Two Weeks in Italy

We were sad to move on after an amazing month in Ghana. We were just starting to get used to living rent-free and having homemade meals magically appear in front us each evening. But we had lots to look forward to- a family vacation in Italy!

Our last morning in Accra was a bit frantic; David was supposed to pick us up at 3:30am but must have slept through his alarm… and it’s impossible to call a cab in Accra (you normally just walk to the side of the road but not so early in the morning).  Alex saved the day by waking up his poor neighbor, Jeannette, and borrowing her car to drive us to the airport at 4am. One last time Papa Papp guided us through our Ghanaian adventure.


Thank you for an amazing time, Alex!

We arrived safely at the Rome airport and made it to the airbnb without event (though dad had been targeted unsuccessfully by pickpockets on the way!). We met my parents and Aunties Malinda and Pam at the airbnb and had warm reunion hugs and Italian dinner. We only had a day and a half in Rome but managed to make it to the Coliseum, the Forum, the Borghese Gardens, the Pantheon, and finally met up with our lovely Camino friend, Libby! True to form, Libby was two steps ahead of us and led us to the best gelato in Rome, which I am still thinking about almost a month later. You guys, they put chocolate in the bottom of the cone! Then two scoops of amazingness, then topped with some sort of melt-in-your-mouth magical cream. It was Nirvana.  I failed to take photos because my eyes were closed.


Cale and Libby


Cale, Pam and me at the Pantheon

Leaving Rome, we met up with family friends Jim, Lisa, and Lesley and made our way to a small town called Guardea in Umbria where we had a villa reserved for the week! A real Italian villa, compete with about ten bedrooms plus a carriage house, swimming pool, and woodburning pizza oven, and a view over the valley.


Villa and Pool


Back Patio


Carriage House


Mom and Dad through the window


View from further up on our hill


Dad, Lesley, Cale, Jim


Jimmy cookin’ up some dinner!


First Night’s Meal


Dad, Lisa, Cale, Mom, Lesley


The Whole Gang!


View from the back patio

We spent the week relaxing at the villa, cooking meals together, and taking side trips to the various hill towns in the region. Our favorite by far was Civita, perched on a mountaintop as if it were plucked right out of a Lord of the Rings movie.


View overlooking Civita


Yet another jumping photo for our collection. I only post the ones where I out-jump Cale.


From Civita looking down

Before we knew it the week was over and Jim and Lisa were off to Milan while the rest of us made our way to Florence. Cale was able to sightsee turbo-style with Aunt Pam (they sped through multiple museums to see all the great art: The David, Venus, etc) while I took a more leisurely speed with Lesley and Malinda- to the Galileo museum and then Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens where we met up with turbo Cale and Pam.


Ahh, Florence.


Front of the Duomo


Looking up inside the Duomo


View from the top of the Duomo! Yes, we walked up all the stairs. Easier than expected since we were stuck behind multiple huffing and puffing tourists and it was a claustrophobic no-passing zone.


View of downtown from Boboli Gardens


Full credit for this photo goes to Andy Salkin. I don’t know how he captured this magical moment. Cale is scoffing about a price poor Pam is paying. (Turns out she got a better deal than we originally thought).

The group was dropping like flies (mom and dad flew to Barcelona and Lesley took the train to Rome).  We were down to four: Malinda, Pam, Cale and me, and we took the train to Venice where we stayed at a lovely airbnb in a less crowded part of town. Our time in Venice was spent enjoying the food and meandering around the city.


Cale and Malinda on a quiet street in our neighborhood


Rialto Bridge


View of St Mark’s Square from above



Malinda and Cale at dinner


Pam and me at lunch


Gang of Gondoliers


Gondola Crossing



Texting while driving plus fruit delivery in Venice


UPS Man, Venetian Style



Venetian Confetti

Cale managed to go for several runs n Venice, somehow without getting lost and is now talking about his next marathon. Meanwhile I tried to go for one run but tripped and fell, skinning both knees, one hand, and one elbow, and held back tears while 5 Italian men lectured me about being more careful. So I’m back to walking and haven’t started training for that next race 🙂


Showing off my 5 Euro Murano Glass ring… against my skinned knee 😦

Overall our time in Italy was fantastic- we feel so lucky to have such a loving family that took such good care of us ‘kids.’ It was amazing to see the family, but then it was sad to see everyone leave one by one.  Now we’re back to the two of us, and on to the first part of our trip that isn’t even loosely planned! I might go into shock not having a plan, I know. We’ll see what happens.


I’m Hungry.

We are in Croatia and it’s raining.  Thunder and lightning, in fact (I shriek and jump every time I hear it since it’s not something I’m used to!).  We had been in Italy with my aunts-slash-sugar mamas but now that we are on our own again we must stomach our own cooking, womp womp.  So of course I’m thinking about good food.  At one point Laura asked for more food photos, so here are some amazing dishes we have had so far. But who am I kidding, this post is really for me right now.


Spain, Tortilla and Salad with tuna after a long day of walking on the Camino.


More Camino Food


Camino coffee and fancy pastries in Arzua. Complete with the book of lies and deceit.


Portugal with Mick and Liza! And fancy coffees. If I had thought to take a photo of the beach donuts, I would have. If you ever go to the beach in Portugal, order a donut from the guy walking around selling them.  You will be shocked and amazed. Nom nom.


Portugal seafood


Moroccan Salad


Moroccan Pastilla


Moroccan Dessert, orange with cinnamon; perfect on a hot evening.


Outdoor Restaurant on the square in Marrakesch


Had to get the Rob-Selfie remake in here.


Breakfast in Fez


Fez breakfast: Café Clock


Ghana: Red-Red (Cale’s Fav)


Ghana: Groundnut Soup. OMG my favorite. I’m drooling right now. Not much to look at but oh-so-tasty.


Cale and Alex with a Ghanaian feast


Venice Seafood Platter


Last day in Venice

Volta River and Cape Coast

We could have stayed at Alex’s place enjoying the pool, the neighborhood, new friends, and the songs from nearby church service (until 4am on Friday nights) our entire time in Ghana.  But we decided to take a couple side trips to see other parts of the country before leaving.

Trip number one was to the Volta River, a couple hours north of Accra.  We booked a mini-tour with David (Alex’s friend and taxi driver) which included bead making, baboon-viewing, and a night on the River. We even took a side trip through Larteh, a tiny town where my Aunt Nancy served as a peace corps volunteer back in 1966!  The school where she taught was still there but had relocated to another part of Larteh in the 70’s. We wandered around the school until two teachers there ‘showed us around’ by taking us to the computer lab (empty) and stating that they could really use some computers from new friends in the U.S.


At Aunt Nancy’s School


Gardens on our way out of Accra (p.s. I’m glad we got our tetanus shots).


Beadmaking at Cedi Beads

We booked a cabin on the water in Atimpoku, with a semi-private dock space where we stayed up late drinking beer and chatting with David.  The river was gorgeous and calm, and lovely for swimming.  This region is full of banana, plantain, papaya, and cacao trees, and is lush with vegetation- quite a contrast to Accra.


Our dock and swimming area


Cale on the dock, looking back at our cabin

The next day we swam in a river and rented a canoe to paddle around for a bit. On the way back to Accra we ran into a family of Baboons, just hanging out on the side of the road!


Baboon plus baby

The weekend of my birthday, we decided to take a trip to the coast, west of Accra. We stayed at a lovely place called Stumble Inn, which had dorm style lodging as well as huts on the beach. We stayed in one of the huts.  The staff there cooked meals nightly and came by to take our dinner order in the early afternoon so they could buy the exact amount of fresh ingredients in town to feed their guests in the evening. Cale and Alex somehow snuck in a cake order! It was a lovely surprise.

Somebody Help!


Cale is pretty much done with me taking photos on this trip.



Alex and his portable hammock


Relaxing at the Beach

While near Cape Coast, we planned to tour Elmina Castle, the first slave castle on the West Coast of Africa.  It was established by the Portuguese, then taken over by the Dutch until the slave trade was abolished. People that were kidnapped and sold into slavery by neighbors in Ghana were taken here and then shipped to South America.  (Cape Coast Castle, larger and further east on the coast, was run by the British and slaves there went to the USA).  It was a bit surreal to walk on the beach past five star resorts, then slums, and finally reach this castle which has such a horrible history.  Being there in person was just as awful as you might expect.  Seeing the dungeons where people were imprisoned for two months at a time before exiting through the door of no return, and hearing the terrible stories about the abusive mayor of Elmina Castle (who lived over the dungeons in a luxury apartment with 360 degree views) was really disturbing.  Being there induced the same heavy feeling as I got after touring a concentration camp in Austria.


Chapel at Elmina Castle (yes, there was really a chapel just meters away from the dungeons)


View from Elmina Castle


Plaque at Elmina Castle

Back in Accra, we had a few days left and rushed to fit in a few last minute activities (ultimate Frisbee with teacher friends, a trip to the craft market, and saying goodbye to DUNK kids.  It was sad to leave Ghana, especially leaving Alex and our new buddies Andrea and Bastien.  We have since flown to Rome, then had a week and a half in Umbria and Florence and are presently in the beautiful city of Venice.

There were bats flying overhead one night as we were out to eat near the canal for Aunt Pam’s birthday.  The conversation turned to bats carrying Ebola, and how people eat bats in Guinea which is part of the problem of the current Ebola outbreak, and how while we were in Ghana they seemed to have exterminated all the bats since there were none this year in contrast to Alex’s memory of hundreds flying overhead last year.  The table of 6 who had just sat down next to us practically jumped out of their chairs and ran down the street.  I thought ‘well that’s weird, maybe they didn’t like the look of the menu” and didn’t think much of it. Then Aunt Pam said: ‘you know, they left as soon as you mentioned Ebola and how you were just in West Africa.’

So basically we’re making lots of new friends.

As usual I’m behind in posting but tomorrow we are off via boat from Venice to Croatia!


The Wandering Samaritan

Before Cale and I left Seattle, I applied for this awesome nonprofit startup called The Wandering Samaritan (TWS).  TWS connects travelers with donor money to use on good deeds while traveling.  I went through an application process, complete with letters of recommendation from friends and co-workers (thank you Kate and Hester!), and was approved to be a part of TWS.  Basically the way it works is that if Cale and I see something or someone that could use funding while we travel, we run it by TWS and they have the final say on whether or not to fund the project.

In Ghana, we were able to settle in and explore enough to be able to find two projects!  The first was JayNii Streetwise Foundation.

JayNii is a school and orphanage located in the Jamestown neighborhood of Accra, on the beach. Started by a local couple, Jay and Nii, they provide housing for 25 street kids, and schooling for 50.  They would like to be able to provide more classrooms and housing for the rest of their students so that’s one of the things they will likely add in the future.

They get some funding by performing (Jay and Nii are both performers, and they teach drumming and dancing to the kids, who perform around Ghana), and some from local churches.  Some funding also comes from a bar that that they run on their property.


Cale walking into the bar


JayNii and the next door neighbors

Alex volunteers weekly at JayNii, providing tutoring for the kids, and he also helps out with bartending when needed.  We planned to be in Jamestown for a festival and realized that one way we could help with TWS funds was to provide the beverages for JayNii during the festival, when they would have more bar customers than normal.  JayNii could then keep 100% of the bar sales, rather than just the profits on each drink.  TWS approved our project immediately and we were able to purchase the drinks.

We arrived early the day of the festival and got ready to help with the bartending (ahem, did I mention I have my certificate of mixology? Worst money I’ve ever spent).  Luckily, Alex invited all of his teacher friends so we had a great crowd there to support JayNii and also have fun at the beach.  Everyone was being extremely generous and paying more than the normal drink cost because the funds were all going to a great cause.



All in all, we were able to turn TWS funds of $80 into about $325 to go to JayNii to use however they please.  It was a fantastic event, and Cale and I got to hang out at the beach, dance with the kids, and experience the Chale Wote art festival as well.  More importantly, the festival brought a number of people to the bar who were unaware of it previously, so repeat business there may be even more valuable to JayNii.


Jamestown lighthouse and the bar at night



Drum and dance performance


This place is awesome.

Project number two was with DUNK, which I wrote about previously.  The only problem with DUNK was that we wanted to donate more money than we could!  They have need for basketball shoes, socks (the kids share these since most of them don’t have their own), school supplies, money for a school tutor, jerseys, basketballs, etc.  We sat down with Emmanuel and Deborah (youth President) and Salim (youth VP) to brainstorm all the items that DUNK could use, then we ran the items by TWS to see how much we could get approved.  The most exciting idea was for a basketball hoop – the kids have use of one full sized court, and one concrete slab that doesn’t have two hoops to practice with.  I got the approval and traveled to the side of the road… as I mentioned, that’s where you buy everything around here… and handed over the funds. 


The side of the road.

A friend of DUNK transported our new hoop and we set it up with the kids, who immediately started playing with it.  Thank you, TWS!


Transporting the hoop to the court


DUNK kiddos and the new hoop!

Volunteering in Accra: Basketball and… Sex-Ed?

I decided to look for a volunteer opportunity for myself and Cale while in Ghana, to keep ourselves busy while Papa Papp works all day.  Alex suggested DUNK (Developing Unity, Nurturing Knowledge), a youth-led community space with a focus on sports and education.  Kids come and play basketball twice a week, then are required to attend study sessions and tutoring twice a week, with Friday as a free-day.  It’s right down the street from his apartment so we decided to check it out.

We arranged to meet Emmanuel, a staff member at DUNK, to talk about how we could help. I was thinking I could do office work or something like that, but as we arrived for our meet and greet, we realized they expected us to start volunteering that day, and the real need was for basketball coaches!

So, as a result of my bright idea to volunteer, I completely roped Cale into coaching a basketball team.  He was pretty much handed a U14 team of boys, and since I don’t play basketball I provided zero assistance.  He handled it well though, and when we got home after that first day he immediately emailed Caldwell to get practice ideas from a real basketball coach:). By the end of our two week stint, he was a pro and was having a lot of fun coaching.


Cale with his words of wisdom during the tournament


Cale with his team, the Golden Boys

I decided to do arts and crafts with the kids so ended up making a lot of pop-up cards.  Since we had a couple weeks there we got to know the kids. The great thing about DUNK is that the kids are empowered to make their own decisions about the direction of their teams, as well as get involved in other big-picture organization ideas and decisions.  So for example, after our first week volunteering, DUNK put on a basketball tournament with their sister-programs throughout the city.  The kids organized everything, from coordinating the tents and chair rentals, to refereeing and administering the games.  The kids are great and the organization does a great job at focusing on leadership development.


Some of the younger kiddos with Pop-Up Cards

Week two: Cale and I arrived in the middle of a meeting between the kids and Emmanuel. This wasn’t unusual and in fact they generally have at least a couple of meetings each day. During this particular meeting they were discussing how they would help one of the girls in DUNK. They talked about bringing her schoolwork, etc. I thought that she got cholera (there’s a big outbreak here presently). Turns out she got pregnant.

Emmanuel was at a loss of what to do since this was the first time it had happened at DUNK.  He was being as communicative as possible with the DUNK community since he pointed out that when this happens in Accra kids are generally cruel and start to bully the pregnant girl.  He wanted to make sure he was creating a supportive community and was fostering that by setting expectations for the kids and talking about their ideas.  Then he looked at me and said “Sarah, what do you recommend?”

Me: “Well what is it like here at schools? Do they teach sex-ed? Do students know basic information about contraception?”

Emmanuel: “No, that’s not discussed in school.”

Now here’s the part where I open my big fat mouth.

“I could teach a lesson on sex-ed if that would help?”

“Yes please, absolutely, let’s do the class at the end of the week.”

So this is the part where the music major who has no business teaching a sex-ed class panics and puts a call out to Facebook for assistance.  Fortunately my Facebook friends are awesome and I was pointed to an online curriculum called FLASH which may potentially be the same curriculum I went through, just edited over the years.  I took ideas from the curriculum (meant to be taught over a period of 6 weeks) and condensed it to one lesson that ended up taking about an hour and a half. Skipping anatomy completely, I focused on Pregnancy, STDs, Abstinence, birth control, and decision-making.


Let’s discuss STD’s, children.

After the successful class. Cale, Clock (staff rep), Salim (youth VP), Deborah (youth President), and me.

After the successful class. Cale, Salim (youth VP), Clock (staff rep), Deborah (youth President), and me.

The kids did really well; there was the expected amount of giggling but they also asked some great questions and I was able to dispel several rumors (e.g. you can’t get HIV from kissing).  No angry parents stormed in to run me out of town for teaching about birth control. And most importantly I got to check that item off my bucket list ‘Demonstrate condom use on fingers in front of twenty 13 to 18 year olds.’

We leave Ghana in 5 hours and are very sad to go. We had such wonderful experiences here, and I still have a couple more blog posts to write. But I’m excited for our next stop: Italy to see my parents, aunties, and some family friends!