Saturday, October 15, 2011

I am in GHANA!!

Maadwo!  (Good evening!) I am in Ghana and I certainly feel like I am in the right place.  From the moment we got off the plane in Accra, the heat and humidity greeted us, which was very different from the cold and rain at our layover in Frankfurt.  I am one of 25 volunteers in the Natural Resource Management program, which is a combination of Small Enterprise Development and Environment.  About 18 of us are environment, the rest are business/finance.  Its a very interesting combination, but it makes sense considering Ghana's vast natural resources.  And we are from all over the U.S.- WA, OR, CA, TX, WV, OH, NY, IL, OK, SC...its so cool to meet people from all over!
The first few days was a lot of sitting and JFK, in Frankfurt, on the 7 1/2 and 6 1/2 hour plane rides, on the bus rides to and from the airport, but we all arrived with all of our luggage Thursday evening, Oct. 6.  In Accra, were were greeted by several Peace Corps officials, and our PC Volunteer Leaders (PCVLs) Daniel and Mikey, who herded us through the airport, to the truck were our luggage was thrown into, and then onto our PC bus.  All 25 of us got packed into the bus, and headed to Valley View University, a Mormon college, in the Greater Accra region.  Already there have been so many things that have reminded me of my experiences in Costa Rica: the drop seats in the bus, the very rough roads full of potholes, the huge amount of poverty in a very big, sprawling capital city, the heat and humidity, throwing away toilet paper in the rubbish can, not the in a strange way, I have felt somewhat comfortable in this very foreign place.  Except of course when I go into the middle of a bustling trotro station, or market, full of food and household good and clothing, and I am the only white person.  I don't know if I have ever felt quite so exposed, even with all of the traveling I have done in my life. 
On Friday, our first full day in Ghana, we got up early and packed ourselves back into the us to head to the Peace Corps headquarters in central Accra.  It was a two hour drive, and the traffic wasn't even as bad as it usually is.  Right when we arrived, we had our welcoming ceremony, where representatives from the traditional, Muslim and Christian faiths said prayers for our arrival and safe, productive service, and welcomed us into their country.  Then we had the first of many medical appointments and safety and security sessions.  Most of the first few days of training have concentrating on these issues primarily.
On Saturday, we did what we call "Accra Quest."  We split into groups and got a list of tasks of things to do or see in Accra.  My partners were Richie Rich from Brooklyn and Diana from Cincinnati.  We has to go to Kaneshie market and STC station.  Just the ride from the college into town was an experience by itself.  We walked out of the gates of VVU, then crossed the rode to wait for trotros (vans).  Each of these vans carries about 15-20 people to various locations within Accra.  It took us about 30 minutes to get one of these tros because either the ones passing us were full or going to the wrong place, or other Ghanaians waiting pushed their way on before we did.  Ghanaians are all very welcoming and helpful, but if they need to catch a tro to get into town for work, they will not wait in line.  So, after a lot of hand signaling, and finding out we needed to get to the Medina station after asking a Ghanaian also waiting for a tro, we crammed onto one and started the two hour commute into town.  It was a weekend, not even a weekday, adn it took that long.  I heard that about 1 million people come from the Greater Accra region into the city everyday for work.  That just sounds like a L.A.
To pay for your ride, you pay the mate.  The driver just drives, you don't talk to him- you talk to his "mate" and tell him where you need to go.  The total cost of our trip was about 1 cedi, 50 pesewa (100 pesewa= 1 cedi and currently, $1=1.5 cedis which I heard is the highest rate anyone has seen here for a while). The drive from VVU to Medina station was about one hour, then at Medina we navigated through the tons of tros and taxis to get to a bus to Kaneshie.  And there aren't any signs on the cars, you just have mates yelling at you where they are going, or we just kept asking Ghanaians and they pointed us in the right direction.  From Medina to Kaneshie was another hour...and once we got there, we were thrown into this bustling expanse of markets!  Even along the drive, you seen markets and little shops everywhere, and at every traffic stop, or when you are stuck in traffic, you have women everywhere with goods on their heads that they want you to buy.  and you can find anything on their heads that you find in a market- plaintain and banana chips, popo (papaya), oranges, boiled eggs with hot sauce, water satchels (they sell filtered water in 500-ml bags), baked sweets, gum....everything.  I successfully bought plantain chips for 50 pesewa and a water satchel for 10 pesewa out of a trotro window!
Ok.  So we got to Kaneshie market with abotu two hours to explore the area before we would need to commute back.  This market is a huge maze of every type of market stall you could think of- veggies of all kinds, fish, live little crabs in a basket, all kinds of meats (and lots of pigs' feet!), soap and detergent, shose and sandals, and I could go on for a while.  So there were tons of markets outside, and then there was also a 3-story cement building filled with little stores as well.  Food was at the bottom, household good were the next floor up, and clothing and fabrics were on the top floor.  All I got was laundry detergent, but that is very essential.  We walked around for a bit, then crossed the busy intersection to find a bus that would take us next to the STC station.  We found out this is were the luxury buses pick people up to take them to main cities all over the country, like Cape Coast and Kumasi.
From there we made our way back to the Medina station, then back to the Adenta station, and finally back to Valley View.  Each group had different tasks, so when we all got back together we had a lot of interestign stories to tell each other.  The one thing that rang true in everyone's stories was the kindness of the Ghanaians and their willingness to help us get where ever we needed to go.  So although I felt a microscope on me, it was comforting to know that you could walk up to anyone and ask for directions or help and they would gladly do all they can.  And luckily most people speak English in Accra.  Mikey and Dan even described Accra as "basically America" because all signs are in English and probably most people will understand you.  Another sidenote:  Richie Rich needed some cigarettes, but anywhere we went you couldn't find them.  Then one man he asked said that the Ghanaian government put out an anti-smoking campaign and told everyone that it was bad for them and makes them sick.  So I guess that worked-  I have not seen a Ghanaian smoke, even in the huge capital of Accra.  And this man said that if people do see you smoke, they won't like you.  I thought that was really interesting. 
We had our first Twi ("chree") lesson with Taj soon after arriving in Accra.  I've been amused with myself because apparently my brain automatically functions in Spanish no matter what foreign country I'm in.  When I want to translate something, I think in Spanish, so now trying to start to speak a completely different language had been intense, but very interesting.  The pronunciation is the hardest, but now I know how to greet soemone:
-Maakye!/Maaha!/Maadwo! (Good morning/good afternoon/good evening)
-Ye-nua/Ye-Ena/Ye-agya (Hello, depending on the age of the person who greets you)
-Wo ho te sen?  (How are you?)
-Me ho ye.  Na ho nsa e?  (I'm fine. How are you?)
-Menso, me ho ye, paa.  (I'm fine also)
So there's lesson #1 in Twi! More to come!
Sunday we had our first free day.  We did get a few Ghanaian life skills lessons from Dan and Mikey though.  With the first half of their bucket full of water, they demonstrated how to take a bucket bath, which we'll be doing at our homestays and probably at our sites.  The second half of the bucket of water was used to show us how to properly hand wash our clothes.  Just hand soap, no washboard, just our hands.  All my laundry piled up from Philly and then Ghana, so it took me a while, but it was just another good lesson in patience.  I also got to work out and play some soccer with a few of our Ghanaian volunteer trainers!  By the end of my service, I plan on being realllyy good at soccer!! Haha.
 Now this brings me to food.  So far, breakfast has been oatmeal, usually with something else, like an egg frittata-like dish, a hotdog and baked beans, or salad.  Lunch has been rice, fried chicken pieces, sometimes salad or an orange, and a fish or tomato-based sauce.  Sometimes the dishes are spicy, sometimes not, but nothing has been too spicy for me so far.  Dinner has been either fried chicken or spaghetti with meat sauce, and one night we had fried fish balls, and rice, always rice with every meal (another similarity to Costa Rica).  They also have fried rice, and I've had this rice and bean mixture, along with fried yams.  (They fry almost everything).  I've really enjoyed the foo though.  Next on my list to try is the papaya!  The oranges and bananas (small ones, not like at home) have been delish!  For snack time, we have the oatmeal crackers/biscuits and a juice box.  We haven't really had any dessert, but one night we had fried bananas, YUM!
Now for music:  I haven't heard too much yet, sorry Mom and CMS band students!  I've heard some hip-hop life music, and other music which I think is more traditional.  But I know very soon I will learn a lot more about the music, both with drumming and dancing, so that will be fun!
Aaaaand that was the first six days of Peace Corps.  Training is supposed to be crazy and hectic and nonstop.  Once I get to my site, there won't be any structure to the day at all, it will be much more relaxed and mellow.  But for now, there is so much to learn!  There will be another loooong blog to come shortly, I hope!

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