Category Archives: Homesickness

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

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!


Two cool kids, 1990s

Being far away from home, in such a different place, has allowed me to distance myself from events happening at home. Sometimes I’m grateful for that, but sometimes I really want to be there.
I’m not sure how to write this. I know some of my family members read this blog, and I wish I was there to talk to them about it in person instead of trying to express myself here, publicly, without conversation.
Also this blog is fundamentally about me, and what I want to say right now shouldn’t be.
A week ago, my grandfather died. For years he’s been joking about death but I never thought it would actually happen. Even though he’s been sick for some time, it just didn’t seem like a possibility.
I’m still not sure how I feel. My reaction is buried under coping mechanisms and trivial distractions I’ve invented for myself. It might hit me when I go home to a different world in twelve days, or it might hit in the next few hours. But nothing changes the fact that my grandfather was- and still is- one of the coolest people I know. So is his wife, my grandmother. There’s photographic evidence of that.

Two cool kids plus baby, 1960s

All the best, Ted Coughran! If I can live my life just half as awesomely, love my family with just half as much joy, and live with just half as much humor as you- you and Gram, I will be happy. I wish I had told you that.

Guest post: Adam Schneider

Hi! Welcome to the first of a series of enlightening, multifaceted, raucous, protruding guest posts.

Adam is a sophomore from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, and he studies biology and chemistry. Besides being a good friend and travel buddy, Adam likes plants, books, and speaking Spanish. If you’d like to learn more, there’s a link to his blog, Africa Trek ’11, in the sidebar (wink wink).


Adam, clothed in the garb of his order.

One of my favorite hymns begins:

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for lands afar and mine

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.

I come from Wisconsin, land of big trees and big cold. I love my home. I made sure to bring books with me to remind me of the land I love. One, a mystery set in the winter in Isle Royale National Park to remind me of a season I love that decidedly does not exist in Ghana. Two, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac to keep connected to the place I call home and the processions of the year. It is this connection with Wisconsin I hold dear. As much as I enjoy traveling and as dear as Ghana is to me, these people will never understand sleeping in a snow-cave in 20-below weather just as I will never be able to get a taxi at as low of a price as natives. I will never be at home if I cannot pick up a copy of the Wisconsin State Journal, or go to a Concert on the Square, or paddle a canoe through the northern lakes (or the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, my honorary home).

Verse one continues:

But other hearts in other lands are beating

With hopes and dreams as true as high as mine.

The impossibility of Ghana becoming my home implies nothing further than my connection to my homeland. I have met wonderful people here and there will be many things I will miss upon returning to the United States. For example, sharing is so liberal here. Friends (and strangers) will freely and completely help you. In fact, some people say, “Ghanaians will so friendly they will always help you, even if they don’t know how.” I’ll miss the frugality here. As scary as it is to ride in a trotro that is spewing smoke and making severe popping noises, it is refreshing to see that people repair things when they need to be repaired. Not to mention, Wisconsin has no oceans, rainforests, African drumming and dance, or Night Markets. I can–and have–made this place as dear to me as home, but it cannot be home. It can be a temporary home, or even a second home, but never Home. People here will never understand that the reason we (the girls, mostly) seem cold to their friendship advances is that we get them all the time, often from unscrupulous people. Wisconsin is the place to which I am grounded, and to try to act as if I can ever become Ghanaian is to be dishonest. Though, there are many virtues in integrating in ways like learning Twi, understanding new perspectives, living styles. beliefs. Honestly, one cannot experience the truth of a place without integrating. Whenever I go to the mall and see dozens of foreigners who I know will never set foot on a trotro or barter for goods, I wonder what these people tell their friends when they ask about life in Africa. I will always be a child of the prairie, of Pheasant Branch, of cheese, of snow, of seasons, of skis. But I will be a cousin of Ghana now, an eager relative of trotros, of adinkra, of kente, of hissing, of open markets, of waiting. I came to this strange land, and parts will still be strange when I leave, but now I know:

My countries skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for their land and for mine.