After the magical whirlwind of my first day in Ghana, I slept like a rock. The hotel was pretty nice, which is something I am asked about quite frequently when people hear I went to Africa. “Did you have to sleep in a shack?!” “Isn’t it dangerous there?” “Did you get ebola?” No, no, and no. These are slightly paraphrased versions of questions I was actually asked. Not all of Africa is what you see in the media.
I was fortunate enough to see two extremes during my twelve days in Ghana: how the rich live and how the poor live. You’d be surprised to learn that they are equally happy groups of people based on what I saw. We’ve all seen the commercials with the child walking down a dirt road in bare feet with a sad look on his face (or some variation thereof). I’m not saying poverty isn’t a real problem here; it absolutely is! And we should help when we can. What I’m saying is that copious amounts of pity for these people is not necessary. My group and I walked through a fishing village that was severely impoverished. Trash in Ghana basically has nowhere to go, so it piles up in the street. Between the potent aroma of fish and the mountains of garbage on the beach, the smell of this little town was like nothing I had ever experienced. The beach in this village was not pretty. Trash washed up on the shores. Kids were playing in it. The craziest part? Everyone I saw was happy.
Children ran around and played together, fascinated to see us there (especially someone as snow-white as myself). Their joy was undeniable. Just because someone doesn’t have what we consider to be adequate living accommodations does not mean they are unhappy. Sure, we can help them in so many ways. But there’s a fine line between improving impoverished conditions and changing the way people live.
A garbage pick-up system would be nice albeit a bit unrealistic in their economic state. This would be a healthier choice rather than having children run barefoot through a sea of trash. But to try to convince these people that they are living the “wrong” way would be outrageous. Material possessions just aren’t that important to these Ghanaians. Their relationships with each other seem to be much more of a priority. Seeing this fishing village made me happy, and truthfully, it makes me worry less about the world. If people in such poor economic conditions can still be happy and excited about life, the world is not as terrible as it may be portrayed in the media. I don’t have to cry for the barefoot child on TV…he’s probably not even crying himself.