Sunday, October 17, 2010

Modern art in Italy

Last weekend I went to a modern art exhibit (MAXXI), that's right, I like modern art... I guess its due to a wild imagination and those art history classes I took in highschool and college. This one was filled with Italian artists. Its a little bit strange to imagine modern italian art because our minds take us to beautiful pieces like Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, or the David statue and other architectural wonders. But let the record show they do have modern art as well, and its not just picassized rendition of Winged Victory. Although that would be amusing. BTW I just verbed Picasso. That was awesome. Okay, so about this modern art exhibit: We walk into the courtyard and we are immediately seized by an overwhelming skeleton of a birdman(it had a beak for a nose, I think) lying prone, who was struck down by a large golden pen in the finger. My first thought was, "so the pen really is/was mightier than the sword". MAYBE. But then I notice something else... The pen is perfectly balanced and not crushing anything. It is simply there... balanced... even after the body has decomposed. So, I chewed on that thought for a bit.
Okay, so I have to add now, not everything that I viewed was really worth seeing (*gasp* did I just say that out loud). I am all for artwork that makes you think, and often I get bored with art for the sake of art.
On the other hand, I hate when people try to generalize what an artist was expressing for everyone... I don't believe in that! I think art is made for the interpretation of the individual. Maybe his or her life did influence what they were feeling in the moment, maybe it didn't. We can't look back at the artwork and see order in the complexity. There is no answer. I also hate being tested on the critic's opinion of the artwork. Art is meant to be enjoyed and thought about, not memorized. Any questions regarding why I didn't pursue Art History as a major??
SO back to the exhibit. The entire building was a work of art in itself. I especially enjoyed the upstairs part. The floor wasn't level, the rooms weren't symmetrical and there were quotes posted that destroyed the artist's search for fame and fortune through his/her artwork. They said THAT IS NOT ART!!!! (this was all in italian, but I received a translation from two friends I was there with). I guess artists who are free from concerns of society and popular opinion. Who are either independently wealthy or don't care what people like, or are never noticed until after death are the true artists. Maybe the artist can't expect to make a living doing it, but must use it as a form of expression are the ones that count. that is art.
Okay, another idea that was thrown around in this exhibit... we were walking through these rooms of object perfectly placed by the artist (this is called an installation, those of you who don't have a background in art) you and the half dozen other people are all gazing at the objects, sometimes chairs, tables, and oddly shaped mirrors, or maybe its a random set of objects you can't identify. It doesn't matter, because we are all looking, everyone trying to understand it. We are using our personal kaleidoscope to peer into the world of the artist and understand what it all means. Then you notice a little sign in the corner, something to the effect of, "the artist believes you are the artwork in the room." That blows me away! ME?!? the artwork? Everyone here is art. Then I begin to notice the other people in the room, because they're art too. A mother with a baby carriage. The old couple holding hands next to me. Do they know they're art?
So in the back corner of the upstairs room there was a second skeleton, with the same golden pen piercing its formerly fleshy finger. And then I got it. What the skeleton meant to me, at least. It represented my search for balance- perhaps this was somewhat influenced by my recent experience watching general conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. I had a few talks stick out to me, especially ones talking about priorities and balance in life. It takes a lifetime to figure it all out. Once we finally figure out what is most important in life, we die. Okay so the piece could also represent that man's search for balance leads to death, or the fact that it everything is finally balanced after this life is over... but I choose to look on the bright side. I still have time, I am still alive and am searching for balance. Maybe its killing me. Maybe its saving me. Needless to say, I felt like the artist was speaking to me. Amazing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

China for beginners

You may be wondering, what is China like? well the answer is, i don't know- it depends. There are at least 50 provinces and many languages and accents, all living inside what we call the great country of china! I lived in city of several million people that no one has ever heard of. I traveled through the countryside where crops have been grown for 1000's of years. I hiked mountains where people have gone to listen to the sound of their own breath and come closer to their God. I climbed an apartment building 8 floors up to a small, but clean flat built for three people. I rode a train for over 30 hours standing up with 100 other people in a car the size of two of my living rooms. I ate cold, thick, glossy noodles with chop sticks, slurped my soup and drank tea when it was put in front of me.
But does this describe the beautiful awe inspiring and overwhelming feeling of being in a country with so much history, life and magic? Does my mere two weeks of living with a Chinese person, traveling around the country and doing things she does on a daily basis make me an expert in what China is really like? No, but I still experienced it and loved it and hope to go back and experience it again someday. My experience is not complete. I cannot accurately paint the picture... but then again i did bring a camera :D
So, soon after leaving the airport we were speeding down the road through fields and old buildings, each with the curved roof and animal protectors perched on them. Buildings were decorated with Red and gold banners with the caligraphy displaying representations of former ideas, whose entire meanings are lost and untranslatable to english.
There were corn fields, fruit trees and mountains in the distance. I found out later we travelled out from Shenyang to Benxi, a smaller city, you know, like only 1.5 million people, higher in the mountains and less dnagerous, dirty and definitely more friendly than the rest of China as Sister Gao said. I loved that, everywhere we went, sister Gao commented about how rude people were, who were not from her province. i couldn't tell the difference, because I had no idea what they were saying, and I can't hear the tones, let alone know when someone was upset or friendly.
We arrived about an hour later at this block of buildings and sister gao turned to me ans said you are hungry. I said, sure, so we hopped the curb and parked under this giant blimpie tunnel thing. It was red and large and filled with hot air to keep it in the air, kind of like a cloth gate that was the entrance to a restaurant. We sat at a table and were invited to a back room filled with plates of food wrapped in saran wrap of different entrees. thre were a few pictures on the wall. most of the things I looked at I had no idea what they were, and was too afraid to ask. I knew a few things. yes there is an actual food called general tso's and another that is kung pao chicken, although we have the accents wrong and some of the consonents too. ut I got the picture what it was and was very excited that i could eat it. We also ordered fried sweet potatoes and as with all meals potstickers. We had this final dish of what looked like giant see through slugs dredged in a teriyaki and peanut sauce and topped wth grated cucumber. i don't know what it actually was, but i ate it and it tasted good.
The whole time I was eating I noticed people were staring at me and watching me eat, yes I was using chopsticks and no, I don't think I ever truly got the hang of it. Seriously I must have been a sight- a white girl almost 6 ft tall, with twisted hair, tanned skin hanging out with two chinese girls speaking english. yeah I fit in really well there.
We finished eating and went to drop off my stuff, luckily I only brought one small suitcase,but it was filled with church supplies and american foods that Sister Gao missed. I think I brought a total of two outfits, including a pair of jeans and a sweater. I found out even northern china is hot and humid sometimes.
i decided I was going to try to get on the chinese time schedule as quick as possible, so i forsook the nap I desperately wanted and travelled to sister gao's parent's buisness and home. I can't describe whether it was more downtown or east or west of where she lived, but in the taxi it took less than 3 minutes to get there. My face did a little stretched out by the wind when we arrived.
I was surprised by the amount of English sister gao spoke and how much she had improved in her skills from the time I worked with her a year and a half previously. Unfortunately, her mother and step father did not speak english, so I never got to thank them properly.
We arrived and had dinner prepared- potstickers and all sorts of other delicious foods that I have no idea what they were. we had two other guests at the meal besides me- a cousin and friend of Sister gao's stepfather. They had all been actors and comedians back in the day and were really funny. One of the men spoke a small amount of english, but knew different songs and jokes in english. We were rolling on the floor. It especially became more funny as they got more drunk they became louder and more flamboyant. The only problem was that I couldn't keep my eyes open. I learned so many things that first day- the chinese have a great sense of humor and they also have very hard beds. I think it was a box with a futon like thing on top. it didn't matter though- I slept well.

That's the last time I'll be honest to foreign governments

This is my attempt at memoirs of my China trip- I did not have access to my blog or facebook while I was in China, but I wrote down my experiences. These are some excerpts and other stories.
So I have this wonderful friend in china, who gave me an open invitation to visit her anytime I felt like, so this is the story of my journey through china:D
For some reason there was a freak cold spell in Utah and California during the few days I was home between trips which threw off my body's polarity or something, so to sta
rt off my journey, I had a runny nose. The next thing that made my journey complete was a delayed flight leaving SLC which caused us to arrive in LA with only 40 minutes until my next flight left, and I didn't have tickets. Of course the terminal had to be three buildings down from the one I arrived in, and of course the ticket counter had to of closed about 10 minutes before I arrived at it. My favorite line was I am sorry, we cannot help you because we are closed, as there are five employees standing behind the counter sipping coffee. Yeah, I missed my flight, but I was not alone in that, luckily. You know there are two types of people in this world- those who like to help others and those that don't. I met some of both on this journey. There were two other people from my flight who were traveling to china on the same flight I was scheduled with. We made our way back to the united airlines ticket counter and had to beg the custodian to find an attendant to help us, because it was almost 1 AM at this time. She was slightly more helpful than the last, but did not want to take credit for the delay in flight and therefore it was not the airline's responsibility to pay for our housing, food or even flight if we couldn't find another one. At this point I was almost in tears, thinking I would never make it to see my friend, and knowing I couldn't afford a hotel and food and everything for a delayed trip. The mother and daughter I was thrown together through unhappy circumstance were incredibly giving. I asked if I could sleep on the couch in their hotel room if I payed for part of the price. She would only accept a small amount from me. I owe her so much. We were told to come back in the morning to see if there was another flight we could possibly get on sooner. I think we arrived at the hotel, after using the wrong bus and walking the three extra blocks at night, at around 3 am. We woke up, and ran off to the airport at 7:30 am and found that we had seats on a flight at the same time as previously, just a day later... so that meant we had an entire day to spend in LA. The first thought on our minds was sleep. Luckily, the woman at the front desk took pity on us and allowed us to take the room we had payed for, but they had already cleaned until 3 pm. this meant we would be well rested for the long journey ahead of us. Once we woke up at a more decent hour, we had a full day ahead of us to sight see and go shopping. We found a trolley service that would take us to the water front and to several shopping districts.
On the warf, I was approached by the strange old man who said you don't look like you are from around here. Knowing exactly what he meant by that I replied I have been living in Africa over the summer. He got all flustered at that and started spouting off rude comments about the beautiful people o
f Africa. He was either crazy or just plain rude. luckily, he was slow, so I ditched him pretty quick. I don't think the tales of my shopping in the foreign land of LA are quite interesting, but I can say that the idea of spending a week's worth of ghanaian grocery money on a single meal is appalling to me still.
Aboard the plane, there
were no problems except for my runny nose, apparently they like dry cold environments all over the world, not just America. Oh yeah, if you ever want to fly internationally, take Korean air- seriously, they give you socks!!! And the seats go down way far too. i was so comfy :D
Passing through korean security was no problem, they had us fill out a form and then took our temperature. I marked on the form that I had a runny nose, just in case the stewardesses took note of who looked sick, but they didn't seem to mind.

Well I thought that would be the same for china- seriously, I had no other symptoms marked and noone had bothered me entering Korea. but I was wrong.
I think maybe the combination of Africa, practically having dredlocks and a runny nose might have been too much for the poor security officer who read my health claims. Its no
t that I wanted to cause trouble, or a scene, but I was the only white person on the entire plane, and I probably looked dirty to them. I am pretty sure the security guard almost peed his pants when I handed the paper over. he looked at me and looked down at the paper and then sprinted to the room for a bib. he motioned for me to put it on and then follow him. Seriously I felt like a freak. We went through several hallways, oh I forgot to mention he also was wearing one of the dinky masks. The whole area was blocked off, and marked with the word "Quarantine". We entered this office that looked like an army camp office, except everyone was wearing these white bubble suits with helmets and gloves. i felt like the Alien in E.T. They sat me down and tried to talk to me. there I was trying to explain it wasn't sickness and showing them I was only cold and my nose ran, but they didn't get it. I must have sat there for over an hour. they kept taking my temperature and telling me it is too high. I read what he had writen on the paper and it said 37.1 Celsius. For those of you who don't know... 37.0 is "normal" they would tell me, It is too high, ah you are nervous, we will take it again. That happened at least 3 times. Finally I told them they needed to call my friend and let her know where I was. She came within 5 minutes and helped smooth things over with them. they had 2.5 pages of questions to ask me, each time the answer was NO.
She gave her address and phone number and left with instructions to not let me out of the house for 2 days, and that I m
ust wear the bib/mask thing and report if my temperature increases. Seriously I was almost suffocating from not being able to breath. we walked outside and to her friend's car and when we sat down she said this is stupid and tore it off. I was relieved. Anyways that's the closest call I've ever had with being detained in a foreign country for something really stupid. It was my fault, but with the circumstances it really could have gone any way.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Just an after thought

I remember the first few days after arriving in ghana how I thought "this is a strange place"... and didn't know if I could make it for three months there (of course I never told anyone that). Now I'm back in the states and I have the same feeling. Shocking, I know. Everything is different than I remember it. Even I am different than I remember- this might have come because I didn't have a mirror for three months. Meeting people is harder than it was in Ghana. I feel the real stresses of school. I have way too much stuff. My life is so much more complicated than before. I feel like everything is coming at me way too fast- classes, graduation, internship, grad school... the I-don't-know-what-is-coming. Its all just piling up waiting for me to do something and yet I don't know if I want to. I wanna go home... but where is home? Texas? Provo? ... Ghana?
I met so many wonderful people in ghana, who cared about and for me. It did seem like a home. One day I will return to visit my friends in Wiamoase, but for now, I will keep experiencing my American Culture shock.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I've left the bush

Remember how I kind of complained about now having the kinds of luxuries that I was used to, you know like flush toilets, internet access, running water and electricity that is reliable... these things may be convenient, but it comes at a high cost too. Cities are expensive and busy. There are so many people here. We are staying in a place filled with Ex-pats and night clubs. There are tons of tourist traps and there is even an expensive obruni mart (a market that is there particularly for white people, or obruni's... ghanaians buy from the outdoor markets typically) Seriously though, the supermarket costs at least double what it did even in Kumasi- a city half the size of Accra, the capitol.
Part of the magic of the Ghanaian people is their slow paced life... this is especially noticable in the small town, but is still readily visible in the big cities. I had a guy tell me to change to the african way of moving when I passed by him and rushed up the hill to go somewhere. He was trying to introduce me to the African way of handling life, but I was too impatient to hear everything he had to say... not that I staffeed him or anything he was just talking outloud in english so I knew it was directed at me, cuz I was the only obruni around. I think the slow and steady movements are in part due to the baggage they carry- try carrying a fridge on your head for a few blocks and see how it goes.
So I have officially left the bush, or the jungles of the ashanti region. The headmaster at the Okomfo anokye secondary school offered me a lift on Friday. We left at 3:45 am and arrived in Accra near to 9 am. We made amazing time, sometimes it takes 8 hours or more. seriously though its less than 200 miles. We are staying in Osu, a suburb of accra.
We got a place in this part of town because Esther, our house mom's husband's brother is one of the leaders for the salvation army and they have a hostel at the headquarters. i left a few days ahead of the rest of the group to take care of a visa situation, so I got to adventure alone for a few days. Yesterday I decided since I had all day to myself I travelled to Kakum national park- when we were there before I had malaria and stayed in the hotel the morning the other students went. so I grabbed about 5 different tro-tros to take the 100 km journey along the coast. It was so worth it. Kakum National park was gorgeous. Its the last preserved rainforest of southern Ghana. The park winds its way through hills and extends much further than anyone can travel in even a week, but I especially went to do the canopy walk. IT wasn't what I expected though- I was envisioning walking through trees instead of through the air from tree to tree. Really it was like a gigantic tree fort. There were a couple of Ghanaians that I made friends with and most of them were so afraid of climbing around on the rope bridges. I wasn't scared until a guy turned around from the middle of the bridge and wanted to get past me. Seriously the width was less than one foot. He must have been one of the rangers for the forest service, but there wasn't room for two to pass by each other. He made the man in front of me lean into the side of the ropes as he walked past and I thought oh no if he makes me do that I might throw up... luckily he was a gentleman and he leaned into the side and let me pass, but that meant that one of my hand holds for balence was gone. I didn't enjoy that one.
Okay so i have to admit by the end of the pentagonal rope walk I was not even holding on and decided to ahve a little fun and started jumping and rocking the whole thing. it was really great to hear the reactions of the people around me. i don't think they knew it was me that was causing it :D.
Oh yeah before I forget, I got my hair done again... this time its a rasta style- twists and extensions. there must be over 100 braids all over my head. I bought two packages of hair and the lay doing it used only a quarter of the hair on the back of my head the first day. I didn't think she was going to need all of it when I went home that night. The next day she started on the front and made them so tiny and close to gether. it just looks like I have super thick strands of hair. Most of the weight came to the front. She finished on the third day with this tiny section in hair and there is a little surprise right in the middle- about 10 twists using red hair because we used up all of mine and diped into some extras from the girl whhose was done in front of mine. seriously close to 20 hours of work was done by one person on my head. but it should last for 3 months or so. the first day it was super heavy and tight to my head, but today I am okay and I have been sleeping through the night. What we will go through for beauty....!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mihyan (Mi-shan) Palace Museum

This week we ventured to some of the historical sites for the royalty here in Ghana. The palace was formerly used by the ashanti royalty in the early 1900's and is now home to a ton of artifacts that were used by the Ahsanti Kings. We saw refridgerators and coffee mugs, an old record player and a bunch of weapons. We also saw the stools that the kings were given to represent their power. The stools are intricately carved out of wood, well most were and decorated with symbols. there is a golden stool also, which is held by the regional king, the town royalty all hold stools made from wood. I think that was really confusing how I wrote it, but you get the point. We also went to a small craft village right outside of kumasi and they trade with you- so I bought things with the clothes and lotions and stuff I have been using the whole time I was here in ghana. Sweeet Deal! So now I am coming home with the same number of bags, but they will be filled with trasures.
Everything is wrapping up and we are all prepared to come home. Our group leader is leaving this week too, so now its time to party. :D

Friday, July 17, 2009

Akwaaba Obama

I don't know what to talk about today... Life is good! I had my last day at Okomfo Anokye (pronounced u-kom-fo- no-ch- eh)Secondary School on Wednesday of this past week- they are now taking their tests and so I can only visit with them in the evenings and weekends. So I have about 20 interviews with students left and a dozen or so with vendors and other people. Life is good. I think I will be able to finish all that I needed to before we leave in 2.5 weeks. So we will be leaving Wiamoase on the 1st of July and leaving Ghana on the 5th.
Some of the observations I have been making are with the ladies who make the food for the primary schools. They have this shack that they prepare the lunch meal, which is paid by foreign aid, and they use these pots the size of a small bathtub. The shack is always filled with smoke, so it burns my eyes. The ladies are very kind and some even speak english, so we talk about what is going on in the country- especially dealing with the economy, since they are being heavily hit by the downturn.
Obama came here this past week. Seriously it was the biggest thing to happen in Ghana since sliced bread... that hasn't actually happened here yet, so never mind... Yeah Obama was in Ghana. he toured the Cape coast castle and was in Accra and spoke to the people. I think there were about five songs that came out within the last month about how awesome obama is. Also they made fabric that said Akwaaba Obama and had his picture and some traditional symbols on it... dang I should bought some and made a dress, missed my chance though since it sold out in a day. He invited all American citizens to come down and meet with him, but its too expensive and time consuming to travel. So we listeneed to him on TV as he spoke to the Ghanaian people about how to solve their problems. Ghanaians like him because he speaks straight to the point. He told them their future was in their hands that they were the only ones who could make sure they succeed. he called for the corruption to be dealt with and then they would be able to become stable.
I have noticed something about the attitudes of Ghanaians... let me preface this- Ghanaians are as a whole very faithful people, but I think they lack a personal will to succeed- everything is if God is willing, not if I do my work then i will succeed. It is definitely a good part of an attitude to have- trust in God, but we can't sit back and pray and then do nothing. Faith is an action and it applies to all aspects of life.
ON the subject of faith.. I attended the church of pentecost this past sunday. hahaha! it was amazing- I loved it. We sang and danced and then they told me I had to introduce myself adn share a song with them- I sang I am a child of God and spoke a little about the meaning of it. That was really great.
I think we as a group of students decided that dancing should become a part of our worship too. J/K its super distracting sometimes. but its good to move around a bit