It’s hard to believe one week has almost passed. In reality our journey throughout West Africa is just beginning, but it seems the group has already experienced so much. By now, we are becoming pretty familiar with the hotel and its surroundings. The group completed a city tour of Accra on Wednesday and traveled north of the city yesterday. In addition to our group excursions, many of us have ventured out in smaller groups to interact with the people and experience the culture on our own.
The group tour of Accra allowed us to learn more about the history and culture of the Ghanaian people. Throughout the day, we visited the National Museum, the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, a local art market, and the Artisan’s Alliance art gallery. We also drove through Old Accra and Independence Square. The Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park was very picturesque filled with fountains, statues, trees, and flowers. I personally enjoyed learning about the life of Kwame Nkrumah, a strong advocator for independence who became the first president of Ghana.
Driving through Old Accra was truly eye-opening. Old Accra is located on the coast in James town and Usser town. This area is the oldest part of Accra where the Europeans settled originally and is extremely impoverished as are some large cities in the U.S. The dilapidated buildings and dirty streets were filled with people. As we drove through the town we encountered mixed reactions from the people on the streets. Some waived excited to see a large bus of white people, while others reacted angrily urging us to leave with hand gestures. From their perspective, these reactions seem appropriate as we drove by their homes in a large air conditioned bus. It was definitely a unique experience that makes you feel for the people and appreciate everything you have.
On Friday, I went to Makola Market with three friends (Kevin Carton, Kyle Hundman, and Kendra Swierczek). The market is very congested with people and sheds and umbrellas housing stands of fruits, vegetables, meats, and exotic items like pig ears, cow feet, and bushmeat. Useful daily items are also sold here. This was a very unique experience as we were in a very different and unfamiliar environment. The people in the marketplace also shared mixed reactions to a group of obruni’s passing through. The term “obruni” refers to fairer skinned people. In general, most people said hello and were friendly. Similar to the experience in Old Accra, I felt, to some extent, out of place there, but the welcoming attitude of most Ghanaians here was much appreciated. I am very glad we decided to explore this part of town and this important aspect of the Ghanaians everyday life.
Yesterday was a nice escape from the city. We traveled northeast of Accra to the Akosombo Dam. Three rivers come together at the Volta Lake, the largest manmade lake in the world. The Akosombo Dam sits between the Volta Lake and the Volta River. This dam provides energy to 75% of Ghana. I found this part of the day very interesting because I had studied the importance of this dam to Ghana’s operations and economy for a directed course I took on West African economic development. After the tour, we had a nice meal at a restaurant on the Volta River and then headed to the Aburi Botanical Gardens. The gardens were filled with various trees and plants including cocoa, palm, all spice, and bamboo to name a few. The weather was much cooler here because we were up in the mountains, and a storm was headed our way.
With a week under our belt, it may be safe to assume everyone in the group has encountered at least one situation that required bargaining skills. The process began on our first day when many of us were targeted while walking to the grocery store. As the term goes on, I’m sure we will continue to develop and fine tune these skills. We have also traveled to various arts and crafts markets that have provided other opportunities to bargain. There are many, many vendors selling souvenirs, food, and other items along the streets all throughout Accra. These vendors are very persistent which can at times make you feel uncomfortable, but they are extremely friendly and sincere. It is not uncommon for these strangers to refer to you as “my friend” and to remember your name when you return or pass by in the future.
This upcoming week will be our first full week of class, and we will now actually have homework and assignments to work on in addition to exploring the world around us. The classes will be very beneficial and interesting as they will build upon what we experience outside of the classroom each day. One week has passed so quickly and was filled with so many different experiences. I am excited to see what experiences the next eight weeks bring.