Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Sorry about that last entry... I was in a pretty bad mood from the heat and exhaustion and some bad news from home. I ended up having a pretty good week in Burkina and regretted having been so negative when I wrote. Not to say any of it wasn't true, just that things aren't so bad here... at least not in Burkina. This connection is horrible, so I'm going to be sparse on the details, but I spent two nice days in Ouaga, which is quite possibly the most boring capital city in the world, but pleasant nonetheless. Then we had a whirlwind trip to the northeast, where we stopped in the tiny town of Bani to see the seven mosques there and got caught in a huge sandstorm that was pretty cool once we got inside and could watch through the window. next day was the market at gorom gorom, which had all different tribes attending in their various traditional attire, but has been ruined by tourism and isn't what it once was, and now they even charge a "tourist tax"; ie a white person tax; on any whites who enter the town - you are directed immediately to the police to pay. oops; times almost up... so next was Bobo; which was very nice - we saw a lake full of hippos; mostly just their noses and ears but every once in a while one would do a backflip or something. it felt a little like whack a mole trying to get a picture of it, and most of them just ended up being the noses. then we saw a little village built into the rocks on top of a mountain; and there they were having a harvest festival and they were running around in huge fetish costumes looking like cousin It made out of grass. so that was interesting. we rented a motorcycle to go to these places and got a flat tire; so that was an adventure in itself. anyway, lots of stories for later. then the next day we saw the old district of Bobo, were cursed out by a guide when we declined his services, got caught in a crazy storm, and then I said goodbye to Adrien and took a 14 hour extremely uncomfortable bus ride to Mali.

Turns out Mali is a horrible place, overrun with guides, and everyone who isn't a guide has a hotel or a souvenir to sell. I have never been harassed so much in my entire life. The ancient city of djenne was interesting, but after I looked around I was stuck in my hotel room because there were literally 25 guides sitting outside like vultures waiting for me to come out to sell me tours to timbuktu. then the guy at my hotel tried to get me into bed, so I left early in the morning; with guides yelling at me through the windows of the bus till I got far enough away they had to leave. and now I'm in mopti, where I got conned already by a crazy guide high on marijuana; whose pants kept falling off and who got in a fist fight when we got back over paying the people rowing the boat; and I got yelled at on the street and should have gone to the police to report the whole thing because I almost got pulled into the fight too, but I couldnt face explaining what happened in french; and I was in no state to talk to anyone. I've come this far and I intend to make it to timbuktu, but I wouldn't recommend anyone to come to mali, and if you do, do it with someone else and during the tourist season, so you aren't the only target. well, so again I write you when I'm in a bad mood. it's very interesting here and I wouldn't take any of it back; but it's very difficult at times. ok; my hour is up here. talk to you soon... kim

Monday, May 17, 2004

That's Africa

Well, I have to admit that Africa is starting to get to me. After you've been here a month, you start to get an idea of why it is the way it is, and even though I'm still enjoying seeing new things and meeting new people, the constant harassment is wearing on me. I guess I thought coming to Africa, among other things, would give me some idea of how black people felt coming to America, but I've found out that although here I stand out, it's a totally different treatment that I get. I feel like everyone who sees me on the street is sizing me up to see how much money they can milk out of the white girl. What can they sell me, what can they do for me that will earn them a tip, if they look pathetic enough, how much will I donate to their cause? And yes, I have more money than they do, but it doesn't mean I can hand it out freely on the street, nor that doing so would help them in the long run - it would just encourage more begging. I can't walk anywhere alone - sometimes it's curiosity, sometimes it's for money, sometimes it's because they "want to marry a white lady" - but even though I consider myself a pretty tough traveller, I find myself longing for a place where everyone will just leave me the hell alone. It's hard to explain without being here to see it, but I can't even go to the bathroom without a trail of 8 children trying to come with me - and sometimes adults too - I guess they want to see if white people do the same thing in there that they do. Or I'll sit down to eat in a restaurant and one of two things will happen: either a group of children will slowly start to gather and just chant this annoying chant they have "obroni, how are you? I am fine, thank you" over and over again, or some guy will come in and tell me how beautiful I am, ask to marry me, and give me his address, and then not let me eat in peace. I put this in my journal because this is all part of the cultural experience, and it's really shaping my impressions of the places I go. Once I have made a friend somewhere it gets markedly better, as I do get harassed less when I'm with a black person, but it never stops. Here in Africa, there is no such thing as privacy, no such thing as personal space, and no such thing as anonymity, at least for a white person.

So now you know what my daily life is like a month into my trip, I'll tell you a bit about what I've been doing. I had just arrived in Kumasi when last I wrote. Kumasi is the heart of the Ashanti kingdom, and it is particularly bad about harassing tourists. I wasn't going to stay there long, but unfortunately got stuck for a whole week. So I saw everything - all the museums, all the little suburbs, all the random little excursions that Lonely Planet only devotes one sentence to. I went out to Lake Bosumtwi, which was nice until I walked down the beach to a little village and was basically attacked by children trying to get into my bag to get pens. They were like little vultures, and it was very, very sad. In Kumasi I made friends with a very nice boy who was baptized "Neil Armstrong" (no kidding). He goes by Armstrong, and he took me around every day, invited me to his house, where I was given local homemade food, and was generally very good to me. In the meantime I also made friends with a Rasta named George, who thought it would be a crime if I left Africa without trying a "black snake." I begged to differ. Well, I was going to leave on Thursday to Accra for the Aboakyer festival where they hunt antelopes, but I found out half way through the week that it had already happened. You see, the two rival tribes that participate in the festival had each decided to publish different dates, and so the one in the newspaper wasn't the one when it actually happened, and I missed it. As they keep telling me here, that's Africa. Anyway, I decided to stay in Kumasi for the Akwasidae Kese festival, which only happens every five years. Well, it wasn't much of a festival, though I did get to see the king and the Queen Mother being paraded in on palanquins, along with the golden stool, the sacred seat of the Ashanti king that never comes out except on very special occasions. The presidents of Ghana and Togo were there, along with various other dignitaries, so it was important, just not very interesting.

So finally I left Kumasi on Monday and went to the Boabeng-Fiema monkey sanctuary, which was really nice. I saw lots of monkeys and met a nice Peace Corps volunteer from NYC (the only other whites here are all volunteers). The next day we waited on the road for 2 hours for a car out, and then it took me another 6 hours to get where I was going, which was Tamale. I left on the 4am bus to Larabanga, a tiny little town at the gates of Mole National Park. I was again the only white there, so I was assailed when I alighted from the tro-tro, and after lunch that consisted of a plate of rice and two rocks that turned out to be cow meat (apparently they overcook everything because of the tapeworm), I hired a bike and rode the 7km over the uneven gravel road to the park. Well, they only had one bike, and it was too big for me, and the seat was really uncomfortable, and in the heat of the afternoon it took me about a half an hour before the nausea went away after I arrived at the park. It was worth it, though, because I spent the afternoon watching herds of elephants, kobs, baboons, green monkeys, warthogs, guinea fowl, and various other birds and animals I may be forgetting now. Most of these animals I had only ever seen in a zoo, and it was kind of surreal to watch herds of elephants and think about them being in their natural environment and not there for tourists. Well, the ride there had bruised me pretty bad and I couldn't sit down on the bike for the way back, so I walked part way and then was lucky enough to hitch a ride. I couldn't sit down comfortably for about two days. Yikes. Well, back in Larabanga I saw the oldest mosque in West Africa, a small mud structure dating from 1421, or so I'm told. I slept on the roof of the guesthouse because it was too hot inside, and spent the night next to two young boys who were kicking me and tapping me to ask if I was awake. I also made friends with two guys from a nearby town - Stone and Sraj - who ended up taking me back with them to Damongo, where I spent two days. It was an interesting slice of life in small town Ghana, and in the north, no less, which is MUCH less developed than the south. They only got electricity 14 years ago, and they still don't have running water. This is getting a little old. When your bath water is gray and has little fish (?) swimming in it, you have to just close your eyes and pray for the best. So they took me to see the local hospital (I hope to God I don't get sick here) and the school, and various other things that were not touristy, but interesting to see. Even though we were staying in the apartment Stone shares with his girlfriend, he got a little frisky, so I was glad to get out of there. He had some nerve - he told me he never cheats on his girlfriend, but "whites are special"... and tried to kiss me right in front of her. The shamelessness of some people here is just mindboggling. Well, from there I went to Bolgatanga, where I ran into a huge concentration of white people, surprisingly for a tiny town. They were, of course, all volunteers, and I guess it makes sense that they would be concentrated in the north, as that is the most impoverished area and most in need of help. It looks just like the Africa you see in pictures - children with distended bellies running around dirty and mostly naked all over the street. The problem here is so overwhelming - they have enough food, but they have no concept of a balanced diet. And even if they did, they can't grow vegetables because they have no irrigation. So it's tough to see because even if you want to help, it feels like it would just be a drop in the bucket.

Anyway, I only spent a short night in Bolga, and then took 8 hours to get to Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, where I arrived last night. My friend Adrien, whom I met in Benin, came to meet me here and will stay for the week and leave when I go to Mali. It was nice to see him again, and he actually wanted to wash my clothes last night. It was embarrassing to let him see all my clothing that is no longer its original color, but rather just looks like a big patch of dirt, but he didn't seem to mind. So I will spend one week here in Burkina and then be going to Mali. I'll let you know how it goes...

Keep in touch,

Monday, May 03, 2004

And now back to our regularly scheduled program...

Hello again. As you can see, I've taken the liberty of creating a new user ID here and entering your email addresses into the new one. If you are linking here, make sure you update your link with the new ID, and if you want to see the old one, search Kim1025. See, what happened was I talked to my parents the other day and found out my mom was very upset about my being in Togo, as my brother did me the great favor of telling her it's not safe, so in light of that and what I'm going to recount here, I thought it best they not see my journal at least till I'm safely back in the States.

So let's see.. the last week and a half has been one adventure after another, so this may get a little long. After I left you last, I walked down the street and encountered a family making fufu, and they proceeded to teach me to do it. I was not very good at it, mostly cause I was afraid of getting my fingers smashed. They use big wooden poles to smash up cassavas and plantains, and while they have good control over it, I didn't want my hands in the way. The next day we went back to Accra, where I had my first bucket shower. My friends live in a VERY basic house on the outskirts of the city, and it feels much like camping, only worse because I am afraid I will do something in the wrong place. Like when I kept going to the outhouse to pee and my friends asked me if I was feeling ok. Apparently when you only have to "wee wee" here you do it in a bucket in your room, and then in the morning you throw it outside. Or you go to the "shower" stall and do it there. Well, live and learn.

So I had been planning to head to Volta Region, but one of my friends' friends was heading to Lome, Togo, the next day to a funeral, and I was offered a free ride and a chance to see a traditional funeral. So I decided to go, but I ended up wasting most of the day waiting around for him to do one thing or another, and worst of all, we got to the Togo border and he and his clan said "ok, see you. you can get a taxi on the other side." Well, I had no francs at that point and my French was still rudimentary (it's getting better now, though) so I was not too happy. On the other side, the border guard refused to speak English with me (they like to do that here to tease you) and then gave me his phone number so I could go out with him later. I then got picked up by a missionary, who drove me to my hostel, which was in a very Muslim area, and he proceeded to give me a lecture about being very careful aroung the heathens because you never know what they will do, and they will hurt you without hesitating. He then gave me a booklet and told me to call him when I found Christ.

Well, Lome was not very nice, and after being warned by everyone not to go anywhere because it wasn't safe, I kind of looked around and then went back when it got dark. Next morning I found myself a taxi to Cotonou, in Benin, which was a bit nicer, though still a big city. When I went to check my email I was approached by a man from Cameroon who turned out to be an activist working to save the rights of his indigenous tribe, and he wanted me to help proofread the speech he was giving to the UN in New York in May. (His name was Musa Ndamba - google him and you'll see). I learned lots from him that day, and he showed me the city, too. Next morning I left early for Ganvie, a city on stilts in the middle of a lake. The cheapest and most reliable taxis here are motorcycles, and I have never ridden so many motorcycles in my life. And they all give me their phone numbers, too. Well, when I got to the pirogue landing, I got myself a boat, and my guide proceeded to tell me he had never met anyone like me and spent the entire tour of the city telling me he wanted to marry me and he would travel around with me. I was ready to request my money back. He was very persistent, and sure enough two days later I got an email from him requesting a photo, money to go to school, or a cell phone. Right... people here can be so shameless. He did take me to a taxi back to town, and that's where I met Adrien, who ended up traveling with me for the next few days. He was particularly useful because he speaks French (he's from Benin) and knows his way around. He showed me the voodoo section of the market in Cotonou (Benin is the heart of Voodoo), and got people to let me take pictures of all the dried up animals, skulls, fetishes, and even the shrine they had under the table. I had to make an offering, of course. Then we went to Ouidah, which is the center of Voodoo, where we saw a voodoo temple, a sacred forest (full of pythons, which they worship), and made a wish at the altar. We also walked the Slave Road, where they used to export the slaves - 4km from town to the beach where the boats were waiting. It was a fascinating little town, but I wasn't there at the right time to see any of the voodoo rituals. Unfortunately, Benin only gives you a two day visa at the border, so that will have to wait for another time.

After Ouidah we headed back to Togo, where we went directly to Kpalime, a town known for its butterflies. That night we had agouti for dinner... this is a small rodent(?) - bushmeat, anyway - the worst part was they put the whole leg, claw and all, in there so you know that it's authentic and not some other animal. Adrien had to put it away because I couldn't look at it. The next day we did a long hike through the forest and saw a lot of butterflies. The taxi there was the usual small Peugeot, filled with a whopping 6 people in the back seat and three of us in the front. Half way there we stopped and turned around because the driver had "forgotten something." Turned out it was another person, who climbed into the front seat with the three of us. After the butterfly walk, we also walked to Chateau Viale, the president's summer home, on top of a mountain near Kpalime. After bribing our way in, we saw some very nice views, though the home is in a state of some disrepair.

Well, Adrien had to go home after that, so I continued back to Ghana on my own, where I went to the Volta Region - Ho, specifically. This town sees barely any white people, so everyone either wanted to be my friend or wanted to marry me. I have been proposed to by more people than ever before in the last few days. It's even worse here than in South America. I don't spend much time alone these days. After Ho I went to Kpetoe, which is the Ewe center of kente cloth making. There I went to the factory, and I was a BIG novelty, so everyone gathered around while one of the weavers gave me a lesson. I ended up sitting down at the loom and learning to make kente cloth, which wasn't quite as hard as it looks, though the contraption is hilarious, and consists of foot pedals you work with balls that go between your toes, and then bobbins of thread you weave manually. It was very interesting. Walking back to town I was called over by the customs guard, who proceeded to take me on a tour of the town on the back of his motorcycle, buy me a drink and ice cream and pay for my ride back to the city. I was the first white person he had ever spoken to, and he wanted to lend me his car or motorcycle to tour around, so I would bring it back later. I didn't think that was a good idea. He didn't want me to leave and kept me there talking to him for a while, but finally I said it was getting too late. Well, I then attempted to go to another town, but it didn't work out because nobody knows where things are or how to get there. So I passed the town and didn't realize till I got somewhere else, but since that's how things go here, I spent the night in Hohoe instead. This place was more touristy, and the next day I did a hike to some waterfalls that were pretty nice. Afterwards I got fufu with what appeared to be either heart or liver and a piece of stomach tied together with intestine. You can imagine that pretty much stayed in the bowl. I hope they weren't offended.

So in Hohoe I hooked up with a guy named Yao (Thursday born), who was evidently a spoiled rich kid whose dad is a sub-chief and owns a company for which Yao works. He was with a guy named Kobi, who I later realized was his servant. This was very awkward for me, and I didn't like having somebody carrying my stuff and whatnot, but what can you do. Kobi was the happiest person I have ever met... a very simple, happy person who spoke very little English and usually spouted things at me like "united states... george bush... osama bin laden... michael jackson"... I just smiled and nodded. So Yao had a truck of his own, though missing one of the front lights and with a broken starter and alternator, so Kobi had to push the car every time they wanted to start it, and he drove me southwards, stopping at Tafi-Atome to see sacred Mona monkeys that live in the forest there. On the way we were stopped by the police because of the missing headlight, and I found out Yao hadn't brought his insurance or his drivers license. They called him into the office, but luckily 15 minutes and 50,000 cedis (about $5) later, we were on our way again. He drove like a maniac and actually hit a goat in the dark. Fortunately it didn't die, just broke its leg. I was really mad, though. Anyway, he took me to Akosombo, where he wanted to go to a nightclub because it was a holiday weekend and everyone would be out partying. Akosombo was full of rich Ghanaians from Accra, all dressed like American rap stars, and we went out to "make crazy dance," as Kobi put it. It was pretty funny. Yao professed his love for me and told me he had never met anyone like me. Oy. I'm wearing a wedding ring here to keep people away, which has turned out to be a good idea, and he said he was going to give me a new one with his initials in it when I got to Accra. I told him I was taken but he doesn't seem to get it. I feel kind of bad, but he only knew me for one day, so he can't be that in love. Anyway, we got rooms in the local hotel, and Kobi slept in the truck (he said even if Yao gave him money for a room, he would pocket it and sleep in the car... I just can't fathom it). In the morning we got a personal tour of the power plant where they make the electricity for all of Ghana, Togo and Benin, because Yao's cousin is an engineer there, and then he left and I took a boat ride on Lake Volta, again full of rich Ghanaians. The worst part was an hour stop at Dodi Island, where children grab you the moment you get off the boat and don't let go till they've taken you all over the island and brought you back, in hopes of a tip. I was a bit overwhelmed by the quantity of desperate children (it never gets any easier to see it or deal with it), and I glommed on to another guy named Yao, who fended them off for me. Well, this one has taken it upon himself to make me a Catholic by the time I leave Ghana. I told him he has his work cut out for him. He was, however, teaching me Twi, the local language, and he gave me a place to stay in Accra, where he also gave me a ride yesterday. For the record, nothing happens with any of these people - they let me sleep on their floors or whatever, but it's not what you may be thinking, just plain, old-fashioned generosity. And then this morning he woke me up at 5:30 so I could take off for Kumasi. On the way the bus broke down, so we sat on the side of the road for a while, but finally I'm here, and that's the end of my update.

Sorry to run on, but as you can see, it's been an eventful week or so. Last time I wrote, I had been treated to several nights in nice hotels with AC. This time I am dirty and smelly and tired, eating fufu, banku or kenkey (all similar mushy masses of beaten corn, yam, or cassava) every day, and generally experiencing more of the Africa I expected, rather than the tourist paradise of the first week. But I'm still having a fantastic time, and I wish you all could see what I'm seeing here. I have learned so, so much already.

So from here I go back to Winneba for the Aboakyer festival, then up north to Tamale, Bolgatanga, and on to Burkina Faso. Internet has been hindered so far by network and power outages, and apparently it's even worse there, so these entries may be few and long from now on. That's all - congratulations on making it to the end of this. Thanks for reading.


Adventure map for 2009...