Sunday, January 26, 2014

Nothing But Smiles

Hannah May

Prior to traveling to Ghana for this study abroad program, I had never traveled overseas. I would consider myself an experienced traveler when it comes to the United States and bordering countries such as Mexico and Canada, but when it came to third world countries across the Atlantic Ocean I was clueless.

My first impressions of Africa came from movies and television programs I had previous seen. So basically, my first impressions of Africa were exotic animals, chase scenes through the desert, and murder. Before making the final decent to Ghana I did my research, but it is hard to explain via textbooks and seminars what the Ghanaian culture, people, and environment is like.

Any thought or opinion you may have formed about Africa please wash away before you have experienced the continent firsthand. It has now been two weeks since I have been back in the States, and I am still in grief of having to leave the people I formed such close bonds with and the Ghanaian culture.

Like I said above, it is near impossible to try to explain in text the truth about African countries, and more specifically Ghana. During my 25 days spent there, there were things that stuck out to me the most, and things I will never forget. One of those being how overly nice the Ghanaian population was and how a city filled with poverty could obtain so much joy.

In our group meetings before traveling to Ghana we often got told that the people, men specifically, were very “forward.” It was repeated that this forwardness should not be interpreted as we in America would say “creepy” or “sketchy,” but actually just nice. This in fact, was true. I have never meet more genuinely nice people in my whole 20 years of life.

Walking down a busy street in Osu, you will never make eye contact with someone who does not smile at you. Ghanaians believe that everything in life should be treated as a celebration. They wake up everyday happy with what they have and cherish all that they are given, even if that is less than what poverty would be in America. This happiness is then exerted onto their peers.

One of the first nights we were in Accra,  a group of girls and I attempted to walk to a nearby restaurant to get some ice cream. We clearly got lost and had no clue where we were headed. A group of Ghanaian friends walked out of a building ahead of us and we asked them for directions. The language barrier was tough, and it was concluded that we were not going to understand what they were trying to explain. So, instead of leaving a group of foreign young women to walk around aimlessly in Accra, one Ghanaian woman left her friends and offered to walk us to our destination. We were shocked. She walked the complete opposite way of her friends, and her home late at night, just to make sure we got to our desired location safely.  On the way she explained to us that it wouldn’t have been right of her to let us walk alone at night. She continued by stating that it was unsafe for white skinned women to walk in these parts of town after dark, something we never would’ve known without her guidance. We couldn’t have thanked her enough. The Ghanaian women politely laughed at our endless amount of thanks by suggesting it was really no big deal, it was just something “they do.” Helping strangers, something not many Americans do out of the kindness of their hearts.

This is only one out of several stories I could share about my kind experiences with the people of Ghana. When in lecture at AUCC we asked one of the Ghanaian professors that had recently traveled to America what he thought was the most contrastive thing about our culture compared to Ghana. His answer, our politeness. He said it was hard for him to walk down the street and not feel warmth from everyone. He said that the American people would quickly pass him and say, “how are you” without stopping. He followed by explaining that in Ghana, if a person asks how you are, they genuinely want to hear and know how you are doing that day. They care. You rarely ever see that in America.

If I could one day walk down the busy streets of New York and feel the same amount of love that I did in Accra, I will be one happy camper. I greatly miss the friendships I created in Ghana, and I hope I will be able to go back and visit them very soon.

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