Damongo, Ghana: My first real culture shock

Hey girl hey! I’m here to share my travel experiences with you. I grew up in a small village in the south of the
Netherlands, which has always been too small for me. On my nineteenth I went London for an internship where I lived in a hostel. I was so fascinated by all the people I met who where traveling the world, I wanted to be just like them. Now -10 years later- I’ve been to over 40 countries and currently looking for a new home in South America. My biggest dream is to start my own hostel. In this blog I will tell you about my adventures in Damongo! – XOXO Kris

Damongo, Ghana: My first real culture shock 

I spent 6 weeks in Ghana for my Minor Global Development Issues. For four weeks I worked (a.k.a playdate) in an orphanage with 40 children and after I traveled for two more weeks. I went with two girls whom I studied with even though didn’t know them very well.

When we arrived in Accra, we were picked up by a really big car. Linda knew a king and he had a car pick us up. This was so nice because it was a strange country for us and we arrived late at night. The driver didn’t know the way, so he asked a soldier for help. The soldier got in the car to help with directions. So there I was, sitting in a car with a AK 74 pointed towards my lap. I guess the safety was on. The city felt very poor, the market stands were filled with people sleeping shoulder to shoulder. I saw a lot of families sleeping on the streets.

The next day we met up with the king in a fancy hotel, he bought us drinks and we swam in the pool. Ghana has a lot of kings, I don’t know if every tribe has a king, or what makes a king but we met one. Yay! In the evening, we went to a party. It was a street party with a small shop selling drinks while loud music was playing. We met some guys that were really nice, later they took us to a club. This felt more like an igloo, they where blasting the air-conditioning harder than the music.

In a really small plane, we flew to Tamale. A car was supposed to pick us up and take us to Damongo. We had contact with the guy and he would pick us up soon. Two hours later, “soon”, two hours later “soon”, two hours later, “Oh, hello you are here”. This was my first encounter with the difference in culture. What people say and what they mean is something completely different. What they mean is based on the relationship you have with them. They don’t want to disappoint or be rude to you, they always want to help you. So the information you get is not always what you want. You need to master the skill of reading between the lines. Time is a man made concept, in the western world we live by it, in Ghana not so much.

In Damongo, we stayed at Abraham’s house. Abraham is a priest who started an orphanage. He is a father to all the kids. Funny thing, I didn’t really like kids, even tho I grew up with a really big family with lots of cousins. I had no idea how to play with kids. In the house we had our own room, Abraham lived there and the girls rotated. Usually 3 girls lived in the house to do the cooking, cleaning and laundry. It is so weird to have a 7-year-old taking care of you… It brought up a lot of conflicting feelings. Their reason behind it, is that they have to learn about house holding. Otherwise, no man would want them and they will not have a future. To my feminist heart this is sad, but I wasn’t here to change their way of living.

Going to Ghana has rewired my brain completely. They are not so fond of white people with their white savior complexes, who come and act like know-it-alls. Uni told us to make a plan and improve the work processes. Who are we to tell them how to work or how to live? Like our way of living is the best and we want to push it on their lifestyle. Accra is westernized, I saw a lot of poverty there. In Damongo people don’t have much, but they don’t need much. They are not obsessed with consumption, money and power. It was so interesting hearing people talk negatively about the western world, how everything is about money. Of course at the time I didn’t really hear what they said, I was on the defense. It took me a while before I really saw their point of view. For example. someone brought washing machines and built bathrooms in the orphanage. The kids still showered with a bucket, closes are washed by hand and they pee in the bushes. If it works, it works.

First time going to the orphanage, we arrived on our bikes. The kids had vacation, so they were at the orphanage all the time. My first impression: wow. I saw so many kids with ripped clothes, if they where wearing any. They were so dirty with dust, sand and snot everywhere. They where so excited to see us, to have new playmates. The small kids were very affectionate, the teenage boys were not so interested in us. The fist couple of days I had a lot of breakouts on my skin because I have a skin disease. But that calmed down after a couple of days. The toddlers are so cute and funny! They would call ‘sister look at, sister look at!’ and pee right in front of me with the biggest smile on their face. 5 minutes later you have them on your arm, pant-less. I adjusted my concept of what is dirty and what is not pretty quickly.

One time, we had a sleepover with all the toddlers and babies. We put diapers on them, because that is what we thought was normal. The kids had no idea what to do with them. They did not want to wear them and were like, “sister, I have to pee”, me “chill, you have a diaper on”. One kid ran out of the house at night, I went after her and asked “what are you doing?” she said “I have to poop”, ‘Oh, okay.. just stay close’. She did her do do in the garden.

Before I went to Ghana, I collected some money to spend on the kids. They had plenty of clothes, so we bought fruits, snacks, and water. One time we had a water fight and oooh, we had so much fun! It’s quite ignorant to play with water where there is not really enough water. It was something they where never able to do and everyone had such a blast.

With the teenagers, we took a day trip to Mole National Park. The park had wild elephants, buffalos, kob, warthogs, waterbucks, bushbucks, roan antelopes, hartebeests, duikers, oribi, patas monkeys and green (vervet) monkeys. It was really really cool seeing a wild elephant. This trip gave us a chance to hang out with the teenagers as well. Usually, I was consumed with the toddlers, also because it was easier to hang out with them. Teenagers can be difficult, but we had some great conversations on the trip. They just have beautiful brains. Sometimes I look at their website and the kids got so big! It has been almost 6 years.

This trip has been so important to my personal development. It took away a great deal of my ignorance. Looking back, it was amazing. But at the time I struggled a lot. Going on vacation and working / living with people is completely different. I learned so much about the culture and how people communicate in different ways. How much of a struggle it can be to communicate and understand each other. I want to go back with one of the girls and see al the kids again. I am a different person now and the kids have grown up. I wish I could see them again, they all have a special place in my heart.

Top Activities

Redemption children’s home price icon 

Mole National park 

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Favorite travel quote

‘Never stop doing things for the first time’

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