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I spent the Fall 2009 semester at the University of Ghana at Legon as the faculty co-director for the Missouri in Africa Program. These are posts copied here from my blog. These blog posts are also available for purchase as a paperback book Stories from a Semester in Ghana.)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Next Stop: Ghana

My summer is over, and I'm leaving for Ghana tomorrow. I've managed to finish most of my summer tasks (let's see, I think I've reviewed 3 book manuscripts, wrote 2 book reviews, sent off 3 articles and 2 book chapters, and translated most of my share of the Mariategui anthology). What I have left to do is one more book review and 2 more of the Mariategui essays (and two long ones on land and race at that which have already been translated into English, but hey), and I guess I'll finish those in Ghana.

This fall I will be the faculty co-director for the Missouri in Africa Program. My understanding is that I will teach one class (Latin American history) at the University of Ghana, and meet weekly with the four students from Missouri who are traveling on this program. I hope it will be an easy fall. I really need a break.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


We arrived to Ghana Monday nite, or at least the humans did. British Air for some reason decided that 3 of us did not need our bags. So, we show up in Accra and the baggage office had a printout showing that our luggage was still at Heathrow. If they knew they had our bags, why did they not just put them on the plane? The mysteries of BA, my least favorite airline. At least they didn't trap us in Nairobi for an extra 24 hrs this time. But last nite we finally went back to the airport to pick up the bags.

Last nite Stella brought over a big bag of goodies that previous faculty co-directors have left behind. It was like christmas. Usually my furnished apartments in Quito are, well, furnished, but the kitchen in this one has a fridge but nothing else. At least with this bag now I have pots, pans, dishes, silverware, and a hot pad. With my suitcase that had been left at Heathrow, I am now feeling more complete.

We have one more student who is supposed to arrive today, so I guess with her things will be complete .

We've spent a couple days in orientation, and I'm not clear if I'm supposed to hang w/ the students or if I can go off & do my own thing (which at this point would involve hanging out on my deck and reading Lucero's Voice of Struggles, the final book I have to review before I can come to Ghana). There are a lot of empty spaces, which leaves me feeling more exhausted than if we were super busy. And it doesn't leave me time to run off to an Internet to catch up on my email, blog, and facebook, or space to pull out Lucero and start reading.

I have a cell phone now, for the first time in my life. The first time it rang I was in the Internet cafe and I was trying to figure out where that noise was coming from my computer. Then the next time I didn't hear it at all. I'm not used to listening for its ring. And then it goes off in a meeting, which is annoying. But I think I'm supposed to leave it on so students can call me in an emergency. So, only call me in an emergency. 0542686030. I don't think I'm ever going to get used to those little things.

I'm supposed to start teaching on Monday, or at least one of my students said that my Latin American history class is listed in the history office. But I don't know when or where I am to teach it, and I'm still not clear what my syllabus should look like. Apparently it is common here for there to be one final exam that is the grade for the entire semester.

Tomorrow we are supposed to go on a city tour to Accra. Tomorrow is Friday, at least here in Ghana. I'm not sure about the rest of the world. We're 5 hrs east of Kansas time, and I never do time zone calculations very well (for example, I calculated my malaria dose backwards). My clocks tell me what time it is in Legon, but who knows if it is today, tomorrow, or yesterday there. And with a lack of good Internet connections, I might write something and then not be able to send it out for more than a day anyways.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Today was the Accra city tour and shopping. We started off at the W.E.B. Du Bois Center which, somewhat ironically, is close to the U.S. embassy. Du Bois came here in 1961 shortly after Ghana won its independence from the British to live out the last of his days and work on an encyclopedia of Africa. I didn't know that Du Bois had spent time in Ghana until I was reading Lonely Planet on the plane (I really didn't know anything about Ghana before arriving here...). Now I wish I had brought along one of his books, maybe The Souls of Black Folk that I have sitting on my shelf back home.

We then went to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum. Nkrumah was Ghana's independence leader and president until he was overthrown in a military coup in 1966. They had a small but nice museum with some of his possessions, books, and pictures with Fidel, Mao, and other world leaders.

We then continued on to a tourist market. I thought about buying a shirt, but I don't have a good enough sense of what are good prices or what is good quality to buy stuff. Maybe I'll just wait for Cheryl to arrive before purchasing anything.

We then spent the afternoon in a mall, and you know how malls and me get along...

I brought along my big camera today, but I don't know if I took any shots worth anything. But it may be a moot point anyway, because I can't get my photos to upload to my blog. That is maybe just as well. After seeing Gwen's photos from our trip to Oaxaca a couple years ago I promised never to bother anyone with my pictures again anyway.

PS--Since I can't upload photos to blogger, I'll just put them on Facebook for now.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Don't just take my word for it, you can also read what the students are saying about Ghana:


I'm not, of course, responsible for anything they may write!

Monday, August 17, 2009

First day of classes

Today was supposed to be the first day of classes. My students went to a 7:30 class and waited for about 45 minutes. They said 5 other students showed up but no professor, and finally they left.

This morning I had a meeting with the incoming and outgoing chairs of the history department. They said that no history classes were being taught this week, but that I should plan to start next week. While we were meeting, a staff person came in with the list of teaching slots that the department had been given. While we sat there, we decided to offer my Latin American history class on Tuesdays from 11:30-1:30. The other options were 7:30am on Mon or Tues, or 5:30pm on Fri, neither which would be good for a 400-level history elective. The course is scheduled to be held in Jones Quartey Building (JQB) 19 which, as Stella warned me, is on the other side of campus--about as far away from the University Guest Centre where I am staying as one can get and still be on campus. The history building, on the other hand, is close--at least close by University of Ghana standards, since everything is very spread out. It is only an 8-minute walk away. All of this, of course, can still change as the schedule sorts itself out.

I've thought about buying a bike to get around campus, but everyone cautions against it because of the open gutters and crazy drivers. There are not very many bikes around here, though I've seen at least 2 of my colleagues at the Guest Centre with them. Maybe a bike is not worth it to cross campus for a once a week class.

As in the States, these are 3-hr courses, but here that means 2-hrs of lecture and an hour of tutorial discussion. Apparently that will be scheduled later. It's supposed to be a 13-wk semester, but we're losing this week and the chair said to plan to lose another week, so it will probably be 11 lectures. This is by far the shortest semester schedule I will ever have (Truman is 15 wks; the longest I have taught is Illinois State at 17). The lecture period is followed by a "Revision" week (study break, I assume) and then a 3-wk final exam period, by far the longest exam period I've ever had. I hate final exams.

So, now our week-long orientation is over and I have another week to put together a syllabus for a class that I teach all the time. This will give me plenty of time to finish reading Lucero, write the review, work on Mariategui translations, and move on to other projects. I've also found the BBC now, both on the radio (101.3 in Accra) and on the TV (I didn't see it when I first arrived here). Since I'm stuck in a flat without Internet for streaming WORT (tho I'm trying to figure out if I can get some sort of mobile broadband), I am feeling a bit more connected to the world around me now, especially since the local papers don't have much of international news. I'm feeling more relaxed and sleeping better here than I have in years.

And I have a week now before classes start. It almost seems like I should take advantage of this time to go exploring Ghana. But if I were at home, I'd be doing exactly what I am doing here now--sitting in my house working through a long list of academic tasks I need to complete.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

University Guest Centre

My office isn't ready yet in the history department, so I've been spending my time in my flat in the University Guest Centre. The centre is apparently for visiting faculty members and the like. It has "bedsitters" (small motel rooms), flats (one-bedroom apartments like the one I have), and bungalows (houses). I feel fortunate to have a flat. The bedsitters sound like they are too small, a bungalow would be way too much space, so the flat is just right.

The Guest Centre has a restaurant onsite, and the room includes a simple breakfast of tea or coffee, bread, and eggs (after 4 months, my cholesterol level is probably going to be through the roof). The flat has a small kitchen, and last nite I cooked my first meal (rice and lentils, of course; there is no oven with which to make cornbread). It is really quite a nice place.

The problem is that as a gringo and as I grow older I really treasure my privacy and independence. The flat is on the first floor and on a heavily traveled path facing the restaurant. This means that people are always walking by and can look straight in at me (too bad I didn't get a flat on the backside of the complex!). Worse, the annoying thing is that at 10am every morning the staff come in to clean the room (yes, this is run as if it were a hotel). I hate these invasions of my privacy that make me feel as if I should not be here (where else am I supposed to go?), and as if I can't leave things (like my computer and camera) just laying around as if I were at home. Furthermore, I hate the class implications of having servants make my bed and clean my toilet (I can do that myself!).

Do I complain too much? Jeri says it sounds as if I'm talking about New York! But I really am happy and having a good time here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Left hands

Left hands are considered dirty in Ghana. I've always associated that with the Muslim world, but its presence in Christian Ghana leaves me unsure now where that custom originated or how it made its way here. Perhaps it has deeper Arabic or African roots. Because of that tradition, any human contact is supposed to be with the right hand. I didn't realize until today how prevalent it was, and how commonly I use my left hand (even tho I am right handed) for seemingly normative tasks.

My worries that the cleaning staff would take my towel before my shower were realized this morning. For some reason, they come confiscate my towel and then only replace it several hours later when they return to clean the flat. So, they picked it up while I was at breakfast, and when I returned to shower before heading off to class I had to go to the Guest Centre's office to ask for a towel. They gave me one, and I thoughtlessly reached out with my left hand to take it and the staff person immediately pulled back from me--almost an automatic gut-level reaction as if I had offered someone a dirty glass of water to drink.

I always get pre-class jitters, and today was doubly worse because it was my first time teaching outside of the U.S. and I was not entirely sure what to expect. I almost always start my classes with the same introductory discussion on definitions, geography, dependency theory, etc. I must have done this dozens of times by now, and it is always one of my favorite class periods. But talk about being out of my comfort zone.

Stella lent me her overhead projector since I thoughtlessly failed to bring maps with me, and it is difficult to find maps here. She told me to bring a power strip, but I forgot and these blasted English outlets give me no end of grief and I had trouble getting both the projector and the computer plugged in at the same time and in a location where we could project anything worth much. Worse, there is only 5 minutes between classes, so I had almost no time to set this up.

Each class apparently has a "class rep." I'm not sure exactly how this works or how this person is selected, but mine scrambled to help hook up the projector, find an eraser (the English have a different word?) and a marker that worked for the white board. Then he gave me a microphone, which ended up causing me problems because when I asked students questions I kept mindlessly handing it to students with my left hand so that the class could hear their answers.

Teaching always leaves me feeling exhausted, and today was triply bad because being out of my comfort zone and although it was cooler (23, I think) it rained and the humidity was through the roof which left me dripping. I left class with all of my typical midwestern sense of inadequacy, self-doubt, and wondering what I could or should have done differently and better.

I walked back to the history department with a couple students who debated whether class next week would be larger or smaller. I joked with the students whether I should teach this "Ghanian" or "U.S." style. I'm not entirely clear what those categories mean, but it seems that the assumption is that a Ghanian class would be easier. But a couple students were asking serious questions about the first essay assignment that is not due until a third of the way through the semester; at Truman that only rarely happens for me with the most overachieving students drawn out of a population of already exceptional talent.

One student thought that the perceived level of work in this class and my more interactive style of teaching would chase a lot of students away, while another assumed that students would tell others that this was an interesting class and that it would pull in more people. In the end it probably will be a wash, with half the class leaving and another group replacing them. The history chair says not to worry about people who leave, but it is hard for me not to take it personally.

A two-hour class, and it pretty much wipes out my entire day.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Slave Coast

We woke up early on Saturday morning and headed west along the southern Ghanaian coast. Accra is plagued with very nasty traffic snarls, and it seemingly takes forever to get out of town (even on an early Saturday morning). Once we get out on the open road we meet typically third-world driving conditions and the accompanying signs that "overspeeding kills" and 3 people died here, or 5, or 9, or 32, or more than 70. I think we see 2 or 3 accidents this weekend, with more leftover wrecks alongside the road.

The first fort we come across is Fort Amsterdam. My guide book tells me that the British built it in 1638, and the Dutch captured it in 1665. Ghana's colonial name was the Gold Coast, and Europeans built about 80 of these structures along the coast, originally just to facilitate extraction of gold from the interior of the continent. Something like 14 of these forts and castles remain, and I would love to visit every single one of them. But we keep on flying by. Maybe I'll get a chance to come back some time, but it is always a hassle to do things like this on public transit and the horrible traffic in Accra assures that a severe case of inertia sets in.

The first stop is Assin Manso, the slave river. This was the final stop before arrival on the coast for slaves captured in the interior of the continent. Here the slaves were bathed and checked for fitness. Those who did not pass muster were buried alive so that they could not return home to tell others about the slave route. Now a memorial marks this spot, with the remains of 2 slaves from the Americas symbolically reburied here, portraits of famous leaders, and murals that tell this history. I would like to linger, but it is raining and and it is time to move on.

Elmina is one of three main European colonial structures along the coast (the others are Cape Coast and Christiansborg Castle in Accra, the current seat of government and one that cannot be visited). The Portuguese built Elmina ("the mine") in 1482 before it passed through Dutch hands on the way to the British four centuries later. Dating to a decade before Columbus' crossing of the Atlantic, it is the oldest and largest European structure in the tropics. As the name implies, originally it was established as a trading post for the gold trade, and only later became part of the slave trade.

On the hill facing Elmina is St. Jago Hill that the Dutch used in 1637 to bomb the castle and force the Portuguese to surrender. The Dutch then built a fort on the hill to avoid a similar fate. The building is still there, but I am not clear what else. I would have liked to have visited. Maybe another time.

In between the fort and castle is a fishing harbor and market. We stopped there on the way back to Accra on Sunday, and the Ghanians with us bought two large coolers full of fish. Watching them bargain for the fish in the market was an interesting ethnographic experience. The market had a broad range of fish, including octopus, squid, crabs, and who knows what else. A man came with a big block of ice and busted it up with a stick to keep the fish cool and fresh. On the way back to Accra we stopped at stands to buy dirt cheap pineapple (6 for 4 cedis, or about $0.50 USD a piece) and a big bag of oranges for 2 cedis. Now I finally can have my freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast (I really do wish I had brought my juicer along with me).

But back to Saturday and the Cape Coast. In the afternoon, we visited the Cape Coast Castle, the largest and most famous slaving holding site. Unlike Elmina, this castle was built explicitly for the slave trade with dungeons to hold the captives right under the church on the main parade grounds. The contradictions are stunning. The castle has a famous "Door of No Return" through which slaves were boarded onto ships and taken to the Americas. I wanted to take a facebook profile picture framed in this doorway, but completely forgot about it until after we had left. On the ocean side of the doorway a sign now says "Door of Return" through which the mortal remains of two slaves passed before being reburied at Assin Manso.

Cape Coast and Elmina are quite different, but the problem with seeing both back to back is that they begin to blend together in my mind. Both castles bounced around between European powers, but at the height of the slave trade Elmina was a Dutch site and Cape Coast was a British center. They are located only about 14km apart, and on a clear day they are visible from each other. Both are impressive structures with long and brutal histories.

On Sunday we visited the Kakum National Park and its much-publicized canopy walk, a 350 meter long and 40 meter high walkway suspended between seven trees. It is one of about 7 in the world, and the only one in Africa. My guide book calls it an overrated gimmick, and it really is not that much fun for those of us with severe cases of vertigo. The heavy bouncing Dutch guys behind him made me close my eyes and concentrate on crossing rather than enjoying the view. Besides, it was raining and my camera got all wet and the guide did not provide any explanation of any unique features of the canopy that might justify our presence up there. Without that, it becomes little more than an expensive amusement ride.

In retrospect, I regret not going on a forest walk, which I would have found much more interesting. We had the time, and could have done so. Walking up to the canopy we crossed a line of soldier ants, and without seeing them stepped--and, worse--stopped right on the line. In retrospect, we wished we would have had a picture of that scene, but I was too busy trying to brush off the biting ants to remember how my camera worked!

(PS, I have lots of photos, but blogger--which is increasingly flaky--is not cooperating in uploading them. I'll try to upload some to facebook as well, but the slow internet connection here is complicating that venture.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Office hours

I finally have an office.

Last week the history department put me in a temporary space while they cleaned out the office where I would spend the semester. I still don't completely understand the story, but my new office was piled full of old books that needed to be move out before I could move in. Now the office smells like musty old books. But the semester is underway and I was ready to settle in to a more permanent space. Besides, yesterday I broke the key off in the lock to the temporary office (the key was poorly cut and it was just a matter of time before that happened).

But I have an office, and I feel as if I scored. It's bigger and nicer than my office at Truman!

Part of the reason why I wanted an office was so that I would have easy access to the Internet, and Internet for which I do not have to pay for through my nose. The Internet on campus, as I had heard, is painfully slow. It is so slow that at first I thought several ports were closed off, which would mean that I could not pop or send my email, pull bibliographic citations into Procite, or stream WORT off the web. But at least I can download the buzz, APA, IOBY, TWV, as well as FSRN and Democracy Now for my listening pleasure later.

I couldn't get the Internet to work today, and I'm still not sure if it was down or if my computer is configured wrong. Sometimes it is so hard to configure a Mac.

I also now have Internet in my flat as well. When I saw billboards for MTN Broadband, I started thinking about installing it. I told Stella, and she checked out cheaper alternatives. So now I have a Kasapa phone (0289554457, in case anyone is interested, though I often have it turned off unless I'm using the modem & I'm not sure what I would do if anyone actually called me on it). It looks like a regular phone but is hooked to my computer with a USB cable. I haven't successfully been able to test the speed yet, but it feels like an old dial-up connection. It is expensive, but much cheaper than MTN (which turned out to be prohibitively, absurdly expensive). And the convenience of having it in my living quarters so I can check email on the shoulders of my day is worth something as well. Plus it seems to be more reliable than the campus connection. I haven't tried to stream WORT, but at a couple dollars an hour I don't think that is going to happen.

My students came over for pancakes, and of course wanted to try out the new toy. At first I played it down because of the cost and low speed, and I was jealous of the wireless access they have in the International Student Hostel (ISH). But they told me that the speed there was so slow that it was almost worthless, and at 50 cedis for the semester it is not exactly free either. So, they think I'm living high on the hog, which maybe is the case.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Sometimes I think I should always carry a camera, even though I can't get blogger to cooperate very well in uploading my pictures.

Yesterday workers were setting up tents on the lawn at the Guest Centre. I didn't think anything of it. The restaurant at the Centre hosts receptions and the like on a regular basis.

This morning there was a flurry of activity at the Centre. One of the workers was mowing the lawn, others were carrying tables out of the restaurant (with one surreptitiously swiping a drink from the cooler on the way through). The staff was so busy that they did not even have time to come and steal the towel from my flat before I was done using it. People were milling around in identical print shirts and dresses, but other than "University of Ghana" and the university's shield I couldn't read what it said--and I didn't want to stare.

When I walk over to the history department, I see a group of people marching up the street toward the Centre with a banner and a brass band playing, just as would happen in Latin America. The banner indicates that it is the university's pensioner association, and that they are on their way to celebrate their silver anniversary at the Guest Centre. Members, all dressed in the identical shirts and dresses, are marching in semi-disciplined rows 2 or 3 wide. A couple supporters are running around them taking pictures and video. The band is dressed very casually, obviously hired just for the occasion. Following the marchers is an ambulance (I don't think I've ever seen that before in a march!), and a bus for those who could not quite make it on foot. And there I stand without my camera.

It's the first semi-political expression I've seen in this very religious country, and it's led by senior citizens!

(They are putting new curtains in my office, so I was sent back home. Still no internet on campus.)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Ghana 2, Sudan 0

Ghana beat Sudan 2-0 today to become the first African country to win a berth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

I don't think I've been to a soccer game since I was in Bolivia in 1993. That year Bolivia similarly qualified for the World Cup, and it lit up the country. I think watching the country go wild every time they won a game is part of what gives me such fond memories of my time there. Bolivia, like Ghana, was very much the underdog. I forget, but it might have been Bolivia's first time to the cup? Ghana has only been there once before, in 2006.

I've never been that fond of games, partially because it seems like such an empty, mindless, meaningless waste of time (except, of course, if it is going to a Twins game with Wiren; I'll jump at the chance to do that anytime).

Similarly, I wanted to go to this game today because I saw it as a potentially interesting ethnographic experience. Soccer games incite incredible displays of nationalism, which really can cut two ways. As with Bolivia in 1993, it can be a force to unify a country. In Classes and Tribalism in Ghana, Ansa Asamoa points to the importance of nationalism to unify the ethnically diverse country and overcome the potentially destructive tribalist impulses. At the same time, it was a soccer game that led to a war between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969, and those tensions still linger along their shared border. Here in Africa, I wondered today how deeply these nationalist impulses ran against Kwame Nkrumah's pan-Africanist ideals. Wouldn't he want us to embrace Sudan, rather than ruthlessly beating them in a clearly uneven match?

Furthermore, nationalist impulses function to blind people to gross injustices. I was a student in Marion when our high school went to the State B basketball championship for the first time. I remember cheering the same jocks during the games at night who the next day would beat the living daylights out of me in school. Once I escaped that repressive environment, I promised myself never again to pledge my uncritical dedication to any institution. Nationalism is a force that leads people to support illegal, immoral, and unjustified wars of imperial aggression against Iraq.

In the United States, professional sports teams have been criticized for having African-American stars, but never allowing those same people become coaches when they reach the end of their careers. I was surprised to see those same racial divisions replicated here in Africa. Both teams were comprised entirely of Black players and the crowd almost entirely so, but both coaches were white. When I asked Nana about this, he said that a European coach inspired better work and a higher confidence among the players. A Serbian coach led the team to the last World Cup, so they decided to employ another one this time. Furthermore, the refs were white as were the photographers. Colonialism dies hard, I guess.

And speaking of the press, when I arrived at the stadium I regretted not bringing my WORT press card and attempting to enter the press booth. It would have added another interesting layer of ethnographic observation.

When the game was over, I was surprised that the fans around me who had been enthusiastically (BBC's term in their reports on the game) cheering during the entire game just quietly stood up and left. I expected the environment to be more like when I was a student at KU and the Jayhawks won a series of games on their way to the NCAA championship. As in Bolivia, we didn't have to watch the games to know if and when "our" team won. Like throwing a light switch, the noise went from off to on in a second, and stayed at that high pitch for hours afterwards. Here, we just quietly packed up and went home. Tomorrow is a work day.

I'll upload more photos of the game to Facebook later, when I have a better internet connection. My connection at home with Kasapa is being very flaky this weekend. I'll have to wait to see tomorrow if they've fixed the internet in the History Department yet.

I stepped in an open gutter for the first time today. As we were leaving the stadium, I was in the middle of a mass of people and it was dark and I was just following the press of people around me and could not see where I was walking. Suddenly, my foot disappeared into the ground and up came the water splashing as high as my arm. They say that stepping in these gutters that line the roads is inevitable for gringos.

Yesterday we went to a festival in a town just outside Accra. It was quite an incredible experience. I wish I had brought my video camera to capture it. If you want to know more about the festival, maybe head over to Emily's blog; I think she'll eventually post something there.

Christiansborg Castle

When we visited the Elmina and Cape Coast castles I started to read about the other castles that line the Ghanaian coast. The third most important structure is the Christiansborg Castle, also called the Osu Castle, I assume for its location in that neighborhood of Accra. I wondered why they had not taken us to the closest and seemingly most convenient of the castles. I started digging around in my guide book to see how I could visit it. What I found was that it was originally built by Denmark in 1661 before passing through the hands of the Portuguese to end up with the British in 1850. Since 1876 it has been the seat of government, first for the Gold Coast colony and subsequently for the country of Ghana. My guide book ends with the comment that the castle is off limits for visitors and "photography from any angle is absolutely forbidden." So there.

At the Ghana-Sudan game, we sat way up in the nose-bleed section. At one point, we heard a lot of cheering and horns outside the stadium, and thought this meant that the team had arrived. We turned around and tried to look through the fence on the top of the stadium to see what was happening. And there it was, right in front of me--probably the closest and best view I'll ever have of Christiansborg Castle.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ghanaian funerals

Visitors to Ghana are often encouraged to attend a funeral for its unique social and cultural value. Today was my opportunity.

The younger brother of our incoming chair of the History Department at the University of Ghana died a month ago, just before we arrived here. He was younger than me. The history dept had a flyer for the funeral, and I read it as starting at 7am. That was mighty early, I thought. The department secretary said it was ok to show up later.

But I tried to be a good camper, and woke up early this morning. I went for breakfast at 7:10, and the staff asked if I could come back in 10 minutes as they did not open until 7am. When I showed up 15 minutes later, the waiter commented that I was early today (usually I come around 9). Creatures of habit. I'm not ever sure why they ask any more what I want, instead of just bringing me my standard scrambled eggs, toast, and milo.

It was just after 8am when I arrived at the Legon Interdenominational Church for the service. It appeared that "Part one: pre-burial service" was just getting started. I had misunderstood the flyer. This was not the funeral proper, but a 2-hr "file past" period where people could file past the open coffin at the front of the church to pay their last respects to the deceased. The choir sang songs, and various people started reading tributes out of a 44-page booklet that we were given as we entered the church.

Ghana has a subculture of unique coffins modeled after the interests of the deceased, for example a pilot buried in one shaped like a plane or a pianist in one shaped like a piano. This one, however, was a standard issue (though fancy and expensive) coffin.

The funeral proper ("Park two: funeral and remembrance service") started promptly at 9:30. If I had understood this system, I could have slept in, ate a leisurely breakfast, and showed up for the start of the funeral. The funeral had the standard elements of songs, prayers, memorials, and a sermon. Various people read the rest of the memorials in the booklet. The one by the father took 20 minutes.

During this entire time, one person walked around the church with a big video camera and a huge lamp with a long extension cord filming the entire event and the people in attendance. Another person took still photos. I have no pictures. Even though others were taking pictures, I don't see how it would have been appropriate for me to do.

At noon, the funeral moved onto part 3, at the gravesite. That involved a drive into Accra to the cemetery, and with the way traffic is I go out of my way to avoid leaving campus, I guess. My understanding is that a couple hours later the people would return to the church for refreshments.

This funeral turned into a whole-day event. Apparently funerals used to be longer, beginning with a wake the night before and extending into a memorial during the church service the following Sunday. Wakes are becoming more rare here, and the minister emphasized at the end of the funeral (part 2) that this was the end, that there would be no more memorials.

There were superficial elements at the funeral that were different from what I am accustomed to in South Dakota (the coffin at the front of the church rather than in the foyer, the length of the service, the funeral booklet, the time lapsed between the death and the funeral). I wonder if some of the variations were within the range that we would see in the United States (my family takes pictures of the corpse in the coffin; Cheryl's family flips out at the idea). The fundamental elements, though, seemed strongly parallel to that of which I am accustomed: the memorials, the songs (some of them the exact same songs), the flavor of the sermon, the graveside service, the reception at the end.

Apparently urban funerals are slowly evolving into that to which I am accustomed, and that rural, traditional funerals remain somewhat different. Maybe I will have a chance to see one before I leave.

When I die, please don't waste money on funeral rites or moving my body.

After more than a week, yesterday technology services finally brought the internet back up in the history dept. It was reasonably fast, and I got a lot done. That was nice. This afternoon it was still up, but so slow as to be unusable. One of the graduate students said that it had the "Friday blues."

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Obama's Tracks

Barrack Obama visited Ghana in July, and everywhere around us the traces of that visit still remain. Ghanians felt it highly significant that his first African visit was to Ghana, even outranking his ancestral Kenya. Beginning with the road on the way in from the airport, we were greeted with a series of billboards for the mobile phone provider MTN featuring the twin faces of Ghana's president Mills and Obama.

Seemingly the rest of the country is also covered with giant billboards with the twin mug shots of Mills and Obama accompanied by a variety of political slogans that change is on the way. Assumedly, the government put up these billboards in advance of his visit.

Across from the University of Ghana there is now an "Obama hotel." We also see signs for other businesses, including an Obama hair dresser.

The Obamas placed a plaque and a wreath at the Cape Coast castle where they helicoptered in for a visit. Allegedly, our tour guide was the same one that they had. Tucked behind some rocks in a dark corner in the women's dungeon was a sign asking Obama to take a stand on reparations. There must be a story on that one.

The chair of our history department Akosua Adoma Perbi also gave Obama a copy of her book, A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana From the 15th to the 19th Centuries (Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2004).

Friday, September 18, 2009


Yesterday on my way to the history dept I saw a poster for symposium at the Institute of African Studies on "Has Ghana a Founder or Founders?" The poster said the symposium was at 4pm on Sept 17. I knew today was Thurs, but I had no idea when the 17th was (always put the day of the week on your event announcements! I learned that from Rhonda when organizing talks for LAS at KU years ago).

So, at 4pm I headed over to the conference room in the Kwame Nkrumah Complex at the IAS. Hardly anyone was in the room, and I thought that was logical since announcements for the event didn't go out until that morning. But at 4:30 the MC stood up and said that since the symposium was scheduled for 4, and now that it is 4:30 we need to start. Suddenly the room seemed full. As always, the MC continued, we need to start with a prayer. And he calls on a particularly Honorable Person from the audience to come forward to give the opening prayer.

The question for the day was whether Ghana should talk about founder's day or founders' day, whether Kwame Nkrumah was the founder of Ghana or whether the "Big Six" were the founders.

In addition to the MC, six (male) presenters, all Very Important People, were asked to come to the High Table. The MC then hands the symposium to a Most Reverend Doctor who will Chair the event. The Chairman then invites More Important People to come sit in the front of the conference room.

The symposium is sponsored by the Graduate Student Association of Ghana, and the president of GRASAG, the only women who talks at the event, gives a few very brief words. The co-sponsor is the Danquah Institute, a media, research and policy analysis center. The director introduces the DI as a liberal think tank founded in February 2008 to work on individual human rights, personal liberty, property rights, free enterprise, representative democracy. Oh, I see, he does mean that the DI is a liberal think tank, in the true, original sense of the word.

There are two speakers, the first is the youth leader of the CPP to represent a Nkrumahist perspective, and a second speaker will represent the "other" wing. The CPP speaker talks about looking to follow the model of the US founders of the declaration of independence, and whether to follow a federal or unitary state, and I'm left there trying to puzzle out the ideological landscape of the room given the little bit I know about Ghana's history.

But before I can figure too much out, I have to leave to go to my next event, a book launch at The Novotel Hotel. Laura had invited me to the event celebrating the publication of Two Views From Christiansborg Castle, two volumes of Danish writings on Ghana that Selena Axelrod Winsnes had translated into English. This event started only fifteen minutes late in a freezing cold conference room. Or maybe it started on time, since the first item on the agenda was "1. Arrival of Guests," and without times assigned perhaps that was to last fifteen minutes (arrival was alloted only 5 minutes at the Founder event). We decided that if the event dragged on beyond 8:30pm we would leave.

A Rev. Father gave the opening prayer and introduced the Chairman who was to give brief remarks, and everyone agreed that his remarks were not so brief. The managing director of Sub-Saharan Publishers then gave an opening address, and she thanked the members of East Legon Presbyterian for their support, one of whom was talking on her cell phone. It was then time for Winsnes, the translator, to speak, and the Chairman said he was not suited to introduce her so an Appellator was brought forward to do so, who gave a stirring introduction in an Akan language. The translator asked for a translator, as she did not speak a word of Akan.

Winsnes summarized the contents of the two books, the first by Johannes Rask, a Lutheran minister from Denmark-Norway who spent four years in the early eighteenth century in Ghana serving the Scandinavian staff just as the slave trade was taking off. He attempted to document cultural practices of the time on the Gold Coast. The second book by H.C. Monrad, also a Lutheran minister from Denmark-Norway, was written one hundred years later just after Denmark-Norway officially abolished the transatlantic slave trade. He was an ardent abolitionist, and like Rask attempted to document local customs. Winsnes situated these books in the context of six (I think) other historic Danish writings on Ghana, all of which she has translated. I want to read them all, but I run out of time to read everything I would like to read.

A Historian then provided us with a review of the books, pointing out that the first has 34 chapters and concluding that the second has a typo on line 3 of p. 102. The Chairman later points out that he was not feeling well, and that he had only been given 10 days to do the review.

We then had another Appellation for His Excellency Stig Barlyng, the Danish ambassador to Ghana, who once again did not understand a word of Akan. The Ambassador said that he had deliberately asked for Ghana as his last foreign service post before retiring because of the historic relations between Ghana and Denmark, and once again I realize just how little I know about the world and its history, and how much I'd still like to learn.

Two items are still left on the Program, "13. Sales" and "14. Refreshment." The Chairman says that it really should be Refreshment and Sales, but it is almost 8:30 and time for us to leave.

I've been to book launches like this in Latin America with all of the flourishes and formalities, but I don't think I've ever seen anything like this in the United States. I've been to readings for book launches, receptions and signings, and occasionally roundtable discussions at the AHA. I'm really just too much of a leveler for all this Formality and Show. At least the second event wasn't as male dominated at the first.

And I didn't think to bring my camera, so no photos, thought at both events a bunch of people were constantly walking around with both still and video cameras with a big bright lamp, including videotaping us as we walked into the room.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kwame Nkrumah

Today is the centennial of the birth of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's independence leader and Time magazine's African Man of the Twentieth Century. The president declared today to be a national holiday, and held a celebration at the Nkrumah Mausoleum.

Kofi told me that it started at 9am, but not to be too anxious to get there on time. Not wanting to miss anything, I showed up at a bit after 9. Because today was a holiday, traffic was unusually light and I had no problem getting a tro-tro and making my way downtown. At the Mausoleum, they were playing Nkrumah's speeches over the loudspeakers. The place wasn't very crowded, mostly school kids and a scattering of curious gringos. Hawkers are selling books and flags and the like. I buy a booklet "A life story of Kwame Nkrumah" for one Ghana Cedis that lists "Wikipedia" as the publisher.

At 10:10 a 100-voice choral choir begins to sing, one person for each year of the centennial. After a couple songs, they stop, and people around me say that they are waiting for more delegations to arrive. An hour later, they begin to sing again. At 11:30 an "Africa Must Unite" march arrives, led by people from the African diaspora with banners of George Padmore, Eric Williams, Paul Robeson, CLR James, Walter Rodney, Bob Marley, MLK, and others with quotes in support of Nkrumah. They are followed by stilt walkers. The choral music has now been replaced by drumming. Then we shift from drumming to a brass band.

Up on the stage, there are skits and dancing. Groups of chiefs sit up front under parasols (I've always wondered how that word made it from Spanish into English). Some of the chiefs appear dressed rather uncomfortably in traditional dress (sorry, I don't know what the wrap-around cloth is called), which seems to indicate that they are not used to wearing it.

At 1:10, Important People come up to the stage and retreat. I strain to see and I identify them and what they are doing, but am unable to do so. I assume it is president Mills and other government leaders, but I don't see a wreath that I thought they would have left. Everyone stands for the national anthem, and then we have an appellation--by the same person who provided it at the book launch a couple days ago. This is followed by more dancing and skits and an opening by the Professor Chair.

Three people provided solidarity messages. The first was by Marcus Garvey's son in the name of the diaspora. He calls for African unity, to consider the diaspora the sixth province of Africa. He is followed by a worker's and women's representative. The woman points to the importance of women in the struggle, and that women need to be present for it to be complete. She points to the lack of women in government posts, and president Mill's promise to increase the percentage of women to 40 percent in decision-making posts. She argues that Nkrumah's dream was to empower women to participate.

While the women's representative is speaking, three men painted in the red, yellow, and green colors of the Ghana flag begin antics in front of us, including one person without a leg doing stunts on a bike. They have "Nkrumah showboy" written on their bodies. If I understand this political landscape, this indicates that they are opponents and probably were trying to distract attention from the solidarity speakers.

Two youth speakers pointed to the importance of pan-Africanism, and the dangers of not uniting. They called for organizing a pan-African committee in each country. International solidarity was important to Kwame Nkrumah, they say. They pointed to the crumbling of imperialist capitalism, and urged that people do not emulate a system based on the exploitation of resources and people.

Artists brought a unity flag, and had Mills sign the black star in the middle of the flag as a sign of his commitment to African unity. Mills then gives a short speech (nothing like I would expect from Fidel or Chavez). He emphasizes the theme of unity, and says that the best judges are posterity not contemporaries. Nkrumah faced a lot of opposition when he was overthrown in a military coup in 1966, but now he is regarded in an increasingly positive light.

After Mill's short speech, the National Dance Company of Ghana presents dances from the different regions of Ghana to celebrate cultural diversity.

The event closes with a recording of Nkrumah's speech at Ghana's independence, with him saying that thanks to chiefs, youth, farmers, women, and ex-servicemen Ghana now is free.

By now it is almost 3pm, and I've spent the entire day positioned under the same tree. I need to pee and I debate moving around to get better photos, but I don't want to lose my spot. The hot equatorial sun is giving me nasty heat migraines, and I need the shade. I wish I had brought more water, food, and excedrin. I didn't expect to be here all day.

I brought along my Zoom H2 to record some ambient sound. If this were Latin America, I would do a story and probably even a feature for WORT's Third World View and maybe something for FSRN. But I don't feel as if I have a strong enough understanding of the issues to pull something together quickly. I still would like to do something for WORT, though. In the meantime, you can always read the reports on the BBC.

Happy autumnal equinox, though I'm not really sure what it is properly called here on the equator in Africa.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Aburi Botanical Gardens

Last week I received a pile of essays in my class to grade, and grading always makes me grumpy so by now I was very ready for a change of scenery. So, we headed out of town to visit the Aburi Botanical Gardens and the surrounding area. The garden was created by the Basel missionaries in 1890. It is located on a hilltop outside of Accra that has a pleasant and breezy climate that is a nice break from the heat and humidity that is slowly encroaching on us this time of year. The gardens have a lot of indigenous and exotic plants which really doesn't mean a lot to this historian, but it had interesting historical buildings and a variety of trees planted by visiting dignitaries that was more interesting for me. We looked for a tree planted to symbolize the negotiations to end the Nigerian civil war, but we couldn't find it.

On the way back we stopped on the roadside to buy fruit, so now my kitchen is full of pineapples, papaya, oranges, and avocado. Unfortunately, mangos are out of season. Bummer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's all downhill from here

[Note: we've been traveling and I haven't had internet access, so here are a couple old blog posts I wrote offline. This one is from October 8. I'll add in pictures later.]

Today I visited Ghana's highest waterfall and climbed Ghana's tallest mountain and I've been here two months now which means that I'm just short of the halfway point, so in a variety of ways and on a variety of levels, it is now all downhill from here.

After a false start yesterday afternoon, we woke up early this morning and left for the Volta region. Four hours later we were at the Wli or Agumatsa falls, right on the Togo border. The waterfall was nice as far as waterfalls go, but at 60 meters is no where near the level of an Iguazu. I would think about crossing into Togo, but my passport is in immigration to get my visa renewed and Cheryl doesn't have a multiple reentry visa for Ghana. But I've seen Togo now, if that counts for anything.

We then continued on to Mount Afadjato, which at 885 meters seemed little more than a hill to me, though the trail was steep Guatemala style. We waited a while before starting out because it was raining. I was only carrying my big Nikon and I didn't want to get it wet, so I left it in the car and as a result the best photo I have is one at the base. That was probably just as well, because the ascent took everything out of me and I really didn't need the extra weight.

I keep thinking about comparisons between Africa and Latin America, between Ghana and Ecuador. Like I've said before, there are the obvious superficial differences like the no left hand rule and not pointing with your mouth (I have trouble breaking myself on both accounts), and the much deeper issues of colonial legacies and economic dependency. Visiting parks bring this to the surface again because just like in Ecuador there is a dual price structure where as a gringo I pay more than locals (often MUCH more), and I pay as much (or more) than I would for a national park in the US even though there is much less to do and fewer amenities here. 20 Ghana cedis (plus a required tip for the tour guide) for 3 people for a 45-minute visit to a waterfall? Be real. Both issues drive me crazy.

But the one that is really getting to me now is that everyone wants to do everything for me, as if I'm a helpless person. One of my students said it made him so sad when he saw me walking to the night market to buy vegetables, because I should not have to do that for myself. My students want to carry my bags for me. On this trip we have a driver, when we are usually accustomed to driving ourselves (though frankly this is not as bad as Mali where we had a driver, a translator, and a guide--3 people just for the two of us). I value my autonomy and self-sufficiency, and having others do things for me runs so hard against that. I've come to be very critical of individualism, but I wonder if my strong need for personal space and independence is a manifestation of that.

Happy dia del guerrillero heroico. I wonder if Che had lived to be my age if he would have traveled like this.

Dusty trails

October 9

Today was a long, dusty, exhausting trip from Hohoe to Tamale via Salaga over seriously damaged roads. I'm not sure that these were the worst roads I've ever been on (I've seen some pretty bad roads in Bolivia and Mali), but they were far from decent shape. The owner of the Waterfall Lodge where we stayed last nite said the trip was 9 hrs. We set out at 6am, and it was after dark by the time we rolled into Tamale. I should have counted, but it seems to me that there were more cars broken down on the road (as, say, opposed to oh BESIDES the road) than we met traveling in both directions. At various places, the road served more for foot traffic, bicycles, goats, laundry, and at one point someone seemingly taking a nap, than for vehicular traffic. We passed from the beautiful Togo mountains to the flat savannah. To me, the savannah looks a lot like a prairie, and I've never understood the difference between a savannah and a prairie.

Part of the reason why I wanted to come north this way was because after reading A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana From the 15th to the 19th Centuries by my history colleague Akosua Adoma Perbi I wanted to visit Salaga. Salaga was the location of one of the most important slave markets in Ghana. Slave traders apparently brought slaves there from all over west Africa to sell them to other traders who took them hundreds of kilometers south to places like Cape Coast where they were then sold again and put on boats and shipped to the Americas.

Not much remains to be seen at Salaga. We visited Wonkan Bawa, the place where slaves were bathed before being taken the final couple kilometers to the market at Salaga. In Salaga itself, all that remains is a sign that marks the slave market and a tree to replace the tree that died in 1970 where slaves were chained while they were auctioned off. The town is trying to pull together a small museum and cultural center with chains and weapons from the slave trade. We found a kind guide named Brazil who took us around and explained various aspects of the trade.

In Tamale, we are staying at the TICCS Guesthouse, a place that comes highly recommended by my friend and colleague Deborah Pellow. When we arrived the manager Adam said that they were full up because a group from Calvin College is staying here. After dropping Deborah's name, somehow a spare room opened up. It's amazing how that can happen. But we are hardly here long enough to enjoy the cultural center. Tomorrow is another early start for another bumpy ride to Mole National Park.

Mole National Park

October 10

This post was almost called "No Elephants," because elephants are the main reason that people come to Mole National Park and for a while I thought there was a good chance that we would not see any. But at the end of our evening safari we finally ran across one grazing and flapping its ears and swinging grass on its head.

We woke up early again this morning to drive to Mole because from the guidebook I understood that the road was in bad condition, but compared to what we drove on the day before it was a dream. The first stop was at Larabanga to see a stick-and-mud mosque, Ghana's oldest surviving structure, perhaps 50 years older than the Elmina castle on the coast, the oldest European structure in Ghana. We were mobbed by people who wanted to show us around, or rather take our money, but we found the tourist office who relieved us of what they deemed to be an appropriate amount of our money and then gave us a tour guide who didn't tell us anything. He only came alive at the end when he found out that I taught history at the University of Ghana and then he excitedly started talking about this Kate from California who was here a month ago and is studying history at the University as well.

When we arrived at the park they told us that we could only take safaris at 7am and 3:30pm, and that we should go to the Mole Motel and wait until 3:30. But the price list stated that only vehicular safaris be taken between 11am and 2:30pm, which seemed to be complete news to the guides. So, they said to come back at 11am, and I just assumed that it was a big blowoff. Life in Ghana can be so confusing.

So we went to check in at the Mole Motel, and I maybe fought too hard for the chalet that I had tried to reserve via email because they gave us a room in which the AC didn't work. Apparently they no longer use the email address that is listed in the Brandt guide, and googling Mole Motel doesn't bring up any logical reservation listings. Life in Ghana can be so confusing.

So, at 11am we went back to the information centre for our safari and no one was around, but they called a guide and sure enough he came--along with his gun. We are required to travel with an armed guard, and I keep wanting to ask why--too shoot would-be robbers, wayward obrunis, or what. The guide/guard kept grumbling that it made no sense to go out now because no sensible animal (nor any sensible tour guide, it seems) would be out in the middle of the heat of the day. But we saw a fair number of animals: various kinds of antelope (roan, kob, waterbuck, bushbuck), baboons (they're everywhere!), warthog, various birds, and loads of the tsetse biting fly, but no elephants. But overall, not bad for the hot part of the day.

We return at 3:30 for the more proper afternoon safari, and actually see less than we did in the middle of the day. When we arrive the guide/guard is leaving with a Peace Corps vehicle and he claims that someone had told him that we were not coming back, that they were short on guides, and that we should just follow their vehicle. In the morning they had seemingly overcharged us, and now in the afternoon they seemingly undercharged us. Who knows. Life in Ghana can be so confusing.

But we did find our elephant. Just a poor, lonely elephant surrounded by annoying obrunis snapping pictures of themselves with it. I thought elephants usually traveled in packs.

After dinner I come back to the room and start looking for a dark place to star gaze. I open the front door of our room, and a whole herd of warthogs who had settled in their for the nite and I startle each other. The only light is coming off of the motel, and I'm nervous about wondering off too far for fear that I'll run into more critters. We're just north of the equator, and I've never been entirely clear from where exactly the southern cross is visible, and whether what I'm looking at is the true or false cross.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


October 11

When I was young I faced this perpetual conundrum that if I had money I had no time to travel (because I was working), and if I had time to travel I had no money (because I had no job). Now that I'm old I have managed to configure my life in such a way that time and money tend to go together (I've figured out ways to make travel part of my job), but now I can't get blogging and an internet connection to correspond in any sort of rational manner. If I have an internet connection (like the first couple days of this week) I'm so overwhelmed by concerns of the outside world that I don't have time to blog, and if I don't have an internet connection (like right now) I have the time and space to blog but no way to upload my posts. So, here are posts from the last couple days.

I woke up early at Mole National Park and went to the lodge to see if I could see anything in the elephant pond over the escarpment on which the Mole Motel is perched. Not much luck. At 7am we took off on our morning safari walk. At first we just walked down the road, which seemed rather meaningless to me because we could have driven in that direction. Furthermore, we were following the cars that were scaring the baboons off the road. I thought we would be completely out of luck for the day.

Then, suddenly, we saw an elephant on the road ahead of us. We started walking quickly toward it. Behind us came a row of cars, and the guide/guard mumbled that they would scare the elephant off before we got there. Sure enough, it went crashing into the brush, followed by a second one. But now walkers were at an advantage over the drivers, as we went crashing into the brush after them. After a while, the elephant apparently grew tired of obrunis chasing after it and turned toward us, bellowed, and started what I interpreted as a false charge. The guard/guide chambered a round in his hunting rifle and waved us to move behind him. One of the dutch guys in our group said at the beginning that he hoped he would be lucky that day. Now he said he was being just a bit too lucky.

So, we left the elephants to their own merry making and took off on our own. The guide/guard explained that the females were off somewhere else right now (in their mating cycle, I think) and so the males were traveling through here either alone (as we saw yesterday) or in small groups (as with the two bulls now). The tour became more interesting/educational, as the guard unchambered the round and starting guiding us through the local flora and fauna.

We walked around to the elephant bath that I had been watching in the morning, and luck of luck we ran into two elephants bathing. The guide/guard said it was a bull and his offspring, and they were splashing around and playing in the water. Four elephants in one morning safari. Not bad, especially for starting out by following the cars. My only regret was that I didn't realize that my camera battery was wearing down, so I didn't get much video.

On our way out of the park we passed back through Larabanga where I wanted to stop to stop to see the "mystery rock" that allegedly could not be moved to build the road. It turned out to be one of those most awful tourist traps. Someone had built a wall around the rock so it was not visible from the road, and then tried to charge several cedis to see it. What a rip off. Furthermore, to my untrained eye it appears that given the grade of the hill the engineers would have wrapped the road the way they did whether the rock was there or not.

I wanted to head northeast through Wa on our way to to Bolgatanga, but we were now running out of time so we had to head straight back through Tamale. We arrived at about 4pm, which gave us time for a quick trip up to Paga on the Burkina Faso border to see the sacred crocodile ponds. To me, it struck me as another tourist crock. Although it is billed as a "community tourism project," they charged stacked fees and double-billed others in such a way that they charged us 15 cedis just to see a couple stupid crocs.

Locals say that the crocs are their sacred ancestors, which is good for the crocs because no one kills them. They also claim that the crocs never hurt anyone, which is good for the humans because the thing tourists like to do is to take their pictures with the crocs. Part of the 15 cedis was one of those required voluntary donations to buy a chicken to feed to the croc (perhaps good for the croc, but not so much for the chicken), which a kid threw so quickly at the croc that we couldn't have taken a decent picture even had we wanted to do so.

After a quick swing by the Burkina Faso border (add it to my list of countries I've seen but not visited), we continue on to the Pikworo slave camp, perhaps the most interesting site I've visited so far here in Ghana. Slave raiders assembled slaves here before taking them south to the market at Salaga. A young man named Aaron, who said he learned the history of the site from his father, took us around to where the slaves had been chained to trees and had been fed in bowls carved into the rock. Musicians were present to show us how they entertained the captives with a rock drum. Aaron showed us where the raiders auctioned off the slaves, and tied troublemakers to rocks in the hot sun as punishment. All together very visual and very fascinating. It was well worth the stop, and gave me some good information, ideas, and visuals to use in my classes.

By now it is getting dark, and we make a quick stop at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in Navrongo, the oldest Catholic mission in northern Ghana (only 100 years old). But the museum was already closed and it is too dark to get any decent pictures, and I wish we had done the entire afternoon trip in reverse. I could have done without the crock of crocs.

Under a tree in Africa

October 12-13

Isn't meeting under a tree in Africa the ultimate cliche? But that is what we did over the course of one and a half days of meetings with Trade Aid and their partners around Bolgatanga in northern Ghana. The process almost seems routine now. We roll up in our white NGO vehicle, and the women are waiting for us with a whole song and dance routine. We then move into a meeting where the women tell us their stories as a couple seemingly token selection of people weave baskets, one of them of course one that SERRV sells. The first group is the most successful one, complete with a permanent craft center. The second one is less successful, so we meet under a tree. The third is, well, ok. But, quite frankly, it is by far the best way to see a country. Were I an anthropologist, it would take me a long time to gain the confidence and access at which these meeting start.

I had perhaps my worst experience at lunch in Bolga. It was a typical restaurant menu (starch and dead animals), which left me wondering why restaurants couldn't figure out how to cook decent food. But I selected something tolerable, though overpriced. When the (unitemized) bill came well over an hour later it was almost double of what was listed on the menu. The server started into a confusing and conflicting story about how he didn't want to bring us the menus because the prices were outdated, that they didn't have what I ordered so they brought us something else, etc., etc. I told him no, I was paying the prices listed on the menu for what we had ordered. As he refused I became more insistent, and it quickly spiraled downwards to the point where I was screaming at him at the top of my voice. Only when I went to get my (Missouri-issued) cell phone to call in the big guns did he finally back down. I can't stand to be treated unfairly, perhaps something that I picked up from my father.

We mixed in a bit of play with work, visting the Tongo hills just southeast of Bolga. My guide book talks about a community tourist project about twice the distance that we traveled out of town so I don't think we were where I wanted to be but oh well. A couple guys took us up around the hills (which are quite scenic) and showed us where people hid from slave raiders in the rocks and fought the British. It quickly became rather clear that these guys could easily rob us there if they so desired. Not exactly the safest playground.

We left Bolga Tuesday afternoon for Kumasi, and stopped halfway at the Kintampo Falls which were nice but overpriced like all of the other tourist attractions in this country. After a short visit to the falls, the guide took us to a relatively expensive hotel that claims to be full service but the AC and TV did not work in the room, they have no internet service, most of the lights in the room didn't work, and then the electricity went out and it is clear that they don't have a generator either.


On our way to Kumasi we stopped at the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. The monkeys were so friendly that they came up to us and would eat bananas out of our hands. The monkeys, like the crocs at Paga, are considered to be sacred and therefore protected. People are not allowed to hunt or hurt them (tho a couple people were walking around town with rifles; I'm not sure what was up with that). When a monkey dies it is given a formal burial in a monkey cemetery. It leaves me thinking that perhaps humans should also be part of a fetish system so that people don't harm or kill them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kuapa Kokoo

By the end of the day, the constant rip-offs become wearing. Last nite I found out that the Joyflux Hotel where we are staying in Kumasi was charging us 50 percent more for water than what is listed on the menu. And now I find out, just like the restaurant in Bolga, they charged us more than double for our meals than what is listed on the menu. The excuse is the same--the prices in the menu are old, and so we are charging more. What a lame excuse; if that were the case, why not tell us up front? I grow so weary of the constant hassles and rip-offs, and being constantly on the guard against rip-offs.

This morning we visited the Amankwatia Society, one of the fair trade cocoa cooperative Kuapa Kokoo's local farmer cooperatives. We met with the cooperative board during their busy harvest season. After the meeting, coop members took us to the cocoa grove where they showed us how they harvest the pods. With a long stick they hook the cocoa pods high up in the trees. Then they split the pods open, take out the seeds, and wrap them up in banana leaves to let them ferment for a couple days before laying them out in the sun to dry.

Cocoa, of course, is a crop native to the Americas, and the Aztecs considered it to be a food of the gods, something unfit for commoner consumption. At different points, cocoa has also been used as a currency. Back in Ghana, cooperative members presented each of us with a cocoa pod, but I'm not entirely sure what to do with one. Obey says we can crack it open and suck on the seeds, as they have a tasty cover. The seeds, however, need to be fermented, dried, and processed before they represent anything approaching what we generally consider to be chocolate.

The community has a new secondary school but no teacher, and behind it a primary school. I went to take pictures of the schools just before they broke for lunch. Or maybe they broke for lunch because the arrival of an obruni with a camera was too disruptive for studies to continue into the afternoon. I felt like a pied piper as I walked away with a whole flock of children following behind trying to get me to take their picture. One of them was wearing a Kansas Jayhawk t-shirt.

We had a bit of extra time in the late afternoon, and I scrambled to see if there was anything touristy in Kumasi that I wanted to do rather than making a trip back here before we leave in December. Finally I decided to make a run out to Lake Bosumtwi about an hour outside of Kumasi. A couple nites ago Cheryl was watching Ghana's version of who wants to be a millionaire, and the question of what is Ghana's only natural lake came up. The answer, of course, is Lake Bosumtwi. It is a crater lake, apparently formed by a meteorite striking the earth rather than a collapsed volcano.

The lake is very beautiful, and reminded me somewhat of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, tho the hassle factor here is much higher. The guide book warns about it, and sure enough it began with an unofficial check point on the road to the lake that attempts to charge an entrance fee. I followed the book's advice and refused to pay. At the lake, people descended on us, including one person claiming to be the chief's representative (apparently he changed his story, because the guide book says that he claimed to be the chief). After a while and after ignoring everyone, they begin to leave us alone. Unfortunately, now it is late afternoon and we need to get back to Kumasi before dark. It is a nice lake, and it was nice to chill for a bit, but the constant hassle factor does become wearing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Elmina revisited

This morning we checked out of the Joyflux Hotel in Kumasi only to find out not only did they want to charge us almost double the listed prices on the menu, but they also refused to honor the price that we had agreed up at checkin. After half on hour of hassle, we finally got on the road--only to head straight north into a deadlocked traffic jam into the middle of the city even though we were on the south side of Kumasi and we were headed south to Cape Coast. After an hour of that, we turned around and headed back south toward Cape Coast, only to take another hour-long detour through Obuasi. The saving grace of that detour was that we saw the famous AngloGold Ashanti, one of the largest gold mines in the world. I wonder about how to make connections between what is happening here and ongoing protests against mining in Latin America.

So, we arrived at Cape Coast a couple hours after what we had planned and hoped, which played havoc with our plans for a nice, relaxed, casual visit to unwind at the end of this trip, and then a slow trip back into Accra tomorrow. We started with the Elmina castle, which of course I have seen before but Cheryl had not. Mostly what I wanted to do is to visit other historical sites along the coast that I could not when we were here last time. Across from Elmina castle is the Fort St. Jago that the Dutch used to steal Elmina from the Portuguese. The visit to St. Jago started out perfectly fine, but as with too many things here ended on a very sour note as the guide attempted to charge us even though the entry fee was included in what we already had paid at Elmina.

After losing some more time buying fish, we made it to Cape Coast right at 5pm, and the friendly staff sold us a ticket even though they were closing. What's up with that? But we'll go back and try to visit tomorrow morning before heading back to Accra, which will unfortunately put us back at the University Guest Centre a couple hours later than planned. But we did take advantage of the time to swing past Global Mamas and Fort Victoria, a signal tower for the Cape Coast castle. There is another signal tower called Fort Williams that I also wanted to visit, but the people who charged us to climb up to Fort Victoria started telling long-winded and detailed military histories and we ran out of daylight. Hopefully we'll have better luck tomorrow.

On the upside, where we're staying has a fairly strong internet connection so I'm able to upload most of the photos and videos that I haven't been able to over the past week, though unfortunately I'm outside with the mosquitos and once again we're paying through the nose for our room. Hopefully I won't get malaria out of this as well.

Happy birthday, Wiren!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

From Cape Coast to Accra

Yesterday we finished our lap of Ghana and headed back to Accra.

We started out (after another late start) with a visit to the Cape Coast Castle, the one we wanted to do yesterday. I had visited before, but I wanted a picture of myself for my facebook profile at the Door of No Return since I had forgotten to take one during my previous visit. Unfortunately, the door was padlocked shut and it is hard to get both me and the sense of the door in the same shot, but oh well.

Before leaving Cape Coast we made a quick stop at Fort William, which together with Fort Victoria was one of the signal towers for the castle. While in the Cape Coast castle, I did confirm that both signal towers were visible from the governor's room as the guide at Fort Victoria had told us the previous day, but it was not the straight view that I had imagined. Later Fort William was converted into a lighthouse, and today a caretaker family lives in the former fort. It seems me me that it would be quite a funky place to live.

From Cape Coast we headed back up the coast toward Accra and made a quick swing through Moree to see the ruins of Fort Nassau. Our guide book says that there is not much to see at the fort, and more engaging than the ruins are the view of the beach and town from the hilltop. Because of our late start and delays (it is now noon, and my original plan was to take the entire day visiting these forts on the way back to Accra), we just swing by the market, snap a quick couple of pictures, and head on. My guide book says that Fort Nassau was the first Dutch fort (1612), and served as their headquarters until they captured Elmina in 1637, but Kwesi Anquandah's book on castles and forts of Ghana does not even mention it. Forty some forts and other trading structures originally dotted the Gold Coast, but only a hand full of them still remain.

The next stop is Fort William in Anomabu (not to be confused with the signal fort of the same name in Cape Coast). The Dutch originally built Fort William in 1630 before the British later took over it. Fort William is a fairly substantial structure, I think the largest on the Ghanian coast (Elmina, Cape Coast, and Christiansborg are all castles rather than forts). As with Cape Coast, hundreds of slaves came through this fort as part of the trans-atlantic slave trade. The guide (who stopped talking when ever I paused to snap a photo) told a similar type of story as we already had heard at Elmina and Cape Coast. After the slave trade, the fort was used as a prison (under seemingly similar miserable conditions), and only recently has become a historic site open to visitors.

Now it is an hour later, and serious questions set in whether we'll have time to visit all of the remaining forts along the coast. The next one is Fort Amsterdam at Abanze, one of the forts (the only one?) visible from the main road, and one that made me want to return after our first trip to explore these other structures in a closer and more relaxed environment. When we roll up at Abanze we're mobbed with an annoying group of kids shouting "white man give me money," hardly something more relaxing. In Sandinista Nicaragua, I would lecture kids who tried to do that on the evils of economic dependency and the fostering of an imperialist mentality, but I'm not sure what the proper (or understandable) response would be here. At the Fort, the caretaker attempts to charge us another five Ghana cedis, but it is clear that he has neither the linguistic or ambulatory skills to take us on a tour like we had at Fort William. We're pissing through incredible sums of money on this trip, and so we show him our receipt from From William and protest that the two Forts are linked together on the museum board's price list and we shouldn't have to pay again. In the end, we just dash him a cedis, but I feel sorry for him because clearly it was his job to be sure that no one visited the site for free as we just did, even though there was very little information or historical explanation to justify the high charge (though the bats in the dungeon were pretty cool, though I'm terrified of being bitten and contacting rabies). Meanwhile, kids are mobbing the vehicle where Cheryl had remained behind, and so we cut short the visit and continue on down the coast.

After a short stop for fruit, fuel, food, and a swing through Mankessim where we get yelled for stopping in front of the posuban shrine, we arrive at Apam, location of Fort Leydsaamsheid (Fort Patience). The friendly guide relieves us of our 2 Ghana Cedis a piece (I've learned now to ask for prices up front, rather than fighting about them later; I give the guide a 5 cedis note but fails to give me my change, apparently opting to keep the extra cedis as his required voluntary 'dash'). The fort also doubles as a resthouse. It costs 2 cedis a nite, the same as entrance fee, and I wonder what it would be like to stay there. The guidebook says that the rooms were cells, but they are not down in the dungeon but rather up on the second floor where the officer quarters originally would have been. So, my concern was not so much sleeping where slaves were once held, but rather facing the potential and constant hassles, like the little kid who kept tugging on my water bottle.

Now it is 4pm, and only one more fort lies between us and Accra. Rather than making another trip just to visit the Fort of Good Hope at Senya Beraku, we decide to go for it. Unfortunately, I misread the map (complicating my misreading directions is the Brandt guide that mistakenly refers to a dirt road) that leads us on another half hour detour down another bumpy dirt road that eventually end up at the fort. Unlike the other forts that we have visited, this one doubles as a restaurant for receptions and the like, as well as having rooms for rent, though at 20 Ghana cedis it is significantly more expensive than Fort Patience. We're charged one cedis for a quick tour, and I wonder whether this fort is privately owned (or at least run) rather than being property of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (as I assume was the case with the other forts we visited). I ponder returning here to hang out for a weekend, but decide it would probably be more fun to do so with others rather than as a solo journey.

Now it's 5pm, an hour to nightfall, and we're only 45 kilometers from Accra. Under normal circumstances, it seems like we should make it back before dark. But Accra is not very normal. And so we spend a couple hours fighting really bad traffic to get back to the university. In a way, it makes me happy that we stopped at the last fort so I don't feel the need to go back out again to knock this last fort off my list.

And so ends our lap of Ghana, 10 days from Legon to Legon. We missed a couple things I wanted to visit (like Wa), and while out and about I ran into other things I wouldn't have minded visiting if we had more time (like the Gambaga escarpment). But we did most of what I wanted to do, and some extra things as well (like Lake Bosumtwi). So, in the end, we're probably done most of what I normally could expect to do during a semester of shorter weekend trips on public transit. Maybe I'll be happy with what I've seen and settle back into what I enjoyed so much about Ghana during my first couple of weeks here--just hanging out in the Guest Centre reading books that I never get a chance to read when I am back home.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Sunday morning the electricity at the Guest Centre went off. It briefly flickered back on, but has been off ever since. We quickly unplug everything, scared of power surges if the power comes back on.

Apparently it is a broad outage due to the failure of a transformer. Usually the Guest Centre turns on their backup generator when the grid goes down, but apparently they are short of fuel and could not get more during the weekend, but they promised to turn it on at 6pm when the sun sets. I had invited my students over for pancakes at 6pm, but didn't want to start mixing up the batter because of the uncertainty of whether we would have electricity or not. Even when the generator finally came on the electricity did not come back on in my flat because, apparently, someone had not thought to throw the switch for the electricity to come from the generator rather than the grid. I keep saying "apparently" because good information or a clear story is hard to come by.

At some point during the nite the generator went off, long after the three hours of diesel reserves that they had given as a reason for not turning it on earlier in the day. On Monday morning the restaurant and guest centre office had electricity even though our flats and the rest of campus did not. I'm not entirely clear how they accomplished that. The generator remained off, apparently because without electricity that had no way to pump the diesel necessary to run the generator. Mid-morning they turned the generator back on, which we desperately needed to recharge our laptop batteries. The generator is right outside the patio doors of my flat, and the high pitched noise and rising heat (it regularly hits 30C in the afternoons now) chased me into the bedroom where we closed the windows and shades and turned the AC on. That, of course, puts more of a load on the generator, and mid afternoon it went back off. This was a bit of a problem, as I had beans soaking for dinner and now I had no way to cook them.

Early Monday evening they restarted the generator and I quickly cook my beans, but now the noise is driving us crazy but at least we have light and electricity to recharge our laptop batteries (again) and cook some food. Such are the tradeoffs in Africa. Meanwhile, my internet connection is slow to the point of useless. I thought the outage would shut down so many users that the network would be blazingly fast. I wonder if in some way the outage is putting more of a load on the network, or if the servers are not running at full capacity. More frustrating than the outages is the lack of information and resulting uncertainties.

PS: Tuesday morning, and it's going on 48 hrs now without electricity and the generator is off again because it allegedly has run out of fuel. But the restaurant and guest centre office have electricity (and reasonably fast internet), apparently because they are on a different "phase." The internet at home is still slow to the point of useless.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ussher Fort

I found out about another fort in Accra, so I took off to visit it. Ussher Fort apparently is not that old (the date above the doorway says 1839), which probably means that it was not part of the slave trade. When I arrive a caretaker relieves me of 5 Ghana cedis to snap some pictures of the fort, and then takes me to a small museum (for which he charges me another 3 Ghana cedis) with a generic history of the transatlantic slave trade and pictures of other castles and forts along the coast. My guide book says that more recently this fort was used as a prison, and that Ghana's independence leader and first president Kwame Nkrumah was once held here. I ask the caretaker if I could see his cell, and he shows me a couple of cells, but is very vague with specific information including exactly when Nkrumah was there. I ask about visiting James Town, which is just up the road from Ussher Fort, and Fort James, but instead the caretaker puts me in a taxi and sends me off to the National Museum. Walking in the heat in the middle of they day had pretty much worn me out anyway, but at some point I'll have to try to make a return trip to visit Fort James.

PS: We went to the Archaeology museum on campus, and they had an exhibit case on Ussher. Apparently the original fort dates back to the 1600s like most European structures on the coast, but what currently exists (like many of the forts) is of a more recent vintage.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


A month ago, workers at the Guest Centre took what seemed like a week to chop down a bamboo stand behind my flat. A couple weeks later they spent several days dragging away the branches. Today I looked out my window and saw that the remnants of the stand were ablaze. First we closed the windows so that the ash did not float into our flat (we are already coughing enough from the exhaust from the generator on the other side of the flat). But as we continued to watch I began to worry that the crackling and snapping flames were spreading so quickly in this dry environment that they would soon engulf the Guest Centre. We debate whether we should throw everything into suitcases so that we can quickly evacuate if necessary.

Finally I walked out behind the flat to see how great of a danger we were facing. A worker comes over and explains that they are burning down the bamboo stand because three pythons had taken up residence there, and that the university could not risk the liability of a guest being bitten, which would mean certain death. They had not seen the pythons leave the stand, and now they were not sure if they had been burned alive or whether they had escaped.

We had debated whether to do something this weekend, but between the lack of engaging options and the hassle of traveling anywhere we were not sure whether it was worth the effort. With pythons on the loose, the option of just staying home and reading a book becomes an even more attractive option.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Final exams

Final exams are taken much more seriously here at the University of Ghana than they are anywhere that I've seen in the United States.

In the U.S., a typical pattern consists of a "stop" or "reading" day at the end of the semester and then a week of exams. Here in Ghana, we just finished the last week of classes (which makes for a very short semester--after losing the first week of classes because things start so slowly and another week to travel, it becomes a 10-week semester). Now we have a "revision" week (as opposed to a day), and then three weeks of exams (as opposed to one day).

Yesterday the history department had a retreat to write and review the final exams for our classes. Previously, lecturers only needed to have the exams approved by the head of the department, but now the university wants the entire department to review the exams, apparently following a model that engineering started. At Truman, I have complete autonomy over my final exams. Every semester, the provost sends faculty a memo stating a university requirement that each class have a final exam or an "equivalent learning experience," which sometimes can be something as "educational" as coming to my house to eat enchiladas.

So, on Saturday the history faculty heads out of town to the IIAS Guest Centre for the retreat. The justification is that if we met at the department we would be continually interrupted, which is probably true. The original plan was to meet overnite, but some Nigerians were staying at the guest centre, which spoiled those plans. We were supposed to start at 7:30 am, but it was after 10 by the time we ate breakfast and began to get down to business. Almost immediately the electricity went out which interrupted our work. We took up a collection to send a delegate out to buy fuel for the generator to run the laptops, even though we did all of our editing on paper. We then proceeded to lay into a detailed and searing critique of the first exam, and I dreaded what would happen when it was my turn.

Not realizing how seriously UG takes its finals, I told my class at the beginning of the semester that they would have one question on the final exam and that was why is Latin America poor. I think it is a brilliant question because it encompasses everything I talk about all semester, and because it does not have a simple or set answer it requires a certain amount of thought and reflection, including interrogating the assumptions of the question itself because, in fact, Latin America is not poor at all but in fact very wealthy (Bolivia and Haiti were two of the richest colonies ever) but except under very rare conditions (Cuba since the revolution, Venezuela today) has the wealth been used to benefit normal people rather than domestic or foreign elites.

Despite my insistence, the history faculty would not even listen or entertain the notion. One colleague chastised me for telling the class that this would be a final exam question because, he claimed, they only focused on that one issue and now would give me rote memorized responses (so what, I say, it was the main theme of the class, and as I repeatedly tell students they are graded on their original thought rather than repeating what I say). I argue that the learning is in preparing for the final exam, not in writing it, and if I don't guide the study the students will simply cram a bunch of meaningless factoids that they will promptly forget after the exam. I am told that university regulations require that I give the students between five and seven questions and that they have a choice as to which one they can answer. I have never seen such a regulation, and it would be equally unsurprising for me if indeed such a regulation does exist or whether this is just "the way we have always done things." But in any case, I consent to an exam with six questions divided into three sections with instructions that students should answer one question from each section.

Another interesting flip between Truman and Ghana is that at Truman I'm required to proctor my own final exam, whereas UG has a whole examination board that takes my questions and administers the exam outside of my control. I am tempted to subvert the whole process by listing the exam questions on my blog (I assume some students are lurking around here), but I really don't have anything to gain by alienating my colleagues at UG. So, in the end, the question of why Latin America is poor is not on the final exam, but as I told my colleagues the six questions all ask that same question, though from different and more specific perspectives. If the students reflect on that broad question of why is Latin America poor rather than memorizing facts they should do fine.

After lunch, we quickly blew through the last couple of exams and then left at about 3 pm, but everyone agreed that next year we needed more time and should do it as a two-day retreat. I've been told that the only time Ghanians stay at hotels is as part of a business meeting, as a fringe benefit of a job, I guess. In a way it was nice hanging out with my colleagues and interacting with them on a social and intellectual level, something that my colleagues at Truman complain that we do not do often enough.

So, now we're suddenly at the end of the semester but there is a month left and it feels as if that time will last a lifetime but (due to the principle of relativity in any experience) will go by in a flash. My book ms is sent off, I've returned all the articles and book chapters that keep coming back for more revisions, and I've written the reviews of the books I have here (tho I am waiting for one more book to come from HAHR). There is always more that I can do (prepare for my Panama classes for the spring, work on my promotion portfolio, read through the digital images of archival documents that I have on my hard drive). I feel, though, as if I'm in the eye of the hurricane and wonder if I should just relax and enjoy this momentary lull. Part of me looks forward to going home (where ever and whatever that is), and part of me dreads the stressful crush of facing a semester-long backlog (at least two books to review, probably some revise and resubmits coming back by then, and who knows what else).

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Yesterday I went with two of my history colleagues to Kipi (aka Kyebi) for a durbar of chiefs and people of the Royal Akyem Kingdom in honour of the Okyenhene, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin on the occasion of his 10th anniversary on the Ofori Panin Stool. We attended because another of our colleagues, Professor Robert Addo-Fenning, received Okyeman's highest award Okyeman Kanea in recognition of his distinguished achievements in public service and academic contributions to the Royal Akyem Kingdom.

Ok, did that all make sense? I'm not sure of the significance of what I witnessed, but it was the richest ethnographic experience that I have had here in Ghana. At some point someone who studies the Ashanti kingdoms probably will trip across this post and feel the same sort of jealousy I would feel of someone who by virtue of being at the right time at the right place showed up at Transito Amaguana's funeral in Cayambe without really understanding who she was or the deep symbolism of what was portrayed there.

Kipi is almost halfway to Kumasi, and we left Legon soon after daybreak for the several hour trip. We traveled through some of the nicest scenery I've seen in Ghana, along an escarpment that my guidebook says is a 700m uplift with a particular rich biological diversity.

We arrive just as the paramount chief of the Ashanti arrives and mounts his throne (why isn't he sitting on a stool?). All of his slaves are scrambling around serving him, and then sit at his feet. We witness what Kofi calls the "parade of umbrellas" with each sub chief with his own slaves carrying a huge umbrella to shade him from the hot equatorial sun. In an apparent system that completely escapes me, the different sub chiefs gather together with dancers and drumming groups around a large plaza that extends out in front of the chief's palace. One slave with a huge fan cools the royal assemblage. A palace guard with an old rifle comes up behind me and yanks the hat off my head. I am not showing appropriate deference in the presence of the chief.

Soon Ghana's president Mills also arrives and walks up through the crowd to greet the chief. He then retires to the opposite side of the plaza where he sits together with his ministers and the foreign diplomatic corps. It provides an interesting division of political and hereditary power. Mills' opponent in the 2008 presidential election from the conservative incumbent NPP party is from Kipi and part of the royal family. Mills is Fante, and dressed in a blue gown rather than the traditional kente cloth that the chiefs wear. He does not have much political support here in Ashanti territory, but it was a wise political move for him to attend this ceremony. It makes me wonder what the ideological divisions in Ghana are, and how many political divisions trace back to struggles between groups for control of government resources.

The ceremony is an interesting mix of tradition and modernity, of extreme wealth in the midst of an impoverished country. The chiefs are dressed in colorful traditional kente cloth, but it is finely woven and they are burdened down with gold adornments (we are in Ghana's primary gold producing area). Young women with beauty queen-type ribbons indicating that they are ushers are all made up with modern makeup and hairdos. Ascension to the throne is matrilineal, and often involves a struggle between eligible male heirs of the recently deceased chief's sister (did I get that right?). The current chief apparently returned from a lucrative career as an insurance executive in the United States to assume this post. We buy a glossy, full color commemorative program that shows the chief playing golf and posing with dignitaries from around the world. In his message to the assembly, he talks about using traditional structures to advance corporate interests, particularly in large-scale mining. Similar to Rafael Correa in Ecuador, he condemns small-scale "illegal" mining as leading to environmental degradation. The celebration even has a website,

When we arrive, our colleague Professor Robert Addo-Fenning who is to receive the award is in a TV van giving what we assume to be a short interview on the historical background on this event. When he does not emerge, we return to the van and discover that they have set him up with a monitor and he is providing color commentary for the live TV coverage of the event. When it is time for his award, the prof first stands in front of the chief while a citation is read, and then proceeds to the other side of the plaza to greet the president. It happens so quickly I'm not able to position myself appropriately to snap a good picture. Together with the bright equatorial sun and dark shadows under the umbrellas and my hesitancy to use a fill-in flash that would only draw attention to my awkward obruni presence at the event, I fail to get any really good photos.

I used to be completely enamored with these types of pageantry and "traditional" cultural expressions. But then I read Michaels' The Trouble with Diversity and became very critical of what I come to see as expressions of false consciousness and the reproduction of class divisions and systems of exclusion. The chief thanks "the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated, the rural and the urbane," as if class differences were the same as age or regional divisions. Society is divided into the royal ruling class and the subservient slave population, and even though some from the slave class become highly educated they still play the role of a slave because they enjoy being in close proximity to power. The struggle between traditional ruling structures, colonial overlays, and the emergence of pan-African nationalist political projects underlie these events.

On the way back to Legon, we stop for lunch and then fill up the car with fresh fruit, snails, and mushrooms. I buy pineapples, papaya, oranges, bananas, and mangos (they're coming back into season!). I'm going back north to a cold brutal winter in only three short weeks, and contemplate moving to an entirely fresh fruit diet for my remaining time here. My left eye is almost swollen shut, and a friend reminds me that mangos are related to poison ivy and that I might be having a reaction to it. Do I want to see or eat mango? No he comido mango desde domingo, gimme mango man!

A running joke for the day is an alleged quote:

"Thank you for your hostility.
You have fed me, and I am fed up.
When you come to Uganda, I will retaliate."
--Idi Amin to the Queen of England.

Friday, November 27, 2009

All my grades are packed...

Well, not quite. One of my poor "special admission" students didn't realize that the final was not in our regular classroom (it was in the Great Hall, together with a computer science final), and now I have to wait instructions for how to enter grades online.

I've always thought that no one ever learns much in writing a final exam, but a lot can be learned in preparing for an exam. And it looks like my students took the exam seriously, and learned a lot. In retrospect, only giving them the question "Why is Latin America poor" may have been too vague, and additional prompts helped shape, structure, and direct their ideas.

One of the students leaving the Great Hall thanked me for a good final exam. I've never been thanked before for an exam, and I wonder exactly what he meant--that it was a fair exam, that he learned a lot in preparing for it? Or, I wonder, the if the exam becomes such a large part of the class that thanking a prof for the exam is, in essence, a way of thanking me for the class, that the exam and the class become one and the same thing?

But otherwise my semester comes crashing quickly to an anti-climatic end. I'm beginning to clean the food out of my kitchen. Except for a couple short encyclopedia entries, I've finished everything on my to do list (oh, and I'm still waiting for The Ecuador Reader to arrive from HAHR). All that I have left to do is to read through thousands of digital images of archival documents on my hard drive, and that would be so much easier on my eyes if only I had my 24" monitor (sorry, I have no idea what that might be in cm). Between straining my eyes on the small laptop monitor and heat migraines from temps that now regularly hit 33 every day and seemingly mango allergies, my body hurts and I'm getting ready to go.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Shai Hills

With all of my teaching responsibilities finished, I decided I should explore a bit more of Ghana. Emily says that one of her favorite places to visit is Shai Hills, a day trip out of Accra. So, I decide to check it out. I get up early and a couple hours and a couple tro-tro rides later, I arrive. A guide takes me on a two-hour hike, mostly along a road until we get to a cave where people used to hide from slave raiders.

I would say that Shai Hills is ... well, ok. It's probably not as nice as Ten Thousand Hills State Park outside of Kirksville, or Indians Hills outside of Madison, two of my favorite "local" places to hike. In fact, except for the absence of onions, the place reminded me a bit of Sebaco where the flat plains outside of Managua begin to climb into the beautiful Matagalpa/Jinotega mountains. The Accra plain stretching out to Shai is similarly, well, ugly, but unlike Nicaragua the Shai Hills do not continue to climb upwards.

It's only 11am, my hike is over, I'm in a good mood, and so I decide to continue exploring. Fifteen minutes up the road is the Krobo Mountain Community Reserve. The person in charge at Shai Hills says that he has never been there. My guide says that it is similar to what we just did at Shai Hills, only he says that it involves climbing a mountain, and he gives me that look of doubt that this old man could make it. Nevertheless, I decide to check it out. I probably should have turned around and gone back home.

First, I miss the sign for Krobo Mountain (well, actually I see it, but don't recognize the old beat up sign that says "Klowem," whatever that means as such). So, I end up at Acuse Junction (which, ironically, is the same place where we turned around on our aborted first day of our lap of Ghana; I had thought of trying to talk Cheryl into staying at the Shai Hills Resort just across from the preserve too, instead of heading all the way back into Legon). I need to walk several kilometers back to the entrance along a hot, busy highway. Two people offer to help, but I'm never sure what "help" means. Sometimes it is genuine and friendly; other times it is just an opening to rip off a poor lost obruni.

Well, now it's noon, the sun is hot, and I'm walking all alone on an isolated road with no clear notion of where I'm going or what I'm going to find. I hear a rustle in the bushes beside the road. Back at the entrance on the main road opposite the dilapidated sign for the reserve a new sign says "Krobo heritage project site; KEEP OFF by order of traditional authority." The guide book talks about a murdered body that a reader found at the reception area, and here I am all alone. And I'm running out of water. I decide to call it a day and return home.

Walking back to the main road I realize just how soon I had turned around; I maybe could have ventured a bit farther. Oh well. A tro-tro stops right away to pick me up, only I don't recognize it as such because it is almost empty and the mate is not yelling a destination. I've never seen either of those before. So, thinking it might be a private vehicle and I'll be grossly overcharged I ask the price, which is the normal price, only the few people in the vehicle are fighting about their fares.

This tro-tro is going to Tema, not Accra, but the driver says he will drop me off at the roundabout to pick up another vehicle to Accra. When we get to the roundabout he indicates that I should say in the tro-tro, and when we get to the lorry station he asks where I'm going. Now he realizes that he should have dropped me off back at the roundabout as he originally suggested for the quick and short trip up the motorway back to Legon. So, instead, now I get to see Tema (which looks like more of the same) and I get to enjoy a couple more tro-tro rides along slow, bumpy, dusty, back roads. Three hours later I'm finally back in Legon, hot, tired, sunburned, heat exhausted, and with a very wet lap because when I took water out of the bladder in my camelbak I forgot to close it back up tight and my precious few drops had drained out all over me.

So, was it worth it? True, I did need the exercise. And it was nice to get off of campus. But I'm trying to escape my commute, and I ended up spending 6 hrs in tro-tros for a 2-hr hike. Shai Hills is calm and relaxing, and if I were living in Accra it would be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city. But the Guest Centre is also quiet and relaxing, and I only need the calming hike after the nerve rattling tro-tro rides out there. After a worse trip back to Legon, I definitely could use another calming hike through a nature preserve.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Green Turtle Lodge

Green Turtle Lodge is a beach-side eco-resort beyond Cape Coast, about halfway to Cote d'Ivoire. My students spoke highly of the place, and with two weeks before I leave and my responsibilities largely complete I thought I'd pay it a visit. Other travelers say that Ghana is relatively hassle free, but I find it a hassle to get anywhere in this country. Perhaps my reference point is different; almost all of my travels in Africa have not been on a tourist circuit but with Cheryl on pre-arranged transportation. Perhaps I have had it too easy. Because of traffic and transportation hassles, arriving at the lodge becomes an all-day adventure. Someone lifts the disposable plastic water bottle out of the side pocket of my backpack, and all I can think is whether than was really necessary.

The beach has sand that gets into everything, the ocean spray coats my glasses with salt water that I can't seem to get off without scratching the lens, the sun burns my skin, and the rip currents threaten to drown me. A women walks on the beach in front of the lodge, stops, squats, poops, stands up, and keeps on walking. Delightful.

The lodge offers a couple of hikes, but the rest of the tourists seem to want to hang out on the sandy, salty, sunny, rip-tidy, poopy beach, so I go off by myself. A young kid leads me off on an incredibly fast-paced hike along a sun-baked road. As the temperature quickly rises and my body dehydrates, I regret not walking at my own pace rather than trying to keep up with him. We first walk out along the road through a rubber plantation, and then back through a bamboo and palm plantation. Crews seem to be cutting down all of the rubber trees, which leaves even less shade for us.

The kid doesn't seem to know a lot and doesn't offer a lot commentary, but he makes an offhand comment about Ghana's first president Kwame Nkrumah planting these rubber trees as one of his economic development projects. My ears perk up, and I want to know more. Apparently the trees have a fifty-year life spam, which is why they are all coming down now. We stop at a sawmill, and the guy in charge asks me if I have an interest in lumber. Do you mean professionally? He wants to know whether I want to invest in the project. A Malaysian timber company is harvesting the wood for export, and I find the contrast between Nkrumah's autonomous development plans with current governments' engagements with extractive enterprises to be striking. Witnessing this is almost as interesting as sitting back at the Guest Centre reading Nkrumah's I Speak of Freedom, which in a way is what I would be just as interested in doing right now.

On the way back to the lodge we stop at Discove, and of course I want to see Fort Metal Cross. I want to see all of the forts along the coast, but in truth they all begin to blur together for me. Nevertheless, I regret doing the hike because the fort is far more fascinating than the sun-baked road, and definitely more so than the sandy, salty, sunny, rip-tidy, poopy beach. With a bit more planning, I could have hit Fort Batenstein at Butre, Fort Orange at Sekondi, and Fort St. Sebastian at Shama heading back to Cape Coast instead.

After touring the fort we head back to Akwidaa through Agona, which is rather like going from Columbia to Jeff City through Kirksville because that is the only way the transportation runs. Akwidaa has a ruined fort (Fort Dorothea or Fort Akodaa, according to my guidebook), apparently knocked down by local inhabitants who did not appreciate its role in the slave trade. Seeing a ruined fort provides an interesting contrast to the nicely preserved or reconstructed white-washed forts that dot the coast.

The next day before taking off on another long trip back to Accra I stop at Axim to see Fort St. Anthony. I'm never sure whether to believe the stories the guides tell me, including that this fort has a tunnel out to the lighthouse out in the bay so that the Europeans could extract the slaves without the awareness of the people on the coast. I think about also trying to make it to Princetown to visit Gross-Friedrichsburg, but it is 15 kilometers off the main road on a dirt track without much transportation and it just seems like too much hassle. But when I return home I read that it was one of a few German forts on the coast, and I regret not making the effort. Farther out is Fort Apollonia at Beyin, but it would probably take another day to get there and back.

With this trip, I have now visited all of Ghana's ten regions. My Bradt guidebook has a map on the inside front cover that lists the main tourist highlights, and I have visited almost all of them. Instead of the Busua Beach Resort, I stayed instead at the Green Turtle Lodge a couple kilometers farther up the coast. So, does that count? If so, the only one I am missing then is the Nzulezo stilt village by Fort Apollonia at Beyin close to the Cote d'Ivoire border. I think about heading there just to finish off the list, but I would arrive there on a Thursday and according to my guidebook it is closed on Thursday--and it does not look like an interesting enough site to be worth taking yet another day. With a bit more and better information, I could have organized this trip differently in order to hit all of these sites.

Nevertheless, the full moon rising over the beach was, in truth, gorgeous. And swinging in a hammock on the beach reading a book was very relaxing. Now if only I could figure out how to do that with these long tro-tro rides from Accra and back.

In case anyone is interested, here are pictures from our thanksgiving day dinner:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Kalapka Resource Reserve

A week left in Ghana, and one of the few remaining things I kind of wanted to do before leaving was to check out the area in Volta around Ho. In our lap of Ghana back in October, we visited Hohoe in northern Volta, but the Bradt guide made it sound like the area around Ho in central Volta could be interesting as well.

Steve arranged for a taxi driver he knew to take us to Ho for the day. We were to leave at 6 a.m., but it was quarter to seven by the time we left. The taxi driver claimed that he had "waited large" for us in the car park while we waited for him at the restaurant.

On the way north we passed Krobo Mountain that I had tried to visit last weekend. Now with a vehicle, we decided to drive in to see what we could find of the community reserve project that a peace corps volunteer had set up 10 years ago. We did find the remains of summer huts and toilets, but little functioning traces of a community tourism project. This is I suppose what happens when an enthusiastic and idealistic outsider comes in with large ideas but with little local input or commitment. A person from a nearby house offered to take us up on the mountain for 5 Ghana cedis, and with a bit more time I would have loved to have taken the hike. It was still early in the morning and not yet too hot.

But we continue on to our first destination for the day, the Kalapka Resource Reserve located on the south side of Ho. The driver does not know this area and does not understand our maps, which is maybe just as well because the maps bear only a passing resemblance to the physical landscape around us. We ask for directions, and get conflicting responses. I point out a road that I think is the correct one. The driver takes it and says he will "go small" and confirm that we are on the correct road. He then inexplicably takes a right turn and ends up heading on a very bumpy road in exactly the wrong direction without ever confirming where we are going. At that point I don't question him because, after all, he is the local driver and I am the foreigner. But I'm slowly coming to the realization that most Ghanaians do not know much about their country, and after only one semester I have seen more of it than they will in a lifetime.

After an hour, we stop at a community to confirm that we are on the correct road, but they tell us that this road does definitely not go to Ho but to Adidome. We ask the name of the community, but cannot find it on our map. They do not recognize any of the names on our map. I was sure that a mountain we saw in the distance was Adaklu close to Ho, but they gave us a different name. I could not get our imaginary geography, the map, and our physical surroundings to line up with each other. It all reminded me of a nineteenth-century traveler in Ecuador who asked a community for directions to the next community, but no one had ever been there, had no idea how to get there, and furthermore could not fathom why anyone would try to get there.

So we turn around and head back on a still very bumpy road back in the direction of Kalapka. We finally arrive at noon at the peak of the day's heat instead of 9 a.m. as was our original plan. The guide (again with a gun, as at Mole) thinks it is stupid to go on a hike in the middle of the day when all of the animals and any clear thinking human would be hiding out in the shade with a cool beverage. But after spending all morning in the car I really need to stretch my legs. We go on a leisurely two-hour hike. At a distance we see some monkeys, kob, guinea fowl, squirrels. After having squirrels eating all my pears in Kirksville, I wish the guard would shoot a couple of them. I really like this reserve--it is nicer than Shai Hills that I visited last weekend. It would be nice to visit it early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but that would require staying overnite.

I would have liked to visit Adaklu mountain on the other side of the reserve, but Steve (who is an engineer) wants to visit the Akosombo dam and I would like to see Lake Volta. So we take off for our next destination, almost running out of gas because for some inexplicable reason (the engine looks and sounds like it is about ready to throw a rod?) the driver did not fill the tank before we left in the morning. Because of all our delays, we arrive too late for a tour but we do look around a bit. Kwame Nkrumah built this dam in the 1960s to help with Ghana's industrial development. The lake behind the dam is allegedly the largely artificial body of water in the world. I keep wondering what happened to all of the people who I assume were displaced by the lake.

By now it's quickly becoming dark and we need to head back to Legon. We've been going all day without eating and it has been hot and my head is throbbing. Again, I've spent all day, something like 10 hours, in the car for a two-hour hike. The hike was great, but it does not seem like a good balance. When we arrive back at the Guest Centre, Steve and the taxi driver proceed to engage in a drawn out argument about the payment on which we had agreed. I hate tangling with taxi drivers; their lack of civility and class consciousness always reminds me of the derogatory comments Marx made about peasants (they are like a sack of potatoes who add nothing to history). It was an expensive day trip, but again we covered a lot more territory much more easily than we could have had we been on public transit. Does that reveal my class position as well?

Friday, December 11, 2009


I grow weary of the constant obruni ("white man") catcalls. I understand kids; they will say anything that comes to their minds. But what's up with the seemingly uncontrollable need for adults to blurt out "obruni" whenever I walk by? And I can never understand what exactly they mean by it. Often it seems to be merely a descriptive observation, as if they were telling me that I was wearing a blue shirt and for some reason think I need to be reminded of that fact. At other times, the tone seems to drift through shades of distrust, dislike, disregard, distaste, disgust. Is this a reflection of lingering anti-colonial sentiments, or even shades of class hatred? Obruni is not exactly used the same way as "gringo" is in Latin America (particularly in politicized Bolivia where it acquires pejorative connotations), or "chele" ("white") that in Nicaragua becomes one of just many innocent superficial descriptive nicknames (thin, fat, old, black, chinese, etc.).

We had our going away party last nite. I've posted more pictures on Facebook. Three days left. I have 13 Ghana cedis to my name.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ghana vs. Ecuador

One of the underlying themes of my semester in Legon is how Africa compares to Latin America, how Ghana compares to Ecuador. The only academic I know of who has made the jump from Ecuador to Ghana is Carola Lentz; I know of no one who has made the reverse voyage, although Kris Lane tells me he is curious about commonalities in artisanal gold mining. As part of Indigenous America, Ecuador was never a significant destination for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and so it becomes marginalized in African diasporic studies, even though most people in the States seem to think that Ecuador is in Africa.

Cheryl says that the entire third world looks the same to her, and in a way the cold heartless polluted crime-ridden traffic-clogged concrete urban jungles of Nairobi and Quito are depressingly similar. I wonder what points of comparison are significant, and which are superficial. Perhaps I don't have the objective distance necessary to make a proper assessment. But here is an attempt.

Both Ecuador and Ghana consider themselves to be the "middle of the world." Ecuador, of course, is named after the equator, and a tourist trap just outside of Quito is appropriately named "mitad del mundo." Cayambe, my primary research site, is located right on that imaginary line, and I've crossed back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres hundreds of times.

Ghana also considers itself to be at the center of the world, and in a way has a better claim. The country lies just north of the equatorial line (it runs a couple kilometers out to sea in the Gulf of Guinea). More significantly, however, that great imperial division of the prime meridian known as Greenwich that determines time zones around the world runs through Tema, a short distance east of where I sit. That means that Ghana lies closest to both 0 degrees latitude and longitude.

Ecuador is just a bit larger than Ghana, but Ghana has almost twice as many people as Ecuador. Ghana is largely flat and low-lying; Ecuador is mountainous, and in fact as the equator makes its trek around the globe it reaches its highest point on the southern snow capped slopes of the Cayambe volcano. I spend most of my time in Ecuador above the malarial line; I'm almost at sea level in Ghana. The temperature extremes in Ghana are minimal, often just a couple degrees between a nighttime low and a daytime high. Living in Ecuador's thin mountain air means that I've woken up to snow in the morning but by mid-afternoon the direct equatorial sun can burn me to a crisp.

One of my favorite things in both countries is to wake up in the morning and drink the juice of two fresh oranges that I've just squeezed after purchasing them the previous day for about 20 cents. In fact, I'm squeezing my oranges with the same little pink juicer that I purchased in Ecuador. Most people in both countries don't seem to appreciate the incredibly delicious fresh fruits and vegetables, preferring instead a diet of greasy starch and dead animals. Neither country will ever win culinary awards. Fruits seem to mature and then rot much more quickly in Ghana than in Ecuador; I wonder if there is some sort of climatic explanation for that.

I wash my clothes by hand. I'm not supposed to wear shorts, even when it is hot.

In Ecuador I'm a gringo; in Ghana I'm an obruni. Ecuadorians hate Peruvians; Ghanaians hate Nigerians. All of them love soccer. This time of year radio stations in both countries play Jingle Bells, and it is equally culturally out of place in both countries.

Ghanians are bigger, louder, and women carry things on their heads. Drivers in both countries first pick up passengers and then stop to put a couple gallons of gas in the tank, something that would never happen in the U.S. and I don't completely understand here. Are the drivers really living so hand-to-mouth that they first need to charge fares to pay for gas? Or is the vehicle so decrepit that they are never sure how long it will last, and no one wants to pay for gas that you'll never use? Or is it just an issue of thoughtlessness?

One of my pet peeves in Ecuador is being overcharged just for being an outsider. This happens both on an informal level (taxi drivers are the worst in both countries) and with official prices. For example, I'm charged about the same price to see a waterfall in both countries that I would pay to spend a week in Yosemite National Park in California, even though wealthy locals can visit the same site for pennies on my dollar. Ashley says that a difference is that my visit to a park in the States is subsidized by my tax dollars, and that here my high fees is a revenue generator for the government. Yes, that is true, but it still bothers me.

My biggest fears every time I travel to Ecuador are that I will be robbed and killed in a bus accident (with both probably happening at the same time). I would need to look at statistics to back this up, but my sense is that the chance of both happening are probably about the same here in Ghana.

Some of the problems with the infrastructure are very similar. Both countries have power outages, in Ecuador because of drought and silting at the Paute dam, and who knows why in Ghana (I heard because of a fire in an electrical substation). The water supply isn't safe and secure in either country (probably because of breaks in water mains which allows sewage to seep in), which means that I have to boil water to drink. But I'm fortunate, here in Ghana and usually in Ecuador, that where I live has water tanks and backup generators so at most breaks in service become minor disruptions rather than major inconveniences. I've come into Ghana at about the same socio-economic level and academic environment that I enter in Ecuador, which gives me the feeling of a similar experience.

My internet connection in Ghana is slower than it is in Ecuador, much slower. In terms of speed, dropped connections, aborted downloads, and even cost, it is about what I had in Ecuador 15 years ago. (I know some people weary of my whining about my internet problems, but it seems like anyone who understands my borg-like existence should have some sympathy on the issue.)

Latin American universities have a reputation for being radical strongholds. A common saying is that those who are not marxists in the university have no heart, and those who remain marxists after graduation have no brain (which perhaps explains why those of us who value our hearts over our brains wish to remain in the university removed from the cold, cruel realities of the outside world). The British created the University of Ghana in 1948 to train a conservative political, social, and economic elite for their colony, and that imprint remains very strong here. The first time I was tear gassed was at a protest against neoliberal economic policies at Quito's Universidad Central; it's unimaginable that I'd ever see a protest at UG, but if I did it would probably be in favor of an upward redistribution of wealth.

I became enamored with Ecuador because of its powerful social movements. Similar to Tim and Cindy's disillusionment with their Peace Corps experience in Guinea-Bissau, I have yet to see any evidence of such movements in Ghana. On the other hand, as in many Indigenous communities in Ecuador, evangelical Christianity has taken Ghana by storm. The result is a growing emphasis on individualism in traditionally communitarian societies.

Ghana is by far the most religious place that I have ever lived, much more so than Quito (which has a reputation for being a conservative Catholic town) or my upbringing in South Dakota. Every nite students gather in small groups in the field across from the Guest Centre for their mini revival services, and early the next morning they are outside the halls with megaphones broadcasting their messages to their classmates, who by all indications are also equally devote (when do they ever sleep?). The noise is deafening. But it goes well beyond that. Many if not most of the stores, for example, have religious names such as Proverbs 10:22 Auto Parts, Clap for Jesus bus company, Glory to God Shoes.

Different points of departure make me wonder how much of what I see is distorted through very different perspectives. I see Ecuador through the lens of a leftist, grassroots social movement, and Ghana through a conservative, elite educational institute.

Because of a strong correlation between class and race in Latin America, socio-economic divisions are often visually printed on physiological differences in Ecuador. Class is largely constructed along racial lines (white = privilege, with Indigenous and African descendants remaining impoverished and excluded). With an insignificant settler population in Ghana, such visible distinctions do not appear to be so clear to me. I sense that there are deep tribal divisions, and divisions between traditional chiefs and pan-African nationalists, that are apparent to Ghanians, but to me as an outsider I never see or notice these.

Both countries have colonial histories, though Ghana's is British and Ecuador's is Spanish. Ghana just commemorated its golden anniversary as an independent country, and Ecuador is celebrating the bicentennial of its first declaration of independence. Although Ecuador's republican history is about four times as long as that of Ghana's, both countries seem to maintain about the same pace of writing new constitutions (about once a decade) and experiencing extra-constitutional changes of government. Both countries currently have allegedly left-leaning governments that seem to be fairly stable.

Both countries have colonial languages as official languages, though most Ecuadorians are much more fluent in theirs (Spanish) than Ghanians are in theirs (English). Vernacular or Indigenous languages survive, though they are much more visible in Ghana than Ecuador. Ghanians are much more multi-lingual, including commonly being conversant in multiple vernacular languages, whereas despite political campaigns to preserve Indigenous languages most Ecuadorians are functionally monolingual in Spanish. Ironically (or perhaps not so, given the study of the politics of colonial languages), Ecuadorians seem to be more interested in learning English than Ghanians. Ironically (or perhaps not so much so because of the struggle to defend marginalized languages), official multilingualism appears to be more important to Ecuador.

In terms of the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index, Ghana ranks much lower (158, just below Haiti, the lowest country in the Americas) than Ecuador (80, almost the bottom of the list of high human development countries). In terms of the Gini Coefficient, Ghana is somewhat better off (.43, about the same as the U.S. and Venezuela) than Ecuador (.45), but well below that of Denmark and Norway.

From a dependency theory perspective, which of course is my training, Ecuador and Ghana share the common problem of being victimized by an export economy which extracts raw material to the benefit of the industrial core and to the detriment of the periphery. In fact, both Ecuador and Ghana have been major cacao (or cocoa as it is spelled in Ghana--I've never understood the difference between the two words) exporters--Ecuador in the 1920s, and Ghana today. In both countries, poor people inhabit rich lands. The solution to the persistent problem of poverty (or, rather, economic inequality) is a structural alteration that attempts to shift production toward internal industrial development and away from using the proceeds of primary material exports to import finished luxury goods for the elite.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


After a marathon 30-hour odyssey made somewhat more painful by airlines that are seemingly incapable of running their planes on time, I am finally back home.

I miss Ghana.

The protective bubble that I enjoyed my last couple days in Ghana quickly comes crashing back in around me. Friday morning I turned in my grades, and gave a little whoop when I realized that I was completely done with all of my responsibilities. For a couple days, I had absolutely nothing I had to do. I could do whatever I wanted, even if it was nothing more than reading a Marge Piercy novel (Small Changes, not her best) or cataloging digital images of archival documents on my computer. I rarely am so relaxed, and wanted to hold on to that precious space forever. Alice in Wonderland (or was it Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?) talks about that miserable moment of Sunday afternoon tea that drags on mercilessly. But, like an endless summer, I wanted to hold on to that moment as long as I could. My body has finally acclimated to 32-degree weather (23 - 27 is typically my acceptable range), and with a cloud cover and a slight breeze it almost felt cool and life was perfect.

Back home, the world comes crashing back in on me. I have four boxes of mail to dig through that has piled up during the last four months, three books to review, and who knows what else awaits me in my office at Truman. Back to my miserable overburdened life. I wish I could go back to that Sunday afternoon space in Ghana.

Reverse culture shock is always the worst stage of cultural adjustment, and continues to become worse because I consciously know it is the worst and so I assume that I am properly adopted to cope with it, but all that this means is that the shock is that much greater. I was mentally prepared to go from 32 to 32 degree weather, but going from 32 to just about 0 degree weather is just a bit more brutal.

This was one of the best, if not the best, semester I have had in my eleven years at Truman. Partly it was due to a light teaching load--only one class, the lightest that I have ever had, and equally light administrative responsibilities, due largely to the decent students on the Missouri in Africa Program. I had great colleagues in the History Department at the University of Ghana (the same is also true at Truman). But it was nice to be removed from university politics, both at Truman and at UG, and to have the mental space and time to work on my own projects.

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