About Jeremy Ginsburg

I am a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am majoring in Economics but my life long goal is to save and travel the world. If I can't do that, then I'll become a professional entertainer. I just got back from studying abroad at the University of Ghana for my spring semester. Now, I plan to blog about travels and views on the world. ENJOY!

AZONTO: From Ghana, to West Africa, to the rest of the World

AZONTO….?

It’s a bird!? It’s a name!? No…. It’s a SUPER-MANIC dance that is taking over dance floors in clubs and parties world wide!

If you haven’t heard of it yet, I’m sure your Africans friends have. Pronounced, “ah, zone, toe”, kind of rhyming with “I don’t know” (Well…keep reading and you will!), Azonto is on its way to becoming one of the most popular dances world wide. Originated in Ghana, Azonto is an expressive dance, where you can basically do what ever you want while moving to the rhythm. Some popular moves include mimicking the following activities: washing your clothes by hand, calling out a girl you find attractive, making a phone call, and boxing. Sounds humorous, but so does “the moon walk”, and that seemed to impress people.

Azonto has blown up on youtube. From tutorials, to skits, to music videos, to battles, to Azontoing in public across the globe, Azonto is penetrating the international dance market rapidly.

Here’s a recently article on .

This is the video I shot dancing Azonto around Ghana: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XBWG-UVzJg

But, if you really want to learn, I’d suggest watching one of the hundreds of tutorials on youtube.

Oh, and by the way, it’s like the most fun dance you could ever think of. It always puts you in a good mood (but makes you wish you were in Ghana where it’s acceptable to Azonto in any given circumstance), and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. You could be brushing your teeth, picking your nose, playing basketball, as long as you do it to the beat and make it look stylish. Not many dances easily migrate through language barriers, but Azonto, being as expressive and versatile as it is, has become a universal dance across the world.

Most of my friends know about it, mostly because anywhere we go that has music playing, I end up dancing by myself, even though other people look at me and think I am wasted and dancing like a fruit cake. I lived in Ghana for over four months, and it took be about 3 months to feel comfortable doing it, and another month on top of that to feel like I was actually doing it properly.

Azonto competitions have taken place in the London, Toronto, NYC, and Chicago. It’s coming soon to Madison. My housemates and I threw a party last weekend, and our friend DJed. During the party he played a short clip of an Azonto track, and people danced! They were already dancing before he put on the song, but hey, they DIDN’T STOP dancing!

I’ve been to Ghana, where kids learn how to Dance Azonto, mimicking the activities in the form of dance, before they learn how to do the activities themselves. I traveled around Ghana, and whenever I stumbled upon someone who didn’t understand English, they understood Azonto. Maybe I couldn’t ask what time the bus was coming and where it was going in the form of dance, but it always generated a smile!

Youtube: “Azonto” yourself, and see how many videos come up. It’s only getting bigger and bigger, and the later you jump on the bandwagon, the more you’re gonna think, “MAN! Jeremy was raving about that Azonto dance so long ago….I could have been the first one to whip it out in my friend group!” That goes for you, too, Grandma!

All love.

Jeremy Kwabena Ginsburg

aka

AzontObruni

NAKED TIGER --- Nicaragua

In a state of utter confusion and still half asleep, the six of us patiently waited in front of our hostel for the bus to Liberia (a city in northwest Costa Rica) where we would transfer to another bus that would then take us to the border of Nicaragua. The whole thing seemed surreal, as we had just decided on this destination less than 24 hours prior.

Here's two of my good friend's blog. They're down in Costa Rica! Hope you like it!

Elmina Slave Castle

The Elmina slave was first built by the Portuguese (1482), but was taken over by the Dutch(1637), and then the British (1814). The Portuguese were known to have treated their slaves worse than the Dutch or the English. The castle was built about a few miles down the coast of Cape Coast Slave Castle, and there’s a watchtower right up the hill.

When we went to the Cape Coast Slave Castle (Barrack Obama went there on his visit to Ghana) a few months before, we toured it with our entire group. It was very emotional. We had a combination of whites, Africans, and African Americans on our tour. I feel like since everyone knew each other, people felt more comfortable to get emotional.

The Elmina slave castle was known to be more intense tour; it was one of the most popular castles used for slave trade. At its peak, around 30,000 thousand slaves strutted out of the infamous “door of no return” per year.  Even if the castle averaged 10,000 slaves a year, you’re still looking at over 4 million slaves over 400 year stretch. AND THAT’S JUST ONE CASTLE!

Women were asked to lift this 25 kg cannon ball…if they did not succeed they were whipped 40 times.

As we walked the castle, we were brought into large cellblocks that held hundreds of slaves at a time. You could still smell it! The smell of death: a built up of body odor, urine, feces, and lost hope. People talk about slavery occurring so long ago, almost as it’s just a story to learn from. But, being at this castle made it clear how REAL and recent it is.

We were on a group with some other foreigners, and a group of adults that were joking around throughout the tour. That kind of lightened the mood, which was less depressing, but it also hindered our experience. We were told about the female slaves that would be allowed to shower and get clean only so the masters could rape them. We saw the doors that allowed the guards to secretly rape the slaves AGAIN after they had been raped by the head of the castle. So sickening. So gruesome. So sad.

What’s crazy to me is that outside of the slave castle, normal life goes on as if there is no depressing historic sight near by. The town is not built on tourism from these castles at all. At first I didn’t like it. Hundreds of years of suffering, millions of lives lost, generations of enslavement, and unless you stepped foot inside the castle, you would have no idea how disheartening Cape Coast’s history is. Yet, the sight of kids playing , people hanging out by the water, and sailors setting off for a nights work represented freedom. These sights are constant reminders that the past in the past. As important as it is to remember what has happened and to also learn from it, it is also important to move on in life in order to live a life filled with freedom. The workers outside of the Elmina slave castle may not live a luxurious life, but they’re finally free. Free from European rule. More importantly, they are free from enslavement.

Cape Coast is filled with churches and other buildings built by the Dutch, Portuguese, or the English. Those tall buildings serve as a reminder to all of the people of Ghana how far they’ve come.

All love.

Jeremy Kwabena Ginsburg

What I don’t miss about Ghana

What do I NOT miss about Ghana?!

As much as I miss Ghana (it is a lot), there are many things that I truly do NOT miss about living in West Africa. Lots of things in life are bittersweet, but for now let’s take a look at the bitterness that I’m quite content to have left behind.

The weather: True, it has been a “rough” summer (according to most), and the weather in the Midwest has been pretty HOT and HUMID. But, it still is more pleasant than it was in Ghana. Even the days when the weather is comparable, people aren’t outside NEARLY as much (around me at least) as they are in Ghana. People complain about how hot it is, when the only time they have to go outside is the 30 seconds spent in their car before the air-conditioning works, then the 2 minute walk in the parking lot from their car to their destination (which is most likely air conditioned). I’ve noticed my body can handle warmer temperature than most people, and that I get cold easier. It also gets cooler at night in the Midwest, so it’s much more tolerable at night. It’ll be 95 degrees here and I’ll go on a run at 4 pm and my friends will think I’m crazy. They’re right.

Slow Restaurant Service: I’m still shocked every time I go out to eat when my food arrives so quickly. It makes me so excited I feel like I end up eating more!

 

Mosquitoes with Malaria: Mosquitoes in Minnesota and Wisconsin don’t have malaria! THEY CAN BITE ME ALL THEY WANT! They’re not as sneaky anyways. It’s nice not having to sleep with a mosquito net, too.

No Air conditioning: That’s just something I’ll always appreciate. It’s so beautiful. It feels good. It sounds pleasant. It keeps mosquitoes away. It keeps me cool. And, best of all, it’s almost everywhere: restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, airports, libraries, coffee shops, trains, busses, bus stations, malls, movie theaters. They all have air conditioning (for the most part). What a great invention!

Being responsible to provide your own soap/toilet paper: I’m almost over this luxury, but the first time I got off the plane, I went to the bathroom. After I finished my business, I drank the tap water, pocketed some free toilet paper, and washed my hands with WAY too much soap. It was quite epic.

Sunlight from 6am-6pm: It’s great having sunlight until 9-10 pm. In Ghana, it was basically pitch black by 6 pm. I think it’s rainy season now, so it might even get darker sooner, but it’s nice to be able to do stuff outdoors as the sun is setting. I’ve gone on a few bike rides and jogs at 7 or 8 pm, or even later (after the sun set). It’s nice and cool, still light out, and the streets are nice and paved. Also, I don’t have to worry about…

Obruni Traps: The open gutters in Ghana are often referred to “Obruni Traps”. I don’t miss walking around and worrying about slipping and falling into one. I do miss watching my fellow obruni’s fall into them or hearing stories about their accidents. Just kidding! (Kinda)

Hand Washing my laundry: Don’t get me wrong! Hand washing your clothes can be good exercise, a good way to catch a tan and do something outdoors, and a great way to bond one on one with your clothes and feel accomplished. However, having someone do your laundry (love ya MOM AND DAD!) is much easier, and having a machine do the washing is easier, too. I’ve hand washed a few times since being back, but has been nice having a machine do most of the work. I’ll admit it, though. It does hurt me a bit deep down knowing that I was just learning how be good/decent job at hand washing my clothes, and then it was time to leave. But, when I recall how BAD I was the first few times, it’s nice to know I don’t have to be embarrassed anymore.

Aside from that, there’s not much I can say. Even if I complain about the things that I had a hard time with while I was in Ghana, the positives CLEARLY outweigh the negatives.

Despite the list above, I would GLADLY go through all of it if it meant I could wake up, sweaty, in a room with no air-conditioning at 7 am covered in bug spray from the night before. Then, go to the bathroom with soap and toilet paper in my bucket. Then, take a seat outside and attempt to hand wash my filthy clothes. Then, avoid the open gutters during my walk to a restaurant where I’ll order and not know how long I’ll have to wait for my food. All of this would be worth it to me, just to speak Twi, eat a big bowl of fufu and meat for $2, and dance azonto as the locals smile and laugh at me.

Oh, Ghana, how I miss you so!

Love Always,

Jeremy Kwabena

P.S.

Stay tuned for: “Things I do NOT NOT miss about Ghana”

Last weekend I traveled to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. D.C. has a decent Ghanaian population, WAY MORE than in Madison, Wisconsin. While I was there, I made 3 Ghanaian friends who recognized my Ghanaian shirt. One stopped me on the street and asked if he could take a picture of my friend and I so he could show his friends.

I decided to dance some Azonto around the tourist attractions and see how local strangers reacted.

Enjoy!

XoXo,

Jeremy Kwabena

What’s it like being back from Ghana?

Do you miss Ghana?

Yes. Everyday. Sometimes more than others, but I definitely miss Ghana A LOT! I miss the experience I had there, the people I surrounded myself with, and the situation I was in, but I still miss the country itself a lot. I’ve now been back for over 2 months, but I still find myself acting as if I was in Ghana quite often.

I had a dream I was at a soccer game watching the Black Stars play, and I was sitting next to the Asantehene (chief/king). I woke up that morning and thought I was back in Ghana.

I feel like I’ll have a little Ghanaian in me forever. Some people that haven’t seen me since before I left have told me, “Wow, dude, you LOOK African.” I disagree with that. If there’s any African in me, it’s all on the inside!

How’s the adjustment been?

It’s been hard at times, but overall not too bad. I appreciate weird things that no one else seems to notice: nice bathrooms in restaurants, air-conditioned stores, free napkins at coffee shops, free drinkable-tap water at restaurants, and unlimited toilet papers and soap! I haven’t had any HUGE culture shock issues, but definitely a few.

I was at the metro station in DC and the security guard told me there was no food or beverages allowed. I couldn’t finish the rest of my iced coffee, so I “invited” him and his friend to my drink. They stared me down like I had made a joke about their mother. My friend blurted, “He’s just kidding, don’t worry.” But, I wasn’t kidding. Why was it rude to try to share my coffee with him?

I also tried to share food with a stranger sitting next to me on a bus. He seemed a little freaked out as well.

I recently got a job as a DJ-Entertainer for weddings. During a training session, my boss hit his head on the ceiling fan while he was setting up a speaker. “Oh, Sorry!” I said. He then laughed and yelled at me not to be sorry. He demanded me to laugh at him and make fun of him, and not to be sorry. “What are you sorry for? You should be laughing at me for acting like an idiot! Not saying ‘sorry’!” (In Ghana, if you drop something or fall, someone will tell you they are sorry.)

I also have had a hard time adjusting to the “no urinating in public” rule in the United States. I feel the urge quite often, but I’m doing my best to follow the rules as best as I can.

I miss the dancing culture of Ghana so much I can’t even express it in words. I remember the first few weeks in Ghana how shocked I was when people started dancing. I remember being the only one not dancing and feeling out of place. Now, it’s almost the opposite. When I hear music I wanna move! In Ghana, if music is playing, it is acceptable to dance, even if it means dancing alone. When I’ve tried to dance by myself in the States, people look at me like “check this guy out! He’s SO DRUNK!” It’s made me realized that the only people who really dance by themselves are the super drunk ones.

In the weight room in Ghana, I use to be the only one listening to headphones, while everyone else listened to the Ghanaian music that came out of the speakers. I recall smirking at the Ghanaians as they danced with each other in between reps while they lifted weights while I listened to my pump up American music. Now, whenever I’m working out and a hiplife track comes on, I feel the urge to start dancing. And, I’m sure everyone surrounding me stares at the short white kid dancing in the weight room.

It’s also been an adjustment talking to strangers. I can no longer flirt with girls around my age by speaking Twi and danzing azonto. I can’t hiss at someone to try to get their attention. When I was in Ghana, I felt most of the locals wanted to talk to me. Maybe it was only because I was a foreigner, but it was still nice to have people want to talk to you. Now, I find myself looking for Ghanaians to talk to. It’s not like they’re everywhere, either.

I’ve also noticed that I now live a much slower paced life. I often feel rushed. I walk very slow. I like taking my time. I’ll get picked up and will be yelled at for not rushing into the car if we are late. If I run to the car and save 30 seconds, is that REALLY going to make that big of a difference?

A friend came over and I offered to escort him to his car on his way out and he acted all confused when I insisted. In the words of my Ghanaian friend, “It’s the least I can do after someone has come all the way to my house to visit me.”

Questions that I have been asked:

What kind of food did you eat? (long answer.)

Did any Africans try to cut you? (No.)

Do they eat monkeys? (No.)

Are people from Ghana called Ghanarreans? (No, They are called Ghanaians.)

Did they have cars in Ghana? (yes)

Did you get AIDs? (No.)

Did you see any Cheetahs? (No.)

Are you African now? (No)

What’s the currency called there? Kwabenas? (No. Cedis. Kwabena is a name given to males born on Tuesday!)

Do you miss it? (Yes, very much!)

Thanks for reading!

xxxooo

J-Kwabena-Ginsburg

Yesterday was a very sad day for the nation of Ghana due to the sudden death of President Atta Mills. Today, I wore my Ghana Black Stars football jersey to honor him and the beautiful country that he ruled.

Here are a few articles:

http://world.time.com/2012/07/25/a-sudden-death-in-ghana-president-john-atta-mills-1944-2012/

http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/24/world/africa/ghana-president/index.html

Let this remind us how fragile life is, and teach us not to take things for granted.

Always,

Jeremy Kwabena

 

 

So…….

picking up where I left off….we just left a crazy festival with spectacular drumming and dancing. Here’s an AMAZING video to refresh your memories:

 

We took a taxi to go back to the cape castle restaurant. About 2 minutes after getting out of the taxi, my friend, Ryna, realized his wallet was missing! We looked everywhere, asked everyone that was in sight, but still couldn’t figure out where it was.

 

We asked everyone in site; still no solution. Our friends, Wonderboy and Ben seemed to point the finger at some guy who had a bad record and was known as a thief. We debated going to the police, but Wonderboy said the police could only help us if we told them who stole the wallet (we didn’t know), and if we gave them a gift. Then, they would go and try to retrieve it.

 

Wonderboy confronted the boy and accused him of stealing Ryan’s wallet, though he denied it. They went back and fourth yelling at each other in their tribal language. Ryan explained to this boy (in English) that he was not accusing him, but I think Wonderboy was putting words in his mouth. Wonderboy suggested that we go to the Voodoo man with the boy and ask the Voodoo doctor if the boy was lying or not. If we did that, the Voodoo man could solve all problems. But, we would have to pay him a gift to achieve such result. We didn’t think that was necessary.

 

After 5-10 minutes of progressive arguments, the boy walked across the street to what appeared to be his friends/family for their help. Next thing you know, Wonderboy is yelling and screaming at 5-10 Ghanaians. We had NO idea what was going on and what they were saying. Have you ever been a bystander of a huge altercation taking place in a different language, but their arguing ABOUT YOU!? We were so lost, but we could tell it was getting intense.

 

Ryan kept explaining that he wasn’t accusing anyone. Everything hit the fan when the boy grabbed a full bottle of soda, held it up, and started screaming. He opened it and started dumping out the liquid as he roared. We assumed he was casting some spell of some sort, but who knows? He then, shattered the bottle on the ground and continued to yell.

 

At this point we were pretty shocked and freaked out, so we decided to cut our losses and move on. Wonderboy apologized to us and said he swore that he knew the boy was a lying thief, but we all wanted to drop it. We scurried across the street and grabbed a taxi and made our to the Elmina Slave Castle.

 

We asked Wonderboy what a good price was, and he negotiated with the driver in their tribal language. The price seemed to be a little high, but we didn’t know how far it was from where we were. He charged us about $6 USD, which was WAY TOO MUCH. I knew we got ripped off when I saw the taxi driver give Wonderboy a cedi. “EVERYDAY I’M HUSTLIN!” It was hurtful to know that Wonderboy had scammed us on a cedi, especially since he had been so helpful and nice during our stay there.

 

That was always an issue when meeting awesome while traveling people in Ghana. They want to be your friends and love to show you around, but they find ways to make money off you, or make you pay for their food/transportation. Sometimes it was straightforward, i.e. “Can you please give me some small money so I can take a taxi home”. Other times it was subtle.

 

We got to the castle and joined a tour with some other foreigners. We had already been to the Cape Coast Slave castle a few months before, but the tour of this castle was known to be a different experience….

A sad one in that, so stay tuned for the next post. I’ll warn you, it might be a bit gruesome.

 

All love always,

 

Jeremy Kwabena

(continued)

So, I woke up feeling refreshed, (despite the fact I just shared a bed with two guys), and we decided it may be nice to get a nice, sit down breakfast at our hotel. The prices were a little pricey (about $2-$3 USD each), but we decided it may be worth it. We sat and waited by ourselves for about eight minutes at the restaurant, and then BAM! What do you know? They actually did have a server working! He gave us our options and we ordered promptly. How long does it take to fry eggs and toast bread? Apparently, over 50 minutes. I bet I could fry bread and toast eggs in 50 minutes, and still have time to update my Twitter, Facebook, 4square, and Instagram! (I’m getting paid for those product placements). We sat and waited and then finally ate our mediocre breakfast.

Next, we called our friends, WonderBoy and Ben, who we had met the night before. Ben was a mute, yet he still kept calling my friend, Tom, even though he couldn’t even talk. We weren’t sure what he was saying, or, if he was even saying anything, so we starting walking in their direction to meet them. On the way, we passed by a few foods that looked new to us. After buying them and eating them, we realized we had eaten it before (better quality, too). Eventually, we met up with them in town and they guided us a “parade” they had told us about the night before. We crammed into a tiny cab and got dropped off at some random, outdoor, neighborhood/village/ceremonial spot.

We got there and had NO IDEA what to expect. We followed our guides, and they walked us through to the “parade”. This was nothing like a parade. Everyone was dressed in traditional, African wear. It turned out to be some tribal ceremony that honored the Voodoo master of the village. Everyone stared at us (we didn’t look like we belonged to their tribe), but we still felt pretty welcomed. Little kids ran up to me and practiced their English, “Obruni! How are you?!” We caught a glimpse of the ceremony. Apparently, for an instant, these two people lost complete control of themselves and were possessed by some spirit. Then, people dumped water on them and grabbed them to bring them back. CRAZY STUFF.

Words can’t really describe this ceremony; here’s a video:

After that was over, we were actually introduced to the Voodoo man of their village. I had to pay 1 GH cedi to meet him, but it was worth it. He even let me take a “” with him. They also had a pot of liquid that was being prepared for the pouring of .

Then, we went to a little bar spot and waited for the rest of the “parade”. Wonderboy told us that more people were coming. He was right. About an hour later, we headed back to find quite the festival. It felt like the true cultural experience I had wished for. Drumming! !

It was like a break dancing circle, anyone could go in whenever they wanted. Except instead of a small circle, there was a huge crowd and banging drums surrounding you.

Our friend Wonderboy did his thing:

People kept going in the middle, each dance was unique, creative, and AWESOME. I encouraged my friends, “C’mon…we GOTTA GO in there.” But, it was a bit intimidating. Actually, VERY INTIMITADING. Everyone knew there were white people there. But, everyone that went into the center was GOOD! Ryan broke the ice, and STOLE THE SHOW:

After watching him get jiggy with an old African lady, I figured I had nothing to lose. I danced in the middle for about 45 seconds. I included some African moves (with a little awkward uncoordinated twist to em), I added in, and tried to keep with the drums. Unfortunately (or fortunately…depending on how embarrassing I looked), it wasn’t captured on video. .

Ryan got back in there and did a (check out his form!)

This might have been my favorite experience in my entire stay of Ghana, and possibly the coolest cultural experience I’ve ever had. Some people went in the middle and just did crazy acrobatic stunts! A guy just went in to the center and did like 5 back handsprings in a row! Then these guys showed off their talents:

After the “parade” was over, our rasta friends asked us if we wanted to “ease our mind” in memory of the ancestors. They lead us to a cemetery, but we didn’t want to “ease our mind”. We left, as some rastas stayed behind and partook in their cannabis traditions while sitting on . Interesting tradition for honoring their ancestors.

From there, we headed back to the Cape Coast Slave Castle restaurant so we could meet the drummers that we missed the day before. However, when we got there, unfortunately, we came across a new road bump…

. . . . .!!!