We arrived at Accra airport at 8pm. We had read this part could be ‘hectic and busy with hundreds of people not allowed inside the airport’ so we were on high alert. The heat hit us immediately as we stepped off the plane and we both reflected on a time when we lived or visited humid tropical countries; Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka all on a similar longitude as Ghana.
We cleared security and immigration, enjoyed the live music and collected our bags. We stepped outside and searched for the children’s home name and representative, which we clocked very quickly and a wave of relief fell over us after 12+ hours of travelling, with just one last little push to the village of Senya-Beraku.
We all piled into a tiny taxi and set off from the airport. The traffic was bad and we were told that Friday night’s were the worst for Accra traffic. We noticed that all the cars were really old and wondered if developed countries ship their old Nissan Micra’s to Ghana. We attempt polite conversation but we are both exceptionally tired and preferred to just gaze out of the open window and take in this new destination. We hit traffic jam after traffic jam with little market stalls set up along side the road and dozens of people wandering through the cars selling everything from fruit, to toilet rolls, water, pillows and crayons.
We turn down less structured roads until we found the Senya turn off, full of potholes and ridges; two full hours after we left the relatively good roads of Accra. The children’s home is pointed out to us; it’s dark, no street lamps so it’s hard to get any sense of direction. We crawl down tracks, slowly circling huge potholes, driving up the sides to avoid massive breaks. I wasn’t even sure if they were roads.
We turned off onto what felt like a footpath, no wider than our little taxi. We drove round trees, half finished houses, farm animals and eventually ground to a halt. We were outside the volunteer house, a relatively sturdy looking building and entered into a huge space before us. The fans were on; water stocked in the fridge, buckets filled to the brim; what a lovely welcome; our final destination and we couldn’t be more excited. We gathered a bucket of water to wash the ‘travel’ and humidity off ourselves that had built up over 15+ hours.
The lights and fan cut out just before we climbed into bed. We take frozen sacks of water from the freezer and wrap them in clothes and cradle them to cool our body temperatures down, the opposite of a hot-water-bottle from our home country.
It’s hot, the village is booming. Celebrations and music play through the night as we drift off to sleep, eager to awake and start our Ghanaian journey.
The power returns in the night briefly, but doesn’t last long as we hear the fan cutting out, slowing to a stand still. I lie awake and listen to the new sounds around us, while an eager cockerel crows loudly outside the window. The parties seemed to be slowing and the energy running low.
Shattered, sticky and unprepared for the day, our breakfast arrived; omelettes in sweet bread. We shower (bucket) and we are collected to go up to the children’s home, just outside the small village. The dirt tracks in the little taxi are unavoidable, head knocks guaranteed.
The children’s home was amazing; the power was out there too. The children sang us a song, ‘welcome to our home of comfort’ and introduced themselves and their beds one by one. It was very sweet. There were so many of them, slightly overwhelming.
We gave the staff our donations of 200+ pairs of new underwear and DVDs and we are introduced to the children as ‘here to help’. I didn’t tell them I didn’t really know where to start.
Dusty red sand wraps around the children’s home where we played games, formed circles and danced. I noticed there was very little for the children to play with and thought about how spoilt children are back home. We are left with the children, their hot bodies against ours, hands everywhere, grabbing, pulling and comfort seeking; the mid-day sun is beating down and I need to retreat. We read to the children, fairy tales, and old primary school books with the names of English schools on the covers, handed down, passed on, shipped and now at their final stop, Ghana.
We returned for lunch and a nap, although it’s never that easy. No electricity means no fan, means no break from the heat. I drift off, the door bangs, and two children are standing there and want to play. The children don’t leave, they play on the porch drawing pictures and playing with toy blocks, while I drift in and out of sleep. The electricity and therefore the fan comes back on, I’m exhausted but feeling the air move helps us both to settle and recharge.
As the heat starts to fade slightly, we are taken for a walk around the local village. It’s sensory overload as we see hundreds of children playing in dust, drains and rubbish. It’s depressing, and yet, there is happiness all around; children with huge smiles. Piglets, goat kids and chickens are everywhere. How can an eight-hour flight take you to another world? How can we be flicking through our phones, living in such convenience, complaining about infrastructure, politics and house prices and they have so little? I fear we are going to have some harsh reality checks that are going to burn during this trip.
We both manage a good night sleep, this is possible under the fan, it makes all the difference. We wake at 6:30am and feel refreshed. Pancakes are brought for breakfast and we shower (bucket) and change into our ‘Sunday Best’. A knock at the door, a local boy, around one years old stands there, looks at me, realises he has never seen a white person; screams with fear and runs away to his older brothers who must have urged him on, and who are now rolling around on the floor laughing hysterically. Boys will be boys. The fear in his eyes however, will stay with me.
We begin our walk to church through the village. There are many churches, some outside some in buildings, some only just setting up, some in full swing. Ghana is recognised as the most religious country in the world.
We take our seats, Chinese plastic chairs in rows; we sit on the wrong side. The men and women are spilt down the middle. There is singing and no obvious start as people gather, wander in, walk out. The women and girls wear beautiful brightly coloured tailored dresses. They sing, they dance and then they sing and dance again. They talk English so fast and in such a different tone and pace I can’t quite understand it. We are introduced to the congregation and look a bit sheepish, as neither of us are religious.
The service theme is Compassion. I think about religion and community in this little town in rural Africa. The service plods on, and on, and on. We aren’t sure if it will ever end as that familiar mid-day temperature soars higher and higher. We are approaching three hours now…and we have community announcements still to go.
Time for ‘offerings’. We didn’t bring our cash, we instantly feel awful. Everyone is looking at us, encouraging us to proceed forward and give. We are terribly ashamed. They take the offerings and then; they repeat the whole process, asking for more. Note, always take a little money to church.
The service wraps up and we take a walk over to the medical centre. The sun is now mid-day strength and all energy and patience has dwindled. The medical unit is amazing, so much potential with allocated wards for maternity, sexual health and includes a small office where all the notes from all the local people are recorded, on paper! Government funded apparently, it’s unrecognisable in our Western standards, it’s basic, but it works.
Time to stroll home; it has to be 35 degrees now. I am glad I have a hand fan. I ask Seth questions, asking about his role, motivation and the plans he has. He has the most adorable laugh. We make loose plans for the week. Lunch arrived; rice and beans today, it’s very filling. I become very tired. We take a frozen water bag and curl up for a sleep. Deep deep sleep while the heat dies down outside.
Around 6pm we eat dinner; fried yam and chicken. Francis collects us and takes us to the village ‘pub’. A 1000-kilowatt sound system is set up in the corner, so loud we cannot communicate. Everyone sits on their phones, attempting a conversation is pointless. We drink up and head home agreeing that past mid-night would be the time for this excessively loud music, telling stories of a time when we would dance through the night to music in front of sound systems.
On day four, our alarm goes off at 4:30am. We use the volunteer bicycles to cycle up to the children’s home, the sun is already rising and kicking out considerable heat. The orphanage starts early; cleaning, washing and preparing 45+ orphans for the day. We brush, sweep and mop the halls. It’s amazing where your mind wanders when you are sweeping the floors or an orphanage in Ghana at 5am. When the children reach teenage, what do they think about? What do they think about white people coming to sweep and wash the floors? Do the staff find us a hindrance or help? What more can I do? Donate more, fundraise more, come back more regularly with more supplies? This is one of thousands, millions around the world. How do you choose who to support?
We help wash the huge pile of clothes. They wash twice a week; two full days. It’s a long process to clean all the children’s clothes. They need a washing machine, but they have no running water? Everything explored opens up so many new problems and challenges. The levels and obstacles are alarming. My normal problem solving solutions are being challenged.
We cycle home for breakfast after helping serve the children their breakfast of porridge and bread, we get home to the same. Afterward breakfast we go though thoughts and we are surprised we aren’t sleepy yet considering the early start. I call home, a very expensive call at £1 a minute, but so nice to hear familiar voices. We eventually reside to our beds to sleep and refresh. Kay goes to explore the village for essentials and treats. She bumps into another volunteer, Julia who will join us later.
A storm had been brewing all morning, with rumbles of thunder and lightening seen over the sea. We jump out of bed when it hits, huge anticipation for the rain and storm. Having both lived in tropical countries before; we knew the potential strength of these storms and looked forward to the reduced humidity after the storm. We sat on the veranda and watch the storm pass, it was short lived, but the humidity did die down. Julia arrived and we talk about her medical volunteer experience in Ghana, having been there over three months.
With the humidity calmed, we look forward to a good nights sleep, my mind racing with all the possibilities and the hurdles to achieve them. We talk about our home life, and I think how lucky I am to be here with one of my oldest friends.
It was a nice morning after a solid sleep and the temperature was still low, we nattered, showered (bucketed) and washed our hair. The water was running low. Breakfast arrived and I felt really refreshed and relaxed, considering we had been washing in a bucket for four days in 30+ degree heat and 80% humidity. Is it possibly we had started to adapt?
Breakfast arrived, our favourite; omelette in sweet bread. I was so hungry that I ate it all in minutes. We were both feeling ready to get to work. We walked to the school in the village, meet Seth and looked around. It’s not really a school, more a series of wooden sheds with Victorian-style desks that children are busily laying out. They’re also sweeping the rooms and hanging the white boards, which a previous volunteer built for them. You really get a sense of how important volunteers are to this little community.
The resources are basic, with ICT lessons being taught in theory only. They have limited capabilities and the need for a new school is apparent. The children all wear matching purple uniforms and there are older students busy at their desks, as we are informed that exam season is coming up in June for them. I try and think about people I knew who could help in the school development., teaching, installing computers, fundraising.
A taxi arrived and we get taken up to the orphanage. Children welcome us and Seth gathers the staff into a conference style room where we sit at the front and the staff directly opposite. It was very official, in a Ghana sense. Seth welcomed the meeting, a prayer was said, and we went through the staff roles and responsibilities.
We walked around and talked about construction plans and the development of infrastructure at the home. We discuss the water well, which they have two, both are not producing water. Water levels are too low, too much iron, the pump breaks. It’s not easy to solve problems in Ghana.
We caught a taxi home and I rested while we waited for lunch to arrive, the water to be replenished and wait for the next adventure. Curry and their local veg rice balls for lunch and when 2 o’clock rolled around, our arranged time to leave, nothing happened. Francis finally showed up but the water hadn’t been filled so we waited. We couldn’t work out if the tank was far, who was responsible or when we would now leave and how long the journey would take to Kokrobite. We felt a bit hopeless, both being very independent, now in a situation where we had to rely on others for all our basic needs.
An hour rolled around and the door went; water supplies and a taxi. We were back on! The unpredictability and our obsession with time was starting to show.
We drove through feisty streets packed with market stalls and small businesses selling everything from three piece suites to shoes, fruit, mechanical parts, coffins, plastic figures of Jesus and everything in between. Girls sold fruit, nuts and water to the cars on the dusty roads, the men sold; belts, wallets, and tables.
After an hour of broken roads and stimulation overload. We turn off to the mall. Which was, just a mall, nothing special, it had a supermarket selling everything you could get at home, wrapped in plastic, at inflated prices. We buy toys for the children; footballs, dolls, skipping ropes, snakes and ladders, checkers, blocks and toy cars! We stay in the air con while we wait for the return of our entourage to continue our journey to Kokrobite.
There was a beautiful purple sunset and our entourage; Francis, Stephen and the driver chaperoned us to Big Milly’s, a backpacker’s hangout with bars and beach shacks. We went for a stroll along the beach; still not quiet paradise but this could have been just the season. We sat at the bar, ordered a beer and fended off talkative Ghanaians and mosquitos. We attempted wifi and then realised it was futile. We had got this far without it. Wifi; making your adrenaline increase. What a world we live in.
We ordered dinner from Patrick, a larger than life French Ghanaian. We sit, eat, and enjoy the little luxuries we find, knowing that we have three people waiting for us to get back to their homes in our little village. We finished up and headed home, singing loudly with all our heart to our new favourite Ghanaian hip-hop song ‘Hosanna Hosanna’.
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