Epilogue: It Is Really Finished

About one week ago I landed in New York wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Why didn’t I change into jeans and put on a sweatshirt before I arrived, you ask? That answer boils down to me just not being all that intelligent. You can probably imagine what that switch from 90 degrees to 35 felt like; I’m trying to come up with something a bit more creative than “COLD! IT WAS SO BLOODY COLD!” but that’s really all I can come up with. Sorry, literary scholars! You’ll just have to give that Greatest Blog of All Time award to somebody else.

I’m going to take this time to offer some praise to British Airways. That airline is by far the classiest airline I’ve ever flown with. All the flight attendants were beautiful, a definite positive correlation to how British they were.  They also serve free wine with meals! My evident shock when I was asked which wine variety I preferred should have indicated to them that I’m underage; Then again, the hairiness of my head/face (lady at the hair salon described it as “so puffy!”) might have thrown them. Red wine in hand, I watched The Lion King for probably the first time in at least 12 years, and had roughly 4 emotional breakdowns. First when Simba was hoisted in the air on Pride Rock, then after Mufasa died, when Nala and Simba reunited, and finally when Simba spoke to Mufasa’s spirit in the stars. I was approaching Ugly Crying Danger Zone at that point.  I’d blame it on the wine, but 4 hours later I still had a substantial amount left over. Per usual.

As it came closer to my arrival, I began to feel increasingly nervous. I’m not sure if that’s a normal state to be in when coming home after 140 days, or if it’s just a side-effect of my general strangeness. Or maybe it was just anxiety over having to go back to my American life, so different from the easiness that comprised Ghana. When I got through customs/immigration, I had hoped to give myself a moment to mentally prepare myself for the crazed family bombardment I anticipated, but my family hasn’t been one to show restraint. Right on cue, I’m met with my mother, sister, and dog (my father knew better) charging at me and there was little I could do but roll over and accept the barrage of hugs and slobbery kisses (unfortunately not just from my dog). I was mercifully spared by a security guard who demanded that we “Take the dog and go!” Ahh…New York. I’ve missed you, buddy. This is what I dealt with when I got home:

...Welcome Home..

…Welcome Home..

Someone's happy to see me...

Someone’s happy to see me…

The next 24 hours consisted of countless exclamations of how much weight I’ve supposedly lost (comments ranged from “You’re so tiny!” to “You’re emaciated!” to “You look like an AIDS victim!”), and how massive my hair had become. Thus commenced Operation: Carbohydrate Binge. My mother armed herself with two bagels to throw at me at the airport (I only ate one of them. I’m not insane!), and an hour after my arrival I was shoving pizza down my throat. I basically ran to Dunkin’ Donuts afterwards to guzzle some hot chocolate, rested for a few hours, and gorged myself with baked ziti.  The next day was more of the same (more pizza!), ending with an IHOP/best friend reunion I’d been fantasizing thinking about for weeks. I got a haircut, commencing the first of probably many painful exchanges about being in Ghana. I predict I’ll be hearing a lot of “Ohhh…how interesting” which would be fine if Long Island accents didn’t sound so much like Lois Griffin.

Am I doing it right?

Am I doing it right?

Here’s a brief summary of various thoughts I’ve had since being home:

  • Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold.
  • Woah…so many white people.
  • Gross…Long Island white people.
  • Where are all the black people? Oh…This is Levittown/Wantagh.
  • Where are all the goats? Eh..I guess I’ve missed squirrels.
  • Why am I not being honked at while walking down the street?
  • Why am I not being stared at?
  • Cold.
  • Why does everyone here suck so much?
  • Ermagherd, hot showers!!
  • Damn, I just wanna buy some water in the middle of the road again.
  • Good God, the price of this meal could feed me for 4 days in Ghana.
  • Why am I not being invited to eat with everybody I come across?
  • Wow, menu items are never finished here!
  • Ermagherd, I’m not sweating profusely all day and night.
  • I MISSED YOU, SMARTPHONE TEXTING. photo
  • Oh no, I forgot to log out of Cloud. So many wasted cedis!! Oh wait. I don’t have to pay for internet anymore.
  • Why are all these babies in strollers and not on the backs of their mothers?!
  • God…I just want to be able to stay up past 10 PM and not wake up at 3:30 AM every morning.  Damn it, body.
  • Cold.

We’re told that reverse culture shock is inevitable, but I seem to be doing alright. Maybe it’s because this wasn’t my first time traveling alone outside America, or maybe readjusting to Long Island isn’t really all that complicated. The challenges might come when I return to Washington, D.C. and the hectic busyness that comprises my life there. I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but life tends to not care if you’re ready or not for what comes next.

What comes next? One of the most terrifying thoughts, in my opinion. One of the many things I loved about my life in Ghana was that everything seemed clear, focused, purposeful. This clarity of purpose was refreshing; each day seemed important and the days that weren’t were just a fluke. I could look forward to the week ahead and the weeks after and know that I’d be doing something amazing, whether traveling to a new region of Ghana or jumping on a trampoline with the kids I “worked” with. I looked forward to each day in a way that I never really had before, or at least not for a long time.

That all this purpose and excitement and motivation can just come to an end so suddenly is terrible. That within the span of 24 hours I can switch from a life that was more fulfilling than I can remember to life here and all the uncertainty and all the stress that follows that uncertainty is overwhelming. There was a contentment that was foreign to me, an unexpected sense of calmness and belonging that came with my work at the orphanage. Through all the screaming and shouting and crying and laughter, I felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I think about how before coming to Beacon House I had never even held a baby or toddler and it’s hard not to laugh. I remember how terrified I felt that first day, and then hating myself when all I could think of was how similar it was to holding a puppy. For reasons that are beyond me, these kids liked me. They were happy when I came (they chanted my name, for God’s sake) and were disappointed when I left or at least couldn’t watch a movie with them. It was weird. It made zero sense to me. It was beautiful.

Prince. He’s who I worried most about when I left; That kid’s HIV Positive, bow-legged and has the largest head I’ve ever encountered, and the thought of me leaving causing him any sadness…well, it sucked. The rational part of me remembers that he’s just 2 (3? Still don’t know), that to him I was probably just another source of attention and entertainment that any Obruni can provide him with. It’s not like I really offered anything special other than a disproportionate amount of hugs compared to the other children. So I know he’ll be fine. My boss found the letter I left for him and put it in his file, and she told me that there’s potentially a family in Washington thinking of adopting him. That will be the luckiest family in America. If only every family interested in adopting could encounter in person the smiles, the laughs of these children.Prince

I’m not sure if I am different, if Ghana has “changed my life” as some are able to so easily say. I’ve spent a lot of time staring at myself in the mirror, marveling at the subtle changes to my appearance. My clothes no longer fit me, my hair is borderline-ginormous. My cheeks are not nearly as pinch-able as they should be. And I like it. As I was squeezing myself into a jeans size I haven’t fit into in probably 8 years, I decided that my physical appearance isn’t all that repulsive after all. It’s too soon to say how this change of perspective will manifest itself, if maybe some confidence will accompany it. It would be pretty groundbreaking if that were the case, but I won’t be holding my breath.

No, I doubt my physical alterations will be the legacy of these months in Ghana (considering all the pizza I’ve been consuming). I’m not going to sit around thinking about what exactly is different about myself, if anything is at all. I’ll let those differences come to me at their own pace. Some people seem to be able to just list off all that Ghana has changed about them, all that it’s opened their eyes to. Maybe they’re just more self-aware than I am or maybe it’s something else. Maybe I just don’t see change as instantaneous as some people might, but rather as a gradual process, a process that doesn’t start and end at one place. What I love most of all about travel is the exposure to different ways of life, ways that may be better than what I’ve been accustomed to. I’ll take what I love about Ghana—the friendliness and overwhelming generosity and zeal for life—wherever I end up next.

I’m already restless being home and having nothing really planned for the next few months, but hopefully that will change soon. There’s so much more to see, and when I figure out what comes next I’ll let you all know. Until then, happy holidays!

Yεbεhyia bio

“This White Woman Touched My Balloon!”

Week 12’s academic experience was about as thrilling as previous weeks.  However, I did learn that “moustache” in Twi is “mfemfem.” How adorable is that?!  Other than that, the main development of the week was learning that I’ll be presenting a group oral report on Ghanaian media a week earlier than expected (November 7), meaning I’ll have 2 weeks free for traveling before my first final exam.  Good thing we’re about 12% prepared for that presentation. Eh. (But seriously, uh oh).

My day at Beacon House on Thursday began once again with helping Ben work through a Ghanaian short story, one that was about as ridiculous as the last one about a slow-moving bus driver. This week’s featured 6 Ghanaian ladies traveling to a school to help teachers “work harder.”  Women teachers were taught subjects that had generally been instructed by men, like Math, Science…basically anything that isn’t home/baby-related.  Everyone was just ecstatic that women were taught how to “work harder.” Lord. If this story sounds ridiculous, take a look at what next week has in store:

Before lunch, and because I can’t go a day without something comical happening, I had to deal with removing a wild animal from the classroom.  This ordeal lasted for about 30 minutes (23 minutes longer than it probably should have lasted). The damn creature decided to hide in the corner of the classroom where all the 50+ pound rice bags were.  With the help of this beautiful Swiss lady, I hoisted away about  33% 66% of the bags before zeroing in on the target: a small moderately-sized lizard.

Look at this bastard

After almost shitting my pants when seeing how outrageously long the tail was, and after we she stopped hyperventilating, we armed ourselves with brooms and created a pathway for the little dude to escape outside through. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.  I just can’t resist hyperbole always sometimes.  The experience is pretty comparable to this video. Skip to about 1:52, or watch the entire thing because they’re British which means they’re perfect.

I made it back from lunch just in time to watch the conclusion of the original 1966 Batman film starring Adam West.  I had never seen this movie before, but after seeing the concluding fight scene, I think I will need to watch it about 12 more times. I’m not really sure what the purpose of the cat was, but I’m really glad he/she was an integral part of the scene. Bon voyage, pussy!

After the movie finished, and because the day evidently wasn’t jocular enough, I had to help blow up more balloons for the kids. Look. It’s wonderful that the simplest things like balloon sword fights can bring so much entertainment, but after everybody’s balloon eventually met its demise and with all the tears and demands for roughly 126 more balloons that followed, I was just not interested anymore. I decided to sadistically snatch some balloons just because I found their reactions to the slightest inkling of balloon thievery hilarious.

I can’t even with this kid

Is the loss of a balloon for maybe 4 seconds really worth screaming and bursting into tears over? Geesh. Anyway, the real thing to take away from this experience is the following complaint from 4 year old Michael to one of the house mothers: “This white woman touched my balloon!”

My life. On the bright side, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that day for perhaps the first time in a decade. It was fantastic.

My sandal met its probable permanent demise on the way back to campus that evening. I guess for a $0.25 repair, I shouldn’t be too saddened that it only survived 5 more days.  Rest well, buddy. Maybe we’ll resuscitate you back in New York.

I couldn’t go to work Friday morning because we all had to attend a “lecture” on slavery to “prepare” us for our trip to Cape Coast to visit centuries-old castles where the slave trade was conducted for hundreds of years.  Once the lecturer began by uttering, “The Jews were enslaved by Egypt! Have you heard about that?” I knew my time was about to be wasted. Things deteriorated fairly quickly, culminating in him advising us to not let ourselves be emotionally affected by our visit to the slave castles. He honestly couldn’t understand how people, even those with ancestral connections to the slave trade, could get to the point of tears when walking through the dungeons and seeing the conditions slaves were subjected to.  I could physically feel how offended the entire room was. Pocahontas understands.

Later that afternoon, after acquiring a new pair of sandals by the mall that I struggled immensely expertly bargained down to $12.50, I received a knock on my door. I don’t know what possessed me to open it, but I’m really glad I did because 2 friendly people had come to talk to me! They told me they were just visiting rooms checking up on people, which seemed harmless enough.  After more pleasantries were exchanged, the girl asked me if I knew Jesus Christ. Great. I know where this is going, I thought. “Oh, yeah. I’ve got him on speed dial” I replied in my head.  They didn’t seem too phased when I told them that I was Jewish, and that my Jesus knowledge wasn’t too extensive. “Savior, blah blah” is pretty much what I said when they asked me what I knew about him. After about 20 minutes and they had exhausted the usual nonsense about how nothing done or any accomplishment on Earth matters at all unless I accept Jesus as my Savior, they recommended that I read a book they saw on my roommate’s shelf entitled Hell Is Full of Good People. Yeah. I’ll add that to my damn reading list. They also told me that they’d return shortly with a Bible for me. STILL WAITING! Take it away, April.

We left at around 7:30 Saturday morning for Cape Coast, about 3.5 hours outside of Accra.  We visited Kakum National Park which featured a canopy-walk of 7 bridges, 100-150 (or more. Or less. Not sure) feet above the ground.  This experience was slightly more terrifying than I had expected; the guide told us not to worry if the wood creaked under our feet. I worried. By Bridge 3 my legs were less jelly-like and I was able to enjoy and appreciate the views and moment more.

Just a tad terrifying

The main highlight and real focus of the trip was the visit to Elima and/or Cape Coast Castle. I and a few other people elected to visit just Cape Coast Castle, the youngest of the Ghanaian slave trade castles, constructed in the mid-17thcentury. A reflection session was held after dinner to discuss the trip, and people were able to so eloquently and articulately vocalize their thoughts and feelings, in ways I have never been able to do. 36 hours later I’m still trying to work through exactly how I feel/felt about walking through one of history’s grossest blemishes.  The smells, seeing first-hand the rooms where hundreds of Africans were kept in the dark with no sanitation, hearing the stories of physical abuse and rape…it’s just incomprehensible. The juxtaposition of the beauty of the Castle’s exterior/its location and the understanding of what slaves experienced as they were led through the “Door of No Return” was particularly jarring.

Slaves were led through the Door of No Return, the last door they’d walk through in Africa.

The last view of home the slaves would have.

The beautiful, shiny exterior of Cape Coast Castle.

I don’t know. I went to the Castle having no idea how I would react, or how I would feel. Some experiences take time for its significance to become apparent.  I might not have any direct connection to African slavery, but on a human level, this is an aspect of history that is universally important.  It needs to be understood what drove humanity to conduct these atrocities to help acknowledge or recognize what’s being done today that, while not at the scale of the slave trade, is comparable to the exploitative, power relationships that still exist throughout the world. Oppression didn’t start and end with the Atlantic Slave Trade. My family by virtue of being European Jews suffered through the Holocaust. Minority groups find themselves struggling daily in a society where difference is often equated with inferiority.

I maintain the belief that people aren’t all good or all bad, that seeing and recognizing our own flaws will allow for the acceptance of others.  But acceptance of others can’t come without first accepting and loving yourself. I’ve realized that part of why I have trouble relating to others is because of my unwillingness to let people really know me.  For whatever reason, (fear, I suppose), I came to the conclusion that aspects of my life needed to remain hidden in order to maintain any of the few relationships I have with other people.  While there’s been some progress this past year with self-acceptance, I’m still hindered by lingering distrust and poor self-esteem.  I’ve come across people whom I would love to be open with, but still find myself fearful of them not liking what they see. Them seeing nothing at all has been my preferred solution for so long and breaking from that mindset is something I’ve only recently begun attempting.

If anything, my trip to Cape Coast Castle has helped me recognize the progress humanity has made but also the reality that much more still needs to be done.  It’s helped me recognize this progress in myself and the issues I still grapple with.  It’s helped me appreciate the flawed-nature of humanity, and our privilege that allows us to choose whether or not to overcome these flaws.  Mankind’s unique ability to choose has been humanity’s most detrimental trait. It’s up to current and future generations to make this ability positive, powerful and valuable.

Alright, hope I didn’t lose all of you towards the end there.  To lighten things up, enjoy this scene from last week’s Parks and Recreation. The fact that I cried while laughing during this is a good indication of where my maturity level is:

To my New York/Washington, D.C. family and friends, stay safe and make good decisions!

“Your Nose is Sweating”

It’s getting towards the middle of October, the time of year I love perhaps most of all—for the beautiful Fall foliage, and, most importantly, for the virtually perfect weather/temperature.  There are only a few non-Winter months when I’m not completely disgusting to look at/be around, and October is usually one of those months.  Here in Ghana, October is turning into a fiend. There’s a war being waged against me, with October being the front line of November’s treacherous army. The weapon of choice? Debilitating heat.  I’m definitely probably exaggerating a bit with the use of that word, but anybody who knows me understands that once temperatures rise above approximately 65 77 degrees, my body is no longer capable of keeping me in the semipresentable appearance I strive to maintain. I’ve reached the point of requiring separate morning and afternoon shirts. I knew that this would probably be the case in the months leading up to this experience; Ghana’s basically on the damn equator after all.  I decided that I wouldn’t let my unfortunate sweat glands get in the way of my travels, but when I think about having about 70 more days of these temperatures that will only be getting higher, I just want to hide in a freezer. Or run away to Iceland. In essence: livin’ in this town is like livin’ in the Devil’s butt crack (Credit: April Ludgate).

Anyway, back to the important stuff. This week I learned so much, and by so much I mean so little.  I have so much nonsense I want to share, so I’ll break it down per class.

First, in “Sucks That Y’all Were Born in Ghana,” Bossman gave a shockingly uncritical lecture on globalization. In between, he spewed some wisdom and observations:

  • He explained (in detail) how a fax machine works.
  • “It used to be that when you received many letters you were a somebody. Today you’re a colonial person if you receive letters.”
  • “We are poor because we don’t give enough money.” Uhh…that doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but..maybe it does. I don’t know.
  • “If you can buy the pizza, you have arrived. AMEN, Bossman. Amen.

I haven’t talked about Twi in a while, mostly because it’s probably the one class that I don’t have any issues with.  It’s a combination of the professor being just the cutest older Ghanaian man alive, and the class consisting of people I don’t mostly actively dislike. On Monday, my professor wasn’t around, forcing the class to combine with another, larger class containing some pretty special people.  Needless to say, a combination of there being no air conditioning and the professor being ridiculously dramatic (bellowing things like “KILL THE TEACHA!” when he made a mistake) resulted in some slow-building sass steadily percolating in me. Uh oh! Once he asked the class, “How do you create a Yes/No question in English?” I became slightly concerned that it would burst forth. But then when he mentioned “Fact-Finding Questions” and one college-aged student heard it as “Fuck-Finding” and just had to let everyone know through obnoxious, “embarrassed” laughter, I’m pretty sure my glares were somehow audible. Wait. That was probably just the exasperated sighing. Pocahontas really understands how I felt at that point. What? You want more Pocahontas? Alright, here you go.

Oh, and my Development Studies professor sounded out pornography. Yes. He moaned. It was probably the most shocking/amazing moment of the semester. I love moments when you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cringe, so you uncomfortably do both.

On Tuesday (after my Colonial Rule/African Response TA decided he didn’t feel like showing up), I was supposed to go to the market and practice bargaining in Twi. But, as Sweet Brown likes to say, “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”. So instead I turned Tuesday into a Mental Health Day (I clearly needed one). I read a lot and watched The Silver Linings Playbook, mailed to me by my father, known to most simply as Irwin. The movie is amazing. You should all see it when it’s released in November.

Some order has been restored at Beacon House now that there’s a full-time teacher again, one who’s actually qualified.  She’s going back to the basics, drilling the kids with simple addition/subtraction so they don’t even have to think about what 3+5 or 9-6 is.  I definitely understand the need to do this.  The day I don’t see a couple of the kids struggle with 3+1 will be a beautiful day.  I didn’t do much Thursday morning besides help Zilda “teach” some French.  My contribution was teaching a few of the kids how to draw a star.  I sympathized with them because when I was their age, I really struggled  with that task. Take a look at this drawing of the solar system I made soon after my 7th birthday:

I only knew how to draw Jewish stars at this point in my life. See? Hebrew School was good for something!

Thursday night I was subjected to most of Aquamarine, a magical movie starring a young Emma Roberts, JoJo, and Sara Paxton, this Reese Witherspoon-like girl but with creepy piranha teeth. JoJo wishes for a miracle that would save her from having to move to Australia (who would complain about that?), and the next morning she and Emma find a mermaid named Aquamarine (Sara) in a pool.  A beautiful friendship is formed, and Aqua tells the girls that she has to prove that love exists within THREE DAYS (uhh..that’s definitely realistic) or she’ll be forced by her father to marry a merman. For whatever reason the girls become obsessed with this surfer/lifeguard, Raymond. The entire movie is basically JoJo/Emma stalking Aquamarine/Raymond as they “fall in love.” A lot of ridiculousness ensues. Here are some highlights:

  • “Can you pick things up with them?”—Aqua, about her new feet
  • When Aqua transforms into a human girl, she looks at her butt and says “Isn’t it cute?”
  • Apparently, girls call boys and hang up on them to get their attention.  Really? Is this true??
  •  “Everything we’ve learned about boys have come from the pages of these magazines!”—JoJo or Emma. They had about 100 magazines. Good Lord.
  • “The laugh and pass”—casually walk past the boy you like while laughing.
  • Raymond buys Aquamarine some cotton candy, and Aqua proceeds to rub it all over her face.
  • “I don’t have earrings! How can I not have earrings?!”—Aqua.  Uh…not a big deal, girlfriend.
  • “Don’t you just LOVE love?”—Aqua
  • “You guys look like the grandma brigade”—some bitch.  Aqua spits her drink onto her in retaliation.
  • When Aqua cries, she exclaims, “OH MY GOD! What’s happening to me?? I’m leaking!”
  • Raymond and Aqua watch the fireworks separately, gazing longingly at them.

At this point the power mercifully went out, sparing me us from the ending.  I can only assume that Raymond eventually finds out that Aqua’s a mermaid, but decides that he loves her just the way she is.  So romantic.

Ben posing with the chalk-tracing of himself that I did. I’m not responsible for the extra fingers/toes added.

Friday morning began with helping Ben read a short story and answer some questions about it.  The story was about this poor Ghanaian bus driver who gets made fun of by some asshole kids for driving slowly through the towns.  At one point these soccer players are being carried across the street (not really sure why that was happening) as the bus approaches. The people carrying the soccer players fall in the middle of the road but because the driver was going so slowly, nobody was run over.  Now everybody loved the driver. The end.

Before lunch I attempted to play this Uno/Dominos mash-up game with a few of the kids.  I never played Dominos growing up, and the kids didn’t really understand the rules of either, so it was grand old shit show.  But at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Before I left for lunch the kids were shown 3 music videos, and voted on the 2 that they wanted to learn choreography to. One song contains the lyrics “Jesus loves me, yes!” and the other contains “I am a soldier in the army of the Lord.” I really hope I get to be a part of this production. After I put on my sunglasses when I was leaving, one little douche boy asked me if I was a girl. Cause apparently boys can’t wear sunglasses. I really thought my days of being asked that question were over, but I guess the accusation wasn’t too outrageous.

And people are shocked when they hear that I didn’t get along with sister growing up. This is what she made me do. But it looks like I was enjoying it..God.

That afternoon I didn’t do much other than help with practice math questions I made for them.  I really love how much a couple of them love to learn and ask me to give more problems.  I tried getting Prince to write a number, but since he’s 2 (or 3…not really sure) he wrote more on the table than on the paper. Whatever. He’s the cutest so he gets away with everything. It was also around this time when one of the kids told me that my nose was sweating. Thanks, kid. Like I needed that reminder. I left at 6:30, and Mama Irene was surprised that I was leaving so early. The fact that 6:30 is considered an early time for me to leave is precisely why I need to keep leaving around that time.

This baby is perfect. Just a tad messy, though.

Somebody needs to adopt this child. And that somebody should be me.

These past few weeks some people have been saying things to me like “Where have you been?!” as if they actually care.  I really just want to reply with this quote by Amy Poehler/Leslie Knope but I just smile and say, “Oh, ya know. Internship!” It’s true that I’m not around much during the week, and weekends for me are when I do most of my homework.  So Friday night when I was asked to go to a bar, and after learning that the people going weren’t gross, I agreed to join.  I had some nasty beer, then drank this decent cider beverage.  We walked over to this other bar (which I guess means I bar hopped for the first time) where I had a $0.50 shot of some poison gin. This bar instantly became the greatest place in East Legon when we saw there was an air hockey table.  I beat my fradversary Anil in the first game, probably due to a combination of his intoxication and shock that I was so aggressive. I might have been slightly tipsy myself because I couldn’t stop laughing and standing for long periods of time was becoming problematic.  He beat me in a rematch 7-5. The bastard. All in all, it was a really fun night. Going to bars with people you don’t dislike isn’t so bad, I suppose.  I’m secretly hoping to have a night that devolves into this:

I’m sure you can guess who I relate to the most.

This weekend has been spent researching Ghanaian media for a group presentation that I decided should finally be thought about, and studying for an upcoming Twi test.  On Saturday I saw that I only had $5.00, and after going to about 8 ATMs on campus that weren’t working, I decided to spend that money on 25 hours of Wi-Fi rather than save it for food. Priorities. I found $0.15 that I used to go to the mall to use the ATMs there.  After running away from avoiding some begging children outside the mall, I was accosted by a man who asked me for “a favor” while I was at the ATM.  As I was withdrawing $50.00 I glared at him and said, “I don’t have any money to give you!” and stormed away.  I don’t know when I became so evil, but it was probably around the time that I ran out of fucks to give. I purchased a book, Beyond the Horizon, to read after I soon finish East of Eden.  I was going to read The Hobbit next, but decided that I should probably read some African literature while I’m here. Also, wandering pathetically through supermarkets is something I really need to stop doing, but I walked away with some iced tea and these potato chips that I used to buy once a week when I was in Botswana. Nostalgic food purchases are the best kind of food purchases.

Alright, that’s all for this week! Apparently I write more during weeks when not much happens, which means this entire post is probably useless. Oh well. At least my father will enjoy it.

Have a wonderful week!

My roommate  watched this magical movie called The Encounter on TV tonight and I thought I’d share the trailer for it. Spoiler Alert! The Encounter is with Jesus.

If that trailer peaked your interest, which I just can’t imagine not happening, the entire movie can be seen here! You’re welcome.

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!