Expat Magazine

The Danger of the Written Word

By Holli
A week ago today, I embarked on what has turned out to be a very dangerous trip.
Not the wandering amid the streets of Jamestown, but the aftermath of my account of that event.
Instead of our usual cherished Saturday adventures deep in the ‘bend down’ boutiques of Makola, T and I headed to a much advertised arts festival.
The truth is that I have indeed become skeptical of the punctuality and grandiosity of events as advertised - and this comes from being disappointed many times over the past 15 years in Ghana.
The Street Art festival indeed disappointed me as I’d suspected it would. I spent two hours there and I did not give the event a ‘chance’ to get going. I later read some amazing accounts on Graham’s blog and others, and saw some great photos on Nana Kofi Acquah’s Photo blog here.
I was not in the mood that day to revel in the brightness of the eyes of children, to see the hope and beauty they possess inherently. I saw instead the reality of choked gutters and endemic poverty. I ignored the hope that the idea of art and expression brought to the area. I was in a melancholic mood.
But in writing about this, I made some mistakes that have taught me some valuable life lessons.
1. We have a responsibility to write without assumptions. We as bloggers are seen in a way as journalists, and the way we represent an event paints a picture. A picture that might be half drawn. That might not be coloured in for the reader.
2. As a blogger, we must accept that we are viewed, judged and convicted on the words of each post. We are therefore only as good as our last post. I may have written many times about the beauty, the vitality and the amazing spirit of Ghana before, but in one post, my jaded slant created a false impression that it’s very difficult to live with.
3. Readers can feed off the energy of comments. Mass mentality can happen on a website, as quick as can happen in a crowded street where someone shouts ‘thief’! Since writing my account of a less than perfect festival that I witnessed a portion of, in my bad mood, I have been labeled a racist, a bigot, an uninvited, unappreciative monger of poverty writing, and far, far worse.
It is disturbing and hurtful to be at the center of a witch hunt in a country that I have called home for so long. It is sad to me that one blog post has created a venomous and violent response from the fellow bloggers that I share a creative space with, in Ghana’s online community.
I have learned many things. That I must be careful – I must present more well rounded accounts of events and leave my moods at home. That it is far more uplifting to see the beauty around us than the negative, as it is everywhere and it permeates. It is more of a challenge and more rewarding to pluck out the good and raise it up above the bad.
I have learned that hatred lies so shallow below the surface, and I have seen it’s ugly face in the blog posts and comments hurled at me. I have seen how easy it is for people to judge, to condemn without knowledge. To push someone into a box, a label that doesn’t befit them. (Perhaps I also unwittingly labeled and boxed the community of Jamestown with my account…)
I am resilient though, and I will continue to live my little life, and write from my humble perspective, and if Ghana will not embrace me, I will embrace myself.
The people of Jamestown too are resilient, and will brush off my grumpy critique, as it has been pointed out that I was not the intended audience, and if the children enjoyed the day, that is far more important.
I’d like to close with a quote that all of us should take to heart. It will help in my writing and I hope it will help my scathing critics:

“If each man or woman could understand that every other human life is as full of sorrows, or joys, or base temptations, of heartaches and of remorse as his own . . . how much kinder, how much gentler he would be.”

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