Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First Impressions: From Kotoka International Airport to the Valco Trust Graduate Hostel

I am happy to say that after hearing about the issues encountered by some of the other international students while traveling from the U.S. to Ghana, my flights and layovers were comparatively uneventful. As planned, I managed to sleep a little on the flight from Chicago to London, and was able to stay awake for the full duration of both my six hour layover in London and my seven hour flight to Accra. By the time I made it through customs, which was laborious yet luckily uneventful, I was exhausted. As I turned the corner into the main hall of the exit, I was met by a chaotic crowd of people holding signs for arriving travelers such as myself. I walked toward the exit passing tens of, if not nearly a hundred, people with a sea of signs, but I had yet to spot a single one bearing my name. Finally, within twenty feet of the outside world, there stood a solemn man with the sign I most dearly sought. With little more than a hello and a one word confirmation that he was indeed from the University of Cape Coast (UCC), I followed him through the double doors into a foggy darkness and to a sky blue pickup truck on whose sides were printed in canary yellow letters "University of Cape Coast." That night I stayed in the UCC Accra office guest house and made the three hour plus trek to Cape Coast by van with Isaac, an employee with UCC's Center for International Education (CIE), the following day.

It was already late afternoon when I was able to settle down in my room and begin to unpack. Before moving into my room, we stopped by the CIE which oversees all of UCC's international students and exchange programs. There, I met some of the other international students from the U.S. studying at UCC for the semester, and I met Auntie Stella--the Senior Assistant Registrar of the CIE. In Ghana the usage of "auntie" is a sign of respect for women, and Auntie Stella has helped all of us from the U.S. get acclimated. After meeting everyone at CIE, I was able to start unpacking and feel more at home in my room. I live on the third floor of the Valco Trust Graduate Hostel on the Science side of campus (I promise to explain this in my next post) with my Ghanaian roommate, Francis. Our room's floor, walls, and ceiling are cement but we have four large, curtain covered windows--two on the outer wall overlooking the courtyard below and two on the inner wall adjacent to the hallway.

Our windows are always open and I love that the sounds and smells of the world beyond our cement walls freely enter and exit, connecting us to the surrounding community. It is not uncommon to hear the sound of a rooster call as he signals the dawn to the world around him, the rhythmic sweeping of a resident cleaning his or her balcony, or the distant beeps of a taxi racing down the road. Nor, the smell of the morning breeze imbued with the freshness of the not so distant ocean waves, the faint but metallic and rough scent of vehicle exhaust, or the pungent hint of human body odor barely discernible in the humid, sunny afternoon. It is all wholly different to me, but even now, I am beginning to recognize the immense beauty and tranquility embodied in how each has its own story to tell, its own role to play in the past, present and future of Ghanaian culture. I hardly pretend to understand and probably never will, but what is more important is the realization that from even the most unlikely of sources or the most seemingly irrelevant of details, lessons can and will be learned. :-)
View from my balcony
Ocean view near UCC

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