Born Away: Reflections on Culture Shock

I found this yesterday as I was going through my writings. Reunion

It wasn’t the food. I’d been feasting on fufu and light soup, plantains and kontomire and banku and pepper from as far back as I can remember-even if it wasn’t the real stuff.  It was not the language. My parents spoke Twi to my siblings and me since we were born. Sometimes I can’t remember what language they were speaking, when they said certain things to us -I only remember the message. That is unless they said something that could only be effectively communicated in Twi- Some proverbial saying or something whose humor would be lost in translation.  So it wasn’t the language. It was quite nice knowing what everyone was saying knowing that other international students had no sweet clue what was being said about and around them. The biggest culture shock I experienced during my year in Ghana in 2005-2006 had to do with the very thing I love about Ghana: personal interactions. I must have gotten yelled at three times at school during my stay there. No wait, four. I was snapped at on a bus once for calling out to my uncle asking for directions. The other passengers were annoyed that I was holding them up. I was yelled at at the bank once for asking questions. The teller told me to be quiet, I was talking too much. Twice I was scolded for not giving the customary greeting when I entered the office (I did in the second situation, the secretary just hadn’t heard me).  I’m a soft cookie. Being yelled at for things for which I knew no better made me cower.  The first few times I had to fight back tears. I eventually realized though that these experiences were both unpleasant and helpful at the same time. They made me see that I’d have to toughen up if I didn’t want to be offended every time this happened.  It took me awhile. I would be hurt and shocked. I’d blink, bite my lip and brood for a few minutes, maybe even an hour or so, but after these encounters I started to be a bit stronger. I feel that if I had stayed for longer I would have been cured of my softness.

Another culture shock experience dance class. At first it was like being in junior high school and having no friends. Most of the girls didn’t really talk to me. When some did, they were nice enough, but if they don’t want to be your friend they’re not going to go out of your way to make you feel comfortable.  I felt I could’ve been at home with them eventually, but a lot of the time I could not help feeling like an outsider. I wished I was more outgoing, less insecure, spoke Twi better.

That’s why I was so happy to meet Mamle.  She came up to me in class one day and asked if I had signed my name on the attendance sheet. No typical “Hey, I’m Mamle, what’s your name?” or quaint “So, how do you like this class so far?” Just, “Go and sign your name.”

Later as we sat on the floor, watching the instructor demonstrate moves, Mamle told me she wanted me to come to her house. Those were the buds of our friendship.

It’s been over a year since that trip to Ghana and M. and I are still in touch. I miss her. She was cute and simple. She wasn’t one of those overly matching, too-much-attitude –cause-I’ve-been-abroad-and/or-have a-sugar-daddy toting, H. G.G.s or Hot Ghana Girls as my other friends and I affectionately referred to them. Mamle was cool because she was friendly, fun and honest.  She’d tell me when she didn’t like my hair and laughed at me for messing up in my dance exam. Now I didn’t thrive off of her ridicule or anything because in fact, it wasn’t ridicule at all. She was saying what she thought but it wasn’t mean. Besides, I don’t know what I was doing with my feet during my exam that day. Thinking about it made me laugh too, I must have looked ridiculous. Anyway, in dance class, Mamle was like a soft pillow, after sleeping for weeks on straw.

Mamle she showed me the ropes. The first day I went to her house we had to fill bucket after bucket with water to store in the house because the pipes only in her section of the city once a week.  Her mom spoke Ga, another Ghanaian language, to me all the time and scolded me for not understanding her.

“How can you not understand Ga? Ei! You’re forgotten all I’ve taught you?” I had. I was having a hard enough time trying to master my own language.

It was strange coming back to Canada. One day I was on the continent of Africa, the next I was in my kitchen in Nova Scotia. My whole experience was over so suddenly, as if it had been a dream. It certainly felt that way for awhile.

I want to go back. I want to return to that world of laughter, traffic, noise, ‘Hot Pot’ (the best fried rice and chicken in the world); to the feeling of belonging and also of discomfort. I miss the discomfort because it is such feelings that change a person. They push you, like a snail out of her shell. They force you have to adjust different terrains, to find a new home or be homesick forever.   I hope to rise even higher to the challenges I faced when I was there,  and to new ones that will inevitably arise when I return as well. I remind myself, the higher the challenge, the more I will grow, and I would like to be quite tall.

5 thoughts on “Born Away: Reflections on Culture Shock

  1. Very insightful and interesting post! Glad it came up in my readomattic! So fascinating to hear about another kind of culture shock from your perspective. You write well.

    • abenatuffour says:

      hey isnessie, I’m glad this spoke to you. the experience definitely impacted me in many ways. one of the best years of my life. what do you mean another kind of culture shock?

  2. It’s just that I don’t often get to hear about culture shock from the perspective of someone who’s done what you’ve done. Did you grow up in Ghana, or did you just go for a year? In my world culture-shock is more like what happens when say, a Zulu man tries to date an Indian girl – because the cultures are so different and they have to adapt.

    • abenatuffour says:

      okay i see. yeah i went for a year. I agree it is kind of strange isn’t it? You have a culture shock story?

  3. Chica 4 Christ says:

    awwwww ma glad you got something out of it including a good friend
    i can relate to the “yelling at you for no justified reason”
    but also another thing about back home is that they don’t smile to random people if they do not know them…
    i know that was definitely my biggest culture shock here. People smile at you in every direction leaving me with a “do i know you?”…but i’ve grown accustomed to it and i smile back :)…lol

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