Black and White

June 20, 2014

Half a year ago if someone told me that I would soon test my teaching skills in an African school, I would probably question their mental sanity. Even when I flirted with the idea of an adventurous trip outside Europe, the entire plan felt too distant and utopic. I pictured Africa as a semirealistic place that you could only approach through documentaries. In my mind Africa was wild animals, palm trees and barefoot kids.

It only took a ten hour flight for those misleading documentary pictures to fade away. Ghana is a country of real people who play, dance, work, go to school. The kids at my school are unique little individuals, bearing names as Mary, Patience, Prince, Sheriffa, Christopher, William, Bismark, Deborah, Kelvin.

To start with, it was kind of difficult to learn the names. I had to ask each kid a hundred times “What is your name?”. I am getting to it though. It should be noted that twin brother and sister often have the same name. For instance “Sherif-Sheriffa”, “Joseph-Josephine”. Most of the Ghanians also have European names such as Philip and Fransisca, but there are also some traditional names given like Madwa and Kabu.

Some of my students have made their existence noticeable from the very first day. One of these kids is Mary, a brilliant little girl. She introduced herself right away and asked my name only once. From our first meeting she would always greet me, offer me her snacks and help any way she could. One day, she had an unusual request.
Mary: Oh, Lilly. You are so pretty! she said caressing my hair
Me: Thank you Mary. You are very beautiful as well.
Mary: No I am not. I wanna ax (=ask) you somethin.
Me: Of course, you are. But tell me, what do you want?.
Mary: I wanna be white..
Me: What are you talking about? I replied astonished
Mary: I want you to use your magic and turn me into a white man like you. Please, please, Lilly.
Me: But you do not need to become white to be pretty. You are already very beautiful, Mary.
Mary: No, You whitemen should make blackmen white, when they ax you. She gets stubborn, trying to explain her argument.
Me: But how would I make you white, Mary? Could you please make me black?
Mary: No I don’t have magic, but you do! Please, please, Lilly. I Beggin you. She actually fell on the floor in a begging position.

Since that day, every time she sees me she is puting her hands together and looks me straight in the eyes in order to convince me to use my magic and turn her white. My reply is the same every time: If you make me black, I will make you white. She is not satisfied and tries to persuade the other interns to talk to me and change my mind about the issue.

In the beginning I became seriously worried. I ran to my Ga friend, whom I always make dizzy with my countless questions and remarks about school. “Why does this clever girl want to be white? Doesn’t she love herself the way she is?” Frankly, I was not expecting his reaction. He laughed! He actually found it funny and attributed it to the movies, which intrigues kids’ imagination. A lot of girls at this age are carried away by the movies they watch, he added. His explanation was rational and calmed me down a lot, but I cannot defy the impression that little kids in Ghana have about white people and it is not only the kids.

“Obrunis” are thought to possess two positive characteristics: beauty and wealth. Although the infatuation from white skin is too incomprehensible for me, the latter attributed characteristic is not completely unfounded. A coeval Ghanian girl with me once told me ” You white people are lucky, because you have money. We, black people have rich country, but no money to make use of it.” My first response to this was that not all white people are rich. For example, Greece is facing severe financial crisis. Later on, when I had acquired deeper insight in African reality, her words became more sensible, with a little alteration. In the sentence of my Ghanian friend the word “money” should be replaced by the word “means”. Right now, in construction’s field chinese companies are predominant, the social care is an unknown word, there is no running water and electricity in many households and every time the President passes from the road a ridiculously long procession of expensive jeeps and motorbikes follow his car horning.

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