No Place Like It

This whole experience has been a gift, and it’s time to wrap it up. It’s been about a month since I’ve been home. For those of you still with me I thank you for your readership. If nothing else this post should offer the broad strokes of my own experience readjusting to home.

There’s a chart they showed us before coming home which maps the range of emotions we should expect while assimilating back home. The bold black line spiked up in the initial phase depicting the satisfaction, the absolute elation, of the long awaited reunion with friends and family. In the next phase the line takes a sudden nosedive, plummeting towards the bottom of the paper. In phase two we’re warned that our friends and family don’t really care as much as we thought they would to hear about our encounters with border security, traveler’s diarrhea, or that one time we left our phone in a cab (or that other time our replacement phone was stolen). The chart suggests that in the final phase as we come to grips with a reality that falls short of our colorful expectations we’ll level out and resume the day to day which was so boring and in fact the thing that made us all want to leave the godforsaken hemisphere in the first place. I’m no statistic, so my own readjustment was not so dramatic.

It was dark when we landed. Sick from travel, my body ached and my sinuses were blocked and then gushed out with clear fluids. Blocked again, and then gushing, like someone was pulling a dam lever. My eyes were red and they burned as the first gusts of Cincinnati air licked their dehydrated hulls. I see my mom waving from the other side of the orange line and I scramble to make this moment match what I had been imagining for some time now. The week that was supposed to bring the excitement of phase one was decidedly dull due to a lack of Sudafed. Still, it was good to be home and I was looking forward to catching up with people, if I could only remember who those people were.

In the first couple of weeks people contacted me wanting to get lunch and catch up. Not remembering how I left things four months ago I had to think, “Do I want to see this person?” “Do I even like this person?” Other questions, still unanswered, nagged at me. How is it that the radio is still playing the same songs? Is Pokémon Go still a thing? Can I still get a McMuffin for dinner?  Yes, you can take the American out of America, but you can’t take America out of the American. I have yet to have a McMuffin for dinner (a groundbreaking development before I left). I’m also meaning to schedule time with my mom for a Bob Evan’s breakfast which we enjoyed on occasion before I left.

I will say that walking through the golden arches of freedom and again embracing the Bob Evans family values that we Midwesterners unwaveringly cling to has been comfortable. My bed welcomed me home with a warm hug on the cold night of my return. I have a TV in my room, Netflix, Amazon Prime, there’s food in the fridge, and my dog still sleeps at the foot of my bed. The conveniences and familiarity with the systems here in the U.S. have definitely helped to ease my transition.

I’m happy to be home.

Here are some pics of some of the people I’ll miss the most. Until we meet again guys!

BONUS!!! Here’s a video that my friend Jenny (directly above) took of our walk to class one day.

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Safari O’ Matic 3000

“They’re afraid.  And when they’re afraid they’ll do one of two things: run away or attack.”    

  –Sadik, Safari Tour Guide

The only thing better than seeing elephants at the zoo is everything, which is why I readily agreed to skip a class and take a 20 hour trek to go on safari in the northern part of Ghana. About three hours outside a city called Tamale is Mole National Park, Ghana’s underrated gem. After leaving two hours behind schedule, breaking down twice, catching a cab in Tamale at 4 am (also breaking down twice), we were greeted with warthogs and friendly smiles at Mole Motel.  25 USD would buy us one night in a room which exceeded our expectations (low as they were) and a night with the ants and the antelopes in the adjacent camp ground. We agreed that, in light of our travel woes, we deserved not one but two safari tours. The first was on foot.

We set out on the afternoon of our first day. Ignoring our tour guide Sadik’s insistent warnings about water, we trudged across wetland, over streams and through shin-deep mud. Life is abundant in Ghana, especially during rainy season. But this time it was to our disadvantage. Thriving on the constant water supply, the bush was so overgrown that any chance of spotting wildlife was cut in half. Add to that the abundance of watering holes for the animals (meaning they were less likely to group together in one spot), it looked as if our tour would be over before it began. Yet we remained optimistic. Quiet and alert, we were like bloodhounds sleuthing the terrain for signs of animal life. Standing in the middle of lowlands cut through with streams and surrounded by hills on all sides we walked, and waited, and walked some more. Finally, there was movement in the bushes ahead of us. Long, curved, horn-like antlers shown through the trees. Not quite a deer, it was… something. A bushbuck we later found out, but it could have been a squirrel and we would all have been giddy just the same. Alas, what we came for we did not find.

“You get in the car. I’ll go get my weapon.”

-Muhammad, Safari Tour Guide No. 2

The next morning we found ourselves climbing into a Land Rover with Muhammad and his gun. Antelope. Warthog. Bushbuck. Warthog. Antelope. We were beginning to lose hope when Celine Dion rang out from the drivers phone. He answered the call: they were near.

The Land Rover stopped at the side of the dirt road and we stepped out into the bush. We didn’t need to walk far to see them: three elephants going about their business as if there wasn’t a crowd of twenty wide-eyed white people watching them. Big shout out to African elephants for being so majestic. It’s the humans that I have trouble with.

“There’s one thing I don’t have time for and that’s your bullshit.”

-Jennifer K. (AKA the girl who divorced her husband, changed her name, and left for Africa.)

Our hostility as travelers comes from a combination of  language barriers, long bus rides, dehydration, and lack of both sleep and Hot Pockets. We love each other, we do, and so we tolerate each other’s outbursts. It’s that or be left alone in Larabanga, a village just outside of Mole and the home of Ghana’s oldest mosque. Northern Ghana, by a large majority, is Muslim. The mosques around every corner, the calls to prayer over loud speakers above the streets-  the Northern Region is a huge departure from the capital city, Accra. A month since my first day in Ghana and the sensations of the first week’s abrupt encounter with the sublimity of this new and beautiful place were as strong as ever.

In preparation for “Ghana 2016” I tried to lay aside my Western preconceptions about the country as a “slice of Africa” and instead sought to experience it as a pie of its own, if you will. Still, I find myself time and time again feeling as if I’m walking across the pages of a National Geographic- rural villages, wild elephants and antelopes, a centuries old mosque- this is the Africa I know. And yet this barely scratches the surface.

In closing, a tip of my hat to my Chinese foreign exchange student whose words are even truer now than they were when he spoke them before my departure two months ago.

“You shouldn’t worry. Africa is still on the planet of Earth.”

– Recent Chinese Proverb, Zhang (William) Jiangwei

 

Not a Vacation

My vomit was thick and my bowels were weak after I decided it was okay to boil the tap water for coffee and noodles. I’m assuming that’s why my insides turned against me at 3 o’clock this morning. There’s still a lump in my throat waiting to be purged. I’ve managed to will it back down for now and I’m currently re-hydrating. As a friend of mine says, when you’re abroad you take more risks than you normally would. I need to start being more careful.

I eat the street meat even though I know it could make me sick. I walk into large crowds to see what the hubbub is and I don’t use the bathroom before I leave the house. And because I eat the street meat, this can quickly turn scary. A race to the bathroom in Jamestown led me down an alley to a woman charging 50 Pesewas for the use of a toilet and an arm’s length of TP. She must have been doing this a while, because it was exactly enough. In life, as in pooping, things have a weird way of working themselves out. I’ve been able to maintain my optimism thus far here in Ghana.

Being in a new country is like being born again. Everything is new, everything is wonderfully sensational. Take, for instance, the tro tro. Jam packed like Ghanaian sardines in a 25 passenger van rattling loose all of its insides as it weaves through rush hour traffic on George W. Bush Highway, it’s still exciting to most Obrunis in our group. It screams adventure. It screams impending doom. For us it’s a taste of culture, for Ghanaians it’s life. It’s unsettling to think about the days to come when things are no longer as new and exciting as they are now. When the day-to-day loses its luster. When taking the tro tro is a chore and not an experience.

Even now, three weeks in, fewer things surprise me- the wild goats and chickens, stray dogs, a woman trying to sell me a kitten at the market. I’ve also been less surprised to find myself in the most peculiar situations. Last week I was Ochiami to the Queen Mother of a village in the Asanti Region. The job was to introduce our group and its mission to Mohema through her linguist. The bows, the handshakes, the traditional attire, the memorization of phrases reminded me of the way I felt at my first communion- sufficiently awkward, a little nervous, but mostly excited to eat when it was all over with.

Here’s to another week…

 

** Corrections!

Thanks for not jumping down my throat about any factual errors from last week’s post. There are a few:

“Most everyone is insured and there are no deductibles or co pays.”

  • I’ve heard different things about this. Some have said for routine appointments and minor ailments there are no fees. Others have said that they have seen people paying after medical services. Still others have been asked to pay and their money was later refunded.

“Rastafari high”.

  • Rasta Father high?

“Today, Ghana has a western style democracy: three branches of government with two houses in the legislature.”

  • Ghana has a unicameral legislative body in “The Parliament House”.

 

 

 

A Thing or Not a Thing

It’s just shy of two weeks from the day we arrived at the University of Ghana in Accra. I’ve had more new experiences in that time than I’ve had in my entire life. It saddens me to know that, no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to fully describe to you the emotional and spiritual upheaval that is adjusting to the culture in Accra. I can’t describe to you what it’s like bargaining at the art market, what the Medina Market smells like, or what it’s like riding the trotro for the first few times. I’m not yet sure how I feel about being stopped for selfies or being stared at by people who have never seen a white person before. I can’t describe the way the cool air feels at night, the sound of birds I’ve never seen before, or how the sky looks at dusk.  I can however offer a rundown of some things that have stuck out to me as I’ve tried to navigate this new world. So let’s play a game. I call it “A Thing or Not a Thing” and the rules are simple. Some things are things and others are not, so here we go.

Malaria

Yes, it is most definitely a thing, but not as big a deal as you might think. For Ghanaians, getting Malaria is comparable to getting the flu. It can get ugly, but in most cases a trip to the hospital or a homemade remedy can take care of it. And by the way, that trip the hospital probably won’t cost you a Ghanaian Peswa. Most everyone is insured and there are no deductibles or co-pays.*

Zika

Officially not a thing. Please stop asking.

Walking on the grass

Not a thing. In fact, don’t even think about it. It takes a lot of work to keep the grass looking good, so in nice places such as green spaces on campus walking across the grass will earn you some unwanted attention.

Coffee

Not really a thing, but as Accra continues to grow you might find a coffee shop in a more developed area. More common is Nescafé instant chocolate coffee. If you order coffee from a restaurant or market this is what you’ll get.

Punctuality

Not. A. Thing. Thirty minutes late is early.

Rastafarianism

A thing. I had the pleasure of meeting a Rasta man at Tawala beach. My wallet had fallen out of my pocket. He picked it up, returned it and insisted I buy him a beer. Fist bump. To the heart. “Rastafari high”.

A Covert Coup by the American CIA

A thing. In the late 60’s the CIA stirred up Ghanaian politics out of fear of communism. Ghana had just become independent of Great Britain and the Americans wanted to make sure Ghana wouldn’t swing too far in one direction. They stirred things up enough to oust then leader Kwame Nkrumah. In an almost unheard of move, the Ghanain leaders of the coup decided they would hold open elections instead of hold onto power. Today, Ghana has a western style democracy: three branches of government with two houses in the legislature. Ghana also has two major political parties: the capitalists and the social democrats.*

Jogging

Not a thing. Expect to get confused looks when going for a run around campus.

Obesity

Not much of a thing. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but despite their high carb diet (meals consist of bread, rice, meat, and beans) not only do Ghanaians not go for a run to burn off a few pounds, they don’t put them on to begin with.

 

 

* It should be noted that the information in this post is secondary;  it was gathered from tour guides, locals and fellow travelers.