First off the bat, flying KLM was smart. Warm face cloths, edible food, free newspapers, friendly service, and a pillow and blanket for everyone. Very decent. I slept pretty much the entire first overnighter to Amsterdam, roused myself to wander the A’dam airport (with its stereotypical Dutch everything – table-sized Delft teacups to sit in, giant clogs, big wheels of gouda, etc., etc.), and made it onto Flight #2. Between my entertainment overload mid-flight, I squeezed in a glance over the wing. . . where great mountains and valleys of golden-brown sand lay for seemingly ever. The Sahara Desert. Wow. [Side note to self: must get in a desert trip someday].
I landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and was picked up by some contacts (with a sign that said: ‘JESSICA PETER’), and brought to . . . a homestay? That was a surprise, since I had booked a hostel, but I rolled with it, right into Dzowulu (think “Joe Lou”), a suburb of Accra. The tropical-fruit-tree-lined courtyard with two buildings and multiple extended family members (plus two dogs) was bounded by a heavy wall and barbed wire. B&E’s are apparently quite a worry here. It seemed quite a nice area, but the water didn’t always agree to run. I had the first bucket shower of my life, and emerged feeling both refreshed and victorious.
To paraphrase my host, Ghana is the centre of the earth. Geographically speaking. It’s the only country that sits on the intersection of the Greenwich Mean Line and the Equator. So yes, that means it’s hot! But a lot of the heat is humidity, and there always seems to be a nice breeze and a respite in the shade. So it’s also manageable. Especially with the surprisingly pleasant prospect of dumping a bucket of water on my head at the end of the day.
The capital, Accra, is hectic, intense, exciting, and still developing. There’s old tropical (often colonial) architecture, dirty slums with stinking open sewers, ultra-modern highrises, green space at the large schools, and seemingly everything in between. But it all has the little ramshackle huts or tables with umbrellas that make up shops of all sorts, the “head porters”, and the tro-tros (shared vans, halfway between and a taxi and a bus), taxis, and traffic. With honking. Oh, so much honking. Honking is the way to say “I’m coming up beside you”, “Wait, I’ll go,” “No, you go,” “Hey, we are both driving a tro-tro!“, “Do you want this taxi? I bet you want this taxi. This taxi is available. Are you sure you don’t want a ride?”. And, again, everything else in between.
And then the head porters. Picture sitting in rush hour traffic on a busy 6 lane highway. QEW perhaps? Now picture hundreds of people wandering between cars selling anything you might want. Off their heads, of course. Fanta? Mentos? Dried plantain chips? Cell phone minutes? Car mats?? Pants?? Novels from the African Writers Series??? Canes??? Vibrating massagers?? Ukuleles???? (I did regret not getting that one book by Chinua Achebe. It’s been on my to-read list for a while).
Though Ghana is technically an English speaking country, it isn’t English that’s primarily spoken on Accra’s streets. It’s (mostly) Twi, the majority language of the country. My host family was speaking (mostly) Ewe, and I’m expecting more Ewe in the Volta region. There are between 45-60 language groups in Ghana, so it’s really not that much of a surprise that they took a middle route and chose to use their old colonial master’s language as the official one.
The only really exciting animals I’ve seen have been the larger lizards, often brightly coloured. Though as the 8-year-old at my homestay said when I marvelled at them, “I don’t like how those big one stare at you all the time. Like you’ve done something wrong.” Huh. To each her own, I suppose. There was also a nice morning-singing-bird with a long tail that I briefly saw, but another resident of my homestay said she didn’t like that one because it eats all the guavas from their tree. Understandable, I suppose. On both her part and the bird’s.
Also, I have found myself very much in the minority. Apparently white people, when few and far between, see fit to nod at each other like people with the same car sometimes do. I first figured this out when two Mormon boys saw me and waved like we were BFFs. Interesting phenomenon.
And hey, aren’t I doing a social work placement here?
MONDAY was my first day with International Needs (IN) Ghana, and the opening ceremonies of the International Congress they were hosting! Lots of folk from all over the world to chat with. Lots of excitement about Ghana and IN. Lots of dancing and drumming. Lots of prayers. . .
TUESDAY was orientation at the head office in Accra, with an in-depth look at IN Ghana’s main intervention areas (child rights, health, education, and gender empowerment – which will be my primary area)
WEDNESDAY was a trip with some global partners to see some project communities in Accra and the work IN Ghana has been doing there to combat CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children). Lots of contacts with the people served, lots of on-the-ground showings of results that I had spent all the day before learning about. Quite exciting.
THURSDAY was this and that with IN folk in Accra, and then a ride out to the very rural Vocational Training Centre (for women) in Adidome, part of the Volta region of Ghana, which borders the country of Togo, where I currently sit in my cottage guest house by the banks of the Volta River. A full tour of the grounds tomorrow!