Ete Sen! (hello in Twi)
I've had quite a culture shock the past few days in Ghana.
My flights here were...eventful. On the (thankfully) short flight from Cape Town to Jo'burg I was seated in a group of Jehovah's Witnesses fresh from some convention, and they were all very chatty..especially with me. Good times! The flight from Jo'burg to Accra was incredibly cramped (even my knees couldn't fit in the seats!) and randomly stopped in Lagos, Nigeria for awhile..none of the people going to Accra were aware that we were stopping in Nigeria, but most of the people on the plane got off there!
I was met at the airport by the lovely Quarshi, a guy who works for the volunteer organization. He took me to the accommodation, where he had made me a little breakfast. After getting unpacked and taking an accidental nap, I met with John, the director of the program, to learn a bit more about my placement. They're really helpful here and want to make sure that I have a good experience. Later, Quarshi and I went around the city by foot and by tro-tro (vans that are the city's only transport system) to see the main market, bus station, a lovely supermarket filled with very expensive imported foods, and to get a Ghanian sim card for my phone.
Accra is very different from anywhere I've been so far...it's a capital city, but there are open sewers and very few paved roads. People walk around with baskets of fruit, bins of clothes or shoes, and even suitcases on their heads. It's really dusty, because they get winds at this time of year that blow in dust from the Sahara, so you get so dirty going outside, and it's insanely hot - when my flight landed at 5:30am, it was already 27 degrees (80 F)!!! Usually it's about 35 at the hottest part of the day (which is basically all day). And water here comes in little plastic bags that you bite open with your teeth, rather than bottles...everything is different!
Yesterday Quarshi went with me to the autism centre (I have to take two tro-tros to get there and walk through a very confusing market, so he's taking me there and picking me up for this week so I can learn the route). I met with Auntie Baaba, who is the lady in charge, and Mr. Mossi, the program director, as well as all the care givers. Most of the care givers are actually employed by the family and are household staff, so have very little training in autism. The centre has about 30 kids crammed into 3 small rooms, and the staff ratio is at best 1:2, but the kids are very high-needs and really need 1:1 (or some even 2:1!) support. The staff really do work hard though, with their limited resources.
I spent the day helping out and getting to know the kids and the staff. Today I got there bright and early for a full day of work. There's lots of singing and dancing involved all day, which the kids love. It's tough though - the kids all have a lot of sensory needs and the centre has no sensory toys, and sometimes the staff get overwhelmed and just let the kids do what they want. This afternoon Kofi, an incredibly tall, skinny, and strong guy, got very upset and was hitting me and grabbing my arms so hard he left bruises and welts, and none of the staff were very helpful...it was really hard. Later today I met with Auntie Serwah, the founder of the centre. She lived in the US for years, and her son has autism, and she returned to Ghana because she knew there were kids with autism here who had no services at all. She started the centre 10 years ago with 3 kids, and she reads everything she can about autism treatments. The kids are SO lucky to have someone so wonderful on their side! She's really trying to help them as best she can with the limited resources she has.
It's definitely going to be a good experience, and already it's made me so appreciative of the services kids with autism have access to in Western countries. Auntie Serwah wants to get all the ideas she can from me while I'm here, and I already have SO many!
This weekend I'm headed to Cape Coast, a beach town with lots of castles and a national park, with a girl from the volunteer house. Then it's a short work week and then shockingly Christmas! How did that happen so fast?!