We were warned. Miss Wood, the teacher who led the U.S. and Ghana Exchange Program, had spent months hammering Ghanaian culture into our heads. We watched documentaries, looked at pictures, and read National Geographic articles. Having been well educated, I was conscious that in Ghana it would be 100 degrees every single day. I comprehended that there was a water shortage which meant communal bucket baths. However, I was not prepared to freely sail the sea of Ghanaian culture. While there, I had to abandon the burdensome cargo of “American” baggage which laded me with shyness, modesty, and fear.
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In February, we finally arrived in Accra. As I walked down the steps of the plane, my glasses instantly fogged up. It had just rained and I could feel and see the water as it evaporated from the ground. With each grueling step, sweat trickled down my forehead and back. Having my body melt away was not a pleasant feeling. Overwhelmed with the heat, I kept telling myself, “You’ll arrive at the school and find water.” When we pulled up to Achimota School’s main office, we immediately were taken to the girl’s dormitory, “Livingston House,” to freshen up before a long day of activities. As we trickled into the living quarters, we are greeted by a pouring of “Hellos” and hugs.
Marylin, one of the hosts, instinctively asked, “Would you like to take a shower?” Those of us in the American group in unison said yes. We gathered our toiletries, stripped off our sweat drenched clothing, and wrapped ourselves in towels. Shefi Nelson, my host, prepared five buckets and carried them to the washroom which was the size of a locker room. We walked in and saw thirty naked girls bathing; there was absolutely no privacy. Each girl nonchalantly scrubbed, rinsed, dried herself and left. Shefi giggled and explained that in Ghana it was a cultural norm for people of the same sex to not be ashamed of bathing together in public.I stood there awestruck. My heart raced. My mind raced. Suddenly, the five other girls in the ACC group took off squealing back upstairs, saying they would shower later once all the other girls were gone. I looked around. Shyly, I took a step forward, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and ripped off my towel. At that moment, I not only immersed myself in refreshing water, but also in the Ghanaian values.
Through this experience, I realized that there was an enormous difference between learning about something and actually experiencing it. Miss Wood did a great job giving us surface information; nevertheless, my senses were not activated until I was thrown into the situation. Although I almost ran away, I knew that it was better to become the captain of my whirling emotions, instead of submitting to my fears. Because I was brave and trusting, the Ghanaian girls quickly accepted me as one of them. They wholeheartedly thanked me for casting off my anxieties and plunging into their world. I could have kept my modesty, but that would have created boundaries. While the other American girls continually struggled to keep afloat and to assimilate, I cruised through each new experience such as eating fufu for the first time and surviving the 130 ft. high Canopy Walk at Kakum National Park. I truly gained so much more when there were no dams blocking the natural flow of the environment. So, the next time I am in a sticky hot situation, I will remember this day, drop the towel, and jump right in without a worry.
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