Maakye (mah-chyuh)! Good morning! Occasionally after our morning service session and lunch, we learned Twi, pronounced "chwee", which is the most common local language in Ghana, spoken by the Ashanti. We were taught the Twi terms for good morning, thank you, and please, among others.
Learning these everyday words is especially useful, as we can use them immediately with everyone wherever we look, whereas in language classes at home, what I learn in class is mostly irrelevant after leaving the room. Additionally, back home, not knowing a foreign language is a slight disadvantage, but it is rarely an inconvenience. Here, however, not understanding Twi may mean not being able to communicate with much of the population. Most do speak English, but I know that personally, their accent really throws me off, making it extremely difficult to understand them, especially on the first try.
Arriving in Ghana, the social culture was immediately noticeable. It's absolutely unacceptable to walk by someone without a greeting, and it's not at all uncommon for a stranger to walk up and start a conversation. Driving style, timeliness, and clothing also greatly differ from in the U.S. In general, the culture promotes openness and trust in others, which is often strange but enjoyable. This way, it's much easier to learn more about and become immersed in Ghanaian social norms and traditions, as well as feel welcome by locals.
Food! There's so much variety in everyday dishes, from rice to chicken to yams. Unique dishes I enjoy include yam chips (fries but with yams instead of potatoes), their incredibly sweet mango and other fruit, red-red, deep-fried plantains, and potatoes. There were definitely several meals, however, where the spice was so strong that only a few people in our group could take it. An ordinary Ghanaian's interpretation of 'mild' is worlds away from mine. And their 'not spicy' may mean I'll be panting nonstop for the next hour.
After a couple days of orientation, we were split into two groups going to Christah School or Future Leaders and we finally got to meet the kids! I was assigned to the latter, and when we arrived, we were greeted by an energetic, unique series of dances.
I volunteered to teach the fifth grade class, which consists of 13 students around the ages of 11-13. This amazing class is no doubt the most intelligent and driven group of fifth graders I've ever had the privilege to meet, teach, and impact. In just a week, they've taught me not only how very fortunate I am but more importantly, how within reach everything is! I definitely learned the extent at which I, along with the rest of my community, take certain privileges for granted. Sure, we know that we are well off, more so than most of the world, but it wasn't until I came here that I really experienced that rude awakening. But the kids here work through it and are definitely on the path to success — mentally, they always retain a positive mindset — regardless of the obstacles they face on a daily basis, obstacles that we cannot even begin to imagine. For example, they have a chronic lack of school supplies, especially decent-quality ones. Their whiteboard markers are few and far between, and they dry out too frequently, despite careful use. Notebooks, books, and pens are scarce and precious to each and every one of the kids.
And of course there's the fact that there are hundreds of children on the streets at this very moment with no access to education whatsoever. In addition to the relatively good physical and environmental conditions in the U.S., we also don't realize enough how accepting our own society is, as well as how diverse our culture is. Ghana is definitely one of the most Westernized of developing countries, but yet, it is still uncommon for, say, the average school, even in the capital of Accra where we are, to have any foreigners, even African-born or Ghanaian-born. As a result, it's harder for locals to learn about, understand, and accept certain groups of people, as they are rarely seen by most.
However, my point is not to give a reason to feel sorry for these children, but to recognize how many advantages we truly have and how these children are still able to have so much intelligence and motivation regardless of being hungry or sitting in a makeshift classroom with ceilings that floods the rooms when it rains. (When it rained last week, it was a downpour like I've never seen, and the sound of the raindrops on the rooftops were so loud that students a couple inches away from me couldn't decipher the words I shouted. These kids weren't bothered at all, however. Several of them made the best of the situation, running through the rain then dancing across the room, dripping from head to toe. This small action inspired me because of their beautiful ability to make subpar conditions become a chance to laugh and appreciate and enjoy, instead of sitting in the corner in despair). They aren't lost souls floating around, as is stereotypically and commonly perceived. They have so much life and so much love to give. I dare say that many are likely more eager to learn than children back in the states. These kids deserve my respect, my admiration, and they have it. They work so hard and have so much drive to do well and to achieve that I can and should, in all honesty, try and learn from them. These incredible kids really are our FUTURE LEADERS!
'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!