By Nick McGuire
Take a look a photo above. Now take a second look. Do you see him? The young boy in this photo spotted me from behind his wooden barrier well before I noticed him. I reached for my camera to playfully show him that he had been spotted back. He smiled and faded back into the shadows.
We arrived at the Sankofa School in the early afternoon: a big, older, multicultural, foreign dressed group speaking English and snapping pictures–as if eight-year-olds don’t have enough trouble focusing in school. The children almost immediately surrounded us, jumping in our arms, posing for photos, and making as much conversation as our language barriers allowed for. The members of our group–myself included–simultaneously whipped out our cameras and began to take pictures. That’s when I began to question what I was doing.
Let me be clear; these kids were adorable–that can not be overstated. But I began wondering why I was so eager make these children the subject of my photos. Was it because they were cute little kids? Or was it because they were cute little African kids attending a school without walls or electricity? Was it because they were playing with their food? Or was it because their food was a plastic bag of rice and oil, because that’s what they could afford? I began to wonder if I was fulfilling some taboo spectacle of proving that I went to “the destitute ‘uniform’ world of AFRICA–the ominous land that only crosses my path in Time Magazine’s Most Powerful Photos of the Year Edition, habitually paired with words like “hunger,” “poverty,” “war,” “AIDS.”
The children of Sankofa did not fall into those categories. They were dancing, drumming, and singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (with an extra verse that I hadn’t ever learned as a child). Their complex routines were more than impressive, they were beautiful. Yet for some reason, the sight of small African children subconsciously conjured those images that make the media salivate; the stereotypical “Africa.”
I have only been in Ghana for five days, but my perception has noticeably changed. I suspected that immersion into Western Africa would offer worldly insight. However, the internal revelations that have occurred, or are starting to occur, will prove invaluable. I am lucky to be here, to experience a world completely different from my own, and completely different from how I imagined it to be. I sincerely hope that this experience will influence the way I perceive others, and the way I perceive myself. Just like the little boy in the picture shows, it can be fun to peek out at a world that is different from your own and experience something wonderful.