Sunday, October 29, 2006

Research Progresses

I have been getting some questions as to how my research is going. The short answer is very well for me, but not so well for the communities I am testing. I am finding a much higher rate of contamination than I was expecting to find. Quite how to analyze all of the data is still confusing to me, but it is coming along well.

I have a whole group of pictures of the hand-dug wells and bore-holes that I have been testing as well as the result data from each of them posted, but I’m sure that besides my professors and the communities involved this is of minimal interests. I sometimes take pictures of the people in the community who hang out, help me administer the tests. This is a collection of those pictures.

I have met lots of interesting people out in the field, but I was most excited to come across a blacksmith making farming tools. He was kind enough to show me his trade and let me take a few pictures. He makes all basic farm tools – hoes and machete (cutlass) – but was working on a particular curved knife for cutting down cocoa pods at the time when I visited.

Aburi Festival & my Paramount Chief Professor

After the parade at Cape Coast I was too tired to stay for the Durbar (sortof a party, but also involves speeches). When I went up to Aburi for their festival on October 14 I was too tired from being out in the field to get up early and so I missed the parade, but I was there for the Durbar. Well, I was there for the part of the Durbar where there was dancing and lots of interesting greeting of and by the Paramount Chief. Then the vice prime minister or some such important political figure showed up (late) and there was more greeting. Then the political speeches and the discussion of what development project would be carried out in the following year began. My host didn't feel like translating and so this was not as interesting, so we went off in search of lunch.

Some things I learned:

(1) The ritual of greeting is very specific in Ghana. After the chief arrives, then people begin to come forward to greet him. There is usually a dance that is performed by each individual as they move forward to greet the chief. Each person performed a unique dance, although there were some similarities. The dancing appears to my untrained eye as somewhat hectic and confusing, but I could also tell that it was precisely executed. Hammond explained that if you dance poorly at the festival it is very insulting, and so all of the dances were very precise and practiced. The chief stayed seated throughout this whole process and depending on the status of the person coming they might just approach the chief or go all the way up and shake his hand.

(2) After the chief has been greeted, then he came down and made a circle around the grounds to greet everyone who had come.

(3) The linguists are people who speak for the chief. It is not proper for the chief to speak in public, so instead he whispers to the linguist who makes the announcement. The linguists also carry staffs with top ornaments that have some symbolic meaning or represent a popular parable.

(4) The political minister arrived late, after the chief had already greeted everyone. Instead of going out again, he sent his linguists to greet the minister on his behalf. The minister came down from his seat to accept the greeting of the linguists; this signified that (at least on the chief's turf) the chief is higher ranking than the political minister.

(5) Bananas and groundnuts (peanuts) make a very satisfying lunch.

My professor for Medical Geography, Prof. Nabila, is a paramount chief from the northern region. I am constantly baffled by the particular forms of respect that my fellow students pay to him.

First off, we have become totally spoiled in the class because he always gives us juice boxes to drink during class (we are only four students). But, he never distributes the drinks. One of his aids will deliver them and then he will call on one of the students to distribute them (we always serve prof first). Last week this became apparent because he made a joke that he was going to serve the drink and was telling me how this never happens. But, before he could, one of the students had jumped up to relieve him of the responsibility.

Class usually takes place in his office, but we wait around in our regular classroom to be informed that Prof. is ready for us to come up. When we enter the room, at least the one student also from the north, and sometimes other students, do a kneeling bow to him. He is never allowed to carry anything, not even to move it from the bookshelf to his desk after he has located it. Professors in general are seen here as a long ways above students and are shown a lot of deference. This professor, however, is perhaps my most humble professor. He seems to accept the deference paid to him as part of the responsibility of being a paramount chief, but he doesn't act like he expects it or that he is particularly superior, just this is the way culture defines the relationship.

What is most odd to me is the ways that he is trying to change the culture of his people and the ways he accepts the cultural norm. For example, Prof. only has 5 children because he works on population studies and he knows the effect of large families on population growth. I was shocked, I though 5 children was a lot. That was until my mates explained that the expectation is for him to have 20 or 30 children, and some have around 80. We also have interesting dialogues about topics such as malnutrition and the cultural beliefs that children should not be fed eggs. He is very upset about the cultural practices towards giving inadequate protein to children. The idea with eggs is that if the child gets a taste for eggs, they will steel the eggs before the chicken can even lay them. But these traditional beliefs act to deny protein from the most vulnerable members of society. Prof. talks about how he uses the Durbar at festival time to do some education of his community around these issues.

It is a difficult dilemma for me to understand the process of cultural adaptation. There is a lot of talk among my fellow foreign students as to the negative aspects of western culture influencing people here. I will not deny that this is the case, particularly when it comes to environmental protection. The current implementation of western cultural values is leading to severe environmental degradation that used to be preserved by traditional values. It is not that western culture doesn’t also have values to preserve the environment. Unfortunately, there is a lag in how values are adopted. The values (or superstitions) that kept people out of the forests and preserved the environment are abandoned early along with the value to exploit the land for immediate capital gain. The education and adoption of western values of preservation or modern interpretations of the traditional values of conservation take more time to be articulated in the community. This lag causes a period of severe environmental degradation. This lag causes some of my fellow students to say that we are wrong for sharing our cultural values. However, as Prof. has been sharing, there are a lot of traditional cultural beliefs, such as the idea that children shouldn't get protein, that need to be changed for the betterment of the country. It makes me want to study anthropology and culture change to understand the process better. I agree with my mates, that education all around is important. Both education that allows for the articulation, and thus preservation of those beneficial cultural values, as well as education that allows for a more well rounded adaptation of outside values that lead to the betterment of the population.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Birthday party and hair braiding

I turned 29 this year while I was in Ghana. As is typically the case, I let my birthday slide by without much hurrah. The day before I ventured down to the salon to get my hair braided. It was great fun because I learned that it was not necessary to have hair added, that they could just do corn-rows in my hair. The beautician was very talented and could quickly braid my hair without even adding gel to it. It took less than an hour to braid the front half into about 12 corn-rows.

I asked my program office to pick up some cake for me, and then I made a frosting of melted chocolate and condensed milk. I also melted some orange marmalade and poured it over the cake before putting the frosting on. It was very tasty (but a little too sweet for my tongue). I took cake with me to share with all of my classmates, and the various people I interact with on a daily basis (the porters, the ladies who make my breakfast, the TAs in my department, etc.). All of the Ghanaians were very upset that I hadn’t told them earlier, but whatever. Lots of the foreign students came by in the evening to help eat the left-over frosting which was fun. So overall it was a very nice birthday, and I don’t think I could have asked for better.

Monday, October 09, 2006

First Data Collected

As interesting as it is to travel and see the natural beauty of Ghana, my purpose in being here is actually to complete a research project on microbial water quality. As this has taken form, I have focused my efforts towards bore-holes, and looking for indicators of recent fecal contamination in these. On Saturday, September 30 I went with a student, Peter, from my hydrology class to his hometown to sample the water there and test my protocol. On Monday, I went to the 37 Military Hospital with the same purpose. I am satisfied that I can detect coliform & e.coli in well water, and I have refined my protocol for the visual survey of the wells. You can see the documentation of my initial data:

Chanten-Lapaz Water Quality
Sep 30, 2006 - 15 Photos

On Friday, October 6 I went to the Community Water and Sanitation Agency office in the capital of the Eastern Region, Koforidia. I collected some historic information about the digging of bore-holes in the region and made arrangements to go next week and test the wells in 14 communities in the Sahum District. I am really excited at how quickly this has come together. Up to this point it has been extremely slow and tedious to make the appropriate connections, but once I submitted my ten-zillion letters of introduction to the Sahum District Assembly they have been very helpful in making the arrangements for me to visit the communities. More details after my visits next weekend!

Volta Hall and various pictures

It is easy to complain about how different things are and how frustrating it is to adjust my mode of thinking to be patient with delays, power-outs, etc. In reality, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in this amazing garden. So, one morning I went out with my camera to document some of the beautiful flowers and trees in the courtyard of Volta Hall, where I live. Enjoy!

Where I live - Volta Hall
Sep 28, 2006 - 135 Photos

Of perhaps equal interest, but not so aesthetically pleasing, here is a gallery of various pictures taken from the bus window during our orientation and other outings to the market, etc.

Roadside attractions
Sep 24, 2006 - 52 Photos