Pure Water: As Ghana is a developing country, we don't have free access to pure, tap water. Water has to boiled or purchased. You can obviously buy water bottles, but, unless you feel like forking out a cedi every time you're thirsty, you pursue a cheaper route. Ghana has these nifty, plastic bags (you bite the corner off to drink) called sachet waters. You can purchase each for 10 pesuas or buy a giant sack from a corner store for about 1.60 cedis. A precautionary note: Do not buy sachet water unless you recognize the brand, and the Ghanaian, standardized, pure water label is printed onto the bag. I am personally an avid believer in Voltic Water, since it hasn't killed me yet.
TroTros: Unless you are committed to high-priced taxi rides during your stay in Ghana, you will probably ride in a TroTro for a heavily discounted price. However, you will quickly learn why this van-like bus system costs so little. The vans can seat approximately 11-20 people by utilizing every inch of space and fold-down chairs in the aisle. The inside is likely deteriorating and missing some parts. I once sat next to a gap in the floor that housed a gas tank that proceed to splash over my foot the entire journey home. Luckily, not many people smoke in Ghana. To find the correct TroTro, you have to ask around (there are no signs) and then wait for the vehicle to fill before its departure. No worries on time. You will swerve in and out of lanes like a space shuttle crash-landing from the stars. To be fair, however, this driving behavior is not specific to TroTros. The US Embassy does not recommend these as safe modes as transportation. But, bare in mind, they also said death is a likely outcome of both typhoid and malaria. My colleague who came down with both would beg to disagree. In the end, it is honestly a lot of fun if you know where you're getting off and if you're sitting by a window. The people are friendly, and the price is fixed. Not recommended as transportation to nice events, though, considering you'll probably arrive smelling like sweat and fish.
Gender: As a basis to my blog, I try to stick to the more positive aspects of my experiences. I may joke about certain topics (see above). But, ultimately, each experience is worthwhile and highly entertaining if you come at it with the right attitude. There is one exception to this rule, however. My experience with gender in Ghana has absolutely transformed my appreciation for the American treatment of women. Yes, that system is flawed too, but I advise appreciating the progress that has been made. I have never been as acutely aware of my identity as a female before I arrived in West Africa. 1) As a woman, it is a daily struggle for me and my time to be taken seriously. Though I can achieve respect, it has to be exhaustibly earned. 2) My physical traits are prioritized over all other attributes in most settings. This may be true in America, as well, but it is not as blatant or forcibly reminded. Many of my female colleagues have even dealt with this at the work place. Some are directly asked out or flirtatiously engaged by their colleagues or supervisors. Others are just reminded in small ways, i.e. frequent comments on their appearance and not their work. 3) Many men here feel (or act like they feel) they have a right to my time and efforts. An older man will ask for my number after a 5-second introduction and be legitimately miffed when the answer is no. Similarly, it's not polite to ignore people addressing me, even when their reasons are clearly derogatory. I often have to politely sidestep advances when I'd rather ignore them, all together.
My experiences may or may not be different because I'm a tourist. I definitely stand out as a target for sexist comments. Furthermore, there are definitely a lot of local men who are extremely respectful of women. But even they would agree, I believe, that sexism is an issue here. Westerners and locals receive it differently. Westerners can get away with certain things because of their cultural differences, i.e. speaking their mind, but their lack of cultural knowledge can be used against them. We were warned at the beginning to be weary of men using "cultural pressures" to make women feel uncomfortable. No, they are not telling the truth, and saying no is never culturally inappropriate. Locals, on the other hand, obviously aren't tricked by these tactics, but they can also be given less understanding. According to my professors, this issue is of greater extreme in more rural areas.
There are organizations currently combatting this problem because, along with being antagonizing, gender inequality is proven to slow development. I strongly advise donating to causes that address this if you're ever inclined to financially support development in Ghana. I'll ask around about key organizations this week, since my frustration on this topic has only recently bubbled to the surface.
Fall break is here, and half my time in Ghana is past. While many of my colleagues chose to exit West Africa for the vacation, I decided to return to Togo. Granted, my reasons were not impressive. I really just wanted to eat a legitimate cheeseburger (Ghana doesn't specialize in the cow department, i.e. beef or cheese) and swim in an ocean that plays well with others.
I arrived in Aflaeo via tro-tro, a raggedy, van-like bus service, in less than four hours and crossed the border into Lomé with relative ease. I was immediately greeted by "Bonjour," motorcycle taxis and blaring heat. Though my cultural pursuits for this journey were lacking, I was in luck. Lomé was hosting both an annual beer fest and Africa's qualifying games for Olympic volleyball.
I spent the remainder of the weekend swimming in paradise, enjoying French-influenced food at our hotel, dancing at festivals and dodging motorcycle herds (hence, "Togo Moto"). I returned home Sunday afternoon, ready to start working on my documentary--the story of an aspiring footballer (soccer player) on Accra's biggest team, Hearts of Oak.