My final week in Ghana has begun and I couldn’t be happier. Not because I am excited to leave, but because I’ve learned so much and can look at this last week with pure enjoyment and happiness as I coast towards the end. With my 8:50 p.m. flight to Egypt so close, I have found myself reflecting on certain things I’ve learned while I’ve been here.
I knew I would be coming back having learned different things and viewing the world in a different way, but it is much different than one might expect upon returning from an African country. Whether or not people recognize it, there is a very generalized perception of Africa that has been driven into the minds of Americans painting the beautiful continent in a light that is far from truthful. It was very visible to me before I left with the comments I received upon divulging my summer plans. The most common question was “Are you doing a mission?” or the occasional “Are you like living in a hut?” The answer to both of those questions is no. I’ve worked an incredible advertising internship where I have worked with local and international companies on deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rather than a typical internship where I learned by watching, I was thrown into the thick of things very quickly and have created commercials, conducted market research, and even constructed budgets. I made a lot of mistakes but I have learned I am so much more capable of things than I ever thought. But despite everything I learned about campaigns construction and strategy, I’ve learned something much more valuable.
One of things my boss has taught me is to not latch onto anything. I was trying to come up with a billboard slogan and I thought I had a really killer first line, which I did. The problem was I couldn’t come up with anything to follow it up with to put across the information about the offer we were making while fitting with the theme I had created with the slogan. After hours of thinking, I realized the problem was that I had clung onto my slogan so hard that I was limiting the rest of the ad. After I constructed the line about the offer, I thought of new slogan in a matter of minutes that opened up the entire ad and made it so much stronger. I’ve already applied this to my life in so many ways and feel so much more free and open. And if I had to encourage the rest of the world to apply it in one way, I would say don’t cling onto what you think you know about Africa.
Yes there are bad people and poverty but hell you have that everywhere. There may be radicals and terrorist groups, but there is also an old man who grabbed my hand and walked me across the street when he could tell I wasn’t sure if it was safe. There is a homeless man I pass everyday on my way to work who never asks me for money but rather how I am doing. I’ve experienced the same kind of actions that I experience from my closest friends at home from random strangers here. Kids want to play with you, adults want to talk to you, and everyone just wants to meet you. Sometimes they ask to marry me so they can come live in the States but it’s playful. I think what I will miss the most is the look in peoples eyes that says, “Is there anyway I can help you today?”
One of the saddest things I’ve experienced here is when people say (no matter how jokingly), “So you see we aren’t savages!” Africans know that’s how the world perceives them and it’s tragic because it’s so far from the truth. The corporate world of America is 100 times more full of lies, backstabbing, and stepping on people on the way to the top than Ghana is. Every Ghanaian who’s made a comment like that to me really just wants the western world to know the truth. One of the other members of the program asked a man once if he could tell America one thing about Africa, what would it be. He said, “…that Africa is beautiful.” Believe me, it truly is. Ghanaians are the richest people I have ever met. Not in the way of dollars and cents but in the way of community. Sure, money can buy you things like a AAA card, but do need it if 10 people are willing to drop what they’re doing and help push your car?
I encourage everyone to at some point go to Africa. Of course some parts are dangerous so if you’re looking for a safe place look no farther than Ghana. See how people live. See the struggles they face everyday. See how hard they have to work for the most basic things. And most importantly, see how happy they are all the while because they have community. It is truly inspiring.