Posted by Dominique D. | Posted on January 23, 2012
Sooooooooooo I just came back from a Hopkins Intersession trip to Ghana! And it was probably the best experience of my life. Unlike many students at Hopkins, this was the first opportunity I had to travel outside of America–and I chose Africa. At first, my mother said no because she would have preferred my first international trip to be somewhere more like America, like Paris or Spain, for instance. But to make a long story short, I went to Ghana and am much better for it.
We had a 12-day jam packed itinerary organized by the Aya Centre (an organization that orchestrates hotel stays, home stays, museum tours, lectures, etc…). Our stay included lectures about Ghana from professors at the University of Ghana, museums, tours of two slave castles, community service at local schools, and more. Ghana is a beautiful place, and my preconceived notions of Africa were both shattered and confirmed simultaneously. We always see Africa in the context of HIV/AIDS and “Feed the Children” but honestly, how often do you see Africa portrayed in a positive light? Granted, Ghana is very different from many other African nations and is better off in many ways, but it still faces problems the whole continent does–poverty, poor sanitation and living situations, corruption (our professor made a joke that corruption in Africa is seen as corruption but corruption in America is called capitalism–haha), lack of infrastructure, and a weak economy. I could honestly write a book on what I learned in these short 12 days but I’ll spare you and highlight some of the most salient things.
People. The people of Ghana had a pride about them I don’t see often here. They were very welcoming and loved when we tried to learn their language (Twi, in the regions in which we were staying). To me, they were very “about their business” meaning that they did what they had to do. The children were precious. Every time we rode past children they stopped what they were doing and waved. I am not exaggerating. Children in all the regions we visited literally would stop and wave until we were out of sight, while the parents just loolked (lol). Ghana has a lot of “obrunis”–foreigners– and whether you’re black, white, Asian…you’re an obruni if you’re not Ghanaian. It was funny because they’d call us obrunis but we weren’t offended because it wasn’t made into a race thing. Obruni was just obruni. Now, I am not saying Ghana is a racial paradise because it is not. But it was cool being able to see how we were all foreigners to them but welcomed at the same time.
Selling. I have never seen so many people selling so many things in one place before. I was struck by how much people sold to make money–everything seemed to be commercial in terms of producing goods and selling them in shacks and on the streets (on their heads! They must have some strong neck power and balance because I would just drop everything). Men and women. I was concerned about the lack of work like we’re used to…in terms of construction workers, teachers, office assistants, project coordinators, etc. The system is different there and I’m still wondering how people make money by selling the same things day after day. And everyone sells the same things–food, jewelry, wood carvings.
Infrastructure. This was the most striking to me, I think. Paved roads were minimal and everything was this red clay dirt. I cannot imagine what living in Ghana is like in the rainy season because I feel like everything would turn into mud. There were no street signs (I’m not even sure if there were street names) so I am still wondering how in the world people find their way around driving. Speaking of driving…whew. I couldn’t do it. The streets are narrow and there are many places where it was unclear as to on which side of the road we should have been. At one point we were driving on a highway with cars moving in both directions around us. At another point we took a “shortcut” and ended up on a precarious mountain and I think we all feared for our lives (thank God our driver was amazing). Most people don’t have running water and the water isn’t always clean. There isn’t much sewage infrastructure so many villages had trenches where waste went. There were large, open gutters lining each road that were uber dangerous because you could easily fall into one while walking. Plus, it’s gross in them.
Environment. We visited a rainforest and did a canopy walk and learned a little about what was being done to preserve it. We also visited a monkey sanctuary, a butterfly reserve, and a garden. I saw palm trees for the first time! In Ghana, of all places haha. It was disconcerting seeing how trash was burned there…like at one point we saw a pile of burning trash and saw the fumes. That’s very dangerous because some things that are burned release harmful substances. There was no recycling except for when you were at restaurants and they recollected your used Coke bottles so they could send them back to the factory to be reused. But then it made me think of America and our landfill garbage problem. We really do use way too much. The water pressure in our hotels was so low compared to here, also.
Education. Ghanaians are all about their education. It’s their way out of poverty and the path to a brighter future. I was so taken by how highly education was valued–even professors there were revered and paid muchhhhh more than professors here. We visited two schools for community service and the caliber of education and the intelligence of the students was so striking. One school was teaching English, Twi, and French to their students, starting in kindergarten! It made me really think about how notorious America is for being monolingual. Compared to our schools, their school buildings were awful…but they were thriving regardless. They stood up when we entered and were so respectful. Our tour guide was telling us about how private schools were better and educated students better than in public schools, and how hard he had to work at his public school just to make it through (he is completing his master’s currently).
So like I said, I could say a lotttttt more–but this will have to do for now! ;) Hopkins is absolutely terrific in that it allows us to go on trips such as these and I’m so fortunate to have been able to experience one before I graduate.
Until next time!