Maiden Voyage

I'm very excited to be able to share some of the experiences of my friend Jenn who very recently made her very first trip to Africa via Ghana. I've known Jenn since we met in Spain 9 years ago (holy smokes time flies!!!) when she and I were studying abroad during our junior year at Boston College. Unlike some people who forget each other when they are back in the 'real world' (i.e. main campus during senior year) she and we actually liked each other enough to remain friends even beyond college.

Anyway, back to the point. She came to AFRICA!!! She got off her well trodden European travel path and made it all the way to the 'scary, dark, continent.' In addition, rather than doing the safari thing in East Africa or sticking to 'safe' South Africa, she went to Ghana which relatively speaking doesn't get that much tourism as other parts of the continent (granted she was meeting a friend who was working there so I'm not sure how much choice in location she had and if Ghana would have been her first choice under other circumstances). PLUS she did the trip on a budget!

So here are some of the excerpts from emails she wrote to friends about her trip:

The title of the e-mail [Bruni] is a common "call" that Justine and I get in the streets...it means "Hey Whitey"! Although Justine is half-black, she is so much lighter than the majority of Ghanaians that she is seen as a Bruni.

I actually found this funny as the same thing (Hey Whitey) was shouted at me a few days in Juba even though both of my parents are black!

Roads are lined with small stalls where everything you can imagine is sold...mufflers, mattresses, tires, furniture, phone cards...you name it. Some are made of corrugated tin, some of mud, wood or cement. Since we have been here, I have yet to see a central supermarket or something of the kind. Upon arriving at the station, we spent three hours waiting for our bus. At about 9 AM the heat kicked in and sweat started pouring off our bodies. We finally left at about 11:20 (on the 11 AM bus) and arrived in Cape Coast 3 hours later. Mind you...the distance to Cape Coast is only about 100 miles...took twice as long as it would at home. And that was a lucky trip.

Tro-tro's (shared buses) only leave when they are absolutely full to capacity (with the helper
crouching in the front). We waited about an hour for ours to leave, sitting in the hot tro-tro to save our seats. Imagine sweat just pouring down your body...that was us. The Ghanaians sweat too, but nothing like this Irish girl.

Taxis and tro-tros (shared buses) represent about 75% of the cars on the road and they WIZZ past you giving a quick honk to let you know you better move your ass or get run over. Now, that would be fine if you could walk on the side walk; the sidewalk is actually the open sewage ditches that line the roads. They are where gargabe is tossed, the water from the "street baths" trickles and of course where waste ends up. Many people try to burn the garbage that lies everywhere (again...limited garbage removal) so that smell mixed with the open sewage smell took some getting used to.

There was AC but as it's run on solar power, we discovered you cannot have a light, the TV and the AC on at once. Most everywhere seems to run on generators so we've experienced several blackouts at our hotels and tonight we had dinner by candlelight...fortunately they cook with gas so our pizzas (YUP!!!!) were just fine!

Lizards are everywhere including one that hustles along a few feet and then does 3 push-ups!

Another thing you see everywhere is Christianity. The stores all have names like, "God Bless you Business Centre" - although I didn't see a Xerox or Fax maching in the 4 x 4 stall that housed this sign. Or "May you walk with him Beauty Salon". It's all over the place.

Bean stew with whole fish and rice is another typical meal we had. It's good I got over my "thing" with fish because the whole fish does include the eyeball and the teeth that "grrrr" at you while you eat it!

While these are just a few excerpts (she wrote a lot), I particularly chose these because they really stand out to me as the experiences that one could have in so many parts of Africa (speaking from the very few countries I've been to). These are also the experiences that I now take completely for granted. In addition, I also do so many normal activities here such as going to the movies (which I recently did in Kampala), going shopping in a mall (Nairobi, Kampala, Maputo) or in boutiques (Nairobi), going dancing or to concerts or bars, and taking yoga classes, that I have forgotten how overwhelming the 'smaller' things can be for someone new. Even living in a 'tough' place like Sudan feels 'normal' now and has completely increased my threshold of what is overwhelming.

Jenn is my second friend who has come to Africa for the first time in the last few months. My friend Chris came in October for his first time as well, although I made sure his trip was significantly less hectic as we never took a bus, spent less than a hour traveling on the road, flew everywhere, stayed in nice places with everything functioning and only had one 'pushy market people' experience (I may have actually robbed his first experience!!!). That said, the experience was equally overwhelming for him as it was for Jenn and yet they both would like to come back again!

I think any experience in which you are 100% removed from what you understand as normal and comfortable can be overwhelming. Yet, I strongly believe that the feeling of being overwhelmed, and maybe a little scared, is essential for personal growth, which is why I'm always proud when people are brave enough to take the leap. So thanks Jenn, Chris, and everyone else who continually inspire me through their actions (big or small), to step out of my own comfort zones and try new places and experiences.

1 comment:

Uzo said...

Koodoos to Jen for travelling by bus!!! Good god - my friend Dafina came home (Nigeria/Liberia) with me in November and we stopped over in Ghana for a few days and we did no such thing!! We rented a car for three days -- as Jenn mentioned there is no going until the bus is filled with people hanging off and I just can't... I know I don't sound African but the bus was out! Ghana is HOT -- even my Nigerian family claims the sun is hotter in Ghana albeit the neighboring country -- one of my favorite things sold on the roadside was a handkerchief!

All joking aside its a beautiful place to visit.