Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blog Stat's

So, as most of you who have blogs are well aware, there is a section called “Statistics” on the blog editing page where you can see all of the referring URL's and sites that have directed people to your blog. There is also a little mini world map that shows where in the world your views come from and my favourite option – a list of “search keywords” that people have typed into google that caused them intentionally or unintentionally to stumble across your blog page.

I am now going to share some of that list of keywords with you:

  1. becky fotobi” - Pretty standard. The average family member that hasn't really figured out how to use a website bookmark. (Don't worry family, I do this too.)

  2. ghana” - Makes sense, I AM in Ghana. Although I'm a little bit confused about how my goofy blog rates in representing the whole country of Ghana. I feel it puts a little bit of pressure on me, knowing that I am having a part in randomly shaping people's opinions of the country.

  3. my sister in accra even” - Errrrrm.... I don't really have anything to say about this.

  4. jesus loves me in ghanaian” - Guh... this reminds me of that fateful day when I had to sing “Jesus loves me” in front of an entire expectant congregation.

  5. women 'communal shower' ” – bahahahhaha.... I think this person would have been severely disappointed with what they found.

  6. Hridi Chowdhury” - BAHAHAHHA. Hridi, just so you aware, someone has been google-searching you. Or maybe that was just you searching your own name... Don't worry, I do that on occasion too.

So anyway, just a quick update for now. I was looking at the blog statistics this morning (don't judge, I have nothing better to do) and thought I would share. I was also wondering if any other IDS-ers have weird search keywords whereby random people have stumbled upon their blogs.... please share ! Entertain me, I live in a village.

Hope you are all well! I'm coming home in only a couple of weeks!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A bit out of touch... apologies.

First of all – sorry that I haven't updated for the past two months. I really don't have an excuse as to why that happened, except that it's difficult to perceive the events of my every day life as being interesting enough to write about to the masses (ie: all 10 or so of you who read this... and that may be a generous estimate.)

For the past few weeks, I have been going full-swing with my research. Fifty-two interviews!! It's been intense. The idea of transcribing them all makes me feel slightly nauseous. But as for the interviews themselves... I'm actually really enjoying them. Especially interviews with students. It's so rare for young people in Ghana to be asked about their opinions... it's really a breath of fresh air to see how eager and enthusiastic they are to help me out. So all in all, the research process is going okay – despite having an extremely late start. Unfortunately though, it's about all I have time for these days as my ten months in Ghana quickly wind down. Currently, I have only 22 days until I leave! I am having mixed feelings about this...

A funny story. On one of my research ventures into the education office in the nearby city, a man asked me to come over and speak with him which is really nothing unusual. He asked me the usual questions – my name, where I'm from, blah blah. In turn, I asked him his name. His response: “Well, you know I have a bit of a strange name... let me write it down for you.” And so he wrote on a piece of paper P-E-N-I-C-I-L-L-I-N and then looked up at me, “Do you know what that says?”

I replied confusedly... “umm... Penicillin?”

“Yes!” He exclaimed, happy that someone knew how to say his name correctly. He went on to inquire, “Do you know what that is?” I admitted that I did, but I don't think he believed me. “Is it a plant or an animal, do you think?” he demanded.

I responded awkwardly... “Uhh... it's a mould.” There were a few awkward moments following this remark where neither of us knew what to say. I tried to recover the situation by volunteering, “You know, penicillin has saved many lives... your father must have known that you would be a strong man.” He seemed happy with this suggestion and I quickly changed the topic.

A couple of days later I went to one of the schools and another man approached me, shook my hand and said “Hi, I'm Hillarius.” It was all I could do to stop myself from bursting out laughing. I ventured, “You mean your name is Hillarius?”

“Yes,” he said, and spelt it out for me on a piece of paper which is the reason I know the unique spelling.

Last night I was venturing around my village trying to find something to eat. It was only about 7:00pm, but completely dark outside due to Ghana's equatorial position. And when I mean completely dark, I REALLY mean completely dark. Village dark. My village does not have electricity outside of the school where I work. The only light visible was in the form of tiny candles that food sellers use to see what they're doing. Anyway, as I was meandering around, due to my light-reflective skin colouring, people can see me but I often cannot see them. So from the midst of the darkness I often here young men shouting “Obruoni bra bra” (ie: “White lady, come here!”). This also occurs in the day time wherever I go and has become rather annoying, and in my opinion, is fairly rude. Usually, in response, I say “Oh... you bra bra!” (If they really want to speak with me, they can make the effort to come over.) They usually laugh at this response.

So, as usual, last night as I was searching in the dark for something to eat, I heard the usual “Obruoni, bra!” Again, as usual, I responded with “Oh. You, bra!” Immediately after this exclamation, one of the boys from the village whispered to me “Becky, that was the Chief calling you.” Frig. In fact, after saying “bra” the man did come over and I shook his hand and apologized. Luckily, I recovered the situation by declaring that I was searching for fufu. He became very excited by this. “You eat fufu!?” I responded, “Yes, I like it too much paaaaa.” He then declared he would prepare some for me on Sunday. Lunch with the Chief, ftw!

On another note, currently it is the hot/dry season. I am dying. Literally. Between the hours of 11am and 2:30pm I don't want to do anything except sit in my room with my pathetically weak fan blowing on me and drinking water. Showering doesn't help. The cold water only makes the air feel hotter afterwards and I begin sweating before I've finished toweling off. It's brutal. Not a conducive work environment, to say the least.

Well, I hope everyone is doing well and it seems I will be seeing you all soon!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Much Anticipated Visit

A recent dialogue with my Ghanaian friend, Julie, a 29 year-old woman with a farm and 6 children:

"...It pains me to think about you people from other countries. You have no farms. You have to buy EVERYTHING. Me, if I am hungry, I go to my farm and dig cassava to pound fufu or I take maize to make banku or kenkey. But for you... every small thing, you must leave your house to go and buy. If you have no job, you will die because you cannot afford food. So I see that life is very difficult for you. Even my sister in Accra...even though she has money and can buy a big bag of rice and a gallon of oil, I don't like visiting her because she does not have a farm. Me, I like food pa-pa!" (a lot)

First of all – Happy belated new years to everyone! My apologies that the greeting is arriving so late but I have been quite busy lately. As I mentioned before, my boyfriend Kevin visited me over the Christmas holidays. After a cancelled flight and many delays, the airline finally put him on a flight from New York to Ghana in first class! Although this would be a great treat and delight to the average person, the fact that he went from seats large enough to lay down and roll around to the cramped, congested and pungent heat of the Ghanaian tro-tros made the transition a little more difficult than what would otherwise have been the case.

Indeed, coming from a cold, snowy climate to the hot and dry Ghanaian Harmattan is not an easy transition, especially when tro-tros are involved. After one particularly painstakingly long and hot journey, we alighted from the vehicle and I expected Kevin to be somewhat less than cheery. Instead, he had a weird, leering twinkle in his eye as he whispered “I'm sorry to tell you this... but I just died an hour ago.” I'm still not entirely sure what he meant by that, but I guess after being tortured for so many hours, there's no where to look but up. He was quite optimistic about tro-tros after that instance.

Some highlights of the trip included having a pre-Christmas celebration at Julie's house (complete with delicious pineapple, fufu, fresh chicken and presents sent by my mom), spending Christmas day on the beach (I have to be quite honest when I say that it didn't really feel much like Christmas, and it was really only half-way through the day that I actually recalled what day it was), surfing (for the second time in Ghana and in my life – Kevin was not so strong with this activity), a visit to Wli Falls (the largest waterfall in West Africa – very lovely), dodging VERY shifty Ghanaian fireworks on a rooftop bar with Malian volunteers for New Years Eve, and watching Kevin (a pretty flexible and acrobatic guy by Canadian standards) get outdone at his own sport by 7 year-old Ghanaian children at Kokobrite Beach.

Currently, I have to admit that I am feeling just a teensy bit homesick - the first time that I have really felt this way since being in Ghana. This feeling came about, I'm sure, after Kevin left, since he was really the first truly familiar thing I've seen in Ghana, and it made me more sensitive to the other things I'm missing now that he's gone. Other than that, somehow the days are STILL getting hotter, work is slow and in a state of confusion at the moment, my research still has not been approved andddd... well, I will stop complaining there.

Anyway, I hope everyone is doing well. Thank you to everyone who sent me Christmas cards and well-wishes for the New Year... and to everyone who sent their words of encouragement when I had malaria. (By the way, malaria is not pleasant, but it's seriousness is about equivalent to the flu in Canada – everyone gets it, complains, deals with it, and moves on with their lives.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Receiving Compliments in Ghana

The vast differences in cultural understanding can be neatly identified in the ways in which Ghanaian people give compliments. So many times during my stay here, I have been accosted by statements to which I often initially take offense. However, upon noticing my disgruntled or confused expression the complimenter generally insists that what they've said is actually a GOOD thing.

Example #1: “Madame Becky, your earrings are killing me!” Upon hearing this, my immediate mental image was the slow, painful death that would ensue if trying to murder someone with an earring. But maybe that's just my sadistic mind. As it turns out, it's not that far off from Western expressions of saying something is “sick” or “cool.”

Example #2: “You are growing BIG!” or, even more delightful... “Ghana is making you FAT!” I receive these remarks on at least a weekly basis, if not more frequently. Generally, when these statements occur in shorter intervals of time, I become driven to go jogging for maybe one or two mornings and stop eating fufu for 3 or so days. But exercising in this country is just way too difficult, as is avoiding fufu or other foods in the form of carbohydrate-rich balls. Nonetheless, saying someone is “fat” or “big” is a compliment here because Ghanaians like big people, especially women. It is desirable to be big/fat because it demonstrates that you come from a family wealthy enough to fill your belly to the brim with food everyday, you have children to work for you, and you are fertile and womanly.

Example #3: One particularly startling 'compliment' that I received yesterday was “You look like you've just given birth!” This confused me greatly, to say the least, as in my mind, I imagined a woman laying on the birthing table covered in sweat and baby residue. I, on the other hand, although sweating an average amount for Ghana, was sitting quietly at a table, not exerting myself at all. But, as it turns out, she was actually just referring to the clothing I was wearing – a white top and blue skirt and, in her words “my bright smile and expression” that would doubtlessly match the beaming face of a woman who just brought a child into the world. This again reflects the cultural priorities in the country, since giving birth to a plenitude of children is generally a very desirable thing to do, and doing so is a major source of pride and happiness for the mother and family. Basically, why would someone NOT want to look like they've just given birth?

Example #4: Although not so culturally-specific or confusing, another rather cute compliment that I received was the following: “Sister Becky, today your beautyness has come.” Just like that. It's nice how beautyness happens sometimes.

I hope everyone is doing well. I have to say that I'm not yet really missing the whole “Christmas season” thing because it's difficult to fathom Christmas when it's 30+ degrees everyday. As most of you probably know, my boyfriend Kevin is coming to visit me December 20th, and we will be spending Christmas on the beach. I am excited!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More than half-way through

As of Nov. 11, 2010, I was officially half-way through my IDS co-op placement in Ghana. The time has gone VERY quickly, and I imagine the upcoming 4.5 months will go even faster.

Frequently, on my daily excursions, I run into curious locals who pose the question “So how do you find Ghana?” Generally, I try to answer the question in the way that people expect me to respond: “Ghana is a niiiiiice place. A very cool place.” (“cool” as in the people are peaceful and non-threatening, the way that most locals describe their fellow Ghanaians).

But really, outside of this quick, impersonal banter, how do I find Ghana?

For the majority of (non-IDS) friends and family members back in Canada, I feel that I am expected to report great sufferings, near-death illnesses and a plea to return home. The “I-told-you-so” attitude, if you will. But, apart from some slight annoyances, I can essentially sum up my feelings for Ghana in three short words: I love it. I apologize in advance for anyone back home who may be disappointed by this statement.
Unfortunately, the rationale for this love is not quite so easily explained.

Upon reading my previous blog entries, I have come to realize that upon initial arrival, Ghana and I definitely went through a honeymoon phase. During this time, everything was new and wonderful. I was able to laugh off all annoyances and scamper about trying to etch a niche for myself. Next, came the adjustment phase. At this time, some things really began to get on my nerves, especially when my Canadian methods of problem-solving generally did nothing to resolve issues I encountered here. Now, I can safely say that I have reached the normalcy phase. The things that were once so new and exciting, or frustrating and difficult have both equalized to the extent that I am now just living a regular life. Indeed, many of my personal reactions to everyday events that arise are quite similar to those of most Ghanaians. An example of this is power outages. Upon first arrival in Ghana, I found power outages to be amusing: “ha ha ha ...oh silly Ghana.” Then, I found these power outages to be exasperating. They interrupted the showing of my well-planned powerpoint lessons, caused everything in my fridge to spoil and caused my fan to stop spinning, leaving me at the mercy of the smoldering afternoon heat. But now, the power going off is just something that is anticipated in everyday life. One finds alternative ways of doing things: preparing different forms of presentations, buying less perishable food, becoming increasingly used to the sun's heat.

Although I don't exactly know when this transition occurred, upon arriving at this new stage of normalcy, I feel as though I am finally able to make a more educated comparison of my life in Ghana and in Canada. In Canada, on reflecting back, I feel that we are always anticipating what is to come, instead of living each day as we want Рas clich̩ as that may sound. But really, especially in the winter, everyone is always anticipating the summer, or, at the very least, the next upcoming long weekend. It is as though we only really become alive during select moments of life that are the most opportune for us.

I find that the opposite is true for Ghana. Although one could likely make the claim that the work ethic of many Ghanaians may not be up to par with that of the average Canadian, the extent to which life is lived in this country is so much greater than in my own. Indeed, upon initially meeting many Ghanaians, the level of enthusiasm observed from simple things such as greeting new people, chatting on a tro-tro or even watching a movie – exceeds the level of enthusiasm displayed by most Canadian adults in an entire month. In my opinion, the capacity for most Ghanaians to enjoy the most simple things in life (such as each other's company) far outweighs the luxuries often thought to be associated with increased levels of happiness in Canadian life.

Speaking more personally, even in Canada, I enjoy greeting strangers and making new acquaintances – despite the fact that there are generally unspoken (and very restricted) boundaries of where meeting new people is appropriate. For instance, using the TTC as an example, it is expected that one should enter the bus/subway and sit quietly in a seat the furthest from where everyone else is seated, without looking or speaking to anyone in the process. Myself, I love children, but even greeting young children in Toronto often causes the parent to look at me very suspiciously before forcefully and abruptly taking their child away from my sight and arms' reach – as if this 5-foot blonde girl is a major threat to their child's well-being.

On the other hand, on entering a tro-tro or taxi in Ghana, it is expected that you greet the person sitting next to you, if not the entire load of people present. From there, strangers spark up discussions about things happenings in the country, laugh or shout at things taking place outside of the tro-tro, and collectively scold the driver if he is driving unsafely. Phone numbers are frequently exchanged, laughs are shared and arguments are pursued. Indeed, an average ride on a tro-tro often feels more like a family vacation than a public transit ride with a group of strangers.

On a different note, some of my students began their first radio program on Sunday, on the topic of the importance of sending female children to school. We ran into a bit of a dilemma when trying to decide in which language to host the show, since Ghana is composed of a very diverse array of languages. The girls began the show very nervously in English (a second language, for all of them) and had trouble answering some of the questions that were brought forth. After they had whizzed through the hour's worth of questions we had prepared in about 8 minutes, we all started to panic and had to go to a music break. During the break, I told the girls to speak in Twi instead of English, and, on returning to the show, their level of confidence increased ten-fold. The rest of the show (although I couldn't understand much) went quite smoothly, with the girls attending to all questions brought forth by listeners calling in to the show. I was really proud of them, and yelled out excitedly after the hour when the DJ motioned that the show was finished. Unfortunately, I didn't realize the microphone was still on and that everyone could hear my shouting. The DJ laughed and apologized to was just the silly Obruoni standing next to him at the station. He then proceeded to introduce me to all of the listeners.

In all, I am very excited for what the girls have accomplished and what they will continue to accomplish in the upcoming weeks. Tomorrow, I am taking a group of girls to meet with the Queen Mother of my village to discuss her opinions on issues that women in the community are facing and to get some ideas about ways that the students can help out in the community.

I just made some ground nut (peanut) soup with sweet potatoes and it is DELICIOUS. Also, it is mango season and I am quite happy about that. My tomatoes and basil are both growing quite nicely.

Ghana <3

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What have I accomplished so far?

(For those of you looking for a quick, entertaining read – turn away now, this blog is going to bore you. This means you, Hridi Chowdhury!)

If I had been one of those 3-month “Leave for Change” volunteers, I would have left Ghana last month wondering what I had accomplished. Things move so slowly here that accomplishing anything substantial in three months is really a feat, in my opinion.

Thankfully though, things are finally beginning to pick-up with my work. I am actually busy during the day and I go to sleep at night feeling pleasantly exhausted. I am the type of person that needs a busy schedule to motivate me, so having long, extended periods of time to accomplish something means that I will probably never get that thing done (ie: research proposal).

So - what have I been doing? It seems like everyone in IDS has done an official “work update blog;” but I have been avoiding that for the past 4 months until I could muster up anything substantial to say. Finally, that day has come.

MOST of the students are now back in school – after a 2 and a half month delay. It's nice to start off the year fresh. As a “career and guidance counselor” (that term should be taken lightly) I don't really have a whole lot to do during the day since students are in class, and my school has a major space deficiency, which means I really don't have a quiet, private place where students can come talk to me, if they want. So, instead, I have invested my time in starting MANY school clubs – including a Writer's Club, Debate Club, a community Radio Program, Tuseme (a girls' empowerment club), a choreography club and a school choir. (don't worry – I'm not actually leading the school choir and choreography).

I have been given about $3000 to start the clubs and plan club activities, which is pretty awesome. So, I've got some pretty big plans. For the Writer's Club, our focus is going to be on both creative writing and journalism. The girls will have the chance to go into the community to interview community members about issues that women are facing in the community, region and country. We will also be doing some creative work like writing poems about what it means to be a woman, an African, etc. All of these things will be published in a school newspaper, that will be distributed monthly to the community.

For the community radio program, some of the students will have the chance every Sunday afternoon to host and lead a panel discussion on the local radio station about a variety of topics that they have chosen, many of which go hand-in-hand with my Life Skills class schedule. I'm excited because it gives them the chance to really reflect on some of the issues and to receive feedback from community members as they call-in to the radio program.

The girl's empowerment club, called “Tuseme” (which means “Let us speak out” in Swahili) is a club focused on promoting girls' empowerment and community awareness about gender issues through the use of dramatic arts. The club is also receiving money for the purchase of wireless, internet modems so that the girls will be able to start an email exchange with some African-American girls living in the Bronx, NY. This will not only give the girls valuable learning experience as they learn to use the internet, but will also hopefully be empowering to build friendships and learn about the difficulties and accomplishments of life in another culture. I have also recently received money to purchase bicycles for the school (none of the girls can ride bicycles, but ALL boys can) so I am going to teach the girls to ride. I feel that this is a “direct” way of combatting gendered stereotypes, instead of the traditional, over-done workshop method.

Another note on acting – these girls are AMAZING. We are supposed to be hosting an “important American visitor” (that no one knows anything about) this Friday, and I've been told that all of the clubs have to prepare SOMETHING to show this “visitor.” After stressing about it all week (how am I possibly going to prepare a program for 6 clubs by Friday?), I met the Tuseme girls with the most pessimistic attitude: “I want you to divide into three groups and work as a group to come-up with a play that depicts issues faced by girls or women in Ghana.” I stressed that it only had to be 3-5 minutes, and that I wasn't expecting anything elaborate. WELL, 30 minutes later, I called the groups back to perform what they came up with....and I couldn't believe what I saw. Each group managed to include all of the group members into their play (about 12 students per group), no one was shy, no one needed paper to remember their lines, everyone worked together so well... and each play was quite complex and actually about 20 minutes in length! I was beaming the whole time – these girls, that are so often timid, reserved and afraid to contribute to group discussions – absolutely excelled at acting and creative expression.

It really made me wonder – teachers here often have such low expectations of their students. They give them the most detail-oriented assignments, exam questions, etc... and the students do not do well. But, simply giving them open-ended assignments where they have the ability to be creative and free... the results, as far as I've seen, are beautiful. And so – I've come to approach my job as a “counselor” in a completely new light. In Ghanian culture, “counseling” is essentially an adult lecturing a 'child' while the child quietly sits nodding and saying “thank you Sir/Madam.” Myself, coming from a North American background, tried to establish a more egalitarian relationship with the girls – but in most instances, they don't understand this method of communication, and I feel that they think that my indirect problem-solving and advice-giving is because I am incompetent about how to solve issues they are facing. However, giving the girls the freedom of expression through drama and art allows them that opportunity to really say what they are thinking, without being accused of being “disobedient” or “disrespectful.” I feel like I've been enlightened.

On that note, I should also briefly mention what I've been working on in terms of my research proposal. Firstly, doing research here is ridiculous. I have encountered SO many barriers – mainly due to unreliable internet connections, unreliable electricity, smotheringly hot working conditions, complete lack of available online resources, and unreliable internet cafe hours. Needless to say, things have been difficult in the research department.

Nonetheless, I have managed to come up with an idea.

The Ghanian Education Unit, several years ago, implemented a goal to bring guidance counselors into all public schools in the country by 2005. Since that time, I have found no documentation to demonstrate how successful that goal has been, or the extent to which these counseling programs are actually assisting students. The reason that I am so keen to research whether these programs have been helping students is because Career and Guidance Counseling is actually an American intervention. That said, counselor training courses and textbooks most often emphasize individualist, Western ideals of how a counselor should assist his “client.” Essentially, the aim of counseling sessions is to assist that client in self-reflection, with the ultimate goal being the personal empowerment of that client to find her or her own solutions to the issues he or she is facing.

The problem, however, is that the traditional, hierachial social structures found in Ghana and throughout many African countries means that it is very difficult to form that egalitarian relationship, especially between someone “older” or “more elite” (like most counselors) and someone young/poor or uneducated like most students. In this regard, young people are expected to receive and accept advice and solutions from adults in their society, without much questioning.

My research would be to examine methods used by counselors in Ghanian schools and to find out if both counselors and students perceive these forms of counseling to be effective. From the most positive responses, along with my own work as an experimental counselor, I hope to draw conclusions about effective counseling practices within the cultural context of Ghana.

So that's that.

Anyone who actually read through this long, boring blog entry – please let me know what you think about this research idea! I have yet to receive much feedback on it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ghana: Ten Lessons learnt so far

Hello everyone,

Just a quick update to share a few of the unexpected cultural lessons that I've learned here in Ghana so far....

  1. Before traveling ANYWHERE outside of your home, make sure you are armed with toilet paper and Imodium.

  2. Always ask for directions at least three times before going somewhere new. Ghanians love to help and direct, even if they don't exactly know where you're going.

  3. The only way to measure distance here is “far” and “not far.” Traffic, weather and bad road conditions play a major role in the establishment of whether something is “far.”

  4. Even if someone nods frequently and says “Ah, okay” several times during a conversation, that does not mean that they understand you. It is very rare for people to admit that they don't know what you're saying.

  5. If you give out your number, people WILL call you several times a day at all hours of the day and night. Unfortunately, some cellphone companies in Ghana offer free calling between midnight and 4am, so people often take advantage of this.

  6. Do not plan things more than a few days in advance, at best. Situations arise that will disrupt your plans. These can take a variety of forms depending on the plans, but frequently include: power outages, no water, people not showing up (or showing-up very late), lack of understanding or consensus on particular happenings, rain (yes – rain is a legitimate excuse), random public holidays, random government decisions to extend school holidays, late/incomplete construction projects, unexpected (and unpleasant) illnesses, district-wide shortages of essential things like fuel, printer ink, paper, etc.

  7. Being a young, white, female foreigner ensures it is very easy to make acquaintances and potential husbands, but very difficult to make genuine friendships.

  8. On that same note, being a young, white, female foreigner (without a real degree) gives me very little credibility as someone who is capable of looking after herself, let alone assisting others. “This girl can't do her own laundry, pound fufu, carry heavy things on her head, run alongside of cars on the highway selling things, or speak Twi. What CAN she do?” (Fortunately, I can do some of those things now, so I've earned at least some degree of street credibility.)

  9. If you are anything other than Christian or Muslim, it's better to just say that you are either one or the other to avoid direct, confrontational, conversion attempts.

  10. If you witness some sort of petty crime (ex: pick-pocketing) it's often better to just turn your eyes away, since calling it out may result in the criminal (even a youth) being beaten (sometimes to death) by a crowd of people and/or the police.