Sunday, January 1, 2012
Akwaaba: Greetings from Ghana!
We arrived at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana at approximately 12:55pm on December 31st. Although our flight was 10 hours we seemed to have the most difficulty adjusting to the five hour time difference. It was here that we met our tour guide George. George greeted us with a warm and heartfelt Akwaaba which means "welcome" or "hello" in Twi--one of 35 languages spoken in Ghana. He also provided us with a small taste of the Ghanian culture and history as we traveled to our hotel in Accra. According to George, the people from Accra are predominantly from the Ga tribe and are known to be especially animated in the facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. Although these behaviors may appear rude or offensive to some, George encouraged us to perceive such emphatic behaviors as passionate friendliness rather than aggressiveness.
Traveling through the city gave us the opportunity to observe the Ghanian society from our own point of view. The presence of numerous billboard advertisements, small businesses, and traffic provided clear indications that this society was very modernized. Despite this modernization however, it was also clear that the Ghanians simultaneously retained a strong sense of pride in their culture and customs. The Ghanian flag waved in numerous parts of the city and was depicted in many murals and storefronts. Women were observed carrying heavy loads on their heads, and many Ghanians were seen wearing traditional outfits. Monuments symbolizing Ghanaian independence also held a pervasive presence in the city. While driving through Nkrumah Circle for example, George pointed out the statue of Kwame Nkrumah, one of six leaders who played a major role in helping Ghana achieve its independence. All six leaders are depicted on the Ghanian currency. Kwame Nkrumah was also a Pan Africanist (i.e. an activist seeking the autonomy and independence of African countries) and he was elected as the first president of Ghana after its independence.
At the Forte Royale hotel we continued to witnessed the Ghanian culture in a social context. Juliet the general manager of the hotel greeted each of individually in a counterclockwise direction. This ensured that she greeted each of us with her right hand and ensured that the palm of hand rather than the back of her hand lead each handshake. In the Ghanian culture it is considered proper etiquette to each individual in a group setting and it is considered an insult to lead a handshake with the back of your hand.
After a hearty dinner we spent the remainder of our evening visiting three locations. George called the first location "The Spot" which was similar to that of a nightclub. As we danced to Ghanian music we were briefly entertained by street performers whose acrobatic dance moves were of Cirque-de-Soliel caliber. It was amazing watching the youngest performer of the group (who was at most 7 years of age), use one leg to balance on top of another individual's head, with the other leg extended behind his head. We subsequently visited two church services. The streets bustling with many people headed to church to bring in the New Year. This highlighted that religion also plays a major role in the Ghanian culture. The first service was held in what George described as the "national gathering" by a mega-church known as the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC). The national gathering was actually a stadium that could hold up to 45,000 people and appeared to be filled to capacity. We concluded the evening at George's own church where we witnessed a profound and emotional prayer for the New Year. Although much smaller than the church previously described (there were at most 45 people in attendance), the emphatic female pastor of the church lead the congregation in an extended period of worship, prayer, and praise that seemed to intensify as the clock slowly approached midnight. It seemed as though a spiritual rebirth was taking place to usher in the new year. At midnight, we all wished each other a Happy New Year and thought of family and friends at home who were five hours away from celebrating theirs.
According to George to be considered Ghanian it is not enough to say that you were born in Ghana. At birth you are given a name that literally traces you to where and when you were born, and who your family is, and the order of your birth among your siblings (i.e. whether you are the first, second,). In essence your name is your address. I found this to be the most profound statement of the day as it brought theme of Ghanian pride full circle.
In the words of the Ghanian people we would like say Afehiya Pa, which is Twi for HAPPPY NEWWW YEAR!!!!