New blog, people!

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel. Sun in the sky, you know how I feel. Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life, for meeee… And I’m feeeeelin’ gooood. (Michael Buble.)

Anyways, I’m sad to say good-bye to this blog, but it’s on to new adventures for me. This summer I’m interning at National Geographic Kids magazine in Washington D.C. I’ve started a new, daily blog with some uplifting and positive posts.

And here she is… dun dun dunnnn:

http://iamatpeace.wordpress.com/

Thank you guys so much for following my adventures through studying abroad in Ghana! But it’s time to put this blog to rest! : ) Talk to you soon.

Amanda

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Being taken care of…

Never underestimate the power of showing someone you care. Over the past week of being back home I’ve been absolutely amazed by people, mostly family and friends, who want to do everything in their power to make me feel comfortable.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been out of the country, but these people are truly selfless and special. I need to say thank you.

Thank you to my mom, who constantly puts others before herself. Whether she’s busy saving people’s lives in the hospital, or at home spoiling me with chocolate chip cheesecake from scratch, she’s truly the single most thoughtful person I’ve ever known. Thank you.

My dad, who puts up with my lack of communication. I know we only get to see each other a couple times a year, at most, but I love you. You’re always there, watching out for me. You’ve even offered to act like a mentally insane person to scare unwanted love interests away. Thank you.

My grandparents, with their door always open and hot chocolate in the cup, ready for me to indulge. Gram, your cards helped me pull through in Ghana. When the end of each month rolled around, I couldn’t wait to tear open the next.

My Aunt Lynn, who fills my inbox with motivational quotes and the occasional picture of a fuzzy kitten. You are a ray of sunshine in my life, and I’m sure everyone else’s!

My Aunt Sue and Uncle Frank, who have opened up their home to me for the summer. Don’t think I don’t appreciate that sofa bed. I do. And the grilled cheeses. And even the… paper plates *gasp*! : )

My friends, who are there for me in spite of my random weirdness. Who stick by me when I make a fool out of myself in public places. Who dance with me down the street. Who yell out car windows to prepubescent teens with me. Who take me out to dinner and insist I get the buffet AND dessert. Who hug me when I’m sad and laugh at me when it’s appropriate. And even when it’s not.  I LOVE you.

So this is just a great big thanks to all of you, everyone who has made the transition back home a good one. Your kindness does not go unnoticed. It means the world, truly.

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There is a reason for every season.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”

I’ve spent four months in a strange place. I’ve been away from everything familiar for a third of a year.

Coming home is so beautiful and painful at the same time. In one respect, I’m returning to comfort. My family- people who have known me since I could walk, since I could talk. My roots. The same old pillow, so broken in and sweet. The way spring smells. The feeling of curling up on a chilly night drinking tea with candles lit on my bedside dresser.

But then, in complete silence and idleness, my mind begins to churn. I think back over the past four months and the life I built for myself in Ghana. I think about the people (well, more like just one person…) that I miss. The certain type of beauty that I can’t find here, like working so hard just to get through each day and finally being able to embrace a cold shower and put my feet up, with the fan swirling the night air around my room. The birds in the palm trees outside my airy windows. The smell of Africa. The warm and inviting culture. Being forced to find entertainment in creativity.

But as difficult as the transition period might be, both from America to Ghana and from Ghana to America- every heart ache, every tear, every sleepless night- is worth it. It’s totally worth it. Because as someone really special once quoted in a letter to me:

“If you never felt pain, then how would you know that I am a healer?

If you never had to pray, how would you know that I am a deliverer?

If you never felt sadness, how would you know I am a comforter?

If you never made a mistake, how would you know that I’m a forgiver?

If you never went though fire, then how would you become pure?

If I gave you all things, how would you appreciate them?

If you had all the power, then how would you learn to depend on me?

If your life was perfect, then what would you need me for?”

Without imperfections in life, without heart ache or difficulties, there would be no growth. Because when you are down, when your heart is heavy, that means you must endure. You learn how to cope and how to embrace struggles. And through this, a wise, gentle and humbled soul is formed.

I just hope that I won’t forget what this entire journey has taught me. Each day I will wake up and take a moment just to look around and appreciate what I have. Because I know eventually my life will return to how it was when I left, but that doesn’t mean I have to go back to being that person. When deadlines creep in, when drama arises between family and friends, when I get my heart broken or when my day just isn’t going “my way,” I will center myself in peace. In what truly matters. In God. In love.

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Soak up the sun.

So… this is it. It’s almost over. I’ve spent sixteen weeks battling African heat, making my way around Ghana via public transit, volunteering hundreds of hours at a primary school, making beautiful memories with people I’ll never forget and learning the most important lessons about life.

We’ve raised 900 Ghana cedis for the school’s blackboards. I gave it all to the school today. I am going to make a video so you guys who have donated your time and money to this school can see how much they appreciate it. It’s such a beautiful thing. Thank you SO SO much for all of your help! Couldn’t have done it without you.

My mom sent me a package that arrived here one month ago, which I picked up today. And oh have I learned the ways of the post office. They used to charge me at least 15 cedis to pick up a package. Today I only paid two, plus one box of Peeps and a bag of hair conditioner (THANKS MOM!). Bribery goes a long way. And no, I don’t think of it as lowering my standards, but as embracing the culture. Two can play this game.

Last weekend we were invited by a friend to Ada Foah, a beach about 100 kilometers east. It was absolutely stunning. We stayed with the owner of Azar Paints. Let’s just say… we stayed in his island house. Just one of the three he owns in Ghana alone. And let’s just say it was a complete 180 from what we’ve been experiencing thus far in Ghana.

It’s so crazy how much things have turned around in the last few weeks. God has really provided us with some comfort and relaxation. And when I lie in bed at night, thinking how I only have a few days left, I get this bottomless feeling in my stomach.

As hard as it has been, it’s also been so rewarding. I wouldn’t trade this journey for the entire world. The lessons I’ve learned! Ah! I can say that I am returned a more well-rounded and patient individual, with a new respect and appreciation for everything.

So the next post I write might be in the Frankfurt airport. Or maybe even from…. home… Weird. It’s going to be so different not seeing chickens and goats running all around. And not being shouted to across the street. And not seeing people carrying things on their heads. And not drinking water out of a bag. And not… sweating.

So thank you all for following me on this journey. With three days left, I’m trying to soak it up for all its worth. Soon it will be time for one of the hardest parts: leaving. Adapting back. Saying goodbyes and stepping on to that plane… Here we go.

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“The week.” Day five: Sun rise, sun rise. Looks like mornin’ in your eyes. The final day to our journey.

There’s something magical about waking up when it’s still dark outside. The world is asleep. It’s almost like all life is put on pause while the universe takes a moment to breathe.

Ruth’s alarm went off at 2 a.m., way too early if you ask me. But we had a plan. The bus was coming in just two hours and we decided to “use” the motel’s pool and changing house to get refreshed before we began the last leg of our journey.

We tip-toed towards Magnus’ door as I pulled it open just a little too hard. It hit the corner of his sleeping pad and he jolted up-right.

“Is the bus coming? I will walk you both,” he offered.

We replied no, it’s only two in the morning. And we just needed some time to “prepare” for the day. Some “quiet time.” Code for “we just want to break into the motel pool and if you found out you would hinder our mischievous scheme.”

After many thank yous, we started on our way down the dirt path to the motel from the staff bunks. It was dark. Too dark. Ruth used her phone’s flashlight to guide our feet. I looked up. No light pollution from a smoggy city. No airplanes. Nothing. Just us and the wild.

Just as I was really beginning to embrace our complete isolation, something in the bushes around us rustled. Me being the baby I am, hid behind Ruth. We both stopped dead in our tracks, terrifyingly staring into the bush. It was moving towards us. Just as Ruth was about to shine her light on it, I pushed her hand away and began to run.

A second after I split, I heard something. I looked back- it had Ruth. A hyena about half her size (keep in mind, she’s six feet tall) had grabbed her foot, causing her to fall on her side as it began to rip apart her keen sandals. She screamed out for help as I grabbed a fallen tree branch and charged at the animal… okay, so maybe this didn’t happen. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.

In REALITY, we heard the rustling and picked up our pace. It was probably a baboon. Anyways, we made it to the motel safely. Don’t worry!

Inching towards the pool area, we checked right and left for signs of security officers. There was one Ghanaian man strutting around the entire property. After he passed we skipped behind him- into the pool house, changed into our suits and repeated this process until we got to the pool deck.

We were swimming for about five minutes when the guard spotted us. I got this, I thought to myself. He power walked over to the pool’s edge.

“Did you read the sign board?” he strictly questioned us.

“Oh! That. He he. Ha ha. Um, no actually. We were just hot and wanted to refresh before our bus came,” I replied. I’d always been a terrible liar.

“What room are you in?” Crap.

“Um, that one! Over there. On the far side. The dorms,” Ruth sheepishly said.

And then he disappeared into the office. We were guessing he was checking reservations, trying to find who these crazy, white, rule-breaking girls were.

Two minutes after he left, the power cut out. That’s right- all the lights on the entire property. So there we were in the pool, at 2:30 in the morning, against the board sign regulations, in the middle of a pitched-black African safari. Because Mole Motel was the only establishment within six kilometers, the night turned eerily dark. Everything disappeared. My ears’ sensitivity heightened: the buzzing of a moth on the other side of the pool, caught in the water and struggling to somehow make flight again; the crickets in the trees, forming a repeated melody of chirps between their wings; my heart, pounding beneath the water in paralyzing awe.

For minutes we were silent and motionless. After the lights came back on, we decided to get out. I bathed in the sink, threw on the last clean shirt I had, and headed out into the sunless morning.

The bus came, surprisingly on time, and we were the first ones on board. And then the craziest, most unreal and unexpected thing happened- we left. Within 30 minutes! It was the start to a beautiful day.

As much of a pain as Mass Metro can be, I love riding in those buses, especially when the sun has yet to be seen for the day. Watching it rise through the open bus windows, dawn’s sticky breath caressed my face as a sweet purple and violent orange painted the horizon. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss that more than anything.

The sun rise is a welcoming event, but everything after it is not exactly pleasant. It turns hot. Fast. The bus ride back from Mole was taking so much longer than on the way there, and our bus was having issues. We’d drive for five miles, stop, they’d wiggle something in the engine and drive again. This process would repeat multiple times.

Until this one time that we stopped. The conductor opened the engine panel and it… exploded. No joke. In our faces. Hot liquid came spewing from the front, just a couple rows away, and splattered all over us. The windows filled up with steam.

“Screw this,” I said to Ruth. “Screw. This.”

One look from her and I could tell she agreed. I grabbed my backpack from the floor and tossed it out the window. Ruth gave me hers and I did the same. We climbed over all the passengers in the front and jumped out into the harsh day.

“What are you doing? We go now. Let’s go,” the conductor said to me.

“Thank you, but no way!” Ruth replied.

I fully intended on keeping my face in tact that day. So we grabbed our bags, latched them on our backs and headed towards Tamale. We were only about 15 miles away and luckily the bus stopped on a pretty busy road.

Then, I did something I had always dreamed of. I stuck out my thumb, and hitch-hiked. (I believe that’s #8 on my bucket list.) And not only did I hitch-hike, but I successfully did it. Within two minutes a tro-tro pulled over and the mate flung the door open. Ruth and I jumped in, looked back at the bus still sitting there, smiled, and took off.

The rest of the day was a total blur. From Tamale we took a tro-tro to Kumasi, about a six-hour ride. From there, we took a bus to Accra, about a five-hour ride. All together, we spent a total time traveling on the road: 19 hours. Impressive, don’t ya think? :)

So that was our adventure. Not what I expected, in both good and bad ways. It was anything but easy, and totally worth it. Between hot hotel rooms, Mass Metro (a death wish), sleepless nights, nearly getting attacked by baboons, a bus engine exploding in our faces, befriending bartenders, taking a boat up the Volta Lake, breaking into a motel pool and bathing in sinks, it was a journey that will never be forgotten.

Cheers, Ghana.

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“The week.” Day 4: Suitcase seats. Final destination. Staff canteen. Baboons. Storm.

Three in the morning couldn’t come soon enough. Walking out of the heat-encased hotel onto empty, breezy Tamale streets was a welcoming event. As dead as the city appeared, the street sellers never sleep. Women stretched out on their benches, drifting in and out of consciousness, with their torches still lit and mountains of bread loaves on tables for sale.

The bus station was desolate and the office for the Mass Metro line was still closed when we arrived at 3:30. Women walked around selling “toothbrushes,” or I should say, Ghanaian toothbrushes. These toothbrushes are long, carved sticks that they chew on and pick at their teeth with.

One egg sandwich and a cup of instant coffee later, the conductors began to show up. We entered their office and asked if we could buy tickets for the bus heading to Wa that morning.

“The bus is full,” they shot back at us.

“How? We came yesterday afternoon and they said we couldn’t buy tickets until today,” I replied.

Well, this is Ghana. This is the governmental-run bus system. They lie. They cheat. They rob you of your money and the last thing it is is dependable. They told us that we had to wait in line once the bus arrived at the station and hang around to see if we could get a spot standing.

And we did just that. Ghana has made me so much more aggressive in situations like this. Maybe it was my lack of sleep or that we were the first people at the station that morning, but I wasn’t going to let that bus leave without us on it.

We stood at the steps of the bus, money in hand, for at least an hour. People with tickets filed in between us. My backpack was on the bus steps. Various Ghanaian men tried cutting in front of us, but we weren’t budging. I literally pushed them back in their place.

The conductor came down the steps, about to take people’s money for standing and last-minute open seats. He looked out, Ruth and I first in the line, and grabbed a man’s money from behind us in the crowd. Still getting squished and thrown around, I held the money up to the conductor, praying for him to notice. He didn’t. He shut the door and the bus began to drive away. Ruth and I backed up in complete disbelief, now, four hours after we arrived at the station, and I cried. I cried angry, frustrated, hot tears.

“It’s okay Amanda. We’ll find something,” Ruth assured me.

I guess a white girl crying is the ultimate soft-spot in a Ghanaian’s heart, because not even one minute after I the water works began two different conductors were at our sides, writing us tickets to Wa.

Running after the bus, we started banging on the side, pleading for it to let us in. The driver opened the door and we jumped into the belly of the vehicle.

Once on the bus, we realized how… interesting… of a ride the next four hours would be, but I didn’t care. Ruth managed to grab an empty seat in the middle of the bus. I perched myself on a suitcase in the middle of the aisle, my backpack in my lap. And the trip began.

As soon as we turned out of the bustling city the surroundings drastically changed back into the rural Ghana that we saw on the boat ride up the Volta. Huts. Cattle. Barefoot children. Driving through the villages, the kids all waved to the bus as it carted down the orange dirt road, kicking up a tidal wave of dust behind it.

The continual adrenaline flow helped my mind to not fully comprehend that I was sitting on the corner of a suitcase, the handles in unfortunate places, with no back rest for multiple hours, and I stared out the window with my Ipod blasting into my brain. I felt like an adventurer. I felt free. I felt unstoppable.

When our bus stopped in Larabanga and I surged from the overcrowded aisle, I got attacked. No, not by a ferocious, man-eating lion, but by four Ghanaian men, hungry for a profit. Or so it seemed. They managed to talk Ruth and I into swinging by the “visitor’s center,” aka an empty room with several plastic chairs around a bare table, where the proceeded to tell us to stay in a center they built for children’s learning. By donating however much we’d like, they would let us stay in their house or on their roof top.

Something wasn’t settling right, and even after visiting the site and seeing that it would have been relatively safe, we didn’t feel completely okay with it. We left our bags there for the day locked in a room and rented a pair of bicycles to ride to the park.

And just like that, we were off. Not even stopping for a breather, it seemed, and it was absolutely thrilling. Steering my rusty old bike down the desolate dirt road towards Mole National Park, the sun beat down on our backs. I was covered- head to toe- in a layer of sweat. And you know what? It felt good. It felt good to be uncomfortable, to feel vulnerable and exhausted. Because I knew that one day it would eventually fade and I would settle back in my bubble of well-being.

Arriving at the park, it wasn’t what I expected. When I pictured an African safari, I pictured Kenya. Vast lands booming with elephants, giraffes, antelope and gazelles and lions. The park consisted of one look-out point and a pathway for a walking tour. We saw a few elephants around the artificial watering hole from the point, but by the time we got there they were gone.

Even though my dreams of befriending a wild elephant and riding away in the sunset on its back didn’t come true, it was still pretty cool. And not to mention, so worth getting out of the bustling city. The air smelled like country. Like nature. Pure. Fresh. Free.

In the Mole Motel’s office we spotted a flyer with options for the night. One was a “tree hide,” where you sleep out in the wild above one of the watering holes for just 10 cedis a night. We were immediately sold on this idea, and we rushed back to Larabanga to get out bags and tell the creepy men that we were leaving. After an hour and one overpriced taxi ride later, we were back, ready for our tree-hide experience. Well one thing I’ve learned here in Ghana- or just in life in general- is that there is always a catch. Always. So no, it wasn’t 10 cedis a night. Not after you pay the guard to escort you to the tree hide, stay there all night, rent a mosquito net and a bed. So that was out. We were without shelter for the night. And a storm was rolling in.

I think my favorite part of the week away was that night. You don’t get much more last-minute or random. During dinner at the staff canteen (The motel restaurant was to pricey. It’s just how we roll.) we met Magnus, a bartender at the grub hub. After talking for a while, I told him about our predicament- how we have to wake up at 3 a.m. for the bus, how the tree hide was a big dud and how we are, more or less, homeless for the evening.

“Well I have a room here. It’s just me and you two are welcome to stay,” he offered.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking. Sleeping… in a random man’s room… in the middle of an African safari… what were you two thinking. But for one, I usually have a decent gut sense when it comes to strangers. And two, it’s just that- we were in the middle of the SAFARI. If we stayed outside we’d probably get ambushed by baboons or something.

So we agreed and waited for him to close up the bar. We grabbed a pair of plastic picnic chairs and sat outside in the blackness. The sky lit up the surrounding fields with each bolt, illuminating swaying trees, the vacant watering hole down the hill and the emptiness surrounding us. Then it rained. Mighty, shattering drops of rain. We jumped up and danced in it for a few minutes while the Ghanaians huddled under the awning of the bar in complete bewilderment. Once again, crazy white girls.

“This is what I’m going to miss,” Ruth said to me, her arms raised in the air, twirling around like an eight-year-old ballerina.

That night Magnus offered us his bed as he unrolled a padded sleeping mat for the floor. After much protesting, we finally agreed. Lying in bed, I was about to drift off when Magnus broke the silence.

“We are all Christians here?” He asked. We confirmed.

“So someone needs to pray then,” he said.

And there, in a random bartender’s room in the middle of no where in northern Ghana, under a rainy sky, we prayed.

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World Malaria Day

“World Malaria Day” was established and approved at the 60th World Health Assembly (WHA) in March 2007. It replaced “Africa Malaria Day” which was commemorated every year since 2001 on 25 April.  The purpose of the day is to raise awareness of malaria as a disease that is preventable and treatable and to mobilize communities across the world to get involved in the fight against it.

The World Malaria Day website has been established to help individuals and civil society contribute to the achievement of the Global Malaria Action Plan goals, through the establishment of a dynamic and interactive information and advocacy portal.

It aims to help inform, educate, mobilize and stimulate the highest possible number of stakeholders – to SHARE best practice and successes, update LIVE news and events on World Malaria Day and share the most informative and interesting links on MALARIA, the disease, treatment and prevention.

Until now, there has not been a medium through which civil society groups could share their work and disseminate their messages on malaria treatment and prevention on and around World Malaria Day.

(Credit to http://www.worldmalariaday.org/about_the_site_en.cfm)

Click on me!! —–>http://www.nowpublic.com/health/world-malaria-day-2010-ways-donate-and-how-you-can-help-2609967.html

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