By Sarah Kyei
It may interest readers to know that this is the third time I have experienced winter season in my almost 40 years of life on earth. The first and second was when I was a graduate student in London, United Kingdom from 2005 to 2007. This year’s winter break was particularly most exciting as I traveled home to see my family after almost five months of being in the United States. As an International Fellow from a tropical country – Ghana, I had wished to experience the Minnesota weather as I have heard a lot being said about it. However I chose to spend some time with my family back home in Ghana.
As the end of the academic semester at the University of Minnesota approached, I was eagerly waiting to fly home. I had packed my stuff about three weeks to vacation and was always counting the days left to board my flight to Accra, Ghana. I always dreamed of being home and planned in my mind things I will do as soon as I got there. I got up early in the morning on January 17th 2013 and for the first time waited for my host family to pick me up to the airport. Usually, whenever we had to go out somewhere, she will wait for me downstairs in the car for a minute or two. This time I was ready on time because of the anxiety to go home.
The journey home was very exciting even though there were some flight delays. As I touched down at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, I switched on my mobile phone, called my husband to announce my arrival. He was also eagerly waiting at the airport with my mum and my three kids. The temperature was hovering around 88°F. I had to quickly remove my boots and my down jacket because I was sweating profusely. After going through immigration, I hurried up to pick my luggage at the baggage claim area and quickly made my way to the arrival lounge. As I lifted my head to see the host of people waiting to meet their relatives, friends and loved ones, I spotted my family! It was such great joy as I hugged each and every one of them with a lot of excitement. My three-year-old daughter who was fast asleep suddenly woke up and she was more than happy to see me.
We drove home and the laughter and joy continued. As we entered the gated community at Devtraco Villas where I lived, even the security men were happy to see me. My house has been painted nicely with a brand new color; the grasses and hedges had been nicely trimmed in preparation for my arrival. The garden in the house had been decorated with Christmas lights. It was a beautiful sight to behold. My favorite food “banku” (a local corn dish) and tilapia fish with hot pepper and onions had been served on the dining table. It was irresistible! I had the pleasure of having dinner with my family after being away for almost five months.
After dinner, I gave everyone their presents, which I had spent time and money bracing through the cold weather buying and trying really hard to ensure each one of them will like their gifts. Luckily, they were all happy with their presents and this was such a great relieve. Thanks to technology they were even able to see some of the presents before I sent them home.
At dawn (4:30am) the next day, I heard the wonderful sounds of birds chirping. It was a great delight for me, as I had not experienced this for several months. Then at 6:00am in the morning, the sun was up and it was interesting for me to see the sun rise so early unlike in Minneapolis. Indeed I knew I was in Accra, Ghana. The difference in the weather is so huge. In the winter season in Minneapolis, the sun usually rises around 7:30am. On the contrary in Accra, the sun rises at 6:00am and sets down at 6:00pm almost all year round though there could be slight variations but the difference is almost negligible. Ghana has only two seasons – wet and dry season with the average temperatures ranging from 70-90F°. No temperature ever recorded in Ghana is below 50°F. For the first time in several months, I slept without wearing socks, neither sleeping with the quilt, nor having to turn the heat on. Indeed I did enjoy the warm weather in Ghana.
It was all fun with the family as we visited some friends and neighbors in my community to announce my arrival. My winter break was very busy, as I had to catch up with many old time friends. On the eve of Christmas, my family and I organized a trip to Boti Falls, which is about 2.5hours drive from Accra. It was a wonderful and a good place for the family to spent time together. I enjoyed nature, the food, the drive, my family and everything.
On Christmas day, we were at church together and I met friends that I have not seen for a longtime. Many people wanted to fraternize with me and I enjoyed talking to all of them. When we closed from church we went to one of my favorite restaurants in Accra – Tante Marie where I ate one of my favorite dishes, yakayaka and onion stew. We took a family picture at a photo studio nearby and the kids and I spent time selecting the best photo shots for printing. We made an order for one nice big size photo to be put in a photo frame, which we hanged in our living room. In fact there was one already in the living room so we had to remove and replace it with the new one. The interesting thing is that, the old family picture did not have the image of my three-year-old daughter because as at the time of taking it, she was not yet born.
To usher in the New Year, my family and I took part in a watch night church service. The watch night service is an event many churches in Ghana organized every year during 31st December to usher in the New Year. Church services usually start at 9:00pm. Many church faithful mostly dress in white attire as a sign of gratitude to God for taking them through the year. As part of the tradition in my church, a few minutes to 12midnight or January 1st 2014, church members start praying, rejoicing and thanking God for taking care of them throughout the past year. As soon as the clock strike at 12:00 midnight we all start singing loudly, dancing and playing music rejoicing and praising God. This continues for some time until we wrap up and close at 1:00am. It was all joy as I witnessed this ceremony in my church once again with my family.
Time flew past quickly and soon it was time to say good-bye to my family. I wish I could stay longer but I had no other choice. I returned to Minneapolis on January 20th 2014. I had the opportunity to also have some fun with other Humphrey International Fellows. As part of Fellows retreat, we went to a little town called Faribault and took part in snowshoeing. It was the first time many of us were taking part in this fun activity. We asked a lot of funny questions before starting the snowshoeing as many of us were not too sure of how we were going to feel staying in the cold for long and how fun such an activity could be. As we went through the woods seeing footsteps of different animals, we were more than excited. We went to the riverside and it was completely frozen. Indeed some of us were seeing frozen river for the first time in our lives. We took photos and those of us from tropical countries were very proud of ourselves undertaking this fun activity in such a cold weather.
Overall all, my winter break was super fun. I had a good break from the cold weather in Minnesota, spent time with my family after almost five months of being away. I did a couple of fun activities with the family, met friends and other extended family members as well. I returned to Minnesota to also see other Humphrey Fellows that I have missed for almost a month and it was great reunion.