My New Home

front of house
The front of our new home

Our volunteer house is lovely. LOVELY.Three bedrooms full of bunk beds, a big open dining area (no kitchen as food is cooked elsewhere and brought in) and a bathroom/ showering area. There are two big buckets outside that hold the water we use in the house. We bring scoops of water inside to wash our hands and face, flush the toilet and take bucket showers. This practice is a sad reminder of how much water we unnecessarily use in the Western world.

Bucket Shower Area
The bucket shower area

Especially coming from the California drought, I am amazed to see how little water is needed for a shower. A bucket half full, a little soap and some strange angling of the body to get all the nooks and crannies is the recipe for success. I am determined to bring this practice back to California. If anything just to see the annoyance on my roommate Amalia’s face. And to be honest? I find the bucket shower extraordinarily satisfying. Especially after being in the sun all day covered in dust and baby goo (baby goo= snot, spit, tears, pus or fluids from any leaking wounds etc), a bucket shower is a piece of heaven. Sometimes I wish I had a video of the experience so my friends could see me crouched down in a small room covered in soap using a small plastic cup to rinse out my hair, a huge relaxed smile on my face.

Bedroom
The bedroom I share with 5 other girls

I’m sharing a room with 4 other girls and it’s a mess of mosquito nets, flowery pants, bug spray and tampons. It’s like summer camp all over again and I love it. The house is a rotating cast of characters, all sharing one thing in common: a huge heart full of compassion and empathy. I am amazed by the women I am surrounded by and I hope to pick up on some of their good energy.

Dining Room Area
The dining and hangout area

There’s Alison, Nallie and Jess, all from England with some of the best senses of humor I have ever seen. Berta from Barcelona, an incredibly likeable pre-med student always ready to learn something new. Ngoc from Minnesota whose ability to put herself in crazy situations and emerging unscathed is legendary. There’s Ruth from New York, an 18 year old with the maturity and wisdom of someone far into their 30s. Nicole from Canada, a devoted teacher, supplying school books and pencils for all of her students. And Kim, a proud mother from Germany. Her daughter Marcella came here for 7 months and she was so inspired she decided to come out here to check it out for herself.

Water Supply
Our water supply

It takes a lot of guts to leave the comfort of your own world to live in an entirely new country. These girls (minus Kim) are all around 20 years old. They could be out on boats yachting around Croatia or partying in Bangkok but instead, they’re devoting their time to a cause they believe in. Inspiring. I feel incredibly lucky to share this experience with these women and I’m excited for all of the weekend adventures we all will be going on.

The Warmest Welcome

The day after I arrive is a blur of orientation, rules and expectations. The overall gist being- lower your living standards and the better your experience will be. I know this should worry me but I’m so caught up in the frenzy of change that I don’t think too much about anything. At a humid 81 degrees, it’s hard to think about anything except popsicles.

The ten or so volunteers from team Turquoise and Silver squeeze into a van, red faced and sweaty waiting for our driver. Everyone here operates on Ghana time, at some point something should happen at some time. When this will happen is never known.

When we finally take off we drive for what seems like hours, flashes of ramshackle housing passing by. I repeat silently, “I’m in Africa right now. I’m in Africa right now.” But I can’t seem to process what I’m seeing or feeling. Culture shock permeating my senses.

Team Silver is dropped off first in Kasoa, a bustling mini city full of vendors, trucks and small buildings with Jesus quotes painted on signs out front. As the van pulls up to the homestay, 15 or so little kids run up in sheer joy, pulling volunteers and suitcases out of the vehicle at rapid speed. Their new home is a semi circle of dilapidated structures covered in dust. The remaining Silver people exit the vehicle and as we drive away, I lock eyes with one of the younger volunteers with braces, wide eyed clutching the hand of a small child. Her terror becomes my terror and it hits me…

I moved to Africa and this is my life for the next 8 weeks. Holy hell. This is not the Disney version of Africa. This is not some sugar-coated carnival ride constructed for my amusement. This is Africa. The real deal. Life is no longer a picnic and I will need to adapt quickly to the most unfamiliar territory I have ever known. My hands feel tingly and my heart pounds visibly through my sweat drenched shirt.

We drive away from the hustle and bustle of the city, vendors and storefronts make way to green trees and grassy pastures. My heartbeat grows calmer as we near ocean air. The van bounces over broken dirt roads into a small village, Senya. Locals wave and smile at us as we pass by. We pull into Becky’s Home, the name of the local orphanage and my new life as a caretaker. Children flock to help us out of the van.

“What is your name?”
“What is your age?”
“What is your name?”
“What is your age?”

The same questions repeat over and over as children fight to carry our bags to the volunteer house (located a 2 minute walk from the Orphanage). Alice, a bright and cheerful nine year old hoists my backpacking bag over her shoulders and grins expectantly at me. She asks if I brought her books and I happily reply I did. Thanks to a partnership with The SF Book Project (and my dear mother) I have over 100 books with me. Alice is so excited she chats as if she’s not carrying 50 lbs on her small frame.

Sabina, a sassy and thoughtful six year old, jumps on my hip and hugs me almost immediately

Sabina hanging out on her favorite scarf.
Sabina hanging out on her favorite scarf

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m Sabina. What is your name?” Her voice melodic and soothing.
“I’m Lindsay.”
“Hi Lindsay. What did you bring me?” She smiles wide, knowing this ritual like the back of her hand.

“Tickles,” I reply, running my fingers up and down her back. She laughs open mouthed, big shiny teeth take up most of her face and she grips tighter onto my neck happily as we head into the volunteer house.

“I’ve got this.” I tell myself over and over as I take a deep breathe and walk in the door to my new home.

Off to Africa

image

Where do I begin?

Five days have passed but it feels like two years. I mean this in the best way possible. I’ve procrastinated writing until now because I’m afraid I won’t be able to do this experience justice. I’ll try to break down the details in different posts, otherwise this blog will be a scattered mess.

My culture shock begins on the plane ride from London to Accra. People stand in aisles talking and laughing; ignoring flight attendants to lift their seats and put away tray tables. A small child kicks my seat for five hours before I tearfully ask the flight attendant to move me to another seat. Luckily for me, my new seat is in first class. A blissful hour of painless flying before I land into the great unknown.

I stroll through customs without presenting my required yellow fever vaccination or checking in with anyone. I probably should have but I’m so intent on not getting lost I zoom past everybody, my gaze down and focused.  I step out of the airport and the humidity embraces me in a wet hug. Not entirely unpleasant but strange since it’s been so long since I’ve been in weather even remotely similar. As hoards of people flock to help me leave the airport, a man pops up in front of my face with an upside down IVHQ Ghana sign and before I can even say “wait, what?” my things are carried to the outside seating area. I meet fellow volunteers hovering around 20-23 years old, bubbly and excited as I am. I’m introduced to four other Turquoise group girls, Alison, Jess, Nallie (from England) and Berta (from Spain). We instantly hit it off, giggling nervously and making mindless jokes about bug spray and mosquito nets. It’s a huge relief to meet like-minded girls and I’m ecstatic they’re going to be working in the same orphanage as me.

Our group is shoved in a rickity van and off we go through scenery that looks like a mixture of Mexico, Peru and Cambodia. I use these countries to try to give a visual, but in fact, Ghana is nothing like anything I’ve seen before. Ramshackle buildings covered in garbage line the streets. Goats wander aimlessly and small pants-less children buzz around their mothers who are in colorful dresses doing the wash or sweeping their walkway.

We arrive at the main volunteer house after a long and bumpy drive. Very few roads are paved here and there are more potholes than roads. (As I begin to describe the living conditions, please make note these are in no way complaints. I’m just stating the facts as they are so as to give a proper visual.) The house itself is sparse and dirty, photos randomly hanging on different sections of an otherwise blank wall. There are about 30 volunteers all together in this small space, running around using the one bathroom and cold shower as well as trying to buy new phones and SIM cards. Eight volunteers cram into a room with squeaking bunk beds and lumpy pillows.  I lie on the hard mattress with nervous energy staring at the ceiling.

“What have I done?”

My mind wanders as my exhaustion wins the battle and I fall into a deep sleep, too tired to imagine what tomorrow will bring.

Packing for the Great Unknown

A quick note about packing, I love the idea of packing. But that’s it. When the time comes to efficiently shove everything I need into a bag, I get bored real quick. The thing is, I love the planning, the making lists, the fantasizing about how i’m going to do such a good job. I imagine scenarios where my peers reach into their own poorly packed bags to find none of the things they need so I can swoop in with just the item they desire; the hero of the travel world. Instead, I make lists, plan for the future, forget about the list, start packing, shove a bunch of things in, take half of them out, get over it, zip it shut and placate myself with”I can just buy it there.” Admittedly, I’m a little worried about this method, as I’m not too sure how stocked the small village north of Accra is with Dove deodorant and Curls Rock Hair Gel.

This brings up a good point. It’s not like i’m packing for a weekend trip to Palm Springs. I’m going to a remote village in West Africa. Two months of having no idea what to expect. Will it be hot all the time or do I need a hoodie? Will electric toothbrushes seem bougie and inappropriate? I feel like I’m blindly guessing the appropriate equipment to pack with me and your talking to a girl that once packed 6 bathing suits to a business trip to Denver.

Not only that, but these past two weeks of planning my pack-job were not complete without an extra level of confusion added to the mix. The day I land in San Francisco (August 29th), I have less than 24 hours to pull everything together before I load up a car and head to burning man. (Hilariously enough, same day-climate as Ghana, just more sequins). My packing process has been a yo-yo of…did I pack the 100% Deet? Where are those flashy lights I can glue to my fur jacket? Do I have enough Malaria meds for the whole time I’m gone? Is the air properly pumped in the tires of my playa bike? My mind feels like a ping pong ball at a college fraternity; basically, I’m all over the place. Almost guaranteed to forget something. Luckily, I have a four-day pit stop in New York that I can use to pick up all the things I missed in San Francisco.

At the end of the day, humans have survived on a lot less. In fact, I need a lot less than I think I do. This might be a good test for me to just let go of some of the stuff “I need” in Africa. Get on with my simple self. Current Lindsay is like “you go girl, get on with your zen life.” Future Lindsay is like “Dammit, you didn’t bring underwear.”

Oh well, guess I won’t know till I get there. Isn’t that exciting 🙂

There’s no place like new home.

I got my placement today!!!!! This news requires five exclamation points because my heart is pumping five times faster than normal. Initially, this email took me completely off-guard because I’m not supposed to receive placement until two weeks before my start date. That’s when it dawned on me that I AM two weeks away from my start date. How is it already mid-June? Time is flying. Now that I know this trip is right around the corner, I feel like a little kid trying to stay up all night for Santa. The only difference is this time I will be the one bringing presents. Even knowing the name of the orphanage makes everything feel more real. I did some research online and found out the Turquoise program is one of the best to join. If anything because I look great in that color. So without further ado, here is some information on my future life in Ghana.

The Turquoise Program aka Becky’s Orphanage


Summary:

Edited mapLocation: Senya in the Eastern Region
Distance from Accra (The Capital): Approximately 2 hours
Closest Large Town: Kasoa
Distance from Large Town: 30 minutes


Situation for Volunteers:

Type of Accommodation: Volunteer House (5 minutes walk from the beach!!)
Type of Beds: Bunk Beds
Running Water: No, but water is available for use
Electricity: Yes, but power cuts are common in Ghana
Type of Toilet: Flushing toilet, will need to fill cistern to flush
Shower Available: No, Volunteers will take bucket bath/showers
Drinking Water: Drinking water supplied by IVHQ Ghana
Cook: Lives on site

1175416_623307294368206_1537096906_nSituation at the Orphanage

Number of Children: 40
Number of Boys: 26
Number of Girls: 14
Age Range of the Children: 3 years to 14 years
Number of Orphanage Staff: 13
Number of Teaching Staff: 22
Running Water: Yes
Electricity: Yes
Toilet: Yes,
Kitchen: Yes
Beds/Mattresses Available: Some available, however some children sleep on the floor
Common illness: Malaria, skin rashes, coughs, scabies, stomach aches.

I knew it was going to be rustic living, and showering with a bucket is kind of exactly what I pictured. My curly hair is going to take a hit but I guess I can wave my vanity for a couple of weeks for this opportunity. I’m kidding. I will make my hair look good, don’t you worry. In all seriousness though, I want to meet these kids so badly my heart hurts. Can it be July 1st already?!

If you want to help me bring things to the children, please visit my GoFundMe page. Your money will go to medical supplies, clothing, school supplies and toys.

Thanks for reading!