Tuesday, September 20, 2005

the 'ordinary' things

Hey everyone.
I realize in writing of all these adventures on an exciting-weekend by exciting-weekend basis (and not even with that kind of regularity) I've sort of managed to omit the more day-by-day kind of stuff, that to me, has become regular and unremarkable. It is these small things that compose the scenery that I will most associate my expirience in Ghana with, and, I'd imagine, the absence of these things that will seem strange about America when I come home. And despite how natural and normal they seem now, nothing seemed unremarkable to me when I first arraived, so all you who are elsewhere, here ive written, in list form, little details I doubt I'd ever bother write about where else:

*personal space and privacy do not mean the same thing here: no one complains when someone blasts the SAME Usher/50 cent/Celine Dion song on repeat for god-knows-how long starting at 6 am and shutting off around 2am. And so they do. every night. I now know the words to ever Usher/50 cent/Celine Dion song ever written. Thank you, KNUST. And its always American hip hop, boybands, or slowjams, or, if were lucky, Ghanaian hip hop, boybands or slowjams. Luckily I had the good forsight to bring earplugs, but they dont compeltely block the sound and do nothing for the thundering base that rattles my bedframe on weekends. Im learning to sleep like a rock. If it doesnt kill me it makes me stronger, right? right? yeah. "Were gunna party like *its your birthday*, sippin bicardi like *its your birthday*" anyone know that one? I do! reeeeaaal well.

* there are COBRAs in the trees on campus! aaah! "but they rarely attack." hah.

*it rains here, everyday, at least once, without warning. a sudden torrential downpour, with lightning and thunder and the works. sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours. According to Maya Angelou's "all gods children need travelling shoes" the gods are washing out the spirit world for the great souls who have died. its pretty wonderful.

* power outages occur maybe tri-weekly. and really, what can you do when the power goes out (and with it goes all the loud music) besides stop what you were doing and curl up in bed with a good book by candle light? pity.

*and! when its not raining (even when it is) its hot! thick, and hot. even at night. but far from unbearable except for maybe at high noon. its not so bad if you take an afternoon nap, which i regularly do.

*there really arnt paved roads every where. not even all the way on the major roads between the major cities. buildings are often unfinished, and houses and marketstalls are usually made of cinderblocks and corregated metal sheeting. downtown accra and kumasi are wild mazes of goods stacked and crammed into small partitioned open air shanty-like stalls, free from the burdens of streetsigns, stop lights, or direction. the dirt is red, and the places that arnt cleared or partially paved in kumasi are dark, dark green. afterall, its known as "the garden city" and it all used to be rainforrest before they cleared it away to make a city. On campus, you can take little bridges over swampy forrested patches, dodging vines on your way to class, and once you leave the city boundries, boy howdy, youd better follow the main roads lest you lose yourself in the jungle.

*religion here is like nothing you could imagine: the majority of small business have names like "jesus is the light and way stationary" or "if god be for me who can be against me tires and car parts" or "jah bless fast food (ok, but fast food here definatly means fried rice/yam and chicken/goat)" or "All praise be to Allah Rasta Hair doo salon" and most cabs have something similar spelled out in yellow vynil stickers on their back windows. Most internet cafes, taxis, or street vendors blast gospel reggea at top volume, and charasmatic christians hold services where they sing, speak in tounges and become possessed right outside my doorway every friday. If you see someone standing on the side of the road with their eyes closed and their hands up blithering incomprehensably, fast and so loud, you dont stare or think them crazy, you just walk past. They're only possessed by the holy spirit, and you might be sitting next to them in lecture tomarrow. Oh, and professors constantly cite the bible as fact to verify their points and missionaries knock on my door almost daily. you can hear hymns at any time of day or night somewhere on campus from some church group meeting, muslims students hold massive prayer sessions five times a day in a central locations on campus, and men with bullhorns stand outside the dorms and read from the bible, instructing all sinners to save their souls immediatly. and the traditional religions are a whole nother all consuming aspect of life i wont even go into now. amazing. and i thought America couldn't seperate church and state.

food: usually consists of a bulbous lump of some sort (fufu-pounded yam/plaintain, banku- pounded cassava, rice ball-pounded rice, kenkey, pounded corn) floating around in some sort of spicey, greasy stew either made out of peanuts or okro, or veggitables, with some hunk of meat bobbing around in there, either chicken, goat, fish or "other"

(speaking of meat, theres this whole other genre called bush meat, "whatever they catch in the bush" if you order bushmeat, there is never specification to what it is, ("its meat!" is all they say) so for all you know, youre eating a rodent, a primate, or some other supposedley mammalian thing. anytime you drive down a bushy road, you can see men standing on the soulder holding up various dead furry beasts by their tails, freshly caught and for sale. i have yet to indulge.)

anyway, other then stews and bulbous lumps (its actaually a lot more delisious then it sounds, i swear) you can get some kind of spicey ricey dish, fried yams, fried chicken, fried plaintains or a fried egg between two peices of tea bread pretty much anywhere you go, as well as oranges, bananas, pinapple and mango (depending on season) cut before your eyes, toothpickd, and handed to you in a little bag for cheap cheap cheap. and its definatly the best fruit youve ever had in your life. especially the pineapple.

*oranges are peeled with a knife, leaving a soft white thin skin covering the fruit, and then the top is sliced off, you hold the exposed top to your mouth and squeeze the thin skin and drink your orange, spitting the seeds as tehy come. oh man. its wonderful.

money: the lowest coin is 50 cedis, and is worth less then a penny, the highest bill is 20,000 cedis and is worth just over two dollars. its colorful and shiney. comes out of machine in huge lumps and despite the exchange rate, goes quick.

theres lots of things i could say. maybe Ill add to this list as i think of more.

other then that, people are generally kind, friendly, inquisitive, clever, boisterous, and welcoming (especially off campus, where theres less of a "make sure everyone knows how much money you have" attitude) but there is also an unceasing flow of strangers (often children) approaching the obvious foreinger and either outright demanding money "for schoolfees/medicine/food" or telling you that they want to "take you as a friend, i like your color" and attempting to gather your contact information. Its hard, because sure, im lookng for friends, and no, i dont mind handing over a few thousand cedis to the blind one legged 12 year old on the corner, but no, i cant pay for the entire population of ghana's schoolfees and *you* only want to be my friend because im white. after a while it becomes hard to not blow off everyone who appraoches you or automatically assume that anyone who makes any effort towards friendship only wants money or help getting a visa, or the status symbol that is a white friend. Most people, however, are genuinely friendly, genuinley curious, and very willing to help you find your way around town, help you barter, help you learn twi, or just have a nice conversation about anything with you. As a result, I have made a lot of good friends, and am starting to see friendly and familiar faces around town and campus whenever I go out, which is a comfort. My room mate is brilliant and generous and always keeps me laughing, and the art students... well, theyre quite a bunch.

*in my thematic compostition class, we were assigned to make and paint with this "traditional ghanaian ink" called Asiduro.

"excuse me, professor, you say that Asiduro is made by squeezing lime juice onto rusted metal and leaving it to ferment in a closed container, are you suggesting that there's enough idle rusted metal lying around campus for the entire art department to find some and make the ink?"


and its true.

*I miss: mexican food, rock and roll, Americans who think all that really exsists is America, isla vista, big cities with skyscrapers, especialy one particular big city with skyscrapers that sits on the bay, driving down east avenue, windmills, having access to good art supplies, solitude, quiet, living only blocks away..., the ccs computer lab, my laptop, my records, walking down the street and not being constantly "sssssss'ed" at, not being able to walk down the street without running into a friend, a certain community radio station, a certain big co-operative kitchen with MLK jr. in the window, smooth-paved-multi-lane roads, needing a sweater, seatbelts, real milkshakes, Sabado Tarde, cafes that serve coffee, bookstores that have books, not always feeling foreign, RIDING BIKES!, a certain yellow '77 Ford Granada, tofu, vegans, skateboarding, being a telemarketer (actually, not that much), my green walls, my art studio, livermore, Oh yeah, and definatly (just a little bit) all of my friends and family.

So, I have more free time here, and with that free time i sometimes like to read books, a few weeks ago I finally gotten around to reading Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' (which i've been assigned to read for classes several times, but i'm glad I never got around to actually reading it until now)
Theres this part in the book, where the lead character, Marlow, breaks from his story that hes been telling his fellow sailors in england about his travels through Africa to say:
"It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream -- making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewildermient in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams... ...No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence -- that which makes its truth, its meaning --its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream -- alone."

take that for what you will.
love, maggie


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At 12:30 AM, Blogger shelly said...

WOW MAGGIE! This entry was really interesting. I read it out loud to Tiffney in our apartment. We laughed at lot. She just told me a story about a girl in isla vista and Im sure if I tell you, you will miss oh you will isla vista. cuz this girl got really really drunk and was at a guy's house where she started finger banging herself on the sofa! yay! in front of everyone with her shirt open. and then she got up with her boobs falling out and hit on her guy friend. and then she went into the bathroom and threw up everywhere but the toilet! and then she crapped everywhere but the toilet including in her pants! oh it's so good. and yeah, her friends came and cleaned her and the bathroom. but she was too hung over to move so slept until five in the afternoon on the guy's sofa. the guy she didn't really know. yes, i bet you miss isla vista. CHANGE THIS TO ALLOW ANONYMOUS COMMENTS YOU ASSHOLE CUZ I HAD TO MAKE A STUPID ACCOUNT IM NEVER GONNA USE.




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