In the summer of 2007, after graduating from nursing school, Olivia went to Ghana for the first time. She volunteered at a clinic, in a village called Seva, in rural Ghana. Anyone who knows her, or knew her then, knows that this was a difficult three months for her. She recently wrote an essay about the time she spent there, and has generously allowed us to share her thoughts. RHC will be posting excerpts from her essay throughout the month. Through this we hope you get a better idea of what life in rural Ghana is like, the joys and hardships that people experience, and a better understanding of what Olivia experienced on her first trip. Follow along with us!
Before I left, I stared at the photo of Mila, crouching in front of a mud home with two small Ghanian children by her side. Their grins were big and their rich dark skin bright. Her own pale skin looked relaxed as they all smiled broadly for the camera. I wanted to embody this image. To be a brave woman. One who was not constrained by love or practicality, certainly not money. I wanted to sleep under the stars, taste new foods, learn a more simple and communal way of life. I wanted to help and for my life to matter for something bigger than me. I wanted to fight the injustices of the world. As I stared at the photo of Mila, one of the Canadian volunteers at the clinic I would soon arrive at, I envisioned myself in her place, my curly hair frizzing around my face in the thick Ghana humidity. I had a vision and thought if I could just get there, to this small village halfway around the world, I could start to embody this vision of myself. I had no idea that the journey of discovering my strength would not come in the form of a broad easy smile but many nights, mornings, and afternoons filled with tears. The path would be as dark as it was light as I would wrestle with my fears, insecurities and anxieties, and only through this struggle would I have the opportunity to know myself more to become the stronger woman I desired to be.
We first pulled into the village late at night. It was near eighty degrees at ten in the evening as we bumped along the road. There was no electricity, and the world was as dark and unknown as I had ever seen it. The night was so dark it almost seemed a bright blue. There was a haze in the air that I would soon know to be there, day and night, covering what should have been a stunning sight of stars.
My back was stiff as I had not yet figured out how to navigate my body along the bumpy uneven roads. Two women sat chatting next to a small charcoal burning stove, the orange embers sending flickers of light across their faces. The night air was loudly quiet. The women greeted me and helped me settle into the room that would be my home for the next four months. After all the pleasantries had been exchanged in an English Ghanian accent I hardly comprehended, I went into my room for the night. Solar power was the only option for electricity and by ten at night it had run out. We were close to the equator, so the sun set reliably between six and six thirty every evening. The mosquito net encircled my double bed. I changed into my pajama pants and tank top which proved to be a rather warm choice for nighttime wear. I sat on the side of the bed and began what would become a nightly ritual of wet-wiping all the muddy clay dirt off the soles of my feet. I would then swing them in the bed and move to each corner of the bed , meticulously tucking each corner of the netting under the mattress so nary a bug could sneak in. I laid down and my deeply fatigued body was no match for my racing mind.
I finally drifted off to sleep but was awoken a few hours later to the shrill call of a rooster. This marks the day I learned that roosters actually rise before dawn. The next time I woke the light was filtering into my room, the sun rising to reveal a golden hued world of varying shades of green and brown. The music of the morning was a constant swishing, back and forth rhythmically, and I could not figure out what it was until I finally crawled out of my sheet, out of my net, and over to the window that was shuttered closed behind large wooden rectangles. I pushed them apart to discover women sweeping. Sweeping the dirt ground. They spent an hour doing this every morning, leaning over with hips in the air and backs flat, to sweep the ground. I fell back into my bed, still feeling unrested, and eventually awoke a few hours later when the heat and noise made it unbearable to stay in bed. My eyes were puffy from the heat, my fingers swollen around my rings. The halo of frizz stood up around my head. My skin smelled sweet and pungent, a scent it would take on every time I would return to Ghana. As I awoke that morning I felt like I had already experienced a lifetime in my thirty six hours in Ghana. But of course, it had only just begun.