Saturday, May 15, 2010

Baby Steps into Ghanian Culture

So I've been sitting here for 10 minutes on the Via train with Yasmin, trying to decide how to start my first blog entry. I guess it would be logical to let you all know where I'm going and what I'm doing, so here it goes.

In early June (I don't yet know precisely when) I will be travelling to Ghana, West Africa for my IDS co-op placement for 10 to 12 months. More specifically, I will be working outside of Nsawam in the small villages of Fotobi and Obodan. My "official job title" describes me as a career counsellor for teenage girls in the local high school. This worries me just a bit. My main fear stems from the fact that I feel rather unqualified to deal with the issues that may be brought forth by the girls. Through speaking with the previous volunteer that worked in the same position, some of the issues that arose were extremely daunting, and the ways in which they are dealt with within the context of Ghana is far different than how similar issues would be dealt with here. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to the challenge.

So, I mentioned previously that I am currently on a train. In fact, I have just returned from Uniterra and CIL training in Montreal. Surprisingly, (and I think this had more to do with the facilitator than the CIL material) I learned a lot. We also had the opportunity to speak with past volunteers in Ghana, as well as a man that previously lived in Ghana.

Now, onto the more interesting stories! Last night, Brianna and I (Brianna is another IDS student who is also going to Ghana, but to a different area) went to an authentic Ghanian restaurant in Montreal. When confronted with the menu, I had essentially no idea what to choose - most of the items I had never seen nor heard of before. But, through previous research on Ghanian, I had learned that "fufu" is a traditional Ghanian staple food, and so that was my choice. Upon informing the waiter of my selection, he asked Bri and I if we would prefer utensils or to use our hands the way Ghanians do. Up for a challenge, Bri and I chose the latter.

When the food arrived, we were a bit confused and intimidated. The bowls in which the food arrived were huge, and inside lay a large ball of what appeared to be cookie dough, surrounded by oily soup and with a whole fish on the side. The cookie dough, as it turns out, is the fufu: a carbohydrate-rich medley of plantains, cassava, and other ingredients mashed into a ball with the consistency of very very thick mashed potatoes. The soup was made of peanuts. Quite honestly, I have never eaten soup with my hands, so I just sat there thinking about it for 5 minutes wondering how I would avoid burning myself on the steaming liquid. Eventually though, we got the hang of things, and the meal was very tasty - although we could barely eat a third of it (note to self: fufu is EXTREMELY filling).

While we were eating, the waiter let us know that he was from Ghana. When we likewise told him that we would be going to Ghana in June, he suggested one of us should marry him. (Our first proposal!) Following the meal, we approached the bar area to pay our bill. I complimented the lady on her cooking and she asked us when we were leaving for Ghana (apparently the waiter, her son, had told her that we were going). When we told her June, there was a flurry of activity as she told us that she was going to give us the numbers of various nephews and nieces. As it turns out, she was unable to find the numbers, so she had to firstly call several other relatives to obtain the numbers. It was 1am in Ghana at that time, and I can imagine that these people were not overly happy to be awoken with such a seemingly trivial matter. Finally, she got the contact information of her nephew and gave him a call. After speaking with him for a few minutes, she past the phone to me! After an awkward phone call, I agreed to add him to facebook. We hadn't even left Canada yet, and already people were going out of their way to help us feel welcome when we arrive in Ghana.

Well, that about concludes my Ghanian experiences so far. Although not yet in the country, I feel as though I've made some valuable first steps that will ease some of the initial confusion when trying to emerge within the culture of a different country.


  1. Hi Becky, I'm stalking you.
    Your restaurant experience was so awesome! Those people were so nice. Hope you have fun in Ghana!
    - Bonnie