He said “son, look at British history, look how long it took them to establish a democracy, look at the bloody and gruesome civil wars they had to establish a government. Thousands of people died in order for them to come up with rigid laws and constitutions”
Jambo from Eldoret, Kenya! I will be here for the next five weeks conducting research for my master’s thesis. The Internet doesn’t always cooperate so the posts may be infrequent. I have been here for about a week and a half already, and I like everything so far. Some other thoughts from the last…
2012 is here and that means it’s almost time for me to return back to the states. Days away from going home I can’t help but feel like I’m leaving home and going back to a place that I’m only kind of living in. My trip to Ghana was everything I could have asked for and more. I learned so much about the field of global health, my culture, and myself. I came with my theme of “ojos abiertos” and I will definitely leave with a new outlook and understanding of the communities of which I am a part.
The response to Afehyia pa is “Afe nk) mm3to y3n bio” meaning may the yea go and come and meet us again or may we have many returns. Though I can’t be sure of what my future holds I know that I will certainly have many returns to my home here in Ghana.
When I describe my study (a mental health study looking at the difference in prevalence of mood disorders between a patrilineal and matrilineal tribe in rural, Ghana) most people don’t understand why I would flyall the way to Ghana to go to…………….. the village.
The village is the epitome of everything that most city people rebuke with their very core. It’s also the epitome of underdevelopment and poverty. In fact, one of the greatest insults/”funniest” jokes is to say that someone is from the bush or acts like a villager. It’s pretty close to calling someone “hood” or “ghetto” in the United States. There is such an extreme disconnect amongst the city folk and villagers…it’s somewhat astounding.
Washington, DC…the nation’s capital is known for two things: the central location of the most powerful government officials and buildings…and obscenely high crime rates. The disparity that you see between SE DC and Capitol Hill is probably the closet example to the difference between the “city” and the village…just think much more extreme.
There is an enormous air of “them” and “us” here in Ghana. The city dwellers speak of bringing themselves down to “their” level when discussing likely forced interaction between the two subcultures. Often going out of their way to make sure that the distinction is very clear between the two. Despite this separaion…..in Ghana, we identify ourselves not only by tribe or clan but by where we “come from”. Everyone is from a village. Even if our family hasn’t lived there for generations….we are all identified by the village that our mother or father’s parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came from. Much of the well to do own land in their village and often build homes or have farms in their village. Nevertheless…they are the first to draw the very thick line of “them” and “us”.
For the most part, I lived in the city and commuted to the villages I worked in throughout my time in Ghana. There were soooo many interesting and seemingly noteworthy observations I made during my field work. Be it the school children who no matter what stopped and greeted every adult that they came across or the tremendous sense of community…it was all of great interest to me. When I told people back in the city many weren’t too surprised or said that it happened everywhere in Ghana. But as I said in my previous post the momentum and rapid change is happening faster than I think most people realize. In Accra, people aren’t bothered with saying hello and the sense of community is disappearing. They’re truly beginning to “live like Americans” (a phrase I’ve heard one too many times). They don’t know their neighbors and certainly have not built a fellowship with them like they have in the village.
Contrapositvely, there were stories I told of extreme gender roles where men dominated everything and women were the perfect example of extreme submission and the city dwellers immediately responded with “things are changing”. Even if things are changing, which they most definitely are, looking at the future and ignoring the present is not the way to go about social change.
We tend to see these kind of situations in our own lives where perceived negatives aren’t really present anymore and perceived positives are ever present without an end in sight. This disconnect, however, in regards to development and health are probably one of the greatest barriers in closing the disparity.
With greats like Kwame Nkrumah in cultural archives many people have a natural affinity for looking back at his visionary leadership for guidance on what to do now. As a result there many other who reject those dwelling in the past and feel strongly that we need to look forward and progress. In both of these schools of thought…the present is missing. Few people are interested in the cross-sectional approach of looking at exactly what is going on now in Ghana. More importantly, it seems that some aren’t willing to put forth the work in the present to work towards a greater future. For those people, it’s just much easier to complain about the situation. We alllllllll know these kinds of people, no matter where we are in the world.
Out of over 230 people that I interviewed, less than 10 people were able to sign their names, although the vast majority of them had gone through at least junior high school. When I came and told graduate ghanaian students at the University of Ghana….the majority of them were shocked. At least 4 of the villages that I went to were less than an hour away and there are several villages much closer to the school. I write all of this to say that many of the future leaders are the graduate and undergraduate students of today. Yet despite access to relatively important communities of interest…few have true understanding of the confines of the reality that the villagers live within.
I dare not say that after a few days in a village I have deeper and and more broad understanding of a nation that citizens grew up in……but I am boldly saying that there is an obvious and serious disconnect between “them” and “us” and the momentum of the city and [seemingly] stagnation of the village. It is my sincere hope that Ghanaians, especially the younger ones (in Ghana and abroad), take time to gain a better understanding of the state of the nation in it’s entirety. Not focusing solely on the village or the city…the south or the north but rather one cohesive Ghana..for it is us who will inherit the land, policy, and consequences of the leaders’ action [or lack thereof] today…and us who will build upon previous generations’ work for the generations that come.
There is no such thing as conversation in global health without discussion of development. Ghana is no different. According to the World Bank last year, it’s the most rapidly developing nation in Sub-Saharan Africa….and it was “upgraded” from low income to middle income. The best way to describe the state of Ghana right now through the use of the ever present physics term: momentum.
Ghana is on the brink of brilliance…or a beautiful disaster. Time will tell which way it goes though, I strongly suspect it’s the former. There’s an energy hear that most Ghanaians don’t appreciate but most foreigners pick up within a day or two. Things are changing…and changing fast. The change isn’t only in building of highways or 21 story buildings…but rather where all change begins…in the mindsets, attitudes, and belief systems of the people here. There are in many instances of blind adoptions of western cultural ideologies and even more instances of abandonment of cultural rituals and traditions in the name of “progress”. Be it the shock of americans wearing african print items in the USA or people wearing winter skull caps and timberland boots in blistering 93 F degree weather….there is no doubt that almost ubiquitous access to internet and rapid globalization has influenced the popular culture both here and in the west.
However, without the traditional evolution of thought, the microwave access to foreign ideas and customs has noticeably skipped important details that may have been included before. For example, apply to university here, you must apply and use an unnecessarily confusing program on the internet. This may seem reasonable to most westerners but in a country where many of the middle/upper class does not have internet access at home…it’s a bit absurd. Not to mention the lower class citizens who certainly don’t have access to computers. When questioned about this policy university and government officials suggest internet cafes. Ridiculous amounts of traffic that are a result of poor roads, faulty rules, and corrupt police don’t always make it easy to travel to places like internet cafes and it certainly isn’t cheap. Nevertheless…the idea is that “Ghana is moving forward” and like the west, it’s citizens must adapt and learn the new technological ways. Sounds great in theory…but therein the details lie the problems. We say that basic education is a basic human right…but we must seriously look at access and the confines of each culture before broad policy is made.
Momentum is absolutely necessary in this age of globalization where if changes aren’t made you get left behind…but it is my sincere hope that as movement is being made in the name of “progress” important details aren’t ignored and that citizens here in Ghana aren’t left behind.
This journey of working in Ghana, can easily be described as one of the most frustrating experiences in my academic career only topped by that of a wretched physics course. It is also easily described as my most gratifying experience. After a loooooonngg and extensive series of pounding, I am happy to say that I have completed my data collection. We were able to complete over 250 interviews in about 2 months in the Dangbe West and Atwima Nwbiagya districts. The women were so incredibly eager and welcoming. Despite not getting any money or obvious benefit they were more than happy to answer the questions, and we often administered additional questionnaires because they requested it.
Many of the women were shocked we were asking questions about their emotions, given they had never been asked about such things before. In a country of exaggerated gender roles (as compared to the US) I was surprised that many men asked why they also were not included in the study, because they too “had problems”. In the 14 villages I went to, only 2 women refused to answer the questions. I left every day inspired and motivated to do more. In some villages they gave us soda or plantains to thank us for the work we were doing. I was truly humbled every time this happened because it was I who was indebted to them for the time I took away from their days.
The fieldwork component of our thesis is absolutely necessary because it reminds us of how important global health is, teaches us the reality of the communities that we study, and places our own world into context. I know that I cannot go back to the States looking at the world and development issues the same. This indispensable experience has helped me to solidify my career plan in the field. My grandmother told me after my first day in the field in Kumasi, after seeing me off at 5 am and welcoming me back at 5 pm, that the work I was doing was far from easy but I must love it or else I wouldn’t do it with a smile. She was absolutely right. I am passionate about research, global health, and mental health. Though the days were exhausting in the field and the days leading to the field left me in frustrated web of emotion…I know without a shadow of doubt that it was worth it. If the only thing the women in my study ever get is relief from talking about how they’ve been feeling then I know they will be content. However, I also know that, this is just the beginning and hopefully I will be able to do more for the communities here in Ghana. I will leave Ghana in a month and a half committed, dedicated, and evermore inspired to do more.
My grandmother has a pear tree in her front yard. It’s been around for almost all of my dad’s life and no longer remains within their fenced compound. It’s branches spread past the fence and it isn’t uncommon for the pears to either fall off of the tree outside or for outsiders to pick pears off for a quick snack. This past week in Kumasi, my grandmother told me about the newest edition to our family. A boy found one of the pears outside of the gate and waited around for my grandmother to ask her if he could have it. Shocked by this overt sense of respect my grandmother told him he could have it and gave him the two that were in her hand. She then begun to ask him what he was doing in the city during school hours. He explained that his father had recently lost his job and he, the son, had left his village and stopped school in hopes of bringing money home to his family. My grandmother, looking at this 13 year old boy couldn’t help but be touched by his kind spirit and offered to allow him to come to her house as a house boy, In exchange, she would pay for his school fees and other basic necessities, only if his family approved. She gave him transport fare to bring his mother to Kumasi so that they could further discuss this arrangement. A full day hadn’t passed and he returned with both his mother and aunt who came with humble hearts and an enormous amount of gratitude. They thanked my grandmother and left the boy, Kojo, in the house. Two weeks later, they received news that Kojo’s father “went to his village” (which is how many Akans describe an individual passing away). Kojo remains in the house taking care of my 91 year old grandmother who is more than happy to take him on as one of her own.
Kojo isn’t the first child who has been adopted in my grandmother’s home and his story is not uncommon in Ghana. Often the house boys and girls are from the extended family or sometimes strangers who need a place to stay. Despite growing crime rates and rapid urbanization, Ghanaians have held on to this tradition of trust and caring for their neighbors…I hope that as Ghana continues to develop some of this tradition remains. There is no such thing as free education (for the most part) in Ghana and the amount of orphans far outweighs the number of foster homes and orphanages. With a government that is not always trustworthy or reliable, Ghanaians have managed to lean on one another and that is what keeps the nation moving forward.
My grandmother was particularly touched by Kojo asking for the pear that had fallen outside of her gate because she decided long ago that anything that fell outside of her gate would be for the people outside. She would not chase anyone for taking one of her pairs. I couldn’t help but see a bit of symbolism in the story. Within the gates of my grandmother’s house, numerous future politicians, physicians, pastors, husbands, wives, community caretakers, and so many more have been nurtured and groomed. Even though their roots will always remain within the gate the fruit of her labor is enjoyed by countless people as they share their gifts with the world. And just like Kojo came to ask and thank her for the pear many come home to grandma’s to see where the roots of all of these beautiful people reside. Like the tree, my grandmother has been around for quite some time, overlooking Kumasi. She has witnessed the transition from colonial powers to independent sovereign ghana, the shift from a small community to a buzzing urban hub, and the growth of 6+ little infants to full functioning and successful adults. Despite the evolution of her beloved city and country, she remains the same: grounded, loving, and giving, sharing her own fruits with the rest of the world.
Though english is the official language of Ghana…there are a few english words with different meanings than you would find in the states. Here are a few so that you don’t get lost in translation…
Chilling (USA): the act of hanging out with friends or relaxing often doing nothing
Chilling (Ghana): the act of partying, drinking alcohol, spending time with friends at a particular function
Learning (USA): acquiring new information about a particular topic
Learning (Ghana): studying for an exam
Writing an exam (USA): creating an exam from scratch
Writing an exam (Ghana): taking an final exam for a particular course
Slurring (USA): speech that is somewhat incoherent and not articulated properly
Slurring (Ghana): speaking with an american accent despite having been born and raised in Ghana
LAFA: locally acquired foreign accent, spoken by people who probably watch a bit too much television and have created what they believe is (most often) a british or american accent despite never actually having been exposed to these cultures «< —- personal favorite of mine
Chale: probably the most common Ghanaian word meaning friend or comrade
Kubolor: somewhat of rebel…and often always in some kind of trouble or causing trouble
Wahala: unnecessary hassle and worry. very very very important word when working in Ghana ; )
Borga: someone who goes abroad and comes back very self-important; or sometimes just a foreigner who might be a bit flashy…similar to the spanish word: gringo
Agyei: an onomatopoeia that is similar to ow or ouch but is also used after maybe laughing to hard or hearing crazy news/gossip; according to Akans, you are calling for protection from your father’s spirit (Agya means father in Akan and Akans believe your spirit is inherited from your father)
These are just some of the most common words used in Ghana that I’ve experienced thus far. As I’ve already shared, I absolutely love words and find the nuances in english made in Ghana to be quite interesting.
My supervisor here asked me about a month ago why I chose global health and went on to ask me why I chose Ghana. The question was rather unexpected and left me momentarily without a response. However, after a few minutes of reflection I began to try and answer the first question.
In all of my personal statements, I always write about how I saw a [likely] schizophrenic patient walking around naked and disheveled through a market street. I had no idea that 5 minute experience would shape my future passions. Growing up I lived a life of privilege and comfort compared to the populations I’m working with now…I always knew that I wanted to work with people…I was just unsure of the avenue in which I would reach them.
Traveling internationally with school groups and family certainly sparked an interest in rich cultures..though, globetrotting through Europe is a far cry from the village life I seem to be drawn to now. So when my supervisor asked me why global health, I could only respond by simply saying that I believed in the potential of the field, the communities, and the work that was being done. I told her there was a clear health disparity worldwide, one in which too many people ignored. I felt that given my resources I was simply someone who chose not to ignore it.
Chuckling, likely at my earnest over-eager passion, she then asked me why I chose Ghana. This question, though a bit more commonly asked, is one that I still don’t know how to answer. Sure, my family is Ghanaian…but my research interest does end there. I began my MSc program intent on coming to Ghana. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about and help “my people.” Interestingly enough, since having arrived…many Ghanaians have made it very clear that I am American first…and then Ghanaian. My culture is so incredibly multifaceted that I cannot even begin to try and understand all of the idioms, history, anecdotes, parables and proverbs, or other cultural practices. Though I am thankful for the opportunity to learn more about my culture I chose Ghana for more reasons than culture. Ghana has been a leader in Africa since it’s reign under the Ashanti Kingdom and eons of years later, it serves as a role model within the continent economically, politically, and socially. The same way that I believe in Global Health, I believe in Ghana. There is so much potential in this great land…so many brilliant minds, so many resoures, and so much hope. Ghana has momentum and I can’t help but feel that it is on the brink of greatness. Maybe it’s blind patriotism…maybe familial pride…I’m not sure…but I do know that I’m willing to stick it out, see, and more importantly, work towards a better tomorrow for Ghana.
I’m officially half way through my study. I was absolutely shocked to see the amount of women who were willing to volunteer 30 minutes of their time to answer my questions though they weren’t receiving any immediate benefit or compensation. At some sites we had to turn women away. I knew that they committed to helping because they believed in what we were doing, they believed in research, and they believed that it had the potential to bring a better tomorrow for the communities. This past month, I’ve felt like I was doing exactly what I was intended to do on this earth…and it’s an incredible feeling. As I prepare to go to the next district I am holding onto my renewed inspiration and remember that through it all…the struggle and frustration the momentum will continue to push us forward.
***the title for this post was taken from Frank Ocean’s “We All Try”***
Today I felt homesick for the very first time in over two months. I miss familiarity, independence, my friends, and my house! Ghana is a nation so deeply rooted in social structure that it’s difficult to break into it as an outsider. Everyone’s friends are their life long friends…they grew up together, went to school together, and live near one another. It’s incredible. It makes me wish that I grew up here. Nevertheless, I didn’t. I grew up in America and I’m thankful for that. Despite having always identified myself as Ghanaian, I’m learning how different the Ghanaian (in Ghana) culture is from the Ghanaian (abroad) culture. There are, however, overarching similarities that make it very clear that we are all bound by some sort of cultural identity. I’m learning to embrace the differences rather than ignore or deny one aspect. My upbringing has placed me in a truly unique situation where I can say I’ve had the best of both worlds. This journey has been quite eye opening thus far…so I guess I am staying to to my goal of ojos abiertos.
Today marks exactly one month since I left the USA. The past month has been well, challenging.
My second weekend here, I went to the Ashesi University opening. Ashesi is a gorgeous campus that lies at the top of a small hill in the middle of a rural village. The road to get to Ashesi is much like many roads in Ghana, full of twists and turns. The road are not winding roads by intention but rather wind because of attempts of drivers to avoid the potholes and rough patches on the road as well as other drivers who may or may not abide by the suggested lines painted on the ground. At this inaugural event, the American Ambassador was there and delivered a short and comical speech about the USA, Ghana, and fufu.
The US Ambassador to Ghana found himself to be perspiring, a bit anxious, nervous as he bopped his way determinedly to the Ashesi University inaugural ceremony. As he made his way, he was reminded of the process in which fufu, a Ghanaian dish is made. Fufu is made by pounding cassava and plantain in a bowl until it is very soft in texture. It is eaten with various soups. The process is laborious, time consuming, and requires a lot of energy and patience. The ambassador compared making fufu to creating new initiatives in Ghana when involving Americans. He joked, that the only way for the relationship to truly work was through a lot of pounding, perseverance, diligence, and patience. Throughout the process you will exert a lot of energy and question if you should continue or just give up. However, when the process has ended and you see the result, you realize the tiring process was worth it.
His description of working here, as an American, is right on. The past month has been filled with frustrating days, disappointing meetings, and hours of dramatic venting, certainly this has been the “pounding” portion of the fufu making process, or for me, the research process, according to the Ambassador’s theory. However, he left out an important detail in the making of fufu, it’s most often made by two people working together. The two people develop a rhythm of pounding and turning the fufu to help blend the cassava and plantain. Once the fufu has been made the food is enjoyed by all parties in the home. Though this month has been filled with the “pouding” it has been filled with inspiring conversations, passing of wisdom, cultural activities, and a true appreciation for all of the blessings that I have been afforded. The process of research, is not meant to be easy, and the field of global health is a far cry from convenient…anything. The challenges that I have been presented are miniscule compared to the challenges of so many others and are teaching me in the only way that field experience can.
So, with IRB approval and maps-in-the-making, after one month of “pounding,” I am about to embark on the actual field work and collection of data. I’m positive that this will bring an entirely new set of challenges and lessons. I am also sure that this will be “pounding” part 2 and while I’m not sure how many parts will be involved in my pounding process, I’m thankful to be moving past part 1. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too…but I have yet to see someone who pounds their fufu and has not enjoyed eating it. I’m only in the beginning stages of my “fufu” but I know that when it’s done, it will be more than worth it!
So my blog is just in it’s nascency and i’ve decided that i don’t like the tone!
Thus, this post, I will list all of the things that I love about Ghana.
* The people!!!!!!!!!!!! This really goes without saying but Ghanaians are some of the nicest, kindest, warm hearted, people you will ever meet. People all around the world can validate this claim…given that I am Ghanaian, some might claim an inherent bias that I will vehemently deny but know that maybe there may be some truth to it.
* The food!!!!!!! I love everything about Ghanaian food! Minus the spicy. From jollof to plantain to light soup to peanut butter soup, it’s all good! Most dishes are made with tomato, onion, and salt. hahaha. How we can create 30 different stews from those three very basic ingredients may go down as the greatest secret there ever was.
*Pigeon english. Pigeon is a mix of broken english, slang, with a few other influences. It’s mostly spoken amongst the youth. If you focus really hard you can probably follow a conversation even if not in it’s entirety.
*Ghana english. Similar to pigeon, it’s a little broken…but mainly just places words in a different order or forgets adverbs. For example: “I going” in lieu of “I am going”. Ghana english is pretty universal, though most who use ghana english know proper english as well
*Music. The music is everywhere!! From old school highlife to more younger hiplife/afrobeats…you can’t go anywhere without hearing music.
-I love that all Ghanaians know all of the classic songs. literally every Ghanaian. and literally every classic song.
-I love that when the classic song comes on everyone begins their two step… instinctively…and then just like that stops and goes about their day.
*Greetings. People take the time to go to friends and family’s homes for what most people in the USA would just call, text, or email to say. Telling people they are leaving town for a little while or that they have arrived or if someone has passed away or if they just happen to be picking up food around the corner…..there is no such thing as a reason too small to stop by and chat for about 30 minutes. If you don’t do at least that, you’re considered rude.
*Tribalism. Ha! This is a part of my thesis and of particular interest to me. Tribalism comes up in conversation nearly every day. Everyone points out how the another tribe is too focused within their own tribe but denies their own tribal ties. Politics are defined by tribal affiliation. Regions are naturally defined by tribal affiliation. Style of dress, opinions, and personal characteristics are all defined by tribal affiliation. Though the separation has some negatives, I love that everyone takes such pride in their history that they want to preserve it and share their wisdom to following generations and outsiders. Ultimately, I love that though we may be Ewe, Akan, Ga, Crobo, or a northerner we are all Ghanaians.
I’ll end with my greatest love of all things Ghana —> family
The culture of Ghana is one of the things that consistently draws me to this nation and I love everything about it!
When the rain falls, it doesn't fall on just one man's house
It’s rainy season in Ghana. Or maybe it’s just global warming…either way, the weather is just perfect here in Ghana. No one is quite sure of why it’s so cool here but everyone is sure it will be shortlived. For the time being, I’m definitely enjoying it. I’ve spent the past two weeks fighting, accepting, contributing, and rejecting Ghana Maybe Time. I’m awaiting IRB approval and working out logistics that seemed simple when I first got here but now appear more difficult than creating world peace. My frustrations vary on a scale of really frustrated to incredibly-irritated-and-annoyed-frustrated daily in regards to my study. Nevertheless, progress is being made, ever so slowly.
In the meantime, I’ve spent time with family and worked on my “next-step-post-MScGH” applications. Right now I’m playing the waiting game. My aunt says most Ghanaians have adopted the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality. While I refuse to join them fully, I certainly do not rush to places if I’m naturally running late and I finish my conversations before leaving home because after all, the worst part of being on time is that no one is there to appreciate it. Unfortunately, this is somewhat of a contribution to Ghana Maybe Time. Every instance of disregarding time influences another person’s day and schedule. We don’t exist in a vacuum and others always ultimately feel the consequences of our choices. At the end of the day, I am an American transplant in Ghanaian world, so it is I that must make the adjustment. And just like everything else…there is progress but the progress is small.
[the title is taken from one of my favorite lauryn hill songs: so much things to say]
GMT may be the time zone that Ghana falls under….however to many Ghanaians…it has a different meaning…
Like many developing/non-western nations…time, isn’t always of the essence in Ghana. If you show up on-time you are wayyy to early…and deadlines are a mere suggestion of oft when to begin projects…
Learning how to interpret times in Ghana and in Ghanaian culture…truly is an art. An art that many of us have named Ghana Maybe Time, or GMT. Having been raised in GMT my whole life, I can honestly say that I am still learning the art. While I learn the art, I teach others…it’s pretty safe to say that you can count on me to be tardy…for just about everything.
While this can be understandably frustrating to the unaccustomed, it highlights one of the beautiful aspects of Ghanaian culture, appreciation for the experiences you share with others. Oft, people are spending time taking a longer lunch or phone conversation forcing him/her to be late to their next engagement. It’s a much less stressful approach to business that most Westerner don’t have. It may cause the other person a bit of stress…but once you understand GMT a bit more your stress level will decrease.
As a Ghanaian-American, it’s a very careful balance. One in which I have not mastered. As I await IRB approval and iron out logistical details in the coming weeks, I’m sure this balance will certainly be tested. But for now, I am happy to be safe and comfortable in Ghana and I eagerly await what the next 5 months in my new home will have in store.
I’m a lover of languages…and oft think that things just sound better in a language different than my own. So when it came time to name my new travel blog…I started to think in my favorite language: Spanish.
Ojos Abiertos means: open eyes. my goal during my time in Ghana is to come with open eyes and allow my perspective of my country, the world, and my place in both to grow as well.