Sharing the Joy of Reading with an African Child
for 25 years

Reflections: Rosanna Nicol

I spent from January to June in Accra, working at the Mamprobi Gale Community Library. I traveled from Ottawa with an old friend Zani, and we shared a room in the guesthouse — “Chez Joana”. I spent my off-days playing with Jennifer — Joana’s nine-year-old daughter, kicking the ball around with Awal — the landlady’s nephew, and enjoying the new and glorious Learning Center. Ghana’s 50th Anniversary of Independence happened during my stay, and I was swept up in the optimism and national pride that accompanied the celebrations. We were also in Accra over Easter and went to church many times, often a wonderful — always an interesting — experience. Many Ghanaians are very public with their religious affiliations and business signs like “Annointed (sic) Hands Beauty Salon” are very common.

During the week I traveled the 50km from the Joana’s to Mamprobi. The commute by trotro — vehicles you will come to love…then tolerate…then withstand — took me right through central Accra and lasted about 1.5 hours, thanks to Accra’s insane traffic problem. This commute was rich with interesting encounters, and I had many a spontaneous chats about religion, poverty, development, gender roles, whether I was married and if not, was I interested? while sitting in traffic.

At the library I spent most of my time with Sophie, the head-librarian, and Ivy, a very sweet and energetic new addition to OCLF. The three of us would organize the books in the morning and monitor the kids as they signed in and washed their hands. Rudolph and Uncle Sam supervised the outside area, and had their hands full with girls playing ampe and boys playing tag. On Saturday afternoons, when hundreds of kids were looking for activities, Rudolph or Ivy would get out the drum and select a few kids to do the honours. The rest would dance around the tree for hours and hours.

When I first arrived, there was no sign of any schedule of activities at the library. It was hard to know what was supposed to happen in a day, and with time I realized the essential activities, like story-time and puzzle-time, were not regularly happening. I was encouraged to “bring some new activities and we’ll help you lead them,” but this felt futile as there was no sign that past activities were being continued. On my first day I jumped right in and did story-time, but I quickly began to flounder. Overwhelmed by the kids’ hysterical reaction to anything the “white lady” initiated — especially when involving art supplies! — I only realized a few weeks in, thanks to a helpful comment from Kathy, that smaller activities, like teaching a song, were as rewarding as the more challenging arts and crafts.

I embarked on a plan to do story-time everyday, introduce Boggle, and give workshops on effective puzzle making. A nice schedule developed, one that didn’t rely on the same kids coming to the library everyday. Occasionally we would draw — self-portraits were a fun one — or act out various scenes from our favourite books, and as the rhythm of events became established, the kids quickly grew to anticipate their favourite activities and ask after them. In the last week, I brought my guitar to the library, and that was a really fun addition to story-time.

The adult literacy classes were held on Mondays and Thursdays at Mamprobi. Attendance was sketchy at the beginning, but by March I had three students, and by May, five. We wrote the Level 1 literacy exam in the end of May and celebrated my departure and their success with minerals and meat-pies. Being a part of those classes was incredibly rewarding and leaving them was hard.

Zani and I worked at different libraries, but together we held practices with the Nima Girls Soccer team — at 5:30 a.m. Saturday mornings. We were really excited by the girls’ energy and potential, but the language barrier was undeniable and running the practices was challenging for many reasons, including always having to battle local boys’ teams for our right to use the field. All this changed when Ambrose saw us playing one morning. He had coached some of the Nima girls a few years before through a British High Commission Project, so we teamed up, and have left “Nimobi Girls,” as the team is called, in excellent hands with a victory under their belts already!

Before arriving in Ghana, I was, with appropriate irony, expecting Africa to change me. I was hoping its need would draw me up and out of myself, solving all of both of our problems in the process. I was expecting poverty, yet somehow not pollution. I was eager to experience being the minority, but naïve to the challenge of cross-cultural communication. Skin colour really is the least significant, if perhaps most obvious, of the differences between people, and while the challenges of working in Ghana stem from our vastly different histories and climates, so do the immense rewards. I feel very lucky to have lived in a place where people eat, walk, talk, and dance very differently than I do. In the subtler ways Ghana has changed me. The truths about life that I took for granted seem rather arbitrary now. I am living in a greater context, and it feels fine.

Rosanna Nicol