After over a day of flying, my feet were finally on African ground. It was a noticeably different for multiple reasons. One, and most importantly, my skin immediately became sticky. And this continued to be the reoccurring theme through my volunteer program in Ghana, until the day that I left.
Things no one ever tells you about ARRIVING in Accra...
The airport does not have free wifi, although it claims that it does on its website.
The baggage claim is chaos at its finest, and the second you reach “the hole”, a type of baggage claim of human beings, you realize that you have made a terrible mistake. That was the beginning of another, Kassandra, what did you get yourself into? moment. Something I would continue to ask myself throughout the night, and my stay in Ghana.
It will be overwhelming when you try to step foot outside the airport. Not able to find my driver amidst a thousand different handheld signs, I tried to keep back the tears as incredibly hot Ghanaian men walked past me. Not a good moment for me, right there.
This all sounds dramatic, I know. But when you plop a small American into a sea of foreigners in a strange land, it gets real.
Things you should be prepared for BEFORE arrival...
Culture shock. The initial night in Accra I was able to receive my first heavy dose of culture shock. Driving down winding, unnamed roads in a squeaky taxi was not the most reassuring part of it all. No sidewalks, exposed gutters a foot deep, and a constant row of shacks was just something that was natural throughout Ghana.
Standard of living. I stayed in a hotel that night, which would be one of the best accommodations I would have throughout the entire trip; although my privileged brain had done a fine job reassuring myself that this was the worst of it. Sleeping was hell for multiple reasons: the potential of something terrible happening on your first night in a new country, the sounds of Reggae music and mumbling in the background, and the immense amount of thoughts pounding in my head about whether or not I’ve made the right decision.
Transportation. Luckily, day two was a little different. After a four-hour bus ride I had finally reached Kumasi, an inland city with mild similarities to Accra. Fear overtakes you as about a half a dozen men try to get you to ride in their particular taxi. Being white means that I basically have “Rich American” stamped on my forehead to everyone within range, which seems to have a few downsides, as listed above.
Things that will surprise you (in a good way) about LIVING in Ghana...
Finally, I heard my name from a car nearby and I saw that it was the volunteer coordinator’s husband and a fellow volunteer. And you have no idea how good it felt to finally meet the people who knew who you were.
On my first night in Asokwa, I found out that I would be rooming with another volunteer, Catherine, at a host’s house. At first I didn’t know this, but it ended up being such a huge blessing to have a Westerner nearby who would understand my own culture and vice versa. Although the other volunteer, Chris, would not stay with us, I was able to see her often, especially on our travels outside of Kumasi.
The next few days were a blur, but I remember each day being easier as time went on. The parts of Ghanaian life that I, at first, was incredibly closed off to, began to become accepted and even enjoyed.
Every day I loved walking down the dirt paths, no matter how dirty I got in the process.
When I finally discovered the soccer field a few days in, I was hooked. Playing with the kids and proving that my white American blood could still make a goal was enough for me. I found myself finally entering into this form of life with an open mind, and for the purpose of connecting with others.
The things that previously repulsed me, I began to accept as my own as a volunteer in Ghana. To see life through their eyes and to become accustomed to how they live; I had no one to blame but myself for my previously closed off mentality.
Things that you will KEEP close to your heart forever...
When I think back to my two weeks of volunteering in this small sliver of the world, there are a few things that stick out in my mind that I take with me today.
A home away from home. First, I was truly at home. For all the times that I complained (see above) and lamented the trip in the first place, I began to truly love living and volunteering in Ghana.
The people were the biggest piece of my experience. For all of the hard times and stresses that they continued to go through (I’m not talking about filing taxes and picking a vacation home, I’m talking about affording food and not getting horribly sick), they continued to be happy. Maybe it was their survival mentality, which could afford nothing less, or their religious tenacity that gave them some type of hope for the future. Whatever it was, it really gave me a reality check as to how lucky I am.
I am so blessed to be able to live in a country where there are sidewalks and drinking fountains, where I can go to Planned Parenthood to receive the treatment that I need or be accepted into a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen without a second thought. And I own my own car! It’s something that I hope to never forget.
A new perspective on life and happiness. The simplicity of life was something incredibly different for me as well. No one was on time for anything, but it was never a big deal. Everyone washed their own clothes, cooked their own food, and took a taxi to where they needed to go. How they made a legitimate living financially is still a question for me, but they figured it out so everything worked.
Every morning I woke up, ate breakfast, got ready. I walked to a dusty cement public school, where I taught English and art. This became a routine that I was all too excited to get used to. The kids were more than enthused to learn and were eager to try something new. After that, I would play soccer with the kids or volunteer at a nearby carpentry shop.
Every day I was learning and participating in a new way of life.
It was amazing to see how the children’s eyes would light up in undeserved excitement when they saw me every morning. I can’t remember the last time I was that happy to see someone. It was an entirely new level of joy. To see so many people love someone so much was incredibly inspiring to me.
Things that you’ll LEAVE behind...
After my volunteering in Ghana was said and done, I hope that I’ve impacted their life in some way. I hope that they look back at this time together and see someone who cared about them. In their frustrations within school and their home life, I want them to remember that there was someone from an entirely different world who cared immensely for them. That would be really all that I want.
Things that will NEVER leave you...
I’m a few weeks out from a trip that changed my life, and changed my perspective on everything. I still think about my time volunteering in Ghana every day. I compare it to my life here in each moment that I can. I still get a slight tinge of excitement when I see a drinking fountain. I know, I know, I have problems. But it really means so much to me that I live in a world where something like this can be taken for granted.
As time goes on, I know that I’m going to forget about what daily life looked like in Kumasi. After all of it though, it’s the people I will remember the most and hope to never forget.
Are you ready to volunteer abroad? Check out GoAbroad’s directory of volunteer programs in Ghana to find the perfect program for you now!
This article was contributed by an alumni volunteer of a Love Volunteers program in Ghana.