Not everyone on the MHIRT program had the ability to stay with a host family, and I am thankful every day that I have been able to. Though we frequent visiting Kumasi or travel on the weekends, this pink house on the hill in Kuntanase has been my home away from home for the last several months, a home I will be leaving very soon.
My initial visit about two months ago made me excited to have an “authentic” Ghanaian experience, especially compared to some of my colleagues who would be on their own in a hotel or flat. I had the significant opportunity to interact with the community in which we were doing research, right in my own home, as well as be provided “homely” needs like laundry, a furnished room so I had a place to spread my belongings, and a key to my new home. It was comfortable and much different than taking rest and working for a hotel as originally anticipated. After months of walking out the front door, my favorite site remains rounding the corner after our trotro stop and descending the hill to see the soft pink house with a flat metallic roof, often with laundry strewn across the lines, awaiting our arrival. Our clucking chickens wade around the steps leading to the front door which we often open to the smell of plantains, rice, beef, or chicken cooking. Though I can do without my early morning rooster wake up calls and pastors exalting on the neighborhood speaker system, I could not have this home stay experience any other way. Not having internet access and air conditioning was initially a drag, but those come and go with any desire; with the arrival of the rainy season a few weeks into our stay, the latter was dispensable and often replaced by a cool shower.
Home has also been a place where I ask questions about culture, practices, tendencies, and learned some language. I have had most of my favorite dishes in this house and am figuring out tricks so I can make them when I return to the States. I have aired grievances about my internship with my host family and received needed advice; most of which have surrounded not having a suitable site mentor guiding us through the project and having poorly outlined responsibilities and goals. I have questioned the line between culture and respect as we have encountered situations with moot ethics; is it rude or caring to ask a woman about their weight in Ghana and is there a boundary to questions about your religion? The ability to pick the brains and ask small and large questions to our host family has been invaluable; we have kept in touch with the Ghanaian news and gotten the perspectives from our family and neighbors in the process.
Thanks to documentaries about “Africa” and misperceptions about the living standard in a developing country, I have been asked by many of my friends how I simply am surviving in such a place. I think they would be surprised to see how comfortable this home is. Yes, there are people in Ghana living in lesser conditions, so I do consider myself gracious privileged; there were mud hut villages in our visit to the Northern Regions, and just down the street there are many open-air homes as is common for rural areas. I am enjoying my home and wandering around this town. I wish I had more agency to do so alone, but I have been able to see bits here and there with the guidance or my host family and especially my host mother. And so I patiently countdown the days when I will no longer turn the corner from our trotro stop to see the pink house on the hill.