Three Month Reflection from Ghana

It’s been about three months since I arrived in Ghana and I have been somewhat neglecting “Words From Accra,” so I wanted to give y’all an update and take some time to reflect on the first third of my Fulbright Fellowship. So here go a few observations, reflections, successes and failures from my life as of late. I am getting the hang of things here and certainly doing better. I have made many friends – Ghanaians and ex-pats alike. I have a good idea of the general values in Ghana and especially Accra, am more aware of when I am getting ripped off and understand how to find what I’m looking for. I’m eating more local foods and know where to look for certain dishes that I want; I also have developed favorite “go-to” spots depending on how I’m feeling.

As for my actual project that I outlined in my proposal, I haven’t done a ton of “research” just yet, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. I am always thinking about this stuff, the gears in my head always turning, and technically everything that I encounter and experience will count in some way towards my final paper/research project. I have collected a TON of sources ranging from books that I purchased in the U.S. – “Highlife Saturday Night,” “Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra” and “The Africanist Aesthetic in Hip Hop” – to papers, books and articles collected here, especially from my advisor Dr. John Collins. While still in Madagascar, I completed a 40-page paper, from interviewing everyone to hitting the print button, in about a month because it was my only focus. My last semester at Puget Sound, I finished my—again 40-page—thesis in about three and a half months while also balancing the rest of my college life. So I am not too worried about the timeframe I have left and will begin my more formal academic work very soon. In the meantime, I am getting a feel for the music and people here, what music means to everyday life and what direction I should apply my focused research.

I knew before I came here that building a music program from the ground up would be a harrowing task in only nine months, and while I am still confident that I could do something along those lines, I am starting to shift my program goals. There are many music programs that exist here in Accra and in Ghana in general; instead of creating what would essentially be a competing program, I’d rather find a way to collaborate. Right now I am strictly in “evaluate and assess” mode – visiting schools and speaking with directors about their challenges and successes. Before I leave, I will choose one (or more) programs that I believe in and help them expand their operation to serve more kids that may not have access right now. One of the biggest problems with creating a new program would be handing off responsibilities and securing its existence after I leave. I think that working with an established system will do away with this concern.

“Failure” isn’t the right word, but here are a few things that I hope to improve on moving forward. Unfortunately, I have hardly cooked at all since I got here. Both of my apartments have had kitchens with gas stove tops and a refrigerator, but the uncertainty of reliable electricity keeps me from doing any real grocery shopping (I don’t want to buy a week’s worth of groceries if I might lose power and everything goes bad in two days). From there, the desire to go to a store to buy ingredients in order to come home and cook one meal, just for myself, renders me pretty lazy… especially when I can find a good meal for under $2 USD and a fancy meal for about $15 USD. Another disappointment is how little I utilize the tro-tro system on a daily basis. If I haven’t mentioned them yet, tros are big vans that drive pre-determined routes and function as the public transport/bus network here in Accra. I almost always take a taxi, or walk when time is not an issue. Taxis are still relatively cheap and much faster than tro-tros, but I still hope to master the tro-tro system! It’s part of the flavor of Accra! I can’t do it all, and will always have something to work on, so we’ll see if the public transport shifts to my success column in the six month reflection. Lastly, I have hardly learned any of the languages spoken here in Ghana! In addition to English, Ghana is home to native speakers of Twi, Ga, Ewe, Dagaare, Dagbani, Gonja, Kasem, Mfantse and Nzema (I’m sure there are more too) mostly broken down by region. In Accra, the main languages you’ll find are Ga and Twi but the capital is very multicultural with people from all over the country. In addition, most people here in Accra speak English and the ease of using my native language doesn’t force me to learn the other languages. I have a phrase here or there but it will take a much more concentrated effort on my part if I want to become conversational at all.

I can be very critical, especially of myself, and I don’t want this post to come off too negatively. However with social media and everything that is out there, it is very common for people to showcase only their highlights and I want to give y’all some real insight into how I am living, which is definitely not all easy nor always successful. Everyday I am faced with new challenges, and I do take home my share of losses along with the wins. I am meeting all kinds of amazing people under almost every situation imaginable. My networking skills are ever increasing, and my “to-do” lists remain longer than my “done” lists. Last week I did a short interview on 87.9 Atlantis radio, DJ Kenny Cool J hosted me and gave me the opportunity to talk about what I’m working on here in Ghana. For those of you who know me, I am much more comfortable BEHIND the camera than in front, but I stepped out of my comfort zone in order to be filmed in a TV segment for Ghana’s largest private station – TV3. It was as rough as expected but I’m glad I did it, both for the experience and because I was able to connect with the Liberian rapper Scientific who joined me in the segment as well as TV/radio personality Babiee Dappah. I conducted the first interviews of my own with Edem, Klu and Jean Feier. I’m currently looking for a video editor so that I can get these clips chopped up and get my new series – Da Hip Life – under way! In the meantime, I am helping my musician friend Ba-Era establish an online presence and create social media and fundraising strategies for the jazz quartet blood drum spirit while maintaining Da-What. I am reading ALL of the time and writing a lot too when I get the chance. If there is anything that you are curious about that I haven’t addressed, feel free to send any questions by email, social media, whatever and I’ll do my best to get back to you!

Thank you for reading!

2 thoughts on “Three Month Reflection from Ghana

  1. Hey Ben! I love the honesty here. Keep your chin up and keep on letting your project evolve; that’s what it’s all about!

    Take care and keep posting!



  2. Thanks so much Jill! I really appreciate the read and your words of encouragement. I will be catching up on your blogs soon, I have been SLACKING!!


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