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Experiencing Ghana through American eyes

A quick reflection of my first ten days in Ghana in the form of an article published in the Business and Financial Times. In those ten days, we went to Nima Market, Anan Memorial International School, the Oburi Botanical Garden, attended lectures at the University of Ghana, and visited Cape Coast!

A strong gust of warm air rushes into the airplane as I take my first steps in Accra, Ghana. I’ve never traveled outside of the United States by myself, but I was ready to experience a new culture and learn about media in Ghana while interning at the Business and Financial Times. After making my way through immigration, I hopped onto a bus where I was taken to a house in East Legon, my home for the next six weeks. The next morning, I watched the radiant sun peek through the beige curtains of my bedroom window and hear the faint sound of my alarm beeping. Its 7 AM and the start of my first day in Ghana. Starting with a lecture from Webster University Provost, Dr. Michael Williams, he explained the safety protocols and overall culture of Ghana. “Never walk alone, don’t drink tap water, and respect your elders,” he said. The first few days, I had already gotten the opportunity to experience the kindness of Ghanaians when I walked down the street and taste the Ghanaian cuisine at Chez Afrique. After ten days in Accra, the city is finally starting to feel like home.

My time in Ghana has been full of adventure as my 17 classmates and I traveled around the colorful city. The first day began with a tour of Accra where we went to Nima market. The bus drove down a narrow dirt road with small shops selling anything one could imagine ranging from a simple pair of sandals to live chickens in a basket. It was hard to comprehend that there was a beautiful glass building on one side of the street but a small market community on the other, signaling that there is a large wealth gap within the city.

To begin understanding the culture, it is important to know the history of Ghana. My learning process started in April when I took a class to learn about the colonial and post-colonial history of Ghana and how it has shaped the media culture today. In addition, I took a Twi language class to communicate with locals. Learning a new language was difficult for me because English is the only language I speak, aside from the small amount of Spanish I learned nearly four years ago. During the ten weeks in my Twi class, I learned basic greetings such as ‘ete sen,’ how to introduce myself ‘ye fre me Cecilia,’ and manners including ‘mepaakyew’ and ‘medaase.’ My background education about Ghana continued the second day I was in Ghana when I got the privilege to listen to a lecture by Dr. Audrey Gadzekpo about the independence of Ghana in 1957 and the evolution of media since then. She spoke of radio becoming more prominent and the role of politics in journalism. Though I haven’t gotten the opportunity to see the presence of political influence, it is easy to imagine because journalism outlets in the United States tend to lead toward one political party or another.

Aside from the serious nature of the lecture, I have gotten to travel to Aburi Garden where I saw the sculpture titled ‘The Tree of Life’. This was a large cedar tree with carvings of Ghanaian people representing the support for one another. One section of the tree seemed to come to a sudden stop in growth symbolizing that laziness will stop the growth of life.

Later that afternoon, I visited Anan Memorial International School to see children ranging from ages 4-12. This was the most emotional part of the trip as I felt excitement, sadness, and frustration at the same time. The visit started with poems read by the students. “Children are happy because they do not compare,” a young girl recited. This saying has been repeated within my classmates because in the U.S., most people are constantly comparing how luxurious their belongings are. The frustration came when I saw other young children peeking through the windows of the school wanting to meet us as well. After seeing the lack of opportunity for youth education here, I can’t help but rethink what privilege means to me.

The thoughts of privilege continued when I traveled to Cape Coast and Elmina to visit the castles that were once part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Immediately after entering the Elmina Castle, I felt uncomfortable and it was like I could feel the disparity that was left behind. I walked through the female dungeon first as the tour guide explained the poor living conditions and the sexual abuse of the governor who lived on the top floor of the castle. The male dungeon was not any better than the female one. It was dark, hot, and had a sour smell lingering. Near the end of the tour, our guide locked us in a dungeon that was used for punishment for two minutes. What little comfort I had left disappeared immediately, but can’t compare to the feeling of being locked up for the three months that are typically spent in a cell.

The next day, I visited the Cape Coast Castle which was similar to the Elmina Castle in the sense that the governor’s quarters were above the separate male and female dungeon and conditions were similar. In the dungeons, there were small sculptures of the ones who once stayed there. The sculptures are made of clay and capture the emotions that the slaves had felt during their time. One sculpture was a woman who seemed to have been captured while getting her hair done, and another had a man with clenched teeth as pain radiates from his eyes. During this tour, the ‘door of no return’ was explained as a door symbolizing the journey to the western world where many would pass away due to the poor conditions. This experience has changed the way I look at humanity and makes me question how we can treat one another so poorly. After leaving Cape Coast and Elmina, I had a four-hour bus ride back to Accra where I reflected on what I just experienced.

During my first ten days, I feel that I have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly that Ghana contains. From the beautiful Oburi garden where I was inspired by the ‘Tree of Life’ to the slave castles where I felt determined to change the future, I can’t imagine what more Ghana has to offer me in the next five weeks.