I’ve tried and failed to write this first in-country blog post several times. My first ten days in Ghana have been jam-packed with activity, and it’s hard to find a place to begin! Each day has brought new experiences, people and habits into my life, yet the rapid novelty feels completely natural. They say that the first stage of adjusting to a new culture is the honeymoon stage, and I’m starting to see the truth in that. Even though my first week in Ghana has been exhausting and confusing, I’ve gotten used to life here entirely too quickly. So without further ado, here are some of my experiences, opinions and challenges from the past ten days:
The Food // Of course, the most important part of any travel blog is the food. Ghanaian food is very different from the Indian and American food I’m used to at home. Most dishes pair some sort of starch (rice, pounded cassava, yam, etc.) with a stew, sauce or plantains. Being vegetarian has definitely been a challenge here because a) Ghanaians eat a lot of meat, and b) they don’t seem to eat a lot of vegetables. Although staying vegetarian during my time here means missing out on aspects of the culinary experience, I’ve realized that it’s something important to me that I’d rather not compromise on. Instead, I’ve been taking advantage of all the delicious vegetarian options that are available to me — like fresh fruit, tea bread and egg sandwiches, jollof rice, beans and plantains!
A hearty, meat-free Ghanaian dinner
The Sights // My favorite part of the last ten days has been seeing new parts of the University of Ghana and the greater Accra region. UG is an enormous, sprawling campus, much like Cornell! Unlike Cornell, however, there are no hills (good) and every building looks exactly the same (bad). I set out to explore campus with a couple girls from my program the other day, and it must have taken us at least an hour to walk the entire perimeter. I’m not complaining though — anyone who knows me knows that I love walking!
Just one of many endless, tree-lined roads on campus
We also got the chance to see different parts of Accra and the areas surrounding it, after mastering the tro-tro system. Tro-tros are mini-vans which run along various routes throughout the city, and one of the main modes of public transportation in Accra. Each tro-tro has a driver and a mate, who leans out the window and yells the direction that the particular tro-tro is going— it’s up to you, as a potential passenger, to decipher the different calls and figure out which tro-tro you need to be on to get where you’re going. While the whole system seems a bit chaotic at first, it’s actually one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to get around the city.
Makola Market in Accra, after successfully riding the tro-tro
The CIEE program also took us on a more formal city tour a couple days later, which was a great opportunity to see some of the historical landmarks of Accra.
Black Star Square, where Independence Day celebrations will be held in March!
Kwame Nkrumah National Park, honoring Ghana’s first president
And of course, all of us coming from the North American winter season were itching for a trip to the beach. After two failed attempts due to scheduling conflicts, we finally made it to the ocean on the last day before classes began.
Beautiful Bojo beach
The People // It sounds a bit strange, but one of the hardest things to get used to is how friendly the people are here. In the United States, it’s perfectly acceptable to ride the subway or stand in line without talking to the people around you. If someone does strike up a conversation, however, responding with friendly small talk and a smile is the appropriate, polite response. But in Ghana, people are much more likely to approach you to say hello, ask your name and where you’re going all in one breath — something that might come off as pushy if you tried it in Boston! The men, especially, are often eager to talk to foreign women, and I have a sneaking suspicion that some are more forward than they’d dare to be with Ghanaian women. Figuring out how to navigate and respect a more open, communicative culture (while still maintaining personal boundaries) will be a challenging, yet essential part of adjusting to life in Ghana.
Being Disconnected // Finally, an unexpected challenge of the last ten days has been being disconnected from events in the United States. This isn’t usually something I would complain about — I’m all for stepping away from social media, instant communication and the internet to be more fully grounded in the here and now. In fact, the first several days of spotty, low-bandwidth wifi felt more like a blessing than a curse. However, as headlines, photographs and news snippets from the States began to trickle in, I found myself desperately trying to find an internet connection to learn more about developing political and social crises back home. I ultimately splurged on a data pack that allows free access to social media apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, and have been much more in the loop since then. While letting go of social media is often an important step to immersing in a study abroad experience, it’s also a privilege in times like these. As a life-long resident of the United States, it’s heartbreaking to watch what’s going on at home and be helpless to do anything. But as a citizen, I feel it’s imperative to be informed and in solidarity, even from so far away.
So for my first ten days in Ghana, that’s about it! I’d love to hear any thoughts or questions from you in the comments, so don’t be shy 🙂
Sending lots of positive energy from Legon — until next time.