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Visit to Ghana (2009)
Jacqueline Clarke

For the past two months I have been in Ghana, West Africa on a medical placement for my degree. All medical students get the opportunity to spend some time abroad in a country of their own choice and Ghana was my choice. Firstly I have always wanted to go to Africa as I attended the SMA summer camps when I was younger. I saw this summer as my opportunity to visit and even better than that be more involved with the daily activities as I would be working there.

I left Ireland on the 26th July and flew into Heathrow airport to fly onto Ghana. I was very apprehensive as I had my own expectations of what I thought Africa would hold in store as well as my apprehension over practising medicine in a poorly resourced setting. I was going with an organisation so all the other worries about my accommodation and getting to and from the airport were taken care of.

I arrived late on the 27th July in Accra, the capital. I was so tired I barely remember the airport. I was met by a guy called Ebo, who was one of the staff members. He had a massive African smile on his face and even though he probably didn’t get the same reaction back I was warmly welcomed with “Akwaaba” which means welcome in the local tribal language, Fante.

I travelled from Accra to Takoradi, the town of my placement, the following morning. We boarded the coach and settled in to the four hour journey. Everything was very new and exciting and much to my surprise, Accra was very similar to other cities in the UK with just the slight difference of being in Africa. As we moved out of the city I soon was able to see the signs of a developing country with the smaller towns we passed through with their street sellers and wooden shacks for shops and houses. We had a rest stop in the famous town of Cape Coast, and like Northern Ireland, it is famous for not a pretty history. Cape Coast was the port of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I had the opportunity to visit the Castle where the slaves were captured, held and treated with ruthless cruelty. The atmosphere in the cells and above ground was thick and to be a white person in this place filled my stomach with nauseous sickness that such cruelty existed among people.

I arrived in Takoradi later in the afternoon.  I pulled into the house I would call home for the next eight weeks and I was warmly greeted by the project manager, Faustina. Soon I would call all the staff my family. We had a cook called Mamma Dorcas, an absolutely lovely woman who was the heart of the house, keeping us all going with gourmet cuisine. This all surpassed my expectations already and I had only arrived. I was not expecting a luxury house with the only difference from home being cold showers and hand washing clothes. I was thinking my mother would be proud of me hand washing my clothes by hand so I was looking forward to the challenge.

I could now relive each waking moment in Ghana but I don’t think that would really capture the way life plunders on in Ghana. Well actually the word “plunders” is not really the right way to describe it. Each day is different and the people are not worn down from the trials of life instead they embrace strangers and each other with such enthusiasm and warmth. I also didn’t feel strained to keep up with the smiling I was so relieved that every day I was able to smile and greet all the people I met. In working there for so long I really felt I belonged. Nothing to these people was too much trouble and I mean everything is possible.  

We travelled every weekend to different places all over the country. It was crazy the distances we travelled but as I say in Ghana anything is possible. I will give you a flavour of one such weekend. It was a relaxing weekend so not too far away from Takoradi. It was approximately two hours east of Takoradi. Our mode of transport was a tro tro. These are vans, converted minibuses of variable condition and they are the arteries to the small remote villages, comfort is not a priority and the idea is to fill them as full of people or goods as possible. I did say anything was possible here?

So we set off at around 2.00pm on the Friday afternoon and we arrive there around 4.00pm. So to board a tro you go to the correct station where your taxi gets surrounded by lots of men asking where you are going and if you have luggage they are very quick to lift it and run with it to the tro when you say where you’re going. So you have to be tactical about the moment you say where you want to go and make sure you have your stuff on you. So you board the tro and wait for it to fill which can take up to another two hours. Fortunately the one we got was nearly full.

There was a very elderly lady sitting beside my friends who had a child with her and some way into the journey a song came on the radio that she enjoyed so she started to dance. This lady must have been in her 80s at least and she still had the energy of a twenty year old and so we all joined in with her. Everyone on the tro was laughing and smiling at us dancing. We passed many small villages and left off supplies. We then came to another little village near the end of our journey where the old lady met her sister who came running to the tro to greet her. It was so lovely to see the exchange of greetings between them like they hadn’t seen each other for some time.

We arrived at our place and settled before dinner. It was a beautiful beach resort called Beyin Beach Resort. It was owned by a Ghanaian called Patrick. I met Patrick and I immediately had an incline that I had met him before. As the weekend went on it transpired that he had worked in London about three years ago and I have been in London for four years now and so it could have been possible and even more strange he thought he had met me too.
I just couldn’t think when.

On the Sunday of this weekend we were fortunate to attend Mass. This was one of the experiences I will never forget. We were invited along by a lady who worked in a gift shop for one of the main tourist attractions of the village, her name was Clarence. The Church had many small community groups within the choir. Including a children’s group who entered the Chapel in a lively procession with music being played by each of the groups. The mass itself was said in the traditional language with the Gospel and Homily translated for our benefit. Then out of silence after the Homily what I can only describe as a carnival in comparison to offertory at home. The offertory box was placed at the front of the chapel and then the music started. One by one the congregation, young and old, got up and danced in whatever way they felt to give their offering. Some going up twice and of course we joined in and did it twice. The reaction from the people was really funny they were so happy to see us trying to dance.  The music was fantastic and the singers were amazing. It added so much to the whole experience. If you thought Africans were loud generally you should hear them in worship. The roof was literally lifting off. Mass lasted from 9.00am to 1.00pm. At that point I was very dehydrated. I was so glad I had the opportunity to experience this.