Sunday, July 06, 2008

Gift-giving and Ghana

Giftgiving and Ghana go hand in hand. They cannot be separated. Giving gifts is a much a part of Ghanaian culture as the "snap" handshake, and giving water to guests, and saying "Akwaaba, you are welcome!"

When I first visited Ghana I had no idea of this tradition. It became obvious quickly that giving gifts was an expected and accepted part of doing business in Ghana. Ghanaians truly don't see it as corruption. In fact, they don't ever ask for anything ahead of time. It's just expected that if you are happy with the work someone does, you will give a gift after the work is done. If you don't give a gift, you can bet that the next time 'round the work will not be done as efficiently. We had to work hard to overcome this tradition of gift-giving in our adoption program. We are lucky that we have found a handful of officials that understand that according to American ethics we cannot give act-based gifts.

The gift-giving goes far beyond business though. Realizing that took me several trips to Ghana. In fact, it wasn't until February that our adoption coordinator Muna pulled me aside and very sheepishly asked if I had brought gifts for the staff. They had expected that I would, and were disappointed that nothing had been given to them. I had no idea that this was expected and felt like a complete jerk! I brought $100 of my own money to Ghana that trip--not nearly enough to buy gifts for over 20 employees and still meet my own personal needs.

So this trip I am happily planning my gifts for each of my friends and staff members. It is hard though--not knowing exactly what everybody will appreciate. Plus, this is from MY money (not AAI money) so it's not exactly going to be extravagant!

Each of our junior staff members will receive a little gift bag from me. Each bag will have a flavored lip balm, a new handkerchief (to wipe sweat), some candy, a bottle of nail polish (one of our parents introduced the staff to the joy of a pedi!), and a battery-operated hand-held fan. On my last trip I gave Muna one of these little fans as more of a joke than anything, but she really liked it! I saw her using it several times. She hooked it to her key ring and said that it was great on the long tro-tro rides to and from her home each day. So hopefully they will be as big a hit for our staff as well!

For Percy (our adoption coordinator), I'm not sure. I was thinking I would get him a few business casual shirts, but when I mentioned that to Muna she said he preferred to wear African traditional shirts. He's really into Obama (a Masters in Political Science!), so maybe with Obama? Or maybe a CD of music? He's hard. Aren't all guys so hard?!

For Muna I am also at a loss. I did bring her a gift last time I came. An inexpensive watch. She didn't seem too impressed, but that may just be her quiet way. I have already ordered her a few pairs of earrings, but I don't know what else. She is the only Ghanaian I have ever met who loves to read "just because" so I may buy her a book. Good books are harder to find in Ghana.

I am in a predicament about one gift. One of our staff members, each of the last two times I have visited Ghana, has pulled me aside and very privately gifted me with BEAUTIFUL Ghanaian dresses. She had them made for me. These dresses go for at least 30 cedis (about a 1/3 of her monthly income). So of course I would love to bring a more extravagant gift for her, as I know she has sacrificed to give gifts to me. But she is a junior staff member. I'm afraid that anything I give her will get back to our staff and that would NOT be taken well. They would all be quite jealous. So I'm still praying about what to do for this Auntie.

August 2nd will be here before I know it, and yet each day seems to creep along. It is such a twisted feeling--wanting so much to be in Ghana again but at the same time knowing how much I will miss my family when I am gone. No matter where I am at I "miss" people I love. My time is coming to embrace my Ghanaian family once again and I am so thankful for the opportunity. I want to smell the air, embrace the humidity (it's useless to fight it anyway), and walk the red earth until my feet hurt.



Story of our Life 7:31 AM  

Hmm lots of things to think about and plan for.

As for the gal who made you the dresses - what about some "american" material or something that she could use towards her sewing hobby/business? What about an American Dress? Just some thoughts and I can really understand that giving equal. However, she has also went out of her way to show her appreciation of you.

Good luck and I'm anxious to hear what you decide on the other gifts.