After flying across continents and the Atlantic Ocean (and waiting an extra day due to delayed flights), I’m finally here in Accra! Upon exiting the plane, the intense evening humidity seemed to block my nostrils as I was accustomed to dry SoCal weather. But despite airline delays and long layovers, I was ready to meet my fellow study abroad students and start my glorious adventure in Ghana. However, not everything would be sunshine and rainbows.
My excitement quickly dissipated into distress when a medical officer stopped me. Before going through customs, we had to show our immunization cards and get scanned for any diseases. Although all of my information was within my yellow fever immunization card, I hadn’t written my name on the front of the card. “If you give me $20, I can finish filling it out for you and let you pass.” Bewildered, I cautiously disagreed and told him I would quickly fill it out myself, but he would not be appeased. Eventually, I paid him $10. Later in the winding customs line, a gruff African man rudely cut in front of me. “What a friendly introduction to Ghana,” I sighed as I reevaluated my choice to travel to Ghana.
Before going on about my culture shock, I’ll give you some quick facts about Ghana:
- Ghana is a rapidly developing middle-income country.
- Accra, located in southern Ghana, is the country’s capital.
- Originally a British colony, Ghana (formerly called the Gold Coast) was the first African colony to gain independence in 1957.
- Some of Ghana’s major natural resources include gold, diamonds, bauxite, timber, and cocoa. It has also recently discovered oil, which aided in boosting its economy.
- Although mostly Christian, Ghanaians also practice Islam and traditional religions. Because of its diverse population that includes several ethnic groups, Ghana takes great pride in its inclusivity.
Taking into account Ghana’s vibrant history and culture, I went to bed that night trying to stay optimistic about the next four months I would spend in this foreign country.
Since the next two weeks are orientation for the UC and CSU study abroad students, we have had several city and campus tours as well as lectures on the history, geography, politics, and economics of Ghana. In addition to eating the local cuisine, we’ve even had daily dance classes in the evening that have left us yearning for African drum beats. And by golly, is this true cultural immersion!
Weaving through Accra has been quite the adventure. The roads overflow with vendors walking between cars and selling anything from combs and tables to plantains and groundnuts (peanuts) — all carried on their heads nonetheless! Not all of the roads are paved, leaving many dirt roads, open gutters, broken sewer grates, potholes, and absent sidewalks. In addition, it is not uncommon to find washrooms with unflushable toilets, broken faucets, no toilet paper, and no soap. In the International Student Hostel I’m staying at, the rooms and furniture are old and dusty. In our courtyard are clothing lines for hanging hand-washed clothes. And to the students’ horror, we still have no access to Wi-Fi!!
However, contrary to common beliefs about Africa (i.e. starving children in complete desert wilderness with zebras and lions), Accra is a legitimate city with malls, restaurants, night life, open-air artisanal markets, tall buildings, and mobile phones. As a middle-income country, Ghana is gradually transitioning. New shiny hotels and apartments near Kotoka Airport juxtapose the unsanitary close-set homes and schools in Nima. Fortunately, there is also undeveloped land with large swathes of grass and trees filled with songs of native birds. Examining the geography of just the Greater Accra area reveals the complexities of development in Ghana.
Although it has been a bit uncomfortable adjusting to Ghana as an American, it isn’t too bad. After a week, I’ve gotten used to the cold showers and humid days. I’ve bonded with my fellow study abroad students as well as my roommate Sandrine.
I also feel more connected to the Ghanaians as well. The locals are very friendly, so every stranger I pass by has said hello (some even venture to take a photo of us “obruni”, or foreigners). Building community through African dancing and exploring the bright colors and energetic patterns of kente cloth in the artisanal markets has definitely made me feel more accepted in this foreign country. I look forward to learning more and writing more as I embark on this new experience in Ghana.