So I have arrived in Ghana safe and sound! Everything went smoothly with our flights, the only upset being our flight from JFK to Accra was stuck on the tarmac for a couple hours as we were waiting on some luggage. So that meant we arrived later than expected, unfortunately. Fun fact I noticed on the plane – did you have any idea that planes travel at over 900/kmh? I suppose that’s common sense, but it blew my mind to think about how fast we were going!
When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by Mary’s cousin who works in the military. This meant that we were “VIP” – and consequently got to skip all of the lines at Customs! Woo! Through Customs they scanned our eyes and fingerprints, and then we were off to the long baggage claim line. Once we found our luggage, we went to find our driver, Evans, who was waiting for us outside. Mary’s cousins and his friends all carried and unloaded our luggage for us … it was a nice treat!
Our first drive through Accra was very different than driving back home! So much honking, driving all over the street, no seatbelts – it was quite fine through Accra, but then heading towards Asamankese which is much more rural there are huge potholes that are scattered along the road. There are vendors that sit by the side of the street, trying to sell you quite literally anything you could imagine. There are bright colours painted on buildings, and what was amusing is how nearly every name of a business or bumper sticker has been “Christian-ized” so to speak. So for example, a store might be called, “Holy Spirit Hair Dressing” or something of the sort.
For our first stop we rested at Mary’s parents house outside of Accra. We had something to drink, had some fresh mangoes, visited with her parents and then headed off to Asamankese. It was about an hour and a half or so until we arrived – lots of houses along the way, varying in their levels of poverty. There were compounds in Accra, but along the way to Asamankese most of the houses were what we might describe as shanties. People worked alongside the road – some doing carvings, others selling items.
Finally we arrived in Asamankese and visited the school first thing! We climbed out of the van and stood by the road for a little while, while Mary and Lesley were both overcome with emotion. It has been a long road for the school to become what it is now, and the idea of knowing that children will soon be walking through its doors is incredibly exciting. We explored the grounds, Mary and her Mom showing us the rooms, and describing to us what land was theirs as well and her dreams of what would come next for the school. Mary is a dreamer, and she always inspires me to dream big and then never stop pursuing them!
After visiting the school, we came back to what will be my home for the next 11 months. It is a guest house, and when you walk into the brightly coloured hallway, there is a bathroom and bedroom to your right, and a kitchen down at the far end of the hall. To our right you enter our area, with a sitting area and dining area, and then three bedrooms off of that. Lesley and I are sharing a room with a bathroom attached, and once the interns arrive (who will be teaching the Women’s literacy class) they will stay in the two other rooms. A woman named Belinda works for Auntie Jo (who owns the guest house) and cooks for us. She is a sweetie, and so is Auntie Jo – everyone is so welcoming!
We had our first official Ghanian meal, fried plantains, fried chicken, rice, vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, and green beans) and watermelon for dessert. After that we settled in and unpacked, Lesley phoned home and I opted to email everyone instead. I knew if I phoned home I would start to cry, and I was trying to avoid that!
Last night was, however, incredibly hard for me. I think it all began to sink in how far away I really am from home, and I shared with both Mary and Lesley how overwhelmed I feel (which they both assured me was completely normal!). I think I was plagued with doubt of whether or not I could survive a year here, and I was also faced with how everything is different here, from the food to the buildings to the nature to the language to the weather. And I felt incredibly disconnected, with a huge time change from home and no cell phone to instantly stay in touch (or internet constantly available). I know that I am meant to be here, and had felt incredibly at peace about my travels up until that point. So I don’t doubt for a moment that it was the Enemy attacking me, and the next morning Mary confirmed it when she told me how her mom had phoned and been worried and wondering about me, sensing the day before that I was overwhelmed. It was difficult to sleep last night, even though I was exhausted (and running on six hours of sleep in 48 hours) but I managed to, and Lesley and I both slept in until 12:30 p.m. local time.
We got up, had lunch that Belinda had prepared for us, and then we headed to the Market in Asamankese. New sights and sounds overwhelmed us as we walked through the busy streets. Vendors were cramped side by side, and literally everything you could think of was available. Everyone was so incredibly friendly! Not everyone speaks English, however, most speak Twi, and so it was hard to communicate. Mary or Belinda translated for me. Many of them called out, “Obruni!” meaning white person, and many asked how I was doing, told me how beautiful I was, and told me how welcome I was in Ghana. Little kids were the most fascinated with me and Lesley. One girl kept touching my skin and giggling, and while walking by one of the vendors I stopped to talk to an older woman who was holding a young toddler. I guess my white skin terrified him, since no matter how hard I tried, laughing, teasing, and talking to him all made him cry and crawl deeper into his grandmother’s arms!
After we picked up a few things including a kettle, some laundry soap, and toilet paper, we stopped by Mary’s aunt’s house. The building which she lives in used to be Mary’s grandfather’s house, and it was the first house she saw when travelling to Ghana for the first time from England when she was young. We visited with her aunts, and as soon as the kids saw an obruni coming, they shouted and yelled and all came running towards us! I think that was the most fun part for me so far, getting to play with the kids. They couldn’t really communicate – some spoke broken English, but mostly the older ones – so I laughed and let them all try on my sunglasses, took pictures of them and showed them my camera, and then asked them where the football (soccer ball) was so we could kick it around. One girl didn’t stop giving me hugs, and kept telling me how much she liked me. One boy picked up his young sister and shoved her towards me, wanting me to hold her. I did, but I think I scared her because she started to scrunch her face, about to cry! The kids were most fascinated with Lesley’s iPad, and we have one picture of them all crowded around me as I show them their pictures on the screen – if I can get it from Mary I will post it, because it is something else! We all agreed it would make the best Apple advertisement!
Afterwards we relaxed back at the house, and figured out cell phones and internet. I now have a phone, and you are more than welcome to text me if you have an international phone! I would love that! Send me an email or message me to get the number. I also have an address that you can mail anything to, and will give that to you as well. For tonight we are settling in, going to go through a few boxes of things for the school, and Mary has left for Accra for a few days. We will join her early Saturday morning for the weekend. The next couple of days Lesley and I will plan for the school, as the school opening will be Tuesday and we will have parents and students tour the school with us.
It still seems all a bit surreal to me that I am in Africa. It all seemed like another world away, only visible through pictures and movies, and here I am able to fly across the ocean and be here. Despite feeling unsettled and overwhelmed, I am incredibly blessed to be here and thankful for all of you back home. I already miss you incredibly and can’t wait to see you again, but I am thankful for the new faces and culture I get to experience here.
I will write again soon!
Lots of love from over here,