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.