After a long talk with my mom about how the first half of my trip to Ghana has gone, we agreed on one thing; for every 10 minutes of good stuff, there is the eleventh minute of frustration. Man is that eleventh minute a long minute. In long car rides when I was little, I used to ask “How much longer until we get there?” and my mom would always respond “one hour” and I would say, “Well, is it a short hour or a long hour?” My mom always insisted there was no such thing, but I knew there was. You see, when everything is fun and games, an hour passes by really fast-that’s a short hour. In a hot, cramped car, with Mom’s old-timer’s music playing and a brother and sister whining, and when I am dying to get where we are going, an hour passes really slowly- that is a long hour. Well let me tell you this eleventh minute business in Ghana is giving my former “long hours” a run for the money.

On the first day of school, I was pumped for a new class. Finally, I am going to have a class with a professor who knows how to use a computer and will not give repeat lectures on a regular basis (as happened in one of my classes last semester at CSUS).  Well, my professor in my first class in Ghana can use a computer…but whether the power is on is another question. Having power in Ghana is not a given. There have been no repeat lectures, thank goodness, but lectures can, and do, go well over time-and by well over time I mean a solid 40 minutes passed the scheduled end time.  Not one Ghanian student complains.  They all sit  quietly and continue taking notes!  Man, is that one long eleventh minute for an obruni like me.

On the first day of school, we had a stroke of luck-a good 10 minutes!- no lab scheduled for that day. Yay!! Three hours free time. Then the 11th minute hit. “Oh, but before you go, the head of the department wants to give you a brief introduction to this class.”  I was in a basic Chordate Physiology class that all Ghanaian students in the science field have to take. So, thinking that this may just be for the regular students, I turned to my obruni friend (the only other foreigner in the class)  and asked “Do you think international students have to stay?”  Between us we decided, being good students, that we should stay, after all a brief introduction didn’t sound so bad.

Of course we had to wait for the professor to show up (in Ghana the students are always on time and always show up, the professors, not so much). Fifteen minutes later, the head of the department finally showed up. He started talking about names. Not the scientific naming system.  Names. First names. He explained why names, like Abby or Alyssa, are important and I am thinking, “What does this have to do with anything?” After about an hour, the professor, the head of the department, starts talking about snakes. Not the physiology of snakes, just snakes. This man, the Head of the Department, came into the class and talked about names and snakes for 2 1/2 hours!  I thought that eleventh minute would never end. Three hours of free time out the window while I listened to a lecture on names and snakes. To add insult to serious injury, after listening to him talk for two and one half hours,  I didn’t even walk out of the classroom with a syllabus or with any idea of what we would be doing in that class. No “Introduction”, brief or otherwise.

Little did I know, my experience with these long eleventh minutes would be never ending. The labs began the following week. Ever been  in a lab with sixty-five students crowded around five test tubes? (That’s thirteen students to each test tube!) I would not recommend it. Granted, we only actually do something involving a test tube every once in awhile. In most labs we are expected to draw. Draw! I may not be able to tell you how the heart of a mammal compares to the heart of a worm, but I can draw you a damn good tilapia fish. I have drawn that tilapia fish, and the frog, and the stingray, and the duck, multiple times in labs. I am very good at the art of sketching preserved specimens.

However,  I am really worried about my grades. The last lab I got back received a shocking 9 3/4 points out of 25. Why? My copy of the lab manual did not have half the questions in it.  The person who graded my lab drew a huge X on my paper and subtracted all the points for those (missing) questions.  Now this was getting to be an especially bad eleventh minute. As politely as I could, I went up to the front and asked the people who do the grading (graduate students- not the professor) why I got marked down when no questions were on the paper for me to answer! Well, of course  they told me, it was because I didn’t answer the questions. How could I?  They weren’t in my manual!  Still trying to be polite, I explained that I did not know there were additional questions because they weren’t there.  Then I asked if I could I please make up the points. The answer? “NO! We already went over the answers. You can’t make up the questions.”  OK, I am not going to be polite anymore. “Excuse me” (OK, I was going to be a little bit polite), “This is not my fault, I bought my copy of the manual from YOU. You gave me a defective copy, so I would like to know how I am going to make up the points.” I am not lying when I say it took a fair amount of arguing with them for the graduate students to agree on giving me a makeup assignment…next week. This I must say, is a never ending minute. I went back the following week, and asked for the make up questions.  I was told, “Ohhhh, about that, come back next week”.  Sometimes the eleventh minute goes on for weeks, and weeks, and weeks…

After that particularly long eleventh minute,  I decided to go to the International Student Office (where they have internet that works, and computers that work for that matter) and finish that week’s assignment and turn it in, so at least I won’t be out any points for that lab. With 9 3/4 points out of 25 on the  last week’s lab–and a dubious make-up “promise” I can’t afford to slack off.  But when I get to the International Student Office, the power is out. You know what that means, right?  No internet. No computer.   I will not finish my assignment on time.  I will loose more points. Great. So, I walk back to my hostel in the soggy heat, through all the dust, and the people staring at me (a white girl in Ghana=stares), and the cars honking at me, and plan on taking a nice cold shower (there’s no warm water in the showers-ever.  I’ve been taking cold showers for eight weeks). But, another eleventh minute, the water is out. I can comfortably say, I was livid. I can handle a professor showing up late, a lecture that went an hour too long, arguing with graders for the points I deserve, the power being out, not being able to finish an assignment on time, my personal computer being broken, and walking home in 100% humidity while people stare at me, but now there’s no running water? You have got to be kidding me. I stink.  I am covered in dust.  My feet look like they have never seen a clean day in my life (which, I think my mom would argue is true). My bag is heavy. I’m tired. The only form of entertainment I currently have is my Kindle (which I love, but I have been here 8 weeks, and read 8 books…), and now I can’t take a shower? Or flush a toilet! Please excuse my language but I think I may have said, a couple times, “This is bullshit.” (Sorry mom). The 11th minute strikes yet again.

At the end of most days, I call my mom and tell her everything, and all I can do is laugh.  It feels better than screaming. When I found out that Microsoft Office would take 267 hours to download onto a computer that I waited for weeks to get, that I paid $200 over the regular price for, I actually laughed out loud.  I love Africa (and only 1/11th part of that statement is sarcastic!)

All I can say is, Africa is not for the faint hearted, the weak willed, or the unbendable. I’ve had a lot of good times here and a lot of….long eleventh  minutes.  If I could go back, knowing all this, I would not change my decision to study here. When I told my mom that, she laughed.  She said it’s like the decision to have kids. People will ask, “If you knew then, what you know now, would you still have kids?” ” Of course,” most people always say…but there is that moment, that flicker of a moment, when they truly consider the option, before rushing to say, again, ” Of course,  of course!”

Yes, I am glad I came to Ghana.  Really, really glad.  I like it here. I am enjoying myself, I’ve made some good friends, but I must say, I am looking forward to my next semester in New Zealand more than ever before. They have reliable running water, right?  Hot and cold? I won’t have to draw that tilapia again, will I?  I won’t have to eat cabbage and rice from a street vendor every day (well, except for the days that she runs out before I get there), will I? It won’t take 267 hours to download Microsoft Office, will it? But, will I have as much fun?  Will I learn as much? (Will I learn as much about dealing with frustration, about making my voice heard?!)  Will I be as enraptured with the people and the culture and the scenery? Will I be as glad about making the decision to study in New Zealand as I am about my decision to study in Ghana?