Excerpts taken from Sabrina’s journal entries during her site visit to our USAC Accra, Ghana program. Sabrina currently works with us at the USAC Central Office in the Marketing Department.
Akwaaba! Welcome! This word is on many signs at the airport, together with others emphasizing their focus on customer service, and an overload of cell phone service ads – even in the immigration area. Flying from Frankfurt to Accra took almost 7 hours and while it was cloudy for most of it, there was a stretch fairly early on where the skies were so clear that I could see the Sahara desert sand below from 30,000-40,000 feet. That felt very special to me, and I kept thinking “I’m really flying over Africa right now!”
On the airplane, about half the people were Ghanaians and the other half seemed to be mostly Americans (on mission trips from what I heard) and a few Germans. I already learned then that personal space is quite different among Ghanaians – there is no hesitation to squeeze past you to board the plane first, or to push a little to deplane. Also, I had read that, due to the weak sewer system, one often throws toilet paper into a waste basket instead of into the toilet, but some people on the plane must have tucked either used toilet paper or used paper towels from hand washing (let’s hope the latter!) into the side of the toilet paper holder. Somehow, they didn’t find their way into the waste basket right next to it. I observed this twice and still don’t quite know what happened there….
When we landed in Accra, it was close to 7pm and of course that means it was already dark. We exited the plane via a ramp and took a bus to the terminal – very much like it was handled in Frankfurt just earlier. BUT, there was the “smell of Africa” that everyone had told me about: hard to describe – a sweet smell, mixed with a slight smell of wood being burned maybe. You have to smell it to know what I mean, but it’s distinct. The air definitely smells different here! There was no wall of heat though that several people had warned me about. Since it was evening and it’s the colder part of the year, it was probably in the mid-70s (or a little more than 20 Celsius).
The immigration line inside the terminal was very short – apparently, the big rush comes at around 8pm, when several other international flights land. There were separate lines for Ghanaians, nationals from other African countries, and then a line for all others, like me. The officers in uniform asked me if this was my first time in Ghana and what brought me there, stamped my passport, took a picture and collected digital fingerprints – it was pretty much exactly like entering the US as a foreigner, but much, much faster!
After immigration, I waited for my luggage, which luckily arrived without any trouble. I was surprised to see that all signage was exclusively in English as I had expected to see something in Twi as well. Closer to the airport exit, signs for ground transportation were in both English and French. Still no sign of anything in Twi. Once I made my way to the exit, Abby, our on-site Resident Director, already spotted me. We went to her car and drove the short way to the university – maybe 10-15 minutes. While I didn’t quite know what to expect, I was surprised to see many new cars, large SUVs, and brands I am very used to, including my very own Pontiac Vibe! When stopped at an intersection, several teenagers were going car to car to wash people’s windows, and Abby would start her wipers as they approached to signal she didn’t want them to wash her windows.
Entering the campus, we drove past a security gate where only taxis have to stop to be inspected for their university access permit, and I quickly spotted familiar looking buildings ahead – the International Student Hostel complex, referred to as “ISH”, which is where our students stay when they study here. Another quarter mile beyond that is the Guest House – the University of Ghana Institute of African Studies Yiri Lodge. This is where I am staying for these two weeks. I got a room on the second floor with a little mini balcony (no chairs or anything, but the air conditioning unit lives out there) and my own private bathroom. It’s simple, but much nicer than I expected. I was excited to see I have a desk, and even a mini fridge and air conditioning, which I really didn’t expect. The windows have screens on them, so I don’t need to use a mosquito net.
Keep reading Sabrina’s blog series! A Glimpse into USAC Accra, Ghana Orientation: Day 2
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Curious to find out more about Accra, Ghana? Read more about the city, country and program.