The last word

A week after I got home from Ghana, I wrote a post about all the differences and similarities I saw between Ghana and America. It was mostly a complaint.

I want to keep that one to myself and post something else instead. Now that I’ve been home for almost five months, I can be much more positive about my native country. Here’s the list of things America has going for it:

  • multiculturalism
  • National Public Radio

Please let me know if there’s something I missed.

I also have a clearer perspective on Ghana now that there’s some distance. So, after living in each place (yeah, twenty-two years in one and five months in the other), the simplest, narrowest, quickest summary is America = comfort and Ghana = joy (against all odds). Why would you ever choose a comfort-based culture over one built on joy? I don’t know, and five months isn’t enough time to find out. Someday, I’ll go back there, to chase down trotros, experience true unpredictability, argue about prices, dodge cholera and malaria and typhoid, revamp my worldview, and smile at hungry toddlers who dance to Hiplife and shout “Obruni how are you!”

And I'm bringing my parasol.

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2 responses to “The last word

  1. I wouldn’t expect anything less from you and your parasol.

    Distilling the culture of Ghana as one built on joy reminds me of a scene from one of my first weeks in Ghana–when we went to Shadrach’s church. Twice during the service, they played a praise song and everyone would stand up and start to move.. start to dance. I’ll never forget the dozen or so women who shuffled up to the front of the church and began processing in a circle. This was not the dancing I saw in other churches, as people ran across the stage with their plastic chairs above their head. No, this was a deeper sort of satisfaction; quiet, dignified, meditative, genuine. It was joy in the midst of a thousand things not to be joyful for but a joy nourished from something that made those things seem petty. Joy derived from optimism, from hope, from faith, from belief, from pride, from persistence.

    And then the women motioned for us to join them. I especially remember Katie following them, and joining their circle, smiling with them in her colorful dress. An invitation; a declaration that this joy is not something secret or exclusive but something that we just have to find within ourselves. The soil in Ghana may be fertile, but a good gardener can take fertility with him.

    This moment was so powerful, I even forgot about the amusement of Scott’s shirt quickly changing color due to sweat…

    But how can you say it is the last word if you vow to return?

  2. I agree with Adam: the joy comes from within ourselves. The problem with America is that people have forgotten, if they ever knew, how to find it. The people and experience of Ghana showed us how we can find it. Though there may be times when the hypocrisy of American culture is upsetting and super frustrating, we can always find our own joy in any situation. It kind of reminds me of a family I worked for in West Virginia two summers ago. It was a family of nine, with another child on the way, living in a one-bedroom trailer with an unusable bathroom (due to the floor having fallen out), which meant they had to do everything in the woods surrounding their trailer. They had no back door, just a piece of food to fit over the frame at night, and the space where their hot water heater has used to stay was now a 5’x2′ hole covered by a trash bag. And again, they had one bedroom for nine people. They also had four adult dogs, a litter of puppies, four or five chickens and a couple of cats, all of which they had to feed and take care of. Despite all this, despite having to pay for food for all those people and animals and not even beginning to scratch the thousands needed to repair their trailer, and despite doing it all on an income of about $9,000 a year (which came from disability pay), they were on the happiest, most cohesive families I’ve ever seen. On top of that, they loved to give whatever they could and felt indebted to us for helping them. One of the boys gave me his old toy car the day I left, plus some batteries. I tried to tell him I didn’t need any batteries and that he could use them better, and he said, “no, I want you to have them, cus I know you’ll need them eventually.”
    I think a lot of times people miss on all the good that’s in America. The problem is that sometimes you have to look for it, whereas in Ghana it shoved itself in your face. I know it’s there, though, and you can always try to make some of your own. And keep listening to NPR and the OG Garrison Keillor in the meantime.

    P.S. There was some good in Columbus last weekend…oh wait… : / haha
    P.P.S. Tell Melora hi.

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