Ghana 2012-2013
My name is Alysa Michelle Meisterling. In September 2012, I will be traveling to Ghana, Africa for five months, where I will be teaching a range of subjects for kids ages 6-12. This is the first chapter of my beautiful adventure. Read More About Alysa →

Now that I’m home

I’m a dreamer. I’m an optimist. I’m an absolute failure and a complete success. I cry. I smile. I laugh. I scream. I am an old soul. I believe in fairytales. I never settle. I think with my heart. I believe in the truth. I believe in living each day like your last because you just never know if you’ll ever get the chance to be in that moment again. I believe in seeing the beauty in the smallest things in life. I believe in soulmates. I believe in laughing so hard you pee your pants. I believe in following your heart. I believe in spontaneity because who wants a boring life anyways? I believe in forgiveness because time is only wasted without it. I believe in making and accepting mistakes. I believe in taking chances. I believe life is beautiful.

To my beloved Ghana,

You’ve given me more than I could ever ask for. Looking back on the past 6 months of my life, I feel...different. You showed me things about myself and about life that I otherwise never would have known.

Most 22 year old Americans don’t get to say they spent 4 1/2 months in another country, a third-world country on top of that. Most people back home thought I was insane, and when I told this to my Ghanaian friends they’d laugh at me like I was comparing surviving their country like it was surviving a war. Funny this is to many Americans, it would be. But this beautiful, peaceful third-world country became a newfound home. This country was constantly teaching me about the type of person I am and the person I want to be. I have a love/hate relationship with this country in the sense that sometimes the people and the places and essentially just the extreme differences drove me crazy. I didn’t understand it. There are still things to this day I just don’t understand about their culture... And I don’t think I’m supposed to. But then the love I found in this country, in the way that they love God and each other and life... It makes you look at your life and realize just how insignificant you are in the bigger picture.

As many of you know, I spent the past month, after I left Ghana, backpacking through Europe. I met two friends from home in London and from there, we took trains and planes and all kinds of transportation to visit all the beautiful countries we got to see. We were always on the go, starting from London, to Amsterdam, to Frankfurt, to Luzern, to Paris, to Barcelona, to Nice, to Milan, to Rome, to Berlin, and then back up to London again! It was a long, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, expensive, spontaneous, and altogether incredibly life-changing moment. I got to do something that most college graduates only Talk about doing, but many never get around to it. After completing this trip, I have now officially been to 14 countries total, not including my own. To say I am blessed would be the biggest understatement I have ever made. I am eternally and forever grateful to my family and friends and most mama and step-dad. Without them, none of what I have gotten to do the past 2 years of my life, studying abroad in Australia included, would have ever been possible. Their support and their love has been my rock. They are two of the greatest people I have ever known, and I thank God for them every single day.

I have fought with myself and prayed countless times about where I go from here. I’ve been graduated for almost a year now, and spent the past six months volunteering, traveling and experiencing new places and people and culture... So now what? Reality sinks in. I’ll be going back to my roots in the beautiful state of California. And I need to find work. The question is, what kind of work? Is it weird I have a degree in something, and it’s not what I want to all. While I adore writing, a job in journalism isn’t what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I’ve thought a lot about a job that would make me happy everyday, for a good length of time. So here is a small list of some of my goals over the next 5-10 years of my life. Granted, those that know me know my list and my plans are always subject to change. Things don’t work out, new things come up, and that’s just life. Optimism is a key part of the way I live my life. But these are some of my goals, and for now, this is what I will work towards:

1) I want to find a job that lets me work with kids

2) I eventually want to go back to school and get my teaching credentials

3) I want to one day write and publish a book about my travels

4) I want to move back to Ghana by some time next year

There are many more goals and bucket-listers that come with this... Paying off student loans, starting my life with the one I love, traveling to new countries I have on my list, etc.

Those that know me know I’m always up for something new. It’s hard to admit that I have to get a big girl job now because I often feel making a long term commitment would hold me back... But let’s be realistic. It’s time for me to have a job, start making and saving money, and start working towards the goals and things I want in life. I will always have that free-spirit in me and the constant need to go somewhere new, and I just pray I never lose site of that, and when an opportunity presents itself, I don’t hesitate to take it. Life is too short to not go after the things we want most.

I am stubborn and strong-willed. I have a big heart for this big world we live in. I am not assertive. I know who I am and what I want, and I’m not afraid to make and admit mistakes. If it weren’t for the mistakes we make in life, how would we ever grow?

For those of you who are reading this, who are from Ghana, specifically... I am sorry for the mistakes I made. From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry. I cannot change all that happened while I was there and the image some of you may have of me. But I hope you know and never forget that I loved and will continue to love your country always. I respect it. I admire it, and I some day soon hope to come back to it. To all of my Ghanaian friends and family- I will never forget you. I will cherish and love you whole-heartedly. I will be back... And that’s a promise (:

All my love,

Alysa Michelle Meisterling

“Not all those who wander are lost” J.R.R Tolkien

Weeks 14, 15 and 16

And so the New Year has begun. Christmas and the holidays have come to an end, and I’ve had some time to reflect on everything that happened to me in the past year. Over the past year, I returned from my abroad semester in Australia. I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Journalism at Belmont University, and I received the Lumos Award for the incredible opportunity to come and live and teach in the beautiful country, Ghana, I now call ‘home.’ It doesn’t seem real. Almost everyday, I wake up wondering how I got here and how much the past four months have changed me and my outlook on life. Ghana has made me grow up.

I have spent the past three weeks of vacation traveling with friends to various places in Ghana. I was expecting to do and see more than I did, but due to various reasons, I was not able to do everything I had planned. However, I got a chance to visit friends in Tarkwa and Achiase. I stayed with two of my friends in Sekondi, which is rather close to Takoradi. We then headed up north to Kumasi and got to experience their market and all the cheap shopping and then visited Kintampo falls, which is where we spent New Years! There was quite a bit of traveling involved, since most of these places were a long distance from Takoradi, but vacation was overall relaxing and extremely enjoyable. We stayed in hotels that were quite nice and others that were pretty sketchy. Since my room at the school contains a shower and a flush toilet, I had yet to experience a proper bucket shower and other means of urinating. I can now check both of those things off my ‘bucket list.’ The bucket shower is actually quite entertaining. The bucket gets filled up with water from a well or a nearby spout and then you use a much smaller bucket to wet and bathe yourself. It’s rather fun dumping water on yourself rather than just standing under the water...but maybe that’s just me! As far as urinating goes... well I won’t go into much detail. Just imagine there’s no toilet. The urinal is just a hole in the ground and you squat over it and pee. It’s a humiliating, disgusting feeling and yet I’m embarrassed to ask my Ghanaian friends for a toilet to urinate. They don’t understand it, and it’s often a hassle to find a proper toilet. Men and women alike just pee...whenever and wherever. It’s not a big deal to them, and I felt like such a white person, tourist, high-maintenance pain when I refused to use that type of urinal ever again!

Visiting my friends in Tarkwa, I got to experience how Ghanaians do things around the house. I got to watch how they cook, clean and live. To me, it looks like life around the house would be so boring, but they never seem to complain. Since cooking, cleaning and bathing takes longer here, they’re always occupied with something! As far as cooking goes, they obviously don’t have an electric stove or oven, so they literally just cook over fire. This of course takes time since they aren’t able to cook multiple things at one time. Cleaning is always a work in progress because of how easily things get dirty here. Washing takes longer because most Ghanaians hand wash and have never used a washer or dryer in their life. And bathing takes longer because it consists of fetching water in order to bathe. After they bathe, they lather themselves in lotion. I’m not sure if it’s because of the weather here or if their skin is just extremely different but if they don’t put lotion on after they bathe, their skin gets extremely dry and white. I’ve watched guys and girls put in special creams in their hair as well. One cream is for making their hair darker, the other is to make it curlier. Then they spend what seems like ages brushing and combing it until it’s to their satisfaction. I can’t say I don’t see any difference when they’re done, but if I’m being completely honest, it doesn’t look all that different to me...but I’ve kept that on the down-low. Like I said, these people astound me. And if they’re not busy with anything, they’re completely satisfied sitting on the couch, watching television, listening to music and doing absolutely nothing the entire day! I’ve learned that when Ghanaians travel, they like to look nice...or as they call it ‘fresh.’ They iron their clothes and make sure everything is just so. It’s humorous to me because when I travel, I look as grungy as possible so as to not spoil (Ghanaians use this often) or ruin my nice clothes. But they care about their appearance a lot here actually, and looking good while traveling is of the utmost importance!

Another thing I’ve noticed recently, in regard to the respect they have for one another, is that they are truly more respected the older they are. If a kid or young boy or girl is only a year older than someone, the older one has the right to tell the younger one what to do. I’ve noticed this at my school and outside of the school. A boy or girl will tell someone younger to go and get water or food or any kind of errand, and the younger one will just do it. They don’t complain or hesitate or expect something in return. They just help. They are the farthest I’ve ever seen from lazy, and it sometimes makes me wonder how America is so much more ahead of Ghana. I know the answer to my question seems absurd and ridiculous, and there are plenty of reasons as to why America is on top, but I truly adore how hard working and productive Ghanaians are, even as kids. At a very young age, they learn and are expected to know how to do certain things they will use for the rest of their lives.

In their music and their speech, Ghanaians use the term ‘Chale’ all the time. It’s essentially a West African nonsense word. It can be used in various contexts. Someone can use it to call someone: “Hey! Chale!” or when a person is surprised: “Taxi driver: “This ride will cost you 5 cedis.”
Me (being very Ghanaian): “Ah! Chale! That is too much!”                                           It’s used for anything really, and I absolutely cherish that word now.

Religious sayings and phrases are everywhere you go here. You can find phrases like ‘God is Good’ on the back of cars, and there are many small, local shops that have names like ‘By His Grace Beauty Salon.’ Also, if you talk to a Ghanaian friend, whether on the phone or in person, they’ll more than likely say ‘By the Grace of God, I am fine’ when asking them how they are.

Other common phrases and words I hear are: Abua, which means ‘Animal.’ They call each other this all the time. We often say someone is crazy or acting ridiculous. They say ‘You are mad’ or ‘He/she is mad.’

People here often own two or three different phones. This is generally because their networks go in and out and so they like to have two or three different phones or sim cards to use another network when the other network is down or the phone has died or has no phone credit on it. It gets very frustrating having random numbers call me all of the time because I think I have that person’s contact, and then they call from a different line and explain that this is their other phone or their brother or sister’s line. Stick to one phone people! I feel awful answering the phone to hear someone say “Hello, Aly!” “Ummm...yes, hi. Who is this??!”

Someone told me a couple of weeks ago that the problem with Ghanaians is they don’t continue learning. When they are young, they learn one skill or trade (ie driving) and become very good at it, and that is their job and what they will do for the rest of their life. For example, the fact that I know how to drive and can type well on a computer and a phone amazes people here. I am so young and for me to know how to do these and then some is fascinating to them. I’ve had to explain to many of them that it’s very common, basic knowledge in my country to know how to do these things. They are so amazed that I know how to do it, and I am so amazed they don’t and so things like this always makes for good conversation and a new perspective on something.

I could go on forever. I’ve talked to people over vacation and at the school about multiple differences between Ghana and America. They learn something new and I learn something new every time. I’ve been asked to explain my views on homosexuality recently, and it was such a touchy subject that I tried to keep it as simple as possible. They don’t understand it. They don’t think or believe it’s real, and no matter what I say, I’m not going to be able to get Ghanaians, who are extremely traditional people, to believe or see things differently. That’s just how it is.

I can’t believe I only have 3 1/2 weeks left. I know I keep saying it doesn’t seem real, but I’ll say it again because those are the only words that can come to my mind. It doesn’t seem real. There is so much more I wish I could share with you all on here. So much to tell. So much to explain. So much love and memories. So many mistakes and mishaps. No regrets. I am who I am and I’ve done everything I’ve done for a reason, and I will stand to that and live by that for the rest of my life. There are things that have happened here that some people back home may never know about. That doesn’t mean it’s something bad, it’s just personal. Ghana has affected me in an extremely personal and real way; in a way completely different than my volunteer partners and friends. We all have had extremely different and wonderful experiences here, and I’m forever grateful to have mine. The people I have met here, friends and students alike, have shown me and taught me a new way to look at and appreciate life. I’ve gotten frustrated, annoyed, upset and the list goes on and on because of the simplest differences between me and them, and I try my best everyday and ask God for the knowledge and understanding to see things their way. It would take much longer than four months to reach that level though, but I hope and I pray that I will make it back to America safely so that I may return to Ghana again.

I am blessed to know you, Ghana. I am so incredibly blessed.

Weeks 12 and 13

I only have six weeks left. How is that even possible? It seems like just yesterday I was jumping up and down with my roommate after finding out I’d received the Lumos Award that got me here. I’ve come a long way since that day. I’ve had my entire world flip upside down in front of me without having any control of any of it. This country has rocked my whole world. These people have changed my life. I can’t count individual days anymore. I haven’t gotten to journal as much as I usually do. Truthfully, I’ve just gotten so caught up in everything here, I’ve kind of just shut everything else out. It’s become a horrid habit, and reverse culture shock is going to hit hard.

Here’s some updates on the past two weeks though:

Exams finished this past Monday. They lasted two weeks, and while they were testing, Chrissy and I supervised (or essentially did nothing). Quite entertaining.

This past weekend (December 7-8), a group of the volunteers and I traveled to Green Turtle Lodge, which is a cute little beach resort a little farther west of us. It was a nice little get away before vacation, but my friend Farida and I only stayed for one night instead of two cause I was missing all the students too much!

Elections took place in Ghana last Friday, December 7th. John Mahama, the NDC (National Democratic Congress) candidate was announced as President on Sunday evening. For the past three months, Ghana has been covered in posters and there has been multiple parades and trucks driving by, blasting their party’s music from the car. It’s a very big deal to this country. Very big. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I vote back home, who I voted for in America and even who I was going to vote for in Ghana... I never quite understood why the last question was ever asked, but I guess it was fair of them to ask!

The term ‘Papa’ means a lot. So if someone says ‘I miss you papa,’ they miss you very much.

People like to call each other everyday here. If you are very close with someone, and you don’t talk to them at least once a day, something’s gone horribly wrong.

Sticking to all of the school rules has definitely still been a challenge. These students have become like family to me, and I’ve put myself in some extremely sticky situations because I’m staff, and I have to remind them that I’m their teacher. I look forward to the day I can come back to Ghana and just be their friend. I really, truly do. Until then, I’m on my best behavior, I swurrrrr Chrissy!

Chrissy is the coolest roommate EVER. I’ve yet to mention how awesome she is. No, this is not her writing this. It is I, Aly Meisterling, and I’d just like to say I LOVE CHRISSY DOCHERTY, my sweet little Scottish gal! She’s blunt and tells me when I’m being an idiot. We don’t always see eye to fact, we rarely see eye to eye. She’s the good one, and I’m apparently always bad! She’s my mommy when I’m being a big baby. She takes very good care of me, even though I secretly think she normally can’t stand me. But God grant her patience, courage and tolerance, and I am forever grateful for that. Amen.

I have a pretty amazing life. It’s not perfect. I make mistakes everyday. But I don’t believe in a life of regrets. I put my heart and soul into everything I do and every person I know, and that is who I will always be.

To everyone back home, I love you more than you’ll ever know. You have supported me and shaped me into the woman I am today, and I will be forever grateful for each and every one of you.

I’m sorry this blog isn’t longer. I promise I’ll have more to say over vacation.

For now, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to each and every one of you. God Bless you all. x


Weeks 9, 10 and 11

I’ve fallen in love with Ghana. I don’t know how or why or exactly when it happened. These kind of things just can’t always be explained, and I don’t think they’re necessarily supposed to be. How do you explain to Americans that you’ve fallen in love with a third world country? You simply can’t. While most of the volunteers are aching to return home, I’m scared to leave. This country has renewed a certain spirit in me; something that I’ve always known was there, but it’s impossible to find when you’re living in a first world country.
I walked down the street to Shama junction today. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the school. It was around 8am, overcast and just absolutely beautiful. I waved and smiled as I passed all the Africans staring and waving at me. They always do. That’s never going to change. But strangely enough, I don’t feel like a stranger here anymore. I feel like I’m part of them. Wearing my African skirt, and I now have my very own African braids weaved into my hair (Yes, it is true. I’ll give details later). I walked to the junction just to buy bo froat (my favvvvvorite Ghanaian treat), and I sat there and talked to some of the regular ladies I buy from. I truly adore this lifestyle.

The past three weeks has been filled with some of the most eventful things in my life. There was a solid week when I could barely eat anything at all. I’ve definitely lost weight here. During that week, there was at least one student every morning who was called up during assembly. Most of them were all students whom I’ve become very close to, and I watched as the Headmaster punished every single one of them for various reasons: school fees, bad grades, accused of stealing money, hanging out in the “bush,” which is considered out of school bounds, etc. One of the Form 2 boys had slapped a Form 4 girl and was ordered to stand in front of the entire school, bend down and touch his knees, and Headmaster caned his back repeatedly for 10 minutes. This was after the fact that he humiliated his entire self worth as a human being. Every day that week, I left assembly and cried in my room. That day was the worst. Students are being caned left and right. They’re being ordered to work on the construction site or they’re being sacked or expelled for things the authorities seem to have no proof of. I’ve gotten in several arguments with one of the teachers over why I don’t agree with caning. I really should just keep my mouth shut, but for those who know me, it’s never that simple. The teachers and students always know when I’m upset. I wear my emotions on my face, and I will never be okay with the way they treat these kids sometimes. It blows my mind. Some of the boys I have become close friends with have gotten in trouble for spending too much time with me. It breaks my heart because it makes the boys feel like they can’t talk to me without the school authorities thinking something bad. It’s been hard. I don’t want to disrespect anyone at the school, or in Ghana in general, but I simply wish they would stop lecturing and punishing the boys who are simply being nice to me. I’ve grown quite attached to a lot of the boys. They’re extremely laid back and easy to get along with so I’m friends with more of the boy boarders than the girls. All of the students, regardless, have become such wonderful friends of mine. It’s hard to go and teach at a secondary school when so many of them are so close in age. The school is quite a bit away from everything, so unless I go into town, the students are who I spend my time with.
They’re always teaching me things: their language, their culture and mainly about life. They’re always talking about the day they’ll leave Ghana and everything they’re going to make of themselves. It makes me so proud, and I wish all of that for them, but I can’t help but think of just how lucky they are. They might not be the richest country or most well off, but Ghana is the most beautiful and kind country I have ever known.
I don’t want to leave. Ghana’s made me appreciate things I never really looked at or considered any other way. I’m scared of coming back home, being surrounded by the questions and comments and just not wanting to answer any of it. I’m afraid of being truly homesick. Coming here was hard. Leaving is going to be even harder. I’m trying to find a way to come back. As in next year. I know all of you reading this think I’m crazy, but yes, I want to live here. For at least another year. I’m looking into job opportunities, possibility working for Lattitude Ghana. I just refuse to believe that this will be the last time I ever live in this country.

This country is insane. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen men (and women) peeing on the side of the road...just in broad daylight. No shame. I can’t tell you how many boobs I’ve seen. I’ll see women feeding their babies or I’ll be walking through a village and see an old woman with an African skirt around her waist and no bra or top on... I suppose it’s a liberating feeling. Coming into town the other day, I saw a man, butt naked, standing on the side of the road, hands up in the air and looking up towards the sky. It was the same day, walking through town, I saw a large woman with a shirt on but no trousers (yes, I’m saying trousers and not pants now). They have no shame here, and while I find it ridiculous, I can’t help but be amused now and shrug it off.

People here don’t know manners. In America, we are taught at a very young age that you use ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you,’ and it gets you so much farther in life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to do something.

From a teacher: “Go and fetch me water...”

From a student: “Give me that when you leave...”

It’s never ending. They don’t say it to be rude. Ghanaians are extremely kind and giving people so their intentions are pure. They just never felt the need to learn their pleases and thank yous so I’ve been teaching them! With that being said, if you tell someone you like something of theirs (for example: jewelry, a shirt, etc.), nine times out of ten they’ll either give it to you or tell you they’ll wear it again for you. It’s a terrible feeling when someone compliments a bracelet of mine, and I’m just not quite ready to give it up. With that being said, everyone helps everyone out here. Gratitude is not determined by a ‘thank you.’ It is returned through friendship and love and giving in return. And I love that about these people.

I went to Accra two weekends ago with two of my volunteer friends, Farida and Jessica. One of them is dating a Ghanaian guy who lives in Accra, and he got us tickets to see the African Music Video Awards. I only knew some of the songs just from being here the past 2 1/2 months, and I couldn’t understand their English whatsoever. But it was a blast to be able to dress up, put on some make up and go out! Since Accra is the capitol, it’s much bigger and urban for foreigners who just can’t take the rural life. It was weird being in the city, because we all of the sudden didn’t feel like we were in Ghana anymore. There were a decent amount of other white people around us, and suddenly it felt weird to not be the odd man out. We even got set up in an incredibly nice, beautiful hotel and spent one of the days lounging by the pool, enjoying western food for breakfast, and taking advantage of a heavenly invention called air-condition. It was a nice little treat, and we had such a great time.

I got my hair braided last Friday. As in weaved in braids. There’s probably 100 of them on my head (not exaggerating). The whole process took about four hours, and I was regretting it the entire time. It is painful. Let me rephrase that. It is extremely painful. It is painful in a way that makes you want to scream at the six (and yes, I mean six) different Ghanaian women who are surrounding you and pulling at your head all at the same time. I don’t know how they do it. Six women surrounded me and braided and another three stood next to them and handed them sections of  fake hair. I couldn’t breathe. It was hot, and I had 5 lbs of hair hanging in front of my face. They tie and braid the hair in with my own hair. After that, they had to re-braid and tighten all of the braids. They used scissors to clip any hairs sticking out of the braid. All of that took about 3 1/2 hours. And then they dunked all of it in hot water... It took everything in me to not scream ‘Take it out!’ when I looked at myself in the mirror. Especially when it’s down, it looks ridiculous. I kept thinking to myself ‘This is a wig. I should be able to just lift this right off my head. This cannot be real life.’ In a hair tie though, I actually like it! It’s heavy. Insanely heavy. It makes sleeping more challenging, and my head is itching all of the time! But it is worth it to have all of the students and pretty much every Ghanaian I meet tell me how beautiful I look with my braids. It makes me feel so...African. I think I’ll keep them in until Christmas break, which is in about 2 1/2 weeks! We’ll see what happens!

There is so much more I could put on here. I could tell you more about the things they say that make me laugh. Sayings and expressions of theirs that will be ingrained in my mind forever. There are things that I’ll remember I want to share in my next post, but I’ll be busy and forget to write it down and will soon forget about it altogether. There is more I wish to share and explain about this country and about these people, but all I can think to say right now is Ghanaians have taught me to cherish life. They’ve taught me the importance of family and friends and God. They’ve taught me gratitude. They’ve taught me acceptance. They’ve taught me how to live optimistically, because you can never quite tell what’s going to happen next.
I haven’t done too much traveling the past few weeks. There’s just no need when you’re happy right where you are.

Weeks 7 and 8

They keep changing their mind about the weather. It’s been cloudy a lot so far, with quite a bit of rain. Some Ghanaians say that in December it gets very hot while others say it will remain cooler. I’m praying it’s the latter. Without the clouds and the rain it would be too hot and humid for me to be able to survive!

I’ve been waiting for two packages to arrive for the past three weeks! Apparently they came over a week ago, but I just got them on Monday. I had to travel all the way into town to get them myself even though I was told they would be brought to my school. Anyways, Mom and Ian...THANK YOU. You two are incredible. The snacks and the photos and all the other little things you thought of made me feel so incredibly comforted. I think my stomach took the snacks as quite a shock’s been two months since I’ve had that stuff! The students are loving the candy corn! We’ve already gone through two of my three bags in the past two days! All candy to them is toffee and they absolutely love the sweets! (:

Names to not forget:
Persis, Collins, Lloyd, Shadrach, Clement, Ferdinand, Mary, Francis, Erika, Adjele, Elliotta, Nancy, Evans, Sebastian, Sultan, Fidel, Godfred, Alex, Caesar and Ezra. Some of them are my students, in my Form 1 English class and others are day time students and boarders who I’ve gotten to know very well. I adore every single one of them. It’s hard to not show favoritism but some of them I just want to keep and take back home with me! They’re truly the sweetest kids I’ve ever known. I showed them pictures of my family, and they were fascinated to see them and to see me with long hair! One of the male teachers, Peter, told me “Ah, you are looking more beautiful in the picture than you do now!” He really didn’t mean it as an insult, but I still gave him grief about it. The students also agree that I look very nice with my long hair and don’t understand why I ever cut it! To all of my family and friends who agree with them, keep your comments to yourself.... 😉

Chrissy and I have gotten much closer with all of the teachers as well. Angie, Peter, David, Philip and Emmanuel are the ones we converse with the most. We all sit and chat in the little teacher’s lounge we have when we do not have a class. It’s fun talking about various things, learning more about some of our cultural differences. It really is never ending so it never gets boring!

Around the school, there are quotes of encouragement painted on the building. Quotes like “It is dangerous to live without Jesus.” “Godliness with contentment is a great gain.” “Procrastination is the thief of time.” “Those who wish to be Eagles must not walk with the turkeys.” Chrissy and I walk around quoting these to each other in very dramatic, serious voices!

I broke my camera about a month ago, so I went without a camera for three weeks until I bought a new one! It’s very nice, and I got it for a much better deal than I would have back home! Fingers crossed nothing bad happens to this one! My luck with technology isn’t the greatest so I need all the good wishes coming my way. (:

Leah and Jenna, two other volunteers, came to visit Chrissy and I two weekends ago. Their school is quite a ways away so we took them into Takoradi, showed them around and met up with some other friends. At the end of the weekend, we went to Cape Coast with them and ate at our favorite little cafe called ‘New Life.’ I feel like all the volunteers and myself are getting quite comfortable there because it’s easy for many of us to get to and we’ve became friends with a lot of people in town there. Plus, the drive to Cape Coast is absolutely beautiful with the oceanside, tall grass and other scenery.

My class has grown. In fact, it has more than doubled. I think there’s around 26 of them now. Right now, we’re working on essay writing. I’m trying to get them to practice writing essays and writing sentences. Some are farther along than others, but they all need help with grammar, sentence structure, etc. It’s a process just trying to get them to understand the assignment. I’ll take a long time explaining it to them, and they’ll all nod their heads. I’ll ask “Do you understand?” “Yes, madam. We understand.” And right as I’m about to move on, a question is asked about the assignment and the whole thing starts all over again. I thought all of my students were around 16 or 17 years old. They’re all Form 1’s so they’re brand new at the school. However, I’ve recently learned some of them are in their early-mid twenties.

Other random facts:
Takoradi is often referred to as Tadi.

Obruni WAWU= dead white people clothes. And besides their nicer, African wear, they wear our clothes...awkward.

The students say ‘Yo’ a lot. Either they use it as a response, as if to say ‘yes’ or they are cheering on their peers in encouragement. If they get really excited and riled up, they’ll scream it really loud! ‘Yooooooo!’ Too great.

Bo froot and Fan milk is my addiction. I get them any time, as often as I can. Fan milk is a frozen treat. Fan choco is frozen chocolate milk. Fan yogo is frozen strawberry yogurt, and Fan Ice is frozen vanilla ice cream. Why has America not thought of this?! They’re approximately 40 cents, and they’re absolutely heavenly!

Kenkey smells and tastes terrible! To all of my fellow Americans, if you go to Ghana, try it. You can’t come here and not try it...but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Many of the Ghanaians have scars on their faces. There’s a wide variety of scars. Some are on their foreheads, their cheeks, the side of their face, by their mouths, etc... The scar they each have and their placement is based on the tribe they are from. I find it very fascinating, and I want to learn more about each scar and what tribe it belongs to!

The students are constantly trying to imitate my voice. They always talk high-pitched, and I thought they were making fun of me. When I ask, they simply say “Madam, we want to speak good english like you!”

They all have nicknames for themselves!
Ferdinand= Gaddafi (Young Obama, Young Apostle)
Alex=Obama (yes, seriously)
And so on... Many of them have asked me to call them by their nicknames. I just look at them and laugh!

I’m getting eaten by mosquitoes religiously it seems like. Sometimes it won’t be so bad, and then there will be a solid week where I feel like I can’t escape them! Our room is right next to a gutter so I feel like no matter what we’re doomed! Don’t worry. I’m being cautious! Mosquito repellant, Malaria medication and hiding out under my bed net in the evenings is helping!

On November 1, the school started Sports Day #1! It was ‘Volleyball Day!’ While some of the students played in the games, I hung out with the other students on the side. I showed them my neat little drum I bought in Cape Coast a while back, and we all started dancing and singing! Naturally, it was to music I did not know the words to. I stood there, clapped along and smiled! Such a joy! (:
The following day was ‘Football Day!’ Or rather ‘soccer...’ We all walked to a field near by and cheered on all the teams that were playing. They were all separated into ‘houses,’ and they all wanted me to support their house! The teachers also participated, and they tried multiple times to get me to play! How do you tell a bunch of Ghanaians that their team will lose if you put a small, little white girl on their team?? I don’t think it really mattered to them though. I could do something absolutely ridiculous, and they are always so impressed and amused to see! They’re the best support team! (: And for the record, no I did not play. I was sweating just standing there, thank you very much.
My friend Farida came to visit Chrissy and I from Sekondi. She met some of my students and then just the two of us left and traveled to her village and school. We spent the night at her place and woke up early in the morning for our weekend adventure! Farida and I went to Nzulezo Stilt Village! Nzulezo, we later learned, means “full of water.” We took a tro tro from Sekondi to Takoradi, found the Nzema station and paid our 5-cedi-fee for a tro tro to Beyin. From there, we caught a taxi to take us farther into town and found the Nzulezo Visitor’s Center. We had to wait for a little while, and we were surrounded by a group of Ghanaian church members who would not stop pestering us with questions! They wanted us to try their food, take a picture with them... One of them kept insisting that I marry him! It was easy to see they were all bothering us and we weren’t happy. A lady named Rosemond asked if we were annoyed. Ghanaians use the word annoyed as their way of saying ‘mad’,’ ‘bothered,’ or ‘pissed.’ So yes, Rosemond. We were in fact very annoyed!!
The canoes finally showed up! I was expecting something much bigger, but instead we were pushed into these tiny little canoes that barely sat higher than water level! Our poor canoe even had a little hole. There were five people total in our canoe. Farida and I shared ours with Rosemond, Frank, Emmanuel and our canoe guide, Solomon! The three guys paddled, Farida helped paddle occasionally, and Rosemond kept pestering me to scoop the water out of the canoe with the bottom half of a water bottle. There was very little water on my side but still I kept hearing behind me “Obruni, fetch the water!” Yessss, Rosemond...
The canoe ride was an hour long. We got to see beautiful little ponds and forests, and then it finally opened up to a big body of water.
When we got to the village, we took a 30 minute walk around and decided not to stay the night at their ‘Homestay Guest House.’ The village was adorable, but it was so far away from town that there was very little food there and not a whole lot to do! The entire village was maybe a quarter of a mile long. Lots of little naked kids ran up to us, asking us to sign a paper and donate money for them to go to school. Those little faces are awfully hard to say ‘no’ to...
They only have one little school there, and it’s so cute. The village seemed like a very sweet, close little community. We learned that Nzulezo is over 600 years old! We were so glad we got to visit!

When we got back to Beyin, we needed to find food and a place to stay for the night. We met a man at a drinking spot (club) who led us to the owner of the Apollonia Beach Guest House. The owner’s name was Steve, and his little beach houses were right on the beach! We paid 23 cedis total for a sketchy, dirty bed we were terrified to sleep on and jollof rice and plaintains he made for us himself. He even brought the food to us in his grandma’s wicker basket, which was around 50 years old! Farida and I enjoyed our meal on the beach as we watched the sun go down!
We also got to watch an African festival begin right beside our beach house and in front of the Fort Apollonia Museum. They were all dressed up and painted, dancing and moving about! We joined in with some cute little kids and took lots of pictures.

We spent the rest of the evening making friends with some of the locals and walking around Beyin. We attempted to sleep on the bench outside of our beach house, in fear of the bed we were given. At midnight, however, we caved and made our way inside.
We woke up around 6:30am, found Steve to pay him and say goodbye. We bought bagged water to brush our teeth with and fan milk for breakfast. Steve told us to take a certain tro tro to Takoradi so we boarded it and ended up delaying our trip by 2 hours, thanks to the flat tire and the muddy hill our tro tro was never going to make it up. It was an adventurous, not thought out trip, and it couldn’t have gone any better!
That’s the great thing about Ghana. You don’t need a plan here because your plans are going to get messed up or changed somewhere along the trip. It’s better just to pick a starting point and see what happens... (:

Weeks 5 and 6

Malaria. Western countries hear this term and they flip. We put people with Malaria  in isolation for an indefinite amount of time until they can figure out what could possibly be wrong with you... It’s a tropical disease. It has to be deadly...right?
Not. Ghanaians claim I got Malaria last week. Yes, that’s right, me. Guess what? I’m still alive. The funny thing is there’s no way of proving I have it anymore because it’s already gotten out of my system. Rather than being taken to the hospital and tested, last Wednesday afternoon (October 17th), the Headmaster assisted me to his car, drove on a long (and miserable) bumpy road and we ended up at a house. A Ghanaian man with his shirt half unbuttoned took me into his home, sat me down on his couch and asked me to describe what I had been feeling. Sore throat. Dizziness. Nausea. Lightheaded. Extreme Fatigue. Body aches. Sounded good enough to him so he kindly wrote something down on a small scratch piece of paper and was asked to take it to the pharmacy to receive my anti-Malaria medication. So that’s it? No test, nothing? There has to be a mistake... I notified Henry, our program director, and he simply told me that Ghanaians see it enough to recognize it and that they will take very good care of me. The Headmaster paid for my medication, and I was taken back to school and crawled back in bed. That’s all I wanted to do...sleep. Needless to say, I am feeling much better. I’m still alive, and regardless of whether or not it was in fact Malaria, all is well that ends well. The entire school knew about my illness within hours. Word travels fast out here. They all wished me a quick recovery and were so delighted to see me teaching again.

Yes, Malaria is a tropical disease. Yes, it is something to take seriously. But for all of you Westerners (my mother included) who are worried that I will be haunted by this disease my entire life...relax a little. It’s just like any other disease. Yes, it stays in my system but so does chicken pox once you’ve had it. It can’t come back to haunt me every year or anything crazy like that. I have to be bitten by one of the Anopheles mosquitoes to catch it again. In very very rare cases does it turn into something terminal. Rest assured, Ghanaians claim I got it and I’m still truckin’, ladies and gentlemen!

I’ve had many other interesting experiences over the past two weeks. I woke up at 2am one night to feel something tickling me...not one of those tickles you feel and think ‘you’re making stuff up, go back to sleep.’ Like seriously, tickling. First on my leg, then the side of my arm, then my neck... What in the world. I turned on the flashlight on my phone to find a huge cockroach crawling up my bed net... I’ve never jumped out of a bed that fast in my life. I literally flew myself off the top bunk bed and woke Chrissy up instantly. We’re in the dark, and I’m panicking. Chrissy is half awake and I’m trying to point and explain the thing that has now made its way up to the top of my bed net. I am forever grateful that one of the gentlemen who work around the school was up, by the grace of God, and I opened my door and asked him, as calmly as possibly to remove the creature who has found a home in my bed! It’s 2:20am and he’s just laughing. I think that’s all he does now any time he sees me, especially since I seem to be the one always finding mysterious spiders and creatures in our room or near my presence. I can deal with a lot of the changes in Ghana, but no matter how much all of the Ghanaians laugh at me, I will never, Never be okay with any of their bugs. Yuck.

Almost a full 6 weeks in, I’m getting much more used to things just not being perfect. Francis and Erika are the two young ladies who wash our laundry, and I have begun to give up on guessing when we will get it back. Between the rain and the lack of any dryers, I know not to expect laundry back any time shortly after I give it to them. Also, more and more of my things are getting stained. Little pink stains are now noticeable on my underwear, which I wash myself, and even some of my shirts and dresses. It’s not a big thing. It’s what happens when you hand wash. But aiyy! I just wasn’t expecting that one.

As far as the showers go, I take mine in the evening. I’ve been extremely lucky that the pipes have not ran out of water just before I go to bathe. Poor Chrissy takes most of her showers in the morning and has been let down countless times when no water comes out of the shower or faucet. Knock on wood because showering daily is imperative in my mind. Because of this and countless other things, I’ve come to accept that I am third world high maintenance. I used to think I was so laid back about most things. And back home, I certainly am. But I’m not too sure about here...

I believe I’ve mentioned before that the Headmistress is the one who makes our meals everyday. The sweet African lady takes the time to work hard in the canteen for us, to prepare our daily meals...and we barely eat it. Either because we just can’t eat the large portions they give us or simply because we’re so sick of rice these days, that just the sight of it makes our stomachs ache. We’ve gotten some different things. Yam, Banku, sometimes fried egg. And those have all been fairly good, but we just can’t eat all of it and now we have learned that we have been hurting her feelings! The poor lady! We sat down with her and explained our smaller-portion-diet and the need for foods other than rice! She was so sweet about it, and it made me feel so incredibly bad for not voicing this sooner.

A couple of Sundays ago we went to church...from 8am to 12pm. Four hours. A test of patience to the max. Most of it was fine. There was some music, readings from the Bible and students got a chance to sing a song or read a verse they wanted to share. I even got the privilege to sing a song, with one of the male students, who wrote the song and taught me! Everyone really liked it, and overall the service was great... It was just long. Too long. At one point during worship, two girls just started screaming. Chrissy and I were so confused as we stared at them, scratching themselves, holding their ears, screaming and kicking about. A couple of students forced them on the floor, tied their feet together and just held them there as the rest of the church continued praising God. It was the strangest, and in my mind saddest, thing I had ever seen. I didn’t understand it, and in all honesty, I don’t think I was really supposed to. I sat there and prayed on my own that God would look after them and just continue to work through them as He sees fit.

Classes are going well. I’m still teaching Form 1 English and Chrissy has Form 1 Science. We’re becoming a lot more comfortable with the students, and I believe they are with us. They truly crack us up sometimes. All of the students at Golden Gate are so quick to argue. They can be so so stubborn. They’ll argue over the silliest things and then cheer each other on when they’re in agreeance. Chrissy and I watched a debate on canning take place between the Form 3’s and Form 4’s. It’s very humorous to watch them bicker with each other and try to prove their point with either myself or another teacher.

I’ve also taken on a new job. I’m in charge of dictations every week. Mr. Dadson asked me to come up with ten English words and their synonyms. Every Monday morning I post the words on the board, and all of the students are required to copy and learn the words for Friday’s dictation exam.

I’ve been taught a famous Ghanaian dance called the ‘Azonto.’ It’s one of their hip songs here, and all of the time I am asked if I know it and can show them.

It’s a strange thing, but for some reason my skin heals faster here. I have a tendency to pick at my nails and cuticles. Back home, my fingers will be sore and wrecked for days, but here they heal so quickly and I rarely have any problems with them! Random but it’s such a nice change!

I don’t know if I ever mentioned it on here, but their currency is Ghana cedis and pesewas are their coins. Their currency is almost double in worth of ours. So $50 is worth about 100 Ghana cedis. It’s made it extremely easy to budget my money and buy things for cheap. It’s also extremely fun to bargain, especially since they like to give the white people Obruni prices!

Another thing I’ve noticed is a Ghanaians habit of asking ‘Are you sure?’ It doesn’t matter if I’m asked how I am, where I’m from, what I like, etc... They always have to question it with an ‘Are you sure?’ as if I’m going to say ‘Actually, no I’m not doing well,’ or ‘Actually, I’m from Canada not America...’ It’s too funny. They’re such happy people all the time. When they’re upset, you know. They’re never upset with us, but aiyyyy I would never want them on my bad side!

It’s been raining a lot here. I’m taking it all in while it lasts because without the rain, it’s going to be hell in their humidity. And when it rains rains. It can rain so hard you have to cover your ears and yell at the top of your lungs to get anyone to hear you! It’s a good thing the loud rain doesn’t last too long though... I’ve also noticed mold has formed on some of my things. A pair of shoes and a sports bra have already been thrown away because mold grew on it. I wasn’t too pleased about that!

This past weekend (October 19-21), 18 of the 20 volunteers went to visit Kakum National Park! It was absolutely beautiful. We got to do a canopy walk, and the guide took us on an hour tour through the rainforest. Unfortunately, all we really saw were some interesting looking trees he explained to us. The guide told us monkeys, elephants and many other animals are hard to spot in their rainforest because they like to stay away from humans. It normally takes a lot more than one day to be able to find anything. All of the volunteers and myself are holding out for Christmas break when we’re going to Mole National Park and we’re taking a safari! But this weekend was nice. The first night 16 of us crammed into a 2 bedroom at the Rainforest lodge, because we were lied to about the price. It was an extremely nice place to stay, and we were told it was 10 Ghana cedis per room. We verified this with the guy at the front desk multiple times, on the phone and in person. It wasn’t until the very end of the conversation did the guy say 100 cedis per room and totally threw our plans off. So we convinced the manager to let us into the 2 bedroom, priced at 180 cedis and the guy at the front desk was suspended for two weeks. Woops. The rest of the weekend we spent back at Oasis Beach Resort in Cape Coast, relaxing on the beach and getting to know more of the Cape Coast locals. I definitely think the people in Cape Coast are some of my favorites, but I’m not planning on going there again too soon. Ready for a new place!

I picked up my first personally made African dress yesterday! I love it, and I already have new material in for a skirt! Y’all better hope I don’t get too carried away with it... They’re too beautiful to resist!

I’m starting to get more and more used to the slow pace around here. It’s hard. I can’t tell you how many times I want to tell Ghanaians to “hurry up!” but they never will. It’s pointless trying. You just have to learn to shrug your shoulders, smile and carry on.

With this post coming to an end, it’s good to mention the happiness this place has already brought me. Things aren’t perfect. Far from it. But there is beauty in imperfection and that is what I have found here. America or not, it’s a beautiful place to now call home.

Weeks 3 and 4

I have never felt so deprived of food in my entire life. I miss variety. My diet consists of nothing more than rice and water. Water all throughout the day and different kinds of rice and sauce for lunch and dinner. I have discovered that I, Aly Meisterling, am a devoted snacker. I rarely eat big meals because I snack all throughout my day. I’m embarrassed each day when I scarf my meals down like a pig in front of my roommate. I no longer have the luxury of eating whatever, whenever I want. Although I’m bound to try some interesting Ghanian meals throughout my stay, many of these meals are an all day chore. I can just picture our cook thinking “The white people like rice...that’ll do.” I miss variety passionately. Salads, candy, ice cream, bagels, mexican food, vegetables, fruit, cookies, chips, pizza, peanut butter, pasta, burgers... even and more importantly coffee. These people are up at 5am or earlier everyday. How do they function...?

So far, I have tried some neat Ghanian treats. One of the Ghanian meals I like very much is Banku. It basically looks like a big ball of mush that sits in a red sauce. I ate it with some of the students in their canteen (cafeteria) one morning. Yum. I’ve also tried somethings while on the tro tros or in town. The marketers with baskets on their heads sell plantain chips and bofrots, which are basically a Ghanian version of a doughnut. Their fruit here is to die for. I’ve tried their coconuts and pineapple and it’s amazing! Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t come back with 100 extra pounds on me!

I have learned my Ghanian local name. I looked at the 1990 calendar, and found that April 6th was on a Friday. Because I am Friday-born, my local name is Afia.

Traffic is insane. I mean literally...terrifying. Cars barely miss each other. They constantly drive on the side of the road to pass one another. They honk at any and everyone they are passing. Thank the heavens I am not driving on their roads.
Goats and chickens are also a constant. They are always walking through villages and markets.
Modesty is extremely important for the ladies here, especially at school. I feel scandalous even showing my knees.

Christianity and religion is very important here. They are always asking about whether I go to church and what my faith is. They truly don’t understand if you tell them that you don’t believe in God, or you are Buddhist or Atheist. It’s all very foreign to them.

I’ve noticed that some of the men have long nails on their left hand. Apparently it’s for scratching. I’m not quite sure why you need long nails to scratch yourself, but I suppose that’s normal...Using your right hand is extremely important here, especially for eating and  receiving or giving change and things.

Chrissy and I have been teaching on our own for almost a full two weeks. We had it arranged so that we are helping with the Form 1 class, who are the babies at our school. Between 16 and 19 years old, I’m teaching them basic definitions of grammar, reading and writing. This week’s lesson was on nouns and we’re now working our way to pronouns. Just trying to get these kids to understand me, let alone the lesson, is a challenge everyday. It amazes me how slowly these kids grow up. The way the kids at our school act is the way America’s 12 or 13 year olds act. I’ve learned to understand and accept that this really isn’t a bad thing at all. As Americans, we always say it’s good to be a kid as long as you possibly can and yet the kids are constantly pressured to grow up, go to school, get a job, start a family... I really like their mentality, I think.

As Chrissy and I have gotten to know some of the students and teachers better, I’ve been amazed by how much they know about our countries and how badly they all want to travel there. Many of the students know at least four different languages, including English, Chinese, French and their various local languages. I felt like a fool telling them I only know English fluently. They keep making promises they will teach me all of these languages. I’d sincerely like to see that happen. While the kids may be behind in school, according to America’s school standards, they certainly know much more about what’s going on in the world than most adults I know.

As much as they seem to know about other countries, they are still so envious of white people. I even heard one man tell me in a conversation that because he is African and not normal like me, things are more difficult. I was completely speechless. How could they think that?

I find it amusing how upfront and honest all of the people are here. Everywhere I go, men and women come up to me, ask to be my friend, ask for my number and want to know everything about my life. I cannot even count how many times I’ve been proposed to or asked if I was married. The students at Golden Gate have come up to both Chrissy and I, pointed to something we have or are wearing and said “I like that. Give it to me when you leave.” They will also ask us for money or insist that we buy them something when we go into town. I can’t help but laugh every time and think ‘You’ve got to be kidding me...’

Greetings are extremely important here. Every morning it is important to say hello and good morning to everyone you pass. They will often stop and ask “How are you?” or “How did you sleep?” They will not forget and will be very offended if you pass them and do not greet them.

Mr. Dadson, the school director, cracks me up. He’s not too tall and wears glasses with very thick lenses. Chrissy and I imitate him all the time. “Where are you going?” “Please, come here.” Him and the headmaster of the school are ridiculously strict with the students. They are not allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends. Absolutely no phones or they will be kicked out for at least one term. The headmaster and sometimes even the teachers will walk around with canes, punishing the students who have not paid their dues, showed up late to class, etc. As much as I hate the idea of it, and can’t bare to watch it happen, the kids find it humorous. I think they’re so used to it throughout their childhood that it barely phases them.

One of the Form 4 boys taught me a song he wrote about his country, and we sang it to Mr. Dadson. I’m starting to get much more comfortable with all of the students, and it’s much easier to converse and goof around with them. Even though I really wanted to work with younger kids originally, I’m very grateful to know each and every one of these students. They’re all amazing individuals and have the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen.

This past weekend, (October 6-7), Chrissy and I traveled to Cape Coast to meet some of the other volunteers. We got to enjoy the beach, do some shopping and take in the very much craved western-style food. On Saturday evening, some of the volunteers chose to drink...a lot. It was extremely scary having to send one of them to the hospital at 2am. He was okay and brought back to our resort the next morning, but it wasn’t a good feeling knowing something serious could have happened and he might have had to go home. That night was a great reminder as to why I decided I wasn’t going to drink out here. It’s just not worth it. As wonderful as I think this country is, I would never want to end up in jail or seriously hurt here. Please keep myself and the 19 other volunteers I am with in your prayers.

While in Cape Coast, I was able to find a Ghanian flag in the size and material I wanted! I bought a bracelet and necklace with a symbol on it that means ‘accept God.’ They’re both beautiful! I also bought beads for my waist. Some of the girl volunteers and myself learned that the Ghanian women wear beads around their waist. While to us it is more of a fashion statement, to them it is very personal. Women wear their beads under all of their clothes. They are meant to help determine if a woman has lost or gained weight. I absolutely love mine, and I might have to bring back some more for family members and friends!

As you can probably see, I’m becoming much more familiar and comfortable with the people and surroundings here. While not everything has felt just right, I am learning to either accept or be patient with the things that I don’t understand or have to be patient with. At the end of the day, it truly is beautiful here. I cannot believe I have been here for almost an entire month. I have another 3 1/2 months to go, and I know it’s going to fly by. I’m embracing and cherishing and taking up every moment. I wish so many of you who read this could have this kind of experience. It’s one of the most liberating things I have ever done, and I am eternally grateful to all the people who helped me get here and all the Ghanian people who have taken me in as family. I love you all. Cheers to the next 3 1/2 months!



Week 1 and 2

In Ghana, everything is different. The places, the people, the culture, the food...everything. I’ve never felt such a rollercoaster of emotions in my entire life. The flight was almost an entire day long. Lots of sleeping and lots of airplane food. I met up with a group of some of the other volunteers in my program on my last flight from London to Accra. It was comforting not feeling entirely alone. When we arrived in Accra, fear struck in when we got to baggage claim and my second bag never came. All of my clothes and many other necessities were in it, and it was nowhere to be found. I made a report at Lost and found and was told to leave my temporary address and number with them, and I should hear from them when they have. At that time, they couldn’t even locate it.

All of the volunteers and myself walked outside to be surrounded by every black person around staring at us. It isn’t hard to spot the foriegners here. We were waiting for our Ghanian program director, Henry, but he was nowhere to be found and he wasn’t picking up his phone. A little while later we found Isaac, one of the Ghanian program members. He took us all to a large bus, and we were instantly surrounded with Ghanian men asking to assist us with our bags. They kept asking for tips and magazines afterwards, and we didn’t understand why. We were later told that Ghanians are extremely friendly people...but they want tips from people (especially white people) for everything.

When we arrived at Henry’s house, the rest of the volunteers were there waiting. There are 20 of us total. Five are from the UK, 13 from Canada and only 2 Americans including myself. There were a few different bedrooms on the downstairs level where we were allowed to sleep. After a short welcoming meeting from Henry, we all made it off to bed quickly.

The first week was orientation and consisted mainly of informational meetings with Henry at his house, going to different markets with Isaac, and taking a few different course instructional lessons from a man named Elvis.

I feel dirty. All of the time. No matter if I’ve just showered or been out all day. I’m dirty and sweaty and sticky. It’s just going to be a part of my life for a little while. Internet is hard to find. You have to go to an internet cafe to use it, and wifi is impossible to find and get to work. I’ve been eating a lot of spicy rice, bread, pasta, and I’ve tried a few new things so far, including something called plaintains (not entirely sure what it is, but regardless it’s not bad). Everywhere I go, I hear people shouting ‘Obruni Obruni,’ meaning ‘white person.’ I’ve already received a handful of marriage proposals, and when we all went to our first African club one night, we were instantly surrounded with four men trying to dance with us at the same time.

Their main transportation is using taxis. There are dropping taxis, which are meant to get you alone to a specific location, and then there are shared taxis where you and whoever else is going the same general direction shares the taxi with you. My favorite form of transporation is using the Tro Tro (meaning ‘penny, penny’). They’re essentially large buses that people are constantly hopping in and out of and they’re extremely cheap. Maybe 1 cedi to drive an hours drive, and 1 cedi is equivalent to maybe a little more than $.50.

I got to Golden Gate Secondary School, my specific placement on Sunday, September 23rd. My volunteer partner Chrissy and I met our host and director of the school, Mr. Dadson. He is an extremely kind, gentle, but very disciplined man. He’s gone out of his way many times to make sure we are always comfortable and taken care of. At Golden Gate, the ages of students typcially range from 16-19. There are students who come to school from home everyday, and there are others who are boarders at the school. Our room has a bunk bed, some shelves, a little tv, a shower, sink, and toilet. A generator comes on from 5-10 every evening, so we can use the lights, watch movies, have a fan, and charge our things. I’m also very thankful that we have a working shower and flush toilet. Many of the volunteers have to bathe with a bucket everyday!

All of students are in love with us. They always want to ask questions, play with our (very different) hair, touch our skin, perform for us, etc. It is very hard to understand some of them, even the other teachers too. They think our English is way too fast, and we think their English is mumbled. Their voices here are mesmerizing. When I can’t understand what they’re saying it’s still just fascinating to sit there and listen and watch them speak. So elegant, but so so mumbled.  They’re always laughing at everything we say, and they always want us to come sit next to them in class. Since this is our first week at the school, we were told to observe all of the classes and then decide what we would like to teach. Chrissy and I are already pretty certain that she will teach Sciences and I will teach English. We’ve already gotten a good taste of what it’s going to be like every morning. We’re woken up by the sound of the boarders at approximately 5am everyday. Someone starts by ringing the bell, saying “Get up, Get up, Get up!” It’s meant for the boarders to wake up to start cleaning around the school. Since we’re living on the school’s campus, I suppose it’s meant for us too. I’m definitely going to need my earplugs for a while. Either that, or I’ll eventually have to drown the screaming noises and laughter out. Worship and prayer starts in front of the school around 7:40am...never on time though. All of the students are in rows based on their gender and their grade. Their eyes are closed, and all you can hear and see are a large mass of young African women and men praising God in English and their local language. It’s truly a beautiful thing to watch. It’s supposed to end at 7:50am but it usually doesn’t end until 8:15 or so. I’ve learned quicly that things are never on time here. The first day at the school, the director, Mr. Dadson introduced Chrissy and I to the school, and then the children were dismissed for classes. I’ve gotten many opportunities to interact with the students. They mostly just want to circle around us, playing with our hair, poking us and asking consecutive questions. It really never ends. I figured since we are at a school with 16-19 year olds, it wouldn’t be as chaotic, but it most certainly is. They’re always so curious here, and insanely friendly. The students are all extremely respectful to the teachers, the director, the headmaster, and any adult they encounter. At the same time, there is absolutely no order to the school. Kids are always walking in and out of classrooms during class time. They talk nonstop during class, and a lot of the time teachers aren’t even there to stop them. Teachers show up late to classes, don’t show up at all, or will show up to put some notes on the board and leave for the rest of class time. I’m just interested to see how I’m going to fill up all of my time if I’m only expected to teach 1 or 2 classes throughout the week, for an hour each! Always wanting to be pro-active, I’ve found it often frustrating that there have been times when Chrissy and I have absolutely nothing to do. We’re thinking about starting up their drama club again or some type of club to stay busy and interact with the kids more.

There are two female boarder students who serve Chrissy and I lunch and dinner every night. Their names are Erica and Francis. They also clean our room for us, take out the trash, and wash our laundry. I wasn’t expecting that luxury at all, but they’re extremely sweet and it’s a joy to see their faces everyday. The food so far has been interesting. It’s been very repetitive. We’re eating a lot of white rice, plaintains (a vegetable), beans and sauce. I’m hoping to try more of their local foods soon.

I’ve learned a lot about their culture already. In Ghana, they work everyday except Sunday. On Sunday, 90% of Ghanians go to church. Some churches last almost all day. Birthdays aren’t a very big deal here. They might go to church and pray but other than that, they will go to work and do their daily routines. they do not receive any birthday gifts. I found this interesting because in Ghana, many men and women are nicknamed depending on the day of the week they were born on. So naturally, I assumed birthdays were a big deal. Their biggest holidays throughout the year are Christmas, Easter, their Independence Day on July 1st, and Farmer’s day, which is essentially a day to celebrate the farmers. It doesn’t happen everywhere, but it is possible to buy cats to cook here. Obviously the bigger the cat is, the more it costs. People even eat dog, and they will chew the bone of the meat they’ve ate so that they can get to the bone marrow. They don’t understand why we think that’s so odd. There are about 49 different languages  in Ghana, depending on what tribe they are born into. Their accents are absolutely mesmerizing. Even if I can’t understand them, I could probably sit there and watch their mouths move and listen to their voices for hours. Some of the students have already attempted to teach us some of their language. It’s definitely a work in progress. The two most common languages in the area we are living in are Fante and Twi.

Even though it’s only the first week at the school, I can already get a very good sense of just how strict Mr. Dadson and the headmaster are. It’s sad to say I’ve already seen sticks being brought out to punish children. The students are forced on their knees, with their arms raised in the air. It’s terrible thing to even think of and really shocking when Chrissy and I saw it for the first time. Some of the things they seem to get punished for don’t even seem justifiable to me. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that part of their culture.

One of the things that reminds me I am in Africa the most is walking down the street or through the market, seeing women with baskets on their heads, carrying water baggies, food, and other items. By water baggies, I mean that you can actually purchase water in little bags. That’s how many people drink water here, and they’re extremely cheap and easy to get. I can’t tell you how many of them I’ve gone through, especially since we have to use them to brush our teeth. Many women carry their babies around their backs, wrapped in their African material. It’s amazing to see how easily and peacefully babies can sleep wound up so tight against their mothers’ backs. I keep imagining how hot they must be...and we’re in the wet season right now. It amazes me how much trash I am surrounded by. There is so much beauty in this country, but it is so incredibly dirty. Everywhere we go, we are followed here. It’s fun to walk around the market in Takoradi, bargaining prices and trying to stay away from the men who will follow you for blocks. They mean well but they just don’t seem to get the message. People call us brothers and sisters all the time. In Ghana, everyone is family. They all want to be our friends, and we are always being told ‘you are welcome...’ everywhere we go. If we say something that’s impressive or fascinates them, we get a long, exaggerated ‘wowwww...’ as a response. Ghanians are so happy and entertaining though. We’ve already got to see our first real African talent show, put together by the students at our school! It was just for us, and we loved the entertainment and even stood up to attempt their dances. I don’t understand how rhythm comes so naturally to them!

Chrissy and I have done well at keeping in touch with the 18 other volunteers teaching at the various school around Ghana. A big group of us even met up the other day to go to Busua Beach Resort. The beach was beautiful, and we all got a chance to swim as it was thundering and enjoy some very desired Western food. Two of our friends, Kira and Miranda, came a much farther way and stayed with us over the weekend. All of us have had our own very interesting experiences with our host families and schools. There have definitely already been some difficulties. One girl has already managed to catch Malaria. It’s quite funny though because while we make Malaria out to be this terrible, deadly disease it’s so common and treatable here. They practically make it to be the flu or a big that simply comes and goes away. Once you’ve had it, and it’s in your system, the following times you catch it it’s supposed to be much easier to manage. Still, I’m very careful to cover my arms and legs in the evenings when the mosquitos come out, and we always sleep with our mosquito net surrounding us.

Overall, it’s been a fascinating experience so far. Only two weeks in, and I can already see I’m going to enjoy this (:



It almost doesn’t seem real

4 1/2 weeks left. It almost doesn’t seem real. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m leaving. This time last year I was leaving to study abroad in Queensland, Australia for four months. A little bit different of an experience. Ultimately living the same lifestyle, just with a different location and different people. But now, I’m leaving everything. Everything I’ve ever known so that I can gain experience and learn something new about myself and about the world. I’m leaving behind family, friends, and a boyfriend whom I love with all of my heart. Leaving it behind as if I have another life waiting for me. In reality, these kids I’m about to spend 19 weeks with currently have absolutely no idea who I am.

I’m weird when it comes to change. As far as locations and meeting new people go, I am always up for the adventure. Always wanting something new. New experience, new friends, new place to call home. That kind of change I am comfortable with. That kind of change is a part of me. With change comes so many hellos. And that I adore. But with change also comes so many goodbyes. And goodbyes I have never taken lightly.

In the 5 1/2 months that I am abroad, I am bound to run into endless amounts of change. New friends, new photos and new places to mark off my map. I envision my map to be covered in little red pins, so much so that you can’t hardly see where I’ve been. With each pin there is an insane amount of joy and just a tiny bit of sadness. It’s bittersweet as we call it. All I’ve ever dreamed of is traveling the world and finding my own way to make a difference. But it’s never that simple is it?

But I’m ready for ready as I’ll ever be. I’m ready for Ghana. (:

7 weeks until my new beginning

It’s hard to believe Ghana is so close. In just 7 weeks, I’ll be packing up and flying to the other side of the world. I have been waiting for an opportunity such as this for as long as I can remember; an opportunity to learn, to grow, to see the world. I’ll be spending 19 weeks in a country, with a new lifestyle and with a kind of people I have never known. Sometimes I have to remind myself just why I’m doing this.. So much can happen. There is so much room for growth.

Two weeks ago, I walked into the Vanderbilt Travel Health Clinic to be given immunizations for Polio, Typhoids and Yellow Fever. This was followed with being given two prescriptions for Malaria and traveler’s diarrhea. I had three choices for my Malaria pills. The first one I was told was 100% free of any side effects. Well that’s good news. The catch: They cost $5 a pill. I needed at least 130. Okay, next option. My second option was a reasonable price. I take one pill a week, but the side effects consisted of hallucinations and nightmares... Okay, and my third option? The third and chosen choice was a pill I need to take once a day, starting 2 days before I leave and 28 days after. The side effect: extreme sensitivity to the sun.. As if I wasn’t already concerned about Africa’s heat to begin with, I now have a daily pill to ensure that I fear the sun at all times. The total cost of all shots and prescriptions was $400. This was after the fact that the other necessary immunizations and vaccinations I had already taken care of as a child (Thank you, Mother).

I need mosquito nets to put above me as I sleep. I get internet maybe a few hours a day (and this is only due to the fact that the school I’m teaching at is still relatively new). I should have a working shower, however I am never allowed to drink or swallow their water, and there could potentially be times when I may have to bathe myself from a bucket. Fair enough. I am left handed, and I will have to be very aware of when to use my right hand, especially for eating. When eating from the same plate of food as others, shaking another’s hand, or receiving gifts, I must always use my right hand. It is considered offensive and rude to use my left since Ghanians specifically use their left hands for sanitary purposes. That is going to be an adventure in itself.

I will be working at the Golden Gate Secondary School, located outside the small town of Shama Junction in the Western Region of Ghana, working with teenagers five days a week. The school begins with worship at 7:40. Classes start at 7:50 and last until about 3:30 in the afternoon. I have been warned to bring earplugs because roosters are known to start their morning routine as early as 3:30am (It’s a good thing I’m a deep sleeper...)

I’m about 30 minutes outside of Takoradi, the regional capital. I shall be able to go their weekly, to pull money from my account, use the internet, buy fresh fruit and visit fellow volunteers, who are teaching in other communities.

Flight is booked. Insurance has been purchased. Shots and prescriptions have been given. Visa is on its way.

I get to Ghana on September 16th and will be there until January 29th. 19 weeks. No Thanksgiving or Christmas with the family. No trips home. I am in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Please keep following me as I get closer to this adventure. The packing and last minute details, feelings, plans, and finally the trip itself are all ahead. Stay tuned, my dears xxx