Tag Archive: Labs at the University of Ghana


Superglue Situations

At home, I often find myself in what my friends and I call “sticky situations”. I have three problems; the first is that my flirting skills are about as good as my running skills. Awkward and slow. It seems I can only flirt when I am unaware that I am flirting. The second problem is; I am oblivious to others flirting with me. It’s not until the situation gets real “sticky” (aka uncomfortable) that I start to realize I may have lead this person on…and I have no intention with following through with anything that they may have in mind. Alyssa has come to my rescue on more than one occasion. My third problem is; those sticky situations tend to only happen with people I have no interest in. Oh, make that four problems;  when I see someone I am attracted to I stutter and say awkward things and just like when I run, I get nowhere.

Well, there is the rare occasion that I can foresee the potential for a sticky situation to occur, and I am able to turn around and walk the other direction. My friends are much better at recognizing these situations than I am, but nonetheless, there are some occasions when even I, Oblivious Abby, see it’s time to turn around.

A couple months back, a professor asked me and my friend Svenja to join him and a group of biology professors for drinks on a Friday night. We looked at each other, made a silent agreement, and then turned to our professor and told him we would be happy to join them. Walking away we thought, “WOW…Did we just get a date with the biology department?”. I couldn’t do that in America (despite how hard I try). So, off we went, the two of us to have drinks with the professors. I don’t usually drink, but I thought it would be that much funnier if I had a beer- so Svenja and I both ordered one.

Well awkward would be one way to describe our date. First, we met the dean of students. That was scary. Then, conversation did not flow very well, and there was definitely a cultural barrier that made certain topics a little bit uncomfortable to talk about (like religion and gay marriage) which the professors insisted in perusing. When Svenja and I finally finished our drink, we thanked everyone and walked away, agreeing that we had no intention getting drinks with the professors again, but also agreeing that in 10 years, we could make that story out to be hilarious.

That brings us to today. Sticky. Svenja and I are the only two foreign students in the class, so we stand out. Today was our last lecture, and Svenja was traveling, so I went all by myself –which in itself is quite an accomplishment because usually I can’t do anything myself (aside from getting on a plane and flying to Africa).  When it comes to getting lunch or walking to the campus post office, I am always in need of partner. I decided, while sitting there, that Svenja is the only thing that helped me survive that class. I could not have done it without her, I would have stopped showing up long ago. Although, after what happened, I don’t think I will go anywhere near the department, with OR without her, again.

Finally, the lecture was done. I am done with classes in Ghana. My mood is ecstatic. No more 5 hour classes ever. EVER. Then I heard my professor call out my name. I turned around and he asked me if I was traveling this weekend. Usually, I say yes, in fear of being asked out for drinks again, but today, my mood and the prospect of never having another droning lecture prompted me to tell the truth “No, I’m not traveling.” Oops. I knew I shouldn’t have said it the moment it happened. He asked me to go and have a drink. We were supposed to meet at five.

The rest of the day, I had a sticky feeling growing in the back of my mind. I did not want to go get a beer with my professor. Not without Svenja. I contemplated asking a friend to come with me, but then I thought, is that rude in Ghanaian culture? Can you bring extra guests when someone invites you somewhere? No, it would be better to just skip it. It took me about 2 hours to figure out a believable excuse as to why I could not be at the bar. My plan was to go back to the hostel, send an email that said, “I am so sorry I was not able to come by today, a friend of mine got sick and asked if I would accompany her to the hospital so she could get tested for Malaria.” So simple. So easy. So believable. Problem solved.

Except that on my way back I ran into him (luckily, I had not sent my lying email yet). He said we could just walk to the bar together. Sticky sticky sticky. Ok, plan B, I will tell him I have to be somewhere in 45 minutes- so one quick drink, no harm done. At this point, all I could think was that I had better get an A in this class.

First, he told me a little about his family. He has a daughter that is 1 ½ and he is married to a nice woman in Accra. I almost thought that the evening would be ok- which is what I always think and how I get myself into these sticky situations.

He then asked me “What is the obsession with Americans and big houses and big cars?” I responded, “I don’t know. I suppose it’s the bigger is better philosophy.” He then responded “You know, Ghanaians have one thing that is always bigger.”

Sticky.

I picked up my drink, started to gulp it down rather quickly so I could make a fast escape without appearing rude, and before this situation could turn to superglue. He then asked me what my plans were for my life, family wise. I responded “I am not quite sure. I don’t see myself getting married or having kids any time soon- I want to see the world first.” He then told me I was crazy, and continued on to tell me about how polygamy is accepted in Ghana, and he was curious about what my views were.

Sticky. How fast can I drink my beer?

Ok, fast forward 15 minutes….to where it gets to be like super glue.

My professor said “I was wondering if I was to come spend the night at your hostel sometime- how would you feel about that?” I said “I would feel weird about that.” My beer is almost gone. Gulp gulp gulp.

He asked “What is weird, what does that mean?”

I said “Abnormal, uncomfortable, strange.”

“Why would it be weird?”

“Well, I have never had a professor ask if he can spend the night before.”

This is a superglue type of situation we have here.

“Oh, drop the professor, I am just a Ghanaian friend asking to visit you.”

Ok, beer finished.

“Umm, we’re not allowed to have overnight guests. Sorry.” (All manners forgotten. My escape plan ready…)

“Oh that’s ok, I will just pay the people at the front, and I can come visit you.”

“Uh, I am really sorry, I have to go. I am meeting my friends in front of the hostel in 5 minutes. Thanks for the drink.” (I stand up….)

“Ok have a good time. I will stop by the hostel on December 12 and stay that night and the night of the 13th– that way you can have some crazy nights before you leave.”

“I will have to check- I think I might be traveling. Thanks again!”

“Oh no no no” he says to me, “Block those dates out- don’t travel!  I’ll see you on the 12th.”

After I skedaddling out of there rather quickly, I then just wanted to laugh. How could this horrible awful class that I dread going to two times a week, get any worse? I thought it was over!  Just yesterday I was saying that I missed getting positive male attention however I got a little more than I bargained for today. Mie said she can’t wait to look attractive again…yet I am feeling a bit too attractive at the moment. Yikes. Awkward. Sticky. Sticky. Sticky. Superglue. What do I do? Call my mom of course.

Oops. I kinda freaked her out too. Again. Oops.

Ok, time to run and tell Mie…and everyone else. They all looked at me wide-eyed and couldn’t believe it. Then Mie agreed to be “hit by a car” so that I could “spend a couple nights at the hospital with her” on the nights currently in question.

I definitely did not wake up this morning thinking this would how my day would turn out. Now I’ll have to see how my grade turns out.

But hey- when I am out of the Ghana,  I ‘ll be stoked to have a funny superglue type of story to tell.

Just in case you are wondering, I do not have any pictures to post with this blog.

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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.

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.)