The Time I Attempted to Travel Alone…And Failed

For those of you who have waited eagerly each week for new posts, who would wake up every Sunday morning and immediately check to see if new tales of my adventures have been shared, well…I’m sorry you couldn’t find something better to spend your Sunday mornings doing these past 3 months.  In all seriousness, I apologize for the delay in this latest update, but the traveling I foreshadowed last week actually happened!

More on that later.

Classes at the University of Ghana have come to an end! That’s strange, because it feels like I only just started to learn something a couple of weeks ago. Wait. That’s actually pretty much what happened.  Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but reflect last Monday morning on how much I’d miss Bossman and his words of wisdom while waiting a brisk 40 minutes for him to show up for our last lecture.  During this time, the class was asked to fill out a class evaluation form, at which point a girl next to me asked me what the name of the course was.  I understand that it could be hard to remember such a lengthy title as Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana “Politics of International Economic Relations,” but seriously, lady. I’m sorry to say that I think it’s a bit too late for you to get your shit together.  Needless to say, I did not give Bossman glowing reviews. I could have been more volatile, seen in a “Rate My Professor” review I wrote a year ago (check 11/11/11), so Bossman shouldn’t feel too bad.  That afternoon I had a Twi oral exam, which went about as well as any task of mine that requires me to open my mouth and say something intelligent. In case you’re not aware of my verbal ineptitude…again, more on that later.

On Election Day Tuesday, I purchased a new camera and spent a majority of the day trying to control the panic that was slowly building over the next day’s oral presentation on Ghanaian Media. I could have gone to an election viewing party at NYU Ghana’s campus, but considering people didn’t get back from that until between 4-5 AM (and because my roommate has a TV), I decided to stick around. I knew if I went to the party I would have shattered any miniscule chance I had at sounding remotely coherent during the next morning’s presentation.

Despite Wednesday morning starting pretty spectacularly with the news of President Obama’s re-election (seriously, that victory speech? Mesmerizing.), my efforts at preparing for the report were fairly unsuccessful. I have enough trouble communicating under normal circumstances, so when there’s added pressure of a grade being given for what comes out of my mouth, it’s a pretty dismal scene.  There was a lot of stammering, a lot of flailing, a lot of uncomfortable and unfortunate pauses…but otherwise it went well! Anyway, who cares?! No more classes!!

Over at Beacon House, I was happy to see that there are two girls that now come in every day to teach. I helped out a lot in the classroom in the morning, and the afternoon featured the return of the trampoline.

Somebody’s displeased.

So. Much. Jumping.  All I wanted to do was lay down and avoid any kind of physical activity, but these kids don’t allow that. “Matteeee, jump!” is what was yelled at me by Prince over and over again, and then he just cried after being flung around a few times by my powerful leaps.  Once his giant head stopped flopping around and the crying subsided he just asked me to do it again. It makes no sense. Wait. Why am I trying to make sense of the demands and moods of a 3 year old?

I woke up at 6:00 Friday morning (Day 100!!), threw some clothes into my backpack, and by 7:00 I was on my way to the Western Region for another Solo Ghanaian Adventure! I planned on spending a few days lounging on a beach, maybe exploring some places that sounded appealing in my guidebook. But as J.R.R Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” Put less eloquently, but more appropriately in relation to my life, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” So true, Mike Tyson. So true.

As I was departing from Accra’s Kaneshie Station on the way to Takoradi, I saw a few dragons homeschool homestay kids waiting to leave in another tro tro.  After a few texts I learned that they were heading to the same location/hotel in Busua as me! Thus began the weekend I tried and failed to travel alone.  Luckily this is a group of people I like a lot (even you, fradversary), so if I had to randomly stumble across anyone, I’m really glad it was these guys.

We arrived at Alaska Beach Club by about 2:30-3ish, a hotel situated right on the beach with these huts scattered around a bar, restaurant, and communal bathroom. And there’s a penis swing.  And possibly a coslopus one as well. I spent the first night in a hut with 4 other girls, and after telling my father this he replied with, “Congrats! You’ve achieved one of our fantasies!!!!” I just can’t.

Not looking forward for the pictures of me on this swing to surface.

We decided to go swimming immediately, and it was around this time that I realized that I forgot to pack a bathing suit. On a trip to a beach resort. I decided the only available option would be to ruin a pair of shorts. Questionable decision #1 of the trip.  Early on we also noticed the ridiculous amount of dogs that make this stretch of beach their home.  Take a look!

Pups!

Maybe a Corgi? probably not.

Favorite pup.

A goat.

I was really low on cash the first day, and chose to spend a substantial portion of what money I had left on booze. Questionable decision #2.  I was introduced to this fun Ghanaian palm wine-based alcohol called Akpeteshie.  Its Wikipedia page gives a better description of it than I can come up with.  Here are a few excerpts:

“No one drinks ‘akpeteshie’ and smiles. At best, the reaction is a grimace or a frown. Such is the potency of the local gin that puts all senses under instant attack.”

“The alcohol content is so high that it is almost scandalous. It rocks the body for the first timer and there is a kind of feeling which is hard to describe, probably a knockout punch in boxing will do.”

As you can see, my face is an exact replica of this description:

My face matches the description so accurately

Unsurprisingly, its effects on me weren’t as strong as they were on a few other people, which provided great, sloppy entertainment that evening during a game of Kings. The only other time I played this was last summer in Botswana, and despite a few different rules, the experience was equally entertaining. While I wasn’t forced to chug a diabolical concoction of beer and orange Fanta like last year, I did dominate a few games of “Never Have I Ever.” I knew my lack of any normal adolescent experiences would come in handy some day!

Maybe the akpeteshie affected me more than I thought, because a late-night swim ended with me agreeing to skinny dip for the first (and probably last) time. Questionable decision #3. Obviously there was a lot of initial protest; “I don’t do things like this!!” is what I think I uttered a few times.  In the end, the underwear came off, instant humiliation ensued, and I’d like to never bring up this incident again. Thank you.

The rest of the weekend’s activities were much less shameful (at least for me. Anil.).  A lot of beach frisbee was played with local Ghanaian children, as well as a lot of lounging on hammocks.  Beautiful food was consumed, especially banana pancakes at Frank (and Dan) the Pancake Man, and $3.00 lobster.  More card games were played, which went well enough until a game which required partners revealed the incompatibility that exists between me and Anil.  Just too much sass. And probably too much akpeteshie for one of us (Hint? Not me).  We decided that we’d make a pretty entertaining Amazing Race pairing.  Hit us up, CBS producers.

I was finally on my own for a majority of Sunday-Monday morning, which allowed me to do what I was planning on doing for the entire weekend: absolutely nothing.  I treated myself to some barbeque chicken, sprawled myself on a hammock, finished reading The Hobbit, hugged some dogs, and ended up passing out by 8:30 after devouring more lobster and doing some star-gazing.

Me attempting to enjoy these kids touching all my stuff

Of course my day wasn’t completely devoid of human interaction; the kids we played Frisbee with stopped by, and after probably feeling disappointed that I was the only one remaining, managed to play with every electronic device I had on me. And now one of them has my phone number.  Eh. I suppose that’s alright.

I woke up at 5:00 in the morning to watch the sunrise out on the beach, the perfect ending to a pretty fantastic trip. Some friends joined me:

Yeah, you too

By 7:00 I was on my way back to Accra, and managed to arrive just in time to walk through a torrential downpour. All in all, while this may have not truly been a Solo Ghanaian Adventure, it was a great way to start the beginning of the end of my semester abroad.  The clothes that went into the water might smell like they were worn by skunks who decided to host a triathlon through Staten Island, but I wouldn’t change anything about my Western Region weekend.

Which is more than I can probably say for some people. Anil.

I’m seeing Mumford & Sons on Valentine’s Day. Thanks, dad! I already posted this song before, but it’s my favorite. So deal with it.

Arrested Development. Aka Crap! Big Week!

Well, it’s Saturday night, and you know what that means, right? If you guessed, “Matthew’s doing laundry!!” then congratulations!! You’re starting to figure out just how lame I am!

Anyway, I thought I’d take the hour necessary for my clothes to dry to ramble write about something that is becoming increasingly worrisome: I’m not going to be a teenager much longer.

This thought shouldn’t really trouble me. It’s not as if I’ve cared about doing “teenagery” things before.  “Alcohol?! Yuck! Where’s that hot chawcolate at?!” “Drugs?! You mean like my sinus infection medication?!” “Football? No way. TENNIS!!” “Sex?? EWWWWW!!” “Party? Will puppies be there?!”

As you can see, I’m a really fun d00d. But in all seriousness, I’m beginning to realize that I really went about “growing up” wrong. I haven’t appreciated the freedoms being this young offers. These are the years when doing something really crazy and just plain stupid isn’t extremely unacceptable. You can look back and think, “Well, I was 16! That’s the only excuse necessary to explain how much of an asshole I was!” But nope. I can honestly say that I haven’t done anything seriously reprehensible ever. Never been drunk (I’ve attempted and failed on a few occasions), never done anything really sleazy, never been pulled over by the police (I guess a Prius with a bumper sticker reading “I Love Otters” isn’t really seen as a threat).

The worst thing I’ve probably done involved 4th of July 2010, some friends, some marshmallows, trespassing at an elementary school, running away from a security guard, a high speed chase, and getting caught after the questionable decision of returning to the scene of the “crime.” I’ll save that story for my upcoming “Embarrassing Moments” post. Get ready!

I’d say all this really started to hit me in the months leading up Summer 2011. My best friend and I collaborated on a “To Do List” of activities for us to accomplish. Some of these “activities” definitely reflected our mutual desire to act as ridiculous as possible, since, you know, I’ve done nothing fun ever. For your enjoyment, here’s a few excerpts from that list:

  • MARSHMALLOW WAR! Buy Marshmallow gun. PAINT MASKS! (those words were in caps on the list. This is also one of the few things (minus the paint) that actually happened).
  • TEEPEE somebody’s house
  • Go to Justin Bieber concert (ha! #NeverSayNever)
  • Hey Arnold Marathon!
  • Drawing party/competition. WITH BLINDFOLDS!
  • Learn magic tricks and put on a show for all our “fans.”
  • “glow stick/rave party in someone’s yarrrrd. Dig it.”
  • Water balloon fight!! (Take a guess at which one’s my pile.)
  • GET ARRESTED!! By any means necessary. (but only for one night).

This list is a clear indication that I really wanted to be a stupid teenager for pretty much the first time in my life. Too bad most of that list wasn’t accomplished. Especially the getting arrested part. Tried hard for that one!

While I may not have aspired to do anything conventional teenagers valued (like having a life), that certainly doesn’t mean I’m ready for adulthood. I’d say the only “adult” thing about me is my work ethic and prioritization skills. I’m definitely not a procrastinator when it comes to getting school-related things done. Outside of my little academic bubble, well….not as commendable.

I recently read an article about arrested development, an idea that can be summed up as fearing or avoiding growing up.  “Escape is the enemy of responsibility.” This is the line that struck me the most. The author lists off a few indicators that correspond to this “escape” or arrested development. Here are a few of these indicators and how the apply back to me:

  • COMMITMENT: I’ve broken a few promises over the years, most minor, a few pretty bad. I promised my father last Thanksgiving that I would spend the day with him and his side of the family, but I decided to stay at home with my mother, the safer route.
  • COMPLETION: I’ve started and stopped something a few too many times, including, but not limited to, playing the piano and violin, playing soccer, baseball (not apologizing for that), I’ve left various volunteering positions just because I felt like it. Tennis, which has been one of my few constants, has been pushed aside. I always justify it with “All of that gets in the way of school! Can’t let anything distract me from that!!” Yikes.
  • CONSISTENCY: I’m alright on this one.
  • CONFRONTATION: This is a big one. I avoid confrontation more than anything else, to the point of hanging up on someone if the conversation starts going south, or literally jumping into my car and driving away if things aren’t going well at home. Which is often.
  • COURAGE: Well…just read my last post.
  • COMMUNICATION: see above.

There’s a few other indicators, but these are the ones that apply to me the most. So basically, when it comes to the qualities that matter in an adult, I’d say I posses about 29% of them.

I’ll focus a bit more on confrontation for the remainder of this post. This week I have to decide where I’m studying abroad. This is what I was looking forward to the most in the years leading up to college. Traveling is my favorite thing to do, so getting to do it for a whole semester sounded like the greatest thing ever. I had this idea that I’d be in Paris, learning French and becoming the most “cultured” person EVER in the history of the world. As I started becoming interested in international development, the developing world became my focus. Sorry, Paris. Right now I’ve narrowed it down to a few places in Africa (Uganda, Ghana, Madagascar, Senegal). After deciding on what college to go to, this is probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make. All these options have their appeal, and they’re obviously equally unconventional, and it’ll probably come down to which program has the most appropriate courses.

On top of this decision, I’m also starting my internship with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Monday. This is absolutely my dream internship, since working there in the future is what I’d love to potentially do. So getting to experience what that would be like now is really amazing. But, I’m starting to get panicky over it. I don’t know as much as I’d like about the agency or what I’ll be doing. Confidence, as I’ve mentioned, is not something I possess. I know I’ll feel overwhelmed and out of place, fearing that they’ll regret hiring me pretty soon after meeting me. So….crap.

Like most times when things start getting overwhelming for me at school, I run back home to Long Island for a few days. Since I’m so consistent and a fan of escaping, I’ll be going home next weekend. I’m hoping this will be good for me, to just decompress a bit. Regardless, at least my mother will be pleased.

So yeah. Turning 20? Not as excited about that as I had been previously. I need to get my act together. I can’t keep avoiding the important decisions. The years of being able to make excuses and getting away with stupidity are coming to an end.

There’s probably a reason why Finding Neverland is my favorite movie:

[I found out while writing this that Whitney Houston died. Oh my God. So unbelievably sad. Such a beautiful woman. What a shame.]