This American Life

As I previously mentioned in the blog, Matt and I have been really fortunate to be hosted by a kind American family in Ghana. The house is just like any in the United States in size and amenities.  The house is also staffed by a maid, a cook, and two security guards.  We cooked for the first time last night – Shabbat dinner for the family with which we are living.  The family with whom we are staying tries to help out their staff with extra hours and loans when they need them.

I have discussed the poverty that afflicts many people in Ghana.  I wonder how many of their houses could fit into our house… 40? 50?  Many of the Americans and Europeans in Ghana live in houses similar to the one where we’re staying, as do a few Ghanaians.

I haven’t fully sorted out what I think, other than a personal preference not to live in either extreme when not depending upon the great generosity of hosts.  I think this sentiment would apply to the United States or any other country to the same extent as it does to Ghana.  It’s a thought provoking topic, though.  How does one act responsibly with wealth in this context?  Does this lifestyle increase the disparities between rich and poor, black and white? What impression does this lifestyle give of Americans and Europeans? As Matt questioned, is it different to live this lifestyle here than in the United States, where many are blissfully unaware of extreme poverty?  How does living responsibly with wealth change in an environment where there is no bare minimum, compared to in the United States, where we have some level of social services?

I often find myself comparing the experience to that I had living in Kenya.  One of the best things that I learned was that it’s not so bad sharing three rooms, a hole toilet, and a bucket shower among ten people – but that I also can’t sleep through the night when it’s over about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and don’t exactly mind a hot shower.  I am also finding that it is harder to meet and interact with Ghanaian people while living this lifestyle, though we’ve become friends with our cook and maid.

Our cook, Noel, is from Benin.  Noel has been a cook for 39 years, with talent to prove it.  His wife and children still live in Benin.  They came to live in Accra for a couple of years but had to return because the city is too expensive.  Our maid, Joyce, travels two or three hours to and from here every day.  She lives outside of the city with her son, for whom she is trying to save money so he can go to school to become an engineer.

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This entry was posted in Accra, Africa, poverty, wealth. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to This American Life

  1. Bleu says:

    Jules – this disparity was something that I questioned daily when I lived in relative luxury in Accra. I’ve found that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes eloquently about this dilemma in her short story collection “The Thing Around Your Neck”: “She thinks she ‘did not want him to go to Nigeria, to add it to the list of countries where he went to gawk at the lives of poor people who could never gawk back at his life.”

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