Aleanna Siacon is a sophomore journalism major at Wayne State University. Her project can be found on her own blog: http://alsterese.wixsite.com/adpghana
Before I flew out to Ghana, the most I knew about Africa came from what I had previously read and watched. I grew up knowing about the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade. We read Alex Haley’s Roots in middle school and watched the bits of the miniseries during which Kunta Kinte was taken from the Gambia. I had read about the Congo in Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible and Nigeria in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I had developed an adoration for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a contemporary feminist after listening to her Tedx Talk in high school, and later hearing her words sampled in Beyoncé’s anthem “Flawless.” But frankly, the narrative I had in my head regarding Africa, did not even include Ghana. I had no idea to expect. There were so many things I was unsure of, and if anyone were to have asked me what I was most looking forward to doing, I would not have had a very good answer. The only thing that I was certain about, was an awareness that the way the average American talks about Africa, is often times wrong. Americans tend to talk about Africa in generalizations, in guilt-gilded absolutes. It’s this massive continent whose sociopolitical complexities are largely excluded from the general world history that students are taught in schools. African history is an elective, not a requirement. So going into this, I wanted to know more, I wanted to know which things I had learned were actually wrong, and I wanted to have experiences that weren’t from a book.
The two weeks I spent in Ghana were filled with long hours seeing new things, meeting new people, and eating new people. Yes, every single person says that exact string of words whenever they go somewhere new, but I promise this trip was the farthest thing from any sort of cliché. The new things I saw were superimposed upon a vibrant landscape, and I learned about the social implications and cultural history regarding the placement of institutions and the planning of the spaces. Everything had been shaped by history, Ghana is a place where people were taken by slaves, colonial superpowers touched onto the soil and their effects still linger, independence and autonomy are prized, economic power is valued, democracy was born and much like in America, it’s still this great political experiment that, for all it’s caveats, has still proven to be worth fighting to sustain. The people I met were all different, what was the same however, was that they have all managed to make their livelihoods their own. I met students, entrepreneurs, artists, performers, tour guides, politicians, reporters, editors, market women, hawkers, drivers, judges, and former Presidents. They all espoused onto me an understanding of what it meant to be Ghanaian. Yet with that singular premise, there are multiple definitions, variables to take into account, and ultimately, answers. I learned that to walk one’s path is to choose it above all others and to make it your own in a way that only you could have dreamt up. Whether you’re a rising entrepreneur working on apps to connect the world and manage mobile money, a politician trying to satisfy a multitude of visions from both the past and the present for the sake of the future, a market woman at the head of a sprawling enterprise trying to keep hold of much more than your own, or simply a journalist trying to make sense of it all. I learned that I love chicken red red, cassava fries, and jollof rice, but if anyone asks me how many times I chose to eat KFC, my answer will be a lie. I learned that I’m going to want to be a journalist, no matter what continent I’m on. I learned that it’s going to be tough, because of things out of my control. Yet ultimately, I learned that journalism, the way I define it, the way I believe in it, is important. My field is not perfect, my field is problematic, my field is sincere in nature but nowadays broke in implementation. Except, going on this trip and taking this course has made me recognize that, a lot of things in this life are like that. To love something is to be critical of it, I’d like see journalists do better. I’d like to see journalists do more research, to admit their faults, to cover more ground, to take the time to learn history, to do their homework, to never stop reading other perspectives and seeking out more lessons, to talk to people who are hard to talk to, to hold steadfast to integrity in a climate where I fear it sometimes slips away. Overall, perhaps the most comforting thing about going to Ghana was realizing that across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, on the other side of the world, there were people who had lives much different than mine, experiences I could not have even imagined, and yet, somehow we had the capacity to feel the same things and to connect in lieu of our distinct perspectives.