Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lessons in cultural sensitivity

Day 15

Were you to ask me Saturday night, did I find anything redeeming about the Miss Teen Ghana beauty pageant launch, I would have laughed. Yet, what I hadn’t considered as I closed my eyes was that the stubborn bitterness I brought to bed could take new form in the morning light.

This post was supposed to be scathing and critical. It was supposed to be about my opposition to pageants. How I felt physically uncomfortable to see these young Ghanaian women sexually objectified and paraded around to the tune of catcalls, cheers, and the crude gestures of men in the audience. How I sat stunned, watching as the event’s philanthropic effort consisted of Miss Teen Ghana 2011 pleading for almost an hour (to a largely unresponsive audience) that we donate a total of 3,000 Cedis ($1,500 American dollars) to her charity project else the ladies will not be released from backstage to finish their performance. How I had finally had enough and took a taxi home with half my group, despite Auntie Peggy, who had invited us to come and support her daughter, begging us to stay.

But pageants are pageants, created underneath a global model of patriarchy. This isn’t new. Somehow, what shook me the most was that regardless of how disorganized and poorly run the event was, the Ghanaians I spoke to felt it was a huge success. Here’s a quick play-by-play. The function started about two hours late, which meant we were sitting, for two hours, confused and grown impatient. When it finally got up and running, we sat through a couple acts of break dancers and two comedians (who I was told were not very funny? I couldn’t say, it was all in the local language), before the contestants finally appeared on stage. This of course got the crowd going wild; the men were all over the place, hopping on stage at times and blocking the view in front of those of us who were seated. By all means, standards of what I had been raised to understand as common courtesy were out the window. Yet, I didn’t see anyone try to control the crowd or at the very least remove those individuals who were interrupting the event. Last but not least, the fundraiser. Ohh, the fundraiser. I think you could list all the good ways to raise money for a charitable cause, but this was not one of them. It felt akin to being threatened that the show would not go on if we didn’t cough up the cash. I can’t speak for the Ghanaians that were there, but 200 cedis per girl seems like a lot to ask for. Not to mention that no one jumped the gun to donate. After 45 minutes of waiting for anyone to make a move, I was thoroughly soured by the whole ordeal. Auntie Peggy herself decided to donate so that she could finally see her daughter appear on stage. She should not have had to do that! I was incredulous. I was out of there.

The next morning, I was terrified that I would run into Auntie Peggy, who I was convinced would be hurt and resentful toward those of us who had stormed out of the event. Instead, I was greeted by Auntie Peggy describing what a wonderful time she had and thanking me so genuinely for having come to support her daughter. 

Needless to say, I took the walk of shame after that. I was so jaded by my impatience that night that I failed to recognize how important this event was to Auntie Peggy and to the Ghanaian community who were present. The people I have encountered here seem to put much care and meaning into what they do. They are understanding and supportive, despite setbacks. Little did I know, this pageant launch was only the tip of the iceberg of what would soon be hardcore preparation and training for the girls for the next three months. Auntie Peggy was so proud of her daughter. I wish I could have put aside my attitude of inconvenience to appreciate the Ghanaians' enthusiasm for the event, even if I did not agree with its values on a personal level.

Lessons in cultural sensitivity, such is my #Ghanalife.
Nante yie,

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