Goats, Blacklights, and Twice-daily Showers
From the land of the goats, Twi-speaking people, black lights, and constant power outages and water shortages, greetings from Ghana!
I arrived in Ghana a few weeks ago with absolutely no idea what to expect. Within about 10 minutes of landing, I encountered a sign that read “Ghana does not welcome pedophiles and sexual deviants,” and suggested that if I fit in that category, I should head elsewhere. So, not being either of those things, I continued through customs until I finally made it into this wonderful, crazy country. My flight group then headed to the hostel to eat dinner and rest, and in the process convinced ourselves that we had eaten a chicken that had been roaming around our hostel because we didn’t hear it anymore. By the 48-hour mark, we still weren’t positive about the status of the uncomfortably quiet chicken, but we think we found it alive.
The next morning, all 18 of us—16 girls and 2 boys (and no, mom, the boys aren’t cute or Jewish)—began our three-day orientation, met our program leaders, and finally got an itinerary. We began our journey with two weeks in Accra, and then headed to Kumasi for two more weeks.
Since orientation, I have been living with a homestay family that is about a 30-minute journey from the University of Ghana where I go for classes every day. We live in a gated compound in the main house that has six bedrooms, a bunk bed in the dining room (so odd), two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living/dining room, an outdoor shower, and a chicken coup. I have my own huge room, which is great, but weirdly, it’s only lit by black light. Apparently, Ghanaians think black light is less abrasive to the eyes than regular light. All I know is that my large stack of neon string bracelets and my SHOFCO [Shining Hope for Communities] bracelets glow every time I walk into my room. I feel like I’m living in a bad 80s movie.
I live with my host mom, Vivian, and her Auntie Maud. Vivian, who is about 40, and Auntie Maud, who is 75, are both very sweet and loving, although the Ghanaian way of showing affection is definitely not what I’m used to, and it has taken me a while to adjust. Vivian watches a lot of television and goes to bed at 8:30 p.m.—we get up around 5:30 a.m. every day—so I am still getting used to spending a lot of time alone and an equal amount of time watching absolutely terrible but hilarious dubbed Spanish soap operas. Viv also forces me to shower twice a day so I feel “fresh.” It’s so cold, I hate showering, and I’m in no way, shape, or form a morning person, so I’ve started just wetting my hair in shower in the morning and pretending I showered. Love ya, Viv, but 28 real showers in two weeks? Not a chance. On the bright side, Viv is a really good cook and has made me some pretty awesome vegetarian Ghanaian food. The food here is spicy enough to literally make you sob while eating and there’s a ton of vegetable stew, lots of carbs, and possibly even more oil, but it’s all starting to grow on me. Water packets, called satchets, have become my new best friends.
In the spirit of friends, the people on my program are great so far—although a little less chill than I would have expected—and we are really enjoying exploring the country together. I also recently made a Ghanaian friend, Tina, with whom I have been hanging out a lot to help alleviate my loneliness when my homestay family is at work or church, and it’s been really cool to connect with her and swap stories.
School has been pretty good so far, and the Accra part of the program is definitely a stepping-stone to the more experiential part of the semester. We spend most of our time at the university learning the Twi (“Chwi”) language—which is what people actually speak here despite the fact that the national language of the government is English—and hearing cultural lectures about things like education, gender issues, politics, and highlife music. There have been quite a few funny moments in lectures, including a 20-minute impromptu traditional dance performance before Twi class, an energizer in which we had to spell our names with our butts, and the moment when we learned that some Ghanaians joke that AIDS actually stands for “American Idea to Discourage Sex.” In addition to lectures, we’ve also had organized field trips to a local artist’s studio, to learn Batik, to a dance performance, and to see a traditional funeral. On my own I went to church with my host family—people here are extremely religious—went to see a university dance performance, went to the beach and many markets, and also took a three-hour drumming and dancing class with some friends.
From start to finish, my semester is definitely going to be an exciting adventure, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for it to really get rolling once we get out of the classroom and into the “field.” So far, life here is going pretty well, and as I adjust and get over the initial culture shock of living in a place without addresses, public trash cans, sidewalks, or WiFi/constant communication, things are sure to get even better. As my program director says, all we have to do here is “enjoy your life.” And trust me, I’m definitely doing so.