I know I say phrases like ‘this is the worst thing that has ever happened’ a lot. But now, I think that I have come upon something that actually legitimately falls into this category, on a practical level. I will start by saying that I operate on a very different schedule here than I do in America. I try to go to sleep by 10, but obviously since it is me it takes me a while to fall asleep. But I’m in bed by ten. I get up early, waking around 6 and laying in bed/getting ready until 6:30 when I eat breakfast, and then leaving for school between 6:45 and 7. Then I head to school which starts at 8 where I have classes until 4. Each part of this schedule is difficult for me, but none of these are the worst things. The worst thing is something that happens in the middle of the night, each and every night, and ensures that I get approximately 4 hours or less of sleep each night instead of the 8 you would assume from my schedule.
Have I mentioned the fowl that roam everywhere in Ghana? Chickens, roosters, they’re just all about. That’s fine, it’s cute on the street. It’s not cute when they crow in the morning, because it sounds like a woman being murdered. It would be one thing if they did this at six, it would probably help get me out of bed. Five wouldn’t be the worst, and would still make sense with the ways of the world and the clock and night and day and morning. Four would be pushing it, I would probably be pretty annoyed about four. But SOME PEOPLE in the world must get up at four. Maybe farmers, I don’t know. But want to know when the roosters start? The time I see on my clock every morning when I am woken up and check to see how much sleep I’m not getting?
THREE FUCKING AM.
I PUT IN EARPLUGS. I USE MY IPOD. I PUT IN EARPLUGS AND USE MY IPOD OVER THEM. NOTHING WORKS. STILL, EVERY DAY, THREE AM, I WAKE UP AND THE ROOSTERS DO NOT STOP UNTIL I WAKE UP. I THINK I AM DRIFTING BACK TO SLEEP, AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS? I HEAR IT. BLOOD CURDLING SCREAMS IN MY EAR.
I honestly just have no understanding for why this happens. Yeah we all know roosters crow in the morning. But nowhere in the world is 3 am an acceptable time for the morning! I have never heard of this happening before! I grew up in a farm state! What part of a rooster’s internal clock tells them that three am is the morning?? And the people don’t go to bed THAT early here. I mean maybe some do, but in both of my homestays I have gone to bed earlier than EVERY member of the family, and that includes the FOUR YEAR OLD in my Accra homestay. Is no one else woken by the evil rooster? Maybe if you grew up here you are just used to it, but then what if someone was ACTUALLY getting murdered? Would anyone wake up and notice? These are the kind of thoughts that cross my mind, EVERY MORNING, at three am, when the rooster crows and I check the clock. (Yes, it has actually been 3 on the dot several times. Do not ask why this is my life.) Combined with the fact that it usually takes me over an hour to fall asleep and that I sometimes also wake up around 1 (nobody knows about this one) I usually end up getting an undetermined amount of sleep that hovers around four hours. This doesn’t sound like enough to sustain a full day, especially a busy physically straining day in Africa, does it? Correct. IT IS NOT ENOUGH. I struggle against sleep all afternoon and evening, and yet somehow, when 9 or 10 hits, I STILL CAN’T FALL ASLEEP. Eventually I do, but then suddenly, CCCRAAWWWAHHHCSSSHHRRRWWWAAAHHHRRRRR. There it is. And thus is the story of how I will never be fully awake while studying abroad in Ghana.
So after that million year description of how angry I am at nature, I don’t remember what else I meant to write about. I made a list but it is on a notebook in my room and I’m in the living room. I guess I’ll write about the fun clause, the great clause, and the awesome clause.
Many of my friends are studying abroad right now, and many of my friends have studied abroad in the past. Most everyone describes these experiences as ‘fun great awesome’ and lots of similar catch phrases.
This is not fun* (don’t get stressed out people this has an uplifting ending). This is not seeing old buildings and going on tours (unless they are in the dark and people are harassing you and you are afraid you’re going to throw up in an open gutter) and partying and rivers and..stuff. This is learning to enjoy your life even when every single thing you do is extremely difficult. This is realizing that American students go abroad expecting other countries to owe them a good time and a life changing experience, and finding out that Africa doesn’t owe us shit. This is finding laughter in a tro tro ride where three people are crying and one is sitting on a broken seat, two people are sitting on each other, and every single one of you has to poop. On that note, this is still being happy when you are sick to your stomach for at least 50% of your waking hours. This is being overjoyed when you find a toilet that flushes, and not breaking a sweat when you have to manually flush a toilet with a twenty pound bucket of water. This isn’t getting ‘looks’ when someone figures out you are American, this is having your race yelled at you at least five times an hour all day every day, and 80% of those people hold out their hands and expect money from you. This is not getting mad about that, but waving back when they yell obroni and smiling. But most of all, this experience is learning to accept these things, not letting them get to you, take them in stride, laugh at them, cry at them, joke about them. For me, a lot of this is learning to communicate these things without being scared that everyone will think I’m playing a giant game of the whose life is worse contest. Because honestly, I don’t give a shit about any of that. I came here for a reason, and although there are a lot of moments every day when I don’t remember what any of those reasons were, I am interested in every single shitty thing that happens to me. What’s hard for me is communicating that these things suck, are really fucking difficult, while also communicating that I’m not unhappy because of them. The things that have made me unhappy at moments here – the social dynamics, my own insecurities – have nothing to do with the difficult way of life. But at the same time, I’m not going to tell you that it’s ‘great’ or ‘fun’ to walk for forty minutes only to catch a tro tro and then a taxi and still be dropped off at completely the wrong place for school and have to navigate through a depressingly abandoned and decrepit campus, fall down a hill cross 7 open gutters and almost get hit by a bus and then still walk ten minutes and up four flights of stairs to find the basically abandoned building in which our classes are held. It’s not fun or great! But it’s not bad either. It’s not upsetting or negative. It’s a completely new thing.
I’ve been realizing that I’m a person who isn’t always unhappy when I’m complaining. A good section of my humor is based off of complaining, and if I can complain about something in a humorous way it usually means that I haven’t really let it get to me. I love to complain. But even at home, the things I complained about weren’t the things that made me unhappy. It’s the same here. I’m able to still be content when things are obnoxious by complaining about them in a humorous manner. The only thing about my surroundings here that has made me unhappy perse is that I just really want a fucking platter of Volcano Nachos and a Chalupa Baja and two Volcano Tacos with a Fruitista Freeze. But hey, I can have those every day in three months. I would also kill to have a nice big bowl of Banku in some spicy stew and not too many bones in the meat. JUST NOT ANY MORE YAMS. (there was another incident tonight.)
Basically what I’m trying to communicate with all that shit I just said is: this is not traditional studying abroad, and it frustrates me to try and attribute traditional study abroad phrases to it. Not every second of my life is fun or great, but every second is interesting and good for me. I’m not always having fun, but I’m not sad either. I like to laugh about the fact that I smell pee most places I go, but it doesn’t bother me. It is challenging to figure out which of the 8 tro tros is going someplace that may get me home, but it’s not a bad challenge.
Oh anyway, what I meant to get to with my whole rant is that things are not words that I use, not words that I know. They are not great, but they are not terrible. This does not mean they are mediocre, haha. It means they are a new thing that I don’t get words for. It is find yourself doing something completely ridiculous like chasing a woman with a giant metal tub of some food on her head straight up a busy road only to find that it is the exact same bread that you had 8 pieces of this morning. You become completely overjoyed at a lunch of banku in peanut stew when two weeks ago you were confused at the very prospect of banku. You are told that you gracefully navigate the jumps over open sewers. It is learning the difference between chartering a taxi and joining a taxi (took about two weeks for me to get this one.) It is being completely welcomed into a culture in which you can never really fit in. But it’s better that way, because it’s not just a hodgepodge of nothing – it’s a deep and traditional culture that you can feel and understand while knowing that it is worth enough that you can’t just pop in and own it or steal it. But you can still be welcomed and given a place. That is something I really don’t know if I can communicate at this point. Anyway, it is returning to the snack stand 6 times during lunch. It is people who have so much less than you giving up far more than you deserve for you. At the same time, it’s realizing that people don’t really have less than you at all. It’s pointing at and buying a thing in a glass case that turns out to basically be cake at 10 in the morning. It’s knowing that this is a place where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now on another topic, I wonder why so many girls on my program still wear makeup here. I do not judge I just find interesting, mostly perplexing. I’ve discerned that about half the girls wear fairly noticeable eye makeup every day. I really just want to ask but I don’t want anyone to get offended…I just don’t understand the impulse. I get it in America, I totally do! I don’t wear much makeup any more but I certainly used to and can think of lots of reasons why people do it. But none of those reasons really make sense here, and all the reasons why make up sucks become very prominent. It is odd because everyone thought it was fine to ask me why I don’t shave my legs and why I haven’t redyed my hair, but nobody questions this daily useage of makeup. Maybe my reasons at home for wearing make up were just different than the average person’s.
Ah, one of my new favorite topics, calm. I am so much calmer here than at home. Actually I was pretty calm all summer and at camp, ESPECIALLY at camp when the world was freaking out and I was like ooh! Look! Diego’s looking cute today! Also it goes back to when some bad things happened at school and I realized belatedly that it was easier to deal with them calmly than by not calmly. But anyway, this new way of life has developed for me when I just figured out that what happens to you happens to you regardless of how you react to it. You can let it get to you and you can panic, or you can just do what you need to do in the moment and move on. The end result is the same. I think that’s why the only times I’ve cried here have been the traditional “I’m calling my parents from a foreign country for the first time and I’m overwhelmed by life!” type of calls. I just am not a stress crier anymore. Lots of stressful things do happen but I’m more just like huh. This is a kersmuffle. I didn’t really try to make this happen, I was definitely expecting to freak out all the time. But nah, it hasn’t really happened.
Oh I will now tell you all of one of the greatest things that has happened since I got to Ghana! I am teaching my host brother to draw! The other night when I was showing my brothers (weird because I have no real brothers) pictures of my family and friends, I also came upon some pictures of my art. My host brother Andy right away was like can you teach me to do that? And I was like of course I can try! I’ve never taught anyone to draw portraits before but Mr. Elland taught us all so well that I knew it was possible so I always figured I’d try adopting his techniques of teaching if it ever came up. Naturally I thought at first that Andy was going to forget about it, because that’s what usually happens. But the next day he reminded me on the way to school so I made sure to have the pencils I got handy if he actually came to me after dinner like he said he would. Really, I have very little faith in people actually wanting to learn difficult things so I totally wasn’t expecting him to actually sit down with me and want to learn. This probably comes from Hoofbeat, my main experience with teaching things in the past. But on Monday night we sat down after dinner with a picture I ripped out of my South Africa Marie Claire (it has become so useful) and we got started. I’m definitely no Mr. Elland yet but teaching Andy has just been so good for me and so much fun! He was so dedicated to actually learning it and even when I was like ‘if you ever want to take a break it’s fine,’ he just kept working. At home all I ever see is people wanting to stop doing things. In school we always want breaks, when we’re learning something hard we always want to stop and try again later. Not so in this case! I was going to only do eyes on the first night because I learned day by day with parts of the face, but we just ended up doing all the features on Monday night because he was so into keeping going. It’s also difficult that I don’t have the huge supply of magazines and printed pictures that I do at home, but when I go to print my paper tomorrow I’m going to try and print some portraits so we can keep working. Seriously, I’m just so impressed by this kid being so dedicated to learning something that most people just shrug off and say they can’t do, while also just pushing through and keeping working and really spending the time on it that I’ve seen so many art students do. It also makes me feel like I have a purpose in the homestay which is nice because usually I just sit with them and watch tv since that is mostly what they do. I will update more on this and how it makes me joyful when we progress further in the art lessoning. YAY!
Other things lately…School has become very confusing because in the morning we are at one place (aforementioned semi abandoned building) but in the afternoons, during our lunch break we have to take a big tro tro ride to this completely other college where the room we are in is very small and has no real desks. I don’t exactly get why we have to move so far for not a real place but perhaps we will move to a bigger room when we begin our dance lessons. Lunch at this new place was ver frustrating on the first day because everyone kept leading us into nothing places to eat and we eventually ate at a restaurant where they had a full (and by full I mean the classic 4 dishes) menu but EVERYTHING Was out of stock except rice. But they didn’t tell you this, so I had to ask ‘do you have this’ about literally very item on the menu. Could’ve just told me it was only rice. Anyway it was 4 cedi which sounds and is cheap but it is actually expensive considering that I got a FAR better meal of banku and stew today for only 1.50 cedi.
I am sleepy and must go to bed (only to be woken soon by the roosters) but soon I will tell more about my homestay and whatever else I can think of to talk about.