After six days on the ship, with the last two stressful days filled with exams and quizzes from each of the five classes that I am taking onboard, I was finally blessed with arrival on land. It wasn’t simply a country I had not been to, but a new continent as well: and as the ship rocked to and fro porting into Tema, Ghana, I was in the shower singing “it’s time for Africa” from Shakira’s song, Waka Waka- cheesy, I know, but it got me that much more excited to leave the ship and to meet my host family outside of the port.
It was my first time CouchSurfing, and to be honest, I was a bit nervous- not because I didn’t trust the family that I would be staying with (I lucked out and ended up being hosted by the family of the owner of a tour group company that works closely with Semester at Sea), but because I did not know what to expect, and of course, whenever there is uncertainty, human nature makes one feel a level of anxiety and nervousness.
I quickly overcame my fears immediately after meeting my host family, who literally embraced me, immediately upon meeting me. – They called me daughter, sister, and every other appropriate familial terminology. Aside from all my family titles, on our ride home, I was given a traditional African name, Abena, which means Tuesday, because of the day of the week that I was born.
Once at the home of my host’s grandmother, I assisted them in the organization of a few tours for my shipmates. – While helping my ‘brother’ Oliver in separating wristbands, I asked him why he was so willing to help if the tour company was started by his brother Fred and not him. He did not hesitate in answering: “bayto”, it means “I am part of it, so if I am part of it something should I wait to be called for help?” –This really hit home for me, reminding me of the many times that my own mother often questioned why I wouldn’t help her at the restaurant if ‘that was the reason why I was able to eat and drink’. – Definitely something to remember and reflect upon when I get back home.
Spending the rest of the night at the home, I was able to help prepare a traditional Ghanaian meal, consisting of Banku (a corn and cassava dish) with beans and/or fish, aka help stir the mixture and help clean up afterwards. After dinner, I experienced what I consider an African version of a siesta, during which even I laid down and went for a walk with Oliver; I then witnessed the grandma, who was blind, try to escape through the door, reminding me of my own grandmother who I miss so much <3
Before heading back home, Oliver and I played a traditional African game called Mankala, which at first made me think that I was in the middle of the forest playing with rocks because of its rudimentary form, but it is really a lot more strategic than it looks. – which is probably why I lost four out of the six times that I played.
Shortly after our stay at grandma’s house, we decided to head to the home where I would be staying for the rest of my time in Ghana. – Once there, I met three other members of my family, including my father and my two cousins, Junior and Messi whom I watched soccer with until ‘it was time’ for us to go to bed.
On the following morning, I got up early to go to a nearby school that Fred had arranged for me to visit. City of God, a private school about five minutes away from the home was where over two hundred children were educated daily, ranging from infants to children in ‘junior and senior high’.
Aside from the very crowded classrooms, another thing that really surprised me was the disparity between organization and chaos. Almost every child had a uniform on, but not many of them were properly fed- probably explaining why I witnessed two children just pass out in the middle of the classroom, one being carried directly to the nearby hospital, and one who the professors decided to use more traditional methods on: something that I considered to be voodoo but which someone later clarified was more likely them speaking to the child in tongues, in order to energize her body/soul to rise from that depressed physical state.
That was not the only shocking thing that I experience during that relatively short school day: after I came up to a child who was crying over his desk and who mumbled what was wrong to me without my full comprehension of the fact, another child clarified that he had just been ‘cained’ (hit) for not having the money to cover his book. – When I asked my host sister why this happened, she explained that it was the way the school administrators believed they would be able to recuperate the money that was owed to the school, as the children would pressure their parents to pay.
While distribute the many gifts that my family and friends had given me, I quickly realized that it was a bad idea… it was impossible to know the number beforehand, but there just wasn’t enough for all the children. 1. I didn’t want them to fight, 2. I didn’t want them to get the impression that Americans only came for a day with ‘stuff’ to give and no attempt to actually establish a connection to the children 3. I did not want to be remembered for my things; rather, instead of being a representation of the Capitalist society where we live, I wanted to be a humanitarian (if even for a day). I knew that I could not be a Mother Teresa in such a short while, so I decided to give the ‘stuff’ to the principal of the school instead, and simply decided to go with the flow of the school.
This turned out to be a very good idea, especially after I set the bag with the various goods down, including toothbrushes donated by previous Semester at Sea alum, which one child found and the rest naturally attacked. An older child responded to this saying, “don’t let her give you toothbrushes; that means you don’t brush your teeth!” To which my heart sank (especially because it was addressed at our Pre-Port meeting), and what I responded with, “of course not! –You all have toothbrushes and know how to brush your teeth, but we all need to change our toothbrushes, and now we all have extra- even I have one!”
Aside from the very mentally and emotionally straining things that I experienced that day (I’m still having trouble processing everything that I heard/saw that day), there were certainly some very positive encounters that I had with the children. First of all, one thing that really struck me as I went introducing myself to each classroom was how positively the children thought of the United States, especially in respect to England. Among the questions asked in the fourth grade classroom (thanks to Professor Joe Quayso) that afternoon were: Is Africa a curse? Why were the British so mean to us? How is racism in the United States? Do you live near the coast? How do you see the U.S. in comparison to Ghana? – And while attempting to respond to and interact with these children, I realized that I definitely relate more with teaching the older kids, something I may want to pursue in the future.
Needless to say, just a few hours were enough to leave me feeling very mind blown- almost a week later, I continue to think of my time there, and every time I am left with a thought different than the previous one.
Anyway, after leaving the school, my cousin Messi cooked me a traditional homemade meal, consisting of platanos and beans, something very similar to what my mother would make, except for a very distinctive Ghanaian spice added to the dish. After this delicious meal, Messi joined me in my quest to get a piece of my hair wrapped… three hairdressers and one beauty shop later, success! – For 10 Ghanaian cedis, about 5 dollars, I had two women add this colorful strip to my hair.
Afterwards, I succeeded in mailing my ballot for the upcoming US presidential election – my first time voting!
Hopefully it made it there safely!
The night ended well into the next day when I talked to my brother about what seemed like everything and anything, divisions and unifications- life and love, economy, family, school… anything and everything! By the end of the night, we both concluded that our views on our respective cultures was certainly skewed, and we were definitely a lot more similar than we thought. (Except for our views on smoking and drinking: Not that I do now, but Oliver literally said that if I smoked he would not even be able talk to me)
After talking to Olivia about my desire to go see one of the slave castles in the country, where over millions of Africans were never seen again, as they were traded off during the Triangle Trade to various parts of the Carribean, North and South America, she offered to let me join her on a tour group the following day; it turned out to be scheduled for a number of my fellow shipmates which made it that much more fun! Before heading to the slave castles, we spent our afternoon at Kakum National Park, where we saw other Sasers who were also making their way to one of the largest bridges made of rope in the world.
Red Cross Volunteer Worker Who Offered Me a (Delicious) Coconut
After lunch, we made our way to the castle, where the sadness of its history was juxtaposed by the beauty of its landscape: situated on the edge of the shore, the castle was ‘the point of no return’ for the many who never saw their families again, either dying from disease or starvation during their many months of captivities in the slave dungeons, or leaving their homelands for good as they sailed away as objects of labor in faraway lands- it truly left me thinking. Perhaps one of my ancestors came from this very point of ‘no return’, and here I am today, experiencing it hundreds of years later for myself.
The night ended shortly after our arrival home, mostly because of our mutual sentiments of fatigue, but before then, I had one last family member to meet: Oliver’s twin sister, Ophelia, who was a ball of energy capable of keeping me up for two more hours upon meeting her talking about each other’s lives.
My last day started early, as I literally woke up to a rooster’s crow…
I really felt part of a family when I helped my sister Ophelia iron her clothes for work that morning, adding to the feeling of home.
Shortly afterwards, I made my way to the school for one last time, leaving Lydia, the principal with my contact information, should she need my assistance in the future. I let her know that although I didn’t have a job and I hadn’t even graduated yet, there is always something I can do to help, so I hope that someday I can.
I also said goodbye to the fourth graders who left the biggest impact on me that day and who I distracted if even for a minute while they took an exam to bid farewell; this was possible thanks to the hospitality of Professor Joe Quayson, who I just received an email from saying, “First of all i thank God for your save journey to South Africa.My Dear,somethings can be left undone,some words can be left unsaid,some feelings can be left unexpressed,but someone like you can never be left unremembered.You also made me proud specially the first time you hugged me and the gift of your post cards.You really made me sad when you left me alone.i promise to keep them save(post cards) just to keep you in mind.school is looking great and the kids also wish you well.Greetings to Bella your loved dog.I LOVE YOU EARLENE and i mean my words.wish to meet you again”
On our way to Accra, where we planned to go to a market before heading back to the port, we ‘coincidentally’ met up with our brother Fred, who had the back of the taxi filled with drums that he was selling to the people onboard. After dropping off the drums, we headed back to Mom’s house for our ‘last supper’ aka my last Ghanaian meal of ren ren aka beans and plantains <3
Soon afterwards, Fred took my shipmate Cari (who helped to organize one of his tour groups for months) and I to a market, which was surprisingly not filled with many tourists. This provided us with more opportunities to bargain and achieve the greatest prices: for me, this meant getting pants that the seller ended up helping me pay for… the price went from 45 to 17 Ghanaian cedis.
Having learned that the Ghanaian merchants were willing to trade traditional crafts for American goods, I grabbed a myriad of things I no longer needed from my cabin earlier that day, deciding to try my hand at bartering for the first time in my life. My brother Fred, however, did not let me, and instead offered to give me American dollars for the merchandise, so that I could purchase a traditional African drum… talk about generosity!
After a few sad goodbyes (see ya laters), I swiped my card through the gangway and went up the stairs, returning me to the reality that is life onboard… always swaying you to and fro’, from port A to B, without balance, always missing the past, but truly looking forward to the future. – Ghana will really really be missed though.