Ghana's Roots

Along the streets of Accra, everyone is selling or buying something.

Along the streets of Accra, everyone is selling or buying something. Some walk with beautiful posture, carrying enormous tubs and platters piled high on their heads. One woman sells an assortment of toiletries, while another reminds me of Chiquita Banana with a hat of twenty pineapples. Young men balance pastries in wooden and plastic cases. On the highways, they walk through traffic demonstrating their acrobatics and haggling with their customers between the lanes.

The city is all about making a profit and celebrating their patriotism. From the people selling goods between the lanes, to the hundreds of red, gold and green painted shops, everyone is out to make their lives — and their country — better.

As a beacon of African leadership, Ghana has become a model and inspiration to other African countries seeking to bring themselves up from the dregs of poverty and colonization. Since we have been in Ghana, the African Union has been in conference.

On the way to the market we stopped at a local school. Within seconds the children were asking us to take their picture, grabbing us, asking us to play soccer with them and someone even brought out a radio so the kids would dance. Their happy faces filled with excitement as they danced, posed or slapped five with an Obruni. We spent awhile with the kids, almost forgetting we still had to go to the market.

At times, I felt strange hanging out at the school with the kids. They had asked for us to take their picture, but as they lined up on the porch, grinning and acting silly — I felt bad. Here they were posing and dancing for us — filling up the pages of some NYU student's scrapbook and they weren't going to get anything out of it. Sure, some people gave them a few cedis or some candy, but what did we actually do for them? How did we make their lives better by snapping their picture or kicking a soccer ball around with them? This was one of the many times I would ask myself, what am I really doing here?

As we headed down the street towards the market we saw shops with religious names like, "Jesus Loves You Beauty Shop." Inside the teeny hair shops, women were getting their hair weaved or braided as they chatted with the stylist. Inside, a variety of synthetic hair drooped from the humidity. The shops were quaint and friendly. Keneshi market was not.

Inside the market was a unique place full of people selling everything from fabric to pig's feet. I felt overwhelmed by pleads sales pitches in broken English. Not to mention the intensity of the sights and smells of the three-story market. The market is an aggressive place. It's even worse if you try to take a picture of a pile of large snails or stack of beauty products. Everyone is suspicious of foreigners. No one likes their picture taken unless you ask their permission because of the way Africa is portrayed in the media. I've been thinking a lot about the power of images since I've been here. The Africa I've seen in National Geographic or in the New York Times was all I knew before coming here. I would have never known about how modern Ghana is in comparison to other countries had I not visited here.

After we went to the market we spent time at Kwame Nkrumah's (Ghana's first president) memorial, where we actually spotted the current Kenyan president. It was a beautiful tribute comparable to the monuments of our own great American presidents. My favorite aspect of the memorial was the monument itself. The grounds were well kept and serene, but the architecture of the monument was special. Nkrumah and his wife are buried under a marble tree trunk-shaped monument surrounded by water. The roots extend out from the trunk just enough to hover over the coin-filled moat. Air blows through the tomb, keeping it "open for their spirits." And in front of the tree trunk, a gold statue of Nkrumah points toward progress. The memorial is another example of Ghana's devotion to their roots.