Category Archives: Africa

Tenge Emmanuel



My time here in Ghana has brought some truly memorable life experiences, and with this came some equally astounding individuals whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know. One of these is someone who I consider a good friend, and who constantly blows me away with his dedication to school, family, and extra-curricular activities. His name is Tenge Emmanuel, or Emma for short.

Emma is a level 400 senior at the University of Ghana where he is currently studying business administration and has a rather heavy load in terms of outside activities. He works actively with USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium), which is how I have come to know him so well. His family resides in the neighboring country of Togo, and I along with other USAC students had the chance to visit his family there.



Emma and I in Lome, the capital of Togo, during a weekend visit to the country. Here we are just about to go and see the national museum featuring the history of Togo. Did I mention this country’s official language is French? And that Emma can not only speak French, English, and Twi, but about four other local dialects as well?

Q + A with Emma
What was your education like growing up?
Having studied business at Ntruboman Senior High School and completed as the overall best student in the year 2013, I became the first student from my high school to gain admission into the University of Ghana. This academic success presented itself with great financial need which my family had no capacity to fulfill. Fortunately, Educational Pathways International (EPI) came to my aid and offered me a full scholarship for my four years of undergrad studies.

What’s life like for you at the university?
As someone who has in general attended less endowed schools, I have made it a point to organize and participate with my colleagues in voluntary teachings to basic schools in less fortunate communities within the Volta Region to combat the declining educational standards. Besides this, I enjoy volunteering with USAC. I am now in my final year here at the University, so I look forward to what the future holds.

What are your goals and plans for the future?
I aspire to be a chartered accountant and as a result I am preparing to start writing the professional accounting examinations with the Institute of Chartered Accounts, Ghana in November this year. As a business-minded person, I hope to set up my company someday and contribute to educate financially burdened students. It is my dream to obtain my postgraduate degree in finance/economics from a college outside of Sub Sahara Africa to gain further experience and exposure to different types of businesses. I then hope to implement these systems here in Ghana.


This photo was taken at Mole National Park in Ghana with my two good friends Claire and Emma. We woke up early in the morning to catch a cool safari walk in hopes of seeing some animals. In the background there’s an elephant walking away!

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A Venture into Volta

One of my favorite experiences thus far in my study abroad endeavor was a journey into the Volta Region in Ghana. Ghana is split up into ten regions, and the Volta Region is named accordingly due to its physical border of the grand Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake by surface area in the world. The Akosombo Dam is also located in this region, and provides the majority of energy for the country. The Volta Region holds some of the nation’s most prized natural wonders, some of which I had the chance to see over a refreshing weekend excursion.

At the beginning of our adventure, we stopped to walk over the Adomi Bridge that overlooks the Volta Lake. The bridge held marvelous views of the rolling green hills and fishermans’ villages below. After we crossed, the villagers sold local dishes, most of which included the seafood caught from the lake below.



The view of the lake from the bridge.


Later that day, we had the chance to visit a monkey sanctuary called Tafi Atome where wild but protected monkeys approached with hunger as we suspended bananas in front of them. Eventually, the furry creatures warmed up to us, and one even jumped on my arm to take his share of the fruit! Later in the evening we were invited to meet some of the elders in a village nearby, and we went through several customs and rituals such as pouring some alcohol on the ground in honor of the ancestors past.



Our furry friends.


The following morning, we awoke at the crack of dawn to begin our hike up the tallest mountain in Ghana. Mt Afadja is 885 meters high, so this was no laid-back climb. High humidity and extreme heat followed us up the nearly entirely vertical path. After the many stops to catch our breath and wipe away the moisture that clung to our clothes, we arrived at the top of the mountain. I hope you trust me when I say that the view was not a disappointment.



After our big hike.


Posing with the Ghana flag. 


The incredible view from the top.


Following the spectacular views from the top of the mountain, a quick lunch break ensued to refuel our energy for one last big pit stop. A breathtaking waterfall awaited us at a short distance, and not much else sounded better than swimming in chilly water after a long hike. I welcomed the misty spray from the powerful beauty as I approached the base of the falls. Each step closer built my confidence to creep under the crashing beast and I accepted the wonderful pounding of the water to wash away any worry and fill my mind with awe and marvel.



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Eight Remarkable Characteristics of Ghanaian Culture

As I approach my first month here in Ghana, I have had the chance to witness and be a part of many central features involving Ghanaian culture. Absorbing and observing another culture other than one’s own is an awe-inspiring experience, and for that reason I’ve shared some parts of the culture here that I’ve found pretty cool.

1. Community. Is. Everything.
Ghanaians share an immensely powerful bond with each other, and it is evident all throughout the country. For example, if a person was eating next to a total stranger who did not have anything in front of them, it would be customary to say, “You are invited.” Everyone shares, and it makes my heart warm to see such a simple kindness between two unrelated individuals. Complete strangers may show up to funerals, weddings, or any other ceremony because all are welcome.



Some of the international and Ghanaian students out for a Friday night.


2. Systems Don’t Work, People Do
I have been told this several times over the course of my time here, and I believe that I am starting to get better at accepting it. In summary, this motto is a way to say that face-to-face interaction is more effective than any program or technology. Efficiency comes second… always. Many of the international students are used to time being associated with money and productivity, so taking it slow is an alien concept.

3. People Adore Dancing
I have yet to find a person here who detests music and dance. Music floods the university, the hostels, and downtown. Also, people just naturally have rhythm and are familiar with at least a few traditional dances. A favored pastime of numerous college students involves visiting a local nightclub to listen and dance along to the popular Ghanaian artists.

4. Greetings are Imperative
Basic conversation is expected in most environments, especially when asking for something. It is considered impolite to get straight to the point, first one should question the other on their day and well-being. When a person asks a question, they often start it with ‘please,’ as the person answering is performing a favor when doing so. Closer friends frequently use a local handshake, a kind of snap between one’s thumb and middle finger for casual greetings.

5. Soccer, Soccer, Soccer
One of the first nights at the hostel, I heard intense screaming throughout the building. In a moment of confusion, I rushed outside to see what was causing all of the commotion. It turns out that half of the hostel was upstairs watching the African Cup, cheering for the record-holding Ghanaian Black Stars. Besides watching soccer, one can see students enjoying an afternoon game after school, or visiting the Accra stadium to watch the local Ghanaian teams.


Some of the Black Star players prior to a big game. This year, they made it to the semi-finals, but ultimately lost against Cameroon.


6. The Way You Dress Matters
After coming from a university where sweats and ponytails are the norm, it’s a bit refreshing to see that mostly all students will put time in their appearance for lectures. Going to college is both a privilege and a sign of adulthood, and individuals in Ghana believe it should be represented as such. Besides the classroom, one can find that different occasions call for assorted attire. Happy occasions demand white, while funerals are filled with black or red. As for everyday apparel, colorful (and usually handmade) clothing fill the bustling crowds.



On a trip to Kumasi to visit the Ashanti King, we had the chance to see the unique wraps of kente cloth (a type of hand stitched fabric) among important officials from the palace.


7. Bargaining is an Art Form
Unless someone wishes to pay a ridiculously overpriced amount for a possession, bargaining must be used. The two main markets in Accra, Madina and Accra Central, are extremely crowded streets filled with booths selling various goods. From fresh produce to a new cellular device, the markets are the place to get a deal. The only catch is you have to bargain for it… and do it well. If a person does not know the correct price range for a product they run the risk of overpaying. In addition to this, patience and skill is required because bargaining is a process, not a quick action with a time frame.

8. Language is Fluid
When I say that language is fluid, I am struggling to express my best explanation of how locals interact with each other. Although English is the official language and most people can speak it, it is mostly used for formal settings. In the markets, vendors and customers mostly speak Twi, one of the many local languages here in Ghana. Sometimes, people will casually switch between the two. Pidgin is also an accepted way of communicating, a kind of broken English most commonly spoken between younger adults and friends.

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Different is Not Bad

My name is Coryl Jackson, and for the next four months I will be studying abroad in Ghana. Follow my blog posts to hear and see all that I will engage in during my experience here.




About a week ago, I arrived in a country within West Africa called Ghana to continue my studies, and also to experience as much of this wonderful country as I can. My main goal for this blog is to describe Ghana to the best of my capabilities as I experience the country with a desire for an expanded, open mind that can absorb this new environment.

While my attempt at describing what I have already seen and done here in Ghana may be in-efficacious, I can only hope to share a taste of what I have absorbed and grown from already. When reading about culture shock, it seems like a fairly basic concept. One might think that they are prepared for not being used to what they have always known, but experiencing culture shock is not something that can be left with a few words. As I begin to adjust to my new life in Ghana, I can not help but comparing everything to what I have always known. The music, people, places, and even the toilets are foreign to me. One aspect of the culture here that is considerably unusual for me is the concept of time. Today, I showed up for class about thirty minutes early only to find that the professor was not to come today. It was a bit frustrating, but the Ghanaian students seemed to accept it without any hostility towards the professor.

At orientation we learned the saying ‘time is time.’ Time is treated differently here, and many are late even to important events like weddings and funerals. It is easy to get angry about little differences here that I have never had to experience before. ‘Time is time’ has become a sort of a motto for many of the international students here when dealing with a difficult situation. I have begun to accept certain characteristics of the culture here (such as what I would call at home an invasion of personal space) with the outlook that this is how things are done here. Market vendors may grab a potential customer in order to get their attention, but no one finds this strange.

However, there are so many parts of the culture here that I adore. I love going to the night market by my hostel and bargaining for fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast. I cherish the people who have welcomed us here with open arms and minds because that is the way it is done here. I get excited when I wear the garments that the local seamstress sewed for myself and many of the international students. It is vital to understand that different is not bad, just different. I have only been here a week, and yet I feel I have seen more than I ever have. I had the chance to canoe to a village that resides on stilts in a thick marsh west of Accra. I have been paddle boarding in the Atlantic Ocean on a lovely beach on a particularly hot day. I have been to a bustling market in central Accra where people barter for various goods. Moving forward from this point, I wish to learn everything that I have the chance to immerse my mind in, whether this be through my classes, or the adventures I will partake in outside of the classroom.

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Living with the Maasai

The Maasai are an incredibly fascinating people, living off the land as pastoralists. They have managed to tightly hold on to their culture, despite the western influence constantly pushed upon them. It wasn’t until the last 15 years that the Maasai have begun to feel the changes that development brings. Clothing that was once goat and cow skin has now transitioned into the brightly-colored cloth shukas that Maasai clad themselves in. Where once Maasai spent their entire lives living as pastoralists in bomas, now many move to cities and are employed as guards or in the tourism industry. And for many years Maasai people went uneducated, until the local government imposed a law requiring all children to attend primary school. However, in spite of all this, they each still maintain many of the cultural customs that make them Maasai. From their clothing and facial piercings to their rituals and ceremonies, Maasai culture is very much thriving.

After spending several days living in a Maasai village near the edge of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, I was able to get a glimpse into the culture and lifestyles of this fascinating tribe. Over the course of 4 days I lived side by side with the Maasai, sleeping in dung/stick huts known as bomas or outside under the stars atop a cowhide, all while being taught the Maasai way of life by my home-stay family. I learned to bathe in the river and collect firewood in the forest while carrying the load back on my head. I battled bedbugs, an endless swarm of flies, and the equatorial sun. I felt like a child as my mama and sister would have to dress me each day, as I was too incompetent to tie the Maasai cloth robes onto myself. I spent my nights sandwiched on a single cowhide bed by my sister, mama, and a 4 year old child. I was also welcomed by the kindest hearts and biggest helpings of food I could ever imagine. All of this I would never trade for the world.

My little Maasai brother Naayo

My little Maasai brother Naayo

The lessons I learned about the Maasai way of life during my short stay were far greater than any book or documentary could ever show me. And I still don’t even know the half of it! But from what I did learn and witness, it is worth sharing to those who may never get a chance to meet a Maasai.


Cows are the world to the Maasai, and some even believe that all the worlds cattle were gifts of god to the Maasai people. They are usually only slaughtered for large celebratory events, such as weddings. Otherwise, cows are used for their milk and their blood, both forms of sustenance which can be taken without needing to have the cow killed. Cows are also a form of currency, used for settling disagreements or as dowry for wives. It is possible to judge a Maasai man’s richness by the amount of cattle he possesses.

A Maasai boma

A Maasai boma


The boma (the name for both the individual mud huts and the overall fenced in cluster of huts belonging to the patriarch) is constructed of cow dung and sticks, and is a surprisingly sturdy structure. The Maasai women are responsible for building their own boma after they are married. A single Maasai man may have upwards of 10 wives, meaning there will be 10 of these bomas in a single area. The lifestyle here is incredibly community oriented, with all the women looking after one another’s children. It feels like one big family, which extends to the idea of personal property. I discovered that if I wasn’t using my shoes or my flashlight, or really any of my belongings at any given moment, they then became fair game to anyone in the area. I would wake up one morning with my shoes missing, only to find my Maasai sister wearing them while she fetched water. I would see my headlamp being worn by little children and my Maasai mama alike. I soon came to realize that there really is no such thing as personal property, and much like everything else in the community, most things are shared.

A young boy at the entrance of the boma I stayed in during my time in Maasai land

A young boy at the entrance of the boma I stayed in during my time in Maasai land


Circumcisions and child births are the most celebrated events in Maasai culture, with elaborate ceremonies taking place for each. A boy can not transition into warrior-hood until he has undergone the circumcision process with his age class. Female circumcision is also a continuing custom, and most girls undergo this process shortly after puberty.

My pictured with Jackson, a warrior in my boma

Me pictured with Jackson, a warrior in my boma


Women spend their days cooking, beading and jewelry crafting, or gathering firewood and water. Maasai warriors, the Morani, spend their days hiking long miles herding cattle or goats, often napping in the shade of trees during the heat of the day.


Marriage occurs at a very young age, and children are revered, so having as many babies as possible is both desired and respected. Courting occurs between young women and warriors during night gatherings called asothos. Here, warriors dance and make a display of jumping as high as they can, shaking their hair at women that catch their eye. Women respond with a shoulder-shaking dance move, shimmying at the men. Both parties are chanting and singing all the while–females with their occasional high pitched additions to the men’s guttural growls and barking sounds. These gatherings last far into the night, with ours starting around 10 pm and lasting past midnight. The Maasai were very excited to have a few of us students attempt their dance moves!

Me and another student, Dan, with our Maasai families

Me and another student, Dan, with our Maasai families


Overall, the Maasai way of life is hard, monotonous, and sweaty. It would certainly be an incredible struggle for me to take to this way of life permanently. The Maasai however, flourish in maintaining the old ways of life. The only obvious modernized aspects of Maasai life include their use of cellphones and their going to the local town store to buy rice or a treat of soda. Time will only tell how development and modernization will affect the Maasai in the coming years, but for now, life remains simple. Beautiful, fierce, soft and kind, the Maasai are a people to be reckoned with.

Me with my Maasai mama and little brother Naayo

Me with my Maasai mama and little brother Naayo

My Maasai father, Matthew, and me

My Maasai father, Matthew, and me

My Maasai sister and her friend

My Maasai sister and her friend


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Tanzanian Food Culture

pilau with spinach and banana

pilau with spinach and banana

Food in Tanzania is simple, yet tasty. Dishes consist mainly of carbohydrates and lots of starches (think rice, spaghetti, potatoes, savory bananas, and breads), with the occasional meats and veggies on the side. Spices aren’t as prominent as I had imagined in East Africa, and almost no food is prepared to be spicy–though pili-pili sauce (chili) is readily available as a condiment. Fresh fruits and veggies abound on every street corner, with large outdoor markets remaining very much a part of the culture. Best of all, local dishes are incredibly affordable, with many meals costing only $1-$2 USD for a heaping portion.

Typical lunch in Tanzania

Typical lunch in Tanzania

The national dish of Tanzania is a corn flour mush known as ugali. It resembles mashed potatoes, though has the consistency of day-old play dough. Alone, it is nearly tasteless so it is often paired with sauce along with veggies, beans, or meat. Though most food in Tanzania is eaten with utensils, ugali is almost ALWAYS eaten with the hands, where mushing the corn flour into balls before dipping them in a gravy-like stew is common. Another local favorite is kuku (chicken) served with sautéed spinach, a thin tomato based sauce, and accompanied by fries, rice, ugali, or chapati (an Indian-like tortilla bread).

chips mayai

chips mayai

Wali maharage (rice with beans) is a popular staple among locals, usually served again with a side of sautéed spinach or cabbage. My personal favorite local dish is chips mayai, which is essentially a french fry omelette. Doused with ketchup and garlic chili sauce, chips mayai is good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a late night snack.

For drinks, I’ve come to be prepared to drink chai (tea) several times a day. This may take the form of plain spiced chai, or chai maziwa (milky chai). Sugar is used liberally, and if the chai has been prepared for you, expect a full cup of sugar to have been added to the batch (I personally, have no issue with this!). Soda is the other common drink to have with meals, with Coca Cola, Sprite, and Fanta dominating the market. In smaller villages, sometimes people will sell homemade breads and juices directly out of their homes. I can’t attest to the sanitation of homemade juice, but from this method I have found the best ice-cold avocado/mango/passion juice mixture on the planet. Not to mention, the mama who I buy juice from reuses returned bottles–yay sustainability!

Food culture in Tanzania is also something worthy of mention. When eating with a local family, as I did during my 3 week Home-stay in the rural village of Bangata, I learned to expect to be served portions of overwhelming size. Being large is respected, as it shows you have wealth, so the locals did their best to fatten us up with a plethora of hearty foods. Although breakfast would simply consist of a several slices of bread and butter, lunch and dinner could be a mountain of rice with beans, banana stew, goat meat, and spinach. Even after you have managed to finish as much as you possibly think you can stomach, local mamas with make sure to refill your plate, just as high–if not higher–as before.

In contrast to western etiquette, it is polite to leave a small amount of food on your plate instead of licking it clean to show you are satisfied. An empty plate signifies that you are still hungry, and you can expect to be served another dollop of rice if you make this mistake. “Nimeshiba,” or “I am full” became a popular phrase I used, often needing to argue that I indeed really was!

I truly believe that food is one of the great doors open to you for experiencing a new culture. By trying new things and dining as the locals do, it has allowed me the opportunity to not only taste exotic ethnic cuisine, but also to make friends. After eating several times at the same local lunch spot, the cooks and servers came to recognize me. And, simply by eating at the non-touristy food spots, I often found myself in conversation with other locals–they get a chance to practice English, and I get to work on my Swahili. There is no rush in the Tanzanian food industry, and fast service is non-existent, but if you learn to embrace the slow pace and take your time to enjoy your meals and interact with others, you may realize that finding a meal can be an incredibly rewarding part of each day.

an outdoor market

an outdoor market

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Traveling is SHOCKING!

Jumping head first into a cold swimming pool is never at the top of a list of things I want to do, yet coming from Arizona and Texas, a summer without swimming is not a summer at all. The shock of cold water is in many ways compared to the culture shock of jumping into on an airplane to travel to foreign lands. Many people have had this same shocking feeling that seems to have different levels of effect on each person.

While here in Senegal, I have experienced culture shock. One would think that after 3 months of showering with a bucket, the faint squeal that escapes my mouth would soon become a natural part of life; it hasn’t. The culture shock of Senegal comes in different forms and although I have learned to cope and love some traits of the culture, other parts of the culture just never seem to get to the “comfy” level.

So here’s the chart! After reading it, I would agree that it’s fairly accurate. Fortunately for me, it is not my first time traveling abroad, and I feel that the more often a person travels, the smoother and straighter the line becomes. The best part about this chart is that it gives a general emotional roller coaster to an experience that has several more ups and downs. I felt with each characteristic of the new culture, I was excited, then annoyed, then accepting. For example, the food was so exciting to begin with. I loved eating rice and fish and everything Senegalese. After a few weeks of eating the same things day in and day out, the food lost its luster. However, I am sure when I return home, I will get cravings for a good poulet yassa or ceebu jen for as long as I live. The timing of the food culture shock was different from the timing of the culture shock with my family.


Just like jumping into the cold water prevents people from going swimming out of fear, traveling scares people from going to foreign soil. Especially with misconceptions of the current EBOLA outbreak, travel to the country of Senegal is ceasing. The fact is that EBOLA doesn’t exist here. One case was cured and the country has an extensive health and sanitary department that promotes healthy living and combatting the EBOLA virus. Don’t be the person who spends each summer of life outside the pool due to your fear of the shock. Travel. Be uncomfortable. Expand your horizons.

Just like you know it’s time to get out of the pool as your fingers start to wrinkle and become prune like, I feel that my time in Senegal is soon coming to an end. It’s bittersweet to leave, but I know that I will get to jump back into the shivering cold pool of culture shock and travel soon. Bottom line: I love jumping feet first into adventure and every time I do, the culture shock shocks a little less.

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