So where do I begin? How do I begin? How can I relive the past five months of my life to express my new-found appreciation for life? I discovered a different part of me while studying abroad at the University of Ghana, in one of Africa’s fastest developing nations.
Should I start by mentioning the fact I was a plane ticket away from studying abroad in Ghana for spring 2013, until I wrote one of the toughest letters in my life requesting to postpone my departure to August 2013?
Or should I begin with the heaviness I felt in my heart as I walked through the halls and dungeons of the coastal slave castles that held millions of my ancestors against their will to eventually end up in unfamiliar environments under cruel conditions?
Maybe I will start at the end of my journey in Ghana, the part where I had to run across the airport to fetch money to pay a fine for overstaying my visa by three months.
No matter where I start or how I start, the past five months of my life cannot be articulated without an exchange of questions and answers.
So I will begin the dialogue by stating that I am tremendously grateful and humbled to have had such an incredible experience. Your support is greatly appreciated. At times I doubted if I would even make it to Ghana, but you assured me that everything would turn out well, and it did.
Occasionally I will mention two people; their names are Ekow and Ama. I cannot truthfully recap my experience in Ghana without mentioning these two amazing people.
I met Ekow back in May 2013 while he was interning at the Tallahassee Democrat. Little did I know, I was being exposed to my first Ghanaian experience when my Ghanaian mentor Dr.Dokurugu introduced me to Ekow.
The unique thing about the way we met is that Dr.Dokurugu and Ekow did not know one another prior to Ekow’s arrival in Tallahassee.
However, Dr.Dokurugu saw Ekow’s name in the newspaper and immediately noticed that Ekow was Ghanaian. Shortly afterward, Dr.Dokurugu brought Ekow to tour FAMU’s campus.
It was then that Ekow and I first met. Dr.Dokurugu had explained to him that I would be in Ghana soon and that we should exchange contact information.
We were both excited about my arrival in Ghana just as much as I was excited to meet another Ghanaian aside from Dr.Dokurugu in Tallahassee. Ekow promised that we would meet once I arrived in Ghana, and that I should not worry about anything. I will admit that his words meant nothing to me at the time, I had only met him a few minutes ago. But, one thing I have learned about most Ghanaians is that their word is truly their bond.
The afternoon after arriving in Ghana, Ekow and his wife Ama were outside my hostel waiting to take me out. It took some time to understand why nearly-total strangers were so generous to me, but I had to conclude that there are still legitimately generous people left in this world.
Ekow and Ama instantly became my family away from home. Now that I am home, I still consider them to be my family away from home (if that make any sense). Sometimes, I could see Ekow and Ama as my older siblings, while at other times they were more like my uncle and aunt.
When it came to my education, they were like my mother and father, always concerned and eager to make sure that I had an equal balance between studying and engaging in leisure activities. I am tremendously indebted to those two. I could always count on them to make my experience that much better.
Below I have categorized a few topics and briefly written short remarks on my impressions of each topic while in Ghana.
The ability to identify myself became a somber feat for me. Being an ‘African’ American in Ghana was seemly impossible to fathom.
As a result, when I did not want to engage in a long discussion as to why I identify as African American, I would usually introduce myself as an American of Haitian decent.
I was usually cut some slack when I would tell someone that my father is a Haitian and my mom is an American.
But the need to understand why my fellow brothers and sisters would not fully accept my decision to call myself an African American as opposed to a Black American is still unresolved.
I was often told that I should identify as a Black American because my ancestral connection to Africa did not justify my identification.
I would argue that my physical disconnection from my roots as result of years of oppressive behavior is no reason to ignore the reality that my veins are filled with blood that trace back to Africa.
The connection is undeniable. We look the same, think the same, talk the same in some regards, and even eat the same to a certain degree. Yet, those factors still were not enough to convince my brothers and sisters that we are simply long-lost siblings disconnected and separated by years of hatred, violence, shame and humility.
The evidence lies along the coast of Ghana, where one finds traces of dark history and stories of generations past, to be told for generations to come.
My first trip to Cape Coast really put the difference between reading and experiencing things into perspective. Although words can paint a vivid picture of things that occurred, they could never replace being in the setting where they actually happened.
When reading about the history of Ghana or any tragic event for that matter, there is always a suspension of belief for me. But, you cannot suspend your belief when the evidence is right in front of your eyes, so close that you can even touch it.
As I walked through the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles, I could not help but to become angry and curious to understand why and how people could be so cruel to other human beings.
The heaviness I felt in my heart as I stepped into the dungeons immediately dampened my spirit and brought me to realization that I was standing on the same ground that my ancestors’ shed blood, sweat, and tears. I was sickened to see the years of abuse present on the walls and floors of the castles.
The most critical moment for me was the time where the tour guide led us into the holding cell that the sick were thrown in beneath the church.
The church that sits so highly above the death dungeons was the most troubling to fathom. I sensed that the Europeans wanted to illustrate that even in their most “humble” and “spiritual” state, slaves would remain inferior to them. I still want to understand how one could reverence their God when there are people begging for mercy in pure agony and pain just a few feet beneath them.
There was no way not to believe that slavery was one of the most heinous acts of crime against humanity. The slave castles are evidence that humanity failed greatly. European slavery perpetuated the most repulsive acts of abhorrence one human being could ever commit against another.
Favorites: Homemade Jollof (usually made by Ama or one of my dearest classmates, Dzidzo), red red, fresh grilled tilapia, bofrot, groundnuts, Omo Tuo, Waakye, fried yams, fresh fruit.
Local foods with a unique taste: Banku, Fufu, Kenkey, Hausa Koko Jollof, a common rice dish that has a similar tomato base as pigeon peas and rice easily became one of my favorite meals.
Jollof can be prepared in multiple ways. It can be made with or without meat. Chicken or goat is usually the typical meats that are added to jollof.
Jollof gives the cook the freedom to add any desired ingredients. I have heard of recipes that even add an additional starch such as pasta.
Jollof is the type of dish that can be tweaked based on the availability of ingredients. By the way, Jollof is best when homemade.
Ama and one of my dear friends, Dzidzo, made the best jollof. My favorite breakfast food to ‘take’ whenever I could not afford the luxury of eating oatmeal was red red.
Red red, a dish given its name because of the red palm oil that is added with black eyed peas and guri (ground cassava) was extremely inexpensive and filling. Red red like most dishes was usually complimented by a boiled egg and sometimes fried sweet plantains (koko).
For a snack I would usually eat bofrots. Bofrots are fried balls of dough that have a slight sweetness to them.
The consistency of bofrots usually depends on the cook. Some are more dense while others maybe more fluffy on the inside.
I sometimes ate them to satisfy my craving for sweets, which are not easy to find in Ghana. Although I loved bofrots, I was not able to develop a liking for Hausa Koko. Hausa Koko is hardly ever eaten without bofrot. Hausa Koko is a soupy porridge that has a slight bitterness to it. Some add peanuts to the porridge which is usually slurped from a little plastic bag.
Education- University of Ghana
Beginning with a nearly four-week long professors’ strike, school got off to an extremely rocky start. I am still unclear as to why the professors were on strike and what they expected to gain from the strike. I found out, however, that strikes are pretty common, but they usually never last as long as the one I witnessed.
This particular strike even presented a threat to the continuation of the semester. My initial thought was to return home and continue school.
After all, at that point I had spent an entire month in Ghana. I later realized that I was trying to avoid the commitment of
living in an unfamiliar environment for an entire semester, especially with all the daily challenges. I had already experienced some of the daily challenges I would face for the next four months.
Fortunately, in the fourth week of the strike most professors returned voluntarily to teach, although their demands had not been met. Ending the strike did not equate to a smooth semester.
Because the semester started off four weeks behind, the classes were expedited and a month later we were “writing our interim assessments (IAs)” as most Ghanaians would say.
Aside from most of my classes meeting once a week for two hours per session, and an additional one hour tutorial for each class, the fact that my grade was based on a midterm (30%) and a final (70%) was a bit tough to swallow.
The pressure was on, with only four class sessions per month per class (aside from my traditional dance class), I was left to face the challenge. Luckily, I did fairly well on my midterms. I should add that the exams were all written and in essay format.
I took five classes: History of Ghana (which was unfortunately taught by a foreigner), International Conflict Resolution, Organizational Theory, Traditional Dance and Traditional Drumming. I absolutely enjoyed my traditional dance and traditional drumming classes. The lecturers were so energetic and it was clear that they had a strong passion for their job, which was more like a lifestyle for them.
Although the class was pretty large and full of mostly foreigners with little to no experience in dance and drumming, the teaching assistants (TA) were patient with us.
Some of the TAs along with students offered additional help on the weekends. It was obvious that they had some concern for those of us with two left feet and troubles connecting our body movements with the sounds of the live drummers.
On the contrary, there seemed to be a disconnection between the students and the professors in regard to expectations.
The professors did not communicate much with the students outside of lecture material, which I found to be a bit too theoretical at times. Anything outside of the lecture notes was usually left up to the TA to cover.
I guess this is the norm in a school where the classes have sixty or more students. I can now appreciate the relationships that we are able to establish with professors at FAMU, thanks to smaller classes and seemingly more concerned instructors. On the other hand, my classmates were inspirational.
They were always eager to help me with whatever I needed. When I had an issue, I could usually count on my classmates more than anyone else. Not to forget, the instructors were a bit intimidating.
In both tutorials and lectures, it was not uncommon to be embarrassed by the professor or the TA. I noticed that this norm usually led to shyness and my classmates' reluctance to express their ideas.
Generous, concerning, honest, respectful, easy-going: I could find at least three or more of those characteristics in every Ghanaian that I met. It was not hard to make friends in Ghana, especially for me.
Most of my colleagues and some Americans assumed I was Ghanaian right up until I would begin to speak. So conversations were easily sparked and would lead to hours of talking about various subjects.
The most popular topic was identity. It did not matter where or how conversations started, they would usually lead to me explaining why I identify as African American. Most Ghanaians wanted to know why I chose to study in Ghana out of all the places in the world or how I viewed Ghana in terms of development.
Once we got away from those topics, we would usually talk about economic, political and social issues both in the U.S. and in Ghana.
The two most commonly practiced religions in Ghana are Christianity and Islam. However, Christianity is the most practiced religion in Ghana amongst the two.
Historically, Muslims are found in the northern region of Ghana, but their presence in Accra is made known as masses of people flock towards the mosque on Fridays for prayer.
Living directly across the street from the local on-campus mosque, I was afforded the opportunity to hear the sounds of prayer and translation of the Quran from Arabic to English.
A few Muslims lived on my floor, so it was routine to see them leaving or going to the mosque on Fridays.
Christianity, being the most practiced religion in Ghana, often was displayed and made known in every aspect of daily life by Ghanaians. Tro tros (private owned taxi buses) are often stamped or tagged with biblical scriptures and/or images of Jesus. Similarly, shops, restaurants, food products and signs also display biblical references.
My favorite snack was labeled “Thank You Jesus Groundnut Paste (peanut butter).” Ghanaian veneration was quite impressive. I have never met a group of people that reverence God in such a way.
Like the historical connection between the rise of Islam in the north and the continued practice of traditional rituals, many Ghanaians still respect and observe traditional rituals.
The presence of JuJu is still prominent, even among Christians and Muslims. Before leaving Ghana, I saw a headline of an article that claimed that Christian pastors were seeking to participate in Juju as well as seeking help from Juju masters.
This is a unique situation because ‘mixing,’ a term used throughout Ghanaian history to describe acceptance of two religious practices whether it be Christianity and Islam, Juju and Islam or Juju and Christianity, describes the approach of religious tolerance that Ghanaians usually have in respect to traditional practices.
English,Twi, Ga, and Fante are the primary spoken languages in Ghana. While I went to Ghana full of ambition to return fluent in Twi or at the least with a grasp of the language, I returned home more fluent in pigeon than any of the other three local languages.
Things I will miss:
Immediate access to fresh fruit, genuine people, simple lifestyle, traditional drum and traditional dance classes.
Things I will not miss:Cold showers, hot sweaty nights, elusive mosquitoes, water outages, power outages and poor WIFI connections, excessive pollution.
Nevertheless, I am glad to have had such an extraordinary opportunity. I am forever thankful to Florida A&M University’s Center for Global Security and International Affairs (CGSIA) which is housed under the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Center for Academic Excellence (CAE).
Studying abroad in Ghana really helped me reinforce the skills and knowledge I have acquired as a CGSIA scholar. Experiencing dynamic situations on a daily basis forced me to exercise my ability to become immersed in a totally different culture. I had to make critical decisions throughout the day.
Whenever there were water outages or power outages, I would have to arrange study plans that operated around daylight while also considering daily activities such as cleaning, eating, and exercising which are all contingent upon the availability of light and electricity.
Although I did not acquire one of the local languages, I learned how important it is to listen, especially when there is a language barrier. Even when speaking the same language (English), there was always the risk of misinterpreting word usage if I did not listen carefully.
Effective communication is a critical aspect of international affairs. I have left Ghana with a new patience for listening before speaking.
I am truly honored to have lived in such a vibrant country. I learned so much from the beginning to the end of my stay. I was able to assess my personal growth and I have matured exponentially in the past five months. Now, I am even more excited about pursuing a career in international affairs and intelligence.
Friday, February 28, 2014
President John Mahama expressed confidence yesterday in the “bright medium-term prospects” of the country in a State-of-the-Nation address that spelt out profusely steps his government will take to build a stronger economy and nation.
The manner of the speech, which was replete with command-verbs such as “instructed” and “directed”, revealed an intention of the President to cast it as different and unique from his first one in 2013 and others presented by past presidents.
But for the many Ghanaians who recollect last year’s State-of-the-Nation address, there will likely be a feeling of boring familiarity with the President’s promises -- which do not seem to be being fulfilled quickly enough.
In 2013, the President -- amid an energy crisis that had caused electricity to be severely rationed to consumers -- assured of the completion of the Jubilee gas project at Atuabo by the end of that year to lower the cost of power generation and ease supply.
On Tuesday, however, the President gave a new completion date: second-half of 2014. Meanwhile, this year’s address has coincided again with another -- albeit more limited -- “load-shedding” exercise that has resulted in scheduled and unscheduled power cuts across the country.
Mr. Mahama also repeated a promise to transform the 10 public polytechnics to technical universities, together with a pledge to draft legislation that will lead to the establishment of a university for the Eastern Region.
In the address, which was noteworthy for its length -- it lasted approximately two-and-a-half hours -- as well as its breadth -- it covered nearly all the key aspects of national life -- the President said the economic pain Ghanaians have been feeling from tax rises, cancellation of subsidies, wage rationalisation and other fiscal-adjustment policies are “bitter medicine” that must be taken to nurse the economy back to full health.
“While these measures have been unpleasant and difficult to take, ultimately they are necessary to create a good environment in which businesses can continue not merely to survive but also to grow,” he told MPs and other dignitaries crammed into Parliament’s chamber in Accra.
“Despite the short-term challenges we face, our economic fundamentals remain sound and our mid-term prospects are bright. Growth continues to be robust at an estimated 7.4 percent last year, and we still retain our vision to accelerate and maintain GDP growth at above 8 percent, going forward.”
The President also addressed the issue of the falling cedi, which has added to the rising cost of living by stoking already-high inflation that stood at 13.8 percent in January.
While backing the central bank’s vigorous attempt to build confidence in the cedi through stringent controls on the use of foreign currency in domestic transactions, he also proffered the longer-term solution of curbing the country’s import-addiction.
“The basic structure of our economy has not changed from colonial times. We’re still largely dependent on the export of raw materials and importing finished goods. We must change the structure of our economy,” he said.
The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) is preparing a medium-term development plan that will pursue this goal; but in the interim, according to the President, the Export Development and Agricultural Investment Fund (EDAIF) will boost assistance to local producers of rice, poultry and other basic items that Ghana imports annually at a cost of US$1.5billion.
A sugar-processing plant is about to be opened in Komenda, with another to be sited later in Savelugu, he announced. “I have also tasked Cocobod to enter into a strategic partnership to produce jute sacks in Ghana,” Mr. Mahama said.
Other measures include the enactment of a new procurement law that will give priority to local suppliers and a joint venture with Petro Saudi to revamp the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR), which has been moribund for most of the last five years, to reduce importation of finished petroleum products.
“Government will use its spending power to boost the private sector,” the President declared, adding a pledge to make Ghana a net-exporter of rice “in the near-future”.
There were other themes in the speech yesterday, including the President’s acknowledgement of the challenge of inequality, which he said the Gender Ministry has been confronting with the expansion of the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme that now provides cash grants to 74,000 of the poorest Ghanaians. By 2015, the number of beneficiaries will double to 150,000, he said.
Initiatives in health, education, agriculture and the fight against corruption were also announced; but it seems if the President’s speech is to have the impact he aimed for, he must achieve a better record of implementation this time.
President John Dramani Mahama has vowed to revive the country’s railway transport sector, currently in a very deplorable state.
The Western rail line, for instance, has been a major problem for bulk producers of manganese and bauxite miners, forcing them to use costly road transport to haul their minerals and equipment.“As I speak now, work on the Sekondi and Kojokrom railway line is on track.
“I have also asked a team, comprising the Ministers of Finance and Transport, to actualise my plans for the railway sector, which includes the construction of a new railway link between Tema and the Boankra Inland Port and also the Western railway lines from the Takoradi to Kumasi.
“This is a way of attracting more interest and increasing revenue while connecting with the landlocked countries,” said President Mahama during the state-of-the-nation address yesterday.
The President pledged a massive revival of the defunct rail system.
“There will be significant improvement in our railway network in the next three years. Government believes that the private sector has a role to play in the ongoing modernisation of the rail sector.
“An example is the rehabilitation of the Accra to Tema railway network, Kumasi to Ejisu railway line, Accra-Nsawam railway line, and Takoradi to Kojokrom railway network,” he said.
In 2010, a contract was signed to construct a railway line from Paga (on the border with Burkina Faso) to Kumasi plus a branch from Tamale to Yendi, but nothing realistic appears to be ongoing.
Proposals from six firms are still being scrutinised to meet the criteria for undertaking the project -- which has been stalled for some 24 years now.
“Government has now requested for a financial advisor to structure the entire process, come out with the financial modelling, and get all the necessary things in place so that investors that come will know what is required of them,” he said.
The construction will help decongest the Tema and Takoradi Ports and spur a rise in the country’s maritime trade. It is expected to create 1,000 jobs when completed.
Its completion will not only boost economic activities and create employment, but also ease transportation problems and reduce the high cost of transporting goods and services to the Northern Region.
Explaining the reason for the delay, Mr. Tetteh said there were competing projects that did not allow the ministry to use its internally generated funds to build the port.