Thursday, January 14, 2010

At the Taxi Stand

The taxi stands in Ghana are where you can catch a taxi to a specific destination. There are many taxis at the stands and they have signs on top of them telling you where they are going. Each car will not depart until every passenger seat is filled.

Getting a taxi this way is at times much cheaper than trying to just hail a cab on the street and having that driver take you to the destination. Sometimes the taxi stand cars will be .40 pesewes (about .27 cents) to a destination while hailing a taxi on the street and having him take you to the same destination will cost you 2 cedis. (about $1.30). On a limited budget I'll try the taxi stands over the cars on the street when possible.

The cars on the street are not always more expensive. Some of them have regular routes they take and in those situations they are reasonably priced. A car outside of the house we stay in heading into town always costs .40 pesewes. There's no taxi stand and there are always cars heading that direction so they all charge the same.

But in town there are two taxi stands. I had to use one today because I went to the Elmina Slave Castle. (The blog about my visits to the slave castles is coming) I found one car to Elmina with one seat left but someone jumped in that seat before I could get to the car.

Once the cars are full and about to leave the sign is taken from the top of the departing car and passed to the next driver in line to place on top of his car. As this car to Elmina left I waited for the sign to make it's way to the next car.

Once the sign was on the car I sat down in the front seat. I like riding in the front seat in taxis because the drivers drive really fast here and the seatbelt usually only works in the front seat.

This particular taxi stand is wall to wall cars. It always amazes me how they are able to actually get cars in and out. The cars are constantly switching positions, but at first glance it just looks like gridlock.

There are young boys and women walking between the cars with parcels on their heads full of things to sell to drivers and passenger. Biscuits, ice cream, bread, water, and soda are among some of the things being sold. Anything one might need or want for the ride and beyond.

There is music blasting from some of the surrounding shops and from the waiting taxis. As usualy I can't understand a lot of the songs. I am starting to recognize some I have heard often. I have a few favorites. I really need to find out the names so I can get them.

Waiting in a taxi can be an interesting experience. Because the stand is so loaded with cars it is unbelievably hot even with all the windows rolled down. You also have no idea how long you will have to wait because the car will not move until all the passenger seats are full.

Your wait time could be any amount of time. I've probably only waited at most 15 minutes if that much. Today I waited 3-5 minutes before the back seat filled with 3 more passengers and we were on our way to Elmina.

Here's the view of the castle as the taxi pulled into the city:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

At the Hospital in Ghana

The following events occurred on the 7th and v8th of January 2010.

So I finally went to the hospital in Cape Coast to have my stitches removed. Once I arrived Ephious began asking friends of his what hospital he should take me to. Central Regional Hospital was the one recommended because most foreigners go there. Since I am a foreigner here it made sense.

The hospital is in the Pedu area of Cape Coast. To get there we had to take one taxi in to town and then go to the taxi stand in town and get one of the cars going to Central Regional Hospital. Once again these are the cars where you have to wait until every seat is filled before you can leave.

Ephious took me around 12 or 1pm on the 7th of January. We were directed to the treatment room. A nurse there told me that I have a clean wound and it would be best for me to return at 8am the next morning when the utensils were sterilized. Ephious and I both left confused because they had a waiting room full of people now. If the utensils weren’t going to be sterilized until tomorrow morning what were they using on people right now? We gathered they were using the utensils that were totally sterilized and she didn’t want to use those on me. I was thankful for that but part of me did feel bad for those who weren’t getting the same treatment. There’s a lot I don’t know about how this country works so I just followed instructions.

I woke up early on the 8th and got there just after 8. There were already 5 people in the waiting area waiting to be seen. I found a seat and decided to do some people watching. They were all speaking Fante the language spoken in this area of Ghana. Everyone speaks English but they all also speak their first language as well. As I watched people’s interactions I didn’t understand what they were saying but based on their body language I could guess what was going on.

An older blind man was there with his niece or granddaughter. They were arguing about something and involving the entire waiting room. Every time he spoke the people around me would giggle to themselves. His mannerisms reminded me of my Grandfather when he got up in age and had to depend on others for his care. No matter where you are in the world people are just people. We are all more alike than different.

The nurses came out to open the treatment area. They were speaking Fante to everyone. Of course I didn’t understand. One of the nurses looked at my face and saw that I was confused. She instructed me to stand up and I noticed all the other people in the room were as well.

The nurses then led everyone in the room in a devotional. First they started a praise song that everyone knew. I knew it was a praise song but I couldn’t understand the words. I was just so shocked that everyone knew all the words. Next they took what I gathered were prayer requests from everyone in the room then a woman standing near me led everyone in a prayer.

As I said I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying this entire time but I have been in and led enough devotional services to know one when I see it no matter what language it is in.

After the devotional the nurse we had spoken with the previous day pointed at me and instructed the other nurses that I would be going first. She remembered me from the day before and wanted me treated before everyone else.

I was taken into the treatment room with four employees, one man and three women. One woman wrote my name in a big book, another woman put on gloves and grabbed tweezers and a scalpel after telling me to sit down. The nurse who remembered me and the man held on to my ear so the woman with the utensils could work.

They were all really nice and funny. At one point the nurse who remembered me had to run out for something and she tripped and fell through a screen. It looked like it really hurt so we all turned around to see if she was ok. She said she was fine and jumped up to go out the door to do what she was doing. As I turned around the three left in the room were falling over laughing. Of course it made me start laughing. Then the woman with the scalpel still shaking tried to get back to work on my ear. I told her to get her laugh out completely before she came back at me with that scalpel. :) Then the nurse who fell came back in laughing herself and looked at me and said “Are you laughing at me!!!” I must have jumped really high because she surprised me. And with that the room roared with laughter again. The girl with the book was laying down across the book shaking with laughter the man was propping himself against a counter in a corner holding his stomach and the woman with the scalpel had turned all the way around looking at the wall still laughing.

Everyone got themselves together and they asked me how I got hurt. I explained the story to them and they all looked at me very confused. Their main question was how I got close enough to a dog for it to bite me on my ear.

Dogs in Ghana are not treated the way dogs in the US are treated. So someone having their face close enough to a dog to have their ear bitten just didn’t make sense.
They then asked me if I considered myself a white man or a black man. At the moment this question was asked the nurse was tugging on my ear and one stitch so she could cut it off. Quite a painful moment I must say.

I told them I considered myself to be a black man. They asked “What makes you say you are a black man?”

To which I asked “Well how do you see me?” They all started speaking their language to each other and I heard a word I know “obruni” which means “White Man”. They then looked at me and said “We consider you a black man”

Now to be fair all foreigners are called obruni here. Ephious has lived here for two years and he gets called an obruni all the time.

I haven’t tested this theory but I feel they are really asking if I see myself as an African. The answer to that is no. I feel connected to this continent yes. I know I have ancestry and heritage here. I look at the faces of people here and I always think I see someone I know. I have decided it is probably because of the facial features that are similar to people I know back home. But the truth is I am a fish out of water here. I mess up cultural things daily. I always forget to only use my right hand when handing someone money or greeting people. It’s very disrespectful to use your left. When I eat fufu, a local dish you are supposed to eat with your right hand, I usually use a fork if I am in the house. Why? Because eating it with my hands burns my fingers. Fufu is a really hot soup like dish. When I am out in public I’ll use my hands but in the house I get a spoon. Make fun of me if you want I don’t like burnt fingers. :)

So with all that said I am not an African. I’m an American. And if being an American makes me an Obruni then so be it.

With all of that this is the time of my life and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Toby's A Good Boy

The following events occurred in the early morning hours of December 29, 2009 just after midnight.

Before I left the US for Ghana I spent a few days in Virginia with my Dad and Stepmom Alice and their side of my family. Alice’s daughter, my stepsister Robin, was in town from North Carolina with her husband and kids also. They brought their dog Toby with them. Toby is a Black Lab Chow mix who is really cute. One night another cousin was taking care of Toby at her house. Most of the family was staying at a timeshare in Williamsburg and dogs aren’t allowed at the timeshare. Toby was really afraid and he would not get out of her car once she got him to her house. I was on my way back to my Dad’s near where she was so they asked me to go over and help her out.

When I arrived at the house it was about 35 degrees outside, and Toby had been in the car for over an hour. He was probably really cold and still terrified, hence why he wouldn’t get out of the car. So I came up and got in the car with him. He let me pet him and talk to him. He just sat watching me with a very cautious look on his face. I tried to get him out of the car but his collar came off. Bad move on my part because now he was really scared. I decided to try to put his collar back on. I figured if he let me do that he would be fine. He let me put the collar on and let me pet him some more. I offered him some food but he turned his head. So I told Alta, the cousin who was taking care of him, to get in on the other side of the car and coax him out of the door near me. She got in and he started walking toward me in the car. I got out of the car and waited for him to get close to me. When he did I scooped up all 50 pounds of him in my arms.

I looked at him and he seemed nervous still but ok. So I turned and took two steps toward the house. It all happened so fast. Everything went black as a crunching sound consumed my right ear. Searing pain shot through my entire head. I opened my eyes as I dropped Toby. I caught a glimpse of him running around the side of the house but I couldn’t quite figure out what just happened. I touched my ear and the side of my head and looked at my hand to see if I was bleeding. I thought he had bitten me but there was no blood on my hand just an unbelievable pain in my ear. I touched my ear again this time there was one drop of blood.

Alta came around the car screaming. My dad had been there too sitting in his car and then he ran over also. Alta asked me if he bit me and I told her I wasn’t sure. I’m in pain but I’m not ble……I touched my ear again and this time my hand was covered in my own blood. I felt it running down my neck and I immediately started towards the house with Alta still screaming behind me. My father followed her very upset. Alta got me a towel and I cleaned up as best as I could. I thought I would be fine without going to the hospital but my father insisted I go to the hospital and I’m glad he did.

My Dad rushed me to the hospital in Williamsburg, VA. Alta called the family members at the timeshare, also in Williamsburg to let them know what happened. Robin and her husband Daryl met us at the hospital with Toby’s vet and shot information in case the doctors needed it.

We spent the night in the ER. I spent most of the time cracking jokes. The doctor said “We may have to amputate it” as a joke I responded “Good I never liked that ear anyway!” I also asked her if they could just put a metal rod through some of the bite marks and turn them into piercings. :)

I was the only one who wasn’t really upset. I kept making jokes about it and laughing. I thought it was funny. At that point I was bitten. Getting upset was only going to get my heart racing and make me bleed more than I already was. So during the trip to the ER I just chilled and waited.

The doctor sewed me up with 7 stitches. There were 5 in the front of my ear and two in the back. Toby had bitten clean through my ear. The doctor told me she could see through it from one side to the other. I informed the doctor I was heading to Ghana in a few days. She told me there was a high risk for infection with a wound like mine so they would give me an IV with antibiotics and prescribe strong antibiotics for me to take for 10 days. I would also have to find a clinic or hospital in Ghana to remove the stitches in a week. I would find out later those antibiotics were the cause of my sickness while travelling.

Now poor Toby (yes I said poor) Toby was the world’s most hated dog after this incident but it really wasn’t his fault. He was in a new place and already very nervous. He didn’t want to go into the house and he was cold in this strange car. Then a strange person who he doesn’t know picks him up and tries to take him into the house he is scared to go into. He has to save himself before he is taken into the scary house where he thinks bad things may happen to him. He only has one chance to escape and save himself.

How would you feel? He’s a good boy he’s just nervous and needs someone to work with him to get him over his fears. Next time I see him I’ll gently give him a nice belly rub. To be honest ever since this incident I’m a little more timid around any dog bigger than Jared’s parent’s dog Dioji in Washington. Last time I saw him he was just over 5 lbs. :)

I’ll get over it I’m sure. I’ve just learned to be more careful.


Ephious and I walked out of the automatic sliding doors into the huge crowd people. There seemed to be people standing in every direction creating and impenetrable wall. Ephious dove into the sea of people and began walking at a pace I was finding it hard to keep up with as I tried to navigate the luggage cart.

There were people everywhere and the faster he walked the farther behind I became as I struggled to get through with the luggage. He looked back to see me struggling and took the cart from me saying “You just have to push you way through.” And that is just what he did with me right behind him as we headed toward the street.

Once we were on the street E began trying to hail a cab. One pulled up and E said something that I couldn’t quite make out. I didn’t know if it was the way he said it or because the destination sounded so foreign to me I just couldn’t understand it. The driver said something to E that I couldn’t quite understand but the look of shock on his face let me know he didn’t like it. He responded with a number “2 that’s how much it cost me to get here.” I realized they were discussing the price for the ride. This time I heard the driver say 20 cedis. I thought it was reasonable because in Seattle a cab ride costs $28 into downtown from the airport.

The driver wouldn’t budge on the price so E said “Thank you very much but I am not a tourist so you have a nice night.” This happened with pretty much every cab that pulled up to us in front of the airport. Each time I got closer and closer to understanding the word he was saying as he described our destination. But I couldn’t quite get it yet.

Ephious looked at me after a few more cabs and suggested we walk up the hill a little way and find a cab there. Just then another driver pulled up and E offered him 2 cedis to take us to Accra mall. He looked at me and said “From there we can get another taxi to take us to the hotel.” We were going to stay in a hotel for the night since all the buses to Cape Coast were done running at this point. We would have to leave either the next day or the day after.

We got in the taxi after he loaded the bags into the trunk. The taxi sped off at a speed I had never known a taxi to go. I spent the ride trying to find a way to hold on as well as see everything whizzing past my window at lightning speed. Cars speeding in every direction honking their horns, the radio was blaring music sung in a language I didn’t understand, and there were people on the streets selling all types of things I couldn’t quite make out as we flew by.

In the first few minutes Ghana and it’s capital Accra were giving me a sensory overload. If my head had been any closer to the open window it would have been hanging out like a dog. My eyes were so wide and I had a huge smile on my face. I just kept wondering what it all was about. Every little piece. What was that? What was THAT? I wonder what that smell was? What was that sound? What did she say just there? I wasn’t sure how to take it all in. I just kept thinking I was going to miss something.

The taxi came to an abrupt stop in front of Accra Mall. Ephious paid him and we took my bags out. We walked across the street to a group of men standing in front of a bunch of taxis shouting things I didn’t understand. E told me these were taxis where you share the ride with a bunch of people but you don’t leave until the car is full. Every seat must be filled before you can. I would soon find this is a regular practice in Ghana with not just taxis but also buses.

We found a taxi going in our direction. We loaded my bags and shortly after we were seated people got in taking the last two seats. We were on our way once again speeding through Accra. Cars were flying by my window as we entered a highway.
The other passengers were dropped off before us. Once they got out Ephious again called out the strange destination I couldn’t quite understand. “Did he say Spend Tax on the run?” I still couldn’t figure out what he was saying. That was for another time because there was still so much happening outside this cab.

I later found out that we were going to Spintex Road, a major street in Accra. “On the Run” is a gas station on Spintex that most taxi drivers know. The hotel where we were staying was near “On the Run” so it gave the driver a point of reference.
We took a right turn off the main road onto a much darker side street. We pulled up to a gate with a sign that read “Sir John Hotel.” The sign was in front of a large brown gate that enclosed one two story white building to the right of the sign.

As we pulled up the gate began to open and a man stepped out beckoning the taxi to enter the gate. The open gate revealed there were two buildings. A small white one story building on the left and the two story building I could see from the street on the right. In the middle the two buildings were connected by a brown awning covering a driveway/parking lot. The man who opened the gate tried to help us with the bags but Ephious let him know we could get them. We grabbed them and walked to the larger building on the right.

We entered into what I realized was the main lobby through glass doors. There was a man behind a large wooden counter who greeted us and handed Ephious a key. E explained to me he had checked in the day before but when you leave they keep your key so you don’t lose it. When you return they give it back to you.

I followed Ephious up a flight of tile stairs that opened up onto a balcony. To the right was the night air of Accra. I could see clothes lines just beneath the balcony. We walked through a wooden door on our left. The door opened up to a narrow hallway with more doors. I assumed each door was a room since they were numbered. We stopped just inside the hallway and Ephious turned to our immediate left and slid his key into the first door, #5.

The door opened to a room with a concrete floor. Directly in front of the doorway was the bathroom. To the immediate left of the door a small refrigerator next to a chair with a flower pattern on the upholstery. To the right was a bed under a window. On top of the window was an air conditioning unit that was obviously not turned on as I continue to drip wet with sweat while I found a place near the wall opposite the bed for my bags. In the corner opposite the bed was a 13 inch television mounted to the wall.

After I looked around a bit I sat on the bed. I was feeling exhausted yet too excited to stay in. Ephious asked me if I was hungry. I wasn’t really but I figured I should eat something. I told him about my stomach issues on my flights and he agreed I should try to eat something.

E suggested we change clothes and head to a restaurant for food followed by New Year’s Eve on the town in Accra.

Initially he did ask me if I wanted to go to church to which I immediately declined much to his amusement.

He then asked me what I was going to wear. I really didn’t know I had scaled back my wardrobe so much in anticipation for this trip that I really wasn’t ready. So I told him a t-shirt and some jeans with flip flops. He gave me a disapproving look. He informed me that would not work because Ghanaians really dress up. So he let me borrow a shirt I never would’ve chosen for myself and a pair of leather boots to wear. I thought I looked ridiculous as hot as it was but he assured me I was fine. He has lived here two years so I tend to believe what he tells me especially since at this point I hadn’t even been in Ghana for two hours.

Once we were dressed we headed out into the night. Another taxi ride later we were at a restaurant where I was immediately amazed by the people I saw in the restaurant. I’m not going to lie. I had some major stereotypes about how I thought people in Ghana would look. All of these assumptions were based on what I saw on television and could look up online. This restaurant had some of the most beautiful men and women I had ever seen. I didn’t feel like I was in Ghana I felt like I was in Atlanta. It wasn’t until I heard people talking that I snapped out of that notion.

We rang in the New Year enjoying a meal of fried chicken and chips (French fries) and a local Ghanaian brewed beer called Star. The food was amazing. I’m not much of a beer drinker so I didn’t care much for the Star. I really ordered it just for the experience.

We finished dinner and headed to an area of Accra called Osu which would turn out to be the greatest sensory overload of the evening.

Another taxi took us in the direction of Osu. We hit traffic before we could really get deep into neighborhood so we got out and walked the remainder of the way. There were people and cars everywhere. Music was blasting from every building and every vehicle. People were dancing on the streets and there were fireworks blasting everywhere. There were people selling food straight from grills on the street as well as people walking around carrying goods they were selling.

If you have ever been to Philadelphia and seen South Street then that is the closest comparison to Osu I can give. South Street has nothing on Osu though. In Seattle you would take Broadway in the middle of Capitol Hill and on top of the traffic and the shops and restaurants you put wall to wall people on either sidewalk and even into the street dancing to music coming from every direction. Then add the fireworks jumping from random groups in the crowd and sometimes coming right from the ground near you. That's Osu.

We stood back watching the celebrations in Osu and rocked to songs I had never heard and sometimes couldn’t understand.

I looked up and took a deep breath and smiled. I looked around with a great amount of thanks in my heard. I was really here finally. On my journey having experiences like nothing I had ever seen before.

Somewhere between 1 and 2 am my trip started to catch up with me and I became really tired. I let E know and we found a cab back to the hotel.
In the morning we would head to Accra Mall for a few groceries and then continue on to Cape Coast by bus.

My Arrival and Accra Airport

The following events occurred on the evening of December 31st 2009.

By now the sun had fully set over the horizon and night had taken hold. I looked out the window in an attempt to see anything on the ground. Initially there was nothing, the suddenly one light, two lights, a cluster of lights, and then an entire city. It was an amazing sight. I could see cars backed up in a traffic jam that extended far into the distance of the night. There were buildings and lots of things going on. I looked in every direction trying to see if I could make anything out. I only knew this was Ghana and I had no idea what to expect next.

We landed safely and after the crew welcomed us to Ghana we came to a stop on the tarmac. The captain informed us we would exit the plane onto stairs and then board buses. Business class would go first followed by the rest of the passengers. Once the plane came to a stop I jumped up and began collecting my things. Another American on board near me who had actually been on my flight from DC to Amsterdam as well, looked at me and said “You ready for the heat?” to which I responded “Sure”.

Just to give you some context, I left Virginia/DC wearing a long sleeve button up shirt and a zip up mock turtleneck jacket thing. I still had them both on as the door of the plane opened in Ghana. I took two steps off the plane and beads of sweat began running down my face. I immediately took off my jacket.

As I walked down the stairs I smiled and took a deep breath. I wanted to smell it all. I don’t know what I expected to smell. I just wanted to smell the air and to feel it run through me. It was my first breath on the continent of Africa. It was amazing. I had made it to Ghana.

We boarded the buses and they took us a short distance to the main terminal. Exited the buses and walked into a building then down a long hallway decorated with Christmas lights as we headed to passport control.

At passport control I was checked by a Ghanaian woman who pointed out that we had the same last name of Anderson. I remember thinking that even if my ancestors came from Ghana I knew their names were not Anderson. But in that moment I felt a connection here.

After passport control I went to the baggage claim to get my luggage. It was here that a young man helped me put one of my bags on a cart and then looked at me and said “Do you have a New Year’s offering for me?” I assumed that meant I had to pay him. I told him I only had American money and he said “That’s fine” so I gave him a $10. I only had a ten and some twenties. That $10 is equal to 14 Ghanaian cedis and 50 pesewes. GH¢14.50. Just to give you some perspective there are times when I can buy a meal of fried chicken and French fries and a 20 oz beer for about 5-6 cedis total. If it is five that means he got at least two meals out of that. I wasn’t worried about it at the time because I had no idea. All I could think about was I AM IN GHANA. As Ephious told me later “He partied well that night”

Next I had to go to customs where a woman went through two of my three bags. Her first question to me was “What do you have?” I must admit I was confused. I was confused primarily because the only things I had were my clothes and personal things. So I answered “My clothes and things.”

Like I said she went through two of my bags. In my opinion the only reason she didn’t go through the third one was because it was big and it was on the cart at a weird angle. It would’ve taken more work and more time for her to go through it, so she released me.

From there I walked down a long corridor that began to open up into an area full of people. Before I could get to an open area a man in a uniform stopped me. He asked for my passport so I gave it to him. He checked it out and then said “Happy New Year. I need a New Year’s offering to let you pass”. All I had at this point were $20’s so I gave him one. Now in my defense this was my first time travelling outside of North America so if all they got me for was $30 bucks total I think I did well. I was also the only person from my flight out there at this point. Business class exited the plan first and went through customs and everything first. I was at the head of the line and the first from my flight to get this far. So I couldn’t look around and see if everyone else was getting the same treatment.

After I paid the man in the uniform I walked into a room full of people waiting for flight arrivals. I didn’t see Ephious so I decided to check outside. I wheeled my bags outside to discover a sea of even more people. There wasn’t much light outside and it was hot so I wheeled my baggage cart back into the airport and found a place off the side to wait for him.

As I watched other passengers come through I was starting to realize I had been taken. I noticed no other passengers were being stopped by the guy in the uniform, but as I said before oh well. I think I did great navigating all of that by myself. Many people were around me as I waited for E. I watched people and I was on alert for anybody else asking for a “New Year’s Offering!” I was going to have an offering for them alright if they did! ;)

After about ten minutes Ephious came through the doors. I waved him down and we hugged. He looked at me surprised and said “How’d you get done so fast?” I told him I was in business class. And then told him about the money I lost. He said he forgot to warn me about that. I didn’t really care though as I’ve already said. At that point it was already gone what was I going to do.

We started to walk out the door with my bags and he told me to wait so he could video tape me coming out of the airport with my bags. I waited until he was ready and then I walked out into the night of Accra. My journey had really started.

My Trip to Ghana

The following events occurred on the evening of December 30th and the morning of December 31st.

My trip here was pretty cool all things considered. It started very well in Dulles Airport. I got through security without any issues and headed to my gate where I waited for my flight. Since I was flying world business class I had the opportunity to sit in the lounge rather than in the gate area. The lounge had complimentary food and drinks. We were also allowed to board the flight directly from the lounge. It was a great experience. I arrived at the airport with a few hours to spare, so I had the chance to make some phone calls before the plane departed.

After I made all of my calls and had a little something to eat the lounge attendants came around to let us know our flight was going to board soon. Before boarding I took some pictures of the plane and loaded them on Facebook. A flood of feelings and emotions washed over me as I began to walk towards the plane. Excitement and happiness for my trip as well as a sadness as I knew I would be even farther away from those I love the most. I also had this sense of wishing I knew exactly what tomorrow would bring. I soon found out there would be some surprises coming my way well before I landed in Ghana.

Now first let me say the two planes I rode on this trip were the two biggest planes I have ever been on in my life. In addition, having the opportunity to fly in world business class was supposed to make this the most comfortable flying experience I would ever have. All things considered it was until shortly after I sat down. The first thing I noticed after settling into my seat was the flight attendants and one of the pilots kept checking something electrical in the wall behind me. They had very concerned looks on their faces. I couldn’t tell what was going on because they were all speaking Dutch. Soon the flight attendant came to me and asked me to pull out my television from the arm rest. I did and initially I was like “Wow that’s cool”! Then she pulled it towards the aisle and started fiddling with it, but she was only getting a black screen and sometimes snow. I looked at my watch and I noticed we were supposed to be leaving right now, but by the look of things it didn’t seem like that would be happening.

Soon the pilot came on the intercom with an announcement. It was a really long announcement that I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t understand it because it was in Dutch. After he finished the Dutch announcement he started one in English. Apparently they were having problems with the on board entertainment system and they were working to fix it so our flight was going to be delayed until they were able to get it handled. So I settled in to have some water and maybe a short nap. As I drank some of my water I felt a rumble in my stomach that I didn’t like very much at all.

I took a quick nap and woke up to another Dutch announcement followed by an English one from the captain. He said they were unable to fix the entertainment system what it would take to fix it would cause the flight to be extremely delayed further and possibly even cancelled. Based on this information he decided we should depart without the on board entertainment system.

Soon after his announcement we were pulling back from the gate and in the air. I watched through the window as I left American soil. I snapped a few pictures and waved. It was a moment that is hard to explain. I was in disbelief I was finally doing this, but again a bit sad not to be sharing this moment first hand with the ones I love most. My stomach rumbled again.

Once we were in the air for a little while the flight attendants started bringing the food. The first course was a lobster and salmon appetizer. It was delicious, but as I ate it my stomach was beginning to tell me I shouldn’t be. There was nothing wrong with the food. As I said already it was delicious. Something was seriously wrong with my stomach and I wasn’t sure what it was.

Next course begins and it’s a steak. One of the best steaks I’ve ever had and I was on a plane. Once again my stomach was talking to me telling me shouldn’t be eating it but of course I did. Third course was a cheesecake. I took one bite and that one bite sent my stomach over the edge. I spent the rest of the trip asleep, taking Maalox tablets supplied by the flight attendants, and in the bathroom.

During one of my many naps I awoke to find the plane was descending very quickly. So quickly my stomach was moving for reasons other than the ailment that had now plagued me for hours. It seemed as though we were landing. I looked at the clock on my laptop which I had set to Amsterdam time. It read just a few minutes past 7 am. We weren’t due in Amsterdam until 8:30 am. Something wasn’t right. I’ve heard of pilots making good time but this was a bit much.

The pilot came on with an announcement in Dutch followed by the English announcement. The pilot said a passenger on board had suffered a stroke and we needed to land at the nearest airport to get the passenger some assistance. That airport was Shannon, Ireland. I felt really bad for the passenger and immediately sent some prayers up.

We landed safely in Shannon and pulled into a gate where an ambulance and two police cars were waiting for the plane. Once we were safely parked at the gate the emergency personal ran up the stairs and onto the plane to begin their work. Soon after, they had the passenger safely off the plane and into an ambulance.
The pilot let us know we would remain on the ground for another 45 minutes to refuel before we continued on to Amsterdam for another 90 minutes.

I had planned on meeting up with Jordan in Amsterdam. Jordan is a new friend I met who has done volunteer work in South Africa. He lives in Holland and we were going to grab some food or coffee or something and just talk. Through email I learned a lot about his experiences in South Africa and it really helped me prepare for mine in Ghana. Unfortunately due to some issues with the transit system in Amsterdam we were unable to connect. So I just found my gate and sat down for some people watching and web surfing.

The Amsterdam’s airport was amazing. There were so many airlines I had never heard of. Many cities on the departure and arrival board I had never heard of as well. Usually right next to American cities I knew very well.

I found my departure gate without any trouble. The gate was full of people. The gate next to mine was heading to Lagos, Nigeria. There were so many people going to Lagos also. It was really unbelievable. I’m sure it’s believable to someone but for me it was amazing.

In Amsterdam security is not done after you check in at the counter downstairs. It is done at the gate before every flight. Security teams travel from gate to gate. When they arrive they check the gate for anything suspicious and then the gate is considered open and you can go through security to the gate area. From there you board the plane. If you have already been to Amsterdam I’m sure this is old news for you. Again I have never left North America so I’m amazed by a lot of things on this trip.

Once the gate opened I went through security with what seemed like a sea of people all heading to Accra. I found a seat in the boarding area. Soon there were people all around me. Two men right next to me struck up conversation and I was happy to talk with them. This is really something because one of the things I loathe more than anything is talking to people in airports and/or on planes. I really don’t enjoy small talk on any form of public transportation. I don’t know why it’s just how I am. But as I waited to board the flight to Accra I was happy to talk to anyone really. Both of the men were Ghanaian, but they lived in the United States. One lived in Boston the other in Washington D.C. They were asking me why I was going to Ghana and I told them. They told me Ghana is an amazing place and that I would love the country. They both also spoke about how much they love living in the US. They were great conversations and wonderful introductions to Ghana.

Once we boarded and I found my seat my stomach started once again. So I settled in to sleep most of the flight. The flight attendant tried to bring me an appetizer. I’m not quite sure what it was but I tasted one bite of it and couldn’t even get it down. The appetizer came with a salad. I ate that with no salad dressing and managed pretty well. Then she brought me another course, a lamb dish. Just the sight of it put me in more pain than I have words to describe. I explained my situation to the flight attendant and she said “we’ll find something to help you.” She went into the flight attendant rations and found me some chicken soup and a piece of bread. I was able to get that down and I was so excited. Then she brought me some Imodium AD tablets which miraculously gave me some relief.

After this meal I went to sleep again for a long time. When I woke up we were flying over land that I assumed was Africa. The sun was setting outside my window and I smiled knowing I was seeing my first African sunset.
Soon after the flight began to descend…..

Monday, January 4, 2010

Beginning to Document it All

Disclaimer: I normally proofread a lot more than I got to do with this one. Internet connections are spotty at times for me here so I had to get a post up when I could.

I’m sitting in Castle Beach Restaurant writing in my journal. This is my favorite spot in Cape Coast so far. It’s right on the beach and from my favorite table you can look out over rocks jetting out in the ocean from the beach as the salty breeze comes in giving you a cool break from the Ghanaian sun.

I have two drinks of choice here. First is Alvaro, a non-alcoholic natural malt based drink and the other is Voltic. In my first few hours here Ephious told me Voltic would be my best friend here in Ghana. Less than a week in I must say he is right. Voltic is my best friend. Voltic is bottled mineral water. We use it for everything even brushing teeth. I normally carry a bottle with me everywhere I go.

So today was going to be my first attempt at navigating Cape Coast on my own. I was initially going to head to the Cape Coast office of the Ghanaian Ministry of Health. I was headed there to try to locate some local NGOs where I might be able to do some volunteer work here.
Ephious informed me that today was not the day for that. With it being the first day people are back to work after the holiday they may not have time or patience for the bright eyed young American right now.

So I still did some exploring on my own and got myself to Castle Restaurant. Once I arrived here I felt it would be a great time to write about my experiences so far.
It’s hard to do. For one thing I have seen so much that I am not sure I will be able to get everything down. This is going to take a few different posts just to get caught up.
So in this my favorite place in Cape Coast, with the see breeze briskly running over me I have decided to give it a try.

This restaurant is a great place to write. Sounds of Alicia Keys, En Vogue, Mary J. Blige and Usher run from the radio speakers mixing with the crashing waves before me and the songs of the local fishermen working hard on the shore as they work together in a “tug of war” like stance pulling in the days catch.

This is Ghana.

100% African yet appreciative of some aspects of western culture and people. In this restaurant I am next to the Cape Coast Slave Castle. Hence the restaurant name Castle Restaurant. I haven’t done the tour of the castle yet. I’ve only been outside. But as I look at it’s walls through the window I can’t hep but wonder if someone related to me was once held captive on the inside of those walls. Chained, confused, angry, and afraid did they stand wondering where they were being led? Did they wonder if they would be able to return home to a family who inevitably would worry then mourn a loved one they would never see again?

Whether someone connected to me passed through here or another place heading west , each time I look at this castle I lift up thanks for their strength and courage to endure many hardships and atrocities. Because of their strength and courage I am here.

Here in this country on this continent I have only wondered about my entire life. I’ve had a lot of assumptions I have had to get over and I am sure there are some more that will be thrown out the window as time passes.

There is not a book magazine article, or blog that could have prepared me fully. The accounts from those who have been here only told me their stories and did not prepare me to create my own. There is so much I have gotten to see and experience and here are some of the pictures. I’m going to end this post here and do more continuing the story.


Cape Coast, Ghana January 2010

Ghanaian Arrival