29 May 2013

Nante Yie, Individual.

Just three days ago I flew away from Ghana, ending my incredible journey to begin a two month adventure in England. Three weeks ago you could have found me anxiously counting down the days in my planner and going stir crazy over how to fill the space; now, I just want to rewind and slow things down a bit. Four months has felt like years that went too quickly; it’s like I have woken up right where I started and Ghana was the most beautiful dream I have ever had. It’s been the roller-coaster every advisor had promised and as life changing as their words could never have expressed. I have started to understand human beings more than I ever have before, and importantly, I have begun to understand myself as an individual. Individual. As I have fallen in love with the African culture, this becomes a word I have to question. In Ghana, there is no individual; there is “we”; there is community; there is us; there is never “I”. In America, individualism rings nearly as loudly as capitalism and gun rights. We value first impressions and standing out in a crowd; we pursue our right as an “individual” to act as such, to create our identity and life as we solely see fit. As an American, I agree; as a human being, I am hesitant. I have collected a book of powerful, influential and inspiring faces on my Ghanaian journey, faces that have made me wonder: What good is it to set ourselves apart in a world starving for unity?


Chapter 10: Nante Yie, Individual

As I said my goodbye, or rather, “see you later” to my closest Ghanaian friend, Benedicta, I started to unravel the exact qualities of Ghana I will miss most. Africa is a tightly knitted sweater that allows the heat in but never out; it will take in individuals with their bright minds and ideas, but the individual is somehow lost somewhere between the 23 orphans and endless bags of jollof rice. The individual is abandoned in the Ego and that “we” feeling becomes the new safety net. One will find that our identities are creations of one another, and each life becomes as relevant as your own.

Throughout my stay I had many Africans apologize to me when I have clumsily tripped over myself or been hurt in some way. I thought it was simply a cultural thing and paid it no mind- I would thank them and be on my way. I finally asked Benedicta the true reason behind why they apologize for something that was not their own doing. The reason was hardly cultural at all, but rather very humanitarian: “whatever happens to my neighbor can happen to me.” They apologize out of sympathy that another human being or piece of themselves has been hurt. Benedicta said, “My neighbor is me; if someone is hurt then it will hurt me also.” What good comes of a flourishing individual if it becomes so detached it can no longer feel what its neighbor feels? In western cultures, we abandon our neighbors and take on an individualistic approach; we focus on our own lives and disconnect ourselves from “irrelevant” others. This is a curse and a blessing all at once: we are able to find ourselves relevant and discover our own potential, but too often we forget to see the potential and relevance of others.

Just three days in England and I can’t help but long for Ghanaian culture. As I walk through the daily activities of the western life, things begin to feel impersonal again. People mind their own business and are desensitized to the actions of one another. Where life should feel the most personal between human beings, it no longer does. I have been able to see how far our self-serving ideals have or have not taken us by seeing the drastic contrast in Ghana. While we excel apart, we grow weak as a unit; we grow weak as human beings. We accomplish for our individual and maybe our families alone and we feel good because we feel good about ourselves. This is a wonderful ability and luxury of the western world. We have all the space and time to focus on ourselves and grow in a manner that never touches one another. 

There is no limit to growth, rather purpose, intention, and reason. Where better to find the motivation than from your own family, community or world? We, as individuals, have natural strengths and strengths to learn. We can teach one another how to be strong where we are weak, or we can simply be that strength for one another. This is a growing, globalized world. We have immediate, direct contact with one another like never before. We are stepping into one another’s worlds and seeing things generations as close as our grandparents’ may never have. We are sharing our ideas and ways of life as human beings. As we branch out, we see weaknesses we may not have and strengths we may lack. This is where the individual becomes important. We grow and learn and dream all on our own; we create our identity and reveal it to others as we please. This individual must then be applied, selflessly.  In such a globalized world, there is need to protect one another. We must put on our knitted sweaters and whip out the safety net of community. Where I am weak, my neighbor will be strong. Where I am strong, I can help anyone in this world grow. My individual will, from this day on, be used as a tool to community. As a human race we have all the pieces that one another may need. These globalized pieces should be respected and communal. I see now that I am only as strong as the weakest aspect of human life. 
  
A balance between the individual and community is the key; one cannot flourish without the other. I have seen that a community is only as strong as its weakest member; therefore each member must take it into his or her own hands to evolve into a beneficial piece. Do things for yourself; become all the strengths in this world you wish to be. There is reason behind every life; there is relevance in every human being. If we treat each life as such, and unite them at the end of the day, the individual can live harmoniously in community.  

This is Ghana: the “individual” comes here to grow itself; instead, community raises it higher and stronger than it ever could have alone. One will find that having a strong heart to share is more powerful than having fashionable clothing, money and even individuality. Stepping out of your comforts and into a challenging, yet united world evolves one in ways unimaginable. I am no longer in a culture that feels my own pain and makes me feel its own, but I will continue to carry that awareness of others that Ghana has blessed me with. I have the lessons my experiences have taught me and the newly found ability to see this world for what it really is….unfathomable potential. Medaase paa, Ghana. And thank you, readers, for taking the time to experience new pieces of this world with me.

Nante Yie…for now.
Emily Chamberlain



11 May 2013

Have You Seen My New Skin? My University Didn't Make It


As the end of my incredible journey here in Ghana closes, I am forced to think of all the things my life has become. I think of the Barbie playing diva who promised to dig an underground playhouse, all the way to the little girl who cried her entire first day of junior high. I think of who I have been, who I am now, and most importantly, who I really want to be. As we university students, hopefully, creep closer to our graduation days, we all have to think about the degree we will obtain and how we want to use it. We have to look at what we actually learned and how we want to apply it in a money making way in the real world. The one question I think we all forget to ask ourselves, and one another in this world, is what do you actually care about? What good is your shining degree if it blinds you from the things you care about?


Chapter 9: Have You Seen My New Skin? My University Didn’t Make It

Many university goers start out dreaming big; we will all be astronauts and doctors in a few easy years and really make a name for ourselves. Unfortunately, reality hits that first semester and many students settle. They settle for a degree they can obtain in an easy four years. As they collect the official paperwork, they are panicked about the moment they have to change into their real world shoes. They forget about the things they always wanted and limit themselves to where their degrees can take them. Knowledge is power, one that can mold this world into exactly what we want it to be. Yet, people use their education to fall in line and collect a paycheck. What we all forget to remember is what life can teach us better than a lecture hall can, what the Barbie playing and crime fighting little girls and boys wanted for us. We forget that the simple pleasures in life are the ones that can dig us out of our disappointment, and we forget that money does not bring happiness. Money is simply a made up system used to pay our way through life, not to actually live life. Do all yourselves a favor, the same favor I am going to do for myself, and ask what truly matters to you. Ask yourself: how can I use my education to support everything I care for?

Ghana is a funny place; one may come here thinking, “I can really make a difference.” Yet, at the end, it is you who will leave much different than the difference you actually made. Being here has shown me the areas of life I care about. I have been blessed with the memory of how I saw my future ten years ago. This short-lived, four month adventure in Ghana has been indescribable. I have seen so many things that have created a passion in me that I never knew existed. It starts with the simple things. For example, I never believed in long distance relationships. Yet here I am, a year into long distance, enjoying everything about my life and the life of my significant other. We did not let the socially constructed ideas of what a relationship looks like hold us back and neither should any of you. It may not be Disney, but it sure beats the hell out of having annoying step-sisters and scrubbing floors until a fairy appears in my garden. It’s real life; it’s obtainable and exactly how I want it. These changes reach all the way up to my newly found passion for human beings themselves. I can’t even explain how much I love human beings. I don’t mean the kind of love someone feels for their Apple products or even their own mothers; I mean the kind of love that you can only feel when you finally learn to accept everything about the human race. The kind of love that makes you look at everyone that has wronged you or you have wronged in return and think, “We are only human”. I think that’s the best kind of love there is. When you can look at the Ghanaian woman who won’t scan your items at the counter because you’re white and just say to yourself, “It’s not me she has a problem with, it’s herself.”  I know this all sounds a bit soppy and tree-hugging, but maybe that’s exactly the kind of attitude this world needs. Maybe if we all got off our pedestals and accepted one another’s views and actions and showed one another love and respect, there wouldn't be constant power struggles or the need to exceed or outrun your neighbor. We wouldn't be killing villages of people, or rather hiring men to do it, to obtain their oil rich land. We wouldn't put or monetary or momentary gain before one another. Alas, we are only human beings. Not all of us do these things; many of us try to prevent it all in fact. It’s not the human heart that’s gone cold; however, it’s the biological fear in us that has taken over. Maybe if we showed a little bit more love to the people living in fear, they wouldn't feel the need to build an empire to protect themselves.   

My entire year abroad I have seen many young faces with big paying careers. When I ask them if this is where they want to be, they have all said the same exact thing: “It was just a good paying opportunity.” I have been very impressed that so many young adults have found success at such a young age. Here in Ghana, connections are everything. You could be a 20 year-old university student studying archaeology and run an advertisement agency for your parent’s friends. In Australia, you can be a fresh university graduate and be the events coordinator for Porsche (one of my friends there actually is). In life, you can be anything you want. If you lack connections, make some. You create your opportunities if they are not written out for you and you, importantly, strive to become that person you dreamed of being. If you never really had a dream, create one. Explore; see things. Go experience things that you can apply to your life, and educate yourself on the matters. Use your education to support your dream, not to dictate it. No matter how old or young you are, we have something in common: we are alive. We have all experienced doubt, failure, and non-believers. People who doubt themselves will always doubt others. We are products of our environment; once we all accept that, we can leave one another be and decide the product we ourselves want to become.

The degree I have applied for may not be the one I come out with at the end. I may decide that I want to be a famous singer at the end of all this and study music. Or maybe I will get a degree in Biochemistry and Anthropology, and I will become an anthropologist that supports her theories with science. Maybe I will tell the world that I’m good enough to have it all. The point is to educate our dreams, to find what we care about. I care about human beings; I care that different ways of life are seen as vulnerable or weak; I care that vulnerability is taken advantage of; I care that the world looks at how bright you look on paper rather than how strong your hands actually are; I care that people forget how important and relevant their lives are; and most importantly, I care about who we could all be in the near future. I care about our potential as a human race. Too bad there isn't a degree for caring and money for those offering hugs. The point I am trying to make is that education may be the key ingredient to expanding your mind and filling it with facts and ideas, but your own personal passions are what will gain you success at the end of the day. Passion is something the books do not teach you and the money cannot provide. Think of those things you care about, then educate your concerns and voila! Create. Play with your degree and education. Tell your resume that you are more important than how others may read you. Tell your university and world that your future is in your hands and that they work for you; you pay for their knowledge simply to gain insight into your own.  Go learn all the things your passions need to grow. We all hit dull moments; if you feel lack of motivation, maybe you’re in the wrong place. Maybe you’re trying to take on other’s cares because they seem more important, but if we all cared for the same things then too many areas of life would be neglected. Don’t be afraid of failure or rejection; be excited that a door that would have wasted your time has closed and the right one is sitting patiently. Be brave. Tell institutions that you will benefit from them, not become them. Find every little thing in this world that makes your stomach turn and mind race, and educate yourself to make a difference. Nothing is small if you care for it.

Nante Yie, dreamers.
Emily Chamberlain

26 April 2013

The View From Here



As interesting and inspiring as I wish these last few blog posts to be, I can’t seem to pull the energy. Tomorrow marks the start of my last month of four in Ghana. Being in that last leg of the journey has me in such anticipation. I know how heartbreaking it will be to say goodbye to the orphanage and new friends and this beautiful culture, but I am, just as my fellow foreigners are, holding on by a thread. I want to walk down the street and not hear a single car honk at me or to walk into a classroom and be completely unnoticed; I also want an awesome cup o’ Jo. To renew my spirits and truly indulge in these last four weeks, I have decided to go into reflection…and you, reader, are coming with me.

Chapter 8: The View From Here

At the top of Mounatain Afadjato- the highest point in Ghana. 

As the exams begin and my journey in Ghana is being put to an end, I can’t help but think what it will feel like to look at this experience as a memory. Leaving Ghana and heading into reverse culture shock will be one of the most difficult transformations; it will be more difficult than adjusting into this culture in the first place. I find myself anxious to reach the next milestone and start another chapter in England, but I want to be sure to have an incredible last month as an American trapped in Ghana; so I will.

I thought this post, as my words seem to be uninspired at the moment, should be a sort of photo album. These lovely snaps are just a few of my personal favorites that I feel truly speak for themselves. What better way to see what I do every day than to actually see what I see every day?

Enjoy the view.
The oldest mosque in Ghana and western Africa, found in Mole.

Mole National Park

Ada-Foah town

Ada-Foah -the estuary where the Volta River meets the Sea.

Ghanaian woman making ink for fabrics with her child wrapped to her back

These ink stamps are carved into symbols that reflect the Ghanaian traditional values.

Kumasi marketplace- these piles are a little too common around Africa

Elmina- near the Elmina Slave Fort

Every photographer’s dream- people who know how to flirt with the camera.

Father giving away the bride

Parasite tree in Ho-hoe Monkey Sanctuary

Mountain Afadjato- encouraging messages the entire way up (even though that's not very high at all).


                                             
                                                              Waterfall and river in Ho.

California can keep their happy cows; nothing beats a happy baby.





A few of the Beacon House babies.

This is the canopy walk in Kakum National Park. The strength of the walkway has been tested by the weight of three elephants and yet, has the ability to convince you that you’ll be the first to snap it.






Women at the one year memorial service of Benedicta’s father.

I hope these photos have been an interesting insight to my adventures. Until next time!

Nante Yie,
Emily Chamberlain



  

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15 April 2013

The World As We Know It, the World As We Make It

It’s such a strange feeling to look back to a point you were at one year or even just a few months ago. It’s strange and yet so refreshing how you can be somewhere or someone you never expected. A year ago I thought there was a big chance I would never even make it to Australia, let alone Ghana. Well, here I am! I’m so far from the mind I once had and the directions I once wanted to go. The ways that seeing new worlds and being cut off from the people you love changes you in such indescribable ways. You start seeing just how possible and fulfilling life really is; there’s a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It could not be any truer. My time from my family and comforts has me thinking so much about the rest of the world- we are so limited and our minds are so restricted to the things we see every day. If you never leave these corners of comfort, you will never understand the capability of this world and the people within it; you may never, most importantly, find the true potential of you yourself. My biggest lesson learned away from home, besides the importance of budgeting, is one I will never lose sight of: we create our world and the reality we choose to live in.


Chapter 7: The World As We Know It, the World As We Make It

A few weeks ago my close friend Benedicta invited me to her father’s one year memorial service. I thought about being surrounded by people I could not understand and hearing nothing but the Ga language all day and was really hesitant, but I knew I wanted to be there for her. I went to this long church service in a language I don’t even know ‘hello’ in and had to dance in what is pretty much the equivalent of a Ghanaian conga line- what the heck was I doing? There were points in the day where I felt so singled out and a little too noticeable; I was the only white girl in the entire village and I couldn't even defend myself as I had no idea what anyone was ever saying. I felt discouraged, lonely and so vulnerable. I knew I had a choice to make: I could either shut myself off, acting in fear, or I could laugh along and challenge myself to connect with people in the most unlikely situation. I thought to myself, “they may never change the way they look at me, but I can change the way I look at them.” So I did, and I had such a wonderful time. I stuck close to the women in Benedicta’s family and that must have been my saving grace. After momentary discomfort, I opened up and suddenly they became so helpful translating sentences here and there and making jokes about marrying off women to my brothers (I could not get the image of my brothers in traditional wedding attire out of my head- hilarious). I was made fun of numerous times but actually found it interesting and silly rather than remotely offensive. I decided to understand them rather than disregard them; this made for smooth sailing.

After picking Benedicta’s mind about African’s and their views, I have a new awareness I never would have had before. Throughout the entire day people were beckoning and calling me from afar; the children kept shouting and running circles around me and asking me to take pictures. Benedicta and her family would just look at me and say, “Pay them no mind, okay. You pay them no mind.” At one point they were shooing children away from me and shouting at men things I didn't understand. I was so thankful for their support. Benedicta told me how they just don’t understand, how they don’t see new things like me every day. I understood that completely, but for some reason it hit me just how important that statement was.

In the United States we are a melting pot; we see every color, every religion, and every scale of wealth every day. We have been desensitized to the differences of one another much more than we give ourselves credit for. Africans, however, can usually count the number of “different” people they see their entire lives. Yes, this is changing. More people are reaching out; the numbers of traveling students are increasing, as well as the number of students all around the world. We are not nearly as blind to one another as we have always been. No matter, unless you’re in South Africa where populations of white people reside, you will be gawked at constantly. It does get annoying and frustrating at times, but the more I try to understand the less it bothers me. I am able to look at the people who find me so intriguing with compassion and tolerance now. I know that their world and views are entirely restricted by their daily environments. They see only what is right in their faces and what can be noted as a temporary gain. This keeps them all in a constant state of struggle; Africans want immediate reward, they want to work and ware themselves down to see instant gratification. What they lack sight of is the future, of how their decisions create their tomorrow. This is all because they are restricted and patterned by their day-to-day, same-old-same-old encounters. This is the same all around the world. If we do not reach out to see more, or even try to understand, we will be the gawkers- the ones being hit in the face with information we never prepared ourselves for. It’s more important now than it ever was before to understand this world as a whole rather than where we find relevance.

I may get annoyed with being ripped off at markets and sized up every second, but I can now be thankful for that roll rather than bitter. We westernized countries see and connect with different worlds and cultures every day; we can find a China town a few blocks away, an Italian restaurant next door, various subcultures just on one high school campus and mixed couples across the continent. Our minds are much bigger and understand more than we could ever fathom. Why aren’t we taking advantage of this? Because no matter where you stand in this world, your mind will only reach as far as you allow it to. With all the resources and means to education and travel, now is the time to break the mental restrictions we apply to ourselves. Being an American, I hear complaints and frustrations about policy, government, pharmaceutical companies, industrial corruption, and public health just about every second. We all have an endless list of all the things we do not want in our country and world, but we lack the vision to write the list to replace the unwanted one. In Ghana, I see people who are suppressed in their own world because they only see the things they do not want and the things they are accustomed to; they do not, unfortunately, think of all the things they could replace the negative with- they do not write a list of things they do want. For an American there is no excuse; our education has come too far and our people are too motivated and outspoken to not make our reality exactly as we want it. My message to myself, and to the entire world, would be:

Use your ‘unwanted’ list to create a ‘wanted’ list. You cannot complain about something without having a plan, structure, or idea to replace it. Those who have a common ‘unwanted’ list can surely assist in writing the ‘wanted’ one. We get to make this world exactly what we want it to be.

When I was in Australia I met many people who told me this same saying: “When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.” If this statement is true, then it’s time to twist the words- it should go a little something like this: “When America stands, the rest of the world walks.” There are more middle class citizens with common goals than there are rich industrial men. How are their words and ideas more important than all of ours? Well, they are not; we simply allow them to be.

I know I've used this quote before, but it never gets old:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead  

Nante Yie, friends.
Emily Chamberlain

14 March 2013

From Victims to Perpetrators: Black Boys on the Bus

The other night I was Skyping my sister who lives in San Francisco; she told me about an experience she had recently that really actually pissed me off. She was on her way home on the bus when a group of 16-17 year old black boys were harassing a white girl about the way she looked. They were making fun of her and being horrible when one of the boys looked at my sister and said, “This is why white people and black people should have separate buses.” She told him, very kindly, as she would, that what he said wasn’t cool; society is far beyond that. Apparently it snapped something in all of the boys. They all ganged up on my sister and started pulling “the victim card”. They brought up slavery and how awful white people are; one boy even had the decency to spit in my sister’s face while saying, “You’re lucky we’re on the bus right now, because I slap dumb bitches like you.” Now keep in mind, this is San Francisco. These were little black hipsters- as Americanized as it comes. There were so many things wrong with this picture: not only did a group of boys gang up on my sister for something she had nothing to do with, but no one on the bus said anything in her favor either (a perfect example of bystanders). I started thinking about where these feelings toward white people come from. If every white and black American knew the truth about slavery, would there be such a division amongst us today? I know I’ve spoken briefly about slavery in a blog post before, but after what my sister went through….I think it’s time to really lay it out there.


Chapter 6: From Victims to Perpetrators

As we grow up we learn the horrible truths of slavery. We learn that white people bought and sold black people carelessly and suppressed them into horrible social conditions; they were beaten, starved, kept from education, and were even reduced to thinking less of themselves because of their skin color. It’s an ugly, monstrous history; it is, unfortunately, unchangeable. The truth is, however, it took two to tango.

Being in Ghana has given me an African perspective and insight to the real horrors of history. West Africa, specifically Ghana, is where the greatest number of “slaves” was exported from forts like Elmina and Cape Coast. Europeans came in wanting gold originally, but then as they needed more hands for their progress, they made a deal that would change the identity of everyone, including white people, all the way to America. Tribesmen and chiefs were actually trading their own rebels for European goods. I understand that there was intense pressure from the Europeans, especially after the demand in slaves began to rise…but none-the-less, privileged Africans traded their own people to gain goods, guns, and power to maintain control. Africans even began kidnapping their own people to sell them in hopes of gaining status in their own society. We are never taught these truths in school. Why is that? Why would the education system teach us the history of slavery in a way that only supports our sensitivity and segregation? The bits before America’s interactions are crucial to the identity of EVERY American. The way we are taught creates an even stronger division amongst us; white people assume the perpetrator role while black Americans step into the victim role. This creates very unstable, psychologically damaged individuals; especially in the black community.

The way that African Americans occasionally act out, like they did on my sister, only puts them into this role that every racist, white American would want them to take on. Americans are the most privileged individuals in this world; we are educated and have all the means in the world for greater progress…no matter your skin color. I can guarantee that those boys who were attacking my sister wouldn’t last a day in this world that they so greatly identify themselves with. They would come here and be treated just like every other foreigner and white person that passes through. They are Americanized individuals that, rather than taking advantage of their privileges and availability to the education system, act like victims and thenceforth step into the roles of perpetrators. It’s a sick cycle, and I can’t help but blame the education system.

If we were all taught the history of slavery from the beginning, I strongly believe it would recreate the identity of every black American, even of every white American. The history is horrible, but it is not the present; there is no chance in hell of it ever happening again either. Maybe that’s why it is taught the way that it is; maybe the education system and the government want the victim and perpetrator roles to be filled as to prevent history from repeating. However, we are seeing too many psychologically damaged individuals. No one should walk around carrying the weight of being a victim, nor should they succumb to the victim role either. By becoming a victim to a time those boys weren’t even alive for, they are actually becoming the problem; they are acting out on innocent people without an ounce of racism in their hearts. Who really holds racism in these situations?

The damage slavery has done to Africa and its progress, now that’s a problem. They are conditioned to be dependent and corrupt and therefore their progress is proving to move much slower than it really should. Black Americans, for the most part, especially at 16 years old, know nothing of these struggles. There may be areas in the states that job opportunity is lacking for them somehow, but you would think this would inspire pursuit of education and intelligence rather than becoming the exact individual they are stereotyped as. I’m really annoyed that I was taught by society to tip-toe around skin color and avoid “racial communication”. Maybe if we all were not so sensitive to these issues, they would not be issues at all. The only way to ban this sensitivity, however, is to educate everyone about the very start of slavery, not just where America comes into it.

Victims look like the Native Americans who have no touch with their culture anymore after experiencing intensive genocide. They are living in the country they originate from and, even now, are hardly able to identify and find their place. We are taught bits of their history and bits of the African history, but never enough to make a difference or inspire change. So if the American education system will not teach us, it is high time to reach out and find places and people that will.

 “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 
― Augustine of Hippo


Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain

5 March 2013

The Sexy Bits


I knew coming to Ghana would bring opportunities to take classes and see things that my own university and culture does not offer…but I never realized just how cool it all would be. I am, proudly and loudly, enrolled in African Traditional Dance. We learn dances to actual drumming and singing that Ghanaians have been chanting since the beginning of time. We shake our rumps with wonderful expressions of past traditions. One dance we have learned- very tricky dance indeed- portrays old ways of harvesting and thankfulness to Earth; it’s so beautiful and exciting, but let’s just say…I am so white. A Ghanaian girl in my class, Benedicta, is absolutely wonderful. She gets so giddy and enthusiastic whenever I get the steps right, or like she says, “Move like a Ghanaian”. I’m half thankful that none of you will ever get to see this, but I’m also half disappointed that you’re missing out on some quality African dancing (not that it’s real quality when I’m the one flailing around). Being a part of these dances and aspect of the Ghanaian culture has made me see how influential Africa has been to the rest of the world, especially America.  I’m pretty sure half of the moves and rhythms I have been learning were somewhere in BeyoncĂ©’s earliest to latest albums. It’s so funny seeing how much of their traditions have been mixed with our own culture to equal jazz, hip-hop, all the way to rap and back again to anything you can shake to. It made me think of all the other aspects of African culture that have been passed on to other countries.

Chapter 5: The Sexy Bits

African music focuses on the lower half of the body; it’s all very fluid and natural as opposed to the stiff ways of the white man. The feet have to be quick and thoughtful while the butt is like the drum of the music-it keeps the rhythm and is the “show off” area. This makes me wonder: does African traditional music focus on the lower body because it is so sexualized, or has traditional African music itself sexualized the lower body?

In Ghana, a woman can walk around with her shoulders showing and breasts popping out and hardly be glanced at; however, I can be walking around in a half-length dress and nearly have my ankles nipped at. After the introduction of globalization, new fashions have opted Ghanaians to be a bit more revealing downstairs. The men are becoming desensitized to seeing more and more leg, but they still tend to get a good glance. Ghanaian men say that up top we all have the same thing, only different sizes, while the lower body is an entirely different story…obviously. As someone who already attracts enough attention here, I am very, extremely careful of what I wear on my lower half; if it’s too tight, it stays in the closet; if it’s too hot, it probably works. Here and there it’s nice to throw on a pair of shorts and just say “mazal tov”, but that’s usually when I’m feeling particularly uninterrupted and unaffected. Wearing things that are above my knee have proven to be fine as long as my bottom is not tightly revealed. The only choice at the end of the day is to think to myself, “The men are products of their environment and do not mean to offend me.” One of the boys in my dorm hall told me that they don’t mean pry or to make a woman feel uncomfortable, they only mean to express gratefulness to an attractive human being. When a Ghanaian man says flattery an American girl says sexual harassment. None-the-less, appreciating someone’s looks only is not valuing them as a human being, rather devaluing them entirely.

Traditional African music and sexualizing of the lower body has, in fact, carried into our own culture. Obviously Ghana is not the only culprit; rather it is the world as a whole. I completely understand that a man can be in awe by a woman’s beauty because women can be just the same about a man, but to treat her as solely beauty alone is quite the problem. I don’t want to sound like some kind of raging feminist; it’s not just women I’m concerned for. I've been able to see how this hurts the citizens, even the men, of this society. Most of the kids at the orphanage, boys and girls, have a very similar back story: their mothers have either passed away or have been divorced by their husbands and no longer have “assets” to provide for their children. The fathers that give their children away have not been taught the skills it takes to raise a child; in fact, it is socially frowned upon for a man to solely raise a child. The divorced women who cannot afford to raise their children alone have to give them away because this society is just barely allowing women means to survive alone. This leaves the children to a lifestyle very harmful to their development. If there were not such division of genders, I strongly believe the orphan numbers would decrease. By looking at a woman solely as means to reproduction, people in this society are devaluing their capability and potential. It implies that women are strictly for means of childbearing and then keeps the men from taking on these skills as well. I am seeing just how powerful the idea of sex can truly be.

Being an American girl in such a gendered society has given me a new appreciation for American girls; we may be loud, we may use foul language at times, we may even be slightly offensive here and there…but God dammit, we are free. A filter is unnecessary a lot of the time and our attire is exactly what we want it to be. I may not miss the loudness, but I do miss such opinionated mouths. We are eager products of an equally gendered society. There is always more room for equality of genders, and it should always be fought for, but I find myself thanking my country for allowing such equality to take place. Ghana has made me feel like I’m actually a girl…imagine that. I always looked at feminists, I'm sure like most people do, as strictly women for women empowerment. I realize now that is not the case; feminists are people for the balance of genders. Giving women their freedom, rights, and separation from gender roles empowers men just as much as it does women. It is no longer just about taking women out of the sexual spotlight; it is about men stepping into other aspects of societal roles as well. 

Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain


26 February 2013

Porcelain Idols


I am having wonderful, eye-opening experiences just one after another; I feel like my time here in Ghana is being so well spent. This weekend I went to the Volta region and fed wild monkeys, climbed the tallest point of Ghana, and swam in a waterfall- awesome. However, I have to admit….I am mentally exhausted. They say that studying abroad is like a roller-coaster- one minute you’re at the climax of your life and feeling unstoppable, and the next your stomach is turning and you just want your mother.  There are so many cultural and social differences that I just want to understand, but the adjustments needed to fit in have proven to be very difficult. I’m having no problems connecting and making genuine friendships, but at the moment I am being faced with constant cultural challenges. Being white in Ghana is much different than being, well, anything else but white in America. Let me explain…

Chapter Four: Porcelain Idols

Cape Coast Slave Fort

Everywhere I go I am constantly stared at; this wouldn't bother me so much if it were simply because I’m different, but that’s not the case at all. Yesterday I spoke with a Ghanaian man about his opinion of Ghana and America; he told me something that just about broke my heart. A Ghanaian actually said, “The white way is the right way, because they have everything they want.” He told me the reason they all stare at me so much is because they idolize me; they see a wealthy human being with all the means in the world to make her dreams come true, all because of my ethnicity. The bit that really bothered me about his view was when he said, “white people are the most powerful and wealthy people in the world and that’s why Africans want to be your friend.” Ouch…I understand that education brings truth and awareness that not all Ghanaians are privileged to have, but my feelings are, nonetheless, hurt. I’m getting very worn out on looks of monetary interest and Africans trying to take advantage of me just because of this ideal my skin color falsely portrays.  I am trying not to be discouraged; after all, Americans have their own perceptions of Africa as well. Many think all Africans hunt and gather and live in mud huts…some do, but most do not.  Some of the world’s first and greatest civilizations were based in Africa- where would any white man be without African foundations and labor? I see every single day just how privileged I am to be American, so I can understand this Ghanaian perception -But is white culture and history the one to idolize?

My conversation with the Ghanaian man started by him asking what I thought of racism; I explained to him that I believe it is a crime to humanity. Racism implies a genetic superiority and difference between human beings according to this socially constructed ideology of “race”. Race itself doesn't even exist; someone of a completely different color and gender can be more genetically similar to you than someone of your same color and gender. The foundation of race comes from times of slavery when the Europeans believed that buying an African meant saving him or her from a barbaric way of life otherwise. When I got to Ghana the first things I learned, beside how humid it is, was the truth about slavery. To bluntly and briefly explain- Europeans planted the seed of dependency in Africans to the point that they would do anything to obtain European comforts. Africans, long ago, banned their criminals to other societies that would take them in and allow them to start over and rise within that social system, but after the Europeans came along the criminals were sold off. The rise in demand and prices for slaves forced Africans into an economy solely of short-term interests rather than long term, an economy that is still affected today. Maybe I’m just behind, but regardless, my schooling never taught me this truth; I never knew that Africans actually sold their own people. I never had to experience the great suffering their economy still feels, until now. The slave trade got them into patterns of trade and business that only helps them so short-term and never in the long-run. They played just as much a part of the trade as white people...but the oppression they face today is mostly on us. 

Africa has been, for the last couple hundred years, a primary producer- they give us the raw, natural goods for very cheap and we secondary and tertiary producers utilize these goods for further production…only to sell it back to the very source we bought it from for a much greater price. Take chocolate for example- cocoa from Africa is bought for very little by America and Europe, who adds all the fatty ingredients to make it tasty and then sells it to industries and corporations that just sell it right back to Africa for much higher prices than they sold the cocoa for…talk about oppression. They give more than they are able to receive.  Africa does not have the money, or rather is not allowed the opportunity to gain money, and not yet the education to become secondary and tertiary producers; they are forced to allow other countries to take their resources for granted. Some say this is their fault, but as human beings we should all know better to not take advantage of a culture that way.

White culture has been, and still is, to take ruthlessly without thinking of the harm it may do to others. Yet, we are all porcelain idols. Our history shows that white people came to power and wealth by suppressing those of other cultures; it’s an ugly history, but there is nothing to do but remember and move forward. We must be thankful for our privileges, forgive ourselves and one another for historic relations, and move on…or like those kids of the 90’s would say: “Cry me a river, build me a bridge, and get over it.” That puts a whole new, positive, spin on the phrase don’t you think? Education prevents history from repeating itself, if it’s taught truthfully.If we are truly learning from our ancestor’s mistakes, then why are we moving so slowly? Why do we human beings put our own countries and economy before one another? Why are we not yet entirely human beings for human beings? We are all equals, equally at fault...and it is time to be equally involved.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 
― Margaret Mead


Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain

18 February 2013

For Money or Meaning?


I knew before I arrived in Ghana that the water and electricity would not exactly be deemed reliable, but I definitely underestimated the amount of time we would all go without. Bucket showers and walks of shame to the other dorm halls have become my new best friends for the last month. When I was horribly sick for a week straight as my body was adapting to the food and water here, that entire week was water-less; I thought to myself, “This is going to be the longest four months of my life”. To my surprise, a month has already flown by. I’m finding that I have adapted to this environment very quickly. Although the humidity has me in a constant sweat and the water to wash it off is not always available, I find myself so happy in these conditions. I have my mother to thank for not ever allowing me to be raised high-maintenance. Being an outdoorsy Nevadan who has grown up camping, hiking, and roughing it has really prepared me for anti-extravagant travels. Many people would look at these conditions and lifestyles all across Africa and frown upon it all; they would pity those who don’t have consistency and conveniences so available to them. I can’t help but question, if these Ghanaians had all our Western comforts, would they feel any happier?

Chapter Three: For Money or Meaning?

Westernized cultures have, well, multiple issues to conquer, but one big one is the comfort of money. People have this belief that they can only go as far as their money allows and that happiness is found through the conveniences money can bring. Being here in Ghana has proven the exact opposite to me…on top of being a financially independent student. The people here see no judgment that power and money brings, only obvious facts; rather than being offended when someone calls them fat or says their outfit is horrendous, they accept this as a mere description or opinion of their equal. They base their conversations and happiness on their emotional compatibility with their environment, not their material compatibility. Many friendships I have seen through my life have been those of convenience; they have been based off of common interests in material goods and money based values. Is this real to people? Is this the point of life? I can completely understand the value of every day comforts for a Westerner…what I would kill for a bubble bath and a clean bed. What I don’t understand is this idea that coming from a privileged country means that this is the only way to live, the right way to live. History shows that Europeans and Americans have constantly forced their ideologies and beliefs on other cultures. When has any African country tried to force their ways on others? You can blame money and development for the capability of doing these things to other cultures, but actually it takes will and ethnocentrism to accomplish this. When someone is raised in a privileged environment, this becomes all that they know; in a sense we are all slaves and victims to the environments that shape us.  Just because someone is living differently, doesn't mean they are wrong; they too are molded by the environment that has raised them. The money may be lacking and the comforts may not be visible, but the quality of life here is no less valuable than a golden city.

Life is supposed to be genuine, meaningful, and a pursuit to a better self. I have to stop and ask myself, and the very country that raised me…do our comforts improve us, or destroy us? When such value is placed on our external comforts, less value is placed on internal growth. Here in Africa, the people love freely and generosity is a given. To me, a natural, genuine life is the only one that truly makes sense. To destroy that and to take advantage of that just because we believe our ways are better is the most offensive crime to human beings. Live as you will and experience life as you see fit, but never doubt the potential and capability of a lifestyle just because it is different or not your own. Going without for a while is proving to be one of the most evolving experiences of my life.

15 February 2013

The Beacon House Children

Today I spent the day teaching first grade at the orphanage. There are 6 kids in the class between 6 and 8 years old. All of them are at different levels of mathematics and English, but overall they catch on so quickly and genuinely care to learn. The children here in Ghana, and in Africa in general, are incredibly self-sufficient. From the moment they are born they are given space and belief that they can teach themselves how to grow. They are obviously loved and supported through these younger stages of life, but for the most part the children find their own way. I've not seen any of them fuss or whine or even act ungrateful for anything they have been given; they are treated and expected to be like active members of society…very small members of society. No mother coddles her child or gives them what they want if they cry hard enough, they simply give the children the tools of life and allow them to utilize those tools as they themselves see fit. Take that America.

I am quickly falling in love with the children at Beacon. They have this wonderful innocence about them that allows them to open their hearts to complete strangers; they would trust anyone who sat them down to read Winnie the Pooh. After all that they have been through, after all the traumatic experiences they have had and horrifying fear they have felt, they never give up; they fight for attention and love, and they watch one another’s backs. To understand what I see every day at the Beacon House, I've decided to introduce you all to a handful of the children. For legal purposes I will not be able to disclose any of their names or personal history, just know these kids are troopers.

Chapter Two: The Beacon House Children

“Ray Wonder”


This little nugget is “Ray”. He was the first one I met and the first one I will introduce. When I walked in the gate for the first time, he wrapped his little arms around my legs and pointed at the swing; he really loves swinging. He is a visually impaired child who just needs a little affection. When I picked “Ray” up for the first time and swung him upside down, he completely zoned out; he stared at the sun…which he does too often…and completely relaxed. I take him around the courtyard sometimes and put his hands on the leaves and flowers just so he can get a feeling for all the things he can now see; he gets so excited. Nothing he does is wrong in my eyes, and if he’s not adopted by the time I’m financially stable, rest assured, I will be back.

“Handsome”

This wonderful human being is “Handsome”. Every morning I walk in and touch his hand and he pets mine back. He has a passion for music and piano, like myself, and rocks back and forth to any sound he hears. When I first played his keyboard with him, he stroked my hand in approval. I've never heard him speak and I know I never will, but no matter; he wears his heart on his sleeve and his voice in the pet of his hands. He keeps to himself, but I don’t think there will ever be a day in his life that he feels anything but happy.

“Mama Bear”

Although “Mama Bear” is obviously not this little angel’s name, it is a perfect reflection of her. In class she guides everyone through counting and the alphabet; when someone isn't paying attention she’ll simply shout at them in her thick accent things I don’t understand; it works every time.  I've bonded especially with “Mama Bear” because of her genuine care for all. Although I am there to teach her, she has really taught me so much about interacting with and getting through to the other kids. She tells me things about the others to help me understand them, and she is always looking out for me like she doesn't want to see anyone disrespect me; it’s really beautiful to see such a young girl have such awareness to others and their differences. She handles her own and has such a powerful presence. I hope she remembers just how far she can go and how wonderful she is when she faces the real world someday.

“Petey”

“Petey” and his older brother are two of the quickest learning children I have ever met; they have a real enthusiasm for education and a charm that would make up for lack of it anyhow. “Petey” is genuine and loving, and from time to time he can be very sensitive. He loves being center of attention and having piles of books read to him. Whenever I bring out a new book for him his little eyes light up and he starts dancing around; sounds like a real dream child right? He listens eagerly and always goes back over the pictures at the end of a story; the kids always have to wait around for him to be done scanning the photos one more time before they start a new book. I know “Petey” and his brother will make some family very proud one day. They have so much love to offer.

“Romeo”

This little attention hog is “Romeo”. He has a real way with the ladies but is just too excitable to give one person attention for too long. One minute he’s begging to have a puzzle buddy and the next he is running off with someone’s shoe. When he’s around a lot of people he tends to bounce off the walls, but sometimes I catch him alone just standing in one place staring at the sky and observing the world; it’s actually quite adorable. He has a real curiosity for life and the energy to fulfill it.  

The Beacon House children have taught me something very important about love and life: our minds are fragile, and the memories we choose to fill it with and act on should be full of love we can offer to everyone every day.  These kids have accepted their pasts for what they are and love regardless, which is not easily said about many people. They allow their memories to shape the people they are today, but without bitterness and without shutting the world out. It makes me think about all the people of this world and how we all react so differently to pain and upsetting memories; some people tune out of life altogether. I think it is so important for us to use the lessons from our memories to make us smarter and more eager to learn like these children have decided to do, rather than turn off and tune out. They keep fighting for love and affection, and they trust openly. If a young child can do this every day after seeing more pain than most will see in a lifetime, I think we are all very capable of doing just the same. Love on people. Love on. 

Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain

13 February 2013

Knowing Your Place

For the last 6 months and a bit I had been living in Melbourne, Australia; I got to see shiny things and a sugar coated life I couldn't afford. I heard lovely accents, disproved silly stereotypes, and saw things many people only see through National Geographic. I was thankful, but I wasn't where I belonged. I had so much to look at and nothing to feel...so I made a decision to change my life for the better. I packed up and I switched my happy little self over to the University of Ghana. For those of you who don't know much about Ghana, it's a peaceful, independent country in West Africa that makes me look white enough to write on. Life here is slow and patient; I realized the city miles I had wracked up and am so ready to put them in their grave. After just 3 weeks and 4 days here, I have been inspired to write this blog. I want to share with my friends, family

and randoms all the experiences and world issues that have started to change my life in hopes that it will change yours. So here it is-

Chapter 1: Knowing Your Place
No matter how many white people a Ghanaian or it's immigrants sees in his or her life, they will always be "O'brunei" or foreigner. It's like something seen on TV- the kids run and tug at your fingers and laugh at your silly accents and want candy from strangers. It's such a fantastic experience being an obvious minority in this society. The people here are patient and welcoming; they shout "Akwaaba!" (welcome) and "Eta sen?!" (how are you?) and are so helpful when I attempt speaking Twi. It's nothing like how the US treats their "minorities". They want to understand me just as much as I want to understand them. There are major do's and don'ts, but it's interesting adapting to the customs here, like: never use your left hand when greeting, and say hello to people as you walk by as a sign of respect, and always greet your elders but never ask how they are doing- I'm going to come back to the states either the friendliest or strangest American there ever was.
I am starting to understand and adore this culture faster than I thought possible. I love how the people speak from their hearts, I even love how they try to give me directions when they don't know them. I'm getting this genuine and personal experience here that Australia really lacked for me. It may have been a detour to the right country, but now I can appreciate this experience more than I could have before.

What really inspired me to write this blog was the Beacon House Orphanage. I volunteer there 3 days of the week teaching preschool and first grade as well as a music class on the side. The founder is a sweet American woman who gets so attached to the children I'm surprised they all aren't hers yet...but I do have a few issues with it all. There are 22 children in the orphanage, some Ghanaian and some from it's surrounding countries- not a single one of them speaks the language of their country or of the society they may live in the rest of their lives. The children are being supported, what more could you ask for? How about- THEIR IDENTITY! On the off chance that these children are never adopted, as many of them are older now, these children will have American values in a Ghanaian society. Already, you can see the children that go to school off the orphanage campus acting out as a result of frustration failing to identify themselves with their peers. Language in the Ghanaian culture creates a natural bond and trust between themselves; they help one another more efficiently when they have a genuine concern and connection with one another. It's hard enough not having biological parents, imagine not being able to understand your own culture or the culture you may be in for the rest of your life. I don't understand why the only three Ghanaian women in the orphanage are not allowed to speak anything but English or teach the children their cultural values. I've made this my new project; I'm having Ghanaian women teach me school songs that reflect their culture and anything else that will help the kids. I don't know if the founder or its employees and volunteers are attempting to Americanize the children, but either way I don't think it's appropriate- maybe they really don't understand.
In just 3 weeks I have found more direction for my life; I have found purpose and my place within it. There are so many things and people I want you all to understand, but that will all be introduced throughout my posts.

Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain