Hey, guys! I've fallen a few days behind on my blogging due to some major power outages, so this post is actually about this past Friday (July 1st). I will probably be posting my Day 11 post later today, so I hope that this doesn't confuse anyone! (Also, Happy 4th of July!)
So, on Friday, Mariana and I decided to go to the beach. Friday was Ghana's 56th annual Republic Day: a symbol of the day that they first became a republic (which is not to be confused with their Independence Day, which is the day that they gained independence from the British). Because of this holiday, Brainbirds was closed and we had the day off to do what we wished. Mariana has been to many beaches near and far in Ghana, though there was one beach that she had not yet been to since it is quite far and she did not feel entirely comfortable going on her own. The beach, Gamoa Fetteh, is listed as one of the top 5 beaches in our area, and was supposedly about 1.5 hours away. We packed up our pineapple that we had bought the day before and headed out with our books, headphones, water bottles, and towels.
We discovered pretty quickly that the "1.5 hours" it was supposed to take to get to the beach was probably considering that you were driving straight to the beach, with no stops and no traffic. Because we took tro tros instead of a regular car, we were constantly stopping. What's more, we hit a lot of traffic (I guess a lot of people were traveling for the holiday). We ended up needing to take three separate tro tros and, about 2.5 hours into our journey (on our third tro tro by this point), we realized that the beach was a bit farther than we had anticipated (go figure). At this same time, we also learned from our tro tro "mate" that the beach wasn't right at the cross roads that we thought it was at. Because it was a bit further down a side road, we would need to take a taxi to go the remaining distance. Thankfully, "shared taxis" are a thing here, so it only cost us each about $1 for our last leg of the trip.
As Mariana had read on the internet, the ride from the tro tro stop to the beach was absolutely beautiful. This part of Ghana (the Central Region) is much more lush than Greater Accra, as well as much more secluded. On our way we saw many trees, cows, and goats, but not that many houses or people.
When the taxi dropped us off, we weren't where we had expected to be (at the beach). Instead, we were in a small village. Apparently, we just had to walk straight until we hit the water. The village was super cute, but it struck me that these people must be incredibly self sufficient in order to live this far from a city. Even though where I live at Brainbirds is "in a bush" (as Quesi and Victor say), I am still close enough to the city center by tro tro that, if I had a real problem, it would take me no longer than half an hour to reach help. I am not sure what the village is called that we were dropped off at, but it was immediately apparent to me that it was not accessible by tro tro. Since tro tros are the most cost effective method of transportation here, that leaves two options should the villagers need it: taking a taxi or walking. Taxis are quite expensive, so I wasn't sure if that would even actually be an option for any of the villagers. This realization was all too reminiscent of the original reason that I traveled to Ghana in 2013: to provide makeshift medical care to villagers that had to walk for days in order to receive Western medical treatment.
After walking for about ten minutes, we arrived at Till's: a beach resort which we thought we had to go through in order to reach Gamoa Fetteh. We unexpectedly had to pay 15 cedes (about $5) to enter Till's gate--something we later felt cheated about when we realized, based on the sheer number of people walking the beach, that there had to be another, free way to get in. Admission aside, we were very pleased with the cleanliness of Till's as well as the beach itself. Though I haven't been to any other beaches in Ghana, many people here have told me that the beaches in the city itself are rarely visited since they are so covered with trash.
We had a great time plopping down, eating our pineapple, listening to music and sleeping in the sun. There were many instances in which people tried to come up and talk to us (and by people I mean men: entranced by the mythical creatures that we *clearly* are as white women). Unfortunately, the script is always the same.
Man: Hello! How are you?
Me: *doesn't answer; continues to walk/sleep/catch a taxi, etc.*
Man: *gets closer* Hello!! How are you?! Where are you from??
Me: *continues to do what I was already doing until the man walks away*
Call it harsh, but indifference is the only way I've found to react in these situations, as when I do answer, it always goes the same way ("Where are you from?" "America." "Are you two sisters?" "Not all white women look the same?" etc.), eventually leading to the inevitable "Can I have your number? I'd like to see you again." To be fair, I don't mean to make the point that every person that approaches me is automatically hitting on me. There have been plenty of people I have met here that approached me for a conversation, and we ended up having quite a pleasant exchange. That being said, when I am in the middle of doing something and someone comes up to interrupt me sleeping/block my path on the sidewalk/grab my arm, that's not really cool.
Besides the little interruptions we experienced, we had a very relaxing day lounging in the sun. While we would occasionally dip into the ocean to cool off or wash the sand off of our bodies, it was pretty difficult to conceive actually swimming in the ocean as unfortunately the undercurrent is extremely strong all along the Ghanaian coast (not to mention that the water was freezing).
At one point in the day, a woman walked by selling hard boiled eggs. As is pretty typical, she balanced the eggs on a tray on her head. She also had a baby held to her back by a scarf that looped under his backside and then around her chest. I unfortunately do not have any pictures of this to show you, though I'm sure I will by the time I leave. Anyway, Mariana approached this woman and asked if she could take her picture. The woman complied, Mariana took the picture, and as she sat back down on her towel she explained, "The women here are so strong."
This is something that I have thought often in my trip here, though I have never before written my thoughts on it. Essentially, the reason that I look up to the women here is because they do it all. For those that don't know, Ghana is at a weird stage in its history in which it is still desperately clinging on to its conventions/traditions, yet is also feeling the influence/pull of the liberal Western world. This being said, the women here are expected to play the role of the housewife; they raise the children, do the cooking, do the cleaning, and attend to their husbands. Though it seems that most people here do feel that this is a woman's role (including most of the women), there is also a change in the script in which many women are sick of depending on their partners financially. The outcome manifests as women who run their own businesses while also caring for their children at the same time (hence the woman on the beach who was selling eggs with her child in tow).
In seeing women such as the one I described above, I can't help but think of how much they radiate strength. They have physical strength, first of all. They carry their children on their backs, using no hands to support the weight. They carry bowls and trays upon their heads (sometimes boasting as many as a half dozen watermelon), using no hands to support the weight. They do the laundry every week (I've learned: hand washing takes some major arm muscles). What can't they do? But, beyond this, they have such emotional, internal strength. They stand outside/walk in the heat for hours and patiently wait for customers. They handle their own finances. They are "good Christian women" (no sex before marriage, no drinking, etc.). They run households without complaint. In fact, I haven't heard a single woman complain at the school; not when they have to clean up a mess, not when they spend hours cooking, not when they see me struggling with my wash and "offer to help" (aka do it all by themselves because I am an incompetent person). As Becky has explained to me before, it is "not worth burdening your friends and family with your problems." When I see all that the women do here, I am not sure that I would be capable of the same drive were I to be in their situations. (As a side note: the other day when I was on the tro tro I passed a female shopkeeper who was holding money in one hand. It was hot, and she was fanning herself with the stack of bills. The other hand was held down by her side, and a man kneeled at her feet: cleaning her fingernails. It took all that I could to not open my window and scream "YAAAAAS!" at her. I mean, what a boss, right?)
That pretty much concluded our beach day, and at around 4PM Mariana and I headed back home. There was even more traffic than before, so our 3.5 hour commute quickly turned into a 4 hour trek. On our way back, Mariana and I joked about all of the references to God that we see on a daily basis. By this, I mean that there are many taxis that have "God's Car" written on them. A beauty shop can't simply be a beauty shop, it has to be "God's Grace Salon." Even a spare metal parts place that we passed was called "By His Will Spare Metal Parts." It is so funny to me how often and how random these biblical mentions are. I have decided that one day while I am here, I will spend 24 hours photographing every mention of God that I see. You guys are seriously going to crack up when you see how many pictures I come back with!
With this humorous conversation came a more sobering realization. As I looked out the window and saw an infinite number of pictures of Jesus on storefronts, office buildings, and homes, it hit me: Jesus is depicted as white. While I do not mean to make a point regarding what race/color Jesus actually was (I think he was probably Middle Eastern, though that's besides the point), the fact of the matter is that he is depicted as a white man. In a country that is entirely dark skinned, but also predominately and conservatively Christian, I'd imagine that this would create some major skin insecurities. Those with lighter skin are already often portrayed/viewed as "above" other races (just look at the market for skin lightening cream), and I have seen so many instances of young girls here who desperately wish that they had lighter skin or "whiter" features. To be dark yet to so strictly worship someone who is so light only reinforces this white savior complex. I'm not really sure if or how to go about combatting this realization, though I'm really interested to hear what you guys think about this.
By the time that we got back to the school, it was already 8PM. I was starving (because I only had the pineapple and a banana for lunch), so I walked to the closest restaurant which is right around the corner from the school. I've never eaten at this restaurant before as it is much more expensive than all of the other food in the area, but Mariana told me that they had really great french fries which sounded amazing right about then. I went to the restaurant and tried to order my french fries to go. Though the restaurant was not packed at all, the waitresses were extremely hard to track down (they were all absorbed by this Indian soap opera playing in the next room). By the time I ordered it was around 8:15, and by the time I actually got my food, it was closer to 8:50. Of course it is never fun to wait a while for your food, though in America I feel that this situation often results in extreme apologies and kindness on the part of the waitresses. Things work a bit different in Ghana, where (as Victor put it) it's not that the customer service is bad... it's that there is no customer service. For example, about halfway through my wait time I asked my waitress if she could please see how much longer my food would take. Without missing a beat, she *looking very annoyed* told me that they were "packaging it up now" (this was about 20 minutes before they actually packaged it up), and then she went right back to watching her TV show. When I told Mariana about this later, she made the excellent point that employees probably have no motivation to provide good customer service since they are getting paid so terribly low. This makes a lot of sense, though it was still a little frustrating to wait so long for french fries (especially given how famished I was). Regardless, the fries were delicious and I ate them quickly before passing out: sunburnt and full.