Though it hasn't always been easy for me to get my posts in on time this semester, I have thoroughly enjoyed participating in this class. Blogging about my travel experiences has helped me reflect on what has been significant about my four months here and what it means to be a traveler or an expatriate.
I truly wish that I had more time to read all of my peers posts and comment on all of them but I have faced typical Ghana restrictions (time, faulty internet, power outages etc.)
Most of all, this class has sparked my interest in the field of Place Studies, a discipline previously unknown to me. As someone who has traveled extensively and experienced many foreign cultures and had to adapt each time, studying and thinking about what it means to be a tourist, a traveler and an outsider. I've also discovered what it takes to make myself somewhat of an insider, especially here in Ghana. It has been difficult, needless to say. No matter how perfectly I speak Twi or know Accra, I am white and therefore will never blend in. That being said, in Accra there is a difference between an "obruni" who has just arrived and an "obruni" who has been living in Ghana for a while. I've come to feel like the latter.
I've also enjoyed being able to share my anecdotes and experiences with family and friends through my blog and not spending hours trying to verbalize in an expensive phone call. I am inspired to write a travel blog whenever I spend time traveling, for myself and for my loved ones.
De Botton was fabulous and I recommend the text be used for this class in the future. I'll miss feeling the pressure to find an internet connection and write my blog and pour out my frustrations and excitement.
Steve, you've been incredibly helpful and understanding when I have had issues with the website etc. I look forward to meeting you in New York next semester!
De Botton is spot-on when he writes about how easy it is for people to become complacent and bored. However, as Maistre may or may not prove, it's also easy to combat such boredom. All it takes is just a little bit of effort.
There have been many points in the semester when I have "forgotten" that I was in Ghana simply because I get so used to my routine and the heat and the same smiling faces every day. It is ironic though not surprising that as my departure date creeps nearer I am rediscovering my neighborhood, my house, even the fact that I'm in Ghana
I took a trip this past weekend with some friends to Hideout Lodge, a rastafari paradise on one of Ghana's most beautiful and isolated beaches. It was just what I needed to remind me how spectacular this country is and how much I'm going to miss it. Rain was pouring when we arrived, but by Sunday the sky was cloudless and blue. We ate breakfast on the sand then half of us dashed for the crashing waves and got tossed around like rag dolls in the swell for an hour, laughing every time someone got salt water up his nose or when someone's bikini top would be ripped off. Afternoons were spent reading on lounge chairs or swinging in hammocks and taking walks all the way along the beach with the waves licking our feet. The evenings were wild; our newfound rasta friend Zion Ellis aka Kofi lit a bonfire, pulled his drum between his knees and "sang" as the shadows played on his smiling face. I've never met someone whose mental capacity has been so diminished due to marijuana use, but nevertheless Zion Ellis ( a REAL live rasta!) was the highlight of our trip
Art in Africa is a way of life. Dance, music, sculpture, painting; these are all essential parts of Ghanaian and West African culture. Unfortunately for Ghana's artists, there are few places in Accra where they can officially display their work. During my first week in Ghana we visited one of these places and it has been hard for me to forget.
The Artists Alliance is a three floor white building with wide staircases and large windows overlooking La beach and stained by ocean spray. The owner and founder is man named Ablade Glover, a renowned Ghanaian painter. The space is light and open; canvas cover the walls, splashes of color and vibrance. Though most of the art displayed at the Artists Alliance is contemporary African art, it shares many themes with traditional art: the use of bright color, the portrayal of African daily and spiritual life, a reverence for nature.
Glover insists that the Alliance has an open door policy. Any budding artist hoping to display his or her work is welcome to walk in and show a portfolio to Glover. He informed us that many of the works on the walls of the gallery are by artists who were unknown and undiscovered until they approached him.
Thanksgiving in Ghana. We all knew it was coming up, but none of us knew what to expect. NYU penciled in a dinner on the calender, but no one got their hopes up. We were expecting stringy turkeys, rice, plantains and maybe, if we were lucky, some mashed potatoes. But I have to hand it to the NYU in Ghana staff - they stepped up to the occasion. I arrived with my housemates at the larger residence and was surprised by a large white marquee set up over the courtyard. Long tables with white cloths were set with plates and glasses and candles twinkled in between gargantuan steaming turkeys and platters of macaroni and cheese. Before sitting down to eat students and staff stood hand in hand and the director said a prayer giving thanks for pretty much everything I was thankful for that night. The mellifluous cadences of Satie guided us through dinner and we were left utterly satisfied, with the typical nauseous feeling that usually follows the Thanksgiving meal. I thought that this evening, this meal, would be the highlight of my weekend. I was very wrong.
I spent the rest of my weekend...how to put this...in paradise. If there is a life after death, I hope I'll spend it in Ada. Ada is the place where the Volta river meets the Gulf of Guinea, a breathtaking estuary dotted by islands. The white sand peninsula is boarded by the sea on one side and fresh water on the other.
Before I came to Ghana, all I really knew about the program and the country was what I gleaned from Facebook stalking people I knew who were there. Sometimes I wish I'd known more and others, I am happy I knew so little. Ghana is not a place you can prepare yourself for, beyond stocking up on malaria meds, advil, cotton t-shirts and sunscreen. You can google image Accra, read some guide books, but cliché as it sounds, you have to see it to believe it. You have to be here to understand. Because of this I find it difficult to describe my everyday experiences to friends and family back home. I usually just tell people that everything is "fine" and that they should check out my blog, which they never do. Not only do I have a difficult time describing Ghana to others, I often get the feeling that people don't really care to try and understand. It's too much effort. That said, let me try to paint a picture of this city for prospective NYU in Ghana students.
Accra is always hot. When I arrived in August, everyone was quick to warn us that the rainy "cool" season was ending and the harmattan would blow and it would get HOT. I couldn't imagine it getting much hotter, but I hoped it would become less humid. Not only has the average temperature at midday risen by four or five degrees celsius, but the humidity has not abated one bit. Bring plenty of cool loose clothing. You will be warned to dress more conservatively in Ghana than in the US, but don't take that too much to heart. In rural areas it may be slightly different, but in Accra shorts are fine, tank tops are fine, anything that you wouldn't feel uncomfortable wearing on the New York subway is fine. Also, AC is scarce, so cool clothing comes in handy indoors and out.
Why don't I catch everyone up with my activities over the past few weeks. I have so many things I want to blog about that an update seems the way to incorporate them all into a post.
As the semester nears the end all of the NYU in Ghana students have been unpleasantly surprised by papers and assignments, things forgotten about over the last 3 months. Exams have already begun and University of Ghana and though some of my housemates have already taken theirs, most are nervously cramming in the common spaces and the library at the academic center. Even though I too have work, I am determined not to waste my last three weeks in Ghana sitting inside reading. I am already beginning to feel that I haven't done enough since I've been here. I blame that partly on my own procrastination and idleness, but mostly on the heat and humidity. It's really just not that nice to do anything outside in the middle of the day. That said, I am desperately trying to convince friends to hit the beaches around Accra a few more time before we leave. My tan is pathetic.
I know I am very behind on my posts, so let me endeavor to explain my absence from "class". It actually fits in perfectly with one of my readings. How convenient.
Ryszard Kapuscinski traveled through Africa in the 1960's and wrote several books about his experiences. I have been reading The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life.
The first pages of the book find Kapuscinski in Ghana, a place that has become quite familiar to me. I remember picking up this book before I came to Ghana and flipping through the first chapters. Even with Kapuscinski's vivid descriptions of Accra and Kumasi, I couldn't picture these places with any conviction. The places he described seemed unreal, intangible.
Kapuscinski leaves Ghana and heads east, and when he is in Uganda, he falls ill. Cerebral Malaria. Ah malaria, the bane of all African life. The dark shadow that hangs over new mothers, small children, tourists and expatriates. Kapuscinski's description of his condition is both detailed, and as I recently learned, accurate.
Yes, I fell prey to those evil little parasites that use mosquitos as their vehicles and human beings as their homes. In fact, as I write this I am slumped weakened and wasted in my bed, hands swollen from poorly tended IV's, ears still ringing from the Quinine that was pumped into my body.
When I first began to feel unwell, something struck me as familiar about my symptoms. I reached for Kapuscinski's book, flipping to the chapter in which he describes malaria.
"The first signal of an imminent malaria attack is a feeling of anxiety". Ok, check.
One of the greatest challenges facing newcomers to Ghana and Accra in particular is the lack of specificity on maps or in directions given by Ghanaians. Almost all roads in Accra have names – I for example live on Nmati lane – however, if I tell a Ghanaian that I live on that particular road, he will stare at my blankly, even if he lives in my neighborhood. Ghanaians don’t use road signs or road names, they prefer to use landmarks and institutions. “I’m going to Coffee Shop side of Labone” or “I am going to Ridge near the Fidelity Bank building” or “I am just going around the corner from Metro TV”. It seems fairly simple, but the problem for foreigners is not just getting used to the Ghanaian method. Imagine stepping off of a plane, never having spent time in Accra before. You are snatched up by a cab driver who seriously inflates the fare. You look down at the card with the address of the residence, office or institution that you are heading for and you read the address to the driver. Unless he already knows where the particular place is, he won’t know where to take you just from the street name.
The postal system in Ghana isn’t good to begin with, so if mail were regularly delivered to people’s houses or offices.... well let’s just say it never would be. Everyone has a mailbox at the post office. I have yet to see a postal worker, mail truck or even a letterbox. No one in Accra knows the “official” city well enough to put together routes and in addition the postal infrastructure that we know in the US doesn't even exist. You can't tell a postal worker to deliver letters to the brown house on the curving street that runs off of the avenue parallel to the one that intersects with Circle.
West Africa is not a region a tourist comes to in order to sit poolside at a resort and sip iced cocktails at midday. There are plenty of destinations to which flights are cheaper and where governments are better at making poverty look quaint for the sake of tourists. Also the cocktails aren’t very good here. The countries I have visited in West Africa provide perfect examples of “back-space” tourism. If you decide to go on vacation to Mali, the fourth poorest country in the world, you would be a fool to expect a peaceful, relaxing and comfortable trip. Fortunately most people who do vacation in West Africa know better. In fact they are visiting the region because a peaceful, relaxing, comfortable vacation is the last thing they are looking for. My experience in Mali’s Dogon country is a perfect example of this.
I never expected to be wowed by African cuisine. This is a good thing. I haven’t been wowed by it. Ghanaians like very heavy, very spicy food. The diet of the typical Ghanaian consists of vast quantities of rice, plantains, groundnuts, cassava, fried fish, palm oil and pepper. I have never been very good with hot sauce; so many Ghanaian dishes are completely off limits to me. There are however, a couple of Ghanaian dishes that I do enjoy. First is the famous Jollof rice, which can be found all over Ghana and also in other West African countries. I saw it on a menu in Mali as Riz Yollof. Jollof, Yollof, whatever you want to call it, it can be quite delicious or, if it isn’t made well, you will feel as if you are eating out of a trashcan. The rice if boiled and mixed with a tomato paste and usually served with chicken or vegetables. Basic , but it does the job. The other dish I quite enjoy is Kelewele and I will probably fail in my attempt to describe it. Think plantains, tossed with sugar, pepper and other spices and then fried in hot oil until they little cubes of plantain are a rich brown and simultaneously soft and chewy. However, it is one of those dishes you can only have so much of before you start to feel ill. I would fill you all in on other Ghanaian dishes such as Banku, Kenke and Fufu, but I really couldn’t tell you much except that I can’t quite stomach them.