Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back, safe, sound and cold

After 25 hours of traveling from Thursday to Friday (and 2 movies later!), I've made it back to the's still a bit overwhelming being home. Right now I'm just trying to process the entire experience. And I'm cold. But I'm glad to be back in the land of hot showers, sandwhiches, reliable internet, and March Madness (even if IU blew it this year...let's go Pitt!).

I'm seriously missing a lot of things in Ghana. We'll see if I'm able to get back, but I hope it's sooner rather than later. Hopefully I'll be able to do something truly worthwhile that reflects all that I've learned and gained from living in Ghana the past 6 months.

All the 400 pictures are now on Facebook. Enjoy! I'll try to be in touch with everyone...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Final Post from Ghana

The time has come for me to return to leave Ghana. I'll be flying home Thursday and arrive in Pittsburgh Friday night. The last days have been busy, I'm not sure how, but busy. My neighbors organized a party at our housing compound on Sunday, and many of my friends were able to come. It was a nice get together, and even the late afternoon rain didn't dampen the spirit.

As this is my final post proper, I've compiled some statistics for you:
No. of tro-tros ridden: 450 (rough estimate)
No. of vehicle accidents: 3
No. of times the tro-tro broke down: 3
No. of days power was out for at least an hour: 45 out of 190 (rough estimate)
No. of days with no running water: 50 out of 190 (rough estimate)
No. of cockroaches that crawled up my legs in tro-tros: 2
No. of ants on my bedsheet one night after being hung out to dry: 110 (rough estimate)
No. of times the ATM machine didn't properly dispense my money: 2
No. of times finding a way to break up a 10 Cedi bill into smaller bills caused a mini-crisis: 70
No. of times I danced "Agbadza" with old ladies: 14
No. of "rasta men" who sang songs about Black power to me on tro-tros: 2
No. of times people gave me bad directions: 60 (rough estimate)
No. of people who gave me rides in their personal car, free, while I was waiting for tro-tro: 11
No. of people who helped me out: so, so many

And now, some parting thoughts...
I will miss the turkeys, cats, lizards, and nocturnal toads that roam my backyard.

I will not miss killing dangerously large spiders, rogue lizards, and cockroaches in my house.

I will miss the warm weather (not for too long).

I will not miss insanely loud frogs and invasive ant armies.

I will miss tasty meals for only $1.50 and haircuts for $2.

I will miss the plentiful fresh fruit and juices (no sugar or preservatives), especially coconuts (my current favorite), tangerines, pineapple and oranges.

I will miss eating food with my hands (or maybe I will continue this...). I will miss a lot of the food here, especially fresh akpele with ochre stew with crunchy little fishes, roasted plantains, yam fufu and fried yams.

I am excited to eat hamburgers, pizza and salad (yay America).

I will miss plentiful, cheap public transport.

I will miss the sounds of the lorry station, the calls of mates proclaiming their destination (Madina Old Road Road Road Road Road!), and the ubiquitous merchandise sellers roaming every nook and cranny of the station (Yes! Pure Wata! Yes! Hankie! Yes! Orange!).

I will not miss the ridiculous traffic, the absolute disaster that is "rush hour" from 5-8:30 from Mon-Sat, including long queues to get a car and mobs of people swarming approaching transit, and the rough dirt roads taken to "dodge" traffic.

I will not miss bargaining and/or arguing with taxi drivers over the fare (no meter).

I am excited to drive my own car.

I will miss getting up early and washing my clothes by hand (didn't think I'd ever say this).

I will not miss frequent power outages and no running water.

I will not miss the smell of raw sewage from open gutters, trash anywhere and everywhere, and no proper sidewalks to walk on.

I am excited to flush a toilet, take a hot shower, play a decent piano, watch the NFL (okay, I'll have to wait for this one), and go to a proper library.

I am sad to leave my friends here, very sad, but excited to see my friends and family at home.

I will not miss the calls of "obruni!", the chants of enthusiastic children "obruni ko ko! obruni ko ko!", and babies staring at me in curiousity for an entire tro-tro ride (seriously, it makes you really uncomfortable).

I will not miss standing out and attracting unwanted attention, and being approached by strangers who "want to be my friend" and get my phone number and visit me at my house.

I will miss the frequent extended talks with my landlord about life, the universe and everything (mostly he does the talking), with advice on such things as "time, treasure and talent", "planning, preparation and persecution", etc. Maybe just a little.

I will miss my neighbors: relaxing and enjoying coconuts with Simon while he teaches me a bit of the local languages, drinking Star beer and chopping fufu with Beotang (aka: Boat), and watching "Touched by an Angel" at 6pm on Sunday, over fresh food and tea, with Solomon, Peace, Naomi and Mawuli.

I will not miss answering the most commonly asked question from Ghanaians, always asked in a slow, overly ponderous way: " you...see...Ghana?" or " life in Ghana the US".

I will not miss the frequent requests for money and other dubious favors from many people, even my friends.

I will miss the laid back lifestyle, where people take time to enjoy life, but I will not miss "African time" (I'll be there at 3pm means anytime from 5-9pm) and the occasional impossibility of planning or structuring a day.

I will miss the music, singing and dancing here very very much, including highlife songs on a tro-tro where maybe someone is singing along, the traditional songs at church services, and the traditional music at funerals, festivals and on campus.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to study Ghana's music and culture, which has been truly amazing and in some ways revelatory for me, and especially thankful for my drumming/dancing teacher, who has been as good or better than I could have possibly ever hoped for.

I am thankful for knowing what I want to achieve in music, even if doing it will be hard.

I am thankful to have lived abroad for some time, to have understood more about not only Ghana but about the US and the world, and myself, and for the great times and the hardships, which I hope has made me a stronger, better and more interesting person. God bless Ghana.

Can't wait to see you all!!! All the best.....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yes I traveled

So I finally made the long trip to Northern Ghana and the Ashanti region. It was quite extraordinary...some amazing moments and some rough spots. But all in all, I made it back unscathed (even if I'm sick yet again...cursed contaminated food/water), with plenty of pictures and great memories.

Monday: I left the house a little after 12pm to go to the bus station. The bus left at 3:30, remarkably only 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time. I quietly braced myself for a grueling 12-hour bus ride, but was ill prepared for the blaring Nigerian movies for a good part of the trip. Thanks to these movies (please, never, never, NEVER subject yourself to them, I repeat, never), and the riotous laughing of the passengers to many of the comical scenes in the movie (which unfortunately I wasn't "getting"), sleep was virtually impossible. But the bus was modern, fairly comfortable, air-conditioned, and made several rest stops along the way.

The arrival time in Tamale, the main city in the North, was slated for 5am, but we made such good time that we got to Tamale at 2:30am! This was much earlier than I had planned, so I ended up reading/shutting my eyes on a bench at the bus station. It was not a very pleasant start to the trip, and I found myself wondering what in the world I was doing in a completely unfamiliar area by myself at 3am. Luckily several other people were in the same predicament, and a police officer was nearby (even if he was dozing off), so I felt safe, although tired.

Tuesday: At about 6am, when it got light, I started to walk around the city of Tamale (aka "T-town"). It has a completely different feel from the daunting urbanization and modernity of Accra...there is minimal traffic since most people ride bicycles and motorbikes, and overall the city has a much more provincial feel (to paraphrase from the guidebook). I had an amazing breakfast of bread/butter and tea, which tasted so good you can't even imagine, due to hunger and fatigue from lack of sleep. I walked to the city center, through the central market, past the Grand Mosque, caught a glimpse of a brand new football stadium, and met a girl who took me to her clothing store where I hung out for about an hour. Somehow I found a library, a rarity in Ghana, that was cool, quiet and had a small collection of good books.

My next step was to board a bus to Mole National Park, about 4 hours from Tamale. Luckily I met a fellow traveler from California, so we passed the time chatting while we waited 2 hours for the bus to arrive. Even though there were assigned seats on the bus, and tickets had to be purchased before boarding, it was mayhem boarding the bus. People were shouting at the conductor and driver even after we finally got going. The ride was pretty bumpy and unpleasant but we made it to the park at about 7:30pm. I was able to get a bed in a 6-bed dorm for $7. It had running water and a ceiling fan, and taking a proper shower was a huge luxury for me!! I slept very well that night.

Wednesday: I awoke early in the morning and was greeted by a troop of baboons that live nearby the motel. Then I went on a guided safari walk which lasted about 3 hours. It was pretty started slow, as animals were scarce, but soon I saw plenty of birds, including a group of huge vultures, warthogs, waterbuck (large deer), and 3 elephants!! I was about 200 feet away from the elephants, who went for a swim in a watering hole. I've seen elephants in the zoo before, but this had a much more "raw" feel to it. After a complimentary breakfast, I went swimming in the pool (this also felt quite luxurious). I met a group of 10 travelers from Denmark who had hired a car/driver and were going out for a safari drive in the afternoon, so I tagged along. On the drive we saw lots of waterbuck, a huge herd of buffalo (which apparently was a rare sight), and another elephant. Pretty sweet.

That night I relaxed at the motel. It had a very different feel to the rest of my time in Ghana, because I felt like a genuine tourist. Most of the people at the park were "obruni" travelers, and I met a man from Holland, 2 guys from Sweden, 15 people from Denmark (who were all super experienced travelers), a group of 4 girls from US, UK, Canada and Australia, and 4 girls from Germany. All were really cool people, but I felt a bit detached from them, because I've had such a different experience from the standard "tourist" or volunteer. But everyone was really interesting, and the group from Denmark miraculously was going to the same places as me on Friday, which meant I could ride with them in their hired van.

Thursday: So instead of traveling back to Tamale (partly the wrong direction), and then spending a night in Techiman, I got to stay at Mole Park an extra day since my Denmark friends were leaving Friday early in the morning. In the morning I walked 6km to Larabanga, a nearby village that has a famous mosque. I hung out with a friend I made the previous night (who's even mentioned prominently in my travel guide), and we shared fufu made from yams, played checkers (called "drafts" in Ghana), went to the famous mosque (built in the 15th century by a traveling Saudi), saw the magic stone, relaxed at a bar, and walked back to the park together. Later in the day I went canoeing with the Denmark crew, but the mosquitoes and dirty river water was too much for a prolonged trip so we only were out for 30 minutes. I went swimming again and relaxed that night at the motel.

Friday: Early in the morning I departed on the hired van with my friends from Denmark. We stopped at a nice waterfall and made it to the "monkey" village at about 1pm. In the village we took a guided tour through a forest where two species of monkeys lived: mona and black-and-white colobus monkeys. The monkeys have thrived in this village because the villagers believe they are sacred animals, and they even bury the monkeys with the same care as a human. The mona monkeys were friendly and some came down to the forest floor, eating bananas thrown to them by the guide. The black-and-white colobus monkeys stayed in the trees but were beautiful animals to watch. It was great fun but far too short: I would have liked to spend the entire afternoon in the company of monkeys, quietly observing them. Also, I got slightly perturbed by our group, who seemed to only want to take as many pictures as possible, then move on to the next "thing", instead of taking their time to enjoy nature with their eyes and not with lens.

Once again we got in the car and arrived in Kumasi, Ghana's 2nd city and capital of the Ashanti kingdom, at about 8pm. It was a long day of driving. I was supposed to meet a friend who would come from Accra and show me around Kumasi over the weekend, but he couldn't come due to money issues. And thanks to my phone inexplicably not working for 3 days (AAAAARGH!!!'s maybe seriously bad how much we rely on cell phones now) I couldn't call some other friends of mine who could help me out in Kumasi. I ended up spending the night in the motel with the group from Denmark, and at first I was to be in a dorm room but got moved to a single room. What seemed like a nice treat ended up being a disaster: the single room shared a door to another room, and even though I was exhausted from a long drive I was unable to sleep due to my neighbors having a party until 4am, and very very loud noises coming from a nearby building (some strange religious gathering?).

Saturday: I woke up feeling tired, miserable, and unsure of how to proceed, since I couldn't get in touch with anyone to take me around Kumasi. I decided to bypass traveling around with the group from Denmark (they were leaving Sunday, and at all costs I didn't want to spend another night in the motel) and another group of girls I met at Mole who were also in Kumasi (they were leaving that day at 12:30pm, which only allowed 4 hours to be in Kumasi). So I checked out of the motel and went around myself, shouldering my trusty but heavy backpack. It was quite stressful at times, but also enjoyable. First, I walked through Kejetia Market, the largest open air market in West Africa. It was chaotic and hectic beyond belief...crowds of people push and shove in all directions to enter or exit the narrow passages just outside the market, and once inside it's a labyrinth of twisting passages, with sellers of all types of goods summoning your attention.

After briefly visiting Kumasi Tech, a university set on attractive grounds outside the city center, I attempted to get to the Manhiya palace. I must have asked over 15 people how to get there, and got all sorts of conflicting answers and advice. Most Ghanaians are, unfortunately, terrible at giving directions, and won't ever admit that they don't know where something is. Instead they'll say "go this way" overconfidently, even if they have no clue, or confuse you with strange advice. But eventually I met someone who was nice enough to take me via shared taxi to the place (even if she asked for my phone number after we got there, and called me several times that day), and I made it to the Ashanti palace. It was surprisingly low-key, and after I took one quick picture two security guards shouted at me that pictures were forbidden. But I did see several peacocks that reside on the palace grounds, and nearby I saw an Ashanti funeral where traditional dancing and drumming was taking place.

It was getting late, and I was getting tired, so I got on a bus back to Accra and despite the inability to sleep due to yet again blaring Nigerian films (did I mention to never, never, NEVER watch them?) and a 30-minute outbreak of shouting from virtually everyone on the bus (I'm not exactly sure over what), I made it back to my place at about 11:30pm.

Sunday: My relief and happiness at being home was tempered by sickness and no running water. In fact, in the evening tensions between my neighbors/landlord over the 6-month overdue water bill exploded into a violent shouting match. I think it's been cleared up, but this is one aspect of Ghanaian culture I will never understand: many disputes end up becoming shouting matches where no one really listens but just keeps yelling.

Today: After 17 days of no flowing water, it came!!!!!!!!!!! I filled up all of my buckets and am recovering from sickness. I'll be fine tomorrow, and I'll have 10 days to tie up lots of loose ends and make the necessary preparations for my departure on March 12. I'll make one final post before I leave. Can't believe it's almost over.....I hope you are all well and that I get to see you soon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Afrobeat Rules

Whoa...just 3 weeks and I'll be returning to the US. I have to say I've really adjusted to life here and feel very comfortable in Ghana. It's going to be seriously tough to leave. But that's not to say there still aren't difficulties: due to a dispute between my neighbors, our water was shut off (due to over 8 months of unpaid water bills) so I haven't had running water for maybe 8 days now. And I still regularly meet people "befriend" me on the street, and then want to come visit me at my home, or take me around for a day so I can "learn more about Ghana", or other such things. I have to make up excuses why I don't hang out with strangers. So while I'll be relieved to go (a hot shower is going to be unbelievable), I'll also be very sad to leave my friends and the culture here.

Now I want to brag that I saw Seun Kuti live in concert with members of the Egypt 80 band. If you don't know, Seun Kuti is one of the son's of the legendary late Fela Kuti (whose band was Egypt 80), a Nigerian afrobeat/jazz pioneer who composed hits, played sax, had 27 wives, and made uncompromising political and cultural proclamations in his music putting him in constant trouble with the police. Apparently most of his sons are musicians (they started by playing in his band) who play sax, and Seun Kuti very much modeled his music and vibe after his father. The electricity in the air before it started was palpable...there were so many people packed in to see the show (mostly obrunis). The band entered, and started with a sweet guitar lick, followed by a bari sax solo, and soon the groove was flowing nonstop. The band consisted of about 13 people, with a rhythm section, additional percussion, and 4 horns. Some of the band had t-shirts proclaiming "Afrobeat Rules".

After the first song, Seun Kuti came out accompanied by beautiful women and once again the music was grooving so hard that it was impossible to sit still. Luckily I was able to make my way to the dance floor and let loose for the rest of the concert. I spent lots of time staring open-mouthed two women onstage, because they "shook their booty" to the music with unheard of skill...the sheer physical act seemed to defy the laws of what's possible, and they were able to keep it going for a long time. All in all the concert was crazy fun...not particularly groundbreaking musically but tight, locked in and sweet. I guess I just love to dance to music that grooves hard...Wow. I won't forget that night.

Speaking of dancing, I've gotten better "small small" and now I'm wrapping things up with my teacher. I'm learning some traditional songs that accompany performances of drumming and dancing. And I've been going to a couple of studios in Accra to help people out with keyboard solos and harmonies. A few nights ago myself and two friends were mostly just messing around until we came up with a song that has real potential. I can't reveal too much but we will be finishing it up tomorrow and marketing it to some local radio stations. So I'm hoping before I leave I'm getting radioplay in Ghana...

As I've been in Ghana for some time now, I've really expanded my vision of what I want to achieve as a musician, and loosened things up a bit. In graduate school I experienced a bit of tunnel vision, thinking that I was going to be a "classical art music composer" who could play a little jazz and funk, and was so focused on learning the classical repertoire, and writing music with no words for various combinations of instruments that I couldn't play. But now I realize that I love to sing, I love to dance, and I love to perform. So I want to incorporate all of this into a band that combines some of the diverse music I love. The band should make you want to sing, and dance, and I will be onstage as part of the performance. I don't know how I'm going find the right people and put everything together, but I have a clear vision and that's the most important part.

I'll be taking a week long trip soon, so I'll let you know all about that once I return. Take care.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dance dance revolution

Update: I am no longer the world's worst handwasher. I've spent many hours washing all of my clothes, towels and sheets at least once, if not several times, and now I have attained the coveted status of world's 2nd-to-worst handwasher.

Not much is new here. But I have started learning some traditional dances in earnest, and they are killing me. I have an increased respect for all dancers, especially from Ghana. The amount of muscle strength, fitness and sheer energy it takes to dance well is insane, and I have to confess that my illusions of being in good shape have been thoroughly dispelled. Often I am seriously tired after dancing for more than 15 minutes. My teacher usually just laughs at me when I am gasping for air in our lessons. But "small-small" I will build up endurance.

I continue to practice drumming, teach jazz piano haphazardly to a few students, try new foods (well, I haven't tried cowsfeet yet), get frustrated by traffic, and roam the streets of Accra looking for traditional music. I also took a trip with a friend up to a botanical garden in the mountains, and we spent a couple of hours exploring a jungle nearby. We ignored a sign stating all guests should travel with a guide, and there may have been 10 minutes when I actually thought we were lost in the deep jungle, but luckily we managed to get back alive and well. It was refreshing to be surrounded by the peace and quiet of nature, as I am surrounded by the bustle of Accra's hectic urban atmosphere.

Oh, before I forget, HERE WE GO STEELERS!!!!!!! Too bad I can't watch the Super Bowl.

I continue to get requests for money, marriage, and friendship. One girl near my house wants me to take photos of her and parade them around the streets of the US, looking for a potential husband to come and marry her, then wisk her away to the paradise of the US (it reminds me of some show that I saw a snippet of: someone takes pictures of their relative and shows them to people on the street to see if they'll date them...can't remember the name). So if there are any guys looking for that "special Ghanaian" please let me know. Otherwise, take care.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lets go shopping

One of the most fascinating aspects of Ghana is its commerce. Say you are in a tro-tro at the station waiting for it to fill up, or you are stuck in traffic. Many many people will pass by selling all sorts of merchandise that ranges from essentials such as water to completely random items such as CD organizers, mops, soccer balls, and dead grasscutter (basically a big groundhog). Often they are balancing their goods on their head, allowing easy access from the window of a tro-tro or bus. And no matter what they are selling, they will be constantly yelling out the product name to attract attention, like vendors at a baseball game. You might here:

Pure wata!! (Pure water)
Hssssssss! (fast) Hankie hankie hankie hankie hankie facetowel facetowel (Handkerchiefs)
Ti-got! (Yogurt, it took me a long time to understand this one)
Hssssssss! Mentos. PK. (gum)
Buh froot! (essentially a donut)
(fast) Pen pen pen pen pen pen pen pen pen. (pen)
Bees-cut Bees-cut Bees-cut. (biscuit, either cookies or crackers)

On long trips there are certain stations where tro-tros stop for the driver to take a rest or maybe get some petrol. When the tro-tro slows down, people rush it, mobbing and surrounding it, thrusting bread in through the windows, and fish, and plantain chips. It's how I assume many people make a living, in this wildly competitive, cut-throat environment (there might be 10 people selling basically the same loaves of bread at one spot).
This got me thinking, how awesome would it be if McDonalds and Starbucks strategically placed people selling fries and coffee to congested areas during rush hour? Or Walmart could have people selling school supplies in August...hmmm, I might have to work out a business proposal for this....

There is one person I often pass selling used remote controls and a globe. I mean, this guy seriously makes a living selling a plastic globe. I wonder how many he's sold...can you support a family selling plastic globes? Not too far away from the globe man, I once saw a guy holding about 20 or so gaskets for various cars. He would then announce the name of each passing car in a monotone voice (Opel Kaddett....Toyota Hilux....Mazda 626....Mercedes Benz), I guess in an effort to show he had a part for that car. It was very strange, especially since some of the cars he identified had their windows up, and couldn't hear him.

Now, there are many shops around that more closely resemble "stores" as we might think of them, but there are also many places outside on the street or at transport stations where you can buy almost anything. You might see a "shoe store" where about 50 shoes are arranged on a blanket on the street, or a "furniture store" where all of the couches and chairs are outside on the grass. There are no fixed prices, so you have to bargain and its always an issue for me since I'm an obruni, and will automatically get a high initial quote from sellers. Sometimes these people are VERY aggressive, walking right up to you and maybe even grabbing your hand to try to pull you into their "store". It can be a hassle but it's also part of the Ghanaian definitely provides a unique shopping experience, and once you know where to go to buy what you want, and have an idea of the price, then it's kind of fun.

And now let me answer a few questions submitted by my illustrious readers:

What wildlife have you seen in Ghana?
Contrary to what some of you might think, I'm not surrounded by antelopes, monkeys and lions. In fact, most Ghanaians will never see a lion in the wild, and even antelopes are uncommon in the coastal Southern regions that are the most densely populated. Common animals are what we would consider as farm animals, such as goats, cows, turkeys, cats, dogs, and pigeons. Many of these are "pets" are contained in their owners property by fences (almost all houses are fenced in with concrete walls to deter thieves) or tied to ropes. You might be walking in a residential area and see a herd of 10 goats being tended by their owner. Also common are lizards (they are FAST), huge toads and frogs that come out at night (and are frieking LOUD in large numbers), mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, vultures, hawks and other cool birds I can't properly identify. I've seen monkeys only twice, as many of them have been hunted or driven from most built up areas. But I'm planning a big trip up north in March to visit a national park that typically features elephants, antelope, and lots of other animals, so I'll see a lot more wildlife on this trip (and partially fulfill my secret childhood dream of traveling to Madagascar to see lemurs).

What is the status of women in Ghana?
This is a complicated question, and I don't pretend to have a great understanding of it, but I think a lot of it has to do with where you are in the country. In more traditional villages, women are associated with more traditional types of work (cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, etc), but in Accra and other major cities there are many women working in high powered jobs. Often in more prestigious businesses, such as banks, news broadcasting stations and immigration services, there are many women. In fact, I've seen way more female cops in Ghana than in the US. Ghana just elected its first female speaker of Parliament, basically the counterpart of Nancy Pelosi. In the commercial sector I described above (targeted chaotic street selling) there are certain items most often sold by women (water, most foods) and others most often sold by men (hankies, watches, yogurt). And in traditional music, there are hardly any women drummers (they dance and sing), but there are male dancers. But generally speaking, I can say that women are treated equally.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Big Update

How is it US? Sorry for the posting delay, but after some travels I'm back and better and bigger and faster than ever. Before I detail my travels, let me talk about Ghana's recent election.

The New President: Ghana's recent election was HUGE. Everyone talked about it and the news covered it "plenty" (to use the Ghanaian phrase) since I arrived in September. It was quite a long saga, but the entire process was transparent and peaceful. Ghana is one of the few countries free of politically and ethnically motivated violence in Africa, and it is the second time it has changed from one democratically elected government to another. The first round of voting took place Dec. 7th, and the results were almost split between the Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP (49%) and Prof. Atta Mills of the NDC (47%). Ghana's constitution specifies that unless one party gets over 50%, there must be a runoff. So Round 2 took place Dec. 28, where Ghanaians could only choose the NPP or NDC, and it was ridiculously close. Almost 10 million voted and Prof. Atta Mills was leading by a mere 21,000 votes, but one constituency's vote was thrown out (due to problems). So this constituency re-voted on Jan. 2 (the so-called 3rd round) and even after that it took another day until the Electoral Commission declared Prof. Atta Mills the next president of Ghana. He had only 4 days until he took office yesterday (Jan. 7).

The entire saga was contentious and stirred up a lot of passion in Ghanaians, but no major violence broke out. From the first round of voting until the result was finally declared Jan. 4, there was a lot of anxiety. It definitely subdued all holiday celebrations as everyone was anxious to hear the result. Almost everyone I knew talked at great length with me about the two major candidates, and I feel certain if I was supremely bored one day I could write a short novel detailing both major parties histories, the background of the major candidates, etc. Both parties had "theme songs", "theme slogans" (Yessisem "We are changing"; and Ya koy ye nim "We are moving forward), "theme hand signals", and a ridiculous amount of advertisements and media coverage (including their own propagandist papers and radio stations). It was quite a ride, and I'm glad it's over and went smoothly. I congratulate Ghana for its commitment to peace and democracy.

Now on to my travels. I mostly visited friends I know from the university who were home for the holidays.

Keta: Keta is on a peninsula surrounded by the Keta Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the town was destroyed or damaged from a rise in the ocean some years back. Now a "sea defense" wall (basically strategically placed walls of large rocks) has been constructed and the town is rebuilding. Due to its proximity to water, if you are not walking on the main road in Keta, you are walking on sand. The residents are used to the sand, but it was seriously disturbing me (to use the Ghanaian phrase), and traipsing around in my worn out Birks was a major workout. My friend took me to see the remains of a Danish fort built in the 16th century (the ocean has destroyed most of it), the sea defense wall, and to Catholic mass (best music I ever heard at mass). At church I saw an 85 year old Dane who has lived in Ghana for over 20 years. He runs an eye clinic and speaks fluent Ewe, the local language. Pretty impressive for an obruni (or "yavoo" in Ewe).

Winneba: I went back to Winneba for Christmas, the place where it all began for me in Africa. Christmas was rather felt just like any other day except for the Christmas lights I brought and a small tree with modest Santa Clause, no gifts, no snow, and no Christmas songs except horrible reggae versions of "Hark the Herald..." and "Joy to the World". Most people go to church on Christmas but instead I went swimming with my friend at the beach, with a cool breeze and warm water. Pretty awesome. I also was in Winneba for New Years, not to party hearty with the family on the Eve (as no one drinks alcohol), but to attend a festival on New Years Day. In fact, on New Years Eve everyone went to bed before midnight!! At least earlier in the night there was a "dance competition" for three "small girls" and one "small boy" (to use the Ghanaian phrase), with the prize being a bottle of Coke. Luckily the New Years Day festival was was a competition between four groups, each consisting of about 40 people in costumes (or as they call it, "fancy dress"), a few stilt dancers, and a brass band, performing three different dance routines. The dances mainly involved fancy footwork and were really cool. Each group also had costumed gorillas and one obruni (dressed like a stiff British commander with a walking stick) dancing in their own style. Luckily by this point I had a camera so I snapped some pics.

Takoradi: Between Christmas and New Years I went out West to visit the family of another friend from the university. The family was 6...2 parents and 4 kids. I had a great time...I went to a 7th Day Adventist Church service (my friends dad was the minister), saw the Takoradi harbor and central market, gave a "jazz piano" lesson to a gospel keyboardist in the area, and went to the best beach ever. This beach was only about a 30 minute drive from their house, so the 7 of us piled into their small car (it was unusual they owned a car) and enjoyed the afternoon there. The beach was amazing...warm water, an island not far away (boats went to and from), small crabs you could chase but never catch, not crowded (hardly anyone was swimming), and unlike other beaches I've been to in Ghana, it was flat, so you could walk out far and still have your head above water. The waves coming in were pretty big. Crazily I was the only one swimming from our group...many Africans, even if they live close to the ocean, don't know how to swim and are afraid of water! But I enjoyed it anyway. We also climbed up 200 wooden steps to get an amazing view of the beach. The city of Takoradi was was relaxed and much less choked than Accra.

Akosomobo: I went up to the mountains to visit yet another friend from the university. Her father worked at the Akosombo dam, the largest dam in Ghana and the major source of power for the entire country. I got a tour of two dams in the area, and a nice view of the Volta river. On the way back I saw a troup of monkeys crossing the road.

I have one more trip planned this weekend...I'll be seeing lots of traditional Ewe music so I'm excited. I'll try to answer some questions I got, and maybe post a few more pictures, but don't hold your breath as internet here ranges from bad to really bad to awfully horrible. Take care! Only about two months until my triumphant return...