We started today with breakfast, introductions, ground rules, a Fante (local dialect) lesson, and some content about development work and the time and methods that go along with it. It was interesting to see that out of the 12 of us that made it here, only 4 of us have ever been on a brigade. I would have expected more because of the application and interview questions that ask about our involvement with the Global Brigades organizations at our respective schools, but I guess there’s a reason for their selection process that I’m just not yet familiar with. Our leader is a professor from the University of Arizona who studies women’s reproductive health and has done a lot of work with the GB internship program named Deanna Lewis. She has a lot of different backgrounds, but has a PA and MBA degree, and is currently in progress with a DrPH. When she met all of us, she mentioned that “Our best friends all started out as strangers,” which apparently is supposed to bode well for our interactions within the intern group.
Our first adventure today was into a small community called Anomabo. It’s a small sort of enclosed area off the side of the main road and a coastal community, and our trip there was an impromptu sort of stroll through the area, so we were without an interpreter. As we walked in, we attracted all the attention. All the eyes of the community were on us, and it was definitely a weird feeling to be looked at, especially when the community is a little skeptical of you at first. That’s not to mention the random goats and chicks that were running around freely, alongside the children or not, which were also something new to get used to. The children were wearing all different stages of clothing – most of them were fully clothed, but for the younger ones, many were walking around without a shirt, or even completely naked, and none of the many, many elders who were also outside had any reaction to that. There were some signs encouraging people to register to vote everywhere. The whole place smelled like fire, which is assume is from cooking. There were some parts of the area that smelled delicious, like cooked fish right along the road. All the fish that I saw were about a foot long, thin, and silver and blue. I can’t recognize it immediately, but then again, the only sea animal I could recognize would probably be a dolphin. Oops.
At the end of the main road was a huge array of boats, most of them spanning about 50+ feet (though my sense of measurement is flawed, so the accuracy of that is questionable). When Deanna asked if any of us felt a little uncomfortable, I was definitely part of that group; if we were just wandering around, didn’t speak Fante, were being stared at, and were at a dead end, the only thing that I thought we had going for us was that we were in a relatively large group.
But eventually, we ran into an older man who spoke English. While English is the official language of Ghana, most people rely on their dialects to communicate. Oftentimes, English is only used to talk amongst communities, but even then, sometimes the dialects are similar enough that they can be understood by other speakers, so English is not a high priority. Students learn it in school, so children are more likely to know English than their parents. But this man took us towards the church via the beach, which was one of the most awesome views ever. The beach was much like resort beaches, but instead of palm trees and vacationers, there were kids playing soccer, swimming, and running in the sand while their parents fished, repaired boats, etc.
As we walked along the shore, the kids started coming up to us and asking our names, then wanted to hold our hands and ask us for cash. The funniest thing was when a good number of them went up to the only guy of Asian descent, Ed, and kept saying “China” and “shi fu” (which is usually used in the context of kung fu to address a master) to him.
We finally arrived to the church shortly after leaving the shoreline, and it was immediately obvious that the church was the nicest building in town. There was no paint falling off like other buildings, no chips off the sides. It was as immaculate as Westminster Abbey, of course, but it was simple and stood out among the houses of the area. As we walked back around, the community members were much more willing to interact with us. I had a teenager walk up to me, kiss the air, and then reach for my hand. One other pointed to the group of us and said (according to our tour guide) that whomever he had pointed to was the girl he wanted as his girlfriend. One of the kids was walking towards us, grabbed my hand, and then didn’t let go until he had pulled me back towards him. The parents sitting along the outsides of their houses would smile and ask us, “How are you?” over and over. It was a stark difference from before, when they looked hesitant to approach or even talk to us.
We made it back to the area of the beach where had first seen the boats and took a seat. On the one hand, the children that were playing started making their way towards us, and they continued their fascination with Ed and the little bit of Chinese culture that they knew. What the rest of us were looking at was a scene that was described to us by Deanna before we left. These boats are made of solid wood, making them weigh several tons. In order to pull them in from the ocean without machinery to help, they set the boat onto pieces of wood in the sand and put two large pieces of pipe under it. About 20 or so men spread out and take their place along a piece of rope that is attached to the boat and 8 stood in front of the boat to push it backwards up onto the shore. They sing a song to keep in rhythm, but they wait very patiently until a high wave comes in to pull together. At first, they only move the boat a couple centimeters (or less) each time, but eventually they start moving much faster. It’s a really awesome to see the way that everyone was working together and encouraging each other when the tide was low. We left, and when I stood up, some of the kids came and patted my butt to try to get the sand off of it. They didn’t seem to have any regard for whether I was comfortable with it, and tried to get the remnants off after I failed to do so. That was definitely different from beach behavior here in the US. The beach is gorgeous; walking in the sand is not. I could see that all the girls have very short hair (not different from the boys’), or wrap it tightly in a bandana. The most interesting thing to note about the community is that they are defined by the beach – it is the source of their commerce, their leisure, and their food in a way that is similar to many cities in the US, but to a much greater extent.
We eventually left the community and walked along the beach. We saw a large area that was filled with trash and populated with some pigs. I hope the community members don’t eat those pigs because I don’t think that they would be worth eating. Deanna told us that the community members also defecate on the beach in the mornings because it’s the best way to get rid of the sewage and prevent it from going into their water supply. Just like the scene where the men were reigning in the boat, this is another manifestation of the community trying to make the most of their resources.
When we got back to the compound, we had several short power outages that drew our attention to the unreliability of the government-backed systems. While this compound (and several communities around us) has access to water, electricity, etc., the access is not always 24/7 and can be very sketchy when there is access, unlike the United States systems that work pretty well.
The last thing to note about the day was our lesson at night, which focused on the “danger of a single story,” a concept that comes from this TED talk. It’s a great idea to just keep in mind over the next three weeks.
P.S. Today’s and tomorrow’s posts do not contain any pictures because, in order to help build trust between us and the communities we are visiting, we are trying to be mindful of their privacy and remind ourselves that we are not here to merely tour the area and capture a great picture; we are here so that we can learn about sustainable development; cultivate our research, observational, and communication skills; and represent Global Brigades and the United States by respecting the communities. If the first thing that we do is approach the kids (rather than the adults because of language barriers), take their pictures, etc., wouldn’t that be suspicious in almost any context?