This morning, March 6, 2011, marks the 54th anniversary of Ghanaian independence. For an international student such as me, preparation for today’s festivities began at 4:30am when I pressed the snooze button on my alarm, and relaxation after today’s festivities will only end when I wake up tomorrow morning to join my fit friends Scott and Katherine on a jogging adventure.
We gathered downstairs at the dorm between 5:00 and 5:20am, amidst much silence from the other dorm inhabitants. Rumor had it that the ceremony was scheduled to start at 9. From that part of the day, mostly I just remember our myopic and disbelieving expressions that we were actually doing this- leaving the hostel at 5:30am to get to the parade ground before the crowd. But don’t worry, gentle reader! As soon as we walked out of the dorm, we were all hit with a sense of excitement! I felt a particular bright rush of adrenaline as I squinted in the dark to leap over gutters and dodge prickly plants during our walk to the trotro stop. Let it be sufficient to say that we took a taxi to the square, arrived at 5:50am, and were most peeved at the seven spectators who had maliciously beaten us to the punch and who languidly sat in their chosen seats, gazing down at us with smug superiority and our shared knowledge that they had the best vantage point. That didn’t really happen. What actually happened was that we arrived at 5:50am and met a very friendly army officer called Karim, who advised us where the best seats were, reminded us that Ghana is a country of freedom and justice (the archway behind us served as proof), told us the ceremony started at 7 and ended at 8, and only asked us for our phone numbers after he provided lots of useful information.
Thanks to Karim, we had the best seats in the house. Soon after securing our places, it was reported to us by our scout, Adam, that the bathrooms were nice. So we checked those out. As is my wont, I used the bathroom just for the heck of it. There was toilet paper, soap, and a dry floor. Best day ever! Thank you, Planning Committee for the 54th Independence Anniversary Parade!
We spent the next two and a half hours watching other partiers arrive, sipping on ginger smoothies, taking pictures of the terrifyingly-armed rent-a-cops, and playing with kids who were there to perform a tae kwon do routine. They had awesome moves.
Just like in the States, the stadium soon filled up with people walking up and down the aisles selling things. Ice cream, phone cards, plantain chips, water- usually balanced on a basket on someone’s head. It’s pretty popular to paint a slogan on your car or merchandise-carrying-apparatus, and the best one we saw today was from a guy selling candy. The front proclaimed, “No business no wife,” and the back, “Fear women and save ur life,” which is a pretty awesome rhyme. Adam wouldn’t let me out into the aisle so I could counsel the guy about his obviously dramatic past, but the man was generous enough to pose so we could take his picture.
Then, we were handed programs! Amazing. The theme of the celebration was “Discipline and hard work- essential prerequisites for a better Ghana.” Which I think is pretty interesting, because Independence Day back in America is all about telling ourselves to stay awesome and not to become awesome. But awesomeness is all relative, yes? I hope that you achieve your goals, Ghana! Because I fell in love with you even more today.
Also, Katherine and Katie used the free time to practice their pick up lines and basic French, and so the word “Jub-lee-ay” was pronounced many times and to much hilarity. And, from Katherine, You’re the only 10 I see grrrl. Adam contributed the amazing observation that the difference in sounds between woman and women is in the first vowel, but the difference in spelling is in the second! Try it! Say “woman”. Now, say “women”. !
However, our pleasant shooting of the breeze had to end sometime. Soon, columns and columns of soldiers marched in, their white gloves creating a dramatic visual as they swung their arms widely and displayed wing spans that I envied, oh wretched me who will never parade. It was really cool because each group turned out to be from a different high school, so their uniforms were vibrant and varied and the only thing in common were the white gloves and the precision of their lines.
Then the president arrived!
Prof. John Evans Atta Mills. Public events and classes in Ghana are very participatory, and it was really fun to hear people shout “oh righteous one!” and “agoo!” as he drove past. He gave a speech to address some of the important issues here like the reduction in teacher salaries and the instability in Cote D’Ivoire, and he finished by asking the students of Ghana to apply themselves for a better tomorrow. At the end, “We will not fail, we will succeed, because God is on our side.” During the speech, the ranks and ranks of children in their uniforms stood in the square, at attention. Around the periphery, stretchers and medics stood at the ready to carry away those who fainted, with no fuss.
Following some really cool dances and tae kwon do, the ceremony unofficially ended as people piled out of the stands and rushed the podium to see the president up close. After his motorcode departed, we all left to check out the beach that we could see from our seats. All in all, a great Independence Day :)
EDIT: Photo credits to Adam Schneider (mostly).