the africa emails: getting settled into other

Uncategorized November 20, 2013

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Scan 6-a kitchen

Thu, 28 Aug 2003 13:32:42 -0500
Subject:
“I am not sure what day it is or how long many days ago it was since I last wrote.  Time moves very differently here and I feel as if it has already been a month since I have been gone.  I am pretty sure that each day feels like a week.   It is so different here.  I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in downtown Kumasi (Adum), it is pretty hot and everyone in here is listening to the Kumasi vs. Accra basketball game on the radio. When a goal is scored, I can hear the entire marketplace cheering.  Its quite amazing.  I am getting more and more used to this place, I am starting to pick up some Twi and can argue with the cab drivers enough to get my ride to downtown for one and a half dollars.  Every time a twi word comes out of one of our mouths, people start laughing and sometimes clapping.  It seems that the effort is both appreciated and entertaining.  My roomates and  I have purchased some raid and have done battle with the insect world that lives with us.  A hotplate and a can opener later, we have full blown meals of canned tuna and boiled water for tea!  I am almost finished with the 5-day long process of registering for classes.  I am doing both drumming and guitar (I have decided finally to buy a guitar because it is such a great opportunity to study with Koonimo), there is philosophical and religious aspects of Ghanain art, and I finally spoke to the resident photographer for KNUST today and have full access to the darkroom (he is also getting me all the necessary supplies, imagine, a university faculty member being more than accomodating!). “. I never actually ended up getting to work In a darkroom, at this point we were still functioning as if we were students in the United States. Though the hospitality we received was un-paralleled, the classes were somewhat pointless (except for the music classes). We were kept apart from the rest of the student body, and our classes met infrequently and irregularly. As I mentioned above, time moves differently over there. People would also fail to show because they were sick with Malaria on a shockingly regular basis. From a formal education standpoint, the trip was something of a failure, however, I learned more in those months than any since (except for perhaps when I studied for the bar exam, and I have forgotten probably 90% of that while these lessons remain vivid!).

“My friends and I have befriended a penpal of one of our party and have been getting the inside scene on Kumasi.  We visit Alfred and his friends in Abo Abo, the Muslim distric of Kumasi and they show us around the neighborhood.  I ended up on one of the street corners one night getting Twi lessons along with my two roommates from half the neighborhood.  When our friends returned from their errand, they found the three of us surrounded by a crowd of people drilling us on the days of the week… clapping and correcting.   I have never felt so safe and welcome among strangers before.  These neighborhoods are incredible.” This night stands out particularly in my memory, it is just something that would never happen in the United States, or many of the other countries I have visited since. Perhaps people have better things to do than teach three foreigners their language, and that is what made it so special. It was seemed genuinely mutually enjoyable. The interaction was so pure and basic, just trying to communicate with other people because we happened to be in the same place at the same time, with some time on our hands. I’ll never forget it, and could probably spend a long time trying to pin point exactly what was so special about it.
“The gap between classes is fairly large and there doesn’t seem to be much of a middle class.  Walking around Abo Abo at night is like walking through people’s living rooms.  They are all sitting around in and outside of tiny homes pounding foo foo, crowded around radios, boiling water, and chatting. That is another incredible thing about this place.  Unless you are in the marketplace or the campus, people seem to be mostly sitting around or sleeping in during the day.  People walk slowly here, and after a week of running around campus in this humidity, I have the same pace that seems to have no destination nor desire for one. I won’t even try to think up an explanation for this observation, but I do remember the stark difference between being always on the go, always having something to do and just not. I also try to achieve some balance between these two ways of living. Taking time to simply interact with other humans, or to just sit and think, is important. It is difficult for me as I have relatively recently emerged from the legal world, one that is constantly driven by deadlines and schedules. I learned in Africa that there is a definitely metaphysical difference when your relationship with time changes. We all know to some extent how time is relative, that waiting makes minutes tick by while pleasure makes them speed, however that, however this observation is nothing compared to the possibilities that exist. The word “now” actually means something different in Africa. (I say Africa, and not just Ghana only because I spent a few months in South Africa after leaving Ghana. I can’t actually speak about all of Africa, but I began to suspect that the continent has some very real unifying characteristics and ways of life, the relationship with time being one of them). .

“We are also getting tutored in the local music, hip life and high life.  Everyone is incredibly friendly and accomodating.  I also only see about 1 other white person (if that) a day besides those in my group…I am starting to stare at them as much as I get stared at now.  I immediately start wondering who they are and what they could possibly be doing here, which makes it easier for me to be constantly on parade. Another interesting thing is that no one knows if we are american, british, german or any other white person that speaks english for that matter.  I am always asked, sometimes I am dutch, sometimes german, sometimes canadian… when my true origins are discovered there are handshakes and smiles. More often than not chance encounters conclude with email address requests. Everyone is interested, in what, I haven’t quite decided, but I do think that the friendliness is on the whole quite sincere.  I have also resolved to err on the side of naivete as opposed to cynicism on this trip in order to avoid tainting my interactions with this place, which has already proven to be more different then I could have ever previously imagined. I am not sure how much I am going to be able to get downtown to use the computers once school starts on monday, and I absolutely refuse to use those awful machines at school… so, I would like to ask for postal address’s.  I would love to write letters to anyone who sends me an address (there is so much going on at every moment that it seems impossible that I can’t talk to any of you about it) .  I am pretty sure that phone calls are
farther out of the price range then I had previously thought, not to mention that telephones are not overly accessible.   I hope all of you beginning classes are enjoying them and that everyone else is having a good time as well.  I miss everyone, mostly proper in-door plumbing, but all of you as well.  (As,far as I can tell, many a restroom consists solely of rooms with holes in the floor, if that at all.)
PS Thank you to everyone who wrote me back, its great to hear from you.  It is good to know that the us still exists (though its existence will never be as absolute as it used to be)  and what you are all up to.   It is no small thing to read emails from friends and family in this none-too-familiar place…”
At this point, I was getting settled into being a stranger in a strange land. The most lasting thing about that is the knowledge that our reality is not absolute as we believe it to be. Even the time that we move in is not necessarily so. It is freeing to remember that so much of the structure of our reality has to do with where we are from, it also means that a great many of our problems are as well. If I remember to take my day to day world as less of an absolute, then it becomes a little lighter.

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