February 24, 2011

How I got where I am - Part 4: I didn't just intern in Ghana...

I lived there. And here comes a story about why staying in touch with people you like is a great thing...

In February 2009, I attended a week-long seminar in Berlin. The topic of the seminar was Cultural Diplomacy in Africa and I'm going to be honest - I had no clue what that really meant, but I thought it's going to be good because there are going to be people who care about Africa. And that was true.

One of the people who care about Africa and who were in Berlin with me was Marcy. Marcy is from California, USA, but she studied in Ghana and at that time she was dating a Ghanaian guy called Tai. I really liked Marcy, she's smart and fun to be around, and so it seemed natural to me that she was one of the people with whom I stayed in touch.

How is this story related to my internship in Ghana? Very much. When I got my internship, I talked to Marcy about it, asked her what she thinks about the organization etc. I also asked her whether she has any tips on where I could stay with my limited funding. She did. She was so great that she basically arranged everything and so her family (Tai's family, but they got married about three days before I got to Ghana so it's now her family, too) became my family. And will be my Ghanaian family for ever. 

Me and the female part of the family - Doreen, Naa and Auntie Bea
When I got to Accra, a family friend picked me up at the airport and drove me home where I met Auntie Bea and Reggie, and later Naa and Doreen and Action. These people not only made my stay in Ghana much much better, they also helped me to understand Ghana and its people. They taught me what they eat and how they eat it, they taught me how everything works. They taught me that when someone tells you "you're invited" it means that you can just sit down and start eating from their plate (which is something I find absolutely amazing). They made me fried plantains when I got home from work frustrated and were proud of me when I first got home using trotros - the public transport - by myself. Auntie Bea would sing and have a beer with me and Action would always smile. Naa, my Ghanaian sister would accompany me everywhere and wouldn't translate marriage proposals from random guys on the street because she knew I didn't like them. (And I can't forget cousin Percy who'd always wake me up way too early). They were a real family to me - always will be - and living with them taught me more about Ghana than any internship could ever do. 

The day when I was leaving, Action said to me:
"We never had anyone from outside of Ghana staying with us for so long. I was worried that it would be difficult for you. And for us. It's a very different culture. But you came here and it didn't take you a month to get used to it. It didn't take you even a week. You came here and the first day I knew you'd always ask about things you didn't understand and you'd try to do them the way we do. You got here and you were Ghanaian." 
That was probably the nicest and most important thing I heard in Ghana.

With Action and Reggie at a botanical garden
Apart from my family, there are two more people who must be mentioned here. Edem and Freddie. Edem who'd listen to all my complaints and frustrations, who'd call regularly to check on me, who'd connect me with people to make sure I finish my project, who'd support me as much as he could. And Freddie who'd discuss the issues of Ghana's politics and culture with me, take me on trips, take me out and introduce me to people, and make me laugh (and bake) constantly.

With Reggie and Percy (We got along extraordinarily well with Percy on that day :))
I went to Ghana to do my internship. But I left Ghana with more than just a finished research project. I left Ghana with a new family and that gives me one more reason to be involved in international development. Once you get to know the people you care about, once they are your family, you care more and more passionately.

No comments: