Tag Archive: Study abroad with USAC


Dream

As a part of the requirements for graduating (from my home university), every student must take a writing proficiency test and course. Last year, since my advisor told me to get it over with, I took the test. The prompt I was given was probably one of the most interesting prompts I have ever had, one that I continue to look back on and think about. It was simply; “Describe or talk about a minor incident that turned into a defining moment in your life”.

When I was in fifth grade I visited my Dad on three day weekends at his apartment in Citrus Heights. He spoiled us: buying sugar cereals we were never allowed at home, Chef Boy-ar-dee, a rare luxury, and always a can of chunky clam chowder for me because that was my favorite. As part of spending quality time together, we always rented a couple movies and played monopoly at the kitchen table. One of the movies we rented was “Mary-Kate and Ashley: Passport to Paris”. That was the minor incident.

It was that weekend that I decided I was going to go to Paris. Funny enough, I used to get homesick when I was at my dad’s house, but I still wanted to leave the country and get as far away from home as I could. I also knew that day was a long way away, but it lo-and-behold, I could not stop thinking about Paris, and it became somewhat of a dream.

During that same year, my sister’s friends were studying abroad in England. I thought that was one of the coolest things I had ever heard, and soon my dream developed. Study abroad; that was how I was going to get to Paris! That dream grew and expanded as my teacher, Mr. Park, told us that we should all, one day, travel alone- go to another country, see who we meet, and be independent. Well, the alone part scared me, but the seeing a new country part I found intriguing. I knew in fifth grade that I was going to leave home when I got to college.

In middle school, I got the opportunity to go to Costa Rica. I had opened up my first bank account when I was little when I had asked Santa for my life savings for Christmas, and got it. On Christmas morning, I opened a gold box and inside was one hundred, $1 bills. I started saving. I didn’t know for what- but by the time I was 12 years old, I had $730 dollars in my account. A couple of science teachers, Miss Carter and Miss Rivers, who taught at my school decided to take a group of twenty students to Costa Rica for a summer trip; 10 days long. When I heard about it, I lit up inside. I don’t ever remember being so excited for anything in my life up to that point. I went home and told my mom about the sea turtles, the white water rafting and the zip-lining over the rainforest. San Jose, California, to San Jose Costa Rica- what an opportunity. The only snag was that the trip cost over $2000. I only had $730. When I mentioned the price to my mom- she smiled and said “Abby, you’ve sold me on this trip- we’ll find a way to get you to Costa Rica.” I don’t think that spark of light in my heart ever went away. Through a little bit of hard work and determination, my mom and my dad and I were able to get me on that plane. That was when my dream changed. I wasn’t just going to go to and see Paris someday, I was going to go and see the world.

That idea of being a world traveler never left. I took every school trip I could, and traveled with the water polo team as much as possible. I told my mom once that I was going to study abroad; she asked me where I would spend that one semester if given the chance. One semester? Mom, I am going for a year. I told her like it was obvious- like one semester was hardly an option. When I got to senior year of high school, with Paris in mind, I only applied to schools that had a study abroad program on campus. That was the deciding factor for me. Not location, not class ratings, or what major programs they had, and not student population. Study abroad. I was going to do it.

When I got to college- the excitement put my dream on the backburner for a bit. I had hardly thought about study abroad at all- even though it had frequented my thoughts all through middle and high school. However, during my first winter term, I was waiting outside of and English class when I noticed a wall full of study abroad pamphlets- all for different countries, I took one of each- there were 27. I could not tell you what happened in class that day, but I can tell you that when I read the brochure on France, my heart fell. You needed to have 2 years of French in order to qualify for the program. My school didn’t offer French. However, there was another pamphlet in the stack that caught my attention in a very subtle but lingering way; Ghana. For weeks I tried to find summer courses at Junior Colleges where I could learn some French and qualify for the French program. No luck. French professors are hard to find, so French classes are hard to find. However, far from being heartbroken, my dream shifted; somewhere in my frustrating search for French classes, I became more and more drawn to and set on Ghana. Not France.

What was it about Ghana that caught my attention? My mom had a friend that was from Ghana, and she had given Hannah some really cool designer evening gowns. I liked her, and I loved hanging out with their family when I was little. Ghana was a country that I had heard of, and even if it was distant, I had some kind of connection to it. All of a sudden, Ghana was all I could think about. I read the program description about power sometimes being out, Malaria being somewhat of a problem, and personal theft being more likely there than in other countries, and I was sold. ‘What an adventure,’ I thought. Ghana would be drastically different than the states; when would I ever have a chance to immerse myself in a culture for such a long time? When would I ever have an opportunity like “Ghana” again? The “extremely different lifestyle than in the states” clause got my heart pumping, fast.

However, the “alone” part of the trip started to sink in. I had never traveled alone. I was scared to take local transportation alone…what would I do in Africa alone? The alone part scared me when I was 10- the alone part was still just as scary to a college sophomore. I tried to get my friends to apply with me-but they decided against it for various reasons. The being gone part was starting to scare me too. Zade hadn’t been born all that long ago; I was going to miss him so much. And my new college friends; what if they didn’t like me when I got home- I couldn’t fathom losing them- especially on top of losing Zade who would surely forget me. Suddenly, this dream that had been developing since I was 10 was starting to frighten me, more than I could have foreseen. Was this really what I wanted?

I am lucky to have the Mom that I do. She told me to just do it. To stop being ridiculous. Go ahead and apply, She and Zade, and all of my friends will still be there when I got home, and that should be the least of my worries. There was no reason to pass up this opportunity for that. It still took me six months to fill out the application…for the semester program. My mom, being as wonderful as she is, said “Abby, why are you only going for a semester? Go for a year.”

This brought up even more questions. Zade would definitely forget me if I left for a year; there was only a chance that he would forget me if I left for a semester. My friends really wouldn’t want to hang out with me after I had been gone that long. What about Christmas? Thanksgiving? No, I know I said I would go for a year when I was younger- but I didn’t know what that really meant, and now I think it would be too long. Too much. Too…unbelievably scary. Then she told me to stop questioning everything- I of course would still be able to come home for Christmas; but leave while I still can.

After that, I started looking into a second semester in a different country. New Zealand sang to me in a different way than Ghana; I heard it was gorgeous, and friendly, and not to mention the number of extreme sports they have. I was sold once again. I was going to go to Ghana for the culture, and New Zealand for the adrenaline rush. Despite my wanting to become a world traveler, I did hold off on New Zealand for a while. I liked the idea of New Zealand, but gosh an entire year? Packing up and leaving for that long? That’s a long time.

When I finally got my acceptance for the Ghana program, I cried. The only other time I had cried out of happiness was when I held Zade for the first time. Not much can compare to that. But Ghana? Ghana almost did. I decided when I was 10 that I would study abroad, and now it was happening. I made it happen. It was the first long term dream that I ever had, and I acted on it. I worked for it. With my Mom’s help, I went against everything my head tried to tell me could go wrong, and followed my heart. My semester in Ghana was 10 years in the making.

At this point, I still didn’t know if New Zealand would ever happen. It wasn’t until I was in Ghana that I decided to actually apply- but whether I would get there was another matter. A whole year. It still weighed heavy on my mind. I loved Ghana, but it was so far away from home, and not just in distance. I questioned it- I told friends in Ghana about it. I am not lying when I say; the decision to go to New Zealand took just as much courage as the one to leave in the first place. When I got my acceptance to the New Zealand program- that spell of happiness went over me again; I wasn’t in tears- but I knew I had been given quite the opportunity. I bought my plane tickets about five minutes later. I was going. I really was going for a year.

Little did I know, the year of being abroad goes by really fast, and now will be up soon. I can’t believe that a year ago now I was sending in visa applications. I can’t believe I was nervous about leaving. My mom was right- Zade didn’t forget me. He ran right up to me and gave me a huge hug when I got off that first plane; and now, in New Zealand, he skypes me regularly. And my college friends- they were all there to welcome me home from Ghana, and Alyssa has made plans to come see me the night I get back from New Zealand. We’re going to live together next year. She still loves me.

This story, to me, kind of feels like a fairy tale. Maybe not one with a prince, and fancy balls, and horse drawn carriages; but, my dream came true- isn’t that what fairy tales are really about? Following your heart, and accomplishing its deepest desires? In the last year, I have been to 5 countries; 7 if you include airports, and 8 if you include the states. I have finally seen a small part of the world.  I even got my happy ending- going home to a family that still loves me, and friends that still want me. I will never again complain that I am not a part of a Disney fairy tale- because I’m living one, and it’s even better because it’s my own; and it is not by any means over. I still intend on making it to Paris; and a few other places as well.

The best part was; I was never alone. I may have boarded the plane alone, but my mom was still there; she still had my back. She would be there in an instant if I needed her. And there were times when I did need her; and she really was always there for me. I also made tons of friends who were there, and my home friends were just a click of the mouse away. It was silly to ever think I would be truly alone.

Today I leave. This chapter is over. This dream fulfilled, and it’s time for a new one. A part of me does not want it to end- who would? Its been a good dream. When I travel; I feel independent, I feel like I am a part of something important, I am learning more than school could ever teach me- and every step is a little less frightening and a little more inspiring.

My mom has suggested that I apply for an internship in Uganda, where I can write about the incredible women that were benefited by an organization called Bead for Life. The idea still scares me- but I am going to apply; and I am not sure a year ago, I would have believed that I had it in me. Now, I feel like this could be my new dream. My way to go back to Africa, and to be a part of something big. Something important. Something worthwhile. Something that could make a difference. But for now, I’m coming home.

I’m coming home.

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Memorable Moments

This is what we looked like at the end of our very long walk =), we ended up at a beach

In front of the science tower where I spend most of my time

At my desk inside my dorm at city. Notice not vomit stains, broken doors, or damaged windows… in my room at least.

About to go jump off bridge!

This trip went by a lot faster than Ghana did. I can’t decide if it is because the second half of a trip always feels faster than the first, or if New Zealand was so much less challenging than Ghana was so time just flew right by…there was no 11th minute to remind me that sometimes time can stop and frustrate me for a bit. Maybe it’s a mixture of both. Regardless, as it turns out, my year of study abroad is coming to an end- I have 2 full days left in good old Palmy. So, I think now would be the best time to share the most memorable moments that I have had here.

1. Traveling was not always smooth sailing. When we got to Christchurch, there were so many detours that we had to take, and closed roads that we had to avoid (because of the tragic earthquake) that we ended up walking a lot. A LOT. I am talking 8 hours of just walking, seeing the tragic sites of the city because we could not figure out the local buses. It was miserable. Our feet were covered in blisters, our legs were sore, we were hot, we were hungry (virtually all the restaurants were closed due to the quake), and we were lost, only to be surrounded with hopelessness and despair. At this point, I looked at Liz and said “Gosh, If I knew that this is what the day was going to be…..imagine if we were traveling with some real complainers.” Liz looked at me with pure frustration in her eyes, then shouted- with a voice like gravel “THIS IS FUN!” without a trace of a smile on her face, and quickly looked away like she was trying really hard to believe it. After that- the day really did seem fun.

2. The dorm I live in has….quite a reputation. We are the trouble makers. We are notorious for being the drunks, the partiers, and ultimately the ones that are going to end up dropping out in the first semester. However, I have been through my first year of college…and I am kind of past the point where I feel like I need to be a part of classic freshman stuff all over again. So, how I ended up here is beyond me. I keep getting charged for stuff like “carpet clean vomit stain”, “damaged window” and “broken down door” that no one has owned up to, but that I would obviously never have been a part of (if no one owns up to it, it becomes a communal charge). I would have moved, but this is the cheapest housing they offer (even after the damage charges), because the other halls can be double, so I chose to stick it out. Little did I know, that it could have ruined my one chance of a kiwi marriage…

True story! I was sitting in my microbiology lab, talking to a cute lab assistant who happened to also be doing the lab for me.  I really am a good student, I really do work hard, but when it comes to math…and there’s a cute lab assistant, who is really smart and is going to study at Oxford next semester, and who remembers my name, and who is asking questions about myself….yeah, he can do the lab for me while I sit and talk to him. Well, as it turns out, he is an RA for one of the other halls, and had seen me around. He asked if I lived on campus, and I promptly replied “Uh, yeah, I live in City.” He looked up from my nearly completed–but still unfinished–lab and said “OH GOD.” And then handed the lab back to me. I tried to promise him that I was one of the good ones, but…no luck. I was back to doing my own work again. All alone.

3. When I was working in the library on some homework, I noticed a flyer calling for female participants to do a nutrition study. They would give 3, $30 gift cards for a grocery store in return for our time. It would work out to about $10 an hour. Excellent I thought. A great way to get some extra money without doing anything that would earn me a rightful place among the other people living in my dorm. I told Liz about it, and together we went to the screening. I fit every single requirement they needed. All that was left was to take my height and weight. After that, I started filling out the final piece of paper work, and the lead tester walked in and told me I am not qualified. As it turns out, my BMI works out to my being obese. Not overweight, obese. Oh my god. So, that night Liz and I went to Burger King and shared a meal that came with two fries, two drinks, a Whopper and a Whopper Jr. I told her I could eat the whole thing by myself, there was no reason to share- I’m obese. Eventually, we just decided that I should be the one to eat the big Whopper instead. After that day, I did end up  joining a different study that paid more and was perfectly happy to have obese people as a part of their team. =D

4. Public transportation can be a great thing. Most of the time. However, it seems like most days, Liz and I are always late trying to catch a bus, and running to the stop last minute. One particular day, we were exiting the mall- running a bit late because I decided I absolutely needed some chocolate before we left. Low and behold, when we left the mall, our bus was already at the light at the intersection, the light after the stop that we normally get on the bus. So, we ran to the next stop as fast as we could, in hopes of making it there before the light turned green. Bags were flying everywhere, people were looking at us funny, and our hearts were beating fast. We made it. In fact we made it with time to spare. For someone who can’t run (probably be cause I am so obese) it was impressive, I must say. The light turned green and the bus came our way, we stepped forward bags all ready, bus card in our hand. The bus pulled over. And then the bus left. It left us standing with our arms out at the stop like the driver had not just seen us run to make the bus. That bus driver must have thought I was that obese girl who lives in City and breaks down doors for fun or else vomits all over the floor because I am having too much fun, and then asks other people to pay to clean it up. Why else would he have left? We laugh about it now…a little bit.

5. When we were in Queenstown, I finally got to try bungee jumping. I have been wanting to try bungee jumping ever since my 18th birthday when I went sky diving, and I have not had the chance until this trip. I was so pumped. I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I was smiling cracking jokes, laughing at the guide’s silly remarks that involved putting our harnesses on after they claimed they had never done a tandem jump before, and that if it worked out it would be really cool. Liz kept asking me how I could not be nervous. All I could say was- Liz this is going to be great.

Then I stepped up to the edge…and then I looked down. All of a sudden, all I could think was, “wait….you want me to do what?…you want me to jump…down there…?” It was so high. I don’t know if I will ever think of the phrase “Go jump off a bridge” the same again. I have a bad habit of not thinking these things all the way through- first, only imagining the plane before I went to West Africa, now jumping of a perfectly good bridge. Needless to say, I loved it.

Overall, New Zealand has been full of some pretty good laughs…and ok, maybe a few 11th minutes. But, I’m almost home now! Two more days!! Then I get to go back to reality. It really is kind of a bummer that it has to end so soon. If only I could work my way to getting a plane ticket for China. Humph. One day.

Living ‘Kiwi’ Style

I always tell my mom going to school here is exactly like going to school at home, just farther away. However, now that the end in nearing, I have realized that it hasn’t been exactly the same living here, just much closer to home than Ghana was. Gosh, I miss Ghana. Anyway, I thought, since my year abroad is coming to an end rather faster than I ever thought it would, I will write about how different New Zealand is.

1. On the first day of arrival, they told us shoes are optional. Not just on beaches and parks and pools, but inside cafeterias, grocery stores, and anywhere else you can think of. This isn’t just a summer thing either- It can be close to freezing here and pouring down rain, and I still see people running across the street with no shoes on. To think- I used to get in trouble for wearing sandals in the rain all the time. I think Zade would do well here.

2. Sometimes I think that kiwis are more California than Californians are. I mean, in the middle of winter, when I am bundled up and freezing with multiple layers, the guy next to me is shorts and a tank top…and bare feet- and that’s common. It’s not just one person- it’s loads of people. I have yet to see something like that in California.

3. The seasons are switched, so right now, June 19, 2012, it is the beginning of winter. To say the least, I am in full blown Christmas spirit. I want to drink hot chocolate, sit in front of the fire, and decorate Christmas cookies while watching Elf. It’s horrible to think that when I get home, I am going to be placing a chair over the air vent and then sitting in it, in hopes of staying  cool. My heart is in a totally different season. Liz told me that when Christmas does come around- there are hardly any houses with lights up, and it is not nearly as big of a holiday as in the states.

4. Men do not buy you drinks when you go out. I’m not still sure how I feel about that… I mean, I’m cute- buy me stuff. Just kidding. Sort of. How cute do I have to be to get someone to buy me Disneyland passes? Also- high heal shoes with a really really thin heal, are not necessarily catching on here- in fact many of the high heal shoes I have seen would be considered a bit “clunky” at home. However- I think they are brilliant- have you ever tried walking in shoes that have a tiny heal? That’s not to say thin heals are non existent- but you don’t have to wear them to be fashionable.

5. Textbooks here are not too expensive. I don’t mean they are cheap- but the only physically painful part about buying them is the walk home when you have to carry them all. And- they are all “International versions”. We aren’t usually allowed to use those at home….what’s the big difference anyway?

6.The concept of time is different here as well as it was in Ghana. Here, it’s more of a matter of “everything will get worked out in a matter of time.” I kind of like that- it’s much less stressful than having to solve something very quickly in the states. I think the concept of time is mirrored by the fact that automatic doors open very slowly here. Sometimes I have to stop and wait for it to open….I never even knew that was an option in the states.

7. Friday is not a “party” day. The real party days are Thursday and Saturday, on Fridays everyone stays home and watches movies, or else hangs out in the hall. Whoda thunk? Kind of smart I suppose- a day to recover, and then a day to do it all over again.

8. Then, even if the people in my hall are out to 4am, which I know they are because they always wake me up they walk in, they are up no later than 8:30am, which I know because they always wake me up when they walk out. I think on a day when I go to bed early, I’m not even up by then. Sometimes, when they wake up before 8, I want to remind them that they are not at their mother’s house, and that they can go back to sleep for as long as they want, and no one would know/care.

9. There are giant windmills here to generate electricity…and it’s an attraction. We have them in the states as well, but no one would drive up the hill just to see one. I have though. They really are bigger than they look.

10.People do not wear their PJs to class, or even in the hallway of the dorm. Can you imagine having to get dressed before you put toast in the toaster? I find it bizarre that not one college student I have seen here has worn Pajama pants and a sweatshirt to an 8am class. I guess that’s an American thing?

11. Movies here either come out before they do in the states, or months after. And, when you go and see a movie, the theater is not booming with noise like they do in the states- in fact the first time I went, I thought there was something wrong- but I guess kiwis just don’t like feeling their bodies shake because of the speakers during car chases and such.

12. We are living in the future. The time difference in 19 hours, or in the summer, 21 hours. Get this- my flight leaves at 6:55pm on Monday June 25th, and I arrive at 6:43pm on Monday June 25th. Seriously cool if you ask me. I am also still working on getting the winning lottery numbers, but no luck so far.

13. Hot dogs here are what we call corn dogs. If you want a traditional hot dog, it’s called an “American Hotdog”. And while on the subject of food, I have yet to see mayonnaise anywhere (thank goodness). Also- hamburgers traditionally come with a fried egg, and sandwiches almost always have hard boiled eggs in them. Turkey is also really expensive…it was in Ghana too- why is that?

14. Cake also takes on a new personality here. If you went to look for a tub of frosting in the grocery store, you would come out empty handed. Cakes are more often then not, smothered in a custard or topped with homemade whipped cream. If there is frosting- it’s icing, and tastes a lot like the royal icing that we decorate our gingerbread houses with.

15. Everyone drives on the other side of the road. It’s been 4 months and I still look the wrong way before I cross the street.

16. They don’t celebrate Christopher Columbus day- which is obvious, but there is a very similar holiday called “Anzac day”. From what I understand it celebrates the day that people first landed in New Zealand….and killed the native people, destroyed the environment, and made the country virtually unrecognizable. That was according to my physics professor at least- and he is pretty bitter in general- but to me it sounds a lot like the reasons why celebrate good ol’ Christopher Columbus.

17. Converse and Vans are considered brand names, which means they are outrageously expensive. I feel like all things are expensive here. I mean, a subway sandwich can cost $14.00. Plane tickets for getting around the country aren’t too bad though. I hope no one is expecting super ultra cool gifts when I get home….I am pretty broke from buying things like food.

18. There are a couple different vocabulary words that are used quite often:

  1. “Sweet as”= awesome often used in the context of “That’s sweet as bro”
  2. “Choice”= perfect, often used as “Man, that’s choice bro”
  3. “Papers”= classes. When I got here people asked me what papers I was taking, who my lecturer is and when my exams are. That translates to: What classes are you taking, who’s your professor, and when are you finals?

19 During “exams” they walk around the room with cell phone detectors, or at least I heard they do, to make sure that you don’t have a cell phone with you. I never actually saw one because I was preoccupied with explaining things like how your body combats a virus, but I kind of picture them like the metal detectors that people use on beaches and stuff- and I definitely never saw one of those.

20. The cop-resident culture is somewhat different here. For one- they don’t carry guns…but that’s pretty common I suppose. For another, the dogs that we use to sniff out drugs at home, are used to sniff out fruit here, or other invasive creatures. New Zealand is very protective of their natural habitat, and therefore, very strict on bringing foreign things into the country. My friend Liz told me that even the cop shows show dogs sniffing out “forbidden fruits”. When we went to Wellington to Zelandia (the sanctuary of a restoration project to turn the habitat back to its original state), they actually asked us to pat our bags to make sure there were no cats or rats that jumped out.

Overall, I did generally feel like I was going to school at home, just a bit farther away. There were no cold showers, obruni traps, and men still have hairy armpits. However, looking back, it’s been a fabulous year of differences, and I have truly enjoyed being a part of them. This won’t be my last post, but thanks everyone for sticking with me.

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

Save The Date

I promise to start talking about New Zealand in a minute, but for right now I have something really important to announce. Sometime, in the future (not necessarily soon), I will be having a wedding in New Zealand. I do not when it will be, or who the invitations will go out to, or who will be a part of the wedding party or what the budget is, nothing about the flowers, the cake, the colors…or who the groom will be is for that matter (although I’m thinking a kiwi…and I am not talking about the fruit), but I do know the location, and I ask that you save a date for sometime in the future,  so block out the calendar from now  until…further notice! (And start saving some money because plane tickets will be….uh a tad pricey.) Good news though, not only will this be a fabulous wedding- your presence, not presents, are all that is requested. (but,  *wink*- I do have my eye on a lime green food processor *wink wink*).

I promised my mom I would not come home from Ghana pregnant or married; a promise that honestly was not all that hard to keep. All I had to do was avoid my professor and boom- still single and as unpregnant as possible!  I think, it may be a bit trickier in New Zealand (not the pregnant part, just the marriage thing). As you know, I’m already thinking about weddings, and a guy at orientation said he authorized to preform ceremonies, and will do so for no charge he just wants an invite to the wedding reception. These are all signs of what is meant to be- am I right?

The first thing that gets you, about the kiwis, is the accent- and even more, all the kiwis make fun of how hard they are to understand. Never do they act like we are the idiots who speak funny and don’t listen very well.  I don’t know why, but everything a kiwi says seems so friendly and warm, and they all seem to have a touch of humor. All us foreigners (I almost said Obrunis, but then remembered where I was) are finding ourselves laughing when there is nothing to laugh at and smiling at every hello.  I’m pretty sure someone could scream a big “F*** you” and the smile wouldn’t move off my face because it was obviously meant in the friendliest, warmest, funniest way possible.   I have been warned me that it might take a couple weeks for me to be able to completely understand the accent, but I am hoping that my uh…understanding, won’t change anything I currently feel towards any and all kiwis (particularly male). Sometimes  I am more comfortable with them then I am with the Obruini…oh, shoot, foreigner, standing next to me.  I am  honestly in a dangerous “wedding bells” kind of situation.

It’s incredibly easy to talk to store clerks  like they are a long time friend- and the jokes just flow out.  A couple days ago, oh wait, that was just yesterday, I went to get a new phone situated, and I had a good laugh with the store clerks. First, I walked in and a (male 😀 ) kiwi greeted me, I responded with “Hi, I want a phone.” Apparently, that was funny because everyone in the phone store started laughing.  Usually when I am that blunt about pointing out the obvious, I am met with an awkward stare as in “Uh yeah. Duh.”  See what I mean? These kiwis are so laid back and so friendly that they are even comfortable enough to laugh at me.

When he had helped me pick out the phone he then said “Ok, do you have any fly byes with us?”

I responded “Um…what?”

“Fly buys”

The girl standing next to me (a foreigner like me who had been in the country exactly one day longer) cleared it up by whispering to me, “five dollars.” And I nodded reached into my pocket handed him five dollars and waited for a response.

Silent questioning stare (not unlike the ones I get in San Jose when I am so blunt about the obvious).

“I’m sorry what did you say?”

“Fly buys”

I, being a little awkward responded with; “Ahhh….. is that some kind of robbery?” the four people I was talking to all burst out laughing.

As it turns out, “Fly Buys” are  discount reward…things…(I really am not sure still), and I having just got off a plane took that in a whole other direction. But, the fact is that kiwis are easy to laugh with- and it’s a good feeling when you are as…awkward as I can be (don’t worry- I like my awkwardness.  I like to think it makes me a little funnier and gives me better stories–and if it doesn’t , please don’t ruin it for me because then instead of being funny awkward, I’m just awkward, and that’s something I don’t want to  be).

On a broader note, New Zealand is fabulous. As you know, I am in love with the people (*wedding bells sound in the distance*), I am in love with the campus, the land, the smiles, and the culture. I can’t wait to learn something about Rugby and go to a game or two. The city is small, and 1 in every 4 people go to college (there are 3 colleges in Palmerston North- a true college town). The bus is easy to figure out and the food is….typical dorm food, but it’s food that I don’t have to scrounge the city for and I don’t have to eat it out of plastic bags.  My room is smaller than it was in Ghana and my roommates (or as we would call them hall mates because we share a hall instead of a room) have not moved in yet but I can’t wait for the day they do.

Overall,  I’ve got a good feeling about this place…kinda like the feeling you get when you listen to “I gotta feeling” by Black Eyed-Peas. I feel like the world is mine for the taking, and anything is possible- and that is not a feeling I always have when I walk down the street in San Jose.

But anyway- the is your official notice: Save The Date for sometime in the future. If you read my blog, please let me know you’ve opened up a New Zealand destination wedding account so I can get you on the guest list!  Get ready for a ridiculously long flight, then some  good laughs and big smiles from the kiwis (and me) and the greatest wedding event that will ever take place.

See you all soon! (and based on the current “wedding bell situations” it could be sooner than anticipated- so don’t let the fact that I seem to be perpetually single throw you off!) By the way- I am not kidding about no presents (unless your name is Alyssa Mcdonald in which case I am expecting a present in the form of a bachelorette party).

I will have pictures soon. I forgot to bring my camera out today but don’t worry, I’m working on not being so forgetful! I have just been so…distracted…and these bells keep ringing…

Burkina Faso

Traveling in a developing country can be difficult. The roads often need some help…and the vehicles are questionable at best. It has prompted me to think, more than once, that when I am middle-aged and traveling on no budget (one can dream) that I will look back on my days in Ghana remember that I am pretty good at “roughing it”.

Burkina Faso is an African country that resides directly above Ghana. Half of their population lives on less than a dollar a day, but it was a beautiful country. The women were absolutely gorgeous (to the point that I considered telling my professor, I’m just not interested in men anymore), the landscape was pretty, and the roads were better than those in Ghana. Amazing! We originally wanted to ride camels into the Sahara Desert. Doesn’t that sound like a fabulous African experience? However, we had to change our plans the day before because we found out that some of the embassies (not the US) were issuing travel warnings, and it was very dangerous for tourists to go to the north. So, much to my mom’s relief I am sure, we decided not to stray too far up that way.

To get there, we had to take a 24 hour bus ride- needless to say, I was very confused about what day it was when I stepped out of the bus. For such a long bus ride, it didn’t feel like 24 hours…even trips to So Cal seem to cause me more restlessness.

At about 1 o’clock in the morning, our bus stopped at a metal fence (you know, the kind that they put up around concerts for line control etc.) and with us there was a huge line of buses and cars. The man sitting next to me explained that we had to wait for a police escort. Well that was a bit shocking. I asked him why, and he told me that that stretch of road was extremely dangerous at night because there were robbers hiding in the bushes. When I looked around, I got a weird feeling. Everyone (but us 3 obrunis) was sitting up a little straighter and looking out the window- but no one was talking.

Where the fence sat, it seemed to draw an invisible line. On one side there were kids running around, fires burning, people talking and laughing, and nothing seemed to bother them. But, as soon as that invisible line was reached, there was not a single person. All there was, was a very dark dirt road lined with very tall bushes.

I had been on the bus for about 12 hours at this point, so I was in a bit of an…interesting mood. I had decided that nothing bad was going to happen and therefore I was going to fall back asleep. When the police car came, I was uncomfortably aware of how tense everything thing seemed to be, despite my eyes being closed. The guy next to me sat straight, gripping his bag and staring out the window. But, nothing was going to happen, so I went back to sleep. Are you starting to see why I get myself into sticky situations?

Lo and behold, nothing happened. Within ten minutes of being on the other side of another fence, the entire bus was asleep again. The guy next to me told me in the morning that we were very lucky- that that was particularly uneventful experience for that stretch of road. I think that was when the gravity of the situation set in, and I was not looking forward to passing the other way to come home.

When we arrived in Burkina Faso, it was HOT. But it was dry heat, which I must say was a very nice change. In Ghana, you could be sitting under a fan and start sweating profusely because you moved your arm a little to the left, but here, it was over 100 degrees, and the sweat didn’t stay on us long enough for us to know it was there!

By this point, three and a half months of travel in a developing country had started to take a toll. We were just tired. Tired of trying to work things out, tired of trying to think of what to do, of finding places to stay, and tired of asking for directions and getting a marriage proposal in return (or an offer to bare someone’s child for that matter). So, we collectively decided we were going to just chillax (I am proud to say I have gotten Mie, from Denmark, to speak very proper American English, she has said  “chillax” more than once without noticing). All we did, and I mean this quite literally, was shop, eat, and sleep. Life could not be any better.

The people in Burkina were extremely friendly and more helpful than in any other country in West Africa that I have been to so far. They seemed to really appreciate the fact that there were three women traveling alone together and went completely out of their way to help us out. We ate creamy pastas, and extremely good ice cream, French pastries, and I even tried an antelope steak. At least, that’s what I think it was- the menu was in French and Mie wasn’t a 100% sure of the translation…but regardless it was a delicious mystery meat.

My favorite part of the trip was staying in a small town called Bobo. It reminded me overwhelmingly of a place my brother would love. Everyone was so (in his terms) Sunday beach (the chillest day in the chillest place-therefore really chill). Shop owners sat outside their shops and were willing to talk to us for a long time. All the little kids waved to us as we passed. A person we met on the bus even pulled over to ask if we were finding everything ok! Another woman stopped us and told us she wanted us to meet her family and cook dinner for us. Bobo had a small beach town feel (even though there was no beach). The cars did not honk at us, the people did not overwhelm us, and the food was outstanding. To top it all off, we finished each night with an ongoing Uno tournament in which I won. Life was fabulous.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for more! We weren’t kidnapped like the travel warning said we would be, and we weren’t mugged like the guide book said we might be, and weren’t robbed when everyone thought we could be. The people were kind, the air was dry, the food was good, and land was gorgeous. If you ever have a chance to go- don’t let anything hold you back!

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.

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.

How I Got My Goat Back

Last weekend was Halloween, and considering the nature of the holiday, we thought, how better to spend it then to go to the Voodoo capital and try our luck with the fates? Although the trip was one of the best I have been on since I have been in West Africa, I succeeded in scaring my mom more than the time that I ran in to her room screaming about burning my hand only to find out later I had also melted the kitchen floor with a hot pot… She took it really well then too.

 

We were going for 5 days, and I guess I did not properly pass on that message to the most important of people, so my mom sent a frantic message to everyone she knew I knew, asking where I was. My friend Kobe, after receiving the message, tried to call me a couple times and when I didn’t answer, he thought I had been Voodooed. Oops.

Well, I am happy to say, that I am currently unaware of any effects of Voodoo taking place against me, but pleased to report that on this trip, I successfully got my goat back. Problem solved.

We left at 4:30am in order to catch a bus at a station that we (and seemingly none of the Ghanaians) knew about, in order to jump on a bus by 6:30. Luckily, we for once,  had no problem getting to the station and we were on the bus bound for Benin by 5 AM.

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

There were some very obvious differences between Benin  and Ghana.  I noticed the moment I got there that Benin is a much poorer country than Ghana- apparent by the type of buildings and houses that we saw outside of the major city.  There were hardly any car taxis, and so we traveled by moto taxi or as they call it- zem.  (Most of the people I saw driving cars were white). A moto taxi is a taxi by motorcycle. There was really no other way to get around Benin, but regardless, when I jumped on the back for my first ride, I thought two things.  The first thing I thought was, “I can’t believe I am on the back of a motor cycle in the middle of West Africa with no Helmet”  I would never have guessed that this is where I would have ended up last Halloween! The second thought-that came very quickly after the first was, “My mom is going to kill me when she sees pictures!”

I’ve heard that most people look back on experiences like this twenty years later and say, “That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do”.  However, I am fully ready to admit, not more than a couple days later, that the moto taxi thing was a tad risky.  However, it seems that my Voodoo omens are promising; I made it out alive despite the poorly paved streets, the lack of helmets, and the blatant disregard for speed limits!

I felt like I was inside one of those stories that you hear from older people talking about their travels, when they were young. It was (almost miserably) hot, we carried all our stuff on our back, risked our lives several times a day by jumping on zems, ate cheap (but delicious) food

Yes, that's a chocolate croissant. There is a GREAT French Bakery in Benin!

and stayed at hotels that cost the equivalent of $5-10 a night. Needless to say, they were not five-star rooms- one guy even tried to tell us that we only get one towel per room (there were 2 of us in the room). However, I am stoked to have a backpacking across Africa story to tell in 20 years or so.

Obama Beer! Photo by Zakary Persall

While we traveled around, we drank a considerable amount of water, and for some reason the only waters we could find were bottled.  In Ghana, everyone has bagged water! So, we bought numerous bottles, and the moment any of us finished one, people asked us for them.  At one point, I had an empty bottle in my bag and when I handed it to the lady that asked, another person ran up and snatched the one I was finishing out of my hand. We assume that people are able to resell the bottles at the markets because some stalls at the market we visited had nothing but baskets full of empty plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes.

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

There are also very few gas stations in Benin. Most of the gas is sold on the side of the road from glass jars sitting on tables. From what I understand, a lot of  the gasoline smuggled in from Nigeria, because it is so much cheaper than to have it imported from other places and buy it from a gas station.

Photo by Zackary Pearsall

On Halloween night, we stayed in the place where Voodoo was supposed to be the most prevalent in Benin. We visited the Python Temple where people worship their python Voodoo God, and the guide tried to get us all to hold snakes. He assured us that the pythons were defanged and could not hurt us; however, I have held snakes before and am now perfectly happy standing 3 feet away. I would have hated to drop one of the Gods, knowing I was going to have to leave the temple risking my life on a zem.  The additional worry of possibly facing some bad Voodoo on top of that was not appealing.

Photo by Zackary Pearsall

We also visited the Sacred forest, where thousands of people visit every year for a Voodoo festival in January to me it looked like a “Secret Garden”.

That Halloween night, we stayed at a hotel where we are pretty sure we were the only guests.  There were tons of spiders crawling around the room, and they were BIG spiders. (A great Halloween experience, no?) Luckily, my roommate Mie,  is brave and killed all the spiders–although she said she felt bad about it. At home she never kills spiders, she just gets her vacuum out and vacuums them up. I told her not to worry, that I am fully ready to accept all the blame.

Mie, the brave big spider killer!

My mom sent some Halloween candy in a package for me as well as some Halloween Mad Libs and spider rings.

Happy Halloween in Benin (it rhymes!) Peanut M&Ms, mini Oreos, and Goldfish crackers!

At the end of our meal-we all dug in.  All the Americans in the group enjoyed a taste of Trick-or-treat candy from home. After dinner, we taught Mie, from Denmark,  how to play Mad Libs (she loved it). Then we stayed up really late laughing more than I have laughed on this trip, while playing cards and Uno.

Overall, I had a very happy, creepy-crawly Halloween.

All in all, when I got back to Accra, I felt like Africa had practically thrown my goat back at me, deciding that it no longer had use of it. If anyone decides to go to Benin- make sure you have Mad Libs and Uno on the necessities side of the packing list.  Maybe a helmet would be a wise addition, too…

   

 

 

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.