Reflections on Ghana

Over winter break, a group of students, faculty and staff from Colorado State University embarked on a three week trip to Ghana. This study abroad program is structured as a service learning trip, so while there is some fun and sightseeing, the students and faculty are there to work and interact with different communities. While there the students painted schools, volunteered at orphanages, tried their hands at traditional weaving and Andinkra printing, and got to get to know the people in the regions they visited.

Students helped paint this mural of Dr martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah at the Youth Institute for Science and Technology in the Ashanti Region, Ghana.
Students helped paint this mural of Dr martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah at the Youth Institute for Science and Technology in the Ashanti Region, Ghana.

The biggest impact that the trip to Ghana has had is on the students who participated. After the trip, the students take a semester long one-credit course, ETST 130 West Africa in Global and Local Perspective, where they debrief and talk about their experiences. Some students choose to write essays, some use art to express themselves, but one particular student, T’Hani Holt, used poetry to express how she now views the world differently after her experience in Ghana.

Reflections on Ghana – T’Hani Holt

This poem encompasses many of the feelings that surfaced during re-entry, and reflection post trip, as well as notes taken during trip. I wanted to capture some of the things the group discussed after the trip as well as things that I experienced post-trip. The most important message I got from visiting Ghana is that they are a people who are capable of solving problems for themselves, and have an incredible ability to adapt to problems that were created by outsiders. The poem is entirely made up of experience, and personal understanding of some of the ways in which Africa is portrayed and the things that hinder its growth. This poem was inspired by the way Ghana has changed my feelings about staying in Colorado in particular because of its disregard for blackness, and understanding of blackness and its inability to teach me even a fraction of the history I learned in Ghana, as if it were unimportant.

They ask me how was Africa?
If I had the time to explain that I didn’t have the time, or the money for that matter, to set foot in 54 different countries I would.
But to be fair before I entered the country of Ghana, my language was very much the same.
White lies sat on my tongue like poison, running right up to my brain.
The kind of white lies that would lead to me believe there were more lions than people, and giraffes were far more interesting.
The kind of white lies that would lead Alice Walker to think of Freedom as a force to help us stop relating as owned and owner,
only to find us relating to another as us and them.
The kind of lies that would make me believe that extreme poverty is the only thing alive in Africa.
They asked me how was Africa?
And I wanted desperately to tell them that the images of starving, sick and dying black kids, caused me to quietly cry myself to sleep when I realized that the kids I would meet in this country are everything I would want my kids to be.
The ways in which they silently peeked around doorways and windows and watched from across streets, with a look in their eyes like they knew me
Even before I could say Hi.

Students at the beach in Accra, Ghana
Students at the beach in Accra, Ghana.

If I could tell them about how I stood on the beach and thanked God for everything he has given me I would
But who am I kidding,
Because this very question prompts a one word answer: Good.
Because Listening is too much to ask for.
Because Africa is the land of Dead Aid,
Aids,
The sick and the dying
And the terribly black.
So much so that it took a flight back for half of my peers to realize the luck they had.
How was Africa?
This was Gods Masterpiece if you ask me
I walked through hollow trees,
Met kids more brilliant than I could ever be.
I laughed for real for the first time in a long time
The place I call home became a foreign land and this place became my home.
Listening in America is not a thing,
There are too many meaningless sounds to ever pay attention to anything but your own selfish thoughts.

Students seeing the carved trees at Aburi Gardens, Ntonso, Ashanti Region, Ghana.
Students seeing the carved trees at Aburi Gardens, Ntonso, Ashanti Region, Ghana.

But in Ghana I could hear for the first time,
The call to prayer rang out and I let my tears rush to my eyes, I quickly pushed them back in because tears joyful or not seldom leak in public
I heard businesses start from small concerns,
Trash turned into beautiful bags
I heard welcomes in every space I entered
Akwaaba!
I heard joy come from painted schools
And Pride for country, tribe, culture and history,
Spicy African Men
And laughs joined with games of soccer
I heard tears roll down cheeks from goodbyes, and see you agains
I heard Old Folk Tales,
Time, Time,
And laughter from children and adults
I heard people care for another, not in the superficial way of asking questions and expecting one word answers
Good.
How was Africa?
Well you money means little
And Ebola isn’t here
My brothers are sisters are alive, and well, and they know what they need to move forward
And that doesn’t come from input from whites, or westerners
It doesn’t involve pretty green high risers that nobody can afford
It doesn’t need the Morman’s, or the Lutherans or anybody else who wants to cast Christ as a cure to poverty.
I only saw goats, no lions no giraffes and I barely noticed until you asked.
Yes I took showers
And I ate pretty well too
They mostly spoke English, and if they didn’t that’s fine because I was the guest…
How was Africa?
Stop,
Shut up
Take a deep breath
And listen.
When you hear for the first time,
Those white lies turn to ashes
And help stops becoming a hindrance
What you see isn’t always what it is.

Students from the Youth Institute for Science and Technology posing with the CSU group.
Students from the Youth Institute for Science and Technology posing with the CSU group.

If you are interested in participating in this trip for the 2016-2017 programs, whether you are a student, faculty, staff, or community member, you are encouraged to apply. Applications are due May 1, 2016, for more information on the specifics of the program visit the Office of International Programs website

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