Monday, April 26, 2010

It's 2:30am on a Tuesday. What else is new?

Flight booked? Check
Traveler's insurance? Check
Chat with a psu alum on the customer service line at 2am? Check

I feel so accomplished. Yeah, there's a whole lot left to do (new macro lens attachment, anyone?) and loose ends to tie up (how am I getting to JFK aiport from Philadelphia?), I'm pretty pumped. Some of the biggest steps are out of the way, now I just need to get my visa and finish up my final exams and get out of State College.

I still can't believe how fortunate I was with all of the funding I was able to collect. Last week, I was coming to the point where I wondered if I'd be able to travel at all, and then in the course of a few short days all of this money started to tumble in. Is this really the way the world works? As cool as it is, it's enough to give a person a heart attack with all of the anticipation!

Before I forget, I found a really sweet article in the NY Times dining section about a Ghanaian place that has some pretty sweet deals, if you're in the Bronx any time soon. It's called Papaye, and they've got all the staples, like fufu, palaver sauce, banku. It also comes with high praise from the managers of the two local African markets. If the Times sees fit to publish something about Ghanaian cuisine, maybe the rest of the foodie in-crowd will start to pay attention. Well, the real insiders already know just how delicious the food is.
How good does that all look? I know, it looks fantastic.

More to come when I'm more rested.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

First post, introductions, etc

I wouldn't consider myself a blogger or a daily journaler, so this is a bit of an experiment for me. I'll be doing my best to update this thing on a regular basis as the weeks tick down and my trip to Ghana approaches.

Here's the deal:

Story Time

I'm a freshman at Penn State. I came in without a clue of what I was going to do with myself, what I wanted to study, or how I would manage to figure anything out and still graduate in four years. I was one of those kids who liked to do everything from theatrical design to chemistry to barn work to writing poetry. All though high school, people told me that I would eventually have to pick something as a career path and let all of my other interests live on as hobbies, on the back burner, where they would risk abandonment and death. Ok, I thought, when it comes time, I'll be able to figure it out.

Flash forward, I arrived on Penn State's campus still undecided, and on a whim elected to schedule my required freshman seminar course in the earth and mineral science department, focusing on the topic of georesources in Africa and the impacts of global demand on the social and political scene throughout the continent. The woman who taught the class, Petra Tschakert, is pretty boss, and by the end of the semester, we'd learned about blood diamonds, the tin oxide in our phones and other electronics, and the impacts of the demand for alternate energy sources on many African countries.

The last day our class met, Petra had us push back all of the tables and move to the center of the room. She pulled up some videos on youtube of some African bands, and pushed us to dance. You can learn as much as you want in a classroom, she said, but if you ever travel, you're going to encounter cultural and linguistic and personal barriers that no textbook can instruct you to break through. The easiest way, in her experience, was to dive right in and to dance. Sure, in a class of engineers where I was one of three girls, this was pretty awkward. But there was a hint of that Coffee House atmosphere, that shared awkwardness over lunch (we of course ordered pizza as a class) that was unifying, and some shuffled dancing busted out.

At the end of that class period, Petra began to ask around the room who among us was planning to travel abroad to Africa before graduation. I was one of the few that raised their hand, and knowing I was undecided about my major, Petra asked what I was interested in. I told her I'd been looking into the Food Science program at Penn State, but that I was also interested in art and writing. She gave me the name of Dr. Fran Osseo-Asare, and told me to look into her work or even try to get in contact with her. Sweet, I thought, I'll give it a shot.

Fran writes about West African food and cuisine, specifically that of Ghana. She has a few books out already, but when I began correspondence with her, she told me she was working on a few new projects about food in West Africa. I told her I'd be interested in meeting with her to talk about it, maybe working with her. I didn't know what I could offer, whether I was going to crash and burn.

I haven't crashed and burned. Instead, I now work pretty much as her assistant, breaking down West African recipes for their nutritional values. I'll be doing more photography with her soon when I hop on a plane mid-June headed for Ghana where I'll be spending two weeks traveling around with Fran, meeting people like Barbara Baeta (pretty impressive owner of a catering company in Accra. More to come about her) and photographing and scribbling my way through my stay.

I think I know what to expect, but at the same time I understand that I have never done anything like this before. I'm excited, and I'll be documenting the whole thing right here.