Saturday, August 26, 2006

Uh oh! Where's Hinda? Posted by Picasa

Hinda on canopy walk, Kakum National Park Posted by Picasa

Roasted plantain anyone? Posted by Picasa

Bathing on the street Posted by Picasa

Coffin, coffin makers, and photo fee of 2 oranges Posted by Picasa

View from our room at Busua Beach Posted by Picasa

"Fill 'er up" Posted by Picasa

Walking with casava on Elmina Beach Posted by Picasa

"Gate of No Return" - Elmina Slave Castle Posted by Picasa

Email Number 9

Email Number 9
Accra, Ghana
August 26, 2006

Dear Family and Friends,

This may be a bit bittersweet: it will be our last blog entry to you from Ghana, and while we are very anxious to return home to see all of you, there are many things that we will miss about our 3 ½ month stay here. Bittersweet or not, we are leaving here in 9 more days and will arrive home on September 5.

We have just returned from our second vacation here in Ghana. We had a very nice trip to the Cape Coast – the western coastal section of the country. Driving along the coast we were delighted with the coconut trees, mist, sun, surf, mud huts with thatched roofs, fishing boats, women with babies in tubs bathing or selling things and sun. In spite of all those wonderful things the overwhelming poverty is depressing. The coast, however, is noted primarily for the many slave castles and forts that can be found on the coast. We visited two of them: Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle, and previously we had visited two others.

Slavery as we all know was an insidious institution. Some 15,000,000 slaves came through these slave castles. About 1/3 ended up in the US, and the remaining 2/3 were divided evenly between South America and Cuba and the West Indies.

One of the most emotional moments for us was during a tour of the Elmina Castle. We were in the room from which slaves departed onto the ships that would carry them across the ocean, and were standing at the “door of no return”. Our guide asked us all to repeat in unison: “Never Again!”. As we said that, we were saying it as Americans with regard to slavery, but also as Jews with regard to the Holocaust, and so it was a very powerful moment for us. And also as human beings and citizens of the world, for in our lifetime we have witnessed other tragedies which should not have happened: the Cambodian Killing Fields, Rwanda, Kosovo,and now Darfur in the Sudan, among other atrocities. Somehow even though we make these pledges of “never again”, they happen again and again.

The conditions of the slaves in the castles, and on the ships were as bad as bad can be, and just as bad when those who managed to survive landed in the “new world”. Dark, no food or water for many, shackled together so that no one could move, living in excrement and with dead comrades all around, women being selected for raping by those in command, and many many more inhuman conditions.

Slavery could not have happened without the cooperation and participation of many Africans, among whom slavery was often practiced, although not to the extent that happened during the slave trade. And usually families were not broken up, and frequently slaves were able to become members of the tribe or group to whom they were taken to.

In many of the slave castles, the “door of no return” has been changed to “doors of return” to welcome back the ancestors of slaves who have made the return journey right through those very same doors. And in each of the slave castles we visited we saw wreaths and flowers as memorials. In Elmina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we saw many Ghanaian school children and college students visiting and learning about their history.

Because slavery is so much a part of our American experience, we hope that you will one day share some of what we have. We thought it was an important thing to do as Americans and as human beings.

One of the most exciting things we did was to go on the “Canopy Walk” in Kakum National Park. The “canopy walk” is a suspension bridge 120 feet high and about 1.200 feet long erected in the jungle tree canopy. It is very narrow, about 18 inches or less, and yes, it sways and bounces. But fear not, it is just about impossible to fall off because the sides are close to armpit high. We were fortunate to go very early in the morning with a light drizzle falling. The jungle was very quiet and beautiful. Unfortunately the drizzle kept the birds out of sight, but we enjoyed the solitude immensely. And best of all, Hinda did it with flying colors, but did have a few very scary moments. By the way, once you start walking, there is no turning back, because there may be someone behind you and there is no room to pass!

On this trip we stayed in two very nice beach resorts, and were able to enjoy some excellent seafood, and we even watched it being caught by local fisherman in dugout canoes throwing nets in the ocean. One of our favorite’s is called a “cassava fish” since it’s scales look like a cassava – the main ingredient of fufu, a staple of food here and throughout West Africa. We ate coconuts on the beach right from the coconut trees growing all around us. The area in which we traveled has the best pineapples of which we partook liberally. And the ocean which was a bit rough was also warm and refreshing.

We took a very interesting side trip to a small village called Nzulezo. Nzulezo is built on stilts on a lake at the end of a river that is only reachable by an hour dugout canoe ride. Only 500 people live there. It was a very beautiful and peaceful canoe ride up a long canal into the lake. The water was like glass with trees arching from one side to the other. And at the end, Nzuelezo.

Unfortunately, we have found Ghana, and other parts of Africa as well to be filled to overflowing with garbage, especially plastic which may never disintegrate. It just doesn’t seem possible that it will ever get cleaned up. There is a severe problem with clean water for drinking, washing, cooking, etc. Our concern is that this government, our government, and other governments are spending money for new buildings, stadiums, etc. and for water and sanitation presumably, but we cannot see any results. In our opinion, until every village has a supply of clean water, and there are toilets for everyone so that people don’t have to use the streets, things like the building of stadiums and new government office buildings should be put on hold. While we see on TV that this government is fairly free of corruption, it is still pretty corrupt at the level of the police on the streets and who knows where else. We see it every day, including this last trip where our driver had to pay the police several bribes in order for us to continue on our journey. The contrast of being on a beautiful clean beach while right next door the beach is strewn with garbage and human feces is striking. People are crippled by guinea worm which comes from bathing and drinking water infected by the bacteria needs to be addressed throughout this continent. And the fact that AIDS is still increasing – 40,000,000, with the majority being here in Africa should be unacceptable to the industrialized nations, but it apparently isn’t, given the limited resources that are spent by those governments to deal with the pandemic. And malaria continues to be the largest killer of all – more than a million pregnant women and children a year succumb – needlessly. It can be prevented with simple methods. It is these contrasts with the natural beauty of the African environment and the beauty of the African spirit and people that are very frustrating to us. But in any case we feel compelled to continue to do the little that we can to help here and there.

Just a quick update on the Keta Tree Project – we have collected $1,750 in donations and will present the money to Pro-Link and the Keta District Assembly on September 1. Pro-Link will buy the coconut trees during the next few months and they will be planted by the community members. For those of you who contributed, thanks for helping to keep an entire community above water – literally!

So, we are once again coming to the end of another adventure. We worked hard and tried to give as much as we could, but we also learned much about Ghana, the Ghanaian people, and West Africa. We have been enriched yet another time. Our hosts and work colleagues were welcoming and warm and were all of the Ghanaians we met.

We will be bringing back lots of photos and stories to share with you and are looking forward to that very much.

See you soon!

Love from Peter and Hinda

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

95 year old chief imam and his 22 year old wife nunmber 4  Posted by Picasa

Friendly elephant at Mole Posted by Picasa

Not so friendly elephants Posted by Picasa

95 year old chief Imam of Larabanga Mosque copying Koran Posted by Picasa

Larabanga mud and wood mosque Posted by Picasa

Peter dancing at Ewe funeral in traditional clothes Posted by Picasa

Granny dancing at Ewe funeral Posted by Picasa

Musicians at Ewe funeral Posted by Picasa

Mole National Park Posted by Picasa

Broke Down (Second Time) Posted by Picasa

87 year old Kente weaver in Kumas1 Posted by Picasa

Email Number 8

Email Number 8
Accra, Ghana
August 14, 2006

Hi Everyone,

We have just returned from a week in the north. While we had a great time and took lots of good photos as you will see, getting there and back was pretty arduous and full of mishaps.

Since it is a long journey to get to the north from Accra, we decided to splurge and fly on a local airline. Good idea – right? Wrong! We bought the tickets about 3 or 4 weeks ago and then our friends Eleanor and Isaac decided to come with us. So, they went to the airline and were told that the airline was not selling any more tickets – engine problems! (they only had 2 planes and both were broken – “had a fault”). Of course the airline never told us that they weren’t flying. We went to their office and were told that there were no refunds, but we could use the tickets during the next 3 months. We told them that we were going back to the US. Finally, they told us they would put us on the other local airline which was going to fly the day before. So, two days before the scheduled flight, we were told they were in fact going to fly and we got ready to go. Then our friends went to get the tickets and were told again, - not flying. The next day, one day before departure, we were told they were flying, and by that time the other airline had already left. At 2 pm on the day before departure, we called and were told that all is well. At 4 pm, they called to tell us, the planes were still broken. So, our friends went to the bus station to get tickets for all of us and were told no advance tickets and to come early in the morning and buy tix before boarding. Well we got there at 6:45 for the 9 am bus and we were told that the bus was full and all the tickets were purchased the day before! To make a long story short, we finally did get bus tickets for another bus that was supposed to come, but when the time came for it to depart it was no where in sight. We went to the full bus and found that there were four seats for us. What do you think we did? We got on it of course, and arrived 14 hours later at our destination.

If you think this is the end of the story, forget it. The next morning, we rode 3 ½ hours on a bumpy dirt road to Mole National Park only to find out our reservations in the lodge were not available, and we had no place to stay – and as you can imagine, there in the “bush” there was no place else any where. After some 6 hours or so of cajoling, paying small amounts of money here and there we were put up for the night in “the castle” – the place where the ministers stay when they visit the park. The next day we moved into our regular rooms which somehow became available. Our room turned out to be a chalet on the edge of a large waterhole, where elephants came to bathe. Really nice.

Things went reasonably well for the next couple of days and we enjoyed safari walks and drives where we saw elephants, various species of antelope, monkeys, baboons, etc.

Uh oh, here comes more trouble. About 1 ½ hours out of the park on the way to Kumasi, our car hit a rock and the fuel tank got punctured. Our driver fixed it temporarily with some plastic we found. About 20 or 30 minutes later, because the road was so bumpy, the fuel line fell off the car. What did we do? We hitched a ride with a couple of nice guys in a pickup truck to the junction where our friends went one way and we continued to Kumasi. This final leg was to have taken only 3 hours according to the driver but ended up taking 6.

In the north are where a lot of Muslims live, and in fact the city of Tamale is some 90% Muslim as compared to the mostly Christian south. There are many different languages in the north, and there has been a lot of tribal rivalry and violence, but none for a while. Thank goodness, car trouble was bad enough.

Just outside of Mole there is a village by the name of Larabanga which is where the largest mud and stick mosque in Ghana is located and it is also the oldest building still standing in Ghana – built in 1421 (they think). We had a very interesting visit. When we arrived, we met the chief imam – 95 years old who was sitting on the ground and handwriting the Koran using various color inks. (see the photo). Then we met his 4th wife – 22 years old! (see the photo).

So, Peter and Hinda had another adventure. By the way, while in Kumasi, the seat of the Asanti people, there was a gospel music video being made at the hotel, and Peter wandered into it and was invited to dance in it which he did. (Peter, 3 women, and another man all dancing and singing gospel!)

We learned alot about the Asanti culture, and especially about the King and Queen Mother who is by custom related to the King. She could be his aunt or mother for example, but they are not married. In the Asanti culture, while the King is very powerful, and people will heed him more than the President, the Queen Mother is even more powerful than the King. The Asanti are a matrilineal society composed of a number of clans, and also a part of the Akan culture.

We have been trying to convince all of the young people we work with who are planning to get married to do it while we are here so we can attend the wedding, but to no avail. So we did the next best thing. While in Kumasi, a friend of the women who was taking us around had to go to a funeral. As we told you before, most funerals are held on Saturdays so people can have the time to get to where it will be held. And so we went to an Ewe funeral. The Ewe’s are a tribe from the Volta region, but some live in Kumasi. One of the things about an Ewe funeral is that there is a lot of drumming, dancing and singing, similar to the Bobobo singing and dancing. We were honored to participate and were invited to dance a couple of times (see photos), and also drank some of the local home made gin made from palm wine. Very strong stuff! Peter drank, Hinda watched.

In Kumasi we ran into a couple from the USA who were volunteering with an NGO about to get a contract from USAID for a food security program. Here is the interesting thing about how our government is spending it’s (our) bucks. This couple was only going to be here for 5 days and in that time they needed to learn whatever they could in order to write the proposal to USAID for a grant for a food security program. Well, first of all, that is hardly enough time to learn anything of that scope. They asked us where we thought the greatest need was, and while we know a bit more than they do because we have been here now for over 3 months, we certainly don’t feel very comfortable guiding them. Never the less, they were willing to accept anything anyone told them including the fact that the young boys who were selling “grasscutter” (nutria) was monkey bush meat! Maybe we should all talk to our congresspersons about how the USA is doling out money. By the way, in today’s paper there was a story about foreign aid. While the US gives out the most money, it is the least per capita compared to other western countries. The Netherlands was numero uno and the UK was 12th. So, friends, we can and should do a lot more.

Finally, we you may know, there is a small Jewish community here in Ghana – some 20 families. The town they live in is called Sefi Wiaso. Sefi, by the way is another local language. The President and Secretary of the community came to Kumasi to meet with us, and we gave them some Judaica that some of you were generous to send to us for them. We agreed to help them market some of the things they make - Challah covers and talit made from Kente cloth. We hope to bring some samples back to show you.

We made it back to Accra after a couple of days in Kumasi with a relatively short 5 ½ hour bus ride.

So, that’s about it for now. We’ll probably write one more time before we depart here on September 4th.

Peace and love to all of you,
Peter and Hinda

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pretty Ghanain girl Posted by Picasa

Bernice's 97 year old father - 9 children, 29 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren Posted by Picasa

"Friends" Posted by Picasa

Head Chief in Aflao Posted by Picasa

Chiefs and Queen Mothers at ceremony in Aflao (notice the shoe) Posted by Picasa