Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ghana pics and reflections

I have posted pictures from Peachtree's trip to Ghana this summer here. These images tell of two weeks spent teaching and learning, worshipping and praying, loving and being loved.

There is nothing like international travel to reveal the isolated enclaves we tend to call home, the narrow cultural bounds that feel familiar to us. My trip this summer to Ghana served as a fresh reminder of how the mundane and quotidian for Americans is the stuff of dreams in much of the rest of the world. From what I understand, Ghana is not among the most impoverished nations on the African continent; nevertheless, the indelible fingerprints of the destructive colonial enterprise remain still. Amidst traditional huts of mud, clay, and straw are the teetering remains of imperial architecture; the same is true on a metaphorical plane. The legacy of the slave trade and several hundred years of imposed rule have filtered into the everyday lives of most Ghanaians. Yet, there is a centuries-old vibrant spirit singing still amongst the people of Ghana. I learned a great deal on this trip, especially about the difficult mingling of Christianity and culture.

As an outsider in the Ghanaian culture, I often wondered what kind of posture my critical perspective should take in relation to the culture I was experiencing. I came up with a litany of empty and unsatisfactory options. First, I could commit the error of too many liberal Westerners and idealize the culture of Ghana. A typically tourist mindset, this perspective stresses the exotic and the strange. In a sense, the African drum brought back to the states serves as an emblem of a culture at which we can only gawk as visitors in a zoo. Second, I could commit the opposite fallacy and presume that Ghanaian culture has nothing to teach us, that the culture of the other must convert to the "right" way of life. History teaches us the dangerous depths of such a sinful stance. Third, I could take the strictly relativist position and argue that I have no grounds upon which to critique--whether positively or negatively--another culture. In any of these approaches, the cultural other is held at arm's length and either celebrated, scrutinized, or simply neglected without an earnest encounter with the culture itself.

The solution, I found, is not simple and probably lies beyond our rational capabilities. One can only hope in the end to meet and try to know, empathize with, and love specific individuals whose culture, language, food, and dress call into question my own. Unfortunately, the lessons of a trip overseas, no matter how impactful, tend to dissipate as complacency grows and one's own culture becomes commonplace once again.