10 Long Overdue Facts About Life in Winneba

This post is long overdue, but I hope you all find it entertaining and interesting. Some of the facts aren’t so fun or happy (sewage and disease) but others I think you will find quite fun. I hope you all enjoy this little window into life in Winneba.

1. People dye their chickens to stop hawks from identifying them and so they can distinguish their chickens from other people’s chickens. Ever seen a hot pink chicken? It is fascinating.

2. There are open sewers everywhere. Beyond being a bit smelly and gross to look at, open sewers cause a problem specifically during the rainy season (now) when they flood. The sewage gets into the water supply and makes everyone sick.

3. There are constantly goats, dogs, cats, rams, and chickens running around. Baby goats might just be the cutest things I have ever seen (they are also competing with tiny puppies an kittens).

4. The power goes out at least 4-5 times per week. There is also very little wifi, and when there is wifi, it goes out with the power.

5. Water generally stops running for about a day at a time a couple times a week. There is also no hot water.

6. Cell phones are used for pretty much everything including internet, advice, and really anything else you can think of. There are no cell phone “plans.” Instead, you buy credit on the street that you program into your phone to pay as you go with every service essentially on the same cost plan.

7. Shared cabs essentially act as buses within Winneba. It is just like it sounds. They run a “bus route” essentially, and the cab continuously picks up passengers until the cab is full. Passengers then direct the cab driver to wherever they want to be dropped off along the route.

8. There are no washing machines. Hand washing is harder than it looks. Very small children have schooled me multiple times, which is incredibly humbling.

9. The tro-tro takes you farther distances outside the town. They are small vans packed sardine-style. They do not have any signs as to where they are going, so you have to listen to what location the bus driver is yelling when he stops at pick-up points.

10. The food you take for granted really doesn’t exist. Chocolate and cheese are MIA, as is real coffee. All food surrounds dough made of cassava or maize, small fish and chickens, pineapples, bananas, mangos, eggs, onions, coconuts, peppers, some tomatoes, groundnuts, and combination all-spice. That is all. You don’t realize how much you miss certain foods until they are completely unattainable: aka cheese.

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New Perspectives #1

I have had a couple experiences so far that have altered the way that I perceive the volunteer or working with people you are “helping.” This does not mean that volunteer work isn’t important. However, sometimes I think we get so caught up in our roles as “volunteers” and “helpers,” we forget the impact we can make in other ways. Simple ways.

This morning we did reading practice with a few of the kids from the Challenging Heights School. It is part of our orientation and learning all the aspects of CH’s work. This morning, I work with 5 kids in 4 different groups. I loved working with all the kids. They were all super excited to be in the CH library, which is currently closed until the organization can find a librarian, and they seemed to really enjoy reading, learning new works in English, and hearing me try to speak bad Fante to them.

Still, the last child I worked with definitely stood out to me the most, largely because of the experience we shared. Kwasi picked a Ghanaian satire to read, which was written in both English and Fante. Since it was a play, we decided to each read different lines back and forth. As there was a mix of Fante and English, I also had to try to read Fante. It soon became clear that my pronunciation was awful. Written Fante has a mix of letters we would commonly see in English and letters in a completely different form. This meant that I had absolutely no clue how to pronounce certain parts of words. I definitely sounded hilarious.

Instead of the lesson simply being the Kwasi reading and me correcting him, he ended up correcting my pronunciation and teaching me Fante as much as I corrected his English reading. It became obvious that we were both really enjoying teaching each other. He also obviously felt great about teaching me something, being able to show how much he knew. He began to really smile and laugh, and we began to joke around. It was relaxed and there stopped being he perception that the only roles that existed were myself as the volunteer, leader, and teacher and Kwasi as the person I was helping. It became clear that were just having fun and both learning a lot from each other.

I had a similar experience a few days prior when myself and the other interns watched the Challenging Heights School dance and culture group perform. The kids followed the performance by teaching us parts of the dance they had performed. Similar to seeming ridiculous when trying to learn Fante, I looked very silly when doing West African dance. I love to dance, but I am not very good at it in general. I have little coordination, and I generally fail to shake my hips like you are supposed to. In West African dance, being able to do these things is highly important.

As you can probably guess, my dancing caused many people to laugh. No one laughed more than the girl teaching me. She couldn’t seem to figure out why I couldn’t shake and move my hips like she was. At times, we even had to stop dancing because she would be doubled over laughing, falling to the side of the “stage.” While I did get better at the dance, she continued to giggle. During this time, I really had not done anything “volunteer” wise but I had probably “done” more for her by just letting her teach me and laugh at me.

Often I find when volunteering that I am getting more out of the experience than the kids I am helping and that I am perceived as superior. The experience reading with Kwasi was so relieving because it was obvious that he was having as much fun teaching me – that we were equals – as he was improving his English reading. The experience dancing with the girl showed me that you don’t have to be doing direct volunteer work sometimes to accomplish similar goals. I think that this is often an aspect missing in volunteering. These experiences better showed me that it is often just as important to let people give to you and teach you, as it is to teach and help others.

Close Encounters

Anyone who knows me know that though I put on a pretty tough act, very few things freak me out more than spiders. I find them interesting, I like to look at them from afar and examine them in glass cages, but please keep them out of my room. During a recent evening, I was Skyping with my boyfriend in my room. All was well until he stopped talking and appeared to be looking quite intently over my right shoulder. After a brief hesitation he said, “There is a giant spider on your wall.”

At first I thought he was joking and just trying to freak me out. I looked just behind me at the space just above my pillow. No spider. “Are you joking?” I said, turning around. When I saw the expression on his face, it was very clear that he was very serious.

I turned back around and slowly brought my gaze up the wall. About a meter above my right shoulder was one of the biggest spiders I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. It has a body about the size of a quarter with big, spindly legs. Embarrassingly, I proceeded to shriek and jump behind my computer. At this point, my boyfriend was proceeding to completely crack-up on my computer screen. Spiders are hilarious when you aren’t actually in the room….

Realizing that I was alone to defend myself against the spider, I quickly jumped out of bed, muttering profanities quite loudly the whole time. Knowing I needed to arm myself with something lethal, I grabbed a hefty weapon: my Birkenstock sandal. Really not wanting to go any farther towards the spider than was needed, I decided to risk throwing my shoe at the spider, knowing there was a risk it would only be startled and climb under my bed. This would have obviously led to an immediate evacuation of the room. I wound up and threw the shoe at full force at the spider on the wall.

Bam! I hit the spider full on (this was quite impressive, I must say, given the distance from which I threw the sandal). The spider landed in a crumbled ball on the floor, at which point I continued to wack at it with my shoe. Convinced it was dead, I returned to Skyping, albeit with continuous glances over my right shoulder.

Since then, I have continued to meet creepy crawlies including quite small biting spiders, lizards, and all manner of bugs. I highly doubt much will frighten me more than that fateful first encounter with a giant spider in Ghana.

Knock on wood….

This is a spider that is very similar to the one I saw on my wall. After googling a fair amount, I believe that it was a Huntsman Spider. This photo is not my own and was taken from lynda2share on wordpress. I take no credit for this photo.

This is a spider that is very similar to the one I saw on my wall. After googling a fair amount, I believe that it was a Huntsman Spider. This photo is not my own and was taken from lynda2share on wordpress. I take no credit for this photo.

Ghanaian Food

Food in Ghana is quite unique. When I originally read my orientation guide for my internship, the description of Ghanaian food was “starchy.” That is quite accurate. Ghanaian food is made primarily around three staples: banku, fufu, rice, and occasionally fried plantains. Banku is made of “mashed” and boiled cassava (or sometimes corn?) and I believe Fufu is the same. These are then prepared with either beans, chicken, unnamed meat, fish, and sometimes shrimp. The dishes are often made in stews or combinations between the staple and meat with some kind of sauce or soup. The soups are made either of local vegetables, particularly onions, or ground nut paste. Ground-Nut Soup is made from ground-nut paste, which is very similar to peanut butter. All dishes are given a healthy dose of complete seasoning, which, while delicious, unfortunately also makes every dish taste quite similar.

Below are a few of the Ghanaian dishes I have tasted so far:

"Red-Red" aka Fried Plantains and Bean Stew. It tastes much better than it looks. This is definitely one of my favourites.

“Red-Red” aka Fried Plantains and Bean Stew. It tastes much better than it looks. This is definitely one of my favourites.

Rice Ball with Chicken in Ground-Nut Soup. This was at a small chop-house near the Winneba Market. It was probably the "sketchiest" place we have been to so far, but my stomach was fine.

Rice Ball with Chicken in Ground-Nut Soup. This was at a small chop-house near the Winneba Market. It was probably the “sketchiest” place we have been to so far, but my stomach was fine.

Banku and Fish in Ground-Nut Soup. This was at a local restaurant. The food here is ridiculously inexpensive. This cost about $1.25.

Banku and Fish in Ground-Nut Soup. This was at a local restaurant. The food here is ridiculously inexpensive. This cost about $1.25.

Banku and Fried Fish with Tomato Sauce and Veggies. This was at a restaurant called run-off during our first Ghanaian meal. This is hands down the "nicest" meal I have had in Ghana.

Banku and Fried Fish with Tomato Sauce and Veggies. This was at a restaurant called run-off during our first Ghanaian meal. This is hands down the “nicest” meal I have had in Ghana.

June 2, 2014: First Impressions and Fishing

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A whole community that lives on the beach near our hostel works together to pull up a giant fishing net.

A whole community that lives on the beach near our hostel works together to pull up a giant fishing net.

This morning we walked down to the beach. It’s only a one minute walk essentially, which is so nice. The beach is so beautiful and for the first little while walking along, it seemed super quiet and peaceful. While the atmosphere on the beach stayed much more peaceful than any beach I’ve been to near a city, it definitely didn’t stay quiet or isolated.

Within about twenty minutes of us walking along the beach, a large group of people from a few shacks sitting on the coast came to pull up their fishing net. For those of you thinking that this was a small crab trap or fishing net, think again. The net was huge – very close to the size of a commercial fishing net, and they were pulling it up by hand. The process was very methodical. The men (and women) worked their way down the beach as they pulled the net up, tying the rope to trees as they went.

When we first saw them, they gestured to us to come help. Chris jumped in basically right away, but I felt a bit shier. I held back, but I felt bad for just standing there and really didn’t want to be perceived as the privileged white tourist anymore than I had to be, so I jumped in to. Granted, the fishing I have done has been limited to pulling up crab traps by hand, fishing with a rod, and skinning halibut. While I play a mean game of tug and war, this was something else entirely. The amount of time and effort it took to pull up this net was incredible, and I was definitely on the weaker/not as helpful side of everyone pulling up the net.

By the end, I was sweating quite a lot, and the net was one the beach. I know enough about subsistence fishing to know that not a lot gets caught, and yet I was still surprised to see the small amount in the net. The large group that pulled it up would barely be fed for two days – if that. There was about a barrel full of small fish and clams.

I can’t believe that already on my first morning in Ghana, I have been so blessed to experience something so spectacular.

My Last Day in the Office

I love my CAST family so much!

Friday was so hard and so amazing all at the same time. It was my last day at CAST (in the office), but of course it was also crammed full. We had a training at the UCLA Medical building on identifying victims of trafficking, and I actually got to present! It was awesome being able to finally do what I had seen so many other staff at CAST do, and really share what I had learned. Beyond that though, just getting to spend one more day with my coworkers at CAST – to go to Chipotle, and get ice cream sandwiches, and make jokes about how I don’t know that much about the 90s – everything goes so beyond the work for me. Advocating against human trafficking and for better survivor services is still my passion, but my sadness about leaving the office goes way beyond that. I couldn’t stop saying how sad I was it was my last day in the office, because I will miss the people so much. Luckily, I am going to keep interning with CAST, but it will be remotely from school, and I will miss my amazing coworkers and friends. They have sincerely become my family in LA.

I was also treated to an amazing dinner at a thai BBQ restaurant by four Caucus members – Flor, Pasi, Ima, and Kanthi. The dinner was such a nice treat – Ima only told me about it on Thursday, and I was really surprised. No one has ever had a goodbye dinner for me before. I even got cake! Generosity still takes me by surprise sometimes, and the immense generosity I have found in my friends at CAST has been almost overwhelming. The relationships I made at CAST really became like family to me. I can’t express how much I care about the staff and survivors at CAST.

Today is definitely bittersweet. The generosity I have seen in the last few months, the resilience, and the care has been intense. I know that I have left this internship a completely different person. Calling it an internship doesn’t even feel right. I feel like it has changed my whole life, and I am so grateful for it.

I keep talking about generosity, but that is seriously what it comes down to. So often, we become jaded and believe that pure human goodness and sincerity doesn’t exist. Before I came to CAST, I know I felt like that. Although I know a lot of the change in my perception is because of my own personal work, CAST has had so much to do with it. The people who work at CAST and the survivors are just genuinely such good people. They do what they do because they care and because they want to make a difference. They take the time to show people that they care, and they look out for each other. I still think it is rare at times, but I am finding it more and more, and I found a very dense pocket of it at CAST Los Angeles.

I am so blessed to have had these amazing people come into my life. From being teased at the office for my lack of ability to make coffee to spending Indonesian Independence Day with Ima and Pasi, this internship went so beyond the “typical office experience.”

They say everyone comes into your life for a reason. The people at CAST sincerely made me such a better person. I am forever grateful for this experience. It really swept me off my feet in every way and in the best way possible.

Human Trafficking Task Force Orange County Meeting

When different people from all different areas work together to change society, truly remarkable things can happen.

When different people from all different areas work together to change society, truly remarkable things can happen.

On August 28, I travelled to Santa Ana for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force Meeting. There I got to see many of the people I had met at the Runaway Girl Training and here from Dr. Kenneth Chuang, who has worked to provide physical and mental healthcare to victims of trafficking. There were so many different members of the community there from members of the grand jury to members of the FBI. Knowing that so many people from all areas of society are working to end this issue is reassuring and inspiring. I also love reconnecting with people, and being able to reconnect with the people I had met at the training and listen to such a remarkable speaker was incredible.

It was really amazing to hear him speak specifically, as that is an area I am definitely looking to work in. He specifically talked about how there are really no mental health services for victims of trafficking. And I think this is true for many people who suffer sever trauma. Often, we pigeonhole someone into one category of depression, anxiety, or trauma when they may have multiple symptoms or traumas. I want to be able to help people find themselves again, no matter what they have gone through. 

Everyone deserves a chance to truly live.

Freedom of Mind and the Importance of Informing First Responders

A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied two CAST survivors, Flor and Kanthi, to help facilitate them telling their stories and talking about labor trafficking at a training for first responders. I really believe that these conferences are extremely important, as they inform the people that will likely be the first – hence “first responder”- that will be interacting with victims of trafficking. If first responders can learn how to properly identify and interact with a victim of trafficking, we could save so many more people from exploitation and give them the dignity and services they deserve.

This conference specifically focused on how victims often won’t identify as victims or won’t seek help because they do not know they can. Runaway girl, which was founded by Carissa Phelps – a survivor of minor domestic sex trafficking, facilitated this training, provides trainings all over the US, and empowers victims of trafficking. Runaway girl facilitated this conference, and their specific goal was to show first responders how trauma bonding and “mind control” works in the case of human trafficking victims. A MISSEY representative spoke about the effect of improper news coverage of child victims of commercial sexual exploitation and another survivor spoke about how the media forms stereotypes and promotes images that make girls more vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking. Steven Hassan, a former cult member and expert on mind control, presented on how his model for helping victims get out of cults can also apply to trafficking victims. Flor and Kanthi also did an amazing job, and really emphasized how they had no idea who they could contact in the US, what their rights were, or even that they could escape and get help. They showed that although it may seem obvious that they were exploited and could get help, they truly believed no one would help them and that were not even victims in the US. This training really made an impact on the first responders present, and it really made an impact on me as well.

I was really impacted by this training, as I find the fact that someone’s mind can be totally turned around, manipulated, and wounded by their circumstances and others actions truly saddening. I think that healing one’s mind is so important, and that it is key to any type of recovery. Specifically for victims of trafficking, understanding that what they went through was not their fault can be life changing. It really hurts me to know that these victims aren’t completely free once they leave their traffickers – that their minds are often still trapped. Steven Hassan did an interview with Flor, one of the CAST survivors who presented, to show her a little bit how victims could better understand that they should not blame themselves for what happened to them. It was truly an honor for me to be able to sit in on the interview and talk a little bit about what CAST does. The video can be seen here: http://www.freedomofmind.com/Media/video.php?id=64. I really hope that this training, and others like it, can help responders and service providers help victims mentally recover.

 For me personally, facilitating the CAST aspect of the training alone was a remarkable experience, but the training also helped me see exactly what area I want to work in.  Getting to work with Carissa and other professionals in this area was such a remarkable experience. Also, helping the two CAST survivors in any way I could felt really rewarding. It reminded me that empowerment is key to solving the issue of human trafficking. We will never solve this issue if the survivors’ voices are not heard. Although the two CAST survivors – Flor and Kanthi – would have been incredibly powerful without me, I was happy to support them in any way I could. The conference also solidified my goal to provide better services, particularly mental health services, for victims of severe trauma, specifically human trafficking and slavery. I don’t know exactly what path I want to take to do this, but I know in my heart that it is what I am meant to do.

 Overall, this was a truly amazing experience.

The Fight for Modern and Historical Justice

Telling people about CAST, human trafficking, and out work to stop it, it always reminds me how little is known about this issue. Still, the amount of people who wanted to know more and become involved with CAST, gave me hope that this issue is becoming known and that more work is being done to help victims of trafficking and slavery.

Telling people about CAST, human trafficking, and out work to stop it, it always reminds me how little is known about this issue. Still, the amount of people who wanted to know more and become involved with CAST, gave me hope that this issue is becoming known and that more work is being done to help victims of trafficking and slavery.

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working as CAST’s liaison with the Museum of Tolerance for our participation in their event on Korean “Comfort Women.” Kim Bok-Dong was forced into sexual slavery at the age of 15 at the hands of Japanese Imperialist soldiers before and during WWII. On Monday night, she spoke about her experience as well as her current fight for historical justice and an official apology from Japan. It was amazing to simply hear her speak, and it felt really good to have people come up to the CAST booth afterwards wanting to learn more about ending modern day slavery and telling me that they had heard about the event through CAST’s social media.

At the event, I ran an outreach booth for CAST and helped coordinate one of our Survivor Advisory and Leadership Caucus Member’s participation. At the end of Kim Bok-Dong’s speech, Angela sat on stage and said a few words in solidarity with Kim Bok-Dong. She said that Kim Bok-Dong inspired her even more to continue to fight against human trafficking. Her words reflected the great respect that I believe all the audience members had for the tiny Korean woman sitting on stage. Advocating for any cause takes an immense amount of energy. The fact that Kim Bok-Dong continues to do so into her late 80s filled me with both admiration and sadness.

On one hand, it is amazing that she continues to fight. On the other, I wouldn’t want my grandmother to have to continue to speak out over and over about a terrible crime that happened to her just so people would believe it happened. How are we supposed to appropriately deal with our problems in the present, if we can’t face our problems in the past? If governments around the world can’t put their pride and fear – or whatever it is – aside to face their past, how are they going to properly face their present mistakes and issues at hand?

Truly horrific events occurred in WWII. There is no question about that, and there is truly nothing any government can do now to truly make up for those events. Still, recognizing that these events occurred and that they should not happen in the future, can prevent them from happening again (or at least we can hope). These women, who are now older than my grandmother, deserve redress and an official apology. Japan has been determined not to claim it as a government issue, but the fact is that even if it was a civilian issue at the time, the government should still take responsibility for it now.

The talk last night was truly inspirational, but it also filled me with fear. I truly hope that by the time I am Kim Bok-Dong’s age, I am at least fighting for different issues than I am now.

Potluck at CAST Shelter

Okay, so this post is seriously late. I would promise that my posts will be on time for now, but honestly, with all the craziness of my internship at CAST and just life in general, my blog posts will likely continuously be delayed. And just to clarify, I LOVE the craziness. My life is awesome right now.

I wanted to briefly write about an awesome experience I had a few *ahem* weeks ago. I was invited to a potluck at the CAST shelter. The food was so good and it was so nice to connect with so many people involved in CAST. The women at the shelter had all made so many great dishes and a few people had brought things as well (I am not super talented in the culinary arts and went with chips and hummus). The dishes spanned an awesome rice chicken stew to green tea cake. Everyone bonded over how great the food was and the women were all so proud of the food they had made. It was a great reminder for me about how food serves to symbolize so many things: connection, gratitude, affection.

Through my time here at CAST, the generosity I have witnessed again and again has blown me away. There is barely a day that goes by that I am not offered to someone’s house or some sort of awesome food I have yet to try. There isn’t any large philosophical meaning behind posting this, its just a reminder that people can be and are often really sweet. CAST may work in an issue often trapped in sadness and tragedy, but the clients, volunteers, and staff at CAST so often remind me that there really are good people and things everywhere.

Maybe this post was about a bit more than just a potluck. But then the potluck was about a lot more than just food.

The scrumptious array of food at the potluck!

The scrumptious array of food at the potluck!

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