The Other Side – Ghana

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     From screaming on the local professional soccer team (the Cape Coast Dwarfs) in the pouring rain, to meeting the former President of Ghana and Chairman of the African Union, to being pulled into the middle of an international agricultural trade deal, to traveling to the Elmina slave castle, Nzulezu, “the village on water” (a village built on stilts in the middle of the lake), and Kakum National Park where I had the opportunity to walk through the canopy of one of Africans oldest virgin rainforest  – this past couple of weeks have been phenomenal! 

     I must admit that I did not have the best first impression of Ghana, but it has grown on me immensely! Most of the people that I have interacted with are slightly shy (but certainly not all of them), but if an effort is made to get to know them they have almost all ended up being great people. The only bad incident that I have had since being here, as described in my last blog entry, has proven not to be the norm and after several discussions with others, I have learned that last year gold was found near by, and that man may have thought I was collecting samples from the lagoon to try and pillage Ghana’s gold for “white profit”. And after my experience at Elmina slave castle and learning more horrific details than I ever want to know about the trans-atlantic slave trade, apart of world history that still has many fresh scars around the costal areas of Africa, and hearing about how companies from across the planet still exploit many Africans on a daily basis for economic gain, I can understand why that man could have thought I was here for that reason. 

     The local food, after you figure out what each dish actually is, can be quite tasty. The internet, power, and running water have all been very reliable after the first week as well. The temperature has taken some getting used to (but I think I am even starting to be comfortable with that).

     As far as a better description of some of the events I mentioned in the first sentence:

  1. President Kufuor – Wow!! After meeting President Kufuor at The World Food Prize a couple years ago and speaking with him on several occasions during the week of the conference he told me “If you are ever in Ghana please let me know”. So, I decided to e-mail him/his office and see if by any chance he was available to meet while I was here and two days later, on a Monday, I received a phone call from his assistant saying that “The President has seen your e-mail and would love to meet up with you while you are in Ghana. He remembered you from the picture you sent and he is very excited! Would Wednesday work for you?”

    The next day I took an non-airconditioned bus from Cape Coast to Accra and spent the night. The next morning the Presidents assistant came to my hotel at about 9 A.M. and spent about three hours with me speaking about everything from his favorite Ghanian football (soccer) team, to current Ghanaian politics, to funny stories from some of his past jobs working at the Ghanaian embassy in Washington D.C.

    At one point he received a phone call and hurriedly ran outside to take the call. I did not think much of the event, knowing how busy of a man he must be. However, a couple minutes later he came back in with another man following him. The President’s assistance then informed me that when he realized I was coming he had set up a surprise for me since he knew of my passion for agriculture and agricultural development. He then introduced the man standing behind him as Abraham Odoom, the former Deputy Minister of Agriculture for the country of Ghana. He also informed me that Abraham was in charge of the development of several of the Cocoa (Chocolate) development programs that helped Ghana become the world’s largest producer of Cocoa. In just four years, Abraham helped expand the countries output from roughly 200,000 tones to well over 750,000 tones. We had some very interesting and positive conversations for about 45 minutes before he had to leave to attend to several other business matters that day.

    Then I asked the President’s assistant where the meeting would take place. We had discussed having it at the John A. Kufuor Foundation headquarters before, but he smiled and said “If it is okay with you, the President wanted to move the meeting to his personal residence.”

    Once we arrived at President Kufuor’s house and went through security (even though I was waved through), I was directed straight to the main living room in the house where I waited until our appointed meeting time. Since I had some time to spare I had the opportunity to look around at some of the awards and accolades that he received over the years. I was instantly like a kid in a candy shop! I saw the first 8oz. of oil found in Ghana (which happened during his Presidency and helped create an economic boom in the country), to many awards from the United Nations, African Union, various international human rights, environmental, and agricultural organizations, and even some of the gifts that he had been given when traveling (my favorite being his Zebra skin rug). 

    Then I heard someone coming down the steps and I slowly see President Kufuor appear. The first words he said to me were “Austin it is great to see you again! As soon as I saw your e-mail I was very excited! Although you have gained a bit of weight since the last time we met… Have you been eating too much Fufu (a traditional Ghanaian dish that is a national favorite amongst the people)?”

    President Kufuor and Myself (in the background you can see the Zebra skin rug I was talking about).

    After about 45 minutes of conversation, President Kufuor offered me a job/internship with his foundation, offered to write a letter of recommendation for me for a scholarship (without me asking him), said he would try to come to Virginia Tech as a speaker for a Feed by Seed event, asked me to consider bringing Feed by Seed to Ghana, and made me promise to stay in touch. I could not have been happier! 

    After our meeting he had one of his security guards, Sammy, drive me to the bus station. After talking for about 30 minutes we exchanged numbers and I headed back to Cape Coast, but about the time I was getting back I received both calls from Sammy and the President’s assistant to make sure I had a safe journey. 

    Note: The description of this event and how nice everyone was has been a better description of my time in Ghana than the stories from my first blog since arriving. 

  2. Nzulezu – Around 600 years ago a tribe from Mali left there homeland due to conflict and settled in western Ghana. Then, due to food insecurity, the tribe split in half. Half on the tribe stayed on land, and half built a village on stilts in the middle of the lake. Since then, the two villages have worked together to produce enough food for each other. One fishes, and the other grows crops.

    Yesterday we journeyed to this village (about 4 hours from Cape Coast). We left at 5 A.M. to avoid traffic and arrived a bit after 9. Then we rented canoes and paddled for about an hour through flooded rainforest with our guide before we arrived at the village. Currently, about 450 people live and work in the village doing various jobs. They have a church, school, several hostels, several small shops (about the size of a walkin closet), and even a few bars. 

    After touring the village we were taken back to the school where we spoke to the tribal chief’s daughter (since he was visiting the land village of the same tribe). We asked her many questions about the history of Nzulezu and what life was like living in the middle of a lake. She told us that the only motorized boat they had was only used for medical emergencies and besides that no matter who you are, you had to paddle for about an hour to get to the nearest store/small town.

    We then left and paddled all the way back to where we started (and let me tell you the paddling thing was really starting to get to me) and headed back to Cape Coast. 

    Image

    A view approaching Nzulezu by canoe

  3. Kakum National Park – At Kakum National Park we had the opportunity to explore one of the few virgin rainforest in all of West Africa. To better allow visitors to experience the whole rainforest, they have built a series of 9 huge swinging rope bridges through the canopy of part of the park. So after a long hike up the side of the mountain we were able to start our journey on the bridges where we did see several different species of birds and butterfly’s, and although elephants and other well-known African wildlife do live in the park we were told that they are rarely seen near the canopy walk because there are almost always humans there. 
    Image

    A view of the bridge and rainforest

More blogs about Elmina Slave Castle, the international agricultural trade deal, and the soccer game to come later this week! Until then, stay positive, healthy, and busy.

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Ghana do some research

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Welp… Ghana has so far proven not to be full of jacked, machine gun toting children and middle-aged males who all seem angry, as seen in many American movies. Nor have I come across any deserts, elephants, deathly sick children, or even any violence at all.

However, in the first week I have tried many new foods, been asked for a bribe from a governmental official, been called “White Satan” by a group of Ghanaian men, spent almost a full day collecting research samples from a lagoon full of human feces, dead animals, and trash, spent countless hours in a non-air conditioned lab analyzing those samples, and spent one wonderful relaxing day at a local beach reading the afternoon away in a swaying hammock while sipping on fresh coconut milk.

Some of my first observations are:

  1. It is hot and humid! Even with all of the warnings from Dr. Wubah and others that told me “it will be HOT and humid!” I still managed to underestimate not only the heat, but also the humidity!  Most of my traveling experiences to warm climates have been to Central America and although it is normally humid there, it does not seem like it is nearly the same as it is here in Ghana.
  2. The food is interesting, and some of it is very tasty! I have found Ghanaian food to be much different than the food from anywhere that I have been before, but most closely relating to that of Zambia (which makes sense since both are in the Sub-Saharan). So far I have had a couple meals that have been fantastic and a couple meals that were not very good at all. Nonetheless, I am excited to explore more foods in Cape Coast and experience the real “Ghanaian cuisine”.
  3. Like many developing countries, Internet, running water, and power are unreliable. The biggest problem with this is trying to do research without the three of these things. It keeps causing problems and I just heard from some locals that starting next week they will be rationing electricity so we will only have it a maximum of 12 hours a day (with the 12 hours alternating between day and night).
  4. The people seem slightly standoffish, at least until you put the effort into talking to them. I have also been told that Cape Coast is like the “New York of Ghana” and that elsewhere people are much more friendly. However, when I smile or wave at someone walking by they seem taken off guard and even slightly suspicious. For example, the other day I waved at a little girl who was walking with her dad and he pulled her away from me and stared at me. This struck me as strange and at first really offended me. I am the type of person that is really sensitive to the perceptions of others, especially when travelling to an unfamiliar area. I find myself wondering if things like this keep happening just because I am white, or because I am associated with UCC, or if it pertains to a certain unknown political situation, or maybe even something else that is out of my control. I have heard that Ghanaians are some of the friendliest people anywhere, and I am not about to give up on that yet. With this being said, I have also had several really good experiences with people after “breaking the ice” (although with the daily temperature, one would imagine it would not be very hard to break the ice). I have made several friends that I see on a regular basis and have started sharing jokes with people that work in the same lab as I do.

***One funny story***

The following is an excerpt from my journal:

“Woah! Today has been interesting. I woke up at quarter till seven to walk over to the lab to meet Margret and the rest of the research team. Upon arriving I realized I was there before anyone else, even though I was just right on time. Margret finally showed up 45 minutes late and we headed to the lagoon.

We carried all of our equipment down to the edge of the lagoon through a small town. However, once we arrived I saw how absolutely nasty the area was because of pollution, sewage, and trash. When I started carrying things to the water I almost stepped in human feces at least half a dozen times. Then as I was carrying the last load of equipment “it” happened… I was in a rush to get out of the way of some other people and I slipped on the mud bank and used hands to catch myself. I was instantly horrified (and deservingly so)!

A few minutes later after I cleaned up the best I could we got in the small raft and went out to collect samples along the very large lagoon. It took about three hours to gather all the samples we needed. Then we went back to our starting location to “wash our samples”. 24 of the 36 samples we took had to be “washed” and sifted through a sieve and then the remains were added to plastic bottles full of formaldehyde.

We were just about to finish up this process when a young man came over and started yelling at us in Fanti (the local language . Having no clue what he was saying I turned, looked at him and smiled. I very quickly realized that he was not very happy or friendly. At about that time my research team started yelling back at him. Then about three of his friends showed up and started yelling too. The only thing I initially understood is when one of man’s friends yelled “white man you are a bad man, a very bad man, a wicked man! How dare you use our water without permission?! You are white satan!”

After they argued for a few minutes the men finally left and I asked what had happened. They told me that the men just wanted money because we were using their entrance to the lagoon to wash our samples, but they had already spoken to the local chief and paid our dues so we could do so.”

All in all, Ghana has taken some getting used to, but has been a blast so far! I have learned a lot – like how tiring it is to wash all your clothes by hand and that not all street food in developing countries will make you sick, but needless to say, I am excited for the rest of my stay!