As I marvel at the place that has become my temporary home for six weeks, I cant help but think what it would be like to have been born and raised among my own people. I say “my own people” not because we share the same skin color, but because I know my roots are here somewhere, in West Africa. Although I’ve not traced where my ancestors specifically originated, I know in my heart that I am home. Maybe this is why I am offended by the ignorant comments, lack of cultural sensitivity, or sheer carelessness when speaking about people from a different cultural background. After all my peers are all educated adults, so I should feel justified for expecting more at least some of the time. I understand new experiences can be scary, an adjustment, or just plain different for many people. However, I never believe we can justify our juvenile and offensive behavior because we are not accustomed to something. When I look back on the time I’ve spent here I am amazed at the structure of education, the independent manner of young children, and as my sister Cidney Holliday put it in This Little Carcass Went to the Market, the “organized chaos” of this place.
I know one language and do alright in another – a little more than rusty in the Spanish. The school in which I teach has children learning 3 languages at one time – classes are taught in English, there is a required French foreign language class (many bordering countries have French as their national language), and students also have a Fante grammar class. By the time the students complete Jr. High they have learned 3 languages to many Americans’ one language. Children are, at an early age, taught responsibility, respect, and my favorite – home training! Because these words are relative to one’s culture, I’ll explain them to you as I know them and have seen them enacted here. Responsibility is given in the form of chores, fetching something for your parent, tending to the needs of a younger sibling or an elderly person who may be staying in your home and knowing that once the task has been explained and accepted you WILL get it done. Respect and home training can be tied into one as they are synonymous. They both encompass a great deal of practice that many miss as a child. It means a child stays in a child’s place, you are not involved in adult conversation, you acknowledge people when you enter a room, you do not (and I repeat DO NOT) embarrass or disrespect your parents in public – no matter what you might choose to do in the comfort of your own home, there is no such thing as “back talk” when it comes to adults and if you dare, please be prepared for the wrath, children don’t run about freely like wild animals, instead they act like they have some sense. I could go on with these, but I’m sure you get the picture. In modern American society, we are escaping what I consider important values and key factors in child rearing. Honestly, it scares me because these same children that lack basic behavioral skills will one day run this nation. It is refreshing that the values that were instilled in me as a child are still important in some places.
Of course I have not found everything to be pleasant here, but is there any place where this concept exists? (Definitely not in America) What I may find to be problematic works for some people. What I find to be chaotic is a daily routine for some. The amenities that I take for granted are quite rare elsewhere, but somehow people make do. When I look at my experience here in what was formerly known as the Gold Coast, I choose to see the side that people tend to not harp on. Yes, “developing” countries have issues with political, economic, and educational institutions. But, there are other nations which suffer from the same hardships that are deemed to be leaders of the world. I see problems here and I see things that other places could take as a learning tool. Please don’t think that simply because this is a nation labeled as “developing” there are problems here and only here. The same problems exist elsewhere, they are just manifested in a different way. We must open our eyes to see the lens of privilege that exists when we evaluate our experience in new environments. If not, then what is our purpose on this journey? It can’t possibly be growth, maturity, or to gain knowledge. Simply put, your way is not always the way. People were living well far before societies were interrupted. We learn this in school but somehow forget it in a matter of seconds. Let’s not be ignorant, let’s not be arrogant, and let’s please not think we’re perfect.