My Adventurous Beginning: Hohoe, Ghana

My first traveling abroad by myself- terrifying and thrilling Africa.

Growing up, my family always took cruise vacations to places like the Bahamas and Bermuda, but would never be more than a stone throws away from the boat or the ocean. We would do the generic hiking, lounging on the beach or at the pool, or snorkeling; simulating the life we had back home. Everyone was in their comfort zone, never straying too far from the norm. But soon enough, unknown to me, my life would take an adventurous turn. During my senior year English class, my teacher told everyone her story in the Peace Corps on National Peace Corps Day in the United States. She told tales of being held at gunpoint near the Kenyan border and the bright eyed kids she would never see again. I remember not being able to take my eyes off the artwork and the wood carvings she set up on the desks.

Eagerly after class I waited for her to have a free moment so I could talk with her further. Little did I know at the time, I would be paving a path for my future. She told me about tours students can go on in different parts of the world depending on how out of my comfort zone I wanted to go. I decided on a trip to Hohoe, Ghana with the organization Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS). CCS got kids from all over the United States to be placed in a different country and have them fully immersed in the culture, but also do some volunteer work in the process. My placement was with a orphanage/ school named Happy Kids helping to teach preschoolers English. Although the official language of Ghana is English, up in the mountains of Hohoe they speak mostly in their tribal tongues. Quickly, my days went from hanging out with my friends at Starbucks, to being woken up before the sunrise to the smell of porridge cooking on an open fire. Rice and beans were served with every meal (I have no idea how the villagers never get sick of them). I am from an Italian family so it was refreshing to have a meal without cheese or pasta involved.

My days were filled with lessons; teaching the children English, but them teaching me about life. I became close with three little ones in particular: Mayvis, Unhum, and Ema. They would follow my placement partner Danielle and I around during the breaks from lessons and when lunch was served. Seeing these children who have so little, be so happy with life. Each child had a smile across their face and they never expected anything from you. This was quite a contrast from back home where kids compete over who has the newest iPhone. It was like a breath of fresh air seeing children being so happy getting a turn to draw on a piece of paper with a crayon. I was happy to spend time in the jungle of Ghana feeding monkeys and hiking up the highest point in the country, Mount Afadja. I was in bliss. Then my happiness was tented a little.

My body started to work against me as I became very sick with malaria. Because of this, I had to miss several days at placement and had to go to the hospital to get treated. This alone was another eye opening experience. To me, hospitals were a place of sterilization but in rural Ghana it was anything but. The building was a courtyard open to all the elements and the patients were laying out on bed in the Ghanan heat- no one was protected from one another or sterile. I instantly stood out being the only white person the hospital. After several hours, I spotted another white figure walking around. He turned out to be a European trained doctor who was in Ghana doing malaria research. I immediately felt relieved as he told me to drink lots of water to make sure I didn’t dehydrate and I would be good as new within a day or so. Before I knew it, it was time for me to go back to my world. But I will never forget the new family I created thousands of miles away.

Now almost three years later, pictures of Unhum and the kids hang on my apartment walls and my journal has a place on my shelf for me to relive Ghana whenever I feel like life is slipping through my fingers. The experience helped to shape the person I am today and the goals I want to achieve.

 

This was my first taste of adventure, now onto the next one!

Happy travels, Cynthia