Momentum and disconnect
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 fly all 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.
This man begged me to take his picture in Akuapim, Atwima, Ghana
I’ll call this tree a wisdom tree and I believe as an elder in the community it’s appropriate that he’s sitting on it.
You’ve gotta believe in something…
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”***
You can’t pound your fufu and eat it too
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!