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After spending Christmas together in Buffalo, NY with my family, Jesse and I went our separate ways. He spent a month traveling to see his dad in North Dakota and his uncle in Seattle while I was off once again to Ghana. We haven’t spent more than a few days apart since meeting each other so a month apart would be a journey in itself. We said our farewells to family and friends not knowing when we would see them again, and the journey began.
The plan was to go with Cha Cha and some others but due to a number of reasons, I found out a week before leaving that I’d be going alone. Since I had my one-way ticket to Ghana and one way to Thailand booked and didn’t buy insurance, I couldn’t rewind time and get a refund. I was nervous, yet a part of me knew I had to go still. I originally left for South Korea alone so I had some previous solo travel experience but this was Africa and I haven’t seen Cha Cha’s family in over 4 years. If you’ve ever been anywhere in Africa you know that going, in general, is a journey but going solo is a pretty intense experience.
I arrived at the airport and vaguely remembered my way around. I was told that Cha Cha’s brother would be picking me up at the airport and bringing me to Hohoe. Last minute change of plans and an old childhood friend of Cha Cha’s met me at the airport. We then went to a hotel near his house, where I would stay the night and we’d continue on to Hohoe together in the morning. I’m reminded that traveling anywhere requires you to be able to go with the flow and be flexible with what comes your way. As long as you are safe, have a place to lay your head and can eat, then the rest will work out.
The next morning bright and early, we took a taxi to the bus station to catch our 5-hour bus ride to Hohoe. The size of the bus is a little bigger than a minivan and has around 12 seats, which includes 3 in the front. With luggage, the seats are pretty cramped. The bus definitely has some miles on it and it was pretty beat up, but I didn’t expect luxury. I put my headphones in and hoped for the best. As I traveled down the dirt, pothole-filled roads headed for Hohoe I was both nervous and excited to start this journey. I remembered all of the wonderful experiences I had the first time with the people I met and was filled with love and gratitude for being able to visit again.
Once we arrived, I pat the dirt off my clothes and bag and greeted the family. They were more than welcoming but we were all thrown off a little by the fact that Cha Cha couldn’t come. Normally he would have a general itinerary for the day and there would be someone making the meals, so without him, his brother and some of the other family members had to step up and take on that role to make sure I felt comfortable. The kids were tall and all grown up and there was a new cat and 3 kittens! You could tell which one was the runt, it was thin and frail but still very playful with his siblings. I wanted so badly to take them all home and feed them multiple cans of Fancy Feast. Later in the trip, one kitten disappeared. I was told it was sold to a man who would eventually eat it. I always wondered what the cats’ purpose was, but I didn’t think they were dinner.
The first few days were hard for me. I questioned why I came here and what I’ll be doing for the next month. My mind started to go back and forth about changing my flight to a different date and leaving earlier. One minute I was ok the next I felt I had to leave. It was really an interesting time for me on a deep level, that’s when I realized I really need to just sit with these feelings to really understand what is happening. I reminded myself that throughout this entire journey in Ghana and beyond, everything is unknown so I needed to get used to that space of not knowing where each day would lead and truly live in the moment.
One night I decide to go out front of the house and people watch. There was a kid that came up to me and before I knew it all of his friends were surrounding me. They learn English in school so it was easy to talk with them. They asked me questions and wanted to teach me some of their language, Ewe. When I would repeat the words back to them in Ewe they would laugh and cheer and bounce around like it was the best thing they’ve ever heard. After that night I began going out front every night up until I left Hohoe. The group seemed to grow, night after night they would bring a new sibling. Each night was filled with singing, dancing, pictures, videos, games and laughing. These kids reminded me of how much I love being around children, just having fun. I was having a hard time the first few days and then I met the children and any worries seemed to be silenced and I remembered not to take life so seriously. Saying goodbye was hard knowing that I wasn’t sure when I’d be back again. One little boy even cried, which made me cry. It just goes to show that time spent with children is far more important than any material object.
Like the first visit to Ghana, I presented donations. One to the village of Aklorbortornu where the small group of children were and another to the headmaster of a local school. When I got to the village the children and some others were gathered up for the presentation, it looked like more children than last time. This is when I learned that they received donations from the community to build a school building for the children. I was happy to hear that they no longer had to worry about it raining and not going to school. Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a picture of the new school building, but it is a very basic open-air shelter from the elements. Currently, a local pastor and another kind man are volunteering their time to teach the children, but in reality, they need a steady teacher. The first time I went to Ghana it was a woman so it seems to be an ever-changing role that the local people take on in order to give the children in the village some form of education.
Although my intentions were to volunteer with Ndor Eco Village, I didn’t end up doing any work on the projects which was the whole reason for going so I had a very relaxing month in Ghana. I had a lot of free time and for the first time in my life, I felt what it felt like to be lonely. I wasn’t sure if it was because Jesse and I were always together and now I was alone or if it was some inner issues coming to the surface. Eventually, I realized this was a time for me to just enjoy being with myself because I’ve gone a whole year without much solo time, which is usually necessary for me to reflect and grow. Knowing that after Ghana it would be a lot of on the go, one country to the next, I began enjoying the calmness of it all. Jesse reminded me to surrender and let it all go and just make the most of my time there.
Cha Cha’s nephew, Makafui was my sidekick for the month, he made sure I had Vegan meals and was comfortable and taken care of. I’ve been talking to him on and off through facebook since my first trip to Ghana so we became even closer friends. I basically tagged along wherever he went, the market, into town, the ocean, I even got to see his University and sit in on the Welcoming speech for the new year. I originally was to stay in Hohoe for the entire month but Makafaui and Madam Lizzy, Cha Cha’s sister in law were leaving to go back to where they live in Denu. Denu is small village minutes away from the Togo border with the Atlantic Ocean in the backyard. We all thought it was best I go along with them. Lizzy is a teacher at the local school and she said I could sit in on classes if I’d like. I thought this was a great opportunity to see another side of Ghana that I haven’t seen, and to be near the ocean sounded wonderful.
From Hohoe to Denu is about 4.5 hours give or take a little, but our trip ended up being about 6 hours. Our bus had some trouble so we stopped for about 20 minutes for a mechanic to see what the problem was. Not too long after we were back on the road we broke down and we all had to shuffle to different buses to get to where we needed to be. As we walked to the front entrance we are greeted by Madam Lizzy and her children. The ground is covered in sand, no grass or concrete, just sand. I set my bags down and was told I’d been sleeping in the neighbor’s house, Madam Diana, which was right next door. There are about 5 apartment’s in the complex each apartment had only two rooms. The front room is the kitchen with some open space and the back room is the bedroom. The bathroom and shower were out back. The toilet is cement seating and somewhat like an outhouse, but if you’re only going number 1 you can squat in the sand. Trust me, you want to squat in the sand because at night the abnormally large cockroaches take over the outhouse. The shower was basically a concrete wall, open-air bucket shower…my favorite! There’s something special about showering under the stars at night.
Being near the ocean was breezy and relaxing, even in the hot sun the breeze was able to make the temperature seem less hot. One day I went to the ocean during sunset by myself to sit with a book and have a moment of silent reflection, that lasted about 2 minutes. As soon as the kids see a foreigner they flock to you. At first, they sat at a distance staring, then they slowly come closer, before I knew it I had 30 kids surrounding me and my moment of silence turned into an interrogation. Some of them knew little English, but there’s always that one kid that speaks it well and will question you about everything and anything. After that day I never went to the ocean alone again, when I’m with Makafui they don’t seem to come up to me unless called upon. Being by the ocean gave me a different perspective on life in Ghana. Many of the locals rely on the ocean for both their income and food, not only for them but food for the surrounding villages and cities. I was able to see the local fishermen pulling in their net, I’ve never seen so many creatures so closely together. There were octopuses, stingray, snails, and tons of different types of fish, all in one giant net. They open the net up and the women come over with their giant bowls sorting the fish and bringing them to an area where they dump them. After everything is removed from the net in piles, the fishermen weigh them and distribute to the women based on what they are seeking. The process is really interesting!
I spent two weeks in Denu and each week I observed at the local school. You can read about my observations and thoughts in the Ghana education post.
My time spent in Ghana was rewarding on a personal level. I was able to dive deeper within myself to open myself up even more and truly see the ways I limit myself and the steps I need to make to continue to keep an open heart. Since a child I’ve always been a shy person, as I grow older it slowly is becoming a thing of the past, but at times I see that shy little girl emerging again. This trip to Ghana has given me the tools to remind myself that every experience I have is a reflection of whats going on inside me. We have the ability to choose how our experiences are going to go, by staying open you allow the energy the space to flow freely. It is also a lesson in living in the moment. Although my experience this second time in Ghana was much different, it isn’t a bad thing…just different. Change is growth and being able to see where I limit myself and cause unnecessary discomfort has given me more insight and understanding of the human condition.
A few days into my trip I started reading a book that I brought with me called ‘The Untethered Soul’ by Michael A. Singer, it could not be a more perfect book to be reading. It brings you on a journey beyond yourself and into your heart. One excerpt from the book that really hit home for me was:
“The more you are willing to just let the world be something you’re aware of, the more it will let you be who you are —the awareness, the Self, the Atman, the Soul. You’ll realize that you’re not who you thought you were. You’re not even a human being. You just happen to be watching one. When you start to explore consciousness instead of form, you realize that your consciousness only appears to be small and limited because you are focusing on small and limited objects.” (Chapter 4: The Lucid Self, page 37)
This excerpt may hit home for some of you, for others you may not understand and that’s ok too! I’ve read something similar years ago but for me personally, it was a jaw-dropping reminder. One of those moments where I remembered who I am. I’ve visited some busy cities but I think living in the U.S. is too fast paced for me, one minute you’re feeling present and aware, the next you are caught up in the busy life. It’s so easy to get distracted with the hustle of the day and the unlimited stimulation surrounding you, especially if you have multiple jobs, children, families, and numerous other responsibilities. Times are changing and technology is evolving, even more, machines are even replacing what were once jobs for humans. It takes more strength and conscious focus now more than ever to stay present in your life. I often find myself going back and forth, slipping into a lower level state for a brief time then eventually I’ll read something or have a moment and my attention and focus will be heightened once again, each time coming back stronger and stronger. I am reminded that it is essential to have a daily practice, whether it be Yoga, meditation, journaling, reading, whatever brings you to that clear-headed space. Take the time to check in with yourself on the inside because what happens inside is reflected outward. You’ll attract all the right situations and all the right people if you keep your heart open and your energy flowing.
After spending a month in Ghana, not really volunteering, just living. I am reminded even more that one of my purposes in life is to volunteer my time to projects I believe in and perhaps one day create one of my own. In life we’re supposed to do what makes us happy, volunteering is the one thing that brings the most happiness to my soul and my time in Ghana only made that clearer. I am not a tourist, I’m a volunteer.