Sometimes I wish I was in full-out blog mode when I lived in Ghana. Instead, my memories are thanks to a poorly utilized journal, emails sent out to friends and family, and well…my brain. So while I’m not turning this into a travel-blog-from-stuff that-happened-to-me-four-years-ago (nice ring to it though, right?) a mix of things have made me want to recount some good ol’ memories as of late.
So here are some things that stick out most from my African adventure — crazy experiences, special moments, and tiny details that have made the most impact on my life.
The main mode of transportation in Ghana is a tro tro. They’re essentially mini buses with the seats ripped out and benches in their place to squeeze in more people. There’s the driver (if you’re lucky he actually knows how to drive) and a mate, who stands outside the bus yelling the direction of the car. They can be incredibly convenient, incredibly entertaining, and incredibly terrifying. Drivers also honk to say “hello,” which means there is constant honking. If the same honking fees occurred in Ghana like they “do” in NYC, people would be a lot worse off than they already are.
I taught English at an orphanage for boys. My class ranged from 5 year olds to 18 year olds, and every student broke and lit up my heart. We had a lot of spelling bees, creative writing assignments, and basketball tournaments. One time I borrowed a laptop and showed them Lord of the Rings. On my final day we had a dance party and I bought them a radio and they went crazy. To this day they melt my little heart.
While it may never happen to me IRL, I think I was proposed to about 30 times. This happens to many white women in many African countries. And while it’s totally reasonable to be kind of bothered, I had fun with it. First of all, I kept a fake wedding ring on my hand, so I would tell Ghanaians I had a husband waiting for me at home. (He was about 6’2, dark, handsome, and a billionaire.) I did travel often with a male friend (we were kinda “seeing” each other….one of those situations) and people would ask “wife or sister”? “Friend” was never an option, so we often played husband and wife. Oy. Sometimes if I was really curious, I would ask my suitor, “hey man, you barely even know me and you want to marry me?” where he usually replied “but I love you!” And then I’d accuse him of simply wanting a free pass to America.
One of the most memorable experiences was going to Elmina Castle — a main stop on the Atlantic slave trade route. Back in the 1700’s, slaves were captured and sold to the Portuguese in exchange for textile and horses, and then locked up at Elmina before exiting the castle’s infamous “door of no return.” I found an email where I wrote about the castle, which goes into the details: “The prison cells were ridiculous; the air still smelled of waste and death and sickness from centuries ago. What was also strange was that the castle was architecturally beautiful, right on the water amidst palm trees and colorful fishing boats. It was hard to be in such an amazing building that was in reality a place of destruction and cruelty.” It’s a place and an experience I won’t ever let go of.
One of my absolute favorite parts about Ghana was the markets. Full of life, colors, and culture, it was so fun to meander through the crowds and bargain for yams, toothbrushes, and artwork. I absolutely improved my Twi by talking to people in the markets. I also was absolutely ripped off every time I went there for the first few months. One thing I quickly learned was the asking price can be up to three times the amount of what something is actually worth. To make it harder, vendors rarely have change, so even if you have what’s equivalent of a five dollar bill, if you want to buy something for 50 cents, you probably won’t get any money back.
Everyone is late. I actually ended up writing my thesis on how the concept of time varies around the world (read Edward Hall’s The Dance of Life) but to sum it up, many cultures function on polychronic time. This means human interaction is valued over time and materials, leading to a lesser concern for getting things done on time. (It does get done, but it just takes awhile.) For instance, I’d get to class on time, and then my ten classmates would come twenty minutes later. And then the teacher would show up about 20 minutes before class was slotted to end. Moreover, buses don’t leave at a certain time — they leave when they’re filled. Conversations are over when they’re over, not when people need to get home for dinner. It’s a fascinating way to live, and a pretty hard (but cool) thing to adjust to.
Nightlife is awesome. I’m not a huge go-out-to-bars person, because quite frankly…I find it boring. But in Ghana, going out revolves around the people, the music, and the dancing — not the booze. Still, I did get adequately inebriated often, but doing so on the beach dancing with your friends while highlife is being performed steps away beats any silly hipster bar in Brooklyn. Plus…beers are $1 and shots (in little sachets that resemble clear ketchup packets) are 30 cents. Can’t beat that!
I made incredible friends. From Americans to Ghanaians to Nigerians, I made connections with people I will never forget. I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of them, but now everyone is scattered all around the world. It’s sad, but it’s also beautiful to know I have friends all over who I will hopefully run into as I keep making my way around the globe.
When and however that may happen.