Accra is America. It completely blows my mind that the next door neighbor of Togo is like a completely different planet. There are of course parts of Ghana that are very similar to Togo and have few resources, but immediately after crossing the border your on a paved road with street lights and power lines that aren’t tangled up and hung on sticks. There are many factors that contribute to the drastic difference in development: language- Ghana is an English speaking country, organizations working in Ghana are plenty as opposed to Togo, and colonial history- Ghana wasn’t colonized by the French.Some friends and I went to Accra last week to take the GRE and this is what I would say to any PCV thinking of taking the GRE during PC Togo- don’t. Take it in America. While most volunteers have a lot more free time here than America there are many, many distractions. Besides the heat and mosquitos, there is never a moment of silence for two full years. The weekend before I left there was a funeral in village where club music was blasting for a full 48 hours. When I say blasting I mean my bed was vibrating from the base and nothing changed even with ear plugs in and trying to sleep with my head between two pillows. After 2 days without sleep I had to wake up at 3 am to get a car to Lome and by the time I reached Accra I was near a psychotic break. Fortunately, after a hot shower, an amazing meal, a beautiful cocktail, and a good nights sleep in an air conditioned room I was a whole new person. We had a day in Accra before the exam where we ate great food and even went to a mall. The last time I was in Accra while doing study abroad I never thought I’d go to that mall, but it was America and after a year in Togo it was so inviting. I ate pizza and drank a latte while watching people dressed in clean clothes and fashionable shoes walked past. I felt so out of place. Even in the nicest parts of Togo there is nothing even resembling anything like it. I walked into stores like H&M to look at clothes I can’t afford on my PC salary and remember that I used to where clothes like these before service. I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think ‘wow that person is filthy’. Everything I own has a layer of dirt that just doesn’t come out from hand washing, I’ve lost weight and my clothes sag, and my hair has thinned from lack of nutrients and taking malaria prophylaxis. I was somewhere that is far more like where I come from than my life in Togo, but I felt so ridiculously out of place.
Only commit to taking the GRE here if you’re willing to study like this:
While sitting down for dinner at Burger and Relish a restaurant that reminded me a lot of The Commons, where I used to work in Seattle. We talked about how much more head space we have in Accra and how we don’t notice it so much in village, because it has become normal for us to always think about fetching water or if we have any food to eat. So much of our time is spent worrying about what we have to do that day to survive, and we don’t realize it until we don’t have to do it anymore. I spent a few hours studying that evening in a silent, air conditioned room, and got so much more accomplished than when I spent a whole day studying in village. The next day I took the GRE and I did well, but I still believe a lot of the head ache could have been prevented if I had just taken it before I left.
After the exam we went to Cape Coast for a quick vacation. It was so interesting to be back in Ghana after a year in Togo. I flew into Accra with a friend before we started our study abroad program in Togo in 2014. We spent some time traveling around and I remember feeling pretty over whelmed by the transportation and street vendors, but now I found them refreshingly easy compared to Togo.
Cape Coast is beautiful with a strong colonial influence. In many ways it reminded me of Antigua, Guatemala. We visited Cape Coast Castle, the place where enslaved West Africans were brought and crammed into the dungeons for 3 months to a year before being shipped to the Carribean and Central America to work as slaves on plantations. As I grew up in North Carolina on the other side of the slave trade, it is so interesting to come back to where it all started. Such a horrific exploitation of people that has shaped the development in all of West Africa and has directly influenced health access in my small village in Togo.