BISMARCK, N.D., - A group of top ranking officials from the Ghanaian Armed Forces in Ghana, Africa, explored North Dakota last week as part of the North Dakota National Guard's State Partnership Program with the country.
Since 2004, the North Dakota National Guard has developed a professional relationship with Ghana as part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program. This program aligns states with partner countries to encourage the development of economic, political and military ties.
"This was a tremendous opportunity to exchange ideas and build upon our strong partnership with the Ghanaian officials," said Army Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard.
In June 2009, Sprynczynatyk traveled to Ghana along with other NDNG leadership as part of the SPP, where he learned about training and military programs.
Among the seven Ghanaian officials taking part in the exchange was the commanding general of the GAF, Lt. Gen. Peter Blay, chief of defense staff. Blay also brought along his wife, Edna, and daughter, Dilys, to lend their perspective on family programs.
North Dakota leadership escorted their guests around the state to see the various facilities and capabilities that the state has to offer, as well as to discuss future opportunities for the partnership. The group made stops in Fargo, Grand Forks and Devils Lake and interacted with Guard troops as they conducted training.
When Ghanaian officials visited North Dakota this past week, Lt. Gen. Peter Blay wanted to share the experience with his wife and daughter. His decision to have his family on the journey proved to be a great learning experience for his wife and daughter and the people lucky enough to spend time with them.
During their stay, Edna and Dilys got the opportunity to experience the American way of life. Although they were the ones traveling to a new land, it proved to be an even greater learning experience for the NDNG members involved during the family and officers' stay.
The first stop on Dilys and Edna's tour was the capitol building of North Dakota. There, they saw how the local government system works and how old-time architecture in North Dakota compared to newer construction. Next, the group had a chance to peruse the Heritage Center. Edna and Dilys were able to see the various birds and animals that roam the North Dakota landscape in comparison to the wildlife they frequently see in Ghana.
Ghana is roughly the same size as North Dakota, but its population is in the millions. While driving from place to place in Bismarck, the Blays were surprised by how light the traffic was.
"I'm not used to the cold weather, but I appreciate the quiet, so I like it here," said Edna Blay. She explained that in Ghana they have one rainy season a year, which is their cold season; they do not have seasons like fall and winter. When she heard North Dakota can have snow six months out of the year, she was astonished.
During their stay in North Dakota, Edna and Dilys ate at most locally-owned restaurants. "The atmosphere of our restaurants is about the same. We still have fries and chicken. It's just the taste that is a little different," explained Dilys.
While eating, the family discussed what they call "grass cutters" in some restaurants in Ghana. Grass cutters are large rats, about the size of a football, which are wild and eat grass. In contrast to most families in North Dakota, Dilys said that in Ghana, most children around 15 years of age are sent to a boarding school for high school.
At the schools, they wear uniforms quite similar to uniforms some schools require students to wear in America.
Teens in Ghana, just like in the U.S., enjoy music and video games. Dilys said most teens in Ghana listen to hip-hop and play video games such as Playstation 3 and Wii.
"We are just like you. We wear the same clothes, listen to the same music. We are the same," said Dilys.
Dilys was also able to go shopping at local stores, eat local food and even go bowling. Bismarck State College teachers allowed her to sit in on a literature and biology class so she could witness first-hand how colleges in America operate.
"I really like science and math, so the biology class was fun," said Dilys. "It's nice to see how local colleges work."
Overall, Dilys was able to get a taste of North Dakota's culture while teaching her North Dakota counterparts about her native country. Taking part in another culture doesn't have to involve travel to a different state or country. Sometimes a journey is just a conversation away.