IGL Student speaks on her research and experiences in Ghana by Jhanel Chew

by tuftsigl
Mar 13

When I left the United States, it was 27 degrees outside. There were piles of snow everywhere and I was freezing in my big winter coat and snow boots. By the time I finally got off the plane, the sun had set and the temperature in Ghana had cooled significantly to a low 80 degrees. It’s Ghana’s dry season, the period of time where it doesn’t rain for four or five months of the year, yet it still feels humid.

Two days after I arrive, my translator and I are already on the field. This trip involves us approaching people we had already interviewed in May and asking if we could observe them doing daily behaviors. In the first town we visit, I already know who I’m going to visit.

“Do you remember us?” we say as we approach the home of a woman we haven’t seen in nearly six months.

“Oh Abena!” her mother shouts. “You are back!”

Abena is what the locals call me, as they find it difficult to pronounce Jhanel. It’s a Ghanaian name that means Tuesday born, and makes me seem more ingrained in Ghanaian culture.

She agrees to be observed. The compound is quite large, brimming with people, especially women. I watch as the women fetch water, cook, wash clothes, make brooms from palm nut leaves. There is so much activity and so much conversation. Laughter is as ubiquitous in this household as Ghana’s red dirt. Their children play amongst themselves ad find a way to keep themselves entertained.

Watching the women collect and use water is exactly why I came there. The woman I observe is in charge of collecting money for the use of boreholes in the community. She is happy to have this job, as she holds responsibility in the community. It also brings in extra income to her family that she otherwise would not have had. Since she manages the money, she had and her family do not have to pay for the water from the borehole, decreasing the monetary burden involved in water collection. She spends her days sitting by the borehole collecting money while she watches her children play, cooks meals, washes dishes and clothes, and other daily tasks. Her sisters also wash clothes every day except when they head to the farm.

The dry season in Ghana is when women are most likely to collect water. This is because they cannot rely on the rainwater that almost every person I interviewed previously enjoyed the best. This means the water doesn’t flow as well. I observe people having to wait a long time for others to finish pumping and even having to jump to get enough strength to get the water flowing fast enough. I’m surprised to see so many men at the borehole—young men collecting water for their mothers and older men collecting their bath water—until I’m reminded that women carry a large responsibility of collection, but men sometimes help out too.

People in Ghana are also friendly! Since I’m a foreigner, everyone wants to talk to me and see why I’m there. I practice my Twi, the local language, and quickly learn when people are asking me, “do you want to be my friend?” and the response, “yes, I want to be your friend.” Because people are so friendly, I learn a lot about what people’s thoughts on the borehole is and what they think about the river.

After a few days of being in Ghana, I’m already immersed in my research and learning rapidly from people that are more than willing to share their thoughts with me. I’m happy to be back in Ghana.