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