Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Return to Costa Rica (Puerto Limon)

Today was another fine day in Costa Rica, only this time we were on the Caribbean side. My roommates Devon and Ryan, Denora and myself all ventured into Puerto Limon to eat. We found a great local restaurant called Soda Panimimi, it was authentic Costa Rican food. Their specialty is soups. They let us try a melody stew called “Sopa De Mandinga”. Sopa de Mandinga was composed of cowfoot, tripe, dumplings and carrots. It was a particularly interesting but I did enjoy it. my friends Ethiopia and her daughter Kaia, who joined us were not particular fans of it. I told Ryan, who had been getting a little homesick, that I’d show him what travelling and experiencing the world was all about. Yet he was very critical of the establishment, pointing to ants that ran across the walls and such. I joked to him that it’s all about the experience and because that he’d never had such an experience that I guaranteed it would prove worth it. By the meals end I was right. We’d ordered the spectrum of the menu, including Plantain, sopa, rice and beans; I had a spicy noodle and beans dish, which I docked up even more with whatever atomic chili sauce that stood on the table. After the great meal we left back for the port, but after arriving and window-shopping Devon, Denora, and I decided to hire a tour guide to see more of the city by going to Playa Bonita. Though it was raining we sat at the Quimbamba Bar off the beach. Devon and I decided that despite the weather we wanted to swim. So that’s exactly what we did. At one point I stopped noticing that it was raining. The waves were huge, I learned the art of body surfing. In a panic our tour guide came to the beach to warn us not to go to far right-shore because of the hard coral, just after I’d stepped on the coral and cut my foot. I limped back into the sea off the rock and continued body surfing until I’d had my fill. We got out, got dressed and had a couple Cervazas, watched a bull fight on TV and had the most delicious plantains. A fellow shipgoer and her dad approached us and inquired about our day, we recanted and then her Dad, Dan, and I walked over to a small wooded area to take pictures of the sloths. Dan told me about his trip to the sloth forest, he pointed out how slow they moved and shook the tree to illustrated their delayed reaction. Soon after we returned to he ship, once again impressed by Costa Rica

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Today we visited the SOS Orphanage in Cristobal, Panama. SOS has homes worldwide which cares for orphaned and neglected children in over 130 countries. From the moment we left the ship, it rained. Streets were flooded and many stores were closed. The van driver told us that this weather was peculiar, usually it would be warm and sunny this time of the year but it was about 70 degrees and wet. When we arrived at the SOS Childrens Village, we were shown a brief film about SOS. SOS Children's Villages focuses on family-based, long-term care of children who can not live with their biological families for whatever reason. The facility is set up like a village in that in each house there is an SOS aunt, or mother figure, with approx 6-10 children in each home. The children keep their rooms spotless and are given chores in which they keep them selves strictly disciplined toward doing. We visited about 4 houses, played with the kids and spoke with the parents. Many of us brought our cameras, however something struck ill with me when I watched one of our group members treating the experience like we were at a zoo. She would snap candids of the kids on the couch watching TV, at the table, position the children to hold things they owned. It was disgusting. I mentioned to her and others I was with that we were there to meet and learn not to fill up a photo album. I let the kids play with my camera and they really enjoyed it. I met one little boy named Alman who loved getting hugs. My friend Denora, who’s fluent in Spanish, said that when she hugged him he said that “getting hugs is so cool, I don’t get them that often”. We were pretty much brought to tears. For the rest of our time visiting Alman home he was wrapped in someones arms. One group member, Neil from USC, gave Alman his Trojans windbreaker and hat. We were all speechless to the altruism shown by our peer. We donated about two boxes of games to SOS, but later realized that clothes would’ve been a better contribution seeing as, many of those kids grow so fast and had limited wardrobes. After the visit, Denora, some friends and myself ventured off into the flooded streets of Panama in search of lunch. We were guided to a stand that served alligator, plantains, rice and beans. There we stood in the pouring rain under the makeshift canopy above the stand eating Panamanian food. Though it was a great experience, the thought of hugging Alman never left out minds, even as we re-boarded the ship.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Costa Rican high Jump

Costa Rica… today’s port was the best yet. From the moment I stepped off the ship, I felt back in true travel mode. I was low on funds but thirsty for adventure. The plan was originally to go zip lining but what we later learned was that it would be outside of our budget from our side of the country. The sun was shining and it was very hot. We waited at the terminal to be transported to the taxi area. While there I recognized one a lady that had voyaged with me in Spring 2010. I hadn’t quite seen everyone who was on the ship but she was working as Semester at Sea staff. Cindy, who was my Dean of Students and my On-Ship mother, also had returned. The three of us stood and recanted a few memories from Brasil. A story that I shared was about my Brasilian wish bracelet that I got in Salvador Bahia.
In Bahia, Brasil many of my fellow adventurers received a cloth bracelet that was tied around the wrist in three knots, with each knot one is to make a wish. It is said that when the bracelet falls off your three wishes come true.
My bracelet was a little different. Not only did I have a wish bracelet but I was also given a tweed bracelet, 2 months prior, in India that wards off evil spirits. After about a month of wearing both they eventually became one bracelet from washing, wear, etc. So I thought it would never fall off and my wishes would never come true. Strange enough, while standing in line to exchange USD to Guatemalan Quetzals my bracelet fell off. Mind you, this was the first time I’d been out the country since getting it, simply amazing.
After sharing this story with them, the lady went in her bag and pulled out a wish bracelet and adorned me with it. New Beginnings and new wishes. She tied it in its traditional fashion and I made my three wishes. I thanked her, we all exchanged hugs and I met up with Ulato and my roommate Devon to plan out our day. A group of us decided to ride to Jaco and explore. On the way we saw huge crocodiles in the river. We stopped took pictures and grabbed some local brews and bean patties and drove for another 30minutes into Jaco, passing signs advertising Bungee Jumping, Zip lining and snorkeling.
When we arrived in Jaco, it was between beach bumming, Bungee jumping, or Zip lining. Because zip lining was overpriced where we were, and beach bumming would be uneventful, Bungee Jumping was the plan.
The benefit of traveling with a small likeminded group is that they require little to no convincing. After paying our money and signing the waivers we readied to jump from almost 200 feet. We took the elevator to the top of a large steel apparatus. While on the lift the safety instructor asked who wanted to go first, without hesitation I jumped at it. I strapped up! Double Velcroed harness across the shoulders, metal hooks across the chest and waist and around the ankles. The instructor led me to the edge, unhooked my safety cord and threw my bungee cord off the side. I looked down into the pool of water that would somewhat break my fall. The cord was fixed to dip me waist deep at the most extended point.
The instructor began the countdown; I looked to my right and saw Ulato filming me, and Devon anxious for me. The anticipation built to the point of excitement, raised my hands and dove off the edge. As I raced toward the ground all I thought about was how great life is, how I really live out my dreams, and how I hope I wasn’t about to die. Before I knew it I was deep in water before being pulled half way back up, and then spinning around until I leveled off and was guided to safety. The experience was absolutely exhilarating. Dizzy and dazed I watched Devon and Ulato jump. Ulato yelled “Damn you Cameron Thomas-Shah, before he jumped. His fall was equally footed as far as the spinning only he chose not to hit the water. Next they convinced me to rocket launch. Essentially, they launched you from a base into the sky, and because you’re strapped to elastic bands you bounce to and fro. So that’s exactly what we did. I did 7 flips in the air on the way up. I will soon upload the videos. After our aerodynamic activities, we hung out on the beach for a half an hour before heading back to the ship

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The next port was Corinto, Nicaragua. Luke, Sulongteh, Matt Vaughn, myself and some other friends ventured into the port to find a bank, we spoke to some locals about good places to eat and were pointed toward a spot called “Espigon”. They were said to have the best lobster in the country. Without hesitation we took a bike taxi to the beach. After avoiding hagglers, curb workers, and the like we arrived at Espigon and ate freshly caught lobster and shrimp. Many people complained about the speed of the service but I gently reminded that not only were we not in a hurry but not to expect the same kind of service we receive in the states. After a few cervezas and 2 hours of waiting and an amazing meal we spoke to some locals about things they enjoyed doing. The group of us paraded through the back streets of Corinto speaking and playing with children. It was a wondrous site to see my Morehouse brothers traveling with me and experiencing the world. I really enjoyed the bonding that happened with the people of Nicaragua and with my brethren.

Service Trip in Guatemala

Today we had a service trip, we traveled to the Guatemalan Pediatric Oncology Hospital. The experience was very emotional. The hospital we visited was financed by foreign investment, however the hospital only had about 35 beds. The ward serviced families who children had diseases like cancer, but the degree to which the kids were affected were perplexing. We learned that a large amount of these children had come over 10 hours to visit the hospital for 2-3 hours of treatment. The hospital paid for everything except food, but it was becoming problematic because many cases were cited where families were too poor to feed their child. Children were malnourished to the point that they could not be treated. The ward was peppered with children who were ill from treatment, crying babies, but there were also some kids who were very alert and happy to engage with us. We read inspirational notes to the children and played with them and gave them gifts. After about an hour and a half we met with the administration and they educated us on the background of the treatment center. We each gave our individual donations and made our way back to the ship. This experience truly illustrated the disparity in medicine between the developed and developing world.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Getting to Guatemala

By 5:00AM I’d cleared security for my 6:25AM flight from Washington Reagan for Miami International Airport. One large orange suitcase, 44lbs, and a backpack which contained the newest issue of The Economist, my Mac, ipod, chargers, and The Memoirs of Condoleezza Rice. I sat in the terminal flabbergast from the fact that in less that 12 hours I would re board the MV Explorer, the floating campus that had taken me to 12 counties, through every timezone ,and brought my life’s most meaningful experiences. 2 hourd later I arrived in MIA, dumbfounded with how I’d get to the Ship I turned off an inhibitions and decided that once arriving in Guatemala, I’d somehow figure it out. Which is exactly what I did, 2.5 hours later I arrived in Guatemala City at 12:30, having exchanged currency, found my luggage and finding a taxi to drive me almost 2 hours to Puerto Quetzal.

I know that I have become a savvy traveler for the sheer fact that I hopped a flight to Guatemala with no for sight and got to where I need to in a timely manner.

Let me preface the rest of this blog by stating that I have no knowledge of Spanish, I have studied Latin America and the Caribbean only to a limited extent.

My taxi drive was almost 2 hours; totally quiet my driver spoke no English, French, or Chinese. Once we arrived at the port the anticipation, I walked up the entry way and saw the “Big Mother” a phrase used to describe the sentiment felt by SAS alum after a hellish experience in a country. I couldn’t believe the way I felt by returning to the place that I’d called home for several months less than a year ago.

I recognized a handful of crew and the faces of all my Morehouse brothers; there was a deep duality to the sense of home I felt.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Brazil…The land that most men dream of going, for good reason. The largest country in South America holds with it a large part of the beauty in the western hemisphere. We started out so anxiously, this was the first taste of the bittersweet life that was post semester at sea, OUR LAST PORT.

Our diplomatic briefing was fascinating, we met a women who was not quite an FSO officer in traditional means. She told us that she had been living in brazil for over 3 decades, after falling in love with her husband while studying abroad from Cal Tech in the late 70s. She was a consulate officer. After diplomatic briefing was over Dr. White, Academic Dean, asked me to be the SAS ambassador to the FSO because she had been on several voyages before and usually a group of students who were apart of an Ambassadors Club would engage her after briefing. I was proud to have been chosen, probably because my sheer love for Diplomatic Briefings. While speaking with her my friends accompanied and we learned so much about what it takes to live in South America and to become integrated into the Brazilian society.
After the ship had been cleared we walked into our port Salvador (Bahia), we were met with a gang of drummers who reminded me deeply of the soul and rhythm of Morehouse or any good HBCU band. After dancing a bit, the Zimmermans led the diversity club to the area where slaves were brought from Ghana and sorted before they were sent out into the slave trade. Unfortunately the area was closed that particular day but we did see the stairwell that led to the area, also the place where they were sold to Portuguese in Salvador.

A group of us then travelled around Salvador, we arrived in the new area of the city that lay at the bottom of a big hill, then there was an elevator that took you to the top of the hill and there was the old city of Bahia. The old city was beautiful we looked for somewhere to eat. Although Brazilians speak portugese, Amiras spanish worked well in navigating us anywhere we needed to go, as my french had proved effective in benin and Mauritius and Chinese in Shanghai.

We ate and by then we had to take a cab to the airport for our flight to Rio De Janeiro. The way airlines work in Brazil is peculiar. Every flight is a conector flight for example our flight flew from Salvador to Brasilia to Vitoria to Rio. If that was't stressful enough Brazilians don't understand the concept of assigned seating based on the seat assignment on YOUR TICKET !
Neverthless 2 stops and 6 hours later we were in Rio. The hotel we stayed at was The Tulip Inn off Copacabana. When we looked out the window we saw all beach and in the distance the sugar loaf mountains.

From all the traveling we napped and when we awoke it was time for dinner. That night was a fantastic meal I had fried Crayfish and Amria got a Arugala Salad and we shared a fresh fruit plate. The fruit in Brazil was amazing as was all the seafood.

The next morning we walked around looking for things to do, the concierge was supposed to find us volunteer work but a language barrier found us empty handed in the AM. After a great breakfast we found ourselves at a travel agency trying to find places of interest, the forest was closed but we decided to take the public bus to the foot of Sugarloaf mountain.

We then set out through the streets of Rio to find the bus, we got onto the bus and met a bunch of Brasilians who at toted similar bags and had similar shirts. With terribly broken Spanish I tried to communicate with the portugese speakers. What Amira, from the back of the bus, and me from the middle came to learn was that they were celebrating 50 years of Herbal Life, the all natural company they sold products for. They were very friendly, they gave us a couple free products and gave us their contact business cards in case we wanted to start selling it too. Very Mary-Kayesqe.

We waited for the cable car and for the first time in a very longtime I spotted a water fountain. The heat made me so thirsty. Its really funny, the things we take for granted, I hadn’t seen a water fountain in months, let alone drink from one.

We got on the cable car and looked upon the splendor of Rio. We got to the top of Sugarloaf and saw a large group of SASers. We went to the rail and saw the beautiful landscape. I looked over and saw a helipad. A tour guide approached us and asked if we were interested in a helicopter ride, Amira didn’t want to spend the money. A French couple had planned on a helicopter ride but the rest of their group had cancelled, so the tour guide offered us a discounted price. I started speaking French with them and after about 20 minutes of persuading Amira, we split a helicopter ride with a French couple. We came to find out they had a daughter who goes to school in Idaho, who was thinking about doing Semester at Sea. The helicopter ride was amazing we flew up to The Redeemer and above and along the beach. The whole ride was about 15 minutes but we had the absolute best view of Rio de Janeiro. After the ride we walked around atop Sugarloaf, we saw monkeys, other SASers and we met a friend named Diego.

At this point we were very hungry so we decided to find somewhere to eat. We hailed a cab and the driver found us an amazing restaurant on the complete other side of town. He end up bringing us to a large stadium that had been converted into a outdoor market. We ate at a great place called Jerimum. It was a buffet, we had no idea what anything was, no one spoke English, so adventure we did. Everything was delicious and we were introduced to a Braziliam beverage called Guarana. After Jerimum we shopped for about two hours and returned to hotel for a nap.

We’d seen my friend Corey that day and met ith him at his hotel, he and his SAS group were going to a soccer game and we made plans with him for all of us to meet up and hit the samba club after dinner.
According to Amiras research we had to visit a seafood restaurant called Marius. Apparently it was 5 star, we went for dinner and I loved it.
When you are seated they ask if you prefer the meat track or the seafood track. Naturally, I chose the seafood. Every 10 minutes the waiter comes to your table with a new dish shrimp, prawns, crayfish, crab legs, octopus, squid, salmon etc. Everything you could ever imagine. Amira ordered meat, they brought her steak, ribs, lamb etc. While we waited for the food to be prepared the buffet had all kinds of gourmet vegetables, oysters, caviar, salad and fruits. Our plates were a medley of deliciousness. As we got dessert I noticed a brother in the corner with a red polo on, as he passed us on the way out I called him over and we talked briefly and BY GEORGE (Waymond Caine) he was also a Nupe. He was from North Carolina and down in Brasil on holidays.

After dinner we went to Scenarium, ranked #1 club in South America for Samba. The club had 3 levels and was a invigorating mixture of the rich history of Rio fused with a night club atmosphere comprised of a 30+ crowd. Ironically enough, we danced but we found ourself more tired than the older crowd. We sat and watched as near middle aged brazilian intimately danced with one another and exchange arousing banter and touching.

The next day we walked along Copacabana beach. We spent the afternoon just relaxing and watching professional sand sculptors. Our flight to Sao Paulo was later that night so we decided to see as much of RIo as we could before it was time to go. So we decided to head east and eventually found a couple of museums. The first was a botanical guardian which was very beautiful, we saw different grasses and flowers. The we decided to find the Rio museum of modern art. A 20 minute cab right brought us to one of the most amazing art museums I'd visited.

The first exhibition we saw was the work of Claudio Capri. Capri is a famed photographer who's work was largely shots of celebrities. Very artistic and simple. The museum was full of complex art such as a piece called "os raimundos, os severinos e os franciscos". It addressed immigration, social territory and depth. These were my two favorite parts of the exhibition. When we left the museum I felt eery creative and started snapping shots of the lily garden in front of the museum and aound the trees and the empty downtown of Rio (because of a holiday). We decided to take the subway a little further. We dilly dallied around Rio, had lunch at a place called Itahys then headed back to the Tulip Inn and then to the Airport. When we got to the airport we waited about 2 hours to board the plane then we realized the plane would be making 2 stops one in Sao Paolo State (Countryside) and in Sao Paulo (The City) where our hotel was. We neglected to get off at the correct connection and ended up finding ourselves in the airport that was about 1.5 hours away from where we needed to be, It was Amiras fault.

100 Rais and 1.5hrs later we were at our hotel. It was really nice and about 3AM. Thankfully Ashtin was on Skype and we wre able to plan our visit. I was geeeeeked!! So excited to see Ashtin. The next morning Amira and I had breakfast at a eery interesting store, half of it was a convience store the other half was a diner, I had an egg bagel and we split a bowl of fresh fruit. We continued around our area of Sao Paulo as I giddily awaited the decided time we'd meet Ashtin. The time had come. We scurried to the meeting spot, above the subway stop across from the Sao Paulo Mall. except I had no idea where I was going. I guess the time while I was excited I could have procured directions. Nevertheless, I finally got there. I went down the stairs and there stood my buddy Ash. She told us about the ups and downs of living in Sao Paulo and we exchanged study abroad stories. That day we had a blast. We had chocolate strawberries on a stick in the mall, shopped around, I found a great Tshirt shop and met a beautiful brazilian girl who sold me a "Lucy in the Sky wit Diamonds Shirt". We went to a museum <> This was a real treat!! I observe beautiful Brazilian art while Amira and Ashtin talked, the topic I am sure must've been me.

We were very hungry from all the excitement. Ashtin led us on a long search for a restaurant. We eventually found a comparable place Esquanao Grille. We ate our fill of various beef shoulders, chicken hearts, venison, Ox, quail eggs and salad. We left with magnificent cups of brazilian coffee and then called it quits for a couple of hours. Ashtin came back to the hotel with us, I slept and they got ready for our night out. I donned some white linen pants and a polo shirt with the number 7 on he breast pocket. I was sharp!

We then went to Ashtins host family's home where she finished dressing and we were off to the Samba club. What i learned that night is that Brasil is very racist, contingent on skin tone and facial features. We encountered problems getting into the samba club and getting a table from another group. Not even our brash American ways bullied us into getting what we wanted. But, with after a couple great drinks and exchanging laughs and memories of the fall semester with my buddy and after meeting her hard nosed but lovely friend Michelle from brooklyn. We all sambaed. Actually i did my own version of the samba, a mix between the Detroit step and ballroom dancing, still the ladies had their eyes on me. So here I am, in the middle of the dancefloor dancing with beautiful women, in the largest city in Brasil, in arguably the most beautiful country in South America and it hit me…This is my life.

We had to leave about an hour later and catch a flight back to Salvador Bahia. I said my goodbyes and it was off to the airport. The plane ride was bittersweet for I knew that this was the last day in our last country! We arrived back in Salvador, Bahia at about 10AM, went back to the ship and took naps. We got up and ate at a restaurant overlooking the bay of bah, eating prawns and shrimp and some cornmeal type deal, which was really good.

An hour later Amira, Abbie and I walked around Salvador seeing the sites, meeting people and even encountered a very rude cab driver. We fellowshipped with brasilians and got some ice cream.

Before long On ship time was upon us and that was our last country before retuning to the USA.
Stair to the Slave Sorters
Amira at the travel agency
Drinking Fountain!!
The Redeemer in the back ground, after the Helicopter ride
Grubbing on the best seafood in South America
Nupes in Rio
The only open restaurant on that joliday
Bets Samba in Brasil
Feeling a bit creative? Perhaps!
Meaningful graffiti
Ashtin my dear
Art is can appreciate
South American Coffee is soo good, wish we had this during our all nighters for Women in Japanese society, huh Ash?
The last thing i remembered for a while

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ghana, Togo and Benin

90% of American slaves were said to have come from Ghana. One of West Africa’s most successful economies, going into Ghana I was looking for a life altering experience. I was only in Ghana for a day and a half because I had planned traveling to Togo and Benin. Our ship docked in Tema, which is almost an hour outside of Accra, the capital. It was very difficult planning and getting around because of the roads were in poor condition and taxis were few and far between. Our game plan was to head to Cape Coast and see the slave castles, the mouth of the slave trade. But that didn’t happen. When we arrived at a recommended hotel, Avis told us that it wasn’t a good day to visit Cape Coast because it was a weekend. I was disappointed…..
We decided to do a city tour of Accra. We went to the W.E.B DuBois Museum, it was closed. Then we had lunch, at the recommendation of my friend Maame-Yao who studied abroad in Ghana last semester, visiting Auntie Muni's Wakye. (Waa-chee) is a delicious mixture of rice and beans, the customer than has the option to mix in spicy beef, fish, plantains and noodles. It was a delicious meal. We met a Ghanaian guy, David who explained to me the secret of dating and marriage. It was really funny because all the girls I was with disputed and argued.
Next we visited the Accra City museum and the city square. We learned about Ghana’s independence of 1957 and the pride they had especially from Obama’s visit last summer. After we went to the Kwame Nkrumah Museum, Ghana’s first president had an international legacy that brought him to form grand alliances and put Ghana at the forefront of west Africa. Nkrumah is credited to being responsible for Ghana’s success today. We saw where his wife is buried and the beauty that made up their memorial. I had a fascinating conversation with the museums curator, it is believed that when Nkrumah died, in Russia it was a plot by the CIA and the Russian government. But I didn’t feel that made any sense because at that time America had little interest in Ghanaian region and it being the time of the Cold War I felt the likelihood of US-Russo cooperation was unlikely.
Next door to the museum was a market. The market was very lively, we separated from the group and found a couple of men who owned a small shop. Somehow they persuaded me to buy a lot of very nice pieces of art, Figurines, pictures and even a wooden cup. The man guy, Sam, ran me bone dry and walked Amira and I to the ATM to have more money. On the way I spotted a station wagon with a Spelman College sticker on it. We joined them for a drink and we danced to Ghanaian music, I ended up buying a wine drum. The tour guide then took us to the mall where we went to get snacks and buy magazines. The mall was closed and I wasn’t interested in the snacks Ghanaian grocers had to offer so we decided to wait by the car until the tour guide returned. We planned on meeting Corey and Bruck at a spot in downtown Accra but they never showed up. We were hungry and decided to eat, we found a restaurant and it seemed pretty popular. We all had different foods, I ordered pizza and Ann and I split some babaganosh and hummus. Best Babaganosh I have ever had!
For whatever reason they were slowest with Amiras food so she found the owner, who was also Lebanese and complained. The owner gave us complementary Kibe and we got to sit in the VIP section of the restaurant and meet his friends, all of which were from Lebanon and Syria. After waiting 30 minute for Amira to eat we all were really tired, we took a cab to drop Amira off at a hotel to meet her dad. As she was checking in the lights went off, a frequent occurrence in Ghana. We exchanged good byes and it was off to the ship. Kelly, Ann and I gave the taxi driver the address to the terminal but he must have stopped about 10 times asking people where to go. Driving from Accra to Tema was a hassle. The roads were dreadful. 20 minutes into Tema we were pulled over by the police. They made our driver get out, open the trunk and furnish what looked to be a bribe. Several miles down the road was another one of these “Checkpoints”. This time they flashed the light in the car and questioned us. They asked Kelly and Ann where they were going and they asked me whether I was Ghanaian or not, we showed them our IDs and they let us go. Weary, we returned to the MV Explorer, it was about 1230AM and my time in Ghana was complete, disappointing as it was the next morning I’d leave for Togo and Benin.

630AM the next morning we met in the union, had breakfast, left the ship and boarded a bus. Over the next six hours we drove from Tema, Ghana through Togo to Benin. We stopped at the Togolese border for about 45 minutes. It took them so long to process our visa and passports. A nap and snack later we were onto Togo, but only for a short while because the drive through Togo was not long at all. Before long we were in Benin. In Benin we stopped at Musee D'histoire De Ouidah. It was here at Ouidah that we learned the prominent role this Portuguese post had in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Mostly to the countries of Brazil and Cuba.
Ouidah is home to a rich Voodoo tradition, for Benin, as well as Togo, were the birthplace of this practice. After the museum we visited the Benin Snake temple. We learned that the snake, namely the python is highly respected in the voodoo world chiefly as protectors. We entered a small yard like area where large trees grew. Around the tree were several small fenced in areas and adjacent to those was a small round hut. We learned these fenced in areas were to make sacrifice to voodoo gods. The tree, which seemed to be a weeping willow, was said to be a sacred tree that if it grew long enough it could catch a man or women and kill it. The circular hut was the actual Python temple. I took my shoes off, out of respect, and entered around me lay at least 50 pythons coiled in one another. Our guide picked one up and put it around my neck. There was a church just beyond the doors of the snake yard. Our guide explained hat sometime snakes get out and go into the church, but because each religion respects one another the church people often return the snakes, as opposed to killing them.
Next we visited the Foret Scaree De K'passe Ouidah, the Voodoo Forest of Kpasse. The forest is peppered with contemporary sculptures of voodoo idols. As we enter we meet Legba the guardian, this seated figure feature a perturbing phallic symbol and horns, asserting his masculinity and aggression. Legend has it that he was cursed with this sexual burden because of his promiscuity. The rest of the forest was filled with mythical voodoo characters, ones for life thunder, eternity and forgiveness, nearly every aspect of living. The life in the forest was rich, we saw giant millipedes, lines of hug ants, bats and birds.
We soon returned from the forest back to the Ouidah square where we shopped. Juana and I played with some of the local kids. It was here where my french came in useful. I found myself speaking with a young boy and slid him where I could find a Benin soccer jersey, before long he was leading me to a small shop. He asked the shopkeeper about the jersey and he then furnished a bag with the Benin National Football club shorts and soccer jersey. I tried it on, paid the shopkeeper and slid the kid a couple of francs for commission. I did some more haggling and then we were all back of to our hotel in nearby Cotonou, Hotel Du Lac. We sat down to a decent meal but soon my roommate Patrick and I were watching the CNN coverage of the Nuclear Summit and were fast asleep.
The next day we visited "The Venice of Africa", Ganvie, Benin. This fascinating aquatic society thrives off of its canoe building, fishing and water agriculture industry. It sits on Lake Nokoue in Cotonou. The largest lake village in Africa borders Nigeria. We took a canoe to the center of Ganvie, led by our guide and another. The guide was a native to the lake village and spoke mostly in French. But he told us that the local people don't really like their pictures taken because they feel it takes apart of their soul, similar to the indigenous people of the south pacific. He showed us the fish and prawn fishing and the ingenuity of the local people, displayed by the stilted homes and buildings over the lake. We went to a shop and purchased shirts. The kids rowed over to us and asked us for chewing gum. Lucky for them, I'd bought a bag of gum balls while we waited to be cleared into Benin, in Togo. Aaron, my buddy from Indiana, and I practiced our french and gave them gum balls and then said our Au revoirs. Next we tours ti the sixth of Ganvie, not to far from Nigeria, then stopped at shop/hotel. While there we saw kids wade in the water to cross the street, people carrying large loads to their homes or store and we saw and dry patch where kids learn to walk. We saw kids shower, play and wave to us from their homes. In the hotel/shop we bought different clothes and saw a deadly spider on the table where we sat and waited. After Ganvie, we headed to do even more shopping in Porto Novo. I bought African Art, clothing, and figurines. I found a man who was reading a book on African Politics. We spoke for about an hour outside of his shop about corruption in African regimes, US-Ghana and US-Benin relations and the opinion of Obama.
We left ad had diner at a nearby restaurant, probably the worst pizza I've ever had.

We returned to the hotel. Juana, and a bunch of our friends went swimming, played Marco polo, and jumped from the diving board. Juana was afraid her lip ring would come out upon impact, so I held her hand and she held her face as we took a plunge.

The next day, our last day we left rather early and went to Lome, the Capital of Togo and did a brief city tour. There was not too much to see. We saw the independence square (1956) and went to a the national museum of independence which really showed the dynamic of modernization from tradition.

We were all so tired at this point so there my adventure of West Africa ended with an 8hr bus ride back to the ship

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Mauritius was quite the experience, for the first time in a long time, since Vietnam, I was able to hang out with some of my RamRod brothers (Corey, Bruck, Graham and James). You see, RamRod is our intramural Basketball team and because the ship always cancels the game due to inclement weather we found ourselves hanging out with one another and it became a great friendship. Okay, enough with the mushy stuff. I started off my arrival to Port Louis by visiting the Jummah Mosque the Muslims there were very hospitable. This was my second time in a mosque ever; the first was in Cairo when I visited the Citadel Mosque. When we first arrived, the men seemed to pick up on the fact that few, if any, of us were Muslims. I even heard a comment by one of the men referring to one of my Hindu colleagues as, well…. a Hindu. This distinction was not hostile; in fact we learned that the Muslims at the Jummah Mosque were a part of a multi-religion council where they work very closely with other religious groups in Port Louis.
Our guide showed us the area where Muslims prayed, where Muslims observed the pillars of Islam and the area there men and women Muslims were allowed to pray together and where they were not. We learned that the Mauritian mosque was originally a place for Muslim traders to pray and it was rebuilt 58 years ago. After about 20 minutes of touring the main level and library, they invited us to the top floor, where we were seated and given a 90-minute presentation on Islam. I learned so much. First, it was surprising to me to learn how closely Muslim observed similar things to Christians. Muslims even believe in Jesus as a prophet. Muhammad will follow Christ as a prophet as stated in the book of Barnabus in the Quran. Our lecture was given by Hajee Imran Beedassed, a scholar from al-Azhar Egyptian University, and Sheikh Qari Alikahnoori, who was the Imam of Jummah Majid, they taught us about Halal, which is the precise slaughter of an animal in the name of God for Muslims to eat.
The degree to which the Muslims there were Sufi was not initially apparent, but the longer we stayed and the more we spoke to them we learned that their Pir was buried atop the mosque. Another fascinating part of the FDP was learning that Muslims believe that the Arch Angel Gabrielle gave first word to Muhammad “Read…in the name of your Lord”. According to the lecturer this, reading/learning, stands as a very important part in Islam. They prepared a great meal for us and I spoke with the Imam about American Islam and the view of Islam in the western perspective. He urged us not to judge Islam by Muslims but by the study of Islam. After such a long talk with the Imam, I was the last back to the bus. We returned to the ship and had lunch. Then I accompanied a group of friends to exchange money and then on to Grand Baie. We relaxed on the beach, it was not my hotel I was just visiting and waiting for Graham and friends to return from the adventure park. Upon my second return to the ship grabbed a snack and it was off to our hotel in Blue Lagoon. When we got there it was realized that 12 of us could not legally stay in our hotel so we decided we’d camp under the stars on the beach. That night we met locals and ate and hung out. We had a blast and woke up to a beautiful sunset. A cold night met a warm morning and by 11 it was off to our catamaran lasted all day and took us too many spots including Il Aux Cerf’s. We met a couple French families on the boat and used my French which was awesome. I met some locals namely a Rasta named Sebastian who I spoke to about blacks in the Diaspora and he taught me that surprisingly a lot of slaves had come from Mozambique, he gave me blessings and said that life’s motto should be “one Love” because when everything boils down we are one people and we should just love one another. In my cab back to the ship we slept but the family of the cab driver was really cool and said they were considering coming to the states soon. To be honest I cannot give Mauritius its due in this blog because the experience was superb. We were only there for 36 hours but the time spent was well allotted between learning at the Mosque and the beach and catamaran. This was an experience to strengthen friendships and relax after our Global Studies Exam.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

South Africa

South Africa!
Cape Town to be exact is a beauty that could only be compared to Mauritius or heaven. If I have not indicated at this point but in every port I am collecting a soccer jersey, Cricket in India’s case. The day didn’t start off as expected, there was no Diplomatic Briefing, and I love meeting the Foreign Service in each country to remind us of our American Values and those of that port. They give us keen insight and a settled glimpse of what it is to be American in that country. No less, as we left the ship, we were on a mission to find my soccer jersey, we found a shop, the Cross Trainer where they screen printed your last name on a jersey for 70 Rand, and I got the one for Ghana and South Africa done. Here my collection was nearing completion and it was out of the way. Amira’s family has a home in Hout Bay, Cape Town so as we at lunch at the Ocean Basket grille at the V&A, the main mall off the pier which stands for Victoria and Alfred, we(Kelly, Amira, Me, Zach and Bruck) looked for her mother. Jennifer Amira was gleaming with excitement. A while later we finally met up with her and then proceeded to show her the MV Explorer, the ship we had been living on for 3 months. After the tour we headed to Robben Island. Robben Island as I hope you know is where many anti apartheid activists were jailed. Most namely was Nelson Mandela who served 27 years for being a freedom fighter. Going into this tour I was really looking forward to getting a more intimate understanding of the struggle of apartheid juxtapose the civil rights struggle. We arrived to Robben Island and immediately boarded a tour bus where we were guided around the far part of the island, which to my surprise was a little town. Robben Island had its own post offices, churches and even general stores. This was very different from what I had always pictured about Robben Island. Our tour guide, James, was informative but hard to understand. During the tour we profiled two prisoners, Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe. On Robben Island we learned his story and his experience within the jails. We even visited his cell. I had always seen people go to Mandela’s cell and shed tears but, my reaction was more reserved. I understood the implications of speaking out in that society and have definitely come to understand unfairness in the judiciary, especially having studied the civil rights struggle in America and having family who were in the movement. Mandela was a freedom fighter with sound morals and patience who proceeded to a prominent position as South Africa’s first Black and Post apartheid president.
Who is not commonly know, I feel was, Robert Sobukwe. Sobukwe was jailed for inciting the defiance movement against South Africa’s “Pass Law” which required blacks to carry papers with them that were both seen as identification and restricted them to black or colored only areas in South Africa. Sobukwe opposed such limitation on peoples who were native to the land and organized a non-violent march to the police station but was arrested and sentenced to 3 years of solitary confinement for violating the “pass law”. He was subject to complete isolation in his own state provided quarters on Robben Island. He had limited communication with the outside world and other people, guards included. Sobukwe suffered some mental illness and vocal restraint because he hadn’t spoken to another human being in 3 years. The island was a fascinating experience.
After we returned we met Amira’s stepdad Stephen, who has a radio show on NPR “Living on Earth”, so he is very well versed in sustainability, as appropriate for the theme of our SAS Voyage. We toured him around the ship as well. Then we were off to Hout Bay. By this time it was night so we did not get a chance to view the splendor of Cape Town until the next morning. We arrived to their house to a great dinner and great conversation with Amira’s parents and hilarious anecdotes from Bruck. The next morning Stephen and I dropped Amira off at the dentist and went to the organic market. I tried a delicious olive sauce which I must remind myself the name for purpose of buying it when I return to the States.
Jennifer took Zach, Kelly and I to District Six Museum and Table Mountain. District Six was an area in South Africa which was very rich in African culture, but the government came in a forced all the blacks there to relocate. The museum showcased the vibrant culture of the neighborhood, all the while not pressing the devastation. After District Six, we were hungry and given the great recommendation by my prophyte Warren, I had to get some Nando. Which I learned is a jewel chicken spot in South Africa. We took our Nandos to Table Mountain and lunched on the side of table mountain because the line was simply too long to wait in for 3 hours in 90+ degree weather. After lunch we pulled off near llandadnao’s where I bought some African Art, a chair and some masks. We returned to the house where the sun and Nando had taken its toll and I took a 2 hour nap. When I awoke Amira was back from the dentist, we left for Stellenbosch to go pet the cheetahs at Spier Unfortunately we were 15 minutes late. But we had been having so much fun it didn’t matter. We walked around and met our reservation at Moyo. I don’t know how to describe such a magnificent place like Moyo. It was a buffet with show and rich African themes. Our faces were painted on the way in and we were seated adjacent to the stage. While we waited for Hailey and Stephen, Jennifer, Amira, Kelly and I had a bottle of Blanc de Blanc and appetizers. Once they arrived we dined on a magnificent buffet of Springbok, Ox tails, venison, squash, mashed potatoes and a myriad of delicious foods. We were given an African dance show of which I was chosen to come participate in. 5 men were chosen to do a traditional Zulu greeting dance and I participated, I will post the video on my face book soon. I started to become sick, it was a mix between my asthma adjusting to the dry African air and dehydration. We returned to Hout Bay where I got better and went to sleep.
The next morning we woke up and had a great organic breakfast then drove up to Chapman’s Peaks, one of South Africa’s most scenic drives and where many car commercials are filmed. After that we ventured to Cape of Good Hope the most southern point in South Africa where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. Off the beach, one part of the water is really cold (Atlantic) and the other very warm (Indian). It was a hike that Stephen, Kelly and I made and once we arrived at the crest it was a beautiful view of the ocean. Once descending we had lunch and enjoyed the staff singing South African songs to us; my favorite was Shosholoza a song that is a traditional work song and used to inspire pride. It really hit me that I was so blessed to even be in South Africa, because I looked around and saw black people is every facet of society; however, the disparity of wealth was obvious. We saw this while drove from townships to urban areas to beachfront properties.
That night we went back to the ship and it was off to Long Street to party. Ivy League and Zanzibar were big hits. I met a student from Spelman College who was studying abroad in Cape Town. She recognized me and we even emailed after and planned to keep in touch in the fall. We found Luzuko, the inter-port student, on Long Street and had a blast. I met two girls at the Ivy League and we talked about African Politics.
The next morning we were off to Akilah Game Reserve and went on safari. We saw lions, zebras, antelopes, rhinoceros and elephants. We were really close to a water buffalo and it charged toward our jeep. We stopped for a rest and a spotted a giraffe. After the safari we had lunch then went over to the private pins to see cougars and cheetahs. It was a great experience.
That night Genevieve and Bruck celebrated their birthdays. We had dinner and another night on Long Street.
The next morning was Easter Morning and we voted against going to church so we could experience more of Cape Town. We drove around Camps Bay and then went back to Hout Bay. Jennifer organized an Easter egg hunt, my first one; she filled the house with goodies hidden behind doors and on shelves. At first I was a bit reluctant but I was excited to find chocolate Easter bunnies so I cleaned up. Juana, Zach, Sandy, Corey, Bruck, Hailey, Amira and the Zimmerman Family all came together at the end of the day and appreciated sharing Easter together and took a moment to reflect and realize our blessing.
I loved South Africa; I bought a lot of shirts and artwork to remember my experiences outside of this blog. A beautiful wine country with a long history of race problems the fact that blacks are refooting themselves despite unequal distribution of wealth was fascinating. It was astounding to see townships set in mountains around million dollar homes. I look especially forward to returning.