This week, last year, 28 Americans arrived in Ghana to begin the required training to become PCVs. Today, 24 remain (not too shabby!) scattered throughout the country. But what has happened in between? I can say, refer to my posts of the last year, but that is not enough. Only now that I have a stretch of time to look back on can I trace the ups and downs, gauge project failure and success, reflect on myself.
On a hitch just a few days ago, upon learning I had been in Ghana for a year and was essentially half way through my service, one of the passengers asked if my expectations had been met regarding my mission. I said I did not arrive with expectations so I had nothing to be disappointed in, only that, despite many warnings, things were moving slower than I hoped. When it comes to volunteering, Peace Corps really is number one. Name me one other organization that sends its volunteers out into the world for two year stints. And here I am, one year in, thinking two years is too short – especially for agriculture. We get two seasons. How is that enough to make meaningful, sustainable change? Year one to observe and learn and year two to implement projects and identify mistakes/weak points. Then what? How about, year three to try again, improve those projects and get more farmers to adapt whatever it is you are teaching? And heck, throw in year four to monitor and ensure those lessons have been adapted. Perhaps this is all part of the design: to get us to stay longer. We have the option to extend after all.
So, what else? When it comes to projects, especially primary goal (put simply, capacity building) projects, I do not feel I have been successful. My demonstration plot could be better and it is not yet done, so I cannot say it has failed. My permaculture garden yielded little (I and others did not tend to it as we should have) and no one in the community seems into it. I have kicked off no other agriculture project. As above, for me, year one has been about observing and learning. Although not part of my primary project, I find most satisfaction in my girls club and this too is really still in the works.
I often have to remind myself that my reason for being here is precisely for this work but for everyone else, their lives and work continue with or without me. So, to want their time and effort for projects they probably do not feel they have time for is yea, difficult. There is only so much Peace Corps and my counterpart can do to prepare a community for a volunteer.
Also, I am a woman in a Muslim community. It is not the norm for a young woman to tell men what to do. I am also a 28 year old unmarried, childless woman. This too is unusual – who am I to tell a married woman with children how best to raise a family? Yes, being educated gives me some credibility but cultural norms and customary laws, rule. Lastly, I am Macondo’s first volunteer. I have to give them time to get used to working with a foreigner and I have to be patient and respect their ways. Early in my service, I was talking to another PCV who was well into his second year and he said that part of my job as a first volunteer is to prepare the community for the second volunteer. I try to keep this in mind in all I do.
Let us not forget about Goals two and three. Goal two is about bringing American culture to Ghanaians and personally, I feel this happens pervasively. It happens in the way we speak, carry ourselves, by simply being present and most importantly in the interactions and conversations we have with HCNs. I find it is my own opinions I give and then get told ‘you Americans [fill in with some behavior that is different to theirs]. I take a moment and tell them not all Americans think like me and we are not all the same, just like Ghanaians are not the same nor are Africans. HCNs generalize about us just as we do of them and that I try to break (especially within myself). It has been through these conversations when I am reminded just how fortunate I am to have had the life I have because I am American. For example, I can sit here and write that men and women are equal, that the LGBTQIA community are no different to heterosexuals, that it is my choice to go to school or focus on my career. And not because men and women are treated equally in the US or that LGBTQIA people have the same rights as the rest or that black and brown people have the same opportunities as white people. It is that we have the right and freedom to speak out about inequalities, demand justice, be who we can or want to be. In Ghana and many places around the world, people do not have this.
Goal three is sharing Ghanaian culture with Americans and this I do via Ghanagogo and other social media. Namely Facebook and Instagram, which are generally open to the public and not just my friends and family. This is also the lifelong goal. No doubt I will be talking about my time in Ghana and Peace Corps for the rest of my life. I do not know how Ghana has changed me and will not until I leave but I know I will have changed for the better.
PST feel like ages ago and thank goodness. It was a tough thing to get through when all we wanted as PCVTs was to get to our communities, really see our host country and start work. The new agriculture group has already arrived and the ‘old’ group is COSing. My group is transitioning into the ‘experienced’ club and still I feel I have so much to learn, see and do. Time is running out.