The highs and lows of my trip: by Douglas Mack
Going to a foreign country one knows that they are going to experience many new things, but some experiences one just does not expect. While in Ghana, I had a multitude of experiences both good and bad, and I feel that they defined my trip, and helped define and mold me as a person. The experiences I had ranged from being ravaged by street merchants, to seeing beautiful waterfalls, to having a knife be pulled out of my pocket, to negotiating prices for souvenirs. These experiences which may seem insignificant made a large impact on me, and may be what I remember most from our trip.
One of the first interesting experiences I had while in Ghana was when we went to see a slave castle. On our way into the castle, there were street merchants swarming all who came off of the bus, asking us to buy, and to remember their names. Then, leaving them for the slave castle I forgot the whole situation as the group toured the slave castle and listened to the horrors that took place there. Coming out of the castle I remember first feeling a little frustrated to see the merchants coming up to retry their attempts to sell me their items. Just then, I remembered our brief lesson on haggling with the natives, and I got excited to see if I would be any good at it. As the first wave of merchants approached me they showed me some interesting bracelets, and one customized with my name. I offered a price for two bracelets, and they agreed. Just as I thought the negotiation was over, another merchant came to me with the biggest seashell I had seen with my name and a note written on it. I was taken back by the level of customization these merchants went through to sell me their goods. I then began to make an offer for the seashell, but our van where everyone had just loaded, started to shout to hurry up. As I tried to make the payment someone from our group started walking towards me and told me not to pay and get on the bus. Feeling bad that I had to make everyone wait, I told the merchants that I had been instructed not to purchase anything and that I had to go. This sent them into an uproar, and also began to scare my group members. In the end I made it out with a customized embroidered bracelet which, to appease the crazed crowd, I paid twice as much as I should have. This was not the greatest experience, but I would not trade it for another.
My haggling skills improved as time went on, and in no time I was a fairly confident negotiator. Some of my favorite moments included trading the watch off of my wrist and a few bucks for a handmade knife, buying a good shirt for an even better deal, and purchasing a hand carved small drum for less than seven dollars. Although haggling may seem insignificant and even shallow on the surface, I feel it helped me with confidence and being assertive. Sometimes, I see myself as a pushover, or hesitating to say things or do things that may disappoint who I am with when I don’t feel comfortable with the situation. Though my haggling experiences may seem insignificant or shallow on the outside, I feel these experiences helped me find the confidence to be assertive, or at least to be able to say “NO” to something I don’t want.
One of the items I purchased that I mentioned was a knife which I bought with a watch and some money. Never owning anything other than Swiss army knives I was excited to add a handmade Ghanaian knife to my collection. One thing I found very interesting was the way the knife made people react. Many of my friends own knives, and use them as tools for tasks such as cleaning and cutting boxes, tape, and other wrappings. So, I was very surprised to see the reaction from one of our hotel staff. In the very least he seemed concerned that I had the knife and he referred to it as a Weapon many times. When I told him what I intended to use it for, he could not understand how it could be used for anything else. What was more shocking was his reaction to my small knife when people regularly carried machetes down the street to cut grass, tree fruit off of trees, and shave coconuts. Interestingly enough, he starts playing around with my knife and ends up slicing through the leather casing and cut his finger a little. I quickly fetched my first aid kit and bandaged up his finger (which was not cut very severely), and he told those of us that were around some of his interesting theories to conquer illness, pain, and gashes; this was to not tell anyone you were not well, and to hit gashes with blunt objects to encourage bleeding.
Days later, I was interested in purchasing a coconut off of the street to drink and eat. Knowing that the seller would only be able to cut the top of the coconut off for me to drink before we parted, I decided before we parted the hotel to bring my knife to cut open the coconut later, to eat the insides. While with our group shopping the stands of the street side merchants, one particularly aggressive man insisted that I come to his shop to look around. To appease him I came to his shop, but found nothing that interested me at his prices. As I tried to leave he held my hand and said something along the lines of, “Sir you are cheap, and you cheapen me and my art, because you are cheap.” I said, okay and left his shop to regain our group, and a few minutes later I feel a hand go into my pocket, and the man pulled out my knife from its sheath in my pocket and started screaming at me. I quickly grabbed hold of the butt of the knife as he was holding the knife in his hands like a plate, and repeated over and over, “Sir, let go of the knife.” He did eventually let go of my knife, and some of his friends came to apologize for his behavior. Needless to say, I was shocked that the situation took place. Did this little knife really scare the Ghanaian people that much? Well, a few days later we were at another large shopping area and a man was selling knives among other things. I pointed to a knife that looked very similar to mine and I said, what would I do with a knife like that if I bought it? He said I could carry it around with me for self defense. I asked if it would freak anyone out, and he assured me that it would not. Whatever the truth is, I learned from this experience to be more cautious with such items, and if I do carry them, to have them concealed to the point where only I can obtain it when necessary. After all, it never hurts to be civil and obey rule 20: be a considerate guest.
As guests in Ghana, there are two things I think everyone learned. First, Ghana is a relatively safe place full of hard working and caring people, and one incident like the one described above does little to take away from that image. Second, the scenery is breath taking at every turn. Maybe it’s because I am a sucker for tropical weather, but every place we went on our trip seemed to offer something beautiful or breathtaking. One instance in particular included a small puddle near the ocean. While waiting for our food at an outdoor restaurant near the beach some members of our group and I decided to explore the natural water worn rock formations near the water’s edge. After a while of being in awe of nature’s wonderers sculptures, I stumbled across a puddle that went deep into the rock. I was mesmerized by this puddle as it forced me to vividly recall a dream from my childhood where I walked into a shimmering blue cave to find a hole in the rock filled with water and small sea creatures that made my imagination shiver with delight. As I peered into this puddle on the cost of Ghana, Africa, surrounded by rock and water I could not help but be again struck with the same feeling of wonder. I watched as different forms of wildlife that I had never seen before swim and walk within the water filled hole. For a moment on the trip it felt like I could forget about cultural relativity, anthropology, and academics as I made a connection that our world in which we live is truly amazing and all of us, Ghanaian, American, German, Indian, everyone could agree on one thing, that to be alive on this earth, is good.
So many experiences from this trip touched my life in a very special way, and some points particularly reached deep into my sole. I feel that I learned a lot from this trip, about culture, about medicine, and about taking action in what I feel strongly in. It is my hope that the above and all other moments that I hold significant from the trip will remain with me forever, and I allow them to shape my life.
Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Print.
Forni, P. M. Choosing Civiligy. St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002. Print