Water, Clothes, and Money

Many of you have asked questions regarding the situation of the water in Ghana.

For those who did not get to read what it takes to get water to the orphanage, check out this post: Fetching Water.  The month before we arrived in Ghana, there was a large flood that damaged a lot of the nearby town as well as a major water pipe.  For the three months we were there, the village had no running water.  There were conflicting stories as to whether or not it was possible to get running water to the village as there was running water in the nearby town.

The water in Ghana is not safe for foreigners to drink.  Some may try filtration devices or water purification tablets for the water.  We brought purification tablets with us but ended up not using them.  The only water we knew was safe to drink came in bottles or sachets and had an official seal. The sachets are basically plastic bags of water.  It took a little time to get used to drinking out of a plastic bag.

A girl selling sachets of water

A one liter bottle of water costs $.70 and a half-liter sachet of water costs $.07.  Naturally, we drank the sachets.  We would bite a hole in the corner and drink away.

Water sachets

I’m not sure what the water would do to us if we drank it, as we never did.  We even brushed our teeth with purified water.  When you can afford to have pure water, there’s no reason to not drink it.  The locals drink what they can afford.  Our host mother and sisters would primarily drink sachets of water.  The orphanage drank all well water.  It may have made them a bit sick from time to time, but their bodies have grown up with that water, so they are used to it.  I don’t know what long-term effects it may have.



One student asked if we had to dress in a modest manner.  That’s a great question.  If you’re traveling to a different country for the first time finding the answer to this question can save a lot of embarrassment.  In Italy, for example, you will not be allowed to enter a church without having your shoulders and knees covered.  In Egypt, it’s very important to not have low-cut shirts.  Being aware of the customs of a different country will make you and those around you more comfortable.

In Ghana, the answer is yes.  There are two distinct areas of Ghana when it comes to modesty.  The northern part of Ghana is primarily Muslim and requires more modest dress than the primarily Christian south.  Wearing spaghetti straps in the north, one would be out of place.  In the south (where we were) it was okay to wear tank tops in the village, but not as acceptable in town.

Ghanaians like to look good.  They take pride in their appearance and will get dressed up whenever they go out, whether it’s going in town to the market or traveling to the big cities.  While in town, there is a big mix between western-style dress and Ghanaian-style dress.  Whenever dressing up, however, the locals will be in Ghanaian-style dress.

Sarah ready to go into town

You’ll notice lots of bright fabrics with patterns.  This is one of three basic styles of fabric you’ll see in Ghanaian clothing.  This is the most widely available and cheapest option.  Another option is batik.  Batik is hand-dyed cloth with larger symbols.  Different colors are created on the same cloth by creating patterns in wax before adding a second color.  It’s close to what we would think of as tie-dye here in the States.

Batik fabric

The last style of fabric uses Adinkra symbols.  These are traditional Ghanaian symbols which still have great importance in Ghanaian life.  One type of Adinkra cloth is made of cotton and can be any color.  There is another type of Adinkra cloth not made of cotton that is usually red, white, or black.  These fabrics are ceremonial.  It’s customary to wear these fabrics for funerals.  (Funerals in Ghana are big celebrations with dancing and singing.  They are parties as opposed to sad, somber occasions.)  You can see examples here.

There is one more fabric that is very special to Ghanaians.  I didn’t include it in the 3 main types of fabric because it is not worn in everyday situations.  It’s called kente cloth.  Kente cloth is brightly colored cloth that is woven by local artists.  It’s worn for very special occasions and worn by high-powered people (chiefs, queen mothers, etc.).  We actually had a kente cloth weaver who worked just a few houses away from us in our village.  It was very cool to see it being made up close.

A kente cloth weaver wearing kente cloth



The dollar in Ghana is called the cedi (pronounced seedy).  While we were there, the exchange rate made it so one cedi equaled about 70 cents.  The cedi is divided into 100 pesewas (just like the dollar is divided into 100 cents).

That’s all for this time.  More to come!


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More questions

Here are some more fabulous questions from Zionsville:

“That is so cool that you got in to all of this Africa stuff! My question is “How did you get into this? How did you organize this?”

My mom wanted to volunteer somewhere.  I told her if she waited until I finished my commitment to my company that I would go with her.  We decided on Africa and looked around online to figure out what kind of programs were out there.  A friend I’d traveled with in Up with People had volunteered in Ghana and recommended the company we used.  We contacted the company which basically set us up with a host family and project for while we were there.  They also arranged a week of orientation upon our arrival to Ghana where we learned a lot about the culture and what was expected of us.  Dream it, plan it, do it.

“How did you get interested in this when most young women your age are out and looking for jobs, trying to make money?”

The world is filled with lots of people my age who are looking to make a difference.  For some that means giving money to charity.  For some it means volunteering at a soup kitchen or an animal shelter.  I was lucky enough to be able to go to Ghana to volunteer.  It really comes down to priorities.  My biggest priority has been travel, so by going to Ghana I was not only volunteering, but also fulfilling my desire to travel and getting to learn about a new culture.

Now that I’m back in the States and looking for a job, I still think it’s important to find some way to give back.  There’s nothing to big or too small if your intention is to help another.  We all have something we can do and if you’ve ever volunteered before, you’ll know that the feeling you get helping someone else is incredible.

Life is not all about money.  Once you have enough to pay the bills, then it comes down to the quality of life you’re looking to lead.  For some, a fancy car or a big house is what they really want.  I could easily live in a small place and drive an economical car if it meant I could help others to have a better life.  I think travel helps to put that into perspective.  Sometimes we worry so much about our clothes and the newest fashion when in Ghana the kids had three or four outfits and one pair of shoes each.  It definitely makes me think twice about whether or not I “need” a new outfit.

“What was your favorite part of your trip?”

There were so many fantastic parts!  One of my favorites was our goodbye party near the end of our stay in Ghana.  We had many people who had donated money for schools supplies, clothes, etc. and one who donated money for us to do “something fun” with the kids.  With that money, we purchased all the kids new book bags, a new uniform, colored pencils, notebooks, new shoes, and some snacks.  We surprised them by taking them all to a local hotel that had swimming pools so they could swim.  For many, it was their first time ever being in a swimming pool.  We bought lots of fresh fruit and had cut up pineapple, oranges, and banana for a special treat while they were at the pool.  Everyone had a great time and just seeing the excitement on the faces of the kids was unforgettable.  When we got back to the orphanage, they opened the door to find their new school bags filled with goodies.  It was such a cool day.

“Did you ever think about how privileged we are in the U.S. compared to Ghanaians?”

This is an interesting concept.  Naturally one will compare a new culture to their own.  I think for me the bigger difference was not in the difference between Ghana and the U.S., but the similarity within Ghana.

When I was in the Philippines, there was a drastic difference between the rich and the poor.  The rich were shopping at high end malls and wearing designer clothes.  The poor were living in wasteland and many had never left their area of the slum.  Seeing the difference between the two within the same country (and even the same city) was really shocking.

In Ghana, there is much more equality.  The standard of living is low, but it is similar everywhere in the country.  In the main cities there are some wealthier people – most of whom are in business or politics – but there are not many areas with nice housing.  Outside of the two largest cities, it is unusual to see a building more than three stories tall.  Most people are living day-to-day selling goods at the local market or working as laborers.

When compared to the U.S. it is easy to see that we do have many privileges.  I think the important thing to note is that one life is not inherently better than the other.  We may have laptops and cool shoes, but they may have a respect for family that we do not.  We might have hot showers, but they may have connections to their roots that we do not.  If you think of life as more than material items, it is a lot easier to see the beauty in the way of life in Ghana.  There is a simplicity to life.  The main values we saw were faith and tradition.  You can see an example of the value of tradition in the post on meeting a chief. These traditions are passed on from generation to generation.

The U.S. has a ton of privileges when it comes to material wealth, but it is important to note that there are other privileges a culture can have.  By seeing these, it becomes easier to appreciate a new culture.

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Hello Zionsville!

I want to give another shout out to Zionsville Middle School, who in their studies of the world have recently begun learning about Africa.  Led by an awesome social studies teacher, Mrs. Becker, they’ve been using the blog as another resource in their learning.

I’d like to highlight a few of the questions that popped up, as I think you all might be interested in some of the answers.  There will be some more featured later this week.  Feel free to ask any other questions.  It is my pleasure to answer.

“How long did it take you to get used to the atmosphere of Ghana?”

There were a number of different factors to which we needed to acclimate.  We went near the end of the rainy season.  We had to get used to the afternoon downpours as well as the heat.  We didn’t have a thermometer, but the temperature was near 80 or 90 degrees every day.  There was no air conditioning in our house or the orphanage or the school.  Luckily, we had electricity so we at least had a fan in our room at night.  The food was different from what we were used to – lots of rice and meat with the bones from any fish or chicken left in the dish. There was no running water, so we had to take bucket showers.

With all those different factors it’s hard to say how long it really took to get used to them.  Having traveled a lot before going to Ghana, I had experienced new cultures, which made it easier.  I’d say the hardest part to get used to was the bucket shower – not only because the water was cold, but because the water was not sanitary.  It was straight from the well, so we had to put antibacterial liquid in the water before we washed.  That made it a bit itchy in addition to the cold, so I never really felt clean.


“geeze, wonder how large the mosquitoes are there!”

The mosquitoes are the same size as in the U.S.  I remember growing up in Ohio and spending my summers covered in mosquito bites.  The issue in Ghana is that the mosquitoes often carry diseases.  Before we left the U.S. my mom and I had to get a number of different vaccinations against those diseases.  In addition, we had to take a daily pill to protect us from malaria.

Malaria is a HUGE issue in Ghana as well as other parts of Africa.  When I got back to the U.S. I put together a video about the effects of malaria for a group in South Dakota.  Their winter mission project was to send mosquito nets to Africa.  They used this video to help educate their local community and inspire them to get involved.

If you or someone you know is interested in something like this, there are a number of charities out there that make net donations throughout Africa.  Here are a few:

Nothing but Nets

Nets for Life


That’s all for today.  I’ll be back soon with some more.


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Meet the Kids!


Nana, Age 9

Nana is one smart kid.  Though he is a year younger than his brother, John, he is a grade higher in school.  He behaves most of the time at school, but once school is out, he’s the jokester of the group.  Nana is known for his stealth – if your keys are not in your pocket, ask Nana where they are.  Nothing is ever done with bad intentions, he just likes to have fun.

Nana climbing a tree

Nana loves to climb trees.  Once, we were taking pictures of him in the tree and he decided to slide down the tree.  As we all gasped, he just started cracking up.  Nana isn’t very talkative, but he is very active.

Nana laughing after sliding down the tree

Classic Nana

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Meet the Kids!


Gloria, G-L-O-R-I-A

Gloria is one tough cookie.  She’s been at the orphanage for less than a year and is still trying to figure out where she fits in.  She desperately wants to be one of the “big girls,” though she is only 10.  Gloria is very smart, and beyond that, she understands people.  She has figured out how to manipulate her environment to make things her way.  When teaching us the Ghanaian way to play mancala, she would give us “hints.”  The hints somehow always ended up with things going in her favor.

Gloria always says, "Snap me one," when she wants her picture taken.

From JoDee:

Many times, Gloria would quietly come over to the guesthouse where we were living and wait for one of us to notice and to play with her. Far be it for her to ask to play.

Although she’s tough, there’s a little girl inside that wants to be seen and loved.  When I took her to the hospital for an injection for malaria, she was so angry she wouldn’t talk with me or listen to anything I said.  She stood out in the rain on the way home rather than walk with me under the umbrella.  However, when it was time to go back, she specifically requested that I take her, because she knew that I really loved her and that I hated the fact that she had to have an injection.

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Nearing the End

Our time in Ghana is coming to an end, but I assure you that is not the end of the blog.  There is still plenty more to share about Ghana and I intend to share it.  For our remaining few days, I will be less active as we will finish packing and spending lots of time with the kids.

The last few days have been spent reading Dr. Seuss and coloring in coloring books sent by my Aunt Jaine (Thanks, Aunt Jaine!).  We’re making sure to use every opportunity left to spoil the kids.  They have fallen in love with two of the books and have been known to imitate our dramatic reading.  One of the books is called, “I am Going” by Mo Willems.  It is about someone leaving, but one of the pages is just filled with the word, “Why?”  Now when we leave for the night, the kids will start shouting, “Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  WHY?”

Did I meantion we read dramatically?

It seems like their reading skills have improved within the past week, so we’re really excited to pass on the books and allow the new volunteers the joy of reading to the kids.  My favorite part is when we read simple books.  If you pause after you speak, they will repeat everything you say.  It’s really sweet and quite amusing when they don’t understand what they are saying.  Kakra will begin to repeat a long phrase and then realize she doesn’t know how it ends, so she’ll continue in gibberish and start giggling.

The journey continues!



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Meet the Kids! (Part 9)



Grace is a people-pleaser.  She just wants people to be proud of her.  She does whatever she can to call attention to herself.  This could mean anything from showing us that she folded her clothes to calling us to look at something gross she found in the yard.  She is definitely still a little girl.

Grace carrying Augustina

Grace continues to be moved up in school, though her grasp on the material is loose at best.  She has trouble with adding single-digit numbers and spelling simple words.  In her desire to please, however, she will shout out any answer she finds appropriate.  Rote memorization is the way she learns best.  She just doesn’t always understand the context.  In response to, “What day is today?” a typical Grace response would be, “There are seven days in one week.”

Grace and Kwesi on their way to school

Grace loves to get hugs and to touch others.  She is the most likely to be found running her fingers through our hair or resting her head on our shoulders if we are sitting down.

Grace laughing

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Laundry: Ghanaian Style

Aggie washing clothes

It may come as a surprise, but here in Ghana we do all of our laundry by hand. Okay, so we weren’t surprised by this fact when we arrived.  What surprised us was the Ghanaian method of hand washing.
The first time my mom and I sat down to do laundry, our host sister gave us two buckets and let us go to work.  We designated a bucket for washing and a bucket for rinsing.  After pouring a few caps full of the liquid laundry detergent we purchased, we began hand washing our clothes as we would do back home.  By the time we hung a few items on the line, Esi came out to show us how it was done.  She immediately grabbed a packet of powdered laundry soap and dumped it into our wash bucket.  All of the clothes we had transferred to our rinse bucket were returned to the wash bucket.  She took a bar of soap and picked up an article of clothing.  She commenced scrubbing this article of clothing within an inch of its life.  Once the article was completely saturated with soap, she placed it in the rinse bucket.  After the second item was placed in the rinse bucket, that bucket had nearly as many suds as the soapy wash bucket.  Esi began to wring the items out and we watched as our clothes, full of soap residue, were hung on the clothesline.  Well, at least they were clean!
After the first time we attempted laundry, every time we would ask if we could do laundry, our host family would say, “You give it to me.”  They would then wash the clothes for us and return them the next day neatly folded.

Juliet doing a small pile of laundry

Since we were unable to do our own laundry, we decided we would help at the orphanage.  With 22 kids running around, you can imagine the laundry accumulates daily.  The orphanage has a three-bucket method of doing laundry.  The first bucket is the first washing.  From there, the clothes are transferred to the second bucket, where they receive another rubdown in the super-soapy water.  The third bucket is where the clothes are rinsed before wringing them so they can be placed on the clothesline.  The clothes at the orphanage are considerably less sudsy when the laundry is finished.

Erin and my mom washing with Kakra helping.

All of the clothes, when hung on the clothesline, are hung inside out.  This is due to the Ghanaian focus on cleanliness and dressing well.  If clothes fall off the line, they do not want the dirt to show.  This goes for folding as well.  The clothes are folded inside out.

The clothesline

The most intriguing part of the Ghanaian method of laundry is the motion of washing.  There are two distinct motions the natives use when washing.  The first is a circular motion, like turning a crank. The second is the deep scrub.  This is where a person uses all their strength to rub two pieces of fabric together.  I have mastered the second motion, but the first remains elusive.  They simply laugh when we attempt to wash Ghanaian-style.  With Aggie, the orphanage caretaker, we get promoted or demoted based on our washing skill.  If I am doing well Aggie will say, “Molly, why don’t you come to this bucket,” and point to one of the first two washing tubs.  If she doesn’t like how I am doing, she will say, “Why don’t you come to this bucket,” and will point to the rinsing and hanging position.  Usually, that is the position given to my mom.
Aggie has incredible abilities when it comes to wringing, as well.  She can take a bed sheet from soaking wet to no longer dripping with fewer than 10 twists of the wrists.  She can do the same with a pair of jeans in six twists.

Aggie with today's pile of laundry

All of the older kids know how to do laundry.  During the summer, the older girls would help the volunteers to do the laundry every day.  Now that school is in session, Aggie will either choose to do it herself (which can be quicker) or will let us help.  Kakra is the youngest helper for laundry, and she does a good job.

Kakra washing Ghanaian style


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Meet the Kids! (Part 8)

Kweku & Kwame Acquah


Kweku Acquah

Kwame Acquah


Kweku and Kwame are brothers – Kweku is 8 and Kwame is 10.  Though they are different ages, they may as well be twins.  They are our own version of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  Since there are two boys named Kwame in the orphanage, this one is always Kwame Acquah.  Both are in the second kindergarten class (with Panyin, Wofa, and Maadjoa).  Kweku, though younger, has a better grasp on the learning process.  Both, however, still have difficulty with recognizing letters and colors.  Their combined attention span is about five minutes.  Kweku is more sensitive to others than Kwame.


Kweku before going to the doctor


Kwame is like a bull in a china shop – completely unaware of the consequences of his actions.  If one of the children would hold their belt up to show me, Kwame Acquah would be the next in line, though instead of holding it up, he would be swinging it in the air, lasso-style.  Kweku shies away from the camera a bit more and is content doing his own thing.  These two are always in a good mood.  They’re just happy kids.


Kwame Acquah jumping



John pushing Kweku in the wheelbarrow



Kwame Acquah imitating Wofa's crazy dance


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Meet the Kids! (Part 7)



Obayaa, Age 7



Obayaa is the youngest child of Mr. Sam and Sarah (the owners of the orphanage).  She is widely influenced by the older kids.  She likes to be a part of anything the older kids are doing.


Obayaa dancing with her big sister, Juliet.



Her most recent undertaking is crochet, as all the older girls crochet.  We also taught her some string games, like Jacob’s Ladder.  She invented a few of her own and could not be more proud.  She works hard in school, always doing her homework.  Obayaa understands a fair amount of English because she is willing to use it.  Many of the kids are too shy or embarrassed to speak English beyond the few phrases they repeat daily at school.

Obayaa pouting

Obayaa is the queen of pouting.  Whatever situation sets her off might as well not be rectified, as she will continue to pout until she decides to focus on something else.  She has mastered the mini-tantrum, but the tantrum title still belongs to her older sister.

Obayaa loves a good jumping shot

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