Upper West, Upper Best

This week I was able to find an internet cafe in Koforidua that has air conditioning and sodas, a huge step up from last week’s ordeal in New Tafo.  I was thinking on the Tro ride here about how I can explain the hierarchy of the towns and cities in this area to put it into perspective for you.  If you live in Armonk, the town of Anyinasin is comparable to that one block strip of nail salons, coffee houses, and various food shops we all call “Town”.  New Tafo would be similar to Mt. Kisco, a little bigger with more clothing stands (aka Target).  Koforidua is the White Plains of this area, more spots, more people,  and more littering and trash on the streets.  Finally, Accra is the big city; no rules, every man for himself.  So today I’m in White Plains, kind of.

I started my language training and found out the region of Ghana in which I will be spending my time once training is over.  The language is called Dagaare and it is spoken predominantly in the Upper West region of the country.  The Upper West is the most recently created region in Ghana, having broken off from Upper East in 1983.  It is generally known to be populated by extremely friendly and helpful people, and it has a more dry climate with what somewhat resemble seasons! Some attractions include a hippo sanctuary, the Gbelle game reserve, and the Gwollu defense wall, built to protect Africans from slavers during the slave trade.  Everyone I have talked to has had only good things to say about the Upper West, so I’m pretty pleased with my placement.

Dagaare, on the other hand, is not so easy to wrap my head around. I have one month (now three weeks) to become proficient in the language at an intermediate level.  For all of my BU friends, specifically Elena, you know this means piles and piles of flash cards.  Too bad I didn’t bring any with me.  Until my package arrives with packs of index cards (thanks, Jared!) I have resorted to cutting up poster board into tiny rectangles.  My language group is fantastic though! Everyone is patient and my instructor is extremely knowledgable and helpful. I even got to whip out the Bananagrams to practice making words, although it was not as successful as I had hoped because I have a vocabulary of approximately 100 words.  My group below! Note in the picture my new, custom made dress. Too bad it was made with five extra inches in the waist so that I can grow into it. Verbatim, “When you leave here, you have big belly.” Hell-to-the-no.

In other news, Mama Afoa’s spot is now the place to go!  I’m buying my way into her good graces by bringing her business every weekend.  We tried a locally made drink called Akpeteshie that tasted like a mix of tequila and Mr. Boston’s; needless to say, it burned on the way down. I have to admit, though, a night out here ends around 9pm. Everyone is exhausted from waking up at the crack of dawn with the goats and chickens and then going to training for 8 hours a day.

We have been having un-seasonal rains this past week, so a little remix for you:

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You Can Call Me Yaa Sewah

Thanks for your patience, everyone! It’s been difficult to find a reliable Internet source but I finally found a local (smelly) Internet café.  If I don’t pass out from holding my breath before I finish posting this blog entry, I will consider it a great success.

I’ll give you a quick overview of the past week before I fill you in on the funny quirks I’ve noticed so far in this country.  When we arrived in Accra, two staff members picked us up and drove us to Valley View University, where we stayed for the next few days.  While there, we became acquainted with the staff members who will be training us for the next ten weeks, learned the basic Ghanaian greetings, and attempted to eat the food (ALL of which is starchy and spicy).  It’s been a bit of a blur in terms of the mass of information that has been thrown at us, and honestly, the most practical session we’ve had was a “how-to” on bucket bathing and laundry by-hand.  We were also challenged to what the Peace Corps likes to call “Accra Quest,” where we split into groups of three and travel by Tro (what they call the bus) into the capital on a hunt for specific sights or locations.  It isn’t supposed to be easy, but my group ended up first on a Tro that broke down and had to be pushed and then on another one that rear-ended a car.  I guess my bad luck with vehicles doesn’t end with Sally the Subaru.

All of these things, however, could not prepare us in the least for homestay.  On Monday, we moved from Accra to a small village called Anyinasin.  We each were paired with a family to live with for the entirety of the training period.  I am with Mama Afoa, her husband, and their three children.  Within the first day she re-named me Yaa Sewah (Yaa because I was born on a Thursday and Sewah for her family name) and told me that I looked “free” because of my wild hair, which has been super curly from the humidity here.  I think she likes me though.  I did the dishes a few nights ago (yes, mom, and it is worse than in the sink at home) and the entire family came out of their rooms and into the courtyard to watch me and laugh.  After that, she told me she would buy me nail polish and left an entire bunch of bananas outside of my room.  It’s the same as in the States; you do dishes in someone else’s home and they love you forever.

Next, a few things I’ve had to get used to since arriving.

  • Everyone you pass you must greet in a very methodical way.  It is considered extremely rude not to, but it becomes very repetitive very quickly.
  • Ghanaians call Americans “Obruni,” which means white person, in the least offensive way possible.  All of us have had to learn to respond to the call of Obruni, even the Indian and Vietnamese members of my training group.
  • Men who are friends hold hands in the street and it has no romantic significance.
  • Cars constantly drive on the wrong side of the road simply to avoid the massive potholes.  Just honk while bending the curves and you should be fine.

That’s about it for now, but now that I know where this place is, I will try to frequent it at least once a week.  In the meantime, if you would like to send me something during training, my address is:

Leahy Winter, Peace Corps Office, P.O. Box 5796, Accra North, Ghana

Letters are great and I will absolutely accept packages! I do have to pay 7 cedi (about $5) for each one, though, so make it worth my while (aka include chocolate). Until next time!

On My Way

I am on my way to Philadelphia, my mom’s tiny Toyota Echo filled to the brim.  Last night was one of hectic packing and re-packing.  To briefly paint a picture, there was an intense negotiation with my mother concerning how many skirts I was allowed to pack. We settled on 5, but if you know me at all, you wont be surprised that even after leaving a number of things behind, I am still about 15 lbs over the recommended weight for my bags.  My thought is that as long as I can lug it around myself, I should be able to bring it.  It’s a good thing I’ve been working out.

All Packed

A quick synopsis of my schedule during staging before I leave for Ghana:

  • Super Bowl fiesta tonight with a few of the people who (I hope) will soon become my close friends
  • Registration tomorrow, February 6th, at 1pm (filling out forms, verifying vaccinations, and most importantly, mailing student loan deferment forms)
  • Meetings about guidelines and expectations for the rest of the day
  • Drive to Newark on Tuesday, February 7th and hang out in the airport until my flight leaves at around 10pm (I’m probably going to be a bit antsy in the airport, so call me then if you can!)

We will be transferring flights in Frankfurt and arriving in Accra on Wednesday.  I probably wont have access to a phone or Internet when I first get there, and I was told to tell you “no news is good news.”  Personally, I find no news to be downright annoying, so anyone reading this can check in with my parents to confirm a safe arrival.  Then, for the first three months in Ghana, I will be participating in a training program to learn the language, customs, and skill sets necessary to be an effective, efficient, and respectful volunteer.  I will post updates soon on my address, so those of you who would like to send letters or packages (hint, hint) will be able to do so.

I have said my “see you soon”s to all of the amazing people I have in my life, and the warmth and love I have felt over the past few weeks is immeasurable.  It’s hard to know what to expect, but with such an amazing support system, I truly feel that I can face anything that comes my way.

I promised someone special that I would always post a song of the day, so rather than choose something sappy I though I’d go a bit more optimistic. Enjoy, and keep reading!