There is a risky feeling when preparing for middle of the night arrivals at a new destination. It’s easy to sit on a plane and ruminate on the potential challenges the mind creates. Airports are typically dark, empty and heavy with a foreboding air. Darkness fills the unknown city outside ominous glass doors. Pioneering an inaugural trip to an unfamiliar hotel fills the mind with potential pitfalls of seeking reliable transportation. And, then, just as typically, the eerily anticipated arrival is seamless, and all is well. This was the case when I arrived in Accra, Ghana at 2:30 AM after three weeks in the Canary Islands. Although the taxi driver struggled to find my New Town hotel, we navigated with the universal system of stopping, rolling down the window, and asking for help. Even at that late hour, outreach efforts proved to be a success that added to the air of hope for this leg of my journey.
New Town is an interesting neighborhood in Accra. It’s an area with fewer visitors than other parts of the city – which opens doors to great opportunities for neighborly relationship-building. On my first morning, I wandered to a nearby school where a group of boys were playing soccer. They graciously covered a small set of viewing stairs with a small nylon backpack and gestured for me to sit down and enjoy their game – all the while showboating their talents and making sure I didn’t miss an opportunity to take pictures and praise their moves. Sadly, my soccer cheering knowledge is pretty much limited to, “Wow, great kick.” As I watched, and “oohed and aahed” at what felt like appropriate moments, booming drums signaled the beginning of a church service in the school building.
I was drawn in for a pastor’s message that was hopeful for the onset of my journey and filled with spirited preaching about resisting darkness and negativity. Sounds of the soccer game competed with these inspiring words and the ball occasionally made its way through the door and into the front of the service – only to be tossed back without a blip in the message. As I sat and enjoyed some spiritual development, small children giggled and waved from the open windows. Some inside would stop near my seat with curious stares, smiles, and whispers of “Obroni.” One toddler boldly planted herself on my lap to the intrigued and somewhat shocked eyes of her peers. It’s easy to become smitten with kids who are so curious and willing to connect. One of my favorite interactions has been watching a young girl sitting on my lap and trying to wipe away the birthmarks on my face – only to become frustrated by the fruitless process.
Walking is an interactive social event in Ghana with endless opportunities to meet people. By early afternoon, I had done more chatting than my combined three weeks in Spain. A young girl named Apene quickly became my local friend and pretty much the handler for every need that arose – with some needs that I didn’t even knew I had.
Apene is not your typical sixteen year old, with confidence and independence typically earned through a lifetime of experiences. “Resourceful” is the word that comes to mind, as she guided me through busy streets, while telling stories and asking questions, negotiating the best prices for services and goods, and finding every opportunity for selfies with my phone and to chat with friends and family along her way.
We visited Apene’s home and it was easy to connect with her grandfather TeTe who is a retired teacher. It doesn’t matter where you live, far and wide, teachers share common experiences and can endlessly enjoy school chatter. Our time together was a welcome wagon overflowing with openness, generosity, and kindness that I aspire to have. His gift of a beautiful homemade straw hat is already a cherished treasure. As Apene showed me her talent for beading, her young neighbors and family members entertained me with their songs and games.
Throughout the week, Apene religiously knocked on my door each morning to prepare me for fully-scheduled days she had outlined in her daily journal. She arranged for us to paint a Hope for the Day mural at her school and taught me about the history of Ghana, pop culture for young people, and highlights of Accra. The kindness of Apene and her family are an unexpected gift in Ghana with weeks more of adventures to share.
As I travel, I am purposed to share the Hope for the Day message of proactive mental health while engaging in conversations that reduce stigma that often interferes with addressing mental health challenges. Their team sent me armed with outreach stickers, bracelets, and resources to provide collaborative workshops on this topic and the mission of connecting with global partners in this work. In only one week, doors have opened wherever I turn, with a clear interest in others who are anxious to share their ideas and learn together. Mental health dialogue is a global need that is slowly becoming a familiar conversation. Much more to follow in this area including meeting with local NGOs, learning more about how students with unique needs are supported, and providing a staff workshop at Global Mamas. You will be able to find more specifics on the Hope Travels initiative on the HFTD webpage soon.
Speaking of Global Mamas!!!!!! If you don’t know this organization, you should! My cousin Kristin has tirelessly spent her life in service to the mission of developing women-owned businesses in Ghana, with a side benefit for her family and friends being introduced to their beautifully unique clothing and jewelry. I often wear Global Mama dresses to school and work at the hotel – and enjoy sharing their success story. It was my great pleasure to meet Kristin’s partners in Ghana and visit their store. I have quickly given away all the colorless dresses I brought from home and replaced them with bright, beautiful options. You can buy their clothes online – but I feel like my visit to the store was a pilgrimage by one of their big fans – that exceeded all of my expectations. Plus, Apene was able to visit for a fall photo shoot – sadly in the rain – but still an opportunity for her to meet new local friends.
My first impression proves Ghana to be an easy place to love. As always, travel makes me more aware of the world, while also tangibly reminding me that I have so much more to learn.