Fish Eyes, Funerals, and Sexism

Today we visited an art gallery. There were so many beautiful tapestries, beads, masks, and paintings.

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Carvings from the Art Gallery

I learned that certain beads are used to wrap around girls’ waists before they go through puberty. The beads are believed to shape your waists and make you thinner. Once you hit puberty, there is a traditional celebration where you show off your beads from under your clothes and show off your body. This celebration is symbolic for becoming a woman. The gallery also had some caskets. In Ghana, people like to go out in style. One casket we saw was shaped as a train and one was a tennis shoe. They are representative of the passions of the people who passed. It is believed that when people die their spirit lives on forever, but it only remains if your body is also on earth. This is why cremation does not exist in Ghana.

After the art gallery, we drove to Aburi, an area in the mountains. This area generates all of the electricity that the country uses. On the way, we saw a funeral procession. Black and red tents sheltered hundreds of Ghanaians who arrived for the event. We learned that people have to donate money to the family to help pay for the funeral because they are so extravagant. Funerals are not only occasions for mourning; they are also places for celebration and connecting with people. This is due to the fact that the funeral is held many months after the death to let people properly mourn and meticulously plan the event. Dr. Kwami told us she has been offered jobs on multiple occasions at funerals! She also mentioned that wealthier people are known to have their outfits changed several times to show off their wealth after their death.

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A Funeral Seen from the Bus

As Uncle Solo drove us up the mountains, we passed Bob Marley’s old house! We also saw a man asleep in the back of a truck… We were not completely convinced that he was still alive, but Dr. Kwami told us otherwise. We got to see the whole city of Accra from the top of the mountain. It was incredible. One major thing I noticed today was the stark stratification of wealth between people here. Nice, large houses are gated with barbed wire that rest right beside small houses that are falling apart.

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Lunch and Mary Kate

We finally got to the top, and we visited the Aburi Botanical Gardens. Before the tour we had a delicious lunch of the normal rice, chicken, and plantains, but they also provided beans, which were so yummy. There was also fish, and Amani and I got to try the eye!! It wasn’t that bad, but I didn’t enjoy the hard spot in the center.

During our tour, we saw so many beautiful flowers and trees. There was one plant that closed when you touched it. We also got to see cocoa trees that were brought from South America, and cocoa is now one of the largest influences in the Ghanaian economy. The person who brought the seeds over had to do it illegally buy eating them and then pooping them out! Our tour guide was extremely patriarchal and a bit sexist, which frustrated many of us. He kept talking about how women are weak and men are strong, how men have to do everything for women, how women are fragile like flowers, and much more. I had to remind myself that he thinks that way because of the way he was raised and how his culture taught him to view gender roles. I could not be mad at him because he was genuinely not trying to offend us; rather I had to direct my anger at the society that enforced those ideas. At one point, our guide showed us a hibiscus. He went on and on talking about how women should like the hibiscus and know its name because we are like it. He asked all the girls on our trip if we liked flowers, and we all just stared at him speechless. Then Jake broke the silence by stating, “I like flowers!!” We all laughed as our guide stood in disbelief. The guide was difficult to listen to and respect, but Jake broke the awkwardness and made it a funny experience that turned into a good memory rather than a bad one.

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Independence and Kwame Nkrumah

Today we woke up and had breakfast consisting of papaya, pineapple, mango (so so good), oatmeal that tasted salty (almost like grits), and an omelet sandwich type thing. I was very satisfied! So far, the food has reminded me so much of Peru! After breakfast, we went to the mall to exchange our money. The exchange rate is about 1 to 4. We then took a bus tour of the city. The streets were well paved, but I was afraid our driver, Uncle Solo, was going to accidentally steer into the large gutters on the side of the roads. We saw the independence monument and some others.

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Black Star Square

We also got a tour of the University of Ghana, which educates 40,000 students! It was huge! At the bookstore there, one of the male students made conversation with me as I was browsing through the sociology section. He asked what I was doing in Ghana and how long I was staying. He encouraged me to move to Accra and attend the university. After about 2 minutes of small talk like that he proceeded to ask if I was married, why I wasn’t, why I didn’t at least have a fiancée, etc. Ghanaians are bold to say the least! It was humorous.

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Ghana’s First President’s Memorial

We also went to the grave and museum dedicated to the first president of Ghana. Ghana gained independence on March 6th, 1957, and Kwame Nkrumah lead the country from then until 1966. The most shocking thing I learned was that he was exiled from Ghana during his presidency as he was on a trip outside of the country. For a while, people believed that the coup that took over while he was gone consisted of Ghanaians did not like him, but later, after more investigation, they found out that the CIA was responsible for the it. The US stepped in because they feared Ghana would become communist. Kwame had some socialist views and met with the leaders of Cuba and the USSR. This is why the US stepped in. Ironically, we never learn about this in school… I’m not surprised. Kwame wanted to unite all of Africa. His pan-African views are still in the hearts of many Africans today. He wanted a common currency and a common voice for the continent of Africa, so that Africa could become stronger united (similar to the UN). He recognized the problem of exportation and importation- that Africans did not use their own products, and vice versa. He sought to stop all trade outside of Africa so that they could use their own products, be self-sustaining, and economically efficient. He wanted to make Africa and Ghana a stronger power in the world.

After the tours, we had lunch and then had a lecture by Dr. Kofi Baku, a history professor at the University of Ghana. We learned that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was not the first slave trade in Africa; in fact it was the fourth. There was the Trans-Sahara, Red Sea, and Indian Sea trades that all play a part of the history of Islamic influences and the cause of the Trans-Atlantic trade in Africa. All these trades began before, occurred during, and continued after the Trans-Atlantic one. Gold had been entering Europe for centuries from those slave trades. The Middle Eastern invaders would take gold and slaves from Ghana and other parts of Africa, and the gold along with the slaves would be traded to southern Europe. In 1471, the Portuguese landed in Ghana and discovered the long anticipated source of the gold. Originally, the Europeans came for the gold, not the slaves. They wanted to colonize the Gold Coast because of its resources. The ivory and gold trade occurred from 1471-1600. Once America was colonized, the need for slaves originated. There was much production and a lack of hands. No records were kept of the number of slaves departing from Africa, but about 12.5-15 million slaves were recorded arriving alive. About 10% are believed to have been from Ghana. Slaves were mixed up by region so as not to be able to communicate and conspire with each other. We learned that slaves were obtained in six different ways, all of those ways involving Africans capturing other Africans and selling them to the whites. This is because the whites were afraid to leave their forts since they did not know the area and because they would easily die from Malaria. Higher up Africans would betray their own people sometimes and sell them into slavery to feed their greed for money and power. They often traded humans for firearms, and these weapons increased their power. We learned many other ways of capturing slaves, the effects it had on Africa, and the effects it had on the West. We also talked about how the whites, especially Christians, justified slavery. The story of Cain and Able was mainly used. Cain killed Able, and because of his wrongdoings God cursed him and exiled him. Cain is said to have gone to Africa. Thus, Africans are the descendants of Cain. Christians used this rhetoric to justify abusing and capturing Africans.

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Slave Trades Out of Africa

After a nap, we went to dinner at Chez Afrique, a restaurant owned by Dr. Williams’ wife Mama Afia. There was a live band and lots of good food. All in all, a good experience. We ate. We danced. We laughed. Ghanaians are not afraid to dance. It was so fun watching everyone and experiencing such rich culture. I danced with Winifred, our guide form the Aya Center. She is so lively and happy. Amani convinced me to try to eye of the fish we were eating, but because it was a buffet, by the time I built up enough courage it was gone! Next time I will do it… Maybe!

En Route to Ghana

I have never been to Africa, but I’ve always wanted to go because it is part of the world that has such diverse and embellished cultures. I have met a few people in the US that are from Ghana who have created a desire in me to visit because of their extraverted and joyous personalities. I am excited to learn as much as I can on this trip, especially about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and many racial topics dealing with identity and sociology. Race has been something that has peaked my interest over the last few years because people have so many differing perceptions of it based on how a society chooses to frame it. Race is more than color; it is a way of life. How you view race is a type of ideology. It is how you dress, how you talk, how you act. It is where you are from. The way you identify with a certain race can be influenced by how others of that race treat you (whether they “accept” you or not).

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I remember my freshman year a girl talking about how she often felt like an outsider in the black community because of the way she thought other black individuals perceived her. She felt like they did not fully accept her as one of them because she said she dressed and talked “white.” She was not part of any black organizations on campus; rather she was part of a PanHellenic sorority of which the majority of the members are white. She made white friends, so she felt like the other black individuals on campus disowned her in a way. On the other hand, she also did not feel completely accepted in the white community either because her skin was not white. Her skin was black, but because she acted “white,” she felt excluded from the black community, yet no matter how much she tried to fit in with the white crowd she would never be white.

ht_oreo_cookie_jef_120301_wmain.jpgI also remember a guy I used to know being called an Oreo because was technically black, but acted like he was white. He was black on the outside but white on the inside. People would say that he was the whitest black person they knew. Now he’s on the step team in college and somehow that allowed him to take back his “black card.”

Race is all about your perception. People are treated differently in different places based on the color of their skin but also based on how they act and where they are from. For example, in some parts of Africa they treat African Americans more like outsiders than whites even though the whites were the colonizers. Some Africans don’t consider African Americans black at all; they are not white either. They are called foreigners just the same as anyone else. In one of our readings, I learned that Ghanaians have the perception that white people can’t do anything for themselves. This may be one of the reasons why Ghanaians pay more attention to white people. Race is about credibility. It can be something to be proud of, but it can also cause shame and denial. One of my friends recently told me that her mom used to scold her for standing in the sun for too long. Her mom didn’t want her to get too dark. Why did it matter? Why does it matter? That may be easy for me to say as a white individual, but it should not matter, but because of history it does. Dark people are trying to become lighter, yet white people are trying to become darker. We go to tanning salons and are often teased for being so pale. I am sometimes called a ghost. When I act “white,” I am labeled a basic white girl.

images.jpegOnce, a friend told me she was ashamed that she was white. I pretended that what she said shocked me, and I told her to be proud of who she is and that she was not the root of the problem. I think she felt this way because some of her friends had come to visit her house and started making fun of her wealth saying things like “this is a perfect example of white privilege.” I reminded her that her parents worked for what they had and that she should not feel guilty for being blessed with her circumstances. However, if I am honest with myself, I feel the same way she does more often than not. White people should not feel guilty for being white, and black people should not feel the need to change who they are in any way. Everyone should take pride in who they are and not let the past dictate how they act or feel in the present. Past generations should not dictate how we treat each other now, but they do.

I still feel like I have to act and say certain things to make some of my black friends feel comfortable around me. I feel like I have to prove to them that I am not racist and that I see them as equals. I don’t like to talk about racism towards white people because it is so small and irrelevant in comparison to the awful history of black racism, but it does exist. I can understand why, although that does not justify it. Some black people hate white people because of the experiences they have encountered. It is true that some whites still wave the Confederate flag and think poorly of African Americans, but not all of us do. My freshman roommate did not think fondly of me in the beginning of that year, and she didn’t have to tell me directly to figure that out (although at the end of the year she did). We both learned a lot from each other. Race can be what you look like but how you act plays a role too. A boy I know tells me that I am a small white girl with a large black woman trapped inside me.image.jpg Why can’t I just be me? Why does my attitude have anything to do with a color? Why do I so often wish that I was not white so people would not accuse me of buying my way instead of earning it? How come a kid at my internship in the public housing in South East, DC last summer asked me why I was white? I know why so many black families live below the poverty line, but how can we fix the cycle? How do we define fairness? Where do we begin? How do we move past racial stigmas and be proud of who we are and where we’re going in a country with a history like ours? Maybe Ghana will teach me something new.

Dr. Kwami asked us what some of our fears were in our last meeting before our departure. I am afraid that I will be given special treatment in Ghana. I hate that; I like knowing that I’ve earned something and that I’m getting what I deserve. I don’t want people to think of me in relation to my ancestry and skin color. I am interested to see the levels of wealth and technology in Ghana. From what I hear it is not too poor, but I’m wondering whether it is being compared to other African countries of the US. I am also excited to learn more about Ghanaian independence, their perceptions of race, and how they view Europeans and Americans. I wonder if they hold us on a pedestal like in Latin America, or if there is some tension.

Traveling shapes how you think and who you become. I am ready to be challenged, torn apart, and put back together.