I have come to accept that the Peace Corps experience is more about cultural exchange than actually making any visual difference in the community. Just like other volunteers, I can in with this notion that I would bring all this change to my community and help them in every way I can. But things don't quite work like that. Its a constant struggle to change your expectations and deal with the implications, change your perspective. I have so many ideas of what I want to do in the community, but the thing is is that it takes time. Lots of it. Things move very, very, very slow here. Although I was warned of it coming into this, it still doesn't quite hit you until you're here, actually in it. And since I still have not had a community meeting yet, I'm just focusing on the cultural aspect of being a volunteer, which do comprise the second and third goal of Peace Corps anyways. Only one of the three Peace Corps goals has to do with building your community's capacity. So instead of sitting around thinking of all the projects I could do and how far away I am from accomplishing any of those things, I go out, greet people, go drink some pito, play with some children, and answer great questions people are always asking about America.
But none of this is necessarily a bad thing, I think that in lots of ways the cultural exchange is more important than any project I could do. I always believed in the importance of cultural exchange; if you don't try to learn about how people live, talk to them, listen to tehm, put yourself in their shoes, them you will never understand why they do what they do and why they make certain decisions. Different countries, different environments, different languages and cultures creates different perspectives on life, different opinions, different ways of living. And of course, there are still times when I just do not get Ghana, just like there are times I don't get or like America. I've gotten used to things, like waiting for hours for a tro to leave, public urination (and defecation), I'm much less bothered by being dirty or being yelled at, but there are still times I get frustrated. There are lots of things I don't like, but I get a glimpse into what life is like here, why people do certain things, why things work the way they do here, and so I'm able to see life from a different perspective, whether I like it or not. And that's what I think matters most about this experience. The diary I'm writing in has quotes from famous authors about traveling. One quote stuck out as a perfect way to describe frustrations about traveling and foreign countries:
So here are a few of the interesting and/or funny conversations I've had with my Ghanaian friends:
-One day Alice, Cletus' wife, was telling me how I need to have children. Usually I am very annoyed with this question, but I love Alice, so I decided to joke with her and said, "I'm too small to get pregnant. If I did, I'd get too fat and fall over." She had a surprised look on her face. She said, " When you get pregnant, your stomach gets fat too?" Me: " Of course Alice, we all get pregnant the same way, white or black. Where did you think I would get pregnant, my butt?" She shrugged her shoulders, and I said "Yes, we are all the same."
- I was wathcing the American movie "Unknown" with Cletus's neighbor, Imah, one day. I don't know how he had the movie, or why, but I could not complain at all because Ghanaian movies frankly, well, are shit. Anyways, it was a good movie, or it could have been that my standards have plummeted so far that I just thought it was good. Normally I wouldn't like that kind of suspenseful/violent movie, but I was thoroughly entertained, purely because it was not Ghanaian. So. We were watching the car chase scene, and Imah turns to me to ask me how they do that. I told him it was all fake; that they film the real actors and the car chasing separately, and then they edit it to put it all together. He was SHOCKED by my answer, he did not believe me. I said they were not goign to risk the actors' safety, who they pay millions of dollars, and they need professional drivers to do that kind of driving. Then he said, "But look, you can see the actors in the car." ME: "Well, what they do is put the actors in a fake car and film them as if they are driving, and then on a separate set they film the professional drivers doing the dangerous stuff." I still don't think Imah believed what I was saying, but his reaction didn't surprise me. Ghanaians believe in magic and special powers, and supernatural things. One time Dawn told me she was watching "Twilight" with a Ghanaian, and he seriously asked her if there were werewolves and vampires in America and if there were schools for magic. Hm.
-Cletus asked me one day if everyone in America rides motorcycles. I really don't like answering questions that begin with "Do ALL Americans...." but for usually Ghanaians don't grasp how HUGE the U.S. is and that people from different states, let alone different cities in the same area are completely different. Anyways, I told him that in the U.S. it is quite dangerous to ride motorcycles because of all the cars and the speed that people drive at (not that people don't drive fast or recklessly here). Then I said that most people drive cars because in many places that is the most practical means of transportation, although I don't like that that is the truth in many places. Cletus responded, "Then you all must be rich." Another day, his wife, Alice, asked me if everyone in America uses charcoal stoves. I said the closest thing we have to a charcoal stove is how we barbeque food, but I said most people have gas stoves (close enough). Then she said, "You must all be rich." That's unfortunately what most people think about Americans, and I usually don't modify my answers to America questions so they don't say this, I want to be truthful. No matter how much money I do not have, and how much money I do not spend, and how much money I am not just giving to the community, they still think we all have money flowing out of our pockets. Its a stereotype that probably will never change, its sad. Fact: All white people have money, and they want to give it to you.
-At first I was nervous about talking openly about religion because of the kinds of negative things people would say, but I've come to realize I don't care what people think, just like at home. There was a period of time when it was just assumed that I was Christian, so people would say that I need to go to church, but I would always wiggle out of it some way or another. Then one day I was finally asked what I actually believed in, instead of people assuming. So now, as close to the truth as I can get, I tell people I'm Buddist. People have taken it well, they don't badger me, certainly better than if I were to say I don't believe in anything, people who say that usually get an earfull. Many Ghanaians really only think that three religions exist: Christianity, Islam and traditionalist. There are the only religions they are exposed to in school, so they tend to be very religious tolerant, but only to those religions. So I have been telling people who ask me about my religious beliefs that in American there are more religions than I can even count on my hands. One day I was waiting on the tro to Tamale, and a crazy guy came onto the tro to talk/yell at me. I was stuck on the tro without a way out, so I just sat and dealt with it. He started preaching to me, then asked if I was Christian. I said no. "Muslim?" "No, I'm Buddist." Then he said, "Oh, ok, fine, fine," and left me alone. I've had several conversations about religion and my beliefs with Imah, so one day he surprised me when he said that maybe if a really convincing preacher came along that I would cahne my thinking. I just had to laugh. I told him I've very confident in my beliefs, and I'm very happy how I am, and I'm very strong in my opinions and what I think is true. So I'm not looking for someone to change my mind, I'm not looking to find a preacher that will change my way of thinking, I am content where I am. Imah liked that answer, but then again I also don't think he's used to seeing strong, independent, free-thinking women. I tell him and people in my community what I think, and I don't apologize. They tell me how they think it should be, and I push them right back and tell them how I think it should be.
-I was once asked if houses in America were built with mud or cement bricks, like they are here in Ghana. I told them they were built out of wood, since it was the least complicated response I could come up with.
-Every once and a while, Cletus talks about his imaginary trip to America that he will make after Ran and I return home from Ghana. I actually think it would be cool to have him visit; it would be amazing to show him things he never has imagined, and see the look on his face. The questions he asks are already priceless enough, to actually have him see anything in America would be amazing. It would be a strange, interesting adventure. Whether it will ever happen, whether its even possible, I don't know. But its fun to think about. So one day he brings it up, and I tell him, "Cletus, you know there is no fufu, or banku, or tzed, or rice balls in America." (Someone once told me this is a great way to get Ghanaians to stop demanding that you take them to America, and it works, so I like throwing it out there once in a while.) Then Cletus said, "Oh, but there is light soup in America, I will eat that." I just laugh. I always wonder what his reaction, or any Ghanaian's, reaction to eating a burrito or hamburger or steak would be. And then as I'm wondering what the reaction would be, I start craving these foods and start drooling and get really hungry. Damn.