Tag Archive: frustrations


The Worst Meals of My Life

If I ever consciously thought that the food in New Zealand would be better than the food in Ghana, I was wrong. It’s true- the food in Ghana was a lot of the same- a lot of rice, a lot of beans, a lot of fried chicken. On the other hand, the food  tasted good- in fact, the first time I tried those signature dishes of Ghana- they tasted great, and different than any other rice and beans I have ever had. I craved them for days to come- even if eventually they did get a little old. Remember the book about the girl that would eat nothing but jam and bread? Then, one night she finally decided that she had too much jam and bread, and spaghetti sounded better? Ghana was kind of like that. I still liked the food- I just wanted something new. I guess that’s what growing up with a fabulous cook for a Mom does to you.

Please understand before you read further, that I am a spoiled rotten brat when it comes to food (especially). I grew up in a house of terrific breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, served daily, and before Africa- I didn’t really know what being hungry meant aside from the dictionary definition.

Nowadays, I am also totally willing to cook for myself, and of course I don’t depend on others to feed my unusually high maintenance needs when it comes to food (how could I- I’d be seen nothing as a pain in the ass). To get an idea of how high maintenance I am, here’s an example;  my go to quick meal is brie and fancy bakery bread and blue cheese stuffed olives (not things like hot pockets and frozen pizzas). I know… I have some real problems in the high maintenance expensive food area, but food should not be joked about.

Well, New Zealand is another case. The food that I was obligated to buy (through the meal plan) that I now force myself to eat every night is horrible. H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E.  Part of it may be that I never thought I would be going back to eating dorm food- but here I am standing in line for ever (sometimes up to 45 minutes) to get a horrendous meal that I then have to choke down while the freshmen around me throw bread rolls at each other (I don’t know why they waste the bread rolls- it’s the only consistently edible thing in that cafeteria).

When you finally get to the front of the line- you have to hand the lady your card and grab a plate. The first section you get to choose a drink: water or juice. The juice isn’t even real juice- it’s a powdered juice that varies in strength from day to day depending on who makes it. One of the head ladies once told me to make sure I get the juice that day because she made it, therefore it was actually good. I declined to comment on that one.

Next, you get a choice of salads. Often there is one lettuce salad and either two potato salads OR two pasta salads to choose from. I say lettuce salad because it quite literally is just lettuce…and carrot shavings (on lucky days there is a tomato cube in there). There is no salad dressing- that would be found in the foreign food isle of the expensive grocery store in town- good luck. And, if there is a choice of potato salads, the potatoes are never completely cooked. Never. They are hard- borderline crunchy on most days. Finally, if you have a choice of pasta salads, they are usually covered with so much pepper, it’s hard to eat (I’m thinking they must have gotten a complaint for lack of spice in their food and this is how they responded).  So, what would you choose- lettuce, crunchy potatoes, or a scoop of pepper with some pasta on it? Next to the salads there are bread rolls- make sure you pick one of those up- it might save you an empty stomach when you go home (unless of course they run out of bread rolls and just put out slices of cheap bread…).

Next is your choice of veggies. I always get all the veggies, and often, I am sorry to say, I don’t eat them. First up is mushy green beans, under cooked cauliflower, or roasted potatoes- (are you keeping track of the potatoes?), none of these items have any salt on them (including the roasted veggies). Then, starches. If the potatoes aren’t with the veggies, they are with the starches (sometimes you can get potato salad as your salad, roasted potatoes for as your veggie, and mashed potatoes as your starch- I don’t make this stuff up). If you decide against another form of cooked potato- white rice is also available.

Liz and I have an ongoing joke about dinners now. We always say, “what do you think they have for dinner?” We always respond “Rice and sauce.” On days when we are feeling optimistic, we may respond “sauce and rice.” The truth is that you have a choice between two main dishes, and one of them is almost always a brothy sauce (often referred to as a “curry”) with some form of very over cooked meat and mushy vegetables in it. Whether it’s chicken, lamb, or beef, the sauce always tastes about the same. The other choice is often a chicken wing, another form of sauce, or a slice of pork or ham that is more fat than meat. Is your tummy grumbling yet? Even worse is- you don’t get to serve yourself- it is downright good luck if you end up with a good piece of meat…or a good anything in this dinner line- it has nothing to do with those awesome buffet skills acquired while growing up in America- in New Zealand at Massy University it’s all about your place in line and the kindness of the server.

Dessert is usually good, although nothing like what we whip up in the states. Most of the time there is a base cake and it is covered in a creamy custard. Funny enough- it is rare to find cake here with frosting, and the ones I did find were called “Texas Muffins”. I’m still not sure what to make of that. Twice I have seen them serve American pancakes (tiny bite sized ones) with berries and cream. I have been asked if Maple syrup is a real thing. No joke. Sometimes you also get the choice of melted ice cream to go with your meal! But, if you are not there in the first hour of the dinner service- dessert is already gone (the dinner service is only 2 hours).

I read an article the other day that was called “Top 10 foods Americans Miss Most When They Go Abroad”. I found the list to be extremely accurate. Number one was Mexican food. What I would not do for a good burrito right now…  A can of refried beans here costs $5.09. I know; I bought two. I dream about having gourmet nachos for lunch, but even regular corn chips are hard to find, and tortillas are in the foreign food section (since when?). One day in the cafeteria, the server asked me if I wanted nachos or chicken- not chicken nachos- nachos or chicken. I got nachos, which I guess is the code for chili beans (not refried) on chips. No cheese, no meat, no sour cream, no avocado, tomatoes, no salsa; nothing but chili beans and chips. Yum. At least they had something other than rice and sauce.

Pizza was another thing that people miss. In New Zealand, I can see why. The last time I got pizza, I opened the lid and it smelled very funny…I am still not sure what the source of that distinct funny smell was…and, the pizza was not what I would call pizza. It was covered in a sweet chili sauce that kiwis seem to use in the same way that Americans use ranch dressing. When I bit into it, I discovered not only did it smell funny, but it was soggy, and honestly, just tasted vile. I was tempted to order a Round Table pizza from California to show them what pizza is  supposed to look like, smell like, and taste like…but I think by the time it got here they magic of the pizza would have worn off. Oh well, when I get home, I am expecting someone to take me out for good pizza. It’s funny though, I don’t even like pizza that much!

On that list there was also free ketchup- but I think that is not accurate- just ketchup in general is hard to come by, and Americans will moan and groan about it all day long. Oh, and cereal. A regular box of cereal here (like corn flakes) will cost you 6 dollars…on sale. Ice was another top runner- and it’s true- I have not had a drink with ice in a long time, but I don’t really miss that one. However, I do miss soda. Here, drinking soda can be an expensive habit- a 20 oz. bottle of Diet Coke is $4.00. Now I only get it as a treat…usually for long study nights (better than Redbull, right?). But I guess soda is supposed to be only a treat anyway- so I can let that one go.  Another thing that not on the list was cherries- today when I was in the grocery store one kilogram of cherries was $29.00- product of the USA. I skipped that purchase, but I do enjoy my occasional bowl of cherries.

Anyway- onto more interesting things.

Ready to hear about my worst meal? It was so bad I can actually remember it. Think about it- can you remember the worst meal you ever had? It’s hard. I know that I hate split pea soup, but I don’t remember at what meal I decided that… There was always something good in my mom’s meals that event of finding a food I truly do not like did not leave a lasting impression in my mind- because the other elements of the meal I loved. Well- now I know- if anyone ever asked me what my worst meal is I can say “Calamari Stir-fry with Assorted Salads.” It smelled and tasted like bad seafood. I knew the moment I got it that I had made a very bad decision. When I opened my to-go box, I took one small bite and threw it all in the trash, and just ate dessert for dinner that night. Not even the salads could be saved because the flavor got into them as well- and the bread roll that saved me on so many nights from an empty stomach,  had soaked up some of the nauseating juice the stir fry was cooked in. Never again.*cringe*.

A close second was the “Lamb Stroganoff.” That was a joke. The night before they had served Cream of Mushroom soup  and apparently they had tons of leftovers (ya think?). The next day, they cooked some lamb and put it in the soup and called it Stroganoff. I love my dad’s stroganoff, and even though this meal looked rather grey in color, I had to try it. I was even excited for it. I haven’t had Stroganoff in ages. But, if I thought that taste of my Dad’s Stroganoff was going to come back to me, I was sadly mistaken. That meal was a disaster. It didn’t even come on noodles,  it came on rice (rice with sauce), and under the natural light- it was a color of grey that I have never seen in food before, and a color I don’t think food is mean to be….like the color of cement…or dirty grey sweatpants. Yuck. Kind of tasted like it too. I think I took 4-5 bites of that one before I decided it wasn’t edible.  Needless to say, I still haven’t had Stroganoff in ages.

Despite 90% of the food being something less than what I have grown up with and what I have been accustomed to, some of it is good. Every day at lunch, they sell “Wedges” (what we call home fries) with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. It may sound weird, but it’s great. I now limit myself to one order a week- always on Friday afternoons before my last physics class of the week- it’s the only way I can get myself to sit in a physics lecture on a Friday afternoon.

The yogurt is also to die for. I don’t think Americans understand how good a natural, full fat, yogurt can be. It’s fantastic.  I have to buy the small containers, otherwise I will eat the large one with 8 servings in 2 sittings. I have also found a candy bar that is incredible- Moro bars. They are like a twix bar, but with more caramel and covered in better chocolate.

Needless to day- these few things have made up most of my diet, and I sometimes I feel like I am hungry for weeks at a time- occasionally getting a good meal in for my lunch. It would be fine if I was getting skinny- but….I don’t think that’s the case- too much studying can do that to you. I told my mom once that the problem with studying is that it makes you fat- she told me I better not be using that as an excuse to stop.

Anyway, sorry about the length of the post. One should not to get me started on food haha. Hmmm, maybe it’s not the studying….See you all in five weeks! I am already planning a grand feast!

If you want to read that top 10 food article here you go! http://www.cnngo.com/explorations/eat/best-usa-travel/10-foods-and-beverages-americans-miss-most-while-abroad-164890

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6 Showers Left

In International Student Hostel II, life can be a little….ghetto. Our water goes out often, the power goes out every once in a while, the Internet works maybe 50% of the time, and things are generally pretty broken down.
Coming here, I didn’t really care that parts of our roofing were falling off, and that all the bathrooms had their own quirks in terms of what showers and toilets worked and which were a little sketch. The fact that the communal fridges didn’t get as cold as they should, or not work all together, seemed to be no big deal. Sometimes, the hot plates  in the kitchen shocked us, but that really was just a matter of learning with ones to use and which ones to leave alone.
It also seemed like every student’s room had its own personality. In my room the dresser doors are not attached to the dresser, but merely resting against it. The surfaces of my desk and end table are covered with a tacky picnic style plastic to mask all the scratches and moisture damage. Other rooms have ceiling fans that shake a scary amount if you turned on too high, and others have outlets that don’t work.
That is life in International Student Hostel II. We can rough it. No big deal. On the other hand, life in International Student Hostel I seems to be a little up town. It’s newer, and therefore the facilities are a little nicer, the roofing is not falling apart and the appliances are all in working order. They have an Internet Café, too, so when the Internet goes out- the guy working in the cafe actually believes it’s not working and it gets fixed the same day!  Every time we go tell him that it’s not working in ISH II he responds by explaining that it is working and we need to go try it again.  How stupid does he think we are? We now call the repair guy ourselves with our own cell phones. ISH I also has a little shop on the bottom level that sells things that are relatively hard to get ahold of other places and a café that has a coffee machine. The water rarely goes out, and their power tends to stay on. Life on the other side seems luxurious.
However, none of that really matters, much, until the water goes out. When we have no water, everyone suddenly gets resentful of the rich kids (they aren’t really any richer than we are, they just have access to things we don’t). Why do they get to have consistent, reliable running water when we don’t? I feel like a 4 year old asking why I can’t have a candy too. Luckily- we are able to walk to the other hostel and take a shower there when our water is out.
The problem is that as we are nearing the end of the semester we lose water regularly to the point that we can predict exactly when it will go out. We have multiple theories as to why it goes out (water shortage, bad infrastructure, etc.). At the end of October, we lost it every Friday night ( I would not recommend walking into the bathrooms any time after Saturday morning) and it would not come back on until Monday morning. ISH I always had water though- yay for them. Well now that we are nearing the end of November we have water less than half the time. Monday and Tuesday are our water days which means Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we don’t have showers, running water to wash hands or brush teeth, or toilets that flush. Gross.
The worst part is that the porters will not tell us anything. At first, we would ask them when the water would come back on, and they claimed they never knew and brushed us off. However, everyone always got the feeling that they just won’t talk to us. Well, Mie and I have a new theory. We think they are asked NOT to tell the international students when the water will go out. Here’s why we think that: It started to become apparent that the Ghanaian students knew what days and times the water would be out! They would fill their buckets with water from the tank downstairs before that too, ran out of water- and it was only on days before the water goes out. A little suspicious right? Well then yesterday, I was walking out when a porter was telling a Ghanaian student to fill her bucket with water in case we run out of water. When the Ghanaian student left, I turned to the porter and said, “Is the water going to go out again?” and she assured me that “oh no, the water is NOT going to go out- don’t worry- I just told her to fill her bucket because the reserve tank has hardly any water in it.” “Hmmm” I thought, “We are not going to have water tomorrow.” Low and behold, it is Wednesday so the water is out. Fabulous. The porter lied about having water, and told the truth about there being no water in the reserve tank. It is now very apparent to me that they do know exactly when the water will go out and they relay it to the Ghanaian students, but the international students are left in the dark.  Great; and I can’t even get a bucket of water for a bucket shower.
Well, now ISH I doesn’t have water either. So that means no showers, no toilets, no brushing teeth, no washing faces until the water comes back on (unless you do it with bottled water and in your own room, which you have to do because the bathrooms smell so bad).

Mie said she finally understands what it means to be in a developing country- and I am no longer able to use the number of showers I have to take as a means to count down the days I have left. 21 days. And if the water stays in the same pattern it is now- that means I have 6 days left of running water. 6 showers. I feel sorry for the person who has to sit next to me on the plane.

   

 

 

Most days, I wake up ready to take on Africa. I wake up knowing nothing will happen that I can’t handle.  I know I will most likely learn something new. All I have to do is roll with the punches, not lose confidence, keep a strong head on my shoulders, and keep thinking that I can do anything and that nothing will get the better of me.

Well, today I was a bit…tired…borderline cynical…OK, full blown cynical. I had a dream that I went home, and really really missed Ghana, but when I woke up…I couldn’t remember what I would miss . On a regular day, I can give you multiple reasons why I would miss Ghana, but today, the gloomiest of all my days so far, I had some trouble.

Reason #1
I am tired of public transportation.

Every time I get in a tro-tro I find myself wondering how, and if, the tro -tro is going to make it to the next stop. The doors take a good amount of force to shut, and when they do shut, the whole tro-0tro shudders. The seats sway back and forth when the tro- tro brakes or speeds up. Tro-tros are always braking or speeding up. They are a  little smelly, OK…I’ll say it, they stink.  And they’re hot.  On top of this, you have to fight for a  seat!  Have you ever fought for a seat on hot, smelly, shaky public transportation that you are 90% sure is not going to make it to your destination without breaking down?

There are options though.  There are taxis.  They are more expensive than tro-tros, of course. Plus, there are no street names, no GPS, and no big landmarks to help the drivers. If you are going someplace obscure (or not so obscure-such as returning to the University of Accra) you kind of have to know where you are going, so you can direct the taxi driver on how to get there (and back). I would not recommend trying to get to the Embassy of Benin by taxi.  That’s what I had to do today. The taxi driver didn’t know where it was.  I didn’t either, but I had the address from the embassy’s Internet page.  The Embassy of Benin had the wrong address listed…

My mom told me told me to look at the  situation and ask myself, “What can I learn from this?” Well, I was being cynical and responded, “When I am lost, when it’s 95 degrees outside with 97% humidity, in a taxi with a driver that speaks very little English, and I am under a time constraint…I’m not really looking to learn anything.”

Maybe tomorrow there will be something new to learn.  Not today though. Today I am totally frustrated.

Reason #2
I am a  done with eating rice and beans, and fried chicken.

I’m sick of joloff rice, I’m sick watche (rice and beans together). I can’t bring myself to eat any more red-red (beans-similar to refried), and I never really liked fried chicken in the first place. No more! I want sushi, and pasta, and Indian food, and huge salads, all of which are very expensive in Ghana. I could buy dinner for a month for the price of one meal of sushi, or pasta or a salad. My mom said “Go get some then! Then go back to the Ghana diet.” Honestly, I think that’s what started this issue.

Weeks ago, my mom asked me what food I wanted when I got home. I told her that honestly, I have forgotten what food tastes like. I don’t really remember the things I used to love. I was telling the truth. I was totally happy with fried rice and spicy sauce. Yumm.

Well, then, the next week, I had sushi. And pasta. And Indian food. And salad. I remember what food tastes like now, and all I want are big expensive meals, without rice, beans or fried chicken. Humph.

Reason #3
At first, I was adjusting well to “Ghana time”. Fifteen minutes behind schedule? Nooo worries. But now, I just want to get things moving!

I went to lab today, and after 30 minutes, I started drawing the specimens because, let’s face it, I have other things I to do (like getting a taxi and going to the Embassy of Benin). Cynical moment, I tell you! Well,  I got into trouble for starting to draw!  I was informed I was not allowed to start the lab before we do the “pre-lab”.  Together.  “What’s the pre-lab?” you ask? The lab assistant reads the questions out loud!  Great. Helpful.  Good use of class time, don’t you think?  I had already read the lab questions, by myself, to myself (while waiting for the lab assistant to arrive on “Ghana time”!  So, why did I need to waste an additional thirty more minutes while the lab assistant read the questions out loud?

I could have spent that time ordering more rice and beans and fantasizing about sushi. Or looking up the wrong address of the Embassy of Benin on the Internet.

Reason #4
Being stared at is getting old.

When people stare at me on campus, I want to let them know, that I, and many other obrunis very much like myself, have been on campus for 2 ½ months so, “Why are you still gawking at me?”  Of course, the feeling intensified today because I was already irritated.  Honestly, who wants people staring at them when they are in a bad mood?

It’s amazing how much attention I get. One guy (who looked homeless) asked me if I wanted to have his baby, like he would be doing me a great kindness! Another guy ran after me with a cell phone, trying to get a picture of my hair. Others see me and Mie walking around and scream out the window “Obruni, let me take you somewhere! I will drop you off!!” Once I timed the number of honks, only honks, I got in 10 minutes.  Each individual car (no matter how many honks from that particular car) counted as one.  TEN! Ten in ten minutes.  Don’t tell me that’s not annoying.  You multiply that out by 2 1/2 months and a minimum of four walked miles a day.

Hmmm…maybe when I get back I will miss being a center of attention.

Reason #5
I stopped reading Harry Potter and went to swim practice only to find out it was canceled. Ghana should know better than to interrupt my quality Harry Potter time for nothing!

The coaches told me to come back at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning.  That did nothing to lift my mood either.

I’m hot, fantasizing about food, wasting time on “Ghana time”, harassed…and now Harry Potter is involved. This just got serious.

That’s all I’m saying.

I’m going to go take a cold shower now. Only forty-nine to go. If the water holds out.

Frogs

WARNING:  ADVISORY!  Subject matter may be disturbing.  My mother has refused to read this…(but she’s fully in support of my actions).

Me being mad. No, that is not a frog in my hand. (It's a lime.)

Physiology was the last place I wanted to spend my Friday morning. Class was supposed to start at 8:30, and by 8:45, we finally got rolling. I don’t know why, but it was all I could do to stop myself from laughing. It was Friday, early in the morning, the air in the classroom was so still that it was suffocating, we started late again, the guy in front of me smelled rather ripe, and I was tired. Why I thought it was so funny was beyond me- but I was in a really truly great mood. That is, until I had to go to the practical that followed.

I walked in, and the first thing we did was check our grades from the previous labs. I got 24/50…not as bad as 9 3/4 out of 25…but still not even close to passing.

Then, I started reading the procedure for the day’s lab. To me it sounded like animal cruelty at its finest. If you have a squirmy stomach- please do not feel the need to keep reading.

Step One: Trap a slightly anesthetized toad on a cork board.

My first thought was; we are doing experiments on live animals? I don’t know if I am going to be able to do this.

Step Two: Pin the food at opposite poles of the hole so as to stretch the web.

That is when the lab assistants started talking. They told us that we had to actually knock out the frogs ourselves by doing one of two things; either hit it really hard across the head, or hit its head really hard on the table so it passes out. But- don’t kill it, the blood needs to be pumping so you can observe the arterioles, capillaries, and venules.

That was when I decided to walk out. I am not about to knock out anything by slamming it against something, and then pin it to a board. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy I am not going to do it to a frog. The worse part was that the experiment didn’t stop there. After the frog was pinned to the board, and we had drawn what we needed to, we then had to apply different drugs to the frog to see how it reacted.

I felt like this was the equivalent of knocking a person out by hitting them over the head with a frying pan, sticking a nail through their foot to pin them to a wall, observing their inners, and then putting heroine in their arm to see how they react. That to me sounds a lot like torture. No, I absolutely refuse to be a part of this lab.

It was animal cruelty at its finest. I understand the need to do tests on live animals I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I understand that we can learn a lot from it. However, in a lab at this level, I felt it was completely unnecessary. There are much more humane ways to observe a frog than by hitting it against a table. A video online for instance would be a good start.

The other thing I have trouble comprehending, was that everyone else seemed to be ok with this lab. They all stayed, and the only thing that made everyone else squirm was the fact that they had to touch the frog. Just remembering the noise the frogs were making makes my insides twist more than the idea of touching a frog.

I decided the best way to spend the rest of my morning would be to watch Disney’s the Princess and the Frog. It did after all, have frogs in it, and everyone is relatively nice to each other in the movie.

After, when I felt that the frogs could still live happily ever after, I picked up my lab notebook again, and started researching humane ways to complete this lab. When the due date comes, I will be turning in a list of reasons why I felt this lab was wrong, as well as what could be done to make it better. I will keep you updated on the grade and feedback my report receives.

The 11th Minute

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?

My First Lab Practical

The Library Building at the University of Ghana

So, in case you were all wondering- my professors did end up coming to class on the second week of school. Here, the original time tables, the published ones, are not necessarily  permanent, so several of my classes changed times. Wonderful. Now, I have labs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That means no weekend trips and no mid week trips. Fabulous. Then, I went to my Tuesday night class (5:30-6:30) and my professor said the time was “quite ungodly”- I was about to agree, because I really do not like evening classes- but then he changed it to 7:30am. That, in my book, is the most ungodly time I have ever heard. It takes me a half hour to walk to class, so that mean I have a cold shower at 6:00am on Wednesday mornings. My mom told me to look for the good in every situation. I’m still looking…

Lecture Theater Two, where all of my classes are held

Since it’s the third week of school, labs have finally begun. They are unlike any lab I have ever been to. I am currently enrolled in “Comparative Animal Physiology”, and we are studying the digestive system. When I walked into lab, I saw two men with chickens outside, and I didn’t think anything of it. Then 15 minutes later, the same two men walked in with now dead, freshly dissected, defeathered chickens. Wow. When I looked around the room, there were also freshly dissected rats, fish, and bunnies (one of them even had a full bladder). This was new.

The Zoology Department, two weeks before the chicken massacre.

The other thing about classes at the university of Ghana is, you always have to bring money with you. They make copies of books and manuals so often, and you have to pay for the copies of everything, as having your own textbook is seen as being much too expensive. My lab manual was 5 cedi. When I looked to see what we were doing for the day (the introduction was “please take this lab seriously”), it was all drawing. At home, we do draw, but not much.  Here,  we draw for a full three hours- and everything is so particular.

Being an obruni, I made the mistake of bringing only pens. I have never been told so many times that I am supposed to be using pencil. I won’t be making that mistake again. I also now know I am not allowed to shade anything, everything must be done with uniform darkness, I must write the title in a specific order, first letter capitalized, but not all the letters, underline with a ruler, label with a ruler, write the magnification on the lower right hand side of the picture. Oh my goodness- I am not sure what my grades are going to look like.

After we finished drawing the freshly dissected specimens, we were lead to microscopes. For fifty students they had 4 microscopes, and we all had to draw what we saw in each one. It took forever. Overall, I am not quite sure what to say about the lab. The specimens were interesting. I am glad I have a strong stomach…and I tried not to think about the animals too much. However, all the drawing!  We weren’t even told what exactly we were supposed to label.  Basically, it was a free-for all, and we all had to push and shove to get a good view of the specimens.  Four microscopes shared between fifty students doesn’t leave much elbow room. I kind of miss my Chem labs back home- never thought I would say that.

Home Sweet Home, a 30 minute walk from class in 100% humidity.

Mosquito netting is held up with Duct Tape brought from US.

Internet has been down for a week at a time.

My bathroom.

Not only is there not any hot water, ever. There’s not even a hot water TAP!

View from my front door.

The Night Market (but it’s not open at night, so I don’t  know why it is called the “night” market) next to my dorm.

I have found a lady who bakes cookies and cooks dinner.  I often buy breakfast and dinner from her, and I haven’t gotten sick! (I think she is the only lady in Ghana who cooks with vegetables, so I consider myself very fortunate to have found her.)