Please except an article from my wife, as my belated contribution to the March 6, anniversary of Ghana’s independence from its colonial master, Great Britain.
Akwaaba: You Are Welcome in Ghana by Donielle DeToy
I have just completed seven weeks of my teaching internship at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic School in Cape Coast, Ghana. Living in the tropical region of Cape Coast and learning about Ghanaian culture was a unique and transformative experience that I shall always cherish. I loved everything about Ghana, the culture, people, climate- Cape Coast was welcoming and beautiful.
This is not my first adventure onto the large continent of Africa. In 2011 and 2012, I traveled to Sudan visiting Khartoum, Darfur, and the Nuba Mountains. In 2014, I had the honor of accompanying my husband to Ndjamena, Chad. He is a scientific adviser to the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). We attended a conference addressing the complex dangers of Lake Chad evaporating and made proposals for workable solutions. We then explored Ethiopia both Addis Abba and the Rift Valley region. Of all my travels to Africa, Ghana was the absolute best!
There is a phrase the Ghanaian population speak when greeting visitors, “Akwaaba” which means “you are welcome” or “happy to have you visit.” Ghanaians definitely “Akwaaba” visitors and make you feel very relaxed. That welcoming spirit shines in every classroom at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic School.
If you don’t like warm weather or tropical creatures, you won’t like Ghana, but I loved it! Ghana is close to the equator and the sun sets very quickly. Cape Coast is on the ocean and it is often hot and humid. However, there is a cool and refreshing breeze throughout the night.
As for the tropical creatures- I shared my room with 4 (probably more) Geckos and no they don’t have funny Australian accents. These creatures are EVERYWHERE!! Outside, inside, under, over, above, absolutely everywhere. I learned to live with them (I didn’t really have a choice). I was outnumbered AND in that tropical climate there is an advantage of having roommates who eat bugs. I gave some of them names which personified them and discovered where they “live” within our house and school. There are two other common lizards in this region, the first is a slower moving Agama Lizard, there is one that lives on the school campus, he is nicknamed “Charlie.” The other managed to evade my camera- it is called a Monitor Lizard; my students call them “dragons” probably because they can weigh up to 200 pounds.
Are there cultural differences?? Absolutely. One of the amusing and challenging tasks was trying to explain winter temperatures, snow, and ice to my kindergarten age school children. They have never experienced temperatures below 70 degrees and only know two seasons; raining and dry. I taught a unit on weather and showed pictures and videos of Maryland’s bitter cold, but it was still too abstract. Finally, I made a huge block of ice and asked each student to hold her/his hand on it for as long as possible. They loved it!! Although most could not keep their hands on the ice for more than 30 seconds.
My students were very respectful and greeted us by our first names, but with the pre-fix “Teacher”, so I am “Teacher Donielle.” Education is universal, all children love to laugh, discover, and learn. The more fun I can have teaching my lessons, the better their learning experience.
In Ghana, Friday is Africa dress day, everyone wears traditional African attire. I decided to join the fun and wore a lovely African dress. All the teachers at my school were very happy that I joined in the tradition. I believe when visiting (and teaching) in another country one needs to participate in cultural activities. The teachers appreciated it and my students loved the fact that I got dressed up for their special day.
One of the saddest moments was my visit to the infamous slave castles/dungeons. I toured two different ones. The first, was in Elmina, this is the largest slave castle, built by the Portuguese in 1482. It had been sacred land for the people, but the European empires were callous and erected a hideous structure of death over this revered area. This “castle” was used as an export point for African men and women for over 400 years. The brutality in which the Europeans treated the people of Africa is revolting and horrifying. One tour guide estimated that over 20 million slaves were shipped from Africa. The other Castle was in Cape Coast. Our guide briefly locked us in one of the dungeons…the stench of blood and death still lingered, 200 years later. Both castles have a “door of no return” this is a narrow opening where the slaves where forced onto a ship leaving their homeland forever.
During a brief stay in Accra prior to my departure, I visited the museum and mausoleum of Kwame Nkrumah. He was the founding father of Ghana, achieving independence from the British empire in 1957. He was also a key component in the creation of the OAS- Organization of African States. I was struck at the strong connection between Nkrumah and America. The museum had dozens of artifacts from his 1939-1944 studies at University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University. During his lifetime he reflected a deep understanding of the true meaning of American System of Economics. This is most evident in his speech at the founding conference of the OAS, which called for a commitment to a scientific and infrastructure renaissance in Ghana and Africa, echoing both Franklin Roosevelt and John F Kennedy.
After my first week in Cape Coast, I thought the biggest challenge and most difficult adjustment was not being plugged into the internet or access to emails 24 hours a day. But as I prepared for my departure, I realized the most difficult task was saying good-bye. The school theme for Mary Queen of Peace is Shine Forever, and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, students, staff, and community shall Shine Forever in my heart.