In February of this year, 2012, 21 ninth grade students flew to the esthetically beautiful and culturally breathtaking country of Ghana. Primarily, the purpose of our trip was to help out at our sister-school, BCS, through both education and construction work. We could not help, however, but be absorbed into the Ghanaian culture beyond the school. Many of my best memories from the trip derive from the short moments spent with unbelievably generous and friendly strangers, who helped me fall in love with their country.
Our trip began in the capital city of Ghana, Accra. It was like no capital city I had seen before: where I had expected sky scraping buildings I saw small residencies, two story buildings, and the occasional shack. At night the city was silent, its inhabitants resting after a long and hot days work; during the day things could not be more different. On our first morning we embarked on a long and bumpy bus ride to Kumasi, which entailed an exciting drive through the bustling city of Accra. The streets were packed with small cars, trucks, and dozens of tro-tros, or minibuses jam packed with anyone who needed a ride. Walking amongst these vehicles were people selling goods like toilet paper, or fruits, vegetables and bagged water. Although I had seen such street vending in many other places of the world, I had never witnessed it quiet the way I did that day. Not only were the products balanced perfectly on their heads as opposed to being carried around by hand, but the venders seemed genuinely happy, unlike the desperate ones I have encountered in other cities. All 21 of us had our faces glued to the windows of the glossy red VIP bus we travelled in. It was no secret that we were in town, as our less than inconspicuous vehicle attracted much attention. Initially I feared the attention would be negative, and that the Ghanaians might be cold towards us, annoyed by our presence. What I experienced was very different: people on the street, from the ages of 6-60, stopped that on which they were working to smile at us, to wave at us. I cannot explain why these simple gestures have impacted me so strongly. I was told that our bus journey was around 7 hours, but I myself would have guessed no more than two. I was occupied the entirety of the trip, staring out at the dusty and forested horizon, waving to every single person in my sight. As silly as it sounds, I refused to fall asleep for any amount of time during that trip, in fear of missing the sight of two young boys waving to us whilst waist deep in muddy water, or perhaps a circle of extravagantly and colorfully dressed woman preparing supper. When we had reached our first destination, Kumasi, we were greeted by Ibi’s welcoming family. We were offered lunch inside their home, which was enclosed by a high gate. After a meal of unusually large and white bread with jam, peanut butter and nutella – a soon to be staple for us- we went outside to peer through the gaps in gate. What we found beyond the gate were tens of pairs of eyes peering back. Like the bus ride, track of time was completely lost, and I therefore cannot tell you how long we all spent talking and singing to the local children outside the fence. The majority of this time was spent teaching the children the sequence of a high-five followed by a fist-pump. What we consider a casual form of greeting or a short celebratory gesture, they found to be eternally entertaining. The last thing I saw from the bus windows before heading for our final destination was a group of kids high-fiving one another, regardless of age and gender. They then turned to us and waved enthusiastically, jumping up and down. One girl, whom I had personally connected with, blew me a kiss.
We had been in Ghana for only a day, and were already we were incorporating ourselves with the Ghanaians, learning their traditions and their ways. Throughout the week we were further welcomed into their lives, into their rituals. One day we attended a gospel like church service that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Later we danced by a towering bonfire on Lake Botswana’s edge with the young and talented dancers of the local village. Another evening we even spent a few hours purely socializing and interacting with Ghanaian ninth graders, whose experiences and lifestyles were incredibly different to ours. Each of these experiences broadened our minds and our understandings of human interaction. Never before had I felt so extremely different, yet so welcome at the same time. On behalf of team Ghana, I would like to thank and acknowledge every single person who opened their arms to us on this trip, granting me the most amazing and eye-opening trip I could ever hope to make. Wave to a stranger; greet a passerby; smile at everyone you see; help to bring a little bit of Ghana’s spirit to Switzerland.
– Ania Milligan