Crossing the border: a summer spent in Ghana

Melody Moberg

In June, senior Harjinder Bedi boarded a plane for Ghana with little more than a backpack and his trumpet. However, despite his light packing, he was well prepared for an incredible summer. Bedi also brought a passion for sustainable agriculture and West African drumming, and perhaps most importantly, a comfort in facing the unpredictable.
This summer, Bedi volunteered at a school in the capital of Accra, volunteered at an organic farm in rural central Ghana, studied traditional drumming and dance in the Volta region, and explored the country both with a group and just traveling with a friend. The trip was funded in part through a Summer Volunteer Opportunity Grant.
Bedi’s interest in Ghana began over the last few years, through his involvement in the Lawrence University Percussion Ensemble.
Nani Agbeli, a guest artist from Madison specializing in West African drumming, organized a three-week trip to the Dagbe Cultural Center in Ghana for interested students to study traditional drumming and dance. Three other LU students, Reed Flygt, Greg Woodard and Evan Jacobson, joined Bedi for the trip.
For Bedi, a three-week trip was too short. During the winter, he researched volunteer opportunities in Ghana that he could pursue in addition to his musical study.
An active member of Greenfire, Bedi is passionate about the environment and sustainable, organic agriculture. Through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, he discovered an organic farm in Ghana where he could volunteer.
The coordinator of WWOOF Ghana is also the program director of the Anne-Marie International School, a private school in part of Accra helping students receive a solid education to which they might not ordinarily have access. Bedi was able to volunteer at the school for his first two weeks in Ghana.
Bedi left Accra in a cramped public transportation van for a small farming village in the central region of Ghana, where he volunteered for two weeks at a WWOOF certified farm nestled in the costal jungle. There, he “did what needed to be done” — everything from harvesting okra, to working in rice paddies and cacao fields.
“The owner of the farm, a man named Nana, just made enough food for his family and sold some extra for a little money,” Bedi said. “Nearly every evening we harvested a few cassava and plantains for dinner as we left the fields. Nana would always say, ‘Everything’s better when it’s from the farm to the fire.'”
“It’s that sort of idea — that sort of direct relationship between people and their environment — that really interests me,” Bedi added.
After volunteering at the organic farm, Bedi spent two weeks studying traditional drumming with Nani Agbeli in his village. Then, the group traveled for a week, seeing music performances and sights throughout the country.
Finally, Bedi and Evan Jacobson spent three weeks traveling to western and northern parts of the country. They went to the largest open-air market in West Africa, a national park in the northern savannah, and both Nana’s farm and the school again.
When asked what the best part of his trip was, the answer didn’t come easily to Bedi.
“Not one part was the best,” Bedi explained. “I try to take meaning from all the things I was doing, even those experiences that didn’t turn out as expected, such as having a pretty close call in a hospital for three days. I am grateful for the diversity and depth of the experiences I had. I got to be in a lot of different places, but stay long enough that it wasn’t just blowing through.”
Bedi’s experiences in Ghana also sparked his academic and musical interests. As a double-degree student studying music education and anthropology, he intends to focus his upper-level anthropology seminar and research project on his experiences in Ghana.
Additionally, he intends to return to Ghana where he will continue study for an independent honor’s project in ethnomusicology.
Later this year, Bedi will also organize a concert or concert series to raise money for the Anne-Marie School, which needs funding to finish its roof.
Bedi suggests that Lawrentians apply for SVOG and other grants, and “make experiences happen!