July 23, 2011

Sometimes when I think how it is July, I can’t believe how fast time has gone. Then I sit and think about it for a while and I realize that it has actually been the longest time of my life, and I have felt every single second of being here. But not in a bad way! I wish I could explain the relationship I have with Ghana. One thing I know for sure, if Ghana were a guy, all of my friends would beg me to break up with him. They would say, “Deidre, Ghana is really great, and I am sure he will make another girl really happy, but he is just not for you! You two have been through so much and there is definitely a bond there, but you have to remember that the two of you have had such a bumpy and unpredictable relationship. No way you want to end up with such a fickle guy who is great to you one day and then a complete scum the next. You need stability, and Ghana just can’t give that to you.”  And they are right. Ghana has been anything but predictable, and has built me up countless time just to knock me back down (reference: The Foundations).  I wouldn’t change a thing about it though. I have come up with a Love/Hate list that hopefully gives you a taste of my…love/hate of my time here. It is not exhaustive, and is incredibly cheesy. But hey, I think I am allowed to be. I am a world traveller now and I am all into soul-searching and stuff. Ok I’m done talking, just read the list.

 

Something I hate: Being sweaty every second of every day

Something I love: Not having stinky sweat. There might be a lot, but at least it doesn’t smell. You win some you lose some.

 

Something I hate: Stepping in goat poop walking through the center of town

Something I love: Eating goat meat. Yeah who knew?

 

Something I hate: Being called “obruni” everywhere you go

Something I love: Going to church every Sunday where the entire Branch loves you and calls you “sister”

 

Something I hate: The mean midwives at the clinic

Something I love: Eating lunch with the other girls my age, hiding from the mean midwives

 

Something I hate: Eating food that you were not present for its preparation (and potentially worse than that, seeing the preparation)

Something I love: How people, no matter their circumstances, will make the very best meal for you, and spend all day doing it. And then sit in front of you to make sure you eat all of it, all the while commenting on how white girls don’t eat enough (wait, an African is telling me that? Paradigm shift…)

 

Something I hate: The enormous bugs that are honestly EVERYWHERE

Something I love: The satisfaction of squishing an aforementioned enormous bug when you never thought you could

 

Something I hate: Being really sick

Something I love: How everyone you have ever met in town comes to visit you each day you are sick to remind you that they are praying for you

 

Something I hate: Being charged way more for things than everyone else

Something I love: Abena, the woman in the market who always gives us more peppers and onions than we pay for

 

Something I hate: When the town crazy doesn’t wear his loincloth 

Something I love: Uhh, when the town crazy does wear his loincloth?

 

Something I hate: Not being able to communicate to any women in the clinic, and being made fun of because of it

Something I love: Salamatu- the sweetest woman in the entire world, who sticks up for me and introduces me as her best friend in the whole world (“Deidre, madamfo papaapa!”)

 

Something I hate: Having to leave this place

Something I love: Realizing how much I have come to love this place that is so far and so different from home. Meeting new people, and over time recognizing them as the angels they are that God sent to me to teach me and to help me. Learning about life, about faith, and that God, not myself, is in charge. And realizing that I am ok with that.

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June 22, 2011

Welcome to June in Ghana everybody. I am pleased to report that I am doing better than I was during my last entry. But just barely…

Ok that is not completely true, I am doing better, and I am really enjoying my time out here. Since last entry was dedicated to culture shock, I figured I had better pick another topic for this one: my project.

Good one, eh?

I have been going to the clinic every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Those are the antenatal days, where the pregnant women here in Wiamoase and surrounding towns come for their check-ups. I have been focusing mainly on observing and haven’t started interviews, but I have already learned a lot. I feel like my project is a living thing that is growing and developing, sometimes at a faster rate than I am. It seems to change without consulting with me first, and by the time I realize what it has done it changes again. Thank heavens for M and C. They are great sounding boards and always have great advice to give. We don’t have a field facilitator out here, so we are pretty much on our own. It is super frustrating sometimes, but it is great to talk things out and work through issues with our projects and stuff. I really had no idea research was going to be this hard.

Anyway, my project has shifted a bit (for the umpteenth time, and certainly not the last) and I have a new focus. I am now focusing on the clinic’s perspective of antenatal care. Before, I was focusing on women and why or why not they come in for antenatal and delivery services. After being here for a while, and after spending time at the clinic, I am realizing that the clinic does so much for the women here, and I am very interested in looking more into those things. Exiting times for sure.

May 17, 2011

I have no idea what I’m doing. I thought I did, you know, before I got here. But I don’t. M, C and I don’t know what to eat, we don’t know what anything costs around here, we can’t communicate with anyone, and everywhere we go we are laughed at. And I mean EVERYWHERE we go. I don’t understand it, when we use the few Twi words we do know, people just start laughing and won’t respond because they are too busy rounding up their other friends to come laugh and the Obrunis. And of course, when we speak English, they don’t respond either because THEY DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH. How in the world am I supposed to get anything done while I am out here?

I am sure I am just going through a bit of culture shock. Actually I am positive of it. I am so frustrated with my situation right now. I skipped the honeymoon stage and went straight to the hostility stage. And I’m afraid I am never going to get out.

Ok. So game plan: umm…come up with a game plan. Well, what I really want to do is hide in my room and stay there for 3 months so I don’t have to talk to anyone. I like that idea. A lot. But what I am actually going to do is the exact opposite: I am going to force myself to get out and go talk to people (yuck) and go to the clinic and get to know the workers there (I seriously hate myself for writing this right now, because the idea of going out and being with people makes me want to collapse into a puddle of despair).  Whatev. I have to tell myself it will get better, and I have to believe it. I wonder what next month will bring.

Learning Journal 30

Last day of class. WOW. I really didn’t think that I would ever get to this point. And now here I am-my IRB application turned in, my proposal turned in, this portfolio about to be turned in. AAAAANNNNNDDDDD- I leave for Ghana in 22 days. WOW is right.

I have learned much more than I was expecting to in this class. Not that I had low expectations or anything, just that I didn’t really know what to expect. I have learned about how different cultures view time, body language, spoken language, and facial expressions. I am familiar with the definition and symptoms of culture shock, and I am very familiar with the IRB application process. I really have grown this past semester, and the things learned in this class have, as far as I can tell, prepared me for my experience in Ghana.

Learning Journal 29

This post is about another class reading: Coping with Culture Shock by Ferraro. Culture shock, as referenced by Ferraro is the psychological disorientation experienced by people who suddenly find themselves living and working in radically different cultural environments. Culture shock is the anxiety that results when all familiar cultural props have been knocked out from under a person who is entering a new culture. Adapting to a new culture is like trying to play a game in which the rules are not known.

Sounds a lot like what I am going to be experiencing in about 3 weeks. This article reminded me of a cross-cultural…simulation that I took part in. The people with me, including myself were split up into 2 groups and were put in 2 different rooms. Each room was taught the rules of a “game” to play, completely different and independent of the other group’s game. After playing for a while, and getting comfortable with my game, I went to the other room with the instructions, “Figure out the other game, participate in the game, and come back and tell us the rules.” I honestly did not think it would be that hard, but when I got into the other room, I was completely lost. I was attempting to play a game to which I didn’t know the rules, and it was obvious. My original estimation of what the rules were turned out to be extremely different from the actual rules of the game.

Back to the article: Ferraro references another, Oberg, who outlines 4 stages of culture shock.

1. The honeymoon stage: Most people begin their foreign assignment with a positive attitude,so this initial stage is usually characterized by euphoria. At this point, all that is new is exotic and exciting. Attitudes about the host country, and one’s capacity to operate in it successfully,are  unrealistically positive.

2. Irritation and hostility: But as with marriages, honeymoons do not last forever. Withinseveral weeks or perhaps months, problems arise at work, at home, and at the marketplace. Now, all of a sudden, it is the cultural differences, not the similarities, that loom so large.  The second stageof culture shock has set in; this second stage represents the crisis stage of a disease.  A commonly used mode for dealing withthis crisis stage is to band together with other expatriates to disparage the local people:“How can they be so lazy?” “So dirty?” “So stupid?” “So slow?”

3. Gradual adjustment: Stage 3 marks the passing of the crisis and a gradual recovery. This stage may begin so gradually that the “patient” is unaware that it is even happening. An understanding slowly emerges of how to operate within the new culture. Some cultural cues now begin to make sense; patterns of behavior begin to emerge, which enable a certain level of predictability. In short, the culture seems more natural and more manageable. A capacity to laugh at one’s situation is a sure sign that adjustment—and ultimate recovery—is well under way.

4. Biculturalism: The fourth and final stage, representing full or near full recovery, involves the ability to function effectively in two different cultures. The local customs that were so unsettling months earlier are now both understood and appreciated. Without having to “go native,” the person now accepts many of the new cultural ways for what they are. This is not to imply that all strains in intercultural relationships have disappeared, but the high-level anxiety caused by living and working in a different cultural environment is gone.

While these stages may seem a bit ominous, I find it extremely comforting to know that when these things happen to me, I will know that I’m not just going crazy. Knowing and expecting these things to happen will more fully help me get over the unhealthy feelings of culture shock.

 

Learning Journal 28

The project presentations today were all really great. I thought it was really good to hear what other people have been working on all semester.

I am the kind of person who has to write out her entire speech before giving it. “Winging it” is a skill that is yet to be developed in my little pool of talents. So here is what I have written out so far for my presentation. This particular excerpt talks about my methods of data collection and the potential challenges I foresee while in the field.

As a public health major, I am especially interested in women’s health. Naturally I wanted to incorporate this interest into my research project, and I began research about maternal/infant health in Africa. Like most of ours, my project changed and adapted and I eventually began focusing on childbirth and the location of delivery. My research title is Decisions in Childbirth: Understanding the factors that influence a mother’s decision concerning the location of childbirth. I want to know where women choose to have their babies and why.  So why is this important?

I plan to answer this question using two main methods: observation and interviewing. I am going to spend some of my time in the local clinic in Wiamoase, volunteering and familiarizing myself with the birthing and delivery services that are available to women that come into the clinic. I will hopefully be able to interview some women on their opinion of the clinic and why they chose to seek the delivery services offered there. I plan to use my host mom as a resource as well, and get her opinion on the clinic, and if she knows women who chose not to utilize the delivery services at the clinic. Most of my interviews will be very unstructured, and follow the format as a conversation. I think that being able to get the women talking and telling their stories will be some of the most valuable information.

Some of the potential challenges I foresee come from my lack of experience. Like I’ve mentioned, this will be my first international experience, and getting used to a new culture, especially one as different from mine as Ghana is, will be difficult. Also, this is the first time I’m doing field research and I am not used to all of the components. I believe that by using the lessons that we’ve learned in this prep class about interviewing, building rapport, and culture shock will be very valuable while in the field.

 

Learning Journal 27

Time for another blast from the past reading assignment. This time it is by Richard Borshay Lee, Eating Christmas in the Kalahari.

This article is about the author, Lee, who has done extensive field work in southern Africa. He has spent many months with the same people, the Kung Bushman, and is very familiar with their culture. Or so he thought. In Eating Christmas in the Kalahari, Lee tells of an experience that changed his perspective on these people he seemingly knew so well.

After a particularly long stay with the Bushman, Lee decides that he is going to buy a large cow to slaughter and share with the entire village for Christmas. He goes finds the largest, fattest animal he can find and buys it for the whole village. The people don’t give him the response he was expecting. Instead of thanking him, they all talk about how tiny and sickly the cow is, and how it will “hardly feed one camp.” After a few days of this, Lee is embarrassed and dreading the day that they slaughter the ox for the feast. He waits anxiously as the men of the camps begin to cut up the slaughtered ox. He sees layers and layers of fat and meat, enough for everyone in the camps to eat to the brim, and have pounds left over. So why did the Bushman all tell him that it was a tiny, terrible animal? That is simply their way of keeping men humble. One of the Bushmen explains that they “refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride with kill somebody.”

I find it incredibly interesting that Lee, after having spent extended amounts of time with these people, still did not know one of the basic principles that made the Bushmen who they were. Lee was still viewed as an outsider, even after months and months.

This story is a reminder to me that no matter how hard I try, I am still going to be seen as an outsider in Ghana. My white skin is a definite give away, but even my lack of understanding of their culture. I have thought often about how to deal with situations where I mess up and do something wrong in their culture. How do I fix it? My philosophy is that is it easier to not mess up in the first place than to fix the mess you create. I hope that simply sitting back and observing is a good idea. That way, I can hopefully learn at least some of the proper social cues and not offend anyone in the process. This method however, may not work all the time. In cases such as these, I just hope that I can keep from offending too many people in my learning process.