Before coming to Ghana, our group had learned that President Obama would be in Accra while we were here. We decided as a group that, if possible, we would like to see him speak.
When we arrived here, the country was already preparing for his visit. His name was mingled in with Twi on the radio news, and we heard more than one song created for him playing on Kumasi's stations. Children, men, and women would approach us just to say that Obama was a good man. It took us all by surprise, the Obama-fever in the air.
After we finished teaching classes on Thursday, the group packed up our Sunyani Hostel rooms and caught the bus back to Kumasi. We settled in for the night in our same rooms, and Emmanuel stopped by with Lord and Sandra, two of his grad students who were going to accompany us on our weekend trip. We discussed the plan and came up with a general trip outline. We would leave tomorrow from the Hostel at a little before 9AM and travel to Accra where we would spend two nights, and then we would travel to Cape Coast for a one night stay before heading back to Sunyani on Monday.
We woke up early the next morning and walked to Tech Junction to meet Lord and Sandra. At the junction, we were greeted by a billboard welcoming President Obama to Ghana, even though he only was to visit Accra and Cape Coast.
Lord found us a bus in the central market, and the bus filled slowly but surely. We learned later that day that the bus driver was getting people on the bus by telling them that there were Americans inside going to meet the Mr. Obama. People would climb the stairs of the bus, look at us, and then go back outside to pay the driver the bus fare.
In Accra, we secured taxis to the Hostel where we would be staying at the University of Ghana. The traffic was unbelievable, and the driver explained to us that it was because of Obama's impending visit. His plane was to arrive in a couple of hours. We listened to the radio in the cab, and the only subject was Obama. The airport had been shut down in anticipation of his arrival, and as soon as his plane touched down he would be taken to the Holiday Inn where he would be staying. The next morning he would address the Parliament, and then fly to Cape Coast to see the slave trade castle there and give an address. He would then fly back to Accra, and there would be a farewell ceremony at the airport. Tickets were required to attend the event.
That night we were all a bit sad that there would be no opportunity to see our President speak, but we decided that it was no use to dwell on it. We started the next day with a trip to the market in Accra. It is one of the biggest markets in Africa, and it have taken days to see everything in that maze. We met a lot of very nice people there and were also grabbed, touched, and poked by many others.
After the market we saw Independence Square and grabbed a bite to eat. Obama was everywhere in the city. His face was plastered on billboards, on American flags, and on people's clothes. Everywhere one went, all one could hear was "Obama."
Kurt really wanted to see the U.S. Embassy, so we loaded into taxis. When we arrived, we noticed a long line of people standing outside, and they appeared to be Americans. Intrigued, we approached and started talking to them. We actually happened to pick a Michigan Tech grad. He explained that they were in the Peace Corps in Ghana, and they were waiting in line for tickets to Obama's farewell ceremony.
When the Peace Corps had finished going through the line, we talked to the embassy official in charge of the tickets. We explained what we were doing in Ghana and asked him if there was any way we too could see Obama. He was interested in our project, and he promised to do what he could. He made some phone calls and told us that if no more Peace Corps showed up, we could have the tickets. Though, he could not guarantee entry into the ceremony.
We waited anxiously, but our patience and persistence paid off. We were given the tickets and we boarded one of the buses headed to the rally. We were escorted by police to the airport and then joined the long line of people waiting to get through security.
To our surprise, our tickets got us into the very front portion of the audience. We waited for quite some time for the arrival of President Obama and President Mills. The Ghanaians behind us sang, and one could hear the steady beat of Ghanaian drums preparing for their performance. The anticipation and excitement was overwhelming. Everyone was smiling.
When Obama and Mills arrived, the fever in the air reached an all new level. I cannot begin to describe the level of excitement. Obama took the stage with President Mills, and after fully welcoming them, President Mills spoke and then President Obama. The crowd was hushed while they spoke with occasional bursts of applause and cheering. Though some may not agree with President Obama's politics, I think it would be difficult to deny his ability to inspire hope and bring people together.
When they finished their speaches, both the President and the First Lady shook hands with those in the front. Many members of our group were able to shake one or both of their hands. As their plane took off shortly after with the American flag on the tail of Air Force One illuminated, it was clear to all of us that this would be a night we would never forget.
The next day we drove to Cape Coast and then to Kakum National Forest. We hiked to the forest and learned more about the local vegetation and the way of life of the local people. We walked across the canopy bridges that bounced and swung 60 or so feet in the air. They zig-zagged from tree to tree high above the forest floor, giving the adventurous a great view of the jungle. Though some group members were afraid, all completed the walk and were happy that they had done it.
Back at Cape Coast, some group members braved the ocean waves while others just enjoyed the setting sun and white sandy beaches.
The next day we woke early to visit the Cape Coast Castle, where two hundred years ago slaves had been held before they were forced onto ships that would take them across the ocean, separating them from their home and families. We walked throught the dungeons, where slaves' feces, remains, blood, sweat, and tears still cover the floor so thick that the observer would assume it is a dirt floor, not one made of stones. We walked through the "Door of No Return" and learned more about the slave trade than most of us had ever learned in school. It was a very powerful visit and left us all quiet and reflective.
From Cape Coast we made the long journey north to Sunyani so that we could be back to the school for our Tuesday classes. It was an amazing weekend, filled with inspiring leaders, amazing views, and a history that should never be ignored or forgotten.
This blog is a record of the experiences of eight students from Michigan Technological University while working on projects in Ghana as part of the Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership. The students are divided into three project groups (the laptop group, the library group, and the sanitation group), and may not always be in the same place at the same time. A brief summary of the projects can be found by clicking on the names of the groups.