Sunday, January 18, 2009
On Dec 20, we completed our term in Ghana. The computer school enjoyed a fun/sports day, part of which was a gift giving ceremony where one of the classes gave each of us a Ghanaian smock. The kindergarten also put on a Christmas program complete with a skit of the nativity. This would be the last time we would see most of our students.
Before sunrise the next morning, we left Tamale, the town we called home for the last three months. During this short time, we discovered the generosity of the Ghanaian spirit. Ghanaians make friends quickly and easily. Through a brief encounter, they would exchange phone numbers or email addresses, and a friendship would develop from there. Most will never set foot outside their country so they take the opportunity to discover a cultural exchange. On "Salah" (literally, a Muslim festival) while observing a mass outdoor prayer, we were approached by a mother and her child. After mere minutes of meeting her, she invited us to her home to chat and to share a meal. Although it is common for the locals to ask us for the clothes off our backs, our laptop, and our phones, we realized that this was a way they complement us, and that the request is usually not a serious one. And we do get the occasional awkward request for cash from strangers. There is a certain "no shame in asking" attitude that we needed to get used to.
There is a strong spirit of community that we observed many times in the classroom. In the computer school, our students would help each other in their schoolwork. Sometimes, their assistance would cross the border of cheating, and we had to be quick to correct it. The younger ones in the primary school would share food and water without a minute's hesitation, even if it was their only bottle of water (and this is in a town where there were constant water shortages). Even from a young age, they have embodied the spirit of sharing we are reminded of in the Bible of Elijah being fed by a widow in 1 Kings 17. Their mentality contrasts with the individualism and competitiveness of western culture.
Faith and religion is a strong component of their lives. Evidence of religion is everywhere, from slogans painted on taxi windows to the names of stores. In Tamale, Muslims make up a larger part of the population mainly because children are by default Muslim if their parents are Muslim, while Christians require the more lengthy process of a conversion of the soul.
Ghanaians love music. In school, the students begin the day by singing their local Christian songs. In the primary school, they have a song for everything from marching to their classrooms, to going to the toilet. In church, music would be accompanied by dancing. On cell phones, R&B songs would alert of an incoming call. Many of the dilapidated taxis we sat in were basically a metal hull with an engine, but there'd always be room for an after market deck and some kickin' speakers.
Even though English is the official European language of Ghana, it is still the second language for most. We needed to speak more slowly, using shorter sentences. The vocabulary was different as well: we referred to plastic as rubber, called papayas pawpaw, said "go and come" instead of "return shortly", greeted people properly with "Good morning, how is it?" and responded with "I am fine" instead of "hey, how's it goin'?", "good".
We will miss all these subtleties of African culture, and thank the Ghanaians for their welcoming spirit. We must also thank the staff at CIM (Pastor Philip, Donald, Cassandra, Flora, Teresa) in Vancouver for supporting us, from calling us regularly to make sure we are adjusting well, to bringing back some excess from our travels (particularly cold weather gear which serves no useful purpose in most of Africa), to taking us to see the other CIM projects in Kpandai, a town a day's drive away. And of course Pastor Joshua and Auntie Caterina for their 24hour advice and care for our entire duration in Tamale.
After a few weeks of travel to wait out the Christmas break (photos with captions are here: http://picasaweb.google.com/bubblenest/DecemberJanuaryTravel# ), we arrived in the outskirts of Johannesburg at a school for children from nearby squatters' camps and townships. We'll send a separate email update to talk about our experiences in South Africa.