Discovering the rhythm of Ghana

By Eli VanDuzer

My life in Canada keeps time with the beat of a frantic and noisy drum – it soars and dips but never stops. In Africa, people’s lives dance to a drum that is slow, deliberate, sometimes laborious but more full of life than I can put into words. My trip to Ghana this May was nothing like what I expected it to be, and everything I did not know I wanted it to be.

Young Josh is the boy on Eli’s shoulders while Mousey is the boy smiling for the camera at the bottom right corner. Photo by Jeremy Vandal-Roy.

Young Josh is the boy on Eli’s shoulders while Mousey is the boy smiling for the camera at the bottom right corner.
Photo by Jeremy Vandal-Roy.

The people were what struck me most – the people and their refreshing approach to life. I had an unforgettable trip and it gave me a new-found appreciation for the blessings in my life, everything from my family and friends to material things like a toilet and clean, accessible water. It was not until I got home, though, that I realized my life had been impacted in more important ways.

I went on a trip organized by International Volunteer Headquarters to help out with sports education. As the plane approached Accra, I remember gazing out my window and noticing how red and vibrant the land looked. Along with 20 other wide-eyed volunteers, I was met at the airport by a local staff member named Benedict. He greeted everyone with a strong handshake and warm smile that immediately put us at ease – a feeling I grew accustomed to when meeting most locals.

On the way to the volunteer house, while confronted by the oppressive heat, I was overwhelmed by the neighbourhoods we were driving through. Slums – I had thought I understood the word from pictures and descriptions, but nothing prepares you for actually seeing miles of homes cobbled together from any material available: tin, mud, tires, anything. I was not emotionally prepared for that first car ride.

We drove two-and-a-half hours north of Accra to the small rural village where I was to be stationed. Called Frankadua, it is home to
just over two thousand people. Within three days, everyone knew my name.

Frankadua showed me life in a raw and poverty-stricken form that I was naïve enough to believe was rare in the world. However, through every rock of hardship shone a light of hope, love and friendship. I was constantly surprised at how appreciative everyone was, especially the children. In Canada, most kids would be wary of foreign volunteers who come and, after a short stay, go. These kids, however, would really get to know you and genuinely cared for your company. Their love of life and everyone that surrounded them was so untainted and recklessly real that it took me more then a week to fully believe that it was genuine.

My experiences are too numerous to describe here, but I would like to share what happened the first time I was caught in the rain in Africa. I was playing soccer with two orphans, Mousey and Josh, who lived in the school beside the volunteers’ quarters. When we felt the first drops, I looked up and smiled. It had been hovering around 40 degrees Celsius for the past few days and I was looking forward to a break. When I looked down, it was like everyone had heard a gun shot – everyone was running for cover! Or so I thought. As I ran inside with everyone, it become clear we had different intentions. All the locals were grabbing every item in the house that could carry even the smallest amount of water and running outside to catch the run-off from the roofs. Every last drop of water was sacred. Mousey, Josh and I spent the next half hour dumping the filled containers into the large jugs of water each family kept in front of their home to store their water. Soon we were running around singing and shrieking in the pouring rain and the bright red mud. We really let loose – it was so much fun.

In Western culture there is such an emphasis on rigidly scheduling time to maximize efficiency. Before my trip, I bought wholeheartedly into this ideology and felt that was the way people should live. Now I understand that the rhythm of a society is a learned phenomenon, and that there is merit in a slower rhythm of life focused on small bits of joy in everyday things.

I could write a novel on my experiences in Africa, but I hope this small excerpt of my trip gives someone that little push they need to
get involved in a program like the one I lived. You will be blown away by the strength and kindness that can be found in some of the
most difficult places to live in the world.

Eli VanDuzer, a former student at Glebe Collegiate, is a second-year kinesiology student at the University of Western Ontario. He plans to support one of the children and hopes to raise awareness about the importance of exchange programs.

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