“Where’s your duct tape?”

Who knew such an innocuous question could have so much importance? It all began Wednesday night when I was packing for a visit to the Volta Region the following morning Kweku knocked on my door and asked for Duct Tape. (For background, Kweku has been instrumental in the development of the electricity-generating merry-go-round and EPI shares an office space with his engineering shop.) I searched the office but to no avail. “Doesn’t every American have duct tape?” he asked. I replied that I had a roll in my car, one in my desk, and an extra one in a kitchen drawer at home but none had forgotten to bring any with me when it hit me; I’m now African American. I eat the food, watch Nigerian movies, I'm trying to speak the language, I have local beads and fabric and everything. This revelation was fulfilled today while out running errands with Isaac. We were intellectually discussing the difference between Europeans and Americans while playing one of my favorite games “Name that Obruni” when he included me in a statement about Ghanaians. I fail to recall what exactly the statement was but the “us” that had formerly excluded me is stuck in my mind. To prove my new nationality I celebrated by purchasing an elephant. That’s right, an African Elephant.

But don’t rush to alert customs or anything. This elephant is only 18 inches high and made of “ebony” wood, meaning some tree with shoe polish on it, but I love him all the same. His name is Kofi, the Ghanaian name for a boy born on Friday, and he will fit in nicely with my new flour sac pillows and burlap bag ottoman. But the duct tape omen goes even deeper than my new furniture acquisition. Yesterday it could have signaled the end of my life, or at least a long swim. (Boti Falls)Close your eyes for a moment…are they closed? Imagine Africa; recall all you’ve learned from school and Hollywood about this behemoth of a continent. Now open them. You’re wrong. As I’ve already mentioned, Ghana is nothing like my mind’s picture of it; and the trip to the Volta Lake only confirmed this new revelation. So what does this have to do with duct tape? Water, that’s what. More specifically, keeping water out of my canoe! A canoe that was in the middle of a very large lake, in 2 foot rolling waves and leaks springing up everywhere.

We’ve made it a goal recently to explore the islands that are seemingly everywhere in Ghana in search of potential schools. We’ve had great luck in the Lower River Volta with Pediatorkope, Alorkplem, Aflive and Tuanikope Islands and have already planned an installation at Kpala (Paula) Island in the Volta Lake. These island schools and villages are isolated and often very deprived, and after yesterday’s boat trip I better understand why. Getting to the islands in the lake is difficult, often taking upwards of an hour once you’ve secured a boat. On our last trip we went with a large boat that carries locals back and forth on market days with their goods and, much like the buses and taxis on the mainland, doesn’t leave until every square inch is full of something or somebody. A smaller boat reserved just for us would get us there faster and make visits to the island easier, but we didn’t take into account bad weather and the bumpy ride it would make for our little crew.

After replaying Titanic over and over in my mind, “Never let go Jack, Never let go,” we made it to our destination. The clouds parted, the sun shone through, and we found two gems. These little islands have deplorable facilities, lack supplies, and struggle to get teachers stationed at the remote little villages. There are fleeting moments when everything seems to melt away; all your problems, deadlines, traffic and noise disappear and you focus on what’s in front of you. This island trip was one of those moments. Everything leading up to it was worth it. And anything it takes to get some help to the children I met there will be worth it as well.