Sunday, April 30, 2006

clap for jesus.

this is my list of things that I've learned to stop thinking twice about seeing and/or hearing, and in fact, will probably have to readjust to not seeing on the daily:

now, i dont know anything about the statistics, but it seems like "most" people, especially outside of the "university class" have some form of scarification- a small line on one your right cheek if you are Ashanti, lines going diagonally down both cheeks if you are from (somewhere) in the north, little crows feet from the corners of your eyes if you are the next child to be born after one dies (meaning, "may this one remain for me" supposivly if that child then dies, the next that will come will have the same marks already on them, and will have the same soul.) all this information comes to me second hand from someone in my group who researched it, and may not be 100% accurate due to faulty memory, but its interesting... sometimes if babies keep dying within the first week (in ashanti they arnt considered human until they are 8 days old) then they are considered visitors who only come to worry the mother, and after the third time she will put a large scar on the face of the dead baby so the spirit world will reject them and next time, the baby will come back with the same mark and be forced to stay because it has no where else to go.

actually, not so much witchcraft as warnings against witchcraft. most recently, a haggardly desperate Finnish woman we met at Kokrobite Beach with skinny little blond pig-braids and a rasta boyfriend took us aside and choked out some story about how all the witches on the beach are jealous that her rastaman got a white girl and we shouldn't greet any of them because they will curse us like theyve been trying to curse her ever since she moved into his shanty.
"but crazy Finnish woman, we dont have dashingly handsome Rasta boyfriends like you ("yet!" one of us jokes, but only the rasta boyfriend laughed), why would they want to curse us?"
"because they are witches. and if they smile at you its worse."
we never really found out how she could tell which ones were witches "you just know" she said.
It is a serious thing here. Theres this town in the north thats pretty much a refugee camp for women who have been exiled from their villages for being guilty of witchcraft. And Ive met a lot of people (christians mostly) who attribute the deaths of their loved ones or the salvation of other people to witchcraft.
"interesting" is all i ever know to say. because it really is.

charismatic christians
that its late at night and you and some friends are taking a stroll around campus when, as you pass the feild, out of the darkness you hear the faint sound of a voice, throaty, and strained, babbling with incredible speed something that no one can understand. then you realize its more like 15 or 20 voices, in utter silence except for each of their voices unto themselves, possesed by the holy spirit, speaking in a tounge, lifted up to God, i guess. but from the outside it sounds like a staticy television. or Children of the Corn. and it really takes getting used to to not be utterly creeped out by an akwardly spaced scattering of ranting sillouettes in a feild in the dark. and sometimes you see one of them by themselves, posessed, singing, praying, or speaking in tougnes. eyes closed, hands up, loud and totally un-self-conscious. these are normal people. Last time i was in Accra, 3 of us took a walk around campus around 10 pm and passed two heards of charasmatics and one solo act and didnt ever look up or break our conversation. its that common. you could/will be sitting in class next to these people the next morning.

possession in general: lets just say it happens a lot. At least more then im used to. Possession seems to be a staple of both traditional religion and the most popular brands of christianity here. I would venture to say i see someone get possessed by something at least once or twice a week. yup.

polygamy: Its fading a bit now because of Christianity but it is still pretty common to be talking to a woman and hear her make a snide comment about "the hot headed third wife." A lot of my generation's parents are polygamous, and even more of their grandparents are. It is considered a sign of prosperity, and was actually a pretty logical way of doing things in the old days, so it seems. I have received a few earnest marraige proposals from men whom i could rebuke with a firm "I will be no one's second wife, thank you!"

Not like full on nudity, Ghanaians are actually usually quite modest, but there are often stark naked children running down city streets, women have no qualms with breast feeding in public, anywhere, and in more rural settings, women are often topless. also, its totally common to see people, men and women, hiking up their skirts and peeing on the side of the road. well... when there arnt substantial pubilc facilities, what would YOU do?

Maybe i could call it animal cruelty?:
chickens piled in bowls carried on heads,
grasscutters held up for sale by their tales, goats on roofracks, monkeys tied to window sills, animals are tools for survival and are treated as such, with the exception, in some classes, with domesticated dogs or cats, although maame just told me a funny story about her dads nightwatchman eating their family dog after it got sick and died.

trash fires: The first time i saw this I got really scared: I was being driven from Accra to my host family's home in Nsawam and the entire side of the road was on fire! i thought a village was burning down, but as the journy continued, fires dotted the hillsides. Thats the way trash tends to be disposed of in Ghana. These days when i see the path in front of me, or the grass forrest outside of my dormetory ablaze on my way to or from class, i just continue on my merry way without giving it a second thought. funny.

funny t shirts: I dont know if its the languadge barrier, the availability/affordibility, or the still prevelant semi-illiteracy that has a hold of many of Ghanas poorer people, but folks end up wearing the craziest t-shirts around town! Manual laborers in t-shirts that say "Navy Mom" "Naughty Girl" "If softball were easy they would let boys play" "Livermore 2004" "life begins at 50"... children wearing shirts that say "Spinal Tap" "its beer O clock!" or other cruder inuendos that i am absolutly positive that even their parents do not understand but if you are me, it makes for a lot of chuckeling to myself as i walk around town.

and there are so so so many others... but i guess ill have to save those for later lists and stories...

maybe i ought to post a list about "normal" things that you dont realize arnt normal at all until you leave america. that'll happen later/never, but its a very long list.

Monday, March 06, 2006

happy birthday ghana

today, 6 march 2006, Ghana turns 49. The celebrations are rampant and primarliy include a lot of singing and chanting and running around, a nice "the history of Ghana" display, a huge colorful and outstandingly orderly parade of "school children and security personels" and a lot of flag waving. Ghana was the first African nation to gain independance from its colonizers, and though they have had their temultuous years and decades since, all things considered, they really have a lot to be proud of.

the cool thing about independance day here is that the freedom fighters who worked for, fought for, earned and built the nation arent some historical figments in powdered wigs, they are the elders sitting next to you at the stadium, watching the parade with a quiet little smile.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

chapter one words

Hey everyone! Long time no hear, eh? Yeah, well, I got home from travelling, got sick, started school, and have since been slowly plinking away on a barrowed laptop, carving out my impressions of the slice of the wild world my lucky feet got to pass over. It has kind of turned into an epic novel, which is to be expected I guess when you travel for a month strait and pretty much do something exciting and new everyday. We covered a lot of ground.

For those who don’t have the stamina to read an epic novel about my crazy winter trek around West Africa (east through Benin and then north as far as the Sahara!), but are still mildly curious about how it all went, I can sum it up by saying it was "incredible, awe-inspiring, educational, and exhausting" and if that cliff-notes version should leave something to be desired, the photos should give you a pretty general idea (although in West Africa the general rule of photography seems to be "the more beautiful or amazing, the less likely you are to be allowed to photograph it" so a lot of the coolest people and places can only be put inadequately into words...)

But for those of you who do have the stamina, below is chapter one (of two). It covers December 22nd 2005 to (roughly) January 6th 2006- or Kumasi, Ghana to Tanguieta, Benin.

Chapter one- Ghana, Togo and Benin

Nothing ever works out the way I plan it. If you would have asked me a month before I left where, when, and with whom I would be traveling I probably would said I would be leaving in the first week of December, traveling over land some completely impossible route to somewhere totally far-fetched and rendezvousing with a lot of other dreamers like myself. After one third of my core travel trio got so sick that she decided to push up her plane ticket home by a month and a half and forget the adventure entirely and the other third realized she wouldn’t be ready to
Go until more like the end of December, and most of my rendezvous appointments had pretty much fallen through the cracks we decided to start back at square
one. The sole remaining travel buddy, Terumi (a wild 28 year old Japanese woman who studies ethnomusicology in Seattle, plays drums in a punk band called Choux
Nei Nei and, honest to god, is not afraid of anything…), and I would simply take things as they came and aim for the Festival-au-Desert in the Sahara north of Timbuktu in mid January, hopefully taking the scenic route.
We departed Kumasi early in the morning on the 22nd of December and headed south for Accra, where we intended to secure a few visas and head east to Togo as soon as
we could. After some failed visits to various embassies and a whole lot of other complications (due largely to the fact that, despite the sunny humidity, the holidays were, in fact, eminent) we decided to stick around for Christmas in Ghana. On the afternoon of the 24th we made the trek to Kokrobite beach to meet up with my roommate, Maame Esi and her family who graciously allowed us to be a part of their family Christmas, which involved sitting around a table outside eating fresh fruit, looking at photographs and noticing the occasional firework explode somewhere in
the distant sky. On the morning of the 25th Maame’s mom, Stella, surprised Terumi and I with some of her traditional African dresses to wear to church that morning (“not to be returned!” she insisted) and whisked us away to the largest most vigorous Christmas church service I have ever before encountered. After that we became the guests of Dr. Irene Odotei, whom is the main liaison for all UC-EAP Ghana students at the University of Ghana. She hosted a large and generous Christmas feast for all of her friends and family and fed us lavishly. We spent the evening again being fed
lavishly by the “adopted Ghanaian family” of my good friend Rosa, who is Cameroonian but schools at UG in Accra. We ate and slept at her house very merrily and full of good cheer. Our plans to leave that next morning but things were again derailed, this time by a bad case of food poisoning on the part of Terumi and then by other complications. Three days later, we were ready to go.

We boarded a dawn bus to the Ghana-Togo boarder town of Aflao from Accra, with everything we would own for the next month on our backs and crossed the Togolese border and entered the city of Lome by foot. We decided, over a nice French breakfast of cheese and mustard on baguettes, that due to our late departure, we would pretty much skip the sight seeing around Lome (which I had already done) and head strait for Benin. Once finished, we got to the main road and stuck our thumbs out. two guys on motorbikes of some variety pulled up on the street; one was a jolly old man, the other was a young gun, maybe 22. After convincing ourselves, we somehow convinced them (in broken French) that they actually really did want to drive us across the entire nation of Togo (albeit, a very small country) on their bikes that afternoon for the equivalent of a few US dollars. After a few minutes of haggling we climbed on to their bikes with all our gear on our backs and took off.
As we zoomed down the freeway, high-rises turned into mud huts, and city turned into jungle which turned into fields of banana trees and then low cut grass. after about on hour or so the dark grey ocean that had been peaking through leaves to my right for the majority of the voyage turned into mesmerizing light neon bluish green shallow water over white sand (yeah like the pictures you see on postcards from some tropical paradise that doesn’t exist.) The fractions of hesitancy that had been in me about the recklessness of choosing motorcycle over bus completely disappeared. and me and my jolly old Togolese driver bonded and he ended playing tour guide as well as driver, pointing out sacred spots, telling me what plants were what and which villages belonged to whom and even teaching me a few words in his native language, and we really saw and felt the country so much more intimately then any car or bus or train ever could have allowed in just a few hours.

Once we’d arrived at the border town of Hilla-Condji, we found out that the Republic of Benin only issues 48 hour visas at the border and if we’d like to extend we have to bend over backwards bureaucratically at the immigration office in Cotonou which meant dismantling our plans to gun strait for Porto Novo that evening and settling for one night in the giant smoggy city in between. First order of business, after crossing the border though, was a cold drink. We stumbled into the first little dive we could find, windblown and chapped lipped and sat down, both admitting that we could still feel the engines of the motos reverberating in our joints. “Yeah, and I can still smell engine exhaust reverberating in my nostrils too.”
By the time we’d been served our refreshment we’d made our first friend east of the Beninois border. His name was George, pronounced “jourj-jeh” in his charming franco-african accent. He welcomed us to his country by kindly showing us the best place to pick up a bush taxi whispering the right price to pay to get to Cotonou, much to the dismay of the driver who wanted to charge us double. He gave jourj-jeh an icy glare when we countered his white girl price with the right price, which was still kind of a lot in comparison to cheap-as-can-be-Ghana.
A quick note on transportation in Francophone West Africa:

1. Bush Taxi: It is like hitchhiking, minus most of the danger, some of the mystery and all of the romance—average 9-12 passengers (oh, but sometimes more if you count babies!) in a 5 seat sedan, toss a few hog-tied goats in the trunk and strap some live squawking chickens on top of the overturned motorbike on the already over packed roof rack and you’ve got yourself a bush-taxi. Between most major point A’s and B’s if you walk along the main road and stick out your arm a clunky old mobile packed with people will pull over and rearrange to make room for you and your bags. Soon enough you’ll be speeding down unsealed roads of Burkina Faso or Benin or Mali or wherever, slapping your palm to your forehead at the sight of yet another mother and her 4+ kids standing on the side of the road with her arm out. If only my French were sophisticated enough to manage a please stop pulling over and letting people get in, Mr. driver, sir, the car is already so crowded that you, the driver are SITTING ON SOMEONES LAP. And count on the car breaking down at least eight times between departures at destination. That’s option one.
Option two the zimidjen/moterbike option, and while that’s the overwhelming favourite for around-town ventures its substantially more expensive for long distances then option one, and is most common in Togo and Benin but get increasingly less viable north of Natitangou.
Option three is bus or minibus. Buses are nice but surprisingly scarce in the French-speaking countries. And mini buses are pretty much just big bush-taxis. Rusted out shells of vehicles, often with cracked windshields or wood planks instead of windows, and crowded as can be (people riding on the roof rack ladder on the back of the van! People riding on the roof! People using the windows as seats, with their feet in the vehicles and their faces in the wind!) and the rule of departure for minibuses is “it leaves when its full” which makes it about the least reliable option in terms of timeliness, especially if you’re taking a less travelled route, like Tanguieta, Benin to Fada N’Gourma, Burkina Faso like we tried to do. I’ve heard horror stories of waiting to depart in a half full mini-bus for upwards of 10 hours and then being told to go home and come back tomorrow at 5am, as if it would be any fuller then! We certainly ended up with a few horror stories of our own.

So we got to Cotonou too late to drop by immigration and spent the evening exploring the giant urban mess by moto and on foot. There were cows lumbering down the road and motorcycles scooting down the sidewalk. The streets were packed, absolutely packed, with vendors selling everything from fresh tomatoes to severed monkey tails, and the roads were so packed with motos that and you would sometimes brush pant legs with other passengers on other motos while turning around a roundabout. There would be kids on the laps of the drivers, and sometimes two more children (or goats) squeezed between driver and mom, a little baby tied to her back, and maybe a table, or a bowl of live chickens on her head, held secure with her free hand. All drivers and most passengers either had styrofome surgeon’s masks, antique gas masks or dirty bandanas tied around their face like cowboys to protect against the spewing exhaust from the pipes of the heard of motos in front of them. Drivers would make u-turns by driving up and over the cobblestone medians and then diving strait into the rapid flow going the opposite way. But despite the madness, crowdedness, recklessness and speed of a Cotonou mototaxi, I always felt safer clinging to the back of one of those things then trying to grow eyes in the back of my head to avoid getting mauled by one on the sidewalk. No one stops for pedestrians. No one. A few times I felt tires screech to a stop at the back or side of my calf, and as I whipped around my horrified face was met with once of sheer annoyance. “This is the sidewalk!!!” I would scream, but of course, not in French, so it was futile. It probably would have been anyway. The chorus of car horns and sputtering engines and women screaming “prudence!!” as they slap the nose of a mototaxi driver who just knocked over some crate of smoked fish or wax prints as people and vehicles and animals move in every direction all at once, bumping shoulders and trying to side-step the mysterious puddles of stinking murky black water with an order and decorum only possibly comprehensible to a bird in the sky looking down, that is, if it can see through the smog, was, in every way, overwhelming. I don’t think I ever took the flinch off my face or my hands away the opening to my purse, which was good because I defiantly felt a few quick grabs at my pockets, for the entire evening.
We found a hotel. It was like this: a second story cube made of teal stucco with a bright red oil company’s flag hung crooked over the barred window and a checkerboard tile floor with a single twin bed shoved into one corner and a baby lizard on the wall. The light and noise from the street came in soft through the makeshift gasoline curtain and we slept well. The next morning we were the first in line at immigration. We were anxious to get to the capital city of Porto Novo, which was rumoured to be a lot more charming and a lot lower key then Cotonou. I’m pretty sure anywhere on earth could be considered more charming and lower key then Cotonou, at least then its central market near closing time. We only had a few days to fool around in the south of Benin, and there were a lot of things to see, and Cotonou no longer made my short list. When they told us that our passports needed to picked up again at five that evening, I began to see our grand plans deteriorate. We had two options: either waste the day tooling around Cotonou, dodging wild moto drivers and waiting for five to roll around (it was only 8am then) with all of our somewhat heavy earthly possessions strapped to our backs (because wed have to check out of our teal stucco box by 11) OR we could just jet to Porto Novo, which was supposed to only be about an hours drive away, come back in the evening, get our passports, and then go on back for the night and the next morning. If we didn’t do that, we rationed, wed either have to cut Porto Novo or Ouidah out of our itinerary. So we did what any crazy fools with obvious short term memory loss would do (because NOTHNG is ever that easy in Africa) and tried to catch the next bush taxi east to Porto Novo, which is just a stones throw from the Nigerian boarder. We sat down in the first car that said it was headed that direction next to a shy but friendly girl named Felicia. The driver sat down and started the engine, then turned to us and said “5 thousand CFA each” Felicia shoot strait up and slapped the man’s arm and started yelling at him in mile-a-minute French, opened the door, grabbed our arms and pulled us out. Exasperated, she sighed “Oh it’s not good, everyone knows the price is 3 thousand. He changed it to you because you are not from here, he is a bad man, lets go.” And she took our hands and led us to the next taxi and demanded that he charge us the right price. Felicia. She was a market girl who sold biscuits at a stand in Porto Novo, and once we made it there, she shyly and graciously asked if we would like to stay in her room in her family’s compound for the night free of charge. “You can at least come look at my house and decide if it is OK for you and if you want something nicer, it’s ok, I won’t mind.” She lived in a small cinderblock shack in a dusty little neighbourhood near her biscuit stand downtown. The room was tiny and packed with clutter, and her bed was a big foam mattress on the floor. She immediately dropped to her knees and began cleaning and making the bed “See? We can all sleep here! Is it ok for you? It’s nice!” We dropped our bags there, thanking her profusely as we walked to the exit and she locked the door behind her and offered us her key, in case, she said, we were worried that she was trying to rob us. We were too dumbfounded by her absolute generosity to even think of accepting it. Afterwards she led us to the Musee Du Silva, which is dedicated to Afro-Brazilian culture in Benin. Apparently, a lot of former slaves in Brazil and Haiti were originally from Benin (which accounts for the still-popular practice of Voodoo and Beninois music and dance in those places) and many have since returned to Benin, particularly to Porto Novo, bringing with them traditions like carnival and aspects of traditional Brazilian music, dance, and dress. Our guide was a stunningly beautiful daughter of a Benin-Brazilian returnee who quietly sang Afro-Brazilian spirituals to us in a deep and soft husky voice.
We ate lunch at a little bamboo stand that was owned by a friend of Felicia’s named Crystelle, who cooked Beninois spicy spaghetti with her little baby boy tied to her back, whom I amused myself by making faces at. Before we finished she invited us to dine with her and her husband at their house that night. We explained that we had to return to Cotonou that evening to retrieve our visas and probably wouldn’t be back until probably seven or so. She said that that was fine; we could arrange to eat at eight, at her house to enjoy a traditional Beninois meal on her. Awesome. It was mid afternoon by that time, so we caught one more museum that had spectacular Yoruba artwork (things I’ve written essays about after reading about them in textbooks!) and caught the next bush taxi back to Cotonou. We made it there with an hour to kill before our visas were ready, so we sat outside and had a drink and let street hawkers, carrying their goods on their heads, bring their merchandise to us. Terumi bought some bootleg CDs and I got a belt with a big metal buckle embossed with the image of a man and a woman speeding down the road on a motorcycle. Fitting, I thought. Then we hopped on some bikes, got our passports from immigration at 4:45pm and went back to find a bush taxi, with 3 hours to get back to Porto Novo, which should be 2 hours more then we would need….
The only bush taxi we could find already was packed to the brim with humanity and the driver gave us a reluctant look that said “There really isn’t room but we’ll try.” When the driver of a bush taxi is sceptical, we look for other options. As he was piling babies into the space between a mans knees and the back of the front seat and pleading with a big woman to all the sudden get slim we shook our heads ‘no’ and did an about-face. Option B was a pick-up truck rigged with a steal cage draped with army green canvas, which turned the bed of the truck into a sort of covered wagon-esque cart you could imagine hauling amo or refugees through a war-zone, or maybe small livestock through the countryside. There were haystacks lining the bed for seats and between 18 and 20 people and at least one goat, and some cargo already crammed in the thing but they scooched enough room on the haystacks for us and we climbed in. It was already night and the only light in the dark and crowded truck-bed was that from the headlights of traffic behind us. I befriended the woman next to me, who was from Nigeria, and by halfway through the trip I had one of her babies on my lap, another asleep on my shoulder and another with his head and arms sprawled across my knees, trying to sleep but too constantly disturbed by a bad sounding cough. I tried not to breath in his direction. She would look over at me through the dark, while breastfeeding her fourth one, and tell me about her husband, who was Beninois, and her market stall that sold hats that she was sure I would want to buy if I only saw them, and how I’m the first white person her little babies have ever touched and did I mind? No. I didn’t. After all, besides the nasty cough, and the intermittent crying of the one squished between her and I who was sleeping/weeping on my shoulder, they were absolutely darling.
So the chuck-wagon chugged along and we were making pretty good time, but it kept stopping for gas, (Gas stations, mind you, are tables with wine bottles full of gasoline and a grinning little boy holding funnels…) and for some reason took a detour and came back into town via completely different route then the way we had come in and gone out the last times, and by this time, it was pitch dark. Then the truck kept stopping for no apparent reason. Ten minutes, a half an hour, and Terumi and I started to furrow our brows a bit. We told the Nigerian woman where we were trying to go, and she and the few others that spoke English told us to hold tight. As the city passed us by and we started getting to the outskirts on the other end, we hopped out to ask the driver where we were while we were stopped again, for now apparent reason. He told us he’d never heard of the place, but it was probably back there a ways. He pointed vaguely to the city lights behind us. Ooookay. The Nigerian woman told us to hang tight and just get off where she got off and she would help us find our friends, or at least a phone. 45 minutes later we alighted in a dark little suburb. It was ten till eight. 45 minutes later, after dialling and re-dialling both Crystelle and Felicia’s numerous numbers we were told that “actually all lines with that phone service in all of southern Benin stopped working this evening. Don’t worry, it happens all the time.”
Defeated, we excused our exasperated guide and her pooped-out kids. She left us with this warning: “And don’t ever try getting a moto here after dark. You could stand on the street and wait and wait until someone gets bored of watching you stand like that with your arm out and comes to rob you.” A half an hour later it was getting on ten. Terumi suggested we just forget about it and find a hotel and pray to the gods of Beninois generosity for forgiveness, until I reminded her that the gods of Beninois generosity had the collateral of our entire month’s supply of clothing and food and basically everything we’d brought with us besides our purses. Things were getting desperate. A dark suburb with a forecast of no taxis or telephone service, and even if we did take our chances on finding Felicia in the morning to get our stuff, there was no hotel in sight. We joked nervously about what a good story sleeping in a telecom center in the middle of no where would be, but we didn’t really laugh. An older man who had been sitting at the table next to ours looked at us sympathetically and shrugged. He held out his hand and offered in extremely broken English, that he would try the number on his cell phone if we wanted. Sure. Good luck. We went on constructing impossible plan b’s and c’s and d’s while he fiddled with his phone, and right as the telecom center operator came outside to tell us he was closing up shop and we prepared to give him our well-rehearsed “please can you direct us to the nearest hotel/can we sleep here?” speech we heard a loud “ EHHHHN! C’est Felicia?” and then a shouting match ensued for several minutes. He hung up and smiled. “I know dee place ooh, I goneh get le wife and wo go eh?” he said something in quick French to a friend who went disappeared behind a chop bar. “wait small.” So we tried talking; exchanging names and whatnot in a strange Anglo-French and when I enquired about his career he mentioned something about teaching and Cuba.
“Oh! Hablas espanol?” I asked.
He lit up. “Si! Si! Por supuesto! Y tu tambien hablas espanol?”

Communication barrier solved. From there we learned that he, Simon, had asked his friend to go get his beautiful and kind wife from out of her restaurant so that they could chauffer us back to Felicia’s cracker stand in a mini cavalcade of dumbfounding generosity. It was a 20 minute drive, we rattled on in Spanish for much of the way and he refused any form of payment besides the exchange of email addresses, and then zoomed off into the night.
Felicia and the man shouted a bit more in French and she gazed at us weakly. She looked to us like she’d sprouted a few grey hairs over our disappearance. We apologized profusely and she smiled and grabbed our hands. “No no no, don’t bring it up, sorry, you know its how we is here, but Crystelle-oh, she’s not happy, she spent money-oh.” We grimaced. “Would she still want us to come over? Its ten thirty after all, she’s probably getting ready for bed…..” Felicia insisted that we had no choice but to go, which was fine with us, our stomachs had been rumbling since seven thirty, but we were also near limp with exhaustion.
She pulled us by the arms “First we call.” After another half an hour walking around the dark streets of downtown Porto Novo looking for a phone, and then trying to get the phone to work, we told Felicia that at least now she knew why it was so impossible to contact her. She laughed and finally her call went through. When she finished she looked at us “Oh no, she is not happy-oh, we must go.”
Now, Felicia could catch motos in the middle of the night because she didn’t bother putting her hand out, she just put her fingers to the corners of her mouth and let out a piercing whistle. Within 30 seconds a moto would pull up to the curb, shed tell him to get a friend and we were off with no time wasted. So when we pulled up to a dark tin shanty apartment complex in what seemed to be the ghetto of Porto Novo we were a bit confused. Felicia was looking up to the second story window and whistling like she was trying to wake the dead. “…this is Crystelles house?” she shot us a perturbed look “No!” it’s my fathers house.
An old scowling face came to the window and she motioned him down. A skinny sleepy-eyed old man in boxer shorts met us at the sidewalk with a standing floor fan in his hand. Felicia began to disassemble it in the street and hand us various parts. No further questions were asked. This girl had our dinner, shelter, and most of our possessions in her keeping, and we had kept her waiting a pretty long time. We would go and do pretty much wherever she wanted. A few more unexplained stops were made and finally we found ourselves on the back of motos moving fast on a long stretch of city street, back tracking some of our 20 minute drive through the city and then forking off, crossing a bridge, driving through a patch of forest and then onto a thin path walled in on either side by grass taller then we were: Past midnight on the back of a motorcycle driving through the bush in the Republic of Benin with a disassembled fan parts under my arms…How do I get myself into these scenarios? Crystelle greeted us with a cheer and a hug. She wouldn’t hear of listening to our excuses, “you are too hungry for that, aren’t you”?
But that didn’t mean we first weren’t going to watch her 20 minute slideshow of baby pictures of their little boy! I tried not to laugh out loud at Terumi's heavy eyelids and falling chin.
Dinner, or early breakfast, as it was well past one am, was an incredible meal of pounded cassava, beautifully cooked spicey bell peppers and gigantic whole fish. One for each of us, eyeballs and everything. I could understand why she would be upset if we missed this. The fish were expensive and shed clearly exerted admirable amounts of energy pounding the cassava and grilling the fish and cooking the vegetables. She topped off the evening with fruit sodas and her dashing husband volunteered to chaffer us back to the main roads on his fancy new moped, but he could only take two at a time, which meant Terumi and Felicia went first and I stayed behind with Crystelle until he came back. In the interim, Crystelle took me into the baby’s room to have a look at him while he slept, since I had cooed over him so shamelessly at the restaurant that afternoon. Her English wasn’t good but after she led me back to the couch she had made it clear that she intended for me to take the little guy home with me.
“What? But he’s your son! Your only child! And even if I wanted a baby, which I don’t, I’m a student; I don’t even have a job or permanent housing…”
“But then your mother will take him…”
“Oh no no NO she won’t! And besides! You have a DVD player!! Your husband drives the nicest moped in Porto Novo! You have a big air conditioned house on the scenic side of the outskirts of town!!!”
Her husband came back inside and she shut up quick. We drove me back to the main road in silence. My head was spinning. Id cooed over her baby so shed invited us to dinner? Showed us his adorable baby pictures on their big new fancy color television to a soundtrack of Beninois children’s music that rumbled out of their big silver bass-heavy speakers? Did she really think I’d take him? When he dropped me off I said “Thank you, you have a beautiful family.” He nodded and smiled. His eyes were shining. He knew they were beautiful. I guess in places like this, trying to pawn your beloved first born son off to a United States citizen, even if she is a young, dirty co-op dwelling art major, who cant even do her own laundry right, and besides that, is an absolute stranger, seems like an act of love.
Anyway, at that time of night, finding a moto to take the tree of us from the main road to Felicia’s house was more difficult but it happened and we stumbled up to her home exhausted at an hour nearing three to find that her gate had been locked and for some reason her key wasn’t working. Eventually she hopped the fence, let us in, and we stood outside her door waiting for her sister to wake up and let us into the room which had since been locked from the inside. The bathroom was a hole in the ground decorated with a pretty tiled mosaic made by Felicia herself that was absolutely crawling with cockroaches, as was the rest of her room, which I discovered by feeling one crawl across my foot. The only light was a single green light bulb hanging from the ceiling which gave everything a dim eerie glow, especially the shells of the roaches scattered intermittingly on the wall. She took roach spray and a shoe to all the ones we could spot, then took off her clothes and climbed in bed. We followed suit. We were too tired to care about the bugs, the heat, or the West African gospel music that Felicia decided to fall asleep singing along to. Again, I found myself nodding off saying “3 am in a roach infested cinderblock shack in Benin sharing a mattress on a dirty concrete floor with a Japanese girl and a topless Beninois woman singing the gospel to me in a soft warbling soprano. How do I get myself into these things?” Oh, and the standing floor fan was for the room, so we wouldn’t completely melt in the sweltering heat of left over from the day that stayed between her concrete blocks and mixed with the wetter and more muted heat of the night. Thanks to Felicia’s thoughtfulness and good foresight, as well as her roach spray, we all slept comfortably that night, and woke up refreshed in the late morning, ready to move on to another city. It was New Years Eve.

Ouidah, Benin is the world’s capital of voodoo. We arrived there mid afternoon, checked into, by far, the nicest lodging we’d seen yet, and explored the town by foot. Our first stop was the Temple des Serpaints. It was pretty much a temple with a sacrificial tree, a shrine we werent allowed to set foot into (but we could look in the window.. it was filled with candels, bottels, wax, and the bones of many a sacrificial goat. ) and one round hut filled with snakes. right across the street there was a catholic church with a shrine where the virgin Mary was supposed to have appeared.
We spent the rest of the evening wondering around the village with our ear to the ground for anytihng in the way of new years celebrations, parties or rituals that would be taking place in town, but heard nothing. As it got dark we wandered back to our room ate, and decided to nap until midnight, when we would wake up, pull some party poppers, say "happy new year!" and fall back asleep.
At 11:59 (to be continued)

White flag means voodoo

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Photographic chapter 1- togo and benin

my good friend bernard getting ready for new years in Accra

Terumi, Stella, Myself and Amma (Maame Esi's mother and younger sister) decked out for church on Christmas morning, in front of Stella's childrens school.

at a gas station in Lome, Togo on our way outta town...

arriving safely at the boarder on the other side of the country...

a mosque in downtown Cotounou, Benin out the window of a bushtaxi.

Our guide at the Musee du Silva

father and son at Crystelle's in Porto Novo

Kenneth, Terumi and I on a moto scooting around the Rue de Esclaves in Ouidah Benin.

New years in Ouidah

The Sacred Forrest, Ouidah

This fetish gaurds the Blacksmith village in Abhomey at night.

Orange seller, Abhomey, Benin

Life is like a musical sometimes....

point A -maggie

point B -terumi

(us with a roucous band of trouble making drummers at celebration in Abhomey)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Sky is a Showerhead

Random photos in no particular order: uploading is impossible!!

from a shrine in Ejisu outside kumasi. A preist and priestess possessed by gods.

crazy kids in cape coast!

the cheif of Ejisu shaking hands with the river god that has possessed the priestess. scroll past the next one if youre squeemish. its the bull sacrifice. i was that close.

village cheif in a parade in cape coast being carried in a canoe like thing by some of his people with drums following behind him.

kakum national park rainforrest skywalk.

more parade...
thats the bull in its final moments standing in front of the tree that houses the spirit that protects Cape Coast
this was a fetish preistess in Ejisu outside Kumasi at a sunday ritual. She later bit the head off of a live chicken and sacrificed another one in prayer for our safe travels in Ghana.
Kristina, Cecily, Alex and Angie at the only place in Cape Coast with cappicino.
dancers in the parade.

these were the only pictures from the last 4 months i could get to upload! more soon i hope. basically, ghana is beautiful and kind of crazy.

Friday, December 23, 2005

kind of seems impossible.

dear everyone:
Its been a hard few weeks. A big (ok, probably a main) reason has to do with a friend of mine, Alex (of "wow, this universe is not messing around" blog entry fame), who is critically ill with what started as malaria and is now a life threatening case of pnemonia. He has been successfully air lifted from Ghana to San Francisco, and is now in the intensive care unit at UCSF on life support, hooked up to breathing machines in a drug induced coma of sorts.
his sister is regularly updating a blog reguarding his condition, and is asking for good thoughts and prayers en mass, so i thought I'd pass along the link:

Were all pretty (extremely) worried about him and its made for some tense moments and a bittersweet vibe all around. So, if you pray, please pray, and if you dont, i dont know, sing or jump up and down, or pull weeds or do anything with him in mind.

thanks, maggie

Friday, December 09, 2005

wanna hear a joke?

so, as i was turning in my final print project, my fellow student and professor had this exchange:

girl: all right, see you later, merry christmas!
proffesor: are you sure its merry?
girl: (pause) ok then, jesus or joseph christmas!

oh man. it took me a minute but once i got it, as i was walking away, i laughed and laughed.

ok, how about another one? it goes like this:

Q. what did maggie the would-be holiday traveller get for christmas?

A. ...malaria!

hahah-wait, thats not funny, its true.

but its only 1+ malaria, which is the lowest, least vicious kind of malaria, with 3+ being the highest. usually, when Ghanaians get 1+ malaria they dont even take medicine, they just let it ride.

but the policy for californians, when we get anything that even comes close to rhyming with malaria, to take the most potent and fast acting drug avaliable. and thats what im doing.

i dont even feel that bad. just kind of "strange" if you will. tingley, achy, fevery, and exhasted.

other then that, i finished finals, would venture to say i fared between "pretty good" and "very well" and all if my travle plans are up in the air contigent on
a. health
b. safey
c. travel buddies
d. money

so. in other words, i have no idea whats going on.