Guest Post: Being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home

After my blog post on my 10 years in Ghana last week, I received numerous comments, ideas for celebrations (leaning towards a night at TeaBaa with friends) as well as congratulatory messages. Over the weekend, I also received a very special email as a response to my blog post from someone who understands my position extremely well, someone who is living a life with one foot in Canada and one in Ghana. I really enjoyed Rod McLaren‘s email and therefore asked him if I could share it with my readers on the blog. Luckily he said yes, here is his email.

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Good morning, Kajsa,

You just observed your ten year anniversary in Ghana – congratulations. You are one of those special individuals who have the perseverance and positive outlook on life that is required for the long haul. Good on you!

Several of your observations resonated with me and prompted me to write to you today. You and I have met only briefly, but I have followed your Facebook posts. I feel like we are connected because of the common experience of being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home.

When I moved to Ghana in 2001, I had already logged the equivalent of close to three years in the country if one took into account the two years that I taught in Half Assini 1971-73 plus the many visits over the ensuing 28 years, visits that were always a month or longer each time. In 2001, I was quite convinced that I would remain in Ghana until the end of my life, and that my ashes would become part of the red laterite soil of West Africa. Well, I didn’t quite make it. After 10 years, for reasons that have only in part to do with Ghana, I returned to Canada.

Rod McLaren with his son Akwasi.

Ghana can be very frustrating at times. I am not referring to the day-to-day life, which I thoroughly enjoyed or the “real” people (i.e. not bureaucrats), especially those in the villages, who for the most part live with enthusiasm and energy and joy. However, it can be tiring to be called obruni after a while, and especially so when that comes from someone behind a desk at Ghana Immigration Service who knows and has seen less of the country than I have and who was not even born when I learned to chop fufu. My biggest Ghanaian disappointment was not being granted citizenship, even though I applied as soon as I qualified, and followed up on the application repeatedly.

It is now six years since I returned to Canada. My return has been challenging in two ways. I have had to learn to adapt, and in some ways, this has been more difficult than the adaptations that the move to Ghana required. In the first place, Canada is not the same country that I left, due to the restructuring that had taken place at the hands of an extreme right wing government. It is not a kind country anymore – the focus is more on resource extraction regardless of the cost to citizens, Indigenous rights, and the environment.The restructuring continues under a different political party that puts on a pretty face but is still directed by the same neoliberal ideology as its predecessor.

There is another, more personal challenge, one that you mentioned in your post. Even though I am back in the country of my birth, I feel as though I am an outsider who sees Canada and the world through the eyes of my experience in Africa. It is not easy at times to find people who share a common point of view.

In spite of that, I am happy with my life. I am blessed to be living with a very generous woman. I have been able to pursue activities that are my passion. My health continues to be very good. My children and grandchildren are well. My past has blessed me with wonderful memories. Life is good.

And so I will close with my wishes for another ten wonderful years for you and your family. Carry on blogging.

Best wishes,

Rod McLaren

We Will Always Have Paris

After a work meeting in the beginning of January, I got to spend a few days in Paris. I shared my experience on Instagram, but typing on my phone in the chilly winds of Paris, I might have left out some details.

Here are my Paris takeaways:

Paris, the city of AMOUR

Even when it rains sideways, this is such a romantic city. The warm lights from the vintage streetlights, the cafes with lovers everywhere, and the sound of the inexplicably romantic French Oui, Oui, mon cheri! Over 10 years ago, when I first started blogging (my first blog post was the complete lyrics of an Edith Piaf chanson) I lived in Paris for 5 months. I did not have any exciting French affairs, but as the city slowly melted (I was there Feb-May) and trees started to blossom, strolling passed La Tour Eiffel, Odeon, Pont Neuf, I was convinced – Paris is the city of romance and amour.

Paris, the city of ART

I saw an art exhibit at the Grand Palais where I do not think I ever went before. The magnificent neoclassical styled building hosted the Expo Mexique (hashtag #ExpoMexique) which covered the dialectic art between France and Mexico in the time period 1900-1950, of course including the world famous artist couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. But much more, it contextualized their work in very interesting ways. I came out with ideas on the political aspect of art and the fact that Kahlo was very much in the centre of a movement, not a unique painter. I crossed the street to Petit Palais and saw Kehinde Wiley’s (follow on Instagram @kehindewiley) political, contemporary art where black bodies have been painted exquisitely and in very large scale into poses usually reserved for the (white) upperclass and (white) saints. Set in detailed ornamented rich, rich, rich backgrounds. Bliss.

Paris, the city of CHEESE

I learned that people in Paris really eat cheese everyday. It is done in a low key way, just munching on a few cheeses after dinner or lunch, of course after that comes the dessert! After my small introduction into the world of cheese by Monseigneur Raphael, I was immediately inspired and bought a 24 month old Compte hard cheese and two goat cheeses, a Mothais a la Feulle and a Crottin de Chavignol. (Links to an interesting online cheese resource I just found!)

Paris, the city of FRIENDSHIP

When I lived in Paris in 2006, it was the beginning of my blogging days, it was also days of important friendships. This time I made new friends and importantly also was able to meet some old ones. In much it was like no time had passed. Although our lives had moved on, our conversation just started from where we were back then. How lovely is not that?

Paris, the city of RACISM and SEXISM?

Not all is dandy and well in Paris, the entire central city seems to be marred with the male white gaze and voice. I saw sexist adverts that would not fly in other places, rode very internationally looking metros to come up to a very white world above ground, and was struck by how on TV there were so many ugly, white men…

Paris, the city of DID I ALREADY SAY FOOD?

In France, the petit dej’ or breakfast is a croissant, a full fat delicious yoghurt, a cafe creme, that is; to die for.  In France, you order a Menu including a glass of red wine and a starter FOR LUNCH.  In France they have a dessert that is called Cafe Gourmand which is – hold on tight – three! OR MORE! different! desserts! in one order! The capital of France is Paris, hence the center of some of the best inventions in food are concentrated here.

Next Time in Paris?

Next Time I go to Paris, I think I might stay a little longer, bring my family (to make the place a bit more female and a bit more brown-skinned), eat more croissants…

Emigration Out of Developed Countries

It is crunch time for an important presentation next week, but let me share with you an insight that came to me through text yesterday.

Emigration rates are highest not from the so called Global South, but out of developed countries!

Migration researcher Ronald Skeldon suggests in a overview of the migration and development debate in the book “Migration in the Globalised World” from 2010 that mobility is an integral part of development:

Migration is essentially a response of populations to changing development conditions and what governments need to do is to lose their fear of population migration. Migration needs to be accepted as an integral part of the development process, not feared as something unusual…Rising prosperity brings increased population mobility and migration. (p.156)

Skeldon further points at evidence of developed nations having high levels of migration (UK is mentioned as a case in point with 5,5 million citizens, or 9,2%, living outside the country ) and concludes that developed societies are “based upon systems of high mobility” (p. 157).

As a twist, when I came home the top news on the Swedish news site I follow was that Swedish levels of emigration is higher today than under the peak emigration years in the 19th century.

Point taken.

 

Breastfeeding in Ghana: Statistics, Misconceptions and Formula

Beautiful mural from my neighborhood of a breastfeeding woman.

Since I returned to Ghana with our daughter, I have gotten many comments about me breastfeeding her. Most often, I am met with surprise, raised eyebrows and reassuring comments such as “you have done well!” Many of these reactions seem to come out of the misconception that “white people do not breastfeed”. Nothing could be more wrong!

In my native Sweden, there is extensive education on breastfeeding both for parents-to-be in preparatory courses and at the hospital when your infant is just born. Breastfeeding is highly encouraged, and initially 97% of mothers breastfeed. When the baby is 2 months 88% breastfeed partially and 69% exclusively. At 6 months the share of breastfeeding mothers is at 65% (Statistics from Swedish national board for health and welfare for children born 2009. Additionally, there is stats for babies’ breastfeeding of 9 months as well as 12 months!)

Surviving Life in Sweden blog (written by an American in Sweden) has some experience on breastfeeding and is surprised how openly Swedish mothers feed their children:

“In Sweden, the attitude toward the boob is different. Seriously, they are everywhere – in often very non-sexual ways – and it’s not a big deal. You will be stared at if you wear a nursing burka USA style. If you are shy and your child will oblige lay a small cloth over your shoulder/baby – but nothing dramatic. And no – it’s not because Swedish ladies want the world to see their boobs, it’s because they just wanted to keep their baby fed and not be chained to the house all day.”

I guess this goes to say that when it comes to attitudes on breastfeeding, there are also differences in the Global north.

Moving onto the attitudes to breastfeeding in Ghana: some of the Ghanaians I have talked to about this topic have informed me of a new trend in Ghana where Ghanaian mothers do not breastfeed their children. Some not at all, some very briefly.

I was surprised when I heard this, had I not seen many mothers feeding their children in Ghana? When water security is a problem, why not breastfeed? I decided to do some research and realized this is not a new trend, but a major health problem for Ghana. The Linkages Project summarizes the situation like this:

“Nearly all mothers initiate breastfeeding in Ghana. However, sub-optimal breastfeeding practices begin on the first day. Only 25 percent of women initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after birth. Approximately 20 percent of mothers nationwide practice exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended period of the first six months. The low rate of exclusive breastfeeding is largely due to the introduction of water and other liquids at an early age. The Ghana Health Service estimates that sub-optimal breastfeeding practices contribute to about eight percent of infant deaths or about 3,300 infant deaths each year.”

Only 20% of mothers breastfeed exclusively? I continued my search and found some more assuring data. According to World Bank data the rate of mothers practicing exclusive breastfeeding to children under six months is 62,8%. However, considering that this number likely comes from health providers and the indicator on children under 5 seeing a health practitioner is only half the population or 51%, the 20% stated above might sadly be about accurate.

The good news is that education really seem to help. The Linkages Project reports big jumps in numbers of breastfeeding mothers after sensitization.The Breastfeeding Week (!) might also help bring awareness. So education seems to be step one.

But one friend was insisting that also well-educated Ghanaians refrain from breastfeeding. Can an explanation to this behavior can be found in the relatively short Ghanaian maternity leave of three months? Compare with the recommended breastfeeding time of 6 months and you see the discrepancy.

Or are there other reasons? Vanity (“I do not want stretched out breasts”), corporate miseducation (“formula is better”) or something else?

What do you think?

Goodbye Finland, Hello Ghana

I am back in Ghana after an intense week in Finland attending the Nordic Africa Days 2010 in Turku.

Finland was cold, filled with salmon sandwiches and interesting conversations. I took a lot of photos from the conference which I will share with you as soon as I have organized them.

Now I have to rush to work!

Comparing Notes

One weekend morning I am walking around in our green backyard with only a cloth around my waist, aka with a naked upper body. Cheerily, I turn to my husband:

– Look, now it is like a African village here!

He looks at me and quickly replies:

– Or a European beach…

Touche!

Aid the West: Design for the First World

white african I thought I’d promote this lovely competition, Design for the First World – in short, Dx1W, because it is witty, spot on and relevant. By addressing First World problems and speaking to professionals in developing countries, it is directly opposite to so much else I see. The more traditional approach, like the 10 ideas for Africa I wrote about the other week is so much more common.

So this is exciting! I know I’d spend too much time explaining it, so let me just give you the information in original:

“Dx1W has proclaimed 2010 International Year of the First World in Need, and has defined four main areas to address:
– Food Production and Eating Disorders,
– Aging Population and Low Birth rate,
– Immigration and Integration to Society,
– Sustainability and Overconsumption.

Furthermore, one of the major aims of the Year will be to demonstrate the beneficial effects of cultural diversity. We want to recognize the importance of transfers and exchanges between cultures through implicit or explicit dialogue that underlines how cultures and civilizations are interlinked and contribute to the progress of humankind.”

Yes, Food and eating…They have a point here. Population has been deemed the next big crisis for Europe, so good problem to attack. Immigration and integration issues gain attention by the day, but maybe my favorite is the issue of sustainability. If everybody shopped like the West, we’d need more earths!

Ok, some good topics and progress of humankind. Sounds good! Then the organizers of Dx1W go on on a little rant on “solutions” from the west which I think is well deserved, although I feel “pay back” might be taking it one step too far – aid or solutions most often has a good intention behind it (?). Similarily, I think this competition should be done with a helpful attitude and not as a frantic “pay back” attack.

“Our fellows in the first world often come to visit and give us their well intentioned but often very problematic “solutions”. We thought, why don’t we pay back? Dx1W is a competition for designers, artists, scientists, makers and thinkers in developing countries to provide solutions for First World problems.

Deadline May 30st, 2010 11:59 p.m. EST”

All this is just the beginning. For more inspiration, read the Dx1W Blog.

What do you think? Is this just the first initiative, of many to come, to help the First World? A silly prank? An idea that has your full support?

Pic borrowed from Swedish fashion company H&M’s spring collection 2009. Where they had borrowed their inspiration from was not too clear.

>How Big Is Africa?

>A silly question prompted a fellow blogger, Texas in Africa, to post this pic, developed by Boston University.

Of course Africa is a sizable continent and not a country (there is even merchandise to prove it here), but how often do we really ponder the size of this great continent?

I knew from before the relative size of Sweden and Ghana (Sweden is almost twice as large with less than half the population), but it never hit me that Africa as a whole is so vast that Europe, US (including Alaska) and China could fit inside.

I must say this overlay of maps intrigues me.

What are your thoughts when you see it?

>Article about Adopted Exhibit

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This week my article (in Swedish only UPDATE: Now also in some sort of English with Google Translate here. ) on the Adopted art recently exhibited at the German Goethe Institute here in Accra was published in the Swedish Traveling Exhibitions Newsletter here.

Below, I translated a brief part illustrating what the thought-provoking exhibit by Gudrun Widlok was all about.

The center of the exhibit is the adoption office where one can apply to be a “adoptive family” or an “adoptee”. Here are 100 photos of Europeans who wish for an African family as well as a painting where an African family is holding a picture of their new, European family member.

In the pic a Ghanaian family at the opening of the exhibit describes the experience of adopting a European adult .

>Swedish Moment

> Just imagine my surprise as I drive to work and see a buss with a typically Swedish name printed accross it – Haglunds buss. Still with the Swedish phone number on it, this bus today serves the citizens of Accra rather than of Ljusdal, not far from where my father was born. It is just amazing how globalized trading is.

I have written earlier about European newspapers ending up in Ghana here.

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>Ghana in London

> I just returned from a fantastic long weekend in London, or shall I say Little Ghana? I knew London has a big Ghanaian population, but I was unprepared for the massive scale. Many Ghanaians have settled in the southern suburb of Croyden where I my first night in UK had rice balls and groundnut soup. And it tasted just like it should! And two days later I was offered fufu!

Apart from the food, I continued the weekend with speaking Twi about as much as I do when I am here in Ghana (me ho ye paa!), swinging by the Ghanaian Restaurant Accra Nima, discussing Ghanaian politics and best beaches, listening to hip life and then also of course doing the city. Westminster, Big Ben, Tate Modern, London Eye, Tower Bridge and Covent Garden were all the backdrop to my Ghanaian weekend in London.

The lovely colorful pic borrowed from yourbestlocal.com

>Back and Front: How to Carry Your Baby

>Yesterday, I share a taxi with a mother my own age. Her chubby three months old is strapped to her in a Baby Bjorn carrier, something becoming increasingly common here in carry-your-baby-with-a-cloth Ghana (more info on that here and here).

I turn to ask her who she is choosing the (western) front-carrying alternative instead of the (African) wrap with the baby on the back. She tells me she uses both types, but when traveling it is more practical to have the baby in front. Here in Ghana it is probably also more “fashionable” to wear a Baby Bjorn to town and the traditional style is reserved for around the house, that is for those who can afford both.

Interestingly, it seems to be almost the opposite in Sweden. Different scarves for carrying babies have become very popular and the Swedish invention Baby Bjorn is not as common anymore.

– Oh, I see, I say to the mother in the taxi, he does look comfortable. With a smile I wave at the adorable little man strapped to her front.

– You love babies, eh? His mother asks with the big question mark.

I do. But that’s a different story.

Picture borrowed from mscoaching.com