Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Things I’ve kinda learned in Ghana: Laundry By Hand

One of the things I knew to prepare myself for when coming to Ghana was the fact that I’d have to wash my clothes by hand. With that in mind, I packed accordingly: light, plain, cotton clothing. Clothing with fancy designs, decals, embroidery, delicate stitching, doodads, doohickey and what have you were left behind. Jeans, which initially made the cut, were left behind due to the weight that I’d put on just before leaving the States. I think of some of the items that I was reluctant to leave, and I am glad they’re safely stowed away, free from the merciless Ghanaian sun, dirt and dust that would have surely ushered them to their fashionable end. More importantly is, if I had brought some of my favorite clothes to Ghana, I’d have to wash them; and if the Ghanaian elements didn’t do away with them, surely my subpar hand-washing would have been the culprit. 

Truthfully I’m not as bad as the Mister that bad at hand washing. But there are the little holes creeping up in pretty much all of my clothes that testify otherwise. Then there’s also the one shirt that now has sleeves the length of gorilla arms stretched from a scoop neck to a scoop navel. But holes or stretched my clothes are clean wearable and I’ve even learned a few things in the process. 

The lighter the better
While I lucked out in my wardrobe being lightweight and easy to wash, the Mister, being well over six foot with broad shoulders to boot wasn’t quite so lucky. His clothes are so damn big! Men’s clothing is also thicker than women’s clothes. Even a simple t-shirt requires three times as much work than my clothes. I dislike washing his clothes more than I dislike hand washing clothes in general. But good thing for me, he has no problem scrubbing and swishing right alongside me when it comes to tackling our laundry…
This is apparently a no-no, as it’s Ghanaian custom for women to do all of the work. If he were a bachelor, in most cases it wouldn’t be an issue (the exception being that in some cases even if he were a bachelor, if there are women living in the house, they should do his washing). But since he’s married, it is his wife who should be doing the washing—and we’re reminded of this anytime he’s seen doing laundry. “Oh Mister, where is your wife, she should be doing that.” Or if I am present, “Hmm why do you let him do it? You have to do it.” Haters!

Never leave clothes soaking an entire day.
While it’s tempting to think that a longer soak cycle will loosen dirt, making clothes easier to wash, it’s just not true. What you end up with is wasted water, soap, time, energy and rancid smelling clothes. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more than once. Nothing worse than taking dry laundry off the line only to realize it reeks and will need to be washed again. Letting the load soak a few hours if you have errands to run won’t do any harm, but tread carefully. 

Never hang your clothes over a patch of dirt, especially when there’s a storm looming.
Your clothes will end up in the mud and serve as a playroom for worms and insects.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

From Agogo to Abenase

Well hello there! So a lot has happened since I last wrote. I’ll save you the empty promises of committing to write more, and just give you an update.

At the end of March, the Mister’s grandfather passed away. We returned to the States for his funeral. We figured we’d visit both of our families while we there. Needless to say, we spent a very busy three weeks hopping from state to state. From Ghana flew to New York bus to Baltimore road trip to New Orleans road trip back to Baltimore flew to Milwaukee flew to Baltimore again bus to New York train to New Jersey train back to New York, and finally flew back to Ghana by way of London! Whew, if you’re tired just reading that, imagine living it! It was exhausting, but well worth the hassle. 

Before leaving for the States we debated whether we’d be coming back, being that we weren’t really having the experience we’d imagined it’d be. Blah blah blah and $$$$ later, we decided to return, at least for another school term. When I got back, I had this nagging feeling that we’d made a mistake. The renewed energy and attitude that I’d promised to bring didn’t make it through Customs. I found myself at a loss for motivation and interest. Even though I love the students, it was taking so much for me to psych myself up for dealing with the day. Day in and day out I’d promise myself, “Tomorrow I’ll do better.” But very quickly I was being convinced that returning was indeed a mistake. The trip back home was partly to blame. Friends and family, high speed internet, running (and temperatured) water, lights at my fingertips, food galore (which funny enough, I had NO appetite when I was home. I ate tomatoes, apples, cucumbers and bananas with peanut butter for most of the time.), and just the familiarity of knowing what to expect or what to ask for, or where to go for… the list goes on. Once back in Ghana, I was totally in the dumps ready to throw in the towel at the slightest provocation. I needed some serious reminding of the power of positive thinking. So I turned to Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. It’s one of my favorite books; it always has an uplifting effect on me. 

One of the applications of The Law of Intention and Desire, Chopra’s fifth spiritual law, is to make a list of your desires. I’m not really one for lists or vision boards and whatnot, but for some reason this time around, I did it. I made an honest assessment of my present desires and I put them down on a list. After I finished my list, I read and reread it a few times really wanting to commit my energy towards my desires. Well one of the things I put down on the list was a change of pace. I desired for something to happen to change my feelings or allow me to have a more enjoyable experience in the time that I have left in Ghana. 

That weekend we were transferred from our positions with the Primary school in Agogo to the Secondary school in Abenase. When I heard the news I was relieved, excited and hopeful. Relieved that the dreary monotony of Agogo had been broken. Excited at the prospect of something new. Hopeful that the relief and excitement wouldn’t be short-lived…

That was two weeks ago, and I still remain relieved, my excitement has turned into curiosity as to what this town has to offer, and hope is alive. We are still with the same organization, but just at a different school in a different town. This town, Abenase, is much smaller than Agogo, however it is closer to Kumasi, one of Ghana’s major cities. It also lies just outside of Ejisu, a smaller city (? not sure if it’s a town or city) offering more than Abnase, but less than Kumasi. Abenase has its water and power issues like anywhere else in Ghana, but with it being rain season, so far so good. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Three Month Wrap-up

Boy where do I begin? I think it has taken me so long to write, because I was kinda in denial about my true feelings toward this place or maybe I was waiting for something to happen to turn this frown upside down.  I have decided to recommit myself again to my blog, no excuses. So here’s a recap of the past three months here. 

Village Town of Agogo
Agogo is a town of village people. Let me explain. So the town very recently obtained township, before that I guess they were classified as a village. Here villager is a term that people tend to shy away from. To be a villager here comes with an unflattering reputation. It is the equivalent to the American terms: country bumpkin, hickville, backwards, bama, back hills, and whatever other terms we use to refer to unexposed ruralites. So residents of Agogo take extreme pride in the area being designated a town. But, as the saying goes, (and I’m paraphrasing, because truth be told, I don’t know how it goes) “you can put lipstick on a pig, and it will still be a pig.” The people here are extremely small minded. I don’t mean small minded as in stupid, I just mean, they’re completely closed off from exposure to anything other than Agogo, so they lack a grand scale scope in life and in dealings with foreigners. 

Depending on who you ask obruni is a term that can mean “white person” or an all-encompassing politically correct “foreigner.” But based on my experiences I’m convinced that it simply means “white person.”  So you can imagine my utter shock and confusion that the people here refer to my husband as obruni. When asked why, they simply say, “because he’s white.” Ummmm, my husband is not white by a long shot. He’s not as dark as I am, but he’s definitely right there in complexion with some of the very same Ghanaians that call him white (imagine Ice Cube’s skin color).  I sometimes get called obruni by association. But I’ve been told and it’s been proven if I don’t open my mouth, people wouldn’t even realize I’m not Ghanaian. Either way, as a Black couple who has travelled across the world to experience the motherland, it’s quite infuriating to be met with the equivalent of “hey white man!” everywhere you go.  

Light Out
When I first got here our director very casually mentioned to us on our way to dinner, “oh, bring a flash light, I think the power will go tonight.” So that night we learned that there are scheduled power outages locally know as “light out” every three days from 6pm- 9pm. I thought, well I can learn to deal with it. It’s part of the experience I came out here for right? Well we quickly found out that there’s nothing scheduled about the power outages. The lights go out whenever the Powers-that-Be flicks the switch. So again, I’m thinking, well, having working electricity was a bonus and unexpected in the first place, so learn to deal. And I try to deal, but what’s frustrating is it’s not like there isn’t electricity, there is, it’s just that at random times and for unknown periods of time there is actually someone making the decision to cut the power to the people. And the residents don’t even bother to question the cause; in fact they celebrate when power is restored. In my short time there I learned that the power is cut because instead of running an independent power line, the mining companies use the same power lines as the people. So whenever Ghana’s natural resources are being mined, the people are left in the dark…literally. 

Flowing Pipes
When we first came to Agogo we were blessed with seemingly endless running water. Key word: seemingly. A few weeks into our stay, we learned that the water situation in Agogo is much like the power situation. Sometimes there’s running water, most times there’s not. In our compound we have a Poly-tank, which is a huge water storage container. When the “pipe is flowing” (another celebratory occasion) we fill the container, and when it’s not, well, pray for rain. Seriously, I’ve never been more excited and thankful for rain in my life.

What I have found most challenging is not the “light out” periods—scheduled and unscheduled—during which we lose electricity, nor is it the weeks long periods of no running water; instead it is the question of “what to eat?” that I am faced with and stumped by daily! Coming from an international city such as New York, I have been privileged to be spoiled by the availability and affordability of finest foods of different varieties. Variety and food are two words that you’d have a hard time pairing in Agogo. The food situation in Agogo is grim. I’ve realized that the people here eat to live—and that’s it. On one hand I realize it’s not all their fault. When you live off the land without imports, you’re subject to the yield of what’s in season. Lack of refrigeration (and steady electricity) makes food storage an impossible feat, read: meats, cheese, and milk. But what is puzzling is their lack of culinary creativity with the foods they do have available. It’s a rotation of the same five whack ass dishes over and over again. Finding something different, tasty and satisfying to eat has been more than a challenge for us. The best that we were able to come up with is “tuna surprise,” which is canned tuna sautéed in a few spices over a bed of angel hair pasta. See how appetizing I just made that sound. Yea that’s how I have to psych myself up to ignore the possibility of dying from mercury poisoning from eating so much damn tuna. 

That’s basically what I’ve been dealing with these past three months just being Agogo. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Long overdue!

Finally finally finally, I’ve got a chance to sit, relax and write! This blog has been on my mind the entire time I’ve been here in Ghana not updating. I just haven’t had the time to stay still long enough to get my thoughts down, but the good thing is I’ve been keeping notes on things I want to share with you all.

I’m in Agogo Asante-Akim region of Ghana and thank the heavens the air is way cleaner than the exhaust-filled air of Accra. The one thing about the air here is they burn their garbage, so random times throughout the day and night the air there’s the stench of barbecued plastic burning trash to deal with. 

The weather is beautiful here. It’s a comfortable hot all day long. It’s currently their “cold” season because of the Harmattan. I don’t know how to use that word really, as in I don’t know if you’d say we’re in Harmattan season, or it’s Harmattan, or whatever. But basically Harmattan is a dry, dusty wind that makes the weather just that: dry and dusty. It’s a tiny bit cooler in the mornings and at night, but by no means sweater and jacket weather—well, by my standards. But don’t try telling that to the Ghanaian mothers who send their children to school in Christmas sweaters and bubble jackets as if it’s 30F degrees out. 

I live in a compound with a few other teachers and a local family whose children attend our school.  Our accommodations are surprisingly way more modern than I had anticipated. We have electricity, running water, and toilets that flush. The Mister and I have a spacious two-room unit that opens to the compound courtyard (as do all other rooms). Our rooms have painted cement walls and tiled floors—a beautiful upgrade from the raw mud floors and bare cement walls I had imagined. 

There’s not as much wild life and creepy crawlies as I’d imagined. When I was in Panama, there were monkeys everywhere. They just lived in the trees in people’s backyards. I thought I would find the same here, plus a ridiculous amount of bugs and flies (for that I blame the 4am infomercials showing African children with flies on their face). To my relief there are no neighborhood monkeys, and maybe the Harmattan has something to do with the lack of pesky bugs.  There is however no shortage of goats, dogs, chickens, guinea fowl, and lizards. And oh yea bats—but I’ll come back to that. The chickens and goats just roam the streets much like stray cats and dogs in the US.  But they are not stray, they belong to farmers; they just roam the streets and return home whenever they feel like it. Anywhere from midnight on, the animals perform what I like to call, nature’s symphony. A howling dog will set off other howling dogs, which then sets off the roosters and the goat accompanied by the constant chirping of the bats… the hundreds of bats that live in our roof! Yes, we have bats living in our roof. It’s not really something I want to delve into anymore than that for my own peace of mind. They’re there, they’ve been there, and I guess as long we keep the peace with them, they’ll keep the peace with us. 

SN: I actually wrote this post last week, and I'm just now getting around to publishing it. Seeing how I have little time to sit and write lengthy posts, I think I'll try shorter update posts to keep the blog current. We'll see! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Rose in Ghana!

I made it! I’d have to say my first impression is not at all what I expected. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I did expect to feel something upon landing on African soil—the Motherland. Maybe expecting to feel something is just one of those things that gets played up so much by people [and by “people,” I mean Black Americans] who have been, that it was a bit underwhelming when Simba and Rafiki weren’t on the tarmac to greet me in song and dance. I’m sure I’ll have thought-provoking and emotional experiences throughout my stay here, but seriously after a full day of traveling on very little sleep, I was just thankful to have reached land safely. 

So far the best part of being in Africa has been when the airplane door opened and that burst of fresh air whooshed in and provided relief from the eleven-hour feet-and-fart-funked recycled air. I’m currently staying in Accra, where I’ve been for the past four days. Accra, Ghana’s capital, is a big city full of millions of people and apparently no emissions standards. (Feel free to fact-check that, and if they do my lungs can testify otherwise.) And it was just my luck to be here during the holiday weekend, when seemingly all of those millions of people were driving to and fro in cars that undoubtedly would be illegal to drive in the States. So my introduction to Accra was a cab ride—windows down of course— through heavy traffic, breathing in the exhaust of the millions fine, thousands of cars puttering down the road. This is not to say that all of Accra is like this, I’ve rode through some beautiful, less congested parts; but this is the case in the parts that I have been experiencing over these past few days. On day two, The Mister and I were cleaning black soot from inside our noses! No joke! 

And the sad thing is many people make their living as roadside or traffic merchants despite the terrible breathing conditions. Just for clarification: I don’t know if roadside/traffic merchants are the official titles for these people, but it’s just how I describe them. A roadside merchant is one who has their stand set up on the side of the road, while a traffic merchant is one who walks in between stopped cars selling goods. I know I shouldn’t, but I find the traffic merchants a bit funny. It’s just that in the U.S. I might see someone selling water in traffic on a hot day, or maybe a newspaper, (or oranges in Cali, so I’ve heard); but here I’ve seen of course drinks and food, but also shirts, shoes, ties, key chains, back massager, wall art, soap, TV antennas, and the list goes on. I understand this is how they make their living—that’s not the funny part. What’s funny to me is the variety of goods and the thought that someone driving down the road just so happens to need a picture to hang or a back massager or a new tie. Really? Maybe. I guess. I don’t know. 

Anyways, I leave here Thursday, for the village city of Agogo, where I’ll spend the year. It’s much smaller and a lot less people and I assume cleaner air! 

Happy New Year!

Oh yah- speaking of New Year’s, so The Mister and I spent New Year’s Eve out on the town. We ended up at an outside bar in Osu, a neighborhood of Accra. As it approached midnight the crowd got really excited and there were pockets of people lighting firecrackers. Well someone decided to throw a firecracker into the crowd and where does it land, but in my chair. I didn’t realize what happened until it was too late. The firecracker exploded in my chair, burnt a hole through my pants and underwear and left a nice little reminder of 2011 on my butt!