27 February, 2014

Existential Angst and Such Matters (What's an oxford comma?)

I sit here, wherever "here" is, unawares of myself, desperately clinging to the concept of existential angst. Angst being the feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish; existential angst being those feelings as related to one's mere existence. A concept which I, ironically enough, feel angst towards, my conflicted affliction being perhaps beyond or beside it.

The anxiety is felt, but not so much the anguish nor dread. Perhaps it is a marriage of anxiety and ambivalence instead. I ponder the devices which enable man's attribution, whether by discovery or creation, of meaning, yet refuse said devices out of desire to be neither puppet nor perpetrator of such pontificated results preposterously purporting purpose procurement and acquisition.

I revile the idea of relinquishing to the revel of relentlessly reticent yet relieving religion, however relevant it's respite might be to my ridiculous restless riddling.

I am enervated by the endless exploration of enticing new enlightening endeavors, despite what enjoyment involved or experience endowed.

I am conflicted over the confluence of countless commitments. Counter to my conscripted contracts, I contract from contacts confounded by the contrast in the contention of my contradictory conscience and countenance.

I feel feverishly fettered in feigned frivolous friendships fitted with fallacious facades and full of fickle fixations on fleeting fancies, and favor finding fidelity and faithfulness in familiarity over faint fantasies fraught with flimsy fluctuating filament of fortune. Yet I find familiarity in few, find the few far-flung, and find confidence unfeasible.

I am perturbed by the precarious personality of pleasure; perchance the possibility of peculiar peace at the price of palpable perfidy of occupational pacts and personal promises.

How do I put this into more easily digestible words?... I'm feeling exhausted before even mustering the energy to do anything. I'm feeling the motivation and desire, but it's not translating into action... I'm down before I fight. Perhaps, Winter is keeping me down and quashing my spirits... but it feels like there's more than just that.

The Behemoth is back... I faced it, reconciled with it... thought I learned how to live with it. But it seems to be stronger than ever before. I keep trying to fight it in day to day, step-by-step bits, but it just overwhelms me with its enormity.

It's times like this that make me question... everything, beliefs, people, God, myself, the questioning itself.

If a storm seemingly makes no sound, no waves, nor any perceivable signs of destruction... is it a storm?

How do I live an authentic life if it doesn't seem like I'm living at all?

"And I can't find any reason, only complicated feelings"

Is it sad that a line from a somber breakup song accurately sums up all my ramblings?


However, it is helpful and useful.

The tiredness that comes with a pointless existence is hard to describe... it seeps into the soul but doesn't necessarily provide any external evidence.

What am I to do?
... I don't expect any answers, ever, however, maybe it's worth asking, in and of itself.

14 December, 2013

The End (but... not really)

So, without much warning, or perhaps more than enough warning but none taken heed of, the semester has ended. I am back in the good ole USofA... except for the fact that even though old is fitting, good may not be. Reverse culture shock has hit me a bit harder than culture shock did... okay, I admit, much harder. You would think that I would feel more shock going to a culture that I did not grow up in, and feel welcome and comfortable coming back to the one I have lived my whole life in. That seems logical, but sometimes logic needs to be thrown out the window temporarily to open and gain a little perspective... and that's exactly what I plan to do and in fact am doing.

I find myself a little lost, not sure how to navigate, both physically and socially. I spent four months in a culture that felt more like home to me than home does. It is hard to capture the full extent and reach of the ramifications of the effects of this paradox... Perhaps part of it is that I am not truly in my own physical home yet, nor am I with my family(my emotional home), but there is the chance that this, even, is wishful thinking. Everything about this life just seems so foreign to me, yet I can't seem to pin point any major differences, none other than one. The people... I feel like the smiles are gone... the happiness. It's not that I have come back to a bleak, emotionless or depressed society, but that in comparison, Americans are less outwardly happy and relational than Ghanaians. It's throwing me off.

Perhaps it is also that in Ghana, I felt a new life stirring up within me. It felt like I was being torn down and reborn, but coming back, it was like being snatched out of that new me that was forming and thrown back into my old life, my old self. It feels like life in the US was just on pause, and everyone and everything expects me to just pick up where it left off, even if nothing actually is imposing that expectation on me in reality, it is hard to shake the feeling. It feels like life has lost the zest and the appeal of the unknown, a foreshadowed adventure. I look outside at the snow blowing through the air and see beauty as I once did, but also a suffocating emptiness, a vacuum; the snow isn't gently blanketing the world... it's smothering it, suppressing it.

This is starting to make me wonder whether or not America is a good fit for me and my future. I feel an overbearing pressure and looming cloud of complacency that squeezes in and chokes me when I think of my future and all I hear are thoughts about planning for grad school and getting a secure job and finding a way to fulfill my passions while still building up a life for myself... and it all sounds nice and grand. But also tiring, over-complicated, non-committal, and stagnant. It all sounds so selfish, it all sounds so complacent, it all sounds so "two-and-a-half children, a one-story ranch style house, with a white-picket-fence", it sounds so terribly normal, and no offence to someone who wants all that, but for me, there is some part of me that dreads that. It's not that I don't want to have roots or be tied down or be committed to my friends and family here, but that there is so much more in the world to understand and to discover, even if it's been discovered a thousand times before, each time one of these discoveries is made, something miraculous happens, a perspective is shaped and will from hence forth be so shaped and changed.

Ghana changed me... and I'll never be the same... and I don't want to be. I don't know what this means for me, but I do know that it means this blog is not over, this story has continued and is continuing past this semester, and perhaps will continue past this period of re-entrance. For now this is all I will write. I hope to post shorter posts now that I am back, and post more frequently as well. I will continue to explore my homecoming, the good and the bad of coming back, the little things, as well as some ex-post-facto observations and thoughts about different experiences I had in Ghana, of which, some I've shared already and some were lost in periods of diminished blogging.

Any semester program or, to broaden the scope, extended period of stay in another country and culture(and continent in this case), not only affects one's life while abroad, but continues to do so, deeply and measurably for a period afterwards, and will continue to do so to a lesser extent for the rest of one's life. I will continue this blog in order to accurately capture the impact of my semester abroad in Ghana on my life, the way I think, and who I am as a person. I firmly believe that my time in Ghana changed my life immeasurably, I'm curious as to what my time back holds in store for me.

20 October, 2013

North Takes On A Whole New Meaning (And then some...)

This post is perhaps a tad bit late. Perhaps a whole month late. But let's ignore my tardiness for now and talk about the 'north', shall we? The word 'north' before this trip has had a couple different associations.

In the context of the United States, the north is where I consider myself originally from: Columbus, Ohio even though I was actually born in Texas. The north is where snow is, where real winters actually exist. The north is where you can see distinct seasons, enjoy the colors of fall, the chill of winter, fresh rains of spring, and heat of summer.

In a global context, I think of the global north, the western world, Christendom (if you can still argue that it still exists as it once did). I think of the complex global issues that can be traced back to every starving child in each "third-world" country, every struggling village farmer, every education aspiring child whose family can't afford it, every person living on less than a $1.25 or $2 a day. When I think about the international poverty line and imagine having only one or two dollars a day to meet needs, I'm awestruck, I'm flabbergasted, I'm angry that in this world we live in, just above 20% of the world's population falls under the $1.25 line and if you merely raise it by ¢75 a day, it jumps to about 40%. Now, if that were distributed evenly across the world's countries, then it perhaps would be more manageable, less scary, but to put things in perspective I snagged this nice chart to just depict the global inequality between the global north and global south. To add just a bit more perspective. The percentage of the world population living off of less than $2.50 a day is 50%. Half of the world is either in poverty or less than ¢50 a day away from being in poverty.

Map of world poverty by country, showing percentage of population
living on less than $2 per day.  Based on the 2009 UN Human Development Report.
Mind you that I got my numbers through the statistics on poverty through the world bank website, and that they do not even list the poverty by percentage of population in North America when comparing different world regions. We hear people complaining and debating poverty levels in the US, and we're painted a bad picture, but that's according to our own standard; we aren't even comparable on the global level. And Europe is only considered because of a select few countries. This isn't to say that there aren't Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, or Europeans who aren't in poverty. However... all this is in hope of shifting and opening up perspectives, just as mine are being challenged and shaped.

Now if you know your African geography, you can tell from the image above, that Ghana is red, meaning it is only in the 41%-60% range of population in poverty. My use of 'only' seems inappropriate there, but if you compare it to the rest of Africa, Ghana is holding its own fairly well.

It seems I may have gotten slightly side-tracked, but it all ties together, I promise. With this excursion to and through the northern territory of Ghana, we were finally exposed first-hand to the developmental gap we have been hearing about in lectures, from daily conversations, and from historical presentations having to do with colonial era practices of slavery and the relationship with the northern part of Ghana.

This is how it all ties together, with a thin string of irony. In much of Africa, especially coastal countries that became major colonies, there is this trend of high development more southerly and near the coast, and a seeming lack or at least significantly lower level of development in the northern regions. When we think of global development, the north is always the winner; first world countries, wealth, power and influence in the global economy, comfort in daily life for the average individual. But in Ghana, the "north" takes on a whole other meaning. The "north" means more traditional religious practices, the "north" means poverty, the "north" is not the place to be in Ghana. There is still a constant flow of workers coming from the north to the south, in search for better livelihoods, higher education, even just to escape traditional practices. Now just to be clear, traditional is not always bad, there is always some good to be found in tradition and tradition must be preserved, however, in today's global and trans-continental culture, tradition can often times be inhibiting.

The "north". In the northern territory of Ghana, we visited several NGOs to see what kind of work they are doing, and what are their needs for meeting the needs of those they wish to help. It was interesting to visit different villages, meet different chiefs, and talk to and interact with folks who were just so excited and intrigued at our very presence in their own communities.

To highlight this reaction and attitude, I'd like to share a little story of a gift we received in Bolgatanga. We were visiting a village that the NGO, TAWODEP, is and has been working with for a while now. Our Calvin semester groups have been there to visit for the past four years now and this year we will for the first time be sending students up there for a month long service-project.

Now, we had just spent about maybe 1-2 hours with men, women, and children of the village, trying our hands, quite literally, at shea butter processing as well as dancing and playing with the children. As we were leaving, Stephanie, our trip professor, was informed that they wished to present us with a gift. Now, the last year's professor had received a guinea fowl, so Stephanie had no idea what to expect but, had a feeling it might be another guinea fowl. After about 15 minutes of us waiting on the bus for departure, not having any clue as to what was happening, Stephanie came onto the bus, looked at us and said, "They gave me a goat..." The reaction was unanimously partway between awe and confusion. Laughter broke out over the entire bus as Stephanie explained the situation to us and the goat was brought over and leashed to the railing on the top of our bus. And so we took off... with our new gift goat.

Now for pretty much everyone not quite used to goat gifting, this is a humorous situation... but when you look past the humor, the unfamiliarity, it's easy to recognize the weight of their gift. This is from a community which is partaking in a goat exchange program, through TAWODEP, in order to bring elderly women out of poverty, because goat raising is not too strenuous. According to their website, the goats cost approximately $20 usd which doesn't sound like a lot, but for anyone living off less than $2 usd a day, that's 10 days worth of living expenses. To this community especially, these goats are a form of livelihood and needed income. A gift goat is definitely not to be looked in the mouth.

While preparing to leave, with every group, village, and people, I would get this slight nagging in my heart, a tugging, as we promised to endeavor to send students in the future, promises which may as well be as empty as the palm of my third hand. It's not that we don't want to send students there, but we have so many other relationships already started and going with different organizations, that the logistical difficulties make it hard for us to create even more partnerships, and beyond that, there just aren't enough students that would go to Ghana each and every year. Still, that doesn't mean there isn't hope there, perhaps I'm just being a little pessimistic and cynical.

This got me considering why I felt so negative about these situations. I know for a fact that many of the other students felt very similarly, with the desire and urge to just spend another thirty minutes, at the very least, to just have some time to get to know the people more on a personal level rather than just as mere guests. It was obvious that they were very willing to cross the line, and let our educational visit, not just be a cursory visit, but one with some depth and relationship building, even if just brief. I wanted to not feel like I was lying to them, I wanted to drop the visitor status for just a second and share the priceless gem of a moment with some of these individuals, in which we could come to some sort of understanding of each other that transcends the social, economic, ethnic, cultural, worldview-based, and seniority-based dimensions of our lives that act as boundaries from deep kinship, unity, and mutual understanding... even if it were just a fleeting, evanescent interaction.

I came to an epiphany.

I was, am, had been, and have been for all of my life searching for that type of deep kinship that can only come through mutual vulnerability, understanding, trust, and love. The truth is, the one thing I fear the most is interpersonal relationships. I have always sensed or imagined and perhaps even at times created a disconnect and distance between me and the people around me.

I wrestled with this and how it was affecting my interactions with those people we would visit and meet. I found myself quickly considering long term missions work. Not necessarily evangelistic in nature, but perhaps just working, learning, and learning within a communal culture how to break though, past the wall I put up around myself and just let myself be fully part of a community. There was even one group of farmers we visited in which a couple women invited a handful of us to come back sometime and stay to live and work with them. I was among that handful. It touched my heart that they'd be willing to just let a stranger into their homes, to take part of their lives and livelihood, let alone me. There are just so many people I've been meeting that have stirred up this desire to be just as open and inviting. Perhaps this semester is meant to be another growing point in my life, not just as a film maker, or student, or multicultural individual, but as a social being. But, before I get ahead of myself, I think I need to see those directly around me at the moment. I'm hoping very strongly to get closer to my peers on this trip. I haven't let those walls down for most of them yet... but I think I'm getting there, albeit slowly. Even typing this now and putting this out there as publicly accessible, is quite a stretch for me. But I think it's a crucial step in this process.

These feelings and thoughts have been submerging and resurfacing through the layer of homework and daily life over the past month. I'm still not sure what to make of it, but one conclusion can be clearly made. This is one of the struggles that I am being called to face, not just the contemplation on long-term mission work, but my deep, raw struggle with interpersonal relationships. This is part of the Behemoth. I know I have to rely on God to break this Behemoth, but unfortunately stubbornness against submission and reliance is another struggle in my life. If you are reading this and are a person of faith, prayer would be greatly appreciated, just a short-but-sweet telegram would suffice.

Mole National Park at sunset...
even this super cloudy one was absolutely beautiful
Now, it's time to move on to a lighter and more exciting topic. Our short stay at Mole National Park(also a game preserve).

Here we saw antelope, warthogs, all sorts of birds, and other animals while down on the game grounds which we got to go on a walking tour of.

We walked along some game trails with our guide, stopping at any sign or glimpse of any wild animals nearby. Even if we hadn't happened upon the animals we saw, it was a nice long walk through some very beautiful scenery, through slightly forested areas, across open plains, and around a couple watering holes.

This game walk was in the first afternoon and usually the elephants do not come down toward the watering hole except for in the morning. I planned on getting up for the morning game walk, however I slept in on accident and was not able to go, to make things worse, I barely missed the group by about ten minutes. Coming up to this stay in Mole, everyone had been talking about all the rain, and worrying more when rain came in the day before Mole and on the next night, the night before the morning game walk. However, the elephants did not think the ground was too muddy, because sure enough, they were there in the morning and many individuals in our group were able to see them on the morning walk. As you can imagine. I was disheartened and very upset that I had missed the game walk, or more precisely, missed the elephants.

Now, before judgement and sentencing ensues, just hear me out. I'm pretty sure that the next thing I did was against the park policy, however, we saw one of the elephants bathing in the watering hole after breakfast. I grabbed everything I needed and within five minutes I was going down the trail behind our living quarters down onto the reserve grounds, ready to find and film me a wild African elephant. I did not expect the next hour and a half of my life to ever take place... I am truly humbled by God's providence and the poetic writing He has employed in the writing of the story of my life.

From the path down to the game reserve grounds

He noticed me standing on the bank of the watering hole

Then decided to swim away...
Suffice to say, I found a way around to follow him
At this point. I had spent maybe forty-five minutes just watching, photographing, filming, and getting gradually closer to the elephant. I spent maybe thirty of these minutes standing knee-deep in flooded grasses in order to get as close as possible to him. These were probably the hottest thirty minutes of my trip so far, standing as still as possible while filming and photographing, and then attempting to find my way through the flooded grasses without stepping into any holes, all under a relentless, beating African sun. This is where things get interesting. After his bath, the elephant decided to come back onto land for a snack, or perhaps lunch. Either way, I decided I had already spent this much time out there, was wet from the knee down, soaked with sweat on the other half of my body, I figured I might as well just stay out a little longer and follow the elephant into forest for a little while. What did I have to lose? Plus, when would I get this chance again?

I followed the wild African bull elephant into the forest and slowly and cautiously reduced the distance between the two of us during the next half an hour. He would stop every now and then to grabs some plants from the ground, or leaves from a tree, there was also the occasional acknowledgement of my persistent pestilent presence behind him with either a quickening of pace or a sudden stare-down. It took quite some time, making myself smaller (not that I can do much in this area), talking calmly, and a handful of determination to keep with him and after a half hour of this, I finally was within ten feet of the majestic beast. He turned to face me, and for about a solid minute or two he seemed to acknowledge my persistence, my effort, my presence in a sort of staring contest. I snapped a few photographs, filmed what I could on the last stretch of my battery life, and then stood there as he finally decided he was tired with me and turned to go even deeper into the forest. God had brought me out into the forest to meet the physical and symbolic representation of the Behemoth that I am facing this semester. It was both exhilarating and frightening, exciting and nerve-racking, awe-inspiring and speech-impeding. Here I saw just how massive the Behemoth is, the representation of the unconquerable nature of the land, a creature so insurmountable, so gigantic, so impenetrable, and larger than life. I met my Behemoth face to face in Mole. He came in the form of a lone wild African bull elephant. I learned how impossible and foolish it would be to take on breaking a Behemoth on my own would be. 

This was taken at that last moment before the elephant turned and left me

This has mostly been written in retrospect. With that in mind, that brings us back to the topic I started this entry off with. My tardiness. I am several weeks behind on my blogging. I will be hopefully making amends this week, by posting several times. The next blog post will be on the Odwira festival in Akropong. I'm looking forward to being caught up with this blog. We are all incredibly busy with school, exams, and papers, but that'll be saved for a couple entries down the road. So keep a watch out for the next couple posts in these next few days!

06 September, 2013

Getting Into the Swing of Things: Discorvering Normal Daily Life Amidst a Different Cultural Context

The following post will be a little different seeing as I started writing but didn't finish a single post on more than one occasion. I will edit down my writing from other sittings, to make this post less overwhelmingly large. Also as another note, I will mention those events again, if they come back up, but for now, for the sake of finishing this post I will avoid getting into those unless they are pertinent.

Wednesday August 21st:

This is technically the second week but the first week of classes/the semester.

I am a little tired right now and it is getting harder to get up in the morning, clear signs that my body is adjusting to the time schedule here, which is both good and bad, but something that is unavoidable. I am finding it hard to put into words, my present mood and feelings. It is a mixture of fulfillment and emptiness. I will attempt to describe it as best as I can understand it at the moment. 

I am feeling the disconnect that I often do from those around me. I find myself, not facing issues having to do with being in Ghana, but just the same old issues that I've always had to fight. Part of it is from being away from my closest friends, and not having a lot of contact with them. This isn't a constant or even direct struggle for me, though, it is more of a lack of social connections among the group here, especially with the contrast of having spending a two-week period at one of my best friend's house before leaving for Ghana. That is all I can see of this emptiness at the moment; I will continue to explore these feelings as the next week comes on. Perhaps, I felt slightly more connected to people when we were doing activities as a whole group everyday, and so now, as school is starting, it is easier to spend time in smaller groups, which is wonderful, but I may not have reached a further point of closeness with anyone in the group yet, which could be part of the issue. It may be one of those things that will take more time and effort on my part.

As for the fulfillment, I am loving the courses that I am taking, so far as what I've had at this point which is at least one period of each. I am excited for most of the guest lectures for our Peoples and Cultures course, excited for the African Literature course which will cover both works that I have read before and haven't even heard off, and incredibly excited for the Twi, and African Drumming and Dance courses. I even bought an Asante Twi Bible yesterday to exercise and expand my ability with Twi. I think this is probably the most excited I've ever been for courses. I don't quite yet know what that means for me, but will definitely keep an eye out for dropped hints from above or within(referring to where my soul is aligned with Jesus' Holy Spirit, not my own by itself). 

As I mentioned, before, I am still experiencing that heightened sense of spirituality and closeness to not just God but to his creation. However, I am realizing that certain things are dragging me away from it, subtly, but surely doing so. 1) Using technology more, 2) Participating in purely pleasure and leisure based activities, and 3) Avoiding interacting with Ghanaians by staying in my dorm room. At this point, all I can do is try to be self-aware and work toward finding balance.

Sunday August 25th:

This past weekend was spent in Cape Coast at Brenu Beach Resort. It sounds high and fancy, but in reality, it is a comfortable and down to earth little retreat, right up along the coast. One of my favorite things was the ability to hear, and see through the palms, the ocean waves crashing while up by our lodging.

This excursion was a great way to get away a bit after launching off into our courses, which, while not hard, are very engaging in terms of learning about a different culture through different contexts, whether it be about language, politics, or literature. I also think, it was a very nice way to wean us off of the Ghana "adventures" which we were getting used to with the first week, which was packed full with activities and new experiences. My absolute favorite moment of the weekend, however, was walking, standing, sitting, running, and just being on the beach at night, under the stars and the waning moon, with the waves crashing and washing over and pulling at my feet. It was absolutely beautiful and mesmerizing sight, especially when a little bit of mist/fog rolled in. I was able to just be in the moment, with nature, God, and my own thoughts.

Unfortunately, I did not take pictures during our stay at the beach, other than a couple of a little crab I caught at night on the beach. I decided, it was important for me to take the day truly as a break and avoid trying to capture everything and just be in the mix for a relaxing change.

This morning, I woke up with the sound of waves and natural morning light filtering through my window. I stepped out with my Bible and went down to the beach. I felt like there was just something calling to me, through nature, through my surroundings. I flipped through my Bible and decided that I'd read some psalms. Without thinking I found myself at Psalm 42. "Deep calls out to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me." That is verse 7, at the moment, upon reading it, I suddenly understood this verse, that I have read over so many times, just thinking, "that's beautiful imagery" or "that's interesting wording". But after that moment, I made a personal connection to that verse. I felt the "deep" in nature, in creation, from where God has left his mark, call out to the "deep" within, most definitely a mark of God within me, which was crying out in response the whole time there. I had only then, been able to name it; I found a way to describe the way I was feeling during the day and night before.

Later on, after we left the resort, on our way back to Accra, we stopped in Kakum at the a forest preserve, where we went on a canopy walk, which was fun, and during which I actually took pictures.

Week 3 (Aug26-Sept1):

As we all settle into our courses and life here, I'm starting to realize that life is still pretty much life, wherever it is. A group of our students left for half of the week and weekend to spend time in Adenkrebi, in the Ga East District. It is more quiet in our dorm rooms without everyone around, but it gave us a great opportunity for those of us left in the dorms, as well as those who went to Adenkrebi together, to grow closer together in smaller group settings.

On Saturday, I went with my professor, her daughter, and two other students to see a play by prominent Ghanaian playwright, and theatre producer and director, Ebo Whyte. It was wonderful to experience Ghanaian culture through a part of the "highlife" sub-culture. There is a slightly different dynamic, but all the cultural differences are still there, but perhaps in a different form. One thing I noticed, was a difference in the criterion of comedy. Even though we were laughing the whole time, I had this sense that we were laughing for different reasons. I wrote on this for a journal for a course and will probably expand upon it in this blog at some point.

Another event of interest: Right before the play, we had gone to a Poetry Jam hosted by the National Theatre and took place just outside of the main building. We watched, listened, and analyzed the poetry in form of spoken word, and it was really interesting to see the similarities and differences between the spoken word style of Ghanaian youth and those of the Western world. It was here that I finally got a stronger sense of the melding of modern culture in an international context. Our generation and those even younger are now living in a nearly seamless international, intercultural world, where cross cultural exchange and communication is easy and social media can connect continents not just communities. It's frightening and exciting to imagine the changes in the world and societies in the next couple decades as the current generation steps down and the current youth take the reigns of the working class majority, the chairs of government, and succeed the agency of media and prestige of fine arts.


It is more than halfway through this week, but for the sake of posting the previous two weeks' logs, I'll be posting this past week's thoughts (along with those of the next half week) partway through this upcoming week. We will be leaving for our northern excursion next Thursday morning bright and early. Since I figure I will have a lot to say about that, I assume that will be a whole post of its own.

18 August, 2013

A Crash Course on Ghana: Just the Beginning of a Long Journey (The First Week: part one)

It has been just over a week in Ghana. In some ways I can still barely believe it, I am in Ghana. With every day of this immersion I am loving and learning to love the culture, the food, the languages, and the people more and more. Not only that, but I feel like I am, in a sense, coming to life, slowly but surely. The past week is probably best described as a crash course on Ghana. I've feel like I already know so much and have learned so much about the language and culture already. However, my belief that I have already learned and know so much, is a more sure sign than any other that I have still a lot to learn. 

As a side note, I am also realizing that weekly blog posts may not be enough to capture everything that I want to say. There are just so many, too many ideas bouncing around in my head at the moment, while I am attempting to formulate some sort of plan for this post. I will begin after this post to try doing two posts a week.

I'd list all the things I've done, day and night, but that would just take forever. Besides, I have already personally logged most of that. Instead, I wish to just encapsulate what has stood out to me the most so far with some highlights of my experiences and thoughts.

I’ll lead with some of the challenges I've faced so far. 

I had always considered myself a strong proponent of saving and conserving water, but looking back at my practices in the US, this just wasn't true. I don’t think I truly realized how important and essential water was to life as a whole until being forced to face a few simple challenges with water access. In the dorm we don't always have direct running water in our rooms. We found this out in a rather abrupt way, when, after our day or so of flights and travel, only two of us were able to shower before the water was out. The next day almost all of us bought buckets to fetch water in from the outside polytank spigot. I have just as many bucket showers as I have regular ones and I have found bucket showers not only to be more conservative in the usage of water, but also more relaxing, especially since our water is not heated. 

The other challenge that I’ve faced is a sort of compound challenge, with both circumstantial and personal causes. I accidentally plugged in the power strip that I brought from the US without switching my universal adapter/converter to converter mode. However, instead of just shorting out the power strip, it shut off my room’s electricity. Two days later I had it fixed and then without thinking I switched the adapter to converter mode but didn’t consider the condition of the power strip before plugging it in again, thus once again I lost power in my room. It has since then been fixed. This has given me a glimpse into some of the electrical/power issues that many of the locals face, and merely a glimpse, seeing as these issues are not caused by mistakes like mine were and are more infrastructural in nature. Either way it has given me an appreciation of the electrical/power infrastructure that we have in the US where in most cases, if there is an outage or issue, it gets fixed fairly easily within a day or so without risk of it happening again any time soon.

These challenges have not just been inconveniences, though, they have been great learning experiences that are beginning to shift my true personal understanding to better match the facts of the situation that I already know. 

The next topic I want to touch is Ghanaian culture. I have not experienced much culture shock at all, especially with surface level matters. Having spent time in China on quite a few occasions, in big cities, smaller cities, and as well as some rural areas, I was not taken aback by the smells of the streets, the dust/dirt everywhere outside, the nice but seemingly perpetually in disrepair road and sidewalk infrastructure, nor by the hassling and bargaining in markets. 

However one major difference from my experiences in China, is that, here, I cannot masquerade as nor be mistaken for a local. This has created a very different dynamic for me. Despite the fact that I am accustomed to being a minority, in living life in the US, it is still not the same as being an unmistakable foreigner. The extra attention that foreigners get is what has stuck out to me the most, both the bad and the good. There are times I wish the dorm staff wouldn’t try harder to cater to foreign students than the Ghanaian students or that people wouldn't just stare when we walk by, when in either large or small groups. But then there are wonderful moments at the Old Night Market on campus, when a nice and outgoing stall owner, or just on the streets on campus, when a stranger or two, may strike up conversation in order to just get to know us or to teach us some helpful tidbits of Twi, the dominant traditional language of Ghana. We’ve been outside of Accra a couple times now, and when on walks with friends or on our way to something with my camera in hand, there were children and adults alike who happily and sometimes excitedly invited me to take pictures of them. This very openly communal culture is only a step away from some communal culture in the States, but definitely a stark contrast in difference from the average/norm social culture in the US. While I find it odd and surprising at times, it is very comfortable, and feels much more real and genuine.

Now that I’ve stumbled onto the topic of cultural genuineness, I want to share a particular experience that threw me for a personal loop of sorts, and on the first day we were here too. We were invited to take a tour of a small artifact exhibit in the Institute of African Studies at University of Ghana Legon, where most of our classes will be held. The exhibit was focusing on the Akan craft of bronze casting. At first it seemed like any other exhibit, with some interesting facts and details of processes that have been used in the past and changed over time. Then we reached the cases of bronze cast proverbial symbols and tokens.

Two proverbial symbols stood out to me: Obi Nka Obi and Funtun Funefu Denkyem Funefu.
Obi Nka Obi was represented here as two fish with their heads at the other’s tail and is loosely translated to, “no one should bite another’s tail”, capturing the reciprocal nature of social interaction. This proverb captures the same essence that other proverbs from many cultures, including the popularly known pseudo-Christian Golden Rule, do unto others as you would like them to do unto you, an extrapolation or contextualization of Leviticus 19:18 or Mark 12:31: “...love your neighbor as yourself...” The curator explained that even though the Akan people did not use a complicated or sophisticated written language, things like these small bronze cast totems/weights were used throughout the culture as ways to remember the proverbs, as a way to pass them down from generation to generation. Never before, had I felt the power of an oral tradition as then. 

The curator also explained the meaning of Funtun Funefu Denkyem Funefu, “Siamese crocodiles”(it is a longer proverb, but shortened to that for reference). The symbol is of a siamese crocodile or other animal that shares just the one stomach, the proverb describes the relationship that the two have. It basically says, the siamese crocodile shares one stomach but fights over the food for the sensation of taste in it’s mouth that it craves. It is a symbol that represents democracy and unity through a reminder of the associated innate struggles and difficulties; for West Africans it is a reminder of the danger and harmfulness of infighting and radical tribalism. This image, in one phrase and graphical representation encapsulates the struggle of communities everywhere, that everyone within the community is all benefiting together but the individuals within fight among themselves in order to personally experience the benefit more directly. This is very much like the Western world’s social contract theory, famously written on by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his The Social Contract, in which he describes individuals as free to make choices but at the same time tied down to a social contract with peers as well as authority and thus mutually reliant and dependent upon each other in the agreement of certain sacrificed rights and freedoms.

I am finding this personally tangible encounter with oral tradition just utterly amazing, I had always found oral tradition fascinating, but never had I truly realized it’s worth or the mysterious influence it seems to hold. This encounter and the curator’s commentary got me thinking more about the contrast between Western written tradition and African oral tradition. It almost seems the focus of Western culture has been more on the academic side and understanding it as social-political theory rather than a proverbial warning and ancestral artifact. It’s interesting to compare the possible results of the two on the current state of these world regions. The Western world seems to be cold and focused on lives that are not the privy of any others, while the African world, still very much has a strongly communal culture, wherein the community is at equal value with each individual within. I am not saying there is no place for theory or academic pursuits of understanding social structure and systems, but I am beginning to believe that the Western world missed out a bit by falling full on into the Enlightenment mindset that convinced Western society that theory could fully replace “primeval” understandings, legends, proverbs, and understandings. I’m not sure if, whether or not, I’m onto something substantial here, however, I do know that I greatly value the conversations and thoughts that have come out of this experience and my new-found, truer appreciation for cultural proverbs, especially West African ones.

Well!...This is getting a bit long, so I will save a bit for the next post. I will, however, let you know that it has something to do with meeting two chiefs, playing drums with some local boys in Adenkrebi, as well as a couple perspective opening lectures at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Akropong, and a tiring but amazing hiking and waterfall day trip. One other thing I can say about this semester and experience so far... I believe my spirituality, which had begun to and continued to subdue as I became more “reformed” and my faith shifted more into an intellectual theological focus, may be slowly being revived and perhaps soon to be exhumed from the depths of my being, buried beneath nearly six feet of rationality and cynicism.

A little sneak peak of the waterfall!
It is late in Ghana at the moment, I fell asleep while finishing off this post and woke up in the middle of the night, so I will be off to bed soon, as many of you in the US will be as well or already have. I will be throwing in little bits of Twi as this blog develops, so... goodnight and da yie(goodnight or sleep well)!

P.S. Tomorrow we start classes and not that the other classes are any less important or interesting, but I am just absolutely thrilled to start our Twi class! 

10 August, 2013

Thoughts On Leaving and Blogging... and This Blog

As the day has been rolling nearer, my sleep has been gradually becoming more restless, my dream retention has upped a significant amount, and the reality is finally hitting me a bit. I will be leaving on a plane for England, and then from there to Ghana, in less than half a day. I am not quite yet sure how I feel about it. I know that my mind is excited, with the sure sign of thoughts racing about the possibilities and the anticipated escapades.
Perhaps that is a better word for it: Anticipation. I am anticipating a lot from this trip. I am not quite yet excited, nor am I completely relaxed neither. In fact, I'm quite stressed about getting all the last hangouts squeezed in with my friends and making sure I'm all packed without leaving something behind. There are in fact still two things I'd like to acquire from a store before leaving (at least that I can think of), but I think I'm finally hitting the stage of assurance in which I'm fine with just letting go a bit and trusting that I am in the able hands of my professor, caring hands of peers, and providential hands of God. I'm anticipatory.
Leaving isn't just about the next destination, however. Part of it is what is being left behind. This semester is not a permanent leave, but it is longer than I am used to. The longest I remember ever being abroad is a single month, not even close to four. There is a bit of sadness, a bit of premature longing for some of the relationships that will have to be put on hold and those that have to take a sort of shift in nature to adapt to the distance, as well as a sense of nostalgia for fall in Grand Rapids, seeing as I may not be in Grand Rapids next year after having graduated. This does not mean I am in any way regretting my decision to go abroad, instead, it is more like I am finally coming to terms with realities that I have already accepted but not truly had to face yet, till this point.

I think that sufficiently describes my current state and feelings on leaving, so here goes my current thoughts on blogging.

I've blogged on a few other occasions. I had my personal blog, which I kept up for a little while and then soon fell into a habit intermittently posting, solely depending upon the chance that I'd remember my blog's existence. However, I also blogged for a time for Calvin Admissions, and did a decent job with keeping up with posting. I am now hoping once again to keep up consistently, with at least a post per week. Hopes and past blogging experiences aside, I have realized that I had fallen into one of the largest tropes of blogging. I was blogging for others. I was blogging to say something witty, something interesting, to garner some sort of meager following and attention.
The difference this time is that I have a journey, which I wish to record. I am reaching a point where it is becoming clear that memories can only be effective up to a point by themselves. I saw pictures from my parents' college years and earlier. Looking back, I realized that elementary school was already fading into the white noise of my memories, just flashes of images and non sequitur details. Maybe that's just a part of life, however, I, myself, don't want to quite yet resign to that. And so blogging, for me, this time around will take on a new meaning.

I'm sorry about going on and on with this post, but with everything all happening at once, and not having started posting till now, I guess I just have a lot to say.

This Blog, is dubbed, perhaps enigmatically, as "How to Break a Behemoth". I wanted to avoid the whole trying-to-hard to be witty trope, and just go with something simple, but nothing came to me. Until the word Behemoth. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the Behemoth, which I sort of stumbled onto out of curiosity for the word's origin and different meanings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behemoth. As soon as I was done reading the article, I knew that I had a theme for my semester blog. I immediately thought "Breaking Behemoth", but then thought better and avoided that reference (perhaps you noticed, I actually still used it in the URL...).
So... here we are at "How to Break a Behemoth". It may grow and change a lot as the semester grows and changes. However, one thing that will remain is it's original purpose.
As the Wiki states or perhaps if you've heard in a sermon somewhere, or read in a book, Behemoth and Leviathan, who are mentioned in Job, both represented the insurmountable and untamable final frontier of both the land and sea (respectively). That one creature, that one thing that is and can be tame only under God's power, control, and sovereignty. This semester, socially, physically, emotionally, even professionally, all together as a whole, is my current Behemoth.
One misinterpretation that I wish to dodge right off the bat, is that I am not saying that I, myself, will be the one to break this Behemoth. As always, we are, as Christians, called to both an active two way relationship with God, as well as a more one sided dependence and filial (or perhaps more comprehensively, philial) obedience. So this record will not only be of my experiences, thoughts, and struggles, but will also have a moderate-to-strong focus on how God is breaking this Behemoth, and making it a surmountable journey, hopefully just within my effortful reach.