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
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