Friendship in a post-civilization world

For the next three weeks, I’m living in the Intag cloud forest region of Ecuador. The area is dotted with tiny pueblos which are tucked into valleys and nestled on top of ridges. The roads here are dirt and cobblestone, and they wind up and down hills through a green mosaic of forest and small agricultural plantations. I’m living with a family in Peñaherrera (population about 150 families) and commuting 20 minutes each day by overcrowded bus or motorcycle to Apuela, another small town where the regional newspaper I’m working for is based.
This year, I’ve spent a lot of time in places where life runs a lot slower than my usual mile-a-minute pace. When left to my own devices, I will triple-book myself from 8am-10pm, schedule conversations with friends to make sure I have time to see them, have sixteen windows open on my browser and spend the bulk of my day trying to get as much out of every second as I possibly can (that or watching stuff on Netflix). In Ghana, I got used to waiting for hours for people to show up for interviews in their villages because they were out farming or couldn’t catch a ride or just didn’t feel like showing up on time. Every night, I went home to a house with no TV, no internet and nothing much to do except talk to my dad, attempt to cook, or read. My first two weeks in Ecuador I was on a farm in the middle of nowhere—no Internet, no TV, no radio, no cell reception and nothing to do after work except read and talk to the other volunteers. Now, I’m in a similar situation. It looks like I’ll be getting home around 4pm everyday, and while there are ample TVs here and internet cafés close by, there’s still not really anything to do in the Western sense of the term (no movie theaters, bowling alleys, bars, cultural attractions, etc.) Mostly, it seems like people play volleyball, watch TV and sit around and talk to each other.
Spending time in places like this has made me think about the nature of my friendships. With casual friends, I do many of the same things people seem to do in rural Ecuador. We watch movies together, sit around chatting about what we did today, maybe go shopping or grab a meal. With my closest friends, though, I mostly share ideas with them. Sure, we hang out and waste time together, but my closest friendships are the ones where we stay up until all hours of the night discussing Occupy Wall Street, the border and the socioeconomic factors which create food deserts. Mostly, we talk about the world—what’s going on, what’s wrong with everything and how we might go about fixing it.
In my ideal world, communities would be a lot more local than they are now. People would spend a lot more time interacting with their neighbors, a lot more time doing things like taking care of community gardens and a lot less time online. In some versions of the future, there is no internet—post-gridcrash, we all go back to being people living in the rural Third World, with no power, little connection to the outside world and a radically local lifestyle. This is how humans have lived for thousands of years, for the majority of human history. And it’s occurred to me that in this world, I have no idea what a friendship looks like. If the world were such that there weren’t absurd problems to try and solve, or if I was living so locally and off-grid that I had no idea what was going on on other continents, I have no idea what I would do with my friends.
In many ways, the Ghanaian villages I visited this summer and the Ecuadorian cloud forest where I’m living now seem like a window into this world. Here, people seem to form relationships based more on proximity than anything else. You know the people you grow up near, because they’re close to you. Obviously, there are people you get along with better than others, and you gravitate towards them. People aren’t disconnected from the outside world by any means—Intag is a hotbed of environmental activism on issues ranging from deforestation to water pollution caused by mining. But most people here don’t seem to spend their free time discussing the philisophical implications of Occupy Wall Street imbracing an explicitly nonviolent strategy, for example. They mostly spend it being normal people.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the end of civilization (or at least a transition to a radically localized economy) would look like in economic, political and environmental terms. I’ve thought a lot about big picture things, how we would get food and energy, how democracies would function. But it’s interesting to think about the more personal—not just that my friends might be very different people, but that the entire nature of friendship might change too. I always think of things like types of food or manners of greeting people when asked to describe cultural differences. It’s kind of an exciting notion that something as basic as friendship isn’t a constant either. 

The gay conversation

My host brother, Nico, had one of his friends over last week (they play in a band together), and I was chatting with them about music. My brother’s friend studied in the US for a while and has a gringa girlfriend, so his English is even better than Nico’s (he’s more or less fluent, but you can tell English isn’t his first language). He always wants to speak English with me, so we usually talk in a mixture of the two languages. The boys were discussing songs for their band, and Nico mentioned loving some song by John Mayer. His friend agreed, and I shook my head.
“What?” the friend asked me.
“Nothing, he’s just an asshole and a womanizer,” I responded. We discussed this for a little while—they wanted to know how I knew this (“Have reasons, Rachel,” said Nico). I said I saw stuff about him on supermarket tabloid covers. Eventually, we agreed that his music was one thing, but as a person, he was probably an asshole.
And then Nico’s friend says, “Well, at least he’s not gay.”
Quito as a city looks pretty developed. The more rural areas of Ecuador seem more classically “third world”, but Quito might as well be a major city in the US, at least in many regards. So sometimes I forget how different cultures can be here. But this is one of the most striking differences between the US and the Third World that I’ve noticed. Say what you will about the US’s policies towards gay people, but at least among our urban, well-educated population, being gay has become almost completely normal. Not to say that there isn’t discrimination, but being gay is not the awful, secret thing it was fifty years ago. A friend coming out to me wouldn’t elicit anything more than, “Oh, ok, cool.” I’ve almost gotten to the point where I stop assuming gender when someone mentions having a significant other.
So here I am, radical feminist/ally Rachel, sitting across the table from two nice, well-educated guys who happen to believe that about half of my friends are disgusting. Cultural sensitivity is one thing, but I wasn’t letting that one slide.
“What does that mean?” I asked. Nico’s friend said something I don’t remember about gay people being gross. I said, “You know, like half of my friends at school are gay.”
He countered with, “That’s ok because you’re a girl, though. It’s not weird if they’re lesbian.”
This sentiment, that somehow lesbians are ok, or aren’t really gay, is something I also noticed in Ghana. While I was there, homosexuality was causing quite the controversy in the local papers (this all started when the main government-owned daily paper ran as a front page headline: 8000 HOMOS FOUND IN TWO REGIONS. The deck was, “majority infected with HIV/AIDS”. The actual story was that the UN AIDS program was trying to get people to come forward and get tested for HIV as a public health measure, and some of them happened to be gay.) So the whole time I was there, there were opinion columns and articles debating the ethics of tolerating homosexuals, one of which defined bisexuality as “when someone is married but maintains sexual relations with the same sex.” And yet invariably, every single article would spend paragraphs bashing gay people and then say something to the effect of, “Lesbians are totally cool, though.” I think it’s a pretty common attitude in general. For people threatened by gay-ness, lesbians are much safer. First of all, girls don’t have sex (because we’re all proper and don’t have any libido and are just waiting to be seduced by nice guys). So if someone says they’re lesbian, no one pictures two girls going at it. Also, lesbians come with the possibility of girls making out with each other! Which many straight guys seem to think is the most exciting thing in the world.
Anyway, back in Ecuador, I was shaking my head and trying to figure out what I could say to these guys. I said, “No, they’re not all lesbian, I have guy friends who are gay too.”
And then, Nico’s friend says, “Oh, that’s scary though…” He motions cutting himself and blood dripping, and says, “…and then you’ll get HIV.”
At that point, I just got mad. I said, no, that’s absurd, most gay people do not have HIV. He said, yes they do, because they all have anal sex. I said that not all gay people have anal sex, and anyway, that’s why condoms were invented. He said, no, condoms were invented for guys and girls to use, not for gay people. Clearly, I was not getting anywhere here.
And so he kept talking with Nico, and I thought about straight privilege. It hurts me to hear people talk this way about people I know and love. Two of my best friends from high school are gay. Another one is trans. My roommate freshman year was queer. About half of my friends at Whitman are not straight in some capacity. And yet, as a straight person, I can travel to countries where the prevailing attitude towards gayness is one of disgust and judgment, and I can feel safe. My relationships will never be questioned. I am normal. I fit the mold.
As I’m sitting here, thinking, he asks me what I’m thinking about. I shook my head, not sure how to explain. He says, “You’re thinking about them having sex, aren’t you?” I said no, I was thinking about all the people I know and care about who happen to be gay, but also happen to be people with characteristics other than their sexuality. He laughed and said, “But now you’re thinking about sex.” I said yes, since he brought it up. He said it would just be weird to have gay friends, because they might start liking you. I said, so what, I’ve had guy friends who liked me when I didn’t feel the same way, and it’s weird, but it wouldn’t  be any weirder if it was a girl. He shook his head and employed the standard Latino guy defense. “It’s just because we have a machista culture”, he said. That’s why we’re not ok with the gays.
Machista culture is obviously something I have a hard time with. It’s employed during orientation to tell women that we shouldn’t drink much and need to be extra careful (not that this isn’t true, but I would rather live in a world where we educate men not to rape women, rather than educating women about how not to get raped). It’s the excuse given for the men who whistle at you on the bus and creep on you when you’re walking home. It’s the go-to explanation for behavior that I would label as obsessive, bordering on stalking, when dealing with men my age in Latin America. I’m just worried about you. That’s why I’ve texted you every ten minutes for the past two hours to ask you why you weren’t responding to my first message. It’s probably the reason that when I left the club I was at on Friday night at 2am, a random strange man asked me where I was going, and when I said home, he asked if he could come with me and got offended when I said absolutely not. I can get on board with cultural sensitivity when it’s about the fact that Ecuadorians will tell you a time for something and mean an hour later. Or when it’s about the fact that food=love, so you have to finish everything on your plate lest you gravely offend your host mom. But the machista thing, I don’t buy. Cultural differences are great, but some things need to evolve. Sexism is one of them. Homophobia is another.
And yet, during this conversation with Nico and his friend, I asked them if homosexuality was illegal here. Both of them said no, absolutely not. How could that even be illegal, they asked? I said that gay sex had been illegal in many states in the US until 2003, that it was absolutely illegal in many other countries, especially in Africa, and that in Uganda, it was punishable by death. They looked at me incredulously and said no, we don’t do that here. And both of them seemed to think that the notion of making anyone’s sexual orientation illegal was absurd. I suppose that’s progress of a kind. And given how far the US has come on LGBT issues in the past fifty years, I’m optimistic that the rest of the world will soon follow.

Two-tiered pricing

If you’d asked me at the beginning of this summer whether things would be more expensive in Ghana or Ecuador, I would have said Ghana without much hesitation. It seems natural to assume that in countries which are poorer (smaller GDPs, smaller average income, worse indicators on the human development index, etc.), prices would also be lower. As it turns out, though, it’s not quite that simple.

There are some things in Ghana that are absurdly cheap. You can get more than enough street food to fill you up for next to nothing. A bowl of rice, spaghetti noodles and beef in sauce set me back 60 pesewa—about 40 cents. Fruit in the market is so cheap compared to home that it seems free. One cedi (66 cents) will get you a pile of four or five delicious oranges or two ripe mangoes. My dad’s house is a concrete walled compound which could easily be a B-movie drug lord’s hideout. It has three bathrooms, a kitchen, dining and living rooms and five bedrooms, plus a garage. His rent for this is something like $100 a month (though, to be fair, the city water supply randomly turns off for weeks at a time, and often comes out in interesting shades of grey, white and brown when it is on). Transportation also seems practically free—a 30 minute ride in a shared taxi from a rural village back into town cost me something like 30 cents.

However, some things in Ghana are fairly expensive given the income of average Ghanaians, and occasionally even for visiting Americans. Going to a movie in the Accra Mall cost me 15 cedis ($10)—comparable to a ticket back home. Meals in sit-down restaurants are cheaper than their American counterparts, but still a fortune compared to street food. A decent-sized entrée will set you back $5-10, sometimes a bit more if the restaurant is really nice. Groceries in the supermarket (Shoprite, a South African chain which seems to only exist in the Accra Mall) are often more expensive than they would be in the US. Boxes of cereal can run up to $6 for a normal sized package of cornflakes. Butter is at least $4, and that’s only if you buy the cheap stuff that smells weird. The lentils I insisted on buying cost about $7 for a package that was maybe twice as big as the ones I see back in the States. Services are also on the expensive side—a manicure is $10, and a haircut can be twice that in the city, especially if you’re a white person.

Ecuadorian prices seem more uniform. Grocery store items are fairly cheap across the board—good chocolate bars with fruit added can be purchased for 90 cents, bananas are usually less than 50 cents for a kilogram (2.2 pounds) and basic staples are usually at or below the cost of similar items in the US (though as with Ghana, cereal is a notable exception—I tried to buy Honey Bunches of Oats today, but was dissuaded by the $6.35 price tag). A movie ticket is a little less than $5. Public transportation over long distances is hardly more than in Ghana—usually about $1 per hour of travel, made possible by the state-owned petroleum companies, and government policies which heavily subsidize gasoline (it’s been $1.03 per gallon for diesel and $1.72 for premium gas since I got here a month ago). Quito is covered in restaurants serving a fixed almuerzo (lunch)—usually juice, soup, a plate of rice and meat and occasionally dessert for $1.50-$2. Dinner will set you back a bit more, but it’s easy to find good meals for under $5. I’ve seen salons advertising $2 haircuts and manicures for even less.

I have a theory to explain the pricing differences I’ve encountered. In Ghana, people do not have money. There are definitely rich people living in cities (mostly Accra, the capital), and there’s some kind of emerging middle class, but by and large, people struggle to pay for necessities. I think this has created a two-tier pricing system. The poor masses need to buy basic staples of life. They buy their food in markets and from street vendors. They need to travel sometimes, and they can mostly afford to do so because shared taxis and trotros abound. The things that you need to survive are all widely available, mostly for next to nothing (at least by my American standards). However, because of the overall poverty, things like movies and manicures are well out of reach of most people. The city I was living in, a regional capital city with a population of about 50,000, doesn’t even have a movie theater. There’s no supermarket either—everyone goes to the outdoor public market which is filled with produce and pungent-smelling fish. I had to make weekend trips into Accra (2.5 hours, give or take) to buy things like cheese, yogurt, lentils and cereal. These items are really only available to the elites, and because of that, they’re much more expensive. I’m sure there are a lot of other reasons on the supply side as well, but from a demand perspective, the pricing gap makes sense, because it’s reflective of a wealth gap.

Ecuador seems to be better off. The overall standard of living is much higher than in Ghana (and almost all other sub-Saharan African countries, I would imagine). There are absolutely poor people here, in Quito and especially in more rural areas. But even the poor seem to have a little more money for luxury and non-essential items. My host mom in Plaza Gutierrez had never traveled further than Otavalo (a city 2 hours away)—she hadn’t even been to Quito, much less outside of the Andean region of Ecuador. But while I was staying with her, she took the whole family to a pool that was about half an hour away, with an entry fee of $2 per person. Not a fortune by my standards, but not exactly small change for a family of five. There also seems to be a much more well-defined urban middle class. My host family in Quito, for example, survives on the income of my dad, who’s a petroleum engineer in the Amazon. This is enough to allow them occasional trips to the US and private school for their three children, but not so much that my host mom doesn’t remark about how expensive textbooks for high school are. I’m not sure what the typical income and lifestyle in Quito looks like, but my family doesn’t seem at all like an anomaly. Quito seems to have more middle ground in its income demographics than Accra, which has shacks and slums with no water or electricity, giant walled compounds where the super-rich live, and not much in between.

So in Ecuador, people buy produce at indoor markets, but the average Quito family also shops at the supermarket. Smaller cities have supermarkets too, and they’re common in Quito (contrasting with Ghana, which seems to literally have two supermarkets in the entire country, both of which are located in the Accra Mall). This means that prices need to be affordable for the masses, not just the super-elites and gringos. Government policies and subsidies help keep prices down in stores (a really interesting system that I’ll write more about later). The average urban family can afford at least occasional luxuries like movies, and their prices reflect that fact.

I’m curious about the supply-side factors that have made this all come into being, but from a demand perspective, the pricing differences I’ve seen between here and Ghana make a fair amount of sense. Interestingly, the net result of these differences is that it’s cheaper for me to maintain my lifestyle in Ecuador than in Ghana. If you just need a place to stay and not starve to death, Ghana wins hands down. But if you want supermarket cereals, the occasional movie, books, manicures and recreation on the weekend, Ecuador would probably end up coming out on top. Who would have thought?

Culture shock

The weirdest things about the US after a month in Ghana:

1) Driving home from the airport on a road that’s completely paved with no potholes, no tro-tros, no signs proclaiming the benefits of a relationship with Jesus Christ and nobody trying to sell me phone cards, water sachets or plantain chips.

2) Saying “Good morning” to someone and getting a curt nod in reply as opposed to a smile and reply of “Good morning, how are you?”

3) White people. Everywhere. In very excessive numbers.

4) Going outside and having the air smell vaguely like spring or car exhaust, as opposed to the pungent combination of street food, sewage, warm rain, diesel fumes and humidity (which I love, by the way).

5) Being able to pay for things with a credit card.

6) The lack of color, on people’s clothes, storefronts, signs and vehicles.

7) Brushing teeth with tap water. Also drinking tap water.

8) Paying 2-3 times as much for non-local produce that barely tastes like whatever it’s supposed to.

9) The quantity (less) and type (non-tropical) of vegetation.

10) The realization that I didn’t clean my room at all before I left, since I had less than 24 hours between getting home from school and leaving for 7 weeks of international travel.

Being female in public

Last week, I met a man I didn’t know in a rural village on the side of the road and walked with him away from the road for 20 minutes through thick brush to get to a more remote village. After attending the farmer’s organization meeting we were going to, he walked me back to the road and waited with me until I got in a shared taxi back to the city. I felt completely safe throughout this experience, which didn’t seem very remarkable until I reflected on the fact that I probably wouldn’t feel safe in a very similar situation in the US.
Ghanaian men are definitely forward. Walking down the street, I get far more catcalls than I would in the US, plus the odd marriage proposal. A lot of this is not gender specific; it’s just because I’m white and visibly foreign. But even the gender-based attention doesn’t feel threatening here the way the same actions might in the US. In one walk, three men might chase after me, professing their love and asking if they can come to the US and marry me. All I have to do is reply with my well-worn lines—“I already have eight Ghanaian husbands, but when I go through them all, I’ll let you know”; “Your farm/taxi/business would need to be much bigger for me to marry you” and “I would love for you to visit me in the US, as long as you can buy the plane ticket”—and I get left alone. Some men are certainly persistent, but no one’s pushy. With the exception of people trying to sell me things in Accra, I’ve never had someone continue to pursue me after I’ve made it clear that I wasn’t interested.
In the US, this isn’t always the case. I’ve been lucky enough to have a life relatively free from sexual harassment. I’ve never been raped, molested or even groped in public. But I’ve had my share of unpleasant experiences with men who were a little too forward. There was the guy on the bus who slid into the seat next to me, asked me for my number and was offended when I said no (I was 14; he was at least 20).There was the construction worker on the house next door to ours who started chatting with me in a friendly way, then quickly began asking if I was home alone (I was, and I was also 15 at the time), telling me how good I looked and staring at me when I came outside to get my laundry off the clothesline. There was the guy in my aikido class who said he wanted to hang out sometime and give me a chance to practice my Spanish, but then insisted I get in his car with him, tried to take me to a hotel room, kissed me before letting me leave and then called me at least five times in the next week, leaving long, rambling messages about how much he loved me. I never talked to him again, and I never went back to aikido class.
On my last trip to Ghana, I was wandering around Osu (a neighborhood in Accra) with my friend when a rather intoxicated man came out of his house and attempted to hug/drape himself over my friend. She ducked, so he landed on me instead. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to do, but I figured it couldn’t be good. I tried to get him off me, which was difficult, until a woman emerged from another house and started yelling at the man, “What do you think you are doing? Are you trying to rape these girls?” The man detached himself and wandered off.
I know my experiences in Ghana are biased, and influenced by my whiteness and foreignness as much as my gender. That said, it’s simultaneously awesome and sad how safe I feel here and how comparatively unsafe I’ve felt at times in the US. I have no doubt that in Ghana, if anyone did try to attack me and I started screaming, people would come and help me. I wish I could say the same for the US, but often people aren’t willing to intervene in something they perceive to be a private problem, even if they’re clearly witnessing abusive behavior.
In contrast to my experience in Osu, I felt completely isolated in each of the American experiences I’ve described above, even though all of them occurred in public places. Even though I read feminist blogs, understand what rape culture is and could deconstruct victim blaming in my sleep, I didn’t want to tell my parents or friends about the guy in my aikido class, for fear that I would be criticized for acting stupidly or leading him on. It took a very good friend listening to me cry for an hour on the phone for me to realize that I had absolutely no obligation to have any further contact with this man.
By the time I have a daughter, I want her to be able to walk down a street—in the US, in Ghana—without being afraid. I want her to feel no obligation to indulge anyone who disrespects her right to be left alone. I want her to understand that being female in public is not a crime. And if someone does try to hurt her, I want everyone who’s there, who can see what’s taking place to form a wall around her, protect her, call the police, scream “NO” and defend her right to be and feel safe.

Best Ghanaian business names

I’m heading home in three days, and there are a bunch of things I’m going to miss about Ghana. Perhaps one of the coolest unique features of Ghana is the incredibly creative names people give their businesses. So here, without further ado, is my unabridged list of the best Ghanaian business names I’ve seen in the last month.
Jesus Never Fails/Joe’s Heaven Open Saving Centre
Everything by God
Remember Your Creator Fashion
Jesus King of Kings Ltd.
Our Lord is a Consuming Fire
I Shall Not Die Motors
Soulmate Center Vocational Training Institute
Hilarious Services Passport Photos & Secretarial Services
Touch Not My Anointing
Victoria’s Secret Sewing Center
In His Own Time Cosmetics
In Him We Move
Thank You Jesus Spare Parts
The Lord is My Shepard Saw Sharpening Centre
Sow in Tears, Reap in Joy Welding & Fitting
Showers of Blessings Ent.
God’s Time is the Best (I’ve seen at least ten of these)
Power in the Blood of Jesus Prayer Ministry
By His Grace Barbering Shop
God’s Will Enterprises: Dealers in Quality Tires and Other Goods
Cheap Store
Shalom God is My Will Beauty Salon
This is By the Grace of My Lord
My Redeemer Lives Cold Store
Financed by Unicorn Happy Investments ( a sign at a rural bank)
Amen Amen Shopping Center
Jesus Promotion Ventures
Jah Bless Computer Services
Yours is Yours Electrical Enterprises
Take Side With Jehovah
Sons of God Enterprises
Porsche Daddy
Mente Twi (meaning “I don’t speak Twi”, which is the lingua franca in much of Ghana)
By His Grace Electronics and Refrigeration Services
Casino Night Club (this was a small wooden shack which presumably served alcohol or food)
Christ is the Answer Fashion Center and Undertaker

Things I’ve learned in Ghana

I’m headed home from Ghana at the end of this week, so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned during my five weeks here:

1. Riding three on the back of a motorcycle is easier than it sounds, but still challenging while wearing a skirt and waving gracefully at the hordes of children yelling Obruni! (white person) at you. Especially if you’re trying not to flash anyone.

2. Ghanaians use the word “nice” where Americans would use the word “good”, which can lead to disconcerting sentences such as “Silence of the Lambs was a very nice movie.”

3. It is possible to train yourself to eat spicy foods. It is also possible to train yourself to be cool with high levels of bacteria. If you’re ever trying to do this, expired raw milk and homemade kombucha (tea fermented with a bacteria/yeast colony) are definitely the way to go, and you should just ignore your parents and friends who are telling you that you’re going to make yourself sick. A few mild stomachaches in the US is totally worth five weeks in Ghana without a serious intestinal meltdown.

4. It’s really, really awesome to live in a country where high-fructose corn syrup is basically nonexistent.

5. Living without water while camping or on Semester in the West is an adventure. Living without water for a day because Seattle has to repair something is easy. Living somewhere where water goes out constantly, unexpectedly, without warning, for weeks at a time eats up tons of would-be productive time that has to be spent installing backup tanks, hauling jugs of water from place to place and basically constructing your own water infrastructure on top of the one the city already has.

6. Naming your business “God’s Time is the Best General Goods” might be a bold, distinguishing move in the US, but in Ghana, there are like three of those on every block. If you want to really stand out, you have to go for something a bit more dramatic, like “Our Lord is a Consuming Fire Enterprises”.

7. Balls of pulverized cassava (fufu) are a somewhat forgettable culinary experience, but balls of fermented maize (banku and kenkey) are actually pretty good. In related news, fermenting anything usually makes it awesome (sourdough, kombucha, yogurt, etc).

8. Wearing seat belts is always a good idea, even if you’re the only person in the entire tro tro doing it and everyone else is giving you strange looks. However, you may find yourself at some point riding in a speeding van with all metal surfaces on the interior, through which you can see the road below you. This van will naturally lack any seat belts. If this happens, you should probably just view it as a cultural experience and try not to panic every time the van swerves sharply to avoid a pothole/goat/woman carrying eggs on her head/chicken/other vehicle/homemade speed bump in the middle of the road.

9. No matter how cool you think bright orange and blue lizards are the first time you see one, you will be completely over them after a month. Especially once you realize that they are adept at crawling under doors and through cracks in your walls, and that they are also fond of pooping on your living room floor.

10. In spite of my many, many problems with the American government, there’s something about going to a former slave fort on the Ghanaian coast and seeing a plaque proclaiming that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited the site in 2009 that made me so grateful to have the current administration running things in Washington.