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!