Monday, October 31, 2005

Aseda ben.

i like riding the bus in ghana becuase people argue heatedly over seating, tickets, luggage, and space in a cutting combination of twi and english curse words but once the bus starts, someone always stands up and leads a loud, firey safe-trip prayer session that turns into a group sing along of akan gospel songs in multiple harmonies with waving arms and clapping hands, that subsides into silence after about fifteen minutes except for the one lady in the back who keeps singing quietly and to herself, loud enough, barely, for you to hear and doze off to if you want after the driver turns out the lights and all the strangers who had just been arguing lean against eachother for softer sleep and no one makes another sound outside of a quiet murmur until the driver swerves to swiftly or something and everyone stands up and yells "Drivaah! Drivahh! watch yourself!" and other things in twi.

oh, and Happy Halloween and Thank you to Elaine, youre package of candy arrieved perfectly, today. Ive never been more grateful for MnMs.
love, maggie

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"wow, this universe is not messing around"

Man, I always manage to backlog my adventures by a couple of weeks before I ever get around to actually writing them all out. Things have been relatively tame lately in terms of stories to write home about. With school in full swing, I usually opt to sleep and do homework and carve drums on weekend rather then do anything too energy/time/cash consuming like travel. Lets just say I'm saving my energy/time/cash for my winter vacation (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal anyone?) and one or two small trips down to Accra or up to Mole National Park (home to the elephant, the chimpanzee, and the mighty hippo) in between.

But I have had a few visitors...
at the begining of the month, my friend Alex, from UC Santa Cruz who goes to school in Accra came for a visit. On the night he arraived the art department was hosting an event called 'Around the Fireside.'
From the sound of the name, I was picturing Kumbiya around a little campfire or something like that. Much the contrary. We could hear the sound system shaking the ground beneath our feet, and see the glowing tips of the towering bonfire long before we reached the royal parade grounds. On our way, people were running past us, arms out, with painted faces, wrapped in bed sheets, in short short shorts, suspenders, with leaves in their hair and nick ties tied around their heads, screaming. Maybe we were under/over dressed. Before we knew it, alex had lost his shirt and found a kente cloth bow tie, Id tied my bandana around my nose and mouth like a desperado, tied up my hair and put on my sunglasses low on my nose (despite it being the middle of the night) and we were in the center of the wild, busy, crowded caberet-halloween-carnival dance party maddness. There was no decernable theme i could detect in the crazy costumes, besides people dressed as other people: there was the boy dressed in a suit with thick nerd-glasses and powder on his face going around calling himself "white man," then the other boy in a furmpy conservative traditional dress with two pillows stuffed in his bosom and backside with a wooden spoon inhis hand and powder in his hair who called himself "grandmother" the girl with swirls by her eyes and gold on her arms in a green sarong and robe who called herself "queen" the shirtless straw hat wearing man chewing on a peice of hay and refusing to speak anything but twi or pidgin english who was "villager from Tuobodom" and the boy with a pillowcase for a turban, a fake beard and a white powdered face who kept introducing himself as "suicide bomber." wow. Traditional palm wine was being passed around in empty goards, coconut halves and calabashes, and opposite the stage and sound system was bonfire that reached into the sky at least a story or two. I do say, the art department sure seems to know how to get down.
It seems like I always have to wrap up one crazy story by saying "and if that wasnt enough..." but really, as if that wasnt enough crazed excitment mixed with menacing fire hazards for one night, as soon as the clock struck midnight, as Alex and I were all danced out and staggering back to the dorms, the hour marked the beginning of Nigerian Independance day (I live in the international hostel, so a majority of inhabitants are nigerians) Apon arraival backat the dorms, I noticed a firey glowing orange echoing down the halls of the courtyard. "Alex, dont look now, but I think my hostel is burning down" naturally, we ran strait towards where it looked like the large fire was coming from. Turns out, in the absense of sparklers and bottle rockets, a rowdy group of Nigerian boys were using aresol cans of Raid bug spray and lighters to make makeshift blowtorches and chase eachother around the four story walled in courtyard at full spead, with fire squirting aresol cans, screaming and singing independance songs. To get to my room, i had to walk diagonally across the battle grounds. I mean the celebration. I definatly feared for my life a little bit, but we couldnt jsut stand there and wait for them to get to the enterence of the hall where we were standing. For once I was glad i lived in the basement. "One, two, three, GO"
we ran. once the door to my room was safely shut behind us, we were met with a bewildered looking Maame Esi. Oh, I guess we did look a bit funny, still in our bonfire costumes, panting like wed just run for our lives, because we had.

The next day, I ended up meeting up with five more UC friends from Accra: Two seperate groups of two girls each, Laura and Meghan, Cecely and Shaina, and then one boy, Steve, who recently pushed back his plane ticket home and bought a motorcycle, which he rode from Accra to Kumasi. (yeah, Id put my money on him never coming back either) We spent the day, in differant combinations, ambling around downtown, the cultural center, the markets, the girl's hotel, the foreigner haven-restaurant "Vic baboo's" (Oh my gosh, it has maceroni and cheese, pizza, milkshakes, veggie burgers, and vegtables that have been washed in hot water and lime juice, and are therefore supposively safe to eat) a Ghanaian friend of mine's birhtday party, and at night, yet another art department blowout. This one was a lot less exciting. I rap battle between students (no one in the crowed really moved, just bobbed there heads) that was topped off by a performance my one of ghana's leading female hip-life (ghanaian hip hop, kind of) performers, Mzbel, that ended in embarressing catastrophy that I wont even get in to.
The next day, sunday, the girls went back to Accra, and I was left with Alex, Steve and ideas about a trip to a lake.
Like Bosomtwi is about 45 minutes away from Kumasi by tro tro, and is rumored to have good swimming, bike rentals, and a happening night life that involves a lot of live music. After a chaotic ride there, alex and I by tro tro and steve and jamal (some guy steve had picked up who "knew the roads") by motercycle, we arraived later in the afternoon then expected, and as soon as wed decided to spend the night so that we could really make sure we fit in swimming, biking, dancing around AND relaxing, it started pouring rain, and didnt let up for hours. We'd already paid the rastaman three dollars each for two rooms in his "hotel" (a kind of shady little house/building with a few halls of rooms, each with a bed, a fan, a light, and a bathroom (sans water)) so we werent about to turn around home. we sat in a little plank and sheetmetal bar and ate fried yams for about an hour and a half, before braving the wheather and going back to our hotel, as soon as it let up, the boys went for a swim, i took a short walk, and steve, jamal and I went looking for where the so called night life took place. before too long, jsut as evening fell, the power shut off in the whole small town leaving us in complete darkness. no streetlamps, nothing. oh, what to do. we tried to retrace our steps down the pitch black road as street vendors lit candles by their orange stands and kenkey stalls and carried on with life. We were in search of Alex and an idea about to do now that it was night, there was no power, we had no candles, and the tro tros back to Kumasi had all gone home for the night. We found him surrounded by a large crowed of women and children. He was telling them jokes. Eventually we had what must of been every kid in this little town surrounding us, teaching us songs and rhymes with hand motions, claps, and dance moves. For hours we stood in the dark as our eyes adjusted, making faces, singing songs, and playing Ghanaian versions of patty cake with children as their mothers looked on, laughing, smirking, and talking in low voices to one another.
On our way back to our room, led by the baby flashligh i impulsivly attatched to my keyring before i left, we entered the gate, a little in awe of the wonderful night wed accidentally sumbled apon, and the path leading to the little shack hotel, was completely lit with little lightning bugs in the grass, hopping around and being almost invisible, and mirroring the stars in the sky, which were just as bright and equally numerous. I turned off my light. for a secend we stood there in silence, it was almost like being suspended in air, in pure darkness with tiny indescernable speckles moving outwards in every direction, with you in the center, and only a dim horizon line, and the outline of a small white hotel ahead of you. then alex broke the silence: "wow, this universe is not messing around" we agreed in whispers and continued forward, down the sky, or ground, up the cinderblock steps and into our respective hotel rooms, where we mused about here, home, and whatever else until our only candle had burnt itself out.
In the morning, the alex, steve, and jamal hit the lake once more before we left (hey, i had class that afternoon, and alex and steve had better get going to accra before too long, and wed got our moneys worth, especially once wed realized that between dinner, the hotel room and the tro tro ride, wed only spent about five bucks each) and i took another little stroll.

Im happy to report that i expirienced my first animal attack that morning as I was making my way back to our room to grab my backpack and go home:
The rastafarians we rented the room from were feeding porrige to this monkey Id never seen before under a plam tree and as i gleefully moved forward to snap its photo, the thing shreiked at me with surprise and lunged at me, claws out and stopped short of my foot by the rope it was tethered to, scratching just the tips of my toes in a bloodless encounter. Im dissapointed to say i dont have any scars to prove it, but it was a delightful way to start the day. and i did get the animal's photograph eventually using my zoom lense. booya. ill post it as soon as i can.

in between that week and this one, I havnt done much but work, get a little sick, get a little better, do a bit of painting, stroll around downtown and read up on drumming, darwin, and my little stack of fiction.

until this past sunday night, when Maame and I decided we were sick and tired of staying in our room, and would stand for it no longer, and we took a gamble on a jazz den she used to frequent but hadnt seen in two years. The cab dropped us off in front of a beautiful ritzy little hotel. "Its over here, around the side" there was a little nook with a little door that looked dark, (but of course it would be dark, its a jazz den!) there was a little wooden placard that read "Royal Jazz Hut." We tried the door, and it slipped open.
Dim, dim lighting, an empty room save for a drumset and a very fat, very old man, air condintioning, and big band with a man singing "Dontcha love me now?" coming our of the dark wood walls. The man got up, assured us that they were open and led us into a dark little hide out, on red plush and teekwood booths, in a little corner, at a little table (one of about six or seven in the place), with african-jazz art on the walls, frosted windows, and a little bamboo door leading to a room full of records. Maame requested George Benson, and we sat and kicked back after a long weekend of not doing much.

The real story happens afterwards, when we had to walk up the long road to try and catch a cab, at this slightly out of the way intersection late on a sunday night. Finally one stopped. The driver seemed a bit cooky, and promptly backed his car off the embankment once we got inside, leaving us tilted at a 45 degree angle wedged with the front tires almost on the road and the back tires on the ground below, with tall, tall grass pouring in through the open windows of the cab, so high it was pressed against the roof of the backseat. He tried to drive back up. Yeah Right. his tires grinded against the paved road, which was at an angle unlikely to be overcome. "This would be an appropriate time for us to jump ship" we climbed out, waded throught the tall grass (where i sustained one bug bite) pulled ourselves up onto the roadstreet and quickly made our exit, scooting back down the road at an accelerated pace "I dont beleeeeive this." "Yeah, honestly, I didnt like the look of that guy one bit." we were back on the long road going headed back to the hotel/jazz den. "Yeah, sometimes cab drivers here... they cant even be trusted not to back their own cabs off steep embankments let alone--" The power shut off. All the street lamps, everything, totally dark. Just the revving of the cooky cab drivers failing engine and the flashing of his tilted headlights behind us, and the hotel at the end of the road in front of us, its blue sign flickering with the help of a staggering awakening generator. "Take off your shoes and RUN" breathed Maame through the dark. she says it can be a bad idea for women to go out alone together at night, in the dark, especially with that wacked cabby right behind us, and ... there could be armed robbers or...she doesnt need to say more, at that moment, i beleive her. We ran back to the hotel, barefoot on the dirt road, and, panting, pleaded with the gate manager to let us hang there, even though they were closing, so that we could call our friend and ask him to pick us up a cab at his dorm and come meet us.
"How about instead I jsut go out on the road, find you guys a good cab, and bring it here?" "that would be wonderful"
We sat with the assistant gate keeper outside the little tollbooth for a few minutes until a car came rolling up to meet us "Thank god," maame says.

"wait, thats.... tahts the same guy" I could tell by the long grass stuck to his tires, and the lion of judah sticker on his back window. at first we protested, but the hotel man assured us it was all right, hed gotten his car out of the ditch and promised not to back into it again. our friend wasnt answering his phone. what other choice did we have? back down the long road, back onto the main road, he tells us he intends to charge us triple what we agreed, to account for him having to pay some guys down the road to push his car out of the bush. then his engine sputtered and his car died. Maame and he exchanged a few harsh words in twi and we again found ourselves running like hell back down the long road, when we told the gatekeeper what had happened he shook his head and invited us, graciously, to cram into the employees-only tro-tro which all the cooks and waitressess and bartenders were filing into to be taken to their homes for the night. On our way we passed our angry cabbiestanding a little further down the side of the road digging around under his hood. They dropped us off in front of campus and wished us well. "And God bless you!" we said.

Home safe. And probably not going out again without a chaperone. Oy Vey.
Thats all the news there is for now, hope to hear from you all soon!
all my love, Maggie

Monday, October 24, 2005


I've had a few people ask what all I've been reading, so in case youre interested, here it is:
ive been operating on a "whatever i can get my hands on basis" that incorperates the few novels i brought with me, a few books my roommate has lent to me (and shes been reading mine too, we swap and discuss), and selections from a few anthologies i picked up at a strange little booksale. there's a real limited selection to choose from here, we really just take what we can get, but i've found some good ones.
so here is the pleasure reading list, unabriged:

-Richard Brautigan, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mind Disaster !!
-The Girls Guide to Decorum (Maame Esi's ridiculously british humor guide to good manners)
-Phillip Gourivich, We Wish to Inform you that Tomarrow we will be Killed with our Families
-Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
-Maya Angelou, All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes
-Jack Keroac, The Mexican Girl* !!
-Earnest Hemingway, The Snows of Killamanjaro * !!!
-Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle*
-Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych
-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze* !!
-John Updike, Son*
-Richard Wright, The Man Who Lived Underground !!
-Franz Kafka, The Metamorphisis !!
-Miguel de Unimuno y Jugo, Abel Sanchez
-Willa Cather, Double Birthday* !!
-Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine*
-John Steinbeck, The Leader of the people*
-Mary B. Morrison, Soulmates Dissapate
Now reading: Andre Gide, a Pastoral Symphany, and Henrey James' the Beast in the Jungle

* means it was a short story from a book called 200 years of great american short stories i got at said book sale.
!! means i really especially liked it

and, if you have any recommended novels that arnt too heavy to post, and want to donate them to the Maggie and Maame Esi book club, wed love it, were almost out of material!
(Ive been wanting to read King Leopolds Ghost, and anything else by richard wright, ernest hemmingway or franz kafka
just throwing that out there....)

ok, back to work! Love to everyone...