When I arrived at the airport in Chicago a week and a half ago, I was sleep deprived, thinking of about a million things at once, and chock-full of excitement. I was also full of curiosity and expectations for the people I was about to meet. I’ll admit I had been much more worried about the people I’m traveling with then the trip itself. Well, I can happily express that my fellow travelers are about as open minded and considerate as I could’ve hoped for, and I’ve been getting pretty close to all of them. As an individual that is usually different than most, I haven’t held back my personality or many of my thoughts at all, and I’ve been welcomed with interest.
My first impression of Bangalore (and therefore India) was enjoyable and exciting, and also not particularly unfamiliar! Unfortunately, our first full day in India did not go as planned, due to an unforeseen citywide bandh (protest) based on a water shortage that has been going on for a little while. We didn’t really get to go out that day, probably for good reason, because I read in an article that almost 100 people were arrested in that morning alone. In the single day that we got to go out however, we certainly enjoyed ourselves. Despite the short amount of time we spent in Bangalore, we got to see several cool things. We saw the Lalbagh community garden, which was beautiful
Just outside, we witnessed an interesting street play focused on environmental awareness.

We went to a marketplace and got a chance to practice bargaining

It’s really interesting to see the similarities between the cities I’ve visited here in India so far, and some of the cities I visited while I was in Africa the past couple of months. Everywhere we’ve gone in India we’ve seen various animals hanging out on the streets, including monkeys and cows.

The other day I saw a man riding an elephant on the street we were driving down, which apparently is relatively uncommon. I didn’t manage to get a good picture of it, but my friend Sridar saw a different elephant and took this picture when they went for a morning walk which I missed (Gaurang’s in there too) 
I’m unsure of the ethicality of having a domesticated elephant (or what got it there).. But nonetheless, what a sight.

Also, you see stray dogs literally everywhere. What we’ve been told is that certain people within the city put food/water out for them, so most of them get taken care of. 
I’m experiencing crazy traffic all over again; I’m also the minority by huge proportions once again, which I’m starting to get used to. It’s interesting also to compare the differences between India and Africa, from language and mannerisms to clothing and building styles (among many other things of course). Here, instead of the communal vans I rode around in Ghana and Zimbabwe, we ride auto-rickshaws, essentially three wheeled taxi motorcycles.

From Bangalore to Madurai we rode in a “sleeper bus,” and I’m pretty sure I know where J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for the night bus in Harry Potter. Trying to go to sleep in the upper part of a bunk bed while dodging through chaotic traffic was not too easy, but I managed to make it work. 
The past couple of days have been a whirlwind of adventures and lessons. We’ve been hosted here by the SITA center, where other international (college) students come to study, and I’m very interested in studying here in the future. I’ve had some good chances to talk to people around the city, and learn a bit of Tamil, the language in the state we’re currently in (Tamil Nadu). We’ve taken Bollywood and yoga classes, and had several hugely beneficial lectures and discussions. We visited the Meenakshi Aman temple, a Hindu temple that is over 400 years old.
Our tour guide was a wonderful character by the name of Dr. Venket Ramen (Dr. V), who gave us a lecture about the temple and some history before we went. It was a noteworthy sight and experience, but it was bittersweet because not all of us were allowed in. Part way through our tour of the place, I realized that our friend Ayan wasn’t there. She is Muslim, and they didn’t let her in because she refused to take off her Hijab, something none of us had fully considered before arriving at the temple. I think she managed to still have a good time, and so did we, but it felt bad not moving as a group. It did bring up some interesting and passionate conversation however, which has been going on a lot recently. 

We also visited a Pandiyan temple, which was much smaller but more enjoyable and inclusive than the Meenakshi temple. I have pictures, but can’t currently access them, so I’ll upload them later. Historically, the Meenakshi temple was only open to the Brahmins, the highest caste, whereas the Pandiyan temple was open to anybody and everybody. We received blessings, met some wonderful children there, and I had some good conversations with locals.
A couple days ago, we were given the opportunity to speak with a man named Henri Tiphagne, who is the executive director of a large human rights organization called People’s Watch. I’m extremely honored to have taken part in the lecture/conversation, and I’ll certainly remember his words for a long time. But in all honesty, it was a bit frustrating. Henri told us much about the difficulties of the state of Tamil Nadu that we’re in, as well as the whole of India, and he gave us several specific stories that were very heavy, although most had good endings. Everything he said was full of passion, and I felt a huge amount of respect for him just seeing him talk, but the realities he spoke about left me feeling rather helpless. I felt helpless about my inability to have a significant effect on any of the overwhelming number of problems in my community, let alone the rest of the world. Regardless, he nailed several important points into my brain: even if I don’t feel like I can cause a noticeable or significant change in the world, that doesn’t mean I should stop trying, and it’s okay to be angry, because that’s the first step towards truly wanting to make a change.
360+, the program that brought me here to India, keeps us busy. Also, Internet access can be pretty inconvenient, or expensive. Because of those reasons, my initial blog post has been awhile in the making, but I should be able to complete at least one more full blog during my time here!


Last Post From Africa

I’ve been very much distracted, and I’ve neglected posting for well over a week.  Once again, you can expect a lengthy post, probably lengthier than ever.  This past week and a half has been full of contrast, more than any other part of my trip so far.  As expected, I have met many great new friends, but amidst laughter and good music, I have heard and seen things that more than ever make me realize what I have, even as a poor kid, in America.  I feel a hopelessness in my ability to help others, but I see vitality and persistence everywhere around me, no matter the odds.  

We’ve spent much of our time in Zimbabwe meeting up with friends, both old and new. The day that I posted my last blog we went to the University of Zimbabwe to meet with a professor there by the name of Sheasby Matiure.  This man used to work with Dumisani Maraire, the man who essentially brought Zimbabwean style marimba music to North America, and who also taught my dad and initially got him into Zimbabwean music.  I remember Sheasby as being a bit sour when I was younger, I think as a young child he was harsh to me in an instance I can’t exactly recall, I’m sure I was up to some kind of trouble at the time.  But he’s grown older and so have I, and with age he has certainly become less feisty and I’m sure I have as well.  Anyways, this time around it was very interesting and enjoyable to see him, he’s a man who is naturally funny and has a lot of valuable information to share.  He showed us the marimbas they have at the University of Zimbabwe, which are locked in a spare room, because sadly people don’t often play them and when they do it bothers other students at the college. 

He explained to us how there are now very few white people at the University of Zimbabwe, and that white people practically never venture out of the wealthier areas of Harare (of which there are few).  I was already aware of this, due to the amount of attention I get traveling around Harare (especially in the outlying townships, or “locations”), but it was a bit strange to hear how matter of fact that was to him.

Later that day we met up with a younger guy by the name of Durrel Nyazika,  who my dad met somehow through Facebook and managed to keep in touch and make plans with.  He took us out to his house in Highfield, a location in the southern outskirts of Harare.  We walked around the neighborhood and met a couple friends of his, some of whom we exchanged music and jammed a bit with.

After that we went back to Durrel’s house, ate food, and played music with his family and him for awhile.  They kindly let us into their home and lives without question, and told us we were welcome back there anytime we wanted.  Durrel showed us some of his original mbira compositions, of which there are many, and he gave us some CDs to take back to America and share with people.  His music is very eclectic, with traditional instruments like mbira and hosho (shakers), but there is also guitar and bass, and occasionally a fuller drumset in live performance.

My dad and Durrel.The next day we went to visit the Chigambas, a family which I remember from when I was much younger.  I got to see Irene, and her father Tute, both of whom are incredible and very knowledgable mbira players.  My dad learned a variation of a song from Tute that he’d been looking to learn for awhile, but hadn’t been able to learn from anyone elseIt was really wonderful to see them.  They knew me as a young child, and I grew up hearing their names, but hadn’t seen them in so long that I didn’t have much to associate that with.  They were also wonderfully gracious, and told me I’d have to get my sister and mother and bring them back to stay with them next time.

On Friday we met with a cousin of Fradreck Mujuru’s, Stanley, and we got a chance to see the marketplace at Mbare.  There was a variety of products of different quality there, from cheap clothing to handmade Shona instruments and other items.
The day before we left Harare we got a chance to visit the Savannah Arts Center, which is also nestled in one of the neighborhoods of the Mbare area.  The center provides a place for youth, many of which are in difficult economical situations, to express themselves by playing marimbas and other musical instruments.  

The man who brought us to the center was a friend of my dads, a man named Julias Julius.  He was in the original group from the center, Savannah Jammin.  They created a song that will forever remind me of my childhood and that I still love, named Street Kids.  It was really incredible to visit the center and play a bit of music there, and I made some new friends, Kudakwashe (left) and Tinashe.
On Monday, I met Barnabas Ngaranade, our friend and tour guide while we have traipsed through the northern part of Zimbabwe.  We began by traveling to his sister Miriam’s house in a town called Mvurwi, where she let us stay.  I made another new friend there, her son, Sharif.  He taught me a bit of Shona, and I had several very interesting conversations with him.  I told him that there are in fact poor white people, like myself (which he didn’t believe at first), and that there are certainly white street kids in the world, though not as many as black street kids by any means.  We spoke a bit about religion, and lamented the hardships that Zimbabweans are having to go through, with poverty almost everywhere you look.

We got a chance to visit the Tengenenge art community, which was astounding.  It was created originally in 1966 by a white Zimbabwean, Tom Blomefield, who as I understand it decided to turn his farm into a sort of sculpture garden when him and his employees began struggling due to economic sanctions.  Artists from all over Zimbabwe have been coming there ever since, and the garden continually grows, with new art and new artists.

I spoke to a few of the artists there, one of whom was a man by the name of Percy Kuta.  He taught me a bit about the process of making a sculpture, and he spoke about how the artists just sit there, everyday, chipping away, and though most of them don’t care about politics, politics still affect them.  Sadly, because of the bad rep worldwide media has given Zimbabwe in the past couple of decades (mainly due to politics), tourism has gone way down, and amazing places like Tengenenge are suffering because of it.

Here are some tools and a couple unfinished sculptures of Percy’sA very conflicting aspect of Tengenenge was the orphan children there, of which there are many.  I spent a good bit of time with them; at first there was only two shy boys, an hour later there was easily 30 of them around me, following me around and laughing hysterically at my every move.  A couple of the older ones even taught me some Shona, and in exchange I taught them some English that they didn’t know yet.  I fell in love with them, and deeply wish I could’ve been able to help them out in a significant way, but there’s not much I could’ve done at that point in time.  But that doesn’t mean there never will be..

Before heading back to Miriam’s the next day, we stayed at the huts they have for guests at Tengenenge, and were very well taken care of there. 

Barnabas in front of our hut 
 When we woke up we visited the schoolroom nearby where the orphans study and some of them sleep.  The same lady who hosted us in our huts was the teacher there, an amazing woman named Stella (she’s the woman on the right in the picture below).It was something I won’t ever forget, and all I can say is, if you are ever able, go to Tengenenge and support the people there, because they sincerely deserve it.

After Tengenenge, we traveled for a day to our destination, Lake Kariba.  Though the travel was a bit grueling (several kombis and an overly packed bus), I’ve spent the last two days enjoying this place, and it’s been unreal.  Once again, a huge contrast to the world around it.  The animals in this area are extremely used to humans, and some are so friendly I was actually able to touch them.  Yesterday morning we were greeted by wild zebras right at our doorstep (tent flap, really), and they walked right up to me and let me say hello.

Later in the morning an elephant came not 20 feet from our tents, and though it was friendly for the most part, at one point it began to charge at us as if to remind us exactly who was in control of the situation.

After that, it proceeded to slowly meander past us, and I mean right past us (maybe 15 feet away), munching on trees all the while.  Later during the day we saw three together, and once again they came so close that we could see them from the restaraunt here.  Apparently zebras will come right into the restaurant, which is open, and elephants are known to walk right through the town of Kariba.  The animals and humans here coexist perfectly.  Between hours of drinking tea, talking with the other people here, and just laying around, I’ve also seen hippos, baboons, and crocodiles about, although I wasn’t able to get decent pictures of any of them.  This place seems like a timeless oasis (all the music in the restaraunt here is from the 80’s), and though I’m very much looking forward to home, I’ll miss it here beyond measure.

Tomorrow we travel back to Harare, and the day after I’m headed back home.  This is likely to be my last blog post, at least until I get to India, so until then I hope you’ve enjoyed following me on my travels and you’ll probably see more soon.  So much love to this place and it’s people, I’ll never forget any of it.

Farewell Ghana, Hello Zimbabwe!

I’m here in Harare, Zimbabwe, and it feels great.   My last few days in Ghana were perfect, I could not have asked for a better send off. First off, I danced harder than I ever have for several hours on Thursday night, which left me very sore (I’m not generally a very active person).  Then on Saturday I climbed the mountain behind the DMC that I had been eyeing for a few weeks, and the view was awesome

Then on Saturday afternoon I witnessed a spectacular performance first from the Saakuma Dance Troupe, some of which are teachers at the DMC and many of which are friends, and then from the junior dance troupe, which includes Songdedoh, who is five. 

โ€‹After all of that and a dramatic goodbye from all the people at the performance (friends and strangers alike), I missed my flight to Zimbabwe, which honestly turned out to be pretty great all in all.  It gave me an extra day in Ghana, and allowed me to make it to the departure celebrations I otherwise would have missed, and I got a great jam session in with Alex, one of the guys at the center. I missed my flight because when I went through checking at the airport the woman who gave me my boarding pass neglected to tell me which terminal to go to, and while looking at the monitor (which had the wrong time AND terminal) rather than my boarding pass (lesson learned!) I went to the wrong place and was redirected only to find that my plane had already left.  Fortunately, because it was the airports fault more than mine, I was able to convince them to give me another ticket with no extra charge, and I made the same flight just one day late.  My only regret was having missed Father’s Day because I was in the wrong country.

But hey, I made it to Zimbabwe, after a couple of long and uncomfortable plane rides, and this morning I’m finally feeling like I’ve conquered the jet lag I got on the way over.  The last two nights I’ve stayed in a beautiful house on the outskirts of Harare, with the gracious and wonderful Ignatius and Amai Mabasa (Amai means woman of the house, and I have been told it’s less polite to call them by their first name). Ignatius is an esteemed writer here in Harare, who has written several novels and works for the Herald (the main newspaper in town).  My father made his acquaintance after he wrote an article on our music, which he liked quite a bit.  Since then they got in touch, and Ignatius and Amai were kind enough to offer a room for me to stay in during our time in the city.  Amai Mabasa is also a writer, for an independent newspaper here. They may in fact do an article on us, which would be amazing.  

My arrival into Zimbabwe was a bit disconcerting.  My father and his partner Karyna, as well as myself, are staying in some of the nicer middle class neighborhoods here in Harare, and this area at least has been a huge contrast to what I was experiencing in Ghana, though we didn’t go into any part of Accra very much.  I must admit, after learning about what has happened to Zimbabwe in the last 30 years (not to mention before then…), and it being one of the poorest countries in the world, I did not expect upon arrival to be surrounded by the comfort that I am currently surrounded by.  The food stores in the marketplace (which there are pictures of below) are the likeness of whole foods, and most of the people you see in the area (many of which are white…) are very well dressed, often much more than myself.  It’s interesting being white here, because many people seem to assume I am wealthy and try to take advantage of that, such as Taxi drivers who charge ridiculous prices that I can’t really afford.
We still rode a community bus to get into town from the airport. They are called “kombis”, and they are exactly the same as “tro-tros,” which we rode  in Ghana: essentially a van which people pile into and pay a small amount of money to get where they need to go.We also went into downtown Harare yesterday, where we stuck out like a sore thumb, being pretty much the only white people around. Traveling around Harare (in kombis) but staying in a middle/upper class neighborhood, I feel as if I am in two worlds at once.

Yesterday we visited a couple connections of my father’s in the locations on the edge of Harare. First we met with a man named Fradreck Mujuru, a well known mbira maker and player, and my dad picked up a couple of mbiras he had ordered from him.
I think this visit meant a lot to my dad, because he bought a Mujuru mbira 20 some years ago and it was an absolute favorite of his, but he had never met the man in person. Here’s a picture of the workshop where Fradreck makes his mbiras, which he puts a lot of time and effort into.  
This is Fradreck’s assistant at work.

Fradreck told us many interesting things, about his childhood and his current views on things, and he explained that to him an instrument that is made without passion is pretty much not worth making at all. With that mindset and the number of orders he told us he has, he seemed pretty swamped, and was happy to get out of his house and give us a ride to our next destination, which would have been a bit challenging to get to otherwise.  Kombis are cheap, but not exactly convenient, especially if you don’t know the system.

Next, we went and visited Jacob and Martha Mafuleni, and we played music with them for several hours and then had some delicious food.   Jacob, who builds marimbas and plays several different instruments, has essentially created a music center in his front yard. There are a few of his marimbas there, and several kids from the neighborhood come to play and practice every day after school. There are adults who are often there as well, such as Martha’s friends who were there to play and sing along when we showed up.  

Jacob has also invested in a music studio in his backyard, a room which is admittedly bigger than most other rooms in his house, although the house is currently being expanded. Several groups have recorded albums at his house, including choirs and Afro-pop bands with sounds similar to Thomas Mapfumo. Jacob tells us that an important person recently visited his house, and after witnessing his project, they told him that he ought to get funding to expand his music center and take it to the next level, something that I believe he deserves.

Having sadly said goodbye to so many wonderful people in Ghana, my heart is only warmer after meeting equally kind and amazing people here in Zimbabwe. I’ve only spent two days here, and I’m sure I can expect many more excellent acquaintances in the next couple of weeks before I finally head home. Until next time, I hope you found my post worthwhile, and I look forward to writing the next one.

Excursion Trips, and a View Into the Town of Medie.

It’s been a little over a week since I last posted, so you can expect a lengthier post this time.  We’ve been on the DMC “excursion trips,” and quite a lot has happened in just a weeks time, as one might expect traveling around an African country for the first time.  I also had a good couple of days at the DMC and in Medie before we left, and it feels great to be back today. 

I’m hoping I’ll be able to dance more (or try to anyways), but I somehow managed to hurt my foot and I’m not too sure dancing on it would be a great idea.  I’ll probably just do it anyways, because I’ll only be at the DMC four and a half more days before I leave to Zimbabwe and my companions here go home.  Before we got on the road I was feeling improvements in my ability to dance, as well as playing Gyil and Djembe, but I should practice more, which is hard when you’re constantly distracted by everything around you.  

Here’s a few pictures of Medie that I managed to take the other day, while trying not to look more out of place than I already do by nature.

The influence of Christian crusaders in Ghana is, to me, astounding, most shops you see have names like the ones below.

There are always animals running around, namely chickens and goats.

The people are usually wonderful and welcoming, often curious, and there are none quite as sweet as the children who often wave and smile at us or laugh and run away.  I think that being the minority by vast proportions here has given me a view, however small, of what it might be like to be part of a minority group in America.  This trip has opened my eyes up to how privileged I am as a white person in America, to be most often viewed as an individual and not a representative of my entire race, as I feel I am here.  

The excursion trips were wild.  To begin with, we drove to a hotel near the Kintampo waterfalls and slept there before heading to Kintampo in the morning. The waterfalls were beautiful, and the “3rd stage” waterfall, which was the biggest, we were allowed to bathe under and even go behind, which was amazing (especially for a desert child like myself).

After the waterfalls we went to a monkey sanctuary near the village Boabeng Fiema, and we were allowed to feed the monkeys bananas and groundnuts, which was fun.  

We learned that the monkeys in the forest have had a long lasting relationship with the people in the village; the people, knowing that the monkeys came first, have a great deal of respect for them, in fact they’ve created a graveyard for the monkeys to rest in when they die.  A special person is chosen to bury the monkeys in their cemetery when they die, and when that individual dies they are buried alongside the monkeys.  Also, the monkeys will often come into the village when they are nearing death, as if to tell the villagers they are ready to be buried.
When we were leaving the village, we got our giant bus stuck in the mud, and without hesitation at least 20 villagers came to help push us out of the mud.  It took us at least an hour to get unstuck and out of the village, and I would venture to say that most, if not all of the villagers from the tiny village helped us get out of there.  These were all people we had never met before, and they went to such lengths as to find planks to put under the tires, break cinder blocks to create gravel, and push the bus even when it seemed in danger of falling and crushing them.  That kind of unconditional kindness is something I don’t see very often, and the whole experience really meant a lot to me.  We got stuck again going down the road for about another 2 hours, but thankfully each time we got stuck again we had help from other people along the road.  After three hours of struggle, we finally made it onto the highway to Kumasi.

Kumasi was a lot to take in.  We didn’t really get to go beyond doing the tourist activities, like visiting the Ashanti palace and the arts market there, but even driving through the city was a bit overwhelming.  With the number of people, animals and cars on the roads, all moving along at full speed, I’m surprised we didn’t witness even one accident, but Ghanaians have a way of moving together that is beyond the likes of New York City or any other large American city I have been to.  There were people selling wares literally everywhere we went, many carrying things on their heads and knocking on our windows whenever we came to a stop.  

The palace of course and the arts market were much more calm.  At the palace we learned about some of the Asante traditions, as well as the Ashanti King Prempeh I, who refused British conquest in the late 1800’s and was banished because of it.  The arts market was similar to the one in Accra, but much less overwhelming and a bit less expensive as well.  The shops were also bigger and more spaced out, each one having specific sets of beautiful homemade wares ranging from pottery to clothes and jewelry.  
After leaving Kumasi, we drove all the way to a beautiful resort on the coast near the port town of Elmina.  
After staying a night at the resort, we went into Elmina, and visited the St. George castle that the town is probably most well known for.  It was this castle that the Portuguese built and used as a base for exploitation of West African resources some 500 years ago, beginning with gold and spices and eventually exporting thousands of African slaves.  After about 150 years the Dutch took control of the building and continued the slave trade, and a couple hundred years later the British did the same.  Being inside of the building where slaves were kept and horribly mistreated for centuries was pretty heavy, to say the least.  It’s impossibly difficult to summarize and put into words, but I’ll just say it left an impression on me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and once again made me realize my privilege in a way I had never fully realized it before.

Finally, we went to the Kakum national park, which was my first legitimate jungle experience ever.  We went on the canopy walk there, and it was awesome to be suspended some 70 meters (210 feet or so) above the forest ground.      

I’ve been pretty cramped up the last few days in a row (probably from some goat I had), and I would have been able to enjoy these experiences more had I not been having stomach problems, but I’m extremely glad I got to experience them nonetheless.

After all of that, it feels great to be back at the DMC and in good health once more.  I’m hoping that tonight I’ll finally get a good nights sleep after a few nights of unease.  Until next time, thank you for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the future!

The Big City, Chicken Sacrifices, and Other Exciting Occurrences of the Past Few Days.

So much has happened since the last time I posted that I can hardly even decide what to write about!  Every day is interesting and full of excitement here, and there’s no way I could possibly tell you about everything, but I hope you enjoy the snippets and pictures I am able to put together.

A few days ago we went into Accra to go check out the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and the Arts Market, both of which had a lasting impact on me.  Kwame Nkrumah was the liberator and first president of Ghana, and he was a man with very large goals and ideas not only for his country, but for all of Africa.  He strived for pan-africanism, the idea that all of the seperate African countries united as a whole would be far more successful then any of it’s countries separately.  His mausoleum is incomplete, supposedly to signify that his legacy is not complete yet either. 

Many politicians and philosophers today continue to work towards his vision, a “United States of Africa.”

The Arts Market was a bit overwhelming, and it certainly would have been much more overwhelming had we not had friends from the DMC (Dagara Music Center) to guide us.  From outside it would be easy to walk by without ever even knowing there was an arts market inside, but the second you went in you were surrounded by all manner of different wares for sale.  Everywhere we went we were bombarded by people trying to sell us their stuff, which ranged from touristy shirts and flags to quality homemade jewelry and art.  I was too distracted to get any pictures while we were inside, but I managed to get a picture of the outside before someone yelled at me to stop taking pictures of him.

I have a limited budget, but I’ve still managed to spend probably more than I should on various souvenirs and items  and gifts for people.  Here is a beautiful hand dyed and sewn shirt that I got for myself:

and a bracelet I got, there’s a bandaid on my finger from playing Gyil and getting blisters.  

Both playing Gyil and Djembe have taken some adapting on my part, but callouses are starting to build between my fingers for Gyil playing and my hands are getting accustomed to playing Djembe, with some technical practice as well.

I’ve been eating tons of interesting and amazing food here, but none quite as strange as the Eba and goat I had while we were in Accra. Eba is essentially a lump of cassava root flour that has been mixed with hot water to create a sort of dough that you dip in various soups or other dishes.  

It is supposed to give you a huge amount of energy that lasts you many hours, and though I’ll admit I didn’t like the taste very much I was extremely full afterwards.

Yesterday I got to witness a Gyil ceremony for my friend Matthew who is getting his second Gyil.  It was unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I’m glad I was able to make it to one during my time here.  The ceremony begins with libations being offered to the spirits and poured around the Gyil, then a guineafowl is sacrificed and its blood is made to drip on the gourd amplifiers of the instrument, which is then played by anybody who wants to play it while everybody dances and plays along for many hours.  After that, a guineafowl is thrown in the air towards the crowd of people dancing, and whoever catches it gets to take it home and eat it (guineafowl is delicious, especially the way Ghanaians prepare it).

The Gyil players were amazing, and there were many sweet and adorable children at the ceremony as well who wanted us to play and hang out with them, like this little girl who proudly showed me she was able to balance a water bottle on her head and walk around with it balanced there.

All of the children I’ve met have been incredibly sweet, and though they hardly know us they treat us like part of their giant family.  Everybody looks out for everybody here at the center, whether you’re white and foreign or you’ve been there since the beginning. 

Like I said, the music went on for hours, with some accompaniment by people playing talking drums and even a shovel, and they didn’t even stop when it started pouring rain and many of us went inside. At that point we were served delicious fresh chicken, with rice balls and okro (okra) soup to go along with it; that was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had so far on this trip, though they’ve all been amazing (except maybe the Eba).

Completely unrelated to everything, here’s a picture of a puppy;  there are four here at the DMC, and they are just as cute and sweet as you can imagine looking at the picture below ๐Ÿ™‚  I’m in love with all of them, but this one in particular 

In my next post I’d like to write a bit more about the town of Medie that we are in, and show you some pictures as well, but until then I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it!

First Couple of Days at the Dagara Music Center in Medie, Ghana!

The last two days have been unreal.  The initial shock of realizing I’m in a different country-Africa nonetheless-has subsided, but I still kind of feel like I’m in some sort of dream world.  At the same time, it reminds me a lot of the Zimbabwean music and dance camps I went to every year when I was younger, except there’s a whole lot more Africans and a whole lot less white people.  Regardless, I feel absolutely comfortable and welcome here already.  All of the people at the center have made what most Americans might call a sincere effort to make me feel welcome, but it doesn’t seem like they put much effort into it, I think it’s just something they do naturally.  Here’s a pretty bad picture of a few friends I made, from left Alex (who asked us to call him Kobe) Liz, Lydia, Joe, and I can’t tell exactly who is in the back, it may be Ernest but I’m not sure. 

All of the people at the center are incredibly sweet, and many of them make a point to yell out my name whenever they see me.  They took me into Medie a bit as well, and I met several people there who were very interested in me and told me without hesitation that I was totally welcome in Ghana.  Several people have asked me about my gauges, which I had to tell them have pretty much no purpose at all, except for style.  One man I met in passing told me he loved them and would have to get some for himself somehow.

The last couple of days have been pretty rigorous and also full of excitement. We wake up everyday at about 7:30 (1:30 in the U.S., that’s taking some getting used to) and eat breakfast, then we start Gyil classes at 8:30. A Gyil is a type of balafon, here’s a picture of some of those. (I apologize for the bad camera quality, my phones a bit scratched up and I wasn’t able to get ahold of a camera to bring unfortunately)

I woke up to the beautiful buzzy sound of a Gyil this morning, followed by the the sounds of the kids in the school that is right beside the center, which is probably the best way to wake up ever.

After our Gyil class, we have a Djembe class for awhile, and then we get to rest or do whatever we want during the middle of the day. The center is beautiful, and there’s a couple of different shops set up, with everything from toothbrushes to beautiful hand dyed and sewn clothing.

After the siesta in the middle of the day we start dance classes, which I have tried to take part in, although I’m definitely making a complete fool of myself. Earlier I got to see some of the school kids doing the Kpan Logo dance we’ve started to learn, and seeing how good they are compared to me is pretty inspiring, if not depressing.โ€‹  I aim to be at least half as good as them by the end of my time here, although that’s probably never going to happen. I wanted to upload a video but my phone won’t let me, so I’ll just upload a picture instead.โ€‹

I’m staying in a sweet little room, which provides me with a little escape from being constantly surrounded by people all the time, which is nice and sometimes needed.  It does get pretty muggy at times, and there are mosquito nets over our beds to prevent us from getting completely eaten up while we sleep.  Considering, I’ve actually been able to sleep pretty well thus far, with the exception of waking up really early because of the time change.
I also went into the city Nsawam today, which is a bit bigger than Medie, and that was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  Ive never felt like such a spectacle in my life.  Everywhere I went I heard the word Obroni, which essentially means white person, and many of the little kids would say something like “Hi Obroni!” and run in the opposite direction.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to take any pictures because my phone was dead, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to go back and I’ll take some pictures then. We’re also going on excursion trips to Kumasi and the coast in the next week, so I should have some cool photos to post from those trips, I look forward to sharing them with you!

I’m so excited to share little stories of my travels with you all, I hope you enjoy it!  My brain already feels close to exploding with all the information and experiences I’ve gotten just in the last couple of days, and it feels nice to share some of that, so expect more every few days when I get a chance to sit down and use the internet a little bit!  I’ve been sitting here for awhile, so I’m going to get up and go join everybody, but it shouldn’t be too too long before I post again; until then, best regards from Ghana, and thank you for reading my post!!