Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No neat way to finish a Mango

I love the mangoes here. Of all the new foods and prepared dishes I tried, the fruit was the very best. Pineapples so perfect you'd think they were soaked in syrup, and they're edible all the way through the core. Bananas so sweet that I'm sure you could make banana bread without a single lump of sugar. And mangoes... so large they're a meal in themselves. And so ripe and perfect the juice drips down your chin, neck, and forearm, but you're 100% oblivious because you're so focused on slurping up every last slice of the sunset-colored fruit.

When you get to the end of a sliced mango, there's one large, rectangular piece left and you know it holds the pit, but there's no stopping you now. You pick it up and go at it, first with your front two teeth and then with your bottom. Soon you're gnawing at it carnivorously, canines and incisors engaged. And it feels so right to be devoted to something so beautiful, unforgettable, and perfect. What's wonderful about a mango pit is that you can always flip it over again and find another section you haven't devoured. More sweet pulp to enjoy. Eventually, and long before you're ready, you realize it's time to stop; this mango is gone. Surveying the spattered juice remains of your delicious meal, you reluctantly dispose of the pit and swear that this mango is the best you've ever had.

There's no neat way to finish this blog. The loose ends, details, and additional stories of my journey have trickled down my chin, throat, wrists and forearms, and I'm sure I'll be licking them up for months and years to come. For now, I've finished this mango, and I'm returning home with a slimy but beautiful pit to examine and try to understand. In the meantime, I'm thinking about the immense blessing of this adventure. In terms of perspective—opening my eyes to a beautiful nation, different ways of life, and new friends from around the world—it's been priceless. In terms of my skills as a writer, gaining experience with a non-profit, and having opportunities to create and problem-solve—it's been perfect. And in terms of my future, this month has built my self-confidence and self-efficacy, and I feel so motivated and enabled to join an organization like Global Mamas and apply myself to the missions and goals that prioritize fair trade principles, empowerment, and social justice.

Thank you so much for your attention this month; I know that your readership, comments, emails, thoughts, and prayers, have kept me safe and encouraged. Writing is a unique form of expression because it is intensely private, yet it has powerful potential when shared. I love writing, and my positive experience with this blog gives me energy to continue to devote myself to writing as an artform, a tool, and a livelihood. So, yet again, thank you for coming with me.

Be well where you are and good luck finding a mango to sink your teeth into.

Until next time I remain,

Elizabeth Eva Lampman

I guess this is it... photos coming soon

I'm about to post my final, official blog post. Why? Because I'm back in the States and I want this blog to remain specific to my experience in Ghana. I'm addicted though to the forum of blogging so for now, I'll continue on my other blog at (which is less focused than this one, but we'll see what happens as I continue to develop it). I also wanted to let you know that I'll post photos to this blog soon, so check back here if you'd like some visuals to go with the narrative you've already read.
Wistfully about to sign off,

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Final Days, Part II

On Sunday morning I sat reading on a floating dock on the Volta after enjoying a proper English breakfast at the hotel. As a Christmas present, my dearest friend Clara lent me her copy of her favorite childhood book The Little Prince. I haven't told you this yet Clara, but I took the book to Ghana with me. I knew this was risky, one is never sure what will happen in Ghana and I didn't want to damage the book at all, but... I had a good feeling about it and decided to trust myself. Good news—all is well! So now that I've made that confession...

I carried the book all month, and I could have read it at any time, but sometime in my first week here I decided that I would wait until the end of the month to read it. Somehow that felt right. So finally, on Sunday, I read The Little Prince for the first time.

As I sit and reflect on an amazing month and wonder (not worry though) about how I'm going to take all of my lessons and experiences home with me, I'm borrowing from a particularly unforgettable passage in this book*:

He [the little prince] was tired. He sat down. I sat down beside him. And, after a little silence, he spoke again:

The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen.”

I replied, “Yes, that is so.” And without saying anything more, I looked across the ridges of sand that were stretched out before us in the moonlight.

"The desert is beautiful,” the little prince added.

And that was true. I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs and gleams...

What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well...”

I was astonished by a sudden understanding of that mysterious radiation of the sands. When I was a little boy I lived in an old house, and legend told us that a treasure was buried there. To be sure, no one had ever known how to find it; perhaps no one had ever even looked for it. But it cast an enchantment over that house: my home was hiding a secret in the depths of its heart...

Yes,” I said to the little prince. “The house, the stars, the desert—what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible!”

I was so excited when I read this. “That's just like Ghana!” I thought; there's always an unknown. That's what I love about tros, and street food, and random conversation with anyone friendly... the mystery of the process and the outcome! The promise of unpredictability has charmed me like a wicked lover. It drives me crazy sometimes, like when I don't know what to expect for the price of a cab ride, so I'm at the mercy of the driver not to cheat me just because I'm white. But, after all is said and done, I'm addicted to the chaos, the lack of formula a for how this country works. Or maybe I'm enchanted by the invisible, indecipherable algorithm for life here. Either way, I love the mystery.

Maybe this what all traveling is. I'm not sure, I haven't traveled enough to know. All I know now, is that wherever there is beauty, there is also a secret.

Until next time I remain,

A Worldwide Wonderer

*excerpt taken from page 78 of The Little Prince by Antione de Saint-Exupéry

The Final Days, Part I

I spent my last weekend in Ghana away from the sea in the Eastern region. On Friday I traveled to the small town called Krobo-Odumase with Rebecca, a Peace Corps volunteer who has been working with Global Mamas for the last 18 months. Krobo is Global Mamas' site for bead- and jewelry- making and I was definitely excited to see how everything is done.

I said goodbye to charming Cape Coast and took a fast car (15 passenger van for 7 cedis) to Accra; then I met up with Rebecca and we took three different tros to get to Krobo. Traveling on a Friday was a crazy experience because, as Rebecca explained, many people head to 'village' on Friday afternoons for weddings or funerals. Weekend weddings made sense to me, but I had to ask a few more questions about weekend funerals. Evidently, when someone dies they wait to bury the body for weeks, or maybe a month or two, to until most of the family can gather. Anyone we saw wearing a nice outfit in bright colors was probably headed to a wedding; and anyone wearing black, tannish-orange, or red was probably headed to a funeral celebration. So we were caught in the exodus of people from the larger cities to their smaller hometowns/family towns.

When we did arrive in Krobo I had a chance to meet the 15 women who make Global Mamas' jewelry and Gladys, the production manager, because they all work at the office. Gladys' mother, Grace, is a bead-maker and though bead-making takes place at bead-makers' individually owned facilities, she came in on Friday so that I could interview her for a story in the Annual Report. Grace is a beautiful and poised older woman; she speaks Krobo, but no English, so Gladys translated for us. I was touched by Grace's sweetness and passion for working with beads, which she has done for 20 years, and she told me that she is happy to share her story with a larger community.

The next morning, Rebecca and I actually went to the bead market where she orders and buys Global Mamas' beads from local bead-makers. She makes sure to buy from artisans who pay their employees and apprentices, and she only purchases beads made from 100% recycled glass. The market itself was absolutely picturesque, with thatched roof awnings, narrow dirt alleys, and crumbling cement-block steps. To my delight, is was also slow at the market because we were there in the morning and many were busy with weddings and funerals. Speaking of which, as we left town that afternoon, I saw countless crowds of people beautifully dressed in funeral colors and processing through town. Some processions also take place with pick-up trucks; they fill the bed of the truck with people, some with a few instruments like horns, and everyone chants as the truck drives through town. Rebecca said she went to a funeral once and left early after four hours, so these are truly weekend-long events.

Once we'd finished at the market, we picked up our weekend bags and headed another twenty minutes east (by tro) to Aylos Bay on the River Volta. I was excited to see the Volta because the dam on the river forms one of the largest human-made lakes in the world and it generates the majority of Ghana's electricity. Furthermore, we met up with some other Global Mamas employees (Maria, Jess, Renae and her family) for a day of floating on the water and relaxing.

Being with these amazing people I worked with all month in a beautiful bay on the water was a lovely way to spend my final weekend in Ghana. After a slow morning on Sunday, we all headed back to Accra and spent more time with Global Mamas folks (Tim, Lydia, and many more Ghanaian friends). On Sunday evening, and for most of Monday I tried to finish up the remaining threads of my projects for the internship. I'm going to continue to tie up a few loose ends this week and send them along via the interweb, but overall, I feel that my work this month has benefited Global Mamas and that's a wonderful feeling!


A New Sister in the Global Mamas Family

A sample of my internship work

On January 24th, I had the pleasure of spending a night in Prampram, about an hour East of Accra. I visited with the purpose of writing a story for the Global Mamas' website, and I thought I'd share that story with you here so that you can observe one kind of writing I've used in my internship.

Just five minutes outside of the seaside village of Prampram, a cluster of freshly scrubbed buildings is perched on a rise of sand above a little lagoon and the Atlantic ocean. Upon entrance, visitors gasp and remark on its resemblance to Paradise. This little haven is not a new resort however; here, two seamstresses and two batikers are in their second week of work at Global Mamas' newest production site.

Christy and Be batik in the courtyard, stamping, dying, washing, and rinsing patterns and colors in three to six yard lengths. At this point, they're working on color and stamping consistency to be sure that their products match the high quality output of other Global Mamas batikers. Christy and Be both have experience batiking, but they talk about how these patterns are much more precise than the batiking they do at home. They've also learned out to cut their own stamps, which is Be's new favorite part of her handicraft.

Inside, T.T. goes from room to room checking the sewing and knitting machines and assisting the seamstresses Eunice and Charity. As the resident knitting machine expert, T.T. comes on Mondays to help with maintenance of the equipment. Eunice and Charity are working on Batik Button Baskets, and they eagerly examine a newly arrived sample of Batik Storage Bins. The seamstresses have many years of experience, but they explain that they've mostly made custom dresses so it's challenging to learn how to make these new products. Both Charity and Eunice own their own businesses in Prampram and they will continue to take on orders even though they work from 8 to 5 for Global Mamas. Eunice simply said that she has four children and that she has to work to take care of them. In fact, in the next room, her eight month old daughter Rosemary takes her afternoon nap on a cushioned bench. Everyone likes the working space; it's clean, quiet, and comfortable.

This idyllic location has been more than a bit of work, but its gotten off to a great start in under 6 months. Tim and Lydia Richardson arrived in Ghana in August, shortly after their wedding; they are volunteering with Global Mamas for two years and their dedication and hard work have been key to this new adventure for Global Mamas. They look forward to taking on volunteers with bright ideas and innovative energy.

All the production here will be completed on site with Global Mamas-owned equipment; this will reduce the cost of production by centralizing materials and by providing immediate feedback and quality control. Eventually, Prampram will be the largest production location of batiked products. The plan is to construct a large facility nearby for the employment of nearly 200 batikers, seamstresses, and quality control personnel. In conversation with Christy and Be they talked about limited opportunities in Prampram; many leave for work in Tema or Accra. Be also explained that many young people need work to stay in school, but as of now, they have difficulty doing so in Prampram. So while this is a different model than the one used in Cape Coast, it will create jobs and stability in the community and also provide opportunities for women to work towards economic independence.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The F word

This month, I've had several deep conversations about Feminism (am I predictable? Maybe.) with other volunteers, Ghanaians, Europeans, Canadians, and US Americans. I can hardly relate the many paths of our conversations, but I will say this. In each chat, someone asks me, "So what is Feminism in the US today?" They ask if the movement still exists and what people think of it. This has not been easy to answer, but I've given it my best effort. And basically, what I want to say to all of you feminists, pro-feminists, femi-curious-ists, humanists, pro-equal rights advocates is to get talking and get moving! I've assured everyone that feminism is not dead, but that the word itself is controversial and that members of whatever-you-want-to-call-the-movement are a bit scattered, but passionate. So please, make good on my promise... anyway you can.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Being an Environmentalist in Ghana

This is... challenging. Well, I think it is. There are about a million contradictions that make me feel conflicted, constantly, about my environmental impact while traveling. On a day to day basis, I try to make decisions that reflect my environmental concerns, but speaking frankly, it's so hard to be sustainable as a traveler! With that being said, I'll just tell about some of the contradictions that have plagued my conscience this month.

:-( Little black bags: So on any given day, I'll buy food from street vendors once at the least, and four or five times at the most. There's a huge variety of street food: fresh fruit (pineapples, mangoes, bananas, plantains, papayas, oranges, adismambas), ground nuts, fried foods (like plantain chips and HUGE donut holes), grilled food (kebabs, plantains), or 'chop' which is just a generic word for any prepared 'fast food' you can get at a little stand—rice and beans, jollof (spicy rice), waachi, red red, banku, and so on. The point of this menu is to say that, basically, anything I bought this month, I bought from a street vendor. Supermarkets are few and far between, and wildly inefficient. The only problem with this system is that absolutely everything you buy is placed in one or two little black bags. They're everywhere! And once you look around at the ground, in the gutters, in the sea... they're everywhere! All this in a country where the signage encourages the simple act of throwing trash in the garbage points to a serious issue. So, as I bought items, I sometimes just put them in my bags without a little black bag, but this wasn't always possible if I was buying a sticky pineapple or equally messy item. However, I think that I sometimes went along with the system of the 'Little Black Bag' simply to fit in. Everyone else had their little black bags, and every vendor gives them out like it's their job, so I think I just wanted to feel more Ghanaian. Not a good excuse, I realize.

:-) Free-range meat: I've mentioned this before, but to reiterate, all of the meat is free-range, and let me tell you, I'm no expert in animal psychology but those goats, sheep, and chickens in Cape Coast sure looked happy to munch in the gutters. Also, the fish is fresh AND local—so no problem there! Some of you know that I was a vegetarian prior to finding out I was coming to Ghana, and it's fair to say that I was fine with eating meat while here, but not overly thrilled. It's been a good experience though, and I'm glad that I've gotten to be a part of any dish that get's thrown in front of me.

:-( Coca-Cola: I'm not a Coke-drinker in the states, I'm really not. (Check out for a few of my reasons.) But here, where it's the only way to get caffeine, I've been having it more often. At least in Ghana it's made without high fructose corn syrup! There's no real excuse for drinking it though, and I'm admitting to it now.

:-) Local ingredients: On the bright side, like the fish, all of the ingredients are local—spices, produce, beans, grain, and kasava (Probably a relative of the potato, these are sometimes the size of your calf and sometimes ankle to thigh. Kasava can be prepared in many ways, but it's commonly pounded into a mash that's slightly smoother than grits and cooked into Fufu.) It's just too expensive to import foodstuffs. So if something's out of season, you just can't get it! Like honey or cheese (okay, not that cheese is ever 'in season'). I wouldn't say that I'm desperate for a teaspoon of honey or clump of goat cheese, but I'm definitely missing my favorite food groups. But... honey's not around and cheese is too expensive, so luckily, it's kinda 'outta sight, outta mind.'

:-( Car exhaust/Transportation: Dad, if you could see the vehicles I've been riding in all month, I'd advise you to pop an aspirin in prevention of a heart-attack. Frequently, the cab driver will get out of the car and check a tire, or re-secure the boot (trunk), but the funniest incident was today when our cab driver got out, GRABBED A CROW BAR, popped the hood, and started banging around under there while we waited in the car. Basically, the exhaust and fumes coming out of these cars is anything but clean. And I have to rely on these inefficient vehicles all the time.

:-) Shared Public Transportation: On the other hand, public transportation here is arranged in such a way that you mostly fill a vehicle to capacity before you drive to a destination. For example, I traveled from Cape Coast to Accra in a Fast Car, and the vehicle doesn't leave until every seat is full. Same with the tro-tros that took me from Accra, to Madina, to Krobo, to Cannaan (a neighborhood in Krobo). The tros are filled to, and past, capacity with people headed in the same direction. What this means is that few people in Ghana own their own vehicles. I'm choosing to see this as a +1 for the environmental movement. Just think... they have the system in place and a radical revision of the vehicle efficiency could massively reduce their fuel emissions!

:-( Buying Everything Packaged: Like the 'Little Black Bag' fad, you have to buy most things packaged. Ice cream and water are the best examples. So even though I've been carrying my water bottle all month, I usually have to purchase drinking water in a water sachet and then dump it into my water bottle, which mostly defeats the purpose of bringing your own water bottle.

:-) Taking bucket showers: Water is scarce. No big surprise there, but just to describe it a bit, I've been taking bucket showers for most of the month. There's one larger bucket of water, and a smaller scoop-bucket to dip then dump and this is how you get clean! Needless to say, this experience will alter the way I wash myself stateside.

I hope I've illustrated my point—that I can't figure out how to travel as an Environmentalist. Though I'm almost done with this adventure, tips are welcome! I'd love to hear how others have handled this issue when abroad.

Until next time I remain

A Pallid Shade of GREEN

P.s. This post goes out to my Eco-friendly friends everywhere, and also my amazing ladies at the Wendell Berry House!