Thursday, March 4, 2010

You are welcome...

Wezoe = You are welcome. Those are the most common words heard by a westerner visiting the beautiful country of Ghana. The proper response, which is the only word of Ewe that I consistently remember is "Yooooo."

I only just arrived in the village of Abuadi 19 hours ago and i feel like I've met every resident. My counterpart is Anami, aged 33. He is a young, married father of two girls and one step son, Desmsond. I first met six year old Desmond early last evening when we found him at home, holding and caring for his 1.5 month old baby sister Felecia while their mother bathed. Anami immediately let me hold his infant as if I were an old member of the family...he just handed his beautiful lil girl to me. I was surprised to see that she already has her ears pierced.

A storm has recently passed through Ho and its surrounding villages, like Abuadi. So, when I arrived yesterday, there was no electricity anywhere in the village. The streets were a dark I had never experienced before. After settling in at my house, Anami took me around the village, by torch light, to meet the locals, including the chief. Tradition has it that I should offer the chief a bottle of schnapps next time we meet.

The language has presented itself as quite a barrier, although smiles are not rare. The people of Abuadi, and much of the Volta region speak a tribal language called Ewe. It is a tonal language, which makes it that much more difficult to understand. Anami is doing his best to teach me, but i hate to admit that I think I’ve been a slow learner.

Lesson one for me on this trip is patience. I don't have much patience to begin with, so it has been very difficult to adjust to the speed of things in Ghana and Abuadi. For instance, yesterday was a market day in Ho. These market days come every 5 days, so the next one will be Friday. On market day, people from all over the region come to sell their goods and services in a large flee market of sorts.  It is tremendous and really makes one head spin on arrival. Anami led me through a maze of stalls and piles and stacks and hoards of people going about their business.

It is from the central lorry station just outside the market that one can catch a trotro or taxi to other locations. We had arrived just after a trotro had left for Abuadi, so you just wait around for another one to come. There is no schedule. There are no signs to tell you which trotro is going to which village. There is alot of yelling, and people walking around with buckets of pure water sachets on their heads, selling them for 5 peshewas, for roughly 5 cents. So you wait and wait...until you hear a driver yell Abuadi, then you pile in the minivan...and wait for the minivan to fill up with passengers. This particular minivan was filled once there were 20 adults, 1 child and 3 infants inside. I kid you not. Twenty four human beings and their belongings stuffed into a minivan that I don't believe was ever meant transport people in the first place. Oh, and have i mentioned the heat, yet? The heat is stifling. It is currently 91 degrees in my room, but the humidity makes you sweat constantly. You will sweat by just sitting still.

With 24 passengers, the trotro takes off for Abuadi...down a dirt road that is filled with rocks and ruts from the recent storm. I'd think that this journey would be near impossible if it were raining and there was mud rather than red dirt. But this all seems routine for the other passengers. Ah...patience.

My journey to Abuadi started with a 10.5 hour flight from JFK. They must work in Ghana-time however, because even though we left an hour late from the gate, we arrived on time. I sat next to a wonderful loud woman named Rosemond. She is from a village outside of Accra, the capital, but now lives with her family in Connecticut. She was very kind and assured me that I'd love Ghana and never want to go back home. She was returning to her village to visit with her mother, who is 109 years old.

When you arrive you must fill out a customs form, much like arriving in any country. This form asks for an address at which you will be staying. There is no address for where I am staying, so i left it blank, and then the customs agent denied me entry., i got out my guide book, took an address of any hotel in Accra, filled in the form, and breezed through customs. Interesting system. I was greeted at the arrivals gate by a young dreadlocked man, Joy, age 28 (although he will be 29 March 22nd and promised to invite me to his birthday party).

I was so happy to see his smiling face that I hugged him as I introduced myself. And seriously, thank god for Joy. The transportation in Ghana is beyond daunting. It’s complete mayhem, or so it appeared to me. We took a cab to the main lorrey station in Accra, then a trotro 3 hours to Ho's main lorrey staion, then another cab into town. The road from Accra to Ho is not paved and it is full of ruts because of the recent storm. We even had to brake for cattle.

Since most of this region is Christian, everything shuts down on Sunday. And i mean everything. So much so that Anami couldn't get transportation in to Ho, and therefore I couldn't get to the village where I was to be staying. Joy was kind enough to offer to let me stay with him and his sister, but i was getting more and more uncomfortable. I really just needed some quiet time to myself, and a shower. I desperately needed a shower. Everything in Ghana is very dusty. Even the air is filled with red dust, and it clings to your damp skin.

Oh god, i think i just heard a chicken being killed. Mommy!

Joy looked in my guide book and found a hotel nearby that was reasonably priced...the most expensive room was $27. My requirements were a self-contained room with air conditioning. Self-contained = private bathroom. That night Joy was kind enough to take me and Tamara out for beers. Tamara is a girl we met at the hotel. She was 24 and from Slovenia...where? She had been travelling with a friend around the area, and was now by herself in Ho. We had a nice night chatting over cold beers at a club called New York...Joy got a kick out of taking me there.

The next morning Joy picked me up at the hotel and brought me to the Bridge office where I met with Bismark, the director. He gave me a quick orientation, and at this point i finally got to go online and send some emails. It is here that I met Anami, and he took me to run a few errands in Ho, and to explore the market. He then escorted me to Abuadi, and the house where I will be staying for the next 6 weeks.

The house is sort of a dorm, and part of 5 other houses on one wall contained compound. All the houses on the compound are owned and inhabited by the Gusso family...brothers, uncles, sisters, cousins...Also on site is the grounds caretaker Gabriel and his family. My caretaker, Favor lives nearby with her husband and two children. Favor is kind, but very quiet. I don't really like someone cleaning up after me and cooking my meals and doing my laundry. She knocked on my door at 6am to sweep the floor. She then served me breakfast at 6:30 sharp. Having a "servant" makes me a bit uncomfortable, and i try to talk to her, but she just smiles and laughs. I'm not sure how much English she knows. Or maybe I'm just funny. Or maybe both.

Today Anami introduced me to many other people in the village...I really can't keep all the names and faces, and new words straight. I really want to take everyone's picture and label them! Oh, especially the children. They have been the highlight of my trip thus far. They are all so curious about me. They all shout "Yevoo" at me when I walk by. Yevoo = white person. Ghanaians don't have the same sense of race as we do in the US. Calling out "white person" is perfectly acceptable, as would be me responding in Ewe's equivalent of "black person" (which i need to learn because the kids get a real laugh out of it).

We visited the school around 7:30 am, and even though classes didn't officially start until 8:30 am, most of the children where already there, tidying up the school grounds, arranging the sparcely furnished classrooms. There are three school buildings: kindergarten, primary, and junior secondary school. There is no secondary school in the village. If children wish to continue their education, they must leave the village.

I am continually impressed by how well the children behave, but at school this order is kept by a reed. If a child steps out of line, or misbehaves, or fails at a task, they get rapped on the legs with a reed by the teacher. On this particular day, the children were marching around the school's grounds for hours, practicing their performance for the celebration of 6th March. 6th March = Ghana's Independance Day. 2006 marked 50 years of Indpendance, and it was acknowledged with great celebrations country wide, or so Rosemond told me. Eitherway, the children and teachers at the school in Abuadi take this celebration very seriously. Many children were rapped with the reed if they didn't keep the beat of the drums with their little feet.

After marching practice, the children were shuffled off to do various sporting activities, like volleyball. The boys in junior secondary will be playing a greatly anticipated volleyball match versus a nearby village school team on friday. So today, they played and practised for hours in the blazing sun, rarely, if ever stopping for water. Anami and I were joined by others in the village to watch the practice games. It seemed strange for me to be sitting around and doing virtually nothing in the middle of a weekday...and it seemed even stranger that I wasn't alone. But, so is life in Ghana. The farmers have a very difficult life. They rise at dawn, or before, and head out to the fields to toil til night. The women even have their children in tow, if they are not of school age. The women, it seems have it the hardest. I observe them always in motion...carrying huge buckets of water on their heads, washing and hanging clothes, cleaning, cooking, tending to children. There are so many children roaming around I can't seem to attach them to their parents.

More to come...

Ps it takes forever and a day to upload pictures i will try facebook...ahhh patience.


  1. Yeah Steffie!!! I love hearing your update and have shared the "teacher beats kids with reed" portion with my students!!

  2. Miss you Steph! I can't wait to read your next blog!!!!

  3. Keep it coming! Love reading all the interesting new experiences in Ghana. We miss you!

  4. It looks like you are finally living your dream. Miss you.