Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shanghai... Ohhh my! And Teaching updates!

It’s been too long since my last blog post and it’s been almost two months since I packed up as much as I could force into two suitcases and moved to China, so I figured it was time for another update for you folks. I promised myself I would do these entries fairly often... so far I’m a liar. Here’s hoping I’ll get better in the future!

Things here have been going very well. I feel as though I have adjusted to the culture without many issues, the biggest one being the language barrier, but no surprises there. It is actually not as different as I expected it to be, except for the fact that my communication with other people has now been limited to “hello,” “thank you,” apologetic shrugs, and for some reason “grape,” and “watermelon.” Luckily there is a fairly large expat community in Zhongshan, which Steph, Greg, and I found on one of our many trips to the local watering holes. It’s nice to know that there are other foreign people who came here just two or three years ago who now speak Chinese to the point that they are taking a written Chinese proficiency test... it gives me hope that I’ll learn more words quickly, and hopefully my address soon so I can stop showing cab drivers my address in a text message and then have them look at me like I’m crazy and then laugh at me. I’m sure the Chinese Rosetta Stone I have will help but that involves finding the time to sit down and actually do the lessons. Now that my class schedule has FINALLY been finalized I hope that I can start getting into some sort of a routine!

So probably the biggest change for me since my last entry has been the beginning of my classes. Greg and Steph are in a different department than me so they started teaching a week before me. I was unquestionably starting to go a little crazy with nothing to do so teaching was definitely a welcome change for me. I am teaching in the Humanities and Social Science department and my students are all Hotel Management majors. My first class was supposed to be on September 10th, so I woke up bright and early (8am) to make sure my lesson plan was solid and that I was awake and ready to go! Unfortunately after getting ready to go I got a message from my department secretary telling me that my class had been rescheduled. What a bummer. But I found out 2 weeks later (Frosh classes don’t start until the 4th week of class, the 3rd for me since I started a week late) that it’s worse when they cancel your 8am class and just don’t tell you. As a student who made it through their entire time at Acadia without taking a single 8:30 class I’m finally being punished by having to teach three 8am classes... UGGGHHH. Grumpy Ginger. Anyway, back to my originally point. So I finally had my first class on September 12th and it actually went pretty well! I was super nervous but all of my students were very excited to have me as their teacher and my lesson plan actually filled the entire class! For the majority of my students I am the first foreign teacher they have ever had. Most of the time foreign teachers only teach actual English majors so I think this is a nice change for them and a chance for them to learn a lot more than they would from a Chinese English teacher (or at least I hope so). I have a total of eight two hour classes a week (they are actually an hour and 30 minutes because there is a 10 minute break in the middle of the class and they have 20 minutes at the end to get to their next class) and I have six different classes. I have two third year classes, two second year classes and two first year classes which are the only classes that I have twice a week.

Here's a copy of my schedule... yay for early classes and long breaks, NOT
I didn’t start my full schedule until the 24th of September since that was week four when all of the Frosh started class so I really didn’t know what life in Zhongshan was actually going to be like for me until then. That week was was pretty exhausting since the number of my classes doubled but luckily the next week (September 30 - October 6) was not only National Day (October 1, 1949 is when the People’s Republic of China officially became a country) but also Mid-Autumn Festival which meant we got the entire week off! Greg, Steph and I decided to go to Shanghai and explore!

Now, for anybody who loves anything awesome, get the hell to Shanghai right friggen now! It is an amazing, crazy city and I am completely in love with it! We did so much in the six days we were there I don’t even really know where to start! We arrived at our hostel around midnight on October 1st, we checked in, dropped our stuff off and found our beds, ran out for a quick “welcome to Shanghai beer,” and then went the hell to bed. The next day we woke up early so we could explore as much of the city as possible on day one. First we headed to “The Bund.” This is an area in the centre of Shanghai that happens to be on the Huangpu River, which flows through the city. This area is really interesting because on one side of the river the buildings are all very typical European styled buildings. They are very beautiful, but definitely not something you would expect to see in one of the most important areas in one of China’s biggest cities. Let me tell you now that I am not the best person to be writing this section of this blog entry. Before getting to Shanghai I did absolutely no research. I didn’t even type “Shanghai” into google. Greg and Steph did all of the planning and decided what were the important things to do so I really had no need to look into it (you aren’t going to hear any complaints from me). Anyway, so these seemingly oddly placed Europeans buildings are here because this area in Shanghai was initially the British settlement where all international trade was to be conducted (eventually it became the international settlement and housed many embassies, some even remain there today). So, that answers that question, thank you Dr. Perrins. On the other side of the Huangpu River you see exactly what you expect to see when in a large Asian city. Huge, beautiful, and oddly shaped buildings. The area that you see directly across the river is called Pudong, which is the bustling financial and commercial area of Shanghai. Aka there are a lot of super rich Asian and foreign people that work there. We didn’t spend much time on that side of the river because it was much more expensive!

View of Pudong from The Bund
View of Pudong from The Bund at night
Greg, Steph and I rocking out on The Bund!
P.S. None of my pictures of the buildings on The Bund (the European ones) turned out very well, so check it out on google images so you can see the difference between the two areas.

Next we went to the Shanghai Museum, which is located in People's Square. This was actually a really interesting museum, people do not have to pay to enter, but only 5,000 people a day are allowed to go in. Luckily, even though we went there a little later in the day on one of the biggest holidays in the country we were still able to get in without waiting in line more than 10 minutes! This museum had everything, traditional chinese clothing for each region (much of the clothing in the Northern provinces looks very similar to the traditional clothing worn by Canadian aboriginals), chinese painting, ancient Chinese jades, traditional and ancient Chinese stamps, Chinese money dating back centuries, Chinese statues, Chinese pottery, Chinese calligraphy (this was one of the first times that I was really upset that I can’t read Chinese because you know what the scrolls say must be beautiful in order to be in such an important museum but for all I knew they were the directions to put together a barbecue), and the section I found most interesting was actually the Fabergé collection which was on loan from a museum in Russia. Ever since I was first exposed to Fabergé eggs in Octopussy I have always wanted to see more of the Fabergé collection, who knew it would happen in China of all places!

Awesome Chinese statue
A view of the Pearl Tower from People's Square
Side note: when I went to Shanghai I wasn’t expecting people to stare at me because there are a lot of foreign people in the city, I thought they would just be used to it! Instead, about 10 times a day somebody would come up to me or Greg (super tall for those that don’t know him) and ask us if they could have their photo taken with us. And those were just the people that would ask. I would regularly notice people following me and taking pictures of me. SO STRANGE!

Random Chinese people that wanted a photo with us
While in Shanghai we also went to a lot of other interesting places, one was called the French Concession. Many foreign people live here and this area is known for its expensive shops and delicious Western food. Coming from a fairly small city (for China) we do not have the opportunity to eat Western food so we made sure to hit up a Mexican restaurant and a burger place. While the burger was no Lib Pub burger, it was definitely a close second and, the Mexican place was ridiculously delicious. I think we were all a little sad to leave Shanghai just because of all the delicious Western food. Yes, Chinese food is delicious, but after awhile it gets a little repetitive and having the option to switch things up now and then would be wonderful. Oh well, suck it up, right? I can east Western food when I’m back in Canada!

Nanjing Road is another interesting place to go. This is a very busy walking street in the centre of Shanghai. It is surrounded by stores and at one end of the street is The Bund and at the other is People's Square.

View of Nanjing Road at night. SO MANY PEOPLE!
We also went to the Yuyuan Gardens and the City God Temple which are located in a very traditionally looking area called the Yuyuan Market (at least this is what I am calling it). This area was very beautiful and the buildings were definitely what I expected most Chinese buildings to look like. I think if I travelled to more rural areas I would see this a lot more.
This is a main roach in Yuyuan Market
A much smaller and much busier road in Yuyuan Market
The entrance to City God Temple
People praying inside the temple 
Inside Yuyuan Gardens 
Yuyuan Gardens: SO MANY KOI FISH 
Fan art inside Yuyuan Garden... Asia Cartman anyone?
This is the head of a dragon, its body surrounds the gardens to protect them
Besides the typical tourist stuff we also went out three different nights in Shanghai. This part made me really glad that I live in a small city. Going out in Zhongshan is a lot cheaper than going out in Shanghai! But we still had a blast... as I’m sure you can tell from these photos.

Me, Steph, Greg, and Taylor (a friend of Greg's from high school in Trinidad!)
Bottle Service!!

Loving life
So on our way home from the bar I found this bathtub... originally it was sitting on its side. This photo was taken as the bathtub fell over which is why my legs are up in the air like that.
Slightly more composed 
The security guy wanted a photo with me so I got one with my camera too!
KEITH'S BIRTHDAY!!! Couldn't get Keith's so we drank the only Canadian beer we could find
So that’s really all for now folks. Not much has happened since we got back from Shanghai other than the fact that I broke my Chinese phone. Let me tell you, when you break a phone that costs the equivalent of $35 it doesn’t really suck that much! The positives of China! So instead of buying another phone I unlocked my iPhone... so let’s hope I don’t break this one!

Miss you all and love you lots! Hope you are all doing well!!

p.s. I apologize that I don’t have any pictures of my city or of my campus. You never think about taking pictures when you actually live somewhere. I promise to try and get some of these photos for the next entry!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Zhongshan, Guangdong, China!

Hey everybody! So as you probably all know, or will know by the time you finish reading this sentence, I have recently moved to Zhongshan, China, to teach English at the university here. I left Canada with my friend Steph at 12:30 on Friday August 24th. We flew through Detroit where we enjoyed our last North America beer for the next 7-13 months. After that we boarded our plane to Tokyo for a short 13 hour flight. Holy crap... I forgot how boring movies could get after a few hours!! We arrived in Tokyo and killed our time during the short layover by being amazed by all things Japanese. Our flight to Hong Kong was only 4.5 hours but it felt like a lifetime. I think both Steph and I would have given almost anything to have just been in our beds at our hostel. FINALLY we arrived in Hong Kong and went through customs with no problems... and not even one question, so strange after some of the interrogations I’ve gone through at US customs. After collecting our luggage we headed for the bus (Steph we smart and actually did some research and probably saved us about $100 on taxi fare)! At 1:30am in our new time zone, we arrived at our hostel in downtown Hong Kong and passed the hell out.

The next day Steph and I woke up in decent time in an attempt to drop kick jet lag in the face, which I think we did fairly successfully. We ventured around the city trying to find our way to the waterfront. After about an hour and a half of wandering we decided to take a ferry from Hong Kong island to Kowloon peninsula where we had our first, and probably most expensive, beer in Asia. From there we headed to Victoria Peak which is located on the highest mountain (big hill by Canadian mountain standards) on Hong Kong island. To get to the peak of the mountain you can choose to walk, which takes about an hour, or take a really cool trolly to the top - we picked the trolley. We stayed at the top for a few hours just meandering around and of course, we drank some more beers. After taking the trolley back down we found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where nobody spoke english (luckily though, there was English on the menu so we actually knew what we were ordering). Let me tell you... authentic Chinese food blows North American Chinese food out of the water, you really can’t even compare them. You guys should probably all just come here and try it to find out just how great it is. Anyway, after that Steph and I crashed pretty early because we had to be awake at 6am to catch the ferry to ZHONGSHAN!!

Me and a view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak!
The view from Victoria Peak without my funny looking face :)
We got to Zhongshan with no issues and got settled into our apartments fairly easily. On the advice of Anne and Gill we headed straight to the supermarket to buy Raid so we could spray for cockroaches... within the first hour of spraying my cockroach kill count was at 5. That night Greg arrived and we welcomed him with some delicious 50 cent beers. 

My living room/the view as soon as you walk in

Another view of the living room

My tiny kitchen

My super tiny and slightly scary bathroom

My bedroom

My weird laundry /kind of balcony room

Since then the three of us have spent our time wandering around our neighbourhood in Zhongshan trying to get aquatinted with our surroundings. We met some of the students at the university when they helped us open up our Chinese bank accounts and buy our Chinese cellphones. We also met another English teacher named Chris. He’s lived in China for a few years so he speaks some Mandarin which comes in really handy when you’re trying to catch a cab to a bar and the taxi driver speaks no English. We have gone out two nights, first to an Irish pub and then another “american style” bar where most people drink Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon because they think all things American are awesome... I wish I could introduce them to some decent beer. The other night we went out to a club that Anne recommended called 18. It was ridiculously amazing. Within 2 minutes of walking in the door a tall Chinese man offered Greg a beer to chug because they were both so tall. We bought a bucket of 12 beer for 240 Yuan which is about $37 CAN (just for the record that was really expensive compared to what we normally pay for beer here... we’ve found a decent one that’s a quarter per can). By the end of the night we’d made lots of friends and even had a guy buy us a bucket of 12 beer. I will elaborate more on how ridiculously amazing Chinese clubs are after this weekend when I have had a little more exposure!

Steph and I with the Canadian flag in what I'm fairly confident is Friend's Bar
Steph and I at Club 18 with the weird dancing girl... she has a lot more clothes on in this photo than she did earlier

Greg and Steph both started teaching on Monday and have so far informed me that their classes are going fairly well. For some reason I am teaching in a different department and they are not yet organized so I have this week off to do as I please... and I am already bored. I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom and it has only been 2 days! I guess I should start my lesson plans for next week but, let’s be serious, I’ll probably just spend my time wandering around Zhongshan instead.

Well folks, that’s all for now. I’ll write another post after I have started teaching so I have more stuff to talk about. If you have any specific questions for me just ask and I’ll answer to the best of my ability! 

This is a photo taken in the beer aisle at the grocery store... yes, they think A&W Root Beer is real beer

Miss you and love you all!! xoxoxoxox

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A Lengthy Update

Soo... I apologized in my last blog post for taking so long to write it... apparently I had no idea what it meant to take a long time to write a post. BUT in my defence my computer did break and was out of commission for about a week... but that was fixed a week or so ago... so yeah, I really have no excuse.

ANYWAY. I'll begin this (which is bound to be ridiculously long) post.

So Monday June 13th was the first day of my placement at Grace and Mercy School. Luckily for me I am one of two people at my house that doesn't have to take a tro (bus) to placement everyday so I didn't have to get up to start getting ready until around 6:30! YAY SLEEP IN (hahah yeah right). Anyway, I arrived at Grace and Mercy at the bright and early time of 7:30 am(apparently I could make 8:30 classes if I wanted to). From the moment I surrounded the school grounds I was surrounded by a bunch of children jumping up and down screaming "OBRUNI OBRUNI OBRUNI" at the top of their lungs, I must say, I felt pretty important! After meeting the Headmaster and Headmistress I was taken around to all of the classrooms to meet the students. Grace and Mercy has children from the age of around one and a half to twelve or thirteen years of age. The classes range from a type of nursery school/daycare class to class five (grade five). In Ghana it is expected (and possibly mandatory, but don't quote me on that) for children to attend school up until class six (grade six), anything above that is for the people who can afford to go. Due to a lack of funding Grace and Mercy does not have a class six so students who reach that level have to go to school somewhere else. Anyway, enough of that. After meeting all of the students and teachers I met once again with the Headmasters and we began chatting about where I should be placed. 

Some kids from Grace and Mercy

After much discussion it was decided that I would be placed in the kindergarten class to assist the current teacher. I won't lie, I was a little disappointed to hear that I wasn't going to have my own class, after all I did come here to help and to try and make a difference and I was hoping to be sent to a class that didn't have a teacher but what I didn't know is that you'd be hard pressed to find such a case in Accra, I guess that's a good thing. But now I know if I ever come back again I will definitely go to a more rural area that is severely lacking teachers, funding and resources.

Sine it took me so long to actually write this blog I can't completely remember what I did the next few days so I will sum it up. One morning, instead of helping the kindergarten class I got to help with the nursery school class.... AMAZING. There are about 20-30 kids that come and go depending on the time of day and the exercise (the three younger level classes sometimes join together) and I just got to play with them, sing and dance with them and to help feed them their snacks and lunches - so much fun! They are the happiest little children I have ever seen. Unfortunately there is a language barrier, most of the children at this age can only say "How are you?" and "I'm fine, thank you." so I don't know any of their names, ages or anything else about them. There are also the few adorable children who are completely terrified of white people and cry every single time they see me... I feel so mean every time that happens! I've actually been pretty surprised by how often I've been the first white person a lot of children have seen, I guess living in a country like Canada where we have so many people from so many different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds I completely forgot that there were people out there that don't have that sort of exposure (silly me).

Some more kids in my classroom

So other than meeting the 11 students in my class (Osei, Zebelon, Farida, Miriam, Sandra, Nathaniel, Jesse, Ester, Ishmeal, Kingsley and Anita) the only other point of interest that I can think of telling you about is a negative one, but it is a huge part of my experience here so I guess I need to tell you guys about it. In the school system here the discipline they choose to use on the children is of the physical sort, smacking, punching (lightly - most of the time) in the back of the head, and worst of all - canning. The cane is a wooden stick about a centimetre in diameter that they use to smack the children on the palm of the hand, back of the thighs or back of they neck when they are misbehaving or when they answer questions wrong. I had been forewarned by some of the other volunteers I am living with about the cane so I was sure to have a conversation with my teacher about it. I let him know that I was completely against it but didn't want to be culturally ignorant so I told him if he felt he need ed to use the cane he needed to let me know so I could leave (I told him I'd have to leave or else I'd beat him with it. Dead serious). Unfortunately, right after I had that conversation with him I went outside to join the students for lunch and I walked in on a teacher canning 12 kids in a row on the back of their neck for something as simple as not sitting up straight while eating. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to see. I immediately left the school and went home.  As horrible as I think canning is I have tried very hard to not be too judgemental, I mean, 40 years ago Canada was doing the exact same thing, but it is definitely something I will not get used to seeing and it still breaks my heart every time I hear that a kid at the school has been canned. All of the teachers now know how against canning I am (if they didn't they'd be the least observant people in the world) and there has only been one time since then that I've had to witness that (more to come on that later).

That weekend (June 17-19) all of us (us being the 7 other volunteers) went to a small town called Nsuta (near Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana) to meet up with a friend of the other volunteers named Poppo! Poppo was works for Volunteer Abroad when he is not in school - he worked here when Anne came here 2 years ago... he remember she so we talked about her (mean things only Anne, I promise). The plan for this weekend was to live like a local and Nsuta was a great place to do that and other than the hotel we stayed, I'd say we did a pretty good job. We started out the weekend by taking a 6 hour air conditioned bus to Kumasi, once we got to the city we were greeted by Poppo and we were off to find a tro to Nsuta. After a 2 hour tro ride we had finally arrived! We arrived fairly late, around 8 o'clock and headed straight over to Poppo's house to have dinner with his family. His mother was nice enough to cook us a delicious dinner AND do all of the dishes. What a wonderful lady. We stayed around and chatted with his mother, father sister and younger brother for about half an hour and then turned in for the night - we still had a long weekend ahead of us! Saturday morning we slept in a little bit (aka didn't have to get up until around 7:30) and were on our way for a great adventure. After an interesting cab ride trough muddy, rocky and barely there roads we finally arrived in a small town and at Prayer Mountain. Prayer Mountain was about an hour hike straight up (so many stairs) and was definitely not the easiest thing I have done which I was here but it was so rewarding. Close to the top there was a little bit of a clearing area that was covered by a rock over hang (sorry, I am horrible at describing things) but it was the perfect place for a break! So we sat down, chilled for a little bit and had the snack that Poppo brought along called "try and see"... he was being stubborn and refused to tell us what it was even after we tried it. Anyway, the break spot was perfect, it was a scorching hot day and there was the perfect amount of water trickling down from the overhang to cool us all down. After we finished our break we were back on our way to finish the climb. At the top we saw what the mountain was all about. Like I said before it is called Prayer Mountain and it is considered to be a very holy place by the people that live and visit there - we were very lucky to have the opportunity to climb it! Throughout the climb we passed groups of people praying (normally in tongue) and some camps where people live/come to worship. The view from the top was amazing and I can really see why people would have such strong ties to the place. After we rested at the top for a bit we began our descent so we could head back to Nsuta and do more local things. We rested for a bit at the hotel, climbing in the heat really takes it out of you, but were quickly on our feet again to.... FETCH WATER! I don't think I have said this in a previous blog but everybody here carries everything on their heads, and I mean everything. Even if a person just has a small bag or purse, still, it goes on the head. And of course, water falls into that category. Nsuta is one of the many villages in Ghana that has no running water within the village so when the villagers want water they have to walk down to the stream just outside the village and collect their water in buckets. So since we were living like locals we, of course, were going to try our hands at collecting some water. Let's just say it was interesting... as soon as we got the buckets full of water on our heads we remembered that we had to walk up a steep muddy hill... and you all know how bad my balance is on flat ground. I ended up spilling about half of my bucket of water all over myself during the journey but it was definitely entertaining - and hard work. It didn't actually hurt my neck but my shoulders were killing me by the end of it (I was holding onto the bucket because, let's be seriously, there's no way I could have done it without my hands). After fetching water, or maybe before, it has been three weeks so I can't quite remember, we went out for lunch and I had goat - delicious. I just felt like that was one of the weird foods I need to tell you guys about haha. Anyway, back to the interesting stuff. We made our way back to Poppo's place and made ground nut cake with his family and the local kids that found out there were a bunch of white people around (about 30 kids). Ground nut cake is essentially peanut brittle but so much better. We started by shelling roasted ground nuts (very very similar to peanuts) and then they were placed into a large mortar and pestle similar to the one that is used to pound Fou Fou. After that we began to melt sugar on an open fire until it was melted, then the crushed ground nuts were added, stirred in and then the mixture was poured out onto a wooden stump and cut into bite size pieces before it cooled. I still have my share left (and I'm told it will be good for several months) so I'll bring it home and share it with all of you guys when I get home! After the ground nut cake we went out to celebrate Poppo's brother's birthday. I introduced a couple Ghanaians and the rest of the volunteers to red or black/umbrella, it was a hit! I'd tell you more about the evening but after a couple giant stars things got a little fuzzy. The next morning we slept in a little bit and were then on our way back to Accra. But first we made a stop in a small town that had a place with traditional looms where they did traditional weaving and stamping. We learned about the process of taking bark from certain trees and making it into usable and permanent ink for printing on fabrics. After that we picked out our fabrics and Africa symbols that we either liked the look of, or meaning or, and stamped them onto our fabrics. I chose symbols that meant adaptability, the importance of democracy and unity, the importance of wisdom and learning or the wisdom knot and the spirit of mother earth. While we were waiting for our fabrics to dry some of the workers dressed us up in clothing they made and we became African princesses! Finally when our fabrics were dry we got back on the tro and then back on the big air conditioned bus and headed back to Accra for the upcoming week.

My new friend Sarah

Me on top of Prayer Mountain
Cassandra, Jaclyn, Michelle, Me, Nici and Ani as African Princesses
The weekend of the 25-26 was the last weekend for three volunteers that I've been living with so we just stayed in Accra and chilled. Saturday night we had a roof party and things got a little ridiculous. I'm not going to lie guys, roof parties might be just as awesome as kitchen parties (shhh... don't tell Adam Campbell, he'll be pissed I even thought that, let alone published it in a blog).

The following week 27-1 was pretty much the same as the previous one except that I was sick on Wednesday night. We all know that when I get sick I get brutal coughs... turns out it is amplified about 1000000 times by the pollution in Accra and I was so sick that I had to go to the clinic/hospital. I ended up getting tested for malaria as soon as they heard I had been throwing up... they took my blood from my hand and were ridiculously impressed by how see-through my skin was. DAMN GINGERVITAS. I had a HUGE bruise on my hand because my lab dude was not the gentlest person I've met, BUT the good news is I don't have malaria... which I knew. Anyway, after some convincing I finally got them to give me the proper drugs and I've been so much better ever since! So worry not.

Thursday June 30th we ended up going to the Canadian embassy for Canada Day... it was so much fun, and, they had POUTINE! Oh hey Ellen :) I ran into 3 people from Acadia who are also in Ghana for the summer, that was pretty crazy and I also met a girl from Goderich, also crazy!

So Friday, actual Canada Day, brought the arrival of three new volunteers, French Canadians... SO EXCITED :) haha I love French Canadians. But the same day also saw the departure of three of the old volunteers Ani, Jon and Michelle - sad day. And another volunteer, Alex, left on Monday. It just hasn't been the same without them, you get used to a place with certain people and the whole vibe changes when they leave. COME BACK DAMN IT. haha ok. As you guys can probably tell I am starting to go a little crazy. I wrote the above in just over an hour and I think my brain is finally shot. I will give you a better sum up of this past weekend during my next blog, which I promise will not be three weeks away, I can't do that to myself again. 

I hope all is well at home for everybody, miss you and love you all!!


Monday, June 13, 2011

Getting to Know Accra, Ghana

First of all I want to start out by apologizing for how long it’s taken me to post a second blog… I’m not used to writing them and I’ve been so busy it’s been hard to find the time!

Sunday June 5th, was day two of orientation for the new volunteers. Godwin taught us about cultural dos and don’ts (things like not using your left hand, not smelling food and don’t point the sole of your shoe at somebody when you cross your legs), some safety issues and then we went for another walk around the city. We began by walking about 10-15 minutes to the Kaneshie market where we found a tro-tro that was heading into the area of Accra (a tro-tro is kind of like a cross between a bus and a mini van) from there we walked about 20 minutes to an area called James Town, which is the poorest area of Accra. You can definitely tell that James Town is the poor area when you look at your surroundings… but when you see the people you’d assume they were the most well off people around – they are all so happy! Just being around them brightens my day. While in James Town we went into the James Town Light House which I believe is one of the oldest lighthouses in Accra/Ghana (but don’t quote me on that). The view from the lighthouse was amazing, probably one of the best in the city! After leaving the lighthouse we went into the area of James Town that is right on the coast (where the fishermen live) and ended up playing with some kids in the ocean, my roommate Nici even had a photo shoot with them! We then continued one our journey and walk for what felt like days (SO HOT OUT) to Independence Square. This square is where people come and gather for things like Independence Day or other big national holidays. Normally in Ghana it is illegal for people to take photos of government buildings but luckily for us we made friends with one of the military guards guarding the square and he gave us permission to take photos of the area!

Independence Square

A view of James Town from the lighthouse

Monday June 6th was day three of orientation and we began our Twi lessons (the local language), which was really fun, but very difficult! I think learning the local language has really helped me feel more at home and comfortable here – especially because everywhere I go people want to talk to me, so now I actually understand what they are saying and I can say some things back to them! In the afternoon we went to the Art Market and looked around at some of the MANY things that they sell there. We met a man named Moses who makes personalized drums and he and I have already started planning out the drum that I am going to bring back with me ( I AM SO EXCITED). I also started scoping out places to buy some paintings and to get dresses made for me! Did I mention that I was excited?

Tuesday June 7th will hopefully be the worst day of the trip... My roommate Nici woke up very very early in the morning and was very sick, we ended up having to go to the hospital and she had to spend the day there. She’s feeling much better now but it was definitely a dark day for the house. On the plus side, we now know what the Ghanaian health care system is like so if anybody here gets seriously sick I am confident in the care they will receive.

Wednesday June 8th was a very laid back day as we were all trying to recover from a very long and exhausting Tuesday. We did some more lessons in Twi and then went to the Accra mall to look around and enjoy some air conditioning! This mall is the biggest one is Western Ghana and has (I think) the only movie theatre in Accra, so I will definitely be going there again to see a certain Harry Potter movie, I doubt any of you have heard about it.

Thursday June 9th started with more Twi lessons (at this point I’m pretty much an expert haha) and ended with us going to the Labadi beach to go for a SWIM! Although the beach is gorgeous – white sand and nice blue/green water – we were unable to go swimming because the beach and ocean was littered with garbage, so unfortunate. But I understand why it happens because the city doesn’t have a very effective means of removing garbage from the city… they actually don’t even have garbage cans around the city (again I understand why, they have bigger things to worry about at the time being). Anyway, the afternoon turned out to be very relaxing, we just sat on the beach, had a beer and wadded into the water to about our knees – the water was SO NICE!

Friday June 10th was the final day of orientation and the assignment was to go to different areas of the city (by ourselves, before this day we’d been shown around by two men that work with Volunteer Abroad, Godwin and Richi) and pick up different things to prove that we had been there. All in all it went very well but we got lost at the very beginning… not the best way to start the day! Things here are not very organized so when you go to get a bus you have to ask around to make sure you’re getting on the bus to the place you want to go, so that is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, the person I asked for directions led me to the wrong bus and right from the get go we were in the wrong place. But after asking about 2938042093 more people how to get to the post office we finally got ourselves reoriented and were able to make all of our stops and get to the finish line! After we finished finding our way around the city we came back to basecamp to make FOU FOU! For those of you who don’t know what it is this Wikipedia link should do the trick! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fufu After Fou Fou we decided to grab some drinks and head up to our roof (our entire roof is a patio) and pre-drink before going to a bar here called Champs to watch the hockey game! Champs is a Western style bar equipped with pool tables, karaoke and even air conditioning and, it’s Canadian owned! It was definitely a blast but I had to go home before the game ended because I was exhausted! And, to be fair, the game didn’t start here until 1 am!

Me pounding Fou Fou

Saturday June 11th and Sunday June 12th  After a lazy morning of trying to recover from a hangover the group of us headed to a small beach town called Ada Foah in Eastern Ghana, about 2 hours away from Accra. After a long, hot and stuffy tro ride we finally made it! We were greeted by a man named Jean-Paul who led us from the tro station to the beach where we boarded a wooden fishing boat to get to our final destination for the night. Once we got close I immediately recognized it from Anne’s pictures of her trip to Ghana two years ago… I think it’s so cool that we went to the same place! Anyway, the beach we beautiful and on one side was Lake Volta (the biggest man made lake in the world) and about 500 feet from the lake, separated by gorgeous white sand, was the Atlantic Ocean! My words, and even photos cannot do the place justice, it was so beautiful and had such a great laid back feel, I hope I can go back! Even though the weather wasn’t that great (it rained on and off – mostly on, the entire time we were there) we had a blast, we sat around a huge bon fire, played some drums, sang and danced. All in all it was a great end to my first week in Ghana!

I am having a fabulous time so far but I am missing all your crazy folks back home! If you are reading my blog I’d love it if you took the time to comment on my blog and let me know how you are doing!

I’ll try to update my blog more often but no promises, things get pretty busy here and the internet isn’t very reliable. But tomorrow is my first day of placement so I’m sure I’ll have lots to say and I’ll want to let you guys know how everything went!

Lots of love from Ghana!!! <3 

Sunday, June 05, 2011

My Journey to Ghana - the flights and my first day!

So here I am… sitting in the Halifax airport waiting for my long journey to begin. The excitement of leaving and the realization of where I am going has finally hit me – it’s an amazing feeling. After a thundermug (or two) while waiting three hours for my flight the adventure finally begins and oh god, was it ever horrible.

Now I am writing to you from JFK airport in New York… I just got off what was perhaps the worst flight of my life – it is truly a miracle that I wasn’t sick on the plane. I choose to blame the extremely small plane, not the thundermugs for my sick stomach feeling. Upon landing I actually thought the plane was going to roll because it was so all over the place and bumpy! However, my upset stomach and crappy feeling was short lived. As I was finding my way off the plane I went to the nearest Delta service person I could find, started asking her where I should go for my next flight to Amsterdam only to be interrupted by none other than Allen Patriquin, Dave’s father! WHAT AN AWESOME SURPRISE!!!! Allen came up to me completely decked out in his awesome pilot’s outfit and says something along the lines of “Come with me Claire, I’ve got you covered.” And off we went, winding through the crazy terminals that make up JFK. I have to tell you, being escorted around an airport by a pilot makes one feel pretty damned important, I could get used to that feeling. Allen took me to a bar (he knows me well) so I could wait for him until he was debriefed and then he would come get me again and take me right to my gate. After a quick bus ride to the right terminal I’m at my proper gate and Allen’s off to Venice this evening so unfortunately, he’s not flying my flight. Oh well, there’s always next time! So, now I’ve got about 3 and a half hours to kill until my next flight… and no wireless – don’t be surprised if the next part of this entry is a boring ramble about something that has no significance to what’s actually going on in my life, I’m bound to get bored.

Annnd now I am in Amsterdam! Apparently Parks and Rec is enough to keep me distracted for three hours! Ok, so Amsterdam is awesome… I had to go talk to some representatives for the Royal Dutch Airlines about my connection to Accra and they are probably the best people (aside from Allen) that I’ve seen/met on my journey thus far. I got to the counter and this older Dutch man and a younger Dutch man decided they were going to make my flight to Accra the best flight ever… just because I was Canadian. They then proceeded to make fun of Americans and wanted to know if Canadians felt the same way about Americans as Europeans did. I told them I was dating an American and they suddenly got very quiet and started to blush, so I told them that I make fun of the lovely Dave for being an American all of the time and that for the most part, there was definitely some sort of similar feeling in Canada and Europe… and the jokes, teasing and pampering began again. They decided that since I was such a nice person I need an entire ROW to myself on this next airplane… so that’s what I get – can you say pumped?

So…. Today is Friday and I arrived in Ghana last night around 8pm Ghanaian time or 5pm Nova Scotia time or 4pm Ontario time. I was greeted in the airport by two men that work for the volunteer organization named Michael and Godwin and after a very interesting cab ride we got to my new home for the next 3 months… and while stepping out of the car I immediately stepped into an open sewer… great job me! Why do I feel like this is going to be a reoccurring theme? In Canada I trip and cut up my knees… in Ghana I step in shit… I think I like the Canadian version better. Guess I’ll just have to keep my eyes open.

Anyway, I’ve spent a whole day here now and I absolutely love it! Godwin took me and two of the other new volunteers, Nikki and Cassandra, into the area of Osu today so we could start getting to know the city and the buses there (which are called tro-tros and are CRAZY!) After that the other volunteers and myself (there are nine of us in total) played some card games, had some drinks, and ran out into the rain to get an egg and hotdog sandwich (not as weird as it sounds). Anyway, I am absolutely exhausted and I should get going to bed soon. Hope you all enjoyed my very first (and very random) first blog ever!

Hope everybody is doing well!!! Miss you and Love you all!

P.S. A very happy birthday to my dearest brother CALLUM!!!!!!