Home New Home…

Maame Cecelia and Me at Swearing In4-23-14 blog

Last week we completed our training. The final day we underwent a test comprised of ten stations to assess our readiness for service. We were challenged about issues such as language, safety and security, culture, technical knowledge, etc. The good news is we all passed and were invited to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers! The following day we all dressed in outfits provided by our host families (many of which were made of material to match the outfit of our host mothers), with a few notable exceptions, such as the host mother whose dress resembled the American flag! The swearing in ceremony was extensive, including many speeches, skits and dancing; the Ambassador, a former PCV himself, waxed nostalgic about his service and subsequent career, and finally we recited the oath that made it all official. The next day we all set off for our respective new residences, saying our goodbyes to the close-knit group of former trainees and our fantastic host community of Maase.
I have mentioned before in this blog that my new way of life living in Ghana has begun to feel like habit. Now, however, I have moved into my official new community and nothing seems routine. I continue to jog in the mornings, but now my new neighbors call my contact person to make sure he knows that I am out and about. I have to cook for myself and realize here as well that even this basic function feels foreign here. I have inherited a two burner gas stovetop from the former PCV; one burner doesn’t seem to work, and it sits on a table too high for my petite stature, but perhaps the strangest thing is that I have not cooked with gas since college. I recall going back to an electric range after those years with much disdain, but now gas again seems to be a stranger…
I am currently living in a room of a house occupied by many others, some family (landlord, wife, two kids, and grandma), some renters (some within the house and some in the back building), and others a mystery to me (who does the three year old boy belong to? And is his name Kevin or Calvin?)
I inherited a bed, stovetop, bookcases, and table and chairs from the former volunteer and for these belongings I am very grateful. Unfortunately, since I do not eat meat, I am unable to also inherit her seat at the meal table (it sounds like the landlord’s wife provided many of her meals).
I have ventured out into town, but am careful to avoid the hottest part of the day, as I fear that heat exhaustion may have been the cause of my sickness during site visit about a month ago. During my early afternoon downtime, I have rearranged and cleaned my new room (the former volunteer also had a cat, so spring cleaning was in order). And I look through the resources I have received from Peace Corps to remind myself of what’s ahead. Peace Corps suggests NOT starting any projects during your first three months at site. They want you to focus your energy on integrating into the community and observing the needs of the village. My village is very big and so just finding my way around and meeting some of the people will keep me quite busy, I am sure. Unfortunately, most of the schools are on holiday for a few weeks, vacation which coincides with Easter each year. This prevents me from diving in and observing the school systems where I imagine I will spend much of my time (and I believe Michael will spend some of his). The Ghana school system is quite different from America and students learn almost purely through route memorization. Critical thinking skills are not developed here and I think this is an area rich for my exploration! I look forward to observing when they are back in session to get a better sense of how I can make a difference.
Michael will arrive in about 2 1/2 weeks for the summer and we are trying to get the new living quarters at the community center ready in time for us to live there. I will miss the company of the family where I currently stay, but look forward to the privacy and independence that this new space will provide. It is more centrally located, as well, positioned right next to one of the schools, so that will be convenient.
Not much else to say. Adjusting to my new life is challenging, but will prove to be a good investment given time. For those of you concerned after my embarrassment in Maase early in, I can happily report that I have seen T-Roll in many stores on our main street and will not need to relive that misadventure here. Though my first day back, a few kids followed me home, one carrying my small bag, then asking for a tip. I refused him and then headed to the bathroom (or rather toilet). As one of the young boys saw where I was going, he said, “you are going to shit?” I was shocked. I understand from training that the word “shit” is a word is used here and words like “poop,” for instance, are not understood, but all the same it surprised me to be again confronted by the boldness of it all. I guess growing up in the U.S. where ladies are not thought to go #2, I’m just behind the times… Ghana certainly is a developing nation!

One thought on “Home New Home…

  1. Fredanna

    Loving the new attire. Looking VERY sharp! It is what we call ase-obi, which is similar attire for an event. I see that you are counting down the days! I can only imagine how excited you are to have Michael back with you very soon! We are also counting down the days. We leave the US on May 13. Mike is getting VERY apprehensive although excited at the same time. I will be there for 3 months because I have work to do but Mike will be with me for 3 weeks, so I am going to vacation and take him around. I think the cultural differences are going to be interesting to explain, especially since there are elements that I take for granted.

    It is so interesting to read through your writings about your observances of cultural differences. One of the mentions by you that I find interesting is your observation of the presence of non-related persons within a family structure. What you are witnessing is a very West African experience, where usually children are placed with individuals, who may have a better socio-economic standard in society. The child moving in with the family, will join the family (somewhat as an adopted child), attend school, often have religious exposure but is expected to do chores (cooking and cleaning) while in the home. Recently, this type of living arrangement has been likened to the “restavec” in Haiti. However, West Africans may be quite offended by the thought that the child living with them is considered a domestic servant, as there is the belief that the child is better off living in their new home than in a village or home where the parents are unable to provide them a future.

    I will say that this idea continues to be very difficult to understand for individuals who consider the nuclear family as family. I look at my life and see quite a few similarities to your Ghana observations. My paternal grandmother was a single mother who had 5 biological children but “adopted” 3 others. I consider her adopted daughters as cousins and aunty. Although my maternal grandparents had 7 biological children, they also “adopted” 3 other children, who I still consider true aunts and uncle. As these folks all grew up and got married and left the home, my grandparents “adopted” 5 other children, pretty much kids who came from the same family, who I consider to be cousins, even though we are not blood related. When my grandparents died, these teens were sent to live with other family members and friends so that they would continue to receive care. Although they did have parents (well a mother), they considered my grandparents as we did. When we were in Sierra Leone on holiday, we all shared the same rooms, sometimes same beds, same food, and same activities as we all lived in the same house.

    In addition to these folks, there was also a “family” who lived in the “downstairs”/basement/compund area. The mother had passed away at childbirth and the girl kids (who were my siblings ages) were living with people they called “grandparents” and the boy (who ended up being my first boyfriend), lived with his dad but came to hang out with his sisters after school.

    Even today, there is a young man that has been with my family since he was 15 years old (he is 23 years old now). He attended school, while he was with and now my dad is sending him to trade school. He generally oversees our home in Sierra Leone and handles the day to day headaches of generator issues and water issues. Although I consider him a younger cousin, he is not a blood cousin. His brother lives with my aunt in the same capacity. The father of the young men is a taxi driver in Sierra Leone but was not able to provide his sons with a future, so he gave up his sons so that they can have a better future. As an aside, when I am in Sierra Leone, he is one of two people that I ask and hire to take me around. This is also the reason I currently have a 6 year-old daughter, also named Fredanna. Although I cannot legally adopt her through the US adoption system at this time, I am responsible for her health and well-being, and by extension, the health and well being of Fredanna’s biological mother and to some degree their family.

    The system is a complex one but it is supposed to function as a way to lift people out of the rut and provide them with a slightly better existence than they would ordinarily have. Families tend to be fluid in this context.

    More recently, there has been a lot of fear that this type of communal living is more akin to “restavec” and may border on indentured servitude and in some cases even slavery. There have been groups that have been trying to figure this type of relationship and trying to understand it in a Western context, which is difficult to do.
    Overall, it is supposed to be an uplifting opportunity, however, as with all interpersonal relationships, there may be situations where abuse exists. The discussion of abuse may also be subjective as corporal punishment is still a common practice.

    I am not sure if this helped clarify this situation or made it even more complex. Sorry for the length of the post. I just hope that it provides some context for what you are observing.
    Much Love! XOXO
    Fredanna

    Reply

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