The "Summer in Ghana" 2004 program, the third in the series which began in 2001, lasted from May 16 - June 4, 2004. The participating group which was led by Dr. Emeka Ofobike, Associate Professor of Accounting, consisted of Jon O’Neil, April Friges, Percy Amoah (the tour guide), Monique Rogers, Evelyn Burnett, and Alissa Ricklic. The team traveled extensively and visited historical, educational, business and other sites in six of Ghana’s ten regions.
The team met several times during the spring semester to get to know each other, share information and expectations, and begin the bonding process that usually makes for a good experience abroad.
Three weeks before the team left for Ghana, Dr. Ofobike hosted a reception in his home. The members of the team were introduced to various items of Ghanaian cuisine: friend plantains and beans (red, red) yams, groundnut and light soup, as well as kelewele. The students that were of age made the acquaintance of the popular Ghanaian Club beer. Prior familiarity with these items of Ghanaian food made the students’ transition to Ghana that much more efficient and seamless once we got to Ghana.
Finally, on Sunday, May 15, 2004, the Akron team left Cleveland on the 19 hour journey to Accra via Detroit and Amsterdam, arriving at Schipol Airport in Holland on the morning of May 16. After a seven hour flight from Amsterdam, across southern Europe and across the Sahara, we arrived at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. The weather was hot and humid but we had already prepared for this after all the group discussions we had before we left Akron. Within two hours of our arrival, we were comfortably checked in at the Holiday Hotel in Dzorwulu, Accra.
Accra is a large, incredibly busy, bustling, dusty city. If one were unfamiliar with Accra, one would actually describe it is chaotic, but under the surface there is order in all the chaos! It sure does take getting used to, and it is amazing how quickly the team got used to Accra.
The team spent most of the first day doing the usual “first day” things – the US Embassy for registration, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum (the final resting place of Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah), the WEB Dubois Center (the final resting place of Dr. Dubois, the African-American scholar), the National Museum, and a tour of the Osu shopping district, popularly called Oxford Street.
By the end of the busy day, the team members commented that they felt as if they had already been in Ghana for a week! It is incredible how quickly the human body adapts to new surroundings! But by evening, the team was glad to be back to the serene surroundings and gardens of the Holiday Hotel.
A trip to Ghana is not complete without visiting the sites of the Black Diaspora Tour. A lot has been written on the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and its connection with Ghana. Many of the sites that are relevant to this legacy have been well preserved and receive thousands of visitors each year. These include the coastal castles at Cape Coast and Elmina, as well as the Assin Manso Ancestral Park, the site where the captive slaves were given their last bath before they arrived at the castles, and also the final resting place for two members of the black diaspora whose bodies were returned to Ghana from Jamaica and the United States for reinterment.
Visiting these sites usually takes an emotional toll on the tourist, but not visiting them would leave a big blank in the tourist’s experiences in Ghana.
Kakum National Park, a tropical rain forest, is located about half an hour from Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana. There are guided tours of the park, including overnight expeditions through the forest. The park also contains the only forest canopy walkway in Africa and only one of five in the world. The canopy walk, a major tourist attraction in Ghana, consists of hanging walkways built of steel cables, wood, and ropes, hanging about a hundred meters above the rain forest. It provides the brave-hearted a panoramic view of the forest.
Cape Coast is often referred to as the education capital of Ghana. The city is home to some of the very best high (secondary) schools in Ghana, as well as a comprehensive university. Participants in the “Summer in Ghana” program usually visit at least one high school in Ghana to gain an insight into the pre-university educational set-up in Ghana.
This year we visited Wesley Girls High School, Cape Coast which was rated as the top high school in Ghana in 2003. This all-girls school holds a place of honor in Ghanaian education and has produced some of the leading women in the Ghanaian society.
The Akron students had a fascinating visit with their Ghanaian counterparts.
Cocoa remains a major cash crop in Ghana and accounts for a sizable portion of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
The Akron team visited a number of cocoa farms, including the Tetteh Quarshie farm in Mampong, the very first cocoa farm in Ghana. The team got a first hand look at how cocoa is processed from when the cocoa pods are harvested until the cocoa beans are ready for export.
The Akron team also made an impromptu stop at a little primary school next to the Mampong farm to meet and interact with the pupils and their teachers.
Before heading back to Accra, the team stopped off at the Aburi Botanical Gardens to see and learn about the large variety of medicinal and other trees in the garden. The century-plus old Aburi Botanical Gardens were established during the British colonial era and attract thousands of visitors each year. The gardens contain rare trees and shrubs from all over the world.
We visited Lake Bosumtwi, the famous sacred lake in the Ashanti region of Ghana about half an hour from Kumasi. Formed by a meteor, the ten kilometer wide lake is Ghana’s deepest lake.
Ashantis believe that the lake is the place where Ashanti souls on their way to the afterlife make their last stop to bid farewell to the gods. In respect of its sacred status, metallic objects are not allowed in the lake. Fishing is allowed, but only if the fishermen go into the lake using wooden planks and paddling with pieces of wood or their bare hands.
Beautiful chalets are being built around the lake to boost tourism. The Akron team stopped at one of the villages surrounding the lake and received a traditional welcome of palm wine from the village chief. Later, the team joined the youths of the village in traditional drumming and dancing.
The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, is the major technical university in Ghana . The Akron team spent some time visiting the campus and holding discussions with the faculty of the Department of Economics and Industrial Management. There are plans to establish a formal alliance agreement between our two universities.
On the way back to Accra from Kumasi, the team branched off to visit the sacred waterfalls at Boti, in the Eastern Region of Ghana. To get to the falls, one has to descend down a steep scarp (I counted about 200 cement steps built into the hill).
There are actually two water falls at the bottom of the hill; legend has it that one is the male and the other is the female. We were not able to figure out which was which.
The Shai Hills Game Reserve is located about 40 miles from Accra on the Accra – Akosombo road. The reserve has a wide variety of wildlife including baboons, antelopes, bushbuck and assorted birds and bats.
The Akron team was able to drive deep into the reserve to view wildlife. The team also hiked up the rocky Hioweyo and Sayu hills to explore the caves that, according to legend, were some of the ancestral homes of the Shai people. Two members of the Akron team, Jon and April, returned to Shai Hills after the group’s visit for a whole-day expedition that took them to the far reaches of the reserve.
One of the interesting things about traveling in Ghana is the wide variety of choices one has when it comes to deciding what to eat. Visitors unfamiliar with Ghanaian cuisine usually start their stay eating mostly non-Ghanaian food. However, it does not take long for them to make the switch to local food of which there is a wide variety. The aroma of Ghanaian food is quite tempting and the food is quite delicious even if some of it tends to be spicy.
The Akron team had already been introduced to Ghanaian food before it left Akron and so recognized most of the staples as soon as it arrived in Ghana. By far the most popular food was fried plantains and beans, popularly called red-red. Other meals popular with the team members were fufu and groundnut soup, banku and okro soup, as well as a variety of rice-based meals.
For those that wanted them, popular western foods were also available at most restaurants.
Given the large number of activities that were scheduled during the trip, it was unavoidable for the team to adopt a rather hectic pace. But there was still time left for each member of the team to explore Accra on his/her own. While some members of the team spend the bulk of their time shopping at the well-stocked art shops, others opted to spend their free times at Labadi beach or with friends they had made over the first two weeks of the trip. Toward the very end of the trip, most members decided to visit the exuberant hair salons that Accra is famous for. As some of the pictures show, the Akron team was a hit at some of these hair salons.
The team was fortunate to tour the Ghana Parliament and also the Ghana News Agency at which several members of the Akron team gave press interviews. Extracts from some of the interview appeared in several Ghanaian newspapers during the week.
Lying only six degrees north of the equator and bordered on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, it is not surprising that Ghana is blessed with pristine white beaches. From the relatively busy Labadi beach in Accra to the secluded and quiet white beaches at Coconut Grove in Elmina, and Busua Beach in the western region of Ghana, the Akron team found the beaches to be excellent places to recuperate after the hectic travel schedules in our itinerary.
We also spent a relaxing afternoon on a five-hour cruise on the Volta Lake, the largest man-made lake in the world. The trip aboard the Dodi Princess cruise boat included a catered lunch and on-board dancing with music supplied by one of Ghana’s premier Highlife bands. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
One of the highlights of the trip was the evening the team spent at the Palace of the La Mantse, Nii Kpobi Tettey Tsuru III, the traditional chief of La, one of the major sectors of Accra. The La Mantse addressed many questions that the Akron team had about the role of chieftaincy in contemporary Ghana , and the cultural significance of some of the traditional rituals of the La people.
At the end of the visit, the chief presented gifts to each member of the Akron team. In turn, he was presented with gifts that included University of Akron pens.
The last week of the trip went really fast and by the last full day in Accra, many of the team members were wishing we could stay a few days longer. We had final visits with the many friends that had been made in the past three weeks and exchanged gifts and prayers. Finally it was time to leave for the airport and the long journey back to Akron.
It had been a wonderful experience for our team members, and given the experiences on this trip, it would not be surprising if some members of this team were to return to Ghana on another visit before too long.
"The trip was well planned down to every last detail and the in-country program was extremely informative and educational. I would highly recommend the trip to anyone who is willing, or has the desire to learn about the rich heritage and culture of a country that is very different yet very similar to the United States."
- Martin Mayer