Monday, February 11, 2013

the train.

I'm back in America, in California, in the places I used to be most familiar in. I now feel like a fish out of water. They say that life is fast in the States and it sure is. I'm still struggling to articulate that in words. My body, on the other hand, seems to identify it better. Sweaty hands. My hands have been nervous wrecks since before I touched down on American soil and continue to stay so.

I took the train from San Diego to Los Angeles over the weekend and got to witness the most beautiful clouds. It was quite a treat and feeling inspired I wrote a short something. I never post anything I write, but today I'm feeling especially open. Hope to see your lovely face soon!

Friday, November 23, 2012

What Can I Live With?

Ah! It has been quite some time, hasn't it? The days here pass by so quickly and slow at the same time and before you know it 2 months have gone by since my last post. I have become so accustomed to living here that I don't feel the urge to document it all. Taking photos seems like such an outsider thing to do. At this point, I almost feel that sharing photos isn't what this blog is about anymore, but rather the thoughts, questions, insights I experience.

To be honest, I didn't think anyone would be interested in reading, but it was super sweet to hear that my amazing family is checking in. So Gloria and Patty, this post is for you!

On the door to my room, I made a sign. It is actually part of a clever system Sarah, my German roommate, and I have set up. One side has an inspiring quote from brilliant Eleanor Roosevelt to keep us motivated. The other side says "All adventurous women do." A quote taken from HBO's "Girls," a show that has created a bond among us females in our home. This side has a dual purpose. 1) To remind us that all adventurous women do. Do what? Do something! And maybe that something is one thing every day that scares us. 2) It is to let the other roommate know that some alone time is needed. Living in a house with 16 people sometimes doesn't offer you those moments.

These past couple of days I have required that time. We just finished our staff retreat, parted ways with loved ones and did massive prepping for Thanksgiving. Overwhelmed to say the least. The staff retreat was an inspiring meeting of the minds: culturally, professionally and personally. Global Brigades has become not just my work, but my family. Together we scheme and dream of what our organization will look like in 10 - 15 years. It seems silly sometimes because I can not even begin to imagine who I will be in one year, but from the beautiful and touching comments my GB family say about me I am pretty positive Rachel in 2013 is a pretty amazing woman. (Thanks, dudes!)

One of our weekly discussions is what each one of us will do when we get home. Some are applying to med school. Some to grad school. And some are trying to figure it out. I am part of the latter. I get so excited, scared, impatient, demanding, oh I go through the gamut with myself, over all the possibilities. For example: At the retreat, we talked about our exit strategy from a community. What does that look like? How is it sustainable? Does GB still provide support? I had proposed a scholarship initiative through Public Health and by the end of the day I thought, "International Education! Yes, that is what I need to get involved in." But what does that even mean for me. Can I live abroad for years at a time? The longer I spend here the more I doubt my capacity to do so. And coming to terms with that is a process, but at least I have the opportunity to try. And you don't know till you try. But once again, I have opened another treasure trove of questions and my mind is spiraling. I almost react to every experience and thought trolling to find out who I will be. It's exhausting.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend, who is going on his second year with GB and living outside America. This conversation touched on aspects of life abroad, attitude with returning to the US, development work in our own communities back home. The topics were eye opening and honestly things I hadn't considered. I think my brain's mouth was gaping over all that I had overlooked. This whole time I have been focused on myself and the future instead of the conversation I am actually living everyday.

And I think that is where the glitch is. I want to know who I will be and what will I be doing. And I want to know NOW!!! I'm like Veruca Salt when it comes to my future. I guess not much as changed, huh, Pop? Am I a graduate student? What kind of work will I be doing? Will I be happy doing that work? Where I can serve best? The ultimate question is "What can I live with?" And answer is "You don't need to know now, Veruca, and when you do it will more than likely change with time." Oh brother.

My boyfriend wrote me this before I left, "It’s all going to be ok. You are whole. You are loved. You are a beautiful and essential part of a beautiful universe.” Be true to yourself and everything will work out – because you already have everything you need inside of you. And you are exactly where you should be, because this is where you are!" They are words I cling to now. I am here for one single year and I'm already a quarter through. The best thing I can do for myself is to stay present, stay focused and absorb. Grad school isn't going anywhere and neither is my future. The growth and change and all that I want to be will happen. (insert sigh of relief)

Thanks for tuning in! I feel actually better sharing with you and letting you know where I am. I miss you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fabric Daze!

Remember when I said that the fabric in Ghana is unreal well I decided to make some tailored dresses a reality! Today Christina, Rachel and I ventured into Mankessim to pick out some quality fabric. We found a sweet woman who educated us on the fabrics and the stories behind some of them. Excited with our new purchases we went home and did some research about what we wanted our dresses to look like. Eagerly we ran down the street to Miracle Fabrics and met with Benjamin, the tailor. He took our measurements and discussed how our dresses would look like. Here are some photos from our adventure!
Ben taking my measurements.
Figuring out the length of Christina's dress.
She is gonna look like a princess!
Ben writes down our measurements and requests for the dresses.
Fabric and photos of what we want.
Designs for my dresses.
Colorful fabrics decorate the inside of their business.
Our fabric was 10 cedis for 2 yards. It costs 8 cedis for a dress and 5 cedis for a skirt. Total for a tailored dress fabric and all is $9 US. It is unreal. I am so glad I didn't pack a lot of clothes because I fully intend to come home with a new Ghanaian wardrobe. It will be tasty!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

This is Crazy Chaleeee!

This post is meant specifically for you and kicking off your weekend!! Ghana boasts some pretty awesome music inspired by Azonto, a catchy dance style. It is relatively easy to learn, but it definitely all lies in your attitude. Unfortunately for me it is something I am working on. I can't say the same for the kids in the communities. They got it going on. BBC even did a special on Azonto.

Here are some of my personal favorites:

I would love to hear your thoughts on Azonto and the music. It is a lot of fun and highly addictive. I created a  playlist on YouTube if you want to explore more, "Life is Tasty." I will send you on your way with one more tune because we all know we need an African man. Hope your weekend is a blast!! Miss you!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Past Couple of Days!

Man oh man, electricity has not been on our side. For the past 6 days, we lose power. Sometimes it is off and then back on and other times it is 3-4 hours. Last night it was off for 13 hours. We light up some candles that are posted up in the necks of wine bottles. Don't judge us. Christina and I had dinner duty on Sunday. We decided to spice it up with our Latin roots and lay down the law. 
Improvising with a sunscreen and wine bottle as rollers.
Christina getting down with paper thin tortillas!
Caitlyn manning our cooker which soon turned into a fryer. Fried flour tortillas are soooo gewd.  Also, you get a glimpse of our very IMPORTANT kitchen rules.
Beautifully colored beans!
Power went out just as the sun went down. Note the awesome candle holders.
Beans! Beans! The magical fruit!
Homemade tortillas galore! I can't wait to make some with you,  Bruce!
Fresh guacamole and pineapple (not shown because I ate it all) accompanied us too!
I have been spending more time in the office researching compost toliets, urine diverting toliets, how to use urine in one's garden. This is some serious shit. Pardon the language, but I couldn't help myself (hope you liked that one, Pop). What I mean to say is that we are learning what creative development projects are out there and what our options are for piloting in December when UCLA's Public Health Brigade comes down.

I have also been working on a baseline survey to introduce to three communities. My current methodology of choice is the Socio-Economic Gendered Analysis (SEAGA). The approach focuses on tools to elicit the participation of men and women from local communities in the development process. For my close pals, you know how important equal participation from all members is to me, particularly women. Often times women's voices are not included in projects for a number of reasons: cultural differences, surveys only include heads of households which tend to be males, women are unable to attend project meetings, or projects are just given to communities without any consideration for any member's input to name a few examples. My time spent in Honduras definitely reflected cultural differences. Men gave their opinions more freely and openly. Women, on the other hand, were shy and often stayed at home when we had our community meetings. If they did attend, they stood to the side and were hesitant to share their experiences. In August 2010, my gender empowerment workshop focused on creating mutual respect and value between men and women and the unique perspectives they offer. Together they have the opportunity to tap into the different roles they have and improve the overall well being of the community. In addition to having a gendered aspect, SEAGA also focuses on socio-economic patterns. It identifies the needs and constraints that different people have. The needs and issues of a wealthier woman won't be the same as a poor, single mother. In Ghana, there is still much that I am not familiar with. I am hoping SEAGA will allow us an introductory understanding so we confidently move forward with communities knowing that we are listening and supporting them as they direct their development.

Wednesdays and Saturdays are crazy market days. There is so much to see and smell. It can be overwhelming. So many people want to ask us how we are and what our names are. Obruni is what old and young yell at us. Ghanaians' speak Fante, and in their language it means white person or foreigner.
This photo doesn't even begin to show how packed it gets. I am gonna try and show you guys.
Unreal fabrics! You can get fabric here for $2-3 a yard and then get a tailored dress or skirt for $5.  Unreal, I  say.
My market guide, Kyle Putnam...I mean Putman. Haha!
Lots of dried fish! They always just stare at me.
I passed my camera to Kyle to capture a guy carrying one of those huge bags in the background on his head. Instead he got these two cute kids. Kids love Kyle.
Maize laid out to dry.
Another day I went walking with Christina. This sign was ridiculous!  This poor  woman doesn't even get to use her name. She is just Officer Sammy's Wife. Bummer.
Got to meet our neighbors at Miracle Fabrics. They invited us right in and let us take photos of their industrial sewing machines. They don't make things like they use to, do they?
More neighbors! Christian snaps incredible photos of this guy. We asked what it was for and they said to keep thieves out. Job well done, guys!
The last neighbor we met up with was making furniture!  Just down the street from us we have seamstresses,  blacksmiths, and a furniture maker. It was a make everything from scratch kinda day. 
Christina and I finally made it into Mankessim by foot and ran into this  parade!
We think it was for a chief, but we weren't able to confirm. 
I can't believe it is already 4 days into September. Time is going by real quick. (Did you catch that, B?) Come next weekend I will have already been here for a month! I have been good at keeping my momentum and having a great time when I can (which is pretty much all the time). It is starting to feel like home! Don't worry, Mom and Pop, it just feels like it, but I know where I belong. I love you guys and hope you are doing swimmingly well!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kakum National Park!

 (Local kids copy every facial expression Christina could think up. She even got them to stick their fingers in their noses and act like their faces were being melted off.)

Christina and I tagged along Dalhousie's Cape Coast day. We checked out Kakum National Park and its phenomenal canopy walk. It is pretty darn high, enough to give me a slight sense of vertigo. Luckily, the guide explained that there have been no injuries or death. I felt pretty darn safe.
Taking up the rear of Dalhousie with Patrick, GMB Adviser.
Our trek up gets a little steep.
Watching Christina balance the shaky suspension bridge with one hand!
Students take in the incredible scenery!
Walking out to pose for a photo.
Yes, I was a little nervous and yes, I am beginning to look like a Chia Pet.
There are a total of 7 suspension bridges that make up the canopy walk and is 330 meters long. If you are coming out for a visit, I am definitely taking you here!
The sides are plenty high so no one has ever fallen over...YET!
Pausing at one of the landings to capture the lush forest. My photos don't do it justice.
Bruce! This looks like something out of 'Uncharted.'  Kept wishing you were here with me.
Today was an office day well spent despite the power outage we experienced for a couple hours. Also, successfully finished "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. I highly recommend it. The book has already got a long list of people at the house waiting to take it all in. You won't be disappointed by this incredible true story. I am moving on to read "The Heart and the Fist" by Eric Greitens. About humanitarian work, I don't think its timing in my life could be any better. Hope you are enjoying your week! I am thinking of you!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Life is Tasty!

What a Sunday! The house ended the weekend on a relaxing note. Beach trip! Here are some photos from the day.
So colorful!
Fresh vegetables galore!
Taking it all in!
A mountain of flour?
Tasty Tom is an oil brand and definitely my favorite.
Walking with Rebecca and Kyle to grab a taxi.
In case you were wondering, where shoes are bought and sold.
This guy had a more visually appealing set up.
Choices, choices!
In the tro (taxi van)! It cost 70 pesewas which is 35 cents!
We make it to Anomabo!
Brigaders enjoy the beautiful beach!
Christina and I stayed a little longer.
Catching the sunset on the way home!
Cool looking Guiness ad.
Pass this building A LOT and finally got to snap a photo of it. Immediately after taking this I got scolded t and then a woman demanded that I pay for the photo. Luckily, some kids came to the rescue and told us I didn't have to pay and on our way we went.
Hilarious barber shop signs!
How not to take care of your community.
Fufu! Super popular dish in Ghana. It is casava and plantains boiled and mashed up. It is very thick and difficult to swallow. I have heard that it fills you up so you can take fewer meals. Unfortunately, it lacks vitamins and nutrients.
I loved this barber shop ad!
The mosque near the house. It looked amazing.
I am kicking off the week with a canopy walk and a visit to the slave castle in Cape Coast! Expect some great photos. I also have the honor of cooking dinner for everyone tomorrow night. Here is to hoping it comes out tasty and there is plenty to go around. Hope you had an amazing Sunday!