9 August, 11:30pm GMT – Parkoso, Ashanti Region

Today, I realized just how much my standards for living have changed after just over a week here. I've learned that I will take water pressure over hot water any day. Showers have become races to get in before the water main breaks (again) and to get out before you start shivering. Given that outreach hotels tend to have neither water pressure nor a functioning water heater, I am always overjoyed to get back to the room temperature water flowing from the shower head we duct-taped to the wall at Kate Memorial.

I've learned that everything I assumed was part of the hotel room package is not true here. A 'hotel room' is defined as a bed, another piece of stray furniture, a light bulb, full bathroom. Bonus points if the bathroom also has a light bulb, there is any toilet paper at all, or if you can take a shower without using a bucket. Cleaning rooms between guests (or ever) is a luxury, as are outlets, sheets, towels, or beds in double rooms larger than a full size (super fun for when both of you have twin-sized mosquito nets). The best part is when amenities are advertised, but not functional. At Telecentre, there is water pressure, but someone has to ask the ladies at the front desk every single day to turn it on. I suppose they think they can save money on their water bill by not letting anyone even wash their hands between 10pm and 7am, and by not telling anyone this, thus making the new volunteers go without water pressure until a seasoned volunteer brings them up to speed. An amazing number of hotel rooms have just useless items sitting around the room. I've seen hotels that have desks with no chairs, armchairs that only serve to make it impossible to walk through the room, and even a free-standing closet covered in Disney characters for some reason. Kate Memorial has safes in every room, but doesn't have a key or combination to any of them. Each room also has a TV, but zero of them work. Wifi is advertised, but the router was broken, which was promised to be fixed "tomorrow" every day we were there. The worst was in Shreya and Lianna's room, where the A/C and sometimes the only light was broken, again promised to be fixed "tomorrow" for many, many tomorrows.

In the field, I have given up on ever finding a decent restroom. To prevent dehydration, drink as much as I can early in the morning and do the same once we return to the hotel in the evening. Bushes on the side of the road are the cleanest and most private public restrooms you will find, and it's what everyone else uses anyway. Usually, the only other option is public "urinals", which are four-foot high walls with no doors around a small concrete floor. I will forever remember the restaurant B2D in Kumasi not because it makes delicious authentic Lebanese food, but because it had the most functional bathroom I have seen in the country. A sink. Paper towels. A toilet that flushed. Even soap. Through the open window, you could hear the evening call to prayer from the mosque next door mixed with the Nigerian hip-hop played over the PA. It was glorious.

Trash on the street is now a given, so you learn to walk through it because trying to avoid it will get you hit by a car or a pedestrian. I haven't yet reached the level of the locals, who are so comfortable with trash everywhere that they where sandals without a second thought. I still won't wear sandals unless I'm only walking between a taxi and an obruni restaurant, which tend to be away from well-trafficked (and thus trash-coated) sidewalks.

In downtown Kumasi, the reek of the gutter is constant. Along every sidewalk is a six to twelve inch trough collecting all the trash and water which, when you think about it, is exactly what we have running along sidewalks in the U.S. as well; we just keep it under grates and call it a sewer. Since it's so difficult to watch you step and not get lost in the crowd, I thought surely that I'd fall into the gutter someday, but I have yet to. I think it's because you can't walk on autopilot here. Every walk through the streets is an adventure, where you must be hyperaware of your pace, what you might step in (lest you walk on someone's food display in the market), who might be picking your pocket, and how you will weave around cars to anger them the least. I've walked around the square mile surrounding Central Market several times, yet still if they ever changed the billboard ads (my only landmarks), I would be helplessly lost. There are so many sights and smells to take in at once that I can never quite get my bearings. Even in the busiest streets in DC, the bright white crosswalk lights and painted pavement will guide your feet at all times. There, I can walk a few miles of familiar ground, reach my destination, and realize I don't remember a single thing about the trip. Nothing captivates your attention quite like the constant thought that you might step in something you'll regret or end up lost in the rat maze of stalls at night.

Through all this, though, are the little victories. Yes, the gutters stink, but I have seen just one person smoking on the street during this whole trip, so you never have to walk through a smoke cloud on the sidewalk. Yes, the bathrooms are terrible, but you realize how trivial your complaints are when you meet a girl who had to drop out of grade school when her mother died and she lost her scholarship. Yes, you lose power and go without light sometimes, but it's better than the 16-year-old girl I met today, who has been without light for years. Her father has taken her from doctor to doctor trying to fix her eyesight. She had strabismus, 6/36 in one eye, and HM in the other eye. We gave her glasses which let her read for the first time. Yes, sometimes you feel out of place and want to go home. Then a 12-year-old girl called me "sista" and taught me a local handshake. I guess this place isn't so bad after all.

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