News Post

Humanist Service Corps in Ghana: Volunteer Chronicles (part 2)

12 Sep 2019

by Chiemi Maloy, HSC Volunteer

This article is part of a series written by FBB volunteers detailing their experiences in the Humanist Service Corps. The opinions expressed in this article may not necessarily express those of Foundation Beyond Belief as a whole, its staff, or donors. 

August 2019. 

On June 27th, I left Salt Lake City with three suitcases and a backpack, as ready as I was going to be. Earlier in the year, I had applied for and been accepted into the Humanist Service Corps (HSC). My first stop was in Houston where I would meet the FBB team, and prepare to live for a year in Cape Coast, Ghana. We would be a small team: myself, one other American, and our team leader from Ghana. 2019-sept-unpacking-by-judit-kleinMy previous travel experience was limited to the western United States and a very “touristy” trip to Cancún. The longest flight I had ever taken was fewer than 5 hours, and I had never lived outside of Utah. My adult life consisted of moving from one side of Salt Lake City to another, mostly working office jobs in hospitality and tourism without having much of the tourism experience. When I saw the call for HSC applications and was subsequently called for an interview, I thought “there's no way they would pick me.” And then they did.

The reactions I got when I told people I was moving to Ghana were very mixed, but a lot of people seemed to think it was equally as absurd as announcing I was moving to Mars. “You're going where??” “You are going to go without internet for a year?!” “But… diseases!” The reality is that Cape Coast is a gorgeous, lush beach town where people still spend way too much time on social media—myself included. The issue of getting devices to work on the local networks turned into a little bit of a headache, and internet may not be as fast as the Google fiber I left behind, but it's just fine. Yes, I had to get extra vaccinations to come here; and yes, I take an antimalarial pill every day; but there was also a case of West Nile virus in SLC this summer, so maybe people shouldn't try to scare others out of travelling to Africa by saying “diseases" like the boogeymonster. 

The trip here took us from Houston to DC, and then DC to Accra. It was my first time flying over the Atlantic Ocean, my first time getting served full meals on a plane, my first overnight flight in the biggest plane in which I’ve ever flown, the first time I left North America, and my first real move. The mixture of stress and excitement meant that I didn't really sleep; instead, I drank free wine and watched movies while we travelled through the dark. I got up several times to do stretches in the airplane bathroom.

2019-july-ghana-volunteer-training-day-4The trip here took us from Houston to DC, and then DC to Accra. It was my first time flying over the Atlantic Ocean, my first time getting served full meals on a plane, my first overnight flight in the biggest plane in which I’ve ever flown, the first time I left North America, and my first real move. The mixture of stress and excitement meant that I didn't really sleep; instead, I drank free wine and watched movies while we travelled through the dark. I got up several times to do stretches in the airplane bathroom. 

When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was the smell of the ocean. Coming from a landlocked state, I missed this salty-sweet scent, and it reminded me of vacations to the beach. We went through airport customs with ease and got all our bags, and were happily greeted by Yvonne, our new boss, who was much shorter than I thought she’d be based on our video chats, but every bit as friendly and excited to have us here. She explained we would be taking a taxi to a shuttle bus, then another taxi after the 3-hour bus ride. I was completely overwhelmed by my new surroundings. I was certain we were about to die in that first cab ride, but I soon realized driving here was an entirely different world, and I would just have to get used to it. I wanted to see everything possible on the way to Cape Coast, to take in all of the colors and animals and shops and vendors, but once we were out of the main city, the rocking bus ride put me to sleep. 

Our first weeks  in Cape Coast were full of more exciting firsts. We set up our apartment, which is significantly larger and nicer than the one I left I in Salt Lake, although harder to keep clean. We met with our partners at SAPID (Services and Advocacy for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities), and began to plan out our projects. We had a full week of orientation to get us adjusted to life here: things like how to use the transportation options, how to get cooking gas, which stores are good for different groceries, and the history of Ghana including a visit to both the Cape Coast and Elmina castles. We started learning Twi, one of the more universally used languages here, but we have not made a ton of progress, since everyone in Cape Coast speaks English. A good problem to have, I suppose. 

2019-sept-ghana-beachWe also spent time going to the beach, watching the US National Women's team win the World Cup, and celebrating both Yvonne’s birthday and mine. It was my first birthday away from home and I was mostly missing some of my favorite places to eat, but that night I got to eat pizza by the ocean and slid into age 30 as happy as a clam. 

Now that we've been here for a little while, the newness and excitement has waned some, and there are certainly times when I feel homesick and/or frustrated. Doing laundry here is an exhausting event, whether you are lucky enough to do it in an electric washing machine or do it by hand. Frequently, the clean clothes get soaked in the rain while on the dry line, and I'm still paranoid that my underwear will fly away into the neighbors’ yard or something equally embarrassing. I was significantly more prepared for times without power than I was for times without water. I have backup chargers, and plenty of entertainment that does not require electricity, but I don't have solutions for when the water is off for days at a time. I really hate to say it, but I do miss hot showers, even in the peak of summer. I don't think I will ever take running water for granted again, and the next time I see a functioning washer and dryer I might give them a hug. A dishwasher might make me cry. Like I said, it's really nice where I get to live, but much harder to keep things clean. 

I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity and sometimes feel like I might wake up from this dream and be back in my boring office lady life in Utah. But then I hear all the chickens and goats around me, feel my hair frizzed from the humidity, and I remember that I am home in this strange but beautiful place.

2019-sept-ghana-chicken-conference-by-g-lish-foundation

cape coast, Ghana, HSC, Humanist Service Corps, sapid, travel

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