From London to Lively Minds Ghana…

I met Alison (Lively Minds founder) through a mutual friend – and watched in admiration as she has grown the charity to where it is today.  I’d been working in the charity sector as a fundraiser for the last 10 years so when Alison asked if I’d like to work for Lively Minds – I jumped at the chance and have been working  for Lively Minds for a year now in our London office (mine and Alison’s flats!). Spending all that time talking and writing about our work in various funding application and to our supporters who always ask if I’d been myself – I decided it was time to finally do so! I was really eager to see the projects in action and witness firsthand how the money raised in the UK is really making a difference.

I flew to Accra (Ghana’s capital) from London via Portugal (cheaper than direct flight!) and arrived at the delightful hour of 5.15am. I knew there was an internal flight to Tamale at 7am and it was going to be tight as to whether I was able to catch it in time as I had to get through customs, collect my bag, find the right place to purchase a ticket, check-in and board.  I strategically asked to be seated at the front of the plane from Lisbon so I was first off… and I was, and first in the queue as I ran there! I experienced immediately how friendly the Ghanaians are as I was greeted by a smiley customs officer who welcomed me to Ghana.  Finger prints taken and reason for my visit okayed  I rushed to get by bags – and after a little wait I grabbed them and headed out. I was immediately hit by the heat and a sea of taxi drivers trying to help me with my bags and take me somewhere! I politely refused and sweated my way carrying my heavy load – bags laden with books donated from the UK – to the other terminal.  Clock watch 6.15am I had a safe-ish 45mins to get the internal flight  (there’s only one a day the alternative a day in Accra with a very early wake up and journey back to the airport). As I staggered to the ‘Starbow’ kiosk I overheard the attendant telling the girl in front that there were no flights to Tamale today – the reason – Termites on the runway! I joke not.  The girl (I now know as Nicola and I also know her life story and she mine) was visiting her boyfriend for the weekend in Tamale. The attendant informed her she could take a 30 min flight to Kusami and from there a 3 hour bus ride to Tamale. Nicola asked if I would like to go with her – so I did!

We had a couple of hours wait in Accra Airport for the flight to Kusami – possibly the shortest flight I have ever been on – and from the airport took a Taxi to the bus station. I’d texted Alison from Accra to tell her not to meet me at Tamale Airport and my alternative plan. As I picked up phone reception in the Taxi I’d received a text back from Alison with the news (which I then broke to Nicola!) that the bus is ‘more like 5 hours, so make sure you try and get a good one with A/C’. 15 mins later at the bustling local bus station (ie no buses with A/C) we learnt that the next bus to Tamale didn’t leave until 11.30am (It was still before 9am!). There was however an alternative – we could take a bus to Bolga (2 hours North of Tamale) and if we ask the driver he would drop us in Tamale on the way.

Tickets for Bolga bus purchased we found out the bus only leaves when full!.  2 hours later all tickets were sold and we – bags and all – alighted the bus. It was a little tight but my rucksack made a good foot rest! 8 hours later I arrived in Tamale! (I will gloss over the part about the bus not actually dropping us at the bus station where Alison was waiting for me, but at the side of the road – fortunately another girl who got off with us was from Tamale and pulled over  a taxi and took that to the place Nicola was staying and Ali met me there !)

What should have been a 1 hour 30 minute flight was an epic 12 hour adventure! Though the last hour was a little nerve wracking – bouncing over pot hols in the road leading to Tamale in the dark and not knowing where I was actually going to end up in Tamale when I got there! – I’m actually really pleased I had the opportunity to see some of the country and experience travel the Ghanaian way. And make a new friend!   I saw too how the villages and roads changed as we travelled further north where people are living in poverty and the roads are plagued with pot-holes.

Sweaty, smelly and knackered I took a taxi with Alison to where we were staying. Just 24 hours door-to-door from Archway (North London)  pretty basic, but I have my own bed and there is electricity and water (sometimes!) so I am pretty pleased! I was surprisingly awake given I’d not slept for over 38 hours buzzing from my mini-adventure and the next week ahead of me. So after a lovely cold shower we hit the town for some well deserved dinner washed down with a Ghanaian beer or two.

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