Sunday, April 24, 2011

Launching out into the cultural deep!

Traditional dancers.

At the pito bar, and meeting two local women who make their living by making pots.

Meeting the chief (centre, standing) at Katariga, near Tamale.

All of the novices and most of the formation team at the Tamale novitiate are from somewhere else – other parts of Africa, Oceania and India. So as newcomers to Ghana, most of us needed an introduction to Ghanaian life and culture. A five-day workshop at the Tamale Institute of Cross-Cultural Studies (TICCS) at the end of March provided this opportunity.

TICCS is a valuable resource provided by the Divine Word Missionaries of the Catholic Church, but its unique work provides support well beyond church circles, to many newcomers to Africa and to Ghana, including government and NGO personnel, students and business people.

A mix of morning presentations and afternoon excursions provided a rich experience, offering much information, many challenging insights about culture, and broadening experiences of aspects of life in northern Ghana. Many found the talk on Islam by the secretary of the central mosque in Tamale an eye-opener in regard to Muslim attitudes to Christianity, especially to Jesus and his mother. The visit to a local diviner took most of us into new territory, as diviners are often frowned on by Christians. So just sitting in his consulting room, surrounded by bottles of herbal recipes and various amulets and charms, was an experience that stretched most of us! We found the man, who was, incidentally, also a Muslim, engaging, down-to-earth and interesting, even if we were not quite ready to take our personal questions to him!

Other presentations challenged us in regard to culture shock and cross-cultural understanding, gender relations in Ghana and the growing popularity with the youth of evangelical and charismatic Christian churches, among many topics.

We visited a local chief – one of the very few women chiefs in northern Ghana – and were intrigued by the protocols that had to be observed. We were welcomed to a traditional meal by a family in a village on the outskirts of Tamale, and treated to traditional dancing by a local dance group. And we found time to squeeze in a visit to a pito bar to sample the local beer (or pito).

The week was informative and varied. As well as the valuable information it provided, we were left with new ideas to use as we continue our journey of cultural understanding over these two years. And we were challenged to carry with us the many questions raised by the experience, questions about our own cultures, our own religious faith and, above all, the attitudes and prejudices we all carry with us.

The workshop concluded after five days, but the journey of cultural understanding has a long way to go! Our thanks to Fr. Marek and Sylvester for organising such a stimulating workshop for us.

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