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.

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.