My plane touched down in Accra, the capital of Ghana, on Wednesday evening. My introduction to Ghana was the wave of humidity that hit me on walking out of the plane; after making my way through customs and out into the greeting area, the flurry of activity and voices were my introduction to Accra.
Shawn, a fellow Engineers Without Borders Junior Fellow, met me coming off the plane. It was my first time seeing one of the other JF's since training, and I wondered about all the experiences he must have had since our training week back in May. JF's are university students from across Canada, who spend 4 months on volunteer placements in developing countries through EWB. This year, I am the only JF to work in the fall rather than the summer, owing to the unique schedule of being in a co-op program.
We met Mel, another JF, later in the night, and the two of them saw me off on the bus to Tamale the next morning. As with many EWB volunteers before me, the city of Tamale is my starting point for learning more about the north, and eventually travelling to the district I'll be working in. The bus ride to Tamale lasted a total of 13 hours, with stops at several rest stations, including one in the major city of Kumasi. I learned later that this is considered a very successful ride (no hold-ups or breakdowns, and a fast driver).
The day after arriving in Tamale, I was able to sit in on a wrap-up retreat for the Ghana JF's. Every Junior Fellow travelling to Ghana that I trained with was at the retreat (except for Shawn and Mel, who were already in the south). This was a very lucky situation for me, to be able to catch up with everyone and hear about all of their stories and the different districts that they had worked in.
A friend of Kristy Minor, one of EWB's Long-Term Overseas Volunteers, invited us to her house for supper that night, where I had my very first Ghanaian TZ (a meal made from maize flour, with a consistency like porridge in jello form, drenched in soup and eaten by hand). As the JF's reminisced around me, I felt incredibly inexperienced. I knew that I was just starting out, as they once had, but somehow comparing myself to everyone I had gone through training with just 3 months before left me feeling somewhat lacking. I wondered how it had been different for them, to learn some of the basics together at a group, but I also somehow enjoy the challenge of 'going it alone'.
We learned about the culture shock cycle in training; entering a new culture, you can often expect to feel invigorated by all the new and different things around you, then eventually have an emotional crash as you realize how little you know. This levels off with experience. In my first few days, I think that I've oscillated between the first few stages several times already. The knowledge of the LTOV's and JF's definitely brings reality home, but I also can't wait to get out to the district I'll be working in, to discover another new culture and language.
Tomorrow, I head for Navrongo.