Friday, October 14, 2016

Where I'm from and other questions of identity

Clara on her ride to work

"My dad is from Wiesi and my mum is from Wiaga which are all a part of the Builsa district, so with no doubt I am a Builsa. However, I was born and raised in Tamale in the Northern region which is a little farther away from the Builsa land but then, my parents did their best in instilling in us the Builsa culture, hence, I can speak my mother tongue, Buli which I’m very proud of even though I’m not that fluent. While pursuing my education I moved much farther away from my hometown to other parts of the country which drew me away from my roots, but my family, especially my dad, who is the Chief of my village Wiesi did so well in reminding me where I’m from, thus, he engaged me in some developmental projects carried out there.

Due to these, I visit my hometown at least once a year to see how things are going and to engage myself in community activities. Even with all these, I can still say there is a whole lot to learn about my culture. It’s funny the way the world works, ICS brought me to Sandema which is the capital of the Builsa district so I have the opportunity to learn more about my people and our culture. However, I wasn’t enthused on spending 3 months in Sandema to work on the LIFE Project after being placed here, because I really wanted to work with women.

The feeling about my stay changed as we entered into Sandema. It was so beautiful and green as trees serve as a boundary to the main road which extends through the entire town. Our host family also welcomed us so well that I was so excited to be a part of their family for the next 3 months and hopefully for a very long time.

Work started on Monday and I got to learn more about our project and honestly, there is No Place I’d Rather Be. So far I have learnt more about disability and my culture hence I am eager to make an immediate contribution to help make their lives better. I can’t wait to start with our project in full swing to impact lives and acquire knowledge and possibly in the near future start my own project about People Living with Disability in my Village Wiesi."

"Even from training, the importance of chiefs was emphasized – when ICV’s were asked “who is more influential, your local chief or the President of the country”, they unanimously answered “the chief, of course”. And one Tuesday afternoon, the team found itself sitting in front of our local chief asking permission to carry out our project work in the local area. By means of introduction, he had asked simple enough questions, “what is your name and where are you from?” Each volunteer comfortably provided the requested information: “Lillie from Leicester”, “Sam from Wales”, “Clara from Wiesi”, they answered. Then it came to my turn – I panicked, paused, stuttered and incoherently blurted out “Heather” followed by a string of place names.

Heather enjoying the Ghanaian sun
See, the question of identity is a tricky one for me. Yes, I was born and raised in London and carry a burgundy British passport. But I also have a deep blue Ghanaian one. My parents are Ghanaian but belong to different tribes. My dad’s is from the patrilineal Ga tribe of Labadi, and my mother is from the matrilineal Fante tribe of Cape Coast – essentially meaning Ga people will insist I am Ga, while Fante’s will insist I am Fante, if they accept that I am Ghanaian at all. (Got all that?)

The Chief, confused and amused by my answer, asked me to choose - “where are you really from?” his translator inquired. As if it’s that easy! The African diaspora has meant that for millions, the question of where you’re from will always produce complex answers. Even on ‘home soil’ in the UK I sometimes find myself feeling not quite British enough, let alone here in Ghana where I’ve never lived before.

I partially came to Ghana to learn more about it and in the hope that spending an extended period of time here would help me feel that the Ghanaian side of my identity is more complete. I already feel myself growing closer to Ghana – I’m improving my language skills, covering Ghanaian history through my project, and getting accustomed to a wider array of Ghanaian foods, mannerisms, customs etc. So far, so good!

When the chief asked me to choose, I proudly said “I am a British-Ghanaian”. My identity is not straight-forward – it’s multi-facetted and it’s what makes me me, as cheesy as it sounds. To ‘choose a side’ is to overlook a crucial part of myself and the various cultural inputs ingrained in who I am."

By Clara Abuntori and Heather Abbey

Team LIFE with the Chief of Sadema and his elders


  1. "So far so good" I love that phrase!

  2. Heather's story cracks me up😂😂. Don't worry ma'am, you'll do fine in Sandema. No worries at all.
    (Former ICV)