Our time in Ullo started in the night. After multiple days of traveling and only interacting with the travel team members and Zack, I was not expecting the excitement that we arrived to. As our van started down the main road of Ullo, children started running after us, one by one, and surrounding the vehicle as we took our first steps in the community that would wholly capture our hearts. They grabbed our bags for us while we walked into the courtyard of the area we would be staying at. The first thing we did was introduce ourselves to the Chief of Ullo in the broken Dagaare we had been practicing in the van. I felt very overwhelmed by all the energy and smiles. In those first few hours we participated in dances that broke out and played with the kids. The dances were led by Florence, a younger woman in the community that works at the school and is a member of the Water Committee. She sang the lead parts of the chants while the kids called back in response and someone drummed on a bucket. I tried my best to follow the footsteps of those in front of me, but as soon as we got to the fast part, I must have looked as funny as I felt because Florence was on the ground laughing at my attempts. Throughout the rest of the trip she was someone who continued to encourage me to participate in different aspects of the community.
Each day on the trip followed a similar pattern. The daytime was focused on completing the labor that was needed for the project, but as soon as the sun went down at 6pm we no longer had our light source to continue work. We then shifted into a new gear where the night time activities began. We would eat dinner and then have a meeting afterwards where we summarized the day and then planned for the next. From there, we would have the rest of the night free. This is when we would take showers, do laundry, call back to the US to give updates, journal about our day, and my favorite – hangout with the community.
The first and last few nights were filled with dancing. We were greeted (and a bit surprised) by the women of the community in our courtyard our second night. There was a dancing circle where we each had the chance to jump in and show off our moves – mine being a bunch of flailing my legs and arms about. After a bit I had a girl named Faustina take me under her wing and teach me how
she dances to the different chats (she told me that my dancing could use some work). What was going through my head for the dance she taught me was “okay, jog in place for twelve counts and then bump butts, I can do this”. It was definitely not that simple, but it gained her approval after a while. Faustina then grabbed some of her friends and they asked me to teach them one of my dances. Put on the spot, my first instinct was the sprinkler. That one was deemed too easy, so they asked for something a little more difficult. Now, my dancing toolbox is not that large, so I ended up teaching these 10
women the Cotton-Eye Joe. This lesson carried over into other nights where we danced for hours. It was cool to me that they wanted to learn from us as much as they were willing to teach. Other nights we broke out Footloose, the Macarena, and Copperhead Road. The second to last night in Ullo, the community setup large speakers outside the area we were staying, and everyone gathered to dance to popular songs. I danced freely without holding back and Faustina told me “Now you are dancing!”.
Some nights we could be found playing games with the kids which were all very similar to the games I grew up with. We learned “hand games” similar to patty cake and taught them a game that I grew up calling “Down by the Banks” where we sat in a circle and sang a song while we “passed” the clap. They had a game that was similar to “Duck, Duck, Goose” and another like “Simon Says.” I was wishing I had brushed up on my childhood games before coming. Even though most of the kids are still developing their English, these games were easy to play because they were just looking for fun and no language barrier stood in the way of that.
On calmer nights I would sit in the courtyard to do my journaling and would have people sit down next to me to watch. Two girls would sit with me the most and I was able to grow close with them on these nights. With Faustina it was through conversations about our families, what brings us joy, and what worries us about the future. With Edrina it was mostly through her playing with my hair, me teaching her to whistle, and her poking me while I chased her around since she was younger and did not know as much English. Some nights I would have a crowd of eight kids watching as I scribbled about my day. I would then offer for people to write in my journal if they would like. There was one evening where one person asked about my hair then one thing led to another and I had eight sets of hands feeling what my hair felt like.
There we other nights that were quite different than the rest like the night we baked Betty Crocker double chocolate chip cookies, attended midnight Christmas Eve mass at the Catholic Church, celebrated New Year’s Eve at Dr. Bruce’s home, and learned to dance the traditional Baawaa dance with many community member’s outside the Chief’s Palace. Each night brought its own uniqueness that charmed me.
Nights in Ullo made me feel like a kid in summer again. Full of joy, creativity, and wonder.