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Monday, May 28, 2007

Some Closing Thoughts on the Year That Was

Miia's last post did a nice job of summing up not only some of our reverse culture shock frustrations upon re-entry, but also of some of the things we learned from Ghana.

Travel, while fun and exciting, can really mess with your mind, make it hard to fit in anywhere. You lose a sense of your own culture without ever really fitting in anywhere else, because you're not there long enough. I mean it takes many years to adapt to a new culture, and some never do fully adapt.

But you do learn to like and appreciate certain things as being better than at home. You miss home, because it's home, but there are certain things you really like. Like how Ghanaians act like they know each other even if they don't. They talk to strangers, and interact with them openly and freely. Hold each other's babies, no matter if you're a stranger. There's no fear in that.

But as a white outsider, you become too much an object of fascination, or desire, or ridicule, too easily, quickly, and often. So I found myself afraid of society, hiding from it. Here in Toronto, I find myself longing for that interaction, desperate for it, because everybody seems to have their heads down all the time. Or they look ahead but can't see but two feet in front of them. They are hypnotized. Maybe by all the advertising. Or maybe they are just living in their own heads, like I often do, but in so doing they fail to see the world going on around them, fail to participate with each other in this social experiment, or contract.

That's been the hardest thing about being back. Here are a few other random observations from the trip:

-I've always been sympathetic to First Nations land claims, but never done anything about it really other than argue with my non-aboriginal friends about it. Being in Mongolia, where people live off the land, where land is so important to their survival and to their souls, where there is so much vast openness, really hit the point home to me. The Europeans who settled Canada stole a way of life, and we perpetuate that sin to this day. It's unresolved. I don't know what the resolution should be, but it's a national shame.

-I've always been sympathric to the plight of newcomers to Canada, how hard it is to integrate into society, the economy, education system, et cetera here, how they often face racial and cultual prejudice and struggle with it daily. Ghana is a major source country of immigrants to Canada. It often broke my heart how hard Ghanaians were on their own country: women asking us to take their babies back with us, taxi drivers and friends of friends begging us for Canadian visas, a neighbour who couldn't understand why I'd leave Canada to come live in Kotobabi. But, on the level of economics, I get it. For the poor, Ghana is a very hard go. The better off know that their skills may never get fully developed there, or fully used, while they are having to kowtow to the Big Men who control society. If they don't get a foreign eduction, they may very well stagnate. And, about 20 percent of the country's GDP is remittance payments from Ghanaians abroad, sending money back home. So, of course people want to leave. I think though that Ghana has a serious brain drain problem, particularly in the areas of healthcare and teaching. A lot of good could be done by filling these holes, stopping the bleeding, and at the same channelling those remittance payments somehow toward renewal initiatives, i.e. infrastructure like hospitals, schools, etc. On the Canadian side, one of the best things we can do to help poorer countries reach their own goals is to ensure that people who come here from abroad find adequate employment. They want to contribute their skills to Canada, why aren't we letting that happen?!

-On the whole, development work is a crock. There is precious little of use being offered from rich nations to Ghana, and my experiences in other financially poor countries were much the same in that regard. Most development projects are more about controlling Ghana than facilitating its renewal. I don't quite advocate for a hundred percent withdrawal, but at the very least all tied (conditional) aid money should be untied, the conditions just don't help. Since when have rich countries had a monopoly on knowledge about how to live or how to govern?

-On a personal level, I still love travel, and I'm so grateful to have had this time. I highly recommend, to everyone who can possibly afford it, to take a gap year. It doesn't have to involve travel, the main thing is to de-enslave yourself from work for a while, explore, grow, blah blah, whatever, have fun, make a bunch of puppets, write a book. For us, it was cheaper than you'd think. In fact, it was much cheaper than if we just spent a year in Toronto not working, by a long shot. Try 20 bucks a day each, that's what we spent, total, in the last year, including airfare, accomodations, food, souvenirs, everything. It could be done cheaper even.

-There are still many places I want to visit in this world, but if I don't visit them, that's okay. The main thing, at this point, is I want to enjoy my life, do the work I love, worry as little as possible about the money. In this capitalist society you need some money, but not as much as most people around me seem to want. I want to write, do community work, have children, and be near family friends and true community. That will be my focus for the next long while.

-Hugh Brody wrote a great book called The Other Side of Eden where he said it's a myth that hunter-gatherers are the most nomadic people. They may move around but it's always in a small area, and they always come back to the same places year after year. Agriculturalists have big families (lots of workers), run out of land for the kids, send a bunch off to work in factories or colonise new lands, build cities, etc. Those who make enough money go travelling. This is something I have to think about, because it is very resource consumptive, and the world has precious little in the way of resources, and carbon emissions may sink us all. This isn't an argument against travel, just something to think about for now.

I guess that's it for now. I have drafted a big long piece that hopefully will get published somewhere I can link to. It is a discussion about Ghana, Africa, colonialism, and civilisation that further sums a lot of what I learned in the past year, so watch for that one.

Thanks to all who have been following this blog. It will be winding down now, but I'll continue posting travel stories over at my Benjibopper blog, which also has a bunch of creative and sometimes silly writing of mine, just for fun. I also imagine we'll keep this one up for posterity, and perhaps continue to use it as a family blog, putting occasional photos and updates on here, so feel free to continue visiting.

Thanks again and much love,
Chris Benjamin


Amanda said...

Yes it's been great for those of us who have travelled with you from our armchairs. Looking forward to continuing the discussions & sharing thoughts & ideas--even though we may be in different places, there is still lots to share. Thanks so much for keeping such a great journal of your adventures. Looking forward to hearing as you guys move onto new ones!

Love, Amanda.

benjibopper said...

thanks Amanda, it's been great to have you along!