Saturday, April 6, 2013

Two Messages to My Family

I sent two long messages this week.  The first was to my mom who sent me a Facebook message to check in and ask me about Easter.  Here's my response:

Hi Mom, I just stayed at Bodada for Easter. We had a church service Friday morning, and then I went to Hohoe on Saturday to pick up a package that Peace Corps had dropped off with Kate. She forgot the package at her house, so I went to her site to pick it up and had to stay there for the night because most of the taxis were also on Easter break.  I was about 2 hours late to church on Sunday morning because it was nearly impossible to get a taxi.
Luckily they were Confirming some kids so it was a long service, and I was still there for over an hour. Easter Monday is a traditional picnic day in Ghana, so I went with a lot of the church members to Jasikan to picnic with the EP Church there. They play games like musical chairs (known as chair dancing), sack racing, and pinatas (they use a clay pot in a sack), and they had an Easter egg hunt (but they call it "search for Jesus" because they put a little Jesus figurine in one of the plastic eggs). There was also an eating competition, so I signed up for that thinking we would be eating a lot of rice, fufu, or banku, but it turned out that we had to eat a big slice of bread that was tied to a string without using our hands. I actually won the contest quite easily and got a bar of soap for winning. There were also girls and boys football matches (Bodada EP vs Jasikan EP) and Bodada won both games. It was a good day overall and it was good for me to make friends with more people in Jasikan.
Today, I gave the primary school some of the books that would be more useful to them, and they loved it. They want to write some letters to thank people. Can you give me the address of some of the people who helped collect books? Could we send a letter to John Cline too? My students are also very excited about the new books, and I'll get them to write letters too.
The only thing I kind of want are some cucumber seeds and maybe watermelon. No need to go to Seed Savers just to pick up those, so if they aren't around, don't worry. In related news, my tomato plants have been totally eaten by grasshoppers, and my pepper plants are getting the same treatment. I know it's not the same, but I can see how devastating a plague of locusts would be. I'm going to prepare some soil at the compound for a small garden and grow those things here.

The next message was an email from my brother Paul.

Sup Petey.
So we've been talking about Ghanaian independence for the last couple of weeks in my History of Modern Africa class.  We had a debate about Kwame Nkrumah and the Volta River Dam that he so, perhaps unwisely, built.  Anyways, some experts claim that he was responsible for Ghana not really getting off its feet and that he sent it them into debt and so on.  On the other hand, other people thought he was the only person to take the blame for the failures that came about.  
So, I was wondering: how is he regarded by Ghanaians?  How do they teach history about him?  Is he portrayed as a man blinded by his dream of Ghana as a super power or was he just unlucky and was at least trying to advance Ghana?
If you don't know anything about the matter that's fine.  Just thought I'd ask if you did.
My response:
Ghanaians idolize Kwame Nkrumah (he's featured on the 2 Ghana Cedi bill and has a smaller role on the other bills).  Yes he build the Akosombo Dam without clearing the valley, asking or compensating the people, or realizing that it would change the environment.  I'm guessing this is what you talked about in class.  These are the main issues that people bring up, but the Akosombo Dam remains the major source of electricity for Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Benin.  That kind of planning and execution hasn't been seen since he was in power.  The roads, schools, factories, and buildings that Kwame Nkrumah built are still the best in Ghana.  This cannot be overstated.  He oversaw the construction and enforced a certain level of quality (and he was willing to borrow money from the USSR and the US to pay for quality, which is why our government didn't like him that much).  
All attempts to build things (roads, factories, schools, anything really) in Ghana have failed or have fallen woefully short of expectation.  Corruption, cost cutting, inflation, and foreign debt have been bigger problems with leaders following Nkrumah than they ever were while he was leading.  At the end of his presidency he did pull the typical African-leader move and try to stay in power forever.  That wasn't good.  But I don't know if there was anyone who could replace him and follow his vision (that's why I think he tried to stay in power).
Ghana really got screwed in the 30+ years of dictators and military coups that followed Nkrumah.  We're in the Fourth Republic now.  It was started by Jerry John Rawlings in 1992 during his second coup.  So far it appears to be stable, but every election people worry about violence or some candidate doing something stupid.  Most of the people are unaffected by national and international politics, and inflation was the only thing most Ghanaians had to deal as a consequence of the government changing hands.
In school the emphasis is placed on Nkrumah's positive achievements, and very few negative things are said about him.  They don't teach very much about the different governments which controlled Ghana after Nkrumah except the names and dates.  Those guys didn't do much for infrastructure or leave any legacies.  Most of the social studies classes focus the history section on the Fourth Republic and British colonial rule.

That's all for now.  Thanks for reading.