Take me to Denmark; I am Ghanaian but I feel Danish

If ever I dreamt of visiting, staying and living in Denmark, then I was already Danish, it couldn’t have been a dream.

It’s not a joke. I feel Danish. Truly.

I love to be honest.

I love to be respectful.

I love to be responsible.

I love to be…. . I actually got stuck.

By the time I had to leave Denmark, briefly, hopefully, I knew it was a place God chose for me. How did I find myself there?

Long before I completed Presec- Legon, I knew I wanted to study abroad after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Ghana. My first shot at travelling abroad was my participation in the Challenge Educational Reality TV Show organized by Charter House in collaboration with the British Council. I knew it was my season to win. My favourite number then was 5, and it was the fifth season of the show. Listen, I had prepared some five years ago while in Presbyterian Boys’ Secondary School and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to participate and win, so it was my season. Further studies, not National Service, was my agenda after my Bachelors in 2013.

But just like Spio-Gabrah who in 2006 thought it was his time but lost to Professor Mills, I did not lose anyway, but I did not win either. From some thousands of applications received to the final 30 whose season it was, after aptitude tests, interviews and projects, I was there. I thought I had prepared enough but can you imagine I was so serious about travelling abroad but did not realize the seriousness of first having a passport. Before it dawned on me, Jack, it was late. And you know how we do it over here when that man assures you of your passport in less than 48 hours. Bad gamble, bad debt, taking over. An amount that could provide express processing of passport for three individuals did not even prove to be an impetus capable of securing my passport even long after the processing time for normal applications. I picked up my passport after National Service. Lesson learnt, I cannot twist God’s hands.

While carrying out my National Service as a Research and Teaching Assistant, one of my professors passed by my office and remarked, ‘You this boy, before you leave this office, you will know all the universities in the world’. Thank you Doctor Abugre. He most probably noted my aggression to pursue further studies. Indeed, I gained admission to all my choicest schools in UK but the 100% scholarship was just not coming.

One day while having a chat with my friend and former research and teaching assistant, he shared with me, a screenshot of a scholarship opportunity he saw on the website of KNUST. A few days after, another good friend referred me to the same scholarship. Did I mind them? Where is Denmark? And what am I doing there? I CARED LESS. DID NOT APPLY. CONTINUED WITH MY UK SCHOLARSHIP PURSUIT.

But thank God for friends who never get tired of bringing out the best in their loved ones. Eventually, I put in an application about two weeks to the deadline and not until it appeared I was disrespecting them by refusing to apply.

I waited patiently for the outcomes of my UK applications. Guess what. Yes, offer of admissions, no, offer of scholarships. I was sad. So sad. I said God, ‘do I stay home for another year?’ It was already a year after national service. My sister encouraged me, ‘just pray, God is able, a scholarship will come from where you least expect it’. Indeed we were in the period of Lent, 40 days fasting, Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church, Easter was in the corner. It was a spiritual season and everything was possible. My sister shared with me a testimony of a young man from the Synagogue Church who received scholarship, she also encouraged me to pray with the Anointing water from TB Joshua’s Church, at Greenwich Meridian, I drank a 500ml of mineral water prayed over by Rev TV Obuobi, after I had spoken my desires over the water. It was an atmosphere of the Supernatural for me. I knew I did my part and God had to do His. I had the good grades, graduating as the second best student in my college from KNUST, diligent with my applications, beautifully written motivational letters, ‘charley’, I believed I had fulfilled my part of the agreement. It was left to God.

And Hallelujah. Listen, two days after I sobbed before my sister about my failures and her encouragement to pray and trust God, I received this email which read;

‘Aarhus University is pleased to inform you that the DANIDA organization has informed us that they have nominated you for a Building Stronger Universities (BSU) scholarship at our university’.

Ha, err, what? DANIDA I could recall from childhood because my friend Derrick’s dad worked with them. But Aarhus…. Where is that? I asked Google. It said a city in Denmark. I wondered.

Did I apply? God, please let this not be ‘fake news’, spam, and scam. I prostrated on the floor of the balcony nonetheless, singing ‘Ngino Jesu’ by Joyous Celebration. There was no reason to doubt the email and its contents. Danida was to follow up with practical information, and the email was detailed and well-written.

That was how I landed in Denmark. To be continued………….

So I arrived in Denmark. Yes. I do not remember what my initial impressions were about Denmark. I was too ready and too prepared to travel abroad. Nonetheless, the Danish people and their way of life created an impression on me while I was in Ghana. I was amazed at how efficient my application and preparation to travel was. I received documents when I had to. A bank account was opened for me even before I received my visa. Never mind I cancelled my trip on two occasions because I did not receive my visa as early as anticipated. And I was angry when it was 5:20 pm, and my flight was yet to call passengers, though departure was in the next ten minutes. I was ready paaa oooo.

To make my story easy to follow, I will break my experiences into plots and conclude with a summary of who I perceive Danes to be.

SCHOOL LIFE

Studying in Denmark is no joke. It is hard work if you want to excel and stand out. During my first lecture, I just couldn’t keep up with the use of MS Excel for calculations. I pushed my PC aside, pulled out my exercise book and calculator and solved the problems like we do here, the hard way. But I soon discovered it would not be helpful and efficient if I had to deal with large data sets.

What did I find amazing about my lecturers? Each one of them had a story to tell, a research finding to share about their contribution to the development of the Danish society. Brian talked about how his research and that of his colleagues influenced underground water and drinking water. In Denmark, I saw my professors filling their bottles with water from the sink in the toilet or kitchen for drinking. No plenty troubles with pure water sachets and bottled mineral water. In effect, the water from your bathroom sink is as clean and healthy as what is packed into a plastic bottle. Hanne talked about her research with pigs, improved feeding, health and animal welfare. Pork/bacon is most probably the cheapest meat and Danes are known for quality pig production. If Danish pig farmers decide to quit pig production and share their pigs amongst Danes, every citizen could receive three pigs.

For agriculture as a whole, Denmark produces nearly 3 times more than her population can consume. They are self-sufficient for most of the foods they consume. Ask me what they do with the rest? Do we import them? They are about 5 million. We are 25 million, with nearly 50% into farming. ‘Shi still, anye? Ma ba? Nukae dzↄ? Me nini? Aden? Pour quoi? Why?

Just to crown off school life, studying in Denmark is fine, fun and beautiful. Resources at my disposal, office space, laboratories, vehicles, just about everything to make my work successful. And it happened. During the writing of my Master thesis, everyone showed interest in what I was doing, anxious to see what my findings would be. They looked forward to results that potentially will improve our way of doing something. My success was good news for society. It appeared everyone was ready to see you succeed. So they were ready to help whichever way, however. It wasn’t difficult for my supervisor to agree to have me work with her, committing over GHS 10,000 to my research. By now you know education in Denmark is free up to PhD level. Danish bachelor and masters students receive a monthly stipend of about GHS 3000 from the government. What a wow.

SOCIAL LIFE

‘If I drank beer, I would have had lots of Danish friends’. But I have lots of Danish friends anyway. Friends who could drive me to school, invite me for tea or dinner, invite me home for Christmas. I considered myself blessed.

Danes do not open up to people easily. They find it rude, somewhat, to appear to be intrusive and inquisitive and ‘paddy paddy’ when they barely know you. They are however helpful when you approach them and ask for help. Do not be surprised if after drinking, chatting and laughing out loud with a Dane the previous night, he sees you the following morning in the elevator, or in the classroom and does not say hello, or does not seem to remember you or appears unenthused about a friendship you thought you had started. Sorry folks, some things take time. After six or seven times, hey, you will be invited, you will feel the warmth, and you’d ‘hygge’. Get a Dane to explain that. Yea.

Are Danes racist?

While on the bus to school one day, I saw an old woman walking quickly to the bus stop upon seeing the bus. The bus was about two minutes late already, because we stopped for a moving train. Unfortunately, this old woman was not at the bus stop before the bus got there and it would have taken less than 30 steps and 30 seconds for her to catch up. The bus driver didn’t stop. He was late anyway, and the old woman was not early enough even though the bus delayed. But for the brief stop for the moving train, she would have missed the bus anyway. I was furious the driver did not stop. My friend from Tanzania turned and looked at me and said, ‘if ever this happens to you, with what you just witnessed, just be fine and know the driver isn’t racist’. I smiled and got the message.

I get so amazed when a Dane approaches me and starts speaking Danish. Hello….. Do I look Danish?

Perhaps I feel Danish. So you see, when a Dane looks at you, your skin colour doesn’t tell them anything, but just your skin colour.

NATURE AND ENVIRONMENT

Danes respect nature, they love green grasses, they love animals. Laws are strict on what houses and spacing must be provided for farm animals. Thanks to the European Union Common Agricultural Policy, Water Directive and the Habitat Directive. The grasses are maintained, farmers are paid to do that. The waters have and are achieving good ecological and chemical status. The birds, the butterflies, the ants, they are all safe. If there are any people taking good care of God’s creation, the Danes are, and they are enjoying their blessing and the fruit of their labour.

While plastic waste is a menace here, what I considered a menace there were the pieces of cigars left on pavements. But those are biodegradable. So ‘forgerit’. In Denmark, waste is wealth. Talk about biogas digesters, nutrient recycling in farms. These appear scientific. Let me tell you the fanciful ones. Like sending plastic bottles to the supermarket and collecting money for the bottles. Richard Branson explained it as a Deposit Refund System (DRS) which is an established and effective solution that captures and collects almost 100% of plastic bottles in the recycling economy, ensuring they never enter the environment. Do we not need this here? Why shouldn’t people pay in order to have the mess they create cleaned, if they will not clean them all by themselves? Thanks to Valeriane, we made some GHS 200 from picking bottles within 30 minutes after an awards show over there. It was fun. But we did it to send a message to some young global talents who gathered to solve some global challenges and promote sustainable development, but ended up creating waste. Shame! Seeing that I had to pay for a bag to carry stuffs bought from the supermarket, I always kept a shopping bag in my school bag. Over here, let the trader refuse to give you free polythene bag, you will vex. There are a lot of good and positive stuffs to learn from the Danes. The Queen must share some of these during her visit. Stay tuned……….

Feeling Danish?

Danes live in a functional society. For them, life is good when everyone has a good standard of living. Access to education, healthcare, any other public services, nature, food, shelter and clothing. Every Dane must have the opportunity to live and be what they want to be, of course within what society accepts. Even if it is not acceptable, they may want to study and find out if it is something acceptable in the near future. Then they work towards it.

No plenty V8, no plenty big houses, no plenty big dressing, no plenty titles (I really struggled in my first few weeks calling my professors by their first names. What! Tommy, Chris, just like that.) Simply put, Danes are simple. I couldn’t tell a rich man from a poor man. Danes do not have a lofty appetite for material things. The V8s I saw (less than 6 in two years compared with 20 in two hours sitting and counting from my balcony in Sakumono), were used at the harbour to tow light-weight containers, some had some equipment fixed in them either for plumbing or some other real job. Most had the yellow or yellow and white number plate. So they were not luxury cars bought, and driven within 32km every day at the expense of the taxpayer. Elizabeth, a colleague student rides a bicycle during the summer and other good seasons, and runs for safety from the cold winter in her eco-smart tiny car. They think functionality and not prestige.

Danes are rich yet economical. Students like most professors, come to class with their fingers of banana, apples, apple-pears, bread, coffee or tea and water bottles. Nicholas told me, ‘Eugene, I do not know, but I just love cheap stuff’. Yea, what is there to care about in a country so strict with their standards on quality? Elizabeth saw me holding lots of bananas and she exclaimed, ‘were they cheap?!’ I said 2 kroner for a finger. And she said, ‘you could actually get a finger for 1 kroner every Thursday at Rhema 1000’. Thank you Elizabeth. Since then, I purchased bananas only on Thursdays at that supermarket.

Danes are industrious. How 5 million people own global brands like Maersk, Lego, Arla, Bang and Olufsen, Grondfus, Ecco, Danish Crown, Carlsberg, Ceres Brewery, DSB, Hummel, Novozymes, Novo Nordisk, Georg Jensen- all of these, brands I have experienced, is simply amazing. They make every effort to solve all of their problems with all of their effort and ability. The result, great problem-solving and money-making brands.

Danes take up responsibility. If it is her work, she gets it done. She wouldn’t want to inconvenience anybody. The bus driver will be at the bus stop at the stated time. She wouldn’t want to be responsible for causing you to miss your flight or playing a role in your lateness for an appointment. She knows you could incur extra cost, you could miss opportunities and have a bad time. She is not part of that and so she does her work diligently.

The Danish society is a progressive society. It will not be, if a problem exists for more than a decade. Even a decade is too much of a grace period. Where would the researchers have been? How? They prioritize research and development. The Department of Agroecology of Aarhus University where I studied was responsible for providing research-based policy advice to the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food. In effect, policies and laws are informed by scientifically verifiable evidence. So you see good and positive results from the laws.

Over here, the same ‘keysoap’ your forefathers used is what is still available on the market. No improvement. Ghana Water Company up till date has not found smart water treatment strategies to deploy in homes, schools and offices and some businesses find sachet water as an ingenious solution to problems of potable drinking water. The result, pure water rubber everywhere. Are we a progressive Country?

Over here, contractors build roads without shoulders or pedestrian walkways. Impatient drivers insult other road users whom they consider ‘nuisance’.

It was safe there, to drive on roads and not find heavy containers towering over you if you drove in a small car. Heavy containers are moved by the rail system.

It was amazing seeing that I could adjust my writing and working desk to any height while working so I do not maintain the same posture for long, which could lead to health hazards.

It was beautiful to go to the beach, drive along the roads and find clean washrooms around. Many, free to use. Others, self-serviceable with a drop of a coin through the door.

It was beautiful and amazing to find that the price of fruits and vegetables and many food items in the supermarket remained the same for two years. The discounts were so needed, too frequent, too good, but yet so true and genuine.

Forget their cold-spirit, sometimes it helps. Like Prof Mills said, ‘dzi wo fie asem’. But be helpful.

That is Danish

Take me to Denmark, I am Ghanaian and I feel Danish. I miss Aarhus, I miss Slagelse, I miss Viborg. I miss rye bread, I miss carrot cake, I miss coffee (it’s nice when drank in the cold in Denmark), I miss cream potatoes, I miss cheesy stuff, I miss fresh milk, I miss the farm fields, the grasses, the dogs, I miss the beautiful church buildings, I miss the evening life, I miss the hygge (did I really have some?), I miss riding bicycle and running, I miss hi hi, I miss the side-cheek smiles, I miss the people, I miss the attitude. Take me to Denmark, I am Ghanaian and I feel Danish. Tak.

By: Dela Eugene Setsoafia/sdelaeugene@yahoo.com

  • Arnold Otoo-Boison

    Wow