I have no doubt that if you were to have stopped me in the street one year ago today on my way to University from my lovely 2 bed terraced house in Meanwood, right across the road from Waitrose and my local pub full of yummy mummy’s and young professionals, in the little bubble existence that I was inhabiting, and told me that within a year I would be moving to rural Ghana, for 3 months, with 30 complete strangers and sharing a bedroom with an African female, that I would have thought you crazy, delusional and outright wrong, and yet here I am, two weeks in, alive (or just about) and living it.
I’ve been meaning to sit down and write about my experiences thus far for some time and it would be true to say that I’ve been suffering from a severe case of “where do I even begin to begin?” Therefore I think that given the fact I’ve now completed week two on Ghanaian land it’s the appropriate time to sit down and get some thoughts out, that, and the fact that my family have went to church from 9am – 1pm and the water is off, so there’s not much else I can do apart from turn to Western technology for a few hours company with it being so hot outside and my lack of water.
It’s challenging to write about an experience like this, as there’s no real point to portray, or agenda to get across. Documenting an experience simply for the sake of documenting it is something I’ve never been very good at; dairies and journals are wasted on me. More often than not the pages are ripped out and used for shopping lists or taking down numbers and other pointless information and my ever neglected inner poet is left reeling in the abandonment of what could have been. However, I realise that if I let this too, slip past without at least trying to create some sort of written memory of it all, that it would be a waste indeed, least not for my future self to revisit the experiences as they unfolded. I’m sure as time goes on, and I’m more adjusted to Ghanaian life, that my mind will start to debate and tackle the socio-political issues around me, for there are many. Gender equality, poverty, religion (and religious corruption), sanitation, child labour; the list is endless. Overwhelming isn’t even a strong enough word for the immediate awareness you have for these issues upon setting foot in Ghana. The only way I can begin to explain it is that life here is like being Winston in Orwell’s 1984; you are ever aware of the corruption around you, its omnipresence is unavoidable, yet to live in the family environment with a cohesive and peaceful existence, one must be like Winston during the 2 Minute Hate. You engage to a pantomimic level with the family’s religious, or otherwise, rhetoric, and it’s almost like playing a character every time there is a family gathering, of sorts. That’s not to say everyone is experiencing the same battle with what they know to be right and what they engage in to allow for a harmonious existence. I’m aware that some of my colleagues are unaware if their families are even at all religious, never mind the impact of that religion on their views, but mine are definitely keen on making it the forefront of their existence, whether that’s by choice or not, I am yet unsure.
We were told repeatedly throughout training to embrace the ‘cultural difference’ and to ‘learn from one another’ (to give some brief back round, everyone from the UK is paired with a Ghanaian counterpart, most share rooms if we are of the same gender and so cultural difference is apparent from the moment you wake up to the second your eyes close for the evening) and for the most part, this is probably the best approach to introducing us to a new culture; head first with no if’s or but’s. However it can cause an immense case of culture shock, something I’ve never really given much time to as being something genuine or even justified. However I can confirm to you now that culture shock is indeed a very real thing. Perhaps not, if you’re staying in Westernised accommodation, or with other people from the UK, but when you’re catapulted to life in a rural Ghanaian family’s home/farm, with nowhere to hide, not even your own room; culture shock is probably the most daunting and terrifying thing to digest for most of us here. From goats roaming the streets, to babies playing in gutters, to every piece of literature available to purchase being focused solely on religion and faith, it’s been agreed throughout the group that moving to Africa means leaving everything you think you know about life behind, and starting from the beginning, like a small child on their first day of school. Whilst this is without doubt one of the most challenging things I’ll approach in life, arguably ever, there’s something so deliciously refreshing about the idea of leaving life as I know it behind for 3 months. There’s a tantalising clarity when you awake at 6am to the sound of a chicken, knowing that your day really genuinely is what you make of it. That the sun will be ever shining, and that for the next 3 months, the struggles and stresses of Western life will be but a distant foggy memory. My biggest worries here consist of mosquito bites, toilet cockroaches and the occasional undesirable smell on the way to work in the morning as a result of open gutters. Whilst I realise this existence isn’t for everyone, and whilst I’m in no way denying the struggle of life in what feels like a different world, I’m certain that if everyone had the chance to press pause on their Western life for 3 months, to board a plane to another world, with nothing but 20kg of luggage, a whole lot of books (and Yorkshire Tea) and 30 complete and utter strangers on the same boat, that the world as we know it would be a much more understanding, compassionate and empathetic place.