Leahy asked me to write something for her blog about my impressions during my visit with her in Ghana. It feels a little premature to put my thoughts into words, as I am still immersed in the experience, but I will try.
For starters, being with Leahy again has been mind-blowing. While she is still the same beautiful, spontaneous, spunky girl she used to be, she has transformed into this confident, determined, “don’t even try to mess with me” woman who demands and receives respect from everyone she meets, from the smallest child, to the chief of her community. Watching her navigate so many situations, that I know would have overwhelmed her in the past, was both eye-opening and reassuring that she is doing just fine.
Ghana is a very interesting place. I thought I would be prepared, based on what Leahy had described to me, but being here makes it much more real. Just getting to her site from the airport was a lesson in the Ghanaian culture. The people are very friendly, always greeting you with a “Welcome”, wanting to know your impression of their country, treating you like a very important person. This is even more evident in Leahy’s community, where she is treated like a celebrity.
Eremon is a very remote, fairly undeveloped village made up of mud huts. Leahy’s main mode of transportation is her bicycle, which she rides through the sand and dirt trails. No matter where she rides, people of all ages call out, “Nayirima, Nayirima” (her Ghanaian name, given to her by the chief ). They also greet you with “Ansoma, Nmenna or Zemaane” (depending on the time of day), to which you must respond with “A be song”. This goes on all the time. I found it charming; by now Leahy finds it annoying, but she puts on a good face.
On most days, Leahy has scheduled several health class presentations, women’s groups, or other events. In addition, she has to travel from home to home inspecting the progress of the latrine building work. To give you an example of what this means, we spent an entire day (from 10am until 5pm) visiting 15 different families, spread throughout the community. I will be posting the photos from these visits on her project website when I return to the States. We arrived home exhausted and covered from head to toe with a reddish dust that gets into every crevice of your body.
Which leads me to the single most unforgettable impression that I have about Ghana. It is a very dusty place! Because of the climate and geography, and because most roads and walkways are unpaved, there is no way to escape it. As most of you know, Leahy has no running water; that means no shower to clean off all of that fine orange dust. Arriving home after a long day of work, we had to fetch buckets of water from the borehole (which is a well with a hand pump, as opposed to the“boar hole” that I had initially envisioned), before we took turns “bathing”. There really is no bath; it’s just a bucket, soap and this plastic net cloth to scrub off the dust. I hadn’t been that dirty since working in the banana fields in Israel; only there we had hot showers at the end of the day. I was able to do it for 5 days, but it’s really amazing how Leahy can manage to be so clean and sweet smelling after a year. She has also mastered the art of hand-washing her clothes.
On Thursday evening, we left Eremon and traveled to Lawra to have dinner with her good friend Sarah (who will be returning to the UK next week) and a number of other people staying in that town. I learned that it is very common to eat outside under the stars, without any light. One relies on the hands to feel the food and bring it to the mouth, without having to see what one is eating. In my case, that resulted in a very shocking surprise. Wendy bit into a chicken head, beak and all! I think I am ready to become a vegetarian again. Otherwise, it was a really wonderful evening, and I was so happy to see what good friends Leahy has made. I know that she will miss Sarah dearly, but at least Habib and Gabriel will be around to give her lifts and take her out for a meal.
On Friday, we began the journey to Accra, which was the beginning of Leahy’s brief vacation and marked the last part of my visit. We took a bus, which involves 10 hours of travel on the one unlit road from the north to the south of Ghana. When it was too late to back out, Leahy informed me that we should split up our cash, so that if we were stopped by “highway robbers” we wouldn’t lose all of our money. Great!
Anyway, we were not stopped, and we arrived at this beautiful resort on the coast, where we have had a couple of days to relax, shower, sit at the pool, shower, eat at a restaurant, shower and sleep in an air-conditioned room. It feels like heaven.
I will have to say goodbye to my daughter in another two days, and I am dreading it. But, for now, we are off to explore a castle.