Afterward: Thoughts on Empathy

In my pre-departure journal, I spoke about race and racial stigmas or stereotypes that exist in the U.S. After reading it over again, I have realized that most of these feelings about race are due to guilt or blame. They happen because we dehumanize individuals by placing them into group that can only have a certain quality. My time in Ghana has taught me that stereotyping is only inaccurate because it is not the whole picture.

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A Nice Restaurant in Accra, Ghana

Examples of this are the West seeing Africa as a place ridden with Aids and poverty, and Africa only seeing the educational and economic opportunities in the West. Stereotyping happens between individuals as well. We see a part of someone and mistake it for all of him or her. In the U.S., we do this with race and ethnicity. We see how someone looks and we assume things about them, like how they should dress, talk, act, or think. We need to learn that every individual is unique and does not have to be one thing. People have so many layers that we overlook. One of my favorite poets, Madisen Kuhn, wrote, “you are a thousand things/ but everyone chooses/ to see the million things/ you are not.” In the U.S., we look at race and assume everything, but in Ghana, they look at where you are from and assume things.

Racism does not exist in Ghana. There are no racial biases. Everyone is treated equally. I think the reason for this is because no one feels guilty about who they are or who their ancestors were. They also do not put blame on anyone for the past. Their mentality is to move on, not to forget, but to put it in the past. One of the reasons I think this is so prevalent in Ghana is because they place blame on everyone for the slave trade, Europeans and Africans alike. It is not one group’s fault… Everyone is to blame so no one is. I will miss this attitude coming back into the U.S., and I will try to adopt this way of thinking.

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My Host Family

I will also miss my host family. They were so welcoming and hospitable. They truly cared about me and couldn’t wait for me to hangout with them. I wish we had more time together. My experience in my homestay taught me that standards are all relative and customs are different. Just because a family does not have a washing machine or AC does not mean that they are “poor.” This family had a larger house than I do. They have a cook, a doorman, etc. Standards are relative, and it is wrong to think that a family is worse off than you just because they don’t have the same things. Cultural expectations vary everywhere you go, and different does not mean bad, it just means different.

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Overall, Ghana taught me that you cannot assume things about people or places based on what the media, stereotypes, or others tell you. You have to go and discover the realities for yourself. That is why traveling is so important. Even if you cannot travel, get to know people from other cultures. I am part of the international student club on campus and I am also a language partner in iFACE, and these have been some of the greatest experiences. I have learned so much from my friends. Having friends from different cultures, ethnicities, and beliefs has instilled in me that different is not bad. Even if you disagree with someone, that does not make them your enemy. All people have good parts to them, and all people also have bad parts. I think that many issues in the U.S. could be easily solved if we acknowledged that “other” can be good. Democrats can be friends with republicans. Muslims can be friends with Christians. Most people are not as bad as the stereotypes would have you think. In my experience, empathy is key. You cannot always sympathize with everyone because you cannot understand what they are going through, but you can feel for them. You may never understand, but that does not mean that their feelings are invalid. Ghanaians know this, I know this, and I hope that one day the rest of the U.S. will too.

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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.

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.

Culture and Authenticity

Both “China in Africa” and “The Case for Contamination” reflect on the changes that societies undergo. Change is not always bad, and often the bad, even when it’s minute, overshadows the good. The first article follows the writer’s discovery of the multitude of Chinese in Ghana and some of the views Ghanaians have towards them. The second article argues that contamination of culture has always existed, is inevitable, and is necessary. It questions what is meant by cultural authenticity and rebuts the arguments against globalization.

“China in Africa” points out the large, and growing, population of Chinese immigrants living in Ghana. The article examines China’s role in Ghana, mostly pointing out the reporter’s discovery of the negative influences of the Chinese, but also pointing out some of the positive support from China. There are about 70,000 Chinese in Ghana, most of who manage or work for companies that export Ghana’s resources. The reporter, a Chinese citizen, was surprised at the news of illegal Chinese gold miners. The vibe that he got from the Ghanaians he met was negative towards China. However, some of Ghana’s financial and business newspapers have suggested, “enhancing its yuan trading capacity to provide an alternative to the dollar to importers who do business in China.” There are some positive benefits to the Chinese influence in Ghana. Beijing has provided many business opportunities and public aid to Ghana. The article claims that, “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, but if a man bites a dog, that is news.” This is a reminder that no matter how many good things China does for Ghana, the bad will always over shadow it. This article addresses the illegal mining and allocation of resources in Ghana by the Chinese, but it also reminds people of the good projects and business opportunities between the two countries.

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Arrested for Illegal Mining in Ghana

This article reminds me of America in some ways. I have always been critical of the international aid that the US prides itself on. I think that the government and the media try to cover up our flaws, so much so that we forget we have any. We are very nationalistic and unapologetic for who we are. As a kid, I always believed that America was the world’s savior; we were the measure of perfection. Of course, this is untrue. America’s entire history of success is only in existence because of the downfall of many other peoples. America, like China, likes to see the good they do, the help they provide for their allies, but other countries are quick to see our flaws. I used to never understand why other countries would dislike America, but it is because the bad always over shadows the good, no matter how much good there is.

for_blog_ghana_cell.jpg“The Case for Contamination” is an article that was written by a Ghanaian professor at Princeton University. He argues against those who think that “contamination” of culture is a problem. He explains how many Westerners think that people in less developed countries are loosing their authenticity by adapting to modernity. The article satirically explains that, “they act like the assistant on the film set who’s supposed to check that the extras in a sword-and-sandal movie aren’t wearing wristwatches.” These people think that globalization challenges cultural diversity. While the article sympathizes with the cultural change that occurs, it argues that we cannot force the people of those cultures to not adapt in the name of authenticity. Progress is inevitable anywhere. He explains that you can preserve cultural artifacts and even traditions, but you cannot force people to preserve their culture. Culture, by nature, changes as the people and time changes. “Societies without change aren’t authentic; they’re just dead.” Innovations always happen. Every society has taken parts of other societies and made it their own. All traditions were once innovations, and current societal worldviews were once taboo. These are the reasons for the case for contamination. Contamination has always existed and no one has the right to try and make people remain “authentic” because every tradition has been invented.

I have always been curious about what the Americas, Africa, or Asia would be like without Europe’s influence. I have always wanted to know what “authentic” culture would look like. This article was extremely convicting because it explains that no culture is authentic. No culture is completely their own. All culture, at some point, began and has progressed since then. It is quite interesting to think about. Even Europe has advanced by way of taking things from other cultures. We all learn from each other, thus it is irrational to try to force societies to not adapt.

Patriarchy and Socialization: The Language We Use

Today I experienced socialization at its finest. I saw and heard first hand how people learn gender roles and how language (especially in the media) can shape an entire culture.

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Ms. Armah and Our Group

Ms. Esther Armah from Webster University gave us a lecture this morning on women in the media. She spoke about the importance of the radio to Ghanaians. They have not always had liberated press, but since they now have the liberty to have radio that is not as regulated everyone listens to it. Every Ghanaian listens to morning radio. Thus, what the radio says and how they frame news has the ability to shape how people think about themselves and others in relation to society. The radio has the power of socialization in Ghana.

She continued to list all five major stations and told us that every single one has male dominated hosts. Occasionally, they will have women guests, herself included, but the majority of time a 52% female population is listening to how men frame the stories with their patriarchal language. Language is very powerful in storytelling. Change comes through language, but so does stagnation.

One example she gave to enhance our understanding was the way in which Ghanaians talk about rape. The males on the radio will hear about a rape case, and instead to saying, “pastor raped young girl,” they will say, “young girl had sex with pastor.” This is all about education. There is no sex education other than scientific reproduction taught in school or abstinence taught in church. There are no safe places to talk about safe sex and what that looks like in an emotionally and physically healthy way. Not to say that sex outside of marriage does not happen, but people do not talk about it. Education is key and knowing what type of language to use can shape the ways in which people think about sex.

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There was a story about a young girl who probably had a mental disorder. She kept hearing voices, could not focus in school, and could not sleep at night. Her parents concluded that she was plagued by a demon, so they took her to their pastor to see if he could fix her. Ms. Armah told us that pastors sometimes use the cloak of religion to justify sexually assaulting women. This pastor claimed that he could not fix the girl in a day, but he could see what he could do if she moved in with him and his wife. For the next three months she lived with the pastor, and he impregnated her against her will. When the parents found out, their reaction was not to report the rape and incriminate the pastor. Rather, they thought about the reputation of the girl instead of her safety. The parents insisted that the pastor marry their daughter so she would not loose her reputation. This is a reflection of the culture and the way that these parents were taught to think about these issues of rape. They were taught to not have illegitimate children, so their daughter must marry her attacker. This story was all over the radio. They were blaming the victim and using words like “sex” instead of rape to speak about the issue. Before the marriage could happen, the girl’s family heard of the pastor marrying another girl, so they rushed to the wedding. The fifteen-year-old girl walked in on the marriage of the pastor to another teenager who he had raped and impregnated as well. The media had a frenzy over this story and made it comedic. They laughed at the fact that she walked in on another wedding and framed the story to make the fifteen year old sound like a gold-digger who did not get the pastor for herself like she had planned. They made the girl sound like she wanted to be raped and impregnated by this man and that she did not do a good enough job following through with her plan because she did not end up marrying him.

The language the radio uses feeds the continuation of the way in which Ghanaians, both male and female, think about rape. Men hear these stories and think they can get away with raping younger women. It is on-air pornography. Women hear these stories and teach themselves to think that they are always to blame. It normalizes rape because it is seen as the same thing as sex. If there were education to teach the difference and teach people the words to use, society itself would eventually shift its ideology. (I would like to point out that it is unfair to read this story and think that all Ghanaian pastors act accordingly.)

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The DJ at a Radio Station

After the lecture, we went to Joy FM, one of the largest radio and TV stations in Ghana, and got to see sexism played out. We spoke with one female and one male reporter in the newsroom, and both genders confirmed the sexism in the workforce without even knowing it. We talked to the woman first about how she got her position and why she felt that there were not as many women in her field. She spoke about how she had to toughen up for her job. She had to take on male roles and not always act like a woman for her position. When we questioned the man, he said that he would love to have more women in journalism and broadcasting, but he told us that the males were not the problem, women were. It is not that people are not hiring women; it is that women are not applying for the jobs. He said that women do not want to do fieldwork. They do not want to have to talk with politicians because they don’t want to have to deal with them looking down upon them. He said that most women could not handle the position.

All this was said, and they both thought they were for women’s rights in the workforce. The whole problem is not that they are against women working; it is that women don’t feel like they can. They don’t think they will be respected or valued. This is a problem of the society as a whole and how it molds gender roles. Women should not have to change who they are or how they act for a position. Sure, a woman can become more confident, but that does not make her more “male.”

As I thought about the ways in which change comes through education, media, and overall socialization, I began to realize the ways in which I was angered by how the journalists spoke was because of the way I was socialized to think about gender roles. I grew up in a family with an equal balance of power between my parents. They definitely had different roles they chose to play, but it was not that my dad had all the powerful ones leaving the weaker ones to my mom. In fact, most of the time I would only ask my mom questions about what I could and couldn’t do because I knew my dad would just tell me to ask my mom. Because I grew up in a household with a confident, powerful, and strong female role model, I became frustrated that the journalists were assuming that women had to change who they were and become more masculine to be strong. I will never know if one way to think about gender roles is better than the other because I am biased…Everyone is. You always think your way is better. So, yes, I think that there needs to be more opportunities for males and females alike to learn how to see each other as powerful in their own individual ways, not based on gender but based on each person, but I cannot rationally defend that argument because it is the way I feel, not “truth.” The way the Ghanaians have been socialized is not bad or evil; it’s just different. I might think it is unfair, but that is based on what I am comparing it to. They might feel the same way about American culture. Who knows?

Disconnects Between Government and People

“Ghana’s uneasy embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora” and “Ghana: Soft Control of the Press” both speak about some of the disconnects between law and reality. There are bound to be differences between the government and people because what is written might not always be what is thought, and what is politically beneficial might not be what the people agree with. The first article explains the discrepancies between Ghanaian government and its population in respect to the feelings towards the diaspora. The second article articulates the control the government still holds over the press even though the law gives them no official power.

“Ghana’s uneasy embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora” talks about the perceptions that Ghanaians have towards African Americans and people of the diaspora. Ghana has been trying to be the “door of return” for those people who were sold into slavery. Ghana is planning on offering lifetime visas for diaspora members so as to welcome them to Ghana. However, this is the Ghanaian state and its political goals. It does not necessarily match up with the views of the people. The article continues to explain that many Ghanaians still view diaspora members as foreigners and refer to the as “obruni” or “white foreigner.” Ghanaians find it hard to see them as family members because they come from a different culture, which is so important to them. In addition, Ghanaians don’t understand why African Americans would want to return to Ghana. While they think that slavery was painful, some may believe that it was worth it and better than having remained in Ghana because they get to live in America.

“Ghana: Soft Control of the Press” discusses the current ways in which the press is controlled in Ghana. Since independence, Ghana has liberalized its media. Before, there had been many laws and little freedom for the press. People have romanticized the idea of their freedom of speech because there is still control over the press; it is just soft control. Soft control is when the system favors certain types of journaling and hands out unofficial rewards for it, while the system punishes the journaling that criticizes the system by making it difficult to do so. Journalists’ success is based off of who they know and keeping those people happy. If you anger the wrong people, you can be fired in an instant. Whereas, if you write the things the state favors, you can be promoted just as fast. This is soft control because it is unofficial, yet everyone knows it exists. It is not law, but people live by it. The article explains that, “Ghana’s press is like an old man. We gum the government but never bite it.” They allude to the big questions and avoid the smaller, specific ones, ones that can get them into trouble if they dig too deep.

images.jpegThis can be seen anywhere. In any democracy there will be censorship and some sort of restrictions on what you can say. Even if you are a private institution, to be successful you must please the masses and not get backlash from people in power. Soft control of the press is not exclusive to Ghana; it is the US as well, and I am not surprised by it.
images.jpegI found the first article extremely intriguing. The part where it said that some Ghanaians might feel that they got the short end of the stick when compared to African Americans even though they did not have to endure slavery really shocked me. It made me think about the ways in which the slave trade affected Ghana specifically. Colonization and slave exportation caused Ghana to not develop at the same rate as other nations. Ghana has only been a country for 60 years, and during that time there have been numerous coups and government unrest. Ghana has not had a chance to fully develop or industrialize because of colonization. Yes, slavery was horrific in the states, but to Ghanaians, America is now the land of opportunity for everyone no matter what skin color. They fail to realize that lack of reparations African Americans received and the block busting and redlining that still shapes the ways in which neighborhoods and school districts are set up. They don’t recognize the racism and unfairness that blacks have to continually face even though segregation has “technically” been abolished. It is similar to the soft control of the press in Ghana. The law has made all men equal and banned slavery and segregation, but there is sometimes a disconnect with the people. Just because a law changes does not mean that people automatically shift their views and actions to match it. People in both America and Ghana suffer in some way due to the slave trade, but both think the grass is greener on the other side.

The second article did not surprise me. I feel like no matter how much freedom of speech a country claims to allow, there will always be people in power that others have to please. Someone is always in charge, and that someone never likes to be angered. He or she might allow people to anger him or her, but that does not mean that people will do it. Even in America there is soft control. The media is only as successful as the people make it. They appeal to the masses and tell them what they want to hear even if it’s fake news. Media needs backup from the government and the people to stay successful. Success is always based off of pleasing others. Often times reporting certain things is made less appealing so people don’t do it. Soft control is everywhere when there is a lack of hard control. It does not surprise me that it exists in Ghana too, especially since the country is so young.

Krofu and Déjá Vu: The Feeling of Guilt

We used Krofu for social media and they used us for money.

Krofu is a rural village that we visited for a few hours on our way back from Cape Coast. As we drove into their settlement, I was excited, nervous, and frustrated. I was told we would be doing community service for their community, which made me uneasy. I began to have flashbacks to my trip I took to the Dominican Republic freshman year of high school. During my mission trip there, I stayed in a five star hotel and visited two different communities every day. The entire duration of the experience I bottled up the guilt in my heart. I felt guilty about staying in nice rooms with hot showers, big beds, air-conditioning, and unlimited food while the people we “served” lived without those luxuries. In addition, I loathed that we traveled to new places twice a day. We never formed relationships with any of the families that we visited because we only spent three hours with them. We drove to the villages, played a few games with the kids, and left them in the dust of our tracks. We did not provide any medical help, construction, or food, yet they treated us like superstars and threw themselves upon us. That trip was one of the worst experiences of my life, and unfortunately my experience at Krofu seemed like a flashback to those exact feelings of guilt and intrusion. 

The Village

When we first arrived, we stepped out of the bus and followed Winifred to a small room where all of the elders and the chief were sitting waiting for us. We all shook hands and sat down to form a full circle. The chief’s spokesman welcomed us and spoke about their gratefulness and excitement for us coming to Krofu. He told us all about the school in the village and their need for a library. He informed us that we would be assisting them with the continuation of the library.

The men from the village began mixing cement and bringing out block molds. We were directed to carry some blocks from a pile over to the structure. Most of the students on the trip were very excited to get involved and help out, but not me. I could not bring myself to help. I kept questioning everything we were doing and our motives. I stood in the midst of it all. As I looked around, I could not remove the cape of guilt that tugged on my neck.

The Point

Why were we there? Why did they need us to help them? We were not strong. We did not have any experience building a library. We had walked in, disrupted their entire school and work schedule, pretended to assist them with construction, stood around with the kids pulling our fingers off, and then left sooner than we came. I asked Winnie why we were there. She told me the Aya Center has a relationship with the community and that every group that comes to the center donates a portion of money to Krofu. I was excited that we were able to make contributions to fund the library. I think it is an incredible project, but I still didn’t understand why we were there. Winnie continued to tell me that the Aya Center wanted to make sure the community was using the money to continue the construction of the library. She bought the supplies for them, instead of handing them cash. I think the reason why she brought us to the community was to see who we were donating money to and to form a relationship with them so that we can hold book drives in the US to fill their library. I still don’t know how I feel about that. I keep struggling with the situation.

Using Each Other

I feel like we used Krofu for our own ends, yet I feel like they were using us at the same time. They welcomed us into their homes and made us feel welcome, but they only did that because they wanted money and books from us. When I was talking with a group of kids, every single one of them came up to me and asked me if they could have a piece of my jewelry. When I would say no, they would ask for another piece and another until there was none left. They would get mad at me for not offering it up to them. I wanted to leave, or I wanted to stay for a month. We did not form any relationships with the people there, and now I am expected to have a heart for them? I just don’t get it. It’s too forced and impersonal.

We used them too. Our motives were impure. We have learned about the ethics that should be employed when taking pictures. I felt weird about not knowing any of the people personally and taking pictures of them, so I left my phone on the bus. I did not take a single photo there because I did not feel comfortable doing so. I did not want them to think that I was just coming to their village to take pictures of their circumstances, and I did not want people at home to think that I was just tying to look good helping people. I am not going to address all of the other people taking pictures of the kids and posting them on Instagram, but it frustrated me to no end.

I am still uneasy about the book drive and the media we posted. I am still afraid that people are going to get the wrong idea about the purpose of our trip. I still cannot forget that feeling of guilt that suffocated me.

Misperceptions of Africa in the Media

Both “How to Write About Africa” and “The Worst of Journalism” address the problems with how The West portrays Africa. Africa is not a country; it’s a continent filled with thousands of ethnicities and cultures. As I was preparing for my trip to Ghana, I would tell people I was traveling here for a study abroad opportunity. They would respond, “Wow! You’re going to Africa!” They would always say the word “Africa,” not “Ghana.” Africa is seen as one homogenous place that is only filled with starving children and safaris. This is problematic. We need to think differently about the continent by giving the people their own voice.

“How to Write About Africa” satirically talked about all the ways in which people usually write about the African continent. Africa has fifty-four countries and 900 million people. They act like it’s one country with starving, poor, tribal people who need Western help from NGOs, etc. Books are never written about the intellectuals in any parts of Africa. Nothing is spoken of about the progress and development that the countries have undergone, the good education, or the people who live healthily and comfortably. We only hear about people who “need” our help. The article sarcastically states that, “Africa is to be pitied, worshiped, or dominated…Africa is doomed.”

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The second article, about the CBS reports, criticizes the news of only speaking about Africa when there are natural disasters or disease epidemics. In addition, we only hear about these things from white reporters who never interview the locals; they only show the “voiceless” Africans in the distance. This type of news portrays the continent of Africa in a way that causes the West to view it as a place where they cannot fend for or speak up for themselves. Biased news causes stigmas to occur and racism to continue. It alters our perception of the truth and reality. News like this encourages us to think that Africans need Western help.Media-in-Africa-2.jpg

International aid, NGOs, and missions trips are things I have been struggling to justify recently. The book When Helping Hurts highlights the main reasons of me thinking in this way. There is so much need in America that many people refuse to come to terms with. My mom always talks about how people could be volunteering in their own communities that need it rather than wasting money traveling just to do the same thing. I love the book Kisses From Katie because she took a leap of faith and moved to Uganda to work with some of the people in the villages there. She ended up making a huge difference, but Mama Maggie is more admirable to me. Mama Maggie gave up her wealth in Egypt and began a school to help the Egyptians living in the garbage communities there. She dedicated her life to her own people and her own community rather than moving somewhere else. I dream of doing something like that in my own community one day. However, I am traveling to Ghana and India (in the fall). I am going to document what I see. I don’t think it’s wrong to write about what you experience. It is bad to document something out of pity, but it is also not good to romanticize something. There are so many places, far from home and in our own backyard, that evoke our empathy, but we can also learn so many truths, values, and ways of life from them. That’s why I travel, not to feel sorry for people, not to help them, but to allow them to help me, to learn new ideas, and see new perspectives through new contexts. We can only learn new things if we give those people voices. All of Africa needs to be heard in their individual and unique voices.

Castles and Christianity

The past two days I have spent at Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles. I knew that these days were going to be emotionally hard going in, but experiencing it in person was far worse than I ever could have prepared myself for. Both castles were almost replicas of

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Stairs from the Women’s Dungeon

each other. They had pure white washed walls that jutted straight up into the air. The highest level was for the governor of the castle. He lived in the highest room that overlooked the entire structure. In both castles, there was a balcony that allowed him to view some of the women’s dungeons. This was so that he could easily pick a woman to sleep with. There was even a special staircase leading from his bedroom to where the women were kept for this function.

The entire experience consisted in constant juxtaposition. Everyone kept saying how beautiful the castles were, and they are. They are gorgeously crafted and architecturally structured. The views of the ocean and the surrounding towns are incredible. It was psychologically conflicting to wrestle with the paradox of it all. I wanted to take pictures, and I did. We all did because of how gorgeous it was. But then we went through the tunnels and cages underground, first the women’s dungeons and then the men’s.

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View from the Governor’s Room
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The Room of Death

As we declined, we had to use our flashlights to watch our step because there were limited light sources and as well as little ventilation. The stench was still awful. We learned that hundreds of people would be kept in each cell that was about size of a large dorm room. They could not see anything expect the peeping squares near the ceilings of the dungeons where soldiers would watch over them and occasionally throw down food to keep them alive. There were no bathrooms, only a small declining groove in the floor for the feces to flow down to the ocean. One of the things that stood out the most to me was the build up of all of it. In one room, renovators had scrapped up all of the feces that had hardened on top of the ground. Once they finally found the brick floor, the ground level had declined

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One of the Male Dungeons

about 2 whole feet. In all of the other dungeon rooms, they left the build up to show the difference. It became real to me in that moment. Realizing the extent of the suffering, the darkness, the lack of amenities, and the sloshing around in 2 feet of feces, the constant supervision of the soldiers from the peepholes, and the confinement all became real. In one of the rooms, they had a recording of women screaming and crying. I felt nauseous and could not keep from imagining real people in this very excruciating situation. Real people who died there and were thrown into the ocean without burial. Real people who retaliated and were executed. Real people who died during the voyage to America. Real people who suffered even more during their enslavement in the plantations. Real people who were the grandparents and great-grandparents, etc. of some of my friends. These people were real and going to these castles made it come alive for me, more than a history textbook.

All of this injustice was juxtaposed with the beauty of the castles, along with the churches that were built atop the very dungeons where people were dying. The churches and the Bible verses that dwelled within these slaughterhouses made me think about how people can use religion to justify their own evildoings. I kept thinking to myself, “How can there be a church in the midst of all this evilness? How can there be verses above the bed where the governor would rape women?” In Cape Coast Castle, soldiers were forced to pass the peephole into the male dungeons before entering the church because of the structure of the doors. It is crazy to me how these people could claim Christianity while continuing the slave trade.

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The Church in the Center of Elmina

This whole experience made me think about other religious radicals like the KKK, ISIS, etc. All of these types of groups use religion as a justifier for their actions even when the religion doesn’t justify it. I began to think about all that I had learned in my Faith and Ethics course. We learned how interpretation is based on what you want to hear and how you were socialized to hear it. I think that there is a lot of injustice in the world, there always has been, and there always will be, and religion will always be a source of comfort and justification for it.