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Dec 16 / Darryl Shreve

Message in a Bucket

There is something rejuvenating about breathing the air born from another country. Touching a tree or feeling the sand of a foreign beach slip through your toes. Here in Ghana, the sensations are more poignant. Partially because of information gleaned from interviews conducted with Ghanians about their political process, but more so because of its role as a major stop on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. This sordid past, however; is now embraced by a richer history of progress and modernization. Yes, there are poor here and a large disparity between the wealthy and disenfranchised, but “poor” is relative and “happiness” a decision that is often times steeped in traditions.

Elmina Castle was erected by Portugal in 1482. It was given back to Ghana by the British in 1957.

President Emeritus Irvin D. Reid, took a team of students, faculty and staff to Ghana to observe their presidential elections. One could not help but to make additional observations about the country and her people.

As with any society, there will be customs that are strikingly different from our own. For instance, Ghana (and other parts of Africa) use a unique method for bathing. We stayed in the campus guest housing (which operated like a hotel) for the duration of our trip. Upon entering my room, I was greeted by the sight of buckets in the bath tub. I assumed that the cleaning crew forgot their supplies and was therefore deserving of a complaint to the manager.

Well apparently, the buckets had a different purpose. The larger bucket is filled with water and then the smaller bucket is used for washing. This method of bathing probably goes back hundreds of years and in my arrogance and rush to judgement, generations of traditions were dismissed. I found that bathing this way was different, but quite functional. We pay the price with every decision of ignorance we make in stunted growth.

In Ghana, they also use their heads to carry most goods and wrap their babies on their backs. Absent of wheel barrels and baby carriages, these methods offer more support.


This experience with the African Democracy Project has caused me to reflect on other times when I may have allowed my own perceptions of how things “should be” dictate my feelings toward people or their customs. Wayne State is a microcosm of the world with a large international community representing many ethnicities, religions and customs. There are cultural differences as well, from urban to the suburban.

It is disheartening when we mistake tolerance for acceptance. If only we could truly walk in shoes not our own on beaches in faraway places, peace would be easier to achieve. Yes we like familiarity when it comes to friendships and colleagues, but considering that we all have something to contribute, why limit our personal growth by denying the knowledge gained from sharing experiences. The world is a large place, but it gets so much smaller with every person we accept and truly get to know. There is no suggestion here to agree and/or participate with behavior that goes against one’s principles, rather that assigning right and wrong to another person’s way of life, limits us more than it does them. Understanding the purpose of something different, can offer new pathways for problem solving in our own lives.

Our return flight from Ghana left us in transit for about 22 hours, so what better way to end my travels than with a nice steaming hot, bucket wash.

Just saying.


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  1. Darryl Shreve / Dec 17 2012

    Hey, sometimes its easier to think outside of the box, when you are actually outside of it. Thanks.

  2. Matt Lockwood / Dec 17 2012

    Darryl, sounds like it was a worthwhile and enlightening trip, thanks for sharing.

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