I think the realization of being in Africa has begun to set in. For our stay in Accra, it just seemed so much more like a sprawled out city that could be in the US that I didn’t really think of myself as being on a whole different continent. In many ways it reminded me of a southern city, but as we begin to travel the country I am seeing that this is a different reality. I will be honest in my depiction, but at the same time I am not passing judgement, and neither should you too.
The road to Kumasi is unlike any other major highway you’re likely to travel, at least in the present day. The road is being expanded from two lanes to four, but as the result of a lack of funding and playing political hardball, much of it is actually unfinished. Thus, parts of it are literally mounds of dirt with jagged rocks sticking out, mud holes made by the rainy season, and slopes that could overturn a truck if one is not careful driving. Feeling uncomfortable on the road was an understatement, and the issue of safety is a whole other issue. In fact, the local newspaper, the Ghanaian Times, reported on Wednesday that in the past five months there have been over 700 traffic related accidents in the country, and nearly 5,000 injuries as well.
The sight of the area we’re staying in may seem like something out of those missionary commercials about impoverished kids, but that would completely overlook the dynamics of how life operates here. Things like paying rent or services such as water and electricity are not practiced here, although that could change with the ramifications of globalization. Since many people here own goats, chickens and livestock, that’s also one less expense too. I also find it interesting that most of the people operate their businesses out of small containers, like the kind you would see used at a dock for shipping. But a good amount of people here only carry around goods that they can sell on the road, literally, so by deducting those costs and taking into consideration the low costs of living here, most people live reasonably ok.
Our lectures have been rather interesting as they have varied in terms of topics and scope, and spark interesting arguments from the students in our group. In terms of issues such as urban development and economic growth, it’s agreed that the country has to overhaul its infrastructure to compete in the 21st century, yet it needs to preserve its history and cultural traditions. It’s interesting to note how a good majority of the population tends to have a conservative viewpoint when it comes to issues such as marriage and the role of women. This may have to do with the heavy focus on religion as a central part of everyone’s daily life, and it being seen as connected to some of the traditions that the various ethnic groups are trying to uphold.
As we tour the area and visit museums and cultural centers, I get a sense of this nation being proud of its culture and seeing it as valuable. So much history have been preserved and documented, from the arts and music to the political and military conflicts. The Ghana tourism board probably saw that this would be a big attraction, and decided to make a good amount of this history accessible to the general public. It does bother me that certain aspects seem to be omitted, such as the Ashanti’s involvement in the slave trade and a proper look at some of the turmoil of the past fifty years. Maybe like most nations they are ashamed of this history and it happened too recently to reflect on this, but it would be nice if this country took a progressive step in that sense.
This visit has made me aware of my own cultural experiences as an American, and the differences I have from the people here. Even though the majority of the population in this country speaks English as required by the government, it’s sometimes difficult to communicate concepts you assume that everyone would know about that aren’t that well known outside of the culture you come from. It seems like the average person here is kind of insulated from the international community and doesn’t keep up with current events that much, but this is a initial inference. For me, it’s very easy to lose track of time here as everything is laid back, and as someone who’s lived in New York City their whole life the slow pace can seem like time has come to a crawl.
That wraps up the first week of Kumasi. Week two coming soon!