Tag Archives: love

Tree of Life

Shoutout to our homies, last blog comin’ atcha,

Although we thought this trip would never come to an end, here we are. Today we finished our last day of teaching at Heritage Academy, and let us just say its bittersweet. Many of us wrapped up our lessons with final projects and presentations. Today had a familiar “last day of school” feeling: taking pictures with students, giving out addresses, and saying our goodbyes. At the end of the day we attended a school-wide assembly in which we sang the Ghanaian national anthem with all the students we had met over the week. Each of us shared a lesson we learned at Heritage, including the values of creativity, friendship, and role models, and gave our sincerest thanks to everyone at the school for giving us such an amazing experience.

Along with goodbyes came promises to students to keep in touch. We personally take these very seriously and are committed to writing to the kids, but we also worked hard to impress on the students the limits of our communication abilities. The pen pal system at Heritage can take about 4 months for a letter to be exchanged, leaving a student feeling forgotten or as if our relationship wasn’t genuine. We expressed our dedication to the kids, and discussed in our reflection the way that keeping in touch with these amazing students will be a constant reminder of our time here and also help us be mindful in our home lives.

Speaking of being mindful, your four current blog writers cannot forget to be thankful for the opportunity that F&M has provided to us to come on this trip through the Marshall Scholarship Program. The Marshall Scholarship creates a fund that can be used by students to perform community service or research projects. As recipients of this scholarship, throughout the trip we have been thinking critically of service and our role as volunteers, and we wanted to be sure we were using this award thoughtfully and as it was intended. As two weeks have now past, we can see in our experiences and reflections of stepping outside our comfort zone that we have truly grown as people and learned more than we can say. We acknowledge the apprehensions that go along with service trips, and in some ways we agree with the self-interested nature. However, due to this group’s awareness of this flaw, we try not to be passive participants and constantly question the appropriateness of the role we are playing. This mindfulness has contributed to an experience that undoubtedly made the most of our winter break.

When we first arrived at the guesthouse, our jet-lagged and relatively unacquainted group took a walk down the road and discovered what could only be described as the Tree of Life. We all stared in amazement and took an excruciatingly awkward first photo (choosing to pose as trees instead of actually touching each other). Today, we ceremoniously returned to this epic vertical hunk of wood, this time in our Heritage Academy dresses (and one shirt for Kyle) and students in tow. The picture from this afternoon lacks any awkwardness, and instead shows the true friends we have become over the course of the trip.

Thanks for seeing us through to the end,

Carey, Chloe, Erika, Jen, and everyone else

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Sorry to our 8th grade teachers…we finally understand.

Mondays.  Oh Mondays.  Why must they come so soon?  After a relaxing and eventful weekend we felt a little apprehensive starting such a daunting, teaching-heavy week.  Whether it be lesson plan anxiety, mild bodily discomfort, or feeling a little homesick, it was clear we all had our worries about how this Monday would go and whether we would be successful in engaging with our students in meaningful ways.

Some challenges we continued to face today revolved around effectively managing our classrooms and dealing with troublesome students. Having drawn a lot from our own experiences in grade school, many of us are feeling like we are, at times, falling short of being able to command their full attention and gaining 100% of their respect. Breaking into the already predefined “classroom culture” here at Heritage has been a definite barrier, but one that we are slowly breaking down and becoming a part of. This has lead all of us to realize that teaching is a skill that is honed over time and is causing us to feel a great deal of respect for the teachers that have helped shape our lives in many apparent (and subtle) ways.

The day was filled with highs, however, as we continued to connect with our students in new and surprising ways. For example, after having a difficult start to the teaching process, one of the students in Katie’s Human Rights class came forward with a completely finished final project days before it was due. The students were instructed to create their own countries, including designing a flag, constitution, and structure, and it was so encouraging to see this student really embrace a challenging concept with such creativity.  Kyle also experienced a breakthrough today in his Creative Writing class when a quiet, yet confident student proudly read a short story of his own.  For us, who seek to teach material that will encourage students to explore their creativity, these moments of expression are self-affirming and inspiring.

After school today, several of us journeyed into town to explore the market. The rest of our group stayed behind at school to organize their ever-growing library. Growing up in America, reading was a natural part of our lives, and a way for us to learn and be influenced by our culture. Because of the lack of Ghanaian culture represented in the literature that they have access to, the students at Heritage are consuming American culture as they learn to read.  This seems to be leading to a certain disconnect with the books they read every single day. Despite these cultural differences, we are noticing more and more how similar children are all over the world. The hand-games and silly childhood habits that we all experienced growing up are present here in Ghana as well, and this makes the world feel just a little bit smaller.

Thanks again for keeping up with our trials and tribulations. We love you all and are eager to share our stories in more detail when we get back to the States!

Peace, Love, & Plantains,

Molly, Kyle & the Crew

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From Humble Beginnings…

Dearest Internet-using Obrunis (among others),

In this day of all days….we are exhausted. We have traveled all over Ghana in just a few short days and honestly this blog post comes at a time that we would really rather sleep. But we–Kyle, Erika, and Katie–your intrepid bloggers, are here to tell of our experience thus far. It has been interesting to say the least.

Let us rewind to the beginning. Over the past 5 days, we have been in a vehicle for a total of about 2. Water bottles were passed like flasks around the back of the van by those of age (#collegelife), and are the new hottest commodity. We feel like Chia pets. It is quite possible that the only person keeping us alive on the Ghanaian Audubon highways is our amazing driver, Kobe. He tackles the Ghanaian mountains (speed bumps) like a true champ. Finally, the massive amounts of rice………have taken its toll on the bowels of some.

But on a serious note, these past few days have been some of the most interesting of our lives. We arrived in Ghana thoroughly exhausted on December 28th and since then have been all over the country. We traveled up to Northern Ghana to stay at Hand-in-Hand Orphanage, a safe haven for intellectually disabled children. Initially, we all had different expectations and reservations about what our experience would be. On behalf of the group, the three of us can say we were extremely impressed by the community there and wished we could have spent more time making deeper relationships with the kids and adults. Also in the North, we had the opportunity to visit and learn about the Ashanti tribe at the Manhyia Palace and Museum. In addition, we visited a monkey sanctuary and learned the importance of monkeys to the neighboring villages. We realized the monkeys were also super friendly when they ate bananas out of our hands. Not only were the monkey’s mad chill, but the huge trees, so different than the ones in the US, were off the chain (not that they were cut down, but that they were really neat).

Upon our return to Ajumako on New Years Eve, we were able to attend service at the Headmaster of Heritage’s church. To be blunt, it was unlike anything we have ever experienced. Many of us have been to church in different countries, celebrating different types of religion, yet this particular service was like none we have experienced before. The people of Ghana are very religious, and church was full of passion, emotion and intense dancing. As the awkward foreigners sitting to the left of the podium, we embraced the service by joining in any way we could. A pastor helped translate the 3-hour event, and we all left the service feeling that we would bring in the New Year with a new mind, heart and body.

[Emotional Discretion is Advised] So, now is the time to get down to the mushy gushy part of this blog post. Parents reading this- no worries, we don’t miss you THAT much… Friends- we may not come back to F&M, sorry in advance. But here are some of the themes that we have discussed in the reflection group we have at the end of the day:

Each and every one of us has questioned our role as a tourist. We have all expressed the desire to create connections that go beyond a hand-shake or a purchase, but we find it difficult to connect with the individuals we come across in our short travels. For example, upon our arrival at Hand-in-Hand, all of the children greeted us with open arms and smiles. We all had a deep desire to cultivate individualized relationships with these people, as opposed to being just observers and leaving after such a short period. Furthermore, we felt that it was unfair to the children to attempt to make these short-term relationships, and then just leave. Ultimately, our time at Hand-in-Hand was fantastic, but our desires to be more than just a passing group was conflicting.

We felt similar unease in Bonwire, the town famous for weaving Kente cloth. This town was so rich in culture and history, yet it was so difficult to build meaning around such a short encounter. We didn’t like the feeling of just being ‘consumers’, especially when we are all dedicated to learning more in depth about this fascinating place.

Now that we are back at our home base, we are excited to make deeper connections with the students and teachers at Heritage Academy. Earlier today, when we had a lunch with some of the teachers at Heritage, and tomorrow is our first day of teaching. It’s a glass case of emotions- some of us are nervous, some excited, and each and every one of us does not know what to expect.

K………………..Night.

– Kyle (Ky; Larry), Erika (Er-bear) and Katie (Kath; Pineapple Express)

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Final Musings

The end of our journey is here, dear readers, and from the bottom of our hearts we thank you for following The Heritage Blog so closely and for being such a big part of this experience.

You have all been in our hearts and in our minds every step of the way: from boarding the airplane at JFK to our final adventure back to Accra. We would not be here if it wasn’t for your love and support.

We have had many adventures that descriptions alone can’t accurately paint the full picture, so dear readers, join me as we delve in the realm of abstraction.

Our first night here at Jimmy com. we experienced a bit of culture shock when we noticed a live chicken tied up and stuck into a black plastic bag, with its feat and head out of it. This lead me to write:

Black Bag Chicken

Black garbage bag chicken
squawks and stops,
struggling to breathe
the soupy air. The crickets
keep it company.
A desperate push deeper
into the brush—an anguished
cry. The pink sky, sympathetic
to the sound of a baby’s cry
in the distance. Flutter and silence.
Does it know?
Can it comprehend the inevitable?
Feet tired, slowly suffocating.
The breeze breathes life
into the quiet night.
flutter and silence.
A lonely cricket shatters
the emptiness. The sky darkens
and the leaves rustle.

When we ventured to the North, and visited the Kintampo waterfalls, I could only describe it as:

Cascading quicksilver covers all
washes clean the ages of time
sand slipping through loose fingers
tears of faith
calling from below
hopeless wishes
waiting for the sea of change
smiling through it all
still leaves sink to the bottom
but trust hangs in the branches
the roots dig deeper
the camera catches what ceases to exist
and the changing tides disappear
and are never the same
continuous birth

And again as:

The screaming water and rippling voices
fall from the sun into darkness
bare feet brave the white waters
swim in natures chalice
diamond smiles and emerald
gasoline cans—spangled rocks of prayer
the divinity of nature

The haunting drive up to Elmina Castle:

Diamonds on the sky blue water
no line on the horizon where the heavens meet the sea
drifting on a memory of silent
waves splashing into far away lands.
Palm trees explode into the sky
fire green arms explaining divinity
for nobody who cares to listen. The Castle
on the hill sold Gods like dogs to men
who didn’t care to know the difference.

On the serene Coconut Grove beach:

Waves lick the sand
crashing down upon
the crushing vastness
foaming at the mouth
wild and untame
erasing the past
cutting into the future
each crest and fall
what is is no more
what will be
slowly revealing itself
how far is the horizon?
how many licks does it take
to break the stoic rocks
until they are nothing more than
grains of sand?
a child’s castle
imagine the vast kingdom
what power does a king have
compared to time
always ticking always licking
the unforeseen inevitable
a king with a cracked crown
from years of artificial power
diving right; God’s will
how could you be so wrong?
if you looked into the face
of God would you know?
time’s insatiable ticking
into the abyss beyond the breakers
what will remain except the crashing durge
the funeral procession of the waves crashing
time and time again.

On a Kakum bridge:

Inverted energies and
cataclysmic fantasies
of falling up into the blue sky
The eagles mundane picture frame
looking through the infant eyes
of a sun bear
With feet on solid ground
the sublimity of divinity is realized
the echoes of crackling leaves under feet
crickets calling to nobody in particular
just making the music of Kakum.

On my final morning walk this morning; I met a man named Earnest:

Final hours lost in fog
an Earnest smile from
a stranger and a friend
the fog lifts and leaves love
the ties that binds are stronger
than our differences
the unity man lost behind closed
minds and tangled up
in razor wire

I hope this helped you, dear readers, to understand some of the incomprehensible aspects of the journey.

Peace and Love,
Jake

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The Africa We Have Come To Know

For those who do not know us, we are the Muhlenberg Gals: Ali, Caroline, Bobbie and Jordan. Today was our last full day in Ghana; we have spent the past two weeks here in Ghana experiencing the thrill of exploring a different country, but today was by far our hardest day emotionally. We all struggled with leaving the classes we have so passionately taught, and leaving a country that we have all grown to love. Its hard to imagine that tomorrow at this time, we will be sitting in the Accra airport waiting to board our flight to Amsterdam and then on to the glorious city of Newark, NJ.

The walk to school this morning consisted of us discussing our cravings for various western foods such as Chipotle, Panera Bread, and real pizza (not the ketchup and goat cheese concoction that Ali and Bobbie ate on our trip to Kakum). Upon our arrival at Heritage, we were greeted by the adorable lower school kids, who until today, had been on holiday break. By now, we have all settled into the comfortable routine of reading, teaching, and spending time with the kids at Heritage Academy. As always, are nights were full of highs and lows about our experiences. Some of our highs from today included teaching classes that grasped the material more than we had anticipated, jumping into an impromptu Spanish class during an open period, seeing strong improvements in the reading of our students (even after only a week), having meaningful conversations with the High School students, and ground nut soup and rice balls we enjoyed for dinner. Yet, with highs, also come the lows. The Muhlenberg bunch was upset that this would be our last day at the school, and some of the Franklin & Marshall students spoke about misbehaving classes, and leaving special hot sauce at school (but since learning that said hot sauce is safe and sound – Anita is now extremely relieved).

Tonight before reflection, some of us were joking about how we should road trip it to Nigeria or Ivory Coast, and how that people often lump Ghana in with other African countries that suffer from political instability and ethnic conflict. When people picture Africa, they think of the images out of the Congo, Mali, Libya, or Somalia that are plastered across the front page of the New York Times. The Africa that we have been experiencing is so much different than mainstream media would like those at home to believe. There is no denying that Ghana is a poor country in terms of monetary and material assets, but it is incredibly rich in terms of the kindness and spirit of the people. Having the incredible experience of going into a school and the communities surrounding it, and meeting the kids and adults who live and learn there has proved that the future of this country, and the countries surrounding it, is incredibly bright. We were lucky to experience that first hand and will treasure these moments for the rest of our lives.

With love from Ajumako,

Caroline, Ali, Jordan and Bobbie
a.k.a. the obrunis from Muhlenberg College

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From Gold Coast to Gold Rings

Early this morning we packed into a tro-tro (van) and headed down the coast to Elmina Castle. With the windows down, we could smell the sea as we followed the highway towards one of the most famous slave castles in the world.

Elmina Castle was built by the Portuguese in 1482, originally designed as a trading post, but quickly became a major exporting site for the Portuguese, Dutch and British in the trans-Atlantic slave trade that brought millions of slaves to Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas.

Despite recognizing that being at this site was an extremely valuable experience that taught us a lot about the history of Africa and the role that we as Americans play in that, being at Elmina was very emotional for us all.

Standing afoot the same ground where hundreds of thousands awaited their journey of no return, or took their last breath before dying of starvation or disease was eerie and heartbreaking. We had the opportunity to look out to sea where boats would dock to pick up slaves and make their way to the new world. These close quarters which were dark, poorly ventilated and still alive with the scent of the past, made us feel claustrophobic and nauseous at times.

Though a harrowing experience, we did become mini celebrities when a man (who strongly resembled Lenny Kravitz) was crafty in taking pictures that pretended to feature him but actually featured at least one of us. Greg noticed this quickly and felt upset that he wasn’t able to give his consent when the guy pretended to take a picture of himself that actually was a full on picture of Greg. This continued to happen throughout our tour and hopefully his family will get great joy out of seeing us in their photo album.

Today we were also the guests at Kobe Essiama’s (and the new Mrs. Essiama) wedding in Cape Coast. I think you might recall Kobe from our previous post – he is our driver who was coasting and replacing tires and fan belts throughout our trip through Northern Ghana. This, clearly, was a bonding experience that warrants our attendance at his wedding.

When he first invited us last weekend (no formal invitation, just casually mentioned he was getting married in 6 days), he told us if we came we would be his “special guests.” Today we found out that couldn’t have been more accurate.

When we first arrived, we realized that we were too late and had missed the church service. Instead, we got there just in time for the reception and were immediately videotaped by the official wedding videographer and placed at tables in front of the bride and groom’s on-stage high table. People seemed confused at why we were there, especially since we were extremely underdressed in comparison to the women wearing traditional cloth, men wearing suit jackets, and the children who were in color coordinated outfits. The MC quickly acknowledged us and said that we had come all the way from Lancaster, USA for Kobe’s wedding and in our honor would play just a few English songs. To a highlight a few, we heard “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne, “I’m Your Angel” by Boyz 2 Men and a song we will not repeat the name of which was surprisingly profane and involves breaking up with your significant other. This song ironically played as the couple was walking down the aisle to be presented to the crowd for the first time as man and wife.

After about 25 minutes, we were guided outside to take wedding photos with the bride and groom, and then upon our return, we were invited, along with the parents of the bride and groom, the best man, and the flower girl, to sit up on stage facing out to the crowd of wedding guests. This, as Oduro referred to it, was called the VIP. Kobe was not kidding at all when he said we would be his “special guests.”

After the bride, groom and family members were called to eat, we followed directly after and were met with a large spread of chicken, salad, three types of rice, banku, and fufu. Due to only having a flimsy plastic spoon to consume this delicious meal, some were confused about how to eat it properly and so we had to wait until we saw Kobe just go for it with his hands to follow suit.

The wedding was more than eventful. After the bride and groom’s first dance, which wasn’t a slow dance but more of bopping around and smiling, we were invited onto the dance floor to join them. Meanwhile, Kobe was texting and answering phone calls while wearing short nike socks with his dress shoes. Since we were the only ones really dancing, people took pity on us and came to relieve of us of our embarrassment. This included several small children who should probably be the next Dancing With The Stars contestants, and a large older woman who took a liking to Jake 😉

After Michael made a baby cry, children used chicken bones as microphones, the speaker system got turned up a little too high so that we all had a slight stroke, and we danced and took many pictures, we decided that we would head out. Kobe promised he would meet us again before we left, despite Lilah encouraging him to spend time with his wife to which he replied, “No, that’s okay. I’ll see you guys next weekend.”

It was a great day, overall. Even though the morning at Elmina was an emotional rollercoaster, the wedding was an opportunity for a new beginning, one that celebrates love instead of pain and loss. The joining of two people in marriage, which we were invited to share with them, was an opportunity to bring all of us together in peace and harmony to celebrate what really matters: union and togetherness.

We hope this blog post brings you the opportunity to reflect on the value of love and life for you and those around you.

– Lilah and Anita

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