Monday, August 6, 2007

Slaves to no one

I walked into the U.S. embassy in Accra this afternoon, and there was a large crowd gathered in the lobby. I was there to interview the public affairs director about a story I was working on; they were American visitors waiting for a guided tour. They were from a UCLA alumni group with ancestral ties to slaves brought to America in 1807 on one of the last ships before the slave trade was abolished.

One of them told me the trip was a pilgrimage of sorts to their ancestral home. Though they were descendants of Ghanaians, they couldn’t have been more “American” in the way they carried themselves. Ghanaians, in my limited experience here, are passive and respectful, much like Canadians. Americans seem more like Nigerians – very aggressive and demanding.
When I arrived, the group of Americans was very upset because the ambassador wasn’t back from a meeting yet, and she was going to lead the tour. They wanted to begin the tour before she got back, but the embassy staff told them they had to wait.

That wasn’t the answer they were looking for; as U.S. taxpayers they felt entitled to begin the tour when they were ready, not when the ambassador was ready. “We paid for this building,” one of them said.

The ambassador was late because she had been called away to a meeting with John Kufuor, the Ghanaian president. “You have to understand that you have to drop what you’re doing when the president calls for a meeting,” said an embassy staff person.

Then she began to say, “It’s like if you were in the U.S. and President Bush called…” but she was quickly interrupted.

“If Bush called us, we’d tell him to ‘stick it!’ ” said one of the Americans.

“Shhhh…” someone else whispered, as if to remind her she shouldn’t talk that way in an embassy.

I don’t mean to cast all of the Americans in one mould. (One of them was actually quite polite – very “Canadian,” you might say. He introduced himself to me, and asked what I was doing in Ghana.) Nonetheless, I was quite amused by how stereotypically “American” some of them were acting; I had a good chuckle at the Bush comment.

I also admired their brashness and confidence, especially when I considered how far African-Americans had come since the days of the slave trade.

The slaves left here in chains, thrown into the hulls of ships for lives of servitude. Two centuries later their descendants come to Ghana true “red, white and blue” Americans – slaves to nothing and no one, not even the U.S. ambassador’s schedule.

- Mark


Jack said...

it's a shame that some people feel they can have what they want whenever they want it. It casts an unfair shadow on the rest of their fellow citizens.

For what it's worth, I have cousin who lives in Seattle. She tells me that when her husband votes, he votes for the Republican Party. She always waits until he's voted. Then when he's done, she cancels his vote out with her Democratic Party vote. They both love each other and have been married for many years.
It's good to know that not all citizens of a country share the same views. That just proves that we are capable of thinking for ourselves. Fortunately, there are countries in the world where people are allowed to express their different opinions. Unfortunately, that's not the way everywhere.
If everyone were to treat each other as equals, and give everyone else the respect they expect themselves, all the world's problems could be solved. An easy solution, isn't it?
I guess it sounds a bit naive. However, we can keep hoping.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Jack. Sometimes it must be so hard when you see this. Thank goodness most people treat everyone equal at least we like to think they do. The best slogan is treat everyone the same no matter what the circumstance.
Love, Mummy and Daddy

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark. This was my favorite of your articles. I would love to know what the American visitors were like back home. Did some sort of historic memory overcome them, perhaps?

See you back here - let's do lunch again.


Athanasius contra mundo said...

That's an amusing story. Its funny how they don't get that the ambassador is there as a representative to a foreign government not a tourist guide.