A persistent rooster calls me to wake up from outside my window. It is 5:30 am. I lay in bed for several minutes, my weight dents the thin mattress and my head is cradled by a slice of yellow foam. I can see the sun peeking through the thick green curtains. The buzzing fan and sticky air reminds me that I am not home. I am halfway across the world, staying with a family in Ghana.
I am writing these last few posts after I have come home, for I have not been able to write about my experiences in Ghana until now. It was all too much to process. My experiences in Ghana changed my
life and are difficult to convey in words. As for what I did, I spent all my days in villages in Ghana living and learning with local people.
I have done my fair share of traveling, and this is the way I like to see the places I go: by living with the people. When I arrange a “home-stay” experience I get to meet local people and through their eyes I gain an appreciation for a new culture that is different from my own. Instead of seeing the country as a tourist, I get a local, personal experience.
During this voyage with Semester at Sea I have been a part of three home stays – one in South Africa and two in Ghana. They have been some of my most memorable experiences on this trip. The people welcome you into their homes with such enthusiasm it is hard to not feel excepted. The energy of the people in the village is as vibrant as the women’s dresses and the children’s dancing. In my first home stay in Ghana I had one experience that I will never forget. I spent the afternoon talking with a group of girls as we watched the boys play football. While talking I realized I had become a confidante for a short time. Having older women to talk to, to learn about themselves, is not a privilege young girls have in their village culture. When they finally opened up, their smiles grew and I realized that human connection is one of the most important things in life.
Some of these connections I find when I listen people’s stories and learn how different our lives are. I spent an overnight in Atonkwa village with the head master of the primary school. This was one of the most remote places I have ever been in the world. The village was so untouched by global influences. This was one of the things that shocked me the most. At this point in my life I am lucky enough to say I have seen many different places around the world, but I have never visited a place or met people who have little knowledge outside of their village.
That night I was sitting with my host mother, host sister, and host brother while I was watching them do homework.
Soon we all got distracted asking each other questions. The reaction that stopped me was when my 15 year old host sister asked me what my favorite food was. I told her things like pizza and hamburgers, different foods that people commonly know whether they have eaten them or not. She looked at me blankly. I tried to explain the foods and she just shook her head. She then asked how many goats I owned and how we got our food when we ate beef. I answered quickly with “well we buy it at the supermarket.” That stopped me. I sat for a moment, reflected on this life I am so fortunate to have and then said to myself, “stupid Mackenzie that is not how this works here, that was very inconsiderate and selfish.”
I tried to explain it as best as I could to her, but we come from very different ways of life. Even though we have such different lives, myself and my host family, we spent a fantastic evening listening to each other and explaining the different things that make up our livelihood. We laughed for half an hour while I tried to explain to them what a bear looks like and what snow feels like. Then I was
In both my home stays in Ghana I was lucky enough to be staying with teachers in the village. With my journalistic nature I like to ask questions, but there I was out questioned. My hosts had been endlessly curious about me and my life back home. One important thing I learned while staying with them is that not only am I interested in their lives, but they are equally interested in mine.captivated by their stories, so interested in how they lived their day to day lives realizing that the world is enormous and everyone lives in it differently.
I spent a good portion of that afternoon sitting in the house talking to one of the teachers about how school works, what the neighbors are like, what church services are like, and how they feel about technology and media. He returned the questioning to me, curious to know how their village was different from my home. I could only say it is a simpler way of life here, not better or worse, it is just calmer in the village.
In all the conversations we shared, my host family was never looking for pity, only understanding, exchange, and connection. I’ve found that being able to live with people all around the world makes it easier to understand them. In the first month of our voyage I wrote in my blog, “I love to travel, and it is always going to be a part of me. Whether I am at home or on the other side of the world, I am at my best when I try to understand somebody else.” I will continue to seek out home-stay opportunities because I believe it’s the best way to experience a new culture when you’re seeing it through a local’s eyes.
While I was gone someone told me I was “a pretentious little girl, swooping in as the hero pretending to save third world countries.” After this woman had read what I wrote about my experience in Ghana this is the opinion she formed of me. I certainly know, and hope others can see, that traveling has not made me into this person that was portrayed to be. I know that my experience in Ghana will be one of the most memorable experiences in all of my travels. Living with these people and hearing their stories made me respect and admire their values, morals, and way of life. Everyone I met in my time in Ghana was fantastically happy, open minded, and humble. The day I left Ghana I chose to lead my life like those strong women I met. I want to live happily, embrace every day with an open mind, and I have been humbled by the people I met around the world.
When I woke up that morning I was greeted by the smiling face of my host mother and a “Good morning.” I promised them photos, thanked them for all that they had given me, and hugged them goodbye. As I walked down the dirt road I knew I witnessed something special, and will never forget what I learned.
We will never really see the world unless we leave our comfort zone, but that is what I fully intend to do. Only through breaching the uncomfortable will you be able to have the moments that change you the most.