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