I began my experience in Kwabenya, Ghana eager, excited, and more curious than ever; this being my first time out of the country I had no idea what to expect. I knew I wanted to help people and to change the lives of children who didn't have the privileges I was so lucky to grow up with. What I didn't realize was that they would change my life forever.
Everyday I taught 20-30 children, 4-6 years of age, I grew immensely,as I taught them, they also taught me. Although the many differences in teaching styles were at times extremely painful to witness; the corporal punishment specifically, I learned to think outside of all I had ever known and not only understand their culture, but respect it. Within the small, enclosed, dimly lit structure that was Uniqueen Academy, I spent day after day teaching everything from Math to English, and with every moment that passed, I grew closer to each child, to the "Aunties", to the culture and life in Ghana, and to who I really am. I gained the security and confidence to command the attention of a (admittedly wild, at times) classroom of children, whose wide, eager eyes never seemed to dull from the monotony that can be school. At first, some of the children would run away from me screaming in fear of seeing an "Ubroni" (white person) for the first time. Within one month, those same children would claw at my legs, begging to be lifted into my arms. The feeling of love was unlike any other I have ever experienced; it was unadulterated, pure, honest and true.
I was surrounded by love, and on this journey to find myself, I happened to find my other half as well. I met John in Ghana, doing the same volunteer program, living just down the road. The connection we shared was evident from the very first night we met. We spoke for hours upon hours-it was as though we had known each other for years. From that day on, it was clear that fate had taken over. We spent everyday in an offbeat fairytale, consumed with the love for one another and our mutual desire to help others. The other volunteers assumed we had been together for years, and we beamed with the notion that we would be. John was only to stay in Ghana for 2 months, however, our love was(and continues to be) so strong, that within a week of his teary eyed departure, he called me and informed me that life was too hard without me, without our love, and that he would be back. He spent my final 2 months with me in Ghana with my host family, who became so much more to us. We found ourselves, we found a family whom we cherish and keep in touch with to this day, and we found each other. We are still together, he has spent 3 months in America, and I will travel to England to meet his family in 10 days. We are currently trying to get him a work visa so he can reside in America with me, and we can truly begin our life together. Some may find this crazy, but we know our love is stronger than most, formed in the most bizarre of situations, and we plan to marry and have children of our own.
Not only did I teach and learn from experiences in the classroom and with John, but I did whilst traveling as well. Being there for 6 months, I saw many volunteers come and go and was able to travel to various different areas of the beautiful country that is Ghana. I had the ability to see some of the original slave castles, where slaves had been held whilst in limbo between being sold and shipped to Britain. The tour was extremely sad and eye opening, but an amazing thing to witness and an unforgettable lesson in history. The beaches, although often covered in trash, were breathtakingly beautiful, the water lacked the murky pollution we see in western oceans.
One trip, to the east, stands out as the single most terrifying yet gratifying experience in my life. Along with 3 other volunteers, I ventured up Mount Karobo (following the Bradt guidebook) and stood satisfied at the top of one of the many ridges. After some time passed, we made our way down, only to find it obscured, we hiked up and attempted down again. We eventually became so incredibly lost-we ended up on a completely different mountain. By the time of this realization, we had been out of water and food for 2 hours, in the peak of heat with the sun blaring down on us. One of my fellow volunteers had begun to vomit from dehydration, and as we continued to try our way down, traversing as best we could, we were only to be thwarted by nothing but cliffs with sheer drops. We needed rest. Soaked in sweat,ash, dirt, tears and blood from the tangled prickly vines (acting as booby traps, wrapping around our ankles mercilessly) that covered the mountains floor, we found shelter from the unbearable sun underneath a large rock. There we sat, delirious and scared, we opened our knapsacks (having been traveling, we had everything with us) and tried to find someway to get moisture in our painfully dry mouths. We sucked on toothpaste, chewed leaves and ripped open anything that could possibly retain moisture. I called my mother for help, and perhaps to say goodbye. Another volunteer called the local police. The police responded to our predicament with a nonchalant attitude, saying nothing more than "try to get down" they refused to even wait at the bottom of the mountain with water for us. There is no air rescue, and when my phone rang with a call from the US Embassy (my families last hope) we cried with joy thinking we had been saved. We were wrong, the US embassy could do nothing for us but give us advice on the proper way to get down; "pace yourself, traverse, stay calm." Wiping tears from our eyes, we pushed forward. The sun was going down and we needed light to find the road hidden beneath us. We headed upwards, to find the view from which was once familiar, the safety of seeing the road, although high as we were, was an achievement in and of itself. We glared from miles high and made the decision that although we were staring at a nearly 90 degree angle, we had to get down, and this was our only option. We stepped sideways, we slid on our bottoms, our backs, anyway we could think of to reach the safety taunting us from below, we did. I will never forget the feeling of my feet hitting flat ground. The half a mile across a field to the road took seconds, the adrenaline pumping through our veins disguised our aching legs, our stinging cuts, and our blinded, dust covered eyes. Throwing myself at a passing car was something I never expected to do, but as a white pickup truck appeared through the mist, I did exactly that, and begged in broken english and Twi (the most common dialogue in Ghana) for water, for a ride to anywhere with it. The man blinked with confusion and repeated, "water?" whilst passing us the 2 bottles he happened to have with him. Water hitting our dried throats and cracked lips held the same satisfaction of a Thanksgiving feast. We were dropped off on the roadside where women were selling mango's and saches of water, we cried and embraced one another. Our weakness was obvious as our limp bodies approached the women, they were immediately aware we were in need of help, sat us down, fed us mango and gave us sache after sache of water. After 6 hours with nothing to hydrate, we had more than our bodies could handle. I will never forget that day, the longest day of my life, i had beaten death which had seemed nothing less than imminent. We all had. The bond formed between the four of us is something most people will never understand. We are different people because of it, and we are forever grateful to have our lives.