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,


landan said...

amazing. man. it makes me wish i had my act together. and applied to go some where. but yeah it's very interesting keep writing good ones. i like em.

Julie Ford said...

Hi Wes,
I love your observations and experiences. Your blog should be on the AFS blog listing. As you are taking it all in, remember the quote of Isak Dinson in out of Africa. After she returned to Denmark, she said "sometimes I sit and try to remember the colors that are Africa." You will never see skies like that anywhere else.
Julie and the Ford Family

MARC said...

wow wes, i just read your observations and i hope you will write more at least a little every week at the beginning when all is so fresh and different...before you no longer notice the things you smell and taste and hear and see. I lived in the middle of the 11th largest island in the Philippines for about 2 months and my life was forever changed for the better as a result. Tell us about the foods, how the water system works, the outhouse system(at least i hope there is a system of upkeep for it...),if you see unusual animals or birds or flowers etc, what the public transport system is like in the city etc. If you want, i'll let you know what i remember about extremely rural Bohol, Philippines from 1980.
Leslie and Molly Cutler's family
BTW Julie lived in South Africa and has some interesting memories too.

The Evangelist said...

Hello there,

Your experiences are fascinating.

I heard that it is fairly easy to buy a bed in Accra and I am sure that it would be easy if your brotha handled the negotiation process for the sale...there IS an obruni mark up for all products sold in Ghana!! *LOL* This is what I keep reading on many blogs!

One blogger mentioned that the bags of water are 15 for $1.

Another blogger mentioned that they were four for $1.

Notice the difference?! *LOL*

How is the roasted rat?

I was reading another blog and the blogger mentioned that he wanted to try barbeque kitten!! I was scared to ask if he was joking! If people eat rats then perhaps it is not so crazy to think they would also eat cats and dogs...gross.

Keep writing!

richard0a37 said...

Unlike you, I am an English white man in his 60s who visited Ghana for a 2 week holiday earlier this year, and I think it is probably the most wonderful country on earth.

It is beautiful and wonderful precisely because it is not saturated with the excesses of 21st century western capitalism.

Don't forget, Ghana is still to all intents and purposes a 3rd world country steeped in poverty. In the house I stayed at in Mampong, my Ghana friends paid particular attention to cleanliness and efficient disposal of garbage.

You may not appreciate this at your tender age, but I have never seen such a high percentage of beautiful women as I saw during my 2 week stay. From an early age, they are taught how to stand and walk properly, so there is this indefinable grace and elegance about them.

I am not a religious man and I don't believe in the conventional view of God (it is a philosphical question after all), but what you must acknowledge is not so much their belief in God, but their overriding human spirit that pervades the emotional landscape.

I met some families who were truly poor, yet their humanity and compassion shone through like a shining beacon, and it reminded me of the place I grew up in England just after the 2nd world war when everyone was suffering the aftermath.

Try visiting the University of Winnebar for some traditional music and once you've heard a choir singing without musical accompaniment, you'll never want to leave.

As regards people playing loud pop music over the radio, well you're just unfortunate. Where I stayed, we got classical music and live guitar music (off me).

The primitiveness of Ghana is one of its most endearing qualities. One day, they might become 'affluent' and turn into us. That would be a sad day for the human race.

richard0a37 said...

This comment if for Paul the Evangelist.

When you mention that people there eat rats, you are doing a grave disservice and deep injustice to them.

During my 2 weeks stay in Mampong and Accra and surrounding towns, I visited many restaurants, and I never tasted such delicious food. Some of the restaurants are first class. Try visiting Shoprite shopping mall in accra. It is one of the most modern and up to date shopping malls anywhere on the planet, and you can get plenty of variety of the most delicious and appetising foods for low prices, with excellent service, cold beer and fantastic company.

The University of Ghana has in excess of 20,000 students. I visited and was very impressed.

My Ghanian friend teaches physics at one of the local schools in Mampong. I visited several schools there. I watched him teaching his high school students, and I'd have their education any day over the USA system.

I visited a child nursery school for youngsters aged 1 to 4 years old, and watching 120 little children in their blue uniforms was a rare sight to behold. Mind you, they were put off by me cos I sang and played the guitar to them.

Many of Ghana's roads need improving, especially into Accra, but the country is fast moving into the 21st century.

It is our duty to make it happen.

richard0a37 said...

As a matter of fact Wes, one of my sisters lives in Kennewick WA

Just thought you'd like to know that.

I have been there and I love Seattle and the rest of the State.

I live in Trowbridge in UK

Joy said...

Rich I applaud all of your replies. As an African American who has been visiting Ghana for 10 years my experiences in Ghana match and surpass yours. Thank you for replying to the closed minded views that were previously shared by someone else and giving us an unbiased and beautiful view of ghana from your eyes. Very Sincerely, Joy.

Joy said...

Wes thanks for sharing your blog, I truly enjoyed reading your Sunyani entry.

richard0a37 said...

I did have an ulterior motive for visiting Ghana, and that was to 'find my bride' (as elucidated by Eddie Murphy in his film 'Coming to America') Through my Ghanaian physics friend, I met Grace. 18 months later and 3 more visits to Ghana, we got married in Accra, and have now settled down in the village of Hilperton near Bath in UK. In January, we were blessed with JJ our beautiful little baby boy. You can see pictures of us at