Thursday, May 27, 2010

Email Home- "Somewhere 5 Degrees off the Equator"

Hello everybody!

            Well, I’m not quite sure I remember everything that I wrote last week, so if I repeat anything, just smile and nod.  I think the honeymoon stage of my culture shock is pretty much over, but now the quality of the good days is just that much better.  I have not gotten sick yet, even though we ate rice with rocks in it last week (blessings on the food have a whole new meaning to me now).  I think I’ll just go through some of the details.

            I finally ran out of my 15 lb sashe water pack.  It is a brand called B20, but we all call it “BO” because it has the hose water taste.  I was very excited to purchase a new pack of a different sort.  I decided on a bag called “Emanuel.”  I should have figured with a shady name like that I was doomed to disappointment.  It is the only sashe brand worse than BO.  Oh well.  Another week or so and it will be gone.  It is amazing what your body can do when you have no other choice.  Food wise too.  I think I eat bread and oranges all day.  And even when you don’t like food, you have to finish all of it.  You can’t just not.  Especially with phrases like “eat your dinner, there are starving children in Africa” looming in the back of our minds. 

Lets see.  Oh!  We had our first day of church.  Maybe I am a little biased because I have never been to a branch opposed to a ward, but it was not quite the experience I anticipated.  Outside of the church there are babies with yellowing eyes like iodine and chipping bare feet.  The children inside are not much different.  A hand-me-down dress (of a few generations), a torn pair of jeans, a bleach stained shirt, and a once white dress with a missing sleeve is a typical sampling of their Sunday best.  The mothers too.  A tie-dyed skirt with a mismatched blouse with some English saying that no one pretends to understands.  Half of the men wear child sized Christmas ties, the other half cannot properly tie them, and perhaps that is because they know something that we at home do not.  Something that we may have forgot.  Hard to say.  Relief Society was the lowest part for me though.  We had a lesson from an expired manual on Chastity on modesty.  I shared the only spare book with a pregnant girl who looked about fifteen next to me.  We had to explain what chastity meant.  It does not really translate culturally.  Someone needs to get these guys an updated book, that is for sure.  We read, then reread random segments of the lesson.  No one could really understand.  And I didn’t want them to.  Then a Bible bashing woman came to interrupt the meeting, and it was over.

 Walking down the stairs I muttered a frustrated prayer.  Why do I come from a land where the chapel benches are cushy, and a piano is always there to accompany?  Is the God of love also the same wherever you go?  I got my answer.  The children came pouring out and greeted all of us.  They gave us hugs, kissed our checks, and combed through our hair.  The girls I met were teaching me hand-slapping games.  No translator needed.  We laughed and laughed.  I was smiling so much my cheeks ached that night.  God is the same no matter where you go. 

This is going to be a long email I am realizing.  Maybe it is just stuff that I need to work through.  I also met another little kid who really touched me.  I’m not really the maternal type (or so I thought) but these kids are beautiful!  This little boy is named Akwasi.  If you check out my blog, there are pictures of him in a turquoise torn short.  Getting my camera out again was a great fix.  Akwasi lives right behind me, and I’m sure you will be seeing more of him. 

My project is also going really well.  As of yesterday that is.  I met a little girl named Esther who is very interested in learning how to read and write poetry.  She is a general art student, and since the school does not teach literature, we are all getting together at noon on Saturday where I can teach my very first lesson!  It was so amazing, teaching her about similes and a metaphors, while she read aloud the native language parts of the poem we read together.  Really really touching.  She took me to lunch with her, and I had my first eating with my hands opportunity.  She held my hand (sign of friendship here, even the guys all hold hands) and taught me how to eat out of the same bowl as her, which is the traditional way.  I was pretty shy about it at first.  I scooped up some food, and then turned it over in my left hand.  I forgot that the left hand is not supposed to be used (it is a dirty hand) and I got a fair scolding for it.  We all had a good laugh, I got some good food, and then when it was over, Esther wiped off my face with her hand like I was a child.  And I felt like a child.  Everyday when I get on that yellow bus for school I feel like I am attending Kindergarten for the first time again. 

And for the grand finale…. I got my hair braided last night!  It took three hours of pulling, wincing, and squirming, and then a few surprises tacked on the end.  Apparently after they braid in the hair extensions (which are black and purple… hehe) they torch your hair.  I had no idea what they were doing at first, and all of my friends were off doing their own thing.  I starting doing a little high pitched panic “uh…guys!?” call, and Chase came running out with a camera, while Maggie talked me through it.  So yeah.  They torch the fly away hairs to seal it off.  Good to know…Just when I thought I reached the end, they started boiling water to put on my head.  No burnage here, but I guess that is the step that makes you hair soft.  But alas, it is done!  It feels so nice to get it out of my face, but it is really really heavy.  It took a TON of hair too.  They had never seen so much hair before.  I already have three headfulls of hair, but my ponytail is about a fist and a half thick.  I now look like a video game character.  The best part?  It cost me ten dollars.  When I got my hair black and purple last summer it cost me 80.  Love it.  Well… maybe I’ll save that thought until I see what my hair looks like when the braids come out.  I can’t get them wet either.  No washing.  Mmmmmm….

If you made it to the end, congratulations!  Thanks again for your prayers, love, and support.  Missing you all!


Oh, and for my proposal of the week!  “I marry you… for free.”  How romantic. 
Weekly favorite business name?  "National Health Insurance Scheme"
I took some great pictures, but they won't upload...


Ready, Get Set, Go!

Yesterday I decided to check out the secondary school library as a sanctuary from the incessant flirting teachers and frustrations that come with language barriers. I skimmed the skimpy shelves, took inventory, searching for books in Twi. When I failed to find one, I asked the sleeping librarian, “Do you have any books in Twi?”

He pulled his head off the desk, the big “No Sleeping” sign in perfect view behind him, and gave me a blank stare.

“Do you have any books in Twi?” I repeated.

Then his face lit up, he rose, and went straight way to the “Chemistry” shelf, drawing out the book Agricultural Science. A textbook on trees.

I politely sat down and pretended it was what I wanted. The librarian left to weed the back of the building with his machete, and I made eye contact with the only soul in the room. A 16 year old girl named Esther I came to find out. Out on her desk she had a book of poems by Kofi Anyidoho. One of the books on my reading list. She made my day, and maybe my whole field study. Turns out she is a general art student, struggling to understand poetry because literature is not taught at school. We read through the poem “A Harvest of Our Dreams” together. Me, teaching her about symbols, similes, and metaphors, and her, reading the native stanzas, correcting my name pronunciation. It was amazing. She went and grabbed some friends, and we have organized to have my first teaching lesson at 12 on Saturday. They might even be as excited as I am. It is humbling to know that I get to teach these girls about their own literary renaissance, and that I get to learn from them in return.

Before we left for lunch, one of the girls, Evelyn, went curiously searching through my jottings. At the top of the page I had written, “First day all alone,” referring to Rachel Morison’s absence. She looked at me, smiled, and assured me, “you are no longer alone.”


Friday, May 21, 2010

Email Home- "Greetings From Ghana!"

Hello Everybody!

I am in much better spirits since I last wrote.  I feel bad, that morning was the day that I woke up going "what... have....I...done."  Things are very happy now.  I'll just kind of go through and start listing.  There is so much!  It is so overwhelming!

Okay, for starters, I am safe.  Alive.  And well.  Our living conditions sure are different, but that is a good thing.  Esther (our landlady) has a niece named Christiana that comes over and helps us cook and teaches us the ropes.  She cooks us dinner Mon-Thursday, so tonight we are on our own, which could be interesting.  This morning we tried to cook oatmeal... which turned out rather... interesting...

Okay, and this is just kind of funny to me, but we drink water out of little bags of water called saches.  I bought a brand that tastes like warm summer hose water.  Not my favorite flavor.  Anyways, you just bite a corner off and have at it.  I have managed to spill mine on several occasions, including squirting it in mine, and the person next to me on the tro tro's eyes.  Everyone likes to sit next to me.

Food is good.  I was scared at first.  There is nothing familiar about it.  No chips.  No oreos.  No chocolate bars.  No Noodles and Company.  Even the bread is weird.  But the bread grew on me, and I found some fried dough that is naturally bad for me, but it tastes good, so I am good to go on snacks.  Maybe I might even learn to cook.  Gain the patience to cook.  Yes.  This could be a very good thing.

Oh and do we have bugs.  Not just any bugs though.  These are straight up biology text book bugs.  The first night there was a black spider the size of my palm outside of my room.  It was disgusting.  I keep looking for it everywhere I turn in the house now.  But yeah.  I am getting better at squishing them.  And Nate, one of the boys with me, is really nice about taking care of them. 

We do have electricity, but only about 10 percent of the time.  So far, we have only had it for one night.  No fans.  And my favorite part?  No water.  Granted we don't really use the water for anything but showering, and bucket showers are fine, but Esther had an obruni (white man) flushing toilet instaleld for us.  We are all very worried and unhappy about this.  First of all, this is not a typical toilet.  No toilet paper can be flushed down.  But if you have no water, you have to try to flush it with buckets of rain water.  It works maybe 1 out of 5 times.  I quite enjoy the hole in the ground.  It is fast.  Reliable.  And I know exactly what I will get back from it.  No surprises.  Needless to say, my bathroom phobia is also going away.

Another interesting thing here is everyone wakes up at 5, and goes to bed super early.  We have been averaging about 9 PM bedtime.  It is the only time in the day when it is cool though, so everyone is up and ready.  I'm not sure I have ever been okay about waking up so early.  We have roosters that start going off at 3 and 4ish though, so that hour of sleep does not count.  A few of us have started exercising in the mornings.  Running and such.  Today was yoga, and it was quite nice.  I might get more into that when I get home.  Maybe I might learn to relax. :)  (PS, Okasan and Daddy that positive thinking journal is turning out great!  Thank you again!)

Laundry this week was also one of the highlights of my week.  It is such a humbling experience, and so intimate.  It is one of the perks that got lost with the modernization of the washing machine.  It takes a few hours to do everything, but you have so much time to sit and talk.  They are so careful with water usage too.  The whole batch of clothes only took two buckets of water.  When we were finished, Christiana actually mopped up the spilled water from the concrete and drained it into the flowers.  They have big buckets that pick up the rain water and everything.  No water goes wasted here.  (Do you remember that lectura in Spanish Roberto?  yeah.  These things happen!)

Lets see.  I got a mosquito net.  But it keeps falling in and knocking me on the head at night, so that is fun.  It is blue, as well as the walls, so everything is this neon cobalt color.  I really like it.  There are so many bright colors here.  I cannot wait until I am comfortable enough to get my camera out.

Also, my research is coming along nicely.  Well.  Relitavely.  Yesterday was my first day at the secondary school.  There are 2,000 students there.  Hardly what I was expecting.  I felt like Brittany Spears or something.  Everyone swarmed us.  Stared at us.  Turned on the fans for us when we came in.  Touched our skin, felt my hair.  It was crazy!  I have had to change my name to Shelley at the school too, because no one can say Rachel, and the other girl working there is named Rachel.  It is odd trying to change your name.  I keep forgetting.  Anyways.  The school rooms were very interesting.  Teachers can cane their kids here, which is different.  And the desks look like little antique desks that you would fine in the pioneer village at Lagoon.  It was such a great experience.  I can't wait to get to know the teachers better and start teaching creative writing.  To make the celebrity day even worse, on my walk home three kids came up to me and asked for my autograph.  Then, each grabbed my hand and kissed it.  How does this even happen, that some nobody can come over here and be the biggest thing in town?  It is kind of weird for someone who does not like attention, but yeah.  Intersting.  I think i expected more hostility or something, especially with Cape Coast and those monstrous slave castles just miles down the road.  People are not like that here though.  I feel very safe, and I am sure this will be a great experience for me.

Thank you for your love, emails, and support.  I love and miss you all!

Oh, and I have had my first proposal, which was eventful. 

Kejatia Market

We weaved through the crack in the mud wall like ants. The narrow walkway of churned up rail roads, conglomerates of cement, and rust colored mud caked our dry sandals, following each other in a straight lines like ducks. To the left, a baby girl pissed in the open sewer gutter. A toothless vender selling second hand socks. A man grabs my wrist, touches my hair. I am real. I found a grocery store. Approached the cashier.

"Do you have an ATM."

Then a silent stare. Uncomprehendable chattering between the workers. Now I am the idiot in the store. Completely handicap to all social etiquette. I left. Who needs water. The sun so hot. My blood flowing like hot tar.

Then I got back. Asked Maggie for the phone, and stared at it for an hour or so. Calling. Hanging up. I left something back there. I'm not sure what. But I think I lost my voice. I don't know how I feel about Kejatia market.


Where the Streets Have No Name

Well, I am here. Finally situated in Wiamoase. I cannot even begin to describe the scene. Yesterday was my first day in the secondary school (high school here), and I now know what it feels like to be famous for a day (maybe a few more). There are a thousand eyes staring at me at all times. Clapping. Shouting. Waving. People turn on the fans when I walk into the room. It is crazy! I am nobody, but here? I don't know. Myra is having a really hard time with the attention, but then she just sees some color harmony and her eyes light up like Christmas trees. Gypee is also pretty quite, still totally perplexed that she cannot describe the market.

On my way home from school I was stopped by three primary school children. The boy approached me first, asked me for my autograph, and then all three grabbed my hand and kissed it. I think I have a very vague sense of what the black man in the tabernacle choir feels like now.

Oh, and I have had two proposals so far. The general sequence of questions seems to be "How are you, what is your name, where are you from" and "are you married?"


Monday, May 17, 2010

Email Home- "Update!"

Hello Everybody!\

wow i hardly know where to start. this keyboard is really weird so please ignore the spelling and punctuation stuff.  we have been staying in kumasi for the last two nights.  it has the biggest market in west africa in it that we are checking out before we head for wiamoase, the village we are actually staying at.

lets see.  our hotel was rather ineresting.  i figured out that i really am a bit of a princess.  the bed sheets were stained brown and yellow, and in one place, red whcih was awesome.  my sheets were ripped in half, but i didn't use them anyways.  yikes.  it is so hot here.  it feels like that feeling when you just get outo f the gym or done runing but you can never escape it.  sweat just falls down your body all day long and you just get used to it i guess.  i lay in bed for hours and hours before i finally fal asleep, and then a rooster always ges up at 3;45 each morning hahaha.  it will be nice being in wiamoase, that is for sure.  oh, and even though they had flushing toilets none of tem actually flushed, so it just stunk up everything.  then there was the guy jerking off with the door open that i got to see....

but! on the good side, i am really loving the oportunity to get to know my group.  we are all so different but it has been fun learning from each other about each other.  yesterday we just sat around during the hot part of hte day and talked, napped, chilled, and it was so different than what i am used to.  i guess there are a few of us in the group who are hoping to learn how to relax from this experience.  that woldbe nice for everyone i am sure haha.

while i remember, thank you so so so much for the massage okasan.  i think it definaely helped me in general for this whole week in transition.  love you so much. :-)

so lets see.... the taxis are interesting.  they always charge us more, but what can you do.  so now we fit all 7 of us in, and that is all kinds of interesting for breaking down social barriers.  today we are ridding a tro tro, whcih is basically a hollowed out van wehre they stick as many people and goats in as possible and just go.  haha, so yeah.  that will be fun.

it does not look like i am getting a phone today.  but i did get my sim card so i will for sure be able to call next sunday.  i'm thinking probababnly about the same time as yesterday?  it sure was nice talking to you guys.  i love and miss you all, and i feel like there is so much to tell.  i can't wait till i can settle in and gather up my thuoghts so that i can better express them too you.  just know that i am safe and will be the whole time i am here, and that i love you all.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Email Home- No Subject Line

Hi Okasan! 

I'm just here at the airport waiting for the rest of us to get here.  Last night I slept for 14 hours straight and would have kept it up had my people not woken me up to head to the market.  We are staying in a hotel tonight in Accra and then we will take a bus to Wiamoase in the morning.  People here are really nice and friendly.  It is so hot though.  And the drivers!  I swear I watched cars come an inch away from my side about 4 times... Maybe coming back I won't freak out when other people drive?

So tomorrow (I hope) I am buying a SIM card so i can have minutes and such of my own.  I'm still not sure how many minutes I can get for a few CD, but I know it is a lot cheaper than calling from America so I should probably set up a "call at this time this day" system.  What are your thoughts?

Another fun thing.  White people are only found at the airport, so when you are hailing taxis they like to charge "the obruni tax" (white mans tax).  Lucky for us Kwasi (the guy who was teaching us Twi last semester) told us how to haggle down to what it was normally (about 70 cents a person on average). 

Better go before my minutes run out, or the power goes out (has in the last hour twice....).  I'll update you as soon as I can.  Especially about this whole meeting the chief thing?  Our landlady is supposed to be couching us on that etiquite though.  For basics, no left hand usage, bring gifts, and don't cross your legs.  So we'll see if I get ostracized and have to go a town over haha. 
I love you all and miss you.  I hope all is well at home. 

Also, I don't have Sarah's email, I think I lost it in London.  Would you mind sending that my way?  Or she can email me with questions for her project that I can answer for her.

Love you all!

Accra, Ghana

Memo To Self:

• Buy SIM card and minutes to call home
• Figure out etiquette for meeting the chief of the village
• Don’t pay obruni (white man) tax on taxis
• Don’t look at beggars
• No smiling at venders
• Never use your left hand to point, shake hands, give, or receive anything. Ever.
• Carry toilet paper at all times
• Just because someone is speaking English doesn’t mean they understand you
• Pineapple is good and good for you
• I can survive 45 hours in planes and airports


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Email Home- "London"

Hi Okasan!

Just wanted to let you know I lived through the second of my four plane rides.  I am starting to get paranoid that my passport looks different than everyone else and that I smell like a zoo.  I knew you would appreciate that part.  I hope you have a great day at work.  Kick Samantha in the butt, and tell those people to get your desk order through or I'll kick them in the butt too.

How did Braxton do in his surgery?  Wish Pam luck, and I hope you are able to do something fun for your anniversary today!

Love you,


Hello family and friends!

I’m here and alive in Dubai. I have officially fallen in love with Emirates. It is basically a cruise in the air. I was served a five-course meal, pick from hundreds of movies, TV channels, music, and audio books for free, and since the plane was maybe 1/6th full I could sprawl out and take up the entire row to catch up on some sleep. I can honestly say I had a great time on my six-hour flight! In fact, I was kind of frustrated that I could not finish my movie.

It is a weird thing when people know you are an American before you even open your mouth or flash a passport that is the wrong color. It’s interesting to see my language as the sub captions for once. I love it. They even have rooms for prayer and showers. If only I did not check my toothbrush and shampoo…


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Atlanta, Georgia

Hi guys,

I’m still trying to figure out the correct formality and medium of blogging, so give me feedback if you notice I’m going diary or if you see room for improvement.

Just for a kind of general synopsis before I get full blown with this Ghana blog—I am doing a creative field studies project in Wiamoase, Ghana this summer where I will be working in the secondary school system looking at attitudes towards English and written expression in general. Simultaneously, I will be writing my own sort of travel narrative that invites us to reconcile with the difficult nature of qualifying an experience because of the way we must mediate it. I am doing this through a few different avatars of myself where the different characters and mediums will show the difficult, complex nature of experience and the way we attempt to preserve and document it. The goal is to hopefully invite a little more skepticism about travel writing and creative nonfiction as a genre to try and combat the deep, “Dark African” stereotype that has been cultivated since early travel writers like Henry Morton Stanley and Joseph Conrad.

So, if someone is not signing the blog posts “Rachel,” do not be alarmed. It’s still me. One aspect of me.

I wish that I could be Ava today. 1 flight down, 3 more to go before I touch the Ghana soil 45 hours later. As much as I love the adventure, those cute little delta inscribed biscoff cookies and half audible pilots don’t do much for me. Or airports for that matter, but perhaps that is because my overpriced fake Chinese food was only “sweet and sour” once I dipped the fried chicken in the packet of sauce. I have no appetite anymore, but when will I see an attempt at Chinese food for the next four months?

Oh, and my travel itinerary has my name wrong. I thought I was pretty sneaky getting past security on that one. An “E” snuck into my middle name, so once I sat down in the plane I had to use a nice mans phone to call Todd from the travel office to tell me I won’t get stuck in Dubai when they hunt me down. Well, maybe that is not all true. I got my phone call after asking three people and passing a background check and the lie detection test.

Now I wait. Wish I wouldn’t keep checking my pocket for my cell phone. Wonder if London has free Internet. Hope Delta comes through with my disposable blanket, and that when I land in Accra I will not have a Hawaii-homeless-on-arrival repeat.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

What's in a Name?

"Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception." ~David S. Slawson

I found a baby names book on the bottom of my parent’s bookshelf. After silently thanking them for naming me the sixth most popular girls name of the eighties (there are 2 other Rachels in my group of 7), I went through and picked out the names of my avatars.

Romantic Traveler: Ava (birdlike) or Chloe (young grass). Which do you like?
Postmodern Traveler: Gipsy (wanderer)
Photographer: Myra (quiet song)
Experiencer: Shelley (“from the meadow on the edge,” a spin off of my own name, and I like that it reminds me of Percy Shelley)
Native: Akau, my name in Twi

And Alma (learned soul)… I am considering a poet. Before I was thinking I would squish my poetry into the romantic and the postmodern, but I don’t know that it is the same. If I decide to do this, it means less show time for the other ones.

So lets iron this out. I am doing research approximately 90 days. But this whole thing could start as soon as I leave, ending when I return from England, maybe even a little bit after with a reflection piece from one of them. Still, I figure my travel time will be about 100 days, about 14 weeks.

If we do a day breakdown on a 100-day assignment… 85 with Shelley taking every Sunday… it is 17 days for 5 characters.

I think I will have Alma. With her, each character will have a run for 4 days, five if I really like a particular one that week, and that way I will be each character 4 times in the field with a little room to grow if I want. Plus Akua probably will just be a voice here and there and not a full-blown character experiment depending on how well that goes.

Also, I have decided it might be cool to add some of the kids writing. Obviously I would claim it to be theirs, but that might be an interesting authentic piece to a totally anti authentic themed narrative that will serve as voices like Akua.

This is exciting!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Imitation Practice 3

I just spend an hour working through some imitations of Virginia Woolf's style. It is not the easiest to adjust my writing to. A work in progress. So far I noticed she uses a lot of alliteration, commas to drag out the depth of the idea in her prose (easy to trip up), and concrete details to keep it interesting.

I'm a little confused about how to actually implement the native character of my narrative. I don't know think this is something I can just "be" for a week. Maybe I can try it and see how it goes. Maybe I'll just insert her voice when applicable from what I learn at the school. I'm also thinking 4-6 days is a better time frame.

Oh, and my postmodern traveler is going to use personal essay as a medium as well. Not sure why I forgot that.

I hate Through the Dark Continent, and I have 500 more pages of this 1000 page sucker to trump through.

Got my last rabies shot today. And turned in the key to my work. It is happening all so fast.

Here are just a few samples of what I've been playing with. Don't judge:

Sunday, May 2, 2010


So 80 percent of Larium takers say the mood swings go away after 2 weeks. This is good news for everyone.

I'm not sure if I am supposed to enjoy this, but my dreams are now really intriguing and vivid. I wake up and I can remember every detail. The story line even. I could never do that before. I'm definitely not getting enough sleep. Maybe I should start a dream journal again.

So I'm half way through the first volume of Stanley. To keep from total boredom and the racism on repeat I've looked at some of the stylistic things he wields to engage the reader in his narrative. He is mostly descriptive, but he uses dialogue when he is having conversations that make him look larger than life and sensible. One thing that I want to do better than him is see the character behind the quotation marks. Dialogue is a great way to mix it up, but it looks like he is just having a conversation with himself to reinforce whatever cover motives he had of going through Africa.

9 Days Left. 26 Things left on my to-do list.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Project Proposal

Rachel Rueckert
April 2, 2010

The Problem with Travel Narration:
Questioning the Nature of Experience and Challenging the Authenticity of Travel Documentation

Objective and Purpose

    You may have heard people say things like “the world exists to be written about” or “I’m going here so that I can say I have been there,” and various other adventurous notions that have struck writers since storytelling and exotic travels were first anciently explored.  This is of particular interest in the continent of Africa, where writers like Henry Morton Stanley and Joseph Conrad have contributed to the stereotype of a “dark continent” based off of their interpretations of their experiences.  As a writer myself, I understand the desire to experience and the need to try to express these experiences as a personal kind of truth.  Still, how often do we consider the nature of how we experience a world foreign to ourselves, or the “truthfulness” or consequential effects of these accounts in regards to their cultural authenticity?  With a post modern theoretical framework, my objective is to create a self-reflexive creative narrative that encourages us to reconcile with the difficult nature of documenting and expressing our travel experiences by looking at themes of replication, translation, and the fallacy of the original within my own mediums of mediating and documenting my experience.  I will be compiling a travel narrative of my time in Wiamoase Ghana that presents my materials in a way that problemetizes the typical view of travel narration.  I will accumulate these materials from trying to mediate my own experience abroad in order to present the difficulty of translating these experiences within a postmodern theoretical perspective.

    Simultaneously, in order to encourage experience making, generate material, and create opportunities of interaction, I will be looking at attitudes towards written expression and other mediums of expression among Ghanaians, particularly within the secondary school system, seeking to understand different mediums that they use to mediate and come to terms with their own experiences.  While self-expression among the Ghanaians is an interesting and viable research topic, my project will not claim to take that approach.  Rather, this population was selected in terms of my own interest in experiencing Wiamoase and how the African Literary Renaissance is perceived on a local level.  Ultimately, my project focuses on my personal experience in Wiamoase with the narrative I write about it. 

The purpose of this project is to better understand the nature of travel narratives by exposing themes of authenticity in subjective interpretation in order to recognize that we experience the world through a process of translating experience into our own contexts.  I will show the importance of this kind of project by looking at relevant literature, the population, location and events of my project, my methods, desired outcomes, limitations and ethical concerns, a budget and schedule, and conclude by emphasizing the value of rethinking our understanding of “authentic” creative nonfiction and travel experience. 

Relevant Literature

    Relevant literature for this project could be daunting and endless since it cuts across several disciplines.  For this reason, I have chosen to take a detailed focus on the mediums where I will be attempting to mediate and interpret my time in Wiamoase, Ghana that problematize the nature of experience and expressions about that experience.  I will talk briefly about the medium of writing by commenting on the ethics and nature of creative nonfiction and travel narratives, while also looking at ethnography and photography as mediums that we use to reconcile experience.  These disciplines will make up the lens that I will utilize to interpret my experience among the school children in Wiamoase in order to show the significance of thinking about authenticity.  I will also remark on the reason I have chosen the population I am working with to generate my experience. 

    First, let us reconcile with what creative nonfiction entails.  It is a fairly new umbrella term that began in the late sixties to categorize literary and the aesthetic, and though it is a sticky line to draw, it is said to incorporate autobiography, memoir, narrative, dairies, journals, the essay, and even the new journalism.  To get what I mean, consider the surprise when Becky Bradway received her lyric essays on life in rural Illinois only to discover the Library of Congress cataloged it as “F” for “History: America.”  Anyone shelving books in Barnes and Noble, or even me, the student constantly running between Floor 5 (Literature) and Floor 1 (History and Anthropology) in the library for travel narratives knows the unclear distinction in classifying what goes where.  Bradway is joined by Kathleen Stocking and Eddy L. Harris who received an “F” instead of a “P” for “Language and Literature” on their essays and memoirs, and Krakauer’s Into Thin Air got a “G” for “Geography.” Even Marc Twains’ Roughing It is sometimes found among “Q” for “Science” (Hesse 237-238).  Are you seeing the same problem I am seeing?  How creative nonfiction is placed has significant implications for interpreting writings in both creative and non-creative genres, and it is evident that creative nonfiction works are generally understood and placed outside of their nature, their nature being a personal portrayal of their own personal truth, and only one personal truth.  No matter how truthful you are to your story (if, of course, you assume that life flows like an easy plot structure) you are bound to get the “it wasn’t quite that way” and “it didn’t happen that way at all’s” from the other perspectives.  Joan Didion in “On Keeping a Notebook” states that it is always about “how it felt to me” and no matter how “dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I”’ (Bloom 278-279).  Whether these truths are more “truthful” than what really happened, we could find a copious amount of arguments stemming as far back as Aristotle’s Poetics, but truth is not what I am questioning here.  I am more interested in authenticity.  

    My travel narrative falls innately in this category of creative nonfiction.  So, if “the implacable I” means that I will insist on my own perspective in contrast, maybe even in opposition, to the other interpretations or the details I cannot possibly account for, “so be it?”  (Bloom 279)  Creative nonfiction writers are encouraged not to censor too much because you can lose your story, but is it only your story?  No  matter how faithful you are to the factual stream of events, you are still only representing one perspective.  My travel narrative of Wiamoase will not attempt to draw the line or answer for truthfulness, but it will try to expose the problems with authenticity in the nature of creating a travel memoir.  It will insist that intimate contact with the original experience is impossible, due to the nature of cultural translation processes and the absence of prior context, in order to encourage readers to understand works of creative nonfiction to be just what they are, a one sided story.  “How it felt to me.”  (Bloom 278).  A truth?  Perhaps, but not necessarily authentic. 

    There are plenty of travel narratives in creative nonfiction where this nature is manifested that stream back as far as the Greek Historian Herodotus (Clifford 2).  However, James Clifford is a modern voice interested in connecting ethnography with travel literature in a postmodern world, and his articles in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography give us modern opinions of what it means to write about a foreign experience.  While there are hundreds of examples of less-than-authentic creative nonfiction narratives, The Life of Black Hawk is a well-known example of problematic authenticity because it has been translated through multiple enigmatic voices (Hotz 112-135).  The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is also an interesting text to consider, given that despite its important seat in literature and history there are many credible arguments against the authenticity of some of Equiano’s recorded life and travel descriptions.  Writers like Herman Melville, Samuel Clemens, John Smith, and Jack London, are all also viable travel narratives to draw from to understand the romantic nature of the travel narrative, especially within the American tradition (Brown 2-9).  No matter how factual one is to the events of a travel adventure, the processes of translating that experience into your own context, and then skimming it down and editing it into something readable and aesthetic, innately inhibits a travel narratives ability to be truly authentic. 

    Now that we understand some of the problems of authenticity with creative nonfiction and travel writing, let us explore these themes in ethnography.  Claude Lévi-Strauss, often considered the "father of modern anthropology,” brings out some of the problems of writing in his Tristes Tropiques, a book where he thinks about his traveling in search of anthropology.  In this narrative he questions whether meaning is found in academic work or in the personal experience while incorporating both, helping us understand the impossibility of separating the two.  He goes so far as to state that in the past “the primary function of written communication is to facilitate slavery,” and that we need to use writing “for disinterested purposes, and as a source of intellectual and aesthetic pleasure” only as a secondary motive (Visel).  Looking at these statements, it is interesting to see to what extent written ethnography is still the primary one-dimensional medium we use to express anthropological findings.  Perhaps it is time to acknowledge  some of these limitations. 

    Clifford Geertz is another well-acclaimed anthropologist I want to look at in terms of ethnography, and his book, The Interpretation of Cultures, further establishes the subjective interpretative nature of all ethnography when experiencing a culture apart from our own cultural context.  His first chapter “Thick Description” encompasses the idea that having several layered meanings and interpretation is what gives ethnography a dimensional richness, and doing ethnography is like “trying to construct a reading” of a foreign, faded, incoherent, manuscript (Geertz 10).  He bluntly states that “we do not understand the people” because we are not natives, and says that all “anthropological writings are themselves interpretations” and “second to third ones to boot” (15).  This idea that we cannot be native or express a native point of view because of our lack of context is critical for ethnography, travel literature, and any document that attempts to translate a foreign experience outside of the original context.  

    A.L. Becker’s Beyond Translation likewise contains important insight into translating cultures when we are looking at ethnography.  He teaches us that translation lies in the context and in the prior texts from living and growing up as a native, and that this translation of language is impossible if you only factor in syntax and vocabulary.  The difficulty in translation, even among common cultures, is also discussed, and has contributed to understanding the difficulty in writing up an ethnography (Becker 235-378).

    The book When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography is also important to the ethnographic component of my project because it gives attention to native’s feelings and objections to some of the ethnographies conducted by famous ethnographers, such as Margaret Mead among the Samoans (Brettell 4).  This book discusses the selection of representation in the creation of text and the myth of objectivity by showing some of the responses of some of the misinterpreted natives.  With this other perspective, we can easily identify some of the overwhelming limits of ethnographic research, especially within the medium or writing.

Lastly, photography is a medium that I would like to use in conducting this creative project.  Walter Benjamin is a great resource for understanding the history of photography and how it has altered the world of art and assisted in a push towards postmodernism by its lack of relationship with an original.  In his book Illuminations we get a clear feeling from him that photography is a medium that problematizes the notion of an original because it is created solely for reproducibility.  He states that “the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity” and that the translation has no regard or relationship to the original (Benjamin 220).  Edward Cadava in his Words of Light further comments on Benjamin and adds more modern commentary into the photography phenomenon, adding a wider range of possible applications, especially in the new digital world.  Both of these theorists contribute to the understanding that there is a translation process going on in photographically documenting experience, and that there is some kind of gap, and even damage, that takes place in the process of translating an experience out of the original context through this limited lens.  Now imagine trying to translate your mediated interpretation into something that can be relayed to someone else.  It is projected into another context, undergoing yet another step of translation, and a step farther from authenticity. 

What is the value of thinking about these ideas of authenticity in experience and documenting an experience within writing, ethnography, and photography?  By recognizing that having an original and authentic experience is a kind of fallacy we can begin to identify the layers of translation necessary to draw it into our own cultural context, which we in turn try to mediate and translate again into some form of understandable expression.  This inevitably leaves something edited and cropped in a way that takes away its authenticity.  By presenting a postmodern reading of my experience I am hoping to expose these ideas from my own experience to encourage the reader to exercise a little more skepticism in creative nonfiction.  This could diminish the affects of something like “the dark continent” stereotype of Africa that was attributed by earlier travel writings by explorers like Henry Morton Stanley if these ideas were appropriated into the general understanding travel documentations. 

As far as my selected population, little attention has been paid to written literature in Ghana despite the abundant amount of writings and research about the country.  Most West African countries seem to live under the literary shadow of Nigeria, but much of this is attributed to Ghana having only one-seventh the population of its neighbor Nigeria (Pribe 395).  Still, little has been found on the subject.  Several prominent writers, such as Chinua Achebe, have remarked that African literature needs to be written in English, while others such as Kenyan Nigugi wa Thiong’o, state that Africans should only express themselves in their native tongues rather than the languages imposed upon on them (Spillman xiv).  I would like to go and see for myself what the local secondary school children think about all of this, and what their attitudes towards written expression in general are amidst an African Literary Renaissance. 

Population, Location, and Events

    My population will be 2-3 classes of students studying English and literature in general.  They will be selected form the Okomfo Anokye Secondary School in Wiamoase, Ghana.  The population will consist of students of both genders from the ages of 15-22, and the events I am looking at are the after school focus groups held in an empty classroom after school.  When class is in session, I will use participant observation and writing prompts at the beginning of class.  This is discussed in detail in this next section of my proposal.


    The methods I will be using in order to ensure that I am going out to experience and interpret my time in Ghana will be through photography, journal writing, and creative writing for my self-reflexive travel narrative.  I will have daily expectations exploring different mediums of expression and their limitations to ensure that I will capture the material I need to generate my creative project.  For my population I will be focusing my time on the secondary school students who are taking English or literature study classes, and I will do a classroom announcement as my form of recruitment.  I will be observing their expressions by looking specifically at their attitudes and perceptions of written expression.  The methods I will use to access my population will be through focus groups, informal interview, participant observation, and literary analysis.  The total time of individual participation will be 90 days.

I will hold voluntary focus groups 1-3 times a week after school where students can come and get involved with creative writing activities, lasting to up to an hour each session.  We will do workshop writings, generate and practice new forms of creative writing, read African poetry and other short excerpts from African writers, and hold general discussion.  Sample readings from African writers will include Achebe Chinua, Ama Ata Adoo, Kofi Anyidoho, Tsitsi Dangarembaga, Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka, and Amos Tutuola.  Also, short poetry exercises like the sonnet, limerick, and haiku will be practiced in order to generate material.  I will take notes and simultaneously participate in these activities in order to create material for my narrative.  I will record the findings on these focus groups through jotted notes, and since photography is an important part of my project, I will also bring it along for still image documentation of our focus groups. 

In addition to focus groups, I will be using informal interviewing techniques to get a basic understanding of attitudes towards written expression, or other types of expression if they are more applicable to the secondary school children.  These interviews will be very informal, and will be documented with jotted notes.  I will ask up to ten questions.  These questions will consist of the following:

·    Do you like to write? 
·    What do you like to write?
·    Do you like to read? 
·    What do you like to read?
·    What language do you prefer to write in?
·    Why and what do you usually write?
·    How do you feel about writing?
·    Will you use writing in your future?
·    Is writing a useful activity?
·    What other ways do you like to express yourself?

These informal interviews will be documented by taking notes, and though there can be some problems associated with this method, it will be most appropriate for an informal interview, and the findings are not intended to answer specific research findings.

I will also be doing participant observation of the classroom attitudes towards written expression in both English and Twi.  I will do jottings on these findings as well, noting the attitudes and behaviors during the lectures and during our focus groups. 

Literary analysis within post colonialism with a theoretical framework in postmodernism will also be a method that I will utilize to make sense of the material I am collecting from my personal experience in the field.  I will bring each child a notebook to keep, and at the beginning of class periods I will begin with writings prompts, if the teacher permits, that will be generated based on the current class topic and lesson or current local event.  The prompts will be relevant to the classroom topic to ensure class time is not wasted.  I will collect these at the end of class and try to identify common themes, attitudes, and thoughts from the children’s entries about written expression. 
I will recruit research participants by making a classroom announcement.  I will need to ask the permission of the teachers to utilize the beginning of class time for some writing prompt exercises, but the majority of the time will be spent in after school, outside of class, activities.     

Desired Outcomes

     My end product will be a travel narrative that challenges the authenticity of travel documentation and questions the nature of the way we experience the world.  I will accomplish this by juxtaposing a traditional narrative with an alternative perspective that incorporates different mediums that inevitably dictate our viewpoint and our experience abroad in a cohesive, yet nontraditional way.  By doing this, I hope to show how mediated and edited the writing process and travel experience really is.  I will gather this data through exploring different writing styles, alternative personas and characters, journal entries, creative writing exercises, and photographs.  The photograph will be essential to my project for a number of reasons.  Not only does it add a rich visual dimension for a unique interaction that only the visual arts can accomplish, but it also invites these concepts to be applied across disciplines to contribute to the discussion of benefits and limitations of mediums such as visual anthropology.  It is also advantageous to my particular project because it will expose some of the down sides to the writing process and simultaneously reveal the limitations of photography, a medium becoming vastly popular to mediate experiences abroad. 

The purpose of this presentation is to encourage the reader to rethink how they perceive the authenticity of travel narrations in the context of creative nonfiction, cultural accuracy, and in the fallacy of having an “original” experience.  It is hoped that by showing the many different layered interpretations and cropped viewpoints that go into a final travel narrative, this outcome will be accomplished.  It is not meant to discredit experience and the importance of writing, but it will attempt to expose the inability to have an experience that is not translated and reproduced in some dimension.  Conferences, presentations, and formal writings for publication could be long-term options for the BYU Inquiry Conference. 

Author and Mentoring Faculty Qualifications

I am an avid reader and a prolific writer.  I have kept a journal my entire life, and this drive, coupled with my foundational education at BYU, has contributed to my desire to do this project.  My university ENGL 218R (Creative Writing) taught me creative writing skills, while ENGL 251 (Fundamentals of Literary Theory) exposed me to literary theory, and ENGL 291 and ENGL 292 (British Literary History 1 and 2) gave me a background for important movements and emerging genres.  ENGL 293 (American Literary History) also exposed me to important names and movements, including the American travel narrative as a genre. 

    My Anthropology minor has also given me a foundation for the ethnographic skills to access my population.  ANTHR 309 (Language, Culture, and Society) taught me about the nature of translation across culture and ANTHR 206 (Contemporary Theory) exposed me to important contemporary theorists.  IAS 360R (International Field Study Prep) class has also familiarizing me with research skills and helping me organize my creative project.  For photography, ART 212 (Introduction to Photography) helped me understand how to represent culture and express meaning with my lens.

    My faculty mentor, Gideon Burton, is a Professor of English who specializes in the history of rhetoric and the rhetoric of new media.  He maintains several academic blogs and websites, including Silvia Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric and The Mormon Literature Database, and is interested in incorporating new media into our understanding of literature.  Professor Burton graduated from Brigham Young University in 1989 and went on to receive his Master of Professional Writing (MPW) degree from the University of Southern California in 1955.  He later received his Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature in 1994 from the University of Southern California.   Professor Burton’s qualifications will compensate for my lack of experience.  Completing a field study to India himself, he has gone on to oversee many other students field studies student projects that have come before me.  His interest in incorporating other mediums into literary studies suits my project where other mediums, such as photography, will be used in conjunction with a narrative to question the authenticity and nature of experience. 

Ethical Concerns and Project Limitations

    Ethical concerns are minimal, although I do recognize that I am working with a vulnerable population.  While the focus of my project is on my own personal expression of my experience, facilitating focus groups may lead to psychological risk if the participants are to engage in expression that deals with personal issues that are difficult to talk about in their expression.  It will be my job to ensure that each students knows that he or she does not have to turn in or share any piece of writing they are not comfortable sharing, and they are more than able to stop participating at any given time.  Deception will not be instigated, and I will be upfront and open about what it is I am doing, since I will be simultaneously expressing myself all the while with them.  The pretense of a camera can be uncomfortable for some people, and while written permission will be present in the consent form, I will also ask for verbal permission before snapping a picture to ensure that personal wishes are respected if the timing is sensitive.  Overall, risks will be minimal, seeing that most of what I will be doing will be in terms of voluntary after school activities and observation of what they would be doing day to day anyway.

    My project is limited because of time restraints and potential problems with access to the secondary school system.  My camera could also be stolen or break while I am out there.  To combat these concerns, I have thought about secondary populations, such as village artisans and seamstresses, who I could work with and observe if the first plan fails.  If I have problems with my camera, I am also a painter, and I might be able to utilize that as the alternative artist representation of my experience.  No matter what problems could arise, my project is focusing on the interpretation of my experience and the narrative I write about it, so any unforeseen problem will not void out my ability to conduct this creative writing project. 


       Airfare ($1,900)
       BYU tuition (ten credit hours/semester, covered by scholarship)
       HTH Travel Insurance ($120 non-refundable due upon acceptance)
Passport and Other Travel Costs ($100–200)   
    Vaccinations ($100–300)
    Living Expenses ($100–250/month)   
In-country Travel ($150–250)
Application Fee ($25)
Acceptance Fee ($100)

    As far as budget goes, I do not have means to pay my informants, but I can offer my time, friendship, and service in whatever way I can to ensure that their time and efforts for my project are valued and appreciated.


    Each week I will be spending 4-5 days focusing on forms of expression in the secondary school systems with 2-3 classes studying English and literature.  After school I plan to hold 1-3 focus groups (up to an hour each session) where we will explore various poetry forms, discuss certain exerts of African writings, workshop, and free write.  Sample readings from African writers will include Achebe Chinua, Ama Ata Adoo, Kofi Anyidoho, Tsitsi Dangarembaga, Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka, and Amos Tutuola.  Also, short poetry exercises like the sonnet, limerick, and haiku will be practiced in order to generate material.  I will be simultaneously participating in the activities with them in order to generate material for my own self-reflexive travel narrative.     

    The following timeline shows how my project will be conducted over a three-month period from May 14, 2010 to August 15, 2010 to show how I will be using my time in the field:

    Week                        Activities

  1. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, building paradigm and finding population.      
  2. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using building paradigm and finding population.      
  3. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  4.  Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  5. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  6. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  7. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  8. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  9. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  10. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  11. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  12. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, 1-3 focus group(s), 1 informal interview, and participant observation.        
  13. Daily write ups about particular medium of expression I am using, preparing to leave.   


    In conclusion, I hope that creating a travel narrative that challenges the nature of our experiences and the authenticity of our expressions will be beneficial to the academic world by inviting more skepticism of creative non-fiction genres to diminish common stereotypes, such as “the dark continent,” that have been attributed throughout history because these narratives were regarded as something more than personal interpretations and subjective truths.  Because we interact with the world with little, if any, access to an “original” experience, we need to understand that any medium we choose to mediate our experience is undergoing a translation process that leaves the authentic component behind when it is rendered through various editing and cropping techniques on the road to these polished final products.  By generating these cleaned up, cohesive travel narratives, we are taking many steps away from the original experience and its authenticity, and this is the behind the scene process that should be recognized and incorporated into our understanding and interpretation of creative nonfiction and our experiences abroad. 

Works Cited

Becker, Alton L.  Beyond Translation: Essays Toward a Modern Philology.  Ann Arbor:     University of Michigan Press, 2000.  Print.
Benjamin, Walter.  Illuminations.  New York:  Schocken Books Inc., 1968.  Print.
Bloom, Lynn Z.  “Living to Tell the Tale:  The Complicated Ethics of Creative Nonfiction.”      College English 65.3 (2003) 276-289.  Web. 20 Feb. 2010
Brettell, Caroline B.  When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography.  New York:     Bergin & Gravey Paperback, 1996.  Print.
Brown, Sharon Rogers.  American Travel Narratives as a Literary Genre from 1542 to 1832. 
Cadava, Eduardo.  Words and Light.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1997.  Print.
Clifford, James.  Routes:  Travel and Translation in Late Twentieth Century.  London: Harvard     University Press, 1997.  Print. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.  Print.
Geertz, Clifford.  The Interpretation of Culture.  New York:  Basic Books, 1973.  Print.
Heese, Douglas.  “The Place of Creative Nonfiction.”  College English 65.3 (2003) 237-241.      Web.  20 Feb. 2010
Hotz, Jeffry.  Divergent Visions, Contested Spaces:  The Early United States Through the Lens of     Travel.  Florence: Routledge, 2006.  Print.
Priebe, Richard.  “Special Issue on Western African Popular Culture.”             Research in African Literatures 9.3 (1978) 395-432.  Web.  20 Feb. 2010
Spillman, Rob.  Gods and Soldiers.  New York:  Penguine Books, 2009.  Print. 
Visel, Dan. (2010, Mar 25).  This Progress.  Message posted to  (2010, March 13).  If: book: A Project of the     Institute for the Future  of the Book.