Guest post: Savana Brewer

Savana is a master’s student in Social Work.  You can learn more about her research on her own blog:  http://letslistenvisually.wordpress.com

During the Winter 2016 semester I reluctantly came across a mass email about studying abroad in Ghana. Almost deleting it [before opening], I decided to first see what the message was about. Seeming like a dream come true, I committed myself to attending the required African Democracy Project informational meeting regarding the trip at the very least. I then learned that the project served as a course focusing on the citizenship and democracy of Ghana. Once I arrived to the meeting I saw one familiar face- my academic advisor.

Before taking this course, I would often say “before I die, I want to go to Africa.” Without reference to its countries, I learned to categorize the continent as one entity. The most in depth of my knowledge about Africa stemmed from an Intro to Africa course that I’d taken over ten years earlier during undergrad. The rest of what I knew reflected the teachings of American History throughout the Saginaw Public School District indicating only a fragment of African History within its curriculum. I had attended (beginning in the sixth grade) the Black Men in Union UAW Conference with my father where African clothing and vendors were prevalent. Each year for Black History Month, church sermons and programs were a sight to see. However, a true aptitude of what Africa really was compared to what it was perceived and adopted to be remained a mystery.

At the start of the semester our coursework demonstrated comprehensive material through readings, visits from corresponding authors, the Ghanaian experiences of our leadership, Dr. Hart and Dr. Reid, and our individual perceptions of looking at democracy through a global lens. Preparing for the trip to Ghana called me to read more books and other informative research than I have possibly ever read in such a short time in my life. I once learned through the wisdom of Sistah Souljah to write the book that you need to read. So, among reading, I wrote.

The day before the trip the agenda in which I set for myself did not go as planned. Last minute travel purchases and conducting an unexpectant interview for a group project took precedence over completing a writing assignment (due during the trip) and packing. Nervous, anxious, and excited I rushed the next morning to get to the airport. Running through the large crowds of people- finally I made it to the gate. Even though we were headed to our connecting flight, I knew that I would return to Detroit with a new perception for both my personal and professional life. When the time came to board our flight in New York, tears fell from my eyes and a sense of gratefulness overwhelmed me.

After landing, the first thing that I observed was the presence of women whose jobs highlighted their power in the country and set the tone for my assessment. The women working within Customs and Immigration controlled the lines of passengers without a smile or weakness in place. Although reading about the power of women in the markets and family systems beforehand, it was still admirable to see. While in Africa…Ghana… Accra… the first thing that I unlearned was that the continent of Africa was just that. One would not describe coming to the States as traveling to North America. I worked to remember that I was in Ghana and more specifically, Accra. Learning the different regions and parts of the city in which we visited became of importance to me. The academic readings done before the trip focused highly on the happenings, development, and daily lives of Ghanaians post-independence and later the growth of Oxford St. With our Osu hotel apartment just within minutes of the main strip of local city living, I became somewhat familiar with this section of business districting.

Our first travel day to Elmina, mentally intense, brought several sights to see. I couldn’t remember what hawking was. Colleagues reminded me that it defined the street merchant sellers who looked to earn cedi by vending food and other products along the roadside and up to the bordering tolls. I noted firsthand the combination of elite and local living. The observations from outside of our tourist van surveyed the land, the trees, and the reddest dirt that I have ever seen- even more so than in Mississippi. The proximity of the Atlantic Ocean was surreal. Other sightings and teachings were found in the Jamestown walking tour and visits to the Cantonments, and Eastern and Volta Regions. Just as within Detroit and within my hometown of Saginaw, residential location determines traditions, daily living and culture, perception, political views, and even style of language. Differences and similarities were noticed with what appeared to be an unspoken and unwritten awareness across the regions that all locals understood. At times, our professor Dr. Hart or her assistant Apetsi would step in and communicate on our behalf. The recognition of misconception was easily identified but not lingered. Well into the first week of our stay, I was still in disbelief of my presence in Ghana. The natural beauty of the land coincided with the hospitality of locals that we officially met, interviewed, or shared ideas with as well as those passing by.

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Photo by Chris Ehrmann

As the only Social Work student in the class, I wondered if the other students (Ghanaian and American) understood my position of thinking about the interconnectedness of our projects. My academic background prepared me to conduct research in such a way that every interaction provided a piece of insight to my focus of study involving Ghanaian and African-American food and diet consumption. These interactions gave me the drive to see health from more than one aspect and communicate with Ghanaian students with like interests. Within the School of Social Work I was learning the qualities of what it took to be a transformational leader. Providing empowerment, encouraging others, and “getting your hands dirty” were all traits within my toolbox that I became further aware of while in the field. Certainly, my hands ‘got dirty’ while committing to a forty- minute exercise session with the one personal trainer that I met during a tour of the Supreme Court. This collaboration of working with the trainer was done so in the name of personal attainment as well as my health research.

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Since my return, I have wondered so many different things. Although my research and interest have evolved into a broader spectrum I am excited to continue learning about Ghanaian culture and ideology with the intent to conduct a comparative study to African-Americans. At the beginning of this course I felt compelled to research a subject meaningful to African-American people and those identified within the Black Community. Originally, I thought that the only way to do so was to inquire about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as it relates to the displacement of generational systemic oppression. I found out however that Ghanaian culture, while aware of its history, does not categorize slavery with the identical mindset as some widespread views within the States. Somewhat mystified, I learned the importance of Pan-Africanism and focused on other ways that I could honor both the communities within Ghana and on the Diaspora. I pondered on what was imperative to my own life. With the amounts of learning and unlearning that took place within my experiences pre-and post-Ghana my focal point of food and diet expanded to the value of health. Observations and discussions with Ghanaian students led me to consider not only the types of meals being consumed as a definition of health but to include sanitation, exercise, food preparation, hygiene, and work safety. My questions and desire to continue with this research has extended into four journals of association. Given the Ghanaian name, Ya, has truly caused me to understand what it means to gain knowledge of self and become risen in Ghana. My consciousness of learning thus far- I hope- will continue to progress as new developments, technologies, and education contribute to the state of democracy and mindset of locals and governing officials within Accra, [Saginaw], and Detroit; Ghana and the U.S.; and Africa and North America. The African Democracy Project has influenced my future goals so much that I have enrolled in an International Social Work course for next semester. The expansion of my awareness has created new visions of future endeavors and memories to last a lifetime and beyond. Knowledgeably, Savana Rose.

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Photo by Chris Ehrmann
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