Monday, September 19, 2011

Ghana Photos!

African drumming and dance

Local food: rice,  chicken, plantains, and beef

Me at the place we did drumming and dancing.  Great view!

Slave castle

Me at the slave castle with a good view of Ghana in the background!
(Not sure I should be smiling...)

Fishing village—a huge industry!

The coconut I drank from!

Canopy walk at Kakum National Park

Bamboo Orchestra and dancers

Me playing the bamboo

Spending time with the kindergarten class at the City of Hope refuge school 

Participating in the street feed. Delivering 600 meals to children.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Fun facts:
-The flag is red stripe on top, yellow in the middle (with a black star in the center), and a green stripe on the bottom. The red stands for all of the bloodshed, yellow for their gold resources, and green for their agriculture. The black star symbolizes that they are the center and star of Africa (really important and developing rapidly).
-President Obama visited Ghana as his first African country to visit because they are leading the way in Africa. They are very proud of this fact and talk about Obama visiting a lot! It was a big deal here.
-Ghana is very well known for its cocoa (chocolate). It’s so good!
-The taxis are symbolized by having yellow corners
- Their currency is called cedi and we currently have an exchange rate of 1.5
-Their clean water is not sold in bottles but instead in square baggies that you bite the corner off of!
-AKWAABA means welcome, and is a very common greeting!

My first day in Ghana was absolutely amazing! I participated in a SAS-sponsored African drumming and dance workshop. A local drumming group performed for us and taught us how to dance. We learned many native moves but it was really hot and we were in direct sunlight. (I got a bit of a burn.) We also learned about three different drums, including the sogo and the kidi. Each part plays a different rhythm and they work together. Often there is calling or chanting done as well, and the dancers will tell a story. At lunchtime they fed us local cuisine and then performed once again. Their costumes were so colorful and the dancing was really unique. I’m glad I got the chance to learn some of their moves. J After they performed, we were given about an hour to meet the performers. I had the unique opportunity, with my friend Katelyn, to be taught a song on the drum. The words that went with it and also the dance. Overall, I had an amazing time learning about the culture, especially because music is such a big part of their lives!
That night a group of SAS students explored the town of Tema, and even ran into Captain Jeremy, who on the shuttle ride back led us all in song! Lol. It was awesome. Day one was definitely a success!

I spent my second day at Cape Coast Castle's and Elmina Castle's slave dungeons. It is a very dark tourism site but it is a huge part of the Ghanaian and African culture. We learned all about the slave trade and walked through the tunnels and holding cells that were used. It is really sad knowing how the African men and women were treated, and how most of their fate was death, either in the cells or on the ships being sent out.
As difficult as it was, I’m glad I went because the site is a part of their culture and they have made it a tourism site for a reason: to educate everyone about slavery so no one has to experience those tragedies again.
For lunch, we were once again treated to local cuisine. I had a coconut opened for me so I could drink it! All of the food is amazing; I especially love the fried plantains and the fish.  
The bus ride to Cape Coast and back was four hours. I spent a lot of it sleeping but I was also entertained by the things we drove by. I saw a lot of women who could balance anything on top of their heads! One guy even had live chickens in a crate on top of his head! It is absolutely amazing. The women also have an amazing way of swaddling their babies on their backs with just one cloth. It’s quite a sight to see them do it. The most shocking part of the drive was definitely all of the mud houses and villages. All were filled with men, women, and children who were often barefoot and dirty; often smoking fish, cooking plantains, or sweeping. Everyone seemed to function as a tight community and everyone had roadside stands to make a living. Another common sight was the green and red houses with phone company advertisements painted on them. The phone company paints the buildings for free if they can put their logo on it. So many communities were covered in red and green. As for animals, I saw plenty of cows (a lot skinnier than what we see back in the states), chickens, and lots of mules.
By the end of my day, I was exhausted and just ended up going to bed pretty early.
Day 3
I woke up late on Day 3 and had to rush to catch my bus to Kakum National Park.  I forgot to mention that on every bus ride we got “Obama treatment,” meaning we had police escorts all through the traffic. Traffic is really bad in Ghana because they are getting all of the unwanted cars from America and other countries but their roads aren’t built for high traffic, just motorbikes and a few cars. The policemen escorting us were crazy. They would stand while driving their motorbikes and actually kick the vehicles in our way. I found it interesting that we got this treatment so I asked about it and learned that the tour company arranges this so we don’t spend more time on a bus than we do at the locations. I did feel very intrusive, though, and even more like we didn’t belong.
After the long drive, we hiked up the mountain and made it to rope bridges that went across the treetops. It was such an amazing sight! The walking boards on the rope bridges were about 2 to 3 footprints wide and the bridge swayed while we walked, a terrifying thought when you are so high up but the sights were absolutely worth it! We didn’t see any monkeys but we heard them and we saw a “giant" squirrel. Some students also saw flying squirrels! I just saw a bunch of lizards, ant colonies, treetops and African skyline!
After our hike and adventure across the treetops we were taken to a local resort, where they fed us lots of rice and fish. (They literally served a fish that they just cut in half and stuck on the fire. Head and tail—everything—was served! It was also the first day I tried red red, which is a sauce commonly used in their meals.
After lunch, I got to experience a bamboo orchestra. They just use pipes of bamboo to create different noises by dropping them hollow end down on wood, hitting them together and playing them like drums. It is amazing the different songs they could play! We were also told to join in their dancing because it is considered rude if you sit out; it’s as if you aren’t enjoying it. So I got to learn some more African dance moves.
Today was my last day in Ghana and I spent it doing a service project. I went to City of Hope refuge center, where children who have been trafficked in the fishing industry are rescued. The organization is run by a couple that goes into the fishing villages and educates the people about how trafficking is bad; how they can legally get in trouble; and how in order for the country to advance, the children have to be in school and not out working. It is really sad how these children have been treated. Their parents sell them to people who them force them to fish. When their nets get caught, they risk drowning because not many know how to swim. They are punished if the disobey and are often made to sleep out in the canoes on the lake. The girls are forced to smoke and sell the fish, and are often impregnated by the master’s son by age 14. Child trafficking in Ghana is such a big issue, and the City of Hope refuge center has been given 20 acres of land to build safe houses for the children they rescue, schools, and farmland to grow crops and feed them.
After learning about the organization, I got to spend the day at the elementary school, which just opened to the public a week ago. I spent my time in the kindergarten class with the 3- to 5-year-olds. They were learning shapes. Most of them knew a little English because the all come from different regions where different native languages are spoken. When we went outside for playtime the children went crazy! They were running around, jumping all over us. They loved our cameras, especially learning how to take pictures and then looking at them! It was really nice seeing smiles on their faces J. One thing that amazed the children was my hair because it is long and blonde. They could not stop playing with it!
After we left the refugee center, we went with the organization to do a street feed. We handed out 600 meals to the children in just one village! It was an unbelievable sight to see how they lined up and handed us their tickets for the food, and then how they would save  their food for later rather than eat it!

I enjoyed my time in Ghana. I wish we had at least a few more days here! The Ghanaians are incredibly friendly and their culture is so strong. I would have loved to be able to help them even more!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Morocco Photos

Mint tea—a cultural staple of Morocco


Me enjoying my chicken and couscous tarjine. The sides are shared with the entire table.

The typical look of the streets in the medina

Photos of the Ship

Main Diing Hall

Garden Lounge Dining Hall

Ship Store

Center, by computer lab and library


Piano Lounge and snack bar


Pool Deck


My Bedroom (im on the right)

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Day 1
We arrived in Morocco the morning of Sept. 3. We had to wait for the ship to be cleared by customs, and we listened to a presentation by a U.S. representative who works in Morocco.
After getting off the ship, my friend Kimberly and I met up with some other students and we explored the city of Casablanca. In simple words it can be referred to as a “big, dirty city.” The streets were full of fast moving cars that didn’t seem to follow any traffic rules, taxis that charged way too much, and the occasional donkey. The culture and atmosphere was totally different than anything I have witnessed. I spent my morning in the medina, a street market where they sell clothing, crafts, jewelry, shoes, and other cool objects. The shop owners were all pretty pushy because they were trying to make good sales. One shop owner showed us all around the medina and then expected to be paid for it even though we had told him we didn’t want help and couldn’t pay him. Although the streets were small and crowded, I felt safe because we had been warned how to prevent pick pocketing. We traveled in a big group and we were even taught some Arabic to communicate with the locals. I have to say, the language barrier was definitely a factor that I hadn’t put much consideration into. But we learned their words quickly. “La'a” means "no," and “shukran” means "thank you." We said a lot of “la'a shukran” to the shop owners and street beggars. We also learned how to tell the cab driver to start the meter, how to ask the price, and how to ask how to get to the port.
On the first day, I also got to try the Moroccan mint tea, which is recommended. It was super sweet and absolutely delicious.
That afternoon I did a Semester-at-Sea sponsored city orientation of Casablanca. We got to see a couple of mosques, a castle and a Catholic church that was beautifully designed with stained glass.
The orientation was really nice because it gave me the opportunity to see things that I wouldn’t have known to find on my own.
That night I met up with another group of students and we went out exploring the nightlife. We ended up realizing that not many places were busy because Ramadan had just ended. We ended up going to a nice place on the oceanfront to have Moroccan drinks and dessert. By the end of the night, we were all exhausted but we decided that the walk home wasn’t too long and that we didn’t need a taxi. It ended up taking us about two and a half hours. Although it was a long walk, it passed by fast because we were chatting and getting to know one another.
Day 2
The morning of Day 2 I woke up early and joined a friend from the on-ship a cappella group. We traveled by train to the city of Fez. It took about four hours and a lot of conversation with local Moroccans who were eager to practice their English.
After arriving we took a taxi to the medina, one of the largest in Morocco. The streets of the medina were very narrow and there were shops on both sides. We got very turned around while shopping. The difference between the medinas in Casablanca and Fez was that there was basically no English spoken in Fez; it was mostly Arabic and a little French. By the middle of the day, we were very hungry so we asked a local shop owner who spoke English fairly well where to eat. He took us to a restaurant that had very steep stairs leading up. We were leery but he promised us it was beautiful and that the food wouldn’t make us sick. We figured we could at least check it out and then decide. While we were heading up the stairs we ran into another American group who confirmed the location and food as being amazing. When we reached the top of the stairs we were on the rooftop of a building overlooking the city of Fez. It was absolutely beautiful! For lunch we all got tarjine, which is the name of the dish that food is served in, and whatever food they put in it. So I ordered chicken and couscous tarjine. The Moroccan food was fabulous.
After eating we toured the medina a bit more and then spent a lot of time trying to find our way out and a taxi in order to catch the train back home. The ride home was another long four hours but I enjoyed conversing with the locals and hearing their stories. Especially when I spoke with a young man who dropped out of school and was not allowed to return home because of it. Now he travels and makes a decent living, and is fluent in many languages.
Day 3
On the third day, I did a SAS-sponsored trip to the city of Marrakech. The tour was rushed but all together very interesting. First we visited a garden that was full of beautiful trees, bamboo, and cacti.
Another stop was to the kings palaces. We learned all about the mosaic and the meanings of the rooms. Often the more important rooms had marble and mosaic floors. It was not uncommon for them to have four wives, the first of which he cared about the most. And we learned that the palace keeps cool because of the high ceilings.
Our last stop was another medina. While there I saw snake charmers. They would come up to unknowing tourists and put a snake around your neck and then demand payment. The henna women also operated in the same manner: just grabbing your hand and beginning. I did not witness but I also heard of people getting monkeys thrown on their backs and having to pay; people getting babies thrown at them and while they were catching them they would be pick pocketed.
While in the medina I also visited a pharmacy, which is where they sell spices, lotions, and tea. They gave us a brief description and history with samples and then allowed us to purchase items. I bought a rose-scented lotion and these seeds that work like Vick's Vapor Rub and amazingly instantly clear your sinuses. While there I also got asked for my Facebook by one of the employees. It was quite entertaining to see how the Moroccan boys were going crazy for the American girls. They often called out "beautiful" and other nice words.
Marrakech was a city based very culturally on tourism and I really enjoyed exploring.

Day 4
Day 4 was a very relaxed day for me. Everyone had to be back on the ship with their passports turned in by 1800 (yes, we use military time). I spent my day trying to find stamps to send postcards (failed) and wi-fi to send pictures and connect with people back home (also a failed). I did end up going back to the medina, though. I bargained for a beautiful long skirt, which I can wear in hot countries that require modesty.

Morocco was an amazing experience for a first port. Now I can’t wait to go to Ghana!!!