Sunday, November 30, 2008

In memory of my little friend

When I came to dinner on Friday night, Sister Juliana told me, “Your little friend is sick.”

“My little friend is sick?” I repeated, unsure of what she meant.

“Yes. Small boy. The one who was scared of you in the village,” she said. “My sister’s boy.”

Small boy. I can’t remember his real name, because it was an African name I’ve never heard before, and everyone in the house just called him “small boy.” But how could I forget the little boy who was afraid of me? “Oh, yes, my little friend! He’s sick? That’s too bad,” I said.

“They took him to the hospital, but they don’t know what’s wrong,” she said. She seemed really upset, and got up suddenly from the table and went straight to the chapel.

I didn’t see her the following morning at breakfast, but I could hear her talking on the phone in the room next to mine. When I went down for lunch, I saw that Sister Dorothy was the only person at the table. I sat down and served myself some kenkey and stew.

“Sister Julie’s small boy died this morning,” Dorothy said with the air of commenting on the weather.

“What?” I said, nearly choking on my food.

“The one who was sick, Sister Julie’s nephew, he died in the hospital this morning.”

I just stared at her. Then I looked down at my food and stared at my that. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t speak. He died?

“Stop crying and eat your food,” Sister Dorothy said when she saw that my eyes had begun to tear.

“But, it’s just so sad! I can’t believe he died! How terrible!”

“It happens. That’s life. People die. There’s nothing you can do about it,” Dorothy said. “Stop crying. You’re not supposed to cry when a child dies. If you cry, another child will die. You’re not supposed to cry.”

“I’m sad that he died! I’ll cry if I want to!” I shouted at her. “If I’m happy, I laugh. If I’m sad, I cry. That’s life.”

When Sister Juliana finally came down a while later, I gave her a big hug and told her how sorry I am. “There’s nothing we can do about it now,” she said sadly. “He’s already gone.”

She told us that Small Boy is the third child to die. His mother had seven children altogether. The first and the third, both girls, died when they were young. Now him. Only four remain.

Sister Germaine, the sweetest nun I’ve ever met, was lunching with us, and told me that her sister once had three daughters, but each of them, one by one, died unexpectedly in their sleep. The girls’ mother was so devastated when all of her children had died that she divorced her husband and swore she’d never marry again. “That’s a big problem in Africa... child mortality. It’s sad, but it happens often.” She studied me intently for a moment and said, “When it’s far away, it’s just a number, but when it touches you personally... that’s a different story.”

The water in my eyes threatened to overflow onto my cheeks, and I couldn’t smile. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t feel things so intensely, that I were sympathetic instead of empathetic, and this was one of those times.

He only had so many days to live, maybe six or seven hundred, that’s it, and I had caused one of those days to be spent crying and screaming, scaring him with my white skin. His aunts told me that I was the first obruni he had ever seen, and chills ran down my spine when I realized that I was the only obruni he ever saw in his entire life.

I remember sitting in an armchair in their living room on the last night I was there, playing with his brothers and sister and cousin. His next brother, who was about five, had climbed into my lap. Small boy ran up to us, screaming and wailing, as usual, and pulled his senior brother’s arm until he jumped down off my lap. Small boy tried to climb up, but he was too little, so I picked him up and set him in my lap. I hugged him close and rocked him back and forth for a few minutes, until he squirmed out of my arms to play “lion” with his big brother.

When I visited him last, his family was having a big celebration in honor of a new life, the little baby Juliana. Now, his family has to hire a carpenter to build the tiniest coffin. Their next family gathering will be a funeral marking the end of such a tragically short life. Suddenly, child mortality in Africa seems infinitely more than just a number for me.


Before coming Africa, I considered the possibility of finding myself an African boyfriend. Why not? I’m young, single, and it’s not like I left anyone in America waiting for me. I’m like every other woman... I love being romanced. I like being taken care of. I know what it feels like to be swept off my feet by American and European men... I wonder how African men do it? It would be nice to have someone to take me out on dates, to buy me things, to talk to me on the phone before I go to sleep, and to show me the affection I crave.

Having an African romance would make my life story more interesting, don’t you think? My friends drop hints in emails, asking me about my love life. Is there anyone special in my life right now?

I hate to disappoint, but my marital status is the same as it’s been for the past twenty-two and a half years... chronically single. No African boyfriend for me now, and after getting to know the culture here, I’ve decided that I don’t want an African boyfriend, ever.

African men only have one thing on their minds... marriage!

Really! They’re only looking for one thing: a wife. And not just any wife... the perfect wife, someone who would spend every day in the kitchen cooking Ghanian dishes with his baby strapped to her back, someone who will break her back sweeping the house three times daily and fetching water from the neighborhood pump a few door down. A good wife, they believe, is loyal and submissive to her husband, even to the point of putting up with his unfaithfulness and abuse.

Does that sound like the kind of attitude I’d be attracted to?

Since I arrived in Ghana, I’ve already been proposed to twice. Ugh. No Ghanaian boyfriend, and definitely no Ghanaian husband, for me. Sorry.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I finally did something kind of reckless. I accepted a ride from a complete stranger. I mean, I guess it’s not that reckless, but I felt that familiar thrill of adventure that has been so elusive lately when I got into the car with him.

I haven’t quite been myself lately. Normally when I travel, I’m fearless... a brave woman, Asanetwaa. I usually follow wherever my impulses lead me, because I’ve noticed that when I follow my impulses, only good things happen.

Here, I hardly ever go out by myself. This fear of wandering alone is SO unlike me! I don’t know why I’m so afraid here, but today, I had no choice. I needed to go back to the clinic to check up on my leg, and I had to go alone.

I hadn’t even walked to the end of the street in front of the school when a man pulled up in a car to ask me if I knew where David Street is. Of course I had no clue, since as far as I’m aware, none of the streets here are marked with names. He asked me where I was headed and offered me a ride. I hesitated for a few moments. This man was a complete stranger. Should I really get in the car with him? Oh, but he seemed nice, and for some strange, unknown reason, I trusted him. I followed my impulse and opened the car door.

“As long as you don’t kidnap me,” I said, as I buckled up.

It turns out the man is a neighbor. He lives in the same house as Williams, the bus driver, and Monica, a friend of Hannah’s. He was very nice, and we had a really good chat as he drove me to Legon. He’s from Nigeria originally, but he moved to Ghana four years ago to escape a failed relationship after his ex-girlfriend cheated on him. Apparently, he hasn’t gotten over his heartbreak, and he hasn’t been able to trust women since.

“You sound like me!” I said. “I used to hate all men!”

“You hate men, and I’m scared of women. We should get married!” he joked.

I was really bummed when I learned that he planned to move back to Nigeria in a couple weeks time. I think that since we’re neighbors and we got along so well for the fifteen or twenty minutes we drove together, we could have become good friends. He dropped me off at the clinic, and continued onward to a wedding for which he was already two hours late.

As I waited at the clinic to be seen by the doctor, I realized how much I miss being a little bit reckless like that. The truth is, I used to accept rides from strangers all the time. I don’t accept rides from every stranger, obviously, but if I have a good feeling about the driver, I trust my intuition, and it has never lead me astray. I thought back to the time I hitch-hiked halfway across the country, and you know, I’ve been way too cautious lately. I think the reason why I’ve felt frustrated is that I’m scared of a world outside I should go explore.

The doctor said that I don’t have an infection, which is good. He also said it won’t leave a scar. I don’t believe that for one minute. I think what he meant is that it won’t be a raised scar, but I’m sure there will be some kind of mark.

That night, I took two trotros by myself to get to Antis junction, and walked from there to my house. Now that I know how to get back by myself, I feel much more confident about setting out alone. Now, with my newly-regained sense of recklessness, all of Ghana is open to me!


So, now I have four and a half scars on my legs, soon to be five. All the holes in my legs from where the dogs bit me have healed except for one. The really big hole is about halfway healed, I think. The open part is about half as big as it was before. So gross, but at least it’s healing and it’s not infected. (I won’t be a pirate, sorry. No plundered gold for you.) I can see where the scar is starting to form. It’s going to be big and not pretty.

When I was first attacked by the dogs, I asked myself, “Why?” Why did this happen to me?

My first thought was that God was angry at me and punishing me for something. That seemed like a logical explanation, except that I’ve been really good lately, extra good (how much trouble can I get into living in a convent?). I haven’t done anything bad, so why would God punish me for nothing? No, that can’t be it, unless he’s punishing me for something I haven’t done yet? Maybe I’m about to do something wicked and he just wanted to get the punishment out of the way? That’s possible.

My second thought was that it must be karma. I was probably really mean to those dogs in another life. Maybe I stole eggs from them or made fun of their haircut or maybe I even bit them first. In this life, I’m the tall, white teacher who sits at the table and eats good food, and they are the dogs who eat fish heads and leftovers and live with chains around their necks. They finally got their revenge by biting me and leaving five scars, and I am just getting what I deserve for being mean to them in a former life. The thing is, I can’t imagine myself ever biting anyone, in any life. I don’t know. I guess all I can do is be really nice to them, and to everyone else I meet, so that I’ll have better karma in my next life.

I also considered that maybe it’s just my luck. I’ve had such good luck in my life, and so many good things happen to me. Maybe this was just my bad luck catching up to me. Being attacked by dogs is BAD LUCK. I hope that this incident used up a lot of my bad luck, so that I’ll have only good luck for a while. I prefer good luck to bad luck any day.

It also crossed my mind that maybe it was fate. Maybe it’s my destiny. Maybe there’s a reason why I was attacked by dogs. I can’t imagine what the reason is in the big scheme of things, other than the fact that with scars on my legs I am completely unlovable and no one will ever want to marry me. Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe I’m destined to become a spinster.

Sister Juliana suggested a different destiny for me. “If no one will marry you, you might as well become a nun,” she said one evening at dinner. “We’ll give you a veil and you can become one of us.”

“I could never be a nun!” I told her. “There are three reasons why I can’t be a nun: poverty, chastity, and obedience.” Those are three vows every nun must make. Sister Juliana just laughed.

When one of my best friends found out about that I was bitten by dogs, she assured me in an email that my true love will still want to marry me. “He’ll probably be the type who thinks African-made scars are sexy!” she wrote. Could that be it? Maybe I’m destined to spend my life with a man who is turned on by African-made scars, and if it weren’t for these dogs, he’d never fall in love with me!

Then again, maybe not. Maybe there is no significance whatsoever, and no reason at all. Maybe the universe is not subject to some greater force or a higher power, maybe there is no God or karma or luck or fate, and everything that happens in life, dog bites included, is just coincidence.

Either way... if any of you know a man who is attracted to women with African-made scars, and if he is tall, dark, and handsome, let me know. He could be my soul mate.

I suddenly have much more sympathy for Elmira Gulch. I think if Toto bit my leg, I’d want him locked away, too.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Class 2A is my favorite class in the school. Teaching them brings me much joy, so I sometimes take a little break from French and teach them about American culture. In October, I told them about Halloween. Yesterday, I told them all about Thanksgiving, about the history of the holiday and what we eat. The most important part of Thanksgiving is being with family, I told them, and I’m so sad that I’m going to miss it.

This morning, Ellen, the Class 2A teacher, wished me a Happy Thanksgiving, and later she sought me out and handed me a little present: a necklace and matching earrings. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness I almost cried. I gave her a big hug and said, “Merci! Merci!”

When I got back to my room this afternoon, I cried for reals. I’ve been so sad all day. All I can think about are my family and friends in America who are getting ready for their Thanksgiving Day feast. I haven’t spent a Thanksgiving at home in four years, but I’ve always celebrated it, usually with my second family, the Williamses, in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Last night, Sister Juliana said we’d have turkey and something special, but I knew she wasn’t serious. When I came down for dinner, I saw that we had yams and bitter leaf stew... probably my least favorite Ghanaian food. Sister Juliana felt sorry for me, so she sent Hanna to buy us Guinness to drink.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I think being here is harder for me than I’m letting on. When I have a problem, I have no one to talk to about it. Sometimes I end up crying in my room, all alone, but usually my problems go straight to my notebooks. I try to get up half an hour earlier each morning to write my “morning pages.” I’m much more homesick than I thought I would be. I never felt this way when I lived in Europe, although I do remember feeling like this sometimes when I lived in Ohio. I often wonder if I’d feel like this if I lived in Asia. I really wanted to move to Japan for a year, but I’m not so sure anymore.

Okay, but really... the point of Thanksgiving is to remember all that you are thankful for. I am thankful for SO many things.

I’m thankful for my everyone in my family. I’m thankful for each of my friends. I miss and love them all very much. I’ve been so blessed to have such amazing people in my life!

I’m also thankful for the sun, the moon, stars, clouds, grass, flowers, trees, water, diamonds, music, telephones, big cities, John Mayer, Christmas, books, coffee, language, diversity, ingenuity, chocolate, smiles, laughter, thoughtfulness, the internet, colors, peanut-butter, ice cream, soap, electricity, transportation, education, spirit, life, happiness, muzzles and leashes, clocks, calendars, chapstick, girlfriends, guy friends, best friends, sisters, brothers, students, teachers, amusement parks, crêpe stands, street performers, bridges, beds, toothpaste, purses, dresses, lotion, mosquito nets, windows, airplanes, Indians and pilgrims who get along, milk, musicals, blankets, cars, cats, cologne, Paris, and elephants.

I think I’m the most thankful for love.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pray for Peace

I don’t know what people will talk about or what will be on TV after December 7th. December 7th is election day in Ghana, and that seems to be all they care about here. There have been some concerns raised about peace, but for the most part, everyone has seemed optimistic that the elections would be peaceful.

I hung out at Fred’s house on Saturday after the PTA meeting. He told me about something horrible that had happened earlier in the week. Apparently, a warehouse in another region of Ghana had collapsed suddenly, and at first no one knew why. After some investigation, the cause of the collapse was determined; during “lights off,” someone had lit a candle to see in the basement of the warehouse, and somehow the basement caught fire. There were firearms and bombs in the basement, and the explosion they created caused the structure above to collapse, killing some of the people who were in the warehouse and damaging the buildings and homes that surrounded it. It was a mystery how the firearms got into the basement. The man responsible was licensed to sell firecrackers and toy guns, not bombs. How did he manage to smuggle those into the basement?

When I heard this story, I became really sad. I felt so horrible that all those people had died. “It’s such a tragedy!” I murmured.

“It’s a good thing,” Sister Juliana said, and I was shocked. She explained, “That man wasn’t supposed to have those guns. He was planning something bad. He was probably going to cause trouble after the elections. Now since this happened, maybe there won’t be a civil war. If there were a civil war, we’d have to send you back to your place.”

This scared me quite a bit. Ghana is known as being a really peaceful country... it would be horrible if a civil war broke out! I’m supposed to be here for another 8 months or so. I don’t want to go home just yet!

“Don’t worry, Kate,” Fred assured me. “There won’t be a civil war. Everything will be okay.”

I believed him, until this morning at the school’s weekly worship service. Every Wednesday morning, instead of going to assembly, the older students meet in the conference room to sing worship songs and to listen to one of the teachers lecture them on moral issues, usually telling them all the horrible things that will happen to their life if they don’t listen to their elders when they’re young. This morning, however, Monsieur Kofi made them close their eyes and pray for peace. He kept bringing up the fact that with the political tension being as it is, a civil war could break out after the elections. He spent the entire thirty minutes talking about a civil war, telling the children to pray for peace! Pray for peace!

Then I was really scared. I’ve never experienced a civil war, and I never want to. I don’t want to go back to America yet, but if things became unsafe here, I’d have to be sent back. I’m worried about what would happen to my students, to the nuns, and to my other friends here. I want there to be peace on earth!

“Don’t be scared. Nothing bad will happen,” Monsieur Kofi said when he saw how freaked out I was.

“But you just spent all that time making them pray that there won’t be a civil war!” I exclaimed.

“It’s good to pray for peace. It’s all in God’s hands. But Ghana’s a peaceful country. This election won’t change that,” he said.

So now I’m confused. I know that Ghanaian adults like to say things to scare children... maybe they think of me as a child to be fooled. I guess no one will really know what will happen on December 7th until that day arrives. Most people believe it will peaceful. I really hope they’re right.

Either way, it’s good to pray for peace. I like peace.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More typing

I spent another day typing up exams and I’m quite exhausted and resentful. All this typing really wears me out so that I don’t have the energy to write in here or respond to any emails. The goal is to be finished by next week so we can print them and give them to the teachers to correct, then we have to fix the mistakes and make a million photocopies. The exams start December 9th, I think.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I feel like there’s a lot going on that I want to write about, but I’m too sleepy right now... and it’s only 8:45! I had trouble sleeping last night, so I’ve been tired all day. To top it off, I’ve spent the past week at school typing up exams. Most of the teachers here don’t know how to type, only Mr. Sackey (the computer teacher), Mator (the librarian), and I know how to type. The other teachers just handwrite their exams and give them to us. We have the lucky job of typing up every exam for every subject in every class between the three of us. It’s tiring, time-consuming, tedious, blah. Part of me is annoyed at the other teachers for not being able to do something so simple as typing up their own exams, but I have to remind myself that most of them don’t have computers at their homes... how are they supposed to practice? We’re only in the first term, so after these exams, we’ll still have to do this two more times (there are three terms in a Ghanaian school year). We’ve been typing a lot and we’re not even close to being finished! It probably wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t crammed in a small, hot room, using huge, ancient computers on little kid desks. There’s not even enough room for the keyboard to fit on the desk, so I have to hold it on my lap. The keys are really hard to press so my wrists hurt and my fingers become tired. Sometimes it’s hard to read the teachers’ writing so I have to guess what they’re trying to say. Really! I know it would take a really long time for the other teachers to type up their own exams, since they would have to go letter by letter, but it also takes a really long time for three of us to type EVERYONE’S exam.

Okay, I’m done complaining. It’s 8:53 right now and I’m ridiculously tired and in a bad mood. Sorry! Maybe I’ll feel better in the morning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some wonderful things in the world

I am of the opinion that brass bands are one of the top ten most wonderful things in the world. Imagine my delight when I found myself today following a brass band in a crowd of people parading through the streets of Ghana as we danced to the band’s wonderful African tunes. There was procession today to celebrate “Christ the King,” and hundreds of people participated. I was, as usual, the token white girl, but I ignored their stares and joined in the fun. There is something about brass bands that fills my heart with joy and makes me want to dance. This brass band played African church hymns, and I waved the handkerchief Sister Dorothy gave me in the air like the exuberant Ghanians did. I didn’t know any of the words to the songs, but I hummed along when I could and didn’t stop dancing until we were about halfway there. The clouds that had been protecting us from the sun drifted away, and the sun beat down on us mercilessly. That didn’t stop the Ghanians from singing, clapping, and dancing vibrantly, so I didn’t let it stop me, either. We paraded up a hill and down another side, passing in front of nice houses with green lawns in their front yards.

Green lawns in their front yards? Grass is hard to come by here in Ghana, the good kind, that is. I can’t tell you how much I love grass... walking it in, sitting in it, lying in it. I miss grass almost as much as I miss ice cream, peanut butter, and running water. Some people cut through the front yards to pass more quickly to the front of the parade, and I hesitated on the edge of the gutter, torn between my longing to walk on the grass and my respect for other people’s property. Respect won, and I stayed on the dirt road with all the other characters.

And would you believe the characters I saw in the parade? Most people were dressed in their Sunday best, which means lots of vibrant African prints for both the men (as dress shirts, shirt/pants combination, or sometimes just a huge piece of fabric draped over one shoulder and wrapped around the body like Lady Liberty) and the women (who wear their African prints in different styles of a matching shirt and skirt combination that looks deceptively like a dress). Then there were the different choirs, who look like they’re about to graduate. Here, some of the choirs wear caps and gowns when they sing, their little tassels swinging about when they get really into the dancing. Other musicians dressed in normal clothes carried their instruments in front of them. They blew their trumpets, beat their drums, shook their tambourines, dinged their bells, and played their trombones while the people around them danced. There was a group of women wearing what looked like fifties nurse uniforms - little off-white skirts and jackets with turquoise trim and cream pillbox hats with turquoise buttons. They all wore black pumps and white socks. There were half a dozen or so men dressed in strange black uniforms, carrying swords and wearing funny admiral hats with a big white feather across the top like old-fashioned soldiers. When they marched, it looked like they were attempting to step in unison, but they failed miserably. They were right behind a group of nuns and priests. What a crowd! Every person present was dancing, clapping, singing, and waving their handkerchiefs in the air as though they had just won two million dollars.

And I was a part of it all! Me, the only obruni for miles around, dancing ridiculously with young and old under the hot African sun.

As we neared the church where we started, I couldn’t take it anymore. I followed Hannah over the gutter and stepped onto the grass. I took off my shoes, and felt the beautiful feeling of grass beneath my feet. The people who passed gave me strange looks, glancing at my dirty shoes in my hand and down at my bare feet that were half white and half brown from parading through dirt roads. I didn’t mind them. Green grass is also on my list of the top ten most wonderful things in the world.

I’ll admit that by the time we finished the procession, I was quite tired and very happy to sit down in a shady place. It was, however, quite an experience, and I’m glad I could be a part of it. I love trying new things, green grass, brass bands and dancing to them. This is why, when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Today I attended my first PTA meeting... which is so weird to me. I didn’t expect to go to a PTA meeting for at least another ten years, when I have school-aged children. I’ve always wanted to be a parent, you see, but I never thought I’d be a teacher. It’s funny how life works out sometimes!

Friday, November 21, 2008

To make a noise like that

This morning, we had another staff meeting. It was supposed to start at noon, but keep in mind that we’re on Africa time here. I was the first teacher to show up (at 12:01), and the second person didn’t arrive until about 12:50. The meeting actually started at 1:00.

I sat on the cream-colored sofa in between Auntie Rita and Sister Dorothy. As I looked around at all the other people in the room, I remembered the last staff meeting I went to two days after I arrived in October, when I was introduced for the first time. I was the awkward new girl in a room full of strangers. Now, I know everyone by name and many of the teachers have become my friends. I felt much more comfortable this afternoon than I did the very first staff meeting I went to.

As I sat on the sofa waiting for the meeting to start, something amazing happened. It started with the curtains. The curtain behind me brushed against my hair, then was lifted high above my head. The wind blew through the open windows so strongly that I had a hovering veil of white behind me. Then I heard a loud, loud noise from outside... it was raining! But it wasn’t just any rain... it was an African storm. The rain here is so strong and so loud. We closed the windows, but it didn’t do anything to muffle the sound; the rain pounded hard against the glass, and I thought about the “rain stick” my grandma had when I was little. Thunder came next. When I was little, my grandma told me that thunder was just God moving his furniture around. That’s what this thunder sounded like... giant bookshelves falling over right above us. Then we had “lights off” - a black out, which happens daily here so it wasn’t a big deal. With the lights out and the clouds covering the sun, it grew dark in the room, until little flashes of white appeared on the ceiling that looked like a camera flash, but no one was taking pictures. A few seconds later, another one of God’s bookshelves fell over, and I realized that the camera flashes were actually lightning!

I sat inside the headmistress’s office, surrounded by teachers discussing salary raises and the upcoming PTA meeting, but all my attention was directed outside. I listened to the wondrous sounds of the rain and the thunder and felt the breeze coming through the one open window. I was completely in awe of the power of the storm. Like all the storms I’ve seen here, this one was very intense, hurling rain at the windows for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and then it stopped as suddenly as it started. The sun came out, and all was quiet except for the sounds of children playing and the teachers’ voices. The storm was the best part of the meeting, and when it ended, I found that the rest of the meeting bored me somewhat. I thought about the daily staff meetings I had for my job at a language camp this summer, and it made me miss each and every EF pal so much, but... we never had rain like this in Long Beach!

“Boom! Boom! Boom!
Mr. Brown is a wonder!
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Mr. Brown makes thunder!
He makes lightning!
Splatt! Splatt! Splatt!
And it’s very, very hard
to make a noise like that!”
- Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?
by Dr. Seuss

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why I write

Looking back on what I’ve written so far, I realize that I write too much. Sorry. I’ll try to cut back. With everything going on in my life right now, I don’t think I’ll have to try too hard.

The reason why I write so much is that I have no one to talk to. I mean, yes, I have a few friends here, and I talk to people every day, but everyone here is African. For me, every little experience is so different and feels like such an adventure, but for people here, it’s just normal life. Imagine having a visitor who was amazed by something as simple as going to the grocery store or loading a dishwasher! I can’t talk to any of my friends from home, so my notebooks have become my best friends, listening to my thoughts, fears, and emotions as I adjust to this strange country.

I also write because my family and some of my friends have asked me to. They’re curious as to what life is like as an American in Ghana. Since they can’t be here with me to experience it firsthand, I write about everything so they can share some moments vicariously.

I write because I can’t escape this feeling that there’s a reason while I’m here. Of all the places in the world I could have ended up, somehow I ended up here, at Ancilla School in Haatso, Ghana, through a series of lucky (and unlucky) coincidences. And so did all the people here. I don’t know why I’m here of all places, but I think as my story unfolds, I’ll find out.

So, as my life-changing, earth-shattering, meant-to-be story plays out, I don’t want to miss any details! If my story is interesting enough, I’ll turn it into a book someday, but for now, I’m writing it as it happens. Life is such a mystery! Okay, I know that I’m crazy, that the reason why I feel this way is because I want my life to be an adventure and I want to feel that I’m caught up in something bigger than myself, but why not? Can’t a girl imagine her own life the way she wants?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My lovely sky

Last night, someone left a mattress on the roof, so I went outside and lied on it. There was a wonderful breeze caressing my skin that brought me into my senses. I looked up at the sky, my lovely sky. The sky somehow looks so different here! The strong wind blew the clouds quickly across the sky like fluffy boats sailing away into the twilight. The clouds made wispy, whimsical shapes, morphing from a gift box to a truck to a dog’s head. I was scared of the dog’s head, afraid of the sharp teeth I knew must be hiding inside the mouth, so I was grateful when it changed into a robot.

I wished upon the first star I saw last night, but I was happier when lots of stars appeared in the spaces between the clouds. I think it was bats, however, that made me the happiest. I lied on my back, watching them move eerily across the sky like little black rowboats. There were so many bats! I smiled as I watched them, wondering if I’d ever see anything more wonderful than the bats and the clouds and the stars and the fading colors of sunset.

Just then, a corner of the sky lit up bright white. A lightning storm! It was too far away to hear thunder, but close enough to see the lightning turn on the clouds like a flickering night light. The wind blew a strand of hair across my face, and I blew it back. The bats glided on above me, and I could hear their wonderfully eery bat noises that sound like a noisy wristwatch.

I’m in Africa.

Hanna came out and joined me. We lied on the mattress together, and all I could talk about was how much I love the sky. She started singing a church hymn, asking me to join in, but I didn’t know all the words, so I sang Silent Night instead. Hanna was so delighted by my singing that I didn’t stop with just Silent Night... I sang Hark the Harold Angels Sing and Deck the Halls and Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Twelve Days of Christmas and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Oh Holy Night and Jingle Bells and many more. Hanna knew two or three, but was surprised by how many Christmas songs I know. And I was just getting started!

I ami desa mi wa a. I am happy to be here. There was only one way I possibly could have been happier: if my friend, the moon, had decided to join us instead of hiding out of sight. Little brat.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm not THAT scary!

Something happened to me when I was in the village (Homasi) that has never happened to me before.

A little kid was afraid of me.

This was definitely the first time that has ever happened to me. Normally, kids love me! Not one of Sister Juliana’s nephews, however. He was just under two years old. When his mother first carried him into the room, Sister Juliana scooped him up and hugged and kissed him, like any aunt would do to her nephew. The little boy, however, stared at me the entire time he was being fondled by his aunt. She noticed him staring at me, so she told him, in Twi, that he should go see the obruni (me). When she said this, he started balling! He screamed and cried, squirming out of Sister Juliana’s lap and running out the door as fast as his little legs could carry him. Throughout the afternoon, whenever he accidentally wandered back into the living room, he took one look at me and ran out crying.

I felt so terrible! I’ve never made a kid cry before.

“It’s because he’s never seen a white person before,” the boy’s aunties explained.

I felt much less terrible about making him cry when I discovered that he cried about everything. He’s the youngest in his family, with four older brothers and sisters, and wailing over ever little thing was his way of getting attention.

By the end of the weekend, however, he became used to me. He watched his big brothers and sister playing with me, and, not wanting to miss out on the action, he joined in the fun. He even pulled his brother out of my lap so that he could sit there and let me hold him. So cute.

So, a little kid was afraid of me, but not anymore. :)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Washing Machine

Today, my washing machine wore a blue dress and jelly shoes... Me! I wash all my clothes by hand now.

Hanna helped. Actually, Hanna did most of my laundry and I was the one who helped her. It’s not my fault. I try to do it by myself, but Hanna doesn’t like the way I do it, so she tells me to move over while she washes my clothes. She only trusts me to rinse and hang the clothes to dry.

The process is much more time consuming than I’m used to. I prefer to throw my dirty clothes into the washing machine and press start. That’s so simple! But here, I am the washing machine. I don’t have a start button. I have to do it by hand.

You start with two buckets of water and a big metal bowl. First, drop a few dresses into the metal bowl, and wash them by rubbing a bar of soap over everything. Then wring out the water and drop them into the first bucket, where you wash them again. I don’t understand why we have to wash them twice, but Hanna is quite insistent. She is so particular about how I wash my own clothes. She makes me scrub the armpits of my dresses more than I think is necessary, and I’m like, come on, I’m not that smelly.

After washing each item of clothing twice, put the clothes into the second bucket to rinse. This is what doesn’t make sense... the rinsing bucket becomes so soapy that the clothes don’t feel fully rinsed. It would make much more sense to me to wash the clothes once and rinse them twice. However, I’m always so grateful for Hanna’s help that I go along with it.

Finally, take the clothes out of the rinsing bucket, wring out as much water as you can, and hang the clothes over the clothesline to dry. Whyadeea! You are an African washing machine!

Everyone at my house is really amused watching me wash my clothes. “In America, you use machines, right?” Right. SO much easier. Even with Hanna’s help, it takes such a long time. Hanna, however, is very distrustful of washing machines. She doesn’t think they wash the clothes well enough. I could just picture her one day being very rich with five washers and driers, sitting on the floor of her laundry room washing her clothes by hand.

I, on the other hand, believe that washing machines are wonderful inventions, particularly the electric versions that can’t wear blue dresses or jellies.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Although I am enjoying my stay here in Ghana, there are many things I miss about my home in California, and Disneyland is one of them. I love the happiest place on earth!

I’m lucky, though, because, believe it or not, in many ways, Ghana reminds me of Disneyland.

Sitting in the passenger seat besides Sister Juliana as she drives out of our neighborhood feels exactly like the Indiana Jones Ride. The 4-wheel drive bumps along the dirt road full of dips and holes. With each bounce, I am thrown inside the car in every direction until we get to the main, paved road. I close my eyes and imagine I’m in the Temple of Doom, barely avoiding the fangs of a giant snake. It makes me smile. I love the Indiana Jones ride!

I was also lucky to experience something like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and even luckier that I survived to write about it. On our road trip to Kumasi, there were some parts of the highway with massive, numerous potholes in the middle of the road. Instead of slowing down to go over them, Ghanian drivers maintain their 80 kmp speed and just swerve around them. I could hear the Mr. Toad music in my head as I gripped the handle next to me, trying to steady myself as I was jerked all around. When cars came speeding towards us from the opposite direction, I closed my eyes and imagined our car swerving back to the right side of the road in the nick of time, just like on the ride. Luckily, it did.

During the road trip, driving on the parts of the highway without traffic or potholes reminded me of Thunder Mountain. We drove ridiculously fast, passing slower cars, over slight hills, around mountains... but being in a car surrounded by other equally reckless drivers all around made the Ghanian version of Thunder Mountain much scarier than Disneyland.

We have something here called “Lights Off,” which are basically rolling blackouts. They cut the power unexpectedly at any time of day or night. The lights go out, computers shut down, and fans stop spinning. Whenever the lights unexpectedly go out, I imagine being in a small, hexagonal room whose walls grow bigger and bigger, listening to a creepy voice narrating the horrible things about to happen to me. Yes, Ghana has its Haunted Mansion moments. When we have “lights off,“ I never look up, because I’m afraid of seeing a skeleton hanging from the ceiling like on the ride.

I haven’t experienced this yet, but I really can’t wait until I discover in what way Ghana will remind me of the Jungle Cruise! I want to see an elephant SO badly!

So please don’t worry about me missing Disneyland too much. Ghana basically is Disneyland, except without castles, fireworks, or Mickey Mouse.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pirate woman

So, as you all know, I hate puppies now. My leg still has scars and a big hole where an evil dog tried to eat me alive. I wore only jeans for a week after I was attacked, because I didn’t want anyone to see how ugly I have become. A girl can only take so many days of wearing pants, however, so I switched back to a dress for two days of my weekend in Homasi. This was kind of a mistake. People stare at me enough as it is because I’m white, but try being white with a big, bleeding wound on your leg. SO attractive!

Then, something so disturbing happened to me that I honestly wanted to die. This is so gross that I don’t even want to repeat it. I’m only writing about it to warn people of the dangers of keeping dogs around in hopes of someday everyone will realize how demonic they are and that we will one day eradicate all dogs from the planet, or at least keep them all permanently chained up with muzzles or in cages where they can never bite anyone. Okay, here it goes... When I was in Homasi, wearing a dress, I looked down and saw that I fly had landed on my sore. A fly! I brushed it off immediately, and ran inside to put medicine on my leg. But it didn’t just happen once. It happened several times throughout the day. Each time it happened, I was disturbed beyond all telling. It made me feel like a living corpse. Dogs are like zombies. Dogs turn normal human beings, like I once was, into living corpses. So evil!

Dogs can also turn average women into pirate women, something which disturbs me even more than the flies. When Sister Dorothy saw me wearing a dress, she yelled at me, “Why do you still have a sore? It should be gone by now. Haven’t you been putting medicine on it?”

I told her, “Yes, I’ve been putting the medicine on it every day. It’s big so it will take a while to heal.”

“You haven’t been taking good enough care of it,” she insisted. “It will be infected, and they will have to chop it. Do you want them to cut your leg off?”

No, thank you.

“It’s not supposed to look like that,” Sister Juliana said.

Clearly... my skin is supposed to cover all of my body, not leaving gaping holes.

“Well, I’ve never seen anyone with a wound like this. In America, they use stitches,” I explained. “I don’t know how it’s supposed to look.”

“They’re probably going have to cut off your leg,” Sister Juliana said. “We need to take you back to the clinic.”

We had a seven hour car ride during which I had plenty of time to imagine my life without my right leg. I’d probably get a wooden leg and hobble around like a pirate. This would make me even more unlovable and unmarriageable than I already am with just a scar. I probably wouldn’t be able to climb European church towers ever again, or jump off waterfalls, or run barefoot through the sand, or wear high heels. I’d be condemned to wearing pants 24/7, and I’d have nothing to wear, because my closet is mostly filled with dresses.

On the other hand, I’d be a pirate. Maybe I could get an eye patch and a parrot and commandeer a ship with a scull-and-crossbones sail. I could plunder the seaport villages and hide the booty in a secret cave on my secret island. Argh!

I weighed the pros and cons of having the doctors amputate my leg, and I decided that I’m probably not cut out for a pirate’s life. I don’t know anything about cannons or gunpowder.

Yesterday, my leg began to hurt, and when I looked closely I saw that it was a little swollen. Sister Dorothy yelled at me again that my leg was terribly infected and they’d have to chop it. She insisted I go to the clinic right then. She had someone call a taxi and waited with me until it came. As we were waiting, she yelled at some kids who were pulling at a broken branch on the tree. She told them that if they touched it, it would make them bleed.

When the taxi arrived, she told the driver where to take me, and waved goodbye. I waved back as the taxi pulled away from the school, thinking that I really need to start familiarizing myself with pirate weaponry. Maybe cannons aren’t as difficult as they seem.

I sat in the crowded hospital waiting room for about two hours. When I finally saw the doctor, he looked at my leg and said it was fine. He prescribed antibiotics to help prevent infection and recommended I come back on Monday, and let me go. Just like that.

During the taxi ride back to my house, I remembered Sister Dorothy telling the kids that they would “get blood” if they touched the tree branch. I laughed at myself for worrying about cannons.

Sister Dorothy almost seemed disappointed when I told her my leg was fine, that they weren’t going to chop it. I think she secretly hoped for a share in the pirate booty.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Four in one

Today, I broke a personal record.

I visited not one, not two, not even three, but four, four convents in one day!

That’s what you get for living and traveling with nuns.

Strangely enough, I always forget that they’re nuns. I call them by their nun names - Sister Juliana, Sister Dorothy, Sister Bibi, Sister Anne - but to me, the “sister” prefix is just a part of their name, sort of like calling someone Mary Kate or Jean Claude. I don’t think of myself as living in a convent with nuns... to me, I feel like I live in a house with five older female housemates. The only time I realize I live in a convent is when I’m around other nuns when they come to visit or we visit them.

The funniest was the time I went to a nun birthday party. Yes, a birthday party for a nun. Her name is Sister Germaine. She is the sweetest nun I’ve ever met. I corresponded with her through email all summer as she made all the arrangements for me to come here. She doesn’t live in the same house as me, but she celebrated her birthday on November 4th and insisted that I skip classes and come join in the celebration. I didn’t want to go, because I could picture a nun birthday party in my head: a group of sulky, middle-aged women sitting around a parlor drinking hot tea and quietly nibbling on a mouse-sized piece of frosting-less birthday cake as they talked in solemn voices about the Pope’s health. I really didn’t belong in that picture.

Sister Germaine’s birthday party was nothing like I expected! First of all, there was dancing. Nuns dance? I didn’t believe it at first, but now I do. They were playing Madonna when I first arrived, but later they changed to upbeat Ghanian popular music, which is called “hiplife.” Sister Germaine, the birthday girl, came dancing in, shaking it like a salt shaker. Sister Juliana joined her, of course. Sister Juliana can’t not dance when there’s music, whether it comes from the car radio, a commercial on TV, or a boom-box at a nun birthday party.

Secondly, there was lots of food and lots of alcohol. Mmm-mmm! There was Guinness, red wine, champagne, and even a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. The kitchen table was filled with all types of Ghanian dishes. For dessert, they served a slice of some type of cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I was also surprised by how many male friends Sister Germaine has. Of course, they were all priests, but they were dressed in normal clothes and they didn’t talk about God at all, so they just seemed normal. I left the party very happy to have indulged in Guinness, Bailey’s, and ice cream and cake. I was so surprised that I had so much fun at a nun birthday party!

Anyway, today, Sister Juliana woke me up early so we could drive back to Obuasi and go to church. Afterwards, she saw some nuns she knew, and they walked us back to their convent and served us hot tea and bread for breakfast. Convent number 1.

We stopped by Sister Juliana’s parents’ house to get our stuff and to say goodbye to her lovely family before driving back to Kumasi. We were to meet Sister Dorothy, who was back from the funeral, so that she could drive with us back to Accra. We had to wait about half an hour, so we hung out in the convent snacking on bread and tea until she arrived. Convent number 2.

We had to pick up some clothes (nun clothes) that were accidentally delivered to the wrong convent in a small town halfway between Kumasi and Accra. We got out and ate the lunch that Sister Juliana’s sister had packed us. Convent number 3.

After leaving convent number 3, we piled back in the car for the long trip back to Haatso. I was tired, hungry, grumpy, etc, every negative thing you feel after being cooped up in the car for over seven hours, so I was quite happy when we reached convent number 4, aka, my house. Dinner was waiting for us when we arrived, so I sat down and ate my fourth convent meal of the day.

Four convents in one day. So basically... my life is a comedy!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Naming Ceremony

Ghana is a land of many traditions and has ceremonies for special occasions. What occasion is more special than giving birth to a child? Ghanians celebrate each healthy birth with something called a Naming Ceremony. It usually takes place eight days after the baby is born. The idea is that both the mother and the baby need a week to rest and to recover from the labor. Also, the days of the week are very important to Ghanians, and they often name their babies after the day on which they were born. There are seven popular names for boys and seven for girls. You can tell which day of the week a person was born on by his or her name.

For example, Sister Juliana didn’t know the name of her own cousin. He told me his name was Fred, but she always called him Kwame. He explained it to me one day when we were driving in his car.

“Do you know the day of the week you were born on?” he asked me out of the blue.

“Yes. I was born on a Thursday,” I said.

“Thursday. Your Ghanian name is Yaa. Mine is Kwame, because I was born on a Saturday,” he said, and taught me about the fourteen different Ghanian names. The parents usually give the child another name, too, like Amma Birago or Kwabena Adom. Actually, most parents just name their kids a name like Fred or Juliana and use the day-of-the-week name only among family.

On the way to Homasi (that is Sister Juliana’s village’s name, Homasi), we passed a town named after Asantwa, who was a female warrior. “That will be your African name,” Sister Julie said, “Yaa Santwa. It means brave woman.”

“Yaa Santwa,” I repeated, letting the words roll over my tongue like a pink gum-ball. Santwa is pronounced the same as sans toi in French. Sans toi. Without you. My name is Yaa without you. Without you... sounds so independent and feminist, like, I can do this by myself, thank you, without you. Brave woman.

When I first arrived in the village, Sister Juliana’s sisters and mother were quite pleased that I greeted them in Twi, “Etty sang!” and thanked them, also. “Madasay!” When the had sat me down, they introduced themselves... “I’m Esther.” “I’m Selina,” “She’s Elizabeth.” Then they told me their Ghanian names, “I’m also called Akua...” I don’t remember their Ghanian names, but I remembered mine.

“I’m also called Yaa Santwa,” I said. When I said that, they all laughed that happy, joyous laugh I’ve come to associate with Ghanians being thrilled that I’m embracing their culture. “Yaa Santwa!” they repeated, and retold the story to Sister Juliana when she came back into the room.

From then on, Sister Juliana’s family called me by my Ghanian name, Yaa Santwa.

So, that’s another reason why they usually wait eight days for the naming ceremony... so that the ceremony takes place on the same day of the week that the baby was born.

Baby Juliana’s naming ceremony, however, took place over two weeks after her birth.

Sister Juliana’s youngest sister, Selina, gave birth to her first child a few weeks ago. I was there when SIster Juliana received the phone call. She was ecstatic, especially because she was to be the godmother, they were naming the baby after her, and the baby was born on the same day of the week that she was. They waited to have the ceremony until Sister Juliana could make it, during the midterm break. Of course, Sister Juliana didn’t tell me this until Friday night, the night before the ceremony.

Baby Juliana is so, so precious! When Selina dropped her into my arms the first day I was there, I couldn’t stop staring at her. She’s so tiny, and so beautiful. Each miniature feature is perfectly formed as though lovingly molded by a perfect doll-maker. I was so amazed by the little life in my arms I almost cried. I didn’t know how Selina let me hold her... if I had a baby that precious, I don’t think I’d ever want her to leave my sight. It’s a good thing I’m not a mother yet, because I think all I’d want to do would be to hold my baby all day long. The baby yawned, and then her lips drew apart into the most precious little smile, and when she smiled it was like I was holding a baby ray of sunshine in my arms.

When I went into the living room this morning, I found that the table and couches had been pushed against the walls, and a couple dozen plastic chairs were set up in the room. I went to the backyard to brush my teeth, and found some of the sisters fussing over a huge pot of rice for the guests. I went to the front porch, and found dozens of relatives had congregated there to wait for the ceremony to start. It was scheduled to start at 8AM, but we’re on Africa time, so we didn’t actually start until 9.

I had read about naming ceremonies before this, about the symbolic rituals they do such as dropping a little wine into the baby’s mouth and setting the baby on the dirt. I was excited about experiencing this bit of uniquely Ghanian culture. A Catholic priest showed up, and the ceremony began. They spoke Twi the entire time. Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I watched carefully, not wanting to miss anything. I was disappointed when I realized that it was actually just a typical, Christian/Catholic infant baptism, something I’d attended numerous times in America. I then remembered reading that sometimes Christians substitute baptism for traditional naming ceremonies. Lame!

The after-party was quite fun. They passed out Guinness and blasted the music. Ghanian popular music, called highlife or hiplife, is so upbeat and fun to dance to! Every person who has ever seen me dance in Ghana is SO surprised and amused, as though they expect my white skin somehow inhibits my dancing and are quite astonished when they see me dance. Oh, but the music is just so danceable! How could I not dance? Especially when it makes the Ghanians so happy that they laugh their joyous, thrilled-that-the-obruni-is-trying-out-our-culture laugh?

They laughed happily and clapped for me, forming dance circles around me, wanting to hold my hands. “Ay! Yaa Santwa!” they called. “Etty sang!”

I guess you could say that this week there have been two naming ceremonies: one for baby Juliana, and the other for Yaa Santwa. And even though my skin is as white as snow, I’m more experienced in Ghanian culture than little Juliana. She’s only been in Ghana for two weeks. I’ve been here for a month. The thought makes me feel so... Ghanian!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Village life

Village life is quite interesting.

Sister Juliana lied. They do have electricity at her family’s house. They don’t have running water, but I’m used to that. Their bathroom consists of two little rooms. The room for the toilet doesn’t even have a door handle. There’s a nail inside that you turn to hold the door closed. The other little room is just has a drain in the middle of the tiled floor. That’s where you shower, if you can get water. Their water comes from a pump a little ways away from their house. They have to fetch water from the pump bucket by bucket and bring it back to the house for every purpose: bathing, drinking, cooking, cleaning, etc. Oh, speaking of cooking... their kitchen barely looks like a kitchen. It’s just a room with dishes, pots, and pans piled in the corner. There is a little stove with two burners in another corner and a bucket of water next to the door. That’s about it. Their freezer is in the boys’ room, and the refrigerator is in the living room. They prepare food sitting on a stool with the bowls on the floor. So village!

Other than that... the house is nice. They have a living room/dining room with a TV, two couches and two armchairs, and a table with chairs. There are six bedrooms, I think, filled with beds, beds, beds. I’m not sure how many people live there all the time and how many were visiting, but it was definitely a full house. Sister Juliana has four younger sisters and two younger brothers, and most of them have kids, and some of them still live at their parents’ house. One sister has five kids, ages 15 to 1, who live there permanently. It was crazy, but so much fun being in a house with so many people!

Sister Juliana took me with her to run some errands in the nearby city of Obuasi. Obuasi is a gold-mining town. It was different from anywhere I’ve been, but somehow, with its hilly, narrow streets and shabby buildings, it reminded me a little of some European port towns I’ve been to, like an African version of Honfleur or Porto except without boats and surrounded by hills covered with banana trees. There was something about Obuasi’s character that I really like. Someday, I will find words to describe everything.

I’m really glad I don’t live in the village. It’s nice, but I would be really bored. All they really do at night is watch TV or talk. I don’t like TV. I do like talking, however, but most of their conversations were in Twi. I can say a few phrases in Twi, but not enough to carry on a conversation. Oh, but you wouldn’t believe how excited Ghanians become when I say something in Twi! They laugh a big, joyous laugh, and sometimes clap their hands. My speaking Twi, the little bit that I know, is such a big deal to them. I really want to learn more Twi, so I can make the Ghanians I meet even happier.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Road tripping, African style

Sister Juliana had mentioned something about traveling to Kumasi and maybe taking me with her, but I didn’t know if it was for sure. She has this habit of not telling me things... I’m just led along blindly everywhere I go. Last night, however, she said to pack my bags, because I would be spending the midterm break and the weekend in Kumasi! Finally, I get to travel!

She said we’d be leaving at 5AM. I believed her, but of course, we didn’t end up leaving until 5:45. I piled into the back seat with my bag, and soon, we were on the road, Sister Juliana, Sister Dorothy, and me. I’ve taken road trips in America and in Europe, but this was my first African road trip! As the car bounced away from the school, I couldn’t help but laughing. Here I was, in this big, 4-wheel drive, tearing down the road like Indiana Jones... but with nuns. Me, white girl, the obruni, in an SUV with two African nuns. Please! My life is a comedy.

Oh, but the view was magnificent! We drove out of the suburbs and into the jungle. Some of the trees were familiar - varieties of palm trees, banana trees, bamboo trees - but some of the trees were unlike anything I’d ever seen. Positively magnificent! My favorite is this most beautiful tree that almost makes me cry when I look at it. It is really, really tall, the tallest tree that towers above the others. Its grayish trunk is huge and strong at the bottom, but tapers a bit towards the top. Near the top, enormous branches spread out in all directions, covered with pretty green leaves. It looks like the small trees one sees in front of a house or lining a boulevard, except gigantic versions, which are the most incredible trees I’ve ever seen. I wish I were better at describing how beautiful they are!

I was kept occupied by watching the ever-changing view and by listening to Sister Juliana singing African church hymns and popular songs. We stopped at a rest stop to buy soft drinks and pastries and to use the urinal. Yes, a urinal. For women. It was actually just a few walls that made little coves about 1 square meter each, without any type of door. There was a slight dip in the concrete that led down to a gutter a couple meters away. That was it. I was the only person in there, hoping no other ladies would enter until I was finished, because I knew they would stare at the whiteness of the obruni’s nakedness. It was like peeing in the woods, except without the dirt or trees to hide you, and it cost 5 pesewas. I’ve never actually peed in the woods before, but I have used restrooms without toilets in Europe, which were rooms with porcelain holes in the floor and much more private and easier to use. The rest stop had toilets, too, but those cost 20 pesewas. I thought that Sister Juliana handed me a 5 pesewa piece because she didn’t think I was worth the 15 extra pesewas until I climbed back into the car and she said, “You’re an African woman, now.” (She’s really into Africanizing me. It’s kind of funny.)

I continued to be amazed by the landscape as we drove through the jungle, passing through small towns along the way. We made several stops at produce stands along the way. The stands were basically bamboo sticks propped up and covered with dried palm branches to provide shade for the sellers, women with their babies strapped to their backs. They sold all types of produce. We made several stops, with Sister Juliana getting out to haggle with the sellers, who then proceeded to load the back of the SUV with dozens of huge bunches of plantains, still on the branch. The seat and the floor next to me were filled with black plastic bags of tomatoes, garden eggs (like eggplant), cassava, oranges, peppers, leaves, bananas, ginger, and several types of fruit that I’ve never seen before. I wasn’t sure why we didn’t just buy everything at one stop, but I’m sure that each seller appreciated the business. Their stands were in the middle of nowhere! “We’re marketing,” Sister Juliana told me, and I laughed. Marketing has such a different connotation in America.

Then, we arrived in Kumasi! It is the second biggest city in Ghana, after Accra. We were only in Kumasi for about thirty minutes, sitting in traffic.

“We’re actually going to my village. It’s about 45 minutes away from Kumasi. They don’t have electricity,” Sister Juliana said. Hmm... she does enjoy surprising me, doesn’t she?

Kumasi was amazing. It was so unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and yet it was every big city I’ve ever been in. The buildings were bigger than what I’ve seen in the suburbs of Accra. There were hundreds of people selling everything you could want, like the Madina market, only less ghetto and more city-like. (Okay, I know I’m being vague, but that’s because I still haven’t found words to describe this country.) We were inching forward in the traffic, and men and women came up to our windows with buckets balanced on their heads as they tried to sell us things we didn’t need. I felt so happy to be in a big city! This may sound crazy, but I love the smell of bus fumes. It’s such a big city smell, and I love big cities!

Sister Dorothy got off in Kumasi to take a car to a funeral in the north, and Sister Juliana and I stopped by her aunt’s hair salon in a quiet neighborhood just outside the busyness. I’d never been inside an African hair salon before, and I was so surprised to learn that they use fake hair. They braided it into Sister Juliana’s short but real hair, and gave her cornrows with several inches of completely artificial braids on the back. Interesting! I learn something new every day.

FINALLY we arrived at Sister Juliana’s parents’ house in the village... but I’ll save that story for another day. I must say that I am very lucky to be alive right now. Ghanian drivers are CRAZY! Sister Juliana is no exception. If the speed limit is 50 kph, she’ll push 100, easily. The roads are at some places really bad, so she swerves to avoid potholes. When she’s behind a slow truck, she’ll overtake it, even if there is another car or truck coming towards us from the opposite direction also driving 100 kph. It’s quite terrifying, but...

I survived the first part of my very first African road trip!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


We have a midterm break! There's no school Thursday or Friday... it's a four-day weekend! :)

I might be traveling this weekend with Sister Juliana. I really hope I'm able to go... I want to see more of Ghana! She said she'll be going to Kumasi, which is the second largest city in Ghana, I think. I might not have internet access for a few days if I go, but I will definitely bring my camera and take lots of pictures! In the meantime... I have to go back to the house. It's almost dark, and I'm terrified of being attacked by the dogs again. I don't see them now, so hopefully they're still locked up. I despise them. 

So... hopefully the next blog I post will be all about Kumasi! 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Kate hates puppies

I remember a conversation I had over lunch one day this summer when a friend commented on my positive outlook and my enthusiasm for everything that I love... “Kate, you love everything. Is there anything you don’t love?”

It’s true that I love, not like but love, most things in life. I paused for a moment, trying to think of something I didn’t love. I finally came up with my answer: “Dogs. I don’t love dogs.”

“What?! How can you not love dogs?” ...which somehow turned into “Kate hates puppies,” which wasn’t true at the time.

Now, it’s true. I hate puppies, because they grow up to become dogs, and I hate, loathe, and despise dogs and wish all dogs would die a painful death. You probably would, too, if you ever had to go through what I went through last night.

I was attacked by dogs last night. Attacked!

The nuns keep dogs around to scare off intruders at night. During the day, they keep the dogs locked in cages or chained up, because they don’t want to risk the dogs attacking a child. I’ve always been afraid of the dogs here, because they bark at me. I’m afraid to leave the house at night, because I’m scared of being attacked.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the school to use the internet. I hadn’t finished everything I wanted to do, but I saw that it was almost dark, so I quickly packed up and left. I knew the dogs would be out after dark. What I didn’t know was that they’re allowed to be out during the day on weekends, because there aren’t any kids around. As I was walking across the compound from the school to the house, they started barking and coming toward me. There were so many! There were at least seven, all running toward me and barking. I was terrified!

What would you do if a pack of mean, vicious, wild dogs charged at you? I decided to run for it. I bolted toward the house as fast as I could. One of the dogs bit my leg just as I got to the garage. I dashed into the garage, thinking they would stop outside without following me, but one was bold enough to chase me into the garage. That bitch bit my other leg so hard that I screamed. I kept running into the house, and fortunately, it didn’t follow me inside.

I was shaking and whimpering all the way up to my room. I sat on my bed and took my off my jeans one leg at a time. My left leg had a few dark bruises where the dog had bit me. My right leg was covered with blood. There aren’t any holes in my pants, so I don’t know how the teeth penetrated my jeans, but somehow, they tore the skin off my leg.

I sat there on my bed, sobbing hysterically. I was SO shook up by the whole incident. I don’t remember ever crying so hard in my life. My legs hurt, but I wasn’t crying because of the pain. I cried because I had just been swarmed and attacked by dogs. And not just any dogs... the dogs here are ugliest dogs I’ve ever seen. And the ugliest dogs I’ve ever seen had just taken a chunk out of my once-pretty leg. I was so traumatized! I sat there for about twenty minutes, just balling my eyes out, until I heard a knock at the door. My room was suddenly filled with nuns, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting in the back seat of the car as Sister Juliana drove me to the emergency room.

At the hospital, the nurse cleaned up my wounds and gave me a tetanus shot. The dogs had been vaccinated against rabies, which is good. It’s not good to close wounds from bites, which is bad... I could really use stitches. I’m definitely going to have big scars on my legs, especially my right leg. Stupid dogs! I hate them. I had such a bright future, too! Now, I’m positive that I’ll never get married. Who could love a girl with a big, ugly scar on her leg? Ugh, I can’t believe that one stupid dog has made me both unlovable and unmarriageable in a matter of a few seconds.

“We’ll just give you a veil, so you don’t have to worry about marriage,” Sister Juliana teased. “You know, you need to befriend the dogs so they don’t attack you. Go out and play with them sometimes.”

Ha! Ha ha ha ha! Play with those monsters? “That’s like saying you should befriend the devil so he won’t bother you,” I said. “I hate dogs!” Especially these dogs. They’re SO UGLY, and so mean.

I will never own a dog, just on principle. There are a few dogs that I like - Bosco, Lexy, Baxter, Bella - but really... have you ever heard of a cat making someone unlovable? I love cats, but I don’t love dogs (which translates to “Kate hates puppies).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My friend Fred

I have a Ghanian friend named Fred. He is the cousin of Sister Juliana, and I first met him when I went with her to visit her uncle one Sunday afternoon. He said he would like to show me around Ghana. Yesterday, he called Sister Juliana’s cell phone and said he wanted to hang out with me.

I took a tro-tro by myself to Lapaz, where Fred met me. We took a cab to his place of work, and he showed me around. Then we picked up some Ghanian fast food (fried rice and chicken), and went to his house to hang out.

I’m really happy to have a friend here! I have a feeling that Fred and I will become good friends. We have different personalities, but I think our differences compliment each other quite nicely. From what I know about him, I’d guess he is a Rational Mastermind, a personality type that gets along exceptionally well with my Idealist Champion temperament. (See if you’re interested in learning more about personality types). Also, I’m really happy to have a friend named Fred. It reminds me of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. If I’m ever feeling in an Audrey Hepburn mood, I’ll call him “Fred-baby.”

Fred promised to buy me a cell phone, which also makes me very happy! I’m so lucky. I have a Rational Mastermind, cell-phone-giving friend named “Fred-baby”... what more could I want in life?