Short-listed for the 2021 PureTravel Writing Award, Brittany Tadesse tells us of the a visit to Ghana, and finding unexpected treasures:
Through the unsuspecting fishing village of Dodowa, behind the dense African timber trees, and beneath Ghana’s blazing sun there is a shaded oasis blooming with life with water that flows from Heaven. I went through hell to reach it.
The summer had started as a dream that slowly unfolded into a nightmare. It started the fall before, when I had been contacted by an organization that wanted to move its headquarters from Thailand in Southeast Asia to Ghana, Africa. This was no small task. My first role was to locate a building within budget that had access to everything the organization needed. My second role was getting to know the culture of Ghana in order to lead the first outreach group that would be coming at the end of the summer. Traveling to help organizations like this had been a dream of mine since I was young, so I responded with the determination of a woman embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.
My sweet husband Gershom and I got married and three weeks later took off for Ghana. Our family and friends thought we were crazy, but cheered us on nonetheless. Looking back, I wonder if they always knew we were about to learn more about the world than we realized possible.
When we stepped off the plane, we immediately felt the sun of the African summer beating down and smelled the dust billowing up from the side streets, warning us that only those with grit can survive in the city of Accra. A representative with a kind smile and inviting eyes drove us along the winding, bumpy roads. As I peered out the window, I could see the scenery change with every curve of the street. I saw the shining, gleaming city of Accra with its malls, restaurants, and crowds quickly change into the winding outskirts of Konongo with its local fruit stands, elderly women cooking jollof rice in their doorways, and children running freely along the brush. As the moon crept across the skies we pulled into our new home- our first apartment together – in Kumasi.
The space was one room with beds as hard as a table and unreliable running water but it was on a hill, and when the windows were open in the afternoon the most peaceful wind would dance through the space, bringing a calm that only a summer breeze can bring. We made that place our first home, and I spent those early mornings walking to the fruit stand across the street to buy the best avocados from a sweet young mother named Martha.
In Kumasi, the people live outside the confines of time. They work hard throughout the day and evening, but they also spend countless hours just sitting outside their doorways with their families. If you take a drive through Kumasi, I guarantee you will see the women carrying babies on their backs, holding massive baskets of food and goods for sale on their heads. They run quickly along the cars, making sure of their steps. They wear their baskets like crowns upon their heads, keeping their posture upright and straight. Their eyes hold joy they have found in the midst of grueling hardship, their arms the softness of holding their young with the muscle of providing for a family. The people of Kumasi are beautiful people with a grit that comes with years of overcoming trials.
Gershom and I tried to replicate this work ethic in all that we did. We traveled for hours on the tro-tro (Ghana’s public transportation vehicles), packed into the musty vehicle like sardines, in order to meet with different representatives and office spaces. We learned to barter fairly in order to get groceries. We made food on our little hot pad. We showered using buckets when the water stopped working. We went for days without speaking with family and friends when the power went out. As we learned and grew, we developed an even greater respect for the Ghanaians, learning that living here meant working hard and staying positive during the longest days.
As our summer unfolded, my dream was shattered. The organization that had sent us went through a dramatic scandal. The founders were dishonest people who had been charged with embezzlement, leaving the organization at a startling halt. This meant that our mission had ended in the middle of our work. When I thought back to the dream I had and where it had landed me and my sweet husband, I was devastated. I spent the night lying awake, crying tears that I thought would never end.
As the sun peered through our open windows the next morning, I felt hopeless and queasy. Was this all for nothing? Did I come this far just to be sent home? Would Gershom lose respect for me and my dreams? He and I slowly walked down the dirt road as my questions swirled around my mind like crowded fish in a bowl.
It was then that we met Rastafar. Rastafar worked at the shop next door. His dreads were thick and long, and his beanie screamed Bob Marley. He saw our forlorn faces and asked the simple question that everyone should be asked more often- “Want to go on an adventure?”
Moments later, we were on a tro-tro heading East into Dodowa. “Fishing town,” Rastafar explained but that had already been made evident by the smell of it. The town was much different from Kumasi. It was surrounded by trees that were a deep shade of green I’d only seen in pictures. When we got off the tro tro, Rastafar bought some pineapple slices from the first fruit stand he saw and handed them to us with a wink. We followed him toward signs leading to the Dodowa Forest. We made a sharp left into the thick trees. Rastafar looked back at us, smiled, and pushed back the leaves to reveal the most breathtaking sight I have ever seen.
In front of us were the most dazzling rainforest colors. Greens and reds and oranges as vibrant as the sunset. The sun peeked through the canopy and painted specks of light along the tropical leaves. We could see mangos in the trees and hear flowing water in the distance. In the middle of it all was a man that looked shockingly like Rastafar sitting in a stick hut slicing little tomatoes.
“My brother!” He shouted warmly. He reached toward Rastafar and the two hugged, smiling. They beckoned us in and pulled up wooden benches for us to sit. I watched as the two of them talked in Twi and chopped up peppers. In the distance, I could see mangoes falling to the ground as another brother shook them from the tops of the trees. How he made it to the top I will never understand.
The brothers passed around the bowl of sauce called shito (I promise it is better than it sounds!) and laughed at our reaction to the alarmingly spicy sauce. Then they lead us to the source of the flowing water sound. We climbed over logs and branches until we saw it- Chenku falls. The waterfall poured down from the rocks into a glassy clear pool below.
Rastafar pulled off his Jamaican shirt and jumped into the pool. “Water from heaven,” Rastafar said. Gershom and I jumped in after him. The water was smooth and clean. I stepped under the waterfall and drank the water in. It washed over me, cleaning away the tears from the night before. Gershom took my hand and smiled at me as I breathed in the fresh air of the Dodowa forest. It was then that I realized that we are not put into the box of one dream. Sometimes, what we thought was our end-goal was really just a stepping stone in the right direction. A failed attempt is not the end- it is a lesson we take with us into the next step. Although our summer in Ghana looked much different than I had expected, I know that it was exactly where I needed to be. So the next time I have the opportunity to fly to Accra, take a tro-tro to Dodowa, and walk to the Chenku falls- I will respond with the determination of a woman embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.