“I don’t know how you did it”
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” ― Anita Desai
I wouldn’t lie and say that I have fully processed this 9-month journey, because truthfully, I still feel numb. It feels surreal. Am I really leaving in three days? There is no way that I wont be in Ghana 4 days from now. It just doesn’t make sense. This has become my life, my home. The phrase I hear most from semester students is “I don’t know how you did it. I couldn’t imagine staying for an entire year.” In all honesty, it was one of the best decisions of my life; though it was challenging.
After first semester examinations in December of 2016, I was ready to leave Ghana. I felt obligated to endure more of the “conditions” that I wasn’t accustomed to. Truth is, I just didn’t want to experience it all over again for another semester. Though I had learned so much, I felt like enough was enough. I began brainstorming ways that I could cancel my year-abroad program to pack up and head home. Following the encouragement from friends and family, I decided to fulfill my commitment and stay one final semester. I am thankful that I did. This second semester gave me an opportunity to see and experience a raw and uncut perspective of Ghana.
It is safe to say that most foreign students are eager to return home upon the approach of their first examinations as a University of Ghana student. This is partly due to the fact that they miss their families, but also because they are exhausted due to cultural differences. The lack of wifi, and the inability to adjust to the overall slower system or way of doing things deepens their disdain for Ghana. However, whether they understand it or not, they do leave with something valuable—they’ve lived in a third world country that is underdeveloped and exploited due to the politics of Western countries. Many, myself included, have complained about the lack of resources in Ghana; yet the reality of Ghana’s predicament is much more painful than a semester of experiencing the “quarter-way” Ghanaian lifestyle (I say “quarter-way” because even in Ghana we are privileged…we have running water in the International Student Hostel, fans, a restaurant, programs that take care of us, etc. when this is not the case for the average Ghanaian). What I hope to depict is the fact that the luxuries we experience in America are at the expense of the Ghanaian people and African populations as a whole.
I cannot explain where my mind was upon the end of first semester, but I do know that I desperately wanted to go home and enjoy A/C, wing-stop, family and friends, and of course, Sacramento State and the abundance of resources provided for students. I wasn’t able to run home to all of the luxuries I was accustomed to, after just one semester without them. I wanted to forget about all of the things that bothered me and caused me to reflect on my own American privilege, because I felt like no matter what struggle I faced being poor and a minority in the U.S., I would always be able to say that 1 of my U.S. dollar bills equaled 4 Ghanaian cedis. In fact,according to United Nations World Food Programme, “at least 45 percent of the population lives on less than US $1.25 a day.” Being fully immersed in the culture, I was able to feel and see glimpses of what many Ghanaians experience their entire lives. Instead of running, I was forced to brace myself and tackle yet another semester without the perceived necessities I had enjoyed my entire life. Ghana has become one of my biggest blessings in disguise.
Throughout my first semester in Ghana, I was able to hold onto some of my home ideals, norms, and overall way of life. Although I felt at home in Ghana last semester, I would use the word “tired” to describe my experience. I was tired of the schooling system, the mailing system, the language barriers, the racial identifications (if you are not darker skin, you are considered white. You can be Mexican-American, African-American, etc. and still be considered white), the inability to load more than two pictures on Instagram, the lack of resources within classrooms, and ultimately the degradation I experienced from many males. Being here for 9 months, allowed me to see beyond those experiences and dive into the sociological imagination behind them. What has caused this experience, and why?
Ghana has changed me, entirely. My thoughts have shifted, and in being here for an entire academic year, I was granted a unique experience. My professors know me by name, and ultimately the golden excuse, “I am an international student” is no longer valid. My professors know that I understand what is expected of me (this is unfortunate..ha!). There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t indulge in a Ghanaian meal. My favorites are groundnut soup with rice balls, as well as yam chips with extra shito and vegetable stew with plain rice. I may not speak TWI everyday, but I can usually decipher various phrases and words from passing conversations. If someone asks me “ete sen?” I know to respond “eye, na wo nso e?” If someone asks me “Wote Twi?” “Mete twi kakra kakra” is my immediate response. I feel a tug at my heart when I accidentally use my left hand (culturally, it is rude to utilize your left hand to pass or accept something from someone else) and I even feel awkward wearing shorts (You do not see many Ghanaians wearing shorts. I’ve caught myself thinking, ‘why do we even wear shorts? They show too much leg’). Being in Ghana for a second semester allowed me to become a more culturally competent individual. For example, during first semester, I was extremely passionate about preaching American ideals and norms. “Wow. Thats stupid. Why is it done that way? All they had to do was…” or “My professor literally just told an entire class that abortion is wrong and God will punish you. How is that even a thing? That is so wrong to say in a classroom setting.” Now, at the finish of second semester, I understand why these ideals are embodied and understand that cultural competence requires one to “sit back” and push aside their own views to understand another. I don’t think I could have achieved that in one semester. Though many foreign students will never accept professors at UG vouching that homosexuality is indeed a sexual deviance, rather than challenging the status quo, and that abortion, among others, is completely unacceptable on the basis of religion, some will find that the differences are actually what make Ghana unique. We all hold our own personal biases.
I have accepted nonexistent hot water, inconsistent wifi, habitual hand-washing, lack of campus resources (you learn to make it work) and an overall slower pace of life—i.e. if a meeting starts at 10am, students will not show until 10:45 or later. This is respectively referred to as G.M.T=”Ghana Man Time”. I have caught myself late for appointments, sleeping a lot more, and overall, enjoying much more down time. If I wanted to walk at an extremely slow pace, I’d fit right in. 🙂 My idea of necessity has changed greatly. Once upon a time, I was wishing that I could return to my “luxurious” lifestyle. Now, I feel awkward using hot water, being pampered, allowing the water to run while I brush my teeth, (THIS WASTES 8 GALLONS!) and having so much, when others have so little. The Social Worker in me wants to help.
I am not sure that I will truly understand the impact that Ghana has had on me until I return home as the new Shatesha. But, I am excited to see how this experience affects and prepares me for the future. More than anything, I am nervous about returning home and having everything at my disposal. I have learned to stop and smell the roses; will I be able to do this in a fast-paced American society?
Thank you Ghana. Thank you Ghanaian people, for showing me true happiness and allowing me to get closer to my roots. Believe me when I say, ” YEBEHYIA BIO!” (We will meet again).