A Happy Old Year

16 01 2008

I oughtn’t forget 2007. I went from nervous anticipation about what the recently arrived VSO acceptance letter meant in January to dancing by the beach in Ghana surrounded by other volunteers in December, from a London Bank to an African NGO. I sat my first exam in nearly 20 years and visited India for the first time, including a tour of the slums of Mumbai. The slums of Mumbai, and the beggars’ prison, remain among the most shocking things I’ve seen. And this was seen after flying out in first class and while staying in Mumbai’s best hotel.

I did a fair bit of travelling (India, China, Hungary, Wales and, of course, Ghana), and then there was the chaos of trying to pack up and sort out my affairs before departure and plus spending an evening in a bar in Canary Wharf dressed as a Colonial Administrator. If anyone reading this is a pre-departure volunteer I’d suggest getting your affairs in order as early as possible, and don’t get your home completely redecorated in the few weeks before you leave, while you are trying to pack. I can also recommend having an extremely helpful and kind sister who picks up the pieces after you’ve fled to Africa, or wherever.

Looking back, the training that VSO provided last year was excellent. At the time it seemed all a little unreal and sometimes a bit too “airy-fairy, touchy-feely” without many hard facts or theories, especially before I knew where I was going or the details of my placement. Now I realise that I was given as good an idea of what to expect as can reasonably be expected, and that people really are the key to a successful and happy placement. And perhaps to life too.

As well as VSO’s training I passed an Open University module (which has proved useful) and a business analysis course. These have whetted my appetite and I quite fancy a bit more study when I get back, if only to update what I learnt almost 20 years ago. In fact I received more formal(ish) education in one year than in the previous 5, and an unimaginable amount of informal.

And the last three months of 2007 saw me trying to adjust to the move from a wealthy, efficient, dull, grey place to a vibrant, colourful, happy, poor, inefficient one. I’ve learnt to cope with water shortages, odd food, the Muslim call to prayer at 5am (which I sleep through now) and the vagaries of a third world transport system. I’ve attended a Muslim wedding, travelled in tro-tros and been woken by goats in the garden. All while struggling to workout what I can achieve in a small, busy NGO.

Outstanding memories include feeling slightly lost as my bag was amongst the last to arrive in Accra airport, watching the other volunteers traipse out while I stood pathetically watching the carousel go round and around and feeling mildly overwhelmed by everything. Or perhaps the feeling of sitting in another wood lined hall containing lines of individual desks, occupied by hunched, scribbling individuals, almost 20 years after I thought I’d taken my last exam. An alcohol fuelled evening in Salaga that ended with a statistical experiment to calculate the probability of getting toffees through a spinning ceiling fan was one of the best. I suspect Helen and Vicky are still finding toffees. Riding behind Agnieszka on her motorbike through the rural Upper East region was spectacular. Dancing at Wahub’s wedding, with the music provided by tribal drummers and the crowd going wild, pressing money onto my forehead, children scrabbling in the dust at my feet to pick it up will live with me for years. Singing “old MacDonald” and other nursery classics on a slow, old school bus that took 17 hours to reach Tamale from Accra is another great memory.

Throughout the year, both at Harborne and in Ghana, one of the most positive things have been the other volunteers. A better bunch (on the whole) of motivated, fun, interesting and genuinely good people I can’t imagine.

And now to face 2008 and all it can throw at me.

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2 responses

28 12 2010
An Educational Year « The Fat Worm

[…] to write my review of the year post, which has become a bit of a tradition for me (2009, 2008, 2007 – have I really been blogging that long?) . Compared to those three this has been […]

1 01 2012
Trapped by my own tradition « The Fat Worm

[…] never intended it to become a habit, it seemed like a good idea the first time I blogged about the year. I’ve done it 4 times now, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, and each year […]

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