After visiting Em in June, she asked me to write an entry for her blog. here goes ....
Having been lucky enough to visit a lot of far flung and distinctive places all over the world, I have somehow never quite made it to sub-Saharan Africa before. So with Em off to Ghana for a year, it seemed the perfect opportunity to explore a new place with a lovely (and knowledgeable!) friend.
Stepping off my connection to Tamale, about half-way up Ghana and as far as you can go by plane, perhaps the first thing to hit me was the 38°C sunshine. It was magnificent! And, for a girl who visibly wilts from 23°C, also rather a challenge. Happily, a week later I stopped noticing it completely (the sweat, not the heat. I'm aware that readers in the gentle climes of the UK may find this more than a bit gross, but such self-denial is like ignoring the rain in British summer time: necessary not only to continue with your BBQ, but also for your general sanity and wellbeing).
Once I'd begun to be able to rise before and stay semi-lucid throughout the mid-day heat, exploring Zebilla became possible. It's fair to say that nasaras (white people, and I am virtually translucent even by British standards) find it hard to blend in. It's also fair to say that Ghanaians would do very well on Chatchphrase; many people are happy to greet you at fifty paces with a shout of 'nasara!' or, for excitable children, 'NASARAAAAAA! NAAAAAASARAAAAAAAA!'. In many places (and we can definitely count pubs in small British villages in this category), being obviously foreign and feeling unwelcome or intimidated go hand in hand. But in Zebilla people were so friendly, warm and hospitable. Every new introduction began with a genuine smile, was peppered with handshaking, and rounded off with a hearty 'you are welcome in Ghana!'. I got the feeling that such warm and authentic welcoming is part of a culture of being part of, and therefore always representing, your wider community.
The other upside of my newfound heat-resistance was that it allowed me to tag along to World Vision events. I experienced some truly wonderful things: seeing babies in woolly hats and booties in near forty degree heat; sitting next to a local Chief snoozing in the midday sun at a formal event, only to sleep-snort so loudly he woke himself up; feeling a terrifying thrill zipping along dirt tracks at 50kph on the back of Gilbert's moto; being around mothers breastfeeding children without shame or fear of being thrown out of a bakery (though to be fair it was a misunderstanding and there are no bakeries in Zebilla).
I felt lucky to have been welcomed into the local communities, though also embarrassed to be referred to as a 'visiting dignitary' when really all I was doing most of the time was furtively looking for shade, snapping photos and subjecting locals to my faltering Kusal. What I enjoyed the most though was seeing Ghanaians working together to face important issues like baby mortality, malaria prevention and living with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The World Vision team are doing a cracking job of leading and facilitating ongoing developments, even if their resources have just been cut thanks to a general decline in income for the charity.
Zebilla is a beautiful, relaxed place full of people who are friendly, inquisitive and determined to improve their community for the next generation. Seeing ordinary people going about their usual business (which I can't deny also includes the regular and ardent proposing of marriage to strangers) showed me that this is a dynamic community and country looking forward to the future and all its possibilities. Like anywhere, it's not perfect. As a person who thinks women are not automatically inferior to and better off under the control of men, I'm not sure I fit in with quite all of the cultural beliefs. It was certainly funny and thought provoking to chat to one local man about how, in the UK, men with more than one wife not only get in serious trouble with the ladies, but also the law.
The vibrancy and warmth of the Zedtown was so encompassing and comforting that leaving felt like getting out of a hot bath in winter (the kind that is so hot your face sweats a bit). If you're like me and only hear about Africa or Ghana when something terrible has been underway for quite a while, I'd say go to Zebilla. You'll not only have an amazing time, but you'll see a cultured, bright and determined country that's trying very hard on and succeeding in some extraordinary feats of development. Hurrah for Ghana!