What are you Ghana do?
Updated: Apr 17, 2019
"What are you Ghana do in Ghana?" asked my brother for the fourth time from the other side of the world through a badly connected phone call. "Ohhhh!" I said, finally understanding through hysterical laughter while explaining to my friends what I was laughing about while they gave me judgmental looks. Well, I thought it was funny!
It was a good question though, what was I Ghana do in this remote country in Africa that I initially knew so little about? Well, I basically signed up for a bunch of Semester at Sea trips since traveling solo in an unfamiliar country in Africa seemed a little.... stupid? Ya, I'll go with that word. Don't get me wrong, Ghana was one of the places I was most excited to visit, mainly for the reason that It was not a place I would think to go (and would I ever go back?). It wasn't a place I wanted to skip around merrily by myself though.
The first day I went on a trip that went to Kakum National Park, perhaps one of Ghana's most famous sites and home to the canopy walkway. The walkway is basically planks nailed together supported by steel wires. Draped on both sides of the planks is netting to stop you from falling to your death like a misguided cartoon (see below).
Although I probably would've managed to fall off If i tried that...
We stopped at Coconut Grove Resort (Which seemed very out of place) on the way back for lunch- which consisted of things like coconut rice and fries and was one of the rare good meals I had in Ghana. Ghana may have a lot of things going for it, but food isn't one of them (the favorite snack of Ghanaians is Fufu which has the appearance and taste of raw dough. There aren't a lot of foods I strongly dislike but that is one of them). We got back to the ship and spent the night playing card games and eating pizza from the grill for dinner.
The Canopy Walkway at Kakum National Park
The next day I was ready for something a little more adventurous and I got it. The trip I signed up for led me from a bus, to a short hike, to a canoe, and finally to a floating village. We were welcomed with drumming and dancing and presented the village with some gifts of unknown relevance and usefulness to the residents. They showed us around their villages' school and told us how the village sustains itself (fishing and tourism if I remember right). The village itself was small and the residents lounged anywhere/everywhere while their children held conversations with us through dancing and smiling at us.
The village, although a wonderful experience, was also my first real confrontation with poverty- or at least the first time it figuratively smacked me in the face and made me listen to it. While we were told not to even touch the water if we could help it, the people of that village drink it every day. "It's different! They live there!" you say. Well then I challenge you to go to that floating village in Africa and witness two small children dipping a cup into water with ridiculous amounts of trash floating in it (under the homes it was nothing but trash) and then tell me that it's okay because they're used to it. The school was also just a couple rooms with benches on the far side of the village and a room with a few books.
It may have just been a day, but it instilled in me the intense desire to help in some way. It seems to me that if you witness these kind of living conditions, there is no turning back. Those people, whose names I couldn't tell you, will still live in the back of my mind every time I spend money on something I don't need and will bring me back to reality when I take things for granted. Think what you want about Semester at Sea and privilege, but going back to a fancy German cruise ship only intensified my feelings of needing to take action.
Pictures of the floating village and the dancing children we were greeted with!
The next couple days were also eye-opening, and wonderful, and strange. I may have had my adventures pre-planned for Ghana, but the lack of planning stress only made room for the mental exhaustion that was to come. I had signed up for a program called "Torgome Village Experience" and was excited to learn that it was home-stay (I had been wanting to do a home-stay and didn't realize the trip was one). We arrived in the village and were given a African names via naming ceremony. Mine was 'Yaa Mawutor', which apparently means 'God's Own' (although it could really mean dumbass and I wouldn't know the difference). A lot of the names were god-related. Ghana is a religious country, with about 69% being christian, and many of the business had names like "Jesus is my friend Mini Mart" and "Fear God Bakery". It was pretty hilarious.
After the naming ceremony- where we also met our host families- and lots of dancing, drumming, and even a short play by some of the kids, we hopped back on the bus to get lunch before returning to our families for the night. When we returned we dispersed to our families. My friend Sarah and I were paired with the leader of the town, Johnathon (we were also lucky enough to have a fan in our house). We dropped our backpacks off and went to hang out with the kids. They taught us some games and dance moves, and visa versa. Another friend of mine brought a frisbee and we played with that for a while. They also showed us around and we talked about our lives. It was really cool just to be at their homes and hang out with them. (Slideshow below with pics of our host families and the village)
That night we had dinner and were swarmed by children- I had two fighting over me at one point- and then made our way back to our host homes for the night. We woke up and had a small breakfast before leaving. We did a couple short hikes on the way back to the ship and I was exhausted. I was also constantly drenched in sweat in Ghana and I still have a tan line from my sunburn that I got canoeing to the floating village.
The last day I went to the City of Refuge, an organization that rescues children from horrific conditions. It was great to learn about what the organization does, and I wish we could have helped more (when it comes down to it all we really did was get a tour and learn about what they do, which was still cool). Here's the website if you'd like to learn more: http://www.cityofrefugeoutreach.org/
Before we arrived in Ghana I was excited because I knew so little and wanted to know more. After going there, I am very happy that we went there. It gave me an interesting perspective on the world and opened my eyes to problems that were merely a concept to me before. It was the country that gave me my first dose of culture shock and really took me out of my comfort zone (I went willingly). Even though I had everything planned for me in this country, it was far from an easy place to travel. I will be soaking in the lessons I learned from Ghana for years and I've only started to uncover some of them. I think this quote, which I also wrote in my journal, sums up my feelings on Ghana for now: