Archive for April, 2012

Ghost Stories

I have never been a particularly superstitious person. When I watch TV shows about ghost hunters and paranormal activity and any other forms of “madness”, I never hesitate to question how fake it is. Admittedly, when people begin to explain to me their ghost encounters, I usually try to figure out in my head how it could have happened without it being a ghost. Imagination? Light refraction? Simply a cool breeze that passed you while you were in a creepy place? Then again, I do not claim to have any paranormal experiences- and apparently it takes having one to really be a believer. I know what you’re thinking- this girl who was more excited to take a Magic and Witchcraft class than any other class ever, this girl who is dying to have her palm read, and this girl who reads and tries to relate her life to horoscopes whenever she finds them,  is trying to explain ghosts away? Great way to become a witch, huh? Second guess everything that happens in the paranormal world and try to explain away it with physics.  Although, I’m also not doing so well with the physics…(so, maybe I am meant for Hogwarts?)

Just to set those things straight, I am a firm believer in magic- I mean, how could the world of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, and the Burrow not be real? I have pictured it to be real since the long days I spent in the garden, wishing I had a wand that would pull up the weeds for me while I awaited my Hogwarts letter. But the other things I look at merely for a source of entertainment. I would love to learn about tarot card readings just because it’s fun, I would love to have my palm read, just to see how accurate it is. But as far as those things and ghosts go, I’m not really convinced… as some people would say- I’m not completely crazy. This all kept in mind, I would love to tell you about some stories I heard during my night in the cemetery.

At the start of Spring break, Liz and I decided to take a trip around the south island. After a ferry ride and a couple bus stops we ended up in a city called Dunedin. It was as hilly and as lively as San Francisco on a sunny day. Ironically- we stayed at a hostel called Hogwartz. One of the things that Liz wanted to do most was go on a ghost walk- a walk throughout the city while a guide showed you sites and told you stories of ghost activity. Even though I’m not superstitious- the idea was still a little creepy, but of course I went. A strange man in a cape and a top hat greeted us at the top of this hill and off we went. Overall, the walk was interesting, we ended up in a basement that happened to be very underground, called (even more ironically) “the chamber of Secrets”. This chamber was apparently known to be haunted due to its scary past, and is now where the citizens of Dunedin go to hold Pagan rituals…even though I had paid this man, I was questioning  some of my decisions about who I trust to take me to dark rooms and tell me ghost stories.

After the tour was over, the guide apparently liked us so much that he wanted to take us on a walk around a cemetery in the middle of the night- this cemetery supposedly made it to the top 10 most haunted cemeteries in the world. Naturally, we could not think of any reason we should not go. Needless to say, it happened to be much creepier than our ghost walk of the city, and the stories much more convincing.

When we arrived, the guide started by telling us that despite the fact that he knew the cemetery like the back of his hand and he spent about 3 nights a week walking among the headstones, he would never ever go to the cemetery alone. Sitting in front of a computer screen it sounds like a good scare tactic- but honestly- I wouldn’t go back to that cemetery alone either- the air itself seemed….lifeless. Liz and I linked arms and didn’t let go until we were back to safety.

Next he told us that if he says “let’s get out of here”…don’t hesitate- just run.

Now, conveniently, as you walk through the cemetery, he does not tell the group where you are headed or any stories about the next site until you are there. In this case, we were headed to the “haunted corner”.  It’s this really hidden place in the cemetery-you have to walk down a hill and around a thin trail to get there. It’s as dark as dark can get because the stars are not visible there and the moon is stuck on the other side of the hill.

One night he took a group out there, and they did not finish the tour because something truly frightening happened. This is where the “run” comes in. The guide was leading the group to this dark, haunted corner, and at the top of the hill, a woman in the group started frantically screaming without reason, without warning. She said they had to stop, that they had to get out of the cemetery, that “it” was coming. The guide, who was slightly ahead of the group, walked back up the hill and tried to calm her down- not knowing what she was talking about or why she was screaming, or what she thought was going to happen. She did not relax. She screamed again and said that they could not go down there- that they were in danger, and that they had to leave.

By then, the whole group was getting a bit antsy. What was this lady talking about? And why did everything suddenly get a little creepier, a little darker, a little stiller, even a little colder? Aside from the women in hysterics, the group was quiet- ultimately speechless, trying to figure this woman out. That’s when our guide claimed he heard it. There was a rustling of leaves that seemed to be coming from down the hill, from this haunted corner.  It seemed to sound like footsteps. The guide slowly turned around, and whether it was that he was imagining things because this was the creepiest situation he had ever been in, or if it was a trick of light- he saw something coming up the hill. He jumped to his feet and yelled “Run!” and the entire group bolted to the gates in a terrorized rush because the guide wasn’t the only one who heard it or the only one that saw it.

When they got to the gates the woman finally calmed down and was able to explain what happened. The important thing to remember about this story is that the guide does not tell you where you are or what you are doing until you are actually in the haunted corner. This woman could not have known what they were heading to.

The woman explained first, that she was half Moari. She was on the tour for her birthday, and when they got to the top of the hill she claims and ancestor was coming up the hill to stop them. That he was angry that she was there, and that he was going to make it impossible for them to see the burial site, one way or another. The guide never said they were headed to a Moari burial site.

At this point, the guide told us that we could take the story for whatever value we wanted, that several people in that group asked if he had paid this woman to put on a show, but it happened 100% as he told it. It was the scariest night of his life, and he questioned whether he should continue taking tours there.

The “haunted corner” which is supposed to be the scariest part and most haunted spot of the entire cemetery, is a Moari burial site. It was there that a bunch of the native Moari people thrown without ceremony or burial when they died after the Europeans came to colonize. This was a huge insult to the Moari people because anywhere their dead were buried was to be considered sacred and not to be disturbed- it was even worse that they were not covered, but all placed in open graves. The Europeans had effectively insulted the entire Moari people by not only disrespecting their dead but by disregarding culture and customs of the people. According to the guide, it is much scarier during the day because you can see the open grave sites and you can see why the souls that are stuck there are restless. They have no idea how many people were buried there.

Whether what happened was real or not, it was enough to give me the heebee geebies, and I was about ready to hightail it out of there. I didn’t want to disrespect anyone, or cause any harm to restless souls. I am totally happy to leave everyone in peace. Why did I even think it was a good idea to come here? But we couldn’t leave before he told us one more story.

A long time ago, a woman was put on trial for stabbing and murdering her husband. In the trial, she explained that he was extremely abusive her whole life, and she could not handle it anymore. She needed to escape, so she killed him. This woman was 60 years old, had put up with endless suffering at the hand of her husband, and then was sentenced to life in prison. Back then, there was no separation of men and women in prison, and life in prison for a woman was virtually a death sentence. Her husband was buried in this cemetery- a real honor because only those who were of high class were permitted to be buried there. Remarkably, the woman survived for ten years in prison before she died. But, when her time came, the officials decided to bury her next to her husband in the cemetery because that was the custom (despite the fact that she had committed a crime, declared her hatred against her grave partner, and had been the one that killed him). Soon after she was buried next to her abusive husband, a visitor came back to visit her grave. It was cracked open. I could not help but be proud of this woman.

At the end of the tour, the night seemed a little crisper- and pictures I needed to prove I was there reached a questionable necessity. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up. I don’t believe in ghosts, but it was hard in the middle of the night in the pitch dark not to think that the breeze blowing in your hair might be a little more. That the crackle of your footsteps might not just be from your footsteps, and that these stories might have some truth to them. Spend a night in a cemetery if you have the chance, and see what you come out believing.

My friend alyssa’s encounter with a ghost our freshman year!


Missing Ghana

I never really thought that the day would come when I had a longing to go back to Ghana. I thought it was great while it lasted, I was really glad I went, but I mean I am sitting in the middle of New Zealand. I have hot water, electricity, reliable public transport, good classes, great professors, good internet, what could make me possibly miss Ghana- a place where all those things were scarce? I have no idea.

All I know is that right now, I would give up all those things again to be sitting in a hot damp room with what were only semi clean clothes in the first place, sticking to my back, a bag of rice with some spicy sauce, no running water, surrounded by friends playing an intense game of Uno while mosquitos buzzed around our heads.

I miss everything. Even the hard stuff. For some reason looking back, the hard stuff made me feel…capable, strong, and smart- in a totally different way than school or swimming ever did. I didn’t realize it then, but the hard stuff is the stuff that got under my skin- the stuff that made me want to do something for and in this world. It makes me realize what I am capable of, what i can endure, and a whole new realm of possibilities opened to me. That’s the stuff that changed me as a person, realizing that despite everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong, I can still laugh, dance, and smile, and at some point, fix the situation. In the end I didn’t remember the frustrated feelings that came with the amazing adventure- all I remember is laughing about them.  The hard stuff is what makes life after Ghana different in every way.

Life became about the people I surrounded myself with. It became about being happy despite the potential for misery. I learned to laugh at myself, at my situation, and feel sympathy for those who were not able to see the humor in it- and I realized that the fact that I didn’t have water today, is not going to matter in 20 years, or even in 20 days. What did matter is how I dealt with that situation and the people that shared that situation with me. What really matters is that I was laughing (even if I was also complaining), and that I was a part of something great, that I can do and endure things other people would not dare to dream about- and still smile about it.

 In the months after those hard times, I can’t remember ever feeling miserable- I know they happened, I know it was hard, I know that I complained a lot, but misery is nowhere in my memory.  But I do remember joking about it with Mie and Tara, Michelle and Keri over a bowl of fried rice from the lady that always made our lunch with a smile. The funniest part is, when you come back and tell people all the hard stuff that happened- they look at you and say “so, it was awful?” and then consider you a little bit crazy after you respond “no, I have never had so much fun in my life.” Ghana changed me.

The truth is; I didn’t have to have pretty crown, sparkly shoes, smooth hair, and perfect makeup to have a good time and become friends with some of the best people I have ever met. In fact, I think the best way to meet people is for you to both to be a little smelly, a little dirty, a little sweaty, and maybe a bit miserable, and then to talk about it all over a friendly game of Uno or Madlibs and a good serving of Red-Red and plantains while the flies circle you all.  I miss every single person that was in my program, and it wasn’t until now that I realized how much they meant to me.

The other day, a guy told me that all “us girls” have ridiculous problems and we don’t understand what a “real” problem is. Quite frankly, I couldn’t help but be offended even though he had no idea what I had just done for the last 6 months of my life. I also knew that he had no way of knowing that I probably had a better understanding of what a “real” problem was than he did. But still, I was offended by the mere suggestion of the fact that I look like someone who only has “ridiculous girl problems”. I responded by saying, I have no problems. Something, that may not be true every second, and will not be true every second, but at that moment, and at this moment, I have no ridiculous girl problems. He responded by saying that if I have no problems, then I have a problem. Idiot.  I am in New Zealand. I am in school. I have a room to stay in and nice people surrounding me, things to eat and people that support me. The only problem I have is I miss Africa. I don’t see how that being my only problem means that I have a problem.

I always say, it takes a certain kind of person to go to Africa. And looking back, I knew that was true….but I wasn’t sure what kind of person that was, I wasn’t even sure if I was that kind of person. It took going to New Zealand and trying to blend in with a whole new crowd to figure it out. The friends I met in Africa were strong, independent, extremely down to earth, driven, happy, and capable, funny, friendly, and a thousand other great things. They were awesome (not that the people I am meeting in New Zealand are not). They could turn any negative into a positive. Any bad day was something to laugh about. Any awkward situation could become a comfortable one. We were a part of a bond that only a place like Ghana could bring out in people, and one that I am not sure I will ever experience it again.  We faced some hardships, some hunger, weird smells, sickness, market places, taxis, creepy men, pick pocketing, dangerous situations, bad classes, and anything that, that guy may call real problems together. And we laughed about it. We were happy, and found a way to love Ghana despite what it threw at us.

The hardest part about New Zealand is, I find myself getting frustrated with the mundane. Who cares that blush in New Zealand costs you triple what it would at home. Don’t wear blush. Problem solved. And who cares if you had to pay $25 to come home after a night of drinking. Walk. It’s free. And if you are in a position where you can’t walk….I have less sympathy for you than before. Manicures, cute jewelry, perfume, and a bottle of good ketchup are all extras in life. There is no reason to get worked up about not having it, and I find it hard to relate to the people who do. Seriously though, you’d be amazed at how much people talk about ketchup when they go abroad.

 I guess this is what some people refer to as “Reverse culture shock”. The things that matter to me seem to be very different than then things that matter to some of the people around me. I mean, I like blush and nail polish, and going out, but being able to wear it or have a quality drink is not going to make a lick of difference to my overall happiness- and I am not sure that is completely true for everyone.

 I won’t be embarrassed if I don’t have makeup on, I won’t be outraged if I have to get my hands dirty, I won’t be livid if a friend can’t meet me for a coffee date. Those days won’t stay in my mind nearly as well as the days that I was that I spent in Africa without those things. As far as I am concerned, there will be other days I can wear makeup, other days when I won’t have to clean the dirt from under my fingernails, and other days that I can go out for coffee; but not every day will I be a part of something great, something more meaningful than looking pretty and drinking a caramel frap.

I also find myself being grateful for things I wasn’t grateful for before and also things I didn’t consider before. Some are small things like….being able to run at night, being able to drink tap water, warm running water, electricity. Some are big things- the realization that no matter what happens, everything will work out, that I am lucky enough to always have something to smile about, and that I have had one of the most incredible opportunities I will ever be offered- one that a lot of people don’t get to have, and that I have an incredible family- Mom, Dad, Sister and James, Brother, and even Zade,( because he didn’t forget me), and Blaze (because she welcomed me home) and friends that supported me the whole way.

One day, I hope that I can make a difference to someone like all those people have made for me.

 And if any of you have the chance to go to Africa, just do it. Don’t be afraid, don’t think twice, don’t reconsider it…actually it’s probably better not to think at all. Just go. Do what I did, and picture nothing past the airplane. You’ll be glad you went. You are capable of far more than you believe.

So to end this, I want to say thank you everyone. Thank you mom for getting me to and through Ghana, and to Dad and Virginia for helping finance and supporting this incredible year of my life. To Alyssa, Tamara, Jasmine, Enia, Maria and Ana, thank you for not trying to stop me even though you knew what I was getting myself into, and to Hannah and Evan for being excited for me too, and to everyone I met in Ghana for making Ghana the best thing I have ever done. And thanks to Francis and the rest of your family for helping me once I arrived, and Tony and Katherine for relating to my situations- it really did make me feel better.  And lastly, thanks to you for reading all my blog posts, I get such a good feeling in my heart when I see the number of views go up. It’s thanks to you guys that I have this blog to look back at.

If the world were to end today, I am lucky that I made it this far.

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