Nine very tired but very excited people turned up at the gates of Plymouth High School for Girls at four o’clock in the morning on Wednesday the 6th of July.
Saying our last goodbyes we all piled on to the minibus, half asleep, awaiting both the journey and the experience ahead. Mr Moisob, of course, being the loudest of all nine of us, would not be quiet for the whole two and a half hours to Bristol airport; not so good for the six grumpy teenage girls sitting in the back, we have to be honest. However, the excitement grew as the sun began to rise and we arrived at Bristol airport. Sharing breakfast and making sure we all took our malarone tablets we did make quite a scene, being told off numerous times for using a camera and unfortunately we didn’t make it through customs unharmed. We had difficulties bringing through some of the gifts we had brought for the girls and Beth’s deet was confiscated because, of course, she was planning to blow up the plane.
For those of you who don’t know, deet is a vital ingredient to our kit list; it is a mosquito repellent to prevent us from dying of malaria. We boarded the plane, sat in our seats and got ready for take off. This flight to Schiphol was shorter than the journey to Bristol and was pretty dull so we sat there in silence as we realised just how exhausted we were, already.
We arrived safely at Schiphol, Amsterdam, with no injuries other than a minor ear-ache so we split off into pairs for the three hour wait until our plane to Accra. We had a look through the overpriced shops, supposedly duty free, chowing down on a highly overpriced McDonalds thinking we weren’t going to eat for ten whole days, which we later found to be surprisingly untrue. We found a really cool touch-screen machine in the airport that could change our seats, pretty impressive; this was obviously the highlight so far. We all met at the departure lounge and got ready to board the plane, the students thinking the plane was going to be extremely old and grotty. But… to our surprise it was so plush, we had inflight entertainment with films, games et cetera, absolutely marvellous. They just kept feeding and feeding us with really scrumptious food and we wished we hadn’t wasted our money on the McDonalds.
Arriving at Accra airport was scary, the security guards had faces of hard stone staring us down as we grouped and walked slowly up the ramp to customs. In the queue, Mrs Frean could not find her yellow fever card which was seemingly a disaster. However, Frankie (2) Hurst tested out the need for this certificate and she got off scot free so Queen Frean with a calm head on her shoulders breezed through, with a sly thumbs up behind her back, sneaky. At the desk we had to give finger prints and they took a picture of our irises, it was like something out of CSI. We made it through, got our bags and met two men called Oliver and Chris who work for the Government and took us out of the VIP exit. We also met Divine, the Economics teacher who came to Plymouth in March with the group. We piled into a new mini bus, leant to us by a friend of Mr Moisob’s, and sped off to the GNAT hostel where we would be staying for two nights. GNAT stands for Ghana National Teachers Association. We found our rooms, split up into appropriate numbers only to find the mosquito net window covers had massive holes in, so being the electricians that we are we taped our mosquito nets onto the ceiling with … our electrical tape. We then ventured to the shower, a shock when freezing cold water came spouting out from the shower head, ooh the astonishment!! We managed to get over this, which is good because showering later became far, far more interesting.
Our first excursion was to the Akosombo Dam, with a 5am start and 7am breakfast on the terrace of the Volta Hotel with Martin Hiles who is Managing Director of the Volta River Authority and a friend of Plymouth High from 2006. It was so picturesque and one of the most beautiful sights all of us have ever seen; it was just amazing. After breakfast we ventured on to the dam itself with Seth the head of security, our wonderful guide. He gave us all the intricate details of the dam and its history and showed us all the workings of the dam for instance; the overflow gates and the pen stocks. Constantly telling us to “write it down” and occasionally attempting to spell things for us, which didn’t always end well (Catchement instead of Catchment). We saw the control room and also where the Hydro-electric power was generated. We then went to visit Mrs Osei, the previous head mistress of Ahantaman Senior School, where we tried our first proper Ghanaian food, jollof rice and chicken, plus cabbage stew for Frankie the veggie, (which we all must say was absolutely AMAZING!!) before we went back to the GNAT hostel to relax and have a sleep.
Friday was the day we were travelling to Ahantaman, and what high spirits the group were in. We sang for the whole four hour journey to the senior school. We arrived and what a welcome we received. The whole school had gathered to greet us with dancing and drumming; it was fantastic. We have never seen anything quite like it. We were ushered into Mrs Mercy Ocloo’s office where we were formally welcomed by the head mistress and we saw the girls who came over in March of this year, Janet, Gifty, Edna and Mavis. Together we looked through photographs of previous trips that were related to the link and drank cold water, which was a treat. The girls then took us up to the dormitories we were going to be staying in for the week and we were again graciously greeted. We got stuck in straight away, the girls sharing a room with Frankie (1) Kirby, Frankie (2) and Libbie took the three of us to choir and Becky, Beth and Nicky joined us later on. The voices that the girls had were absolutely out of this world, the strength and the power they portrayed just through their singing was astonishing and something we all will never forget.
Saturday, was interesting to say the least. We woke up around five thirty and went to fetch a bucket of water each for the shower. We were taken into the washroom of the boarding house and Janet and Doris said “two in there, one in there.” So, two of us were to shower together, an experience we can both admit that was something we never thought we would do. Before you ask, we weren’t completely naked but we did shower from buckets of cold water. This was indeed surprisingly pleasant after a long, sweaty day and we soon got used to this rather strange arrangement as the week progressed. Games was the first task on our list, with basketball first on the agenda. Ask any of the six of us if we had played this game before, the answer was categorically, NO. So an interesting game this was going to be. We lost, unfortunately, but not too badly and it was fun. All of us realised just how competitive we were in all of the games but this didn’t mean we were sore losers. Taking a relaxing trip to Africa Beach Hotel for a swim gave us a short break from the intensity of the students at the school and was very much welcomed, especially as Mrs Frean’s friend Bob Baldry, who owns the hotel, allowed us to swim for free.
We got acquainted with the girls ever so quickly; they visited our dorm every evening and we were asked questions about pretty much everything there was to ask about a person. It was all a lot of fun, with lots of dancing, singing, and making fools out of ourselves but I think we can safely say none of us regret this experience. For supper, Otilia rustled up a traditional Ghanaian dish of Banku, consisting of fish, a tomato sauce, shitto and a dough, we ate with our natural spoon; i.e. our hands. It was DELICIOUS, all of use absolutely adored the food it was amazing!! Note; shitto is a hot spicy sauce!)
Green Turtle Bay was Sunday’s excursion; we went with six Ghanaian students as we paired up with one each to be able to introduce each other at the formal assembly on the Monday. Green Turtle resort is a conservation site which focuses on eco-tourism and the talk we had from three employees was extremely interesting. We learnt loads about the turtles and the schemes they had in place at the hotel. Most played games along the water front making human monsters and such like, whilst others took a nap which was extremely necessary in these cases. When it was time to go after such a lovely day and such a marvellous time of course something was to go slightly off course… The bus got stuck at Green Turtle Bay. Not all hope was lost though, Kofi Leon (i.e. Mr Graves) saved the day of course and we got back to school on schedule. For supper we had Fu Fu, another Ghanaian specialty made by Otilia. It was delicious again, her food is just amazing. We took an early night which was definitely worth it although before bed the girls made us gari and shitto, a spicy powdery type food which was tasty.
The group were now exhausted and the morale was low but we had an exciting day ahead. Firstly we were being introduced personally by Mrs Ocloo and the girls who came with us to Green Turtle Bay. We watched the school assembly from the balcony and it was pretty cool. After, it was time for our first experience of an African market and what an experience it was. Some had a fantastic time bartering for goods whilst others got scared. The market is a busy and crowded place full of people swarming you, the hustle and bustle of the market created such an atmosphere it was crazy, exciting and scary. We got home around lunch time and some of us went for early siesta because we were so exhausted and it really did help us get back on our feet, we were recharged, revitalised and ready to go. We washed our clothes, ate pie, had fun with the girls in our room and had the best sleep ever.
We went to our first lesson with the girls on Tuesday which was really good although we were there too early to experience much of the teaching. The girls swarmed over us all, asking us questions and talking to us, giving us food to try, books to read and exercise books to look at. The excitement that came from the classrooms was crazy and it was really quite something. We went to meet the Mayor, which was high profile for both the link and Ahantaman School. The six of us and Mr Graves then went to Africa Beach to relax and Mrs Frean, Mr Moisob and Mrs Ocloo held further meetings with highly important people, which were seemingly successful. We had a wonderful day swimming, sleeping, plaiting hair which refreshed us again, we were still running on low juice and this was the perfect boost. We were able to buy a couple of gifts here before we made our way to the market for the second time. This was a much better experience for all. We went to prep with the girls for an hour or so and played games, talked and updated our diaries before we rested, had supper and got ready for bed.
We took a trip to Kakum rainforest national park on Thursday. We went on the canopy walk up in the emergent layer of the rainforest, and it was stunning. Words cannot even describe how brilliant it was and how picturesque, although we didn’t see much wild life. In particular the walk was just fantastic if a little scary. We had a tour from another Seth who told us about the history the wild life and the foliage which was very interesting. After the visit to Kakum we went to Hanss Cottage for refreshments and to look at the crocodiles before making our way to Elmina village where we had a guided tour round the former slave castle and looked through the “Door of no return”. When we left this village we were swarmed by merchants which was pretty scary, but we kept calm and swiftly moved forwards towards the bus; two people innocently accepted shells “as free gifts,” which got us into a bit of a pickle, but it was easily sorted as we gave the shells back as quickly as we could. Frankie (1) was feeling really ill but that didn’t stop her joining in with all of the activities. All of us, at this point in the trip couldn’t believe that our time in Ghana was nearly over whilst being ready to go home and see our families at the same time.
Culture day had finally arrived and we were all pretty excited, although not entirely sure when it actually started; we were working on “Ghana maybe time (GMT)” so three hours before and after the given time, and between the nine of us there were about five approximate times. First though, we went to visit the chief of Ahinkofi village, where we met with both him and the village elders to see how much the village had improved and how much it is progressing independently. It was actually very interesting as the elders sat in robes with the chief (Nana) on the throne. Although it was supposed to be formal it was really quite informal but scary. We then visited the village nurseries where we played games, sang and gave balloons out to the children. We had a great laugh and a lot of fun before we went back to the school for siesta.
Just before the performances began in the afternoon we were given beautiful dresses which we went and put on. Each of us worried they weren’t going to fit as we hadn’t been measured and fortunately all but one fit. However Otilia saved the day as she, the seamstress, managed to alter the dress in about ten minutes and it fit perfectly. The dancing, singing and acting was traditionally African and was amazing to watch. Mr Graves and Mrs Frean Became Nana Kofi and Nana Adjoa Mother Ghana (i.e. King and Queen Mother of the Ghana link) it was a ceremony that brought tears to our eyes as we watched. We all said our goodbyes that night and it didn’t go by without a few tears. We have made life-long friends and saying goodbye to such wonderful people was so difficult.
The morning for our departure arrived and we moved sullenly to breakfast after packing our last minute bits and pieces. We said our final, final goodbyes and got on the bus trying to hold back the tears, as we departed we sang “I love Ghana till I die, singing I love Ghana till I die, singing I love Ghana, Ghana, Ghana, Ghana, I love Ghana till I die.”
We started our journey to Accra not as chirpy as we had been on the way to Ahantaman. We visited the Minister of Education before we went to the crafts market to discuss the new skills centre that is being built at the senior school. Raising the profile of the link and the skills centre to the minister was very successful and even the students were representative here. We actually spoke in an important meeting, having an influence which is a pretty big deal. After this we went to the market where we bought our final gifts and bartered pretty well, bagging a few bargains for ourselves. We got grabbed and taken to many stalls and fortunately we just took it in our stride staying calm, being stubborn and we all did extremely well.
Then it was time to go to the airport. The whole trip felt so surreal in the moment we knew we were actually leaving. It truly felt unbelievable and just so sad. We said goodbye to Mr Moisob who was going north to visit his family. We got through customs easily this time, nothing too major to report here and we all sat waiting for our flight to be called. We were told at the beginning of the trip, this is going to be a life changing experience; you are going to realise things about yourself that you didn’t know before and some you will like but others you will not. It is amazing to see how far the six of us and the teachers have come in just ten days. It does not seem very long to reflect on yourselves and experience everything you can and it isn’t but the learning doesn’t stop here. We haven’t learnt everything about ourselves but as we reflect over our experience over the rest of our lives we will come into our own and change what we don’t like about ourselves. We have had the most amazing time, it is something that we will never forget and without the help of Mrs Frean, Mr Graves and Mr Moisob, all their hard work and organisation we would not have had such a fabulous time so we would like to thank them so much for giving us such a fantastic and unforgettable experience.
Libbie Renyard 12H
Footnote from Mrs Frean.
Many thanks to you girls too. You were brilliant at getting involved in everything we did, you never complained about having to do school work, and you were excellent ambassadors, not just for PHSG but also for your country. Very well done! And we have never taken a group before who tried all of the food put in front of them. We are very proud of you.