I) Boogie Boogie – Rhythm, Dance, Reggae Night, Salsa!
Most aspects of Ghanaian life are accompanied with dance, song, and music. I really love this aspect of the culture, and it is clear that people share joy and a strong human bond through music. I have the best dance class EVER! There are easily over 100 people in the class, and my dance instructor’s energy level gets everyone to boogie and unleash their wildest feelings through dance. The teacher is an older gentleman who has decades of experience teaching dance in Ghana as well as in California. He carries a cane when he walks, but as soon as he begins to dance, he drops the cane and boogies like no other! He also teaches us the meanings behind the dances and he encourages us to mix and mingle and unify as one group (the class is very diverse, with a significant number of foreign students as well as Ghanaian guys and ladies). He also teaches us the words to the songs (in Twi) that we sing to accompany our dances. We dance in several concentric circles, both on the floor and on the stage. Our teacher explains, “These circles represent family. Live, die, live, die, live. [It also includes] the extended family. In Ghana, we say if you have not danced then you have not lived… Dancing is not just boogie-ing, it is about reaching your humanity”. Every ceremony has some kind of dancing involved, including church ceremonies and funerals. Dancing brings the community together.
Now on to my favorite dances! I love this one part of our first dance, where you pair off and stand in front of a guy. You chest-pop 3 times (sorry, I do not no any other way to describe the movement lol) and you look over your shoulder while sitting on his lap. The key is that when you turn around to look at him, you have to give him the biggest smile EVER, and he smiles back! I think it is hilarious and fun! Then you skip joyfully over to the next guy and you do the same thing, sit on his lap and smile too! The dance is so much fun and the rhythm of the drums is so deep. When you dance you can’t help but feel the blood pulsing through your veins, as you feel the sense of unity shared among people who would otherwise never meet in this lifetime.
I also have a big drumming class of mostly foreign students. We all meet outside on a concrete platform, carrying drums and drumsticks with us. I came to the class late so I still have a lot of catching up to do. We borrow the drums from the music department, but I think I am planning on buying my own Congo drum before I leave :-D Ghana is filled with so many different rhythms! I am so happy I decided to take drumming and dance classes because when else am I going to get this incredible opportunity?
LOL so of course I couldn’t discuss drumming, dancing and rhythms without discussing the wild Ghanaian parties! I was told that University of Ghana was a party campus (well I was also told that Cornell was a party school). To be honest, I haven’t been going out to party much, if at all (I’ve been a sweet homebody lately). But, I can tell you about Wednesday nights, Reggae Night at Labadi Beach! I went there last time I came to Ghana as well. There are a bunch of Rastas chilling on the beach, doing what Rasta’s do. There is a live band playing old school reggae music, and there is always a large crowd of Ghanaians and foreigners dancing. There is a bar on the beach and also some people selling crafts (all Rasta/Jamaican themed). It was very funny, I was already “in the zone” when I was going to Reggae night, and I told all of my friends at ISH that I was “going home to Jamaica for the night!” Good times, great times! I took a lot of adorable pictures on the beach that night and I posted them on my Facebook page. I LOVE GHANA!
Another fun dance experience was Friday Night Salsa at the Aviation Recreation Center! I went with my roommate and a bunch of her friends and I literally had one of the best times of my life! It was amazing to see all of these gorgeous Ghanaian men and women work their hips to salsa music! It makes sense that a culture of people who embraced music and dance so much, would be naturals at picking up other dance forms. The class was so energized, and the instructors were so helpful! I brushed up on my basic salsa moves, and for the second half of the class I danced with some experienced salsa instructors and students to improve my moves! I will always remember that night! The best part was when they took a break from salsa and put on the Ghanaian line dance music, like the song Wengeze by Eazy (my absolute favorite song)! Now picture a dance that is a billion times better and more sensual then the Electric Slide and Cha-cha Slide, and add in a bunch of Ghanaians who are all really good dancers, who keep a perfectly synchronized formation! It was amazing, too great for words! Let me just say I had one of the best nights of my life and I would like to plan a Girl’s Night Out again soon so I can go back with my friends!
I have one more story to add about dancing! Last night I went to my first Room Party on campus (they are also called “Drink Ups” LOL). They are the essentially the same as Cornell’s parties (similar to “Sweat Box” in Ujaama). The biggest difference is that the ratio of guys to girls is 5:1 and the guys don’t mind dancing with the lights on! One of the non-traditional words I learned from my friends in Twi is “ntwia”, which means to dance close (grinding), which was all they did at the party. It was really a fun time though. The birthday girl was very sweet. She introduced herself to us and made sure we had everything we needed. It was funny! I think we only stayed for about 20 or 30 minutes (which is the shortest time I have ever spent in a good party), but we had just enough of the experience so we could say we went! Good times, great times at University of Ghana!
II) Cape Coast, Slave Castles, and Coconut Grove Hotel/Resort on the Oceanside
Cape Coast is a gorgeous place stamped by an ugly history. I went to Elmina Slave Castle (the first and biggest one) last time I came to Ghana, so I decided to take a tour of Cape Coast Castle this time. A lot of the sights and stories are similar, but I think Elmina had a deeper presence and longer lasting effect on visitors. I am not sure why, but if you have to choose, I suggest you go to Elmina. I will not go into details about the stories of the Slave Castles here on this blog, but as you can imagine, there was a lot of abuse, sickness, rape, dehumanization, death, and separation of loved ones. If you want to experience the history of the Slave Castles, you should come here for yourself and see them. The history is heavy, but these facts and emotions CANNOT be ignored. Not only should African Americans come here, Africans, Europeans, and people from all over the globe need to understand the severity of the slave trade and the horrible conditions people were forced to endure. I hope history does not repeat itself. However, there are still incidences of people capturing and enslaving each other, and these atrocities are occurring all around the world right now. How long will it take for the world to become a place of peace, diversity, and acceptance? Who knows. All I can hope for is that every person will take out the time to educate themselves on the injustices around us. We should all do our part to make this world a better place.
Now Cape Coast the place… WOW. All I can say is wow, wow, wow! What a gorgeous place! It reminds me of Cancun, Bahamas, and other amazing vacation spots near the U.S. The beach is beautiful, the sand is clean, and the ocean is clear! There are palm trees everywhere and the ocean breeze whisks me back to Cancun (memories of chilling in the hammocks with my family and friends on the beach). We stayed at Coconut Grove Hotel and it is definitely a 6++ star resort! I told my girl friend that this spot should be our future honeymoon location! The pictures cannot do the place justice. You truly have to be here in order to smell the sweetness of the flowers and to experience the fresh ocean breeze. I apologize if I am making you jealous right now, but I hope if you are a student considering studying abroad, you realize that CIEE’s program at the University of Ghana is the best study abroad program EVER! We lived in mini houses/bungalows that were ascetically decorated and furnished. The bathroom was made up of three rooms (the shower wasn’t a stall, it was its own room). And yes, HOT WATER! Not to mention, the food was all catered, buffet style and was quite delicious! We spent countless hours on the beach playing beach volleyball, swimming in the ocean, going on walks, and burying each other in the sand. We only spent one night at Coconut Grove Hotel in Elmina, but that day and night were so memorable! I am sure I will be going back again in the future :-)
III) Some Things You Can Only See In Ghana
I can’t help but laugh or shake my head when I see and experience certain things that only happen here in Ghana. Some things are funny, some are upsetting, some are amusing, and some are very different. I will continue to add to this list every so often. I already listed over 30 different things in my notebook, but I will include 20 here right now:
1) When you vote in National Elections, you dip your finger in ink so that they know you have already voted. The ink doesn’t come off for a week!
2) Learn how to make a low-cost water filter using rocks and sand
3) The random things you see people selling right before you get to the location called 37 ( I will make a separate list for this one in the next blog entry)
4) Some things are better said in Twi then in English. Some people can express more of their feelings and ideas in Twi (hence the reason why becoming fluent in Twi is so important to me)
5) Showering with wall geckos (they always have a way of surprising me!)
6) Shoving people out of the way and running down the street to catch a trotro; Having to wait over 30 minutes to get a trotro that is going to your destination
7) I saw a big lady running towards a trotro, so I ran passed her and got in before her (there ended up being enough space for her too); Moral of the story is: Get in the trotro as quickly as possible, and ask questions later!
8) Big orange and black lizards doing “push ups and head-bobs” to scare off smaller lizards
9) A mommy chicken with 9 different colored baby chickens, walking dangerously close to the busy street
10)A heard of giant bull cattle with huge horns running along the sidewalk
11) People urinating everywhere, including in the open gutters and in the grass along busy intersections; You even find messages written on buildings that say “No Pissing Here”
12) People running up to your vehicle /trotro when you are at a red light to sell you various things
13) When you walk on campus at night, you heard giant toads croaking, but you NEVER see them in the night or day
14) Tiny black tadpoles in the open gutters, swimming in murky water and trash (who knows what else is in those open gutters! I wouldn’t want to fall in, but I know some friends who have fallen in) :-P
15) Pay 1.20 for a big 1.5L plastic bottle of water or pay 1.30 for literally 10x that amount of water, but it comes in individually sealed mini plastic bags. You end up throwing out the little bags shortly after purchasing them, since you only used them to refill your big plastic bottles
16)Everything comes in a plastic bag in Ghana
17) FanYogo is the BEST EVER! Frozen strawberry yogurt yumm, I bet it has no equivalent in the U.S. that tastes as good ;-) It is so awesome, I have no idea why!
18) If you want to get to work by 9am, don’t plan on making it there on time (even if it is less then 20 min away) unless you leave at 7am… the traffic is that horrible
19) Pineapples are white and oranges are green, but they are probably the sweetest you have ever tasted in THE WORLD!
20) Trotros range from a van (“bang bus”) size to minibus (“hood-bus”). Either way, you are going to be squeezed in and the trotro will not leave the bus stop until it is filled beyond capacity.