An unforgettable trip to Ghana

courtesy of Caley Donovan

I’ve found that sometimes the hardest thing about an experience in a foreign country is expressing how it was, and how much it meant. It’s harder than adapting to a new culture and diet. It’s harder than standing out everywhere you go. It’s harder than getting a potentially deadly disease far from home. So here goes: One month in Ghana in one page.

The first thing you notice when you step off the plane is the heat. Of course it’s hot here in the summer, but Ghana’s heat is different. It’s heavier, damp, tropical. By the end of the trip, I almost ceased to notice the climate. There are lots of differences that you slowly become accustomed to. Portion sizes are different- HUGE, and you’re expected to eat it all. You often eat with your hand, even hot soups and stews. Water is drunk out of either bottles or bags (sachet water, as they call it). Drinking tap water is unimaginable, and often dangerous. Transportation is crazy- tro-tros, a van-bus that is packed full and announced by a man hanging out a window, is certainly a sight. People are friendly, sometimes overly so. It’s not uncommon to get a marriage proposal or two on a short walk home. And everywhere you go, people shout “Obruni! Obruni!”( white person).

That’s the problem with trying to explain my trip on paper- Ghana comes off sounding foreign, strange, weird. It’s not. It’s wonderful. You can buy everything from people on the street, and prices aren’t set- you barter for them. A boy in my group even traded his shirt for a carving he wanted. The clothes are beautifully colorful. Best of all are the people. Ghanaians pride themselves on hospitality and kindness. My host family was amazing, welcoming me into the family (they even gave me a Ghanaian name!). They went out of the way to show me their beautiful culture and help me try new things (from eating mangoes, plantains, sugarcane, and coconuts to navigating a market and medicating rabbits). They really opened their home and their hearts to me.

I wasn’t just there as an exchange student, I was there as a volunteer. During my days, I worked in the Potter’s Village, an orphanage containing 99 children from 6 months to 18 years. All in one building smaller than our auditorium. I sanded and painted the walls, carried cement blocks to help build a toilet, and, mainly, looked after the children who were too young, too new, or too ill to go to school. I played soccer with a boy named Emmanuel, who looked 5 years younger than his age of 13. I practiced writing in the dirt with 8 year old Gifty, who had been there more than a year and a half. I carried little Connie on my back for hours. And finally Bebe… Bebe was a two year old boy, abandoned by the roadside in a rainstorm less than a month before. He was the first child I met at the orphanage, and the one I was closest to. I held him while he burned with fever, and played “SuperBebe” (a game of our own creation) with him once he recovered. We loved to make faces at eachother, the crazier the better. I hated leaving him there.

I don’t think it’s really possible to capture my trip in an article, in words, in pictures. It’s something you have to feel, and I don’t know if I can make you feel it. When I think of my trip, I don’t feel nostalgia, I feel longing. I want to be back in Ghana, with my Ghanaian family. I want to play Ampe with my little sister Rebecca Akousia and laugh at my brother Sam’s dancing. I want to answer to the name Abena, be called obruni, catch a tro-tro. I want to buy a mango from a cart on the street and barter for a piece of cloth. And I want to look after Emmanuel, and Gifty, and Connie, and Bebe again.

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