Cappuccino Kisses


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Le piccole cose: 1, 2, 3

Although I’m sad to say we are no longer in West Africa, I am excited to be moving on to the next chapter in my life with a young man who is the very exemplification of my definition of love <3  After flying out from Ghana, we spent a month in the south of Italy with Fabrizio’s family & friends, where I was enchanted, once again, by the many delightful little things (“le piccole cose“) that make Southern Italy so special.

& so I have been inspired to begin a new little series of posts about those charming, comforting, interesting & all around fulfilling slices of life in Italy & beyond.

This week I want to highlight three piccole cose that I love about Italy:

1. Fabrizio <3

“Only one is a wanderer. Two together are always going somewhere.” – Vertigo (1958)

In danger of stating the glaringly obvious, this wonderful man of mine is certainly the very best thing that has ever been made in Italy. Although he does not even fall close to the criteria of small, I simply cannot discuss the beauty of his country without first thinking of how damn beautiful he really is.

2. Coffee

Coffee in Italy. It is those deep, rich flavors & warm delicious creations in tiny cups that I’ve named this blog after. Coffee in Italy is an engrained essential, a constant piece in the daily patchwork of life.

3. Pastries

Which one would you choose?

A common courtesy when visiting a loved one’s home, & an absolute must after Sunday lunch, is a tray full of these from a local pasticceria (bakery). The more chocolate the better!

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That wraps up my first le piccole cose post, thanks for reading!

I’d love to know: What are some of the small things that make your favorite places so special?


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Traveling from Ghana > Togo > Benin (&back)

We talked about it at length- leaving that job we were so unhappy with.

So we packed our bags & left, off to discover new corners of West Africa together, hand in hand.

Words to live by

A little guide to our route, in case you’re interested-

1. Accra, Ghana > Lomé, Togo: Leaving from Tudu Station in Accra central, we took a trotro to the Togo border for 9 GHC, which took around 4-5 hours.

  • Visa/ Immigration Information: At the border we registered with Ghanaian immigration that we were leaving, bought some CFA francs (a Western & Central African currency) from a random man with a calculator & stacks of foreign currencies, & then passed on to the Togolese immigration officers where we received our transit visas. Cost is 15,000 CFA for Americans but only 10,000 CFA for Italians. Transit visas are valid for a week, although they can be extended for one month.

2. Lomé, Togo > Benin border: From the Togo border we found a shared van that drove us across Togo, cost 2,000 CFA each & took about 3 hours.

  • Visa/ Immigration Information: We reached the Beninese border around 8PM, only to find out that they no longer issue visas at the border. Having worked for four months in Benin, Fabrizio has some crazy connections, & in a scene out of a movie we were shuttled past border security with a smooth talking, full on limping coyote. No seriously. (Fellow travelers looking to make the trip- get your visa at the consulate in Lomé before making your way to the border!)

Eventually we did pay for the transit visa in Benin, which cost us 15,000 CFA each & were valid for two days. In fact,  we overstayed our transit visa by several days- but that is another story for another day ;)

3. Benin border > Cotonou, Benin: From the Beninese border we took a shared taxi to Cotonou, in which Fabrizio & I shared the front seat & four people squeezed into the back- standard procedure in Benin that is unavoidable, wonderfully uncomfortable, & usually involves various livestock (see image below). The taxi cost us around 2,000 CFA each and took, again, about 3 hours.

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What a truly unforgettable experience. In Cotonou we spent time with Fabri’s friends and former colleagues, and one day we took a road trip up to a village called Zakpota.

I don’t have enough words to express how genuine & kind Beninese people are, & how much they taught me with their humility & generosity. My man has a serious connection with the place that is strikingly apparent in his every feature- purely content eyes with a radiating smile, body language that is open & warm. We’ll be back, Benin. No doubt about it.

A few photos…

La Beninoise

6 hour road trip from Cotonou > Zakpota, Benin with 6 goats in the back seat

Fellow passengers

Zakpota, Benin

Overall: Benin we <3 you.


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This life I live: how to make the most out of traveling

I have always been acutely aware of how my nationality as an American affects both how the world sees me & how I see the world when I travel. In reflection of my time in Ghana & before, I’ve identified an evolution of association, an internal growth that I was, & still am, searching for & discovering- that deeply meaningful growth that is the so desired essence of travel.

Depending on the location, I have been confronted with a wide range of emotions in others- some see Americans as embodying privilege & excess, while others assume ignorance as our primary trait- & have met those with my own spectrum of reactions. If I’m being honest, there are a few sentiments (within myself & others) that I have resented with fiery opposition, but have begun to view with less personal angst & more objective analysis.

When I lived in Barcelona I felt as if many local people put up a stiff barrier & they wouldn’t let me in- an experience that at the time made me feel rather resentful & sad. In the months that I lived there I observed how Catalonian people are fiercely defensive of their identity, a proud & stubborn people who are deeply rooted in and informed by their culture. While these qualities give the region’s insiders strength, it had the consequence of making me, an outsider, feel rather alienated by the people I so desperately wanted to learn from & integrate with. It took me some time to realize that it may have had less to do with the fact that I am American & more to do with the fact that they are intensely protective over their culture, a factor so strong that affects, again, how they see others & how others see them.

Fast forward a year and a half- I move to Ghana to work for a development NGO- my very first time in Africa. Here my fair skin makes me a small minority, assumed to possess wealth & treated as such. I too was guilty of such shallow preconceptions & brought with me more than a few expectations about what Ghana would be like- ideas of poverty & underdevelopment shaped within me by years of Western education and second/third hand accounts from others. In my first weeks, those things that stood out to me were those I expected to see- I noticed the open sewers & homeless children, took pity upon rural communities I assumed lived without.

Ghana was patient with me & my uninformed assumptions & over time she revealed to me her true colors- the colors of a spectacular nation rich in ways I never knew existed. I shed what I though I knew & experienced a shift that allowed me to realize just how foolish I had been to have felt, without wanting to admit it to myself, that my own nation’s biased definition of have & have nots was accurate.

In Ghana I feel grounded. Experiencing life here has made me feel more alive than I have felt in my whole life. The people are loyal & kind, the land more beautiful than any I have ever seen.

It is my hope that perhaps my story will inspire others to reach beyond what they think they know, & to delve in & discover how a new place actually is. Culture is so crucial in our associations with alternative ways of life. Perhaps all it takes is a new perspective to shift these associations, & open up a world of new ways to thrive within yourself & experience this life.


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A little Rumi for the soul

It’s pouring rain. The kind of African pour that comes out of nowhere- falling confidently & with persistence. It has got me feeling safe & a bit shivery… thinking of how much I’ll miss Ghana. I’ll miss the purity of her nature & these deeply genuine, loyal people. & as the water outside turns the bright red bare earth to deep rouge, I’ll indulge in some Rumi & share it with you :)

There is some kiss we want with
 our whole lives, the touch of
spirit on the body. Seawater
 begs the pearl to break its shell.
And the lily, how passionately
 it needs some wild darling!
At night, I open the window and ask
 the moon to come and press its
face against mine. Breathe into
me. Close the language- door and
open the love window. The moon 
won't use the door, only the window.

Ghana, I love you

Kinda stunning… isn’t it.


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5 things to keep in mind if you’re moving to Ghana

 

Volta Region

1. Get acquainted with Azonto, because it is amazing & it is Ghana’s prideful obsession. Azonto is a Ghanaian dance & music movement that is truly mesmerizing. Nigerians have also contributed their sounds to the genre, & the population here is simply crazy about it. The beats are unique & catchy, & Azonto culture is a huge part of Ghanaian life. Some of the top songs right now are: “Azonto Fiesta” by Sarkodie, or “Obuu Mo” by EL. Also see the classic “Azonto” by Fuse ODG feat. Tiffany.

2. Most Ghanaian cuisine is a hands-only kind of affair, no cutlery allowed (except for the various rice dishes). Typically there is a starch as the meal’s base- fufu (pounded cassava or yam & plantain), banku (a cooked fermented maize dough), kenkey (fermented maize dough wrapped in plantain leaves), or konkonte aka “face the wall” (pounded cassava)- which is served with a stew or in soup- groundnut soup, light soup, or okra soup- and meat. I won’t go into the details of the wonders of Ghanaian dishes, but it is certainly a satisfying experience to eat with your hand (that’s right, hand, not hands- use only one!). Keep in mind that it is rude to eat with your left hand, & you will be spotted as a noob immediately if you use both!

3. Always say “Good morning” “Good afternoon” & “Good evening.” This most basic of greeting should be the first words out of your mouth when you walk into a shop, pass someone on the street, plop down into a taxi, etc. Just about anywhere you encounter anyone, the polite move to make is to offer this simple phrase. Once I caught on to the importance of this subtle pleasantry & began to use it, I found Ghanaians would act more relaxed and open with me in negotiations/discussions.

4. “Obruni” is the local word for white, & if you are a foreigner with light skin you will hear this word a lot. Children on the street call out, “Obruni Obruni!” & the street vendors will hiss through their teeth or suck in with their lips to get your attention, grab your hand to pull you in. Taxis will honk incessantly at foreigners walking along the street, and will stick their heads out the window with theirs hands raised in questioning, offering their services. Obruni prices are inevitably higher than average, but Ghanaians are always good for a haggle & they’ll respect you more for it so don’t be shy.

5. Most importantly: Abandon your preconceptions & allow yourself to experience the country as it unfolds before you. Forget the second hand accounts of poverty and disease learned from movies & university courses, and allow each sight, taste, & feeling shape your own relationship with this hot, unpredictable, colorful place.


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The sensation of missing something before it’s gone

I have an awful habit of prematurely missing people & places well before we are set to part. It is that hollow kind of creeping dread that begins with the realization that your current happiness will one day be just a fond memory, beyond all immediate forms of tangible re-experience. In the 3 years that Fabrizio & I have been in a long distance relationship, I’ve experienced the feeling a lot- predictably about two weeks to a month before we have to separate (less if the time we have together is shorter). What a frustrating internal battle- missing him desperately although he is sitting right next to me, & then getting mad at myself for spending time worrying rather than appreciating in full each wonderful moment we have together. What a silly dilemma, really, but when I mention it to him he doesn’t call me silly. He sighs & takes my face between his loving hands. He looks at me with those dark chocolate eyes & in them I see that he will miss me too. His kisses bring me back to our current & most wonderful reality, & teaches me to feel in full each moment of life without regret, without anticipation of sadness or longing. I truly love this young man.

Fall 2010: Brooklyn Bridge


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Sundays in Ghana

Sundays are laundry days.

Sundays are also power outage days.

One of many bottle-top candles in our room.

We sleep in as late as possible, or at least at late as our bladders will allow. Ever since the first night we spent together, Fabrizio & I have had identical sleeping temperaments. Sleeping next to him is the most wonderful warm haze of relaxation & comfort, a true serenity that I miss dearly when we’re apart.

After slowly hatching, we leave our laundry to soak in two big buckets with Omo & water from the spicket.

We head to the kitchen and have our coffee with milk, with something sweet & something crunchy.

For the next two hours we scrub & rinse our clothes in a calm yet focused silence, the sweat pooling in the small of my back, & on my forehead under the brim of my hat. When there are sheets or towels to wash he takes one end & I take the other & we twist in different directions. The water that falls cools our feet & finds an eager host in the hot cement.

That night when the power goes out we go with it, down the street & through the red dirt to our secret path. We buy fruit from the street vendors & when we get home I light the candles & he falls asleep.

As much as I miss my washing machine & reliable power, I really enjoy these seemingly simple moments.

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