I must admit that I felt quite nervous when I stepped into a plane with my 1-year-old son. Destination Ghana. Before that I had already spent some time in the country; it was familiar, we had my in-laws waiting for us there etc. but still traveling with a toddler felt so different.
After all, everything went well - my son's grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins carried my son in turns while I followed with a bottle of water, just to make sure my darling wouldn't get dehydrated with all that heat and sunshine. I even dragged a suitcase full of diapers and baby foods all the way from FINLAND, "just in case.." As if such daily necessities were not sold in every kiosk.
"As time passed David started to get used to the heat and his relatives in Ghana. He giggled with the kids in the house, spent his days being carried at his grandma's back or sitting on his auntie's dressmaking table watching the colorful wax print cloths. Cats were no longer scary. But he never learned to like the cold bucket showers!"
(A passage from my diary written in 2012 right after the trip)
”I hardly met David during weekends as he played in the compound with other kids who had their free days from school.
I could just hear him shouting and laughing around the clock.
And whenever I called him to take a shower or eat Jollof-rice
cooked by his grandma, all I got was a bold "NO! Later."
In the evenings we used to argue over that same plate of rice as he had been secretly taking some coins from mama's wallet to buy biscuits and lollipops from Auntie's store in front of the church...”
(From my diary, 2014)
After our first successful stay in Ghana, we've spent a lot of time living in different parts of Accra and the Western Region, as well as traveling a bit in Togo and Benin. And we love it! My son enjoys his freedom and friends and I'm more than glad to see him growing up brave and open-minded in between two completely different and rich cultures and environments.
My son, David, has been going to a few different daycares in Accra. As you can imagine, the educational world is way different from the Finnish one. Majority of Ghanaian kids start their school path at a very early age of two or three when they already spend long days sitting around their desks, learning and copying the alphabets. Fridays are for play and sports, and the kids have special jerseys for those days (normally the children wear cute school uniforms to school).
It hasn't always been easy for my son, David, to adapt to the system, but new and lively friends have been of great help in the process. Luckily Dave also speaks English as his second mother tongue, which has definitely helped a lot at school and in Ghana generally!
Today, 6-year-old David likes his kindergarten except the heavy homework load he carries home every day, and spends long hours getting it done. In the mornings I take him to the kindergarten with our dog. We buy a snack; biscuits, juice and a bottle of water on the way. The day starts with a morning assembly where the students play drums, sing and march at the KG compound.
So what do we do on our spare time then? First of all there's always more than enough friends for Dave to play with! I feel so glad watching all the girls and boys from our neighborhood running around the yard, jumping and laughing, climbing and shooting passers-by with rubber bands. Sometimes the kids have caught a hen from the neighbor or somebody has got his knee injured. That's just the way a kid's life should be!
Swimming together is our absolute favorite and we tend to spend a day at pool at least once every week. The sea around Accra is filthy, but there's many nice pools around as I wrote in the previous post. We usually spend the whole day at the poolside, sipping fresh fruit juice and eating potato chips with grilled chicken. Apart from rice dishes and yam, Dave is not a great fan of the local foods yet, so a portion of chips once in a while is a real treat for him ;).
There are lovely beaches surrounded by coconut trees right outside Accra where kids can swim, pick seashells and build sandcastles. Surf courses are also available for children - how I wish to see my son with a surfboard someday! For now, he's more interested in bodyboarding. Even the mama loves it! We've spent many salty days in the Western Region enjoying the waves and the starters' hilarious struggle on the board.
Sometimes in the evenings, after all the fun, we sit around a bonfire and listen to drumming and singing by some locals. David is always excited with those atmospheric moments on the beach, just before his bedtime.
”We spent seven good hours on the beach yesterday. Between playing and splashing in the sea water, David snacked on sugarcane, bananas and groundnuts, and sat down under a coconut tree to relax and watch local surfers catching the waves.”
(From my diary, 2014)
Then a few words about exploring the Ghanaian tourist attractions with kids:
Cape Coast Castle with it's old cannons and dungeons is a very exciting yet quite shocking experience for children. The heavy, horrible history of the slave trade castle is hard listening for both the grown-ups and the young but one needs to understand the past to build the future, right? It's also possible to tour the castle without a guide which might be a good option for visitors with small kids.
Kakum national park with it's canopy walkway and beautiful rain forest views offers a lot of fun for adventurous kids, but it's quite long and therefore I wouldn't take the smallest ones there either.
I've also been planning to take my son to Mole national park in the North to see the wildlife of Ghana. Now he'd actually be old enough to get the most out of the visit.. Do you have experiences of visiting Mole with kids? Please share them in the comment box below this post!
After all, I think that the lively and colorful everyday life of Ghana offers the best experiences for children visiting the country. There's always something interesting to see about the messy traffic, people at work and the busy city life in general. A child kind of get's a chance to see the origin of life. Something similar to what the countryside kids can still experience in some parts of my home country Finland. One can see the chickens being slaughtered, baskets being woven and fishes being dried. All the basic necessities and comfort are not to be taken for granted as the power could go off anytime, water might stop flowing from the tap, the laundry is washed by hand, hot baths are replaced by cold bucket showers, there's always delay etc...
Don't get me wrong, of course one can live in peaceful, wealthy and modern estate areas or luxury hotels in Ghana, where the reality is completely different. But to my opinion, the best and most authentic experiences come from the very local and more traditional environments. And I think it's great that my son can see and explore all the varieties and richness of life from different perspectives!
"As a parent, I'm extremely glad about the fact
that my son is learning to respect elders, to share and
to be very practical and self-acting in Ghana here."
”David has succeeded to build a huge network around himself here!
In Busua (a beautiful village on the Western coast of Ghana),
every second passer-by gives him a high-5, blow-kiss,
a package of biscuits, a smile or an eye-blink!"
(From my diary, 2014)
Ghanaians in general love children. Many Ghanaians have the time and will to greet the small ones passing by. Some Ghanaians even lead random children across the street when they're walking to school in the morning. The responsibility is shared.
Of course a lot of abuse and violence against children happens everywhere, in Ghana too, which we've unfortunately seen with Maria for example in the school world. I also hear people talking about the physical punishment methods in Ghana quite often. Yes, it happens at schools and homes but it seems to decrease year by year, at least in public. This has always been a hard topic between me and my son too - what to say when he sees his friends being punished in such way?
Who am I to judge anyway?
As last I want to warmly recommend Ghana for all child visitors! If you have any questions regarding this topic, please contact us and we'll try our best to provide good answers!
Hanna & Dave