Returning to Ullo

Being a member of the travel team to Ullo is a once in a lifetime opportunity; I was  fortunate enough to experience it twice, as a part of two travel teams. Still, each experience was a unique and remarkable adventure. I have spent a lot of time in Ghana, I have seen a lot, and I will never forget the things I have learned. As I left Ullo this year, it was hard to realize that, most likely, I will not see any of my friends again; but I know my friends at EWB will keep a watchful eye.

Returning to Ghana, I noticed a string of commonalities between the 2 trips, as well as some inherent differences. For one, I felt unusually comfortable and familiar on my second trip. It felt as though this were a place I visited all the time; after gathering our baggage, we found Zack outside walking towards us with open arms, saying my name. Zack was our escort in country, but in this instance he felt like my uncle picking me up from the airport. These familiarities continued; I was looking forward to revisiting some of the traditional Ghanaian dishes and found myself at home. Now, the culture, pace, and feel of Accra are quite different from most big cities that I have visited in the US. The laws of traffic are much more lenient, the people and buildings are more densely placed, and there is a striking visual dichotomy between the towering skyscrapers of Nestle to the shallow slums. On my first trip, every experience was a new mini-adventure; every sight was unseen; I felt like a fish out of water. Yet, this feeling vanished entirely on my return trip. I felt ready.

Travel team with Ullo community members (winter 2016-2017)
Travel team with constructed borehole enclosure and pump (winter 2018-2019)
Irene (left) and Momi (right) posing with their shoes

It is also interesting to compare and contrast the 2016 and 2018 travel teams. Both teams contained rather different types of people, yet they both followed many of the same trends. One trend I noticed, is the level of connectivity that each team shared as the trip progressed. When planning both trips, meetings were typically formal, focused, and not particularly social. Before leaving on the 2018 trip, I was a bit disappointed that I did not get along with my team as well as my 2016 team; but I had clearly forgotten how things go, as we rapidly became excellent friends in country. It is funny how it works; the team is in a highly unusual and exciting adventure and a real bond quickly forms, between each travel team member (with 7 travel team members that’s 21 one-on-one relationships). You share something very special with your team, that I wish I could articulate fully. With both teams, I formed a quirky, goofy, and laughable relationship with my new friends. Long story short – if you want a fast way to be good friends with someone, go to Ghana with them.

Returning to Ullo, I saw some faces that I was previously convinced I would never see again. The granddaughter of the chief, a 14 year old girl named Momi (or as I liked to call her, Mimo), was the first to find me. Within a minute of getting out of our van in Ullo, Momi ran up and hugged me. Honestly, I was anticipating much more of a standard “hello”, but this made me feel welcomed and remembered. She is a bright girl, who I talked to everyday I was in Ullo. Looking back at pictures, it is clear how much she’s grown, but her personality is the same: excitable, funny, and kind. One story from the second trip, begins to describe her. One day, a few travel team members, myself, Momi, and her friend Irene were at the market, and we decided to buy some sneakers for Momi. We also bought some things for ourselves, and the EWB H2O for Ullo banquet, and were headed back to the chief’s palace. Just then, Momi sidles up to me and whispers in my ear, that she could tell that Irene’s face is sad and asked if we could get some sneakers for her as well. Momi’s expression was downcast and was of genuine concern for her friend. She could have easily received something else for herself, but she looked out for Irene. They took a photo together of them wearing their shoes, Momi is on the right.

When I left Ghana in 2017, I remember looking at Momi, Zack, Paul, and everybody else in the community and thinking that I will never see these people again. How could I have? But then there I was, in Ullo once again. I will be graduating this year, so as I left in 2019 I looked at them and realized we would never meet again. As we dropped Momi off at her dad’s house, I kept looking back to see her face one more time; in the moments before our farewell, I was dreading the moment that we would drive away. And yet, I still have hope. I was certain I would not see them again, I was wrong, and now I am certain again. I think I will keep my hope.

Max and Momi in 2016
Max and Momi in 2018