The visit to Ghana enhanced my sense of history, both American and world. Americans lived in Ghanaian-like conditions in many ways until this century and, in some respects, until well into this century. The mindset of a third-worldish country like Ghana was a powerful thing for me. Not long after the trip to Ghana, my father and I went to Gettysburg and arrived on the beginning of the battle re-creation days. We saw many Civil War fanatics running about town and the battlefields. To be historically-correct they wore very convincing Civil War clothing, played war songs, and assumed personalities that were, as they thought, as close to being a part of history as they could get today. What does this have to do with the historical significance of Ghana to me? Everything.
Ghana presented a world that was closer to the Civil War than Gettysburg could ever be. I believe that the world I saw gave me better insight into what the mindset of the average man of the era was than memorizing battlefield tactics ever could. Much of Ghana never went through the technical, medical, social and political advancements that America did. Seeing what their lives was a closer thing to going back in time that I have ever experienced in a history classroom.
On the road to Kumasi, I remember thinking that if I were in one of those cars that overturned in mid-trip, I would have to accept my own death. I might not even die of the crash but perhaps of not finding medical help immediately, or more likely of conditions due to the wounds. When I got an intense ear infection while in Kumasi I remember thinking that if I were a villager, another human on the other side of the fence, perhaps I would never hear out of that ear again. As it was, I was fortunate in that the Ghanaian clinic was fairly modern and decent, however a villager would have never been able to pay for it.
We experienced, of course, the other things that we normally take for granted that were not in history, such as electricity and sanitary, running water. Seeing the implications of food preservation gave me a good idea of how difficult it must have been for a quartermaster or merchant to supply proper food. Things that I had never considered, like how no one had taken a shower with hot, running water or had ridden in a motor vehicle. Handwashing of clothes was also an experience. To think that our handwashing experiences were not to far from what everyday washing was like makes me appreciate what we have now. Although the Kopeyians knew most of the luxuries of America, they were very limited in availability. Thus, things like electric lights were not used. The idea of "when the sun goes down you go to sleep" was also foreign to me, but it was the life of men that lived before me. The Ghanaian sense of time, or lack thereof, must have been the norm also. Getting to see the bargaining-style market hearing the roosters crow in the morning, all of these things contributed to a sense that this country was more historic than any "air-conditioned bus tour ‘in dramatized stereo’" of Gettysburg. The issues of uncertain, less luxurious life and more common death were not only more applicable in Ghana; they were a real part of everyday life. This course may not have intended to be a history course but it turned out to be a more useful tool than I had ever imagined for bringing myself into the proper historical mindset.
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