Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ghanaians & Winnebarians

Me be Ghana (I love Ghana in Twi)
Ghana is indescribable.  My overnight visit to Winneba, the sister city of Charlottesville, Virginia, was my first glimpse into what Semester at Sea really can do.  And let me tell you, Ghana is one of the poorest countries I will ever be in, but I've never felt more welcomed at any time in my life.  There is seriously so much love from everyone here.  I don't know if I'll be saying this about the next 7 countries, but I will never forget my time here.  It's my first time ever going somewhere and finding the people themselves the attraction.  I feel like I've learned so much these past 4 days about ourselves as humans that I haven't yet learned it 22 years.  It really is mind blowing.  I'm so excited to get back to the US and start exploring ways to help Ghanaians, and I will not be surprised at all if I'm back here someday, I'm actually already looking forward to it now that I'm about an hour out of the harbor in Takoradi.
I have to mention that our interport student Rebecca was phenomanal.  I mentioned previously how I had the awkward "no left hand" encounter with her in Morocco, and sadly I can't say I had many more one on one interactions with her.  However, during our preport the night before we left for Ghana, Rebecca addressed all of us as is part of what each interport student does.  Her speech though caught us all by surprise, as she just talked to us about opening ourselves up and going to Ghana in with open minds.  I know I'm not conveying how it really was in that room, but she just had so much emotion at having to leave us it kind of just poored it self out during her speech, and we were all wrapped up in it.  We gave her quite the standing ovation, and even though we were already excited, Rebecca's speech gave us kind of a first glimpse at how loving the Ghanaians can be, and I think everyone got more excited for it.
This is also the first time Semester at Sea has docked in Takoradi, Ghana.  Usually the ship docks in Accra, about 4 hours by car from Takoradi.  Basically, other than merchant sailors, Takoradi does not get many tourists.  I think this helped set up for an amazing interaction with the locals, who truly do love Americans.  They also love Obama.  Many times people would ask how Obama was doing and how happy they were he was our President.  It was actually hilarious at one time when I was talking to a lady in the market and we could not understand eachother at all, I'm pretty sure she could only speak Twi.  After some frustration and right about when I was going to give up she says "Obama?" and then holds her thumb up and down.  I go "Obama!" with thumbs up and she started dancing! 
But even though I said Ghana was quite indescribable here is my attempt at it, of my four incredibly too short days in the country of Ghana....
Day 1
Overnight to Winneba - me and 10 other students, some staff and faculty
We were greeted a delagation from the city of Winneba Wednesday aboard the ship.  Our interport lecturer for Ghana, Joe Bami (a very shortened name) was accompanying us as well, since he was one of the original coordinators for the Sister city accord between Winneba and Charlottesville.  We immediately got use to "Ghanaian time", so we waited a couple of hours for our guest to arrive. 
When they finally arrived, we all shook hands, and they had various city officials, a lady representing the royal family of Winneba (here husband was a King of some sort, lots of tradition going on).  There were two gentlemen who were each the chiefs of the two warrior companies in Winneba.  Today the warrior parties are mainly for tradition, but still dictate much of the social environment as far as who interacts with who in the town.  Most of the people were dressed in business attire, but one of the chiefs did come dressed in what is traditional for a warrior chief to wear.
But we immediately got lunch together on the ship, and had a classroom reserved for us and our guest to eat it just off the dining room.  Luckily I got my plate of food first and sat myself in the room at an empty table, and just as I hoped would happen, three gentlemen from the Winneba group sat with me.  We greeted each other again, and were able to make some small talk, mainly me telling them about life on the ship, and what Semester at Sea was all about.  They kind of broke off and started speaking Twi between themselves, and just as I was starting to feel uncomfortable, one of them (Joseph) suddenly gave me his cell phone and said his son very much wants to talk to me, so I take it, and start to have a conversation with his son!  His name was Emmanuel, and he welcomed me to Ghana, asked about my journey so far, and was just excited to have me visiting Winneba soon.  He's in his last semester of college as well, and he's an IT major.  It was such a fun converation and just made me that much more excited to get off the ship.
So finally we got in our minivans and started the 3 hour drive to Winneba from Takoradi (our port).  I cannot really describe Ghana.  It's towards the end of the rainy season, so everything is very lush.  It reminded me much more of the Carribean than West Africa.  But it was no doubt Africa.  Poverty is basically the norm here as well.  I wouldn't call them slums, but the housing is quite poor.  It was hard to tell one town from another, they all kind of blended together as we went through.  The cell phone companies in the area are the biggest advertisers, and they actually pay people to paint there house either red, for Vodaphone, and put the Vodaphone logo on the house, or they paint the house yellow, for MNT, and put the MNT logo on the house.  So this is everywhere.  Many many people are selling fruits and food everywhere, and everything is carried on your head.  It was just crazy to see with my own eyes what I've been looking at in textbooks for years for, it was really overwhelming.  Scratch what I said about them not seeming like slums, because they are straight up slums.
So the drive was three hours, and the first place we stopped at in Winneba was the munincipal building to be formally welcomed.  The mayor of Winneba, along with our those who came and got us from the ship and others, were all present, as well as the elders of the community.  It was a cramped conference room, but it was a nice ceremony, and very formally done.  I forgot to mention that the leader of this SAS trip was Professor Tuscano, who teaches here on the ship.  He used to be the mayor of Charlottesville in the 90s, so he brought several gifts for throughout the trip, and gave one of them to the mayor that night.  Another fun fact, Tuscano also now holds the same seat in the Virginia House that was once occupied by Thomas Jefferson, and he'll be the first to tell you how badass that feels to say to someone. 
But anyways, our welcome to Winneba was completed when the elders performed a traditional welcome, which included an abolution, which for them is the waking of the ancestors to be with us and keep us safe during our stay and our future journeys.  It was basically a prayer/song, and the pooring of a perfectly good bottle of gin all over the ground, but it was good to know we had the ancestors at our back now.
After the welcome, we drove to the University of Education in Winneba.  Winneba was once mainly a fishing town (still is very much so) but it can be thought of as a college town now as well.  One of the big similiarities it shares with Charlottesville (home to University of Virginia) is this college town setting.  When the schools in either city are not in session, the town sleeps.  But we went in to this big lecture hall filled with a band welcoming us and students that were gathered there, probably about 75, and we were kind of treated like the guest of honor, which was really humbling.  After almost a full hour of formal intros and panel discussions, we broke down and just interacted one on one.  I gave out me email to so many people that promised to email me in the future!  I met Emmanuel here, who is a really cool guy, and honestly I now have a great friend in here Ghana (Thursday he called me his best friend haha).  I usually have trouble understanding people through an accent, but I really had no trouble with Emmanuel.  Another student I met was Peter, who represents the entire student body at the University of Education.  He told me much about the problems university students face in Ghana, and I realized just how much we take our education for granted in America.  These students work so much harder, and sacrifice so much more in order to get there education.  It's extrememly competitive to get into a university in Ghana and in most of Africa, because the governments simply do not have the resources to have too many students in the universities.  So I listened and we talked about some ways he thought the West would be able to help more here in Ghana and Africa.
After the University of Education, we went to our hotel for dinner and the night.  Dinner was good, just about all the meals I had here in Ghana consisted of chicken and rice.  It was pretty late for dinner, probably about 9 or 10 when we finally wrapped up.  We all hung out for awhile in the one girls room that had air conditioning til 12am or so, and then went to bed for the night.  Our air conditioning didn't work, and we figured we had a 50/50 chance of the ceiling fan falling of the ceiling and killing us in our sleep, but it was so humid we really had no choice!  The bathroom did have toilet that sorta worked, and luckily we brought our own toilet paper.  The shower consisted of a semi tiled area in the bathroom with a faucet nearby and a bucket to dump the water over yourself.  I skipped the shower the next morning ha.
Day 2
So the next morning we got up, got breakfast, and headed to the local courthouse.  Their judicial system is pretty similiar to ours, including it being overloaded.  However, we were able to watch a few proceedings, but because there was a lot of rain that morning, many of the trials were just getting delayed over and over.  In the US you can be fined or even jailed for missing court or showing up late, but Ghanians just have to apologize and they get a new trial date.  When the court went in recess 3 lawyers (very few people had actual lawyers to represent them) came over and talked to us about the system and such.  One thing I thought interesting was that Ghana does have the death penalty, but no one in the court could remember a time when it was ever used, having never had a violent enough crime to warrant that. 
Luckily while in the court we found out there was a marriage that day!  They have 3 types of marriage in Ghana, one being within a church, another being in a courtroom, and another being the traditional wedding within the tribes and an exchanging of dowrys and stuff.  Obviously we saw the one in the courtroom, and I think since we were there they made the groom "kiss the bride", which I guess is pretty Western thing to do.  She seemed so embarrassed and he actually pulled out his hanky and wiped off his face before giving her a kiss, and everyone cheered.  The families seemed excited we were there to witness it as well.
Our next stop was back to the municnipal building to meet with the chief fishermen.  It was suppose to happen in the fishing district, which we drove through and saw, but the rain made it too difficult for us to meet them their.  We sat down with about 10 of the chief fishermen, and just found out about what they do, and they presented some ideas they had that could be mutually beneficial for Winneba and Charlottesville.  Basically they represent all the fishermen in Winneba, mediate any disputes between fishermen, and just work on the overall welface of the fishing community.  It's an inherited position.  Prof Tuscano gave a gift to them as well, and we all thanked each other.
Our next stop took us into the market in Winneba.  It wasn't a market day so it wasn't too hectic, but we went in and sat down across from the market Queen and many of the other vendors.  We had an interpretor, and the exchange went like many of other visits:  "Welcome"....."Thank you"....."What are you doing here???"  But after explaining who we were and why we were there, they were more than happy to tell us about their market life.  The market queen handles disputes and regulates the whole market.  After Prof Tuscano gave them our gift, the tension that I think everyone felt kind of broke down and they all ran over to shake our hands and welcome us into the market!  Some were hugging and kissing our cheeks, they were so nice.  The kids flocked us and loved seeing our pictures after we would take some with them, and the older ladies of the market all loved to see there pictures too.  I guess they get a few tourists in the market every now and then, but never any kind of exchange so they all loved having us there.  When I went into the market more to explore, I met a lady who spoke English and we started talking.  She told me about the Deer Festival they have during the first week of May every year, and it's one of the largest in Ghana.  People start preparing for the celebration about a month in advance, and while they say deer to us it would be an antelope.  She was so proud of her the festival, and it's just so refreshing to meet people who are genuinely interested in just us, and its great to see how much it means to them for us to be interested in them.  Here in the market I also got some fun pictures with the kids, who loved looking at the pictures on the camera!  It was just so great to hang around those kids!  Eventually we had to load up the van again, and just before we pulled away the market queen and a few other ladies were running towards the van, so we slowed opened the door, they got on, and started giving all of us bead bracelets as gifts, so this bracelet will definitely be a treasured possesion of mine for years to come.
So the day continued as we found out we needed to go back to the municipal building for a presentation of gifts.  We were all a little confused by this, and very nervous since we had nothing to give other than the gift that Prof Tuscano was giving out (I still don't know what this gift was).  So we got back into the conference room at the municipal building and in came Emmanuel with the other members of the club he was a part of.  The club is part of the University of Education in Winneba, and it's called the Youth of Winneba.  I never was quite sure what the club exactly did, but they gave each one of the students on the trip (11 of us) a traditional satchel that students use at the university, which is handmade.  Mine ie beige with a pattern on it that is in the shape of Africa.  Inside was a letter thanking us for coming to Winneba, and a few pages about the city so we would always rememeber them... we were all blown away.  So then the mayor came back in, and this time he was with the director of the Efutu State (Efutu is the native name of Winneba, thus the name of the region as well).  The mayor is an elected position, but the director of the state is a staff position, and this gentlemen has had it for over 20 years, so he was THE head honcho.  They presented the entire shipboard community of Semester at Sea with two gifts.  One was a beautiful glass replica of the Peace Arc located in Accra.  It was very pretty and impressive.  The other was a wood carved antelope with symbol of the Efutu State and the words "Efutu State" carved into it.  This was about 3 ft wide and 2 1/2 ft tall.  Walking around today I saw the Peace Arc replica sitting in a glass class here on the ship.  Theres memontos like this all over the ship in different display cases, and I'm so happy to know that I'm now a part of one of these mementos here on the ship :)  Three countries in and I've made my mark!  So we finally started boarding the bus and said goodbye to our fabulous host.  Got some nice pictures here as well, grabbed lunch at the hotel, and then began the 3 hour drive back to Takoradi and the ship.
All in all an incredible SAS trip.  Met a lot of people, saw many things.  When I got back in that night I heard the same from everyone, we all love Ghana and the people were all amazing!  So this wasn't an exclusive experience of mine, it truly was something we all noticed.  That night we did the American thing and I ended up at a very American bar setup in town.  I'm not ashamed though, I was able to watch the first quarter of Miami vs Pitt, it felt so good to have a beer and watch football!
Day 3
I'll admit it.  The bar the night before got a little out of hand, and I slept through my alarm clock.  So as much as I wish I hadn't previously mentioned in another post that I was going to the water village, I now have to admit I missed the bus and could not go to the water village.  Lesson learned.  However it worked out, as I was able to go explore Takoradi, which I had not done at all yet.  Amanda, Eric, and myself took a cab into the city to the main market.  The market is set up as a giant circle, with the a street going around it.  The rim of the circle is a long circular building with a bunch of venders, and the inside of the circle is filled with vendors in little shacks, and very narrow walkways (maybe two people wide, quite crowded).  We had a lot of fun just exploring the market and interacting with the people in it.  It wasn't set up for tourists at all, everything being sold was produce and such, not the touristy souvinier kind of stuff.  Amanda got lessons in how to carry stuff on her head, and since she had the big SLR camera, a lot of people asked her to take photos so they could see it.  So the three of us just spent about 3 hours wondering the market and meeting people.  After this we took the taxi to a place called Captain Hooks which had been recommended to us.  It was a pretty good restaurant, I had fish that was good with a really good sauce on top of it.  We came back to the ship and had went over to the duty free with some people for drinks and had a chill night.
Day 4
Today I caught up on some sleep, and then went out with Ross, Keitia, and Amanda to a secluded beach area Ross found the other day by the port.  Walking there was sketch, and we ended up walking down some railroad tracks for 15 minutes.  To really no surprise there was people living in little huts right off the tracks, but just like everybody else, they waved and said hello and were just overall nice people.  A guy named Patrick walked with us for awhile and actually hung out with us at the beach for a little while.  The beach was really nice, even though there was trash all over it.  I got some pictures with some other guys that came up to us later who turned out to be really nice.  We talked for awhile and they did hit on quite often how much suffering they had, and as we left to head back to the boat we realized they lived right next to the beach area we were at it in little huts.  They had told us the kids can't go to school and they were pretty hungry most of the time.  Strangely the did not ask for any money or anything at all.  We bought some drinks though for them before we left since that was the only thing that someone was selling nearby, if there was any food I think we all would have probably pitched in to get as much as we could for them.
When we got back towards the ship I went to where a bunch of local artists had set up for the 4 days we were here right by the boat.  Like I said earlier, Takoradi isn't a tourist town, so this was really the one place to get any kind of souviniers.  I ended up getting an impressively large drum, or Djembe (JEMbey).  I also bought two masks from an artist called Elvis, yes Elvis.  The one mask is for peace and tranquility, and the other one represents forward thinking, always looking and planning for the future.  So I'm pretty happy with those purchases.
As we pulled away from the harbor tonight, a lot of these artists that had been camping out there all week played there drums and sang songs as they said goodbye to us.  A lot of us were on the decks looking out at them, both us and them were waving Ghana flags, we started chanting Medase (thank you in Twi) over and over.  As we pulled away a lot of them kept running and waving goodbye.  All the people on the tug boats pushing us out kept yelling goodbye and waving.  It seemed everyone working in the port and on the boats were all waving goodbye, so different from all the other ports so far.  It was just an awesome way to go out from such an awesome country.  I could go home now and be so content with the journey, but next up is Cape Town, South Africa....and we have Neptune Day in 3 days....oh and my first exams :(  more on all that later.  Good night from the coast of Ghana!