I traveled with the William & Mary SPIMA (Students Partnered with International Medical Aid) team and stayed in the Volta region of Ghana for close to three weeks. Here are pictures and entries for each of the days.
June 1st, 2013
This morning we woke up to a different air; outside, as well as in each individual member, a certain mood lingered. And we knew what it was.
A small group of community members arrived at the assembly house bright and early to give their departing wishes. As they walked away from where we were, I found it difficult to watch these hard-working people go back to their daily routines; it served as a reminder that, for the next 11 months, they will be here and that the six of us will be 5000 miles away. And while it’s certainly a cliché, this was the beauty of it all: life went on.
Before we left, Richard and the trip leaders headed to the clinic for last-minute pictures. As seen above, the building was close to completion at the time of our departure. It was so incredible to work on this project and see it transform right before our eyes. Here was a tangible edifice that testified to our preparation, work, and experience - and thanks to the community’s help, we did it together.
The tro-tro took us on a five hour ride back to Accra, where we visited with the Consul General from the US Embassy. One of our trip leaders knew this family and allowed us to rest at their house before our flight took off later that day. Some final shopping was done at a market close to their house and a small detour to see the shoreline followed.
We got to the airport around 5:30 and boarded our plane close to 10PM that evening. I was fortunate enough to have a window seat, in which I was able to watch the country of Ghana fade away in the darkness and initiate the difficult transition from present moment to the past. Our trip was finished and we were en route to the United States, but the emotions on that flight were hard to summarize. A collage of happiness, guilt, excitement, exhaustion, and sadness hung inside me, on display but without a title. No one can explain what that is like.
But it was so worth it.
May 31st, 2013
This was our last full day in Fodome Axor. From sunrise to sunset, we had a full agenda ahead of us and initiated the day’s happenings right after breakfast. Together, Skye and I headed to the Junior High School to conduct the last of the teacher interviews. But when we arrived, we were asked to give a five minute lecture to the students about HIV/AIDS. With all the students gathered around us, the two of us became professors in a matter of seconds and presented a lesson on the fly.
Our interviews were successful and unfortunate. We accumulated answers regarding education in the community that have potential to guide SPIMA in new directions, but from these same answers came frustration. One of the teachers admitted that he has yet to be paid since he was appointed to the school in December and struggles with asking his sickly father for money. If he had not told us this, the deflated look in his eyes would have said enough. I hope we weren’t the only ones listening.
Once the interviews were finished, Skye and I headed to the worksite, where we switched out with those who had been working. Here, I painted the walls of the clinic and some of the columns. It looked so lively with a splash of color and it made me think about the site; for three weeks, groups of people came and went with effort, time, and passion all placed into the project. Activity and liveliness always present. And on our last day, after all of that, the clinic itself had gained some life.
Before lunch, we packed up the tents. After lunch, Amanda, Fred, and I headed out to conduct the last two interviews for sanitation and health. Around 3:50pm, the SPIMA team got dressed in our Ghanaian garb that we had made and took pictures. Before long, a group of village members have started approaching the house with drums and excited hearts. We joined their line and followed the procession to the clearing area for the good-bye ceremony.
At the ceremony, many of the community members danced and thanked us for our visit. Drums, instruments, and smiles were plentiful. The seven of us on the SPIMA team were individually presented with a certificate and bracelet, which had been made by women in the community. We danced in a borborbor circle until dark, then headed back to the house in a procession with the community. For a bit, the party continued in the driveway of the house and commotion slowly died down from there. Some good-byes were said here, for those who would be busy in the morning, but the most difficult partings were saved for dawn.
May 30th, 2013
Since we have had excursions and other activities keeping us from the worksite in the past few days, we decided to deem this another clinic day. Before lunch, we started painting the fascia on the clinic building. After lunch, some made cement blocks while others finished the painting job. When the day’s tasks were complete at the clinic, we headed back to the house for a serious nap (though I utilized this time to read my book Freedom by Jonathan Franzen - so good).
The girls headed to grab their dresses from one of the village seamstresses, and fortunately this happened before the afternoon rain. Though our tent ended up with some water inside, I must say that it was good to me over the course of the trip. And this was our last night sleeping in them.
May 29th, 2013
Back to the worksite we went. And what a day to return on; three bags of cement were mixed, molded, and left to dry as blocks in the heat of the day. The seven of us took turns carrying the metal mold, packed full of cement, over to a designated area where we would then flip the mold over and release the block. Some of us had greater success than others, and the success of my blocks is a topic still too sore for discussion. Let’s just say I’ll never be a mason.
While at the worksite, we had the pleasure of meeting a Swedish woman who had come to visit the village and scope it out before two Swedish volunteers, coordinated through this woman, traveled here. She was very sweet and told us a little about her story, which involves living in northern Ghana for six years. The two teachers from Sweden will be the only other group, besides ourselves, who comes and stays in Fodome Axor. Whether they will be recurring or not is yet to be said.
May 28th, 2013
At the cry of the roosters (literally), we were up quite early this morning. After having veggies and sausage with toast for breakfast, we started our day by cramming into the tro-tro and heading towards our first stop. Tafi Atome, a small village in the Volta region of Ghana, has a small monkey sanctuary right in the community and runs tours into the forest. Upon arriving and paying the fee, a bag of bananas and tour guide were provided to us. The bananas were handed out and given to the monkeys, one by one, from our excited yet nervous hands. Many of our exchanges with the Mona monkeys included (but was not limited to) jumping and climbing on arms, shoulders, legs, etc.
We piled into the tro-tro again and headed to our next stop, which was Ho. After an hour and ten minute drive through the mountains, where we had a quick automobile breakdown, we arrived in the city and headed to one of the schools. Here, we met with the school directors, who graciously welcomed us, and donated more than a dozen old William and Mary laptops. It was such an exciting experience to see the classrooms and see a glimpse of Ghanaian education. I even had the pleasure of talking with a young boy who told me about his affinity for school and his hopes of being a journalist.
We arrived back in Fodome around late afternoon and split up into pairs to cover the most ground. Later, as we were preparing to transcribe interviews, the most incredible storm hit the village out of nowhere. One second there was peace and silence and the next moment was drowned out by wind and rain hitting the roof. In the span of five minutes, all four of our tents were knocked down and the power was done for. That night, we all slept in the house and enjoyed the complete darkness.
May 27th, 2013
(Photo by Skye Babcock: At the worksite.)
Working to smooth out the mounds of dirt and make the ground look aesthetically pleasing was our focus this morning at the clinic. This did not last us long, and soon enough we headed back to the house to relax before lunch. Our approach today was to take a rest before eating, eat, then head out immediately after for interviewing. So after all the chicken and yam chips were said and done, Skye, Stephen, Meredith, and Brianna headed out for interviews.
Later in the afternoon, Kyle and I switched in for our turn at interviews. This was perhaps my best day of interviews yet, since we had some clear and definite answers to the questions regarding health. Additionally, all the people we interviewed had been to the public toilet and could speak from actual experience.
Night came and we started on a new task. With these interviews, we knew that they would require time and effort for transcribing and analyzing. Rather than wait for the trip to end for this to start, we started transcribing our recorded interviews during our nightly downtime.
May 26th, 2013
Like last Sunday, we headed over to St. Michael’s Catholic church for service after breakfast. But unlike last week, the priest was different and communion was not served. One of our translators, Fred, ended up participating in the eucharist by saying a prayer towards the end. He did a great job representing our group.
Filling in cracks between the gutter and the ground at the worksite followed church. We concentrated on making the area surrounding the gutter as cohesive and smooth as possible. At this point, we were beginning to enter the beautification stages of the clinic and less of the masonry tasks. Still there, but less.
After lunch was served, four of our seven members went to hike the tallest freestanding mountain in Ghana, Afadjato. I was one of the three who stayed back. I personally had had my fix of hiking from the day before, at the falls, and would have gained more joy from rehydrating and journaling - both of which I did. They did capture some great photos, however, and the view seen their pictures makes me slightly jealous that did not go along.
(Photo by Amanda Cordray: View from Afadjato.)
May 25th, 2013
Wli, a town that is also home to a waterfall, was fortunately close to Fodome Axor. On this Saturday, we took a trip and went hiking up the mountain to see the upper falls of Wli. This was such a strenuous hike, with all sorts of roots, rocks, ledges, and crevices in our way. By the time we were approaching the upper falls, we all felt the pain from the hike and needed a burst of fresh air. Which we got.
(Photo by Skye Babcock: Upper falls at Wli.)
Pictured above, the upper falls was an extraordinary sight. Not only was the temperature cooler, but the pounding water provided nice wind to rejuvenate our tired spirits. Our tour guide up the mountain had even picked bananas and given them to us. Additionally, the lack of tourists was a nice feature.
After getting our fix of the upper falls, we headed down to the base of the mountain to check out the main falls. Here we saw many people wading, bathing, or taking pictures in the water and, in general, experiencing the beauty. Wli’s magnitude of ecotourism became clear quickly from the different nationalities present at the falls. But while it nearly left me lying in the forest, gasping for air, I have to say that the upper falls were much more serene, peaceful, and all-around impressive.
May 24th, 2013
Instead of having a usual day at the worksite, this Friday started off with a tro tro ride to Hohoe. Hohoe is a small urban area filled with lots of individual vendors selling their wares. We all picked out fabric and bought two yards of our favorite patterns for clothing items to be made back in Fodome. We also visited a beads store and I purchased a small bracelet for four cedi.
After sufficient time was spent walking through the market and eyeing all the items, we headed over to see Obama Gardens. Named after our current president, Obama Gardens is a bar located in the outskirts of Hohoe and looked like a nice venue for relaxing. Also in this area was a painter whose works caught our attention. His name was Marcus and, much to our satisfaction, his paintings looked like authentic goods that could serve as great gifts or unique mementos. We all stocked up.
Hohoe was also the place of our Fan Ice tasting. I tried vanilla flavor, which tasted like frosting, and instantly became a fan. Fan Ice is a packaged frozen treat, often sold in populous areas, that comes in multiple flavors like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and citrus. Heaven on a hot day.
(Photo by Skye Babcock: FanYogo!)
May 23rd, 2013
Surprise! While at the worksite today, Doris, one of the Humanity and Community Development Project (HCDP) employees that we partner with, brought us steamed corn and salt water. The technique was to roll the corn in the bowl of salt water for flavoring and to then eat the ear, which was chewy and sweet.
During their break, hordes of schoolchildren assembled outside of our tents and the house. An opportunity to socialize with the youngest generation of Fodome had presented itself, a call to which we answered and relished. While all of the kids displayed eagerness to be in a picture, one girl in a turquoise dress ended up in more than half of my photos. She loved it.