Mhhatma Gahndi once said that, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”. I think I am beginning to understand that in a whole new and deep way.
I had someone ask me today if I had felt the change in me yet. It seems like an obscure question initially but he had been to Ghana before me and now that I have been here a bit I knew exactly what he meant. Have I felt the change?
I will answer his question but first I must go back to the very first time I went to an open-air market here in Ghana. It was an overwhelming experience to say the least. I was with a group that was led by one of the student assistants that is part of the program here. The day we went, it was hot and humid, but Accra is a city fairly close to the equator so that is hardly a surprise. The whole experience is difficult to describe but I will do my best.
On top of being hot it was very crowded. As we wound our way in and out of the crowds and market stalls there was a cacophony of sounds. The blazing sun baked us as we walked through the market. Sellers would grab at our arms and make a kind of kissing/smacking sound to get our attention. They would shout out ‘Oburoni’ as we passed (which basically is a term for foreigner here) to attract our attention to their particular shop. African-pop music blared from giant speakers. There were men preaching into microphones, speaking in tongues and/or Twi, their messages amplified. People hawking their wares, everything you could imagine, from underwear to appliances and everything in between. The constant background noise and chatter of people bargaining and speaking in Twi and other dialects surrounded me. The trotro drivers were shouting out their destinations, taxis honking horns. Add to this, bright colors everywhere. The Ghanaian people as a whole (at least in Accra) prefer much brighter, vibrant and bolder colors than I am generally accustomed to seeing around me. All along the way there are the different smells, depending on where you are in the market, there is the smell of food from the chop bars cooking, fish being sold, the open gutters, goats and chickens and the smell of sweat and bodies all around. And the bodies are everywhere, it is difficult to pass more than a foot or two without brushing/squeezing by someone. I was sweating, hot and headachy and not having a good experience. It really was for me a sensory overload. I did not care for it AT ALL and I could not even conceive of going there alone. I swore I would not go back.
Life is a funny thing however. Just when I had decided that I had experienced quite enough of the market environment, thank you very much, I found a volunteer opportunity that I was very interested in. In order for me to take this opportunity however, it entailed me traveling through the very same market each week, all by myself. I tend to be a nervous nelly and in general my pattern has been to stay comfortable. But the work was compelling enough for me to get a little uncomfortable.
Fast forward to last week when I was coming home from my work, through the market, and I was struck, in a fairly profound way, at how much I was enjoying the experience. I had an epiphany…I liked the market. Here is the thing that got me——-all of the things that contributed to the sensory overload that I had so disliked the first time I came to the market, were the very same things that I enjoyed the most about it. The atmosphere of the market has its own vibration, personality and a soul of its own. I just hadn’t really understood that the first time around, I certainly did not appreciate it.
All of this circles back (I love it when life does this) to Africa in the abstract. I remember the international program director at CSUS telling me why she recommended the year-long program versus the semester long program. She told me that if you do the shorter program then just when you feel like you have your feet under you, it is time to come home. It is only in the longer program where you can truly appreciate the culture you are in. I thought I understood what she meant, after all I am here in Ghana for the entire school year, but I did not really understand. It was still an abstract….until that moment in the market when it hit me. The moment I found myself walking through the crowds, the sounds, the smells, the experience and finding it so interesting and full of life. I caught a glimpse of its soul, and doing so had made the shift. I had/have found my groove here so to speak. The fact that I even said that I was working my way “home” speaks volumes.
While I am looking very forward to a visit home for the holiday break (my hubby, kids, pets and California home), I also look forward to the second semester of Ghana, of really appreciating the culture here, now that I have found my footing….my groove. I just had to get uncomfortable enough first and then let go in order for me to really understand that.