What to Make of Nima?

I visited a Muslim area of Accra today, called Nima, and noticed that several of the Muslims were wearing what seemed to be expensive garments. That struck me as odd because, from what I saw of Nima, there was an abundance of poverty with trash lying everywhere. How could some of these Muslims afford such expensive garments of clothing? Now there weren’t a lot of Muslims who wore these expensive and beautiful articles of clothing, but there were a few, and I am amazed given the context of my observation (poverty ridden and dirty region of Accra).
One of the women we came across in Nima was outfitted in a blue dress that glistened magnificently in the sun. Although she didn’t have much to say, she did say thank you when we complimented her on the beauty of her dress. She also wore a turban and magenta stripes on the dress as well. This is only one example of some of the beautiful outfits I saw. It definitely wasn’t cheap attire that these Africans were wearing! Not just women but men as well!
I don’t know why or how Africans are able to afford such clothing when it looks like it’s a struggle just to survive. It’s hard to even form my own opinion on this matter. Maybe I’m stereotyping and there are some Africans who are wealthy. I may be wrong in assuming that all Africans are poor. The family businesses or jobs of some Africans may be stronger and better suited to buy more expensive items than other Africans. There might be more to Africans than I originally saw or thought. In Ghana, and in the world for that matter, there are always going to be some who get by better than others (because of their family inheritance, ancestral history, work ethic, etc.). I shouldn’t assume that everyone’s poor in an area just because the area looks poor or most of the people living in the area look poor.

by Brian Clarke


Calling the spirits

IMG_0589 IMG_0578 IMG_0515 IMG_0531 IMG_0558 IMG_0557 IMG_0578 IMG_0515 IMG_0531 IMG_0602 IMG_0557 A thirty minute tro-tro trip down a narrow lane lead us to an amazing afternoon in the village of Ehi. We were an audience in front of a traditional priest and then participated in a drumming and dance ceremony. By the time we bid our farewell, there were probably a couple hundred villagers. Our local host, Godwin provided able advice which we appreciate very much. The photos and short video clips give you a glimpse. Student blog entries I hope will tell you more of their experience. Enjoy!

Enjoying My Stay

Ghana is a country rich with resources, history, tradition, and positivity. So far, I have really been enjoying my time here. The amount of friendly people, delicious fresh food, beautiful handicrafts and interesting culture make it hard to not savor my experience in this underrated African nation. Back at home, I have never heard of anyone saying anything positive about Ghana or any African country for that matter… which is a dear shame because of how wonderful of a place it is! If I asked somebody back home to describe Ghana, they would probably be lost for words. I never really learned anything in school about Ghana, so I also didn’t know what to expect until I stepped foot off of the plane. I had no idea how hot it would be or how often it would rain. But mostly, I had no idea what the people would be like or how different their culture would be from mine. I have been pleasantly surprised and forever satisfied that I chose the Ghana trip over the others. I have been to several countries in Europe and a few in South America and the Caribbean… and Canada. But I have never been to Africa. That is the main reason I chose this trip specifically. I am excited to come home and tell tons of people about my experience here!

By Killian Halpin

Meeting the Chief of Klikor

After class this morning, and as is customary when visitors are staying in the village, we were scheduled to meet the Chief of Klikor. We walked for a little while on the road and settled into the public area of his home where he receives visitors. At the age of 83, he has been Chief for 30 years! He talked to us about the role of a Chief at the regional level and also at the national level and other topics,  and then he encouraged the group to ask questions. He also engaged us in thinking about some of the tragic events currently going on in the world. IMG_0420 (2) IMG_0425 (2) IMG_0422IMG_0422

My home stay experience was truly amazing. On the last day of our visit, I slyly made some audio recordings on my iPod of Auntie Giftyʼs voice, so that maybe the memory will last a bit longer and remain more vivid than it would otherwise. Auntie Gifty was truly a wonderful person and I hope I never forget her or her kindness and welcoming personality. Papa Attah had told us that Ghanaians don’t laugh at you, they only laugh with you, and that was certainly the case with Auntie Gifty.

On my last night in Cape Coast the power was out and Auntie Gifty was laying on the floor in the living room with her feet on the couch to try and ease her aching back. I was sitting on one of the chairs against the wall behind her doing some homework and we started talking. She told me about the Northern Region of Ghana, where she had lived when she went to veterinary school years ago. She said the people there are “so friendly,” especially to those who aren’t from there. She said that when she was there they treated her like a queen just because she wasn’t from that part of Ghana. She said that they’re so friendly that when they’re in public they all speak English because they know that visitors won’t understand their native tongues. Wow! Itʼs a bit of a shock coming from America, where we insist all foreigners learn our language so that we can understand them.

Auntie Gifty had told me earlier in my stay that the house she is living in with her mother is her deceased father’s house, and that her half siblings actually don’t get along with her anymore because they feel that the house should be theirs. She says that once her mother dies she will move to another house in Cape Coast to avoid confrontation with them. She only still lives there to take care of her mother, who refuses to move and is now so frail that she probably couldn’t move. After hearing her praise the friendliness of the Northern Region, I asked why she doesn’t move there. She first said that it’s because they fight too much. Tribal warfare is frequent and dangerous. She said that while she was there they actually closed her school and sent all the students home for a week due to the dangers of a tribal war that was happening in the area. She said they fight with bow and arrows and old fashioned guns that have to be reloaded after every shot. I can’t imagine it, real tribal warfare happening on and around a college campus. From my perspective it’s really something out of another world.

She then added that she couldn’t move away from Cape Coast even if they didn’t fight in the North, Cape Coast was her home, it is where she is from, how could she move away?  There is such a sense of community and a sense of home here in Ghana that I think is tough to find in most of the US today. It’s especially hard for me to understand, as I haven’t lived in the same place for more than six months in the past 5 or 6 years. I’ve grown to feel at home wherever I go, and if I don’t, I know I’ll be moving again soon anyway and so I don’t have to worry about it. For her, moving is an experience she had once when she was young and moved from Accra to Cape Coast, and once when she went to school in the Northern Region. Cape Coast has been her home since she was a young girl, and moving to a new place seemed to unfathomable to her.

Earlier that same last night, I had shown Auntie Gifty some pictures on my computer of places I had been to and places I had lived. She had never heard of the Grand Canyon and didn’t know what happened if you went outside when it was snowing. She didn’t know where Maine was and she was surprised at how big the mountains in Colorado were. She puzzled as to why I came to Africa when I have so much in America.  The power eventually came back but I hadn’t noticed, the light in the living room was still off. She stood up and said, “Sometimes I wish I could be like God and just make things be.” Then she raised her voice and said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT” as she flicked the light switch on. I let out a surprised “oh!” and we laughed together, with each other. The kind of long, mutual laugh you never want to end. It was a great memory to end on, to finish a too short stay with a truly awesome lady.

By John Marino

Travel to Klikor

Yesterday we bid farewell to Cape Coast and host families for our six hour journey east to the Volta Region. We made a stop in Accra where we ordered take-away food, and then made our way out of the Accra traffic. Once past the industrial area, more traditional rural villages dotted the road side. We passed a village famous for its pottery, and went across a bridge spanning the Volta River. Klilor and surrounding area is in what appears to be a delta region of the Volta which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

We arrived at our destination, around 5:00 pm and said farewell to Francis our tro-tro driver, who did a terrific job navigating the road. We thank him. We then met Godwin who will be our host here in Klikor and we were oriented to our home for the next 8 days. We stay in a compound belonging to the former District Chief (DC) and we eat family style as we have a caterer, Nana, cooking for us. I haven’t had a chance to take any photos, but will upload some later today. Students are in class this morning, and after lunch we will make a visit to the chief of Klikor, which is customary and then head to the market. Here in Klikor there are designated market days, and today is one of them.

More later,


Homestay presentations at the beach

Students have been paired while staying in homestays here in Cape Coast. Today they reported on their findings based on the questions from the homestay project. Learning about Ghanaian culture while living with a Ghanaian family can provide many insights and learning opportunities.

We also enjoyed lunch and time to unwind with the crashing waves of the Atlantic as a backdrop and palm trees blowing in the constant ocean breeze. We played soccer, swam, made sand castles and enjoyed the sand beneath our feet.

Time to go came too quickly, but our very capable tro-tro driver, Francis, made the forty-five minute trip back to Cape Coast, in time for a farewell dinner with host families, a bit of homework, and packing! We depart tomorrow morning at 9 am for the six hour trip to the eastern region where we will stay in Klikor. Look for Lake Volta on the map and Klikor is between the lake and the ocean.



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Keeping up the pace

Sunday, students had a chance to catch up on sleep, homework, and some attended church services with their host families. Sunday’s rest was in preparation for Monday when we went to the nearby township of Elmina to tour the Elmina slave castle. Originally built as a Portuguese fort in the late 1400s and then enlarged by the Dutch in the 1600s, it is the oldest European building in sub-Saharan Africa. It stands as a sobering reminder of the roughly 300 year triangular slave trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas.

After our tour of the slave castle, also referred to as the dungeon, we went to a nearby ocean side restaurant to talk with a University professor about the history of the slave trade.

Students are preparing theirMabel's table silouette IMG_0320 IMG_0290 IMG_0318 IMG_0319 IMG_0355 IMG_0349 IMG_0331 IMG_0342 IMG_0321 IMG_0329 homestay presentations for tomorrow and then we will enjoy the beach before we head off to the Volta region and Klikor on Wednesday.

Designing batik

IMG_0220from class trip: July 30:

Today after our class we took a trotro to a Batik place. As usual we all filed out of the trotro one by one as we scan the surrounding areas. The street was not unusual from any others I have seen but what was new to me was our final destination. We didn’t walk through the stores front doors; rather we ended up going through a walking gate that was located to the side. Once through it was clear a lot went on there. To the right was another door into the store; behind that there was a room that seemed to be semi blocked by a gridded door. It was hard to see into the room but what I could see and hear told me that it was a place where people sew clothes that people want made. The farthest part was a shed like structure filled with buckets of different liquids. All the rims were stained with colors or wax. There were a few people working, paying no mind to the crowd of white people who had just entered into their workspace. We watched with interest until we were instructed further.

As we were instructed we all leaned over two wooden bin type structures built to hold all their design sponges to find a few we liked. It was an almost painful process as one after the other is picked up, tossed to the side and grabbed by the next hand. Searching through like this was chaotic to say the least. In the end everyone had found enough they were satisfied with and waited for further instructions. One by one we all began to dip our sponges of choice into a vat of hot wax this; this wax was recycled over and over as much as possible in order to not waste. The wax had to be hot enough to soften the sponge and melt any lingering wax from the last use. Once soft enough we pressed it lightly onto a white piece of fabric. The grayish colored wax stuck onto the surface well making the pattern clear. There were paintbrushes, sticks, and slices of sponge that we could use to make different patterns or effects we wanted.

Everyone had different ideas and patterns they used to make their specialized batik. Once everyone was finished it was time to choose a color to soak the fabric in. More people chose purple and red, blue much fewer. We all watched as the fabrics soaked in the dye for a while before the owner came up and in a polite way told us to leave. When we were about to leave they started soaking the fabric in boiling water to remove all the wax; so it could be saved and reused. We were supposed to come back the next day and pick them up after they had gone through all the processes. I am not sure if we saw everything or if there was more to be done, but the next day we picked up the Batik’s we made all ready and beautiful. An experience to never forget.

The whole process of making my own pattern was an experience that I feel I could never get again. I felt as if I was welcomed into a part of their culture not many get to experience. I felt very grateful to the man who was helping me, even though we didn’t have many words exchanged throughout the short time of my artistic moment. I developed respect for the workers and process of making Batik, it really takes skill to make something look good. It could probably be made by anyone with enough practice: key word – practice.

contributed by Christine Weiland

Cape Coast and Kakum National Forest

After a 9:00 am pick up at homestays, we were off with Francis, the driver and owner of the tro-tro, for the one hour trip north to Kakum Forest, which is Ghana’s largest remaining tract of rainforest, according to the most recent (6th edition) Bradt guidebook for Ghana written by Philip Briggs. The roadway through Cape Coast, takes us very close to the ocean and palm tree lined beach. On the shore we see about a dozen men moving in unison, and we learn they are pulling in a fishing net. I observe the majority of the men standing in 2 lines, and then one man is sitting using a palm tree as brace for his feet, as he feeds the rope from the net around the tree and then one more man is coiling the rope. We didn’t get to see the catch, but hopefully we will have this opportunity.

Once off the main road, our short journey took us through small villages with roadside stands, lots of people walking on the side of the road going about their Saturday morning chores. I saw small children carrying water on their heads, women with bowls on their headsIMG_0293 IMG_0277 IMG_0279 IMG_0271 IMG_0272 IMG_0267 IMG_0274 IMG_0268 IMG_0263 IMG_0259 IMG_0247 IMG_0248 IMG_0250 filled with water, peanuts, or anything that needed to be carried. Babies are carried on women’s backs, and a piece of cloth tied in front secures the child. I am still working on getting a photo of this, which I am finding more challenging than I would have expected.

The landscape gradually opened up and palm groves and woodland lined both sides of the packed red clay roadway. Since rainy season has just passed, there are many pot holes, which kept Francis on his toes. In a couple of spots, the road was only passable via one lane.

Once we arrive we make our way to a natural history display at the visitor center then await our group turn for the walk across the rope canopies or the guided medicinal walk on the forest floor. Saturday is a very busy day at Kakum National Park so we joined hundreds of school children dressed in their school uniforms. Their excitement contributed to the experience as we made our way across the seven rope bridges. While we didn’t see more than one of them there are said to be some 250 butterfly species, more than found in all of Europe, according to Philip Briggs.

Soggy after dripping rain, we make our way back to the tro-tro, headed now for some free time in the town of Cape Coast, and oh, yes, some lunch.

The three photos above of the little boy, Nicholas, were taken at our hotel in Accra, just as we were departing.