Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Weather: Had a great rain the other day; it accomplished more in a hour for our garden than what we've been trying to do for weeks with a hose. Daytime temps in the 90sF, nighttime lows around 80F. Variable moderate breezes from the SW, as always, provide relief. Afternoons are sweltering, but mornings and evenings are often heavenly.

Note: Electricity and Internet have been off and on for a week or so, with either being off for up to ten hours at a time. Often, when one is running, the other is not. Thus the blog gets out on Wednesday. Thus is life in developing Africa.

The Way it Feels

It's always tricky to characterize a people or a culture. It is easy to over generalize, to fall into stereotypes, and to apply those generalizations to specific individuals. Just because a people group tends to exhibit a certain characteristic, does not mean everyone in the groups shares it. Not all Italians talk with their hands, not all Russians drink vodka. That said, one cannot help making general observations about a place after a period of time. A place and its people influence individuals living there over time, and an ethos, a feel if you will, is created. All places, all people groups, have a feel.

I like the feel of Ghana. I like the feel of Ghanaians.

For me, there is a contrast between the feel of Ghanaians and the feel of, say, Liberians, with whom I lived for three and a half years. Liberians, coming out of twenty five years of despotic rule which included fourteen years of instability, displacement and war, cannot help but show the effects in their daily lives. Our friends in Liberia were open, even eager to know Westerners, particularly Americans. After a time, we came to see that for many, this extroverted openness had less to do with hospitality than it had to do with the hope that in their western friend, there would be a sponsor of sorts, someone to help fund their daily needs. Liberians (Remember, there are many individual exceptions) as a whole seem to believe that they cannot make it without an other, wealthier party coming in and supporting them. It is as if self reliance has been shaken. We saw this everywhere, from the taxis sporting slogans that said "No Friend, No Money," to most of our neighbors coming to us with requests for gifts and loans, to Liberian officials siphoning off what they could from USAID grants because of their meager government salaries. I think decades of trauma have taught Liberians that tomorrow may blow up in their faces, that even the little they have today might be taken from them. I get the sense that Liberians are more fatalistic than others, that they see themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control. So understandably, they have learned to schmooze, to adapt, to seize opportunities, and to cut corners.

I get a different feeling from Ghanaians-- at least the Ghanaians in and around Accra. Since independence in 1959, they have built something-- a country-- that has remained at peace with itself and its neighbors. Even the coups were peaceful, by coup standards. The nation is strong, growing, and independent. So are the people. Where Liberians tend to hang on Americans, Ghanaians seem to ignore us. Liberians wanted our help, wanted NGOs from North America to come in. Ghanaians don't seem all that interested in what we have to offer. Its as if they are boldly saying-- and they are right to say it-- "We are doing fine without you, thank you. We really don't need you." Ghanaians seem to believe they hold their future, that they are at the mercy of no one but themselves. That makes me happy. In contrast to what we felt in Liberia, Ghanaians are more aloof, more self-sufficient, more confident, and have a more definite and clear identity in themselves as Ghanaians. They are proud of themselves. I can feel it. Of course, most of our work will not be with Ghanaians, so it works out ok that we are not being bombarded with desperate sounding appeals. But when we do work along side our national hosts, I think it will be less because they need us, and more because they see how we can simply serve the people they serve.

I need to repeat how important it is to avoid applying these general observations to individuals. Many Liberians we met are invested in sacrificial service toward rebuilding their country. We know, because we are working with them right now. By contrast, not all Ghanaians are self-reliant and independent. I'm simply saying Ghana feels different, maybe healthier that another place we've lived. And that, plus that lovely breeze, makes being here a pleasure.