Category Archives: Ghana

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.

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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?

Thai food and a near death experience, not necessarily related

Usually the fastest way to get around Accra, occasionally the most ridiculous.

I wasn’t going to write about this here, but how can I deny my gentle readers such a thrilling tale? A terrifying taxi ride, a reliance on the bonds of friendship, and an escape from an uncomfortable situation. Basically, some friends and I went to get Thai food on Saturday, and I was lucky to survive the outcome long enough to enjoy my resultant diarrhea a few hours later.

The Thai food was delicious, and I took advantage of the fact that vegetables were available to order the vegetable rice thingy that upset my digestive tract so much later. I also took the opportunity to wax nostalgically about my sister, who is in Thailand at this very moment. I’m sure my lunch companions were thrilled to hear me talk endlessly about how cool she is and how good she is at writing and how even her hair is superhuman. Anyways, the meal was lots of fun, and it was punctuated by funny statements made by my friend Kelly. For example, she wondered aloud, “What’s the difference between prawns and chicken?”

We all enjoyed our lunch with no foreboding as to the great danger we would encounter afterwards. As we digested our rice, etc., we wandered around Osu and shopped at an NGO that supports local women. Then we decided it was time to go home, so we went to catch a taxi. Evan ended up negotiating the price, and we all agreed that 6 cedis was certainly reasonable to get us back to ISH, disregarding that brownish powder on the driver’s upper lip- it was probably food or something.

We piled in the taxi, chattering about our post-college plans. Soon, however, our talk died down, replaced by significant glances at each other in response to our driver’s behavior.

The driver was snorting something. He had a rag in his left hand, and it was streaked with brownish powder and grease. He kept using it to wipe his nose. Whenever he had an opportunity, he dipped his right hand into the baggie between himself and Evan and snorted a pinch of whatever powder it was. Every time he took his hands off of the wheel, they shook convulsively. His eyes, visible in the rear view mirror, had a strange, not-really-there quality. The 30-minute drive was a little surreal.

We got to campus, and Evan reassured the driver that no, he could just drop us off at the gate, no need to take us all the way to ISH, no no definitely not. We paid and got out as fast as we could.

On the walk back to ISH, I found out that the powder was heroin. Our driver was snorting heroin. What? Yes, that’s right. He was, you might say, totally strung out. Later I looked it up, and apparently Ghana is a junction for the heroin trade in Africa. Who knew?

Anyways, that was the most exciting 6 cedis I’ve ever spent. But I think the driver should’ve at least given us a discount.

Animal Production, Student Torture

I’m always going to associate this class with feelings of sweatiness and frustration. It’s in the middle of the day, and the lecture always drags on and on, seemingly for the sole purpose of letting the attendance sheet make its way all the way around the room. We copy phrases from Powerpoint slides, mindlessly, word-for-word, so we can spit them back out during the final. Here’s an example of one of the slides from last week:

Slide 10 of way too many.

While we copy, the professor wanders around the lecture hall, preaching. His words are utterly unrelated to the slides we’re copying; instead he talks about whether we should take a break midway through class or about how far away the ocean is. Each slide stays up long after we’re done copying it, while the professor tells meaningless stories. Oh how I yearn for salvation, for the professor to say, “Next slide!”

There’s never an indication of when the lecture will be over. It’s scheduled 12:25-2:55 today (AND 3:00 to 5:30 tomorrow aaaaghgh), but the professor always makes his entrance at least 20 minutes late, and after that any amount of time will be spent on meaningless and irrelevant topics. Sometimes the lecture (once it gets started) lasts 45 minutes, sometimes 2 hours.

To survive this class, I have to totally disconnect myself from my desire to accomplish something during class and just be passive, doing my best not to awaken my brain. If I actually think about how much time we’re wasting I’m going to have to leave.

Classes like this aren’t unusual here. Two of my nine classes are actually reliable- they’ll happen every time they’re scheduled and on time. Four more of my classes will probably happen, just not on time, and for the remaining three it’s a surprise if the professor shows up at all.

This is really discouraging. The way I see it, professors and students both enter a contract. The professor is paid to teach, and in exchange he’s on time, reliable, accessible, and intellectually stimulating. The students want to learn, so they pay to take the class, attend lectures, and do the reading and assignments. If the professor doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, the contract is breached and students have every right to react, namely by skipping class and finding something better to do. It’s just like going to the market to buy fruit- I’m not going to let someone sell me a mango with maggots in it.

On the plus side, for the practical component of the course I got to hold a lamb! It looked like this.

Sometimes I think the frequent, outrageous breaches of contract are intolerable, but it’s usually nice when class is canceled. The fact that it happens so often is just one of many things different about classes here:

  • If a professor’s cell phone rings during his lecture, he will simply answer and stand in front of the class to carry out his conversation. Sometimes when my Enzymology professor gets a call, he’ll argue with the person on the other end of the line about how busy he is.
  • Lots of professors encourage feedback from the class, in the form of shouts to respond to his statements or questions. For example, the professor asks, “Are you tired?” and the students yell “YES!” or “NOOO!” He asks, “Is there time left?” and the students yell “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” In one of my classes, we did presentations in groups of ten. Part of the grade was how professional we looked, but only one group member actually did the presentation. When it was time for your group to go, you simply stood up at the front of the classroom with your nine colleagues while the professor asked the class, “Do they look nice?” and the class shouted things like “Very fresh!” or “They look dirty.” Then, nine of the ten group members went back to their seats and one person stayed at the front of the room to present the information.
  • It’s culturally important to respect elders. So professors can preach and “lecture” in the literal sense, scolding students for looking out the window or looking listless. The students just have to take it.
  • Information about assignments, reading materials, or changes to the class schedule is disseminated by word of mouth. This takes a lot of getting used to, and it seemed really chaotic at first. But it also fosters a sense of solidarity and collaboration among students (wholly different from the outright cheating I often encountered in Switzerland), which I really appreciate.

Quote from today: “I saw a lady on campus yesterday and I was wondering if her feet could bear her weight. She was so thin. If she were an animal, I would not go for her. Avoid buying emaciated animals.” -My Animal Production professor

Ivory Coast vs. Benin, an impostor, and me as the damsel in distress

When invited to a football match in downtown Accra, you can’t say no. Especially when the two teams are Benin and Ivory Coast, so the stadium in Ghana is sandwiched between the competitors.

Standing room only!

Most of the fans supported our neighbor to the west, Ivory Coast, but there was also a respectable contingent from Benin. It was obvious that the fans from both sides all really enjoyed yelling at each other in French.

The coolest thing that happened, besides GOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAL, was my friend Evan’s adventures. When the players were warming up before the game, he said, “Hmm… I wonder if they’ll let me on the field if I say I’m writing a paper for an American university.” So he borrowed my tiny notebook and Casey’s camera and we sent him off, thinking he’d be back soon. He disappeared for about half an hour, then the next time we saw him he was proudly and deviously wielding a press pass. Yes, he catch-me-if-you-can’d his way onto the field.

Frank Abagnale

And so for the rest of the game we were all just incapacitated at the hilarity of the situation, only matched by a sign we had seen earlier that day:

Call for a good time!

Evan even got to touch Drogba, the Ivorian hero of the day and fan favorite.

Pictured here, one of his many clones

After the game (final score IVC 2, Benin 1) Adam and I abandoned all the others to their cab while we opted for a trotro, thinking it would be cheaper and faster. But apparently tros don’t really run after dark, so we waited at the station for 40 minutes or so before two zoomed by. They were quickly filled with a stampede of fans eager to get home. We were discussing the chance of taking a group taxi with some random strangers we met at the station when another trotro appeared. It was quickly overrun run by a swarm of people that included Adam and myself. Adam miraculously got on board and shouted “grab my arm”! So he pulled me through a crowd of slippery, noisy, grabby people onto the trotro. I felt like I was underwater and he was saving me from a really strong current, and the whole time I was just weak with laughter.

That's me in the middle, almost on board!

I really recommend reading Evan’s personal (hilarious) account at http://ghanaghanaghana.blogspot.com/2011/03/remember-that-one-time-i-pretended-i.html

For a video of Evan running to interview players after the game (43 seconds into it), go to http://football-highlight.com/en/africa/african-cup-of-nations/2011-03-27-ivory-coast-benin.html

Quote of the day: I gotta go, they’re waiting for me. -Evan, showing off his press pass

A short dialog after class

Stranger sitting in front of me in class: What’s your beautiful name?

Me: What?

Stranger: I don’t know your beautiful name to go with your beautiful face.

Me: Have a good weekend.

Stranger: Ok I’ll look for you next week.

And I will deliberately avoid you.

I don’t know why this exchange bothered me so much. My friends and I get attention like this all the time, and people are always approaching us to say “you’re beautiful” or “I love you” or “hey sweetie.” But usually that happens off campus, when we’re at the market or hanging out somewhere in Accra. Most of the time, students are really nice and accepting of us foreigners. They’re used to us. And if they do have ulterior motives they’ll at least make an effort to befriend us first.

That’s one thing that’s difficult about being here. Every time I enter into a conversation with a nice guy, I’m just waiting for him to ask me for my phone number. That’s no way to approach social interaction!

The good thing is that I don’t get flustered anymore. Oh yeah, I’m one cool customer.