Friday, October 1, 2010

University Considers Strikes

The University of Puerto Rico system is once again considering going on strike. Students are in an uproar regarding the receipt of federal financial aide money. I’ve seen several signs across campus this week illustrating the effects of the delay in scholarship money and blaming the delay on the Governor of Puerto Rico. Today I saw a sign that included statements from students of what they are going without because of the delay in receipt of funds. The list included quotes such as “I am pregnant because I can’t afford condoms”, “I am playing volleyball in Crocs because I can’t buy shoes”, “I can’t afford gasoline”, “I can’t buy textbooks.” While I sympathize with the students, I don’t think blaming the Puerto Rican government and conducting a strike is the correct answer.

Changes made by the Obama administration to the U.S. Department of Education altered the way that federal financial aid is distributed and certified. Unfortunately, as the kinks are worked out of this new system, schools across the country are witnessing two weeks longer of a waiting period for the receipt of federal money(USDE, 2010). My Puerto Rican colleagues aren’t happy. It is evident that the organizers of this strike have not taken the time to research the reasons why they have not yet received their federal financial aide money. If they had, they would have learned that this problem is not confined to Puerto Rico and accordingly is not the fault of Puerto Rican leadership.

According to the Department of Education, federal financial aide or scholarship money is to be used only for expenses directly related to education including housing, textbooks, and matriculation fees. It is a federal offence to use federal financial aid money to purchase condoms and shoes. I will not be so crass as to tell Puerto Rican students to “go get a job”, but students simply cannot rely on the federal government to cover the costs of personal expenses! The delay in receipt of your scholarship money did not make you pregnant, choosing to have unprotected sex made you pregnant.

Obama has been one of the most pro-Puerto Rican presidents in recent years. When taking office the maximum allowance for Pell Grants was 4,050$, “Obama has worked in a bipartisan way on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee to achieve an increase in the Pell Grant to $5,400 over the next few years. As President, Obama will continue to work to ensure that the maximum Pell Grant award is increased for low-income students, including Puerto Ricans. (OFA)” This is particularly important when considering that the average cost of public University education in Puerto Rico is under $3,300 per year (UPR, 2010). In fact, my professors at University of Puerto Rico have explained to me that there are huge numbers of students to enroll in a University with no intention of attending classes so as to take home the extra money they receive in scholarships. The University of Puerto Rico places a strong emphasis on attendance because they recognize that, if they don’t, some students will never attend classes.

Like everyone else who receives scholarship money from the federal government, I hope that measures can be taken to streamline the process in the near future. Students should have access to money as soon as is possible. In the meantime, students of the University of Puerto Rico should research the issues and write letters to the U.S. Department of Education instead of going on strike.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Note: This entry is inspired from and a response to Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie’s speech which can be found at:

I stopped blogging in Ghana because I didn’t know what stories to tell. During my semester in West Africa I experienced a great deal of pain and at the same time saw some of the best of humanity. I recognized very quickly that for most of my readers and friends I would be the sole “inside look” they had into Africa and I took my responsibility rather seriously. In blogging and telling stories I felt that people want to reconfirm their ideas that Africa is full of poor starving orphans who have never before seen white people. I met several orphans while in Ghana but I doubt that I saw more than five children who were in danger of starvation. The world just isn’t black and white.

One question that I commonly faced was “how were you treated in Ghana”? Lots of stories come to mind. I remember having nearly 1,000 marriage proposals. I ‘ll never forget being called “Madame Vanilla” at the Benin border. I remember being chased by beggars and vendors who assumed that I had money. I remember the many many times that I was called a “colonizer”. There was almost a binary that Americans were both better and worse than Ghanaians and I could never figure out which label applied to which social situation.

As humans I think that we are conditioned to make generalizations. In the field of International Development we are called to observe cultures x and y and make predictions about the plausibility of success of a project in culture z. In Puerto Rico I noticed that the first person I spoke with ended a conversation with “cuidate” [take care] and when a second and third person did such I started saying “cuidate”. This has gotten me into trouble before- my friends in England used the term “bell end” as an adjective implying that someone was a jerk. I heard “bell end” so often that I assumed everyone said it and I said it in front of a group of adults and was quickly told that it is an offensive term.

My experiences bring to mind the story of the blind men touching the elephant and each describing a different piece of the elephant as being a description of the whole elephant. What I experienced in England, Ghana, and Puerto Rico has been a collection of relationships and stories that give me a glimpse into what that elephant may look like.

My solution to combat the problem that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes is to feel lots and lots of parts of the elephants. By travelling extensively and really listening to the people that I met I hope that the generalizations that I am forced to make will be well reasoned. As she suggests, I’m not going to listen to only one story. My experiences in my time abroad have shown me how complex are people and cultures. If we really want to understand we have to listen.

My First Hurricane!

When I think of “hurricanes” I think of the devastation that I witnessed and helped to clear the week after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I probably got a bit white in the face as Angel Rivera, the director of International Programs at UPR-Cayey, warned me to not travel outside of Puerto Rico during hurricane season. Puerto Rico is expecting about twelve hurricanes over the next few months, all of which will have some impact on the mountainous city where I live. Last week we received notice of Hurricane Danielle headed toward Puerto Rico. I panicked, envisioning being without electricity for weeks and with a dilapidated house for the remainder of the semester. My mother’s primary concern seemed to be whether the stray dogs around my house would have a safe place to stay.

On Monday morning around 11:00 we began to get heavy rains that immediately flooded the roads around campus. Within an hour the school had lost power and we were rushed home through five inches of water on the streets. Mr. Rivera gave us the option of going to a shelter or remaining in our house. As the other residents of our neighbourhood were evacuated my first reaction was to go to the shelter. Dr. Rivera assured us that hurricanes aren’t really a big deal and sent us home. We had already lost power in our house and our lawn resembled a lagoon. Gabriel, the Canadian that lives in the other half of our duplex, was panicking and was driven to Wal-Mart to purchase a grill on which we could make food during the storm. Gabriel came home with a small Bar-B-Q grille that he set up in his house. After calling a variety of friends to ask, “How do we use a Bar-B-Que grill” we finally were able to create a flame. I think Gabriel used too much gasoline because our food smelled of gasoline fumes.

After dinner we went to bed early. I was awaked around 3:00am by the 85 mph winds that had picked up a chicken and carried her into my bedroom window. There were feathers everywhere and she looked distressed. Eventually the power came back and we went back to class. My recounts of sitting in my house scared to death were met by the laughter of my Puerto Rican classmates. Hurricanes happen here all of the time. Much like Missourians think little of tornadoes and Ghanaians think little of Malaria, hurricanes are just a great excuse to get out of class in Puerto Rico.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Day I Lost Nearly All of My Hair

I relish being different. My 6’1 large frame and pale skin will always make me stand out in the southern hemisphere. I’m willing to think progressively and stand up for beliefs even when I am standing alone. My general demeanour got me into some trouble in Ghana: If a Ghanaian colleague said something sexist I would point it out to them. I vocally but respectfully disagreed with the illegality of homosexuality and the way that Western volunteers treat African children. Though I was true to my values, I found it difficult to merge with the culture. In Puerto Rico I decided to do something that I have never done before- I decided to be quiet. I wanted to “sit idly by”. For me, this meant that I was going to merge as best I could with the new culture in which I was living.

My experiment began with analyzing everything I could about the behaviour of my colleagues. I eliminated the “s” sound from my Spanish so as to sound local and I began to carry a side rucksack like all of the Puerto Rican girls. I took every sip of the kool-aid that I could find. As I’ve mentioned before, Puerto Rican females naturally have very curly hair but use chemicals to relax their hair. I smeared this “potion” all over my hair and after 12 minutes of setting, had almost all of my hair fall out in the shower. I now have about ¼ of my normal head of hair and am nearly bald in the front sides of my head. I do not look Puerto Rican.

As elementary as it sounds, no matter how much we evolve there is still a part of us that will always be the same. I can’t change my hair texture any more than I can change my height. I really don’t want to wear skinny jeans in 115 degree heat like everyone else is doing. As much as I try to “be quiet” injustice still makes me squirm. I think that that is just who I am. I am a melting pot of the things I’ve learned in Springfield, Europe, Africa, and Puerto Rico. I am an amalgamation of stories and ideas and thoughts that I’ve found in the faces of the people I have loved.

And… I’m going to stay away from potions.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Process of "Getting It"

This week has been one of the most terrifying of my life. Minute by minute I am challenged to fit in an environment where I am brand new. As I try to piece together the words to set up a payment plan for my rent I am reminded of how very exhausting this all is. I’m a square peg that is becoming transformed to fit in a round hole and the process is so very difficult. My primary objective this week has been to make friends. I found myself googling things like “conversation starters” and “fashion in Puerto Rico” which made me feel very trivial and lame. I can already notice myself being absorbed into the culture. Interestingly, Puerto Ricans speak much more rapidly than other Spanish speakers and also leave the “s” sound out of language; for example, instead of saying “adios” a Puerto Rican says “adio.” These regional language differences have called me to pull my head out of my Spanish textbooks and make the streets my classroom.

I have made a lot of friends thus far in my classes. My colleagues are so very kind and quick to loan me notes or explain concepts to me after class that I did not understand. Now that we are past the introductory-let’s-read-the-syllabus part of the semester it is easier for me to understand the course material. Today’s lecture in my “Historia de Hispanamerica” regarded geographic features of Hispanamerica. I understood about 90% of the lecture, which was exactly the confidence boost that I needed.

In each of my eight classes I have occasionally taken out my Spanish-English dictionary to look up a word that I do not understand- every single time that this has happened the professor has interrupted his/her lecture to explain the word to me and has told me to ask for clarification when needed. In my experiences in the USA, UK, and Ghana international students were all functionally left to figure things out by themselves; I think that at home it would be kind of audacious and selfish to interrupt the class to ask the professor to explain a word that one doesn’t know. Puerto Rico stands out to me because the learning environment really is a community of people trying to help each other- my professors and my classmates really want to help me to learn Spanish. My colleagues have also been very generous in giving me rides around town.

As my professor was explaining pre-Columbian trade during lecture this morning it hit me how surreal it is that I can be in a classroom of people from a different culture learning together in their native language. The world that is opened to me by being a fluent Spanish speaker- the life changing conversations with non-English speakers, the chance to attend schools in South America, and the opportunity to explore Latino culture- justifies every bit of challenge I am having.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My First Day of Classes

“Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid.” –Franklin P. Jones

I have a feeling that I wasn’t the only one who could tell how afraid I was today. I felt like a Kindergarten student getting ready for class- I wore a new dress, hoped that the bullies with water balloons full of bleach didn’t attack me, and tried to put on my biggest smile. As I walked to class I literally stopped traffic as dozens of cars idled in the middle of the road to watch me. As I entered the Humanities building I could feel the watchful stares of the other students. It isn’t easy being white in a Latino world. My first class was scheduled to be “Sociology of Religion in the Caribbean.” I listened intently to a lecture about Buddism, surprised that there was a significant population of Buddhists in Puerto Rico, until I realized that I was in the wrong class. The professor never showed up for the class for which I am scheduled.

My second class was a survey course of Puerto Rican history. The professor spoke so quickly I could barely decipher words. Verbs, nouns, and pronouns ran together as though they were in a high-speed blender. I couldn’t pick out enough syllables that I could look up the words in my dictionary. Friends, this isn’t easy. I wanted to melt in my chair. I could feel my eyes widen in that deer-in-the-headlights way and I considered excusing myself from the class.

But, I’m not giving up. There are so many brave womyn who have tackled things so much bigger than this. As I sat in my chair waiting for the moment when I could return home I thought of all the times Hillary Clinton must be really scared. How does she get through? Rosa Parks must have been terrified when she sat on that bus and watched the scornful eyes of her peers of both races. I think that Clinton and Parks are able to be brave because they both know that they are working toward goals that are bigger than any of us can imagine. Without sounding cliché, I think that Hillary put on her big-girl panties every morning fully aware of the cracks that she was (and is) making in the proverbial glass ceiling. For me, studying in Puerto Rico isn’t just about eating new foods and taking classes- it is about working in the context of a different culture to build a better world. It is about building the fluency in the Spanish language that will be critical for my future work in development in South and Central America. It is about becoming flexible and aware enough that I can be placed in new setting and be fully functional.

I’ll never forget how kind my colleagues were to me today; the girls next to me even reviewed with me the homework assignment after class to be sure that I had written it down correctly. Unlike Rosa and Hillary who were met by the stares of hatred and disdain, I’m being met by stares of curiosity. All in all, I am in a wonderful position for cultural exchange. I am going to take some deep breaths and prepare for the five classes that I have tomorrow.

Going to Mass

The Spanish saying “vaya con Dios” or “go with God” signifies the Latin American cultural willingness to surrender one’s life to a higher power. The readings that I did prior to my arrival taught me that religion is a central part of Puerto Rican life. The evidence of religion I’ve seen in this city make me think I’m living in a monastery; everyone has a cross-necklace, there are picture of Jesus in every shop, and the only church in town- the Catholic church- is seated high on the town square. My roommate and I spent Saturday night at a Reggaeton (Spanish hip-hop) concert where we saw several famous acts including Jowelley Randy and Franco Yewisin, I also noticed that many of the men were wearing rosary bead as necklaces. I think I remember some scripture condemning the use of Rosary beads as a fashion statement, but I thought I would ask the men what time is the church service. The men, in fact, were not religious but liked the aesthetic qualities of the rosary. I was curious as to whether all of this religious garb was just for show. At what point does religion become kitschy?

I enjoy attending Catholic mass because the services are the same regardless of where you are. I know that, regardless of the political or social beliefs of the Priest, the congregation will together recite the Lord’s Prayer while knowing that millions of Catholics around the world are also reciting that prayer. But this service was different; there was no Holy Water, no kneeling during the service, and no Apostle’s Creed. “Oh…. No… There is no Holy Water, what will we do!?!?!?” I thought to my self. “Just worship,” was the answer I came up with. Church traditions are nice but when we let ourselves get so preoccupied with whether or not the offering is collected the way that we want it to be we lose sight of what the offering is about. In my stay in Puerto Rico I will try to apply this lesson to all aspects of my experience. Life in Puerto Rico may not be exactly what I envisioned but instead of dissecting the particular things that “aren’t right” I’m going to keep in mind the bigger purpose for which I am living here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bienvenidos a Puerto Rico!

After three days of unpacking, visits to local shops, and figuring out the operations of the University I am so excited to dive into my studies at University of Puerto Rico! I am living in the city of Cayey in the Central part of the island. My roommate, Sylvia, and I share a two-bedroom villa surrounded by palm trees and rain forest shrubbery with a great view of the mountains. I can’t wait to put on my hiking shoes and explore! The University was established in 1967 and it appears that no renovations have taken place since; the walls are verging toward dilapidated and there is no central air conditioning. Consistent with Latin American culture, students commute to school and as classes do not start until next week we have yet to meet many Puerto Ricans.

Yesterday I, along with 10,000 Puerto Rican students, had to get my class schedule from the registration tables in the gymnasium. I noticed that every single female was wearing skinny jeans (despite the 100 degree heat and tropical humidity), had straight hair, and wore either massive heels or gladiator sandals. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Over the summer the University of Puerto Rico went on strikes for 62 days as a result of a tuition battle between students and administration. Many international students scheduled to attend classes at U.P.R. made other arrangements and as a result I will be one of three international students on campus. As the only Caucasian on campus I know that I will be “different”; I don’t know how to dance meringue, I haven’t studied the history of the island, and my Spanish is below a level of native fluency. I am very excited to represent my culture in a way that is positive and I do not take the responsibility lightly.

As of now I am scheduled for the following classes: Economy of Puerto Rico, Society and Culture of Puerto Rico, Salsa Dancing, Sociology of Religion in the Caribbean, Empirical Political Science, History of Puerto Rico, and Hispanic History. I am looking forward to exploring the culture of the island from the views of a variety of disciplines.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Since arriving home on May 25th I’ve employed multiple strategies to bring together the loose strands of memories and experiences that I have had into some form of coherent and brief answer to the question, “how was your year?” So far I have had little success. I have an infinite number of stories and questions that have arisen in my mind and given me a sense of hope for the world coupled with a regrettable sense of despair. I stopped blogging in early March because, frankly, I didn’t know what to say. For many of my readers I may be their only first-hand view into Africa. I’m cognoscente of the great responsibility that one has as a blogger to present an accurate and responsible, while also moving, perspective of the truth and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to fulfill that lofty goal. Here’s the problem: I observed a lot of really really terrible things that left me scathed yet, I had a tremendously positive experience. I don’t want my tales of friends being mugged, malaria, being beaten up, and navigating society in a country where there is almost no participation of the citizens in government to encourage anyone to stay away from Africa. I promise that I left Africa a more fulfilled, happier, more compassionate, and more spiritual person than when I came. I would go back and I would send my future children into the same situation in which I lived. I’ll never forget the hugs that my students gave me, opening my door to a sunny African morning, or sharing meals with strangers in West Africa. It was a great semester in ways that I don’t yet have words to convey to others. I’ll talk in person, if you’re interested.

Today I began what will be the arduous task of compiling the ticket stubs, pamphlets, letters, and multiple copies of my travel buddy “Flat Stanley” into a single scrapbook. I have made scrapbooks for every year of my life since I could operate a bottle of glue unassisted and have always appreciated scrapbooking as an art. Scrapbooking allows one to interpret significant events in one’s life in the context of the space and time in which the event occurred. Five of us could visit London together and make vastly different scrapbooks of our experiences. My scrapbooks feel so alive; they remind me that I wasn’t just a tourist in awe of the Egyptian Pyramids but I was a young person who saw history through the lens of my life experiences, hopes, and dreams. Westminster Abbey wasn’t just another European church to me but was the first European church I saw, a place that I had wanted to visit since seeing it pictured in the Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen film, “Winning London.” The memories that are not illustrated by ticket stubs: the amount of times the girls made fun of me for making references to Mary Kate and Ashley films, the emotions associated with seeing Meggie again after being apart for a year, and the excitement of spending the first of about twenty weeks in Europe are sometimes the most important part of the journey. My scrapbook, like my life, will be a piece of art that I will cherish forever.

Each living environment I’ve had in the past year: going to school in England, Ghana, and interning with Organizing for America in Missouri are each vastly different components of my life’s story. Just like chapters in a book, each experience is not independent in time but is influenced by the chapters that surround it. Chapter 7 is inevitably shaped by the events of Chapter 6. My pending move to Puerto Rico will call for a new page in the story that is my life but I’m glad that the preceding chapters will in effect come along with me. I hope that I never forget how much my undergraduate experience, as unusual as it is, means to me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Why can't you speak like a Ghanaian?!?!?"

Valentine’s Day is a very dramatic event in Ghana. Stores were lined with more candy and stuffed animals than I have ever seen. In Spanish class we took turns answering the question “Who is your perfect man/woman.” My colleagues gave responses like “tall, handsome, and white” or “smart, romantic, and black.” Every respondent listed race as one of the characteristics that they held as requirements for a future mate. Eventually the class got to me, the only Caucasian person, and I was forced to give a response. “Well-educated, hardworking, and innovative” I said. My classmates stared at me as if waiting for me to continue. “What colour do you want them to be?” they asked. Never before have I had a racial preference when it comes to dating. It seems so strange to think that the colour of one’s skin could determine attraction. I knew that if I said “black” the Ghanaian women would be angry that I was stealing their men (a sentiment I’ve had expressed to me many times), and if I said “white” I would be deemed a racist. There is such a double standard when it comes to racism here- why is it okay that when I mentioned Chinese people the class can say “EWWWWWW” but on the other hand they call most American policies racist?

I spent Valentine’s weekend on Bojo beach with some classmates from California, D.C., and Canada. I love that in the first few months of a college experience it is perfectly acceptable to invite yourself along to most anything. I knew the names of only two people in our beach group but felt perfectly comfortable navigating the streets of Ghana with them. After I graduate I will really miss being able to randomly introduce myself and spend the weekend with strangers. It took about three hours to get to the beach but Bojo beach was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. I was surprised to find that I had so much in common with each of my group mates. We talked for hours about internships, graduate school, and our experiences in Ghana. I don’t know that I have ever met such a great group of like-minded strangers. We finished the evening with Chinese food and highlife music.

It was strange to spend Valentine’s Day surrounded by strangers with no Valentines cards in sight. I couldn’t help but think of all of the people around the world that I love very much: my family who eagerly await my return, my college friends located all around the country, my British friends that I desperately hope to see again soon, and my friends in Ghana who are brand new in my life but so very dear to me. As Toulouse-Lautrec once said, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Geographic distances are not enough to stifle the love that I share with so many very good friends. I feel enveloped in love each day. The more I let myself love my friends the more the “love tank” in my heart fills up. It is such a great feeling to have found so many people that I hope to stay in touch with forever.

I continue to really enjoy my Twi language classes. Twi is one of the easiest languages I have ever studied: there are no conjugations, no gender, and only seven verb sounds! I find very interesting the ways that the language reflects culture. As I have previously described, the Ghanaian culture is very community oriented. In English one would say “I was born in 1950” while the English translation for the equivalent statement in Twi is “We gave birth to me in 1950.” In Twi there is very little separation between the “we” and the “I”.

Also reflective of the Ghanaian communal nature is a willingness to live in cramped spaces with little personal space. On campus I share a room with one other student whereas in halls meant for local students, five students are scheduled to share a room of the same size. In the United States I recall University regulations that prevented frequently overnight guests but in Ghana guests are not only allowed but expected. Many of the dorm rooms on campus house up to ten people. If a college student cares for younger siblings or an older parent it is common for those dependents to move into the student’s room. There is a growing problem on campus of “perching” wherein students arrive to campus early at the beginning of the year and sell not only half of their bed space but also half of their roommate’s bed. The roommate can do nothing about it without facing dramatic retaliation. It seems so unfortunate that students would be forced to study and live in such a cramped setting.

I had another shocking moment in class the other day; I am enrolled in a class titled “Development Administration” with around a hundred Ghanaians and two other Caucasians. The professor asked a question and my response was muffled by the raucous laughter of my colleagues. My professor asked me to repeat my answer and I did so amidst the continued laughter of my classmates. “I’m happy to repeat myself, even slower if you would like” I told my classmates. My professor responded, “why can’t you just lose your accent, you’ve been here for a month can you please start talking like a Ghanaian?”
“Are you serious” I replied.
“Yes,” she said.
“Of course”
I collected my thoughts and calmly said, “No, I wont lose my accent. My accent is an accumulation of my life experiences and travels. I cannot change my accent in only a month.”
My classmates rolled with laughter as I met the eyes of my professor, waiting for her apology. My professor explained that the students are not laughing at me but at my accent. I rose from my chair to address my classmates, “Your behaviour is unacceptable. In the United States you would be considered to be tremendously rude. Especially in the context of a development class it is key that we consider the implications of our actions on the development of our country. Last year an economics professor came from the United States to teach at Ghana and had intended to bring with her a significant aid package. After being laughed at by her students each day the professor left, and took her money with her.” My professor responded with babble about being a “world-traveler” and not being a racist and told me that I should not expect Ghanaians to succumb to American culture. When I tried to respond she told me that, “this is my classroom and you are not allowed to speak.” Fair enough. I agree that Ghanaians should not lose the whole of their culture to try to fit in with American interests, but we all should be critical of the ways that our actions are perceived by members of other cultures. Even for people with tremendous self-confidence, it is very demeaning to be laughed at every time one tries to speak.

My ISEP (International Student Exchange Programme) colleagues and I went on a trip to Kumasi, Ghana this weekend to visit the palace of the Asante kingdom and to do some shopping in the major art region of Ghana. The palace was very interesting; we learned that each of the tribal groups of Ghana continue to have a king who rules concurrently with the President of Ghana. Each of the tribal kings serves as an advisor to the President. We visited a Kente village to purchase regional cloths, a wood carving village, and several markets. I purchased several wood carvings, a belt, a large basket, a mud cloth, and various pieces of fabric.

After returning from Kumasi we had to get back to the vibe of everyday life. In my morning “Africa and the Global System” tutorial we discussed the ongoing underdevelopment crisis in Africa. I’m a bit frustrated by the class’s undying focus on colonization and the impacts of the slave trade. I am first to admit the role that the United States played in the underdevelopment of Africa but I don’t think it is enough to sit back and blame Americans and the World Bank. My professor answered me by saying that African leaders care not about their citizens and submit to World Bank loans such that they can deposit the money in personal Swiss bank accounts. “I understand that,” I said, “but what are everyday African people doing about it?” “We pray to God that things will get better,” my professor responded. Frankly, I don’t think it is enough. “You are students at the top University in West Africa, you are well-educated and talented, you CAN do something about this,” I challenged my classmates. I met the hateful stares of my colleagues who nodded their head as if to say that I did not understand. I will never fully understand. I cited examples of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary who just 21 years ago were in the throws of communism but since have become developed and thriving economies. Each of these revolutions were spearheaded by young people in academia shrouded in a sense of martydom and dedication to their countries. I have never before been surrounded by so many people who are willing to stand idly by and blame the American government for their misfortune. The people I knew in Haiti lived under similar conditions of underdevelopment but they were mad about it and made their opinions known. I will not stand for my “Public Policy Process in Ghana” professor to tell me that everyday citizens have no role in the public policy process. All it takes is a few protests for the public to gain a voice. Americans cannot develop Ghana, only Ghana can make conditions better for herself and it takes a few sincere and dedicated citizens to get the ball rolling.

Later in the day in my Spanish Literature course my team and I were to present our paper on literary styles and their use in portraying the themes of poverty and hunger in the book “Fiestas” by Goytisolo. My team mates and I were required to write a paper together and then read it to the class. My Ghanaian friend read our paper aloud and as she reached the section I had written the class began to laugh very loudly. My professor joined in the laughter saying that the words I used were too “advanced and profound” for the class. Words like “microcosm” “superfluous” and “implicit” were apparently too challenging for my classmates. As my portion of the paper was berated by my colleagues I gathered my courage to say, “We are twenty two year old academics at the top University in West Africa, my words should not be too advanced for you.” I couldn’t help but think that perhaps my colleagues should read a book, or challenge themselves to expand their understanding of the world. My Ghanaians colleagues seem like mere figures stuck in Plato’s Cave watching the puppets on the wall and complaining about the puppets purchased by the Americans. It isn’t the students’ fault: it seems that they have been born into a culture of respect and order that discourages any challenges to community norms. I stand at the opening to the cave trying to free my friends but am only meeting resistance. I offer to loan them books, to form study groups with them, and to have political discussions together but at some point we are not meeting in the middle. When my Ghanaian colleagues and I talk about the differences between our home schools they chalk up my opportunities to my race and nationality. I know that I have been in an advantaged position for most of my life but I am also very aware of the long hours that I have studied, interned, and researched to get where I am today. My Ghanaian friends will never have the slew of opportunities as do American citizens but I fully believe that they can create for themselves a better future. In the meantime it isn’t enough to sit back and wait for God to do something about it. I think that the best solution to underdevelopment involves changes in the educational system. If students learn to think critically, challenge authority, and have confidence in themselves they will be able to tackle issues of national importance. The more teaching experiences I am afforded the more that I see education as the critical link in the chain of development and progress. When I teach I feel a bit like Erin Gruell in the film “Freedom Writers” standing before a class of students with whom I will never be able to fully relate. I can’t teach my students or my colleagues about the world but together we can discover strategies to begin uncovering the world. I am not content to stand idly by as my colleagues doom themselves to a future of underdevelopment.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Safari

Books are very uncommon in Ghana. High humidity, lack of storage space, high shipping costs, and high rates of illiteracy make books impractical to own. Low numbers of African authors make books an element of Western culture that can only hope to provide limited perspectives as to African culture. Last week I received notice that a package from my cousin in Chicago had arrived. I took a 45 minute ride in a Tro Tro, the Ghanaian form of public transportation, to the post office where I waited for an hour in one of the most inefficient systems that I have ever experienced to receive a package of three books including “Modern Philosophy”, Karl Popper’s “The Logic of Scientific Discovery,” and “The History of Western Philosophy.” The titles sent excited shivers down my spine and I caught myself jumping up and down in joy of the books that would soon occupy my leisure time. After a few moments of acting like an idiot I noticed the Ghanaians staring at me wondering how I could be so excited about really big paperback books. Other visitors to the post office were opening boxes with clothing or trinkets from China that they could sell along the streets, unaware of what difficult books about philosophy meant for my academic career. It was blatantly obvious how different are our lives.

On Friday my colleagues and I boarded a five a.m. bus to Mole National Park for a 16 hour ride to see our first glimpses of the African wilderness. I enjoyed reading Karl Popper and studying Twi language for most of the trip. As I marked up my book I became intoxicated with passages such as “Language analysts believe that there are no genuine philosophical problems, or that the problems of philosophy, if any, are problems of linguistic usage, or of the meaning of words. I, however, believe that there is at least one philosophical problem in which all thinking men are interested. It is the problem of cosmology.” As I read some particularly interesting passages about naturalistic views and the dualism of macro and micro laws my eye caught the rows of huts positioned throughout the African Savannah that we were passing through. These people probably do not speak English. They likely will not live to see electricity or the internet. Their lives are protected by the science of herbal medicine and hard work marks each of their days. These people will never read of the problems of philosophy. I felt such disconnect between the Americans on the bus who have pledged their lives to the service of humanity and the humanity that we hope to serve. As I sat on my air conditioned ivory tower I knew that I will never experience the world of the hut dwellers. I will never be able to overcome my education. Maybe Karl Popper can’t tell me everything I need to know about the world.

16 hours, much of it gravel road, later we arrived at Mole National Park and had a quick meal before sliding into bed. The next morning I woke up to baboons on my front porch enjoying our trash from the night before. We went on a two hour hike through the park wherein we saw crocodiles, elephants, antelopes, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, and birds. I asked tens of questions about the conservation practices of the park and was happy to hear of the presence of poaching restrictions, programmes to monitor elephant breeding, and various safety precautions. In the afternoon we took a safari ride through the park on a 4x4. My friends and I sat atop the car and felt the African wind blow through our hair as all of park moved past us like the “It is a Small World” ride at Disney World. The sun set over the African horizon and I enjoyed the good conversation and cool breeze. My friend, “Mother” Theresa taught me to calculate minutes of daylight remaining using the width of my fingers. My pictures from the weekend embody the “Africa pictures” that I had hoped to bring home and place into a tribal-looking frame. I can’t think of a day of my life that I enjoyed more than this day hiking through the savannah. I sang the lyrics of Toto’s “Africa” in my head and allowed myself to get lost in the reality that it will take a lot to drag me away from this beautiful place.

Sunday morning we left the park quite early to begin the tedious drive back to Legon. We stopped for a morning swim at a waterfall and enjoyed climbing the rocks and basking in the cool water and warm sunlight. One of our friends, Evan, got really sick on the ride home and we stopped for him to be treated in a hospital three hours away from our home. Evan was diagnosed with malaria and spent the night in Kumasi receiving treatment. Sunday night several of us went to the American Embassy to watch the Super Bowl and to celebrate our friend Bitty’s birthday at the Marine compound. We were picked up from our residence by the Embassy armored car and entertained the driver with questions such as “How many times would I have to shoot in the same place to break through the windows?!?!?” The Marines were all very kind and it was nice to be surrounded by Americans to celebrate such a defining element of American culture. The leather furniture, paper towel dispenser in the bathroom, big screen t.v, pool, and swing set made me forget that I was anywhere outside of the States. My friends and I gorged ourselves on pita chips and fresh salsa, a luxury I haven’t seen since I left the U.S. last summer. The Super Bowl commercials were replaced with statements from high-ranking military personnel wishing all service-people abroad an enjoyable Super Bowl. As we sat around the pool talking about sports I realized how much I really want to return to America someday. There are so many little things that I have convinced myself do not matter but that I secretly miss about life in America: I miss the ability to stop by Taco Bell after a late night, I miss CNN, and I miss having a diversity of newspapers accessible to me.

On Monday I woke up with stomach pains and a headache that I chalked up to the hectic nature of the weekend. I proceeded to class despite feeling woozy and nauseous. On the way to my “Africa and the Global Systems” class I lost my equilibrium and fell to the ground a few times. In class I started to feel dizzy and had difficulty focusing my eyes on the professor. My classmates raised suspicions that I might have malaria and encouraged me to visit the hospital. As I inquired with other colleagues as to the location of the hospital, Danielle, a girl I really admire but barely know said that she would come with me. There is an amazing sense of camaraderie here- despite being merely acquaintances Danielle was willing to drop all of her evening plans to spend the evening with me in the hospital. I am consistently blown away by the generosity of my colleagues. I trudged along the sandy ground to the night market to get a banana to last me the night, barely able to drag my body. Danielle, Yem, and I got a taxi to the University hospital and I waited as they attempted to procure my records. While I sat on the bench, barely able to hold myself up, I saw a lady be wheeled out on a stretcher which proceeded to break causing her to fall to the ground. When my friends arrived we waited outside to discuss our options while a small boy wheeled what appeared to be his handicapped grandfather down the non-ADA approved ramp, losing control of the wheelchair and running into my friends. Danielle screamed a bit and the man fell out of the wheelchair and face first onto the cement. The sound of the man likely getting a concussion hasn’t left my mind. I want nothing to do with that wretched hospital. My friends took me to a private hospital twenty minutes away where after an hour of waiting I was able to be tested for malaria and a host of other potential diseases. I started to feel a bit better but even a water bottle was too heavy for me to carry. As the nurse placed a blood pressure cuff over my arm I cringed as it felt that the cuff was crushing my bones. While I was waiting my friends Tristan, Rachel, Amanda, and Heather stopped by with their own health concerns. After four hours in the hospital I departed with a malaria test that came out negative, well wishes, and an antibiotic. So many of my symptoms: the dizziness, loss of equilibrium, and double vision would not be cured by the antibiotic. I had to recognize that the Ghanaian health care system did not have the tools to address my health concerns and that I had to return home and hope that they pass. It is so demoralizing to know that if I were in Western society I could receive quick treatment and leave with the confidence that my doctors used all tools available to regain my health. I attempted to go to class the following day but my double vision returned so I went back home to rest. I don’t have the patience to be sick and my negative feelings of Africa intensify each time the health care system cannot help me. It is one thing to read of the numbers of Africans that die each year of malaria but another thing to call my parents and tell them that I will likely be diagnosed with a disease that will remain in my system for a lifetime. As I sat in my bed too sick to do much of anything I felt so mad that the world has to be this way: that health care is offered only to the elite, that Africans suffer in silence as Western society develops greater technology, and that the faces of the victims of underdevelopment are obscured by national interests. I’m angry beyond belief. Part of me wants to go back to England where I know I can get the health care that I need but another part of me recognizes how much this experience will cause me to grow. It is hearing the cries of a woman who has just fallen off a faulty stretcher that makes the need for health care reform, in America and around the world, salient in my mind.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Pledge of Allegiance

I heard the Pledge of Allegiance this week for the first time since I left the United States this past summer. As my views toward the Americas change and develop I was surprised to see that my understanding of the Pledge of Allegiance, one of my favourite elements of American culture, had also changed. Here is my Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America

It seems strange to think of my home state, Missouri, as a former slave state. The Missouri Compromise set the stage for a legacy of racism and oppression that the United States has yet to overcome. It is easy to forget that the American economic system, the best in the world, owes its greatness to the toil and labour of African populations. The Emancipation Proclamation was drafted a mere 145 years ago yet I feel so personally divorced from slavery. The Imperialist tradition allows me to create a clear distance between slavery and myself; I am granted the comfort of the American life without consideration of the strife that was coupled with its establishment. Taglines of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” allow me to pretend that I carry no blame. Touring the slave castle of Cape Coast brought me face to face with some of the big questions that I wish I never had to ask myself. The students in my exchange programme were loaded onto a fancy air conditioned bus and driven through the Greater Accra Region until we reached an enigmatic and beautiful castle that looked more like a vacation resort than a building where thousands of Africans saw their last glimpse of their continent. The white edifice was positioned on the top of a small hill that overlooked a port that is currently used for fishing; the demure arches evoked a sense of serenity that hid the cries of history. As we entered the slave chambers we stood in nearly complete darkness where hundreds of Africans were housed for months at a time and forced to lie in a 1.5 feet of human feces, head to toe, until the slave ships arrived to take them to the New World. My colleagues and I walked quietly with our heads low in tacit awe of one of the worst epochs of American and world history. I couldn’t imagine the strength that would be necessary for so many Africans to march weeks in chains to Accra to be stored in the worst of circumstances with people of different tribal origins without a common language.

and to the republic for which it stands

It was easy for us to board our bus for the Hans Cottage Botel where we would swim and drink pineapple juice and begin to forget about the injustice that we had just witnessed. We could forget about child slavery, human trafficking, and exploitative trade issues pretending that oppression ended with the Civil Rights Movement. Why is it so easy for us to oppose the slave trade and so difficult for us to see the blood and chains along the aisles of our local Wal-Mart? How do we declare the practices of our ancestors innocuous yet continue to participate in the exploitative measures of our own generation? How do we convince ourselves that slavery is a problem of the past? I am not sure what it means to be “American” but I believe it has something to do with standing against inequity.

one nation under God, indivisible

On Sunday morning we left the Botel. I’m not quite sure what differentiates a Botel from a motel or a hotel. This particular “botel” had a nature trail, nice restaurant, and live crocodiles surrounding the patio. Some of my friends petted adult crocodiles near the water. Our next stop was Kakum National Park where we went on a canopy walk 250 meters above the ground. We walked along a ladder positioned between sets of trees, holding onto ropes as we swung platform to platform. While we climbed through the canopy we saw some amazing examples of rainforest wildlife, mainly birds and insects. It was amazing to see how dark was the ground layer of the rainforest, with almost all sunlight blocked by the canopy layer. The layers above the canopy were marked by sparse vegetation and very small leaves while the understory fought its way to find a glimpse of sunlight to use for photosynthesis. It was surreal to be surrounded by an ecosystem of which I have only studied. The pictures looked just like those in my textbooks. My colleagues and I hiked along the floor of the rain forest taking time to snap pictures and sing “In the Jungle” and favourites from “The Lion King.” As we carefully placed one foot in front of the other in our climb along the canopy it was astonishing to see my class mates join together through a sense of fear. My partner, Patrick, did nothing to calm my nerves and consistently reminded me of the 250 drop if I were to fall. “You will need those crutches forever if you misstep,” he told me. For one of the first times since we have been in Ghana we all let our guard down as we together experienced something a bit frightening. The relationship that exists between friends in Ghana quickly becomes more intimate than relationships outside of the developing world. Together we have experienced some scary and dangerous things and without each other we may not have had as successful of a journey through. Illness is a constant threat in Ghana and it is important that we inform our friends as to our symptoms such that they can help us to monitor our health. We’ve all been in some pretty vulnerable positions: me stuck in the open sewer, others with Malaria, and others with periods of diarrhea that lasted days. In caring for each other and letting each other see us in other in our most honest state we have become nearly indivisible. My colleagues here have seen an organic version of Judith Rowland that doesn’t often appear in the Western world.

with Liberty and justice for all

As my colleagues and I continue to grow in our academic and personal pursuits I see mature adults emerging from students. I have already gained a greater perspective of the world that we remain with me as I enter my future endeavors of service. I just hope that as we return to campus and to our daily lives: the 30 minute walk to class, the breakfast pineapple, sitting in huge lecture halls, and wishing that we had books to read we wont forget what we saw and learned at the Cape Coast slave castle. Remembering this weekend and what it meant may someday ensure a greater probability of liberty and justice for all.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


"I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!"
-Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I am coming to love the moments when my normally ebullient self returns to my dorm in complete silence totally perplexed by something that I have recently discovered. After three weeks in this new land I am no longer a tourist but a resident. I’ve run out of comfort foods from England, everything I own is covered in red sand, and the excitement of exploring a new place is transforming into exhaustion and frustration. I suppose that the only way to truly know a country is to live within it.

In a class titled “Strategies for Development in Africa” my colleagues and I were encouraged to analyze aspects of Ghanaian culture and the effect that they have on underdevelopment in Ghana. The first cultural aspect that came to my mind was the importance of respect in Ghanaian life; Ghanaian children are taught to obey their parents and a tremendous amount of respect is given to the elder generation. In classes students are to remain quiet and to avoid any disagreements with professors. The students that I teach are some of the most calm and obedient youngsters I have ever known; the kids stand when they speak, wait to be called on, and always refer to me as “Auntie.” Through my education I have been encouraged to challenge authority, to dissect the rationale of standards of etiquette and to reject traditions that are not logically significant. In the United States and England I didn’t always have to raise my hand to speak, I could excuse myself to the toilets, and I was expected to disagree with my professors. In my American high school one could not get over a C grade on an exam unless s/he critiqued the cultural assumptions of the essay question and/or presented an argument that was unique. I was born into a generation of students that read Nietzsche, Hegel, and Marx and aren’t afraid to take radical stances.

At times I miss the fast-paced nature of my home culture. I walk at a jogging speed, multitask, study long hours, eat quickly, and pack a lot into each day. In a computer class that is affiliated with my Political Research Methods course we were assigned a data entry project and told that we could leave the classroom after we were finished. I entered all of my data in about five minutes while listening to the slow hunt-and-peck typing of my neighbours. As I was packing my bags to leave my colleague asked why I had rushed my assignment. “Well, why would I type any slower than full speed?” I responded. “We do things slower here,” she told me. She is right. A meal in Ghana can take upwards of an hour and a half. I have never before met people who walk as slowly as do Ghanaians. Employees at banks do not have the sense of urgency that is required in American tellers. There seem to be many double standards when it comes to speed: my Ghanaian friends admire the fact that internet nearly always works in the United States but they do not recognize that American technology works only because employees are willing to work long hours to ensure functionality. Similarly, Americans respect time while Ghanaians do not prioritize punctuality; one of my professors was an hour late to a two-hour lecture three weeks in a row without even so much as an apology. I think that elements like these are very much in contradiction with the goals of development; Ghana must decide whether she wants to become developed or wants to maintain her community centered, relaxed lifestyle. Development isn’t a yellow brick road to Oz, it comes with a lot of ulcers, overextended people, and children growing up without parents at home. I wish that there were a way for development to be moderated such that we could live in a world with a vast array of available technology and resources and still have substantive vacation days.

As much as I try to “go native” and fit within the Ghanaian environment I am constantly aware of the privileges that I have as a result of my national identity and the education that I have thus far received. I am a member of the U. Ghana debate team and today participated in a debate with fellow students with the topic “developing countries need more partnership than aid from developed countries.” I favoured the role of partnerships over aid and presented examples such as the failure of food aid in Somalia and the intrinsic ties between aid packages and national interests as compared to the favourable outcomes of participation within regional and multilateral organizations such as the United Nations. I could tell that the other members of my team are very smart, but I could also tell that they have probably never before had access to a speech coach or to an academic search engine. My teammates want me to implement American styles of debate within the University but I don’t believe that debate as it is in the United States would be practical in Ghana. In a country without reliable internet access and without books it is difficult to find the evidence necessary for well constructed debate arguments. The only real source of information for Ghanaian students are the opinions disseminated by Ghanaian professors during lectures. Life in Ghana has cultivated within me a deep sense of respect for the education that has been provided to me in the U.S.A. and in England. My experiences thus far in life make my reality very different from the reality of Ghanaians. I will never be able to relate to my classmates who tell me stories of losing their homes and growing up with HIV positive parents. I will never understand the emotions associated with a relative dying of malaria or of going to bed hungry. I wish I knew their experience. Each living being on Earth sees the world in a very different light through the lens of their experiences and humans will never be able to fully understand each other’s struggles and successes but to be a fair leader I must find ways to empathize with my fellow global citizens when possible. I listen a lot, and I think a lot more. I write and meditate on things that I witness and the ways that they make me feel. For now, that is all that I can do.

When I first got to campus I was surprised by the lack of political organizations available to students on campus. I have yet to see evidence of political parties or affiliations and have been told that Ghanaians do not vocalize their political beliefs out of fear that opposing parties could cause harm to their jobs or families. There are ways for civil society to become engaged in the Ghanaian political system but it is very uncommon; individuals don’t have the chance to be heard politically in Ghana. I’ve been told that citizens can write letters to public officials but that no responses will be issued and that most likely the letter will not be read. This information is a striking contrast to my experiences in the office of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill wherein we daily addressed the real needs of constituents and responded to every piece of correspondence that we received. Ghanaians seem to be less interested in government because they feel that they will never be able to shape national policies, in turn the government operates almost as a dictatorship with no check and balance within the citizenry. I am very afraid of the hopeless attitude with which Ghanaians approach issues of national importance. There is so much distrust in the government that citizens choose not to bother which in turn gives the government more freedom to become corrupt. It is a vicious cycle.

So much of Ghanaian culture seems so archaic. It disgusts me that I live in a country where many families take their young daughters to Burkina Faso such that they may be circumcised. It bothers me that some women in the Northern areas of Ghana padlock their lips together such that they can speak only when their husband unlocks their mouth. It appalls me when men on the streets think that they can say sexually horrific things to American women as we walk past them. Strolling through the markets people will grab my wrists and tell me to come with them and to be their wife. I am learning to say “NO” in a very emphatic and aggressive way of which I never thought I would be capable. I’ve record the marriage proposals that I receive each day and am nearing 500 proposals. Some of them have been interesting, one man got on both knees at the market and said, “I had a dream that I would marry a beautiful girl like you and we would have twenty children. So, what is your name again?”

Religion plays an interesting cultural role in Ghana. Ghana allows freedom of religion but religion is seen as a critical element of the Ghanaian lifestyle. Market stands are often called tacky things like “Praise the Lord frozen foods” or “God is Great fruits.” After making an emphatic point my Twi language professor will say “Hallelujah Praise the Lord.” Before each class students are allowed to come forth to offer a prayer for the class. The debate in which I participated today began with a group prayer. As an avid Christian I am delighted to be surrounded by so many reminders of my faith, but I can’t help but notice that Ghanaians are not really free to practice their own ideas of religion without social backlash. This weekend the campus ministries of the University are joining together to host an event titled “The Dangers of Homosexuality to Society.” There isn’t a lot of room for progressive Christians in Ghana must less people of Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim background. I really miss the American establishment clause!

My blog posts seem overly pessimistic and hopeless. The upsetting things about my experiences here tend to occupy my thoughts most often. I am equally, if not more enthused by the strong community spirit I have found in Ghana. When Ghanaians call you their “brother” or “sister” they really mean that they will treat you as though you were family. The hospitality in Ghana is unbeatable. At times it is overbearing, I am so used to people being closed-off to others that we are taken aback by actions that are intended to be compassionate. For instance, in the United States if someone were to call me eight times in a row I would think that they are obnoxious whereas the Ghanaians interpret that as being evidence that they really care about you. Ghanaians will give away the metaphorical shirt from their back without a second thought. A girl in my Spanish class whom I had never before met agreed to photo copy all of the course materials for me, I was shocked by her generosity. My American colleagues and I are slowly adapting to our new lifestyles and are learning to be more open and free with others. We will be better people for our experiences here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My day as a "Colonial Master" and Public Servant

"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” - Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey

It is challenging to be foreign. I often feel torn as to exactly what my role should be while abroad; should I sway toward assimilation or should my goal be to share my culture with the Ghanaians? I’m pleasantly surprised by the flexibility exhibited within my colleagues, after just three days in Ghana everyone was sporting new African dresses and wearing their un-styled hair proudly. As my body and mind have began to adjust to the climate and environment of Ghana I am beginning to think of Ghana as being home. I see so predominately the unity and similarities between people of all races and backgrounds that when I discover stark cultural differences I am a bit shocked. I live in a country where families take young daughters to surrounding countries to mutilate their genitals. I live in a country where the majority of the citizens do not speak the national language and where fewer than 50% of the population is literate. I live in a country where most of the roads in urban areas are made of gravel and where open sewers continue to line the streets. I live in a country where homosexuality is illegal. I cannot escape evidence of the group focus in Ghana; some of the people here have scars implanted in their faces to denote their tribe such that if they were to be misplaced as children they could have a better likelihood of being found. Since I’ve been here I have found some degree of difficulty in relating to friends in England at the United States; as they relate to me the gossip from the latest party my idle thoughts are dedicated to questions such as “will the water work today?” It really is a completely different life.

The food in Ghana is some of the best I have had in my life. I love having access to a wide diversity of tropical fruits and natural foods! More mornings I eat a whole pineapple and a handful of nuts on the way to class. For lunch I enjoy a scoop of white rice, tomato sauce, a bean dish called “redred,” and steamed vegetables. I generally have pineapple juice as a snack and then enjoy vegetable skewers with paprika and a mango for dinner. Food is incredibly inexpensive, the meals mentioned above total around four U.S. dollars. Though very few Ghanaians are vegetarian, I have found finding vegan choices to be very easy.

I continue to enjoy each of my classes. My classes are taught as a two hour lecture and a one hour tutorial. Many of my lectures have upwards of 300 students. The department is very understaffed and students must take almost identical schedules so as to make the best use of professors’ time. When a Ghanian student applies to University they are administered an exam that accesses their capacity for success in University. Based on the score that they receive they are placed in a degree programme over which they have no control. Students must stay within their degree programme for two years and pay for an education that may not interest them. I have heard stories of students intentionally failing their exams so as to be kicked out of a programme in which they have no interest. I am so fortunate to attend a school in the U.S. that allows me to serve as the locus of control in regards to my education. The Missouri State University Political Science department has been incredibly generous in the ways that my courses will be transferred back to Missouri State; I wouldn’t find the same flexibility in Ghana. My time in Ghana has called me to really interrogate the idea of individual liberties that is ever present in the United States. As an American I have so much control over myself and my actions.

Each of my classes carries with them a certain awkwardness in regards to the colonial history of Africa. Each professor approaches issues of the past in a different light, some are very careful to avoid offending Western students, others are unafraid to call us “you people” and refer to the “colonial masters,” and yet others talk around the subject as though slavery is a dirty word that shouldn’t be mentioned in class. I recognize the sensitivity of the issue but believe that a comprehensive investigation of the negative elements of world history is the only way to prevent future evils. The approach that I took toward colonialism prior to my arrival in Africa was very anti-Western but I am coming to see that the struggles that Africa has faced cannot totally be attributed to Western follies. Though the Americans and the British are often blamed for the slave trade it was the leaders of tribes throughout Ghana who agreed to trade goods for people. It wasn’t my ancestors who foraged through jungles for human flesh to transport to the Americas but it was their African brothers and sisters who sold people as property. There is much evidence of the benefits of colonialism within Africa: colonialism brought about the construction of African railways, imperialism fostered international trade with Africa, and globalisation makes Western products available to those in the East. The United States has historically acted in ways that are detrimental to African nations, but I believe that African nations made many key mistakes that contributed to their current instability and underdevelopment. In a country where a high percentage of infrastructure carries with it a sign denoting its donation from the United States or the United Nations it is obvious that the U.S. and the U.N. are channeling a lot of money and human power into Africa. The Ghanaians at times seem content with underdevelopment: no one seems fazed by the open sewers that run throughout the country, the Ghanians recognize that the water will rarely be available and so they collect water in buckets to prepare for dry days, and I have yet to hear a Ghanaian complain of the heat. Acceptance of living circumstances fosters complacency which is the detriment to progress. My professor explained today that, “Ghanaians don’t buy Ghanaian made goods.” Many of the items I have purchased in Ghana have been of dismal quality. The cell phone that I purchased consisted of tens of pieces that had been affixed together with the aid of superglue and at no point functioned properly. I’m quickly losing faith in Ghanaian goods and am looking for imported products that I feel I can trust. The scope of imported products available in Ghana is demonstrative of the lack of multi-layered economic systems in the country. I am not sure what the solution to African underdevelopment might be but I believe that it involves a Pan-African recognition of African involvement in her own underdevelopment and a commitment to create new, potentially vertical, markets that will be internationally competitive.

Today was my first day at Prima Academy where I am volunteering as a teacher. My primary role is to serve as the English teacher for students aged 12-15. I will create lesson plans and operate three classes independently. I don’t intend to become a high school teacher but I believe that this will be an excellent opportunity to interact with impoverished youth and to experience another side of Ghana. My first class began reading a play using the “popcorn” system that I remember hating in elementary school. I taught the students to summarize, make inferences, and to use context clues. The kids laughed at my attempts to pronounce their names and I giggled a bit when they referred to me as “Auntie Juliette” which is easier for Ghanaians to pronounce than “Judith.” In my second class a taught a few grammatical principles including the use of infinitives and collocations. The student’s textbooks are provided by the government of Ghana with the exception of some story books donated from American schools. The governmentally provided resources contain predominately articles about the prevention of STDs and articles that promote Western lifestyles. The students and I read together some passages in their textbooks including a story about the prevention of syphilis and a passage about gender issues in Ghana. Following the story about gender issues in Ghana we created a chart on the board of tasks generally assigned to men, to women, and to both genders. The students suggested tasks to add to each list. The final product looked very similar to what I would imagine in the United States; women were designated as the cleaners, cooks, and child care providers while men were assigned to “pound the fufu,” carry water, and collect wood. We discussed how men and women are both capable of each of the tasks on the board. Before leaving the class I asked each student to list something that they had learned. One student said, “I learned that women can be good politicians- like Hillary Clinton, and you will be a good president someday.” I hope that he is correct.

In another class exercise the students asked me to explain the concept of “disabled.” After providing a definition I asked the students to contribute examples of disabilities. I was a bit taken back with the easy in which they spewed titles of diseases I’ve only read of, “ebola” “HIV/AIDS” “Syphillis” “Malaria” “bowed legs” “amputees.” Their fear of diseases like typhoid that have plagued their friends and family members makes the division in our living circumstances all too clear. I took home with me at the end of the day a smile I could feel throughout my body, a bit vision of the world that is a bit more loving, and a stack of curriculum and textbooks from which I can develop lesson plans. This is the life.

I discovered today that one of my closer friends in Ghana, Theresa, is in the hospital being treated for malaria. I’m taking every measure I can to prevent malaria but am all too aware that I am not invincible. As a resident of a foreign land I reside in a body devoid of antibodies against malaria. My bed net, medications, and bug spray are all that stand between me and malaria.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday at the Liberian Refugee Camp

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
--John Muir

My childhood as a land-locked Missourian made trips to the beach a special treat. Despite tens of trips to oceans while in Europe I have yet to lose the childlike glimmer in my eye at the sight of a beach. I spent the mornings of Friday and Saturday at the beach in Accra relaxing with a few friends. The water was very clear and the waves were some of the biggest I have ever seen. For several hours I forgot that I was in Africa; the inevitability of a lack of water and electricity slipped from my mind as I dove into wave after wave. Waves are powerful; regardless of how emphatically I tried to stay standing I always found myself buried within the salty water. Humans may be capable of great strength but we will never be able to defy some of the laws of nature, sometimes we must release ourselves to external forces in recognition that we cannot control our environment. I need to be more easygoing. Ghana is just another big wave of which I have no control, I need to surrender to its force and fall giggling into the water. I’ll come up sputtering for air, but I’ll probably be okay.

As we were leaving the beach an elder Ghanaian man approached me and stood just a few inches from my face and began asking me questions about the States and school. I am always a bit intimidated by the Ghanaian tendency to stand within what I consider my “personal space,” I took a step back which was interpreted by the man as an effort to rebuff him. The man followed me for a few minutes asking if I would marry him and take him back to the States. Even after assuring the man that I was engaged and could not live with him he continued to follow me. My colleagues asked him to leave me alone and after following us to the highway I think he finally realized I wasn’t interested. Instead of walking away he asked the only male in our group if he would, “give him one of the girls?” I am so frequently offered marriage proposals that I have grown accustom to inventing elaborate stories about my love life back at home. On Thursday I told a potential suitor that my husband’s name was Walter and that he is a dairy farmer in Missouri. The man replied, “but yesterday you told my friend that your husband’s name was George!?!”

As a society based around a communal focus Ghanaians refer to all people as their “brother” or their “sister.” Ghanaians do not use the word “cousin” as all individuals of familiar relation are of equal importance to Ghanaians. My understanding of sisterhood stems from my own experiences with blood siblings and my time in a sorority. When my Ghanaian friends refer to me as their sister I feel that they really mean it. My friends here have some me some of the best hospitality that I have ever experienced. As I begin to consider all humankind as brethren I believe that my relationships with my friends and colleagues are becoming stronger.

Saturday night was the Durbar for new students offering another opportunity to enjoy Ghanaian food and to listen to student music groups perform. Some students from NYU performed a satirical song about being white (obruni) in a black (obibini) world. Following the musical performances professional dancers came out to lead the international students in traditional African dance. Probably 90% of the students were up and dancing to the first song. I would never imagine that 100 very sober college students could dance so confidently to music we had never before heard. As we threw our hands in the air I could feel myself falling in love with Ghana, I felt that if I tried I could pull the moon to the ground out of shear jubilation

This morning some of my colleagues and I went to the Pentecostal church on campus. The service began at 7am and didn’t end until 10am. The service consisted of an hour of praise and worship, an hour of prayer, and an hour of message. I had to leave at 8:30 so I missed most of the praise and worship. The message was very similar to sermons that I have heard in Haiti and in churches that reach out to African populations in the States. The sermon was focused on introducing the theme for the semester which is “exploits of love.” The preacher used a lot of repetition to stress that love is the most important element in the trinity of faith, hope, and love. Several people in the service spoke in tongues and many danced in the aisles of the church. During my time here I hope to taste many different church traditions with the goal of finding one that is the best fit. I really miss singing church hymns at National Avenue Christian Church.

After church I went to the Liberian refugee camp to volunteer for the day. To get to the camp we rode in two separate tro-tros and took a special bus to the camp. When we reached our terminal stop I didn’t realize that we were in a refugee camp; the area looked like any other part of Ghana. I expected to find malnourished children dressed in dirty clothing like so many of the images of refugee camps that I have been privy to see. We were taken on a tour of the camp and educated as to the programmes available within the camp. The camp was established by the United Nations and provides a refuge for peoples displaced as a result of the conflict in Liberia. Many of the people I spoke with have been in the camp for fifteen or more years. The United Nations provides the infrastructure for the camp but all inhabitants must pay for electricity, housing, and to use the toilets. Unfortunately, this is not practical for many of the residents who have very limited funds after leaving their homes. A non-profit was created within the camp to provide scholarship money for children such that they can afford to attend the schools that were established by the United Nations. The non-profit also has sewing classes for women such that they can sell their wares to make money for their families. I purchased several inexpensive coin purses that I look forward to giving as gifts.

Outside of the school facilities I met some young boys who were kicking around a rubber ball with a large hole that caused the ball to deflate each time it was kicked. A few of my colleagues and I joined the game and were immediately impressed by the David Beckham-like skills of our young friends! One of the boys was named Equis and was probably around nine years old. Equis was careful to remember who had been passed the ball recently such that everyone might have a turn to kick the ball, possessing a sharing and kind attitude that I don’t remember having when I was his age. Occasionally the ball would be kicked too hard and would land in the nearby trash piles in which roosters were searching for a meal. Equis was always quick to retrieve the ball for us. I don’t think I can ask for more from life than the opportunity to kick balls back and forth with refugee children. I have never before been more sure that I have taken the right paths in life. This semester in Africa is the start of the rest of my life.

In the camp I met Alex who left Liberia in 1996. Rebels killed Alex’s father and then burned his house to the ground. Alex knew that if he was to escape he would need to run then and there, leaving his family and possessions behind. With the smell of his life in ashes Alex took off into the bush and has been in Ghana since. Alex has regained contact with his mom and sends what money he can back home to pay for his siblings to go to school. Alex is in University to become a dairy farmer and wants to study computer science in the future. Alex told me the two-hour long version of the history of the Liberian Civil War. When I say my prayers tonight I’m going to pray for Alex and his family. I hope that he someday gets his poultry farm.

I was so moved by my time at the refugee camp that I promised to return frequently. I will spend weekends wherein I am not travelling at the refugee camp tutoring children who have received funding to attend school. “How much does it cost to sponsor a child’s education?” I asked our leader. For only 82 U.S. dollars a refugee child can be afforded the opportunity for an education. As I was informed of the resources that would be made accessible to a child who gained an 82 dollar scholarship I heard one of my favourite hymns , “God of Grace, God of Glory” being sung at the Methodist church down the street:

Cure Thy children's warring madness
Bend our pride to Thy control
Shame our wanton selfish gladness
Rich in things and poor in soul
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
Lest we miss Thy kingdom's goal
Lest we miss Thy kingdom's goal

Save us from weak resignation
To the evils we deplore
Let the gift of Thy salvation
Be our glory evermore
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
Serving Thee Whom we adore
Serving Thee Whom we adore

I believe I have been granted the wisdom to know that I need to invest myself in this refugee camp and I will pray for the courage to shame my wanton selfish gladness so as to become rich in soul. I want the God of Grace and Glory to be as evident in me as it was in the refugees. I have never been more inspired and called to action in my life. I have not a moment to waste.

Friday, January 22, 2010

An Evening in a Ghanaian Hospital: Week One in Ghana

I think I like it here. During my morning run I watch the mango trees greet the warm morning sun. I hear children laugh as they set up the vegetable stands that generate barely enough profit to feed their families. I smell a peculiar fusion of freshly baked bread and exhaust fumes. I am careful to hop over each of the open sewers the line the paths of Legon, Ghana. I jog along the uneven layers of red sand that form the top soil of the Ghanian savannah, stopping to say hello to the lady from whom I purchase pineapple each day. I’m finding a great sense of peace in the simplicity of the lifestyle that I lead in Ghana; the mop of blonde curls I wear on my head no longer phases me, I’m not bothered by the inevitability of the presence of sand on the floor of my bedroom, I’ve grown accustom to sleeping in a very warm environment. My idle thoughts consist of questions like “Where will I get water?” “Will I find a protein source today?” “Do I have malaria?” By the end of each day I am physically exhausted by the mental energy that it takes to become one with the Ghanaian environment.

The day after I moved in the limited electricity that powers my building and facilitates our water supply became out of service for five days. At first it was a novelty to figuratively return to my days in Haiti and teach my colleagues to take “bucket baths.” After carrying water to the third floor a few days in a row I was praying that the water might someday work. Unfortunately, our water system was not repaired and the source near my building became dry. I was up a creek with… no water. Later that night I woke to the sounds of loud banging on the doors adjacent to my room. A voice I did not recognize came to my door pounding and screaming “everyone get out now!” In my 3am stupor I was convinced we were undergoing a political coup. In the United States if someone knocked on my door and told me to evacuate I would trust that there was a natural disaster, but in Ghana I’ve been told to trust no one. I yelled back to the man on the other side of my door to reveal his identity and to explain why we are to evacuate but got no answer. I locked myself into my room and peered out the glass windows waiting to see if my colleagues had evacuated. Eventually a voice I recognized came to my door and I willingly left the building for what was an “earth tremor” warning.

It is strange to be white; I wear my status as a foreigner on my skin. Through orientation we were taught to stick with the other foreign students who happen to be predominately white. Any orientation should help a group to gel together, but this orientation was particularly strange because I feel that bonds were created to cement together what are here called “abrunis” (white people). During particularly stressful moments in the markets, seeing another white person began to trigger in my mind a sense of relief… “oh, she can help me.” It is dangerous. I feel like I am sitting through the American Civil Rights Movement when I attend class each day. Female students do their best to not look me in the eye, male students look for every opportunity to find an abruni girlfriend. In Arabic yesterday my professor had only five copies of a syllabus for a class of fifty. The professor approached me first saying, “you may have the first copy, you have priority.” I don’t want priority. Access to that syllabus was too dear a reminder of my white privilege that I passed the syllabus down the row in an attempt to absolve myself from guilt.

One evening my colleagues and I saw a group of male students dancing outside their dormitory waving flags. One of the ring-leaders shared with me that there is a longstanding conflict between the two main male dorms. Commonwealth, one of the dorms, believes that they are the strongest and has colonized some of the other dorms. The tension between the dorms often manifests itself in broken noses and black eyes but a few years ago my friend describes that a “war took place between the two dorms” Commonwealth lost the “war” and the other dorm gathers each night to wave their flag and dance to celebrate their victory. A few of us joined in their dancing and singing. The use of the word “colonize” reminded me of the psychological principle of reflection, that we reflect in our relations with others the ways that we have been treated.

I am consistently asked whether Ghana lived up to the expectations that I had placed on the country. There are moments wherein I forget that I am living in the developing world but there are also moments that I am confronted with the harsh reality of my living circumstances. I met a girl in class and had the following conversation:
Me: Hi, I’m Judith. What is your name?
Lucy: Lucy. How are you?
Me: I’m fine, how are you? Where are you from?
Lucy: The Volta Region.
Me: What tribe are you a part of?
Lucy: [insert tribe here], so… do you have facebook?
It is absurb to me that someone who lives on the other side of the world can be obsessed with the same virtual site as are millions of Westerners. My Ghanaian colleagues dress similar to me and my Western friends and in social settings it is sometimes difficult to recognize that we are part of very distinctive cultures. People really are just people.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of Ghanaian culture is the focus on the group over the individual. There is a definite presence of “group think” and “majority rule.” I’ve noticed a lot more assimilation here than I have witnessed in America and Britian. Also distinctive is the focus on oral tradition over that which is written. There is only a 50% literacy rate in Ghana so information is generally disseminated through word of mouth. Walking around campus it is rare to hear students speaking English. Though English is the national language of Ghana, Ghanaians learn the language associated with their tribe at birth and speak English predominately at school. More than half of Ghana’s population has never learned English. My inability to speak much of the dominant tribal language in Accra, Twi, makes trips to the market very difficult.

In Britain I always had my nose in a book. I was looking forward to my exposure to African literary classics but have had difficulty thus far finding books to read. The school bookstore is very limited and I have found only one bookstore in the city centre. The school library will not allow students to check out most of the available books and I had difficulty finding resources written after the 1990’s. Because books are so expensive and infrequently available many of my professors do not assign an extensive reading list. As opposed to purchasing books students visit department offices to buy a photocopied packet of journal articles and excerpts from books to read for class. In my Spanish Linguistic Theory class our work books are handwritten and photocopied which makes them very difficult to read. Like any other goal-oriented American, I am concerned that my textbook for Political Research Methods was published in the 1970s and that I wont be able to access the supplemental reading materials that I feel would be critically important to my academic experience. I have a mini-heart attack every time I realize that the library no longer carries a book that I have been asked by my professor to read for class. “How will I learn?” I wonder to myself. The most important lesson I have learned while abroad is that books can impart only a small amount of information about life. As a student of International Development I will learn more from experiencing development than I ever could from reading.

Tuesday night I joined my colleagues for pizza night before the football game against Angola. The other vegans and I split a veggie pizza without cheese. Walking back to campus I became so engaged in conversation about poverty that I failed to see where I was walking in the dark and fell into one of Ghana’s many open sewers. I knew immediately that I was hurt and my friends Paula and Theresa ran off to buy something with which they could make a brace for my leg. I stayed sitting in the gutter until they returned with knives and tea towels that we affixed to my ankle with belts. We took a taxi to the hospital. After a thirty-minute wait I was seen by one of the few nurses who spoke English. She taught me to say “I fell into the gutter” in Twi and told me that, “Only the Americans fall into the gutter!” I became the laughing stock of the hospital for a few hours. I was told that the man next to me in the hospital was dying of Malaria and another man was suffering from Cholera. When I was given an examination room the nurse brought in a tray of injections and sat them on my stretcher. I was not expecting shots and asked what the shots were for when she explained that they were for another patient who would be sharing the room and the stretcher with me. The hospital did not have a wheelchair for patients to use nor an X-ray machine to check the damage caused to my ankle. There was literally nothing that the hospital could do to help me. The doctor seemed more concern with the gashes in my leg than with my ankle as the gashes could allow a range of bacteria to enter my bloodstream. I was given an antibiotic and encouraged to keep my wounds very clean. I was permitted to return to the hospital the following morning to receive a set of crutches and hobbled around campus with my crutches for a while. With so many potholes and uneven layers of sand it was difficult to maneuver my crutches in a non-ADA country. The realities faced by so many disabled people became a bit more clear to me as I was forced to forgo many things I would generally choose to do because they were physically inaccessible. I am so lucky to be young and agile, I can’t imagine the difficulties I will face as I begin to age.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Musing on my Upcoming Move to Ghana

One of the best books I read over the course of my winter break travels was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. After a wrenched divorce and failed relationship Gilbert finds herself in a state of depression that she feels she cannot escape. Gilbert chooses to move to Italy, India, and Indonesia successively to explore pleasure, devotion, and balance. Gilbert’s Italian friend explains to her that each person has a word that defines his/her being; a word that permeates every level of that person’s identity. Gilbert struggles through much of the book to discover “her word.” If Springfield, MO had a word I think it would be “Do.” If Preston, England had a word I think it would be “fun.” But what is my word? I think I could best be described by the word “fusion”: I am a coming-together of an eclectic variety of ideas and traits and I believe my primary goal is to fuse people. I seek convergence in the world.

I believe that travelling abroad can be a wonderful opportunity to self-examination and to evaluate past relationships and situations and return to one’s life with a fresh perspective. I will not return to America the same Judith Rowland that I was when I boarded the plane to Manchester in September. England has been a spiritual blessing for me; I have never before felt as loved, happy, and balanced as I am in Europe. I question why I would ever leave such a utopia. But, as I travelled other winter break I discovered that England didn’t change me- I changed me. I am terribly upset to set aside the friendships that I have developed in this wonderful country but I recognize that staying longer will not benefit me more.

My move to Ghana awaits me. I am content to set aside my straightener, dancing shoes, and addiction to travel in favour of a bed net, Tevas, and a wonderful internship. Ghana will change me in ways that I cannot currently fathom. I am excited to release myself to this new country and to allow the voices of the dessert to envelope me. I am tentatively eager to lose my naivety and to understand a part of the world that carries with it the baggage of Aids, Malaria, poverty, and poor conservation methods. My life in England seems too frivolous in retrospect- why did I allow myself to be consumed with thoughts of “What am I going to wear?” when instead I could have considered what I would do that day to make the world a better place? I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what I will learn and the realities that I know will crush my soul. I’m afraid of what the Judith Rowland I am to become will think of the Judith that I am currently.

As opposed to making New Year’s resolutions this year I elected to make “Ghana resolutions” or promises to myself that I believe will enhance my experience in Ghana. They are as follows:

1) Begin each day with one hour of meditation. Meditation is a significant part of my spiritual life but I often become caught in the busy nature of my mind. Meditation is the only way I will truly be able to be changed by Ghana.
2) Write every day. I believe I have greatly developed as a writer this semester and I appreciate the records I have of my experiences. Writing forces me to place into words my emotions and thoughts. I will write in this blog or I will write for myself.
3) Explore something new each day.
4) End each day with an unorganized period of reflection. I want to move away from my tendency to let reason guide by soul. I do not want to be bound by goals for each day (ironic, eh?). I want to simply… be.

For four months I intend to allow myself to be directed by the world and not by my innate dedication to reason. I look forward to the person I will become.

The House of Terror

On our last night in Hungary Sahara and I went to the “House of Terror” which is a museum that remembers Hungary under Nazi rule and communism. The museum is housed in the former headquarters of both the Nazi and the Communist parties. We stood on where gallows that the enemies of communism stood prior to execution and saw the prison cells in which victims were tortured and left to starve. It is very striking to see images of tanks rolling down the streets that I had explored just the day before. History is viewed through a lens of the present; I will never see Budapest in the way that someone who lived in the city under communism can. During the Nazi regime all of the bridges over the Danube were destroyed so as to prevent Soviet encroachment on Nazi territory. It is hard to imagine military leaders commanding the removal of the world’s historical markers to advance a political goal… yet I know it has happened and happens under a diversity of regimes.

I will never forget the first time I saw images of Hitler standing aside the Arc of Triumph in Paris, I sight that I had admired just a week prior. The tourist traps of modern Europe occasionally allow the onlooker to forget that the Arc of Triumph means something different today than it did during the dreadful months of Hitler’s reign. I sometimes forget that monuments are more than just pieces of marble but a tangible representation of a country’s spirit, history, and identity.

I realized at the House of Terror that the fear that I have experienced in my life can never compare to the fear that so many of my brothers and sisters throughout the world experience on a daily basis. I fear things like losing friends, my teeth becoming crooked, and death- but not the loss of the American sovereignty. I can go to bed each night relatively certain that my countries will remain democracies. The only time I have ever really been afraid was September 11, 2001 when I remember asking my mother if our family would survive the Saudi bombings that in my mind were sure to occur that evening in Springfield, MO. I feel very guilty to be a citizen of a country that outsources its wars so that Americans can pretend that peace exists in the world. I feel guilty that I have never been called to military service. Yet, viewing images of World War Two creates within me a great sense of solidarity; I may have little personal relationship with Hungary but my grandfather and his brothers were fighting the same war as the Hungarians. Some of the prison cells of the museum featured photographs of the inmates who spent their finals days in each cell. One of the images looked very much like photographs I have seen of my great-uncle at a similar age. The death dates of the inmates revealed that many of them were my age; had I lived in an earlier generation they could have been my boyfriend, or my brother.

World War 2 so intrigues me because I believe it to be the last just war in history and a huge contradiction of my understanding of human nature. I wish that human abilities could be more rudimentary. With great power comes a greater sense of responsibility than mere humans can comprehend.