Saturday, September 6, 2014

Understanding the culture

*Update: union professors have called off the strike.  The graduate semester at Legon (University of Ghana) will begin on Monday, September 8 (yay!).

Sometimes I wake up on Monday mornings and expect nothing out of the ordinary to happen.  How quickly I forget I’m in Africa!  Learning my way around Accra and the surrounding areas is slowly becoming easier.  Understanding the culture, however, is a completely different story.  There are small differences that occur every now and then that no one seems to notice except me.  Sometimes the differences are fascinating.  Sometimes they are super annoying.  Other times they just leave me extremely confused.  Cultural differences will remain a constant theme throughout this blog, but I’ll point out a few things that took me by surprise last week.
Every woman knows that our hair is not always our friend.  After shampooing and conditioning I usually just do my best to comb some of the curls out, put my hair in a ponytail, and say amen.  It’s not so easy to do that in Ghana because just about every other Ghanian woman has her hair braided in an ornate and time-consuming hair style.  So after seeing all of these gorgeous dos for three weeks, I figured it was time to get my hair done.  The next question was, where would I get it done and who would I get to do it for me.  There’s a little shop located within my hostel complex.  I usually make a trip there a couple of times a week to purchase a delicious Alvaro malt (delicious drink here).  When I went there last week, the girl who runs the store, Victoria, was braiding her friend’s hair.  And it looked very nice.  I asked her if she’d be willing to do mine and if so, when she’d be available.  We made an appointment for Tuesday morning at 9:00am.  I was there bright and early with my accessories (comb, brush, hair spray, etc.).  I’ve been doing my hair myself for a long time now, so it was quite a treat to sit back, relax, and watch soccer while someone else struggled with my curly mane.  She used some interesting and scary tricks to complete the look, which included a kerosene lamp with a lighted wick to bond the hair, and shears instead of hair creme to tame the stray ends. Five hours and one four hour rain storm later (the rainy season is in session), I had a sleek, fresh hairdo.  I was very tickled to have my hair done for the first time in Africa by an African, as this was one of my goals when I came to Ghana.  Now I can check it off my list.  And the best part is I’ve found a nice, reliable person who does good work and charges an affordable rate.  

Finally got my hair done, yay!  August 26, 2014

In addition to creating beautiful hairstyles, Ghanaians are also good at saving energy.  Last week I was watching a fascinating show on population studies.  A statistician was explaining his theories on what the world will be like in the next 50 years in regards to population, poverty, natural resources, and global warming.  He said that contrary to popular belief, the richest fraction of the population (US and Europe) are using a whopping 50% of the world’s energy resources, with the rest of the world sharing the rest, and the poorest of the poor sharing a very small fraction.  He said that in Africa and parts of Asia, people don’t use nearly as much energy and it’s up to the richest among us to change their habits so that there will be energy in the future as Africa and Asia rise out of poverty.  I could totally relate to his theory because last week, for the first time in my life, I washed a load of clothes by hand.  I boiled several pots of water and mixed them with cold, then poured the water into a bucket with some laundry detergent.  Very slowly I removed dirt stain’s and last week’s ketchup from blouses by scrubbing my clothes as they were submerged under steamy soap suds.  The rinse cycle included a move to the cold water bucket and then it was off to the clothes line with them.  Most students use an ugly iron structure to lay their clothes over to dry.  I wasn’t interested in this method since the iron structure takes up most of the space on one’s balcony.  Instead, I came up with an idea that involved nails and a cloth string.  After a few days, persistence, and some assistance from the carpenter, I had a clothes line on my balcony that worked out pretty well.  Along with not using a washer and dryer, I also turn the heater on only 20 minutes before my shower so I can have hot water.  As soon as I’m done, it’s turned back off to conserve energy.  There are occasional power outages, so in an effort to avoid having my appliances ruined when the power comes back on, I turn off and unplug the power adapter when I leave to run errands.  This saves energy as well.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get used to washing every single load of clothes by hand, but I do feel god about doing my part to save energy and protect the environment at home and abroad.

A homemade clothesline on my hostel room balcony.  Washing clothes by hand now, August 29, 2014

The most interesting activity from last week was attending a play at the National Theatre.  The play, titled “Unforgiven,” was about a wife and mother with very low self-esteem due mainly to her husband and family members’ constant bullying.  She nearly hit the breaking point when her daughter tried to take her life after finding out that her father was not really her father.  However, the mother (the main character) was deeply rooted in her faith and found the strength deep within herself to go on.  There were some Ghanian songs that naturally, I didn’t understand, and some cultural jokes that everyone laughed at, though I didn’t know what the fuss was about.  My Ghanian friend looked at me in some moments as if to say, “isn’t that funny,” but I simply smiled, not understanding the cultural references.  There were also advertisements throughout the play which was very different from home.  During stage changes the lights would dim and the projectors would display TV commercials.  The products these commercials were advertising could be seen throughout the theatre.  Advertising throughout the show was certainly different from anything that would happen at a show at home, but I suppose folks do what they have to do to make the show go on.  Located inside of the play pamphlets was a colored piece of paper.  My friend told me that there would be some sort of surprise at the end of the show.  I wondered what that could be.  Sure enough, at the end of the play, after the playwright came on stage and said a few words about loving family members and taking care of each other, he directed our attention to the colored sheets of paper, told us to collect our prizes, and to have a good night.  People raced from the theatre to the lobby where people and different prizes at different booths.  I received a pink T-shirt with a company logo on it.  It’s a nice souvenir to have since one sleeve sports the Ghanian flag!

Evans and I at the National Theatre.  I told him to smile!  August 30, 2014

 It’s funny how taking on part of someone’s culture can automatically help you blend in.  As soon as I finished getting my hair done, Ghanian men and women commented on how nice I looked.  Although some people have washers and dryers, many do not, and toting buckets of water to boil for coffee and tea a couple times a week really makes me count my blessings.  And the plot of the play at the national theatre reminded me that regardless of what part of the world I’m in, people of different cultures have the same struggles that people do back home. From local foods to ways of eating to the way we greet each other, cultural differences are everywhere.  They can be amusing or a bit frustrating, but it’s really what makes experiencing new and exciting cultures and interesting.  There's no telling what I'll encounter next week!

1 comment:

  1. Catching on to all the cultural difference is a full years work for sure. Great to see you taking it all head on.