Thursday, July 11, 2013

YES Abroad Ghana 2012-2013 Video

This is the video I made to document the journey of the YES Abroad students this year in Ghana.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I've Moved...Kind of

I just wanted to inform any reader who happens upon this page, I am much more active on updating my tumblr. While I have been pretty abysmal about updating this blog, I pretty regularly (comparatively) update my tumblr account about my adventures in Ghana.

If you want to hear more or see more about my journey through Ghana, you should definitely check out my tumblr:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Blessed Day: March 8th, 2013

3.8.13 (or 8.3.13 as Ghanaians write it)
This morning I woke up in a funk. I felt like I was one of those cartoon characters walking around with a thunderstorm cloud over my head. It was one of those days. I wafted through this morning in a haze of badly hidden misery, sweeping, bathing, making my bed up to my host mom’s anal eye’s acceptance, eating a breakfast of porridge, and washing my clothes. After wasting my morning away waiting for plans to come, nothing evolved to a conclusive being. Yet, instead of moping like I am sadly renowned for, I decided to do something about it.

I spent the first month of my time in Ghana utterly freighted of even stepping outside of my gated house. Unable to stand the constant scrutiny of being white in a fringe town of a city in West Africa, I hid myself away.

I am sick of that part of me. The part of me that wallows, hides away from the world. It is a waste of my time and I was in the mood to go. With the song “I Gotta Go” by Robert Earl Keen coursing through my veins, I left my house. Having no idea where I was headed, I marched myself to the tro-tro station. I allowed myself little time for deliberation, for it didn’t matter where I went, I just had to go SOMEWHERE and do SOMETHING.  I ended up playing it safe, taking a Stadium-Junction car. It is the same car I take to school every day but I had never been to the last stop. I always got off at either Unity Oil or Stadium, depending on if I was going straight to school or to training first. Once I alighted from the tro-tro, I ventured off planning to get wonderfully lost, taking in the beauty of Ghana by exploring. In the mood to talk and get out of my head, when a group of people called me over, I decided to come to their beckoning hands and chorus of “Bra” (come).

Deciding to come was a wonderful decision on my part. After the usual pleasantries that come from talking to curious strangers, one of the ladies turned to me informing me that her sister was deaf and inquiring if I could communicate with her. Growing up with a mother who is a Teacher of the Deaf, I know some sign language-not as much as I would like but still, I was overjoyed to use it. The joy on her face when she realized I could speak to her most definitely brought sun beams piercing through my foul mooded cloud. Her exuberance and normalcy in a society not exactly handicap accommodating or accepting dispelled any bad feelings I held onto. After our talk, I walked away thanking God for sending me such a beautiful moment. It is times like this that make me fall even more in love with Ghana and the world in general.
Afi, the Deaf Ghanaian I met that day

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tro-Tros Explained (Ghanaian Public Transport)

Sofaline Station At Sunset   
Tro-tros are cheap, super convenient, full of ample people watching, and just wonderful. They are one of my favorite things in Ghana.

As I trundle down pothole filled streets in a metal box on wheels, I am often brought back to a conversation I had sitting in Mr. Dyer’s 7th grade history class. Ignoring his incessant off topic chatter, deep in conversation with Rachel & Grace about their deep love and desire to own a vehicle on the verge of collapse; putting out its last exhaust filled breaths, riddled with rusts holes creating a metal canvas reminiscent of an acne scarred face.

Here, I quite often ride in these vehicles. At first, I was mildly wary of these vans called tro-tros which with no doubt would never pass any American road-safety inspection. Yet, as many Obrunis before me, I have quickly grown to love them. Love the packed cars, filled with opportune venues of people watching and window gazing-I always try to grab the window seat to avoid the feeling of being in a moving sauna. The windows ebb the stifling hear of people packed like sardines in a trundle bus in the sweltering African heat.

Tro-tros are an ingenious way of getting around and are the main form of transport of many Ghanaians. Here having a personal car is a sign of great wealth, and they really are since these tros provide transportation all over the city. These privately owned vans, sent over here from countries such as Korean & Germany (you can usually tell where they came from due to tell tale writings in its first countries language) once they couldn’t pass inspection there.

(I wrote this back in October but never posted it. Yeah, being a great blogger is definitely not one of my credentials.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cocoa Drying

On Independence Day, Match 6th, I accompanied my host mom and uncle to his farm. While we were there we paid respect to the chief of the village, telling him of our "mission" in his village and presenting him with a loaf of bread like good Ghanaians should. I was ecstatic to see the cocoa process in person. Seeing it made me think of one of my favorite childhood books about two girls, one who lived in Maine and the other in the tropics. Their lives were related by the trade of ice blocks for cocoa. While I have no ice blocks to trade, I  have traditions, ideas, and smiles to share.

You know you are in Ghana When…

  • You are an “Obruni”, a white person/foreigner. You cannot even walk two paces down the street without being noticed. Children are either adorably enamored with you, in awe of you, scared of you, or demand things from you. “Obruni, give me money”, “Obruni, koko matche!” (Foreign red person, good morning!)
  • You get around everywhere in these vans called tro-tros which are pretty much the best idea ever. Cheap public transport (that is technically private since each van is privately owned).
  • You take a bucket shower at least twice a day.
  • Your water works about ½ the time.
  • Power is on for about 3 or 4 nights of the week. Right now it’s on a cycle where you get it from 6:00pm-6:00am and then the next day from 6:00am-6:00pm. Thus, about ½ of the week you have power. Here they call the power outages “Lights off” and they are orchestrated by the electric company unlike in Maine where the only time the power was out was due to storms or some other issue with the lines not the lack of electricity like the power outages are here.
  • To get your attention people hiss at you, beckon you with their palm facing toward you and their fingers moving into their palm, screaming bra, obruni, or school girl. And well, after being here for 6 months, you also call people with bra, the come gesture, and yes, you do hiss to get someone’s attention.
  • One of the first questions you are asked is “Are you a Christian?” There are two options for religion here; one is either a Christian or a Muslim. While they are tolerant of each other, the concept of not believing in God does not exist in Ghana. For the exchange students who don’t believe this has proved to be very difficult. 
  • You receive countless marriage proposals; have to deal with a ridiculous amount of sexual harassment. People constantly tell you they love you & that you are beautiful even though it’s not you it’s just your skin color. Try explaining that to them though, they deny it.
  • Every morning you have to “lay” your bed. Fitted sheets do not exist here thus you have to make sure the sheet is neatly tucked in. Heaven forbid you leave a crease, and no matter how hard you try to make it perfect, rest assured your host mom will find fault in it. 
  • People try to convert you to their form of Christianity claiming yours isn’t right & without their version you will go to hell.
  • In school if you do anything wrong you are caned. (Except if you are an obruni, which is pretty much a get-out-of-jail-for-free-card.)
  • Parents beat their children.
  • One greets by asking how the person is doing i.e. Ete sen? How are you?
  • You realize although growing up distaining/making fun of sardines, they actually don’t taste half bad.
  • 2 cedis turns into a lot of money. The idea of going back to American prices is something you dread.
  • Crying is literally beat out of children.
  • People ask you: “Do you know so & so, he/she lives in Ohio/the Bronx/Virginia?”
  • There is a dance move called ‘The Al-Qaida’ and no-one, except your one classmate who lived in the Bronx for 2 years, thinks that it’s named strangely.
  • There are food sellers everywhere. Be it food on ladies heads or at stalls.
  • Noise Ordinances do not exist. In the middle of night you can be berated by super-sterofied club music or amplified all night long church service complete with hours of “speaking in tongues”.
  • You have convinced more people you are half-Ghanaian than that you don’t have a boyfriend. (Sadly, I am not exaggerating at all.)
  • Unlike in the US where you go to a grocery store and keep food in your house, one just walks a little down the road to a metal crate store or to a market to get anything they need.
  • People carry EVERYTHING on their head and you try to too. Some things you are better at carrying than others.
  • Water comes in sachets that cost 10 peswas which you bite into the side of and well, suck the water out of it. At first you though this was weird but now you can’t imagine life without them. Paying a buck for water-yikes!
  • You squat pee like a pro now and laugh at how you used to be afraid of doing so.
  • You have seen “bathrooms” that are worse than anything you imagination could have come up with. You will never complain about a bathroom in the US again.
  • At home you are not “Lydia” but your Ashanti/Twi day name, “Abena”.
  • Talking to random strangers isn’t weird anymore and you wonder why you didn’t do so in the US.
  • You can greet people in at least 5 different local languages but are not fluent in a single one.
  • You say the Lord’s Prayer and the Al-fitr every morning during morning assemble
  • You understand the majority of what is being said in Twi but cannot speak it very well.
  • You have major respect for everyone especially your classmates since they are all so strong. They say “we suffer” and it is true, they do. But it’s not terrible, their lives are harder than their American peers but life is still life and where ever you go it is still beautiful.
  • People always ask you “Can you eat {Insert any Ghanaian food such as Banku} ?” “Do you chew or swallow your fufu?”
  • “Do you know you have pimples?” or “What is that rash on your face?” or “Why do you have pimples?”
  • You are getting fat and are told that daily by a host of people. Be it a neighbor, a relative, a classmate, and even a guy who you can tell is interested in you. Here they consider it a complement. My [least] favorite memory of this occurred while I was walking with some of the girls that I run with. One of the girls patted my stomach and realizing that it was not air or extra clothing but rather my fat exclaimed “Oh my Lord! Your stomach is HUGE! You really need to do more ab workouts.” And they said before I came to Ghana that Ghanaians were indirect. Yeah, I don’t believe that.*
  • This conversation happens way too often.
    • “Where are you from?”
      “I’m from the United States of America.”
      “Oh, America. Which state?”
      “No, what STATE?”
      “I’m from the state of Maine.”
      “No, what STATE?”
      “Maine, it’s the STATE I’m from.”
  • Pears=Avocados
  • Boutique is spelled like Butik
  • Pants=Underwear & Trousers=pants
  • Rubber=A plastic bag
  • To flash someone=to call someone but hang up before they can answer so the other person will call you back and using their credit.
  • You see just as many American flags as Ghanaian ones
  • Traveling across country alone is no big deal, you do it all the time
  • Not knowing where you’re going other than a name is no problem since you just have to ask anyone and if they know they will help you
  • Everyone seems to have a relative or know someone in either the States or somewhere in Europe.
  • You are extremely proud to be an American. You have become extremely patriotic since coming to Ghana. You realize how extremely blessed you are to be a citizen of the best nation in the world. (Yes, you may have become a bit bigoted.)
  • Girls to middle aged ladies ask to marry your brother, even though you don’t have one. Once they realize this, they ask for one of your guy friends.
  • People believe that Obama, BeyoncĂ©, & Jay-Z among others are “devil-worshipping free masons”
  • People believe Obama planted a chip in every Americans arm as part of Obama care.
  • You are totally in love with the popular Ghanaian music.
  • People not only do not believe you when you say you don’t have a boyfriend, they accuse you of lying.
  • People throw their friends under the bus for fun. Even telling the teacher to beat them and laugh at their friends when they are beat.
  • Commenting mercilessly over someone’s deteriorating appearance is not even considered rude here. I.e. The other day one girl saw a picture of how I looked in the US and told me “Man, you used to be pretty! Why are you so ugly now?” Gee, Thanks.
  • Chop=eat
  • You can actually see the outline of the sun!
  • People are convinced that since you are white, you are rich. Which compared to most Ghanaians you are. One time I had ran out of money and when asked why I didn’t buy something, the shop keeper was aghast by my answer that I had no money, exclaiming “But that’s impossible! You are an Obruni!” with the same look on his face as a child who had just found out that Santa Claus isn’t real.
  • Your host mom always asks you how things are in London are even though other than the 2 hours you spent at Heathrow on your way here, you have never set foot in Europe.
* I’ve come to realize that the assumptions/cultural profile AFS Ghana provided us for Ghana is completely subjective. What I consider indirect or family oriented means something completely different than what Ghanaians consider those aspects to be. I’ll expand this thought in a separate blog post.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Becoming a Sports Girl

My school is famous for quite a few things; one of its main claims to fame is its superb athletics team. Here athletics is the sport we call track & field. Myself being a 3 season runner in high school, thought it was imperative that I join this team. I was never that fast, one of the key factors that lead me to focus on long distance running, and have no qualms about admitting I am not that good but I'm not sure I was prepared for the complete mortification that occurs every time I run on that track.
Coming to Ghana has one effect on a majority of females: you get fat. The carb-based diet, ginormous portions, and an "eat-all" cultural mandate, coupled with my lack of exercise has led to my ever increasing waist size and dissipating muscles. I was so set on running before I came but the idea of exercising on the streets in plain view of the annoyingly sexist, cat-calling men here, paired with my first experience running ending in two extremely bloody knees & laughing onlookers made me stop the practice.
Due to this disturbing change in my physic and physical ability, it is very laughable that the fat obruni wants to run. Yet, I have been waking up at 4:30 in the morning in order to be on time for before school training and attending the second 2 hour training period after school. I am no sprinter and am the first to admit that I am slow. Yet, as I completely mortify myself running my hardest about 100 meters behind everyone else, at the beginning putting up with the unhelpful catcalls and plain laughing in my face (there is no such thing as laughing behind ones back in Ghana, people are extremely upfront about it), I could not be happier, I am back in my element. Somehow, the team has not only accepted the fat obruni-ba (white lady) onto the team, they actually really like me. Through my daily mortification, I believe that they have come to respect me. Respect the fact that while I am no hardcore athlete, I'm trying. I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am to all the people on the team. All the made of 100% muscle African boys and girls who make succeeding on the track their life. I have no place in their ranks, they are all amazing national winners, yet they let me join and actually like me. This extremely kind and humbling gesture has melted my heart and filled me with such gratitude. I will be forever grateful to every member of the Amass athletic team. Being part of a team, exercising and sweating with others, definitely has to be one of my favorite things in the world and one I hoped to do as an exchange student.
These athletes are phenomenal, proving the stereotype true a hundred times over. Just as I, sadly, proved the stereotype true that white chicks can't run. I apologize to all those out there that defy that stereotype, I do not have the ability to refute it. These athletes train everyday 2 hours before school & 2 hours after it. They dedicate their lives to the sport. I am not exaggerating at all when I say running literally is their life. Many of them don't even come to classes and it is not like in the states where one has to be a student athlete, here there is the choice between being an athlete or student during the running season. All these runners dedicate their life to sport, and most of them say their goal is to get a scholarship to run in the US for a college team. Some of them tell me their goal in life is to run for America. There is such a love and desire for the United States here that permeates everywhere and in the world of sport, it is understandable. Here these kids are for sure talented enough to be completely boss at college athletics in America and hope to go to a place where they can continue to base their life and lively hood on being an athlete.
I'm by no means a professional athlete, I'm just an exchange student who wants to get back in shape and be on a team. Not only has the team welcomed me with undeserved open arms, they have let me come back to the sports dorm with them in order to use their bath house and change into my uniform before I go to classes, a kindness that is greatly appreciated.
The Baba Yara Sports Stadium which is across from my school and is the location of our daily practices. It is a pretty awesome location for practice, though I do really miss GNG's Libby Hill Trail System.

Isha, my "Sports Mother". Since day one, she has taken me under her wing and making sure I feel accepted . I will forever be grateful to her.

These are the two fastest girls on the team in their Anniversary wear. Watch out for these two in the Olympics, I believe that the girl on the right is the fastest girl in Ghana if the rumors I heard are true. Seeing her run, I don't doubt it.