The tro tro pulled over in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, in the near distance was ‘Cock Rock’ a feature that was always guaranteed to raise a snigger.
Straight ahead on the horizon lay the vast Lake Volta, but in our immediate locality there was nothing, nothing but bush, scrub and the rich orangey brown earthy termite mounds.
This was my very first day as a volunteer abroad, my new adventure, my new purpose and Fulani school was the venue for my debut.
I’m ashamed to confess that my preparations for this challenge were not all they should’ve been. The evening before, my first full night in Ghana, had seen me stumble into bed at 4am. The volunteer house I was staying in had been invited to party with its sister house some 20 minutes drive away.
As the ‘new boy’ and a ‘little’ older than most of my companions I felt duty bound to head off at the pass any hint that I may be a boring old fart. A crowd of about 30 of us assembled, perched on chairs and huddled on the floor we embarked upon the notorious ‘never have I ever’ drinking game. I’m sure I became quite the scandal as I plunged in with my devil may care revelations. The nature of which meant that the boring old fart tag was never going to find an attachment to me. Result!! Needless to say the following morning, after 4 hours sleep, I was hanging.
When our van had come to a complete stop my companions jumped out and retrieved the bags of teaching resources they had meticulously packed. Feeling disorientated I slowly spun through 90 degrees surveying once more our surroundings. There must be a village, a school, here somewhere – hangover or not I’d recognize a village and a school, surely?
Yet to my mind we were still in the middle of nowhere.
We were now on the move, hopping from the road, over a drainage channel, to a verge, towards some bushes and a clearing appeared. No, not a clearing, more a narrow well won path through the dense bush, which though parted, threatened to take back this passageway at any moment. We walk in single file, me trailing, letting the others; Emma, two Ellie’s, Jennie, Bryn, Colin & Chris, show the way.
In future days I will walk with care through this thicket, my mind awakened (wrongly as it transpired) by learning of the possibility of poisonous snakes and equally deadly red spiders, but on this, the first, occasion I have a sense of bemused adventure. How can there be a school here in this middle of nowhere?
As I continue through what seems to be never ending vegetation I wondered when our destination will be revealed. The bush is too thick to allow the hubbub of a village to carry through it, so no clues there. Where are you Fulani? When will you reveal yourself?
The thicket clears onto a large open field, more earth than greenery, bare after being harvested, stumpy stalks of vegetation pillaged of their crop and in the distance across the field there it is. Fulani.
On first sight there is no premonition of the emotions that this place will stoke up in me. The way it will fill my heart with joy and laughter, passion, compassion, happiness and hope. The bonds I will form with the children, their parents and my fellow volunteers.
What it did reveal, quite clearly, to me at that time was its quality of being a beacon. In this most unlikely of places, a shinning commitment to learning. I was to later to appreciate just how much of a beacon this place was, but I’ll let that story develop over future blogs.
We were soon within earshot of the happy sound of the children playing. Some of the boys playing football on a patch of ground with makeshift goalposts, the younger girls and boys letting their imaginations conjure up play. In total perhaps thirty plus children playing without inhibition, the sight and sound of which never fails to breed contentment.
Something was amiss though, there was no evidence of a village. The only settlement in the immediate vicinity were the two dwellings that nestled in the field behind the school. It would be a few more days before I figured out where all these children came from.
When you think of sub-Saharan Africa these huts will tick every box, of what a remote rural hut should look like; both were constructed from mud around a timber
frame of gathered branches and sheltered from the heavens with a thatched roof.
Everyday life is lived as much outside these huts as inside and the space around them showed evidence of this. A cauldron pot propped and steaming over an open wood fire, a woman scrubbing clothes clean in a large open bowl, goats grazing on the sparse tufts of grass whilst tethered to a timber post and rail fence.
As I was new to teaching and this was a big step into the unknown for me, my first day was to be mainly one of observation. The children were divided into two groups within the one big classroom space, one group of older children and a larger in number group of smaller kids. I spent the first half of the day with the younger ones before defecting after break to spend the rest of the day with the older group.
The other volunteers soon established their rhythm and it was clear that their enthusiasm, confidence, together with the obvious rapport they had established with the classes were key. I greatly admired their enthusiasm and learnt a lot from them that day, this was just as well as my own efforts to teach were about to begin.