Davidson's Summer Trip To Ghana
Oct. 14, 2010
SEATTLE - Ghana. Six hours after my last design history final. . . . 10 hours after my temperature of 103 returned to normal. . . . two days after my visa came. . . three weeks after I purchased my plane tickets. . . . And five weeks after I made the decision....I needed to make this trip.
Most everything about the start to my trip to Ghana was irrational. Fortunately, this particular spontaneous and somewhat irrational decision turned out to be one of the best adventures I have ever had. The idea for the trip was inspired by our team's experience in Brazil last year, which sparked a curiosity to learn more about other cultures.
After I contacted World Endeavors, the volunteer company I booked my trip through, I connected with Harriet Stephenson, a local professor from Seattle University whom I just happened to read about in a sorority magazine. Harriet and her friend Linda Thompson founded The Valued Girl Project, an organization that supports young women's growth through sports and education in Ghana. Through a combination of gear that our team gathered together and donations Harriet and Linda had collected, I was able to take a suitcase full of gear and balls to their team at the beginning of my trip before my commitment to World Endeavors began.
For my first weekend in Ghana, I stayed in a hotel Harriet arranged for me in the large city of Accra and worked with the U-18 Valued Girl Project team. I had a wonderful weekend with the girls and I only wish I could have spent more time with them. The longer I spent in Ghana the more I realized how unique and special it was to have an organized girl's team.
Come Monday morning I was shuttling to Kumasi -- which turned out to be a very interesting experience in itself. An hour long taxi ride through feet of standing water followed by a four hour bus ride on dirt roads with drivers who didn't speak much English -- I was so relieved when I made it to the World Endeavors representative and was able to meet my home stay.
Walking into my host family's house, I was welcomed by a lady in a goofy Bob Marley hat cooking over coals in the open central area of their (large) Ghanaian home. About 15 minutes after arriving and meeting the family, I felt right at home. My host mom was already cracking jokes about my height, red hair and American accent.
My home stay was a kind of a community of broken families in one large house--living there was a young nine year old girl, Beyonce, an unrelated 14 year old girl named Constance, her 30-ish year old sister and the 60-ish year old "mami" and her husband whom they called "papi." The two young girls had left their families living in smaller cities in Ghana to come stay in Kumasi so they could get a better public education.
As part of my participation with the World Endeavors program, I was assigned a volunteer coach for a boy's soccer club. I was assigned three teams at different age levels and five days of coaching each week. My first day coaching was long. The U-18's practice "started at 6" so naturally, as a coach I show up at 5:45...because I need to set out cones, meet with the other coach etc. Apparently not in Ghana. Practice starts at 6 is code for "practice actually starts at 7"; however, I couldn't get that idea into my head the whole time I was there. In all my years of soccer, being late for practice always translated into some degree of penalty.
Anyway, the first practice was with the older boys and I felt a bit overwhelmed. U-18's included any age from 17 and above for them, so I started out feeling a little silly trying to coach 24 year olds --- ha! Who am I and why would you listen to me?! Even though as a 20-year old woman I appreciated that the head coach treated me as an equal. I didn't have a problem coaching the goalkeepers, however. Not only were the goalkeepers that I saw fairly underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the team, but also the amount of information that Amy (our Husky goalkeeper coach) passes along to us makes training others easy. Her experience, training techniques and feedback have helped me so much I feel almost selfish if I don't repeat what she's taught me.
After the first training ended around 8:30 a.m., I went back `home' to help make lunch. I returned to the field for training at 2 to train the U-15's. This team was my favorite. It was an age that I felt comfortable coaching not only the goalkeepers but the whole team as well; an age that the boys made practice fun but still worked hard, and a group that responded by teaching me as much as I taught them.
After this training ended, we went right into working with the U-12 team. With this age group, it was REALLY challenging to get any soccer training done. The boys were absolutely wonderful, very respectful and polite, but just not very focused, and there were SO, SO many of them it was difficult to manage them all.
After the third session I was very ready for dinner.
Only to walk home and find... yummy. Fish. Dried. . . with eyeballs.
I tried really, really hard, but ICK.
Goodbye Cliff Bar #1.
The practice schedule for the next two weeks was similar to this first day. The parts of my day not consumed with trainings were spent learning from the ladies in the house about cleaning, cooking and shopping at the market. And cultural things like- how to eat chicken bones. I realized early on that I better ration the 20-ish Cliff bars my dad twisted my arm to pack.
I spent most nights huddled around a TV, just like everyone in Ghana, ready to watch the World Cup. The passion they have for the game brought a new light to what the World Cup and professional soccer players mean to the rest of the world. Whole cities in Ghana would stop when their National team played. Truly, stop. And after a victory the whole city would come alive again and party in the streets! --Way bigger than any super bowl party.
The U.S./Ghana match was played on one of my last nights in Kumasi. I went with two other volunteers to watch the game at one of the biggest sports bars in the city. I felt somewhat pathetic to have the Ghanaians know more stats on the US players than I did! Watching their reaction to the win, you'd have thought they had just won their country's independence.
Although I could not root against my country, the passion their nation has for `football' was amazing to see. It was sobering to coach kids playing on rocks with jelly sandals, mismatched or wrong-sized shoes, and see how much they LOVE the game even with all of the obstacles they are faced with just to play. I believe what gave the Ghanaian team the edge to beat the U.S. was a combination of this cultural love of the game and that each player on the team felt the intense national pride the whole country has for the team. In the heat of the battle they had more to fight for.
When I was asked to write a piece about my trip, I figured that it would be easy. But the second I started writing I realized how challenging, impossible really, to try to find how best to describe the experience that I had through words, or even through pictures. I still feel so many emotions about the 17 days I spent in Ghana. These emotions that I have are really what helped me realize how crazy lucky we are to have all that we do, things I know I took for granted ... grass on the soccer fields, new cleats, goalkeeper gloves, three coaches for our one team, nutritionists, trainers, top-level doctors, healthy food, clean, sanitary surfaces--I could go on and on.
Last year after returning from Brazil, we did a piece that we titled `thank you Brazil'. Although I want to say `thank you Ghana' for an amazing trip, more so I want to say `thank you football' for connecting me with both of these experiences and giving me a special way to connect with people across the world.