Early this week I was a little depressed. Today I am joyful. I am sitting on my stoop at 7:30 am. I am drinking Earl Grey Tea (thanks Den and Mel) and enjoying the cool morning. It’s hazy so i can only see about a mile across the Savannah. The leaves are starting to turn brown on the trees. Through the haze the trees in the distance look like a brown and green watercolor representation of themselves.
The beauty I am looking at is just the tip of the iceberg of the joys I am experiencing in Ghana. So way was I depressed? I its think moving between two cultures. Sunday this week I returned from In Service Training (IST)and my Peace Corps friends. I wouldn’t call it culture shock but culture readjustment The Peace Corps Volunteer Resource Facilitators (PCVRF) said that after spending two weeks at training with us they felt they had to reintegrate into their communities. I didn’t understand then but I do now.
I am trying to think how to explain the differences. The living conditions are pretty much the same. We had a shower at IST but the joy of a shower was balanced by the fact I had to sleep in a bunk room with 5 other people. It’s not that I come back to site and an deprived of physical comforts I had at IST.
The difference is that I am leaving fellow travelers. PCVs have a lot in common just because we are PCVs. We have chosen to leave home, family and the comforts of America to serve in another country. We already have that common spirit of adventure and service. Despite the differences in age, religion, region and gender we are all still Americans and have a shared culture. Even if that culture is Simpsons, McDonald’s and baseball we still speak the same cultural language.
Because of our common culture I don’t worry that I will unintentionally offend someone. So I dance a little wilder. I flirt. I swim in my bra and undies. I ask the boss tough questions at meetings. I know what is right and what is wrong. But at site I am still learning. Is it ok to cross my legs at the knees? When exactly can I eat the meat in the common bowl. Do the people who invite me to eat as I walk by really mean it or is it just a formality? And why do the men eat separate from the women? Why don’t grown men fetch water? And why is it ok to have two wives but not to have two husbands? When some of these questions are answered I still don’t agree or really understand.
So from the experience I have here with other PCVs I am learning why people who immigrate to America tend to move where there are other people from their country. There is something powerful and comforting about the cultural connection. But also there is something about the spirit of another person who has pulled up roots and settled in another land.
I think there is a personal reason why I get depressed as well. There is a “€œsmall girl”€ here. (Small girls can be anywhere from 9 -19. They are domestic help. There are small boys as well.) She works for one of the masters. She cooks and cleans for them. In return they send her to school and feed her. But she is always asking for food from me. I have joked a couple of times asking don’t they feed you? I am battling with my response. Am I a control freak when I say to her I want you to wait for me to offer. Or am I mean when I say your family is supposed to feed you. Agatha said I shouldn’t feed her every day because if it gets known around then it will give the other family a bad name. But if she’s hungry what to do? So the first night back she is there asking for food before I am barely in the door. It
depresses me. Her hunger. Her assumption that I should feed her. My mixed response to that need. etc. But some how I manage to feed her some and am making some headway with her understanding that I will give her food cause I know her need.
Is there culture shock the other way? Oh yes. I went to IST kicking and screaming. I complained “€œit’s the wrong time for this meeting. School is starting that week. Why do we have meetings during classes?”€ I did not want to sit through 8 hours of talking and group discussions etc etc etc
The pace is very American, very fast. We get up and eat. Then there are meetings and a snack and meetings and lunch and meetings and meetings and dinner. Where is the time to visit with other PCVs or the trainers or to journal or to read. There is no where near enough down time. What I value most about Ghana, the attitude that social interactions are important, is missing at the PC meetings.
We don’t get to see the land or the people or the institutions. We are hold up at the PC hubsite in Kukurantumi for a week. One of my joys of being in Ghana is the new experiences.
Last I felt that I was not really doing anything useful at the IST. At site I am doing what I am here to do. I teach. I interact. I journal. I read. I live. And all contributes to my role as a volunteer here. If I had more time to talk to other volunteers and learn from them. At the beach I learned so much from the four others who were there. We shared teaching ideas. We shared coping strategies. We talked about the two cultures we are living in. That was much more helpful than the week of training.
So yes it takes some asjusting both ways!