First Days

Last night, I spent about 30 minutes relying random events of the day on the phone. The first day was a blur of several, seemingly unrelated events. I’ll start from the beginning. I woke up at 7am to a luke warm (thankfully, not cold) shower and was picked up a 8am. I had nescafe, apparently Blue Bottle doesn’t have an Accra outpost. The farm, just outside of Accra and east Legon (the upper-class region of Accra-house prices near 350k US). The farm itself is huge, with animals roaming around. Side thought, when returning to the US do I have to declare I’ve spent time on a farm? If yes, what will they do to me? There are quite a few goats, much smaller than the US variety, and the newborns are beyond cute (I can keep one in my room right?). Accra is very industrial and congested, so the farm is a great refuge.

At the University I was introduced to everyone around the Agricultural College. Legon is Ghana’s oldest Public University. I’m not certain how many students attend, but it is quite large, with apparently the largest library in the country. My guide book suggests there are gardens worth exploring, though I have yet to see them. I was taken to lunch at the student cafeteria by Joyce, the Dean’s Secretary. She’s sort of been assigned to look after me while I’m here. She’s absolutely great, and one of the nicest person I’ve met, probably ever. I’m lucky to have her for company. A first observation, which I’ve found true in all three developing countries thus far, is that the women are incredibly strong. They constantly impress me. The men that I’ve met, are of course educated and many are world traveled, and they still admit, the women are what holds everything together. I’ve yet to understand why in these countries, especially within the most impoverished groups, the women (who are often the most oppressed) are the backbone to the family, and subsequently the country. As in Tanzania, and Peru many of the women work to support their families, the men may or may not. They often take care of absolutely everything.

At lunch, I had for the first time, local food. Joyce had asked me what I wanted, so I asked her what her favorite food was and to order two. She ordered banku (a fermented rice dish) with chicken and fish. You scoop up the rice with your hands, dip it in the broth and pick up meat. I wasn’t given instructions, so followed her lead and am thankful to my previous, no utensils dining in NYC/LA for some reassurance. Unlike east African ugali, which James agrees is, less than desirable, I quite liked this and am looking forward to trying more dishes.

After lunch I was shown around the University, then taken to shoprite in the Accra mall (which might as well be any mall in middle-class America).  At the grocery store James and Joyce found kumquates, and laughed to each other regarding the hilariousness of this product. Evidentially you can’t even buy them at open-air markets because they are so plentiful on trees all around the region, that no one would ever pay for them. I need to find these trees. After, I headed  home (around 3) to rest. I’m feeling a bit jetlagged, which I almost never do, but a large amount of sleep helped significantly. I read outside before the threat of mosquitos became too great.

This morning was spent at the farm, where James again showed me around and introduced me to everyone there. It’s self-funded by the crop and dairy/eggs that they produce, so if I ever want milk or eggs I have an excellent source. I was also shown around the labs at the facilities, which they are trying to put into use, but of course, funding is the ever-present issue.

I realized, I have yet to have any contact with anyone not local. I’m conflicted about this. In part I relish the opportunity to be immersed, and to get to know people I never normally would have the opportunity to. But, then I also miss the familiarity of the expats/volunteer community. I am feeling more and more comfortable, though. Had this been a first trip, I’m sure the culture shock would have been strong, but as I travel,quick adaptation has become second nature. I’ve been able to settle in easily, and haven’t felt out of place or uncomfortable. So perhaps this is a good thing, the community I seek is a great source of comfort, and while the interactions often create fantastic memories, which I’m sure I’ll have throughout my travels, it is also a bit of a sheild. A glass window from which we observe the country from the comfort of “home.” And I know that any time I’m pushed out of normalcy, which has now come to include western communities within foreign countries, I can only benefit. And it is getting easier, quickly.

I do however, need to find a method to explore the city a bit more. It’s one of my absolute favorite parts of travel and I’m itching to get out and see as much as I can. Unfortunately, while everything is close there are few weekend trips that are doable (a full three days is usually needed), so we’ll have to leave quite a bit of the country undiscovered. The week of travel after we finish work will allow us to scratch the surface, and I absolutely can’t wait for that, and for our mini trips.

Tomorrow I may take the afternoon to explore more of Accra, so far, enjoying everything and can’t wait to see more. Really, this is a fantastic country, filled with incredible people that make it a very easy destination, and an almost unfair introduction to Africa (one would be highly disappointed with the more subdued kindness/openness of East Africa).

EDIT: I forgot to mention, a memo went out yesterday. Literally, a paper memo-despite the fact that everyone has a computer-about my arrival. As I sat talking to one of the professors, someone came in a slipped him a note. He smiled and looked up at me, and said, “It’s about you.” My instant reaction was panic, as if I had done something bad enough to warrent a warning note to others. I don’t know why I thought this, obviously, I hadn’t done anything.

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