Who is suitable for the Meet Africa experience?
If you are interested in other cultures and want to get to know them from within, you are very welcome to “Meet Africa”. You will do best with the following character traits:
Flexibility, patience and not afraid of an indigenous environment.
These traits make it easier to have a nice time in Ghana. Why?
First, because sometimes it’s difficult to cope with a different culture. You don’t know the other people’s line of thinking or what they expect from you. People react in different ways from what you are used to, which may lead to misunderstandings. It helps to be flexible and patient and give yourself and the people you live with a chance to get used to each other. Some African norms and values differ from European values. For example, in Ghana it is less important to be sincere or do exactly what you have promised to do than it is to be friendly and polite to people (especially elders). If you won’t or can’t accept these differences your time in Ghana can become quite difficult for you. In the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ on this website you will find more examples.
Secondly, life in northern Ghana is simpler than the life Westerners are used to. For example, tap water and electricity are not always available. Bathrooms are basically tiny cabins with a bucket of water for showering. There may be a toilet available, but more common is a communal toilet, consisting of a hole in the ground. People in villages tend to go into the woods for their sanitary needs. Since hygienic standards are lower than most Westerners are used to, many travellers will suffer from diarrhoea.
Finally, most Westerners will find Ghanaian cuisine to be an acquired taste. Meals typically consist of a ball of dough or thick porridge served with a spicy soup, made of peanuts or dried vegetables. There are also meals consisting of rice, beans or yam (a potato-like root) which Westerners are more familiar with. It won’t harm you to adapt to local dishes. Meals with town families are usually somewhat more varied than meals with village families.
The problem of ‘wanting to help’
It is not a problem in itself if you want to help poor people, but we would like to warn those who travel to Africa (or to other non-Western countries) with this attitude. The problem with ‘wanting to help’ lies in the presumption that your own country is doing well, whereas the other country is doing badly, often combined with the idea that if only people would adopt our attitude and approach, their lives would be better. In our opinion, this is a misunderstanding: we live in completely different cultures with different customs, habits and values. Many volunteers and aid workers start with great ideas and plans, only to become disappointed and frustrated in the end. There may be many people who need help, but people may not respond in the way we expect them to or maybe they aren’t as grateful as we had hoped. It is simply impossible to help everyone who has a problem, especially in developing countries. The inability to do everything you had planned for often leads to disappointment, frustration, anger and sadness, instead of you enjoying your time out there. Consequently, you will not be the most enjoyable person to associate with. And most Africans like to associate with cheerful, open and warm people.
To summarize: the “I am here to help you” attitude is not the most beneficial attitude if you want to build pleasant and mutually satisfactory relationships with the local population. And it is only sincere contact with the locals that will enable you to contribute to the people’s well-being and your own!
What will you get out of staying in another culture?
The previous was not meant to discourage you, but rather to prepare you, should you decide to travel to Ghana with “Meet Africa”. Your efforts to adjust to local customs and culture will be rewarded and enrich you as a person in many ways. We list a few possible changes:
- You will learn to put your norms and values into perspective. Living in another culture will confront you with alternatives to your own habits. These alternatives result in a different society, with its own advantages and disadvantages. By experiencing multiple possibilities you possibly become more conscious of your own habits instead of your unconsciously copying what is considered normal in your own society.
- Having friends in another continent can be enriching and may broaden your perspective of the world. Keeping in touch with these people allows you access to personalized news about the other country, apart from what you will hear on the news or see on television in your own country.
- You will become aware of the cultural differences that immigrants in our society face. Quite probably this will result in greater tolerance towards and understanding of non-Westerners in our own society.
- It may occur to you how individualistic your own country is when you return from Ghana. You will have a clearer view of the advantages and disadvantages of an individualistic society. This will help you to determine how you yourself want to relate to your family and friends.
- You will have an increased awareness of your own country’s wealth. You may appreciate anew the things you own or find out that you don’t need what you once thought you needed. Maybe you will feel inspired to change material injustice in this world or be more aware when you are buying things (e.g. you may start buying fair trade products).
To summarize: staying in Ghana will broaden your worldview and enrich you as a person. Your personal growth will serve you and the people around you for the rest of your life. In this way you can contribute to making this world a better place.