By Emily Beal
Digging my dirt-covered sandals into the soil, I tried to gain my balance on the uneven ground. There I stood on the side of a path that led to a river in the heart of Ghana, carrying a battered, yellow 3-gallon container. The worn crate contained water I had just scooped from the river.
As I hiked up the beaten path, my mind started to reflect about the incredible nine days that had flown by. I never imagined I would spend my holiday break in the country of Ghana on a Buck-I-SERV trip, an alternative break service program through The Ohio State University.
After closing out autumn semester with finals, I boarded a plane headed to West Africa with 14 fellow Buckeyes, all of us essentially strangers to each other, having had little or no contact before the trip.
We were greeted by the sun’s stinging rays and an orchestra of honks and beeps that filled the muggy streets.
On the three-hour car ride from the airport to our final destination, I was taken aback by the scenery. My eyes remained focused on the bold yet beautiful colors that danced around the roadside and the women’s garments demanding my attention with their deep purples and daring oranges and blues.
The lush, verdant trees created a frame enclosing the pastel landscape. I took it all in, trying to remember every inch of the beauty just outside the van window.
Before I knew it, we were pulling into a dusty driveway, rocking as the van made its way over the many potholes. We laughed. Some screamed. We had arrived at the orphanage.
As we all emerged from the van, little faces and smiles radiated everywhere. A sea of tiny, smooth hands were touching my arms and hands, urging me to take them.
Two tiny palms nestled their way into mine, and soon I was led all over the orphanage. At every stop, the children would point and tell me what it was they were showing me. One boy showed me the tire swing. He smiled as if he was showing me the crown jewels.
We were quickly thrown into everyday life in Ghana. Chores at 6 a.m. Helping children with bath time at 6:15. Doing dishes at 6:30. Getting water at 6:45. Helping make breakfast at 7:15.
I’m neither a breakfast person nor a morning person. Yet in Ghana, mornings and sharing breakfast with my group was my favorite part of the day.
Sitting on the front porch passing out mugs that would later be filled with coffee, I became family with those strangers. Gushing about our favorite child at the orphanage or chitchatting about our life at home over a cup of joe, we quickly became a tribe.
At first, I was surprised we would have no running water during our stay at the orphanage. How was I supposed to shower?
I quickly became accustomed to “bucket showers” and, dare I say, started to enjoy them. Though the water was cold, washing the day’s dust and grime off with its iciness quickly became a welcomed feeling. Hand sanitizer became one of my most coveted possessions.
With no air conditioning, our rooms were saunas. The initial shock of the heat was a sensation we soon all became used to.
It wasn’t long before we all noticed we each had a shadow following our every move and claiming us as their own. My shadow was just under 3 years old. Her name was Charity.
Emily Beal is a senior majoring in agricultural communications. To read more about her trip, click here.