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I believe that I have just returned from a character-molding experience. Good and bad, I would not change anything or how it played out. I just have so much to tell that there could not possibly be the word to explain things; I feel strained and frustrated when I do try to explain. My only salvation from this emotional block in communication is the group that shared much of the experience with me. These strangers, many of whom I know nothing intimate, are the only people who understand, who can even begin to know the feelings and thoughts that I can not convey.
I can only begin by making the assessment that in general, Ghanaians are happy people. They are contented by their lives trusting God and helping others. The competition that we live and die by is just not a driving force in Ghanaian life. There are those few who are oriented by money and power but they do not dominate and define the culture as they do in ours. Faith is a huge force in many of the ethnic groups which define Ghanaian culture. I believe that it is this faith that allows this satisfaction. Although we may be a primarily Christian country, we are not a religious one and Ghanaians are so. This was most evident in the church that we attended in Accra. There people were very overt about their faith. Fro a specified time period everyone stood and prayed out loud, very loud, almost shouting their prayer to God without shame or consequence. In this massive open-air church it was just the individual and God for that fifteen minutes.
I was very interested to observe the gender gap in this society but quickly learned that although it was very much present, it was not influential in the ways in which I expected. Women are not belittled, or made submissive even, but instead held in importance and protected. Tradition does often exclude women, but for age-old reasons which are intended to uphold the purity and virtue that is attributed to women. Women are often joked about as not being able to drink alcohol. When we were in the Volta region, the hotel owner gave the boys in the group some rum with roots in the bottom and in half jest said do not let the women drink this. The idea was to protect us from ourselves assuming that we would not be able to hold our liquor but also to maintain ritual. I did have palm wine however. This was my first experience with alcohol which I submitted to on the premise that this was an opportunity that would not present itself again. How often would I be in a village in Ghana, passing a bowl of palm wine?
We spent most of our time during our stay at the Coconut Grove beach resort at the slave castles of El Mina and Cape Coast. We got a very small sense of the conditions under which slaves were kept. As people complained about the humidity and how tired they were I could not help think about how many times over those held captive there were experiencing those feelings. Ghanaians are taught a very different version of that period in history; they are taught that in many cases their fellow Ghanaians turned prisoners of war and other captives over to the Europeans in exchange for guns. They do not seem to take a victimized position in the matter and they embrace the castles as a large part of their heritage.
I also realized a lot about myself and my relationship with others on this trip. Being forced to become close with people with whom I would not ordinarily choose to become close. I have lightened up and realized that I can not force my morals on others; I just have to trust my own and learn to have fun without giving in on my own character but without trying to hold others to mine. I could not imagine the trip as anything other than what it came to be and would not wish it to be. I have had an excellent opportunity and experience, one that I will never again. For this I am grateful.