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Volunteer AbroadVolunteer Overseas

Jan van Hovell - General Teaching Projects in Ghana

A black man knocks on my window, where am I? For a moment, I was groping in the dark, trying to find the radio alarm clock, which I used to hit when woken up much too early on a school day in Holland. Not succeeding, a bit surprised, I open my eyes and look at the ceiling. A fan turns periodically above me; reality strikes me. I peak through the window, the sun is about to rise. It's so hot, it's 6 a.m., it's Africa!

Shower, one tasty omelette with onions on white, sweet bread, luggage in the car. Ghana by day, its capital Accra by day; my first sights of Ghana.

The Akuapem Hills

I have never experienced such a great ride in my entire life. 19 years of life, I've been travelling a lot, but what I'm witnessing now, I can't even describe. Everywhere around me people are busy; busy loading wooden shelves in a decorated truck, busy chasing goats off the street, busy selling, bargaining, buying. Popcorn is offered to me through my car window when we stop briefly to let a few cows cross the street, so called 'plantain chips' are offered as well, pineapple pieces, oranges, bananas, ice cream; it's seven a.m., what kind of breakfast are Ghanaians used to? The driver next to me can't stop smiling, seeming to enjoy the astonishment he can see in my eyes and hear me mutter. And believe me, there were a lot of 'oo-s' and 'aa-s'!

Emmanuel visiting schools

The driver introduces himself to me, his name is Kwesi and he is a Christian, so proud to be. A bit of a strange name for a Christian, so I ask him the origin of 'Kwesi'. A long story follows my question, a story in which I not only get to know that a Christian Ghanaian has two names (one corresponding with the day of the week he or she was born on, the other a Christian name, given at birth). Kwesi also teaches me a whole lot of Ghanaian words. I try to memorise the words and word combinations, a good start to my day.

Gradually we get closer to my final destination, my village Abiriw in the Akuapem Hills. After many turns and a few bumps, we reach the top of the Hills and stop for a moment. The view is breathtaking: Accra surrounded by the African bush. Everything around me is green, fresh, vital, and the climate is clearly cooler.

Class at my school

We keep going, on the way to Abiriw, now stopping at a nice house in Mamfe where Emmanuel, who represents Projects Abroad in the Hills, lives with his wife. When I get out of the car, I see an enthusiastic man descending the steep way to the house. With a great smile he greats me and gives me a typical Ghanaian handshake which differs from our western one in that way that the handshake is followed by a clicking of the fingers when pulling both hands away from each other. My words put an even bigger smile on Emmanuel's face: "Woho te seyn?", "how are you?" the first few words Kwesi taught me.

Together with Emmanuel, we go to my village. First stop is the house of my host family, a nice house looking well situated in the middle of the most African environment you can imagine. I am surrounded by palm trees, banana trees, goats, chicken, small children who can barely walk, playing with the animals or just enjoying the clean air, Ghanaian music, street life. Second stop is the school, the Abiriw Presbytarian Primary School, the school where I will be teaching English, Maths and P.E., my school! Kwesi, Emmanuel and I walk to the first building where I get overwhelmed with a huge hug by a huge lady. My host mom, Mrs. Quansah, tells me "Akwaaba", ("You are welcome") and calls me 'her son', so kind-hearted as she is. Behind Mrs. Quansah's back 40 pairs of eyes have gathered to see me. These small children aged 6, I guessed, all dressed their school-uniforms; literally jump on me when they see me looking at them. Joyfully they all shout 'bye-bye' (as a greeting) and 'obruni' (the white man).

This white man couldn't feel more welcome on his first day in Africa!

Jan van Hovell

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