Akwaaba was the first Twi word that greeted me when I touched down in Ghana, a saying that was repeated multiple times. Akwaaba is “welcome” in Twi, the most widely spoken language in Ghana, and it represents the friendly nature of the Ghanaian people. The airport immediately had a “welcoming” feel, small and intimate. The staff was available at all time to lend a helping hand. As I left the airport and made my way to the university, the new sights, smells, and tastes hit me instantaneously. The culture emulated the small Ghanaian gatherings back home and the person-to-person interaction was friendly, crazed, and ingrained within the people themselves, something I had experienced before, but I hadn’t seen the relevance until now. I was surprised to encounter a key element that was close to me and all too familiar.
University of Ghana
Nevertheless, the first week in Ghana was filled with quick introductions, greeting, and exchanges, and explaining how I was Ghanaian even with a very prominent Nigerian name. The first day I arrived, I met a CIEE university pal. He introduced himself as Barnay, and we took a taxi to the International Student Hostel at the University of Ghana. The taxi driver was dressed in a polo and some slacks and I wondered how he could stand the West African heat. The traffic was thick. Cars lined the streets and vendors targeted the cars, balancing fruit, bread, and other items on their heads. Cars honked as we weaved in and out of traffic to get to the university. Yet, when we finally arrived I was taken aback. The University of Ghana is stunning. The red earth contrasts the green shrubbery and the red tin roofs decorate the white marble on the buildings. The university is huge as well, with a population of over 35,000 students. Most were not on campus when I arrived, but the campus has more than enough space to accommodate everyone. After settling in, we took a tour around the university and visited landmark places. The Balme library oversees a spectacular fountain with flourishing trees on each side. The walk took us about 20 minutes from the International Student Hostel and although it was tiring, and though the sun beat down on us, it was worthwhile. We then visited the International Student House, which houses all the external programs that UG endorses. Here, we had orientation and our class, “Cultural and Reproductive Health through the Ghanaian Lens.” The class is very interesting and challenges traditional ways of viewing women and men in association with reproductive health. It took me out of my “American” mindset and is changing the way I view reproductive rights in Ghana. We also took a trip to the Night Market where students can purchase a variety of goods. Most of the vendors are Ghanaian women, yet they come from various tribes in Ghana. Women seem to make up a central part of the Ghanaian economy–the vendors balancing goods on their heads, working the Night Market, or even in the mall are majority women. This aspect was interesting to me especially since Ghana is a patriarchal society, yet in some ways, it seems more progressive than the United States.
CIEE also took us on a tour of downtown Accra. We visited Jamestown, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, and Black Star Square:
Fountains at the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum
The Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum was made to honor Kwame Nkrumah, the first Ghanaian president after independence in 1957. He is buried on site and attended school at Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania. The structure of his burying ground is in the shape of a tree trunk to symbolize the unfinished legacy of African pride and his work when he was exiled in a military coup.
Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum
The site is moving, representing not only Ghanaians but the strength and resilience of Africans as a larger identity. Although I only touched on a snippet of what I experienced in Ghana thus far, I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time. Ghana has a rich culture and I am excited to immerse myself in it!