Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Most of you didn't know me 10 years ago...back when I was just a Virginia girl with a crazy dream to leave her small town for the big city to see what she could make of herself. But on my way to my new life in New York, I made a AFRICA!

In 2007 I spent three months living in Ghana, West Africa as a volunteer art teacher for the Junior Art Club. I taught primary & secondary students in three villages, as well as putting on an art show with the kids paintings. While there I also made 70 artworks, some of which inspired scenes in Page by Paige! (Turns out I would read my very first graphic novel just after this trip...)

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of this life-changing adventure, I've painstakingly reconstructed my original blog entries which were long ago eaten by myspace.  I hope you enjoy!

Laura Lee

1. Greetings from Ghana

December 30, 2006

Hello from Ghana! (Look Mom, I'm alive!) Computers are very slow in Ghana, so I hope I can post as many blog as I'd like to. (For example, it takes 30 seconds to rotate a single photo...I've been in the lab 2 hours now...good lord.)

Well, today is my third day in Ghana and everything's going well! No art yet, but here are some pics. First here is my traveling companion Mr. Duck getting ready for the journey...
...and here's the fortune I received just before I left! I sure hope that my fortune cookie message here is right. 

This was my view from the plane while flying over the Atlantic...from door to door it was only 22 hours...

Kelvin from the Junior Art Club (who I'm volunteering with) picked me up at the airport and has been my guide for the past couple days. This is the house with an apartment that is for JAC volunteers, it's in the Accra suburb of Osu. I've spent the past two days learning my way around the's nice to sleep under a mosquito net, and I wake up to roosters outside and kids laughing...

Today I ventured into town by myself, drank beer by the ocean with another is good.

I'm out of time to give more details, so I'll save that for another entry.

I'm off back to the house. To fill up my bucket of water, because there's no running water inside. And take a well deserved shower. Still haven't figured out how I'll wash my hair...I guess I'm buying a scarf.

2. My obruni artwork

December 31, 2006

I'm not used to standing out as much as I do here in Ghana, as the only white person ("obruni" as everyone calls us) within sight. Yesterday I had quite the adventures, and all the constant haggling wore me out. So today I stayed in and made art, and listened to the music from the church down the street all morning. I drew this sketch in the afternoon on my balcony. (those little blobby animals are goats)

This picture here is of my travel journal, I decorated it a couple days ago with some local symbols. (One that I found looks strikingly similar to the tattoo on my wrist)

This next image was inspired by a paper that was stuck in the copy machine and ended up with these abstract lines. I wanted to play with it...

And this last one here is my favorite. Looking at all the artwork in the Arts Center yesterday, I noticed how all lot of the art depicts crowds or large groups of people. Individuals are shown doing everyday activities, and are not individuals as much as they represent the everyperson. There is a sense of community of a whole. This painting here just ended up looking like fabric, and it has just one strand of green...

3. Hello, 2007!

January 3, 2007

Happy New Years, everyone!

It didn't feel like New Year's to me, I guess because it's so warm, But I spent it hanging out with Kelvin and his friends over in the local outdoor watering-hole in his neighborhood of Dansuman, west of town. Here's what it looked like during the day! (Mom, this is where we spoke on the phone!)

I watched the fashion parade of everyone going to New Year's church services (it's a spiritual holiday here) and drank whiskey with a bar full of almost all men. (there's a funny mental picture for you) At midnight everyone sang a hymn, and we shot off fireworks in the street. (I shot my first Roman Candle)

Yesterday I went "grocery shopping" with Kelvin, it was very different than what I'm used to! We hit the Makola Market, which sprawls over an entire city block. Here's just part of the market, and then a shot of me drinking out of my first coconut from one of the street vendors.

If you're inclined to mail me anything, here's my contact address for my time here: Junior Art Club PO Box GP 1301 Accra, Ghana. And I do have a mobile, the number is (country code 233) 24-331-9123, remember I'm 5 hours ahead. :) Oh, here's a picture of Kelvin and Evangeline at the JAC office!

Finally, here's the Freedom Arch you're guaranteed to see in Accra! It's their Arc de Triomphe.  

Currently reading: Maya Angelou's "All God's Children Need Walking Shoes", it's about her time living in Ghana in the 1960's. There are two competing local beers here, Star and Club. And like Maya, I'm a Club girl myself.

4. Wisdom from a Japanese tourist

January 8, 2007

Everything here in Accra is going well, I've been helping Kelvin at the JAC office and I'll go to Adeiso to start teaching later this week. I look forward to sampling small-town life, because the capital has been a little overwhelming and loud for me! I have so many thoughts and ideas whizzing through my head, I wish I could share it all. I'll start with some art…..

It's a contradiction. Wading in this distinctly different culture, this proud and long-rooted culture, I feel I disappear in the sheer mass of people. The mass that confirms just how small I really am. But at the same time, I feel the eyes on my back and know how much I in fact stand out. I tried to capture this duality in the drawing below…

And now my wisdom from a Japanese tourist…So my house is too dark at night for me to draw, and all the local nightspots are too dark/ too loud/ too problematic to visit if you're a lone pretty obruni. So I was pleased to find a pub only 2 blocks from me that's bright and quiet…the only Irish pub in all Accra. Go figure! Anyway, I was there the other night and struck up a conversation with a Japanese man. When I asked him how he likes Ghana he beamed, "I love it! In Japan, you don't stand out. You get no attention. But here, everyone notice me! Kids always happy to see me, always smiling." The simplicity of his statement made me wonder why I cringe from all the attention I receive here. I should learn from this man and simply enjoy it. Go with it. It's yes, just that simple. So this is the instance that inspired the comic below…

This next drawing is about my favorite time of the day. Every night, (after I have my cold-water-shower-from-a-bucket) I lay on my bed, feeling the fan blow on my skin and looking at the dappled lights that land on my mosquito netting. The breeze nudges the fabric to ripple, and it looks like it's magically floating. Add to this scene a carefully-chosen lullaby from my ipod, and it's pretty much perfect.

Some of the trees here are so tall and slender that they look surreal to me, like they have no support. So I wondered, what is one just kept growing? What if one tree just wanted to see what was up there…(There's a little periscope in the branches, but that's probably hard to see in the photo)

This next painting was inspired by the bark of a coconut tree I saw at the Aburi Botanical Gardens this weekend. I liked the worn texture and all the interesting layers…

At Aburi I drew this picture of a ceibe petendra tree. It's a HUGE tree, and they say that it actually walks…just verrrry slowly. ;) I particularly loved the fabric-like folds of the trunk. It took forever to finish drawing, because I got interrupted perhaps 8 times by different men who were curious what I was doing/ where I was from/ what my mobile number was/ etc. People here are so friendly and so curious why you are in Ghana and they genuinely want to get to know you—it's strange.

5. I've only been here two weeks??

January 13, 2007

It feels like I've been here for such a long time--funny how travel does that to you. So here are some new pictures, enjoy!

Aburi botanical gardens, the entrance is lined with these huge coconut trees...

Here's me learning how to fry plantains earlier today. (yum!) Being a vegetarian here is VERY hard, but the dishes that I find work are all very good. (and spicy!) No dairy though, so I have had none since I arrived two weeks ago. A glass of milk, anyone, please??

A group of kids working a stall in Adeiso...

Here's looking down into a bucket of water, playing with my shadow...

The mosquitos are indeed, evil. This one grew even bigger...I wanted to chop off my leg.

Patrick (senior) and Gifty Ansah, my new host family in Adeiso!

This one's a little dark, but it's of me reading on the porch in Adesiso. What a view, eh?

Kelvin making me laugh like usual! He and I have become very good friends, I miss not seeing him when I'm not in Accra!

Accra at night. The air is thick with dust because I'm here during Harmattan--the dusty winds blowing in from the Sahara. It leads to mysterious light effects at night and black boogers during the day. (Loooovely!)

This is how kids in Adeiso react to an Obruni. (I thought before it was Bruni, but it's Obruni) Everywhere I go they just go crazy! And they chant over and over, "Obruni, obruni, obruni!" So I yell back, "Obibini!" (Which means "Black person") This makes them laugh! I have to shoo them away from my class when I teach, because they are all so curious about me. Some children are scared, because I'm told they have never seen a white person. So they are scared of me like I was of clowns with their painted faces when I was a child--that's a strange thought. Anyway, my students are great--thirthy to learn and very kind. I'll write more on them when I get to know them better!

6. From big city to small town life...

January 13, 2007

For the rest of this month I'll spend the week in Adeiso (a small town an hour Northeast of of Accra) and come back to Osu on the weekends. And there is NO internet in Adeiso. So my blogings will now have to be crammed into one sitting--so first I'll post the new art, then the pictures. I didn't make much art during the week because I started working with the kids--hopefully next week I'll work it into my schedule better! (In my new schedule I wake up at 6:30 am to the roosters in the backyard coop, and go to bed at 10:00 after watching the outragously-campy-Spanish soap opera "The Gardener's Daughter" with Gifty)

This first drawing is what Accra sounds like. In my head. Voices, vehicles, animals, and the sounds of people all living their lives outside all just blend together in one loud complex composition. Kelvin really likes it! The non-English words are in Tri, the local dialect. I'm making an effort to learn it...

I've finished another book I brought, (I need more!) and like I normally do with non-fiction books I enjoy I wrote the main points out for myself for future reference. (yes....D-O-R-K) This was recommended by Juliet, called "Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto." It's been interesting reading it here in such a social culture...really got my gears turning. Well, you can read the points here if you wish...

This is a sketch I did of Patrick, the son of the family I am living with in Adeiso. He is 9 years old and in my primary class that I teach in the mornings--he and I have become fast friends! (The other night we were doing puzzsles and listening to my ipod together, singing "Yellow Submarine"...and he surprisingly likes the Decemberists...go figure!) It doesn't quite capture him because he is ALWAYS smiling, unlike this sketch here. But he was constantly moving, so he made for a challenging model!

Out in the quiet of Adeiso, my mind doesn't chatter like it does in Accra, overstimulated and unresting. It's quiet, taking in every tree, every animal. Relishing the simplicity of makes my heart smile to itself, enjoying just being present. So how to draw such a quite internal smile? I just made the paper smile.