Everything That Glitters Ain’t the Gold Coast

16 Jun

In the past couple of months I conquered many fears and marked many milestones. I turned 25 last month (and didn’t have the quarter-life crisis I expected), tfinsihed my first year of law school, and packed for a trip to Ghana.

As a child of Nigerian immigrants, visiting Africa has been a lifelong dream and the opportunity arose with the Fordham Ghana Summer Law Program. Last Friday I packed two suitcases, had some drinks with the homies, and headed to the airport for three weeks in Accra, Ghana to study International Oil and Gas Law. When I arrived I was in awe. The sun was shining and I felt welcome. Here I was in the Gold Coast, the Motherland, the homeland of my parents and ancestors; if I wasn’t playing it so cool in my Prada shades I may have wept openly.

We were taken by van to the hostel on the GIMPA (Ghana Institute of Management and Professional Administration) campus to meet our roommates and unwind a bit before a traditional dinner. With my stomach full of fufu and groundnut soup I went to sleep with a full belly and dreams of an amazing African adventure.

The next morning we planned to go on a bus tour of notable sites around Accra and then the local mall to get some provisions for our stay. I dressed in a plain v-neck white tee and some tribal print shorts and I was ready for the day. Everywhere we turned it was Kwame Nkrumah this and Kwame Nkrumah that; it is clear he is the Ronald Reagan of Ghana as everything is named after him. After the tour I felt high; thats the only way I could describe it the feeling. In my little notebook I wrote down every place we drove past that I wanted to revist…Osu to have a drink with some ex-pats, the night markets for a late night snack, Makola Market to haggle over some Kente, and Labadi Beach to lay out and get blacker than black.

Once we arrived at the mall my Ghanaian experience hit a snag. I caused a scene everywhere I went! At first it would be one person, then groups of them, pointing and staring. It was unnerving. By the time we got to the grocery store I had been screamed (yes I said screamed) at by an older gentleman who thought my outfit inappropriate.

By the time I got back to the hostel I was so over Ghana. So over the ancestral experience I was hoping for. So over standing out. In a tour group of nine people, I was the only Black person yet I was the spectacle. I couldn’t believe it. I had grown up in a Nigerian household, design African inspired clothing, and attended HBCUS, yet and still I was the one singled out. That night the Ghanaian students who were going to be taking classes with us met us for dinner. While everyone else at my table asked a million questions about their lives I didn’t ask any. I could care less; I was ready to take my Black American ass back to Black America.

Gradually I eased myself into the conversation and bravely asked why I was such a spectacle in Ghana and why I was causing a scene everywhere I went. I recounted the days events and Andrew, a third year law student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, told me (as he laughed) “In Ghana we don’t dress for the weather”.

I looked around I saw what he meant. A lot of men and women were wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts even though it was 90 degrees outside. The more I spoke to the Ghanaian students I learned that many people in Accra dress the way they want to be perceived which is why lots of students dress business casual to class. I also learned that while it is getting more progressive for women to show more skin most Ghanaian girls feel comfortable doing that while hanging out on a university campus where there are other young progressive minds. A Ghanaian girl interested in portraying a certain image wouldn’t wear short-shorts (like the ones I wore) to the mall (like I did).

I also learned that here they make certain concessions for tourists because they know they aren’t accustomed to Ghanaian customs and a Ghanaian style of dress. As a result, when people on the street see me, they see someone who looks like them and don’t necessarily view me as a tourist but as an African girl who should want to portray herself in a certain light.

I use my clothes to express myself creatively and not necessarily to portray a certain image. While in the States we know that certain apparel is appropriate for certain places, we don’t feel the need to walk around in a suit all day for someone to take us seriously. While I am here I will certainly be more respectful of the culture and dress the part…and work double overtime to find a place where I can sport all these crops tops I packed.

 

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One Response to “Everything That Glitters Ain’t the Gold Coast”

  1. KwameGyasi June 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Very introspective. Well written

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