Saturday, March 14, 2009

Leaves as Toothbrushes

The leaves of the Cottonwood tree apparently make a good toothbrush-toothpaste combo. While I did not see them using it frequently, Paul's wife had the kids brush their teeth with the leaves this particular day.

Serious Erosion in Ghana

Villages can have a serious erosion problem. Just a little below Paul's hand is where the ground level used to be. But because of erosion, the ground has washed away to the level you see in the picture. Fortunately, there are some guys here fighting the erosion and are having success. They just haven't gotten to this point in the village yet.

Ghanaian women have a custom of sweeping the dirt. This might seem odd to people to many people reading this blog, but in their environment it makes a little bit of sense. Most of the ground around houses/huts is exposed dirt. Most places do not have grass. As they walk on this dirt and often is in a space for relaxing or cooking, they want to keep big pebbles and other "rubbish" out of the area. This means that the heavy rains are capable of causing major erosion.

What most of the women don't seem to realize is that if they stopped sweeping, the grass would grow. Here grass seems to grow without any problem or needing daily waterings. How many reminders I have had of the waste in the Western way of life? Why don't we find local grass or ground cover that can survive local climates and not require the constant watering? When will we stop being so concerned with beautiful lawns at the expense of our environment and water supply?

Ghanaian School kids

White person + camera + crowd of Ghanaian kids = a very excited crowd of Ghanaian kids. We stopped by the school in the village where the serious erosion problem was. The children at every school that I have been too get so excited when they see a white person. Class more or less does not go on for the whole school until I leave the premises because the kids are so interested to see the white person. This is the first school where I asked to take a picture but I could not get the kids to stand still long enough before they were rushing to me to see the picture! I was backing up as I was taking this picture, trying not to fall. I quickly finished and said good-bye without letting them see the picture. I felt bad for this but I really didn't think my camera would survive a display.

Croc in Techiman

Paul and I had been feeding the fish in this spot for 5 or 10 minutes without noticing the crocodile laying on the edge of the water. Someone walking by pointed it out to us.

We came to feed the fish here so I could see the large fish that are in the water. Apparently, it is a tradition that you don't eat the fish in this river so that there will be fish for the next generation to eat. That's means no generations get to eat the fish from this river! It doesn't mean though you can't eat fish from someone else's river...let their next generation not have fish!

Kintampo Falls

About an hours journey north of Techiman are the Kintampo falls. There is a small park here with an entrance fee (foreigners pay more than Ghanaians to enter). It appears there might be a mandatory 10-15 minute tour to the three stages of the falls. The final stage requires doing about 125 stairs. Here you can plan to take a picnic and have a shower in the falls which really you should do to make the trip more worth it. The water was not deep enough for swimming when I went there but maybe after the rainy season it is possible.

Northern-style Ghana Mud House

This house is the style of house seen in the Northern region of Ghana. The roof is a place where many things is sun-dried, water is collected, people sleep at night, etc. It appears that it is common in Ghana to write phone numbers the walls. I haven't asked why yet. I think it is because of a lack of access to pen and it's harder to loose the number this way.

Raising Snails

While visiting a site where Paul is hoping implement many elements of Permaculture to create a demonstration location, I got to see how snails are raised. There was a pit in the ground with a thick layer of leaves. If you dig around in the leaves, you can find many snails. The biggest one I saw had to have been about 6-8 inches.

The Abandoned Eco-village Xofa

This whole adventure around the world centered around some volunteer and educational work I was planning on doing at the eco-village of Xofa, near the village of Dodi Asantekrom. I received a big disappointment when we arrived there. No one had bothered beforehand to tell me that the eco-village had been abandoned and was in need of repairs and restoration even thought I have been planning this trip for months with one of its founders who now lives in Austin. Apparently, Xofa's management thought they could either do the repairs once I arrived or keep me satisfied with a homestay.

I had arranged for Paul of International Permaculture Services (a company started in Australia) to conduct the permaculture design certification (PDC) course at Dodi, in hopes the people of Dodi could join and might benefit. The secretary and farm manager of Xofa joined us for the course but no one from Dodi. The course took about a week.

During this week, after repeated instances of unreliability and irresponsibility on part of the management/local coordinator of Xofa, I decided it was better that I not stay there and to extend the PDC in the town of Techiman with Paul.

Pounding the Fufu

Pounding fufu is really an art of timing between the stick coming down on the fufu and the hand turning the fufu in the bowl. To watch it, you think the person's poor hand is about to be smashed but with great rhythm and timing, this never happens (well...not that I've seen so far). The fufu-pounding bowls are a solid piece of wood. Can you imagine the size of the trees that they are made from? They really must preserve trees to be able to make them in the future.

The Rain Arrives

The day that we went out to finish our Mandela garden, we were hit by a heavy rain. It was a really nice rain. It reminded me of laying on the bed reading a book during a heavy rain at Wolf Creek in East Texas. A good afternoon rain is so nice when you are in the countryside! Right before the rain arrives, heavy winds come first. Since there is a lot of exposed dirt, this means there is a bit of a sand storm which makes it hard to keep your eyes open if you get caught in this wind. See...I knew lasik would be a good idea! I couldn't imagine having contacts and getting lots of sand in my eyes!

This rain however demonstrates a major problem in many villages in Ghana...erosion.

Living in Dodi

Five of the people in this picture are members of the family where I stayed the week that I was in Dodi. The mama is the lady in the center. The lady on the right is preparing dinner on a charcoal stove that you must fan for about 10 minutes to get the coals to a good state for cooking. The experience of seeing how they prepare food made me learn how anal we are about how clean the area is where we prepare our food (and this is coming from someone who is already not so anal about it). Apparently Paul and I kicked the kids out of their room and they slept out on this porch while we were there. The kindness of Ghanaians is amazing!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Market Hats

I loved these little (in terms of affection not size) market hats. I thought it would be the perfect addition to my "farming wardrobe." I decided (wisely in the end) to wait to buy one to see if it was so necessary as it would be quite bulky to carry around. These women are selling smoked fish. Smoked and dried fish seemed to be a big meat staple in Ghana. The smoking and drying are not done so much for taste but for preservation. A well smoked or dried fish has little or no odor.

Fishing Traps

This man sits in the shade making fishing traps of bamboo to sale at the market. He can make about 30 a day and they will sale for about $0.80 each. I considered buying one for my stay at Xofa. (At the time I saw these, I had not decided to not stay at Xofa/Dodi.) I imagined it an easy way to catch fish for the day. It made me think of a simple life I am planning for the US where I can catch my own fish each day. Of course, this means there is a source for fish on my unbought, imagined property in the US :).

Belly Button Sealing

This is my other baby friend from Dodi who liked me instantly. His nickname is Nana (meaning 'Chief'). You may have noticed the extreme outty of a belly button. It was explained to me that sometimes when babies' are born, they do not clamp/seal off the belly button well and air gets inside it causes this extreme protrusion. They told me that is it not fixable and the child will grown up to an adult and still have this. Knowing how advanced medicine is, I'm certain there is some way to fix it but probably not something very available (or so necessary) to those in small villages in Africa. I wondered if something so superficial could impair one's ability to reach a job level of high regard?

Child Fear of the Obruni

I had the most unexpected response from babies. Babies of Accra (the biggest city in Ghana) were scared to tears of me. However, the children in the small villages took to me instantly. This was the baby to instantly like me and come to me. She even took to playing a blinking game with me. Everytime she saw me, she would get excited and smile. She was a breath of fresh air. I would have expected that the kids in the villages would have been scared of me and the children of the city would have not been scared...but I've been reminded you should never make assumptions.

Quality and Maintenance

One way to get to Xofa is by taking a boat from Dodi across the water to Xofa. It's a nice way to get there. The other ways are by road (which is much longer) or trails through the bush. To take a boat however, you would have to convince some local to take you in his boat. I don't know how easy this is normally for a stranger but as I was with the people of Xofa, we did not have a problem.

This does bring to attention the state of repairs of things, not to point "inferiority" but because it reminded me again of how much we have that we don't need and how quickly we throw things into the garbage. Every boat I road in had a leak and was equipped with a bucket for dumping water along the way. It would be great if we could learn to use things until they are truly unuseable. I don't know the exact reason for not repairing the boat...if it was because they didn't have the money, skills or time.

Ghana Transportation

While this was not the normal type of transportation we took, it was for sure one of the more fun ones. while there are buses as public transportation between towns, most often you see shared taxis (a taxi shared by a few people going in the same direction but it only goes on major routes) or mini-vans. These are generally called tro-tros. Depending on your accomodations, a ride in a shared taxi can be the most comfortable seat you experience for a while. This is not necessarily true for the mini-vans. You can pay the shared taxi when you get out. However, the minivan conductor (someone other than the driver) will request payment during the journey. Traveling within a town, they cost about $0.20. Traveling to another town depends on the distance...but for sure cheaper than most westerners are used to paying. Also, taxis and minivans seem to be the cars in need of the most amount of repair. But again a reminder of how much we throw away usable things.

Ghanaian Food

Can we say pepe? Yep...spicy food! Fortunately, some people understand that foreigners may not eat so much and will ask you before preparing the food. Typical dishes include a ball of a doughy substance (made from various starching vegetables) that is about the size of 2 fists and a sauce or stew poured on top. The mass of the food will be this doughy bit. Banku and fufu (made from unripe plantains and casava or yams) are the two common doughy foods. Steamed unripe plantain and yams or rice are eaten instead of the banku or fufu. Bits of fish are usually in the sauce. Proximatey to fresh fish seems to determine how much. Meals are eaten from a shared bowl with your hands. But you only use your right hand as your left hand is for wiping yourself after going to the toilet. Overall, the food is not bad but I would not say my tastebuds leap with excitement when I eat it.

As for drinks, an interesting one that I had is palm wine. This is made from (as indicated by the name) palm oil (the bane of anti-biofuel activists). The palm wine has a natural carbonation to it so it is a slightly bubbly wine and white in color. They also make strong liquors from things such as palm oil and mangoes. As for the beer, the major ones are nothing to write about. I've always drank bottle water or "pure" water in little plastic bags. I've not had problems with this water so far.

Accra Beach

One evening we hung out at the beach in Accra. It's a lively area in the evenings with restaurants and bars along the beach and plenty of chairs to relax in. The beaches did not strike me as anything spectacular, but simply a decent beach. For sure better than what we have on most of the Texas coast! You can kick back and have a beer brought to you and enjoy some live music while you relax on the beach.

Ghana Water Use

While there are for sure cultural differences between the US and Ghana, I was not hit with culture shock as I expected. The way of doing daily things is a bit different, but I did not find this hard to adjust to. The house where I stayed in Accra did not have running water but did have electricity. Water was kept in a barrel in the kitched and was refilled from a neighbor who had a large water tank that supplied the neighborhood with water. Neighbors come to fill their barrells from her tank, at a price of course. Dishes are washed in buckets filled with water. Showers are bucket baths. An initial wetting by pouring a bit of water on you, followed by the washing of the body, and wrapped up with the rinsing again by pouring water on your. Brushing of the teeth is accomplished with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a cup of water...done at your outside location of choice. While there was a toilet, it was only used for #2s. Peeing is again done at your outside location of choice. When the toilet was used, you must bring your own bucket of water to pour into the toilet bowl to flush the toilet. However, as enough water is not often used to flush the toilet completely, you often had a present waiting for you.

All this being said, I could not ignore how much less water I was using this way. I could bath with about 2-3 quarts of water (a few more for washing the hair). Brushing my teeth can be accomplished with less than a cup of water. I also am not frivolous with the amount of water I drink. And if you take too much water, it doesn't have to be wasted by throwing it out, you can simply put it back in your barrell of water...or set it aside for later use. It was a good lesson to learn to quickly. I have plenty of time to consider how to reduce my water use (of course, I have exmamples already) when I return to home

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I need to find an article that explains why greasy food is so addictive. These little 3" pockets of joy are nothing more than fried mini, puffy tortillas punched open to put some meat and other toppings...but my how they were tasty!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Belize Clam Chair

Here is a chair that we saw frequently in Belize and is pretty comfortable if you are in the mood for lounging back in the chair. It's a little hard to sit (lady-like) in a skirt in it though. You can buy some at if you like them so much. I haven't bought from them so can't vouch for the business.

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave - Belize

Spelunking through a cave where you have to swim to find ancient Mayan skeletal remains is definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far! There are no lights put in place in the cave so the tour guides provide you with a hardhat with a headlight on it. It's about as raw as caving can be with a tour. You are allowed to wear your bathing suit while going through the cave but you must carry your close with you tucked away in your hardhat. They require you to wear clothes when you get to the area of the Mayan rituals took place out of respect for those who died. Definitely something to do if you go to the Cayo district in Belize. And better go quick before they decide to stop allowing tours.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Martha´s Guesthouse - San Ignacio, Belize

When we went west to the Cayo district in Belize, we stayed in San Ignacio at Martha´s Guesthouse. We got the First Lady Suite which we were very pleased with because of this huge balcony that was the same size as the room...which is quite spacious. To top it off, it´s on the 4th floor and has a hammock...which was just what the doctored ordered for me! While the room was lovely, both of us found the people that worked there rather unpleasant. Somewhat of a turn-off from staying there.

Mayan Ruins of Tikal - Guatemala

We made it to the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala. It really was amazing to see for a pyramid first-timer as myself. Tikal is something like the most excavated ruins in either the Americas or something...sorry I loose the location...but the excavation is rather extensive. You can´t help but to wonder what happened to the Mayans, but as with all Empires, an end must come so maybe it is not so relevant...maybe there is nothing useful to be learned from why the empire fell apart as the downfall of an empire cannot be avoided.There is also plenty of jungle life to be seen among the ruins. We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and i don´t know what else. The vegetation was amazing. I haven´t been to see the big trees in Cali so I was quite amazed by the size of the trees here. Our guide was so kind to pose in the base of this tree to demonstrate the size of it.

Bussing it in Central America

Taking the buses is definitely an experience. The public buses that transport you around the country are old American school buses. They will cram as many people into as possible. The part that is quite different and entertaining is that the buses stop anywhere along the way to pick up and drop off people. If you need to be picked up, just stand on the side of the road (and this can be in the middle of no where) and flag down the bus when it comes and it will stop and let you on. If you need to get off, just whistle, tap on the roof, or anything to get the drivers (or the fare guy´s) attention and he will stop immediately and let you off. The fare guy stands at the opened door while the bus is driving along and keeps an eye out for people needing to get on and will help with any big bags you might have. He'll also help you with your bags when you are getting off. This way makes the trip a bit longer but for a country where cars are not common, it makes a lot of sense.

Toilettes in Central America

I´m sure those that have traveled in Europe and Asia have encountered the toilettes that are just holes in the ground with ceramic to stand on. The surprising thing here in Central America is that so far, I have not encountered those toilettes anywhere. What is common here is that you can´t put the toilette paper in the must put it in the trash can because more than likely there are cracked pipes along the way and the paper could get caught and build up. This sign however is the only time I´ve seen such instructions for flushing. Unfortunately, due to clogging the sink at my apartment the day I was moving out, I discovered this technique. It was a fun, educational find for me! :)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Captain Baxter´s Snorkeling

We went snorkeling with Captain Baxter in what appears to be his partially handmade sailboat. It was a nice way to go out on the water...tour speed boats being the other option. Captain Baxter was a character himself. He couldn´t be bothered to learn our names so Debbie was "Chinese Lady" and I was alternatingly "Texas Lady" or "Travel Lady". He was a bit disappointed none of us knew how to roll a cigarette and so resigned himself to smoking a cigar while we sailed and making his cigarette while we were snorkeling. He was resistant to getting in the water with us because as you can see it wasn´t sunny and so it was cold. But fortunately he did. He took us to Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Reserve. At Shark Ray Alley we saw sharks and sting rays. At the reserve, we saw a variety of sea life, include sharks and barracudas. He took us to an underwater cave/tunnel but none of us were experienced enough snorkelers to make it down there and back. He said there was an eel in there. He really is a fish!! It was a fun time and I highly recommend him. You can find him at the Caye Casa Condos/Hotel.

Wild Mango

This little restaurant at the south end of the main strip of beach in the town center serves tasty food and very tasty good I even got Debbie to get one! This is there spicy mango margharita...a mango margharita with some red chile powder sprinkled on top...tastyyyy! The food is a fusion food so don´t expect the local fare but it really is good and this place should definitely be tried. If you are not eating street food, then you are more than likely eating at a touristy place as the locals are generally too poor to afford the restaurants. On the north end of the center of town, you will start to find more street food vendors (little "shacks") where you have just a few choices of food but it is very tasty and cheap.


I love these little pouches :) least that is what I think the name translates to. It seems to be not quite tortilla dough stuffed with your choice of stuffings (meat, cheese, beans) and then topped with a "cole slaw" and red sauce (which isn´t too spicy). They are made fresh in front of you and takes longer than you would expect to cook them. This little lady in San Pedro, Belize was churning them out like a pro!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mapping my progress

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I hear that people keep wondering where I am as I can't update my blog as often as I'd like but what I can find time to do is keep the map of where I'm going and where I've been fairly up-to-date. So, you can check out my google map link in the list of links on my blog.