YES Abroad Ghana: Last Month Q&A

1. When do you come home?

I leave Ghana on June 30th and have a return orientation in Washington D.C. I return to Naples on July 3rd.

2. Do you want to come home?

In most ways I do. That being said, certain places in Ghana seem like home to me. I feel like part of the family at Malata market and around Roman Ridge [where I lived with my first family]. As soon as I visit both places, the sound of women yelling “Kwadwo” fills the air, and I am greeted with hugs and adoration.

Nonetheless, I am excited for the convenience of Whole Foods Market and not  having to shower out of a bucket.

3. What will your first three meals be in Naples?

Meal #1: Israeli couscous with mango glazed sockeye salmon accompanied by sautéed brussels sprouts and asparagus.

Meal #2: Toasted ‘everything’ bagel with freshly made pesto and smoked whitefish, topped with sliced tomato and avocado.

Meal #3: Siam Thai Cafe – Pad kee mao [rice noodles with a basil sauce] and massaman curry with extra broccoli.

4. How are you spending your final weeks in Ghana?

Now that I am finished with Flair Catering, I have begun a two-week internship with Trafix Catering. This popular restaurant and catering service is located in the National Theater, seen below.

Since I already know how to cook the majority of Ghanaian and Continental dishes, I am waiting tables and generally making friends with the Ghanaians. It’s great being able to use Twi to interact with Ghanaians and share my experiences with them. I also love watching the occasional obruni customer [attempt to] eat local dishes without silverware.

After my internship ends, I will be going on a final trip to Takoradi before ultimately preparing for my departure.

5. Did you ever get sick in Ghana?

Besides one episode of food poisoning, no. I love Ghana; I don’t even have my usual morning allergies here! As far as food poisoning is concerned, I strongly recommend future visitors to NEVER eat salad sold on the street.

6. Do you think you’ll miss the ‘foreign’ experience enough that you may want to eventually live in another country? 

I have no problems with living abroad, provided I can find stable internet connections. But unless my future job calls for it, America is one of the best places in the world to live… despite the recent cannibalism/zombie apocalypse trend.

7. How has this trip changed you?

For better or worse, I see myself as:

  • More eager to see the world.
  • More likely to eat my weight in broccoli during my first week in America.
  • More likely to question the status quo [aka complain].
  • More easygoing; things often turn out for the better when you don’t plan them.
  • More blunt; eating around the bush wastes time.
  • More likely to stop and ask for directions.
  • More patriotic; most Americans don’t realize how truly lucky they are. Back home, parents raise kids telling them that they can be ‘anything they want to be’. For the most part, it’s true. For children abroad, it isn’t.
  • And finally, less scared of boa constrictors:

8. Will you cook for me? 

Sure thing Aunt Liz! I’ve already found several websites to buy the common Ghanaian ingredients online.

Shikenan African Shop

Aboasa International Market

Get ready Americans; you’re about to get your first taste of  fufu, palm nut soup, pollo, and a bunch of other Ghanaian goodies!

If you have any other questions you’d like to see answered, leave them in the comments section below.

Aboakyer Festival

Aboakyer, also known as the ‘deer hunting festival’,  is organised in honor of the tribal God of Winneba. In this festival, Penkye Otu, their God, receives the sacrifice of a deer. During last week’s AFS trip to the Central Region, we had the fabulous opportunity to experience the climax of this festival.

The Aboakyer festival originated about three hundred years ago, when Winneba was first settled. The people believed they were only able to establish their homes through the instrumentality of their God – who still protects the people of Winneba. This festival expresses their gratitude towards him.

Initially, human beings from the royal family were sacrificed. But as the royal family slowly died out,  the people pleaded with their God to accept a live leopard. The God agreed, and for some time live leopards were offered.

But over time, the leopards injured many and claimed several lives. The people made a desperate appeal to Penkye Otu to accept deers instead of leopards. Legend says that Penkye Otu accepted their request because the blood of deer and leopards is similar to that of man.

The Aboakyer festival involves two groups in Winneba, the Tuafo and the Dentsifo . They compete among themselves to go into the bush and be the first group to catch a deer.

The festival begins in the evening with a brass band marching through the streets of Winneba, singing and dancing. The whole town seems to be involved in the parade, and it goes on as far as the eye can see.

The next day consists of rituals. Libations are poured, prayers are said, and ceremonial guns are fired. The Tuafo and Dentsifo men purify themselves by bathing at the beach. Priests shave their heads and smear themselves with oil. Members of each group offer sacrifices to ancestral spirits for help in the following day’s deer hunt.

The next morning, both groups march to Penkye Otu’s shrine to have roots and herbs be sprinkled on them to ensure their safe return from the hunt. They smear themselves with clay, and wear protective charms and amulets.

After seeing the Omanhene [supreme traditional ruler], they begin hunting for deer. The first group to go is the Tuafo. Armed with only clubs, the group with the first catch rushes back home with war songs and shout of victory. The deer is presented to the Omanhene who places his bare right foot three times on it. After completing this ritual, the deer is lifted up and carried through the town streets by singing and dancing men. Their destination is the shrine of Penkye Otu.

The final act of the festival involves the Tuafo and the Dentsifo coming together before their God to sacrifice the deer.

According to mystics if the first group, the Tuafo, catches the first deer there will be peace and prosperity in the coming group. But if it is caught by the second group, it will be a year of famine and war.

A last word… I’m not really sure why – but many men at the festival could be seen dressing as women. I asked several people for the reasoning for this, but nobody knew. “Whatever,” I thought. “If you’re willing to run into the bush and kill deers with clubs, there’s no reason to question your manhood.”

Click here to see more photos taken at the Aboakyer festival.


My Kente Quilt

I’ve wanted to buy a kente quilt [read: blankey] ever since coming to Ghana, but have held off due to the high cost of  the fabric and not knowing who to buy from. But last week at Tafi Abuife the kente was plentiful, the price was right, the stars were aligned, and I just couldn’t resist.

The following patterns, passed down through multiple generations, were selected for my quilt. Despite appearing simplistic, each of these abstract designs take 5-9 hours to complete a two yard strip. Altogether, the nine strips of kente I chose took a whopping 62 hours to weave.

Steps (Togbe) :

Birds (Afala) :

Hills & Sugarcane (Eto) :

Our People’s Footpath (Mat) :

Life’s Direction (Mor) :

Unity (Ashe) :

Unity #2 (Dekaworwor) :

After paying Aikins for the cloth, we rode motorcycle taxis over to a well-named tailoring shop in a neighboring village. Mary, an extremely nice seamstress, began sewing the kente cloth together strip by strip.  Earlier that day, I had carefully arranged the kente strips to make an evenly laid out design with a very diversified color scheme. It was a very nice layout, but I forgot to tell this to Mary. She stitched the strips together according to what she thought would look good, which I was completely okay with. After all, she’s the expert! After 45 minutes, Mary finished sewing my quilt without breaking a sweat [or removing her hair curlers]. The end product looks decidedly more original and ‘African’ than the almost symmetrical layout I had planned, and I am glad that I ‘let’ a Ghanaian arrange the kente design. Special thank you to Chris & Aikins for introducing me to their wonderful village.

Tafi Abuife Kente Village


Kente weaving is an ancient art, its roots dating before 3000 B.C. This past week Drew, Adriana, and I visited the largest kente village in Ghana – Tafi Abuife.

Aikins, our friendly guide, gave us a tour around the village of 3000. Every child is taught the art of weaving kente upon reaching the age of seven – as a birthright, responsibility, and means of making money. The ‘click clack’ sound of looms can be heard across the village.

Kente weaving was inspired by intricate spider webs in the ancient forests of Ghana. Legend says that two hunters found an exceptional web, and studied its designs and patterns for two days. Afterwards, they returned to their village to implement what they had seen. Kente was known as the ‘cloth of kings’ due to the cost and time required to weave it. Even with modern-day technology, it is still woven by hand. Each strip is classified by the number of weaves used to make it. A single weave takes five hours to complete, a double weave takes seven hours, and a triple weave takes a whopping nine hours.

Everything about kente is symbolic – the colors, symbols, and geometric designs. Common designs include those of unity, birds, hills, and our footprints as human beings.

My favorite part of the tour was getting to see the ‘weaving houses.’ These sweatshop-like buildings were built by the government to ensure that kente could still be produced during the rainy season. There are three of these buildings in all.

Kente sellers were eager for us to try on their goods to potentially make a sale. Their tactics worked; I now own the two satchels seen in the photo below.

All in all, it was great seeing kente being produced firsthand. I would have loved to stay overnight in the village for a weaving apprenticeship, but my time was limited. But that didn’t keep me from ordering a custom-made kente blanket, the subject of tomorrow’s post!

What Money Can’t Buy

Cape Coast Castle, a nearly 500-year-old slave castle, sits on the edge of the picturesque Atlantic ocean. From my seat in the Castle Restaurant, I gazed at the enormous waves crashing onto the rocky shore – while eagerly awaiting my bowl of coconut curry.

The rocks on the shore formed a natural staircase, winding around the back of the castle. Six foot waves crash into the rocks, flinging wide-eyed crabs high in the air. The previous day, Drew and I attempted climbing around the rocks – but we made the mistake of going barefoot. After 30 minutes we gave up, our feet begging for mercy.

After several minutes of staring absentmindedly into the ocean, I noticed a figure move from the shadows of the castle towards the main rocks. His legs were scantily thin, his face gaunt, and his clothes noticeably ill-fitting. The man’s face had a distinct five ‘oclock shadow. But despite all the telltale signs of him living in some form of poverty, his stride had a certain ‘bounce’ to it.

I watched the man as he strode towards the puddles lying on top of the rocky shore. Wasting no time, he removed his clothes and began to bathe himself. Having nothing to use as a washcloth or sponge, he used his muscular hands to voraciously scrub his skin. After several minutes of washing himself [without any soap], he was finished.  He dunked his face in the water several times, giving off the energy of a new man.

He paused for a few seconds, staring into the horizon. He wore nothing except his self-pride. The man proceeded to carefully wash his clothes in the sea.   He  had no change of clothes, so he dressed himself with the damp clothing, and began walking away.

Somewhere in the middle of this, a traditional drumming band started their daily rehearsal. The rich beats and intense chanting breathed new life into the ancient castle. The crabs scurried on the rocks; the waves were energized; the air somehow became lighter.

The last I ever saw of the man was him dancing behind the castle.

April Ghana Updates

1. Birthdays: A certain optimist said the following quote regarding birthdays. “Birthdays are great, it’s when everyone tells you they’re happy you were born. Soak it up and be thrilled that you’re alive, that you’re so dank, that you have an awesome life and that it’s going to get even better.”

I tend to be a pessimist regarding birthdays. I prefer giving gifts [usually handmade/written] to people, and never seem to appreciate receiving gifts as much as I enjoy giving them – as cliché as it sounds. The words ‘happy birthday’, particularly when said on Facebook, seem more of an obligation than genuine.

Regardless, this year’s birthday went pretty well. After spending the morning on the 19th ingesting ‘The Da Vinci Code’, I crawled out of my bed at lunchtime and went to a PC cafe. There I received e-mails from Drew and Bany urgently begging me to  come to the AFS office to help plan trips.

Recognizing their message as a birthday ploy to surprise me with either dancers, apple turnovers, or an impromptu Bruno Mars concert – I continued using my computer. But after an hour of wasting time on YouTube, I decided to give in. I walked to the AFS office, sat down, and pretended to be surprised when Drew, Bany, and Balthazar came out with a cake. It was surprisingly tasty, unlike most ‘Western’ baked goods available in Ghana.

2. Traveling: While Mama was here, we visited Cape Coast, Hohoe and Kumasi. But two days per city wasn’t nearly enough, so I am planning return trips to each of those cities. In Hohoe I will be going on a cruise of the Volta Lake – where most of Ghana’s tilapia come from. I’ll also be returning to the Tafi Atome monkey sanctuary and hiking to Wli’s upper falls.

3. More Adventurous Eating: …Where do I begin? I’m a huge fan of Andrew Zimmern, despite being raised by macrobiotic pescatarians. As Zimmern says, “one perfectly normal meal  for one culture is easily considered ‘bizarre’ to the next”. One example is the American concept of eating meat. Here in Ghana, you don’t eat large quantities of meat (i.e. a steak dinner, meal of chicken nuggets, etc). Small quantities of meat are always accompanied with larger amounts of grains – usually rice.

‘Bizarre’ is a relative word.  Some think large quantities of meat are bizarre, others may think eating guineafowl, tilapia heads, and bushmeat is bizarre.

The guineafowl I recently ate was grilled whole, then separated into pieces in a takeaway container.  The meat was moister than chicken, and had a deeper/gamey flavor. Guineafowl have no fat and are relatively small. Most of the bones are edible, and actually taste  quite delicious. But after 10 minutes of chewing bones, my jaw became sore and I had to stop.

When I refer to ’tilapia heads’, my parents are probably thinking that I mean the tilapia ‘collars’. Collars are the most flavorful and moist meat – located on the top of the fish. Instead, the meat I’m talking about tasting is located within the head. A Ghanaian showed me how to properly crush the head by pushing in, and extract the extremely small, pea sized tilapia brain. It tasted rather pithy/sandy, but it is the prized piece of  fish for Ghanaians.

Finally, I tasted grasscutter for the first time yesterday. Grasscutters are essentially rats that live in the African bush, and grow to be up to 20 pounds.

It was smoked and part of a soup called ‘green green’. To me it tasted slightly of sage. The only issue I had with it was that some pieces tasted better than others – supposedly because of the way they are smoked. The leg meat tasted horribly of formaldehyde, but the upper body was delicious.

4. Awaiting Too Much To Do: This is driving me crazy. My to-do list is steadily growing, and it’s composed almost entirely of things that I cannot accomplish due to distance from home and terrible Ghanaian internet. This is one of the primary disadvantages of taking a gap year.

Current To-Do List:

1.  Buy a car and figure out the best way to get car insurance.
2. Schedule my UF orientation.
3.  Possibly work on planning a road trip to visit friends in Tennessee, Iowa & Chicago.
4. Figure out where I’ll be living in Gainesville (somewhere off-campus…)
5. Plan trips in Ghana – Return to Hohoe, Northern Ghana, Cape Coast, fabric shopping in Kumasi, and the Koforidua bead market.
6. Finish reading every book by Dan Brown.


Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary


Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary is easily one of the most fantastic places I’ve been to in Ghana.  After spending the night nearby at Wli waterfall, we bought $2 of bananas, hopped in a taxi, and made our way to the monkeys. These little guys awaited us…

A bit of history about the monkey sanctuary:

With the spread of Christianity in Ghana,  the Traditionalist belief of worshipping animals became a taboo. With people no longer viewing animals as sacred, they killed the monkeys in Tafi Atome to near-extinction.

In 1993, John Mason, became the director of ecotourism. He convinced the villagers of the economic benefits of protecting the monkeys, and the Monkey Sanctuary has been in existence since then.

The monkeys we saw were adult mona monkeys. As soon as the monkeys discovered us, the leader ‘claimed Mama’ by peeing on her head from a distant tree above us. Somehow he knew that she was the only female in our group, despite being high above us. Logan and I saw this happening, but we were too stunned to tell her to move.

Mona monkeys travel in families, which consist of 30-50 monkeys.  There are five families in Tafi Atome.

The female monkeys have kangaroo-like pouches that hold their babies inside.

Bananas don’t grow naturally in their forest, so the monkeys go crazy when tourists visit. After 15 minutes of feeding the slightly-aggressive adult monkeys, the guide took us further into the forest and started calling the younger ones. With bananas as incentives, these monkeys jumped all over our arms and shoulders in pursuit of the precious fruit. Logan was awestruck when he made his first  monkey friend.

Followed by his second…

Eventually, the monkeys  couldn’t get enough of him.

Soon the monkeys discovered Mama.

Her monkey-butt disgust quickly succumbed to laughter.

And gradually, she began enjoying the monkeys’ presence and tried to converse with them.

Now onto my reactions. At first, being jumped on by monkeys overwhelmed me just as it did Logan and Mama before me. [Please ignore my 4 chins.]

I came to love my four-legged friends, and can’t wait until my next visit to the sanctuary [or until I own one as a pet!]

A Spider Story

Forward: This story is dedicated to 2012-2013 YES semi-finalist Astrid L., who posted the following status on Facebook yesterday.

Spider in my bed. It got away.

No sleep tonight.

Daily Journal – March 11th, 2012

During the final night of our three-day stay at the Green Turtle Lodge, our group stayed in a self-contained room due to the dormitories being occupied. The room featured two beds with an extra mattress on the floor for the extra person.

Note the $200 painting on the left side of the room.

I ‘dibbed’ the mattress on the floor during the bus ride to Takoradi since I had to share beds on the last two trips and was the [unofficial] leader of the group.  The mattress’ mosquito net was malfunctioning, but the bugs weren’t bothering me. I took off my glasses, and soon fall fast asleep.

I was dreaming of lions when I heard my name being urgently whispered. I groaned at the noise. The whispers quickly morphed into shouts.

“AVERY – GET UP!” Bany screeched as she pounded my shoulders.

“Go to sleep,” I croaked – shading the light from my eyes. Slowly I rolled over to ignore her, and face the wall.

“Dude – move,” stated Drew bluntly.

I groaned and mustered together enough effort to open my eyes. Gee golly gosh – was I glad I did so! Standing less than one foot from my head was a spider staring me dead in my eyes. It was roughly two inches big, and had an orange streak on its midsection.

I got up from the bed immediately. The spider didn’t move. I looked around the room for a weapon to use against my six-legged foe. I ultimately settled upon Adriana’s size 13 sandals.

I approached the spider like a ninja. Once I was within striking distance, I paused. After thinking, I decided that the best tactic would be to launch a quick attack and suddenly swing the shoe at the spider so it wouldn’t have the opportunity to crawl away.

Zeus must’ve fainted; tragedy struck. I swung the shoe too quickly and lost control of it. It slammed against the floor, and the spider scurried off the mattress, onto the wall, and behind the $200 painting on the wall.

A note – $200 is a ridiculous  price for a painting in Ghana. I bought a large 3×2 foot painting for $40 after bartering, and  could’ve gotten it for cheaper if I was with a Ghanaian. The $200 painting at the Green Turtle was smaller than the one I bought myself, and was five times more expensive.

Regardless, the spider stood behind the painting – and I didn’t want to sleep on the floor until it was vanquished.

Bany, the El Salvadoran that she is, stood up and nonchalantly lifted up the painting. The spider wasn’t on the wall behind it. We sat puzzled for a moment, as our eyes were glued to the wall the entire time and there was no hole for the spider to crawl in. Bany flipped the painting around to take a look at the other side.

Hell broke loose. Sitting on the back of the canvas was three spiders. Adriana shrieked, and Drew cried to the heavens for help.  The next couple of seconds were a blur; the result somehow ended up as a shoe being thrown at the painting. Bany jumped and let go of the artwork which crashed to the floor. The spiders scurried away unscathed.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink.


If you haven’t done so already, become a subscriber to my blog to receive an e-mail notification every time there’s a new post.


P.S: The painting ended up intact – after brushing off the dirt 🙂

Ghana Sea Turtle Sighting

This past weekend, our Accra AFS group returned to the Green Turtle eco-lodge. This is my favorite place to relax in Ghana – it’s located right on the beach and has some of the best food in Ghana. During our first trip to Takoradi, we participated on a sea turtle walk to no avail. But with this trip, our luck took a change for the better.

We had just finished dinner when we noticed a group of people gathering on the beach. We joined them to see what was happening. It turns out that the Green Turtle employs six people to patrol the beach every night to deter turtle poachers and collect research. On this particular night, an olive ridley sea turtle had been spotted by the lodge staff. We walked along the coast, and five minutes later, we saw the following turtle:

The olive ridley turtle was roughly two feet long. We were told not to take photos while she was laying her eggs due to the flash. After she was finished, she used her flippers to cover them up with the sand. The motion was archaic, clumsy, and reminded me of a dinosaur for some reason. I was standing so close watching that she even flicked sand all over my jeans.

After the pile was covered, the guide informed us that it was okay for us to take photos. Instantly, an obruni papparazzi barraged the poor sea turtle. The flashes were so bright that I had to look away for a few moments. Eventually the turtle started crawling towards the flash – distracted by the light (or trying to attack us for blinding it).

Right before the turtle reached the water, I jumped nearby and had Drew take a photo of me.

The turtle was very slow going out to the sea. It would take a few steps, and then rest for some time before continuing its journey. After several minutes, it reached the water and gracefully swam away.

The following day we returned to take photos of the path the turtle took.

All photos taken by Drew W.