castles & canopies {weeks four and five}

In my frenzy of writing hundreds of pages of lessons for the women’s empowerment curriculum I’m working on, I somehow didn’t get to posting a blog last week.

I struggle with blogging this time around. I struggle with the line between sharing stories and experiences I’m having here, because while sometimes the cultural differences are hilarious and/or frustrating, they’re nothing that thousands of people haven’t experienced before me. I struggle with wanting to share more about what I’m working on but also wanting to protect the names and faces and stories of the people I’m interacting with. How do I interact ethically, not exploiting the very personal experiences of the children and ladies I work with? Experiences and stories that belong to them, not to me or to the rest of the world? How do I raise awareness, not just for awareness’ sake, but in order to create change?

So I don’t blog much anymore, because I don’t have answers to those questions. And because I’d rather err on the side of silence than sharing too much. So instead, here’s an update on the general Ghanaian goings-on, in case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to…

I work Monday through Thursday and some Fridays. Mondays through Wednesday I’m typically out at City of Refuge’s main campus (which is essentially in the bush), Thursdays I’m at the 7 Continents (microfinance enterprise) location 1-2 hours (depending on traffic and/or rain) in the opposite direction, and Fridays I’m either working from home or traveling. Of course, this is all subject to change because, as we say daily, this is Africa, and very few things go exactly as planned.

When I travel internationally I tend to explore one country fully rather than flitting around to a bunch of different ones. You get to know a country and its people and its culture in a different way when you plant yourself there. In the last month I’ve been to a resort on the Volta River, a beach camp in Ada Foah, further north and across Lake Volta to the tallest waterfall in West Africa and an awesome monkey sanctuary, and this past weekend to Cape Coast.

In Cape Coast we toured the Cape Coast Castle – a British fortress that facilitated the transatlantic slave trade. This was on my list of must-sees in Ghana…my first couple weeks of grad school were spent doing a fairly intensive study of the transatlantic slave trade and Great Britain’s abolition movement. It was kind of surreal to stand in the dungeons that held thousands of African slaves and to hear the tour guide talk about slave traders I’d read about in books. Surreal and so sobering.

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After Cape Coast we headed to Kakum, a rainforest and national park. The main attraction here was a canopy walk – essentially wooden planks suspended by rope webbing 125+ feet in the air. This places you on top of the rainforest canopy, with the sort of view you probably can’t find anywhere else (likely because of safety regulations, but oh well…).

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The whole weekend was made more interesting due to the fact that nearly all of Ghana’s gas stations were shut down because the government hasn’t been paying its petrol bills…so we were never quite sure if we’d be able to find transportation home. And then when we thought we were headed home, we happened to get on a tro tro (a van/minibus used for public transit) headed in the wrong direction (we mistook the town “Shaima” for “Ashaima,” where we were headed). So when I realized the ocean was on the wrong side of the road (we were going east instead of west, toward home), the tro turned around to take the clueless obrunis (foreigners) back to to the station. One guy on board got really upset but all the other Ghanaians were protective of the silly white girls who didn’t know where they were going. Oh the adventures of international travel.

This week my fellow intern and friend Ashley went to the market in central Accra (Ghana’s capital) to buy materials for 7 Continents. We wandered through the rain to several different “stores” to get fabric, thread, zippers, edging, foam…all the pieces necessary to make our products. Then, because the Ghanaian we were with thought it’d be funny (and so we wouldn’t have to hire someone else to do it), we carried the supplies back to the bus station on our heads, African style. You could say we got a lot of attention. But hey, when in Africa…

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Home is an interesting concept.

I’ve written about that before, but it’s hitting me again.

I’m in Ghana, West Africa.

Akwaaba to Ghana

It’s been awhile since I’ve left the States for any significant portion of time. And I’m only here for ten weeks – which is actually on the short end of how long I like to be gone. And while it’s no secret that I love to travel, it was difficult to leave Denver…

…to leave home.

What is home? Home is my family and my friends. It’s is my own comfortable bed. It’s coffee in the kitchen upstairs. It’s my running and my climbing shoes. It’s my (way too many) clothes in the dresser. It’s an air conditioner and a heater to keep my house a bearable temperature. It’s a washer and a dryer. It’s fast, reliable internet and wifi everywhere I go. It’s all these things and a thousand more.

And I’ve gotten used to having all of these things at my oh-so-American fingertips. But I’ve been in Ghana for 18 hours (two of which were spent waiting on my luggage and 12 of which were spent sleeping), and I’ve realized I need far less than my oh-so-American fingertips want.

It’s not that all the things that make up my life in America are inherently bad. It’s just that anytime you travel you are reminded that a) they aren’t all necessary and b) you have them because you have been incredibly blessed.

So yes, it would be nice to have a few percentage points less of humidity. It’d be nice to curl my hair or go rock climbing or wear my favorite jeans. It’d be nice to hug my family and my boyfriend. But I’m in Ghana and my bags are unpacked and there are pictures of friends and family on the wall and a cup of coffee on the table next to me.

I’ve got all I need. For ten weeks, this is home.


Home (noun):
1: one’s place of residence
2: the social unit formed by a family living together
3. a familiar or usual setting
4. a place of origin

Home seems like a simple thing, but tonight it perplexes me.

Because when I think of home, not one single place or person or thing comes to mind. Because I think of all these things:

I think of that little gray house on Maple Street where my room had bunnies on the wallpaper and I was forever mimicking my older brother.


I think of my little Dutch hometown with windmills on the street corners, the place where I can walk two blocks and inevitably see a handful of people I know. I think of summer nights on the square and junior high marching band practices and awkward first dates in that movie theater.

I think of college, of the dorm rooms and the friendships and the laughter and of running down every street in Kirksville in the course of four years.

college graduation

I think of those brief months in Thailand. I think of tile-floored rooms and sometimes cold showers and all those beautifully friendly Thai faces. I think of my favorite taxi drivers and the lady who sold me popcorn at the temple market every week and the girl who always picked me the best apples at the fruit stand.

me and the kiddos

I think of the coffee shop. I think of those brick walls and wood floors and the smell of espresso on my hands, and I remember how sacred and quiet and simple that place felt at 5:45 a.m. I think of my friends there. I miss them.


smokey row

I think of Colorado, of waking up in the morning and deciding I want to climb a mountain and watch the sun rise. And being able to do it.

Mount Bross sunrise

I think of my family. My dad, my mom, my brothers, my sisters. My giggling niece and my chubby-cheeked nephew. Friends who can read me better than I can read myself. Board games. Glasses of wine. Hiking. Innumerable cups of coffee. Tears. Laughter. Iowa. Missouri. Colorado. Minnesota. California. Arizona. Thailand. Switzerland. Guatemala. Ghana. All the places that are my homes or home to the friends or family who are part of what home means to me.

And sometimes I wish home were one place. That I didn’t wander as much as I do, because then I wouldn’t have to say goodbye so often. Then I wouldn’t have to go through that awkward stage of navigating life in an entirely new place. And then I wouldn’t have to be sad when I leave it and begin the sometimes arduous process of starting anew elsewhere.

Sometimes I wish that.

But then I think how beautiful it is to have all these homes. To be at home in so many places and with so many different  people. To be, in the same moment, both sad to leave an old home and happy to go to the new one. And to be constantly adding new homes to the list of ones I already have.

Yes, my home is a beautiful place.


Screams and whispers

The voices in my head are screams and whispers.

The screams, you see, are easy to hear. They say you’re not good enough, you’re lazy, you’re incompetent, you’re useless, you’re ugly, you’ll never achieve anything, and on and on they chorus.

And I, in my less grace-full moments, scream back. My screaming moments are moments of discontent, of anger, of frustration, of discouragement. Continue reading

“Real” life

Someone I know from high school stopped in the coffee shop today, and as we were comparing our current lives’ states — both decently intelligent, driven college graduates, me working at as a barista here in Pella, her waitressing at a restaurant in Minneapolis, both watching our friends get married and have babies and get salaried jobs — I made some comment along the lines of “I’m just waiting for ‘real’ life to start.”

And she said, “Dana, this is real life.”

And I stopped for a moment. Continue reading

Journal Pages

Last week when I spent a few days alone at a cozy little cabin in the woods (a la Henry David Thoreau style), I was given the gift of intentional time to reflect on everything about my experience in Thailand. (Stay tuned for that summary.) But I decided to go back further than Thailand. I read through my old journals from the past two years, reliving the joys and the heartbreaks, the growth and the changes. It was interesting to see certain Bible verses and promises and themes scrawled out over and over again, black ink on those white lined pages, month after month. Continue reading

“But he loved.”

I just finished reading Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. It’s the sequel to The Ragamuffin Gospel, which I am currently reading.

I know, you shouldn’t read the sequel first. My bad.

The book challenged me a lot of ways, gave me a lot to think about. It will probably color my thoughts in this blog for awhile, but for now, I just want to share one particular image I can’t get out of my head.

At one point in the book, Manning shared an excerpt from a writer named Robert Johnson. In this excerpt, Johnson is writing about a vision he had in which his soul was on trial. Read this slowly, and let yourself really envision this scene:

“A prosecutor presented all the sins of commission and omission that I was responsible for throughout my life, and the list was very long indeed. That went on for hours, and it fell on me like a landslide. I was feeling worse and worse to the point where the soles of my feet were hot. After hours of accusations from the prosecution, a group of angels appeared to conduct my defense. All they could say was, “But he loved.” They began chanting this over and over in a chorus: ‘But he loved. But he loved. But he loved.’ This continued until dawn, and in the end, the angels won, and I was safe.”

I need to learn to love better than I do now.

Because love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  And love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).

Because at the end of my life, I want the angels to be able to say, “But she loved.”