Up the River Without a Paddle


There is so much that goes on behind the scenes here in Ghana thanks to Mercia Laryea, our Ghana Director. Each year after our camp we have extra supplies and books that are given to Mercia to disperse. Through Mercia we have had an impact on schools throughout the coastal cities of Ghana.

Mercia met Mrs. Blankson through Samaritan’s Purse-Operation Christmas Child-when they were both on distribution committee. Mrs. Blankson was opening a Kindergarten in her home village, Beyin, a small village in the Western Region of Ghana about forty-five minutes from the border of Ivory Coast. Mercia gave her some books and other materials we left behind. The school was so grateful and Mrs. Blankson insisted that we should come and visit.

Sophia, Mercia, The Chief and Debi

On Sunday, Mercia, Sophia, another Ghana board member, and I journeyed to Beyim. Before leaving in the early afternoon we made sure we had a fire extinguisher in the car. It’s the law. There were five police check points along our route. Since the trip was so far, we hired a driver.

It was a beautiful driving along the coast until 6:30 pm when the sun set. Then it was just—DARK. I am thankful we had a driver because neither Mercia nor I could have maneuvered the pot-holed roads. By 8:00 we thought we were close and called the hotel for directions. Over the next two hours, every time we called they said “you are close.”  When we finally arrived at the Tenack Beach Resort it was 10 pm and the kitchen was closed so no dinner for these hungry travelers. I forgot to pack a snack.


The Chief,  of the village wanted to thank us for helping their school so he arranged for a visit to Nzulezu, the village on stilts built on the Amanzule river. Mercia thanked him kindly and told him that I was the only one brave enough to travel on the water. Early Monday morning, after a walk on the beach, I set off to find a ride to Nzulezu.

The hotel directed me to Nathaniel, a tour guide. After paying my boat fee, $10, Nathaniel showed me the life jackets available. I decided that I was better off swimming without a life jacket, after all the bright orange jacket just might slow me down and make me crocodile  bait. Later I found out that the Chief had arranged for me to travel by speed boat but the message did not get to me in time and I’m happy I “missed the boat.”


My ride was a roughly made canoe with very hard and low benches. The trip would take an hour each way. Nathaniel and his crew, Daniel, each had one rough oar/pole. Some places in the channel to the river were very shallow. Often Nathaniel stuck the pointed oar into the mud to push the boat. During the dry season, November through May, the channel dries up making passage longer from another outlet down river. The crocodiles are more dangerous in the dry season.

Malachite Kingfisher

This day was delightful. The sun was hot but a pleasant breeze was blowing. Birds singing and the rippling of the water from the oars broke the incredibly peaceful silence. Kingfishers glided through the air as we entered a lush, green mangrove canopy while water lilies bedazzled me with their beauty.

water lilly

When we entered the Amanzule river, I could see the stilted village in the distance. Villagers are fishermen and farmers. They farm land across the river and set up traps for fish along the river. The homes are simple bamboo structures with one or two rooms. The village backs up to marshland and they have electricity. Each building sits on wooden piling which has to be replaced every 4-5 years. The walkways are made of bamboo. There are stores, a church, restaurants, bars, and a primary school.  Children in grades 7-12 paddle up river an hour and walk 20 minutes to attend school on the mainland.


I visited the primary school. Grades 3-4 were in one classroom with a teacher and grades 5-6 in another classroom with a teacher. There were no teachers for  Kindergarten through second grade. Keeping teachers or getting them to show up is a problem. It just might be the commute that is keeping them away. The school is not supported by the government. The community pays the teachers and all repairs by asking tourists for donations to support the school.


Twenty or more children without teachers were all in one classroom playing. I couldn’t resist teaching them a few songs. I could have easily spent several hours working with the children but knew Nathaniel and Daniel needed to paddle me back down river. I was a good tourist purchasing 3 hand carved toy boats and some fabric.


Back in our canoe my heartbeat matched the rhythm of the oars, slow and steady. A pair facinating ducks fluttered in front of us. I slowly stood up-brave woman that I am-to snap a photo, the clicking sound of the shutter breaking the silence. I did not want this trip to end. Like standing in the middle of the single plank canopy walk thirteen stories above the forest floor at Kakum park when no one else is around, I could feel the palpable presence of God. With all that is happening back home and elsewhere in the world, I could feel God holding me in His hand at that moment and whispering “You will pass through deep waters. But I will be with you. You will pass through the rivers. But their waters will not sweep over you.” I can see why the Nzulezu people continue to live their quiet life on the water.


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