Abroad in Ghana (Photo Series Day 5)

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I have to say, one of my favorite parts about Ghanaian culture is the fashion and fabric shopping. This picture was taken at Makola Market in central Accra. It’s one of the largest markets in Ghana selling everything from fresh produce to jewelry to household goods. But my favorite thing to do here was browse and shop all the beautiful fabrics.

As someone who doesn’t sew, you might be wondering why I needed fabric. Even Though I couldn’t do anything with it myself, what I could do is bring it to a seamstress who could then turn sew the fabric for me into almost anything I wanted. From dresses, skirts, pants, tops, and jumpsuits, she could do it all and it was pretty cheap too! Most of the clothes I got tailor made for me were priced between $5-20 usd, which includes fabric and the time and work put into making each item. I thought that this was pretty cool. Many of the locals that I knew would get a lot of clothes made for either daily wear or special occasions like church anniversaries, school graduations, weddings, funerals and etc.

At first I was a little hesitant to get clothes made because I thought it would be be a waste for me to get things made with African print fabrics that I probably wouldn’t wear again. But as time went on and I became more and more exposed to different styles and patterns– I saw some pretty fucking cool outfits– the prints grew on me. I love how the people there aren’t afraid to wear bold colors and patterns on the daily compared to us in the US that often stick to solid neutrals in the winter and pastel florals in the summer.

Here are some examples of clothing styles in Ghana:

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Drop dead awesome right? Other friends who got things made looked dope. Though they might of gotten a giggle or two from the locals at first, especially if they weren’t partly African, I think the Ghanaians overall appreciated the effort to wear some local styles. In the end, I got a couple dresses, tops, and skirts made from a friend’s mom who works as a seamstress and the seamstress that had a shop in our hostel. Definitely planning on wearing them here when it gets warmer!

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Abroad in Ghana (Photo Series Day 4)

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Labadi Beach, Accra, Ghana

As the only beach fit for leisure in Accra, you can find anyone from locals to foreigners lounging around at the outdoor restaurants, splashing in the water, or buying knick knack handicrafts from beach hawkers. The last one’s mainly just foreigners though.

 

 

Abroad in Ghana (Photo Series Day 3)

WHAT I TYPICALLY ATE IN GHANA:

A. Egg Sandwich (2.70ghc = $0.70)

B. Roasted Plantain (1ghc = $0.26)

C. ‘Hong Kong’ Style Beef Noodles (20ghc = $5.20)

D. Kelewele + Palava Sauce, Fried Fish, White Rice (Tufts Paid)

E. Groundnut Soup w/ Chicken and Rice Balls (4-5ghc = $1.1 – 1.3)

F. Fufu (1-2ghc = $0.50)

G. Jollof Rice + Fried Plantains + Fried Chicken + Mixed Vegetables (Priceless b/c it was made by a friend)

H. Chicken Wings + Chips + Kelewele (10ghc = $2.61)

I. Mixed Bag of Stuff (3-5ghc = $0.8 – 1.1)

J. Pancake + Scrambled Egg (3ghc = $0.8)

K. Mixed bag in a box (3-5ghc = $0.8 – 1.1)

L. Egg Sauce + Rice, Chicken Kebab (7ghc = $2)

M. Fruit Assortment (4ghc = $1.04)

N. Chicken Curry + Rice (Paid by Tufts, but typically around 5ghc = $1.3)

O. Indomie (5ghc = $1.3)

Abroad in Ghana (Photo Series Day 2)

 

IMG_4217.JPGI think that, in this moment, witnessing the rush of the Atlantic’s powerful waves crashing against the shores of Kokrobitey, it finally resonated with me that I was actually here. I was in Ghana.

Sure, the pilot’s voice over the intercom after landing and the Awkaaba welcome sign at the airport logistically told me that I was in Ghana, but it wasn’t till this moment, 3 weeks after our arrival, that I truly felt with every bone in my body and every fiber of my being that I’m in Ghana… that I’m in West Africa… that across this body of water are the metropolises of Boston, Washington, and New York… and that this experience I’m about to have is real.

It was an incredible feeling being on the other side of the Atlantic and looking out into its vastness. Though I’ve done it before from China looking across the Pacific to the West Coast, it just didn’t evoke the same visceral reaction. Perhaps it’s because Ghana wasn’t a place I ever expected myself to be and this part of the world… wasn’t a place that I thought I would ever experience first hand. Essentially, it was a mystery for me.

But letting my imagination free, the roughly 5000 miles of Atlantic separating me from the US quickly closed into a mere few hundred meters, enough for me to visualize the outline of the Boston skyline in the distance. I thought to myself, “wow, the world’s really not that big.”

 

Abroad in Ghana (Photo Series Day 1)

A picture a day until my next adventure to Hong Kong on the 5th of January.

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During my time in Ghana, I stayed at International Student’s Hostel 1, lovingly known as ISH1, with most of the other American international students, a few European international students, a lot of Nigerians, and some local Ghanaians. So welcome to Room 111, the makeshift home of Linda, Chinese-American international student hailing from Chicago, and Evelyna, my Ghanaian roommate from the Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana. We are located on the 3rd American floor, but the 2nd European floor since Europeans count what we would consider the first floor as the ground floor and our second floor as the first floor . Trust me, this was actually a struggle to figure out which system someone was using when they mentioned a floor. You always had to ask, “the American 1st floor or the European 1st floor?”

Anyways, this is how my room looked for the first month in Ghana and prior to my roommate’s arrival. It’s actually quite spacious for two people and the door in the picture leads to a small balcony offering a unobstructed 180 degree view of… the ISH1 car park (parking lot) which was actually kind of nice since you can always spot people coming and going and anticipate when the shuttle was coming. It also made a great perching spot for watching sunsets every evening. Other than that, the balcony was where we would hang our clothes to dry and store our cleaning supplies.

Now kind of funny story. I met Evelyna for the first time as I was heading out of the room to go to campus to look at timetables for classes. I briefly introduced myself, exchanged Whatsapp info with her, and made my way out of ISH. Shortly after I left, she whatsapped me asking if she could move stuff around in the room. This is what our conversation looked like and after I messaged back, she never replied.

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Thinking we’d just figure it out after I got back, I went about my business trying to figure out the mess that is course registration. That wasn’t the case. When I returned to my room, I had a nice surprise waiting for me. Instead of the neat set-up that I had just started to feel comfortable with, everything had been moved. Rather than the open set up that I had created, Evelyna had made two distinctive rooms within a room to offer the most privacy possible to the both of us. On one side of the wall it was her bed, my wardrobe, and my bed, and on the other side it was our desks and her wardrobe. So basically if we were both on our beds, we couldn’t see each other, which Evelyna explained to me “you know, as girls (as she turned to me and gave me a knowingly smile), we need our privacy, you understand?” I basically just stood there unsure of how to react and kind of nodded slowly. Right. At the same time, I was a little taken aback at what my supposedly conservative, according to all the information our program has given us about Ghanaians, was insinuating. “Girls? Privacy? For what? You maybe, but me? HA I won’t be needing that.”

Also, when I told her that next time I’d appreciate if she could run it by me before making any drastic changes to our room or moving my stuff, she kind of just responded as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, “I Whatsapped you, didn’t you see?”

LOL. WHAT? What kind of logic is that? “Yes Evelyna, I did see, but I never actually said OK or not!”

In the long run, I’m glad she set up our room the way she did and I noticed that most of the Ghanaians opt for that type of set up. As aesthetically unpleasing at it was, I enjoyed my privacy in a country that knows no privacy, and I appreciated not having to watch her and her 30 year old boyfriend straddle each other while I was also in the room. Major scarring averted.

This last picture was taken almost right after I finished packing and right before I left ISH for the last time. So yeah, this was home for 4 months. Sad it won’t ever be again.

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Sewers or Obruni Traps

I couple days ago, I was walking back from class and I ran into another American international student that I had met before so we briefly stopped for polite conversation. She asked me how my day had been and I gave the typical response that it had been fine and returned her the same question. She replied “good, other than falling into an obruni trap earlier and scraping my knee”.

-pause-

Huh?

Obruni trap?

(Obruni is term for foreigners in Ghana)

Confused, I asked her what an obruni trap was. She then pointed to the open drainage system here in Ghana, which is basically a 1ft wide and 1ft to 2ft deep ditch that lines the sides of the street to clear rain water, and said “that”. At that point, I looked back up at her again and I knew I probably wouldn’t be asking her to hangout any time soon.

what she calls an ‘obruni trap’

Excuse me, but just because you’re clumsy and can’t bother to observe things around you does not mean you should label something an obruni trap and place the blame for your fall on it rather than your own clumsiness. Those sewers exist for their functionality purposes (which you could debate on how well they actually function though not the point). But they definitely do  not exist to trip you so it’s really unnecessary for you to refer to them as obruni traps and make it sound like they’re out to get you.

Just say you fell into the damn sewer because you’re an idiot.

But as usual, Americans can’t handle the idea that not everything is about them.

Weekend in Cape Coast

Weekend in Cape Coast || July 24th to July 26th, 2015

Elmima + Cape Coast Castle

This weekend we travelled West of Accra to the coastal and fishing city of Cape Coast. Nine of us Tufts students were joined by Dr. Bilsen (our program director), his wife, his three (adult) kids Albert, Steven, and Dinah. The agenda on our trip was to go visit Kakum National Park, the Elmima slave castle, and the Cape Coast slave castle. Going into the trip knowing that we were about to approach extremely emotional topics for some members of the group, I was honestly quite nervous about how the weekend would play out, but thankfully, I think that everything worked out with the best possible outcome.

I think I’ll skip most of the parts about Kakum since it was basically time spent dicking around and there are quite a few thoughts on my mind about the slave castles that I would really like to pen down. Though I will say, Kakum has these canopy bridges about 700m above the ground that I, more than once, basically thought my life was going to end on. But getting a couple minor heart attacks aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the views that the park had to offer. Our tour guide pointed out many of the trees along the path that the Ghanaians used for various things such as furniture, medical treatment, and etc. He calls the forest a ‘natural supermarket’ which I thought was quite a fun way of characterizing it.

That was day one. The next day we planned on going to tour two of the largest slave castles in West Africa, Elmima and Cape Coast.

I’m still not exactly sure what I even want to say about the experience…

I find it difficult to talk about what the experience was like as an individual without considering the context of our group because of our racial breakdown. Over half of our group considers themselves either African American or partially African American, three of them are white, and then there is me. This was one of the things that I was conflicted on throughout the day. In my background as an Asian American, how do I fit into this experience and how am I supposed to react since my ancestors were neither possible victims nor instigators of the slave trade.

I knew that some of the African Americans felt as if no one else really has a right to feel sorry or cry since it wasn’t their ancestors who were taken from their homes, but what if I did because I couldn’t help but feel for this tragedy of humanity. How could anyone feel impartial about these atrocities when it’s right in front of your face? I get that this kind of experience is one that is unmeasurably important to many African Americans who may have had any one of their ancestors captured and held captive in any one of these slave castles and that the space they need for mourning and reflectance needs to be respected, but is this not a moment for everyone to remember what had happened here and prevent such atrocity from ever occurring again? Correct me if you think I’m wrong. But that’s the way I ended up taking it. My main goals for the day were to take in the experience, be a support to anyone in the group that needed it, and try to learn as much as possible.

From beginning to end, the whole experience was so different from going to learn about the slave trade in a museum or a textbook. Nothing in those mediums could ever compare to the full effect of standing in a slave dungeon and being forced to imagine what it was like a couple hundred years ago to be held captive in some of the worst conditions imaginable. The castles that we visited resided right next to the ocean to give easy access to ships coming and dropping off goods and collecting slaves. Unlike the conditions of the slave dungeons, the other parts of the castle are beautifully designed and constructed to the extent where someone who didn’t know of the castle’s slave trade history could mistake it for a luxurious ocean-side oasis. It was absolutely a bizarre juxtaposition to witness and one that actually made me quite nauseous. The feelings only intensified when our tour guide at the Cape Coast Castle pointed out a square of ground raised a couple inches higher than the rest in the dungeon. That piece of ground contained the flesh, blood, bones, and waste remnants of the slaves during their captivity. Our tour guide explained that the dungeons were originally filled much higher with the remains of the slaves but that it had been removed years ago when it became a point of visitation for Africans and other foreigners alike. In my head, I was trying to imagine what that even might have looked like at the time and I honestly just felt physically and mentally ill.

However, one thing that really bothered me throughout the tour was the actions of some of the non-Tufts group on the tour. Besides us, there was a group of white tourists and a group of African tourists. While it wasn’t that surprising to see the white tourists use the castle as a photo opp as they were also the ones with their hair braided and wearing their bathing suits and cover ups to a slave castle… it was surprising to see that from the African tourists as well. During the tour guides explanation and every time we stopped, people would be pulling out their phones, smiling for the camera, and trying to capture their best angle. The whole attitude reminded me of mainland Chinese tourists who go places solely to take a picture of themselves there to show their friends and then go shopping. At one point, I caught an African lady sneakily trying to have her husband take a picture of her next to me like I’m the first Asian girl she’s ever seen. But just in general, I found the behavior inappropriate for the context and it just raises a lot of questions to me about the African perspective on topics like slavery, colonization, and the Western world.

To end on a lighter note though, one of my biggest nightmares came true this weekend. A lizard almost crawled up my ass when I was sitting on the toilet—not my finest moment of the trip… or in life.