Today marks five weeks since I arrived at my placement in Ghana. It’s a little unreal that it has been that long, and at the same time, I feel like I’ve been here forever. I suppose any adventure that is so different from what I’m used to would feel like that.
Though many people from home have shared lessons that they’ve learned from experiences like this – most of which have to do with the happiness they find among people in developing countries – I’ve found that what I’m really learning here is that people are still just people, no matter their circumstances. Ghanaians are still just people. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes they have strong bodies and sound minds, and sometimes they have health problems. Some of them have needs that are not filled and wants that are, and they dream of better lives and more comfortable circumstances. They have both virtues and vices. They fight, they cry, they smile, they comfort small children and welcome newcomers. And most of all, they love. They build relationships and friendships. They attend church and school to build feelings of community and trust. They celebrate holidays and special occasions together. They wave to neighbors and spend hours laughing with friends. Are they happy? Yes, usually – but not always. Do they need help from developed countries? Certainly, though they are beginning to stand on their own feet.
So I think the real lesson is not necessarily how to be happy with bad situations, but to recognize that people have struggles and dreams, challenges and happiness, interests and fears no matter who they are or where they live. When we help, we are helping people. When we love, we are loving people. And I find it inspiring to learn that human nature is to take the circumstances you’re given and make the best of them. Human nature is to love and be loved. Human nature – all over the world – is to believe, to hope, to dream that one day we will make it to higher ground.
I sincerely believe that if any of the good people in my life back home were born into these circumstances instead, they would do just as my beloved Ghanaians do. They would love and be happy, they would have goals and dreams, and they would make the best of it.
That being said, I want to tell a few fun stories about my Ghanaian neighbors. I am immersed in a new culture, and there are surprises at every turn. I find that Ghanaians are hilariously unpredictable.
About a week ago, Laura and I were visiting the Volta region to the north. We were in an area, Wli, that sees a lot of tourists due to the country’s highest waterfall (it literally falls from the top of the mountain, but that’s a different adventure). As we walked through the town of Wli, we received the usual attention from the locals when they see obruni. An older man said hello to Laura and then looked at me and asked if it was my first time to Ghana. I said, “Well, yes, but I’ve been here for a month.” He replied, “No! You are too white!” Through my laughter (and over Laura’s), I answered, “I’m always white!” Haha. Sigh. Maybe I’ll be tan by the time I leave.
Story 2. On Saturday, we were in a huge market in Accra. A guy stopped us and hit on Nikki (I think they like her blonde hair, because she got loads of attention that day). He said, “I love you” to her, then turned and pointed at me and said, “I’m going to marry this one.” By then, all the locals within about 30 feet of us were watching. So he kissed Nikki on the cheek and walked away! The Ghanaians roared with laughter and cheered. So so funny.
During the African Cup of Nations (soccer, or “football”) a couple weeks ago, Ghana did really well and made it to the semi-finals. David, Laura, and I went with many of the kids to a nearby bar in Dodowa to watch it on TV. The match had started by the time we arrived, so we snuck into a dimly lit room and were offered seats. All the tables had been stacked on the sides to make room for as many people as possible. It was hot and stuffy and so fun to watch with the locals. There was a guy at the back of the room who was pacing back and forth and yelling things like, “God’s judgment has come upon you!” at the opposing team. And then there was a guy sitting near the front who kept standing up every time he was excited. Since soccer has no time-outs, everyone behind him missed part of the game every time he stood up. The other men in the room got so fed up with him! At one point, they moved his chair to the back of the room, and he just moved it back. Then later, he and the owner started shouting at each other so much that I think they were seconds from breaking into a fist fight. The moral? Men can be idiots while watching sports no matter where they’re from 😉 By the way, Ghana lost to Burkina Faso in penalty kicks. It was so disappointing.
This one’s good. We were walking with some of the kids, asking about their school day. Bridgit, who’s 12 and very sweet, told us that they (the students) spent the afternoon trimming tree branches in the school yard instead of having classes. Haha. Apparently the boys climbed the trees to cut the branches, and then the girls stacked the branches (which were pretty big, by the way) and swept. Here’s the kicker. After explaining this, Bridgit, still completely composed, calmly added, “A snake fell out of one of the trees, and a boy killed it with his hands.” Man, I wish I had a picture of the volunteers’ faces at that moment.
One day, we were in the trotro station, and we had already sat down on the trotro. I was sitting by the window, and this random guy outside started asking for my phone number. It was the first time this had happened to me here, so I was just laughing and not really answering him. He asked repeatedly until the trotro started pulling away, and then he jumped on the back of the trotro! He was telling me to give my number to the mate (the guy who gathers fare from passengers) so that he could pass it on to him later. The volunteers were all laughing hard, and I imagine some of the locals were as well 🙂
Laura was talking to one of the younger girls, Abigail, after school. She asked what she had learned in school that day, and Abigail said she hadn’t learned anything. Laura asked why, and she replied, “Madame wasn’t there.” Apparently her teacher just never showed up. All day. Haha. On a related note, Laura went to the school four days in a row, and she never saw the teacher she needed to speak with. And our first week, we attended a PTA meeting, and after we had been there for an hour, the meeting still hadn’t started. We left, had a meeting with Mama Jane at the orphanage, ate lunch, and then one of the volunteers went to the PTA meeting. By then, it was four hours after the supposed start time, and she only missed about a half hour of the meeting! That, friends, is what we call Ghana time.
One more quick one. We have a 15 year old boy, Richard, who barely knows English and can’t read or write. We’re tutoring him one-on-one, and we’re still working on the letters of the alphabet – as basic as you can get. Then one day, I walked into the orphanage, and Richard called out, “What’s up, girl?” Hahaha. I don’t know who taught him that phrase, but thank you. I’m still laughing about it, days later.
Okay, so Ghanaians are not the same as Americans. But I think, deep down under the social bluntness and the forward men and the children killing animals with their bare hands, people are people, no matter where you go.
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