Photo walk through Aburi Botanical Garden

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This past Monday, I decided to get away from the city for a day trip to Aburi Botanical Garden. It’s only an hour or so out of the city and it’s an easy tro-tro ride up a beautiful hillside road with spectacular views on the sprawling city from above. The tro-tro let me off only two hundred metres from the front door of the garden so it was just a quick walk into this amazing place.

The sign that welcomes visit to the garden

The sign that welcomes visiters to the garden

The first thing you see when you enter the gardens are two rows of tall palm trees on either side of the road. I’ve never been to Hollywood, but it felt like something out of the movies! Each palm tree had beautiful patterns of lichen on the trunk of the tree. I know it’s cheesy to say but it’s true that nature is the original artist. I took a bunch of photos of the different patterns, which are probably boring to most people so I stuck them at the bottom of this post, if you’re interested.

Welcome to California... I mean, Aburi

Welcome to California… I mean, Aburi

The garden is quite old, dating back to the late 1800s. It was originally developed by the British but now it’s a popular tourist location as well as the home of botanical research and a school of horticulture. The garden itself is divided into different ‘lawns’, which each host different trees, vines, flowers, and bushes from Ghana and indeed from all over the world.

It was unfortunately overcast when I visited

It was unfortunately overcast when I visited

But the flowers still looked beautiful!

But the flowers still looked beautiful!

The town of Aburi is up on a hill and the garden is even higher than that, leading to a mystical feel to the entire place since it’s very quiet and peaceful and there’s always a little breeze. When I visited on Monday, it was raining lightly, which was a bit unfortunate for my hair but resulted in some pretty photographs of flowers with droplets on them.

It's like the rain knew I was coming and helped me out a bit to capture these beautiful flowers on camera

It’s like the rain knew I was coming and helped me out a bit to capture these beautiful flowers on camera

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Living ‘The Life’ in Accra

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After a meeting about my new job on Friday, I found myself with a free afternoon. In fact, my whole weekend was wide open. I even had today off since it’s a holiday (Eid Mubarak to my friends celebrating around the world today!). I thought about taking this chunk of time to travel to Lake Volta or even north but I decided to take advantage of my hotel in Accra and explore the city instead. Of course, I’d already started exploring the day before when I visited the Tema Station area on Thursday. I continued my tourist-y Accra adventures on Friday afternoon by taking a tro-tro to central Accra, where I spent several hours walking around.

Inside the National Museum

Inside the National Museum

First, I visited the National Museum, which is an ethnographic overview of Ghana, including some artifacts from various archeological digs around the country over the past fifty years. (I’m an anthropology student so this was right up my alley!) I wish I’d enquired about a tour, as the tours of the museums I visited in Kumasi were excellent. That said, I still enjoyed my time at this museum. Even though it’s fairly small, it took me several hours to walk through the whole thing, likely because I’m one of those people who reads every signboard and looks at every piece displayed. It was so interesting to learn about different aspects of Ghanaian culture, which is really such a diverse collection of experiences as there are many different languages, religions, and groups represented in the country.

The Independence Arch

The Independence Arch

After the National Museum, I thought about visiting the Museum of Science and Technology since it’s so close but I was a little ‘museum’d out’ so instead I chose to walk to the Independence Arch and Black Star Square, which are located right on the coast. The arch is a very large and imposing monument to Ghana’s pride in being the first African nation to declare independence from a European colonizer. The square is a massive space that looks a bit like a parking lot when unoccupied, as it was when I visited on Friday. I can imagine it would be quite the spectacle, though, to see it full of proud Ghanaians. Also in this area is the Flame of African Liberation, lit by Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah. Continue reading

Revisiting the Capital

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My first impression of Ghana was almost three months ago, when I stepped off the plane on the tarmac in Accra. I spent my first week or so here in the capital, completing some training through my placement organization WUSC, before heading up to Bibiani to begin work. I will admit that Accra kinda terrified me when I first experienced it. I remember walking through Medina market and then, later, the Makola market (the biggest in the city) wondering how on earth one could ever find order in such a busy, crowded, and loud place. I also wondered how on earth I would ever get used to so much activity, not just in the markets but also in the streets, too.

To me, when I first arrived, Accra was this huge, sprawling, loud, colourful, crowded city filled with music and honking car horns and tro-tro mates yelling out their destinations as they drive past you (“Accra! Accra!” or “Osu! Osu! Osu!” or “Tema Station! Tema Station!” or “Madina/ Adenta! Adenta/ Madina!”). All the corners with people selling fruits and plantains and towels and phone credit blended together, leaving me without my bearings as we walked around. And I found myself unused to winding through halting traffic and surging crowds of people on foot, bicycle, and motorcycle in Accra central. I was so worried I’d fall into an open gutter or trip over someone’s goods on the street or walk into a porter balancing a huge load on her head so I kept my own head on a swivel, which made it hard to take everything in properly.

Those first few days were complete sensory overload. It was a place that I felt I couldn’t possibly figure out while being carefully guided around by locals, let alone by myself. It was an amazing first taste of Ghana and I’m so glad I’ve come back to Accra a couple of months later because I can better appreciate the city after acclimatizing to the country and the culture. Now, after spending considerable time navigating my way through the south-western part of the country, I’m proud to say that I have grown accustomed to the sights and sounds of everyday Ghanaian life. It’s comforting to know I’m okay touring about by myself and exploring, like I did today.

The mausoleum was designed to look like a tree trunk who's top had been cut off to represent how Nkrumah's death ended his work towards pan-African unity

The mausoleum was designed to look like a tree trunk with its top cut off to represent how Nkrumah’s death ended his work towards pan-African unity before he was finished

I had the day off from sorting out my new placement with FAWE so I decided to do some tourist-y stuff in the city. First, I went to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum. It’s right near Tema Station (a tro-tro station) in central Accra so it’s very easy to get to. It’s also very hard to miss since the mausoleum itself is a tall, grey building that is easily spotted from far away. Inside this building are the remains of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, and his wife, who requested to be buried with him. I tagged along on an elementary school tour of the park and the museum, gathering important bits of Ghanaian history to add to what I’ve learned from other museums I’ve visited, mostly in Kumasi. The park itself is a very beautiful and peaceful place, with lots of flowering trees and bushes, and a long fountain that provides a sound buffer from the busy road just outside the gates of the park. Continue reading

Moving On & Starting Over

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While I have had a marvellous time in Ghana so far, the experience has not been without challenges. Thankfully, these challenges haven’t come up while I’m travelling – in fact, travel here is so easy and fun! Instead, the challenges have mostly been related to my co-op placement mandate at the Girls Education Unit in Bibiani. Due to severe funding limitations, I’ve struggled to keep busy at the Ghana Education Service office. So, after ten weeks in there, I’m moving on to a new mandate.

This morning I traveled from Bibiani to Accra, where I’ll be staying while WUSC Ghana and I work with my new host organization to develop a new mandate. We’ll also be looking for accommodations for me in my new location, which is Nsawam. Nsawam is quite close to Ghana’s capital, Accra – only about a half hour’s drive – but is actually part of the Eastern Region in Ghana. I’ll move there once everything is settled with my new job – probably this weekend or early next week.

For the next few months, I’ll be partnered with Ghana’s branch of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). FAWE is a pan-african organization that works to promote girls’ education around the continent. So I’ll still be working within the context of Ghana and on the issues of gender in education. I’m very excited for this change and to get to work with such a great institution. That said, I am nervous about getting to know a new office and a new town but I’ve done this kind of transition before so I know I can do it again!

The Forests of Bia National Park

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When I learned that I’d be living in Bibiani, the first thing I did was Google it, of course. That’s when I discovered that Bibiani doesn’t have much on an online presence. These days, my blog comes up when you do a Google search for Bibiani because I’ve mentioned the town now and then. This is how I connected with some new friends – Chloe and Rachel – recently. A few weeks ago, Chloe commented on my blog about how to get from Bibiani to Debiso to cross the border into la Cote d’Ivoire, where she’s setting up an NGO called CREER with the help of Rachel, a volunteer.

A bright green swamp in Bia National Park

A bright green swamp in Bia National Park

Long story short, all because of my blog, the three of us ended up meeting up in Bibiani this past Thursday, eating at Biggie’s for dinner, and all traveling together through Debiso to Bia National Park, where we spent Friday night at the guesthouse there before going on separate ways the next morning, with me heading east via tro-tro to Kumasi and with them heading to cross the border. While we didn’t spend a long time in Bia National Park, it was a marvellous place to stay the night, surrounded by the natural beauty of this protected environment.

The upper layers of the forest

The upper layers of the forest

Bia is not a typical tourist destination since it’s out-of-the-way, not really near any other popular tourist spots, tucked near the Ivorian border in Ghana’s Western Region. But it is fairly easy to get to from Kumasi, where you can take a tro-tro or a Metro Mass bus to Debiso for about five hours and then taxi about ten kilometres from Debiso into the park. (I took the tro-tro on my way back and it wasn’t too bad at all.)

The sun hide behind the clouds & this tree

The sun hide behind the clouds & this tree

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To my fellow overachievers

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This week, thousands and thousands of students at the University of Toronto chose their courses. This yearly routine is met with a lot of frustration from upper years. This comes about when we don’t get into the courses we need in order to graduate on time or when we are number eighty-seven on a wait list for a class that we’ve wanted to take since our first year. And some of us experience the true hell of having two majors whose requirements have constant scheduling conflicts, which can lead to academic existential crises. (Who am I? A biological sciences student? Or a visual artist?) The struggle, as we say on Twitter, is very real.

The biggest fears about course selection, though, I find come from first year students. As an active member of campus community – even thousands of miles away on my co-op placement – I am one of many upper year students who spends time on social media (often in Facebook groups) quelling the fears of freaked out incoming students. So over the past couple of years, I’ve been there to notice a trend with these first years: some of them are keen on enrolling in more courses than the usual courseload or attempting dramatic academic feats such as triple majors or double specialists.

Here’s where I put in a disclaimer: I took an above-average courseload in my first year of university and I’m working to complete a specialist as well as a major. So you could say that I easily fall within this category of wannabe overachievers. It’s for this reason that I am writing this post. This is written to these keeners, those are worried about standing out as they transition from being a ‘big fish in a small pond’ to attending a campus where they’ll be surrounded by other amazing people all the time. My message to you is: working ridiculously hard and sacrificing your self-care to be a ‘special’ student isn’t really worth it. Continue reading

Everyday Encounters

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Many conversations happen in passing in Ghana because people are always greeting one another. And I get greeted a lot, because I stick a little and because Ghanaians are always concerned with making strangers feel welcome.

Most of these encounters are pretty usual, nothing to write home about. And then some of them are straight-up hilarious. So here I’ve written a few of them down. (These conversations happen in a mix of English and Twi, usually, but I’ve written everything in English below to make things easier.)

The most common conversation:

Me: Good morning!

Them: Good morning! How are you?

Me: I’m well. Thank you. And how are you?

Them: I am also fine.

Pretty typical conversation in Canada, too.

But, just like in Canada, sometimes people aren’t paying attention to this passing conversation so you end up with situations like this:

Me: Good morning!

Them: Fine.

… We haven’t arrived at that part of the conversation yet.

When I first arrived and didn’t yet understand the importance of greeting people, I had several embarrassing conversations like this:

Context: I walk past a person.

Them: HEY OBRUNI. Why don’t you greet?

Me: Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause offence. Good afternoon! How are you?

Them: I am fine.

Thankfully, I’m getting much, much better at greeting so these kinds of encounters are much less common.

As a white person, I also get a lot of this:

Children: OBRUNI! OBRUNI!!

Me: Hi! How are you?

Children: *laughter*

And, frustratingly, this happens quite a lot, too:

Children: OBRUNI!

Me: Hi! How are you?

Children: GIVE ME MONEY.

Sigh. I still don’t know what to do in this situation.

I also have some pretty strange and funny encounters, like this:

Context: I’m walking along the main road on my way home in the evening after watching a World Cup match at the local restaurant. A taxi pulls up.

Me: No, thank you. I don’t need a taxi.

Taxi driver points to the back seat. There’s a man there, who rolls down his window.

Man: I need your contact.

Me: Um… Hi, I’m Katherine.

Man: I need your contact.

Me: How about we just say ‘Hi’ when we see each other around?

Man: I need your contact.

Me: Sorry, no. Have a good night.

This man actually pulled over his taxi on the main road (people had to drive around them!) to demand my phone number without evening introducing himself! So awkward. Continue reading