Sunday, July 24, 2016

Straight Ghost

Life is good. I could not have possibly hoped for a better reception to Bengaluru and India.  The people have been wonderful and the food even better. Things have gone much more smoothly than I would have ever thought or imagined.  There have been relatively few surprises, outside of the occasional super spicy pepper in my rice, and I have enjoyed the culture. This all being said, I think that the most striking thing about everything is the fact that I am not the center of attention.  Running the risk of being perceived as a narcissist, allow me to explain.   In most place to which I have voyaged, I am the center of attention.  That is to say, people are constantly staring at me and asking to take pictures with me.  As a taller than their average black man with dreadlocks, I expect to be stared at and quickly identified as a foreigner.  Here, in the city as well as in village, nobody cares and nobody stares.  At least not initially, publicly, or where they can be caught staring.  That being said, if I sit down with someone or become comfortable with someone, they will definitely ask how I got this hair. 

The culture here has been explained to me as “respectful but not necessarily polite”.  People do not usually acknowledge each other when walking down a street or hallway.  There are very few “good morning”s and even fewer “thank you”s.  That being said, if you ask for help people are very willing to assist.  As a foreigner, people are very respectful to me and I am treated well.  All this being said, I am definitely not the center of attention.  Nobody cares.  Even in America, some people will be afraid to walk on the same side of the sidewalk as me or clutch their purses when I am near. Others in West Africa would stare openly and idolize me as a foreigner. But here in Bengaluru, nobody cares and I am just an anonymous guy walking down the street. This is not to say that I am at all integrated or mistaken for a local but nobody cares.  I love it!
There is something so refreshing to blending into the masses and literally eliciting no emotional or gut response in people when they see me, if they even see me.  Straight Ghostin/Coastin. I’m loving it. 
I wish home/America was like this. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Jetlagged Dreams of Dreams

I am lying in bed, fighting jetlag, and listening to what can only be described as the noisiest marching band to ever march the earth.  It is only 5am but the traffic, accompanying car horns, and sirens have been nonstop since I arrived two hours ago.  Does Bengaluru ever sleep? I think not, at least not today.  Trying to calm my mind and remove all of the external stimuli from my mind I think back to a vacation that I took about two years ago.  

Ghana: Round Two.  Pt1.

Kristine and I started off about 5 hours north of the Ghanaian border. We packed our bags and set out around 6 am to make it to the border town of PO. Once in PO we knew that we would be taken care of by an old friend and colleague of my own, Harouna. The bus that we caught was, in typical Burkina Fashion, little more than a minivan with 20 people crammed inside.  After four hours inside, we descended in the border town of PO where Harouna met us and led us on what can only be described as the most epic of bar crawls ever attempted in the town. Starting at 9:30 am, we jumped from one mango tree to another and only stopped to eat lunch, order more meat, and then repeat.  By 4pm we were all laughing so hard and inebriated that it was a wonder that we ever made it back to our hotel.  

The following day, we awoke early and made our way to the border where we exchanged money and then hitchhiked down the road to Bolgatanga. Bolgatanga, a major town, was about a 30 minute drive from a campsite that we would be staying in.  Catching a group taxi, we made our way south to the campsite that Ghanian PCVs promised was an oasis, “Tongo Oasis” to be exact. Upon arrival, we were not too sure about this “oasis” but had already travelled too far to turn back.  The host welcomed us with open arms and showed us to our quarters.  Mud huts with elaborate paintings adorning the walls.  PCVs really know how to pick a vacation spot.  What the site lacked in facilities, it made up for with natural beauty. Nestled at the base of a small mountain range and surrounded by a number of fields and lakes, this was definitely one of the more picturesque locations I had encountered in West Africa.  We watched sunsets and sunrises from the roof of our mudhut, hitchhiked to the mountains, hiked said mountains, toured the royal court of a king and his 150 wives, hiked up another mountain in our underwear where we greeted a traditional medicine man, performed a sacrifice, educated the crowd about Ebola, and then enjoyed lamb meat (from the sacrifice) cooked on the hot rocks of the mountain. We then packed three people on a motorcycle and coasted down the mountain in order to return to our oasis.   

We then woke up at the crack of dawn, said our farewells and hitchhiked back to bolgatanga where we would catch a bus to our next destination, a catholic friary and monastery. Now I must take special consideration to thank the guy that picked us up.  Not only did he make for good conversation, but he took us to the bus station, explained to the drivers where we needed to go, and then paid for our tickets.  Even after we told him that we were American and could pay for ourselves, he refused and asked us to repay him only by enjoying his country.  He settled us in and then took off. What an amazing guy.  This experience really impressed on me that there are still good people in the world.   14 hours and three buses later we arrived at a toll both in the dead of the night.  Kristine and I were both annoyed at the long ride, and maybe a bit at each other, but we were happy to arrive at the designated toll both. A poorly illuminated toll both which happened to be in the middle of a forest with a single police unit patrolling (Ps did I mention that it was now 2am).  The monastery we were looking for was about 2 kilometers down a dirt road.  We asked the police unit to verify our directions and then set off on our short hike.   Feeling a bit bad for us and probably hoping to save themselves some paperwork should something happen to Kristine and I, the officers offered to give us a ride. We threw our stuff in the back of their pick-up truck, they turned on their siren, and we made our way down the dark dirt road.  Arriving at the closed gate of the monastery (of course it’s closed at 2:20am), I became a bit worried and the police assuaged my worry by flashing their lights and blaring the siren; effectively summoning one of the poor monks to the gate and allowing us passage.  First impressions are so important… and Kristine and I showing up at that monastery at 2:20am in the back of a police vehicle with lights and sirens going definitely made an impression on the monks. 
That being said, they were extremely hospitable and fed us before they showed us to our rooms…. Laying in my bed, I quickly lost consciousness as exhaustion overcame my body.  

I wake up in Bengaluru at about 10:00am and smile as I think back to the first half of our Ghana vacation.  What a great time.  I jump out of bed and prepare for the day and the start of a new adventure in Bengaluru, India. 

I smile to myself as I take my cold bucket shower and laugh to myself…. “You Only Live Once”