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Aim Higher

Jul 21 / Douglas Mack

Dr. Montgomery’s – Slavery, Spirit Possession, and Mimesis amongst the Ewe of Ghana and Togo

Our Professor on the trip, Dr. Eric Montgomery, has an extensive knowledge on the culture of the west African people.  He is a wonderful anthropologist and Professor, and he has given me permission to post a portion of his work here. Please take a look at his thoughts:

Mimesis Chapter

This chapter sheds some light on a major part of the studies on our trip.

Jul 19 / Douglas Mack

Group Report: Ghana 2011

The following is a link to our entire classes final project.  It is an accumulation of all the reports, and some of the reflections our class has put together.

Please take a look at THIS!

Part 1 (with out pictures)

Part 2 (the pictures)

The research paper I contributed to this paper concerns herbal medicine, and begins on page 40.

Jul 18 / Douglas Mack

Michael Michayluk’s – The Beginning of My Mimesis

22 June 2011

One of the most memorable passages from Rosenthal’s Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo comes in Chapter 5, “Parasites and Hosts”. Here Rosenthal  lets her “moral imagination” run wild as she contemplates what could happen if Americans could become “mimetically capacious” and slaves were worshipped and divinized as the romantic foreign other. She states,

            “What if descendants of both slave owners and slaves could become for a moment, those slaves, empowered and divinized, with African languages glossing their tongues, and the steps of ancestral dances enlivening their bodies the way Ewe, through trance, become their ancestor’s slaves from the north?

What if European Americans as well as African Americans (and all the other Americans)                 could become “mimetically capacious” (Taussig 1993) in this context? The slaves would come back to heal their descendants and the descendants of the slave owners and to cyclically receive payments for ancient debt, for lives and labor spent in the service of the white people. The African slave spirits would be the beloved stranger gods (although their own descendants are no longer foreign but also hosts); the descendants on both sides would be host-worshippers. The hospitality  would be sacred and reciprocal, a seasonal remarking of history that cannot be undone  but that must also be commemorated with full honors, gratitude, and eloquence. It would also be a request on the part of the white people generation after generation, to be forgiven for having inflicted the unhealable wound of slavery- not a request for this unspeakable injustice to be forgotten….Yet this commemoration would also be a reemphasis of the profound differences between cultures and peoples that can never be, and should never be effaced” (Rosenthal 154-155)

Surely this vision of Rosenthals will not be seen on America’s horizon any time soon but she made me think, what if it did? Would racial tension still be so prevalent? Would it change the way the way whites look at Africans as spear-chucking savages and African-Americans as gun-toting savages? Such questions are impossible to answer, but in my own beginnings of mimesis in Ghana (walking the path at Assin Manso, witnessing Elmina castle and hearing about the unimaginable horrors perpetrated, witnessing the power and intelligence of nature at Taipa, and seeing Gorovodu festival) my view of Africans and African Americans has certainly been altered.

Let me begin by reinforcing that not only is America far from becoming mimetically capacious, but is currently the polar opposite. In my experience growing up in rural Michigan, living in Detroit, and traveling around this large nation, many truly would have slavery be forgotten (Many I fear might even want it reinstated). They scoff at any idea of reparations, as those silly blacks must only want more welfare and are too lazy to work for it (quite ironic as it was the slaves sweat and blood the provided the foundation for this countries wealth and european wealth around the globe). Instead of commemorating slavery with profound festival and asking for forgiveness as Rosenthal dreams above, many instead commemorate the “unspeakable injustice” with a good ol’ confederate flag flying out their window or displayed for everyone to see on the back of their gas-guzzling trucks. “I didn’t enslave anyone,” they say. Why can’t they just forget about it already? Do they know that those flags which might symbolize rebellion and family history also symbolize one of the greatest injustices humanity has ever seen. How can there be any pride in that?

A couple weeks ago, I was home for a graduation party of a close friend. It was a beautiful summer day and I was having a conversation with a teenager from Atlanta, Georgia (my friends cousin) when he said,

“Wow! I wish I lived up here in Michigan, I live next to a bunch of black people.”

My jaw dropped as he said this phrase so nonchalantly.

“So do I,” I said. “I live in Detroit, what the hell is wrong with living next to black people?”

“Oh, nothing,” he said, sensing my rising anger, “It’s just how I was raised.”

The rest of the conversation consisted of me yelling at this poor kid while my friend shrugged his shoulders at me.

When I made the decision to come to Wayne State University and live on campus, I can’t tell you how many people in Holly, Michigan seemed legitimately concerned for my safety. After all, Detroit is a Black city. “It’s safe down there?” they would ask. “Try not to get shot,” they would jest.

My personal view of blacks before the expedition to Ghana was the same as my view of all races and ethnicities, generalizations will get you no where. You can say blacks are this and whites are that but in the end there will always be individual people that break whatever mold you have constructed for whatever particular ethnicity. This is not to say I don’t carry my own prejudices and generalizations no matter how objectively I try to look, because certainly I do. (The previous two paragraphs are full of generalizations talking about whites). I don’t, however, let these generalizations create a false hierarchy of human species.

Beginning my mimesis in Africa did not change this part of my view about Africans and African-Americans and I’m not sure that anything can. But what I did start to realize is just how much Americans, as a former European colony, owe to these people who have been continually exploited by us for centuries and continue to be this day. The funny thing is I have known this fact my entire life. I have known about the Atlantic Slave trade, but it did not really sink in until I walked barefoot through the bush at Assin Manso and smelled the raw brutality and inhumanity of Dutch slave traders at Elmina Castle. I have known of the exploitation of Africa’s vast natural resources and but it did not sink in until we visited the farm at Taipa. I have known about the iron fist of colonialism, and its relentless unwavering attempts to stomp out every last bit of indigenous culture, but it did not sink in until we began to witness the power of Gorovodu in Tema. Because of this, I can now sympathize a lot more with Rosenthal’s dream of mimetic capacity for Americans.

This is not to say I necessarily think Americans should start making fetishes and worshipping the slave spirits to which we are eternally in debt, and this in fact is impossible. Rosenthal said it best when she states there indeed are differences in cultures and peoples, “ that can never be, and should never be effaced”. What I do think is that we are indeed eternally in debt and we damn well better remember it.

Jul 6 / Douglas Mack

International volunteering: by Douglas Mack

Everyone has volunteered their time for others before.  However, not everyone has done so in a foreign land thousands of miles away from their home.  Volunteering with Proworld, a nongovernment organization (NGO), gave me the opportunity to constructively give my time those in need in Ghana, Africa.  Proworld is an NGO that touches multiple countries around the globe, and they are involved with a multitude of volunteer activities which they fuel with volunteers from all over the world.  The entire Wayne State University Honors Ghana study abroad group had the opportunity to work with Proworld as we lectured school aged children on a verity of topics, addressed Ghanian civil rights to an older group, and manually aided in the construction of a library.  Working with Proworld we were able to do more than just learn about problems and view the culture of the Ghanian society, we were able to make a visible positive impact with our short time visiting.  There were pros and cons to working with Proworld, but doing so certainly changed my prospective as an American volunteer.

From what I know, Proworld did a lot of things to smooth over our trip from provide us food and transportation, as well as filling our schedule with meaningful volunteering activities.  On the Proworld staff was kirsty, Mckala, Brynn, and Ben.  All were very cheerful and seemed to do all they could to make us feel welcome, happy, and free to enjoy our Ghana experience to the fullest.  From the moment we arrived at the airport Brynn was there to escort us to our bus and take us to our hotel which had food prepared for us.  Soon we were introduced to Emanuel a Health and Life Protection (HALP) organization representative.  Emanuel gave us information on the topics he wanted us to teach school children, and cheerfully explained the situation and what to expect.  We taught children ages from what looked to be elementary school to high school, and in some of our cases all grades at once.  The topics we covered ranged from sanitation and hand washing, to sexual education, to drug abuse.  Luckily, coming from America, these were all topics our whole group was very accustomed to.

Teaching children in Africa was an experience that I will not soon forget because the memories are happy, gratifying, and eye opening.  In the Rosenthal and Baer text I learned about traditional medicine as understood by probably many of the children I was going to teach to in the following days after Emanuel’s discussion.  How was I going to teach children what I knew about bacteria and how it spreads when their community influence might say that disease and health are given to one by supernatural forces?  Would they believe me?  Fortunately for me and the rest of our group, the schools teach a western style of medical care (as gathered from most of the teaching staff I and our group talked to).  However, I think it would have been a good idea if Emanuel explained a little more about how some children who believed in traditional medicine may have seen our style of western thinking.  Maybe they would not have accepted our message as well as they would have if we bridged the gap between our cultures.  We could of at least mentioned that we understand what they believe, but protect themselves by washing themselves with soap anyways for instance.  However, the only instance where I really heard any kind of relation to traditional beliefs was when one person asked if they could transfer HIV/AIDS to another person through dreams.  In retrospect, even though Emanuel told us to answer these types of questions, “NO, you can’t transfer HIV through dreams.”  I now wonder whether it was civil to answer the question in that way.  Maybe we should have been more careful to respect their culture and perhaps address the question more carefully.

Along with receiving a little more understanding of cultural relativity from Proworld or their affiliates, Proworld could have also done a few other things to improve our volunteering experience.  When each person or our group was creating their lesson plans to teach our classes it was difficult to create because we did not know what the class room conditions were going to be.  Proworld could have alieved some of this problem by bringing a white board and markers to each school to ensure there would be a board to write on.  It would also have been a good idea to have a more concrete plan for distributing gifts.  Many students mentioned that either the gifts made their class to rambunctious or they were not amused at all.  It may have been a better idea to allow everyone to give their gifts at the conclusion of the lesion to the respective schools each student was at.

It is my hope that Proworld learned as much from us to improve as I learned from the children I taught.  Never have I had to speak before an audience whose dominant language was different than my own.  It was a major challenge to break this barrier as at times there was no one to translate, and if you asked if the class understood the class would respond “Yes Sir!” even if they didn’t.  The trick was to be repetitive, use a lot of body language, and if available, use the chalk board.  I can’t be sure if everyone understood what I was saying all of the time, or if they even understood the bulk of what I was talking about.  As long as some of them did it is my hope that the others who did not understand would be interested enough to ask their class mates to find out.

See more pictures of children we taught HERE

Out side of teaching children we also had the opportunity to lecture to adults of varying ages about Ghanian civil rights.  This event offered a very different experience than I had ever encountered before.  Each one of us had about two sentences to put into our own words and enlighten our audience.  However, for every one word that came out of our mouths it seemed like sentences came out of our translators.  It felt like our prepared presentation was not important, but we just needed our bodies to be there to emphlaphy our translator’s message instead of our own.  I understand the reason for doing it, our translator knew a lot more on the subject, and knew how to explain it to his people better than we could if he was talking for us word for word.  However, it would have been nice to have know ahead of time that he was going to use what we said as a guide for his speech rather than a direct translation of ours.

Other interesting things happened at the civil rights discussion including a fired discussion on gay rights that threatened to turn into a wild fire.  When the topic came about in our presentation, we were supposed to inform our audience that even the homosexual have the right to vote and do not deserve to be treated unfairly or aggressively.  However, our group began to look more like a gay rights activists group than a Ghanaian civil rights group (which was supposed to have a tone of women sexual rights if anything), and almost set our audience into an uproar as our audiences culture did not approve of homosexuality and especially marriage between same sex couples.   This fired debate coupled with church prayer being played for the whole area to hear, and very poorly placed power outages made many people uncomfterable, and probably even a little frightened.

All in all, even though things did not go smoothly in every situation it is the bumps that I will remember the most.  I now have some familiarity with speaking in front of audiences that do not speak English as their first language, and I learned to address situations more carefully – to know my audience before I go before them, and to walk through other cultures with a lens of cultural relativity.  In my opinion, everyone should have the opportunity to volunteer internationally and experience their own brush with bumps so that we all can be formed into the charters we wish to be.

 

Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Print.

Forni, P. M.  Choosing Civiligy.  St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002.  Print

 

 

 

Jul 6 / Douglas Mack

The highs and lows of my trip: by Douglas Mack

Going to a foreign country one knows that they are going to experience many new things, but some experiences one just does not expect.  While in Ghana, I had a multitude of experiences both good and bad, and I feel that they defined my trip, and helped define and mold me as a person.  The experiences I had ranged from being ravaged by street merchants, to seeing beautiful waterfalls, to having a knife be pulled out of my pocket, to negotiating prices for souvenirs.  These experiences which may seem insignificant made a large impact on me, and may be what I remember most from our trip.

One of the first interesting experiences I had while in Ghana was when we went to see a slave castle.  On our way into the castle, there were street merchants swarming all who came off of the bus, asking us to buy, and to remember their names.  Then, leaving them for the slave castle I forgot the whole situation as the group toured the slave castle and listened to the horrors that took place there.  Coming out of the castle I remember first feeling a little frustrated to see the merchants coming up to retry their attempts to sell me their items.  Just then, I remembered our brief lesson on haggling with the natives, and I got excited to see if I would be any good at it.  As the first wave of merchants approached me they showed me some interesting bracelets, and one customized with my name.  I offered a price for two bracelets, and they agreed.  Just as I thought the negotiation was over, another merchant came to me with the biggest seashell I had seen with my name and a note written on it.  I was taken back by the level of customization these merchants went through to sell me their goods.  I then began to make an offer for the seashell, but our van where everyone had just loaded, started to shout to hurry up.  As I tried to make the payment someone from our group started walking towards me and told me not to pay and get on the bus.  Feeling bad that I had to make everyone wait, I told the merchants that I had been instructed not to purchase anything and that I had to go.  This sent them into an uproar, and also began to scare my group members.  In the end I made it out with a customized embroidered bracelet which, to appease the crazed crowd, I paid twice as much as I should have.  This was not the greatest experience, but I would not trade it for another.

My haggling skills improved as time went on, and in no time I was a fairly confident negotiator.  Some of my favorite moments included trading the watch off of my wrist and a few bucks for a handmade knife, buying a good shirt for an even better deal, and purchasing a hand carved small drum for less than seven dollars.  Although haggling may seem insignificant and even shallow on the surface, I feel it helped me with confidence and being assertive.  Sometimes, I see myself as a pushover, or hesitating to say things or do things that may disappoint who I am with when I don’t feel comfortable with the situation.  Though my haggling experiences may seem insignificant or shallow on the outside, I feel these experiences helped me find the confidence to be assertive, or at least to be able to say “NO” to something I don’t want.

One of the items I purchased that I mentioned was a knife which I bought with a watch and some money.  Never owning anything other than Swiss army knives I was excited to add a handmade Ghanaian knife to my collection.  One thing I found very interesting was the way the knife made people react.  Many of my friends own knives, and use them as tools for tasks such as cleaning and cutting boxes, tape, and other wrappings.  So, I was very surprised to see the reaction from one of our hotel staff.  In the very least he seemed concerned that I had the knife and he referred to it as a Weapon many times.  When I told him what I intended to use it for, he could not understand how it could be used for anything else.  What was more shocking was his reaction to my small knife when people regularly carried machetes down the street to cut grass, tree fruit off of trees, and shave coconuts.  Interestingly enough, he starts playing around with my knife and ends up slicing through the leather casing and cut his finger a little.  I quickly fetched my first aid kit and bandaged up his finger (which was not cut very severely), and he told those of us that were around some of his interesting theories to conquer illness, pain, and gashes; this was to not tell anyone you were not well, and to hit gashes with blunt objects to encourage bleeding.

Days later, I was interested in purchasing a coconut off of the street to drink and eat.  Knowing that the seller would only be able to cut the top of the coconut off for me to drink before we parted, I decided before we parted the hotel to bring my knife to cut open the coconut later, to eat the insides.  While with our group shopping the stands of the street side merchants, one particularly aggressive man insisted that I come to his shop to look around.  To appease him I came to his shop, but found nothing that interested me at his prices.  As I tried to leave he held my hand and said something along the lines of, “Sir you are cheap, and you cheapen me and my art, because you are cheap.”  I said, okay and left his shop to regain our group, and a few minutes later I feel a hand go into my pocket, and the man pulled out my knife from its sheath in my pocket and started screaming at me.  I quickly grabbed hold of the butt of the knife as he was holding the knife in his hands like a plate, and repeated over and over, “Sir, let go of the knife.”  He did eventually let go of my knife, and some of his friends came to apologize for his behavior.  Needless to say, I was shocked that the situation took place.  Did this little knife really scare the Ghanaian people that much?  Well, a few days later we were at another large shopping area and a man was selling knives among other things.  I pointed to a knife that looked very similar to mine and I said, what would I do with a knife like that if I bought it?  He said I could carry it around with me for self defense.  I asked if it would freak anyone out, and he assured me that it would not.  Whatever the truth is, I learned from this experience to be more cautious with such items, and if I do carry them, to have them concealed to the point where only I can obtain it when necessary.  After all, it never hurts to be civil and obey rule 20: be a considerate guest.

As guests in Ghana, there are two things I think everyone learned.  First, Ghana is a relatively safe place full of hard working and caring people, and one incident like the one described above does little to take away from that image.  Second, the scenery is breath taking at every turn.  Maybe it’s because I am a sucker for tropical weather, but every place we went on our trip seemed to offer something beautiful or breathtaking.  One instance in particular included a small puddle near the ocean.  While waiting for our food at an outdoor restaurant near the beach some members of our group and I decided to explore the natural water worn rock formations near the water’s edge.  After a while of being in awe of nature’s wonderers sculptures, I stumbled across a puddle that went deep into the rock.  I was mesmerized by this puddle as it forced me to vividly recall a dream from my childhood where I walked into a shimmering blue cave to find a hole in the rock filled with water and small sea creatures that made my imagination shiver with delight.  As I peered into this puddle on the cost of Ghana, Africa, surrounded by rock and water I could not help but be again struck with the same feeling of wonder.  I watched as different forms of wildlife that I had never seen before swim and walk within the water filled hole.  For a moment on the trip it felt like I could forget about cultural relativity, anthropology, and academics as I made a connection that our world in which we live is truly amazing and all of us, Ghanaian, American, German, Indian, everyone could agree on one thing, that to be alive on this earth, is good.

So many experiences from this trip touched my life in a very special way, and some points particularly reached deep into my sole.  I feel that I learned a lot from this trip, about culture, about medicine, and about taking action in what I feel strongly in.  It is my hope that the above and all other moments that I hold significant from the trip will remain with me forever, and I allow them to shape my life.

 

Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Print.

Forni, P. M.  Choosing Civiligy.  St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002.  Print

 

Jul 6 / Douglas Mack

Slavery: by Douglas Mack

Slavery is one of the horrors of the human world.  Taking another human being and stripping them from their rights in the way that so many countries did to Africa is wrong and disturbing, to say the least.  It is without a doubt that slavery, which occurred so long ago in Africa’s past, is still affecting them today.  Through development, culture, and religion slavery has shaped Africa, and it uniquely affected western costal countries like Ghana which participated in the slave trade, though not to the same degree, with the outside enslaving nations.  Rosenthal goes into great depth to describe the Gorovodu religious order in Ghana.  A religious order which devotes its worship to the slave spirits of the North which they themselves “enslaved.”  Yes, Africa’s inclusive people have indeed had encountered much strife in surfacing to the new world, but there are those who are trying to help, and there are those who are trying to exploit a people that to this day have been looked down upon as a lesser group.

Within my short time in Ghana, Africa, I had the opportunity to see a slave castle, and to walk the final path many slaves would take before being confined to a slave trading post and shipped to other parts of the world.  Both places offered much to internalize, as we could only picture in our minds what terrible things must have happened in the very spots in which we stood, years ago.  Now, years later, what does Ghana have to show for all of the suffering that went on behind the walls of the castle, and in the forest being lead by chain and whip?  Poverty and anguish is everywhere as street merchants were constantly asking for attention and help while I was there.  However, there is one other thing that has come out of all the ciaos, and that is religion.  Gorovodu ceremonies involve fetishes, priests, music, dancing, anyone who would like to join, and trance.  Trance is when someone willingly becomes taken over by a northern slave spirit.  When this possession occurs, that person has the influence of a god, as the Gorovodu people see the northerners, who died as slaves under the rule of the south, as unhappy god like spirits, who need to be appeased and asked for forgiveness from because of their terrible past.  The trance that the natives may fall into can lead to many different things from advice and prophecies, to dancing and asking for particular rhythms.  Sometimes when in trance, the person(s) will perform a kind of mimicry of the past, reenacting times of slavery to pass the memory and knowledge of what happened so that a culture with no written language could still pass the stories to succeeding generations.  It is these people’s way of paying tribute to the people they wronged in the past, and trying to make it right in the present.

Obviously, other countries that partook in slavery over the years do not center their lives around what they did in the past, but are they even attempting to help fix a problem they created.  When slavery occurred, everyone with healthy working ability was taken, meaning the old and the very young were left behind to advance Africa over the years following slavery; undoubtedly, doing so must have had large impact on economic, political, and physical development in Africa.  Not only this, but due to the psychological mindset countries installed in Africans – White people are superior, they are your masters – many problems in Africa are happening even to this day.  Large outside industries own large plots of land in Africa, like over cocoa fields which take the fruits of Africa, export them out of the country to be manufactured, and then imported back to be sold to the African people from which it came.  Why is Africa allowing this to occur?  The answer could be because the African people feel that they couldn’t say “no” to “higher people.”  I am not saying that countries that participated in the slave trade are doing nothing in the present to help Africa – in fact, Nicolas van de Walle writes that America has increased political support for Africa from 2.5 billion to 7.5 billion dollars between 2000 and 2007 (8) – I am saying that I am not so sure the good America and other countries are doing in Africa, out-way the bad.

Going to Ghana and seeing what slavery has done to their country has made me reflect on how I view African Americans and other dark skinned people as well.  Growing up in a white suburbia, I did not know too many African Americans growing up.  However, in my opinion I did not view black people in any stereotypical or negative light until I began to get to know more people and more African Americans.  Unfortunately, while in high school I never saw any of our few black students really succeed academically, I witnessed a lot of immature behavior come from them, and on a wrestling team, it never seemed like they would try very hard in practice.  All of these reinforced stereotypes of course are caused cumulative causation: lower economic class à more distractions at home à not as motivated to perform à People like myself see an under motivated people and begin to stereotype à African Americans grow up feeling inferior and thus more likely to contribute less to society à and back to the beginning.  I often thought about this in high school and in college, but it is hard to shake a stereotype.  However, going to Ghana definitely helped me blur the line between black and white.  When one is submerged in a culture where ones race is not dominant it surely opens almost everyone’s eyes to untrue stereotypes.  I did not see many lazy people without a drive while in Africa, and I think it did a lot to break my own personal prejudices.  I just need to be careful to not start to think, “Oh, it’s only black people in America that…” and restart the process.

Slavery is a terrible mark on mankind’s record, but we can remember the past, and work in the present to make a brighter future for ourselves.  There is a lot Americans can learn from the dark days of slavery, and as long as we remember the history we can become one united world.

 

Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Print.

Forni, P. M.  Choosing Civiligy.  St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002.  Print

Walle, Nicolas.  “US Policy Towards Africa: The Bush Legacy and the Obama Administration.” Oxford University Press.  African Affairs 109.434 (Jan., 2010): 1-21. Web. 20 June 2011.

 

Jul 6 / Douglas Mack

Sustainable Development: by Douglas Mack

For something to be sustainable it must be able to work on its own, and not require help from outside its borders.  The question is how do people like us, Americans, come into a country like Ghana, create something, leave, and expect it to still be working the next time we come by?  It is a hard question that NGO’s (non government organizations) like Proworld, inside and outside governments, and the like, have been asking for a very long time.  In my opinion, the biggest problem seems to be that no matter what individual problem is attempted to be addressed a wider range of problems bears down, and destroys sustainability.  For example I was talking to one of the Proworld members, who was also native to Ghana, and he was telling me about the nursing school that was built with the intention to build knowledge, careers, and economic revenue in a particular region of Ghana.  He said that it is hard for the men to do well and pass their courses in the school.  However, the women either pass or fail.  He explained that the professors are all male and the other male students have to do the work get their grade, but the female students only pass the class if they say yes to sleep with the professor.  How can this school be sustainable when the corruption is so high?  How can training more teachers help education if the children are expected to be part of the workforce?  What does it matter if new job producing businesses arise if all of the profit goes to other countries?  The answer to these questions is not to give up trying, but to combine efforts.  Think of it as trying to lift a big blanket with many vacuum hoses.  The blanket will not be lifted until the many vacuum hoses work to lift the blanket at the same time.

Proworld is the NGO our class supported during our trip, and with them, among other things, we educated children of various ages about sanitation, diseases, sex, and drugs.  This NGO really tries to push sustainable development with the belief that education can spread to others.  Although the notion is undoubtedly true, even if what was taught spreads, and the schools begin to educate on the topics described above there are still obstacles preventing the program from being sustainable.  For instance, how are the families of these children going to pay for soap and disinfectant when the income is less than two dollars a day?  Is it even right for us to impose condom use on a society that sees sex and family size so differently than us?  These questions could also be road blocks to sustainability for the Proworld organization.  However, in order to make their methods sustainable one must take on tasks that seem daunting if not impossible for one organization, like Proworld, to take over.  Therefore, to create sustainability it is likely that we all need to work together to lift the country all at once.  I am not saying that there is not intercommunication between organizations at this point, but I do think that more constructive, planned, and sustained communication could do more for sustainable development than any one effort ever could.

What then would be beneficial is an organization that works solely to create more open and expedited communication between the various organizations that have stake within Ghana.  In one sense nothing this organization does would directly alter or improve development, but in my opinion could have the largest impact on long-term sustainable development.  I imagine this organization would operate like an optional middle man for communication and accumulation of related goals.  The communication organization would work to find another organization’s projects, find out aspects of society, government, and/or other factors inhibiting the projects sustainability, and then kindle communication between that organization and others who may be able to silence the leaking problems.

 

Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Print.

Forni, P. M.  Choosing Civiligy.  St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002.  Print

 

May 19 / Douglas Mack

My experience with religion in Ghana: by Douglas Mack

Before the trip to Ghana Africa, I consulted a religious leader of my Catholic faith on the following questions.  How should I deal with going to Mass in a foreign country on a school trip? Also, what are my boundaries when it comes to outside religions, like Vodu?  The answers I received respectively were, go to Mass in a Catholic church if possible, and if not then to say the Act of Spiritual Communion.  When it comes to other religions, I am more than welcome to observe so long as I don’t participate in the ceremony.  Happy with the responses I received, I found myself approaching the Sabbath while in Ghana and, well aware of my options, began trying to identify if going to church would be an option.  Luckily for me our bus driver, Joseph, happened to be Catholic and told me he would be able to show me where the Catholic churches were.  At this point I knew roughly what I was going to do.  I would be going to Mass in Ghana, and be observing the Vodu ceremony later on our trip.  However, I would need to utilize the information my instructors have given me and what the Rosenthal book explains about the Catholic and Traditional African Religions in Ghana.  This information in combination with maintaining civility, as learned and reinforced from the book Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni would be the adventure and challenge that I looked forward to with the religion aspect of my trip.

Christianity, or for that matter most religions, in Africa often don’t exist in the way Westerners see religion; Christianity begins somewhere between the 18th and mid-19th century when missionaries entered the Gold Coast and “aimed to supplant indigenous Vodu worship with Christianity” (Rosenthal pg. 20).  However, what ended up happening was a sort of blending of new and traditional religions.  The way Professor Montgomery describes it, a Catholic priest, upset with the low turnout at the church, might go to a Vodu priest to by some magic that will increase the number of participants at the Mass.  This way of religious life was also described by Rosenthal who wrote of African people who attend both Christian services, but also “take care of the family or village vodus” (Rosenthal pg. 20).  For this reason, I needed to stay aware of my surroundings at church looking for anything that jumps out as being not Catholic.  I also needed to think in advance how to remain civil in situations I may encounter.  The inclusive culture would likely have me participate, especially as an outsider, and I need to know how to politely and assertively decline if need be.

Joseph, our bus driver, on a Saturday evening, after letting everyone off the bus offered to take me to the Catholic Church, to show me where it was at.  I knew he was tired, and I knew that I would not be able to navigate my way to any area within the city with no street names whether I saw the Church or not.  However, civility challenges us to accept the good intentions of others, so I did, and off we went into the night.  The second Church we went to was offering a Mass that fit the schedule of our group and after taking pictures of the junction, Joseph drove me back to our Hotel.  The next morning I woke before 5:30 to catch a taxi.  Long story short, he got me close and did not know exactly where to go from there.  I thought I knew and ran down the road for about 2 miles before I realized I was in the wrong direction.  I ended up making it to the 6:30 Mass instead of the 5:30.

Before I walked in I prepared myself to see a Catholic Mass like nothing I had ever seen before, with more movement, shouting, and more.  I greeted the priest who was sitting just outside the door, and walked in to take my seat.  Upon walking in, I was immediately shocked at what I saw.  This building with a high ceiling, stain glass, chandeliers, and pews with kneelers, all looked incredibly similar to a typical western Catholic Church.  What was more, the alter was three steps off the floor, the ambo (podium where gospel is read) was off to the side, the priests chair was behind and off to the side of the alter, there was a drum set and other instruments off to the right, a tall Easter candle, and three altar servers.  Nothing looked out of place, different, or even a little off.  Although the setup was surprisingly similar to back home, what was possibly more surprising was the way people behaved as I walked in.  I was the only nonnative white person in the whole church; I had my camera and recorder out (with permission from the priest), wearing very different clothing; yet… no one stared at me, not even the young altar servers were interrupted with their seemingly daily pre-Mass-run-through.

I arrived a little before Mass began, and all in attendance were in the middle of the rosary.  Although the whole thing was in a different language I could tell from their cadence where to pick up, and I started quietly saying Hail Mary’s along with the other women to my left.  I felt comforted that even in a country so far from my own I could still fit in and know what to do.  When the Mass began, there was no excessive moving, yelling, or other craziness as I anticipated, but the normal precession with a choir-like Hymn bringing in the priest and servers.  Many of the women had what looked like wood sticks that they all clapped in unison along with their song.  That was perhaps the only part of the entire Mass that seemed to hold onto African roots.  Drums and metronomic rhythms are huge part of the African Tradition religion and culture.  However, I doubt very much that they saw the clapping rhythm as a tie to the Vodu or some variance; rather, it’s more likely an ingrained form or worship.  In Vodu the drums are the spirits, which are the vodu, which are song and sound, which are all related.  It is possible that the same frame of mind was at work with this simple rhythmic, slapping, beat.

See HERE

As singing and Mass continued on, I was able to recognize all the transitions from the first and second readings, to the Gospel, to the Homily, to the monetary offerings, to the preparation of the body and blood of Christ.  There was one section, however, where I was unsure of exactly what was happening.  Before the Gospel people from the pews started saying things one after another so the whole crowd could hear.  It seemed like prayers possibly, or each person saying something for the rest of the church to keep in their prayers.  Through this point in Mass and through many others all I could do was listen, try to understand, and pray.

Unfortunately, being an hour late due to the morning craziness, I thought I was running late to get back to the hotel.  Without cell phone, I did not want to make the others worry.  So, I left even before I had the chance to experience communion.  The tragic thing about leaving when I did is that when I returned I discovered that I was reading my watch incorrectly and it turned out I had an hour to spare.  I wish I could have seen everyone take communion, the closing prayers, and had a chance to talk with the priest after Mass (who spoke English).  However, I did see and experience a lot, and for that I am grateful.  I was not able to make it to Mass the following week due to our busy schedule, but I was able to say the Act of Spiritual Communion in its place.  Going only off of what I saw in the part of that one Mass it would be difficult for me to say if those attending were devout Christians in the Western sense, or if indeed they still held to any part of the Traditional African Religions.  In my opinion, it seemed to me that this group of parishioners were Catholic, practiced their faith, and had a true belief in God.

Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Print.

Forni, P. M.  Choosing Civiligy.  St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002.  Print

May 9 / Douglas Mack

To Ghana

Detroit Terminal

Waiting in Detroit terminal

As the day went on we found ourselves spending a lot of time waiting for the plane to arrive.  To pass the time we all joined in playing rittle and brain teeser games.  This was an excellent way to brake the ice, I feel we all became pretty well acquainted with each other at this point.

As time went on we boarded our plane for Frankfurt.  I really enjoyed my trip via plane.  I did not have a window seat, but I was more than entertained by the choice of inflight movies, music, and the company of my new friends.  I was also fortunate enough to turn the long plane ride into one that just lasted a few hours by taking an extended nap while in flight.

Arriving in Frankfurt was a lot of fun.  The three other guys and me went to McDonalds, and enjoyed conversation over outrageously priced chicken nuggets and hamburgers.  We talked about a lot of things, like our individual walks of life, what we expected in Africa, and how to convert Euros to dollars.

After our meal at the golden arches we headed back to the terminal, but not before being sanctioned off by security.  I am not exactly sure what was going on in the next room, but we were not aloud to pass the guarded doors for what seemed like 15 minuets to a half an hour.

Getting back to our terminal, and meeting up with the rest of the group, we felt like we already had our first mini adventure of the trip.

The next flight was going to take us all the way to Ghana, and all of us, especially our professor, Dr. Montgomery, could not wait until we first set foot on Ghanian soil.  Our professor is a Gorovodu priest, and ownes a house in Togo.  He could not be more excited to be going back to the continent which he loves so dearly.  We are all very fortunate to be attending a trip with a instructor that has the knowledge, experience, and excitement as Eric Montgomery.

May 9 / Douglas Mack

Pre-trip thoughts

Soon we will be leaving for our trip and I can only anticipate what I might see when I arrive in the mother land.  In reading parts of the books Possession, Ecstasy, and Law In Ewe Voodoo by Judy Rosenthal and Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni, as well as a little additional research of my own, I feel I have prepared myself somewhat for what I will experience in Ghana.  I feel that the main point of the book Choosing Civility, of what I have read so far, is that we are in control of our own and, to some degree, others happiness, and being civil is a big way to grasp happiness.  The other book by Rosenthal describes her journey to and through the African culture with concentration on Gorovodu, an order that creates laws and organizes meaning, ritual, and relationships between humans, as well as between humans and deities (pg.1 Rosenthal).  To understand the religion and the culture one must have a very basic understanding of trance, an aspect of the Vodu religion under Gorovodu.  Trance in this context is when a slave spirit comes and enters the body of someone.  This person possessed then becomes two, and is considered by those around the person to be both him/her self and the spirit, possibly taking on two genders and personalities.  This is seen as a good, or even an exciting thing to the Ghanaian people.   Some of the more intricate details I still need to work out and discover as I continue to read and learn.  However, there is no doubt that the slave spirits are an aspect to the Gorovodu life that is cared very much for; Rosenthal writes, “Amouzou always called the vodus (slave spirits), praying for their permission to talk and write about them, before we began our work.”

For the happiness of the Grovodu people as well as the honors group and my own happiness it is my responsibility to act civil.  The Grovodu revere the slave spirits, and I should respect their rituals, words, and ways of life even if I do not wholly agree with it.  This is what I think Forni would be telling me to do when I encounter these people and their practices.  I have been told by a religious leader of my faith that during any religious ritual I see when in Ghana I am more than welcome to observe and watch the festivities as long as I do not partake in them.  This means I will need to be cautious to show my respect and kindnesses to those included in the ritual while also keeping in mind my own values and beliefs.  For instance, I could participate in and converse with the people in pre or post ceremony festivities, but once the event begins I will need to politely excuse myself and keep my composure while sitting in the background of their event.  While in the background I should not be shaking my head or rolling my eyes if someone goes into trance or something else happens that I don’t agree with, but instead show attentiveness and respect for their ritual.  I will take notes, and express my thoughts on paper.  By maintaining civility it is likely that everything will run more smoothly, and a greater deal of information can be obtained from our experiences.

It seems that Rosenthal’s perspective on the African people is sound and holistic, and Forni too has a lot of important points that I can apply to this different culture.  The African people are very diverse in their language, religions, and cultures, and it is important to keep this in mind when communicating with people as a whole.  I need to think about the person I am speaking to and take a moment to identify what I say, and how I talk to them.  In all that I have heard from our meetings so far, and from a family friend who has been to Ghana in the past, I know that the Ghanian people are a very kind and generous people unlike what I have ever seen.  I know that even if I say something or do something that may mildly offend them they might not say anything because they are so mellow and easy going.  This means I will need to work hard to observe the interactions that both the Ghanians have with each other, and the experienced foreigners have with the people from Ghana so I can be best prepared to act civilly by their standards.