Saturday, October 2, 2010

Phone Numbers from Ghana

Ghana greeted me, with colors, open arms and music.

Sometimes I felt myself overlooking the sewage filled streets, the trash left scattered and the homes that barely stood on their cracked foundation. I merely saw the smiles, the “God loves you” signs, the love of Americans and the children waving at me as I rode past them. It was easy for me to spend a few days in Ghana, buy a drum, hike through a rainforest, give candy to a child, listen to a tour guide and leave with the sense that Ghana is a happy place. But, as I reflect on my experiences, I realize that Ghana is not always happy — poverty is everywhere. And, it’s important to study the problems that lie beneath the smiles and hospitality.

There were hints of desperation. I spent an entire day watching, learning, drumming and dancing with talented locals a few minutes away from the port. It seemed clear that the men who were single wanted to let all of the American girls know their availability. And, when I interviewed a musician about his ideas of love and marriage, he gave me a ten-minute speech about how he wants so much to marry a white woman. At first, I thought these advances were amusing and harmless, but I began to question why exactly people in Ghana love white people so much.

When I decided to go out at night with friends to see a live band and dancing, I spent more time with the friendly locals that had the same idea of becoming ‘fast friends.’ My friend Aman met the four local guys the day before. He played football (soccer) with them and they paid for his lunch. They seemed like nice people who were relatively well off. We thought they were safe and not just looking for charity.

So, we decided to go out with them. We were three ladies, one American, one Venezuelan, one Indian, and a guy, Indian. I was the whitest person there. I felt like a light bulb in a dark room — an awkward light bulb.

They wanted my telephone number, the young girls who were dancing the day before wanted it too. They wanted to meet with me later. They wanted to keep in touch. I hadn’t even been in Ghana for a whole day and these people wanted to be lifelong friends. I thought, maybe this is okay; maybe this is just their way. But, I still didn’t give them my phone number. It didn’t feel right.

I don’t know exactly how to feel about the people of Ghana.

I left with the idea that Ghanaians see white as salvation. They want to connect to white. They want to marry white. They think white will pull them from poverty and take them places. I can’t say that my experiences speak for all Ghanaians and I hope that my ideas are wrong. But, four days and over a dozen phone numbers later, I can’t help but think that the people of Ghana are desperate for something.

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