We arrived at Elmina fishing village, not to far from the slave trade castle in our giant golden bus. This is a tourist area. Many of the people make their living by selling small trinkets and water to tourists. Children with bowls on their head and a few adults began to walk toward us as we got off the bus. We split off into groups walking out into the village past the desperate children, playing games to eat. I crossed a bridge coming to a stop in the middle looking out over a small port over crowded with boats and men working. I breathed in the smell of fish as I pulled out my new camera. I stepped back to take a picture. There was a man just on the outside of the frame leaning on the railing of the bridge. He said something to me just before I snapped the picture, but I couldn’t understand him. “I’m sorry” I say leaning closer to hear him. He came over to me still speaking inaudibly to me, pointing at my camera. Was he telling me not to take a picture? He reached out and touched the side of my camera. A little shocked I pulled back some, but I didn’t walk away and he pulled it out of my hands.
“Linda, no,” Anthony, the group photographer, warned me too late. I stood there appalled and unsure what to do as the man raised my camera to his eye and looked into the front of the lense. We stood there like that for a few seconds, and then the moment was broken. He handed me back my camera and I walked away quickly, holding the small device to my chest. I know he touched Anthony’s camera afterwards, and on speaking to the professors the idea that he was offering to take a picture for me came about. I am not sure what the man wanted from me, but I know that his close proximity was incredibly uncomfortable for me. My cultural baggage and inability to understand him made the experience difficult to sort out.
The day we left Ghana we did our last service learning exercise. The group met the reverend we were supposed to be helping at a small restaurant and he led us from there to the railway station. Talking along the way he told us about the people who live a long the concrete walls that run parallel to the tracks. Moving in a group the size of a small mob we stared out at the homeless, the starving, the desperate and took deep unwanted breaths of the smoky air. After some distance we came across a mother whose story the reverend’s wife began to tell us. That is were we got the news of the sick woman. We stood around for several minutes while Felicia, the reverend’s wife, spoke to the ill woman crouched next to a wall. Slowly the other people started to surround our group. We were oddities there. A few of them took phones out and took pictures of us. Uncomfortable, overwhelmed and feeling frustratingly helpless a large group of students went back to the bus.
I stayed, knowing that most of Ghana was not like that place, and that this was only a taste of the poverty that exist world wide. I was desperate to know what went on there, and I believe that a person cannot change what they do not make themselves aware of. There were four students including me left. We began a slow walk back to the bus with Felicia, meeting people along the way. Together we were able to help one man, but still I felt a little helpless. A few minutes later on the bus we discussed the experience, but I did not have much to say. Poverty is a part of every society, and it never gets easier to deal with emotionally. It will always be painful. It will always feel desolate. The question is what you will do about it?