This week has been a whirlwind to say the least. You think you’re settled in (do you ever settle into a third world country??) and then life presents some reminders that you are not from here. In the almost three weeks (WHAT) that I’ve been in Ghana, I’ve grown to love and understand the people here more greatly, I’ve adjusted more to the food (something I wasn’t counting on), and have even grown okay with sweating through the night because it’s 90+ degrees and the electricity has been out for two days and there is no fan to cool you down. I have grown to be okay with all of those things and to celebrate little victories, such as finding delicious, ripe mangos for sale near my house or finding the water isn’t freezing and actually feels rather nice during my bucket shower. I have found myself rejoicing in things that I never thought twice about at home, and for that I am grateful.
Despite the rapid growth of my appreciation for Ghanian culture, this week was an uphill battle of what I know vs. how I feel. I know it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the magic of “white people in Mamfe” has worn off, and this week I had my first taste of being discriminated against due to the color of my skin. I don’t want to imply feelings of civil rights era struggles because I am certain that my experience pales in comparison, but it was disheartening to experience nonetheless. This small frustration began last weekend, when the other volunteers and I made weekend plans to stay at home and see the local sights. On Saturday we decided to introduce new volunteers to the cocoa farm, the Aburi craft market and the “botanical gardens”. After an unfortunate transportation mishap in the morning, some volunteers found themselves the target of a greedy taxi driver trying to advantage of what he assumed to be their “white privilege”. His car had been dented by a van passing by too quickly and driving too closely while they were in the taxi, and instead of filing a claim with his insurance (which he had), he followed them to the cocoa farm, waited outside to intercept us when we were leaving, and then confronted us, demanding that we pay him 800 cedi for the incident. Even at the time the whole thing was bogas to us because we knew he had insurance, we knew it wasn’t the volunteer’s fault, and we knew he would never be demanding money from passengers had it been Ghanians inside. He stood with us and insisted on arguing for an hour and a half about why we all needed to give him money, and we continued to urge him to file a report with the police and contact insurance for money if he wanted it so badly.
The whole situation was resolved eventually, although we did end up having to pay him off (50 cedi or approx. 15 dollars) to leave us alone and not keep following us. It wasn’t such a big deal, and we all agreed something of the sort was bound to happen at some point if we were here for long enough. That being said, it still didn’t feel good to have it happen. And it proved to be the lesson of the week, as it continued to happen when taxi drivers would insist that the price was suddenly higher or when vendors attempted to sell us goods at double the price. The issue of money doesn’t hurt my feelings, and I respect their dedication to trying to earn as much as possible. Life isn’t easy for Ghanians; even the ones who have money.
What bothered me throughout the week was the constant assumption that we, as white people, have tons of money. It didn’t feel good to be taken advantage of because of that assumption, especially by a people who pride themselves on loving everyone and treating everyone faily. When person after person tried to rip me off this week, I didn’t feel like I was being treated the same as everyone else. I have to laugh at their broad generalization of white privilege; there is no doubt that I have lived an incredibly privileged life and have been given amazing opportunities. That being said, it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the circumstances I happened to be born into. I found myself wishing they could look past my skin color and see me for who I actually am- a college student with approx. $300 to my name and a few thousand dollars signed away in debt to the government. Someone who studies hard and works hard and still can barely afford to pay for food and other essentials. They see everything that my parents have given me- an education, the opportunity and desire to travel, clothes on my back and a lifeline if I need it, instead of seeing me.
I wanted to share those thoughts because I really struggled to not be frustrated with Ghana this week, and to be respectful and loving to those around me. I also don’t want to sugarcoat this experience and pretend that life here has not been challenging. Ultimately, I’m still extremely grateful to be here and experience all that Ghana is and has to offer. For the most part, people are kind and warm and friendly and eager to know us Obronis. They are hospitable, generous, and honest; my life is richer for knowing those that I do.
This week was all over the place, work-wise, and I loved it! It was hectic and slow and boring and exciting and mostly an adventure every day. On Monday we taught a business workshop to a new village, and then I was put in charge of conducted interviews with the women of the village interested in becoming new loan beneficiaries. On Tuesday we traveled to another village and did the same, except this time interviews lasted two hours because of all the eager women wanting to improve their businesses. Later that day, we traveled to one of our other villages where a few women volunteered to show us how to make a traditional food called Gari. The process of making Gari takes two days, and we participated in day two. On day one these women put Cassava dough in large white sacks, placed heavy rocks on top of the sacks and left them outside all day to dry. This process helps to make the dough less sticky and also gives it time to ferment. When we arrived, we were handed the fermented dough and asked to sieve it (making it into a powder consistancy). After we sieved the dough, the women placed it in metal bowls over an open flame and stirred it around until it became dry and crumbly. They even gave us bags of Gari to take home and try, in exchange for helping them with their work. Such generous women!
On Wednesday, I worked in one of our already established loan villages and helped collect the weekly installments. It was a rather slow day. And finally yesterday, Thursday, all volunteers had a “dirty day”, taking the day off from our assigned projects and coming together to paint a house for teachers at Wonderful Love School to live in. It was such a joy to be with everyone, painting and sweating more than you thought possible and celebrating all the hard work that the construction volunteers had done by building the house from start to finish.
It has been a lovely week, with an even better weekend to come. All but two of us volunteers are leaving in two hours for Lake Bosumtwi, to spend the weekend horse back riding, kayaking, hiking and enjoying our time together before many of the volunteers leave next week. I am constantly amazed at how much Ghana has to offer and can’t wait to share pictures from this weekend.
To everyone reading, I hope you have an enjoyable and warm weekend! Get some rest, eat delicious food and don’t tell me what it was because man do I miss western cuisine. For anyone interested, I ask that you join me in praying for safety here in Ghana. It has been an interesting week, security wise. While I personally have not felt unsafe, it made me weary hearing about last week’s ISIS attack on tourists in Burkina Faso, the country that shares Ghana’s northern border. Ghana is a peace loving nation, so please pray that ISIS and other terrorist organizations don’t do anything to change that.
P.S. After three weeks, I am positive that we don’t try hard enough to pack our vans full back at home! The van-taxis here, called Tro-tros, are normal “9-seater” vans, and they definitely fit 15-20 people.