March 2011


Back in Washington, D.C., the shady mahogany trees of Accra and the strong sun are distant memories although I can close my eyes and hear the HiLife music blaring from the cars stuck in traffic and see the beggars and peddlers moving systematically through the line of stand-still traffic. Over Ghana Independence weekend, Shana and I had one final adventure that I want to share with you.

Jess, is a friend of a co-worker who is in Ghana with Projects Abroad, a UK non-profit. I’d met her early on during my stay in Accra. She’s fun and adventurous and focused on education in developing countries. She works in the Eastern Region of Ghana. One night over Indian food, she invited us to come see one of the orphanges her group works with.

The next free day, Shana and I started on our great adventure. First, we took a taxi to the Tema tro-tro station. Tro-tros are vans that act like public buses going to designated locations. They are an extremely afforadable way to travel around Ghana. That morning the sun was already pounding hot at nine in the morning as we stepped out of the taxi and into the station. However, the station was more like a parking lot. There were rows of vans lined up but few signs of any kind. Everyone was milling about talking or selling things. Jess had said our tro-tro would be in the first row, so we walked that way, asking as we went. On top of a full tro-tro was a sign “K’dua” for Kofordia, the end destination we wanted. Sadly this tro-tro was overly full. We piled into the next one and waited for it to fill up. In the menatime, I bought some lovely dried red plantain chips from a local vendor for half a cedi.

The ride up to the orphanage was beautiful. I love going up the hills to Aburi; the vistas below are breathtaking. The air is cooler, and the roads are winding like back home in Rockbridge. We got off just after the sign that said “Tampura Goodbye.” It was literally in the middle of nowhere. I think the whole van was a little worried about these two crazy abrundi‘s (foreigners). But I knew we were in the right place because Jess had been texting me directions. She met us a few minutes later, and we walked to the orphanage’s entrance.

The boys and girls rushed towards Jess. It took my spinning one kid around for the group to descend wanting their own turn. Shana was equally popular. Some of the kids were too shy to speak to us in English at first. Soon, however, they were asking for us to take their pictures. Some wanted to take the pictures. Yep, I’m a sap; they got to use my camera with supervision.

The orphanage had about seventeen kids. The main building held the two dormitories and the small main office. The outhouses were in the back as a shelter to cook under and a small one room building used for eating and studying. Everything was brightly painted, and there was a nice drain around the main building to collect water during the rainy season. Really, it was a pretty nice place.

Some of the kids are actual orphans, but many have parents who cannot afford to keep them. A few of these parents might visit, which costs money if they have to take a tro-tro, or take their kids home for a family funeral before returning them. This may sound sad, but ironically the kids in the orphanage often have it better than those in the village. They have others to play with since they have fewer chores. Instead of selling things or working during the day, they learn at school. Their English is much better than other village children their own age. They get regular meals and plenty of clothes.

Shana and I both wanted to take a few home. I tried to convince her about shared custody of one really sweet little boy named Kwaku. For a good hour or more, we just sat on the cement porch with kids in our laps and around our chairs talking. I joked that with this weather it could be a summer day in Georgia , where Shana and Jess are from.

A group donating food and such came soon after our arrival. All the kids scurried to put on their nicer clothes and interact with the adults. It was after lunch before we were able to create necklaces and color with them, the activities Jess had planned.

Shana and I still agree it was our best day in Ghana.

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It sounds like a music group from the late 60’s, right? Well, it’s the names of our participants’ two team names in a review exercise today. Yep, this update will be less depressing than the last one.

I have discovered a very cool site for travelers who like to make a difference: http://www.stuffyourrucksack.com/. Find where you’re going on your trip and see what is needed by local charities. Hey, on the way home, you’ll have more room for souvenirs!

Also, just about anyone should be interested in how invested China is becoming here in Africa. They are building all of the new railroad infrastructure here in Ghana and are doing similar projects all over. They bring in all their own workers, so they don’t boost the local economy. Their work doesn’t have any political strings attached to it–yet. However, they meet their deadlines, which isn’t the case for a lot of NGOs and other groups doing work in Africa. It is of interest perhaps that the Chinese are building an embassy in Ghana that will be just as large as the American one–according to just about anyone you ask here.

In an earlier post, I was discussing how this country wasn’t Muslim as a majority. Instead, you will see the oddest “reverent” titles of vans and tiny establishments: Bless and Keep Restaurant, In His Hands Eatery. I also mentioned that many of the girls have buzz cuts. It turns out that this is actually part of their school uniform for primary and secondary school, so that everyone looks the same. (I wouldn’t have wanted to go to the schools in Ghana as a girl. I was way too attached to my long locks.) The girls can wear post earrings. Just kinda a few neat did you knows?

But I’m sure some of you are wondering, what did she do this weekend? Well, due to a variety of factors, it was another weekend in Accra, but still lots of fun. Some of the locals who work at the mission took us out. I mentioned on Saturday about our trip to buy fabric at the Makola market. Saturday night, Kingsly took us out! First, we went to +233, an awesome local jazz club. I could go there every night. There’s a patio to sit out in and hear the local singers. Sandra, the woman there on Saturday, had an amazing voice and did a blend of American jazz standards and some local jazz pieces. Just off the patio, they were grilling kebabs of chicken and pork, which were quite tasty. Then we went on to Rhapsody, a nightclub with good dancing. I got a freshening frozen cocktail of cucumbers, mint, and white rum. I really enjoyed dancing the night away.

Sunday brought a fabulous surprise. One of our teams is traveling to three countries on this trip. The woman on the team, Autumn, is a friend of ours and got stuck for 24 hrs in Accra. She was booked into our hotel. Shana and I took her into Osu for a yummy lunch and to see local points of interest.

We took her out to dinner at our favorite place: Polo Club. Oh the ability to have mouthwatering food like mashed potatoes, creamy pesto chicken, light pasta, and chocolate molten lava cake! All with a nice glass of red, a breeze on the balcony, and good friendship. We toasted to, “Happy Unfortunate Mishaps!” She’ll get to her destination in time to start work. Autumn was the breath of fresh air we needed this weekend.

What do these words mean to you?

After seeing the slave-holding sites at Cape Coast and Elmina, after hearing the tour guide’s discussion of how this should never happen again, I am wondering how it is in fact happening all over the world–just more covertly. In fact, human trafficking is the second largest crime worldwide (number one is illegal arms trade). Maybe you’ve heard of the sex trafficking in Brazil, Ukraine, and many other countries. There is also money to be had in forced child labor.

Eric Peasah is a local Ghanaian whom I met through mutual friends during my time here in Accra. Eric works for the International Organization for Migration. A soft-spoken, shy gentleman, he does amazing work. He goes to the north to rescue children who have been stolen from or sold by their families to fishermen, who take them to work on Lake Volta. In addition to other work, children are forced underwater to find loose nets, and some die. They work seventeen hour days, are fed only once, and are often beaten. Eric goes up north, finds the children, and convinces the fishermen to let them go. He takes the children back to Accra and works to rehabilitate them, put them in school, and reunite them with their families. Beyond that, he also tries to work with the fishermen to help them determine a method that doesn’t require children to make their livelihood.

When Eric told me all this, I was blown away. What was I doing? Just training boring software all day. His response to my awe was remarkable. “But there are so many children I see that I cannot help. They are being abused, but they have not been sold. They are with their families. I cannot take them with me when I go on the rescue missions to the islands. I want to start a non-profit that will let me do this.”

Part of why I’m writing all this is because the US State Dept cut Eric’s grant this year. If you can, please think about making a small donation to the Ghana Fishing Children’s Project through USAIM If you want to ask questions, Erin Dodson is the contact at USAIM for Eric Peasah’s work here in Accra. (You might mention Lori Dillion, an American who has been with Eric on some of his rescue missions. She has corresponded with Erin Dodson. Lori put me in touch with Eric when I arrived in Ghana.)

If you are unable to make a donation, please consider sharing this story with others. I think that many Americans are unaware of the atrocities connected to human trafficking and of the frequency at which it occurs around the world.