Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out of Place

When we got off the boat I instantly got a bad feeling. It didn't feel right to be there, and I felt more out of place than I have felt in the entire two weeks of being in Ghana.

Last Sunday, some of our group went on a daytrip to Dodi Island. The ride there was fascinating, as we got to finally get away from the city of Accra, and into the more rural parts of Ghana. We got to see smaller villages, homes made solely out of dirt, and more forestry than is evident at the University or in the city. When we arrived at Lake Volta, we docked the Dodi Princess and headed out on our boat ride.
Lake Volta is grand and quite beautiful. It's the largest man-made lake in the world, so it was pretty neat to be there. We sat on the upper deck for the most of the ride, trying to catch the breeze whenever possible. We even got lunch on the boat, and got in some serious relaxation time. With over 2 hours to Dodi Island it was pretty easy to just sit back and enjoy the water and the company of my friends.

We didn't really know exactly what would be going on at the island once we docked there. All we really knew was that we would have 30 minutes on the island. That's really it. I remember thinking on the way there that there was no way we could have enough time on the island. I mean, 30 minutes? What could we really do in 30 minutes?

As our group exited the boat, we saw people awaiting our arrival. Small children were gathered close to the boat, while other people were playing instruments and singing songs. Normally, this would be all neat and cultural, but that really wasn't the case here. The small kids grabbed our hands and led us toward the path on Dodi Island. As we passed people playing music there were bowls out to give them money. The path around the island only took about 15 minutes to walk, and to be perfectly honest, there wasn't very much to view. You see, this stop on Dodi Island wasn't so much about getting a good view, rather, it was supposed to be a way for us to see people living in great need, and give them some financial support.

You want to know what it really felt like?
It felt like it was a picture of a bunch of rich, white people coming to some other-worldly island to see "island people." It felt like we were there to gawk at these poor people, to get an image of how these people live. It was just so uncomfortable. The people who greeted us don't even live on the island. And the small children weren't really giving a tour of the island, rather they begged for money the entire walk. I gave a small girl, Jessica, 50 peswas because the people ahead of me told me that this was how it works. If you give them money, they'll leave you alone. I didn't really mind the children, I didn't want them to go away, I just was so confused as to why we were even at this island. Apparently, some people even told my friend Amanda that she should give as much as possible, that way God would bless her. It wasn't the begging that even bother me the most. It was the fact that the whole trip to the island felt like a facade, and I didn't know what to believe. The kids said they wanted to go to school which is why they needed the money and the pens from us. Yet, one even admitted that they would re-sell the pens anyway. If I told them I wouldn't give them money, but I would give them pens, they then continued to ask for everything I was wearing—my shirt, my necklace, everything. I just didn't get it.

My friends and I were in disbelief when we all managed to make it back on the boat. For a few minutes we were just silent, trying to digest everything that had happened on Dodi Island. Once we talked about it, we all seemed to be in agreement that it was uncomfortable, misleading, and not something we would recommend doing again. And as much as I really didn't like my experience on the island, I did remind myself that being here in Ghana is going to give way to uncomfortable experiences. It doesn't have to bad, even if it is uncomfortable. It's a learning experience instead, and even after everything from Sunday, I am ok that I witnessed all that I did on Dodi Island.

My encounter with the kids on Dodi Island may not be the most memorable experience I will have in Ghana, but luckily, I think I am going to be blessed with other wonderful experiences with kids in Ghana. I went to a school-in progress last week to see if I would be interested in volunteering. I went with my friend Taylor, and we ended up going over the ABC's, words, and spelling with 30 or so kids on the front of someone's porch in a village near to the University of Ghana. This school is very new, and the building for the actual school just started last week. The girl who started this program, Renee, is a study abroad student who is staying in Ghana for the whole year. She is passionate about these kids, and after a day of working there, I feel like it will be a place I will be spending quite a bit of time this semester. I am looking also for an opportunity to work in an orphanage, so that will be something I explore the next couple of weeks.

The kids here are beautiful. It's been hard to not give out money in the streets when the kids have asked, but ultimately, I know I can do a better service for these kids by helping with their education and giving them love. That will go a lot further than 20 peswas, that's for sure.



  1. Heather,
    Your experiences in Ghana so far seem life changing, and I am so glad that you are open to them. I beleive that through discomfort comes learning and understanding, and I hope you are able to learn a lot from your semester there.
    There is so much to take in I am sure, but it is times like this that you truly realize where you are and what you are doing. I bet it was really difficult to go through that experience, but I am so happy that you have found a place where you can volunteer and give back knowledge that you are recieving, though it is very different.
    The time you are spending in Ghana is a time to grow into a stronger woman than you already are. I know certain parts will be hard, but i also know you are strong enough to make it through and learn something at the same time.
    I love you

  2. Heather,
    I feel like you have already learned so much from your experiences and you've only been there for two weeks! I'm proud of the way you are handling all of the newness that surrounds you. You are so very strong and passionate. I've no doubt that you will only become stronger with every step you take! I love you, beautiful girl and I look up to you more than you could possibly imagine. <3