This past Tuesday was a big day for me, as it marked exactly four weeks since I’ve arrived in Ghana! Honestly, the month passed faster than I could have imagined. I can’t believe that, on my first day here, I had cried on the phone to my mom, claiming that I didn’t think I could last more than a week… and now, here I am, at a point in which I’m questioning whether three months is enough time here. It seems unbelievable that I am already 1/3 of the way through my journey and, though I do still have two more months here, I feel like I’m already mourning the seemingly near end to my journey.
I started off my morning with the usual early wakeup + assembly combo, but was surprised to see that the teachers did not meet for a meeting but dispersed at 8AM to go to their respective classrooms. I went back to my room, thinking that I would not have my photography class with Form 1 until 10:30, and started to edit some photos to place in a Facebook album. However, a little after 8, two of my students came in to tell me that their exam had been cancelled for the day and asked if we could have our class a bit earlier. While it is still a little bewildering to me to think that a timetable literally does not exist at this school (like, what’s the point of setting a time for anything if you know that it will change?), I am thankfully becoming a lot more patient with the constant “schedule” changes. I agreed to meet the class at 8:30 to prep them for their field trip.
After reviewing the class’ homework (a short essay on what they do and don’t like about Alhaji, to be eventually accompanied by their field trip photographs), we set out for Alhaji. Form 1 is my smallest class, with only ten students instead of sixteen. Despite the seemingly small difference of six students, it was so much easier to keep my eye on this group of students than it had been for me to watch over Class 5. The kids in Form 1 were a bit slow to warm up to the assignment and spent the first 20 minutes of our trip talking, with their cameras still inside their cases. I continually prompted them to take their cameras out and, eventually, they started to work on the assignment—taking even more photographs than I could have asked for. While Class 5 had been content photographing people and stores from several feet away, Form 1 was more adventurous and went into stores, salons, and restaurants in order to capture their subjects more closely. I was so excited that they seemed to be enjoying themselves! In attempt to be a “cool” teacher, I had told them that they could buy food for themselves in Alhaji (to eat once they got back to the school), as long as they did it quickly. This was probably my biggest mistake of the day, as the students took way too long deciding what they wanted to eat and from where. At least it gave them more food to photograph for their “likes” category, I guess?
As with Class 5, we walked back to the school using a back route—meeting another cute little kitten as well as Eugenia’s dog. Though maybe this shouldn’t have been shocking, I was pretty surprised to see that people do keep dogs as pets here. I was kind of hoping that wasn’t the case, as it would make the students-eating-a-dog situation seem a little more understandable to me… but I guess we can’t always get what we hope for in life. All in all, the class was very well behaved on our trip, which was a welcomed surprised, as there are at least three girls in the class that I constantly refer to as my “trouble makers” (seeing as how they almost never listen to anything I say). I’m hoping that this is a sign that the kids might be respecting me a bit more than they did initially.
When we got back from our walk to Alhaji, it was around 10AM. I ate a quick breakfast and graded a bit in my room, and then headed back to the school for my 11AM class with Class 6. Just as I was about to walk up to the Class 6 room, though, I was told by one of the students that Sir Gideon wanted to speak with me. I finally found him in the assembly room and, when I asked what he wanted, he wondered if I could show the entire school how the Miss Brainbirds practices were going. Apparently, there was a school-wide graduation rehearsal about to play out in the assembly room, and he was hoping that my pageant girls could be added to the lineup. Though I had really hoped to have the time to teach Class 6… it was already almost 11:30 at this point and I’d learned my lesson regarding micromanaging when it comes to scheduling. I told him that I’d move my class to Wednesday.
While all of the students in the school were present in the assembly room, patiently waiting their turn to participate, I realized that it would be a while before my girls had their turn to go. In the meantime, I sat with the other teachers towards the front of the room and edited some photos—looking up every now and again to see the super cute dances performed by the younger classes. After an hour, it was time for Miss Brainbirds. Where we had a few spectators at our practice the day before, this was the girls’ first time performing in front of a real, large audience. They did so well! Of course there were a few minor hiccups, but overall they really did amazing. They all remembered their moves for the group dance, changed quickly from their formal wear to their African Wear, and shined during the talent section. Needless to say, I was having a mega “proud mom” moment, and the rest of the school ate the performance right up. After my girls performed, other classes and clubs performed cultural dances, songs, and plays. I knew many students in the cultural dance, and they all performed amazingly. Seriously, out of everything I’ve seen at this school, the sheer talent that most students have when it comes to dancing blows my mind.
By the time that the entire rehearsal was over, it was already close to 3PM (the end of the school day), and everyone had missed the opportunity to eat lunch. I ate some popcorn I had packed in my backpack while I watched everyone perform, so thankfully I was not too hungry, but I bet the kids must have been famished. The kids ran downstairs to eat, and I remained in the assembly room putting some finishing touches on my edited photos. At 3, I returned to my room and snacked on the bananas that I had bought from Na Na the night before. After eating two bananas I was surprised to see that I still had three more (it’s amazing what 50 cents can buy here), so I tried my luck at facilitating a trade with Mame. She was selling some fruit at the lunch tables and I somehow convinced her to let me exchange my three bananas for one of her mangos. She went for it, and I then had a sweet mango to round out my belated meal.
Mariana and I killed some time, hanging out around the room, and then went to visit our seamstress, Mary, to see if our dresses were finished. They were, and they were absolutely stunning! Only a few minor alterations were needed, and Mary completed these quickly while we played with her adorable six-month-old son. Honestly, after the trust issues I accumulated due to our previous seamstress mishaps, I can hardly believe how talented Mary is. Apart from shortening the length of my sleeves by an inch, my dress fit me like a glove and I could not be happier. We gushed over Mary until we had sufficiently embarrassed her, and then bid her farewell with a promise to visit again very soon. I am thinking next time I might ask for a pair of patterned pants? It’s so cheap to have clothes made here that it is almost too tempting to have them made, and often. Of course I am saying this as someone who has the privilege of a first world savings account, and an exchange rate majorly in my favor… I’d imagine that the locals might not be able to afford new clothes as frequently as I’ve been commissioning them. With this in mind, I think I might need to slow down with my spending moving forward (if only so that the kids at the school and ladies in the neighborhood don’t see me wearing new African Wear every day… when we all know I already have a suitcase full of clothes at my disposal).
When we got back to the room, I finished editing my album and wrote up a shopping list. Soon after, Mariana and I left for the Achimota Mall. We would be meeting some of my friends from the medical school—Anna, Ayse, Dom, and Toby—at the mall for dinner, but we wanted to use the Wi-Fi in the mall coffee shop as well as do a little food shopping before we met up with them. We walked to Alhaji and took a tro tro the mall, which dropped us off right around 5:30. Naturally, my exit from the car was anything but graceful and I tripped on my way out—splitting my ankle in the process. I doubted the cut would stand out much when compared to the plethora of mosquito bites and bumping-against-the-side-of-a-tro-tro bruises I already have covering both legs.
We walked from the tro tro to Second Cup, the coffee shop in the mall that supposedly has Wi-Fi. I say supposedly because we soon discovered that their “free” WiFi was slower than a glacier, while the WiFi you could access after buying something (I did not receive this access… the bottle of water I bought didn’t qualify, though Mariana bought a parfait which did) was not any faster. I walked around to pretty much everyone in the coffee shop and asked if the network was working for them, though most people admitted to using their own hotspots. I reluctantly took their cue and used my hotspot as well—uploading an entire album of photos to Facebook, which I was sure to regret later after seeing how much of my limited data it had used up. Since Mariana’s phone hasn’t been working lately and her Second Cup “WiFi” (or lack thereof) lasted an hour, we hung out in the shop until 7 so that she could use up every minute. At this point we were supposed to meet up with Anna, Ayse, Dom, and Toby, though their tro tro was still stuck in traffic so we moved onto food shopping to kill some more time.
On our way from Second Cup to Shop Rite, we ran into a man who works at the hair salon that Mariana goes to here. As we were speaking with him, one of his friends walked up and addressed him. “Is this your friend?” He pointed to Mariana, stating (to the hairdresser, without actually acknowledging us), “I’m going to marry her.” We rolled our eyes. We were used to this “statement-instead-of-a-question” flirt game, and we grew tired of it long ago. To provide you with another example of what I’m talking about, it had only been several days since a man on the tro tro said to me, “I’m going to take your number.” I jokingly replied, “Oh, are you? So you wouldn’t like to ask me for it… you’re just going to have it. Don’t I have a say in this?” Though I tried to make light of the situation at the time, his approach was common. In my opinion, it seems that most people I’ve met here are so excited to meet an obroni that they will not settle for anything less than a proof of their feat, usually in the form of a phone number. Sadly, I cannot say that I’ve often been asked anything but for my number—as in, no one ever asks for my name, or what I’m doing here, or what my profession is. It’s not a great feeling to think that my skin color seems to be held above my personality… though I know that the so-called positive attention I receive for my light skin cannot be considered a hardship in comparison to the horribly negative attention that darker skinned women experience around the world on a daily basis. When we laughed and his friend walked away, her hairdresser (who had been so amazing, and almost fatherly up until this point) then proceeded to state that, at some point, he must receive Mariana’s contact information so that they can talk after she goes back home. I wish I could say I was surprised.
After buying my usual shopping list of cereal, powdered milk, cheese, crackers, and candy for the kids, we met up with my friends—who had finally arrived—at Pizza Hut. Mariana was not hungry since she had just eaten a parfait at Second Cup, but the rest of us ordered pizza. Ayse and I split a large Greek pizza after realizing that the price of one large was equal to that of the price of two smalls (and, for the record, a “small” pizza is practically kid-sized, while a “large” is about the equivalent of a medium pizza at Dominoes/Papa Johns, etc.); Anna and Dom split a large pizza as well, and Toby ordered a large for himself. While we ate, we discussed how sad it was that Dom, Toby, and Anna were leaving so soon. Well… to be accurate, I explained how sad I thought it was, though they seemed just about ready to go. I guess that they had had enough of the power outages, foreign food, and language barrier, and I couldn’t say that I necessarily blamed them. Ayse seconded their sentiments, though she isn’t leaving next week like they are—she still has another eleven months here. Mariana tried to explain to her that it will be so much easier than she thinks it will be, though Ayse didn’t seem particularly convinced. I am really hoping that she will grow to love Ghana as much as Mariana and I do… and that if she can’t love it, that she can at least love how much she is and will learn from this experience.
When we were done eating, the medical students got gelato, though Mariana and I were still too full from our dinners. A half of a pizza was enough for me, and apparently also for Toby, who had only eaten half of his ambitious order. Mariana and I asked him if we could bring back the rest of his pizza for the girls, who we know will be thrilled to have pizza for the first time in a long time. We chatted a bit more as they ate their gelato, and then parted ways around 9:30. I am really hoping to see Anna and Toby one more time before they leave, though it was unfortunately the last night I’d be able to see Dom before he will leave for a weeklong trip on Friday.
Mariana and I took a cab home since it was too late to find a tro tro, and we had a hilariously difficult time getting one for an “obibini price” (if I haven’t explained this already, obroni means white person, while obibini means Ghanaian person). Though we gave each driver our sad spiel about how we are volunteers, making no money, and here for months as opposed to a few days spend-all-my-money vacation, we were continually upcharged. Eventually, we found a kind soul willing to take us home for the actual price that our fare should have been, and we were thrilled to find that he lived quite close to us. Mariana took his number for future cab rides, as we were so happy to meet someone who would charge us fairly and actually knew were we lived. Taking cab drivers numbers is a very common practice here, as I’ve seen with Victor who has three separate drivers on speed dial.
Dennis was awake to let us in around 10PM, and we gave him a slice of the pizza to thank him for all of the days in which he stays up later in order to make sure we’re not locked out. We went inside our room and hid the other slices of pizza so that we could surprise the girls in the morning; I couldn’t wait to see how they’d react.