It’s been just over a week since our group arrived here in Ghana. I keep thinking about blogging, but honestly I don’t know what to write. If only blogging was a thing ten years ago when Kwesi and I lived here and everything was new to me. I wonder how my experience would have been knowing what we know now. For one, I would know the foods I like, or don’t. Kwesi and I look back on that year with a smile and laugh. Don’t get me wrong, it was H-A-R-D, but we’re able to look back at it now and feel accomplished.
I had never been to Africa before. As a former Spanish teacher, I’d traveled to Mexico a couple dozen times, and have been to El Salvador and Bolivia. I naïvely thought, “developing country”, how different could it be?? Whoa Nellie! Let me tell you. From food to being called “Obroni” every time you go out into the street, to the way babies are carried on their mama’s backs and general customs, it was a shock to my system to say the least. Not to mention the psychological impact of my being so. far. away. from home. Across an entire ocean! And at that time, we only had one way tickets. Now I know the tricks. I know where to buy Laughing Cow cheese (and yes, I laughed today), how to navigate the markets alone, not to mention taxis and tro-tro buses. I love flinging my limited Fante with the locals and exchanging basic greetings with the folks on the street. It never fails to bring smiles and laughter. Marketing carries with it an element of fun and entertainment as well as practicality. (FYI, I just purchased 5 delicious mangoes for about $2.08, total). Lauren, our other leader, helped me put 2 and 2 together about why it is that shopping in the markets here is so much more fun. It’s predominantly women vendors. There’s a lack of cat-calling and machismo that we have each experienced in Latin America. Ghanaians are the nicest, most helpful and gentle people I’ve met.
It still amazes me that with such poverty around us, locals don’t seem bitter about what they’ve been handed in life. Sure there’s an awareness of another way of life that must be easier, but they still manage to laugh and joke with one another through their struggles. They look stunning in their sharply pressed school uniforms and Sunday dress. They show their homes with pride despite broken walls, missing parts of rusted out roofs and dirt floors. They will always go out of their way to offer help or even a place to sit. Just the other day I hopped a taxi to go to town for some treats for our group. I waved my hand on the side of the road for the oncoming taxi to pick me up. I got in and chatted as much as I could in Fante. The driver was named Frank. He’s the headmaster at the Catholic school next to the church where we started Heritage in 2004. He was returning from a meeting in town. I was ready and willing to pay for his service, (a whopping 21 cents in USD), but he said, “No.” Rather, I should take him with me to the US. Now, we all know that isn’t going to happen, but the general friendliness and good spirit is as welcoming as the cool breeze on this hot African day.
It’s been fascinating to see the growth around us here in the neighboring villages. A few years ago I was shocked to notice street and traffic lights in Accra as we headed out of town from the airport. This time around it seemed the city has spread significantly. Ten years ago, much of the road from Accra to Central Region, where we stay, was under construction. We arrived at midnight, with my cat, Simba, in tow and drove for what seemed to be hours on a horrible road in utter darkness to what would be our home for the next year. Now the road is smooth. The market town just on the outskirts of Accra seems to be inching closer and closer to the capital. There are more two-story buildings (banks, mostly) in Mankessim where we go to the market for beautifully-colored cloth and fun. There’s a small shop at the end of our road where women go to get their hair braided. The shop keeper has a TV, ceiling fan, hair dryer, you name it! You can even get a mani and a pedi–whirlpool soak for your feet and all! Now who around here is getting that done is yet to be discovered…
Much has changed in a decade. Both within myself, the country, our students at Heritage, our graduates. It’s humbling to witness, especially when I am reunited with founding students who are now themselves teachers or students in university. What remains the same is the welcoming spirit and enthusiasm of the people to share a piece of their culture with a visiting Obroni.