It is now my second week in Ghana and the excitement still lingers. The country is jammed pack with history, which I’ve been exploring through lectures and Twi class but also the excursions CIEE takes us on for our program. The only problem, however, (or perhaps one of many) is the WiFi. The internet here is not very good and being from a very technology-developed country, one can assume that I am spoiled or ungrateful for wishing the Internet would work a bit better. However, frustration really does kick in when you have multiple reflections and research papers due, the library is too far away, and you are left debating whether to use your last 20ghs (Ghanaian cedi) on data or jollof rice. Nevertheless, the internet is manageable and can be overcome with the right amount of persistence and patience. Patience, a word repeated to me by my mother and many Ghanaians since I arrived defines my experience here. Patience signifies the Ghanaian way of life, that things do not need to be rushed and there’s no need to hurry. I immediately saw the relevance. Traffic is thick in Accra and throughout Ghana. Where it may take two hours to drive to the beach, the traffic may push that commute to 4+ hours. If you’re from the U.S., this congestion will frustrate you. You are used to timeliness and consider it rude that people are not on time, but here in Ghana, it’s ingrained in the culture. “African time,” where time is relaxed. Work is relaxed. The people are relaxed. If you are an on-the-dot type of person, you will not survive in this country–but, if you learn to adapt and assimilate, you, too, will see the need for “African time.”
I’ve also learned that family defines you. It expands beyond the immediate family. Your father may be your agya and your mother may be your maame, but your father’s brothers are also your “fathers” and your mother’s sisters are also your “mothers.” Ordinarily, your aunt’s/uncle’s children are your cousins, but in the Ghanaian definition of family, they are your sisters and brothers as well. Each aunt or uncle assumes the role of father or mother to take care of you, whether your parents are present in your life or not. Similarly, your grandparents are very much present in your life and even live with the immediate family. This concept is not as common in American life, though but it’s clear its roots were derived from more extensive African family structures. The amount of compassion the family exuberates is new to me. Even if you are not “blood,” the relationships that are cultivated through the Ghanaian definition of family are special.
I’ve talked about patience being an important trait to have here in Ghana and so is vulnerability. Vulnerability is another nuanced aspect of Ghanaian life. Transparency is the key to connections with each other and the community expects a certain level of vulnerability when asking about home life and family. Small talk is not “small” talk, but is genuine inquiry about how you are. It takes certain emotional prowess to speak about personal matters especially relating to family. This was apparent when we made our way to the Central Region. This past weekend, I visited the Cape Coast Slave Castle and Kakum National Park with CIEE.
Driving up to the castle, seeing European structures and the livelihood of a fishing town, I immediately felt queasy. I did not want to see a crucial element of slavery. I didn’t want to imagine it. We slid out of the van after a 4-hour car ride to the castle and walked through white stone walkways through the fort. The forts are historically significant, and I couldn’t believe I was experiencing it in real time. Our tour guide, Francis Kojo, took us through the dungeons that housed male and female slaves, and through the “Door of No Return.”
I had only heard about the “Door of No Return” in books. Although I am a history minor and strong advocate against racism and slavery, the concepts seemed like a dream, only tangible upon touring the site. We finished the tour in the Governor’s office. The experience was incredible, almost indescribable, and I felt vulnerable. I had been lucky to know where my family is from, but many African-Americans don’t. My ancestors did not pass through the “Door of No Return” but I can’t help but imagine what it must feel like to be asked where you are from, without a clear answer to give. The experience humbled me and is something I will never forget.