I stepped off the boat to a thick, wet atmosphere that immediately frizzed my recently blow-dried hair. Ninety days into the voyage and I still haven’t learned that showering before a port really isn’t worth it. The Tema harbor in Ghana was full of students waiting to catch the free shuttle that took you into the capital city of Accra – a 45-minute drive. Those of use who were too impatient to wait for the shuttles (myself included) walked outside the harbor gates to find a taxi. It was 95 degrees with 95% humidity. Hot and sweaty doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. The taxis were lined up waiting to take students to their favored destination. Jamestown was ours. Our group split into two cabs without air-conditioning. I never thought I would say that the warm air blowing through my hair actually felt good. Our cabs arrived at an outdoor crafts market, where we were flooded by vendors asking us to visit their shops. Ghanaians would shake your hand to greet you and then come back again one minute later to shake your hand and tell you their name and then come back again one minute later to shake your hand and ask your name and where you are from. This process lasts the entire time you are there, a constant game of hand-shaking for no apparent reason other than to have a physical connection while talking with you. After our cabs left and we spent 20 minutes or so walking around, we realized we weren’t actually in Jamestown…oops. So we left the market and walked to find an ATM and Jamestown. After walking for about 30 minutes, we saw the lighthouse, a landmark in Jamestown. We were greeted by a man who was called “Nice One” by his friends, but his real name was Tackig, but he told us to call him Vis. Go figure that one out. Vis took us to a fisherman’s village that was on the water. He showed us the long fishing boats, the goats lining the streets, and the shacks and huts that made up the community. Despite the heavy poverty in this area, the Ghanaian’s true love for music was apparent by the massive sound systems throughout that were blasting all kinds of music. Vis led us into one of the cement houses that was playing music. It wasn’t a house, though; it was a local bar. We sat down at a wooden table with plastic chairs (the preferred seat in Ghana). Vis brought over some Cokes and the local beer, Star. Some of his friends came into the bar and started dancing in the small space in front of the table. They motioned for us to join them, so we did. And there we were, dancing with our new friends, in a bar, in a fisherman’s village, in Ghana. The small fan in the corner wasn’t alleviating the heat, but again, I’ve never been more thankful to have hot air blowing at me. At this point, we didn’t even attempt to de-sweat ourselves. After walking through the boats and more of the area, we thanked Vis and headed off to look for some lunch. The recommended fast food joint was called Papaye, so we stopped there to refuel. The air conditioning felt excellent, so I really didn’t mind that it took almost an hour to get our “fast food”. My plate of lunch included grilled chicken, French fries, and coleslaw. The chicken in Ghana was excellent; it tasted so fresh every time I had it. After lunch, we all walked the streets, stopping at the tents on the side of the road to shop. A lot of people bought art, drums, musical instruments, and clothes. They even had pirated DVD’s of which a few people bought the new Alice in Wonderland. Side note: Tim Burton, I was not really impressed. That film could have been so much better. Later in the afternoon, we met up with a few friends who got a room in Accra at the Golden Tulip Hotel. No, we didn’t all cram in like we’ve done in the past, but about 13 of us hung out in the room and had cheese and crackers, fruit, and some wine. The food obviously ran out quickly, so we went to the hotel’s restaurant for some traditional Ghanaian food. Okay, so I guess the burgers, hummus, and margherita pizzas weren’t even close to Ghanaian food, but it was delicious nonetheless. The casino in the hotel was next. It’s the closest thing to Vegas that I’ve had since turning 21. We approached the “bouncer”, who said those of us wearing shorts weren’t allowed it. Um, last time I checked, wearing pants in 95 degrees means you’ve got a loose screw somewhere. We looked at him and said, “Are you really going to turn away 13 people’s money?” He slowly stepped aside and nodded entrance. The casino was about 1,500 square feet with a slot machine section and some blackjack tables. Needless to say, our stay was fairly short. So a group of us grabbed a coupe cabs and started the lengthy trek back to the ship for the night.
The next day was my Torgorme village homestay, and luckily it wasn’t a 4 a.m. trip! We got in the bus and drove an hour and a half to the eastern region of Ghana, toward the more forested region. Upon our arrival, our bus was greeted by hundreds of children and adults surrounding rows of plastic chairs that were set out for us to sit in. Colorful skirts, flowing dresses, and patterned tribal garb were shown off by the entire community, who welcomed us with warm smiles and clapping hands. The hollow sound of the drums led us to our seats. For the next two hours, the children sang and danced for us and we received our Ghanaian names. At one point, I was pulled up by a young girl who danced with me in front of the entire village. I’m not a good African dancer, I learned. Traditionally, in Ghana, names are based on what day of the week you were born. But we received names chosen by the people. One by one, we walked to the front and stood in front of the chief and elders and received our names. I approached the front and the emcee smiled and said, “Akosua Kafui. It means ‘Praise Him.’” I was handed a small pot with my new name on it and a heavy, blue bead bracelet with yellow flowers hand painted on it. After we all were “re-named”, we were introduced to our host families, who would open their homes to us for the night. A smaller man in his forties approached me and held out both hands for me to shake. Ben Sigulo was his name. He led me to his home, which was a five-minute walk from the main area of the community. A cement house with an aluminum roof stood before me. An identical house was right next door, which is where is sister, Doris, lived with her teenage daughter. Doris did not speak much English, but she hugged me and smiled like she had been waiting to see me for months. Ben then led me to the room where I would be staying. It was an 8’x12’ room with one window that was blocked out by cloth to keep sunlight out. There was a blue light hanging from the middle of the room, which gave off an odd hue that lit the room. A fluorescent light would have attracted bugs, I guessed. A picture of Jesus hung on the blocked out window and a small radio sat on the sill. There was a bed against one of the walls that sat a foot off the ground on a wood bed frame. Against the other wall was my bed – a mattress on the ground with a pillow. At the head of the mattress was an old oscillating fan that struggled to blow air. The room was much hotter than outside, probably from the aluminum roof. I couldn’t stand it, so I just dropped off my things and went back outside, wiping my face with my already drenched sleeve. Because of the unsanitary conditions of where the food was prepared, we re-loaded the bus and drove about ten minutes down the road to a mess hall, where tourists could eat. Chicken, rice, vegetables, and vanilla ice cream awaited us. We stayed in the air-conditioned room for over two and a half hours. We were told the village basically closes down from noon to three each day because of the heat, so there would not have been much to do had we gone back earlier. But when we did arrive back at the village around three, we had the rest of the afternoon until dinner to spend with our host families and the rest of the community. Ben showed me the area where the women made pottery. There were no wheels or machines. The women stood, bent at the waist, making the pots by hand on the ground. The pots were made in all different sizes and then were fired by a hole in the ground. Ben took me to find some of his other friends who were sitting with their visitors, talking. We sat in plastic chairs and watched one of the men making fishing nets with string and small bamboo shoots. Some of the children brought us coconuts, which one of the men cut open with a machete. Water was not provided by SAS (they never do), so the warm coconut milk was really refreshing. Then he split it and we ate the inside. Excellent! The children stood around us, teaching us songs, playing drums, and dancing. A large group of were taken to the edge of the sacred forest and shown some of the different plant life. There is a large tree with massive leaves, which are said to treat malaria fever. The villagers said we were not allowed into the forest, because it was not owned by them and they feared bad things would happen to them if they disobeyed and entered the forest. Ben and I split from the group and he took me the embankment of the river to show me where they fish. Most of the fish caught were tilapia, which made up a large part of their meals. The fresh water of the river came from Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world. We walked back up to the top of the hill and sat in plastic chairs overlooking the lake as the sun set. He showed me how they harvest cacao, Ghana’s largest export. We talked for two hours about education, religion, and America. Ben’s three children are university students in Ghana and his brother lives in Accra. I could tell Ben was a favorite in the village. Numerous times during our walks or as we were sitting and talking, many people would come up to him and shake his hand and hold a brief conversation before moving on their way. It seemed like he knew everybody. The community looked small, but there are actually 5,000 people living in the Torgorme village. Even the little children were glued to him. I’m not sure if he was related to any of them or just knew their parents, but they adored him. A little girl of four was scolded by her mother, and she immediately ran to Ben and sat on his lap, crying. He whispered in her ear and kissed her on the forehead. “Afi, Afi” he would say to her and rock her back and forth. The love and compassion he had for not only the children but also the rest of the people was blatantly obvious. He took me back to his house, and I watched his sister and niece prepare dinner. A typical meal includes sema, a corn-based dough that looks like mashed potatoes but has the consistency of thick cream of wheat, as well as fish. Ben gave me a scarf, a gift he had made himself. His sister went inside her house and came out with a traditional Ghanaian patterned fabric to borrow. She wrapped the skirt portion around me and draped another piece of the fabric around my shoulders to protect from mosquitoes. She stood back, looked me up and down, and gave me the biggest, tightest hug ever. Ben and I walked to the communal area for our dinner. He brought his own food, prepared by his sister, while all of the SAS students were served a traditional dinner of sema, peanut chicken soup, rice, and vegetables. We ate together with Alli and her host and listened to drums being played behind us. Halfway through dinner, a massive bonfire was lit commemorating the new friendships we had all made. As I finished eating, I noticed a large group of children standing behind me. I could not bare to look in their eyes, knowing they only got two meals a day, and here I was eating from a buffet line. It was one of the worst feelings in the world, and it was then I wished they would have bused us out to another tourist mess hall, so we didn’t have to eat in front of them. At the end of the meal, all the left over food from the buffet was gathered on plates and sat on tables. The kids swarmed the food, pushing each other out of the way, all of them trying to get something. I have never felt so sick to my stomach. Had I known the conditions, I would have gladly skipped my dinner so a child could have had it. Ben and I sat at the table a little longer before I was pulled up to join the rest of the village and SAS students dancing around the bonfire. At 9:30, Ben suggested we turn in for the night. He asked if I wanted to take a shower. I politely said no. The showers were three-sided cement walls with a bucket of water and no lights. At this point, there was not much point in showering. It was still about 85 degrees and I had to Deet up before bed anyway. I said goodnight to Doris and Ben and went into my room, which was still hotter than the outside temperature. Ben’s niece slept in the other bed, and I decided I did not have the energy to change into pajamas, so I just took of my tennis shoes and lay in the bed. I repositioned the fan about 10 times, trying to figure out how I could get the most air. The room had to have been at least 90 degrees. I rolled for over two hours before I fell asleep. Each new position just made a different part of my body sweat. Because the fan was oscillating, I only got a breeze every 10 seconds, which I cherished every millisecond of. As soon as I would fall asleep, a rooster would crow, which dispels the myth that roosters only crow at sunrise. Goats were bleating and roosters were crowing at all hours. At 5 a.m., I woke up by the sound of the neighbors up and at em’, cooking and sweeping. I’m not exactly sure what was being swept, though…all the floors were dirt. I finally woke up for good at 6:30 a.m., got dressed, and headed out with Ben to meet the rest of the group for breakfast. We met at the Pentecostal church for hard-boiled eggs, bread, fruit, and hot tea (Sorry, Grandpa Foamy, but the hot tea did not cool me down). Ben and I exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes.
We drove two more hours east to the Tafi Mona Monkeys village, an area which is home to hundreds of the sacred Mona monkeys. When we arrived, the guides gave us small bananas to feed the monkeys. The small, friendly monkeys, who made the cutest sounds ever, would come over, peel the banana while you were holding it, and eat it right out of your hand! We walked through the bamboo forest and were told the history of the area. After spending about 45 minutes in the village, we started the three-hour trek back to the ship, stopping for lunch at a hotel on the way. We got back to the ship a little before 5 p.m. and met up with some people to decide plans for the rest of the night. Since Accra was a 45-minute drive and none of us really wanted to muster up the energy to leave, we decided to stay on the ship and just play games – the celebrity game, sardines, and who am I? were the games for the night. We all sat in the alcove outside Alli and my room until one by one, we dropped like flies.
The next morning, I woke up early to try to buy a ticket to the Habitat for Humanity trip, which I originally did not get on. One of the trip leaders sold his ticket to me, so Alli, Graham, and I all got to go. We drove two and a half hours outside Accra to a village supported by Habitat for Humanity. When we arrived, we were greeted by the facilitator, who split us up into three different groups. The group I was in was responsible for making bricks for the houses that were going to built. The men dug up dirt and added the cement, while the women got water to create the mixture. I took a large aluminum tin, which I used to collect water at the pump. In the village, all of the water came from an underground well and was pumped out. The women from the village helped us pump the water, which every once in a while ran dry and we had to wait for the water to pool in the well again. I learned how to carry the large basin on my head, which is how everyone in Ghana carries things. I was so surprised by how much these women could carry. One older woman carried a large plastic bucket filled to the brim with water on her head that must have weighed 45 pounds, and she did not spill one drop! From the well to the site where we were building the bricks was probably 100 yards, but each time I carried the water, I got better and better. Unfortunately, I was still not good enough to walk with no hands holding onto the basin, but one trip I didn’t spill at all! In two hours, we made 66 bricks. When we were done, we played with the children of the village, giving them stickers, which they put all over their bodies and our faces. The village served us lunch before we loaded the bus to go back to the ship. Everyone in the village was so grateful, but we were just as grateful to be able to help these people out. But for me, I was most grateful to meet so many friendly people who were willing to put everything aside to spend time with me.