All my belongings fit nicely in one big, red backpack.
Over the last two weeks and a half, I have had the opportunity to take full advantage of this fun fact. I’ve been to Mole national park to connect with fellow Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Junior Fellows, see elephants, eat good food and talk in rants, and brainstorm on further ideas for our placements. Then I went to Tamale, the metropolitan of the Northern Region, to attend an in-Country meeting with all of the EWB staff working in West Africa. We talked strategy, passion and poetry, agriculture and our collective future, we talked about values, the news, and on Canada Day/ Ghana Republic Day I saw a few rap crews (possibly influencing the above rhymes…). I also spent a week in the Upper East region of Ghana to be exposed to different realities and assess the impact of a program that EWB delivered to a few farmer groups in the community two years ago. I went back to my home in Komoayili, spent a few days in my district in Karaga, and then came back to Tamale to help facilitate a leadership session for District Directors of Agriculture, well educated and travelled, influential, and impressive guys. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and both my heart and camera are loaded with beautiful memories.
Indeed, my big, red backpack has proven to be a good investment.
I’ve been welcomed in the home of very special and friendly people for whom I have immense respect. I’m gaining confidence walking in crowded Ghanaian markets and in mostly empty millet fields. I’ve had conversations about love and living a meaningful life under a canopy of stars completely free of any trace of light pollution.
I’ve seen how alcoholism can cause problems in families, anywhere. I’ve realized that development is a complicated process with fuzzy end goals. I’ve talked about hunger with farmers who faced this ugly bitch before, I’ve talked about the lack of rain, tractors and employment, and how electricity cables had been set up in a community eight years ago, but that the houses beside electric poles had not been yet electrified.
Travelling has expanded the ways I view the world. It has helped me gain a better picture of Ghana, meet thought-provoking people, and spend some time reflecting on crowded and sweaty bus rides.
Going back to my community in Karaga, I’ve had the opportunity to bring a few simple gifts and share my adventures. By naming the cities and communities I had visited combined with elaborate hand gestures and most importantly the help of young students who know some English, I was able to explain the amount of travelling I had done in the last few weeks. That night, I sat again on the now familiar wooden, roofed platform with the other men of Komoayili. A teacher at the primary school asked me to see pictures of my adventures. I took out my laptop, and showcased the huge dose of privilege I have, simply due to the fact that I come from Canada.
I was showing snapshots of another region to people who had never had the opportunity to travel outside of the closest neighbouring cities. For most of the people crowding around my laptop, it was the first time that they saw the rocky landscape of the Upper Eastern Region, only a about 150 kilometres north of where they are established. I felt deeply humbled by the privilege I’ve had all of my life. It makes you think, ya know?
I only have about five weeks left in Ghana before returning to Canada. Soon, I will be packing my big, red backpack. I’ll miss the harvest and won’t be able to see the impact of projects I’m currently initiating. I won’t see the worst of the dry season and I’ll go back to finish post-secondary education. This summer, I’ve had the opportunity to travel halfway across the world, work and live with incredible people, and grow immensely.
I can’t say that I truly understand rural livelihoods or my place in the bigger picture of creating a more just world. I don’t understand how to build vibrant communities where people lend money to each other in times of need in Canada. I don’t know how to create a system that enables a better, and more fulfilling job market in Ghana. Rather I only have snapshots of inspiring people, enlightening conversations, moments of laughter, joy, and understanding, and… well cute Ghanaian children. I have a few nice African shirts, a bit of Dagbani vocabulary, and an ignited passion to create more freedom for people.
I hope that my big, red backpack is big enough to bring all of this home.
Because my friends, we’ve got work to do.