We celebrate Rotary’s 109th anniversary today as our joint journey to the hard places of Ghana comes to an end.
For the past two days, we have had a little more down time to begin processing all that we have seen and learned about here.
Saturday was spent at Cape Coast, the morning free. At breakfast we were surprised to meet a college student from Columbia, South Carolina. Sarah is majoring in public health at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta and is on a year’s exchange program in Ghana.
Two of her uncles live near Anne in Columbia and her mother is a member of the Rotary Club of Winnsboro in Sue’s district. Small world? Anne emailed Sarah’s mother, a Presyterian minister, to tell her about meeting her daughter and got a response right back.
Sarah and Walter enjoyed a lengthy conversation about their mutual interest in helping develop Ghana’s health system. So who knows what might come from this chance encounter at a breakfast buffet on a beach in Ghana.
In the afternoon, we toured St. George’s Castle in Elmina, a structure built by the Portuguese 500 years ago that later played a primary role in the African slave trade. Thousands of Africans were held in dungeons that had once been warehouses awaiting ships that would carry them to bondage in Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas.
This Sunday morning we got up early because we wanted to visit a Ghanaian church. We had learned there was a Catholic service beginning at 7 am that would be over by 9. Our large bus arrived at the church just a few minutes before 7 to find an assistant priest and three or four other people. But in no time at all the senior priest arrived and the church filled with more than 100 at this very early service.
A choir processed in with all the traditional Catholic regalia, rituals, and incense. Unlike my church in Greenville where a piano and organ are the primary instruments, this church had two kinds of drums to accompany the singing. It also surprised us to see a sound system in use. The priest spoke in at least three languages, the local tribal language, English, and Latin.
As part of the service, the priest asked all those who were born in February to come forward for a special blessing. I had celebrated my birthday the day we arrived in Ghana, so I was among the handful of people standing before the priest for the blessing that included a splash of water at each of us. I don’t know what he said or what the water meant but it made me feel good, and blessed.
Leaving the church, we discovered we were the only ones who had driven there. Everyone else was walking home. No wonder the driveway was in such bad shape. It is never used!
After church it was back to the hotel for breakfast and packing the bus for the drive to Accra and the Afia Hotel. We had a late lunch at the Afia and started parting ways. David and Sarah are going to Kenya for a safari; Jenny is driving to Togo to visit the village where she was once a Peace Corps volunteer; Anne and I are staying here for three more nights because on Tuesday Anne will commission a walk-in cold storage facility for polio and other vaccines in this region of Ghana; and the others are at the airport now awaiting the overnight Delta flight to New York.
Thinking about the castle, it was there we encountered street merchants that were quite pushy trying to sell us cheap goods made for tourists. These were the first such vendors we have seen in Ghana but common in many tourist areas. I take this as proof that where we have spent the past two weeks are not the places tourists frequent, not the places where vendors will sell anything to make a cedi (Ghana’s currency).
Where we have been is to the hard places. We have been to the places where we wanted to buy handwoven baskets because the women who weave them use the money they earn to educate their daughters. We have been to the places where we wanted to buy goats for children because having goat’s milk makes a significant difference in a family’s standard of living. We have been to the places where we wanted to buy handmade Shea butter soap to support a center for widows and orphans.
We have been to the places where people are hungry, drink dirty water or none at all, have to go into the bush to use the bathroom, where school children try to learn in classrooms with nothing.
For 109 years, Rotarians have taken similar journeys on similar roads to do good in the world by not being afraid to go to the hard places.