May 21st, 2014 by Cherié

Welcome to the Jungle (Part 1)

Barefooted, I ran to the ocean, I squealed with delight and signed to my friend “This is AFRICA!” The stars shone above us brilliantly, as the warm ocean water splashed over our toes. In the distance, lights shone from the homes, factories, glimmering over the dark blue ocean. A bonfire burned on the beach, shimmering in the distance, towards the huts. It was two am in the morning, and I was incandescently happy. Getting here was an adventure for sure, but I had finally arrived to the warm beaches of Ghana.
I tapped my feet rhythmically according to the music blaring on the shuttle bus; Terrill was sitting next to me with the speaker up in the air as everyone sang along and danced. “Welcome to the Jungle” was playing, I tried to follow the lyrics, reading the faces in front of me and tried to sing along. About twenty of my friends were onboard, and we were all heading to Busuwa Beach in Ghana to spend the night at the Safari Lodge. Forty-five minutes went by; we had driven through Takoradi, farther away from port with each passing minute. Our little bus drove through the sleepy roadside towns, with our night light gleaming through the windows, and our music blaring. Several locals waved at us, and danced along with the faint music playing as we passed by. We were in the middle of nowhere, passing through random towns, and soon we entered the jungle. All you could see was the thrashing of the tree branches hitting the bus as we drove on the dirt road. The gravel was rough, with big dips and rocks on the road; it was as if no one had driven there before. Our little bus became a jeep in the Australian outback, bobbing and thrashing along the road, up and down as if it was a roller coaster ride at an amusement park. But I was about to have a horrible realization- I had to pee.
I shrugged it off, thought to myself “We will be there at any moment”. I waited, and waited as the bus bobbed up and down, rocking back and forth as it struggled through the dirt road in the jungle. Welcome to the jungle indeed.. I held on to the bars on the back of the seat with every motion the bus made, cringing with each bump. The pain was unbearable; tears were starting to well up in my eyes.
I turned to Terrill and told her about my dilemma, she yelled out to a friend of ours towards the front of the bus.
“When are we getting to the Safari Lodge?! She has to pee!!” as she pointed me out in front of the entire bus.
“Five minutes” my friend Erik replied, snickering at the same time.
I was mortified, but I thought I could handle another 5 minutes. So I waited and nothing. The trees still surrounded us in the pitch black darkness while the light shone on the dirt in front of us. I could see nothing for miles, I wasn’t sure if the driver of the bus even knew where he was. We were lost. I turned to my friend, she saw that I was serious, this was no joke. My knuckles were white from holding on the seats in front of me as I crouched in pain, and embarrassment.
Terrill yelled out again “HEY! She reallllllllly has to go! STOP THE BUS!” To which our friend Erik finally convinced the bus driver to pull over to the side of the road.
We had pulled to a stop; I immediately got up and ran out to the darkness. Terrill followed behind, to shield me from the onlookers of the bus. I finally found a good enough distance from the bus, and hesitated for a second.
I looked at my friend and signed to her, “What if a monkey jumps out from the trees and bites me on the ass?!”
She said to me nonchantly “Don’t worry, I got you covered”
Fifteen years of friendship, and here she was in the middle of the jungle at midnight somewhere in Africa shielding me from rabid monkeys and onlookers of the bus as I peed. Now that is a true friend. I was mortified, embarrassed, relieved and strangely happy. “Who can say that they have done this? In the Ghanaian jungle?” I reassured myself, comforted by the thought. I looked at my best friend and signed “thanks” as I got back onto the bus. I wasn’t embarrassed anymore- I knew no one was paying attention. No one cared- if anything, they all have endured the same thing I did. They understood.
Slowly the bus drove further into the night, the driver looking for any signs of familiarity as we pushed on. Finally- as another fifteen minutes passed we spotted the rustic wooden sign outside of a wall of vines. “SAFARI LODGE” it read as we entered through the gate and into what looked like campground with a single small white building on the land. It looked deserted, all the lights were off, the only light was emanating from the bus and from the tiny flashlights we held in our hands as we stumbled through the darkness. Our luck turned for the worse- it was closed. We were too late.
By now it was one in the morning, we were sweaty from the humid air, exhausted, crammed on a small bus with no place to sleep, and with no plan B. Our bus driver mentioned a place nearby and that it might be open to accommodate about twenty people. We drove for another twenty minutes before finally reaching to a place called “Alaska Lodge”. Luckily, they were open. A shirtless portly African man greeted us and led us to our rooms. I decided to stay with Terrill, and several others bringing the total up to five to share a room while the rest went to find theirs. My feet trotted through the sand, carrying our bags into the dark, following the group as we approached to a round straw hut, with a door and several windows. One small fluorescent light shone in the room as I walked in- it was a round room with two bunk beds with a mattress on each bunk. To my dismay I realized that the beds had no sheets, nor pillows, just plain blue mattresses. Since there was five of us, the manager brought in a full sized mattress, and dumped it on the floor between the two bunk beds. One of us would be sleeping on the floor and it wasn’t going to be me. I claimed the bottom bunk, dropped my bags on the bed to mark my spot.
What did I get myself into? I thought to myself as I looked at the blue walls of the round hut. I studied the bed for bugs. I didn’t find any bugs there; however I spotted a few whizzing by my head as I inspected the bed. Flies, moths climbed the walls, lurking towards the one fluorescent light bulb near my bed. Uneasy, but I knew I couldn’t turn back. I couldn’t go back to the ship, and sleep in my warm cozy bed. I was stuck here until morning. I was going to stick it out through the night, and leave with my friends in the morning. Everyone decided to stay up, explore the place, and swim in the beach. I was exhausted, I just wanted to crawl in bed, and sleep the night away. My friends encouraged me to swim in the pitch black darkness with them, I was hesitant.
“Come on! What are you so afraid of? Live a little! This is Africa!” they all told me. I went back and forth between swimming or not, I used my hearing aid as an excuse not to go. They all knew I was trying to wiggle my way out of this. After some badgering, I finally gave in and changed into my swimsuit. I took out my not so waterproof hearing aid and hid it in my purse on the bed and walked out into the mazes of huts. I was reminded of the fact that I am deaf as soon as I take off my hearing aid; even with it I can barely hear half as much as a hearing person does. I once again am surrounded in a world of silence. It always takes getting used to; I adjusted my senses and walked around in the dimly lit hut out into the darkness.
The light from the freestanding tin hut that was the restaurant patio illuminated my path way to the free spirited people on the plastic chairs underneath the hut. I could see their faces laughing underneath the patio lights, laughing but I couldn’t hear a word they were saying. I took my hearing aid for granted, there was complete silence and yet chaos as some of my friends ran around in the darkness, dancing and having fun by the bonfire nearby. I made my way to the bonfire on the beach, where I found Terrill. I looked up and saw the brilliant stars above, and the African beach in front of me. I looked towards my friends and in a moment of pure spontaneously I decided to run to the shoreline and yelled “Race ya!” My feet hardly touched the ground as I sprinted across the sand; the moon shone brilliantly providing me light to see my way to the shore. I squealed, and laughed as I ran and soon my feet hit the cold wet sand, and I quickly came to a stop. I stood there as the waves crashed over my toes. I had touched the waters of Ghana. My friends caught up with me and ran into the ocean, they walked further and further as the water reached to their knees, to their waist until they were completely submerged in the water, floating along with the waves. I looked for them in the distance, all I could see were tiny blots floating around the ocean. I could see their hands waving in the air, urging me to swim.
“Come on in! The water’s fine!!” they signed to me. Afraid that I’d get swept away in the strong waves, I slowly walked towards my friends out in the distance. I struggled through the current, almost getting swept away with each coming waves. Finally, the ocean floor dropped from below my feet- I was floating. Salt water splashed across my face, and occasionally into my nose to which I coughed with such force. Even with salt water in my eyes, and possibly my lungs I was happy. From the moment I got on the bus, unsure of the adventure that Ghana would bring, I was cautious and alert with each step I took. I finally let go from all of the stress I carried from that day, and I just swam with the waves at two in the morning on the beaches of Ghana.
Four in the morning rolled by, after being awake for roughly a solid twenty-four hours, I was exhausted. It was time for bed. Soaking wet from the beach, I trotted through the sand, each step I took, more sand kicked up and stuck to my body. My feet, my legs, even my arms were covered in sand as I walked back to my hut. The screen door shut behind me, I was the only one in the room. Everyone else was still swimming in the beach. Sore and extremely tired I shoved everything off the bed, and sat down on the cold sandy mattress, and rested my head. There were no pillows, no sheets, just a blue mattress now covered in sand- but yet I was strangely comfortable. I did not inspect the bed for insects, I did not kick the sand off the bed, and I just lied down and drifted off to sleep. It turned out to be the best night sleep I’ve gotten since I’ve been in Ghana. Originally I couldn’t wait to get out of there, my skin crawled at the thought of sleeping there and yet I felt so compelled to stay. I was in paradise and I didn’t want to leave. I welcomed the jungle with an open heart and mind.

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