Using your head

Ghana Summer 2011 Blog

Written by: Michael Yu

June 30, 2011

During our stay, we've been careful to drink only bottled water to avoid getting sick from tap water.  Indeed Chase, Austin, and I already experienced unpleasant stomach illnesses that, we believe, came from eating pasta we cooked with tap water boiled for an insufficient amount of time.

The other night we ran out of bottled water, so Austin and I went searching to buy more from little stores stationed along the main street near our house about a 1/2 kilometer away.  These stores are no bigger than the size of a newspaper kiosk in Manhattan.  Up to that point, we've been buying our water from either the Accra or the ANC mall, so we were uncertain how far we'd have to walk on the street before finding a store that sold water.  

Fortunately not too long into search, we bumped into one of our students who was just getting off a tro tro.  Turns out that he lives very near us in East Legon.  He helped us buy water from one particular shack by speaking with the owner in a native language.  At first, Austin and I thought the shack already carried water on site and we'd be given the water almost immediately, but we ended up waiting for over 5 min.  Eventually we saw a 6-8 yr old kid come over to us carrying a box of twelve 1.5 Liter bottles on his head.  At 1 gram/mL water density, that's 18 kg (~40 lbs) of water on his tiny head!  We realized that the owner had probably sent the kid to fetch water from elsewhere.

After bidding our student goodnight and thanking him for helping us, Austin and I, each now carrying a 40 lb box of water, trekked over the ditch-laden mud road back to our house.  We carried the boxes in what we thought was the obvious manner: letting our arms hang down and gripping the box from the bottom.  However, as our arms got tired during the 1/2 kilometer walk, Austin suggested that we carry the boxes the same way as the kid back at the shack -- on our heads!  Of course, if a 6-8 yr old kid could do it, we can too, right?  Yes, but not without good posture and a good neck and upper back workout =).  Moreover, the numerous ditches in the wet mud road back to our house did not make things any easier.  By the time we got back to the house, we were both exhausted, myself in dripping in sweat.

We now have a better appreciation of all the Ghanaians who carry heavy loads on their heads at ease.  They aren't limited to kids fetching water, but they also include the countless folks on the streets of Accra we've seen trying to sell snacks, toys, and even empty luggages resting on their heads.