I'm Ghana Miss You...Papapa...

Trip Start Aug 26, 2010
1
6
17
Trip End Dec 18, 2010


Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
shadow
Where I stayed
Atonkwa Village

Flag of Ghana  ,
Friday, September 24, 2010

9/22/10 - Day 1

First day in Ghana. Today, I had an SAS trip to go to a drumming and dancing workshop.  My roommate, Andrea and I both signed up for the trip so we put on our best dancing skirts and headed on the bus.  About a 4 minute drive later, we arrived at an outdoor community center, where we were greeted with a beautiful drumming performance.  So much passion and enthusiasm.  Then the dancers came out in colorful costumes, mocking in a way that I had never seen before.  Each move, in theory was awkward, but put them all together in unison and it became incredibly moving.  It was great to see the African women showing off their "imperfect" bellies with pride.  They looked absolutely beautiful; no abs needed.  And it was also nice to see them dancing without perfectly beig in sync with each other.  The point was not to be perfectly the same, but beautifully different, doing the same dance with different personalities.  It worked because every single one of them put their heart into every single step.  It was incredibly effective in its passionate imperfection. 

Then, one of the performers recited a poem about the open heart of Africa, and the struggles it has faced.  The rest of the drummers and dancers joined in singing a “chorus” of the poem, which sounded vaguely familiar to me, “Nobody knows the troubles I've seen.  Nobody knows my sorrow...”  You know where I’ve heard it before?  That’s right.  “The Lion King”.  Zazoo sings it when he’s locked up in Scar’s cage right before he sings, “It’s a small world after all” and “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts”.  It is a famous African song about the struggle and hardships they’ve had to face.  And of course, when all of the performers sang this song, it had a lot more soul and depth than when Zazoo sang it.  Anyway, I thought it was interesting to note.  It was a very moving poem.

What was interesting about this experience was the fact that while all the SAS kids were observing the natives and taking video and pictures, the natives were taking pictures and videos of us, as well.  They were just as excited and fascinated with us as we were with them.  A sort of mutual tourism.  A type of tourism that I can get behind.  I hate making locals feel like they are animals in a zoo that I am observing.  This is the kind of mutual interaction that I have been craving.

After a few more dance numbers, they split us up into two groups.  One would be taught drumming, and the other would be taught dancing.  And then we would switch.  I learned the African dance first.  I was actually surprised at how fast I picked it up, especially seeing some of the other students struggle with it.  I’m usually one of the strugglers when it comes to dancing.  It was so unique and so much fun.  I wish I could show it to you all, but I’m not even sure if I remember it all.

Then we went on to dancing.  I was also shocked at how fast I picked it up as well.  The teacher wet around the circle, critiquing us individually.  But when he came to me, he nodded his head in approval and said, “You’re good, papapa.” (In Ghana, people say “papapa” after something they want to emphasize.  So for example, he was saying I wasn’t simply good, I was VERY good.  It made my day... papapa.

We then got back on the bus to have lunch at a touristy resort.  This is my continuing frustration with SAS trips.  It is a strange and stark contrast between immersions in a culture that you’d never be able to do on your own, followed by annoying touristy things like this.  This place we ate lunch at was a big bubble of oasis amidst vast expansive poverty.  It was so frustrating.  Yes, the food was good.  But I’d much rather take a risk in a local dive and hate it/get sick from it, than eat any more of this fake touristy bullshit.

We arrived back at the center for the second half of the drumming/dancing workshop.  We didn’t get much of a refresher course before we had to perform.  Half of us got in a big dancing circle and the teacher announced, “This is when you can say, 'I’ve been to Africa.’”  The drums thundered in, and we danced our routine.  Of course it wasn’t perfect.  There were many mistakes made by all, but it was amazingly fun.  Then, each of us was asked to go inside the circle and do our own dancy thing.  Andrea and I went in together and had an absolute ball.  It didn’t occur to me to be nervous.  I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t confident either.  I was just in the present moment, free, dancing in the middle of a drum circle in Ghana.  I’ve been to Africa. 

We then switched so our group could take a turn at drumming.  The drum teacher came over to me and said, “You were good.  Have my drum.  The big one.”  And so I had the honor of leading the drumming circle as the next group got to dance freely in the circle.  My hands hurt from drumming so loud and my mouth hurt from smiling so large.

As we were leaving, a swarm of children flooded into the court.  They had just gotten out of school and heard the drumming.  They swarmed us and they loved us taking pictures and showing them.  It was hard to leave, until they started begging for items we were carrying, like my watch or my thermos.  Still, a great first day in Ghana.  Though not as utterly amazing as the second.

9/23/10 - Day 2

As we pulled up to the village of Atonkwa in Takoradi, Ghana, we were greeted by a joyous mob of villagers, anxiously awaiting our arrival. The bus door opened to the energetic sounds of drums.  When stepping out of the bus, the greeting we received was remarkably lively. It is as if we were a tour bus full of rock stars and they were our biggest fans.

We sat under a makeshift tent in the center of the village, with the band under a tent to the right and the village elders under a tent to our left.  They started the welcome ceremony with a lot of drumming, singing and dancing.  It was a spirited sound and quite moving to watch.  It was so easy to become mesmerized.  As I was enjoying the performance, a little girl around the age of 8 walked up to my chair and stared at me, with apprehensive curiosity.  I smiled to her, but her face remained stoic.  I waved, no response.  I watched the performance a bit more and looked back and she was still staring at me.  Finally, I patted my leg, signaling that she could sit on my lap.  She looked down at my gesture, paused, and slowly stepped toward me and, with great ease, slowly slinked her way onto my lap.  This filled me with immense joy, that harmonized with the drumming and dancing quite well.  I closed my eyes and reveled in the moment.  This was abruptly interrupted by a second girl, probably the age of three who brusquely scurried onto my lap moments after the first girl had sat.  My SAS peers started looking at me wondering how I was acquiring these children.  I laughed back with just as much amazement as them.  Then, a THIRD girl, about 5 years old came up to me staring, leaning on my chair.  I smiled at her and she gave a quick smile back.  She started tracing her fingers along the wrinkles of my pants, then brushing my hear back out of my face.  I gave her a soft loving scratch on her head which gave her the cue to push the three year old over and join them on my lap.  Here I was with three little Ghanian girls on my lap listening to the celebratory sounds of drums in Africa.  I could hardly see the dancers at this point since the girls were blocking my view, but I didn’t care in the least.  I was ecstatic!   My peers and I were speechless.  None of us could believe my magnetism over these kids.  No other student had attracted a child and here I was with three of them on my lap!  I tried to communicate with them but none of them spoke English.  It was the third girl, the 5 year old that I bonded with the most.  She loved brushing my hair back out of my face and nuzzling into my chest, and playing with my shirt and hands.  She would slap my hand (a low five) then grab it, and shake it.  Over and over.  She taught me how to do a Ghanian handshake.  Hard to describe.   But I’m definitely bringing it back home with me.

Then, a boy (about the age of ten) tapped me on my shoulder.  “What’s your name?” He asked, smiling.  “Erica.”  I answered.  “Ereeka.”  He confirmed.  “Can I have a picture with you, Ereeka?”  We took a picture together, I showed it to him (which the kids absolutely adore) and then he asked if he could take a picture.  Usually, I would be hesitant to lend off my camera to a kid I just met, but for some reason, I had no problem giving my camera to him.  He took it, smiling ear to ear and sneaked up to the front row and took amazing pictures of the performance.  After every successful picture, he would turn around with pride and show it to me, and then turn back to take more.  I was bursting with joy!  I had three adorable girls on my lap, snuggling into me and my own personal photographer!  I was so wrapped up in the moment that I didn’t realize when they called my name for the African naming ceremony.  “Johnson, Erica”  The man called into the microphone. He saw me taking the girls off of me one by one and said “How did you get so many kids that quick?”  Everyone laughed. 

The chief of the village looked at me and called out my name, ........  I can’t think of how to spell it.  I’ll get back to you.  It’s a doozie.  Then he did a call and response with the village calling out my name three times.  Then I drank a sip of water, followed by a sip of coca cola (since the traditional sip of alcohol was not allowed on an SAS trip...jerks).

After the ceremony, I sat down and was immediately swarmed by the three children once again.  It quickly started to rain, a hug downpour, which cause all members of the village to huddle under one tent.  We bonded quite quickly.  I mostly bonded with the girls on my lap.  Finally, we decided to book it to the community center across the street where we would meet our adopted families.  I carried one of the girls across, splashing in the rain, giggling with her. 

Once we entered the building, the boy who was taking pictures with my camera grabbed a chair and carried it to a spot so I could sit.  He was such a gentleman; I let him have my camera a bit longer.

After being assigned to our families, we were taken away from the village to go have lunch at a fancy hotel.  Again, this was incredibly frustrating.  The children clung to me, not wanting to say goodbye.  I gave them the two hairties around my wrist.  And I never saw them again.  My heart whimpered with them as they watched me leave.

After we got back from lunch, I was introduced to my family once again.  I was supposed to be paired up with another SAS student with my family, but the student I was paired with didn’t show up for the trip.  So I ended up getting a family all to myself!   When I first realized this, I was quite scared to do this experience completely alone without any support. But looking back, I realize what a lucky treat it was to be completely submerged with no outside source of support.  I was going this alone, and I was ready.

My “mother” was waiting outside of the bus to pick me up.  She was a large woman with a baby on her back.  Her name is Aisha and she spoke very little English, but smiled a lot.  As we walked back to the house, she told me how excited everyone was to see me.  How they have been preparing for my arrival and can’t wait to meet me.  She also told me how her family is Muslim.  We walked past the mosque that they go to every day to pray.  It was humble, but very lovely.  We started to walk up the hill of the village.  As we walked further up the hill, I noticed children starting to follow us.  Up and up the hill, more and more kids followed, jumping, giggling, touching me, saying hello, shaking my hand – I became the pied piper of Hamlen in about 3 minutes!  When we arrived at our home, my mother tried to shoo away the kids, but it didn’t take.  Most of them followed us into the home.  She took me immediately to their living room, which consisted of two couches, a chair, a coffee table, a refrigerator (used for storage) and an old staticy tv, decorated in a strand of fake flowers accompanied by stuffed animals on a shelf.  It was perfect.  The father came in the door, shooing away the children as well.  “Welcome!  Welcome!”  He went straight for a shelf, pulled out a photo album, sat next to me, and showed me pictures of himself and his family (mostly wedding pictures).  None of them were smiling in the pictures which is a huge contrast to the dozens of expectant smiles surrounding me as I turned the pages. 

I became quite speechless, while I was screaming with joy, fascination, and shock on the inside.  I realized how little I prepared for this visit.  Luckily, my “father” had no problem telling me about him and his family without many questions. He talked a lot about his family and asked a lot of questions about my family.  He was very impressed that I do not live with my family, for instance.  Or that my father does most of the cooking for the family.  Or that my mother has a job.  Or that both of them are retired now (I had to explain what “retired” meant, which they had a good jealous laugh about the idea that you could have enough money to actually stop working).  As we discussed ideas about our different family structures, the children were still in the kitchen jumping up to get a peek through the window at me.  One of the kids chimed in, “I like family!”  And the father chased all the kids out of the house.  It was hilarious!  My overall first impression blew me away.  Never have I ever met so many complete strangers so happy to meet me. 

Throughout my visit, my father kept telling me “Feel Free!”  As in, “This is your home! Be at home!”  And throughout my visit, I did imagine this to be my home, and thought that perhaps, in another life, this very well could have been my home.  I thought I would have more trouble getting comfortable, but for some reason, this space, this family made it extremely easy.  I was home.

The kids loved playing with my camera and taking pictures of themselves and looking at what they look like.  We occupied our time simply doing that for about 45 minutes.  It made my day seeing how it made theirs. 

Then, took me to the...kitchen...type...room and carved into a fresh picked coconut for my to drink.  No one else got a coconut and all the kids were looking at me hungry eyed as I sipped.  I offered them a sip but the father insisted that I drank it by myself.  It was delicious, but the experience made me feel a bit guilty to be the only one enjoying this.  “We get coconuts all the time.”  He said.  I drank every drop and gave it back to him.  Then he took a dirty machete to the coconut, and cut it open for me to eat the meat inside.  Never have I ever had better tasting coconut.  It was so fresh that it had almost the consistency of a thick yogurt.  It was amazing.  One of the girls insisted on scraping the meat off the coconut for me and feeding it to me.  It reminded me when we first brought my cat Abbie home when I was four, and instead of giving her a can of tuna, I wanted to feed her each bite one by one.  I imagined this girl had the same sort of fascination with me.  So I played along and let her.  She made a big grin ad giggle every time I took a bite. 

The mother took out a big stone bowl and put it in an indent in the concrete floor.  She then cut up some cassava (a Ghanaian staple, a starchy plant, sort of like potatoes) and mushed it with a huge blunt stick, like mashing potatoes, but more rustic and extreme.  She’d add some plantains as well.  As the paste in the bowl got thicker, the father would slowly add water and turn the dough over on itself as she smashed.  They did it so fast that I was sure the wife would smash the husband’s fingers, but it never happened.  They laughed as I flinched.  This concoction they were making is called Fufu.  A staple dish for Ghanaians.  It is a dough served with soups and stews.  The ball of dough is served either on the side of the soup, or plopped directly into it.  You then take your bare hand, pick off a piece of dough, form it into a makeshift utensil and eat the soup with the dough. 

As the mother finished up the Fufu and goat soup (goats are everywhere in Ghana, by the way.  Goats, chickens and cats are as prevalent as birds in America)  The father, the girls and I went on a walk so he could show me his farm.  The father bought a few farms.  Their whole livelihood completely depends on these farms. 

Walking directly out of their back door, there is a communal backyard shared bay four other houses.  Each house lives another member of their extended family, who all popped out to say hello to me. Grandmother across the yard, brother to the right, and so on.  It is a dirt yard filled with goats and chickens; a regular petting zoo, with lines of drying laundry all around.  I loved it.  So much life and character.  I could sit out there for hours, if it weren’t for the rancid smell of feces.  Heck, I still spent a lot of time there, anyway.  We passed the yard and walked through the village path to the father’s farm/garden.

As we walked, the father and I, we talked of many things.  He was quite the talker indeed.  Smiling the whole time, bursting with passion and excitement.  He was great.  He first talked to me about the Muslim faith, particularly the five pillars of Islam.  I could go into detail but I figure if you’re curious, you can Google it.  “Christians and Muslim agree.”  He says.  “Jesus is a good man.  But Muslims only believe in one God.  Christians believe in more.”  “Do they?”  I asked.  “Yes, Christians worship both Jesus and his father God, they think both are God.”  “I suppose they do.”  I realized.  Ghana is predominantly Christian.  Only about 17% of the population is Muslim, but they seem to coexist without much problem or debate.  A lot of mutual respect.  As we strolled down the path, there would be the occasional passer by.  4 out of 5 would say hello to me and smile.  A much different place than Morocco, I thought.  One of the passers by exchanged some words with my father.  They looked at me and each other, then laughed.  He kept walking and I asked what that was about.  He sheepishly said, “Nothing.”  Then one of the girls chimed in and said, “He said you look very pretty and he—“ “........!”  The father interrupted.  The girl giggled.  I dropped it.

We passed by a larger house that looked possibly a school.  “That’s where the white people stay.”  My father said.  “They don’t come and stay with you in your homes?”  “No.”  He said, grinning.  “You are the first.” 

We finally arrived at his farm, or I should say garden.  It was beautiful!  And chaotic!  Tomato plants, Banana trees, squash, coconut trees ......... it was like sifting through a jungle to harvest these treats.  One of the girls gave me a cherry tomato to eat.  I was worried about possible diseases I might catch, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and ate it anyway.  It was....the most....sweetest juiciest sensational tomato of my life!

“So you’re 24?” My father asked.  “Yes I am.”  I replied, following him through the bush.  “Okay.  So what time you get married?”  He asked casually.  I paused and looked at my watch.... “I’m not exactly sure.” I said. “Why?”  He asked.  “Because....I haven’t found someone I’d like to marry, I guess.”  I thought I’d save my politically charged rant on the convention of marriage, for now.  “Ohhh....I pray for you a good husband.  The BEST!”  “Thank you.”  I giggled.  “I’ll be watching out for him.”  I added.  We exchanged a smile and headed back to house as I popped another tomato in my mouth. 

Walking back, my father was explaining to me how Christian Ghanaians celebrate death.  “They eat and drink and laugh and celebrate their life.  They wear bright colors because it is a happy day.”  I mentioned to him, “Actually, I just had my first experience with a death of an old friend.  He just passed away only a few days ago.”  My father brightened his face and with a big smile, he exclaimed, “Oh really?!”   I was quite taken aback from this response.  I was still not over my friend’s death and I never imagined that it could be good news to tell someone that my friend had just died.  But he took it as good news, for sure.  “Muslims don’t celebrate death like Christians in Ghana do.  They don’t drink or laugh.  They pray.  But they are still not sad.  They are grateful.”  “Grateful?”  I wondered.  “Yes, because... if you are sad about a life being taken away, you do not believe in God.  God gives, and God takes away.  My wife and I could not have a child and for five months we’d pray and fast and pray and pray and pray and cry and cry and cry.  Finally, we had a child.  God GAVE us a child, so we cannot be sad when God takes one away.  It is life.  God’s gift.  So we celebrate life.  Death is a part of life, so we must celebrate death as well.  It is the nature of things.” I was silenced by this concept.  To celebrate death.  I could understand it, but it somehow didn’t fit.  To think that this mourning I feel is not necessarily a biological response, but learned through my culture.  My mind and my heart was reeling with questions that I was unable to articulate.  We moved on in conversation.

 “You must have faith.  Always have faith.  Get married, have a family, resist temptation.  I know I have temptation.  Sometimes I wonder, hmmm what if I could take a new girlfriend---“ Just then, his wife, my mother, walks up to us, looking suspicious.  “Where have you two been.”  “The farm”, I reassured her.  “What were you talking about?”  She inquired.  “Secret conversation.” My father mischievously laughed.  His wife did not like this, so I thought I’d tell her, “We were talking about the Muslim religion.”  I wasn’t sure if she was satisfied with that, but she lead us back to tell us dinner was almost ready.

Here is where I will insert an excerpt from the writing assignment I had to do for my writing class.  We were asked to write about an experience that made us uncomfortable in Ghana.  Behold:

Since I was staying with my family overnight, there came a time in the afternoon of the first day, as we were preparing dinner, where I needed to “go to the bathroom”.  Of course, what I needed to convey was that I needed to urinate.   Unfortunately for me, the term “I need to go to the bathroom” translates a bit differently in Ghana than in the U.S.

“You need to take bath?”  My Ghanaian mother asked. 

“No.  No.  I just... need to...”  I was at a loss.  “Pee.”  I said, hesitantly. 

“Pee?”  She had no idea what this word meant.  “You take bath.”  She repeated, this time as an order, not a question.  I assume she simply wanted me to wash up before dinner.  She leaves the room and comes back with a towel, some homemade soap, and a bucket. 

“Do you like your water hot or cold?”  She continues, filling the bucket with water.

“Uhhh, whatever is easier for you... Are YOU going to take a bath?”  I asked wondering if this was a customary practice at 4:30pm. 

“YOU take bath.”  She exclaimed. 

“O—okay.” 

“Go to bedroom, take off clothes, put towel on, come out again.” 

I did so.  As I opened the door in nothing but a towel, the mother, the father, and the four kids were right there waiting for me.  The kids giggled a bit, but all were very happy that I was going to the bathroom to “take bath”. 

“Hello.”  I smiled to everyone, trying to mask my horrid embarrassment

“Come.”  The mother grabbed me, causing me to almost lose my towel right there in the kitchen.  She took me to a tiny room at the front of the house that consisted of a broken grimy tile floor, a small window clouded with scum, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a sponge resting on the window ledge, and a tiny rusty hole residing in the middle of the floor next to the wall where you could peek outside of the house into the daylight.  She set the bucket of water down and gave me the homemade soap.

“Okay?” she asked.

“O-okay.  Umm, do you want me to wash my hair, too?” 

“Nononono.”  She responded.  I could sense some frustration.  She leaves for a moment and comes back with a small hat, which she hastily tucks my hair under and forces snugly onto my head. 

“Okay.” She declares, once again, and closes the door. 

“Okay.”  I respond, more to myself than to her.  Deep breathe. “Ooookaaaay.”  I really just wanted to pee. 

With hat on head, and bucket in hand, I studied the hole on the floor as I removed my towel.  It wasn’t quite a squat toilet, but... perhaps?  As I washed myself with the soap, pouring the bucket of water on myself hearing the trickling of water hit the broken tile; I realized I couldn’t hold it much longer.  I’m going to have to make an assumption here.  So I squatted down, positioned myself as far down next to the hole as possible, and “went to the bathroom”.

I will reveal the second part of my essay in a bit.  Stick around. It gets even more awkward/hilarious.

After “taking bath” and getting dressed, I wanted to help in making dinner but everyone insisted that I sit on the couch and watch their staticy tv which was showing some European soap opera, I believe.  I zoned out, staring through the tv, reflecting on where I am, who I am, and where I want to go.  I want to make the best of every moment on this trip and learn every lesson presented to me.  I had so many questions.  Why did my father open up to me so much?  He really did.  He barely knew me.  Maybe that’s why.  He probably can’t talk much about his brushes with temptation with anyone else in the village.  It’s too small of a community.  I really loved bonding with him so quickly.  I realized how much trust and faith he put in me, in my visit.  I am probably the only American that he has interacted with to this capacity.  I realized how utterly special that really is, how special what I am doing is.  I realized that it is these moments that are the reason I chose to go on this voyage.  Here I am in a small remote village, in a tiny house with a Ghanaian mother and father preparing an authentic dinner for the whole family.  I couldn’t be more immersed in this culture, and it felt incredible, for I realized that never in my life had I gone this deep before.  No tours, no fellow Americans, no means of communication with home, just....complete immersion....

.....And then, a cell phone rings.  My “father’s” cell phone.  It’s amazing.  Ghanaians don’t have running water, but they all have cell phones.  He answers, talks for a bit, and tells me that I’m supposed to meet my fellow SAS people down at the community center.  So, when dinner was almost ready, my father and I had to step out to see why I was needed.  When we approached the center, there were many villagers waiting outside of the center, peering into the windows.  I couldn’t see inside, since there were so many of them, so I pushed my way into the building and saw all the rest of the SAS kids on the trip waiting in a buffet line.  Many of them called to me, “Erica, where were you?!”  As if I was horribly late.  I had no idea that SAS was going to serve us dinner, and apparently neither did the villagers.  They were the ones peering in the windows outside, waiting for their adopted student to finish eating.  It was horribly awkward.  I would’ve left and gone back to the dinner that my family had prepared but everyone was freaking out that I was late as it is and I talked to the Ghanaian trip leader and he told me not to worry.  Apparently the original plan was to invite the families to bring their own dinner into the center while we ate the buffet food so we could all eat together, but there wasn’t enough room.  So now all the families were waiting outside, watching us eat.  Never before have I felt like I was living the epitome of an ugly gluttonous American.  I wanted to scarf my food and get the hell out of there, back to my family.  But then a touristy drumming and dance troupe started performing.  It was now impossible to leave until they were done with their show.

As I listened to the rhythmic sounds of drumming and chanting “village natives” performing for myself and thirty other Semester at Sea tourists, knowing that the actual natives of this village were just outside these doors waiting for us to finish gorging ourselves, I knew I didn’t belong here.  I belonged with my family.  My Ghanaian family who was kind enough to welcome me with outstretched arms and hearts into their home. 

It was an hour and a half later when the show was done, and all f our families, including my father were still waiting outside for us to be done.  I walked out of the center feeling horribly ashamed by our collective rudeness.  I tried to explain how sorry I was and how I didn’t know and how I’m going to have a strong word with Semester at Sea about their need to communicate and plan better.  I know they just wanted to make sure that the students didn’t eat food that would make us all sick, but I seriously didn’t care if I got sick or not.  Bring on the vomiting and diarrhea!  I just wanted to eat the food that my family prepared for me!  I could tell that my words did not help either of our disappointment.  And to top it all off, I had to use the bathroom again while we were walking back to the house.  Here is where I will show you the rest of the excerpt from my “uncomfortable experience “  in Ghana writing assignment.  Enjoy.  It’s quite hilarious in retrospect, but horribly awkward as it was happening:

Later on in the evening, I had dinner at the village center at the bottom of the hill with the rest of the SAS students.  As we left the center, my father was waiting outside for me to walk me back to their home.  Again, I needed to pee.  Obviously, the common American expression “I need to go to the bathroom” didn’t translate the first time and I did not want a repeat experience, so I tried a different method as we started to walk back.

“I need to use the toilet.” I politely said.

“Toilet.”  He confirmed.  He stopped for a minute and thought.  Then he turned around and took me the opposite direction.  Oh no.  Where is he taking me now? 

We came upon a different house in the village.  A nicer house than the one I was staying in.  He knocked on the door and before I could tell him, “Never mind.  It’s okay.  I don’t want to bother—“ the door opened.  A tired man, in his pajamas answered.  The two of them exchanged some words and the man motioned me into his house. 

“Medasi. (Thank You)”, I said.

The man nodded back, without smiling and pointed to one side of the house as he walked to the other side.  I looked back at my father waiting out on the porch.  

“You’re not coming in?” 

“Nonono.”  He said, backing away. 

“That’s reassuring.” I thought. 

I hesitantly wandered into the man’s house in the direction he pointed to as the man closed the door behind him on the other side of the house to what I assumed was his bedroom.  This was a much nicer house than the others I’ve seen in the village, about the same caliber as a low class American home.   I opened the door in front of me and I found (Cue: Choir of Angels) a BATHROOM!  I was never so happy to see a toilet, a sink and a shower before in my life!  There was urine already sitting in the toilet, but I didn’t care.  I comfortably sat, closed my eyes and enjoyed my pee triumphantly.  This was doubly relieving as I was having my period at the time and was able to change my tampon with ease.   I flushed the toilet and washed my hands...no soap.  Not to worry.  I had sanitizer back at the house.  I shook my hands dry and started to leave when I realized... the toilet didn’t flush.  There was my waste, tampon and all, wading in the bowl.  My eyes widened with terror.  I flushed again.  No luck.  Flush, flush, FLUSH!  Nothing.

Think.  What do I do?  Could I fish the tampon out?  But, it wasn’t just my urine I’d be fishing through.  No, I’d still do it for the sake of tact.  But where would I put it?!  No trash cans, no window to chuck it out of... Where is a plastic bag when you need one?!  Think, think, THINK!  Nothing... and I’ve been in here a while now.  The man and my father must be wondering.  What do I do???  There’s nothing I can do.  I can’t just leave.  But what other choice did I have?  Time is ticking.  I have to make a choice.  The only choice I had: I left the tampon sitting in the bowl for him to find. 

“I am a horrible person.” I said to myself, walking out of the bathroom. 

“Medasi!”  I sheepishly called to the man in his bedroom as I walked out the front door.  “...A horrible, horrible person.”

I stepped of the porch to find my father, who was patiently waiting for me with a smile. 

“Okay?”  He asked. 

“Okay.”  I lied. 

As we walked back up the hill to his house, I asked him, “Who’s house did you just take me to?” 

“A good, good friend of mine,” He smiled with pride. “The chief!”

            “... A horrible horrible horrible person...”

So there you have it.  My awkward bathroom story.  Pretty hilarious, right?

And to top of my guilt, as we were walking back to the house, my father kept asking specific things that I was eating.  He was describing the things on my plate and asking me things like, “What was that food you got seconds of?”  He seriously watched me the entire time I was in there.  I asked him, “You never went back to eat with your family?”  And he said, “No.  But I am used to being hungry.  I don’t mind.  I am grateful for hunger.  It makes the food taste better.”  I wanted to go crawl into a hole and drown in my guilt.  He watched me in detail as I stuffed myself, after making a beautiful meal for me that he ended up missing.  I AM a horrible person.

Then, when we got back to the house, the food had been eaten, kids had been put to bed, (the 5 year old was asleep on the couch) and the wife was up watching the staticy television, looking a bit tense.  She was obviously wondering where her husband had been for almost two hours with this American girl.  We all sat down and stared at the static in silence.  The tension was thick in the air.  I finally spoke like what is commonly referred to ask “diarrhea of the mouth”  I explained to her where we were and how sorry I was and how I hated Semester at Sea for putting you/us through that and I just wanted to spend as much time with the family as possible and play with the kids and help her cook I didn’t care if I got diarrhea. I wanted to eat the fufu she made. 

After about a minute and a half of “diarrhea of the mouth” my mother, finally cracked a smile, she probably understood about every third word I said, but I knew she got it.  She said a few words to her husband and he smiled.  Then he said, “My wife says, ‘Let’s everyone be happy.’”  And that was that.  We relaxed and moved on into a great conversation.

We talked of many things, much too lengthy to write here.  I will say how touching it was when their 5 year old started to itch their legs, the father got some bug spray and rubbed it on her legs to fend away mosquitoes.    As we was doing this, he asked me what he intended on being a question, though he said it as a statement.  He said, “America is better to Ghana, because of more money and things...and Ghana is not.”

I made him repeat his “question” which he did, exactly as he had said before.  How do I answer this?  This is what I came up with, “Well, while America’s economy is in better shape than Ghana’s, it is not doing well lately.  And even so, I wouldn’t say that America is better than Ghana, because while more money can make a lot of things easier, it can also provide a lot of unnecessary stress in people’s lives.  A capitalist society puts a need in people to own more and (to quote “Fight Club”) the stuff you own ends up owning you.  It leaves less time for the important things like family and self-reflection, or possibly spirituality.  It distracts us from these important parts of life.  And because of that, a lot of Americans feel like something is missing in their lives, and so they might try to fill this void by buying more things.  But that doesn’t mean America is better.  Whoever can find happiness is better and that doesn’t depend on the country, but on the individual.”

My father let out a “huh” and looked down at his daughter, rubbing her legs, looking at his wife.  After a moment, I asked, “Are you happy?”  My father and mother looked at each other and laughed.  They were at a loss for words.  “Ghana...” he replied, “is hard to live in.”  He elaborated, saying that money is not easy to come by.  A man has work very very hard.  He mentioned the television we were watching.  That tv made in the early 90s that has 4 staticy channels took him 3 years to save up for.  And it was his pride and joy, the centerpiece of the room, decorated with fake flower garlands and stuffed animals.  We talked for an hour or two.  A lot was said, but it’s hard to write about on here, so I’ll have to move on.

The father insisted that I take his place in the bed and he sleep on the couch, no matter how much I protested.  There I lay, next to the 5 year old, the mother and the baby, who was being nursed to sleep in their only king sized bed, peering through the mosquito net, looking through the window, listening to the crickets.  The 5 year old rolled over and cuddled up close to me, and I started to cry.  It was not out of sadness, but... every other emotion one person could feel.  I thought of my life up to this moment, my voyage thus far... this day.... with one spin of the wheel, one roll of the dice, one flip of the coin this could have easily been my bed, my family, my house, my life.  And not only was I fortunate enough to have been born in a better situation (from a purely financial viewpoint, who can say what is truly better), but I am fortunate to have the ability to travel outside of my comfort zone to these different areas of the world and try on something new. Not many Americans, as lucky as we all are, have that opportunity....Why me?  Why am I on the  list of the extremely select few to be able to do this?  Whether I “deserve” this opportunity is not a factor.  Almost half the students on this voyage do not deserve to be here, drinking and partying every country, every experience away day after day.   Then what is it?  Why am I here with the opportunity over anyone else?  Just the hand I got dealt, I suppose.  That’s all it is.  Your life; the country you were born in, your family that raised you, the body you inhabit...Pure chance.  Sure, nobody wants to get a short hand, but there are only so many cards in the deck.... So I was dealt this incredible hand.  A hand anyone would be happy to have.  Some people may resent me for it.  Hell, even I resent myself a bit for having it.  But that is only because they wish they had my hand.  The real tragedy is wasting it.  The goal of this trip is not to put myself on a guilt trip, to sulk in my privilege, but instead to form the truest appreciation for the hand I was dealt.  What is the point of being lucky, if you don’t know how lucky you are?  How good you truly have it?

Running water, medicine, electricity, clean clothes, the internet, a car.... not that I didn’t appreciate these everyday things in my life at home, but like anything that you are constantly surrounded by, they become mundane.   And beyond that, we are trained in our culture to never be satisfied with this amazing hand we have been dealt.  Americans are trained to “need” the royal flush, when most of us have a good full house in our hands.  So, our culture is trained to look over the insanely rare privilege of being dealt the hand of living in America. And even worse, we are also trained to believe that this hand is not good enough.  I think of the times when I complained to my dad back home for making pasta AGAIN, refusing to eat, and then I think of my “father” who is appreciative of his consistent hunger because the food tastes better (which, by the way, this family has a choice between 4 meals they can prepare.  And when they told me this, they boasted at the variety of choices they had on their menu.)  Shame on me.

9/24/10 - Day 3

A rooster crows at 5am.  I turn over and find I am alone in the bed.  I hear the girl giggling and the mother talking out in the kitchen.  I go out to find the mother washing her baby in a bucket of water in the middle of the kitchen.  I need to go to the bathroom.  I pray that I am spared from another bathroom adventure.  This time I say, “I need to use the toilet.  Where do YOU use toilet?”  And voiala!  She understands!  She leads me out to the backyard with all the chickens and goats where the grandmother is sitting on her back porch across the way.  SHe waves to me, “Good morning!”  My mother leads me to the outhouse and gives me a roll of toilet paper.  Here I will give you the opening paragraph to my bathroom essay:

There I was on the last day of my home stay in a small Ghanaian village in a tiny shack at the top of the hill, shakily hovering over a squat toilet, inhaling a uniquely disgusting aroma of feces that put my gag reflexes to the ultimate test.  There, I let out a sigh of relief that surpassed my need to urinate and... I couldn’t be happier.  For this was the most comfortable “bathroom” experience I have had yet in the duration of my home stay.

Indeed, it was. 

When I was finished “going to the bathroom”, I was greeted by one of the neighborhood girls that I met the day before (the one that fed me the coconut).  She took me to a bucket of water where she insisted on washing my hands for me.  Then the grandmother walked across the yard to give another hello to me and offered me what looked like deep fried balls of dough.  I accepted, of course, thanked her, and asked her what they were.  She couldn’t say, but I didn’t care.  I took a huge bite. 

They were warm and chewy, greasy, slightly sweet and soft.  They were fresh, oversized donut holes.  “Mmmmm!  Donuts!”  I muffled through my chews.  “Donuts!”  The girl and grandmother exclaimed.  They were amazing and it showed through my face.  “Delicious! papapapa” The grandmother laughed at my ecstasy and made me five more for the road.  “Come back anytime, Ereeeka!” She grinned. 

My father came into the yard and asked me if I wanted to take some pictures (my camera battery ran out the day before so I couldn’t take pictures of his farm.)  So with my newly charged battery (from their one electric plug for the tv) the father walked me to his other farm that was all cassava trees.  And then to the nearest village, where we ran into some locals that he stopped to chat with.  I ended up slipping on the wet muddy ground and submerged both my sandaled feet in a puddle of mud and got some on my pants.  While trying not to laugh, my father helped me up and went to the first house he saw.  With just a few exchanged words, a woman brought a bucket of water and both of them were washing my feet and legs. 

On the way back, he talked about how as he was falling asleep, he was praying for me: to be safe on the rest of my journey, to find what I am looking for, including, of course, a good husband.  He also prayed that I would make lots of money; enough to come back to Ghana and to stay with them again.  “This visit was too short.  Next time, 3 weeks or a month!”  “Maybe, someday.  I really hope I can.”  I meant it.  The visit was far to short.  While walking back, he exchanged a few words with a woman passing by.  This time, he told me what they said, “She says that you should take me back to America and I could be your husband.”  I laughed and said, “I don’t think you’d fit into my luggage.” 

We got back to the house and he insisted on making me a cup of coffee before I leave.  He told me he got bags of water just for me.  (Instead of bottled water, they do bagged water in Ghana).  Indeed, he’d bought an entire case of bagged water for me.  And here I was leaving without using any.  He asked if I wanted milk and pulled out some dehydrated milk packets.  I said, yes please and he opened a packet for me and offered it to me.  “I’d like it in my coffee.”  I said, confused.  “Yes, yes, one for you, one for your coffee.”  He wanted me to eat the dehydrated milk packet.  “Ohh, I’d like to but I’m so full from those donuts.” 

After I had my coffee, (and a chunk of the whole loaf of white bagged bread that he served it with) we exchanged addresses (though he’s not sure of his address since they don’t get mail).  Then, he reluctantly, sadly walked me back down to the bus.  While walking down the hill, he got a call from his cell phone.  After he hung up, he said, “That was my boss.”  (My father works at the university library outside of the village).  “I told him I can’t come in today because I need to walk you back.”  Never before in my life have I experience such enormous guilty and grateful emotions than in the past 24 hours.  After a moment of walking and talking he hung his head and said, “I might cry..... I’m gonna miss you papapapa.”  “I’ll miss you too, papapa.”  I repeated back.  We both struggled to hold back tears. 

We got to the bus and he gave me a huge hug goodbye.  I reluctantly got on the bus.  It was truly too short of a visit.  As we drove out of the village, he would not stop waving until we were out of sight.  But I had a feeling that this was not goodbye.  I will return someday. 

9/24/10 - Day 4

The next day, I went to tour the slave castles with my roommate, Andrea and her friend Maritza.  We took a cab into town.  Here we meet our cabdriver, who will be escorting us all day.  For lack of time, I cannot write about many interesting parts of our conversation with him but, like my father the day before, he asked me when I will get married.  After my similar response, he offered to be my husband so I could take him on the ship to America.  Again, I laughed it off, though he seemed more serious than the first proposal I got.  But he was a very sweet man. 

We got to the castles and it was quite sobering.   For instance, In a room the size of my dining room, 60 or so damned slaves were kept without food, water, light, or ventilation.  Drowning in their own feces, dying one after another.  They didn’t clear out the bodies until all of them had died.  Yu could see scratch marks on the walls and floor from their nails.  Imagine being the last one to survive.  I sense inspiration for a play coming soon.

Then we asked our driver to take us to a local restaurant where we could try Fufu, since I was not able to taste the homemade Fufu that my family had made for me before.  He drove us to a place without a tourist in sight.  Tons of Ghanaians were watching the football (soccer) game as we ate.  It was quite the spectacle.  We were served the Fufu: a ball of dough sitting in goat stew.  Andrea and Maritza were hesitant, so I had the first bite. I took my hand, waded through the stew, and grabbed a big bite of dough, pushing a bit of goat into it like a spoon, and slurped it from my dripping fingers. Very doughy, and an overpowering funk from the stew.  The face I made said it all and while they had a little taste, none of us had a second bite.  But our cab driver was quite pleased to have the dish all to himself, which he devoured. 

We filled up on delicious chicken and fish with rice.  The freshest tastiest meat I’ve tasted in quite some time. 

We then got dropped off at the market.  The word “crowd” or “mob” doesn’t do it justice.  We found it quite overwhelming to sift through and were exhausted within the first 20 minutes of the trek.  We called a cab and made our way back to the ship, but not before purchasing a famous Ghanaian drum.  I’ll have more practice in my cabin.                                                Next stop: Cape Town, South Africa



 

Slideshow Report as Spam

Comments

Kwasi on

I have no doubts that your trip was fun filled. It makes me miss Ghana too. A few corrections here; Fufu is made from pounded cassava and plantain, in some instances plantain is substituted with cocoyam. Fufu is eaten with soup and never with stew.
I am glad you had such and awesome experience. Keep it up.

Add Comment

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: