And there I was, riding in the back of a flatbed truck through the bush in north central Ghana. I was precariously perched upon one of the twelve 100 kg sacks of charcoal we had just loaded up into the truck bed as red dust, and charcoal soot swirled around me with each bump that we hit while 38 Ghanaian farmers, myself, and two goats rode back to town. We were all sweaty and hot, and with each bump one of the goats tried to jump up into my lap as one of the farmers next to me grabbed my leg to stay on the truck. We were about to drive around the corner next to a dried up creek bed when suddenly… nothing extraordinary happened. This was just an average and normal ride from one of the farms that I help at, yet still, so out of my comfort zone. As many of my family and friends back home are well aware of, I am not a touchy feely or overly physical type of person. So many everyday interactions here involve a lot more physical contact than I generally enjoy. Especially more when I have a goat in my lap and we are all holding on to each other to stay in the truck bed, and I just want some quiet time alone.
Yet this normal everyday ride for these farmers isn’t the only thing that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Almost every day on my way home from the 4-H office in Koforidua, I am bombarded with anywhere from 25 to what seems like a million shouts of, “Obroni (white guy), how are you?!” Ghanaians are easily some of the friendliest people I have ever met, but at the end of a very long day, when I am ready to be an introvert and not in any mood for a long conversation, I tend to lose my desire to say “I’m fine. How are you?” in return for the 20th time. Sometimes all I can think is, just leave me alone! Yet I must remember that the 21st person that asks me how I am has no idea about the other 20 times I’ve already responded to the same question. In many of these interactions, I am asked basic questions about myself as well, because I’m different, and people want to know why.
Yet breaking out of these comfort zones in truck beds or to and from work has enabled me to have some amazing interactions with farmers, kids along the streets, and even random people that have become good friends of mine. Often we are so wrapped up in our own bubbles, concerns, and comfort zones that we are afraid if someone pops them by interacting with us in a way that we are uncomfortable, it will ruin our lives. News flash, it won’t. In the least, you will experience something new, or maybe even make a friend you’d never have expected along the way. With all of the racial, cultural, and political tension and turmoil I hear about all the time back home, I truly believe that if more people took the time to just have a conversation, and get to know the person they are uncomfortable with, even if you really don’t want to, it will dramatically improve the way we interact and relate to those in our own nation. Even on the super long days when you don’t want to talk to anyone, a simple smile and hello could start a great interaction with someone that’s more similar to yourself than you thought. I’m not saying to become what that person thinks or believes, but get to know why they act and think the way they do; it might actually change you for the better. The odds are pretty good you won’t have to hold a goat in your lap to meet someone new, but don’t be afraid of the great story and new friends that may come from it if you do.