Bokrum Estate is Narnia and Analoga Junction is the doorway that never exists when you need it

Wow it’s been quite a last few days!  Quite a few adventures getting lost (I live in an imaginary place in Kumasi, I swear) excellent street food, and weird things that are now normal.  I will begin with Wednesday.  The girl on my program whose homestay is close to mine, Kelly, went to the hospital with malaria on Tuesday night (life is excellent everywhere) and thus it was my first time going to school alone.  I waited at the taxi spot for like fifteen minutes, but all the taxis were full plus there were like 80 people waiting and no one was getting taxis.  So I started walking, and this guy in a car with some logos painted on it pulled over and offered me a ride.  According to our teachers this is an acceptable form of transportation so I said yes.  It turns out that this guy owns a hotel, ‘Time Hotel’ (things have funny names here) right next to my intersection.  He was quite a jolly fellow and gave me a ride to what they call Airport roundabout.  This is where I hit trouble.  He/comrades told me to walk this certain direction and I would hit a taxi spot thing.  This did not happen.  I walked for a while, then I walked some more, then I just kept walking.  At this point I had no idea where I was and didn’t recognize anything but advertisments for ‘Glo’ (still don’t know what this is) and MTN and Elite 1 Admission etc.  So I called Kwame, the guy who is basically just paid to hang out with us and not teach anything, and said I was lost.  He said where are you.  I said I don’t know that’s why I’m lost.  Then it got really bad service and I recognized a gas station so I hung up and turned there.  A random guy told me that I was going in the right direction (Semi false) but I called Kwame back anyway.  I still didn’t know where I was enough to tell him anything (‘a gas station’ doesn’t really help here) so he told me to ‘give the phone to a Ghanaian’ to help me.  I gave the phone to a random guy selling plantains or phone credit or something and him and Kwame talked in really fast Twi that I obviously did not understand, but the conversation ended with him getting me a taxi and asking for my phone number.  Typical of Ghana life.  I made it to school then, yay!

That day we went to a priestess in the morning.  It was hours away.  Like at least one and a half.  But it was a pretty cool experience.  We asked her questions about her priestessdom a lot of which were lost in translation but it was still interesting.  At this point nobody was forcing it down my throat like I actually had to believe it so it was interesting to see the traditional religion perspective.  Then they tried to sell us a bunch of stuff (welcome to our lives, being sold shit at a religious shrine) and I resisted.  I’m getting great at not buying stuff because I just can’t face the thought of carrying it all around for the next three months.  I’ll buy souveigners sovineers soveigners WHAT THE HELL IS THAT WORD in November before I go home but now I just cry about moving around.  Anyway then we did this dance session which is always fun.  She hugged us all it was very sweet.  This was when one of our group members ‘was chosen by the spirits’ and some really ridiculous story that I am not going to tell on public forum because the amount of skepticism I have would start to verge on sarcasm and that is just a slippery slope that I am not interested in slipping.  But if you want the full story, skeptic and all, shoot me an email and I’ll be sure to divulge.  After this part we had personal consultations with the priestess if we wanted.  All of us but three did, it was only 2 cedi and it was an interesting thing to do.  I went first, we were supposed to go in with a question but she usually just ended up talking and then maybe answering the question or not.  I went in and she said before I said anything that I should ‘hold my pen tightly in school,’ that ‘if I work hard in school I will be very smart and successful’ that ‘one day people will worship me,’ and then the big humdinger…that a water spirit follows me in my hometown.  Yes, lakes Mendota and Monona DO have a strange fascination with me, how did you know?!  (see the sarcasm can’t help itself) Now I have no problem with these ‘predictions’ obviously, but I’m pretty sure that everyone would like to hear that people will worship them one day.  Apparently she said some ‘really creepily accurate’ things to some people but I don’t have much detail.  It was a cool experience though.  My question for her was about how I should deal with anxiety (I actually know very well how to deal with anxiety but I couldn’t think of any specific life problems because someone outside probably would have heard me if I said how do I make my fellow students stop being rude) and I don’t think she (or either of the translators, for that matter) really got the concept because they all just seemed to not know what I meant by ‘worrying about things in the future.’  She then told me to tell Yemi (my program director) my problems and that I should come back with white powder if I wanted more consultation.  Some people are going back later and I might go with a specific problem in mind to see what they say, because it is very interesting if not something I believe in.

After this we were the starvingest (that’s actually not funny for me to write on my blog about studying abroad in Ghana…but too late.  My ability to be politically correct is just nonexistent) so I tried to convince Kwame to take us to a restaurant on the way back to school.  This was unsuccessful so it was already 1 PM and we then had the hour and a half drive back to school.  Yay…not.  We went on the LONGEST search for this elusive ‘cheeseburger and indian food’ restaurant in a really crowded region of Kumasi, but luckily we eventually found it.  And this restaurant, was, is, and always will be THE GREATEST THING.  The menu is HUGE and has cheeseburgers, sandwiches, indian food, chinese food, pizza, and like EVERY KIND OF FOOD.  No Mexican food but life is rough.  We ordered 13 cheeseburgers and ‘chips’ aka fries and in addition I got samosas and this weird spicy indian chicken appetizer.  (of course I got more food than everyone else in the group.  This is my life.) The burgers were actually AMAZING and not even by ‘I never get to eat American food standards.’ Well, kind of by those standards.  But it was still amazing.  Also we learned that Sylvia (one of the ladies who helps SIT) has NEVER EATEN CHEESE.  This obviously made me very sad because cheese accounts for much of the happiness in my life.  It’s not that they don’t have cheese in Ghana, they do, but it just isn’t a big thing like it is in America (or in my life.) We had cheese on our cheeseburgers but that’s all I’ve seen of it so far.  Also it isn’t pasteurized so it might be sketchy for us to eat it, but I also don’t give a fuck and if I find some I’m buying it because my stomach is already shot so I may as well add some unpasteurized cheese.  Of course the only other people in the restaurant were other obronis (which is funny that we all find this place because it’s not very obvious and also Kumasi isn’t exactly a tourist spot.) In the week that we’ve been here I have seen a total of 8 white people not related to SIT and four of them were in that restaurant or on the way to the restaurant.  The others – one was a girl crying next to a suitcase at a gas station (perhaps this was an SIT student in disguise), a guy in a safari outfit walking on the street (LOOOOSER!  There’s no elephants in Kumasi!  You have to go to the North, duh.) and two ladies at the zoo today.  I will get to the zoo later.

After the obroni restaurant (our affectionate name for it) we all went home.  I was promptly fed rice with sauce which was unfortunate since I was still full but I ate some anyway.  This happens to me a lot because the homestay pretty much feeds me within the hour of when I get home whenever that is, and I always end up eating really late with the obronis if we are free or getting a snack on the way home of a normal day.

The next day Kelly was still in the hospital (sad puppy paws) so I foraged my way to school alone again.  I had called Kwame to help me figure out my commute the previous night but instead of telling me what to do he just got my host brother on the phone and told him to take me to school.  This isn’t really that helpful because yes I get there but I still don’t really understand the process of how he does it.  This is an odd concept because you’d think that once I did it with someone it would be easy but there is some kind of taxi secret language or something and I just do not know it.  Anyway me and my host brother (also named Kwame…I think this is their day name and not real name…everyone has a name based on the day they were born…its confusing) set off at the normal time and started walking because the usual no taxis.  This is the walk that is 40 minutes if you can’t find a car.  Luckily Mr. Time Hotel Man found us again, this time in a pickup truck.  His comrade in the front seat moved to the bed with my host brother and I got in the front seat.  Obroni chick treatment right there.  He took me to the roundabout again and then Kwame shimmyshammied our way to school.  He also paid for the taxis which made me feel guilty but whatever it happened.  So no lostness but was still late and still know nothing.

Twi classes are going, as one would expect, terribly.  I am the worst at the language and not being able to concentrate obviously doesn’t help.  As an added bonus I get to listen to everyone who doesn’t take Adderall tell me how if they were on Adderall they’d be so good at it and I’m like GUYS IT’S NOT A MAGIC DRUG THAT MAKES YOU LOVE LEARNING TWI.  IT JUST MAKES YOU CONCENTRATE ON THINGS.  SO IF YOU GET BORED LEARNING TWI, YOU’LL STILL GET BORED LEARNING TWI ON ADDERALL BUT YOU WILL BE MUCH BETTER ABLE TO CONCENTRATE ON YOUR DRAWINGS OF TACOS AND WRITTEN HISTORY OF SOME OF THE SILLY THINGS THAT HAPPENED AT SCHOOL IN THE PAST YEAR AND A HALF.  Too many capitals sorry haha.  I just got on a roll.  Luckily we have a break in the morning where I always have to go get a snack.  I eat white bread for breakfast every single day which does not even remotely fill me up so I always need a snack and a coke or a Fanta.  Coke and Fanta are big things here. But they come in glass bottles and then you give the bottles back so they can be reused.  This is a great practice but I have a feeling that it would never work in America because of the germphobia.  But I like it.

We have now started afternoon dance classes – oh wait but we had our last lecture on Thursday.  It was actually probably one of the worst lectures I’ve ever had in my life, if you can even call it a lecture.  I like can’t even explain what happened but it was observation and participation techniques and the guy like said no words but then asked us for examples and we said the most obvious things ever and then wrote them down on these giant pieces of paper and then he talked for like AN HOUR about these weird African metal trinkets and passed around at least fifteen books and all the while we COULD NOT HANDLE OURSELVES.  Usually we’re a pretty calm if sleepy group during lectures but this time we just couldn’t live.  There was laughter and side conversations and just inability to handle our lives and the guy just didn’t even notice a thing.  I don’t know why it was so ridiculous…but it was.

THEN we had our first dance lesson.  Well not first we’ve been dancing since we got here but our first with this one teacher in Kumasi.  She’s a character.  Not the nicest lady but she’s funny.  We also have to learn a lot of odd songs with hard to remember tunes that no one can sing and play weird clapping games or just clapping rhythms and it’s all very odd.  The dancing is hard but really fun.  I’m glad we get to do something active, it keeps me occupied way more than class.  The dances will all be cool for me to parade at parties back at school….not.  Most of them involve us doing things in a giant circle and then doing really complicated body movements including one that involves putting your leg up like a bird and doing a hip thrust.  I am not really getting any better at dancing but the freestyle sections of the dances are always good for me!

I know that more things have happened in these past few days but it is hard to remember and that is fine because I can save some stories for real life.  If I can even call them stories.  A lot of the time I feel like I don’t really have stories, just weird things that happen in Africa like selling giant wood fixtures by the side of the road.

I will describe Friday by the sheer amount of food that I consumed.  So the usual breakfast of bread.  Then during break this thing that is basically cake and a lemon Fanta (the best flavor.) then banku for lunch (banku is my shit,) a Fanice for after lunch snack –

HERE I MUST TELL YOU ABOUT FANICE.  IT IS THE BEST THING.  IT IS ICE CREAM….IN A BAG.  YOU CAN BUY IT ANYWHERE ON THE STREET.  THE.  GREATEST.  THING.

Anyway, then after dancing I went with a few of the girls to this bar where we had kebobs (another FANTASTIC DISCOVERY ABOUT GHANA) okay I must devote more than parentheses to kebobs.  Everyone knows about kebobs but these are just so great because they are fresh and probably recently slaughtered chicken or goat (sorry for that) and made right in front of you but the greatest part is they put this AMAAAAAAZING spice on them that is some kind of awesome pepper.  I LOVE KEBABS.  Then I went home quickly to gather my things for our adventure that night (obviously getting another Fanice on the way home) , let my host sister know that I’d be staying away for the night (my host mom like doesn’t exist.  The siblings are basically my parents which is funny because all but one of them are younger than me…but every young person here is super mature and acts like 10 years older than they are) and headed to a taxi.  Here I bought two more kebabs (goat this time) and then at a gas station at one of our stops on the way to the highlife concert I got ANOTHER FANICE and some chocolate and a juice called ‘morning blend.’  I stopped eating at this point but it was just a great snack day.  THREE FANICES IN ONE DAY, LIFE IS SO GREAT.

That night Kwame took us all out to this highlife concert (highlife is a type of music that I still don’t really understand at all or know how to characterize) but it seemed very suspiciously like reggae.  I think that highlife is very different from reggae but clearly I know nothing so who knows.  Anyway this was great fun because we were able to be with the big group but hang out in little groups and we just danced a lot and had a grand old time.  It’s nice to just dance fun and crazy and not like at a frat party.  Watching the group dynamics during this is VERY INTERESTING THOUGH, especially how Kwame and our other semi helper people are involved, and if you want this analysis and funny stories please email me.  PLEASE IT IS HILARIOUS.  After this we went to a club (also Kwame’s doing, what a guy) and that was more fun good times.  A bunch of us got rooms at a hotel that night so we didn’t have to find our way home in the dark and late night ness, esp since one of the junctions on the way to my house just doesn’t exist.  I say the name and no one ever knows what I’m talking about.  All in all it was a very good night full of bonding and fun conversations and me continuing in my quest to figure out who the guys in our group (there are only 4) ‘like’ out of the girls/who they would get with.  Since I have no attraction feelings for any of them it is fun for me to try and analyze this and Trent (the one who I am closest to) seems to think it is funny and not creepy so it gives me entertainment.  I haven’t figured anything out yet for sure but I have my suspicions.

I will interject here with a section about Kwame.  I CAN’T TELL WHAT THE HELL HIS JOB ACTUALLY IS.  He’s always with us but he never teaches anything, doesn’t seem to organize much, sometimes chaperones us, but mostly just talks to us and hangs out with us/ takes us to clubs.  Okay, that last one has only happened once.  I’m pretty sure that he is just paid to hang out with us and be a semi-close-to-our age mentor friend guy.  His interactions with the students are interesting to say the least.  This is another one that is a great story but maybe not for the public eye.  VERY funny though, again I want to tell it.

There is a lizard on my wall.  Oh my life.

Anyway, my relationship with Kwame is very similar to mine with most of my older male friends where it’s kind of like big brother/sidekick/help me with my life type of thing.  By help me with my life I mean help me get to school, ha.  I can’t say the same for everyone in the group….ominous pause.

Also funny story, Kwame was in the hospital with Kelly when I called him asking to help me figure out how to get to school and she asked him about the morning where I got lost afterwards, like if I was upset or not and apparently he said “No Becca doesn’t get upset she just talks fast.” Or something equal parts funny and true.   A pretty good description of my life right now because when stressful things happen which is always I usually am just like huh, unfortunate, how am I gonna get out of this one.  I think it’s helped by the fact that I feel VERY safe here.  I’ve never felt threatened even though people pay one million times more attention to me than anyone ever would in America.  The Ghanaians are just generally very nice and helpful and malicious intentions aren’t as big of a thing here as they are in other countries, or so I’m told.  Even getting hit on isn’t actually that much of a problem if you know how to handle it.  If you just ignore it or smile/wave instead of getting into conversations with people it isn’t really that stressful.  A few people in the group have had issues with this – not with specific people but with getting used to just giving face and walking away instead of getting engaged in conversation.  I find it startlingly easy, a sentiment shared by most of the girls in the group.

I am starting to bond more with the group I think.  It’s still hard for me when we’re all together doing one thing (versus able to split into smaller groups) BUT I talked to a few other girls about this and we all feel the same way in this and other respects so that was very helpful, good to know I’m not the only one who has been having struggles.  It still really bothers me when people are rude but I figure it will either dissipate when we get to the villages (we split up for that) or people will keep doing it and then I will get so frustrated that I will be unable to avoid calling them out on it.  Either way it’ll work out.

Today we went to the zoo, which was a good day but the zoo was like maximum depressing.  I’m not an ‘I hate zoos’ person at all, I love the zoo!  But this one was just like not good old Henry Vilas Zoo.  I mean obviously.  But okay the zoo.  So the animals were like the saddest things.  There was this horse tied to a tree that I was excited to see…but it actually almost made me cry.  It was BY FAR the most malnourished horse I’ve ever seen in real life (and I’ve seen a lot of skinny skinny horses) and the weird rope-ish-not really rope thing it was tied with was wrapped all around its feet and it probably has horrible thrush, BUT the worst part was it had this GIANT growth/sore thing coming off of one of its lips.   Also really chafed withers which makes me think that this poor thing has probably been used for some type of pony ride which is simultaneously a horrifying and impossible thought since I’m pretty sure if I would have touched it it would have just fallen over and died.  So that was the worst.  The other animals weren’t as depressing.  Some of them actually had very nice open style cages or enclosures with a lot of room, some of them had more room than at American zoos.  They had squirrels in a cage which I obviously thought was funny because I mean it’s a squirrel that’s not exactly an exciting animal to a Midwesterner.  Same with the geese.  There were just bats flying around the sky in some places which was very interesting.  The donkeys were far less depressed than the horse.  There were peacocks just wandering about which was fun.  Monkeys did tricks for bananas, the usual.  It was definitely a good cultural experience even though I now kind of want to do my ISP on ‘saving the poor sad almost dead horse from the Kumasi zoo.’  Also I don’t know why I thought that a zoo in Africa wouldn’t be depressing.  I’m about to say a totally white person travels to Africa thing, but I hope that when we go on our travel trip around the nature and north and stuff that we can see some wild animals in their actual habitat.

Now I am home.  I feel bad when I don’t hang out with my host family but they are always just watching TV so I can do that with them sometimes but I figure its okay for me to have alone time since I’m with other people ALL THE LIVELONG DAY EVERY DAY.  I’m definitely bonding with Andy far more than the rest of the family but I have had chats with all of them at one point or another.  Small talk isn’t a big thing here like it is for Americans though so that is what it is.  Sometimes I practice Twi with them but it’s hard to practice when I know nothing.  It’s a good family though, I’m very happy at this homestay and we all get along well.   I like having the older kids and the freedom to come and go as I please and sit and watch tv with them or just hang out in my room.

I have found that I’m generally very at peace here and am happy in a different way than I am at home.  I’m not really happy based on the things I do but based on just having a general mindset of interest and relaxedness.  It’s quite a skill to be content while doing things like going to the bathroom in the complete darkness or walking through a commercial area so crowded that at times it just STOPS like traffic, but I’m learning.  I just like Africa.  Since getting here I haven’t really disliked it but at first I just wasn’t attached, I was more like observing it all and just taking it in.  Obviously I don’t like some of the things I have to do, but that’s very separate from my likeage of Ghana/Africa/the experience as a whole.  And I just fucking love Fanice so much. I still spend 70% of my free thinking time thinking about food but Fanice helps soften the blow of no Taco Bell.

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