“Akwaaba”: Being Welcomed at a Homestay in Ghana
by Jane Sharpe
My first impressions of Ghana were 1. The wave of the heat when getting off the plane, after leaving a country that had known nothing worth calling summer that year; 2. The noise and apparent chaos; 3. the overwhelming hospitality of all the Ghanaians I met, from the Immigration Officers to the taxi drivers, to my homestay with my host family.
I soon got used to the heat, I warmed instantly to the locals, made many friends, and relaxed into the Ghanaian way of life. I have never felt so safe as a lone female in a capital city as in Accra. However, as a white person, I really looked out of place, and attracted attention wherever I went, especially in the rural areas. This sometimes became tiresome if I wanted to be on my own for awhile.
I came to Ghana to learn about African culture and to experience a different way of life. I thought that doing voluntary work and staying with a family would be the best means of achieving these goals, rather than just being a tourist.
The “Save the Earth Network” met my needs by providing me with a friendly family, home from home, and two different work placements: a few weeks teaching in a foster home and a week in a village on a work camp to build a school.
I also spent a week traveling around central and southern Ghana with friends I made out whilst I was there.
Living in a family was fascinating. Everything about daily life was different from England.
The food was cooked outside on a charcoal stove. The way parents and children interacted was respectful and hierarchical, similar to a few generations ago in England.
Sunrise and sunset determined people’s sleeping patterns. I soon got used to waking up at 5:30 am every day. In Africa, the sun sets very fast. It’s almost like a light going off. Dusk does not exist.
Ghanaian food took some getting used to, but after I week or so I loved it. The vegetables and fruit are deliciously fresh, and sometimes hours are spent in preparing meals. There are many dough-like dishes (e.g.. banku and fufu), spicy fish stews, and sometimes chicken or goat.
At the foster home, there were two outdoor classrooms where I tried to teach between 20 and 30 children of primary school age who had an attention span of about two minutes. I used songs and games, pictures and actions, but it was very difficult to even get them to be quiet. When the school holidays started, we had more informal activities, and I took my flute to play along with their drums. The children were adorable.
The important thing was to give them love and attention.
My week in the village was a very different experience altogether. There was no electricity, people lived in mud huts, they got their water from the ground, they cooked on open fires, and there were animals everywhere. The village was called Timber Nkwanta, named after the junction where they collected timber felled from the surrounding hills. It was a beautiful place. I especially liked looking at the stars and the fireflies at night.
Homestay More Rest than Work
I went to the work camp expecting to work. However, there was more rest than work because the villagers were not ready, because it was Sunday because people were not feeling well, because we’d run out of materials, etc. I was glad to have time to relax but was also glad I had a radio, a book, and my diary.
It was interesting to meet the chief of the village, who explained to me about the future plans for the area. He was hoping to get funding for solar power for the whole village, and he had just been on a training course to start an HIV and AIDS prevention campaign. When we did eventually work, I learned a few skills in bricklaying. I think the men were reluctant to let a girl, especially a white girl, do manual work, but they let me have a go at everything, from mixing the concrete to using the trowel on the wall. It was good fun.
One night after work, we walked for an hour down to the nearest drinking spot at the junction. There was a disco going on under the palm leaf shelters. It seemed like everyone there wanted me to dance with them. They wanted to make me feel welcome and to see how white people danced.
Clement on the Scene
After I’d got back from the work camp, a guy I knew from the foster home called Clement offered to take me traveling. In fact, there were many people who wanted to take me to their hometown or to see their parents. Clement and I stayed at his university, where I had a room in the halls of residence. It was great to have a chance to meet many people my age and to find out about their way of life.
I think Ghanaian students take their studies a lot more seriously than British ones, and they drink much less! Other places I visited were Kakum National Park (rainforest), Cape Coast, where I learned about the history of the slave trade, and Kumasi, which has the largest market in West Africa.
Now that I’m home, I’m missing the Ghanaian people: the way they held my hand whilst they’re talking to me; the way they called me “sister”, or Ama – my Ghanaian name; their hospitality and their laughter. I’m also missing the slower, uncomplicated pace of life and am craving fresh food. I would recommend Ghana to anyone interested in going to Africa. Go for as long as possible, as the cultural differences take much time to unravel. Even after 6 weeks, I found that I was only understanding things at a superficial level, and there were many more layers than I was oblivious to.
Jane Sharpe is a volunteer who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK