Thursday, September 07, 2006

"America is oppressive"

So as of today I have been in the country for a month. YAY! How am I celebrating? I had class at 7:30 and now I am at my internship. Maybe tonight we are going to get Indian food for dinner. mmm. Things for me have been good thus far. No sickness (knock on wood), classes are good, food is good. My top ten favorite foods so far: 1. Fried Plantains 2. Red Red and Plantains 3 . Waykie and rice 4. Fried Yams 5. Ghanaian chocolate 6. Omelette and plantain pancakes 7. meat pies 8. Burgers ground nuts 9. butter bread 10. banana cake. Two nights ago I fried my own plantains. they were amazing.
After a month of solitude in my room, I got a roommate. She is a med student from Tema, in Accra, and her mother is Nigerian. She wants to go into either hematology or surgery, i think. She wants to go out of the country so that she can specialize in something and she was thinking about the states. But she had quite an interesting view of the states that I wasn't expecting to hear. She said "America is oppressive." I ask her to explain. She said that in America she couldn't walk down the street and say "homosexuality is wrong." Here she could say that and everyone would agree with her. I think she means oppressive in that if you said that, someone would disagree and probably argue. I told her that there are people who would agree with her, but that just as she has the right to say that, someone else has the right to tell her they disagree. On a divergent note, can we discuss this homosexuality issue. Since you probably don't follow Ghanaian news, you wouldn't know that this has come to the fore front as a big issue because a group of gay advocates were trying to host conferences in Ghana and the government wouldn't allow it. It has been in all the newspapers, radio and tv. Homosexuality is not accepted in ghana, point blank. Politicians and church leaders have said that gays have horns and will ruin society if they come here to have their conference. There is no point arguing, it is totally unacceptable. So that is why my roommate knows that if she said it in the streets in Ghana, everyone would agree.
She also said that if she was in America she wouldn't be able to spank her children. This made me laugh as I told her I was spanked, many a times. I told her what I believe, that spanking will always be accepted as a mechanism for punishment in black homes (haha) but that yes, if you do it in a public place, you could get in trouble (I also found out that spanking is illegal in Norway). She also doesn't think that America is very Christian. She didn't think that she would ever be able to find a boyfriend because the boys in America don't go to church and wouldn't be able to challenge her and help her grow spiritually. She also didn't think that black men in America were very attractive, since they put all the attractive ones on tv. Americans, or white people as she said, are cold, unappreciative, unfriendly and selfish. She said that if a white was walking from a store that was closed and she was walking to the store, the white wouldn't tell her it was closed. I don't necessarily see this as rude, because how would you know she was going to the store? But I do agree that we are very individualistic and we try to figure out things on our own and as a whole we aren't very willing to ask for help and sometimes not very accepting when it is offered to us. We also don't pay for each other when we go out to eat (which is really common here, one person pays to take their friends out and doesn't expect reimbursement) and we will harass you until you pay us back if we do pay for you.
She also told me that she would NEVER approach a boy if she was was his role to approach her (she said that approaching him would compromise herself and send the wrong message....).
This conversation really enlightened me about Ghanaians. It also drew attention to issues that I wouldn't think about, but are very important to her where America is lacking. It is tough though, because I am holding my tongue on many things that she has said because I don't want to insult her or her culture. I do try to offer her some insight on my beliefs and thoughts without encroaching on hers.
This weekend we are going to Hohoe in the Volta region. We are hiking up the tallest mountain in Ghana (which is supposedly a hill, not much of a mountain) and going to Wli falls, the tallest waterfalls in West Africa. Hohoe is right on the border with Togo and is a five hour tro-tro ride from here. We are leaving tomorrow afternoon. I am excited, its the first time we are going into the country and not to the beach.


Yani said...

Hey Justine,
Africa seems incredible! Lots to learn both in culture and enviroment. It's too bad that your roomate can't see the other side of educating and embracing gays and lesbians. Unfortantely living in shame can kill. I know there must be lots of folks on the down low and that can kill also. I hope that when you're back from your world travels you can make a stop to boston and share all you've learned with us.

Your Cousin (you know who I am!!) said...

There is sooo much that we don't know about each other. Talk about the effects of slavery and colonialism. Our oppressors really did a job on us when we can't even recognize the elemental similarities in ourselves and turn against each other in division.

It's still amazing to me how continental Africans don't know a thing about slavery, the civil rights movement, institutional racism and the struggles we face over here. Many of them think we're a bunch of complainers living in the land of milk and honey and if we just work a *little* harder, we can get by. Little do they know. We on the other hand, don't even know enough geography to know that Africa is not a country, but a vast continent filled with varied traditions and cultures not populated by people running around in loincloths. Thus, stereotypes abound and we still can't forge a connection with our people. I have sooo many continental women look at me with hatred and disgust because I choose to wear traditional clothing every day and they don't. As if I'm not entitled or as if I'm "less than..."

Somethin's gotta give!!! It's really, really bad.

carole hyman said...

Cuzzin Justine, this is just amazing. I do have an ebony bracelet from Togo.
I am so proud of the way you're handling yourself way across the world.I'm sure our ancestors are watching over you and YOU ASK them to do just that. Ask you roomie about IBO people. Take care . WIll try to send some $$ to your mom for you. Have you seen the movie Sankofa? I think it was filmed in Elmina castle.