Wednesday 2 April 2014

Ease back

I am 3 days away from landing on snowy Canadian ground.

There are so many emotions going through my heart its very difficult to even begin to describe them.  I know many will ask a plethora of questions when I arrive and to be completely frank I'm a little afraid of them all.  How will I ever do any of this justice?  The layers and complexities of just the one city I spent most of my time in are infinite.  How then does one grasp it all.

(Rahama, Fadil, Salma, Raouda and Fahima - my heart)  

(Fadil, Binsu, Hafees - my heart) 


I'm hoping and wishing that my brain has recorded all of the colours, bumps on the roads, rhythms, textures, little hands going through my hair, the oh so many fabrics flowing in the wind, the sound of thunder grumbling accompanied by lighting in the distance and then the moment when it hits the roof followed by the thought "I hope the electricity doesn't go out".  I want to remember the heat, the flavour of sachet water and how incredibly refreshing it is to drink one while walking through the busy market.  I will miss the constant lessons to be learned like if you want to make it across a street bustling with cars, motos, pedestrians, cows and goats, the safest way is to follow a women who has something on her head.  She can be holding anything from an absurdly large basket filled with veggies or plastic doodads made in China to a sewing machine.  I've even seen a women carry a full out wooden wardrobe style dresser. Either way, nobody wants to hit that women because she is usually carrying her livelihood on her head.  I want to burn to memory the image of 25 women wrapped in 80 rainbows worth of colours piled into the back of a motor king because its cheaper than a taxi and the 50 to 60 men piled into the back of a huge truck holding on with one leg over the side and playing drums while driving out into the forest to hunt.  I want to remember how hilarious, and also sad, it is to see cows and goats piled into the back of a truck, tro, motor king, or bicycle.  The majestic baobab tree, the redness of the earth, the joy of finding an avocado,  laughter that comes after attempting to say a few words in Dagbani, they all need to stay vivid.  I want to take with me the strength that I feel here.

(Oh Tamale!)  

 (The baobab looking over)

(I may or may not be bringing back 10 of these) 

(CFTC team that we shared the project and office with) 

( I will not however miss the butts hanging out) 

There will never be another Tamale circa 2013/14.  It was my first.  The friends I have made here will always be the most amazing group of friends.  Weather or not I spent a lot of time with them or just a little I have never felt less judged and I have never felt more like being just me was totally ok.  We were  all here in Tamale and we were family.  In this whirlwind of a life we are family.

Things I have not done in 11 months

- drive (been in so many taxis BUT have also riden around on the back of many many motorcycles.  I will miss that)
- eaten a raspberry (oh sweet sweet raspberry!  I can't wait)
- taken an instagram photo (no iphone means no insta)
- worn any kind of coat or sweater (I brought some silly me)
- been cold, like really cold (there were a few chilly mornings and they were celebrated accordingly)

Things I have only done 1 to 3 times in 11 months

- gone to a play (once in Accra, they sang a song with my name in it.  I cried)
- gone to a mall (2 times in Accra, it was overwhelming)
- heard an acoustic guitar (once at a party.  Phil played and sang what felt like the most beautiful music in the world)
- worn close toed shoes (once, my running shoes, to run with Courtney on the beach.  Otherwise the running shoes were used to kill spiders in my room)
- gone to the movies (Courtney and I went to see Captain Philips.  Ghanians laughed when the Pirate said "I'm the captain now")
- watched a hockey game (one full one where the Canadian women won GOLD and a second, only half and on a computer screen - the men won GOLD too)
- been to a grocery store (in Accra, wowza so many options.  I decided not to buy the 14$ nectarine)
- worn makeup (yeah it only melts off)

Things I have done for the first time in all of my life

- leave Canada
- ride on horseback
- weave part of a basket
- go on a beach holiday
- see fruit trees that produce something other than apples
- touch a crocodile
- see elephants
- see monkeys
- see camels with desert men

(Hello pretty!)

There are certainly a million other things to add to these lists.  It has been a magical ride.  This was my Africa, Ghana, Northern Region, Tamale, Choggu Yapalsi.  It has been a humbling, frustrating, inspiring, growing, teaching, crazy, extraordinary, epic experience.  I am vowing to myself that on my death bed this will not be "that year I spent in Ghana".  This continent is too large, too diverse, too complex, and too awesome to truly think that by being here I have even begun to understand AFRICA.  I will be back.

Thank you for following me.  Its probably not the last you have heard of me, since I like this writing thing quite a bit.  Stay tuned.

(the sun may be setting on this chapter but it will rise again) 

Wednesday 26 February 2014

What the Water Gave Me

Way back in November, just a few days after my dear friend John left Ghana and also just a few days after my first experience with food poisoning, I went to Lake Bosumtwi for a little weekend getaway with another amazing friend Leanne.  

We hired a taxi driver that I know well and headed out early so that we could stop in Kumasi to get some authentic Kente fabric.  Upon our arrival in Kumasi, Leanne, who had already been to the Kumasi market suggested another option since the market there is, oh what word to use, CRAZY!!!

Off we went...

(sculpture of Adinkra symbol for the ram's horns) 

I got an amazing painting that I can't wait to hang on my wall and found a few gifts for people I love. We browsed for a couple of hours thinking we had plenty of time.  Suddenly the afternoon was upon us and we had to head to the lake if we wanted to make it there before dark.  

(Church on the way to the lake)

(dowtown Kumasi - it is sooooooo busy) 

(A little God-fearing or rearing, not sure, never hurt anybody right?) 


The sun is setting and we are still not there.  Francis, the taxi driver, was not happy about this.  When we finally got to the turn off to get to the lake he did not want to continue, convinced that we were going the wrong way and that his car was going to bottom out.  Leanne and I were sure we were on the right track and got him to continue, thinking he was exaggerating a bit.  He was.  We arrived safe and sound, and the car too.  We had a lovely vegan meal which was exactly what my belly needed to get over the illness I had felt a few days back.  After diner, we chatted then went to bed looking forward to the next day in our already ubber relaxing weekend spot. 

The next morning we woke up to this...

(view from the breakfast table)

(it was cloudy in the morning and nice and cool but it quickly cleared and heated up)

Lake Bosumtwi (also spelled Bosomtwe), situated within an ancient meteorite impact crater, is approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) across and the only natural lake in Ghana.[1] It is situated about 30 km south-east of Kumasi and is a popular recreational area. There are about 30 villages near this crater lake, with a combined population of about 70,000 people.
The Ashanti consider Bosumtwi a sacred lake. According to traditional belief, the souls of the dead come here to bid farewell to the god Twi. Because of this, it is considered permissible to fish in the lake only from wooden planks. (Source: Wikipedia)

(what looks like a log there in the water are the only boats that are aloud on the lake) 

Ah yes, did I mention that the goal of this trip was to go horseback riding?  It was!  Horseback riding has been on my "bucket list" for a very long time.  I was excited when I found out that The Green Ranch had horses and it was by a lake.  Coming from a municipality with over 300 lakes I realized when I saw it how calming they are and how much they are a part of me.  Leanne and I decided on the 3 hour ride through a coco plantation and down by the water. I was so happy that my first horse riding experience was going to be in such a beautiful spot. It was lovely!!!

(me and my Beads of Hope bracelets on my horse Gaia)

(plank boats by the water)

(Leanne and I on our horses during a snack break - although the horses kept stopping to snack along the way) 

(Leanne and our super cool host √Člodie.  She owns the Green Ranch, is from France, is vegan and is SUPER nice!!!)

(some coco drying in the sun)

(village around the lake)

(red earth)

(through the palm trees)

(a little cooling off)

(horses snacking again after our ride and Leanne hydrating)

(horse hug)

(this is one of the amazingly delicious meals I ate at the Green Ranch.  Lentils with rice and vegetable stew) 

This weekend away was so rejuvenating.  Our hosts were generous, the company was lovely, the food was amazing, the ride was awesome.  I said that I was going to try to go back if I could but alas my time in Ghana is ending soon and I'm afraid I won't make it. The only thing I can do is suggest to anyone that is looking for a lovely Ghana experience go to the Green Ranch.  

Leanne said something to me while we were there and I thought it was so wise.  She said that, often, women want these beautiful romantic experiences. We would so wish the men in our lives took more opportunities to light candles, organize weekend getaways, go for picnics, etc. But, most of the time we end up doing these things with our closest girlfriends.  We both agreed that that was ok.  We should celebrate that more.  Acknowledge that we can provide that for each other without poopooing on the men for not doing as much as we would like.  Accepting that those moments are just as wonderful.  Enjoying what each relationship brings to our lives not based on our expectations of them but on what they actually are and can be.  All in all it was a wonderful weekend and one that I will cherish forever.

So off home we went.   

(don't forget) 

Monday 10 February 2014

Where the Wild Things Are

Mole National Park is a must when you come to Ghana.  The dry season is the best time for wildlife since there are fewer water holes and so the animals stick to a few specific ones and are more easily seen.  

After a lovely drive in a pick up truck Ellen, her husband Brent, Matt and I arrived at Mole ready to see some animals. It didn't take long.  This baboon and her baby were there saying hello minutes after our arrival. 

 (monkey and baby monkey)

(couple of baboons)

The baboons hang around the hotel and, I am told, can be quite a nuisance sometimes.  After lunch, the four of us decided to go have a bit of a nap before heading out on a 3 hour walk through the wilderness to see elephants.  While we were resting one of the baboons came right up to our room door and checked to see if it was open.  Luckily, we had locked it.  I bet though, if it hadn't been, we would have had a baboon rummaging through our stuff in a matter of seconds.  

 (some elephant's bones laid out near the tour guide office)

Day 1 afternoon walk


(walking not so quietly in a line through the woods) 

(dry season means dried rivers and being able to walk in them) 

(monkeys through the grass) 

(jackpot - first elephant sighting) 


So it appears that when I want to get nice photos I forget that getting too close to wild animals is a bad thing.  When I was about 50 feet away from the elephants the guide said "So how close do you actually want to get to the elephant?"  Literally, the first sarcastic remark I have heard out of a Ghanian's mouth since I have arrived here.  I sort of backed away but inched in as close as he would let me get a few minutes later. 

(dust bath) 

(can I get closer? PLEASE!!!) 

(green leaf)

After our walk, I showed this photo (above) to the guide to show him why I wanted to get so close.  His reaction "Its not even nice!"  He did not like the green leaf and thought it would be better without it.  Oh well! 

(this is my, is the guide understanding my camera? will he get a nice picture? wow it is hot out here!, face)

(this is Jacob, our guide, who did not like my photo)  

(this is a boy elephant) 



(elephant in a tree) 

(one last bush buck before heading in for the day)

Matt's assessment of the day (among other things) - "I am a long way from London England"  What an amazing experience. In the evening we sat and had a meal together by the pool.  Matt ate a Ghanian size portion of jollof rice plus some of mine. I told them a childhood story about red rice and play it again Mitch. We laughed. We talked about movies and actors and somehow could never think of the names of the actors that were in them.  We just ended up playing that guessing game that starts with "You know she is tall, brown hair, she played in that other movie about..."  The answer, in the end, was, among others, Sandra Bullock.  Off to bed we went. Oh but wait there is more the next day...

Day 2 morning walk

(a monkey to start day 2) 

(then a bush buck) 

(and the elephants at play)

While we were quietly watching these elephants they decided to start walking and came really really close to us.  It was incredible.  The guide on the second day was less keen on telling us to back away so I got these upcoming shots.  I'm pretty happy about how they turned out.


(this one was sooo huge) 

(Brent far left, elephant, Ellen far middle, Matt front right)


I think Matt and I could have stayed there for hours and hours just following them through the trees.  They are truly majestic creatures.  "So what did you do this weekend?"  "Oh I hung out with elephants"  Just another casual weekend.  Uhm NO it was wonderful, extraordinary, relaxing, centering.  But, we did have to go back.  On our walk to the hotel we suddenly heard some loud noises and leaves rustling in the not to far distance.  Monkeys!!! and lots of them.  They came storming through a little ways off.  It was very cool BUT, even though I wanted to get closer and closer to the elephants, I did NOT want to be in the middle of a crowd of monkeys.  They seem to be more mischievous than elephants.  Finally, at the hotel in time for some lunch and to see some elephants in the water hole.  We watched.  They played. 

(one last monkey for the road)

There it is - ELEPHANTS!!!