Well, after months of working to secure scholarships and grants, a passport and visa, equipment and most of all, determination, I pulled it off. I am right now blogging from the country of Ghana in Africa. It took so much work to make it happen that I didn’t really get a chance to think about the adventure that I was about to undertake. Slowly but surely, the reality is hitting me. I am not sure about what has been set forth in motion now, but I will try my best to describe it.
I have traveled to rural and coastline places before, but none come close to capturing the culture here that is oriented around a sunny, tropical climate. From the moment our study abroad group stepped off the airplane onto the runway, it was clear that this was a different setting than any I had seen in the states. Passing through an airport that required you to have a visa was one, but the reception of the people there was completely unlike the indifferent nature of passing through a US terminal. The tour group that showed us around made a flag to welcome us there, and several people waved or greeted us as well. It was certainly refreshing after a cramped ten hour flight.
After we dropped off our belongings at the dorms we stayed at, which also had a very nice and sociable staff, we made our way to a busy strip in Accra, the first city we visited. The firsthand experience we got threw us off a bit. Merchants who saw that we were foreign would come over to our van and aggressively try to sell us products ranging from snacks to souvenirs. They’re called hawkers by the local government for their tendency to chase down visitors and make them feel uncomfortable. Our guide, who told us to call him Armstrong, said we would get used to it, but even as a New Yorker this was hardcore.
The city is right next to the water, so there are many places there where you can catch a glimpse of the ocean, or go to the sea side yourself. The first day there we ate at a nice restaurant right at the shore, and the view was breathtaking. Maybe somewhere in California or Florida could match it, but it was certainly refreshing for everyone in the group. We got to also sample a few of the dishes there, and for anyone who hasn’t been there, their food can be very spicy. Nearly everything there tends to have a pepper in it somewhere, so those who can’t handle spices in their food might have a bit of trouble eating local dishes. There are restaurants that serve American, and growing increasingly popular, Chinese food if you need an alternative.
It’s been interesting for everyone in our group to get acquainted with each other, but as we’re breaking the ice it’s becoming clear that we all have a passion for the things we’re learning about on this trip. It appears that the members tend to come from one of two different backgrounds: Caribbean Americans or African Americans. There’s not too much difference culturally between the two, and at times we find that Ghana has food, traditions and mythology very close to the ones in the other two cultures. This shows that there is a greater connection between these groups, and that we all are in many ways molded by what is called the African Diaspora, meaning the series of events that led to people from Africa being enslaved and brought to the Americas.
Studying the history of the country has been an eye opening experience. Our time so far has been split between learning about the Ashanti tribe which dominates the country, and the current day Ghanaian republic that was first headed by Kwame Nkrumah. The original statue of him, shown above, was beheaded following a military coup which was partly supported and organized by the United States. Learning about the role of our country in undermining the development of African nations is not surprising, but still a bit disheartening. Not shown is the picture though is the head of the statue which was returned to the state 43 years later from a woman who found it, took it with her and wrapped it up to prevent anyone from defacing it any further. This shows a greater sense of pride many people in the country have in their history, and continue to do so.
Visiting the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and W.E.B Dubois Memorial Center has been a humbling experience, as they both are the final resting places of the former leaders. They both knew each other, and Dubois considered Nkrumah to be a son to him. To see leaders from different countries build upon commonly shared ideas and bridge gaps across cultures and generations is a powerful thing to consider. This is one of the many examples of the attempt to develop an international coalition between those linked through the Diaspora, and an interesting moment in history as both were exiled from their countries for their work. For me, it reinforces my decision to go on this trip and the necessity of expanding one’s horizons to develop a fuller frame of thought, and to also meet others who can provide greater or different insight.
So that was the first leg of our trip. Our second destination is the city of Kumasi, which is several hundred miles north of Accra, and where we begin to attend classes on the history of the country. Blog post of our time there to come shortly, check back in a few days!