Friday, September 26, 2014

A new routine

When moving to a new country, it's easy to fall out of the routine one has been following for several months.  I found this to be true when I transitioned to Ghana.  Finding local eateries that serve American style dishes, locating a gym that teaches aerobics and yoga--all these things take time and in some cases, were even pushed to the back burner as I got settled in.  Fortunately, things are beginning to fall into place.  Last week I was able to attend church with a friend, attend BSF, and purchase the sweetest fruit at the night market.

On Tuesday of last week I attended the first Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of the season.  BSF International provides people from all different backgrounds opportunities for study of God's word among people of the same gender (women's BSF/men's BSF) or age (young adult class).  Last year I attended for the first time in Charleston and studied the book of Matthew.  The impact it made on my life was wonderful.  And once I confirmed that there was a young adult class in Adabraka (about twenty minutes away from Legon) I knew I'd be going back.  This year we are studying the life of Moses (Exodus).  The night of the first class, I was concerned about how I would find my way to the church, but one of the BSF administrators gave the taxi driver directions over the phone and before long, I had arrived.

The class took place in a beautiful sunny yellow room at All Saints Anglican Church.  As I walked up the steps, soft melodies from the choir rang throughout the building.  All of the subgroups met in what appeared to be the fellowship hall.  The BSF leader welcomed me, said they had been expecting me (I had sent an email about directions a few days earlier), and put me in a group of young women who appeared to be slightly older.  I usually have a lot to say but, decided to keep quiet for the first lecture.  I was enjoying listening to the choir sing and observing all of the Ghanian students engaging in the study.  I also remained quiet because it was very hard for me to hear what the group was discussing.  In general, Ghanaian women speak very, very quietly and do not really project their voices.  That compounded with all the other people in the room talking, unfamiliar accents, and the choir singing, I had an extremely hard time understanding what in the world they were saying.  Next time, I'll try to sit right beside the group leader since the answers are always directed at her.  Maybe then I'll be able to hear what's going on!  All in all, it was a very special experience and I'm looking forward to next week's study.

After studying at the library for six hours on Wednesday night, I hailed a taxi and made a trip to the Night Market before heading home.  The Night Market is a place on campus where students come to purchase food, household products, and other goods from local vendors.  The market usually opens around 6:00pm or 7:00pm in the evening and stays open until the crowds die down.  This is why it's called the Night Market.  One of my favorite things about Africa is its natural bounty.  The pineapples and paw paw (papaya) is by far the sweetest I've ever tasted in my life.  Each time I take a bite into a pineapple, it's like eating a spoonful of sugar!  The Market is my favorite place to get fruits, groundnuts, sugarcane, and fried plantains.  The women who run the stations are very sweet and greet me warmly each time I visit.

Delicious fruits at the Night Market, September 17, 2014
Spices, yam, vegetable oil, rice, eggs, tomatoes, canned goods, and everything in between, September 17, 2014

A curious vendor selling plantains and other goods.  I'm so glad she didn't dodge my photo like the other women did! September 17, 2014
About two weeks after I arrived, I was walking back into the hostel from class when a girl greeted me in the hostel courtyard.  She told me she remembered seeing me the day I moved in and asked if I was settling in alright.  We began chatting and I immediately liked her for her kind nature.  We exchanged contact information and kept in touch.  When she invited me to go to church with her, I took her up on the offer.  Similar to Charleston, the Christian faith is very prominent in Ghana.  There are churches on every corner (on Sunday mornings, three small church services are held right on the hostel yard).  On Sunday morning, she met me at my room and together we walked to the road to catch a tro tro.  After arriving in Medina (a neighboring town) we hopped into another tro tro and headed to School Junction.  From there we walked about 15 minutes through a village to the church.

Before arriving at the church we came to a pond that was surrounded by small mud-brick buildings.  Soft white lilies dotted the pond and made for a tranquil setting.  The church was small and simple, and the people were very kind.  I had been to church with my host mother the first Sunday I was in Ghana (where a European was the pastor), but this was my first time attending an African church.  The format was different, but the spirit was the same, if not more lively!  The pastor was very young and delivered an important message: pray without ceasing.  He and his wife were very friendly and urged me to return with Rachel every Sunday.

On the way back home that afternoon, we stopped in Medina so Rachel could purchase some vegetables, eggs, and rice to cook dinner.  I had never been to the Medina market before and she explained that I could find anything I needed there.  Just as with the Night Market, the fruits, vegetables, grains, and spices were fresh and beautiful and although I wasn't cooking that afternoon, I couldn't help but at least purchase some groundnuts.  As we walked toward a tro tro, we stopped by a woman selling boiled corn on the side of the street.  As my friend purchased some corn for us, I watched attentively as vans and taxis whizzed by too close for comfort at alarming speeds.  Just as with the fruits, the corn was very different from home.  It had a soft, warm taste that was full and delicious!  As we headed back to the hostel that afternoon, I had a sense of calm and was very glad I had attended service with my Nigerian friend.

Getting into the swing of things in a new town, city, or culture isn't always easy, let alone a foreign country.  But by going through it, I'm learning to enjoy it.  My routine has changed and evolved quite a bit since I left home.  It's through these changes that I'm learning to adapt and find joy in everything I do.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A sigh of relief

There is no better feeling in the world than relief.  Anticipating an event for a long time, experiencing a halt in progress, and then finally seeing the event come to fruition provides great calm.  When school finally started at Legon last Monday, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I breathed another sigh of relief after I gave my first Rotary presentation the my host Club, the Rotary Club of Tema.  Here’s a description of my experience during the first week of studies in a developing country.

Hundreds of students listen in at the Graduate School orientation (I don't think this guy wanted to be in the photo!), September 12, 2014
My first class on Monday morning began at 8:00am.  Past scholars of Legon had warned me several times not to make my expectations too high.  They warned me that some professors don’t even show up to class during the first week.  I took their warnings seriously and tried to prepare myself as best I could.  So on Monday morning, after sitting under a tree with my classmates for an hour staring at every person who walked by and hoping he or she was my professor, I didn’t get too agitated.  After an hour and fifteen minutes I felt I had to do something. It occurred to me that after the strike and all the other chaos that had occurred, our professor may not even have been aware that there were students waiting for him to come teach class. So I went to one of the offices in the education building to ask where my professor’s office was located.   The office was locked, but an older gentleman came walking from a hallway.  I asked him if he knew where my professor’s office was, and to my surprise, he was my professor!  I introduced myself and informed him that there were at least five of us who were in the department waiting for instruction.  He was taken by surprise and said he wasn’t aware class was in session.  After some clarification he showed us where the classroom was, introduced himself and apologized for the confusion.  He said he would meet us for Tuesday’s class.  I thought to myself that was all anyone could ask for.  At that moment I had a great realization: as in America, in Africa, my success would depend heavily on my own wit, critical thinking, and determination.  In order to continue building a positive academic career, I was going to have to be proactive about my education.  

The next lecturer arrived on time and was very friendly.  He gave us an overview of the class and told us what to expect.  All in all that week, all five of our professors showed up and explained that the first week would be slow, but things would pick up by the following week.

By the end of the day I had met roughly 10 of my classmates, all of whom were teachers.  I found the class demographic interesting: all of my classmates were employed teachers except for myself, the majority of the class was married with at least one child, and all of the students were Ghanaians except for me.  I’m also the youngest person in the MA of Adult Ed. program this year.  There are moments when they break into Twi (the local language) and I remind them that I don’t know what they’re saying.  They always laugh or apologize and continue speaking in English.

Some of my classmates, September 12, 2014
My classmates and I agreed to disagree on the course schedule.  When I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Monday through Friday included back to back classes from 8:00am-5:00pm and Wednesdays included a six hour seminar!  At one point I thought the instructors were trying to kill us (the students).  I was relieved again, however, when I found out that my classmates wanted to rearrange the schedule.  All of them said that they are full-time workers, that they would never be able to teach and make it to class, and that this crazy schedule had to go!  During class, when each professor asked the working students how they expected to teach and successfully complete such a rigorous masters program, everyone was silent.  However, by Tuesday after they had heard that I had asked one of the professors about switching around the timetable, they all jumped on the bandwagon and together, we drafted a schedule that was to everyone’s liking.  After multiple discussions and arrangements with our professors they approved, and we were able to shift the seminar to Thursdays and the special topic preparation to Fridays.  This worked out well since our professors said we would not be meeting every week for the preparation classes. 

Vida and Abu writing out the final agreed upon schedule for the class, September 12, 2014
In addition to beginning the school year, I gave my first Rotary presentation last Tuesday to my host Club, the Rotary Club of Tema.  I actually wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be.  I had been to a meeting in August and had met the club members, so the venue was familiar.  I discussed my friends and family back home, similarities and differences between Ghana and the US, and my future career goals in Adult Ed.  I got a few laughs out of the crowd and was able to breathe another sigh of relief after it was over.  Some Rotarians told me they really enjoyed the presentation.  A couple told me I was speaking too fast and they couldn’t understand what I was saying!  I apologized and told them next time I would slow down. 

Rotary Meeting in session at the Rotary Club of Tema.  If you look closely, you can see my presentation in the background, September 9, 2014
Me, presenting my Sponsor Club's (Daniel Island Rotary Club) banner to the Tema Club president, September 9, 2014
 I also found out that one of my professors is a Rotarian.  After telling him about my scholarship, he invited me to attend a Rotary meeting with him at the Rotary Club of Accra-Dzorwulu.  The club members were very nice and the Club president, Ms. Yvonne, invited me to the club’s walking fundraiser on Saturday morning.  I agreed to attend after-I found out it was at 6:00am in the morning!  I was able to wake up on Saturday morning, however, and attend the walk.  It was a good way to fellowship and meet Ghanaian Rotarians.  One of the Rotaractors invited me to an auction benefit the next week and told me I was welcome any time.  

Walking home from the library and capturing an amazing sunset over campus, September 8, 2014

When 5:00pm rolled around last Friday and I hopped on my bike to head home after class, I gave another sigh of relief (yes, I do a lot of sighing).  I had survived the first week of school in a foreign land.  I had already received assignments from one professor and could feel things falling into place.  This is not to say I’m not facing my share of challenges.  At one point this week I said to myself, I’m not in Charleston anymore, but with each day, I am learning the education system within the cultural system and finding my way.  Next week, I’ll discuss making a trip to the night market for breakfast and finding some American restaurants!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Waking the dead

Before leaving home, I made a list of to dos for my time in Ghana.  On the list is a goal of visiting all ten regions of the country.  So far I’ve made it to Cape Coast twice to visit landmarks and friends.  A couple of posts ago I mentioned my friends in Cape Coast inviting me back for their annual Fetu Afahye festival.  Their stories about Orange Friday and the lively crowds convinced me to hop a bus and take part in the excitement.  And according to the locals, I witnessed real spirits awake from the dead.  Here’s what I captured during the 2014 Fetu Afahye festival.

On Friday morning I didn’t want to get out of bed for anything.  I usually like to get eight hours of rest, but that didn’t happen the night before, so I was pretty groggy.  On top of that, I was rushing out of the hostel to catch a van to Cape Coast in the neighboring town of Kaneshie, so I didn’t get much of a breakfast either.  Fortunately, after my friend dropped me at Kaneshie and helped me find a van, I was able to grab a bite to eat.  I mentioned previously that squawkers constantly fill the streets selling everything imaginable, from toothbrushes, to toy trucks to coconut scones.  As I was sitting in the van waiting for it to fill with people so we could be on our way, women came by balancing bowls of peanuts, watermelon, and other tasty looking goods on their heads.  When a woman came by selling paw paw (or papaya), I knew I had to have some for breakfast or either be really hungry for the next three hours.  One of the passengers helped me hail her in Twi (the local language), and about five minutes later I had delicious papaya to eat for breakfast.  Pretty soon the bus filled with passengers and before I knew it, we were on our way. 

A few years ago when I studied in the Netherlands, Africans had told me that fruit in Africa is the sweetest I'll ever taste in my life.  And they were right.  It's always so fresh, so sweet, and so delicious.  I really believe I could live off of papaya if I had to!  September 5, 2014
Around 1:00pm we arrived in Cape Coast.  Finding my way to the hotel was easy thanks to a taxi driver who greeted me before I could step out of the van.  The ride up to Mighty Victory Hotel was easy and comfortable, as people lined the streets in anticipation of the Orange Friday activities.  The hotel was just as my travel book suggested: quaint and clean with crisp white sheets and staff who smiled.  I had spoken with the hotel manager a few times before about accommodations, so I immediately recognized him by his voice when I checked in.  He welcomed me to the hotel and told me he was glad I could make it.  Shortly after settling in, I called my friend to let her know I had arrived.  

We agreed to meet that evening so I could have a few hours to rest.  As we made plans of where and when to meet, soft melodies of Ghanian music rode on the wind through my bedroom window.  By this time my stomach was singing a song of it’s own so I headed down to the hotel restaurant.  What a relief it was to see a full menu that included freshly squeezed orange juice, grapefruit and apple juice, toast and jam, sausage and peppers, and other familiar foods.  Being a breakfast person, I requested crepe pancakes with jam, sausage and peppers and a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice.  Not long after I placed my order, the server brought out a tray of hot food that was absolutely flavorful.  As soon as I took my first bite, I knew I’d be eating there again.

Another wonderful experience I had at the hotel was taking hot showers.  In the bathroom there was a glorious rain shower that poured out a constant flow of boiling hot water.  I’m pleased to say that I took two hot showers a day and enjoyed every minute of it!  Really reminded me of home.  Likewise, when I took a nap or went to bed for the night, I had a sound sleep.  I thought the music outside my window would keep me awake, but I drifted right off to sleep every time I went to bed and did not want to get up!

Mighty Victory Hotel, September 7, 2014
Hotel room, September 6, 2014
Around 6:00pm Gloria and I met up to take part in the Orange Friday parade.  She introduced me to her cousin and the three of us made our way to the junction and on up the road.  We fought the flow of the crowd as people dressed in all orange and funny costumes headed toward Victoria Park.  I hadn’t been in a crowd that huge in a long time.

Orange Friday, September 5, 2014
The people were moving so quickly that the photo became blurred.  An beautiful effect, September 5th, 2014

Louisa and I having a laugh before Gloria and I went dancing, September 6, 2014

A Ghanaian having fun, September 5, 2014
Lively Cape Coast at night, September 6, 2014
The next morning the internet was still down, so the hotel driver took me to an internet cafe so I could check my email and make the week’s blog post.  While we waited for Gloria to call me so we could meet up for the big parade, he took me around the city to see some of the festivities.  Just as on Orange Friday, people lined the streets selling food, waving banners, and having a good time.  Gloria explained to me that the Afute Afahye is a time for people in Ghana to pay homage to their ancestors.  The festival begins with the local chiefs staying up from Monday evening to Tuesday morning pouring libation to summon the ‘Gods’ and their ancestors.  From that time on until the end of the festival, the people believe the spirits of their ancestors can enter any person at any time and make them behave in strange ways and do strange things.  At one point as we walked down the street to Victoria Park, we were halted as the crowd began pushing and shoving.  I wondered what was happening.  Gloria explained that the ancestors had entered someone in the parade and the people were running in the opposite direction so the spirits would not enter them.  I asked Gloria if the people are so afraid of the spirits, why do they continue to hold the festival.  She said it is a sign of respect to their ancestors who came before them and protected them.  I then asked her why people don’t just pray to God for thanks and protection.  She said people pray to God as well, but the “ancestors were there before God.”  I had never heard this concept before and was quite surprised and perplexed.  Culture shock is around every corner.

A dancer representing his tribe, September 6, 2014
A costume representing a crocodile, September 6, 2014
If you look closely, you'll see that the woman in red is being held by the women with the yellow headdress.  According to the locals, the woman in red has been possessed by the ancestral spirits and she could easily hurt herself if she walked on her own.  In order for the spirits to release her, they pour libation in the ground to please the spirits, September 6, 2014

Gloria and I at the festival, September 6, 2014
Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama, September 6, 2014

The only female chief I saw in the parade.  Gloria said she's also a professor at Cape Coast University, September 6, 2014

Chiefs, their subjects, and onlookers line the streets, September 6, 2014

The festival lasted from noon to about six 6:00pm.  Chiefs from all over Ghana came to take part in the ceremonies.  Drumming, singing, shouting, and dancing could be heard from miles away.  Even the president of Ghana, Mahama, made an appearance.  By the end of the day we were all tired and sweaty, but happy.  Experiencing the festival gave me a first hand look at Ghanaian culture.  Gloria told me I was very fortunate to be in Ghana at the time to experience the festival.  I agreed with her that it was special and I had never experienced anything like it in my life.  Although I had a blast, I was happy when Sunday morning came and the hotel manager gave me a ride to the Ford Station.  This time the van filled quickly as Ghanaians and international students loaded up to head home for the week to come.  As I sat in the van thinking about the weekend’s events, I began thinking about classes, too.  The first week of school is currently underway.  I’ll discuss what my first week and giving my first Rotary presentation was like in next week’s blog.  For now, it’s off to read Chapters 1, 3, and 4 of my textbook on Research Methods (yikers!).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Understanding the culture

*Update: union professors have called off the strike.  The graduate semester at Legon (University of Ghana) will begin on Monday, September 8 (yay!).

Sometimes I wake up on Monday mornings and expect nothing out of the ordinary to happen.  How quickly I forget I’m in Africa!  Learning my way around Accra and the surrounding areas is slowly becoming easier.  Understanding the culture, however, is a completely different story.  There are small differences that occur every now and then that no one seems to notice except me.  Sometimes the differences are fascinating.  Sometimes they are super annoying.  Other times they just leave me extremely confused.  Cultural differences will remain a constant theme throughout this blog, but I’ll point out a few things that took me by surprise last week.
Every woman knows that our hair is not always our friend.  After shampooing and conditioning I usually just do my best to comb some of the curls out, put my hair in a ponytail, and say amen.  It’s not so easy to do that in Ghana because just about every other Ghanian woman has her hair braided in an ornate and time-consuming hair style.  So after seeing all of these gorgeous dos for three weeks, I figured it was time to get my hair done.  The next question was, where would I get it done and who would I get to do it for me.  There’s a little shop located within my hostel complex.  I usually make a trip there a couple of times a week to purchase a delicious Alvaro malt (delicious drink here).  When I went there last week, the girl who runs the store, Victoria, was braiding her friend’s hair.  And it looked very nice.  I asked her if she’d be willing to do mine and if so, when she’d be available.  We made an appointment for Tuesday morning at 9:00am.  I was there bright and early with my accessories (comb, brush, hair spray, etc.).  I’ve been doing my hair myself for a long time now, so it was quite a treat to sit back, relax, and watch soccer while someone else struggled with my curly mane.  She used some interesting and scary tricks to complete the look, which included a kerosene lamp with a lighted wick to bond the hair, and shears instead of hair creme to tame the stray ends. Five hours and one four hour rain storm later (the rainy season is in session), I had a sleek, fresh hairdo.  I was very tickled to have my hair done for the first time in Africa by an African, as this was one of my goals when I came to Ghana.  Now I can check it off my list.  And the best part is I’ve found a nice, reliable person who does good work and charges an affordable rate.  

Finally got my hair done, yay!  August 26, 2014

In addition to creating beautiful hairstyles, Ghanaians are also good at saving energy.  Last week I was watching a fascinating show on population studies.  A statistician was explaining his theories on what the world will be like in the next 50 years in regards to population, poverty, natural resources, and global warming.  He said that contrary to popular belief, the richest fraction of the population (US and Europe) are using a whopping 50% of the world’s energy resources, with the rest of the world sharing the rest, and the poorest of the poor sharing a very small fraction.  He said that in Africa and parts of Asia, people don’t use nearly as much energy and it’s up to the richest among us to change their habits so that there will be energy in the future as Africa and Asia rise out of poverty.  I could totally relate to his theory because last week, for the first time in my life, I washed a load of clothes by hand.  I boiled several pots of water and mixed them with cold, then poured the water into a bucket with some laundry detergent.  Very slowly I removed dirt stain’s and last week’s ketchup from blouses by scrubbing my clothes as they were submerged under steamy soap suds.  The rinse cycle included a move to the cold water bucket and then it was off to the clothes line with them.  Most students use an ugly iron structure to lay their clothes over to dry.  I wasn’t interested in this method since the iron structure takes up most of the space on one’s balcony.  Instead, I came up with an idea that involved nails and a cloth string.  After a few days, persistence, and some assistance from the carpenter, I had a clothes line on my balcony that worked out pretty well.  Along with not using a washer and dryer, I also turn the heater on only 20 minutes before my shower so I can have hot water.  As soon as I’m done, it’s turned back off to conserve energy.  There are occasional power outages, so in an effort to avoid having my appliances ruined when the power comes back on, I turn off and unplug the power adapter when I leave to run errands.  This saves energy as well.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get used to washing every single load of clothes by hand, but I do feel god about doing my part to save energy and protect the environment at home and abroad.

A homemade clothesline on my hostel room balcony.  Washing clothes by hand now, August 29, 2014

The most interesting activity from last week was attending a play at the National Theatre.  The play, titled “Unforgiven,” was about a wife and mother with very low self-esteem due mainly to her husband and family members’ constant bullying.  She nearly hit the breaking point when her daughter tried to take her life after finding out that her father was not really her father.  However, the mother (the main character) was deeply rooted in her faith and found the strength deep within herself to go on.  There were some Ghanian songs that naturally, I didn’t understand, and some cultural jokes that everyone laughed at, though I didn’t know what the fuss was about.  My Ghanian friend looked at me in some moments as if to say, “isn’t that funny,” but I simply smiled, not understanding the cultural references.  There were also advertisements throughout the play which was very different from home.  During stage changes the lights would dim and the projectors would display TV commercials.  The products these commercials were advertising could be seen throughout the theatre.  Advertising throughout the show was certainly different from anything that would happen at a show at home, but I suppose folks do what they have to do to make the show go on.  Located inside of the play pamphlets was a colored piece of paper.  My friend told me that there would be some sort of surprise at the end of the show.  I wondered what that could be.  Sure enough, at the end of the play, after the playwright came on stage and said a few words about loving family members and taking care of each other, he directed our attention to the colored sheets of paper, told us to collect our prizes, and to have a good night.  People raced from the theatre to the lobby where people and different prizes at different booths.  I received a pink T-shirt with a company logo on it.  It’s a nice souvenir to have since one sleeve sports the Ghanian flag!

Evans and I at the National Theatre.  I told him to smile!  August 30, 2014

 It’s funny how taking on part of someone’s culture can automatically help you blend in.  As soon as I finished getting my hair done, Ghanian men and women commented on how nice I looked.  Although some people have washers and dryers, many do not, and toting buckets of water to boil for coffee and tea a couple times a week really makes me count my blessings.  And the plot of the play at the national theatre reminded me that regardless of what part of the world I’m in, people of different cultures have the same struggles that people do back home. From local foods to ways of eating to the way we greet each other, cultural differences are everywhere.  They can be amusing or a bit frustrating, but it’s really what makes experiencing new and exciting cultures and interesting.  There's no telling what I'll encounter next week!