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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Raw Meat...Raw Culture



If you want a picture of what small industry and ‘grassroots’ life looks like in Ghana, head to Makola market in Accra.  I didn’t know what to expect before we got there except I knew that this market relied less on tourism which meant the vendors would be less insistent on selling products, especially to four white girls.  The day started off sweltering hot and the sun was out to boil the earth.  The trotro ride there was easy and uneventful.  We arrived at Tema station and walked to Makola just around the corner.  I will have to return to take pictures of the scene because I didn’t take my camera with me, but it’s a bustling, lively place filled with whatever you could probably imagine.  Crowded alleys and sidewalks are teeming with vegetables, rice, beads, clothes, shoes, fish, superglue, fabric.. you get the picture.  I can’t even describe how unrealistic this is, its something to be experienced personally.  The smells, often a bit revolting, were strong and told obvious tales of what was being sold throughout the vicinity.  Weaving our way through aisles and alleys, we were greeted by every woman or man at each shop and asked how we were.  “What do you want?” Then, they hover over you while you’re looking at their products until you either purchase something or move on.  At one point, three women grabbed us by the arm and said, “Come with me.”  We’re kind of used to the friendliness here, so we knew we weren’t in danger.  Aubrey, the woman who had pulled me into the alley, told me to sit down in the chair next to her and started asking me questions about where I was from and where we were staying.  She just wanted me to sit and make conversation with her.  After 10 minutes, we got up and wished them a good day and kept moving.  Raw meat and blood sort of ruined the experience for me.  I don’t have a terribly weak stomach, but that sight and smell combined with the smell of fish is enough to make me not eat meat for probably a week.

Walking around, we saw three little boys playing in the street.  They were probably about 3-5 at the most.  There were two older boys and one little one.  They were all sort of fighting and playing around when the little one picked up a board from the street and went after the two bigger kids.  He hit them pretty good a few times before they ran away from the little guy.  Pretty comical.

We headed to the Makola mall area which is a more chill atmosphere where we headed upstairs determined to find some cute clothes comparable to what we see people wear all the time.  We can’t seem to get a straight answer about where these girls get their clothes.  “My friend has someone bring them to her and we get them from him.”  What??? I just want to know where to shop.

After bargaining our way through a dress and a football jersey, we stood up on a deck of a store and looked out over the market.  Too tired to do much else, we decided to head back to the hostel.  We climbed down the stairs, and we walked back towards Tema station to catch another trotro.  While waiting to cross the street, there was a disturbance close to us just up the street.  People started yelling and scattering in different directions.  My first thought was that a car got away from someone and was going to crash, but that wasn’t the case.  I still don’t know exactly what happened, but then people started yelling and then things calmed down.  Guess we’ll never know what happened. (Sorry for the anticlimax)

Thursday the rain came.  Melissa and I were walking back from our social work class when a few drops started taming the dust.  Since we got here, we’ve been wishing for rain because it’s so hot.  We got our wish…and then some.  When it rains here, it really rains.  We got completely drenched within seconds of the downpour.  We started running back to our hostel so our school things wouldn’t get terribly soaked.  At that point, there was nothing to do but laugh.  It rained really heavily for a few hours and then it stopped and the world was cool.  I put on a sweatshirt and had goosebumps for about 4 hours.  It was awesome.

The next day, my cab driver told me the “weather is friendly”.  It was still cooler from the rain.  “Water is life,” here in Africa.  Isn’t that the truth.

Since everyday is like a weekend here, we have a lot of time on our hands.  We go out a lot and try to experience a lot of different places.  We’ve been able to check out a bit of the nightlife as well.  Bella Roma is becoming a favorite spot.  We know one of the bartenders so it’s fun to see him at work.  It can get really busy there on weekends, and there are people from all different cultures.  I love hearing about people’s lives, so it’s fun to be able to sit down and have a conversation with others I’ve met here.  At Bella last night, I met quite a few people, but I talked to Maxwell who is a 31-year old from the Volta region who runs a radio station.  He told me that if I ever come to the Volta region, he will put me on the radio and we can have a conversation.  He explained that he’s one of 21 siblings in his family.  His father had had four wives in his life.  The first wife had 10 children, the second had 6, the third had 4, and the last wife had one child. 

Abrupt stop, but that’s what I’ve got.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reaffirmation


I had my first real class where I learned something and took notes today! HOORAY for brain stimulation!  I now see just how very different the things we learn in the states are from what students are taught here.  Social Work 306 – Personality Development and Behavior Disorders showed distinctly that Americans are taught to believe different things than Ghanaians are at this university.  The word “failure” was thrown around a lot when talking about those with personality disorders like OCD, anti-social, and borderline personality disorder.  I, of course, sat and listened to the discussion and took notes, but I found myself shaking my head during the majority of the class.  I wasn’t alone.  A few other Obrunni students I talked to after the class felt the same way.  One striking illustration of this happened when we were talking about single parenting.  Apparently, like homelessness, it doesn’t exist here.  I think the only way (at least our professor) would consider a family to be in a single-parent situation is if the other parent was dead…even then, she might not.  Her rationale behind this was that “…at the end of the day, even if the other parent is lost in space but still sending money, then it isn’t a single parent situation because the two are collaborating and making joint decisions.”  I still don’t understand how that works; I strongly believe that’s not true at all. 

Another part of the lecture that really made me a little irritated was when she was defining personality disorders.

“…Personality disorders don’t disrupt emotional, intellectual, or perceptual functioning.  However, those with personality disorders suffer a life that isn’t positive, productive, or fulfilling.  These disorders are associated with failures to reach potential.”

Gahhhh…there are so many things wrong with that statement, and the real problem is in the second part.  I guess the positive side of this lecture is that it sparked my attention and passion.

On the other hand, Social Work 304 – Social Welfare and Social Policy seems like a very appealing class that I might learn a lot in.  It has a bit of a basis in Ghana, which already in the first lecture, we learned about a lot of the corruption that happens in this country.  Because of it, around $350 million USD is lost each year at the borders of Ghana.  This kind of money is huge for developing countries to be losing out on because of corruption.  More about this later.

Anyway……..

The four of us girls decided to venture out on our own again last night.  We ended up in Osu at a Lebanese restaurant called Venus…after our cab driver had no idea where we were attempting to go and asking for directions about 15 times, we finally made it there.  Met by more inefficiency inside, we settled for the food we got, and then wandered around the streets before heading back home.

I’m feeling a tad apprehensive about going to class on Friday to see Grace.  Grace is a really soft-spoken Christian girl that I met last week in my geography class.  Let’s hope she never reads this.  She had the best of intentions, but the situation was a little awkward and strange to me.  We made eye contact and she told me to come and sit by her in lecture.  I did, and we went through all the formalities including asking if I am a Christian (which is a formality in Ghana).  When I replied, “Yes.” She said, “Please, I want you to come to my church with me on Sunday.”  I was flattered by her offer until I found out what time church was.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus, but I love Him even more when I can sleep in and still partake in Sunday festivities.  6:30 a.m. is a little early even by American standards.  She told me she’d call me Saturday evening to remind me, and she did.  I didn’t quite pick up the phone….whoops.  While still in class, she handed me a pamphlet titled “Walking in Faith” and told me to read it until the lecturer came in.  I did as told while trying not to laugh out loud about how strange this whole situation was.  My favorite thing Grace said all of class was when our professor asked us what we should do if someone’s phone rang during class.  Grace yelled out, “Forgive them!”

My cab driver yesterday turned around halfway through my ride and smiled at me.  We hadn’t really been speaking before that, so I was a little creeped out by it but I smiled back and laughed a little.  Then, almost back to my hostel, he turned around again and proclaimed his love for me.  After laughing quite hard, he said, “I will give you my number and the next time you go out, please call me.”  So if anyone is in need of a friendly black man to hang out with, I’ll give you Ebenezer’s phone number. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be too lonely here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Oh, Life...


I was excited to come here and un-complicate my life.  That’s all good in theory, until realizing that it’s not about location or escaping at all.  It’s about you.  Well…me, that is.  The longer your life, the more ties, relationships, events, and essentially, complications there will be.  Its’ not something to get away from.  It’s all a part of this huge process that molds and shapes us.  Some things never change, and some things never stay the same.  It’s such a beautiful mess that is so hard to grasp even the closest edges that I don’t often think about it.  But when I do, it hits like a bowling ball to the shin.  Forever can be so many things.  It’s always changing.  (for Jers and Roz, “Embrace it!”)

Fun fact about Ghana:
People don’t appreciate pets here.  They might have them, but they don’t really have them for enjoyment like we do in the states.  They don’t feed them ‘dog food’.  They just get leftover table scraps.  They more or less would have a dog or something to protect the house.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Your World is About to Change"

“Your world is about to change” an ad for a new cell phone network billboard declares: the topic of my first conversation with Jason, one of the Americans we met at reggae night on Labadi beach.  Jason and J.M. are here in Ghana with business growth opportunities.  J.M. also has a more personal connection to Ghana: his birth mom lives here.  Blissfully reunited at last, the two men can continue their business here until they return home.  But, back to the billboard… the changing started off with the heat, then everything else followed suit.  I’ve pretty much given up on trying to look somewhat decent for the next 4 months.  I’ve also given up on my digestive system functioning normally for the next 4 months.

I finally have my permanent room and roommate.  Thelma moved into our room and brought with her more Ghanaian-ness.  She’s a sweetheart, but she’s very different from me.  Very quiet and reserved, Thelma goes to bed early and gets up early.  She likes to play gospel music on her radio when she gets up at 5:30, which is such a treat for sleeping Miriam.  I guess I’m just used to Jacquie, who is basically me in another body and is the easiest person to live with.  I have to remember that people do things differently in this country.  I think Thelma thinks that it’s pretty funny that we take precautions against mosquitoes.  She laughed when she asked me if I was on anti-malarial prophylaxis and I said yes.  “You whites are so scared of them!”

Also (side note for my mom) Thelma told me I was a neat person (physically).  She said she assumed all whites were messy and disorganized.  She’s really neat and always has her bed made and stuff like that, but I just thought I would throw that in for my mom: that someone in this world thinks I’m not messy.

We had an ISEP meeting today to talk about some ‘housekeeping’ issues and to direct our interest toward a few organizations that we can volunteer for while we’re here.  I was particularly interested to talk to Michael who works for Global Civic Preservation Organization (GCP).  GCP is a non-profit org that does a lot of outreach work for children, as well as adults.  They take kids off of the streets and educate them so they can eventually place them in mainstream schools.  They help families get medication they need.  And once I meet with him, I will know more about what I’ll be doing with them.  I’m excited.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cheese


The Embassy:

Last night, after going to the beach, we did our laundry at the American Embassy.  Yeah, it does still sound ridiculous saying that.  If you didn’t already know, we have to do our laundry by hand here.  I haven’t tried this yet, because I, like a slob, like to let mine pile up before doing anything about it.  Apparently those who did do their laundry didn’t have a very successful outcome.  So we were at the beach again relaxing in the sun when one of our friends showed up at the beach.  Matt is a US Marine serving here at the Embassy in Ghana.  There are six guys that live in the Marine compound in Accra and we have had the pleasure of being invited over to have a refresher of what American things look like.  We were signed in and given badges to wear and then taken past the entrance.  As soon as we stepped past it, it was like being back in the states.  They had air conditioning, normal furniture, and other American things, like washing machines.  We got to watch movies on their giant projector that comes down from the ceiling while our laundry was washing.  Once again it paid off to be a procrastinator by not doing my laundry right away.  I’m more and more reassured everyday that it’s okay to put things off.  Also, we midwesterners got to share and explain our love of dairy products that no one else seems to understand.  We had a very long, drawn-out conversation about it.

Class:

Class is a whole different thing here.  Many students don’t attend class for the first 2 weeks.  Coming from a university that’s rules are so that if you miss the first class of the semester you are automatically dropped from the class, this seems a little lax.  One of our student guides didn’t attend class for the first 6 weeks last semester because he was too busy working.  I guess he did fine.  I’m not sure how that works, but I don’t think I’m going to spend too much time trying to find out.  I really do want to learn here, even though I sort of forgot I was going to go to school while I was here.  My first class was a social work class about personality development and behavioral disorders (which will be basically psych 100 all over again).  I had it with a few other Obrunni’s and we were the only one’s not laughing at the jokes told in class.  Whoops.

This hasn’t happened to me yet, but Claire’s professor never showed up for her class, but she did manage to get 4 phone numbers and someone’s church address.  It is much more common for people to exchange phone numbers here than it is back home.  People will stop you on the street and after talking for less than 5 minutes, they will have your name mastered and they will have asked what room you live in and have asked for your phone number.  Very different social practices.

Water:

Bottled water of a few brands is safe to drink, and commonly comes in 1.5 liter bottles (which are just huge).  But the most common way Ghanaians drink water here is sachet water.  It is in a bag and for a fresh stomach like mine, its not the best idea.  By now I’ve had several of them.  After the first one, then two, then three, I assumed I was fine.  Not so much the case.  I have a hard time remembering to take it easy, so this morning/afternoon turned out to be a fun reminder of that.

Hygiene:

Going home will be a strangely amazing experience to once again feel clean.  Since arriving here, I have maybe felt completely clean for only the first ten minutes of getting out of the shower each time.  My feet are constantly dirty from all the dirt and walking in sandals, and it’s so hot that we all sweat all the time, and unless we visit the embassy weekly to do laundry, our clothes will definitely not feel as clean as if they would have if they were washed in a washing machine.

Food: A whole separate category.

Rice and plantains are staples here.  Who knew there were so many things you could do with them?  My favorite so far has been red red, which is beans in some sort of sauce with a little spice and fried plantains.  My roommate makes a mean red red.  Other things we eat are jolof rice which is a little like Spanish rice, banku (I still don’t know what this is) that looks like a ball of play-doh in a whitish/tan color that you ball up and usually dip in a sauce.  Sweet bread is delicious, probably not very good for you though.  And one of our favorite things is to get an egg sandwich at the night market from Vivian.  This is an omelet-type thing with cheese and/or meat on the sweet bread.  Another amazing treat we discovered is pancakes (crepes) with nutella on them.  I was quite excited about this find.  Had one today actually.

Fresh fruit and vegetables here are great.  I’ll have a few pictures of some at the market, but the pictures don’t illustrate the taste.  There are so many new things that they grow here that we don’t have at home.  I drank water from a coconut and then got to eat the skin from the middle afterward.  There’s a strange little orange fruit that is sticky inside that you suck the juice from and then eat the stickiness.  There’s a cocoa fruit that you simply suck the moisture from the seeds and then spit the seeds out.  It doesn’t taste like chocolate though.  There are many others that I have no idea about yet.

I’ll wrap it up for now by saying that the Superbowl is on at the same time as there are a few celebrations for Bob Marley’s birthday.  I might have to go with Bob on this one, I guess there will be other Superbowls, but we’ll see.  When in Africa!

"Are we in the hostile stage?"



ISEP likes to spoon-feed us.  I’m all for learning and all that, but these first 9 days have been exhausting.  Also, I’m going to have to relearn all these things on my own anyway after they stop leading us around.  Which is frustrating to me.  And I think we’re all a little sick of group activities.  Apparently there are four stages in culture adjustment.  1. Honeymoon stage: everything is great, good for you.  2. Hostility stage: frustration, anger, anxiety, and blaming of the external environment. 3. Humor stage: relaxation and ability to laugh at headaches in the process.  4. Home stage: retaining of allegiance and the general feeling of home.  I wouldn’t say I’m full blown hostile, but I’m still just kind of “here”.  The general consensus is that things are done a lot more inefficiently here.  Which is the American in me coming out.  I’ll let you know when I start to laugh again. ;)

Cape Coast is a beautiful place.  We toured Cape Coast Castle where Ghana saw a lot of slave trade in the early days when the Portuguese and Dutch and British had control of the area.  Right on the coast, the Castle boasts two great slave chambers, indoor plumbing, and a “door of no return”.  We were given a tour of the place and a background on the history.  However, we didn’t have enough time to go through the museum slowly enough to fully soak it all in, so I hope to return before I leave Ghana.  The male slave dungeon is dark and damp.  There are ditches in the floor to drain whatever human waste was produced, and in a very small room human waste from up to 200 men would have been nauseating to say the least.  In the female slave dungeon, there were all the comforts of the male dungeon, plus an alter for offerings.  While we were there, there was a goat head, a bowl of goat blood, raw meat, and various other things.  Out the “door of no return” there is a fish market.  These are some of the coolest scenes here.  Boats out in the ocean and people everywhere on land with nets and fish and flags of every color and nation.  Going back in the “door of return” as it reads on the other side, we walked around in the museum and then headed out.  I sound sarcastically cheerful about these quarters, but in truth, as you can imagine, it was a powerfully dark experience, and I’m glad I got to see it.

It was quite a long ride there and back to the Botel, which is where we stayed.  It is a little motel that has a restaurant over a swamp with alligators roaming pretty much freely.  Hooray.  Also, we took a hot shower for the first time since being here.  Oh, no…I guess the heater didn’t end up working, so it was just a normal cold shower.  This place was the sketchiest place I have ever stayed in.  We did find some enjoyment in teaching our student guides how to swim in the pool though.  None of them know how to swim, which was really strange to all of us, so we took it upon ourselves to try and teach them.  Comical for us, and scary for them, we conquered a few fears and it’s definitely on camera.  Maybe next time they go to the ocean with us, they won’t run away from the water anymore?

We hit up reggae night on Wednesday.  We took taxis to Labodi beach for some live entertainment.  This was the most chill thing we had done since coming here, which I think is why it was so much fun.  They have a stage with live reggae music right on the beach…waves crashing in the background and ocean breezes drowning out the worry in your mind… it was beautiful.  Exxxxxcept for the ride there.  We piled five us of us into one taxi, and apparently you’re only supposed to have four.  We got stopped at a police barricade and our driver got his license taken away.  We weren’t worried at all as passengers, but we felt bad for the driver, even though he knows the rules.  He took us to our destination, but had to go back and talk to the officer that kept his license.  The law enforcement system here is much more corrupt than it is in the states.  He would probably be asked to pay the officer a fee and then he could move along.  We are convinced that they don’t follow any laws here.  It seems like every punishable crime ends up with the same sentence; ten years in prison.  Truthfully, whether you rape your own child or you get caught smoking marijuana, it costs you ten lovely years in a place you really don’t want to go to.  Beware.

Settling for Unsettlement



We have been extremely busy the first couple of days here.  We are kept running by our student guides.  Tina is my guide; she’s adorable and knows what’s going on.  They are very knowledgeable and helpful and very tiring.  Today is the first day here where I feel like I’m really starting to connect with others here.  I got my phone to work, but am still waiting on internet.  That’s the most frustrating thing not to have, even though it’s been sort of nice to have a break from most technology for a while.

Downtown Accra is crazier than New York City.  There are people everywhere trying to get you to buy something from them.  If you hear hissing, its just their way of getting your attention.  It’s not rude at all here.  If they are yelling out, “Obrunni!” they are most definitely talking to you.  The word means “foreigner”.  My favorite question to ask the people that ask if we are new here is, “How could you tell?”  Or, “Is it because I’m white?” We stick out like a bear in a raspberry patch here.  We are often targets of merchants and beggars.  In the markets bartering is a skill you better have in this area.  Two guys making bracelets were my favorite, they followed our group around teaching us handshakes and rapping for us.  One of them started in on Lil Wayne.  We didn’t buy their bracelets, but we enjoyed the entertainment.

There are many unfinished buildings in construction all over.  Ghanaians are good at building, but they are horrible at maintaining.  Random fact of the day. (for Chelsea)

Sunday is a day for church in Ghanaian culture.  We went with one of our guides, Awushi, to her church today, the LIC.  LIC stands for Legon Interdenominational Church.  I think I will forever be bored in church in the states once I go home again.  They are a God-fearing bunch.  It was an experience to see how they feel the spirit move them.  During the first part of the service, they asked all newcomers to stand and introduce ourselves to the whole congregation.  We did as told.  Then, after two and half hours of sweating profusely in the packed, non-air-conditioned church, they invited new people into a conference room.  (It is not polite to refuse something, so we also did as told.) They welcomed us, served us pineapple juice and cookies that tasted like they were made of mothballs, and answered any questions we had and were genuinely happy to have us.  They take pride in showing new people their ways.  In the conference room, there were two other white people, Kaylie and Charlie, that were in Ghana to student teach.  They were both from Minnesota.

After navigating our way back from church across the vast campus, we ate lunch and headed to the beach.  This was a culture in itself.  Being swarmed by black men who are FAR more forward then American men is a little crazy, not only on the beach, but in the water as well.  “Come with me, the waves are better over here.  What is your name? I can help you swim.”  “No thanks, dude.  I can swim on my own.  Please don’t touch me anymore.”  But all in all, I’m a water kind of girl, so just being there was beautiful.  There’s something about waves crashing, whether that be at the North Shore or the ocean.  The coast is somewhere I could sit all day and not say a word.

After we returned and had dinner, we had some time to relax.  We headed to the night market to explore.  We met an older man, Joe, that gave me his phone numbers (yes, both of them) after we had talked for a while.  He had worked in London for three years earlier in his life.  We met Vivian; she is a fourteen-year-old girl that has been born and raised in Accra.  When she isn’t in school, she is working for her mother running the market store.  She wakes up at 5:00 am and comes to set up the store, and then she goes to school and comes back to the market once school is over until about 11:00pm.  She invited us to sit down and talk to her.  We ended up staying for two hours asking her questions and finding out about her life here.  She wants to be a businesswoman and own her own store someday, and, ”It will be the best store in the country,” she says.  She’s very wise for her age.  She’s so contagiously full of life it’s intoxicating.  She’s my new favorite.

Life is slow.  Africa time affects everything except final exam schedules.  People walk slowly here, however, they drive quickly.  Rushing isn’t heard of unless you’re on a trotro or crossing the street.  I realized how much time I’m going to have to just be.  I had a little bit of anxiety the other day when orientation had ended and I hadn’t had class yet.  I need to learn to relax.  Welcome to Africa.  Or “Akwaaba” as the Twi speakers like to say.

Some of us wanted to go swimming today, but Shadrach, our student guide, told us we were “too fresh” to go to the pool.  I think tomorrow I may head out for a run.

Oh!  I saw the Black Stars! They were just outside the football stadium on campus in full uniform about 50 yards away.  I would have run up to talk to them if they didn’t have their coaches and security around.  Definitely cool.

Germany/Ghana


Frankfurt airport:

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.

Liam Neeson


Boarded the plane to Toronto. Liam Neeson is sitting across the aisle from me.  Okay, so it’s not actually him, just his civilian look-a-like, but I pretended it was actually him.  Anyway… we exchanged glances a few times.  Going through customs in Canada, he needed to borrow a pen.  Not to worry Liam, I was all over it.  He didn’t realize that the pen actually belonged to me and not the airport.  I walked away and let him keep it. 

There was a small child aboard who decided to be “that kid” who couldn’t stop crying.  I gave up my seat and moved so that the family could have my row for more room.  Didn’t matter though, kid still kept crying.  Poor child.

Toronto airport:

Boring. I’m legal in this country, so I had a drink while I had five whole hours to sit and do nothing.  Stranger from across the bar pulled up a chair next to me after about 20 minutes.  I’m alone on this trip, and a strange 30 something sets off my warning flags, but hey, we’re in public, what’s the worst that could happen? (Sorry mom.)  He turned out to be pretty okay.  From Canada, he was headed to Cancun for business for a few days.  (What a hard job…Cancun.) The most common question asked in airports is, “Where you headed?” So upon his prompting, I answered, “Uh, Africa.” 
“Wow,” he answered.  “What for?”
I explained my situation, and he seemed to think that was pretty cool.  Come to find out, he’s driven through Lewiston before.  What a small world.  We had beer together.  When in Canada, right?