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From South Whidbey to Navrongo
With his blond hair and blue eyes, Dave Adams could easily walk unnoticed down the street in Langley. Walking down the street in Navrongo, Ghana, on the other hand, he could create quite a spectacle.
Adams, a 1996 South Whidbey High School graduate, came back to familiar Whidbey Island streets in October after spending two years and five months in the Peace Corps in Ghana. Now 27, Adams said the idea of traveling to Africa in the Peace Corps was something he had grown up with. After hearing tales from his parents Gordy and Kitty Adams joint journey to Botswana in the 1960s, he knew that he, too, wanted to make his way to Africa.
In a time where the need for volunteers can be felt around the world, Adams said traveling to Ghana allowed him to give back to others by teaching and allowing him to experience humanity abroad.
In June of 2001, Adams went from being a Western Washington University graduate in Bellingham to one of the few white men around town in Navrongo, Ghana.
Everybody knows the white person, Adams said. Everywhere you go you bring attention.
After obtaining his bachelor of arts degree in art education from WWU in 2001, Adams made a smooth transition in Ghana when he was assigned by the Peace Corps as a visual arts teacher in a secondary school in June 2002. In the school he taught sculpture and general art and graphic design to students ages 16 to 23. Typically, the ages of students were older because they had waited until their siblings were old enough to take over the daily chores at home, he said. Peace Corps volunteers, including Adams, also taught HIV/AIDS education, gender and youth development and health education.
In the time he spent in Ghana among the Kassena people, Adams said he became partially fluent in their language, Kesem. Everywhere he went, people spoke English, but greetings in the native language were an important part of the culture. After greeting a person and inquiring after their health, Adams said it was then a tradition to ask about the persons spouse, children and families.
Thats how youre supposed to do it, he said.
The Peace Corps provided his housing in Navrongo, which consisted of two rooms each with electric light fixtures and one tap, which only provided water a few times a week. Adams said it became a habit to enter the home and turn on the tap to see if water was running. If it was, he could refill the large basins he used for bath water.
Though he taught daily, Adams said he had plenty of free time. His past participation in sports at South Whidbey High School, including basketball, golf and tennis, made pickup basketball games in Ghana a favorite pastime.
Adams, who also coached for South Whidbeys high school and middle school basketball teams and the high school golf team after graduating from college, had given himself a foundation for working with the children in Ghana. He said he was a frequent recipient of visits from dozens of elementary school children who attended another school literally steps away from his home.
They invaded my house constantly, Adams said and smiled.
Looking through the photos in which he is surrounded by several children, its often difficult to find Adams smiling face in the crowd. He smiles remembering the moment caught on film when a young boy had his hands on Adams head; the children remarked on the softness of his hair.
Through his most favorite activity of roaming around the town and interacting with the people, Adams said he learned Navrongo has very similar qualities to South Whidbey.
People there were the same as people here, he said. You interact with a person there the same way you interact here.
A common misperception from Americans is that it might not be safe to travel abroad or into Africa, but he said that couldnt have been further in his experiences. The Kassena people had been extremely generous, welcoming and accepting, often so generous in their actions he found it hard to return the favor.
It was hard for me to reciprocate because they didnt ask for it, Adams said. They just gave it to me.
The warmth of the community which is home to about 15,000 people reminded him of and further developed the values he was instilled growing up on South Whidbey. Other Peace Corps volunteers, he said, had not been as familiar with the aspects of a close-knit community.
For someone from the island its an extension of this community, Adams said. Its just a whole other level.
Looking back, he admits he might have learned more from the experience than anyone he might have influenced in Ghana.
I did a lot of roaming trying to interact with the people, Adams said. I probably learned more from them than they learned from me.
His contact with family and friends was somewhat limited, he said, but about once a month he took a 15-hour bus ride to the countrys capital, Accra. There he could catch up in e-mail cafes, make phone calls and bank transactions. Not being able to hop into a car of his own was a convenience he missed.
You learn to live without that stuff, but you miss it, he said. I missed how green it was here.
With temperatures often soaring into the 100s, little rainfall and no air conditioning to be heard of Adams said he often thought of his comfortable and efficient lifestyle on Whidbey Island. The slower pace of life was something Adams said was hard to get used to, but was also difficult to leave behind.
I was happy to leave that, but now that Im home I kind of miss it, Adams said. I really felt like it was a home to me.
Now getting into his rhythm again back in the U.S., Adams will jump back into student loans, getting a car and finding the right job. He also plans to return to Western to earn his teaching certificate. Through his experiences Adams also hopes he can encourage people to be open to travel, other cultures and experiences.
I learned a lot out there, he said. Its a great opportunity out there.