The Ghana Diaries #3

Sunday, 14 November 2010 at 07:22

I can't believe I've been here one whole month today!

The internet connection is sometimes very slow – or we can't connect at all, and I leave my laptop at the Orphanage most of the time so that Imoro may have the use of it. He has an old desktop but we use a dongle for broadband and if I take that away each evening he's deprived of the opportunity to upload photos, so that volunteers around the world who are still fund raising etc. can be kept up to speed. I go online through the day from time to time, and try and find time at the weekend to bring it home with me so I can catch up. I have no chance therefore of listing my journalistic entries in chronological order – there is so much to tell – but anyway . . .

It took 10 mins to locate my luggage, all this was done for me . . I smoked a much needed cig! I was pleasantly surprised to find the volunteer accommodation a 2 minute drive from the Station. Imoro had told me that he had accommodation for volunteers, with shared bathroom and toilet, but it was impossible to imagine what it would be like prior to arrival. Mine is a large room and there’s only me in it! The other volunteers share, and once I was installed with my baggage Imoro went away and returned with a fan, extension lead and bottles of water. We chatted for a while and then they said they would leave me to rest, (it was almost midnight now), and collect me next morning and take me to the Orphanage.
The property is above and behind Ghana Commercial Bank in Duayaw Nkwanta. There are single rooms – though mine has a locked door leading to the owner's apartment – so is obviously part of something bigger. Most seem to comprise of 2 or 3 rooms, so many families live here. I would guess that there are between 50 and 80 people living in the building. The entrances to the 1st floor apartments are obviously on the veranda, all in a square overlooking the central courtyard, ground floor apartments and the back of the bank. There are two toilets, two 'bathrooms', two kitchens on each floor – all shared. The toilets don't flush, you take a bucket of water with you to do that. The bathroom is a small room with a window, concrete floor and walls and a hole in the floor where the water drains away, you take a bucket of water . . wash and then, my philosophy anyway, tip it over your head. Better than it sounds . . in these temperatures, there’s nothing more refreshing believe me!! You take that water from the one tap on each landing used by everyone.

My advice to would be travellers . . don't come here with European or Western values and standards and expect to enjoy yourself! Leave all that behind you and open your heart and mind to new experiences, in that way I can assure you an amazing time awaits you!

It gets light in Ghana at around 6 am, and dark at about 6 30 pm regardless of the time of year. Before 1st light every morning one of the women will be up cleaning! The communal areas are swept and mopped, the bathrooms etc. scrubbed with soap. An hour or so later you will see laundry that has been soaking in big stainless steel dishes being scrubbed clean with soap and hung out to dry. Now admittedly I washed this way in the 70's when my daughters were babies and I hadn't yet managed to buy my own washing machine – but I was out of practice and the 1st day I decided to help with the huge pile of laundry at the Orphanage . . they were amazed I knew how . . I was amazed that I took the skin off my knuckles!! But here we wash clothes . . as everything else . . in cold water, and water is precious, not to be wasted frivolously!

That's different but ok-ish, you just think you've got the hang of it and the water goes off – for three days! Haha, we buy our 'pure water' in small bags, you can buy a pack of 30 for just over 1 Ghana Cedhi, (just over 50p), but feel guilty when you've watched all Ghanian residents fill their buckets and dishes to wait it out. There had been an announcement of course, over loud speakers to tell us, but needless to say I hadn't understood it. Next time I heard an announcement I assumed the water was going off but in fact it was a funeral announcement, and the time after that, someone selling soap!

Next day there was a storm, these are so spectacular!! And I've never seen rain like this. I heard such a commotion, and then I opened my door and understood. Everyone was out, running around in the rain and laughing as they got drenched to the bone whilst strategically placed containers filled in minutes and the big water barrels were replenished . . and their next concern . . did their European neighbours have plenty, they came knocking at our doors and filled our buckets – we had water again! And that small example of kindness is so typical of how we are made welcome and cared for everywhere!

The morning after I arrived I discovered there were three other European volunteers, Suzie from Germany who had been here before and was mainly here to say Hello again, Rebecca from Germany and Stine from Norway who had both done some 'training' in Accra with an organization who 'recruits' and 'trains' would be volunteers – at a huge price! It is not an African organization, and I maybe able to voice our concerns later, with the permission of my friends here. We waved to each other across the landing and then had a chat, and I decided, not knowing what time Imoro was coming to collect me to walk to the Orphanage with the girls

It's about a 10 minute walk from the house, and whereas the house is generally considered town, i.e. it's where you catch buses, tro tros, (that's like one of our vans converted to a bus), taxi's and it's where the market is, (although apart from the market there are roadside stalls everywhere), the area surrounding the Orphanage looks much more like a rural village. If you want achieve celebrity status overnight come to rural Ghana. Even in Accra, many people I passed said – with a big smile – 'You are welcome'. In Duayaw Nkwanta there were cries of 'hey Obruni'. This word, once meaning foreign person, now specifically refers to white people: Ok I hear you, shout 'black person' at someone on the streets in the UK, and quite rightly expect to be jumped on from a great height, for that would be racism. But really here it's affection, respect, even reverence! It is at times humiliating given that I was born in one of the countries that had amongst it's native entrepreneurs those who shamelessly exploited and enslaved these beautiful people! How can they possibly find it within themselves to want to love and take care of us. Granted, the 'Working Classes' of the UK were being exploited by the 'upper classes' at the same time, but if ever people had a justifiable excuse for racism, they do. Yet we are greeted with such wonder and enthusiasm – it brings tears to your eyes. From every mouth the cry of 'ete sen' – 'how are you', or for those who speak english, 'you are welcome', or 'good morning' etc. They want to shake your hand, the little ones rub your skin, possibly they think the white will rub off lol. You find that the women will discreetly try to give your hair a gentle tweak – but my hair is long and Ghanian women frequently use hair extensions if they want to have their hair braided, they couldn't understand that this was all mine, they needed to find out for themselves! The reaction from very small babies is disconcerting . . they scream in terror initially, we obviously appear as aliens to them, but after a few minutes, they laugh with everyone else.

And we are laughed at! Every time we reply to the greetings in a way they can understand there is much hilarity – not sure still what that’s about, they seem incredulous about the fact that we can understand each other – but the desire to take care of our every need never falters.

I know that some of the time, my new found friends want an opportunity to experience our 'affluent' existence in Europe and nobody – but nobody – and please believe me, I mean this so sincerely, so I hope it doesn't sound patronizing, seems to understand that we aren't all rich- I need my western friends to understand me. We come over here with mobile phones, laptops and cameras the likes of which they have never seen, and because we have prepared before arriving, we spend in ways they cannot afford. They understandably think we are wealthy – and have difficulty understanding that all of us aren't! We must surely understand that it is their god/ess given right to have an easier life . . why should we have it all?! But what do they want is the most imortant question, part of my mission here is to find out . . and then hopefully help in some small and in a way acceptable to my new Ghanian family to achieve it! I have come home from the Orphanage at all times of day and evening to be greeted with requests from my neighbours to 'Come and eat?' The food that they have communally shared the making of – they want to share with me. But then I have tried to return the favour by maybe offering a packet of biscuits to share that I carelessly picked up in the European supermarket, and two of my neighbours went down on their knees and said 'thank you, God bless you', and that is something I can't deal with, any more than when the older residents curtsey when they greet me!

I know oil has recently been discovered in Ghana, I pray that the benefits from it rain blessings on Ghana's own people . . may the person who tries to take from them that which is rightfully theirs suffer only misery from their ill gotten gains!!!

So here we are, arriving at the Orphanage for the 1st time . . .

to be continued . .

Copyright Rosa Montague