Ok guys, same as last time! A few posts from the last week or so. Enjoy!
Traffic accidents cause more deaths in Ghana than malaria or any infectious disease. Since arriving here, I’ve heard about and experienced lots of incidents on the road that would be terrifying in the States. Here, it’s not that unusual…
You’re in a taxi, driven by a Ghanaian man who agreed to let five of you ride to the university for ten cedi. Every few minutes, he exclaims “obruni overload”, and halfway through the ride he explains that he’s taking a detour so that the police don’t pull him over for carrying too many passengers. Traffic is heavy, and during one stop at a light he falls asleep. He only wakes up when someone riding in front hits him on the arm.
Your Ghanaian friend invites you to a bachelor party. It’s really fun, a combination of dancing, drinking, and eating ice cream. He drives you back to the dorm in the middle of the night, but when you’re almost there another car pulls alongside and the driver yells, “Hey man your lights are bright!”. Your friend apologizes with, “Sorry man, I’m drunk”. It’s a good excuse- the other guy nods and drives off.
You’re in a trotro stopped at a light, and a street vendor walks up and tries to convince you to buy plantain chips. You decline, but the vendor is persistent and he sticks the bags of plantain chips in the open window so that you can see them better. The light changes, and the vendor has to run alongside the trotro to retrieve his arm and plantain chips, traffic streaming around him on both sides.
It’s exhilarating to never know what to expect next. Is it possible to get used to this?
Water is precious, especially clean water. Everyone here is sweating constantly and in danger of dehydration, and most people carry potable water with them everywhere they go.
You can shower in the tap water, but you should never drink it. Also, after arriving in Ghana, give yourself a few days to adjust to brushing your teeth with tap water. Even the locals don’t drink the tap water, and it’s a big part of daily expenses to buy water that you can actually drink.
One way of storing and drinking clean water is to seal it in a square plastic bag, about the size of a Ziploc. When you want to drink it, you just bite open a corner of the bag. You see people everywhere drinking water like this, and street vendors often carry buckets full of bags of water on top of their heads. Empty bags line the streets and sidewalks. It’s called Sachet water, and we were warned against drinking it. You never know how the bags have been handled, and touching the outside of the bag with your mouth to drink the water is a great way to introduce bacteria and parasites into your system. Also, the water itself may not be safe- supposedly it depends on the brand. Don’t drink Sachet water!
Today, I switched to Sachet water. 1.20 cedi for four days of water instead of 12 cedi? I’ll take it! Wish me luck!
Another cool thing that comes in plastic biteable bags: ice cream! You can just walk around outside in the heat, eating delicious vanilla ice cream, without worrying about getting it all over yourself. Ghana, you’re a genius.
Relevant quote of the day: Never leave home without your toilet paper.
-Evan, a fellow ISEP student
Also, I just found this paper from 2007 about sachet water! Apparently most of it is contaminated, by bacteria, parasites, rotifers- you name it!
Separation of church and state
Religion is incredibly important here, where the population is about 70% Christian, 15% Muslim, and the remaining % various traditional religions. When you first meet someone, it’s likely that one of the first things they’ll ask is, “Are you a Christian”? So far, my response to that question has varied depending on the context. Sometimes, I lie because telling the truth can lead to a very extended and uncomfortable conversation, where one person is trying passionately to help and the other is trying passionately to escape. Other times, I just tell the truth- especially when I know that I will encounter the person several times over the course of the semester.
It’s amazing how present religion is in the classroom here. I was told to not be surprised if the professor starts the lecture with a prayer. Two of my professors asked, in the first fifteen minutes of class, for all the Christians to raise their hands. Then all the Muslims. Then all those who practice a traditional religion. Everyone who didn’t raise their hand had to explain themselves. What do you believe?
My biochemistry professor regularly uses examples from the Bible to explain concepts and processes. I really like it since it’s new and it actually is a good way to remember things, but I wonder what it would be like if the novelty wore off. Like, there are several Muslims in the class, and the professor will tease the students if they can’t answer questions about the Bible. I haven’t been called on yet….
Quote of the day: People won’t know what you’re made of unless you show them.
-My psychology of religion professor
The semi-first week of class
Today, we looked for the lecture for Marine Biogeochemistry. The Oceanography Department told us that the lectures are usually in the Math/Stats building. The Math/Stats Department told us the lecture is in the three-story building across the street. The administrator of the three-story building across the street told us that the class doesn’t exist. The Oceanography Department told us that the class is not being held today- it’s just the first week!
We got lots of exercise, we learned the location of the Old Chemistry Block (the three-story building across the street), and we got an early lunch. Success!
Relevant quote of the day: Ghanaians are so helpful, they will help you even if they don’t know how. –ISEP Orientation
First day of class!
7:00 ringring ringring
7:04 Get up, get TP, get dressed. Skirt as advised, shirt as advised.
7:12 Good morning Efua!
7:13 Bugspray, sunscreen.
7:20 Goodbye, Efua!
7:23 Eat banana while walking to campus. This defies social codes!
7:50 Good morning, I’m sorry, I don’t know where this class is. Biochemistry. JKA Lecture Theatre.
7:55 Good morning, I’m sorry, I don’t know where JKA is. Can you help me?
8:05 Arrive in lecture theatre. JKA is not a place, JKA is my professor.
8:07-8:40 Chat with classmates! Haha don’t listen to her, there’s no quiz today. Yes, everyone is taking Enzymology too. The holidays? The holidays were too short!
8:41 Professor Adjimani makes his grand entrance! Jokes I don’t understand, jokes I do understand. The classroom is full of laughter!
8:45-8:55 Classmates randomly chosen to talk about their holiday break. They stand, one at a time, at the front of the room. The whole time they talk, the other students are reacting loudly to their stories- laughing, commenting, criticizing. One person spent the entire break watching tv and babysitting her nieces and nephews. Someone else was sent by his mother to the Ivory Coast to try to persuade his relatives there to come home to Ghana. He didn’t succeed.
8:56-9:00 Classmates randomly chosen to draw diagrams from last semester on the chalkboard. Again, the class reacts energetically. Why not voice your opinion? And I’ve never even heard of glucose erybrocyte.
9:01-9:20 Lecture. Diagram of photophosphorylation, Calvin cycle, glycolysis, citric acid cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation. “This is life.” The professor likes to surprise his students with questions, and he uses Genesis from the Bible to explain the four basic biochemical processes. “You, sir, you are a Christian, are you not? What did God create first?” And so we start with H2O. And what did God create next? Light! And suddenly we’re at the first step of photosynthesis.
9:30 Get tired of recording. Why don’t you just come to class with me?
Quote of the day: If a nation can’t even provide water for its people, it can’t survive. That’s why we’re not surviving. Fifty years and we can’t even provide water.
-My biochemistry professor
Living it up in the Botel Cape Coast
The hotel we’re staying at is on top of a lake filled with crocodiles. Here are some pictures!