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.