The voyage from Takoradi, Ghana to Cape Town, South Africa has been exciting!
First of all, our stabilizers are broken. So, the ship violently rocks day-in, day-out. Theyve been broken since somewhere between Casablanca and Takoradi, but they werent able to get them fixed in Ghana, so we have to wait until South Africa. I have been wearing my anti-seasickness patches, which have really helped, but I still feel a bit nauseous all of the time. The only time that the rocking is nice is when you are sleeping. When I get home, its going to be so hard to sleep in a bed that doesnt move.
On the 26th, we passed through the center of the world0 degrees by 0 degrees. Apparently, one of the geography teachers begged our captain to veer off course a couple hundred miles so that we could all cross the point where the Prime Meridian and the Equator meet. We had a big huge party, stopped the ship on the line, where everyone put their feet in the northern hemisphere and hands in the southern. I was in four places at once!
Then, on the 28th, we had Neptune Day. Neptune Day is actually supposed to be the day that you cross the equator for the first time, but for some reason, we did it two days later. About 6AM, the crew, professors, and life long learners came through the halls dressed as sea creatures (well, more like sea royalty think little mermaid only without the mermaids) banging on pots and pans and drums, clanging cymbals together, banging on doors, etc. All of us pollywogs were instructed to go to the 7th deck. Once up there we met King Neptune aka our executive dean and we had to have fish guts poured on our heads, swim through the murky, nasty, fish gutty swimming pool, kiss a giant Atlantic Salmon, and then have our heads shaved. I did all of the above except shave my head. Once we went through the disgusting obstacle course, we were christened as Emerald Shellbacks and allowed to pass into the Southern Hemisphere (which we had done two days prior). Then, we had a big huge BBQ. It was pretty cool to BBQ in the middle of the ocean.
Well be in Cape Town in 2 days, so Im off to plan more exciting adventures! ☺
Thursday, September 30, 2010
The voyage from Takoradi, Ghana to Cape Town, South Africa has been exciting!
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I wish I had another few weeks to spend in Ghana. The people were so welcoming and friendly. Everyone wanted to shake our hands and greet us, and they all wanted to put their baby in my backpack for me to take back to America. When they asked us why we came to Takoradi, Ghana (which is not a tourist destination at all), it was embarrassing to try to explain, “oh, we’re on a trip around the world” when they’ve never left their little village. Most times I just said that we are 600 university students coming to Ghana to get to know the people. They seemed to like that answer.
The Ghanaan port was not like any of the others we’ve been to so far. When I stepped off the ship, I was instantly enveloped in a sticky, humid heat, smells that I did not even know existed assaulted my nose, and instantly I was swatting giant mosquitoes away. I was praying that they wouldn’t bite me and infect with Malaria, or worse—Dengue Fever. I actually hopped on a Semester at Sea bus immediately for my city orientation tour of Takoradi and Sekondi, the twin cities of Ghana. To be honest, I didn’t notice the difference between the two. The homes that lined the roads were made of scrap pieces of wood nailed together. Most didn’t have a door or even a fourth wall, but somewhere on each house there was a huge sign that said something like “God is Good” or “Praise God” or “God Gives Blessings To Us.” People were stark naked, bathing on the side of the road. Women carried huge baskets on their heads, full of all sorts of miscellaneous goods, including giant snails. In the tour bus, I felt conspicuous. Since they never have tourists to Takoradi and very few people even have little cars, a huge tour bus was very unusual. Children ran after us yelling, “white men, white men,” and everyone stopped what they were doing and waved at us. I was offended that the bus drove us through all of the poverty in Takoradi and Sekondi and then took us straight to a gourmet restaurant (the only restaurant in the two cities) with air conditioning. I could not eat I was so upset over what we had just seen.
I had been planning on going to the Egyam Orphanage independently, maybe taking a couple friends with me for the three days we were in Ghana. Two days after we left Morocco and numerous emails between myself and the orphanage director, I realized that the children at the orphanage didn’t have shoes, and since they didn’t have shoes, they weren’t allowed to go to school. So, I got up in front of the Global Studies classrooms (the one class that everyone is required to take), and asked for donations of shoes. I was not allowed to ask for money, but between people leaving it under my door and handing it to me on the sly at meal times, there were 52 pairs of shoes donated (the exact number of children living in the orphanage) and about $800. Then, my email inbox was flooded with students, life long learners, and professors asking if they could go with me. I put together a list of about 20-30 people each day. At first I was worried that there were too many people, but there were so many orphans that we needed that many people in order for every child to feel like they got some individualized attention.
The second day I was in Ghana, I got up early with my roommate Mackenzie and a couple other girls, and we went to the market to exchange the $800 USD into Ghanaan cedis. We then went through the market buying shoes of all sizes. We ended up taking over 100 pairs of shoes, new socks and underwear for everyone, toothbrushes and toothpaste for everyone, and lots of school supplies (crayons, colored pencils, books, paper, pencils, pens, etc.) We were also able to pay for all the children’s school fees, buy paint for the building (we couldn’t actually paint it for them because it rained everyday), and give them a donation of over 500 cedis (about $300 USD).
While we were in the market, children followed us. By the time we finished 2 ½ hours later, we had an entourage of more than 20 kids. I made a really bad decision and bought a bag of lollipops from a street vendor. Instantly we were swarmed—but not just by children. Old men and women pushed their way through to us, trying to grab the entire bag of suckers. It was frightening, and the police had to break up the riot that we created. I felt horrible. All I wanted to do was give the kids a sucker.
Getting to Egyam Orphanage the first day took forever. It is only 20 kilometers from the ship, yet it took us more than 3 hours to get there. We started walking from the ship to the port gate at 12:45. It was pouring rain, and a shuttle bus offered us a ride, which we accepted. This driver even offered to take us all the way to the orphanage, which he assured me, he knew where is was. He didn’t. We stopped for directions more than 10 times, and then he took us to the wrong orphanage. He ran inside, and came back out and said, “Don’t worry. They said they’ll take you.” I called the orphanage director who explained to the driver where the orphanage was. He said he was unable to take us that far…even after we paid him 60 cedis between ourselves (about $40—a small fortune in Takoradi). So, we piled into taxis, but not before our bus driver ran into another car as he was driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The taxis charged us 20 cedis per every four people each way. Everyone was complaining to me about the price, but really, they paid less than $7 USD to go to an orphanage for the day and play with kids. Is it really that big of a deal?
We had to drive for about 10 kilometers on a dirt road to get to the orphanage. It was pouring rain, and the road was full of pot holes. Our taxis got stuck numerous times in the red African mud…sometimes, the water that we drove through was so deep it would touch our windows. As we drove along this dirt road, I saw poverty like I’ve never seen it before. I don’t even think that the US media would put this up for fear of offending Americans’ delicate minds. Children ran around practically naked. No one had shoes. Most of the homes were just a piece of tarp strung between two trees. Everyone came to us asking not for money, but just for food. All I had was a granola bar, but the taxi driver wouldn’t let us give it to them because we would cause a riot.
The stressful trip to the orphanage was totally worth it though. The children were so excited to see us. Many had never seen a white person before, and so they just wanted to touch our skin (trying to rub the paint off) and play with our hair. They were all obsessed with our cameras, and they loved being able to see their pictures. We unloaded all 105 pairs of shoes, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, and then we just played with the kids until the taxi drivers came back for us around 7 pm. We were able to serve the children their dinner—a scoop of rice with some gravy on top. Pitiful.
One ten-year old girl, Mercy, asked me to come to the girls’ bedroom to speak with her sisters. But when we got there, there actually weren’t any other girls in there. Mercy then told me that she was the one who actually wanted to talk with me. She asked me to teach her how to be smart so that one day she could be a pilot. Then, she offered me her earrings as a thank you gift for coming to visit them. When I said that I couldn’t take those from her, she started crying and asked me what she did wrong. So I took the earrings. Luckily, I had a pair in my purse that I could swap her for. She was so excited about her new pair of earrings. After that, she was my shadow—always following me around.
The children who lived there were so precious. One little boy, Nathaniel, was only 3. He always wanted me to be holding him, and he would cry every time I put him down. The first day, he peed all over me. Cecillia was 7 and was the biggest goofball. She was always dancing and trying to make everyone laugh; she had just lost her first tooth. Florence was 5. For the first two days that I was at the orphanage, she never once spoke. She just sat on my lap and smiled. On the last day, she started talking. It was the first time she had spoke since coming to the orphanage, and she said to me, “I love you.” I cried, and so did everyone else because she had finally spoken. They had actually thought that Florence was mute.
There are so many children there, and every single one of them captured my heart and made me never want to leave.
The second day went a lot smoother. We only had 17 people with us, so Daniel, the orphanage director, was able to take us back to the ship in his van. It was a van meant for 8, but we made it work. We brought so many stickers, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, books, and paper with us that day. Since it was raining, we spent the majority of the day coloring and drumming and dancing.
We actually had the opportunity to go to the village school, where more than 780 students attend, but they only have 10 full-time teachers and 3 part-time teachers. The children were so excited to see us. We each went into a different classroom and “taught” a lesson. Basically, we were just asked to talk about where we were from in the US and then the students asked us questions. Five children from the ship came with us, and it was neat to see them interacting with the students at the school. When we were leaving the school, all the students followed us as we walked back to the orphanage. We must have been a sight: 17 American students walking down an African dirt road, followed by 800 elementary school kids clamoring to hold our hands and have their picture taken with us. The kids who live at the orphanage were proudly telling their friends that we were their Americans.
The last day in Ghana was an emotional day. First it started out very stressful because people who had never emailed me about wanting to come with me showed up, so instead of the 22 that I was expecting, there were more than 40 students. Then, they were all arguing with the taxi drivers about the price of the trip. I almost flipped out on all of them—if they weren’t willing to pay $7 each for the day, then they shouldn’t have been there. Those taxi drivers had to drive their cars down that horrible road, getting stuck several times, so we definitely should have been paying them more. Besides, they have families to feed, and $7 definitely isn’t a big deal to most, if not all, of the students on the ship. When we finally arrived at the orphanage (all 10 taxis), students just started grabbing kids and taking pictures with them. I got really frustrated because I felt like they were just coming so that they could say that they did their service project for the ship, they’ll take their picture with an African orphan for their facebook profile picture, and then they’ll leave, probably without even getting the name of the child they grabbed to take a picture with in the first place. People were coming to me, complaining because they weren’t going to get lunch, since we were gone from 9AM-3PM. Seriously, they could stand to miss a few meals. The orphans didn’t get lunch either.
Most people left early (some even took taxis back without a full cab, leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere Ghana without a taxi—we had to send one taxi to go find a couple more because of all the inconsiderate people who left without letting anyone know). After the majority of the people left, the rest of us actually played and had fun with the kids.
It was definitely an emotional goodbye. One little boy that I got close to, Samuel, wouldn’t let go of my leg as I was getting into the taxi. He was just crying and screaming, “Take me with you. You can be my mother. I promise I’ll obey!” It broke my heart. After that, all the tears I had been holding back came, and I was one big sobbing mess. I got out of the taxi, and all the children rushed to me and we had one very long group hug, which eventually and unfortunately had to end.
On the way back to the ship, some friends and I stopped by the market to say goodbye to some of the street vendors whom we met earlier in the week. Once we were back on the ship, I just slept. I think that I would have slept for a week if I could have. Ghana was emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting, but I can’t wait to get back there, especially to Egyam Orphanage and all the children.
Friday, September 17, 2010
I’m not really sure what I can say about Morocco. I loved it. I hated it. It was an adventure.
On September 9th, the ship ported in Casablanca. The Casablanca port is vastly different than the one in Cadiz. In the Cadiz port, we walked for maybe 1/10 of a mile and then we were in the beautiful old cobbled streets of Cadiz. We felt safe walking there. In Casablanca, we had to walk for almost two miles to get out of the port. There were cars, semi-trucks, and motorbikes everywhere. Really, only a few traffic laws exist in Morocco: 1. go! and 2. don’t get hit! So every time we ventured off of the ship, we were taking our lives into our own hands just trying to get out of the port.
The first day I did not have to deal with the traffic that much, since as soon as we disembarked, I was on a yellow, Moroccan school bus bound for the SOS Children’s Village. Before we got to the orphanage, we made a stop by the only private school in Casablanca: The George Washington Academy. The school obviously catered to the privileged Moroccans, as the parking lot was filled with shiny BMWs, Porsches, and the like. The children were all well behaved, well dressed, and they, apparently, were taught four languages at the school—all of which they had to prove fluent in to pass from junior high into high school. Then, we boarded the bus again to head to the SOS Children’s Village. The disparity between the prep school and the world outside it was stark. We drove past barefoot and dirty children who were chasing after their mothers who carried huge baskets of over ripe fruits and vegetables on their heads, saw little old men sitting in rags on the side of the trash-filled streets, and witnessed men working in their dry, rock-filled fields along side their starving donkeys. It was heartbreaking to see the normal, everyday lives of the Moroccans.
Eventually, we made it to the orphanage; the children were so happy to see us. As soon as I got off the bus a little girl, Aziza, ran up to me, lifted her arms so I’d pick her up, and started kissing my face. She clung to me for the entire day that we were there. Another little boy, Rasheed, smiled at everyone constantly. His home “mom” told us that he was actually sixteen, and he was suffering from a severe liver disorder, which will soon claim his life. He smiled at me, and I did not know what to do, so I just smiled back. One of the couples on the ship donated a One World Football to the group home. The soccer ball is made out of the croc shoe material, and they are virtually indestructible. They even gave one to the tiger at the Johannesburg Zoo in S. Africa, and it still didn’t pop. No one wanted to leave to go back to the ship that night. Aziza cried as I left, and so did I.
The next morning, I had to leave bright and early for my camel trek. My group took a bus from Casablanca to Marrakech. I thought that the traffic in Casablanca was bad, so I was in for a rude awakening when I got to Marrakech. Traffic was ten times worse. The first place we went was the Old Medina. That was an assault on all of my senses. There were monkeys running around trying to steal your purse for their owners, there were snake charmers and people trying to put a spell on you, there were owners of the little stores pulling you into their stall and trying to force you to buy their goods, there were motorbike plowing their way through the crowds, and there were donkeys and goats running free. It was loud. It was smelly. It was scary. But I survived. It was kind of like the Missouri State Fair—only really, really frightening. Once I got acclimated to the people, everything went a lot smoother. I had to be really assertive, because the store owners would even reach into purses to grab the money they wanted and then they would throw whatever they were trying to sell you at you.
Even so, Moroccans are very friendly; they want to offer you mint tea (which we couldn’t drink because we were not sure that the water had been boiled completely) and talk about America. But then they’d try to offer the guy that we were with (my girl friends and I always had a guy with us), a few camels for each of us. They were usually serious.
That day we ate such good food. For lunch, we ate couscous and for dinner, a lemon chicken tagine. We even got to see a belly dancing show during dinner. Moroccan desserts are amazing. They are always so light and fruity—sometimes the waiters would just bring us orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. So delicious.
The next morning, we set out almost before the sun was up to drive to the nomad camp. We were on the bus for more than 12 hours. Within a few hours we were in the Sahara Desert, and since our bus’s air conditioning did not really work, we were roasting the entire time. It was totally worth it though. We drove through the Atlas Mountains, and I saw the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I saw little Berber villages carved into the side of the mountains, and when the bus passed through the little villages, the children would come running out to meet us. The bus driver said that the children rarely see cars, and that they have probably never even been in one. Before we went to the nomad camp, we drove about an hour out of the way to a place where there were big dunes. The dunes were breathtaking. They look just like they do in the pictures. I climbed all the way to the top of one really big dune, and slid down the other side.
The nomad camp was a very . . . interesting . . . experience. There were camels everywhere. The Berber nomads were dressed in all white robes and they did a little performance for us of some of their traditional songs and dances. They even made us a really yummy dinner. We all slept outside under the stars, although I moved back inside my tent during the night because I woke up shivering from the cold. I woke up before sunrise so that I could watch the sunrise over the Sahara and the dunes. It was amazing.
By 6:30 that morning, we were all on camels, ready to begin our long trek. When they said that our trek would only be a few hours, I was really disappointed because we had driven so far for this. However, after 20 minutes on that camel, I was done. It was the most uncomfortable thing ever. It is nowhere near like riding a horse. Even today—4 days later—I’m so sore I can barely walk up the stairs. After the camel trek, we cooked lunch with our nomad families, and then we piled back into the bus for our 12-hour trip back to Marrakech. We did not get back until really late, but some of my friends and I went back to the market to see what it was like at night. I did not think that it was possible, but the night market is even busier than during the day! We all ate on this rooftop terrace restaurant, where we could observe the craziness below.
My roommate at the hotel had left the trip early to go stay with some of her other friends in Marrakech, so I had my room all to myself that night. It was nice, but it was also a little lonely. The air conditioning did not work in my hotel room, so it was very, very hot.
The next morning, I went with the same group of friends to the Gardens Marjelle in Marrakech. The garden was actually pretty little and there were very few flowers, but it was shaded, cool, and quiet. If I had to live in Morocco, I think I’d spend all my time there because it is the only place you can get away from all the car horns and people yelling in Arabic. My friend, Erica, and I were parched when we got there so we decided to sit in their café and have some ice cream. It was the most expensive ice cream I’ve ever had ($10), but it was so delicious and we got a free COLD bottle of water. Cold as in some of the water was still frozen. It was totally worth it, especially after four days of drinking warm water that we had brought with us from the ship.
The ride back to Casablanca was uneventful. I was so thankful to see the ship though. Sometimes during that trip, I thought that we’d never make it, that we’d get stuck in the desert and have to travel by camel to Ghana. But we made it, and I got to sleep in my own bed that night.
The last day I spent with Carren in Casablanca. It was actually my favorite day because Casablanca is such a booming metropolis that guys and street vendors really did not bother us. Carren and I just walked around the downtown area. We did some shopping, and then ate lunch. It was the best meal I had in Morocco, hands down. It was a chicken chawarma with an amazing sauce and veggies and french fries with spicy honey mustard and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice that had a hint of rosewater. So delicious. And then Carren and I had ice cream—of course. It was a bad experience though. This random guy started following us and would not leave. He was so obnoxious, and he followed us for a good three blocks before we made eye contact with another guy who pointed to a store. We took it to mean that we should go into the store, which we did, and then the other guy started talking to our stalker so that we could get away. By the time we got away our ice cream had melted all over us and our shopping bags. It was sad.
I did not have the same feelings when we left Morocco as I did when we left Spain. While Morocco was fun, eye-opening, and full of adventures, I was too exhausted to want to stay longer. I’m sure I will go back though, especially to see Aziza and the rest of the children. But for now, I’m off to plan my week in Ghana—only 4 days until my next adventure.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
I love Spain. Actually, I just love Europe. I love the narrow, old streets, the architecture of the buildings, the little old ladies who pull little carts full of groceries behind them, the little old men who sit outside cafés smoking cigars, and of course, I love the chocolate croissants.
The ship docked in Cadiz, Spain on Saturday. My friend, Carren, and I managed to get off the ship really quickly (ahead of the other 600 students trying to disembark) and head to a café for some breakfast. I had a chocolate croissantof course. We had to be back to the pier by 0945 since we were both going on the Cadiz City Orientation. The tour was definitely worth it, since in the space of about four hours, we got a good feel for the history of Cadiz and the province of Andalousia. We first did a panoramic driving tour of the little peninsula. Then, we walked to the Old and the New Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum, and the City Hall. By the time it was over, we were tired and hungry. Somewhere along the way back to the ship, we picked up about eight more Semester at Sea friends, and we headed for our first Spanish meal. I had seafood paella. It was delicious.
It was almost four pm by the time we were finished eating. Something interesting about Spain, is that every day, the shops close from about 2pm to 5pm for the siesta, and they are closed every Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. Time is not important in Spainthe Spaniards spend hours at meals, they have long weekends almost every week, and they spend hours upon hours chatting with friends in the city squares. They also eat their meals at odd times of the day: breakfast is served between 10 and 11, lunch between 2-4, and dinner at about 11pm. Good luck finding a place to eat lunch at noonno restaurant will even thinking about serving you until close to two.
The Semester at Sea Field Program Office has a donation box for tickets to day trips that students either cannot sell or end up not being able to go on at the last moment. Saturday was my lucky day, and I got a free ticket to the Andalusian Flamenco Night. All my friends were going, and I had been looking forward to the evening alone so that I could catch up on some journaling. But, I am so glad I got the ticket. It was the best evening in Spain that I had. We boarded the bus about seven thirty, and embarked on a thirty-minute bus ride to neighboring Chichlana. We arrived at a small outdoor arena, where we were served homemade sherry while we watched an amazing flamenco show (it involved dancing horses) and then an amateur baby bull fight. It was basically just practice for the bulls to see how brave they are. Then we boarded the buses again to a reception hall where we ate delicious tapas and drank sangria and watched more flamenco. Eventually, the flamenco performance just dissolved into a huge dance partyeven the life long learners were up on the stage doing the Macarena.
On Sunday, Carren, our friend Lonyae, and I headed to Tarifa. Tarifa is the southern most point of Spain. I stood on the beaches of Tarifa and looked out over the point where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet and caught my first glimpse of Africa. It was incredibly surreal. The girls and I did some window-shopping and laid out on the beach. The only problem was the brutal, brutal wind, which drove the sand into our skin at 1000mph. Lonyae ended up catching an earlier bus back than Carren and I did. Our bus left at 7:45; however, it left from a different point of town than we originally came into. That, in itself, was not the problem. The problem was getting directions to this obscure bus stop. We eventually got to the place where we were supposed to be. We were chatting with some Spanish girls at the stop who spoke a bit of English until one of them made a phone call, started yelling in Spanish, and broke into a run and motioned for us to follow her. Apparently, the bus just decided to come in and yet another little stop. But we made itjust in time to sit in traffic for almost two hours while a procession of hundreds of priests riding horses and carrying statues passed in front of the bus. We did eventually make it back to the port, even if someone **coughCarrencough** had us get off at the stop that was waaay too early. We just ended up jumping on another bus and somehow communicating to the bus driver that we needed to go to the MV Explorer. Charades goes a long way in a foreign country.
Monday was an even bigger adventure. Carren and I headed to the bus station again to catch a bus to Granada. The Semester at Sea field office had told us that the trip from Cadiz to Granada was about three hours. Wrong. It was more like six. We met some other Semester at Sea girls (Loralie and Natalie) who we ended up hanging out for a couple of days. Once we finally made it to Granada, we headed over to the Alhambra. The Alhambra was the last fortress of the Moors in Spain, and it is absolutely breathtaking. At the top of the fortress you can see for miles and miles. It took us almost five and a half hours to go through the whole thing; dont worry, I took over six hundred photos while I was there. A tour agent at the bus station had secured us a very nice hostel for all four of us for very cheapthe only downside was the lack of air conditioning, which made for a very restless night.
The four of us caught an early train to Sevilla the next morning. In Sevilla, I was able to call my family for a bit before we went to see the cathedral where Christopher Columbus was buried. There was a lot to see, but travelling has a way of physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting you, so Carren and I headed to a café where we sat and people watched for a few hours and caught up on our journaling. Something that intrigued me about Spain is that no one seems concerned about money. If you order food or even just a coffee, you dont have to pay up front. You pay after a few hours of sitting and enjoying yourself. Even at our hostel, the front desk did not seemed concerned about when we paid.
Carren, Natalie, and I headed back to Cadiz that night, and spent the last day in Cadiz soaking up the culture, writing our postcards, and enjoying our last tapas and sangrias.
As I watched the ship be pulled away from the dock by the little tugboat and the Old Cathedral of Cadizs outline get smaller and smaller, a wave of emotions hit me. Spain was fun, but did not take me outside of my comfort zone at all. Ive been to Europe before, and even though I hadnt been to Spain, I could easily (well, with charades) communicate and navigate their country. But what about tomorrow? Tomorrow, we will be in Casablanca. Tomorrow, I will be staying in an orphanage in a small Moroccan village and then heading to the Sahara Desert to stay with a nomad family. Of course I have a mental image of Morocco will look like, but I dont actually know what to expectand that scares me. But tomorrow is coming quickly (well, not super quickly because we gain two hours tonight!), so adios until after I return from Northern Africa!