Saturday, September 20, 2008

First Impressions of Sunyani

Hello freinds, here is the latest update from Ghana:
I have been in Sunyani a week and a bit, but its just now starting to feel like home. The first three days I felt as if somebody had taken my life and shaken out everything I knew, replacing it all with new sounds, smells, foods, new everything. It at times felt like nails grating across a chalkboard in my head, and it was terrifying. In Accra, I do not think I felt much culture shock because I was with a group of ten other white kids, and we traveled around in our little bus like tourists. But on my first day here it hit me like a fifty pound weight to the chest and left me gasping for air. This is culture shock like being one of three white people I've seen in Sunyani, the other two being fellow AFSers. Shock like realizing that although English is the official language, twi is the spoken and known language. Shock like going from living on tons of wonderful vegetables, to having eaten nothing but yams and other starchy plants since my arrival. Sickening shock like going from being an environmentally minded person to becoming a litter here because there is no apparent trash disposal system. (Everyday one of my little siblings gathers all the trash in our compound and dumps it in a field across the driveway) The list goes on and on, but the last major shock I will mention is religion. I am not a religious person, but I had known Ghanaians would be quite religious and I thought I was prepared for that. Not quite. Religion is everywhere here, part of most shop's names, (The lord's own Internet cafe) on the back of taxis, in the schools, everywhere. The hardest part about it is that people always want to know my religious orientation, and upon hearing that I am not sure about the existence of god and that I believe in evolution they often laugh or look at me like an alien. Science is simply not a part of peoples lives, global warming is out of their radar, church is the highlight of their week, and the thought that we were once "monkeys" is impossible. I am learning quick to laugh at myself along with them.
My life at home is in all honesty, a bit of a zoo. I live in a compound made up of five squat one story buildings, which sounds like a spacious setup until you see the twenty-some people that live there. The room I sleep in is attached to the main house, but is only accessable from a single door outside the house. In my estimation, it is about 8 feet wide by 15 feet long, and I share the one twin bed in it with one of my host brothers BB. The room is sunk about a foot into the ground and has horrrible ventilation, so I go to sleep every night sweaty and uncomfortable. (I'm getting used to it though, the feeling of being sweaty and sicky isn't as bad as it once was) The only quiet time is between 11 at night to 6 in the morning, and for the rest of they day it is alive with activity. There is constantly loud music blaring from scratchy radios, and then there is the buzz of many people doing many tasks. Every day my little sibblings sweep the whole compound with homemade brooms, and every day my older host sisters sit out in the sun and wash clothes in big metal basins. Then there is the constant ca-chunk sound that is made by a big machine that filters water before putting into 500 ml plastic bags. The machine, along with my host brothers produces hundreds of the bags a day, which are then sold throughout Sunyani or drunk by us.
Sunyani. Sunyani is about the size of downtown Bellingham, and I think of it as the Ghanaian Bellingham because it has everything you need in a city without being big and crazy. It is about a 3 minute taxi ride from my home, and once in town I can walk everywhere I need to go. There is a big market in the center of the city that sells just about everything you'd find in an American supermarket, and just a few blocks from that is the school I will be attending. It is a constant buffett of smells ranging from pineapple to fried rice to giant roasted rats to sewage. It, like the rest of Ghana, is made quite dirty by an abundance of garbage, but that is no longer shocking like it first was. There is a constant flow of people and vehicles flowing through the city, but it has a lively feel to it rather than the frantic rushed feeling that inhabited Accra. I feel right at home in the city, and I don't think I could have been luckier in my placement.
I am now far past my first few days of intense homesickness, and now the place that I sleep and eat at is beginning to feel like my home. With this sense of home I am finding many things I like about the Ghanaian culture. I like the pace, the lack of rush and the absence of time. I like the twinkle of humor in so many Ghanaians eyes, the ease with which they laugh. I like how business is done, how everything is sold by local merchants and how most of the food is grown locally. I like the peace I feel as I sit around the cooking fire with my family, watching the sun silhouette the huge African trees in gold and listening to the contented buzz of crickets. I am finding there is so much to like here, and I know that this will only become more so as time passes.
Well that is all for today, I'm sorry this issue dragged on a bit more than the others but I had so much to tell! I am just starting up with school so in the next issue I will tell all about that and much more. I hope as you read this life is treating you well, and to all you Whatcom County people tell our beautiful home that I miss her!
Take Care,

Sunday, September 7, 2008

First Impressions

Hello Dear Friends,
Well it has only been six days since I left, but already home seems worlds away and ages ago. After two days of orientation in New York and almost twenty accumulative hours of flight I am on day 2 in Accra, Ghana. I will skip over my orientation in New York, (it wasn't very eventful) and skip straight ahead to my first impressions of Ghana.
So where to start. Ghana is amazing. Ghana is startling. Ghana is different than anything I've ever known. I am trying to keep these brief and readable, so for today I will share just one of my experiences. On day one we traveled from the hostel we are staying in to the beach, a distance of 10-15 miles, a trip that took at least an hour each way. The beach itself was, well a beach, and there is nothing to explain there. But the ride to and from was a first look at life in a Ghanaian city, and it was incredible. First off, the driving is insane. There are people, goats, chickens, dogs, etc. walking constantly along and across the streets, and yet the fearless drivers still drive at gut wrenching speeds. As far as I can tell the only signal people really use much is their horn, and it is almost constantly beeping. The next part of this ride that was new were the street vendors. There were hundreds of them, and at every stop they would rush up to our open windows, trying to sell us rich "abrunis" items wranging from candy to sunglasses to yams to screwdrivers. I wonder how much of a product these diligent salesman manage to make, because of the hundreds of them we passed, I saw five or less sales. The other part of this ride that was also incredible was the poverty. I had of course known it would be everywhere, but seeing it first hand was another story. It is absolutely numbing to see it all, be it naked little children standing atop garbage piles, bone skinny old men or women sitting inside there about to collapse little shacks. And seeing all of this I also have to take into mind that Ghana is one of the better off African nations, which is also quite numbing. That said, there are many positive things happening here. As our orientation leader said to me earlier, there are so many good things happening in Ghana and in Africa, but Americans and other foreigners seemed obsessed with only focusing on the negative things. The poverty rate here is declining, there water and other services are improving, good things are definitely happening. And aside from that many people live happy content lives, but because there lives are simple and do not involve much technology it is assumed that they are impoverished.
Accra is very dirty and as I said poverty is present everywhere, but despite that I am already in love with the culture. Part of this I think is because it is so completely different from the U.S. For instance, as far as I can tell 90% of shopping is done out on the street, and price is always negotiable. This provides for a very lively and also loud atmosphere everywhere in the city. Also the smells are all competely new, both good and bad. All the sewers here are open trenches along the roads, so that at first was a bit nausiating. But then there are the smells of street food, and that is very pleasant. I am not planning on eating much of that street food, but so far the food that has been prepared for us has been delicious. In general a meal consists of a staple food, (plantanes, yams, beans) and some sort of very spicy sauce that usually contains meet. Although the meals are all similar, they have all been some of the most delicious meals of my life. And to end this, the last thing I will add is that the people I have met here so far are amazing. Everyone is very friendly and of course very interested to hear about the U.S. I met a man yesterday who greeted me by asking who I was voting for, and when I told him that I supported Obama he broke into an ear to ear grin and gave my an enthusastic handshake. There are very few white people here, so in part I think we are a bit of a novelty and people wish to talk to us because of that, but they also do seem genuinly interested in knowing a bit about us and about our country.
Ok well that is all I am going to write for today, I hope that I did not write to much and that it is readable. In my next post I will try to add some pictures, I think they will be quite fun to see. Also, my posts are also viewable at
I hope all is well back in the States, and I hope all of you are doing well.
Best Wishes,