Mark Braude - General Teaching Projects in Ghana
My first few days in Ghana were worrying, exhilarating, exhausting, and unforgettable. Everything seemed different and new. After arriving in the evening, the drive the next morning through Accra to the Akuapem Hills where I was based was the most memorable trip of my life. As I looked out of the window at the dusty roads, the wooden shacks, the blazing sun, the open gutters and above all the throngs and throngs of people carrying all sorts of items on their heads, it finally hit home that I had arrived in West Africa. The shock and excitement lasted about a week.
Our host family initially appeared rather indifferent to my arrival. But I later learnt that this is the nature of Ghanaian hospitality. They give you everything you need and make you feel at home, but are very respectful of your privacy. As time went by, I grew increasingly fond of my Ghanaian family. The toilet and bathroom provided an initial shock, particularly with the discovery of a cockroach on my second night, but I learnt to adapt. By the end, shower by bucket even became refreshing and I learnt to wash my clothes by hand ('the washing machine from God' as one Ghanaian put it).
After a while, certain things started to seem normal. There was the wildlife; goats and chickens wondering around the streets, all sorts of multi-coloured lizards scuttling under shacks and into the bush, and unidentifiable flying creatures circling around. There were the roads; with gutters in the place of pavements, walking down the road in the heat while dodging hooting cars became a routine.
There were the religious signs and shop names everywhere, such as By the Grace of God Beauty Salon and The Blood of Jesus Catering Services. The food was unforgettable; the spicy stews, the unimaginably sweet and delicious fruit, and the standard Ghanaian meal fufu. All these things and more, frightening and so different at first, were what ultimately gave Ghana it's charm and are what I came to miss when I returned to England.
Ghanaian schoolchildren were a joy to teach. They were everything that British kids are not! They were unspoilt, polite, eager to learn, and fascinated by anything Western from books to an empty water bottle. I was constantly amazed at how the children used to fight over who got to carry my books or clean my chair before I sat down. When I was a minute late for my lesson, a student would come over and ask me to come teach.
And I will always remember the delight and excitement on their faces when I played Hangman with them. They had some wonderful names too, such as Ephriam, Blessed, Portia, Jewel, Genevieve, and Apusapu.
School was always something to look forward to. It was set on a stunning location by the lush African bush, making the walk down the hill every morning always exhilarating. Even when not teaching, I would often sit outside on the veranda by the cool breeze chatting to the volunteers and the other teachers. A schedule of only two lessons could easily turn into a full day at school.
Back at home, it was easy to acquire almost celebrity status in the neighbourhood. Everyone wants to get to know the local 'obruni' (white man), and I will never forget the calls of 'Sir Mak! Sir Mak!' from the children on the street as I walked by. The Ghanaian friendliness lived up to its reputation and the only problem was trying to remember the names and faces of people who thought they were my best friend.
The experience was made much easier, particularly in the beginning, and more fun by the large contingent of Projects Abroad volunteers in the area. Every night there were people to go out with and, being in such a strange and wonderful environment, a bond formed among our group. Two nights a week we would go to the house of the local coordinator, Emmanuel, for a quiz, or for a Twi lesson (the local language) or a drumming lesson so it was almost impossible to feel lonely.
Weekends offered a chance for travelling and more torture on the Ghanaian bumpy and dusty roads in cramped tro-tros (like a minivan). For a country which is not exactly a popular holiday resort, there are a surprising number of attractions to visit, including beautiful unspoilt and quiet beaches with a warm sea, stunning waterfalls, a monkey sanctuary, Western style bars in Accra, a rainforest, and centuries-old castles.
My only regret at the end of the best two months of my life was that I did not stay longer and experience more of the weird and wonderful Ghanaian culture and lifestyle.