One of my most amazing and life-changing experiences happened in Summer 2017. I received a scholarship from Operation Crossroads Africa to travel abroad and teach in the northern regions of Ghana. It was beautiful. I had never been and only had a very narrow, American view of Africa—that the people were impoverished, malnourished, and needed my help. Despite having friends from all over the continent and meeting countless students who would stay with my grandmother as they study in the States, I allowed tainted media images and the ignorance of others to influence my perspective on what is the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever traveled to in my life.
The land was not disturbed by large looming buildings or buzzing horns in a rush to miserably sit in a cubicle for barely survivable wages. The soil was mixed with sand, deep and red like my Madea’s (great-great grandmother’s) in Alabama. The air was so fresh! The sun was warm and comforting. The fruits were bright and delicious. The fish was fresh caught and well-prepared. The people were friendly and inviting. All of my student’s mothers fed me on every walk home as thanks for my commitment to their babies. The evenings were dark and cool, quiet yet bright with the stars. I could count them all for hours. The bugs and animals hummed at night. This place seemed happier, maybe even healthier than any I’ve traveled to in the states. Not only had they been able to survive without all that I was used to, but they saw the value in the land, using it to their advantage. Nurturing it. Cultivating it. Living with it and not against it!
This was not my first global experience, but it was my “Aha Moment”. My time spent there really helped me embrace the idea that I truly know nothing about anyone, so I cannot go around believing that someone is less deserving of love or respect due to their look, accent, or style of dress. In Ghana, they were good neighbors to all, from the smallest stray chicken in the village to the largest elephant on the reserve, they respected one another and made sure everyone felt welcome, even their new American friends.
In Ghana, I was also able to observe lots of insect life. It was probably one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking hobbies. It was not so much that I was being attacked or swarmed by large groups of bugs, but they were just about everywhere—busy and dutiful as everyone else in the village. Flies, scorpions, beetles of all kinds, spiders, moths, and butterflies—hopping, fluttering, scaling, jumping, moving, coming, and going—they were busier than I. Unlike my American counterparts, no one else seemed bothered by them. My students would pick them up with no problem, sometimes hocking them at one another, but I simply observed. I felt like Bug Catcher Tam on the quest to fill my pokèdex with as many insect Pokèmon from this region as I could. My favorite to study was the dung beetle, mostly observed at night. I was amazed at this small creature’s ability to quite literally take dung and make it useful. “‘Use resources wisely,’ are dung beetles also scouts?” I am sure that was a thought I had, as most nights I would sit and observe with a bottle of palm wine nearby.
There are many lessons I gained from that experience. I learned that it is possible to be wrong about something you’ve spent time getting to know. I learned that insects and animals play a large role in all of our ecosystems. I learned that you don’t have to know a person to be kind and treat them fairly. I learned to be open to all life, no matter where they are in the world in relation to you. I also learned that media, from anywhere with a system that stands to benefit from segregation of any form, can be misleading. I learned that sometimes you can take a shitty situation and birth something long-lasting, even fruitful. I learned to embrace and accept other cultures as is because sometimes, as an American, I can be so ignorant to someone or something so similar to me.
Girl Scouts pledge to respect ourselves and others, use our resources wisely, and make the world a better place. I have always resonated with the laws of Girl Scouts more than the promise. I felt that our laws were fair and easy to carry out because they are things that did not conflict with the space I reserve in the world. Our promise was more conflicting, especially the part about serving “my country”. This is the country that typically treats my demographic as an outsider despite its promise to:
“establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” (As written in the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble)
I’ve learned that sometimes those promises are further out of reach especially if you’re Black, a woman, Muslim, or any other demographic outside of those who scribe the words above.
I find solace in the Ten Commitment’s Global Awareness and Environmentalism principles and use them to be a good neighbor by taking care of and making the world a better place for everyone and everything on Earth. These are great ideals. However, my question to all humanists is: HOW?
My challenge to all is to consider how you can be more globally aware by stepping out of your comfort zone to gain a new perspective. Try to not let media fully influence your perceptions and instead listen to and learn from the people you’re trying to understand. Let your heart guide you. And don’t forget the animals and wildlife that also share this planet with us. How can you better understand and nurture all life on Earth, from the smallest insect to the largest whale? How can we together take effective action? And will you continue the work needed each day?