Posted by Emily Block | 0 comments

And now for something completely different…(Ghana First Impressions)

Nothing in my life experiences leading up to today have prepared me for Ghana.  I guess I like to file away what I see and experience into pre-established categories.  I didn't even realize this until I came here and realized I had so little context to process what I am experiencing.  This makes it difficult to write about because I find myself still thinking in filters that don't apply.  Bear with me as I do my best.

My introduction to Ghana was from the vantage point of a bus window as we traveled the three hours to Winneba, a small fishing town.  I was excited to get going since there was not much to see other than shipping crates where we are docked.  I eagerly boarded the bus, ready to start the adventure and escape the heat only to find myself in a very UNair-conditioned bus.  Uh-oh.  As people started getting on after me, the look of terror was on their faces as well.  It's kind of funny, now that I think back on it, how horrified we all were that the bus didn't have air conditioning.  "Well this sure isn't Brazil," a fellow passenger commented referring to the luxury air conditioned busses we were carted around in there.  After a few minutes of adjusting to the heat, I actually started to enjoy the experience.  It somehow made things more real now that I wasn't using luxury transpiration.  

I made friends with one of the dependent children and a man from the university at Winneba right away by offering some lifesaver mints.  In turn, our host taught us my first lesson in Ghana: how to litter properly.  I collected the wrapper from the kid's life saver and the man was almost horrified when I started to shove it in my backpack for later disposal.  "No no no," he said, "what are you doing?  No.  It's like this."  With that he let his own candy wrapper fall to the bus floor.  I still tried to shove the trash in my pack, but he insisted that was not proper.  So, I threw it on the ground!  (Queue the Lonely Island Song).  I thought it was very funny that to him, saving the trash to throw away in a trash can later was just as appalling as it would be for me to see someone blatantly throw trash on the street.  But we be in Ghana now, so I shall do as the Ghanaians do!   It's really interesting that in a different setting, new things can seem commonplace.  It does no good to think like, "well at home, we do it this way..."  All those comparisons get tiring and distract me from jumping into how things are done here.  Yes, all this from a small piece of trash.

Anyway, I found that looking out the bus window on our three hour trip was a great way to get oriented.  My first views of Ghana once we left the port were very overwhelming so I am glad that I had the time to adjust.  The evidence of poverty was very evident.  There were nice houses and quaint gated communities of course, but the majority of what I saw were small shelters made from bits of whatever was handy including metal scraps, clay, concrete blocks, tarp-like fabric, and scarp wood.  I would find myself smiling pleasantly at the surroundings thinking how exciting this all was until I would jolt back to the realization that people lived in those places.  They weren't just part of the set for my grand adventure.  At this I didn't know what to feel.  I wanted to feel sad, but who was I to judge a rundown house as sadness?  I had no idea what happened behind those handmade clay walls.  There are all sorts of wealth in the world, and only some of those have to do with houses or money.  If I felt sad, would that be demeaning to the people who lived there?  Maybe.  So then should I feel only detached neutrality?  This didn't feel right either.  I have warring voices in my head that yell, "this is horrible!  People should not have to live like this," and "Who am I to judge.  This is a different place, and different things are acceptable."  I'm finding more and more on this trip I just don't know enough to formulate an opinion.  I'm trying to decide if that means it is my responsibility to not form one at all, or if it is ok to form an opinion as long as I remain open minded to learn more.  

The rest of the components of the places we drove through added to the dilapidated view.  Wind brought dust from the Sahara which made the sky look like Los Angeles on a bad smog day.  Yellowish-grey and gloomy.  The ground was made up of red dirt (not unlike California gold country) that also billowed up in dust clouds at any disturbance.   In port, the thick air smelled very industrial due to all of the machinery and storage containers that lined the shore.  But further inland, the air was smokey with countless brushfires that dotted the scenery.  I never quite figured out if these were controlled burns or not, but seeing fire alongside the road or smoke clouds in the distance was not uncommon.  Due to the little care people seemed to give the fires, I'm assuming at least most were planned occurrences.   As you can imagine from the trash disposing policy, there was litter along the roads and in the towns.  Some of it would collect in the huge gutters that lined the streets along with the fetid water and human waste that was already brewing.

And it smells just about how you would expect.  I got used to it quickly though. 

Now at this point, one may wonder how I could say that Ghana is a beautiful country.  The landscape is dusty and barren, the towns are dirty and rundown, BUT the people are what makes Ghana beautiful.  It is not just in how they dress, which does need mentioning.  Most Ghanaians do not just roll out of bed.  Most people I saw or met was dressed very nicely in button up shirts on the men and tasteful blouses on the women.  Almost everyone wore long pants.  Many of the people were wearing things that could be found at any U.S. mall, but there were also some people in more traditional dress with brightly colored, flowing shirts, robes, and dresses.  The school kids were dressed especially beautifully.  The uniforms are almost all brightly colored yellows or blues.  The kids not yet in school were often dressed a bit more raggedy, but that is perhaps because everywhere in the world toddlers are a stained shirt and torn pants waiting to happen.  

As I said already, the attire was just a small part of how the people I saw and met made Ghana a beautiful place.  Everyone was just simply pleasant.  (There I go, making blanket statements again.  sigh.  I'm working on it.)   The curiosity of our interactions went both ways.   There would be shy eye contact as we felt each other out.  Then perhaps a handshake (which are very elaborate and awesome by the way) and asking name, age, and what town the other is from.  In almost every case we would be laughing about something in no time whether it be a failed attempt to communicate or how kids reacted when they saw a picture of themselves.  At every step of the trip, the SASers and the people we met had fantastic exchanges.  It was like a rapid fire Q&A that went in two directions at once.  I learned all about the colleges, fishing life, and markets and shared about my own school, grocery stores, and farmers markets.  I feel like so often when I travel, it is locals putting on an extended performance for us tourists.  Here, I feel like we really are having a cultural exchange.  There is so much learning and sharing with such an open dialogue.  I love it!  

Oh my, all this writing, and I haven't even gotten to the end of the bus ride!  Not to mention I am going on 2.5 hours of sleep so my thoughts are getting more and more fuzzy.  I think I'll wrap this up here and continue in another post later.  Stay tuned...


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