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Love in Ghana means going out of your way to help anyone

without any regard for your own schedule.

       El Mina Castle (Ghana)

 

 

Staying in Touch with Ghana

 By Bisi Adjapon

 

It was not the first time I had returned to Ghana.  After living in the U.S. for ten years, I had returned in 1997.  Although I spent ten weeks in Ghana, I spent four weeks in the hospital and two weeks recovering from an illness, so I didn’t see much of my native country. Two years later, I went back to attend my father’s funeral, so I can’t say that I enjoyed Ghana. 

However, this past August, I returned there to lead a team of science educators on a scientific expedition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  It was the first time in eighteen years that I had the opportunity to rediscover Ghana. When you emigrate to another country, you don’t realize that you change because the change is gradual. Although we were in Ghana to study agricultural systems and conservation efforts, the trip included cultural elements that left an indelible mark on all of us, certainly on me.

Before the expedition, I flew to Ghana in March to plan the program with our Ghanaian host, a gentleman from the Ministry of Agriculture. The first thing I noticed was that this man did not forget that I was a woman.  In the United States, a man working with a woman has to make sure that he treats her like a person, not a woman. Praising a woman on her appearance borders on sexual harassment. For me, though, it was a pleasure to be treated like a woman; our host was very comfortable paying me compliments and paying for meals. Initially, it was awkward because in the U.S. you must always offer to pay for yourself.  In Ghana, it is an insult to the man, so after a few uncomfortable moments, I relaxed and enjoyed someone taking care of me. 

The down side to this is that Ghanaian men do not like to take orders from a woman, especially from one who is younger, so I had to be careful not to be too bossy. This may sound offensive to some, but I see nothing wrong in being gracious in one’s speech, regardless of one’s sex.  In America, often times in the work place, women feel a need to defend themselves because they have had to fight for their rights. As a result, some come across as rather abrasive and aggressive.

It was interesting to see many female entrepreneurs.  They owned hotels and other businesses, driving around in expensive cars. Yet these women remained very feminine and charming with their husbands.

The expedition began in Accra, which was nice. Everything was available, even disposable diapers, soymilk, tofu, you name it. However, traffic was horrendous. What was fascinating was seeing young pedestrians weaving their way through traffic, dodging cars while selling goods anything from flashlights to fabrics.  The minute a bus stopped, it would be surrounded by people, young and old, male and female shoving fried meat, dough nuts, jewelry, hammers, bottled water, flags, etc through the windows while calling, ‘My sister, auntie, very cheap!”  

The Americans on our expedition were terrified as first, and it occurred to me that the reason was because when someone crowds your personal space in America, it can be threatening. In Ghana though, the sellers simply want to sell their wares and have no desire to harm you.  These young boys and girls were doing something better than doing drugs and crime; they were simply trying to make a little money.

In the rural areas, we enjoyed incredible hospitality.  Many times, I wanted to cry because I was touched by people’s kindness. A woman left her shop to accompany an American who had lost her way to the Post Office. People cooked for us, made clothes for us, visited us, hugged us and made us feel loved. It is not that people are not kind in America. Americans are kind and very giving.  I think all people speak the same language of love, but it is the definition that differs. 

Love in Ghana means going out of your way to help anyone without any regard for your own schedule. It means inviting anyone who drops by at meal times to share your meal even if you do not have enough. Even strangers always greet you properly when they meet you. A couple of times, I walked past people without greeting them and was caught by surprise when they wished me a fine morning.  I realized that living in America, I had learned to be reserved. 

In Washington D.C., you get on the metro in the morning and everyone has either a book or a newspaper, or a walk-man with earphones.  You avoid people’s eyes and look confident lest they perceive your humanity and vulnerability. You get off the metro and race up the elevators to your destination. If you say good morning on the train, people will stare and feel uncomfortable.  In Ghana, I soon shed my reserve and embraced people, and it felt good.

One of the interesting aspects of our trip was meeting a women’s cooperative at Kejetia market in Kumasi, the largest market in Africa.  The market is so large, spanning several city blocks, that it is easy to get lost without a guide.  The women we met sold yam in the market.  Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti kingdom.  Contrary to what people think, Ashanti women, though feminine, are strong and usually financially independent.  That is a trait you find in many women in Ghana, but Ashantis tend to be stronger.  These feisty women had organized themselves well, and they had a secretary who was a man.  The women had a queen, etc.

What I noted was the pride they had in everything they did, from trading with farmers in the north of Ghana, to storing and transporting goods to the south.  They were also a family.  As their spokesperson explained, they helped each other.  They lived by a code, which was to stand up for one another, not to swindle one another and to support one another through hard times such as death or illness in a member’s family.  They sang and danced for us, and we were most grateful to be in the company of such strength of character, love, and gaiety.

Dancing in Ghana is a ceremonial affair.  Ghanaians dance at weddings, when a child is born, when the child named or outdoored – they even dance at funerals. Dancing together signifies unity and love.  Before we left for Ghana, I read All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou.  In the book, she describes an occasion when Malcolm X visited Ghana and at a party in his honor, the Ghanaians started to dance.  

Malcolm was offended because it was during the civil rights movement and Maya was also hurt. He felt that it was in poor taste for him to dance when his people were suffering back in the U.S.  Maya felt as though Ghanaians did not care enough.  It is hard for foreigners to understand that Ghanaians will dance even at funerals, laughing and crying at the same time.

The high point of our visit was a courtesy call on Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II, king of the Ashantis, at his Manhyia Palace. The king, who has several university degrees, is passionate about education and was happy to receive a group of minority-serving educators from the U.S.  

Otumfuo has an educational fund out of which he grants numerous scholarships to needy students.  It was a joy for me to make a donation on behalf of the teachers. Although the king normally does not address people directly, he made it a point to praise my son for his devotion to the study of history, and very graciously autographed his history book. Interestingly though, one of our African American participants was offended at having to bow to him. Ghanaians revere their kings, much more so than they do the president.

Another visit was to the slave castle of Elmina, the first European outpost in West Africa. Growing up in Ghana, I had visited the castle before in high school, just as a side event when we went to Elmina Beach to swim. Although I understood that Africans had been chained in there and shipped off into slavery, I simply saw it as history. The average Ghanaian takes the castle for granted, is very forgiving and does not hold on to painful memories. I realized for the first time with African American guests that Ghanaians could be a little more sensitive. Many of our guests cried, and as they stood behind the cannons and looked over the beach, it enraged them to see people playing soccer, or carrying on trade on the grounds where some of their ancestors perished. 

What was even more upsetting was being accosted by ruffians peddling wares as we exited the castle.  My son, who grew up in America and had never visited a slave fort, grabbed an object that was shoved at him and hurled it away from him in anger. It was understandable. There is a need to revere those sites for those who go there to mourn. To be sure, there were volunteers with whips who tried to drive to the young rascals away, but the government could do more and have proper security in place.

Interacting with school children was most gratifying.  Before my present occupation, I was a high school teacher, and you don’t need to be a teacher to know that teaching in America is very trying indeed.  The children that walk into our classrooms have issues to deal with that children should not have to deal with. Some have been subjected to or been involved with violence, abuse, abandonment, drugs, etc. 

The children we saw in Ghana for the most part had retained their childhood trust of adults.  Children got up when we entered a room and addressed us as “Sir” or “Madam.” Their smiles were ready and they happily sang for us and showed us around.  One school we visited was my alma mater, Wesley Girls’ High School, a boarding school established by Methodist missionaries. 

It was gratifying to see that the girls were carrying on the tradition of our school motto: “Live right, right wrong, and follow the King.”  The king here is a reference to God.  There is no separation of state from God in Ghana.  The students and teachers pray freely.  The girls are still very involved with community service.

What was most upsetting though, was seeing a trend towards westernization in Ghana.  It was evident in television programs.  Television in Ghana used to be state owned.  It had only one channel and very wholesome shows. It is wonderful that there are so many private television stations that have cropped up.  The downside is seeing music video channels on television. 

In America, you can only get it if you have cable, but in Ghana, everyone has access to it.  The effect is a sudden shift in fashion among the youth.  It used to be that wearing a pair of jeans was considered vulgar in Ghana.  Suddenly, people are wearing blue jeans, but not just any blue jeans; the tighter, the more faded, the more torn, the better. 

African men are proud to be men and reject anything that suggests female in them. To an African man, braiding one’s hair is womanly. However, African American men who braid their hair think that they are being African. They can be forgiven for not understanding the African culture. But African boys who have started watching music videos have started emulating their idols. Suddenly, there are boys braiding their hair and wearing earrings, and the elders are bewildered.

In the past, children in Ghana watched television freely with their parents.  There was never any need to monitor what anyone watched.  Now, there are so-called late movies that depict violence and filthy language. Most parents who don’t watch much television anyway do not monitor this.  They allow their children to watch these movies not understanding that this could one day affect the behavior of their children.  I was deeply troubled by this. That is why my favorite part of Ghana was in Ada on the Volta Lake. 

There, life has not changed for centuries.  There are still innocent children swimming naked in the lake. Adults and children bathe in the bright morning sun and wave to us as we sail by in our boat.  Their houses have no doors because they are not worried about thieves.  They have no televisions or telephones.  The men are mostly fishermen that sing lustily together as they draw in their catch, and their women greet them joyfully and smoke the fish.

I left Ghana strengthened and buoyant.  The old Ghana is still very much alive.

posted 12/4/04

The President’s Agenda and the African American Community—November 2011

Note: One should take a careful look at the phrasing in the above presidential appeal to the "African America Community." It is not an "African American Agenda" by the President but a "President's Agenda." It is always when it comes to black Americans about Mr. Obama than about black American communities.RL

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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update 24 February 2012

 

 

 

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Related files: Staying in Touch with Ghana   The Funny Side of Racism  Ashanti Chronology