Through this exchange semester, I hoped to deepen my academic research as well as discover a country and a culture that has interested me for several years.
Ghana is a multicultural country with a strong student community and plenty of opportunities for young people; I was eagerly looking forward to being there. However, fate had other plans.
I arrived in Ghana but my suitcases did not. Being in a new place and environment with only my backpack and the clothes on my back was not the experience I had signed up for. While the other exchange students quickly eased into life on the campus, I struggled with countless airport visits to trace my missing luggage, limited internet connectivity, no familiar faces and a new environment.
I had to start from scratch with the assumption that my bags and carefully packed plans were lost forever.
However, help started trickling in: a t-shirt from a neighbour, some soap and mosquito repellent coils from a professor, a hot meal from a colleague; I was often overwhelmed by the generosity offered to me, kindness shown by strangers and friends alike.
Being the only South Asian exchange student at the University of Ghana, I was faced with a new reality for the first time in my life. Two worlds co-existed in Accra and were divided by creed, colour, culture, income and gender, and I fit into none.
I was struggling to embrace my new reality as an exchange student when suddenly a loud noise jerked me out of my bedlam.
“CRASH! PA-PA-PAAAAAAAA TSSS Ding!”
I next found myself at the School of Performing Arts standing in front of the University of Ghana’s student brass band, who were playing a rousing high-energy march. I had never heard those sounds before but it made my heart soar and for the two minutes I listened, I felt a bit like myself again and knew that I had to be a part of this. After some negotiations, I was allowed to join the band to play the triangle, which was the only available spot.
For starters, I had to swallow a whole lot of my pride and listen to a lot of triangle jokes from musicians and non musicians, no holds barred.
The triangle is not the important instrument in a musical ensemble but it has a small but effective role to play. Participatory journalist George Plimpton famously said that playing the triangle with the New York philharmonic orchestra was "one of the most terrifying things" he did in his career. “One reason it was terrifying was that in music you cannot make a mistake. If you make a mistake, a big one, you destroy a work of art.”
As the end semester concert approached us, I made mistakes I had not made previously and I was ashamed to keep letting my fellow students down. A missed note here, a weak and muffled ending trill there, things were not looking good.
However, sitting at my seat in the percussion section at the concert and staring at the blinding lights ahead of us, the last few months flashed before me: landing in Accra, the familiar sounds of traffic, laughter, trotro rides, church choirs, sachet water, the hawker cries, defrosted fridges, smells of fresh meat pies mixed with petrol, afternoon classes, tears, despair, the cool rain, rehearsals, fan Ice, internet server beeps, leftover jollof, ocean swims, the airport conveyor belt, concerts, shared hopes and dreams, mosquito repellent, Bolt rides, broken toilets…
In hindsight, I saw that losing everything I had was less important than all I had gained. And most importantly, I was where I was meant to be.
I took a breath, picked up my now dented spoon and struck the triangle the best I could. And again, and again, perfectly in time till the curtains came down and the audience cheered us on.
It was at that moment that I knew everything was “Ghana” be alright.
Watch Deane's vlog on Insagram from her time in Ghana.
Learn more about Exchange Programmes at the Geneva Graduate Institute.