The Proper Way to Tell a Story

As I have witnessed during my stay in Ghana, as well as my home country, stories in the media are often presented the wrong way. Although there is technically no right way to tell a story, there are some guidelines that one needs to take in order to display the topic in a way that does not offend anyone. Ed Madison’s “Media and Social Change. Student Guidebook” and Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write about Africa” explain, in different ways, how to tell a story, and are readings that prove that people depict Africa in such a way that does not match up with how it actually is. It is clear that there needs to be a line between morally right and morally wrong when constructing a story.

I did not know what to expect prior to arriving in Ghana, mainly because my only exposure to what it was like was from movies, TV shows, documentaries, and the news. When I got here, my head was spinning with confusion. I never once had seen Africa in this way, mainly because it was not what was televised or portrayed through the media. For my group’s multimedia project, we chose to write a story on how Ghanaian’s perceive the U.S., and through interviews I found that they were getting their knowledge about my country the same way I was getting information about theirs: through the media.

“How to Write about Africa” is a satirical article and should not be taken literally. However, the sad part is that many people do believe these things. The author does a good job using satire to show the many stereotypes that exist when talking about the continent of Africa. The beginning mentions to “never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won a Nobel Prize. An Ak-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.” This excerpt shows that people out in the world can be hatful, however by displaying these crazy viewpoints it can help us change the reader’s perceptions of Africa.

Social Media: The Good and the Bad

Social media also plays a huge role, as people my age are constantly posting pictures and videos when they visit foreign countries, and many times they are posting pictures without the consent of the person in the photo. I am not saying that you should not have the right to post content from your experiences abroad, however there needs to be a common courtesy between the two subjects. Thus, if you do decide to take a picture or video of someone, make sure to ask them first, and then show them your content afterwards.

I am guilty of taking open pictures of people during the beginning of the trip, and although I was trying to take pictures of the scene rather than just one individual, the people in Ghana do not know that. Through my time here, my storytelling and process of getting content has evolved, and I think that lot of it comes from understanding my surroundings and being here for almost a month.

“Media and Social Change. Student Guidebook” states that, ”passive activities, stories about the past, stories that present issues of access (such as stories that involve young children or stories that might jeopardize one’s personal safety) are all bad places to start when you’re looking for a video story.” This shows that before going off to get content, you need to either think about how this will portray that country, or if you are writing a story it is better to begin brainstorming ideas for contextual analysis.

Sources:

Madison, Ed (2016, 2017). Media and Social Change. Student Guidebook.

Wainaina, Binyavanga. “How to Write about Africa,” by Wainaina. See: http://www.granta.com/Archive/92/How-to-Write-about-Africa/Page-1.

Women of Ghana

By: Ellie Erickson, Paige Flagge, Susannah Pazdan

Throughout history, women in Ghana have maintained traditional roles in education, workplace and their household. In each, women are expected to fulfill their traditional roles to their best ability. Women’s roles in education, the workplace, and at home have expanded in both rural and urban areas, but gender inequality remains a prominent issue.  In the article, “Gender Inequalities in rural employment in Ghana: An Overview” by the Gender, Equity, and Rural Employment Division of FAO they provide statistics on gender inequalities in education, the workplace, and at home.

Gender disparities in education of women can be found in literacy rates. For example, only 29% percent of Ghanaian women are literate compared to 52% percent of Ghanaian men.  The workplace is also a place that exhibits inequalities, especially in the field of agriculture which is one of the biggest areas of employment in Ghana. Ghanaian women in the household are also expected to fulfil certain roles, they typically serve as the leaders of the home.

Ghanaian Women in Education 

Winnie is from the Tema and attended primary, secondary, and is currently in tertiary school at University of Cape Coast.
She now has a great job working as a program officer for the Aya Center.
Picture By: Susannah Pazdan

Literacy is not the only issue women in Ghana face concerning education, they also have a lower percentage of women who get a primary education.  The percentage of men who get a primary education in Ghana is 71% compared to 52% of women (Gender Inequalities.)  This statistic is a vivid example of how the education gap between both men and women is still very relevant.  Since there is such a prominent gap in the education of women whether in literacy or receiving a primary education, women are limited in how they can succeed.  Another example of how education plays a role in how Ghanaian women succeed is their access to secondary and vocational education. Access to both upper level courses remains low with 3% of women attending secondary school and only 27% of women attending vocational school (Gender Inequalities).  Although more women are pushing educational reform to be able to succeed against their male counterparts.

Ghanaian Women in the Workplace

This woman works in the agriculture industry harvesting plantains as well as “maize” or corn. She also harvests these crops with her baby on her back.
Picture By: Susannah Pazdan

Agriculture is the backbone of Ghana’s economy, playing an important role in ensuring food security and socio-economic development (Gender Inequalities). Ghana is a huge producer of fruits, produce, and wheat. Agriculture is made up of several different sectors including farming and market-oriented activities. Women in Ghanaian agricultural production is significant with 50% of women and 30% of female-headed households are employed in the agricultural sector (Gender Inequalities). Although in comparison to men, most women do not have the resources to expand their agriculture and produce a higher crop yield. Women have less access to technology, and they rely on rain-fed intercropping. Ghanaian women own less livestock, use less fertilizers, and own less mechanical equipment than men (Gender Inequalities.) In general, female farmer’s production is comprised of less crops than male farmers. Therefore, with less crops and little access to public credit, females have less of a chance to fund their farming. Each one of these are disadvantages to women working in agriculture and therefore sets them back from reaching their potential. Yet, even if women could produce more food than men, the food they produce can be limited. Along the road women sell their produce and food and more often the men will sell apples, grapes, gum, and electronics. Women will sell local produce, including oranges, peanuts and plantain chips. This is a global issue because international companies will contact men when they want to sell their products to be sold as they think the products will “sell better.” Women are automatically put at a disadvantage when they want to sell market items. Although this is a global issue, this still significantly impacts the women of Ghana in the agriculture workplace.

Ghanaian Women in the Household

Joyce works as a seamstress but also works as a housekeeper for her aunt and uncle. Some of her main jobs includes cooking, cleaning, and helping her aunt and uncle with whatever they need done in the house.
Picture By: Susannah Pazdan

In comparison to inequalities for women in the workforce and education, there is a wide gender gap in the time allotted to domestic activities. On average, 65 percent of men spend 0 to 10 hours per week on domestic activities, 89 percent of women spend 10 hours per week or more (Gender Inequalities). Even if some women have a job, they will still spend more time on domestic activities. The most time-consuming activities for women are cooking and taking care of household members: 11 to 10 weekly hours on average (Gender Inequalities). Women have several different roles within their households. In some regions in Ghana, there are a significant number of female-headed households in both rural and urban areas. There is a higher share of FHHs in urban areas, where they constitute 29 percent of households, compared to 20 percent in rural areas (Gender Inequalities). With so much pressure on women, this can create issues within the household such as child labor and stress for women. High dependency rates hamper household capacity to allocate labor to on-farm activities or other ingenerating activities (Gender Inequalities). As heads of the household, working and being a mother, Ghana women are strong.

Ghanaian Women

Looking at different regions in Ghana and faces of women, there remains this traditional stereotype. In the village of Krofu, Esi Atta, an old woman believed to be the age of 80 or older, truly believes in the value of women. In her eyes, women are supposed to care for their families and play the traditional role of a mother, but to Atta this role is most important and especially most valued. Like Atta, Joyce Ottu the housekeeper of a homestay family as well as a seamstress, believes women are strong and what they do makes them even stronger. She too believes in the traditional role of women, but in part that all women no matter what their job is have an important job in society. Eva Boadu and Winnie Sey’Adjei are employers at the Aya Center. Eva is a young, independent, strong woman. She believes in education for woman and does not let stereotype bring her down. Like Eva, Winnifred is a strong, beautiful wife and mother to her one year old son. Winnie believes in the power of women, but as a Christian she also believes in having men as the head of the household. Winnie will always make sure she her son and husband are taken care of because as a wife and a mother that is her role. These three women deal with the triple burden of life, but they are powerful and can overcome them through education and the workplace. Despite stereotypes, women of Ghana defeat them. Without powerful, strong women in society, many roles in society could not exist. Women are full of knowledge and power.  Each of these women are unique, special and beautiful in their own way; they are the women of Ghana.

Here is our group video:

Gold Lenses: Ghanaians’ Perceptions of the U.S.

images.jpegChimamanda Adichie said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are inaccurate, but that they are incomplete.” First impressions are so important because people are prone to mistake part of something for the whole. Stereotyping even happens between cultures. This holds true for Americans and Ghanaians as well. Africa is often misrepresented, especially by Americans, which influenced us to look through the opposite lens of how Ghanaians perceive the U.S. Overall, we found that most Ghanaians have a positive idea of the U.S. because they have bought into the American Dream. However, Ghanaians hold this perception because the media typically represents Western or American culture and progress as superior. Since Ghana’s independence from British colonization in 1957, Ghanaians have progressed significantly, but when they compare themselves to the West they still feel like they fall short.

american-dream.jpgGhanaians have heard different versions of a single story. Their perceptions of the U.S. are actually misperceptions because they are stereotypes. Ghanaians have held these views for as long as they have been migrating to the U.S. Many factors compel Ghanaians to buy into the American Dream, which pushes them to adopt a Western or American view of progress.

Ghana, or the Gold Coast, was the location of The Door of No Return for Africans during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The slave trade was the largest migration of Ghanaians to the U.S., although it was only the first wave. Beginning with Ghana’s independence, the second major wave of migration occurred during the 1960’s in pursuit of education. The goal of these immigrants was to learn as much as they could about modern progression and return home with knowledge to form a foundation for their newly founded country. The last major wave happened in the 1980’s when Ghanaians sought out economic opportunities.

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Ekow’s Graduation at Furman

Ghanaians to this day move to the U.S. for education and economic advancements, but the U.S. is never the final destination. The U.S. is a means to an end. To them, the U.S. is the land of opportunity, and if you work hard enough you will become rich. A Ghanaian student at Furman reported his desire to study in the U.S. and return to Ghana wealthy. The adinkra symbol for going back to your roots is extremely important in Ghanaian culture. Ghanaians always have Ghana and their family in mind when migrating. For those living in the U.S., they are expected to send money home. Ghanaians in the U.S. send $33 million home every year. The U.S. is simply a means for bettering their life in Ghana.

goodbye-yellow-brick-road-meganne-peck.jpgThis idea that the U.S. can turn one’s life around simply by moving is a misperception. Media tells a single story of the U.S., a story of affluence. It never mentions the failures, the stories about the cycles of poverty, or the lack of job opportunities. One Ghanaian vacationer admitted, “It didn’t take [him] too long to realize that the U.S. wasn’t the land with streets paved of gold that the 18-year-old [him] had thought it was.” The images Ghanaians envision of the U.S. are based off of popular films, which distort reality.

In addition, U.S. citizens who travel to Ghana are the ones who can afford it. Ghanaians never see the poverty in the U.S. because travelers are simply a subset of the country; they fail to accurately represent the entire population.

Ghanaians are also at fault. A Ghanaian immigrant confessed, “I do not blame anyone but those Ghanaians living here. My reason is that, we do not tell our folks back home the truth—how the system actually is here. We tend to stunt (show off) to them and lie about the jobs we do here.” The U.S. is a country that runs on loans. In effect, Ghanaians in the U.S. feel pressure to reflect the stereotype of success associated with living in the U.S. Ghanaians have the power to flaunt the wealth that they might not have. They can buy expensive cars and houses when they cannot immediately afford it. Ghanaians who move to the U.S. often fail to share the rest of the story to the people back home. They feed into the single story of the U.S. just as much as the media and travelers. The problem with Ghanaian’s perceptions of the U.S. is that they only see part of the story, part of the population. That part is not untrue; it is incomplete.

Ghana-at-60-logo.jpgFor Ghanaians, the U.S. is the land of opportunity, not the ultimate destination. The U.S. is a means to an end. They migrate to the U.S. to make Ghana better. They seek education and economic opportunities so that they can either return to Ghana knowledgeable about how to help innovate their young country or to send money home. The story is exaggerated and romanticized. Ghanaians wear gold lenses when they look at the U.S. Ghanaians and Americans alike need to work on painting the whole picture of the U.S. so Ghanaians can have a more accurate perception. One Ghanaian summed it up nicely: “What I want my beloved Ghanaians to know is that, we do not pluck money off trees wherever we go, we have to work for it, and most of the times, you work more for less.” The U.S. does have great educational and economic opportunities, but moving there is no guarantee. The media and other factors need to help Ghanaians remove the lenses that romanticize the U.S. and allow them see the real picture in full form.

Our group interviewed a couple Ghanaians to learn about their perspectives. Watch the video to hear from them directly about how they view the U.S. and how some of their perceptions have changed.

Football Culture in Ghana

The sun beats down ruthlessly on the barren pitch with no trees or tall buildings to deter it. Red dust swirls around the feet of the players, almost obscuring the ball, as sweat runs endlessly down their necks. With no boundary lines, no jerseys, and goals standing naked without their nets, the children are playing a game all their own.

History of Football in Ghana

Football was introduced to Ghana by Britain during Europe’s colonization of Africa. Ghana’s first organized matches occurred in 1882 and Cape Coast Excelsior, which was founded in 1903, was the first official soccer club.

Today in Ghana, football is a huge part of the community through both local and regional identity, and national identity. It affects both youth culture and adult culture across the country. Whether it’s going to all the games, following them on television, discussing them with friends, or playing pick-up games on the street, football is a part of most Ghanaians’ lives today.

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Children from the village of Krofu standing in front of the football goal.

Youth Culture

Like those playing football on the dirt pitch, many children in Ghana play the game. It is a way for the youth in Ghana to find a community among themselves. Relationships, social development, and physical fitness are all important components of growing up that football provides. Football also allows children to grow up with dreams and hope for the future as they aspire to play on club or professional teams.

Professional Football

Club football teams serve as an intermediate level between recreational football and professional football. Ghana’s Premier League for club football consists of sixteen teams from regions all over the country. The teams include Hearts of Oak Accra, Asante Kotoko Kumasi, and Ebusua Dwarfs Cape Coast. Players on club teams hope to be selected by the national team or scouted by top clubs overseas.

In 2014 the Ghana national team, The Black Stars, made it to the World Cup. In a devastating loss, The Black Stars suffered a two to one defeat at the hands of the United States of America’s national team. This match ultimately affected Ghana’s chances at proceeding past the group stage.

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Jerseys of Ghana’s national team, The Black Stars.

In addition to the World Cup loss, there have been some recent tensions about the Ghana national team. The Black Stars players requested a larger salary for each game and refused to play in a crucial upcoming match unless they were paid more for the game.

The players’ salaries are paid for by the taxpayers, and since the taxpayers wanted to support their team, they paid for the larger salaries. Unfortunately, The Black Stars lost the crucial game for which they were paid extra. The taxpaying fans were devastated by the loss and outraged that the team was paid more and still performed poorly.

Those feelings of outrage have not yet faded. The Black Stars’ fan base has decreased since the incident and many Ghanaians have a colder approach to the team. Joyce Okyerebea Ottu, young woman born and raised in Ghana, no longer follows the Ghana national team. In fact, she doesn’t really watch football at all because, as she says, “sometimes if you give your heart to them, at the end they will not make you happy.”

Globalization of Football

Another reason for apathetic feelings toward the Ghana national team is the globalization of football. While Britain brought football to Ghana, today it takes the players away from their home team. Many of the best Ghanaian football players leave for European clubs who can lure them in with their prestige, higher salaries and promise of sponsors.

Since Ghanaian footballers play all over the world, Ghanaian football fans follow other teams aside from the local clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus. This globalization of football has broadened Ghana’s influence and reach on the international stage. While it is preferable for Ghanaian football players to stay with the local clubs, it speaks to their abilities that they are in high demand with such prestigious teams. Ghanaian footballers, whether playing home or abroad, provide a rallying point for culture, community, and national identity with all Ghanaians.

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Young footballers playing in the Volta region of Ghana.

A lover of football and resident of Accra Ghana, Albert Ohene-Asante has seen the influence of football both home and abroad. He attended university in the United Kingdom, the country that brought the game to Ghana. He says “football always unifies us regardless of our differences” and that during the big games, the Ghana flag is flown everywhere.

In Ghana, the passion for football has survived over two hundred years, the colonization and decolonization, and several wars. All that time, football has served as a commonality for many Ghanaians through which they find national pride and a sense of community. The passion of those children playing football on the barren dirt pitch in the scorching sun indicates a strong future for football in Ghana.

African Influence

The many connections of Ghanaians between each other and outsiders has many influences. The first of which, is media. The way Ghanaians perceive themselves, other Africans, and African Americans reflects how those groups are portrayed in the press.

“Ghana: Soft Control of the Press”

The relationship between the media and the government in Ghana has an interesting and complicated history. According to Jo Ellen Fair in her article “Ghana: Soft Control of the Press,” it all began in 1992 when the media was liberalized.

Since the media’s liberalization, journalism boomed in Ghana. Publications and broadcasts were everywhere and were commenting on everything. Since media was privatized, they could talk about whatever they wanted. The government, on the other hand, was used to controlling the media openly and found their new freedoms distasteful.

Fair describes how the government had to adjust their methods to softly control the media, rather than openly and aggressively controlling them. One of the biggest examples of this is called “soli.”

Soli is a Ghanaian word meaning gifts. Mainly in the form of money, soli is given to journalists by officials or businesspeople to ensure the press covers the material they want them to. In addition to cash, promotions are also handed out as incentive by influential people in the government.

Relations between the media and the government in Ghana are similar to those in the United States and many other countries. It seems like a more extreme case because of the accelerated rate at which the government and media in GhIMG_5180
ana have developed after Africa’s decolonization.

The media are the agenda-setters for what the country will discuss, what it will care about, and what will shape it. The government cares about what is discussed, what is cared about and what shapes the country. Therefore, it makes sense for the government to want a hand in the agenda-setting.

 

“Pan-Africanism as a resource: the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture in Ghana”

Pan means all. African, of course, refers to people from the continent of Africa. Pan-Africanism is a movement to unite all Africans, whether they live in Africa or are distant descendants of Africans.

In her writings on “Pan-Africanism as a resource: the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture in Ghana,” Katharina Schramm analyzes Pan-Africanism as a movement and how W.E.B. DuBois played a major role.

According to Schramm, W.E.B DuBois was an advocate for, and even the father of, Pan-Africanism and played a large part in the establishment of the first four Pan-African conferences. Their purpose was to promote racial equality and unity of the continent of Africa.

Unifying the continent of Africa into a United States of Africa is one aim of Pan-Africanism. Another aim is for all Africans to unite and follow their ancestry back to Africa from where they and their families ended up scattered around the world.

The idea of a Pan-Africanism is admirable and it would be beneficial for people of African decent to learn more about their lineages and histories. However, if all those people of African decent returned to Africa, their presence and culture would be sorely missed in the rest of the world.

First Time in Africa, First Time Blogging

My May Experience in Ghana has been an experience of firsts. In previous reflection posts, I have mentioned that I had never been to the continent of Africa before, let alone leave my family in New York for 3 weeks instead of starting the summer early in the States. Those first 3 weeks of summer in the States would never have been as productive as these weeks have been in Ghana, as I have learned so much about Ghanaian media and culture that I would need to write an entire book to fit everything in. However, one of the biggest skills that I have taken away from this experience is the art of blogging.

Prior to the trip, I was familiar with what a blog was, and would occasionally read sports blogs for my favorite teams, such as the North Carolina Tar Heels, because my dad went there for his Undergraduate study. I also knew that many peers of mine had their own personalized blogs, and would write about issues that they were passionate about. During the last few years of high school and my first year at Furman, reading blogs and seeing the overall structure of these sites inspired me to help promote my music on iTunes and Spotify through various social media accounts, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and YouTube pages displaying live performances and music videos. I also used it as inspiration to promote my sports highlight video business in the same way that I promote my music. This did not inspire me to make my own blog page; yet, at the same time, I was always fascinated with how it worked and wanted to learn more.

By coming on this trip, I have gotten the inside scoop on how to design, write, and produce blogs for issues involving stereotypes, misrepresentation in media, importance of culture, and so on. I have also enjoyed the balance between having fun exploring Ghana and doing the necessary work for the course, as it helped me ease into it more smoothly than if I had waited until I took Digi Comm this upcoming fall to start blogging.

The Portrayal of African-Americans: Then and Now

There has been a great shift in the perception of African-Americans from the Colonial Era to present day. Olaudah Equiano’s “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Quiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African” and Lydia Polgreen’s “Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora” both display portrayals of African-Americans, one of which takes place during the time of slavery and the other during present day tourism in Africa. Much of the ancestry of Africans who came to the Americas was lost when families and relatives were separated through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; thus, many African-Americans today are visiting their African countries in hopes of tracing back their roots. They have found, however, that people in African countries are referring to them as Americans, rather than relatives of African ancestors. This has led to a growing controversy on the “correct way” to refer to those with a dark skin color when coming to the continent of Africa.

Evidence of this separation in African heritage came from the end of Chapter II in Olaudah Equiano’s “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Quiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African,” when Equiano says, “This report eased us much; and sure enough, soon after we were landed, there came to us Africans of all languages. We were conducted immediately to the merchant’s yard, where we were all pent together like so many sheep in a fold, without regard to sex or age.” This excerpt shows the stereotypical view of African slaves that the Europeans kept for centuries, which resulted in a forceful melting pot of African cultures and traditions in the Americas.

During this trip, my group and I had made numerous visits to markets in Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast, and on each of those visits our group as a whole was referred to as “obroni” or “American” by Ghanaian storeowners and shoppers. Even African-Americans in our group were referred to in the same manner, and I did not know what to think of it. In the United States, there is a wide spectrum of ways in which African-Americans are represented, and some call them “African-American” and others neglect the race factor. In Ghana, I have noticed that for Ghanaians, it is very easy to distinguish between an African-American and a Ghanaian. It seems to be through the way they dress, as well as a difference in accent.

Although Ghanaians and people in other African countries mean no harm when talking to African-Americans in this way, African-Americans deserve the right to be welcomed by Africans in a way that connects them to their heritage. The beginning of “Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora” mentions that Ghana hopes to “persuade the descendants of enslaved Africans to think of Africa as their homeland — to visit, invest, send their children to be educated and even retire here.” It is certainly a hard goal to obtain, considering that not everyone will be able to make the trip to Africa. Some people also would rather be considered American than descendants of African slaves.

Despite this, we as citizens should support this change, and encourage visits to make it easier for people to come to the place that their relatives grew up in. Polgreen says that, “Ghana plans to offer a special lifetime visa for members of the diaspora and will relax citizenship requirements so that descendants of slaves can receive Ghanaian passports.” Advertising campaigns have also been started to persuade Ghanaians to treat African-Americans more like “long-lost-relatives” than as “rich tourists.”

Sources:

Olaudah Equiano The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Ch 2

Polgreen, Lydia. (2005, Dec. 27). “Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora,” by Lydia Polgreen. New York Times.

Ropes, Alligators, and Markets Oh My!

Over the past few days we have been traveling around different parts of Ghana. We visited Kakum National Park’s canopy park when we were in Cape Coast. The walk across the narrow plywood held up by ropes would have scared me if I were afraid of heights. Lucky for me, I’m not. I’m quite the opposite. I love heights as long as there is something for me to hold on to. The rain clouds were hovering over us, so our guide and the rest of my group tried to rush through the ropes so much so that I could not stop and take in the view for very long. It was beautiful though. The lush forests below were filled with animals and unending trees. I wish I could have stayed for longer.

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Kakum Canopy Walk
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Feeding the Alligator

After the canopy walk, Winnie organized a trip to feed alligators. We walked over to the swamp that was surrounded by mosquitos with our guide. In one hand he held a bowl of chicken and in the other a stick. It reminded me of when I went fishing for piranhas in Peru. He would beat the water with the stick to get the alligator’s attention. Then, he would place a piece of chicken on the end of the stick and continue to taunt the alligator. We all got a chance to try! It was fun to see the alligators jump up into the air to bite the chicken off of the stick. They were about 6 feet long! In the water, they look much smaller than that. I would have imagined that the ropes and the alligators would have thrilled me the most, but the market did the trick.

The Kumasi market is the largest outdoor market in all of West Africa. We were not allowed to go anywhere without our guide who knew the ins and outs of the maze. At first, I was frustrated that we could not go on our own, but after entering I realized I would not have made it out without help! I felt like a toddler following the leader across the street. You could buy everything you could ever need at this market: clothes, shoes, accessories, food, furniture, etc. Each vender took up most of the walkways leaving only enough room for one or two people to pass by at once. And people moved quickly! Women and girls with large baskets or boxes filled with goods would scurry by us yelling, “Ago! Ago!” to let us know we were in their way. I have never been more overwhelmed in my life, but it was a good feeling. As long as I could see the person I was to follow, I was fine. We went to the market twice. The first day, I wore long pants, but the second time I wore shorts. When I was wearing shorts, the older women were not as friendly towards me, yelling at me and tugging at my shorts. Dr. Kwami also informed me that she noticed people questioning the insulin pump that I had on my arm! Overall, it was incredible experience, but one that was more enjoyable in pants. Many people asked me where I was from and told me I was welcome in Ghana. I felt the love of Ghanaians that everyone talks about. I had to get used to people tugging at my arms and touching my white skin, but I had a great time walking through the busy paths filled with the stench of dried fish. The Kumasi market is an experience that I will never forget.

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Kumasi Market

Kente and Adinkra

Today we learned all about kente cloth and adinkra symbols. Kente cloth originated in Kumasi, the capital of the Asanti people. Kente cloth used to be for royalty. The king and the chiefs used to wear it, but now anyone can wear it. However, the cloth does more than cover the body; it tells a story. Each pattern has a meaning. We learned some of the meanings of the patterns. My favorite was the kente that meant that a man loves a woman. They created this pattern for men in case they were too afraid to say that he loves a woman. The man can buy the kente, give it to her, and walk away without saying a word. Even though there are no words exchanged, the woman will know exactly what the man intended to say. There were so many patterns representing power, family, etc. The meanings seemed endless.

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Browsing through a Kente store
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Learning to Weave

After we learned about the patters, we had the chance to observe some weavers creating the cloth. Most weavers were male, which surprised me. Kente weaving is a difficult and respected craft. Men and women are both valued in this practice. Once we had seen the weavers, we had the opportunity to try it out for ourselves. We could not perform any patterns, so we simply constructed a single colored kente. It took your entire body to work the weave: your hands, feet, and brain…it can get a bit complicated. I thoroughly enjoyed it; it was relaxing to perform the same movements repeatedly. It lets you escape.

 

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Our Adinkra Symbols

We also got to see how adinkra symbols and the dyed ink are made. They take bark from a specific tree and grind it up. After it is ground, they heat it over a fire multiple times until they are left with a smooth consistency. Once you have the ink, you can dip the adinkra symbols into it and place it on your kente.

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Teeth and Tongue Symbol

Adinkra symbols have many meanings, just like kente. There are symbols that represent power, love, family, etc. The most prominent symbol that you see all over Ghana is the symbol of God is faithful, but my favorite one was the teeth and tongue symbol. It looks like an open mouth with teeth inside. Our teacher explained that without the tongue, the teeth are useless, and without the teeth so is the tongue. The teeth and tongue symbolizes teamwork. They are only powerful as a team; one without the other is pointless. I now have a greater appreciation and understanding of the kente cloth and adinkra symbols that decorate Ghanaian culture.

Marketplace Mayhem

I hear shouts of “Obroni,” “blonde baby” and loud hisses as I wind my way through the weavers, woodworkers, and shoemakers, sweat spilling out of every pore as the heat of the day, the heat of the cooking fires, and the heat of so many bodies presses in on me from all sides. I am assaulted with the smells of too many things I can’t name cooking, and people constantly drag on my arms and hands to come into their shops for “just a minute” because “it costs nothing to look.”

Overwhelming and intimidating as it is, the markets have never made me feel threatened. With my travel group, I went to Kumasi market, the largest open air market in all of West Africa. It had absolutely everything.

18671037_773981112776083_3623794950167067771_nEndless yards of every color of cloth, wood carvings of every animal imaginable, beads of every shape and size, and so many yams, spices, buckets of raw and bloodied meat, and yes even dried chameleons which I am told are for eating. One of the other students on my trip called it an outdoor Walmart.

I loved it. I loved the narrow paths, made of everything from dirt to wood to stone, we rushed through. I loved the passion and camaraderie of the people selling their wares. I loved the old women who shouted at the other women on my trip to cover their legs (fortunately, I learned my lesson and wore a long skirt).

A lecturer came to talk to my travel group about women in Ghana. She pointed out some things that I never noticed and now I can’t ignore. At first, I was impressed by the equality of gender in the markets. Even on the side of the road it seemed men and women were selling in equal number.

Although this observation was correct, what I failed to realize was the implications of what they were selling. The women are all selling local products like fried plantains, yams, and bottles of water and juice. The men are selling imported goods like chewing gum and electronics.IMG_5471
When picturing a businessperson, a man in a suit typically comes to mind. When importing products to Ghana, businesses typically sell their goods to men who they view as businessmen. This power imbalance means women make less money and have less opportunities to get ahead.