During my research, I discovered that I cannot view African culture the same way I do the American culture. The two countries have very different historical and socio-cultural contexts that affect people’s views, norms, and behaviors. For instance, while America has generally moved on from traditional spiritual treatments, a good amount of African countries still rely on their village herbalists and shamans alongside scientific medicine. Another difference is that many African women highly value their children as their form of identity, whereas in America, women are more independent and pursue an identity of their own. In addition, while American women announce their pregnancies to their friends and families all over social media, African mothers keep their pregnancy a secret and private matter because of distrust towards past enemies, co-wives, and even the husband’s sisters.
A reason for these differences is the distinction between the resources available in each context. In America, there is an abundance of technologically advanced medical resources as well as a stable government that requires health care insurance to encourage people to go to hospitals. In Sierra Leone, this is not the case. When it comes to women’s identity, America values education and individualism which is why American women are able to pursue higher education and aim for more ambitious goals while women in Sierra Leone do not have the same resources and values that give them an identity outside of children and their families. Finally, mothers in America aren’t afraid to announce their pregnancies because there is generally a sense of security that people will not sabotage each other if they do not want to face the consequences. However, in Sierra Leone, there is a lack of this security.
Three more cultural issues that are specific to my project are the desensitization of maternal mortality, the importance of traditional birth attendants as the bridge between the government and locals, and polygamous relationships. Because the maternal mortality rate is so high in Sierra Leone, there is a normalization of the events and viewing things in a fatalistic view and I think this is something that needs to be researched more in depth. In a country like Sierra Leone where there is a lack of trust between the government and the local community, a middle-man is needed and in this case, the traditional birth attendants are essential for effective communication to improve hospital attendance. As for the polygamous relationships, though it is not relevant to the majority of the marital relationships in Sierra Leone, it still plays a role because of the distrust and jealousy between co-wives.
Personally, I grew up with a tough-love kind of parenting where depression and anxiety were seen as laziness. Eventually I got used to coping with depressive moods by thinking of it as a lazy phase so I guess that counts as desensitization. I’m not sure about the use of middle-men in American society aside from my parents and mentors like professors and other elders in my life. Just as mother seek advice from TBA’s in Sierra Leone, I turn towards the older and more experienced people in my life who I trust for advice. Finally, although polygamy is illegal in America, the idea of strained relationships within a household is relatively familiar for me because I live with my Korean grandma who is the matriarch of the house and she often clashes with my Mexican mom.
The strong sense of community within the village can be very advantageous and be used as a leverage to address problems. I know that as TBA’s have gotten trained to refer pregnant women to hospitals, most of the women in the village have felt safer and the hospital attendance rate has also increased. In addition to TBA’s, Community Health Workers are also very useful since they are appointed by a community leader and are well-trusted. These people can refer pregnant women and other ill patients to hospitals. Lastly, the use of songs and dances, which are important to local communities, are important tools in educating villages about what people need to do in cases of emergencies and to seek professional medical help. Every culture has different values and beliefs that can be utilized to encourage people to try out new things. Therefore, instead of ignoring seeing traditional practices and “modern” practices as separate entities, we should see them as an overlapping hybrid practice.