Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One Week In: The Culture Shock Sets In

Almost exactly one week ago, I landed in Africa for the first time, in a different world, far away from home and anything I had ever known. And it's been quite a week since then. My first week of work here was relatively uneventful with the office being mostly empty, and Friday was actually a national holiday for the end of Ramadan, so it ended up only being a three-day work week for me. On Friday, I met up with a friend of a friend whom I had been introduced to, and she showed me around the downtown area of Accra. (Really, when I say downtown Accra, I really just mean one main road called Oxford Street, perhaps the only road in the city that just about everyone knows by name.) It was my first time really seeing any of the city, and I have to say, it was a lot to take in. Besides obviously being singled out by all the vendors on the street, the most remarkable observation from the experience was just the abject poverty of the area. My friend, Kimmie, introduced me to a local girl around our age and her mother. We saw where she lived, in a house without running water, any sort of temperature control, or electricity. We started talking with the mother, and mentioned how she knew my friend, through a UN program that provided food for her because she was HIV-positive. Like I said, a lot to take in.

That night, Kimmie and I met up with some other expats living in Accra, and we all went out for a drink together. It was then that I discovered that apparently Accra has quite a nightlife scene, something I didn't partake in on that occasion, but good to know for the future. It seemed like I was starting to feel at home.

On Saturday and Sunday though, once I was back to fending for myself, it really started to hit me how uncomfortable I was in this new place. Yes, I've traveled a lot before, but moving to a new place is an entirely different story, let alone to a place that's about as different as a place could be. But even through the discomfort, I'm constantly aware that this is what I wanted; this is what I sought out. As uncomfortable as it is at the moment, it is this discomfort that I wanted. I'm a strong believer that pushing yourself leads to growth, and so I do the best I can never to be too comfortable where I am. If I'm not pushing myself, I'm dong something wrong.

Fortunately though, work offers a very welcomed reprieve from the harsh realities of life in the developing world. On Sunday evening, when I was preparing for my first real week at work, where I would actually be doing something rather than just preparing to do something, I got so excited at the prospect of being back in a place that I understood. For all of its differences, Google in Ghana is still Google, and the culture at Google is something I know and understand well. What's more, the Ghana Country Lead, Estelle, is finally back in the office, and she's phenomenal. I couldn't ask for someone better to help me settle in and show me the ropes.

And so we're onto week two! All I need to do now is figure out what exactly I'm going to be doing for the next nine and a half months. I can't wait.

Another yummy Ghanaian meal.

You can find all sorts of random animals roaming the streets of Accra.

A run down car just decaying on the street.

Ghanaians seem to have a thing for Obama,
perhaps because he visited the country last year.

The promised picture of a woman carrying items on her head.
You can't tell here, but this is actually a very young girl.

Construction stopped midway through the process, now used for hanging clothes.

A typical sight in Accra.

Democracy at work.

My Western reprieve from the harsh realities of Accra.

A painting a bought from an artist on the street.
Apparently the masks are called "Freedom Masks"

8 comments:

Alison said...

As uncomfortable as it is at the moment, it is this discomfort that I wanted. I'm a strong believer that pushing yourself leads to growth, and so I do the best I can never to be too comfortable where I am. If I'm not pushing myself, I'm dong something wrong.

Great! i wish i would have thought this way when i was young. i will however pass this on to Rachel and Melanie. i hope this week proves to be inspiring for you.

freckleyi said...

Keep pushing, Ben! You're joining the crowd of inspiring individuals who imparted similar words of wisdom to the interns this summer, no joke ;) Hugs! -Tracey

Brian said...

Glad to hear you got a somewhat relaxed start! Definitely be very careful about going out at night. It's always fun to party but in my travels I've found that foreigners are usually most susceptible to problems (theft, etc) at clubs or bars when they're not as alert. So stay safe! (I feel like your mom or dad writing this, lol) Awesome painting btw.

Louise said...

Thanks, Ben - good start - great pix!

Randy S.

Robyn said...

You have no idea what your words in this post mean to me right now.

Marjorie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marjorie said...

I do think that effort should be made to improve health and safety conditions.

Benjamin Cole said...

Thanks for the kind messages, everyone! Your support and outreach really means a lot to me. I'm honored to have so many caring readers. :-)