Celebrating 10 Years of Living in Ghana

This week, I have a major life anniversary: 10 years of living in Ghana! On April 17th, 2007, I stepped on the Kotoka tarmac in Accra with two big suitcases, and was hit by a hot wind of promise. 

And Chale, Ghana has delivered…

(Our wedding slideshow has more than 21 000 views!)

But despite worldly successes, the transition from a cold, Scandinavian country to a hot Tropical one has not always been easy. In my home of 10 years, I continue to be an outsider who hear “Welcome!” every single week. While I smile and say “Thank you!”, it hurts to know I can never fully be accepted here. I often say “I am a 7-8-9, now, 10-year-old in this context…” and I like that image as it often accurately reflects how much – or how little –  I understand of my surroundings. Many things (traditions, greetings, events, ideas, relationships, ends of relationships) here still surprise me, actually surprise me more than during the early days in Ghana.

In addition, 10 years away has made me start to feel like a stranger in Sweden. Swedish politics, fashion, topics for discussion throw me off, makes me raise my eyebrows. While I can walk the streets in Sweden totally blending in…ok, maybe not when I sport my colourful wax print in the sea of black, gray, and beige…but, at least, without hearing anyone welcoming me, I increasingly feel like a stranger who look around with a surprised face. I am reminded of what a family friend who grew up somewhere else said about living a life abroad: “soon, you don’t belong anywhere”.

Missing being close to my Swedish family is unfortunately a feeling that grows with time.

I am not saying the above because I want to complain, no! Life in Ghana for 10 years has undoubtedly been good to me,  or else I would not have stayed. My dreams have come true! But life in Ghana is not just good, rather it is continuously the adventure of my life.

I am still thinking of how to mark this milestone, if you have ideas, write a comment below. Thanks!

 

 

Parenting in a New Environment

I am bringing my children up in an environment that is very different from how I grew up. Is that a problem or an added richness to their and my lives? 

Maybe I have to start with what the differences are between my rural Swedish upbringing on the island of Gotland in the 1980ies and my girls’ in the industrial city of Tema, Ghana today:

It is much warmer for once, ok, ok to be more serious, they are exposed to more inequality, malaria mosquitoes, carbohydrates, direct sun, rigid school from an early age, time on iPads, and religion than I was and that I would prefer for them. However, they also have access to more extended family on a regular basis (my parents were mostly on their own) meaning a calm and regular schedule not depending on my workdays or moods, they speak several languages, while I only spoke Swedish until English was introduced in class 4. They eat less processed foods as that is not affordable in Ghana and know from our chicken and rabbit farms how meat gets on the table.

The behavioral culture in Ghana differs from the culture in Sweden in most ways from how to greet someone (a lengthy conversation including nicknames, hand holding, asking of family vs. “hej”) to how to behave as a child (don’t speak until spoken to vs. do what you want, you are a kid!). Generally, while I am still learning how to behave – I imagine it is good to know that contexts matter.

I do not usually worry much about this, mostly because as you can see, I think it evens out pretty much. Every time and place is different. Knowing different cultures is a definite advantage in every way. But as a parent, sometimes, like today, I just long for the 1980ies Swedish playful daycare “dagis”, no pressure, no religion or threat of the cane, meatballs and potatoes with a glass of milk for lunch, stuff I know and understand for my children.

Photo: Selma and Ellen getting a weekend lesson in plucking a hen from their cousin and his girlfriend who live with us.

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting.

Labor Day in Ghana with Doctors’ Strike

Labor day in Ghana had a strange feel to it with the theme of the day being “Pensions: Your Right and Responsibility”, and at the same time large scale strikes are ongoing on what I believe is the same topic! Medical doctors in public hospitals and pharmacists have been striking for four weeks and relationships are seemingly frosty between the parties of the conflict. For instance, National Labor Commission is suing the Ghana Medical Association, the President is suggesting workers should increase their productivity and “not with strikes and agitations” and the  Ghana Medical Association last week said the President should stop begging and meet demands!   

Personally, I have been very upset about the doctors strike now entering a month! I find it hard to gauge if the strike is well grounded. On the one side, earlier discussions on doctors and the work situation have haunted me; doctors fresh from university waiting more than a year for their first pay check, doctors in the rural hospitals working day and night in poor conditions with no extra pay and frankly just the statistics suggest we have an impossible situation on our hands, Ghana with 25 million inhabitants has 2,843 medical doctors. That is about 1 doctor per 10 000 inhabitants! To compare, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Nepal are doing better! (according to WHO) and Sweden has 38 physicians per 10 000 citizens (says Global Health Facts)…

On the other hand, if you have sworn the Hippocratic oath, how can you go on strike and let innocent people suffer?

Travel Destinations: Greater Accra and Gotland

I have two homes. One in Ghana and one in Sweden. Having two homes is normal to me, it is my life.

In Ghana my life centers around the Greater Accra area: the capital Accra, my hometown Tema and my workplace roughly an hour north east of Accra. In Sweden, I hail from the island of Gotland, more particularly the village Brissund and then the cosmopolitan city of Malmo in the very south thanks to my siblings who moved there.

This week, I stumbled across tourist information of my two homes provinces and WOW! they look great! I can’t believe how lucky I am to share my time between these two places…

1. Ghana: Greater Accra (as described by Virgin Atlantic)

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2. Sweden: Gotland (as described by the campaign GotlandJordenRunt)Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 1.55.13 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when are you coming to visit?

Swedish Society and Culture Lecture

Tomorrow I am lecturing on “Swedish Society and Culture” at Malmö University.

It is a topic I should know very well. I am a product of it. I studied Political Science with a focus on Scandinavia/comparative politics. In addition, it is a presentation that I have given earlier to students in Ghana (with good help from the Swedish Institute).

But maybe what makes me most suited to talk on this topic is that I have lived outside of Sweden for a majority of the last 10 years of my life. I think experiencing other societies (US, France and Ghana in my case) makes the specificities of Swedish society stand out more clearly. Also, living abroad makes you – or at least it has made me – an ambassador of my country. I find myself describing the Swedish model (defending the high taxes), explaining why Swedes are thought – see pic – to be overtly sexual (a myth stemming from artsy Swedish films in the 1950s) and displaying Swedish traditions and joie-de-vivre (disproving that Swedes would be extremely suicidal because of the darkness up north).

Tomorrow I will do it again. Wish me luck!

PS. My blog being messed up means that I have not felt inspired to post lately. Sorry to anyone who still follows this space! I think I will just keep posting and worry about the look when I have time. Update: It is now fixed!

Picture borrowed from the Swedish Bikini Team.

Roosters Prohibited in Residential Areas

Today when I was reading local newspaper SydSvenskan, I came across this piece of information (not yet on the web) apropos a home for elderly that have dogs and soon will have five chicken to liven up its inhabitants.

I feel this news somehow illustrates one of the differences between life in Ghana and in Sweden (homes for the elderly of course is a difference in itself).


According to Vellinge’s environmental officer Lars Robert Göransson, roosters are forbidden within residential areas (detaljplanerat område in Swedish) because of the risk of their cocoos disturbing.

However, so far there are no close neighbors to the hencoop (at the home for elderly).

– “I do not want to promise anything”, says Göransson. “But if the elderly would appreciate a cocooing rooster as well, then we will have to look into the possibilities of issuing a temporary permit.”

(my translation)

On the one hand, I love that there is legislation on this type of nuisance, but on the other I also feel strange about the whole idea of paperwork being carried out because of a rooster.

Which world would you like to live in? The world where life is planned in detail or where there is room for a rooster?

Photo by Robert Åslund/tupp.se