Welp… Ghana has so far proven not to be full of jacked, machine gun toting children and middle-aged males who all seem angry, as seen in many American movies. Nor have I come across any deserts, elephants, deathly sick children, or even any violence at all.
However, in the first week I have tried many new foods, been asked for a bribe from a governmental official, been called “White Satan” by a group of Ghanaian men, spent almost a full day collecting research samples from a lagoon full of human feces, dead animals, and trash, spent countless hours in a non-air conditioned lab analyzing those samples, and spent one wonderful relaxing day at a local beach reading the afternoon away in a swaying hammock while sipping on fresh coconut milk.
Some of my first observations are:
- It is hot and humid! Even with all of the warnings from Dr. Wubah and others that told me “it will be HOT and humid!” I still managed to underestimate not only the heat, but also the humidity! Most of my traveling experiences to warm climates have been to Central America and although it is normally humid there, it does not seem like it is nearly the same as it is here in Ghana.
- The food is interesting, and some of it is very tasty! I have found Ghanaian food to be much different than the food from anywhere that I have been before, but most closely relating to that of Zambia (which makes sense since both are in the Sub-Saharan). So far I have had a couple meals that have been fantastic and a couple meals that were not very good at all. Nonetheless, I am excited to explore more foods in Cape Coast and experience the real “Ghanaian cuisine”.
- Like many developing countries, Internet, running water, and power are unreliable. The biggest problem with this is trying to do research without the three of these things. It keeps causing problems and I just heard from some locals that starting next week they will be rationing electricity so we will only have it a maximum of 12 hours a day (with the 12 hours alternating between day and night).
- The people seem slightly standoffish, at least until you put the effort into talking to them. I have also been told that Cape Coast is like the “New York of Ghana” and that elsewhere people are much more friendly. However, when I smile or wave at someone walking by they seem taken off guard and even slightly suspicious. For example, the other day I waved at a little girl who was walking with her dad and he pulled her away from me and stared at me. This struck me as strange and at first really offended me. I am the type of person that is really sensitive to the perceptions of others, especially when travelling to an unfamiliar area. I find myself wondering if things like this keep happening just because I am white, or because I am associated with UCC, or if it pertains to a certain unknown political situation, or maybe even something else that is out of my control. I have heard that Ghanaians are some of the friendliest people anywhere, and I am not about to give up on that yet. With this being said, I have also had several really good experiences with people after “breaking the ice” (although with the daily temperature, one would imagine it would not be very hard to break the ice). I have made several friends that I see on a regular basis and have started sharing jokes with people that work in the same lab as I do.
***One funny story***
The following is an excerpt from my journal:
“Woah! Today has been interesting. I woke up at quarter till seven to walk over to the lab to meet Margret and the rest of the research team. Upon arriving I realized I was there before anyone else, even though I was just right on time. Margret finally showed up 45 minutes late and we headed to the lagoon.
We carried all of our equipment down to the edge of the lagoon through a small town. However, once we arrived I saw how absolutely nasty the area was because of pollution, sewage, and trash. When I started carrying things to the water I almost stepped in human feces at least half a dozen times. Then as I was carrying the last load of equipment “it” happened… I was in a rush to get out of the way of some other people and I slipped on the mud bank and used hands to catch myself. I was instantly horrified (and deservingly so)!
A few minutes later after I cleaned up the best I could we got in the small raft and went out to collect samples along the very large lagoon. It took about three hours to gather all the samples we needed. Then we went back to our starting location to “wash our samples”. 24 of the 36 samples we took had to be “washed” and sifted through a sieve and then the remains were added to plastic bottles full of formaldehyde.
We were just about to finish up this process when a young man came over and started yelling at us in Fanti (the local language . Having no clue what he was saying I turned, looked at him and smiled. I very quickly realized that he was not very happy or friendly. At about that time my research team started yelling back at him. Then about three of his friends showed up and started yelling too. The only thing I initially understood is when one of man’s friends yelled “white man you are a bad man, a very bad man, a wicked man! How dare you use our water without permission?! You are white satan!”
After they argued for a few minutes the men finally left and I asked what had happened. They told me that the men just wanted money because we were using their entrance to the lagoon to wash our samples, but they had already spoken to the local chief and paid our dues so we could do so.”
All in all, Ghana has taken some getting used to, but has been a blast so far! I have learned a lot – like how tiring it is to wash all your clothes by hand and that not all street food in developing countries will make you sick, but needless to say, I am excited for the rest of my stay!