I have been in Ghana for one month and one week now and thought it was high time to send a Footprint Report in before I forget everything that has happened so far!
To be honest Im not really sure where to start!
The first thing I want to mention really is culture shock. Before I came to Ghana I spoke about culture shock in an offhand, sure Im going to get it yeah and then Ill get over it, kind of way. What I was not prepared for was what such a physical thing culture shock actually is. In retrospect, everything I felt in those first few days was a result of culture shock. Firstly, it was HOT. Is hot! The house I am staying in is the volunteer house for my project (unfortunately the Ghanaian side of the organization did not inform me that I would not be living with a host family which I was expecting. I have come to terms with this now, although I am still sad that this did not work out) and we do not have air con or a fan. My first night was spent sweating heavily after affixing my sheet and mosquito net to what is the top bunk bed in the room that I share with another volunteer, Anna, who is fortunately a lovely person. In fact, I am lucky to live with three lovely girls all of whom work at the same project as me. Our house is basic but good by Ghanaian standards. At first the lack of space was a major issue but I managed to persuade the organization to open the spare room that they keep for overnight stays of new volunteers. Now we have somewhere to relax and watch a film in the evening, which helped enormously in those first few weeks!
We do not have a fridge or anything that luxurious and the water only runs during the daytime and sometimes not for a few days at a time. Surprisingly, this does not really bother me. We keep water in large tubs and have bucket showers which is lovely and cooling after a day of work and a day of getting slowly dirtier and dustier (my feet are never clean!). When I do shower with running water and it comes from the shower head it is a rare treat and feels great!
Simple pleasures like this rule my day for example buying two yards of fabric to act as a bed sheet, buying a new towel or finding stenotype to put some pictures on the wall, were all extremely noteworthy occasions! Eating mango or having a cold coke in the middle of the day is wonderful as is a cup of tea even if I do sweat every second of drinking it! I now have a daily routine the same as I did at home or university so I suppose the point I am making is that even thought those first few days were terrifying and truly, truly overwhelming things DID get better very quickly. I stopped getting jealous everytime I heard of anyone going home, and now I enjoy time to myself instead of feeling immediately homesick and trying to keep frantically busy! (This actually made me worse as I pushed myself far too much and actually had a mild form of heatstroke at the weekend of my second week after a full week ending with a beach trip with the children AND topped off with a five hour trip inland to Kumasi. Oops!)
Anyway, my project! I work at an orphanage called OSU Childrens Home in eastern Accra which is a five minute tro tro ride away. I actually walk there and back now I am used to the heat and this has helped no end to restore my sense of balance and normality at university and home I walked a lot. I work at the school, which teaches the home children from 2years until 6years and even takes children from outside the orphanage (for a small fee) for example the children of some of the local street vendors. The kids are lovely, if crazy most of the time and it is a pleasure working and playing with so many of them. When I first arrived there was a 75 year old volunteer there (which shows you can volunteer at any age!) and together we started up doing one-to-ones with some of the children. This worked really well and is better sometimes than the mayhem of the classroom. It has really struck me how each class has children of such varying abilities and ages. In the class I am most involved in there are two newish kids who speak no English (only the local dialect, Twi) and can only count to 10 and say the alphabet up to G but have no concept of how to write these or what they look like. Unbelievably, I have only recently discovered all of these abilities (such as they are), as the children have very low concentration spans and one in particular was extremely shy and only now is coming out of her shell not only to me but to everyone in general. However, I can already see progress and I really hope I will be able to see results by the end of my six months particularly with these two!
It has also shocked me to see the extent to which the children learn by rote. Pointing to the letter A for example may lead to mass chanting of A IS FOR APPLE, B IS FOR BALL, C IS FOR CATetc but with all the children drawing a blank when asked what else A stands for! However, all of the children are really desperate to learn and I really enjoy the happiness on their faces when they get something right. My hand is permanently red from giving so many high fives!
It being an orphanage there is after school care to do as well, and I have recently decided to spend some of my time helping in the houses in the afternoon. This covers basic care of the children such as dressing, feeding and bathing particularly the disabled children in the homes. I hope to get more involved in this in the coming months.
There are, of course, a few problems that I am encountering especially now that I have been here over a month. The teachers sometimes place blocks in my way, most recently with one-to-ones, and I am slowly working my way around these. I sometimes cant decide whether the teachers see us as a help or hindrance and I think part of the problem is that the childrens home has quite a lot of volunteers running around most of whom are here for short times and want to make their difference and some charge in and try to change things. Even I am doing that with my one-to-ones! Keeping this in mind, I am trying to be flexible, as I too get frustrated if a volunteer comes into the school and wants to try to do something grand that I know simply wont work.
So, overall I think I am adapting nicely to Ghana! I still wake up without fail at 6am every morning with our next door neighbor sweeping, and it is impossible to sleep past 8 due to the heat and general noises (of which there are too many to mention cars honking, the horn of the man selling frozen yoghurt, dogs barking, planes flying overhead, the banging of the man who mends shoes, the neighbours radio… etc!). I am hot all of the time, and still get frustrated with the incessant cries of OBRUNI! (white person) and the way vendors try to grab my arm in the busy parts of Accra central.
Here are a list of my favourite things in Ghana:
– My ipod complete with solitaire and with a little pair of free-standing speakers is perfect in a powercut or for a nice evening
– My headtorch. Useful not only for powercuts but getting into bed after the light is out or for taking on weekend trips
– My travel towel. This packs up really small for trips away and dries really quickly!
– My camera. Of course! But beware of sticky fingers!
– Bread and egg for breakfast a small omelette inside thick slices of sugary bread with tea and powdered milk and a good book
– Getting our favourite meals made for us by Gladys, the lady who cooks for us.
– Buying mango every day from a lovely lady near work, or having a cold coke from another lovely lady called Irene.
– Going to Mama Tinas, the shop near our house, and buying cookies or frozen yogurt or bread to eat whilst watching a film back in our house.
Thanks again Hazels Footprints for helping me get here!