Why I’m So Glad I Came to Africa for Four Months

Today I sat on the patio. I read, ate a lunch of rice and sauce from a local vendor, and napped. That’s what I did. All day. And I didn’t feel guilty about it. I didn’t feel like I wasted my time. I didn’t feel like I should attend to more pressing things.

The neighborhood wakes up around 5 am and remains consistently lively until after sundown. Children bathe in buckets, women sing songs while washing clothes, young men walk by briskly. By now, many of the residents know me, and I know many of them. I get invited into people’s homes for a drink or a meal on a regular basis. Pretty much everyone walking through stops by the patio for a brief chat. To be fair, our conversations are typically stunted: “Good afternoon, how is your family?” “Have you had a good day?” Still, from my patio perch, I can sit, observe, and interact in a way that you rarely can on a tour. Static, lazy days can be just as culturally insightful.

In this neighborhood as with others, most of all, you notice the noise. There’s noise everywhere. Roosters crow, goats and sheep emit warnings, children yell and cry, adults argue, cell phones ring incessantly. No one seems particularly concerned about the racket, neither solitude nor quiet ever seem particularly virtuous.

Even the most basic homes often come equipped with a decent stereo system. Music is an essential ally for work, play, conversation, boredom, and even sleep. Sometimes neighboring houses will blast different tunes at the same time, competing for airspace by creating a unique polytonal, polyrhythmic sonic collage. This makes no sense to me, but those dancing don’t really seem to mind. Still, going on walks can seem like a constant field demonstration of the Doppler effect.

Suddenly, about 50 feet away, a spontaneous dance party erupts. Some neighborhood kids are dancing to an extremely popular hiplife anthem. Despite its liberal use of autotune, it’s catchy as hell. Intrigued, I go join them. Their laughter at my attempt to dance attracts more neighborhood children, and soon what seems like the entire neighborhood is watching the Obruni try to move his hips. A few older women come join me, laughing hysterically. One in particular starts inching closer. As we start suggestively dancing, I think, “Aren’t there children around? Isn’t this a highly Christian society?” But that’s the wrong way to think. Though it seems hypersexual, it’s not.

By this point, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing small children bump n grind while adults casually look on. Had these parents discovered a teenager’s secret love affair, I would probably hear the punishment from half a mile away. But this? No problem. I’ve been conditioned to view this dance as an unrefined display of drunken sexuality, the only appropriate venue a hot, dimly-lit dungeon of overpriced liquor and sordid mistakes. Here, it’s so much more than that.

To say that it’s more innocent is an oversimplification. It’s just more universal.

And that’s why I’m so glad I did nothing today.

You may have noticed that I’ve developed a particular affinity for pictures of Ghanaian children. Those of you who’ve watched Dodgers baseball in the last 20 years might call it the “Vin Scully Effect.” (V.S.E.). Either way I can’t help it. And I’m sure you can’t either.

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One thought on “Why I’m So Glad I Came to Africa for Four Months

  1. Meghan says:

    i’m jealous. if i sat on my stoop nothing would happen. i need to live in a community

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