Dave's Journal


Below is a transcription of the journal I kept while overseas. In it you will find an accounting of the days of hard labor (laying bricks, hauling dirt, planing wood), the brutally hot weather (just over 100F some days and humid), the cultural experiences (funeral, meeting the chief, the food), and some of my impressions as the trip went along. 

Along with the journal I have supplied photographs, thumbnailed to the left of the text. Click on the thumbnail for a larger view and use the back button on your browser to return to the journal. The thumbnails with thick blue borders are links to photo galleries for events with a number of pictures (Fiankoma Tour, Elmina Castle, and the Canopy Walk). 

Directly below is an index of the dates covered along with a link and a title for each day to let you skip to specific dates or events. 


May 20th: Meeting the group May 28th: Church and Funerals (Woo!)
May 21st: Driving and Ghanaian Culture 101  May 29th: Work and Soccer With  Kids
May 22nd: Fiankoma and Work Day #1 May 30th: Homesickness and Tall Fire
May 23rd: Work and Frimpong on Ghana May 31st: SICK!!!
May 24th: Meeting the Chief, Laying Bricks June 1st: Goodbyes, Slave Castle
May 25th: HOT! But Still Working June 2nd: Canopy, Beach, Thoughts
May 26th: Hauling Dirt, Swinging a Machete June 3rd: Last Day In Ghana
May 27th: Kumasi June 4th: Final Goodbyes, Thoughts



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We flew British Airlines from London to Accra, I thought it was a pretty nice airline







Click to go to the Team Page and read a bit about the team members

Saturday, May 20th: Meeting the Group.

            Flew in from Chicago and have a six hour layover in London's Heathrow Airport.  I have bios and photos of some of the group members so I'm trying to spot them in the airport. Doing perpetual laps but itís like a freakiní where's Waldo puzzle.

           After about 4.5 hours in the airport (UGG!) found Wanda, and with her help soon the rest of the group--11 of us total. Everyone seems great and I definitely have an instant rapport with many. So, initial descriptions: There is a married couple from Canada in their 40ís, Dave and Barb. They have traveled to all seven continents (including Antarctica) and are very involved with Habitat. Jennifer is 28 and spending a year traveling and doing volunteer work. Tanny is about 30, grew up in the US and has lived in Japan and England. He is apparently the tech guru on this trip and is worried about having technology withdrawal. Callyn is 19, knows Tanny from a leadership building organization called HOBY. She seem to really enjoy getting involved helping young people and is really excited to be on the trip. Nikki, 31, is here with her mom, Carleen. Nikki an African American young professional looking to see the world and connect more to her roots. Carleen has been to Africa several times and really feels itís important for people to see where they have come from, and to have pride in their heritage. Fatima is almost 19 and is from Saudi Arabia. Despite her perfect American English she has only been in the US for about a year going to school in Boston. Wanda is our super energetic team leader. Sheís 67 but is in fantastic shape. Bikes 150 miles a week, keeps and rides horses, and whitewater rafts. She seems really great and really has everything together. Georgi is the last team member, but she has been in Ghana for a couple weeks already so we wonít meet her for another half a day. Having met most of the team Iím now officially excited for this trip. My long layover put me in a somewhat foul mood, but this group just swept that away.

            On the plane ride to Accra we managed some seat swapping, so Iíve been chatting with Fatima, Tanny, and Callyn for the whole time we were delayed on the runway. They seem really great, though I wonder if they appreciate how special it is to have 3,000 dollars to be able to spend on a trip like this. Do I really appreciate it? I donít know. I like to think I have the money for this trip because Iíve been very frugal in everyday life, always had part time jobs during school, and because I spent my summers working full time (including 2 summers working the night shift in a factory), but I guess the REAL reason I have this freedom is because Iím lucky enough to have a  good job waiting for me, and because my family has helped me pay for college and are willing to loan me money (my really cool sister offered me an adventure loan, saying that something like money shouldnít stop me from having an great experience). 

            After takeoff Callyn and Tanny quickly went to sleep (Iím determined to stay up to get my clock on schedule). I watched a movie then started talking to Fatima about Saudi, politics, and world affairs. I find myself wanting to know all about her life, and whether western views on Saudi Arabia are fair. She was game for any kind of questions so I dove in about sexism,  Islamic radicals, monarchy, etc. She said that in the past year the new king has been implementing a lot of liberal reforms. Soon women will be able to drive and recently she was about in Saudi without a headscarf. She is Muslim, fasts during Ramadan and does the five daily prayers but does not wear a headscarf in the US. She strikes me as a very level headed moderate/liberal when it comes to Islam. Her family, as is common among liberal families in Saudi, taught her a lot about her faith and worked hard to keep the radical, Koran contradicting, Islamic educational system from brainwashing her (the educational system is Saudi was apparently hijacked by radicals as a concession to militants that killed several thousand in Mecca. This educational system was what began producing radicals like Osama Bin Laden). Iíll have to keep coming up with questions for her, I find hers to be such a great perspective, and she enjoys discussing politics and religion.  



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The flag of Ghana


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Nadia and Naomi from the Habitat for Humanity Ghana Office








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The bus we rode in throughout the trip

We landed in Accra! Itís about 8:30pm local time. Customs was easy, we just filled out a card and showed them our passports and visas (tourist visas we acquired before the trip). We briefly met our Ghanaian guides, Naomi and Nadia, then headed to the hotel we were staying at for the night. Tanny and Fatima were happy to get cell phone reception (they wonít once we leave the city) so called their parents. I kind of think having a cell phone ruins the feel of the trip a bit. We are on an adventure, visiting far off lands! Stopping to phone your mom seems (to me) to take away from that, but oh well. To each his own.

Met Georgi, the only group member that we didnít meet in London. The bio pages had one for her but she looks really different. She's much more tanned and has tightly braided (corn rows?) hair. She is 40, lives in New York, and loves kids.

On the bus Fatima mentioned that her family vacations outside Saudi in the summer (because of the 115 degree heat). She said that in Spain itís still hot but at least she can go swimming whereas in most of Saudi she has to wear black robes and cover her hair when in public, even at the beach. I was going to write that it was a real shame, because she has a great figure but that made me think. I view customs like that as unfair and controlling of women (at least for the simple headscarf Fatima would disagree, but Iím really talking about stepsbeyond that), but maybe it wasnít meant, or doesnít have to be like that. Maybe for some the robes and head coverings free them, free them from people like me first noticing whether or not they are physically attractive. Maybe it would be possible to have a society where women covering up wouldnít reflect inequity between the sexes, but would force women to be judged on their actions instead of how their bodies looked in a bathing suit.

The hotel was clean and modern, though Wanda says the septic system canít handle much toilet paper, so you wrap your used TP in more TP and throw in in the trash bin next to the toilet.

Despite getting there around 10:45, we had dinner after getting our rooms. Our first meal in Ghana! Although it wasnít very cultural (rice, French fries, fish, chicken, spicy pasta and a lettuce thing) it was very good. Bottled water was handed out as we now will not put any other kind in our mouths while in Ghana.

Iím rooming with Tanny here, and heís a pretty good guy. Heís an engineer by training and makes the same kind of nerdy jokes that some of my Madison buddies and I make. Interesting fact about Tanny: Heís a Buddhist and spent a month before college as a monk.

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Water heater that I needed to turn on to have hot water in the hotel 


Sunday, May 21st: Driving and Ghanaian Culture 101

            Got up this morning, took a cold shower because I didnít realize you had to turn on the water heater before showering (itís sitting above the shower, didnít really think about it). Live and learn! Went down to breakfast where we had eggs with toast and OJ. We quickly packed up then had a team meeting. Included was a Ghana primer by Naomi, one of the habitat affiliate people. She talked about cultural differences such as less attention paid to time, and longer greetings. Also interesting was the role of chiefs. Villages and cities have chiefs who never directly address people. They say (out loud) what they want said to their ďtranslatorĒ who then addresses people. Vice versa for speaking to chiefs. Next, a primer on a local dialect was given. Foreigners, especially whites are referred to as Abronis. We were warned that some rural villagers, though likely not ours, may never have seen white people before and children may freak out. Below are some terms and phrases for the local dialect Twi (pronounced Tree).





Good morning


How are you?

Wo ho te sen

I am fine

Me ho ye

I am physically strong (this is something you can say if you feel better than fine)

Meh te apo

What is your name?

Wo din de sen

My name is _______

Me din de _______







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Scenery From Car

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A dirt road with rice paddies beyond






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Bricks of  money Wanda would be using to pay for expenses on the trip







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Group at Lunch





            After the meeting we started on our trip to the Fiankoma Affiliate where we will be working and staying for the next 10 days. Itís about 5 hrs to where we will have lunch and 1.5 more to Fiankoma (the ride would be about 3 I think if there were paved highways the whole way). We stopped off to get 10 cases of bottled water which should last for a little while.

The bus ride is great. With the racial, age, and religious diversity in this group you really have the opportunity for great discussions. Talked more about Saudi life and then had a discussion about racism with Nikki and Carleen.

One of the reasons Carleen travels to Africa, and has now come to Ghana with her daughter, is to get in touch with her roots, to have pride in where she has come from. Carleen considers herself a ďproud black womanĒ and seems to have some great values to instill.  She suggested looking into an author named Willie Lynch and a writing called ďHow to Make a NiggerĒ which explores how slave owners systematically divided and dismantled black culture to subjugate the race during the slave trade.

We stopped at an internet cafť for a bit so we could meet the money changer and send emails to let people know that we had arrived. Georgi had an account so she let us use so she let us use that. I emailed my parents to let them know I arrived in Africa safe and sound, then had the money guy exchange money for me. I exchanged $50 which turns into 450,000 cedi (pronounced ďcityĒ plural, ďcitiesĒ).  It was in the form of a big stack of 10,000 cedi bills, roughly equivalent to a dollar each.

After a few hours of driving I actually got to use the money. We stopped at a place to use the bathroom and it turned out it cost 1000 cedi to use it. Unlike most people, I had my travel wallet on me with my currency so I pealed off a 10,000 and paid for everyone (which felt pretty cool, even though itís only a buck. We joke that we need to play poker just so we can be like ďI raise 40 thousand!). I mention the bathroom also because inside, as Tanny noticed, was the guy I switched seats with on the way to Ghana! Several hours outside Accra and we run into about the only non habitat related Ghanaian we've ever met, what are the odds? He certainly remembered us and was very friendly.

The roads outside Accra have generally been of good quality, but sometimes we run across dirt road patches and the dust gets ferocious. The soil around here is red and next to the roads are green tropical forests or fields of some kind. Ghana is a wet environment so all kinds of things grow here, itís not dry or a desert at all.  We also pass villages of various modernity, some are only slightly run down looking but of modern building materials, others are mud huts with thatched roofs.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant and I got Red Red, deep fried plantains with red spicy tomatoey sauce.  I also had a coke, 300ml in a glass bottle costing 2500 cedi, about 28 cents. I love soda in glass bottles, and yet, despite expecting people to pay 3 to 4 times as much for soda in the states, they can't seem to give us them in the US. Weak.

At about 6:30 we arrived in Fiankoma, the village where we will live and work. We got kind of swarmed but it wasnít too bad. This village has never hosted a foreign team before so everyone was interested. Unfortunately they expected us much earlier so ceremony plans had to be scrapped.

It was soon dark out (gets dark around 7:30 here because itís so close to the equator) and we were left to get our luggage and set up our mosquito nets in the dark. Because it was late we didnít get much of a look at the village, that will be tomorrow. Iím rooming with Tanny and Papa Dave (Iíve been designated Brother Dave or Junior Dave). We are the only 3 guys on the trip so we are sharing a room in a house that Habitat for Humanity built in the past (the owner, Kofi Annan Armstrong is really graciously giving up a room of his house while we are here). The girls are occupying a whole habitat house with 5 people in one room and 3 in a smaller room. The houses are nicer than expected. They have sort of stuccoed walls, concrete floors, shuttered windows, and corrugated steel roofs. There is no electricity or plumbing in this village (like most rural villages in Ghana) but the houses do have indoor latrines, and a small room to shower in which we weren't expecting.  We used my string to tie up our mosquito nets, Papa Dave and Tanny boosting me to the ceiling for me to tie the string around the rafter.

We had a team meeting after we were setup and Wanda said she was really proud of us, as no one was complaining. We were all honestly really excited.

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Our end of Fiankoma, as seen from the porch of the house the guys stayed in


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Where we ate

Picture gallery from the village tour 

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Animals like these wandered the village: small dog, baby goat, rooster, and hen


Monday, May 22: Fiankoma and Work Day #1

            Got next to no sleep because a battery operated radio was blaring next door till about 3 or 4 am (something I certainly didnít expect). At night the crickets are really loud, which is fine, but the roosters are a little annoying. Despite common conceptions, roosters actually start crowing about and hour and a half before sunrise, and they keep crowing most of the day.

            I have to say that the first time this morning stepping out of my room was incredible. It was about 6 am, not long after sunrise. The distant tropical forests were mist shrouded, the sky was a cool gray, and local villagers in traditional garb were starting morning chores. Chickens, sheep, goats, and a few dogs wander the village finding their own food. It really hit me where we were, and it just felt great to be alive.

           Breakfast was had outside under a plastic canopy on rented plastic chairs. We feel pampered and Iím not entirely comfortable with that, but oh well. They are working very hard to make us feel welcome, even if some of us might prefer sharing  more of their hardships. Many nationals prefer to have no breakfast, while we had white bread, eggs, beans, little kind of hotdog things. Along with that was tea, instant coffee, and juices.

            Following breakfast was a walking tour of part of the rest of the village (population about 2000). It was quite an eye opening tour, seeing the dilapidated conditions, houses falling down, people working really hard making palm oil and harvesting cocoa beans (we saw cocoa beans, one of Ghana's main exports, in several stages of development. They grow in pods on trees, are harvested and dried. Once dried they actually start to taste like chocolate). Outside the Habitat for Humanity part of the village most buildings are basically mud huts with thatched or steel roofs. You can actually see the mud walls on some of the buildings washing away from the rain. You see a lot of kids in uniform getting ready for school. The uniforms are required so even though school itself is free many kids canít go because they canít afford uniforms.


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Carpenter Yaw

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Dave getting carpentry instructions while Fatima and Carleen talk to another craftsman

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Nikki and nationals work together on the wall

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Immanuel's, a home owner's, little sister easily carrying 60 or 70 lbs  of mud brick

           After we got back we had our first workday! There are four houses near where we are staying all in some level of completion. I asked to do some carpentry after people jumped on the bricklaying. I met one of the carpenters, Yaw (pronounced like Yao Mingís first name). Yaw means he was born on a Thursday, like me, as we learned at orientation in Accra. There is a male and female name for each day of the week, so everyone Ghanaian has one of these 14 names, in addition to their other names (people have 3 or 4 total). Yaw had me doing wood planning, which I enjoyed. My bow making experience with the spoke shave made this easier and I was soon planing quite well. The wood is for window and door frames.

            As expected the sun was BRUTAL. Temperature was low 90's, and it was very humid. Because of my sleeveless shirt and light scrub pants I was OK and didnít soak myself in sweat. More than the heat though was just the UV. I put on SPF 30 sunscreen during the village tour and again around 10:30 but working in the sun from 9-12 may still have burned my arms (my face feels fine thanks to my boney hat).

            Most of the time I was planing, with some sawing and hammering. Yaw said ďyou are now qualifiedĒ which I took as quite a compliment. The workers around here all speak some level of English, as English is the official language of Ghana, but communicating is sometimes still difficult. Overall I enjoyed getting outside and putting in some hard work. I did very well, my experience with wood working tools as well at my fitness and strength certainly helped. Fatima and Callyn tried a little bit of planing but couldnít get the shavings flying. Behind the carpentry bench Fatimah and Nikki helped stucco (stucco? I think, seemed like mortar or some cement mixture being layered on the outside of the mud brick houses). They slap a trowel full on the wall then smooth it. People joked about them getting more splattered on them than the wall, hehe, but they seemed to be doing really well. The other team members were laying mud bricks with mortar on houses not far along.

            Callyn was amazed at the village women carrying 2 or 3 bricks balanced  on their heads when she could only do one with her arms (they are large bricks, maybe 20 to 25 lbs?). Ghanian women (and men) certainly handle very heavy burdens, almost always on their heads. We often saw, while driving, women carrying heavy loads on their heads and a child on their back.

            We are all trying to drink lots of water. This morning I downed about 3.5 liters of water and sweat it all out.


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Fried plantains and chicken, rice with jollaf sauce, a cabbage dish, and a dish with black eyed peas

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The girls room after we put 
up their mosquito nets

            At twelve we had lunch. It was rice, fried chicken, deep fried plantains, and jollaf sauce. The food was GREAT and the jollof sauce was especially good, better than at the restaurant. Food is being prepared by Regina and Nancy, two full time cooks we hired for our trip (they have done this for several habitat trips before so know what they are doing). Dessert was a pineapple that the villagers gave us as a gift. It may be the best pineapple Iíve ever had, or at least the best in a really long time.

            After lunch some of the women went back to work but Papa Dave, Tanny and I went to put up the girls mosquito nets. Their nets had been put up with help from some villagers but they over relied on duct tape which didnít last. We put their nets up like our own.

            We then got cleaned up, trying out our solar shower bags. I have a 2.5 gallon shower bag and I didnít know how it would last so I was very sparing before soaping up, but it turned out there is more than enough water in my bag.

            Dinner was once again amazing. There was rice, jollaf sauce, potatoes, and a vegetable dish with mushrooms. As dinner went on we watched  really menacing clouds roll in and by the end of dinner the rain was coming down pretty good. I ran to make sure our shutters were closed and then I met Fatimah and we ran to the girls house to close their shutters.  While inside the rain starting POURING, our first African rainy season storm. We trudged back under umbrellas to our team meeting. It was pouring, with lightning and the ground got very slippery; it was fun. Fatima wanted to run in the rain because she said she doesnít see rain much in Saudi.

            At the meeting, once it was quiet enough, we talked about how people came across Habitat, and everyone had different stories. Some people were like me, finding the Habitat for Humanity website while looking for a way to see another culture and do something to help people. We were beat at the end of the meeting, about 8:30, and hit the hay.



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Georgi and Daniel, a mason, in the beginnings of a house





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One of the houses being replaced by Habitat for Humanity

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Dave with some kids



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Frimpong and Callyn


Tuesday, May 23: Workday #2 and Frimpong on Ghana

            Got up, got some cloths on, brushed my teeth, then went to breakfast. After I went to the site where Daniel, the mason (a very nice, patient guy) was laying bricks. It was overcast and felt really nice and cool. I was told it was just over 90, but without the blazing sun and with the breeze it felt fine.

            Lunch was chicken, jollaf sauce, a cabbage dish, and fried plantains. I asked about the village diet and they apparently eat a lot of fufu (cassava and plantains pounded into a doughy consistency, then dipped in sauce) fruits and vegetables. Frimpong says food is plentiful and hunger is not a big problem here because so many types of crops grow easily here. They typically have meat, such as chicken or goat, at special occasions.

            After lunch I did some planing and then brick laying, and then we went and went to tour the current houses of the people for whom these Habitat For humanity Houses were being built. The old houses were typically mud with thatched or steel roofs and housing as many as 8 kids. Speaking of kids, our group managed to pick up a whole pack while walking around, hehe. Whenever us abroni walk around the village kids start following and want to hold your hand. 

            Dinner was seasoned rice, jollaf sauce, the mushroom onion dish, and yam balls (balls made of pounded yams, boiled? Then fried. Tastes much like mashed potatoes).

            After dinner we had a team meeting where we talked about Ghanian culture with Frimpong. Frimpong is from the Habitat for Humanity Ghana office and will help us throughout our trip in Ghana.  The discussion brought up several interesting points, one of which  is that Ghanian culture is matrilinear so property and succession flows along the mothers line. AIDs came up but Frimpong believes that the epidemic is overblown and not as big a deal in Ghana as the government makes it out to be. He asserted that he had never met anyone with HIV, but also said that the villagers donít bother getting tested. This talk sounded like the kind of denial that helps HIV spread, but maybe AIDS really isnít much of a problem in this part of Ghana (Ghana does have a much lower infection rate than many African countries, only about 3%). Frimpong also told us about the year of service he had put in when he was younger. He was assigned to teach in a very rural village and despite reservations, accepted (his two buddies put in for transfers). That village had 350 kids and 4 teachers. They had little in the way of supplies but at the end of the year would have to write the same essay as the city kids to judge school advancement. It sounds like he really poured his heart into that service and helped a lot of kids. It also sounded like it really shaped what he wanted to do with his life. He now works full time as a paid employee for Habitat for Humanity. Also interesting was his talk about poverty, and I was struck by how the poverty here manifests itself here just as in the US or anywhere. The sense of being trapped with many rural poor kids thinking they can never make anything of themselves.


Wednesday, May 24th: Meeting the Chief, Laying Bricks

            Got up shortly after dawn (about 6am), brushed teeth, and got soap and water for washing my underwear (we have hired a woman in the village to do our laundry but we still wash our own underwear). We get our washing water from a barrel outside our house and it occurred to me that people in the village walked the Ĺ or ľ mile to the well and carried back the 50 gallons to fill our barrel. I feel bad that they put in such an effort so that us pampered westerners can have water 2 yards from our door. As the barrelís getting low Iíve decided I want to help carry back the water to fill it.





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The chief, in a yellow/orange patterned ntoma, and elders


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Our group with the chief and elders

           After breakfast (bread, beans, eggs) we set off to visit the Chief of the village. We walked into an open air forum where, seated in front under an overhang was the chief and several elder people (one was the ďtranslatorĒ didnít catch the titles of the others). They were wearing intricately woven and patterned kente cloth robes (sort of a cross between a robe and a toga) called ntoma. One was black and white, the others were brightly colored. We greeted them by shaking their hands then sat and they came around and greeted us. We did horribly at remembering Twi greetings but they didnít seem to mind too much (one of them laughed really loud every time we tried to speak twi). After the greeting Wanda was told to speak (glad she had to do it, the situation was a little intimidating) so she introduced us and said we were really glad to be there. Frimpong translated. The chief, through his ďtranslatorĒ said we were welcome to the community and that they were glad to have us. Next we exchanged gifts, as is the tradition. We  gave the chief two bottles of schnapps, and they reciprocated with a bottle of schnapps and glass bottles of soda.  They then asked permission to use some in a traditional prayer in which they poured some of the shnapps on the ground as an offering to their ancestors.

We had our picture taken with the council, which was very gracious, then we were told that when the chief stood we all stood. The translator yelled something quite loud (frimpong said it just meant like, ďget upĒ) and we all simultaneously stood up to leave. The walk back was nice because a few of us were taking a different way back and there was no pressure to rush or find people, no risk of getting lost. The girls stopped to watch some chicks.


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Laying bricks

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Brick press. Material (mostly clay rich wet soil) would be compressed, then dried in the sun for several days.


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He of the jagged pants

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Scrubs were the preferred wear. Disposable, light weight, and they dry quickly. Shorts were not worn for cultural reasons.

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Sitting at the dinner table

           Worked started after we got back. More bricks, this time at a different house than where was working. The mason at that house seemed to act more burdened than happy to have us but maybe the rudeness was a faulty interpretation because of cultural differences.

Lunch was peanut soup with pork, rice balls (just what is sounds like) for dipping, jollaf with processed meat and deep fried plantains.

After lunch was more brick laying with Daniel. Did that until about 3 or 3:30, then went to write in my journal and sew up my pants properly. Oh! Forgot to mention my pants. I had a green pair of scrubs with elastic cuffs that had to go. Tanny thought jagged cuffs would be funny so I cut them mid calf level (for cultural reasons we don't wear shorts higher than that) with a spiky edge. Upon completing this I realized they looked like Peter Pan pants way more than anything else, haha (pan pants!); everyone thought they were very funny. I like them because they will help keep me cool. I, however, tore them jumping onto brick laying scaffolding (a little rickety, an adventure to work on). Before lunch I tried to fix them with duct tape while over at the girls house. Thought no one was in the room but it turned out Callyn was napping. She woke up and left me trying to quickly explain why I was there with my hand in my pants, haha.

Sun was really hot today, drank about 4 liters of water.

Today Iíve decided I have a little crush on Fatimah. It's harmless and I guess not surprising: she is pretty and exotic and weíve been talking a fair bit. Later, we decided, I will teach her how to play poker and maybe how to juggle.

Interesting note. Hanging around before dinner and in the distance saw an approximately 3 or 4 year old kid trying to break open a piece of fruit with a machete. Frimpong didnít see a problem with this. I donít know that I do, but itís interesting how it compares to parents in the US that I believe are often far too overprotective. I think there is sometimes nothing wrong with a skinned knee if the child learns something from that experience.  Interestingly Alice, a friend from school who studied in equator, saw exactly the same thing (2-3 year old with machete) when she was there.

Dinner was fried chicken, French fries, jollaf, a rice dish, pineapple, and a dark brown sauce called shito (tasted like beef jerky but spicy). I guess it's not uncommon for people to eat fries/chips in Ghana.

After dinner we sat around hearing stories from Wanda and doing 2 truths and a lie. For that activity the person tells 2 true things about themselves and 1 lie about themselves and we vote on which is the lie. Jen went today and had great stories about her family raising ducks.

After that we heard about traditional marriage. Traditionally a bride price is decided on and that money is paid to the family of the woman. Then there is a big feast and everyone is invited. If anyone finds fault with any of the food they will blame marriage difficulties on it.

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Mmm, chicken feet



Thursday May 25th: HOT! But Still Working  

HOT!! Blazing hot today. After breakfast I did some brick laying. Tanny's watch thermometer said 101 degrees, the mercury one out of Wanda's medical kit said 98. Either way itís HOT. Itís been over 90 everyday, apparently, but today the sun was especially brutal. First day I totally sweated through my shirt, but more clothing modifications help. I safety pinned my cuffs up to mid calf and pinned one of Papa Dave's handkerchiefs to the back of my booney hat to shield my neck from the sun. That was prompted by my first sunburn, the back of my neck (this was despite sunscreen with 2 reapplications). Shoulders were a little pink so wore a sleeved shirt. About 2.5 liters of water during the morning work period, plus some Gatorade.

            Lunch  was fried chicken, boiled bananas, boiled yams, a green spinach looking stuff w/sauce, rice and jollaf.

            There was a brief, light rain shower as we started eating. Standing in that rain was excellent.


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The Arabic on my nalgene. The neon green is gatorade.

            After lunch people were writing things on water bottles, I asked Fatima for an Arabic blessing on mine. She wrote the thing they say before eating or drinking on my nalgene (she gave me a translation later, about thanking all mighty Allah but I never got it written down). I think Arabic writing looks really cool and I really like the inscription. Also written on my water bottle today was my name, my name in Arabic, and my name in Thai (compliments of Tanny).


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Jen and I enjoying cold drinks

             We went to visit another group of Habitat for Humanity buildings later that afternoon. We bused and then walked the other half mile, mostly uphill. The village looked nice. We saw photos of a habitat team that had been, saw the houses, and coconut, palm, pineapple, corn and other crops. After the visit we walked through the nearby town, which had electricity, to a place that had cold coke and a ceiling fan. Shade, cold soda, music, and a steady breeze. We were in heaven!


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Carleen being shown weaving


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Fatima playing with a group of kids


            When we arrived back in Fiankoma it was too late to work so we dropped stuff off, did misc stuff (Tanny put a batsign on the front of one of his shirts, haha), then we went and played with the kids in the village. Frisbees and inflatable balls were brought out and the kids were really excited. Jen and I got jump ropes from Carleen, and the kids wear eager to jump in.

            After playing with the kids I took a shower then waited for dinner, but a fierce storm was brewing. Got so windy Frimpong sent us away and I heard later the canopy actually got pulled out of the ground by the wind. Ended up eating where we have our team meetings, the large room of another Habitat house. Dinner was seasoned rice, fried plantains, a mushroom dish, shito sauce, and a macaroni dish.

            Once we were finished we had a discussion where Tanny talked about being a Buddhist monk, and Fatima talked about being muslim and growing up in Saudi.

            Buddhist people in Thailand are expected to be monks for a time before their 21st birthday. In the US itís typically between highschool and college. Monks do not prepare food, instead relying on gifts which people give to gather a sort of good carma. To show appreciation for these gifts the monks must eat some of everything given, even if they hate that kind of food. The monks meditate in the morning and do work around the monastery the rest of the day. One interesting thing about being a monk is that they are not allowed to eat solid food after 12 noon. Tanny was a monk for 1 month as is usually done with young men because the thai monks shave their heads each full moon (so they stop just before they would have their second shaving).

            Fatima talked about Islam, discussing how the Saudi the educational system was hijacked by extremists as I mentioned in a different entry.  She talked about the 5 pillars of islam, one of which is the expectation to donate to the needy (often 20-25% of ones income). If your family has people in need you give to them, if not you look at your community and find people in need there. If no one in your community is in need you keep looking farther out. During Ramadan you fast from sunrise to sunset and she said the point was to feel what the poor feel. Another thing she talked about were  examples of how radical islam have warped her religion. For example, Saudi education teaches you not to respect other religions and hasnít allowed women to drive, but the Prophet visited people of other faiths and wished them well, and had women ride camels.

            Interesting anecdote: Some of the girls walking back to their house saw a baby black cobra which the villagers promptly stoned to death.




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Dave attacking some roots with a machete



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Kente cloth for my mom

Friday, May 26: Haulin' Dirt, Swinging a Machete

          Last workday before the weekend and it is HOT again. Midmorning was over 100 with blazing sun. Sweating through my sleeveless shirt and my pant legs. Also, the hardest work yet--hauling dirt. The ground is too hard to shovel so you pickaxe the dirt then shovel it into a wheel barrow and finally pour it into the unfloored rooms of a house to make everything the same level. Did that and finally got to use a machete! They use them all the time but today I got to use one to help remove a huge stump in the middle of the house. The tree was about 10í in diameter so now we dig out the base and use the machete to cut through all the roots around the stump. By the end of the morning I was getting ok with the tool. Drank almost 4 liters of water this morning.

            Lunch was a black eyed pea dish, rice, a meat onion, pepper in tomato sauce dish, deep fried plantains, and orange slices. We were all quite wiped out.

            After lunch some local Kente merchants came with many different patterned cloths. I bought a green and yellow one for my mother.

            Back to work! More pickaxing, shoveling and hauling. Still brutal hot. We ended up having 4 people working while 2 rested in the shade and we would tag team out. Iím always amazed at how the villagers here work. They start earlier, donít take a lunch break, and work several hours after we stop. Iím in pretty good shape, and it shows, but I canít hold a candle to how hard the locals work.

            When we got back to the room we discovered that the girls had stolen our shower bags. We chased down Fatima (literally) and threatened to dunk her in our water barrel but didnít find out where the shower bags were.

            That night was cultural drumming. Two drum troops visited the village and performed for us and about 300 people that came out from the village. It was pretty cool; one group was children with bamboo clappers and other instruments. They sang while others drummed and 3 other children danced in the middle. They wore traditional looking wrap around type dresses. Next a group of adult drummers and someone with a cow bell like instrument played while a shirtless man and a woman in a dress danced a, sometimes very sensual, dance. Both groups of musicians were very interesting and, despite having songs that seemed to go on forever, it was very cool. A couple of times they invited us to dance and, while most of our group did, I declined as I was exhausted from the workday. I was also not in a fantastic mood so was fairly quiet, and like 4 people asked me if I was all right. It was very sweet of them, but got a little annoying, hehe.

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A shot of a more modern urban area




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A part of Kumasi's really busy market


Saturday, May 27th: Kumasi

           Weekend! Today we are having breakfast early and then driving to Kumasi, a fair sized city, to shop and email! The morning was nice, we got up at dawn for real (5:30, 5:15?), where you almost needed a flashlight to brush your teeth.

            On the bus we brought about 10 villagers along, including the man who had been bitten by a snake a week ago. We had seen him around the sites with his arm in a sling. He hand has been really swollen and can sometimes be seen with herbs treating it.

            In Kumasi we stopped at a 4000 cedi per hour internet cafť (about 40 cents). The connections are very slow but functional. Cell phones work her so I used Tannyís to try to push back my airline reservation so I can hang out with several group members in Paris, but couldnít get through. Next we stopped at a moneychanger and by coincidence there was a British Airlines office right next door (and it was air conditioned!). Unfortunately there are no London to Chicago flights within about 10 days of what I wanted to switch to, so right now it looks like the whole Paris thing is out.

            The Kingís museums was the next stop. We toured the old palace of the king and learned about some of the history of Ghanaian kings and associated cultural items like the Golden Stool (which represents the spirit of the Ghanaian people and is kept hidden to protect it). One time the British demanded the golden stool and the Ghanaians refused. The British tried to take it by force leading to a 9 month battle, ending in the eventual defeat of the Ghanaians, but the stool had been smuggled away in the meantime. We also learned more about the matrilineal nature of Ghanaian culture. The royal bloodline travels on the MOTHERS side, not the fathers. This means that the son of the king is NOT next in line to be king. If the king dies his brother or the son of his sister will become king. Occasionally a queen would rule, but despite the mothers bloodline being the important one the King is still the primary ruler. The museum had some neat gifts and items belonging to the kings, and some really excellent wax statues of several kings, compliments of Madam Tussauds.

After words . . . Lunch! The cooking has been great here, but after a week of plantains and rice dishes I was really excited when we pulled into a place we could get pizza and ice cream. We felt like total abronis eating in a place like this, but we didnít really care. I split a Hawaiian pizza with a couple other people, then got a chocolate milkshake for desert. I gotta say, after a week in a village without any milk, or anything cold, or any desert besides fruit, that milkshake was about the greatest tasting thing in the WORLD.


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Ashanti symbols wall hang. I like the simplicity of the presentation.

After, we drove through Kumasiís market, which is huge and looks chaotic. Cars, merchants, stands, and just people (many carrying things on their heads) were everywhere. Eventually we drove to a sort of cultural center where we could buy weavings, carving, etc. I didnít think Iíd find anything but I saw a wooden hanging with Ashanti symbols (Ashanti is the name of the region we were in) that I really liked. Sixty five thousand cedis ~7 dollars).

On the way back we stopped at a bank and a kid approached the bus selling a map like I wanted so I bought one for 15,000, down from 20,000. I got flak because I could have had it for 10 if Iíd pushed a little, but whatever, itís like 55 cents difference, and that half buck will mean more to the kid than it will to me.

Shaved today after returning to the village. None of the guys had shaved in about 8 days, as the definite ďroughing itĒ atmosphere means you donít have to worry about that stuff (or at least the guys donít, hehe). Decided to go with a goatee and I think I like it.

Another thing Iím trying to do is get my propeller toy to work. I tried to make one of those toys you spin and they fly into the air from bamboo and a stick, but it wobbles.

Dinner was spaghetti with a kind of meat sauce. Good, but maybe not authentic.

After dinner I did my two truths and a lie. My three were that 1) I had a boxing match with my friend in the lounge of our dorm room,  2) I had a course in college taught by an astronaut that walk on the moon, and 3) I nearly broke my ankle in highschool showing off a flyaway dismount on a playground bar.  Most people thought #2 was the lie, as only about 12 people have ever walked on the moon, but that was true (ďJackĒ Schmitt, an Apollo 17 astronaut that walked on the moon was one of the adjunct professors teaching my ďresources from spaceĒ course my senior year). The lie was actually #3. I did show off backhandsprings on the hardwood floor in the choir room, but dismounts off highbar scare me too much to try those with anything but a foam pit.

After that I taught Barb and Fatimah how to play poker. They learned well saying I was a very good teacher. Dave then joined us and we played for matchsticks.

ďYou took my matchsticks!Ē ĖFatimah





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The church choir came back with us and sang a couple songs for our group. They were very good.


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A common sight, cassava being pounded into fufu





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A group dancing at the funeral


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Another group, which includes Barb, dances

Sunday, May 28th: Church and Funerals (Woo!)

             Church this morning. We went to a local catholic one and the service was very neat. It actually paralleled the Lutheran services I grew up with pretty closely. There was a sermon, the offering, the giving of the peace (where you turn to all the people near you and say ďpeace be with youĒ) and communion. There was also a lot of energetic singing and some dancing. My mom would have really liked it, I think.

            Lunch today was the long awaited Fufu! A local staple itís pounded cassava and plantain in a doughy ball with a sauce. Consensus was that it tasted like glue, haha. Iíd been excited to try it but have to admit, I didnít like it at all.

            We had the whole rest of the day free! I went and hung out on the girls porch, talking to Nikki about poverty and the fairly happy people who live here.

            After, Barb, Dave, and Wanda taught me Euchre, which was easy because itís so much like Sheepshead (but simpler).

            Then, big news, a funeral was going on in the village and we were invited! Funerals here are basically like a big party where everyone is invited. Not everyone decided to come so Papa Dave, Barb, Fatima, Wanda, Nikki, Carleen, and I walked down to the center of the village and found a couple hundred people there for the funeral. Canopies, chairs, a MASSIVE 12 speaker sound system (controlled by a desktop),  an (apparently) videographer, and a portable generator to power everything had all been rented. Everyone was dressed in dark colors or black and white. Many of the men wore African robe toga things (ntoma). We went around and shook hands with Iíd guess about 70 people before taking a seat. People would speak occasionally and then music would be played (loudly). When the music starts people would get up in big groups and dance lively dances. They even insisted that we come dance too, and so what could we do, we danced! They greeted this display with cheering and smiles, despite our (probably) terrible dancing. I have to say that dancing at the a huge party funeral of a villager Iíd never met is the strangest thing Iíve done here yet. After the dancing it was announced that (unbeknownst to us) we had donated to the family 50,000 cedi. This prompted the immediate family to come shake our hands again. After this Ether (a big woman who weíve met before, a local school teacher) took us over to another corner of the funeral where she was morning the death of her nephew (he was about 21, so the funeral was less lively than the larger one being held for an elderly person). The direct family wore black and red (Ether had a black top and red skirt on). We shook everyone's hand and then donated some money. As is the custom, they reciprocated the gift in the form of seven 350ml glass bottles of soda.

A tropical rainy season thunderstorm was brewing after we got back from the funeral so everyone found some shelter and relaxed as the rain came down. Played cards a little later that night, then read a bit for the first time since arriving at the village (Jared Diamonds ďCollapseĒ), before turning in early.





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School kids reciting the pledge of allegiance 


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Older kids in class

Monday, May 29th: Work and Soccer With Local Kids

             More digging and hauling dirt this morning. Only about 93 or 94 but sunny. At around 10:30 we went to visit two local schools. The kids lined up outside the school for us and we gave them some crayons and comic books people brought. The second school was older and had fairly ďconventionalĒ classrooms with desks and a chalkboard, but of course the sides of the building were open to keep it cool.

            Lunch was a rice, fish, and spinach like dish, but the highlight was the fried dough Regina had made for us. Tasted like beignetsís (from New Orleans) or funnel cakes, but without the powdered sugar on top. Not authentic, but really tasty!

            Then back to work until 3:30 (the afternoon went real slow as shoveling and picking is hard work and itís hella hot out. Sweat today was beading up on my arms). After that Frimpong dropped by to let us know that we would be playing soccer against the locals that afternoon! We couldnít believe that it was 95 degrees, humid, scorching sun,  we had just worked all afternoon and he wanted us to run around on a football pitch!

            We drove to the field--a rocky grass field with net-less wooden and bamboo goal posts at each end. The field looked HUGE to us (pro sized?) and was surrounded by wooded areas (thatís how you knew when you went out of bounds). We started getting ourselves in order when the other team, eleven mostly barefoot boys ranging from 8 to 17 (the majority quite a bit closer to 8), shows up starts doing warmup laps and cartwheels! We are wilting in the heat, drenched in sweat and they are doing laps! Once we got going, however, I had a blast. I enjoyed getting to run around, staying with the action, going back and forth from offense to defense as needed. Occasionally I would make a difference, getting in a couple cool kicks and headers, but admittedly Iím terrible at soccer. All us habitat people got SCHOOLED by the Ghanaian kids, they were really good. They only reason we reason we didnít get blown out of the water is because we had 4 grown Ghanaian men helping us, including Frimpong, and because the ref seemed pretty biased towards the hopeless abroni. After a full length game it ended tied, 3 to 3 (two of our goals were penalty shots Frimpong made, but to be fair, their goalie was only about 4 and a half feet tall). I think all had a good time. The bad part was that Georgi hurt her knee, on which she had previously had several surgeries. Hopefully it wonít be too bad.

            Energized by the game I decided to do some pushups after getting back to the village. The local kids who assembled copied me so pretty soon Barb and I were doing jumping jacks, frog jumps, etc and the kids (~50) were following along and copying.

            Dinner was a beef dish, fried plantains, and seasoned rice.

            After dinner was a games night (though most of the people were too tired for it). They showed us a Ghanaian shell game, a type of parcheesi, and a type of checkers. I spend most of the time watching these two guys play checkers (which is basically like our version, except they play on a 10x10 board instead of an 8x8 board. I like the bigger field more).


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I'm totally sold on the idea of carrying stuff on your head. It works great. This kid has a tree trunk.





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Me trying to get a cool picture of the bonfire. I think it's not bad.

Tuesday, May 30th: Homesickness and Tall Fire

             Had heat rash on my arms (or so I was told, they itched and burned but had no sunburn) so wore a long sleeve shirt. Itís harder to reject heat but overall all felt cooler because the direct sun had been creating a real burning sensation.

            More dirt moving today. I can hardly believe a few weeks ago I was watching hundreds of tons of dirt a day getting hauled by truck, moved by hydraulic excavator. In 3 days weíve moved maybe 10 tons of dirt with all our sweat.

            Lunch was a fufu like dish which I didnít like, a tomatoey sauce with rice, fried fish, fried plantains, avocado, and PINEAPPLE! I swear the pineapple here is the best Iíve EVER had.

            Homesickness is becoming apparent in the group. Earlier this summer I thought I wanted a longer trip but I see now that 2 weeks is about right for this kind of thing. Signs of homesickness: More joking about amenities like flushing toilets; much more talk about food back home; more clinging to items from home, like ipods (a couple people brought them), and a 3 week old celebrity gossip magazine thatís getting passed around.  I personally am getting sick of the food (even though our cook is wonderful) and kind of wish I could spend a night playing computer games.

            Apparently the mental strain is hitting some harder than others. I didnít see it, but it seems Nikki and Giorgi started swinging at each other. Does it say something that the two people from New York city were the ones to get in a row? Hehe.

Later that night we had a bon fire near where we ate. The villagers piled bamboo and some of the stumps that were god awful to pull out of the group. We had roasted corn and it was a good time.

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The hospital in Jacabo


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The lab where they tested our blood for malaria parasites


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The three sick people, feeling better enough to put on smiles, in front of the hospital sign


Wednesday, May 31st: SICK!!!

             SICK!! HORRIBLE night last night. Throwing up and some diarrhea. Got next to no sleep and feel miserable today. Turns out a lot of people are feeling sick. Callyn yesterday felt like/did throw up. This morning found out Fatima was also throwing up all night, and Tanny had chills and a fever.

            Tanny, Fatima, and I were bussed to Jacabo (the nearest place with a hospital/clinic, about 45 minutes away) with Wanda, Barb, and Naomi to help us get tested for malaria (the big concern around here when someone gets sick). I was still quite nauseous so the bus ride on the very bumpy dirt road was terrible, and left me staying very close to my trusty bucket (though I thankfully didnít end up needing it).

            The doctor at the clinic, who didnít arrive until a while after we did, was an elderly Ghanaian man who had been trained in the 70ís in soviet Russia. We met with him one at a time, described our symptoms, and then he told us to go over to a building across the courtyard to get tested for Malaria. We walked across the lawn to the lab, which was a slightly run down looking room with a battered screen door. Inside was a reassuringly professional and scientific setup with a technician in a lab coat, disposable gloves and disposable prepackaged blood sampling stuff. For the test the technician pricked our finger, putting our blood on glass microscope slides, and then took a couple pipettes of blood. The results were ready 45 minutes later on slips of paper, but we had to see the doctor again to know what they meant.

            Turns out Tanny and I DO have malaria. Fatima has no parasites and is just generally sick. She will take the generic anti-biotic Cipro, Tanny and I will take the malaria medicine Alaxin for 7 days. We will also continue our malaria prevention medicine. The doctor also prescribed us 3 kinds of vitamins because we all had low hemoglobin counts. Donít know if that matters, or if Iíll be real good about taking those pills, but whatever. Total bill for the three of us (meeting with the doctor twice, blood tests, and medications) was about 30 dollars.







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Crazy dance party


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My other shot of the party


           Today was house dedication day! The village rented a huge speaker system (like the one at the funeral the other day) and invited a bunch of villagers. Even the chief came! A few speeches were made, a sermon said (the pastor sounded just like Chris Rock, if he spoke Twi) and a ribbon cutting was done. After, Tanny was taking and handing out Polaroid shots to the home owners and people close to the team. They loved receiving pictures and kept asking for more. Soon Tanny was followed by a crowd, mainly children, who wanted pictures (the reverse paparazzi they were dubbed) but we didnít have spare shots for the kids.

            After retreating from the kids we had time to hang out. I had a few crackers (other than a few almonds the only solid food for the day up 'til then) and took my new malaria medicine. Come dinner time I felt well enough to have a granola bar and a little plain spaghetti with salt. Tanny's appetite has been unaffected but poor  Fatima can still hardly hold down anything solid. She slept while we ate dinner.

            Close to sunset the speakers were turned back on and a huge dance party started! Just about all the young people, down to like 5 and 6 year olds, came out and were breaking it down. The music is really loud and it feels like we are at some kind of outdoor discotheque dance club. Music style is like a reggae, techno, hip hop mix that is hard to describe but is pretty excellent with a great beat.

            One of the local kids actually got me to dance. He is about 12 and found me earlier in the day, grabbing my hand and asking if we could be friends. I said yes, then after the party started he found me and wanted me to join everyone dancing. It was a ton of fun and I even think my dancing wasnít too terrible.






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Dave and I with Kofi in front of his house, which he let us stay in


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Me and Jose

Thursday, June 1: Goodbyes, Slave Castle

             Leaving Fiankoma today. My appetite is slowly returning, had some crackers and tea at breakfast.

            We got all our stuff packed and set aside things we would leave at the village. Some last polaroids were taken, we had one final morning meeting with the home owners and workers, and then goodbyes were said. Several of these were pretty tough on the group members. The guys said goodbye to Kofi Annon Armstrong whose house we stayed in. Georgi had to say goodbye to Quami, a seemingly orphaned little boy who Ether, the school teacher, had been worried about.  I said goodbye to Jose (donít think thatís the spelling, but thatís how it sounds) who we hauled dirt for for days. He was very thankful, wanting his picture taken with me and wanting my address (not uncommon). He called us brothers and said ďGod bless you.Ē

            From Fiankoma we headed for Cape Coast. There we would find a hotel, modern comforts, and the ocean. Along the way we said goodbye to Frimpong, who had to be dropped off on the way to the coast. On the bus ride over people said they were amazed how pale I still am, haha.

            The return to ďcivilizationĒ is leaving me a little on edge. All I hear from the other members is relief, joy, and excitement at flushing toilets, air conditioning, etc. Some are quiet so maybe others share my apprehension. Is it culture shock? I donít know. Maybe itís just related to my not always being able to loosen up and enjoy things. Maybe I feel uncomfortable because we are suddenly going to be inundated in luxuries that nobody we left behind in Fiankoma even have the option of finding.


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Our cushy hotel in Cape Coast








Elmina Castle pictures

            We had lunch, similar fare to what Regina made (I had a little fish and some French fries, avoiding the rice, sauce, and salad thing), then we went to Elmina Castle, a fortification in cape coast built by the Portuguese in 1482 and later controlled by, and added to, by other European powers, especially Britain. It was built to protect European interests and trade guns, tools, and other goods for spices, gold and ivory. When the slave trade picked up, however, human beings became the primary commodity.

We toured the castle seeing first the well ventilated, well lit cell for Europeans in trouble, then saw the dark poorly ventilated cell next door where rebellious Africans were thrown to die of dehydration and starvation (groups were thrown in and the remains of the dead were not removed until the last person died). Next we saw the men's dungeon and the door of no return, where Africans, after passing through, would be forced onto boats for their distant destinations.

The womenís dungeons seemed worse, as the women might stay for months (I assume the men were shipped sooner). They got fed once a day and were given pots for bathrooms Some grew weak and couldnít make it to the pots so had to live in their own feces and urine. Soldiers came down regularly to choose a woman to rape, shackling in the courtyard, without food or water, women who resisted. The governor, whoís quarters were above one dungeon would have the women file into the courtyard and he would choose one to rape. The women would be washed and sent up. Sometimes after words she would be raped repeatedly by guards, taking advantage of having a women who had been washed. Above the other women's dungeon was the church.

It was a sobering trip, and was at times quite emotional for some of our team members.

 After the tour we returned to the hotel. For dinner I had a cliff bar and plain spaghetti with salt. My stomach had been hurting after lunch so I tried not to eat too much.

After dinner Fatima decided she wanted to go swimming in the pool (she loves swimming and will NOT stop talking about going to the beach later in the trip) so she jumps in in her pants and tank top! She starts trying to get the rest of us to jump in but, despite the coaxing I decided, like Tanny, to go change into a swimsuit first. When I got back I found that Callyn was in the pool in her cloths, hehe. Even more fun was Barb who jumps in later in her black dress! She is a crazy fun woman.

Went to bed after swimming and the night in a real bed was OK, but a few differences from the village were disruptive. Tanny was messing with the AC so the temperature was fluctuating, the lack of crickets made Tannyís snoring harder to ignore, and I couldnít figure out how far dawn was away when I woke up because there were no roosters.


Canopy Walk Gallery

Friday, June 2: Canopy, Beach, Thoughts

             They had toast and butter at breakfast! We always had bread at breakfast in Fiankoma but never toast. It was very tasty and felt good in my still temperamental stomach.

          The rest of the morning would be spent at a tropical forest reserve. After browsing through a little informational building we assembled and a tour guide led us up the hill along a stone path surrounded by fairly thick tropical forest. He stopped us sometimes to explain about a kind of tree or herbal remedy but the real attraction was the canopy walk itself. At the end of the stone path was the entrance to a series of suspension bridge walk paths from one tree to another (tree heights varied enormously, some were huge). There were cables, ropes to your sides, and nets running from the ropes to what you were actually walking on, a wobbly 8Ē board. Maximum height was 30 meters above the ground. There were 7 individual bridges maybe 20-50 meters long and they were a little nerve racking (which I thought was really fun, but some of our more height sensitive group members had a harder time). The view was amazing from the walks but, unfortunately, we never saw any wildlife.


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The really incredible beach


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The beach goers after swimming


          After lunch (a granola bar and crackers for me) we headed to the beach. I was expecting a beach near our hotel, instead we were taken way out of town to what turned out to be a beach RESORT. Cost 5000 cedi (~55 cents) to get in and the place was AMAZING. Smooth sand, coconut palm lined, steady breeze off the ocean, bar where we could order ice cream and hamburgers. Not only that, but the weather was incredible. Warm enough that you could be comfortable dry or wet in or out of the water but werenít sweating if you were just lounging. Sun was out but high clouds covered it just enough so it wasnít punishing. The swimming, my first time in the ocean, also couldnít have been better; we were having a lot of fun in the 2 to 3 foot swells. Everyone joked that now Iím totally spoiled on ocean beaches.

         After the beach we headed to the hotel, got cleaned up, and had our last team meeting where we were asked questions about the trip and reflected on our experience. I know I was struck by many things, but Iíll list a few here.


            First is how poverty strikes everyone, everywhere, in the same way. The poor in Ghana often have a worse quality of life than the poor in the US, but the resignation to an unfulfilling life is the same here as it is in poverty stricken areas of the US.

Second is what made people happy. Despite their being poor by western standards many people had things to lift themselves above that resignation. Some of the group members, in fact, commented on how happy the villagers in Fiankoma were. The home owners we worked with didnít have electricity, didnít have the technology that so many people in developed nations look to for happiness, but they had strong connections to their family and community. Also they had a sense that they were making something for themselves in this world, that they could improve their lives and the lives of their kids. These factors gave them an optimism and a satisfaction that made them happier than so many people who are overflowing with material goods.

The third observation Iíll list here is how impressed we all were with the work ethic and pride of workmanship found in the Fiankoman villagers. No matter the job the villagers we worked with were determined to do it right. In the west we are so quick to excuse less than great results when we arenít presented with an optimal situations or we will put off or abandon projects because things arenít as easy as expected. In Fiankoma whether it was the building of a window frame, hand washing clothing, or removing a big old stump the villagers we worked along side made sure the job, however time consuming or difficult, was done RIGHT. They had no power tools but that was no excuse to have a poorly made window or door frames. They had no washing machines but that laundry was NOT going to come out anything less than perfect. They didnít have a backhoe or a chainsaw but that stump, the whole thing, was coming out of the ground.

Related to this determination was the determination to maintain the things they had. Anytime we saw anything in the village break, whether it was a jump rope handle, a radio, or a pickaxe, the villagers, even kids, would IMMEDIATELY find what they needed to fix it. There was no deciding whether or not to throw it away, no useless anger, no resignation to the thing being broken, simply the determination to find what they needed to fix what was broken.

The last observation Iíll list here is simply one about human nature, as was exemplified by a column Wanda read at this last meeting. It was about the sheer relentless nature of people to survive: That no matter what happens, no matter how dire the situation, no matter how tough life is, no matter how many conveniences or how much technology is absent, people will persevere and life will go on. I think some people, pampered in their western comfort, yet so stressed and worried about life need to remember this. Whatever your troubles, people are, and have, steeled themselves against greater hardship. They persevered and so can we.  


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Party going on at the hotel

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One of the banks of speakers

            A restaurant was the destination after the meeting. Food was not Ghanian, which we were excited for, but compared to our expectations was not good and took forever. I think I took it in stride pretty well but some people were pretty bummed. After dinner we went back to the hotel and GOOD LORD! Party going on at the hotel and the music is OUTRAGEOUSLY LOUD, haha. Big rented speaker system about 7 feet high, like at the funeral. We are 3 stories up, the speakers are facing away from us and the music is still too loud to sleep. Barb came in and agreed that the music was pretty loud but commented that ďthatís just because your window is open,Ē reply ďNo. It isnítĒ Thatís how loud it was. Moral: Ghanians love loud music, and playing the same like, dozen songs, over and over, haha. 








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Kojo's relatives attending the funeral


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Kids in Kojo's village. A couple in the middle are his



Saturday June 3rd: Last day in Ghana

             I actually think I fell asleep before the music ended, amazingly. Thatís what happens when you are used to going to bed at 8:30 and the musicís going until midnight, I guess. Woke up, had to pack and rush to breakfast. Asked for oatmeal and that went down quite well. Then into the bus for a four hour drive to Accra. 

              Along the way we stopped by the home village of Kojo (our driver, who did a great job). His grandmothers funeral was going on, so we were got out to pay our respects. They invited us to see the body and most of us reluctantly accepted. She had been dead a couple months, obviously preserved/embalmed, and was in a room with many intricate wall hangings and decorations on a big bed (a real brass frame bed). We were told that she was something like 105, I forget exactly, but it was OLD. She must have been a very healthy woman. Things there were more somber than our other funeral experiences in Ghana but perhaps we just caught it at a different stage of the funeral. We met Kojo's wife and kids and then were off again.

            The bus ride reminded me of the poverty you see in the urban areas. It feels much worse in the cities, I think. You have run down buildings, polio victims, open sewers, and crowded streets interspersed with shops selling electronics, or the occasional nice walled building owned by the wealthy.

            We had lunch in what appeared to be the embassy district, where I had a nice bowl of mushroom soup. From there we went to the Habitat Ghana office where Wanda gave us certificates of appreciation and had us meet the head of Habitat For Humanity: Ghana.

            The Accra airport, and a jet to London, was the next stop. For Georgi this was the end with our group as she was staying in Ghana a few weeks more. We all got a hug and she told me I was a good guy before we disappear into the airport and our group dropped from 11 to 10.

            We got checked in fairly quickly, then went to exchange our remaining cedis. Unfortunately, the currency desk was intended more for incoming flights and so didnít have dollars, euros, or pounds to cover us. I choose to take Canadian dollars (something Papa Dave and Barb found quite amusing) while Wanda, Fatima, and Jen, who had more money to exchange, looked for a better solution. They did end up finding it in the form a guy who disappeared for a bit and returned with American dollars to cover all their cedis. Donít think anyone asked where he got the money, haha.

            Once in the departure area we had a duty free shop and a stand that sold pastries which soon had us munching danishes and chocolate with much zest. Also in the depart area was an Australian, about 18, who had been in Ghana for more than 3 months coaching football. He said the local kids were incredible players, as we had also seen firsthand. He was fun to talk to as he had been all over Ghana and surrounding countries.

            The flight left as scheduled at 10:30 pm (a British Airways flight). I was sitting next to a guy who had been in Ghana with a medical mission group. They had been staying in a motel type place and drove to rural villages each day with advanced medical equipment to try and help the villagers as best they could. They would diagnose and treat common diseases as well as they could, give out eyeglasses, and other things like that. As the flight flew on threw the night our group watched movies and then tried to get a little shuteye.

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My hostel room

Sunday, June 4th: Final Goodbyes, thoughts

             Arriving safely in London's Heathrow airport, we disembarked and soon after had to go through our second round of goodbyes.  Fatima, Wanda, Nikki, and Carleen would be flying out immediately. Hugs and goodbyes were exchanged and then before we knew it our group of 10 became the 6 who were staying in London for at least one day. We shared two taxis into London and agreed to meet for lunch.

            I checked into my hostel and was just in time for breakfast. CEREAL!! They had eggs, ham, and toast but I only wanted one thing. After weeks with basically no dairy products, and no cold food I had been seriously craving cereal (I tend to eat a lot of cereal when at home, both as a snack and for breakfast). It was wonderful. The rest of the hostel was clean and seemed totally satisfactory. My room had 3 beds, one empty and the other occupied by a French guy who's name I keep forgetting.

            For lunch we met at Covenant Gardens, an interesting collection of shops, street performers, restaurants and other attractions. Along was a woman Dave and Barb knew in London who would be leading a team to Ghana later this year, so she grilled us on the trip and what we used. The food was the best Iíd had in weeks (a perfectly done piece of chicken over a ceasar salad) but it was a really expensive place (paid 14 pounds for the meal! Thatís like 25 bucks!). Thank god everything in London didnít turn out to be that expensive.


            We went our separate ways, planning to meet again at 7pm for dinner. I watched a street magician for a while then walked the odd kilometer or two back to my hostel, finding a cheap internet cafť along the way. Used the opportunity to catch up on my email.

            It's weird being in a place like London: it's so modern, expensive, and diverse. You see so many kinds of people here whereas in Ghana everyone was the same race, had the same descendents. People flock here, come to live or to learn. People don't go to Ghana for those things. The official language in Ghana is English because Britain controlled the country until half way through the 20th century. How much is England a gleaming modern nation because they made Ghana a poor, subjugated one? I feel like the wealth I saw today has, to an extent, a direct relationship to the poverty I saw, literally, yesterday.

            After stopping off at the hostel I went to the tube station to get to the meeting point a little faster, but the tube I needed was closed for the weekend so had to jog to be on time. Stomach felt a little off (still not totally recovered from the malaria) but oh well. Turned out Tannyís stomach was way off so he wouldnít be joining us for dinner (guess that malaria caught up with his digestive track after all). Callyn, Barb, Papa Dave, Jen, and I headed off to find dinner. Barb lead the way and lead us first to a pub where we got drinks and appetizers (chicken and nachos!). The atmosphere was nice and it was fun hanging out with the group for one more night.

            Next we wandered east to Soho and Piccadilly Circus. After perusing many places we ended up stopping in a place called Pizza Express. Despite the name it was very cool, with lots of ambiance and really good thin crust pizza. It was quite warm inside and smelled deliciously of garlic. The spinach, tomato, and mozzarella pizza was delicious, but the real highlight was dessert! I got chocolate fudge cake with ice cream and it was wonderful. Everyone else also loved their tiramisu, ice cream, or cake.

            We taxied back to the hotel to see how Tanny was. He was sleeping so we said our goodbyes to Callyn in the lobby and she would give our regards to tanny. We walked out and then the group was 4.

            We headed south, and then Dave and Barb had to head east to their hotel while Jen and I would head to the nearest tube stop. With this round of goodbyes it really started to sink in that this trip is almost done. Iíve lived every hour of every day of the last two weeks with these people and now I have to wrap my brain around the idea that when they walk out of sight I may never see them again. Itís a strange feeling. With Dave and Barb gone Jen and I heading to the tube stop where she said the ticket was her treat. She seemed very excited to show me how to use the tube system, and the info was welcome (thought not ALL entirely needed, as the tube system is a lot like DCís metro system). We reach our breaking off point and hugged, said goodbye, and then the last part of the group disappeared.         

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The group



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Dave, a little different from when he started of the trip



           I guess this is an appropriate stopping point for my journal (if you want to know more about London youíll just have to ask me).  Before this trip I would have thought the flight out of Ghana would be the place to stop but far more than I expected this trip became about the team around me. Seeing what zest for life really was from Wanda and Barb. Learning more about the hardships of racism and discussing poverty with Carleen and Nikki. Seeing Callyn dive at a tough new experience and come out on top. Watching Tanny learn that he COULD live without his computer.  Witnessing Jenís determination to travel and have a great adventure as she continues her traveling. Seeing first hand Georgiís incredible empathy for those around her, especially kids. Seeing the world from a different and important perspective through Fatima. And seeing what quiet compassion and incredible humility was from Dave.

            All in all it was an incredible trip and I was really lucky to get a chance to go along. When I decided to keep a goatee Jen commented on how it made me look older. I look in the mirror at my face and I feel a little older. In my head I see the old cars, endless merchants, the crippled beggars of Accra, and then with my eyes see London--modern, clean, and comfortable--and that contrast, the inequity there, is depressing. But at the same time it is satisfying to see things more clearly and thatís really why I signed up in the first place, to see that inequity first hand and to be reminded of how lucky we really are to live our comfortable lives. But whatís more, I saw first hand the fortitude, pride, and determination of a people that had, and would, endure far harder lives than I will ever have to. Wandaís last reading, an editorial column, talked of this as the strength of humanity: to endure, to push past hardship and despite suffering, to still be able to smile and laugh.  Of the great things I learned on this trip, maybe that's the one I should hold onto most.