Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Africa Part 1

*First, I want to tell you there are no pictures on this entry. So... sorry. I wasn't so sure if I was allowed to take pictures of certain things and didn't want to offend anyone in Accra. But on my second leg of the trip there, it'll be okay, as I checked with a local.

I am writing this before Im even writing in my journal, so this is the raw, and uncut version. I'll possibly have more to say, but email me and tell me what you think too! This blog was meant for our exchange, and I can't wait to hear/read your reactions. It's probably less well written than I'd like, but I have reliable internet right now. So:

From LAX:
I have decided that I like train stations much better than airports, generally. There is an unbelievably pervasive energy of stress here and of people making concerted efforts to be strangers. At least in Los Angeles it is. The farewell with my parents was much less tearful than I had imagined, but still the tugging in the throat. My mother told me that years ago her own mother was put in the same position, letting an only daughter go away, but she (my mom) was too excited to feel the stings of pain. I felt them.

My flight first stopped at JFK, and I was happy to have a too-short hour of laying over in New York. I was pleased to find that my seat companion for the international flight was impressively well traveled and extremely knowledgeable on South Africa as well as West. Needless to say, questions were asked, answered, and notes were taken, as per my personality. Also fitting was my viewing of Invictus on the 10 hour flight into Accra. Landed at 7:30, and realized I had the whole day to spend, as my flight to Johannesburg was at 11PM. Well planned on my part, I know. So I made acquaintance and then was thrown into travelers friendship with Jean-Paul, who had been sitting behind me the whole time. He's doing a project in Cape Coast for a few months, and we bonded over not knowing much. Off we went to Osu, a cultural, restaurant filled nightlife type district. We went during the day. On a Monday,to boot, so it wasn't as bustling. But JP and I walked around anyway, and had some interesting observations, to be sure. Apparently it's the "London's West End" of Ghana, but it seemed to me sort of like Wang Fujing in Beijing, or the Santa Monica 3rd St Promenade.

Some notes:

I have never been in situations where I was the only Asian individual. But for my hours in Ghana, I became quite aware of how different I looked. Lots of stares, handshakes, and bemused "hi"s from beautiful children with gigantic brown eyes. In addition, Ive been honked at more in 4 hours than I have in my entire life. And it was because of my appearance, but as someone who needed a ride in a cab. Taxi drivers tap their horns, such that I nearly had a crick in my neck shaking my head no. Thoughts on intention: I have only used my horn once in my life, to avoid being steamrollered by a driver of a trailer careening into my lane on the 101S. I've always been afraid to seem "mean" or "a jerk". The horn here is used much more liberally, in a less malicious fashion. Interesting that the supply and demand changed so dramatically. This would be unheard of in NY.

Baby goats!! Chickens!! Running rampant!! (Nothing like Pamplona, but surprising. And adorable).

In Ghana, and as I understand it, Senegal, hissing at someone is a way to get someone's attention, and it works like magic. Too bad that in America, hissing at a woman is a prime way to get slapped. Hard. In other "greeting" type is a fingersnap after a handshake. I can show you when I get back. But it's quite a lot of fun.

Obituary posters are everywhere in Osu. They're around the size 12" by 14" and usually in color, with a picture of the deceased, the age at which they passed away, and lists of the names of family members. This usually takes the most space: I saw that one woman who had died at 92 had 30 grandchildren. My goodness. One man who had died at 35 had on his obituary, "WHAT A SHOCK" and it is quite so. They were usually euphemistic words and brief elegies, always ending with an open invitation to the funeral. We walked by one that day. No matter where you are, no matter what the mourning rituals may be, the grief is ever present.

Diet Coke in Africa and in China, is referred to as "Coke Light". Maybe it's because the concept of dieting is very different in the American mind, different to the point of being foreign. I had a talk with a woman on my Accra to J-burg and noticed that the cans of soda, and portions of food items are noticeably smaller. *sigh* She was absolutely stunned at the situation of obesity in America, and I couldn't blame her. I said these things to her as I was polishing off the most delicious plane food I'd ever had, that South African Air put down before me, ironically. And the Guinness here, has more hops. I can't wait to come back to Ghana in the end of November!

I spent my birthday with strangers who quickly became friends, and I think it's nice to spend one "alone". I'll ponder about it more and tell you why I think so.


  1. Love your blog. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Please keep writing :)

  2. Love it Nanci. Thanks for sharing your experience in such an enjoyable way.....by the way in Europe we have Cola Light too instead of diet coke...

  3. i was all set to send you a birthday card, but now I find out that if I were to send one, you would not receive it for several MONTHs after your birthday. I suppose that's my fault for not calling to get caught up on all the things your were accomplishing and planning these last few months. but I'm sure this birthday, even without your close friends and family, will be a highly memorable one for many many years, as possibly will your new stranger-friends.

    I'm probably the most jealous person of your friends right now, considering I could have been one of the persons you might be visting on this Africa trip at this very moment! But i'm glad if I have to live vicariously that it is through you.

    So, I hate to ask the mundane questions, but I am curious as to: (a) what prompted such a long trip/hiatus/sabbatical; and (b) what's the itinerary of your trip?

  4. beez mcbeez, i'm proud of you! when i told my parents of your epic journey, they were very impressed and said i should also go to rural areas and help out those in need. maybe a trip like that is in the cards for me one day. we'll see. i'm excited to hear about all the exciting things you'll be experiencing (have i said "excite" enough?). keep us updated. be safe, have fun, and take pictures!