Welcome. Welcome home to Africa.
These words resonate deeply in my head because there is nothing quite like the smiling, welcoming embrace of the Ghanians. Their overwhelming kindness and willingness to help at all times, despite their economic situation, is strange to me, but gives the phrase “welcome home to Africa” a deeper meaning.
The media portrays Africa as a continent filled with extreme poverty and perpetuates the stereotype of the starving African. Because of the media portrayals, the community adamantly insists on no photos because they do not wish to continue the stereotype in that way.
While extreme poverty exists, what the media fails to capture is the true essence of the African culture and community. The friendliness, strength and outgoing personalities of the people fail to shine in the media.
The idea of leaving the country for the first time was incredibly daunting. Prior to this trip, my travel experience was strictly within the United States, ranging from California to New York City. I heard the rumor that many people outside of the country did not care for Americans, so the thought frightened me as I prepared to leave my safety net for the first time.
The Director of Webster Ghana Christa Sanders, however, said Ghana holds some of the friendliest and most welcoming people she has ever met. From my first week here, I agree 100 percent.
From the moment we stepped off the plane, my classmates and I were greeted with too many smiles to count and blasted with humidity. Inside the airport, an energetic live band serenaded visitors and gave us a first glimpse into the lively culture we would shortly witness for ourselves. Ghanians surrounded us with offers to find your bags, help you to your car and in general, assist in any way possible to make our welcome here that much more meaningful.
Upon our arrival in Ghana, we were greeted by Abigail Benyah, a representative from Webster’s campus in the city of Accra. She represents this lively spirit of Ghana. Her contagious smile, laughter and constant willingness to go out of her way to make us feel comfortable here broke down any barriers of uneasiness.
The people of Ghana continue to amaze me with their strength and friendliness, despite the difficulties life may present. In a male-dominated society, women still are the vision of courage and perseverance. At any given moment, you see many women walking down the street with babies on their backs and a large load towering over their head.
Local artist and owner of the Artist Alliance Gallery Emanuel Glover primarily paints the women of Ghana. He said they represent the strength and the upholding of Ghanian culture. When men were traded in the slave trade, it was up to the women to ensure the culture and their way of life remained. Today, women are the pillars of society, seeking any way possible to supply for their families, all while wearing a smile on their face and never breaking a sweat.
Despite the budding democracy of Ghana, poverty remains prevalent and the gap between the classes remains large. But, through this, the spirit of Ghana and the saying “welcome home to Africa” still shines.
An example of this is the Central Market in Kumasi, Ghana. From the outside, it simply looks like a place to buy fruits, meats, spices, beads and fabrics. After a short climb to an upper balcony and a hike deep into the market, the view changes drastically.
From above, you can see little shacks with metal roofs and dirt pathways stretch as far as the eye can see. Carts attempt to push through crowds of people in alleys wide enough for one line of people to pass through. For someone who has never experienced something like this, the visual of extreme poverty and those living in this state attempting to make a buck overwhelmed me with so many different emotions.
What impacted me the most, however, was the immense kindness and friendliness of the people in the market. The Ghanian people living in and around the area lack the necessity of clean water and sanitary spaces to properly clean food that we as Americans take for granted every day.
But despite this, they remain happy and positive. Walking through the market, nearly every single vendor gave us a smile, said hello to us and welcomed us to Ghana. Some even walked up to us, shook our hands and started a casual conversation with us about where we are from, how our trip has been and what brought us to their beautiful country they are so proud to be a part of.
We take so much for granted living in the United States. We complain about our food being cold, our showers being lukewarm, our clothes not matching just so or politics. We turn our heads as if to ignore the racist and unfriendly acts toward others.
The kindness I experienced in Ghana in one week is unlike any other. The constant smiles, hellos, handshakes, conversations and pride in the nation overwhelms me, but gives me hope for what I can bring back to the U.S. The Ghanians have set the example for me – kindness and friendliness comes in different forms, but it truly makes all the difference.