As of tomorrow I have one month left as an active PCV. What! Here’s another ABC for you, as seen from the end.
A is for…..Agana and Anita, aka children who used to run away screaming whenever they saw my scary white whiteness but now are my best little friends ever. Anita was the first to come around (Agana wasn’t even born until the first October I was here). These days she likes to come over, wedge my little zipper wallet under her arm and tell me definitively that she is going to Bolga. I always tell her she should buy me biscuits. She agrees but has yet to come through. Agana is a more recent convert to the White Doesn’t Necessarily Have to Mean Terrifying Club. He’s in the babbling/squealing stage, so we don’t have conversations so much as we make high-pitched noises at each other and smile. We also like shaking jars of rice and dancing together, lessons in how to stick my sweatrag behind my shirt strap and attempts at learning words like ‘flower’ and ‘button’ from looking at cartoon pictures of them. It’s nice to not induce crazed and frightened wails anymore.
…..Abdullah. This guy works at the post office and he’s fantastic. He calls me when I have packages to pick, is always happy to see me and once came in on an official holiday so I could pick something up. Would that happen in America? No. He’s also got a nephew who is going to come to my school when next term opens.
…..ASL. I feel so incredibly lucky to have been placed at a deaf school. Learning and communicating in Sign Language has been one of the biggest joys of this experience. I love how expressive and easy to learn it is. I love that it takes brain power to figure out how to explain things you don’t know the signs for or, if there are signs, the students won’t understand them. It’s a physically fun language to use and it’s really fun to joke around in. I plan on only improving in my ASL abilities upon return to the motherland.
B is for…..Banku. It’s my favourite Ghanaian food (which is saying something) and I’ve been eating lots of it lately. It’s nice because it’s versatile – you can eat it with okro soup, groundnut soup or pepe and fish (as seen in picture). It’s made from corn that you let soak in water for a few days and then grind. Then you cook it into sticky, starchy balls and go to town with it and whatever else you’re eating it with. It’s fermented and delightful.
…..the BBC. God bless the Brits. I listen to the BBC on my shortwave radio everyday and love it. I feel way more connected with the world now than I ever did in America, which should just be ridiculous. I know what’s going on in a country where my only news comes from a little black box than I did in a country where I have contant access to radio, tv, newspapers and the internet. This has a lot to do with free time but still.There has to be some lesson in overstimulation in here somewhere
…..my bike. My bike is probably my most valuable posession. I love it. It’s red and I painted green and purple stripes around the bars that connect the front and back. It has a grey plastic basket and a rack over the back tire. I love this thing. It gets me to and from Bolga freely and gives me good exercise. If I could bring it to America, I would.
…..Beatrice. I remember the first time I ever met Beatrice, I was in the market in Tongo and I saw her at her stall. She was so enthusiastic and nice to me that I thought she thought we’d already met before, but no, she is just a really nice person. She’s been a great friend to me, listening to me gripe about things or just sit sullenly at her house not really saying anything when I’m in a funk. She’s also opened up to me a lot about her life, which I really like. It’s been really nice to feel like a valued friend as well as to have valued friends. Hooray Beatrice.
C is for…..coconuts. In the south, you’ll find young men with flatbed carts piled up with coconuts. Not coconuts like you get at the grocery store, ones with the thick green hull still on the outside. The guy will machete off the top part of the outside so it’s more pointy at the top, and then he’ll whack the point off and hand it to you. Drinking the water inside the coconut is my favourite part. I think I’ve read that coconut water is a new health fad in America? I hope so. After you’ve drained it, the guy will machete the whole thing open and cut a small flat piece of the hull off for you to use as a scraper to scrape out the meat inside and eat. It’s usually pretty soft and you just slurp it up, but you can also get the harder ones if you like. It’s fantastic. You can do this whole process while standing on the side of the road or you can take it away; he’ll pour the water in a small plastic bag and use the tip of his machete to get the meat out to put in another bag. I don’t think I’ve ever written this much about coconuts before in my life. At least its indicative of how much I love them. Just yesterday I came across one of the guys in Tamale for the first time. Best day ever.
…..cooking. Cooking has been such a big part of my life here – cooking new things and learning how to cook old things with new, available in Ghana ingredients. The list of things I’ve cooked for the first time here is a long one – bagels, guacamole, anything with dried beans, pancakes not from a premade mix, flat bread, etc etc etc. It’s been an interesting time. I’m really really looking forward to cooking again in America where all ingredients are available.
D is for…..Dancia. Dancia is my friend at the internet café in Bolga. She’s a super sweet girl and when I’m not sure if there are lights in Bolga, I can call her to see if I should make the trip in to use the internet. She calls me “Katty.”
…..dashing. Dashing is the best thing ever. It’s when you get free stuff. Two examples from just yesterday: I forgot to take money with me on my morning walk and I decided that I wanted groundnuts. I passed a girl selling them and I asked her if she would give me some and I’d come and pay for them the next morning. She told me to ask her big brother and he said I could just have them. Dash! Then I needed to get some trousers that I bought taken in so I walked to a seamstress who was sitting outside her shop. She stopped what she was working on, sewed darts into the back of the waist band, I tried them on, she made the darts bigger and then they fit. When I asked her how much I should give her, she said nothing, it was free. Dash! Awesome. People are so nice. I am also routinely dashed green onions because they are so cheap that the small amount that I want isn’t really worth anything. One day Andy and I asked various market women if we could just have one of something – one tomato, one garden egg, etc. They all agreed. Dashes! Oh, you also get dashes when you buy things like tomatoes. You might buy a little pile of tomatoes for 50 pesewas, but they’ll always dash you a few from the basket they have under their table.
E is for…..Ennis. Ennis recently learned how to jump rope with the jump rope I bought for two cedis in Bolga. It took him a few days, but he got it. My first memory of Ennis is sitting with him outside my house with a piece of paper and some crayons. We were learning the names of colours. Right now he’s a colour-naming genius and right at the age between happy silly childhood and more aware, “cool kid” childhood. I can tell he’s going to grow up to be a good person.
F is for…..Fataiya. She hangs out with me. She makes me clothes. She lets me watch horrible, unsubtitled Bollywood movies with her. She cooks the best Ghanaian food ever. She’s been my best friend here.
…..Four, the average number of times children will scream greetings at you if you are biking past them and ignoring them.
…..”Finished.” This is the word you use when something has run out or stopped. “No, you can’t have rice, it’s finished.” “Oh, I was feeling sick, but now it’s finished.”
G is for…..Gilbert. Gilbert is the super nice older man who I stay with when I stay in Accra. He’s always had free room for me and it’s so nice to get to his super simple but always clean place after the long bus ride to Accra. And he was really nice to me last Christmas.
…..Good Taste. Good Taste is the restaurant I’ve been going to a lot recently in Bolga. They have a menu that makes no sense (things spelled all different ways, old prices, strangely listed items), but their food is good and they let me sub fried plantians for meat with meals. The first time I asked about doing this, she was confused (because eating fried plantains with anything besides bean stew is something that is never done), but we got it done and I’ve been happy ever since.
…..Godisbig, Beatrice’s adorable and very hilarious son. He’s learned to sit, walk and talk since I’ve been here. They were super cute the other day – they were pretending to spit on their palms and then slap each other on the back. It sounds weird, but Godisbig looooved it. He was cracking up. His laugh sometimes really does sound like “ha ha ha!” It makes me happy to see them play together.
…..Greeting. I don’t even know how many times I’ve said “Goood mahning/aftuhnoon/eveuhning in this country. So. Many. You have to do it before you start talking to someone
H is for…..Hygeine? Emphasis on the question mark. I just combed my hair for the first time in memory (srs) and I don’t know the last time I washed it. My feet are always dirty. I’m always sweaty. Basically I look, and probably smell, like a hobo. It’s actually pretty nice to live somewhere where how you look really doesn’t matter. There are no expectations and it doesn’t affect your work. Actually, it’s helped me that I’m dirty. My friend Julius told me that people in Tongo appreciate that I’m ‘simple,’ part of this being that I don’t mind of little kids get me dirty. I like the lack of judging/caring about how people look.
I is for…..Infinite Jest, at 1079 pages the longest book I’ve read here.
…..Issah. Remember Andy’s small boy? We still have adorable phone conversations. Here’s a sample: “Hello?” “Madame Katharyn, good evening!!!!” “Issah! Hi! Good evening. How are you?” “I’m fine and you?” “Oh, I am also fine.” “I want to call and inform you that I am now my school’s health prefect!” “Issah, that is great!” etc etc. He’s such an awesome and sweet kid.
…..Ignoring people. I do this every single day. People will want to talk to me while I’m biking past them. Ignore. Little kids will yell at me. Ignore. Men will summon me across the street to talk to them. Ignore. You get used to it.
J is for…..Jamilu. He’s Fataiya’s boyfriend and he’s great. He’s helped me learn a lot new signs and he’s just an all around cool guy. He is always studying (he and Fataiya are taking college courses during the holidays) and he sometimes asks me to explain things he comes across. I had to explain what indoctrination is in sign language. It took some thinking, but it was eventually successful.
K is for…..“Katharyn” or, rather, for all the different ways people say my name here: “Kahtrine”(Jennifer), “Katrrrrreen” (Ruben, with a rolled R), “Katrin” (Francis, Godfrey), “Sister Kate” (teacher Beatrice), “Kate Kate” (James, my bike man in Tongo), “Kat Kat” (Abdullah, my post office best friend), “Kuhtrine” (most random village people), and, of course, this, on the left elbow.
L is for…..latrine. My relationship with latrines has come a long way. I used to do everything to avoid using them – they’re usually dirty, smelly and visibly displaying their reasons for existence, much to the delight of flies and/or maggots. These things are all still true, but now I don’t really care. They’re convenient, they only cost about ten or twenty pesewas (section of foreign – usually German – newspaper included) and when you have to go, you usually have to go, so there’s no use being snobby about it. These days, I say three cheers for public poop holes.
…..Lucy. I think I notice that Lucy has grown up the most out of all the little kids. When I got here, she barely knew any English at all. Now she’s great. I love love love her. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’m closer with her than with anyone else at school. Like when we are both laying on my yoga mat and she’s rambling on about random things or when she bursts into the room saying “Katreen, I think you no here!” just before running around to hide behind my bedroom door in case any of the other kids comes looking for her. She’s such a beautiful girl. I know I’ll miss her a lot.
M is for…..”Managing.” This is a typical response to ‘how are you?’ usually in the form of “Oh, we are managing.” Similar responses include “better” and “we can’t complain.”
…..Mismatched clothes. The things I wear here would make American me cringe. For instance – a blue/purple/orange tiedye skirt with an olive green tank top, green/blue/white baggy batik tie pants with a light pink running shirt, orange/red batik pants with a light blue tank top. Nothing ever matches. And it’s totally okay.
…..Market. I love the market system – it’s simple, stuff is cheap and fresh. You can buy things individually, like a single candle or an ounce of groundnuts tied up in a little bag or a smallish piece of coconut. The market is always there, but it’s bigger on market days. Even in Tongo, it sometimes gets so congested that you can get stuck in foot traffic. There are people who only come on market days – the people selling clothes, stationary supplies, nailpolish. There are food sellers mixed in with the normal sellers – the people selling fried bean dough, jollof rice, soya kebabs. It’s a fun atmosphere. I like that people get together.
N is for…..Neil Nunes. This guy presents the news on the BBC and his voice is hilarious. Everytime he comes on – it’s a treat, not often – I can’t stop laughing. Click on the first link on this page to join in the fun.
O is for…..Oil. There is so much oil used in Ghanaian cooking. It pools on top of the soups, stains your plates and fingers (the oil is usually bright orange palm oil), and makes your food really unhealthy. It is also delicious.
P is for…..Pito. Pito is a locally made drink. They make it from millet and let it ferment for a few days to make the alcoholic version or drink it immediately for the sweeter, nonalcoholic version. You drink it from calabash bowls made from the dried calabash gourds. You’ll find a pito seller (usually a middle-aged woman), you tell her how much you want, she’ll fill a bottle that corresponds with how much you want and then pour it into your calabash. I’ve had many happy pito times with Beatrice, various Tongo people, other teachers and myself. Pito tastes like an uncarbonated and much less sweet mix of beer and hard cider.
Q is for…..the question mark sign. This isn’t a normally used sign, but you can use it after asking a question to make it clear that what you just said was a question. You make it by drawing a question mark in the air by crooking your first finger, if that makes sense. Jamilu uses it sometimes.
R is for…..Raincation. A raincation is when it rains and you get a vacation because of it. No one will be outside their houses or doing anything productive so neither should you! You get to stay inside too, put on your neglected long-sleeved shirts and pants and putter around. Raincations are enjoyed by all.
S is for…..Small girls. These girls are rockstars. They wash dishes, burn trash, wash sheets and floor mats, sweep, wash my bike, take my bowl to collect school food and generally are amazing. Dorcas is in PreJSS and the other one (I actually don’t know how to spell or pronounce her name, her sign name is an A going from the left shoulder to right hip bone) come around in the mornings, afternoons and evenings to see if there is anything I want them to do. If there is nothing, I give them stuff to play with – they’ve created their own game using Uno cards and bingo cards. They’re really funny girls. One night when lights were out, I gave my head lamp to Dorcas to use and she liked it so much she did a little happy dance. She didn’t know I was watching.
…..”Somehow.” Ghanaians say ‘somehow’ where Americans would say ‘somewhat.’
…..Streetview. This is the name of the spot that we go to in Bolga. It’s a normal place – chairs and tables with umbrellas, covered in Star promotional paint, with a normal selection of beer and minerals. The proprietor’s wife is named Maggie. She’s super nice and watches my bike for me when I’m in Bolga for the day. Streetview is also conveniently located across from Daily Needs, one of our favourite obruni stores, and right next to my favourite date-selling old woman.
…..Solitude. There is a lot of this here and it comes in many forms – simply just being alone, feeling culturally/linguistically alone, feeling separate from the ability to have a good, face to face conversation with someone who will really understand what you are saying to them, missing people, always having to work things through in your own mind without having the ability to use other people as sounding boards, knowing that you have free hours to yourself that no one will interrupt, feeling crazily too much inside your own head. Solitude is a big part of living here for me.
…..”Selamie.” I don’t know how to spell it, but this is how you say the word for white person or foreigner in Frafra. It’s the Frafra version of “Obruni.” It’s the most annoying word ever. I look forward to never hearing it again after leaving Ghana. It’s not meant as an insult, just an identifier, but it’s still a really really annoying thing to hear everyday. Especially when children are screaming it repeatedly at you. (See: ignore).
T is for…..Tamale. Tamale is a great city, my favourite in Ghana. I spent a lot of time there when Andy lived there and got to know it somehow well. It’s nice and spread out (unlike Kumasi, worst city in the world) and you can have a nice 45 minute walk from the station to the PC office. Tamale has awesome Chinese food and burgers, a nice Vodaphone internet cafe (Bolga still doesn’t have one) and well stocked little supermarkets. It’s also nice to be able to leave from the bus station in Tamale rather than Bolga – it helps break up the trip. Tamale is a mainly Muslim city and I like seeing the way people dress, hearing the calls to prayer and buying dates.
…..the two-cedi bill. This came out about a year ago and it’s so so handy. It really made paying for things under five cedis a lot easier. And it brightened up the rainbow in the wallet. (One cedi is red, five cedis is blue, ten cedis is green, twenty is purple and fifty is brown.)
U is for…..”Urinate.” Ghanaians use this word way more than Americans do. “I feel like urinating,” etc. I use it a lot too.
V is for…..Vincenzia. This little girl is the girly girl complement to Anita’s scrappiness. She (like all of the kid) has grown up a lot. Her cheeks are still chubby, though; we say they are bowfruit (sweet fried dougy balls), the ones that are 30p each. When she and Anita come to my house, she likes to walk around and say “Heh, my mother, she will buy this one for me.” I also had a little metal cup that I once gave her some juice in that she now calls “my small cup” – “Where is my small cup? I want to drink wahtah in my small cup.” (“I want to drink water” is something kids say here a lot. It’s used instead of “I’m thirsty.”)
W is for…..Words that I’ve heard in conversation that I’ve never before heard used in an everyday setting. Some of these include “jubilate,” “thrice,” and “peeping.” Also, I don’t know if I never noticed it before, but people – Ghanaians and people I hear on the BBC, use the phrase “at the end of the day” all the time. All the time. Everyone uses it. How did I miss this?
…..”Whazzzzzzzup???” Okay, so my school’s accountant’s assistant is constantly talking to me in what he thinks is an American way. “Whazzzzzup?” is a common question no matter how many times I tell him that Americans don’t actually say that and that the rappers he sees on TV aren’t actually good examples of real Americans. He hasn’t been convinced. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
X is for….. Xcited to go home?
Y is for…..Yams. They’re big and they’re brown and they’re delicious in fufu or just boiled. Let’s hear it for the best tuber in Ghana.
Z is for…..Zebilla, Zuarungu, Zabzugu – the Z villages I can think of right now