This is a question I am often asked. And the answer is not so simple, but the love for this African country started from the first day I was here.
April 2001. Super nervous, had only flown once before, had never travelled alone, was stuck in traffic on the way to Schiphol Airport thanks to an Ajax soccer match. The nerves were coursing through my throat. What on earth am I going to do? Who came up with this?
I am going to Ghana for six months to do voluntary work. Of course, I thought that up myself… I stopped my studies because it was not the right choice after all. I started working hard at the supermarket so that I could take some time off. Because of an enormous romantic desire, I wanted to go to Africa since I was small. Now Africa is huge with its 54 countries, but at the time Ghana was one of the first choices for anyone who wanted to volunteer. So also for me. Safety, English and many organizations and projects.
The first weeks I was totally overwhelmed
The heat as soon as I stepped off the plane, the smell. So strange but also nice, now this is a smell of recognition. The capital Accra is huge, with so many people, so many cars and minivans, and such chaos. Everywhere you look there is something to see. People with huge loads on their heads. Street vendors with a very wide range of products. From food and drink to small furniture and massage rods. Goats on top of trucks, huge cows in the middle of the street. But no matter how overwhelmed I am, I feel fine and safe.
From the city to a village in Ashanti
The drive from Accra to Kumasi was and still is wonderful. When you leave the city behind you and the green, sometimes hilly landscape appears. The main road goes straight through villages and towns. In the villages, everyone seems to be selling the same thing along the street and I find out that it is not only chaos in Accra. I only found out much later that it is very organized chaos. But you really don’t see that in the beginning.
My final destination is the village of Banko. About 45 minutes from the main road between Accra and Kumasi. After we get off the main road, the scenery becomes even more vast and when we pass another chaotic larger town, the beautiful mountains take my breath away. May I be here for six months, wow!
To be quite honest, the first weeks in the beautiful village of Banko are not easy. I am a sight to see with my white skin and everyone calls me obruni (white) and they tell me whole stories in the local language. I don’t understand a word of it. So sometimes people speak louder, but that doesn’t help. Even when people do speak English, communication is difficult. It takes both me and them time to get used to each other’s accents.
Everything is different from what I am used to in Ghana
The food, the toilet which is a hole, the people, the language, the transportation, the weather and so on. While sometimes I have a really bad day due to a lack of communication, but at the same time I enjoy the peace that comes over me. I sleep super well, write a lot and learn to just ‘be’. And that in a beautiful environment with very sweet Ghanaian people around me.
I learn to appreciate the ‘strange’ food and enjoy my host family. I learn to laugh at the ‘annoying’ things, like asking me where I am going every time I pass by with a toilet roll. Or worse when I have to go to the outside toilet at the night and overcome my fear of lots of bugs.
A journey of discovery through the rest of Ghana
In my spare time, I have the opportunity to discover the rest of this beautiful country. Elephants, heat and dry air in the north, waterfalls scattered throughout the country. The beautiful coast with the terrible history of the slave trade and the special Volta region. All of this by local transportation. I am learning that the road to something in Ghana can already be super special. Great conversations with fellow passengers in the tro’s, enormously helpful people everywhere and the views are magnificent.
I don’t want to go back to the Netherlands after my six months in Ghana
Despite the fact that I sometimes dream of some Dutch dishes and that I miss my family and friends, I don’t want to leave Ghana at all. Why this is, I can’t explain even in the year 2022. As you may know I moved permanently to the village of Banko in Ghana in 2010. Why? Because of everything I have described above and especially my feeling of being at home here.
Since I’ve been living here, this feeling has only grown stronger. A house of my own, a beautiful garden and the chance to live with nature. I am surrounded by butterflies, birds, and wonderful people and I can pick and eat fruits and vegetables from my own garden.
In the meantime, I have been able to receive and guide many volunteers in Moon&Star guesthouse and I see the same thing happen to them very often. The first weeks of getting used to it, and then the transition to feeling completely at home in the guesthouse. And just like with me, it’s an indescribable feeling for them too. No worries! Not every volunteer ends up emigrating 😉 Click here to read Cecilia’s story about volunteering abroad.