Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out of Place

When we got off the boat I instantly got a bad feeling. It didn't feel right to be there, and I felt more out of place than I have felt in the entire two weeks of being in Ghana.

Last Sunday, some of our group went on a daytrip to Dodi Island. The ride there was fascinating, as we got to finally get away from the city of Accra, and into the more rural parts of Ghana. We got to see smaller villages, homes made solely out of dirt, and more forestry than is evident at the University or in the city. When we arrived at Lake Volta, we docked the Dodi Princess and headed out on our boat ride.
Lake Volta is grand and quite beautiful. It's the largest man-made lake in the world, so it was pretty neat to be there. We sat on the upper deck for the most of the ride, trying to catch the breeze whenever possible. We even got lunch on the boat, and got in some serious relaxation time. With over 2 hours to Dodi Island it was pretty easy to just sit back and enjoy the water and the company of my friends.

We didn't really know exactly what would be going on at the island once we docked there. All we really knew was that we would have 30 minutes on the island. That's really it. I remember thinking on the way there that there was no way we could have enough time on the island. I mean, 30 minutes? What could we really do in 30 minutes?

As our group exited the boat, we saw people awaiting our arrival. Small children were gathered close to the boat, while other people were playing instruments and singing songs. Normally, this would be all neat and cultural, but that really wasn't the case here. The small kids grabbed our hands and led us toward the path on Dodi Island. As we passed people playing music there were bowls out to give them money. The path around the island only took about 15 minutes to walk, and to be perfectly honest, there wasn't very much to view. You see, this stop on Dodi Island wasn't so much about getting a good view, rather, it was supposed to be a way for us to see people living in great need, and give them some financial support.

You want to know what it really felt like?
It felt like it was a picture of a bunch of rich, white people coming to some other-worldly island to see "island people." It felt like we were there to gawk at these poor people, to get an image of how these people live. It was just so uncomfortable. The people who greeted us don't even live on the island. And the small children weren't really giving a tour of the island, rather they begged for money the entire walk. I gave a small girl, Jessica, 50 peswas because the people ahead of me told me that this was how it works. If you give them money, they'll leave you alone. I didn't really mind the children, I didn't want them to go away, I just was so confused as to why we were even at this island. Apparently, some people even told my friend Amanda that she should give as much as possible, that way God would bless her. It wasn't the begging that even bother me the most. It was the fact that the whole trip to the island felt like a facade, and I didn't know what to believe. The kids said they wanted to go to school which is why they needed the money and the pens from us. Yet, one even admitted that they would re-sell the pens anyway. If I told them I wouldn't give them money, but I would give them pens, they then continued to ask for everything I was wearing—my shirt, my necklace, everything. I just didn't get it.

My friends and I were in disbelief when we all managed to make it back on the boat. For a few minutes we were just silent, trying to digest everything that had happened on Dodi Island. Once we talked about it, we all seemed to be in agreement that it was uncomfortable, misleading, and not something we would recommend doing again. And as much as I really didn't like my experience on the island, I did remind myself that being here in Ghana is going to give way to uncomfortable experiences. It doesn't have to bad, even if it is uncomfortable. It's a learning experience instead, and even after everything from Sunday, I am ok that I witnessed all that I did on Dodi Island.

My encounter with the kids on Dodi Island may not be the most memorable experience I will have in Ghana, but luckily, I think I am going to be blessed with other wonderful experiences with kids in Ghana. I went to a school-in progress last week to see if I would be interested in volunteering. I went with my friend Taylor, and we ended up going over the ABC's, words, and spelling with 30 or so kids on the front of someone's porch in a village near to the University of Ghana. This school is very new, and the building for the actual school just started last week. The girl who started this program, Renee, is a study abroad student who is staying in Ghana for the whole year. She is passionate about these kids, and after a day of working there, I feel like it will be a place I will be spending quite a bit of time this semester. I am looking also for an opportunity to work in an orphanage, so that will be something I explore the next couple of weeks.

The kids here are beautiful. It's been hard to not give out money in the streets when the kids have asked, but ultimately, I know I can do a better service for these kids by helping with their education and giving them love. That will go a lot further than 20 peswas, that's for sure.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

a few glimpses of Ghana

The main road on campus.

Sunsets here are beautiful.

My room...before I added some of my pictures!

The Balme Library

My hostel (International Students Hostel)

View of Accra from the top of campus

The beach

The group!

Beautiful kids I saw near the beach.

Field hockey goals!!

Labadi Beach

I've been to a lot of beaches in my lifetime. I've been lucky enough to spend time on both the East and West Coasts of America, on the coast of Costa Rica, on a variety of beaches in Mexico, and even the Gulf of Mexico during time I've spent in the South.

I went to a beach in Accra yesterday—Labadi Beach—and it was a lot different than other beaches I've been to. For starters, it wasn't as if we left campus, took a stroll, and managed to find a nearby beach. No, quite the contrary.

Me and about 12 of my friends walked to the "tro-tro" station to catch a ride to the transfer station. A "tro-tro" is the public transportation system here in Ghana, used by those who don't want to ride the bus and don't want to pay more money for a taxi. Yesterday, I found myself in a tro-tro with 24 people including myself. The tro tro looks like an oversized van, and in each row people squish together to fit as many people as possible. Many of these people are tired, sweaty, and ready to get home. Sometimes, the tro-tro driver will play music from a local radio station. I like when he does that because it makes me feel like I fit in a little more. It's not like I want to go unnoticed, but when you walk around in a country that has an overwhelming majority of black people with a group of 10 white kids, you inevitably stick out.

We had to stop at another transfer station to head to the beach. Getting on the second tro-tro was even more ridiculous, as we had to cross two busy streets with a chaotic amount of cars. It was a stressful situation not only because I thought I was going to get hit, but right after we crossed the street I was stopped by a beautiful Indian woman for money. She grabbed my arm and looked at me desperately. I wanted to give her something, I really did, but one thing I learned here is that you really never know where that money might be going. I politely declined and continued to walk forward, trying not to feel guilty. Right as I looked up I saw what looked to be like her son attempt to pickpocket a couple of ladies. More and more people crowded near us, asking for us to buy stuff from them, or to give them money, and I couldn't wait just to get to our tro-tro.

We got on the next tro-tro and a sense of relief washed over me. It was a temporary relief though, because when we reached our final stop and got off the tro-tro we walked for a little ways before realizing the beach was nowhere in sight. A girl with us, Taylor, who studied in Ghana last semester, was leading us, and we ended up walking through an area that contained locals and their homes. We saw children running around in their underwear, women preparing dinner for that evening, chickens looking through sewage, and friends laughing together. I felt terrible. I felt like we intruded on their homes and their privacy, in an effort to find the beach of all places. I felt uncomfortable—not because of how the people treated us—but rather because of the entire situation. The last thing I really wanted to do was encroach on the homes of others, and it seemed like we did exactly that. When we finally reached the end of these homes we had to cross a small, rickety bridge and then cross another couple of streets. The beach was finally in sight.

We had to walk about another mile down the edges of the beach, along the rocks, before we could relax. When we finally got to step on the sand and have the waves touch our feet, it felt perfect. We passed a couple games of football, a couple holding hands, and of course some guys wanting us to buy their necklaces. We had made it. Of course, the adventure of getting to the beach couldn't end that smoothly. Right as we were approaching the actual beach area a middle-aged man told us that we could pass if we gave him something small. Because we were white he thought he might be able to get a little something out of us. Taylor stood up for us and put that down pretty quickly.

At the beach we got a big table, got a ton of chairs, and gathered around to hang out. We had some beers, good music, and had a lot of fun. I went in the ocean a couple of times, just to get my feet wet, and it was exhilarating.

Minus some creepy guys trying to hit on all of us, the stench of pot in the air, and the lack of bathrooms, reggae night was a blast. Reggae night happens every Wednesday at Labadi Beach, and I can tell you I definitely won't be there every time, but the experience was something I will always remember. I met Rastafarians for the first time in my life. I took a taxi in Africa for the first time. I got offered a joint for the first time in my life. Last night was a lot of firsts for me. Really though, I think that is what the rest of my time in Africa will be like. A lot of firsts. That makes me excited and happy, because ultimately, that is why I am here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“Obronis! This is Ghana man!”

Good morning Africa.

That was what I was thinking a couple of mornings ago when we awoke to no power and to no electricity. I can't say I was thrilled, but since we spent the day touring Accra, it didn't really matter anyway. Our tour of Accra was really enjoyable. We saw the presidential palace, went to the memorial for the first President of Ghana, saw the BEACH, went to a touristy market where some guys gave me some hints on how to play the drums, ate Chinese food in a nice part of town, and traveled to the Accra mall to get last minute items we need for our rooms. When we came back from the tour though, with the power and water still out, we had to suck it up and hang out in the dark. It was really fun just sitting in Amanda's room talking in the dark, getting to know people even better. Needless to say, all of us here are growing closer because of our common bond. We are in the same boat; we are adjusting to living Africa, and that common experience is creating a tie between us. If nothing else, we are learning to appreciate how blessed—how spoiled, quite frankly—we are back in the States. With no power or water here we haven't been able to take showers, have lights on at night, or even flush the toilets. What's more, is that I am learning how much food we consume back home. We have a meal stipend that ISEP provided for us that amounts to about $700. This works out to about 7 cedi a day for food, or what would be a little over 6 dollars. At first I remember thinking that there was no way this would be enough. Contrary to that believe, it is more than enough. I can eat under 2 cedi (just over 1 dollar) for every meal pretty easily. Whether it is fruit, an egg sandwich, red-red, or jollof and chicken, everything here is so delicious and so inexpensive. At the night market yesterday when my friends and I were getting some fresh pineapple and papaya for dinner we were talking about how cheap it was. The woman cutting the pineapple thought we were complaining, and we had to reassure her that it was quite the contrary, we just couldn't believe how wonderful the food was and inexpensive it was too.

As we toured the city the other day, I distinctly remember the faces of the people we saw out the window. We traversed through markets, homes, and the city on a huge, touristy bus. You can envision the looks we were getting. Imagine 45 international kids starting out the window, from a huge, air-conditioned bus. Most people would light up when seeing us though, for whatever reason they seemed happy to see us. I liked waving from the bus, especially when kids would wave back, but more than anything, I think I want to go back to the city and greet people on the same level. I want to walk by them, have a chance to shake their hand, and give them a proper greeting. I felt almost pretentious waving from a bus, to be perfectly honest. The Ghanaian students have been warm to us also, but have been much more hesitant in extending their hospitality. My best guess is that to them, we are these privileged white kids showing up to the University of Ghana and staying in the nicest place on campus. Yesterday, we didn't even have to wait in the long lines for registration, we just got to bypass that and sign up for classes. I can understand where the resentment would come from. Assumptions they are making about us are going both ways, because we are making assumptions about Ghanaian students also. It's been weird to be in the minority, at least in terms of race, because I have never had that experience before. My high school in Aurora, Colorado was well over 90% white and my college in Conway, Arkansas is also devoid of any signs of diversity. Yet, it is an experience I not only want, but need. Understanding life is a lot of understanding what others go through and you should embrace walking in their shoes. As the first President of Ghana once said, "Forward ever, backwards never."

In other updates…

**The biggest news in Ghana these days is about the national earthquake hoax from a couple of days ago. A couple nights ago in our hostel, we were told to come out of our rooms (at 4:15 am!!) because of an earthquake alert. Turns out, it was a national hoax started from text messages, so now the government in Ghana is trying to figure out who started the text.

**I have registered for my classes!! I am taking two social work classes (Working with Communities & Women and Children's Rights and Protections), an English class (Landmarks in African American Literature), & a Geography class (Geography of Gender and Development in Africa). I am very happy about the classes I am taking! Oh, and I don't have any classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays which totally rocks.

**I am going to go to the sports directorate today and try and join the University of Ghana field hockey team!!

**I will be visiting a village near the U of G tomorrow to check out a program I am considering volunteering for. It is an outreach program that provides education for disadvantaged children. I met some of the children yesterday and they are beautiful J

**Because of the lack of water, Rachel and I took our first bucket showers here in Ghana. How do you do it? Fill a bucket with water from the spigot in the courtyard and use a small cup to wash your body with this water. After over 2 days with no shower, it felt surprisingly wonderful.

**I just handwashed all of my dirty clothes. It didn't take terribly long since I didn't have a lot to wash, but it made me realize how different things are from back home.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Ghana is so different from any place I’ve ever been before.

One man has a monkey on a leash in his front yard.

It’s developing, so much so that you will see BMW’s and Lexus’s on the same road that you see women selling their goods so they can get by. Ghana time is calm and easy, and yet around the University, especially by the main road, things seem to move so quickly.

Maybe that’s just me, and maybe it’s the situation.

I am in a totally new place, and it can be overwhelming to absorb it all at once.

When you come to the University you enter the main gate. When we came the first night by way of a bus, the campus didn’t seem to stretch on too much. Now that we are walking everywhere it is incredible how large it is! The school seems like its own city—complete with salons, restaurants, and markets. The night market right near our hostel is a cool place to check out in the evenings, and the other day we spent some time at a market known as the bush canteen. The bush canteen is so cool. You take this narrow path to get in, and once you reach the market there are little shops everywhere where you can get adapters, toothpaste, toiletries, and anything a college student could ever need. It’s a tight space, people are everywhere, and the smell of heat and cooked food permeates the air.

To get to any building that I will actually take a class in will take at least 30 to 35 minutes! A big change from Hendrix where if I walk fast enough I can get to anywhere in a little over 5 minutes.

We went to my favorite part of campus today. You walk up this steep hill, passed the homes of the professors, around the registry, toward an open area full of trees, bushes, and colors. You have the best view of Accra around up in this place on campus. The view is spectacular, and I liked it the moment we saw it because it is devoid of noise, crowded streets, and tons of people. As much as I love being around lots of people near the main part of campus, it is nice to find a little place to get away.

I’ve been here 48 hours and I find that insane. It seems like I’ve been a student here for weeks. I’m enjoying it so much, but admittedly, am having a pretty difficult time right now. Today was just one of those days where I think the flight finally caught up with me and I began to really realize what I am doing. I am in Ghana. For 4 months. I am without many of the luxuries I have at home, I am away from all of my family, and I miss my friends quite a bit. I am homesick. More so though, I think I’ve become a little scared.

Scared of how I can adjust.

Scared that maybe 4 months is too long.

I am praying about it though, and it is helping. I am really grateful to be here. I am happy to be here with Rachel, to have good conversations with the other international kids, to meet new people, and to experience something that only comes along once in a lifetime.

I expected to have some challenges, so as they come, I know it comes with the territory. I'm in Africa, and though it may be hard at times, I am in Africa. It's amazing, it's beautiful, and I can't stop thinking of all the opportunities I have here. And, it's only been 2 days. This is where I am supposed to be.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Goodbye Home, Hello Africa!

"I love you, O Lord, my strength." Psalm 18:1

Tomorrow is the BIG day!

I have been thinking about this moment for about a year and a half. Scratch that. I've been thinking about this moment ever since I came to Hendrix, and knew that I wanted to study abroad and go to Africa.

I don't know what to expect. At all. I think that might be the best part. Yes, I may have no hot water. And yes, I may just have to wash my own clothes, minus a washer and dryer. But really, that's what I wanted to get out of this experience anyway. I wanted to live a little differently for awhile so that I can find greater meaning and appreciation for the life I have lived for the past 21 years.

I am going to Ghana. I am going to Africa. For 5 months. It's crazy how much I have changed in the past couple years at Hendrix, so it should be interesting how I change and what I learn from 5 months of studying at the University of Ghana.

Why Ghana? What do I want from this experience?

To be challenged, to be uncomfortable, and from this, find ways to adapt and learn from being uncomfortable.

To become more open-minded.

To understand the gifts God has given me, and to use them as I meet new people from all parts of the world.

To let go of being in control all of the time. Really, to just let things happen as they happen, and rely on others more fully.

To find inner peace.

To learn new ways to trust God.

To move away from relying on material items all the time.

To find a place in Ghana to volunteer my time, as I further try to find my purpose and path in life.

To always, always appreciate the blessings—big and small—in life.

Those are some goals and thoughts behind my motivation to study in Ghana.

My blog is named "This is Africa" because after talking about Ghana with a girl who studied there in the past, she told us that this is what she had to keep in mind while living in Africa. Things are just different there, not necessarily worse, just different. Whenever she would get frustrated with how things were being done in Ghana, she would remind herself—"This is Africa." I too, will be reminding myself of this. Hopefully, I can achieve my goal of just letting things happen as they will happen, and I can fully embrace This is Africa.

Tomorrow I have a flight from Denver to London, and then will head from London to Accra on British Airways. I should be arriving in Accra on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at approximately 9:30 pm. It is then, that the adventure really begins.