One Last Post About Ghana

Here is a random collection of funny/interesting things I learned and experienced during my time in Ghana that I don’t think I mentioned previously in my blog. Note that I tried to make these all as accurate as possible, but some of the cultural things especially are what I was told by various people, so who knows if my understanding is completely right. It wouldn’t be the first time some things were lost in translation.

Greetings

Everlasting walked me through the traditional greeting process (in Ewe) once, and it was amazingly long. I don’t remember every question exactly, but here’s the general gist.

Person 1: “Good morning/afternoon/evening”
Person 2: “Good morning/afternoon/evening. Are you fine?” (“Are you fine?” is how their “how are you?” equivalent directly translates)
Person 1: “Yes, and are you fine?”
Person 2: “Yes. Is your household fine?”
Person 1: “Yes, and is your household fine?”
Person 2: “Yes. Are your parents fine?”
Person 1: “Yes, and are your parents fine?”
Person 2: “Yes. Are your children fine?
Person 1: “Yes, and are your children fine?
Person 2: “Yes.”

Obviously replace any of the “yes”es with the appropriate answer if that’s not the case. I asked about the children question because what if you don’t have any children? He said that it’s just assumed that there are children in your household, whether they belong to you or a sibling or some other relative.

So this used to be what you were supposed to say anytime you saw anyone, even in passing. Everlasting said that it was cause for a lot of misunderstandings because if you didn’t have time for the whole thing and moved on without finishing the full greeting, the other person would think that you were mad at them. Now, in passing, you can get away with just saying “good morning/afternoon/evening” and asking the other person how they are. If you go to someone’s house to visit with them though, you would still go through the whole thing.

Handshake

This is something that I never managed to master. Can you snap? If so, good for you. If not, you have no hope of being able to properly shake someone’s hand. You shake hands normally, and on the release, you slide your hand back so you’re both pinching the other person’s middle finger between your middle finger and thumb. Then, you both make the same motion as a snap, so your middle finger hits your palm and makes a snapping noise. I can’t snap like a normal human, so I could never get my handshake to make a sound. Instead, I just went through the motions and hoped that the other person could do it right and make a sound to cover up my failure. Usually that worked, but on the odd occasion that neither of us could do it, we were left with an awkward silence.

Right hand

This is another thing I struggled with. Your left hand is considered unclean (hooray for lefties!), so you aren’t supposed to use it for much of anything. Anytime you’re interacting with another person, whether shaking hands, exchanging money or goods, or even just waving, you’re supposed to use your right hand. If you are unable to use your right hand for some reason, you say “sorry for left” so they know you’re not insulting them. You’re also only supposed to use your right hand for eating which is quite a challenge. Luckily, we usually ate in the house, with the other volunteers, and with silverware, so this wasn’t a challenge we often had to face. The waving thing though… that was hard. I had to make sure if I was carrying something to put it in my left hand so that my right would be the one free for waving. And next time you buy something, try giving the money to the shopkeeper and accept the item you just bought with the same hand. Not very easy!

The Ghanaian hiss

A common way of getting someone’s attention, whether it’s a waiter or a bartender or just someone walking by, is to hiss at them. It’s kind of a “TSSS” sound, and while you’ll probably get smacked for doing that anywhere else in the world (at least anywhere I’ve ever been), in Ghana it’s just a way of saying that you want to talk. I felt super uncomfortable doing it at first, but it really is normal there. Shopkeepers in the market (when they weren’t yelling “obroni” or “yevu” at us) sometimes did it to get us to come over and talk.

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A lot of tros have things written on the back windows, and this one quickly became our favorite when we saw it parked in Kumasi. Excuse my finger in the picture. Oops.

“Are you sure?”

This was one of our favorite Ghanaian questions. People asked this all the time, even about things that you are definitely sure about. For example:

Person 1: “What did you do this morning?”
Person 2: “I went to the farm.”
Person 1: “Are you sure?”
Person 2: “Yes?” and thinks: I was there wasn’t I? I don’t think it was a dream. Was it a dream?

Or

Person 1: “How are you?”
Person 2: “I’m good, thanks for asking!”
Person 1: “Are you sure?”
Person 2: “Yes?” and thinks: Am I sure?? Do I not seem okay? WHY ARE YOU ASKING THAT??

After we realized this, we all started asking each other “are you sure?” after every question, no matter how ridiculous. I still think it’s funny and have had to catch myself from saying it since I’ve been home.

“You are invited.”

When someone is eating and is in the company of someone who is not, it’s polite for the person who is eating to invite the other person to share their food by saying, “you are invited.” This is one thing that really caught us off guard because it’s a rare occasion at home when someone offers you some of their food. At home, it’s usually when you’re finished eating and have some fries left on your plate. In Ghana, it’s whenever the other person is there. To say no politely, you just say “thank you”, NOT “no, thank you”.

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Here’s one of the water bags. To drink, you just bite off the corner and do your best not to spill it on yourself. (Photo credit to Avy)

Water

The locals could handle drinking the well water in our village, but we, with our weak Western bodies, couldn’t. Instead, we used spring water anytime we needed water for drinking or tooth brushing. You can buy bottled water, but the cheapest option is to get water in sachets (you can buy a sachet of 500mL of water for about 5 cents US or a bottle for about 25). A sachet is basically a plastic bag of water, and it’s one of the things that I consistently thought was funny. Rare was the occasion when someone managed to drink out of one without getting water on themselves, and I mostly just poured mine into water bottles to avoid the trouble.

Litter/Trash

It’s amazing how well trained we become to live in our societies without even realizing it. Until I went to a place where recycling and trash cans aren’t as prevalent as they are here, I didn’t realize how reflexive my actions regarding trash have become. I can’t even make myself throw something on the ground without feeling horrible and having to go back to pick it up. In contrast, in Ghana there is a lot of trash everywhere. Everywhere. I only know of one dumpster in town and it was always overflowing with trash. I assume it got emptied at some point, but I don’t remember ever seeing it less than full.

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Here’s a picture of the beach in Ada Foah. Yes, some of that stuff is normal beach debris, but a lot of it is also trash. As you might imagine, I didn’t make a habit of taking pictures of trash so this isn’t even close to the worst trash pileup, but it’s the best I have.

At home, from the way my conscience reacts to throwing a plastic bottle in the trash, you would think that one bottle alone is going to destroy the world. Recycling, as far as I saw, is pretty nonexistent in Ghana. The only thing that we separated out from our trash was our water sachets. Everything else was thrown away, and then the trash was thrown into a pile in the woods. Which leads us to…

Fires

You know how when you see smoke, you instinctively panic a little and assume the thing that’s burning probably shouldn’t be? Yeah, I’ve lost that reflex. It maybe lasted two weeks in Ghana before I realized that almost every fire is intentional, whether it’s a field being burned to get ready for a new crop, a fire for preparing a meal, or pile of trash being burned for disposal. Yes, you read that right. Lots of toxic chemicals are being thrown into the ozone from Ghana.

A funny and also somewhat terrifying story – when we had only been in Ghana for a couple weeks, we were planning a bonfire and asked Joe if there was any firewood at the farm that we could use. He said, “no, but there are some old tires you could use”… crickets… “oh I guess it’s not very good to breathe that in.” Ha. Haha. Hahaha. I mean, it was so ridiculous that we couldn’t help but laugh, but at the same time it’s like… what the heck is happening here?

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A herd of goats behind our house.

Goats and chickens

When you arrive in a village in Ghana, one of the things that sticks out first is the fact that there are always goats and chickens all over the place. It seems like they’re all just roaming wild and that they don’t belong to anyone, but that’s not the case. They all have owners, and when their owner calls, they know how to find their way back home.

One day, Avy and Fernanda wanted to take a picture with a baby goat. We went to a house near ours where they usually have a big pen of goats, but none of them were home. We started walking away, disappointed, when the woman who lives there saw us, asked if we were looking for the goats, and proceeded to call them home. Her goat call was a combination of Ewe words and some clicks and other sounds, and within seconds, we could hear them all running home. It was insane!

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Photo credit to Avy. Thanks Avy for all of your pictures!!

Drive through markets

I know I’ve talked about these before, but it’s one of my favorite things and I finally have a picture, so I’m going to talk about it again. When you’re on a tro tro and are driving through a village, stopping in traffic, or doing anything else that would cause you to slow down, there are often people selling things off of their heads. Now, if you followed my journey at all, you know that carrying things on your head is not the easiest thing… for me, at least. For a lot of the people here, it’s as easy as carrying nothing. People are chatting and walking around and running like they don’t have, for example, a bowl of drinks on their heads. How? That’s something I can’t explain. Best I can do is carry a stack of books on my head.

Anyway, I digress. It’s totally normal to buy something through the window of the tro. Why is this not a thing everywhere? I don’t know, but all I’m saying is that it should be. If you want something in particular and there’s no one in view who has that thing, you can ask anyone and they’ll go get the appropriate person for you. Talk about customer service!

So there you have it! A few (okay, more than a few) fun facts for you to remember Ghana by. I’m off to Peru in just TWO weeks, so start preparing yourself for more culture shock!

Ghana Wrap-Up

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:

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    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.

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    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.
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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!

Goodbye, Ghana

​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…

Singing, S’mores, and Stars

**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.

Lara’s Last Weekend of Fun

​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).

SATURDAY

  • 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**

Akosombo Dam

 

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!

A Day of “Lasts”

​Warning! This post is long, but there’s a lot to cover! I’m going to split today into two parts because otherwise there’s too much.

Today marked the beginning of Lara’s Last Weekend of Fun. It’s tradition (unofficial) that when someone is leaving, they get to make the plans for their last weekend. Often, it’s a trip they didn’t get to take yet and want to fit in before going home, but Kumasi was that for me. For my last weekend, I just wanted to stay in town, hang out with everyone, and finish my Ghana Bucket List.

Here’s my list:

  • Walk across the Atimpoku bridge (did this last weekend!)
  • 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 (I know, I know… but I had to mention it because it’s on my list)
  • Climb the mountain by the clinic
  • Stargaze in the soccer field
  • Watch the fireflies (yay for that awesome night with the million fireflies!)
  • Watch the sunset one last time (did this on a run yesterday)
  • Go to the Akosombo Dam
  • Eat s’mores
  • Ride a motor bike home from Juapong (did this last week!)
  • Have another lip sync battle

And here’s the weekend schedule:

FRIDAY

  • Last day at the farm
  • Last day of school
  • Go to the Akosombo Dam
  • Lip sync battle

And: picture with a goat, catch a chicken

SATURDAY

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

And: carry water on my head

SUNDAY

  • Pack
  • Don’t cry
  • Picture with everyone on the porch

Action packed weekend! BUT if everything goes according to plan, I’ll do everything on my bucket list before I leave. I know better than to think that’s realistic, but it’s worth a try, right?

The beginnings of a beautiful pig house

The farm this morning was bittersweet. Will I miss waking up at 5AM? Probably not. Will I miss feeling accomplished at breakfast, having that extra time to spend with everyone each morning, and chopping things with a machete like that’s totally a normal part of life? Yeah, I think I will. Yara made the effort to come today because of the occasion, and it was nice to have one more day with just Nick, Anna, Yara, and me (Ricardo wasn’t there because they already left for Cape Coast). We started digging the foundations for the pig house expansion. I’m a little bummed that I won’t get to work on that, but at least I got to do some construction work on the clinic. When it was time to go, I said goodbye to the guys, the piggies, and the corn, and I kicked a chicken (not really, but I wanted to). And that was the end.

We walked back to the house, I ate my last pancake, and I got ready for my last day of school.  I’ve concluded that my coping mechanism is avoidance (only in dealing with things like this though) because I’ve been doing an incredible job of pretending that none of this is real, just like when I was coming here and managed to convince myself that I wasn’t, even up to the point where I was at the airport about to get on the plane to Ghana.

The P2 kids yesterday after they made their drawings

Me losing it

Everlasting, me, and Avy with P2 after I kind of pulled it together

Honestly, I didn’t want to go to school because I knew it would just make me sad, but I forced myself because I knew it would be worse if I didn’t. I went to Everlasting’s class, helped him grade homework, and just laid low in the back of the classroom until it was time for us to go home for lunch. Nick and Avy came in to pick me up, and before we left, Everlasting asked if I wanted to say anything to the kids. I said no because I knew that I would cry immediately, but I did want a picture with the kids. He made me come up to the front of the room, told the kids that it was my last day, and turned to me and said that they had something for me and I should just accept it.

One of the girls stood up and gave me a stack of drawings they had made for me, all with notes saying “thank you” and “safe journey” and “ayko” (good work). It was hopeless… I was barely holding back my tears before, and as soon as she stood up, I lost it. Then, before I had a chance to pull myself back together, one of the boys stood up and gave me another stack from the boys in the class. I was a complete mess. I still am… just thinking about it is making me cry again. After I choked out a “thank you” and kind of stopped crying, all the kids came up and we took a picture (they say “say kenkey!” here instead of “say cheese”. It’s one of their classic foods made from ground corn) while I was crying and smiling and, of course, sweating. It’s a pretty gross combination, so I’m sure those pictures turned out beautifully.

P3 yesterday with their drawings

Me, Avy, and P3

Everlasting making everyone laugh

Emotionally, I couldn’t stay any longer, so I said goodbye to the kids and Avy asked if I wanted to pop in to say goodbye to P3. I said sure, but just for a second. As soon as I got inside the classroom, all the girls came up and handed me drawings they made, and I was a crying disaster all over again. We group hugged and then the boys came up and the whole drawings/crying/group hug cycle repeated. As annoyed as I’ve gotten at all those kids throughout my time here, it doesn’t matter anymore. This is what I’m going to remember. One girl in particular, Mavis, kept saying, “Miss Lara, don’t go. I’m going to miss you.” What am I supposed to do in response to that besides just cry more? I tried not to get too close to any of the kids because it can’t be good for them to keep getting attached to volunteers and having them leave over and over again, but there’s only so much you can do.

Me, Avy, and the teachers. The ones I always talk about are standing around me: Mavis on the far left, Mike waving in the back, and Everlasting on my other side

At this point, I just wanted to go home. That wasn’t the end though. Mike, the headmaster, made us all go into his office, and he called all the teachers in as well. We sat down, he told everyone that it was my last day, and he thanked me and said that I’ll be missed. Mavis got up and presented me with a certificate they made to say thank you, anddd cue tears again. You may be thinking that it’s physically impossible for one person to cry so much in the span of about 20 minutes. I probably would think that as well if it didn’t just happen to me, but believe me, I wouldn’t make this up. I should probably drink some rehydration salts because it can’t be healthy for me to be losing so much water. We took a group picture, I cried and shook everyone’s hands, and Avy and Nick escorted me, the snotty, sweaty, crying mess, home.

*to be continued*