Back home

IMG_3490.JPGMarch 25 2017

I’ve been back from Ghana for a little over a week and I’ve been reminiscing about my time there. It is crazy how things are so different but some things are so similar. I wanted to write my last blog and let you know what I learned.
What I loved about Ghana was the sense of community and respect everyone had for each other. They took pride in what they did and everyone was responsible for their friends and neighbors. They respected and valued their elders. I learned about a new culture and made friends with kids who seemed so different at first but actually we are not that different after all. I learned what it was like to stand out in a crowd and I also learned how to handle it.

In the US everything is so fast paced and material focused. Everyone seems wrapped up in their own little world and are sometimes unaware of their surroundings. Then there is the phone and social media addiction that is just our way of life growing up in the US. (If you know me, you won’t believe that I’m actually saying that it is so restraining.)

Ghana was so refreshing because it gave me a break from the fast pace that I was used to and allowed me to be in the moment. My phone wasn’t in my hand 24/7. I didn’t feel the need to be texting or on social media. I was aware of the world around me and wasn’t so focused on the tiny world inside my phone. It reminded me a bit of being a kid when there was no phone or people to impress. It was amazing!

The kids are genuinely happy and thankful for what they have despite it being nothing by our standards. They are grateful for the little things, food, clothing and a chance at education. It was amazing to walk into town to Jimmy Com, a small restaurant bar and local dance place. They welcomed us, we felt safe and respected. We were able to see where some the kids lived and also meet their families.

We met one girl from Heritage Academy who walked 5 miles to school starting in pre k. Heritage has since started a bus route. When I try to visualize a preschooler walking on the side of the rode it reinforces to me what we take for granted. The children we met didn’t want things from us. They were curious and happy to spend time with us and thankful we came to teach them and get to know them.

It’s amazing that maybe they have it figured out. It sort of gave me a glimpse or took me back to see vaguely what it was like in the old days before internet and the wired world. Back when playing, talking and being in the moment was life. Hopefully, I will be able to keep a part of that with me as I go through life.

 

The people of Ghana and the kids especially taught me more than I could of ever taught them and for that I’m thankful. Kwesi and Westtown gave me an experience that will never leave me. The kids gave me unconditional love, affection and a renewed hope in society.

They have a word for foreigners, Obruni, and despite the Obruni’s being different from them, they’ are welcomed and embraced fully.

It felt so freeing to be in a place where life wasn’t self-oriented. Everything was inclusive and group centered (even the meals).

Our county could learn a lot from this tiny village in Ghana. I wish others could have the chance to experience it. The kids in Ghana made me realize its the little things and moments that make you happy. They were also amazing at giving hugs and I miss that too. To them photographs and pictures are truly treasured and I’m thankful because I have so many pictures to remind me of this wonderful Village.

March 14th – Dance Off

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14 March 2017

In a totally un-Rachel-like fashion, I opted in to going to church this past Sunday. Let me just tell you that it was nothing I had expected or even experienced before in my life. Though I’ve been to church numerous times in the past, my family identifies now as Quaker, so I’m now used to Meeting for Worship and sitting in silence for an hour. This church though, while Christian, was so different from everything I anticipated. There was nonstop dancing and singing and music. It felt like a huge happy party to me, but at the same time people were really getting into it and letting it move them. There were tears and shouts and lots of “Amens”. It was an awesome experience and the whole congregation welcomed us so openly. They provided us a translator as the service was in Fonte, they also  welcomed us to the front at the end to introduce ourselves to the congregation over the microphone. It was truly an amazing and moving experience. I’ve never been so happy to have gone to church.  I can not reiterate enough how kind and welcoming everyone has been to us.

The rest of the week thus far has been pretty normal, we are in a routine with teaching  in the daytime and service project in the late afternoon. We eat dinner at 6:30 which all of us look forward to because the food is amazing. Then we  have free time for the rest of the evening. Some days we play bananagrams, watch movies,or  buy sodas from the “convenience store” outside the house. The kids keep us entertained and make us feel at home. Or we can opt to take a walk to the local town (as we did tonight).

Well, I guess I take that back, tonight wasn’t normal! We walked into town to go to this outdoor restaurant, Jimmy Com, where we bought sodas and even learned dances on the patio. Mercedes some how persuaded me to dance, still not sure  how that happened… but there was apparently a dance battle going on, though one competitor claimed an injury, and despite that injury, seemed to have won. The music and dancing was fun despite the heat. I’m not  really sure I buy that the dance battle happened, but it was a great time nonetheless.

Tomorrow and Thursday are our last days of teaching. We definitely have a new found respect for teachers, it is not easy work.  I can’t even imagine saying goodbye to all the friends we have met. It will not be an easy task. We leave for Accra on Friday morning to see the city and to prepare for our early morning flight Saturday.

These two weeks have gone by so so fast and I’m seriously having the best time ever. If you want a souvenir, hit me up!

Rachel

March 11th – Gators

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11 March 2017

It felt like we spent longer at the resort than we did the previous time there. It was extra special too because Victoria, Isaac and Dorthy (the children who we are living with) came with us! I think they’re the funniest children I’ve ever met, and despite not being able to swim, they kept up with the best of us in their pink and lime green floaties. Isaac even decided he was a strong enough swimmer to hit the waves which caused a little bit of anxiety with the adults. There was a nasty undercurrent, hidden rocks and waves bigger than any of us. Despite all that, it was beautiful and the water was quite warm (though the pool was my preference).

In the late afternoon Isaac, Hamilton, Mercedes, Katie and I decided to take an excursion to the crocodile pond located (surprisingly) directly behind the parking lot. Though the enclosure was set into the ground with a wall surrounding it, the wall wasn’t tall enough to keep you from falling (or climbing in). The crocodiles appeared to be sleeping when we got there and, as you can imagine, Isaac really just wanted to see them move. He found a really big stick on the ground and was banging it on the side of the enclosure all while making the deep reptilian sound in the back of his throat. Though I was thoroughly impressed, the crocodiles didn’t seem to notice and kept on sleeping. Despite the sign clearly reading “No throwing rocks at the crocodiles,” Isaac realllllly wanted to throw his stick at them just to get them to move. I burst out laughing because I was thinking the same thing about wanting the crocodiles to move. However, we set a good Quakerly example for Isaac by telling him no, he could not throw a stick at the crocodiles. They were living creatures just like us and deserved to be respected. If you wouldn’t want to be woken up by someone throwing a stick at you, then the crocodiles wouldn’t either (and after all, the walls of the enclosure just weren’t that great).

10/10 great day.

Rachel

PS Oh, and at the resort we got virgin piña coladas.

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March 9th – Stella’s Day

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Stella

9 March 2017

Today was an interesting day… I acquired a new shadow in the form of an elementary schooler named Stella. She waits for me when I arrive in the morning and during recess! Her presence makes me miss home less, that smile, her eyes and especially her hugs…what more could I ask for?  Though Stella and the younger kids at Heritage don’t have a grasp on English just yet, we seem to be communicating just fine. We talk through hugs and waves and giggles and by holding hands. The kids at Heritage have me totally smitten. They’re insanely polite and friendly and are always trying to make you laugh. Elementary schoolers, universally, are the best.

The middle schoolers, who I teach, are little more high strung. They’ve got the same love and humor but they’ve got way more energy! Once they get going or get distracted, it’s harder to get their attention back to the lesson (which for us is art). Yesterday we drew self portraits in an attempt to connect faces and names. Today we drew pictures of our favorite places. As a person who is terrible at drawing, I was blown away by the talent in the room. Some kids even had really advanced and developed styles. It was awesome to watch.

After our school day finished up, we headed back to the house for some relaxation before our service project. It was a quick break though because we had to make a quick detour to the tailor, Sister Sarah. At the market yesterday, everyone purchased fabrics for Sarah to make dresses and pants and skirts (and anything else you might have wanted) out of. I, of course, opted for two dresses. I’m so so excited because the fabrics I picked are unique and totally gorgeous.

The next part of the day wasn’t as glamorous as designing dresses. We were making cement blocks. It was an experience that left my sneakers cement soaked and my lungs full of sand, however, it was kind of fun! It was just like building a sandcastle at the beach, you had to make the sand and water and then press it into a mold. Our cement making was apparently hilarious because we had an audience of about 10 Heritage high schoolers watching us and laughing periodically. I’d totally agree with the hilariousness of it all because I was giggling right along side them.

It was a good day.

Rachel

March 7- Market Day

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7 March 2017

Hiking in near a hundred degree weather is an experience… especially when you’re walking uphill through a jungle with seven suspension bridges as your destination. Alas, I soldiered on and climbed that mountain and conquered those bridges. It was probably the coolest thing that I’ve ever done. The whole experience was made even better as the entirety of Kakum National Park was full of students on field trips. Today was a school holiday apparently, and we the lone tourists, didn’t seem to grasp what a holiday meant. It was crowded!

Other than the breathtaking views, and the terrified shrieks of my friend Mercedes (who is massively afraid of heights and has been renamed Scared Woman by the girl we’re staying with, Vic), my favorite part of the day was when a tiny class of elementary schoolers came up to us and asked for pictures. We hung out with them for probably ten minutes and took pictures individually with each of the girls. We even took a full group selfie with the girls and their teacher. Ugh, they were so sweet and so so adorable.

We also went shopping today which was magical. My wallet full of newly exchanged Ghanaian money was burning a hole in my pocket. I got sooooo much stuff and negotiated some killer deals (shout out to Katie for being a total animal and negotiating a guy down from 120 cede to 60 cede). My favorite buys of the day had to be these tiny stuffed elephants made of bright boutique fabric (I believe it’s called boutique at least, I vaguely remember Kwesi calling the handmade fabric that) that could be cuddled with or propped on a shelf. They were so cute that I had to buy two. Oh and we’re going to the market  again tomorrow!! But this time, for fabric, not trinkets. We’re getting dresses custom made by Sister Sarah.

Much love,

Rachel

March 6th – Ghanian Independence Day

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6 March 2017

The 4th of July to Americans is what the 6th of March is to Ghanians–Independence Day.  This day 60 years ago, the British relinquished their control over Ghana. Like any Independence Day celebration, there were parades and parties.

Our day started with a short walk across the street to where the parade would be held. From my very basic understanding of Ghanaian Independence Day celebrations, I knew that all the local school children would be marching. Those too little to March or those who didn’t want to, crowded around the edge of the soccer field where the March would take place. Everyone, for the most part, was dressed exquisitely. The babies wore casual clothes, but other than the school uniform clad marchers, were dressed beautifully in vibrant patterned dresses and shirts.

I was taken aback by just how friendly the people were! So many hugs were given out today and there were so many laughs as well. The kids were asking us questions about back home and what are families were like and if we had boyfriends. So, Mercedes and I pulled out our phones and started showing them pictures. Their favorite picture was of Mercedes’s boyfriend, George, they giggled and said he looked like a movie star.

We played with the kids at the parade for what must’ve been three hours but felt only like 20 minutes. I’m not the most talkative person, but for the morning I was. They were just so kind natured, funny and completely intriguing. I just had to talk to them, you know?

I think the best moment of the day was when this little old lady hobbled over, granddaughter in tow, to shake my hand and give me a big hug. It’s a universal truth, old people are always adorable and always so sweet.

-Rachel Coe

(P.S. As we’re in an Independence Day mood, we’re watching Captain America which I thought was funny)

March 5th – Slave Castle

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5 March 2017

When Kwesi told us last night that breakfast would be served at 7:30, I groaned. To me, still completely jet lagged and on eastern standard time, 7:30 am would feel like 2:30 am. However, when my alarm went off this morning, I threw on my glasses and went to grab breakfast without complaint. We were going to the beach today and if I had to wake up at 7:30 to get there, then that’s what I was going to do. It would all be worth it to go to the beach.

At 8:15, the van rolled out for Elmina Slave Castle and then for Coconut Grove, the beach resort we’d be spending the day at. In total, it was an hour and a half drive mostly along the coast. Though still the Atlantic, it was so much cleaner than it’s Jersey Shore counterpart.

One thing that struck me most about the day was the size of the slave castle. I had this idea in my mind that it would be this massive structure, but it wasn’t. It was small. From the various history classes I’ve taken, I was pretty sure of just how bad the conditions the slaves lived in were. Seeing the castle, however, I realized just how wrong I was– it was so much worse. I don’t even have words to accurately describe what I saw. It was eye opening to say the least. The depth of suffering imparted on an entire race of people is beyond comprehension, and the pain that those walls held will never leave me.

Though the morning was somber with our tour of Elmina Slave Castle, our afternoon was the complete opposite (a very odd transition in my book). We spent the whole day at a beach resort!! There was a pool to swim in, beach chairs to lounge in, and coconuts to drink from, all with ocean views. The day was made even better with Lynette’s promise of returning next week!

-Rachel Coe

Up Up in the Air

3 March 2017, 15:35

We left Westtown at 8:30 this morning and arrived at JFK sometime around 11. Our flight, Delta 420, leaves from Gate 38B at 5:00pm. With our visas verified, and boarding passes at the ready, we’re set to board the plane in thirty minutes. I’m massively excited! I’ve got a huge bag of pretzel goldfish, a family sized pack of skittles, like eight chocolate chip Questbars (the best flavor), a few books loaded onto my Kindle, and the new Lorde single– what more could a girl want? Sure, my friends might be in Vienna and Cuba and Greece and Boston, but I’m going to Africa (which is totallllllly the best trip out of the four).

Here’s to safe travels and great company.

-Rachel Coe

It’s Ghana be an Awesome Trip

2 March 2017

The farthest I’ve strayed from the US was my 1,272 mile trek to Turks and Caicos. Other than the occasional excursions to the Caribbean and Canada, my feet have stay firmly planted on American soil. Tomorrow that all changes. When I board Delta 420 from New York to Accra, I’ll be venturing 5,105 miles from home. That’s four times further than I have ever traveled. To say I’m excited is an understatement! Usually your first “lone” (lone being away from your parents, not adult supervision) adventure is to Europe or somewhere frequented by tourists… but, no, I’m going to Africa! That’s just so cool to me! I’ll be blogging about my escapades abroad as frequently as Ghana’s internet situation allows, so check back!

-Rachel Coe

Ghana, here I come

Hello, my name is Margaret-Alice Tree and I am a senior at Westtown School. For my senior project, I will be embarking on a trip to Accra Ghana where I will be teaching middle school students English during the week. I will be teaching at our sister school Heritage Academy, which was founded by a previous Westtown employee. I chose this trip because I grew up at Westtown hearing stories from other peoples trips to Heritage. I look forward to blogging about my experiences during my time in Ghana. And I hope to leave this project with experiences I could not find anywhere else.