Hawa, Saadah, and I finished eating our dinner of TZ and meat soup. Saadah rose to start washing dishes, and I offered to help her rinse and dry. We washed in unison, forming an effective assembly line. Hawa soon joined us, taking the start of the line as the pot-scrubber. “We are working communal”, Saadah pointed out, and it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable.
I remember in my predeparture training in Toronto having a session about mindsets and worldviews. We spoke about how some cultures are individualistic, while others are communal. It was pretty obvious that Canadian and other Western cultures were very individualistic, and we were told to expect to find much more communal ways of thinking during our placements.
I have seen this community-focused thinking on many different occasions over my time in Ghana. It is evident in the ways families operate and children are raised, the way meals are eaten, and the way people prioritize conversations and people over work and productivity. One obvious example of this mindset in action is the concept of “communal labour”. Around this time of year, everyone has lots of work to get done on their farm – whether weeding, planting, or harvesting. Rather than spending weeks trying to accomplish it on your own, or even hiring others to do it for you, farmers will simply call their “communal labour”. They let their family, friends, and neighbours know which day it is, and dozens of people will set aside that day to come help you with your farm, finishing the entirety of the work in one day. The kicker is that it is free! The farm owner simply provides lunch.
However, it is expected that when each of those other farmers calls their “communal labour”, you will go to assist them. The result is two to four weeks of back-to-back communal labours, reaching to almost every farmer in town. Everyone’s work gets completed, but in a manner which exemplifies values of generosity, friendship, and community. I think it’s quite the brilliant system.
The wives and I finished the dishes in no time, and I pointed out how fast it felt. “Unity is strength”, Saadah responded, “isn’t that so?”. “Yes, it is so”, I answered, amazed at this deep mindset of Ghanaians and wishing there was more of it back home.