When I woke up yesterday morning, I was greeted by wonderful advice from a new friend, Jen Jones. Jen is a past Brainbirds volunteer and the only other person to attempt a photography program here. Though I’ve never had the opportunity to meet her, I was given her contact information by Gideon several days before I embarked on this trip and have since reached out several times to ask for her guidance. Since Jen and I are now Facebook friends, I have the added benefit of her occasional blog comments in which she has related to what I am going through while also giving me tips for improving certain situations. Late Saturday evening, Jen had commented on my Day 23 post (which you can view here), saying that she had experienced similarly frustrating situations in her time at the school. She also mentioned the threat of upcoming reverse culture shock, which is something I’ve worried about myself. Before I fell asleep on Saturday, I sent Jen a private message to ask her some clarifying questions on her comment; when I awoke on Sunday, I had received several responses.
First, Jen sent me a blog post she had written on reverse-reverse culture shock: the shock she had experienced after living in Ghana, traveling back to the States, and then traveling back to Ghana again. Her blog was really interesting in that it was written after she had experienced Ghana for quite some time—I’m not sure exactly how long, but I think about a year. She confessed that, in her first visit, she felt that she had Ghana “all figured out” by her second week. However, as her time progressed, she realized that she didn’t have a comprehensive idea of Ghana just yet, and that she probably never would. Jen’s words were sobering to me in that they reminded me that, though I have learned so much since I’ve been here, there is still so much more to learn. In the almost-one-month that I’ve been here, I’ve only been able to sample such a small piece of the country… and, unfortunately, that piece will not be much bigger by the time I have to leave. This realization made me wonder, is three months long enough?
Jen also sent me a second message, explaining what she meant by her original threat of reverse culture shock. She detailed that, when she first returned to the States, it was difficult for her to make the transition back from a collectivist society to an individualistic society. Just as I had feared, she also mentioned that “first world problems” suddenly felt very insignificant. This worried me a bit, as I am genuinely concerned that I will have to bite my tongue a lot in future hangouts with family and friends. In thinking about how situations will play out, I am imagining friends complaining about a messed up Starbucks order or an hour time period in which their phone is dead and they don’t have a charger. Even in these made up scenarios, I can picture myself snapping: oh, so you received two pumps of mocha instead of one? That’s cool, try going without running water for three days. Of course, this is not the mature way to respond at all (hence the anticipated biting-of-tongues), though I am nervous that I will find it difficult to relate to others’ problems as, to me, they will suddenly seem vapid and insignificant in comparison to the problems I witness here every day.
All in all, it was amazing to receive Jen’s opinions and, after reading through everything she had sent, I fired a few responses back. At this point, I could no longer ignore my growling stomach. As I mentioned in Saturday’s blog post, unfortunately, a late-night saltine binge had cleared me of pretty much all of my food (save for jars of peanut butter and jelly, a pack of dried spaghetti, one serving of tomato sauce, and two “Laughing Cow” cheese wedges). The majority of shops in the area are closed on Sunday due to church, so it looked like I’d have to make due. I decided to save my spaghetti and tomato sauce for lunch and dinner, and I ate a single cheese wedge for breakfast. Note to self: cheese is not as great on its own as it is on bread or crackers. Regardless, it was sustenance; I wasn’t complaining. I read in bed for a bit (I was getting so close to finishing my book, We Need To Talk About Kevin) before finally getting up and preparing to do some wash.
I started to hand wash all of the clothes that I had been putting off washing earlier in the week, and was about halfway through when I realized that Auntie Lilly, who had been cooking yams over the fire in the kitchen, had just finished making her meal. This meant that the coals she used would still be burning, so I wouldn’t have to make a fire from scratch! I jumped at the opportunity and took this time to start boiling the water for my spaghetti. While I waited, Auntie Lilly offered me a slice of her apple. Though I’ve been told that it’s not advisable to eat fruits or vegetables here that do not have very thick skins, I was starving from my lack of breakfast and took her up on her offer. I didn’t feel sick after, so I am thinking maybe I will continue pushing my luck in the future with other fruits.
As I waited for my water to boil, I asked Lilly if she knew of any stores that were not closed for church. She told me that, in fact, there was one store on our street that was open! I quickly ran over to grab a bottle of water and a few tomatoes. I chopped up the tomatoes and, when the water finally started boiling, I pushed my spaghetti and the tomatoes into the pot. I hoped to return to my wash, to at least get a little more done while the pasta cooked, though I learned that cooking is not best left alone here. By this, I mean that the fire must continually be fanned so that the coals do not burn out. This was a type of cooking that I was not used to, as the impatient, multi-tasking person I am (who often heats food on the stove while also watching Netflix and doing homework). Nonetheless, I fanned my coals and, in ten minutes, had a heaping plate of pasta and stewed tomatoes. I squirted the tomato sauce onto the plate, mixed everything together, and then divided everything; half went into a plastic freezer bag, and half stayed on the plate. Since cooking anything here is such an arduous process, I thought that it made more sense to make enough for both lunch and dinner at once, as opposed to starting the process all over again several hours later. I thoroughly enjoyed slurping up my spaghetti, then cleaned up my plates, hid the other half of my food in my room, and then returned to my wash.
While the school had been quite peaceful for the majority of the morning, the students returned from church around 1PM and started right back up with their singing, clapping, running, and playing. I finished the rest of my wash, discussed the upcoming movie night with the kids, and attempted to teach the girls a lesson in appreciation. As I’ve joked before, living with this many temporarily-parentless children has been teaching me a lot of lessons in future parenthood. When I suggested that we watch Finding Nemo that evening—since we had already watched Shrek and the Wizard of Oz twice, but Nemo only once—the girls pouted. They cried that they didn’t want to watch Nemo again, and couldn’t we watch one of the “adult” movies I had brought? I tried to explain to them that we needed to watch a kid-appropriate movie, so it would be Nemo or nothing. In this moment, I learned: I am really bad with taking things away. Though I tried to remain firm in my stance that, if they could not appreciate what I was offering them, I would not offer anything at all, the girls pleaded and it was not long before movie night was back on. I guess that this is something that I am going to have to work on… I cannot be the type of parent that grounds their child and then ten minutes later gives up and lets them go out anyway. It’s just so hard to say no!
Upon finishing my washing, I retired to my room to clean up a bit. Though all of the space that I have in my “room” is limited to half of the bunk above where I sleep, my lack of storage makes it much easier for things to get mixed up. Dom and I had joked the day before that my living situation is not unlike the storage shed in “Room.” For those that haven’t seen the film (and it’s great, you should), it’s about a little boy whose mother was kidnapped; thus, he is born in, and grows up in, a shed. All that he knows of the world is his room. When he wakes up each morning, he says hello to all of his possessions: one lamp, one spoon, one leaky faucet, etc. I teased Dom saying that, if I said good morning to everything I own in my room, I would finish quite quickly (seeing as I only have one bowl, one spoon…). While I try to keep my suitcase organized, it doesn’t take long for my notebook to get lost under clothes, and then for toiletries and souvenirs to pile on top of my books and movies. I spent some time taking everything out of my suitcase and then putting it carefully back, and then sat down to finish reading my book.
I was just reaching the climax of the storyline, so I was totally engrossed. Though I will not spoil the ending (it’s a great book! You guys should read it!), I will say that it was quite sad, and I couldn’t help but cry as I finished the last several pages. Thankfully, none of the kids or teachers walked in so I did not have to explain why I am such a baby when it comes to sad books and movies. Quickly wiping my tears—but still in that, whoa. So that was it? It’s over now?—book mindset, I put down the text and went outside to see what the kids were up to. When I stepped out, I saw that the kids were crowded around a pot of water. They excitedly told me that they were making spaghetti for dinner. This was awesome! I told them that I was having spaghetti for dinner as well, so we could have one big, Sunday night, family spaghetti dinner. The little chefs decided to put their own spin on the Italian dish, making “jollof” spaghetti (after Ghanaian “jollof” rice). Since jollof rice is prepared with tomato paste, salt, onions, hot peppers, eggs, and sardines, they prepared their spaghetti similarly. I had a great time watching and photographing their little experiment and, when they were done, we all sat down to eat our pasta together. Since I do not have a fork here (I really need to buy one), I ate my food the Ghanaian way: with my hands. The kids loved watching me struggle/make a mess with my food, and we laughed the whole time we were eating.
By the time we were finished, it had just started to get dark. Though I had hoped to get some work done in my room, I discovered that our power was out. Stupidly, I had let my phone and laptop die earlier that day—and also had no more batteries for my flashlight—so I had no way to see anything, and it quickly became pitch black. I sat in the dark for a bit trying to figure out what to do with myself before Alice came in to tell me that, luckily, the school still had power (it was not lights out for the whole neighborhood, it was just that our prepaid had finished). This was awesome news, and I gathered my laptop, phone, and hotspot to charge in the school library. I spent time blogging, grading, and preparing for class the next day. When I returned back to the dorm, the power was temporarily back on, so I was even able to fall asleep with the fan on (for a little while… before the power went off again and it turned off). Here’s hoping that we have electricity tomorrow, as I will need to charge the cameras that Class 6 killed over their weekend!