If anything, my experience so far in Ghana has not been short on surprises.
During the first week, I learned that the dorms on campus are often subject to water and electricity shortages. In fact, the first four days at the international hostel the toilets didn’t flush, and students were introduced to bucket baths.
Not long after, I learned that in Ghana it is considered highly disrespectful and offensive to give someone something using one’s left hand. The reason behind discouraging this practice is because the left hand is designated for other purposes, namely, to wipe one’s self after going to the bathroom.
Unfortunately, I picked up on this significant detail a bit late.
The most striking aspect of Ghana, though, is that it does not fit the mold of what is typically depicted to be an African country.
What crosses your mind when you think Africa?
Perhaps malnourished children with flies swarming in their mouths, long necks from an agglomeration of decorative rings and a huge bone rammed through someone’s nose, lions, straw huts, atrocious diseases of every kind, war, famine and villainous dictators?
These are just some of the images that taint our perceptions on African countries and, while one might attempt to extinguish these preconceptions, they always linger to some degree.
For this reason, it has caught my attention that Ghana is not consumed by the extreme poverty that I suspected it might be.
To be sure, Ghana is not a haven of modernity, equality and prosperity.
However, there does exist a working middle class, a variety of state-of-the-art buildings, trendy vehicles, paved roads not all tattered in pot-holes and other tidings reminiscent of a developed country.
In explaining the gap between what westerners tend to get exposed to and the on-the-ground reality in many African countries, my Ghanaian neighbor and psychology student, Eunice, said “[f]oreigners come [to Ghana] and take pictures of the poverty: of the hungry-looking children, chickens, goats, etc. Yet, they forget to take pictures of the five star hotel they are staying at,” and that, “[foreigners] take a small picture and make it look like the norm.”
Such misrepresentations lead to the formation of a false construction of beliefs and, according to Eunice, some outrageous questions.
For example, Eunice has been asked on occasion whether she has pet zebras and leopards or whether there are actually cars in Ghana.
Other Ghanaians I have come across have encountered similar questions, such as if there is toilet paper in Ghana.
I have found myself committing similar sins, often focusing more attention on attractions of destitute poverty than to hallmarks of development and progress.
One such occurrence happened on my first ride on a trotro, a minibus people use as a mode of transportation.
Sitting next to a Ghanaian biology student named Joyce, I spent most of the ride to the market gazing at the dilapidated buildings, polluted water flowing down streams and impoverished street vendors. Having ridden mostly in silence, Joyce motioned for me to look at the national theatre site, a newly constructed building.
It intrigued me how greatly our lens for viewing the world differed. Joyce seemed to be more immune from sights of poverty and decay; she found the modern and developed to be more captivating. I was the complete opposite.
I came to realize that while one should not lose sight of nor become insensitive to surrounding economic hardships and scenes of disparity, it is also incumbent of one, in the interest of presenting a fair and honest assessment, to occasionally try on new lenses with which to view the world.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.