I had a conversation with a fellow study abroad classmate a couple of weeks ago and I cannot quite shake the lingering questions that came from that. She said to me, “What does it mean that I am no longer sick at my stomach when children are banging on the windows of the bus and begging”?—–That is a good question and I have been pondering it since. It brings me back to what the Ghanaian gentleman on the plane over here said (I mentioned it in my last post) about pacing myself because the need here is much greater than any one person can give. “You will get used to it,” he said. But this is the catch here…do I really want to get used to it? By ‘it’ I mean the pervasive poverty that is very evident here. What does it mean if we become desensitized and seeing suffering does not move us as human beings? I do not want to make the image of this country to be about poverty because this country is so much more than that. However I found myself the other day, on the path from the Night Market to my hostel, and there was a woman begging. She sat on the ground along side of the dirt pathway and kept putting her hand to her mouth, indicating she was hungry. I noticed that she only did this when she saw that obviously foreign students walked by. It was after all the path to the International Student Hostel. I had conflicting emotions at the time. Was it cynical of me to notice that she was ‘working’ the foreign students? Should that even matter? Isn’t hunger just hunger? I was disturbed by my thoughts because who am I to judge her motives?
I spoke to the program director here about this because I wanted her perspective as she used to live in the states and now lives in Ghana and I loved her response… she said, “There isn’t poverty in the US”?…of course there is. The thing that is different here is that it is literally everywhere. Not just in isolated places. So am I becoming desensitized to suffering or has the shock of seeing it so prevalent worn off? I am not sure. All I do know is that I cannot give money to everyone who asks. I am but one person. What I can do though is offer up what abilities and skills I have.
Among other things, I am a fiber artist. I know how to sew, knit, crochet, make baskets, and various other skills. So beginning on Monday I will be devoting some of my free time to working at a facility called Madamfo Pa. They make, quilts, bags, clothing and whatnot to sell. The proceeds are used to pay the school fees and expenses for children who could not attend school otherwise. The woman that I interviewed with was very kind and excited to not only teach me what she knew but also for me to show her how to use her fabric scraps to make rugs and baskets. I look forward to the creative exchange.
Because I do not want to focus on only the difficulties here I would like to tell you about a few of the things I have noticed the last few weeks that amuse/endear me to Ghana.
-Since I have introduced myself to the man who runs the cafeteria downstairs (his name is Daniel) he always makes a point to say hello to me and use my name. I have been practicing my Twi with him. People are so kind here.
-It is not at all unusual for butterflies to be fluttering around my classroom in the middle of a lecture. There is no air conditioning in the classrooms so the windows are often left open to catch the breeze. How lovely.
-I told the girl who cleans the hostel where I live how much I enjoy listening to her sing while she works and now she makes a point to sing when she knows I am in and always greets me when I pass by. Again, people are so kind here.
-I mentioned this in a Facebook post but I saw a billboard the other day for a facility that advertises the ability to get cleaner and firmer vagina, for a more fulfilling marriage (I don’t even want to go into all the of the feminist alarm bells going off here). The model on the billboard had some kind of gold band around her thigh. I have no idea what a cleaner and firmer vagina entails but I wasn’t about to ask my driver to slow down so I could take a picture. It probably would have embarrassed him as much as me
-There is such thing as hot pink toilet seats. One of the best bathrooms on campus has them. (I find it very amusing that I know where the “good” bathrooms are).
Being here is truly an extraordinary and life changing experience.
Until next time..
Peace to you my friends,