Apr 302008
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Dear Mates,

As with everything: All good things must come to an end.

For me, this means leaving Ghana in June. As I begin to close the chapter on this wonderful African adventure, I have started thinking about what this experience has taught me and, more importantly, how it has forever changed who I am.

In preparing for this article, I reminisced on my evolution from a clueless awe-struck obruni (white foreigner) to a more seasoned traveler and active member of the greater Ghanaian community. Throughout my various stages of evolution, I picked up on valuable lessons. Below I have attempted to convey some of these lessons through the use of anecdotes.

It’s not forgive and forget, it’s forgive and remember.

Nobody has a better reason to be bitter than a Liberian refugee. From the lawyer who has been relegated to petty trading, the student whose high aspirations have been put on hold, and the weatherman who now spends his afternoons playing checkers, these people have lost everything. They have lost their livelihoods, their homes, loved ones, and some even their dignity. Yet, from conversations about the past, one would be hard — pressed to find a hateful person.

Liberians at Buduburam have much to offer the world in terms of learning to forgive.

“What would you do if you saw [former Liberian president and accused war-criminal] Charles Taylor walking down the street,” I have asked different refugees on several occasions.

Their response: Nothing. Live and let live is their motto. While the heinous crimes of the past should not be forgotten, this does not mean we should consume ourselves in a prison of resent.

Find comfort in the unfamiliar.

When the lights go out, turn on a flashlight. When the water goes out, take a bucket bath. When the bathrooms are so unsanitary you feel you might just lose your stomach, use the bush. When offered rat soup, hold your nose and say “yummy!” When somebody compliments your “fur” (also known as arm hair), say thank you. And when your bus breaks down in a forest in the middle of the night, grab a book because it’s going to be a long wait.

Just roll with the punches.

Don’t have a car and need to transport a television? Grab a bike and strap that television set on your head. Yes, it’s possible — I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The guy was even smiling as he rode past in the smoldering heat.

Take risks.

When I decided to come to Ghana, many of my friends and family members were worried — and understandably so. Africa doesn’t have a very good reputation.

Diseases, war, corruption, famine, abject poverty, and hungry lions are some of the images that shape our construction of the so mystified Dark Continent.

You’d be surprised at how most of these stereotypes are so far removed from actual reality. In fact, I have feared more for my safety in New York City than in Accra.

The only time that I have felt even remotely worried was during a week long venture into the Ivory Coast, where we had to pass military checkpoints at each village entrance. Here, soldiers with big AK-47s would flag down cars with a whistle and demand to inspect selected passenger’s identification cards.

That was rather intimidating, especially for four white girls who couldn’t speak French.

Make your community your family.

In Ghana, one often refers to a teacher as an auntie and a friend as a brother or sister. These labels reflect the role of the community as extended family.

Not long ago, I was stuck in the middle of traffic in a hot and congested tro-tro when a baby started crying. Immediately, a passenger directed the mother to open the window wider, believing the baby to be suffering from heat, as another bought a bag of plantain chips in case the baby was hungry.

For Ghanaians, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is not just a proverb, but a philosophy of life.

Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major studying abroad in Ghana. Her column usually appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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