Reflections on home country – 1969

Doug Griggs is the brother of a friend. I share here his reflections on his time in Ghana here, and I invite you to send me your stories about living and learning across boundaries in our increasingly complex global world. Let’s keep learning together.

Doug writes —

I was there as a tourist in 1969; I wanted to see the “home country” (many generations removed!) of the African-American students I had been teaching in Connecticut for five years.

Soon after I arrived at the airport after dark, the power went out (a relatively frequent occurrence, as I recall).  The clerk reached into his desk, produced a candle, and continued with his work as if nothing had happened.  Out on the runway, I could just make out men hurrying down each side of the runway with torches, lighting the pots of oil that were there waiting.

I happened to arrive as the first contest for a president was underway.  Nkruma had died some time before (I don’t really know how long), and the campaigns were in full swing.  They were FAR more interesting than those in the US! There were banners all over the place, Kente cloth printed with each candidate’s name, and local groups of drummers and dancers rallying the potential voters under lots of the big trees.  It was fun to watch — and the participants all seemed to be having a fine time.  I was only in Ghana some 10 days, so I didn’t pay much attention at the time to the winner a few weeks later.

I visited an amazing relic of Nkruma:  the huge parade ground, right on the coast, that had been built for him to receive the accolades of the people and deliver stirring addresses.  But now it was completely empty, with the lanyards on the empty flagpoles banging hauntingly in the wind.  It was the only sign of him that I observed.

Accra was bustling, but I certainly do not remember that much traffic caused that many difficulties getting around.  I must have shared a taxi with several other Americans to visit the old slave “castle” at Cape Coast.  It too was haunting — in a very different way.  There were a few American black tourists who responded to it in very different ways.  Some seemed to feel that in some way, they were “home.”  Some were so put off by the “differentness” of Ghana that they always seemed uncomfortable, and we all had the same difficulties with food and water and illness.

Later I took a rather comfortable bus to Kumasi, a large city more in the center of the country, and eventually another bus up to Bolgatanga, which of course was very different.  Since my visa was about to expire, I tried to take a bus on a very small road over to the Ivory Coast, but it only went three days a week and I had to wait.  So I rented a bicycle (as I recall, for the equivalent of a quarter — no deposit!) and rode out into the countryside.  I saw some folks working a field and called to them (in English, of course) to ask if I could visit their village.  They all pointed to a handsome young man who had been to an English (religious?) school who came over and agreed to show me around.  We had to meet the chief first; I asked how I should greet him and was told I should give him cola nuts, of which I had none.  He agreed that a $1 bill would be a reasonable substitute!  I don’t remember much about him.

At the end of the “tour” we got to the center of the village where several male village elders were sitting on logs or stumps, smoking their pipes.  With the boy interpreting, they asked if they could ask me some questions.  Of course!  They had just heard that the US had sent a man to the moon.  Was that true?  Yes, I replied, swelling with pride. Another then noted that they had been having trouble with the crops that year and did I think that this moon thing had caused their troubles.  I said no.  Then the senior member of the group took a long draw on his pipe, leaned back and said, “I believe that you went to the moon.  I guess I believe that it didn’t affect our corn crop. But tell me this, why did you go.”  For one of the few times in my life, I was speechless.

Enjoy a fine country!
Doug Griggs

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