I never thought I’d have the chance to take a class field trip to Ghana. But that’s exactly what I did through a Marist spring attachment program this past June. Nothing could have prepared me for the whirlwind that was our two and a half week visit to this incredible country. First, we went to lectures at the University of Legon, in Accra, Ghana’s capital. We also went to Makola Market—a loud, colorful open air market with its friendly people, wandering animals and every good you could imagine. Women in Ghana carried their babies on their backs, and bowls of goods on their heads. They found it funny that we were barely strong enough to do the same.
One night, we even went to a nightclub in Accra, accompanied by the guys who lived and worked in the hotel in which we stayed. It was similar to a club you’d see in New York—it even played Madonna. Our friends at the hotel taught us how to Adzonto (a popular Ghanaian dance too complicated for most of us). We were sad to leave them, but more adventures awaited us.
In the city of Cape Coast, everyone on the trip was paired with host families. It soon became clear to me that Ghanaians might be the most welcoming people in the world. I asked my host mother what were her rules of the house. She put her hands on my shoulders and replied, “You are my daughter here. My only rule is that you tell me how I can make you feel welcome.” My host mother was also an incredible cook. Food in Ghana is so fresh it puts even the best American markets to shame. Each morning, my host mother would cook me a fresh fried egg and pick bananas, oranges or mangoes right from the trees in the backyard. Each night, she taught me how to cook a delicious Ghanaian meal. My host parents and I would also watch TV each night (we watched world news and religious game shows, and I thought they seemed far more intellectual than the news or shows in America). My host family also taught me to reject my materialistic American ways. I told my host parents how nice their house was, with its goats, gardens and reliable plumbing and electricity. My host mother waited for me to finish and asked with urgency, “but do you feel welcome here?” Because she knew, that’s what really mattered. It was a wakeup call.
During our days in Cape Coast, we Marist students visited the Cape Coast and Elmina “castle” dungeons, the horrible places European invaders built to trap enslaved Africans before they were sent to America. These were haunting, highly emotional places. We were lucky enough to relax at Brenu beach one afternoon. It was the epitome of paradise, soft sand, warm waves, palm trees and hammocks. But soon enough we were on the road again…
In the city of Kumasi, we visited an Asantehene palace, which was opulent and filled with schoolchildren who were as thrilled to see us as we were to see them. We also visited villages where we learned about the making of kente cloth, sculptures and Adinkra (symbols which told a story). From there we headed north.
In northern Ghana, we left the cities with Mercedes-Benz’s and mansions and began to see more mud roads and villages with fewer amenities. In northern Ghana, we walked on bridges in rainforest canopies, and took a safari to see baboons, antelopes, boars and elephants up close. We got to see baboon families up very, very close—they tried to sneak into our rooms! I guess it’s not just the people in Ghana who are so friendly.
In the penultimate week of our trip, we went to volunteer at an orphanage and school in Tamale. The orphanage was exceptionally well kept but the school had neither plumbing nor electricity. Teachers left us to our own wits in front of chalkboards. I taught 5th graders. Or should I say, they taught me? Their enthusiasm for learning was unbeatable. They would be jumping up, eager to answer any questions, bring me breakfast or clean the chalkboard for me after I wrote. Their positive attitudes shone through a classroom made of straw without any lights or fans. When it was time to go for the day, they would beg me to go through a lesson with them one more time. They inspired me to be a better student in America.
After our week of learning from Ghanaians, we returned to Accra and said goodbye to our friends and the country we had come to love. Medaase, Ghana (thanks)! I love this country and can’t wait to return!