Friday, April 2, 2010

PART ONE: Procrastination, Waterfalls, Togo

The past few months have fed my soul. Truly. There are too many things that I should have written here and have skillfully neglected, culminating into a mass of experiences inside me shared with no one. It is unfortunate and frustrating that I’ve allowed this to happen, since my intent for keeping this blog was not only to be a record in case of eventual amnesia (a brain lover’s quiet fear), but also an attempt to avoid one of the major frustrations I felt coming home from other travels: an inability to express. Questions of “Oh my God! How was (fill in the blank)” left me with an ever increasing feeling of injustice. An injustice to the person I was talking to, attempting to squeeze a monumental amount of things into the simple phrases of passing etiquette, as well as an injustice to the complexity of the events themselves.

So alas, I fail. But in the case of any split second stumble, a person can recognize their destined fall, stare at it intently, and commit to it. By acceptance of a preordained demise, falling with a bit of grace might even have a chance. This is what I hope to do in this blog, knowing right now that details (far too many details) will be lost and my dear old friend injustice will make his reoccurring visit.

To start I will copy and paste the beginning of a blog written 5 weeks ago that has been resting, frustrated at the composer, on my desktop. It goes as so:

“I am currently sitting in my room (with power! Alas! The beauties of fully functioning fans and lights!) after eating fufu (pounded plantains and yams) and spicy groundnut soup (liquefied, spicy peanut butter). We got back from Togo, the post-colonial French country directly east of Ghana, last night after one of the most fascinating trips of my life- black magic, dictatorships, and ancestral, speaking cowry shells. But before I delve into that I feel like I should cover a bit of what has been happening since I last wrote. *le sigh*

The weekend before last I went to the Volta region, which is an area due north of Accra and home of the world’s largest manmade lake, monkey sanctuaries, giant waterfalls, and traditional beading villages. We stayed in a small encampment in a village near the dam, which included private stilt houses, a kitten, and a rather aggressive monkey tied to the tree directly out my door (It was always an adventure bringing in the day with a stare off with a rabid primate). Haha. But nevertheless, it was beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed.”

The two events mentioned are referencing a hiking trip through the waterfall region of Ghana and my first journey to a different West African country. The trip to the waterfall region was incredible, dusty dirt roads out of some kind of Indian Jones movie through verdant hills blanketed in mossy greens, and spears of water dropping from vertical height A to less vertical height B. It was intrepid, yet elegant. The trip to Togo was during their elections, an event that has not happened for roughly 30 years, in an attempt to over throw the dynasty of a deceased dictator and his first of kin carrying on his legacy of corruption. Attempting to go anywhere in Togo was a bit hectic, streets packed with yellow shirted men, machetes, parts of palm trees, and constant drum playing. As we were crossing back through the boarded, our car got mobbed, being pushed from all side with protesters and the politically impassioned.

Interestingly enough, however, the first hand witness of raw governmental unrest was nothing in terms of shock value when compared to the voodoo priest village. After getting a tour of the very obvious illegalities of elephant heads, porcupine quills, gorilla feet, poisonous snakes, various strings of back bones, leopard skins, dehydrated monkey heads and the likes, we were summoned to the inner chamber of the complex, where the voodoo priest sat. Inside was a small muddy mound protruding from the ground painted with a face, which symbolized the god of the village. After asking for all of our names and blessing the occasion, the priest distributed a series of small objects, while ringing a bell. All of the objects symbolized different aspects of life and had powers over them. After the blessings of the objects, we were asked to put them into a hollowed out turtle shell and follow the priest into the next room for private consultation. I was the first to go. He asked me to squat with him on the floor to ask the gods the price I had to pay for the blessed objects (tactful con work if you ask me). He threw a series of cowry shells into the dust in front of us three times and read the way they fell in order to determine my price. And of course, being a white woman the Gods (or his conscious/unconscious psyche) asked for a sum beyond belief. So, as a response, I asked to barter with the gods. After throwing the shells and persuading the gods to lower the price we came to an agreement and I took my items thinking I was done with my voodoo experience for the day. But as is the case with most things in Ghana, or so it seems, things are never how you think they will be. As I climbed into the car to leave, I felt a firm grip take a hold of my arm, preventing me from shutting the door behind me. It was one of the workers for the priest. Turning around surprised, I was informed that the priest urgently needed to see me. After arguing with my program director for a few minutes about whether or not she would permit me to go, I was taken from the car, led back to the room with the mud god, and sat in silence with the priest. Eventually he took out a small red trinket from a satchel and told me he had a very important vision about me. The trinket symbolized love, and was one of the ones we could have purchased during the blessing ceremony. I had purposefully decided not to mesh magic with love, so I had not bought it. But he insisted on giving it to me for free, and told me to pour 3 drops of perfume on the wood, rub it with my right hand and say my name and the name of another 7 times. After ensuring I knew what to do, he took the object and held it even with his eyes and said: this is very important in your life. I was then asked to leave the room and make my way back to the car.

I am not sure what to think about that experience, and have since tucked away the object into my suitcase under my bed.

PART TWO: Mole, Hip Hop, and Fashion

Hurling ourselves towards the Burkina Faso boarder with nothing but flakey plans and a serious amount of belly laughter my friends Elsa, Arsalan and I began a trip to the most famous game reserve in West Africa, Mole. Ironically, we didn’t even see a single elephant, yet the trip was one of the most fulfilling of my life. This is where the mentioned injustice gets a bit sticky. I feel like the more important an experience is to me, the less likely I am to even write about it. Sometimes verbiage is unsatisfactory. This is a case of that. But basically, after a 13 hour bus ride, getting haggled by a Ghanaian mob, hiring a tro tro for a 4 our drive down the most washboarded roads known to mankind, getting caked with at least ½ an inch of electric red dirt, and being dumped off at the cross roads of a random village, we found ourselves in Larabanga. Larabanga, an unsuspecting locale, went from being a one nights whim, to a temporary home. Instead of continuing on to Burkina Faso or the hippo sanctuary as we had planned, we were adopted by the village. Pounding fufu in the mornings, learning how to ride motorcycles in the evening, sleeping on hay stuffed mattress pads on the top of mud huts under Orion, dancing with a plethora of village children, attending wedding processions, getting involved in the local healthcare system, sneaking into the oldest West African mosque, and observing how local shea butter was made were only a few of the happenings in this 100% Muslim village. Our trip to Mole was an inconceivable adventure. Although not dramatic in words, it was the details of the experience that defined it. Sleeping on handmade mats, skin drenched in sweat and freckled with hungry flies, learning about the traditional chief system in the sand drawn with sticks, and waking to the call of prayer as dawn drew near. There are stories to be told about this one. Unfortunately not here. :)

Okay….so sometimes I feel like the randomosity of life is overpowering, and the last two weeks have been exemplary of just that. Not only were me and my friend Elsa involved in the making of a famous hip hop rapper’s music video on a boat, but we were selected to be runway models for a national fashion show promoting sustainable agriculture. The music video was for a rapper named Guru, who Elsa knew indirectly through a friend in one of her acting classes. We were picked up in the morning in an air conditioned car (yes that is a big deal), music blaring, taken to the mall and told to buy whatever we wanted. Clothes, food, whatever. SO of course, Elsa and I eagerly made our way to the vegetable isle, where rows of imported spinach lined the wall carrying hefty prices of $10, right next to the peaches for $23. Fresh produce, a rarity, in hand, we made our way to the red wine, ice cream and the likes. When we got to the beach house where the music video was being filmed, the first thing we did was meet a crew of hip hop participants and board a massive yacht called “The Hooker” to drink Baileys with the director. It was absurd. I found myself in heaven at the discovery of a pet dog (also a rarity in Ghana) and a small plastic fishing boat the house keeper allowed me to paddle around near the yacht.

As far as the fashion show, Elsa and I were seen from afar by a woman who works for a major PR company in Accra at a dress rehearsal for a play our friend Daniel was in. The next day we found ourselves in a car on our way to meet with the top model, Miss Universe, Pearl Amoah to be fitted for clothes. After trying on a slew of produce themed outfits, it was determined I would be the flower girl and Elsa the fish woman. Haha. The next day we were picked up, chugged through hair and make up, and dolled up into the most ridiculous costumes imaginable. I, the proud owner of a Big Bird-esque yellow flower hat and a cake layer dress, found myself standing in line to walk down the catwalk with a slew of professional models in a state of existential hilarity. I knew nothing about modeling, nothing about how to walk on a runway, and had never experienced anything quite like it before. But I found myself wadding down the catwalk in, negotiating the bevy of frills and fake wings, rabbits and seeds, feeling ecstatic. Not only was the experience hilarious and fascinating, but also was an easy way to make $100 (in form of a gift, of course, dear dear Visa man).


I am ending now, head hung low in the knowledge of all I left out. Cooking lessons, socialist rallys, kente cloth villages, marriage proposals, making ink from harvested bark, Tuesday philosophy groups, and a slew of travels. But alas, I must go pack my bags for a trip to a small village for an Easter festival and a hiking trip to the tallest point in West Africa. But I love you dearly, and love you even dearer if you had the tenacity to chew through my sludge of unsatisfactory narration.

I will be home in less than 1 ½ months. It is hard to fathom how tricky time can be. You think you have all of it in the world, and then, suddenly in the bat of an eye, it is breathing down your back. Both beautiful and devastating, I await my homecoming.

Sincerely, with love.