This is kind of how I figured my summer in Ghana would go: I’d eat some mango, make lots of Ghanaian friends, bask in everything that is new and different, and get my first taste of international law by working for a Supreme Court Justice (or two). Well, I have eaten lots of mango—it’s unbelievably good. And I have made a fair share of Ghanaian and ex-pat friends (while avoiding the appropriate number of questionable characters). But I can’t say I was prepared for the culture shock that hit me in the face when I walked off that plane from Los Angeles. I’ve seen people living in poverty before, definitely, but all of a sudden I found myself living in the middle of it. There’s something deeply troubling to me about having a 7-year-old boy grab my hand, kneel down in front of me with his head bowed and beg me for money. Or having an elderly man from Liberia with tears in his eyes and an infected foot three times its normal size ask me to buy some antibiotic for him. Or driving past the trash dump every day with its absolutely awful smell, seeing rows and rows of shacks, knowing that entire families live there so they can send their kids out to root around in it everyday. It kills me and I want to fix it. It reminds me why I’m here and why I’m going in to law. In a country where corruption is a serious issue and government officials are among the wealthiest in the nation, money and power seem to be synonymous for a lot of people. It’s a vicious alliance—I have enough power, but not enough money so I accept bribes—You have enough money but not enough power, so you give bribes—and on and on. Meanwhile, those with neither of those things suffer the fallout. I realized a few years ago that if I wanted to shake up faulty systems and give the people who are hurting most a fighting chance at a decent life, I need either money or power. So, I picked law, hoping for both, thinking that a legal degree would give me the opportunity to walk through doors that others cannot (like the door to the office of a Ghanaian Supreme Court justice, for example) and maybe I could find a way to use the power and connections that I have to help somebody. It’s been amazing to see, in just the two and a half weeks that I’ve been here, that I might actually be able to do something like that with my life.
At the Supreme Court, both Debbie and I are assigned to two justices each. Every Tuesday and Wednesday we sit in on court, which has been an incredibly unique experience in and of itself. Ghana’s Constitution is only about 20 years old so the Supreme Court is still very much in the early stages of developing its constitutional law—basically history in the making. We’ve both also been asked to write an opinion for a case coming up from the appellate courts. One year of law school down and we already have the chance to write opinions for the Ghanaian Supreme Court. It feels pretty unbelievable. Overall, life in Ghana isn’t as comfortable as Malibu, that’s for sure, but there’s something about being in the middle of really great need and feeling like you are contributing, even just a little, to the solution that makes it worth it a thousand times over. I can’t wait to see what the next weeks hold.