Marka in Ghana

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

If only I knew how to fish

Most of the following is word for word, as I ran in and scribbled it down as soon as it was over.

I sat outside on the log in front of our house the other night to look at the stars. Our power was out because one of the five people we share our power line with didn’t pay this month so they cut off the entire line. I wondered to myself if this was laziness of the power cutter or pure genius: nothing is going to make that guy pay faster than 4 angry neighbours at his door in the morning. Zach came out and sat beside me, and for awhile we just sat in silence.
“You know what’s funny?” I asked, mouth gaping upwards. ”Most Canadians have to take a weekend vacation up north to see this kind of night sky. But so many Ghanians get to experience this beauty every day.”
“Yep, there’s no place like home!” We both kept our eyes pealed for shooting stars. “You know, sometimes I think about traveling, but other times, I think its better that I just stay here.” I was shocked by this statement, as most days people ask me if I can take them back to Canada with me, if I can take back one of their children or for my address so that when they try to apply for a Visa, they have proof of a connection in Canada, but I have never heard of someone saying that they would never want to go.
“What? Really? Why?”
“Because I don’t understand you, the whites. Don’t get me wrong, some of you are very kind, but most of you, well you don’t have time for anyone. Why would I want to go to a land full of whites? Maybe I would go there, work and just end up getting cheated in the end.”
“Why would you get cheated?”
“Why wouldn’t I? I have never met a white person who has made a promise that they’ve kept. I’ve had many American friends before, and they walk the way that me and you walk (walking refers to around the village, visiting friends) and when they leave, I never hear from them again. I have even written them multiple times, and gotten nothing.” I thought back to most of the white people that I have met in Nalerigu. Most of them were volunteering American doctors, who lived in a bubble at their hospital guesthouse. Most of them would never venture into the actually town of the people that they came to help, nor would they know how to say good morning in Mamprollii after a month of being here. I also thought about Zach’s comments about the whites never having time for anyone, and about how even that morning, I pretended not to hear someone call me and quickly walked by, attempting to sneak out of another potential marriage proposal. “I guess what I really hate about you, the whites, is that you come here to help people, yet you don’t help people until you are asked to. What’s even worse is you create a dependency. You know, there’s a saying we have here that says if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you can feed him for a lifetime. But you whites, you just come down and give us fish, and then when you leave, we are left sitting around, looking stupid.”
I didn’t really know what to say in my defense and my mind raced through my past actions to figure out if these statements were directed at me or if it was just a vent session. I thought that I had been pretty consistent in everything that I did, but I began to wonder that if these feelings were so strong, if my actions could do anything to change them. I thought about what I was actually doing here, and while consistently tried never to give out fish, I know that I haven’t been teaching how to fish. This is because I don’t know how to fish yet, and I don’t even know if after the summer I will even know how to get bait.
“Zach, you know that I am only here to learn, and I don’t claim to have any solutions,” I managed to squeak out. In the distance there was singing, and I knew Zach was late for his choir practice. As he got up to leave I was torn between wanting him to go so that the awkwardness of the conversation would end, and wanting to probe further into the issue because it was a question I wanted to answer before coming to Ghana.
“To be continued,” he said as he walked away, into the dark. Can’t wait, I thought.

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