A Week in a Village

This past week five of my classmates and I spent a week in the small town of Adenkrobi. Adenkrobi is a community of about 300 people, with many residents working outside the town and living here only on the weekends. The community is about an hour drive north of Accra, but is only about 20 miles away. Roads leading to this community are very difficult to drive on. Daniel, our host for the week owns a van which he graciously toted us to and from the town in. This was a great blessing for us as taxis transporting people to the town cost a premium due to the rural location. The week was packed with learning opportunities. It will be difficult to capture everything in one blog entry, but I will try. Sorry if is this too long.

The evening we arrived we had dinner with Daniel, who I mentioned earlier as the man who opened his house for us to live in for the week. He explained the history of his relationship with Calvin College. The larger region in which Adenkrobi is located is called Ga East. The Ga East region of Ghana happens to be sister cities with Grand Rapids. Most of us knew this fact but figured it was more of a theoretical relationship, bearing no real practical actions by either city.  It seems however Adenkrobi is attempting to make this partnership mean something. By welcoming us into the community they are breathing life into a relationship.

The next day we were shown around the community by one of the elders. We met a few other elders, all in a very ceremonial way. An elder welcomed us to the town. We each shook his hand and expressed our gratitude for his kindness. We then introduced ourselves by stating our names. It is only then when the elder introduced himself and stated his own name. After this he offered us a drink. So one at a time, a cup of mysterious blue liquid is poured into a cup and we drank it. (It tasted like Pepsi Blue if anyone remembers that.) However I do not think the type of drink was significant. What mattered is that the drink was offered and that we accepted. Next we moved along to meet with the chief of the community. We entered his compound and sat in chairs. The greeting process was very similar to meeting the elders however when shaking his hand we had to hold our right wrist with our left hand indicating utmost respect. The chief formally welcomed us to the community and said because Grand Rapids and Ga East are sister cities he was our chief as well.

We also visited the school in Adenkrobi. As we walked up to the school complex consisting of two buildings, eight classrooms, and one administrative office the superintendent of the school greeted us. He told us some of the teachers hadn’t arrived yet, and asked us if we would like to teach some classes. Of course we accepted. However I couldn’t help but wonder why multiple schoolteachers hadn’t shown up to do their job and teach. The superintendent didn’t seem too worried or disappointed about this reality either. It seemed like a normal day. This makes me wonder a number of things. Is a school with no teachers a school? Is a modern education style the right fit for this community? If traditional education is what the community wants then how will the children of Adenkrobi gain access to the growing opportunities for the youth of Ghana?

The next day, Tuesday, we visited a farm. Most of the economic activity of the residents who stay in Adenkrobi all week is farming. This is mostly on a subsistence basis but they do sell some for profit if there is a surplus. We picked beans and peppers and we planted maize and cassava.

That evening we walked to a lookout point at the edge of the community and watched the sun set. While we were marveling at God’s beauty Daniel asked us a question. He said, “What time is it in Grand Rapids?” To be honest I was a little taken aback and upset at the question. I thought to myself, “I just want to relish this moment, I don’t want to think about ‘home’ right now”. We answered his question, “It is probably about 1:50pm”. He said, “So that sun is the same sun that is just about exactly in the middle of the sky in Grand Rapids”. My state of wonder deepened. Life in Ghana is so much different from life in Grand Rapids and the United States or ‘home’. People live differently, talk differently, eat differently, sing differently, dance differently, worship differently, love differently, cook differently, learn differently, walk differently, and see the world differently. Sometimes I feel like I am a world apart form everything I know as familiar. And yet, through all this, we share the same sun. We live on the same earth. What happens ‘back home’ affects life here in ways I do not fully understand. Due to the simple fact that we live on the same planet in the time in history in which we do, our lives are interconnected. I’m not sure if this is remarkably profound or incredibly obvious. But at that moment, while watching the sunset over the hills of Central Ghana, I understood.

Wednesday was a day with a lot of down time. I appreciated this as it gave me time to reflect upon my experiences over the past few days. Just before dinnertime we walked around the community to see the various families prepare their food. We watched as women stirred banku (ground cassava and maize) over a clay hearth outside of their houses. We pounded foo-foo (mashed cassava) with a pestle. We saw palm nut soup boil. As we walked around it was clear, life here in Adenkrobi works. It is very different from what I am used to and I may be outside of my comfort zone but for the people who live here, life works.

After our own dinner of fried yams we set out to go snail hunting. The only secret to snail hunting is knowing when to go. Snails come out of hiding only after it has rained and at night. We each were armed with a flashlight and we set off into the bush shining our flashlights, looking for the baseball sized snails. It was actually harder than expected. It was harder to spot them then I previously thought. Once a snail is spotted it is quite easy to pick them up, as they don’t move very quickly. After it all we had caught 85 snails. A good night we were told. We are set to eat the snails, probably on kabobs, on another night.

Friday morning we were instructed to wake up early. We woke up at 6:00am and set off down the road. We were fetching water. After walking for about a mile we filled up our 5-liter water cans in the river. Now the challenge is how to transport this 45-pound can of water back to town. On our heads of course! This proved to be more difficult than I thought. All over Ghana people are carrying things on their heads. Students carry refrigerators into their dorm rooms at the beginning of the year, women and children carry snacks and water for purchase in-between traffic, and members of Adenkrobi carry their water back to their homes on their head. Everyone here also does it with no hands. Immediately after placing the water on my head it was clear I needed to use my hands to steady my load. I was also using muscles I never knew I had. So we carried the water cans a mile back, up hill, on our heads.

Later that same morning we were scheduled to participate in a community football (soccer) match. Upon arriving in Adenkrobi the 3 guys and I were recruited to play on the school’s football team. So this morning we walk up to the football field expecting a nice friendly game with members of the community. What we found however is a full-blown community party. Music was blaring out of huge speakers. An announcer was facilitating. Food was being sold. We were quickly greeted by our teammates and given jerseys to wear for the game. Come to find out this was an extra special day for Adenkrobi. Evidently the MP of the Ga East region (who I understand as the governor or sorts) was planning on visiting. The football tournament was organized to bring the community together. There were three teams. The school team, consisting of teachers, older students at the school, and us four white guys. The village team, consisting of men who are not married and who don’t have kids. And finally the adult team, consisting of men who are married and who have kids. The first game started, my team verses the young men of the village. This moment promises to be one of the best of this semester for me. I was playing football with a bunch of Ghanaians, outside a school, in a small community, in the hills of Ghana’s Eastern Region, overlooking the landscape of Greater Accra. Unfortunately we lost the game 1-0. However we tied the second game 1-1 on a goal by Josh, one of the other Calvin students. When he scored all the little kids rushed the field and surrounded him. It was quite a scene.

On Saturday, after breakfast we went crab hunting. This consists of walking next to a river in the bush and looking for holes in the ground. When we found a hole all we had to do was stick our hand down the hole. The holes were quite deep and most of the time we had to stick our arm in up to our armpit and feel around for the crab. You know you found a crab when the smooth rock on the bottom of the hole pinches you. It was very muddy but very fun! For lunch on Saturday we ate foo-foo with boiled crabs and cooked snails. I liked them both! Snails don’t have much of a taste; mostly just feel like chewing rubber. Saturday night was our final night in the community so naturally we played drums and danced.

Sunday we visited one of the three churches in the community. We were to attend the Pentecostal church. There is also Prepetition and Methodist churches in the community. The service was held in one of the classrooms of the school. There were about 30 people in attendance. There was no music except for some drums but everyone sang with all they had. It was quite a memorable worship experience. The whole service was in their local language, which is Ga. About halfway through however one local man decided to translate some of the message for us. I never know how to handle these situations. I don’t want to interrupt the flow of the service but I also want to accept the gifts of the community graciously.

After it all it was a fantastic week full of experiential learning. One of the major take-aways for me is learning how to learn. I learned how to look at my every day experiences and learn from them. This is not a practice that only should be done in a new environment; it can and should be done in environments I am comfortable in. The week was also quite relaxing. Which was a stark contrast to life in the bustling and sprawling city of Accra. The next three weeks I will spend in Accra at the University of Ghana. After this three weeks however we depart for a ten-day excursion to the Northern Regions of Ghana.

3 thoughts on “A Week in a Village

  1. Jeff, thanks so much for sharing your fantastic experiences, and your very worthwhile reflections on them. We will have to hear more when your are back in GR. The food will not be half as exciting as you are enjoying now.
    Grandpa W.

  2. Jeff, we are enjoying your reflections and activities while in Ghana. Enjoy every minute of your time there and we are eager to hear more when you return.
    Grandpa & Grandma Bloem

  3. Love it all! Snails, crab-hunting, football, education, reflections, Pepsi Blue. & was about 1030a here in Seattle 🙂 I can imagine you as an old man, ” we carried those water cans on our heads! a mile up hill!” My lauren, in her first few weeks in college, writes a paper on the morality of international development. I tell her, oh darling, you’ve got to talk to Jeffrey at some point:) Miss you!!!

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