Posted by Emily Block | 0 comments

Ghana Day 1-2

  Ok so I was on the bus right?  Before I continue I'm going to rewind a bit.   I forgot a whole few hours of watching a music performance and hanging out with Ghanaian students and professors before I even left the ship.  I had planned to sleep in, but that went about as well as it ever does on the ship.  I was up at 7:30 am when an announcement was made about something.  The good news is that I had time to go to a presentation and musical performance that was going on in the Union to help us get ready for Ghana.  A diplomat (and SAS alum!) spoke about his experiences living in Ghana and his career path.  Then, the musician who has sailed with us from Brazil to Ghana (who is from Ghana) sang some songs with guitar accompaniment.  He sang some Bob Marley which was fantastic and a few of his own composition.  He is a fantastic artist so I am glad that I did not miss it!


  I met up with my field program group for lunch.  (Some of the people had met  before to greet the Ghanaian students and professors while I was finishing up getting ready.)  It was fantastic talking with them over a relatively decent meal (in boat food terms).  I mainly talked to a guy who is also in his last quarter of school about how his university system works.  I was amazed that it is common to take 5 to 8 classes at once per term at school here!  I feel overwhelmed with four!  I was also surprised to learn that people were all different ages in his classes.  He was 26 and had worked three years teaching before he started college.  In Ghana, people can teach up through elementary school before they need an education degree.  After teaching the younger kids, he decided to go back to school and eventually work in high school or college level teaching.  


  Many of the people who we met at lunch accompanies us onto the bus that would take us to Winneba.  (Yay, now I'm back to where I left off before.)  After about three and a half hours, I was very glad to get to the town of our destination.  Before going to the hotel we had the honor of being welcomed to the town by the council members.  It is common that any visitor stops by the local government office to be welcomed, and then again at the end of the stay to ask permission to leave.  The ritual involved prayer from at least two denominations and an offering of locally made alcohol to the gods.  Once we had the god's attention, the man leading the ceremony also poured a mixture of flour and water over the same area to make sure those tipsy gods didn't get angry at us.  





I was very happy to get to the hotel and lay down after all the driving and standing/sitting/wheeling in the heat.  The room was a bit rough but clean and most importantly, it had an air conditioner!  I got to lay down for a couple of hours before dinner and the nighttime festivities.  


   After dinner, we boarded the bus to visit the local university.  I was more grumpy and hot than excited about this, but I a so glad that I went!  We were greeted by a local singing, drumming, and dancing group who had amazing voices!  I couldn't believe that such richness of sound could come from just voices and drums!  Then the students put on a fantastic dance/drum/singing performance of their own.  The songs were very elaborate and were all very long.  I was amazed that the students could not only remember all the words and steps, but also that they had such good acting talent to go with the story they were telling by the dance.  In a grand finale, some people from our group were taken up to try out African dancing.  Of course, I was one of them.  I was fully expecting to pass out since the dance they showed us was very difficult, but good ol' adrenaline kicked in.  It was really fun to let go of whatever reservations I had and dance in a completely new way.  In addition to the performances, we had a two-way Q&A session with some of the professors and the dean.  We learned all about their education program and told them all about Semester at Sea.  It was nice to have this two way conversation going.  So often when traveling, it is more one way, with the locals showing you something.  (That something is usually more of what they know tourist like, than anything else.  SAme in California, and everywhere.  We know where the money comes from and it's a fun experience, not an authentic one.  haha)  After we got back to the hotel, the rest of the night was fairly nondescript.  I watched an episode of Doctor Who I was delighted to find on my ipod and then went to sleep.  (Ok not so much with the sleeping part.  There was a radio playing at fluctuating volume all night, and the hotel workers started yelling and laughing at around 5:30.  But who needs more than 2 hours of sleep right?


   On to Day 2!  Breakfast was also yummy, although with slightly more hazards than dinner posed.  The large round rolls in the bottom of the picture contained a surprise when one of my friends bit into it.  It was filled with tiny bugs!  So glad I opted for the flat bread instead!  Our first stop of the day was to the center of the fishing part of the village.  This is where a lot of those er..unique smells I mentioned earlier came from.  As soon as the bus pulled up, people, especially kids started gathering around to see what was going on.  Very few Obrunis (non Africans) come to the village, so we were somewhat of a spectacle.  We walked down the street passed small shops and houses to get to where we would be talking with the men who fished.  




First, we got to spend some valuable time with the people from the town.  I didn't have to worry about how to start the conversation because a lovely lady named Victoria came right up to me, shook my hand and we started talking in a few words of English and many hand gestures.  She asked me about the village I was from and I thought it was funny to think of ginormous San Jose as a village.  By her breaking the ice for the two groups, I was able to talk/gesture with many of the women and a few of the kids.  

(Victoria is on the far left.  This picture was carefully orchestrated by her and taken by one of the SASers she picked out as photographer.  She was a really cool lady.)



The kids were very fascinated by us although some were shy at first.  They loved looking at my camera and seeing themselves on the screen after I took their picture.  I'm pretty sure that town has some future supermodels with some of the poses I was getting!  Who would have thought cameras would be such a good ice-breaker!?!











   The talk with the fisherman was also more of a two-sided Q&A than a presentation.  I learned a lot about their daily work and what the market is like for fish.  They thought it was funny that some Americans (aka me, the only fisher in the group) would fish with a pole for fun.  It was something they had heard about, but didn't happen all that often.  They were extra surprised that I was a girl and fished!  We had a good laugh at that.   Also during the talk, I spotted a dried out fishy near the net.  I definitely didn't pick it up and tape it into my journal, because that would be disgusting.  Oh wait, that is exactly what I did.  (Hey one of the professor preserved a dead bat someone found on the ship.  There are more of my kind!)  



  I dragged my feet as we were leaving the town.  I was having so much fun now that the kids had warmed up to us and were competing over the best pose for a picture.  There was a while when I was the only one on the street which was pretty cool.  I was using my wheelchair on and off during the whole stop and was really surprised that no one in the town stared at all!  Not one person!  It felt nice for it to just be accepted that I was wheeling instead of walking.  I've never been anywhere including out to dinner at home without at least a few people gawking at me and my chair.  Eventually I did make it back on the bus and we headed to our next stop.
   I was very excited for this stop and it live up to my expectations.  Just a short bus ride away, the bus let us off to go explore the town's market.  This was very much a local market with no inclination to cater to tourist.  So it was perfect!  I wish I had either more eyes, or a head that could rotate 360 degrees.  There was so much to look at.  Clothes, fermenting or dried fish, spices, cloth, toys, cookware...pretty much anything you would need.  I ended up borrowing a couple of citi (don't know about the spelling but it's $1 = 1.6 citi) since our tour guide had yet to give me any money after I gave her some of my U.S. dollars to exchange.  (She actually ripped me off big time with a horrible exchange rate and then not giving me about $3 worth because she said she didn't have exact change and then blew me off later.  It wasn't a lot of money obviously, but I did get a little irritated.  Oh well.)  and buying a handmade clay pot.  It's traditionally used to hold medicine so that is my new residence of my meddies on the ship.  




  After a bit of shopping, we met with the Market Queen.  She oversees the market and helps settle any disputes that come up.  This was also a two way Q & A session and I was singled out as the American authority on produce for some reason.  haha  I told her (through a translator) about how I go to farmer's markets that are open once a week and how I go to the grocery store for most of my food.  (She was horrified that you could only get really fresh things one day a week.)  Out of the blue during all of this she gets very serious and turns to me and asks if she could go visit America.  I was a little confused and said "Of course."  
  "So just walking down the street, I would be safe?" she asked through our translator.
   "Umm yeah, as long as it wasn't like the bad part of a city at night."  I was kind of confused with where this was going.  (Looking back, I was being a bit thick.)
   "But my skin...." she said and I finally understood.  She said that she knew of people who had gone to the U.S. and were treated horribly and even with violence because of their darker skin.  There were many assurances from us that things are better now and that there are tons of other people with darker skin in the U.S.  Even if the odd individual was a dillhole, it wasn't something that was generally permissible in society.   She seemed very glad at this news and told us that many of the people in the market had been scared when we showed up because of stories they had heard about Americans and the British.  I was pretty much horrified.  It's so easy to think that things like racism don't have anything to do with me.  But when I was at that market, people were afraid of me and it became much more personal.  That experience showed me that I can't just be un- racist and wipe my hands with it.  As long as there are still people out there who would think negatively about someone because of how much melanin they have in their skin, it is everyone's job to fight it.  (and by everyone I mean including me and by fight I mean with words.)  


   We ended the conversation on a lighter note as we discussed what members of the household shop at the market (women) and how often they shop (almost every day.)  After much thank you's exchanged from both groups, we headed to our final destination before heading back to the ship.  Just down the street, we went to a different campus for the same university we went to the night before.  This campus was centered around acting, singing, dancing, and music so I felt right at home!  Just like at my home university, there were signs up about upcoming plays and sandwich boards advertising various clubs.  I have to admit that my positive mindset was loosing it's battle at this point.  I had been hot pretty much consecutively for the past twenty-four hours, I was hungry, and my midodrine was wearing, off so I was getting very dizzy.  I just wanted to get back on the boat, shower, and sleep.   Since we were on Africa time where "now" means "sometime" we were waiting in a very stuffy room for a performance by the dancers to start.  


   Finally, one of the professors who we had come to know got up to introduce the students who would be performing.  There would be drumming, some singing, and the highlight would be the dancing.  He said that at the end, we would be invited to join in.  With that I popped another midodrine and enjoyed the show.  Even in my grumpy state, the energy of the drummers and dancers had me smiling, clapping, and generally enjoying the experience.  I perked up a bit when they gave us a snack from the market and I felt the welcome head tingling that meant the midodrine was kicking in.  



   Too soon, the final song was playing.  In the middle of it, one of the dancers came out to where we were sitting, and I knew right away that I was going up on stage.  Sure enough, the dancer went right to me and led me up on stage to start with the dancing.  Contrary to how I usually am, I didn't cling to my seat and beg to be left in the audience.  Even more contrary to my usual self, I completely let go of all the thoughts of how stupid I looked and thoroughly enjoyed myself shaking my bum in front of tons of people.  Soon, there were lots of other students up there with me and we were hilariously trying to gyrate in the correct way.  The dancing was extremely strenuous because the whole body is involved.  The idea is to constantly be jumping while moving your arms and shoulder blades in opposite directions.   At the end of the song, I thanked the dancers and went back to my seat with a heart rate that probably topped my previous record.  I think it took me a good ten minutes to start breathing normally again, but it was worth it!

  As the performance and subsequent wrap up talk were winding down, I had one of those life-changing epiphany moments.  I was staring off into space, trying to control my breathing/gasping when a thought projected into my brain, "I am SO glad that I got sick."  I was so surprised at this genuine realization that I actually held my breath for a few counts.  Before this, I would think things like "I still would rather have never gotten sick, but at least being sick allowed me to do X"  or "No matter what comes in my future, nothing is going to be able to give me back the four years this illness took of my life.  So I will never be ok with what I was dealt."  And there I was completely happy about the fact that I had gotten sick with no stipulations put on that happiness.   I started to probe my thoughts for why exactly I suddenly felt this way.  I think it was beyond anything like being sick allowed me to get the scholarships that allowed me to go on SAS.  It was even beyond that being sick had given me certain advantages like handling stress and discomfort well or appreciating the little things.  It wasn't that being sick got me any concrete advantage.  It was that some fundamental part of me changed in a way that will make me able to enjoy life more.  And this change is directly due to what I have been through.  It's hard to put my finger on exactly what, but it's something like being comfortable in my own skin, comfortable in who I am and what I can do.  There is apparently something to say about testing your limits and getting to know them intimately.  It is still true that I  had a crummy four years of being really sick, but now it has become a part of me.  It's not this separate thing that ruined my life and made every experience categorized by the nostalgic "before sick" and the bitter "after sick."  Part of the reason why I'm able to feel this way is because I have a feeling that from now on my life will be divided into "before SAS" and "after SAS" with the "after" being the better times.  :0)  


   Just like this post, that epiphany was the peak experience of the day.  The long bus ride  back was broken up by going to a grocery store to get some Ghanaian chocolate (amazing btw) and other necessities like cookies and roasted chicken flavored chips.  The grocery store looked pretty much like the ones in France which was interesting.  
   When I finally set eyes on the MV Explorer I couldn't have been more thankful to be "home."  I embraced the air conditioning and the shower and clean clothes that it held in side.  I went to bed at an embarrassingly early hour and rested up for the next day.



P.S.  I forgot to mention that we spent a few minutes at a beach and I found an awesome octopus spine!  I think it's from the collagen that gives their head shape.


  

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