Friday, July 20, 2012

On the Brink of Change

One of the reasons rural Asante Ghana has been such a fascinating field site is because of its highly transitory state of “development,” for lack of a better word. I really was not sure what to expect upon arrival. I was not sure how touched by the almost all-encompassing hand of Westernization and globalization the country has been. I have only traveled briefly to a couple of other countries outside of the United States before Ghana, and have never done any type of thorough study, so I realize I do not really have anything to accurately compare it to, but for me it has seemed that the region of Ghana I am living in is hovering between a complete sort of Americanized development and the stereotypical standard of living often identified with complete underdevelopment.

For example, a boy might have to fetch water from a well because his household lacks running water, but he walks to the well in his Nike Air shoes. Or a farmer in the bush might not have electricity, and live in a mud hut, but he lights his home at night with a battery-operated flashlight. A girl might go to the market to buy yams pulled the very same day from the ground in a nearby farm, and maybe will help slaughter a chicken that night for the family dinner with bare hands, but she also has a Facebook account.

And I know that these observations are pretty tip-of-the-iceberg (for any fellow field studiers reading this), but I have just found the juxtaposition of really familiar Westernized culture with a type of agricultural, peasant village life culture very foreign to the West, a very interesting part of my experience here.

This has really played a role in why I have found my actual project so interesting. I have been looking at the cross-generational perspectives towards farming in the area, and how these, the rapidly increasing access to formal education, and other social infrastructural issues, have caused a recent movement towards white collar jobs, and an abandonment of seeing farming as a viable option for leading a successful life. The transitional state of Ghana’s development has obviously played a role in this shift of occupational pursuits, and I can see this in the interview answers I get from the young and old alike. The young talk about wanting to play an important role in the society, and link this to things like driving a car, wearing a tie or nice uniform, etc. The old speak of how the world is changing, how their children and grandchildren understand computers and other complexities of the “modern” world.

Whether all the changes taking place have more negative or more positive implications, it is just really incredible to see how such a visibly ongoing transition in a country takes huge affects on both social structure and culture norms. 

Making Friends

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gender Roles and the Gospel of Bridging Culture Gaps

I run the risk of sounding way too culturally biased or over-generalizing for an anthropology major and Field Studies participant, but this has been on my mind lately.

I think we can agree, actually to be fair, I think some of us, or a great number of us can agree (because being in the social sciences has convinced me that there is never a time when we all can agree) that there are certain moral or ethical issues that have universal answers, although within various cultures these may or may not have ever been accepted. What I am saying is that from my point of view, it is never okay to, let’s say, beat a child. And although I want to be culturally unbiased, if it is an integral part of Culture X to beat children, I am still not going to think that this behavior is ethically okay. However, that does not mean I would condemn the participants in this behavior as bad or wicked people, because to an extent I do want to be culturally unbiased, and realize that had I been raised in that culture, there is a great chance I would be beating children. I think this type of thought process in some instances may be more effective than always attempting to be one hundred percent unbiased, which of course, is virtually impossible, given the fact that every human is ingrained with countless biases sprung from the unique environments we grow up in. Disclaimer: I also know that my reasoning could be misconstrued in so many ways, for example when colonists came in and claimed everything anyone did was unethical if it was not in line with their own way of living, and punished accordingly.

However, after this long and confused explanation of how I feel, I will say that one of the universal truths I believe in is gender equality. While here in Wiamoase, I have had several females tell me that they regret they cannot enjoy this mentality, that they know they are less valued then men in many instances, and that they expect to be within their marriages. I have also heard from some of my good male friends here these very sentiments vocalized, even to the point where I was bluntly told I am less “special” since I am a female. One woman told me that the young generation is beginning to change, but that even now you could find a female farmer in the bush, pregnant, with another child strapped to her bag, carrying items on her head, and her husband will also add his cutlass to her load. I have pondered these different outlooks, and of course sympathize with the complaints of my female friends here due to my own desires for equality in my relationships with males in my own culture.

One experience I had recently was a testimony builder to me as a Latter-Day Saint member. My great aunt and uncle served a mission in Kumasi and the surrounding area a few years back, and asked if I would meet with one of their old friends and converts. I was able to get lunch with him and his family in Kumasi a while ago, and immediately noticed some unique things about them. They maintained their Ghanaian identity, but there were some differences I noticed in the husband’s behavior towards his wife than what I have so far seen while here. He introduced her with love and respect, calling her his “dear” wife and his “beautiful” wife. He allowed her to choose what their family should order off the restaurant menu, and he even helped her throughout the meal with the two children. She fed one son on her lap, and he fed the other on his own lap. I thought about how passionate I am about educating people everywhere about human equality whether along racial, ethnic, social class, or gender lines, and how these types of sentiments empower both men and women when they experience the joy of teamwork and the ability to learn from any type of person. And I saw this in this Ghanaian husband and his wife. They both acted extremely confident and seemed to have a pervading sense of satisfaction and happiness. So I am going to be highly culturally biased right now and say this: that I have a testimony of the Gospel for one, because it bridges certain cultural gaps between people who are beautifully and wonderfully diverse and various, in positive and uplifting ways that will lead to a more peaceful existence between such different individuals here on earth. 

Dual Language Society

 It is interesting seeing how even a change in language within a society can symbolize globalization and the catalytic causes behind it. Since I identify largely with white America, where a large bulk of the population is monolingual, I have not been super exposed to cultures saturated in two or more languages. Here I have seen at least two stages, and heard about a third in Ghana’s language development. I have talked to the much older generation, that did not have access to formal education, and can only speak Twi, the younger generation of middle-aged adults and the youth, who speak Twi and English separately and also often Twinglish to each other, and I have heard about kids in the big cities like Kumasi who come visit their grandma in Wiamoase and can only speak English.

The last stage frightens me a bit, because there is value in every language – language is one of the most significant symbolic elements of a society and its values and history – and since globalization is sweeping from the English speaking West, it sometimes dashes away native languages. I think if Twi or any other traditional language is wholly diminished, a society could risk losing a substantial part of its culture permanently.

However, I do not think it is a bad thing altogether that English is now becoming as prevalent as Twi in Asante, Ghana. It holds history, albeit a regretful one. When I helped teach a couple of English classes at the secondary school here in Wiamoase, I explained that I would be teaching American English, which has a completely different diction than what they have been used to – British English. If you discuss this with the teachers, they are very prompt and blunt to respond that they learn British English because the British were their “colonial masters.” They know the history behind why their education systems, and other formal sectors, are now patterned after the British, and all of this is sort of embodied in their use of British English as well.

No matter how sad the history, I think that knowing the history of one’s spoken and written language has import, because this holds specific keys for one to understand their own culture and history, which are fundamental elements of what makes up each individual in a country.

Also, especially as a student of cultural studies, I am just envious of people who are multilingual, because obviously this skill allows for highly effective cross-cultural relations, and the understanding of various social planes and where they overlap. It is apparent to me that although I (sadly) failed to study another language at the undergraduate level, this may need to play a big part in my future education. 

Random Journal Posts #4

…In one interview I did I asked about what forces needed to come to the aid of salvaging agriculture in Ghana (for example, the government). The teacher I was interviewing said that in his opinion, the Western nations should step in. He said that their economies had risen to the superior power they now hold on the backs of slaves, especially in America, and when the British colonized areas of Africa, including Ghana. The country was exploited for its riches, and left in the ashes of this exploitation to now be in the undeveloped state it is in. It wasn’t my place to respond of course, because I was conducting an interview, but how could I respond to that anyway? Its not like that’s the first time I’ve heard this – its basically all we talked about in my development classes last semester – how the Western nations exploited their way to the top, and continue to in many ways through neo-colonialist behaviors. However, to hear it from a real person who does not live in America, and experiences the aftermath of these recent world affairs each day, and who is now my friend, and is a familiar face, was a different experience. With all of the many despicable acts of marginalization and barbaric exploitations of people and races in the world’s history, I just pray to have faith that through the Atonement, all of God’s many children here will someday be rectified for these wrongs and blessed with healing power and great relief after burdens are lifted…

…We toured the Cape Coast slave castle after breakfast, and that was a heavy experience. It is hard for me to explain my exact feelings, but I just cannot fathom how such brutality occurs, and in the name of religion in many instances. The castle has a chapel where the European colonialists could hold worship services, and ironically right underneath it is the male slave dungeon, where hundreds of slaves were kept in small vaults where it was almost completely dark besides tiny windows near the ceiling for ventilation, and where they had to lie on the stone hard floor and defecate there, and many died before they even reached the slave ships. What a horrible end. Stripped away from your family, housed like cattle, and then sold as merchandise. They said anyone who resisted would be made an example of and punished, maybe killed. Women could be punished for refusing to sleep with the colonists or for showing other forms of resistance. Anyway, I felt pretty weighed down thinking about that, and how my ancestors could very well have been brought to America through the slave trade…

…After, we packed into a taxi to Hans Cottage, a place Madame Esther’s daughter Grace had told me about. It ended up being a restaurant set up right on top of a pond that is home to a bunch of alligators! I was wondering if we would actually see any, when immediately after walking over the bridge that takes you to the restaurant we saw one huge one sitting in the grass with its mouth propped open and all the jagged, evil teeth showing. Another was lurking with its eyes and back just showing above the murky water and it was super creepy. I would have been happy just to see this, but was elated when we went around the corner, and they let us into a little gated area where you could stand 10-20 feet away from ones that had come up onto the shore to sun bathe. The people in charge keep them well-fed with meat so that they wont be hungry to eat us, but we still had to be careful to not all get too close or anything. However, we did get to approach them from behind and get a picture with our legs straddled over them and touching its back. I felt slightly scared when I did this. However, now I have a sweet picture touching a gator…

…It is weird hearing from all these farmers how many of them either did not get an education, or even if they did, they have not been outside Ghana or even their small towns or communities, yet their children are being put through school, getting white collar jobs, and some traveling abroad. I wonder what it is like to be somewhere like London, like two of Saffo’s children, and have this scope and perspective of the world that many Ghanaians don’t get exposed to, and still relate with your parents when they have not experienced anything like this. It is really interesting, and that is why my project, that might seem bone dry boring on the outside, is actually interesting because it is a study of the rapidly developing change between this older, under-educated, rural generation, and this new youthful generation that has been pumped with dreams of “becoming someone” “going places” “seeing things.” They have this whole new aspiration, and are exposed to globalism and technology. It is interesting to see how these factors can drastically alter culture and behavior...

…Mike then told me he wanted to ask me something. He said that he had had an American friend whom he had catered to, taking her around all over to see things, and even spending money to accommodate her. However, she had never called him once she left, not even to say thank you. He asked me straight up if we just come and use people to get the information we need and then drop them. Of course I hardly knew how to respond. Several people have voiced similar concerns to me here. On one hand, it is purely a cultural issue – Baron gets annoyed with me that I do not call him and tell him that I am in Kumasi and will not be passing his bench on days when I do not, and obviously I don’t think of doing this since he is not my father or something and that is not what I have grown up doing. Also, they often do not realize how expensive it would be for me to call all my new friends here from America, and that this is just not feasible. For one, their phone plans are different than in America, and I am not nearly as rich as they think I am. However, on the other hand, he has a point. I have been thinking about this a lot. I figure that I will inevitably disappoint some of the people I have met here when I never contact them again because they have no access to a computer, but that also does not give me an excuse to not think of reciprocation in small ways, or to try to stay in at least limited contact with those who really helped me over the internet if they have access. Like I wrote a long time ago, it is really easy to make this experience somewhat like a game, like I am living in this little fake village that is my temporary quaint experience – I shop in the little market place, go to the little schools, visit a few farms, but in the back of my mind always I know that I will never have to live without electricity, fetch water every day from a well, carry a baby on my back and have as many children as my husband tells me to have, and never know the convenience of a grocery store or a car of my own. I have to remind myself that this place is every bit as significant and real and worthwhile as the places I know so well back home in America where I relate to the culture and behavior. I tried to explain to Mike about the cultural differences, and that sometimes we just don’t think, and that is not something intentionally offensive, and that I would not be able to call the people I had met on a regular basis, but that I would facebook, email, or write letters to anyone who decided to contact me in this way…

…Something funny happened this week when one of the teachers came up to me and told me America had been on fire the day before. The day before was the Fourth of July, so I said oh yes! Fireworks! Like they were so great, and I went on to talk about the country’s independence. He seemed somewhat confused, and then he mentioned Colorado, and I finally realized he had been talking about the forest fires! Haha. So then I said, oh yes, I had heard of those. He said that it had been 100 degrees and that even here it does not get that hot! I was thinking uhhh yeah right it gets way hotter, but he probably does not realize that is in Fahrenheit, and then he said the lights were out for 5 days in Colorado (also don’t think that all of Colorado had the electricity go out haha) but he found this amusing and said “First time lights off for America!” Haha. Well he is kind of right, five days would be no big here, but in America I’m sure people were freaking out when they couldn’t charge their iPhones!