Trouvaille

Trouvaille is a word from the french language meaning, “a chance encounter with something wonderful”. This is exactly how I would describe my time in Ghana.  My time in Ghana was purely wonderful, as I got to meet many amazing people, be immersed in a different culture, as well as move past challenges.  This trip was a chance to not only explore a new country, but explore myself.

An Inward Look

One of the ways I was able to find myself in Ghana was reestablishing my love of telling stories.  On our trip my main focus was to get to know the people as well as immerse myself in the culture.  For example, when I interviewed Esi Atta,  I felt a connection with her.  Although establishing a connection with a person you are interviewing is expected, I did not anticipate the emotion I would feel from her interview.  We had a language barrier between us and yet when her eyes met mine, I could understand where her heart was at.  One of the main things I learned while being in Ghana was that language barriers do not limit communication or interactions.

Take Away’s

I learned many things on my trip therefore,  here is a list of “take away’s” I gathered from my Ghanaian experiences:

  • When I walked off the airplane, I felt a gush of hot air. I thought to myself “it won’t be this hot everyday” I was wrong!
  • All the food contains some level of spice
  • PDS – Public Display of Sweating is totally fine and not considered gross since it is so hot
  • Women selling things off the side of the road to cars is a common sight (you can buy things very cheaply!)
  • Welcoming someone is very exciting in Ghana and typically said powerfully by the word “akwaaba”
  • Coca-Cola taste so much better in Ghana because of the natural sugar they use to make the soda
  • Peanut Butter Soup is the most delicious soup I have ever had and I miss it insanely
  • Futbol is a passion, dream, as well as a necessity in Ghana’s culture
  • Ghanaian kids will call you “obruni” which means white person, but they mean it in an endearing, loving way

Although there are many things that I learned or took away from this trip, I could never express all the memories or every single way I grew.  The Ghanaian people are full of love for life and one of my goals is to carry that back home with me.

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Post-Ghana: What I’ve Learned

After returning to U.S. Soil for the first time in almost a month, I was finally back home to New York. It certainly felt different coming home then it did leaving May 10th for the airport. Those were some of the quickest three weeks of my life. Part of that was because of how occupied we were throughout the trip, and I mean that in a good way. From seeing Radio and TV Stations, to weekly reflections and blog posts, to staying with our homestay families, and to making short documentaries connected to our multimedia projects, the days were filled with things to do. Reflecting on this study away, I have come back a better and more mature individual, with a better grip on digital media and understanding of how Ghanaians view America, and what media aspects influence these views.

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Me and Jacob with Grandpa Albert before leaving for the airport.

In terms of the home culture expectations, I did not know what to expect going into it. Because I was one of the two guys going on the trip, I pictured to be with an older women who had grandchildren who came over to play. I soon found out that that was not the case. I had an older couple as homestay grandparents, however the man was more vocal and engaging when me and Jacob were around. Although my perception of the home culture differed from reality, I loved every second of my time there. I got to be very close with Grandpa Albert, and learned a lot about who he was when he was younger, and gained wisdom on the importance of education. We bonded so much that Jacob and I made a short documentary on his life and what we got out of the experience.

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Outside of the GBC Radio Station in Accra.

Many of my expectations going into the trip were that I would be getting exposure to digital media in the form of multimedia projects that could potentially involve making a documentary of some sort. Throughout the trip, I learned vital components that are essential to making videos of that sort, which include b-rolls and white balancing the lens. I was also able to incorporate my own music as a background track in both the multimedia story video and the short documentary that Jacob and I made on Grandpa Albert. Like I have mentioned in pervious reflections, this trip has helped prepare me mentally for what Digi Comm will expect from me going into the fall of my Sophomore year. These new skills will also look great on my resume, and will be great to reference to future employers in the digital media field who are hiring graduating seniors with this kind of background.

Many people back home thought I was going on this trip to do service projects and provide aid to the people there. Although we did do a service project, that can be very misleading. This May experience was designed to gain knowledge of Ghanaian media and culture, so when we went to that service project at that small village in Krofu, we did not just help build a library. We helped build a library, and built relationships with the chief and participated in traditional Ghanaian dances with the children. So were the expectations I had of this program abroad met? Yes, indeed they were.

ALL IN ONE

There are so many different and precious things I’ve encountered during my stay in Ghana and I cannot even believe that I am officially done with this May Experience trip. To me, yesterday seems like the day we said goodbye to people, when we gave hugs to each other, wishing everyone to have a good summer and promising to hangout again next semester. Right now I am required to write one more reflection about my trip, and I am not feeling weird because of having so many thoughts want to share with you all.

This trip is mixed with adventurous experiences, gaining brand new cultural experiences, having moved moments and making friends with people you’ve never get a chance to make friends with. One of the most memorable days for me was celebrating Jake’s 19th birthday. It was such an unforgettable day with lots of smiling faces, delicious food and wonderful birthday wishes. No one knew how much effort

Dr. Kwami needs to contribute to this surprising birthday celebration for Jake. We went to a very nice restaurant called Coco Lounge. And this place gave me a completely different perspective of perceiving Ghana. It is more like an international place with different races of people and different languages. This restaurant is decorated with super stunning celling, hundreds of vases arranging on the wall, and modern dining furniture. Jake’s birthday was surprised with a special dinner dance, mixed berry cream cake, and ice-cream. On the last few days we also did quite a few adventurous things. The first journey we’ve conquered was hiking to Wli Waterfalls, which is also the highest waterfall in West Africa. 18740760_775725669268294_3787010149103372433_nEveryone was involved in this “cool” adventures: my friends jumped into the rivers and experiencing some cold water feelings to remove these accumulated overheated bodies. Dr. Kwami was the only faculty member who went swimming in the water. I can see the joy and enjoyable smiles on her face. We also had an interesting monkey feeding experience. I’ve only seen monkey in a cage before and I’ve never thought about letting it sit on my arm. The monkey experience reminds of the relationship between human and nature: peaceful, which forms a huge contrast in China..

 

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I love the hospitality of people in Ghana. I love Winne and uncle Solo for sure, and I can see that how much effort they put into during this trip. Every single time when we got off the bus and got lunch, uncle always waited on the bus and ate after we ate. I really really wanted to ask him to eat with us, but I know that is a “Ghanaian thing:” people just never eat with people. Same circumstance happened in my host family. My host parents do not eat either with their children or us. The cook in my host family only cooks food for us, but never sits and eats with us even we asked for. So far I’ve only been eating with my host brother once, which is kind of disappointed. However, this is a part of Ghanaian culture, and we have to accept that because we were in Ghana. Even though sometimes we felt a little bit lonely during dinner time, we still had a lot of memories with our host family. We almost say hello to our host mom auntie Beatrix every single morning.

18814110_777283849112476_1180241848715070025_n.jpgShe always wakes up early in the morning because she is doing catering for universities. Every single morning when we came for breakfast, we can smell the food she was preparing for lunch. I always talked to her for a little bit before I ate breakfast. I am really proud of that auntie gave me one of her paintings for goodbye gift and I felt really thankful about that. We love our host brother Sam. He is a really cool guy and he is willing to offer us help all the time even when he was busy. I seldom saw uncle (host dad) in our host family, but he is always the one who gave me compliments about my English proficiency all the time. I love uncle’s genuine and funny. And one of my most enjoyable things in his house was studying on the porch for my GRE in upcoming months while he is reading newspapers. And I consider that as a host dad-daughter hanging out.

 

18920578_777283862445808_7546829817742818257_n.jpg Our safe guard Emanuel always smiles. I did not find a single moment that he felt angry or sad. He always wakes up at 5am and cleaned leaves in the yard. Sometimes I woke up by the sound, but I normally felt asleep with that sound shortly. He is always peaceful. I can see that he does not expect anything from anyone else. He probably did not have that much education, but I can see from his eyes that he is satisfied with what he is possessing. And that is enough. I was very moved on the last day I stayed in Ghana. He helped me with covering up my huge painting aluminum foil, towel, and plastic wrap. He totally did not need to help me and he did not ask for anything even though he knew that I could have offered him something.

I cannot believe I’ve met so many Furman friends on this trip. Firstly I want to talk about my roommate Ellie. She is one of the most outgoing people I’ve met. Although we did not ask each other for roommates, the result turned out that we worked out super well and we were planning to hangout with each other more often next semester. Today she was texting me about the start of her vegan life. I also get to know more about Paige, Jake, Kassidy, Armani, Anna, Carter, and MK. And we all agree with that we will get meals together at least once next semester. In addition it is kind of nice to know more people in different departments, because you can also hear some ideas that you’ve never thought about it. Moreover, through knowing and interacting with them, I feel like I learn a lot about how to blend and involved into a community. I ALSO got to know more Furman faculty members. Dr. Kwami is the organizer of the trip. She is very cultured and she is also a mom. Dr. Chris is super optimistic and talked a lot about public health on the trip. Dr. King is always the professor no matter where she goes, because she always have deeper understandings on this trips and she would love to share those thoughts with us.

For other parts, I think Ghana needs to focus more on the environmental issues, especially on road construction and trash collection. More emphasis on environmental regulation is needed. And in Ghana I did not see people do recycle as often compared to other developed countries. And the utilization of lands is not wise enough too. For example, it is okay for people to do agriculture and I believe that agriculture is a big thing in Africa. However, the land can be utilized better if more trees could be planted on some empty lands.

Education surprised me a lot. I have to admit that Ghana students are very diligent and the focus on education suggests that Ghana’s education system is in a good shape. I am so glad that we got to visit some universities in Ghana and learned about the education systems in Ghana.

Visiting radio stations made me think about Ghanaians’ perspective on Americans. In my opinion, most Ghanaians think that Americans are really rich and the U.S. is a perfect country. However, from the representations of TV shows and movies, those cannot reflect the actual American society, so we can say that their images are incomplete. The U.S. also has poverties and diseases. There are a good amount of people also struggling for their lives.18622489_774029462771248_8490423038104477344_n.jpg

I do not know when I will be back to this place, but I definite visit “my Ghanaian people” again if I ever get a chance to go back.

 

Ghana, I Miss You

I have been home from Ghana for six days. At the end of the trip, I was so excited to go home; to see my friends and family, eat American food, watch TV and Netflix, all those American things. Now that I am home, however, I am realizing how much I really do miss Ghana. All I want to eat right now is jollof rice and spicy chicken, served with a Coca-Cola and maybe some Voltic water. I want to leave the house and go do new things everyday, but I am realizing there just is not too much to do. I want to get woken up consistently earlier than the decided time by our Grandpa and stumble out of bed shirtless to enjoy a delicious breakfast. I miss the friendliness of all the people and how everybody was so involved with each other’s lives. I miss the feeling of being so cultured and interested in everything around me. Ghana has made a huge impact on my life; on my actions, what I eat, and how I perceive daily life. Before leaving Ghana, I was settled on my career path and how I would live out my future days. Now, I am at a crossroads because of the realizations I made in Ghana about how to live a truly fulfilling life. I really do hope to one day return to this beautiful country that has played such a huge role in my life, and I will never forget the many memories that were made.

A Ghana Birthday

It is official. My birthday has come to a close and I am officially 19 years of age. What an amazing birthday it was. First, I got to sleep in, which was such a treat as the tolls of the busy trip were starting to catch up. Grandpa made us a big shirtless breakfast with not only an egg sandwich, but a sausage and ketchup sandwich as well, with the classic pineapple and banana dish. He also served me some birthday fish which I reluctantly ate, despite it being 10 am.  Then later, despite discussing with Grandpa our idea to go to Lord of the Wings with his approval, we found ourselves shirtless in the dining room eating jollof rice with chicken and tomato sauce, but we had no complaints, because it was really delicious.

After working a bit at Grandpa’s and getting picked up to get more done at the Erata Hotel, we were off to my birthday dinner. The restaurant we went to was BY FAR the nicest restaurant I have ever been to. Our starters included endless chips and salsa, chicken tenders with the best spicy sauce I’ve ever had, and a Caesar salad. I ordered a mediocre cocktail, but the chardonnay later on made up for it. 

Then came my special birthday request: an American cheeseburger. I definitely was expecting a rather un-American burger with a thin patty and different flavors, but this was a legitimate American burger that was one of the best I’ve ever had. After several false alarms (turns out that May 27th is a popular day for birthdays), the employees finally came over with my cake and we shared in a dance, a moment that truly brought me such great joy. It was then that I realized I was having my best birthday ever with great new friends and great food.

After a quick homestay stop, we headed to Kikibee’s and enjoyed each other’s company and more live music. After a very long and eventful day, we all were very tired and made our way home. I could not help but to look out the taxi window and reflect on how amazing it was that I was spending my birthday in Africa, and how truly unforgettable the day would be. I am hoping that my 19th birthday is an indication that my 19th year alive will be my best one yet.

Representing Furman communication department to have a conversation in the 05/24/17

Today we went to visit media house 4 and had a lecture. My most unforgettable memory for today was talking in front of the microphone. During the last part of our trip in media house, Dr. Chris asked that if one of us could volunteer for speaking in front of the microphone. No one responded. I did not where I got that brave: I suddenly said: “I can volunteer if no one wants to speak.” Seriously, as a chemistry and German major, I am a little bit nervous to represent communication department to talk in front of everyone. However, after a second, I became really confident about this small talk, because I have already experienced so many experiences and develop so many skills. I just wanted to present myself, and being genuine about what I had learned so far from this trip. I did not organize my words before I spoke, because I am clear what I had learned so far.18622489_774029462771248_8490423038104477344_n.jpg

One of the questions for me was: what difference is Ghana different from your home country or the United States? I talked about a lot of random but interesting things, for example, the church service: people use singing and dancing to praise god. In addition, I also mentioned about the food: so far I’ve tried a variety of interesting foods. For example, yam, fish sauce, tomato sauce, and plantains. The second question for me was why did I think Furman is a special school? I was very confident of answering that question, because I always proud of myself to choose Furman as my undergraduate school, and I think Furman is perfect for me. I answered with Furman is a great liberal arts college, because students can develop their own personalities. Furthermore, I emphasized a very important aspect of Furman, is that Furman provides students insights into understanding more about cultural differences and helps students to gain more aspects of the world with providing students study abroad opportunities. This cannot only enrich students’ personal experiences, but also help students to evolve into the society more quickly after they are ready to have a job in the future.

 

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.

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.

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.