Monday, November 19, 2012
Our arrival in Tema, Ghana was my first trip to Africa. Walking off the ship for the first time presented me with a stark contrast to the European countries we previously visited. When Claire and I visited the local market on the first day, I clearly noticed and felt that I was in a country unlike any other I had ever visited. I looked around and saw the industrial port area, the streets with huge potholes and crazy traffic, the dirt roads with clouds of dirt kicked up by speeding trucks passing by, the various people along the street, some working and others watching people pass by, and locals carrying their goods by balancing them on their heads. The market was unlike any other I had seen before, with an endless maze of narrow alleys in an enclosed area of shacks and stands within, where locals were selling huge piles of bananas, dried fish, drug store items, clothing, huge pieces of raw meat, and various other products. Some shop owners were sleeping on the floor, others called out at us, but the majority kindly watched us pass by. I undoubtedly had an acute awareness that I was a white tourist among the locals. All of my senses were heightened by being in such a new environment. I was also very hot, and I was aware that I was a foreigner sweating like crazy, even though I was wearing shorts while locals wearing pants were barely breaking a sweat. After passing through the market, Claire and I wandered around the town, visiting the church where the Prime Meridian is located, allowing us to immediately step from the Eastern Hemisphere to the Western Hemisphere. We walked along a street where larger goods were sold, like couches, televisions, and refrigerators, all lined up on the side of the street. We wandered back to the market but got a little lost. We asked a woman for directions and she directed us in two ways, a longer path along the road, or a quicker route zigzagging through a slum, which we took. Although seeing poverty is difficult, the residential area was visually stunning, with narrow alleys, clothes hanging on lines, food cooking on fires, and a diverse array of shacks. I refrained from taking photos or video since people were walking around or looking out from their rooms, and filming seemed like an invasion of privacy. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of footage from Ghana for this reason. For a little while we enjoyed the walk through the slum, but our enjoyment waned when our luck of finding smiling faces ran out and we were followed by a man who didn't seem pleased to have us walking around. I definitely felt uncomfortable and we quickly walked out to the main street. The next day I traveled on a Semester at Sea trip to the village of Torgorme, for an overnight stay in the village. A large number of children ran up to the bus to greet us, and we then proceeded to shake hands with the village elders, who were dressed in their ornate clothing. Everyone happily greeted us, especially in the naming ceremony where we all received our African birth names, written on a clay pot made by locals in the village (my name is Kofi Worlanyo, which I believe means I was born on a Friday and that our maker is good). Our Semester at Sea group watched from our seats, with a large group of children in their school uniforms on the right side, the queen mothers on the left side, and the elders at center stage. The ceremony also involved music and dancing. The unique dance moves of the people from the village were much more graceful than our attempts to follow their moves. We also witnessed an honorary queen mother ceremony during the middle of the event, as a Semester at Sea alum that was with us received this honor after the work she has done with the village. The queen mothers dragged her away to dress her in the colorful and ornate clothing worn by queen mothers, and upon presenting her, all the queen mothers let out a loud chorus of singing and dancing. Afterwards, we met our host families and after lunch they took us around the village. First I drank coconut water and ate from the coconut with my host family. I was also with 3 other Semester at Sea students since our family included a large group of brothers who lived together in one section of the village. We listened to stories about the role and importance of the village elders, and then proceeded to walk down to the river and run and play with the children as the sun set along the river. I was able to talk to a few of the older brothers who spoke better English, and heard about the sacrifices they make to get through school, walking a long distance to get to a university. The primary schools in the village are in rough shape, with few supplies. Despite the poverty the people face, their spirits are incredibly high and their happiness is certainly apparent; which is not to say that they don’t have needs, for they undoubtedly deserve clean water, electricity, access to education, and various other resources, but overall, they are not in need of the material things we possess, as we so often look for a happiness that evades us, but yet exists in this poor village. I didn't feel sorry for them as much as I felt sorry for myself, that I complain about such silly things sometimes, that I offer up stupid prayers to God, like for a Celtics win over the Heat, or for love in my life as if I don’t already have an overflowing amount of love, and that I don’t realize I have everything I need, and more importantly I’m in a place where I should give and not receive. I also learned how much more I should open up my life to others, as the locals gave us some of their nicest rooms in the village, and when I say nice, I don’t mean a mattress and air conditioning, but at least a platform upon which to sleep, a pillow, a fan, and a faint blue light of the little electricity they could add to the room. After our dinner we went back to our host families, where the younger children performed some hilarious dances in the dark underneath the straw hut in the center area surrounding our rooms. After our breakfast and a clay pot making demonstration, we proceeded to the Shai Hills Game Reserve, where we walked right up to the baboons that wander around the reserve. They hesitantly accepted bananas from us and peeled and ate each banana in less than 3 seconds. We also went on a short hike through the expansive plain with rocky hills where tribes used to live in caves. I bravely walked into a crevice where hundreds of bats flew above me. I was in almost complete darkness if it weren't for the narrow strip of light from far above, as I listened to the stunning sound of bats flying back and forth above my head. On the last day in Ghana I went on a trip to a private Catholic school, which provided an interesting contrast to the village I saw the day before, as this school had relatively modern facilities, with a science lab, media room, basketball courts, church, and library. The librarian I talked to was envious of my library gig on the Semester at Sea ship! Mostly all of the students spoke English, and a frenzied game of tag broke out among dozens of students who were close enough to tag someone else throughout the entire playground area. On the way back to the ship I once again witnessed the terrible traffic in Ghana, with broken down cars, huge potholes, dirt roads, long traffic jams, and various people selling goods to people as the cars slowly moved up the road. I grew more and more comfortable in Ghana during the four days, from the first day of sensory overload in a new country, to the last day where I left the country with memories of new Ghanaian friends and an inspiration to live my life with a more resilient sense of focus and happiness.
Posted by Jonathan Paulo