Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Being part of history

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401 pictures later, back in the warmth of my friends apartment, I sit down to recap on an amazing day.

After two hours of sleep and a bowl of oatmeal we headed out, before the sun came up, to the train station. While at different times the crowd was overwhelmingly packed, the tension dissipated easily in light of the event we would all be witnessing.

We navigated to a place we could get a good view of one of the jumbotrons. It was a good ten degrees colder than the opening ceremony concert, and many people were huddling, or jumping around.

Others brought blankets and cards. Luckily we had a blanket, although we ended up using it for warmth more than keeping clean.
This was the scene as the sun was coming up. They replayed the concert from Sunday, which as I said, kept people moving and warm.

An overwhelming amount of people were wearing some type of Obama paraphernalia, including myself.

We watched all of the famous politicians and cabinet members, and random lucky celebrities file in, and then it was like electricity when they started the ceremony.

After the swearing in everyone put the cameras down to listen to the speech. It was very moving.

I stand here today humbled by the task before us...

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

... we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

were some of the more memorable phrases I could remember. Everyone was silent for most parts during the speech, which was almost eerie since we had all be jumping around trying to keep warm, but it was a complete pausing point, and it was pretty amazing to be there. Worth every second of the whole weekend just to be there for the speech.

Always wanted to walk on the highway

Crazyness. Total chaos. In all directions.
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Can you see me?
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Today I brought a blanket to sit down on, like these folks next to me. Much better.
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Dawn on inauguraton day

Next to the Smithsonian....the crowd is so much larger than Sunday!
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Cops out on the street

Basically every block, even at 3 am. Bars are even open later today specially! Get ready for it!
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Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration opening ceremony at Licoln Memorial

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As I said I headed down about three hours early. When I walked onto the Mall, it didn't seem all that crowded. Of course there was a lot of security/sniper looking camouflaged men and women.

The weather looks dingy in the pictures, but it wasn't that bad. Probably about 30 F, but I had on two hats, two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, a sweater, a hoodie, and two pairs of gloves. So I was ok with the weather, and didn't really get cold for the five hours I was standing around.

Then I started to walk down towards the Lincoln Memorial, and they shuffles us to the sides and into very long lines. The lines moved pretty fast though, so I wasn't there for more than half an hour. After they made us take out all of our electronics and turn them on, I got a quick pat down and I was in.

That was where I found all of the people. Folks had parked themselves all over the areas around the reflecting pool. Many had blankets and food, and cards and other forms of entertainment. The rest of us just stood. I walked up as close as I could get and over the course of the next few hours it packed in. At some point all of the people who were on the ground ended up standing up and there was no room to be had.

When the ceremony started the speaker that was closest to our corner wasn't working, so all we could see was the screens, and people started to shout, and chant "Turn it up", for about five minutes until it was resolved.

There were people climbing trees, and even on the tops of the port-o-potties.

It was hard to see the stage, but we all had views of multiple screens, and had made friends with the people sharing your personal space over the last three hours, although there was a few people who's disposition worsened over the course of the wait. I tried to just focus on standing properly so I wouldn't get tired.

The speakers and performers ran the gamut of different celebrities, the most enthusiastic were Bono, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Usher, Stevie Wonder, and Mary J. Blige, although there were many more. Of course Obama was the biggest crowd pleaser.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Behind me

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In front of me at the Lincoln memorial

Three hours early and there are already so many people here.
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Retracing the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861

Pulling into the train station ahead of Obama's vintage train that was retracing the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861, was most likely the closest I will get to him over the next three days. They hustled us off the train through a cloud of security, including probably about twenty police dogs. I was a little disoriented and stopped to ask one of the people in uniform where the front of the station, and she just yelled at me to keep walking. Okay. Thanks.
Once we were inside the gate there, there was a crowd waiting for him, but since I had a backpack roughly the size of my body, and some other luggeage, and my college roommate who was picking me up was outside, I didn't wait around to see him pull in. Apparently he didn't either.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama's train

Some of the delay must have been because Obama's train was in front of us. We just pulled into Baltimore right next to his train and a lot of security. After passing him, at every stop, every street that had a view of the tracks had cops and people lined up waving and taking pictures. Even people waving flags! It's sort of like being in a high speed parade!

Starting off a long train ride waiting..

The pricey ticket seemed worth it for bypassing traffic on 95 south heading to the largest celebration Washington has ever seen. Now sitting at union station in New Haven looking up at the hours worth of delays on all south bound trains I wonder if there wasn't a better way to get there. Maybe by bike?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Last day in Ghana, trouble with the law

The day we were due to fly home we decided to try to drive an hour away to Lake Volta to take a ferry ride. We were slightly pressed for time because we had to catch the ferry at 10:30am, which lasted until 4:30, make it home pack up, say farewell and head to the airport at 7:30pm. Needless to say, if you know me, you know it was on my mind.

Now I should preface this antidote with a story about the first proper day we were in Accra. We were sitting outside at Rhapsody's having a few beers, sweating a bit more than what I consider comfortable, but again, first day...

All of a sudden there is a commotion going on in the adjacent parking lot, literally 25 meters from where we are sitting. A cop was harassing a taxi driver. Screaming at the top of his lungs for him to sit down, flailing his hands and his rifle all over the place. The driver was barely responding at all, maybe this further angered the cop, because he started to beat him with his hand. He was roughing him up pretty aggressively. I was pretty shocked.
"Welcome to Africa" Akwasi smiled.

After discussing this with a few other Ghanaians, people came to agree that the police in Ghana are quick to get angered, and are often looking for a bribe. Needless to say it struck me, and set the tone for any interactions with authority for the rest of the trip. Luckily, besides roadside checkpoints, there was very little interactions with police.

Fast forward to the last day.
First off after a series of unfortunate events, which included forgetting someone behind, and a flat tire, we were running a little bit behind schedule. Now a friend of Charles' had loaned us a car he had recently imported into the country. Because it was imported it had temporary plates. In addition to the temporary plates you have to carry a log book with all the details about why the car has the temporary plates. Ok fine.

So after helping Akwasi with his flat, Chandra, Charles, his sister Pricila, and I headed off to Akosombo. About twenty minutes down the road, there is a police check point. We pull up, and two cops lean in both windows. One asks for the log book. Charles has no idea about that... so the guy takes his gun off quickly and yells at us to pull over. It was the taking-off-of-the-gun that made my stomach drop a bit. Charles got out of the car, got yelled at, and after about 30 minutes and a crisp bill, we were off.

Ten minutes and all of the sudden we were at another one, except this time the cop flew off the handle immediately. Ranting and raving, we pulled over, and sweated out in the car. He made us get out of the car, claiming that he had to impound the car. No bathroom, no water, two hours of raving madness, marching, and huffing. Even some of the other cops there commented on the fact that the ring leader was being unusually unreasonable.

Finally Charles' parents came from their home, over an hour away, and talked the guy down. I don't know if money was exchanged, but we missed the ferry, and were in general exhausted.

While I felt extremely safe for the most part of my trip, the only time I felt uncomfortable in Ghana, was around the cops.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

After the club ...

Victoria came in on Sunday morning and said "After you go to the club, you go to church."

I think I may have noted in a past blog that church is slightly longer for Charismatics, which is what Akwasi's family is, than an American Catholic service.

Although Adwoa said something about 2 hours, after 3.5 hours Chandra and I started to wonder. Four hours in total the day we went. No air conditioning either.

Charistmatics are closely related to pentecostal Christians, and speak in tongues. True to the name, parts of the service were very vibrant.

My favorite part was seeing everyone dressed up.

That and Chandra nodded off at one point during the service (it was hard to stay awake especially since it was so hot) and an older lady sitting behind us told Victoria to wake her up. Victoria made Chandra come and sit by her. Flashback to St. Thomas.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Small world & crazy nights

Many Ghanaians who are studying or working in the US are home for vacation, including some people from Yale, and those we've met who have visited Akwasi at school.

In addition to the tourist sites, we've done our fair share of partying with these guys and friends of Akwasi's from high school.

Burning the nights up in Ghana...

Friday, January 2, 2009

These Swiss tourists...

may or may not have though Charles was 50 cent.

They came over and asked for a picture with him.

Kakum National Park

In addition to Cape Coast, we traveled about a half an hour north to Kakum National Park, which has a canopy walk above the rain forest floor (one of four in the world).

Most people have asked me if we were going to go on a safari in Africa, but the southern part of Ghana is rain forest.

I didn't think that Ghana could get any more hot or humid for that matter, but I was wrong.
The guide book I brought along had noted that the canopy walk was a bit over emphasized, but I was completely amazed. Approximately 200 ft up, the view was quite breathtaking.

The untouched trees stretched up forever, some were so tall, it looked like they would never stop growing.

The seven bridges were single file; a plank of wood on a metal ladder with rope netting. A little scary at first, because the bridges easily sway, but once you get over looking down at the plank you are walking on, it's quite beautiful.