Saturday, October 25, 2008

chacos on an adventure

Esther thinks I have a foot fetish. This is pretty much because of how excited I was when I got my second, newly-refurbished, pair of Chaco sandals in the mail. It is also because I have a few pictures taken of just my shoes. See, these all-terrain, all-purpose, all-ecofriendly sandals are not just shoes, they are the pages that the stories of my past adventures and excursions are written on. They're old friends who could tell tales of playing games in grass with children or getting lost and going spulunking in caves. If you are an onwer of a pair of Chacos, you understand. The few of us on the trip that own Chacos have tracked our adventures thus far with catchprases like "Chacos at the beach," "Chacos in the rainforest," or "Chacos in the air." But after an adventurous day like today, my Chacos can now tell the epic of "Chacos at a waterfall."

My friend Amy and I love adventure. She has a list of things she's looked up in her guidebook and wants to check out, and we've slowly been helping her check some things off her list. She has been dead-set on finding a waterfall for quite some time, so I tagged along today for map-lead and instinct-driven journey. Esther and our friend Dorcas sent us off with nervous looks and a "Don't get lost!" Perhaps it is because Ghanaians are not natural cartographers, or because they legitimately have no faith in our navagational skills, but I think they were genuinely surprised to see us come back in one piece, and about the same time we told them we would.

We traveled on three tro-tros for a total of about 2 1/2 hours there and about 3 hours on the way back. After our second transfer, we got dropped off on the side of the road about 21 km north of Koforidua. Our visit at the Bodi Falls park apparently needed to begin with a hike. A nice hike sounded delightful. We set off into the grasses which turned into trees which turned into rainforest. By the time we got to the slippery and muddy rocks of our path, I remembered once again that we were in fact just shy north of the equator and that Ghana makes humidity like the sun makes UV rays. We came upon a cave, which was really just a mysteriously dripping rock shelf in the side of a mountain. It was pretty cool, actually, and apparently people used to hide out in there for protection during times of war. There was a picturesque little stream trailing next to us the whole time, but at this point we crossed it and proceded to practically rock climb to get another 80 feet up in the air. The next point of interest was the "umbrella rock," where the Ghanaian tourists decided that we were a better attraction for them to be photographed with. It was a little wierd being by this awesome rock formation which overlooked the mountain foothills, all in the gorgeous sunshine, and having people taking pictures of us. We came upon more of this undesired attention as we proceded to the "three-headed palm tree," or the palm tree with three trunks. At this point we turned Amy's suntan, my projectile sweating and our jelly legs around to trace our hike back out to go see the waterfall.

We walked down stone stairs to get to the waterfall(s). There are two falls right next to each other, but in the peak of the rainy season, the streams widen and almost connect into one giant fall. They were absolutely beautiful! I wish I could post the video of Amy and her pseudo-Brittish accent doing a brief National Geographic documentary, or even just a picture, but alas, Ghana's technology most likely won't let it happen. The pool at the bottom of the falls served as quite the oasis for all of the swimming children and adults who stripped down to underwear and jumped in. A rainbow stretched across the bottom of the falls, and served as a colorful semi-halo for the swimmers. And the floating mist in the air overcorrected the humidity, but was a refreshing break at the end of a steamy day.

Today I probably got melanoma and fire ant bites that I don't know about yet, but it was worth it. My skin got a tan, the water in my body got an excape route out, and my shoes got one more story to tell. I'd say that was a Saturday worth spent.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

outside looking in

I wish that every American could travel outside of the country to step back and see how bit it really is. Only now do I realize how big the United States is. It started by the common response of “Obama!” when I answer that I’m from the United States. At first I found it really strange, like, um, America is more than one man or one election. But now I realize that one American election really is that big of a deal. I’m finding politics and economics less prone to eye-rolling or yawning in my life, and seeing both as living, impacting forces that I never saw when inside my country. See, n many ways, Ghana pays attention to the states because Bush first paid attention to Ghana. A massive majority of Ghana’s foreign aid is thanks to the Bush administration, which translates tangibly into jobs, ARVs or electricity. And one American election has the potential to change everything. It has the potential to empower disenfranchised black Africans, or maintain previous foreign policy. As it turns out, it’s a big deal. And Ghanaians pay attention to it. Almost as closely as they watch the Western stocks fluctuate, while biting their stubby nails and wringing their weary hands. If an economic crisis would mean fear for well-to-do Americans, it means absolute terror for those who are developing and depend on Western funds. And again, everyone here is paying attention. It’s not that politics and economics are casually talked about around a water cooler, it’s whispered in the markets, spoken in the universities, and shouted about by Ghanaian presidential candidates. It started to strike me when Esther, who’s studying accounting, asked me about the current U.S. financial situation for a paper she had to write for class. I pondered how absurd it would be at Calvin if the roles were reversed. I guess it all changes when I’m on the outside of the U.S., looking back in.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

less than royal castles

Few words can adequately describe our trip to the Cape Coast and Elmina castles last weekend. The horrors and audacity of the castles’ dungeons and the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that they represent were juxtaposed against the exquisite beauty of the whitewashed walls and turquoise waves against the vibrant blue sky. Not knowing at whom to direct our anger, choking down our sadness, and resisting vomiting within everything in us, we toured the two former slave-trading castles in silence. Since then, we’ve internally and externally processed some things, but I think it will take a lifetime to figure everything out in my own mind. I have some beautiful pictures, some sobering memories and a different perspective of my Dutch heritage thanks to the experience of the castles. Bright Eyes says that if you can’t compose yourself it’s best to compose a poem, so that’s what I’ve attempted to do…

White and Blue

Weeps she, the sea
Back and forth, again and again.
Elevated above, glistening fortress
As a dove preparing for escape.
Trapped, restless fingers on eroded stone
As voiceless thunder drums the rocks.
Salt in the walls, salt in the sweat, salt in the tears—
She is as much a part of it as anything, the sea
A past of carrying away, a present
Of recession defiance.
She rolls on, as the football glides
Back and forth, again and again.
Rushing, trickling, dripping,
For all this, humans are never spent.