Tag Archive: Voodoo


How I Got My Goat Back

Last weekend was Halloween, and considering the nature of the holiday, we thought, how better to spend it then to go to the Voodoo capital and try our luck with the fates? Although the trip was one of the best I have been on since I have been in West Africa, I succeeded in scaring my mom more than the time that I ran in to her room screaming about burning my hand only to find out later I had also melted the kitchen floor with a hot pot… She took it really well then too.

 

We were going for 5 days, and I guess I did not properly pass on that message to the most important of people, so my mom sent a frantic message to everyone she knew I knew, asking where I was. My friend Kobe, after receiving the message, tried to call me a couple times and when I didn’t answer, he thought I had been Voodooed. Oops.

Well, I am happy to say, that I am currently unaware of any effects of Voodoo taking place against me, but pleased to report that on this trip, I successfully got my goat back. Problem solved.

We left at 4:30am in order to catch a bus at a station that we (and seemingly none of the Ghanaians) knew about, in order to jump on a bus by 6:30. Luckily, we for once,  had no problem getting to the station and we were on the bus bound for Benin by 5 AM.

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

There were some very obvious differences between Benin  and Ghana.  I noticed the moment I got there that Benin is a much poorer country than Ghana- apparent by the type of buildings and houses that we saw outside of the major city.  There were hardly any car taxis, and so we traveled by moto taxi or as they call it- zem.  (Most of the people I saw driving cars were white). A moto taxi is a taxi by motorcycle. There was really no other way to get around Benin, but regardless, when I jumped on the back for my first ride, I thought two things.  The first thing I thought was, “I can’t believe I am on the back of a motor cycle in the middle of West Africa with no Helmet”  I would never have guessed that this is where I would have ended up last Halloween! The second thought-that came very quickly after the first was, “My mom is going to kill me when she sees pictures!”

I’ve heard that most people look back on experiences like this twenty years later and say, “That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do”.  However, I am fully ready to admit, not more than a couple days later, that the moto taxi thing was a tad risky.  However, it seems that my Voodoo omens are promising; I made it out alive despite the poorly paved streets, the lack of helmets, and the blatant disregard for speed limits!

I felt like I was inside one of those stories that you hear from older people talking about their travels, when they were young. It was (almost miserably) hot, we carried all our stuff on our back, risked our lives several times a day by jumping on zems, ate cheap (but delicious) food

Yes, that's a chocolate croissant. There is a GREAT French Bakery in Benin!

and stayed at hotels that cost the equivalent of $5-10 a night. Needless to say, they were not five-star rooms- one guy even tried to tell us that we only get one towel per room (there were 2 of us in the room). However, I am stoked to have a backpacking across Africa story to tell in 20 years or so.

Obama Beer! Photo by Zakary Persall

While we traveled around, we drank a considerable amount of water, and for some reason the only waters we could find were bottled.  In Ghana, everyone has bagged water! So, we bought numerous bottles, and the moment any of us finished one, people asked us for them.  At one point, I had an empty bottle in my bag and when I handed it to the lady that asked, another person ran up and snatched the one I was finishing out of my hand. We assume that people are able to resell the bottles at the markets because some stalls at the market we visited had nothing but baskets full of empty plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes.

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

There are also very few gas stations in Benin. Most of the gas is sold on the side of the road from glass jars sitting on tables. From what I understand, a lot of  the gasoline smuggled in from Nigeria, because it is so much cheaper than to have it imported from other places and buy it from a gas station.

Photo by Zackary Pearsall

On Halloween night, we stayed in the place where Voodoo was supposed to be the most prevalent in Benin. We visited the Python Temple where people worship their python Voodoo God, and the guide tried to get us all to hold snakes. He assured us that the pythons were defanged and could not hurt us; however, I have held snakes before and am now perfectly happy standing 3 feet away. I would have hated to drop one of the Gods, knowing I was going to have to leave the temple risking my life on a zem.  The additional worry of possibly facing some bad Voodoo on top of that was not appealing.

Photo by Zackary Pearsall

We also visited the Sacred forest, where thousands of people visit every year for a Voodoo festival in January to me it looked like a “Secret Garden”.

That Halloween night, we stayed at a hotel where we are pretty sure we were the only guests.  There were tons of spiders crawling around the room, and they were BIG spiders. (A great Halloween experience, no?) Luckily, my roommate Mie,  is brave and killed all the spiders–although she said she felt bad about it. At home she never kills spiders, she just gets her vacuum out and vacuums them up. I told her not to worry, that I am fully ready to accept all the blame.

Mie, the brave big spider killer!

My mom sent some Halloween candy in a package for me as well as some Halloween Mad Libs and spider rings.

Happy Halloween in Benin (it rhymes!) Peanut M&Ms, mini Oreos, and Goldfish crackers!

At the end of our meal-we all dug in.  All the Americans in the group enjoyed a taste of Trick-or-treat candy from home. After dinner, we taught Mie, from Denmark,  how to play Mad Libs (she loved it). Then we stayed up really late laughing more than I have laughed on this trip, while playing cards and Uno.

Overall, I had a very happy, creepy-crawly Halloween.

All in all, when I got back to Accra, I felt like Africa had practically thrown my goat back at me, deciding that it no longer had use of it. If anyone decides to go to Benin- make sure you have Mad Libs and Uno on the necessities side of the packing list.  Maybe a helmet would be a wise addition, too…

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Day 63

Out for another walk across campus.

Yesterday marked the halfway point of my stay in Ghana, so I thought it would be a good time to look at some of the things I have experienced in Ghana, as compared to how it would have been at home Maybe at the end of the trip, I will have 20 more things.

1. I think the biggest difference I have thus far experienced is the concept of time. In America, time is money – everything is fast-paced.  Lectures don’t go over the allotted time, a schedule is adhered to, food is taken on the go, and people try not to be late. Here, time seems to mean something completely different. There is no belief that time is money, or that time is limited ; here, everyone has all the time in the world. Professors show up 15 minutes late to class regularly, and then go over time, regularly – sometimes by talking about things that are not remotely related to the subject they are supposed to be teaching. Everyone is really laid back, and when you come from a fast-paced society, it can test your patience.

2. The showers are cold. I didn’t really mind at first, but now showers seem to be more of a chore than anything….and sometimes I count the days I have left in Ghana by the number of cold showers I will need to take. I have 63 more cold showers to take…ooooohhhh….shiver.

3. There is a lot of American music on the radio stations, but every song that plays—every song that I recognize–is by an African-American artist. I have yet to hear a Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or Justin Beiber song (not that I am particularly upset about it). And, funny enough – that “Black and Yellow” song was changed to “Green and Yellow” here. (Because of the Ghanaian flag?)

It's always an adventure on a tro tro. On one trip, whenever we got to a "hill" all the passengers had to get out, walk up the hill, then get back on the tro tro at the top of the hill. We had to do this three times in one trip.

4. Cheese is hard to come by. Laughing Cow cheese (you know – the processed spreadable stuff that kinda-sorta tastes like cream cheese) is not hard to come by. Laughing Cow cheese is super cheap here (interesting because it’s very expensive at home). If you order a cheese burger here, the cheese on top is Laughing Cow cheese. LOL

5. The bread is really sweet, and made with nutmeg. It tasted really good the first couple times, but now I am finding myself craving a good hearty, and not sweet, bread. Try living on the good ol’ Hawaiian buns you can get at Safeway, then you’ll feel my pain. I miss sourdough, mmmmmmmmm.

One of the many markets in Ghana.

6. All meals consist of at least one of the following (usually more); rice, beans, cabbage salad, plantains, and stew. A lot of times, it is served in a bag. I hope that everyone that comes here isn’t OCD about their food touching, because if you get 50 peswas of rice, 30 salad, and 20 plantains, it’s all going in the same bag, on top of each other- covered in a spicy sauce. Yum.

My Favorite Ghanaian Meal, Groundnut Stew with Fufu.

7. Ice cream and water also come in a bag. It’s going to be interesting going home eating on dishes and drinking out of glasses again.

8. Marriage is a common topic of conversation and a thing to joke about. School girls are not supposed to grow out their hair until they are done with school, indicating they are ready for marriage. Honestly, I have never felt so single in my life – but considering I still get a number of marriage proposals (is it my long hair?!), it’s not something I dwell on. In the countries that surround Ghana, it is almost unheard of for a girl in her twenties not to be married, and not to have any children.

9. The copyright policy is somewhat…relaxed. If you need to read pages from a text-book, make copies, if you want to watch a movie that just came out in theaters there are guys on every corner selling bootleg copies, if you want to download music for free it’s OK to do so on the school internet (and you will not get a follow-up email from the school administration/security/cops telling you that you have 60 minutes to get the content off your computer, as you would back in the US).

10. When the power goes out, life keeps going. Weird concept, eh? Classes still go on, people still go to work, and food is still cooked. I was under the impression that the world stopped when power went out. Evan, Hannah, and I always pulled out the candles, a deck of cards, and special snacks for the occasion. I kinda miss that….

One of the hotels I have stayed at. Note the thickness of the hotel matressses, and the size of the pillows.

11. The water goes out sometimes. I never imagined that happening – once it went out for 3 days, and I thought the world was ending (much more so than when the power goes out), until I found out that one girl had been out of water for a month. When I heard that, I thought twice about being so lucky as to have the cold showers…most of time.

12. The men shave their armpits, and the women do not necessarily shave their legs. Now this is something I am adjusting to nicely. Smooth arm pits and hairy legs are things that I can deal with . The arm pit thing is a matter of hygiene, it is taught in school that you should shave your armpits (Mie said that it should become a world-wide mandate). Hair that is elsewhere is seen as god-given (as opposed to armpit hair?!) and should not be removed (even facial hair).

13. There are no credit cards. It is rare for a Ghanaian to have any debt because everything is paid upfront. Kinda cool if you ask me.

The Voodoo Market.

14. Christmas decorations are available in stores in Ghana by October. Just like at home.

15. Salty snacks are pretty rare, and really expensive (a snack size tube of Pringles costs about $4.00. To put the cost in perspective, a full meal often costs less than $1). I never knew how much I craved salt until all of a sudden the bread is sweet, and snacks are mainly cookies. I can’t wait to eat Goldfish or Cheese- Its again. Mmmmm, salt! One day I bought French Fries – and even though they were ice cold, they were covered in salt, and quite possibly the best French Fries I have ever eaten.

A walk across a bridge.

16. Walking is definitely more challenging. I walk about 4-5 miles a day, but it’s not normal walking. I have to watch out for roots, uneven pavement, lizards, ditches, pointy rocks, and “Obruni Traps” (gutters that line the sidewalks-sometimes full of murky water, sometimes just full of leaves). Needless to say, learning my way around campus took a lot longer than usual, because I was always looking down!

17. Funerals are just as big and as joyous as weddings are. When I got to Ghana, one of the first question I was asked was “When people die, how long do they usually spend in the morgue before the funeral?”…Kinda a weird question, eh?  I said not more than a couple days.  The guy asking the question laughed in astonishment and responded by saying, people in Ghana can be in the morgue for months and months, sometimes a year! It takes a long time to plan a funeral. Often, funerals are several days long- each day celebrating a different aspect of life.

18. The doodles on the desks in the classrooms are not vulgar. At home, there often nude pictures drawn on the desks or something mean is written, directed to no one in particular, or at everyone. Here, all the writings on the desks say things like “Jesus loves you” and “God is great”.

19. Vegetables can be incredibly expensive. A pound of asparagus costs about the equivalent of $15, and a small bag of chopped cauliflower, about $12. It’s OK though- I never did like ‘em much. Cabbage salad is good enough for me!

20. Everyone here is just really pretty. Their faces are pretty, their legs are long, everyone has some muscle tone (if not totally ripped), and they’re just…pretty. I have yet to see an ugly person in Ghana.

Day 63! Loving this!!

VooDoo

Mie, a fellow exchange student from Denmark, and I have become pretty good travel buddies. We are lucky to have each other because we both enjoy doing the same types of things. We decided that the one of the most exciting parts about Togo, is that Voodoo is widely practiced there.

While in Togo, we got in a cab to go to a fetish market right outside of Lome! When we walked in, there were lots of Voodoo products on tables.  We paid to have a tour of the market, and the guide showed us a number of things. It was a little unnerving. There were monkey heads, snake heads, leopard heads, elephant feet, hippo skulls,  hyena hides,  thunder stones, and voodoo dolls,  It was pretty clear to us that some of the animals  had been poached, even if the guide claimed that they had all died of “natural causes”.

After the tour, the guide lead us into a room with the chief. The chief showed us a number of different products that were for sale, and said he would bless them in our name so that we could go home and have the protection of their religion. I decided that was something I would like to take home! First, he showed us a doll that would give our household luck, (good luck!) then an ebony seed that would give us a good night’s sleep if we preformed a special ritual with it before we went to bed, then another voodoo doll-one that would give us protection, then another mystery object that would guarantee us good travels, then a necklace that would bring us luck, and finally, a stick that was supposed to bring us true love.

I decided I wanted the doll that would bring my household luck- and I wanted it to be blessed by the chief. After I picked it up, the chief sent the other girls outside the tent and then looked at me. He explained that I NEEDED that stick that would bring me true love. Of course I said, “No thank you.  Just the doll.”.  At that point, he walked to the door, looked outside and told the girls I was with to move even farther away. He looked back at me and said, “I can see it in your eyes, you need this stick.” (He called it something else- but it was essentially a stick). I wanted to laugh out loud, but then I agreed with him!  I “needed” the “stick”.

Then the ritual started. The chief chanted and told me to put my items inside a turtle shell, which I did. He then waved his arms above the “stick” in the turtle shell and said things that I could not understand. Then he handed the items back to me and I had to say my name into them 3 times, and bring them to my chest 5 times. It was extremely interesting, and different, and all I wanted to do was laugh.

Then the chief explained to me how to make true love happen. All I have to do is put this stick in the middle of my hand and spray my perfume on it three times. Then I have to rub it back and forth in my hand, bring it to my mouth and say the name of the man I want seven times, and then my name seven times. After performing this ritual, I must hide the stick and not tell a soul about it or what I did…especially the guy I am in love with! Then, I must not let my hand come into contact with anything, until I walk to the man I love and shake his hand! When he smells the perfume that rubbed on my hand and feels the “magic” from the stick, he will fall in love with me! Please, if you are the man of my dreams, forget you ever read this ;). The other cool thing is that if I want to reverse the spell, all I have to do is perform the same ritual again, and flip the stick over, and the love will be ended. So I can love, and love again. All the girls in my program begged me to try it and see if it works.  To tell the truth,  after the number of marriage proposals I received in Togo, I am not entirely sure this “stick” necessary. I shall have to wait until I get home to use it. I then got a picture with the chief, and packed all my items in my bag and walked out.

My afternoon at the fetish market and my experience with voodoo has been one of the most interesting-and bizarre-cultural experience I have had.

Togo

Last weekend a group of people from our program decided to go to Togo. In case you have never heard of Togo and have no idea what/where it is, Togo is the tiny country that is right next door to Ghana. I admit that before I got to Ghana, I had never heard of Togo. (Togo’s, the sandwich shop, I am quite aware of!)

It was the first time I have ever driven to the border of any country (odd considering Mexico is on the border of California). I’ve flown across borders, but never walked across one. We got on a tro tro with all our bags, and started out on our four hour drive to Lome, which is the capital of Togo. When we got to the border, we jumped out of the tro tro, and immediately people stormed us shouting “Change?! Change?!” They wanted to know if we wanted to change our currency from Cedis to CFAs. What I found interesting was it seemed like average people were just walking around with huge wads of cash, asking if you wanted to change your money…..it seemed almost sketchy. However, we had already changed our money over so, no they got no business from us.

Then we walked to the border. First we had to walk out of Ghana. Guards were swarming around us directing us where to go, and people were chasing after us asking if we wanted to buy things. After we checked out of Ghana, we walked across the street and checked into Togo. They asked us a lot of slightly confusing questions, then told us that all people from Denmark had to pay 10,000 CFAs (my friend Mie, and intrepid travel companion is from Denmark) and all people from America had to pay 15,000 CFAs. Meanwhile, the African people were walking back and forth from border to border without being stopped, without paying anything, all they had to do tell the guard where they were going, and they were passed on through!

Finally, we got through the border and into Togo. Lome looked like such a beach town. To the left of us was a beach that from a distance was one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. The color of water was the most gorgeous blue, and I am not sure I will ever see that particular shade again-and  I live in California, land of beaches. However, swimming on the beach is not safe, because the beach serves as a public restroom for all the residents of Lome. Honestly, it was extremely disheartening.

The road was swarming with motorcycles, and in Togo, the main form of transportation, is by motorbike-even the taxis are motorbikes. As we were walking, one motor taxi drove up with no helmet, ran into the curb, jumped off his bike, which then tumbled over, and asked us “Do you want a ride?” Needless to say we responded with a quick “Ummm, no thanks” and went on our way more quickly then we had intended.

Lome was full of things that I have never experienced before. We went to a fetish market, where I bought a Voodoo doll (I will tell you all about it in another post), an art gallery that had art from all over West Africa on display, and an art museum. We had real French bread.  And we had an outrageous number of marriage proposals! The most interesting parts, to me,  was that Togo is a French speaking country, so I even if people were asking me to marry them, then only way I knew how to respond with was a stare! (The only reason I knew what they were saying was Mie was able to translate for me later) Don’t worry mom, so far, I have been able to resist responding,  “Oui oui”. My plan is still to come  home without a husband!

The odd part about Togo was, when we walked in, we felt safer there than we did in Ghana, but by the time we left, our sense of security went way down and we were ready to head back to the safety of our hostel.  This experience had something to do with our change of heart.  Fortunately, I slept through it, and heard about it the next morning.  Some of the people in our group had decided to go to a night club, and on their way there-they were walking-they were stopped by police. The police asked them to see their IDs, and they all looked at each other.  They hadn’t brought any, and they told the police  “We don’t have our IDs with us, but we will go back and get them.” The police then responded by explaining that they would not be leaving at all.  They were going to be taken to the police station. Pretty quickly the group figured out that the police wanted a bribe, so they coughed up 1000 CFA each, and handed it over. Apparently, it was not enough because the police continued to threaten to take them to the police station.  By this time, my friends had had enough.  They turned around and walked back to the hotel, having decided they would not be doing any clubbing in Lome.

The following night, a couple of the guys wanted to go to a cool looking bar that they saw in the guidebook. We were going to have dinner, and then meet them there later, but we saw them arrive back surprisingly early. Apparently, the bar in the guidebook was more like a brothel than a bar, and was swarming with prostitutes. They decided to grab a beer and sit on the curb across the street to drink, and ended up finding a ride home rather quickly. On second look at the guidebook, it seems that we all missed the disclaimer that said bars were likely to be full of prostitutes.

Overall, bribes, police marriage proposals and prostitutes aside, I found Lome a very pleasant place. The people were generally kind and the food was really good. I only wish I could pull the same amount of male attention at home that I seem to been  able to pull in Togo!  While in Togo, I also added two more things to my list of things to do.  After hearing my friend Mie speak to everyone in French for us, I told her I that when I go home, I want to learn French, wear high heels, and drink tea-with-lemon with my pinky sticking out. I am pretty stoked.