I woke up on the 4th of July at the Paloma, had another lovely breakfast at my hotel and chatted again with two men who are business partners…one from Portland, Oregon and the other from Princeton, New Jersey. After breakfast Rahman met me at the hotel and together, we went to the bus station. I decided to forgo the U.S. Embassy 4th of July party after speaking with the proprietor of ECSO, Mr. Kwabena Boateng who suggested that I leave Accra as early as possible to get acquainted with Esaase, meet his family and some of the school children before school started again on Monday. Apparently the students just had a few weeks off so they were returning…talk about good timing. Bye bye Accra/big city life!
Rahman and I took a taxi to the bus station and had to decide if we wanted to take a Greyhound like bus or a 14 passenger Ford conversion van. I soon found out that the conversion van is the way to go because the larger busses will just sit there until they are full…sometimes for a few hours and sometimes the entire day if there are not enough people going to Kumasi (which is rare but happens). Ours had three more people to full after Rahman and I entered, the bus had air conditioning and upbeat reggae-esque Ghanain gospel music playing the entire ride. The road to Kumasi (the largest city near my school where people work but don’t necessarily live unless you can afford the big city life) is completely under construction…they are in the midst of a huge project and turning one of the main highways in Ghana (previously one lane) into a two lane highway. The road is currently red dirt with gigantic potholes and windy runoff divits due to the rain. It was pretty intense driving and I did pray for my life at times. When I had to go pee really bad from all of the bouncing, there was no stopping. One thing I will say about Ghana…bathrooms are somewhat difficult to find. I will spare the details of the peeing experience when we finally did stop but let’s just say concrete slabs do not exactly absorb urination and I couldn’t figure out how the whole concrete/hole in the wall thing works for women…I’m sure that will come with time. The only thought going through my head was, “uh oh, I definitely did not bring enough baby wipes or toilet paper with me and I can’t imagine what this experience would be like if it was that time of the month”. Luckily, I won’t have to deal with “that” until the end of my trip, when I should be a pro at all of this.
About three hours later thanks to our speedy bus driver (the ride is typically 4 hours), I arrived at the bus station in Kumasi where. Within 15 minutes, I was greeted by Mr. Boateng and his brother in law in a car that had once been the vehicle of someone in New Jersey (I know this because of the city sticker from 1990 that was still in tact on the windshield)! We had another drive to Esaase and I guess I didn’t consider the fact that 12 km here is equivalent to a good 45 minutes on rural, mostly unpaved roads here in Ghana. Passing through various villages along the way, we continued travel farther and farther past giant palm trees, bananna trees, cocoyam trees, plantain trees and fields of maize. It is much more humid here in the Kumasi area with a lot more tropical foliage and rolling hills than Accra. We continued along the winding roads through narrow street passages and eventually arrived at the school Esaase Christian School & Orphanage!
I’m not sure what I had dreamt up in my head but I’m pretty confident that my arrival, corresponding tour of the facility and presentation of my room is nothing like I envisioned. All the same, Mr. Boateng did not delay in presenting me a “Ghana room!” Rahman sensing my tension and surprise, put his arm around me to let me know that my room was really nice and that is important for me to see how people live so I can learn and have greater respect because “Ghanians do not live like Americans…so why would I come here if I did not want to experience the lifestyle?” His comment really put things into perspective for me and immediately, I took a deep breath and agreed… Yes, this is why I’m here, to experience life in Ghana! And, how very different it is compared to my life back home!
As I look around my room, and see a multi-colored combination concrete/dirt floor, bright blue walls, mosquito net cascading down from the ceiling on all four sides of the small bed, a piece of cloth strung across the window with a piece of electrical chord and my adjacent bathroom with a dusty concrete floor, toilet and bathtub (no shower but a nice flowing faucet with cool water) it’s hard to believe that a mere 10 hours ago, I was living the dream.
(My bedroom..I have since put the bamboo sticks into the top of the net so it spreads out at the top and I also tucked the mosquito netting into the bed frame)
My bathroom (no shower but a nice faucet that I can squat under)
Maybe I did not properly mentally prepare for this but then again, I’m not sure it is possible to really know what you’re getting yourself into when you seek a volunteer position in Africa. Different forms of shock are inevitable. I won’t go into detail out of respect for the amazing people of these small villages and the minimalist, hard working way in which they live. I mentioned yesterday that being here once before helped me navigate the city culture in Ghana, but my previous experience here doesn’t hold a candle to what I am experiencing now…this is the real deal and after three days, I am actually really happy!
After touring the school this evening and placing my bags in my room, I met the other volunteer, a girl from Germany named Tabea who had also arrived today. We chatted for a bit then went to dinner at Mr. Boateng’s house. I met one of the children that Mr. Boateng has adopoted named Betsey and then we met Lucy, Mr. Boateng’s wife.
She eagerly presented us white a piping hot rice dish topped with a zesty Ghanain tomato sauce and a hard boiled egg for dinner with some filtered water. Tabea and I immediately noticed the school logo on the bags of water that we were given. Bottled water is very expensive here so one way of storing filtered water is in plastic baggies. You bite off a corner and suck out the water which did not take long to get used to. One of many amazing things about this school is the fact that they have their own water filtration system. Mr. Boateng was very excited to show us the water filter and the cleanliness of the water we will be drinking. Apparently one of the volunteers donated it and the large filtration devices comes from China. This thing is very cool and massive. The water comes up from the well about 50 feet below the ground, travels through four filters before arriving at the final charcoal filter then gets sucked up into the tank that squirts portions of the water into plastic, sealed baggies…sort of like ziplock sized bags. So, this is how we will drink water…out of a baggie, no bottles. The whole filtration thing looks a small brewery but brews clean water instead of beer. I keep forgetting to bring my camera to their house, so I’ll have to post some pics of the water system and where we eat dinner in another post.
After dinner we walked back to the school and met some of the students. The group of girls wasted no time in convincing us to accompany them to Esaase (the town) for an evening snack.
We walked about a half mile as lightning and thunder began to rumble in the sky. It became dark quicker than I expected, and when we reached our destination after winding through various houses in the dark. The girls ordered their Sunday evening food and we returned back to the school as the rain began to fall. This rain turned into a torrential downpour and we all decided to call it a night. I’ve honestly never seen rain quite like this before. I made my bed, made sure my mosquito net was securely fastened to the beam above my head (which I realized later, it wasn’t) dunked my sweaty, greasy hair under the faucet and washed my face. A new day awaits tomorrow as the kids will be returning to school. Mr. Boateng is looking forward to taking the students out into the forest preserve near the school to plant 800 trees. Apparently people are encroaching on the land and cutting down old growth trees in the preserve so he and the school children have taken it upon themselves to replenish the trees this first week back to school.
The school driveway, the front of my residence and Mr. Boateng’s car