Recently an ad popped up in my internet browser that read, “Missionaries in Africa – Saving Lives & Spreading the Gospel”. Considering I had just returned from West Africa my curiosity spiked. I clicked the link and read “Our driving passion is to rescue lives and to see communities transformed by the power of the all-encompassing gospel of the Kingdom of God.” I read these idealistic notions of saving or rescuing Africa and I wondered, who are the ones that really need saving? I don’t recall seeing people in need of saving. I saw generally happy people. I witnessed a culture where relationships and community are top priorities. I saw people who cared about, and were connected to those and the world around them.
I thought back to my experience. As I sat for the first time in my one room home, I recall being uncomfortable. It was hot, and unbearably humid. My body behaved in an unaccepting manor to the environmental changes. My clothes were soaked with sweat, and I yearned for hydration.
I had a desk, chair and a single bed. I looked around at the things I had unpacked: a few books, a notepad, my laptop and clothing. I was on what felt like a different planet and these few things; my only possessions. I recall wondering, was there ever a time in my life that my belongings amounted to one suitcase? Even though I grew up dirt poor, I couldn’t remember such a time. The hostel was a far cry from air conditioned home, king size bed, and my many other luxuries here in Canada.
The first time I walked to the store to buy water I thought about how easy it is to access clean water in Canada and how much we waste it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t long for ice cubes and enjoyed drinking warm water in 40 degree weather. In the beginning I thought, I am ridiculous, a spoiled Canadian! I’m never going to make it through this! But as the days went on, things got easier. After a couple of bouts of dehydration my body even learned to acclimatize. Although it was hot and humid I learned that feeling uncomfortable is not the end of the world.
In the West, we are hyper sensitive. We air condition to the point of wearing sweaters in the summer and walk around our houses in shorts during winter. Midway through my trip I recall waking up cold. I put a sweater and socks on and thought; this is actually what life is meant to be like. I should be cold when it’s cold and hot and sweaty when it’s warm. It isn’t just about being uncomfortable; it’s about being connected to the environment, the world around you. It’s actually about feeling, both the good and the bad.
The parts of the trip that I found intimidating in the beginning wound up being what I grew to love most and what helped me grow as a person. I didn’t need TV or gadgets. Contrary to consumerist ideals in the West and the constant barrage of media shoved in our faces, I didn’t need much to survive. In fact, I was much more engaged and happy without it. On public transit I had interesting conversations with strangers rather than staring down at my phone. Through not having the distractions, I learned to be alone with myself, my thoughts and emotions. I spent a lot of time thinking about the unnecessary things I acquired back home, about owning my house for 6 years not even knowing my neighbour’s names. I thought about how I wanted to change my life to focus less on the consumerist, individualistic values we in the West hold and more on important things like relationships and community. Ghanaians’ taught me so much about caring for one another, family, communities and foreigners alike. They look out for each other in a way that has been lost to us, not as rescuers or savours but as citizens. My experience in Ghana has got me thinking maybe we are the ones in need of saving!