"Frank" Benpong tells the students about Ghana
Cecil County, Pa, USA -- Seventh graders at Rising Sun Middle School were not surprised to learn that citizens of the West African nation of Ghana eat goat heads.
But the students were shocked to hear that the people of Ghana also live in brick houses and talk on cell phones.
Kwadwo Kojo "Frank" Benpong moved from Ghana to Philadelphia with $50 in his pocket in 1972 when he was 19 years old. On Thursday, he visited the middle school to teach students about his native land.
Ghana is about 92,000 square miles in area, with a population of 19.7 million. Much of the land is rich with agriculture and rainforests, while other parts consist of vast desert.
The people of Ghana (called Ghananians) are vastly split between the very rich and the very poor.
"The world is becoming globalized," said Benpong, who now lives in Delaware and works at the DuPont chemical company. "No matter where we come from, we're all getting together."
Benpong came to the United States as a teen, in search for a higher education. Despite its vast population, Ghana is home to only five universities.
The students' guest speaker may be the only African native some of them have ever seen. They learned that people may look different and live a world away, but they often share the same dreams.
All month, the students have been learning about African cultures and nations. They were eager to ask the friendly visitor about his land and his life, so different than theirs, but in many ways, still the same.
The students greeted their visitor with plenty of questions:
"Do you ride camels?"
"Do you speak Swahili?"
"Have you ever practiced voodoo?"
Wearing a light-colored dashiki, Benpong smiled and said no, he's never ridden a camel; the land he comes from is more rainforest than desert. As for the voodoo, he explained, "Christians don't practice voodoo. In Ghana, 90 percent of the people are Christians. Out of the other 10 percent, some of them might practice voodoo."
Benpong does not speak Swahili, but he does speak several languages, including English, which he learned when he was 6 years old.
"English is a status symbol in Ghana," he said. "Many of you take speaking English for granted."
One student then asked, "Have you ever made bark cloth?" No, but it is a popular hobby in Ghana, Benpong said.
Another asked if wild animals roam the streets of Ghana.
"I never saw a wild animal until I came to the United States," Benpong said.
One curious student wanted to know: "Do people eat goat and sheep heads at festivals and celebrations?"
Benpong said poverty-stricken citizens don't care what part of an animal the meat comes from. Ghanaians do eat animals' heads, and they often suck marrow out of the bones, he said.
Though they eat animal heads, children in Ghana are computer-literate and most use cell phones, he said. Students were more surprised at the similarities of people from Ghana.
"I thought he'd be really different," said Shawn Partin after Benpong's presentaton. "I didn't think he'd be Christian, and I thought he would have celebrated voodoo."
Students could relate to Benpong's love for soccer. But in Ghana, home to pockets of poverty-stricken citizens, soccer games involve citrus.
"Most Ghanaians don't have the money to buy equipment for soccer," he said. "But we do have lots of oranges. It's not unusual to see kids playing soccer with oranges or grapefruit."
Seventh grader Amanda Markland said it was cool to see someone from a different country.
"He talks different, he comes from a different childhood than me," she said. "I feel lucky because he probably had a harder time growing up than I did."
Justin Gainey is looking forward to learning even more about African cultures in the next few months, when the classes get pen pals from Kenya.