A Travellerspoint blog

21st to the 25th of July (by Emily)

sunny 35 °C

Here we are again!

21st of July - We are ready at 6am to leave back to Denu when Simon reveals another problem that the little shabby car faces: the driver's door won't open anymore and chances are great that the other doors will follow soon. Not wanting to risk getting stuck in the car through out our journey, we frantically try to find a car repair area that can do the job before opening time at 8am.

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After much searching, we finally find someone willing to do the job and we set off after about an hour's wait. Instead of the usual bread and vegetable omelet breakfast on the roadside, Simon wants us to try the Ghanaian porridge made in Accra. The porridge we know back in Europe is called "oats" and we have tried many styles of "porridges" at home. This one, however, is a thick concoction and the first meal in Ghana that I truly dislike. Luckily it comes with little pasties called "Koose" that are made off grinded beans. Then we finally set off. I can hardly keep my eyes open and fall asleep for a while. When I wake up, I realise Simon has parked the car somewhere along the road so that he too can rest his eyes. Traveling in the hot Ghanaian sun is definitely tiring! But after our little snooze we are good to go. We stop at a town along the way so Simon can see some of his friends, which he hasn't seen in 12 years. Whoever Simon seems to meet, greets him with shrieks of joy and warm cuddles - a testament that he is a true friend to everyone. Back on the road, the car faces another obstacle: some truck had lost a huge nail (the size of a football) and on the dusty roads, we did not see it. So the poor car... drove over it with a loud 'BANG!'. It was terrifying, but luckily the damage was not as severe: the indicator-light of the car got swung across a field, leaving it with a small gap. Judging by the noise, it should have been a lot worse though! When we finally do get home in one piece, we get greeted with many "Are you back? We missed you!" shouts and Bless has made Ben some special plaintain-muffins, knowing how much he loves them. It's good to be home again!

22nd of July - Through the journey to Accra, I made the decision together with Ben and Simon to help them out on the Construction Site for the last couple of weeks as opposed to working at the Ebenezer School. This decision was based on my wish to help out as much as possible and even though the Headmaster had made me the promise to give me more to do, I felt that he was doing me a favour, as opposed to me helping him out. And that way, I will have divided my work into: 1 week and a half at the Ebenezer School and 1 week and a half at the Construction Site, which is the best of both world's, isn't it? So at 6.30am Ben and I both leave the house with a packed breakfast and as we set off to the site, we quickly get hushed back inside to meet a tailor named Ben. Mme Celestine had him come over to take our measurements to make some African clothing, as we had told her a couple of days earlier how much we liked her clothes. How exciting!

When we finally get to the site, the work is constant until we finish at 12pm, in time to be home before the weather becomes unbearable. The work consists of digging 1.5m holes to lay the first foundations of what will become the school, administration and accommodation building. Despite it being hard labour, it is also enjoyable as in Ghana everyone works at their own pace, taking regular and long breaks. And the other workers seem happy to get a helping hand from two hardworking "yavoos" ;) Exhausted, we go home and spend the remainder of the day with Portia (as Bless has gone to the Eastern Region for a couple of days) and have a great time. I'm really happy to have been of use today and look forward to tomorrow!

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23rd of July - Happy Birthday to me! ;) Not much time to stand still as we head straight to the construction site at 6am and get cracking. The digging is rather hard today as there is a strong wind that blows the sand straight back in and makes the walls cave in. But at least the temperature is bearable and we get a lot done. And we also get to help Charles a.k.a. Nigeriaman ('because I schooled in Nigeria') with making the concrete. We need 5 wheelbarrows of sand, 2 bags of cement, 4 wheelbarrows of gravel stones and finally 2 wheelbarrows of bigger stones. This concoction is then mixed thoroughly (and all by hand!) with water and tadaaa! The concrete is made! It's fun work and 'Nigeriaman' proves to be a real happy character.

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I was really looking forward to spending the rest of the day at the beach, but the weather proves too miserable and our backs and muscles are really aching from all the work. So instead we have a beach walk and spend some time watching the strong waves crash onto the sea shore.

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As we return, Portia has made us food and we spend a nice evening together. Ben is asked to teach Sandra some mathematics, which he really enjoys. So from this day onwards, he will meet her on the porch every evening and become Headmaster Ben! ;)

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Knowing how much I have been craving watermelon all day, Simon shows up late at night with... yes, a watermelon! That was possibly the best birthday gift! :) All in all, my birthday wasn't memorable in the sense of their being a big party with many presents and food. But it was memorable in that I got to spend it with Ben for the very first time in four years and that it was in Ghana. I couldn't ask for more! :)

24th of July - no plans for the weekend means we go and inspect the work that has been done at the Construction Site and take our time to understand the magnitude of the project. We should have left at 9.30am, but since we are on African time, we have time to do a wash of clothes and watch an episode with everyone of "The Legend of the Seeker". Everyone has seen the series many times before and they love it! Watching a movie with Ghanaians is a true experience in itself: they shout out at the characters, laugh, pray at bad moments and make it all the more exciting for Ben and I.
The reason behind Simon's late arrival is caused by another problem with the shabby car: he has lost the keys. So in his quest he somehow managed to borrow someone else's car-keys which magically fit! Though they cannot lock the car... so after we visit the Construction Site, we drive to a place to have the key hole taken out, then take a taxi to a different place to have a new key cut out. And being in Africa, everything is possible! ;) When all is done and Simon can drive and lock the car again, we have lunch and stop somewhere to have both men's hair cut (or "cropped" as they say here) by possibly the coolest looking barber in Ghana. And he did a good job too!

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Back home, Bless teaches us how to make Akplé and we watch another 5 episodes with the family and head to bed exhausted but happy :)

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25th of July - Breakfast is interrupted by the arrival of the tailor with our custom-made Ghanaian outfits: a long slit skirt with top for me and a matching shirt for Ben! As we are asked to try them on for the first time, we are worried we might not like them, but our worries melt away as soon as we put them on: they are beautiful! We are so happy with them! We want to pay the tailor, when Celestine tells us it is a present from her. And what better present can you get from your host-mother? We decide to have a long photoshoot to show off our beautiful attire:

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We decide to wear them to church, much to the happiness of the locals, who are proud to walk with us. We get stopped everywhere and end up arriving a little late at the Lighthouse Chapel International Church. The service is great as always, with much singing, dancing, shouting and preaching. On our way back home, Bless takes us to meet her mother Peace and her sister Rejoice at their house. (Aren't those the most wonderful names?)
After some fried plantain for lunch (yummie!) we join Bless to the weekly market. Despite it being deemed a small market, we are relieved Bless is there to show us the way along the crowded and higgledy-piggledy streets with screaming market vendors. You can get about everything there and we buy a recipe book so that we can try to recreate some of the delicious meals we have had here. Ben can't stop himself from buying a big loaf of the local 'sugar-bread' - a true delicacy ;) Simon comes to pick us up to go and visit some of the other host-families and as we come back home we cook food together with the family as always and browse through the pictures we have 'snapped' so far, followed by another couple of episodes of 'Legend of the Seeker'.

And that's the end of yet another wonderful week in Ghana! We love it here! :)

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Posted by Fat Face 06:00 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

The project

sunny 30 °C

When we were coming to Ghana to volunteer, we both knew exactly what we would be doing here.
Emilie would be teaching at the Ebenezer school, and I would be working on a construction site, where an orphanage is being built.

When we arrived, Simon showed us round the construction site, explaining to us what the buildings were for, and what would be there when the construction was finished. We both realized what a huge project it was that we were becoming a part of.

Unlike a regular orphanage, the children will stay in an apartment with a foster parent, or a foster couple. The idea is that instead of having workers look after the children, the foster parent(s) live with 8 children, sleeping in the apartment with them, eating with them, and doing everything that a normal parent would with their children, which will mean that the children will have a parent figure to bond with.
This will also create employment for the foster parents, who will be given an allowance, along with the food and housing that they will receive as part of the job. The parents are given a 5 year contract, which is enough time for the children to really connect with them, but if they do not live up to the standards of the job, then they can be replaced.

When we arrived there were already 2 partially completed buildings, each with 5 apartments, so there are a total of 40 orphans per building.
In between these, there will be another building where there will be a computer centre. IT training in Ghana is not often given as part of schooling, and any computer skills that the children have will put them at a huge advantage.
Also, in this communal building is where the laundry will be done, and food made, but the children will eat together outside so that there is more of a community feel to where they live.

As well as these buildings, which will be the living space, there will also be a school attached, so that the children will have access to good quality education, free of charge.
In the school, there will be the children living at the orphanage, and also children from wealthier families that pay for their education. This will mean that the children from the orphanage can mix with children from different backgrounds, so both sets of children can be exposed to each other.
The school will have 3 floors, with the top floor used as a living space for the teachers, and the volunteers.

This school is what Emilie and I have been helping to construct.
At first, only I was working at the site, and I spent a lot of time helping to make the blocks that will be part of the foundations. I helped to mix the sand and cement, and fetch the water needed for the mixture.

There was a lot that we could help with, so after our first week working in Ghana we decided that Emilie would come to help as well.

As the building will be tall, and is built in sand, the foundations consist of large concrete blocks measuring 4ft x 4ft x 4ft (about 1.2m x 1.2m x 1.2m). These are laid deep into the ground, so Emilie and I spent quite a long time digging some very large holes into the ground. These are usually so deep that when Emilie stands in them, she is entirely submerged and trying to get out is quite a challenge.
The mortar is then poured into a wooden box laid in the hole, and it surrounds the metal poles that form the supports. The small blocks that we helped to make will connect the large 4ft blocks to complete the foundations of the building.

This is as far as we have got with the construction, and tomorrow (Friday the 30th) will be our last day of work before we begin traveling around Ghana for the last week of our stay.

Posted by Fat Face 04:55 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

19th and 20th of July (by Emilie)

sunny

19th of July: Today I finally gather my courage and tell the Headmaster about my issue regarding wasting so much time. I am afraid he will be dissapointed or embarrassed, but he confesses that the reason I have done such little work last week is because he is afraid to over-work me. And he clearly means it when he says he will make improvements as I get to teach five classes as opposed to the usual two classes. I am exhausted at the end of it, but happy that the matter is at last resolved. And even happier when I get given the sweetest letter by one of my pupils, Shine. In the letter, Shine tells me she enjoys my classes and wants me to become her 'school-mother' so that I can be a role-model to her. I am really touched and am going to write her something back as soon as I get back. But at home, Simon tells us he has to go to Accra all of tomorrow and so we join him again, leaving in the evening. Unfortunately the shabby little car is broken yet again, but it is not a big deal as it means we can have food with the family and set off the next morning.

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20th of July: 5am and we set off to Accra. We stop at exactly the same roadside stall to have breakfast as we did on the 10th and the woman seems very happy when she recognises us. Then we go to have the car fixed (yet again), which takes a couple of hours. We have lunch while we wait, a delicious dish called RedRed with beans and plantain cooked in red palm-oil. Then we head to meet a father and his 6 year old son Emmanuel. The little boy was at the school in Accra where one of the volunteers worked last year and she fell in love with the kid's intelligence and loving character. She therefore has decided to (temporarily) adopt little Emmanuel, so he can have a better education in America. Then, he can go back to Ghana to be with his parents if he wishes. Until the documents are completed, she has asked Simon to send Emmanuel to the best possible school in Accra until he moves to America. So, that is where we go to register him. I can immediately understand why the volunteer loved Emmanuel as he is the cutest boy I have ever met. But it is still emotional to see how the father will have to give up his son and only see him once a year... Then we head to the Salvation Army Hostel and stay the night.

Posted by Fat Face 09:34 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (4)

13th to the 18th of July (by Emilie)

End of week 1

sunny 35 °C

13th of July: First day at the Ebenezer school! Bless and Ben both escort me. School starts at 7.30am with what they call 'devotion', which is mainly singing in praise of the Lord. I'm not too sure what to do, so I just watch outside on the porch until the Headmaster comes to get me. It was a rather unexpected emotional happening, as while I was waiting, I witnessed a couple of the school-children receive several lashes of the cane on their fingers. My first reaction is too run home, but I decide to wait for an explanation of the Headmaster. The lashings with the cane have been imposed by the Educational branch of the government almost everywhere in Africa. It is used as a form of discipline, authority and as an imposition of responsibility to ensure every child comes to school on time, does his homework and pays attention. This is confirmed by every Ghanaian I have met so far. Many parents prefer their children to work with them on the farms or on the markets as opposed to going to school. Because of the cane being introduced, the parents see that their actions have consequences on their children and this ensures that they send their children to school every day. And as many of the people in Africa say, the 'buttocks'/ bum is connected to the brain and so if the children don't get beaten, the information cannot be processed ;) I don't like it at all and will never use it on the children, but it is as Simon says: "you can change a person, but you can never change a culture". And so far, everyone I have spoken to addressing the cane-lashings has told me that it is only used when necessary and that without it, they would never listen to and respect the teachers. Luckily I have not seen any 'lashings' since then, so the children must have been behaving well :)

The rest of the day is nicer: I teach my first class and get a right shock when I hear a loud noise of all the children standing up and simultaneously saying: "You are welcome, Madame! God bless you, Madame! Live long, Madame!" to which I usually sheepishly reply: "eh... thank you". The Headmaster (Julius Tournier) wants me to do as much oral comprehension as possible, so the two classes I teach involved reading a passage out loud and asking them questions about it. The children are incredibly kind, respectful and loving. When they see me standing, someone always comes over to bring me a chair ("because you back will ache, Madame!") and they always make sure I am alright. I really enjoy it. I however realise that even though I am at the school until 2pm, I only teach two classes, so there is a lot of time wasted sitting around in the Headmaster's house with his wife and son Stefano. They serve me huge dishes and watch TV with me. It's definitely something I want to see changed as I want to help out as much as possible.

Bless and Ben come to pick me up and we immediately want to tell each other how our first day went, until Simon awaits us at the house to tell us he needs to go to Accra right away and would love it if we joined him. Not wanting to miss out on an adventure with Simon, we decide to join him. We arrive around 7.30pm, having stopped for an hour to have the tires changed. How this is done? You stop along a busy road, scream: "new tires", buy them and enter a place to have a young boy change them for you. He must not have been older than 12 years old, but did a marvelous job of it nonetheless.

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In Accra we have fried rice with Chicken and then we head over to the Salvation Army Hostel to go to sleep. No sign of Captain Ecku, which is a real dissapointment, but we are too tired to think about it for long.

14th July 2010: Longest day ever! Or at least it really seemed like it... We set off from Accra at 5.30am and get to Denu 3 hours later, where we have some quick roadside breakfast before I head to school. There, I do some oral comprehension exercise with one of the classes and despite having had breakfast (or 'tea' as they call it), I get served a huge portion of food in the Headmaster's house again. He tells me he needs to take care of some business in Denu and the neighbouring border-town Aflao, so the rest of the day is spent accompanying him to several places until 4pm. I am absolutely exhausted at the end of it! Around 5pm, Simon and Ben collect me, as Simon wants us to meet some of the other volunteers that work in a nearby orphanage. We collect two German volunteers along the way: Dennis, who works with Ben at the construction site and Julia, whom I have mentioned before. The orphanage is about a 30min drive away and hosts around 12 volunteers. It's nice to meet them, but mostly Ben and I feel relieved that it's just the two of us at Mme Celestine's house, as they are noisy and rather annoying and seem not have experienced anything of the Ghanaian culture and food. Oh how they have missed out! So, even though it wasn't really nice, it did teach us that we are very lucky to have such a loving host-family and that in less than a week we have already experienced so much! Back home, we have a lovely dinner together with Simon and Bless - she's a wonderful cook - and then we finally go to bed.... Zzzzzz.

15th of July: Today we take it easier and we enjoy making breakfast with Bless. She must think we are starving as she always makes us the biggest possible meals and says: "eat all!" It's nice to be able to speak a couple of words of Ewe to tell her that the food is "evivi n'to", meaning 'delicious'. It is THE sentence to conquer a Ghanaian's heart ;) School is also very nice today, although I realise there isn't much of a shedule amd that long hours are spent waiting in the Headmaster's house. I therefore ask them if I can just head home early then, and have also mastered saying 'no' to the humongous lunches I get served by them. Not that the food isn't nice, but they always serve it to me in the morning, only a few hours after having had my breakfast. So, it's better to avoid forcing food down and having an upset stomach and have lunch at home. At first the Headmaster is rather worried about me kindly declining his food, but then he tells me it's probably because I am a "Yavoo" and therefore not strong enough for the African weather yet. I'm not sure that is the reason, but it helps to avoid getting food forced in me, so I just nod in agreement ;) As I walk home past the classroom with the youngest children, they beg me to teach them, so I pick up a book and teach them some words. I doubt that in their excitement and "yavoo! yavoo!" - chanting they learnt anything, but the teachers seem very pleased.
I am welcomed home by some of the women of the compound. We somehow talk about hair and when I tell them I just had my hair cut before coming over to help me bear the heat, they all look at me with anger and dissapointed looks: "Do you know that women here suffer to have long beautiful hair?!" they tell me, and they go on to tell me about how their hair grows very slow because of the heat and they therefore need to wear extensions every time. Having beautiful long(ish) hair is indeed very important: wherever we walk there seem to be a dozen hair salons and none of them seem to ever be empty. Women will give up everything as long as their hair looks nice. We quickly change topics and discuss where Ben and I live. They are even more shocked when I show them my tiny map of the world and they see how incredibly small Luxembourg is. When we are finished talking, Portia shows me and helps me wash my clothes. African style, i.e.: by hand and in several buckets. I really enjoy it and we have a great time. When that is at last done, Bless takes me to grind the maize after we have sieved and washed it. She gives me a box which she wants me to wear on my head, "but don't let go, because you are "yavoo" and you will drop it!" Thank you for your vote of confidence, Bless! ;) But she is quite right as I have nowhere near mastered carrying things on my head yet. The whole village comes to laugh at me when we walk past.
That evening we were supposed to go out for dinner with some of the volunteers we met the other day, but Simon calls to tell us he is stuck in Togo and we will therefore have to postpone it until tomorrow. As he always leaves it quite late to tell us of his plans, Julia and Dennis have already told their host-families that they should not cook for them, so they come over for dinner at ours. Ben, Bless, Portia and I make the meal and it is yet again delicious! We have a lovely evening and even Simon joins us for a moment to tell us about the whole Togo-adventure. A nice end to a very nice day!

16th of July: The day at school seems like an absolute waste of time today: I arrive at 8am, but don't start teaching until 12:45, so I keep myself busy with a 'storybook' that lies around in the Headmaster's house. Stefano sees I am rather bored and makes me read some Greek myths in one of his many books, which turns out to be a blessing in disguise. When the Headmaster finally comes to get me, he asks me if I like stories and if I could please tell the children a story today, for oral comprehension purposes. I know many stories, but am guessing that he is looking for an academic story with a morale, so I luckily think of the Greek myths and decide to tell the story of Daedalus & Icarus. The children and especially the teachers that are listening along love it and so I get asked to repeat the whole story to another class. So in the end the day wasn't entirely wasted. Nevertheless I address my concern over wasting so much time to Simon and he tells me to have a meeting and discuss it with the Headmaster next week. Hopefully something can be done about it as I can easily have used all of my energy to help Ben and Dennis out on the construction site, especially with Ben not having felt that great today. Luckily my stash of medicine made him feel better soon and he is happy to come along to the dinner in the evening with some of the volunteers.

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It turns out to be a nicer evening than I expected, but I am happy when we can go home to sleep as the weekend will be an exciting one!

17th of July: Alarm set for 3.30am and we are picked up by an energetic Simon and exhausted Julia and Dennis at 4am. Destination: Agmatsu/ Wli Falls in the Volta Region.

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We stop at a big city named Hohoe for breakfast and then arrive around 9am at the waterfalls. We arrive a little too early, so we take some pictures of some curious little local children and Simon makes us pose for some pictures for the STAESA website. It turns out great fun!

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To get to the waterfalls is quite hard work. First, there is a 45min treck through the jungle with our guide Charles until we reach the lower falls.

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I really want to go all the way to the upper falls, but due to it being the rainy season, it is too dangerous. My dissapointment dissapears as soon as we arrive: surrounded by beautiful forests in the middle of the junction, the waterfalls seem to fall out of no-where. It is truly stunning and we are all upset when we realise we forgot to bring along our swimming costumes to have a dip. So, Ben and I walk up as far as possible to snap some pictures. We remain there in silence for quite a while and we all love it.

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Unfortunately we have to go back as Julia and Dennis need to be at Hohoe again around midday to start their two weeks of travels around Ghana. We continue with Simon to his birth-town, Kpandu where we meet his mother, his sister and many of his friends. I have never seen so much excitement and happiness when people see Simon, he truly knows how to infect everyone with joy! :) On our way back home, we stop at the capital of the Volta Region: Ho and have food at the same restaurant that we went to last Saturday. Then we drive straight home and straight to bed. What a beautiful day!

18th of July: Ben and I leave the house at 9.30am with an excited Portia and Bless. We are joining them to their church and they are eager to have us experience a religious service the African way. This includes about anything: loud singing, dancing, shouting etc. The energy is amazing and we have a wonderful time. People love church because it is a real form of expression in whatever possible way. The singing is accompanied by drums, percussion, keyboards and loads of people blaring the lyrics in the microphones. Then, the preacher starts his monologue and Ben and I are surprised to see everyone writing things down in their notebooks. Then, someone performs a sketch from a scene in the bible followed by the christening of a newborn child of one of the people. During this short ceremony, the family reveals to everyone for the first time the name of their child. This includes a christian name, an Ewe name, the name of the day she is born in Ewe and of course her family name. Plenty to chose from when she grows up! After church we are greeted by everyone and we have a refreshing FanYogo, until we go home.

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Ben, not having been present when Portia and I had washed some clothes, decides he wants to have a go and to the amusement of the residents of the compound, who make many pictures with my camera.

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I also attempt to carry a huge pot on my head, the African way, which creates even more amusement amongst the family. Have a look at my attempts and some pictures we took of the host-family:

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When it is done, we decide to go to the beach with Bless and her cousin Nat. On the beach, the locals take in a huge batch of fresh fish from the sea.

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The waves are extremely strong, but it seems safe enough, so Ben and I immediately dive in followed by Nat. He is one of the few people that can swim as he used to be a fisherman. Bless waits on the beach, waving frantically and trying to make some pictures of us. It is a lovely long swim, despite it using up all of our energy.

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Swimming is easy, but getting back in, or back out of the sea is another thing due to the strong currents trying to throw you back. But everything happens without incidents and we go back home after a few hours, to the obvious dissapointment of the watching people. Seeing a yavoo take on the ocean isn't an everyday experience. Back home we are awaited by happy Simon with whome we spend the rest of the evening.

So, as you can see we have had an amazing first week. We are still enjoying ourselves every minute of the day, so please keep checking the blog for the next update. Hope you are well and happy,
much love, Emilie xxxx

Posted by Fat Face 09:32 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (2)

African Alarm Clock

Today we were woken up by people singing in the church. This happens almost every day, because the people here in Ghana wake up so early, and it just so happens that we have possibly the largest church in Africa next door to us.
Singing often starts as early as 5am, but today it was at 4.
Sometimes though, it is not the people in the church that wake us up by singing, but the people that are in the field next to us. They also start very early, to avoid the heat of the midday sun, and sing together when they are working, letting out a big cheer when they are finished.
It's much nicer than being woken up by an alarm clock, so I am considering trying to fit some of them in my suitcase to take back to Glasgow with me, and often even though it is very early I am wide awake and don't need to go back to sleep afterward. If somebody had told me before I left that I would be waking up by 5am every day, I would have been very worried, but now that I am here it is easy to get used to.

Posted by Fat Face 08:32 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

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