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Archive for June, 2007

So the other day, when I left the office to go back home, there was a TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR.  Rain in Ghana is odd sometimes — you don’t get any rain for days and then it all comes down at once.  So I was caught completely unaware!  There were some boys who were selling bread, and they told me to get inside quick!  So I helped them pack up their things and we huddled in a Coke store while we waited for the rain to stop.

There were four kids, and two of them, Yaw and Kwasi (I think) are football (soccer) enthusiasts — one of them said that he was 4th best in all the district!

They wanted me to buy them new boots (cleats) and a new soccer ball.  They said that another Whiteman came and bought boots for them so they could be great soccer players, but they wore out, so they needed to get a new friend… and I didn’t really know how to respond to that kind of thing.

Because of all the work from NGOs in developing countries like Ghana, and people coming from other countries just to give away free stuff like clothing and food, people here have grown up with the belief that the Whiteman (which is everyone non-African) will come to give them free stuff — but it actually hurts them in the long run, because why work for something when your neighbour is getting stuff for free from the Whiteman?  And when somebody comes by who is not from around, why don’t we go ask him for free stuff?  I get asked for free stuff a lot of the time.  And the nice person in me really does want to give stuff away to them, but I wish so much that I could break this stereotype of the Whiteman-Santa-Claus because it’s hurting Ghanaians – it’s hurting Ghanaian livelihoods and attitudes.

I had a conversation the other night with somebody, and she brought up the fact that because they get all their stuff from abroad like Japan and America, and none of it from Africa, that the Whiteman can do everything better than anything Africans can do.  I said that I didn’t believe that that was true at all, and she called me a liar.  And who can blame her?  When she sees so many people from abroad, coming and giving out free stuff to everybody, using fancy-schmancy lights and backpacks and laptops, and buying nothing but Coca-Cola products…

Perhaps when EWB says Human development, it doesn’t mean handing people stuff, it doesn’t mean trying to make countries rich.  Maybe Human development about giving people dignity.  Dignity so that they don’t look at their livelihoods and say “the Whiteman can do this better,”  but instead convincing people to see themselves in a different way, so that they can say “I can do something better than anybody, and I don’t ever have to sacrifice my dignity to get charity from others.”

And Ghanaians have no reason to feel inferior – they have amazing people.  I will make it my mission to highlight a Great Ghanaian the next time I have internet.

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What a few weeks!  I have gone through so much… from settling in the rural town of Atebubu to zipping around the streets of Kumasi, I have been travelling throughout Ghana, from the largest cities to the smallest villages.  And boy is it easy to get yourself lost here!  I’ve been here for just about three weeks now, and I still don’t know any street names in Atebubu — I think that that’s because there aren’t any.

So what’s rural Ghana like?  People are open, loud and friendly… people are always asking to take me as their friend.  But… it can be difficult to integrate here, being with people of such a different culture.  I remember hearing about a book by Robert Chambers titled “Who’s Reality Counts?”, and although I didn’t read the book, the title really stuck in my mind…

The Ghanaians that I interact with every day live in a different reality, a different understanding of the world than I do, and being here, living here… it has shaken my reality.  I really have become lost not only in town, but in a way, in my own reality.  Sometimes I’m baffled at the way that people do some things here, but I always tell myself:

“You are dealing with a different reality than the one you’re used to.  So are you so arrogant that you think that your reality is the only one that counts?”

It helps keep me humble enough to search for the right question to ask.

I’ve made a friend, my co-worker Jacob.  I got the chance to ask him what his definition of poverty is, and his answer really made me think.  He said “poverty is a state of mind.”  I asked him what he meant by that.  He talked about, drawing from his own experience in human development, how you can put all these resources into building a community, and give it lots of stuff, and come back a year later,
and the people will still be poor and asking you more.  It is because you have not changed their state of mind.

I didn’t really understand what he was saying until later that night, when I was eating fufu for dinner and watching the children play with bottlecaps, those metal ones you pop off of glass bottles.  I would never had as much fun playing with my little fighter planes and legos as they did with those bottlecaps.  That was two weeks ago, and they still are having a blast with them.  So when I was a kid, you could say poverty was my state of mind… I could have had all the toys in the world but when it came down to it, it would take a change of my state of mind for me to become satisfied with what I have and use what I had to make myself better.

So whose reality counts?  It’s a question that I’ve been trying to ask myself all the time as I try to make Atebubu my home.  And it’s starting to grow on me… the children playing football in the field, the night after night after night of fufu (Ghanaian dinner-mush), the blazing hot Ghanaian sun and fight of people here to make their lives better.  I’m trying to make their reality into my reality.

Anyways, I’ve run out of time … I need to get zipping through the streets, trying to find my way back home.

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