(September 4, 2010)
My volunteer network just keeps on expanding!
It's really fantastic for me, because between the various people I've met I'm now guaranteed to have a friend in the area until the beginning of February instead of just mid-December.
I'd like to have Ghanaian friends, but this doesn't really seem to be a possibility beyond spending the evening with a couple of people at the beach or a spot every once in a while- which is fun, but there's not much substance to those relationships.
Friendships between fellow volunteers, on the other hand, seem to develop nearly instantly. Whether through shared experience or just necessity, we bond very quickly.
Last week, for example, Julia, Lula and I were standing outside a bank near the border waiting for a car to the beach, when a taxi pulls up and out steps two yevus! Naturally we started talking. There are six questions volunteers are guaranteed to ask each other:
1. What kind of work you're doing
2. What organization you're with
3. How long you're staying
4. How long you've been here
5. Where you live in Ghana
6. What country you're from
These two women are from Denmark (6) and are working as teachers (1) in Dzodze (5), a nearby town that is pronounced almost like "Georgia." They're two months in (4) to their six month stay (3), so right in between me and Julia in terms of seniority if you will. Technically they're not volunteers because they're doing a paid internship through their university (2), but that makes no difference in our ability to relate to each other.
The introductions were over quickly, but an hour later we were still huddled in a circle on the side of the busy, muddy street, baking in the hot sun while we swapped stories.
An encounter between volunteers inevitably includes some classic, good-natured one-upping in who has had the worst/weirdest experiences with the various aspects of African culture. My trump cards so far are hand-feeding the monkeys and seeing the chicken get its head bitten off, but I'm only in my fifth week here. We're also guaranteed to talk about our problems with the men, the food here, the food we miss from home, the horrors of travelling by tro-tro, and the Africans' religious style. Usually these conversations also include some wonderfully horrifying "one that got away" stories that would put even the best fishermen to shame...but of course these versions refer to cockroaches. I have no good cockroach stories so far. I'm a little disappointed about that, then again I have no doubt my time will come. The worst I've had so far was a small one in my bed. I had thought I was safe because of the mosquito net, so of course realizing that wasn't the case triggered an unhealthy amount of paranoia. However I failed to squash the roach, so I settled for squashing my paranoia instead. One or the other had to go for me to be able to go to sleep that night.
Anyway, our hour-long, chance meeting generated an invitation to Dzodze. So the following Sunday Julia and I stopped there on our way home from Accra and met Karina, the more outgoing of the two. It was only the second time we'd ever seen Karina, but we might as well have been old friends. Julia, Karina and I sat at a chop bar for a while, and then moved to a very nice drinking spot once Lula arrived from Aflao.We split a package of CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES. I had THREE whole chocolate chip cookies all to myself and I've seriously never been happier. Ok, the milk in Accra may trump the cookies, but only barely. We saw real milk in Dzodze too, which is surprising since I haven't seen any in Aflao. We didn't get any though since we'd just had some and it's a bit pricey at 4 cedis.
The four of us spent the whole afternoon just talking and laughing. I really like being able to skip the small talk and the formalities and the level of reservation that are usually intrinsic to new friendships. They have some value in mainstream society I suppose, but when you've only got nine months in Africa, there's no time to waste. By the end of our second meeting, Karina already had an invitation to travel with us and we have a place to stay in Dzodze anytime we need. She has to come back to Aflao tomorrow to visit the bank again (Dzodze has real milk and American cookies but no ATM. Personally, I think their priorities are exactly straight...) and I'm looking forward to seeing her again.
Our community within Aflao itself has grown again as well!
Laura arrived from Germany on Saturday night. Julia and I met her very briefly in Accra, but it wasn't until today that we were all able to really sit down and talk. There are four Aflao-ian yevus now! We held our pow-wow at The Pledge, Aflao's main real restaurant (as opposed to the numerous chop bars which have a limited menu and may only have a couple rickety benches outside by way of seating), and went through the now-standard process of introducing her to the basics of Ghanaian culture, drawing her a map and teaching her the taxi routes, and addressing any questions or concerns she had about her experience so far.
Laura is working at the Ketu District Hospital, as opposed to the Central Aflao Hospital where both Julia and Lula are. She is 28, which seems to have added a really nice dynamic to our group. She's old enough to provide some different perspective, but still young enough I don't feel like I have to be on my best behavior as if she's one of my parent's friends or something. Overall it seems like she's going to fit in with us wonderfully.