Welcome back to another reminisce article. After a couple of shots of anti-virus juice and the long winter, I’m ready to get back to doing a little traveling. It will be instate at the beginning then expand as more people are vaccinated and the number of cases dwindles. My fingers are crossed, I hope yours are too!
It was five years ago this week when I boarded a plane bound for Ghana, West Africa. This was not pleasure trip although it was pleasurable. A few month’s earlier, The Eldest sent me an email with the note that said: “Dad, you should do this.” It was a notice from the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) ACDI-VOCA, based in Washington, looking for a volunteer to work with corn, rice, and vegetable farmers in Ghana to help them improve their recently organized associations. I applied for their Farmer-to-Farmer program and after a phone interview, I was accepted. ACDI-VOCA connected me with an experienced volunteer who provided me with valuable insights into what what to expect during my volunteer gig. I had to apply for a visitors visa and make sure my shots and immunizations were up to date. I had to begin taking antimalarial pills a week before I left, through my entire stay, and a week after I returned. To ward off stinging/biting/burrowing insects such as mosquitoes, chiggers, etc., I purchased Permethrin Spray (from REI) to treat my outer cloths. Maybe it was overkill, I didn’t see one mosquito in my two weeks in Ghana. However, maybe the chemical kept them away!
On my day of travel, I took the Van Galder bus from Madison to Chicago, a four-hour ride. Next time, I would fly, less seat time. From Chicago, I flew the overnight flight to London Heathrow arriving in the morning.
Tired and exhausted from not sleeping much on the flight over, I had a five hour layover until my flight to Accra, Ghana left in the afternoon. The flight from London was supposed to be about six hours with a one hour time change. However, air traffic controllers were on strike in Spain so we had to divert around the country arriving after 10 PM Ghana time.
After a short night, I was up early to meet the local ACDI-VOCA director for a brief orientation and a trip to the bank to change U. S. dollars into the local currency, the Cedi. Then back to the airport for a one hour flight to Kumasi where a driver would meet us for the 80 km drive to Agogo, the town where I would spend the next ten days. There I met my sponsors, they worked at the local agricultural office. We had some formalities to attend to, I met with the administrator of the region who gave my visit his approval. That would be the first of many. After a long day, I was taken to the local hotel, it was the only one I saw in this town of over 30,000 residents. I would have my breakfast and evening meal in the dining room of the hotel.
My meetings with the farmers didn’t start until 3 PM. My local handlers would pick me up at the hotel at about noon, then they’d take me for lunch at the fast food joint in the center of town. I had the same thing for every lunch, fried rice with a piece of roasted chicken. I’ll be honest, I was ready for something else after ten days straight!
The next day we made a trip to the village where I would be meeting with the farmers. Our first stop was to meet with the King of the village. He’s the leader and must grant permission for anything major that happens in the village. Then we met with the minister of the Presbyterian church whose school we would use for the meetings.
Later we met with a large group of farmers. I was told that at first only the elected leaders of the association were supposed to be in the classes, about twenty. After discussion, it was decided to allow any farmer who wanted to attend. The lowest attendance I had was thirty-two and the highest was fifty-four. There were about ten women in the class, they were vegetable farmers plus they took care of the kids (some had several) and the household. Yet, they made time to come a learn.
As I mentioned, my classes were two hours, from 3-5 PM with a short water break in the middle. Every day before leaving Agogo for the remote village, I purchased a two liter bottle of cold water, it was always empty when I returned to the hotel. It was that hot for this fair skinned guy from a cold climate. My teaching tools were simple, a flip chart paper and markers. One of the young farmers served as my interpreter, about half spoke English and the rest spoke the tribal language, Twi. About half of the farmers were literate, some took notes while other just listened, they often asked the hardest questions! About one third were Muslim, the rest were Christians of several varieties, such as Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of God, Pentecostal, and Catholic. Each class began and ended with a prayer, rotating between the Muslims and Christians. Even though the teaching conditions were less than ideal, I really became attached to the farmers and truly hope that in some small way I was able to help them. Below is one photo of the village where I did my teaching. Note, the small building on the lower right of the photo, that was the restroom facility I used when needed!
At the end of the sessions, we had a ceremony at the church. It was supposed to begin at 9 AM but we had to wait for the King and Queen Mother to arrive. The Queen Mother plays a very important role in the community ruling alongside the King. Like the King, she is selected from the Royal family. Below is a photo of the village leaders including the King and Queen and me in a traditional African smock.
This photo is of the farmers that attended the final ceremony, some brought their families. The people were so kind and welcoming. For some I was the only White person they ever met. I felt an obligation to represent the United States in as positive way as I could. Just about anywhere I went, little kids would follow along, wave, and with a big smile holler in Twi: “Oburoni, Oburoni!” This translates to foreigner or White person.
Now a few photos from around Agogo. The photo below is of the market, the cassava tuber is one of the main food sources. It’s often compared to potatoes but is richer in calories, protein, and carbohydrates.
I took this during one of my walks around the village of Agogo. There are goats everywhere, they wander around looking for food and grass. I was told they know who milks and feeds them at night so they end up at the right house!
This panorama was taken from the place where I had lunch every day. It was the main road through the city.
I was in Agogo on Easter Sunday. The churches were packed and the services went on for hours. Parishioners would take a break to cool off outside, it was hot inside the church.
After my teaching assignment was complete, I was driven back to Accra for a debrief with the ACDI-VOCA staff. I stayed at the hotel below for a couple of nights before taking a night flight to Heathrow and then back to Chicago.
I had some free time so hired a driver to take me on a half-day tour of Accra, the capitol city of Ghana. One of the places he took me was Jamestown located on the Gulf of Guinea. The James Fort Prison in the photo below is where many thousands of captured natives went in the main door and onto a ship to Europe, Caribbean, South America, or the United States to be sold into slavery.
The squatters village that grew up around the Jamestown Lighthouse and prison makes it’s living by fishing in the ocean. Each day, buyers from the restaurants come to buy fresh fish for the evening meal.
This woman dealt in onions, lots of onions!
This is one of the photos I took from the top of the lighthouse. The small box-like structures are where people live. As I walked through the village with the guide, I saw the people trying to eke out a living, but some had what I interpreted as hopelessness in their eyes. However, I did see some rays of hope, there was a school, places of worship, and a cow herd owned by the community. Needless to say, my visit to Jamestown left a lasting impression.
Thanks for coming along on my brief reminisce of my time in Ghana five years ago. I saw this week that Ghana has begun to vaccinate it’s population which suggests a visit in 2022 is possible.
Until next week, happy virtual travels!