Where’s Matthew? The Sri Lanka Edition

I’ve been home for about two weeks now, days largely spent experiencing the wonders of TLC: Long Island Medium, America’s Worst Tattoos, Breaking Amish, etc. There is so much beauty and so much brain rot involved, all of which has been the perfect remedy to recover from probably the worst semester I’ve had at college so far. Maybe transitioning back to school in Washington, D.C. after my semester in Ghana was harder than I anticipated, or maybe I took on more than I was able to maintain. And for whatever reason, I struggled a lot with motivation, with generating the desire I’ve had for most of my life to succeed academically. I can’t blame this all on Ghana; yes, those were 4 of the best months I’ve had in my life, and the rigor of the University of Ghana’s workload is miniscule compared to GW’s, but…I don’t know. That can’t be an excuse for how apathetic and distracted I was these past months. Maybe I burnt myself out? Or maybe economics is just evil personified. Needless to say, despite my efforts in the end, which even involved my first all-nighter (hell), I effectively obliterated any progress I made with my GPA since my first semester at school. I believe I’ve hit that proverbial rock-bottom, and definitely won’t let this happen to me again. Hopefully.

So…I’m leaving for Sri Lanka tomorrow night. I don’t know how else to describe what I’m feeling without stating how completely nervous, and borderline terrified I am. You would think that after all these trips I’ve taken, this would be easier for me. I suppose everything seems easier when it’s months away, when it’s just an idea or some faraway date. And then all of a sudden it’s the day before you’re leaving and you realize how completely unprepared you are. I have a feeling I didn’t think this through, that I rushed into this trip; maybe my mother’s psychic was right (long sad story) and I am more careless or impulsive than I thought I was.

But what I’ve learned over the years and with all my trips is that anxiety is normal, probably healthy, when going off on your own to another country. And I know all this has to do with all the uncertainties and the fact that so much of what I’ll be doing is vague or completely unknown. But this is also where the excitement comes; so much of my life is structured and deliberate and planned ahead of time, and these trips provide a complete break from this lifestyle. Essentially, I’m just not an exciting person in any way, and these adventures push me to be more than just some no-fun blob.

There really is nothing I love more than visiting somewhere new and completely foreign to me. I’ve been really lucky to have been able to see so much of the world already at such a young age, to have parents (shout out to Irwin!) who allow me to do these crazy things on my own, even when I was just 17 years old. That’s when this all began, my first trip with Projects Abroad to Peru for 2 weeks, two weeks which felt like such a long time at that point. I’ve come a long way from that terrifying plane ride which featured the closest I came to a panic attack that I can remember. I mean, nobody in my family or really anybody I knew had done something like that, so it felt like a big deal. In a part of Long Island where going out of state to college constitutes a major journey, I’d say my experiences have been pretty…unique? My second trip with Projects Abroad at 19 is probably an experience that will remain unparalleled in terms of the “once in a lifetime” aura that surrounded it. To have lived in a wildlife reserve in Botswana where seeing elephants multiple times a day was the norm is something I wish I had appreciated more at the time. Every day was unique and every day felt like a priceless safari. Yes, I fell in a river this one time and may have ripped open my wrist falling down a tree, but…that’s to be expected at this point.

I wish I had detailed information about where I’ll be staying and what I’ll be doing these next 6 weeks. I’ll be living a few kilometers north of the capital, Colombo, with a host family, this married couple associated with some massive Sri Lankan charity. Obviously I’m a bit nervous about living in somebody’s home, but I think it’ll be good for me. There isn’t a better way to learn about a country than by living with people who’ve spent their entire lives there, something I was too apprehensive to do in Ghana. I may have one other volunteer there as well, but won’t know for sure until I show up at around 4:00 in the morning local time (sorry, host family/Projects Abroad transport team). In terms of what I’ll be doing, all I know is I’ll be working at this care center/orphanage for boys located right on the beach called Bosco Sevana (you can read a brief description of the place here.) I hope they don’t expect me to have all these lesson plans and ideas compiled, and really hope I’m not just thrust into some role I’m not prepared for.

But hey, I’ve mentioned before how life doesn’t really wait to see whether or not you’re ready for what it throws at you, and this will be no different. All I can do is hope I manage to adapt in ways that have been successful in the past. Patience is most important, and understanding that it won’t be easy in the beginning, or even at all. No amount of preparations can truly get you ready for experiences like this; you learn as you go, you figure out a routine that keeps your feet on the ground and your heart beating at normal rates.

I wish I could say I’ll be able to maintain this blog the way I was able to when I was in Ghana, but I don’t think that will be the case. I will likely not be bringing my laptop, so I’ll have to think of something once I’m there. I’m sure there will be internet cafes readily accessible, and maybe I can at least give short updates. Otherwise, once I’m home I’ll detail the trip in a few installments, maybe one per week that I was there. We’ll see.

Alright, well, I guess this is goodbye until July 9th!  Thank you again to everybody who has complimented my writing, and I hope you enjoy the likely ridiculous and/or amazing stories I’ll have to share either soon or when I return.

Turning 21: A Reflection

Always struggling with how to start these things, I suppose I’ll just start from where I left off. If you don’t remember, it the first weekend of Spring Break, the night before I left for California with my father. I was still experiencing a rare high of intense joy and astonishment that I was noticed by Natalie Maines which, in retrospect, probably isn’t that spectacular. But for those few moments I was filled with a glee that was numbing and foreign. Being noticed, man. It’s a beautiful thing.

(If you don’t care at all about my experiences watching tennis, skip about halfway down)

So off we went to Palm Springs, known to some of you cool kids for hosting Coachella, but is relevant to me for being the location of my favorite non-Grand Slam tennis tournament, Indian Wells. It would be my first time attending this tournament and provided a guaranteed opportunity for me to watch virtually every top tennis player in existence. But all that really mattered for me, the crazed borderline stalker that I am, was the chance to watch Maria Sharapova play in person, something I hadn’t done since 2010.

I plan on writing a more detailed post of the trip and providing a lot more pictures than will be posted here, so stay tuned, whoever’s interested in mediocre pictures of people you’ve probably never heard of!

Some might say that watching three scalding days of tennis all day and night and not doing much of anything else on a trip to California would be miserable, but those people are fools. It was seriously 3 of the best days I’ve had in a long time, a rare few days that I got to spend with my father whom I had only seen a handful of times since before leaving for Ghana. Being a smaller, more intimate tournament than the U.S. Open allowed me to be just feet away from people I had only been able to previously ogle from afar. Of course Maria Sharapova’s practices were held as far away from public access as possible (she is the Queen, after all), but I still managed to take plenty of creepy, zoomed-in pictures of her and other ladies practicing. Take, for example, Victoria Azarenka, a “lady” who had been the #1 player in the world for almost all of last year, before thankfully being dethroned by Serena Williams in February. This “woman” is an absolute disgrace to humanity for reasons I won’t get into here, but all you really need to know is that she cheats against teenagers, has convenient medical “ailments”, and is currently dating THIS GUY. No. Really. I’m not joking. See for yourself. DSCN2705

Anyway, the cretin unsurprisingly withdrew from the tournament and I was spared an opportunity of having to watch her play.

To get that rotten image out of your memory, here’s a picture of Maria I took practicing before her Round of 16 match.
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One day in particular had to be one of the greatest (and longest) tennis watching days I had ever experienced, featuring up and coming players choking away leads, top players flopping (I’m looking at you, Petra), and a probable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to watch Maria Sharapova play just feet away from me. It all started earlier in the day session (early would turn into a relative word for that day) when some lady stood up and announced that she was selling a front-row Stadium 1 ticket for the night session. Knowing Maria was scheduled to play the first night match at 7:00PM, I basically begged my father to get that ticket for me, which he did. Just when I thought I was beginning to break from my past as a crazed, spoiled rotten douche, this happens. But at that moment I had no thoughts other than “HAHAHAHA MARIA HAHAH ❤ ❤ <3”. Yup. Definitely the sign of a healthy person. If you can’t tell, I was excited.DSCN2748

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As the day dragged on with one 2.5+ hour match after the other, I was beginning to have paranoid thoughts that her match would be moved to another court because it was getting so late. Finally, at around 10:00PM, she took to the court against Sara Errani, the girl she defeated to complete her Career Grand Slam at the French Open last year. Now, you don’t have to like vagina to recognize just how stunning this woman is. It’s completely different seeing her at times just 8 feet away. The intensity you see on TV is amplified at this proximity, and each calculated step she takes and each clenched fist and bitch-stare across the net was breathtaking. In essence, girl looked HAWT.  Oh. And she’s loud. Did you know that? I did. But holy God. It’s actually scary.

DSCN3023Anyway, I was settled in, excited to enjoy a fairly straightforward match against a woman who hadn’t given her much trouble in the past. WRONG. SO WRONG. It quickly turned into one of the most stressful experiences of my life when it became clear that things weren’t going to go as smoothly as I expected. Before I knew it, girl was just points away from losing the first set and I was quickly deteriorating into a state of mild psychosis. Really. It was bad. There were times during that 82 minute set (for non-tennis fans, sets generally don’t last longer than 45-50 minutes) when I was laughing maniacally at moments that were anything but comical, I sunk lower and lower into my seat (there was a lot of head shaking), and basically wondered why I ever thought it would have been a good idea to be this close during one of her matches. DSCN3033It’s like (kinda, sorta, not really) watching somebody you obsess care about suffer through a painful ordeal that you can’t do anything about, and all you want to do is escape and pretend that everything’s alright. You could feel the desperation emanating from this lady, and it was utterly exhausting. Somehow, after 2 hours, Maria pulled through that match just at the strike of midnight, ending things in a much less stressful manner.

So there I was, the moment I never dreamed would happen to me, the moment I would finally get Maria Sharapova’s autograph. By that time the stadium was virtually empty, and I managed to get a spot above the doors leading to the locker room without having to toss any child aside (I would have). I couldn’t believe how serendipitous it was that I was in possession of a U.S. Open 2006 hat, representing the year she won that tournament in a brilliant display at just 19. And wearing this perfect dress. As she approached, I had one of those cheesy/I didn’t believe actually happen moments when everything slowed down, sounds became muffled, and all that mattered was that one of my idols was just inches away from me and my waving hand. She was right beneath me, signing balls and hats directly next to me, and then….

And then the bitch was gone. Snubbed. Ignored completely. Absolute devastation. I’m pretty sure I had never felt more humiliated in my life, and that’s saying something. For the first time I think I understood what it felt like to be rejected, which says things about me that probably aren’t too pleasant. It was basically the first time I really put myself out there, made my feelings and intentions clear (can’t be more clear than shouting her name in crazed desperation while waving a hat in her face), and…just mortifying. We sat through Novak Djokovic’s match that didn’t finish until after 2:00AM, and by that time you could basically count how many people were left in the stands. I figured that he would surely sign an autograph for everyone left, and waited patiently as he signed something for everyone around me. And what do ya know? More rejection! Because the night just wasn’t jocular enough for me. So after a 15 hour day of watching tennis, we sulked back to the hotel empty-handed and cranky.

I should have known that my life wouldn’t take a break from being absolutely ridiculous. The next night, after a disappointing match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal ended with Roger and his injured back promptly being shown the door, I settled in for my final match at Indian Wells that featured the Bryan Brothers, the greatest doubles team to ever play the game. I don’t care much for doubles, but they were entertaining, and I always have a soft-spot for veteran players who have earned respect. They won after saving a match point, and began the tradition of signing tennis balls and launching them into the stands for a few lucky fans to claw each other’s faces off over. One of the twins was facing our direction (we were sitting almost as high up as you can get), and something shocking happened. Astonishingly channeling my 7-10 year old self who had despised played baseball, I calmly stuck out my left hand, and before I knew it, I was looking down at an autographed tennis ball from these legendary men.

photoSo ridiculous. Apparently being 2 feet away from the player isn’t enough to get an autograph, but being dozens of feet away gets a ball launched right into my outstretched hand. I was stunned into a bewildered stupor; Me? I caught a ball? With one hand? I possess that kind of capability?! My father probably hadn’t felt that much pride in me since I had made the game-winning hit in a baseball game when I was approximately 9 years old.  Sorry, dad. But at least I make good decisions 95% of the time! It’s a trade-off. So, the trip ended on a lovely high-note (even higher after Maria won the tournament a few days later), and I look forward to (hopefully) returning next year.

Phew. Wrote more than I planned to about this trip, so for those of you still with me, you will be rewarded with tales of a visit by my mother and sister, followed by some contemplations concerning my upcoming 21st birthday/my future in general.

My mother and sister arrived to partake in their Spring tradition of using visiting me as an excuse to enter into every store in Georgetown and renew their quest of viewing the ever elusive Cherry Blossom. In all seriousness, it was an enjoyable weekend, filled with a trip to the zoo (No otters. But beavers!!), the cherry blossom festival fireworks show, and occasional time to sit and enjoy some beautiful weather when my mother actually allowed us to take a break.photo photo photo

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At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these two whenever they see me after being gone for a minimum 2 weeks at a time. The amount of fussing and confusing excitement (being in my presence shouldn’t be looked forward to that much) is always overwhelming, but, it’s just something I have to accept. And because things can never be completely normal when my family is involved, I had the foresight to mark down moments that were particularly outrageous. This should paint a pretty accurate picture of what my family interactions are like:

  • Upon greeting me at the hotel, my mother smacked my face repeatedly, saying “Matty!!! You look good!!!!!!!” Oh thank heavens. I was really becoming paranoid that my body had deteriorated in the 3 weeks since she last saw me.
    • Despite my apparent wonderful appearance, my mother still took the time to trace out how she would like to have my beard carved into (basically into the same shape as her boyfriend’s). Yup. She took her finger and drew an invisible beard on me. In the hotel lobby.
  • At one point in Georgetown, I was sitting outside while my mother and sister looked around a store I obviously would have no interest in. They eventually felt bad about me waiting and told the store employee about it. The employee apparently uttered something along the lines of, “Oh. You should have said something! I would have given him “Porsches and Ladies” to read!” Yeah. That’s definitely at the top of my reading list right now. Just beneath the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, actually.
  • WARNING: Graphic. “I must be really comfortable here because I’ve never been able to make a doody the first day of a trip”—anonymous
  • “I remember walking through this broken boulder”—my mother, regarding the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial
  • “I think I’m dying!”…pause…burp.—my sister
  • “Ya can’t be walking around DC at night. There’s homeless people!”—my mother
  • “Who’s coming with me for my colonoscopy?!”—my mother
  • “What’s a Macklemore?”—my mother
  • “I want some pasta” (my mother). “You’re having ravioli!” (my sister). “That’s not pasta to me!!” (my mother).
  • “What’s different about a sloth bear from a regular sloth?”—my mother
  •  “You have fleshy ankles”—shoe store employee to my sister
  • “I don’t know what’s happening”—waitress at dinner to us. Because we can’t just order a meal without chaos. Ever.

DSCN3140The morning they left was the day I registered for classes, an experience that was maybe more problematic than I anticipated. For basically my entire college career I had molded schedules in a way that would allow for the possibility of having an internship. I’ve had a lot of great experiences over the years, been able to spend time at places I never imagined I’d be, and my resume is basically bulging at the seams with entries that make me look more impressive than I’ll ever be. This culminated in me being offered an interview with the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, basically the pinnacle of any DC International Affairs student’s dreams. Long story short, things didn’t go too well (my phone interview skills are unparalleled). I think if I’m being honest with myself, there’s a part of me that sabotaged that interview. Yeah, my lack of confidence or belief that I really deserved the opportunity probably played a role, but I think there’s a larger part of me that really just didn’t want the position anyway. Maybe I’m tired of putting myself through all this stress, of balancing a full class schedule with working 20 hours a week for no pay, doing things that aren’t all that interesting. Let alone finding any time to have some kind of life. So I was left in the aftermath of registration, a schedule that leaves Monday, Wednesday, and Friday virtually free, with the decision of leaving things as they are and trying to fill those days with more work, or of changing things around, maybe taking classes I’d be more interested in that would leave little room for more. I could feel this dread building that I was wasting my time, not taking advantage of college the way I should be. Maybe I can find something smaller to do, like return to the animal shelter I volunteered at freshman year. Or maybe work with DC Reads. So for now, I left things as they are, and even did something wild and added a 1-credit tennis class. Yeah, I’ll probably still apply for internships, but there won’t be this sense of urgency like there usually is. I want next year to be the year I really take steps towards bettering myself, physically and mentally, and damn it, I think I’ve earned a break. What I really wanted was for someone to tell me, to reassure me, that it was okay to take that break, that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I took one semester to just, I don’t know…live? But, it is what it is. We’ll see what happens, I suppose. Things have a way of always working out in the end, one way or another.

So. 21. It’s really hard for me to wrap my mind around turning that age tomorrow, and I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case. It’s an age that people generally look forward to more than most, the age when you really can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without fear of repercussion. No more fake IDs, or having your older siblings or whoever go out and get you all the alcohol you want. Obviously this hasn’t been much of a concern for me; I haven’t been counting down the days like some do for when they can do this. For whatever reason, as this day has come closer, there’s been this growing sense of discomfort, or nausea, or…something. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can say with certitude that excitement is far from what I’m feeling.

I have some theories. As the years have gone by, especially the last few, there has been this growing belief, a belief that seems to be growing at an increasingly rapid pace, that I have wasted valuable years. With every fantastic, unbelievable memory I’ve made, with every place I’ve visited, and with every opportunity I’ve been given, I can’t shake this belief that I’ve focused zero time on the things that really matter, the things that are vital, essential. I’ve focused all of my energy on achieving superficial things, academic and professional success which, while important, isn’t most important. The problem is that I haven’t allowed myself to even think about anything else; I’ve convinced myself that this is what I need to do, what’s best for me, that I can think about these things later. You tell yourself something enough times and you do start to believe it; it becomes second-nature, something you just believe to be inherent to who you are, instead of being something you manufactured as a way to avoid what you’re afraid of. This has worked for me for many years (I made it into this God forsaken school, after all), but lately I’ve been noticing these cracks. I’m beginning to realize what I’ve been doing and why, and it all comes down to that one word I wrote about a little over a year ago: Insecurity. One little word that’s been responsible for all my avoidance, all my doubts. I know I’m eventually going to need to deal with and figure out why it is I lack so much confidence in myself as a person worth getting to know. I don’t know what I’m afraid of. So there it is. I’m turning one year older, but it’s just another year that has passed with little progress made where it counts.

Another theory, maybe connected to my first one, but pretty basic and unoriginal. Turning 21 means I’m just that much closer to being thrust into a world that I don’t feel like I’m prepared for. I feel trapped in a current that’s pushing me in this unknown direction, and I feel completely powerless against it. All the flailing, struggling and fighting won’t save me from the fact that, one year from now, I’ll be graduating college, and I’ll be expected to have everything that comes next figured out. All I want is for things to slow down, for things to be less urgent, but that’s not going to happen. I hate that everything’s supposed to be decided at this one age, at this one moment, and if you don’t, you’re often deemed to be this visionless, lost person. I think what I’m most afraid of is having to leave my remaining safety net, school. If there’s one thing I’m reminded of over and over again, it’s that the world has the capacity for so much ugliness; the evil, the hatred, the murder, the infidelity, the cruelty. There are so many things out there that make the world a place I often feel disappointed to have to be a part of.

But then…then you see this adorable puppy video on YouTube and you’re brought to instant tears, or see this baby who was born deaf hear his first sounds, or you see this person whose smile or glance alone can make you feel instantly energized. You hear your name being chanted by children when you arrive for “work,” you see the amount of joy just jumping on a trampoline can bring. You receive countless hugs in a given day just for being present, you see the relief and sense of accomplishment when 4+8 is finally figured out. You’re being begged to stay until bedtime to watch a movie, you’re fought over just for the opportunity to be picked up and held, or pushed on the swing. You hear the words, “Mattee, don’t go.” You feel this overpowering love being thrown at you, more than you’ve ever opened yourself up to, and find yourself deflecting some of that love back, even when you realize the pain that will likely come when you leave. In so many ways, Ghana has helped me understand the importance of love, the beauty that it holds. No matter how much I may miss Prince and the others, the most important thing is that for those 4 months, I allowed myself to feel, to connect, to love.

That’s really all that matters, isn’t it? At the end of your life, if you can say that you loved, that you really, completely, unabashedly gave yourself to another person, everything else is just extra, an accessory. The love I gave and received in Ghana I think has been the most important thing to happen to me in years; It has opened me up to new possibilities, it’s made me realize that I do want more than what I have right now. It’s these moments of clarity, these reminders that life is so much more than the ugliness you see on the news on a daily basis, that need to be clung to. It’s the smiles, the laughter, the hope, the awe and the wonder, the leap of faith taken when you board a plane and visit one more new country (Sri Lanka is just 40 days away now)…that’s what needs to be focused on. I hope more than anything else that I manage to channel the person I was in Ghana with these kids in Sri Lanka, but one of these days, I hope I can be that person all the time. Who knows, maybe this will be the year.

Maybe turning 21 won’t be so bad after all.

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!