Time is a valuable commodity squandered by those with an excess of it, which often seems to be a result of the roles we play in our family lives. I am originally from Sebrepor, a town in Tema, Ghana; and came to the US for College in 2004. I am now a permanent resident living in New Jersey with my husband and two sons. My experiences have shown me the way in which the differences in culture relating to gender roles have an effect on the time spent on enjoying family life. The differences in gender roles can most easily be expressed by examining the activities involved in daily life.
Being a proud mother of two boys I can say that my husband and I dedicate a significant portion of our time to taking care of our children. My husband and I split pretty evenly activities like diaper changes, bath time, watching the kids, and playing with kids; however I do all of the breast feeding. Life in Ghana is totally different from here in the US: in Ghana the woman is solely responsible for the children’s every need, while the husband is expected to simply provide the financial and possibly moral support.
The idea of a quick meal was a foreign concept to me when I arrived in the US, I had never experienced a frozen meal, fast food (drive through), or even a supermarket until 2004. While there are fantastic roadside food sellers in Ghana, most food preparation takes place at home, and is time consuming at every step. Simply to buy ingredients you must go to the market place where you buy separate items from separate sellers, who you will likely have to haggle with over the price. This experience takes hours and is repeated a few times a week. Imagine each time you go to the supermarket that it takes you 10 minutes to pick and buy each item to put in your shopping cart. The shopping for food items, charcoal to cook with, and nearly everything else the household needs is once again the sole responsibility of the woman. However, here in the US not only does the shopping take far less time, but my husband does the majority of the food shopping.
Another thing I also appreciate about being in the US that that my husband and I pretty evenly split the cooking and kitchen cleaning responsibilities, which would likely never be the case in Ghana. Cooking in Ghana is often an outdoor activity, which is done on a coal pot, a small device that holds charcoal and allows a large pot to be placed on top of it for cooking. Imagine perpetually cooking at a well-equipped campsite with all of its amenities: while appliances like blenders and mixers are available in Ghana they are not commonplace and most families will hand grind their ingredients in earthenware bowls called “aportoryewa and tapori”. The processes of cooking are drawn out without the aids of modern appliances and I often feel spoiled with the amenities that I now live with.
In my household I do the majority of the laundry, but when I compare the work involved to what it is in Ghana I don’t mind at all. In Ghana, families don’t own washing machines, so all laundry is hand washed in large bowls. The process of washing a load worth of laundry takes about the same amount of time, but here I only have to add the soap and fabric softener and press 2 buttons. In addition to washing, forget the idea of a dryer: all of the clothing is dried outside on a line with the hopes that it doesn’t rain. While my husband often helps with the folding of the laundry here in the US, that would be asking a lot of a husband in Ghana.
While I am proud of my heritage and love the country I come from, I appreciate a culture that has shared gender roles and evenly splits household work. We are not living in a 1960’s world where the wife is responsible for every aspect of household work, and I can’t imagine living a life where it’s my responsibility to do all of the work and be subservient to my husband. However, if I were a man, I would consider moving back to relax under the coconut tree while I’m waited on every day.
4 thoughts on “Life In Two Worlds”
I loved your post Aisha! My home is in South Africa and although I live a modern first world lifestyle with all its amenities, I work in rural villages where I see first hand how traditional lifestyles are lived. Although I am at work when I am in the villages it often feels like I go there to relax, because the pace of life is slower. Yes, time can be squandered just as easily as money can be squandered. And yes, traditional lifestyles don’t split the work involved in taking care of a family as well as modern lifestyles do, but there are other values in the villages that we should take back to our city lives, such as how to love and laugh and enjoy life, even when there are very few material possessions involved.
I loved this, Aisha! We lived in South Africa for six years. And while we certainly had grocery stores, they were small and pathetically stocked; I remember the first year going to three stores in a row trying to find brown sugar but everyone was out. I hadn’t realized how much I cooked with prepared ingrediants such as ready-made-pie crusts until I no longer had access to them and had to make it all from scratch. Cooking wholesome and delicious food suddenly took a lot longer.
On the flip side, the first year we were there, I had a wonderful conversation with two Zulu women from the Claremont New Church about Homemakers. When they discovered that I was a stay-at-home mother their response was, “that is so wonderful that you do that–and that you can afford to do that!” I had never thought of the opportunity to be a full-time mother as a luxury I am blessed to indulge in– but it really is. If Derrick were only making $14 a day (the going rate for basic worker where we were), I would NEED to get a job to help feed our children and, in Zulu culture, I would still be responsible for maintaining the house as well?
I love your descriptions of your life in different places, and appreciate the details that you bring with observations of each.
I have really enjoyed reading a few different books about food sources and food cultures over the last year. One of the things I have been working on is putting greater care and thought into my food – something that takes effort and learning for me precisely because of how easily accessible ready made food is. I feel grateful on a regular basis for the small amount of time I am able to spend on food (particularly in times when I am sick or my husband has many evening meetings), but have been reflecting on how much of a person or a family’s experience of food gets compromised when so little effort is expended. It is very easy to feel grateful for every single bite full when you have just spent hours preparing, and harder when you spent 5 minutes. We’ve been having a lot of ready made food recently because of illness, but I’ve been trying to take the time to feel grateful for every step, however unknown to me, that other people had to take to make that food for me, and your descriptions are helping me to remember all that.
Dear Aisha, thank you so much for this insight!! I have only lived in Canada, the US and now Australia, but they’re all the same, and so different from your motherland. I can only imagine how much of a shock it must have been to you, when you first arrived in the States – and how much of a shock it would be for me to experience a society like yours in Ghana! I would love to try it; while there are undoubtedly difficulties involved in living that way, there would also undoubtedly be joys that we miss in our first-world lifestyle, too. I very much enjoy preparing meals for my family ‘from scratch’, however I’m sure that my ‘scratch’ is much more processed and readily available than in Ghana — and even though I ‘make’ my own flours and nut butters, I don’t know what I would do without my super-speedy Vitamix! :O
Thank you for sharing this perspective, I truly appreciated it. And I loved your closing line – “However, if I were a man, I would consider moving back to relax under the coconut tree while I’m waited on every day.” 😀 No doubt! Me, too.
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