With all the ongoing preparation toward our Ghana project, coming very soon at the end of march, I’ve thought a lot about the experience I had last July in Ivory Coast. I went to Ivory Coast, located directly west of Ghana, to take part in a service project. It was here that I first experienced Africa, and could understand what ‘T.I.A’ means; This Is Africa.
The build up to my three weeks was similar to now; preparing myself with vaccinations, and the right attitude. I attended an intercultural communication course to learn about differences in culture and how to deal with them. Many things that I heard there were things that I could connect to just by seeing the differences between Dutch culture and British culture, so the difference between Ghanaian Culture and European was astounding.
We started our venture with a long plane journey taking us to Dubai airport, an incredible place, which i could see how the ideal world would look; every race, every people, every language all combined in one place. It was amazing there, and that was just the first few hours of my three-week experience. We then flew on to Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast.
My first experience of Africa was driving through the capital with everybody waving at my group. Maybe we stood out?? It was obvious by the number of smiles we saw among the falling down buildings, and shacks, that this was an amazing culture. At this point my mind was making countless comparisons to my own culture. The buildings were different, the smells were different, the rules were different. Do i need to continue?
We stayed for half a week in the capital city and attended some Youth Conferences and exchanges between us Europeans and the youth of Ivory Coast. I guess this was our acclimatization period while we settled into this ‘new world’ of large insects, and strange food. Our mosquito spray was in heavy use for the first few days.
Next came the most exciting part of the project. The 500km trip north into the region where we would be doing our service project. The village was called Amanvi. Cramped into a van, all the participants, even those suffering with serious indigestion, held in for the 10 hour journey on bumpy jungle roads and no air conditioning. That was adventure. My face was against the window for much of the journey, watching the scenery. A landscape I had never witnessed before.
I am one for adventure and excitement…new things; so I definitely enjoyed this one.
Shortly after arriving we started on the project which was renovating a school and nursery for this small village. I question whether the service was the work we did, or our presence in this village. It seemed that the village was more interested in us, rather than the work we would do…which was great! It meant that the exchange we could have with people was really meaningful and we could really get a glance at Ivorian culture. The kids gathered round and followed you always, and playing games with them was a pleasure. They have a lot of energy. We experienced the lifestyle, the food, and the heartistic connection that brings all kinds of people together. With the attitude of all the participants being that we really want to give something, then it came naturally that we became friends with the locals and meaningful friendships could develop.
The work itself was something that we didn’t need to be there for, but our presence carried forward the message we were trying to give. That these people could take the initiative to develop their own communities, and could make it very successful.
The long journey back to the capital was the last excitement we had in Africa. The country is beautiful. The people are beautiful. The culture is beautiful…and my experience was one of the most beautiful of my life.
Now I prepare myself for my next expedition into the unknown. I look forward to being able to say ‘T.I.A’ once again as I encounter things from a world far different from my own. Each trip to Africa brings forth new challenges, new thrills, new dangers, and always new inspiration.