5,392 MILES: DAY 2 IN ACCRA

This jet lag is so difficult to overcome. I don’t remember it being this bad during my first week in Vietnam. Julia and I both accidentally napped for four hours last night after dinner, woke up for two hours and then went back to sleep until our breakfast at seven. I accidentally overslept until 7:25a, but no one seemed to mind and it wasn’t a big deal. Julia and I eat alone in our housing compound, which seems to be the same meal routine as our classmates. We were all kind of thrown off by this – I guess we imagined more of a communal, everyone-in-the-family-sits-around-the-table type thing. It’s not a bad thing, though.

The bus picked us up and took us to the Aya Centre, where we joined the rest of our class, Professor Sandberg (our professor from W&L leading the trip), Winnie, and Samuel, with his young son. We drove through different parts of Accra, and Samuel pointed out the differences in class by the neighborhoods. I didn’t take pictures, as we were driving and it was difficult to get good ones, but they were astonishingly different. The slums of Accra are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

We visited the museum and mausoleum of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah the first president of Ghana after the country declared its independence from British colonial rule in 1957. He was ultimately exiled from the country after the U.S. staged a coup d’etat in response to his socialist views. I found this so intriguing, especially given the evidence of how beloved he was and still is in Ghana. He was even named the Most Influential African of the Millennium by BBC. His slogan was, “Forward ever, backwards never.” I liked this a lot.

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On the grounds of his burial site, we came across a mango tree that was planted by Nelson Mandela.

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Here is where the current president lives, which he recently renamed, “Jubilee House.”

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Our tour guide said that the black star symbolizes black unity in Africa.

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Here is where the Ghanaian Parliament meets. Samuel told us yesterday that there are 275 members, and that only about 20 of them actually vote or debate on any legislation. The majority of them collect a paycheck, a nice Ford Explorer SUV and security guards, without every speaking. Some of them haven’t spoken on the floor in more than 8 years. Samuel has a lot of resentment toward the Parliament.

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Ghana is very religious, including coexisting Christians, Muslims and traditional indigenous beliefs. Most people we meet, after we’ve had a conversation for a while, ask us if we are Christian. We keep coming across these religious phrases on vehicles and store signs:

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We also toured the University of Ghana, where Samuel and Obadiah are professors. It is an absolutely beautiful campus and very historic. Winnie told us that there are 40,000 students, and that as a public university, it is regarded as more difficult to get into, and costs about 2,000 GHCs (Ghanaian cedis) or about $500 per academic year. Mind-blowing.

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The more we walked around Accra today, the more we experienced the danger of the gutters lining the roads. Michael warned us yesterday of the times that he’s accidentally fallen into them, and they are definitely tricky to navigate around. They range from three to six feet deep, and are filled with trash, pee, and a pretty terrible stench (think New Orleans in the heat of July). Oh, a lot of the men here just pee on the side of the road, no matter who’s around. Apparently, the government recently passed a law making it illegal, but Samuel says the government likes to pass a lot of unenforceable legislation just to look good.

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For dinner, we had some delicious tomato stew with chicken, yam and some other sort of starchy vegetable in it. It was delicious. Auntie Doris said she will ease us into the more traditional Ghanaian food. I’ve liked everything I’ve eaten so far. After we ate, all of our classmates met up at KikiBee’s, a bar near one of the homes of our classmates. It wasn’t too busy, considering it was a Tuesday night, but it was still exciting because it was my first time in a bar. They didn’t even ask for ID when we ordered alcohol. Many of us, including myself, ordered piña coladas in pineapples, for 40 cedis (about $10, a little more expensive than we expected). It was so delicious, and about an hour after we got there, a friend of one of my close friends from W&L, Vincent Buckman, who is originally from Ghana, met us there. Vincent connected us to several of his friends, and this one’s name is Michael. He brought some of his friends as well and sat with our group and talked for a while.

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Andy and I, enjoying piña coladas

“You can do anything you want here, as long as you have a little money,” Michael said. “You could own the city, if you wanted to.”

“Do you own the city, Michael?” I asked him.

“Give me five years and fly back to Accra and you’ll see,” he said.

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