Obruni! Eti sen?

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Although I don’t know much Twi, I have learned a couple of phrases and words since my arrival in Accra over a week ago. Obruni means white person or foreigner and I have been more aware then ever of this aspect of my identity. Unlike last summer, where it wasn’t always clear that I was an American until I opened my mouth, everywhere I go I am aware of the fact that I do not fit in. Everyone knows that I’m not from here. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be uncomfortable at times, and a little challenging. Eti sen, on the other hand, means how are you? And I’m doing fairly well so far.

Karen, Lydia and I are working on an engineering project within the maternal block of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital while in Accra. We have been performing observations so far, and trying to talk to doctors and nurses to attempt to identify a challenge that can be addressed with an engineering design project. Along with three University of Ghana engineering students, we will be coming up with needs statements, creating a rubric and talking with doctors to down select these statements, and then generating user requirements and design specifications so that when we return to Ann Arbor in the fall, we can prepare a device or tool to share with the hospital. It’s challenging because many people don’t understand why there are engineers at the hospital, as most visitors are medical students, but we have been explaining as best as we can. We still have almost four more weeks here in Accra, and then we will be moving to Kumasi, to work at the hospital there for 3 weeks before returning home.

“Welcome to Africa” is a phrase that would describe how we are adjusting to our time here, as it is often a response to a surprising or challenging encounter that we are faced with. Our new home is the International Student Hospital, which is filled with mostly medical students. The majority are Nigerian, but we have met people from Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Holland, and even from Rhode Island and Michigan as well. We quickly had to learn that the water is not always on and that we would need to buy buckets for our showers. We also came home to a note saying that the porters and cleaners were on strike, so they were gone for a couple of days. There has been one power outage so far, but our headlamps were ready for the challenge, and it didn’t last too long. Rice is the staple of our meals, as we haven’t gotten too adventurous to try the banku or the fufu yet, but we are determined. Slowly but surely we are figuring out how to get places, where to eat, and what to do.

One other aspect of my identity that I find challenging that accompanies the fact that we are obrunis is that I am not usually addressed as Alison, but rather Karen, Lydia and Alison. We are a team that is always together, and when talking to people it is usually all of us. People know us as the three girls from Michigan, and I think that is sometimes difficult, because it can be hard to get to know a person when you come as a package deal. But, it is also nice to have them with me, as I would probably be much more lost if I was on my own. It is just something that I have noticed, and am intrigued to see how it plays out.

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