Real Intercultural Family in Ghana: Twi, Ga and English


Welcome Kaela and Fred!
Where are you from?
Kaela: Philadelphia, U.S.
Fred: Larteh, Ghana
Where do you currently live?
Accra, Ghana
How did you meet?
Kaela: We met in a Philosophy of Culture course at the University of Ghana. I was there through an exchange program and he was in his last year. I did a semester at the University here during my last year of university.
We were friends for a while. Fred took me to a few events. And then he asked me to come to his hometown’s festival. Ghanaians walk with friends holding hands. When we were at the festival, I misread his handholding for flirting. So I would say he made the first move and he would say I made the first move.
How did you choose to go to Ghana originally?
Kaela: I was an Afro-American studies major and I wanted to know more about Africa. Ghana has a strong connection with the United States. A lot of what we think of as “African” is actually Ghanaian—Kente cloth, Ananse the spider stories. There has been a strong link between Ghana and the African-American community in the diaspora. So in my studies, Ghana was a better fit because I was learning about African-American culture and its links to the continent.
So after your initial time in Ghana, how long did you do the long distance thing before you decided to return to Ghana?
Kaela: I first came to Ghana in 2002 and we remained friends. I came back to visit him in 2006 and then I moved here in 2008. It took me a long time to be ready to move. But when I did move everything fell into place for us. So it seemed to be the right time for us. I always say I’m not really an ideal candidate for life abroad. I’m not really the adventurous type.
What language do you speak together?
Kaela: English. And I am learning Twi. It hasn’t been that easy for me to learn but I won’t blame it on the language. It’s really not a hard language to learn, I am told. Language learning has never come easy to me. I have also had to learn some Ghanaian English to be able to get around.
Ghana is definitely a very multilingual country. There are over 50 languages spoken in Ghana. Ghanaian English is obviously more like British English. The vocabulary is different. Plus there is some degree of direct translation from Twi into English so the sentence structure can be unexpected. So learning the local phrasing and vocabulary is really important to being understood.
How old is your child and where was he born?
Kaela: Kwesi just turned one. He was born in the U.S. so that I could be with my family when he was born. Ghana doesn’t have a requirement that presidents must be born in Ghana like the U.S. does. So we like to say that he was born in the U.S. so that he can be president of both countries some day.
What passports does he hold?
Kaela: He is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ghana.
In what languages do you speak to him?
Kaela: I speak with Kwesi in English. My husband and his family speak to him in Twi and Ga. And some Larteh, but mostly Twi and Ga. Fred uses all three of those languages frequently. The last time I looked, English is the official language in Ghana but Twi is more widely spoken.
Since we live here, I am sure Kwesi will pick up at least the Twi and some Ga. The language from my husband’s town (Larteh) is spoken by a very small population. I know he’d really like Kwesi to learn it. I think that one might be harder because he won’t be surrounded by it.
Fred: The English dominates the Twi, the Larteh and the Ga because my wife is not a speaker. I use different languages for different situations. It depends on the situation—sometimes expressing surprise at something Kwesi does, I will use Ga or Twi. I can’t exactly say what makes me use one or the other. I intend to make a conscious effort to speak the other languages with him when he’s a bit older. The Ga and the Twi, he will learn because of the society when he goes to school, he will be picking them up. The Larteh, that one is me.
What religion are you both and how are you raising your child?
Kaela: I was raised Jewish. Fred is Christian. I am still Jewish but I’m not really practicing. We will do some Jewish holidays. It’s important to me that Kwesi gets to experience some of that. Fred and his family are more religious than I am. It has been complicated at times because Ghana is a much more religious society than the United States. There isn’t really much of a Jewish community here. He is exposed to a lot of Christianity. I would just like him to eventually know he has lots of different possibilities. When I was young, I visited many different types of synagogues and I actually went to a Quaker school so I want Kwesi to feel like he has options like I did.
Fred: I don’t have a specific way. Knowing everything. Knowing himself. When he is of age, he will decide for himself. For now it’s a mix of religions, a little or this a little of that. When he is older, he will make his choice. It’s about coexisting and respecting each other. Basically that is it. Coexistence and cooperation.
Do you have any concerns with your child’s language acquisition, even though it’s still pretty early?
Kaela: I’m not worried about Kwesi getting confused. The linguists seem to be pretty positive that kids figure it out eventually. I am worried Kwesi’s Twi will be better than mine far too soon.
What have been your greatest joys as an intercultural family?
Fred: You can look at it in two ways. It makes available a lot of cultural ideas. It’s a mixture of ideas which enables you to appreciate other people’s ways of life. It gives you a fairer idea about certain opinions that you held about cultures that are different from your own culture or traditions. It widens our world view.
Kaela: Being able to raise Kwesi will such a big loving family and such a rich background and heritage. For me, personally, my horizons are forever expanding.
What have been your greatest challenges as an intercultural family?
Fred: In trying to amalgamate two different cultures together, there is always a tendency for conflict. Conflicts often arise when bringing two cultures together. For example, Africans believe in spanking children. Africans’ perceptions about homosexuality and lesbianism is way different. When trying to mold a child to be someone in the future there is always a tendency toward that conflict.
Kaela: It’s inevitable that there will be conflict. The important part is the road to resolution. At times, it means making decisions for our family that are different from the cultural norms around us. Ghana being such a religious country, I think our religious differences would have to be one of our bigger hurdles.
Also being from nuclear versus extended families can be challenging at times. His family is exponentially bigger than mine. A lot of his time goes to his extended family. Husbands and wives are very attached to their siblings and aunties and uncles. The spouse doesn’t always come first. There isn’t as much space for the nuclear family. But at the same time, I really enjoying raising Kwesi with so much family around.
It has been hard at times to be away from home, especially with a baby. Fred’s family has been very welcoming to me. We live close to his parents and his brother and they have been very supportive of me and Kwesi. We have carved out a community and I feel very at home here now.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kaela: I was thinking that we didn’t really mention race in the interview and I feel like that is an important part of our family.
Being a white person in Ghana, 99% of the time I stick out in the crowd. We have never lived in a place where the majority of the population is white. I have several half-Ghanaian, half-European friends whose parents decided to live in Ghana partly to avoid discrimination in Europe. They are of older generations so, depending on where we were to settle, we wouldn’t meet the same level of discrimination if we were to move to the United States now.
Since Kwesi arrived, it has been interesting how he is perceived. In the U.S., I was asked when I adopted him. For some, it is still unimaginable that a white woman could have a black child. In Ghana, he is perceived as Obruni (the Twi term for white foreigner) when he is with me but perceived as Obibini (the Twi term for African) when he moves with Fred. Kwesi will have a different experience than either of us.
Thank you Kaela and Fred!



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