Monday, December 21, 2009

A Farewell Letter

Dear Ghana,

I've been home for a week now and have been meaning to write. But I've just been at a loss at what to say. I miss you? It's been fun? Obviously those trite words can't really express what I've been feeling.
I was ready to come home, let's be honest. I was sick of your heat, sick of feeling like my face was melting off. I was bored of rice, rice, rice. Tired of guiltily laying around my room, waiting for to time to pass when I should have been sucking up the last days with you. Annoyed by the constant obruni calls, something I used to find endearing. And mostly, I just missed home. I missed my family, my friends, the normalcy of Urbana and Kirksville. I missed my own room and the quiet and privacy that implies. I missed my dog and her new senile habits of old age. I was ready.
Then the goodbyes started.
We went out that last night, the whole group. We went to Jerry's, our somewhat new locale, where the music was good and the drinks were cheap. Our plan was to stay out all night, to come home with the sunrise, something I have never done (still), but as the night progressed, we could tell that the mood wasn't right. It was like we all felt it was ending. Outwardly, we laughed and danced and had a good time, but inwardly, we could all feel it. At one point, I had to sit back down because the sadness of it all had suddenly washed over me.
The next morning, the first person left. I woke up kind of late and suddenly realized that she was supposedly to leave early. I called her immediately and found out she was still in the parking lot. I ran from my room (remember: I don't run.) to catch her, and when I fell into her hug, I knew that day would be rough. I had to leave before the tears started.
Most of my friends were on the same flight, so there weren't too many goodbyes right away. But I was prepared, and even did some goodbye hugs in the airport in case we were separated once we got to Heathrow.
As I buckled my seatbelt and the plane taxied down the runway, I realized with surprise the one goodbye I hadn't prepared myself for. Saying goodbye to you. Yours was the only one that actually had tears rolling down my face. Because I knew that I might never see you again. I've never had to say goodbye like that.
It was wondeful finding my family at the airport. Grandma Jipson came as a surprise. Katie was a sobbing mess, just as she warned me she'd be. Mom gave me a huge hug only moments before commenting on my sunburned face. Dad handled my suitcases like a pro. And it was just so normal. Being with them.
That's how this whole week has felt. Normal. Like I've never been away. It's like you're some sort of dream and it just took four months to wake up. I have all these souvenirs around my room, daring me to say that it didn't happen, but even they seem like props from a movie or something. I find myself trying to convince myself that I was there. You were in Africa a week ago. AFRICA.
People keep asking me if it was life-changing experience. And I'm sure that it was. But right now, I just feel normal.
Nevertheless, I want to thank you for four months unlike any other that I will ever experience. Thank you for opening your arms to me without condition, for welcoming me and holding me through every strange and ridiculous moment. You are beautiful and I feel so grateful to have you as part of my memory. As part of me.

Love forever,

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's all ending...

I haven't posted in a while, I realize, but I've truly been too busy. The days are slipping by quickly and soon (in four days to be exact) I will be leaving Ghana.
Here is a quick update on my recent days:

I have finished writing all my exams, which is wonderful. As I think most of you know, the exam process here is three weeks long. There are three exam periods a day, seven days a week for 21 days. It's exhausting. My exams were all within the first week and a half of the exam period, and even that felt really spread out. The first exam was really stressful for me, mostly because I had no idea what it was going to be like. Turns out I answered three essay questions on three pieces of literature. 2 hours and 40 minutes and 11 pages later, I had finished my first exam. The rest were similar. Really intense writing for a few hours and then it's over. I was relieved when I finished my last one, to say the least. I feel terrible for the people that are still taking them.

I went traveling this past week up to the north, with the main intention of seeing elephants. For those of you who don't know, elephants are my favorite animal. Since I was a little girl, I thought we had some sort of connection because both our names started with E. I have a stuffed elephant named Jefferson who has kept me company over here all semester. Elephants are sweet. So, naturally, I've been excited for this trip the entire semester. Correction: The entire time since I decided to come to Ghana.
The trip up north is a rough 14 hour bus ride. We arrived in Tamale around 11:30 at night to find that all the hotels were full, including the one I had called and made a reservation in. Luckily, our friendly taxi driver offered us his room in his family compound, because he would be out driving all night. Gotta love Ghanaian hospitality. The next day we hung out in Tamale waiting for our afternoon bus to Mole National Park, and stumbled upon a huge celebration in honor of the Ghanaian holiday Farmer's Day. The national celebration was being held in Tamale! The president would be arriving around 10:30! We somehow got front row seats and were able to see the president of Ghana arrive at the celebration. I have a video of the back of his head about 10 feet from us. Cool.
We took the bus to Mole (a terrible terrible bus down a terrible terrible road for four hours) and the next day went out on Safari. The safaris in Mole are generally walking safaris, unless you have your own 4x4 vehicle. You go out with a small group and an armed guide and look for animals. I felt like we were in Jurassic Park. Everywhere were this HUGE footprints cutting across the dried mud. We saw so many creatures: warthogs, bushbuck, waterbuck, kob (another antelope), crocodile, monkeys, baboons, and lots of huge, beautiful birds. What we didn't see=ELEPHANTS. There were no elephants. We went out on the afternoon safari, too, and still, no elephants. They told us that at this time, right at the beginning of dry season, there is still enough watering holes elsewhere that the elephants are not drawn to the big watering hole by the park entrance. There is only one that comes around pretty often at this time (because he is somewhat used to humans) and he just wasn't around that day. I was pretty crushed. I've concluded though, that like dinosaurs, elephants just don't exist in real life. They are a figment of my fantasies. And I am satisfied with that.

I'm running around these last few days trying to finish everything up, buying presents, hanging out with people for the last time, etc. It's pretty hectic, honestly. And I'm starting to wonder how my suitcases are ever going to close again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Class Run-Down

I realized that I haven't talked hardly at all about my classes here at UG, despite the fact that this trip is "study" abroad. So I thought I'd go through each of my classes and fill you in on what I've been doing all semester.

AFRICAN DRUMMING: Yes, I took a drumming class, something that was way out of my comfort zone, but I ended up loving. I loved it so much, I bought a beautiful drum that dad so kindly took home for me when he left. This class was an all-Obruni class (all international students) so none of us felt completely incompetent. We spent the majority of the semester working as a full class and learning the 4-5 parts of 3 different songs. For each song, there is the bell part (which keeps the rhythm for all the other parts), the rattle, one or two supporting drum parts, and the master drum. Near the end of the semester, we each chose which song we wanted to be tested on and were split into those three groups to focus on our chosen parts. For the exam, we would be split into groups of four, one for each part (bell, rattle, supporting, and master), and we would play the song four times, rotating parts until we had each played each. Unfortunately, this was a lot harder than it sounds. Not only did we not know our specific group until the final class period (so we couldn't really practice much together), but just getting all the parts to fit together, was REALLY hard. We could each play each part individually really well, but playing them all at the same time was near impossible. It sucks, because when it fits together, it sounds really awesome, but when it doesn't, it sounds awful. Yesterday was our exam. My group was up first. Amazingly, it went pretty well, and there were some parts where I definitely felt the groove! I was much happier afterward than I thought I'd be. We are supposed to find out our grades by the end of next week (we'll see....)

ENGLISH IN GHANA: Every major has what they call Core classes for each level, classes that are mandatory for that specific semester. In the English major, there is a core grammar class and a core literature class. I took both. Being core classes that all 4th-year English students have to take, both were BIG lectures. 200-300 people. This was my first experience with big classes. The biggest class I've had at Truman was General Health, and that only had about 100. This class, the grammar class, was focusing on the history of English usage in Ghana and what makes Ghanaian English unique to all other varieties of English. I was excited to learn the linguistic side of it. Living here, I've obviously picked up that Ghanaian English is different from American English, and I thought it would be really interesting to pinpoint these differences. Unfortunately, we only got to this liguistic point in the last 2 classes. The rest of it was devoted to the history of English (and thus, Education) in Ghana. While this was pretty interesting, I was still disappointed we didn't work more linguistically.

GHANAIAN LITERATURE: I was super pumped for this class. This is why I came to Ghana! (well, not really, but still exciting as a World Lit Major.) This was the other core class, so again, huge lecture. But the professor was really personable and walked up and down the aisles while talking, which made it better. I think the coolest thing about this class was the books that we read. I've found that many of the authors I've read this semester have been from Accra, or at least lived here at some point, and use this in their work a lot. Thus, there are countless references to the University and to different places around the city that I have been to. This character goes to spend a day at Labadi Beach with his sweetheart (I've been there several times!), this character is rushed to 37 Military Hospital (I drive past that on a regular basis!), this character gets ice cream at Frankies (where I have eaten lunch, twice!). It's strange being so connected to the text, and at the same time, odd that this doesn't happen more often to me. Is Ghana that much smaller than America that I know more about it in these past few months than I've known of America for the past 21 years? In any case, it's really fun to read this way.

Side note: During my studies here, many of the authors I read for any of my classes, and the people we talk about (in my English in GH class, for example), have all attended or worked at this University. University of Ghana-Legon is the university in this country (not that it's the only one, but the most important). The important people of Ghana have all walked the same streets I do every day. It's a strange and exciting feeling. I think I would feel similarly if I went to Harvard or Yale or something. It's cool.

ISLAM IN WEST AFRICA: As a religion minor, I wanted to take some sort of religion class, and honestly, this is the one that fit in my schedule. I was okay with it, though, because Islam is one of the major religions that I haven't studied much. As the class got going, though, I discovered much the same disappointment I had with my English in GH class. It was much more history and much less religion. I had assumed we would be discussing the religion of Islam and how it is practiced in W. Africa. Instead, we studied the history of Islam emerging and developing here. In fact, we didn't even get very far in that respect. The last thing we talked about was in the 18th century. However, during preparation for a group presentation, I met several really great Ghanaians. We had a group of five, three guys and one other girl. These three guys were the first (and some of the only) Ghanaian men I met who did not try to hit on me or make me feel uncomfortable. They were genuine, funny, smart, and fun to hang out with. The other girl had such a gentle and friendly personality, that it was easy to get along with her. We met 3 or 4 times to prep for our presentation, and each time one or all of them would walk me back to the hostel, so I wouldn't have to walk alone at night. And now, whenever I see them on campus, they stop me with a caring smile to check on how I'm doing. So for that, I'm really glad I took this class.

NEW LITERATURES IN ENGLISH: If you remember, this is the class I switched into 3 weeks late, after the schedules were all changed. I'm not going to go into the scheduling confusion with this class (except to say that we met at a different time or place nearly every week), because it gives me a headache. But I will say that despite all the confusion, this was my favorite class here at UG. It was a small class, only like 12-15 people, which helped a ton. For those of you (like myself) who do not know what New Literatures in English means, let me describe it for you: it is the new term for literatures of post-colonized societies. We read, for example, lit from Ghana, Zimbabwe, the Caribbean, Nigeria, Canada, and Kenya. The term 'post-colonial' has been rejected due to its limiting nature. By saying post-colonial, it implies a connection to the former colonizer, when in fact, it could have nothing to do with colonialism. Post-colonized societies are making efforts to create new identities, instead of still being attached to colonialism. It's obviously more complicated than that, but you get the generally idea. I loved this class because I felt totally comfortable in speaking up. The professor was really great about encouraging discussion, and one day when I hadn't spoken up, she actually noted it, saying "Emily, you've been awfully quiet today!" On the one hand, it was intimidating being called out like that, but on the other hand, I loved that she knew my name and recognized my contributions to the class. Plus, on an essay we had to write, I was the only one in the class to get an A, so that's sweet.

All right, I think this has gone on long enough. It's been a great distraction from studying. But now I have to get back to the books. My first written exam is in 3 days!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whiling away the last five weeks...

Here I sit, on a bright, not-to-hot (meaning the sweat is only beading on my face, not dripping down) Tuesday morning, and I cannot believe that I only have four of these Tuesdays left. Where did the semester go? I know that I habitually ask this question when it gets to this point every semester, but when you are in a different country, the shock is a bit heavier.
I am leaving Africa in less than five weeks.
And who knows when or if I will ever be back.
I was having a conversation with a few friends last night at dinner about this very subject and the question was posed: "Do you think you'll come back to Ghana?" I was stunned when the unanimous reply (including mine) was, "Probably not." We all kind of agreed that if we do get to continue our international travel, which we would love, there is so much of the world left to see. It's strange to think, though, that I might never be back here. I mean, I've spent a considerable part of my life here. I realize that time-wise, four months is not much in terms of life span, but experience-wise, I'm guessing my semester here will have a pretty distinct effect on my life. And to leave it forever, a thing of the past? That's hard to swallow.
I would love to be able to share Ghana with my family, not just my current family, but with my future husband and children as well. I know I'll mention it all the time and I know that no one will ever really understand what I'm talking about. But just bringing people to Ghana for a visit, like I did my Dad (who I am still thrilled I got to share a week with here), won't have the effect I want it to. A visit in no way compares to living here.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggles with this problem. The majority of study-abroaders are probably going through the same situation. It's just hard to know what to do with it.

In the meantime, I am trying to soak in as much of this country as I can in the last few weeks. This weekend, for example, I went with a group of friends to Ada Foah, the place where the huge Volta River reaches the Atlantic. The resort we stayed at (resort is used loosely) was called the New Estuary Beach Club and consisted of a line of huts on the 20m (I'm really bad at judging distances) sliver of beach that separates the river from the ocean. And I mean huts. Just a bed stuck in the sand surrounded by four thatched walls. We laid in the sand, drank soda and beer, and went barefoot for a good 36 hours. It was wonderful. It wasn't really what I was expecting upon coming to Africa, but then again, not much of it is.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dadaroo Continued, plus Wild Waterfall

So, I'm back, and just in case you were concerned, I was only about 5 minutes late to my meeting. Pretty good by Ghanaian standards.

To continue with Dad and Jeana's stay: For those of you who don't know Jeana and are somewhat confused, no I did not spell Mom's name wrong. Jeana is a coworker of Dad's and an experienced world traveler. When Mom decided she really couldn't take off that much time from work, Jeana volunteered to escort Dad to Africa, seeing as he's a somewhat less-experienced globetrotter. Although previously I didn't know Jeana very well, it was wonderful getting to know her this past week! She was such a gracious and easy-to-please guest. Give her a Fanta, and she was good to go!

We got back from Cape Coast on Sunday, earlier than we expected as the bus left a half hour early, which is UNHEARD OF in Ghana! On Sunday evening, we hopped down to Osu, Oxford Street, the shopping/restaurant district in Accra. Dad bought his first African print shirt and some other souvenirs and we had some delicious paninis and wraps for dinner. Monday, I took them over to Teshie where I do my volunteer teaching. Michael, the director of the NGO, graciously gave them a tour of Global Civic and allowed them to meet the students there, which I think Dad really enjoyed. Then we went to the school that I actually teach at, so that I could pass out forms for a Pen Pal program I am working on setting up (with students in America), and my students were so excited to see Dad and Jeana and cheered and clapped for them. It was pretty adorable. I'm starting to really love the kids I work with (most of the time), so it was special to see that they cared about me and my family too.
Tuesday, Dad and Jeana attended my drumming class, and took some sweet video that I'm excited to have when I get home! Then we went down to the Cultural Center, which is basically just a big market of arts and crafts for tourists to go to. I don't think Ghanaians actually go there at all. At least, I've never seen any Ghanaian shoppers there... In any case, Dad almost got out of hand with how much he was buying (which was new! usually he hates shopping!), and Jeana was able to trade her backpack for some purchases, so I think all in all it was a good afternoon. Wednesday, their last day in Ghana, we took a trip up to Shai Hills, a beautiful area north of Accra. I've been there twice now, and it is one of my favorite places I've found in Ghana so far. Beautiful rolling hills, one of which you get to hike to the top of and look out over the expansive savannah (think Pride Rock view in the Lion King), and lots of baboons! Although there are 20 groups of baboons in the park, there is one family that stays close to the entrance so you get to see them really close up. We were able to feed them bananas too, and get close views of three babies! The tro tro ride out to the park took much longer than it should have due to bad traffic (why was I surprised?), and Dad and Jeana were about sick of it by the time we got there, but our ride back was much quicker and more enjoyable. We were trying to catch a tro tro back to Accra from right outside the park, and it was proving difficult, until a bright yellow vehicle pulled up next to us and asked us if we would like a ride. His car was sweet, not only because this steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car, but also because the backseat folded down to be in the open air. It was like we were in a truck bed, but there was no wall between the cab and the bed. In any case, it was nice. And this fellow was someone special, we think, because he was automatically waved through all the police stops and we didn't have to pay at the toll booth! He was very kind, and the grown-ups were very pleased.
It was sad to seem them go on Wednesday night, and I almost choked up as I put them in the taxi, but I am so happy they were able to come to Ghana. It was fun (although exhausting!) to be a tour guide for a week! For the first time, I was the knowledgeable one! And I did feel pretty knowledgeable, to tell the truth. But all in all, I feel pretty special to have a dad who would travel half way around the world just to visit his daughter for a week. I'm a pretty lucky girl :)

This weekend, I went with three girlfriends to the Volta Region! We were planning on going all over the region, but ended up just visiting the Wli Waterfalls. We spent a lot of time there because it was just. so. beautiful. I couldn't get over how pretty this town was. Mountains everywhere and views of the waterfalls just from the main road. It was truly breathtaking. We arrived in Wli on Friday afternoon and although we were too late to hike to the falls then, we were able to visit a sweet ostrich farm. Ostriches are BIG. Who knew? We fed them some corn stalks, and Ashley was terrified (she doesn't like animals much...), so overall, it was pretty great. Saturday morning we got up REAL early to meet our guide for our hike. We had decided to go to the upper falls, which is a really strenuous hike basically straight up a mountain for two hours, so we started early to avoid the heat. The hike was really hard and pretty scary, but definitely worth it. I only fell down twice. When we reached the upper falls, we were shocked at the strength of the water. Standing somewhat far away, we were blasted by the water and completely soaked. It felt wonderful. And I think it was the coldest I've ever been while in Ghana! That cold went away as soon as we started hiking back, though, and soon, the wet turned to sweat, so we were fairly disgusting by the time we got back. Which is pretty normal.

All in all, a great week with dad and a great weekend with the girls. I can't believe that 6 weeks from today I will be home with the family. It's crazy how fast this time has flown.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dad-a-roo in GH

I've been harassed about only writing one post in October, so I am now attempting to slightly remedy that. I've had good excuses, I promise. First of all, we were without electricity on campus for about 12 days. For the first couple days it was really sporadic, but then it got into a structure of academic buildings lit during the day and residences at night, so most of the computer labs were non-functional. I think it's back to normal now, but I can never be completely sure.
Secondly, and more dominantly, DAD AND JEANA WERE HERE! This two consumed all my time for a good eight days, let me tell you. Fortunately, it was a wonderful eight days, so blog-writing wasn't my top priority. A little play-by-play of the week:

On Tuesday evening, Ashley and I headed down to the Kotoka International Airport, armed with my "DAD" greeting sign to meet their plane. Thankfully, it was only 20 or 30 minutes late, so we were able to settle them in to the Guest Center on campus before it got too late. The Guest Center rooms were lovely! Two twin beds in each, three armchairs, tv, lockable closet, fridge, desk, and full bathroom, situated on the breezy second floor. I stayed with dad for three of the nights and it was very enjoyable.
Wednesday, we headed down to Accra central to explore some of the tourist sights. Dad and Jeana were able to experience their first tro-tro ride, which was a bit of a shock for them, I think. I am happy to report, however, that both truly enjoyed the tro-tro experience by the end of the week. We went to the National Museum (which was wonderful!) and the Nkrumah Masoleum while we were down there, as well as lunch at a delicious and bountiful buffet.
Thursday, I took them up to the Madina Market, which is like most open-air markets in Ghana, but somewhat less intimidating than the bigger Makola Market in downtown Accra. We shopped and walked around there for the afternoon.
Friday, we headed out to Cape Coast. Unfortunately, most of Friday was spent sitting at the bus station waiting for our bus, which I informed them was a part of the typical Ghanaian experience. Once we got to Cape Coast, however, we spent the weekend visiting Kakum National Park, and both castles. It was somewhat of a repeat trip for me, but I have to say, we had better guides at each place than I had last time, and the weekend was a sunny one! I had no problem redoing the trip.
UH OH. I have a meeting to run to that I almost forgot about! I will have to save the rest of the week to report on later!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Traffic Time

I realize it's been a long time since I wrote a post, and partly that's because I haven't gone anywhere exciting lately. This weekend we went out to a really nice beach outside of Accra about 25 km, but other than that I've been hanging out around campus for the most part. And since that is getting to be pretty normal for me, it's hard to know what to talk about. Luckily, I realize it's not normal for anyone at home, so maybe I can talk about some of the stuff that's just rather ordinary and you'll find it interesting!

I thought I might talk about the traffic a bit, seeing as yesterday I experienced quite a bit of it, so it seems particularly relevant. The traffic in Accra is probably the worst traffic I've ever seen. It gets so bad that a trip from Kumasi, for example, several hundred kms away, can take about 3 hours to get to Accra, and then another 2 in Accra to get across town about 20 km. Yesterday, it took me three hours to get back to campus from volunteering in Teshie, a suburb. THREE HOURS. I was a little late getting started back, and evidently I just normally miss the traffic. Not yesterday, friends. My first tro-tro, from Teshie to 37 Station (middle-ish in Accra) took an abnormally long time, because for some reason, the driver turned off the main road to go way out of the way to seemingly avoid traffic. Unfortunately, when he meandered back to the main road, we were stopped at an intersection for a solid 15 minutes before the police officer directing traffic allowed us through. Then we were in bumper to bumper back to 37 Station.
From 37 Station, I walked out to the road to catch a tro-tro back to Legon. When I got to the bus stop, though, there were already about 50 people milling around waiting on tro-tros themselves. The interesting thing about this, is that when there are that many people at a stop, the tro tro mates don't bother calling out their destination. I'm not sure why this is, but they're very secretive about it. Maybe so they don't get bombarded with people. As an American who's not really sure what she's doing anyway, I have no idea which tro-tro I need to get in. So after waiting there for probably 30-45 minutes, not catching tro-tros effectively, I hear someone quietly say the next one is for Madina Market. Madina is a town just past Legon, so when you hear Madina, you can usually bet that one is safe. I shoved my way on the tro-tro, getting elbowed in the chest, shoved from behind, but I got a seat! I was very proud of myself. We drive on (as much as you can in stand-still traffic), and as I'm starting to relax, the mate asks for my money. I tell him I'm going to Legon and he looks at me and says "We not pass there." Confused, I asked "You're not going to Legon? But you're going to Madina." "Different way. Not pass Legon." Are. You. Serious. I got on the wrong tro-tro? REALLY? Luckily, there was another girl in the same situation (a Ghanaian, mind you. It's not just because I'm white..), and so she asked them to drop us off before they turned off the main road.
Back on the road, at another bus stop, I stand and wait for another 20 minutes or so as I watch the sun going down, reminding myself that I indeed left Teshie around 3... and that the sun sets around 6... A few tro-tros went by without me successfully getting on, but then a bus pulled up. A kind man told me that it would indeed go past Legon and the fare would be 20 pesawas. I shoved my way onto the bus (standing room only, of course) and grabbed onto the bar with all the strength I had. About 15 minutes later, after being a breast-rest for the woman standing next to me (she laid her boobs on my arm that whole trip), I climbed off the bus and walked the 25 minute walk back to the hostel. Ridiculous.
One somewhat entertaining thing about traffic in Accra are the hawkers in the streets. Every time there is traffic or a stoplight, lots of people take to the streets, weaving in and out of vehicles, trying to sell everything under the sun. We often play the "Who spots the most ridiculous thing being sold" Game. There are the normal things, "pure water" (500 ml bags of purified water that you bite the corner off to drink), plantain chips, mints, gum, and Chilly Yogurt (bottles of what I think is a yogurt drink, though I have yet to try it...). But then there are other things... like super glue. Puzzles. Ghanaian flags. Grapes. Dress shirts with ties. Huge over-the-mantle paintings of horses running at dusk. Enormous wall clocks. Who needs a mall? Just get stuck in traffic for a couple hours, and you're set.