I was prompted to write this by a Raleigh International update, which made me think about my expedition to Ghana and the affect it has had on my life…
It started with the weekend interview and a river crossing, in slippers by one candidate. I got in, personally I think due to my Mum’s training when camping as a child – I actually wiped down the groundsheet to sleep on and had a wooden spoon tucked away in my rucksack!
I raised money through a cash lottery with a weekly email update entitled ‘Ruth Goes to Ghana’ (one friend commented that I wrote like I think, very revealing for her!). The rest I basically just paid for out of my wages, resigned in September 2003, went ski-repping in Switzerland for the Winter and to Ghana in May 2004. They still did paper tickets for the plane back then…
Arriving in Ghana, I was overwhelmed by the constant drumming… It was green, a shock. Hot, not a shock. And everyone there was fascinated by my hair, long and blonde, and my skin, still very white.
We trained as expedition leaders in Accra. Maybe 30 of us, mostly around 30-ish. That was the easy bit… The Venturers arrived about 5 weeks later. They were 17-25 years old, many from Glasgow, some gap year students, others Ghanaians. I did not understand much of what was said at first – accents (mostly Glaswegian), noise and chaos all contributing to this. Just outside Accra, we did our first trek with the group we would take onto the first Phase of the expedition. There were cobras, dehydrated young people, unbelievable tiredness and relentless heat.
Then I heard by letter that a good friend had been killed on a motorbike. He was 31, he never saw his child. He had emailed me just before I left and I had not replied before heading off to Ghana. As you can imagine, the expedition leader reading this Baz Luhrmann track went straight to my heart:
Sleeping in a tent became normal after 3 months. We cooked on BBQ-like stoves – including making bread from scratch. We sat over a very long pit, the long drop, some with chronic diahorrea… We built a primary school and nursery (making mud bricks from scratch), refurbished a hospital, constructed a toilet block and used machetes to carve a trail for the tourists visiting Bui National Park.
One of my overriding memories is of a young venturer who didn’t thrive in his first placement but subsequently found himself, weirdly through hefting a pickaxe. He changed from being a frustrated individual to being well-rounded, friendly, supportive and a pleasure to be with. As I understand it, he carried this attitude on into his future and I hope I was a little bit to do with that.
Thinking about the experience of Ghana itself. Of course, there were mosquitos and very itchy, very large nits. There was also malaria and fairly frightening medical facilities… There was poverty but there was sharing the last of your food with someone who had none. There was illness but also people willing to take care of you. There was nothing in terms of material things compared to the UK but there was gratitude for something as simple as a pencil. Deeply inspirational.
I saw hippos in their natural habitat and a massive elephant called Action looked straight into my eyes from 20 yards away… I saw slave trading castles, where the floor in the room where the slaves were ‘stored’ before being transferred to the ship, was a metre higher than the rest of the building floor. Accumulated and compacted human waste.
All things considered my experience in Ghana had a profound impact on my view of life. Some lessons have taken me a while to absorb, others were immediate leaving me with a conviction that Adventures that Matter really matter. Exposure to other cultures and environments really matters. These experineces impact on the traveller, the local inhabitants and positively colour the world for both. They change perceptions, build confidence and create lifelong friendships.
In Ghana, I saw my favourite birthday sunrise. A memory I will hold forever.
Book your own adventure soon.
Love Ruth x
P.S. Beware the reverse culture shock…