My Heart is in Havana| My Blissful Trip to Cuba

Hi Daizies,

You know there’s that one trip that totally changes your outlook on life? Have you ever heard that seeing the world can really broaden your perspective on your life and the world and what you think is important? It sounds all deep and stuff but this past trip to Cuba did just that. By the end of my trip I experienced life in a way that I never had before.

The Culture

I was in Havana, Cuba for 6 days total and felt like this trip allowed me to experience the true culture of the locals the absolute most. The thing that made the trip so special were the people and the genuine friendliness that I encountered every single day I was there. The people there are very warm and have a close knit community. They have a strong community that I felt apart of because of how nice they were to me as well.

Being Black

Most importantly, I was in a society where my identity of being black and a woman didn’t dictate how I navigated through the country or at all. I pretty much was under the impression that no matter where you go in the world, the black people or darker skinned people of that nation experience some sort of discrimination. I thought that the afro-Cubans and the white-Cubans would be differentiated somehow, just from coming from America, this just seemed like it would be a thing. But day 2, I noticed…there didn’t seem to be any racism. Granted, this is just my experience being there for 6 days and I can’t possibly know the ins and outs of every afro-Cuban’s experience but to ME I noticed a striking difference from the racism I encounter with every day in the States whether it be from the 24/7 news cycle of violence or microaggressions experienced. Walking through Old Havana and the central parts of town, I saw the lighter skinned and white Cubans and the afro-Cubans ALL hanging out together. The kids were all playing in mixed groups. The schoolgirls weren’t in close knit groups based on skin tone or anything. Everyone seemed comfortable with each other and referred to one another as CUBAN. Not Afro-Cuban or White-Cuban or anything. The culture wasn’t really based on the separation by what people looked like on the outside. It wasn’t an “erasure” or ignoring of the fact that some people derived from Africa or that slavery existed, but I didn’t feel or witness the same lingering effects of institutional and structural racism that exists in America and in so many places in the world. I had never seen any of this in my life before. Of course I was so curious as to HOW this was. I learned so much more about Cuba and race in the Afro Cuban Culture tour that I’ll touch on later in this post. But it was nice to just walk around with people looking like they’ve never seen a black person before. I often got mistaken for being Cuban and many people spoke Spanish to me. I looked like the people there and felt like it too.

Being a Woman

I have never felt so safe in my life. I felt more safe in Cuba than I do living in America. I have never seen a society where there was so much respect and kindness towards women. In the United States it’s “normal” to look straight ahead when you see men on the sidewalks and walk swiftly to your next destination. It’s “normal” to not even look in the direction of men trying greeting you even in broad daylight but ESPECIALLY at night. It’s “normal” to bring an extra jacket to cover anything that may be revealing. It’s “normal” to miss out on anything that happens after sunset when solo traveling because you don’t know who’s gonna be acting crazy. So much of my life and travel is dictated to doing certain things in hopes of being safe, because of being woman. When I first stepped off the plane and was at the airport, I noticed that a lot of the female workers had really cute short and tight skirts. I was like okay werk, maybe it’s just an airport thing. But when I got into the city, I saw that the short and really tight skirts was a whole style and lots of young women and girls were wearing it. I immediately thought ” how do the men treat them?” Where I’m from, wearing anything that’s deemed sexy could warrant a lot of harassment and just men being so creepy. But throughout my whole time, I never saw or heard any men harassing women wearing the short skirts or wearing whatever. No one thought they had the right to talk to them any kind of way because of how they’re dressed. Simple, but shocking to me because this is how it should be and it actually exists in Cuba. I actually had pleasant conversations with men who greeted me in the city. They asked simple questions like “Is it your first time in Cuba?”, “How many days are you in Havana?”, “Do you like it here?”, or “Are you looking for something?”. It was never that uncomfortable invasive talk you can sometimes run into when you give a guy just a few seconds of your time. Never tried to ask for my number of if I was single. Never tried to touch me inappropriately. Never followed me. Never tried to prolong the conversation to get something from me. Just brief small talk if I chose to have it. Ending with a handshake in most cases. There was a level of respect here that didn’t seem to matter that I was a woman. I was just a person. I was a person exploring Cuba and even the compliments were sincere and simple and not as a way to be weird. It was such a relief. And I was really happy for the women there that they could be free and safe.

I love traveling and have been to many countries but this was the first time I felt free of carrying the intersections of being black and a woman with me. I didn’t have to wonder if someone had preconceived notions about me because of my skin color, and I didn’t have to speed past any man in sight. The thing that separated me from others was my personality. When people talked to me it was to get to know me. Even being American wasn’t an issue there, which is surprising considering all the things America did during the Revolution. People asked where in America I was from and thought it was cool. That was it. No judgement or stereotypes needed to be fought based on my interactions with others. I was just me. It was groundbreaking because now I know it’s possible. I know it’s possible for a group of people to live in harmony and not have violence and systematic laws that disadvantage black people. I know it’s possible for men to respect the choices of women and to not feel they have the right to take from women.

Being Off the Grid

I was solo traveling for majority of my 6 days in Cuba and so I came prepared with a FULL itinerary printed and everything with addresses of what to do and where to go. I am a GPS girl and was like omg this will be interesting trying to get from place to place with 0 wifi. But I actually didn’t even use my itinerary as much as I thought. I had already booked the Afro-Cuban tour with Airbnb before arriving and knew I wanted to go to the beach and do a dance class. But other than that, I literary took it day by day. I could walk out to the Old Havana and the day would just go from there. I didn’t need to follow a plan, I followed a vibe.

I looked up more. I greeted people. I listened to recommendations. I journaled. I was really REALLY present in the moment. I didn’t get bored without the internet and had the chance to see what it felt like before being “always on” was normal to me. When back at my Airbnb, I would watch whatever was on tv for a little bit. There was a station with American movies and I even saw one episode of Game of Thrones. In the tour, I learned that there’s often one person in the neighborhood with a USB drive that downloads all the newest things happening on the internet. Then for like 1CUC an hour you can rent the USB to download all the seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, Game of Thrones, or whatever shows you like and have your piece of the internet. They make it work!

Living in a Socialist Society

From what I saw and learned, everyone has everything they need. I knew the basics of socialism and the word communism always seemed to come with a negative connotation in school but actually being in a country where it’s the way things are seemed like a whole new world. Throughout my whole 6 days in Cuba I didn’t see a single homeless person. In basically every major city I’ve been to and even where I live, I could walk past dozens of destitute homeless people with no where to go. In Cuba everyone has a home and there are shelters available for anyone that needs them. They have such an advanced healthcare system and can go to the doctor or hospital without having to worry about how to pay for it. You can go to school and study for free. There isn’t this inequality of the rich and poor. Everyone has everything they need. And because of this, I felt like people didn’t feel the need to take or steal from each other. There’s no need to. People seemed to share with each other more. Without having to stress about material things and striving to have more and more things, people showed their love and enjoyment of being with each other.

Cuba does have limited resources but it was more of the things that seem common in other places that are used way more than necessary. Like we waste A LOT of things and take more than we need because it’s available. It’s a lot of overconsumption now that I’ve seen a different way of living. Also the way homes are set up, there are lots of homes with multigenerational families. So there’s always someone to talk to, so really it’s easy to not have social media because you can be entertained with those in front of you. Although having my own apartment is a major staple in adulthood in the U.S., I actually thought it would be a fun experience to live close to my family if I lived in Cuba.

Things I Did

Day 1

The first day I arrived in Cuba, I took it easy and enjoyed a nice refreshing nap before going out to a bar with my cousin. I stayed in the casa particular right above the La California restaurant. Here I got to know a lot of the waitresses and waiters, and got great recommendations on places to go in Havana. The bar was called La Esencia in the Vedado neighborhood. We got there around 11pm and it started to get more active around midnight. It seemed like a place where mostly locals went and it was still popping even on a Tuesday.

Day 2

My first full day in Cuba, I went to the Old Havana area and marked the Museo de Revolucion as my main landmark. Surprisingly, this was the last place I visited even as I passed it over and over. With a 1 hour bike tour for 10CUC’s, I was able to see the major places to see that I had on my list. My 2 years of Spanish have served me well in Spanish speaking countries. My tour guide was explaining what we were passing a little bit about the history and I could pretty much comprehend. It was also helpful to know Spanish just for general interactions with people and to get to know people. The landmarks I remember seeing were:

  • El Capitolio
  • La Plaza Vieja
  • La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana (had to look this one up)
  • Some wall mural everyone was taking pictures of
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  • A cruise ship
  • An important garden

I don’t remember all of the specific names to the translations but I knew what I was looking at lol. But after the tour I ran into a traditional dancing performance near El Capitolio. I loved being able to see what traditional dancing looked like and the performers dressed in 60s clothing.

For food, I was walking back from the Capitol towards the Museo de la Revolucion area and a restaurant hosts led me to the restaurant and explained what was on the menu. For 8CUC I got the largest serving ever and it was my favorite meal of the trip. Too bad I didn’t take a picture of the outside of the restaurant so I could actually refer people to it. Anyways, the food in Cuba was better than I expected. I came across tons of blogs saying the food was bland and suggesting to bring your own spices. HOWEVER, it was some of my favorite food cuisines and the seasoning was just fine. I don’t like spicy food at all so that lack thereof was no problem. Food in Cuba ranged from a low low price of 1.40 CUC for a filling meal to 23CUC. Also the exchange rate is basically 1 USD = 1CUC, so Cuba isn’t a place where you can expect to buy things for cheap overall. For the lower priced meals try to find restaurants inside of neighborhoods. And when you get to the city center and more populated areas, you’ll find the 20-23CUC priced meals. Also try to eat as much as you can because there aren’t supplies for takeaway boxes. I get full so fast, so I had to leave so much food behind that I would normally take to go.

Day 3

Near the Malecon I got a great view of the city line and it was perfect for a photo opp. There were some statues and things to read as it related to the castle that was nearby but not where we could walk directly to. Going back to research exactly what it was, I found that it’s called the Morro Castle.

The rest of the time from here I was solo traveling. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering in Old Habana and ran into a local guy who took me on the ferry to visit the Christ of Havana statue in Casablanca. The ferry was about 7 minutes and 1CUC each way. The Christ statue mimicked the Christ the Reedemer statue in Sao Paolo, Brazil. This was something I didn’t even find when looking up top things to do in Havana but it was so cool to see and to take a ferry. I actually think it was my first ferry ride too! It was a little trek up the hill, so I definitely got a good leg work out.

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Day 4

I knew I wanted to take a Rumba class prior to coming to Cuba. I had looked up a couple schools before arriving and had one written down that I was certain I would take a class from. But I ended up walking past another school in the Old Havana area and a friend I made said La Casa del Son was the best one. I ended up making a reservation a day before, since they were pretty busy. For 18CUC I learned the basics of Rumba with a personal dance teacher. I thought it would be pretty easy but there were some specific form details that my instructor was coaching me to do. So it ended up being quite a workout just from trying hard to have the right form. I had a lot of fun learning and dancing. The form of Rumba I was learning came from the Guanabacoa region which is where I visited in the Afro-Cuban tour the following day.

I got a chance to visit the beach, and got help finding the tour bus that goes to la playa. The Malecon in Havana isn’t one where you can swim, so the nearest beach was about 25 minutes away. I got on the tourbus that left from Central Park and bought a 5CUC roundtrip ticket. This beach was called San Marisol and was a lot closer than other beaches people had mentioned to me. The water was a perfect temperature and I had fun swimming and relaxing.

Day 5: Afro-Cuban Tour

I found out about the Afro Cuban Culture tour from a travel group on Facebook. The tour is organized by Beyond Roots Cuba and the experience can be booked on Airbnb. I had never read such profound and amazing reviews of anything ever and booked right away since the slots were sold out for so many days in advance. And it really was everything I hoped for. There were 14 people, all American. Ten of us were Black American and the rest were white. It was great to ask the questions I had in my head to someone who lived in Cuba and could give background to the things I had noticed. It was also great to be around other Black Americans and have that shared experience together. In the intro, the creator of the Afro Cuban culture tour explained that she wanted to create this to give tourists an opportunity to learn about the African roots that influence Cuban culture and especially to dispel any myths that the Afro-Cuban religions were scary. We spent a lot of time focusing on the three major Afro Cuban religions because they played and continue to play a critical role in the culture and especially during slavery. Adrianna, our guide, said that when she first started this tour she always got questions about her black experience as a professor and she did not understand what this meant or why it was being asked. Coming from the United States, this would be a question I’d ask as well, and she was able to learn more about why that was asked and how different race relations were in the U.S. She said she hadn’t really felt racism her whole life in Cuba. Even being female, she said the rule at the university was to have faculty made up of 50% male and 50% female and that it was apart of the law.

It was interesting to hear that Adrianna thought all Americans were white and didn’t know there were black people in the States until Obama opened up travel to Cuba in 2016. Since then African Americans have been seen as a reference point for Cubans in accepting their natural hair and African features. She said they saw that most Americans coming were black and they were coming natural. They then saw that they can wear their hair natural and still be pretty and beautiful. It’s harder to maintain natural hair there because there aren’t a lot of products or resources for the upkeep of black hair. Adrianna said she uses products for white people. So many people straighten their hair because it’s easier but it’s starting to change now since tourism and contact with black Americans. I love seeing our positive influence on other cultures. While the natural hair is something that’s still recent, it’s great that it has positively impacted other parts of the diaspora.

I did find out that while there didn’t appear to be strong racism in Cuba colorism does exist. It is common for people to want to identify is mestizo or mulatto or have long straight hair. But with the younger generation, this is starting to change and more people feel comfortable with their natural features.

I also learned that the people there appreciate and are grateful for the Revolution. It allowed black and poor people to get an education, have good health, and own their homes. Things like water and all utilities are very very cheap. The rich people are the ones who hated it and many fled to Miami.

I loved learning about the religions. We visited an Afro Cuban museum in Guanabacoa and learned all about the Orishas and the origins of the Santeria religion. Santeria is basically a mix between Catholicism and the Yoruba religion deriving from Nigeria. The Orishas were once people and so they have human flaws, emotions and characteristics. According to Beyond Roots, Santeria is based on the belief and worship of a group of Orishas or saints who become beings who represent and symbolize not only the forces of nature but also rituals, activities, passions, and feelings of human beings.

I haven’t heard anything about persecution or discrimination because of religion there either. The way the Santeria religion is set up, there are multiple Orishas anyway, so having a different God to pray to isn’t a negative connotation. You can practice any religion and pray to multiple Orishas or gods in different ways. The religions are personalized to you. Like if you decide to get initiated, your reading and suggested actions are customized to you. Most people get a bracelet, but one man was told he shouldn’t wear it cuz it was a blockage of things he needs to receive. This is just one example of how it’s not super ritualistic and by customs.

I also participated in a cleansing ceremony and received a reading from the babalawo priest. For me, it wasn’t like a shockingly accurate experience. More like common sense things you should follow in life such as having goals for yourself and learning about who you are. I appreciate being apart of the experience though.

Later in the day I ended up going to Casa de la Musica and there was an event going on with a band from Mexico performing. The nightlife is from around 11pm-3am, and around the 2 am I felt myself getting a little sleepy. But the party didn’t end! There was salsa dancing everywhere, people danced with each other and made friends with those around them. The band performing was pretty cool, I have no idea who it was but I guess they were a big deal.

Day 6

I ended up meeting a Cuban family close to my casa particular and spent the whole afternoon with them learning more Rumba dancing, watching tv, and playing with the baby. Days like that are a prime example of being in Cuba. Meeting nice and friendly people and going off and just having a good time. I was going to go to the museum but it was not an important thing to have a schedule there.

Day 7

Before heading to the airport, I rushed to finally see the Museum of the Revolution and it was so worthwhile. It summarized everything I had experienced, with historical documents and visuals of Cuba’s history. I have so much I want to learn more about. Like why was the U.S. supporting the regime when the regime was all about not having equality for the rich and poor? I learned about the U.S. playing a major role in cutting Cuba off from exports around the world and Russia stepping in to buy their sugar exports instead. I saw actual visual photos of how people lived before the Revolution. Many people were struggling to survive and in terrible living conditions. I saw how after the Revolution, Fidel Castro made immediate efforts to eliminate illiteracy, allow renters to own their homes, and have adequate and free healthcare for all. I learned a lot and took many pictures of the displays to read later since I had to hurry back and leave to the airport. But there’s a lot I’m interested in learning more about. It’s so beautiful that even after having a severed relationship with the U.S. for decades, Cubans treated Americans with warmth and friendliness. The past didn’t dictate how they treated those coming to Cuba now.

Havana oh nah nah

Cuba is a country I would definitely visit again in the near future. I can say it was my favorite trip so far. The experience of just feeling like I could be myself and be safe and feel like I belonged is what made it so special. I lived my daily intentions and self care out loud. I have everything I need and more. I don’t have to always be working and always producing. Ir’s okay to rest and be content. There doesn’t need to be this pressure to produce more, to have more, to do this and that to have more money and things, a bigger house or anything. It is okay. None of that matters and I knew that but being in Cuba…I felt that. I had no Internet and had to bring my own toilet paper to most places but I felt safe and secure. And I think being safe and having what you need and deserve as being a human on this earth is worth more than any material thing you can by. Having love from your family and friends and caring about your community is what matters. I loved seeing this and will always take this with me. I’m so full with love from this experience.

Literally and as always,

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Natural Hair Planning for Every Type of Trip

Greetings Daizies,

When I’m planning for a trip, envisioning my hair style is right up there with booking an Airbnb. There are so many different hairstyles to choose from and when I decide on a style I usually base it on how I imagine myself looking in smiling photos, the type of clothes or colors the place I’m visiting makes me feel, or the type of activities I’ll be doing. If you have literally no idea what to do with your hair for an upcoming trip, this might help you get an idea of what would work for you.

Planning by itinerary

It’s great to prep your hair for what your trip may involve. You want to make sure your natural hair or protective styles are prepared for the itinerary just as much as your budget is. You don’t want your hair to ever cause you stress during a trip or keep you from doing fun things.

Water activities

It’s heating up in many places so taking a dip in the beach is often on the itinerary. I’ve found that protective style where majority, if not all, of my hair is tucked away, saves so much time during trips where I’ll be getting my hair wet because I don’t have to worry about spending long periods of time washing and detangling my hair. I also usually just have a carry-on, and travel sized products aren’t enough to encompass an entire wash day yet alone multiple from several days of swimming and such. My go-to styles for these activities are:

  • Box braids
  • Crochet braids
  • Marley/Havana twists

Box braids have never failed and can go with any trip or occasion. I still wash my hair after getting it fully submerged. My scalp and mind feel better when I know I don’t have any dirt or germs still on my hair. But it takes significantly less time for this process. Crochet is also one of my favorite go-to’s for trips, but I consider the actual hair I want to install for such activities. Straight hair crochet tends to require more maintenance in general to avoid tangles and frizziness, so I would probably avoid this for a trip. Other delicate type of textures and patterns that frizz easily also wouldn’t be ideal. I would pay special attention to reviews of the specific hair brand you’re considering so that you know what to expect from being active outside and in water.

Windy/Outdoorsy activities

Going on a vacay is the perfect time to be adventurous. There’s jet-skiing, para-sailing, zip-lining, and maybe even bungy jumping for those living on the edge. With all of these activities you don’t want to be the one caught on camera with your wig flying off the boat. Make sure your wig is secured lol! But in all seriousness, is your intended style durable enough for all of the antics you’re trying to get into. Packing the necessary tools is always great for this. Always bring more than you need for any touch ups along your trip. I wrote a blog post on the most helpful things to pack for your natural hair and you can check it out here.

  • Bobby pins
  • Gel/edge control
  • Sewing needle/thread
  • Crochet hook
  • Hair balls (that’s what I call them. Also known as “hair-ties” or “hair bands”)
Twists in tact on the boat lol

Planning by weather

For the hot and humid weather upon us, the less added weight and friction is the move. For spring/summer weather I love going with shorter lengths that avoid hanging down my back and causing more sweating. This may mean trying some bob box braids, shorter crochet styles, updos that move hair away from the face.

  • Havana twists – super lightweight
  • High puff- up and out of the way
  • Feed-in braids – pulls hair away from face, not tons of hair added

For cold or moderate weather, I found having a headwrap comes in handy. When I was in Ghana in the late summer, I wore my natural hair out and the weather would start out humid with some days of sprinkles here and there. I styled my hair with headwraps during the unpredictable weather and I was ready to go! It’s also great for cold weather since the wrap adds some extra warmth and you can even tuck your ears underneath.

Duration of trip

Do you need a style to last you a few weeks? Is it a style you want to wear even after the trip? How much maintenance will this require? These are some of the questions I ask when referring to how long I’ll be away.

  • Twist out – for a trip under 5 days, styling as it stretches out
  • Clip ins for a quick weekend girls trip
  • Switch it up with a couple of wigs
  • Wrap it up for on the go moments and events
  • Crochet always works

Planning by your vision

Most of all I plan by doing whatever style it is that I imagine myself having and make the rest work around that. If I want my fro out in a tropical climate, I can make that work. Or if I envision dancing at festivals with braids down my back then that’s what I’ll do. At the end of the day you’re going on a trip to have fun and you can do whatever it is that your heart desires with your hair. All that matters is that you’re comfortable and killing it!

Schoolin’ life

Be sure to follow my natural hair and travel page on IG:@froandtravel and use #froandtravel for a feature.

As always,

How to Get Out of the Post-Travel Blues

I went through my blog drafts and came across a brief entry expressing how I felt after coming home from a semester abroad in Italy. I remember vividly feeling the way I felt. It doesn’t seem that long ago actually, but 2017 really was an entire 2 years ago. There is much that has changed but I appreciate the journey that it took to get here. I still went on one more study abroad trip after the exchange and it was well worth it. I encourage anyone in college to study abroad as many times as they can! Now that I’ve graduated, I have gotten used to shifting from study abroad as my way of exploring the world to getting comfortable living in one place but planning to travel at least every 3 months this year, with solo travel being a required yearly thing.

Coming back to reality can be such a drag, especially after what was probably the time of your life and seeing so much of the world. Even after trips that are 3-5 days, there’s the reluctance to get back to work and the routine of life at home. My experience with this is to give myself time but not too much time to dwell. Capturing the amazing moments in a creative and productive way keeps my mind moving as I reminisce. Creating a vlog, or writing a blog is a productive way to document all of the fun so that there is a tangible outcome of spending hours looking through pictures and videos of all of the fun I had.

Cinque Terre 2016

Stay productive and live in the moment

It’s true, right after touching down in the U.S. I immediately went on the study abroad page to find a new program I could apply for with one more year of college left. There is nothing wrong with being on the lookout to get out of the country again and by the way things are looking I’d wanna get out of here as much as possible. My advice is to treat it as a thing that you’re doing to nurture your love of travel not to avoid your actual life. You will be in your city more than you will be abroad. Home is what you will always come back to so take steps to improve your life where it is. I did this by making plans to do something new and visit a new place in the city at least twice a month. It has also helped now to recognize my thoughts in my head days prior to coming home and thinking of the positive things to look forward to when I come home or goals I want to accomplish. Thinking of the new goals you can set for yourself helps put some positivity into the “back to the reality” feelings of coming home. I learned that I want to be happy for the several months I’m home so that the travels are even more rewarding and I an feel happy all the way through without spending the last few days dreading coming home.

Puerto Vallarta 2018

For a lot of times coming back home means back to responsibilities and actual work. We all have to work and go to school and take care of others sometimes which is apart of life. One way to manage these stressors is to incorporate the self care activities normally associated with a vacation, into your life at home. I got more massages when I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico than the entirety of the year. I think I should actually do more of that and not deprive myself of the amazing pampering of a massage. We don’t have to wait till a vacation every few months to do vacation-like activities. The more things we do to make ourselves smile, the better I think our days will be.

Take a glimpse into my 21 year old feelings coming back to America:

January 17, 2017

“I’ve come back to the United States for studying abroad twice now. The first time I came back from an exploration seminar and couldn’t stop thinking about London for months after I came back. I literally cried as I was getting on the plane. This time, I was gone for four months in Italy and I felt prepared coming home. No tears. I don’t find myself constantly thinking about Italy exactly but more of the feeling of traveling. I miss how  normal it was to be in Milan for a few days only to prepare for my next trip to a completely different place. I’m trying to find a new normal. A few days ago, it felt like I was in the same place I was at the start of last year. Wondering what’s next. Wanting to leave again. Each time studying abroad I felt free. Life was exciting. I was in beautiful places constantly and learning more things. How can I feel the same excitement and freedom in my actual country? As my college experience comes to an end, I realize that studying abroad can’t always be my goal for the year. I’ve already accomplished some amazing global goals as an undergraduate. So right now I am just waiting for something new again. Trying to find what I find when traveling but somewhat in everyday life.

Now that I’m back it feels like I’m starting college all over again but at the same time it seems like everything is exactly how I left it. My eyes see Seattle but my head is still traveling.”

Fun times. Fun times. May the travels continue in abundance.

Solo Travel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Greetings Daizies,

What helps me when solo traveling is to first figure out my purpose for the trip. I then plan my itinerary based on this theme to make sure I am getting what I want with the trip. For me and this time in my life, I needed a break. I wanted to breathe. My purpose for this trip was self care. I wanted to be adventurous and appreciate the beautiful weather by doing outdoorsy activities. I wanted to get to do something that makes me truly happy, which is traveling. I wanted to remember who I am and what makes me excited.

The timing worked out to where I had three days I could use for a vacation during this calendar year then it was the weekend with Christmas Eve and Christmas day following. That equals a full week off from work. Work is great. But there’s also life. I know I was worried about working full-time and what my life would be like going to work 5 days a week, having the weekend, and then doing the whole thing over again. It can get tiring and seem never ending. This trip was to disrupt that seemingly never ending cycle of “I can’t wait till the weekend.”

I wanted to relax and pamper myself more, take time to take a trip outside the country and get some sun. That’s how I ended up thinking of going to Mexico. Well Puerto Vallarta was really an impulsive decision. I’m actually surprised at myself cuz I’m usually never an impulsive person. Every decision is carefully carved out and planned to the tee. But that’s what I like most about this trip. I knew I wanted to go somewhere in December for a while and I had been looking at several destinations. Then on a Monday one of my friends at work had told me she went to Puerto Vallarta and had fun, and I said welp I’m just gonna go there to and literally booked the ticket the same day.

Arriving in Puerto Vallarta

I tried to pack light as usual, bringing with me a carry-on and a backpack. The weather was forecasted to be in the mid-80s, so I brought a variety of clothes. Something to look cute in, active but cute clothes, a dress in case I go out (probably won’t), and a cute swimsuit I bought from Amazon. It was a decent flight just about 7 hours total. Getting through immigration was the biggest hassle. I have never waited in line so long in my life. After 2 HOURS I finally made it out. I booked an Airbnb for my 5 night stay. I found this to be more cost efficient for a single person. The resorts were like $150 a night and I was definitely trying to spend $200 for my entire trip lol. I ended up doing that with an Airbnb. It’s a decent place, with a traditional feel and Mexican architecture style inside. The downside is when the reviews said it was on a hill they REALLY meant it. I thought it was like a Seattle hill or something that’s a little work out. But no, it’s definitely so steep I feel like a mountain goat walking upwards for a straight 7 minutes. Never again will I get an apartment on a hill lol.

I got to the place in the evening with some time to take a walk around the Malecon and get some food. It was a relaxing stroll and I dipped my feet in the beach water.

Day 1

I decided to hit the ground running with a day of planned activities. The night before I bought an activity package from one of the tourist booths on the Malecon strip, one of the main attractions of Puerto Vallarta. Traveling anywhere I’m always skeptical with buying things from vendors and the slightest error leads my mind to pray ” please don’t be a scam”. The man offered an all-inclusive island tour the the Yelapas Islands with kayaking, hiking, cruise, food, waterfall, and snorkeling AND a free day activity for zip-lining with breakfast for me to use on any day…all for $30. I had budgeted $30 per activity, so the “free” one included was a deal for me. I just had to hope it was legitimate.

The man was late to pick me up at 10:30am and claimed he couldn’t find my airbnb. Then didn’t arrive all together. I was annoyed with all of the talking he did and really wanted to get to the point. I walked down there and just said forget the breakfast. Overall I think the tour vendor was annoying and somewhat nosey. I hate being asked who I’m with, where I’m staying, and my age. Just mind your business tbh. I ended up doing the zip-lining activity around 1pm.

I’ve done ziplining before and it’s something I thought was cool enough to do again. My glutes were so sore from climbing up the mountain to the next lines. It was so beautiful to zoom through the trees and see all of the greenness. There was also a tequila tasting part of the day. They started out with some strong shots and I was like “okay that’s enough for me” but then the next ones were smoothie-like fruit flavors that I really enjoyed.

By the time I got back to the neighborhood called Old Town, it was dark outside and I planned to get some food and leave. I ate a burrito and got some ice cream. I didn’t appreciate having carrots and zuchini in my burrito but I was relieved of my hunger.

For shopping, my strategy is to figure out what items I am interested in buying and remember the prices being quoted to me from various locations. By the middle of my trip, I’ll know what the average price for a purse is and where to get it.

I love that I don’t have to stay out late or do anything to please anyone when I’m traveling alone. I can come in the house at 8:30pm and not feel like I’m being boring or something.

Day 2

Rise and shine

On my second full day, I woke up sore and tired from the previous climbing up the hills for zip-lining. I opted to postpone the cruise activity, slept in, and planned for a relaxing beach day instead. This was such a great decision. I dressed up in a cute flowing yellow skirt and felt stylish and free.

I had good food all day long. For lunch, I ate at a restaurant called Mariscos de Guero. I normally don’t eat seafood but this Marlin burrito was so amazing. Since I had skipped breakfast for sleep, I needed a big meal to fill me up. This burrito did my hunger justice. Too bad I didn’t have a fridge handy because I would’ve saved the other half for later. No need to gamble with my stomach and eat a fish burrito that’s been out in the sun all day. A couple enjoying their retirement sat next to me. We had a pleasant conversation. They spend half the year in Puerto Vallarta and the other half in Canada. They’ve been doing this for 11 years now. The woman told me to enjoy my youth. Indeed I will.

Pretty view from lunch
Smoked Marlin burrito

I spent hours at the beach and got a massage. I inhaled what I knew was eucalyptus oil lol. They acted like essential oil aromatherapy was just out of this world. I was hip and knew what essential oil was being used lol y’all ain’t slick. It was a decent massage though. The lady I met afterwards in line was a masseuse too and gave me a hand and neck massage during our hour wait in line for Pancho’s tacos. This Mexican family was so sweet. They had a 7 year old son that was just learning English. I knew probably the same amount of Spanish as he did English, so we were helping each other out with new word and practicing. They invited me to sit with them for dinner. It was warm and fun being around them. There was this cute dog that reminded me of my cat. I noticed there’s lots of stray dogs here but I pretend not to be scared lol.

This was such a great day.

Day 3

The strangest thing happened. I woke up earlier before my “8 am alarm”. I looked at my phone and it was 7:30am so I laid in bed longer. Then it was 7:58 am and I finally got up at 8:04am. I started my routine and the next thing you know my phone said 9:37 am. I guess it froze or something. I missed the tour again lol.

It was another go with the flow day as I again postponed the Yelapas tour. Today was more of a cultural day. I visited the Naval Museum right on the Malecon strip. I love seeing museums in the new cities I visit. They teach me more of the history of the places I’m in and I get to see a cultural perspective of what events took place that make the culture what it is today.

Display at the Naval Museum

Next, I had an amazing lunch at Pipi’s and had the best food ever. I ordered 4 enchiladas, rice, and beans. I could only finish 2 enchiladas before I could barely breathe anymore since I was so full.

Enchilada meal

Down the block was an art gallery that I took a stroll through. The art was interesting contemporary Mexican art and sculptures.. It was for sale but not the type of art in my price range of as now.

Art with art

I went back to the Malecon and decided today was the day I would finally parasail. I thought the price of $40 was way too much, but I did it anyway. My heart started beating fast as I saw the person ahead of me start to land. I was nervous I wouldn’t land right. As soon as they set me up in the gear, they said to start walking, and next thing you know I was in the air. It wasn’t a gradual rise at all! I was so scared at first. When I finally calmed down, I took in the beautiful view.

Relaxed
Schoolin’ life
Feet dangling from the seat

I found a nice place to sit on the beach further down towards Old Town. I needed a nap and took one. Then I took a dip in the beach for a while, read a book for a few hours, and ate an ice cream cone. Before I knew it, it was sunset.

I got another massage at Venus Spa. I’m going to use more eucalyptus oil more when I get home. It was kind of funny how she would spray the eucalyptus on a towel whenever I got fidgety and had me inhale it. I could do that to myself.

I did most of my souvenir shopping at the Old Town market. Then I got tapas and ubered back to my apartment.

Day 4

All aboard the Beach Boy ship!

The last full day I made it to the cruise to Yelapas. The first stop was snorkeling. It’s always more of a workout swimming in the waves than you think. I find it helpful to slow down and take slow deep breaths to get used to being in the water. As I looked below the surface, I could see groups of fish swimming just below my feet. It was really beautiful seeing the animals in their natural habitats.

Getting ready to snorkel

The cruise itself was quite loud and rowdy. I would recommend it more for families than solo travelers. There were kids everywhere, it was so loud I forgot which language was being spoken. No surprise I mixed up the directions and left the boat and went to the beach instead of the actual hike I had been waiting for. The “activities” boldly advertised on the flyer were kayaking and surfing but neither were anywhere to be found. I was annoyed with this at first, but since being mad wasn’t going to get me anywhere, I did what I liked most and read a book and swam.

View from the cruise

I finished the remainder of my shopping and ended the night getting tacos and a burrito from Taco Revolucion. It was decent and filled me up from the night.

Cruise control

Day 5

I packed in the morning and realized I had bought way more things than I had expected. It was a miracle that I fit everything into a backpack and a carry-on suitcase. I had to toss some old sandals, flip flops and a t-shirt but I made it work.

I had to get one last lunch at Pipi’s, this time ordering 2 instead of 4 enchiladas. I sam in the beach before I left and took the sun rays and scenery all in.

Last stroll on the Malecon

Puerto Vallarta was such a beautiful city. It might be one of my favorite cities I’ve ever been too. At first I was nervous and had to get used to it but then I saw it as a relaxing and friendly city. I felt excitement and how fun I am. I loved exploring and talking with myself. I was content and I needed to see this. I ate good every day. I swam in the beach every day. I got back to back massages. It was a grand time and I absolutely loved this trip. I definitely got the self care tip I needed.

As always,

My Experience at the Cape Coast Slave Castle

Visiting the slave castle was one of the main sites of importance that I was looking forward to experience. As many know, I did my AncestryDNA test a few months ago and I know the origins of my ancestry. While majority of my ancestry comes from Central Africa, going to the castle still meant seeing what my ancestors endured and somehow survived.

I probably could’ve stayed in the museum portion of the castle alone. I like to read every word of each description when I go to museums of historic importance. When I saw the shackles, ropes, and branding I was in shock. Those tools were just the beginning of what one faced during captivity. It was sad to see how the other parts of the Triangular trade reaped so much from slavery yet in the end and in the present, those same African countries face more challenges and economic struggles. One of the displays showed what was traded for humans, ivory, and gold and it was irons, glasses, and guns. It confused me to see simple things like plates and cups being traded for the valuable assets of entire humans and ivory. Plates and guns were way less influential in building an empire like America, but still the trade was in tact for centuries.

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I wish I had more of an emotional reaction going to the castle but it just didn’t happen. I think the constant conversations during the program in the efforts to prepare the few African American students for the castle, somewhat distracted from actually getting the experience. We were told to prepare for tour guides that may make somewhat inappropriate or joking comments during a matter we felt were serious. We were told that surrounding the castle, there would be shops and markets around. We were told that the same coast that was the last bit of Africa that slaves would sea, was now used for fishing and that there would be boats all around the coast. Apparently, Ghanaians had moved on from slavery in a way that African Americans hadn’t. And so being told this several times throughout the trip, somewhat took away from the experience for me to figure it out and process it on my on. I think that’s why I just went in without really being able to think about its importance, in an effort to not become upset at the way the site appeared to be treated. Maybe if I had visited the castle by myself, or perhaps the Elmina Castle, I would have had a different experience.IMG_5009.JPG

It still was powerful to step foot in the actual slave dungeons. It was dark, stuffy, and I immediately felt claustrophobic just after 5 minutes inside. Feeling claustrophobic was so minor compared to everything that happened in there. And people were in those dungeons for MONTHS. All of the things I take for granted now like being able to drink as much water as I want, food, water, and basic humanity were ripped away from my ancestors who had to endure slavery. I can only thank God that he gave them the strength to make it through such a long lasting nightmare.

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The castle is strongly beautiful with the waves rising against the shore, its wild to think so much pain and suffering happened in those premises. There was even a church built on top of one of the dungeons. People would actually worship right in the midsts of their own evil doings. They still thought they were holy. They saw nothing wrong with what they were doing. It made me think about the times we are in now and how there’s so much that society turns their head to. People really can be so dark and cruel but I just hope that the world will get better and learn from their mistakes.

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The Vivid Volta Region: A Warm Welcome

Volta Region

It was about a 3 1/2 hour drive and I made sure to load up on snacks and podcast downloads for the road. I had conducted my first interview in Ada, and I was excited to continue with my research. We stayed at Freedom Ho hotel, which was one of my favorite locations of the program. By this time during the trip, I was completely over eating chicken, which was the central theme of my dietary challenges for the following weeks to come. For the next few days, I was ordering tuna and club sandwiches, with a side of French fries.

Ewe Language and Culture Classes

In Accra I had daily language and culture classes for Twi. I was feeling quite confident with my ability to interact with people at the markets and for general greetings. In the Volta region, Ewe is the most common language and so I had to shift gears and attempt to learn a new set of words. In short, the main phrases I picked up on were “woezor” (welcome), “akpe” (thank you), “in dii” (morning), and “neon yen ye” (my name is).

Mafi Gborkope Village

Most of the time was spent in the village of Mafi Gborkope. When I got off of the bus, I was welcomed by the entire community. There were drums playing, and several people dancing in the center of the meeting. It was a welcome ceremony of over 100 people that were excited to welcome students into the community. Groups from our program had come to this village in previous years, so this community knew we were going to be doing interviews and other activities to learn about their culture. When we stepped off the bus, all eyes were on us and I was told that we would be dancing. I didn’t know what to expect but the atmosphere was very lively and welcoming. There was a village chief who sat directly across from my group. He gave a speech in Ewe, which was then translated by our guide for the trip. He prayed and gave thanks. A tradition of pouring out alcohol was then conducted and wen were officially welcomed by the chief.

One by one, dancers would pull people from my group to dance in the center. I wish I had a recording of me doing the dance but I was killing it lol. After the dancing, all 9 students received a bracelet symbolizing that we were welcome into the community at any time.

The village had basic resources for people to survive. Coming to this village was a different perspective of Ghana and showed me the drastic differences in resources that people have or don’t have. The houses were very simple, with an outside kitchen that I used when helping prepare a meal. The bathrooms were all outside and consisted of a concrete type room and a concrete ground with an opening at the bottom so things can just run down to the soil. Nobody was even checking for wifi. Yet everyone was just living their life and going about their day. The living conditions were very different to me but the people I saw were laughing with one another, playing games, talking, and still living. They still had what they needed and were a community that was there for each other.

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Greeting from community members

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Official welcome from the chief

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Jumped right in during pottery making class

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Look at my baby bowl!

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Homes

Volunteering

Our volunteer project was helping lay the foundation for a new community library. One of the hardest things I did was balance water on my head. I don’t know how people go back and forth between the lake and the construction site, but ya girl was TIDE. I’m pretty sure I only did 2 rounds, but that was more than enough for me lol. I was trying so hard not to drop the buckets. I think I was more successful at shoveling the rocks from the huge pile and putting them in the wheelbarrow. I had to stay in my lane. I also collaborate with someone to move sand from one area to another, and carry other materials to the site. It was hard work honestly.

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After a long day (a few hours) of work

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Just a lil break

Cooking

I helped (or so I think I did) prepare dinner for one of the families. It was a traditional meal called Banku with tilapia soup. The entire process was a lot of work. And to think, these women cook full meals like that every single day. First of all, just cutting the okra took me three times as long as the women who was guiding us. I was so used to a cutting board and didn’t want to cut my hand, but I look next to me and the woman had finished a whole handful of okra in the time it took me to cut one! To cook the food required the use of coal, a sturdy pot, and water. The cooking oven was made out of what seemed to be clay, and was mounted to the ground. It was very hot to be near the fire and took a lot of energy to stir the banku, which was a doughy type of food that needed to be consistent churned or else it would burn. I stirred with all of my might and my arms sure got a good workout. The crushed peppers and onions sure looked like it would be an amazing salsa, but it was mixed in with the chopped okra, and fish. It was a full meal that could feed a family of 4. It looked like a nice meal and it was cool to see the outcome look tasty and filling when tools were used that I had never used before.

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The kitchen

Batik Making

I saw just how intricate fabric design making could be when I was able to see the batik making process. Batik is the use of oils and wax to create patterns and designs for fabrics. I’m very proud of my headwrap that I made. Ir really just picked out a stamp design and the color, but it was still a success.

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At the Batik shop

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A pattern is created once a stamp is selected. The stamp is then placed in a hot wax. The hot wax dries up on the fabric and represents where the color won’t be able to show.

Yam Festival

We happened to be in Ho during the annual Yam festival.  It’s a festival celebrating tghe cultivation of harvests, particularly yam. Everyone in the Ho region came out onto the streets dancing and singing. It was like a Ghanaian carnival. I went to the nighttime celebration and they were playing all of the hits. By this time, I had a few favorite Afrobeat songs and could sing along a little bit. The fireworks were a site to see and it was just great seeing everyone hyped and dancing.

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Ho was an interesting place and I learned a lot from the people in the village. I wanted to share the academic part of my trip and so I’ve copied my field report below. A field report is basically to summarize what you did in each region and your findings.

What was your goal for the period? 

My goal for the interviews in Ho were to speak with several women entrepreneurs in the village. It was my first time working with a translator and with this new aspect, I wanted to strengthen my communication skills and ability to think on the spot.

Type of Prep Work?      

After my first interview experience in Ada, I prepared for the next set of interviews by revising my interview questions. There were several questions that weren’t useful for answering my hypothesis and so I cut those questions out. From my experience in Ada, I recalled that there were a few intro questions such as ” when did you start your business” that made the interview flow smother. I wrote those questions down to be a permanent interview question.

What I Actually Did

 I was surprised that I got to interview 5 women in one day. The questions that I had revised and prepared had to be reframed once I learned that that none of the respondents owned smartphones. Since smartphones were central to my research topic, I had planned several questions relating to what the smartphone was used for. I changed certain questions to find out what the women used to do things are normally the role of smartphones. My next step would be to write down the alternative questions to ask if a respondent doesn’t  own a smartphone.

What I learned about my research topic and research process      

I interviewed 5 women who were all selling food. 1 selling goods, 2 were cooking and selling kenke, 1 preparing fish, and 1 preparing various warm dishes. The use of mobile phones were present but not smartphones. These mobile phones were used to call and text customers. I also learned that word of mouth was used to market their goods and face to face interactions with customers and other sellers took place at the market. An aspect of my research is examining views people have regarding women entrepreneurs and in this community, the women said that what they produce is needed to feed and this necessity doesn’t allow for biases to be held against them as entrepreneurs. The women are the ones making food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The community wouldn’t have meals if it weren’t for these women who are taking the time to cook and sell what is needed. I learned to be flexible with the interview stage of the research process because some settings and situations may not be ideal. For example, about 4/5 women I interviewed were busy actually making the meals or selling to others as I was trying to ask questions. With the interviewee who wasn’t busy, I still had the awkward setting of about 10 other people surrounding me as I was asking questions. I tried to ask the most relevant questions and made sure I thanked them for their time because I could see how busy things were.

 

-POP

An Accradible Week in Ghana

Greetings Daizies from the Motherland!

I’ve been in Accra now for 6 days and it feels like I’ve always been here. I haven’t been able to post blogs as frequent since I’m busy with the study abroad program and the wifi isn’t as strong in our lodge area. But I wanted to share how things are going so far!

I arrived in Accra on Friday night. The entire trip here felt like the longest trip ever and I was so delighted to finally land. It took a long time (almost 45 minutes) for both of my bags to arrive on the conveyer and some time to get through immigration. The first night I stayed in an airbnb. The host was gracious enough to give me a ride from the airport. I couldn’t see much in the dark but I noticed the women walking on the sidewalks carrying crates and products on their heads. Prior to arriving, I didn’t know if that was still something that was done here but I’ve been amazed at the amount people can balance on their heads here. After having only about 4 hours of sleep within the 24 hours of flying and traveling, I prepared for bed quickly and slept.

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(airbnb in Adenta region)

Jet lag was something else because I woke up bright and early at 6am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I could hear the roosters rising early as well. Saturday was the day I met with the rest of the group for my study abroad program. I haven’t yet talked about the program I’m in for school so I’ll take some time to share a little bit about it. I’m in Ghana for a 4 week program studying communication technologies in Ghana with a focus on research. I’ll be doing field research to answer a research question of my choice. From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to learn about women in entrepreneurship in Ghana. I want to become an entrepreneur and I wanted to discover what it is like for women here in Ghana as entrepreneurs. I know back home in the US there are challenges that women face when starting businesses and I want to examine what the experience is like for women here.

The airbnb was located in an area called Adenta, and from Adenta to the Legon region was about a 35 minute drive with traffic. Our program takes place at the University of Ghana for the first week and later we will be moving towards cities and rural areas in northern Ghana. After settling in the guest house dorms on campus, I took a nap and had dinner shortly after. Saturday was a short day mostly moving from one area to another, so I consider my first full day to be Sunday.


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(University Guest House)

After finally getting a sufficient amount of sleep, I was ready for a full day of exploration. We had an hour long language and culture lesson first thing in the morning. We are learning the Twi language ( pronounced like tree) which is one of the most prevalent languages in Accra. Our teacher is a nice Ghanaian woman full of energy. I know how to say simple things like “good morning”, “how are you” “my name is Daizha”. Something new I learned is that each person has a name based off the day of the week they are born and if they are a boy or girl. My name is Akua (pronounced like Akreea) since I was born on a Wednesday.

Food
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I love the fresh fruit here and can’t get enough of it. There’s a night market at the University of Ghana campus where there are outside stands of fresh fruit and hot food. I’ve gone there almost every day since arriving in Accra. My favorite fruits are the juicy watermelon, bananas and pineapples. You can get a medium sized bag of fruit for 2 cedis which equals about 50 cents! I feel like I’m eating a lot healthier here lol. I drink tons of water and way more than I did at home.

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I’ve had lots of jollof and fried chicken and I’m liking plantain chips more and more. I also like a Ghanaian dish called Plasava (not sure of the spelling) but it’s like a spinach type dish usually eaten with meats.

Surprisingly I like fish now. I never ate fish back home. I would even put a blanket  at the bottom of my door when tilapia was being cooked because just the smell of it made me nauseous because we had it for dinner so much. Here in Ghana, the tilapia was cooked with onions and peppers. The fish was very soft and falling off the bones. It tasted amazing and I’ve had it a couple of timesz

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Today (Thursday) was the day my craving for American food hit me strong. I had to make a trip to Accra Mall for some Pizza Hut to satisfy my craving of cheese. It tasted like the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.

People

There’s a calmer and more relaxed feeling of being in Accra. I felt like I adjusted easier to Accra than many other cities I’ve visited. I love seeing an abundance of melanin everywhere I go. I notice that even though I’m also black, when me and my other African American friends are walking, tons of heads are turning to look at us and people are often starring. I was wondering if I would blend in here but it’s like the people here can tell I’m American before I even open my mouth. Nonetheless, people have been very kind. When shopping, getting food, or many interactions in general, people have been pleasantly surprised when I’m able to say a few words in Twi like  “madaase” (thank you).

Site-seeing
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I learned a lot at Kwame National Memorial and from visiting the museum inside of the memorial area. The story of the fight for Ghana’s independence is truly inspiring.

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A few days ago, I stumbled upon the Museum of Science and Technology and saw dozens of beautiful artifacts and art pieces. The museum featured more art than anything with a mix of modern and traditional art pieces.
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It’s always fun going to the markets and each day I’m restraining myself from buying every cute thing I see. The Art Center and Osu market areas were vibrant areas for shopping and this weekend I’ll see what the nightlife looks like in Osu.
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This blog post is probably longer than I expect since I’m writing all of this on my phone. I just had to share my experiences in real time as they’re happening. There’s so much more that I want to write about but I’ll make notes of all of the cool things I’m learning in Ghana and he sure to make posts sharing more about my time here.

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You can follow my Instagram @divadaizha for more frequent picture uploads!

-POP