In the past month as I traveled the Northern Region I spent lots of my time waiting for the bus and sitting on the bus, and during this time my mind would roam and I would also meet new people and have interesting discussions.
“Is that what you do in your country?” is what I heard from the seat behind me when I threw my banana peels out the window. I turned around and said that I would because the banana peels would decompose. I was being defensive and trying to use logic to justify my actions. When I think of it now, if I were on a bus that was driving through the city I wouldn’t throw my banana peels out the window, so why did I do it in this city in Ghana? He joked with me and his following sentence was, “Or have you picked up our bad habits?” He was right, I was just doing what I observe others doing, in my quest for integration I seemed to left some of my own values back in Canada. This struck me as pretty significant because I immediately remembered my thoughts and actions regarding litter from last summer http://brian-ghanaforthesummer.blogspot.com/2009/06/litter.html that’s why I think there’s a point where outsiders may be “integrating too far”.
I spoke with the guy for a bit and gave him my case, again using logic along the lines of: there’s no garbage in the bus; regardless of where I put my trash, whether it is organic or plastic, it will be lit on fire; in my country there’s waste infrastructure where the trash would be buried, and there are trash cans everywhere; throwing banana peels isn’t a big deal because they will decompose; I threw the plastic bag out the window onto a pile of plastic at the bus stop where it will be burnt. He thankfully pointed out that it is the act of littering that is important. And further, he said it is how people perceive white people such as me. He said that people know that your place (the West) is different, that we do things different, maybe even that it’s relatively cleaner, and that when people see me litter they may think that their acts of littering are just fine because even white people do it. I don’t know if I entirely agree with his line of thought, but I agree with his point. At times I don’t want to accept that people may view me in such a way, that my actions as a white male have some influence on the way people think and behave here. I don’t want to see myself as anything but an equal but the reality is that I come from a relatively rich power place and with that comes undeserved status, what some people refer to as white privilege. It’s uncomfortable to think as yourself as being on a higher playing field, or having some sort of power or status, it bothers me even to write about this. But one thing I learned from a professor in university is that succumbing to guilt will paralyze you and nothing good will come from it. It’s better to acknowledge it, however uncomfortable it is, and try to be more self-aware and aware of your social surroundings and how you fit or don’t fit into it all.
It was a wakeup call that I needed and appreciated, and whether I like it or not, notice it or not, or believe it or not, people watch what I do because I’m a foreigner so it’s best that I clean up my act and stay true to my values.