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.