Haley Culpepper
Haley Culpepper
Ghana 2016
VIEW FINAL REPORT
Adventure seeker | I dream of seeing the whole world and am making strides towards that goal every chance I get. I will be spending 2 months in Ghana, Africa learning about the reality of Microfinance and teaching impoverished locals seeking resources about starting their own businesses. Read More About Haley →

Medasi

In Twi, Medasi means thank you.

As I soak up my last African Friday (for now), I can’t help but feel like my time here has come full circle. I’m feeling a lot of peace as this Sunday approaches and I prepare to move to Germany for the semester. Yesterday I said goodbye to our 4th village, Akokoa Yensi Center- our last village of the week, and the first one I ever visited upon arrival. While there have been many road blocks along the way, and while progress is slow, I am feeling satisfied with the work I was able to participate in and the small contributions I could make. Yesterday during our last 20 minutes in Akokoa, after our loan meeting and malaria workshop ended, a local staff member and I had a one-on-one meeting with an older woman named Adwoa (Ad-jo-wa). Adwoa finished repaying her second loan yesterday, which she used to add to the capital of her cassava dough business. During the one-on-one, we asked her questions such as “What do you plan do do with the money of your next loan?”, “How have you been setting aside money for yourself, so you don’t grow to be dependent on Projects Abroad?”, etc. She confided that her business is going strong as usual, but that she has a hard time saving because her costs of production are high. I suggested that whenever volunteers are around, she save money on labor by using us to do her farm harvesting and cassava peeling- cutting her costs of production almost in half. While this business practice isn’t sustainable in the long run, she will be able to save money in the short run, build up both her capital and savings, and be able to afford labor down the road when she is bearing all the costs once again. Many of the days this week were chaotic, but this small moment trumped it all. Every Projects Abroad volunteer and staff member alike share the common goal of wanting to help improve the lives of others, and this small moment provided the perfect opportunity to do just that. I am excited to stay in touch with Christiana, the other Microfinance volunteer (staying for 5 more weeks) to hear about the physical labor she is able to do for Adwoa and the money Adwoa is able to set aside and save.

I’ve spent some time this week thinking about what I could write in this post, and how to clarify all I’ve experienced and learned. But the truth is, I don’t think I’m removed enough yet to do that. While it will be a huge adjustment, I am relieved to have 5 months in Germany to reflect on the impact this experience has had on me, and to eventually share it with you all at my Lumos convocation this coming fall. For now, I am sure of a few lessons learned. For instance, I now am confident enough ask for what I want and to stand up for myself when others try to take advantage of me. We’ve all experienced people trying to take advantage of our weaknesses, and I certainly experienced that many times in Ghana because of a language barrier and the color of my skin. I leave here confident that it is always better to ask for what you want than to assume others will intuitively know. I’m also learning that my future might not lie in grassroots Microfinance work, but rather (possibly) in large scale financial inclusion or international development through public policy/ governance.

Ultimately, I end my time here on a happy note. I will never fully be able to express my gratitude to the Lumos foundation for allowing me this opportunity of a lifetime. I have experienced tremendous joy, sorrow, confidence, humility, and endless sweat. I know my life is and will be forever changed because of what I’ve seen and felt these last two months. I am thankful to leave on such good terms, confident that I will be back to Africa in the near future and of the friendships formed here- no matter how long distance. I am excited to spend my last days enjoying a quiet weekend with good company, and am looking forward to my new adventure in Germany beginning this Monday. All that being said, I will leave you with two quotes that I find equally beautiful and inspiring- I hope they encourage you to travel, or at least make you smile. I will also leave you with a handy German phrase- bis bald!

“If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.” – Glenn Clark

“Dare to be strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything. Be brave enough to dare to be loved.” From the book Winesburg, OH

Naomi's birthday cake for her party last friday

Naomi’s birthday cake for her party last friday

The birthday girl!

The birthday girl!

Roommates at the birthday dinner

Roommates at the birthday dinner

Cape Coast Castle- governor's quarters

Cape Coast Castle- governor’s quarters

The "door of return" at Cape Coast Castle- to honor Ghana's history in the slave trade

The “door of return” at Cape Coast Castle- to honor Ghana’s history in the slave trade

the ominous "Door of no return" at Cape Coast Castle

the ominous “Door of no return” at Cape Coast Castle

Trying to become a traditional Ghanian woman

Trying to become a traditional Ghanian woman

Processed with VSCOcam with kk2 preset

Everyone knows English

It turns out everyone in the world knows English :) or at least pretends to- and that has made my experience here way easier than it could have been. This week I am thankful to live in a world where cross-cultural communication is becoming important enough for others to make strides toward learning global languages. I’m also glad that English is my mother tongue!

I’m not quite sure where to start this week, as being here for a while now things aren’t jumping out at me as much as in the beginning. But, that also means that nothing bad is standing out either. We had a strange traveling experience last weekend, and have truly come to love and appreciate the place we call home in the Akuapem Hills. Coming back to Naomi’s house has become a sign of relief and comfort, and I’m feeling rather lucky to have a host mom who has made life on the other side of the world so sweet. Speaking of Naomi- today is her 31st birthday! I’m not sure what a Ghanian birthday party entails, but my roommates and I decided to postpone our travels so we could have dinner with her. We ordered a cake to be specially made which will be picked up this afternoon, and we are so excited to surprise her with it later tonight!

This week at work was smooth sailing- a welcomed feeling after weeks of begging women to show up to meetings, be somewhat on time, and allow us to give personal advice for businesses struggling to make profits. On Monday and Tuesday our two new loan villages, Mampong Nkawanta and Korkormu, began their first loan repayments. In comparison to the existing villages, their attendance was stellar and we were also impressed by their desire to put some money aside for Projects Abroad to help them save. After more serious discussions with our Wednesday and Thursday villages last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see them making strides towards our requests for them to stay at the meetings longer than to only complete their weekly repayment. Because they took our request seriously, the microfinance supervisor, Gifty, was able to give a workshop on typhoid at each of these villages and her teaching was a huge success. From the outside, it might seem like typhoid workshops and loan beneficiary meetings have little in common- but because our women are merchants and often sell food as their business, we feel it is part of our job to teach them about social responsibility to their communities. The way that typhoid can spread often occurs through food, and based on the reactions, feedback, and questions of the women in Kwamoso and Akokoa, the information Gifty taught them was something they had never learned before. Hopefully her advice to them will encourage sanitary cooking and sales practices, as being hospitalized in a third world country is something no one enjoys.

Today is Friday, and on Fridays microfinance volunteers are only needed to come to the office and write a report of the week. Part of the package my Oma sent me (that arrived last week) was stickers and homemade dolls from her church back in Portland, OR. So this morning, because we have nothing but time, the other volunteer and I decided to visit the Projects Abroad orphanage- Adom Daycare Center- and give out the toys. We had such a lovely morning, filled with children hanging all over us shouting, “Aunty, aunty, pick me up!” and fighting over heart-shaped stickers. Their shy smiles and contageous giggles won us over, and we decided we’d return next Friday for a bit of play time before heading to work to write the report.

Overall it’s been another great and fast paced week, and I’m excited to make the most of my remaining time here in Ghana! Next week I will be on an airplane to Germany to begin studying abroad, but until then I have nine full days to get a nice sunburn in.

Me and my Scandanavian gals in Ada Foah

Me and my Scandanavian gals in Ada Foah

Microfinance volunteers + Gifty, our boss lady

Microfinance volunteers + Gifty, our boss lady

Doris- a woman from Kwamoso village who sells onions

Doris- a woman from Kwamoso village who sells onions

Stickers and dolls at Adom Daycare Center

Stickers and dolls at Adom Daycare Center

Hissing isn’t rude, it’s useful

Thomas the rugby player + local boys proudly wearing the jerseys he donated

Thomas the rugby player + local boys proudly wearing the jerseys he donated

sometimes I wish I was a baby

sometimes I wish I was a baby

Valentine's Day in Ghana!!

Valentine’s Day in Ghana!!

American girls in African dresses

American girls in African dresses

Apparently hissing at others to get their attention isn’t rude, it’s useful. It’s still hard for me to recognize it as not being rude (it’s the cultural norm), but it certainly is effective at grabbing peoples’ attention.

I have to say- this week has absolutely flown by! Maybe it’s all the new volunteers here in the hills or the excitement of upcoming plans for the weekend, but I truly feel as though I blinked and here we are already celebrating Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day has also arrived in Ghana- although not literally, because it’s a Hallmark holiday in America rather than an internationally recognized day of significance. Nonetheless, I feel as though it’s Valentine’s Day here too because packages from both my mom and Oma arrived this week, spoiling me with many forms of chocolate and loofahs galore! I’ve never felt so clean during my entire stay in Ghana- I think loofahs are highly underrated, if I do say so myself.
Last weekend at Kokrobite was one for the books. We found the “white volunteer in Ghana” Mecca and made countless new friends, for no reason other than it being nice to talk about common experiences with complete strangers. We laid on the beach, ate our weight in fresh fruit and attended the hotel’s reggae night.
Work this week seemed to move much more quickly with important things to either do or discuss at each of the four villages, rather than just showing up and hopefully collecting their weekly installments. Next week we will see both of our new villages begin repaying their loans, either in 15 or 7.50 cedi increments. We spent this Wednesday and Thursday tweaking practices and expectations of the two existing loan groups, and also had the opportunity to discuss why we found these changes to be important. I have high hopes for those villages (Kwamoso and Akokoa), after a stellar turnout in attendance this week combined with a renewed determination to be trusted and respected by Projects Abroad.
Each Wednesday, Projects Abroad staff likes to organize some sort of social gathering for volunteers in which they can both collect feedback about our experience and provide us with afternoon entertainment. Instead of the quiz, this Wednesday they invited all of us to meet at the Akokoa village and play in a soccer match against some school children. The opposing team was stacked full of 8-11 year old boys who were nimble, aggressive and insanely talented. We went easy on them in the beginning because of our assumption that it would look silly to see adults so focused on beating children at sports. Our attitude quickly shifted once the score became 4-0 (us being the 0) and we kicked it into high gear, but I’m pretty sure we still lost. I haven’t had that much fun playing games in a long time, and it was amazing to see children get so excited for an organized afternoon event. It has been quite rewarding and reassuring to see the different kinds of work Projects Abroad is doing here in Ghana, with the help of our volunteer fees- building new classrooms to expand their schools, buying school children cleats so they can join the soccer team or musical instruments so they can become part of an afternoon program, creating loans for the women of the Microfinance groups, providing classroom necessities that otherwise wouldn’t be available (due to a lack of funds). Participating in the soccer match took all of us volunteers out of the day-to-day routine that we can easily become stuck in, and challenged us to see the bigger picture of what is being accomplished in Ghana.
I would encourage anyone looking for ways to help others- whether financially, by donating used goods, through letters of support or prayer, or other means- to consider researching and contacting an organization like Projects Abroad. There are so many NGOs and non-profits doing development work around the world that simply isn’t possible without the help of volunteers and people who donate resources. It’s days like the soccer match when you realize every little thing helps (one volunteer from England brought rugby jerseys to donate to the soccer team and the kids were ecstatic).
There are plenty of days here where we feel as though we’re not doing enough, or even doing anything at all; and then there are weeks like this, where those worries are dissolved and our hopes that we’re doing something important, no matter how small, are affirmed.

 

R is a silent letter

A short Twi lesson:
Korkormu is pronounced “kakum”
Kokrobite is pronounced “coco-bit-uh”
A written r is a silent r! Why do they still write r’s if Twi is mostly spoken? I wish I knew.

I’d like to make a special announcement that we had a *magical* and extremely western Saturday in Accra. Not only did we find real fruit smoothies, but also a bakery and SUSHI! I truly love Ghana- the people, the tros, the same five Twi songs playing endlessly everywhere you go- but there is nothing like comfort food to make your day/week/month 10x better.

so worth the wait

so worth the wait

and no one got sick!!

and no one got sick!!

This week in my microfinance I found myself much busier and more useful than last week, and for that I am grateful. I was excited to teach a healthy eating/ hypertension workshop at each of the villages, especially because I experienced firsthand the lack of energy women described during the “challenges at work” section of the interviews I previously conducted. Teaching this workshop was important to me because I am positive these women have no idea how much better they can feel if they were to alter their diets slightly. A majority of the groups we talked to this week said that they usually ate fruit once a week, and their vegetable consumption was limited to onions and garlic. I don’t know if garlic is even considered a vegetable (I don’t know  a lot of things!!!). I have a huge problem with the lack of healthy diet here because fruits and vegetables are abundant and cheap. There should be no reason why a child isn’t eating the plantains growing in their backyard! It felt good to do what we could and encourage these women to feed themselves better, whether to live longer or prevent diseases or even solely to become a merchant with more energy and determination.

Along with the healthy eating portion of the workshop, we taught about high blood pressure and also took the blood pressure of each woman who attended the meetings. Although none of this sounds like microfinance, the other part of my position here is teaching women things they probably don’t know- and this week that looked like nutrition and health.

My supervisor, Gifty, checking individual BPs

My supervisor, Gifty, checking individual BPs

At two of the villages we taught at, we were also finally able to administer the first ever loans to each group. I am so glad to have been here for the entire process- from going to these new villages for the first time with Projects Abroad, to inviting women and interviewing each of them, selecting the best candidates and then dispursing money to those I helped pick. It feels very whole and rewarding to be a part of an organization whose sole purpose is to better the lives of those in the community. Women who received loans were ecstatic, thankful, and generous with their wishes of “God to bless me” in return for helping them. Women who didn’t receive the first loans remained determined to be chosen next, which is an attitude I like to see. What a privilege it is to be able to watch womens’ lives change from such a short distance.

Aside from work and play this week, it has proven to be an interesting time to be in the hills. Some say Ghana isn’t a great representation of Africa because it has become so westernized, but I am currently witnessing day five of a weeklong funeral for a King and/or Chief (no one seems to know) who died ten years ago. I’d say it doesn’t get much more African. The President of Ghana has come to stay in the hills to attend the funeral, a police truck full of armed soldiers shooting commemorative gunshots and local men playing  bongos just drove by, and every tree and building for twenty miles are decorated with red and black ribbon. This is a first for Projects Abroad staff and Obronis, and we’ve been advised day-in and day-out to be “extra cautious” this week. Schools have been shut down from here to Accra due to fears of an old practice stemming from Ghanian traditional religion. I won’t go into detail because it’s unnecessary and outdated, and so far everyone in Akuapem Hills has remained safe. That being said, we were encouraged to travel over the weekend and will now be sitting on Kokrobite Beach for Saturday-Sunday instead of at home.

I am in disbelief and awe that my fifth week has come and gone, and I am excited to make the most of my last three weeks in Ghana. I continue to appreciate your messages, questions and prayers- please don’t ever hesitate to reach out to me!

Children here are NOT camera shy

Children here are NOT camera shy

They know all about selfies

They know all about selfies

And they love to hold hands

And they love to hold hands

It’s February ??

I can’t say that my time here (so far) flew by, but when did it become the last week of January already?! This is crazy. Those of you back at school might not feel the same way because the crisp, cold days probably serve as a harsh reminder of which month it is. But on the bright side, look at all that snow!

If I have to choose one theme to describe this week, it would be what we call “Ghana time”. Other people who have been to small town Africa likely understand what that means, but for those of you who haven’t- it means life here can be very VERY slow. This week was a good reminder of where I am.

I think you know you’ve largely adapted to a place when you stop doing the things you originally planned on doing, and start doing the things locals do. For example, Ghanians aren’t keen on travelling. While they have likely seen some of what Ghana has to offer, they feel no need to visit places multiple times. Travelling to Lake Bosumtwi last weekend helped us understand Ghanians more deeply- turns out spending five hours in a cramped van on  an unpaved road isn’t so much fun! Our destination was Lake Point Guest House, located just across the street from Lake Bosumtwi, and compared to some other parts of Ghana- it was amazing! The area was peaceful, quiet and remote. Very remote. So remote that it was nearly impossible to find.

The seven of us that went truly had a lovely time. We went horseback riding, hiking, and spent time laying in the sun by the lake. At the guest house we met other Obronis (white people) from Finland, Lithuania and the UK, and had a lovely time sharing our experiences in Ghana with each other. Some of the women even tried a local shot (or three), made from palm wine, and danced the night away to an old Abba and Michael Bolton mix CD. When we finally arrived back in Mamfe, we collectively felt that we had done enough travelling for a while and decided to “take it easy” on the coming weekends, in true Ghanian fashion.

Guest house shoreline of Lake Bosumtwi

Guest house shoreline of Lake Bosumtwi

Terrace at the Green Ranch- horseback riding, lunch and a view!

Terrace at the Green Ranch- horseback riding, lunch and a view!

Sometimes you really REALLY crave western food and just have to have it all (featuring Fanta, ice cream and a plate of french fries)

Sometimes you really REALLY crave western food and just have to have it all (featuring Fanta, ice cream and a plate of french fries)

My week at work also ran on Ghanian time, and left me feeling rather restless on days where there wasn’t much to do. My project supervisor was sick the entire week, and it was largely up to me to find work. While Projects Abroad by no means expected me to do more than usual, I found myself desperate for structure and tasks and something use up time during the day. Anyone that knows me knows I am a slow reader, so the fact that I read almost an entire book this week made me long for something “productive” to do (I’ve had so much free time that I’m considering “getting ahead” for my upcoming semester [that has never happened before in my life]). It’s times like this when I see just how much “being busy” is engrained in our western culture.

Despite the lag and my being restless, Friday is already here! It’s amazing. I’ve spent a lot of this week thinking about time, and deciding how I feel about being half-way done with my adventure here in Ghana. I feel both happy and sad, ready to go and also like I’m just getting started. I think I’m starting to understand what Nyame said to me on the first night I arrived in Ghana, about how people fall in love with this place. In the words of my Dutch volunteer friend who just returned home this week after spending THREE MONTHS here in Ghana, “Everyone want more and more a new car life is so crazy. Everything have to be nice okay in Ghana people want also smartphone etc. But life is so much more relaxed. No stress!! Here you can feel the stress!” (His thoughts on being back in Holland, and yes he’s still learning English)

Although I can’t help but laugh at the way those words sound together, the idea behind his message is spot on! I have been frustrated time and time again here in Ghana due to some little things (see last week’s post), but life here is good. People spend time laughing, enjoying their days and enjoying being with each other. As much as I want to create social change here, I think we all could learn a lot from their pace and quality of life.

We're not in Kansas anymore! Instead of "ma/am", they refer to us as "Madam" Haley and Ann-Sophie

We’re not in Kansas anymore! Instead of “ma/am”, they refer to us as “Madam” Haley and Ann-Sophie

A new loan group, leading themselves in registration

A new loan group, leading themselves in registration

 

Vans can hold 20 people if you try hard enough

This week has been a whirlwind to say the least. You think you’re settled in (do you ever settle into a third world country??) and then life presents some reminders that you are not from here. In the almost three weeks (WHAT) that I’ve been in Ghana, I’ve grown to love and understand the people here more greatly, I’ve adjusted more to the food (something I wasn’t counting on), and have even grown okay with sweating through the night because it’s 90+ degrees and the electricity has been out for two days and there is no fan to cool you down. I have grown to be okay with all of those things and to celebrate little victories, such as finding delicious, ripe mangos for sale near my house or finding the water isn’t freezing and actually feels rather nice during my bucket shower. I have found myself rejoicing in things that I never thought twice about at home, and for that I am grateful.

Despite the rapid growth of my appreciation for Ghanian culture, this week was an uphill battle of what I know vs. how I feel. I know it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the magic of “white people in Mamfe” has worn off, and this week I had my first taste of being discriminated against due to the color of my skin. I don’t want to imply feelings of civil rights era struggles because I am certain that my experience pales in comparison, but it was disheartening to experience nonetheless. This small frustration began last weekend, when the other volunteers and I made weekend plans to stay at home and see the local sights. On Saturday we decided to introduce new volunteers to the cocoa farm, the Aburi craft market and the “botanical gardens”. After an unfortunate transportation mishap in the morning, some volunteers found themselves the target of a greedy taxi driver trying to advantage of what he assumed to be their “white privilege”. His car had been dented  by a van passing by too quickly and driving too closely while they were in the taxi, and instead of filing a claim with his insurance (which he had), he followed them to the cocoa farm, waited outside to intercept us when we were leaving, and then confronted us, demanding that we pay him 800 cedi for the incident. Even at the time the whole thing was bogas to us because we knew he had insurance, we knew it wasn’t the volunteer’s fault, and we knew he would never be demanding money from passengers had it been Ghanians inside. He stood with us and insisted on arguing for an hour and a half about why we all needed to give him money, and we continued to urge him to file a report with the police and contact insurance for money if he wanted it so badly.

The whole situation was resolved eventually, although we did end up having to pay him off (50 cedi or approx. 15 dollars) to leave us alone and not keep following us. It wasn’t such a big deal, and we all agreed something of the sort was bound to happen at some point if we were here for long enough. That being said, it still didn’t feel good to have it happen. And it proved to be the lesson of the week, as it continued to happen when taxi drivers would insist that the price was suddenly higher or when vendors attempted to sell us goods at double the price. The issue of money doesn’t hurt my feelings, and I respect their dedication to trying to earn as much as possible. Life isn’t easy for Ghanians; even the ones who have money.

What bothered me throughout the week was the constant assumption that we, as white people, have tons of money. It didn’t feel good to be taken advantage of because of that assumption, especially by a people who pride themselves on loving everyone and treating everyone faily. When person after person tried to rip me off this week, I didn’t feel like I was being treated the same as everyone else. I  have to laugh at their broad generalization of white privilege; there is no doubt that I have lived an incredibly privileged life and have been given amazing opportunities. That being said, it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the circumstances I happened to be born into. I found myself wishing they could look past my skin color and see me for who I actually am- a college student with approx. $300 to my name and a few thousand dollars signed away in debt to the government. Someone who studies hard and works hard and still can barely afford to pay for food and other essentials. They see everything that my parents have given me- an education, the opportunity and desire to travel, clothes on my back and a lifeline if I need it, instead of seeing me.

I wanted to share those thoughts because I really struggled to not be frustrated with Ghana this week, and to be respectful and loving to those around me. I also don’t want to sugarcoat this experience and pretend that life here has not been challenging. Ultimately, I’m still extremely grateful to be here and experience all that Ghana is and has to offer. For the most part, people are kind and warm and friendly and eager to know us Obronis. They are hospitable, generous, and honest; my life is richer for knowing those that I do.

This week was all over the place, work-wise, and I loved it! It was hectic and slow and boring and exciting and mostly an adventure every day. On Monday we taught a business workshop to a new village, and then I was put in charge of conducted interviews with the women of the village interested in becoming new loan beneficiaries. On Tuesday we traveled to another village and did the same, except this time interviews lasted two hours because of all the eager women wanting to improve their businesses. Later that day, we traveled to one of our other villages where a few women volunteered to show us how to make a traditional food called Gari. The process of making Gari takes two days, and we participated in day two. On day one these women put Cassava dough in large white sacks, placed heavy rocks on top of the sacks and left them outside all day to dry. This process helps to make the dough less sticky and also gives it time to ferment. When we arrived, we were handed the fermented dough and asked to sieve it (making it into a powder consistancy). After we sieved the dough, the women placed it in metal bowls over an open flame and stirred it around until it became dry and crumbly. They even gave us bags of Gari to take home and try, in exchange for helping them with their work. Such generous women!

On Wednesday, I worked in one of our already established loan villages and helped collect the weekly installments. It was a rather slow day. And finally yesterday, Thursday, all volunteers had a “dirty day”, taking the day off from our assigned projects and coming together to paint a house for teachers at Wonderful Love School to live in. It was such a joy to be with everyone, painting and sweating more than you thought possible and celebrating all the hard work that the construction volunteers had done by building the house from start to finish.

It has been a lovely week, with an even better weekend to come. All but two of us volunteers are leaving in two hours for Lake Bosumtwi, to spend the weekend horse back riding, kayaking, hiking and enjoying our time together before many of the volunteers leave next week. I am constantly amazed at how much Ghana has to offer and can’t wait to share pictures from this weekend.

To everyone reading, I hope you have an enjoyable and warm weekend! Get some rest, eat delicious food and don’t tell me what it was because man do I miss western cuisine. For anyone interested, I ask that you join me in praying for safety here in Ghana. It has been an interesting week, security wise. While I personally have not felt unsafe, it made me weary hearing about last week’s ISIS attack on tourists in Burkina Faso, the country that shares Ghana’s northern border. Ghana is a peace loving nation, so please pray that ISIS and other terrorist organizations don’t do anything to change that.

 

P.S. After three weeks, I am positive that we don’t try hard enough to pack our vans full back at home! The van-taxis here, called Tro-tros, are normal “9-seater” vans, and they definitely fit 15-20 people.

Ghana's first cocoa farm

Ghana’s first cocoa farm

Dried and fermented cocoa beans

Dried and fermented cocoa beans

Aburi Craft Market

Aburi Craft Market

African church- part Presbyterian, part Catholic

African church- part Presbyterian, part Catholic

Where loan meetings are held at Mampong Nkwanta

Where loan meetings are held at Mampong Nkwanta

A home at Mampong Nkwanta village

A home at Mampong Nkwanta village

Women drying sieved Cassava dough to make Gari

Women drying sieved Cassava dough to make Gari

Children at Wonderful Love School

Children at Wonderful Love School

 

 

Nanayee

The title of this post is what people here refer to as my “Ghanian name.” I was greeted at the airport almost two weeks ago by a very kind man named Nyame. After 24+ hours of travel he met me outside baggage claim and proceeded to sit me down, tell me about how I’m going to fall in love with Ghana, crack jokes that I couldn’t follow, and then pull out a book of Ghanian names so we could discover mine. This was all before we left the airport. He wanted to sit outside and chat for an hour before thinking to call a cab and bring me to my hostel. Having been here for almost two weeks, I can now see how this was a traditional introduction and excellent example of the pace of life here in Ghana. Before I get into what I’ve learned this last week, you should know that you pronounce Nanayee as nah-nay-uh and it means that in 1994 I was born on a Thursday. I’ve met a few other Nanayee’s, and sharing my Ghanian name has become a quick way to bond with women in villages when we have a hard time communicating (language barrier).

Waiting for our weekly loan collection meeting to begin

Waiting for our weekly loan collection meeting to begin

Last weekend, 4 other volunteers (from Italy, Ireland, and Norway) and I traveled together to a popular area in Ghana called Cape Coast. Somehow (really, how?!) we managed to accidentally book a room at a hostel that was less than 100 yards from the ocean for a total of $15/per person for the entire weekend. I’m still not sure how we managed to do that, but I’m glad we did! On Saturday we all visited Cape Coast castle, a castle built by the Portuguese during colonization in the 1400’s and one that played a very significant role in the slave trade of western Africa. It was heart-breaking and important to see. That afternoon, the two women from Italy and I took a trip one hour north to visit Kakum National Rainforest, where we walked through the jungle on Tibetan bridges and tried not to think about African safety standards.

Cape Coast castle

Cape Coast castle

Fishing industry along Cape Coast castle and the Gold Coast

Fishing industry along Cape Coast castle and the Gold Coast

Cape Coast castle

Cape Coast castle

Francesca and I and the *very safe and sturdy* Tibetan bridge

Francesca and I and the *very safe and sturdy* Tibetan bridge

This last week was spent understanding more of Ghanian culture and learning about how business and people operate. Here are some things I learned about their culture:

I should probably already be married and have children. I’m 21, why don’t I have children?? There are no trash cans. People gather and then burn their trash (usually daily), which means there are random fires along the streets and the air kind of smells like burnt hot dogs and sewage. Amazingly enough, you get used to it! Wild chickens and goats and cats and dogs roam free here. Everywhere. Is that a litter of kittens I see playing inside that restaurant? Why yes, of course it is. There is a word for foreigner that they use to refer to anyone that looks different than them (pronounced Oh-bro-knee) and they use it constantly. Because in Ghana, it’s not rude! It’s how they greet you. There is not one hour that passes while I’m around town where random Ghanians don’t shout, “Hi Obroni! How are you?” If someone says that to you, it means they noticed you and are sincerely wanting you to feel welcome. I will say- at first it was cute because only children said it to me. And then adults started yelling it at me when they wanted my attention, and it became annoying. But after becoming aware of their intentions when using that word, I now know it is just Ghanians being friendly and curious. Hmm, what else? This week I learned that it is considered good and beautiful for women to be fat. I was also advised that if anyone were to ever comment on my weight and say that something about me is “big”, to take it as a compliment. Being fat here means that you have enough to eat, and therefore, your socioeconomic status is greater than others. I have also become acutely aware that my host mother, Naomi, consistently overfeeds her volunteers (despite protest on my behalf) for that sole purpose. She is trying to fatten us up! We’ll see.

Projects Abroad volunteers for our location in Akuapem Hills

Projects Abroad volunteers for our location in Akuapem Hills

I have a million more things I could share about the culture, but I want to save that for next week and talk about my experience with microfinance this week.

After a cultural seminar organized by Projects Abroad taught me that nothing here starts on time, even important corporate meetings, the slowness in my internship began to make sense. Each day this week, Monday through Thursday, I visited a different rural village and met with women who were either 1) hoping to begin a new loan beneficiary group, or 2) who already had taken loans and met weekly to pay their installments. We made it a point to meet each day at the villages around 9:15 AM – an entire hour later than volunteers on other projects begin- and asked the women of the village to meet us at 9:30 for our meetings. The earliest any of the women ever showed up was 10 AM. They are not concerned about being on time, and the phrase, “I’m coming,” does not necessarily mean, “I’m on my way.” In fact, it probably means something more along the lines of, “I am thinking about leaving soon after I do this or that. I might be there soon.”

Despite the relaxed attitude and nature of business in Ghana, the women who show up at the meetings have proven to be loyal and honest, always doing their best to pay. This week I had the joy of watching a new group of women interview for loans and saw them step up into leadership roles; some even wanting to set guidelines with penalties, should a group member not comply. This seems like common sense in America (or really any developed country), but in Ghana it was highly unusual. Unusual and inspiring. After our meeting yesterday at the village called Akokoa, I got to see some of the women in action. Many of them set up a market during the day to sell lunch to the school children during their break. It was amazing to see hundreds of kids fly out of their classrooms and race each other to get a bowl and buy some rice or beans or Banku from a few of our loan beneficiaries. It was exciting to see women benefitting from these loans and being able to do steady business at the school, and (of course, for me) it was a dream come true to play with some sweet African children simultaneously.

Sweet little Mary

Sweet little Mary

Veronica

Veronica

Children from Wonderful Love school

Children from Wonderful Love school

That’s all I have this week- stay tuned for next week’s novel! (No one has ever described me as “concise” :) )

Chacos: a gift from the Lord

 

 

 

Akwaaba and hello from Ghana! More specifically, hello from Mamfe- Akuapem Hills. I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost a week already! Before I try to put this last week into words, I would like to advise anyone following my travels that I am terrible at thinking of titles. I always have been, and it’s something I’m learning to accept. So from here on out, instead of writing something poetic to capture your attention, I will instead write a discovery I’ve made throughout the week. My first discovery? Chacos are a gift from God! Not only do you need them for hiking to the rural villages, but you can wear them in the shower, as house slippers, to kill bugs, or do really anything else! (If anyone knows of any other uses please email me ASAP) Other discoveries? Most meals are some form of starch. On any given day there is a good chance I will eat bread for breakfast, rice for lunch and noodles for dinner. I’ve never been so thankful to eat fruits and vegetables (when I find them) in my whole life.

With that all out of my brain and here for you to make sense of, I want to share about my week! I think the biggest shock I’ve had here (besides the spicy food) is that I haven’t had any freak out moments (yet). Everything has been smooth sailing. People here are extremely helpful and kind, even when they don’t know what you’re saying because you don’t speak Twi. People here don’t want to cause you harm or take advantage of you monetarily. I did a lot of mental preparation before departing the US, which has made things like no running water, a bucket of water to bathe myself with, and little to no electricity all things that are okay with me. While it would be nice to get to wash my hands every once in a while, or have a light on while out at a restaurant, they are all things I prepared for. My very fashionable headlamp has already come in quite handy and I’ve only been here for 6 days.

Another factor that has made this transition easier is the wonderful volunteers I’m surrounded by, and the local employees of Projects Abroad. I live with four other volunteers from all over the world, but there is something extremely unifying about being surrounded by strangers with the same interests as you (volunteering and travel). They have quickly become family, and I am so happy to have this shared experience with them. In fact, I’m leaving in an hour for Cape Coast with four other volunteers- three of whom I met yesterday!

As for the work I’m doing here, it’s better than I ever would have imagined. Because Ghana is a developing country, it lacks a lot of corporate structure that complicates business in the US. Here, if a woman wants to sell fish, she goes to buy fish at the coast and then stands in the street and sells it. There’s no frivolous paperwork; people only need to want to make money badly enough to go and do it. It’s quite inspiring, and helps me to jump right into getting women loans for their businesses without any previous experience. I have so much freedom in this project to bring business and lifestyle ideas to women in villages, who quite literally live in mud huts and do hard physical labor while their children run around naked.

This week I have visited two different rural villages (Akokoa and Kwamoso) where we have group of women that have taken out loans with Projects Abroad. On my first day, I simply went to meet some of the women and introduce myself. I was also able to see where they live, should I need to come to their houses to talk or collect money. The next two days I got to dive head first into the project, attending and doing paperwork at each village’s meeting. The groups of loan beneficiaries in each village meet one day a week to make their 15 cedi per person repayment (approximately $4.50). They also have the option to save 2-5 cedi per week with us. Essentially that mean that we can operate as their savings accounts, taking their extra money each week and holding it for them until they complete their loan repayment. Once they complete their loan repayment, we return their saved money and the have extra money to put into their businesses or send their children to school. It’s a really simple and effective system.

Our game plan for this year is to have a beneficiary group in four different villages, meaning that while I am here we will be establishing two new groups in two new villages. We will be visiting each village one day of the week and then writing a weekly report to summarize what happened throughout the week every Friday.

I have actually just returned from the weekly report and now must pack for Cape Coast! Happy Friday everyone and please feel free to contact me on Facebook or WhatsApp if you want more information!

 

Pictures below are of Akokoa villages. The root vegetable pictured is called Cassava, and has many uses here in Ghana. The pictures at the end are of the “botanical gardens” here in Akuapem, and my sweet Italian friend Francesca posing with arguably the biggest tree (ever) (in my opinion). Akokoa villages + the botanical gardens (giant park full of trees) image image image image image image image image image image image

Unfathomable

Life as I know it

Life as I know it

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

The month of December has been a whirlwind. Everything is happening right before my eyes- six months of careful planning unfolding right in front of me. It feels strange to watch everything I’ve been working towards just happen. The notion that everything that is about to occur in my life is real is unfathomable to me. That being said, my work isn’t done yet. In the last 23 days, I have interviewed for Lumos, received my award, rushed the processes of getting all my important documents for international travel (plane tickets, visa, vaccinations, appropriate clothing, traveling supplies) taken five finals, packed up everything I own, moved out of my Nashville apartment for the semester, and landed on my feet at home in Tucson, AZ for winter break.

I like to live my life at a fast pace, which, incidentally, is in stark contrast to one of my main goals of “always just trying to lounge.” Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t love the idea of doing “nothing” with my spare time. The internal drive to be consistently on my toes and trying has lead me to some of the greatest adventures and times of growth in my life.

That said, this Lumos award comes at an amazing time in my journey through college. After spending this summer weighing my options for this school year, I decided that staying at home and working my old job wasn’t something I was interested in doing after this fall semester and before leaving to study abroad in March. Once that option was ruled out, I was on the hunt for a meaningful way to spend my extended three month winter break before journeying to Regensburg, Germany for a semester. And now here I am, four months later- after many hours of research, phone calls, and prayers- about to leave for Ghana, Africa on New Years Day. I’m still pinching myself in disbelief that this is all happening.

Despite my determination to go and see the world, if I’m being honest with myself, I can sum up my feelings about this next year through the quote at the top of this entry. “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt sure knew what she was talking about, because I certainly could never imagine for myself that I would receive a scholarship to go to Africa, to pursue a growing passion and learn hands on about microfinance. I also could never imagine myself taking the leap and willingly leaving my comfort zone for eight months, to have my life changed and my horizons broadened by going to Ghana and then Germany back-to-back. As I spend time preparing, both physically and mentally, for the challenges ahead, all I am sure of in these adventures is the necessity to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

In preparation for Ghana, I have found myself becoming more and more aware of my daily life and how it will be changing drastically in the next ten days. I’m not so great at imagining what living will actually be like in Akuapem Hills and I certainly can’t grasp the impact that being exposed to abject poverty will have on my heart and my life, so I’m making an effort to be conscious of what I already take for granted. Reliable hot water for showering, the ready availability of everything I want and need, and the ease of which I can get around and communicate with others are some of the privileges I’m becoming more aware of.

As I kick my gears into high speed this next week, getting in as much quality time with people at home and simultaneously making sure I have everything I need for the journey ahead, it is my trust that God has carefully planned for these experiences in my life that will keep thoughts of panic and reconsideration at bay. I am still so amazed that I was chosen by the Lumos foundation and freely given the chance to pursue my dreams, and I’m so excited for all of the learning and growth that I’m about to experience these next two months.