Sunday, May 31, 2015

The "gang" on performance day!  We left for Elmina the following morning; the students did an amazing job dancing, drumming, reciting Ewe, singing, and being a part of the Kopeyia community.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Last night in Kopeyai

Before the trip started, Joss said that right around the time we left was when we would have finally begun to feel comfortable and settled in here. I now know what she means. Tonight is our last night in the village. We performed what we'd learned, watched some amazing performances from our teachers and some local kids and had a great meal. My only regret is that I didn't learn more about these amazing people and their amazing music. I suppose it's just insentive to come back someday. I feel so deeply thankful for all that everyone here has done for us and all they've given us. I've met some incredibly inspiration people and some people that are just plain old fun. It's sad to leave, but being the homebody I am, I do feel like I'm ready to head back to old Bellows Falls, though I've got a few days to go.

Final Thoughts

Hey so this is Jess not Ben.

Unfortunately tomorrow morning we will be departing from Dagbe. We have made some good friends and memories here and it is a really bittersweet close to a great almost two weeks.

Today we presented to the village of Kopeyia what we have learned here. I participated in three dances, one of which is a social dance and occurs everywhere you go. Tonight we had a feast with the staff members and it was amazing to be able to interact with them a bit longer.

Wrapping things up was hard but it was interesting to see how much learning you can fit into a very short time. Not only the short amount of time that we have been here but today itself. I was taught how to weave kente with multple colors horizontally today whereas previously I could omly weave one string at a time.

Something I find very interesting about here is that although the children are children, they are also very muture in a few ways and given a lot of responsibility that Americans do not give their children. The atmosphere here is much more relaxed, trusting, and friendly than that in America. It will be insanely hard to adjust back to a very fast-pased and anti-social lifestyle that we go by in America.

'Till Next Time, Kopyeia

My time at the Dagbe center has come to a close. I simply cannot believe it. In a little over 16 days I have experienced a completely new world I was not expecting. So here are some thoughts.

I am usually not the kind of person that can make friends in a short period of time. This trip has proven otherwise. The group of people I have been travelling with are some of the nicest people to have around for an extended period of time. There was little to no drama and everyone was so supportive of each other. The staff at the center also proved to be an excellent group of incredibly caring and talented people. They push you but without making you feel inadequate. Too often back home I feel that professors make mistakes seem like the end of the world. But here it is simply something that can easily be fixed so that you can do your best. I think this attitude is what I will miss the most. On another note I believe I have learned a little bit more about myself.

I have learned that I am capable of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new things. I see this most in the dancing we did. I expected to come here and really hone my drumming skills but instead found myself working on (and excelling) at dancing than at drumming. I will definitely bust some of the moves I have learned here on American dance floors.

So this is goodbye to Kopyeia for now. However, I know it will not be my last.

So long for now,

Final days before the concert

Hello again everyone. This is actually Ben, if anyone is confused, my account is one of the only ones working on this internet connection for some reason.

Today the group and a few staff members went to the market, which is a maze of stands full of linens, food, and other necessities and crafted goods. I had a good time haggling for beads and bracelets, trying to get past the "yevu price" for goods(yevu=foreigner). Afterwards, we went to the beach for a swim. The rest of the day we hung around, were made fun of by the village children in Eve, and geared up for our concert tomorrow.

It's sad to be at the end of the trip, especially now that we are comfortable with being here, and becoming close friends with many of the staff members at the center and others in the village. It will definitely be strange to adjust back to technology laden fast-paced life in America. The highlights of my experience here in Kopeyia were the ceremonies, especially the funerals we attended. As you may have read, these events are huge social gatherings, with dancing, eating, drinking, and merriment, alongside specific rites surrounding the passed persons. The most recent one we attended had two massive dance/drum circles, one for the "Kinka Association", where everyone was wearing green and playing Kinka, a traditional Eve song with a distinct bell pattern. We saw many acquaintances we had met at other funerals, and danced with them and exchanged greetings. I had the honor of dancing with the Chief.

Another thing I'll be taking away from this trip is a new understanding of music from people who practice it as a way of life. A crucial part of Eve music that has been reinvigorating to my interest in playing music is how different it is from Western music. Although many parts of pieces can be felt in two or four beat patterns, it is best to let go of these counts in your mind when performing the music. Bell patterns might have 3 or seven hits in a "measure", but I found that understanding them as continuous let me feel them more accurately. Background drums and shakers might come in twos or fours, but also have a flowing feeling, especially as lead parts often bend and weave between what we might think of as conventional timing in the music. Learning songs with my teacher Mensah has also given me a more intuitive idea of singing, especially in harmonies. When Meaghan and I asked him to instruct us on harmonies, he told us just to sing them, and practice until they naturally sounded decent.

I'm sad to be leaving Ghana and I hope I'll be back again soon, but I am definitely looking forward to eating some familiar food and sleeping on a mattress that won't be drenched in my own sweet halfway through the night.

P.S. I began posting this before the concert and we had a blackout just beforehand. So I'm writing now after a successful performance! We got applause, not laughter, from the villagers and friends attending, meaning we did a decent job dancing. I performed ten songs I learned, and Lauren recited the Eve alphabet and other phrases she learned. The staff members had some amazing dances which Joss caught on video.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Time and Speed

After spending enough time in Kopyeia I have come to notice some interesting aspects about the mundane things in my life that are much different here. I am of course referring to the phenomenon of Ghana time and Ghana speed.

In the U.S. we are essentially obsessed with time and how to use it effectively, as if it were some scarce resource. We build schedules around a 24 hour system and we have phrases like “to be early is on time and to be on time is to be late.” Ghana time doesn’t work that way. For instance, we were told that a funeral will be happening at 1 p.m. and that we cannot be late. We were told this at 1:18 p.m. If you are given a time here it is anywhere between the given time and 1-2 hours later it seems. Ghana time is very slack in comparison to the sometimes neurotic approach back home.
Ghana speed is the tempo at which things are done. For us, this is mainly the speed of the music we are playing and dancing. What I have noticed about this is that its nature is that of extremes. The music is either done deathly slow or blazingly fast. There does not seem to be any in between (of course like all things Ghanaian there may be a degree of subtlety I am missing.)

Ultimately, Ghana time and speed have taught me to not be obsessed with quantifiable time and that if you are going to play music – or do anything for that matter – do it to the extreme and don’t hold back.Good advice, don't you think?


Final Thoughts

Meaghan here....

This week has brought us many more events that I could have ever anticipated when looking at our original itinerary. On Saturday, we had planned to go to the beach, but the rain decided to pay us a very welcomed visit that morning. After the storm, the humidity lifted and we felt ready to face the world outside of the Center. For us, this meant going to our third and final funeral of our trip.

The other two funerals we had been a part of were nothing like what Joss has described or shown us in class, as the circumstances surrounding those who has passed were not ordinary. Saturday's funeral, however, was just as I imagined, only so much larger. There were four different groups playing music, two of which were very large. There were some places where you could stand in one spot, but depending on which way your back was turned could join a different group and musical style. The atmosphere was festive and everyone was using this funeral to truly celebrate a life. I have found that the funerals in Ghana are so much more cheerful and strangers like us are not a confusing occurrence, but welcomed guests.

I have found that this trip has flown by for me. I think what has impacted me more than anything on this trip is that I have seen so many small similarities between my culture and Ewe culture. Kids all act relatively the same, begging for attention and acting off around one another. Goats will always be cute. There are ways to communicate that aren't through verbal language, but with a smile that can mean so much more than an empty "hello". As everyone practices drums and bells and singing, it brings me back to the chaos of practice time at the music camp I attended as a kid. I have found that maybe the world is not all that large.

There are things that I will certainly miss when I'm back in the states that cannot be replicated: being surrounded with all of the talent and music found in Dagbe; automatically turning my head when someone yells "Yevu!" ("Foreigner!" or "White Person!") and knowing they mean me; being surrounded by a language I cannot understand, save a few words; and most of all, the friends that I have made here. There has been so much encouragement and support from the staff of Dagbe that have fostered an environment that I immediately felt comfortable in, and I cannot thank each and every member enough. It is hard to think that in just two short days I will be in a different part of the country, and then preparing for my trip home, but I have a strong feeling that I will be back.

Friday, May 22, 2015

I know a lot of people were curious about what kind of food is eaten in Ghana, so here is what our meals typically look like.

Breakfast: bread, peanut butter, bananas, coffee, hot chocolate
Lunch: rice, spaghetti, or cassava with semi spicy red sauce, pineapple, and occasionally mango
Dinner: pretty much the same as lunch with a usual addition of chicken, and oranges instead of pineapple

From time to time we do get something different, such as beans, plantains, or a spinach sauce.

A day both exciting and mellow

Today started with an hour long dance class, as opposed to our usual 2 hours. None the less, after it was over, I was probably the sweatiest I've ever been in my entire life. We ran through the two peices we will be performing for the village on Monday afternoon and they both look pretty solid.

After that we were told to rest, because we had a big afternoon ahead of us. I took the opportunity to do some laundry. At Dagbe, we do laundry the old fashioned way, by filling up a bucket soaping up the water and rubbing our clothes between our hands. Although washing clothes by hand is something a lot of Americans cringe just thinking about, it can be very relaxing. Today, when I was just rubbing down one of my dirty socks, all alone in the back of the center, nowhere to be and in no hury to do anything, I felt about as calm and relaxed as I have this entire trip. And now I have clean things to wear!

Starting at around 1 we went to our second funeral. But this funeral was special. Joss' Mom died a couple of years ago and she never got a funeral. Joss thought that giving her an Ewe funeral would be a great way of rectifying that. With the help of the Kopeyai cheif and a local preist, Mary's soul was layed to rest today along with the anscestors of a local family. Like all Ewe funerals, it was a blast. Unlike in the US, where going to a funeral can seem like an onerous obligation, here everyone loves a good funeral, and there's an open invitation to anyone who wants to show up. There was some amazing music by the Kinka society, lots of dancing and revalry, and even a surprise apperance from the school brass band.

We all danced our butts off and were all happy to come back to rice with beef and red sauce with orange slices. Now we all plan on a nice quiet night of Uno playing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Arts in Ghana

Hey! Jess here not Ben

Here in Ghana I have been focusing my time in the afternoon classes on basket weaving, kente, and batiking.

Basket weaving is actually much simpler than it appears and it is cheap. Baskets are made from a local plant whose leaves are cut apart to give the frame of the basket and the weaves. Starting the basket is pretty hard however. Once you lay down rods into a circular shape, you have to begin weaving the basket and it is hard to make the weaves tight while keeping the rods in the posititon that you want them in. After weaving a few rows, you simply bend the rods upward and continue weaving until your basket is done.

Kente however, is much different than basket weaving. With the loom, stings are attached to ropes to put in between your toes. You press your foot down and pass a sting horizontally between all the vertical stings and then press your other foot down and reapeat the process over and over. However, after awhile, your shoulders and back begin to ache and it is hard to do for much more than five minutes at a time.

Batiking is amazing. There are many different methods that can be used to batik. You could use a stamp to press hot wax onto a cloth or you could sprinkle hot wax onto your cloth. To die it, you can either submerge the entire cloth in dye or fold your fabric and hold part of it in dye and then hold the other part in another color die. If you are going to submerge the cloth however, and you want your cloth to be more than two colors, you will need to restamp hot wax another time after the dye dries and then dye the fabric again. After your cloth is finished, you take the wax off the fabric by submerging it in boiling water and then placing it in cold water after and scrubbing away the wax.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nightlife in Ghana

Hello All! Meaghan here, not Ben :)

Settling into life in Ghana has been surprsisingly easy, although very hot and humid compared to the weather we left in the States. The lessons have been pushing me, but I have felt myself grow more comfortable listening to the teachers and picking up the rhythms with more ease each day. It is easy to grow intimidated by the talent and skill each teacher has, but we could not have a kinder group teaching and helping us.

We have grown a tradition of sorts to spend our post-dinner evening time at local "spots", or places to hang out and enjoy a soda or just relax with friends. Last night, we encouraged some of our teachers who are our age to join us, and hilarity quickly ensued. We had one point where we had to go around the circle giving our best goat impressions, later followed by turkey impressions (both animals are found incredibly close to Dagbe, to the dismay of a few members of our group who wake up at all hours to their calls). A few members of our group left the spot, but those who stayed also got to show some American dance classics to our Ghanaian friends: the Cotten Eyed Joe, a few disco basics and the likes. Our teachers were sadly not impressed (what a shock!), but all had a great time. The experience of hanging out outside of classes and the Center made our lessons today much more relaxed and enjoyable, and I have a feeling that these friendships and relationships will continue to blossom.

I am sure we will have more great stories to tell in no time! For now, I will sign off and join the others at the spot :)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Life in Kopeiya

It has been a week since we embarked on our journey to Kopeiya. Needless to say it has been quite the experience. We have been a part of several local customs and partaken of the area’s cuisine (it is not every day one eats guinea fowl and groundnut soup with one’s hands!) So now I have to ask myself: What is it that I’ve learned so far? 

My answer to that question is that the whole structure of this village and its people is one of continuous motion. There is very little separation between different parts of life. There is no separation between the secular and the sacred. Gahu the song is nothing without Gahu the dance. The list goes on. Life simply is life.
One thing I’ve noticed in regard to this is that when a person is tired here that person will rest. It is not uncommon to see members of the staff resting between lessons. I feel like this would be an invaluable lesson for our hustle-and-bustle lives back in the States. Too often it seems that Americans do not get enough rest and we are only allowed to sleep for a significant amount of time between the hours of midnight and six (at least for your average college student.) I cannot help but believe our lives would be much easier if we simply allowed our lives to flow as they naturally are supposed to. 

We have a little over a week left here and I can only hope that we all can take a little bit more from this small corner of the world and bring it to a much wider audience.


P.S. Technical difficulties on the part of the user means I'm posting this as Ben. :p

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A quiet Sunday in Kopeiya

After a week of long plane flights, strenuous classes, sweaty nights with little sleep, a market visit and the other day to day excitement of being in Kopeiya, we decided that today would be a bit of a lazy Sunday. We planned nothing, besides maybe a nice little walk to the water shed to see some interesting birds. A couple hours later we were in the middle of a Brekete service, shaking hands with a diety.

Brekete is a religious synthesis of local Ewe traditions, indigenous religion from the Sahara desert and Islam, brought down to the region from the North.We walked into the village to a small pavillion where people sat and played Brekete music, or danced. One woman was taken by the spirit of a God in front of our eyes. The God, working through the woman, went around shaking our hands and welcoming us to the ceremony. We were then welcome inside the shrine itself, a very unusual honor. Wile in there, the church members wished us good luck in all of our endeavors, not just in Ghana but in our lives. Joss asked us all to take time to think about just what we were doing in our lives that we wanted to receive their good wishes for.

The people of the ceremony were extremely welcoming and inclusive, which has been the norm since we arrived. This has been a very pleasant surprise for me, because as a white American, I see little reason why anyone in this part of the world would want to welcome me anywhere. But the hospitality of the people here in Ghana never ceases to amaze me.

After the ceremony we got some much needed rest. After that we went to a local soccer game at the school, which showcased the absolutly stunning athletic ability of some of the local youths. After a tough back and forth first half, Kopeyai dominated the match, with a final score of 3-0.

The day was wrapped up with what was in my opinion the best meal we've had since we got here. Ground nut soup (think peanut soup but better) with ginea fowl (think chicken but better.) The whole time I ate it I felt the soup singing me to sleep. Sleep has been difficult here with the heat, but something tells me tonight it wont be so difficult. And I certainly hope it wont be, because we're picking back up with dance lessons tomorrow at 9 sharp!

What we planned on being a lazy Sunday ended up being very exciting, but at this point, I've gotten accustomed to expecting the unexpected.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Funeral in Ghana

                On Friday, the group and some of the Dagbe staff attended a funeral about twenty minutes from the village we are staying in. Unlike funerals in the US, in Ghana people who did not know the deceased were welcome to join in the ceremony. We walked through neighboring farmland, and had a fantastic view of palm trees and a slightly clouded sky behind the corn and cassava crops. We then entered a large, slightly wooded clearing, passing by merchants selling food, drinks, and random necessities. I was thankful for the shade provided by trees after walking in intense sunlight for twenty mintues or so. There were two areas where groups of drummers were playing, surrounded by people sitting in a squareish shape, with room to dance in the middle. Those who wanted to dance would wait until space cleared, and enter the dance floor. Pretty much everyone in the group ended up dancing, as it is a custom for people to grab others and invite them to the dance floor. 
       One group played Agbeckor, the social dance where participants bend their elbows and press their shoulders together to the beat of the drum while stepping forward across the floor. I was holding a water bottle in my right hand up by my chest, which I later found out is how you signal to someone that you want to give them something, so I had two women take my water bottle and drag me onto the dance floor. I tried to remember the movements as I had many sets of eyes on me being the only white person in the dance area.The other drum group had a smaller space for daning, where two to four people displayed more improvisational dancing. Although the drumming areas were pretty cheerful and upbeat, the overall tone of the funeral was kind of strange and solemn, as the deceased had gone unexpectedly. Joss and Brian mentioned that normally, funerals would be more upbeat; a celebration of the one who passed. They spoke of one they attended for a master drummer, where he was posed behind a drum, and buried in a drum-shaped coffin.
People wore a variety of types of clothing, from traditional fabric garb to Western T-shirts dress clothing, sunglasses, and baseball or flat-rim caps. Others wore a mix of styles. The pre-burial ceremony seemed chaotic  from our point of view, but was in line with normal practices in the area; a group of eight or so people lifted the coffin of the deceased above their heads, rocking it back and forth to the music, running it around to different areas where the passed soul spent time in his life. One had to be careful to stay outside the path of this procession. This was very touching, and at this point the grief of family and friends was visible. Overall, this experience was new and unique to anything I have experienced before.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

So I am Jess and I am a Studio Art and Art Education double major and
am going into my sophomore year at St. Mike’s.
It is our second full day in Ghana and unfortunately, it is coming to
an end. We took a trip to our compound, inside the Kopeyia village,
late at night when we arrived. It was weird to see how the taxis in
the capital looked like pieced together cars from scraps. Also, it was
weird to see that driving seems like a lawless ordeal. People casually
drove on the wrong side of the road to get over speed bumps simply
because the speed bump was more worn down on the other side. The
military and police stopped us multiple times on our journey but not
due to suspicious activity but rather just a normal police stop that
everyone had to go through.
Upon arriving, we slept a lot. When we woke, we were greeted by a
delicious meal which was followed by mandatory dance lessons. Each day
we have breakfast at 8am, dance lessons from 9am to 11am followed by
lunch at 12pm. Our next scheduled activity is at 4pm to 6pm which is a
lesson of our choosing followed by dinner at 6pm. We can do whatever
we choose with our free time, such as roam the village or take extra
So far I have taken two dance classes, a drumming class and a basket
weaving class. Much to my surprise, basket weaving is much easier than
I would have expected.
I am much enjoying here as I am sure everyone else is but it can be
hard to become accustomed to the heat, the noise, and the storms.
There was a really loud storm that kept the majority of our group up
last night.
Although it has only been two days and I much enjoy it here, I am
looking forward to the trip home. Hope you all are having fun in
America and I will see you all soon.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hi, I'm Lauren, a 2014 Anthropology/Sociology graduate. I took many classes with Joss all throughout my time at Saint Mike's and have been waiting a long time for this trip to happen. Traveling abroad is not new to me, but I'm so excited to explore a new culture that I spent so many semesters studying. I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity, especially as an alumni. Today's the day we head off and I could not be more ready!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Hello Everyone!

I'm Ben Zelvis. I'm going to be a Senior at St. Michael's and I'm working on an Environmental Studies major. Cooking and hiking are my favorite hobbies, I also like to ski and longboard every now and then. I grew up playing classical cello and joined Akoma this year to enhance my percussion abilities.

I found the ensemble to be extremely fun and jumped on board the trip to Ghana once I heard about it. I've never been immersed in another culture before, being that I've only travelled in the US, Canada and the Caribbean, so I'm looking forward to the experience.

Once I started drumming I knew I wanted to explore it further, so I'm ecstatic to be able to study it in context of Ghanian culture.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Introduction - Nate

Hey y'all,

I'm Nate. I'm a rising senior here at St. Mikes with a Music major and Business minor. I'm from that part of Massachusetts people forget about (yes, western Mass is a thing.) More specifically I'm from Adams (this is Northern Berkshire County which means a part of western Mass that people forget about even more.) My first experience with Joss was when I took her music ensemble for non-majors course (yes, I'm aware I'm a Music major) and have continued onto being a part of the Akoma ensemble.

I'm very excited about going on this trip for a lot of reasons. When I first attended the meeting last year I had recently switched my major to Music and was riding high on taking my life into my hands. Initially, I had planned to take a semester abroad during Fall 2014 but decided to withdraw my application in order to attend this trip that was far more interesting and valuable to my major. When the trip was initially cancelled I was determined to work as hard as possible to make going to Ghana a reality. After all of the sacrifice I am ready to take off in less than a week!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Introduction- Meaghan


I'm Meaghan Diffenderfer, and I'm wrapping up my junior year here at SMC. I am a Music and International Relations double major and Theatre minor hailing from northeast Ohio. I began studying with Joss when I took the Music of Ghana class in Fall 2013, and have been involved with the drumming ensembles every semester since.

I am excited to embark on this journey and see what books and videos can't show me; what life and living through music in Ghana is truly like. This trip is a perfect opportunity for me to combine both of my majors, and anticipate that I will grow as a student and human. I have just about everything I need purchased (packing is another story), and the excitement is beginning to kick in... I can hardly wait!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Introduction Dylan


My Name is Dylan Ward
I'm a junior Anthropology major from Bellows Falls, VT who will be going to Ghana in 7 days =)

I heard about the trip last year when I went to an informational meeting sort of on a whim, and since the first moment I had a really good feeling about it.

I'm not really particularly concerned about anything, I'm just ready to get the stressful travel preparation stuff out of the way and get on that plane =)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

We are days away from our journey, and while there is still much to be done, I think we are so ready! The group will travel from May 11-29, so stay tuned for student introductions and then updates and photos once we've arrived.  Thanks for reading!