I learned so much on my trip to Ghana. It was a really rewarding experience, where I met so many wonderful wonderful people. I am so grateful to all the people that made my trip so memorable as well as all of you who made my homecoming so sweet.
As you know, I spent a month living in a village in Ghana. It was the village of Alavanyo in the Volta Region of Ghana (in West Africa). I was volunteering with an organization called Dream Africa Volunteer Service doing HIV Education. I worked primarily in the schools, with students from Upper Primary through Secondary school. The children were precious, and no, I did not adopt one and bring them back. I loved being in Ghana for the most part, the people were incredibly kind and friendly and the rhythm of life in the village made me feel so close to the universe. The lush green hills that surrounded me, parted by a long red red dirt road I walked down every day. (The mosquitoes greeted me regularly with love bites.) This is how I imagine the rest of the earth would be if we could take a big rag and polish off all of the layers of concrete and human construction we’ve piled and crusted over it.
One of my biggest realizations was about how much we all have in common. Alavanyo reminded me very much of my grandmother’s home in rural Taiwan, also in a small farming village. I felt very at home. Teaching the kids (especially the Secondary School) reminded me so much of the teenagers I worked with in New York. The little traveling I was able to do in Ghana brought me vistas not so unlike those I’ve seen in rural Asia, South America, and Central America. When it comes down to it, I think our similarities are intrinsic and our differences are superficial.
I’ve always believed that many of the Public Health problems in the world are mere symptoms of social inequalities and institutional oppression. HIV is a prime example. Looking at the spread of HIV in Africa and most other parts of the world, the course of the pandemic simply cannot be disentangled from poverty. Women of color are the face of most new infections in the world today. Economic disempowerment, lack of education and capital, lack of power in relationships and the dependence upon relationships to finance survival are factors easily identifiable in rural Ghana, throughout Africa the United States, and the rest of the world. We must get to the root of this problem to really make a difference.
My experience in Ghana also caused me to think a lot about race and privilege. Speaking with a dear Ghanaian friend one evening, he told me that if he could be born again, he would like to be born as a white person. Their lives are just so much better, he said. Many people in Ghana, especially the children, treat “white” people (anyone not black) like celebrities, screaming and cheering and generally excited at the sight of one. My friend explained to me that there is somewhat of an underlying feeling that white people are superior – why else should they deserve to be born into such over-privilege (my term, not his)? This conversation made me very sad because I don’t believe that anyone deserves to live any more easily or luxuriously than anyone else. We are all living beings after all, and all equal.
Since returning to my life of privilege, I have tried to be more appreciative of all that I have and to think of ways to share that with others. I was appropriately appalled when Elise and Stephen showed me this article from the New York Times ( http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/05/technology/05rich.html?em&ex=1186372800&en=26b67fe2d631d326&ei=5070 ) about the millionaires in Silicon Valley who don’t feel rich. Apparently, a meager $5 million in the bank is not enough to make one feel rich. But then again, perhaps these ungrateful rich people are to us what we are to many many people in other parts of the world.