This is the last night in Ghana. The plane leaves tomorrow at 11 AM and what an incredible 6 weeks it has been. The teaching and the learning, the building of friendships and toilets, the dedication of the spirit and the rejuvenation of the soul– this were experienced in ample measure. So now let me frame the experience and try to bring closure as the bags are packed and farewells have been said.
Earlier in the week, I went to the WEB DuBois Center. I knew of Dr. DuBois as a leading African American educator and scholar. But did you know that he moved to Ghana in at the age of 93 to start work of the Encyclopedia Africa? This leader of Pan-Africanism was undertaking a huge task. He died at the age of 95 and is buried in Accra. The tour began, the site guide started his presentation: “Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts…” What? Really? The father of modern day African nationalism was born near Camp Eisner. Why didn’t I know that? o wait– I sorta did; there is a plaque on Rt 71 when one drives from Schenectady to Great Barrington. The guide continued: “the museum in Great Barrington has a timeline…” A Museum? Where? O I promised the guide that I find it and send him pictures when I got there.
This story is frames my Ghana experience. like most Americans, I knew Very little about African history and culture. I knew where to find Ghana on a map. I knew the capital and with some coaching from Richie Weiskpof, I learned to pronounce it correctly before I left. But I was grossly ignorant of so much. I read a guide book, a biography or 2– but still, so much was unknown to me.
So what did I learn?
Hmmm.. It was all taught to me by people who left a great imprint on my soul:
1. Africans don’t have much, but what they have– they will share with you: The people of PramPram and in particular, Pastor Manu and his family embrace a blefono with love and encouragement. They welcomed me with open arms, not expecting me to give but rather for making the journey to share life with them. The “stuff”– books, computers, printer, sports equipments and toilets were secondary. It was very appreciated and they graciously accepted those elements that supported their lives, but they did not demand it!
2. Building a better world is a team effort, not an individual that succeeds when one person gets the best. It is not a competitive environment in that regard. Take for example Prof. Rabi Musah’s invitation to look up her family, which I did. What I found was Blanche, the “Cake Boss” of Ghana who employs 45 people who share the work load in turning out beautiful cakes and pastries. Well respected by everyone, she needs her people to be dedicated to the job. They call her Madam, but their children call her Auntie. And when I left the bake shop, I dare not tell you how many bags and boxes of goodies I received!
3. Not everything is perfect in Ghana. I learned this from 2 groups of foreigners I met at the hotel toward the end of my stay. Terry and Ann retired from Nottingham England and spend 3 months in the far north of the country every year. North of Tamale, near the Burkina-Faso border, they saw a different Ghana than I experienced. Their region is far poorer than mine with limited agriculture and water resources. the south is 75% Christian, but the north is 90% Muslim. There is a dividing line around Kumasi which separates which religion is dominant as well as the economic growth potential– it doesn’t exist beyond a few hours north of Accra, which is the city of Kumasi. There is far greater need in the north for social services and financial support. terry and Ann run a nutrition center which saves children– not only from malnutrition but from the custom where malnourished children were taken into the forest and hacked to death because they were seen as possessed by an evil spirit.
The political ugliness of West Africa were described to me by 2 Swedes who were “consultants”. I am not sure what they consulted but after a few drinks, it became clear that these 2 were former military and were well versed in issues involving “security” and the flow of trouble in the region. The armed conflicts in this region has brought Chinese and Eastern European weapons into the area that only intensify tensions. the arms seem to float from one region to the next where there is conflict. Mali is a perfect example, but the French pushed the al-Qeda rebels back but now they are heading in mass to Darfur in the Sudan. Then there is the drug problem– Africa is the transit point for Cocaine cartels of South America. Most cocaine in Europe and a significant amount of the cocaine in the US passed thru an African port. And then there is the problem human trafficking and the issue of piracy which is now being done more and more by “westerners” and not Somalians. Hanging with these guys was like reading a Tom Clancy novel!
4. America has held Ghana back as much as it has encouraged it to move forward. The first president of Ghana, Dr. Nykrumah did a lot to move the country forward– the work on infrastructure and the vision for the future, especially a Pan-Africa,is impressive.However, he worked closely with China and the USSR in the early 1960’s to do it. It is not a tale out of school to say that the CIA was involved withe coup that toppled his presidency in 1966. The result was a stagnation in moving Ghana forward, indeed all of Africa, for decades. Ghanaians in the South credit Flgt Lt Jerry Pawlins
5. Wherever you go there is always someone Jewish! Rabbi Larry Milder was right when he penned a song with that phrase as the title. There are about 300 Israelis here, ChaBaD comes twice a year. The Israelis are supportive of each other as they build their lives here. Unlike the Ghanaians, most Israelis have come as individuals and have soughtheir fortune and build a comfortable life for themselves; then go back to Israel.
There is a group of people who claim to be Jews who live in Sefwi Wausa 2hrs from Kumasi. They are a “lost Jewish tribe”, who have some Jewish rituals and read the Old Testament as well as having a small Torah scroll. It was fascinating to see them– their story amazes me: the chief had a vision that they were Israelites a bunch of years ago. and because of their rituals, it was plausible. As Jews, they petitioned the government for their own school which was neither Christian or Muslim and it was granted. The Joint Distrubition Committee in Israel also supports them.
6. Food tastes better when it is home cooked! Now I doubt that I can get Banku or Fufu in the States, but I hope to find a good West African grocery store so I can try to recreate the foods I found here. Now– I just gotta figure out what Palava is!
So when I leave here in a few hours, some things will come with me. First is the strong bond I have with Pastor Manu. I pray that we will be friends for years to come. I want to build that connection and the connection that is beginning between Gates of Heaven and The Bethel School. I want to take those core values of care and concern for people that is so communal in Ghana and replicate them back in the States. I also pledge to keep learning and sharing the stories of Africa that needs to be told!
My pledge to myself is not to forget what I learned here. I promise to tell the stories of what I gleaned and experienced. I resolve not to forget the need to support the people in PramPram. And I intend to keep learning about Africa, so that it will not be just a place on a map, but a place in my soul!