Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One Month Anniversary in Ghana

I'm going to start off my blog by saying that everyone should check out my fellow YES Abroaders blogs. They are all wonderfully written and explain Ghana much better than I can.
Ann Elise's:
Oh and check out my tumbr, I put some pictures up there:

My lovely view from the porch complete with a rainbow.

The other day was my one month anniversary being here in Ghana. I cannot believe it has only been a month. This month has been the longest, hardest, most overwhelming, exciting, and astonishing month of my life. I have yet to start school here, much to my chagrin. I swear I must be breaking some sort of record for how long an exchange student goes without actually being a student. It is all because I do not have a uniform and even though I have sat in the headmaster's secretary's office for hours on end on multiple occasions, I am not much closer to getting to school than I was before. All the other exchange students have been in school for weeks now and I am still school-less which gives me ample time to get bored. And with boredom comes homesickness.

This first month, I have been suffering from an intense case of homesickness. Everything in here in Ghana is so different, which I knew it would be, but I couldn't even imagine how different it was. The hardest difference was the stark contrast of my host family compared to my natural family. Being here has truly taught me how blessed I was to have my upbringing and has given me insight into my own values that I didn't even realize I had as an American. In the U.S., time is money and spending time with someone means that you care about them. I came from an upbringing where family time was of the utmost importance and it was a requirement to be part of certain family activities such as eating and attending church together. My natural family spends a long time preparing healthy meals and spends at least an hour each night around the dinner table eating, talking, and usually finishing a crossword puzzle. Here, I eat alone for every meal. Until coming here, I did not realize how much value I put on eating with people. As in a book that I read for English class stated, eating together is very sacred, and inviting people to have a meal together is allowing someone to an intimate association with you. Eating together gives you time to connect since you are partaking in a common activity. Yet, here in Ghana, eating together is not often done since people eat at the time of their convenience which makes sense since people arrive home at different times and leave for work at different times, but at first it was something that I had a very hard time adjusting to.

Another thing I had a hard time adjusting to is people not asking me about my day. I did not realize how that American value is embedded in my psyche. I was raised to believe that expressing interest in someone's day shows that you care about them. I did not realize how I placed knowing the going-ons of someone, however trivial they are, as a way of caring about someone. Like I said, I am constantly learning about my values that I didn't even realize I had. At first, the lack of people caring about my day hurt me and I felt personally afronted by what I felt was a lack of consideration of my well being, but then I realized that it wasn't their lack of caring, it was just a cultural thing that I had been raised to expect as a sign of caring. Here people ask, "Are you fine?", which I believe is their way of caring. They don't need to hear about your day-it was probably pretty mundane and boring. As an American, I want to share my experiences with people since sharing is caring, but here that might seem silly. Who knows, I am still new to this culture, so I have yet to have a really comprehensive view of how to show someone you care, but hopefully I will learn the Ghanaian way of caring.

I have spent most of my time in the house in a living room area where my host sister and the "house help" also spend their time at home. They entertain themselves by watching T.V. which consists of African Movies, Ghanaian music videos, hilariously dubbed Latin American soap operas, and one news channel whose international news was that Chris Brown appeared in court. Another thing that I really valued in the U.S. was being connected & in the know of what was going on in the world. At home in America, my family does not have T.V., but we always have the radio playing NPR, and each morning, I read the newspaper during breakfast. Also, I would religiously watch Al Jazeera online to know more about what's going on in the world. Here I often feel very far away from the world. When I didn't have a modem, I had no international news, and the first week that there were Muslim protests I didn't even know about it until my family back home contacted me to see how the situation was in Ghana. Here in Ghana, I do not believe the news of the Anti-American protests ever reached the populous's attention. If people did get wind of it, nobody cared since they are too concerned with surviving each day to get riled up over such issues. The main focus in the news here has been the prayer for a peaceful election here in December.

Ghanaian Muslims are some of the nicest people I have met here. I have often spent time with Samira, a YES alumni, and her family who have so graciously allowed me to spend time with them to escape from the boredom of having nothing to do. On the second Friday of intense Anti-American protests, I spent my day with a Muslim family, learning how to pray, and then attending a mosque to pray. There was not even a hint of animosity in anyone there that I was a white, presumably American girl, praying at their mosque. They were there to worship Allah and to humble themselves before Allah, not to create a fight over the righteousness of their religion or their anger over the defacement of their religion by some hateful people. Given, the news of the video probably had not reached their ears, but being here in Ghana, I have never felt that there was any animosity towards me from Muslims.
Samira and her sister, Rukaiya. They are my saving graces here.

Rukaiya and I after we prayed at the Mosque

Being here has already taught me to be more independent. In America, I relied on others, but here I have increasingly been relying only on myself. Here I have figured out how to take tro-tros, how to get around my area, and how to get to know my neighbors on my own. Back in the U.S., we rely on rules & regulations, taking comfort in following them. Here there is a sense of freedom that I have not felt in the U.S. At first it was shocking, but there is something exilerating about the blatent disregard of regulations. What I am talking about mainly concerns roads & driving. The tro-tros, which are the best way to get around, would never, ever pass an inspection in the U.S. to deem them street worthy. Another example of this is the way my host dad drives on the wrong side of the road to bypass the traffic honking and pointing to his sticker stating he works at the hospital anytime anyone questions him. (I believe he is pretending to be an ambulance)

Another thing I love here is the sense of community I feel when I walk around with Samira greeting everyone with "Qualaffia" or "Salam Allah kum" (please disregard my butchered spelling) or the joy children get from acknowledgement from the Obruni Abena. (Note: Obruni=Foreigner/white person and Abena is my day name). I love the call to prayer and the fact that everyday there is a God Sky. I love that there is fresh fruit to buy everywhere and how independent I can be here. I enjoy the new plants and the fact that everyday I see something new that I didn't know about before. Now that some of the foreigness of everything is dulling into a backdrop of the semi-familar, I hope to make a routine for myself and become more purpose driven, hopefully I will start school soon which will give me something to do.

Mary and I pounding fufu

See Mom, Dad, & Melody-I am not crazy for not liking the seeds in cucumbers. Here in Ghana they cut out the seeds!

Cheesy picture of me being super excited over salad.

Grinding some pepper :)
My beautiful host mom. I respect her so much. She is the manager of a bank and has to travel around with an armed guard while on business. Talk about a strong African woman. On the weekdays, she doesn't get home until it is way too late to cook, but on weekends she has cooked up some delicious meals.

Ghana is very incredible and I love it so much here, but I have really struggled with this intense homesickness. I have missed my family, my church, and my access to news so much. I have been so blessed to have grown up in the place I did with the people I did and attend the church I did. I do not know if I could do this without the support of my wonderful family and church- you guys have helped me so much. Thank you!

Sarah & her host brother on a walk we took the day I visited them.

The Europeans and I at our weekend Twi lesson