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 →

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.

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