Ghana at First Glance

Written by Nicole Robertson, 2017 Ghana: Global Health

Greetings from Ghana! Yefrɛ me Nicole (Twi for, “My name is Nicole”)! I am a public health and safety student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and am hoping to pursue a career in global health or epidemiology.

When I heard about the Ghana: Global Health program, I jumped at the opportunity to break out of my comfort zone and send myself to a place I was very unfamiliar with. So far, I am thinking this may have been one of my best life decisions to date. 

I chose to come into this trip prepared, but with a clean slate, not tainted by any expectations. I wanted to experience the culture for myself and learn by doing – I must say, I have already learned A LOT. No textbook or website could fully prepare you to submerge yourself into a culture that you have not yet been exposed to. 

Let’s talk first impressions quickly. I hopped off the plane, went through customs and immigration, and quickly went to find my program leaders, Rebekah and Yaw. Besides the heat, one of the first things I noticed about Accra (the capital of Ghana) was the energy and rather hectic nature that the city appears to have.

I can’t forget to mention the stunning, colourful styles of clothing everyone dons. Boy, do they dress well! The traffic and driving styles were also quite an adjustment for me. At first glance, it is tricky to figure out the patterns of traffic, yet cars, motorcycles, tro tros (a form of public transit that I would describe as a hybrid between a bus and a taxi), and pedestrians appear to seamlessly weave through one another, similar to fish in a river. Somehow, it just works.

Everything here just has a way of working that is resourceful and innovative. It has reminded me that more often than not, there is no one best way of doing something; every society has a way of life that accomplishes the tasks at hand. This continues to be one of my favourite life lessons to be reminded of. 

I was very elated to have also learned the friendliness and helpfulness of Ghanaians first-hand. On day two of the program, we were sent in groups to Makola Market, a bustling and lively area filled with vendors. Our task was to complete a scavenger hunt which included: discovering things like who the ‘Big Six’ were, learning the national anthem, finding some landmarks, and more. This was quite the daunting task for the second day of our trip.

After only a short time, we were shown kindness and generosity as we asked for directions. People would often walk with us and lead us to our destinations, a gesture we GREATLY appreciated. Locals would also notice we looked rather lost and would come up to us offering help.

At one point, we had been invited into an arts centre with a group of exceptionally helpful and friendly artists. They answered our remaining questions, proudly sang the national anthem for us while playing the drums, and taught us some Ghanaian dance moves. I felt as though we were seeing the true Ghanaian spirit. 

The learning experience that has impacted me the most thus far was during our trip to Wli and Wli Falls. The five hour tro tro trip was a journey that presented us with many views of the southeastern portion of the country, seeing many towns, subdivisions, markets, and villages.

Wli, sitting at the base of a mountain, had something so peaceful and serene about it. Chickens, dogs, and goats roamed around freely, and we later found out that the goats enjoyed noisily walking near our guesthouse windows at night, which would periodically throw a few of us into fits of giggle. It was a different perspective of living than my own that I was appreciative to have experienced. 

When I mention that Wli was the most impactful portion of the trip thus far, I am largely referring to our time with Anthony. He was not only our guide for our hike to Wli Falls, but he was also a teacher in many ways. We met Anthony the day before our hike up to the falls. He came over to introduce himself and shook all of our hands, as is polite in Ghanaian culture.

Throughout the next two days, he spoke with love and pride of his home, and shared his knowledge of the cultures and traditions of Wli with us. It was evident to me that Anthony is genuine, sincere, and passionate about sharing that love with others. Because of this, our hike up the mountain was much, much more than just a hike. 

As we were preparing to leave Wli, Anthony came over to say farewell. He explained that when foreigners come to visit Ghana, he and many locals consider them to be fellow Ghanaians instead of strangers. This made me feel an overwhelming sense of welcome and belonging, a feeling I often struggle to find at home.

He encouraged us to share our experiences in Ghana and the beauty of Wli Falls with our friends from home. This post is part of that too! Even now while writing this, I am finding it extremely tricky to articulate the powerful imprint everything here has left on me so far. 

One week into the trip, and I can already see myself growing as a person. Our group has had inspiring discussions full of critical thoughts about ourselves and the world we live in. I cannot fully convey in words just how appreciative I am for this opportunity, and it has only just begun. I will keep my conclusion brief, but my challenge for you is to step out of your comfort zone, open your mind and heart, and learn about a new culture. The results will astound you.