When I took my first breath of African air this past semester, I knew that my study abroad experience would be two things: difficult and unique.
It was definitely difficult. The tap water was undrinkable — tainted by parasites. Malaria, as common as the cold virus, ran rampant through the impoverished city streets of Ghana.
You could rely on electricity as much as you could rely on a public bus running efficiently. To give you an idea of how the public transportation system works in Ghana, a bus engine exploded in my face. I’m not kidding.
For the first time in my life I was the minority. I experienced being treated differently just because I didn’t look the same as everyone else.
Then, of course, there was the heat. I relish a windy, frigid, Arctic-like winter day. The temperature in Ghana failed to drop below 85 while I was there — even at night. Combine that with the 80 percent daily humidity and it’s practically like living in a sauna.
But through all of the tough stuff emerged an experience unlike any other, special in its own demanding way. I slept under a mosquito net. I spent my days teaching English, environmental science and computers to children in a slum. Each weekend held a fresh adventure, like discovering native villages and tracking down wildlife in the arid Northern Region.
One of the most memorable experiences happened there, in Mole National Park. Another student and I made the trek up north over a week’s time. The park is located almost as far north as you can go. Our home base was all the way to the south, bordering the sea.
Our bus pulled into the park after more than 20 hours of travel. We did the typical African safari thing, examining elephant tracks and staking out in bushes, hoping to catch a glimpse of an elusive antelope or wild cat of some kind. But the real adventure came after the sun sank below the horizon.
Our sleeping arrangements fell through and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t want to spend money on the park’s hotel, which cost an absurd amount for such a short stay — our bus was scheduled to leave at 4 a.m.
Naturally, something else had to go wrong, like a thunderstorm, for example. African storms are like Texan storms on steroids. Fat bolts of electricity painted the empty skies as we huddled under the staff canteen’s flimsy roof.
That’s when we met Magnus, the canteen bartender. After several hours of dancing in the rain and eating mangoes, Magnus came to our rescue and offered his room for us to catch a few hours of rest.
This is what I’ll always remember about Ghana — the hospitality. The good-natured people of the country will always hold a place in my heart. That night, Magnus gave up his mosquito-netted bed for another student and me.
“Are you Christians?” he asked us as he spread out his mat to sleep.
“Yes,” we replied.
“Well, then someone needs to pray,” he told us.
And then, in a random bartender’s room under stormy African skies, we prayed together.
If you’re looking for the experience of a lifetime and the opportunity to make a true impact on the rest of the world, choose a study abroad program like the service-learning experience in Ghana. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Senior journalism major