Author: Yellow Duckie
Situated along the equator, I was all prepared to embrace the humidity and the heat. However my adventure of Ghana begins right at the departure gate in Schipol Airport, Amsterdam. Perhaps it was a bigger jet jumbo which I will be on, the boarding time was an hour before the departure time. Taking for granted the usual 30-min before departure boarding time I had a rendezvous at the duty free shop before heading to the boarding gate. I was caught off guard at the traffic at the departure gate. There was a long line before the 4-fold snake-like formation to the security check point (just like the never ending queue at the Malaysian Immigration) and it was barely moving! I was in line for 40 minutes before I got through the hurdle.

Although the flying time towards Ghana was only 6 hrs plus, it seems like a never ending journey compare to the 8-hours flight to Uganda. Don’t ask me why. Tired and exhausted upon arrival, I had to go through another hurdle of getting my visa. According to the Government Website of Ghana, Malaysians don’t need a visa, however, I did prepare before hand on the letter of guarantee from the company and indeed, I do need visa. I was ridiculed for trusting the African Government website, I’ve learnt my lesson. I was glad I did not have much problem but it did take me half an hour before I got through and it was USD 100 per entry for business and USD 50 for Vacation. I thought Cambodia was ripping me off with USD 25 departure tax! Also, while in queue for the immigration, be alert as people from the next line will jump into your line if you are not ready when it’s your turn.

For the first time, the hotel is less than 5 minutes drive from the airport. I could practically see the tip of the air plane and the control tower from my room! It was a new hotel in operation only for a month and everything is brand new, including the skills of the staffs. Getting a reservation was a nightmare as I had to be persistent with my calls and they even got the rooms mixed up! The lady before me at the counter had someone in the room she was assigned to when she opened the door and the staff never seems to get thing right. It was indeed so frustrating dealing with them. Just to ask for a late check out, I had to show myself at the counter everyday getting empty promises of returning my request. Looks like Ghana got me on my wrong foot.

However, apart from the administration complication I had to deal with the immigration and the hotel, I must admit that Ghana is beautiful. It is by the coast so beach area is not far from the city and it is exceptionally clean! Although humidity is high here, I am surprised how they have managed to keep the town clean and you get an easy feeling looking at it. Apart from that, I feel a lot safer walking around in Ghana.

The landscape of Ghana is wide open without hills, thus you get an overview of your surroundings. It gives you a feeling of vastness. Apart from that, being a British Colony once, there are a lot of nice colonial bungalows around the area and English is widely spoken here. Calm and peaceful as it may seems, somehow it’s too quiet. Although I almost ended up in Ghana, I was quite glad that I did not simply because of the humidity that wears me down. Apart from that, I quiet like Ghana. It does somehow make me feel like I am home in Malaysia. If I may compare, it’s like a super clean Kuantan Town. Drivers here are extremely courteous, this came quite as a surprise to us as in the previous African countries I visited is usually a roller coaster ride with car coming for all directions.

We had a little tour of Ghana, driven and guided by Abraham, Lars’ lovely driver. He took us to the Makola Market where it is a huge market that overflows from the market building to the streets around it. You can find anything under the sun there, from fresh food, fruits (excellent mangoes, even better than those in the Philippines), household goods, clothes and etc. According to Abraham, don’t even think about driving here during Christmas. You would get on faster by walking. I did manage to snap some pictures and I realized that the people here do not liked to be photographed so either you ask before you take your shot or take your shot and get some angry faces scolding at you.

One thing we notice about Ghana is that, among the African countries, you have a lot more of carrying goods on your head that any where else in Africa. You could practically see the entire store being carried on the head. One lady had a baskets of bread and compliments such as butter, cheese, jam, peanut butter with a stool balancing on her head. Walking alongside her was her business partner (?) who was balancing a big plastic balloon that is filled with clutch-size packets of milk tea and ice to keep it cool, on her head. Apart from that you see fruits, food even clothes carried on their heads.

I found out that Ghana produce Cocoa and cashew nuts. Our company in Ghana actually rented a huge warehouse with a great ancient cashew nut in front of it, I’d say it’s a good rental deal we’ve got there. The hotel actually gives complimentary packets of Milo in their guest rooms (I was thrilled), perhaps it’s a sign of rich Cocoa production, for whatever reason, a cup of hot milo always brings comfort.

In Ghana, you could still find the normal African souvenirs (wood cravings of animals, etc), however, there is something distinct about the crafts in Ghana. Known me are these two: the Kente and the Ashanti Beads.
Kente are the colourful clothes that wrap around your body, basically a custom worn by the tribes usually the chief. Of course, different tribe carries different color shades and patterns, the ones that is quite stunning are the one from the Ashanti tribe, which usually comes in the golden yellow and other colorful pattern that make it hard to be missed. I couldn’t resist it and bought one for myself. The original size of these hand-woven clothes is at the width of about 3 inches wide and the length of a neck scarf. It is then hand sewn to join the pieces up to form a large cloth. The size of the joint cloth is measure by how many strips that was sewn together, usually 5, 7, 8, 10 and 12. These Kente are not cheap and make sure to get the hand-woven ones else you will be buying machine printed Kente produced in China. Price difference between the hand-woven and the machine printed is not huge.

According to the jewelry designer/seller, all the beads that we see in Kenya, Sierre Leone and etc originated from Ghana. These stunning Ashanti beads are indeed quite a sight to behold…and to own :)

In general, the people here are really warm and friendly. One does not feel threaten being among them. However, being an Asian lady in the midst of them, one can’t help but to be noticed. Without looking up on the fact book about Ghana, I would say that this is a Christian country. The encouraging and sometimes amusing wordings in public display gave way to this. You can find sign boards such as, ”God’s time is the best” on the Coca-cola board and some store signs reading “Blessed Motors”.

Abraham did take us to the Castle, where the government administration office is and to Ghana independence Square. Something common both Ghana and Malaysia has is that they both got their independence in 1957.

There you go, my encounter with Ghana, a love-hate relationship I would say.
Author: Yellow Duckie
I was looking forward to spend a quiet weekend in the midst of nature so I decided to sail out of Stockholm and visit one of the archipelagos which boast to have the best scenery, Grinda. Although the weather report was not promising, I decided not to trust it as it has been fairly inaccurate lately. To my dismay, the forecasted gloom was there.

When I read about the award winning restaurant in Grinda, I dropped the idea of bringing my own picnic basket and decided to give myself a little treat at the Grinda Wardhus. The boat ride from Stockholm took about 90 mins from Stromkajen (in front of the Grand Hotel) to Norra Grinda (North of Grinda).

It was no surprise to me that the dock at Grinda was nothing more than just a concrete platform surrounded by the forest. Although one may feel a little uncertain if there would be any living form further beyond the path leading towards the inner part of the forest, but the fair amount of passengers that get off this port assures you that somewhere inside, there is life.
Uncertain where I was supposed to go, I just follow the crowd into the forest. Sightings of camp grounds, peculiar tents (a miniature house with front porch), functioning ancient water pumps and mobile toilets are found along the path leading inwards. It was calm and quiet since it’s only half past 9 in the morning. I soon caught sight of some wild raspberry plans and of course various wild flowers that grows along side the path. It was not long before I found the “town center” where the Grinda Wardhus hotel and restaurant is.

The view from the deck where the restaurant is situated is superb. Stretching out from the high ground, it gives viewer a panoramic view of the coastline of the Archipelago. I know lunch would be perfect even before I get a taste of it. Inside the reception area, which is something you should not miss (check out the rustic interior of the reception area, it brings a sense of comfort to tired travelers), you will be able to get a poorly sketched map of Grinda. I wouldn’t say that it is a good guide but it’s the only one you can have and roughly know where you are.

I decided to venture the entire island if possible and find myself a good spot to lay my mat and dig into my book. My walk began at the local mini mart where you can get some groceries for self catering guest. There is also a docking yard for boat owners and a café with a fantastic view by the coast. Kayak and bicycle is available for rental, however, the look of the bicycle was in such a sorry state that the thought of touching it appalls me.

Heading towards the South side of Grinda, alternative port for the arrival/departure of ferry (be sure where you departing ferry will be arriving at), you will see a farm where fresh eggs and lambskins are sold. Just be cautious when you get cross to see the animals, you might get electrocuted for being too close (electric fencing). Swimming areas are marked at the map, however, the gloomy and the strong wind deter me from even wanting to lay my mat down on the ground so I decided to go around the island instead.

Raspberries, blueberries and even Cloudberries can be found all over the ground. The only set back was that it was time to be harvested so I had to leave it where it is with much heaviness. Imagine how many bottles of jam I can produce!

I wouldn’t say that the scenery is breath taking (blame it on Abisko for its jaw-dropping view). However, there is no lacking of good sceneries in this archipelago. It is indeed a perfect picnic place (as there is so much room for picnic) and a perfect gateway for a quiet weekend. Life is peaceful here. Different part of the island reveals different side of its beauty. View from the cliff revealing the hundreds of boats parked at the docking bay, view of the cliff against the blue water, the raging wave as it rushes onto the shoreline and more. There is something about this archipelago…it feels like it is in a world completely on its own. Strange in a positive way that keeps you wanting for more…perhaps it’s the perfect union between serenity and beauty.

Lunch at the awarding-winning restaurant was indeed one of my best experiences here. Both for my taste bud and for my eyes (superb view), indeed they don’t get an award for reason. I was initially battling between the seafood casserole and the entrecote. In the end, I decided to go for entrecote with red wine sauce and I have not regretted since ( I bet the casserole taste equally good). I know I can get entrecote right in down town of Stockholm, however, it matters which chef is handling the meat. Here, it was cooked to perfection, rosy but not bleeding and melts right in your mouth. The compliment of the red wine sauces brings out the flavor of the meat and yet not overpowering it that you can’t taste the meat.

I ended my trip with my book on the rocks at Sodre Grinda (South Grinda) while waiting for the next boat to take me home. It was indeed a quiet and rewarding weekend I had at Grinda. Although it was a day trip for me, I was kind of glad as I would have most probably got myself a place in the youth hostel (as a night stay at the Grinda Wardhus would be unaffordable for my pocket) where mobile toilets are utilized. I am not that fond of these mobile toilets where everyone’s contribution is kept there for a period of time, perhaps until it’s full before being disposed. Back to the world of flushing toilet in trade of the peaceful nature of Grinda, I supposed I could live with that.

Author: Yellow Duckie
After a relaxing weekend at the Serena, Kampala (I must stressed this as I am missing it teribbly while sitting in Holiday Inn typing this), I get the idea of what to expect when I eventually move to Nairobi. Basically, I better learn to adapt to relaxation a.ka. boredom or schedule as many business trip as much as possible. I guess one can't really have everything you want in life. It's basically a trade off I supposed. You get a luxury life here but lack of the first world facilities and most important of all, freedom.

I was strecthing my neck in the place trying to catch a glimpse of giraffe as we land in the Nairobi airport. No giraffe was the first disappointment upon my arrival, to top it off, I fail to see my name on the boards on display carried by the assigned driver as promised. It was kind of a weird sensation having all eyes on you as you walk across the crowd that was held back by the barricade looking for your name because you are the only one standing on the other side of the barricade and what more I am an Asian girl alone. I ended up taking a cab whose driver has a bad BO.

Helen was right, one won't feel threaten when you are in Kenya, either that I have get accustomed to it. However, there should be no room for negligence just be street smart.

As a statement of fact: Nairobi is the only city in Africa that has a national park within 5 mins from the city center and the airport is actually next to a game park ( I have no clue why it's called a game park) where you can see the wildlife.

The weather was inviting, I would say it's my kind of weather. It was cloudy and the air was chilly. I actually put on a light cotton jacket without having to prespire. Upon arrival to Holiday Inn, I though it was pretty nice however, I do miss Serena terribly, I think I mentioned that already. My next destination was the Ya-Ya tower to check out I supposed, my choiced of accommodation, could be temporary or permenant.

I had Samuel as my driver who drove a really run down Toyota. I really thank God that it didn't smell else, i wouldn't have called for his service for my return journey. He mentioned that he didn't mind waiting for me while I check out the apartment but I declined as I didn't want to hold him up for another customer. Then I realised that they don't really get much of a client as whenever I call him, he seems to be available and they really don't mind the waiting.

I was a little shock to see the "outlook" of the apartment. It was not as appealing as the interior (as shown in the internet), however I got confirmation from a resident there that it is really a nice place to stay. It's a fully furnished service apartment, which means there will be maid to clean your apartment every day except Sunday. The interior is 5 star :) Although I didn't get a tour inside but a confirmation from a resident is sufficient. I still have not decided as I still prefer a low rise with garden. So plus point about this area is that it has a small shopping center next to it where one can shop for their groceries and there is a Masai Market that is held there every sunday. The Masai market is where you can get a great variety of African Souvenirs. I guess you could tell where I spent the rest of my time in Ya-Ya center...

The next stop I headed of to was the Sarit Center. Nairobi's shopping mall, perhaps the only big one, it was rather depressing. On sunday, most shops close by 2 pm and the condition of the mall is quite old and to be frank, it was like Malaysia 20 years back. I seriously think Ipoh is alot more better than this place. The only comfort is that they have a really huge bookstore in Sarit.

I know I will be able to save a lot of money, just hope that I will not start splurging when I get a taste of the first world once in a while.

I was glad that some one of the colleague came and took us out for dinner and I had a taste of Ostrich. Apparently it's a big think in Africa as they are promoting this meat as it is healthier in comparison to other red meat. From the dinner, I learn alot of life in African, mainly in South Africa and Kenya, they seems to be happy to be where they are. I supposed, this is where you are born and grew up so this is the way of life to them. When asked about how they feel when foreigners are taking the leading roles in company, my colleague said that it was depressing and yet amused by the struggles they are putting up with in the "high" society of the organization. I noticed that perhaps it's the high spirit of the Kenyan that keeps them happy as so far all the kenyan I have met are really warm. This kenyan colleague of mine reminds me alot of "Donkey" from The Shrek :P

Whatever it is... I need to really get a place with I am comfortable with as I can foresee myself spending alot of time looked up in my apartment. I supposed I could get by.
Author: Yellow Duckie
5 policemen on murder for killings at Kalerwe Somali attack Ugandan troops, 47 killed Besigye trial: Govet star witness jailed Confusion as Zambia president feared deathPlans to oust MuseveniPolice arrest 45 students over boarding school fireFood and Mouth deisease breaks out in MbararaPolicemen killed in city drug war
Author: Yellow Duckie
For the first time after having been to Kampala, Uganda for the thrid time, I get to do some shopping. And by that, I mean shopping for souvenirs. I was glad that Helen was on board this time and she knows Kampala at the back of her hand! She took me to the souvenir market behind the cultural center and I just lost myself there. Although the souvenirs are pretty similar to those in Asia, wood craving of animals, scarf, cloth bags, the detail elements is somehow very different.

I stumbled upon something new (new to me at least): soap stones where they use extensively to make jewelry boxes, animal cravings, chess sets, bowls and etc.

Equipped with only 15 Euros in my pocket, as it is always advised to bring no bags with you while you are walking on the street, I thought I could buy the entire market. I was so wrong. 15 Euros went by in a blink of an eye.

I withheld from buying alot of items as I was preparing to buy them when I shift to Nairobi. However, we stumbled upon the Mukisa clay. I went on a shopping galore and selected a whole teapot set and in the end was forced to put back half of my selection due to financial constraint. What attracted me was the natural look of the items and the fact that it keep warms the food or drinks it held for a longer time and in fact it keep cool drinks cool. The fact that I know my money will go for a good cause, i didn't really bargain but my 15 Euros got me only the tea pot, the sugar bowl and the creamer container. Of Course, eventually i went back there for my tea cups.

Author: Yellow Duckie
I ordered a sunny side up egg for my breakfast today and was surprise to see how light yellow the colour of the yoke is! Can't really see from the picture but in reality is was as it the yoke is mized with milk to lighten its color.
Author: Yellow Duckie
I was thrilled at the idea of spending the weekend at my friend in-law's place in Gagnef (in the region of Dalarna). My train journey started off 44 minutes past 7 in the morning from Stockholm Central. It was smooth all the way until we reached Hedemora. Apparently one of the cables broke and everyone was kicked out of the train. In the stated of such a sudden unfortunate event, the ground staff at the station did manage to get hold of some busses to send us to our destinations. It was unorganized but judging from the nature of the event, they did great. In the midst of it, I met a lovely lady, Inger, who happened to be heading to Gagnef and made sure I get to where I was supposed too ( I latermet her again in Gagnef's museum)

Instead of a 3 hours journey, it took me about 4 to get there but nevertheless I got there. In no time, I found myself in total surprised when we got to Pelle and Karin’s (Emelie’s in-laws) house in Gagnefbyn as I did not expect that they are actually staying in a typical Dalarna “Farmhouse”. As much as I can i will try to describe the landscape: There will be a residential house, storage house, stable and blacksmith. These buildings is arranged as the border of a square, forming a vacant area in the middle where the garden is. The buildings here are all painted red, with the reason that these red paints, actually they are not red paints but a residue from the cooper as I understand, perserve the wood and a repaint is required every 15 years! The trend of painting these cottages red start only in the late 19th century.

As we draw up to the drive way, lunch has already been set up in the garden which was decorated with Karin’s beautiful bed of flowers. The sun was up and I had my first Swedish lunch at Pelle and Karin’s place: The famous Swedish Kottbullar (home made), boiled potatoes, lingon berry jam (which I also suspect that its home made), brown sauce, boiled beans and salad. Dessert was served shortly after the meal: Strawberries with Ice cream (which I found out from them is a summer “thing”, it’s almost like a must-have) accompanied by coffee and tea. All these taken with the golden flower bed which lies beyond the yard as the backdrop, I really couldn’t ask for more!

Their house was really a piece of art which I admired. It’s like paying 80 Sek to see how the olden days live. I am not saying that their house is ancient (although it is, I was told that it’s about 150 years old) but here I am living among history. Every piece of furniture in this house holds a story: a clock that belongs to Karin’s parents when they got married, Karin’s grandmother sewing table, a chest of drawers that was left by the owner of the house when they bought this place, a porcelain dog with Karin gave to her grandmother, I was in total fascination. I could not help but to wander around the house admiring every piece of item on display. The simplicity of life here has once again, make me appreciate every single piece of item I own.

Emelie took me for a walk across three picturesque villages. It was a short walk and we have crossed three towns, this shows you the size of each village which is fairly small. The red timber houses with white window frames sitting serenely among the bed of colorful summer wildflowers against the backdrop of vast green fields. There are a lot of smaller lakes around where you could have a dip or a swim in the wild! It so peaceful here, it’s not a wonder why the Swedes would have summer houses away from town and to be honest, Dalarna would be the region I would consider.

I have learned a lot about Swedish food during my stay here. They have taken the opportunity to let me have a real Swedish taste so in my first dinner with them, they made sure there that Sill (pickled herring, when they first mentioned it, I thought they were referring to seal) was served. It was served as an appetizer which was to be eaten with boiled potatoes (oh those fresh potatoes are so sweet). I have to admit that I was quite afraid to try but after trying them, they are not so bad, the rawness of the fish cannot be tasted and some of it is sweet, depending on what it is used to pickled the fish with.

Grilled chicken was served with boiled potatoes (eaten with fresh dill), avocado with yogurt as sauce and salad. Karin also made some strawberry salsa which is very nice to be eaten together with the chicken. The following night we had, baked Salmon which was caught but Pelle and Karin’s son-in-law at the Siljan lake together with boiled potatoes, crème fraiche with fish roe and salad. We had Rhubbard & red currant crumble (the ingredients, apart from the flour, was fresh from Karin’s garden). Of course, it is always finished up with a cup of coffee or tea.

The best place to catch Midsummer is here in the Dalarna region where the celebration takes place for 2 weeks! Different towns in Dalarna will hold the midsummer festival at the different date so that there is a fair amount of crowd at the town to celebrate this festival. In this region, they will try to keep the celebration as close as possible to the tradition and some of the town folks do take the trouble to dress up in their colorful traditional clothes.

I was told that most of the people here own a pair of the traditional customs which was used during weddings, child baptism and other major celebrations. From a quick observation, I realized that the people from this region tend to be a lot more friendly and warm. Passerby will never fail to greet you when you pass by although you both don’t know each other. Perhaps it’s the small community that knits the heart of the villagers here as each of them holds a sense of belonging in their own village to make it a better place to live in (although I fail to see what else can be done to make this place better as it is already in perfect condition!). The younger generations will return to this place to celebrate their happy holy union.

Apart from the cold weather that kept me at bay from dipping in the water of the lake close by, I was contended to be spending such a lovely weekend with Emelie and her family just relaxing in the serenity of this town. I had a great tour to Lake Siljan by driving through the scenic routes to Tallberg and hit all the way to Nusnas (The birth place of the Dala Horse).
We even managed to stopped by half way to check out the warehouse sales of the Swedish fashion designer,nygårdsanna, who was from Dalarna. The sales was held at her grandparent's and annually draw great crowd. Tea, coffee and sweets were sold to keep the waiting husbands and children happy while their mum rumbles through the crowd to grab a good piece of dress.
A wonderful weekend indeed.