Flexibility

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

By Melissa Rick

In a developing country, everyday activities take longer.  We are learning to be flexible with our time and patient.  Nevertheless, I know that my American schedule that I usually have at home would never work here.  The electricity is shaky, but being without power or water makes for several fun activities.  Another example is that within the three weeks we have stayed here, I have already had one tro-tro and one taxi break down while I was riding in them.
I do not accomplish very much when the power is out (other than immediately going to sleep no matter what time it is).  On Thursday, the power was out for over 24 hours.  We went to an outdoor theatre and waited under the stars talking till they got some power to have the performance.  After about an hour and a half, one light appeared on the stage.  The performers danced African tribal dances.  I am amazed to watch their compulsive movements around the stage. 
I am also learning to be flexible with basic infrastructure that is not in place.  There are often not systems for how things are done (like driving).  The other week I visited the library.  It is a grand building on campus and stills shines of what it was meant to be.  The reference section is an outdated card catalogue.  The drawers of the catalogued are twisted and bent into their various shelves.  The cards are worn thin and yellowed.  The rest of the library is in a similar condition.  I walked up to the second floor to discover piles and piles of unshelved books feet taller than me placed around the floor.  The guardians were two elderly women who volunteer at the library.  They only released a few of the basis books after they joked with us in Twi. 
In Ghana there are many differences some are because it is a third world country; others are in place because of tradition or culture.  The differences donít bother me.  I knew it would be different.  My friends and I talk about how we want to live Here while we are Here.  In other words, we donít want to expect or impose American ways of doing this or that.  That would ruin or at least lessen the cultural lessons and experiences that we are having here.  Who knows?  Perhaps we will learn new and better ways of doing things or better understand why something is a certain way in the developed United States.  I strongly believe that this daily confrontation with a new place helps us appreciate the United States, and know more about ourselves and how our environments have shaped us.
This weekend Stephanie, Justin, Sarah (x2), Deborah, and I ventured into the unknown surroundings outside of Accra to attempt to find the mysterious Boti Falls.  We had a true adventure.  Traveling in a third world country, even one as developed as Ghana, is challenging.  Without signs, one has to rely on the patience and help of others.  To find the right tro-tro or street you just have to ask people on the way.  The same thing happens when we take taxis somewhere.  You get into the cab and tell the driver where you are going.  He wonít tell you that he isnít familiar with that place but will ask other drivers or pedestrians every little bit on the way there. 
To get to the Boti Falls, we headed out of campus to downtown Accra and piled in a tro-tro for the trip.  We had to wait for the tro-tro to fill up before it left but we were finally on our way.  The other passengers in the tro-tro looked like they were going to ceremonies because they were dress in beautiful traditional African clothes.  One family was in all black, most likely for a funeral.  The other in bright colors for a different kind of celebration.  The tro-tro took us to Koforidua (apparently called Kofo for short) through the mountains and small villages.  Mist hung over the mountains.  Kofo is only about 20 to 30 miles outside of Accra but the trip took 1 Ĺ- 2 hours.  We when got to Koforidua we had lunch then Stephanie, Sarah, Justin, and I took a taxi to the Boti Falls, another thirty minute drive.  We had our destination for the entire adventure set on the falls but really we didnít know what to expect.  The travel guides and descriptions hardly adequately described the powerful 30m high falls.  On July 1st every year the Ghanaians from the area have a huge festival.  Our taxi driver said he would go every year.  We could climb on the rocks behind the falls and stand behind them.  After all the unknowns about if we would actually make it to the falls, seeing them was a magnificent reward.
After seeing the falls, our taxi driver lead us on a strenuous fast hike through the mountainís forest.  (a short side note) The people in Ghana are amazing.  They go well out of their way to show you kindness or help you find something.  Our taxi driver spent around five hours with us that day showing around this area where he had grown up.  The hike finally lead us through rocks and caves until we emerged from the forest.  Up ahead there was a strange rock formation called the Umbrella Rock.  It is one rock sitting precariously on top of another.  We climbed up a shady bamboo ladder to the top.  On the top it feels like you are hovering over the mountain and can see the Ghanaian mountains and valleys for miles around. 
In the next few days, we are going to a festival outside of Accra.  The festival is for the veneration of the ancestors.  I am excited to see what a traditional African holiday is like and will have much to write about in the coming weeks.

Philosophical Reflections

Monday, September 18, 2006

By Ruth Groenhout

We meet for class in a classroom designated for the Calvin Program, lodged in the Institute for African Studies. The room just barely fits sixteen students and an instructor, but it contains an air conditioner, and reasonably comfortable seating, and it’s nice to have a space we can call our own.

In our “Justice and the Common Good” class we’ve been reading Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers” and thinking together about what it means to treat people with respect and dignity when we have deep cultural or philosophical differences. It’s been a perfect book to read in Ghana, as many of the examples focus specifically on Ghanaian customs and beliefs. Students find themselves talking through issues with their room mates, or with folks at church, and it has enriched our discussions enormously.

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First experiences in Ghana

Saturday, September 09, 2006

By Melissa Rick

Akwaaba.  That is the word used to greet us where ever we go.  It means welcome.  I have found out that greetings are important to Ghanaians.  Maakye (good morning), Maaha (good afternoon), and Maadwo (good evening).  The Ghanaians are extremely patient and hospitable.  When I do something stupid they will laugh and not get upset at it.

      Names are also important here.  Everyone has a name day.  A name that signifies what day they where born in addition to any other names they might have.  My name day is Akosua.

      I am supposed to have a Ghanaian roommate but she hasn;t shown up yet.  The school here runs very differently than universities in America.  Many of the students won’t even show up till finals and buy the notes.  The larger lecture halls seat around 300 students but there will be 800 students signed up for the class.  Those that don’t show up an hour before the class will have to stand for a couple of hours.  The grading scale is different. A 70%-100% is an A.

      The Calvin students don’t run into the same struggles as the rest of the university students.  We have Ghanaian professors but our classes are just other Calvin students on the program. We started our Twi class, African Drumming and Dance, African Politics and People’s and Culture.      On Saturday, we went into Accra for the first time.  We split up in groups and walked through the largest market imaginable.
It takes up most of the downtown area.  Accra has a population of around three million.  It can be crazy around here.  To get there we took a tro-tro which is basically a passenger size van with 35 people in it.  People are everywhere and it is very crowded. The sound in the market are also different.  People will hiss or smack their lips to get your attention.  Many say hello, hello instead of maakye because they can see we are Americans.

      The country also is experiencing rolling power outages so at some time on three days of the week we won’t have power or water.  When we went up to Akroprong this weekend there was a large storm and the generator worked for only part of the day so we have had several romantic candlelight meals.

      The food is extremely different as well. However, there are not many options.  We usually have rice and they serve a meat with every meal, usually chicken.  The dishes are Jolaff which is like a Spanish rice, Waakye a rice and bean mixture, Kenkye a dough like ball that is served by itself with sauce or in a stew (then it is called Fufou), and Red-Red (which is a bean mixture).  There is an open air market across the street that will make egg sandwiches for breakfast for about 30 cents.      On Sunday we went for our first service at the Legon International Church. It was an amazing service.  A lot of the songs are in Twi but we can still follow along (or at least dance).  The service went by quickly.  I didn?t even realize that it had been 3 hours before it was done.  Ghanaians dress up for church.  Most of the women wear beautiful traditional dresses and some of the men wear a cloth wrapped around their bodies and one shoulder.  We are often singled out because we already stand out so much because of our white skin.  The Ghanaians don?t mean it in a negative or racist way they are just really curious.  I think I will be a lot friendlier and more open after spending time here and greeting everybody.

      After the service we went to the Akofi-Christaller Memorial Center for three days to have a beginning retreat in the mountains.  It wasamazing.  The staff of the center talked to us about Ghanaian customs, religions, and culture.  For example, it is very bad to use your left hand for anything here, like passing money or food or eating.  The left hand is meant for dirty jobs so using it towards anyone is offensive.  It is also offensive to cross your legs in the presence of an elder.  It is a sign of pride and disrespect.

      Tuesday we visited the Voltic Lake and dam that provides electricity for the country.  The reason there is rolling blackouts is because they are worried that they didn?t get enough rain this year so everyone has to conserve electricity.  We also visited a bead factory.  They showed us how they made various beads from recycled bottles and we bought several different kinds.

      We officially started classes this Wednesday.  Please pray for me as I am trying to adjust to this new culture and finish my law school applications.      Some interesting information: 
1.      None of the bathrooms have toilet paper or soap, even in our dorm.
2.      The gutters everywhere are huge open concrete ditches (easy to trip over if you aren’t careful).
3.      Cars have the right of way here. 
4.      When we are walking around in kroprong or Accra, children laugh and yell obruni (white person).

Dei (good-bye)

Melissa

Starting Class

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

By Ruth Groenhout

Classes begin today. It feels good to begin a regular schedule and begin the work of the semester. (Of course, that’s always easier for the Prof to say than the students!) We spent the weekend up at the Akrofi Christaller Institute in the town of Akropong, and returned to the University of Ghana yesterday about 4:30 in the afternoon.

The Akrofi Christaller Institute (ACI) is located up in the mountains, and the altitude results in much cooler temperatures than we’ve been experiencing here in Accra. It’s a beautiful place. The main buildings were built in the mid-1800s, and restored when the ACI was established. It currently offers advanced theological degrees in a variety of subjects, with a specialization in African religions, so when we ate in the cafeteria and walked around the grounds we got to meet folks from all over the world who’ve come to study. We also enjoyed classes with instructors from the ACI, who introduced us to all sorts of things, from the complexities and importance of greetings in Ghanaian culture, to the intricacies of family relationships and basic ettiquette. We learned we should not pass things to people with the left hand, and we should not cross our legs when in a formal meeting. We learned that owls are considered evil by some groups in Ghana, and that American families with only one mother and father are pretty scrawny—many Ghanaians have a whole handful of fathers and mothers, aunties and uncles. And we ended with a wonderful discussion of Christianity and African traditional religions led by Professor Kwame Bediako, one of the world’s leading experts on religion in Africa. It was a thought-provoking and fascinating discussion.

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Orientation

Saturday, September 02, 2006

By Ruth Groenhout

Orientation has begun this week. Thursday the students were introduced to the University of Ghana—and one student’s reaction was, “It’s so much more beautiful than it even looks in pictures!” They’ve been properly registered, identified, and settled into their dorm rooms. And Margaret, who watches who enters and leaves the student hostel, has already memorized everyone’s names and greets them all as they enter and leave. She provides a nice sense of security and belonging.
Friday orientation mostly involved lectures—about diseases one can catch in Ghana, why one would want to avoid them, how to maximize the chances of NOT getting them. (Malaria’s our biggest worry around here, but we’re all carefully taking our medicines and hope to avoid coming down with it.) Then there were lectures on security, and on the general demographics of Ghana, and an introduction to the Twi language. The students are now hypothetically capable of greeting each other in Twi, and to negotiate prices (sort of) in the marketplace. Today, Saturday, we all had our first lesson in riding trotros.

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