Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reflections after one month... adjusting to village life

I have now been in Africa for a whole month! How crazy is that! Despite the fact that some days seem as though they will never end, time has just flown by! I find myself becoming sad that I only have 10 weeks left at the school! I also find myself overwhelmed by how much work there is to be done on the library in those weeks! I think there is more work then days left here… I hope I can get it all done before I leave, and if I can’t then I hope someone continues the work after I leave. One thing I have noticed about Ghana (and I am assuming it is the same in much of Africa) is that if something is half working they say oh that is good enough, it kind of works, there is no need to do any more work on it. It is an attitude that I am having a very hard time trying to come to terms with. I know that I am not here to change things. I am here for a short time and I will only get a small taste of this country and its very diverse and rich culture. But at the same time it is so frustrating to see systems in place that simply perpetuate a system that does not function smoothly or at the best level it could. I have also noticed that some of the best things about Ghana’s culture can cause some of their greatest weaknesses. For example – everyone here is like a big family. Everyone cares for everyone else. However this also means that rarely if ever will someone get fired. If you fire someone then who will be there to make sure no one fires you? This results in some people holding positions of power that they should not have; People in high positions that have lost the vision for the future and are not doing anything, but that are so controlling they do not allow their staff to do anything unless they have been given a direct instruction. It is extremely frustrating to recognize these issues and know that nothing will ever be done about them! Even Ghanaians have told me that they know these problems exist but it is useless to try to change the system. Change will never come if no one tries! Change has to start with one person! It only takes one spark to get a fire going… Oh well, it is something I will have to learn to deal with this summer.
Something else that I am adjusting too, or trying to adjust to, is the pace of village life. Everything seems to move so much slower here! No one is in a hurry to get things done, they will happen when they happen. Teachers come and go as they please, sometimes they go to the classes on time and sometimes they don’t, sometimes they come into work and sometimes they don’t… I am having a hard time grasping the concept of people wandering in and out of work as they please with no negative repercussions. Behaviour that would not be tolerated for even a day back home is the way of life here. Time seems to hold little or no significance in peoples lives. I had choir practice (more about the choir later) last night, and the director had stressed that rehearsal was to start at 6 pm sharp! 6 pm did not mean 6:15 or 6:30 or 7:00, but 6:00! I was a little frustrated with Elias (my friend in the choir with me) because he had said he would come get me at 5:30…by the time 6:00 rolled around he picked me up. In my mind all I could think of was great I am the new person in the choir and the only Obruni and I am going to be late to one of my first rehearsals! We made it there by 6:20, and it turned out we were some of the first people there! The director did not even show up until 7:15! Sometimes it is nice to know that time is so relaxed here and you do not always have to be stressed out about arriving somewhere at a specific time, but other times it is very frustrating to hurry to prepare for something that ends up being delayed for hours. Hopefully I will become more used to this relaxed form of time otherwise I will become very frustrated this summer! I just hope that I can get used to North American time again when I get home otherwise I will be in trouble come first semester!
Now I will tell you all more about choir. One of the teachers at the school who I have become friends with Eliasgoes to the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) and he is part of the band that plays along with the choir there. I mentioned to him that I loved to sing and he invited me along to check out the choir. I have now been to 2 rehearsals and church on Sunday (church there is 4 hours long!). It is a very, very gospel choir as the name of the church might have given away. I have a lot of fun singing with them, but I did not enjoy church as much as I had hoped I would. I want to go to the Presbyterian Church before making a decision about which church to attend. So I may or may not stay in the choir, but it has given me a way to meet a lot more people in the community and build relationships I would have never had otherwise. It is experiences like this, the getting involved with the community that will make my summer unforgettable! It is all about the relationships.
Speaking of relationships, as you have probably read in some of my other blogs I am becoming great friends with Anita (the other teacher who lives with me at the school). This past weekend we had a huge heart to heart and now we feel more like sisters then just friends. I feel so blessed to have her in my life here! We can talk openly about everything and have confided a lot of life dreams and goals with each other. I feel like the level of relationship we have now should have taken years to form, but instead it has only taken us a few weeks. She is a lot of fun, and is a huge source of joy in my life. We are going to go get our hair braided together one day =
I am becoming much more comfortable in the village and it is finally beginning to feel like home! I am so thankful for this. I was having a very hard time with being homesick when I first moved from the big city of Accra to my little village of Obodan. It made it even worse when I got sick because no one likes to be sick and be so far from home. It was especially scary to me because the Doctors did not know what I was sick with! Having a mystery illness and being away from home is definitely the worst! But I am settling in very well now. Though at times a do feel a little envious of my friend Amelie who is living in the city and who is able to have a night life with other volunteers and people travelling through Ghana. Night life here consists of walking to Fotobi and playing cards… Not quite as exciting haha. But in the end I am glad that I am in a small village and am able to see what life is like for the majority of Ghanaians. I also am thankful that I am not just hanging out with other foreigners, otherwise you do not get to form close relationships with people from Ghana! You do not get as in touch with the culture, and in the end I do not think you really gain a greater world understanding. When I am bored here at night I just keep reminding myself that I did not come here to have a great night life or meet other foreigners. I came here to gain a greater world understanding in hopes of creating a more peaceful world. I believe that I am exactly where I am meant to be. I found last week while I was sick that I was beginning to almost wish away my time here. I just wanted to go home (a lot of this was due to the fact that I felt absolutely wretched!). But on Sunday at church between the Amens and then Halleluiahs the pastor talked about paying a price. He mentioned the story of Abraham and how God had a plan for his life and a plan to bless him. However first Abraham had to leave behind everything he knew. He had to leave his home and his possessions behind. He had to leave his ‘comfort zone’. However he was pushed from his comfort zone because God had a better plan for his life. God had a plan to bless him in the future, a plan to take him to a better place. Well it was definitely something I could relate to! I have most definitely been pushed outside my comfort zone in more ways then one, but I do believe that I have been brought to this village at this point in my life for a reason. There is a plan, and I need to be living in the present. I need to give myself fully to everything here for the time I have left, because before I know it I will be on a plane heading back home. There is so much for me to learn and experience here, I cannot waste any more time missing things back home. However I do have a request for all of you back home who have significant events happening before I come home… Can you please hold off on them until I get home? Thanks! (aka those with birthdays just delay turning a year older until I can be there ok? Haha)
I met the queen mother of the village the other day! It was very exciting! I was not really sure of the proper etiquette, but we had a very nice conversation and she is very kind! Apparently she had been at the clinic when I went there when I was sick, but I was to sick to know who she was. She had spoken to Bright about me and was very concerned for my health. It is cool to understand more about the systems here, to see more about the old ways of life (the chief system).
I am still having a hard time with the food here, but I am starting to make due. Anita is very understanding that the food is not agreeing with me. We usually have some sort of bread and egg combination for breakfast which is great. It is good to start the day off with food that I can actually eat! Lunch is always some sort of traditional food that the cook at the school makes. All of the food here is very spicy and oily… both things that do not sit very well in my stomach… However this weekend when I go to Accra I am going to get some peanut butter so at least I can get protein when all else fails! I will continue to eat the traditional food in hopes that my system will get used to it, but I do not know how likely that is. I do however absolutely LOVE the fruit that they have here! The pineapple is probably the most delicious pineapple I have ever tastedMy pants may not fit me by then end of the summer… I think I need to find a belt very soon in order to avoid having my pants fall off part way through teaching a class!
I have fallen in love with the cooks little daughter Mameesi! She is absolutely the most adorable child! She usually does not like white people apparently, but she has taken to me like a bee to honey! I spent most of Sunday morning playing with her, and when I had to leave to go to church she started to throw a fit and cried and cried and cried. After I left she came back to Anita’s room (where we had been hanging out) and sat outside her door waiting for me to come back for almost two hours! I could not believe it when Anita told me when I got back. It almost broke my heart! She is so cute and it is so nice to get to play with small children again! I love all of the girls at the high school, but it is not the same as being able to play with young children! There are young kids everywhere in the village, but I do not know them well enough to be able to fully play with them yet…hopefully one day soon I will!
I have taught some of the teachers here how to play crazy eights! It is a lot of fun, and it gives us a good way to pass time at night, especially when the power is out (which happens quite frequently here) - you never really know when you will have power or when it will go off. It makes life a constant guessing game! I definitely have a new appreciation for constant power supplies in North America! This summer is definitely showing me things that I used to take for granted at home that I am so thankful for.
We are starting to get more into the rainy season here, which means torrential downpours can come at anytime…yet another thing that makes life a constant guessing game! It is hard to make plans when you do not know what the state of the weather or power will be in an hour. However I am very grateful that this is the rainy season because when it does rain it cools things down to a bearable temperature. I did not realize how much heat can affect your state of mind!
Another thing I am learning to live very well with is bugs! There seem to be bugs everywhere here! (Especially at night when they get drawn to the lights.) I am ever so thankful that I have a bug net up around my bed! The other night I think someone left the door open to the teachers hallway at the school and our hallway was swarming with bugs! Bright went out and sprayed them, and a lot of them did fall to the floor dead, however when you walked down the hall you could hear them all crunching under your shoes – it has to be one of the grossest sounds I have ever heard! But I am getting a lot less jumpy around bugs. I still do not like them especially when they get into my room, but I am learning that there is not all that much I can do to stop them, and in the end there will be some of them around no matter what I do.
One thing that I am struggling with here is the attitude towards homosexuality. It is absolutely unacceptable here and people are very violently against it (I met a few people who said they would beat someone up if they found out they were homosexual). Some of my best friends back home are homosexual and this attitude makes me very sad. It is such a hateful attitude! I do not understand how you can hate someone so passionately and know nothing about them other then they are homosexual! One of the other Canadian volunteers who I have met here is having a very hard time with this attitude because he is unable to express who he truly is. He constantly has to keep his true person hidden. That must be very tiring! This morning I walked into the staff room to find the headmaster passionately expressing his views against homosexuality and from what I understood from the conversation he was kicking 2 girls out of the school because they were lesbians ( I am not sure about this part I have to ask Anita), but he was very hateful in his words. I do not understand how people here can be so religious and believe in Gods love so much but not accept those who Jesus would have eaten dinner with. He ate with those who the society shunned – he would eat with the homosexuals. Jesus calls us to love one another as ourselves. He does not say choose who you want to love, he says love everyone. You do not have to like everyone or agree with everyone, but you do have to love everyone. This hateful attitude will give me many problems this summer, I can tell already.
I have bought a traditional African dress and continue to fall in love with the culture here. I love the bright colours and the upbeat music! In choir we sang a song called Igwe by a group called Midnight Crew (I do not know if you can hear it if you youtube it, but it is worth a try, it will give you a taste of the music here!) I hope to get some more traditional clothes in the future (it may have to be sooner rather then later at the rate my clothes are becoming to big for me! =)
I am becoming more used to the changes in lifestyle here. It no longer seems so strange that when you go to the bathroom you then have to go next door and fill a bucket of water to poor it down the toilet bowl. I am getting more used to the fact that I have a different standard of cleanliness then most people here do, and am finding ways to cope with the differences (disinfectant spray, antibacterial hand soap, etc.) It no longer feels all that strange to see chickens, goats, sheep or cattle just wandering around. (Though this weekend I saw a sheep and a chicken get hit by a car – that was a little disturbing). The driving is still a little terrifying at times, but not quite as terrifying as it was when I first arrived. And I am becoming an expert at walking on the half paved half pot hole filled roads without spraining an ankle. =) I know that I will definitely miss the greenness of Obodan when it is finally time for me to leave. It is so breathtaking here. And I have found a place on the back porch of the school where I like to go to sit and think and take 10 minutes to rejuvenate throughout the day. The view is amazing and it is truly peaceful and serine.
Obodan is feeling more like home, I am really beginning to flourish here, and know that it will be very hard when it comes time for me to finally leave. Until then I am going to throw myself into all the possible different situations I can. I do not want to go home feeling as though I missed out on something here. I am going to spend the next 10 weeks being fully present with those here and soaking up everything I can.

1 comment:

  1. You're so cool Katie. Sound like A LOT has happened in this month. Can't wait to see what 2 months has in store for you.