My first night in Ghana was spent in the city of Accra, and the next day, I took a 9-hour bus ride to my aunt’s house in Berekum. We waited to get on the bus for about an hour, but in the heat, it felt like several. We only stopped once on the bus ride, so naturally my bladder felt like it would explode at any moment. When I finally got to use the bathroom, it was hidden deep in a dark alley. It was so insanitary that I thought I’d quite possibly die if I touched anything surrounding it. Eventually, we arrived in Berekum, and my aunt took very good care of me. She always made sure I had a full plate of food, heated up my shower water, washed all my clothes, and even gave me her room to stay in. I met her convent sisters, and they were all so loving and generous; wanting to make sure I was as comfortable as possible and had huge smiles waiting for me when I arrived. Although I had been traveling for a total of 2 days, exhausted, dirty, and jet lagged, I was hopeful for the weeks to come because of they way they welcomed me. I was certain I would enjoy every moment here and thought to myself, “I can get used to this”. However, that night made an interesting start to my stay. I couldn’t sleep because of the heat, but became so exhausted at 2 am that I ended up closing my eyes. After less than an hour of sleep, the roosters and dogs that inhabit Ghana kept me up all night with every sound you can imagine. With their howling, barking, and cuckooing, I stared at the ceiling for hours, wide-eyed, praying I’d go back to sleep. But then, a congregation of Muslims, who began their prayers and worship daily at 4:30 am, kept to routine and shouted all morning directly outside of my window. So I just lied in bed, angry and frustrated. But my aunt reminded me I wouldn’t be staying with her for the remainder of the trip. Rather, I would be moving into a hostel connected to the hospital I was to volunteer at, so that transportation would be easier. I would also have the opportunity to connect with other internationals that came to work in the hospital, so I excited to say the least! As long as I didn’t have to sleep with the roosters, I was all about it. I woke up in a pool of sweat, but was excited for my first day at the hospital. After being shown around the facilities, shaking hands with nearly every doctor and administrator, and meeting my two roommates from Germany, I got settled into my room. My aunt hugged me, wished me luck, and then left.
I looked into my room, which resembled the old miniscule dorms at school, and sighed. There was no air condition, no fan, and a dim bulb that did everything but provide light. I went into the bathroom and learned the water was not running. Instead, there was a waste bin filled with water, with some mysterious particles floating inside. This was to be my bathing and tooth brushing water. The floor was wet and dirty, along with the toilet, and it definitely did not smell like roses. There were numerous little ants hanging out on the sink, and there was no soap or trashcan. I dipped my washcloth and soap in a bucket of water, and grabbed another bucket to rinse off. As I poured the cold water down my back, a small lizard fell out and into the shower. I ran to the other bathroom freaking out, only to see a non-flushable toilet and massive cockroach next to it. I quickly retreated to my room to get dressed and lay down for a little; just to be sweating profusely again, but was soon was greeted by my roommates from Germany. They came together a week prior, so they were already well acquainted. They warned me beforehand they were not trying to be rude when speaking German instead of English, but it’s hard for them to explain when they don’t know the words. So a lot of our conversations included me just looking around. Eventually, they said they were going to the market in town and asked if I wanted to join. I opted to stay inside because I wanted to maybe go online and chat with some friends or family, but alas, there was no Wi-Fi, let alone a network. Then the electricity cut off and the kids next door started to shout. Rather than taking a nap, I just cried. I cried a lot.
I felt lonely and isolated. I quickly began to make a plan to complete my clinical hours as soon as possible so I could return to my aunt’s place, and eventually home. I still couldn’t believe I was in a foreign country, and started to feel the immensity of being alone. I so strongly wished that I had come with someone, or that I was maybe on the other side of America rather than on a totally different continent. Everything was unfamiliar and hard to understand. I was slowly realizing how much of a contrast living here was compared to my life in Delaware, and had no desire to keep going. My homesickness was growing, so I called my mom. Her encouragement and presence helped me calm down a lot, but as soon as I hung up and was reminded of how far away she was, I became saddened again. In the hospital, I got a lot of stares – maybe because I was wearing Nike sneakers, or because I said “like” a lot. Or maybe because I can only speak English, and everyone else speaks Twi (their native language). I got teased because of words I said differently or embarrassed when I couldn’t understand people through their accent. I wasn’t sleeping partially because of the heat, but also because of the anxiety of how I’d make it for 3 weeks.
All week, I kept asking myself why did I come here? Why did I forgo a month off from school with friends who live next door to me to spend time in an underdeveloped country? Why did I subject myself to uncomfortable taxi rides, innumerable mosquitoes, and excessive heat? Why did I travel halfway across the world all by myself? I didn’t know any of these things would happen. Had I known things would go this way, I may have thought twice about coming. But that is the cool thing about uncertainty; not knowing what is going happen causes you to trust in something outside of yourself, and for me that has been my faith.
I wasn’t given a how-to manual on how to live here, I kind of just showed up and trusted God would take care of me. For a little while, I thought he forgot about me, because of the loneliness I was feeling. But I’ve made some sweet friends in the pediatric and surgical ward at the hospital, who want to know absolutely every detail of my life in America. They have beautiful smiles and big dreams; I wish I could bring them home with me. I’ve grown to know the ladies from Germany very well, feeling a lot more included in their conversations than before. They even invited me to sightsee with them in the city, along with their professor. We spent Saturday visiting museums, buying cultural items, and eating delicious food. They cared for me so well and it was nice to see outside of this small town. I’ve never missed a meal because the people here are fantastic cooks. I have a bed to sleep in, I have survived the 110 mph bumper to bumper taxi rides, I have drinking water, I haven’t been bitten by mosquitoes (yet), I was not harmed by that lizard or cockroach, I have been checked on every single day multiple times a day, I have not been forgotten.
I know God has me in Ghana because in America, we knowingly and unknowingly live in ignorance. We have more than we need, and that in abundance. So many things we have, we take for granted. When situations happen outside of our confines, especially in other countries, and they do not directly bother us, we don’t concern ourselves. And even when we do with curiosity, we would most likely choose not to experience it. It has been good for me to be out of my comfort zone, and to learn so much about the comfort zones of the people here. The people of Berekum, Ghana deal with on a regular basis what I consider struggling, and it is not foreign to them. I can only imagine how my mom might have felt moving from Sierra Leone to Brooklyn, New York by herself at a young age.
My eyes have been opened a lot here in the past 7 days. It’s been a challenging and interesting week, and I’m currently trying to rid off the ants that have found their way in my t-shirts… but with time, patience, and changing my perspective, I’m making the most out of my situations, and know things will only get better!
Disclaimer: shortly after writing this post, I got bit by a mosquito.