Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thoughts on Ghana in 2007

Yesterday was the four weeks mark until we leave Ghana, and it passed without much fanfare. We are all ending this semester with mixed feelings- towards Ghana, towards Calvin College, towards development, and especially towards living as part of a group. I came into this semester with a fairly idealistic picture of what life in community with 16 other people would be like. I’m leaving with the consensus that I cannot and should not expect to thrive within randomly delegated community, and especially that I cannot and should not expect that all of my opportunities will fall into my lap. I have had meaningful and valuable experiences here, but they are in no way automatically afforded to me. I had some strange notion that my life in Ghana would be profoundly different from my life in America, but it has been profoundly similar. I spend time watching movies with my friends, listening to music, talking with people, and reading. I have electricity and running water, access to the internet, clothes, food, and even a laundry service one floor down from my room.

This is not to say that Ghana is exactly like America. There are girls who work at the market right outside of my hostel who do not know how to read, who sleep at their market stall at night. There are people all over who live in abject poverty and who have access to minimal resources. My roommate’s parents completed only elementary and some junior high school education, and yet they have an upper-middle class standard of living. I encounter people every day who do not speak the national language of their country. All the while, my own life is not intrinsically affected by this disparity. Instead, I go out at night and eat good food, travel all over the country with ease, and get to observe Ghana’s neat little cultural quirks.

This may have been a pointless rambling, but it says some important things. I am learning that people in the developing world can and do do things for themselves, that they desire more for their lives, and that they recognize the disparities that exist in the world. They also have hope. All of the migrants from the Northern region come to Accra for the same reason that actors go to New York- they want to make it big. That might mean that they end up selling water by the side of the road, that they become street kids or that they do not get a formal education, but they are active in their pursuit of something better and bigger than life in a rural village. It is important that we recognize this distinction of choice and agency when we do development work, because often it gets neglected. Africa is not, nor has it ever been static. In ten years, Accra will have a totally different look, just as it looks completely different now than it did ten years ago. It is both exciting and terrifying to be in a place that is changing so rapidly.

My perceptions of Africa have changed so much during this trip. No longer is it a place waiting for me to save it and all its people, or a wild bushland waiting for cultural observation. It is new and growing and ready to do for itself what it wants. After 50 years of independence, I think it's time.

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