12 August, 8:00pm GMT – Tamale

Today, we went on a walking safari in Mole National Park. As soon as we met our guide and headed out, I realized a had a hole in my rented boots, but forgot all about it when we passed the village and saw five elephants casually munching on the undergrowth in a field near the forest's edge. The park has tamed them somewhat, so their still wild, but are unafraid of humans, so they're easier to tag and track. As such, we were able to stand just 50 feet from them without spooking them. The elephants were just outside the village that resides in the park, whose residents find the tourists more entertaining than the wildlife. One of the kids from the village started taking pictures of us taking pictures of the elephants. After dozens of photos, we headed into the forest, were we glimpsed herds of antelope, trails of ants, grub, and one enormous spider. Warthogs were roaming everywhere; we saw them as often as one might find squirrels in North America. Unfortunately, most of the animals are hiding in the forest this time of year, but in the dry season, the watering holes would be the only water available, so we would have seen lions, crocodiles, and dozens of other species coming to drink and swim in the larger ponds. Regardless, we got many spectacular views of the park, and did not even begin to scratch the surface of this 5,000 square mile park on our two hour tour.

As it turns out, having a three-inch hole in the heel of your boot as you walk over Ghanaian red sand, gravel, mud bridges, and through streams does a number on your clothes and your foot. Luckily for me, one of the other volunteers had a spare pair of socks, my pants dried in a matter of minutes, and there were foot washing stations everywhere. After the tour, we talked to the guide about our volunteer work here, and he mentioned that he had difficulty reading, so Ernest ran back to the van, came back with a bag of eyeglasses, and found a pair of reading specs that suited him.

Finally, we got to eat, and had breakfast at the in-park hotel; we could have stayed here, but it was nearly fully booked, and each room was about GHC100 anyway. As we walked in, dirtied from the hike and wearing khakis and t-shirts, the hotel guests (all obruni) in their fresh clean short shorts and polos stared at us over their French toast and omelettes, and I realized in that moment that I felt more like obibini than obruni. Somehow, I felt more connected with the culture I had jumped head first into over the past two weeks than with the group of preppy travellers that had decided to experience Ghana by eating obruni food at an obruni hotel with other obrunis. We've started now to say “obruni!” quietly to each other and point when another foreigner walks by, excited to see someone else in our situation. I still crave American food, dress like an American (which has gotten many stares from girls who think I dress like a boy since I wear long shorts and dirty sneakers), speak like an American, and discuss North American culture with my North American friends, but at least, for the brief period I'm here, I want to try to do the Ghanaian version of all that as much as I can.

After the safari, we drove east from Dumango to Tamale. Tamale, with a population of just 550,000, is definitely more rural than Kumasi or Accra, which have populations of 2 million and 2.4 million, respectively. The streets were especially empty because it is Ramadan, so much of the city is staying home to fast. On many streets, you can find open-air mosques where men sit in circles having discussions or sit in rows in prayer. Much like Kumasi, there were dogs, chickens, and goats everywhere, although up here there are many more sheep than goats. Nearly everyone rides motorcycles, bikes, and mopeds, but the few cars there are are all squeaky clean. I'd never seen a car that didn't look like it didn't just drive through a mud puddle until I got here, where I saw my first car wash in the country. The streets are quite clean, and the billboards mostly advertise good health and giving to charity. I wish I could stay here longer.

For lunch, we went to a catering service, but this quickly turned into dinner. Getting food at restaurants here is an adventure all on its own. Many times, the menu doesn't convey what the restaurant actually has available. Our worst experience with this was at the Kate Memorial Hotel restaurant, which has a seven page menu, yet so far we've tried ordering dozens of dishes and have only ever gotten to eat fries. The biggest challenges are coffee and ice cream. I've hunted these at every restaurant I've been to and yet somehow every single one has failed to serve it to us even if we ordered it. Sometimes we get entertaining excuses (“we don't have bowls to serve the ice cream in”), and other times we get a funny look, as if the waiter has never heard of this dish before or that they find the idea of them serving you a dish they have on the menu is ridiculous. We've also come to accept that food for a table is never served all at once. We've thrown the polite mannerism of waiting to eat before everyone has a meal out the window, since dishes arrive over the course of 30-90 minutes. Instead, the lucky few whose meals come out first share the wealth with the hungry last. At today's lunch, for instance, I ordered a simple plate of fried yams, and everyone's dish, including some people's second and third dish, arrived before mine, so I finished the leftovers of two other meals before mine arrived 2 hours later.

We are currently staying at a house owned by the Friends Eye Clinic ophthalmologist for the volunteers for the night. We got back in time for the Olympics closing ceremonies, which was interrupted at 10:30pm by a live discussion about the handling of the president's death. Methinks Ghana is a bit disinterested with the Olympics since their 9 athletes won 0 medals. Oh well. At least we beat China!

Shreya and Roxane were not feeling well during lunch/dinner, so Ernest took them to the hospital. The doctor diagnosed them with malaria without any tests, and gave them anti-malarials. Since they only act as a prophylactic if you don't have malaria and will treat it if you do, it at least won't hurt them. It seems odd that they would get it since they haven't been bitten and have been using their nets and malaria meds just like the rest of us, but whatever they have, I hope they get better soon!

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