Of summer, cakes and roadtrips

After a long first night, our (German Shepherd) babies are finally asleep (at 6 am). As I’m sitting here outside on an uncomfortable birdhouse thats is waiting to be hung on a tree -but I don’t want to move and wake the puppies- with the golden sun making it’s way higher into the sky, watching the little ones sleeping peacefully I felt like this is the time to finally update the blog.
We have been so busy and so many things had to be done first that I haven’t had much time or many thoughts for a new blog entry. We were in Europe for two months over the summer, visiting friends, family, taking road trips with friends we hadn’t seen in years, photographing a wedding, eating heaps of cakes and salmon, drinking lots of wine and ciders, enjoying the european summer, and gathering inspiration.

IMG_2790Wedding Holland 2

After we came back to Ghana in September, Jack’s family came to visit for two weeks, so we packed everything in our dear, old, green landrover and took another roadtrip North. We drove across the whole country, through back roads, dirt roads, and barely roads, stopping at different places and finally reached the very North of Ghana, Mole National Park.

That’s where we spent three days; hiking, looking for wild elephants, feeding a cheeky monkey with french fries by the pool, being greeted by Pumba (herds of warthogs) in the mornings and watching antilopes in the evenings. After three beautiful but elephant-less days we convinced a ranger to hike with us to find them. So off we went again, this time driving for a few kilometers with our own car, saw the usual many monkeys, birds and game and then got out to walk. We walked through bushes and grass land, getting bitten by clans of mosquitos and other insects until we found elephant tracks! It was such an amazing experience to track them through the wild forest and to really find three of the majestic creatures in the shade of big trees, shaking their big ears and chewing on some twigs and leaves.

We watched them for ages, despite the growing heat (even though it was 7 am) and the insects eating us. I find them so fascinating and even though I had seen wild ones in India I had never actually followed their tracks and found them and we got to go very close to these ones.

On our way back South we passed a lovely cocoa plantation somewhere on a dirt road that we weren’t sure was even meant for driving since we didn’t meet another car for hours and we stopped at a butterfly sanctuary that had incredibly huge, old trees and many varieties of tropical plants.

Once during our trip we were just driving with all windows down, getting shaken around in the car because of yet another funny road we had decided to take, we were all a bit tired of driving and had been arguying a bit and I had been feeling quite sad. But then I breathed in the scent of citrus coming from all the orange trees around us and the smell of musty soil, citrus leaves and the warm earth. It smelled like happiness. And everything around me no longer mattered. I was filled with the nature around us that was completely alive and it reminded me of the things that are truly important in life. Sometimes it just takes a moment; a moment to breath and let the negativity escape your body. There might be a million things to do and I may feel judged and critized for who I am, standing up for what I believe in, being bold and having opinions sometimes, but in that short moment everything was perfect.
Since J’s sweet family has left again we have been planting 30 banana trees, been fixing the dam which took a lot of energy and time (but the birds, trees and turtles are happy again), been making new friends around the village, been planting vegetables, been spending lots of time in Accra as well and done lots of things that are part of our daily life here but are too long to list.

I am off on a trip for a project most of next week and J will be on the land, building furniture, teaching the boys about permaculture and taking care of the pups.

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I hope you all had a lovely summer (or winter in some parts of the world) and are looking forward to hot coco, cookies and fire places…
Love from the tropics


How Jack became someone else´s husband and we ended up at the busiest little fishing harbor

Today was a day where our minds and bodies were drained and we couldn’t work on anything because we have to wait until Monday for an office to open again to get paperwork done. The weeks have been exhausting and we just needed a break… So we jumped into our car and started driving.ImageWe didn’t where we were going but ended up in a town by the sea we had been wanting to go to for months now. The sea breeze filled the air and we realized how long we hadn´t had a single moment to just breathe. It was extremely hot outside but it feels so detached to roll the windows up and turn on the air condition, so we embraced the heat and let our faces feel the breeze and humidity while exchanging smiles with everyone on the way. ImageWe saw children playing games in the streets as if they had not a single worry in the world. ImageWe drove through the town and parked our car in a little street close to the harbour. We wondered whether our car would still be there when we got back, but figured its pointless to worry about it and started walking.
We got to the packed beach where everyone was bargaining for fish, crabs, shrimps, massive shells, eels, devil fish, and other things that looked fishy! Image
ImageEveryone was very surprised to see fair skinned people strolling through the crowd in their flipflops and was cheerfully chatting away with us, mostly in languages we didn’t understand, but we all laughed together.
There was one man who was cracking shells to sell at the market and as I stood there watching him he smiled, paused for just a second and gave me one. He gestured that they are delicious!
ImageWe met this one old woman who was smitten with Jack and in her very few words of English she told me that he´s not my husband anymore, he´s her´s now! So I laughed and told her “alright, bye bye” and all the women were giggling and cheering.
ImageAfter ages of getting our feet very dirty, we walked back to the car, which was of course still there, in one piece. We found another market, which was very quiet and it was lovely to hang out there, chatting with the ladies and buying heaps of fresh fruit.
ImageWe drove back just as the sun was getting lower, filled with happiness, half ready to be thrown into the madness of daily things to do again. Image

Things you face when starting an NGO/Institute and moments that make it worth it

You know those days when nothing seems to go right? Well, we´ve been having a couple of weeks of that….
These are the struggles you have when trying to build something in a developing country that can´t quite handle the bureaucracy, which they´ve copied from more developed countries, yet but tries to impose laws onto you that don’t exist, simply because you have light skin …
Ghana is wonderful, and so are its gorgeous people, but sometimes things pile up and get frustrating. Since the rainy season is finally gracing us with its presence the electricity has been off most days (meaning no fridges, no laptops for work, no fan at night, only candlelight after 6 pm, showers in the dark etc), which is very tiring when you need to get work done, but it´s also not a disaster. The water has been switched off too, due to unclear reasons (meaning that we have to carry buckets around for showers, flushing the toilet, washing the dishes, etc), which is annoying especially paired with power cuts, but also it´s nothing terrible.
Other things make up for it. Like all the peanut flowers, chillis, basil and sunflowers that have started growing. A few days ago our dam was finally completely full, which is amazing for all the plants and animals. We were extremely excited and jumped in. It was the perfect temperature and so soothing. Feeling the water that we had managed to collect in a place where there wasn’t any water before, with colourful birds fluttering around, felt like the sweetest, most gentle victory on my skin. 
During the night the skies opened up and flooded the capital city so badly that gutters were flowing over, car showrooms had to be emptied and many houses and cars stood under water. The power of all that water in our dam broke through one of the walls and by the time we got there in the morning the dam was almost empty, with a river now running down the hill, making beautiful noises.
With the wall it ripped a tiny piece of our hearts out because unknowingly we had poured our entire hearts into this land and were lost for words for the rest of the day. We need to find money somehow to be able to hire a bulldozer for a day to fix the dam properly and it needs to be done before the rainy season ends or we´ll have an empty dam. Image
Since we moved houses we´ve been cooking with coals outside. It´s romantic to sit outside together, making dinner at candle light but after a few days you´re just fed up. Mosquitos try to get in on the romance and it also takes hours to cook anything. We bought a stove now and are relieved that we can cook inside the house in our underwear again, dancing to Aretha Franklin. 
Our beloved but very very very old Landrover needed some mechanical love for the hundredth time yesterday and we spent 8 hours getting it fixed and 4 hours in traffic. But we ate a huge pizza on the way, so that made it okay. Image
We work every single day without getting paid, and sometimes when things just add up (and money gets less and less thanks to heaps of paper work and bribes you have to pay) you get frustrated and wish that some people would donate some money to fuel the goodness were trying to spread! 

Of despair and hope

If you read till the end and visit our website for 10 seconds I will plant a tree for you!

So we work every day with very little money to build a place for innovative sustainable design, to help locals with their basic needs, for collaboration with communities across west Africa, to preserve wildlife, to welcome guests from all over the world for workshops on various global issues and makers projects and it is like a stab into the heart when I am reminded of what´s happening in this world.
There are so many things that are actively destroying the planet, that’s why we decided to start The Sun´s Harvest, for people who want to make a slight difference. Yesterday I read picture accompanied reports and advertisements once again for these elephant and lion hunts that you can book online. It made me feel helpless and utterly hopeless.IMG_0674-2
What´s the point in trying to do something good, putting every last bit of my energy into living a life in Ghana where the electricity goes out every other day, where some families live in the dirt, where faeces run through the gutters of the city next to where food is getting sold, where sometimes there is no water for a week, where the dry season lasts for half a year in which people don’t know what they can grow and harvest, where people with money drive cars many of us can´t dream to afford in Europe or the US and enjoy their swimming pools while young children work so their family can eat that day? What is the point?IMG_3207-2-2
The answer is hope. I have hope. Not naïve hope for a better world tomorrow, I´ve experienced enough to know that there are no fairy tales, but hope that maybe we can create awareness, by having realistic expectations and trying to reach people who care and support us. It feels pointless sometimes to see everyone care about the next i-phone, the newer laptop, the newest trend in hair & make-up, the newest app to alienate us all even more from each other, about working in a corporate job that makes sure their children´s future is “secure” on a planet that the human race is plundering at a pace that outstrips its capacity to support life. IMG_3894
It´s understandable that we are wired to avoid problems until they stare us in the face, but we can´t keep living like nothing will still happen in our life time or the next, because the problem won´t be staring us in the face by then, it will take the air out of our lungs and there won´t be anything we can do about it. The truth is miserable and depressing but we have to stop running from it. But it´s not all dark, there are some people who care to make a difference beyond sharing “meaningful videos” on facebook. IMG_0169-2-2
It doesn’t matter which (overpriced) Triple Soy Half Sweet Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato you´re having every morning but where the coffee beans are from. It doesn´t matter which fashion trend you´re following this season but whose hands stitched your clothes. It doesn´t matter if you want to wear diamonds, but whether someone had to die for you to look pretty. It doesn´t matter which dietary craze you´re following, but whether the food needs to be shipped from the other side of the world. IMG_3978
If we want to see a future for this thing that we call home and want to keep breathing in 30 years time then we have to start living a different lifestyle. Not everyone needs to live off the grid, but every single person needs to make more conscious choices. Stop putting it off. Your career won´t matter when everyone is dying of lung disease and cancer. Stop and think for a moment about how you can start living with a clear conscience. Maybe there are more of us who care out there than we think…
Im not going to ask you to donate on our website because there are so many vital causes everywhere. But maybe you can spare a few pounds, dollars, euros, pesos, yuan, cedi, króna, etc. that you would have used for an extra piece of clothing, an extra gadget, an extra pair of shoes, an extra app, an extra Monsanto owned food product, an extra crystal ergoripado vaccum cleaner (for 20,000 Dollars) or for other things, to give to an environmental cause today. Look for one thing that you would like to support and give a little. Or plant some trees and veggies in your garden!
Thank you for reading!

Website: http://www.thesunsharvest.com Email: thesunsharvest@gmail.com

Chickening out?

The plan: To take food to the land, have a bonfire and grill some veggies. Simple.

The Execution: Slightly different.

We went to our land to celebrate three birthdays. Jack´s, Akrofi´s (a friend who is living and working with us) and Freddi´s (our volunteer). The sky was painted with feathery clouds and looked like it might be kind to us, or drench us completely. IMG_3641
Jack built a bench, I made a fire and Akrofi and Freddi walked to the village to buy a few more things, since we had naturally forgotten some stuff at home. We had of course left the house late, so we were racing against the sun to get everything prepared before dark. Once the flames were dancing we sat down waiting for the other two. IMG_3647
All of us eat fish but don’t really eat meat except for the very, very occasional chicken. So the boys decided to grill a dear feathery one which they had to get from the neighbour who keeps chickens. We figured if you want to eat it, it only makes sense to get it from an organic free range place and you have to be able to kill it. So the farmer gave the boys 3 seconds of playing god, held up two chickens and asked the life and death question “which one?”. A moment of silence, an unfamiliar decision to make, before Akrofi´s Ghanaian upbringing kicked in and he easily decided “We´ll take the pretty one!”. So they took the chicken under one arm, took it on a little adventure and brought it to our land. My heart was racing with fear and sadness when I only saw it. I thought it was already dead. But it was happily flapping its pretty wings and looked at us eagerly as if saying “So guys, what are we doing next?” IMG_3654
The entire time we felt uneasy with our decision, so we locked it into the bamboo hut until someone would go in and do what needed to be done. In the meantime we prepared delicious vegetables, sprinkled some oil and spices on them and put them on the fire. We had cold beers and watched the sun disappear behind the trees. IMG_3671
The question of the chicken was still hanging above us; One of us really wanted to eat it, one was very clear about not killing it and two were undecided whether today was a good day for killing a chicken, but all of us were battling with emotions and thoughts that were filling our heads. On the one hand chicken is delicious, especially grilled, and if you want to eat it, then this would be a peaceful, natural way of doing it. But on the other hand when it got to the land we had played with the furry thing for 5 seconds in which it became a “being” and turned from food into cute.
All of us were looking into the flames and the moon as if the right answer would jump out at us. Maybe we all found our own answer somewhere but the day wasn’t going to be the last one for the damn hen! Feeling confused about having a chicken now that was going to end up on the fire, but with relieved hearts, we enjoyed delicious potato salad, baguette, grilled aubergine, zucchini, bell peppers, bonfire potatoes, roasted garlic, olives and wine. IMG_3688
The evening air was filled with laughter, sheet lightning and the breaths of a chicken that survived. Of course we named her Gloria (after Gloria Gaynor- “I will survive”). After rubbing our bellies and singing terrible but oh so good pop songs into the night sky we enjoyed the caramel stickiness of roasted marshmallows and more beer. IMG_3691
When everything was eaten, all the songs were sung and our things were packed, we put Gloria into a bag and walked to the village where we were hoping to get a taxi. We thought our evening was finished but as we were in the middle of the village, in the centre of the partially lit street, suddenly all the people down the road started running in our direction and you first heard it and then saw the wall of rain hitting them, coming towards us!! We all leapt in front of a closed shop under the roof next to many others who all found shelter underneath various tile or sheet roofs. It was Easter Sunday so lots of people were out and about and while half of us were completely drenched and some were totally dry everyone was chit chatting away. IMG_0085-2-2
We sat down with our backs against the wall and enjoyed the spectacle that nature put on. Every few seconds massive lightning bolts lit up the whole sky while rain was pouring down like buckets. In the half darkness a little girl came to crouch next to me looking up at my face with big searching eyes. I felt her warmth on my skin and put my arm around her tiny body. She held onto one of my fingers, put her head in my hand and moments later I felt the soft vibrations of her snoring against my chest. We stayed there for quite a long while before the rain faded away only leaving vast lightning behind. IMG_3700
We found the mother of the child and made sure she stayed with someone before we took our things and Gloria and got a taxi to the junction from where we were hoping to take a trotro (mini bus, sometimes dangerous, always adventurous way of getting around in Ghana) or another taxi home. To no surprise in that weather, there were no trotros and no taxis. We waited for some time while I jokingly waved at the biggest, nicest car that was passing, to take us. The car stopped a few meters further and the owner told us to jump in. Feeling terrible that we were getting into a car that was cleaner than a dentists practice with our muddy and wet shoes we were hoping that Gloria hidden in her bag wouldn´t decide to say Hi ! IMG_3666-2
After talking for a bit what none of us are sure what exactly it was about we realized that the fancy man in his white suit was fairly to very drunk. While chatting with him about Vietnam or China (we´re not sure), the man in his white suit kept making car noises much like a kid pretending to speed and slow down. The whole ride was very entertaining but we were glad when we got out! Not so much because he was drunk but because the AC had cooled the car down to a freezer.
So on we went with another taxi to finally reach our house where we found a place for Gloria to sleep and wished the pretty chicken a good night.
So now we have a chicken living in our garden with the cats eyeing her as if to come up with the best plan of turning her into a dinner, but are actually really friendly to her and even try to sleep in her little house.
Meet Gloria the pretty survivor hen: IMG_3767 IMG_3757

A walk into the jungle

The earth has music for those who listen.

And when you´re listening, there´s a buzz of life in every forest, in every small garden and in every tree.
Today we were at the land and I disappeared into the forest for a couple of hours. Or at least I tried. The forest is wild and you need a machete to get through. I preferred the company of my camera and didn’t want to disturb the life in the forest as an intruder. That meant I was crawling half of the time, walking into spider webs, getting bitten by so many insects I lost count, getting scratched by thorns and getting lost once in a while.
Every few centimetres I was greeted by a different small animal, found another fascinating plant and realized that the forest ground tells a whole story of its own. I was so caught up in the world of these tiny details but there were so many animal nests and holes, I knew I wasn’t alone. To clarify, there are no lions, rhinos, giraffes or elephants in the south of Ghana, so I knew all I could run into were poisonous snakes, wild boar, antelopes and a few other semi dangerous critters. But if you´re completely alone in these woods you gain respect for these animals.
This small jungle is so thick that I couldn’t get very far in, but even the parts that I was in were thriving with thousands of species of plants and wildlife and when I was standing there surrounded by blue butterflies, watching grasshoppers climbing trees and seeds dropping from above to create new life in the soil, for the life of me I couldn’t understand how anyone can wilfully destroy these habitats! We need to protect these species and reforest wherever possible. It takes such a short time for wildlife to return if you leave a small piece of nature and build a water source.
We don’t seem to understand that at the rate we´re going we will soon be the only animals left on the planet. Us and our pets, breathing through masks because we were too greedy to protect our home.
The Amazon, Atlantic forest, coastal forests of east Africa, mountains of south west China among forests all over the world have lost 90 % of their habitat. We all like the idea of leopards, mountain gorillas, various species of turtles, black rhinos, orang-utans, tigers, blue whales, chimpanzees and snow leopards living on this planet we “share”, but soon all there will be left of them are photographs on national geographic and some of their tracks in the last remaining places where humans haven’t got to yet. We forget that we need all these animals and plants to survive. They play a huge role in keeping a healthy environment. More so than humans. The forests slow down climate change and filter water while the oceans provide one sixths of the world´s food (which they won´t, if we keep polluting them).
We usually think that these issues don´t concern us personally and that we can´t do anything to change them. Incorrect. There are things we can do! On an individual level we can look at our consumerism and start buying local, organic and fair trade produce; we can reduce our carbon footprint by changing light bulbs to compact fluorescent ones, reduce the consumption of imported food, insulate houses, use solar power, recycle, reduce meat consumption, etc. and on a larger scale we can raise awareness! We can implement new and more sustainable ways of growing and watering crops, managing fisheries and forests, generating renewable energy, having community gardens and dealing with waste responsibly.
These are grim issues but finding solutions and applying them to see real change rather than theoretical promises can be fun, rewarding and inspiring.
These are some of the topics we are going to focus on at The Sun´s Harvest by having workshops with people from all sorts of countries and by empowering local communities to use sustainable practices and protect natural resources.
I had had a horrible day, was feeling frustrated with a lot of things and everything in general wasn’t quite right. But when I was in the jungle I felt alive. The air was hot but beaming with life and the simplicity of all the tiny organisms was putting my mind at ease. I´m not someone who meditates underneath trees all day long but those two hours alone in the midst of plant life was like a cure for the soul. It´s good to know that there is a place where you can hide away when you simply need to breathe.

Catching drops of rain. (or how to build a nature pond)

When you start a project in a place like this, you can be sure to run into walls of stone once in a while, but you just keep going and remember what your intentions are.
We have started to build a dam or rather a natural pond on our land, as a free water source to irrigate all our plants during the dry months, which is most of the year.
The first day we went to start digging, we were there for 10 hours having to supervise every single step of what the bulldozer operators were doing, since they decided to make the dam smaller and smaller each time we weren´t watching. On top of it, when they want to play ignorant they will just speak their local language and pretend not to understand you, which can be slightly frustrating, especially if you´ve been in the bright afternoon sun at 36 Degrees for hours! But all in all it was a successful day and you can tell, there is going to be a big pond or small lake!
We are trying to give you an insight into what goes on when you start an NGO or Institute, including the difficult and tedious parts, rather than present a finished product, so you have an honest picture of what´s happening here.
Another very important aspect of the water source is to increase biodiversity. The dam only has small puddles of water at the bottom right now, but It was beautiful when birds already came for a visit in the afternoon of the first day, having a drink. And a hawk graced us with his presence.
We will be creating a retreat for all the wildlife who are struggling to find water, such as a vast variety of beautiful birds, turtles, snakes, countless critters, lizards, grass cutters, butterflies, and if we are lucky, antelopes! Rumour has it, that crocodiles will come during the rainy season… We´ll welcome them with a tea party if they do, but we´re not sure whether it´s true….
Some native fish will have a new home in the groundwater pond, since they create a healthy environment and eat the mosquito larvae.
Aside from being vital to a sustainable agriculture, the nature pond will serve as an example for locals – and as a workshop space – to see how to build a dam, to store water, grow fish, water their crops with and that it is entirely possible to get together as a community to start such a project and see the value in it.
The pond is big but it´s not deep enough yet to have a lot of water but when we went there yesterday we found a turtle trail and a lot of butterflies dancing around the puddles, which was incredibly humbling to realize once again how much of a direct impact we have on our environment and the planet. And that it lies in our hands whether we are destroying the nature around us or recovering it and nurturing it to a healthy garden Eden that provides shelter and food not only for us but for all living things.