I didn’t know what I was in for as I walked into the sociology department and signed up for the annual 2007 SOSA trip.
Every year SOSA, the university’s student sociology organization, puts on a trip open to all students. This year’s destination was the northern region of Ghana.
Together with 14 other international students, we joined about 50 Ghanaian students on what turned out to be an adventure for the storybooks, replete with witches, potty-trained crocodiles and bucket showers under the moonlight.
This trip was made all the more fun and exciting by the mere fact that things often didn’t go according to plan. In fact, there were many inconveniences along the way, which is to be expected from a student-run operation.
Before departing, for example, we were told that part of our fee would go toward booking a comfortable bus complete with a television and enough room for all. Like so many other details, though, this one was a bit off.
Our bus turned out to be a rackety old timer with no air conditioning, a narrow aisle separating two rows of tightly crammed seats and over hangers stuffed with donation material spewing out the sides.
What’s more, there wasn’t enough room for everyone. In fact, some of the boys had to go standing up for the duration of the 17-hour bus ride to Tamale.
To our amusement and many students’ horror, the Ghanaians sang Christian songs in synchronized loud choir voices for nearly half of the trip. By the end of it, even the international students were chiming in. Conditions in our “Jesus mobile,” as we came to call the bus, gradually worsened on our way back.
For starters, the donations bulging over our heads were replaced with drums, artwork, and other accessories we had bought along the way.
In addition, we stopped at a market where Ghanaian students lined up to buy yams in bulk.
Since there was no space left, the bags of yam became the new aisle. We were quite literally surrounded by a massive heap of yams, sometimes causing the bus door not to budge.
The most extreme part of the trip had to be the accommodation, though. We were the lonely occupants of a former vocational school turned hostel. The 25 or so girls were packed like sardines in one room full of bunk beds with rundown mattresses and less than sterile bed sheets.
The stench emitting from the bathroom on the third floor was such that it could be smelled all the way from the ground floor. This inspired most of us to do our necessities in the bush and take bucket showers outside.
Luckily, we were constantly on the move, sparing us from too much time in our shabby headquarters.
A major component of the itinerary consisted of going into remote villages to give donations, where we would be treated like celebrities and swarmed by children eager to have their picture taken. I would rank these interactions with villagers as the ultimate highlight of the trip.
At one point we even visited Gambaga, a so-called “witch village.” Here we interacted with women who had been branded witches and chastised by their communities.
As a grand finale, we visited Paga, a town notorious for its tame crocodiles.
As one local told me, townspeople bathe in lakes home to over 300 crocodiles. Also, crocodiles will often wander into the town and sleep inside huts. Apparently, they make for very considerate pets too and go outside to do their business.
Overall, we had an amazing experience. Even though it was just five days, for a lot of us this trip forced us to push our limits and try things we never would have otherwise.
I must admit, finding comfort in the unfamiliar can be a very liberating experience.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.