Learning More Than I Would Teach: A Volunteer Trip to Ghana

"Throughout our conversation he said things like 'you need your rest to prepare for your program' and 'it will be very different where we are going.' These kinds of gentle warnings always seem to just make me more excited, rather than prompt me to be cautious. To be honest, I seem to always want to do what people caution me not to do."

Friday November 15, 2013

After 2 days on my own exploring the capital city of Accra, my local guide from the Globe Aware organization named Bansah came to my hostel to discuss my weeklong volunteer program that would begin the next day. Throughout our conversation he said things like “you need your rest to prepare for your program” and “it will be very different where we are going.” These kinds of gentle warnings always seem to just make me more excited, rather than prompt me to be cautious. To be honest, I seem to always want to do what people caution me not to do.

Ok, time to sleep.

I roll over on to my side and look at the vibrant and colorful patterns on the curtains. I can feel that my body is tired, but my mind is wide awake.

So I’m in a hostel dorm room, in Accra, Ghana, in Africa. And I’m here by myself.

I’ve voluntarily left my home, and everyone and everything in it that is stable, comfortable, and secure.

I have been transported. And I feel alive.

Of course, I know that I can only feel this calm, and the distance between myself and those that I love the most can only be this manageable because it is temporary. I feel blessed, and also very lucky, to be able to travel, even though it’s taken meticulous planning and saving to get me here. More specifically though, I acknowledge that I can travel freely not only as an American, but as an educated and unmarried woman, something so many in this world cannot claim nor would be able to do.

I have ten days left in this country and on this trip, and my volunteer program begins tomorrow.

I wonder what experiences await.

Saturday November 16, 2013

It’s my first night here in Okagyakromhene, a small village in the northern Volta region of Ghana. I am staying in a guest house and my two local guides (who are Local Program Coordinators for the Globe Aware organization) are talking loudly in the next room, arguing over Ghanian politics. I’ve noticed that they do that a lot, but it’s always in a friendly tone and they eventually start laughing about their different opinions. They never seem to cross the line and actually get upset or frustrated with each other. Oh, and something that is apparent in almost every Ghanian I’ve met thus far: they love to laugh.  Big, booming, infectious laugher, playful teasing laughter, and every kind in between. It’s great!

Today was a travel day: a six hour bus ride which allegedly was only supposed to take three hours but we had a “slow” driver. The twelve other Ghanians on the bus made jokes about the driver almost the entire ride. They playfully told him to hurry up, and nicknamed him “The Turtle.” I was nervous that the driver was going to get upset, but he laughed along with everyone else.

The hour and a half wait at the bus station prior to departure was a lively and insightful experience to say the least. In Accra, there are people selling things everywhere, and everything you could imagine is being sold. I found it to be completely random in nature and yet so specific: toilet paper, car accessories, belts, shoes, dishwashing soap, sponges, phone chargers, cups, plates, bowls, bath towels, key chains, and the hundreds of other items that we would typically have all-in-one-spot at a “convenience store” back home in the States. Most commonly though people were selling various food items: fresh fruit, cookies, candy, water bottles, yogurt drinks, cooked meat on sticks, rice bowls, handmade snacks, fried bananas, dried fish, and so much more.

The bus pulled over many times along the route in towns or at main roads so vendors could approach the vehicle, (and by that I mean swarm) to sell their goods. The passengers in the bus negotiated through the windows and stocked up on drinks, snacks, loaves of bread, and gifts.  It seemed as though all of the passengers had planned on these mid-route shopping opportunities, and I liked their direct person-to-person buying methods. They did not know what would be offered along the way, and made their choices based on what was available.

We arrived in the early evening and enjoyed a delicious welcome meal of chicken and “jollof rice” (a one-pot dish of rice stewed in tomato paste with crushed tomatoes, various spices, and a generous amount of oil).  After dinner we walked to town and along the way we came across a large group of villagers in the school courtyard playing the drums, singing African songs, and dancing. The music was beautiful and uplifting, and their energy was contagious. It was dark outside and only the light of the moon shined down on their performance, allowing me to see glimpses of their smiling faces and a joyfulness that each and every one exuded. It was magical and I felt a warmth surround me.

I asked my local guide Ninayaw (pronounced Nih-nay-yaw) how often they gathered together like this and he said “every Saturday night, or whenever they want to dance.”

This is the essence of a community. Coming together on their own, without holiday or special occasion, to sing their traditional cultural songs. To celebrate their togetherness as a village, and to enjoy the music, the moments, and each other.

I felt honored to witness such an event – to them it was just another Saturday night, but to me it was a beautiful display of human nature, love, and happiness.

Sunday November 17, 2013

We’re stuck in the house because it’s raining. We just had a heavy lunch of chicken legs, vegetable stew, fried eggs and bread. Everyone is falling asleep as we watch African music videos on television, but the satellite signal keeps going in and out because of the weather. I walked out on to the porch and watched the rain fall and thought about how Mother Nature only nurtures, and everything she does is to care for or replenish the Earth. Yet as humans we often times destroy the Earth by acting in ways that strip and diminish our resources, rather than care for it. I looked at the plants and trees surrounding the house and saw oranges, lemons, plantain bananas, mangos, coconuts, palm nuts, and more growing, and I was reminded of how infrequently we as Americans actually see where food comes from and how it is grown. Seeing it before me then I felt a connection to the Earth and a responsibility to nourish and respect it, because it is what sustains us. I wished that everyone back home could experience this; perhaps then we would all fight a little harder to protect this Earth, because it’s where we all call home.

After the rain passed, my guides Ninayaw and Bansah took me to meet this village’s Tribal Elders. This experience was incredible and unforgettable. At one point in the meeting I thought to myself:

I can’t believe I am here right now. I’m completely submerged in this culture, this community, and this country.

I began the meeting by walking around the circle and shaking the hand of each elder while slightly bowing as a sign of respect. After joining together in prayer, the Elders performed a traditional greeting ritual in which they passed around a bottle of locally made gin and each Elder poured a small amount out on the ground in front of them as an offering to God, before taking a sip to show acceptance of their presence in the meeting.

The elders asked me why I was visiting their village and what my intentions were. Everything was spoken in their native language of “Twi” and translated back and forth between us by my guide. I replied that I was there to learn about their culture and I was interested in their traditions and way of life. I also stated that I was offering my time and services to benefit their community, if they were looking for such help. The men began a lively yet democratic discussion amongst themselves, taking turns to speak and nodding in approval when in agreement. After a few minutes of wondering what they were saying, Ninayaw leaned over and explained that they were coordinating which villagers would be assigned to personally teach me certain traditions, and that they wanted me to learn as much about their people in the short amount of time that I was there. I almost fell out of my seat with surprise and excitement.

I feel so honored to be given this opportunity to have such an insider’s view of this community, and with such personal individual attention.

As they continued to discuss amongst themselves I thought about how proud they were about their culture and its people, and how they seemed to be astonished and thrilled when I expressed that I was there to learn from them. I’m guessing they anticipated me saying something more along the lines of “I’m here to help your people” or “I’m here to teach you.”

It was finally decided that I would have daily language lessons by their best teacher and cooking instructions from local women. I would also participate in traditional Ghanian music and dancing classes hosted by the Elders themselves. Needless to say I was overwhelmed with gratitude and eager to begin the journey. But first, I needed another notebook so I could document the experiences to come.

On the walk home we stopped at a roadside stand which sold basic school supplies and I purchased a notebook for 80 pesewas (about $0.40). On the cover it read “Ghana Schools Exercise Book” and had a celebratory picture of Nelson Mandela on the cover. I was ready.

Monday November 18, 2013

Oh wow, what a morning! To begin my teaching at the school I was first presented to the children by standing at the front of the schoolyard as they all lined up in rows facing me, to sing the national anthem and a handful of other songs. At first the children just looked at me curiously, but within a few minutes they became excitable and started waving, dancing in place, or making funny movements to get my attention so that I would wave back at them. When I did, they grinned from ear to ear and were thrilled to be recognized by me. I felt overjoyed be there at that moment and was embraced by such a warm welcome.

To start, I observed five different grade levels (they call them Primary 1, 2, 3 and so on) and helped the children work through the exercises assigned by their teachers. When I approached them, they just stared at me as I spoke, rather than listened to what I was saying. Then they would ask me questions like what my name was, where I came from, and if I could sign my name in their notebooks. Once I answered a question or two to satisfy their curiosity, they began to allow me to help them with their studies. Immediately, other students would gather around us to hear what I was saying, but also to help the student I was working with. They were so eager to learn, and to provide support to their fellow classmates by offering their pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, as well as their advice.

In the Primary 2 class they were learning the parts of a fish. They were instructed to draw the fish (as pictured in their books) and label each part accordingly. The young boy sitting in front of me got to work immediately while many of the other students discussed the assignment with their peers first, or walked around looking at other student’s work, or just turned and stared at me. So I walked around the room looking at each child’s notebook and encouraging him or her to complete the assignment. I then sat down and completed the assignment myself, and when the children saw it they went wild asking if they could have my paper. I had the idea to offer it as a prize as incentive for them to get to work, and so I told them whoever completed the assignment first, and had all the parts labeled correctly would win the prize.

They all began working excitedly, but continued to keep looking up at me from time to time, smiling and waving. I ended up awarding the prize drawing to the boy who I first saw get to work right away. I signed my name and wrote “Awarded to [his name]” and told him that I was very impressed by his focus and hard work. I handed him the personalized “award” and he was stunned, he just stood there grinning and all the children crowded around him, buzzing with excitement. I took a picture with him and by the time we tried to get a second shot, I almost fell over because so many of the children were crowding in trying to be a part of the photo. I laughed a deep hearty laugh and felt overcome with joy and appreciation for their wild and comical interest in me.

When I first arrived at the school this morning I thought to myself “There are so many children. How will I work with them all?” but I realized that my one-on-one time with them and providing compliments and encouragement to them individually was memorable and meaningful to them. I felt inspired to work with as many children as I could in the small amount of time that I was there.

During one of the breaks I tried playing the running game “Red Light, Green Light” with them. About sixty children lined up to play. I tried to explain the simple rules (“When I say green light you run towards me, and when I say red light you STOP, and anyone that doesn’t stop is out of the game”) but the children were fervently crowding around me laughing, talking, and giggling.

I said “green light” and they all began running towards me. When I said “red light” most of them attempted to stop but about fifteen kids just kept running towards me at full speed and jumped directly on to me. I fell over and laughed so hard, and when the rest of the kids saw this they all ran to me and hugged me and laughed with me. For the second round, I explained the rules again, and asked if they understood. They giggled and nodded. When I said “green light” they all ran at me full speed, but this time when I said “red light,” none of them stopped! They kept running to me, and I said “RED LIGHT” a few more times but to no avail. They all swarmed me, jumped on me, hugged me, and grabbed my hands, arms, and legs. I was laughing so hard and was completely overtaken by deep joy and fulfillment in that moment. I felt I was totally accepted by them, and even loved already.

After school, I came home for lunch to a heaping plate of rice and beans (called “waakye” and pronounced wah-chaye), spaghetti noodles, stewed goat meat in a tomato sauce, and a hard-boiled egg. There was so much food on the plate it was about to fall off the sides. The man who owned the guest house in which I was staying, and also the one who prepares the meals, stuck his head out of the kitchen to greet me as I sat down. He was beaming with pride to serve me such an overwhelming portion of food. I smiled, thanked him kindly, and dug in.

After lunch, I had my first lesson in “Twi”, their native tribal language. I was taught by Joyce, the teacher of Primary 3 class, who spoke impeccable English and was a graduate of the University of Ghana. I felt honored that they chose whom I observed to be the best teacher at the school, to personally tutor me. She taught me the basic greetings, I took notes, and we practiced conversation.

After about an hour, the Elders started to arrive dressed in their traditional long black shirts and with their musical instruments. I then was treated to a performance of traditional African music, drumming, singing, and dancing. After observing for an hour, they asked if I wanted to try. I was so inspired by their passion, and appreciative of the time they took to perform specifically for me, that I thought “oh what the heck, I’ll give it a shot!” I tried to mimic their dance moves (crouching low to the ground in a “hunter” position, moving my hands around in circular motions and turning around on my heels as I had seen them do), and I remember thinking “oh my, I must look ridiculous right now.” But then I looked up to see each and every one of them holding two fingers in the air (what we would call the “peace” sign), which my guide Ninayaw later explained represented their highest approval. When our session together was over, they each came up to me and shook my hand, nodding and smiling at me. I then said a few phrases that I had learned during my language lesson and their eyes lit up so bright and they began to laugh and clap. They nodded once more in approval and I felt so grateful to them for their guidance, instruction, and acceptance.

On the walk home I practiced some of the words and phrases I had learned with villagers that we passed along the way. They were all delighted and so pleased to see that I was taking the time to learn their native language. I realized then that by showing these people my interest in their language and culture and my desire to learn from them, I have a way to continually thank them for accepting me in to their community. I also noticed that it was the key to unlocking any hesitation or resistance they had to my presence in the village. They instantly warmed to me when they heard me speak in Twi. I am so glad to have found this channel to connect.

For dinner, a young, pretty, and quiet girl named Jemima came over to show me how they cook yams, cassava, vegetable stew or “froy,” and chicken legs. As someone who prefers to eat light and relatively healthy as much as I can, the amount of oil, seasoning packets, and additional salt that they use in their cooking was absolutely shocking to me, but I of course just took notes and kept my personal opinions to myself. As much as I would have loved to not eat the vegetable stew after seeing all the ingredients that went in to it, I would never be so culturally insensitive to do so. This was obviously the traditional way they cooked and I was a guest in their community and their country. I would eat whatever they prepared for me. And as it turned out, the dinner she prepared was delicious!

Tuesday November 19, 2013

I can’t believe it’s just Tuesday. I’ve only been here in this village since Saturday night and yet I’ve experienced and done so much already. It was exactly one week ago that I began this trip. I left for the airport excited yet having just a vague idea of what this experience would be like, or even what it would entail. But here I am, one week in with another six days before I’m back home in Chicago. I just got out of my nightly cold shower, and as I was braiding my hair (it’s the only way I can stay cool in the sweltering mid-day heat), I thought about how peaceful and comfortable I feel here. There are times when my mind drifts back to home, but at this point in, my work and city life seems so far away, like a distant memory that I’ve placed up on the shelf to take down and revisit at a later time.

I’ve gotten Ninayaw, Bansah, and the teenager Eddie (the nephew of the owner of this guest house) to take nightly walks with me after dinner so that we can walk off our heavy meals before heading to bed. It’s become an enjoyable and comforting ritual. Tonight we visited with Ninayaw’s family in the village. When we arrived they were all sitting around outside in the dark, with just the light of the moon shining down on them. Throughout the day and late in to the evening, the villagers are always outside together. They talk, laugh, eat, and just “be.” I think about our non-stop productivity back home, and I feel guilty for not slowing down more often. For lack of better words, I find these people to be “more human” than myself and my lifestyle back home. It sounds silly, but it’s the only phrase I can think of to describe how I feel about their more intimate social interactions.

During the breaks at school today I played with the children as usual, but by now they are basically swarming me everywhere I go, and at one point in the sweltering heat it was overwhelming. However, I immediately thought to myself “You only have a small amount of time here, and any stress or discomfort is temporary and not worth the risk of appearing unmotivated or uninterested to these children. Give it your all and be a kind and encouraging presence to everyone you meet here.” And so I pushed through the heat and desire for just a minute in the shade by myself, and finished out yet another incredible day teaching and working with these eager, energetic, and loving children. I felt a deep sense of fulfillment and once again felt blessed for the opportunity to be here.

Tonight I had another cooking lesson and we made a different kind of vegetable stew, this one made with yam leaves called “kotonmire,” tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, onion, and eggs. And of course, about one overflowing cup of oil, and 2 salt-laden seasoning packets as well. There are so many times throughout my day when my inner monologue is screaming “Oh my goodness,” or “No, don’t do that,” or “I can’t believe this is happening” and “I can’t believe that’s how they do it here.” For example, they purchase their cooking oil (“palm oil” which is made from their locally grown palm nuts) in plastic bags, about the size of a small quart-sized “sandwich bag” back home. The bags are filled, and tied in a knot at the top. Tonight, my cooking instructor placed a pan on the stove, and the bag in the middle of the pan and then turned on the burner and held the bag upright in place by holding the top of the knot. It took me a few seconds until I realized that she was waiting for the bottom of the plastic bag to melt, in order to release the oil in to the pan. I resisted the urge to shriek out, and gently said “I have an idea” and picked up the bag, and cut one corner with a knife and poured the oil in to the pan. She smiled and said thank you and went about cooking. I wondered how often they melted the plastic in to their food like that, and how bad for your health it must be. At first I didn’t want to impart my opinion on her, because I wanted to respect our cultural differences and not be a my-way-is-right-way kind of visitor, but then I thought that if I know that something is not good for their health, I have a duty as a fellow human being to share that knowledge and they can choose to use that information or not. So I told her, while trying to be casual and non-condescending, that I had learned melted plastic was not good to eat, and it could make you sick, and she said “oh, ok!” I was relieved that she didn’t take offense, and although I hoped she would not continue the practice going forward I also knew that I had done what I could and I had to be content with that. Travel and experiencing different cultures has taught me to always respect the way other people live their lives, even if it is so far removed from my own. I value that reverence and humility greatly.

Wednesday November 20, 2013

Today I taught multiple subjects: English and Reading Comprehension, Mathematics, and Creative Arts. It’s kind of crazy how I can come here without formal teaching experience and yet teach class after class, and work with the students so closely. It’s a combination of the Ghanians thinking that all Americans have an advanced education, but also just the huge difference in the amount of education regulations and security measures. While here, we have visited a handful of schools and walked in to classrooms unannounced, being well-received by both the teacher and students every time (although I had guilt for disrupting the learning process no one else seemed to mind, or rather, they thought being visited by an American was more exciting). Overall, the general atmosphere here is one of openness and friendliness, and it can be summed up well by something the school Headmaster said to me the other day “we are our neighbor’s keeper.” It’s that attitude that creates a different sense of security here, one that is not created for you by the government, or material possessions, but rather one that is formed naturally by a community and its people.

I’m exhausted tonight. I have so much more I could write about school, my language lesson, and my fabric shopping (I’m having a dress made from African “kente” cloth, just like the women in the village wear), but I’m tired and I feel as though I’ve “hit the wall.” I miss Casey immensely, and knowing I won’t see him for another five days is painful, I can actually feel my heart hurt. I always forget this feeling, it’s one of the few downfalls of travel, the distance between you and the ones you love can be torturous at times. No matter how much I enjoy adventures and setting foot on new lands, I am always reminded of the life I’ve created for myself, in my home land, the people that I love, and how they are the most important people to me, no matter where I am in this world.

Thursday November 21 2013

Today was my last day teaching at the school. I’ve really enjoyed the process of teaching. Noticing which students were struggling during assignments and working with them individually, or arranging them in carefully chosen groups to work together. Even teaching them not to look at someone else’s answers, not to speak out of turn, or not to make fun of other students. The idea of helping to shape their minds and their manners, and in certain cases even their ethics, so they can grow up to become people of strong character who have the opportunity to make a good life for themselves – now that is a magnificently fulfilling experience.

I planned ahead and brought a few bags of individually wrapped candy with me on this trip to give to the children, and so I passed out one piece to each of the students in my classroom, which was about 40 children. Just writing that I only gave one piece to each child seems silly and trivial compared to how much candy children consume or receive as gifts back home, but it was no small gesture to these children. They were delighted and each held the candy up high to inspect it and then held it tight in their hands or close to their chest like a valuable treasure. I asked one of the girls in the front if she wanted me to show her how to unwrap it, and she excitedly said “No! I want to take it home!” I asked the girl next to her and she said the same. Their teacher then informed me that they all probably wanted to go take the candy home to show their parents and other siblings first. I instantly wished that I had brought more. If I had known that one small piece of candy could bring so much pride and joy to these children, I would have brought a suitcase full! But at that moment I also knew that their families did not have much, and anything extra outside of their daily necessities was thus cherished and wholeheartedly appreciated. And I did not feel sadness for them, but rather I felt admiration for their natural ability to enjoy so much more. Yet again, I felt myself learning from these people and their culture instead of the anticipated me-teaching-them that I had guessed this volunteer trip would be.

As a thank you and formal goodbye, the children sang me a song, and then the teacher asked them if they had any questions for me before I left. They all started whispering to each other and nervously looking around, but no one stood up. After about a minute, a boy in the back of the class pushed back his chair, stood up, and asked “When will you come back?” then sat back down and the entire classroom was silent. My heart melted, and I almost cried, but I managed to tell them that I hoped to come back soon and when I did I expected all of them to have the assignment I gave them completed, and they all laughed. That was the best way to end the chapter for me here. The children have been so incredibly loving and accepting of me. Throughout the week they wanted to hold my hand, walk with me, sit next to me, play with my hair, get a chair for me, pick up my purse and put it on the table, pick up or hold my water bottle, and of course there was the just staring at me too which was both funny and flattering. I took a lot of photos with them and I know that for the rest of my life when I look at their smiling faces they will always bring me much happiness. I am so grateful to have these memories to carry with me.

Sunday November 24, 2013

When waiting in line at the airport, I recognized the change in me. The feeling of being completely comfortable here and familiar with this place. I felt that I knew the Ghanians well and understood so much about their culture, their way of life, even their common mannerisms and the slight changes in their tone of voice when they speak. And of course their laughter.

I felt the change earlier today, when Ninayaw, Bansah and I were driving around Accra and I felt as though I was hanging out with old friends and driving through a familiar city, when in fact I had only met them eleven days ago and we were in a city that I had never been before this trip, on a continent I had never before set foot upon.

I felt it when we returned to Accra after a week in the rural villages of the Volta region, and the novelty of the crowded and chaotic markets of the city had worn off and I was simply in Accra, walking through a market, but this time I was wearing a skirt made of traditional Africa kente cloth.

It’s the feeling of knowing that you have changed, that a piece of the puzzle has been put in place and you no longer have fear or wonder of the unknown, because you have been there. I remember walking through the airport when I first arrived here, I was excited, nervous, and yes I’ll admit slightly scared, mostly because I was here alone.  I had walked through the departure gates in to the open area where the general public could greet the people arriving, and I felt so many feelings and had so many thoughts – mainly that I was in a place so far from where I lived, everyone looked so different from me, and that I was a very small minority. Everyone looked at me when I walked through the airport, and it was unnerving, even for an adventurous and determined person like me. But now, after twelve days on this trip, everything about being here is comfortable. In fact today when we went to the beach where most of the beach resort hotels are, I saw more white foreigners in those two hours than I have my whole trip (about twenty-five in total) and it was odd, and unusual, because I had been fortunate enough to be so submersed in this country and its culture that I was always amongst its people, rather than grouped with the tourists as outsiders looking in. I remember feeling uncomfortable at the beach when the other foreigners looked at me, almost waiting for a nod of recognition but I quickly turned my gaze away – I felt more of a Ghanian at that moment than I did a tourist or “Obroni” which is the friendly and non-derogatory Ghanian phrase for “white person” which is a catch-all for any non-black foreigner. I was there at the beach with three Ghanian friends and felt as though they had brought me inside their world, and I was one of them. Now, at the airport when I pass by an “Obroni” it causes me to do a double-take because it’s unusual for me to see now after the eleven days I’ve been here. And I realize it’s the same unfamiliar feeling I had when I had first stepped off the plane and was unaccustomed to seeing so many Africans. I have never yet in my life understood so clearly as I do right now that we are all the same. We are all human beings trying to make a good life for ourselves and the ones that we love here on this Earth, and it doesn’t matter where you live, how you look, what you eat, what you wear, or what language you speak; we are all one people.

I am completely at peace with this trip being over because I have had an extraordinary journey, and I know that what I have learned here, will not end here. I still have a story to write about this trip, and I have further insight now in to personal endeavors that I’d like to pursue at home to further express my belief that travel and experiencing other cultures is the great equalizer; one that can help us to love from understanding rather than hate out of ignorance.

To use a phrase that the Ghanians say often but is not common in our own casual conversational lexicon: “I am satisfied.”

Last night I took Ninayaw and Bansah out to dinner at a Thai restaurant in Accra that I was able to find after searching online, and even then only half believing that it was going to be a real place until we actually showed up, walked inside, took our seats, and were handed a menu. The Ghanians are very traditional with their food, they take immense pride in their native dishes and really don’t desire to stray outside of their cuisine. Neither Ninayaw nor Bansah had ever eaten Thai food. I was excited to do something for them after more than a week of them asking me if I was hungry, thirsty, tired, happy, bored, and so on. Also, I wanted to eat anything but African food, I was craving a break from the same flavors I had eaten the entire trip.

At dinner we talked, laughed, and then as usual started discussing the current state of affairs in Ghana and its political system, calling upon facts from its history to support our arguments. Unsurprisingly, Ninayaw and Bansah got into a friendly argument about the exact border lines of a certain region before Ghana won its independence. As I listened to them go back and forth, I thought about how I knew the differences in their personalities which stemmed from their individual upbringings and experiences, but even more rewarding was that I understood their various supporting arguments because of the historical knowledge they have shared with me on this trip, combined with their expressed opinions on their country, government, and people. Afterwards, as we drove through Accra, continuing the discussion energetically with frequent bouts of laughter and friendly teasing of each other, I felt so fond of them, like family, like they were watchful, caring and wise older brothers. I remember thinking that I never wanted to forget that moment, because it was representative of how much I had learned from them, and how close we had become in that short amount of time.

As I waited in line on the tarmac to board the airplane that would take me out of Africa, I took a deep breath and savored my last few seconds standing on this land and breathing in this air under this view of the sky. I don’t know if I’ll ever set foot in this country again, not that I don’t want to or had an unenjoyable experience, but simply because there are so many other countries that I want to visit, especially other African countries. Honestly though, I know it’s because I have been so incredibly moved by my experience here in Ghana and the friendships that I have created, that I don’t want to attempt to overwrite or append this story and this place in my memory. I will never forget this country, or the heart and will of the people that live here. They are peaceful, happy, faithful, hopeful, and proud.

Yebeshia (I will see you again).

– Nicole (also referred to here as “Akosua,” “Obroni” and “Mary Cruz”)