Friday, November 20, 2009

Orange Prize for Literature winner Chimamanda Adichie and the single story

As a Ghanaian-American writer, I have had similar experiences as Chimamanda who expresses herself brilliantly. Here she is, in her own voice:

If you have any trouble, kindly copy the address and paste directly on your browser. The video is called Chimamanda and the single story.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Ghanaians, hello; colonialism has been over since 1957!

Okay, I'm peeved. More than slightly. Ghanaians, when will you stop this nonsensical self-imposed colonialism???!!!

During my tenure as International Specialist for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, some American teachers and I visited an elemenatary school in Ghana. I was appalled to learn that new students, we're talking six-year olds, had to be able to communicate well in English before being accepted into a good school--Ghanaians parents choose schools for their children. The result of this stupid practice is that the younger generation can't speak their native language anymore. Parents want to get their children into the best schools, so right from birth, they speak English to them. This is wrong on many levels.

One of the fallacies of education is that a child will get confused learning two or three languages a time. Because I bought into it, my American-born children couldn't speak Fanti, my native language, for many years. Even now, they speak it poorly. While it is true that children mix up languages when learning more than one at a time, they learn to sort them out by the time they are five or even earlier. At four years old, I spoke Yoruba, Ashanti Twi and English. By fourteen, I could speak French, two additional Twi dialects and Ga. Okay, so maybe I have a flair for languages, but I've seen it happen here in America. Children whose parents speak their native language to them have grown up bilingual. My friends' children are examples. A native Czech spoke Czech to her kids; now the children are bilingual and have excelled at school. One graduated from Georgetown University and another from Boston University. My aunt in Springfield spoke Fanti to her children. They grew up speaking English and Fanti, and have done exceedingly well. These are children growing up in America. So why is that those growing up in Ghana can't speak their own language? What a travesty!

What is even more troubling is that some of these Ghanaian parents can't speak English well. I"m talking about those who didn't even make high school, who speak a halting English with faulty vocabulary. They raise children who say things like "No, he have came and took my book." This actually makes the teachers' job harder. It's like trying to mold cement after it has hardened. Fortunately, the educated children, especially if they go on to the university, learn to speak English well, but then they can't have any meaningful conversation with their parents! There's nothing sadder than not being able to have a deep conversation or share jokes with one's parents. Ghanaians are humorous and use lots of proverbs in their language. A lot of meaning is lost in translation. Children who can't communicate with their parents end up despising them, which leads to conflict. Even sadder than that is the loss of culture, something parents pass on to their children. Ghanaians have a rich culture, from the naming ceremony when a child is born, the outdooring at three months when the child is celebrated in the community, puberty rites, etc., etc. How are these going to be conducted?

Let me digress to grumble about the current notion in the English-speaking world that grammar isn't important. Oh it is!! One must know one's language thoroughly before one can even learn another. As a French/Spanish teacher, it was infuriating to have to explain English rules to my students.

It is important to know one's language well. Language defines a people, whether you're American or Ghanaian or both. Bottom line, learn your language well; it's your heritage. People need to have a good understanding of their culture so they can cut out what is unwholesome while embarcing newer ideas. That's how we grow as human beings. So Ghanaians, stop demanding English before enrollment. Stop teaching your children that their language is inferior and hence their culture is inferior. Embrace the best of both cultures. Colonialism is over.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Even in God's house, Ghanaian men rule

When you're homesick for Ghana, there's nothing more heartwarming than visiting a Ghanaian church. I took to doing that a few months ago. You enter the church and suddenly, you're in Ghana. Everyone is dressed in traditional wear. The music is Ghanaian and loud. The people are dancing, laughing, including the pastor and children. After church, and I kid you not, you come out to find people selling homemade Ghanaian snacks like 'sweet bad', fried, crunchy chips, and beoflot (Ghanaian doughnuts) and groundnut cake. The Ghanaian worshiper is pragmatic. People get hungry after singing and dancing, so why not make a little money as well as worship? But this past Sunday, I saw something that was tragically funny.

The pastor announced that a couple had a testimony to share about the goodness of the Lord. Said family lined up in front of the stage and the pastor handed the microphone to the husband. The husband talked and it was about how his wife entered some sweepstakes or something and won a car. I mean the wife WON. Then the pastor gave the mic to the wife because she had something to say. She had received a call that armed robbers were in her parents' house. She talked about how helpless and frightened she was, how she knelt to pray, how her father had no weapon but grabbed the Bible and said to the robbers that he would use it as a weapon, how the robbers, typical of Ghanaian criminals, decided to leave him alone and left without hurting him. While the woman was still talking, her husband just reached over and grabbed the phone from her and talked about the goodness of the Lord. He was a bore. The woman had no other reaction than to smile and start dancing. I'm glad there was no conflict, but I wondered if she would even consider telling her husband later not to disrespect her in public. Did she even know it was disrespect? I doubted it. If someone like me mentioned it, I would only be told I was a trouble-maker by my fellow women. Women have made some strides, but we still have a long way to go.