On My First Month...
It has been a month since I landed in Accra, Ghana, and what an amazing month it has been. Where do I even begin? How do I even begin? I am currently at the house I will be staying in for the next six weeks and where I have been for the past 3, located in the city of Kumasi, about a 4-hour drive north of Accra. I spent my first week in Africa in Accra, taking in all the city had to offer. I stayed in a small, two-room house with four local Ghanaian guys. They were kind and welcoming, and taught me about the local customs and showed me secrets of their city.
Accra was an assault on the senses. Life here is different than anything I have experienced before. The dirt streets burn as orange as the sun, and the air is thick with the smell of food cooking over wood fires on the curbside. Life is on the street. Streets full of kids playing with sticks and tires, men playing checkers and cards, and women conversing in groups. Markets are abundant and found on almost every street, where men and women sell everything from fresh fish to fake Louis Vuitton. Abandoned cars and trucks, stray goats, chickens, cows, cats, and dogs can be seen around every turn. The food is served hot and ready to eat on every street corner- rice, beans, and fish that all bring the heat of various spices.
It can get hot here. Ghana is located just a few degrees above the equator, and the temperature is just a few degrees below boiling (not really). The humidity is a constant 80-90%, and the temps range from the high 70s to the low 90s – which for a kid from the mountains of New Mexico seems very hot.
It has been interesting to see the importance and influence of religion so far in Ghana. In Accra the dominant religion was Christianity, but the community where I live in Kumasi is dominantly Muslim. The restaurant, busses, shops, and boutiques have names heavily influenced by Religion, and there are churches or mosques on every street. Ghanaians also love football (soccer), and I had the chance to watch an intertribal game when I arrived in Kumasi. It was a hard-fought game on ever harder red dirt.
Driving on streets here is always exciting. There are almost no stop signs or traffic lights in the communities. The roads are rarely painted with a center line, and the drivers seem to regularly drive on the wrong side and have no problem passing with oncoming traffic. The mini buses are called TroTros which I got to experience on my second day here. They operate with one driver and someone who hangs out the opposite window shouting the TroTro’s destination. Hear the destination you want? Just shout back, and they will slam on the breaks, slide open the door, pick you up, and be driving again in a split second.
I am getting adjusted to life in Ghana and have already learned so much. Perhaps the most obvious thing I have learned, despite the cliché, is how fortunate I have been and how much I may have taken for granted. I spent my first week here living in a house with four other guys, one mattress, and no running water. Although there is widespread poverty here on a scale I have never seen before, the people are warm and welcoming, and everyone is excited and optimistic about their country’s rapid development. One thing I still haven’t quite adjusted to is the stares and name calling. Because I am living in a semi-rural, undeveloped part of Ghana, it is not frequented by white tourist, therefore almost everyone I encounter on the streets is surprised to see me. They are friendly and very curious as to why I am in their part of the world. In Twi, the dominant language here, the word for ‘white person’ is Obroni, and it is common to be walking down the street and hear it shouted by a surprised local. For some of the younger children and in the poorest regions, I can tell I am the first white person these people have ever seen because of their constant stares of surprise and amazement as if they are looking at a ghost, and I am beginning to understand why. It has been weeks since I have seen another ‘Obroni.’ In the past, I have only seen a handful of other ‘Obronis’ and almost all of the tourist sights in Accra.
During my first week in Accra, I had the opportunity to visit the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, Independence Square and the famous Cape Coast castle. Cape Coast Castle was a slave prison and shipping center and was such an eye-opening experience, and I would like to write a journal solely on my experience there. I also had the opportunity to visit a Ghanaian Senior High School (equivalent to U.S. college) preparatory school and was able to meet some of the students. One evening during my first week I traveled to the nearby Shai hills where encountered monkeys, zebras, and ostriches. That same evening I watched the sunset from atop a small mountain overlooking the African plains.
In Kumasi, I have been able to visit the Armed Forces Museum which was a trip back in time to when Ghana was a British Colony struggling for independence. Also in Kumasi, I visited the Central Market which, to say the least, was crazy. It is one of the biggest markets in the world and is by far bigger than the ones I have been to in Thailand and Taiwan. Anything and everything is sold there. Literally. It is full of bustling people buying and selling goods, men at sewing machines, women frying fish, buckets full of various spices. I hope to return to the market several more times as it was one of the most exciting full of so much life and activity I have ever been. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I also made the trip out to Lake Bosumtwi, the largest natural lake in West Africa. The drive to the lake was though serene jungle mountains, and the lake peacefully welcomed me after the morning of travel, and I was lucky enough to take a boat out onto the lake with some of the locals I met there.
I began my volunteer work my second week in Africa at the Trinity hospital in a majority Muslim community in the northern part of Kumasi. I walk to and from work every day through a forested part of town where I pass under plantain and mango trees and over small creeks. I work in the main ward of the hospital alongside the nurses and doctors. I have been busy, doing everything from routine vital sign checks and giving medications, to assisting with emergency trauma cases and working in the maternity ward. Being trained as an EMT is vital to being able to work in these situations quickly and effectively. Not only am I learning so much from the people I work with, but in return, I can share my knowledge which I hope will create a long-term impact here in Africa. The hospital lacks enough medical equipment and by donating the things I brought hopefully help alleviate some of the hospital’s needs. However, I was unprepared for the level of need and, with your support, I would like to donate even more supplies. If you would like to help me donate even more, click here. The cases which come into the hospital are typically severe. Due to the widespread lack of health insurance, many patients avoid going to the hospital until their condition has become an emergency. I have been very busy but it is so rewarding to help people on their worst days, and I am very happy to give all I can to these people.
During my third week here, I was asked to assist in a week-long women’s empowerment training. The workshop was sponsored by an organization similar to the program I work for (Medics Without Borders) called FINHDA- Foundation for International Human Development Aid. During the week, FINHDA trained over 500 women to be able to make soaps, shampoos, creams, and other household and cosmetic cleaning items with help from myself and other volunteers. We also worked to train the women to take the skills they learned and turn them into a business by providing lectures on marketing, financial literacy, and time management. I was asked to speak on the health aspects of creating these supplies, such as how to safely avoid contact with any dangerous chemicals and what to do in case someone ingested or contacted a dangerous substance. I was also asked to help document the event in photos and videos. I am honored and excited to have been part of the workshop. Every day hundreds of women showed up with notebooks or phones to record what they learned from the lectures. They were engaged and eager to participate, and I believe the workshop will truly make a positive impact in the lives of these women and to the community as a whole.
During the week that I assisted in the workshop, I attended the training in the morning and worked at the hospital in the afternoon, leading to long 12 hour days. During one of the days, I snapped some photos of a couple of school children playing at a nearby school, and before I knew it, the entire school had swarmed around me eager to have their pictures taken. It was a beautiful moment and one I will not soon forget. More photos to come.
The internet access here is somewhat limited meaning I won’t be able to publish these travel journals as often as I would like. I am taking a lot of photos, and I’m working on some short films and vlogs which I hope to upload when I get a steadier connection. This website will be under-construction for a while longer as well because I do not have the resources to work on it, but I will continue to create, and I will share as much as I can when I can. Africa is so full of life, and I am so happy to call it home for a few more months. I will continue to learn as much as I can, as well as teach and give back as much as I can. There is truly not a better feeling than making someone smile.