We pull up to a blue building, accented with bold reds and yellows. You find the wooden letters which spell out AKWAABA, a word meaning “Welcome,” above the entry way. It is also stamped into the side of the building. This our first expedition out of Accra. We had just spent five nights in a white-tiled, brightly lit hotel room with running water and air conditioning. These were luxuries that we would not always have throughout our time in Ghana.
The bright colors outside serve as a hard juxtaposition to the dark hallway on the other side of the door. We sleep in our own rooms furnished with a bed and one light, which is subject to the rolling blackouts from the unstable power grid. I am not comfortable. And it is this realization that propels me into a deeper discomfort. I’m sleeping in a bed, under a mosquito net, I just took a malaria pill, my door is locked, and I’m looking through the pictures I took that day on my new iPhone. I am tense, fully aware of my surroundings--very awake.
The next day I get up at 7. The people who work at the hotel bring me porridge, but it tastes much different from the kind I have at home. I’m starting to realize how far away I am from what I know. I am out of my element. I can’t help but notice that my partners who are more experienced at traveling don’t seem to be as unsettled as me. When I mention that we’ll only be there a few days, they acknowledge this fact and brush it off.
I take breakfast with Mr. Nartey the next morning. He tells me he loves the porridge because he raises chickens and has had far too many eggs in his life. In keeping with previous day, I continue to ask Mr. Nartey about different types of animals in Ghana. Our conversation drifts to snakes. I ask him if he’s ever encountered a King Cobra. He tells me “Yes, but when the snake hisses, he’s just saying ‘Leave me!’.” He only gets nervous at night around his house, since he does not have electricity. He assures me that he doesn’t kill them, though. He respects boundaries. That day we engage more farmers, while Mr. Nartey switches between English and several local dialects in an effort to make sure everyone is understood. The heat and humidity take a lot out of us, but Mr. Nartey is ready to keep going, ushering us to leave for the next farm visit. He insists that he wants us to hear from as many available farmers as possible, so that they all can voice their opinions and provide feedback for improvement.
Mr. Nartey optimizes his resources to mobilize extension officers and farmers to grow more high-yielding moringa trees. He visits farmers daily to give advice so that his community members can leverage themselves out of poverty. This is not his job, this is his livelihood. It seems impossible that I’m still uncomfortable in the villages Mr. Nartey serves, in the Asesewa Hotel, in Ghana. And believe it or not, there are thousands of others just like Mr. Nartey who are wholly invested in their communities and who live to see them thrive. I begin to wrestle with my desire to feel okay and the overwhelming sense that I cannot handle it here. This is the start of a journey where I confront privilege at every turn. It is emotional, it is frustrating, it is necessary. It starts with complaining about a cold shower and then visiting a town without running water. It ends with finding home in the people around you.
When people ask me about my trip to Ghana, I tell them that it was hard. It was interesting, I learned a lot, but mainly it was hard. I spent a lot of time angry at myself for struggling. Every time I questioned the root of my discomfort, I discovered a sense of shame and guilt: Shame that I had lived my life aware of poverty, but imagined it as some far away place. Then, the guilt of recognizing the strife felt by rural Ghanaians as similar to that of poor Americans. However, these negative emotions are coupled with the motivating joy of having met such influential people like Mr. Nartey. He, and many others over the course of this trip, allowed me to discover a new sense of humanity perpetuated by collaborative, community-oriented individuals and their incessant work for the greater good.If there is one thing that Ghana taught me is that moving forward, confronting your privilege is not enough. It’s not sufficient to acknowledge your position within society. Instead, you must think of the best ways in which you can use your privilege in order to walk beside others, engage in the reciprocal exchange of value, and moving forward together to affect positive change.