Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Paradise Paradox

There is a woman walking on the beach. A big bowl full of bananas on her head, a baby tied on her back with a piece of colourful cloth. A toddler wobbles behind her, trying to keep up in her sandy footsteps. She is not in hurry, nobody is, and stops to stare at the weird happenings in the sea during weekends. White people in underpants and brightly coloured t-shirts trying to go with the waves towards the beach. Every one of them on a small floating flat board-boat. When arriving there they turn around, drag the board back against the waves and repeat it. Often falling off the board, or standing for not more than a few seconds before disappearing head-first in the salty foam. She stops, stares, and after a while continues on her path.

Tourism is a strange thing. This weekend Karin and I went to Busua, a town known for the first surfing school in Ghana. Quite well outfitted with budget places to sleep and beach shacks serving freshly caught lobster. A town that realised that tourism is something you can make money off and to do that they should make the white youngsters happy by creating the backpacker-paradise-paradox. The feel of leaving your comfort zone, experiencing ‘The Real Africa’, by serving Momma’s Apple Pie in hammocks on the beach with Bob Marley on the background. In this town it is not apple pie, but pancakes that comfort the backpackers. Busua has Daniël the Pancake Man (who literally came up to us one morning saying: “Hi! I am Daniël the Pancake Man!”) and The Juice Man (“Would you like some of my juice?” Uhm... Excuse me? “Your friends like my juice!”) who walkes around with plastic bottles filled with fresh fruit juices. Soon all beach huts and eating-places started serving pancakes, and the backpacker scene of Busua flourished. Top it up with a lost Australian guy making the world a better place one surf at a time and you have backpacker paradise...

It is good, I guess... Tourism brings business, business brings money, money brings food on the table. But it is weird. It makes me feel strange to ‘relax’ in a town where most of the people don’t really live with the concept of ‘holiday’. How do you explain to someone who just fishes 6 days a week (not on Tuesday, which brings bad luck) that it is normal for those obruni’s to do nothing (like laying practically naked in sand and the sun for enjoyment, which make them look brightly red in the evening) and even for a few days in a row! Not even to mention the worrying business around ‘volunteer experiences’ that is enormous here, including ‘volunteering’ at a backpacker hang-out at the beach, serving cheeseburgers to the other travellers. Apparently our urge to feel like we are helping the world has fogged our ability to actually do good. ‘Ah! You are painting an orphanage! Good for you! So you are paying a 600 euro flight and over a thousand euro to your volunteer organisation to do a job they could have paid a local person to do with all that money you are spending now to give yourself the feeling of abundant karma credits? What a sacrifice of you... living in Africa and all.’

But before I get too hypocritical and cynical (after all, I also did a year of volunteer work in India when I was 17/18... which I still think is an experience that changed my life), I have to say that it is really difficult to say right and wrong in situations like this. It is all very ambiguous, that is the difficult thing about it. Only a couple of weeks ago I said to my mom that it is such a shame that Ghana does not fully use its touristic potential with its beautiful coastline and passionate, friendly culture. And now, in a town that actually profits from its nice beach and surf-able waves, I feel slightly weird and wrong. The contrasts are just so big, especially because of the peek into ‘actual’ (can I even say that?) Ghana-life I get through my friends from church and life in the hospital (and my research...).

I am a 'poor student', I have debt from my student loan, but I am extremely extremely rich. Well, not compared to rich Ghanaians, because their lifestyle just goes above my wildest imaginations (like Porsche-Prada-rich), but compared to an average fisherman in Busua, yes, for sure. Just already the fact that I can go away for a weekend, just for fun!

Anyways... sorry for the mesmerizing note this time if you expected some exiting stories of Africa Adventures, but it kind of just came out while typing. But as far as my adventure here goes, I did also surf the waves of Busua. And with my quite lacking sense of balance and immense inflexibility you can imagine what a sight I was! But I loved it. Also, I explored the neighbouring fishing village and walked back through jungle-looking lush green-land. Thinking of the eager children wanting to pose for my camera still makes me smile.

During the week I have been working on transcribing my interviews. Also I sorted out some practical stuff, like transferring money to the bank account of my translator (which is a day-filling activity here in Ghana, quite an experience on its own!), and extending my visa (there went another day...). Topped off with the celebration of Independence Day, time just flew by! Only one more month here... it goes way too fast! 

Women on Elmina Beach (old picture from Karin... but just wanted to post it)

Our guides in Butre (the neighbouring fishing village) showing us the ruins of a fort


Happy posers :)


Floating fun

On my way back to Busua

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