Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ghana 2017 - Day 3. Orientation Day

Yesterday at 8 pm I accompanied Claudia, Theo, and Ubu to the airport, to receive 6 of the incoming students (4 had arrived early, and one would be coming the following morning). I went largely to support Kaleb, who is my student at CSU Stanislaus, but thought it wouldn’t hurt if one of the professors were there to welcome the students. By the time they came out of Immigration and Customs it was close to 9 pm, so I didn’t make it to my bed until 11 pm (way late for the likes of me!).

Today Sunday we had our first full day of the program, with a long and very enjoyable introduction to Ghana, its customs, and how “obroni” (foreigners) respond to the different cultural environment. First we had introductions, and found out that we have 10 ladies and one guy among the students, and one visiting professor (who would be me). One of the ladies is from Germany but is studying in Sweden, and a second one comes from Norway. The rest are US Americans. Five of the ladies are African-Americans.

Following we heard from Auntie Abigail, who must be in her 30’s and hardly deserves the old-age honorific of Auntie. However, she is the Boss Lady so the students naturally show their respect this way. She discussed the plan for today and tomorrow, with classes starting on Tuesday. The regular class schedule will be from Tuesday (1 to 4 pm), Wednesday (1 to 5 pm), and Thursday (1 to 4 pm). That means weekends will span Friday to Monday, so there will definitely be time for exploration of the country and the culture (it also means that I am going to try to cram one semester in 12 long sessions).

Our next speaker was a Ghanaian professor of history, who tried to summarize for us the development of Ghana before and after the European invasion. It would be hard for me to present his full argument, although a few notes might be interesting. For example, we started with tribes centered in city states that after a long period of hostility became consolidated into kingdoms such as the Denkyira in the west, and the Akuamu and Akyen in central Ghana. In the 16th to 18th century the last two consolidated into the Asante kingdom, which apparently persisted throughout the British occupation. Note than when the Portuguese reached this portion of Africa in 1471, they found only the independent city states, and that the evolution of the Asante Empire occurred parallel to coastal trade/occupation by first the Portuguese and then the Dutch, French, Germans, Swedes, Danish, and finally British in 1901. Everyone had been happy being a trader and maybe sending the odd missionaries into the land, but the British truly took over the region, and introduced their political and religious systems.

A controversial issue is the origin of the slave trade. Slavery, as it turns out, has been a part of Africa’s history since the time of the Egyptians. The city states of the 10th to 16th centuries were no exception, and raiding parties went back and forth between the city states to provide themselves of slave labor. When the Europeans reached the African coast, then, they traded slaves, fresh water, gold and spices as standard commodities, in exchange for textiles, ceramics, mirrors, beads and fire water. The Europeans, however, invented and sustained the heinous trans-Atlantic export of slaves to their American possessions, and the dehumanization of the slaves to the level of animals, a crime that forever mar their claim at being “civilized” societies.

Our next speaker was really funny, and told us all sorts of interesting Ghanaian customs. For example, in northern Ghana the men often wear a black, floppy hat (the so-called Dagomba hat), which plays an important role in conveying the thoughts of the person, and in conflict resolution. If the hat is worn “flat” you are open to conversation and discussion, whereas cocking it to the right states you are independent a do not want to be bothered, and cocking it to the left conveys that you are sorry for what happened and wish to make amends.

He also introduced us to subtle verbal cues, such as the single throat click (you do this with your mouth closed, bringing the click from the throat) to show assent, and a double click to say no. To attract the attention of waiter you use a long hissing sound (sssssssssss), and you always use your right hand to give or receive.

Our last speaker was Uncle Albi, a silver-haired African-American professor who came to Ghana 20 years ago and never left. He described the typical stages of adaptation to a new culture: (1) The honeymoon stage when everything is fresh and interesting; (2) the hostility stage when everything seems to go wrong and you are constantly grumpy; (3) the humor stage when you learn to laugh about the little bumps in the road; and (4) the home stage when you become one with the new culture and finally feel at home within it. Personally, I seem to be stuck in stage 3 J

Our last “event” was a guided tour of the Accra Mall, which has two anchor supermarkets the usual collection of variety shops, and an attractive food court. Most of the students needed to visit the bank to get Ghanaian cedis, and we all had need of some necessities. I bought insoles for my shoes, a nail clipper, beer, munchies, oatmeal, and three bars of the one brand that claim to be made 100% from Ghana cocoa. I need to find more about the cultivation of cocoa, which might be a good cash crop, but endangers the food security of farmers that have put all their efforts into cultivating a single product. Furthermore, cocoa plantations often use child labor, and “workforce contractors” appear to use kidnapping as the best way to have an ample supply of child labor. My friend Stuart believes that cash crops like cocoa or tobacco have done much damage to African development. 

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