Tag Archive: USAC

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.


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

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.”


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…

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!!

University Swim Team

I cannot run. I have tried for a number of years to run, twenty!, but when it comes down to it, I can’t.  I just don’t know how everyone else seems to be able to do it. I have heard it’s all about the breathing pattern, so I have tried a couple different breathing patterns yet I still end up huffing and puffing after only a couple meters. Then I heard it’s all about endurance.  Not for me. If I “run” 400 meters today, and each day for the rest of the week, I still find I am not able to get any farther or any faster the next week (and honestly, running 400 meters is still pushing it). I envy everyone who can run.  I want to be able to do triathlons, and half marathons, and marathons, and 5ks and 10ks.  Runners just looks so…..good…and healthy, and joyous. But, I. Cannot. Run. I’ll keep trying, of course, but I am pretty sure the next 20 years will be as futile as the first 20 years.

On the other hand, I can swim. In fact, I can swim like I can walk; forever and ever. When I first got my acceptance into this program, I mentioned to my mom that the University had a swim team. She got really excited and said I should join. My initial response? No way. My swim team days are over; way too much time, way too much commitment, and way too much work. No way.

But, I have never been able to stay away from the pool for too long. By the second semester at my home university, I was looking for a water polo team to join. There wasn’t one.  My home university doesn’t even have a regulation pool. So I went home and worked at a pool for the summer, when I went back to the university joined the masters lap swim program. Swimming has turned into an addiction. Almost a nasty  addiction- swimming ruins your hair, dries out your skin, and makes you really tired. But, in spite of all that, it feels really good to be a swimmer.

As I was walking from campus to my room in the International hostel, in the 97% humidity, and the sun blaring down on my shoulders, I saw a white sign with big bold letters:  Swim Team tryouts will be held this Friday. Everyone interested must be able to swim 50 meters of any stroke.  (Note the sign said ANY stroke, not ALL strokes).

Man, did that sign seem to sing to me. Honestly, I was so excited thinking about being part of a swim team again that I started getting a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I never thought I would be a part of a swim team again, especially not a swim team at the University of Ghana, Accra!

When tryouts came, I self-consciously stood around for about 30 minutes before I was allowed to enter the water. I did not have a competitive swim suit at the time, so I was wearing my beach suit.  You should have seen the looks the other swimmers were giving me. Even though they said nothing to me out loud, I could hear them thinking, “Who is this white girl coming in the fancy suit thinking she can join the swim team?” and I knew they were adding on, ” Look at her! I will be able to beat her no problem.”

Then I started swimming. I was swimming at the same time as some other people, including one Ghanaian male swimmer. At the end of my first 50 meter freestyle, the coach looked at me and said “Can you swim all the strokes?” ….. “Ummmm yeah.”…… “Ok-let me see.”  Alright, I thought, no problem, backstroke here we go. By the end of the second lap, that Ghanaian male swimmer came up behind me, huffing and puffing, barely able to get any words out and said “Wow, you’re really fast.” Oh, what a good feeling! I was never fast when I was swimming at home, and I haven’t  done laps in months, but here I am, the white girl in the fancy swim suit, beating the totally ripped (and pretty cute) Ghanaian male swimmer!  Fantastic, I like this team already.  After breaststroke and butterfly, all the coaches had come over to watch me. They started asking if I had ever swam on a team before, and letting me know that I have a really nice stroke. My tryout was over, and they told me I was qualified for the swim team. Thank goodness!

On the first day of practice, I showed up in the same fancy swim suit, and again, no one took me seriously. The coach put me going 4th.  In the first 50 meters of warm up, I had already passed everyone in my lane. The odd part was, when I asked if I could go ahead of everyone, they all said “No, you’re supposed to be 4th.”  What a pain.  But, by the second week of practice, the coach said I could go first.

Despite the fact that swimming is so new in Ghana, and that the Ghanaians who joined the swim team probably just learned to swim in the last year or two, the practices are incredibly difficult. Our coach throws  out 100 meter butterflies like they are  nothing. At one point he said, “We are now going to swim an easy 100 butterfly.” I responded by saying “I don’t think I can do a 100 butterfly again, right now.” The coach explained to me that this was supposed to be an easy 100 butterfly, not fast, he said I could do it “No problem.”  “Ummm” I wanted to say to him, “Have YOU ever swam an easy 100 butterfly?”  The answer is no! There is no such thing! Whether you are doing it first or last, and whether you are doing one or twelve, the 100 butterfly can never be easy. I tried explaining this to the coach, but he didn’t get it. So I swam the 100 meters my way, half butterfly and half freestyle! Practice got much better after that. I am finally going first in my lane, and the coach seems to be OK that I don’t do exactly what he says all the time.

Well, he was OK with it  until I opted to skip dry land practice on Tuesday mornings (which by the way, takes place at 5:30 AM) because, as I  told you, I. Can’t. Run. It’s almost…no it is…really embarrassing. I am the first one to finish my laps in swimming.  Most people do a 200 meter warm down, I have to do a 400 meter warm down becasue I finish too fast, but when it comes to running, I am always the last to finish…and not by a little…by a lot. When I walked in to swim pratice on Wednesday, my coach told me to go run 15 laps. I have never run more than 1 lap in my entire life. So, in the dark, I, and all the others who had opted to skip dry land practice on Tuesday, started to run about 4 miles.  I. Can’t.  Run.  Even after the 15 laps.  I was no better than I have ever been. After we finished the four miles, our coach explained that we held up the entire team by skipping dry land, and we were not allowed to swim that day-as punishment- and if we skipped the next week’s dry land practice, we would be kicked off the team. Fabulous.  Now I have to run every week. Hmmm….maybe I will be able to run by the time I get home?  Nope.  I have had illusions about being able to run before.  I have tried before. I am not going to be able to run.  Even if I have to run to swim.

Only now, after a couple weeks of swim practices, are we are starting to talk about swim meets. Apparently, we will be having a meet at the end of this month, and we will be swimming only against ourselves. Ummm, OK.  We will be split up into teams, each representing a traditional Hall on campus. When we went over the events that we would be swimming, they declared I would be doing the 200IM…..because I am the only one that can do all the strokes. Love it. I will also be doing the 400 meter freestyle…because I am the only one that can swim distance. I love that too. I am stoked to be a part of a swim meet once again, and I almost can’t wait for the end of the month.

Swimming really has become a lifelong sport for me. I am excited that one day I will be able to say “Yeah, I swam in college” even if it was just for a semester, but it was for a semester in Africa!  Pictures will be coming soon!

The Jesus Crusades

Here in Ghana, a primary topic of conversation is religion. If you meet someone new, it is likely that you will be talking about religion in the first five minutes. I  have had the basis of Christianity explained to me a couple times before class begins. I will not hesitate to say that it is extremely uncomfortable – especially because I do not share the Christian beliefs.

Many people have questioned me on my beliefs, and gone into detail about their own. When I explain that I do not believe in a higher power, they usually look flabbergasted and sputter “So, you don’t believe in anything?” I hate that question. It is always meant to be demeaning. I usually respond with “Actually, I am a firm believer in evolution.” Once I got particularly annoyed, and responded that I believed in Santa Claus!  I am not sure the person I was talking to understood, but it was enough to get him to change the subject. In reality, I believe in so much more than Santa Claus. I believe in love, in hope, in creating your own happiness, in passion, in integrity, in kindness, in honesty, and in a good sense of humor. I believe in over coming obstacles, in learning all you can, and in a positive outlook on life. I just don’t believe in a higher power. I am not religious. But I have beliefs. I have integrity. I have morals.   I have ethics. I live by them. I don’t need a higher power.  I know what the right thing to do is, and I try to do it.

When conversations about my beliefs versus someone else’s beliefs arise, I usually try to change the subject for fear of offending someone – but “they” (and “they” are usually Christians) are often quite persistent and, like I said, almost all of them eventually ask me “So, you don’t believe in anything?” It takes everything I have not to snap, “Don’t ask me stupid questions!” Interestingly, after our conversations about religion, most of the Ghanaian students just don’t believe me.  They end the conversation with,  “I know that you know there is a God.”

In addition to the high level of personal commitment to religion here, and the insistence on talking about it, there is also a huge religious movement on campus. Today it was the first day of “The Jesus Crusades”. There is a Jesus Crusades bus that goes all around campus picking people up to join in the crusade. Yes, the bus is out in the early in the morning.  Yes,  it is out late at night.  Yes, it is in front of the hostels I live in.  The bus parks outside the hostel (and other places on campus) and The Jesus Crusaders shout into a loud speaker about God, telling everyone that they are sinners, that they need to join the movement, and that they need to see the light.

When I went out for drinks with one of my professors, he asked me what religion was like where I came from. I explained that the town my university is in has more churches per square mile than any other city in California, but that I have been questioned more sharply and more frequently about religion here in Ghana than I ever have been at home.

The professor explained to me that he does not agree with the way religion is dealt with on campus. He said the Jesus Crusades just seem to be about causing noise, and they are really out to make money- not to actually spread the faith. He also told me about a huge controversy they had on campus last semester about students gathering in classes and leading prayers before lectures begin. (According to my friend Mie, her business class still opens that way. )

What I really appreciated about this professor was his ability to separate science from religion. He told me that he likes science because you can always question it, where as he could never question his faith. It is clear to me that many of the students here have a lot of trouble separating the two. When I asked my professor about the evolution class that is offered on campus, he explained that it often sparks some discomfort in the classroom. He also told me that sometimes, when he asks a question on a test, many students will respond with answers such as,  “It happens that way because that was what God intended.” That was especially troubling for him. Why don’t the students just leave the space blank if they don’t know the non-religious answer?

Overall, religion here is quite prevalent. I have been invited to a number of churches on campus, as well as some off of campus. I was genuinely interested in going until I heard a story about one Obruni going to church and being pulled up in front of the church and told to speak in tongues. That sounds incredibly uncomfortable, and even scary, so I now opt out of those invitations.

I will stick to sleeping in on Sunday mornings, and being as respectful as I can to everyone else.

I hope the Jesus Crusades will be over soon.  I’d like to sleep in this Sunday.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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