Ghana: Small Victories


ghanaI started the morning off with a bucket shower. I attempted to scoop up water that had the least amoeba-like creatures wriggling in it. I always found it a help that not wearing glasses while showering allowed me to employ the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kind of thinking that was needed when pouring contaminated water over yourself. It was pointless though, for any shower was made superfluous by the thrice daily plod over the hill, through the bush, to the school where I gave computer lessons. The zigzag through the fallen cassava was just long enough to have me greet my students dripping with sweat.

To open my classroom windows, I pushed the kente looms to the side, displacing a sizeable lizard. I had to wipe my brow multiple times with the shirt I had deemed the ‘least dirty’ in the pile on the bunk above my bed. As a novice hand washer it took me an hour to do a bucket of clothes which took a day to air dry, if it didn’t rain. In the days between washes my shirts acted as magnets for the red Ghanaian soil and the palm oil that was present in every meal.

Soon six of my twenty were perched on their stools along my table, typing on the keyboards I had them draw in the first week. Their languages were Nzema and Twi, English was a challenging new addition. I constantly had to remind them to use English, though their inflection and body language were enough to tell me that they thought endless repetition of ‘a’ and ‘;’ with their pinkies was pointless and boring. But when it was her turn to use the laptop and she received an accuracy score of 100%, Elizabeth pushed back her chair and gave herself an ecstatic standing ovation.

By the end of the day I had sweated through my classes, as well as my t-shirt. But as it was volleyball day, I helped to herd the cats to the pitch, which was an activity that took at least 30 minutes. In that time Diana and Elizabeth told me their stomachs hurt too much to play and three students asked to do my laundry instead. My once weekly laundry sessions clearly didn’t cut it in a culture where the little they had was always in pristine condition. I promised them I would do a load after school, and they were welcome to stay and coach me.

Once there were finally two working teams, Akwidaa versus Cape Three Points, the game started. I chose to sit with Diana and Elizabeth who, as best friends, shared everything, obviously including matching stomach ailments. I allowed Elizabeth to braid my hair while Diana kept score. It wasn’t long until she was fired from this position and she happily settled next to me to inspect my left forearm. I expected her to mention my sunburn or my mosquito bites but instead she gave me her absolutely radiant smile and said, “Your arm is beautiful!” Just another day at the office.

About the Author: Haley Olson now attends Carleton College in Northfield, MN after taking a year off to teach in Ghana and to travel and work in the U.K., Ireland, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic.  She kept a blog of her travels at and will hopefully be adding more adventures to it soon!

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