So I’m leaving for Ghana in 14 days. 2 weeks. 336 hours.
I’m not really nervous, skeptical, nor am I jumping out of my pants to go. Of course I’m excited…I just don’t really know what to expect.
As I prepare to make way to Western Africa, I’m standing in the middle of my room, scratching my head, thinking “Okay so what do I need to bring?”
I was about to go to the library today to read up on Ghana and its culture. But two things happened:
1) I lost my library card.
2) When I proceeded to use my brother’s card, I found out that his card’s been expired…for a year.
Okay, so no book for me. And that got me thinking…I don’t want a prep book.
I realized that if I were to read up on Ghana, I would be reading someone else’s preconceived notions built upon stereotypes and stereotypes of Americans who have probably only visited Ghana for less than 6 months at a time. Sure Philip Briggs, you’re probably a very intellectual man who’s done years of research to present your pages of informative material about Ghana, but I thought about it: I’m really going to let this random American dude, whom I’ve never met before, tell me what he “knows” about Ghanaians?
Having these preconceived notions is quite damaging to any experience or relationship building. Before I went to Paris, for example, I went with the apprehension that my crepe would get spat on if Parisians knew I was American. The first day I was there, I was afraid to ever ask for help or for directions out of fear that I’d be mistreated. I wandered aimlessly around the curvy cobblestone streets, failing to find the Notre Dame. Finally after 15 minutes wasted, I grew the balls to approach a random Parisian. She and the other Parisians I ended up asking for directions turned out to disprove my stereotype with their warmth and cordial manners. I was afraid for no reason. It only came from my own built up fears that rooted from preconceived notions. Had I gone to Paris with a “tabula rasa,” I would not have subconsciously tried to prove those stereotypes to be correct (i.e. “Oh they’re probably being rude to me because they’re stuck-up Parisians who don’t like Americans.” What if this one particular person I encountered was just having a bad day?)
Another classic example comes from the moments you digest anything that comes from the “grapevine.” Prior to formally meeting “Bob” (name changed for obvious reasons) I had heard from my friend “Alfredo” on various occasions that “Bob” had this really slightly annoying tendency to talk about himself frequently. “Bob” was a very fun, quirky guy and I’m sure I would’ve really had a great time with him, had I not had in my head the idea that he did say a lot of “I did this, When I said this, I, I, I, etc.” Maybe later along down the road of our friendship, I would’ve noticed it on my own time, but since Alfredo had already told me about this habit, it was already built up in my head.
With this in mind, I want to go to Ghana with loose perceptions of everything. Tabula Rasa-John Locke’s empirical theory that the human mind at birth is a “blank slate.” An individual develops ideas through his/her own everyday sensory experiences.
So Ghana…I’ll figure it out on my own. Mistakes, awkward moments, and embarrassing instances will probably follow along the way. But that’s okay. Learn by doing and move on. No need to linger. They’ll lead to greater discoveries anyway; I’m sure.