While studying abroad in Ghana, I was told of a nearby rice-farming town named Dawhenya. After an early morning of false starts, wrong turns, and miscommunication, I found myself shuttling towards the unknown in a crowded tro-tro – dilapidated but magnificently intimate minibuses found, I later came to realize, in many parts of the so-called Third World. The unknown? Not entirely. I thought I knew the purpose of my journey. I sought proximity with those about whom I had been reading. Not that

I had a theoretically sophisticated understanding of a world system. I was slowly becoming familiar with the specialized language – SAPs, SOEs, IFIs, the IMF, privatization, deregulation, and liberalization. Account after account spoke of the devastation and havoc these institutions and their policies sowed around the world. I equated these failures with an absence of adequate knowledge, or a mystified false consciousness. It follows that I didn’t want an undoing of my mystification. My formulation, reinforced by Chomsky-style fact presenting, was vague but ever present: learn more (raise my awareness), lessen the monetary greed (raise the bad guys’ awareness), teach others (spread my enlightened awareness), and when difficulties of coawareness are smoothed out we would all get along. I prepared by reading piles of books on Ghanaian political economy. Prior to departing, I had

already written an introduction and conclusion to my Independent Study Paper, leaving gaps to be filled later. The thrill of a clear, efficient purpose served, I suspect, as an assurance of my mission and a guarantee that I wouldn’t stray from my duty. My time there was limited – Ghana for three and a half months and within

that time frame, villages like Dawhenya for a day, maybe two if necessary. Even on this plane, however, holes in the narrative began to emerge: If all I desired were mostly predetermined inputs, then why was I traveling? Dawhenya was the last stop on the route. Panic set in as the tro-tro

approached its destination. I had trouble quelling doubts as to why I was there, what I would say, or what I was looking for. Anxiety of all sorts had been steadily surfacing and by this point in the trip I could no longer ignore the emerging crescendo. I wanted it to fade away. And if it were me, if I was it, I would have to fade away as well. Of course, I had forgotten that nobody in Ghana would allow a stranger’s face to remain tense in isolation and confusion. Ghanaians have the extraordinary capacity to embrace strangers with more warmth than I have ever felt at home, while still holding tight to the necessary suspicion of my stated purpose. I may be misreading all these interactions. I have come to learn that my inherited tools of observation are trained to miss most of life’s depth, and that this blindness, thankfully, is used by others to diffuse my more misguided attempts. But I’d still like to think that something in the smiles accompanying the greeting of Akwaaba, “welcome,” to people who were aiming to destroy their cultures and communities wasn’t mere irony. Their generosity continues to reverberate in my bones. As we were alighting, the young man who sat next to me for the bulk of the

ride inquired about my intentions in Dawhenya. I told him that I was a student learning about the Ghanaian economy and I had heard there were some rice farms in this village. He graciously offered to give me a bicycle tour of the area. We went to collect the bikes and Mark welcomed me into his home where I engaged in the usual round of greetings from his extended family. I had become skillful at anticipating and deflecting questions; a defense against being discovered as some sort of ghostly fraud and thereby of having a precious semblance of mutuality ripped away from me. During the two mile trek into the heart of the fields, he told the story he’s

undoubtedly told so many times before while we surveyed the gravity of the destruction: a few green and lush fields and beyond that, a sprawling expanse of seeming nothingness. Dry, brittle, yellowish grass that spoke so much. Rusted trucks, overgrown irrigation systems, empty warehouses, and a presence that lurked all the more forcibly in its absence. He answered my clumsy questions with the care and patience of a son who stayed behind to tend the fields while the rest migrated elsewhere in search of work. In the rests between cycling, I hurriedly scribbled down the numbers: after the market was flooded by cheap rice dumped by the United States, the thriving community of over 3,000 farmers and their families had dwindled to 13.

Dwindled is not the right word, it is more like a forced expulsion. The transition from self-sufficiency to barren wasteland took a decade. The story was similar in the rest of the country and went hand in hand with the continual pressure to plant cocoa cash crops. Mark and I spent much of the ride in silence – both eerie and serene. Back at his home, we talked for a while more. Although neither of us could

fully account for what it was I was doing there, we could sit, riddled with all the contradictions, and share a coke and a few laughs together. This was perhaps the only day in the trip, and one of the few in my life, that I wasn’t overcome by a desire to fill in a perceived nothing with something, anything. I have come to consider this stillness a rare and nourishing gift, the texture of which I’ve since attempted to cultivate. When it grew late, Mark hailed a passing car and I was ushered inside. I was dropped off at a tollbooth an hour and a half later and the newspaper boys assisted me in finding another ride that would take me the rest of the way. Moments later, a businessman in a white jeep offered me his passenger seat. I submitted to this flow with unaccustomed and appreciative ease. That night at our flat, my friend Jenny and I didn’t seclude our selves by

playing Monopoly – a contraband purchase she and I attained at a nearby gas station. Nor did we perform our ritual excursion to the internet café or go to the Living Room, a place with separate movie rooms for rent, where we saw Pretty Woman, Hotel Rwanda and Rat Race. I still can’t shake something about the way Mark carried his sadness. Dawhenya was the third and last farming location I visited during the

independent study period. (Earlier in the trip, I wrote a mini-independent study on cocoa in the village, Morontuo, where we spent ten days.) I can’t remember how exactly these and other interviews went. My sense of purpose steered the conversations. I suspect that those I was questioning humored my innocence and tolerated the arrogance of my privilege. I do remember one productively disastrous response to my arrogance. At a poultry co-operative, near the end of an interview with the manager, Nii, he looked at me steadily and leveled this indictment: “You will forget Africa. When you go home to America will you remember the people here? You have all of these ideals now but in time you will end up working for the IMF and World Bank.” An inoculating dart finding its mark. The immediacy of my counter-protestations didn’t miss a beat. I professed my commitment to the cause and my willingness to do anything to fight injustice. The forcefulness of my defenses, even now, serves as an indicator of the truth of the critique. Leaving that place, it began to sink in that the more I fought against his prediction the more it would come true. Could it be, I wondered, that my alignment with the World Bank and the IMF weren’t some future calamity foretold, but a tragedy already present in my travels? That inside me was a struggle not only to forget but to make sure I did not remember? I remember inching toward and then shrinking from the sharp edge of these implications.