Different But The Same

You would think it would be a stark change, going from the red dirt of Ghana to the concrete jungle of Manhattan. The buildings here are bigger, sure, and my pale skin and lack of Twi/Ga/Ewe language skills no longer mark me as an outsider in the way they once did. However, every day I notice something that brings me back to the Gold Coast. As different as Ghana and the U.S. may be, it’s the similarities that show physical location and culture don’t change the fact that we’re all the same, all looking for connection and a way to make it in this challenging world. 

It’s in the bodegas, so similar to the stalls where I would chat up the Ghanaian ladies whipping up ramen filled with egg and veggies. These New York bodegas aren’t in colorful shipping containers, but they’re little and feel like an integral part of neighborhoods, with friendly shop owners making me feel like I’m carving out a sense of home. 

It’s in the yells of “churrrrroooooos” or “hot dooooogs,” leading tourists and locals alike to carts full of cheap eats. In Ghana it was “waaaachyyyee” and other Twi names I could never understand, but every extended vowel guides me to a new eating experience.

It’s in the smells of roasting chestnuts and salty pretzels filling the air, like the wafts of roasting plantains that used to welcome me on my walk home from work.

It’s in the lines of economic difference, one street so shiny and sparkly, the next full of signs of economic despair and giving off a sense of desolation. The slums here aren’t tin and surrounding an e-waste dump, but they’re still a reminder of the people left behind and the systems perpetuating class differences. 

It’s in the street sellers, spreading their wares out on sidewalks and calling for people to “come see!”. Here it’s usually “designer” bags, as opposed to, well, everything you can think of, but you get the idea.

It’s in the way everyone I meet is from elsewhere, here to explore and grow and learn in a place they once only dreamed of.

Most importantly, it’s in the habits that have transferred, the senses of self that haven’t changed with my wardrobe. I’m becoming aware of the specific things that make me who I am, in a way that only otherness can illuminate. It’s a process that’s not relegated to a certain age or stage. It’s the introspection sparked by inspirational places, personal exploration guided by physical exploration. 

I can’t be the first to discover a place like my ancestor, but I can continue to bring newness and discovery to my life, to avoid stagnation by learning and thinking and reevaluating. I won’t keep moving to a new country every year, but I will remember that growth comes from within, and the view outside my window should be nothing more than a catalyst, a place to be who I want to be.

Just like the ways in which Accra and New York are different but the same, my daily challenges and habits have adapted but they’re still similar, a symptom of the common denominator.

Wherever I go, there I am…for now, anyway. 

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