“I love going to vote. The low tech chaos reminds me that this process is really all about people.” Desiree Byker Abiri
This morning my polling site in Brooklyn was crowded and a bit shambolic, but among the hundreds of people who stood in line, there was an attitude of patient enthusiasm. At one point a young man complained about the mayhem and the well-appointed businessman standing behind him looked up from his Blackberry and calmly said, “This is a privilege. People have sacrificed a lot so we could do this today.”
The advantages of a participatory government are easy to get used to, but coming together with neighbors in a school gymnasium, a firehouse, or a community center is a great reminder of how lucky we are to have a voice. And while this communal act feels sort of intimate, we all know that the world watches American presidential elections with enormous interest. It is to our detriment that we don’t look beyond our own borders with the same intensity others often study us.
Abena Owusua, a clever young woman from Accra, Ghana is a first year student at the University of Virginia who may not be able to vote today, but she has contributed to the conversation in her own way. Curious and sophisticated, she has leapt into college and civic life in the United States.
Abena (whose name actually means "Tuesday") was my student at the SOS-Herman Gmeiner International College in Ghana. The following comments are part of a series of questions I recently asked her to answer:
What were your first thoughts/impressions upon your arrival in Virginia? Had you ever visited the United States before your arrival for university?
Yes, I had visited the US before but driving to Charlottesville was nerve-wracking. It’s two hours from DC and is in the center of Virginia. All I saw while we drove were cornfields and for a minute my heart sank. But as it turns out, Charlottesville isn’t rural; rather, it has a really rich history and this is evident in the architecture and traditions.
At first I was sure I wouldn’t like it but now I absolutely enjoy walking through the pedestrian mall on Friday nights! J
Have you been following the Presidential campaign? Do you have any opinions about the upcoming election?
Yes, I have been following the election and have even helped Environment America Action Fund by canvassing for votes for Obama and Tim Kaine. While Obama is not perfect, he does stand for some very important issues such as education, civil rights and the environment which shouldn’t be ignored.
While I think that Romney has good intentions, I think that his thoughts are a bit misguided sometimes.
Were you always motivated to succeed as a student? If not, who/what inspired you?
I wasn’t always motivated to be successful; my parents used to say that the one thing about me that hadn’t changed from childhood to the age of 18 was that I LOATHED school. That changed when I started college but what really motivates me didn’t occur until this week when I was in a nearby county canvassing for voters pledges for Barack Obama and Tim Kaine; I was in some really rough neighborhoods and it really made me think that I didn’t have all this education at my disposal so I could waste it and resort to the lifestyle of barely getting by.
How does the American political process compare to Ghana’s system of campaigns and elections?
Well in Ghana, the competition pretty much lies between the liberal democrats and the social democrats. In the US it’s broader- Republicans versus the democrats.
It’s certainly more smooth and peaceful a process in the US; in Ghana we’re just so used to politicians reigning insults on one another or citizens taking up arms in the political party’s defense.
In both cases though I think that political leaders are trying their best to be constructive and build their countries in the ways that they see fit.
What do you (or would you) tell Americans about Ghana that they don’t seem to understand?
Not just Ghanaians but Africans in general: we’ve made it our business to learn as much about each other and about other countries like the US, the UK etc. that it surprises some of my friends when I have even the slightest inkling about another country’s history or some other fact. I think it surprises them that I’d go out of my way to educate myself so much about something that, ideally, shouldn’t matter to me,
Why did you choose to come to the US for your university studies?
I chose the US because of the benefits of the liberal arts program and because I wanted to be far away from home. I also wanted to be in an environment where it was okay to be unsure as to what I want to do and where I’m encouraged to explore every possibility and every urge.
What do you miss most about Ghana?
The food, the communal life and most importantly my mother.