Ghana Volunteering Journal of Taylor Swanson (of Canada)
A question of scruples
It has been awhile because everytime I come here John follows me and invites himself to read my e-mails and read everything I write…
People here are very friendly but at the same time they are also very intrusive- from John reading my e-mails to him pressuring me to buy an African shirt (the material from his friend, the sewing by his friend) – but of course, since everyone knows what is best for me, the accountant is now debating the quality of the fabric with him…In a country that is completely foreign I NEED guidance, but the fact that everyone is guiding me in a different direction is a little disconcerting – at the least, someone is being casually dishonest, at the worst, someone is unscrupulously lying… Having the best case scenario be that dishonest people are intruding on my life is not a comfortable position to be in…I feel like people are trying to manipulate me–everyone has an ulterior motive-yesterday John and Kabaaka started asking me if I could arrange a flight for them to Canada, if I could sign off on their Visas, If I could find them a place to stay in Canada, if I could find them work in Canada, if I could help them get Canadian Citizenship, If I could find them a wife…
That’s right folks, apparently I am some kind of Canadian pimp that can pass off my female friends to anyone I want… They gave me their contact info with instructions to distribute it to all my female friends… so if anyone is looking for a Ghanaian husband I can hook you up.
Last night there was a massive rain storm-it was so loud that it seemed like I was trying to sleep between the tracks at a very busy train station-I was awake between 3 and 5-not fun.
How to live in Ghana
By Christopher Prater (USA)
First rule: don’t ever, for even a moment, think you’ll be fine without sunscreen. Because, let’s face it, you will be burned. Sometimes I just accept this.
Second rule: Never assume things will go as planned. I had a trip to Cape Coast cancelled ten minutes before departure. Last weekend I finally made it there, and the hotel we booked gave someone else our room.
Third rule: understand that the word time does not exist, nor has it ever, nor will it ever. Breakfast “time” can mean 6:20 but it can also mean 10:45, depending on the day and what your teaching schedule is. Lunch “time” exists in a window of 12:00 – 1:30, in a school that has only a 30 minute time slot for lunch, 12:30 – 1:00. Dinner “time” is always sooner than you want it. And finally, when someone says 10 minutes, they mean next year, or perhaps never while you’re alive.
Fourth rule: realize cultural differences. People are friendly here. Very friendly. Too friendly. They will show you their house before you know their name. They will want to call you before you have even blinked. And they will make a special 3 hour round trip to the beach to check out the night life possibilities for an upcoming weekend trip. Wow. But they also will impose, impose, impose, thinking they know every minute detail about you, every inner thought, every implicit motive, when in fact they do not. So of course, with the best intentions, they will frustrate you with their magnanimity.
Fifth rule: Organization has no place here…or at least at the school. Headmasters show up once a day, rules are ignored, teachers are late. If they weren’t so cool, I’d have to say something…
Sixth rule: Bring a friend or make friends fast.
Seventh rule: Never ever come to Ghana if you can’t stand religion, feel pressured by religious people, or get easily uncomfortable around anything to do with religion. “Are you a Christian?” has been the most popular question I’ve received, easily beating the pre-trip favor of “What is your name?” taken straight out of the Nepal trip. Prayer services are held daily and can be heard from any point in the country. Sundays don’t exist outside of Church. And students will drop their things to form a group prayer party in the middle of a study session at 8:00 pm (yeah, sometimes they are still at school).
Follow these rules and you’ll have a great time.
By Christopher Prater (USA)
As I stepped off the plane in Accra, Ghana, everything that whizzed past my eyes reminded me of Nepal: taxis honking at my white skin, people staring, dust flying every which way, and people sticking their heads out of minibuses yelling the destination. I upheld this view until I realized that perhaps, away from the “comfort” of our Western lifestyle, things are just different, and there may be some link between different and (insert third world country name). Though I must say that Ghana is more advanced (whatever that abstract term means) than Nepal.
Immediately I was thrown into the whirl of Ghanaian life, as I was transported to my school– Excellece Primary, Kwashiebu, in the “suburbs” of Accra–on the second day. I awoke my first night there every hour to wonder “Where am I?” before drifting back to half sleep on yet another rock hard bed. My accommodations, as expected, are simple, but nice. To answer everyone’s questions, yes I have electricity, albeit only some times, and there is running water on the same terms. And I must say, whew, it’s hot.
I have settled into the groove, if that’s what I should call it. I’m teaching JSS (our middle school) science and math, and also fifth and sixth grade science, which seems like a lot of work, but in reality, is not. I could take more classes if I wanted to, but I feel that a relaxed schedule fits the needs of the teachers, whom I have intruded on. Teaching remains the best and most exciting part of the day, and I will refrain from boring anyone of “nerdery” stories. We’re discussing diffusion in one class. Sorry, I had to sneak something in.
As for the culture, I find it similar in its friendliness and welcoming nature as the Nepali lifestyle, perhaps more so. In fact, sometimes you can be killed with kindness with a deathly combination of friendliness, lack of a sense of time and complete disregard for different cultural standards. Let’s just say that if I have just met you, I don’t want to give you money, an e-mail, show you where I live, or take a professional photo with you. Despite one or two nearly troublesome experiences, though, the acceptance I have received far exceeds the uncomfortable (and even angry) moments.
So I will end here by saying that I am enjoying my African life, but I feel somewhat more alone in an environment completely devoid of other volunteers. I’m learning a lot here: about myself (that perhaps I’m not as courageous as I thought in a completely exotic city), about this culture (people over anything else…in most occasions…though money still thrives as the unfortunate universal definition of “happiness” in many cases), and about the foods of the world (lots more rice, pasta, and funny-sounding fufu and banku).
Fiema and Kintampo trip
By Lindsay Ann Jopes (USA)
This last week I began my new goal, giving special attention to the struggling students. Basically, I’ve found my nitch. Since this type of teaching is related to my future career goal(speech pathology) I’m glad I’m having this opportunity. I’ve found that in this type of situation I’m much more patient and organized. The students are also much more focused and I can visually see the change in their attitude. In just one week they’ve all made significant improvements in their comprehension of the material. Every night I look forward to evaluating their performance and planning the next lesson. I really feel helping these four students graduate with their peers is why I came here. I feel this is where I’m making the most impact. Despite the fact that it’s only four students, the spark in their eye the second they grasp the concept is indescribable.
After such a productive and promising week Katie and I set off on our journey north to Fiema and Kintampo. We left Friday at eleven and arrived in Fiema around 3:30. In taxi this trip would’ve taken half the time but we were in a trotro on unpaved road, not the most comfortable transportation. Once in Fiema we walked through the forest to get to the Guest House. These accommodations were minimal but decent. There was a both a bucket shower and bucket toilet. When we finally got settled in it began raining pretty hard, but Katie and I were not deterred. We went frolicking through the forest in the rain for about an hour looking for monkeys.
On Saturday we woke up at seven, ate breakfast, and once again set out in search of monkeys. After walking for about a half hour, we found a group of children washing their clothes in a watering hole. They laughed when we told them we were looking for monkeys, apparently we’d walked a half hour in the wrong direction. They then walked us to where the monkeys were. One word to describe our sightings was, amazing! I love monkeys so to see them in their natural habitat so close was beautiful. They were jumping from tree to tree, being so playful. We took pictures of the two different types for about an hour and set off back to the guest house.
We then decided to head to the Kintampo waterfalls, about an hour north. This took about two hours, thanks to Ghana time. Once we were at the waterfalls the extra hour made no difference. It was absolutely breathtaking. It was like a enormous staircase with water cascading down. Katie and I went under the waterfall, clothes and all. During my photo-op I feel down a slope and slid down a natural waterslide, it was amazing.
Our trip back to Kumasi took about five hours but the trip was well worth it. We decided after entertaining travelling and beautiful sightseeing, that it’s both the journey and the destination that matter. This weekend we will head to Mole where Katie promises I’ll see elephants, monkeys, warthogs and many other memorable sights.
Cape Coast Getaway
By Lindsay Ann Jopes (USA)
Right before I left for my trip to Cape Coast I finished my individual evaluation of my students. Out of the 18 I discovered there are four who are really struggling. Teacher Gloria’s solution was for them to not graduate. I decided that was an unacceptable solution, and have decided, after talking to the other teachers and the head mistress, the following. For the next month I’m volunteering I will be working with these four students, helping them catch up and hopefully getting them to a point where they will be able to graduate with the rest of their peers. I’m really excited that I’ll be making a direct impact and really helping the kids who need the most help. Okay, so on Friday at 4am Katie and I headed off to Elmina, Cape Coast. We stayed in the Coconut Grove Bridge House which cost us $50 each for the entire weekend. It was really clean and had breakfast included. We had a view of the Elmina castle and the entire fisherman town. Our hotel had a sister hotel, The Coconut Grove Resort, which was absolutely gorgeous!! After touring the Elmina Castle, buying a few souvenirs and cruising around the town, we headed to the pool at the other hotel. It was right on the beach and was very luxurious for Ghana. This hotel, probably the nicest in Ghana, cost $63/night/single room, not to bad. We laid out for a few hours, read, and swam. Then we had dinner at the hotel restaurant on the beach and listened to live music.
Saturday we headed into Cape Coast to see the Cape Coast Castle. Both castles are right on the beach and are so rich with history. Our tour gave us and amplitude of information on the African Slave Trade and the impact the British had on the Ghanaian culture. It was really interesting and moving to be in a place so historically important. We then walked around Cape Coast for a little bit and then went back to the other hotel for some more R&R. We met many more Obroni’s and other interesting people volunteering all over Ghana. Some were working in orphanages, primary schools, secondary schools, building houses, etc. It’s fascinating to talk to people and discover all the things they’re helping with and their motivations behind it.
Sunday we took a TroTro to Takoradi. A TroTro is a van that they stuff with about 20 people. Keep in mind the heat, then add a million flies to the combo. It’s an experience to say the least. We were in the TroTro for about an hour and about 30 min into our trip a man brought a goat into the van. Katie and I were laughing hysterically; no one on the bus had any idea what was so funny. Once in Takoradi we had to wait two hours for a bus and then headed back home.
It was a really interesting and fun weekend. We were able to see a lot of beautiful places and learn a lot about Ghanaian history while also having time to relax. Today, Monday is a holiday (although nobody seems to know what they’re celebrating) so Katie and I are taking the time to plan out lesson plans for the remaining week.
On Wednesday we’re going to Bonwire (pronounced bon-we-ray) to see the Kente weaving and get other authentic souvenirs. Then, this weekend we’re going to the Monkey Sanctuary up north.
By Taylor Swanson (Canada)
I set off by myself on Saturday morning to meet people in Accra that I didn’t know so that I could go to a town that no one in Tema had ever heard of…The day started off on a sour note when I was forced to wait at the trotro station in Tema for an hour–trotros do not have set times when they depart stations, rather they wait until they are full…this could take 5 mins or, as in this case, it could take an hour…Thankfully I had given myself loads of time to get to Accra so I made it in time to meet Naomi, Natalie and Andrea(although it took two attempts for me to correctly identify them). We caught a trotro from Accra to the Krokrobite turn off and then hoped into a taxi to go down to Krokrobite; however, 500 metres into the voyage our taxi broke down…the driver then removed a large piece of the engine and put it in the trunk and then unsuccessfully tried to start the car…thankfully a car stopped and drove us to Krokrobite for the same amount as we were going to pay the taxi. We arrived at the Dream hotel shortly afterward and we went down to the beach so I could meet most of the rest of the group: Alastair, Nick, Monica, MD, Julia, Erin, and Margaret(I hope I am not forgetting anyone)…shortly after the rest fo the group arrived: Nikolas, Marley and Jen… seconds after meeting Nick I asked if he wanted to share a room with me…We got our room, changed and headed down to the beach-it was amazing, absolutely beautiful…we chilled under a thatch umbrella for a bit and then I braved the sea-it was unlike anything I have ever experienced, the power of the under tow, rip tide and waves were intense. For dinner we went to an Italien restaurant that is owned by an Italien guy so the food was amazing-people started comparing the restaurant to the Garden of Eden and that comparison is not far off…After diner we headed to the most amazing bar-we were seated in a private turret complete with a spiral staircase and a thatch roof…we played some drinking games; however, our booze ran dry at 9 o’clock(which is not as pathetic by Ghanian standards-10 o’clock is a “normal” bed time on weekends)…the night ran the risk of petering out but someone saved the day when they mentioned the magic word-religion. We spent the next hour and a half talking about Christianity, about the politics of religion, about the purpose of different denominations, about Judaism and about Jesus himself…the conversation then turned to the American education system-the main topic was how money is now allocated to schools based on their test scores(the good schools recieve more money than the poor performing schools)…we debated long and hard about this-should we allocate the funds to the “good schools” so that those children can excel or should we try to bring the poor schools up to satisfactory levels..then we talked about why certain schools perform worse than others…The night ended with a brief debate on capitalism and the future…WE got to bed around one which is very late by Ghanian standards…I had a horrible sleep thanks to mosquitos and a persistent rooster…I woke up around 7 and headed down to the beach…We went back to Eden for breakfast, and again for lunch which is when the rain hit. Rain here has the power to change plans. We meant to leave by 1:30 but didn’t end up braving the rain til 4.
This was not just one of my best experiences in Ghana but one of the best experiences of my life-I absolutely love talking with a group of liberaly minded, highly intelligent and highly opinionated people-this is why Gimmelwald and Krokrobite have been two of the best experiences of my life!
PS. Some people have been mentioning my writing style-it is just freewriting…for those of you that don’t know, freewriting is constant writing without thought of grammar, spelling, or coherency-basically you just spew out whatever is on your mind(which is why my journals are jam-packed with dashes and ellipses) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freewriting)…In related news, Julia mentioned that she would like to find a house on the gulf islands to house-sit so she could live rent-free and write a book-this sounds like an amazing plan.
A weekend in Cape Coast
By Taylor Swanson
I went to Cape Coast on the weekend with most of the volunteers from last week and a whole slew of new volunteers. They all seem like great folk and if I don’t see them this weekend or next I will most definitely be in Krokrobite on the weekend of the 24th and hopefully they will all be there. Back to Cape Coast, well, more accurately, Elmina, as we decided to opt for Elmina, or rather, St. George Castle over the Cape Coast Castle. This was mainly due to the fact that St. George is the oldest castle south of the sahara! Originally built by the Portuguese in 1481 it was taken over by the Dutch in the 1600s and then by the British in 1867. It has been Ghanaian since Ghana gained independence 50 years ago and has been declared an international heritage site thanks to the dreadful history of the slave trade that is still evident in its dark, dank dungeons. Our guide was excellent which alwasy helps to bring history alive. On Sunday we went to Kakum National Park to go on the canopy walk. It was an awesome experience, if not a tad terrifying. Built by Canadian mountaineers, upon close inspection one wonders if the guide meant to say boy scouts-boy scouts without many patches. To say that it is a dodgy set-up is an understatement as 2X4s are slapped half-hazardly to trees and walk ways are actually ladders with boards across them. Anyways, we all survived and after rushing back to eat lunch we headed home, but before we could leave we had to purchase trotro tickets which seems like a pretty mundane event; however, I volunteered to purchase all 12 tickets(the group was previously upwards of 20 but we had split up over the day) so I made my way into the crowded trotro station, holding 300,000 cedis. It didn’t take long to find the real reason for the crowded station-Ghana was playing Korea in a wolrd cup warm up match, regardless, I survived, secured the tickets and we were on our way (after purchasing the much-sought-after FanChoco (frozen chocolate milk in a bag).