasn’t stressful and I only bought what I knew I wanted. The only thing I could find was actually some soap and papers for Cassy. Leanna found some cool stuff for her to bring back with her too, and we ordered a custom batik which the guy assured us would be ready by Sunday (it was Thursday…). A batik is a type of Africa art that uses fabric, wax, and dyes to depict pictures. She was having one made as a thank you for her home church that raised a lot of money for the food distribution. After getting back to Leanna’s house, I peaced out so I could be back in time for my French lesson. It went pretty well. I will miss my French lessons when I leave Burkina Faso! When the lesson was over, I was spent. I had been going non-stop since Ghana, since before Ghana and I couldn’t do anything more… So, I put on Miss Potter, curled up on my couch, forgot about all the things I had to do and called it a night! After the movie, I did try and write my toastmaster’s speech for Saturday, but it just wasn’t working. I really wanted it to be written so all I had to do was practice it on Friday, but no.

Friday I got up feeling much better after having given my brain a rest. BTW I love Miss Potter. I could watch it a million times and still love it. This woman’s life was unreal! I went to work in the morning and had a wonderful surprise… I was about to email the woman from Jstor to find out why I hadn’t heard anything from them lately, but I first decided to check out the website and see if by magic we were connected. Getting to the website searching for a keyword and having the page load and say I was connected though 2iE was one of those moments when the heaven’s parted and angels started singing. It was glorious. After 3 months of work, finally, finally we were connected and now the 2iE community had access to 1.8 million articles from over a 1000s free! I spent the morning going around to other offices showing my co-workers this great new resource… I also took a few minutes to write up an announcement to post on the 2iE website regarding the new Jstor access. It was a great morning!

I left work at 10:30. I had to go to the bank to get some cash and then do some last minute shopping for the retreat. I had to get marbles, crackers, apples, cards, and other random items for the relay races Ben and I dreamed up. There were a few things I couldn’t find such as baby bottles so we had to change a few of the tasks. Since I was already downtown, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and went souvenir shopping. It was about half as pleasant as the first time I went before I came back the US in April. I felt like the prices were all higher and my French was a weak that day. It didn’t leave me feeling very good about these vendors. I got home from my errands in enough time to get back to the office and go stand in the lab to greet some visitors who had come to tour 2iE. After they went through I raced home, threw my things into a bag, and grabbed some lunch before Leanna came over to pick me up to go to the retreat.

The retreat was hands-down amazing. As a youth group kid you don’t appreciate all the hard work that goes into planning those things… so let me tell you, it is a lot of work. Leanna is the youth leader, but since Ben and I had planned this she was counting on us to kind of run things. It was an awesome responsibility, but I have to say I was dead tired. Ben had also had a monster of a day so it felt like things got off to a shaky start. I was also stressed out having to give a speech the next morning and not yet knowing what I was doing for it! After convening everybody at the Harrison’s house, our caravan of 7 vehicles carrying 40 happy retreaters headed out for Nong Taaba. When we got there we couldn’t give the kids their room assignments because Ben had them and he was late, so instead we had the guys put their stuff in one room and the girls put their stuff another. We had originally planned to have an opening ceremony right away, but instead decided to put that off until right before dinner and let the kids have free time all afternoon. While it was “free time”, it was also the time when the kids could play paintball if they wanted. The only problem with that whole plan was that we hadn’t confirmed our tentative reservation and so they were scrambling to accommodate everybody. Since there were 26 kids who wanted to play, we had to have the kids play in two different games. Once things got settled on the administration end, life was smooth sailing as the paintball people took over. I was keen to take pictures and since the opportunities from the sidelines would be limited, the paintball people invited me to put on a suit and stand up in the tower with the game referee and take pictures! It was so cool!

The games lasted for two 15 minutes halves of capture the flag type play. I only stayed in for the first half of each game. In the mean time, I was trying to get Leanna, Ben, Bianca and I together to figure out what the heck was going on later that night! We had to push dinner back a bit, and I had no idea what we were doing for the opening ceremonies. Since I was still dealing with paintball, Ben and Leanna said they would take care of it. Yeah. They also took care of giving the kids their room assignments which was nice because then the kids could get all of their stuff out of the leaders’ rooms. When paintball was over we had the kids change and then meet in the tiki hut area for the… drumroollll please, opening ceremonies. Ben came up with a cool skit, which we used to debut the amazing retreat t-shirts they were going to get. The theme of the retreat was Salt and Light. Here are the t-shirt designs…

Do you get it? If not, read Matthew 5:13 :) We also told them a little bit about what to expect and went over ground rules which was actually pretty fun. We went out on a limb and had them suggest some rules to begin with. Of course we had a list of ones we wanted to have covered, but we thought it would be more effective if they voiced the rules they wanted to see followed to make the retreat the best it could be. After the opening bit it was dinner time. We prayed in the tiki hut and Ben and I were set to start a stampede to dinner, but as we were about to let them loose, Leanna says, “Oh and please try to be civilized as you walk to dinner…” Doah! Our plan for mayhem was foiled. Next time we have to let her in on our plans ;)

Dinner was great and even better because all we had to do was sit down to it. After dinner Joel Gray, one of the missionaries in Ouaga, gave the key talk for the retreat. He did a great job. We broke with tradition of having worship multiple times during a retreat and decided to save the music for the morning. After the talk, they were given several options for activities; card games, a judged synchronized swimming competition (which was not a well received idea, even though I would have totally gone for it), and capture the flag. Most of the kids wanted to play capture the flag. FYI that game is like a youth sponsor’s worse nightmare. A bunch of kids running around in the dark = recipe for injury. Anyway, we got permission to play in the paintball arena which eliminated the issue of designating boundaries. We had the kids pick teams and let them go get ready. They convened at the referee tower in the paintball arena and we went over the rules. Capture the flag with this group of kids was crazy. It took a while for the game to get flowing, but once it did, it went on for a while… This group has a history of arguing over who tagged who and if they were in no-man’s land or not, so I patrolled no-man’s land which virtually eliminated any problems.

I was dead tired by the time the game was over. Leanna and I went and set out the snacks and I put my feet in the pool for a few minutes which was really nice. I made Abby and James pick out the music for the morning so I could at least look at it once before I played solo leading worship for 40 people after having been gone and not playing for like two weeks. Am I getting any sympathy from you yet? No. Alright, try this one on. After I went back to my room, tuned my guitar and played through the songs once each I had to restart my brain cells to write a freaking speech for the morning! AHhhhhh… I planned to talk about the perils and pleasures of friendship, but decided I didn’t really like the idea. My speech topic was actually inspired by the t-shirts we made for the retreat which were green. I titled my speech, “Green with Envy” and talked about the dangers of being envious of others. The goal of the speech was to use body language and I was able to work in three stories that illustrated my key points but also allowed me to really use my body in delivering the speech. That night I only outlined the speech. I knew the keys points I wanted to make and the examples I wanted to use… I was praying I would be able to pull it off.

Saturday morning came way too fast. I rushed through breakfast to get ready for worship. I had Bianca practice with me, she sang while I played guitar. While it would be rough, I knew it would be okay. Before starting life that morning, I had laid in bed and prayed that God would work in the worship, that he would be with me in giving my speech and just be Lord of my life that day. You think I would learn to do that everyday! The results of my day were phenomenal and unbelievable in many ways. After Worship Bianca shared her testimony and spoke to the youth group about her experiences as a missionary kid growing up in the Philippines. She did a wonderful job and you could tell the kids were listening to every word. I had the great pleasure of introducing Bianca before she spoke. I was confident in giving her introduction because I remembered some of the things I had learned in Toastmasters :)

Speaking of toastmasters, as soon as Bianca was done speaking, I left Nong Taaba hoping to get back to 2iE in time to give my speech. Nong Taaba is a bit of the way out of town and since there no taxis going by I started walking towards town. I was just about to reach the big gas station when I saw a green car approaching. I was saved! I paid the taxi 3500CFA and he got me to 2iE pretty fast arriving at the gate at 10:25am. I rushed home, showered, got dressed, grabbed the few props I needed to speech, mentally ran through the key points again, and headed to the meeting. I got there as the first girl was finishing up her speech. I was sitting down for about 4 minutes before it was my turn to get up and give my speech. I took a deep breath and decided to go for it, 100%. I had never actually practiced the speech and if I was going to sell it like I had prepared well, I knew I had to just jump in. It was awesome. I rocked my speech. That experience gave me such confidence and was probably the best thing that could have happened to finish off my Toastmaster’s time in Burkina. I needed to know I could give a presentation on a whim. That I didn’t have to write it out, but that if I had an outline, knew my points and illustrations, by not having it written out, I could be more genuine and adjust what I was saying to how the audience was reacting. As I said, it was just what I needed. The meeting ended with elections for the next year’s executive board. They were supposed to follow parliamentary procedure, but it was a challenge. There was only one person running for each position, so it wasn’t much of a contest. It was good that they went through the motions, but you tell they were a bit uncomfortable with nominating and voting (not surprising given the political history of their country). It was a little odd, but I am sure a very good exercise for them.

After the meeting the club went out for a celebration luncheon. We went to a restaurant called “Gracias” and it was great fun! I went home and chilled out a bit before riding my bike over to the Harrison’s to be there when the kids got back to say goodbye. While I left at about 9:50am, the retreat went until 4:00pm, so Leanna, Ben and Bianca ran the rest of the morning stuff. There were group discussions led by the llama leaders followed by games. The epic relay races Ben and I had planned went off really well. I heard a bunch of really funny stories relating to completing some of the tasks we came up with. Funny enough the race wasn’t even close. The tasks were so hard there were 7 minute gaps between team finish times. That, my friend, is a well planned out relay race. The rest of the time minus a short wrap up talk was free time :)

After saying goodbye to some kids I would likely never see again, I rode my bike over to Pete and Alice’s house to return some books I had borrowed. That in itself isn’t exciting, but let me tell you about their dog. It scared the living ga-gee-bers out of me! It was barking so loud and jumping around, and it is this big German Shepard. I start calling to Pete and he acts like it is no big deal and says that “Teddy” wouldn’t hurt anybody. That may be true, but how am I supposed to know that. Note to all dog owners. Unless you are certain your visitor is comfortable with your dogs, assume they are not. Anyway, after chatting with Pete and Alice for while I head over Leanna’s house so Bianca and I can plan our trip to Togo :) Yeah! We had originally planned to leave on Thursday, but I realized this wasn’t feasible with my work expectations and so we decided to shorten and shift the trip, leave Saturday morning come back Monday. I would have Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday until 5:00pm to pack and wrap up life in Burkina. While I knew it would be killer, I so wanted to go to Togo. The only problem was Bianca still had to get approval from the Peace Corps to leave the country. How different our experiences of Burkina Faso have been?! Outside of work I am free to do whatever I want. Whereas Peace Corps Volunteers have their lives pretty tightly regulated. Okay, really tightly regulated.

Anyway, I rode my bike home and worked out for 20 minutes doing some toning exercises. I showered, and got ready to go to Natalie’s house. FYI, I was still so tired, but I wanted to go… Natalie is a French girl from work who had been saying she wanted to have Susan and I over for dinner for a while. Side note, she is totally opposite of a type A person. I kind of admire that quality; I mean she is free spirited, dresses a bit bohemian, and lives in a dome shaped house with a hammock outside. But I could never live like that. I am too type A. I thought it was going to be a low key dinner with only a few people… not! There were over 20 people crammed into a small veranda. There was a long wait time before dinner was served, the silences of which were punctuated by bursts of awkward conversation. This is a pretty typical African evening… It was a nice group though. One of the redeeming qualities of the evening was being able to sit next to and talk to Susan. However, I could hardly stay awake for dessert, but there was not sign of us being able to leave. Since we had gotten a ride over, we were dependent on others for a ride home. Finally at 12:30am I told Susan we needed to go. We could find a taxi... I was, in all seriousness, having trouble responding to people in a coherent manner. Not long after making that declaration the party dispersed and we didn’t have to find a taxi because everybody was leaving and we just grabbed a ride with someone headed that way. I got home and fell fast asleep.

Sunday. Happy Father’s Day Dad! I set alarm for 8:40am because I had plans to leave to go horseback riding with Pam and Susan at 9:00am that morning. I knew I had time for one snooze. My phone went off and I tried to hit the snooze, but it wouldn’t turn off. Then I realized it wasn’t my alarm going off, but Susan was calling me! It was 9:05am and Pam was there already. I was still in bed! I jumped out of bed and was out the door in less than 5 minutes… It was nice drive to the stables which gave me some time to wake up. When we got there we told them we wanted to ride and we got right on some horses. It was fun and dandy, but, ah-hem, I hadn’t ridden a horse in at least 10 years. Even then, it was like walking in a circle at Mrs. Wychoki’s farm. But everybody was else experienced, so I just went along with things. Dude, we were going out on a trail ride. I was pumped. They gave me a calm horse and the guide helped me figure out the mechanics of riding. Once I remembered the commands it was super easy and really pretty amazing. I feel like I am a natural. In fact, I am seriously entertaining the idea of pursuing horseback riding at Stanford… it’s worth a try right? Anyway, our little ride was not a nice trail walk. Oh, no. We trotted, cantered, and yes my friend even galloped! It was one of those surreal moments of like, is this really happening? Never in the US would I have been able to just get on a horse and go galloping away, but I guess that is beauty of the lawlessness of Africa… The ride was about 1 hour long and only cost like $20 something dollars. Yes, Mom, I wore a riding helmet.


After riding, we went to lunch at Le Coq Bleu. That is supposedly one of the nicest restaurants in Ouagadougou and the prices are a little higher than other places, but I wasn’t too impressed with the feel of the place. I did get a great hot salad though. I know it sounds gross, but it wasn’t. I also figure I am almost done in Ouaga and can afford to eat out at some of these places. I got home, showered and took a nice little nap. Leanna came to get me about 3:30pm to run errands with her. I was able to bring my laundry with too and wash a couple of loads for the last time! FYI This was Leanna’s last night in Ouagadougou. She was headed back to the states at 3:00am on the Air Maroc flight so I was glad to spend some time with her! We ran a bunch of errands; SIAO to pick up the batik (Surprise, it was ready on time!), pharmacy, ceramics stop, sugared peanuts hunt, among others. We got back to Leanna’s house and just chilled out there until it was time to leave for dinner. I talked to my family online wished my daddy a Happy Father’s Day! We left for Pete and Alice’s house to drop off Leanna’s car for the last time. She is hoping to have Pete sell it while she is gone for the summer. Ben and Reid met us there and we all went out to dinner. We had wanted to go to the Bouganvillie, but wouldn’t you know it was not open on Sundays! Sad. Instead we to a place called La Vita. Leanna and I couldn’t decide what we wanted so we order a couple things and shared it. That is just how we roll. It was excellent.

After dinner, we went out to ice cream. I got this caramel monstrosity which I should have only eaten about half of, but I ate it all and was hurting afterwards. We sat in the ice cream place for a while and enjoyed some super funny conversations. We went back to Leanna’s house and shot the breeze until 11:30 rolled around we left Leanna so she could finish packing and be ready to go. It was weird saying good bye for the last time. It had not really sunk in yet. I don’t think it will be that bad though, because Leanna is someone I am sure I will stay in touch with :) Good Bye Leanna! Ben and Reid brought me home… I was out like a light as soon as my head it the pillow.

Cape Coast Photos ;)

Anamabo Beach Resort, Canopy Walk and a lots of Tro-Tros!

Friday morning I got up quite early and took a taxi to the bus station. The funny thing is that the taxi to the station cost me more than the bus ticket to Cape Coast! Oh and I had to pay for my luggage. I guess the airline trend or charging for luggage is catching on quicker than they anticipated… It was an uneventful trip, and I was able to read like half of the Freakonomics book. It is a quick read, but very entertaining and insightful. I highly recommend it. Instead of one long continuous story it takes on various topics and talks about them for one chapter. I like that style.

Instead of going all the way to Cape Coast I got off at Anamabo. There was a beach resort there called the “Anamabo Beach Resort” that Mary Kay had recommended to me as a nice place to stay. I had emailed them the night before, but hadn’t received a response before I left. However, this is Africa I figured they would have a room for me anyway…and if not, I would cross that bridge when I came to it. Thankfully I never got to it ;) The bus dropped me off at the main town junction which turned out to be a 20 minute walk from the resort. Man and it was hot outside! However, the consolation prize for my toils was being welcomed to a beautiful resort :) Well worth the effort to get there… The resort is right, right on the beach and for $27 a night I got my own little hut. They had electricity and while they did have rooms with A/C none were available and with the sea breeze at all hours of the day, I didn’t need it anyway. I was pretty stoked at this point to say the least.

Alright, have I got settled in I headed right back out to Cape Coast. I flagged down a tro-tro and 0.55pesos and 20 minutes later I was in the town of Cape Coast. When we arrived, I was bombarded by taxi drivers wanting to take me to the canopy walk. However, as you can imagine a private taxi was just a little out of my price range. To top things off, I still needed to find an ATM because there would be no canopy walk otherwise. Thankfully, I found the Barclay’s Bank that was shown in the Lonely Planet Guide Book. Can I just tell you that I love Barclays. No matter where I am I have always been able to get money out at a Barclays. I was somewhat worried to make a withdrawal since I hadn’t seen any email confirmation that the transfer had gone through. However, I didn’t have time to go to an internet café and I figured if the transfer wasn’t completed yet I would just get an error message. Thankfully, it had gone through and I was now in possession of a fresh supply cash.

After remedying my lack of money issues, I found a tro-tro headed in the direction of Kakum National Park, where the canopy walk was located. I would like to make you think I was able navigate the mayhem of Cape Coast on my own, but the only way I found the right tro-tro was with the help of a little boy to whom I did not mind paying a nice tip. On the way to the tro-tro station, I stopped and bought my mom a sweet bag. She wanted one like the one I had, all multi-colored and African looking, but with a nice zipper and pockets, ect. Anyway, the one I found was like the ideal bag. I am not even kidding. It was a little pricey, but I had to figure she was worth it ;)

Leaving Cape Coast the sky was clear and blue. However, as we drove further and further from the coast and into the rainforest, the skies turn darker. The rain started slow and rapidly escalated into a downpour! I always wondered what happened to the passengers in those old broken down tro-tros when it wasn’t bright and sunny outside. Well folks, you guessed it, you get wet. Water was coming in from the roof and seeping in cracks in the sides! They did at least make an effort to move the men in the very back who were literally getting all the rain dumped on them. I guarded by bags and just had to laugh a little on the inside. It was such an Africa moment. Besides I was on my way to a rainforest. Duh! It would be unusual for it NOT to rain…

The whole time we are driving I am hoping and praying it stops before we pull up to the Kakum National Forest. It slowed down, but it did not stop so I jumped out of the tro-tro and ran into the nearest hut. I was greated by a nice group of people who motioned me to cross the little ditch on these rickety looking logs or risk being knee deep in water… Only the children spoke English. The adults spoke their native language. I bought some roasted corn from the lady whose hut I gathered I was standing under. The corn was not of the variety you find at the state fair. No, it is much coarser and really tastes kind of like popcorn, just not popped yet. It wasn’t bad, and since I picked each kernel off the cob it kept me occupied for quite a while as the rain stopped. I bought a nice girl a sachet of water and myself some pineapple cookies. The young girl offered to be my escort into the park. Since I was by myself and thought I would appreciate the company, I said sure.
I paid for our admission and we walked to the main area. It was still a bit drizzly outside so we had to wait. In the mean time, we sat down at the Kakum Rainforest Café. I know we have Rainforest Cafes in the US, but this was for real a Rainforest Café which made me really happy! I bought a doughnut and drinkable yogurt for myself and the young girl. I wasn’t psyched about the idea of a donut, but it turned out to be amazing! Really doughy and good, not sugared or glazed, but more like an elephant ear or funnel cake taste.

Anyway, the rain stopped and I bought my ticket to go get a bird’s eye view of the rainforest. I also found out you can do overnight camping trips into the park. That sounds awesome. Next time, my friend, I’m doing that! While I was anxious to get going, afraid that the rain would start up again, I had to wait for a school group of like 150 kids to go before me. That reminds me… on the way up to the entrance, we passed a school group getting ready to leave. The kids were piling into the buses. No big deal except the bus was packed like a sardine can. There were like 3 kids hanging out every window, kids packed solid in the aisles and like another 20 still waiting to board the bus. It was quite a sight. It was such a sight, in fact, I felt uncomfortable taking a picture. So, you will have to imagine it. However, I don’t think even your wildest scenarios will come close to what I actually saw. It really made my mad they were endangering those kids like that, but then again is there an alternative here? The answer is no, and that makes it even harder to stomach.

When it was finally my turn, I struck out on the trail to the canopy walk with the real Kakum guide and my friend. The canopy walk was amazing. It was essentially wooden planks supported by aluminum ladders laid horizontally with netting on either side up to about your armpits and a steel cable suspension system. There were seven separate canopy bridges and at the most extreme you are suspended about 40m above the ground. You are truly walking in the rainforest canopy.

I had the pleasant company of one Englishman and two Ghanaians during this excursion. The walk was over all too quickly. When we finished we headed back to the entrance. The young girl helped me get a tro-tro and gave me her address. I was totally won over. She told she wanted to be a nurse, that her favorite subject in school was agriculture, that she liked her teacher, that she was 16 years old and had one brother. I tell you this as a preface to what I am about to tell you next.

It is hard to retell this portion of my adventure as it still makes me sad. As I mentioned I really liked this girl and when she offered to hold my bag for me, since it would have been awkward to have with me on the walk, I happily agreed. This was not a good choice. I will remind you I just went to the ATM. You can probably see where this is going… I believe I processed the thought, “That’s not smart to leave your money with that girl…” but for some reason I still did. Maybe I was subconsciously giving her permission to take my money. Who knows? All I know is that later that evening I found I was about 135 Cedis or about $135 dollars short of what I took out of the ATM. If she did take it, I can only hope it was to help pay for nursing school next year. But I am not convinced she took it and it is very odd that she only took 135 and left me the other 180. When I was retelling my Mom this story she suggested that maybe the canopy workers had gone through it and she protested but could not stop them. Maybe I am just being naïve again. Thankfully, I think I can adsorb the loss with only minor inconvenience. However, I have to say it really feels awful to have money taken like that. To be traveling alone, to have something like that happen, and not be able to talk to anyone about it is really hard. You can bet I was praying that night. In fact, I am not mad at the girl and that even bothers me. More than anything I feel sad when I think about it. I can’t change it now, so there is no use in being angry, but my heart just breaks that thievery was the method chosen. Frankly, if she had asked me for 135 Cedis flat out, I may have given them to her, but to steal is a whole different ball game if you ask me. Alright, enough of that sad news… While my loss was substantial, as I said it could have been worse, and I was determined not to let the incident define my mini vacation.

Following the Kakum National park visit I took a tro-tro back to Cape Coast. The guide book had jokingly mentioned that some of the tro-tro drivers think they are really Formula One Racers… Well, coming back from Kakum, I think I found the one they were talking. It was definitely a bit scary we were going so fast. However, we got back okay and in record time! I was planning to head back to my resort, but since it took half the time to get back than I had planned I was able to pay a visit to the slave castle. It was pricey to get in, and they charged me extra for my camera. But it was worth it and the price included a guided tour… Coincidentally, while I was there I ran into the Peace Corps Volunteer I met at the conference. W had talked about meeting up in Cape Coast, but she was dependent on her Dad’s schedule which wasn’t predictable in the least. The fact we were both in the same place at the same time was definitely providential. She stayed for only part of the tour though, because they had to get back to Accra that night.

As far as the slave castle goes it was eerie, but not overwhelming so. I actually the architecture of the place was amazing! And the scene of fishing boats on the shore was quite breathtaking. I guess it just the whole history of slave trafficking that taints the aura of the place. We went through the “door of no return”, which is to say the door where they used as they led the slaves from the dungeons to the boats waiting on the shore to take them to the ships crossing the Atlantic. I tried to imagine the castle hundreds of years ago. I strained to hear the slave chants, the cracking sound of the whips, but with the tour group it was hard to get to a place to mentally process things. As funny and insensitive as it may sound my travels to Cape Coast made me draw an interesting parallel between the crammed slave ships and the crammed modes of transportation. I am not saying they are the same thing, but the more I think about it the more I realize the current way of traveling, crammed like sardines, is totally disrespectful, dangerous and should not be tolerated even if it is “voluntary”, which it is, but then again isn’t because there are few alternatives. In any case, I took a lots of photos of the Cape Coast castle which was quite a sight to behold. As a last side note, there was this guy in the tour group, who was clearly American and here with a group of clearly US college students, whose eyes were a crazy shade of blue. They looks really weird. Turns out he and the group it seemed like he was leading were staying at the same place I was! Oh the irony of life…and, some lady on the tour asked me where “my” group was from. I actually took a bit of offense to that. Um, no lady, I am not with that group of students. Please, I am the lone mysterious traveler. How could she have missed that?!

Stop, backup, rewind. So when I went to the ATM, I got my big wad of cash and folded it into my small wallet. Clearly that was not going to work. Most of it ended up loose in my bag. When I was leaving Kakum I checked my bag and saw there was still a bunch of money left. I didn’t count it right when I got it of the ATM for safety’s sake given the ATM was not enclosed and I was in the middle of the town. I also did not think it prudent to count my cash while in the tro-tro, even though I was worried that some of it was taken. All through the tour, the sinking feeling of the inevitable grew and grew and finally when the tour was over I went to a private corner of the castle and counted my money. My head was swimming when I only counted 180 Cedis. I had taken out 340 Cedis… where had the rest gone? I knew to well where the rest had gone, only I didn’t want to believe it. I was stunned but not altogether surprised by my discovery. I just wanted to sit and wallow; however, it was getting dark and I had to get back to the resort. But what about my money situation? I had taken out enough to get me through this trip and now I was 135 Cedis short! After rapidly mentally assessing my options, I decided to stop at the ATM before I left Cape Coast and I took out 70 more. I planned to go over finances that night and figure out whether I would pay for my accommodations with my credit card or cash. I was leery of using my credit card because I had heard a few stories of people having problems later, but didn’t want to pay the ATM fees again. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place!

I started on my way back to the bus station, i.e. open area crammed with all sorts of vehicles, people and goods. It was still a good distance away and guy at the castle was pretty un-encouraging about my finding a tro-tro on its way Accra, which is the direction I needed to go, at this point in the evening. After having just lost all that money, the thought of paying for a private taxi was killing me. Like an answer to a prayer a tro-tro comes ripping down the street the promoter, not the driver, but the other guys who deals with the money and tries to get people to get in, was yelling Accra! Accra! Accra! So I waved him down and got. I was starting to feel a bit like this trip was turning south very quickly as we continue through town and I was the only passenger. The door is hanging wide open though as the promoter is yelling, so I figure I am still in a good position. Then two more young African ladies get in who are headed to the same town I am and my comfort level stabilizes again…but not for long. Sunset went quickly and it was getting very dark very fast and the tro-tro kept stopping and I wasn’t sure I would recognize the exact place to have the guy stop! I didn’t want to take it to the main junction. Remember the 20 minute walk earlier in the day, yes hard to believe all this adventure happened in one day.

Anyway, I was looking really hard, and I had told the driver to stop at the road leading to the Anamabo Beach Resort. Well, I saw we were coming up on it and weren’t slowing down. So I start saying stop, stop, stop, and banging my hand with my nice ring on it on the metal bar in front of me to make enough racket that they pulled over. Luckily, it was only about a 20 meter over shot. Unluckily, it was still a good 400m down a dirt road to the entrance of the resort. I had brought my head lamp with me out because I half thought I might get back after dark, even though I was aiming not to. I’m not a boy scout, but I do always try my best to be prepared! I strapped on my headlamp and not kidding you ran all the way to the entrance. I was not about to me ambushed in the dark. When I get to the resort it was really dark and I was like “NO!” what is going on… then I realize the power is out. Oye! Again thank you headlamp…

I went to my room and laid in my bed reading my bible trying to process all that had just happened in the course of 7 hours. It was, to say the least, overwhelming. But there is amazing comfort in knowing that even though you feel alone, the God of the Universe is right there next to you. He knows what you are feeling and is there, and as illustrated by the footprints in the sand poem, is carrying you when you don’t even know it. After spending some time recovering I assessed my financial situation for this trip and in general. I laid out money for all the expenses I would have over the next few days and figured out exactly how much I had been taken for… I figured I might have been able to make it paying cash for my hotel, but it would be too tight and I worked through the overall finances of leaving Africa and having enough money for the summer and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and stress of penny pinching in this sort of travel situation. After all that I decided I needed to clear my head so I worked out in my room with one of my workout DVDs which was a great idea. Following a much needed shower, I happily went over to the resort restaurant and ordered an amazing chicken burger with fried rice for dinner. Very good.

At dinner I sat listening to the ocean, reading my book and enjoying life. This was not my own accomplishment, but a testament to the power of faith that lets you live each moment in joy that is not dependent of circumstance but on the knowledge that you are in this world, but not of this world and that there is more waiting for you on the other side. This is what allows me to weather the storms of life. I am sure there will be a tempest far greater than losing $135 dollars, but it I am prepared because I have built my faith on the rock of ages. That night I fell sound asleep hearing the waves crashing on the beach not 40m from my little hut ;) Okay, so I borrowed Susan's video camera for the trip so I am going to high tech here and see if I can't include some sweet footage I took of the beach resort. That way you can actually see and hear the ocean off the coast of Africa. I'm not going to lie. It was pretty amazing.



video


Saturday I had decided to play things by ear, but I had to wake up by at least 9:15 to partake of the free standard breakfast provided by the resort. Being in Africa, and given the overall disappointment of hotel breakfasts in general, I didn’t have high expectations. However, boy did they prove me wrong! The breakfast was great; toast, cereal, fruit and juice. After breakfast I went back to my room and wrote up the last blog post you read as well as the May Africa Update. While I was working it rained a little outside. That was pretty cool actually. I went to the beach and read my book for a little bit. When I became too restless, I changed into swim suit and put on my running gear over it. I went running along the beach. I was a great beach for running. The shore was very flat and the sand was packed in really hard. I did not run too long though, the beach got pretty deserted and frankly I didn’t want to find myself in a dangerous situation so I turned around. I was surprised by large amounts garbage that had washed up on shore. It was pretty gross in places! To cool off from my run, I went to a quick swim. Swimming like that is way more fun with someone else, so I stayed in just long enough to feel I earned the right to say I went swimming off the Gold Coast of Africa!

I left the resort to go to Elmina about 1pm. Elmina was a small town just past Cape Coast that has it’s own slave castle. I went out the main road, but had trouble getting a tro-tro to stop for me. One taxi stopped for me I told him I wanted to go to Elmina and he said 4 Cedis. I thought that was way too low but figured, Cool! Must be my lucky day. Then we start going and found out he misunderstood my destination. Great. So I was like peace dude! But when I go to get out, and the door won’t open. This is not uncommon as the vehicles they drive seem to be held together with chewing gum and feel like they will fall apart with you still in them. However, the door not opening was not cool and there was another guy in the taxi who was trying to help me open the door. Which was nice and all, but I was really like “NO, I JUST WANT TO GET OUT!” I was definitely starting to panic a little. I was telling the guy to get out on his side and let me out. Not that I felt I was in danger, but I really just wanted to get out. The driver kept telling me to pull at the window and jab the door with my elbow while he was holding the handle and I was getting ticked, like this is clearly not working and I want to get out! Finally, the latch popped and I was out. I was clearly frustrated and said “Good bye” in a way that insinuated good riddens. Anyway, that whole scene probably lasted 30 seconds, but it felt like an eternity and was quite the little scare…

Finally after the taxi fiasco, a local came up and helped me flag down a taxi. When I got back from my trip I tracked him down I gave him a small tip. The first tro-tro brought me to Cape Coast and then I followed a very nice lady to find a shared taxi to Elmina. In total getting to Elmina turned out to be a much longer trip than I had expected. It took over an hour to get there! When I finally did arrive, I ate at the Bridge House. It is a hotel and restaurant associated with the Coconut Grove Beach Resort frequented by the rich and famous. I had contemplated staying at the Bridge House for my vacation, but boy was I glad I didn’t stay there!
There was a terrible fish smell outside so bad I had to move tables inside. I ordered the coconut chicken, their specialty and supposedly my splurge meal, but it turned out to be not very good! In general I was not impressed with Elmina. The guide book writers seemed to like it more than Cape Coast, but I do not agree. It was dirty, unfriendly and just yuck. Maybe the real Coconut Grove Resort is worth it, but I didn’t make it that far…After lunch I decided I did not want to pay to go into a second slave castle. So instead I took pictures of its façade and then climbed up a hill to a smaller castle. It was a very nice view, but contrary to the guidebook it was definitely not open to visitors. In fact as I was walking up the steep road to get there a nice gentleman warned me not to walk around to the back of the castle because someone would take my camera... A slightly disquieting welcome for sure!

I didn’t stay in Elmina very long. In fact, upon my descent from the treacherous castle I immediately found a tro-tro back to Cape Coast. From Cape Coast I found a tro-tro headed to Accra, thankfully this time it was still afternoon and I got them to stop in the right place. It helped I was sitting up front. It was the first time I rode shotgun and honestly I prefer the other seat because you can’t see the crazy driving that is going on quite as well. When I got off the tro-tro, instead of going right back to the resort, I took the fork in the dirt road to the left and went up a very steep hill to the Ocean View Lodge. It was awesome! I ordered some pineapple juice, read the new book I just started “The Tipping Point”, and enjoyed the view which was truly spectacular. I can’t imagine it being a private home and living there. It would have been awesome! It was cool and all, but I prefer the beach access to the view when it comes to actually booking accommodations. It was a nice place to a little break or have a meal as a change of pace. A funny side note is that the waiter there was shamelessly hitting me. FYI, when I travel like this I “have a boyfriend” or “I’m married”… Whatever they ask, the answer is such that I am not available… Oh and randomly enough, this one time a guy asked me my name and instead of saying Sara, I was like “My name is Kate.” Just like that. It even surprised me how definitive and nice it sounded. I realized I could essentially create my own alter ego… no one knows me, I can be who I want! That is a bizarre feeling. So after that I was “Kate” to any curious Ghanaian guy.

I left the Ocean View Lodge in time to get back to the beach resort before nightfall. I read on the beach until it was dark and then had a relaxing dinner at the restaurant. Again, a very good meal. I ordered the kid sized pasta because I wasn’t too hungry and it turned out to be the perfect size. After dinner I sat at my table to a long time working out what presents I still needed to buy and generally enjoyed the down time.

Sunday morning I got up feeling just so-so. My throat was starting not to feel so great. Basically it hurt every time I tried to swallow which made it hard to sleep. I had the awesome breakfast take two…this time with the added bonus of an omelet. I changed into my swimsuit and sat out in the sun, tanned a little and read. After I had my fill of reading and sleeping on the beach I drew a picture of the shore scene. It was not my best work, but I am getting better at doing landscapes. It is harder than you would imagine… When I felt like I had finished my picture I went back, got a small plastic bag from my room and a beach towel from the reception. P.S. the resort lends out really nice Beach towels. This place was seriously choice. Anyway, I went seashell hunting. When I found 5 I liked I went back and took a quick dip in the ocean one last time before heading back to the rush of life in Accra. I showered, changed, and packed and was out of my room my 12:00. It was great! I did pay with my credit card, but I paid with my debit bank card. I don’t have much money that account and wouldn’t mind closing it so if it gets messed up, so there you go!

I ventured out to the main rode to get a tro-tro back to Accra. Considering it was Sunday about noon, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the traffic was sparse. To make matters worse, I couldn’t seen to get the ones that passed me to stop. It was hot outside and I was starting to feel a bit defeated. At this point some local guys walked past and asked me where I was going. When I told them Accra they responded by showing me the hand motion that means Accra. Apparently, I had been signaling something else! Sure enough, as soon as I use the new right arm point to the sky up and down a van stopped for me :) It is amazing. They have a whole language in how you wave your hands indicating destinations. This tro-tro business is more serious than I thought. The ride I got was actually pretty nice. It was a nicer Ford van. Still packed with people, but at least it wasn’t rusting. Back in Accra I got dropped off at the main traffic circle and had to take a taxi back to the guesthouse.

I was happy to be back at the guesthouse. My throat got infinitely worse on the ride back and I developed a pretty strong headache. To top things off, the guesthouse manager made a mistake and there was no room for me. Thankfully, they didn’t just say tough luck. Instead, they let me stay in daughter’s room! It was really nice of them and they wouldn’t let me pay them. When I got there I was surprised to find Ming. Ming is another student working with Susan. She was supposed to head up to Tamale Saturday, but the airline lost her luggage so she stayed in Accra to get it back. Ming was staying the families guest room, hence why I was in the daughter’s room. The family we stayed with was really nice. They even shared their lunch with us! Ming and I got to know each other a little and just chilled out for the evening. Since I was not feeling good I walked over to see if the pharmacy had anything to help me. I bought some menthol throat drops and some Vitamin C chews to boost my immune system. I had to go to the bathroom like a million times that day. At the time, I was in denial and wouldn’t have said I was sick. But now that I think about it, I was in pretty bad shape. Ming and I made a sad dinner of toast and ramen noodles, but it was spiced with good conversation.

I talked to my mom that night and was able to post on my blog and send out the May update. These are both good things… I took a quick shower before I hit the hay. I also tried a throat drop before I went to bed. Not a good idea. It actually made things worse! Anyway, it didn’t really matter because I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to get to the airport for a 6:00am flight to Tamale. I was afraid of being out and about looking for a taxi at that time of the morning. Thankfully, African women get up really early and so I was not the only person out. I did okay waiting for plane, not falling asleep I mean. The flight to Tamale was interesting. It was a propeller plane which made me feel like I was in Africa in the 1950s really adventuring into the great unknown. I really just wanted to sleep on plane. I got on the plane and there is a guy sitting my seat so I have to tell hime to move over as kindly as possible on 4 hours of sleep after traveling from place to place on a daily basis…. Then guy sitting next to me, whom I had to ask to move, kept trying to hold a conversation with me. That was strike two. He was nice and all, but when my eyes are closed and my head is clearly resting against the window, do you really think that is body language for “Sure, go ahead ask me another question…” And he had some kickin breathe, strike three buddy.

I was finally able to sleep and it was a short flight. It started to pour rain like 20 minutes after we touched down. Just enough time to make it difficult to get a taxi. I ended up paying way more than I should of for a taxi. That really ticks me off. Not just a little more, but three times normal. I didn’t know any better, and I was not in a position to argue considering my alternative was to get out of the taxi and stand in the pouring rain. In addition to charging me an arm and a leg, he didn’t know where he was going. When we did finally the GILLBT guesthouse no one was there. The girls told me they would likely be staying there, but they weren’t and Susan had just come and picked up the other visitors. No one at the guesthouse knew where the Pure Home Water (PHW) house was located. I went looking through all my stuff for the cell numbers I wrote down. But I couldn’t find them! It started pouring rain again and I was at a loss sitting in this guesthouse reception area.

Honestly, I just wanted to be back in Ougadougou. I was not feeling well, I was lost, it was pouring rain outside, and I had paid 3 times what I should have for a taxi. I was feeling pretty low at this point. The workers at this center must have picked up on my desperation because they went out of their way to track down the location of PHW house and they called a taxi for me. This time I paid a reasonable price. We got to the general location of the PHW, i.e we were on the right road, but I didn’t know which house it was. The driver started to get an attitude with me, but I stayed in control as much as I was ready to lose all poise I had left. Do I detect a pattern between myself MIT and taxis? These factors do not make a positive equation. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a bunch of filters piled up to the roof. I had found it! I was never happier to see Vanessa and Kate. Even so, I didn’t have much time to revel in my victory of getting un-lost. I put my stuff in the room where I would stay (since Ming wasn’t there yet I would sleep in the bed meant for her), and headed out with the girls to the village where they would be working. I had had very little to eat and my throat still hurt really bad. It was hot, and the meeting was long. The saving grace was it was actually really interesting, and I took a bunch of great pictures! The exciting newness of being at a village meeting triumphed over my physical exhaustion. Interestingly at the village meeting all the men sat on benches on the left side of us and all the women and child stood on the right. The woman liked the design of one safe water storage container, but the men liked a different one! It is such weird dynamics. I thank my lucky stars I was born into America with an amazing family and wonderful opportunities.

We got back about 1:00pm. Thankfully we went out and found some lunch. It was okay, but not great chicken and rice. After lunch I checked out transport situation for the next day. Turns out there is no direct bus to Ouagadougou. In fact I would have to take 4 different transports. I would have a long day ahead of me on Tuesday. I also stopped off at the market on the way home and bought some fabric for Rosie and myself. I laid down when I got back, but it was not for long. I got up and helped the girls experiment with using alum as a flocculent. That was really cool. Basically you swirl this ball of what looks like salt around in very turbid water. Once the ball dissolves about halfway you take it out and let the water sit. The particles clump together and fall to the bottom. It is incredible when you see a side by side before and after picture. Here's a collage of pictures from the day...


When we were done playing with the alum, I went in a took a nap before dinner. Dinner was nice. It was all the MIT students, Susan and the visitors from the Path Project. The sauce was pretty spicy, but it was food and I was hungry. Before going to bed, I showed Derek pictures from Burkina and other trips. It was nice to show someone who was genuinely interested in seeing my pictures. I was ready for bed and reading for a while waiting for Susan to get back. I was able to catch her before we went to bed and arranged a time when I would be able to talk to her in the morning the next day. That was the last thing I needed to do. If I could talk to her in the morning then I could head out a little before lunch time and hopefully back it back to Ouagadougou at a reasonable hour.

Tuesday morning I suffered through another wimpy breakfast of bread and jam. I was not eating very well these last few days. Following breakfast I was finally able to commandeer Susan’s attention. I went over my experiment results with her and talked to her more about the work in Ouagadougou and at 2iE. This exchange was really one of the key things I was hoping to accomplish by coming to Ghana. Staying to talk with Susan after breakfast was worth the price I would pay later. What is that price you ask? How about an 11 hour journey back to Ouagadougou.

I left the PHW house at about 11:00am. Shaq one of the NGO employees was making a delivery and so he offered to drop me off at the station. He also helped me change some of my money back into CFA. The first leg of my trip was taking a tro-tro to Bolgalatanga. This was a tough 2.5h ride, I was able to read a little but I was sitting by the window on the side facing the sun and I am pretty sure my left are is now a few shades more tan then right side. From Bolgalatanga I took a taxi to Paga, the Ghana border town. Paga wasn’t far but I waited 30 minutes for the taxi to fill up. In the end, I bought the remaining ticket just so we could get going! They were trying to be nice by letting me sit upfront, but sitting up front but me in the sun again. Get this, I made them stop and moved myself to the back…

When we got to Paga I crossed border on foot. That is how they do it! It was pretty hardcore, I’m not going to lie. They have customs houses where you walk in and fill out the cards and have your passport stamped. I had all the papers I needed, but the other guy who came in the taxi who was also going to Ouagadougou didn’t have his papers, so apparently he snuck across and met up with the transport a little past the border. Talk about Sketchy with a capital “S”. From the border I took another taxi to the border town of Po. It was 5pm by the time we got to Po. The driver took us to the nice bus station, but it was sold out! I should have tried to buy someone’s ticket from them, but I don’t know how that would have gone over… Instead got seat in a taxi bus. I was just happy to be over the border and to Burkina. The taxi bus didn’t leave Po until 6 pm. The guy said it would be 2 to 2.5 hours to Ouagadougou. Here I am thinking oh, okay I’ll be home around 9:00pm. Side note, I bought my ticket and loaded my big bag in the vehicle. I had to pay extra to get it stored inside and not on top. I don’t do “bags on top”. Anyway, I was waiting with the rest of the people and then the packed van pulls out. I have all my valuables, minus Susan’s camera, on me. I figured it was coming back, but after a while I finally asked the buy sitting next to me what the deal was. It sounded like he said boeuf. I was thinking, “Hum… maybe I heard him wrong and he meant to say gas.”
Nope he meant boeuf (French for bulls or cows). They had gone and loaded two cows on top of the van! It was unreal.

As we were boarding I did not want to get in the back so I waited a couple of minutes before getting in. It was pretty funny because the guy next to me was also waiting, but he wasn’t in such a great spot and cow slobber got all over him. I didn’t want to sit in back because it just doesn’t appeal to me, but boy was I glad I stuck my guns. We start to go and less then 5 minutes into the trip the guy behind me slams the window shuts. I can’t figure out what is going on and then I turn around and see a clear liquid running down the window. That clear liquid… you guessed it. Cow pee. Gross and that is why I pay extra to have my bags kept inside and not on top. The sun went down pretty soon after we got underway and it turned out to be a long, dark ride. When we finally got the Peage defining the city limits I was thinking “Yes! Home free!” Then, the taxi bus pulls over and everybody gets out. At this point it has been 3 hours… People go pee and walk around and I surmise that it must be the “rest stop”. Wrong. First, the they take the moto off the top. Then they tie the cows and unload them. How? They literally yanked they off the roof and let them fall to the ground with only a spare rubber tire placed under them to break their fall. It was really outrageous and totally Africa. Talk about a stupid way to treat your investment. Oye!

At this point I figure things are about as crazy as they will ever get. But no, they get crazier. We start going again and as we passing the detour, really quite close the end fo the trip the guys in the backseat start making a ruckus. This time it wasn’t the cows, we had dumped those already. Instead I look out my window and see that there is a guy being chased by another guy who looks like he has a club. Hahaha, guess what. It was not a club. It was a machete! The driver of our car slowed down, and in my head I was thinking “Please, please, please just keep driving. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.” We were almost out of sight of the incident when I saw the guy being chased fall and the other guy still swinging the machete. I had to turn away. I don’t know what happened, but to say it was a bit disquieting would be an understatement.

Leanna was busy and couldn’t come get me from the taxi bus depot. It was a bit far from 2iE, but after my day of traveling I didn’t want to fuss and paid a pretty penny for a private taxi. I just wanted to be back. As I walked down the lane to my house I sent Susan a text. She came over and I was able to vent some my crazy ride home stories and share a little bit about this almost indescribable and never reproducible trip to Ghana. Oh I forgot to mention this earlier, but Ghana has a strong Christian influence and like everything else that they take the extreme they take their expressions of faith to the max… specifically in how they name their businesses. I saw, for example, God is My Strength Printing, Jehovah is King Enterprises, Emmanuel Food, Clap for Jesus. You get the picture. The other weird thing about Ghana is that when you go somewhere people greet you by saying “You are welcome” to which I am at a loss to reply by saying other than, “Thank you…?” Clearly they want to let you know you can come in and they are happy you are they, but instead of just saying, “Welcome” they add the “You are” part which totally changes things in my book of colloquial English. Anyway, it was normal for Ghana, but it seemed a bit turned around if you ask me.

In general, while amazing, my trip to Ghana was really challenging. Nothing seemed to come easy. The money stuff was partially my fault, and I should have made sure I had all the information I needed before I left… but I didn’t, and I paid for it dearly in fits of frustration and unnecessary worry. But I learned several valuable lessons. Always make sure you have money in an account that you can access, have the address of the places you are staying, don’t lose important phone numbers, and never sit by the window when there is a cow strapped to the roof of your vehicle.

You live, you learn.

Love,
Sara