11 Things I’ve Learned in Ghana

In honor of my last day in Ghana, I figured I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned during my time abroad. Here they are:

 1.    Toilet paper Toilets are a luxury.

I remember the first time I went to the beach—I had to go to the bathroom, but there wasn’t one in sight. I was completely uncomfortable, but I was forced to go to the bathroom wherever I could find a spot. I was already used to always having to bring my own toilet paper everywhere, but it was a lot easier to get used to that than not having a bathroom. Four months later, I’ve accustomed myself to free ranging and I don’t even think twice about it anymore.

 2.    Life goes on when there is no Wi-Fi.

When I first got here, I had the hardest time adjusting to Wi-Fi-less life. I constantly check my phone at home and the fact that I couldn’t do that whenever I wanted to was really hard for me. I mainly wanted to go online to talk to my friends back home, which always left me feeling homesick afterwards. Not being distracted with life at home let me concentrate on life over here, which is exactly what I needed anyways. If there’s one thing I’ve realized, though, it’s that having Wi-Fi should be the least of my worries—I’d rather have electricity or running water or something like that. Suddenly, having Wi-Fi didn’t seem so important anymore.

3.    Everyone has a story; if you listen, you might learn something

Whenever I do things in public, I usually don’t try to get to know people too well. When I’m grocery shopping or in a cab or at a restaurant, I just talk with people as much as I need to in order to accomplish the task at hand. Since being in Ghana, though, I’ve grown accustomed to the slower pace of life and I’ve really gotten to know people on a much better level. When I’m stuck in traffic, I talk to my cab driver. When I’m waiting for my egg sandwich at the night market, I talk to the vendors. Sometimes, when I’m in a tro-tro, I’ve even had conversations with the people next to me. I’ve learned so many great things about Ghana that I would’ve robbed myself of if I held onto the American “keep to yourself” philosophy. I’ve learned so many places to go, things to do, and even how many people feel about Ghanaian politics. I’m glad I’ve embraced getting to know people in a new domain than I would in the US.

4.    No water? No problem.

No matter where I’ve been in Ghana, there have been water outages. During the month I was at my homestay, I had running water a total of 2 times and one of those times, the water ran out halfway through my shower. I guess you can say I’ve mastered the art of bucket showering. When I moved to the dorm, I was happy to have running water, but it goes out all the time—from a few hours at a time to four days in a row. The only issue I have with no running water is the fact that no one can flush the toilets and the fact that it always seemed to go out after I came back all sweaty from dance class. Other than that, I think I’ve grown accustomed to waterless life. It’s not that bad and it really makes me think about how much water I waste on a daily basis.

5.    Don’t have expectations, because you will be disappointed if you do.

When I first got here, I had a hard time with things not working out how I planned. There have been times where I showed up to class and no one was there. There have been times when I arranged to meet with people at a certain time and they didn’t arrive for two hours. It is so easy to get frustrated, but I quickly realized that life is different over here and once I stopped having expectations, I was so much happier. At times, I even expected the worst and was pleasantly surprised when things turned out better. When we went to Togo and Benin, we didn’t know we had to get visas in advance so we had to stay in Togo for another night and get our visas from the consulate in the morning. The hotel we were staying at was filled up for the night, so we were left scrambling for a hotel and stumbled upon this really cute hotel with air conditioning and amazing Indian food. At that point, we weren’t expecting anything and were just hoping to find a place to sleep, but we really lucked out. Having no expectations can sometimes lead to being pleasantly surprised.

6.    Air conditioning is completely unnecessary.

I’ll be honest: I sweat. A lot. Being here has really proven that point and even though I still complain when I’m really sweaty, I’ve gotten used to the feeling. Being without air was a hard transition, but with the help of ceiling fans and a nice breeze, I’ve been able to survive. On the rare occasion when I do have air, I find that I get super cold and I always have to bring a sweater with me. I’m interested to see how my body reacts to climate-controlled rooms when I get home because it will definitely be in for a shock.

7.    Take chances

Coming here was a huge chance. Before leaving, I questioned my decision to come here, but once I got here, I realized that this was the best chance I had ever taken. I could have gone to Europe with all of my friends, but I always knew I wanted to come to Africa. It’s so important to trust your instincts and understand that while it is okay to be nervous, things will always work out in the end. If you take chances and trust your instincts, you will be much happier in the long run.

8.    A little peace and quiet is always okay

Especially when living in a dorm, I realized how easy it is to get tired of constantly being around the same people. When I first got to the dorm, I tried to always surround myself with people for fear of missing out on something fun. After a while, though, I got very tired and worn out. I realized that sometimes, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, it’s completely okay to get away and take some time for yourself. Constantly traveling takes a lot out of you and sometimes you need to take a minute and relax.

 9.    Don’t be afraid to get laughed at

At home, I always do my best to make sure I know what I’m doing or at least look like I know what I’m doing, because I’m afraid of being stared at and laughed at. Since being here, though, I’m pretty sure I get laughed at at least once a day and it doesn’t even faze me anymore. Regardless of what I do or where I go, I stand out and everyone is always staring at the obrouni (white person) in the room. Some of the things I get laughed at for, like how I sound when I speak, aren’t going to change anytime soon, so I’ve grown accustomed to he laughter. Sometimes, I even laugh with everyone else and I just embrace it.

10. It’s okay for things to be out of your control

If someone asked me to describe the biggest adjustment for me in Ghana in three words, I’d say this: lack of control. I like knowing how things are going to be and planning in advance for things. Here, that’s not really an option. From not knowing when classes were going to start (the professors were on strike for 4 weeks at the beginning of the semester) to not being able to get out of a stilt village because our canoe never showed up, it’s safe to say that lack of control really impacted my time here. At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle the uncertainty, but it’s definitely grown on me. I remember when I tried to get my textbooks from the library; I couldn’t get them because the administration was on strike so there was no one to check out my books for me. I was so frustrated and upset that I left the library in tears. It’s really hard to do everything you’re supposed to and still not be able to achieve the end goal, but I learned that it’s just part of life. It’s a hard concept to accept, but I’ve learned that it’s sometimes how life is and that it’s completely okay.

11. Despite what you may think, you will always rise to the occasion

When I’m unsure of a situation, I usually find myself doubting my abilities. Since being here, though, I’ve seen how much stronger of a person I am than I originally thought. When faced with difficult situations, I was able to manage my way through them even though I didn’t think I’d be able to. I had this specific moment of realization when I had to go to the hospital by myself. I was experiencing sharp pains in my side and I tried putting off going to the hospital as long as possible mainly because I was afraid of experiencing a Ghanaian hospital. When I finally made the decision to go, all of my friends weren’t available so I had to go by myself. This required me to bargain for a cab and then deal with everything at the hospital. I remember being in so much pain when I got to the hospital and that it was completely unorganized and everyone was staring at me rather than offering to help me. The hospital was a very hard experience for me mainly because was every man for himself, which is really hard to do when you’re in pain. While in the waiting room, I cried multiple times from a combination of pain and being overwhelmed. Despite everything, though, I left the hospital having successfully seen a doctor, gotten blood drawn, gotten a prescription, and being referred to a specialist. When I came here, I didn’t think I’d be capable of doing all of that by myself, but I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to get things done.

 

Peace&Blessings,

Paige

Happy Thanksgiving from Ghana

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share a few things I’m thankful for. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Ghana, it’s that I definitely take a lot of things for granted and I feel like I will leave here with a greater appreciation for all that I do have and an understanding that life does, in fact, go on without certain things.

My list may be a little skewed, but here it is:

I’m thankful to live in a place that offers me so many opportunities and chances to go after what I want.

I’m thankful for hot showers. Scratch that, I’m thankful for running water.

I’m thankful for my professors back home. (Trust me, it could be worse)

I’m thankful for toilet paper.

I’m thankful for Wi-Fi, no matter how slow it is.

I’m thankful for air conditioning.

I’m thankful for being able to go places alone.

I’m thankful for a variety of food whenever I want it.

I’m thankful for my friends at home and for the friends I’ve made in Ghana.

I’m thankful for being able to come to Ghana and experience a part of the world that I’ve always been interested in.

Most of all, I’m thankful for my family because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today and they’ve supported me every step of the way.

Waking up today, I was so excited for one of my favorite holidays, but it felt very strange being in a place where this is just another day. Thankfully, everyone on my program is getting together tonight to celebrate Thanksgiving—Ghanaian style. Many of us are attempting to create a huge Thanksgiving feast; there will be a plethora of interesting foods from turkey to guacamole. If I still have Wi-Fi, I’m hoping to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on my computer. I’ve watched it every year and I hope I’ll be able to see it today!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace&Blessings,

Paige

p.s. I’m also thankful that Popcorn won the Presidential Turkey Pardon. #teampopcorn

Cape Coast

A few weeks ago, CIEE took us on a day-trip to Cape Coast, which is about 2 hours outside of Accra. Cape Coast is a popular place to visit mainly because of Kakum National Park and the slave castles.

We started our day with a tour of Elmina Castle, the largest of the castles in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I’ve always enjoyed getting to experience history where it took place versus just reading about it in a book and this experience was no different. It was, however, one of the most emotional and heart-wrenching things I have ever been a part of.

Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle

Entrance to the castle

Entrance to the castle

The tour guide was especially helpful when it came to telling us all about what happened in the castle. He brought us to each room and explained what it was used for. What was so surreal to me was that I was standing in a place where so many horrible things occurred. A few hundred years ago, there were so many people being tortured and neglected in the very room I was standing in. There was just so much to take in.

One of the slave dungeons

One of the slave dungeons

Another slave dungeon

Another slave dungeon

In one of the slave dungeons

In one of the slave dungeons

A few things stuck out to me that really helped me understand the stark contrast between what it meant to be white and black at that time.

At one point, the guide showed us two prison cells: one for whites and one for blacks. The prison cell for white people was used as a punishment for white guards who were misbehaving (i.e. not taking orders, etc.). We got the chance to go in the prison cell and it wasn’t all that bad. There were windows in a few places and it was pretty breezy. It was also in a spot where the sun hit, so it was so easy to see. The guards typically had to stay in this cell for a few days. Directly next to the white prison cell was the door to the black prison cell, which looked like a door to a dungeon. When the tour guide opened the door for us to go in, we could barely see where we were going. First of all, the cell was half the size of the white prison cell and it was very difficult to fit everyone inside. When we were all inside, the guide shut the door on us and it was pitch black. He explained that when captured slaves misbehaved (i.e. rebelled, tried to escape, etc.), they would be put in this prison cell. There could be up to 40 people in the dungeon at a time and once you went in, you weren’t taken out until you were dead. As a matter of fact, they wouldn’t clear out the prison cell until all the inhabitants were dead. Not only were the captured slaves subjected to several diseases and not given any food, but also they were expected to sit inside this cell and rot until they died. It was such a stark contrast to the prison cell for white guards, which was directly next to this cell. Two completely different worlds were represented, only a few feet apart.

Another thing that really spoke to me was when we went to the governor’s apartment, which was located in the castle. It was upstairs and it was huge. The rooms were vast in size and there was so much open space. It’s probably the equivalent of the size of my house at home. I just can’t understand how a person could live so luxuriously (especially during this timeframe) when so much injustice against humanity was being committed just a few hundred feet away. When I looked out the windows at this apartment, there was a clear view of the slave dungeons where people were being treated like animals. What perplexes me the most is how a person could live within this community and not feel at all guilty or responsible. While I will never understand why people thought that this kind of treatment was acceptable, it’s one thing to participate in this activity during the day and go home at night, but it’s completely different to live among this way of life and never feel any remorse. Humanity is sometimes so disgusting to me.

View from the Governor's apartment

View from the Governor’s apartment

The most emotional and moving moment for me, however, was when we went through the door or no return. Slaves were led through this door (if they survived the conditions at the castle) and put on a boat to the Americas. This was the last time that slaves would be in their home country and there was no coming back. Our tour guide led us through the tunnel and the steps to the final room where the door of no return was located. He asked us to partake in a moment of silence and then had us sing ‘Amazing Grace,’ which was written during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was such a touching moment and is something I will never forget.

Entrance to the door of no return

Entrance to the door of no return

 

Door of no return

Door of no return

 

View from the door of no return

View from the door of no return

After the tour, we sat in a room and had a brief discussion just reflecting on our experiences and emotions. While I didn’t speak, I really enjoyed hearing other people’s thoughts on such a heavy topic.

Shame on the human race

Shame on the human race

After the castle, our day took a happy turn and we went to Kakum National Park to do the canopy walk. We went on a hike that consisted crossing over 7 canopies in the jungle. It was a lot of fun, even though the canopies were very rickety and some of the guys on my trip were shaking them. Talk about a true team-building experience!

A few people on the canopy walkway

A few people on the canopy walkway

 

Liz and I on the canopy walkway

Liz and I on the canopy walkway

Once we were finished in Kakum, we went to a late lunch at a crocodile resort in Cape Coast. After eating, I got to touch a crocodile, which was super cool! I’m so happy that I lived to tell the tale, because it kept moving around before I went by it to touch it! It was a close call.

Me touching a crocodile

Making friends

Peace&Blessings,

Paige

Rural Homestay and Palm Tree Festival

The weekend before I went to the stilt village, I spent my weekend at the Palm Tree Festival in the Volta region in Ghana. The trip was through the drumming department and we stayed in the hometown of a drumming professor in a small village. The trip was very fun and I felt like I was really able to understand Ghanaian culture better, especially since I was so far outside the hustle and bustle of Accra.

In typical Ghanaian fashion, we left an hour and a half late, so we got stuck in major traffic on our way there. Originally, we were supposed to travel luxuriously (in an air-conditioned bus), but since there were so few of us, we rode in a private tro-tro instead. Since being in Ghana, it’s rained about five times and on this day, it not only rained—it poured. About 45 minutes into the car ride, the ceiling started leaking in the tro-tro, but it wasn’t anything major, so we didn’t think anything of it. But, as the rain kept coming down, the ceiling eventually couldn’t handle it and there was water everywhere! I was sitting in the back row of the tro-tro with my friends Emily and Jeremy and we were the only ones getting soaked. Twenty minutes later, we were so wet that it looked like we had just gotten out of the shower. When asked what was going on by us, my Jeremy said it best: “It’s fucking raining back here.”

Needless to say, we pulled over multiple times to try and see where the water was coming from, but nothing helped. We had one person move up front, but Jeremy and me were stuck in the back in the pouring rain—you’d think we were in a convertible, not a tro-tro. Eventually, the raining ceiling started to get some other people wet, so we stopped at a gas station and the driver was going to attempt to fix the problem once and for all. The only issue was the fact that he was trying to seal the hole, but that was impossible since it was already soaked from all of the rain. At that point, I’d agreed to just suck it up and stay in the back since I was already wet, but then my friend Ally and I realized an even bigger problem than the rain—cockroaches.

We saw a cockroach crawl out of a hole in the ceiling and that was the breaking point for us. We told the professor and other Ghanaians we were with and they told us that they would switch seats with us. Luckily, Ally and I were up in the front, far away from the cockroaches, but we could still hear them squeaking.

When we arrived at the homestay, let me just say that it was exactly what I pictured Ghana to be like before I came here. We were in a small village with tiny houses and basic necessities. The house that we stayed in consisted of a single room, which is where we slept. The living room was outside of the house along with the bathroom. There was no running water, but there was electricity. The kitchen consisted of women cooking food on coals and fires outside.

Our room

Our room

 

The living area and bathroom

The living area and bathroom

The next morning, we all woke up and got dressed for the day. The whole reason we came to the Volta region was to go to the Palm Tree Festival, which consists of celebrating the palm tree for all of its uses—the leaves, the oil, the bark, the coconuts, the alcohol, etc.

We started the festivities by going a few blocks away where there was a parade to the festival site. The “parade” consisted of hundreds of people decked out in traditional ware from waist beads to kente cloth. The chief of the village was carried on a throne to the festival. I was wearing a traditional dress and I was sweating profusely since it was so hot outside—I don’t know how the men in elaborate kente cloths were able to survive in the heat.

The chief being carried to the festival

The chief being carried to the festival

 

Women dressed in their festival outfits

Women dressed in their festival outfits

When we got to the festival site, there were people everywhere all sitting down waiting for the speakers to begin. About 20 minutes after we got there, there was much commotion going on since the former President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings, was in attendance. He came up to our section and I was only ten feet away from him—he even shook my friend’s hand.

Former President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings

Former President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings

Once the speakers began, they went on for hours and hours—all in the local language. We got there around 11am and we left at 3pm and the festival wasn’t even halfway over! While the speakers took up most of the time, there were several breaks where people performed or where there were traditional ceremonies in honor of the palm tree.

A child celebrating the Palm Tree

A child celebrating the Palm Tree

Once we left, we went home for dinner. Even though I’ve been in Ghana for 3 months now, it hasn’t been that hard to find food I like. Being in Accra, I have so many options about where to go and what to eat, but since I was in a rural part of Ghana, I didn’t have any choice when it came to dinner. That being said, dinner consisted of banku (a doughy ball that is everywhere in Ghana), tilapia, little fish, and sauce. I tried the tilapia, but wasn’t a huge fan since there were bones and skin everywhere, so I took a few bites of banku and called it a day.

Tilapia for dinner

Tilapia for dinner

 

Interesting fish for dinner

Interesting fish for dinner

After dinner, we all sat outside and got to know the people in the neighborhood. There were so many people around and it was so nice to be able to feel like part of the community. Even though a lot of the people didn’t speak English, we were all dancing and drumming and having a good time—I guess it’s true when they say that music is a universal language. When we were dancing, I even got to do one of the traditional dances from my dance class, so that was a lot of fun since I actually knew what was going on.

Drumming at night

Drumming at night

The next day, we packed up and left for campus. Overall, I’d say my experience was very enlightening and enjoyable. Looking back, I like to describe it as my “Peace Corps experience,” because it reminds me of what it would be like to be in the Peace Corps, especially since it was such a small village with a language barrier. I really enjoyed myself and I’m glad I got to spend it with some of my close friends.

Peace & Blessings,

Paige

Stilt Village and Surfing

So I realized that I haven’t posted a blog in about a month, which is pretty sad. I’ve done so much since my last post and once I realized how long it has been since I last posted, I realized that I won’t be able to fully explain everything that has happened in these last few weeks. First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that today is November 7, and I only have just over a month left here. I still can’t believe how fast my time has gone here and that it’s almost over!

A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I went to the western part of Ghana to a town I can’t pronounce. We went to see the stilt village and let me just say that it was quite the experience. While it was cool to see a village on stilts, it definitely wasn’t worth the 11-hour journey it took to get there. The last leg of travelling consisted of a 45-minute canoe ride through crocodile infested waters. If that wasn’t bad enough, let’s just say that they overloaded the canoe and the canoe had holes in in, so one of my friends had the responsibility of scooping the water out of the boat the entire time. By the end of the boat ride, I needed a Xanax and a drink.

Us in the canoe (you can see us scooping water out of it)

Us in the canoe (you can see us scooping water out of it)

If I’m being honest, I originally thought that it was a village of people on stilts, so I was a little bummed when I found out that only the village was on stilts. Despite that let down, I was still excited to see what the town was all about and how the people lived. When we got there, we got a tour of the village, which was a quick 20-minute walk through the place. After that, there was nothing to do since it was such a small village. Since we were staying the night, we put our stuff down in two of the four rooms in the “guest house.” None of them were clean, but we chose the two rooms by default since there was a bat in one and some type of animal poop on one of the other beds. Basically, we all just hung out and before we knew it, it was dinner, which consisted of jollof, yams, and an egg.

This is was just the calm before the storm.

In order to go to the bathroom, you had to use a key and there was one bathroom in the whole village. Most of the people peed in the water and only used the toilet when necessary, but they gave us the key for the toilet because they knew how us white people value toilets. During dinner, my friend Jesse dropped the key. Since it was dark, we were searching all over for it, but realized that she dropped it through the stilts and into the water. No more key for anyone. Since we’re all used to the fact that we just have to pee wherever we can, it wasn’t a huge deal to not have access to a bathroom….except if you had a bad experience with dinner, which was the case for a few people.

After we got over that issue, we decided to hang out in our rooms since there were so many mosquitoes around. Like I said, it was dark, so our room lights were the only things on and it attracted hundreds of moths to our room. It was literally an infestation of moths. We tried to kill them, but more appeared and they were everywhere—on the beds, on the floor, on our backpacks, etc.!

While this was happening in my room, the girls in the other room were screaming that they were locked in their room with all of the moths. Initially, I just laughed because I didn’t know how they could be so dumb, but when I went to open the door, it was locked and there was no way I could get it open. We went to get people from the village and they had to take a machete to the lock in order to bust open the door. It was like a scene from the movies where the cops break down a door for something. When the door opened, all I saw was Jesse screaming with relief, Viviane wearing a headlamp (classic), and Irini sitting on the bed meditating. I guess it’s safe to say that it was only an issue to some people.

After that, we decided to move outside to get away from the moths and we were having a great time just hanging out. About an hour later, I turned my head towards our rooms and saw a rat crawl into my room. A few other people saw it too and we were all collectively grossed out. If there’s one thing in the world that scares me the most, it’s rats and mice. I thought I was being pretty flexible with all that had happened so far that day, but the rat was definitely my breaking point. We joked that we would sleep outside, but a little while later we were all so tired and decided to suck it up and go to sleep in our rooms anyways.

It’s safe to say that I was pretty paranoid and every time I heard a sound, I switched on my flashlight to see if it was the rat. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep well that night.

As per usual, there was some commotion in the other room and we just assumed that they were filling their minds with crazy scenarios involving the rat. Of the three people in that room, two of them are probably the most anxious and high-strung people on this trip, so we just ignored them like usual. Then, about ten minutes later it gets quiet, and Viviane says, “Guys, the bat is in our room.”

I was laughing so hard, but I was so thankful that I was in the other room. They were all squealing and yelling things and were afraid to get out of their bed because they were afraid the bat would land in their hair. Viviane had the wonderful idea of turning on her headlamp (she was still wearing it) to see if the bat had moved. Luckily, she didn’t (and thank god, because if the bat came near her she probably would’ve had a panic attack—something a Xanax wouldn’t be able to help with).

They were locked in their room again, but after some fiddling with the door, they were able to get out. While Irini and Viviane decided that they were sleeping outside that night, I knew Jesse would freak out, so I volunteered myself to sleep outside instead and she could take my spot in the bed. It was a win-win: she didn’t have to sleep outside and I was away from the rat. We all thought that it was hilarious that we actually slept outside, but let me just say that it was the best night’s sleep I had in a while.

Us sleeping outside

Us sleeping outside

The next morning, we were all over being at this village and we just wanted to leave. Our canoe was scheduled to pick us up at 9am, so we decided that we would pay for our rooms early so that we would be ready to go once the canoe arrived. The guy who we made our reservations with went to the mainland for the day, so we were left with two women who were trying to overcharge us. Before we got there, we had to pay 17 cedis for the canoe ride and we were told that this also included our food since we were staying the night. The only thing left to pay for was the two rooms, at 40 cedis each and then we were good to go. The women wanted to charge us for the rooms and the food, which was overpriced and not that good. Instead of paying 80 cedis, they wanted us to pay 120 cedis, something that was not going to happen. We were explaining to them what we were supposed to pay and that we had already paid for the food, but they didn’t care. We spent over an hour and a half arguing with them and they would not change the price.

We were all so fed up, but there was no way to get off of this island because our canoe still hadn’t arrived. When it finally did arrive, we all tried to get in the canoe and leave, but one of the women took the paddles away and wouldn’t give them back until we paid her price. We ended up paying 105 cedis instead of 120 cedis, which isn’t a whole lot more than the 80 cedis we thought we were going to pay. It was just really frustrating that they wouldn’t listen to us when we said that we didn’t use one room because of the bat/rat/being locked in dilemma.

Once we left the village, we were all so much happier, even if we were still a bit worked up. The canoe ride was hell, but nothing compared to being at the village. I’m writing this 4 weeks after going to the stilt village, so I know my anger has since been repressed, but I’m being honest when I say to never go there if you come to Ghana. Even though people don’t have any customer service skills, I have never felt so disrespected and taken advantage of in my life. Plus, there are no people on stilts, so it’s not that exciting anyways.

After we got back to the mainland, we went to this little Spanish restaurant and it was absolutely delicious. After that, we travelled about two hours to Busua, a little surfing village where we spent the night and got surfing lessons in the morning. It was nice being in a real hotel, even if I did find a lizard in my towel. Surfing was a lot of fun, despite the fact that I never stood up on a wave. It’s a lot harder than it looks.

Pre-surfing

Pre-surfing

Action shot

Action shot

Even though the weekend started badly, it ended on a completely different note and I’m glad that I went. If anything, I came back with a few stories.

Peace&blessings,

Paige

The 8 People You Will Meet When You Study Abroad

Since being abroad, I’ve gotten to know so many different people, especially the ones on my program. When I’ve spoken to my friends who are also abroad, I’ve noticed that there are many parallels when it comes to the people on our programs. When hearing a friend talk about someone on their program. I immediately thought of a similar person on my program. That being said, I’ve compiled a list of the types of people you will probably meet while abroad. Keep in mind that this list is subjective and only meant for fun.

1.    The Photographer

This is the person who always has their camera ready to document every moment of the trip. This person can be found taking pictures even where pictures aren’t allowed. By the end of the trip, you’ll probably see a picture of every meal they’ve eaten in the past 4 months, complete with Instagram filters. Besides always taking pictures themselves, they’re constantly asking people to take pictures of them for the sake of showing everyone at home what a great experience they’re having. Yes, this person often utters phrases like, “Take a picture of me with this African child,” and “Ooh, can you snap a pic of me holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa?” When you do finally take their picture, they’ve already shifted their attention to finding the perfect filter for their new profile picture. This will continue for the duration of your trip.

2.    The World Traveller

This is the person who has been to more countries than you can count. Not only have they been to the popular ones, but they’ve also been to countries that you’ve never even heard of. They’re so cultured and they don’t seem to be phased by anything. Culture shock isn’t in their vocabulary and when they see other people experiencing culture shock, it’s with a “been there, done that” mentality. They might start their sentences with a, “When I was in Kenya…” anecdote. This person is always prepared for everything and has just about every travel gadget you can imagine. They probably brought half of the things you did because they knew exactly how to pack. Plus, when you compliment them on their awesome wardrobe, they’ll probably respond with something like, “Oh this old thing? I got it in Cambodia/ The Galapagos Islands/Zambia years ago.”

3.    The Drunk

Let’s face the facts: One of the most exciting things about being abroad when you’re under 21 is being able to legally drink alcohol. We’ve all experienced that moment of independence when we walked into a bar and didn’t have to whip out our fakes. Even though it’s a great feeling, there’s always one person who takes it a bit too far. Maybe this person won’t be 21 when they get back to the US or maybe they drink so much because the alcohol is so cheap. Whatever the reason, this person probably goes out 4-5 times per week (maybe more) and always takes advantage of the open container laws of their host country. Even though I haven’t been able to pinpoint a person on my program as being the drunk, I’d be lying if I said that none of us ever exhibited these characteristics from time to time.

4.    The Constant Reminder

This is the person who will always tell you where you are, what you’re doing, and why it is so exciting. If you ever forget what is going on, they will be there to remind you every 10 minutes. This person probably hasn’t travelled that much, so they’re excited to experience everything. This person might exhibit characteristics of the photographer as well, because they’re trying to document all of their awesome cultural experiences. They’re usually found saying things like, “Guys, I can’t believe we’re sitting by the Eiffel Tower drinking wine and eating baguettes. We’re so French right now,” or “Before I leave Ghana, I have to go on a safari because if I don’t see Elephants or Tigers, I’m gonna be pissed. It’s the true African experience.”

5.    The Free Spirit

This person always goes with the flow and will try everything once. They will eat all of the food all of the time and go on every adventure without ever blinking an eye. They won’t understand why everyone else on the program is disgusted that they’re eating a raw fish from the side of the road. They’re not afraid of getting traveller’s diarrhea—they don’t think anything of it. This person is probably super cool and you should try to get to know them. If you hang out with them, you’ll probably end up doing a super cool cultural thing that you never even knew about.

6.    The Local

Within 2 weeks of being in your host country, this person’s friend group consists entirely of locals. How they even met all of these people, you have no idea. All you do know is that they’re never around because they’re out a friend’s house or at a festival of some sort. They actually make an effort to speak the host language and they speak it exclusively with their new friends. If you can’t figure out who this is on your program, it’s okay, you probably haven’t met them yet since they’re so busy.

7.    The Parent

This person is always looking out for everyone on the program and they are always prepared for every situation, no matter how unlikely it may seem. Oh you got a snakebite in Denmark? Don’t  worry—they have a cream for that. Or maybe your computer died in the middle of the desert. You’re in luck—they brought their computer charger with them. If you ever feel sick, you can just go to them and they will ask you all of your symptoms before whipping out their first aid kit filled with every item known to man. This person can’t wait to tell you everything they know and they love it when you come to them for anything.

8.    The Outlier

This is the person who you will definitely meet when you’re abroad in a non-traditional location. When you see some of the things that the outlier says/does, you often think to yourself, “Why did you even come here?” I see this on a daily basis. This is the person saying things like, “Ew, we have to bucket shower? I’m so not doing that.” Or “The bathroom is a hole in the ground? Where are we?” This person might be a diva or they might not be afraid to say what’s on their mind. Regardless of the reason, they’re like an open book and can be found complaining to someone in person or on the phone.

As I mentioned before, this list is just based on my experiences so far. Even though some of them sound mean, I think it’s safe to say that we all have characteristics of each person I’ve listed above. I’d be lying if I said I never complained about a bucket shower or if I didn’t comment on how cool it was to be in Ghana. Being abroad is great, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that even though you may be doing everything together, everyone experiences things differently. It’s natural to be excited about experiencing a new culture and it’s also natural to be hesitant about some things. At the end of the day, everyone adjusts differently to a new culture and we all have our own ways of adjusting to change.

Peace&Blessings,

Paige

Bargaining 101

One major adjustment I’ve had to make since being in Ghana is learning how to bargain. I’ve only had to bargain once before and that was in Mexico when I was with my parents and they took care of most of it for me anyways. Now, I’m all on my own when it comes to bargaining and let me just say that it has been an interesting adjustment, but I’m definitely getting better at it. I have to bargain for pretty much everything here—from cab fare to jewelry.

When I first got here, I hated bargaining mainly because it made me uncomfortable. I would avoid it at all costs, even if that meant not leaving my homestay for the day because I didn’t want to negotiate a cab price. Once when I did go out, I took the original price that the cab driver offered me, no questions asked. For me, it was hard to understand bargaining mainly because of how cheap everything is here. When a driver would offer me a cab for 7 cedis ($3.50), I initially thought it was so cheap because of how I’m used to the crazy cab prices in DC. However, I soon realized that my wallet was emptying faster than I wanted it to and I became annoyed when I realized how much further I could make my money go if I actually bargained for things. Once I started bargaining for things, I was happier, not only because I was saving money, but also because I felt accomplished when I got items for the price I wanted.

One of my favorite places to bargain is at the art market in Tema. This market consists of a bunch of stands with pretty much the same things, from jewelry to shoes to wooding carvings. It’s definitely one of my favorite places to go because they have everything I could ever want. When I first went here, I knew that I’d have to bargain, but I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy it. Now, I see bargaining as a game.

One thing I’ve learned about bargaining is to offer a price way lower than you want to pay, in order to actually get it for the price you want. For example, when I went to the market today, the seller originally wanted me to pay 20 cedis for a necklace, but I wanted it for 10 cedis. I told the person that the price was no good and that I wanted it for 5 cedis, knowing they would not accept it. Then I eventually worked my way up to 10 cedis, hoping they would take it. In some cases, when I get to the price I want, the person will usually agree with me. In some cases, however, they will still say no. At first, I didn’t know what to do if I wanted an item and they wouldn’t give me the price I wanted. If I really want an item, I won’t mind paying more for it, but that defeats the whole purpose of bargaining. That’s where the art of walking away comes into play.

If the person won’t give me the price I want, I’ll simply say, “Okay, never mind,” and walk away. This freaks them out because they don’t want to lose a sale, especially when they know I can go to another stand and get the item for the price I want. Usually, when I start walking away, they will give me the price I want. Going back to the necklace, when I started walking away, the woman immediately offered it to me for 10 cedis. It works like a charm.

Another tactic I like to use is to simply tell the person that it was cheaper somewhere else and that I’m going to buy it from the other vendor. In some cases, this is true, but it usually isn’t. Even though this sounds like complete manipulation, I use this tactic when I know the person isn’t offering me a fair price. Since I’ve been here for 2 months, I now know the prices for things, so when a person tries to sell me something for way more than they should, I love using this strategy. It’s kind of like an “I see what you’re doing and I’m gonna do it right back” strategy. Usually, it works. Plus, the products here usually aren’t good quality, so there’s no point in paying high prices for them. A month ago, I was so excited that I got a pair of leather sandals for 25 cedis, but the “leather” has since peeled off. Sometimes, my strategy doesn’t work, but that’s usually when I don’t want an item and I just lie to get the person to stop hassling me about buying the item. A few weeks ago when a vendor wouldn’t leave me alone about buying a pair of shoes for 50 cedis, I simply told them that I saw them for 10 cedis somewhere else and I was going to get them there. They realized that that wasn’t a fair price and left me alone after that.

Sometimes, instead of playing games when it comes to prices, I’ll simply tell the person how much I’m willing to pay for an item and use a “take it or leave it” method. The key is to know when to use this method, because it only works in certain situations. For example, since I’ve bought sunglasses from vendors for 5 cedis before, I refuse to pay any price higher than that. The main reason for this is because the sunglasses are so cheap and there’s a good chance that they will break in a week anyways. I know this and the vendors know this, so they usually don’t argue with me. Plus, there’s no way the vendors can even say they’re high quality when some of the “Ray Bans” say “Rey Bins.” Today, I found a pair of sunglasses I liked and the guy tried to charge me 10 cedis and I immediately told him 5 cedis and he agreed. It’s so easy.

Although bargaining still sometimes makes me uncomfortable, I’m getting used to it. The best way to get over bargaining is to just do it. If a cab driver or a vendor doesn’t want to accept my price, then all I have to do is walk away. Sometimes it sucks when I have to go up to multiple cabs before I get the price I want, but 9 times out of 10, I do end up getting what I want. It’s the best feeling once I get the price I want, especially since that means I have more money to do even more shopping.

 

Peace&Blessings,

Paige