The Ghana Files: Some challenges, some adjustments.

I’ve just finished my first week in Cape Coast, and my third week in Ghana. Actually, in ten days I will have been here a month! Things are going very well, but I will be honest and tell you that it’s not a walk in the park. Things are definitely different here than they are at home.

Sounds: Two days in a row, I have been woken up at 5:00AM by a choir of college students, singing and praying. The roosters usually start up around 4:00AM. Late into the evening, the township just near my campus is rocking out to highlife music. In general, the vibe here is very festive and musical! That’s great, and I love it… when I’m not trying to sleep. At home I am such a baby about having a dark and quiet, cave-like place to sleep. After a year of this, I should be able to sleep through anything.

Sleeping in: They don’t do it here in Ghana… it seems like the entire town comes to life around 5:00 in the morning. I have a few classes that begin at 7:00 AM… and I know my students have already been up, scrubbing the campus down and attending their daily mass. One day last week, I didn’t have a class until 11:00 so I took the liberty of sleeping until 7:00 AM… my roommate commented that I sure slept late that day!

Spices: Everything I’ve eaten since my arrival in Cape Coast, unless I prepare it myself, is spiced with a pepper sauce. I’m getting better about being able to consume spicy food, but my stomach sure isn’t happy with me after the fact. It’s going to take time, but eventually I am going to have a tummy of steel.

Sweat: I walk around all day, every day looking like a sweaty beast. The moment I get out of the shower, it begins. It’s not even that hot here yet, I’m just not used to the humidity I guess. At any rate, it’s not an attractive look, so I can pretty much give up on that idea.

Showers: I am lucky to have running water in my house, with a bathroom and a shower head. Many people wash themselves in buckets using water that they retrieved from elsewhere. This is not the case for me, and I am lucky. However, the water in my house does not always work, so I keep buckets of water in my bathroom “just incase.”

Skin: When we were driving into Cape Coast for the first time, my principal made a comment that all of the people were staring at me as if they’d “never seen obroni (white person) before.” Her driver responded, saying something that I could not understand, and everyone in the car cracked up. My principal translated, the driver had said “they’re staring because she’s white-white, she’s proper white.” So apparently I’m not just white… I’m white-white. Which means not only do I just stick out, I really stick out.

Spiders (and other assorted insects): Yeah, this one only took me just a few days to get over. Exactly one week ago, a spider sent me out of my house looking for help. Now I can take them out like a pro. I’ve had much practice this past week.

Students: My students are so respectful, I can’t get over it. In class, they answer each of my questions with “yes Madame, no madame.” When I walk into their room, one of them gets up to erase the board and another one hands me a marker. When I see them on campus, it’s “good afternoon, madame.” When my water went out, I had two girls knocking at my door with buckets. This is an adjustment for me, considering the last school I worked at I spent more time trying to get the students to behave than I did teaching.

Skype: I am so used to leaving me computer signed onto Gmail, Facebook Skype, etc. the entire time I am home. When I went out, I had my iPhone with me. Intellectually, I know the fact that I have access to internet at all is a blessing.To be honest, I am still having a hard time cutting back. I have a USB modem that connects to the cell phone tower that I can use in my house. It charges for everything you download or stream, so I really can’t afford to use Skype on that connection. There is wireless on campus, but it does not reach to my house or my classroom. It works in the library and the computer lab, but last week I got the feeling that I wasn’t really welcome to hang out in there. Those also are not prime spots for Skype conversations, since there are people hanging around. Basically, the few Skype conversations I have attempted, I’ve been sitting outside under a tree.

Separation: I knew that coming here meant being apart from my friends and family for almost a year. I had never experienced something like that, but I figured I could handle it. I know that I can handle it, or else I wouldn’t have come here… but at the same time, it’s much more difficult than I thought it would be. I keep telling myself that it’s only ten months, and that I’m lucky to have people to miss.

Social Life: Nothing much in this area yet. I have plenty of colleagues who are friendly enough to me, greeting me each time they see me. After the obligatory “Good afternoon, how are you? I’m great, thank you” it doesn’t go much further. My roommate is very nice, she is always looking after me to make sure I eat, know how to do laundry, etc. She has her own social life though, we haven’t done much beyond things that are work or roommate related. I have been in touch with some of the other volunteers in my program, but they are all in different towns that are quite far away. There are no volunteers in my town from Peace Corps, VSO, and things of the like. I’m not sure if there is much of an expat “community” here. I live on campus, so my entire life during the week is spent working. I’ve been hanging out by myself all weekend… I’m hoping I can scrounge up some sort of social life, because otherwise it’s going to be a long 10 months (and I’m going to need more books.)

I’m not writing this to sound like a Debbie Downer, things are definitely going very well here. I’m very happy with my job and work responsibilities, my house is extremely nice, everyone is very friendly towards me. Fox pointed out that my blog entries were all puppies, rainbows and sunshine… he told me that I should include some of the hard stuff. So, these are just some of the challenges so far. They are all things that I imagine I will adjust to in time… I mean hey, look at the spiders!

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