Friday, September 14, 2012

Live from Ghana

It is September 13, 2012. I am settled and more than happy in a home in Boko, Ghana. Boko is a small village outside Kumasi, the large city I probably told you I'd be living in. My living situation similar to the Laporte/Fort Collins idea at home.

The past week has been the longest of my life. I flew to New York on the 5th, navigated the airport with significant savvy (one would think I flew alone long before becoming a YES student!) and passed a somewhat lower than expectation Gateway Orientation. It was loosely organized and the most valuable information came from young exchange student alum.

September 6th was a long day at the hotel because our flight didn't leave till 11:00 pm. Our flight to London was strange...they decided to feed us a full meal at 1:00 am. Lydia and I woke up when the carriage passed, and we ate in confused stupor.

The Heathrow Airport was even crazier than JFK. But I enjoyed everyone's accents, and also the fact that seven students from Belgium Flanders joined us on the flight to Accra. (Did I really only meet them a week ago? It feels like a month, at least...)

 We landed in Accra, greeted by the Ghanaian humidity and the vivid, varied smells of urban Africa. Jamirah, who was our group leader in Washington, met us at the airport, to the delight of all the YES girls. That night, we stayed in a guest house in Accra, joined by two French students and several AFS volunteers, including my host brother, Prince. Before we were fully, cognitively awake the next morning, we were on a bus to Elmina, a beautiful beach town with the oldest castle in Ghana. We toured the castle, which was a heart wrenching place. West African castles were not for kings, queens, knights and the like. They were prisions for thousands of men and women who were part of the greatest forced migration in history: the Atlantic slave trade. They were kept in very crowded rooms with little provisions and no means of hygeine for months. Hundreds of years later, those castles still stink of vomit, urine, and blood. It is an anomaly, really, that any of them survived to face the next hardship: the middle passage of the Atlantic.

At the castle, which many foreigners visit, we became targets for money for the first time. People would ask us cordially for our names and then write our names on seashells, demanding large amounts for them. The AFS volunteers were annoyed, and made sure we got back in the bus and ignored these crazy (and likely bored) teenagers. I did, however, meet some kind university students who were impressed with my red hair!
We checked in to a beautiful beach hotel.  I have never stayed anywhere like it.  We ate at a nearby restaurant, shedding our shoes and running on the sand. Like twenty best friends. And really, we'd only been together twenty-four hours. But I think, whether you are French, Belgian, American on the YES program, or American on AFS, it is only a certain type of person who chooses to be an exchange student in Ghana for a year.

When our food came, we shared, as if we'd known each other our whole life. I have two new families, my host family, and my AFS family.
The next day was packed with even more adventures! We walked on a canopy over the rainforest in Kakum national park, and then toured another slave castle. When we returned to our guest house in Accra, it felt like we'd been away weeks and weeks.
Our next day was really the only day of orientation. We visited the US Embassy, which was very welcoming and happy to give us advice. We rode the tro-tro (essentially a van converted into public transportation, if you've ever been to Central America, think of the "chicken buses") to a market in Accra. It was there that I experienced real culture shock for the first was a beautiful feeling...and scary. I was surrounded by so many new sights and smells, and everyone was staring at me like I was a chicken with no head or something. But it was more beautiful than scary, because I knew this country would become my home.
The rest of the day passed in orientation session. The night passed in being sick. Americans seemed to think I caught some bacteria. Ghanaians seemed to think I "took too much spicy food". Either or both is possible, at any rate, I'm better.
We drove over the hills and forests for hours to Kumasi the day after that night. It was so beautiful to see students united with their families. I was dropped off last, but Oliver and Zaza, the Belgians hosted in Sunyani, came inside to see me off.
And finally, after a week that lasted a year, I met my family. They are the kindest folks around, and easy to talk to. There are many family members who live nearby, and I've already meant uncles, aunts, and a great-uncle. At home, I have a brother, Caleb (or Kofi, because he's Friday born) and a sister, Bridget. I love my new family, and the neighborhood. I went for a walk yesterday, and all the little kids swarmed the obruni (Twi for white person) and begged me to take their pictures. I did, and showed them, and they squealed with glee. They tried to talk to me, but my Twi consists of Hello, How are you?, and Thank you. I talked to a few kind teenagers who spoke English. They were worried I was lost!
I am very happy here, and I look forward to sharing my experiences here on this blog.


  1. Hi Sarah,
    It sounds like you are having a really wonderful experience. The way you describe Ghana makes me want to visit. It sounds so beautiful there.

  2. Sarah, I am so proud of your bravery and openness. I got your postcard the other day and it really moved me. I loved how you said in an earlier post that you cannot tear apart what God knits together and I'm so glad you feel that way. Have a wonderful adventure, stay safe, and I look forward to hearing more from you! Love, Jess

  3. Hi Sarah~
    I am so glad to read your blog and can't wait to hear more. Post some pictures! Does Kofi mean Friday? Is that why they call him that? I am sending lots of love and prayers your way.

  4. Hey sarah!!! i miss you tons and tons,how is your experience so far and how are you finding africa,i am great in kenya,and everything has been busy but i havent forgotten you my dear one:) school, and soo on,Its humid hot in kenya :) but we close school in november,Hope you are safe and enjoying have you adjusted to putting on uniforms? tell me more :) Prayers and love from kenya, And note;i stll have our swag glasses,am sending prayers and love :D

  5. Sarah~
    I MISS YOU SOOOO MUCH! Call when you can, write when you can. I love you sooooo much!

  6. Sarah,
    You write so beautifully, I just love reading everything you write. I feel as though I should just forward your blog to people asking me how it's like here since I cannot write half as eloquently as you do.
    Love you lots,

  7. Sarah! Danielle and I were thinking about you the other day. I enjoy reading your blog so much! It sounds like you're having an amazing experience. As I type, I'm supposed to be writing a paper... but I enjoy reading your blog much more, but I think that's because you've always been such an amazing writer :]. I look forward to reading about your upcoming adventures.
    Take care,