Welcome back to my final ghanabroad blog after a long two-and-a-half month hiatus! There isn’t much to say about why I haven’t written in awhile so I’ll keep it short because this post is already too long when kept in my head (and I tend to be even more long-winded when I finally put it down on the figurative paper). There isn’t much to say about it other than that the urge to write and reflect was no longer there – maybe the “newness” of life in Ghana wore off for a while, maybe me writing my thesis dominated the mental energy, or maybe I was just a little lazy. It was probably some combination of all three; anyway, as Forrest Gump would say, that’s all I have to say about that!
I’ve been home for less than a week and I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my time in Ghana (often people just ask me how Africa was – next time I’ll respond by asking whether North America was just peachy while I was gone), and while the questions vary somewhat, there’s usually at least one in common: “so is the situation in Africa as bad as we hear it is?” My friends are asking me about poverty; and poverty, then, is what my final blog post is going to be about. However, my confrontation and subsequent reflection about financial hardship in Ghana was the topic of one of my earlier blog posts, so I figure I’ll talk about one of a different: a poverty of freedom.
Eliya and I boarded a ferry for a short ride from Tangier, Morocco to Algeciras, Spain about a week and a half after leaving Ghana and I couldn’t help but find the quiet time on the ferry suitable for reflection. I mean, here I was in the middle of the a body of water called the strait of Gibraltar historically significant for its geographic connectivity, barely able to make out the distant Atlas mountains as the last remnants of Africa and the forthcoming mammoth - the rock of Gibraltar - marking the entrance to Europe. My thoughts drifted to Emanuel, the local friend I made in the Eastern coastal town of Ada Foah, who told me he hoped to one day make it to Holland so he could explore Europe and provide better for his family. Then I thought of Auntie Jane, an orange merchant in Madina Market, who spoke to me for a while about her business as a fruit vendor, but added as an afterthought that the real reason she was speaking to me was because maybe then I would agree to take her eldest daughter back to the United States with me. It became unavoidable, then, to remember the fact that after I take my leave on that airplane from Accra International, I will – in all good likelihood – be leaving the best friend I made abroad there for good. The ferry I was able to sit and contemplate on in that moment was so easy to take for granted, to think that it was worth only the financial value I assigned to the ticket (no more than three trips to chipotle). I don’t mean to perpetuate the myth of an isolated Africa – without a doubt the African continent has been deeply integrated to the world outside its borders for millennia – but there is no denying that although its perimeter is not insurmountable, for many within, it might as well be the end of their planet and the beginning of another. It almost brought me to tears that my friends would be looking at the rufous expanse of West Africa for the rest of their lives. Its not that the reddish-brown hue of palm nut soup, Northern clay homes, and Ghanaian earth is not beautiful, its just that it is not all that exists. And, of course, after further pondering and pointing the proverbial finger back home, this poverty of freedom was hardly a Ghanaian occurrence - it was just more apparent there because it is a land that is so foreign to me - there are more than enough constrictions back home to keep us busy for awhile, in fact I study those exact limitations as my capstone project for my anthropology degree. This is why I say that I am thinking about a different kind of poverty – this kind of poverty can be caused economically, politically, socially, and even psychologically – a poverty of freedom to explore our human universe with an unyielding curiosity for further understanding about our world enabling us an ability to more freely construct our own identity in relation to it.
But perhaps this is all just me. Who says that I know better than the eldest teenage son of the local man in Imlil offering me his home as a bedrock for my trek up the High Atlas, who when probed about his ambitions for the future, told us travelers that he was content right where he was? But for goodness sakes, I told you all at the beginning, this blog will not be about Ghana but about ME in Ghana and how that experience has shaped me in my time there. The most important lesson I learned in Ghana was not about Ghana or Africa at all, but about me: the realization that my primary goal in life – rather than a search for a money, or love, or happiness – is a quest for freedom. Freedom of self-expression and self-construction, freedom of thought, freedom of being. Yet wealth can both free us and cage us, love is the much the same, and for me even happiness can imprison us in a jail of our own contentment. I could never be that teenage boy in Imlil, content in my little corner of the earth, because for me cornered is exactly how I will feel. The only thing that can free is freedom itself, but it doesn’t necessitate the others as its enemies if one can find a way to approach them as allies in solidarity to freedom’s cause. I hope to become financially independent someday soon and remain that way, for worrying about the next paycheck is a preoccupation that seems to me to severely limit my human capacity. On the other hand, living with wealth can create an entirely new life architecture that can lead us in directions we might never before have cared about or valued – at its worst when these streets are cloaked in the shadows of the self-preservation of that wealth. I also hope to some day – gosh, not anytime soon though - find a partner in life that I will be forever falling in love with, seeing it rather than a burden and responsibility to another human being and instead as the highest manifestation of my ability to truly expand, express, and elucidate my being. I also hope to arrive at happiness – less in finding bliss which will often be absent in my drive for freedom likely necessitating considerable struggle, challenge, and frustration – but rather in creating it within myself and those around me regardless of my circumstances, like an endless supply of frozen pineapple juice scooped out of the top of its now decapitated cardboard container on a hot, sunny day in Legon.
Thank you Ghana for what you have taught me, I hope in my time there these past six months and hopefully one day in the future I will be able to repay you.