Clonmel student Niamh Allen, who is on six months work experience in Ghana, volunteering as part of her Media and English degree with the University of Limerick, continues her occasional series on life in the West African country.
With time in Ghana flying by so quickly it is hard to imagine going back to ‘normal’ life in July when I return home. As expected with any student or person living abroad for the first time, contact with home brings up constant questions such as ‘How I am getting on?’ What has been my biggest challenge and what am I missing the most from home?’
However, trying to describe life in Ghana to its full potential is impossible. It’s a place you have to see, smell and taste to understand. I often find myself saying ‘nothing exciting’, ‘ same old same old’ or the typical ‘it’s grand’. But, how is life in West Africa able to be just ‘grand’? I have fallen into an African routine now. Each day is still as exciting as the first and must be taken one day at a time, but there is routine. Routine is simply human nature, right? People enjoy knowing what’s coming next, planning ahead and repeating the same actions multiple times.
The routine is simple. There is no need for an alarm clock in this country, the cockerels, goats and local hustle and bustle from the village begins around 6.30a.m. and if you get to sleep on until 7.00a.m. you are lucky.
Hoping into a car or onto a bus has changed to a short 4km bike ride where I must cycle through three other villages, racing the children who run after my bike and greeting the locals who continue to shout after me in “fanti,” the regional language which is spoken here, only to be playfully laughed at when I respond in the few words I’ve learned in the last 4 months.
Morning work involves teaching a sixteen year old boy a range of subjects to prepare him for going back to school after two years in hospital with leprosy and teaching an older woman with seven children, including quads, who spent her life until recently selling fish up and down the Ghanaian and Ivory coast, basic English. While there are plenty of schools around, learning still appears to be a luxury. Until Ghana I’ve never heard of a child looking for extra homework at eight o’clock at night but it’s become a frequent occurrence now.
Returning home for a quick Ghanaian lunch gives fuel for the longer 7km bike ride to the leprosy community in the evening. Until I arrived in Ghana leprosy to me, and to most people I am sure, was just a story in the bible we learned in primary school.
However, leprosy is nothing like that, the patients are not ‘unclean’. The leprosy community known as ‘camp’ by the residents is full of life and generations of families just needing a little extra support. Listening to stories that come from the elders is like hearing dramatic and controversial film scripts with men and woman who were shunned or left from their original communities due to leprosy or people who believe evil spirits made them sick.
Evening routines have stopped meaning a night in watching ‘Desperate Housewives’. Now, it’s all about entertaining the children that live around us, playing cards, skipping rope and storybooks are all it takes. The simple pleasures are still clearly in style over here. Then it is in bed under the mosquito net by ten o’clock. Ghanaians like to party in the day not night.
Even though work never feels like work here, the weekend routine still means relaxing and taking a break from the chaos and noise constantly around you. Whether you trek down the beaches, hike to the waterfalls, spend time haggling in the markets, trying to find your drumming rhythm or in my case, still searching, the weekends are for taking in as much as possible before we leave.
Life here, like at home, is routine. So, now when people ask ‘how life in Ghana is’ the answer is easier, Ghana is home (at least for two more months).