This summer I had the privilege to go on a Buck-I-Serv trip through The Ohio State University to the country of Ghana. Buck-I-Serv is a student organization that focuses on providing service through different projects and issues on a local level as well as internationally. Previous to applying to this trip, I had never imagined that I would have the opportunity to be able to leave the United States seeing as I had barely done a lot of traveling within the states until I attended college. It was always a goal for me to explore beyond the borders of the United States as a fellow educator to second language speakers. It is important for me to experience different cultures and language backgrounds in order to better understand as well as serve my students. It was a privilege to be able to go on this trip to Ghana for many reasons. This trip was the longest from home that I had ever been on especially by myself. It was great for my personal growth as I got to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. It was a privilege mostly because of its destination. I do not know anyone who has gotten the opportunity to go to the continent of Africa. Living within the United States, Often fail to realize that I live within a bubble. Everything that I am exposed to living in the US is filtered through a Western lens. These Western lens has historically created a certain depiction of the continent of Africa often with sick people who need help. The stereotypes have a deficit outlook by grouping the whole continent as well as being underdeveloped. I did not know what to expect when I first got to Ghana. I knew that in order to get the best out of my experience it was better that I not go in with any expectations at all. It was an honor to get to go to a country with such historical context and cultural value especially seeing as Caribbean culture, that which I identify with, was heavily rooted in African culture. I got to physically go ad see beyond the Western lens that I have been under. I was most surprised at how much of Puerto Rico, Ghana reminded me. It was more than the green scenery and bright cement structures. There was a huge sense of community and small town feel that I missed the most. Ghanaians welcomed our cohort with open arms. A lot of people I met were more than willingly to stop their activities to help us out whether it was helping me fetch water from the river or practicing the language, Fante with me. People were friendly and inclined to help as well as have conversations.
Prior to this summer, I was dealing a lot with personal issues. It felt like life kept bringing upon new hurdles and hoops to keep jumping through. My days were never ending as well fast paced. I did not realize how much I needed to slow down and take the world in before I went to Ghana. The sense of time is not the same when you are out there. People take their time and focu son things often overlooked in America. Activities also become more community and group oriented such as simple things as cooking or fetching water. I was nervous going on the trip with a group of strangers. I would be leaving my comfort zone and not to mention my support system. I was surprised by the vulnerability from the whole cohort group while on the trip. My cohort got to spend a lot of time together working together to not only be efficient when fetching water and completing other chores but as we were experiencing everything as a unit. There were many late nights of playing card games and deep conversations about life not to mention the limited space on many of the trotro rides. As much I talk and reflect on my trip no one will understand the trip like me except for my other cohort members. The days slow down and the things that are often overlooked have more attention there. I realized coming back that I needed to slow down and take in life as well as my experiences. It would be unhealthy for me to continue in such a manner especially for my mental health. The trip was exactly what I needed before starting my final year of college.
In Ghana I got to work with the Akumanyi Foundation at a children’s home in the small town of Akokwa, Ghana. My time at the children’s home included spending time with the children which for me included learning new games and learning the Fante language. My favorite game was jumping rope except jumping rope has a different context within Ghana for instance there is no twirling of the rope. The jump rope was also made out of recycled water bags that were collected. Other activities were helping out with any chores around the home such as helping bathe the children, cleaning, and fetching water. The children was the best part of the trip. As a fellow educator, it is no surprise that I love children and the children I met in Ghana are no exception. I bonded quickly with an eleven year old girl who had a wisdom beyond her years. She was a leader and beyond knowledgeable. I learned many games and activities just from spending time with her. I also bonded with a fourteen year old boy who was someone that the children looked up as he was one of the oldest at the children’s home. He was always helping me and guiding me through the town teaching me every word in Fante and then testing me the next day. I cannot describe how much I took away from meeting the children. It was difficult saying goodbyes to the point that I had to leave and pull myself together in private before continuing our final goodbyes.
My favorite parts of the trip outside of the children were the historical and cultural experiences. The first weekend included a scheduled trip to the Cape Coast. Cape Coast was not only full of amazing beaches and street food but historical value. Right on the coast of the town stood the Cape Coast slave castle. My group got to get a tour of the castle from the dungeons where slaves were held all the way through the door of no return. I was not sure how much of an emotional experience taking the tour of the castle was going to be. The tour guide did a great job at giving a holistic view of slavery especially the point that a lot of countries played a part in enslaving others. It was an emotional experience in walking into the dungeons as we got a tiny taste of the conditions that the slaves had. The dungeons already had no ventilation on top of being super hot and pitch black. My cohort got a tour of the cells were men and women were put when they were fighting back. Our tour continued on through the castle as we viewed parts of the tunnel that lead slaves to the ships eventually through the Door of No Return. I got to take in the final view of the beautiful waves crashing on the beach that slaves would have seen last of their homeland. It was a valuable experience as a got an even closer look at slavery and its significance as Caribbean culture was deeply rooted and influenced by African culture. I had the opportunity to be taught a traditional cultural dance as well as food dishes and shop at the cultural markets to get gifts that will remember my experience there. It is hard to fathom into words the amazing time and everything that I took away from my trip. I got a lot of perspective on my own life. My hope is that I can continue to travel abroad and learn more about myself as I explore the world.