In Ghana, everything is different. The places, the people, the culture, the food...everything. I’ve never felt such a rollercoaster of emotions in my entire life. The flight was almost an entire day long. Lots of sleeping and lots of airplane food. I met up with a group of some of the other volunteers in my program on my last flight from London to Accra. It was comforting not feeling entirely alone. When we arrived in Accra, fear struck in when we got to baggage claim and my second bag never came. All of my clothes and many other necessities were in it, and it was nowhere to be found. I made a report at Lost and found and was told to leave my temporary address and number with them, and I should hear from them when they have. At that time, they couldn’t even locate it.
All of the volunteers and myself walked outside to be surrounded by every black person around staring at us. It isn’t hard to spot the foriegners here. We were waiting for our Ghanian program director, Henry, but he was nowhere to be found and he wasn’t picking up his phone. A little while later we found Isaac, one of the Ghanian program members. He took us all to a large bus, and we were instantly surrounded with Ghanian men asking to assist us with our bags. They kept asking for tips and magazines afterwards, and we didn’t understand why. We were later told that Ghanians are extremely friendly people...but they want tips from people (especially white people) for everything.
When we arrived at Henry’s house, the rest of the volunteers were there waiting. There are 20 of us total. Five are from the UK, 13 from Canada and only 2 Americans including myself. There were a few different bedrooms on the downstairs level where we were allowed to sleep. After a short welcoming meeting from Henry, we all made it off to bed quickly.
The first week was orientation and consisted mainly of informational meetings with Henry at his house, going to different markets with Isaac, and taking a few different course instructional lessons from a man named Elvis.
I feel dirty. All of the time. No matter if I’ve just showered or been out all day. I’m dirty and sweaty and sticky. It’s just going to be a part of my life for a little while. Internet is hard to find. You have to go to an internet cafe to use it, and wifi is impossible to find and get to work. I’ve been eating a lot of spicy rice, bread, pasta, and I’ve tried a few new things so far, including something called plaintains (not entirely sure what it is, but regardless it’s not bad). Everywhere I go, I hear people shouting ‘Obruni Obruni,’ meaning ‘white person.’ I’ve already received a handful of marriage proposals, and when we all went to our first African club one night, we were instantly surrounded with four men trying to dance with us at the same time.
Their main transportation is using taxis. There are dropping taxis, which are meant to get you alone to a specific location, and then there are shared taxis where you and whoever else is going the same general direction shares the taxi with you. My favorite form of transporation is using the Tro Tro (meaning ‘penny, penny’). They’re essentially large buses that people are constantly hopping in and out of and they’re extremely cheap. Maybe 1 cedi to drive an hours drive, and 1 cedi is equivalent to maybe a little more than $.50.
I got to Golden Gate Secondary School, my specific placement on Sunday, September 23rd. My volunteer partner Chrissy and I met our host and director of the school, Mr. Dadson. He is an extremely kind, gentle, but very disciplined man. He’s gone out of his way many times to make sure we are always comfortable and taken care of. At Golden Gate, the ages of students typcially range from 16-19. There are students who come to school from home everyday, and there are others who are boarders at the school. Our room has a bunk bed, some shelves, a little tv, a shower, sink, and toilet. A generator comes on from 5-10 every evening, so we can use the lights, watch movies, have a fan, and charge our things. I’m also very thankful that we have a working shower and flush toilet. Many of the volunteers have to bathe with a bucket everyday!
All of students are in love with us. They always want to ask questions, play with our (very different) hair, touch our skin, perform for us, etc. It is very hard to understand some of them, even the other teachers too. They think our English is way too fast, and we think their English is mumbled. Their voices here are mesmerizing. When I can’t understand what they’re saying it’s still just fascinating to sit there and listen and watch them speak. So elegant, but so so mumbled. They’re always laughing at everything we say, and they always want us to come sit next to them in class. Since this is our first week at the school, we were told to observe all of the classes and then decide what we would like to teach. Chrissy and I are already pretty certain that she will teach Sciences and I will teach English. We’ve already gotten a good taste of what it’s going to be like every morning. We’re woken up by the sound of the boarders at approximately 5am everyday. Someone starts by ringing the bell, saying “Get up, Get up, Get up!” It’s meant for the boarders to wake up to start cleaning around the school. Since we’re living on the school’s campus, I suppose it’s meant for us too. I’m definitely going to need my earplugs for a while. Either that, or I’ll eventually have to drown the screaming noises and laughter out. Worship and prayer starts in front of the school around 7:40am...never on time though. All of the students are in rows based on their gender and their grade. Their eyes are closed, and all you can hear and see are a large mass of young African women and men praising God in English and their local language. It’s truly a beautiful thing to watch. It’s supposed to end at 7:50am but it usually doesn’t end until 8:15 or so. I’ve learned quicly that things are never on time here. The first day at the school, the director, Mr. Dadson introduced Chrissy and I to the school, and then the children were dismissed for classes. I’ve gotten many opportunities to interact with the students. They mostly just want to circle around us, playing with our hair, poking us and asking consecutive questions. It really never ends. I figured since we are at a school with 16-19 year olds, it wouldn’t be as chaotic, but it most certainly is. They’re always so curious here, and insanely friendly. The students are all extremely respectful to the teachers, the director, the headmaster, and any adult they encounter. At the same time, there is absolutely no order to the school. Kids are always walking in and out of classrooms during class time. They talk nonstop during class, and a lot of the time teachers aren’t even there to stop them. Teachers show up late to classes, don’t show up at all, or will show up to put some notes on the board and leave for the rest of class time. I’m just interested to see how I’m going to fill up all of my time if I’m only expected to teach 1 or 2 classes throughout the week, for an hour each! Always wanting to be pro-active, I’ve found it often frustrating that there have been times when Chrissy and I have absolutely nothing to do. We’re thinking about starting up their drama club again or some type of club to stay busy and interact with the kids more.
There are two female boarder students who serve Chrissy and I lunch and dinner every night. Their names are Erica and Francis. They also clean our room for us, take out the trash, and wash our laundry. I wasn’t expecting that luxury at all, but they’re extremely sweet and it’s a joy to see their faces everyday. The food so far has been interesting. It’s been very repetitive. We’re eating a lot of white rice, plaintains (a vegetable), beans and sauce. I’m hoping to try more of their local foods soon.
I’ve learned a lot about their culture already. In Ghana, they work everyday except Sunday. On Sunday, 90% of Ghanians go to church. Some churches last almost all day. Birthdays aren’t a very big deal here. They might go to church and pray but other than that, they will go to work and do their daily routines. they do not receive any birthday gifts. I found this interesting because in Ghana, many men and women are nicknamed depending on the day of the week they were born on. So naturally, I assumed birthdays were a big deal. Their biggest holidays throughout the year are Christmas, Easter, their Independence Day on July 1st, and Farmer’s day, which is essentially a day to celebrate the farmers. It doesn’t happen everywhere, but it is possible to buy cats to cook here. Obviously the bigger the cat is, the more it costs. People even eat dog, and they will chew the bone of the meat they’ve ate so that they can get to the bone marrow. They don’t understand why we think that’s so odd. There are about 49 different languages in Ghana, depending on what tribe they are born into. Their accents are absolutely mesmerizing. Even if I can’t understand them, I could probably sit there and watch their mouths move and listen to their voices for hours. Some of the students have already attempted to teach us some of their language. It’s definitely a work in progress. The two most common languages in the area we are living in are Fante and Twi.
Even though it’s only the first week at the school, I can already get a very good sense of just how strict Mr. Dadson and the headmaster are. It’s sad to say I’ve already seen sticks being brought out to punish children. The students are forced on their knees, with their arms raised in the air. It’s terrible thing to even think of and really shocking when Chrissy and I saw it for the first time. Some of the things they seem to get punished for don’t even seem justifiable to me. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that part of their culture.
One of the things that reminds me I am in Africa the most is walking down the street or through the market, seeing women with baskets on their heads, carrying water baggies, food, and other items. By water baggies, I mean that you can actually purchase water in little bags. That’s how many people drink water here, and they’re extremely cheap and easy to get. I can’t tell you how many of them I’ve gone through, especially since we have to use them to brush our teeth. Many women carry their babies around their backs, wrapped in their African material. It’s amazing to see how easily and peacefully babies can sleep wound up so tight against their mothers’ backs. I keep imagining how hot they must be...and we’re in the wet season right now. It amazes me how much trash I am surrounded by. There is so much beauty in this country, but it is so incredibly dirty. Everywhere we go, we are followed here. It’s fun to walk around the market in Takoradi, bargaining prices and trying to stay away from the men who will follow you for blocks. They mean well but they just don’t seem to get the message. People call us brothers and sisters all the time. In Ghana, everyone is family. They all want to be our friends, and we are always being told ‘you are welcome...’ everywhere we go. If we say something that’s impressive or fascinates them, we get a long, exaggerated ‘wowwww...’ as a response. Ghanians are so happy and entertaining though. We’ve already got to see our first real African talent show, put together by the students at our school! It was just for us, and we loved the entertainment and even stood up to attempt their dances. I don’t understand how rhythm comes so naturally to them!
Chrissy and I have done well at keeping in touch with the 18 other volunteers teaching at the various school around Ghana. A big group of us even met up the other day to go to Busua Beach Resort. The beach was beautiful, and we all got a chance to swim as it was thundering and enjoy some very desired Western food. Two of our friends, Kira and Miranda, came a much farther way and stayed with us over the weekend. All of us have had our own very interesting experiences with our host families and schools. There have definitely already been some difficulties. One girl has already managed to catch Malaria. It’s quite funny though because while we make Malaria out to be this terrible, deadly disease it’s so common and treatable here. They practically make it to be the flu or a big that simply comes and goes away. Once you’ve had it, and it’s in your system, the following times you catch it it’s supposed to be much easier to manage. Still, I’m very careful to cover my arms and legs in the evenings when the mosquitos come out, and we always sleep with our mosquito net surrounding us.
Overall, it’s been a fascinating experience so far. Only two weeks in, and I can already see I’m going to enjoy this (: