when in ghana. . .

This is a series of post that I wrote while completing an MSU Study Abroad program on “Disparities in Health Care” in Ghana. Our group was based in Accra at the University of Ghana, Legon and we stayed in a hostel in Shiashie. We traveled often: Volta Region, village of Klikor, Kakum National Forest, Volta Dam, Cape Coast, Kumasi, and Osu was a usual hangout. The posts are all pictures and reflections during that 6 week program in Ghana. The first post is a research paper I completed for a class about “development” in Ghana.

i. The Quest for Development: Aid to the Rescue in Ghana
ii. off to the continent of my dreams
In Ghana:
1. something you can taste
2. water by day, apples by night
3. for the love of america
4. scenery and speed bumps
5. aljazeera, acrobats, and aloe
6. imperialist footprints: the development story from the inside
7. the quest for the west
8. what is so important about ethnicity?
9. the value is the same
10. weekend of the obrooni [obruni]
11. two voltas, one ghana, three africas
12. the nature of africa: rhythm and socialism
13. image of america, the blinding lights
14. inside africa
15. definition of development
16. . . . keep your promise
17. the chinese influence
18. snapshot of health in ghana
19. a mixture of black, white, red
20. the longest driveway
21. when in ghana
Returned:
22. when not in ghana. . .
23. the land of culture, africa
24. the caramel apple of globalization
25. cynicism from a jaded summer
26. the crouching tiger and the curse of black gold
27. rastafarian confusion

when not in ghana

There is so much reflection and thought to write under this title, and the last. I will apologize now for the incohesive and random nature of my thought process and my failure of ability to express in words what you can only understand from experience.

I have been in Africa now for a month and a half – living, studying, and experiencing. Many people like to just leave it at that, but I like to be more specific. I was in the West African country of Ghana. A country with a relatively stable country and economy (some crises right now: electricity and fuel), full of culture and tradition, and even in its immense ‘development,’ Ghana remains with disparities like any other country – even the US. Africa is not a monolithic mass in the southern hemisphere of the world. So many people would rather chalk up the continent into one idea after reading, hearing, or experiencing a small aspect. Intellectuals, non-intellectuals, those who are from Africa, those who haven’t, and so many experts would rather clump the continent together. That just can’t be done. There is nothing about Africa as a whole that can sum up what it is. It is just like how in the US each state has its own special customs or accents or scenery – Africa as a continent is the same, but better. So many people would rather save time and refer to Africa as a monolithic mass. However, as I lived, traveled, and experienced Ghana the falsity of this idea was all too evident. Our MSU study abroad group was based in Accra, the capital city of Ghana and did much of our work at the University of Ghana. We took many field trips: Cape Coast, Volta Region, Kumasi, Villages near Danfa, and more. Every time that we would leave for a trip the Ghanaians that helped us would tell us that we would experience something so different from what we had seen before; something that we could only have seen in our dreams. They could not have prepared us more. Each region that we visited, each city, town, or village that we stayed in was completely different. We witnessed the many ethnic groups of Ghana, their music, traditions, and customs – the Akan of the Accra area, the Ewe of the Eastern Volta Region, the Asante of Ashanti Region. . . If there were so many differences and experiences in one of the smaller African countries, than what does that say for the massive continent itself?

One of the most obvious differences between Ghana and living in the US was the notion of time. In the States it is very hustle, bustle, go, go, go, exuding impatience – but in Ghana things will happen when they do. You can go for a meal order your drink, wait a bit, get your drink and order food, wait sometimes two hours (tops), get your food, and leave in about three hours from your dinner excursion. But its ok, what else were you going to do? Enjoy your food take your time, chat with your tablemates, tell jokes, enjoy the scenery, people watch – everything will happen in good time. I like that notion of time. I liked it so much that I stopped wearing my watch and often had to ask a Ghanaian with a cell phone for the time. I am not a rushed person, well at least not as rushed as most, and I like to take things as they come. Time should not be such a definitive aspect of your life. Time should work for you. One Ghanaian told me, “Here, we are manufacturers of time.” As opposed to we, in the States, who are the slave labourers to time. I return and time is back in my face again, cracking the whip. The ubiquitous tyrant of everyone’s lives will remain to be the arbitration of time.

Hurtling down the road at breakneck speed, I look over at the speedometer – hoping that we don’t nail a pedestrain or hawker – I see that the speedometer has been put out of commission, figures, they don’t want to know how fast they are going themselves. A mass of traffic appears and we, amazingly, stop in time to not die. The traffic lights have decided to work today. The car exhaust and black smoke flow into my front seat window as the hawkers walk by selling apples, ball floats, candy, posters, you name it. They are accompanied by those crippled by polio, beggars, and blind men walking with an aid. This is the taxi ride of Accra, you have not experienced Accra if you do not ride in the front seat of a taxi. Now back in the States I enjoy always smooth roads, no traffic backups (I don’t live in a very big city), and no death-defying driving skills. That is a fun little part of each day that I will miss.

We all take our health for granted. Everyone. In Ghana many of the students got sick, had diarreha, fever, something – back home we are rarely sick, we are rarely decommissioned for a day, we are rarely at odds with the world we live in as far as our health is concerned. I have the luck of owning an adaptable body and did not get sick in any regard. Thankfully whenever I travel nothing affects my internal health. The sun likes to affect my external health – my nose is still red with sunburn. We take our health for granted. Our professor who worked for over two years in the Peace Corps said she was always sick and while in Ghana I noticed this as well. Many people have fever, coughs, malaria, and who knows what. . . but, depending on location and class, they could not self medicate from the cabinet or see a doctor right away. They walk to get clean water, no faucet in the kitchen with clean water. We take our health for granted. I thought about this often when a group of us would go running. We would draw quite a crowd and get some cheers from school children. They must have all thought we were crazy – running miles in the hot sun at a fast pace, did we want to die? Well no, we Americans enjoy exercise, but for the Ghanaians we encountered and many Africans exercise is a way of life not a luxury to feel good. Will we ever stop taking our health for granted?

One of the sad reflections from Ghana is the idea of culture and tradition that is just not seen in the US. Ghanaians have a deep shared history and strong traditions rooted in their respective communities, which share much in common. There is a huge importance of family and the customs that are passed down. Many professions are passed from father to son, mother to daughter and the day to day of family life is passed down through traditions. In each of the villages we visited we were sure to make courtesy calls to all the local chiefs. The local chiefs still hold a great deal of power and we soon understood the protocol for visiting a chief. The importance of connections between people is huge. In some cases this cause corruption and nepotism, but there is an underlying good intention. Your connections with family are extremely important and you never lose that connection no matter what – if you decide to blow of family then you are looked down upon. You keep the family name, you name your children for past relatives, you visit often, and if you have a good paying job, you send support. This unknown emphasis on human connection is amazing. It goes beyond family to the people you meet in life. I couldn’t believe how many people could remember my name from a one time meeting. It must be the greeting ritual that makes it easier to remember. In Ghana you do not just wave and say, “Hi, how are you?” and receive the standard response, “Fine, thanks.” You stop talk, inquire about family, friends, and life. The nature of people in Ghana is just so much more cohesive and happy. I think it is because of the emphasis on people and getting to know them.

One of my favorite parts of Accra is that the grocery store is right at your vehicle window. While you are stuck in the mass of rush hour (sometimes it isn’t even rush hour) traffic, hawkers walk up and down the rows of cars, trucks, lorries, and taxis selling just about anything. Probably the oddest things I saw being sold were: a pair of puppies, toothpaste, a box of chickens, coffee mugs, umbrellas, the list goes on and on – pretty much anything that up might need is right outside your window. Besides the window side store and clubbing scene, I prefer to stay out of the big city. My best experiences on the etire trip were in the small villages of Otinibi and Danfa. The village life is so much more appealing and friendly. The village is a more closely knit community and is extremely welcoming.

Ghana was an amazing experience from all of the great classwork we did and, most of all, from the excursions we took as a group and adventures on our own. Meeting people was my favorite part and learning about their lives was most interesting. I don’t think I could have had a better experience in Ghana, unless maybe I spoke the language, but I am getting there. Ghana is an amazing place, an interesting beacon for the continent, and a force to be reconned with in the future of our global economy. I still have some very specific reflections from Ghana, so be sure to check back to learn about: investing in death, the discovery of oil in Ghana, and the confusion of the rastafaria movement.

Here are some random, artistic, super random pictures left over from Ghana:

Downtown Osu at night, Osu has many western style establishments that are run mostly by Lebanese.


An awesome tree at the Forex by the Center for Art and Culture.


The arc of Ghanaian independence just down the road from the presidential palace.


A fisherman’s association from the view of Cape Coast Castle.


A fisher and his boats taking a rest in the nook of Cape Coast Castle.


The canopy of Kakum National Forest, beautiful!


Don’t look down (from one of the canopy platforms.


Slightly frightening sign in Accra, just before we sped off. . .


This is the village area we stayed in, Shiashie, engulfed by the growing Accra.


The moon between palm trees at our hostel on Don’s 21st birthday.


A nice village scene in the Volta Region near Wli Falls, tallest in West Africa.


HIV/AIDS awareness and education.


Cool coke bottle shot, drink up.


At the University of Ghana.


One of our favorite restaurants to visit, off the beaten path, but well worth a good Ghanaian meal.


Me and Joseph, the most amazing hostel worker ever.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

weekend of the obruni

This past weekend is when we began our intense American weekend. This was when we did the most Obrooni things and par-took in the delights and desires of an Obrooni. When you think of everything that a visiting Obrooni might do, we did it. Every place where an Obrooni was most comfortable, we went.

We started out by going to the shopping mall. Yes, a shopping mall It didn’t contain much that was amazing, but it was close enough to home for most of the area Obroonis to shop there. The shopping mall was tucked away, hidden almost, in the opulent, lavish, private homes of the wealthy – and Obroonis. There was a liquor store, jewlery store, ice cream, fedex, small grocery store, some beauty salons, offices, and a very nice internet cafe. It was easy to tell that Obroonis from the area and those working in Ghana frequented the shopping mall. It was easy to tell that these Obroonis flocked there for their daily needs, but it so much easier to get what you need on the street. This is also where I saw my first ‘real’ parking lot in Ghana.

We did some shopping and haggling in the ‘Center for National Culture’ and headed back to the hostle to eat some lunch.
It was a big meager and a bit Obrooni of us, but still good. We ended the eating session with some FanChoco, it is a plastic pouch, like the water, of frozen chocolate milk – so good during a hot day. A few of us decided to go for a run for the first time in Ghana. So far the only people running that I have seen are either training for soccer or are late for something. As we ran the back streets behind our hostel, people called out, “Obrooni, what are you doing?” Children ran to the street and callled ‘Obrooni’ to us. The children lined the road clapping, cheering, and chanting, ‘Obrooni.’ It was almost as if I was in a high school cross country race again. The best was the taxis who honked at us to see if we wanted a ride. No, just some silly Obroonis who want their excerise. It must really make no sense to most Ghanaians since most of their daily lives and jobs are excerise. Here they can’t choose when to excercise or not, it is run or just stop.

We had heard of a great recommended restaurant called Afrikiko and decided to go there for dinner, since there was also music. But we arrived and all the lights were off, it looked quite shady so we headed to another recommended place called ‘Home Touch.’ On the way to Home Touch, our taxi passed the new, under-construction american embassy. It was so disgustingly huge and unnecessarily gigantic. The US has pulled it foreign aid from Ghana, so why does it seek such an imposing presence? The compund was massive, many storied almost like a hotel, multpile gates, and numerous secuirty cameras. I couldn’t believe the extent of the new embassy. We arrived and got a big table and at the start of the evening we were the only people in the place. We drank and ate goat and fufu in a light soup. I am not sure what light soup means because my soup was so hot that my lips and throat burned with goodness afterwards. Some of the girls in our group sang with the live band (quite Obrooni) and made fools of themselves, but it was a great time. When we were given our bill it was about 200,000 cedis too much and we thought we were getting jipped, but oh well.

We had the rest of the weekend plus Friday off since we were traveling to the far eastern region of Volta on Sunday. We woke up early, for some reason unknown to me, for breakfast on Friday because some of the girls were picking up dresses made in Osu and some of the other girls were getting their hair braided. Most people returned to their beds to regain some lost sleep – which I hear is impossible to do, but I did likewise. I slept for a really long time and did some more reading, finishing The Village of Waiting. We then met up with hte group at Frankie’s to go out and Francis joined us. We first went to Epo’s bar with Francis and met and had some drinks. While we were there a big volunteer group from England arrived and we chatted it up. I talked to a girl who was stationed in a very rural village in the north of Ghana and found out that each person was stationed far off in a different area. The English people, with their beautiful accents, were headed to a nightclub called ‘Bliss,’ so we decided to tag along. It seems that no one, no taxi driver or otherwise, knows of Bliss or where it is. Finally we found a taxi driver who knew the place and headed there. We arrived and were treated to the most Western style bar and club that I have seen yet. It was full of Obroonis – American and English – no wonder no one had heard of the place.

Saturday we all slept in after the night of clubbing. I missed breakfast since I slept too late. Most of us stayed in our rooms sleeping, reading, or just hanging out. I didn’t emerge until 2pm and didn’t eat until very late. We all went in waves to the internet cafe and talked in the courtyard about our experiences in Ghana so far. What an Obrooni weekend – in style, food, company, experience, and habit. We ended up having a great Ghanaian meal at Cez Arfique, but otherwise so Obrooni.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the value is the same

As I wrote earlier, I will now be writing on issues and thoughts that come to my mind while in Ghana. This will range from day to day adventures to reflections to just plain critical thinking. I will still write about the numerous and various experiences and field trips that occur, but there will be less of the play by play of the day to day. In ‘The Village of Waiting,’ the author writes about the certain desire and longing to live in a developing country. I can completely understand what he means, however there is no way that I can verbally express that magnetism. I attempt here to give you a glimpse of my African experience, but it is just that a glimpse. The author goes on later in the book to discuss how Westerners and ‘white’ people will never be able to experience the true Africa. You can be a tourist, an accepted member of the workforce, and an honored volunteer, but you will never be able to step out of your skin – your permanent suit from your wedding day with your identity does not come off. And so with those thoughts in mind, here is what happens when I am in Africa, Ghana to be more correct.

While watching the Champions Cup match, at halftime the Ghana television channel took over the feed and displayed commercials to explain the new Ghanaian cedi. The commercials played over and over, repeating until halftime had expired. The commercials emphasized the phrase that we just can’t get enough of here in Ghana, “the value is the same.” Throughout the entire match the message scrolled along the bottom of the screen: “The new Ghanaian cedi and the current cedi will have the same value. The value is the same.” Up and down the roadways hawkers carry the signs to explain the new currency and to show the neat new bills and coins. We have seen these posters everywhere and even bumper stickers, it has become a running joke with our group now. The value is the same.

Next year the cedi is set to change. The value will be the same, but the numbers will change. Instead of carrying around a huge wad of bills you will have only a few to carry now. The 10,000 cedi note will turn into the new 1 Ghanaian cedi note. Joseph, at the hostel, explained to us that this was a political move since in the next few years there will be a West African Union established, like the European Union. The new West African Union will have its own new currency so it is completely unnecessary and frivolous to create a new cedi now. The politicians are using this new cedi as a push to emphasize their dedication to Ghana. Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest that money in the country’s infrastructure? To me this represents the complete disregard for the well being of a country’s people. Needless to say, the campaign has gained amazing ground and even we, who will be here for 6 short weeks, understand the change completely.

This is an important and potentially positive event in Ghana, but there is a question that will not leave my mind. Will the value of corruption remain the same as well? On the way back from the beach the other night, our taxi was stopped at the simple police check point of a section of bicycle fence across the road and a smiling policeman with his AK-47. We happened to have more than the acceptable number of passengers in our car, but the taxi driver told us not to worry. We pulled up and stopped, the policeman shone his flashlight around, he exchanged some words with our driver, and then the two men shook hands. However as they did so, a seemingly minor transaction took place. We drove off and the taxi driver explained that this happened often. He said that just about every policeman in Ghana could get paid off very easily. The economics of a badge and a gun continue. This seems to be a scene that is repeatedly described in developing countries.

Yesterday Kyle bought the Daily Graphic, the New York Times of Ghana. It has been the premier paper and also the longest running in Ghana. It was really a well put together piece of daily literature and the authors for their articles wrote compelling pieces. The most interesting to me was an article on the World Bank, Wolfowitz, and Ghana’s role as the chair of the African Union (AU). The president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz is resigning under intense pressure. In the unwritten code of the development world the President of the United States gets to appoint the head of the World Bank. In its inception the World Bank was used as a US tool to aid the European governments in their reconstruction after World War II. The US used to be the largest development aider in the world and was owed much by Europe. Now China is the top aider and can easily match the World Bank in capacity to give aid, but China gives aid without requirements. The author of the article called for Ghana to use its power as the new AU chair to unite Africa and other ‘developing’ country groups to join in calling for a reform in the process of appointing the leader of the World Bank. Wolfowitz’s reign was marked by calls to end corruption and reform corrupt systems. Now there needs to be a push to reform the very processes that Wolfowitz championed in the most influential development agency. Does it make sense that a, possibly unqualified, American runs the world’s most important development group? Why would there not be a World Bank president from the ‘developing’ countries?

The value may be the same, but there is still a lot to do before values across the board will be the same. In the past few decades the gap between the Western world and Africa has grown exponentially. In our brief time here we will spend at least, or more than the per capita of the average Ghanaian. Per capita income is placed at $450, the goal is to have it be $1000 by the year 2020. Roughly 20 students from the States will spend well over the per capita income of most Ghanaians in a 6 week time period – this is a fact that I hope most of us will not look past when we return.

what is so important about ethnicity?

Day 12
We got up so early today. Egg salad sandwiches (Ghana style) for breakfast with a delicious multi-fruited juice. The bus was late because traffic was so thick, almost like pure, unprocessed groundnut paste, mmmmmm. Lecture today was on the ethnicities and ethnic relations in Ghana. I am going to begin writing more about thoughts and issues that come to mind while in Ghana now that I have covered the basics of where I am, what I am doing, and how it all happens.

Ghana is a state with many nations of people, many ethnic groups. Ghana is a state of nations and needs to be one united nation of people. There is a long history of ethnic tension and turmoil in Africa, you cannot lump every African experience with ethnic conflict into one ball of dough. You cannot think that every issue of ethnicity results in what you have seen in Hotel Rwanda.

Nigeria has had a long spat with ethnic tensions, especially in politics. This led to a civil war in 1964, of which I do not know much about. This war has created a tense ethnic political struggle as evidenced by the most recent elections and the numerous calls of foul. Nigeria now sits divided into 36 states, most based on ethnicities.

Cote d’Ivoire began an ‘open door’ policy and many people flocked to the country. However when elections rolled around only natural born Cote d’Ivoirians could run for the office of President even though now the country had so many new citizens from many differing places who felt the need to be represented.

The most well known example of ethnic tensions built into full blown conflict is that of Rwanda and Burundi. With the Tutsi minority given the reins of power by the colonial controllers, the Hutu majority did not appreciate this and built up the difference of ethnicity until this was such an important issue to cause genocide in 1994. However this conflict began well before 1994 and continues long after. The conflict spread into the DRC and countries such as Uganda became involved.

Among the many examples of ethnic tensions and conflict Ghana remains a fairly good example of how conflict and death can be avoided. As with many African countries Ghana was a country etched onto a map without regard to established nations of people or traditional ideas of territory. Because of this Ghana has a number of ethnic groups. Politically Ghana has avoided conflict by requiring, in the constitution, that each ethnic group should have representation within the Ministries of the government. Another point that has led to the uniting of ethnic groups for one Ghana is the secondary school system. The secondary school system is a boarding school model and most students travel long distances to go to the best schools in Cape Coast. While in school the student learn about the different ethnic groups and learn to live with one another. This creates more of a rivalry between school teams and less of a rivalry between ethnic groups. The issue of language often arises in Ghana. Most of the country is Akan speaking, yet it is considered politically incorrect to declare the major Akan language of Twi to be the official language. Therefore the country is united in language by English, but everyone says ‘Akwaaba.’ No matter where you are a Ghanaian will welcome you with this Twi phrase.

We had a field trip today to the National Museum of Ghana, which is also celebrating its 50th year of being open. The museum was really quite lame. There were some cool artifacts from the history of Ghana and other African countries and people, but it was again nothing that we had not already seen. The tour guide was a bit loopy too and told us most of the knowledge about Ghana that has been hammered into our heads from every tour we take. Back at the hostel we ate bananas (the short sweet ones), crackers with pure fat happy cow cheese, and vanilla wafer cookies. Kyle and I headed to the internet cafe. Our first ‘reflection’ paper is due on Thursday and some of the students are typing them out. I finished mine the old fashioned way. I reverted back to the good ole days of elementary school and handwriting a paper, it was very reminiscent – and yes it was legible.

We all gathered around the tv in the courtyard to get ready for the Champions Cup game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan. We were all pulling for Liverpool. They dominated the ball the entire match, but Milan’s ability to make a goal out of anything did them in. Milan took the match 2 – 1. What a let down. The ‘the value is the same commercials were quite entertaining as well,’ but more on that later. It was a sad ending. We also found out that our good friend Richard was fired. The story is that he supposedly took something from a room after a visitor had left and denied it.

That evening the rasta guys showed up to take us to the reggae club on the beach. We had been warned by our other Ghanaian friends about this because bad things had happened in the past. However, the majority of our group wanted to go and since most of them were girls we were not about to split the group. The rasta brought a trotro,one of them must have owned it, but we joked that they might have stolen it. It was my first ride in a trotro. They are the cheapest form of transport in Ghana, but not the safest. All 20 of us piled in and headed to Osu to pick up some more members of our group. We headed to the beach with a typical trotro load – packed like sardines. At the beach we were charged to get in, first it was 10,000 cedis, then it suddenly changed to 20,000 cedis. That made quite a hassle, but we finally entered the beach. The rasta for some mysterious reason did not have to pay (because they brought the white girls). We got to the beach, were given seats, and ordered drinks. The waves on the beach at night are amazing. They are massive and seemed to go in no particular rhythm as they usually do during the day. Glancing around the beach it was easy to see that all present were Obroonis or rastas looking to make friends with an Obrooni to get a drink or to get a girl. Our group stuck together, looked out for one another, enjoyed the music and dancing, and helped each other out of creepy and potentially bad situations. In the end it was a very fun evening, but this is where the true intentions of our rasta friends showed through. I hope everyone in our group now understands now my previous wariness.

The rasta are a very interesing group and fill a very odd and unimaginable role in Ghana. They worship Bob Marley and weed. If you get them talking they will go on and on for eternity about how it is ‘nice to be nice’ or ‘charity is carity.’ Many have great musical skills, but not such great skills when it comes to meeting a girl without creeping her out. Most are defined by their dreads, knit hats, drums, or weed wisdom.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the quest for the west

Day 11
Applied lots of Aloe today. The sunburn is getting better. The bus arrived as we sat down to eat. Kyle and I always seem to be two steps behind. Breakfast was a large, thin, pancake thing with chicken sausage and some eggs, it was so good. At the seminar room today we got to bond with Ted (Prof. Tims). We talked about ourselves, majors, passions, and future plans. We then discussed the novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. The book was mostly about corruption, the attainment of wealth, poverty, the quest to be western, and one man’s journey to live and work honestly. In the end of the book all he is left with is an “aching emptiness” and that is all the rest of his life could offer him. Kind of a downer, but it is interesting since the day before we met a woman working with some anti-corruption group doing a study on Ghana’s judicial system.

It was then lunchtime and breaktime. We wandered campus and explored some. We ventured all over the campus. We saw the Library, the Center for African Studies, the dorms, and much more. The campus is much like any you would see anywhere in the world, obviously it has its differences, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest difference, as on any college or university campus, was the dorms. These are huge structures of block squares where four people live. When school is in session you see the clotheslines of each student strung out with brightly colored clothing drying in the Ghanaian sun. Surprisingly on campus you see many people walking around with ipod or MP3 headphones in their ears. Higher education in Ghana is still very much a place for those with the money. It is interesting to see, since we have come to know Ghana as a place that favors and loves human interaction, instead of the secluded american, music in ears, head to the ground, walk right past you attitude. This happens to be few students however, and most will greet you cheerily. The West cannot taint the Ghanaian tradition of greeting.

We settled down at an small cafe called ‘Tyme Out,’ got some cokes and played pool. This is where my mind recalled the idea of a hip hop planet. The walls of Tyme Out were adorned with posters of former great and popular rap artists and the music on the radio was their past hits. Even here this glorification and fascination of the gangsterism and commercialized hip hop culture exists. It is not surprising since West Africa is where hip hop was born. The radio often plays Ghanaian hits from the hip hop artists who brought the american style to Ghana. Why is the american style born from West Africa mirrored in the place of hip hop’s birth?

After lunch we learned more about Ted and his love and life of music. He was a music major turned music therapist. He has helped countless people recover from illness with music. He was trained as a concert pianist and this lecture brought us a drumming exercise. We first learned the history of drumming. The Europeans could not grasp the complex rhythms and beats of African drumming because it was like nothing they had heard before. Drumming was used to induce trances and was often used for social events. African drumming has many complex rhythms and patterns, but in the end they all come together to make one song. You cannot stop and listen to everything at once without being confused, you have to concentrate and focus from one beat to another. In this lecture we also discussed the aspects of health. The West decided to cut health to focus just on body. Where other cultures and societies looked at health as comprehensive in mind, body, and spirit. Music is a huge aspect of bringing together those aspects.

In the evening we went to a nearby Chinese restaurant. We ventured down our extremely busy road in Shiashie Accra to reach the restaurant. It was much bigger and fancier than we had thought. Sadly the food was also worse than we thought it would be. The menu was 20 pages long and didn’t really have much traditional Chinese foods. A let down at the least. I had the spring rolls, which just had cabbage and some random chunks of beef. A poor end to the evening, but tomorrow is another day.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

aljazeera, acrobats, and aloe

Day 8
Today was a sleep-in day. It felt great , but still we woke up too early for me. We enjoyed the 103.7 FM top 30 songs on the shiny, red, shortwave radio at breakfast, before everyone disappeared again to fall asleep. Kyle and I had a nice french conversation with Joseph before also heading back into the hostel to rest. I slept until I was awakened by Kyle because people were heading to Osu to shop and eat. When we arrived I noticed that on a Saturday afternoon everyone in Accra is out and about. Today everyone is called to or hissed at (which is the most common way of getting someone’s attention) ‘sssss.’ It did not matter today if you were an Obrooni on the street or an Obibini (black or African). We first went to the bank for Kyle to try to use his ATM card. The result was not unexpected as it did not work again. We headed then to the internet for an hour.

This was by far the hottest day since we had been in Ghana. We were dripping as we just walked ‘the strip’ in Osu. We stopped at Frankie’s to get some amazing ice cream and chilled there for a while. We then ventured to the dressmaker so that the girls could order some traditional Ghanaian dresses. After getting lost a number of times and asking many directions we found the small shop that was unclearly marked. The girls looked at fabrics and we watched the game on the television in the back. Manchester United was playing Chelsea for the UEFA cup. The men in the shop gave us chairs and invited us to watch with them. We arrived just for the exciting part of the game. No goals had been scored in regular time or extra time, so now the game was in overtime. What a game, Chelsea came put on top much to the joy of the shop workers. I noticed that on the walk to the shop the streets had been mostly empty and no one was out. Everyone was tuned in to a radio or tv. The world really does stop for football – the world’s game.

We met up with everyone near Frankie’s and headed to the Pizza Inn. This, as you can imagine, happened to be the next Obrooni and wealthy Ghanaian hangout. People sat in nice outfits, suits, some seemed to be on dates at what we would consider a fastfood court. We ordered a pizza and it was very good. However, we ordered an 8 slice pizza with 5 people eating the pizza. So we all had a slice and then we came up with a great communal solution. For the last 3 slices each person would take a bite and pass the slice until it was gone. This happened to be a great solution, at least a very interesting experience, until some people (Kyle) decided to take bigger bites than what is acceptable. This made Molly very sad and angered (see picture). Later that night some people went out, but mostly everyone hung out at the hostel enjoying pineapple, which we bought on the return trip from Kakum. We completely bought two ladies out of their pineapples for the day. The were very happy.

Day 9
We woke up early today to head to Labadi Beach. Breakfast was oats (oatmeal) and toasted jam. I am not too much of a fan of oats, but the toast was great. We were going to the beach to play soccer and enjoy the sun. After eating we hailed a taxi. The first wanted too much money, but the second agreed to a price of 35,000 cedis – I am getting very good at bargaining. It cost 20,000 cedis to enter the La Pleasure Beach,so we tried to sneak into the Labadi each Resort. Unfortunately half of our group decided to turn around and give us away – not good crashing technique you have to be confident.

We paid and were immediately grabbed by hawkers. A man who claimed to paint sat me down for nearly 20 minutes with a stack of paintings trying to get a price and a sale. However after the sixth time of telling him that I was not going to buy a painting he still couldn’t believe it. Finally I got away and we agreed to be friends. We set up with some cushioned chairs, played frisbee, soccer, and enjoyed the water and waves of the Atlantic. We body surfed and tackled the amazing waves. After exhausting my swimming, I went to sit down in the shade for a while. I met a drummer who taught me four traditional rhythms. He was very cool and would not finish the lesson until I had memorized the rhythms in the brief 30 minute period. He them wanted me to buy him a drink and I thought it a fair trade after a comprehensive drumming lesson.

Joseph from the hostel arrived and just as he did the beach acrobats were warming up. They were amazing. They were all extremely muscular and could balance just about anything of anyone on any part of their body. They jumped, balanced, yelled, juggled, and put on a really great show. I could not believe all that they could do with just three guys, a table, some straw hats, and a lot of practice. It was a nice break from the hawkers.

Kyle, Sarah, and I left early since we could feel our bodies being scorched by the Ghanaian sun. We had some trouble getting a taxi, but made it back. We got back and noticed how badly burned we were, SPF 30 just couldn’t hold up. I should have applied a second coat. After showering and applying lotion and aloe we watched the highlights of the UEFA league finals. As we watched we slowly dozed off and slept for four and a half hours! I have no idea how, the beach and sun just wear you out. Kyle woke me and asked if I wanted some PB&J since it was well past dinner time and it was dark out. It was some of the best PB&J that I have ever had. As we enjoyed the reduced fat, super crunchy Skippy peanut butter, raspberry jelly, and Ghanaian wheat bread we enjoyed also the courtyard TV playing the African version of ‘American Idol.’ The Mentor show has terrible singers and harsh judges just like it American counterpart. The Nigerian students staying in the hostel were absolutely loving the show. All of the music was bad and American. Most of what we watch on the TV is the football games and the news. The best news is Aljazeera News, it covers so much and they send reporters to a lot of places that usually no one will go. I enjoy the updates from Aljazeera even at home in the States.

There are no pictures from the beach because there was no time and there were enough sleezy guys taking care of that. The beach was like any in America or Europe, but the water was so much warmer.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

scenery and speed bumps

Day 6
We left at 9am to head to Cape Coast to see the ocean and the slave castles. It was a very long ride and would take nearly 3 hours. Good thing, that means I could sleep some more. It took an hour to get out of Accra and then 2 more hours to reach Cape Coast. I decided to start out by doing some of our class reading from The Beautyful One Are Not Yet Born, but it was so difficult to read a book describing Ghana when the very country is passing by your window. My focused reading was punctuated often by the series of speed bumps. These speed bumps were not set in any sort of order, randomly plaed along the long route to Cape Coast in sets of 10, 5 far apart and 5 closer together. This made it very difficult to read or sleep, however many other students managed to catch some z’s. Also the difference between reading and seeing was just too great to pass up, so I spent my time looking out the window. Richard who started working at the hostel the day we arrived told us that we would see a very different Ghana. He was very right, this was the Ghana that I expected to see. There were numerous slums and rolling hills with so much greenery.

Here are some random snapshot from the road:


We arrived finally at the Cape Coast area and passed Fort Amsterdam, set up by the Dutch. As we neared the actually town center, the Cape Coast Castle stole the view and I was awedby what it stood for. We entered the castle, again hawkers followed us in, and readied ourselves for the tour by exploring the museum. History, artifacts, and knowledge on culture were thrown at us in neat displays, but these could not prepare us for the walking tour that awaited us.
Our guide was a very somber Ghanaian who was very smart. We started in probably the hottest room in the castle, Palaver Hall, where the Bond of 6 March 1844 was signed to create peace between the warring Ashanti and the coastal groups. The tour was great and the views from the castle were breath taking. Near the end of the tour we entered the holding cells for the slaves. Many slaves passed through these cells, many starved, many died, and so many more exited Africa through the ‘door of no return.’ It was a sobering reminder of how our world used to operate and how our people used to treat others. What every happened to that neat ‘Golden Rule?’

We ate lunch at the Cape Coast castle resturant. We had the usual meal of chicken and rice. Here they served a big bowl of what we call ‘hot.’ (Please pass ‘the hot’) We have determined that this is Ghanas’s equivalent to red hot sauce. It is so hot!

Next we took a short bus ride to the neighboring fort, Elmina Castle. Elmina as I wrote before was called ‘The Mine.’
It was used mostly as a trade and military based center, however many slaves did pass through its walls. We also had a tour here, but it was not as good. The guide was not as somber and heart felt for the deeds of the past. After our tour we went outside the castle. There is a bay area where all the fishing boats line the docks to sell their catch. They all have vibrant and multi-colored flags to adorn their vessels.
Here we bought bags of water from some very cute kids. Everyone took their picture so I didn’t want to add to the insanity of a photo op. They were extremely happy to have our business.

We then headed to our hostel for the night. We arrived by way of a very bumpy road. It was a bit confusing at first as we waited on the bus to get our rooms. Eric had us first check out the rooms since he thought they were not the nicest and there was no AC. I am not sure if he thought we could not take the heat or if he didn’t want to have to deal with the heat. The rooms were not bad and many students from the University of Cape Coast stay here. We all said the rooms were fine and we could handle no AC, little did we know. . . That evening we went out to the gazebo for dinner, beans, rice and chicken (getting a bit repetitive). This is where I got my first mosquito bites. By the end of the evening my ankles were eaten alive. Good thing that I am taking my anti-malarial. The Cape Coast is in the Central region, not really the center of the country, but central still, where the Fante people live. After dinner we had a performance by traditional drummers and dancers. It was an amazing performance and we were all made to try our skills at Ghanaian dance. The locals and students enjoyed our show just as much as the professionals. I wish could have taken a video to post here, but it was too dark out. Afterwards we met some UCC students and the performers. We got into a discussion about tradition and culture in America. I had to respond that we really have no culture, but a pop culture driven by sex, money, and fame. Tradition in America is all up to what a family wants to remember and practice or not. Just like keeping in touch with family or keeping a family name is completely optional in America, but it is just not so in Ghana.

We returned to our rooms for the night to the realization that the power had gone out. No power, no lights, no fans, no power – many people showered by flashlight and I wrote my journal in the hallway where the generator was keeping power on. It was an interesting experience as without even a fan the heat engulfs your body. It was so sticky to sleep. I decided to shower in the morning when I could see and when the cool shower would feel so much better. I actually slep very well and somehow encorporated the sounds of a barking dog (for 10 min.), a muslim call to prayer, and loud shouting into my dreams as I was the only one not awakened by the noises. I heard them, but never awoke.

Day 7
The power came back on at 6am and the breeze of the fan was a welcome relief from the stale heat. I had slept fine during the night, but most students said they could not sleep at all. The cool shower in the morning was amazing before breakfast – only to begin sweating in the heat again. I brought out my soccer ball and we all played a nice game of ‘one-touch.’ It was time to leave and I was dripping in sweat. We stopped again in Cape Coast to change money, get water, and saw the castle for one last time. On the bus ride to Kakum National Forest the movie, Blood Diamond was brought up again. Some students expressed fears that this conflict of diamonds would spread to where we were in Ghana. I could not help but speak out and explain the distance of the conflict, the history of Ghana, and the understanding that bad things that happen in one African country are not automatically replicated in another.

We arrived at Kakum National Forest from a short bus ride where we were able to see so much more of the beautiful countryside. It was so beautiful and green. Our tour guide was very nice and took us around the park.
We trekked the steep stone steps through the forest. Our guide told us that we would not see much wildlife because they were all away from the tourist noise on the other side of the park. Just as we began our ascent of the first steps it began to rain. Would this be a typical African rain that I had experienced before? Oh yes. Rain in the rainforest, it poured. Many students sought shelter in the nearby roofed pavilion, but the rain felt so good. The rain let up for a bit and we walked to the next shelter to walk the canopy. As we reached the shelter, the rain poured down more heavily. We had time to meet a Ghanaian politician who had studied at MSU and another politician from Holland, doing an exchange program with the local Elminaian government council, who had also studied at MSU about 20 years ago. Everyone is a spartan even in the rainforest.


The canopy bridges are 316 meters long, there are seven rope bridges and six platforms. The bridges buckle and sway as more people get on, but you know you are safe. Some people had fears of heights, but the view was so beautiful and how many chances do you get to walk the canopy of a rainforest? We all made it across and received a hug from our guide since we survived. As we walked back I realized it was more difficlt descending the stone steeps than climbing. We waited while Don ate his food which he had ordered before our walk. Grrr, Don.

We all then boarded the bus to eat at the crocodile resturant and hotel that we had passed on the way to the park. It was a very nice and expensive place. There were crocodiles in a pond surrounding the resturant. The grounds keeper was showing off the crocs to some local school children. The crocs lunged at meat on the end of a stick and the children screamed and ran away. I sat down on the steps near the pond to relax. As I sat a large crocodile slowly swam towards me. It did not turn away so I stood up to the delight of the school children. It finally decided to run my relaxation and chill at the edge of the steps, probably envisioning me as a tasty morsal of meat. Maybe it had never seen an Obrooni?

We left for the long trip home and I slept most of the way. We stopped at a pump station (gas) and bought water and I got a coke. It tasted very similar to coke in Americ, but with less bite. Back in Accra, some people bought toilet paper through the window from the hawkers. 4 rolls for 10,000 cedis ($1). We unloaded at the hostel and got ready for a night out. Richard took us to a neaby pump station that supposedly had internet, but that was false, so we hailed taxis to get back. We had by now figured out the proper pricing and worked to get the right price instead of being ripped off Obrooni style. After the thrid taxi drove away, we conceded to a slightly higher price. This is what happens when Obroonis get tough, the tough get going and leave the Obroonis behind. We used the internet in Osu and later enjoyed some Gordon’s Spark (fruit and gin) and hit up the club with some drummer friends.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

for the love of america

Be sure to check updated Days 3&4.

Day 5
Lecture this morning was on indigenous slavery and the Trans-Saharan slave trade. All of this I have learned about extensively because you cannot study Africa and skip over such a subject. So that is why I began journal writing during lecture. As I said before it is great to be an Africa Studies major studying in Africa, but I want to learn what I do not already know.

I remember the other day our bus driver Eric was listening to the radio and there was a discussion of the importance of local chiefs. The discussion was on the need to unify the chiefs and include them in the political process because it would not matter if a policy was adopted if the local chiefs with all the power did not agree. There is no way to get around the chiefs or work around them because they hold such power at the local level. If the government is to work smoothly then they will need to include the local chiefs in the political process. Now this is the type of African Studies that you just can’t get in the classroom.

The traffic goes by outside, a car alarm triggers, I am sitting in a classroom listening to a boring lecture – it is almost as if I am back at MSU, the AC masks the intense humidity and heat. The only difference is that the professor standing before me is actually teaching in his home country. I have had a total of 7 professors from Africa in my two short years in college, so there is nothing new: traditional dress, accent, and use of odd American sayings. Professor Passah likes to preach his own ideology and views to us during lectures. Today he brought up the Iraq conflict (falsely called a war). He noted that the money spent on the conflict could work towards the development of Africa. Not just Ghana, but the whole of Africa. I could not have agreed more. He then went into how Ghana became a target for international corporations and NGOs. He noted how this is seen as no problem and makes him very happy because a Ghanaian gets a lot of money in his pocket. He said to not think of him as a bad man for saying that, but this is where I worry. So he is not a bad man, but a man blinded by the Western desires promoted and unaware of the possibly and often negative effects of a huge international involvement and presence.

At the end of the lectures we were again on our own until 2pm. We went to the internet café again to check emails and blog some more. No time to eat. The University is very interesting because there are houses, living complexes, dorms, a primary school, fields, horses, and more all within the campus grounds. It is like a small city in itself. We boarded the bus to have our tour of Greater Accra. Accra is the second largest city in Africa behind Lagos, Nigeria. Eric showed us all around Accra. This is when we got to see the more impoverished parts of the city; the slums and rundown areas, the wood scrap and sheet metal housing, the shirtless and hungry. As we neared the coast the poverty seemed to increase and the development decreased. The wide streets, colonial fortresses now used as prisons, and the old style colonial shops have all slipped in to decay and have been abandoned to ruin. The wealth and high class has left the coast of Ghana. We toured the private homes area with their western styles, gates, barbed wire, guards, and tennis courts. We saw the president’s personal residence – no pictures – and the palace. As usual there are hawkers everywhere. Later we returned to the art market to exchange money and met up with some of our old ‘friends.’ This time the hawkers calls were more subdued, but nevertheless relentless.

This is the exchange for a $100 bill into Ghanaian cedis. It is quite a stack of money:

After manuvering the thick traffic we returned to Catters Hostel near the village od Shiashie, which we have learned is not a road name, but a village that was engulfed by the growth of Accra. You can’t help but notice the signs on the corner of every intersection telling you of the direction of each embassy, organization, hostel, hotel, business, or resturant. The foreign investment is at a very high level. So much for fighting neo-colonialism.

Sitting in the courtyard, listening to the birds in the tree overhead, hearing the end of the day traffic go by, looking at the clouded over sky, and nearby hotels, enjoying a Star beer – life in Ghana could not be any more relaxing. No one here walks fast or runs, unless they are making a sale, no one is rushed and everyone is involved in the customary tradition of greeting their fellow human being. Everything runs on GMT (Ghana Maybe Time). This is Africa, this is life. Last night one of the hostel workers was hanging out with us as we sat. When someone asked what we were doing tomorrow he responded, “This is today, it is now today, you will know when it is tomorrow when it becomes 12 o’clock. Then it is tomorrow.” I could not have agreed more, live always in the present.

After relaxing and writing for a bit, Kyle and I left for Osu to meet the group. The gatekeeper, Stephen, has started helping everyone to get taxis so as not to be charged the Obrooni price. We were supposed to meet up at the Asanka Local Chop Bar. Asanka means bowl, and local means you will be only eating the local foods out of that bowl. The directions we were given were to head down the street from Frankie’s and turn left. So we walked ‘the strip’ of downtown Osu at night. Quite an experience, not bad at all. An Obrooni walking the streets is not bothered, but Obroonis on a University bus – target for hawkers. We ecided we had headed too far in the wrong direction and turned to go the other way. We really had no clue where we were going and finally a Ghanaian called out and we asked for directions.

Francis and Abraham knew exactly where Asanka Local was and took us there. Francis had a friend in New Jersey and Abraham and I listened to his MP3 player on the way. They joined us at the chop bar, where our friend from the market, GQ and the rest of the group was hanging out. The food was great and the servers were very nice. The chop bar closed and our rasta drumming friends met us outside to take us out on the town. We headed for the main road. Just as we turned the corner, one of the girls in our group tripped and disappeared completely from view. We all jumped to grab her and the drummers pulled her out of one of the ubiquitous sewage drains next to the roadside. She was soaked in sewer water and had some bad scrapes on her knees and arm, but was only a little shaken. She said as she fell she was on the phone with her mom, just as her mom said “hi”, she fell. Bobo, a drummer, wiped her down with his shirt and Akwesi said, “You have to be careful this is not america, this is Africa.” Jerod and I took her back to the hostel in a taxi.

She cleaned up and later laughed about the ordeal saying that it was an experience to remember. It was too late to drum so we practiced our Twi and learned some more. We had a great conversation with Richard and Joseph. It was great to hear them talk about their lives and how life is and should be. These guys are some very great Ghanaians. They are not looking to make a buck off of you and they do not want anything but to share experiences and be friends. These Ghanaians actually genuinely care about us and we care about them. However they had very skewed views about America. They could not believe that there was poverty, that you did not get shot on the streets for driving (as someone told them), and that we have very different city lives than Accra. Not bad assumptions, many people make them. They also said that Bush is their friend. They love Bush and they have no criticism of his ‘war.’ They like Bush because he acts like a man. I almost lost control of my body, but held back. Voice of America (VOA) is a highly publicized radio station. Kyle has this joke where everytime we pass the billboard he mockingly quotes VOA saying, “America did something awesome today.” VOA probably doesn’t help with the skewed view of America. Many of the popular radio stations here also play American top songs. We heard all the classic from our childhood on one bus ride. Many store owners paint the American flag on their shop and some taxi drivers have Uncle Sam stickers. Where does this unknowning love of America come from?

Everyone returned safely and headed to bed. All was well and we had an early morning the next day to leave for our Cape Coast field trip.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.