Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are

As I mentioned before, I among the other exchange students here took advantage of the free time and did some traveling. This included the trip to Kumasi that I wrote about earlier. We visited the zoo there where there were snakes, camels, monkeys, chimpanzees, hyenas, lions, and a baby elephant named Bontu.

To our surprise the tour guide opened the gate and let us spend some time with the gentle giant. He was just ecstatic to see us as he took a break from munching on a bunch of bananas. At one point he approached me and cornered me into a wall where I was succumbed to his curiosity as he searched my hair with his trunk. So I took the opportunity and gave him a big hug. A pretty surreal moment I must say. I also have to note that hyenas are a lot bigger than Disney’s The Lion King ever made them out to be. A seriously intimating creature; I kept my distance even though their cages were obviously secure.

One day we traveled not too far from Cape Coast to visit the Stingless Bee Centre. Now the reason these bees are so fascinating is not just because they do not sting, if you could not pick that up from the name. All kidding aside, these bees are incredibly rare to come by and very few of these types of sanctuaries exist in the world. There are several species of these bees and their honey can be used as medicine for common sicknesses as a natural alternative.

All of photos from the Stingless Bee Centre: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100517970@N07/sets/72157636851370356/

Making our way back to the village
On our way back from the Stingless Bee Centre we stopped at Hans Cottage which is well known for their peaceful crocodiles. It has been said that there was an agreement made long ago in ancient times between the locals and the crocodiles to where they can both cohabitate and live peacefully. I am also sure that somewhere in the agreement an endless supply of chicken was demanded in order to ensure complete peace and harmony.

A reassuring mural painted at Hans Cottage
An older woman led both Jason and I to the pond guiding me closer to the ponds edge as she called out the crocodile who was more than eager to greet us. Taking slow, gentle steps towards the beast she told me to touch the tail. At this point I am thinking this is some rite of passage, if he doesn't make any moves now he won’t when I try and sit on him, right?...

As I began to sit on the crocodile I thought to myself: The only space between this crocodile and I is his decision of whether or not I live.

Second thought was: my coaches can never see this.

View all of the photos from my tender moments with the crocodile: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100517970@N07/sets/72157636852195335/

Me with a monkey in town 

As for all of my photos (click on the 'Sets' tab to see them by category): http://www.flickr.com/photos/100517970@N07/

A cat laying outside of the Stingless Bee Building
An African Grey Parrot sitting in our restaurant -They are one of the most intelligent birds in the world.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Taxi into the Dark Side

Taxi into the Dark Side
Making our way up north headed towards Kumasi, a city located in the Ashanti Region, I woke up abruptly as the bus slowly crawled through the street. A large show of force by the police was taking place in a town I was passing through.

The government was making it very evident that no chances were being taken with the upcoming ruling. The ruling was to determine whether or not President John Dramani Mahama was rightfully elected. It was a question over as Justice William Atuguba said: “…Over voting, voting without bio-metric verification, through absence of the signature of the presiding officer and duplicate serial numbers… claims relating to duplicate serial numbers, duplicate polling station codes.” When discussing this with the locals in Cape Coast most had discerned all of the hype that the some of the media outlets were expecting as one stated “You see we [Ghanaians] are peaceful people” another local from Accra added that Ghanaians are far more concerned making enough money to put food on the table rather than staging any protests, “We don’t have time for that” he said. However, when I looked up articles written from Ghanaian news sources online about the topic most imagined rioting.

When ‘judgment day’, as most called it, finally came barricades were placed surrounding the Supreme Court building as well as the Parliament building, police stood guard with armored personnel carriers scattered around as a local described in Accra (the capital) the weekend after the ruling was made. He had never seen anything like it.

Although the sun set over Ghana on September 26th without a sound. No riots occurred and President Mahama maintained his position as it was ruled by the Supreme Court that his election in 2012 was legitimate.
A view of the largest market in West Africa located in Kumasi.

I believe what the one man said about Ghanaians being peaceful brings up an interesting theory that I have formed to explain a small part of why Ghana remains relativity stable. When you look at Ghana’s neighboring countries their current status is rather concerning to a Ghanaian citizen. Côte D’Ivoire lies to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, and Togo to the east. Looking to the entire continent of Africa which is the continent with the most amount of developing states and moreover failing states. Failing states are countries in where there is a fundamental failure of the state to perform functions necessary to meet citizens’ basic needs and expectations. Failing states are commonly described as incapable of assuring basic security, maintaining rule of law and justice, or providing basic services and economic opportunities for their citizens. When referring to the 2013 Failed State Index: Togo is 42nd out of 177 countries, Burkina Faso 35th, and Côte D’Ivoire is 12th. The lower the number the worse the condition, for example Somalia, a failed state is #1 where there is no respected governing body. So as you can see Ghana, ranked 112th, is surrounded by relative instability.

I believe there is a fear in the Ghanaian society as they have an idea of the status of there neighbors as well as the many other African countries. It seems as if Ghanaians are too afraid of having their country spiral down into the condition that their neighbors are in. It is the fact that Ghana is relatively stable that makes the citizens fearful of taking a step backwards, letting in all of the conflicts that have been occurring right next door. I believe this fear lingers within in the Ghanaian psyche. As a result of this fear I believe the staging political protests is freighting to Ghanaians in fear of rioting and moreover insinuating instability because the threat of becoming unstable is never too far when your country is in a developing stage. Just look at the cases in Libya or Tunisia, although their political condition was in a deplorable state compared to Ghana it still may be a message in the eye of a Ghanaian citizen. Also in no way is this thought the complete answer to why Ghana is relatively stable there are many, many more fundamental factors that contribute to a stable developing country. However, I believe this is one of those factors that cannot be measured from research unless you actually have interacted and lived amongst the local society.

When looking at the statistics and analysis, Ghana is most certainly a developing country. A developing country is a country with a lower living standard, underdeveloped industrial base, and low Human Development Index (HDI) relative to other countries. Some of the characteristics of developing countries are manifested in the form of low income, inadequate housing, poor health and inadequate or non-existent public services. Developing countries also have low labor productivity because of the lack of complementary factors, such as capital and experienced management, to raise it. Most developing countries have very high population rates too, with high birth rates and declining death rates. They also have a shorter life expectancy than developed countries, which translates to a smaller percentage of the population being available for labor.

You can view this webpage to help put into perspective what life is like in Ghana as far as stats go: http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/compare/US/GH

Therefore the efficiency of organizations is very limited due to a general lack of resources. Thus, internal conflicts within these organizations are more likely; I of which have faced this first hand.

It seemed as if the second hand had unwound while I waited for classes to begin. Days turned into weeks as the strike continued. Taking advantage of the situation we did travel some however after the third week without classes I started to become anxious, wanting to begin my studies.

There was a nationwide consisting of all of the staff at all of the public universities in Ghana. It was a disagreement between the staff and the government over pay. Since the cost of living has increased over the past few years the staff members were expecting a pay increase but it never always not that simple.

Strikes are very common with the public universities here in fact they occur almost every semester, but this particular one carried an additional concern as I will explain. The UCC staff, which includes the Lecturers/Professors, were on strike for three weeks with periodic meeting in between, some of which were supposed to declare the final say but nothing was ever resolved. Salvation came on Friday, September 6th when there was an agreement to hold lectures. So classes commenced on Monday September 9th versus the original date of August 19th.

Even though the strike has ended for the lecturers, the administration still remained on strike. This is where the story becomes even more interesting. According to the law, the government should have shut down the school after 21 days of a strike by its staff members (The strike started on August 10th). However, the government had yet to act. UCC was shut down for a semester 2 years ago and there is one university that was closed down for the semester. So I became nervous and as for BW as they scrambled to create a backup plan. Of course the government would not want to close down another university, since they would too lose money. However, you can never speculate the any situation. So I waited.

On Monday September 30th the UCC administration called off the strike without an agreement. Unfortunately all of the meetings were closed off to the public so I only was updated through word of mouth, which is never completely reliable as often I found there was conflicting reports.

I can attest to the rise in costs. I have only been here for two months and have seen the gas prices rise. This affected the costs of all forms of public transportation of course. For example a taxi from campus to the market in town, Kotokraba, rose from .80GHP to 1.10GH. That is around 55cents, I know it is cheap but keep in mind the low standards of living here. This affects the average Ghanaian much more than it would ever would for me and these increases have been consistent really hampering their way of life. If I were a lecturer at UCC I would have been on strike too, so there is no one to blame in situations that are just plain out of your control. Despite the stress, I am really glad I had this experience which has only taught me more of how what is really like to live day to day in a developing country. If I could have foreseen the future before I came to Ghana and knew this would have all taken place, 110% I still would have come. I have only 6 weeks left here and still so much to learn.

You can view all of my photos from my trip to Kumasi from this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100517970@N07/sets/72157635306794914/

As for all of my photos (click on the 'Sets' tab to see them by category): http://www.flickr.com/photos/100517970@N07/

Next time I will be posting about the traveling I did during the strike, stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Into the Wild

Into the Wild

Bouncing all around in our seat while the driver tried to avoid the potholes in the dirt road I looked out noticing that the fog was growing thicker. After passing a police checkpoint the trees began to grow taller as we buzzed through the entrance to the rain forest. Soon we all stumbled out of the van arriving at Kakum National Park immediately setting off on our tour. Wining through the trails, climbing in elevation reminded me a lot of the endless amount of time I have spent crawling through the Adirondacks. Everything seems to fade away when you are in a forest I found that the feeling for me is the same whether I was trekking through the High Peaks or was buried deep within a rain forest: two completely different environments but that indescribable vibe still remained. You can only know what this feeling is like if you have ever spent a considerable amount of time where no civilization can be found for miles. The word ‘peaceful’ or ‘serenity’ just does not cut it.

Our group [the exchange students] all stepped into this open aired shed that revealed a network of roped bridges that were strung high up in the canopy of the rain forest. One by one we took the first step as we dangled well over 100 feet above the forest’s floor. 

I had stepped into a world that revealed a different dimension. As I put both hands on one of the supporting lines of the bridge I peered down into the abyss. I could not see the bottom, a pretty surreal moment. The bridge teetered while I continued on soon landing on one of the connecting trees. I really enjoy this type of adventure where your life seems to dangle in the hands of Mother Nature. It puts me in perspective of how powerful the environment really is. However, I desperately felt the need for exhilaration as this wasn't at all by far the most extreme activity I've done this year. I thought of how awesome it would be to bungee jump from one of the supporting tree bases. How cool would that be? Flying past the layers of the rainforest and as you reach the extreme of the elasticity in the rope you are only to be ripped back up to the heavens above; these types of activities get me pretty excited. I have an imaginative mind when put in certain situations. Next summer though…

The best video of me crossing one of the walkways is struggling to upload so I will have to try another time.

As I have stated in my previous post the Ghanaian people admire the US. This was exemplified when President Obama traveled to Ghana. He visited the city where I currently study in, Cape Coast, also known as ‘Obama Town’ and any Ghanaian will remind you that “he only visited Ghana and then flew back to the states. Out of all Of Africa he chose Ghana, not even South Africa. Ghana is the number one African nation.” I have heard this same phrase by several locals including a former student of economics at UCC I met just yesterday. Besides the political recognition from the US, Ghana admires the American culture in various aspects like music for example. As it came to my surprise Ghanaians are fairly current with our pop music back in the states. What sparked this thought on the influence of American culture abroad was when I had heard one of the CIE staff members playing two American songs on his phone.

Here is that link to that video...

Isaac, among many young locals, love all types of American music as seen in the video above. This includes television series too; I had met one man who watches the HBO series “Game of Thrones” and is already on the third season! Yet, I have never seen a single episode…

While studying back at BW, this was one factor that I found interesting was the amount of influence the US has on the developing world. I am not talking about the political motives but rather this topic of cultural influence. This is a form of westernization a term that scholars like to call the McWorld. Referring to how the fast food chain McDonalds, a western (US) company, has quickly become an international corporation that spans through numerous countries all across the world which also portrays an aspect of globalization. This concept is used to characterize how influential the US and everything that it contains, like its international corporations, can be on the rest of the world, especially the developing countries. Although there are no McDonalds in Ghana the effects are still visible within this small West African country.

For my next blog I will be discussing my trip to Kumasi as well as the upcoming Supreme Court ruling in Ghana. This is a hot topic for all Ghanaians currently since their Presidents ruling is being contested.

You can view all of my photos from my trip by clicking on the link below,

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Birth and The Death of Day

The Birth and Death of Day

Peering down below everything seems so small and fragile. Cars move about like toys, meandering through the spider web of roadways. Everything looks so perfect from up here. Ants marching to and from; all living their separate lives. As we ascend further into the sky, the clouds resemble as if they were a field of cotton with the wings cutting through each layer. The colors of orange sherbet and tomato red mask the sky while the sun begins to set. Now darkness has fallen and only a dim glow is visible within the distance.  
I have arrived in London and everything becomes static as I have forgotten what time it is. I have found myself within this incredibly modern airport where sporadic reflections of light bounce off metallic objects, everything looks so new. The airport bustles with people while the flight gate numbers races across plasma screens. Eventually I found myself on course to one of the massive terminals in Heathrow where I had met a young women also studying at UCC (University of Cape Coast). We both agreed that our communication with UCC was rather ambiguous, but we figured that is how things were run at UCC. Our thoughts could not have been more accurate.

We both found our seats and took off for one last destination, Accra. Later on in the flight I found myself peering down once again, only to find that the spider web of roadways had now transformed into a vast network of seemingly never-ending trails as we were now flying over the Sahara Desert.

Landing at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, the capital of Ghana was amazing. I came from one of the most technologically advance international hubs in the world to this shanty airway. It was exactly what I had expected, but it was just interesting to realize how globalized the world has become today. We soon had claimed our luggage and ventured out into lobby where a frail man held two signs with our names printed on them. His name was Nelson and he was a representative from the Centre for International Education (CIE) at UCC. We were pleasantly surprised as we had no idea who or if someone was going to pick us up. That night we stayed in the UCC guesthouse Accra traveling to Cape Coast in the morning a roughly 3 hour drive after a 23 hour travel period was not bad at all.
Quinlyn, the student I met in London, and Nelson at the guest house in Accra.
The next day [Tuesday] we met Mary who was also a CIE employee who traveled with us to Cape Coast. While traveling I was glued to the window as we flew by the markets and villages that sometimes could have skimmed the sides of the van. Every once in a while you can see murals of Obama, the Ghanaians love him. President Obama had traveled to Ghana not too long ago and from what I had picked up it was seen as a major sign of respect to the Ghanaian citizens to not only have the world’s most powerful leader in their country but a man who was also of the same race. Overall, positive US sentiments in Ghana are high.
Arriving in Cape Coast, finally passing through the checkpoint at the front gate of the university was a great sigh of relief. I was shown my room a spacious but weathered looking dorm room with a balcony that reveals the three cisterns that store water for the building. Water here is not safe to drink and shortages do occur but bottled water is easy to find at local shops. I met my roommate Jason, a senior at SUNY Buffalo who is studying in the same field. Jason and I get along well; we both have a burn for adventure which I guess explains partially why we are in Ghana. Soon I met more students who are all relatively studying in the same field: political science/international relations. There are two students from Germany who have either already lived in Ghana or traveled here before so they have become a huge help as far as learning the cultural norms and tips on shopping in the market.
A view of Cape Coast from the campus.
A view of the living conditions in Cape Coast as you travel outside of the campus.
Wednesday we had orientation at the CIE with all of the staff. We learned what to expect from our classes as well as the other small details that concerned our four month stay here. Some of the big lessons that were explained included terms like ‘Ghanaian time.’ This is something that I personally expected and we had already experienced an hour and a half wait for our van to arrive to pick us up to actually begin orientation. So for example if you were told by a local to meet at 9am it means closer to 10am or after. Believe it or not this includes events like weddings. I had heard of a story of how a wedding ceremony was schedule to begin at 9am but the bride had not walked down the aisle till 2pm. It seems as if the locals just know when to arrive to certain events. We are all trying to pick up the small cultural nuances as quickly as possible, but some carry more weight than others. For example, the use of the left hand which is considered offensive, this concurs with some Middle Eastern cultures as well. I will let you research why this is if you are interested to avoid some blunt terminology. The official language of Ghana is English but in cities like Cape Coast Fante is the language of choice by the locals. Some phrases include: Ak-wah-ba –Welcome; Meh-dah-si - Thank you. Also, the Ghanaian currency is the cedi which is roughly 1 US dollar for every 2 cedis. Considering the standard of here is low the costs of goods and materials are as well so I make out pretty well here. Traditional meals include a combination of rice, chicken and spices but you can still find lots of variety of foods at the market. We, the exchange students, have found restaurants that offer both traditional meals as well as more western plates like pancakes or hamburgers. We are all still learning how to be creative with the foods offered at the market, but it is only our first week here so we learn something new every day. It is amazing that it has only been a week here considering how much I have learned and seen so I cannot write all of it down at once. Tomorrow I’ll be covering my adventures in the market, the Cape Coast Castle as well as my trip into the rain forest. I have some powerful pictures that follow their stories as well. Stay tuned!
We found internet!

The New Frontier

Africa is becoming the new frontier in the realms of international relations. The focus of international political and economical lens keeps shifting more towards the developing countries as it once had on the Middle East. The scars and memories of the protests in places like Libya and Egypt still remain, the mass interest of the Chinese who seek energy resources have sparked many development concerns, and the sprouting of al-Qaeda affiliates all of which reside in Africa. These are just a few examples of the scattered signs that have begun to shine light on how this vast continent that holds such amazing opportunities for development regionally and globally. What had interested me to study in Ghana was the non-traditional experience it offered. As a student from the most politically and economically powerful country in the world, Ghana enables me to see the perspective of the world stage from a developing country; a perspective which cannot be gained from any amount of academic literature. Ghana also presents itself in a unique state a midst a continent full of struggling governments. Ghana compared to the rest of region as well as Africa as a whole is a success story. A stable government with a stable society is hard to come by, so I want to discover what elements contribute to this beyond from what the experts say. Living in Ghana and studying among its future generation will absolutely satisfy my desire for new knowledge as well as offer one amazing experience that I will never forget. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Where is Ghana?

Ghana is located in West Africa and is roughly the size of Arkansas, but don't worry Ghana is far more interesting. 
Cape Coast is right on the Atlantic with a climate typically between 80-90 degrees with 90%-99% humidity in the fall. This may help put into perspective what Ghana is like as far as stats go: http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/compare/US/GH