Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ehime and Ghana

Well we finally made it to Ghana! We arrived in Accra a couple hours ago and so far I can already tell that it is going to be A LOT different than Nigeria. Personally, I was really sad to leave Nigeria, but I don't think many of my trip-mates felt the same way. Ghana is much more touristy than Nigeria and our program here reflects that. Nigeria was really about personal interactions and looking at social issues. We couldn't even find any postcards in Nigeria and already in Ghana we have. I didn't get to see much of Lagos, but it was definitely the most western of anything we saw in Nigeria. We did see a lot of slums in the same city we went to a shopping mall full of foreigners and the rich elite. The shanties in Lagos were different than the ones we have seen in other areas of Nigeria because they were over the water. All of them were built on stilts over a lagoon. People navigate with canoes. It was a pretty crazy sight.

One of the highlights of this trip so far was when we went to Ehime. Ehime is the village that the head of the foundation is from. it is also where he built a secondary school (the first school to be built in the area in 17 years). The rural parts of nigeria where still most of the population lives is AMAZING. Sparse properties which contain several generations are planted within the palm tree forests. It truly was the picturesque/stereotypical rural village that most people think constitutes all of Africa- red dirt paths and lush green. We stayed there for four days at the parish priest's house (in iboland everyone is Catholic, if you have read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart then you understand). We got to do short home stays here in which someone our age took us to their community and we hung out at their houses and met all the neighbors. It was really amazing just getting to be with families, with the people, in their element and seeing exactly how they live. The communities were beautiful and so nice and peaceful to be in. All in Ehime I just couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful place. My home stay girl, Prisca, was so nice. She picked me up from the priest's house and as we made the walk to her village (there are 5 smaller communities within the Ehime area) we gradually picked up more and more kids who walked with us. The highlight for me was getting to hold a baby on my back like the women do here with a cloth. Her English name was "good news" and she was 2 years old. With her on my back I walked to Prisca's house. I met her grandmother, very sweet grandfather, and mother. We played with the gifts we gave them: jump rope, bubbles and crayola color explosion kit. We also ate ground nuts (boiled peanuts) which I am now SO addicted to and performed the Kola Nut ceremony. The ceremony is done all over Ibo land and you do it whenever you welcome a guest into your home. I have two different views of poverty now: poverty in the city and poverty in rural areas. In the judgments of Americans, everyone in this village is extremely poor. the houses are simply stacked cement blocks, maybe with a later of stucco on the outside, a lot of the children's clothes are rags (American cast-offs that are falling apart), but I really don't even view it as materially poor. No one seems to mind or care too much about the clothes, the houses are small but they really do provide the shelter need. The property has space, yards, courtyards, and almost everyone grows the food they eat, or they buy it directly from someone close who did. The house we stayed at was not nearly as comfortable as what we have in the U.S., but it really hasn't bothered me one bit. There were holes in the ceiling, tons of moldy walls and generally dirty walls and floors. But really, none of this has bothered me one bit throughout the trip. During the home stay I just wasn't appalled by the facilities, I have seen much worse on this trip. I feel like anyone still living in a rural area is still doing well because they don't have to live in the crowded, dirty cities. I could totally see myself contently living in a place like this. Any who, once we got to their house it turns out that Good News had fallen asleep on my back. We went around the village and I met a lot of people in the community. They were all ridiculously welcoming. It was really neat to meet old people who have lived there their entire lives. Most didn't speak English and one was even blind, but they always said welcome and asked me how I was doing. One lady told me to tell my mother and father that she hopes they are doing well. I was so happy just to be there with everyone! I find myself constantly wanting to rate my experiences here on my "best of my life" list and I simply can't rank any more.
Also in the village we played a football (soccer) game with some local kids. That also ranks high on my list. We were all really nervous about playing because the kids here eat breath and live soccer. We played on the church/community field and we played during a gorgeous sunset. The energy and ray of the orange sun were palpable. I almost felt I was having an out of body experience I was so happy. There were tons of people on the sidelines. A lot of the entire community came out to watch the game. On my team were all of our group and about 4 guys from the community and 2 girls. Jesse was a really good goalie, but the rest of us sucked, we only kind of held our own because of the locals on our team. The game was close and at one point we were actually winning. I was goalie for a little bit, but they scored on me and then with shame I switched positions. The game ended with the score 4-3, us losing. The best part of the night was after the game when tons of kids surrounded me and we played a giant game of Simon Says. they never really grasped the concept of only doing something when "simon says", so it reallly was a game of "imitate annie doing weird, funny things". the kids loved it and were totally cracking up and smiling the whole time. i played with them for a really long time and gosh it felt so good!
Being around all these wonderful children truly makes me want to spend every second of my life helping them and loving them. EVERY child here brings out that feeling in me. i would really love to be a teacher here, but i question whtether it is my right/role. visiting schools i have learned that there are able teachers lining up for jobs, that really need jobs, but they can't hire them because there aren't enough funds. i know that next summer i want to intern with an NGO. i know i don't have to figure out right now what i want to do with my life, but being here makes me just want to be able decide on something as a way of coping with the hard things i see.

have to go, time is up! as always, a million more things to say.
Can't wait to see Ghana tomorrow. especially accra because NYU has a study abroad program here that I can do my junior year!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

my birthday and more

As always, i don't know where to start when i write these because there is simply too much to write and not enough time. first off- i am so happy here. i seriously don't want to go home because i feel like i am truly LIVING. i can't even say what all of this has meant to me.
a few recent highlights:
-yesterday we flew from owerri, nigeria to lagos, nigeria so that we could fly to ghana. we missed our flight and so we are in lagos for today and then fly out tomorrow night. the flight was AMAZING though. when we first flew into abuja it was night and so we really couldn't see anything. the view from the sky seriously took my breath away. there were rivers that winded like coils and green as far as the eye can see. the cities here are sparse and the rest is just green. i know i already talked about this in my last blog but it seriously is so beautiful and powerful and wonderful and every other adjective.
-my birthday was the most memorable day of my entire life. We were in Port Harcourt at the time, which if you don't know, is one of the most dangerous cities in Nigeria. after i turned 18 at midnight I got to call home for about 5 minutes and talk to danny. it made me so happy! we had about 5 different things planned for the day so i knew the day wouldn't be focused on me, which i was fine with. Our first activity was to meet with the organization MOSOP which stands for MOvement for the Survival of the Oguni People. On our way to the organization it was raining hard and the traffic was horrendous. getting anywhere in port harcourt takes at least an hour because of the poor conditions of the roads and lack of traffic signs and rules. the day took a hard turn when we were sitting in traffic with the water rolling down the windows and we look outside and see the saddest thing I have seen in all my life. There were about three kids standing on the center divide ranging from ages 3 to 7. one of the little boys, the youngest, only a toddler was naked with a picture of himself naked around his neck. the picture was there so that everyone could see his birth defect or illness which caused his stomach and body parts to be extrememly swollen. he stood next to our car and looked up with his crying eyes asking us for money. their mother was sitting down, dry, underneath an umbrella nearby. it just killed me to think of the life this boy has to live. i don't want to blame anyone- his mother, his country. i just want to think about the right of every human to life a decent life. i cannot pretend to understand their condition or rationalize anything in any way. all i know is that he did not have shelter and because of where he was born he does not have access to medical help. i wanted more than anything i have ever wanted in my life to pick him up and love him and care for him and take him home with me. i sat there, comfortable, dry in a nice van thinking about why i should get to live a happy, comfortable life while people here struggle everyday to survive. i have come to the conclusion that almost all of the issues in the country stem from the government. the government has plenty of money they just choose not to spend it on education, the cities and social services. After driving away and arriving at MOSOP we all found it hard to function. we sit down and we learn about what is happening in the Niger Delta with oil. A general overview that is not sufficient is that Shell Oil is exploiting the entire area. they do not pay the government or the people a fair amount for the oil they take and the environmental effects of what they are doing are disgusting and disturbing. i am about to be kicked off the computer so i will shortly summarize the rest of the day. i promise to write more later: we got to go to where the oil companies drill and see leaking pipelines that have caught on fire spewing volcanic amounts of pollution into the air every second. we saw families living less than 50 feet away from the fires. we went to a school and they surprised me with a birthday cake and celebration. i can't write more but it was definitely a day that brought me into adulthood.

i love everyone

visit and don't buy shell oil ever again!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

so much to process!

Wow. I haven't had any time to go to internet cafes and even when we do go the internet is so slow that it is hard to contact people. just one more thing i realized i took for granted in the U.S. I have been thinking a lot about the U.s. while I have been here. When everyone told me that it would make me appreciate the u.s. a lot more i thought that there was no way that could be true. i was wrong though. being here has really made me realize that almost all of my problems with the U.s. really don't affect me at all- they are mostly political or philosophical. the fact is that every person in the united states has the opportunity to survive. it is seriously a powerful thing to be able to have a stable government, clean streets, strong infrastructure, minimum wage, free schooling, trash pickup. i am currently in Owerri, Nigeria. it is a city with a very large population, but you can't tell by the way the buildings look. the gutters are completely full of trash and oil. there is no trash pickup, everyone burns trash piles which is really bad for the air. the air quality is so bad because there are no standards that the cars have to pass. we have pretty much three or four power outages every evening. yesterday we took a ten hour bus ride from abuja to owerri. i pretty much stared out the window the whole time. it was a really neat way to see different social climates of nigeria. there were rural villages and the rest of the time was just huge, massive, immense spans of green. green as far as the eye could see and huge white clouds.pretty much everything i see does this for me- I see the beauty of community and love- and the tragedy of people fighting to survive. We drove by communities that looked perfectly happy- houses made of cement, happy children running around and going to school- poor on our standards, but still surviving. everywhere we go people are in groups- along thee drive i would see groups of guys, groups of girls, group s of children, socializing, laughing, playing. however most cities are very dirty and children are running towards the vehicle trying to sell eggs, bread or calling cards. we passed countless cities composed of vast stretches of shanties and the community relying on the income of people driving through. the thing i am least accustomed to is the dirty cities. i remember mr. drew my english teacher saying that when he went to mexico he would sometimes question why there was so much trash on the streets and everywhere. i know that there simply isn't the infrastructure in the cities and this is absolutely no reflection on the people living in the cities. the rural areas were a lot cleaner

today we went and had a meeting with the minister of education of this state. she invited us to go to a national children's carnival. we decided to go and pulled into the stadium that it was held at and our little van was immediately surrounded by tons of children. we unpiled and each person was surrounded by about 30 smiling faces telling us how welcome we are and how happy they are to see us. i took about a million pictures because kids here really like that. We talked for about 20 minutes just with tons and tons of little kids in their school uniforms. they all said that they are very happy and love school. i asked them what they want to do in the future and they all said they want to go to university and become doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, lawyers. it was really beautiful and it made me think about how much i wish i could guarantee that they could all do the things they want to do. i have never received so much love in my entire life. they asked me what my name was and i said annie and i immediately heard a huge chorus of ANNIE. i asked for a hug and i had 40 children all hugging me as hard as they could. we talked about the u.s. and their favorite activities. they sang me their national anthem and said their pledge of allegiance. it made me cry to hear how much pride they have in their country and their lives and families. we eventually made it in the stadium but it was hard to move with so many people surrounding us- the security had to clear the way. we got to sit in the area reserved for dignitaries next to traditional rulers, ministers of education, the equivalent of all the important people in the education sector of the government. there were several thousand children participating in this event from all over the Imo state. the event is not really a carnival at all in our terms, but more like our equivalent of a marching band parade competition. each school has a traditional dance and performance team. the groups paraded around the track and performed when they got to the front. the dancing and drumming were AMAZING. i couldn't believe how good the smallest kids were! it was really beautiful to see them preserving their culture and doing traditional practices. we were truly treated as guests of honor- i couldn't believe it. it really just makes me think about how impersonal my community is back home.

i have SO much more to talk about such as the protests and police violence i saw in the capital over a governors corruption trial (that i got to witness), sitting in on the nigerian senate, meeting with an NGO about women's rights, going to two crazy intense markets, being proposed to about a million times, going to 3 hour church wearing the dress of traditional nigerian women, meeting with the chief imam of a HUGE mosque and so much more. i don't have time for that now so my last words will be wish me luck on everything i still have to experience and see.
i have so many ideas on programs and things to do to help when i get back to the u.s.


in this city being white automatically makes me a celebrity. EVERYONe either stares, smiles, or waves. it really has made me think about what it means to be white. i am looking at africans so much much that white skin is actually looking very odd. i swear, the smiles of everyone and the millions of times i hear "you are welcome" everyday overwhelms me. i can't believe how many times i have made eye contact with someone and smiled and that was enough to fill their hearts with joy and smile or laugh back. thinking about america's view of africa saddens me. people just don't have any idea how people live their lives. i few sights i see all the time:
-motorcycles fill the road instead of cars a lot of the time. i saw today a motoccyle with three children on it and two parents
-people carrying things on their heads. they pretty much don't carry things any other way. i am really amazed/fascinated by this all the time. today i saw a woman with a forty pound bag of rice on her head like it was no big deal.
-women carry babies on their backs fastened by a cloth that wraps around the baby abd ties in the front. there are tons of children here and families typically have a lot of kids. any time i see a mother with a baby on her back it just melts my heart because it is so beautiful. i pretty much go crazy at the site of any child. they are so innocent, sweet, good natured and response to the children has confirmed my desire to teach in africa and adopt. i think my experience with the kids today at the carnival was the happiest moment of my life.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

first days

I only have 7 minutes to write as I am at an internet cafe. Well I have no idea where to start because I have already had SO many experiences, thoughts, interactions, feelings in Africa so far. To put it simply I am having an amazing time. A brief list of things that have happened:

-Arrived in Abuja, Nigeria after 24 hours of flying- it was 8pm here and only noon at home. Crazy! The time difference has not been hard at all. The first night I slept like a baby. We are staying at the guest house of a church.
-Yesterday we went and toured a secondary school (junior and high school). I was really interested in the education system and this has only confirmed my desire to teach in Africa later on. I was very surprised to learn that there were only 14 teachers at the school for 1500 students. The facilities were very limited. I do not want to give negative images that everything is dirty or run down (even though that is what some people might see) because the people are the nicest I have ever met. At the school student government members helped with the tour and I the best thing was just talking to them about life. the connection between us was so beautiful and I couldn't help but think that all of humanity was strengthened by our friendship.
-This morning we went to an orphanage outside of the city. i do not have enough time to write about it but lets just say i am definitely adopting orphans when I am an adult. it was so hard to leave and the beautiful, happy faces were burned into my heart forever. it was really cool- i let the kids take a bunch of pictures with my camera and they were so excited and the pictures are amazing.

i could write forever (i wrote 7 pages in my journal about just yesterday)

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Day After Tomorrow

I can't believe I leave the day after tomorrow. As I anticipate the journey that is about to come, I reflect on the journey that it took to get me here.
It all started about four months ago. I walked into Model United Nations and my friend Sachi was looking at a flyer. I saw the words "Ghana" and "Nigeria" at the top and wanted to know what she was looking at. I asked her about it and she said it was a one month trip to Africa over the summer. That was all I had to hear and I was hooked. I remember my heart started beating fast as I realized that my opportunity had finally arisen. I wrote down the website and the rest of the day could think of nothing else. I came home and after looking at the website was convinced that I was going to go to Africa. I told my mom and instead of saying "We don't have that kind of money" she said "You can do it Annie, I know you can".
Well it took bake sales, shirt sales, button sales, letters, meetings, speeches, posters, hundreds of hours of babysitting, scholarships and the work of the entire community, but I raised all the money for my trip and even enough to buy a good camera.
So... Here I am! About to leave the country to go to the place my heart has called me to for at least 5 years- Africa. I feel so blessed to be living my dream. I can't think of any other adventure I would rather be starting!
Wish me the best, pray for me and know that I couldn't be doing any of this without the support of everyone who helped me get here.