10 Years Back In The “Homeland”
A while back, I learnt about something called “reverse culture shock”. I learnt about this term after I had lived one year in Alaska on a foreign exchange program. It’s defined as “a common reaction to returning home from studying abroad. It is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to your initial adjustment to living abroad.”
Ironically, I didn’t feel that way when I was in Alaska. Still didn’t feel that effect when I later went to Houston for 5 years for my university years.
But I did experience it when I came back to Ghana….
It’s 2022 and this week will be 10 years since I left the US and landed back in Ghana in 2012. It’s been a 10 year rollercoaster full of emotions, struggle and growth.
In that time span, I’ve change jobs 4 times, graduated with a Masters Degree and started my own ventures.
I’ve taken notice of everything from infrastructure changes, culture shifts, politics, new friendships and more.
I’ve learnt a lot about the place where I was born and grew up and also learnt a bit about myself during this period of time.
Here’s are some of my major takeaways during the 10 year period:
Ghana Can Be Great. We’re Just In Our Own Way
When I came back, I couldn’t help but complain about everything. And yes, there were A LOT of things to complain about:
- Constant Traffic
- People not being time conscious and being late for everything (The Ghana Man Time Phenomenon)
- Manual process of doing everything even though we have access to digital tools….
- Institutionalised corruption and “middle men”
Ghana has so much potential and it breaks my heart how we’re not exploiting that potential enough. From entertainment to sports to tech talent, we’re simply oozing with potential but we don’t invest in people or systems to make it work. Plus, the environment for collaboration is close to zero due to bad trust systems.
There’s still glimmers of hope. There are some improvements (albeit slow) which could help Ghana blossom into something unique.
But at the moment, we’re kind of in our own way.
Lack Of Information Slows Everything Down
“I know a guy that help with that.…”
One thing I’ve learned is how finding information can be difficult. Certain information which you think should be public knowledge is rather be held by certain individuals or groups (gatekeepers). The reason this information is kept “in-house” is because these persons will have “power” and can monetise it for themselves.
In one way, it’s advantageous for them because they did the work to acquire that information so it shouldn’t be public knowledge but on the other hand, there is certain information should be easily accessible but find it means having to ask around just to ascertain it.
Data about average salary, how much government spends, government contracts etc should be easily available for the average citizen to know.
Finding data is getting a bit better thanks to social media because it’s not moving fast enough.
The hope that one day you’ll be able to easily go online and search for information you need and its readily available instead of trying to find “someone” who is holding that information.
The Two Party Political Cycle Is Slowing Down Everything
Politics in Ghana insufferable and you can’t unsee it. Political parties and their affiliates are the major cause of a lot of problems in Ghana
Since I’ve been back, I’ve voted in two election cycles: 2016 and 2020. The political space is dominated by two parties — The NDC and the NPP. Other political parties can’t make a dent and get in edgewise when it comes to get electoral votes.
In both elections I voted in, political parties outside the NPP and NDC could barely secure 1% of the general votes. Basically a country of about 30 million people, two major share the majority of those votes.
With both these political parties playing musical chairs every election, there’s really not a lot of incentive to change. NDC puts up projects for the benefit of votes for future elections and if the NPP comes into power, there’s no incentive to continue those projects because it becomes political points for the other party.
It’s a sad state of affairs because it doesn’t look like the populace are going to change their mindset when it comes to voting.
In the long run, it’s not good for the state or its citizenry. Something needs to change.
It’s Our Culture But We Can Still Evolve From It
There can be different definitions of culture.
One thing about Ghana is that we are conservative by nature in everything we do. Sundays are for church. Religion is overt where you go. I’ve gone to offices where staff have morning devotions.
A prayer is said before meetings and after meetings are done.
Certain things which should be spoken openly are “whispered”. Sex education is more about “abstinence” than knowing about how your body works.
In many ways, the “Ghanaian” is very conversative and would rather not look “bad” in the public eye or be seen in a bad light by others.
In that way, certain issues will never be put up for debate or be spoken about openly. Feminism, mental health, abuse etc are topics which are now being discussed a bit more openly but it will take some time before they become “normal” topics.
I Don’t Feel At “Home”
“Are you Ghanaian?”
This question doesn’t bother me as much because for one, I don’t speak any local language since it’s a bit fair to assume I might be foreign. But then to think because I don’t speak it means I’m not Ghanaian is another thing.
Being at “home”, you’re supposed to feel “safe”. But I just feel anxious most of the time.
Maybe it’s the traffic. Maybe it’s how dense the city population is. Maybe it’s because how people “stare” not realizing how rude it is. Maybe it’s having high expectations and not seeing it come to fruition. Over and over again.
But I’ve never felt this way when I wasn’t here. So what gives?
This year I turned 34. So I was 24 when I got back to Ghana, fresh out of university, ready to put all that knowledge I learnt to good use.
It’s been an interesting 10 years. I’ve visited every region in Ghana. I travelled to Liberia and Nigeria for the first time. Travelled to Singapore. Started a user research start up company. Wrote a memoir and collections of short stories. Built a tech news publication. Started not one, not two but three podcasts along the way.
Do I see myself in Ghana for the next 10 years? I can’t be certain. I have been constantly saying that I want to move. I think it would actually be beneficial for my mental health.
Whatever the case is, the journey has been fruitful. I’ve made friends, had great experiences and had an interesting career growth. I look forward to whatever comes next.