Tro-Tro? More Like Uh-Oh!

I made it through my first week in Ghana! I’m just as surprised as many some of you  probably are, especially since a few people in the program have faced some…complications. Let’s just say there’s been a lot of trips to the bathroom for some people, but at least about half was just alcohol-induced! The other half (myself included for one day)…it’s been rough. But hey, as long as cholera doesn’t happen, everything will be alright. Right? Maybe.

I wasn’t really sure how I should go about writing about my experiences (daily summaries versus whatever comes to mind versus transcribing my journal verbatim), so I think I’ll try incorporating a mixture of everything and we’ll see what happens. I’m still new to this whole blogging thing. I thought I would start with the beginning, mainly the plane-ride from JFK to Madrid. I decided I’d start my journal on the plane since that’s what I did when I went to Botswana last summer, and this first entry is…a bit less enthusiastic and optimistic than last year’s first entry. Here’s a sample:

I’m beginning to think that I have completely lost my mind. I can’t think of any other explanation as for why I’m currently flying to Ghana where I will spend the next 4.5 months. Like…why can’t I just make my life easier and study abroad in Paris or Florence like a normal college student? Nope. Africa! You set these goals, you make these plans, not really thinking about the day these plans come to fruition.  Study abroad has been a goal/dream for as long as I can remember; I always thought of it as being the defining moment of my college career. After being accepted into the program I think I was in some state of denial, and because I didn’t let myself think about it too much, I’m probably not as mentally prepared as I should be for this.  I also can’t stop feeling like a selfish ass for leaving my family to do this for so many months.”

So yeah…it was rough at the start. But I think it would be a bit weird if I felt no anxiety at all. Knowing and understanding that something is going to be challenging and difficult means I’m more prepared to manage those moments. I hope. We’ll see.

Skipping ahead, we spent our first 3 nights at a hotel in Legon (where the University of Ghana is located) for Orientation.  There are (I think) 48 people in my particular program (CIEE), so those first couple days are a blur of meeting people, forgetting the names of those people, and awkwardly acting as if I remembered anything about the people I had spent a couple hours talking to. It really is fascinating, at least for someone like me, seeing how personable and socially…advanced? some people are.  Some friendships seemingly formed instantly which is definitely something that is beyond my comprehension.

Krystis Night Club, located just outside the hotel. Shockingly, I never entered this establishment.

But I think I did alright. At least I put in some kind of effort to talk to people, which for me is a victory in itself. Have I gone out to bars and clubs every night and thrown up on people like some people have? No. I’ve had half a beer and half a cup of sangria since I’ve been here and I paid for neither. But I have had dinner at a Ghanaian family’s home and saw The Dark Knight Rises tonight! So I haven’t been a complete recluse. I’d say that’s pretty praise-worthy.

To save some writing/reading time, here are some Highlights of CIEE Orientation:

  • Obruni=any foreigner in Ghana. I haven’t been called one yet (I think), but it’s supposedly not insulting, but endearing. Yeah. Not really convinced.
  • Apparently using your left hand (for eating, hand-shaking) in Ghana is a no-no. It’s associated with the bathroom. Great. As if I didn’t have enough social handicaps to worry about here.
  • Tro-tros are a major mode of transportation in Ghana. They’re basically these minivans that squishhold 15-25 people along fixed routes for extremely cheap prices. I spent the equivalent of $0.15 to get to the mall from campus today. Mind-blowing.

    Tro-Tros are pretty scary at first, but they’re an extremely efficient and cheap way to get around much of Ghana

  • Bargaining is extremely important for taxi rides and market shopping. I’m just not aggressive/persistent enough for this. But I mean, everything is so cheap compared to U.S. prices to begin with that I feel a bit silly trying to spend the equivalent of $0.90 for an egg/cheese sandwich instead of $1.00.  Or taking a taxi for the equivalent of $2.00 when it would have cost at least $12.00 at home. Whatever. It’s a skill I’ll hopefully improve on over time.
  • Cholera: If I experience “20 liters of watery stools,” I should probably be concerned.
  • We were taken to Accra Mall which is sooo nice. I got my phone/modem there, and it’s where the movie theater is. I’ve been there 3 times this week. That’s probably not okay.
  • We went on a scavenger hunt to get a feel for Legon, and since there are no maps and street signs this was pretty useful. Saw some goats/chickens, a burning tire, some beautiful Ghanaian children and gas stations. And a car with an Obama ’12 sticker. That about sums up Africa, I’d say.

    Just a typical thing to come across when walking the streets of Legon

  • There was a discussion on homosexuality, how it’s a sign of respect for Ghanaian culture to not flaunt/display sexuality. But how can acceptance and tolerance improve if people are encouraged or even forced to be silent? I don’t know. Something I’ll think about more as time goes by.
  • At one point everybody had to stand in a circle and massage the shoulders of the person in front of you. You can imagine how I handled that situation.

On Monday August 6th we moved into the International Student Hostel (ISH) at the University of Ghana and had 2 days of Orientation with the University, where we covered basically the same things that were talked about the days before. Some highlights include:

  • Don’t harass people sexually, emotionally, physically…basically just don’t be an asshole.
  • Don’t throw people into ponds.
  • “Sometimes you see mad men and women on campus.”
  • No smoking weed.
  • Don’t, under any circumstance, join a cult.

Once Orientation ended there was much more free time to get myself settled and explore the campus. I have a Ghanaian roommate who hasn’t fully moved in yet, and he seems really nice but after not having a roommate for over 1.5 years, I’m curious to see how this goes. I’m hopeful!

My room in ISH! I finally managed to set up a mosquito net after failed attempts on past trips. There’s also a balcony!

Finding my way around campus has been…an experience. There are over 37,000 students here and the campus is HUGE. Walking to some classes may take over 25 minutes, and there aren’t detailed maps to follow. Thankfully there is the Night Market right behind ISH where you can buy literally anything, from calling cards to toothpaste to egg sandwiches. Seriously. Those egg sandwiches are going to make up a significant portion of my diet.  And rice. And mangoes.

Part of the Night Market, about 2 seconds away from being yelled at for taking this picture.

Needless to say, these first couple days roaming around campus trying to find academic departments has been an adventure. Especially in the rain.

In between campus exploration and figuring out what classes to take (Twi, Sociological Foundations for Development, Politics of International Economic Relations, and a toss-up between African Indigenous Religions or Colonial Rule and African Response), CIEE organized seminars led by university professors. Topics included Women in Ghanaian Development, Ghanaian History, and Ghanaian Politics.

Balme Library, the University’s main library. Much more visually appealing than George Washington University’s Gelman Library.

We arrived at an extremely interesting and strange time in Ghana’s political history because President John Atta-Mills died just a week before we arrived (burial is tomorrow), so the government is in transition with new elections occurring in December. I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing both US and Ghanaian Presidential elections this semester.

RIP President Mills. Not sure why it’s taken 3 weeks for you to be buried…

Tomorrow we’re having a dance workshop, which might apparently include butt slapping. I do not slap butts of virtual strangers. Or butts of people I know, for that matter. If I have to do this, it will instantly become the most uncomfortable moment of my life. And I’ve had dozens a few of those.

Some final thoughts and experiences:

  • I found out yesterday that I will be working at Beacon House orphanage to satisfy the internship requirement for Development Studies students.  I really cannot wait for this to start, and I have a feeling I’ll have no trouble completing the 135 required hours. Yay!! I’ve really missed working with kids.
  • Weather has been surprisingly cool since I’ve been here. I should probably enjoy the wet season while I still can, since the dry season starts in about a month and it will become extremely hot. Since we’re on the equator and all. There hasn’t been a lot of sun, but humidity has left me at my trademark gross at times.
  • Poverty is obviously an unavoidable presence, but it’s been amazing to see how the people aren’t just sitting around, hopeless and defeated. They are in the streets, attempting to sell various, often random, products (like bubbles) to people driving down busy highways. Parents have their young children (generally girls) walk up to people along crowded areas (like the mall) and literally latch onto you, tugging on your clothes, hugging you, doing whatever (they’re probably instructed) to do to get money from us. It’ll be hard for me to continue to ignore them.
  • I made it 5 days without getting pizza, which for me is pretty remarkable. There’s a place that has “Terrific Tuesday” 2-for-1 pizza specials so obviously that’s a deal I can’t pass up. We were also just sick of eating chicken and rice. Getting to the pizza also involved crossing a highway and climbing over a median.  Pizza is the only food I will put so much effort into acquiring.

    Every Tuesday. This is happening.

  • Having dinner with a few friends at a Ghanaian family’s house has definitely been my favorite experience so far. There were 2 homes (one for the grandparents) in a gated compound, and both are massive and beautiful. The family is so generous and kind, prepared a delicious meal and even baked us carrot cake! I also participated in saying Grace for the first time in my life. Not sure a few of my family members will be pleased with this.  We gave our phone numbers and were told to come back any time, so hopefully I’ll get to do this again soon. It was so great! The roads to get to the house, however, were not so great. I had a few moments of thinking we were about to get wrecked by a speeding car or our car would just break down from the extremely bumpy roads.
  • No mosquito bites yet! Some people are looking kinda nasty. Probably just jinxed myself.
  • Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were just as perfect the second time seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

I know this is a bit…wordy, but I didn’t want to leave too much out. Then again, I probably included a bit too many unnecessary sentences (like this one). I don’t know. If you managed to get through all this, thank you! Classes start on Monday and I’ll hopefully have another update a week from now!

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