When I left the house, it felt as if the family was just jumping into the car for Saturday evening dinner. I had been so occupied by the organisation of my trip that I had forgotten to realise that I was leaving. For the first time in my life, I was going to be all on my own in a foreign country. This trip would also mark the longest time I would have ever been out of my home country, six weeks. And so, when the time came to cross the boarding gate, I was met with a rush of emotion. I wasn’t going on a school trip or a family vacation, I was going out into the world. On the plane, I found myself wondering what on earth I was doing. I sent my mother one last ‘I love you’ text before turning off my phone.
The flight was long and I couldn’t decide what to watch, but six hours and twenty minutes later, I had touched down in Accra, Ghana.
The standard disembarking procedure took forever, but this could have been because I felt a little buzz inside me. My silly human mind had taken the sadness of leaving, flipped on its head and turned it into the excitement of going. At the door of the plane, I was hit by a wave of humidity. There was a slight drizzle coming down and I distinctly remember the glow of yellow city lights stretching up to the night sky. On the bus ride from the plane to the airport, my excitement grew, and I tried so hard to contain it, for responsibility purposes. I couldn’t be a little kid in a foreign country, I was looking out for myself. But I could still look out of the window with child-like glee.
After getting the admin of bags, greetings with coordinators, passports and sim-cards out of the way, I sent my mother a text to say I had landed. Two of the coordinators I had met were Alex and Eben. After having been helped with everything, I followed Eben out into the parking-lot and loaded everything into a taxi. On the way to Teshie-Nungua, the town in which I would be living, we passed by a mall which had stores like Mr. Price, Game and Shoprite. I would later find out that this mall was heavily associated with South Africans, though I never really got the full story. It seems I wasn’t so far away from home after all. I could smell the salt in the air, a smell held exclusively by coastal areas. In Ghana, they drive on the right side of the road, and coming from a country where they drive on the left, the oncoming traffic being on a different side coupled with the taxi driver’s reckless driving and constant hooting induced slight panic-attacks. On the side of the road, I could see many little shacks and shops selling anything from food to foam mattresses and rendering services like tailoring and different forms of hairdressing. All of this reminded me of the organised chaos of South African townships.
When we arrived at the house, I met my housemates, most of whom were British. Many of them were going through a culture-shock but we were all so excited that it didn’t matter. The house reminded me of my grandmother’s house. Showers outside, crowded-spaces, it’s like going home for the December Holidays.
A very energetic young man named Elliot was introducing himself to everyone, and when it came time to meet me, he offered me a very large beer and we exchanged words that, when repeated, wouldn’t really be understood because, well, you had to be there. Eventually I found out that people were preparing to go out for the night. Having agreed to join, I took a shower, got dressed and sat down again while I waited for everyone else. This would become standard procedure, because Ghanaians run on ‘African Time’, and having decided to take a ‘When In Rome’ approach to their experience, my fellow foreigners had decided to do the same. We left the house around midnight.
We took a walk down the street, piled ourselves into several taxis and took off. The ride was blurry in my eyes as the giant beer had taken my bloodstream under occupation. I felt euphoric and when we arrived at the bar, I took in all of my surroundings. Across the street, taxis were parked and their owners were waiting for their next passenger. There were more bars lined up and down the street. We made room for our entire group by connecting tables and as soon as we sat down, I found myself taking in the details of a drag queen who had been dancing since we had arrived. She was dressed in a bra, mini-skirt, and heels. She had log, shiny earrings dangling from her ears and lots of mascara and lipstick on but the best part of the outfit: she had her name, Akua, painted across her belly. She danced to the loud, vibrant music for what I think might have been half an hour, and she eventually sat down, but only long enough for me to find out her name.
We didn’t stay for long. The purpose of this excursion was for us to just have a night out instead of going straight to bed. We all had a beer and tried as hard as we could to converse over the loud music. It may or may not have worked, but it didn’t matter. There was a silent agreement that we were all content with the people we would be staying with, or at least I thought so.
When we got back home, Elliot and I stood outside the compound to have a smoke and share stories that are far too personal to divulge and, if repeated directly, wouldn’t be understood because, again, you had to be there.
That night, I fell asleep with the fan on, something that would also become standard procedure. As I rested my head on the pillow, every thought in my head was swimming and doing tricks to catch my attention. I tried to record them all, but I had passed out in minutes.
We were off to a good start.