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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whoosh from Accra!

Whoosh you were here from Accra!

After a little more than twenty-four hours of traveling, I step out of the airport and am greeted by the USAC program director... and about fifty taxi drivers offering a ride. For once my hours of procrastination and all nighters paid off and I fought jet-lag by considering the next day to be one of those.

Ghanaians are very friendly people -- though sometimes annoyingly so. A friendly introduction will often turn to some variation of asking for money. The traditional communal society where the success of one person must be shared with the community fosters this, in a way. In areas known to attract tourists, no matter how politely I refuse or give an excuse the conversation will only revolve around asking for money. The friendly atmosphere is not all annoyance though, it is customary to greet every person in a store or office before stating your business. This can become confusing in open markets where everyone is calling to you.

I am whooshing from Independence Square, where Kwame Nkruma declared independence for Ghana from the British in 1957. That park was the only place in Ghana where black Africans were not allowed, so the defiant gesture marked an independence with equality of color.

The presentation of the slave trade in both classes and tours emphasizes that though all of our ancestors may be guilty of participating in the slave trade, our task now is to come together to improve our world. This emphasis is remarkably different from much of the sentiment in the states, as the controversies over affirmative action, and other measures continue. Because the slave trade existed long before the Europeans came to the Gold Coast and all tribes participated in it, there is not very much pointing fingers of blame because it could backfire so easily. I did have the opportunity to tour the Cape Coast castle, which was built for the slave trade. The courtyard was nice, the dungeons were not.

Signing up for the weekend trips is great. I have visited Cape Coast, Kakum National Park (canopy bridges!) and Kumasi. Seeing towns other than Accra are interesting, though many of the cultural aspects are the same. Vendors line the roads, the telecom companies are advertised on most of the booths, and trash often litters the sides of the road. A small bit of culture shock occurred when I went to throw away an armful of water bottles, I could not find a place to recycle them! Then I remembered seeing trash beside the roads and in the gutters and realized the disposal of regular trash is still not always provided for. Traveling with the group is nice because we see great places like Cape Coast, downtown Accra, and Kumasi with the comfort of a tour guide and transportation pre-arranged. However, I feel as though I'm not learning how to get around on my own very quickly because of the pre-arranged trips. I still have time to learn, and it looks pretty intuitive.

Classes in the USAC program at the University of Ghana are small and relatively relaxed. The professors are excellent in answering questions and helping us understand the history and culture of both Ghana and all of Africa. The program also allows me to sit in on classes I am not signed up for, but are useful -- like Twi, the local language. Oh, the most humiliating and most fun part of my week is the traditional African music and dance class... let's just say I'm gradually learning how to move to some awesome percussion.

Ghanaian food is made up of rice, beans, and some type of meat. Of course, there are added spices and varieties of types of preparation, but the core allows me to hold off on some of the more daring food if my intestines ask me to.

Oh, for all of you sweating out the 100+ temperatures in Texas, I've been enjoying rather mild temperatures in the high eighties, low nineties.

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