The 2019-2020 academic school year has begun. Girls trickled in slowly at first, but most all of our returning students are now on campus. We have 16 new Form 1 students so far, though the list of those who signed up to come was over 40. I have been told it is common in Ghana for first years to arrive up to a month after the start of the year.
Along with teaching the one class, I am also the school Secretary and the school Storekeeper. These three functions keep me very busy. Outside of the school, the Headmistress is the President of the Council of Catholic Women Association, a world-wide organization of Catholic Women. She has talked Karen and I into joining and helping her with a big Diocesan-wide event coming up at the end of November. More news on that at a later time.
It is currently October, both the Month of the Rosary and this year, the Extraordinary Month for Missions. We started October 1st, the Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux – (The Little Flower – St. Therese of the Child Jesus), co-patron of Missionaries along with St. Francis Xavier, with a Mission Rosary and Mass at the Grotto in Damongo. It was a beautiful way to start the month.
My long-time friend, Augie Ambe, came upon my blog via Facebook last month and spent three hours going through all of posts from the beginning, reading, watching videos and looking at the many pictures. He enjoyed it and asked me to continue, however, he also had a question for me. “How does it really feel “standing out” as a white woman in Africa?”
Those of you who know Augie, are not surprised he would delve in and ask this question.
First, for me, I have been a part of a large Cameroonian community in the Twin Cities for many years. It was not unusual for me to attend a large Cameroonian gathering, and be the only white person (or one of just a couple white people) at the event. Therefore, it is not an altogether a new experience for me to be a white woman standing out amongst Africans.
What is different for me, is that in Africa, it is an every-day, all day occurrence. There is no way around it or out of it. Here I am definitely a minority, I am an “outsider” and it is readily apparent by simply glancing at me.
The question really poses two – even three issues – being WHITE in Africa, being a WOMAN in Africa, and being a “WHITE WOMAN” in Africa. Then there is the whole “STANDING OUT” idea. They are all very interesting topics.
I oftentimes forget that I am WHITE in Africa. It is not really something I think a lot about. I oftentimes forget I am a different color than those around me.
Standing out by being WHITE in Africa mainly comes to my attention when young children are around. Their expressions range from big smiles, waiving and wanting to touch me, to looks of confusion, not really knowing who this odd-looking person is. The fact that people are noticing me – brings the fact I am white back to my attention. I am typically in the SAGISS compound during the week, so my whiteness really plays little into my thoughts. It is on weekends when I go to town to Saturday market and Mass on Sundays that my “whiteness” come into play.
I have never felt discriminated against or felt treated badly because I am white in the land of the black man. The people of Ghana, most specifically those at SAGISS, and those in the Diocese of Damongo have treated me with honor, respect and kindness. Sometimes, I have felt uncomfortable by the fact that I was being placed in a position of honor when I really did nothing to deserve it, other than come to live amongst them to spread the love of Jesus Christ to them through relationship with them.
There are, however, other things that do make me uncomfortable or self-conscious. Those things are LANGUAGE barriers and RELIGIOUS differences. These two things play a much larger role in how it feels to “stand out” in Africa.
Living in Northern Ghana, there are a large number of people who do not speak English. We are in Gonja land, and most people I meet in the market or even the day laborers at SAGISS were not taught English when they were growing up. Language is a barrier for me. I have never learned a second language, and at my age, I admit it is both a struggle and not something I originally wanted to do. I liked the fact Ghana was English speaking, just for that reason. But a nation having English as one of its official languages, unfortunately does not mean everyone speaks it.
Every time I greet one of the day laborers, cooks, or security men at SAGISS, I struggle to communicate effectively and it reminds me I am an alien in this land. Every time I go to market to buy fruit, vegetables, bread, etc., it is a reminder that I am different and “stand out”.
I live in Damongo – which is Gonja land, yet the Diocese of Damongo is heavily populated with Dagaari people, from the Upper West Region of Ghana. Then you can add in the Fra-Fra and the Fulani and multiple other tribes and you have a myriad of possible tribal languages to deal with. It makes my head spin, so I just smile sweetly and say ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Hello’ or give a big wave.
Northern Ghana is also predominantly Muslim. There are mosques everywhere – every little village has a mosque. With the Muslim culture, come some beliefs regarding how men and women relate to one another that are very different from our Western ways. (For that matter, many of the Ghanaian traditions are very different than Western ways as well – in relation to male/female equality.) As a white woman in northern Ghana, I need to learn these beliefs and tradition to try and avoid unknowingly offending people. These are the more difficult things that remind me I am different from everyone else.
I have been in Ghana for 8 months and so far, I feel very welcomed by most. I have not felt discriminated against, but sometimes I wonder if people take advantage of me in the market because I am from the West and they believe that means I have money, so they raise the price for me. Nothing at the market has a price on it, you ask what it costs and either pay it or try to bargain with them. I have bargained a couple times, but usually just pay the stated price.
So how does it feel “standing out” being a “white woman” in Africa?
“Standing out” makes me aware of the fact of how very important it is that I must represent Jesus Christ, Christianity and the Catholic Church with actions that are kind, generous and responsible, with honesty, integrity and courage, with thoughtfulness and peaceful, loving intentions.
The adventure continues… God continues to work on me…transforming me……...