Saturday, March 29, 2014

Rest in Peace Sister Beauty Amoah

The passing of someone you loved is always a time to come together and give each other strength to get through the hard times. A direct cousin of my host family died early February after being sick for many years. Through this and other interactions I have learned the importance of funerals in Ghanaian culture.

First, once a person dies relatives, number could be more than 15, gather in the home town to begin organizing and planning the funeral. Every week, usually on Sunday mornings, relatives come together and make sure everything is coming together. The funeral can occur weeks to months after a death to ensure everyone can come and all is planned.

In my family, the funeral was set for 6 ½ weeks after death. Food preparations began a week before and women from the community come together to assist the family in preparing. Relatives began to arrive on Wednesday evening and perhaps a dozen or more came to stay at the home with us. Thursday evening, a dozen more people showed and the first rounds of muskets were shot. Friday morning I had to go attend class so I missed the arrival of more people and the slaughtering of a cow. I arrived at the main road exactly when the body was bringing brought in from the mortuary. When a body is brought back into the community it is similar to that of America when the deceased goes from the funeral home to the burial grounds. Cars of people line up and follow the body in. In this case, the body is brought in an ambulance and the sirens wail as they proceed into town. In addition, cars following honk continuously; all of this is so that people know there is a return of a loved one. Arriving as all were driving into the community, I rode in one of the cars. There were relatives crying uncontrollably and wailing to the point of collapse. In Ghanaian culture, people do not show many emotions let alone cry in the presence of others. A funeral is an exception where people are expected to cry and carry on until exhaustion. I was thinking of this and realize that this is a good way to release emotions that are built up in life.

Upon arriving to the house, the body is carried into a decorated room so that others may clean and dress her. Throughout this entire time a band of drummers and trumpets and one trombone play. After the body enters the room, family gathers and sits under a tent and then we proceeded to take a shot of gin to pay respect to the deceased. Next, closer family, numbering over 30, moved to the main house where we sat and began preparing dinner to eat. This time is now spent talking and mourning together. Back at the house of the body, loud speakers blare music all night until the sun rises upon the house. People are expected to stay up late into the evening, if not all night, to mourn. Some women use this night to prepare food for the following day as they would be unable to feed the hundreds of people in attendance if cooking in the same day.

Preparation continues the following morning as more people arrive by the trotro load. Hundreds of people are expected to attend and over 200 people did attend. Celebrations are currently going on as I type but I have been excused for awhile to attend to some work. My family had a dress made for me in the mourning fabric (When someone dies the family picks a pattern for cloth for dresses and shirts to be made to be worn on funeral day. Usually colors are black and white or black and red….depends on age and status of deceased). In addition to wearing the dress I am also a part of the chief mourners who take part in the service. 

Originally I was to read the biography of the deceased but the only daughter of the woman became ill last night and was admitted to the hospital (found later that it was malaria-she is doing better and is now at our house resting). With the daughter sick, I was asked to read the tribute to the mother on behalf of the daughter. It was an honor to take part in such a close aspect of the funeral service and I managed all I could to act and behave accordingly.

The funeral played two parts, first the burial service and then the grave side. The burial service includes prayers, a church service, scripture readings, songs, tributes read by various relatives’, and mourner processions. The deceased was a trade woman in Ashaiman and a dozen of her fellow trade women came and did a mourning procession. The second part was where the body was taken to the cemetery on the outside of town and buried. More prayers and hymns were done along with laying of the Wreaths which many brought. After the completion everyone came to our house and each person got a container of rice with sauce and a piece of meat and a soda-pop. After everyone finishes eating, which they are doing now, people will dance and celebrate.

Hope I was able to capture everything well.

<3 Nako

Monday, March 24, 2014


Hey all! So I have about a month left on this adventure of mine and have realized how close I have become with my host family and how I just can’t think of our goodbye.

Three of my bafono(white lady) friends, Marya, Amy and Rikki, came and visited me in my village this weekend. We had a wonderful time and I could not have wished for a better two days. My family instantly embraced my friends as a part of our home and went out of their way, Ghanaian way, to make them feel at home. Marya arrived Friday evening and was greeted with hugs and smiles. Amy and Rikki arrived the next day and walking around the village was an adventure in itself. It was weird for me to see other white people here as I have never had this before. Let’s just say there were kids that stared, smiled and cried. (Some smaller children are afraid of white people as they see them as spirits or ghosts!) In the evening my three bafono friends and my three sisters and I played the game ludu, similar to the game sorry, and had many laughs. We did nothing that would seem all to exciting to most but hang around the compound and relax; but this was perfect for us.

Now I would like to take this time to tell you all about my wonderful family. Starting in proper order:

Eben: Stand in chief and my uncle. His older brother is the actual chief but currently lives in the UK. Eben is a rather tall man who is both personable and has a laugh to break all moods. He lives across the road from me but is often at our place.

Papa: Father and retired teacher. I don’t get to talk to him too often as he goes to bed early and rises early as well. He is a quite man that goes about his business as needed and rarely talks outside of need. Always with a smile, our small conversations remind me how much a warm smile can truly say.

Esther: Mother and wonder woman. Although crippled as a child, she does not just rely on the help of others to care for her. Instead, she owns her own land and employs men to work the fields. Truly I believe she cares more about my food intake than anyone who I shall ever encounter. Although stern at times, she is usually found talking with others and laughing over small jokes. In the evening, you can find her relaxing under the stars singing, especially when the power is out… most nights. Always she has a smile for me and tells me often how much she misses me when I travel and does not wish to see me go. Slowly she is accepting the fact that I will not stay and marry at this time and will have to settle for me returning at a later date. What else can I say besides the fact that she runs the household and at times, the world.

Nako: Oldest of my sisters and whose name I share. 19 y/o and in her last year of JHS. She wishes to continue to SHS for business and I wish her all the luck. She and I have definitely bonded as sisters would. Sometimes we argue and tease each other about boys but at the end of the day we are always laughing and having a great time. How to describe Nako…..shorter than me by about a head and stronger than I shall ever be physically or emotionally. Our current teasing revolves around my departure, which they feel as if is already happening, where myself and everyone says she will cry and she insists that she will celebrate. Typical sister. Taking after Esther in terms of over feeding me and insisting Augustine is my husband; she and I have shared many heartfelt talks. She is my go to person on finding out what is what in the family and village and always the first one I call on for help. Always joking and laughing and at times I hardly know what to believe. Not sure who will miss the other more, but I know we shall stay in contact as much as this world permits.

Regina: Next sister in age of 18 y/o and I have found to be the most reserved. Brilliant and bright and when she does take part in a conversation then she either enlightens you or makes you laugh with her take on things. Shy to the camera and tries to hide her smile, but always there to enjoy the little moments. Studies harder than any student I have seen yet and always works hard in anything she does. When you play ludu with her you must always watch out-although quiet, she sneaks in for the win every time.  In the future she wishes to become a journalist or a doctor—however I see her heart lying more towards the first. Cooking is s running theme of importance in Ghanaian culture and Regina is the Queenmother at making fufu. There are different ways to prepare it and even then getting the consistency takes skill beyond I can dream of. Every single time we have fufu, Regina is the kitchen chef. I can see her accomplishing anything that she sets her mind too.

Teresa: Youngest sister at 14 y/o. Although the youngest, she is the tallest and has the youngest child personality. I would know….I am the youngest in my American family. Usually gets the brunt of the work but always has a smile and is dancing behind peoples backs. I love watching her interact with the animals, as she has a special way with them and is the only one I have seen who can call on them all-dog, cats, sheep and goats-and they will respond. I can’t even describe her to a great extent. She is beyond expressionist in terms of language, body and facial. She speaks the least English of the girls but I can always understand her by the way she acts as she speaks. At times, her grace can be mistaken for a model owning the runway and then you see her fall to the ground on her scarred legs because she is being tickled. Yes—so much like me. Beyond ticklish and cannot control her laughter. No matter what she is always taking care of me in the small ways like fetching me a chair after a long day and last night grabbed a mat for me so we could lay outside to beat the heat of the indoors—power was out again.

Naasha: The guard dog—which I see sleeping more than guarding. Our relationship has been one slow to build as I meet him soon after my incident of being bitten by a dog on my first night back in Ghana. I am pleased to inform all that last night I scratched his head for a solid two minutes. I no longer run away from him and fear his walking towards me. Not saying I am completely at ease with him but I am able to choke down my fears and accept him. I hope this is a good sign that when I return to America I won’t fear dogs. Wish me luck!

The goats: About ten adult goats and proud to say five babies. I love goats thanks to my bestie-Jessica-stateside who is the one who exposed me to goats years ago. RIP Roxy. I would also love to give a shout out to Marya for staying at my place after Teresa chased her with an adult goat. Everyone in my family, except Teresa, thinks I am mad when I hold one of the baby goats.

The sheep: About six right now and one majorly pregnant. Not much to say about them but they sure do have floppy ears.

The cats: There are four, I think, and they are cats now where they were small kittens when I arrived. Everyone tells me that people eat the cats as a delicacy and I have yet to figure out the truth in this. I may leave this one a mystery.

So this is my family. Not sure I captured them but I hope it’ll shed some light onto my sadness when I return to America.

Speaking of which. The countdown has begun with class meetings, field placement and weekends here. I met with my colleague Augustine today and we made a list of everything we wished to accomplish while I am still here. Let’s just say that between placement and school I have little time to plan my life for when I return.

 <3 Nako

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Traveling Safety!
So I realized these past few days that while traveling, I never had my safety as a high concern. My travels have always been though my school where my safety was more of someone else’s worry. Not saying I never took precautions to ensure I was being safe but there were many things I didn't really think of that could also make me a target. Part of this is also the fact that, to me, Ghana is safe. Now it is one of the safest countries in Africa, but I also have been exposed to more positive people who I believe would not harm me than I have people who scare me. Then again, I do not typically stay out past dark alone or even with others. The past few nights I did say out past dark and realized that I am a higher target than locals. I realize now that this sense of security is what can make me vulnerable to be placed in bad situations. Realizing this is great and I am thankful that I did so without any true problems. Now I am conscious of the dangers of traveling and hope that I will be aware no matter what country I am in.

Customer Care?
People in Ghana seem beyond nice and wonderful and are always welcoming and assisting others in any way they can. However, it seems that in some professions customer service is not a high priority. I have seen this while ordering at restaurants and even in the markets. However I was able to make a great observation of the difference in hotel hospitality this past week. I traveled to Cape Coast this past week and Kristen, Marya and I stayed in a hotel in Elmina. While there we ran into a few problems that we had to address with hotel staff and the woman we worked with was not all that accommodating. In America, if there was a problem with the room or prices then the hotel staff will work for the guest to better accommodate them and would always remain calm. As a guest and you verbalize frustrations, hotel staff would validate them and work towards resolving your frustrations. If you asked to speak with the manager then they would find one or call the manager in. At this hotel, the woman we worked with replied to our frustrations with saying she was frustrated and would not allow us to speak to a manager. In the end everything was taken care of and resolved but not easily and we had to keep pressing in order to get anything done. I will never take for granted customer care again and will make an effort to thank people who do a service for me.

No update on work today. I got rather ill last night and spent the day recovering. Getting better and should be back out tomorrow!!

Nako <3

Sunday, March 16, 2014

No power to best power....this is kinda long......

I have found that my transition to living in a rural village has been fairly smooth. The food has been great and I can eat fufu without any complications. My host family is more than loving and helps me with anything I need. My placement is great-I have flexibility to explore many programs and do different groups. Even the language gap has become more manageable and I am able to understand more of what the locals are saying. As nice as my transition has been, there have been struggles and I am still learning.

Some notable items I have learned, and a rather important one, have been relationships here develop and exist in a different way than what I am accustomed to. First off, I would like to mention the sad fact that white women in Ghana are considered to be “easy” in terms of sexual activities and most who have been here can testify how often, and quick, men will engage in communication with you and questions will go like : “What is your name? What country are you from? Are you married? I want to be friends. I’ll give you my number. Let me show you Ghana.” Most times I can avoid these lines of questioning by telling people that I am engaged or even married and my husband would not like it if you loved me. This usually stops men from pursuing and works even better if I say my “husband” is Ghanaian. However, it took me a bit to realize that lying about this is better than being hounded by men while at the market or catching a tro.

In addition to this, I have to be extra diligent about my interactions with males-in my family or even those I work with. I learned last week that men here will joke and have many laughs with you and this is the feeler to see if you have interest in them. If you crack jokes, laugh, and spend free time talking to a man people, including the man, will think that you are interested in him. Even more so, going to the shop or even walking together can be seen as a sign of interest. Anyone that knows me could see that my personality does not equal a great outcome with this thought process. After a few serious discussions and some awkward clarifications I have come to understand that distance is key.

Work Update

So my assessment has been implemented easier than I imagined. In two days I was able to complete 16 surveys and need to print more so that I can gain a better representation of the community. From a brief analysis of the surveys it seems that both men and women find that the school in the community is a main problem as leaders are discussing moving the school. The surrounding area is comprised of salt mines and the area is windy which picks up the salt and sand and creates harsh winds. The wind mot only irritates the eyes and skin but also chips away at homes and the school. The school is falling apart layer by layer and a majority of the surveys I have received see this as a huge concern. In addition to this I have found that people are unaware of what mental health truly is and a few people mentioned that mental health comes from “thinking too much” or “evil spirit or curse”. I hope to do a write up of the assessment when it is completed so that it can be used to find donors and funding for the community.

Sanitation has been another aspect of my work and has taken a standstill in my community. The Assembly Man, whom I have to use as my speaker to the community, had a reconnection with his brother the other week after not speaking for years. They held a huge celebration for this and many came out to attend. There were ceremonies and even goats slaughtered for the event. With his time being consumed in the planning of this event I was unable to hold discussions with the community to educate and gather volunteers for the project. I hope to work on this in the current week.

Observations on Values and Beliefs

I arrived to Ghana with a set of personal values and beliefs that stem from an American up-bringing. My outlooks were put to the test when I arrived in Ghana and began to actively engage in the cultural values and beliefs. Two identifiable ones are use of corporal punishment and value of education.

Using a whipping cane as punishment for disobeying your elders is seen as a norm and even beneficial. Now, I find it uncomfortable when this occurs and remove myself from witnessing it at times as to not step in and disrespect the adult. This is hard for me. I am not a person that can watch a child be punished with corporal punishment over not listening repeatedly or lying to a teacher. If put into a situation where I thought the child was in unnecessary harm, which is hard to justify even, then I will (and have) stepped in. Most people are cautious of beating when I am present and are somehow courteous enough to go to a different place. However, I find it difficult to agree with people when we discuss the use of caneing. The argument is that the children must be disciplined and this is an effective method that has worked for, well, centuries. I have found that many people see a different in using beatings as punishment and then overstepping the line and beating the child for no reason. You even see children beat each other as an interaction.

In working with teen moms I have realized that my value of education became a hindrance in working with them and not for them. Schooling here is broken into Primary, Junior High School (JHS), Senior High School (SHS), and University. Most students where I am at complete JHS and then a smaller number continue to SHS. Even less graduate from SHS; let alone attend University. Education in my area is not always considered a necessity when you plan on living in the area as an adult. The main form of employment is farming, salt mining, and trade (selling goods in markets and at road sides). Therefore when a girl drops out of JHS for becoming pregnant, which always happens because it would be a disruption to the school for her to stay, she rarely goes back to gain her JHS certificate. I found that I was encouraging the girls to go back to JHS and consider the possibility of SHS. Many girls could already not afford schooling and that is why they found a boyfriend that would pay for their school and exam fees-which ended the girls pregnant. Then when they have a child and the boyfriend skips out then they are left in worse financial stress than before. I have continued to discuss the possibility of completing JHS to gain the certificate, but have now focused more on working towards them creating a realistic action plan of the next two to three years. I find this has been working.

In other news….

Marya and I have traveled to Cape Coast with Kristen, an RN from Colorado, for a mini spring holiday. We were able to meet up with last year’s tour guide Blankson and it was like no time had passed. He took us around the Cape Coast Slave Castle again and we even got to have dinner with him and his daughter the other night. It is wonderful to be back in a familiar place from the last trip and see familiar sights. However, staying in a hotel in Elmina, neighboring town, next to the Elmina Slave Castle has proved to be a different experience indeed. I have seen more poverty and dangerous situations than I did last year in Cape Coast. Dozens of women and children sleeping on mats along the street where they had sold earlier that day. There were men of young and old hanging on the streets late into the night. Seeing a tourist area in the day is different than at night here and I can honestly say they are not the same.

Well off to sleep now! Nighty Night!

<3 Nako

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Life Report

Seems like my days run on and I hardly see them pass by! A month has passed since I have arrived and it seems like the time I have left is not enough!

Let’s talk about work.

I have created a community assessment survey that I will use in one community to try and identify their needs. The assessment is broken down into self, family, community, health, transportation, teen sex and schools. My hope is that after doing this in one community then either while I am here or after I am gone, it can be used in other communities as well. I will be teaming up with Augustine and others to assist in the completion of filling the survey out.
I have already discovered that teens are having sex and that pregnancy has become a concern for many communities. Even on the radio yesterday there was a talk show on the increase of teen pregnancy. With this I have been going to schools and talking to the upper grades about using protection and how to say no. Previously I have done this with Augustine and we have talked to both girls and boys together. I talked with him about the hold backs in this, girls and boys not wanting to admit they have a boyfriend or girlfriend in front of each other, and we are going to now separate the genders and do same sex talks. The first talk this way is scheduled for Wednesday!

This morning I spoke to a woman who has been trained to be a leader of the Women’s Empowerment group through the epi-center. I hope to be able to work with her in creating a support group for girls who are dropping out of school due to pregnancy. I’ll let you know how this goes!

I also spoke to the Assembly Man in my community about the sanitation project I have been putting together. The idea is to dig three holes around the community that can be the community dumping spots for trash. Trash here is piled and the burned. In addition to this, I am organizing a group clean up date where community members come together and pick up the trash that is littering their community. In addition to these two things I have been doing education about sanitation and personal responsibility and importance to keeping the environment clean. My hope is that the combination of education and the common dumping grounds then the clean up days will eventually not be needed as people will take the trash from their homes to the holes.

I think this covers most of work.

Story time!

Last night after dinner I went outside and hung out with my sisters, mom and a cousin. We were just sitting and talking and then somehow we got on the topic of tattoos, piercings, and religion. Fun right?! Anyone who knows me, my tattoos, piercings and views on religion would have loved to sit in last night. Long story short, they still love me despite my tattoos, piercings, and views on religion. J

Speaking of family…..the dowry list for me has begun to be talked about and Aben and Ester are ready to marry me off to a Ghanaian so that I will stay in Ghana. I have explained the concept of moving here without marriage and they don’t seem to think that is a good idea. “You are 22. You should be married. Having kids in the next two years.”    Note to mom-I will not be getting married while here and I assure you I will be back in May.

That’s all for now! Feel free to comment with any questions or topics for future blogs!

Nako <3