Friday, August 27, 2010
I have been in Ghana for almost three weeks now (I think – I am losing count) and they couldn’t be any grander, but let me start from the beginning.
The view of Accra from the window as my plane was descending made me increasingly more excited to commence my studies and life in Ghana. After customs and all that fun security stuff, I walked into the terminal by three smiling faces. Mickey, Gideon, and Gabriel are some of the fabulous U-Pals, a group of past and present University of Ghana students who mentor and placate us as we dive into life in Ghana. The hotel we stayed at for the next two nights was called Coconut Grove and it was absolutely gorgeous. As I was sitting in the lobby trying to send e-mails that I am okay, a friendly and familiar face walked in – Emmanuel. That was a great surprise and a wonderful way to start my stay in Ghana. J
The next couple of days were filled with orientations.
On Wednesday, I moved into my dorm. I live in International Students Hostel II, or ISH2 as we fondly refer to it. My roommate is Morgan, who is absolutely phenomenal.
Thursday was yet another day of orientation.
On Friday, there was a lecture about the history of Ghana in the morning and one on the politics of Ghana in the late afternoon. In the middle of those two events was class registration – quite a hectic process. I had to run all over campus (which, mind you, is not by any means small) to the different departments and check what was being offered and then check times and register and then run to the International Programs Office to input the courses there. It's really, super hectic. Yowza.
On Saturday, I learned how to use the trotro. This is an… interesting mode of transportation - a favorite among Ghanaians. It’s basically a van with drivers and people (typically men) called mates, who are the drivers’ right hands. Whenever the trotros stop, the mates scream the destination out of the window (which can be difficult to understand) to attract passengers and they also collect money. The trotros are also super cheap – around a quarter. But I am not going on one of those without a Ghanaian for a while – the mate tried to rip me and a friend off! Luckily, two of the U-Pals were on the trotro with us, so they helped us out. Afterwards, I got this DELICIOUS coconut. We had a traditional African dance class. The dancing is so different from what I am used to. They use their whole bodies whereas Americans typically use their lower body more. I would need a bit more practice to perfect my technique, but the Ghanaian dancers were amazing! It was so elegant and beautiful. We had the official welcome dinner that night at Chez Afrique – delicious (got some veggies J). There was also a live band so we danced the night away.
Sunday was a free day, so Morgan and I went on a lovely run. After that, Morgan and our next door neighbors, Sally and Hayley, went for a walk through the botanical gardens (gorgeous – the flowers were such beautiful colors) and up to the top of the hill overlooking the city of Accra. I then ran some errands and hung out with Emmanuel.
Monday started off with another run with Morgan. We have decided that we are going to be so in shape by the end of the semester that the University of Ghana is going to beg us to join their team. Booya! After our run, I relaxed until my Twi class at 16:00-18:00. Me din de Olivia (My name is Olivia). Menom nsuo pii (I drink a lot of water). A seamstress comes to ISH2 every few days and was down there that day, so I went down in search of a little coin purse that I needed. I returned with a coin purse, quilt, dress, surprise gift, and I also ordered a dress. Yeah, I might develop a little shopping problem here… uh oh.
Tuesday is my major day of classes, starting early in the morning – 7:30. I woke up a touch late and had to run over to ISH1 in order to shower – our water is out. (This was the second time that our water has gone out. The first was for two or three days within first arriving because the water tank emptied and we had to wait for it to refill. This second time it happened because somebody apparently stole our water tank… hmm.) Anyway, to brighten my morning, I decided to wear my new dress. My first class was ENGL443 – Ghanaian Literature – from 7:30 to 9:30. I am just auditing this class because I want to read all of the books – so excited to read them! (I also got the book list from a couple of the other English classes. Woo hoo!) My second class was HIST407 – Colonial Rule and African Response: Partition – from 11:30-13:30. We signed an attendance sheet and then found out that the professor wasn’t planning on showing up today. Well, at least I got a nice chunk of extra free time. My last course for the day was POLI415 – Post-Conflict Peace-Building and Transitional Justice – from 15:30-17:30. No one showed up. We just sat in the class for half an hour and then left… Apparently (hopefully) that’s normal for first days.
On Wednesday (still no water tank, so another hectic morning after our run), I went to my Developmental Studies class. This is the class that is coupled with the internship, for which I am super excited. I found out what my internship is going to be, but I forgot the name of organization. I know that I will be working with an NGO which helps people who have HIV/AIDS and that I have a long trotro ride with switching trotros (wish me luck!!!) and that I will basically be doing lots of work (because the head of the NGO originally wanted two interns and just got me, but I am super happy about this actually). I can’t wait to learn more about what I will be doing – super excited. J I decided to take a drumming class. And wow – it’s a lot more difficult than I originally expected – damn my lack of a musical ear. But I am determined to get it and learn how to do it well – practice makes perfect! At least now I have a legitimate excuse to get one of those beautifully carved drums, though I do not yet know how I will carry it onto the airplane… But that’s still months away so I have plenty of time to strategize. That night a whole bunch of us went to Labodi Beach to a reggae party. The atmosphere was really relaxing and it was loads of fun dancing on the beach.
Thursday is another lovely day like Monday where I have only one class – Twi – from 16:00 to 18:00. I spent most of the day relaxing. I also learned how to play Ultimate Frisbee! Woo hoo! And I also picked up the second dress that I got made. J
Friday – water is on! Wahoo! I have no classes on Fridays, so I get to relax – nice three day weekend. J Morgan, Cathleen, and I walked to the mall – it was a lovely walk, but started pouring on our way back. For some miraculous reason, all of us brought our umbrellas, so at least only our backs were completely soaked. The night was lovely – spent with some good old fashioned dancing and some lovely, wonderful friends.
On Saturday, CIEE planned a trip for us so we went to a town that had a lot of wood carving. My bathroom experience here was quite… interesting… it consisted of a four foot high concrete wall with three small holes in the ground… But I survived. The wood carvings were really beautiful. All of these people are so talented. Next on our stop were the Aburi Botanical Gardens – absolutely gorgeous. I was able to bargain for a couple of art pieces here – actually, I accidently bargained well. (I was legitimately walking away from an offer when the wood carver stopped me and gave me the piece for my price – I didn’t even try to do this as a bargaining technique even though that is what one of the U-Pals taught me to do. I was so proud of myself.) Last on our stop – my personal favorite – was the cocoa farm. Ghana is the world’s second largest producer of cocoa. We learned all about the process for preparing the cocoa beans to be ready for chocolate. When the seeds first come out of the pod with the placenta (which is actually REALLY delicious to suck on), they need to be dried for two days under some banana or plantain leaves, then turned over and left drying for two more days. After that they have to dry for a few more weeks under some wooden blanket. At this point, they are ready to be made into chocolate. I also got to try the beans at this point in time – now, I love me some dark chocolate, but man, this was bitter! I love the finished product much better. J We had a welcome dinner for all of the international students when we got back to the University of Ghana campus – delicious, not surprisingly. Then it was another night of good music, great dancing, and fabulous friends.
Sunday was a generally relaxing day with a CIEE scheduled bus tour of Accra in the middle of it. It was very remarkable seeing all the different facets of the city. We saw everything from beautiful, lavish, rich homes of politicians and the wealthy to slums and poor neighborhoods – even a massive shantytown. It was very upsetting to me the discrepancy between the lifestyles of the citizens of Accra. I got very frustrated towards the end as we went further and further into the poverty-stricken areas. I was upset that I was simply on a tour of this area using these people’s livelihoods and lifestyles for personal amusement or learning rather than out there trying to do something to change their circumstances.
On Monday morning, Morgan, Sally, Haley, and I went to the Cultural Center. That was an experience. It was great seeing all of the different artists – wood carvings, jewelry, fabric, banana leaf weavings, paintings, and much more. It was also so exhausting being pulled in 20 different directions and the people made it so hard to say no. Luckily, I had some great friends who helped me out of some tough spots, but boy – that was an experience. All I can really say. Apparently, Monday mornings are also a lot less hectic than the weekends, when Morgan and Haley went last time. If an hour and a half on Monday morning made me that exhausted, there is no way I am going later in the week. I had Twi that evening. I am struggling learning it, but I hope to use some of my new Ghanaian friends for practice. J
On Tuesday, I skipped English – which I was only auditing, don’t worry. My history class was phenomenal. The professor is so funny and kept my attention engaged the entire time. The professor is going to expect a lot, but I think I will learn a great deal from that class, so I am very excited for it. My second class – political science, on the other hand, was very different. The material really fascinates me, but the class itself – I am simply not sure what to think of it yet. The students kept laughing at what I believed to be very inappropriate times (like when the professor was talking about child soldiers or his experience during the civil war is Sierra Leone) – I spoke to Mickey about this later and he explained that it could be because of some inside jokes with the professor since these are 400-level students who have most likely had the professor before. I still don’t know what to make of their reactions though. Another thing that really bothered me about the class was that the entire two hours was spent copying the professor’s lecture down word-for-word. He talked slowly and repeated himself solely for the purpose of copying down exactly what he says. I am not sure if I like this style of teaching, but I guess I will have to just suck it up and get used to it. This is apparently what how most classes in Ghana are structured.
Wednesday, I have my Development Studies Track class – it was a dry lecture that day, so I spent most of it designing dresses and clothes. Oops. I then had drumming – I was debating dropping it cause we all know about my lack of musical talent and my wicked terrible stage fright, but a friend convinced me to stay and promised to help me if I kept up with it. I find the class very challenging, especially because of the large number of students in it, but I am hoping that with the help of some talented friends, I will be able to master the drum. J
On Thursday, I was able to finally go to my internship! J It is called the Alliance for African Women’s Initiative, or AFAWI. The trotro ride there was not too difficult, so I think I will be able to handle it. I will have to switch off the trotro once and then go onto a shared taxi, but it’s simple enough. The NGO seemed like it will be a very nice, relaxing, and comfortable place to work. I only got to meet the founder, who doesn’t speak English too well (Hopefully I will be able to practice my Twi!), and her name was Auntie Eva. She was super nice. The other people in charge unfortunately left for a meeting right before I got there, but I will be able to meet them when I go in for my first full day on Monday! J Another super cool thing (well, depending on what perspective you look at it from) – since this is an NGO, funding is sometimes hard to come by, so as a thing on the side, Auntie Eva breeds rabbits! And they had new ones born just the day before! They are so tiny and precious! (Don’t worry, pictures to come!) There was also one that looked like a smaller version of Robespierre! So basically, whenever I have a spare moment while I am at work, I can go play with the bunnies. Yeah, I am going to love working here. J
Today, Friday, a few of us planned an outing to the beach, which should be a really lovely and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Morgan has also been going on about this place that makes coffins that is near the beach, so that should be interesting… We shall see how that goes.