It’s hot and humid….
And I love the people!
We arrived at our volunteer placement in Hohoe, Ghana (pronounced ho-hway) a few days ago. The living quarters are very similar to Thailand and India except that there’s no air conditioning and no internet connection. Our clothes have a perpetual dampness and odor to them that is impossible to remove. After a few days here, our bodies have adjusted somewhat to the heat and I am not sweating 24 hours a day any more.
Overwhelmingly, the main thing you notice in HoHoe here are the people. We have met many wonderful people on our journey and several countries have had a very warm and friendly population, but this place is beyond anything else we have experienced. The locals call us “yovu” or white person. As you walk down the street, virtually every person shouts out “yovu, yovu” with a huge grin on their face while waving profusely. The kids run up and mob you and grab your hand. The little ones put their arms up to be held. They get so excited to see us even though they have no idea who we are. The adults come to the street and introduce themselves. They ask questions about us, where we are from, how long we are in Ghana, if we like Ghana, and more.
I went running yesterday morning and about 5 minutes from the house, a young boy named Mauli came jogging up beside me in his flip flops and asked if he could run with me. He was headed the same direction to visit his sister. He ran with me for almost 45 minutes as we chatted about himself, Ghana, the US, his sister and family. It was wonderful. I then turned around and started heading back to town and passed a mob of 11 kids walking to school. As I ran by, they took off their flip flops, shouted for me to wait, and then ran with me all the way into town – almost 30 minutes. It was like a scene from a movie. Here I was in a remote village in Africa – a white man in jogging shoes, dry fit shirt and shorts – and there were 11 kids ages 6-8 running in their school uniforms with bare feet right alongside me. They were so cute. They were asking me questions, trying to teach me Ewe (the local language), helping me to greet all the locals who all smiled, waved, and laughed as we passed. And then, after learning the local greetings, the locals really beamed with excitement when we passed. It was magical.
The countryside here is very different than I expected. I had a picture of Africa in my mind that was more akin to the grassland prairies of Kenya. Instead, it is quite tropical in this region of Ghana; thick, green trees, toads barking all day, bugs swarming, yet a stillness to the thick, humid air. It feels more like the Amazon jungle than the land of roaming elephants and tigers.
Our village of Hohoe has about 50,000 people which would be more like a city, but it is quite spread out so it feels more like a village. The main road is dirt and all the feeder roads into town are filled with pot holes. It has rained (hard) almost every day since we arrived so the roads are no longer dirt roads, but mud roads. The soil is a clay-like soil so the roads turn into a soupy, thick mess. It makes running something akin to trying to run on a slip and slide. The good news is that I have been able to run almost every day since arriving here.
We have a huge group of volunteers here – 45 people arrived with us and there were another 5 people already here. In Thailand and India, we had something closer to about 15 volunteers. The volunteer group is made up of two older women, “the family” as we are called, and 40 or more 20-somethings. So far, I am incredibly impressed with the group. It gives me great faith in the next generation of kids entering the world as we spend time with these college age volunteers. I love sitting around in the evening and listening to them talk about their lives, their families, their dreams, etc. It’s a great group of young adults.
We are placed in an orphanage here for our volunteer work. I have an older class – age 12 – and I am looking forward to the older kids rather than the 2-4 year olds I taught in Thailand and India. I think being in an orphanage will also be interesting rather than being in preschools. Somehow it feels like will be doing more to help. I will teach 4 subjects; English, math, science and environmental studies which is all about Ghana and its people so more of a social studies class. That should be interesting.
After one day, the kids seem amazingly well behaved. They use corporal punishment here in Ghana which is very tough to watch, but our orphanage seems to use it far less than some of the other volunteer placements. The kids are taught via rote memorization so they are quite good at answering questions with clear answers, but they really struggle with any type of creative thinking. When I ask them a question like “what is a ratio”, they can quickly give me the exact words from the math book. But when I ask them for an example of a ratio, they have no idea what to say. They can “read” a passage from their book because they have read it a hundred times, but when I give them a new paragraph to read, they can barely read it.
My class has 5 kids. They speak English quite well so unlike India and Thailand, I will be able to communicate with them. Today I was asked to teach them ratios in math and question tags in English. I didn’t even know what a question tag was! It was interesting to try to teach ratios because they barely know their times tables yet they are being asked to do ratios, to turn fractions into decimals, do long division, etc. I have to figure out how to loop back over subjects they have already covered and enhance those skills while still teaching according to the schedule outlined by the teacher. I am actually looking forward to it.
So far, Ghana is wonderful. Did I mention it’s really hot and humid?