Semester in Ghana


Read by Date --> May

In my journal in May, I addressed aspects of daily life in Ghana I had not yet discussed and described new experiences that I had during my last full month as an exchange student.

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May 1

Happy May! Today begins my last full month on this side of the world.

An aspect of material culture I have been meaning to describe is that of all-purpose items. By far, the most essential Ghanaian household possession is the machete, a foot-long, non-serrated blade fastened to a four-inch handle. My host family has three or four in circulation, but unfortunately the sharpest also tend to have the most deteriorated handles. The machete replaces the butcher’s knife, vegetable chopper, carrot peeler, spatula, charcoal stoker, and, at times, scouring pad. I doubt the existence of an “As Seen on TV” product that would boast all of those uses. Dish towels get ample employment, too. The Ghanaian English word for one is “napkin” (although my host mother pronounces it “nipe-kin”). Clean ones function as rice insulators, pot holders, lids, and fly swatters. Meanwhile, dirty ones act the part of dust rag. In short, dish towels do everything cloths do, except dry dishes. A third all-purpose item is the table spoon. Since traditional Ghanaian food is eaten with the hands, use of utensils is an acquired art. Not everyone my age is proficient in maneuvering a fork and knife, so the most popular piece of flatware is the spoon. Rice, salad, and even fried chicken are divided in bite-sized bits and spooned into the mouth. After my parents’ valiantly tried for sixteen years to improve my table manners, it is pretty funny to watch schoolmates saw fruitlessly on a hunk of meat with the side of a plastic spoon.

From Ghanaian necessities, I turn to my own. Firstly, I am glad to have brought dental floss. My host sisters do not even know the name of the substance because, here, toothpicks are used in its stead. Furthermore, ripping tough meat off the bone with my teeth, I frequently need to floss after dinner. Next, I depend on my flashlight. For my birthday last year, I got a very bright LED one, and it is capable of lighting my room in power outages. In addition, my host sister frequently requests it to illuminate the generator when starting it up. To date, I have brushed my teeth, made Skype calls, eaten dinner, and done jumping jacks with my trusty torch—all thanks to Ghana’s highly unreliable electricity. Last in the procession of useful items is my alarm clock. There are a few hanging timepieces in the house, but none displays a time within five minutes of the correct one. Also, if I needed to ask my host family to wake me, I suspect I would never get up at a consistent time. Had AFS provided me a packing list before I came, I should have hoped these three would have been on it.

Another discussion topic is language learning tips I have stumbled upon—both for Twi and Ghanaian English. To begin, it is important to listen to Ghanaian English in order to gain functional knowledge of Twi words. “Hear,” for instance, is used to mean both “hear” and “understand.” Although I still wince when my host father says, “Do I hear you?” to indicate he has not understood me, paying attention to this misusage (or so we would call it) of “hear” has taught me how to use “ti,” the Twi equivalent. Secondly, I now know to try reassigning syllabic emphasis in Ghanaian English words I have trouble comprehending. For example, Ghanaians emphasize the first syllable of “afternoon” and the third syllable of “urinate.” If that does not work, I ask for the spelling of the word. To close, I have noticed that larger responses are given to show understanding than to ask for clarification. If my host father does not make a loud “eh-heh” or fervent nod, he probably has not understood. By the same token, he will continue to repeat his point until I make it obvious that I do not need to hear it again. All in all, I have been slightly surprised at how difficult Ghanaian English has been to master and at how much Twi I have grasped in less than four months (not that I am anywhere near fluency, even for simple household conversations).

Switching gears completely, my final focus is on orthopedic health, which appears especially poor here. Heavy buckets of water are always carried on the right side, forcing their young bearers to lean far to the left to counterbalance the load. Otherwise, cargo is toted on one’s head, which is better for posture but requires tension of neck muscles—at least for inexperienced people like me. Cooking, sweeping, and laundering are often performed by bending down to low-lying targets. This probably does wonders for women’s hamstring flexibility, but it cannot be good for the back. In order to travel with a child, the mother must tip her pelvis so the baby has a ledge on which to balance. Between all of the leaning and bending and tipping, I am not surprised, though no less saddened, to watch old women clutch their lower backs as they hobble down the street.

May 4

Yesterday, I tried to take a group picture with my host family. I put this off for three-and-a-half months because I figured it might be a touchy subject. However, my host family members seem to frequently encourage me to take more pictures than I do, even pictures of them. Also, Sheila returns to boarding school tomorrow, so today will likely be the last time I see her. At 4pm, my host father was still at work, and Sheila planned to leave for youth group (which I do not go to out of fear of evening mosquitoes giving me malaria) before he returned. I resigned to take one with only the girls in the family and promised to include my host dad in a later, sans-Sheila photo. I assured my host mother that she would look fine despite the rollers in her hair. When I tried to corral everyone into the driveway to take advantage of daylight, it became clear that Grace did not want to participate. My attempts to convince her to join us caused me to unknowingly, and greatly, affront both my host mother and Sheila, such that by the time I gave up on a picture with Grace, the others were no longer willing to pose. As I learned when my host father got home to translate the opinions of the ladies, Grace’s status as “child” meant that she ought not to be waited for. Fortunately, my host dad explained to my host mom about cultural differences. Together with seeing how upset I was, that convinced my host mother to offer me a picture-taking opportunity today, and that is the one enclosed. All in all, it was one of the more emotionally tense family photos I have taken.

A major cultural difference is church. Plenty can be said about the organization and stated beliefs about churches, but I have a few hypotheses about the extrapersonal functions of the institution. In other words, for what reasons, aside from spiritual ones, do Ghanaians go to church? Firstly, church is exciting and motivating. Billboards all around advertise various congregations’ weekly prophecy, miracle working, deliverance, transformation, impartation, and healing services. In the Youth Service I attend, the preacher usually spends a good deal of his unstructured sermon promising attendees that they will be removed from their current, lowly place and placed above those around them. If anyone celebrates his or her birthday, the prayer is that one year in future the person will not have financial, social, or any other type of struggles. To these Western eyes, it looks like the church guarantees its members success by quoting sensational Bible verses and facilitating fabulous spectacles. Abigail’s family goes to a church called “Winners’ Chapel,” Royalhouse Chapel’s motto is “the righteous not forsaken” with some reference to some Bible verse, and another church’s advertised motto is “home of signs and wonders.” I am, by no means, trying to comment on God’s ability to do the things they say He will; I only wish to relay opinions I have formed based on limited observation. Secondly, church is socially significant. It is common to ask an acquaintance what church he or she goes to, and two friends’ first conversation of the week often involves questions about last Sunday’s attendance or lack thereof. Thirdly, church establishes and promotes acceptable behavior. Because so much credence is given to Christian teachings, cultural norms are somewhat dictated by the church. Therefore, the church is responsible for perpetuating adherence to Christian values. The Youth Service leaders constantly allude to the inadvisability of teenage relationships, and the Adult Service pastor frequently discusses how marriage “should” be. I expect Priscilla’s Children’s Service places emphasis on ethics instruction, too. In conclusion, my experiences suggest that the excitement and social and cultural significance keep Ghanaians going back every Sunday.

May 6

Having driven by my school yesterday, my host father decided there was no point in my going until next week. The first week of every term is for tidying the campus, and not too many people show up. Therefore, I will start next Monday.

This morning, we were treated to a lovely rainstorm, which cooled the air to the mid-80s. When it gets that “cold,” Ghanaians get out their warmest clothing. As an aside, it should be noted that most casual wear here is imported hand-me-downs from the likes of Goodwill, I believe. It was charming to watch a high school boy walking to school today with what I would call a “Christmas sweater” over his starched white uniform. A store customer came in a hooded, poufy, plastic, fire-engine red vest. I was not cold, exactly, but my internal thermometer was saying high-60s, not mid-80s; however, it did make me think about the climactic readjustments I will go through when I go home.

I copied the accumulated photos from my camera to my computer today. The cow visited our neighborhood this morning, scavenging for any green tufts on the sides of the road that the goats have not yet rendered un-munchable. Fried yam was my lunch one day. It is less greasy than French fries, and I can now handle a barely visible amount of shitok, a very spicy sauce, on each bite. The smoke picture dates to a week ago. Apparently, a couple of men had gotten into an oil pipeline in the harbor area and were stealing fuel. The unauthorized operation was discovered when it caught fire. Firefighters eventually got the blaze under control but not before an impressive smoke cloud blossomed in the sky. I believe the only fatality was one of the thieves.

Before addressing today’s question, I will briefly return to one of my most common topics: food. In Ghana, meat and fish are much fresher than in America. Fish is today’s catch at the harbor, and my host mother does not buy meat of chickens for which she does not witness the slaughter. In fact, she executed (pun intended) the process herself last week with four of the driveway roosters because the other six had been stolen and there is only one failsafe way to keep chickens out of thieves’ possession. The meat was tougher and less plentiful than any I have encountered in the US, but it was satisfying to eat meat with so convincing a guarantee of authenticity. Fish is also good in its unadulterated state. Ghanaians eat fish bones, but I do not. Luckily, I have only once gotten a fish bone stuck in the back of my throat. Eating hunks of meat that were indiscriminately chopped off the rest of the animal has done wonders for my anatomy knowledge, too. Last week, for instance, I got the chance to examine the cartilage of a chicken wing. I hope that is not too gross for you; it’s actually pretty fascinating for me.

What do you hear of your classmates' aspirations for careers? Do most hope to attend university? How about Richard, Sheila and Priscilla? I think college is most people’s goal. Unfortunately, there are only spots available for a fraction of high school graduates. Also, upon graduating college, unemployment is rampant. Planning for the future, or indeed any kind of planning, is not nearly as popular here as in the States. Aspirations are not discussed too much. A classmate is interested in medicine, but only students in the Science tract are allowed to become doctors, so her General Arts tract will limit her options. Other friends have spoken of following in their parents’ footsteps. My host father tells me that he tried to choose Richard’s path for him, ended up stripping his son of his academic drive, and consequently left the decision of college major up to Richard himself. The choice was Information Technology (IT). For Sheila, her father originally wanted her to be a doctor, but he bent to her wishes, and she now speaks of going into Law. Interestingly, she does not say she wants to be a lawyer; rather, she refers to “Law” as her goal.

May 9

Plenty has previously been said about the look of Ghana, as well as its attributed feelings and flavors, so today I turn to the other two senses. With regards to hearing, it is important to remember that tropical homes need no insulation, and thin walls happily admit any and all noises.

I generally wake to the same orchestra every morning. While it includes the stereotyped rooster’s crow, the loudest instrument is the broom, as Grace sweeps the driveway before sunup. Other birds trill, and goats bleat. All doors and gates have rusty deadbolts that scratch and whine as they are unlocked for the day. Hinges squeak and metal framework clangs as entrances are subsequently opened. Before school, Priscilla sometimes has requests to make to her father or else admonishments to hear from her mother, so begging and yelling in Twi frequently join my morning music.

Starting around dawn and continuing into the evening, vendors stroll through the streets. To get the attention of residents in the houses they pass, many use sound. Swinging bells is common, especially for those selling cleaning products, second-hand clothing, and packaged crackers. Produce saleswomen advertise their “ripe plantain” or “fresh okra” verbally in throaty tones I used to think the preserve of auctioneers. A traveling carpenter clanks two rusted tools together as he passes. Supply trucks with workmen lounging in the flat beds often have megaphones shouting commercials, but the language barrier prevents me learning whether they promote their own goods or others’. Bicycle horns unfailingly announce the presence of boys pushing carts of ice cream (made with powdered milk and not great compared to what I am used to) and pastries. It interests me that sounds seem to replace signs, but I suppose bells are cheaper than billboards.

Most days, I leave the property to buy lunch and am met by the now-typical calls. Children jump up and down, cheering, “Obruni!” Whenever any such kid comes to the store, my host mother, with good intentions, scolds them and tells them to call me “Sister Mary,” so some now scream that at me, too. Young men sometimes tell me to “Bra!” (“Come!”), a command I always ignore. I would describe myself as a friendly acquaintance of a few of my host mother’s neighbors, and we give each other greetings as I walk by. In Ghana, greetings, particularly with neighborhood women, consist of “paacho Good Mo’ning/Afte’noon/Ev’ning,” followed by “e ti sen” or “paacho wo hoy ye,” to which I respond “paacho eye” or “paacho ain,” then “Mama o hoy ye,” the reply of which is “paacho ain,” and the encounter ends with a warm “yo.” To translate, the exchange consists of “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening,” inquiries about my wellbeing and my host mother’s, and finally the acknowledgement “yo,” which is roughly equivalent to “alright.” “Paacho” is the universal way to make a statement polite. Once I return, those at home say, “ai-ee ko,” and I say, “ya yee.” Then, I ask, “e chi rey,” and they confirm, “bo ko.” I believe that conversation is first welcoming me home and second gaining assurance that everything at home is well.

Lastly, there are the day’s smells to describe. The most pungent is fire which, depending on its source, varies in tolerability. If an upwind neighbor is burning some gruesome articles of garbage—plastic, etc.—it can be quite unpleasant until the breeze changes direction. “Normal” trash blazes are not great, but I have endured worse. Charcoal stoves do not give off much scent except in the lighting process, which involves pouring and igniting gasoline to warm the coals. Other than fire, odors include chicken droppings and shallow sewers. Pleasant aromas, on the other hand, are the morning’s delivery of fresh bread, rice that is cooked almost nightly, and the sea breeze when it picks up.

May 11

I trust the weather is now nice enough in the temperate zone that it will not be cruel for me to boast of its warmth here. The mornings have the best temperatures, as it does not get hot until 8am or 9am, which is two or three hours after everyone in Ghana is awake, even on the weekends. The cool breeze is nearly as strong then as it is before rainstorms. In my room, I often do not need my ceiling fan until midmorning, so I turn it off in hopes of some fresh air coming into the window, which is slightly inconveniently sheltered by the store. At midday, I can withstand only about twenty minutes out of the shade. It is certainly hot, but Ghanaians recognize it as such, so we commiserate together. Once the sun sinks low enough—about 4pm—the sky is gorgeous. During the dry season, it would be solid periwinkle, but now there are clouds. Their edges glint in the sun, but the middles stay white, rather than glowing pink or orange. If we’re lucky, the wind picks up again at this time and postpones the evening mosquitoes’ appearance. Even at night, it is never too cold for shirtsleeves, although I do occasionally wake up during the night due to the chill and, accordingly, turn my fan off. Rain comes as unreliably as teachers—sometimes on consecutive days and other times not for several days. Storms can be day-long drizzles or brief downpours. Before coming, adjusting to the climate here was one of my main concerns (possibly because overheating was one experience I had had then, so I could knowledgeably worry). However, I am grateful to report that it has not been much of a problem.

May 14

Bouts of mild stomach pain kept me home from school today. If decent bathrooms were readily available there, I could have gone, but since that is not the case, staying home is a necessary precaution. I am fortunate to have never gotten seriously ill here. Rather, I get periodic, idiopathic G.I. troubles that, for all my brainstorming, I cannot attribute to any particular food. I am left to conclude that everything I eat here has a certain level of danger, and every now and again something in my portion disagrees with my tummy. My host parents accept my refusals to their frequent offers to take me to the clinic, I rest, and eventually the situation works itself out. Acquaintance with these symptoms reassures me that they are not from malaria.

Monday we had no classes on account of the annual “Handing Over” Ceremony. The prefect positions were officially handed from seniors to their elected successors in the junior class. The occasion functioned as a Graduation Ceremony in a school system in which students leave secondary school with a list of WASSCE grades, not a diploma. Those exams finish, for some students, today, after having started in early April. Others, such as those in the Home Economics major, will be tortured for another couple of weeks. The ceremony itself was dull. Predictably, it started late, so that the sun was strong enough that I could see my shadow despite sitting under the outdoor canopy. Meaningless names of departing prefects were called over the microphone while my friends and I compared how much sweat had accumulated on our legs. New prefects made vows similar to those at religious rites, promising the Holy Trinity they would perform their duties. Various school staff members roamed the aisles of bored students—who had been, quite literally, beaten with sticks to mandate their attendance—taking photos to document the event. The proceedings did display the school’s caba and slit outfit, which senior girls were instructed to wear, as well as the boys’ formal getup, which I can best compare to an Indian sari. Both ensembles were made of a yellow cloth printed with a green lattice and the school’s shield.

The school compound’s gates were opened after the service ended, so most kids gradually left. My host father picks me up, though, so I stayed in my classroom until dismissal time. Near the end of the day, the Drama Club entered the room to rehearse. Except for the Visual Arts major, which is populated by so-called “foolish boys,” Ghana makes little accommodation for students wishing to express artistic talents. The Drama Club appears to be run by one theater-oriented, male student. Those on stage Monday seemed to be newbie girls that the leader was coaxing to improvise a scene in which a tribal queen seeks advice from a council of elders. The actresses said and did little, until one girl in the audience traded places with one on stage. This substitute was energetic and full of one-liners. She lived for the spotlight. A decade in this behaviorist educational system had not killed that spirit.

There are many skills I have learned while here, some of which I believe will serve me well in the States and others for which I cannot quite picture a circumstance where they would be useful. For one, I can whittle carrots because I discovered that is the only way to finely chop them without a cutting board. In addition, I am proficient in eating and drinking from a plastic bag after using my teeth to rip a corner of it. Most takeout comes packaged in plastic bags, and slurping the food out of them does not require a spoon, which would probably be unavailable if I wanted one. Next, I figured out how to brush my teeth using my water bottle, since I don’t trust the tap water to be potable. Another is the carrying of empty coolers on my head; my host mother has a display of them that must be rapidly dismantled whenever it rains. Lastly, I can one-handedly trade money for a product with a vendor. Neither sellers nor purchasers chances relinquishing their good first, so both forfeit simultaneously. However, it is rude to pass or receive with the left hand, so the transaction is completed with each using his right only. For each of these talents, I suppose I can imagine potential application in a college dorm, but I’m not sure where else.

May 16

The teachers are on strike. Starting today, they broadcasted to the Ghanaian public, they will not be going to work until a pay raise is seen. Yet it seems that some are silently breaking the picket line. Yesterday, our Biology teacher told us not to tell the outside world about the teachers that would be coming despite the announced protest. None of my three teachers scheduled for Fridays came today although two left assignments for us to do in their absence. My friend told me that the strike could last as long a month, in which case my last couple of weeks at Chemu Secondary School would be even less productive than their predecessors. I am not sure how notable the difference will be next week. Friday attendance is never particularly good, so today may not have been a good indication of how many teachers will show up.

I am no longer the only light-skinned girl at Chemu since last Friday when two Koreans joined the ranks. In my two fleeting exchanges with them, I did not catch what they are doing or how long they will stay. They always walk together, which is to be expected, but it reinforces my notion that my isolation was beneficial. I had no countrywomen to speak and spend time with, and that forced me to seek Ghanaian friends to a degree I suspect they will not experience. Nonetheless, they appear outgoing and poised, so I think they are likely to bond with their other classmates.

I now have three-or-so weeks left with my classmates. After that, I will pass my last two weeks with my host family before taking to the skies. My friends have begun saying how much they will miss me, and the feeling is reciprocated. I have made great friends here. They have carried me through emotional and social struggles, explained and joined in my laughter at my host family members’ mysterious behaviors, discussed deep-rooted cultural differences with me, and helped me navigate both scholastic and extracurricular aspects of my exchange. They have translated both languages and customs, and their interest in my background has been neither intrusive nor false. I will miss their laughter and patience.

The only graded exam papers yet to be distributed are those for Math, as well as Information and Communication Technology. My term grades in English, History, Physical Education, Science, and Social Studies all look like they will be Bs, once the classwork grades are factored in. Exam grades constitute 70% of term grades, while classwork makes up the other 30%. With the exception of Social Studies, I believe I was among the highest scorers in my class. With regards to Social Studies, it was much harder to make educated guesses since the questions were on topics like bride prices—not exactly parts of the society I grew up in. Overall, I am happy with my results. In History, especially, I am proud to have learned enough West African history to get 53/70, since the highest score in the class was 54/70.

“What are your host family’s and classmates’ attitudes and approaches to healthcare?”

An ill Ghanaian looks to have three options for treatment. Of these, clinics are one. A patient pays a couple hundred cedis to consult with a doctor, get a blood test, and buy prescribed medications. Hospitals can provide similar services; I believe they are lower in both quality and cost. Generally, it seems that those who can afford it opt for the clinic, at least at first. If that fails or is too expensive, people turn to herbal centers. These are shops selling a wide variety of herbal products that claim to treat medical problems. I have never been to one, but I have seen signs for them. They range in appearance from walk-in stores to roadside, jar-laden tables. Sheila once brought home a tonic for menstrual cramps. My inspection of the box yielded little information, save that it contained two ingredients with long names and that its price was six cedis. A third road in healthcare leads to spiritual care. The Divine Healer’s Church has a branch near the house, and my host father tells me the Christ Apostolic Church turns from modern medicine, too. I think his uncle first converted to Christianity in search of a cure for some medical condition, which I believe he found at Christ Apostolic Church. As a final note, I will mention that all care is paid for in cash because health insurance never really caught on, and the Ghanaian health insurance system collapsed a couple of months ago.

May 18

“Does Priscilla often have friends over?”

As much as a few times a week, Priscilla’s classmates populate the bench in the driveway as my host mother makes the evening’s dinner. Sunday is, perhaps, the most common day for guests, but some come—particularly her best friend Belinda—on weekdays after school. At times, they work on homework together.

“What is the Ghanaian relationship with shoes? Do people take them off when they come indoors, do they have house shoes or go barefoot? Do they grab a pair of sandals to go outside in their yards?”

Flip flops suffice for casual occasions, including errands and vending. Students wear flats, while professionals and churchgoers don high heels. I walk around the property and store in bare feet, but external traipsing requires shoes. There was once a boy selling cartons of eggs who stepped into the store to carefully unload my host mother’s purchase from his head. He removed his flip flops on the lower step of the store, before entering the main part. I believe Grace usually does the same thing upon returning from neighborhood food stands. I copy Priscilla and wear my church shoes through the store when I get back on Sunday afternoons, and I take them to my room. There is no carpeting here, and the unsealed nature of buildings lets dust accumulate on the floors, so Ghanaians sweep a lot and do not worry too much about getting floors dirty.

May 23

Since Monday morning, the bridge over the main sewer (a small stream composed of sewage) became a single-lane road. A car had evidently coughed its last at that spot, and it was only relocated as far as the shoulder. When I first saw it, I pictured an unfortunate encounter with a fallen tree branch because foliage emerged from warped parts of the vehicle’s body. There almost seemed to have been a monstrous plant growing inside the automobile that eventually stretched its limbs far enough to murder its host. My host father, on the other hand, attributed the tragic demise to a lack of maintenance and explained that inserted greenery was a cheaper form of traffic cones. Since Monday, a front wheel has sagged and the leaves have browned, yet the monument remains. Maybe I should sell a picture to a car insurance company; wouldn’t that make a good advertisement?

Passing this new landmark and riding the muddy roller coaster the rest of the way to school, we pull into the parking lot, and I disembark. A few teachers lounge on the entryway benches’ decomposing upholstery. The one arriving on the scene, I am expected to initiate the exchange of “good mornings.” Greetings are indispensable here; no one silently passes by, scowling at his or her feet and pretending not to see onlookers. I reach my classroom later than only a few others. The rest of my classmates trickle in before and after the bell indicating the first period. Prior to the arrival of the masses, there is a serene atmosphere, with early birds studying in their desks and receiving hellos from entering friends. I provide any math help that is requested of me and read or doodle as I wait for my first class or my departure to the library, which I must time such that I get there once the assigned Library Prefects finish their morning tidying. Meanwhile, identically clad pupils congregate outdoors. They rake fallen tree debris from the sand, water and turn over the soil at the foot of the planted bushes, and sweep dust and garbage out of classrooms and off verandas. Occasionally, a horde of (mostly male) classmates appear in the doorway, frantically fleeing the brandished cane that follows them. The entertainment-seeking staff member barks about untended bushes or dusty floors, singles out a few unlucky victims to fix the problems, and stalks off. Boys leak back out of the room, and the peace is restored.

Most teachers came to work this week in spite of the alleged strike. I learned that I did well on my Information and Communication Technology final, and my math grades were okay. Unlike some peers, my English exam composition fortunately contained hardly any mechanical errors—an effect of being a native speaker, no doubt—since the English teacher devotes the first few classes of every term to “reminding” low-scorers not to sign friendly letters with their full names, to heed the stated 450-word minimum, etc. These “reminders” most directly impact their targets’ backsides.

On the way back from school, we take a different route than we used to. The rainy season has rendered side roads swampy, so commuters opt for and clog up the main roads. I must simply trust my host father’s judgment on this, though, because our present path takes us through the market, in which cars move very slowly, if at all. However, this provides ample people-watching opportunity. At one point in the past, the market was a roadside establishment of narrow alleys between tarp- and umbrella-covered stands boasting fresh produce and other goods. Now, merchants crowd both sidewalks and half of the street, choking a single lane of two-way traffic that competes with harried pedestrians. A rusty fence marking the side of the asphalt has been long-forgotten. The narrow corridor is also populated by strolling vendors with displays on their heads. They squeeze into niches between product-laden tables to cater to interested customers. Other vehicles that push their way through the chaos are flat-bed wagons piled with used socks for sale and motorcycles whose passengers pay their drivers to deliver them speedily to their destinations. Shoes, shirts, and herbal medicines are some of the most available merchandise. A latter section of the market features several successive plots whose owners watch over huge piles of watermelons and pineapples that are brought from north of here. Girls, some of whom look no older than seven, carry trays of plantain or bags of water on their heads. Their young voices as they yell “pure water” already mimic the frog-like quality that older women develop as they bellow about okra and plantain all day.

We eventually reach the house, and a decent source of amusement is the driveway chickens. Many have recently-hatched chicks, which are little more than fluffy rumps with heads perched on top. Their mothers lead them around the property, teaching them to eat the discarded food that is allotted them. They play a game of “Marco Polo” while on the move, in which the mother clucks and her kids echo. A couple batches are still too small to scale the curb that surrounds most of the flowerbed, but their frantic attempts are adorable. They learn to preen their feathers by watching Mother do it. The activity looks similar to a toddler straightening his little tie. Possibly cutest is naptime, when legs collapse and the driveway is suddenly populated by rubber duck-like creatures. Certain little ones seem to like naptime a lot because they are found still squatting under the car when all siblings have already scampered off to peck at rice. With the encouragement of a brother or sister, the lazy chick eventually stands up and runs to join the rest.

May 25

Yesterday, I went to Aba and Baaba’s home for a couple of hours. Their parents own and operate a hotel—the Crismon—in Tema. It was my first time seeing school friends outside of school. Other Jehovah’s Witness classmates were over, too. They were getting ready for a Chemu graduation party for this year’s seniors. Once they finished dolling up and left, I had a nice conversation with Aba and dipped my feet in the hotel pool. The evening was a change of pace. There are very few get-togethers here that I have participated in. Barbecues, birthday parties, and other group events are rare. In their stead, Ghanaians have funerals and church conventions. This strangeness was compounded by the setting of a nice hotel that, while still looking Ghanaian, drew more resemblance to the Western world than I have perhaps seen since visiting Accra. A spacious entrance hall, glass restaurant tables, a two-door refrigerator, carpeting, doormats emblazoned with the word “Welcome,” and Charmin® toilet paper were among the things that stuck out to me. Readjustment to the US will be quite a process, won’t it?

Today I think I may have gotten a decent estimation of a recipe for jolof rice. As a preface, I will say that no two people make jolof rice identically, so there is no way that a definite recipe can be written. Additionally, all measurements are complete guesses that I made while watching my host mother dump ingredients into the pot. Today’s meal was a mere two cups of dry rice because the jolof rice was only for me. She figures one cup per person, but I have never seen her prepare less than two cups at a time. This scaled-down version hopefully provided a more useful report for American cooks; after all, we make 1.5 cups in my house for three people. The cooking time was one hour, and the pot was on a bed of hot coals for that long. In the first ten minutes, she heated about ¼ cup of oil (more than necessary, in my opinion), fried/sautéed one chopped onion, dumped in three chopped tomatoes, added a teaspoon or two of ground hot pepper, and stirred in half a cup of tomato paste. After waiting five minutes, she put maybe three or four teaspoons of spices, 75g of canned mackerel, and a couple pinches of salt in. The spices are bought as a mixed concoction of rosemary, oregano, and other things. I recommend seasoning the sauce to your liking. Also, tuna flakes and corned beef can be a substitute for or complement to the mackerel, and whichever you use should be smashed with a spoon in the pot. At this point, the pot looks to have a merry tomato sauce, and I suspect heating a jar of tomato sauce could replace all of the above steps. The two cups of rice are dumped in ten minutes later, along with ample water (approximately 3-4 cups) and another teaspoon of salt. Stirring is necessary throughout to prevent burning. Cover the pot once the rice is in, and stuff a clean plastic bag under the lid once enough water boils off for the rice to be visible. The plastic bag, for which a dish towel can be substituted, ensures a seal and, in effect, steams the rice. This step is part of cooking plain rice, too. Regularly remove the insert and stir. The dish is finished when the rice is tender, or after about 35 minutes. I eat jolof rice with a ton (2:1 ratio, green to red) of fresh, shredded cabbage to make it slightly healthier and counterbalance the spiciness.

One thing I have grown accustomed to is waking up with the Sun. I have never had trouble sleeping and, although I rarely slept past 9am or 10am, I could have, had I wanted to. 6:20am always came unreasonably soon, and I woke more than once thinking my alarm clock had erroneously gone off too early. Now, however, I open my eyes around 5:45am every morning. My earlier bedtime undoubtedly plays a role, but I believe that is also a natural reaction to natural light. My curtains might be drawn, but sunlight still streams in at that hour. I have not used my alarm to get up since last term. I hope it is indeed a bodily response to daylight, though, because otherwise I will return to Pittsburgh with five months’ practice of getting up at 2am EDT!

May 30

Well, I started with 23 weeks on the clock, and that has now shrunk to about 23 days. It is strange to think I am almost finished. I will not be so cliché as to call it bittersweet, but there are some conflicting emotions involved. Mostly, though, I just have trouble figuring it out. I think I felt similarly as I approached my US departure. I am too much of a daredevil—in other words, a youngest sibling—to fear the unknown, and if my exchange has taught me one thing, it is to set no expectations. Maybe my feelings can best be summed up as puzzlement.

Tuesday, it rained. The roaring of raindrops hitting the metal roof drowned out our disliked core math teacher. Determined to continue rambling about quadratic relations, he kept drawing his inexpert parabola until his wet dry-erase marker decided it was time for him to stop. Students were busy relocating their desks to dodge drip zones from the ceiling and the mist zone created by the screened windows. They slung colorful rags, which are usually reserved for dusting, over their shivering shoulders in the 80 degree weather. Eventually, our teacher gave up and left after the period ended. The rest of the day was fairly unproductive.

The evening commute was an adventure. My host father needed to drive to a different part of southern Ghana for a contract, and the rain prevented his timely return, so he instructed one of his workers (with whom I am acquainted) to get a taxi and pick me up. The roads after such a heavy downpour were in terrible condition. In an effort to avoid a backup, the driver took a different route that turned out to have traffic of its own. This street was possibly the worst I have seen in Ghana; enormous, successive, water-filled craters were close and large enough that the surface of the road was more water than mud. Impatient drivers had tried to triple the number of lanes on the road, so there was an element of competition as cars dove into each puddle, hoping the water would not get into the engine. A broken-down tro-tro near the end of the block made a funnel, too. After that experience, our cabbie headed for the congested highway. In the dry season, vehicles had patted a bypass lane off the edge of the asphalt. The driver had some event beginning soon, so he opted for that lane, but his plan backfired when the police called him over into their driveway. Once he bribed his way out of that situation, he was unquestionably late, so he drove around to various taxi stands to find us a different car for the rest of our trip. He found what he described as a “fancy” car, and we zoomed off in the Nissan that our new driver was clearly very proud of. In fact, he was so proud of it that he made a tricky maneuver around one of the puddles so as not to pass through the muddy water like all the other taxis, tro-tros, and bicycles. Unfortunately, the mud he swerved onto was too soft to hold the car, and we moved no further. He disappeared for a while, during which time my escort called my host father and I contemplated the likely bacteria growth in a swampy patch next to my door. At length, the driver reappeared with a truck to drag his not-so-shiny cab out of its bog. I got back to the house at dusk.

In my experience, there are fewer restrictions on what one can say (to one’s social equals or inferiors) in Ghana than in America. This is especially true about physical appearance. I have been told by acquaintances that my hair is messy, my acne is bad, and my weight is increasing. As far as I can tell, these statements are usually meant as neither compliments nor slights, but merely as comments. In very stark language, one might say that Ghanaians trade diplomacy for honesty. I think both social approaches have sound reasoning and produce decent, if different, results. Anyhow, one social feature of Ghana that I have noticed is the tendency to, in the case of offense being taken, blame the offended, not the offender. It seems that in the absence of other recognized causes, the situation is attributed to the pride of the offended. Pride is not generally seen as a good trait for a person here. I can imagine the fettered speech and differing blame pattern in the US possibly resulting in a Ghanaian unintentionally upsetting someone and being held responsible even though the other party may seem, in his or her eyes, to be at fault.