I must have been ten years old. I was in Accra, Ghana, eating lunch after getting home from school when I noticed that the rice I was eating was not white. Nor brown. Nor yellow.
But Pink. I asked my cook, Christina, to explain, and she led me to the pantry where I saw that the sack of rice had it's ink bleed onto the grains. I noticed that the sack had strange marks on it.
"Those are Chinese words."
"Chinese words? Why are Chinese words on this sack?"
"Because this rice comes from China, Winslow."
"You mean it isn't from Ghana?" I said indignantly. To think, Ghana importing foreign foodstuffs? Ghana, land of the sweetest pineapple, the juiciest mango, the best quality cocoa, had to IMPORT rice? While I had not even the slightest understanding of agriculture, international trade, specialization, subsidies, or rice-growing in general, the whole thing seemed somehow perverse. Ghanaian agriculture was world-class, everyone in Ghana ate rice, why would they have to import it, especially from China which was so far away?
"What else does Ghana get from China?"
I have grown quite a bit since that episode. I received my M.A. in West African history from Syracuse University, studying the history of Sino-Nigerian relations. I created this blog because I want to learn how African countries and China have interacted. I titled this blog Cowries and Rice because of both region's histories using cowrie shells as currency as well as cultivating and consuming rice (and while I freely acknowledge that many regions of the world can say the same, I wanted a catchy title for this blog). I want to explore as many connections as possible, listening to as many voices as possible. I also believe that current Chinese engagement with African countries has more in common with the U.S. than it is different, and that China has been pretty spotty about practicing its policy of Non-Interference in Africa since the Bandung Conference. If you are looking for someone with a different point of view, I am afraid.
It has been decades since I thought up question "what else does Ghana get from China," and I am still trying to find answers.
And I hope to share all I find with you, dear reader.