Monday, December 20, 2010

Some Reflecting

After two vodka tonics, and a most delicious Bloody Mary, I touched my flip flopped feet back down into New York's 30 degree weather, nearly freezing my newly painted toes off. Was told I looked like a Spanish girl by a JFK security man, and didn't know what to think of it, but told him thank you, and happy holidays. After a comedy of errors with the Amarula I brought back duty-but-certainly-not-trouble-free for my parents, a doll at Delta made my very day. After a ridiculous missed flight, rescheduling of a flight, chipping nails, checking and re-checking of baggage, I finally got back on my LA bound plane. I'm glad to know that my general good sense of humor remained with me throughout the whole ordeal.

At the risk of sounding self indulgent, and narcissistic, (but really who are we kidding, this is a blog), I am learning to be in love with myself, and the journey. Which is to say, the territory (such as airport security, and diarrhea) that comes with. On the way back, I heard for the first time Oscar Peterson's rendition of If I Were a Bell. It is an exuberant, stomach fluttering song about falling in love. And love, I think, is what makes you do crazy things, amazing things, like time traveling, hurtling through air, the underground, the parking lots we call freeways in Los Angeles.

And goodbyes? Weren't too hard, really, since I said see-you-soons.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Africa Part 13

Remember when I said I had few qualms about trying food that is local and might put me at risk for... nausea and vomiting? First day in Assin Kruwa, I was hungry. The caution that I threw to the wind, should have been put right back in my pocket. Ate a little something called grasscutter, a large rodent also called a "cane rat" with some fufu. Foul. The closest thing to rotted flesh I have ever tasted. The next day, I wished I didn't. Arjun blames Togo, but I think it was more along the lines of a shigella, or salmonella. Either way, I am going to term it "Ghana-rea" :)

We walked to about 6 churches to tell folks about the Village Bicycle Project, where we target women to teach them how to ride bikes. Worship is such an interesting thing-- some do it with dance, some murmur, some shout. Interestingly at Disco Jesus Church (I know), they didn't show weekly screenings of Saturday Night Fever. Anyway. Back to the bikes. Yes. I helped to teach them. With a shitty bike to learn on, and a considerable language barrier, (even though one day, all the kids of the village huddled around me to teach me Twi), it was quite a challenge, but seeing progress was definitely worth the flailing and gesturing, but mostly the histrionics from wanting to communicate SO badly.
I got to know the latrine pretty well. After my 4-5 days of expelling matter from my body, I wasted no time in replenishing. I had this disgusting oral rehydration solution, (like Gatorade, only disgusting), but also this delicious corn porridge. Creamy, savory, and a-maize-ing! Hahah!! The tomatoes are of a strange shape here, but also delicious. And on the drinking: Guinness here is a special "foreign extra" brew. A little more bitter, and more sour, even. Not so sure that I like it. But Alvaro, I like. This is a mindblowing passionfruit soda, about which I am QUITE passionate. Other beers, tend all to be one syllabled. Club. Star. Stone. Lamp. (Actually not Lamp, but thought that was funny).
Cape Coast found me feeling guilty, but marveling at the beauty unseen by those enslaved. Saw both the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles, and have a lot of feelings on that still undeveloped but brewing. Will pour it out, at some point.
My last days in Africa were spent in Accra, with friends old and new. Friends that I had met in college, on planes, and through other friends. Fun-derful. What do I remember? The most amazing breakfast, of plaintains, jollof rice, fried chicken and salad. The DuBois Center. Getting my hair braided, and loving the company so much I got my fingers and toenails painted too. (electric blue and blood orange, respectively). Gorgeous batiks, and smiles even more beautiful.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Africa Part 12

On Thanksgiving during the day, I was in Accra, sorely missing the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It is the first year of volunteering at that gig that I've missed in 12 years, and what a lot of thanks giving. It seemed fitting that on that day in Ghana, I worked on my personal statement for school. At night, I joined Arjun and his Peace Corps squad, renamed ourselves Team Latrine (potty mouths that we are), and managed to snag 3rd place in trivia night. (Even across an ocean, I am still a fiend for bar quizzes). That the win-two-pitchers-of-beer round was "Name that musical" found me nothing but helpful. We won that beer. Learned a lot that I otherwise would have been clueless about as well: what USB stands for, and what "the ashes" are in terms of cricket. Trivia night might be well said to be the equivalent of speed dating in knowledge. I'll think about that more and develop it at some point.

Day after, we walked to Togo. The Ghanaian border town Aflao is so close to the Togolese border, and a three hour tro-tro ride from Accra. Crossed over with considerable ease, and was happy to see the ocean again. West Africa. Is. Sweltering. Not speaking Francais in a Francophone type country was a bit of a toughie, but 1) this presents a new goal to aspire to, and 2) we'll see how good my theatrics can get. The Grande Marche was quite a sight to see, a flooding of wares and food items. I tend to throw caution to the wind for better or worse when it comes to food. What's a little diarrhea and vomiting, really? Had fried cheese cubes, and baguette, grapefruit juice type shenanigans and a darned good time in Lome.

A bit on transportation: In Ghana, there is something called the "tro-tro". Van bus type vehicles which are usually beyond the point of repair, they are the primary form of transportation for those sans their own car. i.e., most people. Depending on where they're going the "mate" or person who rallies people into their tro, flashes a gang sign of a hand symbol. They seem to all have the same voice. Usually 20 seatered (I think) there's a clown-car-effect where you really always have quite a few more than that. I think there's something kind of nice about it, despite the heat, and sweat, and what not, that for a portion of life, you are with complete strangers who are going the same direction. And that's something in common, so maybe you aren't such strangers after all. In Togo, the main mode of transportation are moto-taxis. And what I've learned about transportation in West Africa is that if it will go wrong, if it can. It did. But not that badly. Morale was high as we began the journey to Togoville, toward Aneho. Not as high when we realized we actually were supposed to be in Agbodrafo, 10km earlier. Just great. But adventuring we went! After a leg of those 10km on the back of a mototaxi with one of the most humorless men Id ever met, his bike broke, and while he was off fixing it, I became the third person on the moto with Arjun and his driver. Fantastic. So after being ripped off repeatedly (once again, the French language thing, but also the looking Chinese thing), we proceeded to yet another form of transportation. Pirogue. Which is a canoe. And ours, ferried by Antoine, our Charon of Lake Togo, slowly leaked water. :) Yup.

We left Togo after one last night dancing in Lome, at numerous dance club type places. My first time being pulled over in West Africa transpired as we were happily gallivanting that night, as well. Grazing in the gravel down Rue de 13 Janvier, I was indulging in the Celine Dion/Barbra Streisand ballad Tell Him, until we were stopped by the po. It had NOTHING to do with my singing, and everything to do with the fact that these officers were drunk and wanted some bribe money. 40 minutes and some freakin CFA later, we were back on our way. Inebriated, armed people with a frighteningly enlarged sense of entitlement are extremely troubling to me. But on with the dance, says Lord Byron, and we did go on.

Back on the Ghana side, I met a man who spoke amazing Mandarin, and was better traveled in China than I was. It was wonderful to hear the language. Apparently there are quite a few Chinese folks in Ghana. There are grocery stores, and restaurants, and my beloved fried dace with black beans, which I havent been able to find in America! Overjoyed. And off to Cape Coast we went.