Writing from Last Week
Last weekend we went on our first trip with our study abroad group. We were told to meet in the parking lot at 8:00 am on Saturday morning, but after an hour of waiting the bus never showed up, so we rescheduled for Sunday at noon. Since Stephen and I had nothing to do we took the trotro into Accra to visit the national museum. The museum was entertaining enough but all of the items were poorly displayed and many did not have any description of the item’s importance. Sorry there will not be any pictures from here because they charged extra to take pictures. In the back of the museum there was an art exhibition that had some beautiful paintings that were incredibly cheap as far as art goes. So now I have a painting that I want, and Stephen and I have picked out two rather large drums that we want to bring home, so we are brainstorming ways to get these home. Please comment if you have any insights as to how to go about this (other than shipping because we heard that it will cost more than the drums to ship them).
On Sunday we woke up early to try to find breakfast (almost nowhere is open on Sundays). We found a coffee shop in the Accra Mall and Stephen finally got a vanilla late. It is interesting that coffee is pretty rare in Ghana despite the fact that they grow coffee beans and instead of coffee a popular drink is called Milo, which is basically hot chocolate, only better. Once we returned to our hostel we met up with our group and rode about an hour up to the top of a hill to a botanic garden. There were plenty of interesting trees and plants, but my favorite is called the shy plant, which looks like a tiny fern that curls up when you touch it (I will try to post a video).
Next we went to the first cocoa farm in Ghana. It was really interesting because they still had two of the original trees that we planted in Ghana in the 1800s. They took us through the steps of producing the cocoa beans. They harvest the pods once they turn yellow with a long pole that has a sharp tool on the end called “go to hell” since it send the pod somewhere that the pod will never come back from. They use this so that they can harvest only the ripe pods without damaging the tree or knocking down any pods that are still green. When they first open the pod you can suck on the seeds, which sort of taste like mango. These seeds are placed under giant leave to ferment and during the fermentation process they are turned and sifted through to remove everything but the beans. Next the beans are dried and the bad beans are picked out. We got to taste the dried beans, which were very bitter (as you would expect). At this point the beans are ready to sell to the government, who buys all of the cocoa beans in Ghana for export. It was also very interesting to see that the cocoa farmers grew everything from avocados to yams among the trees.
Our final stop was a wood carving village. This community is where people aspiring to become a woodcarver go to apprentice the art and many of them then have stands in the area where they sell their work. Unfortunately we only had half an hour to look around, which is not nearly enough time to shop since you have to first go around so you have an idea of what things should cost and then go back and bargain. I think that we will go back there sometime so we can buy a few pieces.
My Oceanography classes have been really interesting so far, but also kind of depressing because the topic of environmental degradation comes up in every class. The environmental habits here are quite bad and it seems to be a combination of a lack of awareness, poverty and a lack of infrastructure. Open dumping and open burning of trash is the norm, with much of the trash and sewage going straight into the ocean and lagoons. People take from the land whatever they can get because they do not have any other means of livelihood. For example, mangroves are being deforested for firewood, or cut down and filled to build housing complexes, sand is being collected (illegally) to sell to construction sites and sea turtles are still being hunted and their eggs gathered. Unfortunately, from what I have gathered from the Ghanaians in my classes and my Ghanaian friends it seems that overall the people are still far away from realizing the rarity of the organisms here and the importance of preserving them.
On a happier note, I met a graduate student that is working at The University of Ghana’s research station that monitors the turtles’ activities and he gave me his contact information if I ever want to come out there. I definitely plan to contact him so we can maybe see the sea turtles.
I was also very excited when I realized that they have the West African Manatee here. One of the professors did his PhD research on them, so hopefully he can advise me one how to see one. I have a feeling my chances are not very good though because their numbers are pretty low and they inhabit the lake and the entire length of the river so it would be quite lucky to see one.
So after 3 weeks of classes neither of us is completely registered for our classes. It has been quite a mess and my schedule has changed 3 times since I last reported it. I cannot even describe the frustration of everyone telling you that you need to do something different than what you were told the last time you were there. Additionally, no one wants to give you a complete answer and they will typically just refer you somewhere else. For example, to add Conservation Biology I needed the head of the department to sign an add-drop form. Naturally I took it to his secretary, who sent me to the general office to ask where the TA’s office was. The Zoology general office sent me to the Oceanography general office to ask where the Zoology TA’s were (this didn’t make sense but I went anyway). The Oceanography office sent me to the Oceanography TA’s who sent me back to the secretary for the Zoology head of the department who sent me back to the Zoology general office. The general office tried to send me back to Oceanography but at this point I refused to leave until she would just tell me where the TA’s were herself. To this she said I was being difficult and wasting her time. I was persistent though and eventually she gave me directions to walk down the hall and it was the last door on the left. Why she couldn’t have told me that in the first place I don’t know, but once I found the TA’s they took me back to the first office I went to and got the signature. So some form of this is what we have gone through again and again.
We both added an African Drumming course though. Unfortunately it is not completely added and we will have to continue to deal with that later, but the first day of class was really fun. The teacher is a very nice guy and we learned some of the communication drumming like “how are you”, “I am fine” and “thank you”. I really want to take a drum home now but I am still trying to figure out the logistics of that.
Writing from Today
Okay so it has taken me a long time to post this since I wrote it, so I am just going to add on what has happened since then. The power on campus was out (which is why I couldn’t post this) so registration continued into this week. Fortunately after some more running around and craziness I am happy to say that we are both registered.
Over this past weekend we went with a group to Bojo beach which was absolutely beautiful (especially compared to most beaches around here). After the adventure of getting there by trotro and a taxi that all 7 of us squeezed into we crossed a bridge and road in a boat across and estuary to a strip of white sand that had the ocean on the other side. The weather was perfect and we finally got to see the sun after a month of almost entirely overcast weather. The hot and sunny days are supposed to become more and more frequent as we move into the dry season so we will see how excited I am about the sun then.
On Sunday we went to see the Black Stars play Sudan in soccer, but Stephen wants to write about this, so I guess you will hear about that later.
Yesterday the Oceanography department arranged a field trip for the 400 level students to take us to Tema port and on a drive to see some of the coast and lagoons. We met at about 7:00 and left at about 7:30. The harbor was about an hour away but once we reached the port we had to sit on the bus for 1.5-2 more hours because the port intercepted a large shipment of cocaine over the weekend and was changing management so I guess they were trying to figure that out. Once we were in the man in charge of environmental concerns spoke to us about ballast water issues and took us onto a Norwegian ship where the seaman on board told us that none of the ports enforce rules about ballast water or any global environmental regulations except for the United States and Australia. The port manager then explained that they do not feel like they can really enforce rule because ships will stop docking in their ports and will go to other West African countries instead, causing Ghana to have major economic problems.
Next we stopped at a lagoon that supposedly is better than it used to be, but it was lined with anywhere from 1-10 feet of garbage that had been brought in by the tides. After that we visited a lagoon that was by a hotel that drained its sewage directly into it and the professor said fish can no longer live here and that this one was nowhere near the worst. So the field trip was surprisingly depressing, but ironically a coffin shop was a bit of an upper because they sold coffins shaped as birds, airplanes and even beer bottles.
I think that this is probably enough for now and I have to go celebrate terrific Tuesday where you get two suspicious looking pizzas for the price of one!
Yɛbɛhyia bio (We will meet again)!