How was your trip?

November 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

It’s been two days since I’ve returned from Ghana and it’s been a struggle for me to answer that question meaningfully, accurately, and within the socially accepted time constraints of an open ended question like that.

My default answer has been to say something along the lines of, “It was amazing,” and then gauge the person’s interest. If they continue to look at me expectantly then I will elaborate with details about the work I did, a funny anecdote about an incident on the trip, and one or two insights that I think that specific person will be interested in.

But that approach is still somewhat dissatisfying so I’ve decided to blog at length (but with structure so you can pick and choose the sections interesting to you!) and simply send this to people. I leave the decision to read up to them as well as any follow up questions.

So, how was my trip you ask? Let me answer with answers to a series of related and more specific questions.

How does it feel to be back?

It still feels a bit surreal, but in a good way. Removing myself from my life as I knew it for 3.5 weeks has resulted in a renewed sense of purpose, clarity on what I want in terms of my career and an incredible sense of gratitude for everything I have in my life. I need to be careful about how I express my gratitude though because I’m sure the wide-eyed amazement at the plethora of snacks at work and my glee at having a clean bathroom with running water will get old to my colleagues quite soon. But regardless of how I express it, I will still feel it inside and hopefully continue to appreciate how lucky I am long after the sheen of the trip has faded.

What was the best part of the trip?

This is a hard one because there were so many great things about the trip and I’m sure each of the sixteen attendees will say something different and equally compelling. However for me, the best thing was the isolation from distractions which in turn allowed me to hyper-focus on a few core objectives: projects, people and personal development. I feel really good about the impact we had on our organization and the relationships that I developed along the way. I also achieved my personal goals of reading more (Smartcuts, Priceonomics blog, Wikipedia, etc.), challenging myself to think harder and dig deeper into questions that popped up in my head (e.g. Why is there so much trash?), meditating frequently, and carving out time to exercise.

What was the worst part of the trip?

The high temperatures and intermittent lack of electricity and running water were probably the worst things about the trip. After being in the sweltering heat all day, it’s a little soul crushing to come back home to realize that there’s no water and power. It didn’t happen too often though so I suppose in a way I appreciate it because it made showering that much more exciting and made me not take anything for granted.

What did I do in Ghana?

I mainly worked with an organization called CRRECENT on their marketing strategy and execution. The deliverables included a redesigned website built on responsive design principles (via an easy to edit platform called Wix), a marketing toolkit that included brochures, letterhead, presentation templates, photos and videos, and trainings on Google apps, social media, and design. My team also started an Indiegogo campaign for the organization. There are so many worthy causes, all of which are important, so our ask is to donate a small amount and spread the word so that our collective pool of money can add up to the $2K goal. Google also just announced a 2:1 gift match campaign to help fight ebola that you should check out.

I also worked with kids, teaching them about computers and technology. I tried to focus on how to find the answers to their questions using the Internet versus having them memorize terms. I taught lessons like how to write a good search query, how to create a newsletter and how to create an email address and send an email. It was a huge challenge keeping 20 kids engaged with only one computer, a language barrier and lots of hormones (theirs, not mine) flying around but hopefully they learned something.

That’s my trip in a nutshell! To conclude, I’ll leave you with a few choice stories.

  • Point and laugh – Whenever kids saw me they would point and say, “abroni,” which means white man in Twi. One of our drivers, Ben, gave me the advice to point right back at them and say, “obibini,” or brown man. Whenever I did that, the children would collapse in peals of laughter.
  • “Free range” livestock – The goats and chicken in Ghana are much more independent and self sufficient than their counterparts in America. Goats and chickens roam the villages and roads, untethered, and forage for food during the day and return to their homes at night. Goat and chicken theft is very uncommon and I saw no road kill in my time there.
  • Moldy chain – We didn’t have running water at our partner non-profit’s office so every time we went to the bathroom we had to pour water into the back of the toilet with a bucket and manually pull the chain to flush the toilet. One day, I reached into the dirty water in the back of the tank only to discover that what I thought was the metal chain was a string of mold. I used a lot of hand sanitizer that day.

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