This is a guest post from my parents, Alan and Linda, who visited me in Ghana this summer. It was interesting for me to get a different perspective of Ghana after living here for a year and a half.
I have a lot of memories of my trip to Ghana this summer. And we were lucky to see what Ryan has been experiencing since arriving here. One of the most interesting things for me to see was the way the people can carry most anything on top of their heads. On the streets, in the city and the villages, people are everywhere selling their goods off the top of their heads. They can balance heavy items, flat, square or even lopsided things. They can even run or bend down with whatever is on top of their heads. These women are selling items to people passing in cars. It’s the ultimate drive thru.
These women are at a market and they didn’t appreciate us taking pictures. But you can see the ability to balance so much on their heads is amazing. And their posture is perfect.
On the first night we were in Ryan’s village, we needed to purchase a case of soda. The soda was part of our gift we gave to the clan leaders of Ryan’s village at a formal greeting the following morning at 6:00 am. That’s another blog post. This case of 24 soda bottles in a plastic crate was no problem for Ryan’s cook, Beatrice, to put on top of her head and carry through the village, on an uneven road, parts up hill, and almost 9 months pregnant!
And there are a lot of babies in Ghana and no strollers. So in addition to carrying all things on their heads, the women also carry their babies on their backs.
Not just the women carry things on their heads either. We came across this man, with machete in hand, carrying a huge piece of wood. I know it looks photoshopped, but it’s not.
It was interesting to see how Ryan has adapted to the way of life in Ghana. But the time we were with him, he never attempted to carry anything on his head.
During the past month I’ve had houseguests. My housemate’s sister and her six children ranging from elementary school to high school age are here from Togo. The children are on break from school until October so most of the family decided to spend their vacation at my house. In general I don’t mind them being here. I find it interesting that they treat me like the guest in my own house. They wash my clothes, cook, and clean my dishes for me. I especially appreciate the washing clothes part. This saves me hours of my time and they do a better job hand washing than I do.
Having them in the house forces me to practice my Ewe. In Togo Ewe is the dominant tribal language and French is their colonial language. As a result my Togolese guests don’t speak any English. So to communicate I have to rely on my Ewe and one semester of beginner French. To make things more complicated the Togolese dialect of Ewe is different than the Ghanaian dialect. For example, the way you welcome someone back to the house is different. It sounds like a random example to use, but in Ghanaian/Togolese culture it’s a phrase that is used dozens of times a day. Even the word for bread is different (abolo in Ghana versus akpono in Togo). If I butchered the spellings, sorry to all of my readers who are Ewe experts.
Just a few of the kids from Togo.
Six extra kids running around the house can be entertaining at first. But after a month it gets old. Staying at someone’s house for a month in America is a long time. Too long in fact, you would probably be kicked out by then. But in Ghana, it’s almost expected. When you travel and stay over for only a few days, you will be asked why you are leaving already. People truly have a different sense of time here. Nonetheless, I’m still American so I’ve been getting a little annoyed with my houseguests lately. I’m starting to think teaching the kids how to play Uno was a bad idea. Now every night is Uno night. However, after learning that Togo is the least happy place on Earth, perhaps I can let them stay. That is, if they wash my clothes for another week.
As my Peace Corps service is dwindling to a close I am forced to face the question of what to do after Peace Corps. Before I look into the future, I think it is best to first look into the past.
When I graduated from college I had no idea what I wanted to do. The U.S. was in a recession at the time so I jumped on the first job offer I got, to join SPAWAR Systems Center as an electronic engineer in their New Professional rotational program. For my first rotation I worked with underwater low probability of detection signals. Although the work was intellectually stimulating, it involved little human interaction. In fact, there were days were the only person I would interact with at work was my supervisor. For my second rotation I joined the cost estimating division. I enjoyed working there because it connected my interest in both engineering and business. However, I always felt I was not as polished on the business side as I could have been.
So why join the Peace Corps? After studying abroad in Sweden during my senior year of college I’ve always had an itch to live and work abroad. I wanted to live in another culture and learn a new language and the Peace Corps provided me with the best opportunity to do both of these things. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the Peace Corps so far is my interactions with the people. For example, I am working with an NGO to build partially subsidized household latrines (both the NGO and beneficiary contribute towards the construction of the latrine). This requires me to manage over 20 latrine artisans and 460 latrine beneficiaries to construct the latrines. Through this experience I learned that managing people is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, things to do in the world.
After reflecting on my professional experiences I’ve decided that obtaining an MBA is the best next step for me after the Peace Corps. At SPAWAR I enjoyed working at the intersection of technology and business, but I realized I lacked business acumen that comes with a business education. Then in Ghana I discovered that I enjoy managing people, but it is a skill that requires developing. I’d like to focus on global management at a top MBA program. Not only will I gain fundamental business skills in finance, accounting, and operations that I lack coming from an engineering background, but I will also become a better leader through project work and classroom learning. Furthermore, I want to go to program that will broaden my international experience through a global consulting project, such as MIT Sloan’s G-Lab. I’m confident an MBA will help me develop my business and management skills and provide me with opportunities to continue working internationally.