In my last post, I wrote about what I loved about Ghana, and urged you to stay tuned for what I loved less. As I thought about it, though, these things are not so much things I didn’t love about Ghana. They were things that broke my heart (which is one of the main reasons the trip couldn’t be characterized as “fun”). So here are some things that broke my heart….
On Tuesday, we drove into an elementary schoolyard at St Justin’ s School in Kumasi. The children there saw us through our car windows and their eyes lit up. They started yelling “Broni! Broni!” which means “white people” in their dialect. They proceeded to chase our car and, as we got out of the car, they started cheering and coming up and hugging us. They all wanted their picture taken (and they can handle an iPhone WAY better than I can!) Here’s a picture of some of these adorable kids (that’s my adorable husband in the background — he’s the tall one :))
As we were getting ready to leave, after taking lots of pictures of the kids, they ran to us, wrapped their arms around us , hugged us tight, and then put their hands up to our faces, looked right in our eyes and said: “Money”. I was stunned. They wanted money. Father Kessie, our guide for the day, explained, “They always do that when they see white people. They think all white people have lots of money.”
I walked away feeling so sad. They look at us, and they think of money. That’s our legacy. They don’t look at us and think hospitality, or acceptance or friendship. They think money. It’s an image I suppose we have cultivated throughout the world and throughout time. But, to me, it’s a sad image. Wouldn’t you want to be known for more than just having money?
Thing # 2 that broke my heart — How hard the Ghanaian people work. This is a society of people who really hustle. Many people have their own business selling all kinds of things — plaintain chips, water bottles, breath mints, fruits and vegetables of all kinds, small electronics, nuts, whatever. Women are the majority of the merchants. They carry everything they sell on their heads, like this woman in the picture below, shot from the window of our car:
These women stand perfectly straight, balancing theses HUGE platters of merchandise on their heads. They don’t use their hands to help balance them. They don’t need to. We even saw a woman with a platter full of EGGS balancing it perfectly on her head. This is unbelievably hard work! My girls tried to do it, and couldn’t balance it for more than a few seconds — they couldn’t believe how heavy it was!
(That’s Erica with Grace. Erica is 18 years old, sells plantain chips that she makes in her home, works all day, everyday, trying to save money to go to school. Erica graciously offered to let the girls try her platter. How does she do this everyday?) So, although the people were so gracious, I was saddened by how hard they work not to get ahead, just to survive. How do they do it everyday?
Thing # 3 that broke my heart — the relentless poverty. Even though Ghana has the fastest growing economy in Africa, we still observed mile after mile after mile of shacks for homes,many with roofs made of palm leaves, dirt roads, poor cottages set up for businesses.
(Notice the Coca Cola logo and the Glo logo on the shacks. Companies pay these businesses to advertise their products on their buildings. Like I said, these people HUSTLE!) Ghanaians take great pride in their businesses, paint them bright colors and usually name them after some religious idea, like “Jesus Saves Hair Salon”. Maybe I am imposing my own standards on their culture. But it broke my heart because these people deserve so much more, especially for how hard they work.
One last thing — and this is the thing I will never forget. Since I’ve returned from Ghana, I can’t stop thinking about water. Water. Such a simple thing in our lives. But you can’t live a day in GHana without thinking about water — where you will get it? is it potable, drinkable? Wherever we visited (schools, the eye clinic, retreat centers), people wanted to show us their water tanks and wells. They are very proud of their water sources. It would be like one of our friends saying “let me show you my new pool”. Below is a picture of the well at the Women’s Vocational Center:
The women at the vocational center were very proud of this well. They made sure to tell us that the water is “perfectly pure — but we can’t drink it, of course.” So not so perfectly pure, I guess. But they use this well for cooking in the catering school and washing. People work so hard for their water. In the outermost parts of Ghana, in the remote villages, people depend on rain for their water. That’s a problem, because even though this is the wet season, Ghana has gotten very little rain. We went on a three mile hike through the rainforest (which I did in espadrille wedges, thank you very much! Below is a picture of the path we hiked).
At the end of the hike we were supposed to see these beautiful waterfalls. But when we got there, the falls were completely dry. Just a trickle of water fell over the rocks. I stood there, stunned, thinking “Africa with no rain……”. Could it get worse than that? That image has stayed with me. I think of it every time I turn on the faucet, take a shower, do the laundry. I wonder what my neighbors in Africa are doing for water today?
I have no solutions for the many issues I observed in Ghana. But I came home with a changed heart. And, I think, that’s where the power of the Spirit begins — when our hearts are broken open. That’s what I am most grateful for from my trip to Ghana — my broken heart. May I never forget it.