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.
RSCN2859

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

DSCN2714

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

photo

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.

Advertisements

Tro-Tro? More Like…Oh F**k

I know this has been a long, trying two weeks for those of you (shout out to Shari!) craving waiting to hear about my northern Ghanaian tales, and I hope my account isn’t too melodramatic hyperbolic.  I’ll attempt to show some restraint, but to paint an accurate picture of this past week I think it’ll be necessary to unleash higher dosages of sass than normal. Prepare yourself!

Monday, November 26

My two friends and I departed Monday morning at around 11 AM, eager to commence our trek to our first destination, Tamale, the capital of Ghana’s Northern Region. I left armed with about 4 days worth of clothes, understanding that being disgustingly smelly and filthy would be inevitable and deciding to embrace it. There are a few different ways of reaching northern Ghana, ranging from the easy (45 minute plane ride) to the laborious (12-17 hour bus ride). We elected the borderline-psychotic method of taking a ferry along the Volta River that could take anywhere from 36-50 hours in supposedly fairly unpleasant conditions. All we wanted was to be the cool Oburonis, having the most unique experience of our other CIEE peers who journeyed up north.

I should have foreseen that any attempts of me being remotely cool would only end in disappointment and slight amounts of shame. According to our guidebook, one ferry left Akosombo at 4:00 every Monday. We were really worried that we’d arrive late, but had little reason to fear that Ghanaian transportation would not continue its trend of being completely unreliable with its timetables. When we reached the port at about 3:00, we were really proud of ourselves for being early.

And then we were told that the ferry left at 1:30. Thanks, Bradt Guidebook. After spending about 7 minutes feeling sorry for ourselves, we finally got ourselves together and found a silver lining: at least we’d arrive at Tamale earlier! We didn’t have a Plan B (whoops), but were adamant about not going on the Oburoni Walk of Shame back to Accra to start from scratch. We resolved to get to Kumasi by whatever non-Accra route necessary, which resulted in a tro-tro ride to Koforidua (capital of the Eastern Region) that featured the three of us and some furry friends:

There were at least 5 of these on board the tro-tro

There were at least 5 of these on board the tro-tro

We finally arrived in Kumasi at around 11:30 PM. We hadn’t really eaten anything all day and downed some indomie, too hungry to give much notice to the unfortunate fishy taste. After some debating, we elected to take an overnight bus to Tamale, leaving at 1:30 in the morning.

Tuesday, November 27

Sleeping on that slightly-more-luxurious tro-tro was a challenge I never really overcame. The roads were bumpy, the space was cramped, and there was this crazed music video (with laughable production value) blasting on the bus’s TV on loop. Also, my seatmate appeared to be in a perpetual state of misery and peril, evidenced by him keeping his head out the window on numerous occasions to discharge some probable fufu. Nasty.

We finally made it to Tamale by 8:30 AM, about 21 hours after leaving Accra. We stumbled out into the northern Ghanaian heat dazed and starving, and after a brief food search we settled on $0.50 rice and beans served on a newspaper. We had to share one spoon, but we weren’t about to complain at that point (There would be plenty of time for that later). This search allowed us to get a pretty good idea of what Tamale has to offer: a ton of mosques, lots of motorcycles, and…that’s about it.

Big ass mosque #1

Big ass mosque #1

Big ass mosque #2

Big ass mosque #2

Next on the agenda was locating our guest house, which nobody in this city appeared to have any knowledge of.  A taxi driver brought us to a random hotel, then demanded that we pay him more to bring us to the right one. That’s some pretty impressive logic, buddy. We finally made it there, and after some brief excitement over getting to sit on a bed, went on a search for this leather tannery; the guidebook says to just “follow your nose” through a suburb, which was a pretty accurate piece of advice. The tannery is run by Chief Slim, this eccentric dude who forced some sandals upon us; I purchased a pair supposedly made with goat skin.

some nasty part of the leather-making process

some nasty part of the leather-making process

Let’s play “Guess How Long Matthew’s New Sandals Last.” The answer will be given later on. We were allowed to watch the “entire” leather-making process for a fee that wasn’t really worth it, but we had to do something to justify our stop in this city and there weren’t many other options.

We headed back to the guest house to rest until dinner, which we had at this beautiful Indian restaurant. Naan was consumed. Definitely the highlight of Tamale. It was also around this time that we ran into the damn Projects Abroad crew that I talked about last time. All white people’s roads in northern Ghana end at Mole National Park, so we knew we’d be seeing them again soon.

Wednesday, November 28

We woke up bright and early, determined to get to the Metro Mass station at a time when it would be impossible to miss the bus to Mole (Mole-ay).  According to our never sometimes reliable guidebook, the bus left every day at 2:00. We got there before 10:30, went up to the ticket counter and were told we could purchase tickets at around 1:30. We parked ourselves in the shade and patiently waited, allowing me plenty of time to read the overwhelmingly miserable (and excessively long) Under the Dome

As 1:30 approached I stocked up on a loaf of bread to nibble on in case the ride took a while. The Projects Abroad crew arrived at a much more reasonable time than we did, and they came over to us for what I assumed would be to exchange some pleasantries.

Nope! They came over to tell us that there would be no buses to Mole that day! We spared 5 minutes to express our massive amounts of exasperation before heading over to the tro-tro station to see if it would be possible to get to Mole from there. We were ushered to a tro-tro that was heading to Wa (capital of the Upper West Region), told that we would be dropped off at Larabanga, 6km away from Mole. We got inside, paid our 15 cedi, and were informed that we’d be leaving at 5:30.  It was about 2:45, but at this point we were experts at sitting around waiting to leave for places; we were just happy that our day wouldn’t be a complete waste.

At 5:00, the tro-tro mate paid us a visit, taking this opportunity to inform us silly Oburonis that we wouldn’t be leaving at 5:30 that evening, but at 5:30 in the morning! WHAT?! He also took this opportunity to remind us that tickets are non-refundable, but was gracious enough to invite us to spend the night in the tro-tro. After a group meeting in which we spent a majority of the time cursing Tamale’s existence, we decided that we didn’t want to spend more money on a guest house and to accept the tro-tro douche’s offer. We drowned our sorrows in some beer, then went back to the Indian restaurant—a place we agreed to be Tamale’s only worthy attraction.

This sign's in the bathroom of Swad Fast  Food

This sign’s in the bathroom of Swad Fast Food

Thursday, November 29

We awoke from our night at Le Château Tro-Tro (name credit: Erika Baumann) before 5:00AM. Accommodations included: our own rows to sleep on, tight security (besides the whole window access possibility), free bug spray usage, and free entertainment, featuring music blasting at all hours of the night and a station recording bellowing, “WA! WA! WA! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!? WA! WA!”

We spent a few minutes lamenting that 2/3 nights of traveling so far were spent in a tro-tro, but we pushed that negativity aside pretty quickly because we were finally on our way to Mole! There was no argument that seeing elephants would eradicate any of the previous 3 days’ misfortunes.

The trip to Larabanga was about 3 hours, and we could either motorbike the 6km to Mole Motel or walk. We elected for the latter since the path was well marked and we missed the morning safari anyway. Off we went on our journey, leading a horde of children, not much unlike Moses leading the Israelites through the desert. Except I refused to give the children any of my manna bread. Or pens. They were on their way to school, so I’m sure they had access to writing utensils. If they don’t, well…sorry not sorry.

Mole National Park is without a doubt the grandest of all of Ghana’s Oburoni Traps. Elephant love isn’t a solely white-tourist phenomenon, right? Maybe. The amount of white people there was actually a bit overwhelming, and of course the Projects Abroad crew was already there, having shelled out $100 to take a taxi the previous day. The incredulous looks we received when we revealed our…unique method of arriving were probably well deserved, but…at least we spent $90 less than they did! Silver linings, remember?

We had a few hours to relax and sit on the observation deck until our 3:30 safari walk, and the multiple warthogs that roamed the grounds gave us some encouragement and hope that we’d be seeing some elephants either that night or the next morning.

Sorry for the crappy quality of this baby warthog

Sorry for the crappy quality of this baby warthog

The only picture of a warthog I used to posses, taken last summer

The only picture of a warthog I used to posses, taken last summer

We were talked into taking the jeep instead of walking since it wouldn’t be expensive when splitting the price 8 ways. The three of us rode on the roof for the first hour, bringing back more memories of my summer 2011 Botswana days. The wooden planks and bumpy roads didn’t make my already-sore butt too happy, but within the first 2 minutes of the trip we saw a baby baboon and all other thoughts ceased in favor of giddiness and joy. We didn’t see any elephants that afternoon, but we were still hopeful and convinced that our bad luck couldn’t possibly continue indefinitely.

our view from the top of the jeep. Baboons!

our view from the top of the jeep. Baboons!

BABY BABOON

BABY BABOON


Friday, November 30, 2012

WRONG.

I am clumsy. My ability to keep my body upright during any potential perilous situation is meager. Whenever I have to perform an activity that involves climbing or balancing, there is about an 86% chance that I will end up on the ground. Maybe my life is just one grand, pitiful self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever the reason, by the time we left Mole that morning my shame levels were reaching its familiar peak.

We began our morning safari walk at 7:30 with high hopes and determination. The small group of us set off on our generally leisurely stroll through the Park, keeping our eyes open for some tusks and/or elephant poop. We didn’t see much early on besides the occasional antelope, but we weren’t worried. About an hour into the walk, we were told we’d be crossing some water.

That's me in the back. Struggling in the stream.

That’s me in the back. Struggling in the stream.

My mind instantly flashed back to June 7, 2011, the last time I attempted to successfully make it across a stream. That day we had to hop across some rocks to get to the other side, and I missed. And had to be rescued. Once I saw the log we had to maneuver across, I knew I was a goner. My friend and I made it about halfway across before she tumbled in and I followed right after. She managed to gracefully pick herself up and get across without further incident, but I took another spill. On the bright side, the water wasn’t too deep, it was surprisingly refreshing, and no valuables were damaged. (Hope that sentence doesn’t come across as too disingenuous).

No elephants were encountered, but at least we couldn’t say that this trip had so far been anything but consistent! I wasn’t as devastated as the others over this since I was lucky enough to spend 30 days literally living with wild elephants, something I unfortunately took for granted.  We licked our wounds (dumped water on our shoes), got ourselves together and left Mole saddened but hopeful that Wa would be better. And by better I mean filled with hippos.

To get to Wa, you could either catch the 4:00AM Metro Mass bus out of Mole, or…that’s about it, really. We sat around Larabanga hoping for a tro-tro to arrive, but we were about 0-7 in terms of transportation success so we had a feeling things weren’t going to go too well for us. I was also starting to feel a little nauseous, which is just what this trip had been lacking.

Desperation led us to seek alternative modes of transportation, and before I knew it we were chasing down a pickup truck begging the driver to let us sit in the back and take us anywhere towards Wa. Look, mom & dad guys. Hitchhiking is something I will never go out of my way to do. I understand that it can be potentially dangerous, but I also live by the probably naïve philosophy that people, at the end of the day, are generally not assholes. And we didn’t really have any other options; we were not staying in Larabanga for the night. And the allure of saving money was overpowering.

We really couldn’t believe our luck (really. Cause we’d had none up to that point) when we found out that the truck was going directly to Wa. We pushed aside a pair of Ghanaians who were also attempting to hitch a ride (an Oburoni’s gotta do what an Oburoni’s gotta do), and were on our way! The sickness I had been feeling earlier slowly began creeping back, and I was becoming increasingly concerned for the cleanliness of the vehicle and my fellow passengers. I made it until we were about 40 minutes away from Wa before I was forced to have our kind driver pull over for me to go kill some bushes.

I popped a pepto and all was well! We arrived at Wa in the early afternoon and made our way to Nakori, the site of a supposedly 15th century mud-and-stick mosque where we’d be allowed to climb onto the roof. We were met by yet another horde of children who followed us to the mosque.

The mosque

The mosque

Kids running away from me. What a surprise

Kids running away from me. What a surprise

We walked the more-than-4km back to Wa where we struggled to find our guest house. We went on a food hunt and went to sleep soon after to get an early start on our trip to Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary.

Saturday, December 1

Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary is probably Wa’s main tourist attraction, and like most Ghanaian tourist hubs, the inadequacy in its functionality is alarming. To get there, you need to either hire a motorbike or rent a bicycle and ride to the lodge. Oh. And you need to bring all the food and water you’ll require for the duration of your stay. Ghana, this is Tourism 101. If you want people to spend the day/night at your wonderful hippo sanctuary, make sure there’s some damned food and water waiting for us when we get there. The girls I traveled with were adamant about biking the 18km. All I could think about was that for $5.00 more, we could get there in comfort and in 7X less time. But I wasn’t about to be a party pooper, so after basically commandeering bikes from children in the town and stocking up on not nearly enough water and some bread/oranges, we were on our way!

These smiles wouldn't last long

These smiles wouldn’t last long

After about 7 minutes I had a feeling where this bike ride was going to go. The bikes we were using were beyond unequipped to handle the terrain we had to ride through. Not to mention the only biking I’ve done in the past 2 decades has been limited to the occasional 10 minute ride around my block with my mother along flat, paved roads.  Now I was being forced to ride a bike that was probably older than me across unpaved dirt roads and sand. For over 10 miles in the early afternoon. On the equator.

The water supply was depleted after about 2 hours, and my bike’s chains kept detaching. I contemplated death more times than I’m happy with towards the end, and I may or may not have cried. Not bawling or anything deranged like that, just frustration because I knew that this ride was going to be beyond my capabilities. My inability to open my mouth has been my downfall on numerous occasions, but I think from now on I may be more inclined to put the brakes on situations I foresee as being regrettable. But we made it, I didn’t fall off the bike  (about 12 close calls. Seriously, bikes aren’t ridden on the beach for a reason), and we had over an hour to recover before our river hippo safari.

I broke Africa’s #1 rule upon arrival by drinking un-treated water pumped out of the ground, but it was either drink that potentially worm-infested water or drop dead. Both options seemed appealing at that point.

Although I was rendered completely incapacitated, I mustered the minuscule amount of energy I had left to enjoy the canoe ride along the Black Volta River, which separates Burkina Faso from Ghana. During this ride our guide took out a bowl, scooped out some of the river water and proceeded to pour it down his throat, effectively eliminating any qualms I had about my drinking water situation. Despite my strange, often ridiculous history with hippopotami (Hippo“Matt”amus will never be forgotten), I had never seen one in the wild.

Hippos!

Hippos!

I like to think that the few hippos we came across sensed my despair and recognized me as one of their former biggest fans, and chose to bless us with their presence accordingly. Or maybe they understood that if they didn’t show their faces after that 18km bike ride, the fragile emotional state I was still in would have resulted in unpleasantness for all.

We stared in awe at those majestic creatures for a few minutes before heading back, not before making a likely illegal pit stop across the river to Burkina Faso, where we got out and took some victory pictures.

So excited to illegally be in Burkina Faso!

So excited to illegally be in Burkina Faso!

We spent the remainder of the afternoon recovering and reading, with somebody blasting Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” on repeat until we passed out by 7:00.  Ghana really loves this woman, perhaps more than I do.

Probably not.

Sunday, December 2

We left by motorcycle (we agreed that biking was NOT happening again) back to town to catch a tro-tro back to Wa. I said goodbye to my two friends who had more time to travel than I did, and I sat and waited for 4 hours for a tro-tro back to Tamale.

We began to leave the station at 2:40PM and the tro-tro instantly broke down, since no aspect of this trip was allowed to go smoothly.  We piled into another one and were on our way!

At around 5:00, our tro-tro succumbed to the crappy roads that make up northern Ghana. A tire popped while we were in the middle of nowhere, forcing all of us to get out while the spare was put on. As soon as we stepped outside we were bombarded by a swarm of gnats, reducing me to a flailing mess as I slapped myself repeatedly, killing countless amounts as all the Ghanaians laughed at me. It was a sad sight, but it fits in perfectly with the rest of the week’s events. We got back on the road, and at 6:00 we stopped in a town where we were all forced to get out and wait while the driver got the tire fixed.

A half hour later we were back on track, just in time for the arrival of a torrential storm. The roads connecting Wa and Tamale are fairly treacherous in sunny daylight, so those 40 minutes of blinding rain at night were terrifying. It was one of the few moments I can remember when I actually felt like my life was at risk, but I still tried to find the humor in the situation. Lord knows I would not have made it through the 20 years of ridiculousness that is my life if I didn’t constantly laugh at myself.

We finally pulled into Tamale at 9:30, and I decided to stay at the guesthouse close to the Indian restaurant we went to earlier in the week. The taxi driver tried charging me 10 cedi to get there when we paid 3 a few days earlier, and I was not in the mental state to put up with that nonsense. Maybe there’s hope for me after all, and I won’t actually let everyone I come across walk all over me. When I trudged into the guest house looking grosser than I’ve ever looked in my life, the receptionist had the chutzpah to tell me that there weren’t any rooms available, that I could stay there only if I agreed to be out before 6AM. I must have looked like I was about to burst into tears (I was), since a few minutes later I was comfortably settled into a room that I could stay in as long as I wanted the next morning.

Monday, December 3

I compensated my body for the physical/emotional trauma of the past few days by sleeping in, laying in bed and reading until 11 when I left to go the Indian restaurant one last time. I randomly ran into 2 CIEE students who I kind of (but not really) knew, but luckily it was right as I was leaving, sparing me any uncomfortable minutes of silence that would have likely followed if they joined my table.

I arrived at the airport a couple hours before my 3:40 flight, giving me a glimpse of more of this region’s inefficiency. The power at the airport kept going out and none of the metal detectors/scanners were working, forcing a full-body pat down and an airport official having to rifle through my putrid clothing. At least he had gloves!

The flight itself was wonderful. Leather seats! A headrest! Leg room! Ah, modern technology and comfortable travel. You were missed. 45 minutes later I was back in Accra. I planned on taking a tro-tro back to campus, but when I asked somebody where the station was he offered to just drive me there himself. I wasn’t about to say no to a free ride, and I found it fitting to end the week with one final outlandish transportation story.

December 4-Present

Switching gears, the next 24 hours were spent studying for Wednesday’s Colonial Rule and African Response final exam.  It was that Tuesday night as I was studying in the hallway that my right sandal broke. So for those of you who guessed 7 days, congratulations! You can come collect your prize of 3 broken sandals at any time.

There really has to be something wrong with my right foot

There really has to be something wrong with my right foot

My motivation levels were at their typical University of Ghana low, which turned out not to be a problem since the exam was laughable. We had over 2 hours to write 4 pages, answering two essay questions that we’d already been asked in earlier exams. Sometimes I suspect that these professors have no fucks to give when it comes to providing quality education. I miss you, GWU.

That Wednesday evening I had an interview for an internship position with Bread for the City, a non-profit that helps disadvantaged DC residents by providing free food, clothing, medical care, legal aid and social services. The interview was about as cringe-worthy as the one I had 2 weeks ago with the Wilson Center, perhaps more so since I spewed some BS about having no issues talking to people and soliciting them for money. I sent her a link to my blog in a desperate attempt to make her think I possess any semblance of intelligence.

She hasn’t gotten back to me yet, and I’m guessing she won’t be any time soon. Oh well! I consoled myself afterwards by realizing that on the bright side, if nothing works out, I’d at least have a lot of free time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I hadn’t been to Beacon House in almost 2 weeks, and my greeting that Thursday afternoon was beautiful, with so many hugs. The kids are beyond excited for Christmas. One kid saw the Christmas Tree waiting to be set up and said, “Look at Christmas!!” as if it’s a person. They had visited a school that morning and were given books as presents, and one 4 year-old showed me his book about Halloween and said, “Look at my Bible!”  I’m really going to miss the verbal gold that comes out of their mouths. What I’ll miss most of all? This guy:

I'm not sure he even has a reason for making this face.

I’m not sure he even has a reason for making this face.

Maxwell and Prince

Maxwell and Prince

Alright, I'll miss these guys too

Alright, I’ll miss these guys too

Ghana’s presidential elections are currently taking place, beginning on Friday, December 7. We were told via email to remain on campus for own safety, but I’m not one to take my personal safety into consideration unless there’s climbing involved. I went to Beacon House that afternoon, experiencing no trouble other than the travesty of the Chinese restaurant I go to being closed. I took this opportunity as an excuse for me to buy some overpriced Oreos at the supermarket. Best lunch I’ve had in a while.

You're cute.

You’re cute.

It’s no surprise to me that Ghana’s elections have experienced some complications. Apparently many of the machines were faulty, forcing people back to polling stations today (Saturday) to vote again. You’d think that with the 4 year period between elections, people would make sure that these machines are working properly. Guess that’s asking for too much technological reliability.  Oh well. Pulling for you, John Mahama!

Oh, and the Wilson Center gave me a formal offer for the internship position next semester. So that’s exciting! My competition must have been non-existent.

If any of you managed to make it through this short story of a post, thank you! Really, the praise I’ve consistently received from some of you guys has been wonderful, and has motivated me to actually put some effort into these entries. I’m still having trouble seeing what’s so special about this drek, but for all the hours I spend on each entry it’s really nice to hear that people appreciate it. We’ve only got 10 days left here, with one final post in the works for next weekend, where I’ll attempt to reflect on this experience and provide some final thoughts, maybe on what’s in store for me in the coming months.

Until then, Happy Hanukkah! I think that’s going on now, but I actually have no idea.

Also, here’s more Amy Poehler being beautiful and smart and perfect.

60 Freakin Days

Right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I’ve been in Ghana for 60 days already. It seems like yesterday that I was whining about being bored here, and now it feels like each week is whizzing by faster than the previous one. Then I think about the fact that I’m still not quite halfway finished with the semester and how much more rice I’m going to consume and…you get the picture.

This week was largely spent “studying” for the two tests (Development Studies and Colonial Rule/African Response) I had on Wednesday. I think I spent more time coming up with reasons to not study than I did reading any of my notes, but for whatever reason, I just don’t care too much about my academic performance here. Bad? Probably. But the lectures here have been so…uninspiring. This coupled with the lack of assignments outside of reading has rendered me more apathetic than I usually am at all times. The tests weren’t too challenging, but a couple questions on that history exam were so pathetically vague/irrelevant (“Who were the Creoles and what was their historical significance?” “Who made up the 19th century elite?”). I had to actually try to not write “Nobody cares” as my answer a few times.  My strategy was to just write as much as possible and make it sound “scholarly” in the hopes that somewhere hidden beneath all the crap I wrote is some semblance of a correct answer. We’ll see.

Wednesday night I did two things that I usually never do willingly: socialize and consume alcohol.  I decided that I deserved some kind of reward for all the procrastination hard work I put in throughout the previous days. I had one shot of gin at a restaurant, and another one later on at a bar(!!).  I believe I literally uttered “poison!”  during the second shot.  Alcoholism is something I’ll never have to worry about for more reasons than one, but the fact that booze is so nasty is definitely at the top of the list. Also, spending money on that crap is so unappealing to me. When I talk about how much I dislike alcohol, I’m often met with looks similar to these by Britney Spears.

Luckily alcohol doesn’t have the same effect on me as it has on Cathy Ames from East of Eden (that bitch is cray), or any effect at all, it seems.  I did manage to reveal virtually every embarrassing thing that has happened in my life (I spend an unfortunate amount of time thinking about them).  These stories ranged from ripping the back of my pants off after getting caught on a chalkboard, to falling into a river and down a tree within a 24 hour period, to both previously mentioned pee incidents, and having to have a woodchip surgically removed from my ass upper thigh. Oh. And my Bar Mitzvah theme. Hippo”matt”amus.

Yes, that’s a cardboard cutout of myself. There are 2 of these in my basement. The hippos as well.

The fact that I felt guilt about not being at Beacon House Tuesday afternoon is

This is Ben and Daniel!

yet another sign that I need to rethink the amount of time I spend there.  I did make up for it Thursday and Friday by spending 11 hours there each day.  Thursday wasn’t extremely eventful, other than for a few ridiculous naptime events.  I got back early Thursday afternoon from my rock-bottom lunch of $9.00 pizza to find two of the kids, Daniel and Ben, awake.  I made the mistake of taking out my Kindle to read with them nearby, and ultimately I read zero words of East of Eden that afternoon. Instead Ben fiddled around with it thinking it was some weird computer/camera, and Daniel thought it was a video game. Then I took out my iPod and they rocked out to some Edward Sharpe since that’s basically the only thing I have on my iPod that isn’t miserable. They also looked through pictures on my phone. I have never been more thankful for poor African literacy rates than when they came across this picture:

One of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen on the cover of a magazine.

That night we watched Mulan, my favorite Disney movie after Pocahontas. I’m only guessing that Pocahontas was my favorite because I own a still-in-existence Pocahontas doll that I would bring with me during car rides so I could let her hair blow in the wind. I’m really the creepiest.

Friday was the final day for two of the girls I’ve worked with over the past month.  I’m really worried about what next week will be like without them there, especially the pre-schoolers who won’t have a teacher now for an unknown amount of time. The pre-school teacher, Katie, and I bought some ice cream and cookies to give to the kids as a goodbye gift. Katie had also bought them all toys, and that went about as well as you can imagine.

If you imagined tears, screaming, and rare moments of joy, then you’re beginning to understand the kids I’ve had to deal with! They were instructed to choose 2 toys that they liked, which seemed reasonable enough. But once they all saw what the other had chosen, they deemed their own choices to be mistakes, and so much anguish ensued.

Prince, the Wee-Wee King. Potentially the cutest kid of all time.

It was a mess, a mess that culminated in the boy who peed on me flying down some stairs and into a puddle. I laughed (people, especially children, falling is my laughter kryptonite), but only for a second because then I had to deal with the crying. So much crying.

After the kids finally settled down, we started to watch Aladdin, another movie dear to my heart. When I went to Disney for the first time at age 7, I saw Jafar giving out autographs, marched over to him, and, the badass bitch I was back then, kicked him in the shin and ran away in absolute terror.

We paused halfway through the movie to give the kids their ice cream/cookies, and just as they were about to start eating, the power went out. I really need to start bringing my flashlight with me to work.  All was well, as the kids really loved their surprise and Katie had enough battery life on her laptop to be able to finish the movie.

It must have really been my time of the month, because during that night’s prayer/singing session, I had a major minor emotional breakdown over the prayers directed at me and Katie. Maybe I felt safe because the power outage blocked my gradually-deteriorating facial composure, or maybe it was because for the first time I felt that the kids really meant what they were saying to us.  I think in the beginning I felt that they said all those wonderful things to me because they felt required to, but as each one gave me a hug that night, it was just…beautiful.  God. My shit is such a mess, isn’t it?

After a long week, in a desperate attempt to recreate a sense of normalcy that has been lacking in my work routine, I spent Saturday relaxing and reading for class at the coffee house/Chinese restaurant I go to during orphanage naptime. The iced latte was shockingly amazing, and all that was missing was some smooth jazz playing to make me feel like I was back at Starbucks crying over whatever Hell I had to read while shoving Marble Poundcake down my throat.  Afterwards I wandered pathetically around a supermarket, staring dejectedly at $10.00 cheese and $9.00 chocolate bars.  I walked away with Peach/Passion Fruit juice, which is about as amazing as it sounds.

I have a feeling many some of you think there’s something wrong with me because I spend more time with kids than people my age.  If you’re interested in reading about healthy, college friendships that exist in my program here, I recommend this blog by an adversary friend. He’s possibly the sassiest person in existence. He was kind enough to advertise my blog on his while commenting on how grossly sweaty I am. He’s a charmer, that Anil.

Instead of leaving you all with a song, I’ll leave with my favorite passage from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, when characters are discussing different translations in the story of Cain and Abel. It amazed me three years ago when I read it for the first time, and it amazed me just as much today:

“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance.  The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Though shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin.  But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice.  It might be the most important word in the worldThat says the way is open.  That throws it right back on the man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”

And later:

I have no bent towards the gods.  But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul.  It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe.  It is always attacked and never destroyed—because ‘Thou mayest.’”

Pretty beautiful stuff, no?

Alright. Fine. I’ll give some music, ’cause I know how much you want some. Mumford & Sons released their new album this week, and every song is perfect. I like to think of them as the male/British Dixie Chicks in terms of talent, harmonies, and overall beauty. Seriously. Just buy the album immediately.

“Is That Your Bible?” “…No. That’s My Wallet.”

Last week I ventured back into the miserable territory that frequented the first few posts of my blog. I really wanted my writings while here in Ghana to be light and filled with the constant occasional snark. But I also promised that I’d be honest, that I would discuss everything, good, bad, or embarrassing. At the time I wrote last week’s post, I think I really needed to sort out the struggles and concerns I had. God knows I lack the ability to vocalize my thoughts/feelings in an articulate, coherent manner, so writing about them is really therapeutic for me.

I’m not quick to say anything good about myself, but I like to think I’m fairly self-aware and perceptive. Putting words to these issues makes them real, something that I can accept, and hopefully manage. I may not overcome them right away, or at all, but at least I’m not oblivious to them. And that’s an important first step, no?

Alright. Enough of this.

This week during Politics of International Economic Relations, or as I like to now call it, Introduction to Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana! my professor was as charming as ever, spewing beautiful, uplifting remarks such as “When you have more black people, you have more problems,” and “If Ghana were a human being, would you say Ghana was a smart person?” Maybe I’m being a bit hypocritical since I’m not America’s biggest fan, but good God, Bossman. Lighten up! Yeah, Ghana has its fair share of issues, but compared to much of the rest of Africa…things could be worse. In other classroom news, writing “I know papaya!” on my Twi test was basically the best thing I could have done. The professor found it hilarious and he decided to give everybody points for that question since nobody actually knew what the Twi word for papaya is. I don’t really know why this surprised him.

I crossed the 100-hour mark at Beacon House this week! I can’t believe I was ever concerned over reaching 135 hours by the end of the semester. At this point I’ll probably double that. Maybe I’ll receive some kind of “CIEE’s/Africa’s/The World’s Greatest Intern of All Time” Award.

Tuesday afternoon was a little bittersweet because it was the last night for two sisters who left the next day for North Carolina. After spending 20-25 hours per week with these kids, it’s pretty impossible to not become emotionally invested in them. I got to interview them Tuesday night for the blog, and the last question I asked was “Is there anybody you’d like to thank at Beacon House?” and the older sister, Helen, basically just thanked me.

Gonna miss these two. But mostly the older one who wasn’t as annoying.

These girls have been at the orphanage for many years now so I’m sure there are plenty of people who have left a far greater impact than I have, but still..AWW! I’ve been smacked with so much collective love and appreciation since coming to work at Beacon House, but I’m still blown away every time the kids say something like this to me. I’ll give more examples later. But man. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it will be for these girls. Moving from a Ghanaian orphanage to the American South is something I can’t really fathom.

Things got a bit…uncomfortable… on Thursday. Towards the end of the day, either right before or after dinner, I was alone with one of the house mothers, Irene. Here’s how our conversation went down:

Mama Irene: (while examining her Bible) “Do you have one of these?”

Matthew: “Of course! Mine’s a bit smaller, though.”

Mama Irene: “Which books are in it?”

Matthew: “Uhh…all of them?”

Mama Irene: “What’s your favorite Bible passage?”

Matthew: (few seconds of uncomfortable stammering and flipping through pages, pretending to not remember where in the Bible the passage is) : “Uhhh…Uhh…Job!”

Mama Irene gave me a look that reeked of skepticism, but the subject was dropped for the time being. We went through the nightly prayer/singing routine in which we discussed how non-believers go straight to Hell and that you can commit any sin imaginable, but as long as you accept Christ as your Savior you’ll make it to Heaven (seems like a pretty poor system, if you ask me). As I was getting my bag together to leave, Mama Irene saw me take out my wallet to put in my pocket. Here’s a snippet of that glorious exchange:
MI: “Is that your Bible?”
Matthew: “No…this is my wallet. My Bible’s at home.”
MI: “You should have your Bible on you at all times.”
Matthew: “I know. I just don’t wanna lose it.”
MI: “What Church do you go to?”
Matthew: (mumbling) “…Regina..”
MI: “What?”
Matthew: “…Saint…..Joseph…
MI: “Oh. So a Catholic Church.”
Matthew: “…Yup.”
I really don’t know what to do about this. Telling them that I’m Jewish this late in the game seems like the worst idea imaginable, but my lack of any Jesus knowledge is painfully apparent to everybody. If I could go back in time I’d probably reveal my Jew-status immediately, and I would hope that this revelation wouldn’t change how I’m treated there, but…I really don’t want to find out.

On Friday I was looking forward to avoiding further uncomfortable situations at all costs. It was a public holiday (something about Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday), so there wasn’t any class/homework to help with in the morning. I was excited for a relaxing day of playing and watching Beauty and the Beast.

Then a child peed on me.

I don’t know what it is about me that makes kids want to urinate on me/my belongings, but it must be something. The fact that this isn’t my first encounter with child pee is a great indicator of the kind of life experiences I’ve had. The first time, 5 years ago, was pretty rough. The kid decided it would be cool to shower my shoes/bag that I left in the locker room during their swim-time with that gross liquid (trying really hard to not write “pee” over and over, and I’m struggling). Long story short, the fact that he did it on purpose, and that he was 10 at the time (like..seriously?), and that the shoes were brand new and beautiful, brought about an emotional meltdown in the laundry room as I cried/hyperventilated while waiting for my shoes to finish their rinse cycle.

Five years later, I’m proud to say that I responded monumentally better during this “wee wee” (their words, not mine!) encounter. I mean, the kid didn’t do it on purpose (I was basically at the wrong place at the wrong time), and he’s 3, and his life hasn’t been too ideal, so being mad at him would just be silly. I think the fact that I’m not 15 anymore also helped…and the fact that the kid is absurdly adorable. He doesn’t speak much English yet, but we have a secret handshake! And his name is Prince! Love that kid.

Things could have been much worse.

Other orphanage highlights:

This is what I have to put up with

• As if the pee debacle wasn’t enough trauma for one morning, the boys were literally brawling on Friday. At one point Ben (aka my favorite kid of all time) was bitten by another kid and I had to physically restrain Ben from retaliating. This is what happens when I’m left alone to watch the kids.
• When I arrived on Friday morning, the first thing Ben says before hugging me is “You look great today!” So wonderful. I love the implication that I look like a gross mess every other time he’s seen me. It’s basically the truth.
• After we finished Beauty and the Beast I danced with a few of the kids during the end credits while actively forcing myself to not sing along/cry to Celine’s version of the song.
• At dinner on Friday Mama Irene had the kids stand and say what they enjoyed about the day, and Ben and a couple others mostly talked about me. SO GREAT!
• Turns out I’m much better at teaching kids how to add/subtract than how to read simple words. This is probably because my ability to speak/read isn’t too advanced either.

On Saturday most of the CIEE crew were taken to the Eastern Region city of Aburi. As I’ve established on numerous occasions, I’m not fond of too many people my age. After spending hours on a bus with some of them, these feelings haven’t really improved. I’d say I’m pretty open and honest with my friends and on this blog, but some things I keep to myself. Some things should just remain private, right?

Apparently this belief isn’t shared by all of my contemporaries, resulting in some pretty magical conversations. I doubt any of these people I’m about to mock read this blog (If you do, hello! Please remember that when you open your mouth and talk about your various sexual escapades and STD scares on a crowded bus, you open the door to internet ridicule. The only type of ridicule I have the cowardice capability of giving). Anyway, after learning about pregnancy scares and pus-infected peen’s (which turned out to not be an STD. So…what was it?!), my favorite exchange happened on the trip back to campus. Here’s what was uttered:
Girl A: “We still have 88 days!”
Girl B: “Why are you counting down?”
Girl A: “Cause I wanna have sex!”
I’m known for my inability to control my reactions to complete ridiculousness, so it took an inordinate amount of strength for me to not say something bitchy.

This is Tetteh. I bet he fit in pretty nicely.

Anyway, aside from those sloppy bus rides, the trip was really great. Our first stop was the Tetteh Quashie Cocoa Farm, named after the first dude who brought cocoa to Ghana in 1876. Here are the highlights:
• Cocoa trees kind of look like they’re infected with malignant tumors. But those tumors are just the cocoa.
• To remove the cocoa from the trees, you use this spear/whale harpoon called “Go To Hell” to poke them off.
• Tried some cocoa. Tasted like a very bitter dark chocolate. But anything that isn’t rice at this point is delicious.

The cocoa! The yellow ones are ripe!

Our next stop was the Aburi Botanical Gardens. There are many trees, all of which are beautiful. Some highlights:
• I ate some cinnamon-tasting bark. This marks the second time I’ve eaten part of a tree while in Africa.
• We ran into Daniel, the man I mentioned in an earlier post who I met at a Thai restaurant during our Accra “tour.” How ridiculous is that? I mean, Ghana’s pretty small, but randomly seeing him again is mind-blowing to me.
• There was this weed-type plant and if you touch it, the leaves retreat. Is the plant ticklish? Nope! Just a defense mechanism.

Beautiful Tree #1

Beautiful tree #2

Strange tree carving.

Next was the Aburi Wood Carving Village. I made some really practical purchases, including a slingshot. Tempted to bring it to the orphanage and threaten the kids with it. “If any of you goes wee wee on me again, you’ll be sorry!” I just wanted another excuse to write “wee wee”, hopefullyprobably for the last time this decade. I also bought this awesome elephant! According to my mother, if the nose is pointing up, it’s good luck. Unsurprisingly, my elephant’s nose is pointing down. I think this suits me more.

After finding out he’s inherently unlucky, I think I love him even more

Our final stop was TK Bead Village. We were given a quick demonstration of the bead-making process and were brought to the giftshop. Within 10 minutes I picked out a necklace for my mother or sister (likelihood of either of them liking it? Maybe a 45% chance). A swift 90 minutes later (for God’s sake, people. The beads were not expensive. Instead of deciding between two $7.00 necklaces/bracelets for over an hour, just buy both. Lord.), we were finally on our way back to campus.

Alright, that’s all for now. Have a wonderful week, and thank you for continuing to read this nonsense!

In honor of this heavily-religious post, here’s a song called “I Don’t Wanna Pray” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. They’re great!