The New Normal by Harriet Levy

Harriet Levy is a junior at Ohio University, majoring in global studies. Harriet is currently studying abroad in Africa through the Teach in Ghana program where she is teaching English at a local school.

(written 23 September 2012)

I have officially been in Ghana for four weeks. Man. In a way it doesn’t feel like it. I think three and a half months seemed like a heck of a long time, so now that four of the fifteen weeks have passed, I am realizing how brief this experience really is. But I feel like I’ve been here forever. The little things that would have surprised me when I first got here are now so common to me—sometimes I laugh to myself because I imagine what friends back home would say or think if they saw the things that are so commonplace.

For instance, I remember the unease I felt about sharing tiny taxis, which looked and felt like they would fall apart at any moment, with complete strangers. Now I know the lingo, I know the rates, I know the stations. So for the most part, I have no trouble navigating–and I no longer get fooled into paying a rate that is six times the normal amount. I like to think of the look on my mom’s face as we eat our lunch with our fingers (on your RIGHT hand–you can thank me later for this necessary seed of knowledge.) She would probably find it funny, eventually, because the sight of me attempting to eat rice and beans and noodles with my hand is pretty laughable. But they all do it like pros, like it’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives.

And I remember a time during my first week when we were walking across the campus to get somewhere, and we were slowed by the herd of cows being lead through the middle of the university. I just stood there, shocked, and tried to imagine that in Athens. (In fact, I thought specifically of the time two years ago, when the tornado went through Athens and crazy stories were going around as we were all being held “hostage” in the cinderblock hallways, unable to look out a window or connect with the outside world for a few hours. One of the stories was that there were cows wandering through West Green. And the idea of that was crazy, nobody knew whether or not to believe it because it was so far-fetched.) But now I am often followed through the neighborhood by roaming dogs, I cross paths with unattended goats and sheep regularly, and chickens run free. No big deal, really.

All of this is hardly to say that I feel I can blend in with the best of them now and that I’m never surprised. Because that would be untrue. There are little things every day which I haven’t seen before and remind me I am not in Ohio. But I am beginning to grasp some of the many facets of a new culture enough that there are days I have to remind myself that I am in Ghana, that I am thousands of miles away from what used to feel normal.
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