Ghana volunteer’s journal – “How to live in Ghana”

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.

Ghana volunteer’s journal – “First Impressions”

First Impressions

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).