Taiwan Soul Food

I had just finished walking through Shilin Night Market. Being completely honest, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with night markets. I enjoy the sensory overload – the nonstop array of sights, smells, and sounds. Within a matter of feet the smells alone can vary between grilled meat, waffles, or stinky tofu. What I don’t like are the crowds that accompany the market. It’s almost impossible to walk at a reasonable pace, and once you’re in the market, it can be difficult to leave just because of the slow nature of the traffic.

By the time I made it through the night market, I was starving. While there were countless stalls and restaurants inside the market, the raw number of people and frenetic energy influenced me to eat elsewhere.

Daily Pictures: Taiwan Soul Food

taiwan soul food restaurant

“Taiwan Soul Food”; the English name of this fast food restaurant caught my eye. When I think of soul food, I think of southern food. Paula Deen, and typically unhealthy/delicious southern classics such as chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes loaded with butter. What could Taiwanese soul food possible be?

The answer is gravy. That’s the direct translation – in reality its more of a thick, delicious broth. Stock made from cooking virtually every kind of animal meat and bones together. Hungry patrons each get a pasta strainer and a set of tongs. You pick your starch, vegetables, and meat as you like.

collage 2

Udon noodles, ramen noodles, rice noodles, thick rice noodles, mung bean noodles, spaghetti, and rice are all available. Little sausages, krab meat, quail eggs, caramelized tofu, cheese rangoons, and tens of raw meats are all available. Bags of fresh tatsoi, corn on the cob, and mushrooms are available,  It’s a free-for-all.

After paying accordingly, the food is dropped into the ‘gravy’ broth and cooked to perfection.

taiwan soul food soup

How was it you may ask? To be completely honest, I was my own enemy. I ordered 小辣, or a little spicy. My first taste of the soup was a spoonful of broth, and I nearly choked from the heat. Back home, it would probably be a solid four out of five on the spice-o-meter. All of the individual ingredients were delicious however. I ate what I could before running to a nearby boba tea shop for some ‘sweet’ relief.

What struck me from the experience mostly was the very identification of the food as ‘Soul Food’. Back home, soup often isn’t considered a meal. However, being able to pick noodles, vegetables, and meats to be poached in broth is considered comfort food here. I think that’s great.

A Colombian Café

You’re walking around downtown Bogota. Sooner or later you arrive at a café. They serve either coffee or alcohol. That is – unless you would prefer to have coffee mixed with your alcohol, which is perfectly acceptable at 10:00 pm in Colombia.

A zealous Colombian waitress spots you staring through the tinted windows. “Bienvenidos, a la orden?“ She’s short – around five feet tall with heels. She sports bangs and a gaping smile. “A la orden?” she repeats – emphasizing that the cafe has drinks ready to be served. Like a broken cassette tape she repeats “A la order?” yet again, as she widens her smile.  She’s charming, no doubt about it. You let yourself be lured inside.

Your eyes adjust to the dim lighting. There are roughly 20 tables squeezed into the small café. In the back is a massive couch for relaxing, but it’s taken all night. The pathway through the restaurant is less than a foot wide; at some points you turn yourself sideways to squeeze through.

Eventually you make your way to a table. Upon seating you, the waitress from the door immediately asks for your order – expecting you to already know what you want. You ask for the menu, and she leaves in search of the only copy in the entire bar.

Sit back and you notice just how loud the music is. So loud that it can’t possibly be healthy. You try speaking to the person across from you, but all they do is cup their ears in confusion. They don’t understand a single thing you said. Pretty soon you give up on talking altogether and begin nodding your head to the rhythm.

The waitress is back with the menu. She hands you the menu and peers over your shoulders as you read. You spot the ideal drink – not too cheap nor expensive. You yell the drink’s name to the waitress, trying to be louder than the pounding music. The veins in your head throb yet you can barely hear your own voice. Miraculously, the waitress understood and nods her head.

colombian bar rose seller
Photo by Rachel Jones

At one point during the evening, a short man carrying dozens of flowers enters the bar. So many flowers  that they practically cover his face. He offers a flower to each table, expecting each man to buy one for his date. He is successful more times than not. When he comes to the couch at the back of the bar, one man stands up and buys for each of his many lady friends.  A plethora of giggling and chatter ensues. Minutes later, the short waitress shoos the flower seller out of the building.

A moment of silence as the song ends. Peace, solace, a chance to relax. You lean back in your seat, but sudden trumpet blasting takes you to the edge. The next song has begun. On the other side of the café, a couple stands up from their seats, locks arms, and slow dances around their seats. Shortly after, another couple begins dancing – then another, and another. Eventually, the entire pathway around the bar is blocked as couples serenade each other. They share intimate dances, sharing affection and kisses along the way. Your eyes bear witness to the fact that there are no limits to public displays of affection in Colombia. The aisle remains blocked for the duration of the song, business shut down. The song ends and the couples nonchalantly sit down and resume their conversations.

Soon after, your group leaves to go back to the hostel.  As much fun as it was to ‘people watch’, the music’s volume has gotten to your head.  As you leave, you notice that the people at each table are the same ones as when you arrived.  Not a single Colombian left while you were there – they arrived hours before you, and have no intention of leaving soon.

Your ears ring from the music as you fall asleep.

Advice for Tourists Visiting Ghana

With Mama preparing to visit the country in late March, I have compiled a list of tips and advice for when she arrives to Accra. Without any further adieu, here are my top 10 pieces of advice for tourists visiting Ghana.

  1. Acts of ‘Kindness’: While most Ghanaians are genuinely nice and will try to help you in whatever way they can, there may be some at the airport baggage claim and at major tourist attractions who will immediately jump in help you – by carrying your bag, snapping your photo, custom-making you a bracelet, etc. After doing so, they will either demand a ridiculously high amount of money, or run away never to be seen again. Try to avoid such situations – and insist upon doing things yourself.
  2. Cultural Norms: Ghanaians rarely say please or ask you to do something. If they want you to do something for them – they will command you. “Do this, wash this, scrub this.” Don’t take it as them being rude, it’s just a cultural difference.Another thing is that when somebody wants your attention, they will either call out ‘Obruni’ or ‘Acosi’, or just hiss/whistle at you. Don’t take it wrong – they just want you to notice them (and they don’t know your English name).
  3. What Not to Wear – Try not to wear anything anything too skimpy in public. I’m talking to you Richard Simmons – you’re going to need a wardrobe overhaul before coming to Ghana. Bikinis are fine at the beach, but use modesty when walking around town. You won’t get in trouble for wearing your booty shorts; it’s just not part of the culture and you may be in for some dirty looks from elders.
  4. Cameras & Electronics: Carry electronics in cheap looking bags to conceal them. When in crowded areas, try to avoid using them – or if you must use them, step aside until finished. As far as phones go, SIM cards for unlocked phones can be bought very cheaply, while phones usually cost $40+. If you plan on buying a phone in Ghana, go to a reputable storefront in Circle where you see Ghanaians shopping; I’ve heard stories about people buying ‘phones’ and getting boxes of soap. Once you have a phone, be careful. When in a car, hold the phone with whichever hand is furthest away from the window. Never use cell phones in the main street of Kwame Nkrumah Circle and be very careful about who you give your phone number to (everyone will be asking).Don’t plan on purchasing a camera or SD card in Ghana – technology is expensive here. As far as taking photos of people goes, always ask for permission first. Most of the times you will be declined, but that’s just something you’ll have to deal with. Another thing Ghanaians strongly disapprove of is taking photos of anything that could be perceived as negative to their country. If you take photos of such things, always ensure that you’re in a private place with nobody looking at you. Following is the perfect example of a photo not to take…
  5. Transportation – Find out the nearest trotro station to your house/hotel, and operate from there. Trotros cost next-to-nothing compared to taxis, and will give you more of a taste for how the locals live. You don’t even need to know which one to take at the station – just keep asking the mates. They will point you in the overall direction, and sooner or later if you keep asking you will find the correct car. On a similar note, make sure you travel out of Accra during your stay. Accra is just another big metropolitan city; the ‘real Ghana’ is in its small villages and towns.
  6. Bartering: Set prices only exist when they’re written – usually in certain stores,  restaurants, or shopping malls. For taxis and most items in the market, bartering is to be expected. If the shopkeeper starts off by saying an item costs 15 cedis or less, I usually start by offering roughly 1/2 of his price. Anything above 15 cedis and I’ll usually offer 1/3 or 1/4, depending on how much I think it’s actually worth. Don’t worry about offending the seller or making him bankrupt – he won’t sell the item at a loss. Bartering just means the difference between him making wide margins versus moderate ones.
  7. Currency Re-denomination: Due to rampant inflation, the government re-denominated the currency in 2007 by issuing new bills and notes with four zeros removed. Each new note is worth 10,000 times more than each old note. For example, 1 new cedi is worth 10,000 old. While most people have adjusted to the new money, a few haven’t. If a lady tells you that bowfloats are 2000 each, that means .2 cedis or 20 pesewas ($0.12) – not 2000 cedis ($1200).

    Six million old cedis – equal to 600 new cedis.
  8. Looking for Love – Expect to receive marriage proposals, and know how you will politely decline them. That is – unless you are searching for love. Regardless, keep in mind that only about 1/4 of the proposals are serious – the rest are usually just to see your reaction. I usually respond by either saying that I am a just a ‘school boy’, or that I have already been promised to someone. Another option is wearing a ‘wedding ring’, and telling people that you’re taken.More often than marriage, you’ll be asked if you want an African boyfriend or girlfriend. Don’t answer that you already have an American girlfriend/boyfriend back home; they will often get closer to you and ask if you want an African one too. 😀
  9. Local Languages – I’m not saying you should become fluent in Ghana’s 40+ local languages, but you will be loved by all if you put in a small amount of effort and know a few basic sayings. Following are the phonetic pronunciations of several phrases in Twi that I useon a daily basis.
      Akwaaba – Welcome.
      Obruni – Foreigner/white person
      Obibini – Local/black person (Response to ‘Obruni’)
      Ehtey sehn – How are you?
      Ehyay – Fine.
      Mah’chey – Good morning.
      Mah’ha – Good afternoon.
    • Mah’jo- Good evening.
      Dahbi – No.
      Me pao chow – Please.
      Meda’se – Thank you.
      Ba bai – Bye.
      Ehyay ahe – How much is it?
      Oy koing – Where are you going?
      Mahtoe kubeh – I will buy a coconut.
  10. Street Food – If you don’t eat street food during your stay in Ghana, you’ll be missing out on part of the experience. That being said, use common sense. Only eat fast food at kiosks that are full of Ghanaians, and never order salad. Don’t buy precut mangoes and pineapple – ask the seller to cut a fresh one for you. Before you buy plantain chips, make sure they are not broken (a sign of freshness). Ask to ensure bowfloats, spring rolls, roasted plantain are hot before buying them.
Traveling all the way to Ghana without trying a bowfloat fresh out of the fire would be a travesty to all of mankind…

Ghana is one of the top places in Africa to be a tourist, and in my humble opinion, one of the must-see places in the world. From the beaches of Takoradi to the natural parks, mosques, and overall scenery of the North – Ghana truly has it all. Even though some pieces of advice I gave may come across as negative, they are meant positively – to ensure you don’t make any mistakes, your time spent is safe, and that you get the ‘full Ghanaian experience’. I hope you enjoy your time spent in Ghana; ‘Akwaaba!’


Ways to Know You’re Living in Ghana

  1. Air conditioning makes you shiver.
  2. You know every person in your neighborhood and interact with them daily.
  3. People don’t understand anything you say despite knowing small amounts of two tribal languages plus English.
  4. You pronounce ‘pepper’ as ‘peppey’.
  5. You think that ‘Obrunis’ (including yourself) look funny.
  6. After telling your host mom you’re not hungry she says, “Okay”, and still serves you enough rice for two or three normal people.
  7. Cars and motorcycles drive quickly on the sidewalk and nearly hit you – but you’re so used to it that you don’t even flinch.
  8. You stop exercising because washing your clothes by hand is enough of a workout.
  9. You regularly see people sweeping dirt floors.
  10. Internet peaks at 100 kilobytes per second (2011)
  11. Students get in trouble for smuggling soccer magazines to school.
  12. The first question you get asked when meeting someone is, “Are you a Christian or a Muslim?”
  13. After telling locals you’re from the United States they respond, “Are you from New York or California?”
  14. Skin color is merely a fact of life – a given that we are born with. Oftentimes I am referred to as “White man”.
  15. (Many) African-Americans are not considered to be ‘black’.
  16. People occasionally ask you to ‘say hello to Obama’ for them, and sometimes even  refer to you as “Obama” if they do not know your name. Ghanaians love Obama – see the photo below for proof.
  17. The only shows on television are English dubbed Spanish soap operas, Nigerian movies, and  religious gatherings.
  18. Americans would not be able to pronounce the names of most foods you eat.
  19. People carrying bags placed anywhere besides on top of their heads is a rarity.
  20. You are faced with the challenge of eating extremely hot soups and stews with your hands.
  21. You show up an hour late to a party and it still hasn’t begun.
  22. You can ask for a ‘hard one in a rubber’ (an aged coconut in a plastic bag) without getting strange looks.

Ghanaian Divorces

I had my end-of-term exam last Friday in social studies. Although the exam wasn’t particularly difficult, it ended up being extremely thought-provoking.

The multiple choice questions were all essentially common sense. Here’s a sample question:

36. All of the following are negative work attitudes except:
(A). Lateness
(B). Pilfering
(C). Loitering
(D). Innovation

Needless to say, I didn't have any problems answering the multiple choice. The essays were a different issue...
Yes… I did write that it’s the duty of a good citizen to support their national soccer team.

#3. “List four problems that are created in the society when marriages breakdown.”

I had absolutely no idea what to say. My parents have been peacefully divorced for most of my life, always supporting each other and acting as friends. While my parents aren’t exactly a model of the ‘typical American divorce’, I couldn’t help but think about how the question was intended for a traditional society like Ghana.

I could think of only two (serious) answers:

  1. Mothers are left without disposable income, and may have trouble finding enough money to get by.
  2. Divorce may leave psychological effects on children, although these can be minimized.

After the exam, I looked in the textbook and found the following answers:

  1. Juvenile Delinquency – The children are likely to live out of home, smoke, and become a misfit.
  2. Teenage pregnancy – The children become sex objects for dishonest and unsympathetic men.
  3. Single Parenthood – This leads to financial troubles for the woman of the house.
  4. Drug Addictions – Lack of joy and parental attention may lead children to do and/or sell hard drugs.
  5. Prostitution – Divorce weakens moral standards among youth, who may turn to prostitution.
  6. Death – A partner may become so stressed that he/she ends it all by committing suicide.
I immediately deemed the textbook to be biased, and the ‘effects’ complete rubbish. It was so extreme that it couldn’t possibly be true.
That night I expressed my view to my host mom, expecting her to take my side. Instead she exclaimed, “No, no, no; the book’s true! Over here, if parents are religious [as most Ghanaians are], they would never go through that ‘divorce stuff.’ And I bet that over 50{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} of young prostitutes come from broken homes.”
What I had to realize is that the two cultures have completely different perceptions on divorce.
Divorce rates are hard to come by for Ghana; the only record I could find was that in 2006, 3.7{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} of Ghanaians in the Greater Accra region were divorced. (Source) But this study is skewed – since Accra is very westernized, divorce is more accepted in this region. In other regions such as the northern ones, divorce is almost unheard of.


If a couple is having marital issues, Ghanaians typically get the family involved. Usually, whatever they say goes. But if the situation is serious enough to warrant a divorce, the woman will always keep the kids. Like in the United States, child support is obligatory- but here it’s not enforced.


This is the reason for all the effects seen above. Since jobs can be tough to find for their mothers, there will likely be no income or child support for the family. The kids may have no choice but become delinquents to survive.
After talking with my host mom and re-reading what the social studies book says, I have personally come to the conclusion that divorce doesn’t directly causing child delinquency; it’s the lack of money that causes it resulting from single women raising kids in a ‘man’s world’. The lack of money may have originated from the divorce, but by saying divorce is the cause, I feel as though Ghanaian society puts pressure on women to avoid divorce at all costs – even when in some cases it is the best option.

Homosexuality in Ghana

Earlier this week, my friend Anastacia (in India with YES Abroad) emailed me a petition begging Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathon to veto a law that would make it a punishable offense of 14 years in prison to those who either go to gay bars, are involved with LGBT organizations, or are in openly gay relationships. It currently has over 61,000 signatures.

Ghanaian minister of trade and industry Hannah Tetteh summarized much of Africa’s views on homosexuality with the following quote: "Every society has its norms and what it considers to be acceptable. In the Western world, it is acceptable to have gay relationships and even move on to the next level to gay marriages; in our society, it is unacceptable." (Source)

This starkly contrasts with the view of many 'Western' nations. Earlier in November, British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to cut all aid to countries refusing to recognize gay rights. Upon hearing this, Ghanaian president John A. Mills responded, “I, as president of this nation, will never initiate or support any attempts to legalize homosexuality in Ghana.” (Source)

A few days ago, the United States joined Britain in stating  we may use aid to combat the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. We have already been criticized by many African allies including the Ugandan presidential adviser who firmly stated, "If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell." (Source)


38 African countries have made homosexuality illegal, while 13  have legalized some aspects of it or have not made any laws about it. The following map (from Wikipedia) shows the rights/penalties of same-sex activities in Africa.


Note: Despite South Africa being the first nation in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, 'corrective rape' is a growing issue. Corrective rape is the practice of raping lesbian women to convert them to a 'normal' lifestyle. In Cape Town alone, rights activists estimate  there to be 10 corrective rapes every week. And since this is Africa, convictions are rare. Out of 31 lesbians murdered in South Africa since 1998, only one case has resulted in a conviction. (Source)

Corrective rape is also a growing issue in Zimbabwe, where “Gay men are forced into heterosexual acts and lesbian women are raped, sometimes by male relatives, to teach them to change their ways." (Source)


Ghana’s criminal code states that those who have gay 'relations' without consent may receive up to 25 years in prison, while those with consent are guilty of a misdemeanor. One thing interesting to note is that the punishment for consensual homosexual sex is the same as the punishment for bestiality.  (Source)

Views on gays may vary depending on the city in Ghana. In Accra the gay scene isn't noticeable, but in Ghana's other large cities, such as Kumasi and Tema, gay social life occasionally may exist. In rural areas homosexuality is generally not accepted – many rural Ghanaians do not even accept that homosexuality exists. (Source)

One interesting  aspect of Ghanaian law is that female/female relations are actually allowed, while male/male ones are forbidden. Regardless, both types are heavily prejudiced against. In fact, when two of my female Canadian friends tried to book a hotel room, they almost were not allowed because the manager thought that they may be lesbians.

Efforts against homosexuality are commonplace in Ghana. In July, Ghana’s Western Region Minister Paul Aidoo ordered the immediate arrest of all homosexuals in the country’s west. He later tasked Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigations and security forces to round-up the country’s entire gay population, and has called on landlords and tenants to spy and report people they suspect of being homosexuals. (Source)

It’s not just elected officials that have a heavy anti-Gay bias- it’s also the common man. When the local ‘TV-3’ news station ran a program where they asked the public their views on homosexuality, every single person interviewed had the same response. They were strongly against it for religious/moral reasons, and without a doubt in their mind, the best way to ‘purge Ghana’ of gays would be by introducing the death penalty.

Earlier this month I told my Ghanaian classmates that I have a few gay friends, and that I don't let their sexual orientation affect my friendship. They were speechless for a few seconds- until one girl meekly asked me, “Have you tried informing them that they’re abominations to God?”


I'm not trying to influence my readers to feel one way or the other about gay relationships. I'm merely stating reality in Ghana as objectively as possible;  this is a controversial issue where ideologies shouldn't be forced on others. Facts should be given, and individual decisions should be made based on them.

It's a complex issue due to a clash between religious/social beliefs and values. Although Western nations would like to get involved to create equality throughout the world, many African countries resent the effort. They feel as though we're 'meddling' by forcing our agenda upon them. And it's partially true – what gives us the right to tell countries like Ghana how they should run themselves? They are no longer a British colony, and shouldn't be treated as such.

On the other hand, my question is, "At what point should natural liberties override the sovereignty of a nation?"

Ghanaian Elections

Last weekend I went on a trip to Kumasi with my host dad to be introduced to several of his childhood friends. On the way, we stopped at a political rally for parliamentary nominations. The entire Muslim dominated community of Aboabo seemed to gather at the small NDC (National Democratic Congress) headquarters, where incumbent Honorable Alhaji Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka was to be nominated for another term in office…

Every car around the block was decked out with the same campaign poster for their incumbent parliamentary candidate.

After decorating our car accordingly with Honorable Muntaka's face, we proceeded to pack 8 NDC members into our 5 seater car, and left for the town center with the intent of dropping off the parliament nomination papers. Due to the sheer amount of people, there was a traffic jam, and it ended up taking us hours to get there and back.

Despite the burning heat of the Ghanaian sun, the traffic jam was remotely enjoyable. This is because everyone – shop owners, schoolkids,  and policemen alike, were all standing outside of their buildings to wave, hoot, holler, drum, and dance as we drove by.


There was even a miniature parade at one point – including drummers, musicians, and men doing backflips for no apparent reason.

Eventually we arrive at our destination: a massive city square. It was chaotic – with dozens of drums being pounded, a crowd energetically dancing in the stifling hundred degree weather, nosy merchants pestering me to buy corn, begging children with eyes glued on my (empty) pockets, and reckless motorcycles constantly rushing through the rally at high speeds without warning. I had to always be on the lookout.

At one point, someone held up a poster for an opposition member to the incumbent. Madness ensued. The entire crowd began pushing and screaming; on the  building where the musicians were playing, two people were pushed to the point that they were dangling from the third floor balcony.

After an indeterminate amount of time, we began our journey back to the NDC headquarters. People on the street were excited to see us once again; I felt like a king as I waved them on and  fist pumped for 'my candidate', despite the fact that I I didn't even know who he is/what he stands for.


In case you couldn't tell from the photos, Ghanaians really 'get into' their elections. In America, electability is based on cyber campaigns, debates, platforms, but most importantly, money. In Ghana it seems to be more the common voter getting involved for the cantidate of their community – wearing t-shirts advertising the candidate, spreading flyers around town, and doing all that is possible to 'drum up support' (pun intended).

One interesting tidbit to me is that even though Ghanaians are very involved in politics – they have a lot of fun supporting their party, and tend to be 'die hard' fans of candidates- they still constantly complain about how corrupt Ghana's government is and how little ever changes in the system. But it's only natural this will happen – people vote for the same political party and incumbent year after year.

It's almost reminiscent of the United States in that most people approve of the job their congressman is doing, but strongly disapprove of Congress.

Another interesting fact about Ghana's political party system is that people tend to vote along party lines based on the political party of the candidate and their location. For instance, the Volta and Western regions will always vote NDC, while the Asante regions will always vote NPP. While America has stronghold states for both Democrats and Republicans, in Ghana over half of the 10 regions will always vote a certain way. There's little or no point for the opposing candidate to even campaign in these locations.

Another issue is corruption. A Ghanaian friend of mine knows someone who voted over 15 times for the 2008 election, simply by bribing officials. This is the easiest way to have your way in many third world countries. For instance, if you are fined 125 cedis for doing something illegal, why pay in full when you can simply bribe the official with 50 or 75 cedis and be let off the hook?

Ghanaian political parties aalso llow donors to state 'what they want the party to do should they win', so it essentially becomes a bribe in itself. The following source says that after one voter made a small donation to a political party, a party official personally approached him and asked what he'd 'like in return'. When he responded, "Nothing," the officer was shocked and asked 'Why would you even bother donating?' (Source)

Anyways, that's Ghana for you. In my opinion, both Ghana and the United States could learn from each other. The United States could take lessons on how to make politics more accessible, leading the average citizen to become more involved in the future of their nation- while Ghana could improve on issues such as corruption. Neither country is perfect, but both are making efforts to improve.


A final note – this was just a rally for nominating the incumbent candidate to office. I can only imagine what it'll be like in 2012;  it's a shame I won't be able to witness the actual election.

Edit – 12/06/11:
Looking back, I might have been a little harsh on Ghana. The fact remains that- while they have their difficulties- they are one of the only African democracies that consistently have violence-free elections, and are setting an example for others to follow. I believe they are on the right path, but true change needs to take place in many of their policies for further improvements.

Ghanaian High School: A Typical School Day

Many of my previous blog posts have been about exceptional experiences, special events, and have mainly served to highlight the best times in my Ghanaian life.

This post simply chronicles a typical day at school. It’s nothing extraordinary, just a ‘day in the life.

5:30 a.m. – Wake-up

5:35 a.m. – Second wake-up alarm

5:40 a.m. – Actually wake-up

5:45 a.m. – Turn on water heater (I’m one of the lucky exchange students enjoying luxuriously hot showers).

5:50 a.m. – Brush my teeth and shower

6:00 a.m. – Eat a typical Ghanaian breakfast. This is composed of overwhelming soft white bread and either Lipton (tea), or Milo (a type of hot chocolate). Occasionally I supplement this with fresh fruit from the market – my favorite being bananas, pineapples, papayas, and mangoes.

6:30 a.m. – Leave the house to catch a trotro. This is usually instant, but on busy days it can take over twenty minutes.

The ‘Achimota’ trotro signal involves making a gun with your right hand and pointing it in the air over your shoulder. Because I’m white, the cars sometimes don’t stop for me because they aren’t sure if I mean to be signaling for them.

7:00 a.m. – Morning assembly for all students. There’s no separation between Church and State in Ghana – the assembly is essentially a massive prayer with sermons, hymns, and psalms. I’ve only been to two or three of them because I would have to leave the house by 5:45 to make it in time.

During one notable assembly, they preached to the students that they shouldn’t let teachers ‘take advantage’ of them, because when students get pregnant, they’ll be kicked out of school. There was no mentioning of repercussions for the teacher, but when I later asked students, they said they teacher would likely be sacked.

7:30 a.m. until 10:50 a.m. – Classes. School follows a rotating schedule, so every day of the week has different classes for different amounts of time.

Following are my thoughts on my classes and teachers:

1. Literature: When your class is taught by someone who goes by the nickname ‘Ringo,’ it has to be good. Ringo’s love of reading, teaching, and students shows clearly in every class. He’s the type of person who you just want to hug – intellectual, well-read, and always with a low buttoned collared shirt that clearly shows his ‘Austin Powers’ chest hair.

Here’s a few quotes by Ringo that I wrote down today:

  • On Reading – “When I read I enter into the spirit of the novel, and the spirit of the novel enters me.”
  • On Students – “I truly love you like you’re my children. When you don’t buy books and read for my class, I feel like dying.”
  • On Buying Books – “A book is like a pair of panties – you don’t share it with anyone, prefer new ones to old ones, and only borrow someone’s when yours have been stolen”

I love this class, and appreciate that half of the literature we study is British/American, while the other half is African. When Ringo teaches, you can truly tell he actually cares about the subject and his students – unlike many other teachers.

2. Government: Another great class – although for entirely different reason. Although I’m taking a history class, this is where I learn modern Ghanaian history. The teacher, Alex, goes into great detail of all aspects of Ghanaian politics. One ‘fun fact’ about politics in Ghana is that the region where a candidate comes from is the main factor in determining how successful his candidacy for office will be, and much about the many government coos and rebellions that led Ghana to its current state.

After these two, there is a steep drop in class enjoyment.

3. Agriculture: It’s nice learning how rural Ghanaians practice farming – especially since we read about all areas of it including farming, egg production, and raising/slaughtering animals, I just wish this class had a more practical ‘hands-on’ approach. Our school has an enormous campus – it could easily be put to use as some sort of farm.

Last week we drew/labeled the parts of a chicken. Here’s my masterpiece…

Every time someone made fun of my chicken, I responded, “It doesn’t matter how my chicken looks – all that matters is that it tastes delicious.”

4. Social Studies: All our class has done so far is talk about the pros of democracy (never the cons), and about Ghana’s current constitution. The teacher is nice, but with subjects like social studies, reading the book and memorizing the dictionary definitions for words such as ‘work’ and ‘relationships’ does nothing. It’s simply not practical.

One interesting fact I’ve learned in this class is that same gender relationships are forbidden/illegal in the constitution of Ghana. More on that later…

5. English: Ghana, being a formal colony of England, learns the British version of English. It’s an entirely unfamiliar concept for me – full of unique spellings (i.e. colour, faerie), and sometimes even entirely different sentence structures/grammar.

Due to me not understanding what a ‘noun clause’ is, I scored a 22/40 on the first monthly test.

6. Economics: Alwazi, the teacher, is a very nice and overall ‘cool’ guy. He can’t help the fact that I already have passed two college credit economics classes – rendering his class useless.

7. History: The teacher, who regularly points out that he wrote the textbook, has been teaching (aka reading the textbook out loud) the time period before 800 A.D. for the past 2 months. It’s complete overkill. The teacher has a characteristic monotone voice, and the only enjoyable part of the class is listening to him insult students – something he’s supposedly ‘famous for’.

8. Biology: Despite the fact that biology is taught by a chief who’s entirely full of himself, the class isn’t not too bad. It’s just very basic. So far we’ve covered food webs, food pyramid, ecological pyramids, and industrial pollutants.

9. Chemistry: Not only has this teacher never even said ‘Hello’ to me, but he looks right through me in the classroom – pretending I don’t exist. This is my class’s third year of high school chemistry; I never took it in the states.

Needless to say, it makes for an excellent time to catch-up on sleep.

Now back to the school schedule…

10:50 a.m. – Break-time. I usually snack on plantain chips or kettle corn, but many classmates buy food such as Fanta, Coke,  sausages, jollof rice, yam, and biscuits.

11:20 until 2:20: Classes. One or two teachers each day don’t show up and we get free time. Either the teachers are doing something else, are sick, or simply hate our class.

There’s no such things as ‘substitute teachers’ in Ghana.

2:20 – End of the day.


I’m one of only two day students in my class – the rest are all boarding students. According to them, boarding is ‘Hell.’ It involves waking up at 4 a.m. to scrub, having no communication with the outside world, not being allowed to leave campus, and essentially doing most of the work around the campus (weeding with a machete, sweeping, etc) to prepare themselves for the ‘real world.’