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 everyone...it 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


  1. I like how much more eloquently you summed up the feeling of adaptation than I did. If it's any consolation, I did find your explanation of the tro-tro culture there interesting. Also, I forget that other people don't experience the same climate as me, so when you explained about all your food spoiling in a power outage, it was pretty novel to me (given that I am only just having access to a fridge, and only for the next month.) See you in 7 months or so. :)

  2. Becka..you are an amazing young lady,i can feel your words you are writing,, i can feel your passion and your excitement.You have no idea how proud i am of you and what you are accomplishing.Say hi to the queen for me..haha love you sweetie xo

  3. Hi baby,

    I love reading your blog posts, I'm so proud of all the things you do :P

    However! I must strongly disagree with the belief that the last 5-6 months have gone by very quickly. I already feel like I endured waiting a year to see you when we haven't gotten through one..

    I miss and love you, Kevin.

  4. Becky, I for one knew that you would love it there. I mean, it is kinda what you went to University for...isn't it? You wouldn't be in the program you are in if you weren't ready for a wide variety of challenging situations. Not to mention I know you are very adaptable, and capable of making friends instantaneously (no matter where you are)! I'm so happy that you are loving it!