Culture Shock in Cape Coast

Trip Start Feb 15, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2012

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Flag of Ghana  , Central,
Saturday, February 19, 2011

Right when I arrived I was invited to go to Cape Coast (it's southwest of Ho, toward the Ivory Coast) for the weekend with some other volunteers. I was pretty overwhelmed trying to get settled and everything, but I was excited to travel and spend time with the others. At 4 am we began the exhausting journey to Cape Coast. We had to take a tro tro from Ho to Accra and then from Accra to Cape Coast.  The tros seat about 16 people, and they don’t leave until they are full, so we spent a lot of the day waiting around.  The tro stations are crazy, with drivers yelling and pushing, trying to find out where you are going, and fill up their tro tro so they can leave. 

Originally Cape Coast was a fishing town, changing hands from the Portuguese, Swedes, Danish, Dutch, to British throughout the 17th century.  It became an important trading port along the coast, and was integral to the transatlantic slave trade, holding up to 1,500 captured individuals in dungeons to await shipment.  There are 32 castles and forts that played similar roles along Ghana’s 500 km coastline.

We had dinner and hung out at Oasis, a hotel on the beach, where we met some of the Cape Coast Projects Abroad volunteers.  It seems to be a popular place for tourists – more white people in one area than I had seen in a while! A group of Australian guys were there who were biking across Ghana! Pretty intense…

The Ghanaian system is very different from America and Europe (so I am learning). I know I am still new here, while other volunteers have had much more time to think about the system, but I am having a hard time not getting frustrated when people criticize: the children learn by rote, they get whipped, orphans work as maids in homes, needles aren’t sterile, cell phones are used at work and during other inappropriate times, so-and-so died because the doctor wasn’t paying attention etc. The environment and resources available in Ghana are completely different and it doesn’t make sense to evaluate their practices with our foreign standards.  People all over the world deserve the best, but we have to recognize that the way we do things isn’t necessarily the most efficient, effective, or reasonable approach for Ghana. Improvements must be made from the inside out, not from the outside in. 

Each of us is looking for something different out of our experience in Ghana. Perhaps I am just optimistic, and maybe it’s not possible, but I am here to learn as much as I can about the rich Ghanaian culture and medicine, without passing judgment. I feel that there is so much I can learn from observing and asking questions at the hospital, participating in medical outreaches, and speaking to locals. Even if I cannot get much direct hands-on experience at the hospital, science and humanity has no cultural boundaries, and I feel that my time here is a valuable educational experience.

Feeling pretty overwhelmed from culture shock, exhausted from travel, and brought down by negative perspectives on how things work in about Ghana, without yet having had the chance to experience them for myself, I decided to return to the hotel alone in a taxi.  I couldn’t find a taxi though.  When I asked two local girls where I could get one, they instead graciously offered to walk me back to my hotel.
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