Monday, August 29, 2011


To all my readers, you may be happy to know that I have comfortably settled to Africa. I am staying in the International Student Hostel (ISH) with fellow “abronies” (white folk) and students from Nigeria and Ghana. For the past two weeks I have gotten a chance to explore the city of Accra and its surrounding communities such as Akrapong, Jamestown, and Medina. This week my classes started with a schedule in African Politics, African Literature, People’s and Culture of Ghana, Twi (the vernacular language), and African drumming and dance. Most of my meals are bought at the local markets and include an egg sandwich for breakfast, red red and avocado for lunch, and some sort or chicken and rice for dinner. I have gotten into a routine of running a few miles every morning following my breakfast and before my cold shower (as there is no ‘hot water’ option here).

Ghanaian culture is very different from anything I have experienced in my life. I would consider myself pretty well traveled and able to cope with changing cultural contexts, but Ghana is so far removed from how I have experienced the world thus far. So much so that for once in my life I find solace in making a trip to the mall and absorbing the familiar traits of western consumerism. In light of these new experiences and observations (which are too many to explain in this post), here is a list of some observations I have made in my brief time in Africa.

    1. For the first time in my life, I am part of a racial minority, and find myself clinging to my own familiar race... White Americans.
    2. When in doubt, use your right hand.
    3. The critique of Barack Obama being a “fad” takes on new meaning in a country where everyone adores him, simply for being a man of African decent.
    4. There is something to be said about having the ability to create music in a rhythmic and beautiful way. I observed this from the improvisational drumming tangents that my drumming instructor performs in class.
    5. Poverty, as I have grown up to understand it, is not as much of an objective term as I had thought.
    6. It turns out that meat can very well serve as a side dish for meals, and doesn’t need to always be the main course.
    7. As fun and cost effective as bargaining with a street vender is, has anyone considered the ethics around it? I hadn’t.
    8. Washing a load of laundry by hand can be a very tiresome but satisfying process.
    9. Males have a serious advantage in this culture when it comes to bathroom accessibility, as everywhere and anywhere is a potential urinal.
    10. Why don’t more people own goats as pets in the United States? They are adorable.
    11. Time spent on the computer can be so much more productive when you don’t have access to Facebook or the internet.
    12. Smell is a vivid way of experiencing things, but that experience is a bit too vivid in certain areas of Accra.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Donation

Altruism can come in many forms, monetary donations being one of the most common. In this scenario, I will call into question the motives and precieved selflessness of donations.

I was recently confronted with a dilemma in which I felt called to make a donation to an organization. The organization was one in need, and one who’s mission I supported; the decision to donate was easy enough. In this scenario I was practicing what seemed to be altruistic behavior. I was giving money to a group of people who needed it, and with that money came no call for gratitude or a returned favor. I was sacrificing my eared income for the betterment of others... A quintessential act of altruism.

Altruism is not that simple however, as my emotions in this situation caused for the apparent selflessness of the act to be invalidated.

When writing the check and accompanying letter for this donation, I couldn’t help but sense a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction for what I was doing. I was helping people in need. I was practicing the difficult task of sacrificing my income. I was giving a gift that I knew the receivers would appreciate. Similar to volunteering, I had an unavoidable feeling of fulfillment from what I had done. In the end I felt as if my altruistic act was no longer selfless or magnanimous, instead it was self-serving and acquisitive. I realized that my donation was partly given to serve the donor (me) and not the receiver. If my act of charity would have been purely altruistic than my own welfare and happiness shouldn’t have even been an afterthought.

This scenario points to the fact that an act of altruism often has unavoidable selfish motives, motives that make us appear compassionate when we are really being egocentric.