Monday, January 27, 2014

The Lion in the Room


     It has been over two weeks since I have returned from visiting the country of Ghana and I have to admit that the most shocking thing about my trip was the reactions of my friends and family when I first saw them again. Never before have my eyes been so open to the ignorance and utter lack of knowledge that American show towards the largest continent in the world. It's so ironic that the biggest cultural shock to me doesn't come when seeing a foreign countries culture, but when I see my own culture from a different perspective.
     I knew well before signing up to  go on this study abroad trip to Ghana that I really didn't know a lot about the country or the people that lived there. Whats even worse than that is the fact that I really had no idea about the history of Africa in general. When thinking long and hard about it, the only thing I really knew about the worlds largest continent is that many of it's countries are, for the most part, in poverty and that there has been a huge slavery problem. Those were the things that I knew with certainty. It would be false to say that I wasn't aware of all the misconceptions about the many countries in Africa before leaving, but I knew that they were simply misconceptions. I knew this because I had previously visited Honduras for a mission trip in high school. Before going on the trip, I had heard all the misconceptions about the country and the area before leaving and was shocked to discover that most of them were not true within the first couple of days of my arrival. Now, the difference between that trip and this one is that I recognized that most of my knowledge about Africa was most likely a misconception before going. So, when I was on a thirteen-hour plane ride to Ghana, I wasn't picturing myself living in a wooden hut and being afraid that I would be shot and killed by some rebel group looking to overthrow the government. I knew that those ideas were all false so I had no idea what life would be like in Ghana.
     The first example of American ignorance happened when I went to the bank after my first night home. The bank teller recognized that I had been out of the country and asked my about my trip. I struggled to give her an idea about the amazing experience I had when she then asked me, "So... was it like normal over there?" I was greatly confused by what she meant by normal so she continued with, "Like... are is their indoor plumbing there... did you see any lions?" It would be nice to say that this was my only encounter with a person who was so ignorant about the history and current culture of Ghana, but this same scenario played out like clockwork every time I was reunited with a friend or colleague.

     Ghana is a beautiful country and just because the country is in poverty doesn't mean that the people that live there are any different from us. The people there are so nice and friendly that they would approach you walking down the street and stop to give you a kiss, as seen in the above picture with Josh Rogers. Ghanaians are not savages wielding AK-47's looking to start a war. Your life would be more in danger living in New York City than it would be living in Ghana.

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