Get ready, everyone. I’m about to attempt to do the impossible… bring closure to a 13-week, life altering experience in a blog post. I’m going to accept that this won’t do it justice and try anyway. To start, let me knock out two of the questions that everyone seems to ask: what did I miss most about home, and what will I miss most about Ghana?

Things I missed about home:

Okay so I promise you that this list is not at all what you would guess, but here it is. After 12 weeks in Ghana, these were my top 4 most missed things:

  1. 20160920_123851
    Our makeshift couch. Better than nothing, but no match for the real thing!

    Couches – I love couches (the extent of my love was unknown even to me until this trip). There’s nothing better than wanting to sit down and getting to do it on a soft, comfy couch that holds you close and says, “Lara, I love you too. Stay here forever.” If you’ve never experienced this, you need a new couch.

  2. Washing machines – I’m going to guess that I did laundry about 8 times when I was in Ghana. The first 3 or 4, my clothes smelled worse than when I started, still had soap in them, and/or inspired zero confidence that any “cleaning” had truly happened. By about halfway through my trip, I had the laundry technique perfected, but I probably also would have won the “slowest laundry washer in all of Ghana” award, if such a thing existed. Needless to say, perfected technique or not, I’m happy to spend some time in the company of mechanical laundry washing.

    My patented laundry washing setup: soak bucket, soap bucket, rinse bucket, rinse bucket.
  3. Napkins – Yes, napkins do exist in Ghana, but we never had any at the house. You never realize how much you appreciate napkins until you want and don’t have one.
  4. Clean floors – Somehow, no matter how often we swept the floor in the house, there was ALWAYS dirt on it. Sometimes, I just wanted to walk around the house barefoot or in socks. The result? Dirty feet, dirty socks, and a still-dirty floor. Take me back to the land of vacuum cleaners and my parents’ house where shoes are removed on entry.

Beyond those things, I honestly didn’t miss too much. Yeah, sometimes I wanted some cheese or reliable electricity or a trip to the bathroom that didn’t require fighting off flies or mosquitoes (real life: bug spraying your butt before nighttime bathroom visits to avoid extra-uncomfortable bites), but those were all minor.

Things I’ll miss about Ghana:

  1. The people – Both the locals and my volunteer friends. This is #1 by far.
  2. Pancake day (plus Agnes’s cooking in general) – Pancake day is the best! There were a few dishes that I wasn’t a fan of, but for the most part, I really liked the food! (Two thumbs up for peanut soup, waakye, fried rice, indomie, and jollof rice.) If you missed my food post, you can check it out HERE.
  3. Machetes – I think this one speaks for itself.
  4. My bed – This one is weird, I know. Who likes a foam mattress (no, not fancy memory foam. Literally just a block of yellow foam)? Well, me apparently. My bed was the comfiest, my pillow was the perfect flatness, and there’s something kind of fun about having a mosquito net curtain around you.
  5. Drive through markets – Fan Ice (ice cream) and bofrot (donut balls) delivered to you on someone’s head? Talk about living the dream.
Week 2… basically a lifetime ago.

Now, time for some real talk. When I started this trip, I was pretty sure that my long-term impact on any of the communities I lived in or people I met would be negligible. Now, I’m not so sure. I think it is possible for me to make a real difference, even if I only spend 3 months in a place. I was right in saying that I’m not going to save the world. That’s an idealistic approach to this experience that would certainly leave me disheartened and unmotivated. However, that’s more than enough time to build relationships, share ideas, and start moving towards improvements. I could name specific changes that occurred in me during my trip based on things that certain people did or said. If they could have individual impacts on me, why couldn’t I do the same for them?

With this new outlook, I’m even more excited about the rest of my adventure. I’m ready to keep practicing being comfortable with being uncomfortable (try to wrap your head around that one). I’m ready to take each day as it comes, celebrating the good ones and pushing through the hard ones. I’m ready to do my best in every situation and trust that God will handle the rest.

Oh yeah, and I haven’t consciously eaten any bugs yet, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of time. (Though I’m still strongly leaning in the direction of ‘not gonna happen’.)

I’m headed to Peru on January 18th, so you can expect consistent posts to restart then. In the meantime, I have a couple other posts in the works with some random Ghana stories, book recommendations (relevant to travelling and helping others), etc.

Bye for now!

Aaaand I’m back at the airport. You know, when I was buying my plane tickets, a week seemed like a long time to be in London. Now, I feel like I just arrived and I’m not completely ready to go home. Part of this is probably carryover from leaving Ghana since I was feeling okay in the airport there, but now there’s no ignoring the fact that part 1 of my adventure is about to be over. Am I happy to be going home? Hm… I have mixed feelings. Yes, I’m excited to see my family and my friends. At the same time though, I’ve discovered that I’m fine with being away. I used to think I’d spend the rest of my life in/around Philadelphia, but I’m not so sure anymore. Just what I need… more uncertainty about my future! Anyway, there’s plenty of time for me to figure everything out, and there’s plenty of time for me to ignore the fact that one day I’ll have to figure it out! So no worries for now.

To catch you up on how I got from York to here… James and I spent the morning yesterday hanging out and pretending that we might not be saying goodbye forever. I know, I know. I keep bringing that up, and it’s probably getting old. It’s impossible to ignore though! Last time I thought about never seeing friends again, it was at the end of college. Obviously you’ll keep in touch with a certain number of people, but it’s impossible to keep up with everyone. Now, we’re talking about friends in different countries, not just people moving to different states. Plus, unlike college, we don’t really have a common place we’ll all definitely go back to… the only place we have in common is Ghana, and it’s beyond unrealistic to think that we’ll all meet up there again. I just need to hold onto the small possibility that we’ll cross paths again.

(On a side note: I’m starting to think that it can’t be healthy for me to lie to myself this much. And seriously, how gullible am I that it’s this easy for my brain to fool itself? Hmm or maybe that just means that I am very persuasive. That sounds like a positive… Yeah, we’ll go with that.)

I got dinner with one of my high school friends, Maddy, when I got back to London Saturday night. It’s been three years since we last saw one another, so it was great to have some time together!

My train back to London was at 2, and when it pulled up, we hugged goodbye and that was the end. James said, “I’m not going to do that dumb ‘wave through the window as the train pulls away’ thing.” Fine with me because then I at least had some hope of hiding my tears. That hope was shattered once I got to my seat and realized I was at a table seat, which means my seat was facing two others. So much for my poetic, private, and tearful ride through the English countryside. Instead I got an awkward, “I’m totally fine and am definitely not crying”, and “okay so maybe my eyes are watering but I think it’s from the dust in the air” ride through the English countryside. Good times.

On the way to the British Library… St. Pancras Station is the building on the left, and I forget is the building in the right (helpful, I know).
So many books!

This morning, I had big plans for waking up early and trekking all over town before my flight, but that didn’t happen (you’re shocked, I know). Instead, I rolled out of bed at the last second possible to check out of my hostel on time and only had about two hours to kill before I had to catch the tube to the airport. I decided to visit the British Library since it was nearby. It’s the national library of the UK and has over 170 million items cataloged, including 14 million books. There are some exhibits there as well which is what I went to check out, in addition to wanting to just experience its library-awesomeness (because who doesn’t love libraries? They’re the best!).

Armenian bible!

To poorly summarize the exhibits… there’s Jane Austen’s writing desk (I’ll be honest, I was probably the most excited about this), some Beatles lyrics and scratch notes (which I tried to be excited about, but I’m not that into the Beatles. I know, I’m sorry), tons of Bibles including a couple Gutenberg bibles (first book mass-produced by a metal movable-type printing press) and some beautiful Armenian bibles (woohoo!), one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and two original copies of the Magna Carta (kind of a big deal for democracy, in case you’re unfamiliar).

St. Pancras Hotel

After I left the library, I went back to the hostel to grab my stuff, got on the tube, checked in at the airport, and here I am. Now all that stands between me and home (besides the Atlantic Ocean, of course) is 8 hours of airplane food, movies, and uncomfortable sleep positions. See you soon, USA!

For the Harry Potter fans out there… In King’s Cross on the way to Hogwarts

Guess who I’m with right now? James!! Yesterday, I took a train to York and now here I am! Seeing him in the train station was the same weird experience as when I met up with Sosane. Like… we were both wearing “normal” clothes and seeing each other in a “normal” situation, but for us, that’s abnormal. Fortunately, just like before, we got over it pretty quickly and picked up right where we left off in Ghana.

On the city walls. You can see York Minster in the distance.

Yesterday, we walked around York a bit and James pretended that he knew something about his city (he doesn’t). Luckily the internet exists, so I did some research to learn the basics and try to figure out what the “must see” attractions are. To give you the 30 second summary, York is a VERY old city. It was founded by the ancient Romans, has the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe (York Minster), and has Roman/medieval city walls that are still intact. James isn’t exactly what you would call a history buff and probably would have been fine with just hanging out, but since I’m only going to be in town for a couple days, I insisted that I have to see at least SOME of the sights.

The walls and one of the “bars” (gatehouses).

We decided to let most of the history tour wait until today, so after our little walk around town last night, we ate dinner, played some ping pong (James destroyed me) and pool (we each won a game, and he promised that he didn’t let me win), and watched a movie before passing out.

Me and James!

Today, we entered full-on sightseeing mode, and it was great! We started off the day by walking a portion of the city walls. The existing walls are a mix of ancient Roman and medieval, and they’re the most complete medieval city walls in all of England. The entire length is about 2.6 miles, but we only walked a portion. If we had more time, I definitely would have been into doing the whole thing because besides getting to check out the walls, you get some nice views of the city along the walk.

More walls

On a bridge crossing the river. James said that the river floods every year, and all the bars and businesses along the river are just used to having to repair damages when it happens.
The Castle Museum

Our next stop was the York Castle Museum. James had never been there, so we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. The actual building used to be a prison, and the galleries cover a random variety of topics. There are exhibits about children’s toys, an indoor recreated Victorian street, life in the prison, the sixties, fashion, and World War I, to name a few. The exhibits were well done, and we spent more time there than I think either of us expected. I was happy because James said he actually enjoyed it, so I didn’t feel like I was just dragging him around with me. We both started feeling hungry at the same time, were shocked when we looked at our watches, and headed out on a quest to find food.

The Victorian road replica. It was “night” (not sure if it always is), so it was hard to take a good picture, but it really did feel like you were outside (though slightly warmer, thankfully).

The gallows and stocks in the prison
There’s also a reconstructed flour mill that was relocated to the museum grounds.
York Minster

The last stop after “lunch” (if you can call a 3:30PM meal lunch) was York Minster, the cathedral. We got there right around closing time, so instead of paying to walk around the whole church, we used the “walk inside and see what you can from behind the ticket barriers” strategy and then walked around the outside of the church. Even without the full indoor tour, we still got a good sense of the building. The exterior is beautiful, and there’s a lot of stained glass (128 stained glass windows, to be precise) that we had a good view of from the outside because it was getting dark.

A not-so-great night picture of York Minster. You can kind of see the stained glass windows… guess that’s one of those things that doesn’t really come out in pictures.

Now we’re back at James’s house, eating Chinese food (which is completely different from Chinese food in the USA – can you believe they don’t give you chopsticks?!? – which is completely different from actual Chinese food) and enjoying some down time before we go out to experience some York night life. I’m getting the full cultural experience!

​This was my last full day in London, and I had an ambitious schedule that, as you might expect, didn’t go quite as planned. Failed plan #1: waking up at 7AM and leaving by 8. I know what you’re thinking. Why did I even think that was a possibility? I was thinking that I used to wake up at 5:30 every day, so why would waking up at 7 be a big deal? Well, it’s different when you don’t actually have anyone counting on you… and when the room is cold but it’s so nice and warm under the covers.

Hyde Park

By the time I dragged myself out of bed and pulled myself together, it was about 9:30. I had plans to go on a walking tour at 11, so I killed an hour in Hyde Park before meeting up with the group. Hyde Park is one of the biggest parks in London, and Kensington Palace, the official residence of Prince William, Kate, and Prince Harry, is on the far west side. I didn’t make it that far though… not enough time. Failed plan #2: the other six things I planned to go see before 11.

Buckingham Palace

This makes me laugh. Can you imagine if you saw this coming down the street in the US? People would lose their minds. Here, it’s just another day, and the only people who even notice (besides the locals who are probably annoyed about the traffic) are the tourists.
Changing of the guard at St. James

The tour was a nice change of pace. I’ve spent so much time over the last three days wandering around in circles and trying to make plans, and it was a welcome change to not have to think about directions or where to go next for a couple hours. I just followed along and learned things. We saw Buckingham Palace (and apparently the queen was actually there, according to the flag), watched the changing of the guard from a distance, and then walked over to St. James Palace to see the changing of the guard there up close. I’ll be honest, yes it was interesting, but I can’t say I understand why people get so hyped up about it.


Afterwards, I had an appointment to go to the Sky Garden. It’s a “park” on the top floor of a 525’ tall building, and you can go up for free with a reservation. I’d say that the calling it a park or a garden is a bit of a stretch, but yeah, there are some plants up there. Either way, it’s a cool setup. You can walk all the way around and see out in every direction, similar to the Tate Modern terrace except that it’s about 300’ higher and there’s glass in between you and the view. Pros and cons!

How cool is that sky? And yeah, that’s how it actually looked! (It’s not just a trick of the picture.)

Selfie with St. Paul’s!

My last stop of the day was the Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The building is absolutely amazing. It reminded me of a lot of the churches in Rome… there’s an awesome dome and a lot of incredible detailing. The service was great too! I didn’t get the prime seat that I got at Westminster Abbey, but the music and the sermon were both very well done. The building is huge and there were a ton of people there, but somehow it still felt intimate. Plus there was audience involvement in the singing, and there’s nothing better than singing a beautiful song and hearing everyone’s voices melt together and become one. Good job, acoustics. What a way to end the day!

Please excuse the warped perspective. The only way for me to get a picture of the full facade with my phone camera was to do a panoramic picture.

​I got to hang out with Sosane today!! She doesn’t have classes on Tuesdays, so she came down to London for the day to hang out with me! I met her at the train station, but first I went to buy another jacket because it’s seriously freezing here. I can’t believe that I was complaining about the heat two days ago…

On the terrace at Tate Modern

Seeing Sosane in “normal life” was beyond weird. I think she didn’t even recognize me because it was the first time she’s ever seen me in non-athletic wear. In case you’re wondering if Ghana friendships can survive the transition back to our regular lives, the answer is yes! I know it’s crazy how fast we got close to one another. For example, my friendship with Sosane was pretty much built in two weeks. It’s real though. It’s not just a friendship of circumstance… like just because we were all there and didn’t have any other options, that’s why we spent time together and became “friends”. No, these people are awesome no matter the context, and I’m lucky to be able to call them my friends.

Sosane was rolling her eyes at me because I kept freaking out about how many cranes there are all over the city. She said, “can’t you just enjoy the view?” I promise I was, but I was also laughing at the cranes. I don’t think it’s coming through in this picture, but I’m telling you, it was insane. It’s like every other building is under construction and all of them have a crane.

We grabbed lunch and spent some time catching up before heading to the Tate Modern, a modern art gallery. It’s another free London museum, and it’s located in an old power plant which is cool. The whole museum is massive… an addition was finished earlier this year to create more gallery space. The best part of the addition is a terrace on the top floor where you can walk all the way around the building and get 360 degree views of the city. It was cool to be able to see everything from that perspective.

Modern art… Not creepy at all

We probably spent most of our time at the museum on the terrace. Once we got inside, we could only tolerate so much modern art. Don’t get me wrong, I love art, and sometimes even modern art. There are other times though when everything is so weird that I can’t deal with it. I’m just glad that I went with a friend because then you can pretend you’re art experts and come up with interpretations of the exhibits. Everyone does that, right? Right?
Once we’d had enough, we drank hot chocolate and walked around the city until it was time for Sosane’s train home. We said a rushed goodbye in the underground as my train pulled up, and it felt like another “see you later” goodbye. Today just felt so normal… meeting up with a friend in the city and hanging out for the day… that I can’t believe it’s not. Anyway, I’m back on my own tomorrow, and I’d better get some planning done so I can make the most of the day.

​You know what I LOVE? Red eye flights! There’s nothing like getting 4-5 hours of EXTREMELY restful sleep on a plane and then having to function like a human (rather than a zombie) for an entire day. 

This is random but it made me laugh… You know you’re in first class when: not only does your seat fully recline, but there are also “fancy” lights in the cabin. I took this on my walk back to coach…

My flight got into London Heathrow at 5:30AM, and from the moment I was woken up by our plane’s bumpy landing, I wanted to go back to sleep. No such luck. I spent some time in the airport bathroom, trying to pull myself together, before going to get my bags and start the journey through customs. Culture shock #1: I used tap water to brush my teeth (we couldn’t ingest tap or well water in Ghana… we only drank bottled/mineral water there!). Culture shock #2: I had to battle with the sink motion detectors in order to do it (motion detectors? Whattt?). Once I washed my face and brushed my teeth, I felt at least like a semi-human which was probably as good as it was going to get. Onward to customs!

Have you ever travelled alone? Before this, my only solo travel experience was a brief work trip to San Diego earlier this year. I considered that my test run for this whole trip. It’s kind of a weird feeling. You arrive in a new place, and there’s no one expecting you. There’s no one at the airport to meet you. You have to figure things out on your own. If I hadn’t let my parents know I landed safely, no one would have even known I was there (besides the British government but that doesn’t count). I felt a little nervous and excited all at the same time. Luckily, in London, it’s easy to get around because of the tube, so all I had to do to get from the airport to my hostel was follow the signs to the underground, put some money on a transit card, and hop on. Easy! (As soon as you’ve used the subway in one city, I’m convinced you can do it anywhere. They’re all basically the same.)

I think I might be a little paranoid because the entire time I was sitting on the tube, I thought that people were staring at me (this might be a carryover from 3 months of thinking that people were looking at me and it actually being true). My mind was screaming, “they know! They know!” Know what, you ask? I’m not sure. Know that I don’t belong? Yes, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I felt. It’s like I was an alien, trying to blend into a foreign planet (not that I know what that feels like, but let me imagine). So yeah… culture shock #3: everything.

I almost managed to convince the people at the hostel that I was normal until I asked if they had hot showers. They looked at me like I was, well, an alien, before saying “yes” but it sounded more like “duh is that really something you need to ask?” To be fair, probably no one has ever asked them that question before. Culture shock #4: readily available warm showers. With running water.

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

I dropped my stuff at the hostel and hit the streets. Before I did anything else though, I went and bought a scarf, hat, and gloves because HELLO cold weather. Geez. I forgot what it feels like to not be sweating constantly. Culture (not really culture but whatever) shock #5: seasons and cold weather. Anyway, enough about today’s culture shocks. The other thing about travelling alone is that you need to be self-motivated to see things and do things, otherwise you could spend all day sitting around. You have to make decisions. That’s not one of my strengths, so this is good practice for me!

One of the galleries inside the National Gallery. I never get sick of these ceilings!

The rest of the day was spent enjoying museums and the architecture of the city. An awesome thing about London is that the publicly funded national museums are free! My first stop was the National Gallery. The building is amazing, and it houses thousands of paintings. I obviously didn’t see them all, but I’m a big fan of more “modern” (as compared to like 15th century…) paintings and was sure to go through the entire 18th-20th century collection. The building was just as cool as the art, and I had fun exploring the different rooms.

More ceilings. But really… How cool are they?!?!

After that, I kept on the museum path. My next stop was the Victoria & Albert Museum, a decorative arts and design museum. They have a few different types of exhibits there, and my favorites were in the materials and techniques category. I could have spent hours looking at the glass, ironwork, and architecture sections alone, but I had a schedule to keep!

One of the Medieval and Renaissance rooms. There’s almost too much to take in!

Right next door is the Natural History Museum, and in my opinion, the best part of that museum is the building. I did no prior research, so when I walked through the doors, I had no idea what to expect. The entrance hall is seriously magnificent. I’m not even going to try to describe it… you need to just look at the pictures.

Outside of the Natural History Museum. They also have their ice rink set up for the winter, which made me a little nostalgic because this is one of my favorite times of year at home.
Attempting, and failing, to adequately capture the grandeur of the entrance.
The entrance hall, as you walk into the building.
Looking back towards the entrance.

My last stop of the day (I’m impressed that I was even still functioning at this point) was Westminster Abbey for the Evensong service. The best way to see a church is by going to a service, partly because then you can go for free, but mostly because then you can experience the building the way it was meant to be experienced. Churches were built to be used, and they’re even more beautiful when you see them in action. The Evensong service is great because it’s mostly singing which means you can really appreciate the acoustics. Plus, I don’t think it was as crowded as a Sunday service since they have one every night. I got there early enough to sit in the choir stalls! Those are the fancy looking seats in the area where the choir sits, right behind the choir benches… aka where the big shots sit. No big deal. I would have taken a picture to show you except that photography isn’t allowed inside the church (and I’m a rule follower). The service was beautiful, the choir was great, and the cathedral was freezing (seriously though… about halfway through I wrapped my scarf around myself like a blanket).

On my way to Westminster Abbey. You can see part of the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower that holds Big Ben, plus the London Eye (ferris wheel) in the background.

By the end, I was falling asleep in my seat. Between the angelic singing and my cuddly scarf, it was a losing battle. I picked up some dinner on my way back to the hostel, and after I take a too-long hot shower, I’m going to hibernate.

​Well here we are. No more ignoring it. No more convincing myself it’s a lie. I’m at the airport, and there’s nothing left to tell myself besides the truth. After months and months of being emotionally drained by people leaving, it’s my turn to be the leaver rather than the left. I’ll be honest, I think it’s easier to be in my position. For me, tomorrow is a new adventure in a new place. For the friends I left behind, tomorrow is another day in the same place that’s just missing something… assuming they’re going to miss me, that is. For the sake of my ego, we’ll go with yes.

This morning already feels a million miles away. I woke up at 8AM and started packing my bags. You know, you’d think I would have learned this by now, but everything always takes longer than you expect. Duh. I thought it would take maybe two hours for me to pack. How hard could it be, right? I’ve been organizing and sorting out my things for almost a week now. Two hours, max.

Four hours later, I was finally zipping up my backpack. Time flies. I finished just in time for lunch (fried rice and fried chicken, one of my favorites!), and we all ate together and watched our performances from last night (they were just as good the second time). You might have noticed that there were a few things I didn’t cross of my Ghana bucket list yet… here’s a reminder:

  • Walk across the Atimpoku bridge
  • Go canoeing on the Volta River
  • Take a picture with a goat
  • Catch a chicken
  • Carry water on my head with no hands
  • Finish the poop hole
  • Climb the mountain by the clinic
  • Stargaze in the soccer field
  • Watch the fireflies
  • Watch the sunset one last time
  • Go to the Akosombo Dam
  • Eat s’mores
  • Ride a motor bike home from Juapong 
  • Have another lip sync battle

Hooray! I did it!

Ahhh! I don’t think it likes me…
Okay he’s definitely trying to escape.
Shhh little buddy, I’m a friend!
Ooookay no he’s finished with me. Bye, little friend!

After cancelling the canoeing, I still had to take a picture with a goat, catch a chicken, and carry water on my head with no hands. I was surprised by how determined everyone was to help me finish my list. When I asked if anyone wanted to come help me to catch a chicken, we ended up with a whole crew (Avy, Lily, Nick, and Yara). None of us knew what we were doing, but luckily I had nicked some corn from the farm on Friday in anticipation of the chicken-catching. The original plan was to put a pile of corn on the ground and box a chicken in while it was eating, but do you know how hard it is to box in a chicken?? Just trust me when I say it’s nearly impossible.
We spent at least 20 minutes scaring the crap out of most of the chickens around our house. I had one near-catch, until I touched the chicken and freaked out because I wasn’t expecting to even get close. After that, none of that group of chickens wanted anything to do with me. Even the corn didn’t tempt them.

We decided that a change of scenery (and a change of chickens) was in order, so we walked around a bit and ended up next to the school, thinking that maybe we could use the walls to cut off an escape route. Ha yeah right… chickens are smart. They knew what we were up to. Finally though, I perfected my chicken catching technique. I dropped some corn near my feet and stayed bent over with my hands near the ground, and when one came close, I pounced! I got it!!! A small, terrified chicken, but a chicken nonetheless. It never stopped screaming while I had it, and as soon as we got sufficient photo (and video) evidence, I set it free. Does anyone know the memory span of a chicken? I’m a little worried about the permanent emotional damage I might have caused. I don’t think those chickens will ever trust a human again. On second thought, if that’s the case I probably did them a favor because the next humans who try to catch them will probably want more than just a picture.

The elusive goats

We were on a high after the chicken success and figured it was a good time to try to catch a goat. Unfortunately, the woman who usually catches goats for pictures for us was at church, so after about 10 minutes of chasing a couple of baby goats around, we felt bad and left them alone.

Pro balancer. Pretend that’s totally not sweat and is just water I spilled on myself.

The last thing on my list was carrying water on my head with no hands. I wasn’t feeling great about this one to begin with, and after countless attempts in a high-pressure, time-crunched situation, my best walk was about 6 steps. You know what? I’m okay with that. Balancing water is really difficult, and even though I can’t walk across town with a water bucket on my head, I can easily stand in one place with it, and I’m decent at moving with static loads. Give me a stack of books, and I’ll knock your socks off. That’s good enough for me! Plus, as Avy pointed out, usually people use one hand when they’re carrying water, so I’m basically a local.

Nick, Lily, Yara, me, Avy, Anna

I’m going to miss these people.

At this point, it was 3PM, and the plan was to leave at 2. Ha. Haha. Hahaha. So much for plans! It wasn’t a big deal though because I had a lot of buffer time scheduled in, so I didn’t actually HAVE to leave until probably 4:00 at latest. I took a quick, final bucket shower, stuffed my last few things into my bag, and assembled the crew on the porch for my goodbye picture. After that, we walked out to the street and caught me a tro to the mall. I got a prime seat in the front row for my last ride, and off we went, away from my 3-month home for the last time.
I met Evans at the mall for dinner before my 11PM flight, and as we said goodbye and he loaded me into a cab, I couldn’t let myself think about it as anything more than the same kind of goodbye we always say. A “bye for now, but obviously see you soon”. Thinking about it in realistic terms would have left me awkwardly crying in a cab, and I’m not into that.

So now here I am, at the airport, and honestly, I’m doing okay. I think part of that is because this was the perfect weekend. I did everything I needed to do. I spent it with all my friends. What more could I ask for? The other thing that’s probably keeping me sane is the fact that I still have some excitement ahead. I’m off to London for the next week! I’m going to see Sosane and James and my friend from high school, Maddy. I have another city to explore! For now, I have something to distract me from the reality that this phase of my adventure is over. We’ll see how I’m feeling a week from now…

**continuation of Saturday 11/5**

After dinner, the real party started. Part 1 was our postponed lip sync battle, and just like last time, I was beyond impressed by everyone’s efforts. This is one of those rare situations where it truly is the effort that matters. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the words, as long as you own it!

In case you’re not familiar with the lip sync battle procedure, basically, each person chooses a song, you attempt to learn the words, and then you perform with the song playing, just mouthing the words and not actually singing. Dramatic performances are encouraged, as are props, and really nothing is out of the question. We even had some improvised spotlighting for this one (me standing on a plastic chair, wearing a headlamp, and holding a flashlight).

To make it even better, we made popcorn and Avy pulled out some gummies and other candy she had been saving for a special occasion, and we had ourselves a party! Even Agnes (the cook) stayed to watch… I’m pretty sure she thinks we’re all insane. Everyone was fabulous, and Lily, Nick, and I tied for first in the voting. The prize? Fan Ice, of course! I know, high stakes (a Fan Ice is 1 cedi, about 25 cents).

Part 2 was a bonfire and s’mores. A major shout out goes to Nick and Bright, one of our neighbors, for hunting down firewood in the dark because I asked them so late. Thank goodness for good friends. Since I took so long to find someone to get wood, everything was wet from the 30 second rainstorm earlier, and Nick and Lily fought a heroic battle getting the fire to light. Once it got going, everything was perfect. We ate s’mores until everyone felt sick (which is the only reason to stop eating s’mores) and then danced around the fire until it burned out.

Finally, part 3, stargazing. The sky here is dark and perfect for seeing billions of stars, and luckily, the clouds from the rainstorm earlier cleared out. We all grabbed blankets, thoroughly coated ourselves in bug spray, headed over to the soccer field, and flopped down in a circle with our heads in the middle. It used to be the great sorrow of my life that as many times as I’ve been stargazing, I’ve NEVER seen a shooting star. I somehow always manage to blink at the exact right (or exact wrong, I guess) second. But tonight… history was made!! I saw three, yes, THREE! shooting stars.

When you’re looking up at the night sky, it’s also a great time for thinking. Being there was like coming full circle. My second week here, we went stargazing to say goodbye to Maria. Laying there with those people who had gone from strangers to friends in just two weeks, I felt like all was right with the world… the ultimate feeling of contentment. And then, ten weeks later with all new people except for Avy, I had that same feeling. For now, instead of being sad that my time here is coming to an end, I’m just happy that I even got the chance to experience it. Even better, I got to experience it with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. How can I be sad about that? Well don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll easily find a way once reality starts sinking in because right now I’m on a combination sugar/dance/stargazing high, and that’s enough to make even the harshest reality a little less severe.

​Welcome to Day 2 of Lara’s Last Weekend of Fun! This was an incredibly ambitious day… see the amended schedule below (after the postponement of last night’s lip sync battle and some other things that I didn’t get to).


  • Hike the mountain that we hiked before (by the farm)
  • Hike the mountain by the clinic
  • Lunch
  • Go canoeing on the Volta
  • Lip sync battle
  • Bonfire and eat s’mores
  • Dance party
  • Stargaze

And: carry water on my head, catch a chicken, picture with a baby goat

View from the top (once we finally made it)

We left around 9 to begin our trek to farm mountain. Avy, Anna, Yara, Amy, Nick, and I went, and the only two of us who had been there before were me and Avy. I knew that I didn’t remember the way perfectly, but I had some confidence in my sense of direction and didn’t recall getting there as being too complicated. The only thing I was nervous about was finding the path to get up the mountain, since we failed to find that the first time. I did have a picture of a landmark tree to help me find the way again though, so I thought we could manage.
The way to the base of the mountain was mostly uneventful. We made one wrong turn, but I quickly realized the mistake and turned us around. There were other parts that I was maybe 70% sure about… For those, I just acted like all was well and kept marching forward with feigned confidence until I eventually saw something I recognized and was closer to 90% sure again (realistically, there was never any chance of 100% certainty). Eventually though, we made it! The next issue was just finding the footpath to the top…

Nick, Anna, Amy, Avy, Yara, and me

A word of advice: when choosing a landmark to help you find your way in the future, pick something that will look the same at that future date as it does in the present. Yes, I know this sounds like common sense. Yes, I did know this when I picked my landmark the first time. No, I didn’t do a very good job of following my own advice. I picked a tree that was about 5’ tall and looked dead. When we went the first time, there were empty fields around it, and it stuck out like a sore thumb. Fast forward two months anddd…

Me and Nick!

Corn grows quite quickly, did you know that? It gets pretty tall too. Like 7 or 8 feet within a couple months. Another fun plant fact for you: there are some trees here that can look like they’re completely dead but then they start sprouting new growth! How cool! Do you see what I’m getting at? Yes, I picked a “dead” tree in an “empty” field 2 months ago, and today it was a somewhat living and green covered tree with a field of 8’ corn stalks surrounding it. This might shock you, but we somehow managed to miss my fabulous landmark and walk right by.

Me and Avy, falling off of a rock

Twenty minutes of wandering later, Nick shouted out that he thought he might have found the path, and sure enough, he had. I located my worthless landmark tree on the way up and realized the problem. Oh well! Won’t make that mistake again! From there, the way was easy. In 15 minutes, we were at the top, looking over Frankadua and the surrounding towns.

We hung out and wandered around for a bit until everyone was ready to continue our journey to clinic mountain. That mountain (disclaimer: I keep calling these “mountains”, but they’re barely more than hills. This is my story though, so I can say whatever I want) isn’t as off-the-grid as the other one. There’s a hotel and restaurant on top and a car path to get you there. Walking up took probably less than 10 minutes, but the views on the way were nice enough to make me happy we did it. At this point, everyone was out of drinking water and ready to collapse, so we chilled on top for a couple minutes and then headed home.

Walking up clinic mountain

Lunch was ready soon after we got back, and the next thing on the schedule was supposed to be canoeing on the Volta. I decided to cut it because I had some things to organize, everyone was exhausted, and I was more concerned about people being rested enough to participate in all the nighttime activities. I’m okay with not doing it though. There were two original reasons why I was into the idea: 1. I wanted to canoe in Ghana and 2. I wanted to see the views on the river. I put it on my list before we canoed on Lake Bosomtwe and got cool views from the walk over the bridge and the dam, so now, I don’t feel like it’s something I HAVE to cross off.

Instead, I spent the afternoon pulling myself together and saying some goodbyes. Everlasting and I met up one last time, and it was surreal. We met in the market, exchanged gifts/letters, said goodbye, shook hands, and that was that. I started crying again on the walk home… how am I supposed to wrap my head around the fact that most of these goodbyes are goodbye forever? I’ll tell you how – by pretending that they’re not. Like maybe someday I’ll come back to Ghana and Frankadua and see these people again. I know it’s unlikely, so I take the 1% possibility and count that as definite. Otherwise I think I would lose my mind.
**to be continued**


Lily, me, Yara, Anna, Avy, and Nick

*continuation of Friday 11/4*

The intakes to the dam

Our first real adventure of the weekend started with a trip to the Akosombo Dam. The procedure for visiting is complicated, to say the least. I filled out a reservation form online, didn’t get a confirmation, emailed the office, and got instructions to go to the dam office (hehe) in Akosombo to get a pass to visit and a tour guide. We took a tro to Atimpoku and cabs to Akosombo. Our driver knew where the office was, so once we got to the Akosombo tro station, the six of us (Anna, Yara, Avy, Nick, Lily, and me) piled into one cab and he took us there.

The water drops down the orange tubes before hitting the turbines

When we arrived, we found out that you can’t take a cab to the dam; it needs to be a private vehicle, like a tro. The woman at the office said that a group just left for the dam, but if we were willing to wait, we could go when they got back in about 45 minutes. We decided that was fine, and it was extra fine when she showed us the waiting room in their AIR CONDITIONED office with 3G internet. The time flew by, and before we knew it, we were on a tro with our tour guide headed to the dam!

The retaining wall and river

None of us had any clue what to expect, but it ended up being awesome! We had our own tour guide, and he walked us around the top of the dam and explained everything. We also had a great group. Everyone asked questions that were interesting and made the tour way better, and I had one of those moments where everything felt perfect. These people are awesome. The views of the river and the lake were also incredible.

The lake!

Somehow, none of us realized that Lake Volta is a man-made lake because of the dam. It’s the largest man-made lake in the WORLD based on surface area (third largest in volume), and it covers about 3.5% of Ghana. That’s insane! Now it makes sense that I read Lake Bosomtwe (the lake we visited by Kumasi) is the largest natural lake in Ghana.

The lake again and the retaining wall from the other side

The dam was built from 1961-1965 and cost $258 million dollars. It must have been a logistical nightmare to figure out how to divert the water and build everything, and to make things more complicated, 80,000 people had to be relocated. There were hundreds of villages that ended up being combined into 52 new villages. I know that things like this happen everywhere, but still, can you imagine being told that the land you’ve been on forever is not yours anymore and that you have to move? We asked if that meant there are hundreds of little houses underwater, but the guide said they were mostly mud houses, so everything would have washed away by now. 

Leading into the intakes

The craziest part is how much electricity the dam generates. It has an output of 1,020 megawatts (there are six 170 MW turbines that can be controlled individually by opening or closing the intakes), which is enough to supply most of the country with electricity, plus it’s exported to Togo, Benin, and other neighboring countries. To give you a bad comparison, they say about 1 MW can power 1,000 homes, but that’s assuming the homes are in the US and contain more than a couple of lightbulbs. Here, a couple lightbulbs probably describes houses in most of the country, so a MW goes way farther than one in the US. When we were there, three of the six intakes were open. The guide said that during the day, they only open as many as they need to meet demand, and usually at night, they’re all open. He said that there are also natural gas power plants in Ghana, but the dam supplies the most power. They’re also apparently exploring the possibilities for wind power near the coastline and solar power in the north, but it didn’t sound like those would happen soon.

Me, our tour guide Emmanuel, Lily, Yara, Anna, Nick, Avy

For something that we went into with no expectations, I’d say it was a pretty good trip! Everyone was glad we went, and I was happy because I’m the one who dragged everyone along. By the time we got home, everyone was tired and no one was ready for the lip sync battle, so we decided to postpone it until tomorrow night (when it absolutely WILL be happening!).

Tonight we’re just going to hang out and play some Fishbowl (basically a combination of Taboo/Catch Phrase and Charades). We have a packed day tomorrow, so everyone needs to sleep!