Update from Brandon Scott - Ghana
Belated Posting of Individual Update from Brandon (From November)
It is almost 7:00pm but the darkness of the sky resembles midnight from where I come from. I am in the front seat of a rickety taxi with my four friends cramped in the back like, as the cliché goes, sardines in a can. We are leaving the center of the city back to our homes, a drive that should have taken half an hour but is protracted to three times its length because of the bad roads.
The driver turns off without warning and soon we are passing through the market where in one breath I smell the exhaust system of the tro-tro in front of us, the tantalizing smell of some animal being roasted on a road-side grill, and a whiff of something in the sewer parallel to the road. The driver begins to pick up speed and all the bright colors and flashy clothes of the young night hawks barely visible under the moon begins to blur in my eyes, just as the music blasting out of every other stall blurs and becomes unintelligible in my ears.
Then all the dazzling is interrupted as the driver asks, “Where?” I had not realized that we were at Zongo Junction our destination. I give him his fare and then wait as the girls undo whatever intricate seating arrangement they contrived to fit four in a back seat meant for two and a half.
Standing near the main intersection at the dusty incoherent junction we each say “See you later” to each other, and head home.
I have been in Ghana for nearly three months, and my time here so far has been just like that taxi a dynamic and stimulating experience.
The first month, aside from adjusting, was when I found myself hyper-conscious and sensitive to the events of a given day whether they were passing or significant. I remember noticing how high the weeds were around the airport, the fact that my bag was never searched, and how I had to use a special technique to open the door to my hostel room. I remember counting the bumps on the roads and wondering what made the open sewers smell so “exotic”. In retrospect my first month here was when I went through “culture shock”. I took in a lot during those first few weeks, but I never took time to assess what I took in. I noticed that a lot of buildings were unfinished, but I did not look into why, because as soon as I saw a half built home my eyes jumped to some other stimulus, like all the small shops whose names had religious overtones (Jesus Chemicals, or God Does Great Hair Salon). After a week in Ghana I moved in with my home stay family, and the quick unprocessed observations continued. I noticed that while we have a washing machine, plasma screen T.V. and a van, we had no running water in the bathroom toilet or sink. I noticed that there were several people living in the compound and that my home stay dog was really skinny. Then I started my job and I noticed that everyone in my office and who lived around the area seemed wealthier than in the rest of Ghana. I noticed that my internship also was a lot more organized than the others that the girls worked at, and I noticed that the grocery store near my office sold peanut butter so I bought some. And that was my first month in Ghana; it was filled with a lot of noticing but not a lot of evaluating and thinking.
The thinking part started to come in during my second month. During my second month some things started to be less “culturally shocking” than they were a month before. While I still was amazed at the diversity of waste in the sewers I was not as taken in by more malicious ideas. With less cognitive energy going to noticing things, I started to look for the reasons behind my myriad observations. Thus in the second month I found out that the reason that I noticed so many unfinished buildings in the first month was mainly because of three things: property rights are not widely respected in Ghana--partly because of corruption, but also because of the traditional idea that all land was for the community and therefore often times people just want something on their land so they can show they own it; it is very difficult to get a mortgage in Ghana so you build when you have the cash on hand; and some things just go a lot slower here. Similarly I learned how central the T.V is to the ideal Ghanaian family life. Unlike in the America ideal where we have family dinners and outings, families do not do that here in Ghana, instead they spend time around the T.V. Most of my second month then was devoted to thinking about and analyzing all I saw, felt and tasted in my first month.
Now I find myself nearing my third month. I am not sure what the theme of my third month is, but I think it’s title is somewhere along the lines of “What’s Next?” I have asked myself that question a lot lately, because increasingly I feel like a sedentary denizen in Accra rather than the observation-trigger happy traveler I was two months ago or the analytical traveler I was a month ago. It is not that I am dissatisfied at this point, it is just that I am getting anxious to see where this experience will take me next.