Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leaving Mother Ghana!

For those of you who don’t know that I’m already home, its official! I touched down in Toronto just one week ago and I’m beginning the long and interesting process of ‘re-integration’ and ‘reverse culture shock’. I’ll write more on my re-entry later, however for now here is a bit that I wrote while on my way back home. Can’t wait to see you all soon!

- Christian

What a long and strange trip it’s been! As I sit here in the Kotoko airport in Accra waiting for the first of three flights that will take me back home, I can’t help but think of all the great things I am leaving behind in the Ghanaian motherland. It saddens me to think that I will be so far from my new friends, yet I’m excited to see my family again. I have definitely found my work here to be challenging, and I am ready for a small break. So as you can imagine my feelings are mixed.

My last STC ride from Tamale to Accra

During this last week in Ghana I experienced a rapid transition back into a more ‘western’ atmosphere. I was very lucky to get one of the few working STC buses from Tamale, and made it to Accra in just over 16 hours – no breakdowns! It was a miracle. Accra is the first and last bit of Ghana that you see, and it is in many ways a strange experience to be in a very developed city just before heading home. I have spent the past week working with the MOFA national office staff, and had a few days to check out the big city.

My brother Rafik and I checking out the Atlantic

The most striking feature of my last week was realizing just how vastly different life is in the south, especially in Accra, compared to the Northern Regions of Ghana. While visiting the towns of Cape Coast and Takoradi in April, I saw that though they were more ‘developed’ than Tamale, there were still many reminders of rampant poverty. However in Accra there are so many differences from the North that it feels like an oasis of sorts. You can buy pretty much anything available on the international market, and can even spend a relaxing day on the beach. The taxis and tro-tros here are actually in great shape and well maintained! Big change from Tamale!

Travel and See!

Here in Accra I have seen many areas of town that look exactly like your average North American or European city. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not so sure. What it does say is that there is money here. On one street you have ‘Busy Internet’, a top of the line internet café with all the newest computers and gadets. Across the street is NIIT, the National Institute of Information Technology, and just up a ways are all of the big banks and airline offices. It all looks much like you would see back home in Canada. When you hear of Ghana growing in terms of GDP, Accra is probably the place they are talking about!

Last night out with friends in Tamale

What the stats don’t show you though is that while many are doing well, so many are still struggling. Just a few blocks over from the nice shops and offices are thousands of people selling small things in the streets and markets at ‘Kwame Nkrumah Circle’ for little more than ‘chop money’ (money for food). So many are living on so little. Add the small income to the inflated prices in the big city and you have a lot of people who are struggling.

MoFA Directors gave me a Dagomba smock!

Like a lot of the signs of poverty in the rest of Ghana, poverty in the city is often ‘a few streets over’ and not always visible to those who are doing well. It is easy to be biased by the allusions of affluence in Accra. My biggest concern is that those who are doing well don’t have a good understanding of what poverty truly is, what people want and need to move forward. Even if you do recognize the challenges of poverty in the city, there is a good chance that you feel a bit helpless in improving the situation. It is that big a challenge.

My last supper - Mmmm Tilapia

I was surprised at how quickly I assumed that the development of the big city meant a higher standard of living and more opportunities. I realized in small time that I should not be fooled by such a trick. Behind all of the statistics showing improvement, the economic growth rate and whatnot, are the people who are living more challenging lives than can possibly be described in numbers. My fear is that we in the ‘west’ may perpetuate our complacency with the situation in developing nations by being fooled by the numbers. My time here showed me the faces of the people who are living hand to mouth with little opportunity to choose healthier and more secure lifestyles. Let me tell you, development is about people, real people who live with much less than we wish to imagine.

Could this week’s experience be a small taste of what is to come in Canada? How do we see extreme poverty back home anyways? How can I relay what I have experienced and encourage people to become conscious of such extreme poverty? How can Canadians make development aid a priority of our government? I’m not sure I remember what it is like to live in a developed nation and to be so far removed from the challenges of the developing world. I hope that my ‘re-entry’ experience in Canada will help me to find some answers to these daunting challenges.

Last sights in Ghana

Looking forward to seeing you all soon!!!

- Christian

Visitor Map