Nyame Adom & Gaining Access

27 06 2012

Jessie Narloch

Accra, Ghana


When I walk down Ghanaian streets, I stick out like a sore thumb. I have never been so aware of my own presence until I first came to Ghana where my anonymity vanishes. At times it is bothersome—especially when I simply want to enjoy the sites and events around me while everyone is urging me to notice the difference of myself. However, I have quickly come to embrace this reality. It certainly helps me make friends. Countless Ghanaians ask me, “How are you doing, white girl?” in the Akan language of Twi. When I surprise them with saying “Nyame Adom” (meaning: I am doing fine “by God’s grace”) and continue in an impromptu conversation in their native language, they first are amused and then seemingly impressed. I will be the first to admit that I am nowhere near fluent, but the few phrases that I can use here and there have given me a connection to people that I’m afraid most foreigners are not aware of. I am incredibly grateful that most of the people in the city know English, the country’s official language that unites all peoples from different Ghanaian tribes under a single speech.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of the native language has not gotten me complete access to my research site yet. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the directors of the Alpha Medical Centre, a small hospital located in a modest section of Accra called Medina. The meeting was quite intimidating at first, since it seemed that I could lose the main field site of my research with one wrong statement in the presentation that I gave. Thankfully, the presentation went well, and the administrators seemed to think my research is highly relevant and important to their clinic. I thought that was it—that the oral permission of the hospital administrators would suffice and that I could start to interview patients. However, after two days later, many calls and emails to US advisors, and multiple trips to rare Ghanaian printing stations, I have obtained the necessary paperwork for me to proceed at the Alpha Medical Centre. They tell me that I will start tomorrow. I am extremely excited and a bit nervous to actually be conducting the research that I have been planning for and talking about for months. While I am sad for the days that were lost, the entire process was a learning experience and quite an adventure—two things that I am quite fond of.

In order to avoid feeling like today was a complete research day gone to waste, I set up a meeting with Gori, a Muslim scholar that I interviewed last summer about the ways in which Islamic beliefs affect the way Muslims view their health and make decisions when ill. I wanted to ask him a few follow-up questions about his faith and about his interactions with biomedical doctors in the community. He is an incredibly friendly man, and he was excited and passionate to tell me about everything I wanted to know. The most interesting thing that he mentioned this time was about the interactions between physicians and spiritual leaders in the hospital setting. It seems that some doctors and most hospital administrations are adverse to the idea of community spiritual leaders coming in to pray for religious patients. However, this is not due to anything against religious practices in general. Instead, it is due to the fact that some spiritual leaders bring patients special holy water or herbal concoctions that they intend to use to help heal the patients of their illness. Because the contents and side effects of these spiritual medicines are unknown and often used without consulting the physician, doctors often are highly suspicious of spiritual leaders in biomedical settings. This can often create an environment that is hard for any spiritual leader to come in to pray for patients, unless, like Gori, you have a special relationship with doctors who have similar spiritual beliefs. Gori and his fellow Muslim leaders often have personal relationships with Muslim doctors who encourage them to come to pray for patients, often undermining the wishes of the overarching hospital administrations. This complex dynamic between spiritual leaders, religious patients, and medical professionals is exactly what I hope to somehow shed some light on in the coming days of my research. Fingers crossed, it all starts tomorrow.



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