By Nancy Tuller, KF8, Cape Coast, Ghana
Some days as a Kiva Fellow are just about soaking up the culture, and Nyame adom (“by God’s grace”), I have my Kiva counterpart here in Ghana, Ab (short for Abraham) to help me out with that. For example, how else would I know the difference between kenkey and kente? Some days, as we are traveling to our destination or the electricity has gone out again and all work is halted, we have 30 minutes to one hour sessions on the nuances of various types and textures of kenkey, Ab’s favorite dish made of maize and often served with fish, grasscutter (cane rat), or goat meat stew (and pepper sauce for dipping). He can speak interminably on how to make kenkey, where one can buy the best kenkey, and even what illnesses are cured by two or three (in really serious cases, it could be four) bowls of kenkey. “In fact,” Ab tells me, “Accra kenkey is the best. I cannot live without my kenkey.” (And everyone in our office knows it!) Though he may not speak as passionately about kente, the beautifully hand woven fabric that is highly valued as the cloth of a well-to-do man or woman, he can still describe in great detail the process of the weaving, as well as the symbology often woven into the fabric, that is often made on the village looms we pass on our way to visit loan clients. Ab tells me things I might never know otherwise, such as the common perception here that only tribal chiefs should wear a certain type of white shell as jewelry, and that others who wear it are looked at with a disapproving eye, or that in this part of Ghana, it is believed that if you fish on Tuesdays, you will bring tragedy upon yourself.
Ab is not the only one. There are many others from whom I learn a myriad of all things Ghanaian. I get Ghanaian fashion advice from my female colleagues, who also recommend a seamstress for me. I get language lessons from my neighbor Yaa (“Thursday-born”, just like me!), and my favorite taxi driver tells me the going rates for all destinations. My landlady tells me where to go to buy wheat bread made in the neighborhood instead of the usual bleached flour variety, and even the children in my building teach me to play their version of chinese checkers. It has been a steep learning curve, but oh, how joyful in so many ways!
Some of the most important things that I am learning, though, come from the Kiva loan clients themselves. I am learning through them, how it is to struggle every day to put food on the table and keep the children in school. I am learning that Mother Nature’s whims can wipe out all that one has worked for overnight. I am learning that you stay late into the evening at the market because you can’t go home until you have made enough from your sales to pay for the evening meal, and a snack for the morning. I’m learning that many families only eat chicken once a year—on Christmas Day. I’m learning about the various factors that contribute to an unending and cruel cycle of poverty: lack of education, hygiene, proper nutrition, sufficient capital or opportunity, dwindling resources, and an abundance of greed and corruption among the few with power. This learning may not be so joyful, but it helps me to better understand the obstacles and challenges faced by the poor in Ghana. I find that I need to understand both the joy and the pain. I need to witness the beauty and the suffering, and stay connected to both, in order to be present enough to effectively communicate the paradoxes that are the agony and the ecstasy, the opposing realities that are interchangeably both the background and the foreground, of life in Ghana./>