Saturday, July 27, 2013

When You Need A Bit of Home...

My time in Ghana is wrapping up. Just a few more days. And for the most part, I've had a blast and I'm a little sad about going home. I love, love, love my host family and I'm sad about saying goodbye. And I've begun to build some very good friendships that I want to continue to build.

But there have definitely been times when I have really just missed home. Missed my everyday life, or just missed having someone who really knows and gets me around. The week in Cape Coast was especially tough. While I enjoyed the slave trade, batik and dance lessons, I just felt extremely homesick that week. I not only missed my life in the U.S., I also was missing my family in Accra badly.

Oddly, one thing that got me through was listing to Todrick's single "It Gets Better." It was nice to hear a familiar voice in my ear, and the message of the song was always nice. No matter how tough things got, things do get better. (He coincidentally updated the song while I was gone and did an acoustic version.)

The coolest thing, and a way that proved how much God loves me and seeks to comfort you in your lowest moments, is that I would fall asleep with my iPod playing and every morning when I woke up, Toddy's "It Gets Better" would play within seconds. It was the perfect way to start each day.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I LOVE to brag on Todrick. The kids on the trip quickly learned it to as I showed them his YouTube videos and played my morning anthem for them. One of the students already knew the song and had it on his phone, too! Sweet bonding momemnt. And I was bursting with pride, like Todrick belonged to me or something.

I've always been proud of Todrick, and just in awe of how much talent he has from dancing to singing, to composing songs and plays. We're not as close now, but I feel blessed to have known him for over 10 years.

In case you haven't heard the song, here's "It Gets Better."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Finished Batik Design

Here are all the Batik designs made by the students and I:

My finished design

Flo's design

Dahlia's design

Miranda's design

Gladys's design

Ivan's design (and yes, I realize that it's cock and balls)

Rodrigo's design

Joceline's design

Lauren's design (she chose to stick with just one color)

Claro's design
Most of them were done with design drawn and cut out by the students themselves. And a few have incorporated designs done by the owners of the shop. It took us a week to work on these, but we loved every minute of it and are proud of our work!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Batik 101

As part of the "study abroad" portion of our AFS trip to Ghana, the students and I got to participate in Batik lessons. Batik is a wax-relief way of creating fabric design. It's quite popular in a lot of African cultures. The process itself is simple enough, although we learned quickly that there is a high level of skill needed to achieve the perfection you ultimately would want.

But, it is something that I think I'd like to try on my own at home. Or just do again as part of a workshop/class. For those of you who are more into arts and crafts, here's the process if you want to try it at home.

Step 1: Concept Creation
First, you need to do a bit of sketching to come up with possible designs you want to see on your fabric. It's best to come up with at least two different ones. Something we didn't realize as we were drawing is that you want these to be bold and be able to be somewhat large/big. If it's too small, it because an issue later.

Step 2: Copy your designs on to foam
Below are the two designs I came up. The first was just a bit abstract shapes and lines. It was actually almost too small (it might have been better if the lines were a bit thicker). For the second design, I just put together some ancient Adinkra symbols--the one on the left means "strength and humility," the middle symbol means "except God/except for God," and the last symbol means "faith and trust in God." To do what I really wanted these should also have been a bit bigger and spaced apart more.

Step 3: Use a blade to cut out your designs
The parts that are in color were going to stand out, while the white was going to be cut out. That way when you stamp the fabric later, you see the designs clearly. This is hard to do if your lines are super small. And you have to make sure you're digging into the foam in the right direction, otherwise you may actually cut off your design. This step was the hardest for all of us. I actually didn't even end up cutting out mine... our teachers did it for me.

On my Adinkra pattern, I had actually wanted the outside two symbols to stand up and have the inside symbol simply be outlined (so I would have dug out the center of the symbol). But because they were so close together and my lines were pretty small, that wasn't going to work.

You can see the shapes cut out in my Adrinka patter and in the ones the students made toward the back.
A few of the students had to scrap their initial plans and just go with one of the ones the shop already had cut and used in the past. So, if you're trying this at home, expect to make some mistakes and try again!

Step 4: Dip the foam into wax
You'll need to have hot wax (not sure if there is a specific type of wax that's needed, but I'm sure that's not difficult to figure out) melting over a fire. And then you'll dip the foam into it. If it's new foam, it needs to be soaked into the wax a bit and then hit against a table/smooth surface. Basically you want to make sure that it's gotten a bit "old" so that the wax truly gets soaked up into the foam when you're ready to start printing.

Our instructor and shop owner dipping my foam into the wax

Here's she's pressing my foam against the table to get it "aged"
Step 5: Begin stamping your fabric
You start with a white piece of fabric (we all had between 1 and 2 yards). Start with one of your pieces of foam and begin stamping your fabric in whatever pattern or style you want. I learned the hard way that you do NOT want to PRESS the foam down (you get a nice puddle of wax), but you also want to lightly move the foam about to make sure that the entire print is capture (especially when yours has small lines like mine did). The sections of my fabric that look the best are the ones that our instructor did. And when I finally got the handle of it, I also realized that I wasn't very good at making straight lines or keeping even spacing.

Her stamping

Me stamping
Step 6: Time to Dye!
If you plan to just do one color, then you'll actually want to stamp your second print onto the white fabric. But if you'd like to have two different colors in your finished look, then it's time to do your first dye. She did the mixing... but basically it was dye, caustic powder and salt. I'm pretty sure if you buy any fabric dye and follow the instructions you'll be fine. Once the dye job is finish, you'll need to let the color "bleed" out by hanging it on the line and let the fabric dry.


Once that's done, you get to repeat steps 4-6 with your second pattern. Something that wasn't explained well is that your first color needs to be lighter than your second color. You can't do the same color twice. So I wanted a gold fabric and choose gold as my color... but then for my second color, I had to go darker and had to go with orange :-( If I had understood the way the dying worked, I would have chosen yellow as the first color and then did the second dye job gold.

Stamping on my second pattern
Fabric drying so the second color can soak in/show

Step 7: Melt off the wax
You've printed, you've dyed. Now it's time to get all that wax off so you can have your final product. You'll want to make sure your dye has had time to drip through the fabric and you'll want to make sure your fabric isn't soaking anymore. Damp is okay. Then you want really hot water. They actually just had a pot over a wood fire so that the water was constantly being heated/staying hot. Each piece of fabric was then dropped into the hot water, one or two at a time. Sometimes they would stir it around a little bit. And then they would get a small cup to pick up all the stray wax pieces that were coming off so they couldn't re-stick to the fabric. Once no more stray wax pieces were coming off and there were none to pick out with the cup, the fabric was transferred to cold water. It was hand washed (no soap) to get any last bits of wax off before transferred to another bucket of cold water to sit in for a bit. Then it was hung back on the line to dry.

Putting the fabric into the hot water

Taking out the wax pieces

Washing out any remaining wax and then letting the fabric sit in cold water
Step 8: Let it dry and you're done!
The fabric hangs on the line and once it's dried, you can take it to a tailor or seamstress to get sewn! I got a dressed made, another student made shorts, one made pants. Not sure what the others will do with theirs. But it was definitely a fun experience. Here's all of our fabrics!

The designs the kids created

My completed fabric design

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ghana's Greyhound

One thing that my dad insisted I do while I was in Ghana is see Kumasi--the city he called home during his years in Ghana. It wasn't in our plans for the AFS program, so it was something I had to figure out on my own. And of course, since my dad seems to know someone everywhere on the planet, it wasn't too difficult of a task.

It started with a phone call to a Reverend in Accra. Rev. T said he'd get me to Kumasi over the weekend. He planned to stop over at my host family's house on Thursday to meet me and discuss the plans in detail. He wanted to take me on Friday and return on Sunday. I was hoping for more of a Saturday day trip or leave Friday night and get back Saturday evening. I was already a bit hesitant about who I'd be with in Kumasi, but I also really love my family in Accra and sort of felt guilty at the idea of "ditching" them for a whole weekend. I also had to be ready to travel to Cape Coast by 11am Sunday morning.

Anyway, Rev. T comes by on Thursday and I happened to be Skyping with my dad. They go off in Yoruba about things I tuned out and when they are done Rev. T tells me that he'll come get me Saturday morning at 6am, with the plan of me returning to Accra early Sunday morning.

Saturday, six o'clock rolls around and I'm ready to go. I get into the car and he begins driving. That's when I discover he isn't actually taking me to Kumasi. He's taking me to "the station." My first thought was train, which, while I was surprised, kind of excited me. But no... it was the bus station.

As we drove through the city towards central Accra, an image of a crowded lorry (called trou-trous here) came to mind. I was not happy. How was a bus NOT mentioned in all the plans? He always said, "We" or "I'll take you" and things like that when we spoke to Kumasi. I didn't realize I was going to be on my own. And on a trou-trou?! I sat in dread, which only increased when we drove by the main bus station and he goes, "We'll go to the other one... this one's a bit rough."

When we arrived, I slowly began to relax. There were no trou-trous in sight. Instead the parking lot was lined with coach buses. Ghana's Greyhound is run by luxury buses (Note to Nigeria: Pick it up!). Not only were the buses neat and nicely kept up, but the whole system was organized. The "mate" sold you your ticket, which gave you an assigned seat number. Luggage could be stored under the bus. And the buses themselves were clean, had reclining seats and a foot rest, a TV (which they showed Nigerian and Ghanaian films on), and air conditioner. It was better than the real Greyhound! In fact, it was better than the Megabus!

The five-hour drive was pretty uneventful. I enjoyed the scenery and marveled at the good roads and ease of travel. There was even a rest stop that all the buses traveling stopped at to let passengers use the restroom and grab a snack or meal, if necessary.

The only stressful part was the barrage of taxi drivers who practically accosted you as they sought to claim you as a client. Both when I arrived in Kumasi and returned to Accra, I was grabbed at and jostled quite a bit. They are too busy trying to win you over the others that they ignore your initial protests and declaration that you already have someone coming to get you.

All-in-all, it beat any other bus ride I've ever taken between cities.

Ghana's Greyhound gets two thumbs up.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Average Days in Accra

Each morning, I wake up around 6am. I lay in bed and listen to the constant chatter and occasional laughter from my two host sisters, my host mom and whoever else is awake. I'm tempted to roll out of bed and join them, but generally stay in bed until 7:15 to catch them before my host mom takes the two girls to school.

I say my farewells to the ladies. Sometimes get online to check my e-mail. Chat with my host brother (and sometimes dad, if he's up). Share some pleasantries with my host mom's sister who stops by each morning. Get hot water to take a bath. Get dressed. Take my 500 gazillion (or five) vitamins. If it's Sunday, add another vitamin. If it's Thursday, add my malaria pill. I put in my contacts. Go eat breakfast. And then either catch a ride, take the trou trou (Ghana's public transportation system, which must have a blog post of its own), or walk to meet the AFS bus. Generally nothing eventful happens, except this morning my breakfast was stolen by a monkey and then I had to sit in the bank and try to retrieve my ATM card after the machine decided to "retain" it...

9:15am: AFS bus picks me up and I head to my volunteer site with the others.

10am-1pm: We paint. And paint. And paint. I've ruined two shirts and one pair of jeans in this process. Which is fine. Except, when I was packing I thought our volunteer project was solely teaching. Somehow when relaying the message to us they left out renovating the Kindergarten block. So I picked my two oldest shirts to wear each day, and have worn my oldest pair of jeans every day, too. My new tennis shoes are ruined with yellow and brown paint (because I didn't bring my old ones since I didn't think I needed to worry about keeping the new ones nice). And well, let's just say it's a good thing I bought two new packs of socks before coming.

1pm-ish: We eat. Food is delivered to us and is a variety of African food. While there are other options available (banku, yams, spaghetti, etc), rice is on the menu each day. Which makes me and my Mexican kiddos happy. The black and white kids on the other team are not as thrilled by this.

2pm-ish: We get back to work. And are often a million times more focused and productive. Each day we see how transformative our work is to the building and we get more excited and more inspired. I still remember the initial reaction after day one: "We're making more of a mess than making it look nice, Miss..." and now, "It's looking REALLY good!" This project reminds me that a) Rome wasn't built in a day and b) things slowly, but surely, get better if you're focused, determined and your heart's in the right place.

4pm-ish: We close for the day as the bus comes to get us and drop us back at our various locations. Sometimes we all head directly home. Other times, people want to go to the mall or to someone else's house or out to eat. The three times I've decided to NOT come directly home, I've gotten lost. I'm able to make it TO the University campus, where I'm staying, but somehow get misdirected once inside and can't find my host family's actual house. This has led to some pretty interesting encounters with skeezy taxi drivers, a fawning graduate student, and a not so happy dog as I walked through an endless string of bungalows.

6pm-ish (or more like 8-9pm, if it's a day I got lost): I'm home, I eat dinner, I chat with the various members of my host family. School, books, and American fashion (which I am a disappointment on for my oldest host sister) with the girls; random moments of our day with my host brother; linguistics, culture or practical life things with my host mom; religion, politics and entertainment with my host dad.

10pm-ish: I'm in my room, reading or sometimes online, winding down for the night.

Sometime around midnight: I'm asleep.

And then it starts all over again....

Each day does have its schedule and pattern, but each day has also brought a new story to tell, a new experience to learn from and share.

Average days in Accra, that are actually not all that average.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Schools, Parks and Things That Are Nice

Today was the first official day of our project. We are renovating the kindergarten block of a government school in a low-income part of Accra. The work had been interesting as we are sorely equipped for the work.

First we tried to scrape and sand down the walls of the building. It was hard and mostly seem to produce a lot of dust. We gave up after about an hour and decided to just begin painting. Except then everything peeled off. We eventually figured out that the rollers were the problem and stuck to paintbrushes. It went smoother after that.

Afterwards we went to Rufus Park which was amazing! Life size chess set, Ludo board and some other game. We see-sawed and played on the swings and just ha a good time hanging out. We need more parks like this in the United States (or at least in my corner).

Now we are at Peter Pan restaurant and the kids are gorging out on burgers and smoothies.

Overall, it has been a good day.

I definitely thankful for the group of kids I have with me. They have such great attitudes and are embracing every bit of our time in Ghana. Trying new foods, actively learning about the culture, and even attempting to speak the local languages. They do have silly moments. Like one of my kids was disappointed that her host family wasn't poorer (she feels she isn't getting the real African experience). 

We are here with another group of kids who are not all as embracing. They aren't BAD kids, but I would be stressed if I had some of them under my wing. Just a bit wild and reckless at times. Especially for being in a foreign country. In Africa.

But ultimately, it is important to me that my kids have a good time and see Ghana (and by proxy, the rest of Africa) as more than the poor, third world stereotypes that tend to abound. 

Between the school and the park, I think they got a good dose of balance. And each day is a new memory to cherish together. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

That Awkward Moment When...

I love connecting/spending time with other Africans. There's just this automatic bound and shared experience that I enjoy exploring. But with older Africans--teens or older--there's always that awkward moment when the subject of marriage comes up.

The African: Are you married?
Me: No.
The African: Eh?! Why now? Are you at least dating someone?
Me: No.
The African: You mean you're telling me you don't have interest in anyone?!?!
Me: No. (although, if I'm honest, this is a semi-lie)

And with that response, I can feel their absolute disappointment in me. Or if they are the creepy old African men we all avoid, I can feel their hope that they've met a desperate girl who will fall for their cheap lines because she doesn't want to be an old maid.

've learned to take this reactions with grace and generally not get irked by them. They are just more awkward than anything else.

I had this same conversation with one of the volunteers with the program we were here with in Ghana. At first he thought I was 21, so after the first two questions, he was slightly pardoning. But somewhere between question 2 and 3 my age came out. And being unmarried and unattached at 27 is apparently not acceptable at all. I thought I had braced myself for the awkwardness to follow, but then the guy made sure to get my local number and told me, "Well, I will get married when I'm done with school. I'm 27, too."

The way he said it, and the way he looked at me as he said it, made me pause. Did I just get an awkward dating proposal? Or what? :-/

I thought I was being paranoid, but then kept calling me that night trying to reach me. And so now I'm kind of worried. I (luckily?) won't be interacting with him again (unless he continues to call/text) since he's had to return to his actual town. But yeah...

It was awkward.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Oh the places we'll go...

There is so much I've neglected to write about over the last two weeks. There are still tons of little Costa Rican memories to shares, I have some summer reading that I've knocked out and plan to review, I went to a professional development and learned a lot of cool things, I was able to knock a few things off my bucket list, and now I'm on my way to spend the next month in Ghana.

Yes, Ghana. Yes, a month. 

I'm ridiculously excited! But, I won't lie, there is also some level of trepidation. I'll be living with a host family, be a group leader for nine YES Prep high schoolers, and well... what happens to my life back home? It's not like time will stand still for me. What might be different when I get back?

It's silly, I know. But I can't help to wort a little bit. Ultimately though, this is like a dream come true and I plan to make the most of this opportunity. And regardless of what fears I have, the best things happen when you step out and take risks. You grow from moving out of your comfort zone. And I seek to constantly grow and be a better me. And my life has been due for a bit of a shake up :-)

One thing is for sure. This summer has, and continues to be, one great adventure for me. So here's to the next adventure, and I'll fill you in along the way!
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