» Back to UYC Projects

Ghana Summer Camp 2004

Project Dates: August 12-17, 2004

The 2004 Youth Corps Ghana Trip, or, "Mr. Rhodes' Wild Ride"

by Jonathan Roybal

Ghana. So much to say, so much done, so much remembered. Where does one even begin? Well, I guess that a good place to begin is at the beginning.

We first arrived in Accra, Ghana, on Tuesday night, after many hours of travel and meeting up for the Ghana flight in Amsterdam. The first thing that struck me was the cacophony of the parking lot in the airport: drivers, rather than following more set patterns like in the West, seemed to individually negotiate with cars in their path to make their way through intersections and traffic. This was a pattern that I quickly found was true of all of Ghana.

We spent the first night eating dinner and asking questions of the ministers, especially Mr. Rhodes, regarding what was in store for us at the camp and in Ghana. I was relieved to learn that in 20 years, nobody had ever contracted malaria after staying for as short a time as we were going to (eight days). The hotel was relatively Westernized—a fact that belied what we would later encounter.

The next day, we set off for Elmina, a town built around an old coastal fortress originally constructed by the Portuguese and later owned by the Dutch and then the English. After the Western hotel, a stark contrast arose from seeing Accra and Elmina—both very impoverished by comparison to the area we had seen before around the airport, although the fort itself was kept up.

One thing that I also noticed early on about Ghana is that Christian missionaries apparently have had a big impact on the local populace—most shops had names referring to people or places in the Bible, giving names like "Jesus is Lord Plumbing Supplies" or "El-Shaddai Electrical" to local shops.

The poverty was especially strongly felt here, because several children made a point of asking the names and nationalities of visitors to the fort, and then writing it on a shell and selling you the shell. Many other children simply begged, in large groups, following you. Those children made me feel guilty for staying in the hotel while they languished, even though that night was our last night in a Westernized hotel for a week.

The next morning we went to a small preserved rain forest park, where a Canadian team of engineers had built a walkway in the rain forest canopy, 150 feet up, so that one might see the upper layers of the rain forest better. This, in my opinion, was one of the most memorable sightseeing sights of the trip, because I've never seen anything like it. Canopy walkways are unique—there are only a few in the world.

After a snack of fresh, raw coconut, we went to visit one of the pastors in Ghana, and the half-finished church building that was being built near his home. The pastor, Benjamin, was very friendly and humble—characteristics that I would soon find to be exemplary of Ghanaians in general. After our brief visit there, we continued on into Kumasi, where the camp was to be held and where the church rents a house for visitors to stay in (because renting and managing is far more cost-effective than renting hotels every time a church visitor comes into Kumasi).

The house was our lodging for the third night, and it was here that we first experienced Ghanaian friendliness and hospitality. I was truly humbled to see how little these people had. The house, for example, was often without running water, let alone hot water, and often lost power. Yet everybody at the house was very friendly, warm and eager to serve, all with a zeal and dedication that has become too scarce in the West. This became only more apparent as time went on during my stay in Ghana; for in humility and gratitude, the Ghanaians set an example that we all should follow.

Camp began the following day. The theme of the camp was serving and being a servant. I remember thinking this to be very fitting, especially for the volunteers, for if I have ever seen people who are willing and ready to happily serve, even despite hardships, it was the Ghanaians. Their example of serving could be seen in many different forms in the different parts of camp.

As campers arrived, the other volunteers made a point of introducing ourselves to them, and all the staff were more formally introduced when Azariah Maxwell Coffie, the camp director, led the camp orientation.

Interestingly, the way Mr. Coffie got the group's attention to start orientation was not by calling for silence, the way we do in the West. Instead, he simply began singing a song that would soon become irrevocably stuck in our heads because of its frequent use: "I love you with the love of the Lord." The basic lyrics are: "I love you with the love of the Lord. I love you with the love of the Lord. I can see in you, the glory of the Lord. I love you with the love of the Lord." That is repeated, over and over. Sometimes (such as the first time) the song would be accompanied by everybody standing up and shaking hands with one another warmly—probably my favorite part of the song. Anyway, Mr. Coffie sang this song and by the end of the first repetition, the entire room had joined in.

A difference that will strike many Westerners immediately about culture in West Africa is that there is almost no concept of maintaining silence when somebody is speaking to a group. The fact that Ghanaians are so friendly and therefore talkative does not help. This sometimes made it difficult to get the campers' attention the traditional way; however, they responded immediately to music and rhythm, joining in as soon as they got the basic melody down—something you would seldom find in the West. This explains why Mr. Coffie almost invariably started any group address off with "I love you with the love of the Lord." I sometimes wished I had my own song to do the same with chess, which I was introducing to the campers!

Fortunately, this quality showed up less in actually teaching the classes. However, sometimes apathy set in. The antidote? Friendly competition, which the Ghanaians particularly enjoy (they shouted and danced in their teams every time that they won at anything). While the language barrier was sometimes a bit of a problem, and therefore getting your point across, myself and the other volunteers managed to deal with it. The only thing which complicated that, really, was that people will often nod and say "Yes" like they understand, even if they don't—perhaps to be polite. It became a bit of a game to guess who really understood you in Ghana and who was merely trying to be nice.

But in friendly competition, along with direct examples, I found tools for interesting and better teaching the chess students. And, although some did find chess to be boring or confusing, there would always be those few who not only understood but understood well. And as the camp went on, I was pleased to see those few become more and more numerous. Those kids—the eager ones who wanted to learn—made the class feel truly worthwhile. The other sports classes went on similarly, although naturally soccer was the easiest. Around the world, one quickly finds that soccer functions as a sort of universal language, and Ghana is no exception. I just hope that chess catches on similarly, especially since West Africa, culturally, does not place much value on thought or education. Perhaps competitions of the mind, like chess, will someday change this.

The food in Ghana was...well, different. The Western stomach will have some difficulty getting used to it, as it is far from anything a Westerner is likely to have eaten. Most food is served in the form of rice or flour balls (think rice crushed and boiled in ball form), usually with a spicy sauce on the side, which often contained fish. This is eaten with one's hands. We, the "brunee" (white) visitors were the only ones who ate with utensils for most of the meals. Since our stomachs were not prepared, and we could hardly simply leave and not eat the food that was made for us (one of the few things that insult Ghanaians is rejection of their plentiful hospitality), this part of camp was difficult to say the least.

However, we found that after some getting used to, eating rice balls and sauce was really not that bad. Also, the kitchen staff was, in typical Ghanaian fashion, very friendly and eager to serve, and thus they often would have more palatable dishes, such as chicken and rice or "redred" (a dish with beans, tomato and onion; very similar to chili) prepared for us especially, and this was quite often. We were fortunate to find that the staff was constantly trying to make our meals as enjoyable as possible, and in this tireless effort to please, I had found another example of willingness to serve to follow.

Notice that I said eating with one's hands was common practice? Although unsanitary, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in that respect; and this is another thing that the Westerner will have difficulty getting used to. Flush toilets are a rarity and ones that actually flush are rarer still. Hot water is a hard luxury to come by. Soap is seldom used. Fortunately, many of the people in the Church are Westernized to some extent in this respect; however, in the culture in general the lack of sanitation remains fairly universal.

Of all the modern conveniences and contrivances that Americans have grown accustomed to being spoiled with, this is the only one that I really missed. I didn't mind only having one or two channels, and I could do without the Internet and even without electricity at all, but I really missed hot showers.

However, as with many of the "hardships" (which really were not that hard) on this trip, I soon found that I could do fine even without hot water. It's amazing how many things we in the West think are "necessities" that really aren't necessities at all; you can really do just fine without them. By the end of the trip I hardly even noticed that the water was cold, and every time I was reminded of this, I was humbled just a little by the example the people there set, dealing with that and worse every day as a fact of life. Not only were they not complaining, they were grateful and happy for what they had and ready to serve you, their brethren.

The West Africans' grateful and serving attitude really came out, I found, during Christian Living and especially church services. There was a certain indescribable dedication that was present in the eyes and hearts of the members there. You could see it plainly in the distances they had traveled and the effort that they had made just to be there. Some of them had traveled several hours or more just to hear Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Holladay speak. You could see it in the way they sang, for they did not merely recite the words, but rather seemed truly to offer their praise up to heaven.

You could even see it in the way they listened. Remember how I said that in West African culture there is seldom silence when somebody addresses a group? Well, during church services one could hear a pin drop. One could describe it as a hunger for spiritual food; spiritual food that was savored to the last. In this respect I was also humbled; the members had again set a high example.

Perhaps one area where the noisy warmth and competitiveness of the West Africans really came through to make great activities was in the various competitions between teams, including the talent show and the mock Olympics (with events such as the egg-and-spoon race). They displayed enthusiasm like I have never seen for the egg-and-spoon race, cheering their teammates on and whooping mightily when their team won.

And the talent show was truly amazing! Far from being lackluster and embarrassed, the West Africans put a great deal of effort into making their talent shows enjoyable and let it shine through when they performed. Dan, one of my fellow volunteers, made the observation that the scenes done were almost Shakespearian, to give you an idea. Despite having limited resources, there were props, costumes and even scenery. The stories were entertaining and often biblical. For example, one story paraphrased the parable of the prodigal son in modern times, where a son, given a Bible for his birthday instead of a car, leaves, loses all his money, and finally comes to return to his house and to God as well. Once again I was impressed by how much effort and dedication the people invested despite their limited means.

When one visits Ghana, if one only remembers a single characteristic of the people, it will surely be their friendliness and brotherly affection. This was evident in many forms. When we visited the orphanage in Kumasi where we were to donate and help the staff, we were swamped by children hugging us and crowding around us, perhaps happy at our contribution, perhaps merely grateful for our visit. And one quickly finds that a similar reaction, albeit more restrained, is characteristic of the warmth with which Ghanaians treat guests. Even Mr. Coffie was constantly mentioning his gratitude, and the West Africans' gratitude and joy, that we had come to serve them at their camp.

And that was not merely lip service. They had, for each of us, both a woven African scarf and an African outfit with tunic and trousers brightly patterned. And this was given from a people whose average income is less than a dollar a day, so although these were perhaps inexpensive by our standards, the West Africans had clearly invested what was to them a great deal in these gifts. They even gift-wrapped them and made a ceremony of presenting them to us, in front of the camp, and all I could do was smile at the example of service they had once again set forth for me to follow.

As camp drew to a close, and we received our gifts, I took part in a curious bit of the West African culture—they love to take photos and be photographed. Campers on all sides were often asking me to "snap" them, or me, or them with me, or their cousins, or any number of combinations. I guess this ties in with the high level of sociability that the Ghanaian culture has. And likewise, it was difficult to leave these people at last as they bid us farewell.

After leaving camp, there lay ahead of us a drive of several hours, which was not made any shorter by the condition of the Ghanaian roads. The roads have not been repaved in many years, and had more holes than the theory of evolution. (Which is another way of saying there were a lot of holes.) However, in true Ghanaian spirit, I quickly learned to enjoy the ride despite the frequent jostling, and simply laugh at the minor misfortune, because really, when a misfortune so minor as that one befalls you, what more can you do but laugh at your predicament?

There lay ahead of us another day of traveling and flight, until we arrived at last in London. Now, I had been to London many times before, but nonetheless, after the conditions in Ghana, which we had all grown accustomed to, London was truly heavenly.

Words cannot describe the feeling of one's first hot shower in days, or the exquisite taste of fish and chips after days of food foreign to the Western stomach. I found London to be a wonderful and fitting conclusion to our adventure. We traveled about London, seeing various sights like the crown jewels and Big Ben. One opportunity that I was grateful for was when we went to see the interior of Buckingham Palace, especially because I had never been able to do that before. We took the Underground almost everywhere, which was fine with me since I love the Underground, we ate in pubs, we even saw a play (The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie). And when the weekend and thus the conclusion of our trip finally rolled around, we met up with the British brethren and heard Mr. Rhodes speak on prophecy to the small group of members there. Then we spent our last evening there talking with them in pubs and walking about Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and the West End—the entertaining area of London—enjoying the city, and ourselves, before at last returning home the following day.

Looking back, I can scarcely believe that the trip is over. In fact, I saw and did so much that sometimes it seems that many parts of Mr. Rhodes' Wild Ride never even happened; that I must have merely dreamed them. But then I remember the Ghanaians—their warmth, their eagerness to serve, their joy and even the cold showers—with affectionate reminiscence, and I realize that the whole thing really did happen. I was there all through it—through the food, the songs, the worship, the lessons and all the friends and people who made the whole ride possible. What a ride it was!

» Back to UYC Projects

» View Photo Gallery