Feb 13, 2007

Coming home was an experience in itself!

The bus ride back was definitely an adventure in itself. Normally to get back to Accra one would go threw Lome. Some other peace core volunteers said they went threw Ho and it doesn't take that much longer and you get to see more of the country side. So my mom and dad and 2 other volunteers decided to come with us and try going a different route. Well a taxi picked us up at the house to take us to a taxi station. At the taxi station we payed for a big bus costing only 2 dollars. They said they were leaving in an hour so we put our bags up and started to wait. One guy would tell us we are only waiting for 2 more people to come before we left. Well after we waited for 2 hours we decided we will pay for the 2 extra seats so we can go. When Dad went to pay they said it was 4 people we were waiting for. We then waited another hour and decided fine we will pay for 4. But by then, the guy said its 5. In the end they needed 8 more people to go! I don't know if they thought we were rich and would pay for them all but we waited it out and only payed for our seats. We waited I think for 4-5 hours just to get the bus going! The actual bus ride was cramped. They fit 5 people in a row of 5 seats that were half the normal seat size. I was pushed up against the window which we needed to leave open so we didn't feel cramped and the air was hot. Someone even sat in the isle so there was no extra room. It seemed about every 10 miles there were guards that checked out the bus. Some of them made us all get off show them some kind of ID and then get back on. We did this a numerous about of times. At first it was annoying but the last couple of times it was nice to stretch out :) The guards think they can do whatever they wanted. Some tried to make us pay and mostly I think wondered why white people are riding a local transit bus. The border actually went smoothly which was nice and we finally rolled into town around 8. We got up at 7am and should have arrive before dark. In the end it was a long day, and I think we all were excited to be in town and off of that bus!

It doesn't really end there though. We had made reservations at the womens my parents know (Chez?) hotel. My dad had confirmed them early that day and told them we would be in around 8-9. When we got there at 8:30 they had given our room away and had a room for us at their other hotel out of town. My dad and i blew up a little bit at the guys and finally gave into the other hotel. When we got into our room they had sprayed for bugs about 5 minutes before and we couldn't breath. All we wanted to do was shower and go to dinner. We tried to wash ourselves with a wet hand towel and we were covered in dirt. Then the place my mom and dad had talked about all day (Italian with a 5 cheese pizza) was closed. We finally ended up at Frankie's and got a pizza and a couple of beers. We went back to the hotel showered and went to bed. It was a long day and we all slept good.

Then we went to the airport. We went 2 hours ahead and as I was getting out of the car they told me to run because i was the last passenger on the plane! It wasn't quite as bad as I thought but i did have to hurry. Uffda! is all I can say about the last day and a half
when I was there.

It was sad saying good bye to my parents and I miss them already.

Feb 7, 2007

Another update on my trip...

Day 7 - In the morning we tried to stay cool as the power has been off
and on again. In the afternoon we went to my parents Market woman's
saving and loans meeting (Kamoura). It was great to see them putting
money into their bank and seeing them interact. They also speak in the
native tongue so it was fun to hear that. In the beginning it sounded
like they relied a lot on my parents and now they run the meetings
almost by themselves! Its great to see them taking action for their
own good. From there we went to the Peace Corps house and meet more
volunteers and cooled off. Some other volunteers had just been to the
market so it was fun to see what they were buying for gifts and food.
We then went to Georgie's ( the Godfather of Atakpame) for a Coke/
beer. My parents seem like they have been able to make a great
impression on people and I believe they are really respected here.
George also set us up with a taxi to use the next day to take us to
the falls.

Day 8 - Before coming to Togo, I tried to find "tourist" things to do
and see. One of the few I found was a waterfall in Badou. The website
described it as a shampoo commercial with cascading falls and
butterflies everywhere! I was sold on the butterfly part so we decided
to hike and see the falls. I didn't know that would mean a 3 hour
cramped taxi ride on a pot hole road with 7 of us in a 5 person car
and a hike that was up steep stairs for an hour each way. I never
thought the trail could get more steep until I turned another corner.
Even at the end the when the rest of us got sodas to relax our driver
had a beer before heading back to town! A Togo beer is about 2+ beers
in the states so needless to say we were all a bit worried. In the end
the waterfalls were amazing and we got back safe and sound in 2 hours
(not like the 3 it took to get there). All in all it was a good time
and we are thankful we went.

For the next 2 days, I'm sorry for the short notes but we have been
out of power for the past 13 hours so we are short on batteries...

Day 9 - I built website for an NGO, Mom and I gave each other
pedicures and we headed to the group house to meet more volunteers.

Day 10 - Today we went to Akpene grandmothers house and was greeted
with all ages of kids wanting pictures taken. From there we again went
to the Peace corps house hoping the power would be on and we could
cool off under a fan. On the way back to my parents I helped pound
fufu, learned how to make Beignets (banana fritter), got a Bubu from
Mama downstairs, packed my parents things for me to take back, looked
at other volunteer pictures from the falls and created 2 more websites
for the AIDS offices here. I am about to teach mom how to make jewelry
with a head lamp on, praying the power will come back on so we can
sleep better and cooler.

Tomorrow we head to Accra as I leave early Tuesday morning and over
all this has been a fantastic trip!! Power is running low, got to
go... love Claire

Feb 1, 2007

Ghana, Benin and Togo! the first 6 days

I have seen and experienced so many things it is hard to write about
the trip so here is a very short overview from day 1...

day 1 - Im finally here and Africa welcomed me greatly to say the least!! I flew into the Ghana airport and not knowing any French smiled at the customs man and he waved me right through. A girl who I sat next to on the airplane had her bags checked and some items taken! My parents should be thankful that my bags weren't opened as one was all for them with US food, etc. From the airport we went to the hotel to drop off bags and then headed to the center of town. We ate at Frankies which had hamburgers, pizza, etc as my parents said it was a good way to slowly be introduced to Africa. From there we did some shopping and then went to Savannas hotel right on the beach out of town a ways. The owner Beth is from the US and is opened up an Inn in Ghana. It was a cute place but the mosquitoes got the best of me.

day 2 - We woke up early to see fisherman bringing in boats by hand. It was great to see as the rest of the family had said such great things about watching and some participating in pulling the boats in. From there we went to the Ghana border to meet a Peace Corps driver who took us to Grand Popo, Benin. Entering and leaving African countries is quite an experience in itself. Lots of people hustling around, some selling things on carrying on their heads, some grabbin at you trying to get you in their taxi and some looking at us weirdly and the rest I who knows if they were crossing borders or what. Grand Popo is an old French military base on the beach with a refreshing swimming pool and a relaxing restaurant.

day 3 - We found a ride to take us to Ganvie (a village on stilts). One of the few tourist attractions in this region. We had to take a boat to get there and on the way saw many women and children paddling their boats with items to sell. Each family has 3 boats - 1 for fishing, 1 for the children to get to school and 1 from getting around. We had a motorized boat which many locals looked down upon it
seemed. We were told the locals didn't like it becoming a tourist thing to do. So we respectfully took pictures and didn't say much when the kids begged for money. On the way home the taxi took us to Ouidah. There we drove down the last couple of miles of an old slave route which at the end had a big monument (the point of no return) on the beach. It was the last spot the slaves passed through before loading on a boat to other countries.It is also the heart of Voodou center. From there we went to the Temple of Pythons. They do religious sacrifices and worship the 40 pythons living inside. They took us inside the room which the pythons live and to say the least it was creepy. We were inside a small space with most of the snakes sleeping but my eyes followed every snake that moved and I am happy to get out of there. That night we stayed at the Grand Popo hotel again.

day 4 - We woke up and headed straight back to Togo. We stayed at the nicest hotel in Lome and it had great air conditioning and a great Olympic sized pool. This was my parents 30 wedding anniversary so we spent half the day by the pool and the other shopping in the big market there. We (or Mom and I) had fun bargaining on "rip off row" buying all sorts of fun souvenirs. Since I don't know any french it was fun seeing Mom and Dad in action. I also spent most of the evening and night on their fancy toliet trying to enjoy the joys of international travels. It only lasted a short time and knock on wood I wont get sick again.

day 5 - Mom and Dad had a great/huge breakfast at the hotel while I was still recovering. We did a little more shopping at Jackies and then we bargained for a taxi to take us to my parents house in Atakame at the local taxi gathering. It only took 2 hours which is about an hour faster then ever before. Once we got to my parents house the neighborhood kids came out and carried my luggage on their heads. I feel pretty weak when I see a 6 year old carrying my 60 pound bag on his head up a steep hill. They were more then happy to do this and fought over my bags. Once we were here Mama and Papa came and introduced themselves. (they are the land owners where my parents are staying). Mom and Dad opened all their anniversary cards and decorated the table. A few Lundring tears where shed but all in all it was great to see their excitement and fun reading the cards. (thanks for sending them!)

day 6 - I woke up to the roosters crowing early and headed for a walk around town. We pasted a few schools already in session and many women with their goods for sell. It was a great walk being able to see what my parents have talked about and meet the locals they know who have built them furniture, sold them fabric, etc. The windy season is now over and the weather has become hotter. Many other volunteers stopped by the house to visit and catch up on work. It is great to put names to faces. I also got my first french lesson! Learning another language was never my specialty but it was fun meeting Innocent (their teacher) and learning the basic greetings. Mom and I later today headed into town for some fabric and and for me to see the market and town. On the way back a soccer game had just gotten out so it kinda felt like we were fish headed up stream. Tonight we looked at my parents pictures from their trips and just trying to keep cool.

Overall the food isn't as bad as I expected, the people are great, the kids are very cute and it is great to be with my parents. Sorry this isn't as short as I meant it to be, but even this doesn't come close to all that we or I have experience so far on this trip and its only half over!

Until later...
Love you all, Claire