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Heat and Development in Ghana

It was too hot today to exist. My fellow YCC Ghana volunteer, Dan, and I spent most of the baking hours attempting to work while draped on chairs and benches and other surfaces, trying to remember to breathe and drinking giant bottles of Voltic Water and Alvaro Non-Alcoholic Pear Malt. The ceiling fans whirled wobbly circles at their maximum speed and only seemed to stir the thick air soup slightly.

This is hilarious to you, surrounded by snow and frost, isn’t it? Or maybe it makes you furious, and you’re about to smash this screen with your frostbitten fist. But truly: this eternal heat is making me a totally different person. I’ve never before felt the physical, mental, and emotional sensations I’m feeling now, as I sweat while I sit.

“Why is it,” asked Wisdom in his never-ending quest for wisdom, “that African nations are so underdeveloped in comparison to America and Europe? Is it because we have no winter?”

Dan and I were about to scoff at that idea, but then we realized: Wisdom kind of had a point. If you know that you are going to die of hypothermia should your community not erect quality shelters within a certain timeframe, then you will smack your community into organized action.

Conversely, if you are so hot that you become drenched in sweat after walking one minute down the road (aka: what happened to us each of the three steamy times we left the guesthouse today), you will move very, very slowly, or not want to move at all.

But, like anyone who majored in “Development Studies” at lusciously liberal Brown University, I became rather upset at the label of Africa in general and Ghana in particular as “less developed”, ever since I arrived and can see it all with my own eyes. Though there were both goats and trash heaps surrounding us as we talked today, many other aspects of Sogakope are far more “developed” than America. Major examples: books and conversation.

The entire staff at YCC is voraciously devouring, swapping, and discussing non-fiction books, from economics texts to political memoirs. See the English teacher dancing with joy? I have not seen such textual love in America!

And then the philosophical questions and debates! From History to Sociology to Race Theory, we’ve delved into it all, usually spurred by Wisdom’s thought-provoking questions and then argued via text references. I haven’t philosophized this much since freshman year in college, giddily debating all facets of existence until three am in the dorm hallway!

“GHANAIANS ARE NOT LAZY” proclaims a political poster we passed last week in Aburi (pictured, left). Indeed, true! Here, the YCC staff is pretty much working around the clock, but they remain relaxed, kind, and cheerful. “We work without getting tired,” says John, “and we work all the time.”

But reading into the defensive tone of that “we are NOT lazy” poster, as well as analyzing a few other “we are a less advanced Third World people” comments we’ve heard several Ghanaians make, it all rather sounds like some big-time internalized racism and colonial vestiges! I’ve only been here a week, but this will certainly be a topic to investigate.

Now let’s talk about another kind of warmth pervading Ghana: hearts! The arms around friends… the radiant smiles… the willingness to chat with a stranger and help them out… the patience in answering endless questions from a certain American newcomer… it all makes a visitor here feel warm and fuzzy and cared for.

And so now it’s ten at night and still a sauna. I’ve had three showers today, yet currently feel like a limp, salt-encrusted rag. But I wouldn’t trade being here for all the temperate climates on earth! It’s all good, folks: both body and heart are warm, warm, warm.

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