It is not all golden on the Gold Coast, as colonial Ghana was known, but it’s not bad either.
Felix Ofosu Dompreh and Naa Ayeley Okine, my two dancer friends, are proud of the peace and stability of their country and they talk about it in a way that doesn’t occur to us—as a special circumstance to be treasured, not a state of affairs to be taken for granted. It was nice to hear.
Ghanaians are proud of their peaceful land. Proud of their friendship with the U.S.; proud of their education system, quite likely the best in the region; proud of President Obama’s choice of Ghana for his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president.
A few lines from the President’s speech: “And I have come here, to Ghana, for a simple reason: the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well….
Time and again, Ghanaians have chosen Constitutional rule over autocracy, and shown a democratic spirit that allows the energy of your people to break through. We see that in leaders who accept defeat graciously, and victors who resist calls to wield power against the opposition….
Fifty-two years ago, the eyes of the world were on Ghana. And a young preacher named Martin Luther King traveled here, to Accra, to watch the Union Jack come down and the Ghanaian flag go up. This was before the march on Washington or the success of the civil rights movement in my country.” (I’ve excerpted some other phrases and paragraphs from that speech at the end of this blog.)
My time in Ghana was very short, intended to make acquaintance with the local contemporary dance world AND to get yet one more passport stamp. Felix, Naa and their friends made the time informative and most enjoyable from a dance and a social perspective.
We had agreed to meet on my first evening in Accra at the Alliance Française for a concert. It was most agreeable as events at French cultural centers across Africa usually are. A mix of ex-pats—mostly French, middle-class Africans, and artists of all shades; friends greeting one another in the velvet humidity of a typical tropical evening; a lively beer terrace—exclamations and embraces all in French.
And the music—the very intriguing, very African sound launching Togbui Ehadzila Dela Botri’s new album, Naa Ayele, described in the promo as ‘a dramatic fusion of contemporary highlife/kpanlogo, zouk and salsa rhythms harmonized to create a new sound and promoting Ghanaian rhythms.’
After the concert Felix and friends drove me by the monument-filled heart of the city while searching for my hotel which, in spite of what the on-line promo claimed, was actually in a rather obscure corner of the city. Nothing about travel is quite as pleasurable as driving or walking about a new city with newly-made friends just sharing stories and laughter.
I took a cab the next morning out to the University of Ghana for a Noyam Dance Company rehearsal and to see one of their smaller pieces performed. The dancers are quite excellent, the new work in rehearsal looks like it will develop into something interesting and piece they performed for me was engagingly choreographed and danced with grace and energy. The work does have an American look to it, based perhaps on Ailey although I am not familiar enough with his work to say that with confidence.
We all talked for awhile in the studio and the issues would sound familiar in any American dance studio—shortages of space to create and rehearse, money, places to show the work… These dancers have traveled a fair amount individually, whether to the States, Europe or in some cases to lengthy residencies in Japan and the company has performed at least once in the States. While there isn’t a lot of financial support available Noyam is under the umbrella of the University which provides space and at least some opportunities as long as you are a student.
In the afternoon four of us headed for the beach. A perfect time it was. The talk was good: politics (one friend had volunteered on Barack Obama’s campaign while studying/visiting in the States), their ethnic/cultural backgrounds, food, dance, life.
The food was beautiful.
The beach was the perfect place to while away a lazy afternoon happily chatting over new tastes and good beer.
These lovely Ghanaian beaches were also the last familiar glimpse of their homeland to the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The company was fascinating.
My desire to feel at home in the WORLD is slowly being achieved, country by country, meal by meal, bus ride by bus ride, friend by friend.
Tidbits of information, mostly culled from Wikipedia, follow along with photos. They are in no particular order and have no particular relationship to each other.
Fact: The Gold Coast, as colonial era Ghana was known, became the first sub-Saharan African nation to achieve independence from the UK. On March 6 1957 at 12am, Kwame Nkrumah declared Ghana “free forever”.
Fact: Ghana is one of the world’s largest gold and cocoa producers.
Fact: Ghana was part of the Ashanti Empire, one of the most powerful pre-colonial states in Africa.
Fact: John Atta Mills is the current president.
Fact: Ghana is ranked as a Lower-Middle Income Economy by the World Bank.
Fact: Ghana lies just north of the equator.
The main ethnic group is Akan; 69% of the people are classified as Christian; English is the official language.
Ghana made it into the quarter final stage in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Yay, Ghana.
Ghana enjoys a mostly free press.
Ghana had a 71.7% literacy rate in 2007 for males and 58.3% for females.
According to my friends, Ghana has the best education system in the region and many students come from elsewhere, especially Nigeria, to study here.
Things I especially like from the President’s speech: Now let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war. But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.
These conflicts are a millstone around Africa’s neck. We all have many identities – of tribe and ethnicity; of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century. Africa’s diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division.
That is why we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology. It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars. It is the ultimate mark of criminality and cowardice to condemn women to relentless and systematic rape. We must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and the dignity of every woman in Congo. No faith or culture should condone the outrages against them.
As I said earlier, Africa’s future is up to Africans.
The people of Africa are ready to claim that future. In my country, African-Americans – including so many recent immigrants – have thrived in every sector of society. We have done so despite a difficult past, and we have drawn strength from our African heritage. With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos; in Kigali and Kinshasa; in Harare and right here in Accra….
Freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom’s foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say that this was the time when the promise was realized – this was the moment when prosperity was forged; pain was overcome; and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more. Thank you.”