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March 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ghana

Fifty years ago yesterday, Ghana became the first African colony to gain independence, under the leadership of pan-Africanist hero Kwame Nkrumah. Actually, the modern nation of Ghana was formed from two British colonies: Gold Coast and Togoland.

I didn't pay much attention to Ghana's independence day yesterday (though at David's insistence I text-messaged my friend Ackah to wish him a happy independence day) because I have very ambivalent feelings toward Ghana after spending a month there in the summer of 2005. Before I went, people told me that I would either love Africa or hate it. It turns out that this was just one of many pieces of misinformation people fed me before my trip. I neither loved nor hated Ghana: I loved some things and hated others. Here is a list of other things I wish people hadn't told me before I went:

And here is a list of things I wish people had told me:

Ghana was a difficult place to live -- I was dirty all the time, it was hard to find a toilet when I needed one, the maps were unreliable (I had three maps of Accra and all were different, so I had to triangulate between them to find anything), there was no infrastructure (VERY hard to find a working pay phone and impossible to get around except by taxi), libraries and archives were in dismal conditions, and things that we take for granted (like kitchens and laundry facilities) just don't exist. But there were some things I really liked about Ghana -- the food, the people I met, the climate, and the music. There was music everywhere. When I called David from the only working pay phone I ever found in Accra, he said it sounded like I was at a party.

Going to Ghana was a life-changing experience. I probably could have made it easier for myself by staying in hotels and hanging out in the expat section of town, but that isn't my style. I enjoyed staying with a Ghanaian lady (whose name was also Emily!), getting around Accra on foot, and eating meals on the street or in chop bars. If I had had a little more courage, I would have ventured into one of the bars fashioned out of shipping containers near my house. I would not recommend Accra as a tourist destination, but if you have a reason to go there, it is a very interesting place to go.

Posted by eklanche at March 7, 2007 07:28 AM


Happy Birthday Ghana! I had a foreign exchange student friend in high school from Ghana. Violet was a sweet girl, and when it didn't work out with her first family, she came to live with us. Fun for me, but stressful for my mother because Violet's family is seriously, seriously wealthy and she was used to having a personal driver, a chef, a maid, and lots of spending money. And for some reason, no one explained to her before she arrived that her "host" mother and father in blue-collar Rockford Illinois would neither have, provide, nor be any of those things! Not that that's a national characteristic of Ghanaians, obviously, but it's what I always think of when I think Ghana.

The boob song was hysterical. But, actually, I always regretted that the boob fair did visit me. Not too generously, though, thankfully. As an athlete, they just got in my way!

Sorry to respond to so much in one shot, but I also enjoyed your _Up Series_ post. Josh and I are only to 21 Up. We hadn't realized the one whose father was in Rhodesia was the poshest kid, but in retrospect, doesn't it seem predictable that he would develop the social conscience among the group - noblesse oblige and all?

We're off to Rockford for a week but hopefully we'll see you after. Sara

Posted by: sbfirst at March 7, 2007 09:21 AM

My experience with all sorts of foreign countries is that they are both more and less dangerous than the U.S., but in different ways - and usually one's personal safety as a woman is easier to protect, once you figure out the system, than it is here.

Posted by: esik at March 7, 2007 09:51 AM

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