Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ghana 2017 - Day 4. A fun but long day

Today was the last day of our honeymoon, because tomorrow Tuesday classes start in earnest. We met at the International House and learned that classes will be Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 pm, and Wednesdays from 1 to 5 pm. Except when they don’t. For example, next Thursday we are going for a two day outing to the western region, so the students and professors will have to negotiate an alternate date to make up for the hours lost. Auntie Abigail made it very clear that they are expecting the classes to be rigorous, and to meet for 45 hours grand total. Later in the term we will be taking a 3-day fieldtrip to the Volta River and the Akosombo hydroelectric project, so I will count some of those hours as part of my class.

All “academic” classes will meet at the same time, so the students have to take one or the other. The three classes offered are “African Literature”, “Sustainable Economic Development”, and my “Development and Management of Water Resources”. On top of that there will be “Twi 1” at 7 am (good luck getting the students up for that), and “African Dance” Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 6 pm, which I am pretty certain most of the students will take. Finally, two or three mornings every week there will be “Service Learning”, where the students will have a chance to go into the community and help in a school, a hospital, or the peewee soccer team (if I were 30 years younger I would go for the latter J).

After learning about the schedule we went for a walking tour of campus, and had the opportunity of seeing an Obroni Trap catch an obibini! Let me explain: Here it rains a lot, so storm runoff is handled by deep vertical trenches built tightly against both sides of the road. The trenches are something like 25 cm wide and 50 cm deep (10 inches wide by 20 inches deep). Throughout Accra the trenches are normally covered by short concrete slabs, but now an then one of the slabs is missing, leaving a gaping hole. The people of the country (obibini or black people), grew up with this arrangement, and almost without thinking see these holes and gracefully skip over them. The obronis (or white people), in contrast, are distracted and looking up, so frequently fall in them (hence the local term Obroni Trap). In the university, in particular, the trenches are open, so it is easier to see and avoid them. However, if a car drives too close to the edge it can fall with both wheels in, and get trapped resting on its belly. This is what we saw during our walk, so Kaleb, Theo, and some of the female students went there, put their shoulders to the side of the car, and lifted it long enough for the driver to wedge some rocks under the wheels and pull out to the general applause!

In the course of the campus tour we met a group of alumni of the Business School, holding their 17th year reunion out of the school, with loud music, food, and drink, and in typical Ghanaian style invited our group (particularly the girls) to join them in their revelry. Today Monday July 3 is the alternate celebration of Republic Day (Republic Day is July 1, but because it fell on a Saturday it gets celebrated today), so the guys were pretty buzzed when we went by at 11 am, and I am sure they were ready to get blotto before the day was over.

Our next adventure was to take the trotro (the local name for the mini-bus) to the marketplace in Madina, to give us an opportunity to hone our bargaining skills. It was fun and colorful, like marketplaces the world over, and some of the students got real bargains in the process. I couldn’t get a fuse for my electric kettle adaptor, but got to refill the air time of my cell phone with 20 cedis. I am set now for a month.

On the way back I left the group and took a trotro to the Accra Mall, to buy a new electric kettle, and took the opportunity to buy lunch. I found a typical Ghanaian eatery, where I had a delicious banku stew of occra and fish. It was served with a huge dollop of some kind of “dough”. By looking at the girl sitting opposite to me in the table I learned that you eat with your right hand, using small chunks of the gooey dough to scoop the food. A wash basin is provided so from time to time you can clean your fingers. Fun but messy!

I had a couple of hours of dead time in the middle of the afternoon, but then I joined the students for a night at the theater. Sasha, one of the Ghanaian female students working for USAC, had gotten tickets for a musical called Wogbejek, which was playing at the National Theater, so many of us gathered to go and see it. We broke into small groups and took a taxi there, with music blearing, and once there stopped by a street vendor to eat grilled shish-kebabs and sausages on a stick, as our dinner before the performance.

The following two and a half hours were epic, although I must confess that I probably slept for about half of the performance. The writer, a rather young man, conceived the idea a couple of years ago, to present the history of Ghana by a combination of dance, song, small skits, and poetry, but piece by piece the project grew, until it reached is current two and a half hours. Tough going, but beautiful. The dancers were amazing in their energy and coordination (and that included several traditionally-built dancers), the drum play was magic, and the singing was divine. I missed some parts of the early history of Ghana, where one city state succeeded the other, but was very much awake by the time of the European invasion, the British occupation, and the struggle for independence. Then the 80’s hit, and the audience erupted because this is music they are familiar with. Sasha joined in the chorus, with a few more hundred people, and by the time we reached the 21st century the audience was in apotheosis! A fabulous way to end a glorious day J

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