Cooking Lessons in Life



A lot of my time in Ghana is spent in the house learning how to be a proper lady.
I have been learning new mannerisms — in Ghanaians’ terms, the correct way to cook, clean, speak and even eat.

The process of relearning 21 years of tacit knowledge acquired from living in the United States has been quite daunting. Many times I feel like I am a child who lacks the basic skills to communicate or provide for herself.

I get frustrated when completing the most basic tasks. Then when I finish them correctly, I feel as though a room full of people are smiling and supporting me in the same way they would a toddler learning how to walk.

The support is very helpful in the learning process, but it is sometimes difficult to adjust as an American to a culture where self-reliance is almost seen as a negative trait.

Life in Ghana is all about respecting those who are older than you and looking to them for guidance in all decisions. This makes for very strong ties between generations. Yet, it means that if you are young you must wait your turn to speak both literally and figuratively.

Cooking has taught me a great deal about Ghanaian cultural norms.

The first lesson I have learned is the art of waiting. I say art because as an American waiting does not come easy. We expect things to happen immediately and when they don’t we get very frustrated. Thus, when we moved to a culture where every request is met with “mereba (pronounced may-ba)” or “I am coming” in an undetermined set of time, it’s hard to know how to respond other than simply responding “yoo” or “OK.”

Sometimes “I am coming” means “I will be there in five minutes,” other times it means “I will be there in five hours.” You just have to learn to wait it out.

Another important lesson I have learned is that in Ghana there is no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. Here, it is seen as rude to be in your room doing your own thing when someone is cooking in the kitchen. This does not mean you necessarily have to do the cooking, but it is compulsorily that you talk to the cook while they are preparing the meal.

It is often frustrating and not efficient to stop and leave what you are doing, but it is a sign of respect and therefore deemed necessary. Respect rather than time is always the most important thing.

The third lesson I have learned is the more time you take to cook, the better the stew tastes.

A quick 30-minute stew is OK if you are just cooking for yourself in America; however, if you are planning to prepare a meal for a Ghanaian family to eat you must take your time. Such cooking takes up a lot of time, sometimes even all day, but in the end your stomach will thank you.

The time commitment you make to your family and your stomach will reward you with a happier and healthier life.

So relax, take some time and try making something yummy for yourself to eat. I’m sure your stomach and your mind will enjoy the break.


­— tmkennel@indiana.edu

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