The last word

A week after I got home from Ghana, I wrote a post about all the differences and similarities I saw between Ghana and America. It was mostly a complaint.

I want to keep that one to myself and post something else instead. Now that I’ve been home for almost five months, I can be much more positive about my native country. Here’s the list of things America has going for it:

  • multiculturalism
  • National Public Radio

Please let me know if there’s something I missed.

I also have a clearer perspective on Ghana now that there’s some distance. So, after living in each place (yeah, twenty-two years in one and five months in the other), the simplest, narrowest, quickest summary is America = comfort and Ghana = joy (against all odds). Why would you ever choose a comfort-based culture over one built on joy? I don’t know, and five months isn’t enough time to find out. Someday, I’ll go back there, to chase down trotros, experience true unpredictability, argue about prices, dodge cholera and malaria and typhoid, revamp my worldview, and smile at hungry toddlers who dance to Hiplife and shout “Obruni how are you!”

And I'm bringing my parasol.


Studying abroad in Ghana: a summary

EDIT: Not meant to be taken literally, just as an illustration of an unpredictable, absurd, joyful semester.

I get by with a little help from my friends

Throughout the semester I’ve been writing down things people say that I think are memorable. Since most people are leaving for home today, tomorrow, or Sunday, here are some quotes from my friends in Ghana. They illustrate life here pretty well :)

I’ve been trying to instigate the five-second rule in Ghana, but nobody likes it! -John Graubman

Do you have a birthmark on your ankle… or… is that just… dirt?                                   -Katie Hughes to Evan Trout

If I get a motorcycle here, I want to get a side car and just put a goat in it.                 -Adam Folken

Never leave home without your toilet paper.                                                                           -Evan Trout

The best part of my day is when I walk into a public restroom and see someone else’s roll of toilet paper that they left there. -Kelly Artz

Watch out, there’s a car. …doing whatever it wants.                                                            -Adam Folken

I wonder if you put a jar of milk in the trunk if it would be butter by the time we get there. -Alex, while we were traveling on a highway that didn’t really exist

Amanda: Adam, I’m not sure I believe your guidebook.                                                     Adam Schneider: Why??                                                                                                         Amanda: Because it says that lions occur in every habitat other than the rainforest and desert, and I’ve never seen one in Tennessee.

I’m convinced that I’m not fighting the entire mosquito population of western Africa but in fact one mosquito that is very diabolical.                                                        -Adam Folken

Ok let me translate that into Ghanaian English.                                                                  -Professor after Chris’s ten-minute presentation

It’s difficult to fit in a car.                                                                                                             -Kelly Artz, on why Americans usually don’t have families larger than four

I always freak out when I see other Obrunis. I’m like, what are you doing here?? I’m the white person.                  -Kate Gillett

Oh, you’re not married yet. You will marry me. I want to marry white.              -Togo border guard

If you’re on a bike and you fall down kyale you’re dead oh.                                               -Taxi driver

Great! There’s algae and mosquito larvae floating in it, it can’t be that contaminated! -Scott Riley, after stepping in a gutter full of water

They were like, we can’t have a party in the jungle, let’s just move it to the orphanage. …So we went to the orphanage. -Anders, explaining what happened when he met some American volunteers at the beach

Katie Hughes, talking to Adam Coonen about Swahili: How do you say Hello?    Adam: ….                                                                                                                                       Katie: How do you say No Worries?

Random guy at trotro station: Good morning! Is this your wife?                                   Adam Schneider: No.                                                                                                                        Guy: Your sister?                                                                                                                                   Adam: Yes.                                                                                                                                              Guy: Ah! Your sister, your sister, always your sister!

There’s a vegetarian stand at the Night Market that sells only meat. It’s like, Vegetarian Specials! Avocado salad! Fresh Veggies! And there’s a picture of chicken. -Evan Trout

Katie Hughes, to Evan Trout: If you were really in control of the women you wouldn’t let them wander off into the dark with two unfamiliar Ghanaian men.    Katherine Curtiss: No, we had known them for four hours at that point.

Hannah Kincaid: Would anyone like to be hired as a personal weave-scratcher?    Adam Folken: What’s the pay like?

Some cool people

The marathon’s five months from now. So as long as we’ve been in Ghana, then a little more, then we’ll all see each other again.                                   -Evan Trout

Recommended reading

Hey guys! You’re probably all sick of hearing about Adam from ISEP, but he wrote a post on his blog that I think you should read. It’s about the Night Market, where we all go to get food, toilet paper, and phone minutes :) Very informative, and it saves me the trouble of writing about it. I’m not lazy, just busy! Also lazy.

You can find it on his blog here. So there’s no reason not to read it.

It might help to keep this picture of Adam in mind while you read.

Imagine this guy loping/stumbling around a market, buying bananas and rice.

You try chopping up a coconut with a machete

When I first got here, I was really surprised to see people wielding machetes. Everywhere. They’re just so useful! And here they’re used for two main things: eating coconuts and doing yard work.

People who have the musculature of pro basketball players stand by the side of the road with a cart full of coconuts. The coconuts are large, round, and green.

Artist's rendering

The machete is first used to chop off edges of the coconut’s outer shell to give it a shape that’s stackable and won’t roll away.

Better than the Container Store

The vendor does this by holding the coconut in his palm, chopping off an edge, tossing the coconut in the air to turn it, and then chopping off a different edge- the blade swinging towards his fingers and hand every time. I don’t think I could swing the machete with enough force to get a clean cut, never mind holding the coconut firmly enough so that it doesn’t go flying out if my hands. These guys are skilled.

The machete is next used when someone buys a coconut. The vendor chops off the top edge so that the customer can stand there and drink the milk.


Then, the customer gives the coconut back to the vendor. He takes the machete and splits open the coconut so the customer can eat the inside, using the “lid” from before as a spoon.

Yay realism


By the end of the day, the area around the cart is littered with coconut debris.

Here are some live action shots:

Faceless, nameless Obruni enjoying a coconut

Scooping up that coconut

There are also lots of people wielding machetes doing yard work- mostly chopping grass. The fields around my dorm sway with tall grass, and sometimes there will be a team of men out there, swinging machetes to cut the grass. When you walk by, you smell the freshly cut grass just like you would with a lawnmower. There’s a grass-cutting group outside my balcony right now!

That reminds me that most lawn work and construction is done by hand here- anything that you would see done by machine at home. I just walked by two guys using pickaxes to plow the earth, digging up huge chunks of soil in a field. It looked so exhausting. Back breaking. Recently, street lights were installed along the roads on campus. The electrical wires had to be buried all along the roads underground. Did they use machines or automatic equipment? No! For weeks, teams of men worked under the African sun, digging trenches with pickaxes. Unbelievable.

So it’s not unusual to see someone strolling down the street, casually swinging their machete. A mundane part of life that would cause a panic in Duncanville!

32 things I will miss, 6 things I won’t

One week from today, I will leave Accra, strapped into a metal paper towel tube to go hurtling across the Atlantic towards Dallas, Texas. Delta Airlines better be equipped to handle my hysteria.

I will miss

  • eating sweet, sugary pineapple til my lips bleed from the acid
  • knowing, from the movement of air through the dorm, that an earth-shattering thunderstorm is coming
  • buying sachet water (10 pesewas each) through the window of a trotro
  • my roommate
  • all these ISEP people
  • Sports Clubs
  • playing hearts at the tables below the stairs
  • walking through the construction zone to get half price pizzas on Tuesdays
  • games of Truth
  • the morning show on 99.7 Joy FM, with news and interviews and Ghana’s gossip
  • the joyful music everywhere- highlife and hiplife
  • funerals on Saturdays with parades and brass marching bands
  • Evan’s music
  • running with Scott
  • barley Adam acting charmingly out of character by spewing misogynist remarks at me
  • Professor Adjimani’s jokes
  • the yellow slogans on the backs of taxis and trotros
  • Kelly and Alan as a comedic duo
  • bargaining
  • jollof with waakye and eggs and fried plantains and shito
  • being able to constantly be with people doing fun things
  • unexpected heart-to-hearts with burly Adam
  • coming back to ISH at the end of the day to hear what crazy things happened to everyone that day
  • the basket lady
  • speaking Twi
  • the frequent attempts Ghanaians make to save my soul
  • the importance placed on greetings
  • the dearth of processes or packaged foods
  • gigantic group trips to the smoothie place in Osu
  • repeatedly pushing the limit of how many people can fit in a taxi (record: 9 mode: 6)
  • the de facto ish book exchange/library
  • hearing people shout “Obruni!” everywhere I go

I won’t miss

  • inefficiency in everything
  • homophobia
  • not having a reliable way to contact my family
  • bribery
  • aggressive propositions from men
  • hearing people shut “Obruni!” everywhere I go

Surprisingly, I don’t feel too strongly either way about

  • the necessity of being paranoid about what food is safe to eat and what water is safe to drink
  • running through cholera-infested puddles after it rains
  • the terrible roads
  • sporadic losses of electricity and running water
  • the impossibility of finding good internet or, sometimes, any internet
  • Good Morning Diarrhea
  • sweat dripping into my eyes during class
  • the threat of malaria
  • sunburns
  • no hot water
  • worms- in your intestines and under your skin

It’s strange because I’m looking forward to being at home but I know that in order to get there I have to leave here. That thought is devastating. Every time I remember that I will leave Ghana in seven days, I’m thrown into a grief so deep I’m tempted to binge on Fanice and plantain chips. There’s this slick sadness oozing into my experiences here because I know that it’s ending soon. I’m mourning the fact that I have to leave. Good thing Ghanaians have such beautiful bereavement outfits!

Bring on those thymine dimers!

And other benefits of living near the equator!

It's all in the wrist

How was I ever that pale?