Peace Corps Writers
Being First (page 5)
Being First
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Twi, Twi
Thanks to the singers, Ghana I was able to rise to the challenge that the Ambassador had mentioned in a cable to Washington just before our departure:

Planning high level reception PCVs at airport since this first group arrive abroad. Request most capable spokesman be selected make carefully prepared arrival statement. One other PCV might be interviewed Radio Ghana. Suggest group be prepared sing traditional Twi song learned Berkeley.

The challenge was that at Berkeley we had learned very little Twi and even fewer Twi songs, but we did have great improvisational skills. Weren’t there twenty-five plus non-teachers in our group about to take up two year teaching assignments?
     The madrigal group — augmented — came to our rescue and not only learned “Yen Ara Asase Ni,” but sounded good doing it. Someone, had had the fortuitous foresight to have copies of both words and music for the song, which is a popular, unofficial anthem. When the time came to sing at the airport after arrival, easily half of us stood in the back, moving our lips while the brave, strong voices of the true singers were being recorded by Radio Ghana. It was an instant hit with the Ghanaian radio audience as much for its novelty as for its excellence of performance. In our first few days of bus touring around Southern Ghana, several people made comments like this (or a close variation thereof): “Oh, you are the group that sang that Twi song. That was fine.”

The Besst Hearts and Minds
Back to the flight — the non-singers, that is the Hearts card players, had stormed through the transit lounge at the airport in the Azores during a refueling stop and stocked up on wine and cheese which assured the continuance of the game and the avoidance of sleep. Although, I’m sure most of us catnapped during the flight.
     The flight also made a stop in Dakar, Senegal. This first step on the African continent was intoxicating. In the freshness of dawn, the air was warm and caressing, with the sweet fragrance of bougainvillea tantalizing the nose. We were touching the soil of Africa!
     We were giddy with anticipation and lack of sleep. I remember clumsily dancing around with frangipani flowers stuck behind each ear.
Nate Gross remembered, “Somewhere between Senegal and Ghana we were flying low enough to see the ground and some villages and huts and stuff. That’s when I thought, ‘Holy shoot, we’re really going to Africa. Can I handle this? What’s it really going to be like when we hit the ground?’”
When we landed in Accra, Ken Baer, an imposing figure and probably one of the few in the group comfortable wearing a seersucker suit, served as our solemn spokesman. Paraphrasing Shriver’s remarks on his visit to Nkrumah in late April, Ken said, “We have come to Ghana to learn, to teach, to try to further the cause of world peace but above all, to serve Ghana now.”
     We sang (some of us did, anyway) and then boarded buses to be taken out to the University of Ghana at Legon where we would have further training and orientation organized by the Ministry of Education.
A lot had happened in the six busy months following President Kennedy’s Executive Order. The Peace Corps was now a reality.

Rite of passage
If there was any rite of passage hinted at by the experienced African hands at Berkeley, it was to dance the High Life at the Lido night club in Accra. To do so would mean that you were becoming a participant in the “real” Ghana.
The very first night after our arrival many of us did just that — dancers, non-dancers, drinkers, non-drinkers, the shy and the bold, those in culture shock and those too dazed from the journey to be shocked by anything. Valerie Deuel described that first night in Ghana at the Lido: “Sitting in a circle around the dance floor, everyone ordered beer; it was very hot, not air-conditioned, with an open roof, sweaty. People getting up and doing the High Life. Being shy and having a block against dancing all my life, I got up and did the High Life anyway. I think I felt it was required of me, so I danced. Back home I never even did the Twist but I was swept up by the feeling of that whole evening.”
Our exuberance and joy at being there was capped by Laura Damon and John McGinn winning second place in a High Life contest, dancing an awkward but wildly enthusiastic combination of Jitterbug and the Twist with just a hint o Ghanaian High Life. The whole evening made me begin to feel myself a part of Ghana. Sub-rites of passage followed — finding and then negotiating the fare for the taxi to drive us back out to the University and, in looking for our dormitory on the dimly lit campus, stumbling into an open storm drain.

Happy Days
Soon after our arrival, a columnist, identified only as “Rambler,” wrote in the political party newspaper, the Evening News: “You are welcome to Ghana, which, I understand, you have come to serve as teachers. I like the way you sang that Ghanaian hit on your arrival at the airport two days ago. Let that song make you non-aligned during your stay here, for though you came at our own invitation, you will terribly harm Ghana-American relations if you do not get yourselves acclamatized [sic] to the national climate of Africa. I wish you patient, understanding hearts — and a happy stay.’
     We might not have thought of ourselves as “political missionaries” as I had said at the Rose Garden, but others might be seeing us in a different light.
     And all in all, and for most of us, our days in Ghana were a “happy stay.”

   Robert Klein retired in 1994 after careers as a teacher and a supervisor in special education and moved to Tucson. For the past 3 years has been involved in developing the RPCV Archival Project in cooperation with the Kennedy Library. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
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