Thursday, March 31, 2011

Africation Complete

There's not much in Ghana that phases me at this point. I know that may sound jaded or arrogant, but that's not how I mean it. It's more of a comfortable "I know to expect the unexpected" mindset that helps me feel more relaxed. I'm not going to be able to do things in Ghana the same way I do them back home, and nothing is going to go according to plan anyway, so why get all worked up? I gave up trying to stay annoyed at inconvenient light-offs, faulty school schedules and late trotro's a long time ago. Too much effort in this heat! Besides, I like my bucket showers and chasing geckoes away from my computer. I love the way of life here- quirks, faults and all. Someday I won't have frizzy hair daily and sand in my bed and constantly dirty feet and mosquitoes in my toilet, and call me crazy but I know I'll miss even those things. Like sitting in a traffic jam because a flock of sheep is in the road and wading through ankle-deep water every time it rains, they're just another part of living in Ghana.

The process of being Africated takes a different amount of time for each person, but the components are basically the same:
* calls all white people 'yevus' (check)
* has hissed at an entirely inappropriate moment (ooooh yes, check.
                  I thought that carriage driver in Egypt was going to toss me into the Nile.)
* fumbles if the other person doesn't snap at the end of a handshake (check)
* frequently uses the words 'small' and 'somehow' incorrectly (somehow check)
* has killed a bug with their bare hands without thinking (check...unfortunately)

But the more Africated I become, the more awkward it can be to be around newcomers because cultural gaps appear where you don't expect them. So I was a little nervous when I heard two newbies were coming. Jess and Lucy are 21 and 22-year-old nursing students from England, working for a month at Good Shepherd with me. I was even more skeptical when I saw their coordinator unloading their luggage- an enormous suitcase and a backpacking pack apiece. I thought, "Good Lord, they're gonna die in Aflao..."

Well, shame on me. There I go being judgemental again and having it come back to bite me:

After giving them the general run-down about Good Shepherd and the teachers, Lucy commented, "You've really found a home here, haven't you?"
That was probably the moment my attitude really began to shift.
I wanted to throw my arms around her and say, "You do get it! We're going to get along great!" You see, my only real difficulty with newcomers is when they can't get used to the idea that I've adjusted to Ghana enough not to particularly miss home or American culture. I never know what to say when I'm wrist deep in soup and fufu and someone says something like, "I miss forks." I mean, obviously it's not that convincing to agree when you have four fingers shoved in your mouth...

And it turns out that both bulging suitcases were full of donations they had campaigned and fundraised for weeks to collect. They brought toothbrushes, clothes, soccerballs, notebooks and pens... In 7 months I haven't seen anyone donate on that scale. It was one of those powerful moments that moved me to guiltily promise myself for at least the thousandth time, "I will never make snap judgments again." In the two days I have spent with Jess and Lucy so far, my attitude has done a complete 180. Fulfilling my Yevu Contract doesn't seem like a chore now.

The Yevu Contract, named by Julia and myself, is the unofficial yet sacred obligation that volunteers have to look out for one another. It means that you show newcomers where the best place to get mangoes is, introduce them to the inexpensive tailor and buy them their first bag of aji peli. It means that once you've gotten to know each other, regardless of if you get along well or not, you share sunscreen when someone runs out, divide up the chocolate in your package and bring them Coke and bread when they get sick. I am extremely fortunate in that I have stayed in Aflao long enough to become part of a second family and find genuine friends, however for most volunteers, we are the only support system they have in Africa. So basically if those suitcases had been full of cutesy dresses and hair straighteners instead of stuff for the kids, I still would have drawn a map of the town for Jess and Lucy (a fantastic tradition started by my Julia when we first met) and explained old vs new currency to them... I just wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. As it is, I have been having a grand old time playing tour guide and helping two more people fall in love with Ghana as completely as I have.

I was talking to Britta shortly before she left to spend her last two months in Mali. She told me, "Remember that candy you gave me? I left it on my table and some ants got to it." With a grin and pause she added, "...I shook them off and ate it anyway. I think I've been here too long!" I responded, "Yeah, when I go home I think the other volunteers are going to be shocked by some of my habits!" When Britta started laughing I realized, "Oh yeah...not all white people are volunteers...I think I've been here too long too."

Africation complete!

1 comment:

  1. i lived in accra for 2 years, was gifted with property in pram pram, every other year my ngo donates relief goods and medical supplies to ghana...ghana is the most hospital and humble country in africa! God bless your journey there to be remembered always. roxie latimer-deku