The shower was broken at the VOLU center (the organization we volunteered through) the night we happened to be there, and there was a problem with the plumbing for the first day and a half we were in Jukwa. No running water obviously meant no bathing. After a few days of hot sun, bug spray, sunscreen, and clay-like dirt from the work site, words can not express the excitement I felt on my first trip to the shower. The shower itself was like all of the other rooms where we were staying - no door led from one room to another, there was simply an exit to the outside. In this case, the lone door opened right into the main eating area and only real table, so it was not much different than if you were to open a shower curtain and find yourself in the main room of a dinner party.
The shower was positioned directly overhead, and my futile attempt to hang my clothes on the door handle did nothing more than open the door, leaving my clothes in a heap. I placed them in a puddle, then eagerly turned on the faucet and felt the cool spray of water wash over me. Ah, such bliss! It lasted for about twenty seconds. Then the pipes stopped working again. I stood in contemplation, dripping wet but not the slightest bit clean, looking down at my wet towel, wet clothes, and unused soap with disappointment. I tried to be thankful that I was at least able to rinse off, but it was difficult to feel genuine appreciation pour out of me as I dried off with my wet towel, reapplied another layer of bug spray, and put my dirty (and now wet) clothes back on.
Another day and a half passed before I got up the nerve to once again tackle the temperamental shower. The water had proven to be working on an almost slightly regular basis, but I was not foolish enough to think this meant I was in the clear. This time, I brought a bucket to fill with water lest the pipes act up while I was lathered in soap. I turned the handle and held my breath in hope that the plumbing would work. I was in luck! The water rushed through the pipes and flew out in a cold brown spray that filled my bucket.
I practically did a victory dance right there in the shower, celebrating the long anticipated appearance of water. It was a privilege here, not a commodity, and so it could have come out fuchsia for how little I cared about what color it was. Because the amount of this precious resource was in limited supply, I greatly shortened the length of my shower as well. Whenever I could, I turned off the shower to avoid running the water unnecessarily. This also gave it time to go down the drain, a chiseled hole in the corner of the wall that the floor tilted toward – much like the drain in the concrete bathroom we had been invited to use.
It wasn’t until later in the trip, when we visited Akosombo dam and a nearby village, that I realized just how uncommon it was to have plumbing at all, and how valuable water was. The village was called Nyame ben, which means "God is near." The people there had no running water, no electricity, and very little contact with the world outside their village. We drove past miles of nothingness, then got as close as we could to the village’s schools, which were pavilions with thatched roofing, but we still had to walk up a trail for ten minutes to actually reach them. The schools were set out from the village because no teachers were willing to travel any further; the village itself was still another twenty-five-minute hike away. The path was narrow and overgrown in many areas; it felt like a trek through a jungle. Everyone was expecting our visit and the children cheered and greeted us as we came off the trail into the village. The village receded back in a straight line, never branching off to either side. Many children wore only underwear, and almost no one wore shoes. They were delighted when we handed out the lollipops we had brought for them, and smiled and grabbed our hands. Cyprus delivered pictures from past visits to a few families, who were thrilled to see him again. Starzy was the only one who spoke the local language, a dialect close to Twi, so he did most of the interpreting for us.
Cyprus led us further into the village, where we came upon a group of huts. An old woman looked out of one on our left and exclaimed, "Oh! White people!" Clearly, she hadn’t been expecting us. She hopped out of the doorway and danced around, giving everyone hearty welcomes with handshakes and high-fives.
Cyprus told us that everyone called her Dada, which means "mother." At eighty-six, she was the oldest member of the village and had never taken a medication that wasn’t an herbal remedy in her life. Her energy and agility was admirable. It seemed that the western technology and medicines we find so necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle weren’t so necessary after all.
We also met the youngest member of the village, a newborn baby only three weeks old. Everyone took a turn holding the tiny infant, who was carefully swaddled in batik cloth. Other children gathered around, playing with the whistles attached to the bottom of their lollipop sticks.
As it grew dark, we walked over to the shore on the one side of the village. Instead of following the trail back, we canoed along the edge of it on Lake Volta in complete darkness, surrounded by nothing. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what it must be like to live in such seclusion.
We didn’t have to travel to Nyame ben to see people surviving on very little. In Jukwa and nearly everywhere else we visited, most families led difficult lives without much money or food. Children often asked for money or a small item such as a pen, which they could then sell. This in itself suggested the level of privation in Ghana. More often, they asked for my address, which I did not understand at first. I later realized that having contacts in America and elsewhere in the world was used as a status symbol.