Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Ghana: Africa for Beginners

I fly home tonight. I will miss my friends but I am really excited to go back and have a change of pace. I am not homesick (I don’t really seem to get it too bad) I am just bored and I am looking forward to a bit of farm labour. I will be back in Ghana on the 18th of June.
One of the pull factors that drew me back to Africa was reading Six Months in Sudan by Dr James Maskaylk. It is an account of life in a hospital in Abyei run by Medicine Sans Frontiers. Especially as Abyei is back in the headlines it is a book well worth reading although the detailed accounts of surgery, death and dying are not for the squeamish. Nonetheless Maskaylk’s description of everyday life reminded me of what was so great about the other places in Africa I have been to. Africa is a diverse continent of 53 very different countries which allows a visitor to challenge themselves, question their standpoint on so many issues and experience so many surreal moments. (they often seem to take place in buses I find) I was particularly moved by a quote on the first page...

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment…”
Joan Didion, 1975
My three other trips to Africa were so fantastic because they got me out of myself. The problem with my two months here is that I am so far within my comfort zone that I am bored. I am sat behind a desk, making up my own work and in an office which has had five western interns appear in the last two weeks. We now outnumber the domestic staff. The interns are all very nice etc, but I didn’t come here to hang out with the same people I met on my two lefty university courses back home.
Outside of the office the neighbourhoods of Osu and Labadi are inhabited by hordes of eighteen year olds on their “gap yaah”. You can spot them a mile off because they try and fail to go native; braided hair, shirts and skirts made from local fabric, lots and lots of “ethnic” jewellery and a self satisfied smile that the two grand they pay for 8 weeks working in an orphanage is “making a difference”.
I have met gap year students elsewhere I have gone but they are far more concentrated in Ghana than elsewhere. It is not hard to see why. Ghana is “Africa for beginners”; it is largely free of violent crime and ethnic and cultural divisions. In Accra you can walk the streets at night without undue concern.  

 Whilst I didn’t expect Abyei when I stepped off the plane, without wishing a mugging on myself, I can’t help feeling I need something a little more edgy! I came to Ghana to see if I am cut out for life in an NGO but also "to get the picture" about life in the region. I love Ghana but I feel I am not currently in the right place to achieve this.

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