The following post is from Anna Brodmerkel, a 2014 Global Gap Year Fellow. UNC’s Global Gap Year Fellowship is housed in and staffed by the Campus Y. Find out more about the fellowship on our GGYF Facebook page!

Where are you going?”

The one question every obruni will hear countless times when walking practically anywhere in Ghana. At times, this can be extremely helpful if you have no idea where you are going, but if you know, it could not be more annoying. During my last 10 days in Ghana, I was able to travel throughout the entire country and explore the northern regions; however, I did not know exactly where I was going or what I would encounter. I have quite a few interesting stories, but here are two I hope you enjoy!

One Paddle:

Sunday, April 6th, was John Mark’s last day in Ghana. Not only were we volunteers, but also best friends, and even husband and wife (most Ghanaians just assumed we were married); needless to say, I was going to miss him. We spent our last weekend together in Kumasi and at Lake Bosumtwi, both rich in Ashante culture. Sunday, at Lake Bosumtwi, we decided to take a paddle boat out and enjoy the serene, beautiful landscape. Simple enough, right?

The paddle boat cost 12 cedis for 2 hours, the cheapest option, and one that fit our budget and needs. The guest house we rented the boat from only had one paddle-not ideal, but we didn’t foresee any problems as the lake was completely flat yesterday evening. Of course, we didn’t take into account the rain storm from last night, and the lake was not calm. A strong breeze pushed us back and the current didn’t help our situation either. John Mark and I took turns paddling every 10-15 minutes, getting absolutely nowhere, except for the current pushing us along the shore. We felt like complete idiots with our one paddle. All I could do was laugh. Adding to the humor of our situation, when I wasn’t paddling, I would soak up the water in the boat with my tank top and wring it out in the lake. After an hour of looking utterly ridiculous, we began to paddle back to our starting point. The return journey was much easier as the breeze dropped and the lake was flat again.

This was “So Ghana,” a term most volunteers in Ghana tend to pick up. I couldn’t help but to compare it to our time at YAP thus far. We came to the project extremely excited, as it appeared well established and great for people on a budget; however once we arrived, we struggled and even debated about staying or not during the first few weeks. We continued to struggle throughout the school term and never felt as if we achieved anything, as if our efforts were useless, no matter how hard we tried. Eventually, in the last few weeks we developed a rhythm, and felt as if we made progress. In the end, we survived, had a few laughs, overcame difficulties, and proved more adaptable than we thought possible. If we had to do it again, would we? Maybe, but we might just take another paddle.

Lake Bosumtwi

Lake Bosumtwi

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Take the Crocodile by the Tail:

After hitching a ride in a Ford Escape with a man traveling towards Bolga, I reached my destination of Paga. Paga is the gateway to Burkina Faso (the country north of Ghana), and the home of the most docile crocs around! Upon arriving in Paga, it started to rain. Once meeting up with a village guide, Achala, he told me I was a lucky girl, because even during the rainy season it hardly rains. Achala and I rode bicycles through the village and I even got to cross the border into Burkina, which was an interesting, humorous, and quick process. In simple steps:

1. Ask permission from Ghana Immigration Police

2. Laugh as they tell me that they will marry me.

3. Ask permission from Burkina Faso Immigration Police

4. Laugh as they tell me that they will marry me in French.

5. Take a picture with the Burkina Faso sign and have hot tea and an omelette in Burkina.

6. Thank Burkina Faso Immigration Police and attempt to speak French.

7. Try to avoid giving my name and number to police.

8. Be polite and scribble my email down in illegible cursive.

9. Thank Ghana Immigration Police.

10. Try to avoid giving them my name and number.

11. Be polite and scribble my email down in illegible cursive.

12. Receive name and email of one officer.

After our trip to Burkina, Achala and I returned to his house and waited for the rain to slack off. There, I read a handout about the legend of the Paga crocodiles and how they came to live with the people in peace. The people also believe that the crocodiles are the souls of their ancestors. I still wasn’t convinced it was entirely safe, but I decided to go see the crocs anyways. I could only hope my luck would hold out for just a bit longer.  I came all this way, and couldn’t let the opportunity slide. I asked myself, as I usually do in these types of situations, “Is it stupid?” Well, yes. “Will I get the chance to do it again?” Most likely, not. And as in most cases, if the second question is “No,” I will agree to something potentially life-threatening. Maybe not the best decision making process, but this is what happens when you leave me to my own devices.

There are many ponds in Paga where you can see the crocs, but I visited Chief’s Pond. An “official” guide led me into the pond with a small fowl in hand to lure the crocs from the pond. Walking towards the pond, we didn’t see any crocodiles, which made me feel a little better, but I was still extremely nervous. We stopped at the end of the pond and the guide put the fowl on the ground and whistled. Shortly after, one crocodile slowly emerged from the pond. I felt terrified, and seriously doubted my choice. The guide said I couldn’t feed it, because they had just eaten, but I don’t think I would have put my hand that close to its mouth.

Then, the guide casually walked up to the croc, grabbed its tail and said, “Here, come take it.” All I could think about was the croc eating me for dessert, and I hesitated, but then crept towards the croc and grabbed the tail from the guide and gave him my camera. Then I thought, “Be brave, he will be more likely to eat you if he can feel your fear.” It sounds a little silly now, but it was the best I pep talk I could give myself. After a minute, the guide came back over and told me to squat over the back end of the croc and put my hand on its back. I really hesitated then, but told myself not to be lame and do it. I hovered over the croc for about 30 seconds, then moved away quickly, but not too quickly as to startle my reptile friend.

I left the pond, caught my breath, then met back up with the person I drove with in the morning in Bolga. I have never felt so safe in any vehicle in Ghana, as the Ford Escape was a welcomed change from all the beat up tro-tros, taxis, and motorbikes I rode on. I had no idea what the day held for me when I woke up that morning, but it was definitely more interesting than I could have ever imagined!

croc tailcroc

Throughout all my adventures in the north, I realized the best way to travel is to not have a plan-mainly because it will never come to fruition. Although I had no idea where I was going, I could always find people along the way to help me out or even travel with me to my next stop. It’s not important to know where you’re going, just that you have an adventure getting there.