Akwaba (welcome) to my adventures in Ghana!
Let me first just say once again, that GHANA IS AMAZING! And what makes Ghana so amazing is the people. Some of the friendliest and warmest people I have ever met in my life.
My first two days was spent on an overnight FDP called Welcome to Ghana: Winneba Overnight.
It was essentially a cultural and educational exchange between the students at the University of Education in Winneba and us Semester at Sea students, as well as some of the local residents of Winneba. Why Winneba? Because Winneba is the sister city of Charlottesville, Virginia the home of the academic sponsor of SAS: University of Virginia.
On the first day, September 13th, 2011, our friends from Winneba arrived at the ship to take a tour of the ship and to meet us. After we lined up and shook hands with each representative from Winneba, the “Winnebans” took a tour of the bridge (which by the way is an awesome place and I shall update you on my bridge tour soon). Afterwards we all had lunch together. I had lunch with a female trader who says she is the “assembly woman,” her name is Millicent Salifu, I also ate with a man who is part of a group of traditional “warriers” who perform traditional religious rituals, and I believe his name is Ellisful, cant recall too well. After the lunch on the ship, we took them on a short tour of the ship, they arrived late due to traffic so we were on a tight schedule. They were very interested in seeing the luxury features of the ship so we showed them the pool, gym, and spa. We then boarded a very tight bus where 42 students, faculty and lifelong learners along with 22 or so Winnebans squeezed into a bus with a 2-3 seating, so 5 across when its normally 4 across on a bus. The walkway on the bus was barely wide enough for even the skinniest person carrying an overnight backpack.
The 2 hour drive turned into a nearly 5 hour drive because the main motorway is still under construction or being facelifted, so we were constantly stopping. The traffic in Ghana’s cities and main motorways is very bad. Nonetheless I made the most of my time on the bus and experienced a different side of the saying: “It is not so much about the destination as it is about the journey.” I sat behind and next to two students from the university. The man next to me was Arko and the woman in front of me was Rita. Arko taught my row how to sing a local Ghanaian gospel song. I should mention here that Ghanaians are very religious and it is filled with the gospel spirit in Ghana. The song is the following:
Aseda Ye Nyame ne Dea
Aseda ye nyame ne dea
Aseda ye nyame ne dea
Aseda ye nyame ne dea
Menntu me nka adea wdaye ama me
Mbo, mbo, mbo, mbo, adea woaye ama me (3x)
Menntu me nka adea aoaye ama me
Each time the same phrase is repeated, it is repeated with different tones and pitches and keys which makes the song more harmonic. The song translates to:
Grace belongs to the world and to mankind. I cannot tell what the lord has done for me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for all that you (the lord) have done for me. I cannot thank you enough.
I also learned more about Ghana and specifically about WInneba from Rita. Winneba translates to Windy Bay, apparently it is said that the name came about because the locals could not pronounce Windy Bay when the colonists gave the bay that name. It was mainly a fishing town with a produce market and fish market. It didn’t became more prosperous and well known once the university was established in Winneba. The University of Education in Winneba, which was first named College of Education then named Advance Training College, is the biggest University in Ghana. It branched out to many subjects other than education, and is the only school in Ghana to offer special education to handicapped students. It welcomes students from all over Ghana, Africa and the world. According to Rita the school is in a transition phase to becoming a more coherent school with actual university infrastructures to compete better with the University of Ghana. There are a total of 6 campuses, 3 campuses in Winneba (North, Central, and South Campuses), and 3 outside Winneba. Each campus specializes in a area of studies. The South Campus is focused on language and education, while the central is on arts and theater, and the north is focused on physical education. One of the outside campuses is focused on technology. On the ship and on the bus I learned the meaning behind the Ghanaian flag. The red strip represents the blood that was shed when people fought for the country, the yellow strip represents gold and cocoa the two main exports of Ghana, the green represents the agriculture and lush greenery of Ghana, and the black star reflects the idea that Ghana is a star/ role model/ center of Black Africa. The interactions and conversations I had made this 4.5 hour bus ride go by a lot faster than the return bus ride back to the ship.
We finally arrived in Winneba and our first stop in Winneba was a visit to the Mayor’s office. He bid us welcome to the sister city of Charlottesville and was very happy for us to be there. We were blessed by a local reverend, and also by the “warriors” who blessed us in the traditional way. They prayed to the 77 gods and asked them to bless us, they used Gin to bless the land and the sky, the main orator drank and spat the gin out into the air and also splashed some on the ground, he then drank a sip of it as he wrapped up the prayer.
We then checked in to our very simple hostel in Winneba, where I shared a double bed with my roommate, luckily it was quite big. Before I go on I must remind you that the doctor onboard the ship managed to scare the souls out of everyone by warning us about drinking/ using local water, swimming in fresh water, eating the local foods…etc because he saw cases of malaria and various nasty parasite infections on previous journeys to Ghana. He even showed up pictures. Well after that presentation I bought some Pepto Bismol. Anyways point is, the bathroom was a bit challenging, I mean I have showered in worse conditions, but there was something about the shower (it had some plastic stuff and was just not very clean and maintainted and I pictured a parasite infecting my body) that threw me off, so I ended up just showering my hair and arms and feet and other important parts. Honestly I think I just got overly scarred by the doctor’s presentation. I mean I have never sanitized my hands as much as I have in my 4 days in Ghana. Ok bathroom, health and sanitation issues aside, I will now continue with my stories.
After relaxing for a bit we ate dinner at the hotel. I had my first taste of some Ghanaian food. It is fairly simple, mainly stews, rice, plantains, fish, meat, lots of spices, and lots of sticky starchy stuff. My favorite dish that night was Jaloff rice, a red rice that resembles Spanish rice filled with spices, it was delicious.
We then headed to the South Campus of the university, where Rita and Arko and their friends awaited us. We entered a lecture hall where some cultural exchanges occurred. We learned about their university and we educated them about Semester at Sea. They put on some very nice performances as well.
University of Education in Winneba Education:
They noted that the faculties at the university are highly valued. Each professor is the head of multiple departments. So if I was a teacher there I would have the music, math, and science departments under me, just hypothetically speaking. It is ranked 2nd in Ghana for teacher education, 3rd overall, and 1st in sports. It has quite a large student body, and I do warn you that my numbers might be off as I did not catch all of them correctly. I believe it is 40,000 distant learners, meaning they don’t stay on campus, they just attend classes. 6000 residential students, and some students who just join for a semester or study during the holidays. The students come from all 10 regions in Ghana, and they come together as one community even if their native dialects are different. In addition to staying in dorms, some residential students are hosted by local Winnebans. Students gain direct entry into the university once they finish high school, but professional teachers need to take an exam to enter as faculty.
Music is a central part to campus life and we were lucky to witness this first hand!
The first welcome performance we saw was a children’s choir who sang a very nice gospel song which caused many students to stand up from their seats and wave up their hands and dance along. Mid way we saw a campus group named “the Royal Warriors,” perform and song and dance. The songs and dance that the Royal Warriors performed are songs and dances that they do every weekend or during weeknights because it is a way for students to release the stress from studying. It is a form of self-entertainment for the student body, and boy is it a great way to de-stress of what! The last performance was by elders of the community, it was more traditional. The first part was in English and they sang: “Charlottesville you are welcome,” then they moved on to sing in the native tongue: “We are grateful to you.” During each performance students stood up and danced and waved their hands. It was my first glimpse into the passion, excitement, and joy that make Ghana as wonderful as it is. We were all very happy and got excited when many students expressed interest in participating in Semester at Sea in the future! During the Royal Warrior’s performance I got up and danced in my seat because it was so enticing! I then exchanged contact information with Rita who I was not sure I would see the next day, and as it turns out I did not see her the next day which was sad, but I shall add her on facebook and keep in touch with her and Arko! While some people discussed logistics with the trip liaisons, some SASers and I went to participate and witness the Royal Warriors dancing and singing outside the dorms. Many students were taking a break from their studies and watching from their balconies or they came down to join in the fun, I danced with them for a short short while just to experience it a bit. It was really fun, but man I can say this for all Ghanaian dancing: it is tiring and boy do Ghanaians have energy and stamina or what!
We then headed back to the hotel where we simply chilled and had a few drinks in the hotel’s “bar” area.
After the first day, I was certain Ghana was going to be an amazing and unforgettable experience, and you know what? It only got better from there.
To be continued….