Saturday, April 15th, 2017

I can’t believe that this year is already over. I’m sitting in the Accra airport writing this not able to understand where the time has gone. I distinctly remember getting off the airplane in August, shockingly overwhelmed by the heat, unsure of what was instore for me. That first night spent at Agoo hostel seems so far away now. This year ended up bringing me more than I could have hoped for. I made amazing, smart friends that I can have intense development debates with one minute, and then go out and dance like an idiot with the next. I learned how to live outside my comfort zone, and adapt to situations completely out of my control. Most importantly, I’ve been able to attach tangible experience to Anthro/Development theory I’ve learned through text books. This year was truly an invaluable experience, and I would do it all over again if I could.

The best advice I can give to someone living abroad, or even just traveling, is to go with the flow. Situations will arise that are completely out of your control, and you will have no option but to accept it. You don’t have time to panic or stress, you just need to evaluate your next logical steps. Also, never be afraid to ask a local stranger for help. Specifically, in most of West Africa, I’m certain almost anyone will be more than happy to assist you.

I’m sure I will have more reflecting to do once I’m home wallowing in homesickness for this country. But for now, it almost time for me to board my flight so I can go home and maul my dog and parrot.

Ps I hate flying. Wish me luck.

 

Your girl,

Cultured Tay

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

9:32pm

I can’t believe I’ve been here for over 2 months!!

It feels like the time is flying by so fast, but when I imagine my first night arriving in Accra it seems so long ago. It’s probably because I have been so busy. During September and October, I was staying in Cape Coast and finished two full-year credits in a matter of two months. I was living with a lady named Auntie Ivy in a community called Ola, and cabbing into the University of Cape Coast for classes Monday-Thursday. While the others in my program had a good experience with their homestays, me and my roommate Yasaman grew to really hate where we lived. Our Auntie lived by herself and was probably in her late 60s- early 70s. She would speak a total of about 5 words to us in a day, including her strange grunting noises we learned to take as responses to our questions. On nights we would come in late, it seemed like she would punish us by leaving a single piece of bread for us to share in the morning for breakfast. When we were lucky, we got two slices of plain white bread and maybe half an orange each. The occasions which she did actually speak to us in full sentences was when she found a reason to yell at us. Either our garbage got too full before we took it out, we came in at 7:15pm when we said it would be 7pm, or if we had the fan on for too long during the day,  were all considered times when “we were unfair to her”.  Things she could have warned us about before, or talked to us about after seemed to be a huge issue with her. But, if she had just talked to us we could have made sure these things would never happen! We have this theory that she only became this way after we went to church with her once and never again. She probably got her hopes up thinking we were going the entire time we lived there. Oh well.

But finally, we have completed our first two courses and moved out of Auntie Ivy’s house. Finally. We began our journey up to the North Friday October 28th.  It was a very long road trip which we broke up over the entire weekend, crossing 3 regions of Ghana. First visiting the half way point Kumasi, then all the way up to Bolga and then back down a few hours to Tamale. We will be staying in Tamale for the next month for a course called Local Dynamics of Change, which provides us with a hands-on practical experience to apply our theoretical knowledge. We will actually be in the field evaluating development programs and determining whether or not they are truly being effective. This basically what I want to do in my future career so I feel so lucky that I’m getting the chance to practice the skills now.  Also my professor is a total development badass/legend and I am so excited from how much I’m going to learn from him.

The North is so much hotter though! I felt the sun less directly while we were living on the coast, and at least we were near the ocean and could go for a swim or the cool breeze. This city is so cool though so I’m really not complaining. I’m missing little weird things I didn’t expect to be so significant. In terms of food I really miss sushi, burritos and dill pickles, but anyone who talks to me probably knows this by now seeing as it’s all I talk about. I also really miss going to the gym. I was going 5-6 days a week when I was at home at it was the only way I really knew how to deal with stress. I’ve tried working out here in my room, and I do sometimes, but it’s just soooo hot it feels impossible. Someone mail me pre workout please…

But guess what???? I’m visiting home in a month! I’m excited but also really comfortable here, but it will probably be a nice break to binge on all of the things I miss.

Friday, October 7, 2016

4:00 pm

One month down, 7 to go!

I’ve been living in Cape Coast for over a month now and things are going way better than I could have imagined. I’ve adjusted better than I would have expected and I’m starting to get really comfortable here. So comfortable that I’m actually nervous to visit home in December. I feel like it will be really strange going back, but regardless I need to go see my animals.

During our pre-departure orientation they talked a bit about culture shock. However, they made it seem fairly different than the way I am actually experiencing it. To me, it isn’t the food, customs or frustrations with communicating. In fact, I love the food here, the way different ways people behave intrigues me and basically everyone I have met speaks some English. Culture shock to me, is felt in the very minor things which become overwhelmingly frustrating.

You know that feeling when you put something in your bag, like your phone, and then once you go to get it out you don’t see it right away so you sort of freak out for a second until you find it? That feeling is amplified x10 when you’re here. Or if your laptop is freezing and you get a little annoyed? That could literally bring you to tears. What if you want to have a shower so badly, but all of the buckets of water in the house have been used? Not the best feeling. The only way around this is to take the time to remind yourself that you are overreacting. There is always a solution to the problem, it just seems further out of reach when you’re on the other side of the world. But it’s not, and you’re fine.

The number one most irritating thing to me so far is the constant attention. The first week here I thought it was kind of funny, but we literally cannot walk down the street without people talking to us. Little kids run up to you yelling “Obruni! Obruni!” which means foreigner, or white person. But its not only the kids, people of all ages call after you. I’ve been here a month and have had at least 5 people ask me to marry them within 2 minutes of meeting. I don’t even feel comfortable walking around with both headphones in because I know within 60 seconds someone else will try to talk to me, or at least wave. Sometimes it’s fine, but naturally you’re not always going to be in the mood to smile and talk to people. I literally know how the Kardashians must feel.

The strangest thing was when this family called me over on my walk home from school. “Obruni! Bra, Bra!” (white person! come, come!). So naturally I went over and said hello. But before I could even finish greeting them they handed me an infant baby, definitely less than a year old. Immediately the baby starting bawling and I was awkwardly holding it confused. The family started howling laughing and spoke in Fante the entire time so I had no idea what was going on. Eventually they took their baby back, and it stopped crying. I later realized they just wanted to see the baby react to a white person. That was all.

Overall things are going really well here, and this stuff doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it could. I try to just laugh it off. Also, I’m hoping people don’t assume that I’m on vacation because this is the hardest amount of school work I’ve ever had to cope with. I’m doing two full year courses in 2 months. This month alone I have 4 essays, 2 exams and around 50 pages of reading every day. November should be awesome because we are headed up north to Tamale to do more hands-on field work. But I love Cape Coast so much I wont want to leave here!

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

6:42 pm

I would love a real shower right now. Like REALLY love it. Since I’ve been at my home-stay (just over 2 weeks) I’ve been living without running water. While there is a water system in the house, the taps are rarely ever on.  The city has a very dispersed share of water and electricity, so both can randomly turn off for any length of time. My home has been fortunate enough to not have to go without power yet. However, some of the guys in our program who live just down the street have theirs turned off for long periods of time, multiple days a week. On the flip side I’ve only ever seen our water on about 3-4 times for roughly half hour periods. It’s very random so you just sort of have to deal with it.

At this point you’re probably wondering how I shower. BUCKETS!!!!! So whenever the taps do come on, we spend most of that time filling up as many big buckets as we can. Then we keep them in our shower for us to use when we need to wash ourselves. I just take a little bucket and pour the water over my head, which feels twice as cold when you’re living in this heat. It takes longer than it would to have a shower with a running tap, cause you have to awkwardly pause and stand there cold while you try and wash your hair. Usually half way through I give up pouring it on myself and just dunk my head into the bucket. So much easier than having to pour with one hand and try to get the shampoo out with the other!

…Also if you still haven’t heard I got really sick last week. While sitting in class I started having really bad nausea, and ran out past the professor to go puke in the washroom. After sitting on the bathroom floor spinning for a few minutes I finally thought I could go back to class. Less than 10 minutes later I found myself back on the bathroom floor. At this point I decided I needed to go to see a doctor, as the symptoms started hitting me really fast. All the symptoms of malaria. Even though I’m on Malarone, I was semi-convinced it was what I had. Fortunate enough my program coordinator told me where I could find a western style hospital which I then took a taxi too. While I still had to pay out of pocket, which I’m not used to in Canada, I was seen almost immediately by a doctor. I’m terrified of needles, but he took my blood and told me I had a bacterial infection in my intestines from either water or food I had ingested. FUN. My stomach was having the worst cramps so he offered to give me a needle in my stomach, but I politely said I’d rather just deal with the pain myself.

Being sick at home is never fun, but being sick in another country is always worse. You really miss the comfort of home and just want to be in your own bed. At least I did anyways. I was on three different medications, one of which gave me the craziest dreams. So that was kinda fun. I did get over my sickness in a few days, so I only missed a day and a half of class. I’m back to feeling great and having a good time, and happy I got that sick phase over with. From now on I’m going to be a lot more careful what I eat and drink!

Thursday, September 9th 2016

8:51 pm

Last Sunday was probably one of the most hilarious and uncomfortable experiences of my life.

So if you know me, you would know that by no means am I religious whatsoever. Like I literally don’t even know the difference between Catholics and Christians. That being said, I agreed to go with my Auntie (the lady I live with who is like 65-70yrs old) to church on Sunday. Mind you, I may have had a few drinks in me when I agreed to this. Nonetheless I woke up at 9 am Sunday morning go to church, purely out of anthropological interest to see what it was like. I figured it might at least be interesting to see how they practice religion.

Having never been to church before, I was thinking it was going to take up like an hour tops? Maybe 2 if i was unlucky. Seeing as I just woke up, I went not looking the greatest. However, every other person there was dressed in long fancy dresses, complete with satin head bands and pearls. Basically every one was sort of dressed the same, and then there is this white girl sitting there in borderline pajamas. Also, my roommate Yas came along and we both were sticking out way more than our liking.

Once the service started I knew this was not like any church back home. I haven’t even been to church but I can gaurntee it’s not anything like this. There was a band with drums, electric guitars, pianos and trombones backing up the choir at the front. Not only were people standing up and singing along, but they were dancing. Like REALLY dancing. It was actually pretty cool to see everyone so passionate and happy about something. Even when they went up to give donations (which happened about 3 times), they didn’t just walk up, there was a legit conga line all the way up to the front. I felt so out of place for not dancing! It was like they were having an actual party.  So after the initial hour and a half of this church party, it became more like I would expect a western church to be. The reverend read out some bible verses and preached for a while. At this point I started getting bored and checking the time frequently. The hours passed slowly and eventually by hour 3 I was literally rapping Kanye West songs in my head to keep myself awake.

Having been distracted by my personal lord and savior, Kanye, I didn’t notice when the reverend called out “are there any new comers here?”. My Auntie immediately stood up pointing at me and Yas.  I soon snapped out of my daze and was being rushed to THE FRONT OF THE CHAPEL. Here I am, not religious by any means, basically in sweat pants, standing at the front of the church in front of hundreds of people. They handed us the microphone to say our names one at a time, and state whether we wanted to join them permanently! I was biting my tongue trying so hard not to giggle out of discomfort. I somehow managed to say I was just here to visit, but nevertheless they all started preaching to us. The reverend got everyone to wave their hands in the air and pray for the two of us. We were awkwardly standing there not knowing where to look or what to say.

Once we sat down I was hoping that it was finally over, because I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle. 3 Hours seemed more than enough. But nope, I WAS AT CHURCH FOR 4 AND A HALF HOURS.

It did end eventually,  so Yas and I wanted to go back up to campus and do some of our readings in a productive environment. However we got half way to the road where we could catch a taxi and guess who pulls up? The reverend!!! He offered to give us a ride and naturally we agreed. Thankfully this ride was less than 10 minutes long, because the entire time was spent questioning us about our faith. He told us this story of a girl he met who claimed to be atheist and how he tried to convert her. It was so awkward because we could tell he was trying to get us to join his church and we didn’t know how to be polite about it. He asked for my phone number so that he could “visit us for a chat”. My phone just so happened to be dead and I don’t know my number here off by heart, so he just gave me his.

Overall I’m glad I went for the experience. I’m here to step outside of my comfort zone and try new things, so at least I have this funny story to take away.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

10:09 pm

Well, I made it!

It already feels as if the time is going so fast, although it’s only my fourth night in Ghana. It is not that different than I imagined, but I suppose that is due to my previous travel experience. Despite having been to other African countries, I’m definitely still experiencing slight culture shock. While it’s not so much due to cultural difference, I find myself feeling homesick and always trying to be on the internet, or communicate to others back home in some way. However, I was expecting to feel this way as I am such a home body. There is literally nothing more I love than laying in my moms huge bed with my dogs and an endless mug of Earl Grey, catching up on my favorite soap operas. For most of the others I am with it is there first time in Africa, so I can hardly imagine how they are feeling.

My first night here was spent in a hostel in Accra, the capital city. When we woke up the first thing we did after breakfast was go to immigration to get our residents visa… and my picture looks like a mugshot…as usual. Before heading to the University of Cape Coast we stopped at VERY western shopping mall, which had shops including Mac makeup, an Apple store, Payless shoes and best of all a Second Cup!! I got an extra large tea, which in turn made me feel very nauseous on the bumpy bus ride to the University and I had to ask them to pull over so I could puke on the side of the road. If I’m being completely honest I got it all over my shoes. About 10 minutes later we stopped for a bathroom break, which of course was a squat toilet (literally a hole in the ground). And yes, I did get pee on my shoes too.

The following two days were spent settling into the University, which to my surprise is huge and hosts around 60,000 students. It’s basically the size of a small town, and has anything you could ever need including a hospital, dentist, fire and police station, 6 residence, restaurants, a market place and so on. You could live at this place and never have to leave.

Tonight I settled in to my home-stay, where Yasman and I live with Auntie Ivy and her two dogs. She cooked us such a delicious dinner of the traditional meal ‘Red Red’, which I think was spicy beans and tomato sauce? Regardless, the food here is awesome and it is surprisingly easy to be vegan. I’m so okay with having rice and fruit for almost every meal.

So basically I’m homesick and stuff but I expected it and I know I’ll get over it. I think the hardest part is not being around people I am familiar with. Like it’s a really weird feeling and I don’t know the best way to describe it. When I’m busy doing things I feel like I could live here for years, but sometimes I’ll get this wave of reality and go into shock that I actually signed up for this. Regardless, I am happy and grateful to be here and I get excited every morning to see what the day will bring, which is not necessarily something I would feel at home.

 

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

10:02pm –  2 months prior to departure date

Should I be nervous? It seems to be the first thing I am asked when mentioning this trip to anyone. “Are you not scared?”,  “Are you sure it’s safe?”, and most importantly; “Will you have WiFi??!”.

Yeah I’m scared! I’m not going to lie and say I’m not nervous about the fact I will be living in West Africa for 8 months. It only seems reasonable to be afraid of things we are uncertain of. However, I do not believe being nervous is a reason to stop yourself from proceeding with something that could be great. When given the amazing opportunity to study in Ghana with my school, Trent University, I knew it was something that I had to do. I began traveling at an early age which made me fall in love with the world. I know that sounds lame but it’s true. I’m so interested in humans and the earth that I study Anthropology and International Development studies as an outlet. I want to understand people as a whole in order to better conceptualize how society progresses. Add that to my love for traveling and you have an aspiring ethnographic researcher!  (Basically I want to travel around and study different cultural concepts and write about it in books that are important).

So yes, I am nervous, but how boring would life be if you never challenged yourself? I’m a firm believer that you manifest your reality through your mentality. Since I have been waking up for over the past year in the mindset “F*ck yeah I’m moving to Ghana!”, I’ve been subconsciously setting myself up for success. If you constantly tell yourself you will succeeded in doing something, you will. Go try it out. Remind yourself of your goals daily and watch what can happen.

It’s two months before I leave and I’m getting more excited and nervous everyday. My biggest concern is probably my diet. Being vegan I’m unsure of what I can actually eat there, and fear of offending someone potentially offering me some sort of non-vegan meal. I also fear the heat, but I know I will adjust eventually. I am also more nervous of coming back afterwards than I am to arrive;  I know I wont be the same as I am now. I fear of my mind growing to the point where the self I am now will no longer be recognized. But I can hardly wait. I do not know what this trip will bring but I am guaranteed an adventure.

I decided that this opportunity would be a good test run to see if this is truly what I want to spend my life doing. I’m going to post updates here  throughout my time abroad, because it’s easier to just share with everyone in one place instead of writing my stories to each person I may not get the chance to speak with. I wanted to do one now to trace my change in attitude as my time there goes on. Who knows, I could end up running home week 2, switching my major to molecular biology (doubtful). The truth is that I do not know what to expect. But I have to at least try. How would i feel if i didn’t?

10:58pm