Frankfurt was a little rough. I hadn’t slept much at all, and I was sick of airplanes and airports by the time I had gotten there. And I still had one long leg left to my journey. Germany was strange to me, but quite easy to navigate. Finally, after my four-hour layover, I boarded my last flight to Accra, Ghana. I slept quite a bit on the six and a half hour flight; due to a lack of passengers, I got three seats to myself to stretch out. I woke in a slight panic to the captain saying over the PA system in a strong German accent, “If there is a doctor on board, please see a flight attendant right away.” Sitting up wondering what was going on, I see the flight crew start to crowd around the guy sitting in the row ahead of me. I couldn’t really tell what was going on, but things didn’t look good. I’m not sure whatever happened to him because they took him to the back of the plane, but I think things turned out all right. He had thrown up all over himself and the aisle to the right of him.
This was a little scary to me: when sickness started to become a very real thought in my mind. This was the only part throughout this process when I found my stomach a bit upset and wondering, “What the hell am I doing?”
The feeling quickly passed after a bit of self-soothing and another nap. Before I knew it, we were landing. My first steps out of the plane were hot and HUMID and I was welcomed by Ghanaians and a host of Christmas decorations. On the flight, I discovered about four other American students headed to study at UG, one of which goes to Eau Claire, so we stuck together when we got off the plane. We all managed to collect our luggage and make our way through customs. A Ghanaian man named Courage helped me carry one of my bags and told me, “You are very pretty.” Man, I like this country already. When we got to the exit of the airport, our student guide was there to take us to our hostel. Obed is a 26-year-old fourth year student here at UG and is majoring in psychology and sociology with an emphasis in sacrilegious studies. He’s a pretty cool dude. He explained to me how license plates work in Ghana, and has answered any other question I have asked.
We are at the end of the Hamatan season. This means that there is a lot of wind in the desert region surrounding us that blows dust into the air around Accra. There is a haze separating us from the sun. It is humid and hot.
In orientation we listened to Professor Kofi talk about culture and what it’s all about. Americans have an individualized society. We focus on ourselves as individual people. Ghana practices communal culture meaning people together, not separate. Most Ghanaians are very willing to help you if you ask, however we were reminded not to abuse this and be “repeat requesters”. Reminded me a little of a concept called “Minnesota nice”. In their language, to express your gratitude, we learned the word “medase”. “Me” meaning “I”, “da” meaning “lie”, and “ase” meaning “below”. Putting that together you get, “I lie below.” Kind of a cool way to say thank you.
Next to newly born babies, foreigners are pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to cultural norms and practices. We have no idea what to expect coming into a culture so different from our own. Use of the left hand is impolite. When greeting a large group of people, you should always start on the right hand side and work your way left. Do not use the word “stupid”. Do give proper greetings, and do smile. “It’s medicinal after all,” Kofi smiles while saying. Needless to say we have a lot to learn. And I’m not just talking about me in Ghana.