Looking back on my first week in Ghana, I find my memories a little blurry. The meaning of time has changed since I was back in Oregon, from the strict structures of classes and work into a laid back flow of events that I have a hard time placing into chronological order. Needless to say the week has been crazy. I visited a school and watched as children performed traditional African dance and poetry for me, I went to Reggae Night at a beach bar and lost a game of pool to a man who went by the name of “Rasta Masta,” and I even touched a crocodile. While the scheduled and organized events have been fun, the most interesting experience I’ve had was one I stumbled into on my own.
This last weekend, the group went to the town of Cape Coast, which is home to a few of the slave trade castles that litter the western coast of Africa from the colonial days. After a very emotionally heavy day of touring the castles and hearing about the atrocities that occurred there, I decided to go for a run to clear my head. We were staying at a resort on the water called Coconut Grove that was right on the beach so I decided to jog down the coastline. After about a half a mile, I ended up next to a group of men who were pulling in some sort of fishing line from the ocean. There were two lines about 10 meters apart that extended about 50 meters into the ocean, looping into a very large U shape. Coming off of the middle of the bend and extending another 15 meters into the ocean was a rope connecting to a giant net. On each of the two lines, there was 15-20 men who were grabbing the rope and backpedaling until they reached the back of the line and then walked back up to the front, grabbed the rope, and started again. After watching for a couple minutes a man yelled and beckoned me over. When I reached him he asked me if I wanted to help and I thought, “Why not?” So I joined the ranks and began pulling the rope and doing my best to sing along with the men in their native language. After about 30 minutes we finally pulled in the net, it was full of tropical fish. I helped the men push the boats back up towards the land and then back to the net to sort the fish. During this process one of the men pulled out a sea serpent and said, “Hey Obruni,” and tossed it at me. Like any rational person who has a venomous snake thrown at them, I leaped backwards and fell into the sand. The whole village proceeded to laugh as a young boy grabbed it and threw it back into the ocean along with what was left of my dignity. After finishing sorting the fish, it was time for me to leave. As I left, one of the more elderly ladies in the village said something to me in the local language of Fanti. One of the men translated it to English for me as “The white man brings good luck to the catch.” The man who originally called me over gave me a bag of fish which I accepted, not exactly knowing what I would do with it. As I left, the whole village waved goodbye. It was easily one of the coolest experiences of my life. Upon returning to the resort the chef offered to fry my fish for me, which I later enjoyed at a beachside bar watching a beautiful Ghanaian sunset over the Atlantic.
Besides some new fishing abilities, I took something very important away from this experience. One of the men I talked to while pulling in the net told me he was 25 and had been doing that every day for his entire life. He never expects to do anything else simply because the opportunity isn’t there. Yet he was thankful for the community he was in, the people around him, and that unlike many, he had a way to earn money. Everybody is dealt certain cards in life and the people who are happiest aren’t the ones who have the best hand. The people who are happiest are the ones that know how to be happy with what they have.