Last year I had the chance to study abroad in Ghana, an incredible experience that was not without its challenges. The Ghanaian lifestyle moves at a much slower pace than what American students are used to and it’s not uncommon to regularly encounter frustrating situations. For example, a restaurant may have a five page menu of delicious offerings, but after ten minutes of banter with the waiter you will probably learn that they serve only chicken and rice. However, those moments are just part of the experience, and with practice you’ll find that a sense of humor goes a long way in coping with setbacks.
This became obvious one weekend when my friends and I decided to travel to a remote beach for a low-budget vacation. We arrived at the small village of Beyin in the late afternoon, dusty and exhausted from our journey. A local man eagerly introduced himself as “Steve” and insisted we stay at the “Appollonia Beach House”. Steve furiously beckoned us to follow him through the narrow sandy paths that wound their way through the village until we reached the beach- a breathtaking sight. The empty stretch of sand and ocean glowed in the orange light of the sunset, infusing the scene with an ethereal air of beauty. There on the beach stood a run-down hut made from the stalks of palm trees, leaning slightly to the left in a worrisome way but looking perfectly comfortable to four weary travelers. For less than five dollars a night, we could hardly complain. Pleased, Steve accepted our payment and handed over the key to our hut- a tiny object that looked exactly like the key to my diary in middle school. After a long day of travel in the sun, we locked the door and happily collapsed onto our cots, falling asleep still fully dressed.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of the waves and the early light poking in through holes in the palm stalk walls of the hut. Needing to pee, I got up and attempted to open the door with the tiny flimsy key we had used to attempt to
secure the door lock. After struggling with the key and hopping from
foot to foot, my fingers slipped and I dropped it…right through a small hole in the palm floor where it tumbled several feet down to the sand under the hut.
Great-absolutely classic. I had to pee like a crazy person and the door was locked from the inside and the only key had literally fallen OUT of the room. Crossing my legs, I just began to laugh and laugh at the absurdity of it all. I tried to wake up my friend Will in the midst of my giggling.
“Will… Wiiiilll… hahahah…. I dropped the key… hahaha… and it fell through the floor… I have to hahahaha PEEEEE!!” Will rolled over in bed but didn’t respond. Despite my predicament, I could only keep laughing.
From the room next door, I heard my friend Karen’s voice. I banged on the wall and called out to her between fits of giggles.
“Karen! KAAAAAREEEN! I have a request….I need you to go outside and ….crawl under the hut… and find the key…”
Needless to say, Karen could not grasp what I was asking.
“Crawl under the hut?”
“Yes, yes! Find the key!”
“The key is under the hut?”
“Yes, that’s what I said! Can you find it for me?”
“Why is the key under the hut?”
… and so on.
Luckily, at that moment Will woke up and I explained the dilemma, still giggling furiously. He blinked at me and sleepily groaned, “Are you kidding? The key doesn’t even work, the door’s open.”
Sure enough, with a mighty pull the door opened up. Freedom! I rushed off to the bathroom, relieved for once that things in Ghana rarely work as they’re supposed to.
Perhaps that’s the real lesson of this story. True, it was a hole in the floor that caused me to be locked in a hut with a full bladder in the first place, but it was a broken lock that eventually set me loose again. In Ghana, I found that the challenges and frustrations of my study abroad experience were often the most rewarding times as well. As travelers, we learn and grow from the challenges we’re forced to face. So while that hole in the floor may cause you plenty of grief, if you stay positive I bet you’ll find a way for those same struggles to be the most liberating experiences of your life.
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