Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Next?

This morning, I woke up in my double bed, and turned over and grabbed my iPhone. I had 3 text messages and two social network notifications. I got out of bed, and brushed my teeth, using the water from the sink to wet my toothbrush and to rinse my mouth out. I put a hat, a coat and my slippers on, grabbed my keys and stepped out of my house. There was snow on the ground. I drove to the deli and entered to the smell of eggs and the sound of complaints from people who say the Knicks suck this year and people who are cursing Mother Nature because it’s supposed to snow this weekend. The man in front of me thinks it is ridiculous that the young girl behind the counter put sausage on his sandwich instead of extra bacon. Doesn’t she know he has places to be? I don’t know if he knows how to smile. I order a “hungry man” – three eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, and cheese on a hero roll. I don’t need this much food, but I can get that much food, so I got it. I go home, turn on the TV and ate until I couldn’t move. This all took about an hour and a half. This hour and a half was so drastically different from any hour and a half during my trip to Ghana.

It has been a week now, and I’m still not used to anything. I lived in Ghana for six weeks, and now that I am home, I feel like I’m in a foreign country.

I sit and I think about my trip and my experience every day, and I am having so much trouble processing and digesting everything that happened and what I just did. I’ve had people tell me how proud of me they are - how impressed they are that I was able to move to Ghana for a month and a half and live and teach. At the time and even a little bit now, I’m having trouble understanding what is so impressive. Then I remember what my friends and I said to each other every few days: “Hey Emmy, we’re in Africa,” or, “Hey Jenna, guess what? We’re in Africa right now.” I spent six weeks living in a completely different world! Every day I worked with adults and students who look different than I do, speak differently and believe in different things. Six weeks! Looking back, the most impressive part is that we all became acclimated with our surroundings, and what I experienced every day became normal:

Bumpy dirt roads. Taxis and taxi drivers that get really excited if I bring up soccer. Hearing people speak Twi. Trying to learn Twi. Lizards… everywhere. Latex foam signs and latex foam beds. The sound of the teacher using a cane to discipline a student. Negotiating prices. Rice. Being called “Sir Michael.” Writing tests on the white board. Allowing children to carry my books to class. Hot classrooms. Overcrowded classrooms. Two students to a desk. Little children in the villages screaming because they saw a group of “obrunis.” Being called big, large, strong, or fat. People eating all meals with their hands. Only having internet and electricity sometimes. Sweating. Club Ghana Beer and making sure to return the glass bottles. Squeezing 14 people into a tro tro. Being stared at because I am white. My students laughing at how I speak Twi. Answering endless questions about America. Asking endless questions about Ghana. Watching and discussing the football I am not used to. Students rising to greet me as I enter the classroom. Being hugged and holding hands with young primary school students that I may have only met once. Using cedis and pesewas to pay for things. Drinking water out of bags. Students glowing over even the smallest praise.

One thing I had trouble getting used to and am still struggling with is an idea that concerns privilege and the guilt I have stemming from that. On the first night, as we left the airport, the group was approached by several men who wanted to help us with our luggage. I was so excited to be in Ghana and so excited to meet people that I introduced myself and talked to the guys. Soon after, they asked me for money because they helped me out. I was shocked and upset. I was na├»ve and thought these people were just being kindhearted and friendly. It became obvious to me: they saw this group of white people from the United States as a group of dollar signs who would have the money to tip, and further, that they obviously need the money. At that time, I asked myself why I even decided to take the trip. Wouldn’t it be offensive to stroll into this country and parade around and see poverty and struggling families and then whip out my iPhone to check the time? I was worried that I would offend people and flaunt what I have unintentionally. In the markets and villages, people would ask me to buy their goods and I felt bad saying no. How much would that one cedi (less that 50 cents) mean to them, and what does it mean to me? Although I was struck with these thoughts of guilt nearly every day, I was fortunate enough to meet Ghanaians that are some of the kindest people I have ever met, who assured me that being around and having what I have is nothing to feel guilty about. A philosophical teacher and friend, Callistus, explained to me that he feels that being rich is being able to be happy while being able to live within one’s means; just because someone from the United States may have more money that some people in Ghana, that does not mean he or she is happier or better off than anyone else. Most importantly, the teachers who work at the school I taught at saw me as colleagues, and the students respected me as their teacher.
Walked on some rope bridges constructed between trees at the Kakum National Park.
Just by applying to be in this program, I knew I was stepping out of my comfort zone and creating an experience that not many have the privilege of having. In these six weeks, I have pushed myself to my limits physically and emotionally. I have made lifelong friends, both American and Ghanaian. For the first time, I have immersed myself in a culture completely foreign to me and learned about it first hand. I have learned about the Ghanaian educational system, and have learned from the many teachers I had the pleasure of working with. It is hard to believe that this trip, beginning with the months of planning, preparing and learning and culminating with the trip itself is actually over. I will never forget my students, and I can only hope that everything I taught them, both about their English curriculum and about life, will stick with them, and that I have made a lasting impact.

I guess the only thing I have left to say is… What next?

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