Missing school and a weekend in Accra

Hi everyone! Sorry it has been a few days since I’ve written. Last week I found myself under the weather … I will spare you the details, but Thursday I spent the day in bed and missed a day of school, and Friday was spent recuperating. I was very thankful to have everyone checking up on me, from Belinda running to the pharmacy to Auntie Jo and Auntie Emma who stopped by to see how I was doing. I am well taken care of over here! No complaints from me 🙂

Thursday night the semester interns, Kylie and Lauren, arrived! It was exciting to have them move in. They’ll be doing the women’s literacy program here at the school twice a week. Since I was feeling sick, we decided to change our plans for the weekend (we had planned to travel to Beyin Beach, which is about six hours away along the coast) and it ended up being a good thing because although I felt better by Friday night, Kylie got sick, so a weekend of travelling wouldn’t have been great for either of us. Instead, Saturday Lesley, Lauren and I boarded a tro-tro for our first trip! Lauren had already been on one earlier on the week, so she instructed and explained! Tro-tros are basically overstuffed vans that can seat about twenty or so people but are incredibly inexpensive to use. It cost us about 3 cedi ($1.50) to take the tro-tro to Accra, which is about a 2 1/2 hour drive. It wasn’t as horrible as I expected – it was just incredibly squished – but I’m glad Lauren knew what she was doing, because it’s hard to navigate here! There are no street signs, if you can believe it, so getting directions (and giving them) is a huge challenge!

After arrive in Accra, we arrived at “central” station. This is basically a central location where there are tro-tros heading all over the city and beyond. There were vendors selling whatever you can imagine and kids and homeless asking for money – it was a bit overwhelming. We found a taxi to drive us to our hotel, where we checked in, then cabbed it to Oxford Station. I was in search of a pharmacy to find new anti-malaria pills to take, and we found one almost right away. Unfortunately, buying malaria pills is extremely costly here – so I am trying to figure out a more cost-effective way of buying the pills. Please keep this in your prayers as I’m hoping to get this figured out as soon as possible. Right now I am trying to be extra cautious in always wearing bug spray and avoiding woody areas.

Our next stop was to find a restaurant for supper, and we had a wonderful treat! We had mochas and pizza!! It was an amazing, Canadian, delicious supper and worth every extra penny we had to pay to get it 🙂 We enjoyed our supper, then walked down the street to Koala Department store. It was the first time I really experienced Accra, and realized how different this city is than any other city I’ve been in before. Open sewers lined the street, and although they were covered at times, you had to be aware always of where you were stepping so that you foot didn’t slip through a hole or broken crate. This also meant there was an undeniable stench to the air as we walked along! By this point night had fallen, so we were able to see vendors with open fires, cooking over them and warming themselves up by the heat. We found the supermarket we were looking for, and discovered a wonderful treat – all imported vegetables and foods and canned goods! For certain things, the prices were atrocious, and other things it wasn’t too bad – we all got a few treats that reminded us of home. I got an Aero chocolate bar, Lays chips, and some shortbread cookies. It’s amazing the cravings you have when things just simply aren’t available!

Afterwards we headed back to our hotel and settled into watch a movie. It’s interesting that back at home we tend to be so picky about the places we stay in – here in Ghana, not so much! As long as you have a clean bed, you can’t be picky if you have hot water (or running water in general – ours lasted one shower and that was it!) or if the garbage wasn’t taken out! But being here has challenged my perspective – I am thankful simply just to have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep on, when so many have far less than that. We watched a movie, then Lesley headed to her room and Lauren and I stayed up far too late talking … needless to say we almost napped in the morning while waiting for our ride to church to arrive!

So this morning we had the opportunity to attend an English speaking Ghanian church! The family that Lauren and Kylie stayed with this week in Accra for their orientation goes to this church, so their son, Kofi, picked us up from our hotel and brought us over. It was an interesting experience – lots of shouting, lots of cheering, lots of falling down, and lots of “Can I get an amen?” It was very different than what I am used to but I am glad to have had the experience. Everyone was incredibly welcoming; Lauren and I even had a poor girl forced to say hello to us by her mom, but I think we terrified her because I am pretty sure she’s never seen a white person before and screamed and bawled her eyes out! Afterwards, Kofi’s family invited us over for lunch and cake to celebrate his mom’s birthday. We joined in and I managed to eat the fish stew they served us – which was a HUGE feat considering I don’t like fish very much! But I am trying to be aware of cultural customs, and did not want to be rude by refusing a meal they so graciously offered us even if I didn’t like the taste!

Kofi and his friend Eugene offered to take us to the market, so we made a trip there after lunch. It was a different experience, as the last time we were there we were with Mary, and this time vendors were much more bold. They were incredibly forward with us girls, always touching your arm or complimenting – it gets to the point where you don’t want to buy anything they have to offer, no matter how much you like it because you are so annoyed. We didn’t stay long – Kofi said that they were more forward than usual just because it was a Sunday, and very few people shop on Sundays. So we made a couple more stops, then we headed to Circle station to catch our tro-tro back to Asamankese. And we made it! It was a great experience, a quick weekend that went by very fast! Tomorrow is a market day in Asamankese, so we will head there, I have to stop at the bank, and then we are going to the dressmaker, Doris’ house to hopefully pick out designs for our African dresses! Then Tuesday is another school day. Lauren and Kylie have gone off to bed, and Lesley and I am sure will soon hit the sack as well. It’s funny how travelling can take a lot out of you! 🙂

Miss you all lots!
Love Angie

I’ve Arrived!

Hi everyone!

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,

Angie

Preparations

Hi everyone!

Thanks for checking out my blog! For the next year or so you will find me writing here, instead of at my regular blog. I hope to write regularly and keep you all updated on my trip to Ghana!

So here are some of the details of my trip! I will officially be leaving at 4 p.m. on August 7. I will fly from Toronto to New York, a two hour flight, and then from New York to Accra (which is 11 hours long!). It’s funny to think that my first flight ever will be a long one, from one side of the world to another! I better bring lots to read 🙂

While I’m at His Majesty’s Christian School in Asamankese, I will be teaching Kindergarten, doing other administrative duties like assisting the other interns in their orientation, planning a retreat for staff, and helping out with the Christmas Pageant (for those of you who know me, you must know how excited this makes me!). I’ll also be assisting in learning and development days for the other staff.

For now I am busy gathering things I’ll need, filling out Visa applications, doing a lot of reading and visiting friends and family, and getting lots and lots of shots! So far I’ve had five and counting. But the clinic I’ve been going to has been great – I always leave having had great conversations with the doctors about my trip and everything else in between!

I’m thankful to have wonderful family and friends who have been unbelievably supportive and encouraging as I begin this journey. God has greatly blessed me through the community He has surrounded me with. I look forward to the adventure ahead! Please keep me in your prayers as I submit my Visa, travel to Toronto for a week to prepare, and that God would protect my heart as I leave friends and family for a long time.

Thank you all! I’ll write again soon.

Love,

Angie