The last month or so I was in Ghana I didn’t have much time to update this blog. I probably should have written something down before I got caught up in summer and life back home, at least some reflections on my overall experience while they were still fresh in my mind – not that they’ll ever leave me, but I find my writing is better and more interesting when the thoughts are fresh. Either way, I am here now trying to piece back all the interesting details for my few readers before I embark on my next adventure: graduate school in England. There will be more on that later though.
It would be just like my family to come visit me in the same month I would be coming home after a year abroad. Either way, I’m glad they did. It all happened very quickly. Exams schedules were posted and my friends and I were frantically trying to piece together who was free when to travel. Most people’s schedules overlapped and few were able to find long enough stretches to travel together. Somehow I had managed a two week break between exams. Not keen on traveling alone, I took a long shot and reached out to my mom and tried to convince her I’d show her a good time if she came to visit me in Ghana. With encouragement from friends and family to just GO, she decided within a few days that she’d be coming and I was already planning a rough itinerary. When Everett (my brother) saw the itinerary he decided he couldn’t possibly miss out and with that, he was finding a way to get his shifts covered at work and coming along too. Of course my mom wouldn’t be leaving Griffin (other brother) behind if Everett was coming and so it was decided: the Doningers are going to Ghana.
I couldn’t have been more pleased to see them at the airport. After all, it had been almost 10 months since I had last. I had them out on the town and riding in trotros within an hour of their arrival!! Not to brag or anything, but they probably got the best tour of Ghana that anyone can get in 10 days. First we went to the small village of Tafi Atome and stayed at the monkey sanctuary. It is about a 5 hour trotro ride up to the Volta region then a short mototaxi ride to the village. The following day we headed up to Ho Hoe to catch a trotro to Wli Falls where you can hike to the waterfall and go swimming.
Now, it was this same day that my mother and I seem to have quite different recollections of certain events. She likes to call it “the sit-down restaurant story.” I will provide MY recollection of this story here and let her post HER recollection in the blog comment section if she wants (she will) and then I’ll copy and paste it here for readers later on. But just to be clear, this is what REALLY happened:
While we were hiking to the Wli Falls it started raining on and off. We waited for a trotro to take us back to a bigger town, Ho Hoe, where we would be able to get a trotro back to Accra. At this point it was about 2ish in the afternoon and everyone was wet, dirty, and pretty tierd. When a trotro finally arrived, we were packed with probably twice the amount of people it was meant to hold and headed back to Ho Hoe. I had promised my exhausted family that we would find somewhere to sit down and eat in Ho Hoe and then we would head back to Accra. However, when I promised a sit down restaurant in Ho Hoe I had gotten the towns mixed up in my head and was remembering Ho Hoe to be Ho, a much larger town. Once we arrived I realized my mistake and that it might be much harder to find a sit down restaurant as it was a much smaller town. Once off the trotro, it felt like the demands were all coming at me at once (probably because they were) – “I’m hungry!,” “I wanna buy a duffle bag!,” “I have to pee!.” These types of needs are not as easily addressed in Ghana. Public bathrooms are rare and if they do exist, you have to pay for them and 9 out of 10 times they are just a urinal (for men and women) and not a toilet. Open defecation is common practice in Ghana and a problem many development organizations are targeting. Either way, I knew a few places public urinals are typically found and luckily we found one. We walked around a bit and I wasn’t seeing any sit down restaurants and didn’t think we’d find one easily so decided to just stop at a street-side stand. They hadn’t yet had the chance to taste all the different types of Ghanaian food so I got a bowl for myself and allowed them to taste it. Only my mom tried it and she didn’t want it. They were being awkward and I just ate fast and we looked for a different place. Then they decided they just wanted to get snacks like bread and cookies for the road. I know they were experiencing pretty intense culture shock. Yes, there were flies around the food, but all the food was covered so it wasn’t accessible to the flies. Somehow my mother has construed a story in which she has become traumatized by my version of a sit down restaurant. She conveniently forgets the part where I mentioned I didn’t think we’d be able to find one and we’d have to settle for some street side food instead. Either way, everyone survived and we made it back to Accra that night.
The next day we took a trek down the coast to Cape Coast and Elmina. We did the canopy walk at Kakum National Park, toured Elmina castle, and had an ocean side lunch in Cape Coast. Late in the afternoon we trotroed it over to Takoradi, and when everything was flowing just too smoothly for it to be Africa, shit hit the fan. We were running a bit low on cash so I decided to run to an ATM with my mom’s AAA travel card (I have one too which I used once or twice, successfully, in Ghana when I first arrived). I tried the card at about 5 different ATMs and it wouldn’t work. I ran back to the hotel and got my card: no dice. We didn’t bring any other types of cards and no passports because I had never brought my passport (just a copy of one) when I am traveling within Ghana and there hadn’t been a problem yet (but a lack of passport means nobody can send us money through Western Union). We had money, but not enough for us to not have to worry about how we are spending.
I had been planning on bringing my family down to Butrie and Busua, two small beach villages about and hour and a half from Takoradi, but this money situation created a problem. Either we all went back and didn’t go through with our plan, or I go back to Accra by myself, get money, and return all in one day. It seemed to be the only option. I am completely comfortable traveling by myself. Ghanaians are incredibly hospitable and kind and I had done the trip a few times before. I had been to Butrie and Busua before so I wouldn’t be missing out if I went back to get money. So, I did what I had to do. I gave my family very detailed instructions on where to go and how to get there and I sat on the bus 7 hours to Accra and 7 hours back. It was a brutal day sitting on buses and uncomfortable trotros, but I survived and I arrived in Busua with the whole village awaiting my arrival because my mom was worried sick and asking everyone to keep an eye out for me. For some reason she had in her head that I would arrive at 6pm, but I didn’t get there until around 10pm. Either way, all’s well that ends well.
We spent a few relaxing days on the beach drinking mango juice, swimming, reading, and eating local foods and then moved on to Kumasi, the heartbeat of Ghana, for the final jaunt of the trip. It was about 5 hours to Kumasi from Takoradi and we just spent one night there. We visited the cultural center and the largest market in Western Africa, among other things. Then it was back to Accra for a day of rest, a bit of shopping in Accra and the trip home.
I really loved that my family could come and get a little taste of Ghana and the types of things I have been experiencing, especially because they can understand some of the references I make to things later on. I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be to watch out for everyone and make sure everyone was comfortable and having a good time, etc. I have had a lot of experience in developing countries and although all are very different, I have definitely become desensitized to the more primitive lifestyle, among other things, and often it doesn’t occur to me that my family might not be comfortable with certain environments, situations, or any variation of social or cultural differences we might run into.
I didn’t have much time left in Ghana after my family left, but I did have three exams. I ended up doing a lot of packing, hanging out with Ekua and Henry, studying, working my final few days at the GWASH project, and taking exams. My last exam was right before my flight so I had to race through my exam, run back to my room to get my stuff and race to the airport to make my flight.
I had been counting down the days to go home because I missed Elliott so much and I hadn’t seen my dad yet because he wasn’t able to visit me in Ghana like my mom and brothers. But, in those last few days I became really sentimental and sad about leaving Ghana. I bike around my usual routes, took trotros downtown myself for a little last minute shopping in the market and it hit me how much I would miss this place, these people, and don’t laugh, but roasted plantains. Despite all of the frustrations that came with living in a developing country like Ghana, it found a way to steal my heart in a way that Botswana did not. Haiti was a much different experience as I was there helping and assisting in the earthquake recovery effort, whereas here in Ghana I was living, working, and learning side by side with Ghanaians. I could probably go on and on about the things and people I will miss in Ghana, but it might be easier just to say: I’ll be back.
I accepted a long time ago, when I first returned home from Haiti, that people wouldn’t see things the way I did. My experiences had changed me; my perspectives, my priorities, the way I lived, my goals and aspirations. The first question I got asked by almost every person I saw when I returned home from Africa was, “Is it weird being home? Is it hard adjusting?” – Not anymore. I remember how drastically I had changed after Haiti. From the little things like taking quick showers (in appreciation for the daily bucket showers I had taken as well as the scarcity of potable water there) to my stance on international humanitarian aid, development, and global poverty. Little things just didn’t seem to matter anymore because I was able to think of a million worse things in life and appreciate what I had like a roof over my head, endless opportunity, an education, and my loved ones to name a few. In addition, Haiti provided me with firsthand experience to the successes and failures in disaster response, poverty, and development as well as interactions with professionals and experts in the field. This sprouted interest, further reading, and development of opinions. I learned in AmeriCorps I wanted to work within the social and community services sector, but my first experience in Haiti refined those interests to international development and disaster relief.
Following questions of my adjustment to life back home were almost always additional questions looking to confirm common stereotypes about Africa; “Was it REALLY hot?”, “Were there big animals walking around everywhere?”, “Were you living in the jungle?”, “Did you see a lot of starving kids and poor people?”. Most of these questions can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. I traveled all over southern and western Africa – the diversity was tremendous; after all, Africa is made up of 55 very unique, countries and spans over both the northern and southern hemisphere. The first few times I was asked these questions I attempted to provide a full explanation. It didn’t take long for me to learn I had been allocated approximately 1 minute or so for their full attention and interest in my response before it was all lost. At that point, the conversation shifts to the horribly long line they had to wait in at the DMV or the new shop that opened up in Avon center, you know, topics of interest. Not to say there weren’t family and friends genuinely interested in my experiences because there were, but for the most part, this is how the conversations went. But i
I can’t believe how fast this summer has flown by. In less than a month I will be flying out to England to start my graduate program at Oxford Brookes University. I am getting a MA in Development and Emergency Practice. I have secured housing in Cowley, Oxford with five other Brookes graduate students, all whom seem really great. I’ll miss friends and family, but I’ll be home for Christmas and hopefully my mom, brothers, and Elliott will come visit in May or over the summer. Although summer is coming to an end I feel like I have gotten to do most of the things on my summer to-do list or will be doing them in the next week or so. Hopefully I’ll get to spend a few nights at the new Cape house before I leave, but that is all dependent on people getting their asses in gear and stop messing up things for my mom. I don’t know what else to say. I had a wonderful experience in Africa, have loved being home with my friends and family, and am very excited for my next adventure in the UK – what could be better?
More this fall —
Title quote: Jack Kerouac