Whenever people move somewhere new, they speak of getting settled in. Of emptying the boxes, putting up pictures and starting to feel at home. I’ve been in Ghana now for about five days, and this is my third morning with my host family. My things are unpacked, I am learning peoples names, and starting to know my way around. You might expect, all in all, that I am settling in.
But that doesn’t seem to be quite right.
You see, the ICS programme is about more than just sending young people to help on development projects for 12 weeks. It doesn’t end when we come home in July. Rather, ICS aims to foster personal development and active citizenship. Volunteers like myself and my in country partner, Mufty, are encouraged to become more involved in the world around us. Part of our placement consists of
fortnightly weekly ‘group reflections’ where we consider wider issues in global development. We are meant to be challenged to see the world in different ways, and to reconsider our place in that world accordingly. We won’t change the world in three months (though we will certainly try to make a difference), but the world will change us.
So, if I were to settle in, that would mean complacency. It would mean not recognizing the diversity of Kalipohini (the suburb of Tamale in which I am living), where air conditioned houses in large compounds nestle with households who cook over open fires and where Christian and Muslim neighbours mingle without thought to ‘extremism’ and PREVENT Strategies. Yes, I am okay with the fact that my morning shower comes from a bucket, and my drinking water from a sachet, not a tap, but that doesn’t mean I can forget that lack of clean water causes unbearable suffering for people around the world. Nor does it mean that my family here is particularly poor – most host siblings hope and expect to have skilled or blue collar jobs; Engineering, Banking, Teaching. The simple pictures we all have of the world are of course false, and I am glad to be spending the next three months discovering just how much more there is to life than meets the eye.
There is another, more practical dimension to ‘unsettling in’. As Kalipohini starts to feel more like home, as I start to think of myself as an extension of this family, more than just a guest, it would be easy to get complacent. To forget to put on DEET. To sleep outside the mosquito net because it is cooler. Yet that would be not only rash, but rude. I am insured, and the chances of anything serious going wrong are remote, yet here are people in Ghana for whom having a mosquito net really is a life and death matter. I need to remember that, while this city will be home for the next few months, I am in a very privileged position. I can and will feel at home, but at the same time, I will always be an outsider. And that is healthy – I am who I am, and can be no other.
As I lay out my things next to my bed, as I stick up a postcard and as I chat with my host family, I must remember that I am here to be disrupted, to have my perspectives challenged.
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.