Very cool is attending the ceremony for the guy who organized this trip. He receives an honorary degree from KNUST, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, which is Ghanaís equivalent of MIT, for a lifetime full of awesome accomplishments I can only hope to someday come close to rivaling.
Even the ride to the university is interesting. Aside from seeing another guy walking around in his birthday suit, some kid about my age is sporting a Bin Laden shirt, complete with burning flag background, as he walks down a suburb/village street. Itís really just too sad to even get angry about, like an American kid joining a gang, so frustrated at unequal opportunities that he says ďscrew itĒ and drops our of the whole societal game. What is a little worrisome: natives who saw his shirt didnít seem at all surprised.
The ceremonyís a study in how to balance tradition and modernization. Drummers play drums made by hand in the shadow of a huge satellite dish so new it twinkles in the sun. 2 older men seated directly in front of me could be twins but for their dress: one wears a suit worthy of Madison Avenue while the other sports a traditional African cloth reminiscent of Indiana Jones movies. Ashanti tribal leaders arrive with entourages of drummers, musicians playing horns made from antlers, and servants carrying umbrellas over their heads. I shake hands with one whose golden turtle ring dwarfs his fingers.
Speaking of which, I havenít mentioned the snap. Finishing a standard, American-style handshake, Ghanaians snap their fingers against each othersí as they release. Itís hard to explain and difficult to do, but Iím finally starting to get it.
Anyways, back to the degree ceremony. The president of Ghana actually comes, interrupting the ceremony with his late arrival and accompanying military entourage. He even has Secret Service style agents on both ends of the stage and servicemen sporting assault rifles. With graying hair and Western business attire, he looks to me like a slightly younger version of KNUST alum Kofi Anan.
All of the awardees were impressive, but one stands out for me: an Ashanti chieftain receives longer horn soundings of respect than the president. Iím respectful though not quite understanding of his devotion to his tribe, so fierce that he returned to his village to be a farmer after earning an engineering degree from KNUST. He made his fortune with a plant processing palm oil or something, becoming a nationwide celebrity in the process. This all pales in comparison to his poise. Standing bolt upright onstage awaiting his award, the look of strength on his face imparts such a sense of dignity that none would even think of challenging his right to the award heís earned. In Western attire but for his large gold rings, his expression transcends culture to leave any viewer with a sense of awe.
After the ceremony, some neat cultural interactions. Ricardo, our Penn chaperone, takes a picture of the wrong drummer, resulting in a demand for money from this musician so jacked that heís pretty much the exact opposite of the typical American, John Mayer-esque croner. We make friends with some guys from KNUST whoíll be accompanying us for part of the trip. Theyíre similar enough to us that we have no trouble communicating and so technically skilled that any worries of being able to get the labs installed on time are alleviated. On our way to the van, an impressive cultural balancing act: I see an Ashanti chief and his servant put his umbrella into the trunk of their Mercedes-Benz.
I finish the day by letting my inner Wharton tool out to play: we negotiate at a market. I get outrageous deals on woodcarvings, but Iím a little addicted to negotiating. Upon selling me a bracelet and necklace for like $2, a pen, and a pencil, one young salesman gives me a dirty look and storms away. As weíre in the van about to leave, I make really low offers to the vendors crowding around the doors for pieces Iím ambivalent about. In a few minutes, Iíve bought 4 footlong masks for under $3 each. Itís not a matter of saving money: the negotiations are fun in and of themselves, yelling prices back and forth in a struggle for purchasing power with our handlers/friends yelling arguments on our behalf in Twi. Besides, the amounts vendors start at are trying to gouge the white guy:) You know youíre a business major when you think about buying extra African carvings to sell on EbayÖ