Photo by: Jeremy Kotin
Four years after my initial trip to Ghana, West Africa, I found myself standing on the runway of the Kotoka International Airport in Accra hit with the unforgettable heat of a Ghanaian summer evening. It seemed as if the breeze hadn’t changed, that the smells were still the same, and yet my connection to the country was undeniably different. Ghana, a country known for its friendly people and beautiful kente cloth, was now much more than that to me. Stepping off the plane felt like I was returning home. I knew immediately which way to turn in the airport as I walked down the long empty hallways leading to customs and pulled along a close friend who was traveling with me. The customs officer greeted me “a kwaaba” the Twi word for welcome and I could now respond “meda ase”, thank you, without hesitation. As we drove from the airport to our hotel I acted as tour guide pointing out import places to my friend and quickly teaching him the slang he would need for our 10-day trip.
Just four years earlier I had arrived in Ghana without much preparation. I had barely opened the guidebook I was carrying with me and had failed to secure a visa before getting on the plane. After traveling in South America I made my way to Ghana for a two-month stay as a volunteer teacher and that was where my plan ended. Stepping off of the plane that first night I was startled by the darkness that surrounded me and allowed myself to be guided through the long empty hallways of the airport by a crowd of excited Ghanaians returning home from trips abroad. Getting through customs was easier than expected, but once outside of the airport I realized that I was completely alone in a foreign country. I had expected to be met by the director of a small NGO who had arranged for me to stay with a host family, but there was no one there to receive me. Already, the trip was not going as planned and I wondered if it was all a mistake.
Eventually my host parents did come for me, worried that nearly two hours after my flight had landed I had not arrived at their home. We drove into the darkness and out of the capital; in the passing darkness I lost all understanding of where we were going. When we reached their home I couldn’t make out very much — the house appeared to stand alone in the darkness. Exhausted, I had nearly forgotten that my own parents did not know if I had made it into Ghana. Expecting that I would be able to call when I arrived I was surprised when one of my host brothers led me back out of the house to call my parents. In the darkness I followed him without explanation of where we were going. Walking down what I could only imagine was the unpaved highway that had brought us out from the capital we walked for nearly ten minutes before stopping. My host brother, Daniel, led me into a small shop where he spoke to the woman behind the counter in Twi. She asked me for the number that I would like to call and handed me the phone. This would be the first of many times that I would visit the local “calling center” to phone home.
After assuring my parents that I had arrived safety Daniel lead me back outside and towards the house. Taking a different route I followed behind Daniel in what seemed to be the darkest night I had ever experienced. I couldn’t imagine how Daniel knew where he was going. Just as my eyes seemed to adjust to the darkness I noticed Daniel take a small jump over something in front of him. I looked down just in time to notice that Daniel had jumped over an open sewer that I was now standing on the edge of. I was a bit bewildered, why had Daniel not warned me to jump, where were we going, and why was it so unimaginably dark? I took a deep breath, backed up, jumped over the sewer and continued to follow Daniel through the darkness. I couldn’t wait to get back to house and get some sleep; my first night had already been too much of an adventure.
Waking early the next morning to the sound of goats running past my bedroom window I was unsure what the day would hold for me. I peeked my head out of my bedroom and was happy to be spotted by my host mother. Although she spoke less English than the rest of my host family, I would quickly become reliant on her company and her cooking. She ushered me out of my room and into the “shower room” where two buckets were waiting for me. One was large and full of water, the other much smaller and empty. I was puzzled at first and then it dawned on me that the house did not have running water. Rather than embarrass myself by asking for showering directions I made the most of those two buckets and hoped that it would get easier with practice. After the energy I had expended trying to shower I welcomed my first Ghanaian breakfast and the chance to ask about the school that I would be teaching at.
Unfortunately, not one of my four host brothers had attended the school where I would be teaching. What I did learn was that classes would be taught in English, as it was the governmental language, and that the school hoped that I would work with its primary school students. I spent my first few days with my host family working through basic math lessons and games to play with six and seven year old students. I also knew that I would be provided with a government syllabus and hoped that it would ease my transition into teaching