Friday, September 2, 2011

Kristen: The Low Down on Her Africa Trip

If you do recall, last spring I worked to raise money and spread awareness for my friend/little sister Kristen who went to an orphanage in Ghana, Africa, this summer for two weeks. After being inspired last spring, Africa has been on my mind CONSTANTLY, and talking to Kristen about her time there has really opened my eyes to several things I never would have known otherwise.

 Well, we FINALLY had enough time together to sit down and talk about everything that she experienced there in blog-worthy detail. So for those of you who are wanting to know or who supported her on her trip or just want a little insight into an African mission trip, here's the first part of my interview with Kristen.
 My questions are first and her answers (in her own words) follow.

Let's talk travel. How long was the flight and what in the world did you do with all that time?
From New York from Africa was eleven hours, and that was after our flight was delayed for an hour and a half. I mostly slept and ate. I also read Radical, which was one of the most life-changing Christian books I've ever read. It pointed out all the flaws in my Christian walk and altered my view of Christianity as an American. It changed the way I saw it from being here in America.

What was your last American meal before spending two weeks in Africa?
I had Wendy's and a Smoothie King Smoothie, simply because it was the closest thing to our terminal.

Tell me about packing for two weeks in third world country.
Well, we had to wear knee length or longer skirt, and it was obviously going to be really hot. I started packing like three days before we left, and I tried to bring full size bathroom stuff to leave there for Katie, who is staying in Africa through next August. I made sure to bring snacks, my blankie, and lots of deodorant, hand sanitizer, and bug spray.

How was the food?
It was actually really good. I was a little nervous. Some of it was a little spicy, but we had jalof fries, and it it literally one of my favorite things. I want my mom to learn to cook it. We ate chicken almost every night. We had some really good pizza, but my favorite thing I had there was the pineapple and the pineapple juice that I had in the morning.

What were you most surprised about?
I think I was most surprised about how quickly I fell in love with the kids there. They are so in awe of Americans. They are so fun, so full of life, so easily entertained.

How does city life in Ghana compare to city life in America?
Well, if you go into an air-conditioned building, you are lucky, for sure. There is never a vacant spot on either side of the street ANYWHERE where someone is not selling something constantly. One minute you might be looking at a really nice, newly built building like you'd see in America, and then right next to it might be a shack or a tent where people are selling goods. The traffic was insane. Well, the driving was insane. We probably went three miles in about an hour and a half because of all the traffic. For example, when we got there there were two lanes of traffic merging into one. Everyone sits there and just honks, honks, honks. It was like a game of bumper cars, and it made me so nervous to watch.

While you were there you worked in a school in the orphanage. How does it to compare to school in America?
It doesn't. I mean, there is no organization whatsoever. The kids just don't listen. Now I was in a preschool class, but even then you sit in a desk and are taught to respect your teacher. There they just run around like crazy, doing this, doing that while she's talking unless she gets really mad. They wouldn't sit for us while we were teaching. It's really hard to concentrate, and the kids with a problem, like those who need glasses, well they just don't get them. One little girl had a really time reading things, and I guess she just has to deal with it. The still have lessons and workbooks, with Obama on the cover. Everyone loves Obama there. They draw on chalkboards, count things, write their letters and numbers, but there is very, very little structure. I don't see how they learn in an environment that is so chaotic.

If could go back, would you have done anything about the trip differently?
I would have brought watches for all the little kids. They were so enthralled with them. They don't need clothes, but they have no toys. Old, empty aerosol cans are what they play with, and most of these are broken. I would have brought toys and some sort of learning material that they can use. We did bring school supplies, which is really good. They have a bag of crayons but if you find one over a centimeter big, you are lucky.

Tell me about the market.
That was probably one of the craziest experiences of my life. Very overwhelming. I mean, it's just so overwhelming how if you even glance at something, you have ten people running at you bringing you their items to try to convince you to buy from them. The bargaining, that's how these people make their money. Everyone, everywhere was selling something. A lot of people aren't educated. They just can't  go out and get careers. Selling goods is how they make their living, whether it's knick knacks, food, or shoes; they are all just selling, selling, selling. And the fish. Ugh. That market was just, I can't imagine. We buy our food at Wal-Mart in clean, sanitized places. I mean, you're on dirt floors, and you just weave through this big mass of people selling stuff. It's 100 degrees there, and there's just fish sitting out, and it's rotting. I mean, there are just so many people in that one area, and it's so unclean. I can't imagine actually buying my food there for me and my family to live with or walking through there with a baby in my arms and a baby on my back and trying to buy groceries. We are just so spoiled over here. We go into our nice little air conditioned buildings and buy just whatever we want to buy, and there are still people there you can't afford to buy their rotting fish. I mean, I just can't imagine eating that or feeding it to my family.

So first you stayed in the village of Winneba. Tell me about the kids there.
It was heart-breaking. Skin and bones, I mean we don't know what their home life was like, but most of them were starving. And you couldn't just give them food because they'd be in a fight over it. But even though these kids were so malnourished with their yellow eyes, either having or having had malaria or many other diseases, they were so full of life. Non-stop energy. They play football (soccer) from sun up to sun down, non-stop, never ceasing, and are probably better than people who played high school or college soccer here. It was a serious competition between our college guys and these kids.

Tell me about the communication situation.
It was pretty easy to communicate because their national language is English, but they also learn their village languages. And there are conflicting village languages, so basically everyone is bilingual. They understood what we were saying most of the time, but it was harder to understand exactly what they were saying with the heavy accent, they multiple languages they mix together, and the slang they use. Like we say we have a headache; they say 'my head is paining me'. When we had to tell the village kids bye, that was the hardest part of the whole trip. We'd been with those kids for a little over three days. We came and loved on them and played with them, and we were their new best friends. The kids all cried, and it literally broke my heart. We came and they had somebody who loved on them and played with them, I mean this one little boy sat there and cried and cried and cried. We couldn't figure out why at first, and he said it's because we were leaving and he'd never see us again. It was so sad. Just heart-breaking.

Come back tomorrow for part two of our interview...the part where we get really, really real. 
And if there's more you want to know about anything mentioned in this post, leave a comment, and I'll see what I can do....

Until then, I'll be dreaming sweet dreams of Africa.


  1. Oh my goodness. It is 1AM, and now I am balling my eyes out! :(

  2. I'm so glad y'all finally had time to sit & talk! I've been wondering how her trip was. Even though you hear stories & see pictures, it's so hard to really fathom what it's like over there. Can't wait to hear more!


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