I have only been here for three days, though it feels so much longer. What an adventure it has been so far.
After 11 hours on a flight, Saturday morning our airplane landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana and all around me were cheers and claps. Me? I was smiling big. I was finally here and couldn’t believe it! After months of planning the day was finally in Ghana. It felt so surreal. When we arrived, large writing on the airport building greeted us with “Akwaaba”, meaning “welcome” in the local language. Going through customs didn’t take long, and once I recieved my luggage, I knew my adventure was about to begin. Walking through a long hallway, I looked up to a sea of signs & glaring faces searching for the names on their signs. As I went down the line, I was careful to read each one in search of my name. I did not know who was to pick me up, though I was told there’d be a sign with my name. I felt like I was in a movie. It was nerve-racking and exciting all at the same time- especially being by myself. Then there it was; I saw a white sign that said “Alana Shamah”, held by smiling older man named William. We introduced ourselves, and he was quick to take my bag and lead me to his car.
Walking through the streets on our way to his car, I noticed that here the cars and people seem harmonious on the street; both cars and people moved very closely to each other. For example, as I walked along with my bag, a car drove by me, close enough to almost touch my elbow.
Within a minute or two William and I began talking, and one of his first questions was whether I was engaged and why not- apparently this is a common question here in Ghana. (Who knew Ghanians and Jewish moms think so much alike.) William shared with me that he was born and raised in Ghana, and has never been to the US. Ghanians have a reputation for being really friendly and I was able to learn this quick firsthand. We discussed a variety of things, one being the weather; I learned that it’s still rainy season in Ghana, and will be until mid-August. William explained that sometimes the rain may be light and last an hour, though other times it may be very heavy and last from morning to night.
A few moments later, we arrived at the guest house. I was able to finally meet Allison, who runs The Humanity Exchange. It was so nice to finally be able to put a face to the name, after talking with her for so many months! I had just enough time to shower and freshen up, and then a driver dropped me back off at the airport; I had a 3:00 flight to a village called Tacoradi. My driver was also from Ghana, and when he heard I was from the US, right away spewed some questions about Obama. He was surprised this was my first time to Ghana and told me he wished he had more time to show me around the village- so nice! He left me at the airport, where I waited for my flight to board. The airport was quite bare. Looking around, it made me think that though it’s bare, they have what they need and thought back to the I-Pad and Cafe clad Delta gate I sat in at JFK. It made me question why we need so much? It’s almost embarrassing in a way and makes me realize why US so quickly can get a bad reputation. I waited in the airport, excited to get on this new small plane…3:30 rolls around, and then 4:00..I’m looking around and not one person seems the least bit bothered that there is a delay. Coming from NY where by now people would be freaking out, I found it more fascinating than frustrating. Ahh, my first glimpse of “Africa time”. Allison later used the phrase “GMT”, Ghana maybe time, and I thought it was great. So GMT it was…Now it’s 5:00, the plane has been delayed 2 hours, and finally people started to show signs of agitation. There were only about 20 people at the airport. I started making friends with some of the people around me- one man was from Texas, and explained he frequently visits Tacoradi because he works in the mining industry. Another lady I spoke to was Ghanian and was going to her best friend’s post-wedding dinner. Together me and my new friends waited, and waited, with no explanation from the airport staff as to what was going on. When asked, they nonchalantly just said “It’ll be here”. I watched so many of the staff members sitting around, some joking with others, and some even leaving to go home as the hours passed by. I knew something was up if the staff were going home! Such a difference from America, where one hour delay and everyone would be going up to the counter asking what can be done for them. It’s just a totally different mind set here. Finally, after 3 hours of waiting, they announced the flight had been cancelled! I used someone’s phone to call Allison, who quickly came to pick me up knowing I was starving. We went back to the guesthouse in Accra, ate some pizza and chatted. Although I was completely exhausted, I was (easily) persuaded to go out to a party. There I tried my first taste of Ghanian food- spices are very popular here. I tried spiced fried plantains, and they were just as delicious as they sounded. I also had some Malibu with fresh coconut juice- so much better than the flavored rum we have in the US! At the party there was also pizza- I was told in Accra it’s fairly popular. That, and Chinese food. I also learned that many Ghanians who are Christian do not drink. Ghana is roughly 80% Christian and Sunday church is an integral part of many here. In fact, often many times when meeting someone, a Ghanian may ask what church you attend.
The next morning I was moved to a 6:30 flight. So, with 3 hours of sleep, I was awakened by the sound of a rooster and quickly got ready and went downstairs where I was told the security guard would have a cab. When I walked outside he saw me and said he’d be right back. Like the others, he was on Ghana-Maybe-Time as well, and 30 minutes later he came back with a cab. Off we went, back to the airport. Sure enough, when I got there they informed me that we won’t be leaving until 9am-threeeee more hours. I saw some of my friends from the night before and then curled up on the chairs and got another hour of sleep. Eventually I woke up to find out it was boarding time. Finally! The plane held about 15 of us, and the ride was only about 45 minutes. Once I landed, I had yet another hour wait until the driver arrived. This airport was simply a building with a lobby. I made friends with the 1 staff member who worked there. Within minutes he was asking me if I have facebook and if I would add him. Even my driver asked the same thing. When I asked about it, he shared with me that FB is as popular in the main cities of Africa. I thought that was pretty cool..who knew! Our drive from Tacoradi to Nkroful, the village I am in now was about an hour and a half. It was beautiful. We passed many small villages, kids selling things on the street with their family, goats and dogs just strolling along the road, and kids playing in the dirt. As we drove through a toll a child came up to my window with a basket of candy on her head. She looked into my eyes and I so desperately wanted to roll down my window and learn more about her.
As we continued getting closer to my village we saw an increased number of kids with baskets of an assortment of goods they were selling, on their heads. It was amazing to see how they carried such heavy weight with ease. My driver was telling me that they learn how to do so early, as it’s very much part of the Ghanian culture for children to help sell goods for their family on the weekends. Something that I saw that also stood out to me was a young boy, maybe 7 or 8 carrying a very long branch on his head! And when I asked the driver, he non-chalantly said he was probably just bringing it home.. to play with. Fascinating.
Today I made my first visit to the school..and it blew my mind away. I will write more soon about this amazing experience, as well as where I am staying and the other volunteers I am working with. More to come soon!