Thursday, May 11, 2006

Accra, Part Two

As we exited the tro-tro in Jamestown (on the coast), a well dressed man offers to take us down to the beach area and show us around. He said his name was James, and that he teaches math and science in a senior high school in the city (which is quite a ways from Jamestown). He leads us down past an old slave fort that has now been converted into a prison, with huge walls lined with barbed wire and broken glass; we can hear the prisoners shouting inside.

After winding our way down a dusty path to the beach we are greeted by the sight of significant poverty. We walk around goats, chickens, and kids playing football while the men watch us from shacks that can, miraculously, still stand up. There are hundreds of boats along the shore, but none in the water; James explains that there is no fishing on Tuesday because of the Creationist belief that the waters were created on Tuesday. As we walked out onto the pier I couldn’t help but be struck by the view along the shore, with big fancy government buildings being only one come away; an interesting visual that we quickly sneaked a picture of.

As James continues to take us around the village we can’t help but all feel like we’re simply taking a guided tour of people’s poverty. Though I feared they might resent a group of Westerners being led around, as if their lives and livelihoods are a spectacle to see, these people still greeted us with a friendly wave and smile. We still can’t help but feel like intruders. When leaving the area, the sight of a toddler following a man dragging a rusty saw nearly as big as he is only reinforces the fact that we’re simply sight-seeing poverty—with real people. Reminding ourselves that this is what half of our placement is about, we leave the beach with James and head towards his house.

On the way to James’ house, two small children throw themselves at Ben and myself, giving our legs an eager, sincere hug. As we continue walking, James explains to me that most of the children I meet will think that I am Jesus; they will often shout out “Sunday born!” to me because I am white. At the time I considered his comments interesting, but I brushed them aside as we entered his neighbourhood to meet his wife and son. After a short chat we make our way back to the tro-tro stop, passing through an alley past a elementary/middle school. As luck would have it, classes ended as we entered the alley, and the children came pouring out while our group was passing by… chaos ensued. They came screaming towards us; shaking hands, high five-ing, and screaming “howareYOU” at the top of their lungs, as if we were rock-stars or royalty. Those of us at the front of the group were able to avoid most of the mob, but those at the back got cut off from the rest by the wave of kids. Marka, who was in the middle, somehow managed to take a quick, blind picture over her shoulder without anyone noticing. Even though the picture is off to the side, I’m still quite fond of it; though I promised myself that I wouldn’t post it without first talking about the whole situation.

The main reason that I was initially hesitant to post the picture is because of the dangerous message that it portrays. There are few things that I hate more than “the white Westerner coming to safe Africa.” As I have always believed (and as has been confirmed on the ground), these people are capable and hard-working—they do not need us to come ‘rescue’ them. It’s extremely easy to overstate the importance and impact that I, as a Westerner, can and will have here, particularly through images like the one above. My single biggest issue with organisations such as World Vision is that they always portray African children as helpless and Westerners as their saviours; and I made a vow to myself that I would not perpetuate this image of Africa. As I’ve found already, it’s unbelievably easy to get self-congratulatory images such as this one; but the attitudes of children should not be exploited and used to show how ‘great’ some people can be.

So because of this I ask that you don’t look at that image as proof that we’re doing great work overseas, or even that myself or anyone else there is a great person because the kids are so happy. I post this picture as a reminder to myself, as well as anyone reading it, to always be conscious of how you act while doing development work overseas and how you want to bring messages back home. I didn’t realize until I got here just how easy it can be to skew your message to home and degrade people who deserve far better.

The best image to send back is one that lets the viewer know that Westerners can see and experience Ghana’s overwhelming optimism; but that they do not cause it. (I’ll let you know if I find/take one.)


At 5:15 p.m., Blogger Emily said...

K two things kid;
First is the gushy thing we're used to me doing; you are so amazing! Everything you say is serving to be a real lesson to everyone reading. You just have an excellent outlook.
Second thing; My God you can write! I've said it before and apprently I'm saying it again, but the way you write makes me almost see it all! You are so talented!
I really hope you are not allowing youself to become too bogged down by it all, the stresses of being too open. I hope you are taking time to enjoy and really appreciate everything!
Love you lots and thinkin of you!

At 4:44 p.m., Anonymous Jenn said...

I second that statement, although my words aren't said in the right order or lack some better words. It seems to me that the poorer you are the harder you work. LIie in Cuba, the people there work really hard to earn everything that they have (although I think they should earn more) And although they work hard, they were happy, proud of what they had, and in general in love with life. They didn't seem preoccupied with wanting things like we do over here.

I've also taken notice that in the US that it seems to be the people bellow the poverty line (which is increasing) seem to be the hardest working and the first ones to give up everything for their country (not that big bussiness people don't)

But yeah that's just my take on it. Good luck on the shot.

Love ya! Jenn

At 1:19 a.m., Anonymous Katie said...

I can't think of anything except to say "Amazing."

You. Your writing. The people of Africa. The lessons. The lives. Just... everything.



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