“We are more alike than we are different.”
This was the topic of my senior year English essay. Of course being an idealistic eighteen year old, I wrote what I thought was a profound essay about the unity of mankind and the ways in which we are much more alike than different. I still believe this to be true but at the time, I had nothing to back this belief…I just thought it sounded like a nice idea. I hadn’t seen the world and I hadn’t been to Ghana.
When I came to Ghana, I brought with me that same mentality. I was sure that no matter the differences in our lives (and they indeed proved to be extreme,) people are just people at the end of the day. We all want the same things in life and we all have the same internal struggles.
After a few weeks at my internship, I began questioning this notion. One morning I came to work and my coworkers were discussing witch camps and whether or not it was ethical to publicly show the faces of witches on the news because in Ghana, witches are often lynched. I must have had a “what on earth is going on” expression on my face because a couple coworkers pointed at me and laughed because the Obruni thought they were crazy. And I did… I couldn’t believe they were spending valuable work time discussing fictional characters as if it was commonplace. They were discussing it so casually and seriously, I began to realize I was the one out of place. I was the one who was weird for thinking witchcraft was only in Halloween movies. For the rest of the morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being so very different from my coworkers.
Later that same day I went out on assignment with a girl from work. We were sitting at the venue waiting for the lecture to start. Being part of the media, we were a few hours early and had time to kill. She started asking me about my religion and I knew I wasn’t getting out of this conversation. She was appalled when she learned I wasn’t religious and began telling me the entire story of the beginning of man and the earth. She made me read from her bible and explained to me why it was critical I accept Jesus before it was too late. She begged me…and I’m not kidding, begged… to recite a short phrase that she told me would put me on “God’s list” so when judgment day came, I would go to heaven. I politely listened to everything she told me but couldn’t bring myself to repeat the phrase. She looked at me with tears in her eyes, grabbed my hands, and with a shaky voice said, “I just don’t understand why you wont say it when it will save you.” What she didn’t understand was that I didn’t want to be saved. I didn’t want to be on the magic list that sent me to heaven and I told her this. I thanked her for sharing with me and told her that it was okay that not everyone was religious. I told her that I was going to be okay and I lived my life with many of the same values she had, reminding her that I always try to be a good person. I told her that I didn’t want to partake in religion and if I repeated her phrase it wouldn’t be genuine. At the end of almost two hours of waiting for the lecture and receiving one of my own, she sat back and said, “well at least God knows I tried my best.”
That night I really didn’t know what to think. I just spent my entire day listening to stories of witchcraft and Adam and Eve spoken to me as if I was crazy. I began to question if that essay I wrote back in high school was completely inaccurate. I called my dad and told him about my day. I told him that I was starting to feel as if I had nothing in common with these people and maybe people are in fact much more different that I thought. This idea brought about unexpected frustration and disappointment. I felt completely disconnected from Ghana and all the people I had met. I started to realize I couldn’t find much I had in common with them. We live such different lives and have such contradicting beliefs, I began feeling like a different species of human, and this idea was beyond upsetting. My dad reminded me that even though people might have extreme cultural differences and ways they were raised, it doesn’t mean we are completely different as people.
After formulating all these frustrations and feelings, I still believe my eighteen-year-old self was right. I might not share many of the same beliefs as Ghanaians but at the end of the day, we all just want to love and be loved. I like to think that all human beings are inherently good. I believe we come into this world with a clean slate and our experiences shape who we become as people. We might live a completely different life than someone we meet but I truly believe we share the same core values. I think culture strongly shapes who we are, and this is evident in my many conversations with Ghanaians. When I feel the cultural barrier closing in on a conversation, I must remind myself of this notion: We are more alike than we are different. All the emotions I am capable of feeling are the same exact ones they feel. Everything I crave… support, love, happiness, acceptance… are the same exact things they crave. It’s usually the little things that remind me of this whether it is a neighborhood kid laughing with his sister, a taxi driver rocking out to his music, or a coworker telling me about her friend that passed away. Everything that makes us human unites us.