It has taken me a while to prepare this post about Ghana, because my experience has been powerful, moving, and I continue to have reflections about this experience even though we have already left Capetown, and the continent of Africa already.
On our first day, we chose to do a tour of Accra, the capital of Ghana. I think that this tour was one of the best organized learning experiences for me, and while I did not get to have the type of immersion I would have wanted, I still had a chance to triangulate and challenge things I learned (or didn’t learn) in school with real life.
Our first stop was at the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture, which is actually in his home in Ghana. Dr. DuBois’ work has shaped my own thinking, not only because of his popularly read “Souls of Black Folk,” but because his thinking has shaped the critical consciousness of many scholars whom have in turn shaped my own thinking. I knew that Dr. DuBois was the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard University, and that he was a strong force behind a Pan-African consciousness and movement- I did not know that he spent such a great deal of his life in Ghana, nor did I have a sense of how broad his impact was in Africa and around the world. Dr. DuBois is credited with being the father of Pan-Africanism.
Our next stop was an amazing lunch at the Coconut Grove hotel in Accra. Ghanaian food is spicy and spiceful, so having the spicy plantains and jollof rice was a welcome change from our food on the ship. I do realize that we were likely having food that was toned down so as to not upset American stomachs, and I enjoyed it, and have gratitude for the care that our tour operators offered to us in care of our well-being.
After our nourishing meal, we went to the memorial of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. I never really learned about Dr. Nkrumah in school, but I did know of his existence. The first president and prime minister of Ghana, he succeeded in unifying Ghana, and leading the effort to achieve Ghana’s independence from the British. I think about the power of activism and how scholar-leaders like Dr. Nkrumah and Dr. DuBois really encouraged people to think about their identities and roots, and contextualize these concepts as we attempt to understand/transform our circumstance. We look for leaders to guide us, and yet the leaders that I learn about find their strength from within, not necessarily from external sources.
Even though I am not of immediate African descent (all of us originate from Africa), I felt a strong kinship and thus a strong sense of pressure in Ghana. Similar to my prior experiences in India, Ghanaian people are very warm and welcoming. In a shopping complex for example, within moments you are someone’s sister. Like India, negotiating of prices is very common, and yet you find yourself haggling with your ‘brother or sister,’ and it feels very personal. As we entered a marketplace where Ghanaian arts were sold, I struggled with my own conscience about not making eye-contact with others so as to not attract attention from vendors, while also not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. I am not sure how to reconcile those emotions and actions, but perhaps I may have deeper wisdom at another port.
Everything about Ghana taught me about being purposeful. Ghanaians eat a lot of fish, and there are several ways in which fish are prepared to maximize use of the fish. Fresh fish is used in stews and/or smoked; average fish can also be used in combination with other meals or might be salted and dried, and finally the least fresh fish are dried and used to flavor broths. In Ghana, nothing is wasted. A faculty member who studies architectural history pointed out that Ghanaians have actually stayed true to their maximizing of use of local/present resources- 200 years ago that might have been leaves/mud/trees, and today it is the modern version of the same practice- using old shipping compartments are made into storefronts or small homes in rural and lower income communities. Cars are imported to Ghana to be refurbished and resold as used vehicles, and even though the vehicles may be old, mechanics are able to access vehicle parts from other old vehicles. In my space of privilege, I talk about sustainability in superficial ways, and my behaviors are still driven by choice; in the case of Ghana, sustainability is about circumstance, and while I can be impressed by the resourcefulness of the communities here, I need to check my own privileged thinking about this… Just like any other developed country, Ghana has very wealthy communities and very poor communities, it is just easier to see as an outsider of the country.
I am confronted by my US resident/citizen privilege, and how while I may want to disassociate myself from that identity, that I cannot, and should not. On the first day, I fell in love with Ghana because in general, any person I met reminded me of the kind of person I aspire to be. I continue to think about how I can be an agent of change and healing, and Ghana has offered me a lot of opportunities for reflection.
My next post will be a dedicated reflection of the slave dungeons in Elmina and Cape Coast. I knew this experience would bring up a lot of emotion for me, but I was not expecting the depth of emotion I felt. More in the next post.