Zariquiegui today – Eunate tomorrow

Today I walked through Pamplona, famous for the running of the bulls each July. I considered spending the day and seeing the sights. But after the quietness of the camino, I wasn’t ready to be in tourist mode. I walked on – visiting a lovely church in Cizur Menor and stopping at noon to spend the afternoon and evening in Zariquigui.

I walked (on trails) through fields where Charlemagne’s Christian forces defeated Aigolando’s Muslim army in the 8th century. All was peaceful today.

Authentic Spanish flan finished today’s pilgrim meal (after creamy veggie soup, fish, fries, veggies, bread, and wine.)


Tomorrow I plan to walk to this church (Iglesia de Eunate) and stay close by.


The Camino continues to bless me.

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Time to Travel…

NOTE: If you want to continue to read about my Camino de Santiago journey, please go to my new blog: and select “Follow.”  Thanks!


Preparing to travel can be overwhelming, but TIME is the key:

  • T = Tickets
  • I = Identification
  • M = Money
  • E = Energy

I have hundreds of details to finalize over the next month, but I have the basics. I have TIME for my pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago.

Tickets: I used frequent flyer miles to purchase round-trip tickets – giving myself about seven weeks to walk 500 miles across northern Spain. Guidebooks recommend a minimum of 33 days (the number of days Jesus lived on earth – walking about 15 miles a day) or 40 days (a link to the significance of 40 in many religions – averaging about 13 miles a day). With an almost two month time allotment, I’ll stroll a bit more than ten miles each day along the Way.

Identification: I bit my nails when I realized a few weeks ago that my US passport had expired. Yikes! I mailed the application – including a check and head-shot but not the $60 expedite fee – and trusted the agency would meet their estimated 4-6 weeks turnaround. My renewed passport arrived in less than three weeks. Yeah! I’ve ordered a Pilgrim Passport (credencial) so I can stay in pilgrim hostels (called refugios or albergues) along the way. My credencial – to be stamped by albergues or cathedrals along the way – allows me to receive a compostela (certificate of completion of the pilgrimage) when I arrive in Santiago.


A credencial (with awesome stamps) will make an incredible souvenir.


Money: Camino guidebooks recommend allocating 25 Euros a day – enough for sleeping in a bunk bed, eating a communal supper, and eating along the trail. With my new no-international-transaction-fee ATM card, I can withdraw money every few days. I’ll use a credit card for special treats – like staying in a hotel or eating at a nice restaurant.

Energy: I’m thrilled about the opportunity to meet people and experience life along the camino. My clases de espanol and Spanish CDs give me confidence; I’ll be able to say more than por favor and gracias. Over the last several weeks, I’ve walked about 30 miles with my new Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack and Lowa Renegade boots. I almost feel like a hiker instead of a walker. I still bubble with enthusiasm when people ask me about my trip.


I have TIME (Tickets, Identification, Money, Energy) to begin my journey.

But, more importantly, I am making time.

Time to move forward each day.

Time to get out of my comfort zone.

Time to explore.

Time to follow my dream.

Time to grow.

Time to transform into a pilgrim.

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Off to Great Places

“What’s next?” friends ask, curious about the next chapter in my life.

“I don’t know!” I reply, unsure of my direction.

After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer for twenty-seven months in Ghana, West Africa, I’ve spent the last ten months adjusting to life in America. Reconnecting with friends and family. Volunteering to support causes I believe in. Rejoining social groups to spend time with people I love. Settling into a house and making it my home. Meeting new people. Talking about my Peace Corps adventure to anyone who will listen. Living.

But something is missing.
“What’s next?” I ask myself.
I explore options.
Searching for answers. Reading. Researching. Listening.

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
(“Oh, The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess)

I’m the driver. Any direction. I’m on my own. So many options.

I expand my horizons and narrow my criteria.
An adventure. Outside America. Where I can meet new people and be exposed to different cultures.
Where I can learn and grow.

I choose a direction. I decide where to go.

The Camino de Santiago – the ancient pilgrim path across Northern Spain.

I’ll travel independently to Spain in late May. During the 500 mile walk, I’ll connect with people from around the world who walk for a variety of reasons. Walking 10-15 miles a day (while trying to avoid blisters) will test my physical strength. Talking with new friends on the trails and strangers in the towns will increase my Spanish-language skills. I’ll have lots of time to think and reflect. I’ll learn and grow. I’ll return to America in July with new stories to tell and new decisions to make.

Please support me (and all people who are journeying through life) with your love and good wishes.

Buen Camino!

(The blog for my Camino adventure is


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Reality Ramblings…

A few months ago an internet video went viral among Peace Corps Volunteers. The short animation featured two points of view: an idealistic future volunteer imagining a dream life of service in another culture and a somber voice identifying the realities of living in a developing country.   

One vignette stuck in my memory. The idealist  ic PCV said something like, “I will eat freshly harvested organic fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers.”
The you’ve-got-to-be-kidding counterpart responded, “You will see a woman selling hard-boiled eggs that have been sitting in the hot sun for eight hours. You will tell her, ‘I will buy two. With some peppe.’ You will devour the eggs and spicy sauce.”

I also thought I’d eat healthy foods living in a farming community. I didn’t know that local farmers grew mainly yams and cassava – two root veggies similar to potatoes. I’ve eaten plenty of starches and more than my share of questionable protein. But I figure hard-boiled eggs – no matter how long they’ve basked in the sun – are a safer snack than (who knows what kind of) meat on a stick. 


Loading yams at Kpassa market

As I prepare to end my Peace Corps service, I consider the contrast between my pre-service mental images and the reality of living in West Africa.

I will live in a small round mud hut with a thatched roof. I will share my space with mice and spiders. 

I live in a three-room mud-brick house funded by the Carter Foundation for Guinea Worm eradication. I collect rain water gushing from the corrugated tin roof during rainy season. The floor of the house is uneven; the western side of the house is a few inches down hill from the eastern side. The bed, desk, tables, bookshelves and sofa each have a leg or two propped up with chunks of wood to keep the sleeping/sitting/writing/storage/cooking surface somewhat level.  The screens on the five windows keep out the malaria-carrying mosquitoes but not the dust. The mice and bats stay in the space above the ceiling. I share my living space with small lizards and several varieties of spiders.

I will walk miles to fetch a bucket of water from a shallow stream. I’ll boil the water for ten minutes to kill visible vermin and destroy micro-organisms. I will be frugal with the scarce resource; a single bucket will meet all my needs for a day.

Children vie for an opportunity to fetch water from the borehole (machine-dug well with a hand pump) that’s less than 50 yards from my front door. When a child carries and dumps five water buckets to my blue 250 liter barrel, she washes her hands with soap, comes into my kitchen and pours oil and popping maize into a pan. When the corn is popped, she adds salt and transfers the white snack into a clear take-away bag. She carries the treat home to share with her family. Although the borehole water has been tested and is safe to drink, I filter water through a two-reservoir desktop filter before drinking. I try to conserve water, but I use half a bucket for each of my two-a-day baths and I share “fridge water” with guests.


Donkwa's popcorn treat

I will live without electricity or running water.

Like everyone in my community of 1,600 people, I have electricity (“lights”) but no running water. I could survive without lights – even though days and nights are equally long eight degrees north of the equator. But I enjoy electricity. I love being able to sit in front of my fan, keep fresh fruits, veggies, leftovers and water in my fridge, and bake bread in my toaster oven. (Today’s yeast bread features powdered cheese and Italian seasoning.)  

I will ride my bike down a dirt path to remote villages where I will teach captivating health and nutrition lessons to mothers in their local language.

I ride my used six-speed bike a couple miles down the main road to market and another mile to the vocational school where I tutor. Whenever I teach, someone who speaks English and the local language translates for me. My health and nutrition lessons may not be captivating, but only the babies sleep through the sessions.

My toilet will be a hole in the ground.

My toilet is a hole in the ground – surrounded by a mud-brick outhouse with a tin roof and a wooden door. I squat over the key-hole shaped hole and use t-roll (toilet paper) purchased at the local market. A tall metal sprinkling can filled with plastic sunflowers decorates the inside of the latrine.


Being thousands of miles from family and friends, I may be lonely.

Today’s electronic communication options makes my Peace Corps experience completely different from the experience of the first Peace Corps Volunteers in Ghana over 50 years ago. Although I miss seeing and interacting with family and friends, I am not isolated. I stay connected to individuals via email and phone. At last count, 170 individuals read my blog and 75 people receive my daily four-word emails.  Although I’m generally out of touch with news unless someone posts something on Facebook, I feel incredibly connected. I look forward to connecting face to face in a few weeks. 

I will learn to cook native dishes and surprise my friends and family with unique delicious recipes when I return to America.

I have perfected multiple variations of beans and rice and make an awesome groundnut soup (with peanut butter, garden eggs, onions and tomatoes). I use local ingredients to make two delicious snacks – groundnut toffee (candies peanuts) and banana bread – using recipes I adapted from internet.


Sorting groundnuts for toffee

I will be on call 24×7 and have no time to myself.

My day sometimes starts before daybreak with roosters crowing, children calling, and mothers chattering as they fetch water. But I have lots of time to myself. Time to read, write, and think. Time to do craft projects and cook. Time to think about how my life in Ghana is different than I anticipated. Time to contemplate what to do with the next phase of my life.

I will love my Peace Corps adventure. I will learn as much as I teach. It will be difficult to say goodbye.

I love my Peace Corps adventure! I’ve learned much more than I have taught. I have started to say goodbye. The goodbyes are challenging. The hellos will be exciting!


Saying goodbye at Kpassa Technical High School

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Boti Falls

Enjoy the new lyrics to an old tune (B-I-N-G-O).


We went to Boti Falls Sunday,
Saw Ghana’s natural beauty.


B-O-T-I Falls. B-O-T-I Falls.
B-O-T-I Falls. We went to Boti Falls.


We hiked, and laughed and took pictures,
In Eastern Region’s forest.


B-O-T-I Falls. B-O-T-I Falls.
B-O-T-I Falls. We went to Boti Falls.


We took a break at ancient cave
And marveled at the hist’ry.


B-O-T-I Falls. B-O-T-I Falls.
B-O-T-I Falls. We went to Boti Falls.


We climbed atop Umbrella Rock
And felt a bit like Simba.

B-O-T-I Falls. B-O-T-I Falls.
B-O-T-I Falls. We went to Boti Falls.


We sat and climbed the Triple Palm
Perhaps to have twin offspring.

B-O-T-I Falls. B-O-T-I Falls.
B-O-T-I Falls. We went to Boti Falls.


We ate our lunch and then returned
To families in Masse.


B-O-T-I Falls. B-O-T-I Falls.
B-O-T-I Falls. We went to Boti Falls.

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Cooking Yams

Cooking Yams

“Yam!” Magawiny holds up a two-inch thick slice of recently harvested yam above his head. I use a permanent black marker to write my interpretation of his name on the dirt-encrusted peel.

“Yams!” Pomba cradles six end chunks of yams in the pouch made by the tattered yellow t-shirt he wears. The small soft yam pieces are discards from yams destined for market. He writes the number “6” on each of his yams.

“Anggh! Anggh!” Ilando who cannot speak words gets my attention and holds four yam ends in his cupped hands. One of his friends writes “Ilando” on each tennis-ball-sized yam treasure.

“Madame. My yam. Big!”  Joshua smiles as he shows me the end portion of a four-inch diameter yam. He writes a large “J” on his big yam.

It’s yam season in the northern Volta region of Ghana. Men return from farm each day with six or eight yams strapped to their bicycle carriers. Women balance pans of yams on their heads walking to market. Trucks transfer tons of yams to Accra. Children bring yam discards to my house. 

Their parents mark their yams with a thumb-print sized colored dots or lines to indicate who receives the money when the yams are sold. The children mark their yams to indicate ownership. They’ll peel and slice their own yams. I’ll cook the yams. They’ll carry the cooked yams home in take-away bags.

I collect yams during the day. Late in the afternoon, nine children claim their yams from my kitchen floor and sit on my patio. Using knives no child below the age of six in America would be allowed to touch, the Ghanaian youngsters peel their yams and cut them into slices.


They rinse their yam chunks in water and dump the dirty water near the drainage hole in my patio wall. We measure the yams in a large cereal bowl; I record their name and a number to indicate their relative quantity of yams. Matali gets a 2; her sliced yams cover only the bottom of the bowl. Mejanya gets a 5; her yams almost spill over the bowl’s rim. 

They sweep up the yam peels and place them in the blue compost bucket. Enoch will dump the future-soil into my compost pile.


The sliced yams fill two cooking pots. I add some salted water and bring the yams to a boil.


The yams finish cooking in fifteen minutes. I divide the starchy chunks into clear plastic take-away bags.  The children run off to eat their yams. Most of them will share their food with siblings or friends.


And most of them will return tomorrow with more yams. 

It’s yam season in Jumbo.

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Making Yellow

Twelve-year-old Seelow called “Hall-o-o!” from my yard early Friday evening. “Me cook?” she said hopefully. Our schedules finally matched. Seelow wasn’t at farm, caring for her younger sibling, or cooking for her family. I wasn’t working on a report, planning a training class, or weighing babies.

I invited her inside.

It was already dark. I had already eaten. We needed to a fast cooking option. Reciting and performing the actions for “Wash your hands many times a day. Always use soap to keep the germs away!” gave me time to think.

I retrieved a small cardboard box from the cupboard. “We will make Jello.” I announced, introducing a word she had never heard. “We will make strawberry Jello.” I pointed to the picture of a fruit she had never seen.

“Yellow” she repeated, pointing to the red berries on the box.

She opened the box and the tan inner liner. The humid rainy season and the hot African temperatures had transformed the individual crystals into a block – similar to solid-packed brown sugar. She peeled off the paper and sat the small red block into a bowl.  I handed her a whisk that once had a handle and demonstrated how to break the brick into separate granules. “Toffee!” she declared as sweetness filled the air.


The electric teakettle boiled water and turned itself off. I poured one cup of hot water into a lime green plastic measuring cup. Seelow added it to the bowl and used the whisk to dissolve the gelatin.  She stirred for a full two minutes before adding a cup of frige water to the warm sugar-water.  Seelow continued stirring. Her sister arrived and washed her hands – just in time to help with the bananas. Seelow peeled some local bananas – much fatter and shorter than bananas available in most American supermarkets. As she cut each slice into quarters, her sister transferred the banana chunks from the apple-shaped cutting board into the sweet red liquid.


After adding three bananas, Seelow pointed to the stove and the burner switch assuming it was time to cook. She looked confused and disappointed when I cleared a spot in the fridge. But she placed the bowl on the waiting shelf.

“Come back tomorrow.” I said after the two preteens washed the knife, cutting board and measuring cup.

Three young children joined Seelow on Saturday. We ceremoniously followed the instructions in the “wash your hands before you eat” chant. I retrieved the jello from the frig. I tipped the bowl toward Seelow slightly to show her the congealed mass. She jumped back – away from the spilling liquid we had placed in the fridge the day before. “Jello!” I reminded her, jiggling the bowl a bit to show her the new texture.

“Yellow” she parroted back.

I sat the bowl on the counter. I added a smaller bowl and a spoon to the counter so we could transfer some strawberry-banana jello to a separate container. Seelow took the spoon and started stirring the jello, breaking the congealed mass into smaller chunks. (What else would you do with a spoon?)  She pointed to the propane stove. Her eyes said the words she could not voice, “Now do we cook it on the fire?”

“No fire.  We eat.” I grabbed a blob of jello with my fingers and plopped it in my mouth. “Yummy!”

The four children looked a bit surprised, but followed my lead.


“Toffee!” they declared as soon as the sweet treat touched their tongues.

“Yes,” I expanded. “Jello is sweet, like toffee.”

We ate half the “yellow toffee” standing in my kitchen. Seelow divided the leftovers into two plastic containers. She carried one container to her family compound; Dankwa took the second container to his family. “Eat it tonight.” I told them as they headed home.

The children loved the red yellow.
I love red-red (fried ripe plantains).

They scrunch up their noses and winced at “American rice” (rice pudding with nutmeg).
I try not to scrunch up my nose and wince as I tilt my bowl to avoid eating the red oil floating on top of Ghanaian soups.

Their parents pull out crunchy walnuts from banana bread.
I pick out crunchy fish bones from soups and stews.

Our cooking styles and food preferences provide glimpses into our cultures.

Wouldn’t it be fun to listen to a Ghanaian woman describe an American’s first experience making and eating fufu?

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