Tag Archive: tro tro


   

 

 

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.

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Day 63

Out for another walk across campus.

Yesterday marked the halfway point of my stay in Ghana, so I thought it would be a good time to look at some of the things I have experienced in Ghana, as compared to how it would have been at home Maybe at the end of the trip, I will have 20 more things.

1. I think the biggest difference I have thus far experienced is the concept of time. In America, time is money – everything is fast-paced.  Lectures don’t go over the allotted time, a schedule is adhered to, food is taken on the go, and people try not to be late. Here, time seems to mean something completely different. There is no belief that time is money, or that time is limited ; here, everyone has all the time in the world. Professors show up 15 minutes late to class regularly, and then go over time, regularly – sometimes by talking about things that are not remotely related to the subject they are supposed to be teaching. Everyone is really laid back, and when you come from a fast-paced society, it can test your patience.

2. The showers are cold. I didn’t really mind at first, but now showers seem to be more of a chore than anything….and sometimes I count the days I have left in Ghana by the number of cold showers I will need to take. I have 63 more cold showers to take…ooooohhhh….shiver.

3. There is a lot of American music on the radio stations, but every song that plays—every song that I recognize–is by an African-American artist. I have yet to hear a Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or Justin Beiber song (not that I am particularly upset about it). And, funny enough – that “Black and Yellow” song was changed to “Green and Yellow” here. (Because of the Ghanaian flag?)

It's always an adventure on a tro tro. On one trip, whenever we got to a "hill" all the passengers had to get out, walk up the hill, then get back on the tro tro at the top of the hill. We had to do this three times in one trip.

4. Cheese is hard to come by. Laughing Cow cheese (you know – the processed spreadable stuff that kinda-sorta tastes like cream cheese) is not hard to come by. Laughing Cow cheese is super cheap here (interesting because it’s very expensive at home). If you order a cheese burger here, the cheese on top is Laughing Cow cheese. LOL

5. The bread is really sweet, and made with nutmeg. It tasted really good the first couple times, but now I am finding myself craving a good hearty, and not sweet, bread. Try living on the good ol’ Hawaiian buns you can get at Safeway, then you’ll feel my pain. I miss sourdough, mmmmmmmmm.

One of the many markets in Ghana.

6. All meals consist of at least one of the following (usually more); rice, beans, cabbage salad, plantains, and stew. A lot of times, it is served in a bag. I hope that everyone that comes here isn’t OCD about their food touching, because if you get 50 peswas of rice, 30 salad, and 20 plantains, it’s all going in the same bag, on top of each other- covered in a spicy sauce. Yum.

My Favorite Ghanaian Meal, Groundnut Stew with Fufu.

7. Ice cream and water also come in a bag. It’s going to be interesting going home eating on dishes and drinking out of glasses again.

8. Marriage is a common topic of conversation and a thing to joke about. School girls are not supposed to grow out their hair until they are done with school, indicating they are ready for marriage. Honestly, I have never felt so single in my life – but considering I still get a number of marriage proposals (is it my long hair?!), it’s not something I dwell on. In the countries that surround Ghana, it is almost unheard of for a girl in her twenties not to be married, and not to have any children.

9. The copyright policy is somewhat…relaxed. If you need to read pages from a text-book, make copies, if you want to watch a movie that just came out in theaters there are guys on every corner selling bootleg copies, if you want to download music for free it’s OK to do so on the school internet (and you will not get a follow-up email from the school administration/security/cops telling you that you have 60 minutes to get the content off your computer, as you would back in the US).

10. When the power goes out, life keeps going. Weird concept, eh? Classes still go on, people still go to work, and food is still cooked. I was under the impression that the world stopped when power went out. Evan, Hannah, and I always pulled out the candles, a deck of cards, and special snacks for the occasion. I kinda miss that….

One of the hotels I have stayed at. Note the thickness of the hotel matressses, and the size of the pillows.

11. The water goes out sometimes. I never imagined that happening – once it went out for 3 days, and I thought the world was ending (much more so than when the power goes out), until I found out that one girl had been out of water for a month. When I heard that, I thought twice about being so lucky as to have the cold showers…most of time.

12. The men shave their armpits, and the women do not necessarily shave their legs. Now this is something I am adjusting to nicely. Smooth arm pits and hairy legs are things that I can deal with . The arm pit thing is a matter of hygiene, it is taught in school that you should shave your armpits (Mie said that it should become a world-wide mandate). Hair that is elsewhere is seen as god-given (as opposed to armpit hair?!) and should not be removed (even facial hair).

13. There are no credit cards. It is rare for a Ghanaian to have any debt because everything is paid upfront. Kinda cool if you ask me.

The Voodoo Market.

14. Christmas decorations are available in stores in Ghana by October. Just like at home.

15. Salty snacks are pretty rare, and really expensive (a snack size tube of Pringles costs about $4.00. To put the cost in perspective, a full meal often costs less than $1). I never knew how much I craved salt until all of a sudden the bread is sweet, and snacks are mainly cookies. I can’t wait to eat Goldfish or Cheese- Its again. Mmmmm, salt! One day I bought French Fries – and even though they were ice cold, they were covered in salt, and quite possibly the best French Fries I have ever eaten.

A walk across a bridge.

16. Walking is definitely more challenging. I walk about 4-5 miles a day, but it’s not normal walking. I have to watch out for roots, uneven pavement, lizards, ditches, pointy rocks, and “Obruni Traps” (gutters that line the sidewalks-sometimes full of murky water, sometimes just full of leaves). Needless to say, learning my way around campus took a lot longer than usual, because I was always looking down!

17. Funerals are just as big and as joyous as weddings are. When I got to Ghana, one of the first question I was asked was “When people die, how long do they usually spend in the morgue before the funeral?”…Kinda a weird question, eh?  I said not more than a couple days.  The guy asking the question laughed in astonishment and responded by saying, people in Ghana can be in the morgue for months and months, sometimes a year! It takes a long time to plan a funeral. Often, funerals are several days long- each day celebrating a different aspect of life.

18. The doodles on the desks in the classrooms are not vulgar. At home, there often nude pictures drawn on the desks or something mean is written, directed to no one in particular, or at everyone. Here, all the writings on the desks say things like “Jesus loves you” and “God is great”.

19. Vegetables can be incredibly expensive. A pound of asparagus costs about the equivalent of $15, and a small bag of chopped cauliflower, about $12. It’s OK though- I never did like ‘em much. Cabbage salad is good enough for me!

20. Everyone here is just really pretty. Their faces are pretty, their legs are long, everyone has some muscle tone (if not totally ripped), and they’re just…pretty. I have yet to see an ugly person in Ghana.

Day 63! Loving this!!

Togo

Last weekend a group of people from our program decided to go to Togo. In case you have never heard of Togo and have no idea what/where it is, Togo is the tiny country that is right next door to Ghana. I admit that before I got to Ghana, I had never heard of Togo. (Togo’s, the sandwich shop, I am quite aware of!)

It was the first time I have ever driven to the border of any country (odd considering Mexico is on the border of California). I’ve flown across borders, but never walked across one. We got on a tro tro with all our bags, and started out on our four hour drive to Lome, which is the capital of Togo. When we got to the border, we jumped out of the tro tro, and immediately people stormed us shouting “Change?! Change?!” They wanted to know if we wanted to change our currency from Cedis to CFAs. What I found interesting was it seemed like average people were just walking around with huge wads of cash, asking if you wanted to change your money…..it seemed almost sketchy. However, we had already changed our money over so, no they got no business from us.

Then we walked to the border. First we had to walk out of Ghana. Guards were swarming around us directing us where to go, and people were chasing after us asking if we wanted to buy things. After we checked out of Ghana, we walked across the street and checked into Togo. They asked us a lot of slightly confusing questions, then told us that all people from Denmark had to pay 10,000 CFAs (my friend Mie, and intrepid travel companion is from Denmark) and all people from America had to pay 15,000 CFAs. Meanwhile, the African people were walking back and forth from border to border without being stopped, without paying anything, all they had to do tell the guard where they were going, and they were passed on through!

Finally, we got through the border and into Togo. Lome looked like such a beach town. To the left of us was a beach that from a distance was one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. The color of water was the most gorgeous blue, and I am not sure I will ever see that particular shade again-and  I live in California, land of beaches. However, swimming on the beach is not safe, because the beach serves as a public restroom for all the residents of Lome. Honestly, it was extremely disheartening.

The road was swarming with motorcycles, and in Togo, the main form of transportation, is by motorbike-even the taxis are motorbikes. As we were walking, one motor taxi drove up with no helmet, ran into the curb, jumped off his bike, which then tumbled over, and asked us “Do you want a ride?” Needless to say we responded with a quick “Ummm, no thanks” and went on our way more quickly then we had intended.

Lome was full of things that I have never experienced before. We went to a fetish market, where I bought a Voodoo doll (I will tell you all about it in another post), an art gallery that had art from all over West Africa on display, and an art museum. We had real French bread.  And we had an outrageous number of marriage proposals! The most interesting parts, to me,  was that Togo is a French speaking country, so I even if people were asking me to marry them, then only way I knew how to respond with was a stare! (The only reason I knew what they were saying was Mie was able to translate for me later) Don’t worry mom, so far, I have been able to resist responding,  “Oui oui”. My plan is still to come  home without a husband!

The odd part about Togo was, when we walked in, we felt safer there than we did in Ghana, but by the time we left, our sense of security went way down and we were ready to head back to the safety of our hostel.  This experience had something to do with our change of heart.  Fortunately, I slept through it, and heard about it the next morning.  Some of the people in our group had decided to go to a night club, and on their way there-they were walking-they were stopped by police. The police asked them to see their IDs, and they all looked at each other.  They hadn’t brought any, and they told the police  “We don’t have our IDs with us, but we will go back and get them.” The police then responded by explaining that they would not be leaving at all.  They were going to be taken to the police station. Pretty quickly the group figured out that the police wanted a bribe, so they coughed up 1000 CFA each, and handed it over. Apparently, it was not enough because the police continued to threaten to take them to the police station.  By this time, my friends had had enough.  They turned around and walked back to the hotel, having decided they would not be doing any clubbing in Lome.

The following night, a couple of the guys wanted to go to a cool looking bar that they saw in the guidebook. We were going to have dinner, and then meet them there later, but we saw them arrive back surprisingly early. Apparently, the bar in the guidebook was more like a brothel than a bar, and was swarming with prostitutes. They decided to grab a beer and sit on the curb across the street to drink, and ended up finding a ride home rather quickly. On second look at the guidebook, it seems that we all missed the disclaimer that said bars were likely to be full of prostitutes.

Overall, bribes, police marriage proposals and prostitutes aside, I found Lome a very pleasant place. The people were generally kind and the food was really good. I only wish I could pull the same amount of male attention at home that I seem to been  able to pull in Togo!  While in Togo, I also added two more things to my list of things to do.  After hearing my friend Mie speak to everyone in French for us, I told her I that when I go home, I want to learn French, wear high heels, and drink tea-with-lemon with my pinky sticking out. I am pretty stoked.