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Final Week.

While writing this blog update, I am sitting in my bedroom with sweat beads gathered on my forehead and a gecko staring at me from the doorframe of my bathroom. When I think about the fact that neither of these two things phases me, I cannot help but laugh. Four months ago this combination of sweat and a little beady-eyed creature would have been beyond bizarre. Now? I have just come to accept that this is my life … but not my life for much longer!

With five days left until I leave Ghana, it seems surreal to look back at all that our Calvin group has accomplished in the course of a mere four months. We have climbed waterfalls, we have survived the chaos of many markets, we have cried tears of joy and tears of sorrow, we have discussed our poop problems, and we have grown closer to our Heavenly Father as one body. Though many of our experiences would not be categorized as ‘glamorous,’ that certainly was not the point of this trip. The goal of this trip was to engage in a different culture in a way that made us appreciate our own culture at home, and I believe we all accomplished that.

Looking back at all of the excursions that we went on, it is crazy to think that we travelled throughout essentially the entire country and visited places that many Ghanaians have not even been to before. Since I stayed with a host family, I cherished the excursions that we went on because they created opportunities for me to get to know the other members in our Calvin family. It was on these excursions that friendships and family-like bonds were established … which is something that I deeply loved.

The most recent excursion that I went on was a trip to the beach in Cape Coast with 10 other students from our group. Since it is the end of the semester, we were given one week in which we could travel anywhere we desired, and the 10 of us decided to head to the beach. We spent four days listening to the waves crash upon the beach, feeling the heat of the sun beat upon us, and watching the dance of the bioluminescence shine its bright orange glow in the waves at night. (For those of you who don’t know what bioluminescence is (much like I didn’t before this Cape Coast trip), you can learn more about it here.)

After spending a month at Haven of Hope, it was so nice to be able to relax and get my tan on. Okay … attempt to get my tan on. We’ll see if my efforts paid off or not after I return home!

It just so happened that Thanksgiving fell over this week of free travel, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After Christmas, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I love everything that is associated with this holiday – the family, the day-after Thanksgiving tradition that my family has of cutting down our Christmas tree, the ‘I’m going to stuff my face with so much food that I can barely move’ concept that inevitably happens every year, and most of all the idea of setting aside an entire day devoted to being thankful for the blessings that our Heavenly Father has so richly blessed us with.

Since I love Thanksgiving so much, being away from home was a bit more difficult than other days of the semester. However, being able to spend it with other members of my Calvin family proved to me just how much I really have to be thankful for. We created our own dysfunctional Thanksgiving meal made of street food (which included meat kabobs, hard-boiled eggs, pineapple, corn on the cob, cucumbers, carrots, and ice cream sundaes) and simply enjoyed each other’s company. As our dinner concluded we proceeded to say everything that we were thankful for, ranging from our families back home to the family that has been created here in Ghana to the simplicity of living in a developing country.

Each string of words that left everyone’s mouth while saying what they were thankful for was impeccably beautiful.

Sure, this Thanksgiving was not like any other I have had. And sure, we kept laughing at the fact that we were having our own Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. But I loved every minute of it. I have so much to be grateful for, both here in Ghana and back home in the States, and being away from home has made that so prevalent to me.

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After this week on the beach and its magnificently painted sunsets concluded, we can jump back to today. With only five days left of this Ghanaian adventure, it is clear that my time is slowly dwindling. I am beyond excited to return home to my friends, family, and SNOW (go figure … there is a kind of weather where I won’t sweat everyday?!), but I also know that there will be so many things that I will miss about Ghana.

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They always say you never know what you have until it’s gone, and I believe this to be true. There are most likely numerous things that I and the other students will miss about Ghana that we don’t realize right now, so I pray that God gives all of us the ability to retain as many sights, smells, and experiences in these last few days as possible. Spending a semester in another country is such a unique and beautiful experience, and I will never forget it.

So, now what? Now that this semester of a lifetime is nearly finished, what comes next? To be honest, I have no idea yet. I know that I will return to the States, complete the spring semester of my junior year, and play on Calvin’s tennis team. But the most important question is how am I going to retain the rawness of life that I learned this past semester? I think that only time and God’s guidance will tell.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

 

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Haven of Hope: Week Three.

As I am sitting awake in my apartment at Haven of Hope Orphanage, it is 6:30am on a Sunday morning yet there are voices and noises filling the air outside. I hear the voices and laughter of teenagers filling the air, the muffled sound of tro tros, which are most likely falling apart at the seams, from the nearby road, and that ever annoying “hoo hoo hoo…hoo…hoo” from the morning dove-like creature sitting just outside my window. To some, these noises may be unpleasant. To me? They are simply reminders that this is Africa.

I am just three weeks away from being smitten with the mitten, which is just incredible to me. It seems like I just arrived in Ghana – I can picture myself walking off the plane, being bombarded with an almost overwhelming gust of humid air, and walking into the airport with my fellow classmates thinking, “There’s no turning back now.” To be honest, it was beyond scary at first. There I was putting myself into this situation in which I knew nobody, knew very little about the culture, and knew absolutely nothing about what I was about to experience in the next few months of my life. While I was scared, my emotion bucket was also filled to the brim with excitement for what was to come.

Fast forward three months and you will be brought to this very morning, where the sun is slowly warming up the world around me. I have been living at Haven of Hope Orphanage for three weeks now, and am happy to say that I have loved (mostly) every minute of it. The kids have been great, Doug and Sally (the couple who runs the orphanage – originally from West MI!) have been more than welcoming, and the living situation has been great.

During my time at the orphanage, I am staying in an apartment with three other girls from our group. The apartment has its own kitchen, a common area (this is where we eat our meals and just hang out), two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. Oh yeah…and RUNNING WATER coming from my showerhead. This is probably one of the most exciting things I have experienced in the past three months. After having to take bucket showers everyday for the past three months, I realized how much I appreciate running water!

The four of us get to cook all of our own meals, which has been pretty interesting. Cooking in Ghana is not quite like cooking back in the States. At home, essentially any and every ingredient you may need is accessible through this lovely concept called a grocery store. Here in Ghana, most of your foods are bought right off the street. They do have grocery stores back in Accra, but it’s not always easy to access them because we live about an hour or so away from the city. Not having access to a grocery store is hard, but it makes me so much more grateful for when I’m home and can drive to Family Fare and back within 15 minutes for all of my grocery needs.

Buying my foods off the streets here is not only faster, but it is also much cheaper. For example, I have bought probably 15 plantains for 5 Cidis ($2.50), two loaves of bread for 2 Cidis ($1), and seven bananas for 1 Cidi ($0.50). Everything is so cheap over here – I am sure I will go through huge sticker shock after returning home!

Back to the orphanage…I love it here! Haven of Hope Academy is a school that takes place on the orphanage’s compound. There are about 250 kids who attend the school, ranging from KG-JHS3 (Kindergarten-Junior High School 3…or Kindergarten-9th grade for those of you like me who didn’t know). Some of the kids are such stinkers, but they are all filled with such joy and God’s love and are never afraid to show it.

The past three weeks have been filled with some busy work, some not so busy work, and some fun work. During the school days of the first week, Julia (the other girl working at the orphanage with me) and I completed eye exams on every student. You may be thinking, “Wow! I didn’t realize Courtney was going into optometry!” Well…you were right. I’m not! Lucky for me, the tests were simple enough that I was able to complete them. Each student was shown a series of images and was asked to explain the image they saw. This test did not determine the specific magnitude of each student’s ability to see clearly, but placed him or her in general categories based on what they could see. Easy enough, yet accurate enough that it will hopefully result in some students going to see a professional optometrist.

Aside from completing the eye tests and doing a little bit of subbing for teachers, I also passed out the new uniform shirts to the kids who live at Haven of Hope. All of these kids have sponsors to help pay for their food, housing, and these uniforms. As you can imagine it was quite a fiasco to pass out the correct shirt sizes to 50 kids, most of which are teenagers. But we did it!

In this final week at the orphanage, I have two main tasks. The first is to complete two brochures. One of these brochures will be sent to corporations and potential donors in Ghana, meaning I need to use “Ghanaian language” in them, and the other will be sent to corporations and people back in the States. I am actually really excited for this opportunity! It will allow me to apply what I learned in my business writing class this past spring (shout-out to Professor Hull!), and will also help bring awareness to Haven of Hope. This organization is doing such great things for the kids here and brings a sense of home for each child, so it would be a shame to not inform others about it.

My second task for the rest of my time here is much easier and much more difficult than the first all at the same time: I need to just hang out with the kids from the orphanage and school. This is easy because…well, let’s be honest. These are some of the cutest kids I have seen in my entire life. They have some of the biggest eyes, the biggest smiles that melt my heart every time I see them, and the cutest voices that respond in unison with “I am fine, thank you” when I ask how they are. I basically want to give each and every one a huge squeeze every time I see them and just show them some love.

Many of those who live at Haven of Hope are actually teenagers, so it has been really cool to get to know them. At first some of them played the “I’m a teenager so I’m too cool to hang out with you” game, but it’s safe to say they have softened a lot. We frequently go on walks through the village that is just outside the compound, and they often stop to Ma Annie’s, the little 12’ x 12’ store just outside the orphanage compound, to buy candy, ground nuts, or a handful of sugar.

Whether it is watching a football game with them, letting them play with my hair, or teaching them simple hand games, I have come to appreciate the little times that I get to spend with these kids and young teens. I may be older than all of them, but they are still teaching me new things everyday. I am slowly working on my Twi with them, I am learning what it means to be more light-hearted and have a flexible schedule (after all…this is Africa), and I am learning even more about the face of God through them.

I am astounded daily at the faith of the Ghanaians, and this is no different at the orphanage. Watching the most precious little 8 year old belt his heart out praising God at the Sunday morning church service fills my heart with lots of warm fuzzies, and knowing that each person living at this beautiful home prays for his or her sponsors everyday makes me take a step back and realize what a great God we serve. I may be miles and miles away from home, but knowing that the God I serve at home is present here in Ghana as well is incredible. He fills the silence of the morning with a gentle whisper just like in 1 Kings 19:12, He fills the hustle and bustle of the afternoon with the sounds of children laughing, and He fills the darkness of the night with the bright reflection of the moon and the stars. Praise God for being in every place at every time of day in every situation!

This next week at the orphanage is bound to bring easy and hard times, but I know that each of them will make this Ghanaian journey more complete. I hope and pray that each Calvin student dispersed throughout Ghana sees, hears, and experiences God in these next few weeks. Getting caught up in the business of this service learning is easy to do, but we need to remember that God is the One who gets us through each and every day – it is not by our own will or power, but by the One who is before us, after us, and beside us through each step of this journey.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” Psalm 143:8

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Ghanaian Markets.

Pre-Blog Adventure Disclaimer: I did not take the pictures of the markets that I have included, so I cannot take credit for them! All credit and a huge shout out goes out to those lovely Google image suppliers!

This weekend we had nearly our last excursion as a Calvin group.  We all have our service learning, which in itself is its own huge excursion, and we have our final retreat in Adenkrebi, but other than that we have no more formal trips as a group! I just cannot believe it and don’t even know where the time has gone. It seems like years ago and just yesterday at the same time that I left my family in the Grand Rapids airport for this crazy adventure – an adventure in which a group of complete strangers have become like another family to me in just over two short months.

I still remember when students from previous Ghana semester trips were at our meetings back in the spring. They kept talking about how we would all become like one huge family. My first initial thoughts when they told us that? “Oh dear. What have I gotten myself into?!” Even thinking back to the beginning of this trip is quite comical. It is comical to think of how awkward we all were from not even knowing each other…and now? Now we are probably the strangest and most dysfunctional family you have ever met. However, I love the fact that we are dysfunctional and strange. We used to be a group who tried to fill empty space with tiny stories or jokes, and now we are a group who fill empty space belting out the Veggie Tales theme song at the top of our lungs.

These people, as strange as we all are, have become a family. We have bonded over homesickness, real sickness, poop (yes, we have many conversations about poop), culture shock, Christ’s presence, and so much more. We may not be blood related, but I am proud to call each and every individual part of my family.

Ok…back to this excursion in Kumasi! Kumasi is a city that is about a five-hour drive away from Accra and includes the largest open air market in West Africa. In this market there are more than 10,000 stalls selling products ranging from cocoa to tomatoes, shoes to football (AKA soccer) jerseys, and car tires to cell phone chargers. If you need to buy something, the chances of it being at this market are pretty high. The only thing I am not sure if they have is cheese, but I am not so sure as though you can find this anywhere in Ghana. Sorry, Dad!

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There were so many people and so many products at this market! If I had come here within one of my first weeks of being in Ghana? It would’ve been so overwhelming I may have bought a ticket for a plane ride home. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit extreme. But just picture yourself in a place nearly as packed as NYC on New Year’s Eve, but it is not actually New Year’s Eve, or a holiday at all for that matter. Life is just busy like that on a daily basis, and never seems to quiet down much.

Upon first arriving in Ghana, the concept of the markets was such an odd thing to me, but after being here for over two months they have become a normal part of my life. The markets here are very similar to our farmer’s markets at home, but offer many more products than just produce and none of the prices are fixed. You only want to pay 10 GHC (Ghanaian Cidis) for that football jersey even though they are asking 25 GHC? Not a problem! Just barter with the vendor until you reach a price you are willing to pay.

To be honest, I think it will be very weird to return home and have fixed prices on every item in the stores. Can you imagine walking into Meijer and trying to negotiate on a price for peanut butter? It just wouldn’t work! Not only will the fixed prices be odd upon returning home, but the concept of a store will as well. Ghana does have some “westernized” grocery stores, but very few. I make a trip to Max Mart (a grocery store very close to the university) about every other week, but other than that I buy my fruit and other snacks from the vendors on the street.

I have actually come to enjoy buying from street vendors. There are a few vendors on my walk into Legon each morning that I stop and talk to, and it is these people who make my morning. They appreciate my effort to have a conversation with them in Twi, even though they always end up with huge smiles on their faces because of my mispronunciation. These vendors and the vendors in the markets demonstrate what Ghana is all about: smiles and hospitality. I have heard countless vendors express, “You are welcome, sistah,” and I can honestly say that I do feel welcome. I feel welcome into their selling stalls, into their country, and into their conversations.

Now that we are back from Kumasi, the next thing to look forward to is leaving for our service learning experiences. I leave this coming Sunday for Haven of Hope Orphanage, and could not be more excited! I know that this next month will be extremely testing of my patience, but it will be so worth it. The thought of each little hand filling the spaces between my fingers excites me, and I cannot wait to learn the stories of the children there.

I hope and pray that God uses this next month as a time of growth for each and every student during our service learning. Our Heavenly Father has kept his hand of protection over our group so far, and I trust that He will continue to do so.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139:7

This verse has been such a great reminder to me since the start of this Ghanaian journey, and is a constant reminder that there is not a single place in this world we can go where God is not. He is with us for the rising and the setting of the sun, He has been with us on every excursion so far, and surely He will be with us during this next month as we travel across Ghana. Praise God!

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Ghanaian Sister City.

Perhaps while driving through Grand Rapids you have at one point or another seen a sign regarding the sister cities of Grand Rapids. If you are like me, the cities on this sign never cross your mind much. I would often attempt to read the sign as I drove past, but probably could not actually tell you the names of the towns.

Well, this past week I had the opportunity to stay for a few days in one of those sister cities. The community that we stayed in was Adenkrebi, and it was perhaps the most peaceful four days that I have had while here in Ghana. Not necessarily peaceful in a sense of a lack of noise (the children in the house were quite rambunctious at times!), but peaceful in an entirely different way: peaceful because of God’s astounding presence at the top of this mountain.

This particular excursion is one that I spent with only five other students from our trip. Each student had the opportunity to come, but we were divided into three groups of six people each, which I found very enjoyable. I am someone who gets to know people better in smaller groups, so I really enjoyed that aspect of this excursion.

We started our day on Thursday with a little walk around the community to somewhat familiarize ourselves with where everything was. Ok, so maybe we didn’t become very familiar with it…we may or may not have gotten a wee bit lost one of the days when it was raining buckets. Thankfully we found our way though!

After exploring the community, we headed to the local school and played some games with the younger children. These kids just have so much energy! One second one of them is pulling on your arm to hold your hand, the next second another is pulling on your arm hair because they are so intrigued with it, and the next second another child is pulling on your fingers to pull them out of their sockets…or so it seems anyway. Kids will be kids! I suppose it was just giving me a little hint of what will happen at the orphanage!

We returned from the school just in time, as once we got back it started raining quite hard. Unfortunately, this allowed for time to do homework. Hmph. At least we had the gentle sound of rain pitter-pattering on the roof as some background noise. Our group also may or may not have taken a not so small break to go play in the rain…time well spent.

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Now for Friday’s events! Our morning began bright and early with an attempt to see the sunrise. While it was a bit cloudy, it was still beautiful.

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Next, we traveled to a small cassava and pepper farm. For those of you who don’t know what cassava is, which I assume is many of you because I did not know before coming to Ghana, it is a vegetable that looks and tastes a lot like yams. I am not sure as though I have ever had yams back in the States, but the yams here taste quite similar to our potatoes at home. They’re pretty tasty!

As for the peppers? Let’s just say this was the hottest thing I have ever tasted in my entire life. My eyes filled with water because of how hot they were! At my Granny and Grandpa’s house they have hot peppers during the summer, and some of my cousins will occasionally try them. They always say how hot the peppers are, and since they have a high tolerance for spicy foods I simply believe them. However, after eating that pepper here perhaps I can compete in the pepper eating contest back home next summer.

Once my tears had dried up, we headed back to the school to sports with the older kids. While the guys attempted to show their skills at football (meaning soccer – it is called football here), the girls competed in volleyball. Sports are taken pretty seriously here in Ghana, so I’m sure you can imagine that the games escaladed with intensity pretty quickly.

We played for about a half hour before the rain began to sprinkle down, and before we knew it the rain was coming down in buckets yet again. However, this time it did not last just for a few minutes. The rain started around 1:30pm and was a constant downpour until about 8:00pm. I have never seen so much rain in my life! The family that we stayed with placed a large garbage can (about the size of the garbage cans we sit on the side of the road every week) under their roof to collect the runoff, and when the rain stopped the bin was completely full.

Saturday started bright and early so that we would have enough time to travel to the wedding we were going to attend! The father of the family we stayed with coordinates the decorations of weddings and other events, and it just so happened that he had a wedding to coordinate that day. I’m sure you can imagine I was quite excited!

Since I had already been to one wedding here in Ghana, I was very interested to attend another and see how it compared to the first. Before attending the ceremony, we had the privilege to help set up at the reception site. We got to help by setting up the tables and chairs, and creating all of the centerpieces. I personally really enjoyed it! It was such a fun and different experience to be completely behind the scenes and slowly watch everything come together.

Pictures below of the reception!

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After working for a bit at the reception site, it was time to head off to the ceremony. Now, there is one thing I must first clue you in on which is actually very ironic. When we first learned that we would be attending a wedding, we were of course very excited. One thing that we didn’t realize? It happened to be a Canadian getting married. Yep, you read that right. Here we are in the middle of Ghana, and we get to attend the wedding of a fellow obroni! What are the chances?

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Time soon came for us to head back to the reception location and get our party on. Ok, maybe not get our party on, but at least enjoy a bit of food. We ended up leaving before they officially served all of the food (although Daniel, the dad we stayed with, was able to sneak us some), but we were still there during some of the announcements. The speaker first started asking all of the guests to welcome those who were visiting from Nigeria. Naturally everyone clapped and heartily welcomed these guests. The next thing to leave the speaker’s mouth while motioning to the six Calvin students: “And now we would like to welcome our friends who traveled over 6,500 miles from Canada!” Say what?! Apparently we are all from Canada now! The six of us were all very confused, but there was nothing we could do but sit there, accept the welcome, and chuckle to ourselves.

I can now officially say that I have successfully crashed an international wedding!

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We were all excited to be able to attend the wedding, and lucky for us this was not the only thing on our agenda for the day. Next up was crab hunting! Ataba, a fellow in his mid-20s who works at the house we stayed at, led us into what may be considered a jungle-type area to search for the crabs.

If you are like me, you would assume that the crabs are just walking on the top of the ground and it is just a matter of searching them out. However, this is not at all what happened. Ataba began by using his machete to create a hole in the ground that was 6-8 inches wide, and would basically keep digging until he found a crab. Every once in a while he would stick his hand down in the hole, and if he got pinched then it was our turn to pull the crab out of the hole!

I am not going to lie, sticking my hand in the hole in the ground was a bit terrifying. What person in their right mind would want to put their hand in a dark, two foot deep hole with the knowledge that there is a crab down there? Apparently all of us Calvin students!

Since we started this search near sunset it got dark quite quickly, and we were only able to find five crabs. However, five is better than nothing!


After returning back to the house and having dinner, we had the opportunity to drum and dance for a bit with some people in the community. It was such a blast! I’m not especially coordinated in the dancing category, but it was still fun to dance with the rest of my group and the little kids from the house we stayed at.

Next up that night: snail hunting! As a group (and with a lot of help from the Ghanaians that went with us), we captured 60 snails! To go snail hunting, you basically just walk outside with a flashlight and since we were up in the mountain there were quite a few of them.

We were blessed to have these Ghanaians with us because they led us to a beautiful view overlooking the city.

Sunday’s events mainly included church and dressing up in traditional Ghanaian garb. These clothes are what the chiefs usually wear, so it was a treat to play dress up for a bit. I do have to say, I now understand why chiefs are constantly situating their clothes! The outermost cloth does not stay intact very well!

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Overall, this extended weekend was incredible. Although it was pretty jam packed with events, it was still a relaxing and nice break from our normal school-life. One sure thing is that these were some of the most peaceful mornings that I have had while being on this Ghanaian adventure. Doing morning devotions on our porch was a special treat, as I was able to see the clouds and fog slowly lift off the trees and mountain.

One of my morning devotions was about God’s presence in quiet whispers. The gentle breezes that floated across me that morning could not have been more perfect. I have discovered that I thoroughly enjoy getting up early and slowly listen to the world wake up, shake off the blanket of the night, and press on with the new day. It really is a beautiful thing.

After a restful excursion, I am looking forward to our upcoming trip to the Volta region. Who knows what God will display to our group on this excursion! Whatever it is, I am sure it will be wonderful.

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Ghanaian North.

Before traveling to northern Ghana, there was one thing that I expected in the north: a lot of heat. Our professor had talked about how hot the north is, I had heard from previous Ghana semester students how hot the north is, and well I am in Africa, right?

The heat proved to be true during our northern adventures. However, we did not let this stop us. While on our excursion, we spent a lot of time at different nonprofit organizations (NGOs). We visited NGOs such as MAP International, TAWODEP, World Vision, and more.

Often times when we hear about a nonprofit organization at home, we can question whether the work being done is actually beneficial, mainly because of the fact that we are not seeing first-hand the impact being made. However, visiting these communities the Calvin group was able to see the positive influence that is being made.

One of the NGOs that we visited was in Bolga, and while there we got to spend a lot of time with the women who were making shea butter. It was incredible to watch them go through the process of making it! We even got to help…ok, maybe only attempt to help. To be honest, we were probably more of a hindrance than anything else, but I’m so thankful we at least got to experience what they do all day long!

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Not only did we get to help make shea butter, but we also had a blast playing with the kids who were around. We had lots of fun playing hand games, dancing, and more hand games. Pictures below! Oh yeah…I almost forgot. When we left this community we received a goat as a gift. There was not other way to transport him, so naturally he had to ride on the top of the bus. Only in Africa…

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Along with visiting many of the NGOs, we got to visit many of the schools that the organizations are partnered with. While I wish that we were actually able to help out with some of the schools these organizations partnered with, it was still great just to visit them and meet some of the kids. I had a video of the older kids dancing, but unfortunately I am not able to upload it onto my blog! We attempted to dance for them also…attempted being the key word.

Our very last stop on this northern excursion was a trip to Mole National Park. It was so incredibly beautiful here – even the view from our room. If you look closely in the first picture, you can also see two elephants!

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Now, of course we all had high hopes of seeing elephants while we were here. There had been quite a bit of rain during this trip so the chances of seeing them were looking pretty slim, but we still had our hopes up.

The first night we went on a bush walk we saw only a few monkeys, baboons, and a chameleon. I do have to say, the chameleon was quite exciting. I felt like I was in a real life version of Tangled.

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However, no elephants on this walk. It is safe to say our group was quite disappointed that night. But the next morning when we got up for a bush walk? This is a different story.

Katy, Corry, and I started our morning by having three warthogs about ten feet away from us right outside our door…we may have shrieked a little. That was quite a surprise at 5:30 in the morning. Gave us all a good laugh though once we scared them away!

The bush walk that morning started by seeing many baboons lining the streets again. I am not going to lie, they are not the cutest of animals. Their butts do not have any fur on them, and they always seem to give you this dumbfounded stare that silently exclaims, “You are one of the weirdest creatures I have ever seen,” when in reality they are some of the strangest creatures I have ever seen.

The next sighting on our walk: THREE ELEPHANTS! There is a small village that is near where we stayed, and the elephants were just taking their time passing through. How awesome would that be to have elephants stroll through your backyard every once in a while?! I’d be ok with that.

We actually got pretty close to the ellies, but at a safe distance. Being near such an astounding creature truly is breathtaking, and is an experience that I will always remember.

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Our northern excursion as a whole was so incredible. It included extremely long bus rides and lots of chicken and rice for meals (when I say lots, I mean every single meal), but it is excursions like this that remind me how great our God is to have created such a magnificent world to explore. This trip was also a great reminder that adventure is out there – sometimes we just have to search for it.

5

Ghanaian Weddings.

As some of you may know, I am slightly obsessed with weddings. Not the ‘I have every single detail of my wedding planned out’ kind of obsession that some girls have, but we’ll just say that my dream job may or may not include owning and managing my own wedding venue and wedding planning business. I love the flowers, pictures, music, dresses, colors, energy, and most of all the happiness that weddings bring.

Now that my secret dream is out in the open, I’m sure you can imagine that it was a dream come true for me to be able to attend a Ghanaian wedding with some of my host family.

First of all, I must say that it was so refreshing to be able to attend a wedding as a guest and get to enjoy the ceremony itself. Since I am involved in a quartet that frequently plays weddings (shout out to Brevé Quartet! Email us at brevequartet@gmail.com with any questions!), it was so nice to sit back, relax, and watch two beautiful people take the next step in their lives together.

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The wedding started promptly at 10am, as it said on the program. Since my family runs on African time, we did not get there until 11:30am. Nevertheless, I still got to see about an hour and a half of the wedding, as the service ended around 1pm.

I was not sure what to expect would occur during the ceremony. Would the bride and groom be wearing what Americans consider ‘traditional’ wedding garb? Would they exchange rings? Would I see an African version of “27 Dresses”?!

Much to my surprise, the wedding ceremony was very similar to our American ceremonies. Now, since I missed the first half of the event, I noted from my program that the wedding included the processional, the exchanging of vows and rings, and communion – all of which are pretty typical back in the States.

Inside the church, there were streamers and decorations galore that were a shimmery gold and fresh spring green. The isle leading to the front of the sanctuary was lined with a white satin fabric on the ground, and had candy cane-like structures overhanging the pathway to marriage. The sanctuary was beyond lively, both because of the colors and the guests that filled the space.

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There were two main events that were a bit different than what happen at home: LOTS of singing and dancing, and an offering taken for the couple. Since this was an African wedding ceremony, the singing and dancing portion was to be expected. The people over here are such a joyous people and will fill silence with singing, motionlessness with dancing. It really is a beautiful thing.

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However, the offering? This was a new concept to me. Most of the guests had taken gifts with them just as we do at home, but there was still an offering taking during the service for the couple. I talked with my sister, Dorcas, about this, and she said the offering was quite traditional for wedding ceremonies in Ghana. The couple uses this money mainly to purchase any necessary items that they do not receive as gifts at their wedding.

Immediately following the ceremony, there were pictures taken of the bride and groom with nearly everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone – the bridal party (which included the bride, groom, one bridesmaid, one groomsman, and a flower girl), the bride’s entire family, the groom’s entire family, the Sunday school teachers, the deacons, the reverend, even a picture of every member of the church.

Once the marathon picture taking was finished, we moved onto the reception. The physical set up of the reception was also quite similar to American receptions. Just outside the church, there was a large tent set up lined with green and gold streams of flowing fabric. Filling the spaces underneath the tent were the faces of guests filled with joy, waiters carrying trays filled with small bowls of peanuts and bottles of water, and the love-filled smiles of the family members who now have a freshly married couple to welcome into their lives.

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The newlyweds soon arrived at the ceremony, and on cue the waiters began to serve a small plate filled with a cookie, cupcake, chicken leg, some kind of egg pastry, and a meat pie. Quite the interesting combination, if I don’t say so myself, but tasty at the same time.

Following the small dish delivery came the time for cake cutting and toasting. The best man made a speech just like in the United States, but along with the speech came a “cork popping” ceremony. Each table at the reception had sparkling fruit juice on it, and during the cork popping ceremony these bottles were taken and given to guests at the reception. From there, each guest then attempted to pop the cork on their bottle higher than the other corks were popped. What the winner get, you may ask? Their reward was simply the satisfaction of winning.

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At this point in the reception my family hit the road for home, so I am not quite sure what occurred after we left. However, I can imagine that the rest of the reception was also quite similar to the receptions we have in the States…but with more dancing. Per usual here in Africa.

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I suppose the fact that I got teary eyed during the ceremony may make me a secretive hopeless romantic. But that’s not something that I’m ashamed of. Love truly is such a beautiful thing, and is something that cannot be thoroughly and sufficiently explained in words. Take, for example, God’s love for us. His love is so deep and so wide that we cannot even fathom it.

God’s love for us is something that I have come to realize even better over here in Ghana, yet is something that I will never be able to fully comprehend, simply because of how extravagant His love is. This mystery is something that intrigues me, and is something that makes me want to learn more about Him, both during this trip and beyond.

Now that the wedding is done, the next thing I have to look forward to is our trip to northern Ghana! We are leaving tomorrow, so I will try my best to post about that after returning.

3

Ghanaian Beauty.

I believe there is a kind of natural beauty that constantly surrounds us, no matter where we are in the world. This beauty is found in each grain of sand that lines the shores of Lake Michigan. This beauty is found in the sweet aroma of an apple pie baking in the oven. This beauty is found in the gentle downward spirals of the snowflakes during the first snowfall of winter. And in Ghana this beauty is found, among other things, in the people.

Ghana is a place that has people like no one I have ever experienced before.

In each child that is dancing in the streets, you can just sense their happiness and carelessness that comes with the love and mind of a little one. These children may have less material possessions than we can imagine, but that does not matter to them. They have such free and happy spirits that you simply cannot refrain from smiling.

In each adult, there is a kind of gentleness found just by looking into their beautiful, chocolate colored eyes. It is the beauty in the smile of the kind man who offers to pay for your tro tro ride. It is the laughter in the eyes and heart of the phone man you pass everyday on your commute to school. It is the welcoming face of your sister and mama as they see that you have safely returned from a day out of the house.

The people of Ghana are loving, gentle, and understanding. Sure, they will frequently chuckle at my poor attempt to communicate with them in Twi. The Calvin students’ attempt at traditional African dancing also never fails to put a smile on their faces. And of course they often wonder why a white girl from the United States would be traveling in a country such as theirs. But that is what makes them beautiful. Their curiosity and acceptance often help me feel at home when I am miles away from the place I have called home my entire life. God definitely speaks through them to me daily to bring peace and comfort in this semester long journey.

Besides their inner beauty, I truly have never seen people who are more physically beautiful than the Ghanaians. One mention of the words “middle school” back home, and people will begin to cringe. For us, this was a time filled with awkwardness, pimples, and…well…more awkwardness. For them? Wow. Even the middle school aged children here are beautiful.

Nearly everyone in the Calvin group has commented on how every Ghanaian here is picturesque. Their skin seems to radiate, their lips are all perfectly plump, and oh, their eyes – truly some of the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. Their eyes all dance with laughter and peer straight into the depths of your soul.

Another thing that is magnificent about Ghanaians, and really all people, is that they all have such unique stories. Upon learning the stories of the people I meet here, it shows me that God can use other people to teach me more about myself. They can teach me trust in times of trial, joy in times of sadness, and serenity in times of anguish.

Appreciating the beauty and stories in other people is something that will never get old for me.

Each and every person on this earth has their own story that God has provided for them. Some stories are more glamorous than others, and some stories teach us more than others. But the fact of the matter is that we are all unique. This uniqueness is something that is beautiful, and is something that makes the world the place it is today.

“The best kind of people are the ones that come into your life, and make you see the sun where you once saw clouds. The people that believe in you so much, you start to believe in you too. The people that love you, simply for being you. The once in a lifetime kind of people.”

-Author Unknown

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